It’s starting to warm up here in Chicagoland. The birds are chirping, the grass is growing, the sun is occasionally showing its face, and the scent of thawing dog shit is filling the air. You can understand why this is my absolute favorite time of the year. Now that we have that out of the way, as we start to make our way into the golden days of summer, I find myself longing for the shorter, darker days of autumn and the spooky stories that brings.
I have been a huge fan of horror writing for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark being read around campfires, and less fond memories of the hours I spent later those nights staring out my window in expectation of some supernatural horror coming for my soul. Perhaps these experiences scarred me somehow, instilling a kind of Stockholm syndrome in me. “No, I love being scared….totally.”
I also have a fondness for novel window dressings. I love distinct storytelling formats and the unique constraints that authors writing within them have to deal with. It should be no surprise then, to those that are aware of it, that I am an avid reader of the SCP Foundation wiki. For anyone reading this that have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the Wikipedia definition: The SCP Foundation is a collaborative creative fiction writing website that describes the exploits of the SCP Foundation, a fictional organization responsible for containing entities, locations and objects that violate natural law. It is essentially one part creepypasta, one part science fiction, one part lab report.
The website is essentially a large group roleplaying exercise, wherein the authors take on the roles of researchers and agents working for “The Foundation”, a worldwide, multi-planetary, trans-dimensional organization with the objective of Securing, Containing, and Protecting entities, objects, and places that don’t behave in the way they should. These range from vending machines that can dispense anything to some of the most horrific entities you can imagine. While the concept of a secret non-governmental organization operating behind the scenes to keep us safe from various boogins isn’t exactly one of a kind, the vehicle through which these stories are told is. Each individual SCP file, or skip, is given a numerical label and filed in the website in the form of a lab or field report. Within this report, they are given a classification that describes the level of difficulty in containment, what measures must be taken to maintain containment, and what anomalous behavior is manifested by each skip.
The dedication to the website’s conceit is such that each file has a variable amount of it redacted or blacked out, maintaining the illusion that the reader is a member of the foundation with limited access to certain files. By using this technique, the authors are able to “hide the shark”. Any avid fan of horror knows that the terror in your mind is always more intense than the terror you can see, and authors on the site use this with a great deal of efficacy. By covering up the details of various anomalous effects on victims, or various procedures, the author is able to let the reader decide just how sympathetic they want the Foundation to be.
All is not peaches and cream in the various Foundation facilities though, as in order to understand how anomalous objects and beings function and interact with their environment, tests must be undertaken. These tests are, frequently, horrific and gruesome. The reader is quickly shown that the Foundation, while acting for the greater good, is almost an example of pure philosophical utilitarianism. Due to the danger presented by the majority of the skips they encounter, the Foundation employs a variety of criminals that are given the designation of “D-Class”. These D-class are used as a sort of cannon fodder. They are used to guard dangerous skips, they are experimented on, and they are frequently killed in a huge variety of absolutely awful ways. It is in the interactions with D-Class that we see something of the true heart of the Foundation. The researchers directing these convicts are often shown to be cold and heartless scientific monsters, for example, forcing them to walk into an endless maze that they know there is no escape from, just to see what’s inside.
It is only in the asides, the journal entries and personal notes often included as “Addendum” near the bottom of each individual SCP report, that we see the conflict going on inside these characters. The conflict is visible in the suicide note of a researcher who has sent someone to their death, or the request for a transfer to a less dangerous skip due to an inability to deal with the consequences of one’s research. We are supposed to see that the researchers are humans, humans who believe that what they are doing is truly for the greater good.
The reports are entertaining to the extreme, and incredibly creative. I think, however, that in reading these reports, of which there are thousands, we as readers are asked the question: how far is too far? There are several places on the site that do not deal with skips, and instead deal with the organization itself. There is a piece explaining what the Ethics Committee actually does, and it is especially hard hitting for me. When the author is relating exactly how difficult their job is, the job of determining what the “line” is that the Foundation cannot cross, the reader is also asked what they think is “too far” when the stakes being played for are the continuity of reality and all life on earth. When the stakes are this high, can there be a “too far”?
With the advent of Amazon Kindle, and the ease of self-publishing, it has never been easier to get independent writing to the public. The SCP Wiki, and sites like it, are another option for aspiring writers to flex their creative muscles. With an active community commenting and voting on submissions, a healthy and robust set of rules for aspiring contributors, and a very distinct style that will force a content creator to use every tool at their disposal to create something fresh and exciting, the SCP Wiki is a must read for any fan of horror and a must-visit for any aspiring independent writer. If your time is limited, look at the top posts of all time. There is something for everyone here, and I cannot recommend falling into this alternate reality highly enough.