I’m not going write about what a depressing year it’s been. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know, and if you haven’t, I don’t want to be the one to break it to you. You can’t turn around these days without getting hit with some bad news. Instead, I’m going to focus on the things and people that got me to the end of this year intact.
2015 was the year I read some of the work of Clark Asthon Smith thanks to my friend Scott Connors, who has written articles and reviews for a variety of publications, from Weird Tales to Publisher's Weekly. He co-edited some Smith collections with Ron Hilger, including Star Changes: The Science Fiction of Clark Ashton Smith and The End of the Story, and on his own, like The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, and he is currently writing a biography of Smith. Scott is the perfect person to introduce one to Smith because he’s so knowledgeable about his work.
As a boy, I could not get into the work of H.P. Lovecraft because he kept telling me that things were too horrible to describe and I kept thinking, Then hire somebody because I want to read about it! I was 10 and I wanted bloodshed and monsters, preferably in plainer English than Lovecraft, who’s writing, back then, reminded me of the writing of Ellen G. White. That’s not a good thing. That changed as I grew older, of course, and learned to appreciate what Lovecraft had created in all those stories. Clark Ashton Smith was a member of the Lovecraft circle, of course, and their work has a lot in common. I think I prefer Smith’s prose to Lovecraft’s. He had a one-of-a-kind imagination and a sense of humor and irony that I enjoy. I look forward to reading more of his work.
Among the new things I've read this year, Mister White by John C. Foster stands out. I was a tremendous fan of Robert Ludlum’s spy novels growing up. I had already cut my teeth on Ian Fleming, but Ludlum did not write about James Bonds, he wrote about mostly regular people who happened to be in the intelligence business or were drawn or stumbled into espionage. Foster does the same thing, but he combines an espionage thriller with a mystery — half the time, I had no idea what was going on, but in the most entertaining and compelling way possible — and a horror novel. It’s a tense, unnerving labyrinth and you should pick up a copy when it’s released in April 2016 by Grey Matter Press.
I discovered a lot of streaming services in 2016, like The Grindhouse Channel and TubiTV and Reel Flix. Browsing through their selections lit up all of my nostalgia neurons. Unable to go to movie theaters for religious reasons as a boy, I used to cut movie advertisements out of the newspaper, tack them to a corkboard on my bedroom wall over my desk, and gaze at them as I did my homework, wondering what all of those movies were like on the big screen, uncut and without commercial interruptions. Most of them were horror movies, of course, and a whole lot of them are now available on these streaming services.
One of the great movie ad campaigns of the 1970s was for a double feature, I EAT YOUR SKIN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. The advertisement in my local newspaper, which quickly ended up on my bedroom wall, looked like this:
Along with the short TV spots that seemed to run in every commercial break around the time of release, that newspaper ad had my imagination spinning as I wondered what those movies would be like. The double feature I concocted in my head as I stared at that newspaper cutout tacked to my corkboard was an epic, bloody nightmare, and I knew it would have to do because there was no chance I would ever see those movies. Now, thanks to The Grindhouse Channel, I have.
Some things are better imagined than seen.
If you like obscure horror, science fiction, and exploitation movies, I suggest giving these streaming services a look. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy scanning the rows and rows of lost cheese treasures and forgotten schlock gems. As I write this, I have Blood Beach running on TV, a 1980 movie with another memorable ad campaign. I loved the poster so much, I had it on my wall for years, but I had never seen the movie until now.
At the end of March in 2016, a young man named Philip Ault (you might remember reading about him here) chased our neighbor Megan onto our porch, punched her in the face, and threatened to kill her. I managed to get her through the door and into the house without letting him in, too. Spouting a stream of meth-induced gibberish, he began threatening to kill all of us and threw a brick through our kitchen window before trying to climb into the house. I stabbed him in the arm twice with a decorative fantasy knife, the most available weapon at the time, to keep him from getting inside the house until the police arrived. They had to tase him twice to get him on the ground. We received a call from the District Attorney’s office about six weeks ago informing us that Mr. Ault, who was not competent to stand trial, is currently a guest of Napa State Hospital, where efforts are being made to rehabilitate him to a state where he can stand trial. They have three years to achieve that, and if it cannot be done within that time, Mr. Ault will become a permanent resident of the hospital. I got a story out of the whole thing called “A Flat and Dreary Monday Night,” which you can read in Cut Corners: Volume 2.
While my health problems have continued with dogged persistence, I work when I’m able and have written a lot of short stories in 2016, including one I’m particularly proud of, “Paranormal Quest,” in the anthology The X-Files: Trust No One, a collection of original X-Files stories by horror and science fiction writers edited by the great Jonathan Maberry.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of friends who have been so good to me over the past year that I want to give them a nod of thanks in no particular order: Steven and Nancy Spruill, Latrice and Ken Innes, Jason and Sunni Brock, Rhonda Blackmon Walton, Heather Fish, Sharon Turner, William F. Nolan, Cheryl Burcham, Jane Naccarato, Scott Connors, Damian Wild, Richard Chizmar and Brian Freeman and everyone at Cemetery Dance Publications, Emma Pulitzer and everyone at Open Road Integrated Media, Sharon Lawson and Anthony Rivera at Grey Matter Press, Fred and Lois Rose, and I’m probably forgetting someone because that just seems to be how I role in middle age. My life is a better place with you in it. I owe everything to my readers, the people who've been reading me for decades, the newcomers who just found me, and everyone in between. I know from my experience with them online and at conventions that my readership includes some of the kindest, most generous people imaginable. Thank you for everything. As always, I'm grateful to Dawn for putting up with me for another year, for sharing her life with me for the last 27 wonderful years.
I hope 2016 brings you everything you need, as well as a bunch of stuff you don’t need but really want. Stay healthy, take good care of the people in your life, and read more horror fiction. Happy New Year!
You’ve no doubt heard the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s a curse because “interesting times,” while fun to read about much later, are often hell to live through. Reading about the French Revolution or the Holocaust or the United States Civil War is radically different — and infinitely safer — than experiencing them firsthand.
Well, we’re living through some interesting times right now. Somebody has slapped that curse on our ass, and it has stuck. Don’t believe me? Three words: President Donald Trump. Hey, get used to them because you might be saying them a year from now. A month or six weeks ago, I would have laughed at that suggestion, but now I can’t because too many people are buying what he’s selling.
Trump talks about being president the way drunk frat boys talk about being president, and the worse he gets, the higher his numbers go. That human flame war has turned political debates into ratings bonanzas. Have you noticed? The media are now reporting the ratings of political debates the way they report the ratings of the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards telecast. With people getting more extreme in both politics and religion in the last couple of decades, elections were already getting weird. But Donald Trump has turned this election into a slimy reality TV show that has WAY too much reality in it, because this rhinestone rodeo clown is not going away and people from both ends of the partisan spectrum are cheering him on.
Once he wins the primary, I’m guessing he’ll choose as his running mate someone like Omarosa or Martha Stewart, just to show everybody how much he loves women, and then he’ll spend the rest of the campaign commenting on her various body parts. Upon winning the presidential election, he’ll bring in a team of contractors to turn the White House into a gold-plated Trump palace. He’ll turn the gift shop into a casino, install an obstacle course in the White House tour and turn it into a reality TV competition on Fox. I’d give it two months before he’d have us at war with every other country on the planet. And it wouldn’t be for any of the standard geopolitical reasons, it would snowball out of control over something really stupid, like Trump insulting a world leader’s wife, or telling Angela Merkel she looks like a Minion.
Inspired by the popular fireside chats of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Trump would have a weekly fireside chat, but it would be on TV instead of radio, with a live studio audience and a band, and the fire would be a pile of burning books. It would be the Koran on the first episode, but then he would extend it to books about the Koran, books written by Muslims, books in which Muslims are portrayed favorably, and he would just keep going until he ran out of Muslim books and started in on everything Mexican.
Trump would be a disastrous president, but I understand his popularity. People are angry and scared. All they see are problems that are getting worse and causing more problems and they don’t see them being fixed or even addressed because the people in positions of power are too busy doing other things that often make no sense, but that’s OK, because those things really have nothing to do with us and everything to do with big-money interests. People are terrified and pissed off and here comes Moneybags McShowbiz with his bluster and his unfiltered bloviating and that thing that lives on top of his head, and people hear things coming from his mouth that they’ve been thinking but have been afraid to say. They’re looking for solutions to their problems, but with none of those handy, most are angry enough to take scapegoats instead (unfortunately, all too many people don’t know the difference between the two), and Trump has been handing those out like candy on Halloween.
Good leaders appeal to the best in us. Those who appeal to the worst in us, as Trump does, do not have our best interests at heart, and while they may lead us, history shows that it’s always in the wrong direction.
But, hey, they make for great TV!
Yes, interesting times. Presidential candidates who sound like they’re running for the position of dictator or king, terrorists, both foreign and domestic, crap falling out of the sky, both space rocks and space junk, twisted little snots shooting people because they can’t get laid, — it sounds like a goddamned video game, but we call it home.
The genres of horror and crime lost a powerful voice when Tom Piccirilli left us all too soon in 2015. We lost Wes Craven, the man who took us to Elm Street. And Spock died. Spock.
Not only is David Letterman gone, which is enough to make me lose the will to live, but late-night talk shows have been replaced with children’s programming. Instead of acerbic wit, we now get obnoxious games and karaoke and videos from YouTube. Craig Ferguson has been replaced on The Late Late Show by the single most annoying human being currently drawing breath on this planet. First, CBS conducted a search for the most annoying person in the United States, and you know that had to go on for a while because there’s no shortage of them in this country. But so serious and determined were they that even America’s most annoying did not meet their rigid standards. They had to import an annoying guy from the UK. But it was worth the effort because James Corden plunges to new depths of “annoying” previously undreamed of by even the most daring irritants. Every night in front of the camera appears to be his first as he shouts every word in a whiny, pleading voice that suggests he may burst into tears if you don’t absolutely love everything he does. After years as a regular viewer of THE LATE, LATE SHOW, I have been unable to get through a single episode from beginning to end. He’s been so successful at annoying the hell out of everyone during his first five months that CBS has extended his contract all the way to 2020. Because apparently the earth has passed through some invisible membrane into a dimension of wall-to-wall shit.
And now, like the contents of Fibber McGee’s closet (Google it, kids), the holidays are upon us again. But this year, I’m not feeling it. It seems like we just put the Christmas decorations away a few months ago, and now Christmas is this week. This year, the decorations and crowds and music are more of an annoyance than anything else. Does that mean I’ve finally grown up?
Normally, the new year brings a lot of promise. This year . . . not so much. According to all the radio advertisements, we should be building bunkers and filling them with survivalist food to hold us over through the apocalypse. And the programs between the commercial breaks allow us to pick the apocalypse of our choice. You want a socialist hellscape with piles of skulls in the killing fields? Listen to Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or a host of others. How about aliens? Or mind-controlled enslavement to the Illuminati? Or maybe you prefer Planet X slamming into us? For those, tune in to George Noory, Clyde Lewis, David Shrader, or a host of others. How about a totalitarian Christian theocracy in which you’re taxed for not going to church, homosexuals are executed, and atheists and believers in false religions are thrown into prisons or work camps? There’s no end to the supply of religious radio shows calling for that. You want informative talk? Casual conversation on relatable topics? Fuck you, we’re in the Shit Dimension now and we don’t do that sort of thing here. If it doesn’t make you angry or afraid or both, it’s crap!
I apologize if this Christmas post has been too negative for you, but I refuse to post trigger warnings. Maybe I’ll do a better job of catching the holiday spirit next year. This year, I’m going to try to stay low and keep my mouth shut. I hope you have a Merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a lovely solstice — whatever you celebrate. And if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness and don’t celebrate anything, have a nice day. But to be safe, you might want to buy and put away some canned food. And maybe a gun or two.
I have not posted a word in this space for months, but what kind of horror writer would I be if I let Halloween pass without a blog post? Some health problems have disrupted my productivity, so when I’m able to write, I focus on work. As a result, Preposterous Twaddlecock has been neglected.
It’s the spooky season again, and we’re doing the things we do at Halloween time — decorating the porch, watching our favorite horror movies, convincing the neighbor kids that Michael Myers is real and will be coming through the neighborhood on Halloween, just like Santa visiting on Christmas Eve, and then watching them run home screaming. I’m noticing, however, that people do not seem quite as enthused about the holiday as usual. They’re going through the motions, trying to get into the spirit, but I get the feeling it’s not working this year.
I don’t think it’s just me. A number of people have expressed this feeling to me, and I have to admit, I’m experiencing it myself. At first, I thought it was age. I’m getting older, the years fly by faster, and it seems like we just did Halloween, didn’t we? But the more I’ve looked around and talked to others, the more I’ve come to see that the world is not in a very good mood right now. Things are not going well for people, no matter what happy stuff they’ve been posting on their Facebook pages.
The economy sucks and everyone has financial problems. It seems there’s been a lot of sickness and death among the people to whom I am connected, whether personally or online. Good friends are losing parents, siblings, lovers, and others to sickness or suicide. The horror community has lost a painful number of talented people in the last few years.
We are inundated with bad news, and sometimes it isn’t even news at all, just rumor or speculation or a story somehow related to the Kardashians posing as news that we ABSOLUTELY MUST WATCH! An asteroid is headed our way, or we’re on the verge of war, or Ebola has broken out somewhere and might be spreading. And for crying out loud don’t turn on the radio or somebody will start yelling at you about politics or religion or about how the butt-probing reptilian aliens are farming Earth for meat. Every time we turn around, someone is saying the world is about to end, or we’re facing God’s judgment because the gays are getting married, or there’s civil unrest and America’s sure to fall, or all the animals are going extinct, or all the money is gone and now Oprah has to take care of everyone. We’re being watched, our personal information is being collected and stored and sold, privacy is a thing of the past, and, whatever you do, don’t get sick with anything too complicated because your doctor has to see 60 people a day just to stay in business and he doesn’t have time for that shit. People are getting ruder, meaner, uglier. In that kind of environment, it becomes difficult to enjoy much of anything.
Simply observing all of this is depressing, never mind being part of it. I see online friends losing loved ones and the pain and sadness radiate from my screen like heat from a furnace. I never know how to respond, what to say; nothing seems adequate or appropriate or sufficient, so I usually end up saying nothing.
I wish I had some kind of solution to offer, some balm that would make all of us feel better. I don’t think that exists. It’s as if the atmosphere has been poisoned and we’re all breathing it in. (No, I’m not talking about “chemtrails,” I’m being metaphorical.) I have no answers. I can only tell you what I’ve been trying to do.
When I’m feeling depressed, my natural reaction is to read or watch something that reflects that feeling. I don’t mean that I wallow in it, but in that state of mind things that are upbeat or that actively attempt to uplift can feel false, hollow, even annoying. If I’m feeling sad and pop Requiem for a Dream into the DVD player, it doesn’t mean that I want to stay sad, it means that Requiem for a Dream is the color of the room in which I am temporarily locked and feels the most comfortable. Lately, I’ve been trying something different by going in the other direction. I might have felt a lot like Requiem for a Dream, but I started reaching for Caddyshack. It did not work at first. Not right away. A little persistence, though, was rewarding.
I’m not saying that a comedy movie will get rid of all your problems or that laughter will make everything better. It won’t. But when we’re ill we need treatment. Laughter is a good way of treating inner illnesses. No, it’s not appropriate at any old time, and there are times when we have no laughter in us. But at some point, we all feel the need to turn away from our pain or despair because we become exhausted by it.
Charlie Chaplin wrote “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” I think that is true across the board. In my own life, I’m getting better at stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. That has not always been easy for me because I’ve lived so much of my life inside my own head. That’s true of all writers to a certain degree, but from an early age I think I spent more time there than most. Before one can see the bigger picture, one must first climb outside of one’s own head and look around, and I've found that takes determination and discipline — more than I have, sometimes. But if you can get yourself into the habit of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, life is, even at its darkest, quite funny in one way or another most of the time.
I hope this doesn’t come off as trite. All I can say is that it has helped me of late. Depending on how I feel, I sometimes limit or temporarily sever my exposure to the media — news, or what passes for it these days, is either depressing, infuriating, insulting, or all of the above, and any valuable, useful, or encouraging information that seeps through is probably a coincidence or a mistake. And don’t even get me started on the endless presidential election and this greedy, grasping collection of yammering con artists and buffoons being paraded in front of us to create the illusion that we have a “choice” for president. The only thing worse than the candidates are the empty-headed, ratings-hungry, click-baiting meat puppets that have replaced our press in the United States who cover them as if they’re covering a fucking beauty pageant and wouldn’t know a substantial, relevant question if somebody wrapped one in barbed wire and shoved it right up their—
Look, just don’t get me started, OK?
All I’m saying is that I find myself looking for laughs a lot more these days. Most of the time, in fact. I’ve learned to look for them even when I do not feel like I want them because I know that can be changed, and I am the only one who can change it. I sometimes find laughs in places where other people do not think they should be found, but, hey, you can’t please everybody. I do know that laughing does things to the body and mind, all good. It changes the way you feel, the way you see things. Even though it may not feel like it and won’t be easy at first, you can teach yourself how to decide that you’d rather be laughing, and then do it.
We live in a time in which people who are so impoverished that they’ve been reduced to begging are demonized while we spend nearly seven billion dollars a year on a holiday that has at its center the tradition of children going door to door and essentially begging for candy. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t laugh about stuff like that, I will never stop screaming.
If you’re going through a painful time right now, keep an eye open for that point at which you’re able to laugh, and when it comes, take advantage of it. Don’t pay attention to others who may think you shouldn’t be laughing. When the time is right for you, find something funny. Being able to laugh is a sign that you’re on the road back from wherever you’ve been.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything is bad. It’s not. I don’t want to get too bleak. William Shatner’s still alive. Star Wars fans have The Force Awakens to look forward to. This is the best time of year for anyone who likes pumpkin spice in anything. Stephen King has a new collection coming soon. There are still cats and dogs. We have some new episodes of The X-Files in our near future. Everything is changing color for the fall, and think of all the delicious produce! There will be a lot of candy floating around tonight, and first thing tomorrow, all the stores will start playing nothing but Christmas music all the time! Well ... OK, I admit that last one isn’t too thrilling. But don’t worry because Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we have that big dinner to look forward to, when we’ll see all the relatives and—
Wait, we’re going backwards, here. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.
Have a happy Halloween.
I am often asked what scares me. I scare people for a living with horror fiction, so the question is a natural one and I hear it a lot. The answer is simple:
Crazy scares me. You cannot reason with crazy. It is impenetrable. You cannot talk crazy out of being crazy. It will not listen to you and it does not care what you want. Crazy just keeps coming. Crazy scares the shit out of me.
I’m sure there are some who would scold me for using the word “crazy” instead of something less insulting or confrontational, like the term “mental illness.” But I’m not talking about mental illness. There are many people who suffer from mental illness and have to live every day with that misunderstood, stigmatized burden. But they are not necessarily crazy. Crazy is something altogether different.
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m not getting enough sleep, but there seems to be more crazy around than ever before. It comes in a variety of stripes, flavors and sizes, and sometimes it’s so difficult to spot that it can sneak up on you. Other times, crazy is plain as day and easy to see coming, although it’s seldom easy to get rid of once it arrives.
On the night of Monday, March 30, my wife Dawn and I sat down to watch The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber. I had forgotten it was on that night and we tuned in about 40 minutes late. A few minutes later, we heard shouting and screaming outside. It was a comfortable evening, even at about 10:40 p.m., and our front door was open with the security screen closed. I got up and hobbled to the door (I have a bad hip that’s quite painful when I get up) and looked outside.
Our neighbor Megan from the house directly across the street was running up our sloped lawn holding her Chihuahua in her arms, with a skinny young man on her heels, shouting at her. I told Dawn to call 911, then tried to figure out if I’d seen the guy before — you’ll find his picture at the top of this post — and the next thing I knew, they were both on the porch, right outside the door, and he was screaming at her.
“That house is changing!” he shouted as he pointed at Megan’s house across the street. “Look at it! Look at it! You’re fuckin’ doin’ that!” he screamed at Megan. “It’s gotta fuckin’ stop! Make it stop!” Then he pointed at our house. “Now, make this house mine, right now! I want this house! MAKE THIS HOUSE MINE RIGHT NOW!”
Crazy had come to our door, and it had a hostage.
In a heartbeat, everything changed. The pain in my hip was gone and I no longer cared that I was missing the roast on TV because things had gotten dangerous in an instant, and I was, as the kids say, hella scared.
Megan was standing beside the door, her back pressed against the wall, when he punched her in the face, knocked her glasses off and sent her Chihuahua tumbling through the air into the night. I didn't know it then, but it was the second time he'd punched her that night. She had walked down to a convenience store a few blocks away and he had followed her home. When she wouldn't take him into her house, he'd punched her, then she'd run across the street to our place for help.
I knew I had to get Megan into the house, but I also knew that if I let that screaming lunatic in, we would have an even bigger problem. I waited for the right moment. I cannot tell you how I knew it was the right moment because I don’t even remember getting Megan through the door. All I know now is that she was on the porch one second and inside the house with the door locked the next. And Screamy McNutjob was still on the porch, screaming in my face through the screen.
He went on shouting gibberish — “Make this house mine right now!” — and we waited for the police to arrive. Time slowed down to an interminable crawl. It seemed we were there listening to that nutjob forever, but it was, in reality, a very short period of time.
The screamer gibbered on outside. He threatened to kill Megan, and because she was in the house with us, he threatened to kill us, too, before taking our house. He really wanted our house. He seemed to think it belonged to his mother, that it was “one of her mansions.” See? He thought our house was a mansion. Crazy!
Dawn suggested I close the front door, and I did. The screaming continued outside, and a moment later, a brick exploded through our kitchen window.
I needed a weapon. All the knives were in the kitchen and the floor was now covered with shattered glass. But we had a decorative fantasy knife on a small stand in the living room (pictured above). It had been a gift from friends a couple of Christmases ago. It was for looks, not meant to be used as a weapon, but it would have to do. I quickly removed the knife from its stand and tore the protective strip of plastic from the blade. With the knife held in my fist, I stood beside the window and waited for him to climb through.
His skinny arms came through first as he continued to babble and threaten. I swung the knife upward as hard as I could and stabbed him in the upper part of his left arm. He stopped yammering long enough to shout “Ow!” and backed off.
By then, our neighbors were converging in our front yard. They had heard the brick crash through our window — a sound I wish I could stop hearing — and began shouting at him.
He crossed the porch and went to our living room window. It has double panes, and he put his fist through the screen and the outer pane as the neighbors shouted louder. He returned to the kitchen window and started to climb through again. And once again, I swung the knife up and stabbed him hard, this time in his left forearm. He backed off a second time.
Then I saw the lights of the police car. I have never been hit so hard by a sense of relief in my entire life. It almost knocked me over. They had to zap that methed-out lunatic twice with a taser to get him to go down.
Once 19-year-old Philip Ault was in custody, Officer Tyler Finch came inside and asked us what happened while Sgt. Dave Price talked to our neighbors. Officer Finch said they’d seen a lot of Ault but never had enough on him to put him away. Ault had changed that by committing enough felonies on our porch to become a guest of the state for a while.
We’ve seen a lot of horrifying stories in the news lately about police abusing their authority and a lot of people are very upset about it. Including me. People should be upset about it and those police officers should be brought to justice. But those are not the only stories. Our experience with Sgt. Price and Officer Finch of the Anderson Police Department was wonderful. I can’t remember the last time I was as happy to see anything as I was to see that police car drive up to the house.
The story was covered on the local news and discussed on The Horror Show with Brian Keene The word “hero” has been lobbed around, but I can assure you that nothing about it felt heroic.
We often hear that people don’t know their neighbors anymore, that everyone keeps to themselves and no one steps up to get involved and help. This is not true of everyone. Dawn and I are fortunate to have wonderful neighbors. In our neighborhood, we watch out for each other, keep an eye on each other’s houses if someone is gone, and are available to help if someone needs a hand. Our neighbors are good people all and we have never been more grateful to have them than we were that night.
When they heard the brick go through our window, Lois (whose husband Fred was out of town, or he would’ve been out there, too), Nick, Chris, and Daryl came to our yard and began shouting at Ault, trying to draw his attention away from us. Ault, of course, was beyond distraction. He was so far gone on meth that he was not registering his surroundings much, if at all. Once Ault was out of the way, Chris and Nick immediately boarded up our window with wood and nails they provided. We are extremely grateful to all of our neighbors who showed up (I’m not sure who was out there because I didn’t step outside) and things might have turned out differently had they not been there. I would also like to thank Ken and Latrice Innes for the knife. It came in handy.
When you hear people say that no one helps, no one gets involved anymore, don’t believe them. It isn’t true. Don’t give in to that mythology. Don’t make it a self-fulfilling prophecy by assuming that those around you fit that description, or by fitting that description yourself. The worse things get, the more we need each other. Each other is all we've got. Don’t lose sight of that.
Philip Ault was the obvious kind of crazy, the kind you can recognize immediately. But not all crazy is obvious.
The day of this writing, I made the mistake of commenting in a discussion thread on Facebook. The discussion was about the ongoing horrifying stories of police brutality we keep seeing. I briefly told of our experience with the local police. I shouldn’t have done that. I was told that all of this police brutality is the fault of the good law enforcement officers, too — like the ones who came to our rescue. Shame on me for expressing gratitude that the police arrived promptly and dispatched the guy who wanted to kill us. How dare I! But the most egregious response came from a veteran genre writer who drove crazy off a cliff with this gem:
"Ray, I'm so relieved no grandchild or beloved pet was killed by those lovely cops, and there was no one present they were keen on raping."
You see, Ray, the threat wasn’t the guy trying to get into your house and kill you and your wife and your neighbor. The real threat was the police! That's who you should’ve been afraid of, Ray! But instead, you’re praising the police! Heretic! Infidel! WIIIITCH! BUUUURN HIIIIM!
This, as far as I’m concerned, represents an abandonment of rational thought. It was gibberish. There were people in that thread gibbering every bit as much as Philip Ault on our porch. To borrow a brilliant term coined by writer Patrick Freivald, I was “harshing their gibber.” Gibbering people don't like that.
Aside from the fact that the writer’s comment was pretty vile — simply on a conversational level, it reminded me of monkeys flinging their own poop — it was an example of another kind of crazy. The kind of crazy that walks among us. It doesn’t run around screaming and throwing bricks through windows, it’s the kind that sits right next to you and starts a pleasant conversation. I responded angrily, but then thought better of it and deleted my comment. Then I deleted the writer and original poster from my Facebook list and got the hell out of there. These are people who have become what they claim to hate most. I don’t need their company.
People who think that all of the police are monsters and lash out at anyone who suggests otherwise meet my criteria for crazy. (For the record, all of any group is not anything. Generalizations are bad, mmmkay?). Anyone who would respond the way that writer responded to me fits my definition of crazy. And crazy scares the shit out of me. Such people have terminated their individual relationships with reality and are now constructing a new reality made up of their favorite prejudices and generalizations. I don’t want to be anywhere near that reality. From now on, my “delete” finger will be more active on Facebook.
We are living in very weird times. If you have an opinion that is reasoned, complex, and contains nuance, you’d best keep it to yourself because in the new reality, reason and complexity do not exist. Everything is black and white. People and ideas and things are either good or bad, they CANNOT be marbled with both. Gray areas do not exist anymore, and if you suggest that they do, you will be pilloried by the gibbering crazies. You’re expected to pick a side and fight.
Well, I’ve got other things to do, so you’ll have to excuse me.
In the nearly two weeks that have passed since our visit from Mr. Ault, Dawn and I have found that we do not feel as safe as we used to. We’re a little jumpy, and the dark has taken on a familiar childhood dread.
Crazy is out there. It’s also among your Facebook friends. Maybe even among your personal friends or your own family.
Stay safe. And try not to go crazy.
One more thing: Megan's Chihuahua Dax hit the ground running and headed straight home. He's fine.