Recently, I found myself ambling along the dusty trails of the high desert here in central Oregon. I can look back and say with all honesty that I was ambling that day, as I walked in the sun without destination but with an insulated cup of whiskey and coke on ice in my hand and a stupid-looking, wide-brimmed hat on my head. I so rarely get a chance to amble. It was nice.
I was musing on this very niceness when my eye caught something in the trail ahead of me.
It was a small crust of bread, like something a picky child might peel off his sandwich. I walked on, paying it almost no mind. Some squirrel will get a treat, I thought. Or a bird. It was the second crust I saw that stopped me. Not thirty feet further up the track, a small piece of sliced bread. I took the buds from my ears and the music fogging my brain lifted. I took a sip from my cup and fogged it up again. It couldn’t be…
Now, I know that it takes more than two points to prove the existence of a pattern. Just as I know that two crusts in the dirt do not a trail of bread crumbs make. But it rang a bell for me, as I’m sure it will for you. Though my trail did not wind through a dark Teutonic forest and I don’t think Jeremy Renner* was involved, I was immediately reminded of the story of Hansel and Gretel, the lost children who wandered woods and escaped the cannibal witch in the candy house.
I stole a quick look around. I wasn’t looking for witches, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a grown man. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a minute to look up into the trees for the telltale shimmer of the cloaked Predator. I know, I know. Predators tend to prefer tropical climates. But they did fight Danny Glover in the Detroit or some other depressing city, so who knows? Anyway, alien man-hunters seem much more feasible to me than witches that use glucose for building material and wait for all the kids that seem to be hanging out in the scary forest to wander past.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. Fairy tales are terrifying. And I am not one who is easily terrified by stories. I love horror fiction and, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, am an avid reader of true crime stories. These habits have taught me some things. Horror fiction, for example, has taught me to fear clowns and split-personalities and ancient Nameless Gods that sleep in forgotten cities waiting for careless or ambitious humans to free them. And true crime has taught me that if you’re going use duct tape to bind your victims you shouldn’t tear it with your teeth. DNA exists, you guys. This is day one stuff.
But the old fairy tales that come down to us from generations past are brutal. Somebody is always getting eaten or maimed or blinded. Life is worthless in these old stories, and this fact has been written about by many before me. Grad students even now look back through the old stories collected by the brothers Grimm and many other sources, finding what they consider to be evidence of everything from misogyny to racism to materialism. These stories are damaging the audience they are intended for, they claim, an assertion made more shocking by the fact that the audience these stories are intended for are children. Why do we still expose our children to these horrible stories?
I have a few friends who are unwaveringly positive in their outlooks. “To dwell on negativity is to invite it into your life,” these friends tell me every chance they get. They find my reading habits suspect and my taste in movies baffling. “Spending all this time thinking about murders and criminals, it’s like putting up a sign telling the universe that you want those things.” When this particular friend says something like this, I usually reach for the bottle. It’s a game I invented. Every time he says ‘the universe’ when he means ‘god’ but can’t say ‘god’ because he’s an atheist vegan localvore with an image to think about, I take a drink. I remind him that to ignore any aspect of life is to be willfully naïve, and he responds that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that state of being if it results in a greater net happiness. We usually have pretty good conversations if he can keep the universe talk to a minimum so I don’t fall out of my chair.
Maybe all this meditation on the darkness of life does draw negative energy to me. Does that mean the reverse is true? I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would do if I won the lottery, too, but that doesn’t seem to be drawing any financial energy toward me. I just wish ‘the universe’ would get off his big, bearded, robe-wearing ass and send some free money my way.
See? It doesn’t work. I think I’m going to go back to watching Deadly Women on Discovery. It’s about female serial killers, and it’s actually 30- 40% less sexy than it sounds, but I’ve already watched every episode of Solved and Deadly Attraction, so here we are.
I continued my walk that day, finding my way to the banks of a cold river without seeing another piece of bread. As I put my chair in the water and removed my shoes for a cooling soak, I thought about how stupid it was to use bread to mark a trail in the forest. Stupid kids. There are a hundred things in the woods that eat bread.
*Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is an actual movie that happened. In 2013. I haven’t seen it, but I assume it’s quite bad.