Disclaimer to my Gentle Readers: Today's post touches on a spread of subjects that some may find disturbing. As such, if you are one of many who are put off by the subject of serial killers and their crimes, please read no further, and wait with bated breath for tomorrow's post written by someone with much less darker fare than I.
Inauguration day. Confetti. Music. Lots of men in suits and women in amazing dresses. They'd be vintage today, even retro. Not so, then.
Okay, maybe not confetti. It was in the middle of a bank panic. Oh, and a major depression—the Great one, actually. So possibly a little less swank than usual. Nevertheless! On this day, March 4th, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Uh huh. What a load of crock.
But then, politicians aren't exactly known for their overarching grasp of a situation, yes? It's a very pat statement: the only thing there is to fear is, well, fear. That's all! Fear will getcha every time.
All right, you. Listen to me. I'll tell you what else there is to fear!
Monsters that Live
I fear the monsters that walk among us, disguised as every day neighbors, lovers, spouses and friends.
Among my many addictions and obsessions, a certain unhealthy fascination lingers for True Crime. Most notably, serial killers. I have read my share of books involving serial killer plots and threats, and I admit to having one or two of my own lined up in the future—fun-yet-twisted game: let's see how many standard sayings like "lined up" can be turned into serial murders!—so it's not as if I'm against using real life as inspiration for fiction.
But let's be serious for a second...
These people—these monsters wearing people faces—are real. Not just real, but out there. Right now. Hunting. Stalking. Killing. Are you shivering yet?
Okay, so that's a little sensationalist. It's impossible to get an accurate, or even remotely accurate, number of active serial killers at any given time, partly due to the—let's face it: erroneous—belief that a murder is always just a murder. (Do not, might I add, get me started...)
That said, the FBI has suggested that they believe there are between 20 and 50 unnamed active serial killers in the United States.
Fifty? That's almost one for every state! (Everyone knows the only bad thing to ever happen in Hawaii is volcanoes and tourists, so let's assume for now that Hawaii is serial-killer-free, okay? Humor me.)
And because I'm sick in the head, I have to read about them when they manage to show up in my radar. Usually, this is through a book that comes out, a media reference in the news or in a TV show, or a passing comment from someone much more learned than I.
Trust me on this, FDR. I totally fear serial killers.
In Douglas Preston's The Monster of Florence, the author and the contributor (Mario Spezi) take us on a grueling, harrowing, downright nerve-wracking ride into the strain that a monstrous serial killer causes at the height of his, or her, reign. And make no mistake, it is a reign. We only see glimpses of this in such popular TV shows as Criminal Minds, and even less in shows that aren't as tightly intertwined with serial killers and catching them as that one is.
Curious, I went looking to see where the fact met drama, and I found (as I always do) the Tru Crime Library. And despite my horror at the events unfolded for me in very plain terms, despite the list of victims, and the descriptions of the violence that made my stomach twist up in knots, I read it all.
Please forgive me, dear readers, as I lapse into a language best suited to describe my feelings on the subject. In the immortal words of, oh, probably someone on Jersey Shore or The Real Desperate Housewives: That is some fucked up shit, ya'll.
Because it is.
And who can forget the tragedy, mystery and worse of the legendary (and still unsolved) Black Dahlia? Shall we go back further?
The female serial killer with the most bodies attributed to her name is a Countess—that's right, you guessed it: Countess Elizabeth Bathory. While she most definitely existed, her guilt is still hotly debated by historians the world over. Personally, I can see why her legend has reached across scenturies to inspire some fo the world's scariest ghost- and vampire tales.
Wait, you want to go even further than that? Very well: his name is Gilles de Rais, and among his many exploits, he is best known as a prolific serial killer of children. This is the 1400s, my darlings, and he rode as a commander in Joan of Arc's army. Can you imagine?
I could, and didn't want to, so I read about it instead. And these are the ones that are dead and gone. What kind of legacy will tomorrow's bring?
Are you afraid yet? I am.
Monsters that Don't
Let's be honest. Ten years ago, you could pick up a paranormal romance book and expect to find two things: 1. your protagonists were human, and 2. the antagonist was a monster. Monster. Mileage does, in fact, vary, but the average paranormal romance involved the struggle between good and evil—and evil was very decisively synonymous with "not human".
Frankly, I enjoy the view of "monsters" as the "good" guys (as long as we don't sanitize them too much by stripping away anything that makes being a monster a drag—whynoI'mnottalkingaboutanyspecificserieshackcough), but it didn't always used to be.
Take, for example, Supernatural. Can we?
Yes, I think we can.
This show is a pretty good example of the Monsters That Don't Exist (insofar as far as we know) genre. Aside from the very sad fact that I have the world's largest unrequited crush on Sam Winchester, this show also provides a step back into what is rapidly approaching "vintage" paranormal.
The monsters are—are you ready for this?—monsters. Not human. That's right. Vampires. Shifters. Witches. Demons. Paris Hilton. Chupacabras, for crying out loud! Even the humans who are bad guys are invariably being puppeted by monsters.
And the good guys? Are human. I mean, sure, Sam's got a little bit of a weird demon blood thing going on and Dean's feeling a little Touched by an Angel—you know it's gotten totally romancey when one brother gets laid by a demon and the other an angel within two episodes, but I digress!—but the fact is, they're mostly human. (They started straight human, but that's an ongoing series for you...)
Even the non-humans that showed up that we'd expect to be good ended up to be something less than that. At best, misguided. At worse, bigoted monkey-hating featherbrains. Why, no, Uriel, I'm not looking at you.
Anyhow, this used to be the standard for books that boasted paranormal themes, and let me tell you, there were some monsters written in those pages that I can not forget, even if I no longer remember the titles.
But then, let's step out of the paranormal and back into suspense. It's mostly contemporary. There are many romance books whose themes are about the stopping, or surviving, of serial murders. The antagonists in those spine-tingling thrillers is most definitely human. At least in appearance.
Do I find those scarier than any monster in the dark? You betcha, buttercup. Kay Hooper comes to mind. So does Stephen King, at his less paranormal. You know who else freaks me the hell right out?
An author that has carved out a permanent niche inside my memory banks and seems intent on staying for the ride: Clive Barker.
On a lark one day, about ten years ago, I had borrowed one of his many Books of Blood from a friend. I—eh heh—devoured it rather quickly. Much like my fascination with true crime murders, I couldn't tear myself away from story after short story of the strangest, scariest, oftentimes sexualized horror I have ever in my life read.
And I still flash back to them now and again. The young kid pushed into insanity, who then turns into a scary fireman axe-wielding clown? Okay, sure. The girl and entire female-only family with the poisoned, uh, dentata? All... right...
The tourist who watches a village create a living giant of intertwined bodies that goes insane? Unfortunate.
The Sherlock Holmes & Watson tale of the Cthulhu-inspired house whose walls were on a sexual rampage? Awwwkwaaaaard.
And the worst? The one that really, really scared me? The Midnight Meat Train. I can't share the details, it's too horrifying and freaky and gross, but I do recommend you read the short story before you watch the movie. Even the title gives me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies and a terrible fear of late-night mass transit. Is it supernatural? Is it just humanity being sick and twisted?
Is it something older than even that? And how do we know that it does not, in fact, exist?
I leave you, my dear readers, with Katherine Pearson's unwitting counter to the infamous FDR, plucked from Jacob Have I Loved: "To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another."
So... What, then, do you fear? And why?
Karina Cooper is a paranormal romance author for Avon. Her debut novel, Blood of the Wicked—an urban romance set in a world torn apart by a war between the accused and the hunters sworn to kill them—will be released in 2011. She's not really a total freak and promises that despite a very odd and wholly parentally unclaimed fascination with murder and monsters, she won't ever bite you. Of course, Dove ice cream bars—dark chocolate shell, of course—will always stack the odds in your favor... Also, she fears bees. Yes, bees. It's a thing.