10/30/2012 - 5:43pm
Season of the Witch
by Eric Myers

M3LU51n3 - 61107 Remix (by Dave Senecal)

I have this friend. A writer of pretty good prose and godawful poetry (which even he would admit) A playwright in remission with the dramatic impulse re-emerging (he's always been a drama queen) And my friend? He has this little problem. Every October, he wants to write the ultimate horror story or ghost story or other Eldritch indulgence. But he can't. Not because he's blocked. Because he's afraid.
He's mystically minded but grounded enough in reality to avoid any label of “superstitious.” Kind of like Edgar Cayce targeted by the mob and fitted with concrete boots for a quick dip in the Hudson River. (Actually, now that you mention it:  a real freak show anomaly.) He spent years shaking off the shackles of his religious upbringing--only to have certain elements replaced by equally intractable beliefs, even if they are unencumbered by orthodoxy or dogma. And the belief that holds him back each Halloween season? It all begins with etymology.

As he's told me countless times: "spelling" actually means "spell-ing." As in, yes, casting a spell. Because to our ancestors, the written word was magic, the mystical art of bringing down the abstraction and ephemera of spoken language and concretizing it in alphabetic expression, immortalizing it for all time, the thoughts of the dead and the soon-to-be-dead there to be accessed by anyone and everyone forever and ever Amen.  No longer did orality constrain reality. No longer was knowledge circumscribed by memory. With the advent of spell-ing, bards could bark at us from centuries in the past. Philosophers could channel their thoughts through our voices from their millennia-old rest with the worms. From my mouth could come the wisdom and the ridiculousness of the ages, shot out from my lips as if the thoughts were my very own.  Cultural memory and civilization’s march were no longer limited by the too-small processors of the synapses. Reality was suddenly boundless. All through the glyphs that were most assuredly magic.

I always appreciated the figurative aspect of this belief. And, as a writer: of course I believe in the power of words to shape reality, expand consciousness, and generally impact the world according to the dictum that "sticks and stones may break your bones but words can fuck you up for life." (even if we are perhaps entering a post-literate age in which this is beginning to feel less true…but more on that later.) But my friend? He believes it literally. That laying down his fictions might warp reality according to the dictates of the tale. Actually, scratch the "might." He believes the very act of writing, of laying down your intention, fictional or no, he believes this act catalyzes our context. For good or for ill, depending on the words. Which means that all those terrible tales of twisted terror he'd love to weave this time of the year?  He doesn’t dare. Lest the horrors come true.

Now before you think he's a complete schizophrenic: he doesn't believe that writing about a zombie apocalypse will summon hordes of shambling brain-eaters from their worm-ridden graves. Or that getting all Lovecraftian will conjure legions of tentacled terrors to enslave us to their diabolical will (actually: can we even call those desires "diabolical," any more than we can say that our desire to, say, eradicate mold from our bathroom tiles is so? Again--another time….) He's grounded enough in those concrete Caycean boots to know that reality can't be changed that willy-nilly according to some writer's will, no matter how good the writing may be. But: just as we've always been told to be careful what we wish for, he knows to be careful what he writes about.

I've seen his belief system manifest often enough to think he might have a point. He's written about some of the most improbable (yet completely possible) scenarios, often with the protagonist existing as little more than a cipher of himself, and voila!  That stuff he wrote about happened. Some of it good. Very good. And some of it personally devastating.This hasn't happened once or twice. It happens all the time. I've also seen him prognosticate events in the broader culture, from the trivial to the traumatic. Some of these "predictions"  felt more like synchronicity than causality. After all, any writer worth his words should have his ear close enough to the train tracks of the cultural psyche that he can see a few things coming down the line. But others he’s predicted? (or caused?) Others have made me want to rewrite that tragic ending to a story I might have been basing, however loosely, on my own life.

Stephen King said that he had to shelve Pet Sematary for years because it was all too awful; it even scared him. I wonder if he's a true believer in spell-ing as well. Not that his child could be buried in the yard and come back as an undead, brain-dead revenant…But was he worried that a child could metaphorically die if he put too much intent into the telling of that tale? That one of his kids could "die" to his parents and come back zombi-fied, say as an addict or a depressive? As some figurative analogue of the dead kid in the book?

I can't think too long and hard on such imponderables--not when I've got this essay to finish. And while I'm no true believer: I do believe that anything is possible (or almost anything). Especially when we have so little idea of what so much of our brains are doing most of the time. Could the activation of certain components of our consciousness have some occult connection to the broader workings of the universe? Could our consciousness be the key to coding the software of the world around us, creating causes and effects according to "laws" of "physics" as of yet undiscovered? And even in our media-saturated, image-obsessive age,  don't stories still control our very reality? Whether it's the grand narratives of religion or the not-so-grand delusions of politics? (Or the little stories we tell ourselves about ourselves every day?)

One thing I do know: I wish mass consciousness believed my friend’s theory to be true. If everyone acknowledged the power our intentions and our words actually have, or maybe have: then perhaps we'd use them differently. More carefully and conscientiously. Like my friend does. As individuals and organizations and cultures. Wouldn't that be nice….

But for now, I really can't ponder the imponderable any longer. Because I've got a piece of flash fiction to write. You see: it's for this friend. This friend who's become afraid of his own words. And it goes a little something like this:

He sat down to write the worst thing he could possibly imagine, to name it as it was and see it the worst it could be and thus get it out of his head and safely onto the page, circumscribed by language as surely as a summoned demon is constrained within a pentagram. And he wrote it all down. And he waited and he waited and he waited, from day until night until day again. And nothing happened. Nothing at all. All because of the other story he had written, the one that would always remain unread, sealed in an envelope and tucked away in his dresser, a harbinger of many more nothings to come.