So in our Monster Talks podcast episode on digital horror stories we talked a bit about what we ended up calling ‘the Thing with the aviator sunglasses’: the creature that haunts the narrator of the untitled Jezebel story by Melwithoudiner5. We were a little tough on the Thing – perhaps too tough? As part of the podcast episode, I narrated and recorded the story and came to a newfound appreciation for the Thing as it disrupts the narrator’s everyday, domestic life, demanding to know if the man of the house is home, because it has prepared something (what???) for him (to eat???). We later learn that the narrator’s boyfriend and the neighbour, Jim – a former police officer – keep information about the Thing secret from the narrator and conspire to find ways to keep it out of the house without the narrator knowing. Could the Thing with the aviator sunglasses be extending an invitation more than a threat – or an invitation in the threat – with the question: “Is Scott home?”
Hi Line! Yes, it’s definitely one of those stories where it’s not just the anomalous Thing, but the situation surrounding it that’s weird. In some ways the storyteller is setting up a classic Gothic scenario: the heroine is in new domestic surroundings that she’s not quite settled in yet, there’s an unclear and mysterious threat involving her boyfriend, and, most importantly, a secret is being kept from her. Jim’s injunction not to talk about it again is interesting – it obviously suggests that the Thing might gain power from being seen or thought about or talked about, a little like in Algernon Blackwood’s Weird horror story “The Willows”, where the only way to escape these beings is not to think about them. But of course it’s also a not-uncommon communal response to trauma, that you just don’t talk about it.
When the narrator tells Jenny about the incident, she immediately gives the phone to Jim, even though, as we later find out, the original incident happened to Jenny – “late one night when they’d just had their first child”. So in both cases the men take responsibility for interpreting it/defending the house from it/closing down discussion of it, but the Thing apparently shows up only to women, and apparently women in some kind of liminal state – with a new home or a new child. And it seems to want to do *something* to the men. Although I can’t imagine what’s actually on that foil-covered plate.
The foil-covered plate is intriguing, and I like how the topic of food is mirrored in Jenny’s phone call to the narrator: she wants to invite her AND Scott to dinner that night. Again, a question of whose – and what – food she wants to feed herself but also Scott. To me there seems to be a question of thresholds at stake here, both when it comes to who you let across the threshold of your house, but also the threshold of your body. The Thing itself does not seem to abide by thresholds nor any other kinds of boundaries, as it unhinges time and space by being simultaneously at the back of the house and at the front; a visitor in the 70s and the early 2000s while seemingly remaining in her late 20s, though dressed and styled as someone older. As with most monsters, the Thing seems to tap into some anxieties relating to the ultimate inability to differentiate between self and other, past and future, inside and outside. This reminds me of our discussion on the podcast about the undoing of boundaries between self and other in the act of reading. What might happen to the reader of this story? Not least considering how the Thing seemingly does not get what it wants and may be out there still, ringing doorbells, offering the man of the house something to eat …
I definitely agree that the Thing has this liminal, boundary-crossing quality, which makes it especially interesting to me that she doesn’t seem to be able to get into the narrator’s house – she can split herself in two spatially and is apparently immortal, but she can’t break down a door. Obviously this is reminiscent of the tradition that vampires can’t enter a house without being asked, but the Thing doesn’t seem vampiric to me; as you say, she’s trying to give them something (ie the foil-covered plate), not to take something away (ie blood). So I think you were right in your first email when you said that the Thing is extending some kind of invitation, threatening as it is, and it’s up to the narrator to accept or not.
What does this mean for us as readers? I was chilled by what you mentioned in the podcast, that because this ending is left open – the Thing doesn’t get what it wants – it leaves this unclosed loop that could potentially restart anywhere. Something that just occurred to me, though, is that the story actually doesn’t say whether Jenny let the Thing in or not. Jenny doesn’t seem to be aware of/worried about the Thing (“[I] asked if anyone was at my front door. She said no”); it’s Jim who’s afraid of it. Maybe Jenny did accept the invitation, and is now helping the Thing to extend it again.
Want more of the Thing with the Aviator Sunglasses? Read the original story here or listen to the Monster Talks podcast episode Digital Horror, in which Erika Kvistad and Line Henriksen discuss their shared love of online horror stories. The topics range from creepypasta (digital urban legends) to the annual Jezebel Halloween scary story contest, Twitter horror stories, digital haunted houses, and the history of found footage storytelling as well as cursed literature – digital as well as analogue.