Are You Now?

Even though I lived through the upheavals of Vietnam and Watergate, the era of 20th Century American history that has always fascinated me the most came before my own time. The McCarthy period, when friend turned against friend and many artists were silenced, captured my imagination, and over the years I buried myself in accounts of those dark years, as well as the raw transcripts of the hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee. I always knew that I would someday use that background to flesh out a story. What I did not realize was how few remembered the details of that time, and thus were unable to reference my many allusions, which occurred in almost every sentence of this story.

When I wrote that my protagonist’s “life’s purpose seems as absent as Larry Parks’ career,” or commented of his search to remember a past event that “it would be easier to find a spool of microfilm in a pumpkin patch,” it never occurred to me that there would be many who had no knowledge of Larry Parks, or would fail to catch the reference to Alger Hiss. What astonished me the most was that there were even those who did not note that the title of the story came from the first half of one of the most ominous questions ever asked.

Luckily, sometimes all a writer needs is an audience of one—an understanding editor. And I found that editor in Dennis Etchison, who also has the details of that Blacklist period etched in his heart. He published “Are You Now?” in the Dell Abyss paperback anthology MetaHorror in July 1992. (And if you’re finding it difficult to make out the words on the cover, that’s because the title and the authors’ names on the front cover are in silver foil, which does not scan easily.)

I chose to reprint “Are You Now?” in my collection These Words Are Haunted. Who knows? Someday I may reprint it with footnotes.