In keeping with the theme of childhood and newer (past few years) authors emerging from within the speculative genre, this post’s selection is from 2010 Nebula Award winner, Kij Johnson.
“Ponies” is a disturbing and darkly depicted take on nonage. The story focuses on what is presumably a playdate gone wrong. Attendees of this playdate, each equipped with their own plastic pony, must choose wisely and make sacrifices in order to fit into a cultish clique of girls. The story meshes elements of horror and fantasy in order to create a sweet and sick blend of “cotton-candy blood” and mangled childhood memories.
A flashback into childhood can conjure images of light-hearted summer days and sleepovers with friends, or birthday parties with brightly colored latex balloons. The fantasy that nothing really hurt as a kid, that nothing was ever dark, and that monsters only existed at night (at least until the night-lights were turned on) is seriously challenged in this whacked-out porthole to a very scary playdate.
What starts off as an innocent game quickly turns grim when we are introduced to the character of TopGirl. Belonging to a hoard of psychotic girls obsessed with disfiguring poor toy ponies, TopGirl represents the archetypal “Queen Bee”: she is manipulative and enviable. She’s popular and is dying to let you in on her little “secrets”…but, of course, only for a price. That price is unwavering dedication to her and her schemes.
This story is horrific in the way it sheds light on what people will do to achieve a sense of community, especially when they’re innocent. It gave me chills—not only because of the graphic depictions of violence and the psychopathic characterizations, but because of its characters. Kids. Kids! This gore-filled tale follows a simple-minded and selfish human being, a tantrum throwing and bubble-blowing girl-child, an ingénue playing with dolls.
In literature, dystopian images are often paired with armies of corrupted adults or adult-like figures (here’s lookin’ at you, Animal Farm), but when was the last time children were this twisted? There was Children of the Corn, but you can’t tell me those kids weren’t grown up. This piece is about babies who live with Mom and Dad and ride in car-seats—these are little girls. That’s really freaking scary. This piece makes me worry that when I go back home to visit my niece and my little cousins there might be a possibility that I’ll enter their rooms to find doll heads strung together and teddy bears being cannibalized by other teddy bears.
Ok, so maybe that’s far-fetched—but maybe it isn’t. All fiction stems from something real, and horror relies on the possibility of the unlikely. Being “popular” and fitting in is a real-life pressure and it’s also the perfect example of horror in real life. Children are so susceptible to this pressure that they are willing to completely change who they are just to get an invite (or, I guess, an e-vite) to go to same party where Becky-Sue Linberg is gonna be because they think that Becky-Sue Linberg is the ticket to their success in the real world. So who’s to say that these sort of savage shenanigans won’t occur?
– Contributed by Hannah-Sophie Hirsch