Today’s story lingers like the curling mist in a dark forest.
Don’t Open the Door
[Dark][Horror] • 13,654 words
After an expedition into the Everfree Forest ends in disaster, Applejack and Rainbow Dash take refuge in an abandoned cabin until morning.
This is probably a poor decision, but it’s only one night, after all. How bad could it be?
FROM THE CURATORS: “I don’t care much for horror stories,” AugieDog mused. “But this one does so much right, I found myself really impressed.” Present Perfect thought it was “simply one of the best horror stories I’ve ever read,” and Soge agreed “one-hundred percent” that “this is pitch-perfect horror from beginning to end.”
In his nomination, Present Perfect praised the author’s ability to set a scene and draw the reader in. “The atmosphere is lush and offputting, right from the start. The Lost Cities-style description of the abandoned cabin was a great way to set the tone, and throughout the story, new details emerge that keep things creepy.” AugieDog was similarly impressed by how well POV was handled: “the narrowing from omniscient at the start to alternating close 3rd-person between Dash and AJ for the bulk of the piece was absolutely the right approach to take.”
Everyone was surprised by how well this dark horror fit in with Friendship Is Magic. Soge pointed out that excellent character work played a role there, with the author “putting very well-characterized canon characters into a situation which, with some modifications, I could see appearing in the show proper — and given that the show is dead, that would be extra spooky.” Present Perfect lamented that “so many pony horror stories are basically, well, horror stories inflicted upon ponies,” so he was thrilled to find “this story, beyond the profanity and the image of words carved into a table with a knife, fits very well into canon. This is just another strange beast of the Everfree, more terrifying than the show might have explored, but nevertheless not impossible as a creature that exists in the world.”
“A lot of horror stories fall down for me,” AugieDog said, “when it comes to the monster. But here, the author shows us a monster who is big and horrible and devious but maybe not very smart: a monster who is in every way a character in the story. And the description when we actually get to see the monster didn’t disappoint in the slightest.” Though in true horror story fashion, the reader doesn’t get a perfect image; Present Perfect appreciated that “the monster itself is never fully revealed, its identity never given, beyond just enough details to make it terrifying.”
That careful management of information resonated with the other curators as well (“I love the way that the story plays with what is real and what is not,” Soge said, “in a way that you can never feel confident about anything that is going on”) and allowed for a satisfying conclusion (“a perfect cliffhanger,” in Present Perfect’s words) that still let the readers’ mind run wild. “My favorite part,” AugieDog admitted, “is the ambiguous ending. I really appreciate that the author gives a wimp like me enough evidence about the monster’s nature to legitimately conclude that everything turned out all right. I’m sure that, if I wanted to go back and read more closely, I would discover even more evidence that everything did not in fact turn out all right, but when the author gives me an out, I will happily take it.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Grimm discusses caring about what you write, open endings, and darkness in a cartoon for children.
Give us the standard biography.
Howdy, I’m Grimm. I’ve been writing on fimfiction for a good few years now, after discovering the show in 2012 and wanting to add to the frankly enormous pile of fan content out there. I dabble in a few genres but I’m mostly known for writing M-rated stuff full of sex and drama, although more recently I’ve been writing a bunch of horror as well. That’s been a lot of fun, and perhaps a bit more fitting for my namesake.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It was a bit of a Keyser Söze moment, to be honest. When I needed to pick a username for fimfiction I wanted to use something I’d never used elsewhere, so I had a look around for inspiration. We had a big, framed David Hockney print – one of his illustrations for a Brothers Grimm fairy tale – and underneath was a blurb all written in German from the gallery it came from.
I don’t speak German, so the only word that jumped out at me was Grimm. I thought it’d make a pretty good pen name and plugged it in, fully expecting it to already be taken, and to my eternal surprise no one else had nabbed it yet. I’m glad it was available, though, since I’m quite fond of it now.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Does Chrysalis count? I hope she does. I love villains – and really, who doesn’t? – and I think she has the most potential out of the show’s roster for interesting stories. There are so many directions you can take her character in, shapeshifting is the coolest power, and she’s just so delightfully evil and fun to write.
If she doesn’t count and I’m restricted to ponies, I’d have to say Luna for largely the same reasons. She was the original “reformed villain” for the show, and dream magic is also very cool, if not quite as cool as shapeshifting. I always hoped that Chrysalis wouldn’t be reformed in the end since that would make her too much of a mirror of Luna. As is, I think they serve as great counterpoints to one another.
Is this answer cheating and picking two characters? Absolutely.
What’s your favorite episode?
“A Canterlot Wedding,” which probably surprises nobody after how much I said I liked Chrysalis. It also introduced Shining and Cadance, who are huge fan favourite characters now. I think it was probably one of the most influential episodes, and capped off a great season.
What do you get from the show?
Honestly, I haven’t really kept up with the more recent seasons. Back when I did watch the show more, like many people it was a nice, cheerful escape from reality for me. Happy and heartwarming, genuinely funny, and characters and a world interesting enough that people are still writing stories and making things about it all these years later.
What do you want from life?
These are some nice, gentle questions! What does anyone want from life? To be happy more often than I’m not, I suppose.
Why do you write?
I’ve always loved stories. Writing them is a different kind of beast to reading them, obviously, but in some ways even more rewarding. I think everyone needs some kind of creative outlet and a way to express themselves, and writing was the one I gravitated towards. Probably since it’s the only one that I don’t feel completely rubbish at.
And, more simply, it’s fun. Hard at times, yeah, of course, but the most enjoyable things in life usually are. I don’t really plan out my stories save for a few key points, so it always feels like I’m discovering and unearthing a story that’s already there rather than “creating” it. And that feeling when everything clicks into place and sweeps you up in it is hard to beat.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
My advice would be to always care about the things you’re writing. Write things you want to, write things that matter to you, even if they’re silly or you’re worried no one will like them. I think readers will always enjoy a story with heart more than one without, regardless of the technical skill behind it, and it’s something you can’t really fake. As long as it’s important to you, that’ll shine through.
What inspired “Don’t Open the Door”?
As far as horror writing goes, Stephen King has always been my biggest influence (and for writing in general, really). He’s my most read author by far, and I think a lot of that still comes out in my stories, though less so than when I first started writing and was trying to outright emulate my favourite writers.
For “Don’t Open the Door” there were a lot of film influences, too. It was always intended to be my take on a “cabin in the woods” horror, and so naturally it draws a lot from stuff like The Evil Dead. And then the creature itself is my spin on a whole mish-mash of influences and inspirations, like The Thing, Annihilation, and even the gibbering mouther from Dungeons and Dragons. That’s the sort of thing you realise after the fact, though, rather than being a conscious decision in the moment.
Why did you decide to end the story the way you did?
I’ve always enjoyed writing open endings. Partly because I think it’s very easy for a short story to overstay its welcome, and partly because I just find them more interesting than having everything neatly wrapped up. I like the discussions they generate. With “Don’t Open the Door” in particular, it’s a story revolving around a lack of information. We spend almost the entire time not really knowing what’s outside, and so when it comes down to the ending it’s my way of trying to put the readers into Dash’s hooves. She’s had to make up her mind on what’s out there, and wouldn’t have the strength left to fight it either way, and so it’s left up to the reader to decide, too. And maybe that matters more than whatever the “truth” of it is.
That said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing an ending like that without at least some clues as to who or what I think is outside at the end, and I tried to put enough in there for readers to make an educated guess. It would take all the fun out of it if I was too explicit about it, though.
What is it about the darker and more Mature aspects of Pony storytelling that attracts you?
It’s a fun dichotomy. It’s a kid’s show, so obviously everything is nice and colourful and happy, but even though it might gloss over things for the younger audience’s sake it still has very tangible threat going on. We’ve got an entire cursed forest on the outskirts of Ponyville, we’ve got a literal hell where the world’s most terrifying monsters are incarcerated in the bowels of the earth, and we’ve got villains who try and enslave all of Equestria. Not to mention all the various other beasts and horrors that would harm our heroes, like the wendigoes or the tatzlwurm. For a fluffy kids show, there’s actually a ton of scary stuff under the surface already, and I like playing those things up in contrast to the cheerful exterior.
If nothing else, I think the world of MLP is well-realised enough to the point where it can often feel as though the mature and/or darker stories could happen, at least in a timeline without kid-friendly plot armour. The characters feel real, and so they’d have flaws and desires and be evil or lustful, even if the show could never actually depict those things. But hey, that’s what fanfiction’s for, right?
Would you say that good horror is as challenging to write as good porn?
I’d say they’re about the same. Writing is writing, at the end of the day, regardless of the content. I’ve always felt that writing is primarily about trying to evoke feelings and empathy in your readers, and both horror and erotica attempt to appeal to some pretty fundamental human emotions. Fear and lust are things that most people can relate to, after all, and experiencing either through reading is exciting in different but similar ways. Trying to convey those feelings effectively is just as challenging no matter which you’re going for.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sure, first I’d like to say thanks to you guys for the feature; I was quite surprised by how well-received “Don’t Open the Door” was, especially since it was so far outside of my usual wheelhouse at the time! Thanks to my friends both in and out of the fandom, who are constant sources of inspiration and encouragement. And a massive thank you to anyone who’s ever taken the time to read my stuff. It means a lot.