Photo © P.D. Cacek
P.D. Cacek has won the Horror Writers of America Bram Stoker award for best short story for her
story "Metalica." Her collection of horror stories, Leavings, was nominated for a
Bram Stoker award and for a World Fantasy Award.
As well, she was nominated for another Bram Stoker award in the short story
category for "Dust Motes" which was published
in the anthology, Gothic Ghosts. It won a World Fantasy Award. She is at
work on a novel and a screenplay for Hollywood.
P.D. Cacek Website
Oooh! "The Grave" is one of the most disturbing and downright creepy stories to come out in
a long time. Do you remember what sparked this particular tale?
Actually, I do. For the last couple of years, I've been able to spend a week or two with a
friend and his family in Boxborough, MA, which is a small township not too far from Concord
and Walden's Pond. Now, having been born and raised in the west (California), the first time I
visited I was delighted to find that there were "woods" bordering the back of his condo.
Being a city kid (even though I am a certified wilderness survival instructor -- deserts, primarily),
I naturally begged him to take me on a hike through "his woods," which he agreed to do... probably
to shut me up. It was a dreary, rainy day -- perfect as far as I was concerned -- and we spent
about an hour wandering around the area. The path was narrow and meandering, but since he'd
walked it almost every day I wasn't particularly worried. At one point I noticed a small
outcropping of rocks that vaguely resembled the foundations of a wall and asked him about
it. The rock wall was clearly visible from the path, but when my friend stopped and looked
at it, he claimed never to have noticed it before. Not such a big thing...
but it did spark the idea that none of us is so familiar with a place that we know it completely.
From there it was an easy reach to wonder just what someone "might" not see along a familiar
path... and "The Grave" was born.
SIDENOTE: Those woods were also the setting for my story "Fireflies" (Whitley Strieber's
Aliens)... I can hardly wait to go back.
Do you mind if no one ever asks you to babysit?
Too late, actually. Not only did I babysit but was also a preschool teacher for 7 years
before I had my sons. On a related subject -- when my sons were little, they absolutely
refused to let me make up bedtime stories... saying that I could only read them stories
from books they selected. I guess I tended to get carried away.
You are justly famous for your stories of the supernatural and the occult, but you chose a
purely human horror in this one. Which, on the whole, do you find more frightening?
Human horror is always the most frightening because we can never be sure what sort
of monster we're dealing with. Supernatural creatures can be dealt with, once you know the
creature. The occult adheres to very specific guidelines. Humans, for good or evil, are
creative... and it is that creativity, when twisted, which produces real horror.
Personally, I'd rather go against any ghostie or ghoulie or long-legged beasties than one
human bent on my destruction... I'd stand a better chance of surviving.
"The Grave" combines all the best elements of dark realism: abuse, deprivation, twisted
priorities. All the makings of your everyday sociopath. If we followed Elizabeth into the
future, do you think that's what you would find?
Yes, and I think that's pretty strongly hinted at by the end of the story. Elizabeth
has already shown that, despite her claims to the contrary, her "reactions" to certain
events are pretty close to those of her mother's... so the indications are pretty high that
she would continue along that path until she "became" her mother. Sort of a Norma
Bates... sans wig. And if we go one step farther along this imaginary line -- I could
probably see Elizabeth becoming somewhat of a "ghoul, with a cause": scouring the cemeteries
looking for siblings for her Precious One. Sick, huh?
Maybe we are all a little crazy, but do you see characters like the genteel and mad
librarian in your story as a danger? Only a danger to themselves?
Given the right stimulus and/or push, anyone -- living, dead, or fictional -- can become
dangerous, and, unfortunately, it never stays "personal" for long. No one is ever just a danger to themselves.
Regardless of the story line or the character's ability to cope within the confines he/she
has created, something always happens to destroy the psychological sanctuary they've created
for themselves. Then, watch out... things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.
Actually, the story line of "The Grave" isn't dependent on the turn of the century, the turn
of the millennium. Did you consciously steer away from that kind of influence when you
decided what to write for 999?
I've always felt a story should be "readable" regardless of when you read it. Shirley
Jackson's "The Lottery" isn't any less terrifying because it was written a few decades
ago. Besides, I don't think human nature -- or human fears -- will change all that significantly
come the year 2000. If anything, we might revert a bit. Y2K! 010100... uh oh...
everything's gonna shut down... everything's gonna get dark. We've forgotten how to kindle
fire and the Nothingness is approaching. If I'd written a story about that, it would have become dated 010200.
Psychological, human horror hasn't changed since the last millennium... and it won't change with this one.
"The Grave" is a brilliant piece of misdirection, the kind of story that urges you to speculate
about the climax, but still manages to shock the reader. I wonder if a large part of that is
the wealth of detail in the natural surroundings, the almost sensuous setting?
When I write, I try to give the reader as strong a sense of place as possible -- and that
includes all 5 (sometimes 6) senses. The more details I can put into a story,
the more real it becomes. The more real it becomes, the more shocking the twists seem when
they come. But I can't take all the credit for this. As a child, my Russian grandfather
would spin the most wonderful "true" stories about himself -- full of sights and smells and
tastes... and they always ended with the same line: "And then I died... but I got
better." I fell for those stories until he died at 98. Any talent I have in creating "reality" came from him.
Another savage twist in the story comes from the straight-laced, proper persona of Elizabeth.
Is it always the quiet ones who surprise you?
Always. Why, just look at me. I've always been quiet. <grin>
Seriously, I'm not sure just how true that statement is, but if you watch the news after
a particularly "creative" psycho/sociopath has been apprehended, you'll always hear this
same line, over and over, from the friends and family: "But he was always so quiet."
Your story draws an uncomfortable parallel with many recent episodes of violence in the "real" world.
Have people always been that dangerous or is the insanity increasing with time?
There have always been monsters. And those monsters have always walked upright, on two
legs, and generally looked as "normal" as you and I. Okay, as normal as you. People,
I feel, are no more dangerous now than they were at the end of the last millennium, but I
do think we, present tense humans, have better mass communication. If Jeffrey Dahmer,
Charles Manson, had lived in 1899, few people outside the area served by their local
newspaper, would have heard of them. Thanks to CNN, and other news-exploiting services
however, the world becomes their pallet. For good or evil.
But is violence on the increase? Increasing with the upcoming new millennium?
Yes. Unfortunately. We are rats living within a cage. The trouble is, the cage has
remained a constant size while the "rats" have continued to multiply. If you've ever
witnessed overpopulation in a cage filled with rats, you'd understand the analogy: Rats will
attack each other with increasing violence until the population of the given cage has fallen back to a "liveable" size. Got cheese?
The urge to ask your opinion on the recent "deadly nannies" cases is tough to resist, but I'll
restrain myself if you will. We'd best be content with a more general speculation: how would you
classify such a character? Criminal? Mentally ill? Pathetic or evil?
Criminal -- yes; they've committed a crime. Mentally ill -- possibly; so? Should the fact that a
person be found as having "diminished capacity" at the time they committed a crime be used in their
favour? I don't think so. Personally, I'm of diminished capacity before I have coffee in the morning,
but I don't think that I could use that as an excuse for injuring someone, especially a child. Evil,
without a doubt. Children, especially babies (and we're not talking baby Hercules here, folks) aren't
really capable of defending themselves against attackers who outweigh them by a few hundred
pounds. Pathetic, no... never. That term softens the crime and adds a touch of sympathy I don't think
they deserve. As you can probably tell, I have very little love for anyone who might fall into this
category -- "deadly nannies" to abusive parents. Which, I hope, is evident in my story.
Which possibility is more disturbing?
Of the above choices -- that the abuser sees themselves as the"pathetic" victim. Grr... Don't get me started
again. Mutter, mutter... Must have more coffee. Pant, pant...
Hope none of this scared anyone too much. I am, after all, normally so quiet.
Copyright © 1999 Lisa DuMond
Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th
anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine. Previews of her latest, as yet
unpublished, novel are available at Hades Online.