Reruns, A to Z

Apparently, Hunter had not been quite the man he had hoped to be.

Better to admit it now, he figured.

Caressing his own hands, he tried his best to ease the nerves that came with facing his true self.

Downstairs, his father’s TV was echoing reruns of black and white comedies that relied too heavily on the body.

Even in the chaos that was his current mind’s state, Hunter was annoyed by the sound.

Forgetting to lock the door behind him, he swiftly exited the house and headed down the road towards the liquor store.

Gathering his thoughts as he walked, he tried to recall the moment in which everything he thought he knew about himself had collapsed.

Hunter was sure that, at some point, the change had been provoked – but that was mostly because while admission was easy, taking responsibility was not.

Instinctively, Hunter tugged on the heavy glass door and gasped a little when it creaked open.

Just as he had not expected to commit his most recent crime, he had not expected to find the liquor store still open.

Killian was behind the counter as usual, tired and hacking up a lung.

Little else could Hunter say about the storeowner but that the man sure loved his cigars.

Murder, She Wrote moved silently about the small screen propped up in the corner.

Numbly, Hunter gave a friendly nod and continued towards the back, where they stocked the cold beer.

Overhearing two other customers rattle on about the rising cost of Californian wines, Hunter stopped dead in his tracks.

Perhaps it wasn’t her – no; no, it was definitely her.

Quaking under his two sweaters, Hunter glanced back at the exit, wondering if he could make it unnoticed.

Realizing the impossibility of it, he opted to proceed towards the refrigerators, though he did so with much lighter steps.

Soon, he told himself, he’d have his beer in his arms and he’d be out the door; easy as pie.

“Twelve – eighty-five.”

Under his breath, Hunter thanked Killian and gestured for him to keep his change.

Very carefully, he peeked to his left to verify that the movement he sensed was her; she was getting closer.

While it had briefly occurred to him that she might not recognize him after all this time, he knew it simply couldn’t be so.

Xeroxed images of their time together seemed to flash rapidly before him, so that he had to squeeze his eyes shut to rid himself of their light.

“Yeah. I knew that was you. Off the wagon, as per usual.”

Zero sympathy – yes, that was her alright.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

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The Anticlimax

I guess you could say it was like a dream. The kind of dream that you’re aware of, but isn’t quite lucid. You go through the motions; let the dream carry you, because fighting it seems like a waste of energy. Yeah – I guess you could say dying was like a dream.

And I wasn’t alone. Death was a strong presence, there to collect – more patient than a bookie, but threatening nonetheless. I tried to laugh, really, I did. It was funny; like a bad movie that’s meant to be taken seriously but can’t be. I think they call those cult classics.

My death: A Cult Classic. I like the sound of that. It’s fitting, since my life turned out to be an accidental joke with an anticlimactic punch line.

“So? What now?” I ask Death. My tone is almost annoyed; almost apathetic; definitely irascible. I suddenly think I might have to take a number and stand in a line, and the mere thought of it is infuriating. But that’s not what happens.

Death leads me down a tunnel. There’s no light at the end of it or anything cliché like that. But it is a tunnel that seems to go on forever. It strikes me that my legs aren’t aching though, and I have to appreciate that. Silver linings.

“This isn’t going to be a ‘pick a door’ kind of deal is it? I hate those,” I snicker.

We finally arrive at a threshold. Beyond it, there is blackness. It’s absence of color, absence of light, absence of life. It makes me very uncomfortable, and I can’t even think of a snarky remark to cut the tension.

Death gestures for me to sign in, and I do. I sign my name, and beside it appears today’s date – my date of death. Again, I’m uncomfortable. It’s slowly but surely becoming real.

I look at Death. Death is also absence. There’s no black hooded cloak; rather, Death is just a shadow. And that’s when I realize, it’s my own shadow. I squint for a better look, but it’s unnecessary. For at that moment, the Shadow is coming to life. First, the eyes, then the hands. A vibrancy takes hold, as though watching one’s reflection manifest from thin air. Terrified, I instinctively hold my own hands in front of me. But they are dissolving, like sand in acid rain. And then… everything goes dark.

When the light comes back, I’m something altogether different.

*****

“Are you a ghost?” she asks me. I smile. Mainstream cinema has taken on the unfortunate task of representing a figure of the afterlife that floats through air and has a transparency about it. That’s why she’s confused. Indeed, I float. Indeed, my form is less than solid. But ghosts aren’t real. And I am.

“Not exactly,” I say. “I’m a spirit of the Otherworld.”

She ponders on this for a second; bites her bottom lip, then resolves to obtain more information.

“What does that mean?” she asks. “Are you dead?”

I smile, fully expecting to have to answer such questions. “Not exactly. My consciousness once belonged to a human, but that being has died, and its consciousness re-formed. It belongs to the Otherworld now, and it lives inside of me.”

I pause to let the little girl take it in. She is a willing believer, provided she is given the right tools. I watch her carefully process what I have said, and when I decide she is ready for more, I continue.

“Not everyone cans see us. You have a very special gift, and it will become stronger as you grow.”

She looks up at me, doe-eyed and curious. The compliment appeases her, but she’s still confused. I can see another question bubbling in her gut.

“So,” she finally begins, slowly. “Why are you here?”

Truth-time.

“A tragedy is going to befall your home soon. I’m here to cast a spell of courage upon you.”

The reference to tragedy sends a chill up her spine. Her shoulders tense, and she quickly tries to form her next question. Deep down, she probably knows I can’t answer it.

“Will something happen to my parents?”

I remain expressionless, and after a moment of silence, I move passed her unanswerable query.

“For all the elements of this world that seem out of your control, know that you are always in control of the elements within yourself.”

I let the words whisper through her, and while she’s still trying to interpret them, I gently release my magic. Then, with only a wink and a smile, I disappear from her forever.

Being a spirit of the Otherworld has given me the opportunity to bond with people in a way I couldn’t have when I lived among them. In that life, my consciousness was as selfish, petty, and mundane as the rest of them. I had always felt it, but could do nothing about it. But from the vantage point I have now, I realize how wrong that was.

People are not as fixed a state as I had once believed. And when that little girl crawls out of the fire, it’s my magic that will be carrying her. Her consciousness will be forever tethered to my strength. She will be amazing. And I will be a part of it.

I guess it’s still a little anticlimactic, but I’m no longer looking for an unattainable impact. Only humans have such trouble defining satisfaction.

In the Otherworld, everything is easier.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Generation Slasher

Jessica gasped lightly. A shadow lingered in her peripheral vision, and she had to hold her breath to keep calm; to keep from screaming. Her heart rate increased and tiny pools of sweat emerged from under her bangs. She could feel her pulse in her neck; a constant thud that she was sure must be visible, if not audible. Her stomach churned. She suddenly regretted the mixture of popcorn and soda she substituted for a freshly cooked meal. The room had always had a chill in it, but now Jessica could barely contain her shivering. Her teeth even wanted to chatter, although she had clenched them with such force it seemed more likely that they might crush under the weight of her fear.

And then it came. The man jumped out his hiding spot and pounced on the half naked teenage girl. She screamed as the knife penetrated deeper and deeper.

Jessica let out a yelp, and although it was embarrassing, she was glad she had. Now she could breathe again. Unable to watch the gore unfold on the huge screen before her, she squeezed her eyelids shut and tried not to imagine anything worse than what might actually be happening.

Beside her, Erin burst into laughter. It was genuine, but those who didn’t know her might find it obnoxious. Suddenly, Jessica was hiding not only from the blood bath on the screen, but from the other moviegoers who might be getting irritated with her friend.

“Shh,” she whispered, still refusing to open her eyes.

“Oh, please” Erin retorted. Her voice was lowered but it was certainly not a whisper.

The credits began to roll, cued in by the last victim’s fading scream and the rising level of the ominous theme song that had been a staple of the franchise for the last decade.

“That was the worst one. I tell ya, no more. I’m done with these sequels,” Erin blurted as they hustled out of the packed, dark, cinema.

“It was scary. And gory. That seems like it’s exactly your thing.” Jessica was feeling more like herself now that the film was over.

“Not even! It was just a hack. An imposter of the greats.”

Jessica rolled her eyes, knowing she was in for a long walk home.

“Think about it,” Erin started, “There was all the typical slasher icons: it had the maniac in a mask who is human but borders on the supernatural in his ability to kill, fight, and not die. It had the mixed bag of unsupervised teenage pals: a jock, a nerd who is cooler than he lets on, and two hot girls, one a bit more… promiscuous… than the other.”

Jessica nodded, wondering exactly where this was going.

“Then we have the setting – secluded getaway with a killer on the loose. But, of course, the kids don’t know that because they’re too wrapped up in their teenage love-triangle bullshit to listen to the news. Wrong place, wrong time. One by one, they get the axe.”

“Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. All of them.”

“That’s my point. Those are the main ingredients – nay, the required ingredients to put together a slasher. It’s what you do with all the in-between that makes it a great film, or a waste of everyone’s time. This one was of the latter category.”

“Okay, so what makes any of these great? As you say, it’s all formulaic. The purpose it to make us squirm, and I do. Mission accomplished. Success.”

“No. It’s not that simple. Horror movies are made for horror fans. The people squealing next to us are the people we dragged with us.”

They turned off of Main St. and the wind picked up. Erin kept talking.

“Horror fans don’t watch it to scream. We watch for a bunch of different reasons; personally, I watch for the final girl, which this film severely lacked. The ‘no survivors’ angle seems original, until you realize that with no survivors there’s no story. No one to route for, route against, laugh at, identify with. All of that is embodied by the final girl; or, on the very rare and generally unsuccessful occasion, the final boy. Either way, that archetype is essential. I wanna see some girl that everyone underestimated kick some ass.”

“Wouldn’t that also be predictable?” Jessica couldn’t help but ask.

“Maybe. But it depends what you do with her.

There are two types of slasher films. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill reactionary film. Typical of the 70s, and it’s all about punishment. It’s a reaction against the civil rights movement, women’s lib, gay rights and anything else that was considered leftist or unnatural. All those things get knifed. The black guy, the sexual women or any form of sexual activity. Whatever isn’t the typical picture of 50s suburbia. In those films you’ve got a virgin for a final girl. She’s hope for the traditional values. Usually she’s even kind of a damsel in distress and she gets rescued.

Then you’ve got your progressive films which are all about the Other fighting back against the monster who represents social oppression. There, you get a badass final girl. She isn’t going to take shit, she’s smart, and she’s capable and she wins. It’s not luck, it’s strategy.”

Jessica pondered on that for a minute and was surprised by how much sense it made to her. Erin caught a glimpse of that in her eyes and smiled, pleased with her persuasive argument skills.

“You see,” she added, “horror is all about living vicariously through these characters. But that doesn’t mean we’re all masochists.”

“I might be. You don’t really drag me here. I could say no. I like the scares and I watch to squirm,” Jessica finally admitted.

Erin laughed. “Yeah, I guess you might be, then.”

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Final Girl Syndrome

I hadn’t pictured it this way. I thought it would be exhilarating, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 when she spins the chainsaw round and round; victorious. Or, maybe even like Halloween, when she just cries and cries.

I guess what I’m saying is, I thought I’d finally feel something. But I don’t. It’s more like Black Christmas; the original or the shitty remake, take your pick.

Just numb. Catatonia, I think it’s called.

His body finally limp; the blood that once filled it splattered across my face and clothes. The nightmare finally over. The chase complete. And he just lies there, and I just stare at him.

He’s taken everyone from me. Everything.

There’s no avenging that.

I’m guessing by tomorrow, I’ll look more like Girl, Interrupted.

How dissatisfying.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©