I wrote a TOO SOON column over at Where the Long Tails Ends about Scary Moment in Books and Movies, and if I had been thinking properly, I would have included Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. While generally not considered a horror story, the story of 15 year old Connie who is home alone when two men arrive to take her away is genuinely chilling. And because Oates is an amazing writer, she is smart enough to set up the story in a way that you can interpret the events happening in our world or in a world where the Devil himself has come for Connie. I tend to go back and forth every time I read the story, but the information is there for either interpretation.
The real fun – if you can consider such a story to be fun – comes from the dialogue. Take this scene, for instance, where Arnold Friend – one of the men who has come for Connie – is trying to talk her out of the house:
“Honey—? Listen, here’s how it is. I always tell the truth and I promise you this: I ain’t coming in that house after you.”
“You better not! I’m going to call the police if you—if you don’t—”
“Honey,” he said, talking right through her voice, “honey, I’m not coming in there but you are coming out here. You know why?”
She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn’t good enough, wasn’t going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you’d probably feel something sticky there.
“You listening, honey? Hey?” “—going to call the police—”
“Soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won’t want that.”
It’s powerful stuff, and considering that the majority of the story is a conversation between Connie and Arnold Friend, it’s a testament to Oates talent for writing that the story works as effectively as it does. As the reader, you know that if Connie leaves her house with Arnold, her life – that is, if she still has one – will never be the same. When Connie asks what it is he’ll do to her, he responds:
“Just two things, or maybe three,” Arnold Friend said. “But I promise it won’t last long and you’ll like me the way you get to like people you’re close to. You will. It’s all over for you here, so come on out.”
I won’t tell you if Connie comes out or not, I don’t want to rob you of the experience that Oates so carefully constructed. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least warn you that “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is one of those stories that will stay with you for a long time.
Don’t believe me? Find out for yourself right here.