My daughter writes stories. They’re terrifying and delightful. She’s six. Her latest is a fully illustrated book, made up of several sheets of white scrap paper bound together along the righthand margin with eight haphazard staples.
“What can I do?” she had asked after we arrived home from a day in Chicago. I was tired and wanted a break from kids.
“Anything you want,” I said. “Read a book, draw a picture, play with–”
“No,” she interrupted. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh.” I paused. “You could write me a story and illustrate–”
She didn’t even let me finish. Before I was done speaking, she was at the table with the paper and the pencils, bent over her work.
Later, she brought me the finished product. “It’s pronounced ‘His-lon-ee-ups,’” she explained.
“What are his-lonyups?”
“I made them up.”
I’ve recreated the text of the work below, edited for spelling. It’s grim, folks. The girl is a miniature Edward Gorey.
The Land of the His-Lonyups
The cover has a image of a skull and a backward question mark. From the side of the skull protrudes the hilt of a sword, along with what might be an effluence of blood or brain matter.
Long ago in a far away land, there was a man who was named Peter.
She introduces the story’s main character. In his image he is depicted as a young, smiling man with spiky hair. He holds what might be a milkshake in his left hand and wears a backpack. Our hero is obviously young, hopeful, and prepared to travel.
He went to an island on a boat.
There are hints here of Where the Wild Things Are, especially in this image, which shows Peter in his small boat on the waves. The island he approaches holds trees– flame-like protuberances on slender sticks. But what is this hidden among them? Do the trees bear fruit, or is that something more sinister?
The island was creepy. He heard a noise. SRESS! [sic] went the noise.
She’s effectively building atmosphere as well as intrigue. What sort of island is this creepy island? What kind of animal would make a noise like “Sress!” Is it a shriek? Or a hiss? Or some unholy combination of the two? The image here gives us no clues. It simply shows Peter, now as a stick-figure, approaching a weirdly-shaped tree. In a thought bubble over his head hangs the ominous backward question mark from the cover.
Then he saw a black face stick out of the trees!
This image shows Peter– his face now bearing an expression of horror and surprise– at the base of the strange tree. Extending downward from one of the branches, hanging upside-down like a bat, is the face of what I can only assume to be a his-lonyup. Twin fangs extend upward from a grinning mouth. Its eyes are thin and slanted; its ears sharp and pointed.
It was a his-lonyup. The his-lonyup kild [sic] him . . .
Our worst fears have been confirmed. Peter, the plucky protagonist, lies prone, his dotted eyes replaced by the familiar cartoon Xs of death. The his-lonyup, which we can now see as some horrific bat-cat crossbreed, stands beside him. The slitted eyes are wide, the smile even wider. This monster, it is clear, kills not for food or from a sense of self-preservation but for the simple pleasure of it.
and he still remains in the graveyard forever more.
The final image is a tombstone marked “Peter.” What may have been a cautionary tale of youthful exploration gone horribly wrong on this final, poignant page becomes something deeper– an examination of the mortality we all carry with us. We will all, one day, the author seems to be saying, face our own his-lonyups– the savage, inexplicable wilds of our own existences that kill without thought or mercy. We are all Peter, and each day is an island. Who knows what horrors await among the trees?
I told my daughter the next morning that I had nightmares about his-lonyups all night. She grinned.
I think she’s already at work on a sequel.