The Last Will and Testament of a Scream Queen
The Last Will and Testament of a Scream Queen
“If I was writing this story I wouldn’t have the guts to hide a staircase inside a wall. It seems like such a cliche,” Andy said.
The two of them stood at the top of the stairs for some time unable to find words to describe what they were looking at. It was Petra who spoke first. She told Andy how she sometimes dreamed about being an actress. She didn’t tell him when they were talking on the rocks because she thought it sounded silly. The truth was she wanted to be a scream queen. She didn’t know if screen queens still existed. Her dad liked to watch horror movies. It was one of the few things they had together. What she called “bonding-time.”
“I don’t think it’s a cliche,” Petra corrected Andy. “It’s more of a trope.”
“In a lot of older horror movies, especially ghost stories, there are secret chambers hidden inside walls. They also use them in fantasy time stories. You know swords, knights, and dragons. The castles always have some kind of room hidden behind a wall. That’s where they discover the secret that unravels that plot or instigates the plot. I guess that would depend on who is telling the story.”
“Isn’t trope just a fancy word for cliche?”
“Cliche I guess comes from overused tropes. But I also think people who love horror movies kind of feeling comforted by tropes. Isn’t that why people love horror so much? It is a safe space where they can test their fears?”
Andy had been thinking about what Petra said about wanting to be an actress when she grew up. He had never thought about writing scary stories before. The moment she mentioned her desire to be a scream queen a few memories flooded back. He remembered when he was in middle school sitting alone in the special education classroom reading scary stories. He remembered how he read so many he began to anticipate what would happen to the characters next because the structure of the story seemed to adhere to certain mechanics and rhythm in order to accomplish its goal. He thought about how after reading so many books he began to realize the order in which the characters would die based on how much backstory each person was given.
Andy looked over at Petra, he said, “I would love to write a movie for you to star in.”
“I know you are. I can tell. It’s just funny that’s all.”
“I’m a good writer.”
“I believe you, Andy.”
“What makes you scream?”
Petra gazed down the long staircase that vanished into blackness. She knew it was a bad idea to go down there. She knew it made more sense to go find their friends before venturing beyond the kitchen. Who knew where everybody else had gone?
“My parents, I guess,” Petra finally answered.
“That’s not what I expected you would say.”
“Don’t your parents drive you mad? Sometimes I lock myself in my bedroom and all I want to do is scream. It is the only thing that makes any sense. If I scream loud enough I can drown out all my other thoughts, all my frustration. My parents drive me so crazy sometimes. They always ask me these obvious questions. They want me to tell them stuff. It’s funny because I remember when I was a little girl I used to tell my dad and mom everything. I had all these questions. Sometimes when they would put me to bed at night I would start asking them all sorts of questions. I knew they wanted to leave. They would say, ‘Goodnight,’ over and over again, just trying to getaway. But I would just ask another question because I didn’t want them to leave. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want them to leave me there in the dark. So I kept asking them questions. I knew they loved me and I knew they were interested in knowing everything about me so I could just trap them there with questions. I don’t when all that changed. Sometimes I wish I could be that same little girl who wanted to stop my parents from leaving me. I don’t know what changed. Now, everything they say gets under my skin. They drive me crazy. It just makes me want to scream.”
Andy took a hold of Petra’s hand. She looked down at his fingers interlaced with hers. She couldn’t see it in the dark, but she remembered how dirty his nails were when she saw them at the beach. His fingertips were rough and she enjoyed the way they rubbed against her skin. They felt like very worn-down sandpaper.
Andy took one step down the stairs.
“I think I know why I get frustrated talking with my parents.”
“What is it?”
“I think my parents are hypocrites.”
“All parents are hypocrites, I think. I worry sometimes it is part of growing up. That when you get older it is hard to separate so many things that could be right. Everybody seems to have their own version of what is right?”
“My dad’s a preacher, so I think it is a little different for him.”
Petra didn’t stop Andy from leading her down the stone stairway. She didn’t think it was a good idea, but she didn’t ask him to stop. She thought about all the times when she knew a boy was doing something she didn’t want him to do but didn’t ask him to stop. She wanted to understand what it was about herself that allowed boys to do what they wanted even if it wasn’t what she wanted them to do. In this situation, she wanted to know what hid beyond the blackness at the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps, the part of the stairs she couldn’t see beyond wasn’t even the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps it was only halfway down. Maybe it just seemed like it was the bottom because that was as far as she could see.
Once they reached the darkest portion of the stairway Petra felt a chill rise up the back of her neck. The air was cooler on the far side of the darkness that shrouded the stairway. She shivered. It was as though they could touch the darkness. It was as though it wrapped around them ever as they walked through it.
Petra wanted to ask Andy if he felt the same sensation she was feeling. Goose flesh rose like scales on the back of her neck and at the edges of her scalp. She could sense trickles of sweat peppering the lizard-skin that popped out of her neck and head. She didn’t want to admit that she was afraid. She remembered a similar anxiety rise-up in her when she was sitting on the sofa with her dad on the nights when he put in a movie that was too scary for her. Most of the time they watched older movies. Those movies had a lingering sense of dread and accumulating suspense that captured her imagination. However, there was a performative quality to the actors and sometimes intrusiveness on the part of the camera that prevented her from being terrified. The older movies kept reminding her of their artifice. However, sometimes he would put in movies from a more contemporary period and the images became too intimate, too provocative for her still young imagination and she couldn’t breathe as the tension ramped up. She didn’t want to tell her father how the movie disturbed her. She wanted him to want to include her in the experience. She knew he loved the movies and she knew he would simply watch them without her if she revealed how haunted she was by what she witnessed. This was something the two of them alone had shared and she didn’t want to lose that intimacy with her father.
“Do you feel that?” Andy asked.
“Yes,” she whispered back as though the full volume of her voice might wake something hiding in the darkness.
“I can’t see anything,” Andy said.