Thursday, September 22, 2011

Minions of Misery

wicKED of the "Something wicKED this way comes" blog picked me to be one of the inheritors of the "Minions of Misery" title. Something like a chain letter, only with the dark piquancy of terrible secrets. So, I am bound to share with you A) Dark Book, B) Dark Film C) A Dark Secret of my Past, before passing on this mantle to three lucky souls.

Dark Book

The House With a Clock in Its Walls
-By John Bellairs
and illustrated by Edward Gorey

Not particularly dark, being a children's novel, but this book had a huge impact on me when I was a child. I read it one summer, as part of the library reading program, and being the weirdo monster kid that I was, I only really read books about devils, werewolves, and vampires.

But The House With a Clock in Its Walls is something special. The characters stuck with me long after reading. I had vivid dreams of adventures with Lewis, Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman. The house at 100 High St seemed something out of my own unconscious mind.

It begins with recently orphaned Lewis Barnavelt arriving in the quaint town of "New Zebedee" Michigan, where he is to become the charge of his good-hearted Uncle Jonathan, who turns out to be a gen-yoo-wine wizard. Jonathan lives next door to his best friend, and honest to goodness witch, Florence Zimmerman. Jonathan's house is a grand mansion built by its previous owners, the malevolent wizards Isaac and Selenna Izard.

Lewis discovers that Jonathan roams the halls of the mansion after hours, stopping all of the hundreds of clocks in the house for the night. All but the one he can't find, the titular clock in the walls, a mysterious device left somewhere in the house by the insidious Izards, to tick away the seconds 'til doomsday.

The mystery of the clock aside, Lewis settles in to a happy life with Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman, and his not quite as happy life at school. Lewis is bullied by the other kids, he doesn't quite fit in. He only has one friend, Tarby, a kid who is seemingly everything that Lewis isn't. Strong, brave, and coveted for his talent at sports.

But their friendship is tenuous at best, so Lewis plots a plan to secure their flagging friendship. He'll use Uncle Jonathan's magick books to cast a spell, just a little Halloween trick to impress Tarby.

I really sympathized with Lewis, myself being a shy-uncoordinated-tubby little dork. I knew painfully well the feeling of alienation on the schoolyard, and the fear of losing your one and only, but largely incompatible, friend. So I understood how Lewis could stumble into dark powers, with only the best of intentions. How Lewis could unleash the dark forces that he did, without intending to.

I picked up a collection of the Lewis Barnavelt stories at Smith Family Bookstore, and I still read this every year. It's written for children but it doesn't pander. The author John Bellairs respects the intelligence of his juvenile audience and like the best children's cinema, it's just as heartfelt for adults as it is for kids.

Dark Film

Sante Sangre (Blood Saint)
-Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky

I debated whether I should choose this for my dark film. It's more than just dark, and more than just a horror film. It delves into the fractured psyches of characters with broken souls.

Much like Peter Medak's excellent "The Ruling Class" it's a movie that seems to delve deeper and deeper, darker and darker. There are no reprieves, no cinematic hand of god, to save the characters from the fates that unfold for them. It has no mercy, much as life shows us no mercy.

More than anything, it reminded me of how it felt to be a child, growing up in a world of seemingly mad adults.

Sante Sangre is a film about a boy, Fenix, the son of the abusive circus ring-master and knife thrower. Fenix mother is a trapeze artist, and the leader of a sacrilegious catholic cult, that worships a saint of their own choosing, a little girl whose arms were cut off during an assault. Alma, deaf and mute, is the daughter of the tattooed lady, the target of the knife throwing act, and mistress to the knife thrower. Together, Fenix and Alma perform a magic show in the circus, and rely on each-other to weather to excesses of their parents dark compulsions.

The film follows the story of Fenix and Alma's traumatic childhood, and then their traumatic adulthoods. A story of pain, and perhaps catharsis. I don't want to say too much, I think that the film needs to be absorbed moment by moment, without expectations. I was more or less paralyzed while watching it.

Dark Secret

It's really hard to think of a dark secret. I'm not altogether secretive, and honestly, my conscience is pretty clear. If I've done misdeeds, I'm pretty open about them. But I thought of one story that I haven't had cause to recall recently. It probably is a secret, if the others involved don't recall it.

When I was kid, I had two friends on my block, one was a girl and one was a boy. We had a creek, despite growing up in the city, around the ghetto, a thin sliver of jungle forest ran behind my house. We played in the creek sometimes.

One time, we were exploring, when we found a dead cat. I think it was black, and it laid, dry, flattened, and tough, safely away from the waters edge. We were sort of overcome with the revelation of death, entranced. We agreed that we should do something with this cat. Maybe we wanted to honor its life, offer it a proper burial. Maybe we were a little drunk on feeling of triumph over death.

We each found a stick, and pushed it down the creek bed, chanting a song about the dead cat. I don't remember the words, or the meaning of the chant. I think we went a little mad. It was ritual, compulsive and inexplicable. We slid it over concrete and sand. Down the creek-bed, to the waterfall. The water poured off of a concrete wall, over a fifteen foot drop, into a pool that flowed into a man-made tunnel. We cheered as we pushed the dessicated cat over the brink. It stayed there for a while, in that pool. Stupid street kids went swimming there sometimes, the water was probably toxic, running through the city as it did. But it was also tainted by that dead cat.

I'm not sure what came over us that afternoon. We reveled in what we were doing. Afterwards I was frightened, I've been a very composed person since, afraid of the dark forces that I learned could overcome people. I became hyper-sensitized to my own unconscious compulsions.

Years later we would explore further down the creek, even into the tunnel. We always fancied we could see the cat's skeleton, still bobbing in the algae black water.

-=~ & ~=-

Now, three more victims, I'll choose:

V is Vivienne Moss inhumed by a vamp

N is for Necropolis who choked on a nail

D is for Dr. Theda found dumped in a ditch


  1. Ah, another Minion of Misery! I love the cover of the book you picked. I've never heard of it, but I'm very impressed that the illustrations are by Edward Gorey!! I'll have to do a search for it now.

    I love cats, so I think I would have been traumatized finding one dead, as a child.

  2. Bravo! Good job carrying on the mantle! I really like the description of the book. You can tell it really had an impact on you. I love cats too and I would have freaked a bit out as well.

  3. I absolutely adore John Bellairs. And actually have a pretty solid collection of original hardcovers from his Johnny Dixon series that I've hung onto. Like you, his work had a grand impact on me as a child and the atmosphere and tension he weaves into his writing remains magical to this day.

    I'll need to check this book out since it's part of a series I've missed over the years. And I'm always in the mood for his style of writing.

  4. @ LGH & KED
    Yeah, Gorey did cover artwork for most of the authors work, and it perfectly encapsulates the mood of Bellairs work!

    I always had a strange detachment from death, particularly as a child, I never really experienced it directly. We grew up with a stray cat that we called "Piewacket". She became quite the huntress. When she grew elderly, she ended up coming to live with me.

    I cried like a baby when she fell ill and had to be put down. I insisted that my father drive up from Cali to bring her back home. She's buried on the hill that leads down to the creek, behind our house.

    @King Unicorn,

    I've read a few of the Johnny Dixon books, none of the Anthony Monday ones. There are only three official Lewis Barnavelt books, and I definitely like them the best. The series was continued after Bellairs death by Brad Strickland, and he did a decent job capturing the feel of the originals.


    I made a rookie mistake, nominating Justine who was already nominated by KED.

    Going with one of my initial choices, the venerable Dr. Theda of

    You have been... selected.

  6. I love this post....that cat story is amazing....I enjoyed how you told the tale so clearly (and creepily - even if unintentional) for your point of view....thanks for sharing.


  7. Thanks for making be one of the chosen ones. Is the a list of the minions of misery so I don't make the same rookie mistake.

  8. Thank You Voodoo Ghoul.... for this presentation as one of the Minions of Misery....
    I have read yours and you stated that I need list a "Dark Book" ( fiction...I would Guess)... a "Dark Film" ... And some "Dark Secret" from my past....I guess that I am supposed to Post these responses on my Blog...
    Please inform me of what to do after that... I will make this Post later this evening ...."Found Dead in a Ditch" somewhere was my Mother's fear when I or my brother were out very late... The Doctor.

  9. @Frog Queen
    Glad you enjoyed it. I remember my creative writing teacher declaring that she couldn't understand anything I wrote. And a professional editor once created a forum account just to admonish me not to quit my dayjob. Ha ha! Glad to see I'm getting at least a little more coherent as a writer



    You are most welcome. So far as I have been able to deduce the list of minions is:

    Fortean Squirrel

    Cherry Neko Saves The World

    Something wicKED this way comes...

    Voodoo Ghoul

    Devil's Eve

    Justine's Halloween

    Vivienne Moss


    Dr. Theda


    @Dr. Theda

    Yeah, post to your blog, and then pass it on to three other bloggers and inform them. Looking forward to your picks.

  10. Well I posted a Notice to the three others.... They were " Horror Digest" .."In the Dark Blog" and October Boy's blog , "Deadwood Cemetery" .. ( I was going to present it unto the "A Very Creepy Blog" but was unable to do so... )
    Not exactaly sure what this Award is But Thank you very much... the Doctor

  11. I can't believe I'm not familiar with The House with a Clock in its Walls, because I'm such an Edward Gorey fan! I love the mysterious cover on that one... Nice Edward Gorey touch with the Gashlycrumb Tinies lines!

    Hey! So, I no longer get to eat the poisoned jam? Or whatever was wrong with the jam... I don't know, I was on here last night and got too tired to comment. So, I don't know the exact kind of jam that killed me off! Oh well, I guess I'm safe now. :) I never even got around to writing answers for the first time I won the award!

    Oh, and I think you've lived a good, clean life if your dark secret is pushing a dead cat with a stick. ;)

  12. Hello Again... after some research... The "Minions of Misery" Award was founded by "Angela Addams" ("Anne Michaud" is Co-Founder) others who received this award are "Little Gothic Horrors" And "Horrorsmorgasbord" I hope I did like I was Supposed to... I am still new to all this..... Never "Blogged" until about 3 weeks ago I am Trying ... I do Not Even know what to post ... just posting things that I have saved while "surfing the internet"... I Love Horror and great "evil characters".....

  13. I gave this award to October Boy to encourage him to reach for his "Potential"
    The other ones, A Very Creepy Blog" And The "Horrors of It All" ... I was unable to contact ...Thus I Chose my "follower" ... Deadwood Cemetery"...
    Thanks again Stacey...