And a great big welcome to everyone who came here via Tor.com. Please allow me to be the first to offer you the Toad of Friendship!
Some time before my second birthday I became aware of the existence of monsters.
I’m not clear on the exact chronology. It might have been the scratching sounds in the dark around my crib, or the mouth-like shadow of the hamper, waiting to devour tiny fingers. Or perhaps it was the lovable, cuddly denizens of everyone’s favorite urban avenue that introduced me to the concept, a lesson brought to you by the letter P, for Phobia.
Maybe I always knew, and it was only on the threshold of verbal competence that I was first able to articulate it, but regardless, the wisdom I’d gleaned from that tremulous year of sleepless nights was clear in my first full sentence:
To which my mother would reply, “No Aaron, there’s no monster in there.”
And so, having established a basic protocol, we entered into what would become an epic exchange.
“No, Aaron, there’s no monster in the closet.”
“No, Aaron, there’s no monster in the toilet.”
“No, theres… well, okay, there are monsters in the ocean, but most of them are very far away.”
Through months of nervous interrogation, her assurances never wavered. The bulwark of motherly comfort created a cognitive buffer zone, a monster-free sanctuary built from words and smiles, fierce bear hugs and kind, if weary, laughter.
And slowly, cautiously, looking back at her every step of the way, I took those first faltering steps into the full realization that every child must eventually have:
The world is filled with the strange, the alien and the hideously indifferent. There are monsters in your food. There are monsters in your walls, in your breath and blood. There are monsters on the playground and sitting behind you in the classroom. There are certainly monsters at that party you’re going to and everyone takes it for granted that there are monsters in your government. There are monsters in your dreams, on the TV, and hiding behind the eyes of every stranger. There is a monster at the end of this book, certainly, but there is also one at the beginning and on every single page.
The monsters are all in your head, some would say, as if that weren’t the worst possible place they could be.
I think it was then that I understood the essence of horror. It’s not revulsion or fear or anxiety. It’s dissonance. It’s being caught between instincts. It’s knowing that something is very, very wrong, while everyone around you keeps on pretending everything is fine. It’s letting yourself be convinced it will all be okay, then watching it turn out to be far worse than you imagined.
We are surrounded by monsters. We always have been. And that is why, faced with the inadequacy of primal screams, we developed language. So our distant ancestors could ask each other that first, defining question:
At some point, I’m not sure when, I stopped asking my mother that question. I still voiced the utterance, but it was no longer an interrogative. It was a warning.
And soon after that she started to believe me.
There are few things more satisfying to a child of certain inclinations, than watching adults clench in fear as you warn them in your deadpan little child voice that the thumping, juddering dryer in the basement is coming upstairs to eat them.
I was sent to bed without dinner for that one.
You see, I had a secret. I made a deal with myself that, should I ever discover the secrets of time travel, I would go back to my own childhood and reveal to myself a mystery from the future.
And here it is: Yes, Aaron, there is a monster in there. There are always monsters in the dark places. You’re one of them. And if you are brave, and clever, you can command them. Sing to them in the secret tongue, and you can make the monsters dance.
Does it have flesh-tearing teeth, talons or glow-in-the-dark eyes? Take it home, give it a collar and a food dish. Not enough monsters around? Build them out of steel and smoke, wires and pumps: ten thousand pounds of roaring metal strong enough to crush bone and stone to powder, trembling at your slightest touch. Whisper its name into its ear, and a monster will be yours forever.
Just don’t blow in its nose. They don’t like that at all.
Have a Happy Halloween, everyone.
As all things have an end, so too must they have a beginning. Usually several.
It’s been a year since I arrived in Seattle. In that time I’ve moved (twice), changed jobs, been promoted (twice), written several new songs, started a band, played a few shows, repaired a novel draft, run a Pathfinder campaign (briefly… poor schmucks), choreographed a martial arts performance (twice), attended three conventions, made countless wonderful new friends, been gifted an amazing guitar from a mysterious benefactor, recorded a short album and got a haircut (twice).
It’s been a good year, a good first act, moving from uncertainty to security. All the major players have been introduced, chaos is defeated for a time and a measure of peace has been won. I could relax for a while and just enjoy my successes.
Or, I could kick it up a notch.
It’s going to be a hell of a year.
(Those haircuts are killer.)