How to Disappear Completely

I used to feel weird that I’ve always had a fascination (obsession) with the darker side of life. I thought there was something wrong with me (Oh shut up! I’m well aware there’s something wrong with me) until I heard that Stephen King used to keep a scrap-book of murder and other mayhem folks are wont to get up to. He had the same worry that I did: that people would think he was nuckin futs by being interested in the unsavory until he figured out it wasn’t an obsession so much as it was a lesson on how to spot maniacs and how to avoid them. I don’t keep a scrap-book of heinous images and the evil that people can do to one another. But I squirrel everything away in my head in storage boxes and occasionally rifle through those packed and dusty boxes the way a raccoon cleans something in water.

James Renner is a fantastic novelist. I came across his novel The Great Forgetting while I was working at the library one day. Then I read his first novel The Man from Primrose Lane. When I get passionate (again, obsessed) with something, I google the hell out of it. I googled James Renner (well that sounded downright filthy) and read that he has a keen interest in true crime that stemmed from his childhood. As a young boy a girl named Amy Mihaljevich was kidnapped and murdered not far from where he lived. The crime has gone unsolved for years. I know what you’re thinking: a novelist who can also write nonfiction? That’s like watching Madonna make attempt after attempt at an acting career. But James Renner wields a deft hand when writing both fiction and nonfiction.

truecrimeaddictRenner’s nonfiction book True Crime Addict opens on a seemingly ordinary Monday. Monday, February 9th, 2004 to be exact. Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an email to her professors saying that there had been a death in her family and she wasn’t going to be able to attend her classes that day.

There had not been a death in her family.

Say what? Tell me more.

Maura emptied her bank account, went to a liquor store, bought booze, and then headed north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was pretty bizarre behavior but many people would knowingly nod their head with a faint smile and remember their own college days of drinking and not knowing whose floor (or bed) they woke up in. At 7:30 that night, Maura Murray crashed into a snow bank hard enough to make the car inoperable. A man who heard the crash came out of his house to inspect what was going on. Maura seemed fine (later he would say he could smell liquor on her) and he went back to his house to call 911. By the time the police arrived, Maura was gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

Most of us leave our mark on things every day without realizing it: a hair stuck to the driver’s headrest, CCTV footage of you from the convenience store where you stopped for bottled water and a bag of Cornuts. Voice mail messages about nothing in particular. We also have to accept that time is a trickster. Both time and memory are tricksters. How can a seemingly ordinary girl be there one minute and then (poof!) be gone?

The police noted a crack in Maura’s windshield, red stains on the car door that looked to be wine (I still want to know why they think it was wine. My first thought would be “My God! Look at all this blood on the door!” But duh. They would have taken samples of it to see if it was human blood). The driver and passenger’s airbags had deployed, an empty beer bottle and a damaged box of Franzia wine was on the rear seat. They found two different Mapquest printouts for Burlington, Vermont and another to Stowe, Vermont. There was also a book about mountain climbing. Her debit and credit cards were left behind as was her cell phone.

In the beginning, the police didn’t see her disappearance as foul play because she had made preparations as if she was headed somewhere by emptying out her bank account, buying booze, and emailing her teachers. But Maura’s family felt something sinister had happened and didn’t buy the idea that she had wanted to disappear.

Maura’s father arrived in the town she disappeared from and you know what? Her dad gave me bad vibes. Not bad vibes as in “He killed her” but something felt off about the guy. Maura’s boyfriend and her father held a press conference and after it the police stated that Maura was now “listed as endangered and possibly suicidal.” How’d they go from “She’s just a missing young woman” to “Oh, she is a danger to herself and suicidal?” An enormous search was then launched to find her.

This is when the crackpots came out of the woodwork as they always do when something horrible happens. Maybe some of them meant well, but some were just mentally unstable. A man gave Maura’s father a rusty knife and told him it belonged to his brother who had a criminal past. There were various Maura sightings that never panned out. At the beginning of March, Maura’s father went home and returned every weekend to help with the search. The police believed there were two scenarios for Maura’s disappearance: She could have crashed into the snow bank and then caught a ride with someone or someone could have abducted her.

Twelve years went by without a Maura sighting or any clues to point to what happened to her. I’m sure after twelve years of worrying and waiting her parents would have moved on from hoping she was still alive to wanting her body found so they could have some peace of mind. The lives of everyone involved with Maura Murray ground to a halt. People began to be haunted by what had happened to her after she crashed her car. Before she disappeared she got into trouble with credit fraud, using a “discarded” credit card to buy $79 worth of delivery pizza. Those charges had been dismissed. If she was cleared, why was she running away? I think that something so awful happened that the only thing she could think to do was put miles between herself and that awful thing.

On the anniversary of her disappearance a man with the screen name 112dirtbag posted a video on YouTube. It shows a man laughing maniacally into a camera. At first the guy looks like someone’s grandpa who’s relaxing with his model train set in the basement of his house. But this grandpa has rotted teeth and glasses coated in greasy thumbprints. He still looks like somebody’s grandpa but the kind that keeps dead bodies in corners of the basement. His laughter is a light chuckle at first and then it becomes creepier and more ominous as time goes on. It’s the laugh of someone at 3 A.M. locked away in a windowless room of an asylum. The name 112dirtbag wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people unless they followed the investigation closely. Maura’s father had said that she’d probably been kidnapped by “some dirt bag on Route 112.” The disturbing old guy was taunting Maura’s loved ones, almost telling them that he might either know what happened to Maura or he IS what happened to Maura.

As with many deaths (be it a celebrity or not) each anniversary causes loved ones to play the “What if” game. “What if Maura hadn’t crashed her car that night?” “What if Maura had taken some time off school?”  “What if she had talked to someone about the things going on in her life?”

But Maura Murray will never have children and what will be remembered of her is a car crashed into a snow bank and abandoned by its driver. She will be forever linked to a goblin uploading hyena-like laughter onto the Internet, hinting that he knows what happened to Maura but he’ll never tell. She will be that vanished girl none of us ever get to know.

She will be the girl who disappeared forever.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Libby

holdinguptheuniverseA few years ago I was having lunch with two co-workers. They each agreed that they would take one year off of their lives if they could be skinny. Not thin but skinny. There’s a great distinction if you listen closely. No lightweight myself, I said if I traded a year off my life for anything it would be to become a bestselling novelist. That was when I was in my twenties. Now at the end of my 30s I’d trade a year of my life just to be a happy human being. Or human. Ba-dum-hiss. I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.

Jennifer Niven’s book Holding Up the Universe is a novel that absolutely does not fit the YA cliché of “Our eyes met across a crowded room and I knew he saw me for who I really am.” That crap never happens in real life. I meet eyes with someone across a crowded room and my first thought is usually ‘What the !@ck are you looking at?’ Well, that’s my first thought, quickly followed by ‘I’d better get out of that guy’s line of sight so he can see the beautiful creature who must be standing right behind me.’

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby is a self-proclaimed fat girl but she is NOT who she used to be: “America’s Fattest Teen” the teen who was over 600 pounds and had to be cut out of her house. Being surrounded by firefighters who cut a wall in the side of her house to get her out was her wake up call. My wake up call came in the voice of the demon from The Exorcist: ‘You’re almost 40! What have you done with your life? Nothing!’ Oh to have a demon possess me. Hop on in pal. You’re going to find one unhappy person with obsessive thoughts that’ll keep you awake all night.

After her mother’s death, Libby and her father are on their own. He homeschools her and she tries to start a new life. And then she decides she wants to go to public high school. And she prays no one remembers her as “America’s Fattest Teen.” I tell you, I wish I had even a quarter of this girl’s self-esteem. My mom once told me that when I walk into a room and feel nervous as hell I needed to walk in like I owned the damn place. Libby walks into every room with over the top confidence, even when classmates make cow noises around her.

Enter Jack, a cocky high school jock with an afro full of charm. But he has a secret. He can’t recognize faces. He has a condition called prosopagnosia. He’s literally face blind. And he’s the only one who knows about it. He becomes adept at recognizing a physical marker about a person: the way they wear their hair or the way their voice sounds. His own two brothers could come up to him on the street and he wouldn’t know who they were.

Jack can only keep his secret safe for so long before people get suspicious. He meets Libby because one of his friends decides to pull a mega cruel joke called ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ You latch onto an overweight person and whoever stays on the longest wins. Wins at being the world’s biggest asshole. But it wasn’t Libby the boy latched onto but another heavyset girl. When Libby finds out about it she chases down the boy. Everyone is amazed at how fast she can run. She vaulted a fence to go after him. That’s my kind of girl! I once vaulted a baby gate to chase my brother. It didn’t end well.

Libby confronts the group of boys involved in the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ Not to be outdone by his douchey friends, Jack whispers to Libby “I’m sorry” before launching himself onto her. When Libby manages to pry him off she punches him in the mouth and down he goes. They both get detention and spend the next few weeks reluctantly getting to know each other. Jack starts to look forward to seeing Libby and this confuses him. He has a gorgeous girlfriend. At least he thinks he does. He doesn’t recognize her when she comes up to him.

Libby is beginning to have feelings for Jack. You want to know what absofreakinloutely rocks about Libby? Her first thought isn’t ‘He wouldn’t be caught dead dating a fat girl.’ She’s more upset about how she feels about Jack. And Jack is worried that she might not like him. It looks like Jack and Libby will become a couple but is she confident enough?

One secret she doesn’t tell anyone is that she can dance. I mean dance. Not the white girl shuffle I do when I’m ‘dancing.’ It’s full on the stars and the galaxies are aligned and dance she must. It’s Jennifer Beals dancing in Flashdance (yes, I know Jennifer Beals didn’t do her own dancing in Flashdance but that was the first movie that came to mind and I’ll probably think of a better one at 2 in the morning.) Better than Lady Gaga in 13 inch stilettos.

Libby has made her choice. Instead of trying to become invisible and stay beneath the radar, she flaunts her confidence, even after nasty notes are shoved into her locker. She refuses to back down and run away with her tail between her legs.

Fat, skinny, short, tall, weird, boring, Trump supporters-everyone should read this book and learn how it’s done when you’re the girl who had to get cut out of her own house.

3 Minutes, 4 Seconds

thecallI would die in the Grey Land. If you placed a bet on me, you’d lose all you money. I’d hear the trumpets declaring the game is on and the monsters are hunting me down and I WOULD DIE. Not because I’m weak. Not because I’m not a fighter. I’d die because I’m naked and about to do battle with monsters while naked. If I tried to run I’d catch a boob in the face and knock myself out.

Don’t worry. I promise this will make sense. I think.

In Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call a dark supernatural barrier surrounds Ireland. Planes have dropped from the sky and all life has ground to a halt in the last 25 years. The Sidhe (pronounced “She”) are deadly beautiful creatures that were banished to the Grey Land: a creepy world parallel to ours where there are grotesque living things in the trees and fields of human heads crying out in agony (the place sounds like one big Hieronymus Bosch painting). Seeking revenge for being shoved out of our world, the Sidhe instituted the Call. After the age of 10, all children are assigned to survival colleges where they learn how to fight, protect themselves, and how to kill. They’re even taught that the deceptive beauty of the Sidhe can get them killed. Whenever I imagine the Sidhe in my head all I can see is meth-addled elves straight out of a Tolkien world that are beautiful until you scrape a layer away and find all kinds of ugliness underneath.

In this new world, teenagers have to grow up fast. There’s no time to cultivate relationships or have feelings for anyone and God help you if you get knocked up because that’s not going to save you from the Call. Once called you’ll have 3 minutes and 4 seconds to survive the hunt. In the Grey Land, those few minutes translate into a full day where the Sidhe try to hunt you down and kill you in spectacular ways. It’s rare that anyone survives over there and when they do they come back like wounded war vets with zombie faces. The Sidhe have a sick sense of humor.  Sometimes they’ll show “mercy” and send a teen back alive but with the head of a dog or their backs twisted to the front or limbs swapped around.

Nessa is 14. Her brother had been called years ago and died in the Grey Land. Nessa has twisted legs and walks with the help of crutches. Most of her classmates and teachers think she should have died at birth or been killed because with legs like hers there’s no way she’ll survive. But Nessa is almost supernaturally fast, adapting her disability to become more of a warrior than most of her classmates.

No one knows when they’ll get the Call. You could be sitting down to breakfast in the cafeteria at a table with your friends and all of a sudden Jimmy’s gone, leaving a pile of clothes behind. That’s when the countdown begins, everyone studying their watches and stating the time with nervous voices. I figure the teens go over to the Grey Land naked because there are two times when we’re most vulnerable: while we’re asleep and while we’re naked. And if you sleep naked, you’re doubly vulnerable. When I’m home alone taking a shower and hear a noise all I can think is “Great. I’m going to have to fight someone naked. Maybe I can flash them and make them vomit and make my getaway.”

Nessa trains twice as hard as her classmates because of her legs. She absolutely refuses to think of dying in the Grey Land. Her one weakness is having feelings for a classmate named Anto who is a pacifist and guaranteed to die when he gets the Call. But she’s in love with him and he loves her. What are they going to do? She sees no future with him. The only future she’s talked herself into is the one where she survives the Call and returns to the college as an instructor.

But something is happening at the survival colleges all over Ireland. Whole schools are being wiped out by a mysterious presence and soon that mysterious presence sets its eyes on Nessa’s College.

If you like books about survival and kicking some monster ass, this is your book. If you like books where people have to fight naked, this is your book. If you believe in a parallel world where you are hunted down like a fox with some crazy hounds on your tail, you’ll like this book.

I still think I’d die two seconds after the Call. I can barely run bare foot let alone in my floppy birthday suit.

My Paranoid Polaroid

diaryofanoxygenthiefAt first slap I hated Diary of an Oxygen Thief with a passion I usually reserve for people who shuffle when they walk. And I say slap because I was reading it in bed and it fell on my face, effectively bitch-slapping me. I took it as a sign that I needed to read the damn thing.

About 17 pages into it I started to get that “Oh sh*tballs” feeling. You know the one: it’s kind of like a toothache. It’s the most consuming pain but your tongue, that floppy idiot traitor, seeks out that toothache and pokes at it for the thrill of the hurt.

Diary of an Oxygen Thief is by an author who decided not to use his name. I say “he” because the writing is eye-squintingly masculine (in  good way). It’s about an alcoholic Irish man who would drink the Thames if he heard a rumor that someone dumped a bottle of vodka in it. The more he drinks, the more he decides to hurt every woman who falls in love with him:

“I liked hurting girls. Mentally, not physically.”

He seduces women into his world by pretending to be THAT guy: the one who’s a good listener and leans in further as if to catch every word that falls out of her mouth. He makes love with his eyes wide open all the while snickering at how he’s going to tear a woman’s life apart. Just when a woman exposes her heart to him he cuts them loose. He ghosts on them. I came across the term ghost a couple of years ago. Ghosting is when you don’t actually break up with someone (be it a friend or lover) but you ignore them until they’re hurt, baffled, and finally disappear for good. Anonymous sits down to a romantic dinner at a pub with his girlfriend of 4 1/2 years. While she’s smiling with that idiot smile of love at him he begins his destruction:

“This is what I look like when I’m pretending to be in love with you.”

He gets off on seeing the confusion swirling in her eyes, the half-smile melting from her lips like cheap lipstick in a heat wave. What follows after this break up is a gift from the karma police.

He drinks and drinks and becomes sick of his life. I mean, he’s just OVER it. He decides to get sober, becomes a faithful AA attendee and doesn’t touch a woman in 5 years, terrified he’ll regress and hurt someone. Besides, he’s gotten his act together so why screw it up with a complicated relationship?

And then he meets HER. I have to spell it as HER because she’s the one who coaxes him out of celibacy, both physically and mentally. She has a name but it might as well be God in his eyes. No description of her does her justice. She’s every gorgeous painting that caused the looker heartache. She’s every song that is played on repeat. She is God, life, sex all rolled into one. Our poor narrator becomes insecure, a man who once beguiled dozens of women and is now so unsure of himself. He’s imagining a life together with her: suburban house, picket fence, rug rats running around with a dog.  She’s non-committal:

“So, you want to get together for dinner?” He asks.

“Um…..yeah,” she replies and then shows up 45 minutes late.

He finds himself in too deep and has to restrain himself from calling her 30 times a day.

Let me regress a little. I mean digress. Who hasn’t done that, developed some super heavy feelings for someone and then made promises to ourselves in the name of dignity and sanity that we won’t fill up their voicemail with uncertain false cheer:

“Hiya. Thought I’d call and see how you’re doing.”

Translation: “I haven’t stopped thinking about you, everything reminds me of you. I saw a plastic bag floating down the street in a frisky breeze and it reminded me of that scarf you wore that matched the green of your eyes and I’m counting down the minutes until I can accidentally brush your hand with mine and die in suspense wondering if you’ll thread you’re fingers through mine.”

Oh God. I related to him so hard that I had to put the book down, flip my stupid heart the bird, and try to repress wanting to vomit thinking about what I’ve done when I’ve had a crush on someone. I was into this guy once for all the wrong reasons. Since I am socially retarded and not used to men giving me compliments I couldn’t exactly do what I did to Joe Clifford in second grade: I pushed him to the ground threw a rock at him and screamed “I REALLY LIKE YOU. DO YOU LIKE ME?” and then ran off. That kind of crap will get you arrested nowadays. Nah. This time around I would leave little notes for my crush, telling him I was thinking about him, wondering how his day was going all the while behind the words I was asking “Do you ever think of me?”

Being human is crap sometimes, folks. For real.

Our anonymous Irish recovering alcoholic has a streak of paranoia in him because he thinks that since he’s screwed over so many women, the universe is out to get him. It kind of is. The universe is whispering to him “Karma’s a bitch, dude. Assume the crash position.” The object of his affection barely makes an effort to spend time with him, breaking last-minute plans, not even trying to get to know him.  Well, ladies and germs, that’s the hardest lesson I’ve learned in my 39 years twirling around on this planet like an idiot. If someone doesn’t make an effort to be with you, can’t be bothered to even call you, cut them off like the tags to a mattress (don’t worry; they don’t really arrest people for cutting those tags off).

He decides to write everything down and calls it Diary of an Oxygen Thief:

Ultimately, he doesn’t rage about how she’s treated him. He has reaped what he sowed and though it sounds clichéd, he finally understands all the soul scarring pain he’s caused other people. While I’m not reeling over the crushes I’ve had ten years ago, I’m a lot like a two-year old who stuck a fork into the wall outlet: I’m definitely not doing that again.

But our Irish drunk believes in love. That’s something good to hold on to.

I, however, would rather have a candlelight dinner with my cat who doesn’t care how my day went as long as I have the food on the table in a timely manner.

It Felt Like Love

thegirlsThe version of the post you’re reading didn’t exist until a couple hours ago. I wrote the first draft last week, read parts of it and thought: ‘Yeah….no. I can’t let that go out into the world. It’d probably invite something evil in. Or a lawsuit.’ So I started rewriting, and by rewriting I mean watching YouTube clips of people falling down. That always cheers me up. I’m looking forward to the Olympics not because I like ice skating but because I like watching the skaters go spinning over the ice on their butts. As the immortal Amy Winehouse said “You know I’m no good.”

This might be a goofy post on a library’s blog, but like a lot of writing it’s kind of like therapy even if I’m just writing about a book. I swear I was one “The power of Christ compels you!” away from pushing a priest out a window while writing this one. But like a good morning scratch, this post drew a little blood in places but that’s what band aids are for.

I was a late bloomer when it came to falling in love. Or what felt like love. I now know that falling in love is 38% wonderful and 62% doing a face plant into a big pile of excrement. I was 30 and seriously lacking some judgment when it came to an older man, a friend of the family. I fell in love with a man I’ll refer to as Il Douche (because seriously, this guy was the biggest douchebag on the planet) who was already juggling a couple different women. I was a goner. I worshipped him. I was so lost I would’ve pulled a Mary Magdalene and washed his feet with my hair. It was like that. That bad. That good.

Tell me you love me

I bought him lunches I couldn’t afford. Over drew my bank account a couple of times. And all I got in return was him complaining about how crazy his girlfriends were. I let him hold my own feelings against me like a gun to my temple. He used those feelings and I was inexperienced enough to think that’s how it was all supposed to go.

Tell me you love me

So when I dove into Emma Cline’s The Girls, I felt that gut-wrenching strangle hold a persuasive man has over some women. But in Cline’s book, that love takes an even darker turn.

Picture it: California, 1969. Evie is a 14-year-old girl on the cusp of something. She just doesn’t know what that something is yet. She’s bored out of her mind. Her mother and father are divorced and her mother is entering an ‘It’s all about me’ phase, barely noticing her daughter and dating some sketchy dudes. Evie’s father lives elsewhere with his much younger girlfriend. Come September, Evie is going to be shipped off to boarding school.

The summer unwinds in a slow furious rhythm. Nothing is happening; nothing is ever going to change. You remember what 14 felt like. Nothing is happening fast enough. But then Evie sees a group of girls in the park who are the epitome of ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ One girl, who is a few years older than Evie, attracts her. Evie is lonely. She and her best friend are drifting apart and she’s on her own a lot. She watches the girls dumpster dive for food. They’re feral and beautiful and frightening.

Evie doesn’t think she’ll see the girls again but by chance she meets Suzanne, the dark-haired girl who first caught her attention, in a drugstore and decides to prove she’s a badass by stealing toilet paper for Suzanne. Practical thieves, huh? At the age of 14 I knew girls who were stealing makeup and hair clips (not me, not because I’m a goody-goody but because I don’t have a good poker face) but in 1969 ragamuffins needed toilet paper. Evie steals the TP and her part in the sordid ‘Family’ begins.

Suzanne takes Evie to an abandoned ranch where a group of young people have been squatting and worshipping a douchebag named Russell. The girls tell Evie: “He sees every part of you.” They all have sex with him and all I could imagine was a giant chore chart nailed to the wall with Venn diagrams showing whose night it was to sleep with Russell. A famous musician named Mitch has promised Russell that he’ll be rich and famous with his musical skills. He’s going to be FAMOUS.

There’s a load of drug taking, snorting, smoking, a bunch of uncomfortable sounding sex and nobody has a stick of deodorant but hey, it’s the 60s. In a moment of clarity, Suzanne asks Evie is she wants to go home. Evie thinks about her empty house, her mother out on dates or going on diet cleanses and realizes there’s no way she’s going home. She’s hooked on the Family. I can believe that at the age of 14 (or 30) if someone older showered me with affection it would be addictive.

Evie begins to steal money for the Family. The ranch is all love and freedom and blah, blah, blah but the shine begins to wear off and it begins to take on a sinister glare. Mitch, the man who told Russell he was going to make him famous, backs out citing money troubles. Everything becomes a sign. The very stars in the night sky become a portent of things to come. The heavens whisper something harmoniously relevant to members of the Family. But remember the amount of drugs these people were ingesting.  You’ve read about my sordid relationship with Benadryl. I can’t imagine doing hard drugs and trying to tie my shoes. Maybe that’s why hippies never wore shoes.

The ‘we love and support everybody’ feeling at the ranch sours. Evie’s still grasping at the feeling of being wanted and being shown love. One evening the Family packs into a car and heads into the night. They’re going to pay Mitch a ‘visit.’ Russell stays behind at the ranch. Evie knows something bad is about to go down. Suzanne is not herself or maybe she’s more of the self Evie doesn’t know.  Suzanne demands the car be stopped and tells Evie to get out in the middle of nowhere. The car speeds away to make gruesome history.

What would have happened to Evie had she gone along that night? Who would she have become?  This book delves into what could have been and what was.

Vroom Vroom

suicidemotorclubI have to admit I almost didn’t read this book for a stupid reason: I kept seeing an ad for it on Facebook. I rolled my eyes and thought ‘Another self-published writer hawking his stuff on Facebook. Ugh.’ This is how I know I probably won’t be a published writer. I don’t like to pimp my work out. I feel like one of those pimps with a gold-fish in the heel of his platform shoes, a purple fedora with an Ostrich feather dangling off it, and a voice that could melt steel: “Hey, guuuuuuuurl. You wanna read my short story? Leave the money on the dresser.”

But then I was processing new books and The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman turned up. I sighed the sigh of a billion sighs and thought: ‘might as well take a peek at it.’

I am glad I did.

Granted, I am super high on Benadryl as I’m writing this so maybe I’m seeing the novel through Benadryl colored glasses. And that little dragon running by with a cat on its back isn’t helping. Someone’s at the door. I smell pennies. The lights just flickered. I smell burning toast.

Oh….Benadryl.

Picture it: a deserted stretch of road on Route 66 in New Mexico, 1967. In the dark heart of the night a car full of psychopaths preys on those passing through this lonely stretch of nowhere. They pull up alongside other cars and snatch people away. Sounds kind of acrobatic for humans, huh? Well they aren’t human. They look into your eyes and can convince you of anything. Want to kill your husband? Go ahead, the rifle is in the hall closet. On top of a high-rise? Get up on that ledge and drop because you’re a bird.

One night while roaring up and down the highway looking for cars to wreck, they pull alongside a car with a woman, a man, and a small child. Quick as an eighth grader sneaking a cigarette behind the cafeteria dumpster, they grab the boy from the car and intentionally run it off the road where it crashes, killing the man but leaving the woman barely alive. Nobody questions a wrecked vehicle along the side of the road. Bad things happen on empty roads. You drive by a wreck and a secret sick fascination compels you to look for bodies by the road.

Fast forward two years later. The woman, Judith, has physically recovered from that horrible night but in her brain she’s been plotting revenge. Not knowing whether her child is still alive or was killed immediately after being grabbed, she becomes a nun. This is the first step of her revenge. Waaaaay drastic measure. She gets contacted by a group made up of people whose loved ones have been snuffed out by the carload of vampires and are bent on seeking revenge. Yeah, I said vampires but don’t worry about it. These vampires do not sparkle or feel love. This is basically the group:  a bunch of people who were assholes when they were alive and are now undead, but still assholes.

Except there’s one vampire who walks a fine line between good and evil, whose vestiges of humanity throws Judith for a loop. Kinda threw me too. I like my vampires evil as can be. I don’t want any of those vampires who loathe their existence and rail at a God for letting them become monsters. Not God’s fault. He was probably on a conference call with Pat Robertson and Jim Jones.

While reading this I would sometimes have to close the book and stare off into space for five minutes. How is that different from what I do with every book I read? Usually when I stare at a wall I’m thinking about what I want to eat, is it going to involve putting on pants, and do I have to interact with other humans. Reading The Suicide Motor Club made me put the book down and stare at the wall both in awe and in frustration. I’ll never be able to write like this, damn it. This book is up there with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire mixed in with a little bit of Stephen King and a pinch of the hilarious Christopher Moore.

So there you have it. A car full of marauding monsters not unlike the ‘Squeal like a piggy’ psychopaths from Deliverance except instead of rape, they will drain your body of blood and leave you on the side of the road next to the burned out hulk of your car. End of story. Okay. You can go now. Get out of here before I throw some holy water on you and throw a cross at your head.

You Spin Me Right ‘Round, Baby, Right ‘Round

The_Exorcist_1971I’ve been afraid of many things during my life, but for some reason the idea of being possessed by a demon has always horrified me. It’s right up there with nuclear winter and Donald Trump becoming president. With all the other evils in the world, I have to worry about demon possession because let’s face it: I don’t think I have a soul. If there’s some wisp of a soul it’s pretty weak and I’m almost 100% certain it’s gas.

William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, was a comedy writer. Probably still is. I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. He read an account of a teenage boy who had been showing symptoms of an odd and inexplicable illness. The boy’s bed would levitate and he would rise from the bed like Lazarus from the dead at a beer pong competition. Words would be written on his skin-but from the inside. The kid’s parents were a mess. Was their boy gravely ill or was it a spiritual matter?

They called in a couple of priests to do an exorcism on the boy and whip bang, old Split Hoof was out of there. Later, there was a story that the boy had been molested by his aunt. Whether the ‘possession’ was a side effect or a cry for help, I don’t know. Maybe in the 1940’s (and sometimes now) it’s easier to talk about being possessed by a demon than it is about sexual assault.

The story stuck with Blatty for years and the outcome was The Exorcist. Here’s the lowdown: Father Merrin is on an archaeological dig in Iraq and uncovers a small statue of a demon he’s come up against in the past. He knows – in the way that priests and prescient children seem to know – that evil is nearby. In the movie, this whole part never made a lot of sense to me, but then again I was six when I first watched it, so a lot of things didn’t make sense.

In the novel, Regan MacNeil is a sweet 12-year-old daughter of a movie star. Regan’s father isn’t in the picture and the mom, Chris, is an actually with-it famous movie star single parent. She and Regan have a very close bond. But while her Mom is filming a movie in Washington, DC something strange is beginning to happen in their house and to Regan herself. Weird noises are coming from the attic. The housekeeper convinces Chris there are rats up there because hey, who would hear scratching noises in the attic and think ‘Is that you Satan?’ (By the way, demonic possession is never by Satan himself in a lot of books and movies. He’s too busy juggling campaigns and suicide bombs and which Kardashian is going to have a “hard” year because her nude selfie didn’t break the Internet).

Regan begins speaking in a language she’s never spoken before. She vomits green stuff. GREEN stuff. That ain’t natural. Chris thinks her daughter is going through a period of pre-teen angst over the divorce of her mother and father. She does what every mom does, takes her kid to get tested for everything and when the doctors can’t find anything wrong, well, maybe her kid is having a breakdown. It doesn’t occur to Chris to search for spiritual support. She is an atheist. Luckily, the place where she’s wrapping up filming is rife with Jesuit priests. She turns to Father Damien Karras for help.

Father Karras is enduring his own struggle: his mother just died and he’s having a bout of ‘Are you there God, it’s me, Damien.’ He sees Regan as a psychologist at first, shooting down the idea of demonic possession until there is no other explanation. I guess once a little girl brags that your mother’s soul is in hell and you actually hear the weak voice of your mother coming from her mouth, there’s not much else to turn to. So he goes to the bishop and the God Network begins to gossip and Father Merrin gets wind of it and says “Hey, that’s the asshole I battled long ago in Africa!”

exorcistfilmRegan is aggressive and speaking in tongues and using swear words that would make a sailor blush. Yeah. This is beyond psychological. What ensues is not only a battle for a young girl’s soul, but also for restoring faith – not just religious but in humanity. What I loved about the novel was the fact that Blatty didn’t shy away from things he knew would be controversial – much like the 1973 adaptation of his novel that shocked and sickened theatre goers. There’s a scene with a cross and….well….if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. You’re going to a movie called The Exorcist, people! Not Fluffy Puppies on Clouds. And yeah, I even liked the restoration of faith stuff in the book, not the Roman Catholic ritual of Exorcism (although that is pretty gnarly) but the idea that dark matters can be overcome. At least for a little while. Or shipped off to the next unsuspecting soul.

But I do embrace my own darkness and demons, isn’t that right, Beelzebub? Bubs? Oh damn. He’s been exorcised again. Damn it.