My father thought science fiction, fantasy, and horror were silly. He just didn’t get them, though he had a huge appreciation for folklore even if it verged on the fantastical. He was a practical man. He ran his own business, took care of all the repairs around the house himself, and didn’t have the patience for dippy interests.
Still, he was playful, and he may have accidentally pushed open a door I was already peeking around as a child.
I was an early reader. A young child’s mind that is unfolding to the world is fertile ground for the wonder of books, stories, fables, and magical illustrations. Kids have the equivalent of alluvial soil in their heads, all loamy and rich and waiting for stuff to plant itself. So I was already inclined a certain way, you might say, when this thing I’m about to tell you happened.
I was maybe nine years old. We’d just moved to a new house. On summer nights we’d sit on the front porch to catch a breeze under the trees. But on this particular muggy evening we were inside, in the kitchen my father was installing, and he turned to me suddenly and said, “Why don’t you go see if I’m out on the porch?”
I remember my momentary freeze as I processed his words.
“Go ahead. See if I’m sitting out there. Then come back and tell me.”
I was old enough to understand it was impossible, and yet . . . he was my dad. Who knew what kind of powers he might actually have, or what kind of secrets surrounded us all? At that moment I realized how much I didn’t know about the world.
I hesitated. “You can’t be out there and in here at the same time.” I knew I was right, and yet . . .
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. He broke into a grin and pulled me in for a hug.
Today’s nine-year-olds would be too sophisticated for that fleeting pause, you might think, and you might be right. But as I look back on that moment, I see it as a burning hole blown wide open, full of what ifs and maybes, alternate universes and cosmic mysteries, things unexplainable on a purely physical plane. The fodder of speculative fiction, brought to me by a father who didn’t like speculative fiction.
Years later I’d have a recurring dream in which a silhouette in a coat and a man’s hat would appear in the shadows of the porch on a foggy night, and I would run terrified away from the door. The man was not my father, and the dream not directly connected to my father’s joke, but the portal had been opened.
Thanks, Dad. I love you and miss you terribly.
Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin writes speculative fiction and poetry. Her stories have appeared in the four Penhead anthologies (most recently Colors: Stories in 5 Shades), Supernatural Tales, Luna Station Quarterly, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and other publications. A Pushcart Prize nominee, Carrie has published poetry in Third Wednesday, Writing In A Woman’s Voice, Grasslimb, and other places. She is author of the horror novel Snare and a member of the Horror Writers Association. You can find her at cvnelkin.com, on Twitter at @cvnelkin, and on Facebook (Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, Author).