To celebrate the release of the second season of Come Join Us By The Fire, our audio horror anthology, we’ve asked authors with stories included in this year’s anthology to join us and write about horror. Below, Cassandra Khaw, whose story “Some Breakable Things” you can listen to here, writes about the work of grieving a loved one’s death through fiction.
Most of my stories are poor guests. They arrive without warning, they linger without respect for the plans I might have had, and they stay until I put them onto a page. Because of this, I rarely pay attention to when they first make an appearance. They’re there until they’re not.
But I know the exact hour when I began writing “Some Breakable Things.”
I’d woken up that day in Portland and stumbled from my bed. My mother was on Facebook. Before I had time to really wake up, she sent me a message, “Do you have anyone there to take care of you?”
What followed shortly after was her explaining that my father had died of a heart attack and, as I panickedly explained I’d be making arrangements to get home right the hell then, she told me not to bother. They were scattering his ashes later that day. There was no point, she said. No reason to come home.
People say that funerals are for the living. I didn’t understand until that moment. It was ten in the morning. I sat, dumbstruck, staring at the chat window, unable to put into words what I felt. The loss of my father and not only that, the loss of my right to say goodbye. Instead of the company of my family, I was marooned on a far-off continent, alone, sick with grief and rage.
I began writing “Some Breakable Things” then. Half an hour after I received the news. I remember pulling up the document, I remembering staring at the blank page. I remember writing that first scene with excruciating care, wanting to give some version of me the comfort of attending his funeral.
I’ve always been haunted by my father. Following a messy divorce, one compounded by his affair with my mother’s best friend and said best friend’s husband threatening to hurt my family in retaliation, he vanished from my life, travelling up north to live with his new partner. Once in a while, he’d come down to Kuala Lumpur, and he would not be a good father but he would be there. And like any kid, I drank it up how and when I could.
Then he’d go away and I’d be left trying to reconcile who he was and who I remembered from my childhood.
It has been four years since his death. I still fuck up the tenses. I sit with his ghost every day, even though it has receded now to a collection of faded bones in the corner of my eye. He is there, not-there, and I see him in the lines of my smile, in the way I write myths when I need to make sense of the world. He was a storyteller. He is the reason I write, will always be the reason I write.
Anyway, “Some Breakable Things” came about because people made poor decisions on my behalf, because I wanted to say goodbye, because the only tribute I could think of that felt right was this: a story, full of ghosts and hurt, that ends like a scream in the void.
Sometimes, there are no happy endings.
Sometimes, it’s just about letting the world know you were in pain.
Cassandra Khaw is an award-winning game writer, and currently works as a scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal. Her work can be found in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. Her first original novella, Hammers on Bone, was a British Fantasy award and Locus award finalist, and her forthcoming novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth, will be published by Nightfire in September 2021.