Aging Warriors and Knowing Shadows

Do you know how much I love The Shadow? In general, he’s just about the baddest ass character I can think of, not to mention the reason I spent so much time on “The Silver Shroud” missions in Fallout 4. The 1994 movie isn’t the greatest adaptation in the world, but it’s certainly not as bad as a lot of people think (my girlfriend included). Besides, I would kill to own the pinball machine which came out for the movie.

I do see the problems, however, and I agree: you’d think the screenwriter of Jurassic Park and the director of Highlander would produce something a lot better than this. Jonathon Winters does absolutely nothing for the plot, Tim Curry seems to have been told to “yuk it up,” and the romance between Cranston and Margo Lane is entirely uncooked. The lab sets are laughably unscientific, even by Hollywood standards (When was the last time you saw a Jacob’s Ladder in a modern movie?) and they even do the ol’ ticking time bomb routine. (Red wire or green wire? Just shoot me now so I won’t have to decide.)

TheShadow

But even if the exceptional cast is wasted (John Lone, who plays the last living decedent of Genghis Kahn, should be in a lot more movies while Penelope Ann Miller is more believable in the time period than anyone else), you get a rousing adventure with awesome music and some exceptional visuals. Besides, it’s the freakin’ Shadow. The last time I heard Hollywood talking about a Shadow movie, Sam Raimi had dropped out and the director of a Twilight sequel had stepped in… so, yeah, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get anything better in the foreseeable future. (Which reminds me: Doesn’t the recent news of a Gremlins reboot just churn your fuckin’ stomach?)

So I’ve always wanted to read The Talisman. I finally did and now I don’t know what to think of it. I suspect I just read it at the wrong time in my life. Considering everything else I’ve ever enjoyed, I should have loved this book. I didn’t. I didn’t dislike it, either, but I found it a bit hard to pick up at times, particularly after the Sunlight Gardner’s School subplot wrapped up. The older I get, the more I have trouble getting into “epic” fantasy (I hope this is just a phase I’m going through).

Legend

David Gemmell’s mostly self-contained Legend, on the other hand, is one of my favorite fantasy stories. It’s not long, it’s certainly not epic, and you don’t have to read the entire series to get a satisfying conclusion. This is what happens in Legend: good guys are in a great fortress. Bad guys want to get into said fortress and kill everybody. The bad guys have some pretty mean mofos on their team, but the good guys have this legendary warrior on theirs. The problem is the legend is aging and he’s not quite what he used to be.

I later learned Gemmell wrote Legend when he believed he was dying of cancer (it later turned out to be a misdiagnosis). When you read the story it’s not at all apparent that’s what he’s writing about, but it is kind of apparent in retrospect. It’s one of the purest stories I’ve ever read in the sense that it primarily exists to entertain, but you sense it’s about something bigger than what it purports to be even though you can’t quite put your finger on it. I love that kind of stuff. I typically find it much more satisfying than a story with obvious metaphors and morals.

In other news, I’m stoked to learn Joe Bob Briggs, one of the most authentic and intelligent people I can think of, is FINALLY returning to host silly movies for a 24-hour movie marathon on Shudder. They haven’t released an official date, but Briggs said, “It’ll start on a Friday in June, although we don’t know which Friday yet.”

The Last Jedi (2017) [Midnight Movie]

A lot of people thought The Force Awakens was too derivative of the original trilogy. Starkiller Base notwithstanding, I disagree, but I can see where those people are coming from. I just thought it was a smart move to give us a healthy dose of familiarity in order to make sure the new trilogy got off to a solid start. (But yeah, I could have easily checked out during that final assault.)

Despite my enjoyment of Awakens, I went into The Last Jedi hoping for a lot less familiarity. The good news is I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie that looks like this outside the expected space battles. The bad news is I was seventeen minutes late (the first time I’ve been late to a movie since 1997) due to the fact I’m kind of a complete idiot. I’ll tell you this, though: I never knew how important the opening crawl was until now.

So yeah, I was a little too annoyed with myself (and the theater playing it at a criminally low volume) to really lose myself in the movie. There’s not a whole lot I can say until I see it under proper viewing conditions. I will say the visuals topped the previous movie.

Oh, and I was neutral on porgs before the movie, but they seemed kind of pointless. I’m kind of glad JJ’s coming back because he leans towards the weird more than the cute.

December 16th update. I’ve seen the movie again, distraction-free, and confirmed what I already suspected: this isn’t a great Star Wars movie. It feels like JJ had a good idea where the story was going and Rian Johnson abandoned it all in the interest of making sure all of the fan theories were wrong. The problem is the fan theories were working with what had been established. This movie doesn’t.

One or two (or even three or four) of these surprise moments would have been perfectly acceptable, but the movie’s plot takes numerous hard turns and, in doing so, fails to give us anything we would want or expect from a Star Wars film. Meanwhile, Finn’s subplot ends up nowhere, the new characters fall embarrassingly flat, and although there are sparks of excitement, they’re nowhere near as potent or sustained as they were in previous films.

I can’t say I saw any of the surprises coming, but none of them felt very… surprising. In fact, it was more like unwrapping a gift and discovering socks inside. When the twists fly in the face of what you’ve established, isn’t that just cheating? This feels like a child telling a story: “And then this happens, and then, and then….” It just doesn’t really connect.

Some of this playing with expectations would have worked in a different kind of movie, particularly the adult-oriented movies Johnson is known for, but hardened sentiments do nothing positive for a fairy tale set in space. Fairy tales work because of the tropes, but most of all because they ultimately give us what we want to see. Jedi is a remarkably pulpless fantasy for a series about laser swords and princesses, good and evil. It feels like fan fiction written by someone who genuinely loves the source material, but now I’m left with the desire to see the official version.

And what they’ve done to Luke is probably the blandest, most disappointing aspect of it all. Unfortunately, this is a canon Disney will stick to like glue, which means there are no redos. There were blips, in the beginning, in which he felt and acted like the Luke we know and love, but those moments were brief. It’s funny that a movie that blabbers on and on about hope would effectively kill the hope for future films.

I think the biggest takeaway from The Last Jedi is that the honeymoon period is officially over. Now we’re stuck with Disney til death do us part. I can’t believe we’ve waited two years for this. I would have rather gotten Star Wars 1313 than one good movie and two mediocre ones. And that’s yet another reason to resent Disney’s acquisition of the property: we almost got a game which looked like a masterpiece, but instead we got EA’s Battlefront 2.

I still think it’s one of the best looking movies of the year and some of the new locations were more appealing than anything in Force Awakens. But, as with the prequels, I think the hardcore fans are going to be pretty disappointed when the new wears off. I’m not the biggest fan of the prequels myself, but I appreciate ’em a helluva lot more than this one. Come to think of it, I don’t think any of these bad guys are as interesting as General Grievous. (Speaking of which: why are there so many bad guys in the new trilogy?)

Even after writing all this I feel like I’m still in the denial I was in after seeing it the first time. I can’t help but think, “Maybe I’ll like it when I see it again in the future,” and “maybe it’ll all make sense after the third one’s out,” but I think it’s more likely that JJ’s going to have an even harder time getting the series back on track than he did the last time.

The House series (1985-1992) [31 Days of Gore]

There’s just something magical about a Friday the 13th falling in October, isn’t there? If you’re wondering why I’m not featuring the Jason series, it’s because I already did that earlier this year. Instead, here’s a series that’s stained by the Friday the 13th franchise: Jason creator Sean Cunningham produced them all; Harry Manfredini, who created Jason’s signature music, provided all four scores; Kane Hodder, everyone’s favorite Jason actor, does the stunt coordination; and Steve Miner, who directed the second and third Jason movies, helms the maiden film.

This is the first time I’ve seen any of these movies as an adult. In the case of House III, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. (More on that piece of shit, later.)

House (1986)

William Katt is probably best remembered for Carrie and The Greatest American Hero, but this is the movie I’ll forever associate with him. Katt plays horror writer Roger Cobb, a veteran of the Vietnam war whose son has gone missing sometime prior the film’s opening. The aunt who raised Roger has recently hanged herself and Roger moves into her old place.

Surprise! The house is haunted. That would be a pretty big let down if the house weren’t the centerpiece of a movie called House, right? Well, don’t worry. The series doesn’t make that mistake until House III. (Again: more on that piece of shit, later.)

Roger has a lot going on in his life. The fact that he’s an extremely popular horror writer doesn’t matter to the plot in the least, nor does the fact that his wife is a super famous actress. Meanwhile, Roger’s exceedingly boring flashbacks to his war experiences, which look like they were filmed in the garden section of a home improvement store, don’t figure into the plot until the very end. The ‘Nam pay-off is a lot less exciting than the setup was worth, but it involves Richard Moll who I’m always excited to see in movies.

Speaking of sitcom actors, Roger’s next door neighbor is Norm from Cheers (George Wendt) who’s more or less playing Norm from Cheers (not a complaint). He’s the comic relief in a movie that can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight horror film or a horror-comedy along the lines of Evil Dead 2. The horror-comedy elements actually work, but the straight horror and the straight comedy bits kind of stink.

Here’s a silly nit-pick: when you first see Norm, his hands are covered in grime. When he shakes hands with Roger, you expect the old cliche where he doesn’t realize his palm is dirty until he rubs it on his shirt. I usually like it when a movie spares us the cliche, but here it feels like a sneeze which won’t dislodge. Earlier in the movie, a delivery boy wanders into the house and carefully places a sack of groceries on the table in the entry, then wanders upstairs only to find Roger’s aunt hanging from her neck. Listen, I needed to see that sack of groceries topple when the boy goes running out of the house. It’s easily the biggest disappointment of my life.

I still like House after all these years, but my biggest complaint is it’s awfully slow to get started. It really could have done without some of Roger’s many subplots because you just can’t believe this man recently lost his son or that he experienced a great trauma in the war.

House II: The Second Story (1987)

House II has nothing to do with House, which is just as well because House struggled to fill its 90-minute running time. I used to flip-flop on which one I liked better, but today it’s clear to me House II is the winner. I don’t expect this opinion to be popular (House II currently holds a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and the horror elements are pretty much gone), but there are no boring flashbacks, no cluttered backstories, and it offers a more focused attempt to entertain.

The movie also speeds us right through the setup: a young couple played by Arye Gross and Lar Park Lincoln (Tina Shepard from the Jason movies) inherit a house which was constructed as a kind of modern day temple for a Mayan crystal skull. When Gross’s party-hardy friend (Fright Night’s Jonathon Stark) shows up for a weekend of drinking, Gross’s relationship with Lincoln is strained to the point she runs off with Bill Maher… yes, the smug comedian used to be an amusing actor, and while the subplot isn’t nearly as egregious as the ones in the original movie, it’s really not worth going into here.

Gross and Stark dig through a stash of ancient documents and discover the crystal skull was buried with one of Gross’s ancestors. Dollar signs glimmering in their eyes, the boys dig up the grave only to discover Gross’s great-great grandfather (Royal Dano) is un-dead. I would say the hi-jinks which ensue were obviously inspired by Weekend at Bernie’s, but this movie preceded that one by almost two years. It’s basic 80s comedy (along the lines of Mannequin), which is somehow elevated by its lite themes of horror. Later, the movie will add a prehistoric bird and some kind of puppy/centipede creature to the cast, and the animatronics are charming as all hell.

Anyhow, their possession of the crystal skull causes a number of strange things happen in the house. It’s a movie that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn’t have to. The special effects are good, the pacing is swift, and the filmmakers know exactly what kind of movie they’re going for… until they go full western in the end.

I wouldn’t say the Gross/Stark duo is hilarious, but they work, more because of Gross’s ability to play a straight man than Stark’s comedic timing. There are jokes in this movie I wouldn’t laugh at in other movies. When Bill the electrician, played by John Ratzenberger, casually remarks, “Looks like you’ve got some kind of an alternate dimension in there or something,” I lost it.

House III: The Horror Show (1989)

I remember browsing the video store one day when I stumbled upon House IV. Naturally, my first thought was, “What the hell happened to House III?” It was nowhere to be found at any of the video stores near me, so I eventually bit the bullet and skipped directly to IV. I always assumed it was a straight-to-TV production and, when I was a kid, I dreamed it was a long lost continuation of the second House.

Nope. Turns out it’s yet another unrelated sequel. I never saw it because it wasn’t called House III in the United States for reasons that are still a little vague to me. (Here’s the Wikipedia article on the matter.) I’m not surprised to see the movie was shoehorned into the already confusing La Casa series. I’m also not surprised to find it’s a mediocre movie. Completionists will moderately enjoy it, horror fans will stomach it, and nobody else should come within ten feet of this absolutely forgettable turd.

I know it released in ’89, but it’s a pretty good example of a shitty 90s movie. There are gems from the era to be sure, but this ain’t one of ’em. How a movie can get the likes of Lance Henriksen and Brion James, then turn out this fucking boring, I’ll never know. James almost works, because he’s got a great laugh and an unusual face, but Henriksen seems bored by the material. Can you blame him?

The movie’s not entirely unlikable. There’s a scene, early on, in which Henriksen faces the killer, who’s taken a little girl hostage. James, who’s holding all the cards, tells Henriksen to drop the gun. We’ve seen this scene a million times, but when Henriksen complies, James cuts the little girl’s head off and throws it at Henriksen. It’s a great what-the-fuck scene, which is immediately dampened by the reveal it was all just a dream.

Later, when James is fried in the electric chair, he bursts into flames, rips himself out of the chair, and stomps towards Henriksen. The scene is just as wonderfully mental as it is silly, but nothing after it even competes. The biggest disappointment: they didn’t put a Cheers cast member in this one. Maybe when Cunningham goes through his George Lucas phase, he can digitally add Woody to the re-release.

I have a question: What’s the deal with children con artists in these kinds of movies? Henriksen’s son, (played by a young Aron Eisenberg) runs an ongoing scam in which he fabricates product deficiencies in order to get companies to send him free stuff. The daughter in the next film is also a fraud, and there was a similarly mischievous kid in Rachel Talalay’s oddly brilliant Ghost in the Machine, which I featured in last year’s 31 Days of Gore.

At the end of the day, it’s a movie called House that’s not about a house. It doesn’t even show an establishing shot of the fucking house it’s set in.

House IV: The Repossession (1992)

So this is apparently the “true sequel” to House (if they ever make House V, it better be a direct sequel to House II), but wouldn’t you expect a “true sequel” to share some continuity with the first one? William Katt returns as Roger and, uh… that’s about the only thing that carries over from the original. Roger even has an entirely new family, with no mention of the old one, and you’d think he would’ve learned his lesson fucking around with spooky old houses.

Early on, Roger’s killed in a car crash, which leaves his wife and daughter struggling to get by in the old house. The house is haunted, of course, but whose side are the ghosts on? For the first half of the movie, they terrorize the mother so much she begins to question her sanity. Later, when the bad guys show up, the ghosts seem intent on protecting the family.

Oh, I forgot to mention that part: there are human villains this time around. And how’s this for originality? The sniveling weasel of the group is named Burke.

I was dreading House IV, but it’s not nearly as bad as I remember it being. Cheesy? Yes. Schmaltzy? Unbelievably so. It’s like Touched by an Angel with bits of horror sprinkled throughout. The lead actress, Terri Treas, is much better than the material she’s given. Denny Dillon, who plays the housemaid, is an odd casting choice, but she isn’t bad either.

this scene is not ripping off Twin Peaks in any shape or form

The first half of the movie is criminally mediocre as it dishes out roughly the same amount of flashbacks and dream sequences as the original film did. Then, around an hour in, it gets weird… disgustingly weird. If you’re eating lunch right now, I would suggest reading the next few paragraphs with caution. I know what you’re thinking: Come on, man! I’ve seen it all! I thought so, too, but this goes beyond the usual bodily fluids. It’s especially jarring because it appears in a movie that, up until this point, had been tame enough to show on network TV.

This requires a bit of backstory:

So it turns out Burke wants to run the family out of the house because he’s promised the land to a mobster who deals in toxic waste disposal. (It was the 90s… toxic waste was a hot topic in both children’s entertainment and adults’.) One minute you’re watching a low-key horror movie, the next you’re watching Burke and his cartoonish goons make their way through some kind of underground factory in which employees fill 50-gallon drums with toxic sludge, then amend the TOXIC WASTE labels to read NON-TOXIC WASTE. It seems it would have been easier just to get barrels that didn’t say TOXIC WASTE in the first place, but I digress.

there, fixed it

And just what is the factory making that could produce such ungodly amounts of toxic waste? I don’t know. It’s never properly explained. I think the filmmakers just wanted to make a statement that toxic waste is bad. (There’s also a Native American character in the film, which is another good intention handled with hilarious ineptitude.)

Anyway, back to the disgusting part: Burke meets with the mastermind behind this toxic waste operation, a dwarf who produces so much phlegm—yes, phlegm—he has to occasionally suction it out of a hole in his throat. (You can stop reading this at any time, mind you.) Well, ol’ Burke pisses this guy off, so the dwarf has his minions hold Burke down and proceeds to empty a glass of the mucus right into Burke’s mouth.

That, my friends, is the exact moment House IV became my favorite movie in the entire series. Never mind 99% of the movie is garbage, that scene takes the cake.

House II: The Second Story (1987) [Trailer]

I rented this movie so often when I was a kid, I should have just bought the damn thing. I plan on rewatching the entire House series for this year’s 31 Days of Gore (only six months away), but I’m not looking forward to seeing House IV again.
So if you’re wondering why I haven’t seen The Void yet, it’s because I’m an idiot. Expect me to feature it this Friday.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Ever since I read about the prequel trilogy (and I don’t think I ever heard the word “prequel” used before then, which is strange because now we have to endure its use on a daily basis) I’ve learned to wait. And after that trilogy wrapped up I, like millions of others, thought there would never be another Star Wars movie again… certainly not one as good as The Force Awakens. At any rate, it’s an exciting time for fans of the franchise because we’re entering new territory: here’s a movie that doesn’t focus on the saga characters. No Luke, no Leia, no Solo.

Right now we get to say, “Ooo! I can’t believe another Star Wars movie is already coming out!” But how long will it be until we’re saying, “Ugh, I can’t believe another Star Wars movie is already coming out…”? I know they’re not currently planning to pump them out with the frequency of Marvel movies, but Star Wars advertising and merchandise seems to be much more pervasive than the superhero stuff. There’s that, then there’s the fact I can’t completely trust the corporate behemoth that is Disney, because who knows what will happen once this dizzying whirlwind of fan service begins to dissipate.

In the meantime: I can’t believe there’s a new Star Wars movie out!

So while I’m not among the mega fans of the series, I have dabbled in the comics, the video games, and Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Ever since playing the awesomely cinematic Shadows of the Empire, I always wanted to see a feature film spin-off of the Star Wars series. And when I went to see last year’s The Force Awakens, there was this pretense that I wouldn’t compare it to the original trilogy, but we all know that was impossible. Yet with Rogue One it’s truly new territory—the first time we get to see a Star Wars film fresh in decades. No need to judge it against what’s come before it, this one’s supposed to stand on its own… at least that was my assumption.

Below there are no bigger spoilers than what you would have seen if you watched all the trailers and followed the official press. If you were adamant about not watching the trailers (in other words: stronger than I), then don’t read any further, either. If you just want to know my opinion on the film: I really liked it, but while I wouldn’t necessarily call it predictable, many of the major plot points weren’t particularly surprising. That’s the problem with prequels in general, I suppose, and I certainly liked this one better than anything in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. (And yes, I did like the prequel trilogy.)

Most of my disappointments with Rogue One are all based on my own preconceptions, which turned out to be wildly inaccurate in a lot of ways. I didn’t know we were going to get CGI Tarkin, a pun-making Vader who feels a little too spry considering we mostly just see him walk around in A New Hope, and one callback after another. I knew this was a story about how the good guys managed to acquire the Death Star plans, but I didn’t know it was going to rely so heavily on what came before it.

Other complaints: the trailers give away a lot more than The Force Awakens trailers did, we don’t get to spend enough time with these characters before they head off for war, and—most disappointing of all—the two human leads are bland and boring in relation to the supporting cast. I’m sure Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are talented people, I just never really believed their characters’ motivations, mostly because the actors aren’t given a whole lot to work with here. Meanwhile Forest Whitaker makes interesting creative choices for a performance in a popcorn flick, and while I’m not a hundred percent on board with the result, the effort is nice nonetheless.

Putting all that aside, Rogue One kicks a surprising amount of ass. The film looks like a Star Wars movie, but doesn’t feel like one until the final act, which actually felt a lot more authentic than the unoriginal ending of The Force Awakens. It’s just unfortunate we saw so much of it in the trailers and press material. Interestingly enough, it’s a lot less kid-friendly than most of the other films in the sense there’s nothing half as lame as a CGI Yoda doing parkour, and I think a lot of children will have a hard time following what’s going on. The best part of it all is director Gareth Edwards may have just opened a door to a darker, harder Star Wars spin-off in the foreseeable future, which is all I ever wanted since Star Wars 1313 was announced (and cruelly canceled).

I don’t think this is a movie for everyone, even though just about anyone can enjoy it. I think it’s a movie intended for people who sincerely can’t get enough of Star Wars. And don’t worry about showing up late because they played nine (mostly terrible) trailers before the movie started.

The Universal Set [Short Story]

The Universal Set
by Grant Gougler

The crazy woman was on the corner again. Of course she was on the corner. There was nowhere else crazy could go.

Bay wondered why the cops hadn’t done anything about her yet. It was obscene she got to spout her nonsense where anyone, including children, could hear it. The woman was beginning to draw crowds!

People came to laugh at her dancing, her screaming, her obscenities, and she fed off their energy and they fed off hers. Bay had laughed at first, too, but now the crazy woman was beginning to worry her.

The woman wasn’t just an anomaly anymore. Now she was there more often than not, standing on the bench for all to see and shouting with every ounce of breath for all to hear. And what she was saying… it was so cruel and mean! How could anyone think like that, much less put that absurd level of badness out into the air where anyone—especially children!—could be exposed to it?

“What’s wrong with her?” Bay’s son asked.

“Nothing, honey. Just pretend she’s not there.”

“Why is she so loud?”

“Just get in the car before your ice cream melts.”

“Maybe we should listen to her.”

“No,” Bay snapped. She’d lost control of her voice, and felt the tears welling up in her son long before they actually pooled in his eyes. “Oh… oh, I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean—”

“I was just asking a question!” he wailed.

“I know. I had no right to shout at you.”

The doors of the car were closed then and the crazy woman’s diatribe had become unintelligible. The air conditioner chilled Bay in contrast to the humid hotness outside. Despite the cold air, the ice cream was streaking down her knuckles and making the skin between her fingers sticky.

Bay could already feel her friends and family sending tendrils of concern in her direction. The tendrils were slow at first, like seaweeds grazing the bottom of a boat, but soon they were enveloping her thoughts piecemeal.

It wasn’t long until the fireflies arrived: macroscopic drones which were as ubiquitous as they were intrusive. A dozen or so surrounded the car, shooting video through the windows.

“That woman out there,” Bay explained carefully, “isn’t an Empath like most people.”

“That’s why I can’t feel what she’s feeling?”

“That’s right. And what she feels… you don’t want any part of it, honey. It’s hatred, plain and simple. And if you catch it, it can damper your own Empathy.”

Bay expected the boy to reel from such a terrible idea, but he did not. Instead she felt the shame shimmering on her son’s forehead like a heat mirage. He diverted his eyes as Bay scrutinized him. All the while, she could feel more and more of the tendrils paying attention to the scene. The story was blowing up beyond a local level as the fireflies streamed it live.

“Son,” Bay said, attempting to limit her tone of accusation. “I can feel your shame. What did you do?”

“Nothing,” the boy said sheepishly.

“Then why do you feel bad about something?”

He was absentmindedly playing with the buttons on the armrest. “I… I kind of took a snapshot of her.”

“You did what?!” Bay had planned to control the anger in her voice, but didn’t catch it in time. First she felt her son’s fear, then a crippling wave of shame from the viewers. The tendrils were angry at her for being so brutish, and they were agitating the water of her psyche. “I’m sorry, honey. I just wanted to know why you would do such a thing. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“I just thought she was interesting,” the boy said with a shrug.

The boy’s shame reminded Bay to keep her own reactions in check. She couldn’t afford slipping again, couldn’t afford sending out any more badness. Couldn’t afford upsetting those who were watching.

She had to empty her head of the bad vibes. If they bounced around in there too long they could cause considerable harm. Everybody knew bad thoughts were bad for you. It was the kind of common sense the crazy woman derided during her paranoid monologues, the very reason she had been abandoned by the system. Bay had to shake the badness from her body. Had to take a deep breath to detox herself of the negativity.

Bay asked her son, as calmly as possible: “Were you going to share that woman’s picture with your friends or something?”

A crescendo of good vibes came washing over Bay and she was delighted by the approval. Most of the tendrils agreed with her delicate ways. Yet there were still holdouts, in the very back of the vast network of minds, tendrils sent by people halfway across the country. They were people she’d never known and would likely never meet, yet they were watching the scene unfold just the same.

The story was blowing up. She could feel it.

Bay knew she could win over the holdouts by the end of the discussion. She had to. If she didn’t they could cast her from the waters like the crazy woman. Sure, the waters were choppy and exhausting, but she could not imagine life without them. Bay needed them, needed their good vibes, and they needed hers.

Everybody needed somebody. Otherwise they would end up like the crazy lady, dancing and screaming desperately for attention: “WATCH ME DRY-HUMP THIS BANANA IN EXCHANGE FOR MY BAD VIBES! FREE LUNACY FOR ALL YOU EMPATHIC FUCKS TO SOAK UP LIKE THE BRAINLESS SPONGES YOU ARE! COME AND GET IT BEFORE IT’S ALL GONE ON THE CORNER OF 15TH AND JEFFERSON!”

“Honey,” Bay said, prodding her son. “You’re avoiding the question.”

“I tried to share the picture,” he confessed, “but the feed disappeared.”

“That’s because she’s not a good thing to share, honey. The things she’s saying aren’t even legal to share, which is why the system automatically flags them. And that’s why she goes outside to spread her lies and her fear: it’s the only place she has left.”

Half the tendrils were placated for the moment, but the other half agitated the water even harder. Bay wasn’t sure why they were so upset. WHAT HAVE I DONE? she asked them and they laughed at her ignorance while a few promised they would kill her.

MUST NOT LOSE THE GROUP, Bay thought in a panic. HAVE TO TURN THEM BACK TO ME….

Bay shocked herself with the realization that this thought had taken place in the conscious part of her mind, not in the subconscious wings where selfish thoughts were permissible. She felt the backlash in the form of bad vibes, a great deluge of them drowning her with pain and shame and hatred and anger. The fireflies were pressing against the windows then, making room for the dozens of others which had been drawn to her disgrace.

The story had officially gone global. And in that moment she and her son were the most famous people on the planet. In that moment…

OH, PLEASE! she begged. PLEASE DON’T CRUCIFY ME! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, I SWEAR!

But the anger came hard and the tendrils were almost uniformly maligned against her. The entire world seemed to hate her then.

SHAME ON YOU YOU PATHETIC EXCUSE OF A PARENT! said the tendrils. HOW DARE YOU TALK TO YOUR LITTLE BOY LIKE THAT YOU RAT FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF AN EMPATH YOU STUPID CUNT??!!

As she choked on the shame she glanced at her son in the seat beside her. So peaceful. So innocent. So naive to the badness in the world… naive was better. Naive was good.

Oblivious to what was happening to his mother, the boy had finally begun to control the melting of his cone. His grin was huge as he licked at the ice cream strategically. He was getting the opposite of what Bay was getting at that very moment. There was a kind of economy to the vibes: if you were getting the bad ones, then that only meant someone had to be getting the good ones.

Cowering against the shame, Bay screamed hysterically. Despite the badness, Bay could sense the boy’s polar goodness in the form of great satisfaction: SUCH A GOOD CONE! VANILLA IS MY FAVORITE FLAVOR! The drowning woman reached for the goodness as if it were a lifeline.

I LIKE VANILLA, TOO! she announced desperately. VANILLA IS MY FAVORITE FLAVOR!

Then the swell of anger split again: some of it Pro Vanilla, some of it Team Chocolate. Yet so much of the anger on both sides of the divide was still aimed directly at her.

SHE LIKES VANILLA? OH, I’M SO FUCKING SHOCKED.

I JUST WANT TO STATE FOR THE RECORD THAT NOT ALL VANILLA FANS ARE TOTAL FUCKHEADS.

FUCK YOU, YOU HATEFUL VANILLAMONGER!

FUCK YOU, YOU UNEDUCATED COCK!

The deeper Bay sank, the more the waters calmed. The anger was ripping itself apart as it attacked anything it could: chocolate, vanilla, music, celebrities, and everything in between. It was a snake devouring itself, a trapped animal gnawing off its own foot.

And then, as inexplicably as it all began, it was over. The waters calmed. Bay was forgiven as much as she was forgotten.

So she ate her ice cream, wishing the cops would do something about the crazy woman. The tendrils agreed. All was good again for several seconds.