Sunday, December 21, 2003

A school's fear of horror stories

by Gary A. Braunbeck

Friday I got a phone call from my sister, who was nearly in hysterics because of a series of phone calls she'd just received from, respectively, my nephew's school, the school's psychologist, and Social Services. All 3 are of the opinion that my nephew--who just turned 12--is potentially another Columbine shooter, another Charles Whitman, and another Freeway Sniper.

(An aside: as you may know from the national news, for the last several weeks those of us who live in central Ohio--specifically the Columbus area--have been beset by a series of freeway shootings along 1-270; the sniper, thus far uncaught, has killed one person and wounded several others; all of this has led to a rabid concern which has, as of late, turned into a very unhealthy sort of paranoia, despite the valiant efforts on the part of the authorities to nab this asshole or assholes who evidently have watched Targets one time too many. But that's another rant.)

So how did my nephew--who is frightened of violence in any form--come to find himself labeled a "potential" violent offender?

Horror stories.

I love my nephew, and he loves and respects me. He thinks it's just the greatest thing in the world that his uncle has published ten books, the majority of them in the horror field. My sister has told me more than once that I am the father figure in my nephew's life, and I have no problems with that. (Eric's biological father has been pretty much out of the picture since Eric was 3, and his stepfather doesn't much like Eric and takes every opportunity to remind him of this fact; so the role of surrogate Daddy falls to me.)

Because he thinks I'm the coolest guy walking and breathing, Eric also wants to be a horror writer--a notion I do everything in my power to encourage. But at the same time, I make damn sure that he reads stuff other than horror. (Too much of anything stifles quickly.)

So ... Eric's class was recently assigned to write Christmas stories. Being my nephew, Eric naturally chose to write a Christmas horror story. It's actualy fairly clever--a variation on Poe's "The Cask of Amontilado". It's about a disgruntled elf who, because he refuses to be fat and jolly (he's skinny and grumpy) decides to wall-up Santa one Christmas Eve just so the jolly old fat man will get off his case.

Eric's teacher, while extremely complimentary of the story, was disturbed by its content (which is darkly humorous, in the style of Roald Dahl--Eric has a surprisingly black and sarcastic sense of humor in his stories); then said teacher, who evidently has nothing else in their life to hold their interest, decided to make Eric show her what books he was currently reading for his own pleasure.

So he did.

Eric is currently reading a novel by author Nancy Etchemendy (I may have misspelled her last name, apologies if that is the case) which Nancy signed and gave to him at the last Horrorfind convention in Baltimore. Eric also showed his teacher an autographed copy of Clive barker's The Thief of Always and a copy of Neil Gaiman's wonmderful Coraline, this last being a book he's reading at my urging.

Said teacher then took these books away from him and, along with his Christmas story, marched into the principal's office and threw them on the desk, stating that she thinks Eric has "potential" problems with violence, and that he is "disturbed." The elf in the story is one who's been picked on constantly and decides to strike back. The teacher, principal, and psychologist couldn't for the life of them figure out why Eric might feel this way.

Flash back to four days ago: Eric was being picked on outside the school by some bully who decided it would be funny to trip Eric, who at the time had a handful of evil, evil books he was using to fuel his psychopathology. Eric did not have time to drop said books and shove his arms out to break his fall.

As a result, Eric hit a large rock face-first, gashed his nose, and shattered his glasses; to make it a truly memorable experience, a few shards of glass lodged in his fucking eye and resulted in his having to wear a patch over that eye while the wound heals (the damage was not permanent, thank the Fates, and he'll be seeing fine again in a few weeks).

And yet this assembly of Mensa members at Eric's school couldn't figure out why he felt like he was being picked on.

Hands were wrung, worried glances exchanged, phone calls made.

Eric's "obssession" with horror is "unhealthy" and "might" lead to "potential" violent behavior; Eric Must Be Watched Closely, lest he do the Columbine Boogie between lunch and Arts & Crafts; my nephew is a "potential threat to the safety of the other students"; and Social Services--whom I do not blame, they're only acting on what information has been made available to them, which is their job--will be sending someone to my sister's house to "...observe the home environment."

What has been made crystal clear, though, is that Eric "must" undergo some form of psychological testing to ensure that he's not going to walk into Band class with a rocket launcher and go hunting humans.

All of this because he likes to read and write horror stories.

I am so fucking angry over this I can hardly see straight.

So beware, all of you, one 12-year-old Eric, The Threat To Society; beware, all of you, his unbalanced and dangerous uncle who planted the seeds of psychosis in a young boy's brain; but most of all, most importantly of all, beware those who read and write horror stories; our secret cabal has been revealed, our true purpose thrown into the light, our dark hidden agenda exposed.

We're out to get each and every last one of you. The revolution is coming, and we'll kill you in your sleep with our well-read copies of Ghost Story, The Stand, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, The Vampire Lestat! Charlie Manson and his family got nothing on us, and we're coming to get you.

Beware. Beware.

The horror...the horror.