“Still” by Tia Travis will be appearing in Prime’s forthcoming Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2012 edited by Paula Guran. Pre-order here!
There’s a sort of quiet foreboding to this story, almost a freezing of time, which is also reflected in the title. What inspired this tale?
I grew up on the prairies, in the provinces of Manitoba and Alberta. I lived on a farm where my dad tried (and failed) to make a living growing grain; in trailers in the middle of nowhere (including my uncle’s pasture); in a series of small towns; in a mining community in Northern Manitoba where family friends lost their lives before we moved on. We were always moving, but one of the constants of that semi-nomadic lifestyle was the beautiful, melancholy, often harsh reality of the rural Canadian landscape. Some of these memories—running through endless fields, catching wind in empty jars—infuse this story. One memory stands out as inspiration for “Still”: that of racing home in a panic to inform my mother that my brother (I was four, he was three) had hooked his snowsuit on a barbed-wire fence that ran through part of frozen Snow Lake. I was too small to unhook him, though I struggled as much as a four-year-old could. (This was the 70s, pre-helicopter parenting, probably the last decade when kids ran wild and unsupervised until the streetlights came on.) I recall the guilt: the dread knowledge that I failed in my responsibility as protective Big Sister. I was sure when I returned with my mum that it would be too late: my brother would have fallen through the ice and drowned or bled to death from puncture wounds. And it would be all my fault. Lafe was cold, wet, scared, but no worse for wear except a rip in his snowsuit. We had preternatural luck in those days. And I shudder when I say that. But yes, there’s a little personal experience blended with this story’s imaginings.
Do you think the Ghost Woman will ever move on, or does she keep herself in this same place, repeatedly, perhaps as some kind of punishment?
I like happy endings, in fiction and especially in real life … even when I don’t write them into my stories. Since finishing “Still” I’ve become a mum myself, and while I wouldn’t say I’m terrified to let two-year-old Neve out of my sight—although she’s playing at my feet as I type—my worries and fears are greatly magnified. I recognize dangers where none seemed to exist. So returning to the physical and emotional landscapes in this story is something I am able to experience now not only through the daughter’s perspective, but through the mother’s as well. It’s unsettling. I left the ending open to leave room for different interpretations. But without leaning too much in one direction or another, I like to believe there’s a certain closure in the otherworldly reunion between mother and daughter. Perhaps a hint of a happy ending, or at least a peaceful one, even in death …