Welcome aboard! Please stow your baggage (emotional and otherwise) in the overhead compartment or completely under the seat in front of you. Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride as we fly through the randomness that pours out of a writer’s mind when she has spent too many hours sitting on planes…

 

***

 

I always thought I would be a good mother because I had such an exceptional example of a mother to follow. My mother made many mistakes along her way, but her love and sacrifice for her children were flawless. I did not seem to inherit those attributes.

Now, I am aware that I am far superior to the crackhead who births her baby addicted or the resentful woman who leaves her children loveless or even the hypercritical mother who can never be pleased. However, at the most simple, I am just too selfish. There is too much ME in my mother-child relationships.

Maybe it was because my mother loved me too well, implanting the seed that I mattered so much. Maybe it was because my mother’s love cost her so dearly, her sacrifices so grand and painful that I refused to duplicate them.

I do love my children, completely and whole-heartedly, but I also do sometimes resent the demands of being their mother–mental and physical. I think I would have made a much better father with the elimination of the physical requirements and reduction of the social demands of motherhood.

I wonder if the guilt I feel at this maternal deficiency indicates I care or only signifies what I’ve been told I should feel. I wonder how my mothering style will shape my children. Will it teach them to maintain and prioritize themselves even in the troughs of love, like I hope it will? Or will they internalize my lack of obligatory doting and masochistic self-sacrifice and blame themselves?

At the bottom of it, I think about aircraft safety procedures. Perhaps because I just had to listen to them recited yet again. Put your mask on before you put on theirs. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them. I also think about how children learn by watching more than being told. I want to live a life I would be happy to proud to see them live, a life where they always mattered and advocated for themselves, a life where they did what they needed but also made sure to do what they wanted.

Or all of this is what I tell myself to help swallow the lump of mom guilt that has swelled up in my throat with each day of this business trip.

 

***

 

This has to stop. It has been too long. I am too fucking old and smart for this to continue. I did not work my ass off to tame bipolar unmedicated to be dismantled by a bullshit eating disorder. I did to adapt so far as to expertly manipulate myself and others to be seduced and swayed by a sad, shallow cultural flaw.

I refuse to continue to define myself by standards I do not ascribe to other people. Cognitively, I get it. Logically, I know the truth. Yet something about my deformed emotions and that scar tissue in my brain keeps me imprisoned in this utterly fruitless cycle of self-loathing.

My body does not help as it relentlessly undermines me. I am continually undone by its incessant betrayal. I had figured it out. I had successfully decoded dieting and slipped the noose of bulimia. My body decided to reward me by heaving a large wrench into the machine–into me.

Fasting was the answer. My body granted me an entire year of success and freedom before invalidating the accord. The weight flooded back on and the madness, the fixation, the obsession that it inspires. Causality no longer aligned. Unearned consequences twisted my perceptions into deformed figments. Right back down to the bottom, sinking like a heavy stone.

I tried all the things–past failures and successes. I went to the doctor and a nutritionist. I went back to binge-enticing restrictive diets. I returned to injury-demanding levels of exercise. All roads slammed into the same fat wall. Yet I can’t relent or abandon any of them for fear that I will continue to inflate.

So, I am back to my Hell–starving myself, punishing my body, scrutinizing my reflection, fixating on the numbers. I am back to obsessing about things that do not matter.

It has to stop.

I realize I cannot control my body, so I, once again, need to tame my mind. I need to remove my damage from the equation.

As age continues to wear on my body at an accelerating rate, I realize that youth has nearly entirely slipped from my grasp. I will only steadily continue to wrinkle and sag and reform. Do I want to waste the preceding time wishing I was something else, the way I regret hating my many youthful states before now? Do I want to reduce my assessment of my body to the numbers on a scale or measurement of any circumference, dismissing the dance vocabulary it has learned, the strength it has built to climb mountains, its bizarre flexibility? Do I need to forsake everything to be “skinny”…

And WHY?

What does it matter against a clever and successful mind? What does it get me as I am already loved?

When I ask the questions, I know the answers–without hesitation. Yet these old and perverse trains of thought still snake and steam through my mind on distorted tracks. My emotions trickle and pour through the canyons worn by my eating disorder like bad habits. The core of me always reels for the familiar comfort of hating myself.

But I cannot claim that I will not waste a moment of chronological life to then squander my emotional life like this. The words and compulsions and habits of my former mind are not true; they do not need to be heeded.

I can let it go. I can exercise because I love it and it balances me. I can eat clean because it is beneficial to my body and makes me feel physically better. I can make these choices for my own wellness rather than an aesthetic.

Because this has to stop.

It is killing me and poisoning my days. It gains me NOTHING. It has to stop.

 

Christina Bergling

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Exposure

Posted: May 28, 2019 in real life
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Sometimes, I think I need to learn to shut up. Just a little bit.

My aunt died last week. Her death was rapid and largely unexpected. We, as a nuclear family, hurried on a plane and attempted to race the reaper out there. We did not win. Instead, we were there to say goodbye before she was cremated and to help absorb the initial impact with our extended family.

My family is bipolar. Not in the sense of the actual disorder but in the extremes of the emotionality of its members. We have one extreme who cannot keep their emotions in, who talk too much and share too much, who misdirect their anguish into inane irritations better left ignored (read: me). And we have the opposite extreme who cannot let their emotions out. At times like these, the space between these poles seems all the wider.

When I was in Iraq, I openly and publicly blogged about my sadness, confusion, and rage. This did not shock or alarm any of the guys who were stuck with me in the trailer every day because they heard me singing those same notes loudly beside them. However, stateside management assumed that I struggled in silence, packing my emotions like an IED, wiring myself to combust at any time. This made me a liability and resulted in mandatory meetings with my boss anytime I posted.

J: Did you post a blog today?
C: Yep.

J: Are you OK?
C: Yep.

And on we would go. That kind of transparency, that aggressive emotional expression was uncommon in a war zone. Perhaps it was inappropriate there too. Maybe all of those words were better sealed in my paper journal, unseen and unread.

I have been hesitant to write anything about this since biding the hours in Minnesota, since my flight home. I know my compulsion for expression and my emotional transparency and needs make times like these more difficult for my family who is not that way. I can read it off of them, yet I cannot stop myself. When I try, I end up doing the same things, only larger and sloppier. The only thing that makes the tragedy sting more is the idea that my constant words and waves of feelings make it worse for any of the rest of us grieving.

I worry that my family would not want me to publicly air the events, that it is something she would not want me to post about. Granted, if she was here, she would probably be too busy living her full life to be concerned with what her niece was rambling about on the internet. While some prefer to fold into themselves, I am the annoying bard, documenting everything and sharing too often.

Instead of publicly processing this family event or analyzing the differences in my family, I will shift the spotlight solely to myself, preserving family integrity through unabashed narcissism.

So, this experience, like so many before it, has left me questioning if I should reign it in, put a cork in my emotions and expressions and start keeping some of them inside.

I question this with my children. Am I too honest with them? Do I tell them too much, expose them to things too early? Is this one of the many ways I will damage them?

I question this with my job. Should I say less? Share less? Should I draw a harder line between professional and personal? Should I keep my complaints or irritations more quiet?

I question this with my writing. Should I stick to fiction and keep myself out of it? Should I put myself out there less, promote and push less? Should I write under a pen name? Should I separate my work and my life?

I wonder if I should insulate myself from the world a bit, retract back from other people a little. Perhaps I need to try to grow a filter, in all aspects of life. Truthfully though, I don’t know if I can anymore. My radical honesty, unfiltered demeanor, and emotional sharing has been steadily increasing as I age. Like a runaway train.

Likely, many things might be easier, maybe even better, if I was able to temper myself. It could simplify my life, avoid certain issues. Maybe I would be easier for some people to deal with, more palatable. But it wouldn’t be me. People frequently ask me why I write horror, why I would pick that genre. My answer is always that horror is what was already in my head and I just have to let it out. The same is true with all of my emotional expression, sharing, and exhibitionism. I have to let it out. There is no room in my head and my heart for all that flourishes there. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it if it was all trapped within me.

As far as why I have to share it, I think it makes it feel real. With so many figments in my mind, I almost need another witness to confirm the experience. And I crave connection and community, both virtually and tangibly. I have been opening a window to my mind on the internet since blogging first started.

In the end, I don’t know. The way I am may be helpful in some situations, hurtful in others. It may comfort one person, irritate another. I don’t know how to manufacture a demeanor or tame the one within me, so it doesn’t really matter. We are stuck with what I am and the volume at which I express it.

As far as my individual experience with my aunt, she was a strong influence in my childhood. The last time I saw her was last summer. Hard to believe that has spiraled into nearly a year ago. I was in Minneapolis for work. She insisted on picking me up from the airport and having me stay with her, even on driving me to my meeting the next day. And that is where she and I end and my memory of her lives on. Not beside her last hospital bed but as she gave me sage woman wisdom about work and life, things I should have long figured out already, as we shared a beer and a meal.

Typing it out makes that moment feel more vivid, documents it somewhere outside of myself.

 

Christina Bergling

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Releasing my novella Savages as an audiobook was a new and bizarre experience as an author. As many nights as I spent writing the book and as many times as I’ve read it over, it was something completely different to hear my entire story aloud in another voice. I loved it, so I decided I wanted to create some YouTube videos reading my own works.

I had to start with “How to Kill Yourself Slowly.” This is the first piece that I ever had legitimately published. I think this piece is where I discovered myself as a writer–my style, my themes, what I had to say. It also got so much response. The people in my creative writing class reacted very strongly. When I posted it on my blog at the time, I received hundreds of comments and emails. I have talked about it at high schools. People have found me on social media from it.

“How to Kill Yourself Slowly” has been out there in the world for maybe 15 years. Yet somehow when I started reading it aloud, it felt more vulnerable, more exposing. The feelings were strange and unexpected, and it actually made me nervous and hesitant to go through with releasing the reading. I felt freshly embarrassed about my past; I worried about how it would sound and how the people referenced in the piece would feel. It feels like being naked in a crowd of people. More than that, it feels like then peeling off my skin, cracking my rib cage open so you can get the full show.

I turned 36 yesterday. I felt compelled to post this because I almost didn’t turn 13 or 18 or 20… That is important. That matters. Aside from the fact that it has been out there for so long already, I kept thinking about all the comments and emails, the people saying that reading the piece helped them or saved them. And I had to post this.

 

 

 

Christina Bergling

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Go with It

Posted: January 10, 2019 in military, nonfiction, psychology, real life, survival

As our plane began to land in Baghdad, it went dark. The crew extinguished the cabin lights, floor lighting, exit lights, indicators. The resulting black consumed us, startling and unnerving. It felt so unnatural to be floating in a darkened aircraft. If it weren’t for the engines still vibrating under the wings, the plane could have been mistaken for coasting dead. A few passengers tugged their window shades down to solidify the darkness.

The more experienced contractor beside me leaned over.

“They go dark so hostiles can’t target the plane from the ground as we land. They’ll use any small bit of light,” he whispered. “Oh, and be prepared for the evasive landing.”

He eased back into his own seat, gathered up his phone, and brought the bright screen to his face, a tiny beacon of light broadcasting to the open window. Confusion contorted my brow as I stared at him, dumbfounded. If a seatbelt light could get a rocket launched at us, why did he have his phone blazing in his face? It near-blinded me against the dark. I just kept looking from him to the open window beside us.

The plane descended toward the small lights below as my heart ascended into my throat. The shapes on the ground dilated in size. Pinpoints of light grew into buildings and roads; the dots articulated into the darkened city. My body automatically braced itself out of practice, habit from so many plane landings. I knew what the final descent should feel like, the way a gentle suspense gripped the air until the ground hopped up into the tires. Instead, the plane glided down then banked sharply. I groped startled at my armrest.

Anxiously, I glanced around me. No other passengers reacted. No one spoke. They sat as if nothing happened. The man beside me remained glued to his glowing phone, inviting the enemy to shoot us down.

The evasive landing.

No one else reacted, so I took a deep breath and went with it.

As I stepped out of the plane and onto the gravel in the surprisingly cold Iraqi night, I smelled only shit and burnt fireworks. I stood alone, unsure where I needed to go next—a 25-year-old female civilian contractor in an active warzone.

A week later, after I had been placed in my freezing trailer, been orientated to camps Victory, Liberty, and Slayer, and began riding the first unfathomable wave of homesickness, I headed to lunch with two fellow software trainers. Bored with the low level of service requests in the training trailer, Charlie and Ed decided we should venture away from the main dining facility (DFAC) and burn time traveling in the dented, dusty Mitsubishi Pajero to one farther from our trailer.

In the DFAC, we sat on metal folding chairs at plastic tables. Charlie hunched across from me, a tapestry of tattoos crawling from his jaw to his hands. Ed rest beside me in a bright blue polo shirt and fauxhawk. I nibbled on my grilled cheese and cantaloupe as they attempted to dazzle or unnerve me with their military stories, as always.

A siren shrieked through the air. The sound snatched my breath, tangled it in my throat. The piercing tone was followed by a flat voice repeating, “Incoming imminent. Incoming imminent.”

I threw wide eyes at Ed then Charlie. They continued to eat uninterrupted as if they had heard nothing at all. The third country national (TCN) workers came flooding out from the kitchen and huddled under the flimsy tables. Soldiers sat on the floor and crouched beside the buffet lines. I looked around at all the people on the floor, waiting.

“They do that because the kitchen doesn’t have any T-walls,” Charlie said, still chewing. “A while ago, a rocket landed on a kitchen. Killed all the TCNs.”

Ed sat casually, gathering a bite on his fork as he watched the TCNs unaffected. My heart battered my ribs. I tried to force out calm breaths and keep my face slack as my eyes roamed. My back tightened, and my posture stiffened.

Charlie looked at me.

“Look, there’s not a damn thing sitting under this table is going to do if a rocket hits this DFAC. If it’s our time, it’s our time,” he said, shrugging and looking down to his food.

They both resumed eating. I sliced my melon with shaking hands and shoved a bite into my mouth, unable to taste it. I took a breath and went with it.

The all clear sounded, followed by an annoying series of tones. Whining smoke detectors replaced the noise to complain about the unattended food left burning. Gradually, everyone got up and returned to their stations. Back to normal, like nothing ever happened.

Later that shift, I sat at my desk in the trailer, letting my fingers dance on the dusty keys of my laptop. I typed away, jamming software procedures into a user guide when a whooshing sound rippled past the trailer, nearly indistinguishable from the sound of an incoming helicopter as it crossed the wire and passed over us.

A boom echoed off in the distance; then a small vibration rumbled against the soles of my boots. Another deeper sound erupted in response, closer and louder. A ripping burst then a pause followed by crackling explosions in the air. I tensed and looked toward the ceiling as if I could see something of what was happening.

“C-RAM,” one of the guys mumbled.

A second rocket hit, far away. A second C-RAM answered.

The trailer fell silent, thick with anticipation, waiting for more. Another rocket, another C-RAM to rebut it. That burnt smell swelled in the air, so thick it spread onto my tongue, that same smell that assaulted me at my first step off the plane.

A voice in the distance declared the all clear, transient as if broadcast from a helicopter. Soldiers arrived in the trailer for accountability, to ensure we were all present and still alive. As we stood in the dark beside our T-wall lined with a single strand of Christmas lights, our jingle T-wall, we heard the sirens traveling in the distance. The rockets had hit something.

In the dark, I took a breath and went with it.

 

Christina Bergling

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2018 was a wild and busy year for me. Most of all, it was the year of the horror anthology. Take a look at what 2018 looked like for my publications.

Publications

January: “Jack Frost,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Grand Slam” in 100 Word Horrors
June: “After the Screaming Stopped” in Graveyard Girls
August: “Upgraded” in Demonic Household
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August: “Personas” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (nonfiction)
August: “Look What You Made Me Do” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (fiction)
August: “Whole” and “Under the Rapids” in Ink and Sword Magazine
September: “Duende” in Collected Christmas Horror Shorts 2
October: “Zoltara” in Carnival of Horror
October: “Freaks” in Carnival of Nightmares
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Festivals

I attended my first author book signing event, Behind the Mask in Nashville, TN.
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As has become an annual tradition, I attended the Telluride Horror Show.
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My reviews for The Dark, Terrified, and Mega Time Squad are published on Daily Dead.
My other festival reviews are on my blog:
The year also saw me launch into some collaborations with other authors, a horror photographer, and an artist and return to performing as a belly dancer. It was a full, busy, and successful year.
Looking to 2019, I hope to add more books to my publication list, including a new novel. I also hope to be able to release more from my new collaborations.
I cannot thank you all enough for the support you give me. I wish you the warmest holidays and the best new year. And if you’re in the mood for some festive horror, check out my 12 Days of Christmas Horror

After having surgery this month, I spent an unprecedented amount of time on the couch. Yes, I used this time to catch up on writing blogs and movie reviews, BUT ’tis the season for holiday horror.

Allow me to present the 12 Days of Christmas Horror, twelve horror movies I indulged in this holiday season. I tried to travel the globe a bit like St. Nick here, taking in the naughty and the nice. The Scandinavians still have holiday horror nailed. This is just a sampling of the wonderful, horrible fruitcake of festive horror out there, but enjoy what you will and Happy Holidays!

1. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

I decided to start strong with Silent Night, Deadly Night. I didn’t discover this gem until a couple Christmases ago, and I haven’t had the heart to indulge the rest of the slasher franchise. We all know how the 80s slasher franchises took a nosedive after the first installment.

After his parents are murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus, Billy is raised (and abused) in a Catholic orphanage. Christmas and Santa haunt Billy into his teenage years. When Billy is asked to dress up as Santa at his toy store job, he finally snaps. With customary 80s gratuitous violence and nudity, Billy slashes his way through his issues.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

2. The Children (2008)

Visiting your family over the holidays is often unpleasant when you’re an angsty teenager, but it is made much worse when your younger siblings and cousins are infected with a virus. A virus that drives them to kill all the family around them. The Children is a British thriller than plays on the innate terrifying nature of children and the pressure we all feel at family holidays. The violence is a fantastic mix of graphic and suggestive that leaves you wondering what you’ve seen and what you imagined. But any time a movie kills children, it’s a guaranteed jaw drop.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

3. Krampus (2015)

A festive horror comedy, Krampus is a family favorite in our house. When family time causes Max to lose his Christmas spirit, the monstrous Krampus arrives to punish one and all. The movie has just enough fright to get my kiddos to jump and plenty of ridiculous comedy.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice 

4. Better Watch Out (2016)

Luke has the hots for his babysitter and a plan to make a move in this home invasion thriller with a twist. The movie is flawed but entertaining enough. It makes me think Home Alone as a horror movie. I always wanted to see what would really happen if you flung a paint can at someone’s head. Better Watch Out offers a pretty detailed portrait of young white entitlement gone psychotic.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice 

5. Dead End (2003)

Dead End might be a stretch as a Christmas horror movie, but it is a horror movie set on Christmas Eve so I’m counting it. On their way to the grandparents, the Harringtons take an unplanned shortcut that ends in disaster. The French horror balances family drama, horrific deaths, and light humor. I particularly enjoy the ending.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice enough

6. Red Christmas (2016)

The sins of the mother come home on Christmas Day in this Australian Christmas horror. Diane has managed to gather her estranged family together for the holiday, but she never anticipated being joined by a cloaked stranger claiming to be the child she attempted to abort 20 years prior. The premise and acting are ridiculous (and also horrible), but the gore is on point.

Santa’s Verdict: NAUGHTY

7. Black Christmas (1974)

The original Black Christmas is often cited as one of the first slasher movies and definitely credited with launching the subgenre. I know it’s the first killer POV that really sticks out in my mind since the shower scene in Psycho. This movie is a holiday and horror classic that I think still holds up today.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

8. Black Christmas (2006)

Oh, early 2000s horror, what a mangling you did on this remake. The Black Christmas remake scarcely preserves the premise of the original then drops the rest of the film into early 2000s horror tropes. Mental institute escape, check. Dumb hot girls, check. Unnecessary killer backstory, check. It’s more of a gorefest (and obsessed with eyeballs) than the original, but otherwise, it falls entirely short.

Santa’s Verdict: Naughty

9. Sint (Saint) (2010)

We discovered this Dutch Christmas horror last year, and it immediately joined my mandatory seasonal viewing. Sint paints a very different portrait of St. Nicholas as a murderous bishop who takes and punishes rather than leaving presents. The horny teenagers give it a very Halloween vibe to begin with, but then it launches off into its own Amsterdam Christmas, ghost revenge carnage.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

10. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

In the Finnish province Lapland, a British research team uncovers the tomb of something ancient, something that can slaughter hundreds of reindeer and rob Pietari and his father of their livelihood. They attempt to trap the wolf that killed their income but discover something else instead. Rare Exports is smart Finnish horror that provides an excellent rendition of a much more feral and evil Santa Claus.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

11. Santa’s Slay (2005)

Santa is not really a good-hearted elf. Instead, he’s a demon who lost a bet, resulting in him being punished by spreading joy to children for a century. Full of ridiculous celebrity cameos, atrocious one-liners, terrible effects, and awful acting (from actors I have seen act well), Santa’s Slay is the lump of coal in your Christmas horror stocking.

Santa’s Verdict: Naughty

12. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Anna and the Apocalypse mixes a teenage musical with Christmas AND zombies. Anna is just working through her teenage issues with song when the zombie apocalypse drops on top of the holidays with a sharp mix of comedy and gore.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

BONUS SHORT! Treevenge (2008)

In Treevenge, poor, innocent pine trees are just trying to live out their lives peacefully until a group of violent humans come to mutilate them and tear them from their home. In this wonderfully awful short, the trees take their revenge upon their fleshy oppressors.

Santa’s Verdict: So naughty it’s nice

BONUS! Dead Snow (2009)

OK, Nazi zombies in a Norway is not exactly Christmasy. The characters may even be on an Easter ski trip, but it looks like winter. It is also one of my favorite horror movies, so I’m adding it as another bonus to my 12 days. In Dead Snow, a group of students head to a cabin for a ski getaway when Nazi zombies start popping out of the snow. The film is fantastically gruesome and so much fun.

Santa’s Verdict: Nice

 

Christina Bergling

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We’re baaaaaaaack!

Last year, I stepped up my #31DaysofHorror (watching a horror movie every day in the month of October) experience by adding bingo to the game. This year, I am returning to the same haunt with a new board, fresh with different horror movie tropes and cliches!

Will I top my record of 50 horror movies last October? Will some devoted soul beat me to bingo blackout? Join in and find out! Please, read the rules below, download the board and play along!

31 Days of Horror Bingo Rules:

  1. Each day of October, watch a different horror movie. You are allowed to catch up by watching multiple movies in one day.
  2. For each movie, cross out a tombstone on the board. Only one horror cliche per movie!
  3. Blackout all 24 spaces in the 31 days.

That’s it. Simple. Let’s see who can overdose on horror movies first!

 

 

UPDATE: I made it! Blackout by October 24th. Here’s how the tombstones fell:

Foreshadowing: Who’s Watching Oliver
Creepy doll: IT
Improvised weapons: You’re Next
Revenge: Revenge
Bait: Upgrade
Gratuitous nudity: Tenebre
Reanimation: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
Look behind you: Delirium
Ghost story: Sleepy Hollow
Rural horror: Never Hike Alone
Unrealistic death: Scream
Flashbacks: Terrified
Haunting: The Witch in the Window
Disfigured killer: The Dark
Dream sequence: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Aliens: Aliens
Stupid victim: After.Life
Final guy: Get Out
Ahab: Halloween 1978
Let’s split up: Halloween 2018
Pet scare: Pet Sematary
Bad acting: Scream 4
Urban horror: Bones
Stoner: The Thing

 

Christina Bergling

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This is some kind of white girl in a horror movie shit, I thought to myself as I crunched down the dark path through the woods, marching toward our cabin to fetch my daughter a blanket.

The waves of girlish screams of the Girl Scout bonfire faded behind me as the trees seemed to embrace me in solitude. The sounds of the camp dissipated at my back, and the swish of my jeans and crunch of my sneakers became the only sound in the darkness.

I pointed the penlight flashlight ahead of me, chasing its halo over the gravel. A vague anxiety scratched over the length of my skin, a physical echo of the bad idea I was currently consummating.

This is how dumb bitches like you die, the rational voice in my head echoed again, sending the anxious tickles on my hair follicles on harder edge.

Look, crazy, the other half of my brain chimed in, there is no random hobo living under the cabin. This camp is so high traffic and loud there is no way wildlife is hanging out here. Did you hear those girls screaming? You are fine. You watch too much fucking horror. Stop being crazy.

I breathed out deliberately, forcing the weight of my exhalation down to suppress my heart rate as it climbed foolishly in my chest. I reminded myself I was a horror writer. I evidenced to myself all the horrendous things I voluntarily watched. And read. And wrote. And told myself it was not foreshadowing of how I was going to die but rather healthy desensitization to not freak out in mundane situations like walking alone in the dark in the woods.

Yet my heart punched against my rib cage nonetheless.

Don’t be stupid, rational me began again. You can walk to a cabin in the dark at Girl Scout camp. You will be fine.

I continued scraping down the road, swinging the beam of my flashlight across the length of the road. I listened acutely to the how loud my denim pants had become in the void of the night. I articulated the twisted branches and fluttering leaves against the light of the moon. Suddenly, the brief hike seemed so long and wide.

Between the dark trees, I was finally able to make out the circle of lights from our cabins. I ambled down the small hill to make the turn and ascend into our campsite. Then I saw the large, shifting black shape.

That is not a bear, rational me said. You can’t see for shit far away. You’re just being crazy. Go get this damn blanket.

My muscles quivered half-tensed below my skin, but I pressed my own breath down on myself again and kept walking. What horror writer didn’t have an overactive imagination? Wasn’t I just thinking about all the ways I could die tonight? Wasn’t I just talking about all the horrible life decisions that should have killed me over dinner?

As I approached the farthest, lower edge of the cabin circle, the smell filled my nostrils. The odor was thick, wet, feral. It was not unlike the aroma of a cage at the zoo. Yet the pungency assaulted me in a wave. Then I heard the shape moving, foilage bending to its shape. From the symphony of bending branches, I could tell it was large. Its movements echoed around me, riding its smell into my twitching brain.

Then I saw the shape again, clear even in my hazed near-sightedness. It was a bear, low and wide. The culmination of the sight, sound, and smell lobbied a convincing case to my skeptical denial.

Fuck, it’s a bear, both sides of me decided in unison.

I stopped moving and froze in my last footsteps. I stiffened to silence my heavy steps and scratching jeans. I clicked off my flashlight as if the darkness could obscure me from the animal. My feet twitched forward toward the structure of the cabins then back toward the grouping of humans abandoned behind me.

It ran off, one side of me said. Go to the cabin and get the fucking blanket. You’ll be safe in the walls.

You don’t walk toward a bear, the other side countered. It was a fucking bear. Don’t be the dumb girl in the horror movie. Go back. Go back!

I hesitated and stuttered on the gravel another stupid minute before turning hard and walking fast back up the trail. I did not hear the trees creak behind me. I did not hear the audible angry breath of an animal at my neck. Yet my steps slammed quickened against the dirt, until I could hear the happy giggles of Girl Scouts in the swirling smoke of an fledgling campfire.

 

Christina Bergling

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Malignant

Posted: July 18, 2018 in horror, writing

(Short fiction originally published with the Kindle version of The Waning.)

Cancer made me beautiful.

During one of my numerous appointments following my diagnosis, my doctor informed me, along with a blur of medical terms and statistical percentages, that sugar grows tumors. Strangely, staring stage four death in the face, I was suddenly able to forsake my heroin-level addiction to Snickers and the like. I was able to unearth every stashed candy bar and introduce it to the nearest trash can. Previously, I could only gluttonously shame eat the diet infractions alone in the car before picking the children up from school. It was the only way to avoid having to share the treats.

Somewhere between clean, organic, grass-fed eating and radiation, I wasted away to the slender, lean, emaciated body I always wanted. Everyone raved about how amazing and great I looked. Friends and acquaintances spouted those superficial compliments I had been craving since my first pregnancy. Yet none of them had any idea of the hideous decay blooming under the surface, of how ugly I was under the beauty I had always coveted.

I did not look like I had cancer, even as it was literally eating me alive. I made the mistake of confessing my diagnosis to someone. Once. A stranger, of course. I was not telling my family or friends, women in my yoga class, parents in the PTA, my children’s teachers. I got on the bike in spin class and peddled away with the other early morning gym rats, none of them able to see Death sitting on my handlebars, staring at me as he waited. It was my dirty little secret. Except I had told a hair stylist as if her chair was a therapist’s couch.

She could only respond with, “But you’re not losing your hair.”

My hair. Because that was the concern with terminal cancer. As if you had to be a bald zombie to be suffering. As if every cancer patient underwent chemo. As if my still full head of hair negated the perversion of my own cells against me.

It was easier to keep my fate to myself. I was not going to spend my last days as a charity case; I was not going to listen to a flood of false sympathy until it all went black. I was not going to watch my babies cry for me.

There was no saving me anyway. After radiation only seemed to accelerate my tumor growth, after the cancer had infiltrated the very marrow of my bones and every lymph node I had, the doctor even advised just enjoying the time I had left. I abandoned the small shred of hope I had been absentmindedly clinging to in his office at that last appointment.

There was no point in returning for a follow up.

Where did the cancer start? What did it matter? The first time the doctor told me, I did not hear him. Once the word “cancer” leapt off his lips, I could only hear a high-pitched ringing. The entire world was enveloped by that hideous sound, so loud it made my head swoon and the edges of the world seem fuzzy.

When the ringing receded somewhere as I stumbled to my car, it was replaced by the one resounding question: why me? What had I done to warrant this painful death sentence? What karma had earned me this level of punishment?

Shock struck me first, seizing me as I sat blank-faced in my car in that doctor’s parking lot after he so nonchalantly informed me I was dying. The words washed over my brain in waves that caused them to lose meaning. The sun blazed into my pupils, but my eyes were so out of focus and so swelled with tears I could scarcely notice. My keys were tangled in my fingers, but I could not find the strength to lift them to the ignition.

This shock was painfully temporary though. Then the heat started, the anger. There is no other word for it. First, it was a smoldering in my belly. My sickly, tumor-ridden belly. The warm radiated up beneath my skin; each of my nerves coiled and pulled taunt. My mind hardened as I felt the rage blossom across my very core.

Fucking cancer.

I felt betrayed by God, Fate, and every power in between. I felt ransomed by my own flesh that sold itself over all too easily to the will of the disease. Not a symptom, not a sign. Just a death sentence mere months before my fortieth birthday.

Happy birthday to me.

There was anger in every stage of my grief.

The anger changed me. The rage sustained me, fueled me. At some points, I was able to function on fury alone. Yet it perverted my mind; it was the cancer in my brain to match the cancer in my body, eating away at me one day at a time. I had more animosity than I had outlets to deal with it. It was violent, welling, and without direction.

I even started to feel a poignant resentment when I looked at my angel-faced children with their entire long lives sprawled out in front of them. When I screamed at my daughter for wanting to stay out past curfew for a movie with her friends, I knew I had to regain control over myself; I knew my defect was starting to show.

I could not waste my remaining time flailing around in my anguish. I just needed a focus, some way to consummate all the anger relentlessly pounding through me.

It was not fair. I did not deserve cancer. I could think of so many people just in my little life who had earned this demise much more exquisitely than I had. Like my coworker who slipped twenties out of her register and into her pockets every shift. Like my son’s math teacher who clearly spiked his coffee all day long and shepherded children while drunk.

Like my asshole husband who was pumping his dick into his personal trainer twice a week and strutting around our house so proud of getting away with it, as if I was stupid enough not to notice. As if he had ever invested a single second on self-improvement for me.

He deserved cancer. He was cancer, a tumor on our life, the malady infecting our marriage.

I decided I would feel much better about meeting my untimely end if he met his first.

I wanted to give him my cancer. I wanted those malignant growths eating away at his body like they were mine. Unfortunately, cancer requires such an orchestration of physical and environmental variables that I would be dead and rotting long before I could figure it out. I could load him full of my cancerous little cells, but his body might not react; they might not take root as swiftly and fully as they had insisted on doing inside me. If I reached the point I could give him my cancer, actually make him suffer as I was suffering, I could probably cure myself of it.

And then what would it matter?

But he had to suffer. His death had to be slow, painful. Like mine was going to be. It also had to be indirect. Getting caught didn’t ultimately matter in the scheme of my timeline, but I wanted to exit my children’s life with angelic light, not as their father’s murderer. They were going to be mad enough that I never told them I had cancer.

Poison. It was all too perfect of an answer. I would poison him the way he poisoned my life, the way he poisoned our marriage.

Focusing on his death made it easier not to think about my own impending doom. I could ignore the pain blooming from the depths of my nerves by concentrating on the misery I would finally be administering to him. It was the answer, and I felt in my tainted guts that it was right. He would get what he deserved, and I would get to vent all the wretched hate, resentment, and pain trapped in my cancerous little shell.

I had no idea how to go about poisoning someone; however, I did have the common sense to not jump on the internet and Google it. Search history and whatever my son would babble about before shutting the door to his bedroom, only the glow of the computer screen spilling out from under the door. It didn’t necessarily have to be untraceable; I would not be alive to question and detain. With the speed of government, even if someone suspected, I would probably be cold before they got around to really investigating.

It just needed to work and be easily acquired. I kept it simple and cliché. I found old rat poison that still had arsenic in it. I didn’t even have to buy any; we had some stuffed in the back corner of the garage from that one spring early in our marriage that rats decided to take up residence in our ceiling. He had bought his own poison those years ago, and now it had come full circle. And I knew exactly where to put it.

I sprinkled this ancient rat poison in his protein powder, the bullshit supplement he drank religiously after “working out” with his personal trainer sex toy each session. I did not add a lot. Not enough to taste through the fake chocolate peanut butter flavoring. I was sure once he mixed it with almond milk or whatever the hell she told him to suck down, he would have no idea.

With any luck, he would share his delicious protein shake with the taunt little bitch.

And he didn’t notice. Day by day, he just got a little weaker, a little paler. His cocky strut deflated the more he began to double over with the nausea and vomiting or around the cramps from the diarrhea. I watched him brush his hair in the morning, squinting as he lifted the brush to the light in front of his face. A tuft of his hair had fallen out. I smiled out of the corner of my mouth as his eyes began to grow more and more sunken into his sagging face.

He looked like he had cancer more than I did.

I could not stop smiling. To myself, of course. After he had gone to another doctor’s appointment to find out why he couldn’t kick whatever flu or virus must have been going around. When the kids were at school and I had the house to myself, mixing up more special protein powder for my loving husband.

My anger seemed sated, my soul calmed. My life felt, at its core, righted. The sicker he became, the more alive I felt, and, ironically, the more acceptant of my incoming departure. I could go happily into that good night knowing he would not be having sex with a twenty year-old personal trainer on top of my grave, knowing my sister would be raising our children rather than him and my infantile replacement.

I cried at his funeral, of course. Such an unexpected cardiac arrest in such a healthy middle-aged man, especially one who used the gym so frequently. I called the tears out of my past. I thought of our wedding day long ago, when I actually loved him and he, perhaps, actually loved me too. I thought of him looking down with such full eyes when he held our first child swaddled in his arms. I thought of the life we were supposed to have back then when we started, before we all became cancerous.

And I cried for my own approaching death. I imagined my children here again so soon, my rotten body in the coffin instead of their unfaithful, poisoned father. I let the tears rain down my cheeks for the life of which I was being robbed, the high school graduations I wouldn’t see, the grandchildren I wouldn’t meet, the places I would never travel.

Only one destination remained for me, and that exit grew closer by the day. I felt my body growing weaker, more infected. I could feel the cancer itself as it spread deeper and deeper toward my center.

I just had to wait. I just had to let it come for me.

The tranquility did not last though. With my husband’s cheating body cold in the dirt, the anger returned. As I marched down the last aisle of my life, that same rejection, that same contempt at the injustice of it all flared up to consume me again, to eat at me more effectively than the cancer itself.

It took my husband one month to die. According to the doctor’s math, I had about three more months left. That gave me enough time to dispatch three more people who deserved an untimely death more than myself, three more times to find that justified peace before it all just went black.

Christina Bergling

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I’m officially in my mid-thirties; I should be professional and appropriate by now, right?

Um…

…right?

Honestly, I don’t know that I fit into the average subjective definition of either term. However, it has been an idea that has been wriggling around on the skin of my mind lately.

I am the parent of two young children. My partner and I are both very “outside the box” people, so he and I struggle with constantly trying to teach our children to behave inside the social box. This is the sort of contentious relationship I have with social norms and expectations, but by some miracle, I have managed to balance my rebellion into measures of social success thus far in my life.

Yet, as I delve deeper into being a horror author, I find the questions surfacing again. Most specifically, as I post images of me half naked and covered in blood on the wide internet.

Professionally, I have never had much of a problem. I’m reasonably intelligent and have done well through my career. I’ve performed high at my various jobs, though the jury is still out on the new role I just started. The issue is never my work or my work ethic; rather, I might be too much “me” at work. I’ve been scolded by a Master Sergeant in Iraq for cussing too much. I’m simply a very open person. So, my other career of dealing in horror is perhaps a little too public.

I see no issue with someone executing their day job then going home to dabble in any kind of deviant art. That does not mean everyone feels the same way. Our culture is very strange and hypocritical about female expression and nudity. We are bombarded with the imagery of naked women but then told a woman who is naked publicly is morally bereft. While I have yet to encounter any negative consequences for my blatant exhibitionism, I am ever aware of the threat.

I consider what employers, clients, or future employers might encounter when they Google me. I would like to think they could separate the art from the artist and focus on my qualifications, but I simply do not have that much faith.

Am I unprofessional because I am publicly and unapologetically me outside of the “office”? Do I get to be taken seriously when I am comfortable enough in myself to lay my mind and skin bare?

Working in IT, I harbor no illusions about the internet. After working with the government and military for so many years, I am well aware of how much of a delusion “privacy” is now. I know anything sent or shared or even simply residing on a computer with wireless capability is not private. I deal with this reality but simply having no secrets, having nothing that could be uncovered and used against me.

Plus, I have an exhibitionist streak about as wide as half my personality, so I would voluntarily be advertising it even if no one would ever have access to it.

Maybe I can be professional. I can do my job well entirely separate from any extracurricular activities, even if I do post them very openly, very accessibly to employers or clients. What about “appropriate”? The word appropriate itself causes my neck to flex and my lip to curl in a hint of a twitch. I have never wanted to be appropriate because of the many ways the society that manufactures the definition is simply…wrong.

But I’m also older now. Hi, Middle Age; yeah, I see you right there over the horizon. And, more importantly, I am raising children. Get into the box, kids, so you can understand it (and hopefully then jump right out of it and set it on fire).

Is it appropriate for a 35 year-old woman to pose for pictures naked and covered in fake blood? Why not? After pregnancy and gravity have had their way with me, it is the time I have felt most comfortable in my body, given the least amount of fucks. The question sounds a lot like, am I skinny enough to wear a bikini? Now, is it appropriate for a mother of young children to do so? And more than that, be open with her children about it, share and explain the pictures. I am too observant to have not noticed the judgement on parents around me.

Is it appropriate to expose them to horror and art? I let them participate in their own bloody photoshoots, obviously without the nudity involved in some of mine.

My instinctual answer to all of these questions is: hell yes, it’s appropriate. It is my body to live in and reveal as I want. I provide my children with a safe and happy home and do not expose them to anything carelessly or without evaluation.  Yet I remain acutely aware of all the consequences I could be tempting in the distance. Maybe they never come, but it would be reckless to plunge through life so carelessly. I insist on living deeply, not stupidly.

Then, maybe the most poignant question: am I safe? I hate that I even have to write that, that it is a question that has to occupy such constant real estate in my mind, but the real world is dark and full of terrors. Like I said, realities of the internet. When will I interact with the wrong person? When will I post the wrong picture? When will I share the wrong detail? When it will be too much and the consequences will be more than social?

The more I find and express myself, the more I question what it will cost me. Everything in life has its price. My brain, especially the depressive mind, quietly catalogs all the ways it could go wrong in the background. I am happy being myself. Writing dark and twisted stories. Taking pictures soaked in fake blood. Dancing on the stage. Posting about the inner workings of my fractured mind. It feels right, within MY definitions of professional, appropriate, and (hopefully) safe.

I will continue my path unaltered and see where it leads. Sometimes, I just need to stop and unpack the doubts from my head.

Christina Bergling

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