Watch This, Not That: His House vs. Things Heard and Seen

For the most part, the people in horror movies don’t have it so bad, with the exception of whatever’s trying to kill them. Whether they’re being chased by zombies, serial killers, or whatever demonic spirit they’ve let inhabit a doll, their story usually starts off in a nice house with a nice family and everyone including the toddlers have high-paying jobs. (No wonder the rest of the world hates us). So when Netflix released His House, a horror/drama hybrid, I was pleasantly surprised, and impressed.

His House tells the story of a couple seeking refuge after fleeing their native country: the war-torn South Sudan. They survive the horrendous ordeal and arrive in Britain, eventually receiving housing on the outskirts of London. But it’s not just a regular family home like all of the houses in Insidious. It’s a run down apartment that looks like it’s haunted by the last meth head that lived in it.

Meth head ghosts are the least of their concerns, though. Demons are what they’re fighting, and not just to save themselves but to save what they sacrificed everything for. What kind of demons are they? Who wins? You’ll have to watch this week’s Watch This to find out. Netflix’s His House will mess with your head, which I think we all can agree is the best when it comes to horror.

What isn’t the best is when you have a horror movie figured out in the first 10 minutes and then you have nothing to do for the remainder of the 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. This week’s Not That was stretched 110 minutes too long and I sat through all of them. Netflix’s Things Heard and Seen features Amanda Seyfried who plays Catherine, a wife who’s given up her life to support the ambitions of her douche husband.

Right off the bat, we’re given insight that there’s something wrong in their marriage: Catherine has an eating disorder. That revelation is immediately followed by another one: Catherine’s husband George (James Norton) has a wandering eye.

Pretty soon, haunted things start happening. A rocking chair moves on its own. Their daughter sees a ghost lady. Catherine smells gas fumes. All of this freaks Catherine out, but then her husband’s colleague explains that it’s NBD, just a woman ghost who’s got her back. Empowered by her supernatural backup, she starts to make her way out of her shitty marriage. During the time she’s getting her groove back, she discovers that her husband is a liar, stole his cousin’s identity, is a cheater, and then also he commits a bunch of murder.

But, surprise!, the ghost men of the house are shit too. Just as Catherine learns everything that’s bad about George and is about to make her move, George drugs her. And, surprise again!, the lady ghost (whose real/ghost name is Ella) can’t help her because of her dick ex-husband ghost. So George kills Catherine. Then he gets away with it because he’s a man. But then he rides off into the ocean and gets killed by the devil? I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is I sat on my couch rolling my eyes for 2 hours proving that good horror movies are hard to come by, disproving that your eyes will get stuck that way. If you want to try it for yourself then watch Things Heard and Seen. Not responsible for loss of vision or interest.

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Watch This, Not That: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel vs. Demonic

According to Google, the definition of ‘horror’ is “an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust” which simultaneously explains, and somehow does not explain, why there are so many shitty movies lumped into this genre on Netflix. It’s tough to find good horror these days, at least something that’s not brought to us by the news anyway. It just so happens I do not watch the news. It also just so happens that the news watches me because this week’s Watch This is a documentary on a story that made national headlines.

This past week, Netflix released a 4-part documentary called Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel which detailed the disappearance of a young tourist named Elisa Lam. I’d actually heard of this case before, not from the news (thank God) but from my favorite YouTube channel, Top5s. About 6 years ago, one of their videos featured the footage of Elisa Lam in an elevator that shocked the interwebs. When I first saw it, it creeped me out. You see, Elisa Lam was a woman who traveled from Canada to L.A., found herself staying at the infamous Cecil Hotel which is where she was last seen. After she was reported missing, video surveillance captured Elisa in one of the elevators looking paranoid and frightened. That was the last anyone saw her until she was discovered more than 2 weeks later in one of the hotel’s water tanks.

Prior to the discovery of what actually happened to her (she climbed in herself which was most likely brought on by her mental illness), the story itself was something out of a true horror film. In fact, some people compared it to the 2005 film Dark Water. Those people would be conspiracy theorists who decided it was their job to find out (i.e. make up) what happened to Elisa Lam. They would also be the same people who helped pin it on someone who’d never even met Elisa Lam, causing that individual to basically give up a part of his life because of the harassment, helping this documentary land in the ‘horror’ genre thanks to that one tidbit of this story being absolutely disgusting. In fact, the scariest part of this documentary is the incredible amount of people who could afford to spend countless hours investigating Elisa Lam’s case, making it difficult at times for actual investigators to do actual investigating.

Then there’s the former GM of the hotel who gives off serious American Horror Story: Hotel vibes – she plays a great villain. The entire documentary is weird and while it’s definitely a shocker of a story, it’s more tragic than anything. The Cecil Hotel is worth Googling as it’s actually pretty disturbing. However, the only reason you should watch the documentary is to understand what mental illness can do to a person as well as understand how much of a tool you’ll look like if you spread conspiracy theories – particularly ones you made up – about a subject matter that effects millions of people.

Coincidentally, this week’s “don’t watch” is a movie based on demonic possession which some are more than ok with classifying as mental illness. Demonic is about a bunch of amateur ghost hunters (what else?) attempt to become professional ghost hunters by venturing into a house where a mass murder took place with a goal of raising the dead. As you may have figured out, the majority of them die because one of them gets possessed but actually he’s dead and it’s his girlfriend who is possessed but not for real her, her baby is possessed.

Other than that stellar description I just provided, here’s why you shouldn’t watch it: as with most terrible horror films, we’re never told or given any sort of inclination as to what and/or who is possessing people. It could be the devil. It could be something pretending to be the devil. It could be a picture frame. Who knows? Not the screenplay writer, that’s for sure. I give it one star and that’s only because Dustin Milligan, AKA Ted from Schitt’s Creek, is in it.

Watch This, Not That: Mercy Black vs. Our House

I like to consider myself a horror enthusiast, a horror snob if you will. When it comes time to pick the movies I’m going to watch for this column, I can barely get through the horror movie section of Netflix without making a sarcastic remark to myself. I’m very witty. Who decides this belongs in horror?, I always think to myself. I should be getting paid to decide what goes in the horror genre. Amateurs, all of them.

Then I watched a movie titled Mercy Black and what the fuck? First off, Mercy Black is a Blumhouse Productions movie – the people who gave us Insidious – so I should’ve known it wouldn’t be too terrible because Blumhouse can do no wrong, ever, not even if they tried.

Mercy Black is about a woman who is returning home after having spent 15 years locked in a mental institution for assisting in the attempted murder of her friend – very Slender Man. Upon her return she has to deal with visions of the past, weird occurrences in the home, and then, her nephew acting like a murderous weird-ass just like she did when she was a kid.

She sets out to help him by trying to figure out if the thing that made her try to kill is real – AKA Mercy Black – or if she made it up. The more she looks into her past, the more it comes back to haunt her (obviously). But not like regular haunt. Like, fucked up haunt. Like people getting stabbed in the eyeballs haunt. I had to watch a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek to come down off what I saw. I’m not saying this will give you nightmares but any movie that makes me go “the fuck just happened?” is worth a watch.

What’s not worth a watch is Our House. Our House is about a teen, Ethan, who has to leave college to care for his brother and sister after their parents are killed in a car crash. During the day he does the adult thing (job, taking and picking up the kids from school, etc.) but at night, he works on a project: a machine that he hopes will generate wireless electricity.

As you’ve probably guessed, it does not generate electricity; it generates ghosts, two of which are believed the be their parents. At first you’re like, ok, he brought his parents back and now the kids can live with their parents’ ghosts, super cool. But then the little sister starts talking about a little girl ghost she’s been talking to and then the neighbor’s dead wife comes back but in a black shadow/murderous form and then it turns out that the little girl ghost had been killed by her step-father in that house oh and also the parents’ ghosts are not actually their parents but something evil duh.

SOOOO, we’ve established that the ghosts are not the Casper-kind and eventually so does Ethan, but when he tries to get rid of them the neighbor is like “don’t make my ghost wife go away” even though she’s trying to fucking kill everyone and also she looks like what a 1st grader would draw as their interpretation of a scary ghost. Anyway, before all of the ghosts can kill the family, Ethan smashes his machine and the ghosts are gone and then they move out of the house and also it wasn’t actually the house that was causing the problem it was Ethan and his spirit summoner because the ghosts were fine until his wind machine irritated them. So it shouldn’t have been called Our House, it should’ve been called Ethan Fucking Around With Shit He Shouldn’t.

I probably made it sound cooler than it is. Look, it’s a movie about a homebuilt machine that conjures up murder-y ghosts instead of conjuring up electricity or my recommendation.

Ghost Stories: Part 3

In the winter of 2011, my husband and I moved into our very first grown-up house: a duplex. It doesn’t sound grown-up but our rent payment nearly doubled so that was pretty mature for us. The duplex was fairly new so the thought of it being haunted never crossed my mind. Also, I don’t believe “being haunted” is something someone thinks about when moving into a new place.

Our dogs were the first to let us know something was up. Our bed faced the bedroom door so you could see straight down the hallway. On several occasions our dogs would stand in the doorway and bark at the hallway, but would never leave our bedroom. One time, when my husband was out of town, I was in bed watching TV, about to dose off when I noticed both of our dogs turn their heads to face the hallway. They just sat there and stared. It creeped me the fuck out.

Then there was the time me and the dogs were home alone watching Celebrity Ghost Stories (side note: I’m pretty sure a couple of those celebrities were liars). While sitting on the couch with my oldest MinPin, I felt someone walk in back of the couch, and I wasn’t alone. My dog sat up, stared behind me, and began growling while turning his head toward the door, as though he was growling at someone until they left.

The occurrences were non-stop. Every single day I could hear someone walking in our attic. At first I thought it was woodpeckers, then I thought a tree branch was low and hitting our roof. It was neither of those. The duplex had 3 bedrooms, 2 of which we used for storage. The one my husband used was the creepiest. Like my cousin’s old room (in the house we used to share), I could never walk in there by myself.

But the worst was when I got locked out of the house. I had just returned home from dropping off my husband at the airport. I stuck my key in the lock, turned it, went to open the door, and then heard another click. It was the deadbolt, which meant someone was in the house. I immediately called the cops, then my boss who sent someone to wait with me while the cops searched the duplex. They were able to get in easy and of course, they found nothing.

I never found out what or who was in the house. My mom thought it was a little kid but who knows. I also don’t know if the tenants after us experienced anything. What I do know is, the day we moved out a couple of college guys moved in next door and as I was leaving, asked me if the landlord was “cool with people having parties.” So I’m pretty sure if the ghost didn’t get to them, that shit probably did.

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Watch This, Not That: Delirium vs. The Open House

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Watch This, Not That: Halloween Edition. I’m your host, Typical Jenn, and I believe my taste to be better than the know-nothing movie critics that panned the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, one of the best possession movies of all time – FACT. Anyway, I spent my weekend watching horror movies that, for the most part, aren’t well-known so I could report back and give you something to watch this delightful Halloween season.

Let’s begin with my recommendation. If you’re looking for a movie to get into this weekend, I suggest watching Delirium on Netflix. Delirium stars Topher Grace (from That 70s Show which I’ll admit, set my expectations pretty low) who plays Tom Walker, a man who was just released from a mental institution after 20 years. He’s placed on house arrest and sent to live at his father’s house who has since passed away. 

He’s enjoying his newfound semi-freedom for about 7 minutes when shit starts to go down. It starts out with the usual: noises, he starts seeing things. Then, pieces of his past start to manifest like his brother, who’s the reason he ended up in an institution in the first place. The thing is though, he’s a bit mental. So, is he really seeing these things or is it all in his head? My favorite thing about this movie is every time I thought I knew what was going on, I didn’t. It’s not without a few cheesy parts but the twists and turns make up for it – I think you’ll like it.

The next movie I watched was The Open House, also on Netflix. It made approximately zero sense. The Open House is about a mother and son who are forced to move into a relative’s home after their husband/father passes away. The house is up for sale so the deal is they have to be out of the house every Sunday from 10AM to 5PM. 

Weird things happen from the moment they move in. They meet a weird ass lady who is not pertinent to the story whatsoever but keeps making cameos.   More weird things happen in the house like items disappearing and sounds and the hot water keeps going out. Then one night, shit goes from amateur to slasher-ish? Some dude whose face we never see breaks into the house and kills a friend of the mom’s and then tortures the mom and then the son helps her escape but then the guy finds her and just when she gets away again the son accidentally kills her. And then the son escapes but the guy catches him and kills him and then it ends with a car driving to the Open House. 

I don’t know if the open house was how this guy found his victims or if he’d been following them all along. Why didn’t he kill the family who owned it before?! At first I thought it was the town that was fucked up but nope. Listen, I dig movies that make me think one thing and then go in a surprising but even better direction (i.e. Delirium), but this? I just didn’t know what was going on. I don’t think the actors did either, or the directors, or whoever wrote this. I give it negative 134 stars because that’s the exact number of minutes I wasted on this film.

Before that movie I tried watching All Lights Will End. I got about 20 minutes into it and turned it off. I couldn’t get past the terrible acting. Don’t watch that either. Even if it’s the only thing on TV forever there’s absolutely nothing else on it’s either static or this movie – don’t watch it. Carve a pumpkin, take a nap, learn to churn butter. Anything else would be better.

And that’s it for this edition of Watch This, Not That: Halloween Edition.

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Ghost Stories: Part 2

Ever since the incident at our grandma’s house, my cousin and I have been obsessed with ghosts and all things horror. Fun fact: for one of our regular horror movie nights we watched the B-rated movie Doctor Giggles and from that day forward, my cousin wanted to work in the medical field. She was 5. Today, she’s an emergency room trauma center nurse for a major hospital. The point is: no one would be lost if they watched horror movies.

The night we heard those footsteps would be just one of many occurrences for my cousin and I, both together and separately.

When I was 12, I saw my first apparition. I was with my parents and we were headed out of town to visit my great grandmother as she wasn’t doing very well. I was lying down in the back seat of my dad’s truck; I looked up from messing with my portable CD player to see my great grandmother sitting on the other side of the seat. I froze. It was only a silhouetted outline of her but it was her. I sat up and let my parents know what I had seen. Sure enough, when we arrived at our destination we were told she had passed away about an hour prior to our arrival.

Other times it would just be feelings. My mom and I used to spend Christmas Eve night at my godmother’s mom’s house and I was always terrified of her stairs. I would have to brace myself every time I walked passed them. It was like there was someone up there that wanted to make sure I had zero desire to go up those stairs – and I never did.

There are many more stories I have that are like that but the one I’m going to tell you today includes my cousin.

While in college, my cousin and I lived with her then-boyfriend (now-husband) in an older home. We didn’t know the history of it but in our early twenties, it’s not like we really cared. We had a house and it wasn’t a frat house; nothing else mattered.

The first time I discovered something was off about the house, I was in the process of switching bedrooms and needed to buy some new curtains to match the wall paint. I’d been watching Kathy Griffin comedy specials on my laptop and as I made my way out, I shut my laptop because I was too lazy to simply pause it. When I returned, I could hear something playing in my bedroom. At first I thought I was hearing things. As I slowly walked up the stairs I could hear that it was Kathy Griffin’s comedy. “What the fuck?” I thought. I ran up the remaining steps and right when I reached the top, it stopped. I walked into my room and there was my laptop: open and at the end of the special.

I told my friend Joe who lived in the house before I moved in and my story didn’t surprise him. He went on to tell me about a time when he had a friend over who also had a strange encounter. His friend had been upstairs using the bathroom when Joe heard his friend calling for him, asking if Joe needed something. Joe didn’t know what he was talking about. His friend came downstairs and told him that he heard someone running upstairs and then slam the bathroom door, but it happened so fast that he just thought it was Joe because he didn’t see who shut the door.

Joe’s first questions was, “why were you using the bathroom with the door open?” Then it was, “what the fuck shut the door?” They’d been the only 2 in the house at the time.

Not long after the laptop incident, my cousin’s boyfriend left for AirForce bootcamp, so for the next 6 weeks, she and I had the house to ourselves…. or so we thought.

One night we were watching TV in the living room when the light just turned off. We thought the lightbulb had gone out but when I went to hit the switch, it turned back on. It might not sound weird, but we used to have lights that were controlled by a remote so the only way the downstairs lights could’ve turned off was if someone turned the lights on upstairs (they were supposed to be energy savers). Not surprisingly, the lights upstairs were on but nobody else was home with us.

My cousin’s room used to scare me. Every time I walked in there I always felt like there was someone in there watching me. One night we had a slumber party in her room and while reminiscing, her bedroom door began to open. Not all the way, but enough to scare the shit out of both of us.

We never did find out who was in that house, and the occurrences never quit. Eventually I would move out, only to find myself in another an even more active home just a few years later.

Ghost Stories: Part 3 to be published next week.


Watch This, Not That: Malevolent vs. The Final Wish

Not that October (or any month over the last few years for that matter) is normally filled with new horror releases but thanks to the ‘rona, there are now zero. But like everything else, I’m making the most of it: I’m watching horror movies I’ve never heard of and letting you guys know if they’re worth the watch. You’re welcome.

First up: Malevolent. Malevolent is a British horror film that can be found on Netflix and, for being low budget, is pretty good. The plot: a brother (Jackson played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and sister (Angela played by Florence Pugh) run a fake paranormal hunting operation in which they con people into believing they’re speaking to their deceased loved ones and helping them crossover. It’s basically like every ghost hunters/psychic show that’s on TV now.

Angela wants out of the paranormal game but after Jackson gets in deep with some loan sharks, she agrees to take on one final case to help him pay off his debts however, this isn’t like any other case they’ve taken on.

The duo and their team have been asked to help an elderly woman rid her home that’s occupied by several spirits that torment her daily. They accept the job and get to work however, they soon discover that the spirits are just one of many problems they’re about to encounter as the case quickly turns into a fight for their lives.

Do they survive? Only one way to find out: add this to your weekend horror movie viewing list.

Next up: The Final Wish. The only reason I watched this movie is because it features the woman who’s in all the horror movies. You know, Lin Shaye: she’s in almost all the Insidious movies, she was in Nightmare on Elm Street and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Anyway, I figured since she was in it, it might have a decent storyline. It did not. It was as B-movie as they come.

In addition to Lin, the guy from Twilight is in it. No not that one; he’s filming Batman. No, not that one either, although it’s been a minute since he’s been in anything so this type of movie is probably not far off. No, it was that guy that liked Bella and was in the background pretty much all the time. Him. He (Michael Welch) plays Aaron, an aspiring, down-on-his-luck lawyer who heads home following the death of his father. His plan is to help his mom manage his dad’s belongings except, she didn’t ask him to do that and it’s just one more thing he does wrong.

The other thing was finding an urn that grants wishes but also has a devil figurine as its top. And the problem with that is? As you can imagine everything goes to shit including the acting, the plot, and my interest. Basically, everyone dies thanks to his selfish inability to quit wishing for things and then he fixes it by making a final wish: that he die in the car accident that occurred earlier in the movie. But, Uh Oh! He made another wish – what could happen next? He’s dead and everyone else is back alive but something has to happen because of his wish! Hopefully, it’s not a part 2.

I do not recommend unless… no, I do not recommend.

See you next time for Watch This Not That: Halloween Edition.


Halloween, or just 2020?

I don’t know why people keep comparing 2020 to a Quintin Tarantino film. Tarantino films are good – even the fight scenes are delightful. Tarantino movies are entertaining, which is the polar opposite of 2020.

If director comparisons are what we’re after, then I would like to toss M. Night Shyamalan’s name in the hat. Think about it: this year has been nothing but terrible at every turn – just like his movies. You know I’m right.

Anyway, 2020: the year of shit. Luckily, we’re at the tale end of it which also happens to be my favorite time of year: Halloween season. For some of you it’s Everything Smells, Tastes, and Walks Like a Pumpkin season. For me, it’s horror movie-watching, scary story-telling, black like my soul Halloween season and to properly kick it off, I’m going to tell you a story that is perfectly on brand with 2020 in that it’s horrific and it’s also true.

The speed at which 2020 hits is different for everyone. For my sister, it was 72 hours and came in the form of a dead body.

A few months ago, my little sister took the leap into adulthood and moved 3 hours from my parents house into an apartment that we’ll label as affordable, which admittedly made me nervous for her. She was excited. My parents were excited. Both seemed to forget that the year is 2020.

I hadn’t, though. I gave her a little over a week to get settled before I called to check on her – the first words out of her mouth were “dude, you’re not going to believe this”. Just that morning, upon returning home from a job interview, my sister was greeted by paramedics wheeling out a body bag.

Word around the complex was it was the old man who lived RIGHT ABOVE HER. She hadn’t spoken to him but for the first few days in her new apartment, she used to see him all the time: he would hang out on the balcony staring at people. And if that weren’t creepy enough, the rumor was that he’d been in the apartment for a couple of days before he was discovered.

Happy to hear that she was doing well, I asked her to keep me posted on the rest of her 2020.

A couple of weeks went by without so much as a peep, which could mean anything these days, so I decided another call was in order.

This call went a lot better.

Me: “Hey sis! Just want to see how everything’s going!”

Sister: “Dude…”

A few days after our previous call, my sister arrived home to find that the old man had resurrected from the dead. There he stood on his balcony, staring off into the distance. At first she thought he was a ghost, but when her boyfriend said he could see him too, she realized: “holy fuck, who was in the bodybag?”

It was the old man’s wife.

She’d passed away about 2 MONTHS PRIOR and he kept her in the apartment.

“What the fuck?” was what my response. She was like “yeah, she’d been here while we were moving in.” I asked her if she’d smelled anything or if there was any weird type of fluid leaking from the ceiling (because that’s how it works in horror movies) and she said no, which is why she never suspected anything and also you don’t expect to be living underneath a corpse.

“How could she not smell anything?” I can hear you not asking. Apparently, Norman Bates covered the body in kitty litter. I don’t know what brand but as a marketer I can tell you that would make one hell of an ad campaign.

Just laugh, I won’t tell anyone.

Anyway, if that’s not a 2020 horror story I don’t know what is.

Happy Halloween month, everyone!

“The Autopsy of Jane Doe”

Here we are again. Another year. Another October where I, once again, do not have 31 posts relating to my favorite holiday for each day of my favorite month. I have about four. So, here is my first post for Typical Jenn Loves Halloween But Also Loves Procrastination So Instead Of Reading A Halloween Post Every Day You’ll Get One Every Sunday.

One thing I feel like I got semi-right was my horror movie intake. I watched a ton of the mainstream stuff but this year I took in a movie that had a limited release in 2016 and I only heard about because my mom and dad happened to watch it on Showtime out of boredom. As is the case with most movies like this, it turned out to be one of the creepiest movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Underground movies are where it’s at. FACT.

“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is one of those movies with a twist, but a twist you won’t see coming. After a body is brought in to a mortuary, the owner and his son begin to conduct their autopsy, each cut bringing on a new strange occurrence – each worse than the last. If I’m not mistaken the movie is currently On Demand, so if you’re looking for a good horror movie to watch I highly suggest “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”. You will not be disappointed.

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For All The Rude People by: Jack Ritchie

A few months ago I read a book of short stories called Not For The Nervous and decided that I would include some of my favorite stories on my site during my 31 Days of Halloween. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

“How old are you?” I asked!
His eyes were on the revolver I was holding. “Look, mister, there’s not much in the cash register, but take it all. I won’t make no trouble.”
“I am not interested in your filthy money. How old are you?”
He was puzzled. “Forty-two.”
I clicked my tongue. “What a pity. From your point of view, at least. You might have lived another twenty or thirty years if you had just taken the slight pains to be polite.”
He didn’t understand.
“I am going to kill you,” I said, “because of the four-cent stamp and because of the cherry candy.”
He did not know what I meant by the cherry candy, but he did know about the stamp.
Panic raced into his face. “You must be crazy. You can’t kill me just because of that.”
“But I can.”
And I did.
When Dr. Briller told me that I had but four months to live, I was, of course, perturbed. “Are you positive you haven’t mixed up the X-rays? I’ve heard of such things.”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Turner.”
I gave it more earnest thought. “The laboratory reports. Perhaps my name was accidentally attached to the wrong …”
He shook his head slowly. “I double-checked. I always do that in cases like these. Sound medical practice, you know.”
It was late afternoon and the time when the sun is tired. I rather hoped that when my time came to actually die, it might be in the morning. Certainly more cheerful.
“In cases like this,” Dr. Briller said, “a doctor is faced with a dilemma. Shall he or shall he not tell his patient? I always tell mine. That enables them to settle their affairs and to have a fling, so to speak.” He pulled a pad of paper toward him. “Also I’m writing a book. What do you intend doing with your remaining time?”
“I really don’t know. I’ve just been thinking about it for a minute or two, you know.”
“Of course,” Briller said. “No immediate rush. But when you do decide, you will let me know, won’t you? My book concerns the things that people do with their remaining time when they know just when they’re going to die.”
He pushed aside the pad. “See me every two or three weeks. That way we’ll be able to measure the progress of your decline.”
Briller saw me to the door. “I already have written up twenty-two cases like yours.” He seemed to gaze into the future. “Could be a best seller, you know.”
I have always lived a bland life. Not an unintelligent one, but bland.
I have contributed nothing to the world–and in that I have much in common with almost every soul on earth–but on the other hand I have not taken away anything either. I have, in short, asked merely to be left alone. Life is difficult enough without undue association with people.
What can one do with the remaining four months of a bland life?
I have no idea how long I walked and thought on that subject, but eventually I found myself on the long curving bridge that sweeps down to join the lake drive. The sounds of mechanical music intruded themselves upon my mind and I looked down.
A circus, or very large carnival, lay below.
It was the world of shabby magic, where the gold is gilt, where the top-hatted ringmaster is as much a gentleman as the medals on his chest are authentic, and where the pink ladies on horseback are hard-faced and narrow-eyed. It was the domain of the harsh-voiced vendors and the short-change.
I have always felt that the demise of the big circus may be counted as one of the cultural advances of the twentieth century, yet I found myself descending the footbridge and in a few moments I was on the midway between the rows of stands where human mutations are exploited and exhibited for the entertainment of all children.
Eventually, I reached the big top and idly watched the bored ticket-taker in his elevated box at one side of the main entrance.
A pleasant-faced man leading two little girls approached him and presented several cardboard rectangles which appeared to be passes.
The ticket-taker ran his finger down a printed list at his side. His eyes hardened and he scowled down at the man and the children for a moment. Then slowly and deliberately he tore the passes to bits and let the fragments drift to the ground. “These are no damn good,” he said.
The man below him flushed. “I don’t understand.”
“You didn’t leave the posters up,” the ticket-taker snapped. “Beat it, crumb!”
The children looked up at their father, their faces puzzled. Would he do something about this?
He stood there and the white of anger appeared on his face. He seemed about to say something, but then he looked down at the children. He closed his eyes for a moment as though to control his anger, and then he said, “Come on, kids. Let’s go home.”
He led them away, down the midway, and the children looked back, bewildered, but saying nothing.
I approached the ticket-taker. “Why did you do that?”
He glanced down. “What’s it to you?”
“Perhaps a great deal.”
He studied me irritably. “Because he didn’t leave up the posters.”
“I heard that before. Now explain it.”
He exhaled as though it cost him money. “Our advance man goes through a town two weeks before we get there. He leaves posters advertising the show any place he can–grocery stores, shoe shops, meat markets–any place that will paste them in the window and keep them there until the show comes to town. He hands out two or three passes for that. But what some of these jokers don’t know is that we check up. If the posters aren’t still up when we hit town, the passes are no good.”
“I see,” I said dryly. “And so you tear up the passes in their faces and in front of their children. Evidently that man removed the posters from the window of his little shop too soon. Or perhaps he had those passes given to him by a man who removed the posters from his window.”
“What’s the difference? The passes are no good.”
“Perhaps there is no difference in that respect. But do you realize what you have done?”
His eyes were narrow, trying to estimate me and any power I might have.
“You have committed one of the most cruel of human acts,” I said stiffly. “You have humiliated a man before his children. You have inflicted a scar that will remain with him and them as long as they live. He will take those children home and it will be a long, long way. And what can he say to them?”
“Are you a cop?”
“I am not a cop. Children of that age regard their father as the finest man in the world. The kindest, the bravest. And now they will remember that a man had been bad to their father–and he had been unable to do anything about it.”
“So I tore up his passes. Why didn’t he buy tickets? Are you a city inspector?”
“I am not a city inspector. Did you expect him to buy tickets after that humiliation? You left the man with no recourse whatsoever. He could not buy tickets and he could not create a well-justified scene because the children were with him. He could do nothing. Nothing at all, but retreat with two children who wanted to see your miserable circus and now they cannot.”
I looked down at the foot of his stand. There were the fragments of many more dreams–the debris of other men who had committed the capital crime of not leaving their posters up long enough. “You could at least have said, `I’m sorry, sir. But your passes are not valid.’ And then you could have explained politely and quietly why.”
“I’m not paid to be polite.” He showed yellow teeth. “And mister, I like tearing up passes. It gives me a kick.”
And there it was. He was a little man who had been given a little power and he used it like a Caesar.
He half rose. “Now get the hell out of here, mister, before I come down there and chase you all over the lot.”
Yes. He was a man of cruelty, a two-dimensional animal born without feeling and sensitivity and fated to do harm as long as he existed. He was a creature who should be eliminated from the face of the earth.
If only I had the power to …
I stared up at the twisted face for a moment more and then turned on my heel and left. At the top of the bridge I got a bus and rode to the sports shop at Thirty-seventh.
I purchased a .32 caliber revolver and a box of cartridges.
Why do we not murder? Is it because we do not feel the moral justification for such a final act? Or is it more because we fear the consequences if we are caught–the cost to us, to our families, to our children?
And so we suffer wrongs with meekness, we endure them because to eliminate them might cause us even more pain than we already have.
But I had no family, no close friends. And four months to live.
The sun had set and the carnival lights were bright when I got off the bus at the bridge. I looked down at the midway and he was still in his box.
How should I do it? I wondered. Just march up to him and shoot him as he sat on his little throne?
The problem was solved for me. I saw him replaced by another man–apparently his relief. He lit a cigarette and strolled off the midway toward the dark lake front.
I caught up with him around a bend concealed by bushes. It was a lonely place, but close enough to the carnival so that its sounds could still reach me.
He heard my footsteps and turned. A tight smile came to his lips and he rubbed the knuckles of one hand. “You’re asking for it, mister.”
His eyes widened when he saw my revolver.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Look, mister,” he said swiftly, “I only got a couple of tens in my pocket.”
“How old are you?” I repeated.
His eyes flicked nervously. “Thirty-two.”
I shook my head sadly. “You could have lived into your seventies. Perhaps forty more years of life, if only you had taken the simple trouble to act like a human being.”
His face whitened. “Are you off your rocker, or something?”
“A possibility.”
I pulled the trigger.
The sound of the shot was not as loud as I had expected, or perhaps it was lost against the background of the carnival noises.
He staggered and dropped to the edge of the path and he was quite dead.
I sat down on a nearby park bench and waited.
Five minutes. Ten. Had no one heard the shot?
I became suddenly conscious of hunger. I hadn’t eaten since noon. The thought of being taken to a police station and being questioned for any length of time seemed unbearable. And I had a headache, too.
I tore a page from my pocket notebook and began writing:
A careless word may be forgiven. But a lifetime of cruel rudeness may cannot. This man deserves to die.
I was about to sign my name, but then I decided that my initials would be sufficient for the time being. I did not want to be apprehended before I had a good meal and some aspirins.
I folded the page and put it into the dead ticket-taker’s breast pocket.
I met no one as I returned up the path and ascended the footbridge. I walked to Weschler’s, probably the finest restaurant in the city. The prices are, under normal circumstances, beyond me, but I thought that this time I could indulge myself.
After dinner, I decided an evening bus ride might be in order. I rather enjoyed that form of city excursion and, after all, my freedom of movement would soon become restricted.
The driver of the bus was an impatient man and clearly his passengers were his enemies. However, it was a beautiful night and the bus was not crowded.
At Sixty-eighth Street, a fragile white-haired woman with cameo features waited at the curb. The driver grudgingly brought his vehicle to a stop and opened the door.
She smiled and nodded to the passengers as she put her foot on the first step, and one could see that her life was one of gentle happiness and very few bus rides.
“Well!” the driver snapped. “Is it going to take you all day to get in?”
She flushed and stammered. “I’m sorry.” She presented him with a five-dollar bill.
He glared. “Don’t you have any change?”
The flush deepened. “I don’t think so. But I’ll look.”
The driver was evidently ahead of his schedule and he waited.
And one other thing was clear. He was enjoying this.
She found a quarter and held it up timorously.
“In the box!” he snapped.
She dropped it into the box.
The driver moved his vehicle forward jerkily and she almost fell. Just in time she managed to catch hold of a strap.
Her eyes went to the passengers, as though to apologize for herself–for not having moved faster, for not having immediate change, for almost falling. The smile trembled and she sat down.
At Eighty-second, she pulled the buzzer cord, rose, and made her way forward.
The driver scowled over his shoulder as he came to a stop. “Use the rear door. Don’t you people ever learn to use the rear door?”
I am all in favor of using the rear door. Especially when a bus is crowded. But there were only a half a dozen passengers on this bus and they read their newspapers with frightened neutrality.
She turned, her face pale, and left by the rear door.
The evening she had had, or the evening she was going to have, had now been ruined. Perhaps many more evenings, with the thought of it.
I rode the bus to the end of the line.
I was the only passenger when the driver turned it around and parked.
It was a deserted, dimly lit corner, and there were no waiting passengers at the small shelter at the curb. The driver glanced at his watch, lit his cigarette, and then noticed me. “If you’re taking the ride back, mister, put another quarter in the box. No free riders here.”
I rose from my seat and walked slowly to the front of the bus. “How old are you?”
His eyes narrowed. “That’s none of your business.”
“About thirty-five, I’d imagine,” I said. “You’d have had another thirty years or more ahead of you.” I produced the revolver.
He dropped the cigarette. “Take the money,” he said.
“I’m not interested in money. I’m thinking about a gentle lady and perhaps the hundreds of other gentle ladies and the kind harmless men and the smiling children. You are a criminal. There is no justification for what you do to them. There is no justification for your existence.”
And I killed him.
I sat down and waited.
After ten minutes, I was still alone with the corpse.
I realized that I was sleepy. Incredibly sleepy. It might be better if I turned myself in to the police after a good night’s sleep.
I wrote my justification for the driver’s demise on a sheet of note paper, added my initials, and put the page in his pocket.
I walked four blocks before I found a taxi and took it to my apartment building.
I slept soundly and perhaps I dreamed. But if I did, my dreams were pleasant and innocuous, and it was almost nine before I woke.
After a shower and a leisurely breakfast, I selected my best suit. I remembered I had not yet paid that month’s telephone bill. I made out a check and addressed an envelope. I discovered that I was out of stamps. But no matter, I would get one on the way to the police station.
I was almost there when I remembered the stamp. I stopped in at a corner drugstore. It was a place I had never entered before.
The proprietor, in a semi-medical jacket, sat behind the soda fountain reading a newspaper and a salesman was making notations in a large order book.
The proprietor did not look up when I entered and he spoke to the salesman. “They’ve got his fingerprints on the notes, they’ve got his handwriting, and they’ve got his initials. What’s wrong with the police?”
The salesman shrugged. “What good are fingerprints if the murderer doesn’t have his in the police files? The same goes for the handwriting if you got nothing to compare it with. And how many thousand people in the city got the initials L. T.?” He closed the book. “I’ll be back next week.”
When he was gone, the druggist continued reading the newspaper.
I cleared my throat.
He finished reading a long paragraph and then looked up. “Well?”
“I’d like a four-cent stamp, please.”
It appeared almost as though I had struck him. He stared at me for fifteen seconds and then he left his stool and slowly made his way to the rear of the store toward a small barred window.
I was about to follow him, but a display of pipes at my elbow caught my attention.
After a while I felt eyes upon me and looked up.
The druggist stood at the far end of the store, one hand on his hip and the other disdainfully holding the single stamp. “Do you expect me to bring it to you?”
And now I remembered a small boy of six who had had five pennies. Not just one, this time, but five, and this was in the days of penny candies.
He had been entranced by the display in the showcase–the fifty varieties of sweet things, and his mind had revolved in a pleasant indecision. The red whips? The licorice? The grab bags? But not the candy cherries. He didn’t like those.
And then he had become conscious of the druggist standing beside the display case–tapping one foot. The druggist’s eyes had smoldered with irritation–no, more than that–with anger. “Are you going to take all day for your lousy nickel?”
He had been a sensitive boy and he had felt as though he had received a blow. His precious five pennies were now nothing. This man despised them. And this man despised him.
He pointed numbly and blindly. “Five cents of that.”
When he left the store he had found that he had the candy cherries.
But that didn’t really matter. Whatever it had been, he couldn’t have eaten it.
Now I stared at the druggist and the four-cent stamp and the narrow hatred for anyone who did not contribute directly to his profits. I had no doubt that he would fawn if I purchased one of his pipes.
But I thought of the four-cent stamp, and the bag of cherry candy I had thrown away so many years ago.
I moved toward the rear of the store and took the revolver out of my pocket. “How old are you?”
When he was dead, I did not wait longer than necessary to write a note. I had killed for myself this time and I felt the need of a drink.
I went several doors down the street and entered a small bar. I ordered a brandy and water.
After ten minutes, I heard the siren of a squad car.
The bartender went to the window. “It’s just down the street.” He took off his jacket. “Got to see what this is all about. If anybody comes in, tell them I’ll be right back.” He put the bottle of brandy on the bar. “Help yourself, but tell me how many.”
I sipped the brandy slowly and watched the additional squad cars and finally the ambulance appear.
The bartender returned after ten minutes and a customer followed at his heels. “A short beer, Joe.”
“This is my second brandy,” I said.
Joe collected my change. “The druggist down the street got himself murdered. Looks like it was by the man who kills people because they’re not polite.”
The customer watched him draw a beer. “How do you figure that? Could have been just a holdup.”
Joe shook his head. “No. Fred Masters–he’s got the TV shop across the street–found the body and he read the note.”
The customer put a dime on the bar. “I’m not going to cry about it. I always took my business someplace else. He acted as though he was doing you a favor every time he waited on you.”
Joe nodded. “I don’t think anybody in the neighborhood’s going to miss him. He always made a lot of trouble.”
I had been about to leave and return to the drugstore to give myself up, but now I ordered another brandy and took out my notebook. I began making a list of names.
It was surprising how one followed another. They were bitter memories, some large, some small, some I had experienced and many more that I had witnessed–perhaps felt more than the victims.
Names. And that warehouseman. I didn’t know his name, but I must include him.
I remembered the day and Miss Newman. We were her sixth-graders and she had taken us on another one of her excursions–this time to the warehouses along the river, where she was going to show us “how industry works.”
She always planned her tours and she always asked permission of the places we visited, but this time she strayed or became lost and we arrived at the warehouse–she and the thirty children who adored her.
And the warehouseman had ordered her out. He had used language we did not understand, but we sensed its intent, and he had directed it against us and Miss Newman.
She was small and she had been frightened and we retreated. And Miss Newman did not report to school the next day or any day after that and we learned that she had asked for a transfer.
And I, who loved her, too, knew why. She could not face us after that.
Was he still alive? He had been in his twenties then, I imagined.
When I left the bar a half an hour later, I realized I had a great deal of work to do.
The succeeding days were busy ones and, among others, I found the warehouseman. I told him why he was dying, because he did not even remember.
And when that was done, I dropped into a restaurant not far away.
The waitress eventually broke off her conversation with the cashier and strode to my table. “What do you want?”
I ordered a steak and tomatoes.
The steak proved to be just about what one could expect in such a neighborhood. As I reached for my coffee spoon, I accidentally dropped it to the floor. I picked it up. “Waitress, would you mind bringing me another spoon, please?”
She stalked angrily to my table and snatched the spoon from my hand. “You got the shakes, or something?”
She returned in a few minutes and was about to deposit a spoon, with considerable emphasis, upon my table.
But then a sudden thought altered the harsh expression of her face. The descent of the arm diminuendoed, and when the spoon touched the tablecloth, it touched gently. Very gently.
She laughed nervously. “I’m sorry if I was sharp, mister.”
It was an apology, and so I said, “That’s quite all right.”
“I mean that you can drop a spoon any time you want to. I’ll be glad to get you another.”
“Thank you.” I turned to my coffee.
“You’re not offended, are you, mister?” she asked eagerly.
“No. Not at all.”
She snatched a newspaper from an empty neighboring table. “Here, sir, you can read this while you eat. I mean, it’s on the house. Free.”
When she left me, the wide-eyed cashier stared at her. “What’s with all that, Mable?”
Mable glanced back at me with a trace of uneasiness. “You can never tell who he might be. You better be polite these days.”
As I ate I read, and an item caught my eye. A grown man had heated pennies in a frying pan and had tossed them out to some children who were making trick-or-treat rounds before Halloween. He had been fined a miserable twenty dollars.
I made a note of his name and address.
Dr. Briller finished his examination. “You can get dressed now, Mr. Turner.”
I picked up my shirt. “I don’t suppose some new miracle drug has been developed since I was here last?”
He laughed with self-enjoyed good nature. “No, I’m afraid not.” He watched me button the shirt. “By the way, have you decided what you’re going to do with your remaining time?”
I had, but I thought I’d say, “Not yet.”
He was faintly perturbed. “You really should, you know. Only about three months left. And be sure to let me know when you do.”
While I finished dressing, he sat down at his desk and glanced at the newspaper lying there. “The killer seems to be rather busy, doesn’t he?”
He turned a page. “But really the most surprising thing about the crimes seems to be the public’s reaction. Have you read the Letters from the People column recently?”
“These murders appear to be meeting with almost universal approval. Some of the letter writers even hint that they might be able to supply the murderer with a few choice names themselves.”
I would have to get a paper.
“Not only that,” Dr. Briller said, “but a wave of politeness has struck the city.”
I put on my coat. “Shall I come back in two weeks?”
He put aside the paper. “Yes. And try to look at this whole thing as cheerfully as possible. We all have to go some day.”
But his day was indeterminate and presumably in the distant future.
My appointment with Dr. Briller had been in the evening, and it was nearly ten by the time I left my bus and began the short walk to my apartment building.
As I approached the last corner, I heard a shot. I turned into Milding Lane and found a little man with a revolver standing over a newly dead body on the quiet and deserted sidewalk.
I looked down at the corpse. “Goodness. A policeman.”
The little man nodded. “Yes, what I’ve done does seem a little extreme, but you see he was using a variety of language that was entirely necessary.”
“Ah,” I said.
The little man nodded. “I’d parked my car in front of this fire hydrant. Entirely inadvertently, I assure you. And this policeman was waiting when I returned to my car. And also he discovered that I’d forgotten my driver’s license. I would not have acted as I did if he had simply written out a ticket–for I was guilty, sir, and I readily admit it–but he was not content with that. He made embarrassing observations concerning my intelligence, my eyesight, the possibility that I’d stolen the car, and finally on the legitimacy of my birth.” He blinked at a fond memory. “And my mother was an angel, sir. An angel.”
I remembered a time when I’d been apprehended while absentmindedly jaywalking. I would contritely have accepted the customary warning, or even a ticket, but the officer insisted upon a profane lecture before a grinning assemblage of interested pedestrians. Most humiliating.
The little man looked at the gun in his hand. “I bought this just today and actually I’d intended to use it on the superintendent of my apartment building. A bully.”
I agreed. “Surly fellows.”
He sighed. “But now I suppose I’ll have to turn myself over to the police?”
I gave it a thought. He watched me.
He cleared his throat. “Or perhaps I should just leave a note? You see I’ve been reading in the newspapers about …”
I lent him my notebook.
He wrote a few lines, signed his initials, and deposited the slip of paper between two buttons of the dead officer’s jacket.
He handed the notebook back to me. “I must remember to get one of these.”
He opened the door of his car. “Can I drop you off anywhere?”
“No, thank you,” I said. “It’s a nice evening. I’d rather walk.”
Pleasant fellow, I reflected, as I left him.
Too bad there weren’t more like him.