Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Brick Through the Window and the Gibbering Crazies

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 policeThat's who you should’ve been afraid of, Ray!  But instead, you’re praising the police!  HereticInfidelWIIIITCHBUUUURN 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.