That One Time I Used To Do Stuff

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As much of a movie person as I am I can’t say I ever had aspirations to direct, act, or really be involved seriously with film. I have an awful memory, I am not a leader, and I can barely balance a pencil so forget a movie budget. I am a film voyeur, not participant. I will say though that there was a time when I loved making movies. From about seventeen to nineteen some friends and I would make the most ridiculous and (in retrospect) offensive movies and we loved it. My main friend and I were movie geeks who lived and breathed films and loved to quote to one another from them. When he got a PXL 2000, the world changed. It was a device put out for kids which allowed them to film for up to five minutes in black and white on a cassette tape. It still blows my mind. They were crude but there was a beauty to the device and the magic it could create and we loved it. We made about half a dozen films with it, all horror and all lost now, and my friend even knew how to do blood effects in black and white (good old choco syrup!) and for the first one we did together he even did the fishing line tied around things to create ghost effects. It was incredible to have a sleep over and shoot all day and night and have something finished to look at when we were done.

We graduated from PXL to VHS when my folks bought the family a camcorder which I became the sole user of, which I think was expected. Now we could shoot in color and time was no constraint. We made improv comedies that ‘borrowed’ from our favorite films, mostly Scorsese’s urban dramas, which, though oddly charming, were way too long in their run times. When I was seventeen I was desperate to get into a horror film class at the local community college and jumped through the appropriate hoops to get into it. The final project for the class was to write a paper or make a film. I am pretty sure you know which one I went with. We made a strange film about a young guy who meets a serial killer and they become the best of pals. It was weird, silly, and it was totally us. I was but an actor this time around and was wholly awful due to my having to remember lines, but we had an amazing time, came away with some interesting stories, and I made one of the best friends I had as a young adult. Alas, the film wasn’t finished in time for the class and I took a WOMP which I had to make up.

My filmmaking days ended in my early twenties. The friend that I made all of those films with exited my life and I just didn’t have friends that either wanted to make movies or who I wanted to make movies with. I turned my focus to writing and here we are.

Only…it’s funny how the wheel comes back around from time to time.

Around the end of 2014/Beginning of 2015 a simple idea brought me back to my teen years in the best of ways. A friend made a proposal – he had some extra cash and thought – what better way to use it than for us, three of us friends who do a podcast together, to make a film together. We talked and talked and the idea became – let’s do an ANTHOLOGY together. That was the match that lit the inferno that has lead us to where we’re at, two and a half years later – two of the three shorts finished, one gearing up to shoot and another, a last-minute addition, moving towards the cameras. I never expected to get back behind the camera, let alone in front of it, but that’s where this brought me. There’s more to tell about my film itself, and more for me to say, so I’ll leave that for another post, but it’s been an incredible journey. I love that the spark to all of this came from a friend and that I got to work with friends on the film. I got to be a part of one friend’s film and had another friend (as well as many others) to be in my film. I love that I got to craft my own process for things and to find my way through it. More than anything I love that I stuck to it, even when I wanted to quit, I couldn’t because I owed it to the people who had worked on it to see it through.

I can’t say anyone will like the film, nor whether the people who gave their time and talents to work on it will be happy that they were involved but I am happy with what I have, I am shocked to see it done, and I am anxious to see what happens next.

http://www.meepsheep.com

The House We Never – a story

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This is a new story as of 6.23.17.

A strange tale of northern Michigan and hidden secrets and deep woods. The story is inspired as much by a recent trip to the U.P, as we ‘troll’s call the northern part of our state, as it is the sparse, mysterious storytelling that always draws me to podcasts. I kinda dig this. I hope you will to. 

If you dig it and want to read more of my stuff check one of my books – www.meepsheep.com.

I was six when mom and dad bought the house up north. Up North was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about six hours away from where we lived and this new place was to be a vacation home. Mom and dad bought it after grandma died and left them what remained of money she’d invested and sat on for decades. They never could vacation before they got that money and from what I remember they argued a lot about what to do with it. It was a lot of money for them but not a lot of money ‘to everyone else’ is dad would say. It was his mother that had died and he had the final say, according to mom, though she wanted him to put it away. About three months after grandma died dad came home all excited with an ad he had found in the paper for a small piece of land with a small cabin on it up north. Imagine, he told her, imagine having a place, finally having a place where we could go to get away. Our own place. Ours. And that was what sold mom on it. They didn’t even own the house we lived in. They were paying on it and would be for decades. This though, this place, this would be theirs. Ours. They’d leave it to me one day and then it’d be mine and that was that. They bought the property. I am not sure for how much, I didn’t really understand all of that, but it was a lot, but not all of the money they were left. The rest of the money they put away in case I ever wanted to go to college.

And just like that, we owned a vacation cabin.

They bought the cabin in November, by listing, a photo, and faith alone because the year they bought it the winter came earlier than usual and made it hard for dad to make it up to see the place and he didn’t want to lose this opportunity. The man they bought it from swore that it was just as he said and that as far as he was concerned the place was sold and he’d accept the money for it the day we came up to get the keys from him. It was a strange arrangement, even to me, but it was what they agreed on. Dad was suspicious but mom told him that maybe, just maybe this time life was giving them a little luck. And she was right, in a way.

The drive wasn’t inspiring. It was beautiful but the beauty turned to squalor and ruin as we passed hunter’s cabins that had been abandoned, and areas that looked more like junkyards than anything else. There was an eerie isolation to all of it where we’d drive through a town and then see nothing but trees and trees and trees with the occasional glimpse of a river or the great lake and then more hills and mini-mountains. I started to feel homesick until we hit an area that became beautiful again where the hills were vibrant, the trees tall and proud, and where there were homes clustered together, places where people lived and loved year ‘round and didn’t just stop in to for a visit every few months. Those spots are what gave me hope and then we were there, we were at our new place, the house we’d never call home.

The cabin was small, and needed work, but it was just as it had been described. It was a two-bedroom place in need of new windows, a new roof, and a good cleaning, but it was built solidly of wood and had withstood the harsh winters since 1938. Dad said it had ‘good bones’. I just thought it was old and weird and neat. It was within a half an hour of Lake Superior, less than that to some hiking trails, and was bordered by a deep forest. Our land was small enough that dad could use the old-fashioned push mower that he had gotten at a garage sale to mow it but it had trees and some space to put a grill or tent or a bonfire or SOMETHING. There was no neighbor to the left of us, that place having burned up and being just a scorched shell, and to the right of us was a hunting cabin that a man from Ohio owned, bought from the same man we bought our place, and who only used it during hunting season. We were alone and out in the country but not so far that we couldn’t get a pizza and groceries when we needed, we just had to drive a half an hour. No big deal. It was all too good to be true but then there was the ‘ah, but’ to it all.

As soon as the man said this, Mr., uh, I forget his name but he was short and wide and smelled like a pipe, dad swore and started to put his checkbook away. The man, Mr. So-and-So put his hand on dad’s hand, shook his head from side to side slowly and then turned and started walking away from us. Mom looked at dad and dad looked at me and I shrugged and we all laughed and started to follow this strange man. He walked around the cabin and back towards the back of our lot, the area behind it being owned by a logging company that never, from what the man said, hadn’t been active in years. There was a strange fence at the back of our property and ran from the left to the right as far as the eye could see. Strange because the fence was new, tall, and chain link. The old man had mentioned it to dad when we got there, telling him not to get worried when he saw it, that it was just the way of the company, as he called the logging people. He said we might hear some work being done back there but that we wouldn’t see them. That didn’t make sense since he said they weren’t active but dad didn’t bring it up. We never had made it around back, dad just glancing back there as mom called out that there was a cellar and dad wondered aloud if anyone was buried down there. I had looked out back though and wondered what the squat building I saw was near to the forest but never thought to say anything. That was what all of this was about though, the big ‘ah, but’. The Guest House.

 

The Guest House, that was what the man called it, but it looked more like a large shed. It lay at the very back of the property and was just a couple of feet from the fence and it looked old, older than the cabin. Much older. It was made of stone and looked like it had sunk into the ground as I could have easily climbed onto the roof of the building, even at six. The windows, two on the side facing the house and none facing any other direction, were shuttered with heavy metal shutters that must have been secured from the inside. I walked around and around and around the place but could find no door, though Mr. So-and-So claimed that the door was below ground now. Dad started frowning as soon as he saw the Guest House and it seemed like this deal was dead with that frown but the man let out a laugh, clapped dad on the back and told him that it was nothing, really. This was an old hunter’s cabin that had been here for at least a couple hundred years and that it was part of the deal – if we wanted the other cabin and the rest of the land we had to take this as well under the promise not to destroy, harm, or attempt to gain entry. It was an unofficial historical place since it had been used during some war with the ‘natives’, as he called them, and the locals, whoever they were, considered the place almost holy. He told us to consider it an annoying stump we had to mow around.

 

“Hell of a goddamn stump, pal.” Dad told him, my mom swatting dad on the shoulder as he cursed twice.

 

The man laughed again and smiled at my dad and nodded then took a pencil stub and piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote something down and then handed it to my dad. Dad’s eyes got wide and he looked at the man and asked him if he was serious.

 

“Serious as the croup, sir, serious as the croup. I like you folks. This land has needed some new blood and I just don’t have the time or honestly the energy to keep up with it. If you’ll give me your word that you won’t fool with this here old eyesore then we have a deal…for the price I wrote there. Sound agreeable to you?”

 

Dad looked at mom and she shrugged. Dad looked at me and I was still trying to make some sense of the building, which, the more I looked at the more drawn to it I got. I looked over at dad and he smiled and I smiled back, forcing it because my mind was still picking at that building and according to dad my smile sold him. We bought.

We didn’t stay there that first time we were up there, the place needing too much work first, staying instead down near the bridge that took you from the upper to the lower peninsula, but dad promised that we’d be up there by the end of summer. Every weekend during that late spring and summer dad would get out of work, pack up his truck, and head up north to work on the place. He’d come back around midnight on Sunday, exhausted, hungry, and desperate for sleep but he was excited. ‘It’s coming along,’ he’d tell mom, and she’d hug him and give him a big kiss as I watched from the shadows of the hallway. As excited as I was to stay up north though the weird cabin in the back, our Guest House, was still stuck in my brain like popcorn between teeth, and I wasn’t sure why. I just couldn’t work it free from my mind. It was like seeing it awoke a voice in me that wouldn’t stop talking and I couldn’t stop listening.

The year didn’t go as planned, the weather didn’t go as planned, and life didn’t go as planned and so we didn’t make it up to our new cabin that spring or summer. When we finally did make it up north for a brief three day stay at the end of summer it rained the entire time and mom and dad put puzzles together, played records, and sat around reading and I sat by the window and looked out at the Guest House. It was the same, but, you know, not. Dad had gotten a lot done that summer, cleaning up the yard and cabin and getting a new roof on, but the Guest House was the same as it had been before. The same but different. There was a two hour stretch Saturday night where it stopped raining and mom and dad drove into town to get us some dinner and I told them I wasn’t feeling great so I stayed back to rest. As soon as they were gone though I put my coat and rain boots on and mucked my way out the back door towards the Guest House.

First I looked at the fence, which I found had hinges and a large lock just behind the cabin that we hadn’t noticed it. There was only about four feet between the Guest House and the fence and it was strange that there was a gate here. Especially one with a new looking lock. I ran my hand over the fence and it was just ordinary fence, nothing special. I leaned forward and looked through and past the fence and saw that the wood were thick but that there were paths through the trees, wide paths that lead deeper into the darkness. I saw no logging equipment back there or equipment of any kind to be honest. Just trees and strange plants that I didn’t recognize. I was startled by a loud crack deep in those forest and I quickly slid out from behind the Guest House and turned my attention to it. I put my hand against the stones and pulled it away immediately as they were so cold that they hurt to touch them. As if they were made of ice. As I was looking at the stones I noticed that the building itself looked completely dry, as if the rain hadn’t hit it. I knelt and looked at the stones that made up the Guest House, careful not to touch them, and noticed that as I got closer there were designs on each stone and the closer I got the more I realized that they had been carved into somehow, numbers, letters, words, in all manner of languages I couldn’t recognize. I scooted over slowly and saw that every stone I looked at had these same things on them. Each was carved into. Then something occurred to me and I moved back a little and I realized that the designs in the stone were part of something else, something bigger – an image. I couldn’t see it where I was and I felt like I would need to be back a ways, or really high up to see what the image was but there was a design to the way things were done that I sensed more than saw and I felt a chill run down my back and just as I did I heard something move inside the Guest House. I stood up fast and back away, tripping over myself and falling onto my butt. I was looking at the front of the building and the sun was shining but I was within the cabin’s shadow and felt the cold from it on me and with it that voice in my head seemed to get louder. It made me want to go closer to the Guest House, to put both hands on the stones and then my mouth and then…but I pushed myself backwards, butt slipping through the mud as I did, just to be back in the disappearing sunlight. I was fifteen feet away now and staring at the Guest House and heard nothing. The sound, a strange sort of guttural muttering, was gone now. As I watched though I saw one of the metal shutters that covered each window move, pushed outward once, then twice and for a moment I thought it was going to bow outward and shatter, revealing who or what was within. I got up and ran as fast as I could back into the house and locked the door and then dropped myself in front of a window to watch the Guest House. As soon as I got back inside the rains came down again but none of them touched the cabin, the place having almost a force field around it. A moment later the door to our cabin burst open behind me and mom and dad came in, soaked and laughing but they stopped as soon as they saw me, my dad rushing over to me as mom went to get me glass of water.

“Hey, hey buddy are you OK? Are you OK? Are you OK?”

I am not sure what they saw but mom later told me that I was smiling in a strange way and that my nose was bleeding. I didn’t remember that. I just remembered that I couldn’t find the words to answer dad and fell into the darkness of sleep.

 

I told my parents. I did. As soon as I was awake, about three hours later, I told them. Dad looked out into the darkness of the night and squinted but it was clear he couldn’t see anything. Neither told me to calm down and neither told me I was crazy. Mom told me they’d take a look tomorrow, before we left, and that’s what they did. The next day was warmer and overcast but dry and as I packed my stuff up and dad started closing the cabin up mom went out to look at the Guest House, our other house, the one we didn’t live in but lived with us. She was out there a while, touching it cautiously, bending down to look at it from this angle and that and after twenty minutes she made her way to the car, after dad had honked three times for her. She was white, her hands were shaking and she wouldn’t make eye contact with dad and her nose was bleeding. She wiped away at it absently before speaking.

 

“You’re right…there’s markings. Strange, strange markings. They form a, well it’s, I mean it’s funny because it’s just…well… And the stones are cold. It’s…” She trailed off. Dad looked at her but she shook her head at him and turned to look back at the Guest House that was that. Off we went for home.

 

I wasn’t sure whether they believed me or not but things seemed different after that trip. They didn’t talk about the cabin, at least to me, and we didn’t go up north for over a year. I could tell dad wanted to talk about it but whenever he talked about vacations mom would get a look in her eye and would tense up and dad would drop it so nothing really happened with it. What did happen was dad would go up there a couple times a month to work on things. From what I overheard they were trying to make the place as nice as possible to sell it. I am not sure what mom experienced when she was at the Guest House, our other house, but it changed her. Dad didn’t seem any different though and on the weekends, he was gone he came back the same as ever. I wasn’t sure that he ever went to examine the Guest House or not but if he did I never heard about it. I was just about to turn nine when dad announced, two weeks before summer was going to begin, that we were going up to the cabin. Mom dropped the cup she was holding and opened her mouth to speak but dad smiled at her and reached across the dining room table and patted her hand.

 

“So, here’s the thing…I talked to the guy we bought it from, the sorta weird older guy, well, there’s a clause in the contract that we have to keep the property for ten years before we can do anything else. On top of that we cannot touch the fencing in the back and cannot touch the Guest House at the back of the property, which we sorta knew and we don’t want to do. He wants to make sure we aren’t speculators that are looking to buy low and flip the place. He was polite while we talked but, well, different. Not nearly as cordial. Very matter of fact. He said he owns the other property around there, something that must be new or a lie or something, and he doesn’t want the wrong sort taking up the land. I even took the contract to a lawyer and it’s legal since it was part of the conditions of buying the place. I hadn’t read that and I am sorry. I even offered to sell the property back to the guy, at a loss but he just sat silently on the other end for a minute and then the line went dead. So, well, we’re stuck, for a while. Not forever, but a while. I DID do a few things up there. More than I could do last year. I cleaned up the main house and brought it up to now and not twenty years ago. I planted the property. Also, and best of all, I put a fence around the weird house at the back. It’s a six-foot-high fence that you can’t see through with a gate on it that has a big, heavy lock. I had a friend from work come help put it in. I know that place gives you two the willies but I want us to be able to enjoy that property since we own it, at least for now. Give it a chance. Please? One more chance? So, we’re heading up. No, wait. I would like to ask you both, please, can we head up there for the Memorial Day holiday? Take the kiddo out of school that Friday and head up and come back Sunday night and spend Monday together at home? Sound good?”

 

Since we had gone up to the cabin I had had strange dreams about the Guest House. Nothing specific, no witches, no monsters, no anything, just the cabin, and the forest, and the sound of someone breathing heavily nearby. The voice was there still, louder, telling me to look closer at the patterns in the stones, not to get further back, that closer was the key. The dreams didn’t last long but they always came back. I wasn’t sure what they meant and am still not sure though I think part of it is that idea that someone or someTHING was in that place and I had no idea how they ever got in there. The thing was though that as obsessed as I secretly was with that place I had no reason to be scared. It was weird, and creepy, but nothing had happened to me. My mother, my mother I wasn’t so sure about. She was different since we were up there. Different since she went to go check out the cabin. She would scare easy, startle I guess. Even if nothing had happened. She’d be sitting still and suddenly she’d whirl around and look for something or someone that wasn’t there. Or my dad would do something small, something simple like take her hand or rub her shoulder and she’d shudder. I didn’t get it and worse than me dad didn’t get it. That’s what I think was part of the reasoning behind the trip though. Sure, it was about money, he wanted to take advantage of money he’d already spent, but I think too that he wanted to see if getting us up there again he could show us that there was nothing to fear.

So we went.

The place was beautiful, dad had done a lot of work on the landscape and the cabin and just everything, just as he had told us. It barely even looked like the same place. He had cleaned and painted the cabin. He had updated the electric inside. He’d added a television and microwave. There were new beds on the frames and he’d cleaned the wood floors and installed a new toilet. There was landscaping with bushes and small trees where there had been ruts and overgrown weeds. The grass was re-sodded. There was a small pond that he’d had dug out there, not very big but big enough to put your feet into and there was a bonfire pit and chairs near to that. And then the fence. It was black and tall, about six feet, and there was a big lock that closed it off. Not seeing the Guest House gave me a feeling I can’t quite describe, almost an itchy feeling, but mom seemed relieved and as soon as she saw the fence she threw her arms around dad’s neck and gave him a kiss that lit me up red and made me look away quickly. Things were back to normal.

Friday night was amazing. We cooked outside on a grill dad had hiding in the garage. We roasted marshmallows over the fire, and we ended the night by making up stories about what was in the forest beyond the fencing at the back of our property. Dad said a silver mine. I said a colony of aliens and mom said, well, it was weird, she just said ‘they’ were back there. We didn’t understand but she laughed afterwards and then we did too and it was awesome. I went to bed that night and stared out at the stars and the black fence standing guard in the backyard and dreamt of darkness.

I was the one that heard mom. It was almost six in the morning and her screams came to me as if from a dream. I clawed my way out of sleep and then suddenly her voice was filling the world before light even did. I opened my eyes and sat up and immediately looked outside, where it seemed like her voice was coming from, and saw only the black teeth of the fence. I got up and ran out the back door and started calling for my mom, who was hysterically screaming, her voice already going hoarse. She was behind the fence and in with the Guest House. I ran to where the fence was secured with a gate and found it locked. I pulled on the handle to the door and got no movement. I pulled at the lock and found the same. I started kicking at the door with my bare foot when my dad came up behind me, he shirtless and in shorts, and he pushed me to the side and shook a red key free of the jumble of keys he had on a keychain and he put it into the lock and turned. As soon as the lock was free the door burst outward at us and mom fell onto the wet grass, shuddering and crying. Dad dropped to his knees and put his hand on her arm and she screamed.

 

“The sounds, the sounds, oh god make them stop.”

My dad looked up at me and we both looked at the Guest House and there was nothing different about it, at least that he saw. I was still looking when I felt something cold in my hand. Dad had handed me the lock so I pulled the door closed and locked it again as he helped mom to her feet and got her back to the house. Despite the warmth in the day mom was shivering so we got her to the love seat and sat her down and dad grabbed a quilt from the cupboard and covered her up. She kept looking all around the cabin, almost as if she was trying to see everything at once and dad was trying to get her to tell him what had happened. To tell him how she’d gotten back there and what she’d heard. She started to open her mouth to speak but her head turned and she looked out the window to the fence and she stopped shivering and looked back at dad.

 

“I feel tired now. I am going to lay down and go to sleep.”

 

Dad and I were confused but before we could say anything else mom turned away from us, brought her feet up underneath her legs, and was quiet.

Dad got up and walked to the window and looked out to the yard then went into his bedroom to dress before heading out to the fence. As he was heading out I went to join him but he turned and told me to stay with my mom witha look in his eye that told me not to question that so I didn’t. I looked over at mom and she was snoring softly so I pulled a chair from the kitchen table over to the window and sat in it and watched as my dad examined the fence. First he looked at the fence itself and pushed on it and pulled at it and tried to see if there was a spot where mom could have snuck through. From there he moved to the lock, which he pulled at but found it secure. Dad walked around and around the fence for ten minutes and on seeing nothing he went back to the front and fished into his pocket, pulled the key to the lock out, and unlocked the gate. Dad pulled the gate open and stepped inside the fencing and disappeared behind it. Dad was gone for several minutes and mom had gone silent and I started to get that itchy feeling again so I stood and slowly I moved closer and closer to the door until I was at it and yelling out to my dad. He appeared a moment later, sweaty and dirty and looking confused. He looked at me and shrugged then walked through the gate, picked up the lock, locked it into place, and came back up to the cabin.

 

“I have no idea how she got in there, buddy. None. And no idea what spooked her. I thought I…well, I just dunno. Hopefully she can tell us when she wakes up. It’s odd though, real odd. Odder though…well, odder is that you know that fence in the back, behind our property? Well, that gate is open. Not even just open…the gate’s just… gone.”

 

Dad had me help him cook dinner, something he never did, and we let mom sleep. When dinner was ready dad went over to wake her but she only mumbled that she wasn’t hungry and pulled the blanket over her head. Dad tried again and again to get her awake enough to eat something but she wouldn’t so he finally shrugged to me, the second time that day, and we went to the table and ate and dad watched mom the entire time. After dinner I washed up the dishes while he put the food in containers.

 

“We’re gonna head home early tomorrow, OK? I know I wanted us to do more this weekend but with your mom sick and a long drive ahead I think it’s best we just get on the road as early as possible. Finish washing up, buddy, and then let’s get packed for tomorrow.”

I won’t lie. I was disappointed. We hadn’t been able to do anything that we’d talked about, not really, but I understood. Mom was acting different. Even if I didn’t want to, I knew it was time to go home so after I finished the dishes I went and packed my things up, and then went into the kitchen and helped dad pack up the food into a tub. We talked about whether we should wake mom up or not but she seemed so peaceful on the couch that we decided to let her sleep through the night. It was only nine by this time so dad and I went outside and sat in silence under the stars, watching the sky and looking for space ships until the mosquitos got bad enough to chase us in. We went to bed just after eleven, him giving me a big hug before he trudged off to bed and patting my mom gently on the leg as he passed her. That was the last time I saw dad.

I woke up to mom’s screams again the next morning but this time they were coming from her and dad’s bedroom. I got up and hurried into the room next to mine and saw mom standing with one hand on her mouth and the other at her side clutching the quilt she’d had on her when we put her to bed. I wasn’t sure what had upset her but I immediately saw dad was gone and on the bed, where the covers were pushed back, was one single drop of blood. I still wasn’t sure why mom was so upset, dad must have hurt himself when he was outside, or cleaning up, or who knows when. Not a big deal. She slowly turned towards me, eyes wide and mouth in a silent scream and she just looked at me, almost through me, and she dropped the blanket and left the room and me behind. I turned and watched her go to the kitchen and grab a knife. She looked over her shoulder at me and then slowly faced me. We looked at each other a moment and she took a step towards me, moving the knife in her hand as she did, perhaps to get a better grip, but before she could take another step there was a cry from outside. A scream. Mom looked towards the front door, which was open, and took a step, then stopped and turned her gaze back on me. There was another cry and she ran out the door and towards the back of the house.

I slowly walked out of her bedroom and down the short hallway, bare-chested and in shorts, and walked into the living room to look out the window. She was gone, disappeared behind the fence. I walked outside and cringed at how cold the dewy grass was on my feet but moved forward slowly, looking for her. I made it to the fence and had not seen her so I started making my way around it, towards the back of it. Towards where the sounds had come from. I rounded the fence and saw the other fence, the one that was in place when we bought the property, and beyond it was forest, which had grown thick with leaves since last I’d been here. I didn’t see any sign of mom or dad so I headed for the opening in the fence and just inside, near the first tree, was the knife mom had been holding laying on the ground. Without thinking twice, I walked into the forest and found myself on a path that was tramped down and had to be nearly ten feet wide. One of the paths I had seen before. The trees here were tall and thick and the grass high and, strangely, sharp. I stopped in my tracks when I felt something cut my foot. I lifted it and saw a long slice along the heel and blood pooling then dripping onto the ground. I looked around for a piece of glass or a rock, anything that might have cut me but saw only the grass. I reached down and touched a thick blade and a thin red line formed on my finger. Whatever this grass was, it was sharp. Dangerously sharp.

I didn’t see any sign of mom or dad and knew I couldn’t make it any deeper into the forest because the path ahead was full of the same sort of grass and got darker the deeper I looked so I was stayed put and looked around to see if I could catch sight of anything. I put my hand on a tree and gently put my wounded foot back down on the ground. The tree was warm and seemed almost to be breathing. I pulled my hand away and backed up a step. There was movement to my left and I turned and saw mom, hanging impaled on the barbs of a large plant that was covered in long, thin needles. The plant was at least ten feet high and by the look of it she had wandered off the path and had gotten caught up in it and was stuck now, her thrashing sinking the spikes deeper into her. It looked like a picker bush, only much bigger and it was white, or had been, but as I watched it seemed to be pulsing and turning from white to pink to red. Mom was hung sideways, two feet off the ground and she was straining to see me, I could tell, each movement pulling a moan from her and no more since a long barb had run through one cheek and out through the other. I looked down and saw no blood pooled beneath her, just throbbing vines that were wrapped around the bush and which snaked deeper into the trees.

Ignoring the pain, I walked towards her, the grass slicing into my feet and ankles and leaving a trail of red for me to follow behind me. She was only a few feet off the trail but walking towards her made it feel like a mile. When I got to her I heard her whimper and pull away from my hand as I went to lay it on her forehead. She felt cold. I shushed her and smiled at her. She started crying. I heard something moving deeper in the forest, then something else, and suddenly the forest was awakened. I wondered if it was the scent of her blood or mine that had done it but it was clear that company was coming. I patted her head one last time and then slowly walked backwards towards the gate’s entrance. My mother started making loud noises and thrashing and I looked down the path and saw why. Oh, yes, I saw why and she was right to be upset.

I smiled, bowed to the visitors, then took the last two steps back and was onto our property again. My property. I watched the things of the forest emerge and surround my mother and then that was the last I saw of her.

I walked around our fence and to the front and put my hand on the lock and pulled once, twice, and on the third pull the lock broke and fell to the ground. I pulled the gate open and there was the Guest House, waiting. My house. My new house. The house that they would never live in is the house I would love. I walked forward and could feel the grass beneath my feet moving, squirming, sopping up my blood. I went to the cool stones of the cabin and touched them and heard a sound from within. The same sound my mother had heard. The same sound I had heard. I smiled.

The grass around the Guest House started to pull downward and I took a step back away and more and more of the house was revealed to me as the earth around it pulled back into itself and I saw that we had only been allowed to see the attic of what was a very, very large home and when the ground had stopped moving there was a long, wise stairway made of blue stones that lead down, down, down to a heavy wooden door which was waiting for me to enter.

I turned my attention from the Guest House and started the long job of pulling the fence that surrounded it down. I had a lot of work to do but this had to be taken care of first. Luckily I had help. After a bit I heard the door open and after it opened I had lots of help. As we worked the things in the forest sang to us and the ground pulsed with life. I love this place. I knew it once I had seen it and every dream only made me love it more. When I was ready I would go through that door in the Guest House and I would see, I would see…everything.

This was now my home.

My forever place.

Forever and always.

Carnivore – a story

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I haven’t posted a story on here in an age which, if you read this, you may have preferred to what I have to offer.

This story stemmed from my desire to work on a new mythology, one not steeped in the old gods and the old ways but one in which we create our new gods, our new texts, and a new way. I have written a few stories n similar topics and ideas but with this I wanted to start at the point where the acts and ideas become sacred and religious.

It’s a nasty little tale.

And it’s unedited.

I can already think of things I’d change but we’ll leave that to some day when I decide to do something else with it.
IF I do something else with it.

As always, my books reside here – www.meepsheep.com

 

CARNIVORE

It was easier than she thought.

At first.

The spit.

The cum.

But then it got more difficult.

The blood.

The bone.

The skin.

She pushed onward though, hearing the voice chanting within her head, telling her what to do, how to do it, when to do it and even who had been chosen.

Derek. Dave. John. Paul. She couldn’t remember his name. Was it initials maybe? She wasn’t sure and the voice wouldn’t let her think to see if the name was still up there somewhere, rattling around in her head like loose change. Do-it-do-it do-it was all it said to her. She had met him at a hall show. He was some punk kid watching some punk band. Both nameless. Both faceless. Both struggling to find their voice beneath the mask of other people’s ideas and influences. He was a kid. She knew that. Was he even sixteen? She pushed her mind away from that and got to work. She was not her own anymore. She was a part of something bigger and grander. She was at ground zero of an awakening. She set her mind to work again, glancing down at herself as she did. She blushed at her nudity and was happy for the red dress she had been given by the boy to dress herself in.

Had he cried?

The boy.

Yes.

No.

She wasn’t sure.

She worked.

The color of her dress deepening to a blackish red now and the work was harder, her hands hurting, arms burning, but she kept going because the voice insisted.

Sing high the praises of the dark, it told her.

And she did.

He cried.

He cried when they had had sex and then when she had first hurt him. His face was covered in blood and makeup, his warpaint running down his face and onto his pale body. He seemed so weak and prone to her as she stood above him, the small knife in her hand dripping his blood onto him. He had seemed so powerful and sure just moments earlier but now he was shaking and small and she wondered just hold old he really was.

She pulled his intestines free and dropped them in a heap beside other organs she had pulled free, not sure what they were but wanting them, needing them. She grabbed one of his ribs in both hands and pulled and nothing happened. She did it again and nothing. She tried again and again, over and over and nothing happened. She screamed and grabbed a book that was lying on the kid’s floor and started smashing it into his ribs again and again and still nothing happened so she dropped the book and made a fist with her left hand and started to punch at his ribs. She felt something in her hand give but kept at it until she finally heard one of the ribs crack. She grabbed it with her right hand, her left hand a throbbing mess, and snapped the rib free. She cast it aside and then put her hands beneath the boy and rolled him onto his stomach. She picked the knife up clumsily with her left hand and ran her right over his smooth back. He didn’t even have any tattoos, something she was sure he had fantasized about and planned.

She closed her eyes and listened to the voice, which was calmer now and sounding like her own, was it always her own voice, she wondered, but no, it was there, telling her where to cut. She opened her eyes and plunged the knife into his back and started cutting the skin away. This would take hours, she knew. All of it was wanted. All of it was needed. He had been pure when she had taken him and so she had been chosen to begin the pilgrimage that would lead to the new path. She had to go alone, at first, but they would come. The people would come.

First though, the first sonnet must be written.

The first song must be sung.

The first book must be written.

The young woman pulled the first bit of skin away from the body of the boy and cut the remnants of its ties to him away then placed it in a duffle bag she had brought with her. She had brought two bags – one with her tools and clothes and the other empty, for transport. This would be a long, slow process.

First she needed the materials though, which she would have by the end of the night.

Next she needed to let herself heal as the skin was cleaned and cured and the organs and blood were mixed to form the ink.

Then she would begin the process of writing the book in her own blood. A little at a time. The voice was patient though and told her that time was nothing in the eyes of the darkness. Time was a fairy tale Man told itself to believe it held dominion over the universe when it held none. It was nothing.

When the book was finished she would sew it together and then hide it and once hidden she’d put out the call. She would need proof though to get them to come, to get them to find, to get them to believe.

She was the proof.

She was the final proof.

She was afraid. So afraid. The voice told her though, Do this for me and there will be no more pain, no more loneliness, and no more worry. Take my hand in the darkness and I will guide you to the place where all who have hurt you shall pay, and where you can finally be among those that are like you, a new tribe of the lost and broken, a tribe that will rise and burn this world to ash.

She didn’t smile at this but she knew that she was part of something bigger, much bigger, and that she was but a pebble in the ocean but with enough pebbles the ripples would become a tidal wave and a day would come when nothing of Man would remain, and to that, she smiled as she carefully cut the skin from the dead boy’s body.

 

THE CON GAME – The Long Way Forward

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Nothing I am going to write is new. None of it is revelatory. None of it will do more than cause a bubble in the ocean but all of it comes from someone at ground zero of the killing fields of convention life.

Anyone who knows me knows my record but I’ll restate it for the sake of credentials –

I have been vending at conventions on and off, since 1994.

Of those twenty-two years we’ll say five of them had no cons or shows of any sort.

I started as a ‘guest’ at the table of the publisher of a magazine some friends and I did and then moved on to having my own tables to sell my books and stories.

I also have vended at art shows and book shows.

I have put on arts and culture events since 2007.

I have put on a horror convention since 2011 with one year off, though we still did horror events.

Each year we’d do several events leading up to a convention or bigger show.

And I write.

So that’s me.

So when I say I have been around the convention scene for a minute, I mean more like three minutes, and that I have seen the front, back, and middle of the shows.

So there you are.

And here I am.

And where I am is in a place to see that the snake is devouring its own tail and that the convention industry is heading for a big, big fall.

Man it’s been a hell of a ride though.

If you are a genre fan (Which is sort of a catch all for anyone into horror, fantasy, or sci-fi and the many sub-genres therein) then this has been a very good time to be alive. The theaters and television is filled with genre fare. Zombies, aliens, ghost, vampires, Vikings, dragons, man alive, there’s something for everyone. Then you go to the theater and find more of the same. It’s been glorious. AND you can find merch for every obscure property you ever loved as well as amazing special editions of most of those same properties. Heck, we have even been given the begrudging respect of mainstream media, though it’s generally still full of judgment and derision. Even cosplayers, the ‘freaks’ of fandom are being embraced – finally – as the creative geniuses many are and not the shut-ins they are often portrayed as.

It’s a great time.

Heck, almost every weekend of the year you can head out – if you are willing to travel a little – and meet genre and pop culture heroes and villains and buy a house-worth of nerdy good stuff.

It’s amazing.

But…

Because there is always a but.

We’re at the point over oversaturation and worse than that we’re at the point of market instability.

Let me explain.

Once upon a time it was hard to find a comic convention let alone a genre convention. You had to look long and hard to find them and when they did pop up they popped up once a year. It was a long wait but the wait was worth it. Then small shows popped up. Generally, these were comic shows where some stores would band together and sell comics and merch, bring in a few indie comic creators, and vendors would be stores, zine-creators, artists, writers, or anything that was in the outlying areas around comics. These shows were a great stop-gap for fans that couldn’t make it to bigger shows or couldn’t wait for them. OR for those cynical indie stalwarts that shook their fist at anything mainstream.

When I was a kid I went to two horror conventions and they made a huge impact on me. They were part of a bigger convention tour and only landed in the Detroit area twice but they were amazing. I have gone on and on about them so I won’t flashback to them now. They were impactful to a young teenage guy though that loved horror and had never even been to a comic con.

Thanks to the growth of the ‘nerd’ market, bolstered by a resurgence in superhero and comic properties as well as the resilience and persistence of horror and sci-fi fans, the market grew. Horror conventions appeared and spread and slowly super-conventions also grew and spread. The smaller shows that would offer five to ten guests became big conventions that offered fifteen, twenty, and more guests. With more guests there were more vendors. With more guests and vendors there were more fans. And for fans it was a hey-day. Suddenly the handful of guests that did the circuit, so-called ‘has-beens’, were joined by people that would never be seen at a convention were it not for the lure of the money. Where those on the circuit did shows to keep themselves in the minds of fans, and to make a little extra money when their careers weren’t as vibrant, the new blood and their management saw this as a way to really tap into a money vein none had really hit before and that’s the ‘nerd market’. People who are passionate about something, deeply passionate, FANS, in other words, want things connected to their passions. If it’s sports, or horses, or games, or movies, or whatever, people want that. It’s one of the things that we have that lets us create comfortable and happy environments. It’s part of our process of nesting. Birds want pretty baubles and in our way, so do we. We also want to interact and ‘touch’ the creators of what we love. We want to share with them our passion and have a keepsake. We want that autograph or picture, not because it means anything in the great picture but because it means we got to share a moment with someone we admired or whose work we admire. Is it sensible? NO! But life isn’t about sense, it’s about finding moments of bliss in a hurricane of madness. The story behind collectibles is often more interesting than the collectible itself but without the having the story isn’t as meaningful. Fans will pay for these things; boy will they pay. Suddenly more and more ‘name’ actors made their way to genre fare and to the convention circuit and with them there was a place for more conventions. People will spend money on their passions and hobbies and there was a lot of that money to be had.

Conventions have always been businesses but suddenly they had become BIG business, and bit by bit the smaller shows, the indie shows, died off.

It’s basic economics – It costs ‘X’ to put a show on. In order to afford ‘X’ and to do that show again you need to make ‘Y’. If you do not make ‘Y’ then you either close up shop or find sponsors, backers, or your own money to proceed. Even the smallest, most basic show requires a heady investment. There’s booking a venue, there’s booking guests, renting tables, promotion, materials for the show, food for guests, and so on and so on. Even a small show with local or regional talent can still run you much closer to a grand than not. Not that intimidating until you factor in that you have to price your show to sell – in example – If you are offering top tier talent and have rented a top tier venue then you must book as many vendors, for as much money as you are able to, and you still will need to charge fans a premium. You book the big guests and then pass the expense on to fans and vendors. That’s how this works. Vendors and ‘dealers’ – the comic shop or business owners – are there to make money, and since you have premium talent for fans to meet, you bank on there being a LOT of fans and that everyone will have an opportunity to make money. Build it and they will come. For a vendor small, local shows can go anywhere from $25 to $75 with the big shows, the ‘super-cons’ wanting $150 on the very low end and upwards of $350. That’s for a three-day show. Not ‘a lot’ until you look at the fact that most creators sell comics for, say $4 a piece, or books for $15 a piece, or art for around the same price. THEN it becomes a lot to sell. And you have to factor in that most average fans want to meet the stars and want to buy merch, not art, books, or comics. SOME do, for sure, but not all. So part of your market is already gone. Then you factor in that some shows charge fans to park but we’ll say they done. So a fan goes to a big show and will pay $20 on the low end and $35 on the high end to get into a convention. Then the guests will charge for photos or for autographs. Low end – $20, high end hundreds of dollars. Fans come with pockets of cash, real or virtual, but there’s only so much money one has. So if you spend $30 to get in, get say, three autographs, and maybe a piece of merch that’s easily around $200 they spent and they haven’t even made it to the vendors area yet. And that is the risk you take as a vendor. You know going in that out of say, 1,000 or more people that may attend the show only about half will give a darn about anything beyond guests, and of those you have to find the ones into what you do. THEN you have to sell. It’s not easy. It’s part of the deal, but it’s not easy.

But there’s only so much money.

It is a golden age of fandom and conventions but this golden age is on the edge of collapse.

Fans have caught on to the game and are growing more and more bitter at celebrities that act like they are slumming and are charging fans exorbitant amounts for that moment of interaction and a photo. Fans are tired of seeing children brought before them, children who even if they are in genre fare shouldn’t be at a show like a con – they are loud, weird, and fans can be a lot to handle with their ‘excitement’ – and then it’s weird to be paying them a bunch of cash to get their autograph. Throw in the collector’s market that already ruined the fun of just getting an autograph by flipping them so often that celebrities grew bitter about the whole scene, a bitterness that remains to this day. You have big shows competing with one another for the ‘name’ guests, so much so that they’ll petulantly refuse to work with guests who don’t appear when they are requested due to other obligations. You have more and more shows popping up that aim too high and end up collapsing under their own weight, only hurting fans and the industry in the long run. You have the growth of harassment to cosplayers from people who feel entitled to their behavior because they were paying customers and the cosplayers ‘shouldn’t have dressed that way’. You have vendors who can’t make their ‘table’ back, which means they don’t even make enough money to pay for themselves to be there. You have the older guests who are not as active with their careers being cast to the side in favor of ‘Background Actor #3’, who will charge money to sign things because they happened to be an extra on a genre show. You have artists blatantly ripping off or ‘re-imagining’ famous or not as famous artwork to sell at these shows.

Conventions have turned from something beautiful into a cash cow that is starting to go dry.

The rub is this – if the vendors cannot make money they they’ll stop doing shows. And while promoters and fans may say – so what? There’s other fish in the sea – the fact is that there will come a time when the only vendors you have will be cons looking to emulate whatever trend is hot – dwarves, boy, I just happen to have a dwarf book, and painting, and necklace – and not creating the next trends. You’ll have a superstore of pop-culture, which sounds swell until you realize you paid $50 to get in and park just to see the same stuff you can see at the mall or on Amazon. Vendors are the lifeblood of conventions. They spread the word about the good ones and the bad ones and they can be as big of a draw as any guest if you are lucky enough to get the right ones. And the thing about the ‘lower tier’ guests is that they are a part of the fabric of what made the genre what it is. Without those ‘has-beens’ many of the films and properties we love would never have existed because, well, the genres existed for more than five years.

As much fun as conventions are we have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten the small shows, the low-dough shows, and the shows that were about being a fan and not a collector. We have forgotten meeting that one person who was in that one movie that we loved. We have forgotten discovering an artist or comic creator that showed us a world we’d never have seen in the mainstream. We have forgotten that these were once put on by fans and not business people. We forgot that this was once about sharing your passion with other fans and interacting with creators of all kinds.

We forgot what conventions used to be.

I am not naïve. This is the monster we made and that we wanted. We want to meet the ‘big stars’. We want to have their photos with us. We want their autographs. We wanted bigger shows and bigger shows cost more money to put on. Vendors want more people to sell to, and a better chance to sell, and sometimes this is what happens. We have let the beast get out of control though. There is a place for big shows AND small shows but all we have done is kill the small shows and let the big shows oversaturate the market so that you’ll see the same guests at the same shows over and over and over again.

We need a convention revolution.

We need the creatives to take back the shows.

We need to remember our heritage in the genres.

We need to make shows about the fans and make them affordable for them once more.

We need to make shows affordable for vendors and creatives once more because we WANT them to profit because if they do well then they tell everyone and the shows do well.

We need to stop serving as ATMs to people who have no interest in the genres or the fans but who are there just to make money hand over fist.

We need to let the super-cons crumble so that only a few remain, giving birth to the smaller shows once more.

And we need to understand that WHO you are a fan of and WHAT you are a fan of is just as important as what you support. If you are cool with paying tons of money to people who are bored by having to speak to you then player, play on. If you are cool with supporting artists who eschew original art for recreations of famous photos or art then again, you do you. But we are reaping what we sow. We have wanted so desperately to be taken seriously and to be seen as more than just ‘nerds in basements’. Well, we have the power, and we are choosing to be ATMs. We make the choices here, no one else.

It is a golden age for fandom but unless we start making better choices and stop waving dollar bills at everything with the name of our particularly beloved franchise then all we are is more consumers, blindly buying whatever is put before us and darn it, as a fan, I think I am better than that, and I think you are too.

I have been doing shows for a long time, and in a lot of different capacities and it genuinely makes me sad to see how things have progressed. Conventions are becoming havens only for the ‘haves’ and not the common fans. These are not places to mix, mingle, and to fall in love with worlds we may never see but are marketplaces made for money where you are little more than a customer. Everything has become an up-sell. Get the VIP package. Get the super-VIP package. Get the ultra-limited-exclusive package. It’s all a hustle and we’re all suckers.

I for one am tired of being played for a sucker.

…c…

www.meepsheep.com

Why I Do It

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In talking to someone at work today I mentioned that I was going to a big comic convention this weekend to sell my books.

They said that sounded like fun and hoped I sold some books.

I told them – well, I don’t. I never do. (This is writer hyperbole – I DO sell books, just not many, so take that statement with about a handful of salt).

They asked a very good, and pointed question – then why do it?

And sometimes I don’t know.

I do cons because I need to get out there, to get my books out there, and to keep trying. I need to do shows because my books won’t just find their audience, I have to help the audience find them.

I can’t afford to be an optimist when it comes to my books. I have to be a realist and I have to keep pushing.

I have to hope that some people will take a chance on my work, that some people will want to know what I am about, and that someone will become a fan. I accept that most people won’t care but some people may. I have to hope for that.

And that’s why I do these shows – hope.

The reality is that I am one little writer in a hall full of hundreds of talented people selling their own wares and no one is there looking for me. My odds are not great to make an impact. But I will try. I have been doing this show in particular for over twenty years, off and on. I never sell much at all but it’s fun to go and it’s an opportunity to promote my writing and our convention that some friends and I run.

But there is the pragmatic side. I am currently sick. It’s an expensive show to do. It’s long hours and little sleep. It’s more of a job than my own job.

But that’s the path I chose.

If you are gonna write, or do any art, then you have to understand that you are the main promoter, cheerleader, and sales person for your stuff. If you aren’t willing to go out and bang the drum a little for your own work then you are for sure doomed. And there’s something to be said about selling your work to someone in person, who makes the choice to buy it. People who don’t know you and have no connection to you.

That’s great.

Connecting with someone over your work, that’s pretty amazing.

It’s rare, but amazing.

So why do I do this?

Well, to a degree I have no choice. The market is saturated, any advertising I could afford would be tuned out, and I just don’t have the time to become infamous right now.

So I have to do shows to promote my work.

And I like them. When you are at the shows you make friends, you see friends, and you have strange experiences that only happen at the shows. And you learn. You learn to sell and to promote.

So off I go, to sell, sell, sell…in the least obnoxious way I am able to.

Wish me luck.

…c…

http://www.meepsheep.com

The Lies We Tell Tomorrow

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When I said I would publish no more books I meant it. I still wrote, I still write, and that won’t change. I am a writer. I write. Kinda goes together. But the notion of being one those people that has a library of their own books that don’t sell doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want to become a joke. A clown. A parody. I don’t want to be another example of why self publishing is bad.

But…

There’s a thing also where I still have stories to tell, to those that want to hear/read them. And I don’t like the notion of doing what I am supposed to do. I don’t want to behave. I want to do what the heck I want to do. A big part of the fun for publishing these books for me is the experimentation. The playfulness of it. I control everything, essentially, so I get to make the rules.

I like that.

So I wrote a kid’s book.

I love that book.

I don’t know that anyone else does. It certainly isn’t selling.

But I love it

It deserves to be in the world.

As a book.

And this year I was thinking about how fun it would be to have something I would only sell at shows. Sort of that DIY ethic that informed life as a zine maker, art show creator, and, well, me. I like that. It doesn’t mean people care. It doesn’t mean that people will buy it.

But I care.

It’s a quick, mean little thing that is like a grabbing the wrong end of a razor.

It will hurt.

You will bleed.

 

So I introduce you to The Lies We Tell Tomorrow. My new book. It’s only going to be available as a physical book at events I am doing. That’s it.

In the darkest parts of our hearts hide our every secret, our every fear, and our every horror just waiting to be unleashed. We are but doors to Hell waiting for the right key to open us. We can lie to ourselves, we can lie to our friends, but you can never fool tomorrow. You can never fool Hell.
I welcome you to a house of mirrors that will show you the worst in all of us, the monsters that live in each of us, but even in Hell there is the dimmest glimmer of hope, an undying light that even the abyss cannot snuff out.
Witness, traveler, the lies we tell tomorrow.

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE

My other work is available on Amazon.com – just look up Chris Ringler.

Or – http://www.meepsheep.com

 

Drawn To The Dark

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Authors have gone to great length over the years to discuss horror and how it is used as a means of catharsis – a way to confront the horrors of the world real or imagined and to see them faced and conquered. Horror is our way to lean out over the edge of the chasm to feel its cold breath knowing we can always lean back when we’ve had our fill. This is why so many of us love horror and more hate it – it revels in the dark side of things and some fear what that dark side may bring out of us. And I am sure, like everything else, horror and every other thing can have an adverse effect on the psyche of someone with preexisting issues, but any blame that horror – or other things like video games – takes for the horrors that Man commits against Man is just a form of scapegoating. If we won’t blame the guns for killing people then we can’t blame the movies for killing people either. No, horror is not meant to be a cultural guidepost towards bettering ourselves, no, it is meant to be a barometer as to where we are in society, where we have been, and where we may yet be heading. If comedy is a release from the pressures of the world – comedy never being blamed for teens getting up to sexual high jinx, naturally – then horror is our confrontation of the world’s horrors.

The problem with modern horror is that it has started to wallow in its own gruesomeness. Horror has become decadent in its gloom and what were once bold choices to have a downbeat ending has become the flavor of the month. Young filmmakers are aping the terror of the seventies, the realism of it, without the context or meaning. We are no longer surprised when the ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’ gets it in the end, we expect it. Yes, the world is dark, yes, ‘monsters’ win, and not every evil is banished but if no one survives and there is never any hope then there is no release, there is only wallowing. Believe me, I like downbeat endings, and I appreciate that horror is willing to tell us that sometimes the darkness wins…but I also think that there has to be a reason it wins and it has to mean something.

I can think of two modern horror film franchises that went multiple sequels deep only to end with downbeat conclusions leaving you series for masochists or gloom-mongers. As I said, I like downbeat endings but I don’t want to watch hours and hours of film and get invested into the overarching story only to be told there is no hope and everyone dies. Well, if that’s the case then I can just turn on the TV news. There has to be a reason for the things to happen. There has to be meaning to it. In one film you can say ‘well, bad things happen to bad people’ and get away with it but in a series you have to have something more to say. Sadly, most franchises are built film by film, rarely having a fully developed arc and so when they realize that the ever decreasing box office returns dictate that the series has to end or be shown the door they paste together something that approximates a summary of the other films. THAT is where Marvel has it all over everyone else – they plot things out. Imagine a Jason film or Freddy film with a plotted course of several films. Imagine if they made one movie that could stand alone but that if they wanted to make more they could all tie together into an arc. Not a series where every film is inter-related but an arc that told one story over several films. Horror doesn’t do that. Part of that is economics – horror films are made to make money and little else – but there is also a lack of vision. Sure, studios and filmmakers envision sequels and a SERIES for their movies but they never plot out an arc. And without an arc you get a hastily crafted wrap-up from people who were never involved with the first film and are just making it up as they go along.

This is a problem.

Horror has to mean something.

It’s mean-spirited to create a film or series of films solely for spreading darkness. Sure, people do it, and that’s fine, but if you are going to create a series of films that are inter-connected you owe it to your fans to give them more than that. Yes, there will be loss, there will be sacrifice, there will be pain and there can even be doom but you have to make these earned things, and have to make them mean something. Nihilism is swell but very few people want to invest hours and hours into something to be told that life sucks, the bad guys win, have a nice day. There’s an unwritten compact between cultural artist and consumer and it’s that you should give the people not necessarily what they want but what they have earned. Yeah, it’s different than what a fine artist or even a run of the mill artist has to do – they can make points and take risks – but the cultural artist works for and with the consumer and as such you have to take them into consideration. Don’t soften the blow to appease them but don’t be cruel as a sort of artists’ statement well after you have cashed all your checks. No one wants to go to the Fast & Furious series and watch all the characters die at the end of the series. Sure, there can be loss, and pain, and sorrow, but you have to earn that and it has to mean something. That was why people hated what happened to Hicks in Alien3 – he had done so many heroic and amazing things in Aliens and then in the next film he was just dead. Sure, it was a way to get a character out of the film who didn’t fit it, and it was maybe a reflection of real life but that wasn’t what people wanted. They wanted fairness and it wasn’t fair. I actually loved that a horror film I saw this year, a sequel to a film with a downbeat ending, did the opposite and had a dark ending but one which gave you a happier ending. It surprised me. That is what I want, I want to be surprised, or at least to feel that the ending we got was earned. There’s a very dark film out there about the ‘dark web’ and a young woman stumbling upon it and it’s a mean movie, a nasty movie, and it has a grim ending but when the camera fully pulls back you see a bigger picture and the ending takes on more meaning. It worked because the context and message worked. That is what I want to see, not just everyone dying and the killer traipsing off with no repercussions in any way. Even a film like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which was dark as heck, gave you an ending that it earned, as grim as it was. That is what I want.

But these are movies people cry out – or books too, to be honest, since you can have a book series do the same thing. And yeah, this is popular culture stuff, not life or death, but we still invest our time, our money, and our emotions. Humans are emotional beings and when we invest in a thing, get attached to it, we are all in and that means that when the creators of a project don’t play fair it bothers us. I wrote a fantasy book series and when it came time to wrap things up what I had intended to do and what I did do were not the same. The story organically went one way and my intentions the other but part of it too was that you have to be fair, to the characters, to the reader, and to yourself. This doesn’t mean you pull punches and had I gone with my original intent I would have made that ending mean something, because you have to or you betray the trust people who invested in your work had in you and the work itself. If you choose to work in cultural art, especially popular cultural art then you have to be fair. You don’t have to be nice but you have to be fair. And honestly, the genre has gotten predictable of late with the consistent downbeat endings. Sure, they fit horror better than any other genre save sci-fi maybe but if that ending doesn’t mean anything, and offers no hope, then what are you saying? And if you are trying to make some bold artistic statement then maybe you are in the wrong trade. The audiences don’t have to leave happy but they have to leave feeling something more than outrage and disappointment.

Like all other arts movies need to be crafted. They need to be created. Movies, unlike other arts are generally made by committee. There are a lot of voices heard and many times this takes the impact a director has away and mutes the films power but sometimes that committee is needed to remind everyone why the film is being made and that it is still a product to be consumed. Again, this isn’t about happy endings and placating the audience. Horror needs to take risks, be edgy, and push boundaries, if it doesn’t then it loses its power and impact. I like Serbian Film – as much as you can like it – because it dares to say things that other films don’t and say them in a way other films won’t. But all that being said an ending must be earned and must make sense to what you have created. Since the days of slasher films and before we have gotten stuck on the jump scare false ending and the genre has suffered for that. We also suffered for the ‘women as perpetual victims’ shtick that was popular for so long. And we are suffering now for the persistent gloom of downbeat endings and it has to stop. If you are compelled to kill everyone at the end then make it mean something. Make it say something. Otherwise you’re just playing games with the audience and thinking yourself far cleverer than you really are. It takes no art to kill people off in art, no, the art is in making it mean something.

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