Monday, May 10, 2010

Playing in the graveyard

I began writing this as a reply to one of Ziggy Kinsella’s blogs over at The Feckless Goblin. I liked the subject so much that I decided to develop the reply into a blog article of my own as well. Be sure to check out Ziggy’s original post here.

My family has owned a cemetery since the 1800s. As a child, I used to play with my cousins amongst the head stones and dirt mounds over fresh graves. It never occurred to me to be frightened of the cemetery's occupants six feet below.

In elementary school I was one of the weird kids. Being a bit of an outsider, I was never frightened by the classic monsters. I pitied Frankenstein’s monster and thought the Wolfman got a bad rap. And Dracula? Well, Dracula was just plain cool.

When I was eleven years old, a movie about Jack the Ripper came on television one Sunday night. The hook was that this movie would reveal the “true” identity of the killer. I had to beg mom and dad to let me stay up past my bed time to watch the ending. I immediately regretted doing so. In the last scene that I remember, the authorities dragged away a royal physician as he ranted about “killing whores” and slashed at the air with his empty scalpel hand. For some reason, that image was even more disturbing to me than the recreations of the killings themselves.

Later that night I was just settling down to sleep when I caught a glimpse of my open closet. There in the darkness stood Jack the Ripper, brandishing his scalpel and waiting for me to fall asleep. I leapt out of bed and closed the door. I returned to bed and pulled the covers tightly over my head. Five minutes later, the handle clicked and the door glided open with a slow, agonizing squeak.

I knew Jack the Ripper wasn’t really in my closet. I knew my closet doorknob didn’t work well and was prone to popping open. I also knew that the door had squeaked like that for years. That didn’t make it any less terrifying.

What scared me the most about the Jack the Ripper scenario was the fact that there was no discernable motive. It was unexplainable brutality and, no matter what the movie said, they never found out who the killer really was. With most monsters, books, or other scenarios there is some sense of order. The villain is eventually revealed and has some grand scheme in mind. It may be horrible and barbaric, but there is a reason behind his or her heinous actions. 

The Ripper killings show that human beings sometimes do despicable things for no reason at all. For my painfully logical mind, that is far more frightening than playing in the graveyard.

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