Hideous Horace was not the monster who stalked the halls of my nightmares.
But his was the first name that I learned in that dream that turned to dread. When I first glimpsed him, glaring at me, looming toward me, I thought he was the monster, even though he was clearly not a monster, but a boy, just like I was the first time I had that dream.
In that dream, I explored a new mansion-like house that my family now lived in, and I kept finding wonders. There was a room that looked like the candy aisles of a convenience store. There was a room full of unopened cardboard boxes that I somehow knew (through that sixth sense we seem to have in dreams) were full of toys, not just any toys, but ones that I specifically would love, like an all-green box of Legos or a sixty-four pack of art markers. But at some point—and I always knew it was about to go wrong, but kept going anyway—I would enter a room, or maybe an elevator that suddenly appeared, or sometimes a trap door in the ceiling, and a feeling of dread would begin to creep up behind me, carried in the jaws of a worse feeling, a feeling that I don’t think I’d ever felt before. Terror.
I’d been scared before, of course. Jump scares from my brother. Fear of bodily harm from car accidents or getting hurt during P.E. Fear of negative life stuff, like the one or two times I saw my parents fight. Even fear of bad guys and monsters, like that one time I slept over at a cousin’s house and heard something like chains dragging, and footsteps in their attic in the middle of the night. (My uncle, I later learned, was a night owl and was clearing out their attic). But the fear I felt in these nightmares was like nothing I’d ever felt before.
I woke up one day soaked in sweat, gasping for air, sobbing, and not knowing why my chest felt so tight and so cold. I watched my bedroom door, expecting my parents to rush in. They must have heard me screaming, I thought.
But I hadn’t screamed or cried out in any way.
Something was stalking the hallways of the house in my dreams. The house that was my house but not quite. Sometimes I barely remembered the details when I woke. Sometimes I would remember every detail. I would remember reaching the landing before a flight of stairs and knowing I shouldn’t climb. I would remember my curiosity overpowering my caution. I would remember a hallway coming into view. Dim light shined weakly through grimy glass bulb covers that lined the hallways. Dark stains and cracks afflicted the ceiling. The wood trim along the bottom of the walls was rotting. There were four doors. Two on each side of the hallways. One of them, slightly ajar and dark within.
Something was in there. I knew it. But it didn’t know I was there. Not yet.
I heard voices coming from behind one of the closed doors. Even though I couldn’t make out the words, and the sound was muffled, I could sense that it was safe in that room. There were familiar people in there. Not family or friends specifically, but people like them. People I cared about and who cared about me. Teachers, maybe.
So I knew there was someplace I could go if something went wrong. I walked slowly past that door, and the voices began to fade as I moved farther away from it. The sense of safety faded too.
The last thing I heard before the voices died away was a whispered word. Unlike the other muffled sounds, I heard the word clearly, even though it wasn’t nearly as loud. It was so clear but so quiet that I wondered if I’d heard it in my mind.
I took note of the name, but didn’t stop to think about it. I was approaching that slightly ajar door, like a mindless teenager in a horror movie.
I could hear something. Movement. Small thumps and scratches on the wooden floor. I kept expecting to hear breathing, or maybe a growl or snarl. But there was nothing else.
Something was waiting for me behind that door, watching me even, with angry eyes. Large angry eyes, shifting and blinking in the darkness.
The door creaked as it started to open wider.
I just remember running after that. Running down the hallway, past the door with the safe voices of teachers—there was no time to stop and open that door. I remember leaping when I got to the stairs, actually leaping with a super-human agility I could only have in dreams. I leapt down an entire flight of stairs to the next landing, and just as I dashed a few more steps and leapt again, I heard something thump down behind me, to where I’d just been on the landing.
I took another flight of stairs, and another, and I heard shuffling and scratching and thumping behind me. But I was too scared to turn around and look. And suddenly a voice within me—or maybe outside of me—said, “Stop! Hide. There.”
I had reached another hallway, a long one, and I saw another open door. Slightly ajar, again. Darkness beyond it, again. But I obeyed the voice, dashed inside, closed and locked the door, and tried to keep as quiet as I could, struggling not to huff and pant.
The thing was coming closer. I knew that it knew I was in that closet. I could feel its gaze shifting back and forth over the door, searching for me. The scratching and the light little thuds sounded louder. And past my terror and resignation, I felt betrayed by that voice that had lied to me about finding safety in that closet.
I knew I should hold on to the doorknob, stop it from turning, but I didn’t move. And the door to the closet began to open.
I woke up on the verge of a violent death.
The relief I felt on waking was so sudden and euphoric, it was almost unbearable itself. I remembered being terrified, but after I woke, I didn’t actually feel terrified. So I thought I could handle it and that the nightmares would go away on their own, like others had.
I had the dream a few times again before I started dreading going to sleep.
I’d been afraid my parents would take me to the doctor if I told them about the nightmares, so I kept it to myself. But they had figured it out anyway. It wasn’t affecting my performance in school or my appetite or interest in the usual things I was interested in. So they weren’t worried yet. My mother suggested that I write my dreams and nightmares down, so that they would drain out of my mind and onto the paper. And my mind would be able to rest at night.
But the only time I liked having a pencil in my hand was if I was doing a math problem. I couldn’t stand writing. And despite how sweat-soaked my nightmares got, I found it frustrating and boring to try and write down what happened, even though what happened had been pulse-pounding.
And maybe I was afraid too, not just of reliving the nightmare, but of giving life to it, giving it an invitation to follow me out of my dreams and into my waking life. I didn’t want to summon the boogeyman by saying his name.
Mom had given me the assignment, so I went to Dad to try and get out of it. But I knew he would tell me to try. He told me that if I didn’t want to write it down, I could draw it out, which seemed like something a little kid would do. When I mentioned that, he laughed, and told me that I could put the two together and make a comic book about my nightmare. It had never occurred to me that I could write a story. I thought all writing that kids did had to be school assignments.
I didn’t want to start with the thing that chased me. Whenever I thought about the thing, I got a weird feeling in the point between my chest and my stomach. I didn’t feel scared of it when I was awake, even at night. But it was just kind of a sickened feeling.
But I think even if I didn’t feel sickened, I would have been more interested in Horace anyway. Where did he come from? Why had he helped me? Why had he betrayed me? Was he me? Like an alter ego? Was he a part of me that was strong and brave? He didn’t feel that way. He felt like a different person in my dream. It was like dreaming of friends or family members. I recognized them as familiar and close to me, but they were other people, separate from me.
So was Horace.
I didn’t know the answers to my questions about Horace, so that’s where I started. I started by making up those answers. The story I first came up with was that Horace was a monster-chaser. And if he had to, he put those monsters away where they couldn’t bother or hurt anyone. He looked like an ordinary boy, like me. But he wasn’t an ordinary boy. He was strong and quick, and like a cartoon, he couldn’t really get hurt. I asked myself why he had to do that. Chase monsters. The answer? He was punished…by his parents. But for what?
For fighting with his brother.
That’s how Boris came into the picture. Horace’s twin and his rival.
When their regal father and majestic mother were assigning all their children to govern the many parts of their realm, they found themselves wondering what to do with their two youngest sons, the twins Horace and Boris, who were always bickering and battling.
The brothers were punished together. They were punished for fighting and quarrelling so much. And for wanting so badly to best each other that what should have been healthy competition was just a contest to one-up each other just for the sake of one-upping each other. They didn’t take the time to feel pride at any accomplishment. And they certainly didn’t take the time or energy to be good sports and congratulate each other.
After a not-so-particularly bad fight, even though the boys had made up (for the time being), their mother and father, it seemed, had maybe just had enough. They called the boys forth and told them that it was about time that Horace and Boris took on some responsibility just as their older siblings had done.
There were many creatures in their realm that needed tending to.
Because Boris apologized to his brother first, not just by his word, but by his sincerity, he was assigned to guard the harmless and the helpless creatures.
And that meant Horace was assigned to corral the mischievous and wicked creatures.
After having the nightmare so much, I began to think of the creature stalking me as a literal manifestation of fear and terror. So in my stories about Horace and Boris, I had their parents make them the princes of the realms of emotion. And all those creatures that they were corralling or protecting as assigned, were also manifestations of emotions. I didn’t want to be obvious about it and make anger be some kind of fire monster, or sadness be a soggy pile. So I mixed it up a little when I drew the character designs. Boredom was a lime-green piglet-like thing. Joy was a giant purple blob with giant dark eyes. And so on. Boris was in charge of positive emotion, and being constantly surrounded by it, was therefore somewhat naive. Horace was immersed in negative emotions and despite trying not to, often ended up feeling gloomy and dejected.
Because no one likes negative emotions and everyone likes positive ones, and because the boys were otherwise identical in their looks, their siblings teased them with the nicknames Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris.
The twins complained at first. Their siblings, they argued, had been given far more exciting and wondrous realms to watch over and guide, the realm of science, the realm of art, the realm of waters, the realm of stars, and the like. To that, their parents pointed out that their siblings weren’t constantly at each other’s throats the way Boris and Horace were.
So, the brothers begrudgingly accepted their roles. Boris even began to enjoy the company of the charming creatures he tended. Despite their fighting, Boris loved his brother and didn’t think it was fair that their parents gave him charge of the positive emotions, just because he apologized first. There were many a fight before that day when Horace was the one who first extended his hand in truce.
So Boris was constantly entreating his parents to reconsider, and to perhaps place an older sibling in charge of the negative emotions. Someone who didn’t have much to do. Whenever he tried, his parents would offer to split the duty between both boys, so that both Horace and Boris would govern the negative emotions as well as the positive.
Boris always hesitated. He could never go so far as to agree to such a deal. He was honest with his brother though, and admitted his reluctance to deal with the difficult and disgusting creatures of negative feelings. And Horace, who first hoped that his parents would agree to Boris’s deal, soon came to merely shrug, and go about his duties.
So it was.
Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris were the princes of emotion.
They may have been punished together, but they tried to serve their punishments separately, each brother claiming that he could perform his task far better than the other.
But every few days, they would spend time together. At first, they continued to race or wrestle or solve puzzles and squabble. But soon, they began to share stories of their charges. They began to ask each other advice. Some of the positive feelings that Boris tended were so fragile and delicate that he was always worried he would harm or altogether kill them. Like the tiny sea jelly-like thing that was “bliss.” Horace had a softer and more subtle touch with fragile creatures. He had much practice from raising frogs when the twins were younger. Horace likewise would asked his brother’s advice if he came across a particularly intractable negative feeling. Like the featureless, headless, bodiless mass of ropy tendrils that was “melancholy.” (I was learning a lot of new vocabulary words those days, all of them some new emotion.)
The stories I’d written and drawn about Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris started off whimsical, and then adventurous, and then sometimes introspective. I started having fun. I even thought about getting back to basics, and getting rid of all the emotion stuff, and just making the creatures be random creatures roaming around in the brothers’ realm.
I lost sight of why I had created the stories in the first place. Because the nightmares had faded away.
Then…one night…they returned.
I was back exploring that house, turning down the wrong hallway, feeling dread as I approached a door I shouldn’t be approaching, not turning around until it was too late.
I was back running from something that didn’t speak or cry out, but only thumped and shuffled and scratched at the wooden floor.
I went down the stairs again, leaping, just staying ahead of the thing. And I heard the voice guiding me to a temporary haven.
And I went into that closet. And Horace loomed toward me. It was the first time I actually saw him in my nightmares, but not the last. And he glared at me. And then he glared past me, at the door, and through the door, at whatever was on the other side.
When I woke up, after I calmed down, after I felt sorry for myself for a moment, because the thing I thought I had conquered had come back, just the same as it had always been, I reached for my paper and my markers.
I began to draw the story of the thing that had been chasing me, and later I would fill in the words.
One day, Horace went to his father and asked for help in corralling a creature he had discovered that troubled him more than all the other negative feelings. It troubled him because while most of the negative feelings caused some harm, that harm was usually temporary, and the one that was harmed could recover. Anger would cool. Sadness would fade. Pain would ease.
But Horace believed he had just come cross a feeling that caused deep and permanent harm. A feeling that he could not contain or abate on his own.
His father did not seemed surprised to hear of such a creature.
When their father first gave his unruly youngest sons their charge, he had advised them in many ways. Horace remembered one of the lessons clearly.
“Emotions cannot be controlled, but they can be and must be governed,” their father had said.
But now, his father told him of a way that this emotion might be controlled, sent away, where it could not harm anyone. There was a void called the “emotionless” into which Horace might cast this pitiful and pitiless creature he had found. There, no emotion, no matter how strong, could have any affect.
But Horace would first have to catch this creature.
His first instinct guided him to Boris, but he did not follow it. He tried to face the creature alone.
A familiar chase ensued. Horace ran and he leapt out of the way and he hid inside a well-hidden hovel, but it found him, just like it had found me hiding in that closet. And just like me, Horace was terrified and he was terribly sad, because he would die alone. And it was all for nothing, because he could have had his brother with him.
But then Horace took heart, because if Boris wasn’t with him, then Boris couldn’t be hurt by the thing that was hunting Horace.
But then Horace grew dejected again, because if he died, there would be no one who had the power to face and defeat the thing that hunted him and wanted him to hurt and to ache and then vanish.
And just like I had in my dream, he heard a name being called.
So clear, but not quiet at all.
It was Boris. He had come to look for his brother. Horace couldn’t allow the thing to get his brother. His limbs wouldn’t move, but he punched his legs and made them lift. And when he heard the shifting of that creature as its attention moved toward Boris, Horace dashed out of the hovel in which he’d been hiding, and rushed toward the worst of the negative emotions.
Boris heard his brother crying out. But Horace wasn’t calling out to him. He was crying out as if he were angry, or hurt. Boris rushed toward the sound of his brother’s voice. He heard a series of thuds and scrapes that sounded like something tearing at the bark and roots of the trees. His brother cried out again, and Boris saw a great burst of bluish light. His brother’s light. The power that Horace had been granted to help him govern the negative feelings.
Boris emerged into a clearing that looked as if it had been struck by a windstorm. Trees were torn in two, their branches ripped off and tossed to the forest floor. Tattered leaves were still floating down. In the midst of it all stood Horace panting and gripping the space between his chest and stomach.
Horace told his brother everything, and entreated his help to find and capture the creature he had just faced, and banish it to the emotionless void.
They prepared themselves, and they went hunting for the creature.
Boris wanted to see the creature that troubled his brother so much that Horace’s complexion had dimmed and drained to a deathly gray ash. He noted the careful and heavy steps his brother took as he walked, and he too was troubled.
At last, they tracked the creature to a deep cavern at the base of the oldest mountain in their realm. Horace turned to Boris and peered at him.
“What do you think?” Horace asked. “What do you feel?”
Boris blinked, puzzled. “How should I know,” he said, “until I look at it?”
“Do not look upon it,” Horace said, holding out his hand. “I can look because mother and father have given me charge over all the negatives.” He worried that his brother would push him out of the way, claiming his eyes were as strong as Horace’s, and try to take a peek. Horace prepared himself to knock his brother down. Better that Boris’s arm broke, or his leg, than whatever might break within him if he laid eyes on that monstrous creature.
But Boris was not mindless. He could tell when Horace was boasting and when Horace was merely stating fact. He heeded his brother’s warning and did not look. Instead, he grinned, trying to cheer his brother, and asked.
“What does it look like? Is it ugly?”
Horace hesitated. He took a bracing breath and said, “It is the ugliest creature I have ever laid eyes on. It is truly…hideous.”
But Boris laughed, thinking his brother was making a jest of his own nickname. “Is it uglier than eldest sister?”
It was well-established that their eldest sister was unusually beautiful. (Many said she looked like her great-grandmother, who had striking eyes and a mighty grip.)
“Close your eyes, brother,” Horace said. “Do you not feel anything?”
With a brief sigh, Boris obeyed and closed his eyes.
He felt a sick feeling in the pit between his chest and his stomach. He gasped and opened his eyes.
“What is that?”
“It’s called ‘hate,’” Horace said. “And it cannot be governed.”
With that, Horace took a step toward the cavern, but Boris gripped his brother’s harm and pulled him back.
“You faced it alone once,” Boris said. “This time…together.”
Horace nodded. The twins stood side by side. Boris would have to keep his eyes closed, so Horace put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and guided him forward.
Horace raised his left hand. Boris raised his right.
As they summoned the powers their mother and father had granted them to govern all feeling, Horace noted the soft glow of light around him and his brother.
The light they summoned was so bright that even Horace could not see the creature as it emerged from the cavern, as he and his brother faced it.
It whipped and writhed against the hold they had on it. It never cried out, but Horace felt its eyes on him, shifting back and forth over his face, trying to catch his gaze through the light of his power.
Horace glared through the light. He did not blink. And with his brother by his side, he did not waver.
Horace felt the burden of the negative feelings lift from him. Boris felt the pressure of the positive feelings ease upon him. Calm and peace filled the space that was left within the brothers.
Together, they banished hate into the emotionless void.
Something changed after I started writing and drawing that particular story. Whenever I ended up in that closet, a voice, not a comforting one, but definitely an ally, would tell me to stay where I was for the time being, to let the danger pass. And even though I was still scared that I would get shredded to death, I also started feeling…amped, and ready to fight to the end. And I felt that at least I wouldn’t be alone. There was someone with me.
Horace was with me.
“Is it hate?” I would ask, even though I thought it was obvious.
But Horace wouldn’t talk to me the way he talked to his brother. He would just shrug.
“Can you help me fight it?” I would ask.
And I could never remember if he answered. I only remembered that the dream ended there.
The door would never open. I would not wake in horror. I would just wake feeling troubled, because I wanted Horace to help me fight, and I never learned his answer to my question.
For a while, all was well in their realm of feelings. Without hate to corrupt the other emotions, the negative ones weren’t so bad as to be unbearable, and the positive ones lasted longer.
And I too suffered fewer and fewer nightmares, until they went away altogether, again. And Horace went with them.
But hate had allies, and it always managed to return.
In later stories, when I was an older kid, it was suspicion and prejudice who found a way to open the passage into the emotionless void and let hatred out.
Once again, Horace and Boris had to set aside their bickering and their rivalry and work together.
And so it happened with me too. The nightmare would return on occasion. But even when I hadn’t had it for a while, I remembered it. I remembered my allies, the twin princes of the realm of emotion.
I was a lucky kid. My father grew up poor, but he made sure that his family never wanted for anything. And I never did. That is, I had the luxury of pining after toys for my birthday, because I never had to pine for the basics of survival, like a warm safe place to sleep, or a peanut-butter-and-jam sandwich, or new clothes and supplies at the start of the school year.
So I didn’t really think about some of the worst negative emotions, like suffering and hate in real life. When I created the brothers Horace and Boris to help me figure out my nightmare, and make it go away, I didn’t realize what it really meant that they were charged with governing emotions.
In their realm, emotions were monsters and beasts and fantastical creatures.
I would revisit my old allies whenever my nightmare returned, changing up their story just a little.
When I had the nightmare again as a teenager, for instance, I created a story where the worst of the negative emotions was the root of all emotional dysfunction.
It was hatred. It had returned. This amorphous, hard-to-pin-down, worse-than-a-monster…thing, that was always trying to corrupt everyone and everything, including the other emotions. And it started that corruption with the negative emotions. It would turn ordinary nervousness and anxiety into a feeling so relentless and inescapable that it became despair. It would turn normal anger into something that festered and simmered so long that it exploded into rage. It would turn the unwanted but accepted emotions of sadness and mourning into feelings so powerful and blinding that they became depression. It would turn momentary pain into an unbearable thing called suffering.
It was hatred who did all these things. Who threatened to turn all emotions into the worst emotions. Hatred did not seek to bring the world into its sway. Hatred did not seek chaos and disorder. Hatred sought what only chaos and disorder and despair and rage could bring…utter destruction, even of itself.
I never drew any images for that story. It turned out to be more of a diatribe actually. My teenage self sorting out my feelings about feelings.
Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris abandoned me for being tiresome and self-involved.
In my twenties, I went back to basics again, and drew an image of the twins facing something that was most definitely not hate, or any other emotion. They were just kids with powers again, like they were when I first envisioned them as a kid myself. The creatures were just creatures again. Some of the creatures they corralled and protected were their sidekicks now—a few quite helpful and others serving as comic hindrances.
I tried to give my old friend Horace a break by not making him look miserable. He just ended up looking serious, stepping forward with his arm raised, summoning light to fight whatever his brother, one step behind him, was pointing at. It couldn’t have been that bad, because Boris had a smile on his face. The brothers wore shirts of alternating blue and green blocks, my favorite colors as a boy. They were surrounded by their sidekicks, the three-headed fluke-face, the little green piglet, the spiral-horned penguin thing, a five-eyed panda fox, and that purple blob monster. (I loved that guy. I would doodle him in the margins of my notebook in class.)
That was the last I saw of Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris. That was my send-off to my old allies.
My daughter found the stories one day when she was clearing out the attic to make space for her girl-cave. She didn’t tell me about them before she looked at all the drawings and read all the words, every embarrassing one. I was mortified when I realized what that crinkled stack of papers was in her hands.
“Dad! Why didn’t you ever tell me you made a comic!” She held the papers away from me when I tried to swipe them from her.
I glanced over at my wife, who knew about the childhood nightmares that followed me into adulthood, and only really went away once I hit my thirties. She was no help. She merely smiled.
“We should try to publish these,” my daughter said, just when I realized that I had named her after the eldest sister of Horace and Boris. She shook the pages at me. “You should write more. I can help…if that’s okay.”
I told her to take those pages and do with them what she wanted. What she wanted was to organize them carefully into a binder and put them on my desk so I would look at them again.
I usually scoff at the notion that good things come out of bad. Given the choice, I would have preferred to not have those nightmares. And that would mean I never would have created Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris. But I hadn’t had those nightmares in ages. And I was curious. Even if I wasn’t, I owed it to my girl to at least flip through the binder.
I was one of those kids who was meticulous about putting dates and page numbers and titles on everything, even the comics that I made only for myself. I started noticing something about the dates I was seeing on the Hideous Horace stories, and something about the stories themselves. A good number of the stories—most in fact, I noted, as I flipped through them—were created during times when I was not having those nightmares.
Hideous Horace was the good thing that I created to face the bad thing. But after he did that, he was the good thing that continued to face things, not just horrible monsters, but challenging challenges. He and his brother went on adventure after adventure, got entangled in mishap after mishap. They ended up doing what their parents no doubt intended for them to do when they first charged the twins with their duty. They ended up working together to govern all the creatures—or the emotions, or the psychological constructs, or whatever the concept was that I was fascinated by at any given point in my youth.
I smiled. Not a bad message. Sure it was obvious, but it was also sincere.
I found the story where the twins first defeated hate.
“It will take more than just the two of us next time,” Horace said in the last panel.
“In that case,” Boris said, slinging an arm over his brother’s shoulder, “maybe we should start being nicer to our brothers and sisters.”
They laughed and walked away toward a bakery together to get cookies.
I smiled again. Maybe my daughter was right. Not about the publishing the stories part necessarily. But about resurrecting these two rapscallions.
Maybe it was time they went on another adventure. Maybe it was time I reacquainted myself with my old allies…and this time, maybe Hideous Horace and Beautiful Boris could be more than allies to a child in need. Maybe this time, they could be friends.
Copyright © 2017 Nila L. Patel.