The Monsters Within, Technical Notes

Evil Pumpkin (4)
We try to deny it, but we all have monsters within us. They seethe just below the surface, all fangs and teeth and incorporeal rage. We glimpse them when we turn away from mirrors, out of the corners of our eyes. We feel them when we look at a beloved friend lying asleep and some part of us, some dark, hungry part of us that cannot be tamed, feels the urge to do something terrible. It is not enough to acknowledge these monsters. We must understand them, lest they control us, urge us into actions as horrific as they are sublime.

This understanding is my great endeavor, and it is through this work that I have discovered these truths that I am about to unveil. These monsters are not nameless, nor or they formless. Once the light of rigorous scrutiny is shined upon them, they are all too familiar. We each are made up of not one monster, but three.

Specifically, we each have within us the following:

  1. A zombie
  2. A ghost
  3. A lycanthrope

Before I go into detail, a note on my qualifications. Firstly, I was born on October 27th, which was the date of the original Halloween (probably) back when it was a pre-Indoeuropean festival honoring Dark Cthonia, Lord of Horror Stories. It’s important to note that the reason their god of evil and fright was the god of stories, because unlike their descendants, these peoples weren’t dumb enough to think that shit was real. Also I made up the name Cthonia because records from that period are sketchy, but I think it sounds pretty call.

In addition to the birthday thing, I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy. Also my wife has read even more of it (all of it? nearly), and she’s told me about a lot of it in pretty good detail.

Okay, back to the theory. We are all made up of a zombie, a ghost, and a lycanthrope, and these three factors explain everything about us. Well, okay, they don’t explain everything about why we decide to become plumbers or why we like black olives. But they describe everything about how we manifest as monsters. Let us address each one briefly.

The Zombie: Our zombie is our corporeal body. That part of us that is nothing but empty, hungry flesh, seeking to sustain and duplicate our own existence mindless of the costs and the consequences. It also years to improve itself, to regain the intellect it lost when it was a complete entity, but its methods for doing so are as futile as they are useless. The zombie is even unable to recognize that the last sentence is redundant.

The Ghost: The ghost inside of us is our spirit, and our mind. The ghost allows us to think and function as intelligent beings, but it is shackled by its attachments. The emotional urges that make up so much of thought are present in the ghost, but it is lacking both the neurochemical factors that originally produced those urges and also the corporeality to act upon them.Thus, the ghost can think and feel but by itself it cannot change.

The Lycanthrope: The lycanthrope is the most rarefied of our monsters, but perhaps also the most important. The lycanthrope is the living principle. It is the spark of life that turns the lifeless zombie and the bodiless ghost into breathing, bleeding humans. It is also what lets us grow and change. But it also encompasses our rage, our passion, and the extremes of our emotions. NOTE: the lycanthrope was originally the werewolf, but the source material has taught me that maybe not everyone is a werewolf. Some people are turtles and probably also other things.

In a normal person, all three of these monsters are present and in balance. Strange things happen when you remove them.

If you rip the ghost out of a person, what remains is a ghost and a zombie. This is where ghosts and zombies come from. In this procedure, the lycanthrope is torn in half, and each of the remaining creatures has a fragment of it.

The zombie that remains is the hungry, mindless, brain-eating beast found in novels, movies, and parts of Detroit. It has no mind, because it has no ghost.

The ghost that remains has the personality of the original person, but obviously it also has no body of its own. It can interact with the physical world only weakly if at all. The personality that remains is only a shadow of its formal self, however, because it cannot change. Lacking the physical brain of the zombie and the full lycanthrope, it has only a limited set of emotions and thoughts, usually those it experienced at the moment of death. It is usually drawn to scenes of its life, people and places that remind it of what it was, in an attempt to regain what it cannot understand that it has lost. An isolated ghost is a slave to its own identity, as we all are, sometimes.

A full-blown lycanthrope manifests if this monster aspect gains dominance over the other two. The mechanisms for this are varied and outside of the reach of this endeavor.

If a lycanthrope is removed or destroyed from a person, what is left is a vampire. This conclusion is inevitable, both because of the logic I am about to present, and because of course there’s a vampire.

Once the life-force in the form of the were-creature is removed from a person, what is left is a body and a mind that are not alive, lacking in life’s vibrancy and dynamic nature, but still full cognizant and functional. It will not die naturally because it no longer has metabolic function. It can no longer change. It can still reproduce, but that reproduction is mechanical and infectious. It cannot create new life as that requires the lycanthrope. It can only transform others into those like itself, but since it has the mental awareness granted by its ghost, so do its “offspring.”

It requires very little additional speculation to see how this theory can be used to explain how people can be transformed into all variety of monsters. At least, all variety of the Urban Fantasy/World of Darkness/Halloween variety which are the purview of these notes. For example, it takes very little imagination to see how one would use these rules to explain the advent of mummies, or pumpkin kings, or teen wolves.

There is much left to be explored regarding the nuances of this theory, but its explanatory power is undeniable. As are its practical applications. By learning to comprehend our inner monsters, we can learn to resist them. More importantly, we can learn to harness and utilize them, for our own terrible, terrible ends.

 

The Battle

Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form Black Hole

They can’t live at the same time, in the same place. They vibrate at different frequencies, but they both resonate, and there’s only so much room. This town, as they say, isn’t big enough for the both of them. It would be fine if they would just learn to take turns like nice polite unformed bundles of energetic potential. But they’re not nice, and they’re not polite. Each of them is insistent that they have to go now, that they cannot wait, and that I will only ever have the energy and inspiration required for one of them.

It’s difficult to stop talking about them in the abstract because they are so abstract. That’s part of the problem. It’s hard to even pin down exactly what they are, but I’ll try, or else that first paragraph is never going to make sense to anyone but myself.

They are novels. Or rather, they’re the ideas for novels. No, that’s not right either. They aren’t ideas in the sense of premises. I have no idea what either of them is about, or rather, I have lots of ideas. Most of my many potential novel ideas–and half-written novels–are composed of wisps of one or the other. Or both, which is its own problem.

They aren’t genres, either. The closest I can say is that they are styles of novel. That’s accurate, but it’s a different use of the word “style” than is usual.

How about I describe them. Maybe that will help. They’re enthusiastic about that. Right now, in my head where they’re constantly fighting, they’re getting excited. Or rather, the first one is getting excited. The second one doesn’t do excitement, as such. That will make more sense in a minute. But yes, describing them is the best idea. Or rather, I’ll let them come out and describe themselves.

The first one I’ll call KAPOW! KAPOW! is big and bright and vibrant. An explosion of a novel. It’s definitely fantasy, or science fiction, or science fantasy, or science fantasy horror dread-punk post-post-modern psuedo-apocalyptica. It can be any or all of these things, because whatever it is, it’s a lot of it.

KAPOW!’s defining trait is that it bursts with ideas. It slams the reader with new, intriguing, fascinating, original concepts and twists of reality and imagery on every page. It uses a lot of adjectives, especially in describing itself. Think China Meiville. Think Planescape. Those are the obvious examples because they play so freely with setting, but I also include such works as John Dies at the End and–get ready to disagree with me–Harry Potter. Okay, Harry Potter isn’t all that original, nor is it trying to be, but it throws new bits of magic and wizard society and whatnot at you will obvious and infections glee, and that’s the point.

KAPOW! isn’t necessarily super-fast paced high adventure, but it does lend itself to that kind of storytelling. Those are the kind I generally come up with when I plan a KAPOW! novel, whether I want to or not. But they’re not critical. The important point is that the work scours the vast reaches of creativity.

The second novel style we shall call Masterwork. Masterwork is a piece of literature. It is contained within what is colloquially referred to as “genre,” as all of my interests lie therein, but it should not be sullied by associations with pulp or other forms of fiction intended merely as entertainment. Masterwork strives to tell a story about characters, about themes, and to impress upon the reader that such things can be meaningfully explored amidst the workings of the otherworldly and the supernatural.

Masterwork is quiet, at least in comparison to KAPOW! When composing an idea for Masterwork, I eschew such concepts as adventure and engagement. It’s a stretch to say that it is an attempt at Art. To say such a thing would be highly pretentious. However, should someone else partake of Masterwork and use such a word, Masterwork might not be taken upon to dispute the assertion.

Peter Straub’s Ghost Story is a good example, as is Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Or Watchmen. Steven King writes a lot of novels that sit comfortable in this range. It’s not necessary for a work to be considered literature by the sorts of people who care about that sort of thing. I’m not one of those people. It’s enough that fans of the genre would label it so.

These two styles, KAPOW! and Masterwork, these are the novels that I want to write. Both of them have a lot of room inside. The problem is, they don’t play together. Sure, a Masterwork can have KAPOW! elements, and a KAPOW! can have compelling characterization and quiet moments. I honestly wouldn’t be interested in writing either that didn’t contain some of the other.

But at their foundation they are different. So different that to start one I have to press down all of the forces inside of me urging me to write the other. This is usually pretty easy, since I’m both obsessive and fickle. If I just read something KAPOW!y, I probably want to write a KAPOW! Which is great. For a few weeks.

But I’m fickle. Oh, so very fickle. It won’t be long before the urge to write the other starts to tingle. I’ll become dissatisfied with my current outline or treatment or manuscript, and long to start the other. What’s the point of writing a cross universe heist story about a team of thieves who all possess a different form of immortality? That’s trying way too hard. Instead I should write about the development of two people’s relationship over seven winters, while strange things walk through the drifting snow.

Many writers have problems that keep our productivity down, and this war in my head is one of mine. There’s only room for one at a time, and matrices of possibility don’t like to take turns.

Red On The Tip of My Pen

How well I could write if I were not here!

 

I don’t know how this happened. I think about it a lot. That gets me nowhere.

“I’m writing a new novel I’m really excited about,” I said to Maya on the phone the other day. That’s my mom. I call her Maya.

“Oh, great!” she said. “What’s it about?” I heard the apprehension in her voice. She knew what I was going to say.

“It’s a horror novel.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Right.”

“I don’t know where this comes from,” I said. “I never liked horror movies as a kid.”

“I know. That was your brother. Do you like them now?”

“Yeah. Kind of. I mean, I really like them. Some of them. It’s weird.”

“You’re weird,” she said, with the kind of unconditional affection wrapped in mild insult that is the hallmark of mothers everywhere. At least, the good ones.

As an adult, I love horror movies, but it was a long time coming. I’ve loved horror fiction for a long time, but something about movies put me off. I remember sitting in the finished basement where I spent almost all of the free hours of my childhood. My brother and I were both stuffed on the love seat with the brown flower pattern that used to be my grandmothers, watching our tiny TV. Mostly it got used for Sega Genesis games and Saved By The Bell after school, but it was the weekend, and either it was my brother’s turn or I didn’t have a game I was playing. He had the remote, and he flipped from channel to channel.

He stopped on a shot of a boy with wide eyes. Creepy music in the background.

“Change it,” I said. “This looks stupid.” He didn’t change it. An awful owl puppet showed up on screen, and something scary happened.

“Ooo, a bad horror movie,” my brother said. “I love bad horror movies.”

“I’m going outside.”

I didn’t love bad horror movies. I still don’t. I love good ones. But not all of them. When I talk to people about horror or browse horror websites like Bloody Disgusting I feel alienated. Because I love scary. I love creepy. I crazy love unsettling.

But I don’t like gore. Blood and guts both disgust and bore me. They’re supposed to do one, but not so much the other. Furthermore, I don’t even understand why people find them appealing. I mean that literally. I consider myself highly empathetic, and I don’t bat an eye at the fact people have different preferences than me. I don’t like raw onions, but it’s not weird that other people do. They have a different mind, different senses, different reactions to the same stimuli. So I accept that people dig sprays of blood on the screen. I’m just not sure why.

It’s more true for me than it is for other genres I don’t like. I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but I completely grasp their appeal. Human connection, the fantasy of idealized romance, the warm, beautiful feeling that real love is out there, possible, never even that far away. But with gore? I just don’t get it.

Which makes the next part weird. This novel I’m writing, that one my mother will be sad that she can’t read if it somehow gets published? It’s pretty gory. There’s blood. There flesh flying off of people’s faces and splatting against the wall. At some point, someone’s head pops clean off and lands amidst a pile of Doritos. I’m less than 10,000 words in. And my other novel? That was pretty gory, too.

It’s not that I hate blood and guts. Not enough to turn me off of a horror story or movie that otherwise appeals to me. Sometimes it’s even the whole point, but everything else is so conceptually interesting or well written that I love it anyway. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite short stories is Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, which is not about cooking steaks on an electrified third rail. Although I should totally write that story.

When I read bloody, visceral descriptions of blood and viscera, I always wonder what the writer is thinking. Do they find this kind of thing appealing? Are the just totally unfazed by it? I used to think the answer had to be yes. Now I’m not so sure. Because I don’t find it appealing, and I am definitely fazed by it. But not while I’m writing.

I’ve noticed that my brain sometimes writes jokes I find distasteful for demographics I don’t identify with. The frattiest of frat boys, or the reddest of rednecks. Jokes I think would be legitimately funny to people in those groups, but that I don’t find amusing at all. Maybe generative creativity goes isn’t about the appeal to the brain that generates it. Maybe writers don’t always write for themselves, but for the ages.

Or in this case, ages 13-17, mostly male, parental permission required for entry.

 

Tranquility, With Fur

Cooper, sleeping

 

It is difficult to meditate
when a nervous black kitty
uses this rare opportunity
of your tranquility
to leap onto your lap
press her wet nose against your hands
curled into their mudra
and pushes her bony feet
into your thighs
in a restless attempt
to get comfortable

But once she settles down
purring
into a pile of shadow colored fur
and whiskers
with an uncomplicated contentment
rarely found
in the frantic frenzy of human thought
outside of the shade of the Bodhi tree

It is easy to know
that this moment is flawless
and it is easy to feel
with the resonant
empty
infinite echo of a purr
that for no reason at all
with no possibility of judgement
that you are loved

Writing Time?

Sad Day, Good Tea

All day long
I think about my writing
Planning my scenes
hearing the back and forth of dialogue
so sharp
you could put it in a salad dressing
dreaming up plot twists
so twisty
you could put them in a series of cocktails
then sell them to college students
for way too much

As I’m driving,
I barely see the road,
I barely hear the drone of my audiobook
which is about mindfulness
and the irony
almost escapes me
because I’m weaving words like cloth,
spinning tales like straw
into the good quality string cheese
mixing metaphors like pasta
being mixed
with other stuff

While I’m working, taking calls,
I speak to the customers with my voice
and my mind steps away
into to realms with black sunsets,
where knights, armored in stars,
fight quasars, with tortured pasts
and something to prove
to their sisters
or something

Then it’s time to write,
and I think
you know what, this might not be the time for this,
I’ve got other things to do,
like maybe I should just play cup and ball instead
that’s so meaningful, so fun, how could I resist
and I know
I don’t have a ball
no big deal
I’ll just hold this empty cup
for a while

Caffeinated Mindfulness

Mocha !

I take a sip of coffee, dark roasted into anthracite of Arabica, swirled with the luxurious tropical tang of coconut cream. It rushes into my bloodstream, into my senses. I can’t tell the difference between the chemicals blocking adenosine between my neurons, or the psychosomatic reaction of my hot wet love affair with the aroma, with the taste, with the feel of it on my tongue.

My third eye snaps open. It was asleep. It’s usually asleep. But it’s forced open by the thunderclap of caffeination outside its window, blasting through sleep paralysis, it jolts up in bed and stands at attention. I close my other two eyes. I take my first breath. I begin my meditation.

I take my second breath. They are the long, slow, deliberate breaths of the practice. The same ones that I take when I am calm. What do I look like, to the bodhisattva ghosts that haunt the space around me? Do I look at ease? Do I look rested, because I breathe normally, and because I am not moving? Can they see the thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs that rest upon my skin, waiting to burst into action and light up the night?

I am not rested. I am not calm. There is more to peace than stillness. If nothingness is the true state of perfection, then perfection is flawed. I am a bundle of bundles of charged wires of a hundred different polarities that only exist in the dreams of electrons. Instead of a place without thought, drifting like leaves on a stream, the inside of my skull hosts so many thoughts, so many sensations, in such a reckless state of effortless agitation they are indistinguishable. They are white noise. My mind is a serene cacophony of beautiful tension.

I realize there is no such thing as silence. There is only deafness. In the quietest room in existence, there is still the background radiation of the infant universe. The scream of it’s birth. Not a scream of agony, but an agony of triumph. An impossibly massive explosion in an impossibly small instant, bursting outward from a single point of infinite inertness to a furiously rushing sea of endless potential. The loudest shouts that could ever be, so distant when they reach us that they have become a caressing whisper. If we cannot hear them, it’s because we lack calibration. Because our ears are too small.

It swirls around me, within me, throughout me. These thoughts and this noise are me, and they are not me. They are larger and vastly more important, and smaller than the Planck scale. Less relevant than a single crumb of food that cannot feed a mouse so small it suffers wave interference when it tries to pass through two slits in a scientist’s lab.

It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It lasts forever, but when it ends, as all things end, it has written a poem in prose in my head. A distant reflection in arbitrary symbolic representation of the chaotic, tranquil, nasty, perfect glory of the experience of trying to meditate after my third cup of coffee. But I will share it anyway.

Thinking About My Dad

Sunset

I don’t think about my dad that much, these days. I don’t know if that’s sad, or healthy, or both. I can bring him up in a conversation with my mom and it doesn’t make us both sad. There’s a moment where I worry that it will, because I remember when I could hear the tears in her eyes over the phone whenever I mentioned him.

I could bring up some funny memory, and we might both laugh, but the tears were there. The moment fogged with a dull blue. It didn’t ruin it. She didn’t burst into sobs. But they were there. And I felt a strange thing in my chest. Something like longing, something like hopelessness, something like desperation. A hand, tightly grasping just above my heart, slightly to the left.

It’s a feeling I get when I think about things that were beautiful but now are gone forever. It could be a person, or it could be the ruins of a castle in the mist. The part of me that exists only to laugh and hurt doesn’t know the difference.

That doesn’t happen any more. Now we can talk about him like something from the past. I don’t know when that happened. I think it’s probably a good thing because it means there is less pain. I have enough pain in my world. Everyone does, and my mother has far more than her fair share.

We can talk and laugh about the dumb jokes he used to tell, mention things he enjoyed, bring up a saying that he used to say—and he had a million of them—and it’s just like talking about anything else in the world that isn’t around anymore. Joe DiMaggio. The Roman Empire. My great grandmother.

Just another thing, and if there is pain, it is the memory of a sting. I can feel how it used to hurt, and that feeling is still unpleasant just like any unpleasant memory. But it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not really. It doesn’t burn. That’s probably better. I think it has to be better.

I know that, but right now, right here, soaking in the thoughts and memories, I’m not so sure. I feel some strange ache, impossible to describe because it lives in the same places as other things that shouldn’t be real because they don’t make sense. It can’t be a bad thing that I can think about my dad without hurting inside. It means that I’ve let go of the hurt. Let go of the pain. But the problem is that once you let something go, you don’t have it anymore.

Things that only live in the past don’t hurt. You can’t get cut by a knife you haven’t had since you moved away from your childhood house and didn’t take it with you. The things that still hurt do so because never move into the past. They’re still inside of you right now. Still living, still breathing, still edged. Some people have jagged fragments of memory that flow through their bloodstream and never stop cutting them. They spend all of their time bleeding. But that’s not the past. Just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it has passed. Not for you. Not if it still cuts you. Not if it’s still sharp.

The opposite of sharp is dull. When an image is dull, you can’t make out its features. My memories of my dad can’t cut me, anymore. Not most of the time. But that means they’re losing their edges. Losing their clarity. When someone won’t move on from the death of the loved one even though it hurts them, they know this. Inside of them, they know this. To lose the pain is to lose the immediacy. The now-nesses of it. If someone can still hurt you that means they are still in your life. They still exist. They aren’t just a series of photographs, a little more faded with each year.

And they still have cancer. And you still get that phone call at work telling you that, despite the fact that you thought he was getting better, your father is dead. It happens so quickly that it’s hard to believe. He seemed fine when you saw him a month and a half ago. Too skinny, unable to eat very much, but fully himself.

Fully alive, and fully able to complain that he can’t eat bbq ribs with everyone else, but with that amazing and effortless humility that someone makes the rest of us feel okay eating them in front of him. You can live in the happy memories as much as you want, but if you want him to still be here, still in your life, then you have to relive that phone call. Over and over again.

Nothing is ever all good or all bad. There is no way to move on without giving something up. Everything we do means we didn’t get to do all the other things we could have done. It’s a cliché to say that loss is important because it makes way for new things.

New things are important. Moving past pain and tragedy and sadness are important. But so is remembering. And if the full memory–the rich and intense and sensory memory where our loved ones are, for a few impossible moments, still with us—if that memory is painful, then pain is important, too.

If living without the sadness of my dad’s loss means thinking about him less, then that’s what I’m going to do. But if the only way to feel him still in my life is to sometimes leap into that pool of sadness and let it soak into my clothes and weigh me down for a while, then I’m going to do that, too. I never want the pain to go away completely, because I never want to lose him completely.

Sometimes I have to hear his laughter and see that goofy grin and feel my own tears sting my eyes because he’s there in front of me right now, but I can’t touch him. It means the pain will never be gone. Not completely. But then, neither will he. He will never be just a photograph.