This story was written during the pandemic shutdown. Sadly, I didn’t need to look very far for inspiration for this one. I was taking a horror literature class over the summer of 2020 while simultaneously reading news stories about nursing homes being abandoned and staff leaving the residents behind to die during the pandemic; I found those stories infinitely more terrifying and bleak than any horror movie or novel. Our family has had a member in a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s—not like the one in my story, thank God—but I immediately thought of our loved ones being left behind to suffer, and it made sense for me to pursue that as my next story. It really angered me just how much we devalue the elderly in our society, and that became the primary focus of The Last Golden Hour. I wanted to focus on the segment in society that always seems to get left behind. Much of 2020 felt like the end of the world, or close to it, and our horror literature professor had encouraged us to use the pandemic a means to channel our creative energy, and this was my response to that.
I wanted to capture Dave’s story in the first person, as it seemed the best way to capture his sense of confusion [and his perspective regarding how] the world around him falls apart. My short stories tend to be on the long side, but I really wanted this piece to a bit more minimalist. Setting the story primarily in Dave’s room seemed the best way capture his isolation and loneliness. I think horror works best in these small, isolated spaces, and I wanted the real, human element of elderly abuse to be just as horrific as the apocalyptic events transpiring outside Dave’s room.
Why do you write horror?
For me, it takes me back to being a kid. I’d watch countless Roger Corman and 80s schlocky horror films with my dad when I was young. On camping trips, we’d tell ghost stories around the fire. My dad told great ones. During sleepovers, my friends and I would stay up late writing horror stories and comics, trying to scare each other as we did. And so, I’ve always equated the horror genre with being a kid again. There is an enormous amount of nostalgia for me in this genre.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost family members. I’ve seen and read about horrible things here and all over the world, so I started to look at the genre in a different way. I think the horror genre lends itself as a way to write about our current fears and anxiety without explicitly addressing them. For many, horror is a fun, entertaining way to be scared, or watch horrific things happen, and it certainly can be that. But for me, it’s a way to write about and express universal human emotions and fears like grief, loss, loneliness, death and what comes after and so on. During the past decade I think we’ve seen a renaissance of new horror: horror being repurposed to express other, more modern fears in our society. I think that really shows us that horror can take us far beyond general genre expectations. It’s also incredibly fun to write.
JOSEPH LEWIS is currently in his last semester as a graduate student in Cleveland State University’s NEOMFA Creative Writing Program. He previously taught English and Film Studies at the Sichuan University of Arts and Science in China, where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for three years. He has been published in Prairie Margins literary magazine, and his screenplay, Retribution, placed second in the 2003 Ohio Independent Screenplay contest. He is currently in the process of completing his thesis, which will be a horror novel set on a fictitious Lake Erie island during the winter. You can reach him at Jjlewis1981@gmail.com