A murder of crows.
A pride of lions.
A trip of goats.
She recited her litany of talismans, the ones her father had taught her, the ones that would protect her from the things. The vampires, the werewolves, the beasts that came and drew your blood; the ones that fed on you in the night, leaving your desiccated husk dreaming on the bed.
A shrewdness of apes.
A battery of barracudas.
A congregation of alligators.
She whispered feverishly as she stared at the window, waiting for them to come and take her. Her ears strained to hear the scritch scritch scritch that would signal their arrival. The scraping of their claws against the pane before they lifted their wet and seeping yellow eyes to catch her in their sights. Once you made eye contact, it would be over, she knew. They couldn’t come in unless invited. But they knew how to get their way. They had their methods.
A coalition of cheetahs.
A cry of hounds.
A convocation of eagles.
It was the only thing that kept her calm, the only way to distract herself from the fear — although it didn’t stop her from praying for the sun to peel the darkness back. It didn’t stop her from willing it to rise just from the sheer wanting of it, so she could finally rest her eyes.
Perhaps her mother was right; perhaps eleven years old was too young to read horror. But things never seemed so bad when she read them in the daylight. It was only at night that her mind made much of the monsters that sprung forth from the pages she couldn’t put down. Pages filled with terror and ripping, ghouls and freaks too compelling to ignore.
What a trip it was to immerse herself in these worlds, scary and crazy though they were. She would much rather be observing a life torn to shreds in Bangor, Maine than be outside on Vancouver Island, trying (and failing) to play basketball or run track as her parents would have liked. The playing field was no place for a chubby, uncoordinated bookworm of a girl.
She had been buying the books with her pocket money on the sly ever since she was eight. She hid them under the floorboard in the back of her closet after her mother took her copy of “The Pet Sematary” away. It was the day she hysterically refused to stay at her grandmother’s for fear of having her soul sucked out by Ash, the gray cat she had previously adored. “No more Stephen King for you” her mother said. So she kept her obsession to herself, hiding her new books in the closet, and arming herself from danger with her litany:
A destruction of wildcats.
A quiver of cobras.
A pitying of turtledoves.
She had thought of writing her favorite author so many times. “Dear Mr. King,” she would begin. “I’m your biggest fan!” But what would he care about little Tessa Turbin, with her curly fro and her too-big reading glasses? So she didn’t write him letters. Instead, she paid him homage and wrote her own little stories of evil. Stories of the damned and possessed; eaters of children and kiddies who kill; slayers of beasts and beasts who slay. She wrote of zombies and terrors and people you thought were good but who turned out to be very, very bad. They weren’t quite so scary when they came from her own brain, although she always, always protected herself, chanting them over and over so the things would never get her.:
A business of ferrets.
A skulk of foxes.
A cloud of grasshoppers.
At first she hid her stories from her parents, afraid of the repercussions, until the day her father found one strewn carelessly on her writing desk. He didn’t look at her like she was crazy or ban her from writing (as if he could); instead he sent it into the newspaper and they published it. Her work! In black and white for all to see, in the teen section of the local paper. Her mother didn’t mind the horror so much then.
Bolstered, she carried on, tapping away at her keyboard way into the night. Another tiny newspaper printed her words. And then another and another. A writing competition won here and another won there. The local newspaper became the regional, and then the national, and then magazines both print and online. As she grew from her teens to her twenties, her stories became longer, her stack of publications now as high as her knee. And then she tried her hand at a novel and lo and behold, she found success.
At the beginning, she never forgot to mumble her unusual prayers as she hunched over her laptop:
A colony of ants.
A wreck of birds.
A venue of vultures.
But as she traded her childhood fears of monsters and mayhem for mortgages and marriage, as the accolades rolled in for the dastardly workings of her warped and demented mind, she began to forget the charms that had kept her safe. She was too distracted by fame and fortune to bother with ghosts and ghouls that she now knew did not exist. She was too distracted by fame and fortune to bother with much at all.
She certainly didn’t have time to answer the letters of hopeful little girls and boys who revered her work the way she had the horror master’s when she was young. “Dear Ms. Turbin,” they always began. “I’m your biggest fan!” But what should she care about little Trisha Kaling, with her too fine hair and big silver braces? They can put the work in, like I did, she would mutter to herself as she dumped the useless papers into the trash.
Just like her baby fat, her wonder, her compassion, her fears and her charms had melted away…
No charm of hummingbirds.
No brood of jellyfish.
No watch of nightingales.
Until one day, when she wasn’t paying much attention, she heard it as she lay in bed. The scritch scritch scritch at the window. The scraping of claws against the pane before its wet and seeping yellow eyes caught her in its sights. She felt that feeling in her stomach, the one she hadn’t felt since childhood, the dread of knowing that something was coming. She knew she shouldn’t turn her head; she knew her eyes should stay squeezed shut. But I’m an adult now, she thought, and those were childish fears. And with her heart thumping in her chest, she faced the windowpane. And looked the dead and damned thing in the eyes. And knew it was too late.
I will not do your bidding, she whispered. I will not let you in. But it giggled with glee at her useless resistance. It knew how to get its way. It had its methods. Eventually — unwillingly — she tore herself away from her bed. As she moved towards the window to let the monster in, its bloodstained teeth sneering in anticipation of her taste, she whispered, uselessly:
A trip of goats.
A pride of lions.
A murder of …