Yesterday, I applied for a writing job on one of those “creepy content organizations. The job list description was filled with SEO heavy words like: ghosts, jack the ripper, exorcisms, clowns, toy box killer (wtf?), bog bodies (wtf x2). And then, sort of a celebrity ghoul roster that applicants should be familiar with: Jeff the Killer (never heard of him), Eyeless Jack (saw a picture of him once), and Slender Man (heard of him, but what? I don’t get it.)
The job post went on to say that the kinds of stories they were looking to publish were of the “truly creepy and macabre variety” and that if you weren’t comfortable with that, then you might want to see if Chicken Soup for the Soul is hiring.
Since Halloween is kind of my jam, and I was watching slasher flicks at an age when I should have been selling Girl Scout cookies instead, I hit the apply button. Because I’m down with the dark side. And I think I got the gist of what they were looking for — creepy stuff that middle-school kids pass around on their phones and read to each other on sleepovers. Got it.
I filled out the application, ran through their filter questions, and hit submit.
But today I’m troubled because I’ve come to a revelation. Even though I knew what they were looking for, or at least I thought I did, I don’t know if I can deliver that kind of content anymore.
This week there were two stories in the news that rattled me to. the. core. They weren’t “spooky.” They were maddeningly disturbing, and I can’t seem to shake them.
I was going to supply links to the stories, but I don’t want to contribute to the hit-machine, particularly the second story, which has unfortunately gone viral. It is horrifying on its own merits, but now that social media has fondled it with its dirty judgmental fingers, its become a whole new level of disturbed ground.
The news stories aren’t the point here anyway, but I will briefly reiterate.
The first was of a man who had set fire to his house a few days ago to hide the bodies of two women whom he had decapitated while they were all doing drugs. The perpetrator said, “a voice in my head was telling me to kill them.”
This happened in the city I live in, by the way, about six miles from my house. They found one of the heads in a backpack.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the second story is the one I can’t stop thinking about. Apparently a 12-year old girl in New York State live-streamed her own suicide. The video is viral, out of control, spilling across the universe to whoever wants to see it. It’s been shared so many times there is no chance of it ever being taken down. A video, apparently of her body swinging from a tree for twenty minutes while her family is heard in the background calling her name trying to find her.
Now here’s the part where I admit something I’m ashamed of. Against my better judgement, my morbid curiosity pulled up the video. I only watched a few minutes of it. A beautiful girl who looked much older than 12, with carefully applied make-up, intricately pinned up hair, and a determined and stoic look on her face marched silently over to a tree. She had the camera on her face. Then the camera panned up to a tree, naked branches stretched out over us, the viewer, like an enormous umbrella for a few long minutes. I wondered, with horror, which of the branches was going to be cursed with this task, which would be forced to support her instead of letting her fall to the ground. Then, I realized the reason it was just a static shot of tree limbs was because she must have laid the camera down on the grass and was getting the rope and bucket ready.
I heard my fourteen year old daughter coming up the stairs and I turned it off. Thankfully. I won’t watch the rest. I’m ashamed I watched as much as I did. It felt dirty. It was a private painful moment and I had no right to it, despite the girl’s determination to live stream this horrific act to the world. She was only 12 and was not capable of grasping the magnitude of the consequences. (And I would advise against anyone watching it. This is someone’s daughter and sister. This is pain and devastation and it’s real. This girl is never ever ever going to put on pretty makeup and fix her hair so nicely again. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s sad, and it’s frustrating, and it’s ugly, and it’s scary, and you can’t unsee it. So please don’t).
Then, I had to drive my daughter to school. Actually to a field trip somewhere. As luck would have it, Google Maps gave me directions to drive down the very same street where the first news story happened, the murder/arson house, that street of all places, and that is exactly where I didn’t want to be. I found myself barely watching the road, but scanning all the houses we drove by for crime scene tape. I was very disturbed. I kept asking her questions about her field trip. Where was she going again? Why? Pacific Lutheran University for a lecture on 20th century composers. And I kept sighing, I guess, because my daughter said, “Why do you keep breathing like that?” (Do I tell her? I thought. Do I burden her with this knowledge, too? No, I do not.)
I dropped her off with her class, with lots of people and teachers, at the university, good, good, turned off google maps, and took a different, more familiar way home.
Now am I at home again. I’m thinking about the application I just sent off to a website who wants to write stories about “truly scary things.”
I suppose I could put a few stories together for them, but they will be flat and heartless. They won’t be scary, or at least they won’t be scary to me.
As a middle aged mom of three, it takes a lot more than photoshopped internet boogeymen to raise the hair on the back of my neck. Slender Man? Please. Eat a cheeseburger. And put on some decent clothes for God’s sake.
I’ve discovered my SCARE ME threshold, at least via media and entertainment, is a tough nut to crack.
If I want to be truly terrified all I have to do is turn on the nightly news.
What I’m Reading Now: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena