Bully For You

On this Thursday I don’t find myself reminiscing over some great adventures or fun times with friends. I find myself drawn back to the dark days of my youth, days that I thought had died but which lingered too far into my adulthood.

To say I was bullied in school isn’t a revelation and it certainly isn’t a call for sympathy or support. It was what it was. It happened in my high school years and it was awful, and it was lonely, and no one gave a damn and no one would have stopped it had I asked. It was a different time and as much as we’d all like to act as if we are crusaders and would have stopped all injustice as young people most of us didn’t. Most of us couldn’t. We all had our own bones to boil back then and I don’t harbor any manner of resentment. Things were what they were and I survived and that’s what matters. A lot of kids had it worse. I had a lot going on in my head and I certainly need the unwanted attention but a lot of kids have had it worse. A lot of kids don’t survive.

The sad thing for me isn’t that I was bullied as a kid, because we change a LOT once we get out of that dome of high school and out into a bigger world we can make our places in, no, it’s that I was bullied as an adult. Bullied by people I had called friends and loved ones. Bullied to the point where they mocked my father having cancer and a cousin dying. Bullied so that they tried to undermine relationships I was in. I was afraid to go to certain places because there was a good chance there would be a confrontation that would get physical. I was targeted not by a person but by a group. I remember being somewhere and having a woman come sit with our party speak to the people I was with only to have her announce that she was going to be in trouble with her husband for coming over because of me. There’s more, but you have a pretty good picture of things. I was well into my twenties by this point and near to thirty. It’s a long story and one that never quite ended and that’s the thing. THAT is the thing.

These people never changed. Never grew up. Never became better people. Sometimes bullies are just bullies. They are shitty people who do shitty things. Sure, some of them you can back down. Some you can knock down. And some you can avoid. But what does it say that these people were beloved by their friends and family, these people that took me back to the bad days of my youth. I worked awfully hard to get over my past only to have it return a hundred fold. That’s fucked up. But again, these people still have friends that think their natures are charming, that the bullying is funny. Oh, it’s all just fun. Yeah, it’s a laugh riot. And these people were proud of the pain they inflicted and damage they did. There is so much nothing within them that they felt it a source of pride to know they could hurt someone. Always a sign of great character, right?

I have known too many people that have scars, deep scars, from bullies. There are some who don’t survive. Too many who don’t survive. Yet we condone these people. We laugh. When it’s online we encourage it. Online bullying, something I first learned about almost ten years ago, isn’t new, it’s just worse. We call these people trolls, because most just want to get a rise out of people. Not all of them. Some just want to burn everything around them because of some broken thing in themselves. Some people just want to hurt everything around themselves. And some, some just think it’s funny.

I still think of the people who put me through this. Still marvel at how beloved they are. Still tend to avoid certain places at certain times. I am older. I am bigger. I am meaner. But deep down I am the same kid. The problem never went away, I just don’t see them anymore. And it’s better that way. Bullies tend to create other bullies if we aren’t careful. I sometimes wonder how different I am from the people targeted me. I worry that sometimes I have done to people what they did to me. I hope not. But the sad fact is that our society is becoming fuller and fuller of bullies. People who take pride in the pain they instill. People who think that they’re just ‘keeping it real’ or who have convinced themselves that badgering someone with a different opinion or outlook is some sort of duty. There’s something dark in these people that love can’t seem to conquer. And I pity them. But part of me still hates them as well.

Things are what they are but they don’t have to be that way. We don’t have to accept bullies, or encourage them, or become them. We don’t have to shrug it off. We’re all better than that. We’re better than this. If we want to be, that is. If we can start with taking a step back and thinking about what we say to others online, that’s a start. If we can then start to pay attention to how we treat one another and how those around us treat people, that’s another step. A BIG step. But the only way to stop a bully is to rally around the bullied, something we are also doing more than we used to. So there’s hope. There is hope. I guess there’s always hope.

I just hope the kids of today can survive this Age of Bullies and hope all of us are willing to come together to hold up those kids and adults who find themselves under siege from bullies from time to time.Maybe if we all hold on to a little of that pain we experienced as kids we can better see what we’re doing to one another, and maybe start to push back against this culture of bullying that seems to be growing by the day.

– c

I write books. They are sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and always weird. Some are horror, some are fairy tales, and one is for kids.

www.meepsheep.com

BOUNDARIES

There’s a difficult time when we are young and are just discovering what boundaries are, those invisible lines that each of us has and never wants crossed. The easy thing is learning that there are boundaries, the hard part is knowing where they are with each situation and each person. Each circumstance dictates different behavior and each person demands different boundaries. Learning and respecting these boundaries is part of growing up and is something none of us can fully master. All of us have those awkward moments where we go to hug someone who doesn’t want to be touched, or don’t hug someone who does. We have those moments where we make a joke that wasn’t appropriate for the time or audience. All of us goes through these growing pains.

Welcome to the fun of humanity.

We are at a crossroads, in society, with a lot of issues and ideas and the idea of boundaries is one of those that, while not noticed, is at the base of what is shifting. How far is too far is something we have always struggled with but the shift in gender and sexuality that has been happening has set off a lot of boundary debates. As things shift in society this is bound to happen but we are definitely at a very emotional crossroads that is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to see through.

This past weekend I attended a ‘horror campout’ where you would camp out overnight and be scared over the course of many hours. Think of it as like a haunted house but with camping. The event promised its patrons ‘extreme scares’ and warned there would be dragging. I can’t tell you how extreme the scares were but I did see some dragging, people being tied up, and a young woman being put on her belly with her arms behind her back and someone sitting astride her. All of it unnerved me and made me really start to think about personal and cultural boundaries, especially in relation to haunted attractions.

As I said, all of us have our boundaries, or limits if you prefer and while it takes time to learn all of them once you know them you KNOW them. Sure, we sometimes allow people to push our limits and once in a while it can help us open and grow but most times these moments serve only as bitter reminders of why we have our limits in the first place. Pushing boundaries is about power as much as it is anything else and power can be easily abused.

The thing about haunted attractions is that it lets people live within the horror movie for a short time. They get to face the boogiemen, the ghosts, the demons, the monsters and survive. They get to venture into the darkness and come out in the light at the end. They let us tap into that primal part of us that is so deeply connected to our childhood and for a short time we can get an adrenaline rush with no harmful consequences. The thing is though that the art of the haunt seems to be dying as more and more move to the ‘extreme’ scares. Once upon a time a haunted attraction was about you being put into scenarios or scenes where something or someone would scare you, or at least try. There was a lot of play with darkness, with confusion, with misdirection, and with shock. Slowly the people began being replaced by animatronics, which has been the big trend for the last decade or so. Sure, there are humans in the attractions but most of the scares come from something popping out of you, screaming at you, or flailing in the background of a scene. The animatronic scares work best as backgrounds or when used sparingly but it’s been my experience that the more you lean on them the smaller the scares. The animatronics cannot adapt to the guests and they are so stiff in movement that beyond a slight shock you don’t get genuinely scared. From animatronics the attractions got I gorier and gorier so that people became so accustomed to outrageous scenes of blood and grue that they stopped being effective in unsettling people. Now we are in an era of the ‘extreme’ scare.

What is an ‘extreme’ scare? An ‘extreme’ scare is where the performers can yell at you, scream at you, swear at you, push you, pull you, drag you, and get overall physical with you so you feel threatened and scared. I don’t doubt it is effective for many people. Having someone break through your boundaries can scare you to your core. It can frighten you. People have become so jaded, so indifferent to imagined terror that I can absolutely see the allure of the ‘extreme’ scare. If you can’t scare the guests then your business is shot. The problem is that once you commit to the ‘extreme’ scare…there is nowhere left to go. When people get jaded to being yelled at and pushed around, even having gross things done to them, what then? There’s nothing left. You can’t HARM the people. You can’t KILL the people. So what do you do? Once you break all the boundaries, the boundaries you CAN break, where do you go?

Nowhere.

You go broke.

Boundaries exist for many reasons but one of them is so that we can know how much is too much, how far is too far, and when we have had enough. Take the boundaries away, or push them too far then you either break the person or you break the experience. Sure, there are people who love the extremes in life, they wanna be not just pushed but shoved when they do things. Those people have always existed and always will. The thing though is that they are not the ‘rule’, they are the ‘exception’. Most people want to test themselves, see WHAT their limits are but they don’t want to push well past them. Those limits exist for a reason and most people respect that. So we drive a LITTLE too fast, and go a LITTLE too far when we do things that scare us but most of us don’t have an interest in seeing how far we can go because we don’t want to lose control. There is safety in control. Ah, but scares are all about losing control and that’s where the trouble comes in.

To me, the ‘extreme’ haunts are lazy. It’s easy to scare someone, at least for a moment, if you threaten them or put them in situations where they could genuinely be in some danger of harm. It’s an easy scare because there is no skill needed, no art to it, and it’s honestly shooting for the lowest common denominator. If being screamed at and pushed and shoved don’t freak you out then a haunt is not what you are looking for at all. You want something much, much darker. And fine. Swell. Truly, each to their own. But here’s the thing – a haunted attraction is ABOUT the art. It IS the art. There is a roughness to a haunt but there’s also refinement and care and when you take that away you are losing the heart of what makes a haunt so special.

A really good haunted attraction tells a story. It weaves a world where anything can happen and does. It tricks you, if just for a moment, into thinking something could be going on that shouldn’t. I remember when I was 18 and going through a haunt at a haunted hotel and remember them telling us that the place really was haunted and that the ghosts had appeared during the haunt itself from time to time and it amped the experience up because I was LOOKING for ghosts. There was another that I went to a few years back that wove a great story and kept to it. They didn’t mix clowns and killbillies. They didn’t mix aliens and mad bombers. They kept to the story and the things in the story are what came after you. They also used set design to create set pieces that put you on edge. Sure, no one REALLY believes that a boogeyman is going to get you but you want to believe one COULD get you. You have to have a story, something so people have a base to build from. Tell them a place is haunted and their mind fills in blanks. You let the guest do the work for you. Once you have the story you build sets that take advantage of that story and that exploit people’s fears. Rooms that are off kilter, that are dark, that are damp, that have hidden areas, that trick you, or rooms that just seem…off. Next you need the soundtrack, something that isn’t overpowering but which keeps people on edge. Subtlety is best. You don’t want driving music, raging heavy metal, no, you want sounds, nuances that tickle at the back of someone’s spine. The most important piece is the staff. It’s great to have animatronics to fill in and to give an occasional jolt but you want a staff that is dedicated to scaring, can adapt, and knows the boundaries and will keep to them. And again, subtlety is everything. If everyone is screaming or laughing or yelling it kills the mood. You want some to be ‘aggressive’ and others to be ‘passive’, that way the guests don’t know what to expect. You want them to understand that some folks won’t be scared but to still try. When a haunter quits on a group it kills the entire haunt and takes you out of the moment. With a good staff you can do a lot with very, very little.

And that’s it.

None of it has to be really expensive or high tech. Fear isn’t high tech. Fear is low down and dirty and primal but a haunt has to have boundaries. It has to have a line. The thing is, the patron KNOWS there is a line but deep down, deeeeeeep down they don’t know. They worry. They ask ‘what if’. That’s where you can use dummie guests that you CAN grab and ‘kill’ and ‘torture’. If they see it but it doesn’t happen to them then it lets them think ‘what if?’. What if this is real? THAT is the power of a good haunt. It’s meant to be fun, not traumatic. It’s meant to send shivers and give you chills, not give you emotional trauma. That’s what we’ve lost sight of these past few years as the horror arms race has escalated – the fun. I LOVE horror films and attractions that genuinely unnerve me but just as much I like them that have fun and are dedicated to the fun side of horror. The playful scare that wants to give you goosebumps but doesn’t want to harm you. Horror has gotten too mean spirited of late and the haunts reflect that. It’s good to look into the well of darkness but once in a while it’s nice to know that you can look away. Humor has been cut from haunts and it’s a huge mistake. You need the laughter, nervous, uneasy laughter, to set up the next scare. If you push too hard for the entirety of the haunt then it all blurs together and loses its impact. It’s a dull gray roar or fear and not a vibrant rainbow of terror.

The fact is that some people will always want their horror more extreme. That’s fine. It’s awesome. But with a haunt attraction there’s got to be way more craft, way more art for it to be memorable. Why are people going for the extreme? Because there’s nothing else new. No one is innovating. No one is breaking ground. No one is taking from the past and improving it. All we have are mimics of one another. It’s an arms race with mirrors and smoke. There’s a lot to be done with the way haunts are created and run, a lot to be learned, and a lot of fun to be had without going ‘extreme’, it just takes an innovative and creative mind to make it happen.

Me, I am always looking for the unique haunts. I can get ‘extreme’ in any number of ways in real life and for me, I prefer the fun escape of the unreal and not the despairing horror of reality. I’d like to think there are others out there with the same feelings.

Happy Haunting.

SOMETHING IN THE WATER – a story

SOMETHING IN THE WATER

First it was one, then two, then three and by the end of the night there were thirteen little bodies washed ashore, their pale peace a startling reminder that brutal life existed outside of leisure in this paradise. The day was overcast and there was no one to witness the landing of the children. No one to welcome them. No one to mourn them. The winds were moderate, the air was cool, and the sky was filled with clouds that while not foretelling a storm did warn that the sun would not be making an appearance. With no sun the tourists stayed away and with no tourists the food vendors stayed away and with no food vendors even the gulls stayed away. The children were alone, together and alone.

They had come dressed for war. Their clothes torn and burned, faded and small. The oldest was ten, the youngest four. They came bearing no luggage. They had no identification. The only other survivor of whatever tragedy that had befallen them was a teddy bear with no head that lay near the feet of a little girl with dark hair and a deep bruise around her throat. The sun rose on the bodies and no one came. The sun reached its height and no one came. The sun began to fall and no one came. There were none to bear witness. None to give forgiveness. None but the water.

But the water did not leave the children.

The water kissed their wounds.

The water caressed their prone bodies.

The water held their hands and whispered that everything would be all right.

Hush.

Everything would be all right.

By midnight the water had had enough. The children were but three hundred feet from a major roadway and no one, not one person had noticed the horror that lay on the beach. Not one person took their mind away from themselves long enough to give tears to the tragedy that lay in the sand. The water that had risen around the children and had begun to bubble and slowly the mouths of each child opened and in rushed the water, filling each of them with the whisper of the sea.

Rise.

Awake.

Come back to me.

Come back to Mother.

Come back to your first Mother.

Your only Mother.

Come back.

The children stirred.

The children rose.

Thirteen children stood silently on a moonless beach, their bodies bent, broken, and bloated from the ocean’s kisses. The ocean roared behind them and the children began to move, slowly, deliberately, holding hands as they walked slowly towards the roadway and the cities beyond them. When the children reached the rocks they helped one another up them until they were on solid ground again beside the road. The street lights showed thirteen children with cold, gray eyes and white skin, hands held, moving slowly towards the world.

They were no longer human.

They were of the sea.

They were loved.

They were angry.

Behind them the brothers and sisters of the children began to make the beach, their bodies far less human, the work of the ocean far stronger, and their purposes far darker. One by one the children of the sea made land and began marching on humanity and the thirteen that had come first all smiled as they went to tell the world of the coming flood.

…c…

9.3.15

www.meepsheep.com for my books.

AND WHATEVER CAME NEXT – a story

I don’t write romantic stuff a whole lot. It just isn’t something that fascinates me as much as other ideas do but this came into my mind and stuck there. I tried to capture the innocence of young summer love and the naive trust in a world that you were just playing a full part in. Most of my romances come with razors and claws but it was nice to do something different. I really dig it and I hope you do too. 

AND WHATEVER CAME NEXT

It was late.

Or early.

It was hard to tell.

It was the part of the night where the summer heat has burned off and the dew is forming and fog is rolling slowly over the fields. I looked over at her and watched the goosebumps form along her skin, an army marching over every curve, every dip and along all the places my hands and lips had been just a few minutes earlier. She shivered and looked away from the stars and over to me and smiled shyly, her hands covering her nakedness. I leaned in and kissed her forehead, the salt of her sweat a bitter taste but sweet reminder of the evening. She smelled like donuts. Sweet and sticky. She had met me after work, her uniform in a pile underneath her head, my own uniform of jeans and a t-shirt underneath mine.

I had never been kissed by a girl.

Not really kissed.

Not kissed by someone who meant it.

Not by someone who wanted me.

I had never been kissed by a girl.

Not before her.

We had met weeks ago, friends of friends of friends of whatevers, both of us meeting near the pool and spending the night sitting in lawn chairs and sipping warm beers and talking until everyone else had passed out or disappeared into the darkness of a stranger’s bedroom, or closet, or bathroom, or wherever. The closest we came to touching was when we shared a drag off of a clove cigarette she had. It was awful but smoking after her gave me a weird jolt I hadn’t expected. The night ended like a dozen others had since I had started going out with my friends when we turned eighteen – the girl and I said our awkward goodbyes and we parted ways. Only this girl wasn’t just a girl at a party. Wasn’t just a face with no name. I dunno what it was but she was different. I thought about her the whole next week. I worked my clerk job each night hoping vainly she’d come in and I could get her name, her number, something. But she never came in. My friends were sympathetic but hey had girlfriends and insisted that they knew the perfect girl for me, or that there might be someone at the next party. Only, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t desperation. It was, I don’t know. Different.

I didn’t see her the next weekend and was crushed. There was no reason she would have been at this kid’s party, a kid that even we barely knew, but I had hoped. I had really hoped. My friends offered me beers and their girlfriends told me they might know someone I might like and they were all awesome but they didn’t really get the strange itch I felt in wanting to see her. Needing to see her. It was stupid. I knew that. But I didn’t know it at the same time. And knowing didn’t make the itch go away.

And that was what got to me.

When I ran into her two weeks later at a concert I couldn’t help the smile that came to my lips and when I saw how she blushed at seeing me, well…it was a great night. A fun night.

Her name is Mary.

That night I got her name and phone number. I called her the next day and the next time we saw each other we didn’t have our mutual friend-anchors.

That was last night.

Last night was when she kissed me.

She.

Kissed.

Me.

I had never had that happen before.

We were sitting in my back seat under a blanket, passing a beer back and forth and listening to the radio in the parking lot of an all-night mega-mart. She knew I had an apartment, and I knew she lived in one with a friend but I didn’t ask and didn’t offer to go back to one of them. It wasn’t time yet. So we sat in my back seat just talking about music. Suddenly a song that she loved came on the radio from a mix CD I had made for the night and she squealed and bent towards me and kissed me. When she pulled away our foreheads were touching and our breath was coming in short bursts. I could smell the beer on her breath and beneath that the tacos we had had as a late snack earlier in the night. She blushed and was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I ran a hand through her hair, unsure what I was supposed to do. I was far from a rookie but before things had always been hook ups or the one time I fooled around with a friend of mine. This was…different. Her smile grew and she leaned in closer and kissed me and my body caught fire. I lost track of all time, all thoughts, of everything but that moment. I ran my hand from the side of the head to her cheek and she placed a hand on my thigh and I felt it creep upwards. Suddenly there was a loud knock on the rear passenger window.

“HEY! That’s fuckin’ disgustin’ you perverts! Get a fuckin’ room! I got a kid here!”

It was a woman wearing too much makeup and had a t-shirt on that showed a cartoon elephant being screwed from behind by the President. The tagline said ‘Thanks…’ something or other. The rest was obscured by a young boy covered in chocolate she held on her hip. Mary raised a hand of apology and the woman knocked on the glass again then stormed off. We busted out with laughter. I sat up a little and saw that the woman had found the security car for the store and was pointing at my car as she approached them. We laughed all the way back to her apartment where I kissed her goodnight.

It had been a week since I had seen her. Both of our shifts made it hard to find time but we ditched friends, ditched plans, and carved out space in the world for us and it would be worth it. It would be worth going into work bleary eyed and exhausted. Muddle-minded and distracted.

It was Thursday night and I was just off of my shift and she was just off hers when she picked me up in her roommate’s car and took me for a midnight picnic under the stars.

And here we were.

Here we are.

Here I am.

I leaned forward and kissed her and closed my eyes and saw…nothing. I saw nothing. I loved it. I loved nothing. I had spent most of my teen years worrying about grades, and friends, and parties, and college, and jobs, and girls, and everything else that wandered into my head and those ghosts had chased me since then. It had chased me right up to that moment of blissful nothing where it was just her, and it was me, and it was us.

Us.

Damn.

I felt the first cold drops of rain hit me and broke the kiss off. She frowned and wrinkled her nose. We laughed and the rain fell harder. We stood up, naked and laughing. My body still humming from our time together. We bent down and grabbed our clothes and slowly made our way back to the car. She took my hand.

“If…if this was the end of the world would you dance with me in the embers until the end?” She looked at me with no smile in her voice or eyes.

“…until the very end and then whatever came next. Until forever came and whatever comes after that.”

She squeezed my hand and I smiled and she returned it. Deep inside me my world caught fire and I didn’t care because I already had my dancing partner for it and for whatever came next.

…c…

9.1.15

www.meepsheep.com