's 2020 Horror Write-off:

The Power of Names

Submitted by Samsinater (email)

Did you know you can give a name to anything? Anything at all. Not just that; you can change its very nature with that name. Name an apple Desire and people will want it; an arrow Angel and it will soar; a pile of dirt Hope and plants will grow from it.

This power tends to be small, but if you want to expand it, you must realize anything can be a name. Any word from any language; if it has meaning, it will share that meaning with you. You can even try it yourself. Grab an apple, and name it Apple. Give it distinction in your mind, focus it through that capital letter if you must, and convince yourself this name has meaning.

If you can convince yourself, you'll convince the apple. Its skin will be more vibrant, its bruises may disappear, and it will certainly be tastier to bite into.

Of course, a name can't preserve an apple forever. No matter how hard you believe it is an apple (or an Apple) the nature of an apple is still to wither and die.

But isn't the fact that you can extend its life, even just a little, absolutely beautiful?

There is much speculation about the power of human names. Does naming someone David confer special benefits? What about Roger? Emmanuel? I know the secret. Anyone can believe anything about a name, but ultimately individual thought tends to be moot. It lacks consensus.

If you want a name that has meaning, consensus is a must. Names of historical figures work best, though just reusing a first name has limited effects. Who knows how many people have gone by George, besides Washington? Never mind that, unlike apples, people are fickle. They can respond to their name, embrace it or rebel in kind. Some even choose a new name later on.

But one day it clicked: I've never met a person named Apple. What would happen if you named a child something unusual, something you won't find in a census record?

I named my firstborn People, just to see what would happen. Would he undergo mitosis and split into a crowd? Would he become indistinct, shifting between appearances? Nothing so exciting, in reality. He merely began hearing phantom voices, and believing he was someone else each day. The boy could hardly identify himself in the mirror by age 6, always insisting there were others in the way. A real disaster, to be sure, but I loved him all the same.

Besides, a good scientist doesn't give up. Experiments aren't for stopping at the first failure. I had plenty of room to give People siblings.

Taking a page from the four horsemen, I named my next child Death. I hoped to bestow upon her some preternatural power. By assigning her a name before she was born, she was a stillbirth instead. Terribly stupid, I thought; I didn't name her Dead. But then, the maggots and rot that came out of me were somewhat unnatural. Spontaneous generation was disproven centuries ago, but perhaps names have the power to resurrect old notions.

My third child came into the world as Fly. I meant to capture the wondrous notion of flight, but instead I got the common insect. Like his brother, his differences were largely mental: even before he knew what a fly was, he spit on his food before eating it, liked to rub his hands together, and had a fondness for fleeing from the slightest hint of danger.

Sadly, much like the average fly, he didn't always get out of the way fast enough. I never meant to let him play in traffic, mind, but his adventurous spirit triumphed over the locked front door. People cried for one day, and forgot about Fly the next. Life moves on.

Immortal came fourth. Tracking her progress will be a bit tricky in the long run, but she's done well so far. She's quiet. Contemplative, even. Likes to sit in the closet for days at a time. She happily tells me it's like a "warm coffin." I haven't fed her in years. She doesn't seem to mind.

For my fifth child, I tried a longer name. I wanted something you would name a good book. In an effort to be poetic, I whispered her name the night she was conceived: The Missing Star That Consumes Humanity's Sins.

She was okay.

Like Immortal, she showed no interest in food, instead tending to silently follow and hug me, smiling contentedly all the while. This obviously sustained her (if I enforced a distance, she got less plump) but it was tough to imagine why. Science isn't a sin.

A shame that she was just as precocious as Fly, and managed to both escape her room and slip into mine one night. I woke up to the sound of something hot and wet splattering my side, and found her there under the covers, stomach burst violently open. Whatever she was feeding on, it must have been more than her little body could contain. She died as she lived: a permanent, glowing smile etched into her face.

Still, she was nothing compared to my final attempt.


A deceptively simple name, yet juicy with conceptual energy. Despite my scientific detachment, it sent me shivers. I trembled with excitement just at the thought of seeing my true son for the first time.

And he was beautiful.

Hair and eyes that positively glowed; an undeniable musculature under his baby fat; even his bones were solid from birth. He was the heaviest child I bore by twelve pounds, and not for nothing.

His entire childhood had me in goosebumps. The air around him positively crackled. When he sprinted from one end of the house to the other, it thundered (indoors and out). On some days he seemed to enjoy launching toys with his mind -- or was he just that fast? -- and on others he disassembled his siblings for fun. (Immortal always survived. People did not.) Not a day went by that I didn't fear him, or the next casual flex of his power. That was what kept things so dreadfully exciting: it was impossible to gauge the limits of his namesake.

Against all expectations, he rarely defied me, and when he did it was never a secret or an accident. When he dropped a plate on the floor, shattering it instantly, he looked me dead in the eyes as he did so. And when I told him to fix it, he did so perfectly without complaint. The silence made it impossible to tell if he had some greater machination, but if not, he certainly knew the silence was enough.

That endless dance was dangerously intoxicating. It was like watching my own reflection, knowing for certain that I was the inferior duplicate, yet never sure if my reflection knew. (He knew. He knows.) How could anyone ever describe the full euphoria of fearing their own creation? My legacy was secured a hundred times over, and counting; all I had left to do was die.

But he wouldn't do me the honors. He knew full well what I wanted, and always kept it from me, just out of reach. I waited for years, not wanting (or able) to rush him, but he had a sadistic streak: on his eighteenth birthday, he blew out the candles, kissed me on the forehead (not even hard enough to leave a scar), and walked out the front door without a word.

I don't know where he went, or what he does now, and that's what scares me most. He knows it. Every time a tree falls, or an earthquake passes, or a hurricane brews, I remember him and tremble. It always leaves me queasy with anxiety. It's always a false alarm. It always will be until it isn't.

Still. It is a small comfort.

Few have the privilege of knowing exactly how they will die, and who will violently kill them.