(You can read this post without reading my short story Stitched, but the full text is available here.)
If anyone ever asks me where I get my story ideas, this is what I’m going to tell them:
I was a twentyish college kid and my kitten was going to die. I’d never had a pet of my own before, and I sure had fucked this one up. Four short months into her life, it was ending.
Until then, I’d been under the impression that cats landed on their feet, but my cat had fallen on her head. She’d had a seizure. Her brain swelled, making her head loll to one side. The vet gave me anti-inflammatory pills for her and told me that was all he could do.
“She could go at any time,” he said.
While I watched her walk in circles and vomit in the litter box — while I waited for her to go — I realized I didn’t have any idea what to do with an animal’s dead body. My family would have buried her in the backyard, but I lived far away from them, in an apartment. There was no place to bury my kitten. I knew I wouldn’t have long to figure it out after she died, so I started searching online.
I learned that you could leave their bodies out with the trash, as long as you notified the county, but I couldn’t do that to my baby. I learned that you could have them cremated, which appealed to me, though I knew I couldn’t afford the process.
And I learned about pet preservation.
There existed a company not too far from my area that, for a fee, would freeze-dry your pet. They emphasized that the process was not the same as taxidermy, where you’d pull an animal skin over a premade form. Freeze-drying kept the animal completely intact, bones and organs and all. They’d use reference photos to pose your pet as naturally as possible, and they’d mail you the little preserved corpse, which you’d then be free to display.
I wanted to click away from the page in disgust, but I found myself scrolling through the testimonials, most of which mentioned something about “having our beloved pet back forever”.
I let my eyes sloooowly drift toward my kitten. Forever. Didn’t that sound good?
Luck must have been on my side back then, because over the next few weeks, she healed up almost perfectly. She’ll always have vision problems, and she’ll never be able to have surgery thanks to the increased risk of seizure that comes along with anesthesia, but she’s a happy, healthy five-year-old today.
After that scare, I didn’t stop planning for the future. I bought her a collar I could remember her by if she passed away, and I decided to save up for cremation. I came to my senses about the freeze-drying procedure. Having her body around would be nothing like having her. It’d be just another empty, soulless thing to gather dust.
The more I thought about it, the more curious I got. There were obviously people who loved having their freeze-dried pets around. What did they get out of it? I wondered how someone who’d keep a pet’s body forever would handle trying to come to terms with a human loved one’s death.
Just like that, the seeds of a story took root.
I came up with a woman who’d had her dead pets preserved, who thought of it as a celebration of their lives. When her teenage daughter suddenly died, it only seemed natural to do the same.
Her husband had always been skeptical about the freeze-drying situation, but he’d never been much of a family man. As it turned out, he had a lot to say to his daughter’s body, and a lot to make amends for.
These thoughts stewed in my head for a long time. I didn’t want to put them on paper. The idea made me uncomfortable, brought back bad memories, even grossed me out a little.
Eventually, I wrote and self-published the short story Stitched, which has been more widely read and enjoyed than any of my other work. It was my first foray into horror, which made it more derivative than I would have liked (the Stephen King is strong with this one), but my discomfort during the writing process made it a story worth telling.
Here’s the true definition of horror fiction, as far as I’m concerned: It’s something you relate to, but wish you didn’t.
These days, I’m working on plenty of other horror projects. My sources of inspiration vary, from a sudden rainstorm to a road sign to a mountaintop sunset. I think these stories are better than Stitched in terms of plot and characterization, and I hope for them to eventually see the light of day.
But nothing will beat the story of how Stitched came to be. I still feel the horrible knowledge of what’s to come creeping up on me every time I look at the first few lines.
When Armand arrives home from work, he walks upstairs to his daughter’s room to press his forehead for several minutes against the cool wooden door, the same way he has each day since her death.
Today, though, the door is open. And his daughter is lying on her side on the window seat, hands folded beneath her head.