daciana – color theory – a work of original fiction

In childhood, my father and step-mother dressed my sister and I in white and soft blues, the colors of robin’s eggs and forget-me-not flowers and the portraits of Christ’s mother Mary in church. They were the colors of purity, chastity, and virtue, our father said. Grown women in the congregation were allowed pastels of other hues and pretty jewelry and hats adorned with beads and feathers, but the daughters of the pastor? Only the colors of the Lord and His mother were suitable for us. Couldn’t have anyone thinking we slipped or were too full of ourselves, not even when my own existence was proof of our father’s sins. 

That was my mother’s fault though; the congregation and my step-mother had decided that a long time ago. My mother was the temptress, the harlot, the agent of Satan sent to pull down their beloved shepherd. After all, she wore red.

The problem with white was how easily it stained in comparison. But that was always the point, wasn’t it? 

Kept us in the pews after the service was over, away from the boys outdoors, playing rough and tumble in the grass. Their mother’s chastisements were of fond annoyance, focused on laundry later rather than the appearance of impropriety. Boys will be boys, their fathers said. They’d say that again many times, for many of them, for far more than tackle football over the years to come. I didn’t know that at the time though.

All I knew was that the crinoline itched, and my hands stung when my step-mother would smack my hands away from picking at the eyelet lace out of boredom. I knew the sound that patent shoe leather made when rubbed together wrong was like a frog, but that if you did it even accidentally, people would stare at you from round the room almost like you just cursed. And I knew that even through the too hot layers of dress and pantyhose, if I dared take a fan from the back of the pew in front of me, I’d get thwacked with a hymnal.

One Sunday, when my hands stung and the ceiling fans weren’t working, the tray of communion cups passed by me. I reached up with sweaty hands to steady it on its way to my step-mother. My brother’s mind was wandering then, and his eyes too, toward Anayah Kingston. His hands slipped. Mine slipped too from the sudden and unexpected weight of the so-called blood of Christ in my clammy hands. Dozens of small plastic cups emptied onto me, soaking through the delicate white cotton of the dress I’d been shoved into that morning. Gasps rose from around the congregation, as the metal tray clattered on the floor.

For once, I wore red. 

My father waved it off with a joke.

“Well, we always say we want our children washed in the blood of the lamb early,” he’d laughed, allowing the tension to ease by turning me into the butt of a joke instead of a symbol of anything too deep. I’m not sure, in retrospect, if it was better or worse. I just remember the sting of the wine in my eyes welling up tears that I wouldn’t admit for years were from embarrassment. 

I locked myself in the cramped church bathroom. No one came and got me till an hour after service. 

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did.


When I moved in with my uncle, he threw away the pastel dresses that had been soaked too many times in cold water and peroxide after my father went on one of his drunken religion-fueled rages. He told me I was too pretty to be washed out like that, and he gave me some of my grandmother’s things until he could go buy more appropriate clothes for a teenage girl. My grandmother was a petite woman though, and they fit and….

They were purple. Orange. Green. They had patterns, some floral, some geometric, some brightly African-inspired that she’d bought when visiting her family in New Orleans, where I lived now. Even though I know now that I looked like exactly what I was–a girl in her grandmother’s clothes–I felt incredible. Different. Free.

My uncle liked seeing that enough that he made sure the clothes he bought me were bright too. My father had always said that bright clothes like that brought the wrong sort of attention, but I didn’t care about that. I’d already learned that it didn’t matter what I wore; puberty had taken away any ability or hope I may have had to hide from men.

I’d take joy where I could find it.

The man’s favorite color was purple, he’d slurred that day, as I walked home from my uncle’s shop on Magazine Street. It was far too early for anyone to be that drunk, especially some random white man in a business suit, and my nose stuck up and crinkled in more than just disgust for the smell. He didn’t like that. I didn’t care. Still don’t, but…I probably should have made it less obvious. 

The same purple would blossom on the side of my face where he hit me. On my arm, where he tried to drag me down an alley. I remembered the whispered advice of my uncle’s friends, middle aged women and older fem queens who’d all been through the ringer life put them through at one point or another. I grabbed at my keys and jabbed blindly at his face.

Blood and white fluid blossomed from his eye like an amaryllis in full bloom. The hand that had gripped on my arm reflexively released to try to staunch the flow and save his eye. I still don’t know if it helped.

I ran. I ran all the way back to my uncle’s house, falling over myself and twisting my ankles over and over again in a pathetic effort to escape to the bathroom upstairs. My thumb had slipped up the key and rammed into his eye and the blood was caking and clotting under my nail and and the dark spots were fading to dark brown on the dress and–

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did.

Story of my life.


Dante was a Nice Young Man from a Nice Family, my aunt had promised me, and I could hear the capital letters in her tone. They had a lovely house and well-secured jobs, and a library of first edition books by authors like W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and other great respectable books by great respectable men. 

They had money. And security. And he was a gentleman, even I couldn’t deny that. The absolutely perfect gentleman.

And here I was trying to keep up.

His mother complimented me gently for having nice hair and a pretty face, but in her own way gave her nudges this way and that. Purple changed to black. Blue to gray or navy. Orange to camel brown. Even if I didn’t have much promise for college in sight, I certainly looked enough the part of an Ivy-destined co-ed that no one asked too many questions of what my plans were after high school.

But then neither did Dante. And I think we were both fine with that. 

He gave me his class ring more out of perfunctory requirement. I tried to give it back. Despite his parents’ having more than enough to replace it, I knew the value of it and didn’t want it hanging over my head, even though I knew he wasn’t the type to call in the debt.

He refused to take it back. I let the ruby and white gold ring hang around my neck on a chain for a few weeks before I received a politely typed letter on Duke University stationery announcing our break up. I quietly held the ring for a little bit before putting it back in a box in the back of a drawer.

Red stains in different ways.


If I said it was love at first sight with Aleksander it would be a lie. After a short sharp series of unfortunate attempts to date boys my own age, either just starting their college journeys or wandering shiftless through trades and dead end jobs, I’d given up on finding that mythical spark. But he was attractive, mature, wealthy–

Married, but hey. That didn’t stop my own mother apparently. 

But he had a radiating charm about him that I soon fell for, like an idiot girl. He spoke of his wife as if he wanted to leave her and take their children, but never promised that. He hadn’t promised me anything.

Not until later. 

I would catch glimpses of his eyes sometimes in private, a sharp steel blue focused on something far off and unreal. His hands would flex and his jaw would tighten. I’d put my hands on his, the contrast between us less apparent in the low lighting. 

One night, I noticed red under his fingernails. 

I don’t know what motivated me to follow him the night I did. We’d had such a good arrangement, even though I knew the feelings I had caught went well beyond the limits of what either of us had planned. He didn’t owe me anything, and I knew there was a possibility there was another “someone else.” I don’t even think I cared then if there was. 

Something just…called to me.

The barn in the woods was worn down, and it took far too long for me to make it there through the underbrush even in tennis shoes and the low light of sundown. I don’t know what I expected from the place. Maybe an isolated tryst or even a drug deal? I know he looked in pain a lot of times, though I assumed someone of his means could more easily bribe a doctor for something to take care of that without a prescription on the books.

The back door was held together poorly. Not really locked. It only took a push. 

I smelled the blood before I saw him. The sad pathetic pile of a man was barely clinging to life. He looked up at me, reaching out pathetically as if I was his angel of salvation, as if I could do anything to save him at this point. His intestines were in a pulled out pile around him, loosely coiled and tangled like a copperhead in rigor. 

The other door cracked open, and I ran. I ran and stumbled and scratched my way through the woods till I made it back to the car Aleksander had helped me pay for, and from there, I drove my ass right back to my apartment and–

I didn’t make it in before I threw up by the parking lot dumpster.

Instinct took over from that point. I went to the apartment. I took a bath, careful to wash around the scratches and cuts I’d gotten from running through the woods without looking. I washed off my makeup, and considered getting my hair braided again to hide the evidence of any contact with nature.

I tried to ignore a lot of things. I tried to ignore the still burning nausea in my stomach, the sharp pain of a finger tip where an acrylic had ripped off, the still strong smell of iron and filth lodged in my nose.

I tried to ignore the blue-lined white stick I knew was hiding in the trash, mocking me since before I tried to follow Aleksander.

The door unlocked, which I couldn’t ignore. Only he had the key. My hands paused from trying to rebraid my hair into two long pigtails, instead fidgeting on my lap. He slipped in and sat on the edge of the tub, looking up at me as I stared blankly at the vanity.

Neither of us said anything for several very long moments.

He stood behind me after too many, too long beats of silence, towering over me. Part of me wanted to brace for something, some sort of impact, but I couldn’t bring myself too. I was too tired and too young to be so tired. Too smart for this yet too foolish to have steered away.

“Close your eyes.”

And like the fool in love who knew too much, yet had so little, I did.

The necklace slipped over my head and around my hair and laid on my neck like a whispered promise. Six stones red as pomegranate seeds, lying in succession, trickling down my chest like blood droplets. 

“A replacement, until I can find a ring,” he said, though what he didn’t say rang through the words just as strongly. ‘I saw you. You know me now. Please don’t leave.’

“It’s beautiful.”

I don’t know why I said that instead of a wealth of other things. Other questions. Screams or demands to leave. The image of the dying man was fading far too quickly from my mind in place of the familiar and now far-more-possible dream of bridal gowns and wedding planning.

My eyes darted to the trash can. The stones glittered under the vanity lights.

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did. Not for my whole life.

“I’ll make sure the ring matches. The color suits you.”

I take a deep breath and sigh.

“Red always has.”

daciana – immersion – a work of original fiction

The fountain in the middle of the restaurant was just deep enough to drown a man or baptize him, and I fidgeted nervously, unsure of which of those the day might have planned. I hadn’t seen Micah since I was a kid. My memories of him were good enough–laughter, a quick wit, and an impossibly wide smile. 

I’d invited him to the wedding. He’d been unable to make it, unlike the other family members who had been unwilling to make it. He’d sent a photo of plane tickets for a business trip to Canada, and a lovely card and gift with it. His father and mother brought it with them, and then sat apart to themselves in the chapel. They stuck out visually as my only family in attendance even as there was no defined bride side or groom side.

It was a small ceremony anyway.

He’d called recently, through the number I’d given Uncle Enoch. Said he wanted to meet to catch up. I felt my heart squeeze up, as if it were trying to suddenly exit through my throat. There were so few reasons I could think of that Micah might want to meet up, and even fewer were totally innocent. 

Maybe I was being uncharitable though. Not everyone in the family held contempt for me. Uncle Enoch and Auntie Arika didn’t hold contempt for me.  

Micah’s smile held no contempt for me either as he was led to the table. The eyes of those around us regarded him with it though. I wanted to hiss at them. Micah was the successful one of the family. I just married well. His suit was untailored, yes, but he earned its ill-fit through a constant grind. He took my uncle’s shipping business from nothing to a million dollar company since he took over.

I just bought my dress. I didn’t even remember where.

Drown, I decided, eyeing the fountain. 

“Well, you look like you got a lot on your mind, Daci.”

“Just memories.”

“I imagine you wasn’t expecting to hear from me.”

“I wasn’t, no. I’m a bit surprised.”

“And that’s my fault. Was always so busy after you got outta Uncle Charlie house and then outta Nana house that I–”

“You were scared of Uncle Bertrand–”

“Everybody with a damn lick of sense in their head is scared of Uncle Bertrand. Your man got more money than God, and I hear he’s scared of Uncle Bertrand.”

My laugh was a cat’s bell, made of unexpected music and just loud enough to alert it was there.

“…maybe he is a little.”

Micah’s laugh was a car backfiring. It was big and booming and the start of something that commanded attention. 

“Good to know, good to know. I’ll keep that in my back pocket, don’t worry. Won’t go around telling nobody. But don’t worry, I’m not here to get dirt on your husband. You two got a kid now right? Forgot the particulars, seem like everybody from back home having kids these days.”

“Yeah, he’s one now. Cana. And there’s Alek’s others, I just adore them too.”

“You always was a better woman than Aunt Amirah.”

“Don’t say that.”

“…Cana, huh? That from Nana’s book of names?”

“It is.”

“That’s good, that’s good. Gotta keep some traditions alive.”

“Why are you here, Micah?”

His smile faded without faltering, down from bombast to professionalism. He held the look as the server returned to refill my water and take our food and drink orders. Eventually, he folded his hands across from himself, almost as if in supplication. Prayer.

Baptism maybe, I thought idly, my eyes catching the fountain again. But whose?

“I need your help with something, Daciana.”

Mine then, maybe, depending on what Micah wanted. Redemption in the eyes of a family member who didn’t think I’d wronged them all so terribly as to be beyond the hope of it.

“With what?”

“Well, I been wondering just how many of Nana’s traditions you’ve been keeping up with?”

“Why you asking?”

The accent slid back on like an old dress, not as fine and well-tailored as the one I wore, but more comfortable and familiar than anything from a boutique could ever be. It wasn’t that I’d tried to hide Southern drawl all together just…

Maybe I was too much of a coward to walk, smile beaming, through a place like this despite the contempt. Maybe Micah was braver for all he needed my help.

“Family business.”

“Uncle Enoch’s business?”

“Something more personal.”


“It’s Quiana. Something’s wrong.”

“You think she’s cheating or something?”

“No. Nothing like that. I could…I mean I dunno if I could forgive that, but I could suss that out on my own I think. This is something different. Something bad, and she ain’t talking to me.”

Logic would dictate that he wanted me to go to his wife, make friends, talk to her woman to woman. Logic never had much place as I wanted in my family though. Never had as much as I wanted in me, but the problem of my family is how I was always found wanting in one way or another. Till they needed me it seemed.

“I’m not doing any–anything against her wishes, Micah.”

“I know. I mean, I figured. You’re a good woman, was a good girl too. Shoulda stood up for you more against Uncle Charlie, I know that–”

“You don’t have to–”

“I do. But I’m not asking you to just…I dunno go for it. I’m asking you to sit down with her and me. I’m asking cause I think whatever happened, she wants me to know. She just can’t say it yet.”

“And that’s where I come in.”

“If it wasn’t important, Daciana, I wouldn’t be asking. I wanted to–to talk to you for a long while, to apologize, try to make things…I dunno right as they can be for all the shit I didn’t do as a kid–”

“You were a kid, like you said. Can’t hold onto that forever.”

But my heart had untwisted itself a little, from the knots that had been tied into it by men in my life who refused to apologize. Shame that Micah owed me the least.

He reached across the table for one of my hands. I took it. I always ended up taking the hand of a man who reached out across the table and met me where I needed them to.

“Your man got you a good ring.”

“He did.”

I sighed, and he smiled. Bastard.

“When and where?”

“I’ll talk to Quiana. Figure that out. Wanted to know if you would ‘fore I broached the subject with her.”

“Probably for the best. You gonna tell her what it’s about?”

“Closer to time, if you’d like me to.”

“I’d like you to. And I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”

“Whate’er you say, boss.” 

He smiled a face splitting smile and toasted me with the water glass. The food arrived. I’d worry about what I got myself into later. I took one last look at the fountain as we departed. Drowning? Or baptism?

Immersion either way.

Quiana had never worn her hair in colors when we were growing up, so it took me a moment to recognize her with silver-blonde box braids. It was a good look on her. 

“Micah and I talked.”

“How much?”

“Not enough it feels like.”

I glanced at him, and he shrugged. What can I even say to that? There are generations of history behind what I do, and getting someone to believe it is difficult even when they believe in the unbelievable otherwise. Quiana had crystals on the mantle and tarot cards on the bookshelves, but her husband revealing to her just how extensive the family’s history of magic use was had to provoke skepticism at some level in her. 

I wondered. I wondered if he told her about Nana’s seances and weaving, about the heady mix of smoke and magic that seeped into the bones of her house and the blood of some of her grandchildren. I live within the bones of my family’s legacy, caged within the ribs of it with no hope of escaping its obligations. 

“Nana could…read things about people. She passed that onto me.”

“Like palms?”

“In a way. Not quite as simple.”

“You both keep saying that. I’m not sure I like where this is going.”

“You could just…talk?”

Her shoulders tensed and words failed her. There was an aura of pain and shame about her that made me want to hug her, even though we hadn’t seen each other in a good ten years or so. She looked tired in a way that permeated her bones. I wondered what secrets she held caged within her ribs.

“I…can’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, baby.”

Micah half hugged her to his chest.

“That’s why I’m here. You got anywhere in the house where you’re most comfortable?”

“I do my readings for people in the office…that work?”

“It should.”

The office was alive and soft and green, plants lining the window sills and shelves and hanging from the ceiling. There were more crystals in here than even in the living space, and the desk was lined with books on star charts and tarot guides. She sold readings on Etsy according to Micah, making decent money at it. I wondered what Nana would think of that, of how modernity had seeped into the DNA of an ancient craft. Probably laughed and told me how much it had evolved since she was a child anyway, that this was just another stepping stone. 

Magic was human, she’d say. Humanity was fickle and changeable. Chaotic, Aleksander would probably add with a smirk. Therefore that was what magic was.

It was terrifying. Beautiful and terrifying, and not at all fit for this soft, green room. But I’d promised, and she was practically begging for help with her eyes and subtle actions.

Quiana settled on the couch, fidgeting lightly as she adjusted her shirt and posture. She held her hands limply in her lap as if she was unsure of not only what to do but of what purpose they even served at the moment. Micah lingered by the door, and I sent Quiana a searching look. Did she want him here?

She nodded.

“Do you need to like…hold my hands or something?”

“Micah can if you’d like. I need to put my fingertips on your temples. Only for a moment.”

She looked confused, but closed her eyes and leaned forward. She looked almost as if she was expecting a kiss. I wished that it was as simple, if awkward, as that. Micah took a place in an office chair nearby, the wheeled seat creaking a bit under his weight. Both had such expectant looks on their faces. As if I could fix the weight of the wound she carried instead of just tearing it open wide enough that the pain of it was in Micah too.

Drowning, I reminded myself, and reached out to Quiana and pulled.

The tapestry of her tugged on my fingertips before loosening enough to float forth into the room, all purple light and Spanish lace. She opened her eyes at the brief discomfort of it and gaped as she took in the almost starscape the light had cast on the walls. People always had a hard time seeing the tapestry itself at first. We always try our damndest to avoid truly seeing ourselves. 

She didn’t have to be so avoidant, I thought. Her tapestry was beautifully woven with barely any flaws or knots. No true ugliness, save for a knot near the present, which lined up with what Micah had told me. I reached out for where it hung from the arteries of memory like a stubborn blood clot. 

“This will hurt for a moment. Are you sure you want this? Nothing that’s found out will leave this room.”

Quiana’s eyes stayed glued to the tangle of memory. I wish they would wander to see the beauty of who else she was. I wish the first confrontation with her soul wasn’t this knot I’d been called to cut through.

Unsurprisingly her eyes barely wavered. 

I reached out, acrylic nails as sharp as shears, and pulled once more. 

The memory tore open and spilled forth its blood into the room, before reforming liquid light into shape and picture. I recognized the form of Quiana. I didn’t recognize the man. From Micah’s inability to take his eyes off him, and Quiana’s inability to look, they both knew him. 

The knife in the figure’s hand was to the throat of Quiana’s memory-self before I could blink. The words were whispered. Micah had stood and wandered closer to hear. I…thought whatever it was it was better I didn’t.

I could already feel what she felt. The sharp pain against my throat, the tightening of every nerve and muscle in my body, the overwhelming desire to cry, the shaking of my legs, the rush of blood to my head–

Better to focus on pulling Quiana out than drowning us both by focusing on Micah.

The Quiana-in-memory passed something to the man, who shoved the doppelganger so hard she dissipated into mist before she landed on the floor. I felt pain in my shoulder.

“He said he’d kill me.”

“You knew him.”

Micah’s voice, as strong in ice as it had been in sunlight when we’d met for lunch, cut through the silence that hung after my words.

“Yeah, we know him. Baby, I’m so sorry–”

“He said if I said anything he’d–”

“Baby, you did what you had to do. Rather have you alive than anything else in this world. He gon’ be dead though, when I get my hands on him, fuckin’–”

“Who is he?”

“Gonna be who was he after I make some calls.”


My cousin looks at me and for the first time I see the other men of my family in him.

“Micah,” I say again, trying to be firm, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. “Who is he?”

“…I thought he was my friend.”

“What did he take?”

“A key card,” Quiana answered. “To a shipping container.”

“…I don’t wanna know.”

“No, you don’t.”

I took a shaky breath and stood, trying to put from my mind whatever bullshit Micah had got caught up in. 

Overseas shipping business. No wonder we were all drowning. Familial salvation hidden beneath waves that crushed greater men and smarter men and richer, whiter men against the rocks all the damn time. Of course, Micah would get swept away in the idea of its potential. Of course it would immerse him. Of course, we’d all drown.

The water or blood or magic or all of it had rushed to my head, and I released Quiana back to herself, before my back hit the arm of the couch. I sighed so deeply it almost hurt to inhale again, like I was coming back up to the surface after too long.

“–ank you.”


“Thank you, Daci.”

Micah looked guilty about something. Whether it was for what was involved in the storage locker or for involving me at all, I wasn’t sure. But he looked grateful. I could imagine having a relationship again with a family member, maybe even his siblings. Maybe being a part of any eventual kids’ lives. Being an auntie was nice when it was Alek’s sister’s kids but….

Baptism could feel like drowning sometimes. Maybe this was one of those times. Salvation from risking it all to be cleansed by grace and fury. Either way I’d seen the depth of what I could get involved in. I saw it with my husband. I saw it now with my family.

I decided to sink.

“Of course. You’re family. And you were good enough to reach out.”

Micah nodded.

“I uh, I dunno if you or your man ever need anything–I know folks in that tax bracket can get into certain things, but I dunno if that’s the case. Just know you can…”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Right. You want me to walk you out?”

“No no, you stay with Quiana. I’ll see myself out, don’t you worry.”

She smiled gratefully, and Micah nodded. I stood, more solid on my feet now, and made my way back out to the entryway to grab my shoes. I made my way out to the car where Abrham was still waiting quietly. He was technically Alek’s personal assistant and driver, but Alek hadn’t quite wanted me to walk into a situation unawares….

“How did the reunion go?”

“Well enough. I think I’ll be seeing more of them.”

“Very good.”

He was a man of few words, and always had been. Normally, I would attempt to cajole more out of him, but I didn’t have it in me at the moment. As he opened the door for me, I practically collapsed into the backseat, folding in on myself like a shirt thrown aside. Abraham looked suspicious. He didn’t ask though, which I appreciated.

There was a small pond by the house that I noticed for the first time as Abrham started driving. Ornamental lilies floated on it and it was partially concealed by rose bushes. Not deep enough for fishing really. But deep enough to drown a man or baptize him.

I caught Micah staring out the window at me as we pulled backwards.

Immersion either way.

Nope and the Psychology of Trauma On-screen

“The depth at which we take in the preceding generations astonishes me. There is likely an epigenetic component to this as well as transmission through the internalizations that get passed down through the generations. Whole cultures are carried forward that way, so it makes sense that family legacies might be transmitted that way as well.”
― Bonnie Badenoch, The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships

I finally got a chance to watch a film that’s been on mine and everyone else’s radar for quite awhile: Nope, the newest entry into horror by Jordan Peele. I have several reasons for not having seen it until recently, but simply excuse my lateness. And blame COVID tbh.

However, my friend Sky wanted me to finally see and write about it, and y’all I’m glad she did motivate me on this. This movie hit me hard in all the right ways.

I went in fairly blind to any information (save for this wonderful blog entry by Lemon at The Writing Lich, which I highly recommend reading for an alternative look at what I will be discussing further). I often feel that’s the best way to watch horror films these days, as trailers do give away quite a bit–but praise to Nope for its vague trailers keeping my interest without giving anything away!

Spoilers ahead for Nope.

The trailers, posters, and advertising make it very clear: this is a movie about alien(s). At least on the surface. But like all of Peele’s films, this film has a deep social context and meaning.

Nope, to put it quite simply, is about trauma and the reaction to it. At least from my reading.

Much like the film itself, I’d appreciate your humoring me by going through named sections regarding each character of note that I’ll be exploring.


We start with Ricky “Jupe” Park, the former child star turned theme park owner played brilliantly by Steven Yeun. Yeun is a powerhouse of an actor who rarely gets the chance to show the breadth of his abilities in American film–he is still most known here in the US for his beloved turn as Glen in The Walking Dead. A great series of performances to be sure, but nothing comparable in my opinion to his work in Minari and Burning. He’s an expert in micro expressional acting–making even the most subtle of motions carry huge weight. I found a lot of that here in Nope, which pleased me a lot as a fan. Huge shout out, as well, to Jacob Kim who did a wonderful job playing child Ricky Park in flashback scenes.

Ricky as a character is hugely complex. The trauma of being a child star is well documented in our culture particularly through the predatory scum sites like TMZ and predecessors. Add into this Ricky’s frequent experience as being the only person of color on set–something that was emphasized in Ricky playing the “adopted Asian child” in the Gordy flashbacks–and you have a recipe for the subtleties of trauma as it relates to cultural isolation. We never ever hear about Ricky’s parents or biological family of origin. While we do see he grows up to have a wife and children, with whom he shares a wonderful relationship, I think the casting choice of Wrenn Schmidt for April Park was also intentional beyond her being good for the role.

We only ever see Ricky in his relationship to whiteness and things associated with it. Despite the reality of cowboys and the old west being overwhelmingly Black, Latine, Asian, and Indigenous, culturally the Western theme park Ricky owns and operates is a celebration of the Wild West as focused through the lens of John Wayne whiteness, with the only representations of BIPOC presence being the icons of Ricky himself and the complexity of Asian presence (via slavery) in the Wild West being completely sanitized through this.

However, this ultimately brings us to what is undoubtedly Ricky’s biggest source of trauma: the Gordy incident, an animal massacre on the set of a television show in Ricky’s past. Ricky secretly enshrines the massacre in a hidden area of his office, arguably for the money and notoriety with what he tells the Haywood siblings, but ultimately also as an expression of attempting to control his own trauma by caging it within walls he controls.

This makes his arc all the more tragic. We often talk about the repetitive nature of self-destruction via traumatic experience, and I think that is heavily reflected in Ricky’s story. What is more fitting if tragic for the boy who witnessed the utter destruction of his pseudo-family via trying to control a wild animal, than his unintentionally causing the destruction of himself, his wife and children, and his gathered friends and guests, via the same methods?

Ricky ultimately has internalized his trauma inside his own internal hidden chambers that it eventually explodes and takes him and everything he cares about with him. While the reading of Nope as commentary on trauma is subtle but visible in the Haywoods, I believe Ricky and the fate of the Parks and company is the ultimately explosive answer to the question of what happens when we internalize trauma in an unhealthy way without confronting it and attempting the painful road to genuine healing.


While the scene which makes it explicit text was cut, Emerald Haywood is a messy queer and I am absolutely here for her. She fights, flirts, cusses, and cries, and does it all with a bombast that makes this a near explosive performance compared to the more staid and thoughtful performance of Daniel Kaluuya. Keke Palmer makes the character vivid and imperfect and relatable, and I adore her for that. I will fight for more messy women, messy queers, and messy characters of color on screen that are still celebrated and loved by the text.

This brings me to the character of Em Haywood, whose in-character trauma, I believe, is that she was never quite celebrated enough. At least, not in the ways she needed. There’s a subtlety to the way both Em and OJ voice their own tensions surrounding their father–who was textually a good man, but no parent is perfect.

Em describes, in the scene regarding the original Jean Jacket, a horse she was promised for her own, a sort of unintentional disregard for her by her father. While both Em and OJ seem to understand that it was upsetting for Em to lose the opportunity to train Jean Jacket, at no point did the narrative state (to my memory) that Otis Sr. attempted to make it up to Em via another horse or even via giving the horse to her belatedly post filming-wrap. The fact that she names the alien creature Jean Jacket indicates that even after all this time, it was a negatively impacting event for her.

We do not know explicitly how Em’s father reacted to her queerness, and while I won’t condemn the character via speculation, I think her actions bely as much tension between father and daughter as the tension that OJ holds in his entirely being belies that same ambiguity between father and son. While the narrative never states Otis was a bad man, it does imply there were aspects of his fatherhood that weren’t without fault, and it would be dismissive to say even well-intentioned parenting cannot leave scars. I will not discuss the complex intersections present regarding queer Black female sexuality as I am wholly unqualified, but I’m certain it would play a part in their relationship dynamic.

We still see a lot of love for legacy in Em though, even though it’s portrayed as harried and erratic. Her late entry to the rehearsal combined with her plug for her own career undermine it a bit, but Emerald’s speech regarding the Haywood Ranch’s historical significance is one that clearly is well practiced and loved. This makes the narrative all the more triumphant when her own healing can be seen through the Muybridge inspired series of photos she takes of the alien Jean Jacket with the park’s photo booth attraction. She’s come full circle with reconciling her family’s legacy, while symbolically destroying the thing to come between her and her late father through the destruction of the cosmic creature which tried to take away her remaining family.

This becomes particularly strong thematically as we assume OJ has sacrificed himself in trying to lure the creature away so Emerald can safely get the photographs. Even as she gets the shots, you can still see the incredible emoting of Keke Palmer–she is theoretically triumphant but at the cost of everything that held real value to her.

And then the camera cuts to the entrance and the dust clears….

And y’all I BAWLED I’m sorry to break the authorial voice, but I was SOBBING.

Speaking of OJ…


From the moment he’s introduced as a named character and the white actress questions the safety of having a Black man named OJ around a movie set, we understand that OJ’s trauma is intrinsically linked not only with familial legacy but with how that complexity interweaves with Blackness (and likely colorism as well). He is highly capable with what he does, but we sense and see an intense anxiety with interacting with those outside of a close knit circle.

I don’t necessarily think or know if this was the intention on Peele and Kaluuya’s part but as someone on the spectrum, I sensed a neurodivergent vibe from OJ (and Emerald at times, but less so). Do with that what you will, but it also informs my interpretation of OJ as a character from henceforth.

OJ relied a lot on his father, while at the same time being smothered by the strength of legacy. This can be incredibly traumatic even with the best of intentions on the part of the parents, but it was shown in their interactions that their dynamic wasn’t always the easiest, even if it wasn’t outright abusive. After the death of a figure like that in anyone’s life, but especially a neurodivergent person’s, it becomes incredibly difficult to break the known patterns. OJ’s patterns were following what his father told him to the best of his abilities without breaking from the pattern unless absolutely necessary for survival (via selling the horses to Ricky to keep the main farm and stables, i.e. establishing new situational patterns while maintaining the overarching pattern).

This pattern only starts to break when Em returns, and the alien animal begins forcing them to confront reality. Em drags OJ into something potentially life changing, but OJ doesn’t seem enthusiastic. His spark only truly starts occurring when the horses, the home, and Em are in danger respectively–he is finding that which is truly important to him beyond that establishment of patterns left to him by his father.

It is eventually his special skill that saves his sister and untold amounts of lives via stunt riding. In this not only does he reinforce his own power, skill, and agency, but reinforces (while also reifying) his family’s legacy of Black horsemen. Even as much as I was upset and angry at the film when it was implied that OJ was dead, it made the triumph of his return greater than any ending twist in any traditional Western film I have ever seen.

Like I said, I bawled.

Overall I think Nope was a fantastic film on the surface of it, despite the mixed reviews it received. I think those mixed reviews too may have come from a place of not quite understanding how the layers tie together–it’s always admittedly difficult for even the best directors such as Peele to find the balance between showing enough to the audience for most to understand and absolutely hand-holding the lowest common denominator.

However, I feel the film not only works as an action-sci-fi-horror film along the lines of Alien, The Thing, and many other predecessors, I find it has a lot more to say that’s hidden behind the beautiful photography, acting and character design.

…also I did a little snort everytime someone in the movie said “nope.”

Well played, Mr. Peele.

Movie Review: Men by Alex Garland

In the spirit of putting up a wordy movie review as promised prior, I have opted to review one of the films of all time, surely, which I definitely have a lot of thoughts about even if none of them are good.

Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina and Annihilation), the film stars Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Rory Kinnear (Our Flag Means Death, Penny Dreadful). As a huge fan of Kinnear’s work, especially his turn as Frankenstein’s creation in the otherwise beautiful trainwreck that was Penny Dreadful, I was incredibly excited. The concept sounded intriguing too and steeped in folk horror: a young widow travels to the countryside to escape her old home after her husband’s death; there she becomes haunted and tormented by the strange men of the town.

As a fan of Jessie Buckey, Rory Kinnear, and the prior works of Alex Garland, I had high hopes for this movie. As reviews came out, those hopes dimmed somewhat, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve watched a movie that’s been panned and still enjoyed it. There are, in my estimation, a lot more “enjoyable movies” than there are “good films” out there anyway!

Men was neither enjoyable nor good. Alex Garland clearly wants to make works with feminist messages, yet this one is so overly hamfisted in showing the microaggressions faced by (white, cishet) women, that it made me physically cringe. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear are trying, but they clearly weren’t given a lot to go on–Kinnear is a powerhouse of an actor when given even mediocre material, and Buckley knocks it out of the park in other roles. In this though, Buckley is floundering with not much of a character to go on, and Kinnear is given archtypes to play rather than any sort of character himself.

That said, I could still give it a reluctantly generous three stars were it not for the ending. Before this film, I was one to scoff at “ending explained” videos for certain horror films, when the ending seemed clear as day to me. This was arrogance, because now after this film, I can genuinely say I have no damn clue what that ending was supposed to be.


While I guessed from some set pieces that the Green Man figure of paganism would be a major plot point, possibly fueled by Kinnear’s various characters, there was no explanation of build up to this reveal in the slightest. The association of the Green Man with masculine energy exists of course, but isn’t even vaguely common parlance even for your fannish horror community. Even as someone who knows of it, it took me consideration long after the film to make it, and I’m still not sure I’m right. The blending of the binarist masculine and feminine in the body horror transformation is horrific and interestingly down via the effects team even as it is uncomfortable. But the ending just…makes no goddamn sense. I’m fairly sure this all connects back to her husband’s death? Dunno how but that seems to be the implication, which…is unfortunate given that the husband died in an abusive tear against Jessie Buckley’s character. Is her torture due to guilt? I sure hope not, but again, I have no clue what to make of this ending!

The effects were great in parts, which is why this is getting a reluctant 1.5 stars, when really it deserves maybe a half one. But I’m a sucker for good special effects, so there’s that.

Book Review: House of Leaves

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”

― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

This book is an undertaking. That’s not to say it’s too difficult for most, or that it’s too terrifying for most. I think reviews that oversell that do it a disservice and limit its audience. But, I will admit, it’s not an easy fall read to be breezed through in a few days. It’s a book you need to sit with as you read it, tracing the three different narratives and how they coalesce together.

To put it simply: Johnny discovers an older book–a film analysis of a movie that Johnny can’t find proof exists. The movie is a homemade documentary about a strange house owned by the Navidson family. The house seems to be bigger on the inside than the outside.

Seems simple enough, but in reality? It’s anything but. Don’t let that intimidate you.

This book is a masterpiece of post-modernist horror, taking you through a journey with it’s artistically printed page layouts, which only add to the terror somehow. The tension builds up slowly, but creeps in where you don’t expect it, everbuilding until it crescendos into multiple moments of terror.

If you’re intimidated by the footnotes, you can conceivably avoid the footnotes and B and C plotlines, following only the A plot of what the film contains. Then it becomes far easier to pursue the story down the rabbit hole, only missing some killer quotes and amazing thoughts on the nature of grief, but nothing that massively impacts the A plot.

Give this book, which reads as some of the most terrifying found footage ever discovered, a chance to haunt your dreams. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Just remember: This house is not for you.

Parasitical Horror: Where do we go in post-Roe America?

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

You’re watching Alien, of course. Or The Thing. Or Slither, or The Bay, or Viral, or Malignant, or–

….where does parasitical horror stand now, really in a post-Roe America? Because while of course, a human fetus isn’t a parasite in the scientific or traditional sense, it’s still an intrusion into the body that not everyone wants there or is happy about, let alone safe with.

My state has now banned abortion even in the cases of situations such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. For anyone unfamiliar with these terms: a molar pregnancy is when the fetus becomes a tumor. Not a potential child, to be entirely and crystalline clear: a tumor. And an ectopic pregnancy is in which the fetus develops outside the womb. Neither are viable. Both will kill the pregnant parent. 

When Roe was overturned, I flashed back to the scene in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace’s character had to have the alien parasite removed. She sat in the medical machine, demanding an abortion for the inhuman creature which had taken residence in her uterus.

But just like the system which she found herself in, our system was also not designed for women and others with uteruses. It took reifying the situation to one a cis man might face for her to receive treatment. It’s not the most delicate metaphor in Prometheus, nor the most impactful at the time, but…now in the shadow of the SCOTUS decision and various trigger laws going into effect throughout the states? It’s horrifyingly real, in ways we thought were behind us.

Allow me to get a bit personal.

I grew up a fan of horror. I always get looks outside the South or even in the South by the younger crowd when I tell them the first movie I remember wanting to watch over and over with childish glee wasn’t a Disney film, but was Ernest Scared Stupid. And as I grew up and consumed more horror media, I noticed it, like all media, reflected a lot of what society had to say about itself. It’s very telling really.

Alien. The Fly. The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t (necessarily) want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Even in horror, the scariest thing we can all imagine, even cis men, is the loss of autonomy of our own bodies.

This isn’t to discount the countless valid stories of parents of wanted pregnancies, who lose what would have become a beloved child to tragedy beyond their circumstances–who are then victimized more by a system that holds no grounds for nuance. I cannot imagine the pain, the suffering that causes, the sheer mental fortitude and bravery required to go on. I remember the far off pained look and the quiet embarrassment of my mother telling me about her miscarriages quietly during my adolescence, as if speaking of them as more than a whisper would be enough to invite more shame. 

But that isn’t my story and I feel it might ring hollow or disingenuous, even though I want to stand and scream for them as well.

So here’s my story:

I was born in the late 80s in Nashville to a biological mother who already had teenage children, and a biological father who already had a different wife and possibly children of their own. From what little I know, they knew each other from work. He had a position of power over her, which he abused. We won’t go into more detail–no more is known by me, and no more is needed. My biological mother made the choice, or was perhaps cajoled, I truly do not know, into giving me up for adoption through a Christian adoption agency.

I was adopted by a couple in rural TN, who–for all our fussing and fighting at times–do love me very much. I can’t fault them there. And due to this I grew up, like one might imagine, thinking the only choice–adoption–was as clear and easy as day.

And then I started getting sick. As I got older I got sicker. Needed surgery in my late teens to fix problems usually relegated to 50+ year old alcoholics even though I never drank more than a glass of white wine my whole life up till that point. Took till my twenties to figure out I had a genetic disorder that affects every system of my body–reproductive included.

I’d wanted to be a parent, up to that point, even though pregnancy sounded kinda scary. I’d realized by that age that not evrything was black and white, and I was nominally pro-choice, but still somehow in my mind, I guess I thought abortions were for other people. And I’d done everything “right”–never acted on being bi, and never questioned why the label “girl or woman” had chafed my whole life.

But then the doctor was saying words like “rupture” and “hemorrhage.” “Growth restriction” and “collapse.”

“Fifty percent chance of heritability.”

I remembered dislocated ribs on the playground. Fainting just standing up after a long lecture because my veins are too fragile to regulate blood pressure some days. Throwing up pure stomach acid before tests, not because of anxiety, but because my esophagus won’t function properly on the bad days.

There’s something inside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in. It might kill you.

And I knew that even despite what I’d thought I wanted most of my life, I couldn’t let it kill anyone else either. I knew in that moment, if birth control failed, I’d get an abortion without hesitating. And in that moment, I knew whatever little judgment I may have held onto for others didn’t have a leg to stand on.

No one’s judgment really does.

Because they know it’s a horrifying situation to be in. Frankly I’m tired of pretending they don’t. Art reflects life, and since the dawn of the genre of horror, its many male authors have known the same thing:

The horror isn’t the whispers in the woods at night. Not always.

Much much more often, it’s the loss of autonomy. The loss of feeling full personhood. The gaslighting by society telling you you’re crazy for not being happy about it. The complete and total lack of help by anyone around you capable of giving any significant aid.

It’s interesting to think of where horror might go from this point in regards to parasitical elements. Even prior to the overturn of Roe, directors of such films did seem to have an inkling of what such horror reflected in our culture and how it might be received differently by roughly half the populace. With the advent of a new more socially aware generation of horror directors and films thereof, it seems impossible to avoid as a subject going forward.

There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.

Don’t let them make excuses. Don’t believe the lies. They’ve told us this whole time they know.

We don’t have to make them know.

We have to make them afraid too, somehow.

Afraid to be voted out, afraid to be the bad guys of history, afraid to lose every ounce of the credibility that they’ve tried to make for themselves.

They are the monsters of these stories. It’s time we fight back. 

There’s something outside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in, but it’s trying to take your choices. 

Don’t you dare let it.

Book Review: Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess

We often associate the cosmic aspect of cosmic horror with outer space or even the ocean depths, but that’s not quite always the case. Sometimes, the most terrifying aspect of horror in the Lovecraftian spirit is the unexplainable nature of chaos. In Tony Burgess’s novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, the terror lies in gradually discovering what little the protagonists can without any resolution as to the cause behind it. 

A new kind of virus that spreads through an unknown vector appears in the small Ontario town of Pontypool. Victims lose the ability to make sense of language, driving them into bouts of madness and animalistic rage. A radio DJ and his crew hole up in their station as the hoards fight to get in to destroy them, and they have no clue as to the vector or what possibly caused it. While they eventually do discover the trigger for the virus and the rage behind it, the cause of it occurring is never explained, leaving the terror lingering in an effective chill after reading.

The adaptation of the novel into the 2008 Canadian film simply called Pontypool was incredible, shockingly being one of the few films to improve upon the original written work. But the characters, ideas, and execution remain the same, even if they are simplified for a wider screen audience. 

Both film and novel ask an interesting question: what do we know about the nature of humanity? What if something we value as intrinsic to our very day to day existence begins destroying us? How would we adapt or how quickly would we succumb? These questions haunt both reader and watcher long after the last bit of the story ends.

Overall, this is a deeply effective story that can be said to call within the genre of Lovecraftian fiction without any of the iconic Mythos creatures–a feat of skill that many authors in the genre don’t even attempt. I highly recommend both the book (which, while part of a series, can be read alone) or the standalone film, which is currently streaming on Prime, Roku, and SlingTV.

Book Review: Imajica by Clive Barker

Representation matters even in horror. There’s something to be said for seeing yourself in a role other than an emotionally-flat monster or a bit-part side character. There’s a reason for the trope “the Black guy dies first” in such films. Growing up, the only time I saw queer character in horror was as flat-villains or villain-fodder. We rarely got complexity. We never got to survive.

And then, I started reading horror.

Then, I picked up Clive Barker.

While today, the efforts of a white cis-gay British man might not seem revolutionary on the surface, they truly were and are even in a contemporary sense. Clive dealt in what was seen as deviant, not only via queer sexualities and genders, but also in their expressions. The Hellbound Heart and Candyman are his most famous works–both dealt with the horrors of hyperrealities, with the first dealing with the concept of fear of “deviant” sexuality and the other of revenge over past racial wrongs in the United States.

But the one I want to speak on today is Barker’s weird horror-fantasy and lesser known work–Imajica. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger, Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie ‘oh’ pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own, but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie ‘oh’ pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.

Complicated? Yes. And the revelation is magnificent and I won’t spoil…well, I won’t spoil all of it. But I will say when they revealed who Pie’oh’pah was, really was….

It was the first time as a young adult in the early 2000s that I saw a non-binary character. It was the first time I knew what being nonbinary <i>was</i>. I know these blogs are meant to be mildly more in character than this, but only until you’ve been in the position of finding yourself in the pages of a book, can you understand how important this is.

Pie is also not morally pure. While they aren’t evil, they are flawed and make evil decisions, and it is so so important to see realistic, contradictory, utterly <i>real</p> people in diverse characters and not just cardboard cutouts of perfect morality as an author’s voice piece or attempt at brownie points.

Representation matters, even in horror, and Clive Barker’s work has been formative for so many queer and Black young readers. Just remember, if you feel you have a story in you, but fear that who you are and who your characters are will turn people away…

Try anyway. Write your Imajica. We’ll be there to read it.

What book was the most formative experience for you as a young teen or adult? What book changed your life for the better, if you’ve found it? And if you haven’t, what are you looking for, so we can help you along?

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom

Lovecraft is a man known for the legacy of horror and hatred he left in his wake. While his views softened before his early and untimely death, he was still unequivocally xenophobic in a way that can be seen pervading his works. However, this doesn’t mean that many authors who followed his legacy, including authors of color and queer authors, couldn’t find something worthwhile within his bibliography.

One of these notable authors is Victor Lavalle, one of horror’s greatest working Black authors along with the likes of Dr. Tananarive Due and Helen Oyeyemi. Lavalle more than just dabbled passively in writing a Mythos story with “The Ballad of Black Tom”; he confronted and dismantled one of Lovecraft’s most notably prejudiced stories, and did so in a short but punchy novella.

“The Horror at Red Hook” became infamous in Lovecraft’s stories for being particularly xenophobic. Red Hook was a notably diverse town, and while HPL’s story reflects that, the majority of the antagonists (if not all) are not white, while the Irish-American protagonist is the bastion of moral goodness–or heroic behavior at least.

In 2016, Lavalle’s novella tackled the infamous story with one notable difference–the protagonist of Ballad is a Black man. Tommy is a street musician in 1924, and his busking brings him in contact with the same mysterious Middle Eastern millionaire of the original tale. While his misadventures still bring him into contact with a cult of the Great Old Ones, his particular set of skills and knowledge from his unique experience make him a much more capable protagonist than the typical Lovecraftian hero. This doesn’t take away from the fear of the book, but it does make it a lot more interesting.

A quick, compelling read, this is a novella I would recommend to anyone who wants to get free of some of the traditional Mythos’ more confining choices! Lavalle’s other work is also intense and unique, and I will be covering some more of it later.

For now, send in your thoughts in the comments! What do YOU think about modern Mythos authors deconstructing the views of Lovecraft in their work? What’s YOUR favorite extended universe story? Let me know!