Horror and Necropolitics: An Overview of Two Arbitrarily Chosen Films

Before I get started on this, I need to explain a bit about how this piece of criticism came about, to establish my rhetorical situation.

About five years ago at Wal-mart, on a total whim, I purchased a multi-DVD set of 50 “classic” horror movies, wherein classic means “a few famous things in the public domain and a bunch of stuff that costs nothing or next to nothing to license.”  There’s some good stuff in there – like the original Night of the Living Dead, Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, and Carnival of Souls – but for the most part it’s filled with B-movie shlock like The Killer Shrews or Creature from the Haunted Sea.  At the time my plan was to watch every single one of these movies in alphabetical order and write reviews for this blog, but the plan never came to fruition because it was conceived through boredom rather than any actual drive.

However, I decided one good possibility for my Patreon would be to return to these films and, using a random number picker, select two arbitrary movies and attempt to write a comparative analysis of them.  That’s what happened this month, serving up the films The Vampire Bat (1933) and Bloodlust (1961).  The films themselves are totally different in content; the former is a post-Dracula vampire picture while the latter is an awkward ripoff of “The Most Dangerous Game” and, I’d argue, a primitive slasher film ancestor. Unexpectedly, however, they both have in common a central concern: who gets to decide who dies?

Critical theorist Achille Mbembe considers the term necropolitics as a set of political moves, the “ultimate expression of sovereignty” that resides “in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.”  So, for example, the power of the state to order the execution of criminals, or from a critical animal studies perspective, the assumed right of humans to enact wholesale slaughter via factory farms, and things of this nature.  Of particular interest for Mbembe is the explicitly authoritarian valence of necropolitics, the version of it that arises in societies ordered around “the generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations.”  (Think here, of course, of Nazi Germany, but also the many colonial enterprises worldwide and their projects of enslavement and exploitation of certain populations.)

This is heady stuff, but for now we can consider the barest bones of Mbembe’s conception in order to think about what these two not necessarily very good horror films can tell us about the orientation of popular, white American necropolitics over the span of some thirty years.  We’ll begin at the beginning, or at least in 1933, and The Vampire Bat.

Elevator pitch: a small German town is overcome with panic after a rash of mysterious murders in which victims were left exsanguinated with small puncture wounds on their necks.  The city fathers insist that a vampiric curse has returned to plague the town, pointing to local history and folklore to prove it, while police inspector Karl Breettschneider believes there’s a more rational explanation.

The town’s suspicion turns toward a man with intellectual disabilities named Herman, who has no home but wanders the streets and survives on alms.  When he overhears a local connecting the rising bat population in town with the vampire episodes, Herman insists that the bats are his “friends” and “soft like cats”.  As the local then insists, re: Herman, he “prowls the streets all night, just like an animal” and “never works and never bathes, and yet appears well fed always.”  While Herman himself is not played in a particularly savory light (unlike more recent ideas of Oscar-baity depictions of disability in film), he’s also clearly not harmful, as the objection he looks too healthy for a homeless person is patently absurd: he’s cared for by the community, and indeed, the first (witnessed) death in the film is of an old woman who fed him and employed him in minor jobs.  Yet Herman’s proximity to this charitable dead woman only bolsters the town’s suspicions.

The Vampire Bat is doing something very interesting with vampire mythology here.  Lugosi’s Dracula was only three years old at this point, fresh in the public memory, and the idea of suave, composed, and aristocratic vampires was really starting to gel in the popular consciousness.  Of course, these ideas derived from Bram Stoker’s novel, which uses the figure of the Count to embody industrial Britain’s fears regarding a decaying but not entirely dead Continental aristocracy.  However, if you dig back far enough into vampire folklore, you find that as the superstition emerges in the Balkans and Prussia it is particular to the peasant class of those regions.  That is to say, our earliest recorded “vampires” in history were not aristocrats but peasants who supposedly had died but came back to life and looked unusually healthy.  Signs of a possible vampire, indeed, were also generally signs of good health: shining eyes and a ruddy complexion (this is aside from appearing after a reported death and drinking blood, of course).

To reduce a complex historical phenomenon to a simple read for the purposes of argument, it’s easy to see how a myth that pathologizes healthy looking peasants benefits, more or less, the aristocratic power structure dependent upon those peasants by providing a mechanism for the laboring class to be suspicious and resentful of itself rather than its masters.  What’s fascinating about The Vampire Bat, then, is that post-Dracula the filmmakers are revivifying an older version of vampire folklore, as the suspicions of Herman’s unusual good health indicate.

The finale of the film presents a final, bizarre turn of the screw, as a lynch mob descends on Herman, who jumps to his death from a precipice.  It is assumed the vampire problem is solved, and yet – just after Herman’s death a final murder has occurred.  The revelation of the final act is that Breettschneider’s acquaintance and the local doctor, Otto von Niemann, presented thus far as more or less an ally, is actually the murderer.  Sort of.  He’s also, inexplicably, a hypnotist, and he has been mind-controlling his servant to kidnap local people in the night, drag them to his laboratory, and then draining them of their blood – using the similarity to a vampire’s MO to divert suspicion from human agents.

But why does Von Niemann need all this blood?  Because, as he explains, in his experiments he has “created life” and the organism he has somehow conjured is incomplete and not self-sustaining: it needs blood to survive.  The specifics of this are glossed over and the whole turn of events is incredibly weird since, when it is revealed, the “life” Von Niemann has created appears to be a large immobile rock in an aquarium.

How this thing constitutes “life” in any sense of the term is certainly questionable.  And yet, though I might be giving the film too much credit, I think that’s part of the point: Von Niemann justifies his actions by saying he must protect and sustain the new life he has created, and yet how is this thing, this horrible immobile clod, considered exceptional or sacrosanct “life” when compared with the human life of Herman, his caretakers, or the doctor’s other victims?  The vampire, in the end, is metaphorical: Von Niemann’s Promethean technocratic delusions are parasitical upon the community he inhabits.  His role as a doctor doubles his role as a necropolitician: he is there to heal the sick, but in fact grooms some of his patients for inevitable, instrumentalized slaughter for the sake of his weird barnacle child.

Bloodlust comes a number of years later, and yet there are some striking similarities to consider.  As already mentioned, it’s a ripoff of the classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” – a group of four “teenagers” (they all look considerably older) are on a boating trip and, because the captain of their rented boat gets blackout drunk, they decide to canoe to a nearby island, which they think is deserted.  However, it turns out the island is host to Dr. Balleau, a wealthy eccentric, his wife, another drunk man they keep around for some reason, and a crew of servants/bodyguards in Venetian gondolier cosplay.

It turns out Dr. Balleau, whose home is decorated with stuffed and mounted game animals, has decided he needs to hunt something more challenging (humans, of course) and the two dudes of our group of hero teens are his next quarry.  (Since his wife and the drunk dude are having an affair, he has them killed, and kindly informs our leading ladies he will merely keep them as sex slaves.)  The teens (fine, we’ll call them that) are led into Balleau’s secret trophy room, where he has taxidermied his wife and her lover, as well as two other men (one of whom, I will note as an aside, is the only person of color to appear in either of these films).

Both of the hunts prior to his wife and her lover, Balleau explains, were inmates at a nearby island prison who were smuggled out by a certain boat captain – indeed, the teens’ captain, who has tried to sever ties but, it is suggested, grapples with what he’s done by drinking heavily.  Anyway Balleau’s men somehow extract him from his boat and now he’s here, but he’s a huge asshole to the kids and won’t help them, instead striking out on his own (and getting killed).

As I mentioned before, one of the most “acceptable” sites of necropolitical action is the execution of prisoners by the state, and this is a function that Balleau has taken upon himself.  As he tells our heroes, one of his previous hunts was a repeat rapist, and so deserved to die – the irony here, considering his plans for the two central women in the film, is apparently lost on him.  He has installed himself as his island’s god and hence inhabits what theorists of necropolitics and biopower call sovereignty’s “state of exception” – he can, in short, dish out punishment, but under no circumstances is he subject to it.  This gives the lie to his own description of the game, wherein he insists “my life will also be subject to how the hunt goes…”  Indeed, Balleau’s occupation of the island, giving him ultimate control over a geographical space, enacts precisely the sort of colonial necropolitics Mbembe theorizes.

But there’s a backstory here.  Balleau explains that he was once a “scholar” and indeed, he worked at a museum, preparing and designing exhibits.  And then, he says, came “the war,” where he was enlisted as a sniper.  He was disgusted to learn that he took “pleasure” in killing, and as he explains in one of the funniest, overdone lines of the film, the pleasure “became a passion, which became a lust – a lust for blood!”  Bravo.

The second half of the movie involves a lot of running around and is, to be entirely frank, boring.  At one point Balleau leaves his closest henchman for dead, and he loses track of the teens.  However, they ambush him later that night, having hidden in his secret trophy room in the darkened exhibit he had reserved for their corpses.  This is the point at which Balleau truly does becomes “subject to how the hunt goes,” revealing the uncanny side of the state of exception: being exempt from all punishment means you are also exempt from all protection.  The henchman left for dead earlier now returns unexpectedly and murders Balleau, pressing him onto the mounting spikes of the teens’ would-be exhibit before dropping dead of his own wounds.

A quick read of this whole thing: there’s a suggestion here of Balleau carrying forward or embodying the horrifying trauma of World War II and its related atrocities, bringing these “teens” into confrontation with a mode of existence they, in their historical innocence, have been spared.  Achille Mbembe’s theorization of necropolitics and necropower, taking as it does the modern context of globalized warfare, ends with his idea of “death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead” (think here of slavery in the US, or apartheid in its South African and Israeli forms, where whole populations are rendered pseudohuman in the eyes of state authority).  Despite some anachronism, I would argue that Balleau operates as a vector for precisely such a world: he holds within him the bloody storm of war and unleashes it upon these innocents.

And yet the teens – as we call them – are not, in the end, overly scarred by their encounter.  They are called to enact relatively little violence, and indeed spend most of their time avoiding it.  The final act of victory is not theirs but that of Balleu’s forsaken servant.  And here we have another unexpected alignment with our earlier film The Vampire Bat.

When Von Niemann is killed at the end of The Vampire Bat it is not the police inspector who does the need, nor one of the handful of supporting characters: it is his own servant, the man he has been mind-controlling into bringing him victims.  Both here and in Bloodlust there is an easy gloss of how evil is doomed to eat itself, that it is basically unsustainable and its own instruments will destroy it.  That’s all well and good, but it’s perhaps not totally accurate.

Both films present as their villain someone who unwarrantedly assumes a necropolitical mantle – Von Niemann’s mad scientism and Balleau’s postwar bloodlust – but also suggest that these actions are self-effacing, rather than outgrowths of a basic power structure endemic to society.  Neither the teens of Bloodlust nor the police inspector of The Vampire Bat must dirty their hands with necropolitics – by deciding and acting to kill their antagonists – because the basic fantasy that underpins both narratives is that we simply don’t have to, we are not a part of this system, and this system will deconstruct itself.

Indeed, both films argue that the servants of these systems will, in their final and noble moments, destroy them, losing their chains and their lives in one fell swoop and erasing the monstrous potential of their futurity.  But what both narratives attempt to disavow – and yet, in some ways, must acknowledge if only by curious exclusion – is how the four white teens on an island vacation and the police inspector are themselves always already beneficiaries of a society in which scientific nihilism and postwar trauma have space to grow and fester, feeding off our lives even as our lives are fed by them.

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Between the Haunted and the Weird: The Horrific Ontology of Videogames

Oxenfree is a 2016 game by Night School Studios, a point-and-click story-focused adventure game pseudo-throwback similar to something like Kentucky Route Zero (that is to say: mechanically and tonally it mimics adventure games of the days of yore but for the most part jettisons obtuse puzzling). It concerns a group of teens who go to an island in the Pacific Northwest for a night of unsupervised drinking and fun, and we all know how that sort of thing turns out for fictional teens. At the time of its release it was compared to the similar but much bigger project, Until Dawn, which also deals with the “teens in a remote area encounter bad stuff” subgenre of horror, but this is misleading. Whereas Until Dawn‘s primary reference points are the slasher films from which this typical premise is derived, Oxenfree‘s thematic antecedent is most clearly the 2001 film Donnie Darko, a deeply existential teen time travel thriller.

Generically, then, Oxenfree is poised between science fiction and horror in a way that I think meaningfully impacts how it conveys is narrative through the medium of the videogame itself. Be warned that from this point forward, I’m going to discuss specific elements and details of Oxenfree‘s story, so if you haven’t played it and care about that sort of thing being spoiled, consider yourself warned.

Oxenfree is a ghost story, of a sort.  Edwards Island, the location of the game, is a lonely tourist trap and former military base where groundbreaking research on radio and communication was carried out during and after the Second World War.  Our protagonist and player character, Alex, travels to the island with her friend Ren, her new stepbrother Jonas, Ren’s crush Nona, and Clarissa, the bitter ex-girlfriend of Alex’s deceased older brother Michael.  This entire situation is quite understandably tense and awkward to begin with, but of course, it gets worse.

The island is notorious among local youth for the anomalies that can be heard over the radio from certain locations — things that range from numbers stations to what seems to be sourceless electronic voice phenomena.  While exploring a cave by the beach, Alex accidentally contacts something — manifesting primarily as hovering, flashing triangles and angry static — that separates the group and unleashes a lot of weird bullshit on the island in the form of uncanny recurrences and timeloops (that, from the player’s perspective, are indicated by the screen’s distortion a la a badly tracking analog tape).

So on the one hand yes, Oxenfree is a ghost story — the thing Alex has contacted turns out to be the collective consciousness of a submarine crew that was sunk by friendly fire off the island’s coast after the war.  But it is also a softly science fiction-inflected time travel story — the crew are called “ghosts” but in-game exposition suggests that they did not so much “die” as get shunted out of our “dimension” (ie, the normal space-time continuum) by the accidental detonation of the experimental nuclear reactor on their submarine.  Unmoored from the most basic laws of physics and temporality, the crew of the submarine have lost all notion of individual identity and claim to have watched the entire history of the world play out to its “demise” multiple times in multiple ways, and now long for nothing more than to find their way back into linear time by possessing Alex and her friends and living the existence they feel they have been denied.

For decades the crew has been contained in their dimensional warp, but Alex lets them out with the radio she brought to hear the island’s anomalies — “you tuned into our signal” they tell her.  And I want to think for a moment about the significance of the use of the radio here, and in particular what the game accomplishes by way of placing midcentury radio technology front and center in its supernatural shenanigans.

Media theorist and philosopher Eugene Thacker has outlined a taxonomy of what he calls “dead media,” “haunted media,” and “weird media.”  Dead media, he explains, are media where “the object is no longer in use, but the form of the object remains active” (“Dark Media — An Abbreviated Typology” 129).  The example he gives here is the Victorian-era magic lantern, a device which projected still images onto the surfaces of walls and was a common attraction in certain theaters.  We no longer use magic lanterns, but the basic operative principle still exists in the form of modern projectors.

“Haunted media,” meanwhile, are when a technology “is still in use, but in a non-normative way,” Thacker’s primary example here is “the complex interplay between the photographic camera and spirit photography in the late nineteenth century” (129).  Specifically, haunted media are noted in their “disjunction … between a contemporary artifact and its connection to adjacent fields such as religion and spirituality” (129), becoming almost darkly divine in their properties.

What haunted media do allow for, in imaginary and narrative terms, is the communication between two distinct ontological realms, this world and that one, the supernatural and the natural.  However, the other potential Thacker outlines is what he calls “weird media,” in which the “human sensorium can be augmented, transformed, or in some instances, ‘see’ more than a human subject is prepared to see” by way of some media object (132).  One example here is H.P. Lovecraft’s story “From Beyond,” where a scientist perfects a devices that allows human beings to see the various horrible creatures that exist alongside us, but outside our realm of sense perception, and which also (of course) drives people mad.

Unlike haunted media, which open up a portal between that world and this one, in weird media “mediation only results in an absolute impasse, in the strange non-knowledge of the impossibility of mediation, in the way that all communication collapses” (133).  In other words, weird media show us something, but something fundamentally flawed in its communicative result: we see something just doesn’t make sense, it is there and yet refuses to cohere into anything like purpose or meaning, and the result (as witnessed by Lovecraft’s characteristically fated protagonist) is the concomitant dissolution of all meaning.

The point I would make, first of all, is that these types of media are not necessarily distinct.  For instance, “spirit photography” existed more or less simultaneously with the beginnings of photography, with trick images appearing basically right out of the gate, rather than waiting for the medium to “die.”  In other words, a medium does not have to be dead, or close to dead, to be haunted; often they are born that way.  However, a medium’s proximity to death does seem to make it useful for stories of dark media — think here of the videotape in Ringu/The Ring, which appeared relatively close to the end of the lifespan of the VHS.

At the same time, the distinction between a haunted and a weird medium is not always terribly clear.  Thacker divides them based on a selection of narratives and, basically, how those narratives play out: is the end result communication or madness?  These distinctions, however, cannot always be made — and Oxenfree is exemplary in this regard.

Radio is not an entirely dead technology, of course, but it is certainly outmoded in the way the game presents it — weighted with the context of its development during the war, an idiosyncratic feature of the island and its particular history, etc.  At first we might say that the radio in Oxenfree is haunted, as it does what Thacker says haunted media do: it opens a portal, it brings this world and that world together, and so on.  And yet communicating with the other side is not easy, and for much of the game it’s not clear what Alex and her friends are dealing with or what it wants.

Furthermore, at various points in the game Alex becomes stuck in time loops, and must synchronize the music tracks playing on a series of ghostly Magnetophons in order to return to her proper temporality.  Just as the dead (?) submarine crew live on as garbled voices on the radio, so too are the lives of Alex and her friends mysteriously tied to the functioning of old military-issue tape players.  That is to say, they are themselves mediated by the island’s weird technology, sometimes skipping back into the past (where Alex can make decisions regarding her deceased brother that, it seems, are different than the ones she might have made before) or forward into the future where they witness deaths and suicides that never actually manifest in the straightforward plot of the game.

So while these media are a conduit for the dead past, they are also conduits for the present and a kind of undead future, possible futures, and possible pasts.  Any glance at a forum or subreddit dedicated to the game will show you they are filled with theorycrafters attempting to parse out the game’s timelines into something stable and coherent, something that can be charted in a sensible order that all adds up to a “point.”

This project is troubled by a few things about the game.  First, there are multiple endings, none of which are presented as particularly good or bad (and hence, “true” or “untrue,” since games so historically tie these judgments).  Alex’s relationships with her friends may strengthen or degrade, one of them may be sacrificed to the ghostly crew in order to placate them, her brother Michael may even be brought back to life through her interference with the timeline.  The game doesn’t pass judgment on you for any of these endings in the trite way we’ve come to expect of the medium: sacrificing Clarissa is not ideal, for instance, but given the absolute bugfuck nature of what’s going on it plays out as a kind of tragic necessity.  Similarly, bringing Michael back to life doesn’t result in some condemning “don’t play with the forces of causality!” message, it just… kind of happens.  At worst it rings hollow narratively just because we’re so used to seeing the condemnation of this sort of thing in other stories.  And similarly, if everyone survives and remains friends, well…

The game ends with Alex narrating “what happened next” for everyone like any good teen movie.  As I said, outside of being erased from existence, none of the end results for anyone are particularly “bad,” some are just sadder than others.  But in the final few seconds of her narration, the screen distorts again, and Alex resumes talking about how though she’s not looking forward going to Edwards Island, it may be a fun night.

No matter what you do, the game begins again.  Except, of course, if it doesn’t… completing the game unlocks a so-called “New Game+” option, where you are treated to a bonus opening scene of Ren, Jonas, and Alex hanging out waiting for their ride.  Alex uses her radio during this scene and receives a message from herself, warning her not to go to the island; if you choose to listen to her warning, the gang stays in for the night and the game ends, its entire plot summarily averted.

Now here’s the thing: at no point in the game you play can you make Alex deliver the message she receives in this bonus scene.  EDIT:  Zaratustra on twitter pointed out that if you complete the New Game+ as if it were a normal game, ignoring the warning, you actually do get the choice to deliver this message to a past Alex — that is, you can save an Alex you have not played from looping through everything.  You save someone, but not yourself.  You render everything you have just done meaningless (because it will never have happened) but also direly important (because it had to happen in order for it not to happen).

And this is how the game, to get to my point finally, collapses the haunted into the weird, because it’s not clear what is communicating here, and what or why it is even communicating.  The game recedes indefinitely into itself in a way that is not left for us to explore.  The addition of time travel (or, perhaps, the movement between distinct timelines, much like the submarine crew blasted outside of all continuity) means that what sometimes (in Thacker’s terms) operates as haunted media (communication between two ontological orders) also sometimes devolves into weird media (the transference of madness inducing nonsense, a kind of excess of information that makes coherence impossible).

In the end, there is a sense in Oxenfree that things are overmediated, too complexly bound up in each other, done and redone and undone, until all meaningful difference is lost in a sea of noise like the analog static the game deceptively renders on my digital monitor.  For at its most basic level, Oxenfree is a videogame that is making itself known to us as a videogame, as a site of weird media, or overmediation.

As I said, some media are haunted at their inception.  In Oxenfree this is especially true, encrusted as it is with the signifiers of analog media it has supposedly surpassed and rendered “dead” (and yet, what is my wi-fi connection but a sort of afterlife of the radio technologies developed by the island’s engineers?).  But more to the point, Oxenfree is suggesting that games as a medium are both haunted and weird, constantly warping between these two poles as they connect disparate orders of communication or devolve into madness-inducing nonsense.

I have written before about how haunting can serve as a vocabulary for how players experience gameplay.  Gameplay is always already underwritten by expectations mediated to the player by prior games, and by prior playthroughs of the same game.  In its turn to the weird, Oxenfree makes this point quite literal: at various points in the story, Alex is confronted by a ghostly version of herself in a mirror.  It speaks to her, giving her advice that seemingly makes no sense (for instance, telling her to advise Michael to break up with Clarissa, despite the fact that Michael is already dead).

This is the weird: communication that runs into the limit of intelligibility.  However, as the game progresses, it becomes clear Alex’s reflection is giving her advice about specific moments that take place later in the game.  In the climax of the game, Alex finds herself “on the other side” with the dead submarine crew, and in a series of vignettes is transported to shadow versions of various locations from the game where she provides advice to herself  — now on the other side of the mirror.  Communication between the natural and supernatural, between one timeline and another: what was weird becomes haunting.

But this is what is truly remarkable: you do not have to listen to the advice your reflection gives you, nor do you later have to give advice to your reflection that jives with (or departs from) your own actions in the game.  It is up to the player to decide how trustworthy their reflection is, and in the end, to decide how they might have done things the same or differently.

In fact, what happens is this: the game searches your friends list (through Steam or whatever service) to find people you know who have already played Oxenfree.  When you see Alex’s reflection early in the game, this person’s username appears above it in bright green text in a visual evocative of an MMO.  The dialog choices made at the end of the game by your friend (in my case, an Alex who was hilariously named “Chopper Dave”) are presented to you, and at the end of the game, your dialog choices are sent along to the next person in your social circle to play the game (so if you ever see an Alex named “Richard Plantagenet” — hi).

What Oxenfree quite literally enacts here is the haunting of gameplay: your experience of it always already bears the uncanny impression of a prior playthrough that was not yours, an attempt to communicate or give advice about how you should play the game.  But this communique is fraught by all manner of weird problems: first, you have no idea what is happening, and second, you might not listen.  Thus the haunting of gameplay again collapses into weird gameplay: not communication between or across playthroughs but the potential simultaneous existence of mutually exclusive in-game “realities” connected by their very refusal to resemble one another.

Oxenfree, then, is an apt demonstration for the horrific ontology of videogames.  Not only does Alex’s endless looping through the various endings suggest the idea of replay, the game itself metatextually and mechanically links these ideas, forcing us into an uncomfortable conceptual space that narratively challenges the ways by which we defend everything from the importance of individual identity to the very possibility of meaning-making.

Are we — the mass of players — meant to stand in for the lost crew who hope to find something like “life” in possessing these kids?  And what does it mean that the game in practice so intransigently deflects what the ghosts say they want: stability, continuity, identity, linear growth.  “Oxenfree” is, after all, a cry to end a game, to signal to the players that the game has finished.  But in Oxenfree no such ending is forthcoming, and we are left to confront how one can make meaning and find happiness in a weird, haunted, overmediated world.

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The Pink Tricycle

Andrew did not see the pink tricycle the first or the second or even the third time on his way to the north side of the city. Indeed, he had been going to see his new therapist for well over a month before he noticed it, though he must have passed it many times.

What he had noticed were the apartment complexes: two of them, on either side of the road, abandoned. He had been living on the east side of the city for about a year and it was common knowledge by then that past a certain parallel and meridian the northeastern quadrant of the city fell over to perpetually hard times, more convenience stores than grocery stores, neighborhoods likely to shred your automobile tires with the scattered glass and rusted nails left in the roads where children played with (to Andrew’s thinking, at least) preternatural enthusiasm. So it was until one reached the north side which, due to the presence of the university and a shrewd and silent demographic agglomeration, remained one of the more vibrant sectors of the city, even after the factories left the rest quiet and searching decades ago.

Still, it was one thing to know the northeast side was rough. It was another to drive, for about thirty seconds, down a major artery of the city with the silent husks of abandoned apartment complexes hemming you in on either side. Andrew had noticed them because he basically had no other choice: the long, unkempt grass poked curiously through the iron bars of the enclaves’ fences, brushing the curb of the road like blind fingers; the buildings’ off-white walls were spotted, here and there, with large and generally unreadable names in audacious bubble-letter graffiti; on the first and second floors the windows and doors had all been sealed with plywood. Meanwhile the third stories — the complexes reached only that high, in each of their five or six buildings, and this still was a strange sight to Andrew, who came from a place where developments were often higher than they were wide — the third stories remained unbarricaded, dark and curtainless windows exposed to the world. Presumably the thought was whoever — squatters, looters, bored teens and general trespassers? — had the dexterity to climb to the second floor would not manage to make it to the third.

But it was on the third floor of one of the buildings to the right of the road that Andrew saw the pink tricycle. Each apartment in this complex had been furnished with a small patio area, a cement block on the ground floor and a wooden balcony about five or six feet long on the second and third floors. And on one of these wooden balconies, near the sliding screen door that led into the apartment, sat a pink tricycle of chunky plastic. A child’s toy, left behind.

That was as much thought as Andrew gave it, to begin with.

*

Andrew came to the city to work as a representative for a pharmaceutical company, and while the city itself was not in any sense an attraction, his job required him to travel across the country frequently, meaning the misfortune of living there was offset by the opportunity to leave it for weeks at a time. His therapist had remarked on the ease with which he’d transplanted himself during one of their early sessions, angling, Andrew suspected, for some sort of comment on his distance from his family.

There was not much to say. Andrew had an older brother who remained in close contact with his father, working alongside him at the contracting company that bore their name. His mother was dead, cancer in late middle age. He had never really known any grandparents or aunts and uncles, since his father’s volatility and general priggishness meant estrangements and fallings-out were common.

The therapist, a slight man with thin glasses, long black hair, and a seemingly endless supply of different argyle sweaters, took this all in and made notes on his clipboard. “I point this out,” he said, “because of what you told me during our first session.”

Andrew nodded. He had come to therapy because of what his ex had said. It was not his first relationship, but it was the one that had progressed the furthest, the first time since leaving home he had lived with someone other than incidental roommates. It had lasted fourteen months. “You never talk about the future,” was something the ex had often told Andrew, which seemed like a bizarre thing to notice, let alone complain about. “You never talk about the future, what sort of life we’re going to have.  I want to have a home with you.”  The ex, who had been taking psychology classes for a graduate degree while Andrew did an internship, was prone to pointing things out and rattling off symptoms of depression or anxiety. “You need therapy,” the ex had often said, which, in Andrew’s opinion, was a bit like a barber telling him he needed a haircut.

Still, when things ended after Andrew accepted the job with the pharmaceutical company out west, the ex had tearfully repeated the observation. “You need therapy.” Along with that: “You’re an asshole.”

And as he had settled into life in the new city, despite himself, Andrew began to wonder if perhaps his ex was not onto something. He sat in his new apartment downtown — paid for by his healthy new salary — and in its sleek, not-too-modern cleanliness it felt no different from the hotel rooms he stayed in every few weeks. His life, he began to feel, was for the foreseeable future nothing but traveling through a multitude of rooms with only minor variations, living from one to the next, living in between each room, and each fundamentally empty apart from himself. He spent several long evenings reading about depression symptoms on the internet and eventually made an appointment with the therapist in the north of the city.

He wasn’t sure if he was making progress, but it at least felt like something to do. Of course he went out to bars and met people, schmoozed with clients and rivals while on his trips, but when he was home he felt listless, and therapy provided a kind of ritualistic element to his life, something to mark the passage of time. In the first few meetings he talked about the ex, and what the ex had said, which led him to talking about his father, his brother, his mother. College, prior exes, the first big falling-out with his parents just before graduation. Half-remembered childhood anomalies, like the time he was certain he saw his father leave the house late at night — far past midnight — and, standing in the yard, click a flashlight on and off in sequence, pointing it into the moonless sky. His brother had insisted he was merely misremembering a scene from a spy film they had watched together as kids. It was almost overwhelming, Andrew thought, how much he could say about himself and yet how little he felt actually happened. “I suppose I don’t think about the future very much,” he said once. “I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it. I’m not sure I ever have.”

His therapist remained placid, and marked something on his clipboard.

*

He was on his way to therapy when he noticed the pink tricycle had moved. At first he thought he was merely misremembering. After all, as he zipped by the abandoned building, how certain could he be that he knew where the tricycle had been on the wooden balcony? But as he considered the situation he became less certain.

Andrew’s initial vision of the pink tricycle, pushed into the corner of the balcony, had been initially burned into his mind in a peculiar way. On and off again he’d found himself returning to it, thinking of the child it had once belonged to and imagining their feelings upon it being left behind. He wondered at odd times — usually when making dinner, or just on the edge of falling asleep — about the family who had lived in the apartment, taking everything but the tricycle.

And now the tricycle had moved across the balcony, pressed up against the screen door of the apartment as if it were an animal begging to be let in. After his therapy appointment, on his way home, Andrew made sure to keep an eye out for the tricycle. He was on the opposite side of the road now, making it difficult, and the sun was setting, but he managed to spot it: a flash of color against the dingy walls and gray shingles. It was exactly where he’d seen it earlier.

The apartment complexes did not have names. Unlike most places of the sort, which had signs out front welcoming you to Green Brook Place or Heritage Estates or Brookstone Commons or The Meadows at Green River or something, the chained-off entryways of either complex had no such signage, presumably taken down whenever the properties closed. When, back home, he searched online for apartments along that particular segment of the street, he found no listings, not even legacy postings regarding the complexes.

When he pulled up a street view he could see them, looming on either side of the road. The complex to the left was obviously closed at this point, its windows boarded up, but its grass was shorter, its buildings less etched over with graffiti. On the right side of the street, however, the buildings of the other complex had not yet been sealed. Andrew clicked forward, searching for the balcony that he knew hosted — or would come to host — the pink tricycle.

The balcony was bare, but the sliding door was open, allowing just the barest glimpse into the apartment, a sliver of a kitchen and a refrigerator. He clicked forward again, finding the entrance to the complex and its sign: Homes at Roselawn. He checked the date on the street view images and found they were nearly three years old.

A search for “Homes at Roselawn” turned up nothing interesting, only what would be expected of an apartment complex in that area of the city: occasional mentions of domestic disputes, a methamphetamine arrest, one fatal shooting and one non-fatal. There was no mention of when or why it closed. It was if the complex had just, one day, shut down, without any reason, announcement, or fanfare. Andrew imagined the family leaving the third floor apartment in a hurry, evicted without notice, and imagined the wailing of a child whose favorite tricycle was left behind.

*

The pink tricycle moved twice more over the next few months, from the screen door back to the far corner, and then from that corner to the opposite end of the balcony.  The weather, by this point, was beginning to change, the grass browning and wilting and the sky shifting to a perpetually dreary gray that threatened snow but only spat chilly rain.

It was probably squatters, Andrew told himself.  Someone had broken in and was living in the closed apartments illegally.  Certainly someone was living there: incidental vandals or addicts would probably do more than move a child’s toy across a balcony every handful of weeks.  Did they have a child with them?

He left a little early before therapy once to stop by the apartment and find out.  When he asked himself what he was doing — which he felt was a question posed more and more frequently these days — Andrew decided that he would, if the squatters were willing, help the occupants of the apartment find legal housing.  His job certainly paid him more than enough to meet his own needs.  Maybe he could do something with himself by helping someone else.

Andrew parked his car alongside the driveway of the abandoned complex.  The chain across the driveway meant he couldn’t go further than what was basically the shoulder of the road, but it was enough space that he didn’t fear any passing motorist would clip him.  It was only after he ducked under the chain and started walking toward the building with the pink tricycle that it occurred to him there wasn’t a no trespassing sign posted.

Suddenly he wasn’t sure if the complex was out of commission.  What if he was totally wrong?  What if families were living here, legally, behind these plywood boards?  The idea seemed absurd but not impossible.

And yet the doors were also boarded over.  He saw that now, very clearly: as he continued to walk across the overgrown, dying lawn Andrew passed the shuttered windows and doorways that showed barely any evidence of human attention.  Indeed, the doorway to his goal — the building with the pink tricycle — was likewise boarded up, with no sign of tampering.  He took a walk around the building, finding a fire exit on the far side away from the road, which was also sealed.

In reality, Andrew thought, there was surprisingly little to indicate that anyone — even the homeless or vandals — had visited this place since it closed, whenever it did close.  Because it was assuredly closed, lack of a trespassing sign or not.  He strolled back around the building, listening to cars zoom by on the road, and stopped by the corner of the building directly below the balcony with the pink tricycle.  He looked up at it, noticing for the first time how bleached its plastic was by the elements.  Had it even been pink originally?

He stared up at the balcony for a few more moments, his eyes drifting toward the sliding doors — the third floor hadn’t been boarded up, he thought.  So what if someone did climb up there?

Andrew gritted his teeth, suddenly unnerved by the fact that he couldn’t see into the dark apartment.  He remembered the image from the old street view: the screen pushed aside, a dim light within, kitchen linoleum, the glare of a refrigerator door.  Now there was nothing.  Just shadow.  Someone could be watching him and he wouldn’t even know it.

He turned and quickly walked back to his car.

*

“May I ask you something?” his therapist said, looking at him thoughtfully.  “Just to clarify my notes.”

Andrew shrugged.  “Sure?”

His therapist glanced at his clipboard.  “When did your mother switch jobs?”

“What?” Andrew frowned, not understanding the question.

“Your mother switched jobs,” said his therapist, looking at his clipboard.  “During one of our early sessions you mentioned she was a nurse.  You said both she and your father worked days.  But some things you’ve told me indicate she started working nights — and hiring babysitters, correct?  Where was your father during this?”

Andrew blinked.  His mother was a nurse? That… seemed right.  And his father… very little came to mind when he thought about his father.

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” said Andrew.

His therapist made an oddly defensively gesture with his shoulders.  “Nothing, nothing, I’m just trying to straighten out the order of events.  Your family is where you learn many of your coping strategies that manifest — sometimes problematically — later in life.  And based on what you’ve told me your family had a bit of a crisis when you were around eight years old.  You even moved out of the house.”

“Excuse me?”

“The apartment,” said his therapist, again looking at the clipboard.  “Your mother switched jobs and you lived, for a while at least, in an apartment.  Unless I got something wrong?”

“That…”  Never happened, is what Andrew wanted to say, but suddenly he wasn’t so sure.

His therapist waited a moment.  “Dissociation,” he said, finally, “often begins as a defense mechanism…”

Andrew didn’t hear the rest.

*

Andrew was due to fly to Dallas the next week for a presentation, but he called into work with the flu and said he wouldn’t be able to make the flight.  He took the week off.

He wanted to talk to his brother but when he called it went to voicemail.  “Hey,” he said, “it’s Andrew.  Do you remember when Mom started working nights?  When was that?  Anyway, give me a call.”

A new prescription sat on his kitchen counter, unfilled.  On a whim he skipped his next appointment with the therapist and received an irritated text message about a fifty-dollar fee, but by then he had been parked outside the former Homes at Roselawn for nearly an hour.  There wasn’t a no trespassing sign, so it wasn’t like anyone would have any reason to tell him to leave.

Still, though, he had to be careful.

Finally, as the sun dipped down and the corona of the city’s streetlights grew up in the sky, Andrew got out of his car and walked across the overgrown lawn of the apartment complex, the crowbar swinging easily, even naturally by his side.

It turned out to be unnecessary.  The plywood that had covered the door to the building he approached was gone, a small halogen light glowing over the concrete stoop.  Looking from side to side, thinking at any moment now someone might step out of the dark to stop him, Andrew met no resistance and finally pushed forward and opened the door.

The center of the building was a wood-paneled column containing a zig-zagging stairway.  The air had a dusty, stale quality and at least a few sheets of the paneling had fallen away, revealing the flattened streaks of glue on the wall beneath like keloid scars.  Somewhere he could hear the low thrumming of machinery, like a laundry dryer.  Somewhere else was the sound of laughter, clearly filtered through a television speaker.

The stairway was covered by a ratty carpet that did little to muffle the sound of Andrew’s crowbar when he dropped it and it skittered down to the nearest landing.  He reached the third floor and paused, looking from the left to the right to orient himself.  Each floor had four apartments, set up in quadrants around the central staircase.  Ahead and to his right, a door stood open, waiting.

He walked inside the apartment, not bothering to close the door behind him.  the only source of light was a dim, bare bulb overhead.  He was in a living room, furnished only by a couch with a severe dip in the middle situated before a TV with a dead, dark screen, and a card table with folding chairs arranged around it.  To his left was a hallway leading, he thought, to a bedroom and bathroom.  To his right an arch opened onto the small kitchen, and just beyond that, the sliding door to the balcony.

“You’re late,” said a voice.

Startled, Andrew turned from the kitchen — he’d been walking toward the balcony, he realized — and saw a woman standing at the mouth of the hallway, hurriedly putting on silver earrings.  She was a black woman, and older than him, but not by too much.  Maybe she just looked older than she was.  She wore a knee-length dress of medicinal green with a white apron folded over the front and a wide, white collar, and he recognized it as a curiously antiquated waitress uniform.

“I’m already running late,” she said, “but you should know what to do.”

“Excuse me?” he asked.

“You’re the new babysitter, yes?” she said, eyeing him severely.

He had no idea what to say to that.

“It’s self-explanatory,” she said.  “Food in the fridge, TV is mostly busted but gets a few channels.  You’ll be fine.  The child is out now, but will be back soon.  Babysitting, not rocket science.”  The woman had finished with her earrings and, after adjusting her hair, began to stride quickly toward the door.

“Wait,” Andrew said, more loudly than he meant to, and the woman stopped to look at him again, tiredly.  “Where is your…”  He struggled to articulate the idea, because she herself had phrased it so oddly.  The child.  “Where’s your kid?”

The woman cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Out playing,” she said.  “Always out playing.  And it’s not my child.  I’m just the last babysitter.”

And with that she left the apartment, closing the door behind her, and Andrew was alone in the room.

He stood for a moment in the light of the bare bulb, surveying again his surroundings.  He pulled his phone out of his pocket to see if his brother had called him and, somehow, it was dead.  He hadn’t brought a charger.

The kitchen light still worked, and when he flipped it on the glare rendered the balcony door nothing but a dark mirror.  He stepped forward, pulling it away, and felt the unusually warm, almost summery air come flooding into the apartment through the screen.  Across the street, in the other complex, he could see someone mowing the lawn in the fading twilight.  He recalled hearing that twilight was the best time to mow in the summer.

The pink tricycle was barely visible in the dark corner of the balcony, but visible nonetheless.  After regarding it for a moment Andrew grabbed one of the folding chairs from the living room and placed it in the kitchen, where he could sit and keep an eye on the balcony.

And the tricycle.  Especially the tricycle.  He settled in to wait and see what, if anything, would cause it to move.

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HeyRyde

 

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Most positive

Andy McBarr – October 12, 2014
5star

 

When I first heard our local governments had cut a deal with the Usher company for this app idea I admit I was pretty skeptical.  I’ve heard a lot of stuff about the company and its founder and I thought it would just be no good, I used to think ridesharing services only made sense with big cities.  But on the other hand, ever since the problems in Haymeadow and then Whitbridge, our communities haven’t really been themselves.  The difficulty of finding quality hayrides as more and more people moved away was becoming apparent and I was starting to think I’d have to move too.  But then the Usher company came to the rescue with HeyRyde!! The app is still in the testing stages right now and our little towns are the testing grounds.  Need a hayride? Then download HeyRyde (lol!!) and request a ride from one of the local independent providers!  Just about everyone still in the business is working with the app, which makes it super convenient.  My first driver was from Whitbridge, which as a lifelong Haymeadow resident I was skeptical of, but he turned out to be really nice.  I think this app will bring our communities closer together, which is important given all the struggles we’ve had.  Also, they don’t tell you this in the app description, occasionally you’ll put out a call for a hayride and get one of their experimental self-driving wagons!

Erica Nicholson – October 16, 2014
5star

 

Our kids were upset because our dog and cat ran away, so the hubby and I decided to cheer them up with a little hayride!  I’d recently downloaded this app and thought it was a perfect opportunity to try it out.   What a great idea!  Our driver was a local man who was giving out hayrides to make some extra cash.  He was very friendly and even had a cooler of apple cider in the back.  Kids loved it!

Gregory Chunch – October 20, 2014
5star

 

It’s been depressing in the greater Whitbridge-Haymeadow area lately, after the riots and the fires over the past few years, but with the Usher company setting up shop in town I feel like things are finally turning around!  It’s so charitable of a big Silicon Valley company to come all the way out here to help us make ends meet.  I haven’t actually used this app but I think it’s a great idea, and I’m going to help keep the market competitive by starting my own hayride app.  Keep an eye out for Wagyn, coming soon to an app store near you!!

Amir Brooks – October 23, 2014
5star

 

Extremely impressed by the self-driving wagon that picked us up for our ride.  There weren’t even any horses! Whatever mechanical wizardry is keeping the wagons going is perfectly hidden, it otherwise looks exactly like an old farm’s hay wagon.  We took a nice ride up around north Whitbridge and everything was lovely, my date loved the colors of the leaves and it was nice not having a driver there to intrude on the moment.  When I called the Usher offices to tell them what a great innovation the self-driving wagons are I ended up talking to a woman (Charlotte) who played dumb and said the company doesn’t have self-driving wagons but I know how the tech world is, they’ve got to keep this under wraps unless a competitor steals the idea.

Alain Hardy – October 30, 2014
5star

 

the ride has been going on so long so long it’s wonderful so wonderful i never want it to end hay so itchy

Tanya Greer – October 31, 2014
5star

 

What a great experience!  Taking a leisurely hayride through Haymeadow during trick-or-treating was a perfect way to spend the holiday.  The driver even surprised us by taking us across the river into Whitbridge — at no extra charge!  It was great to see how they celebrate Halloween, even if normally I’d not want to expose my children to the snobbery of people who live there.  When I told the driver he didn’t have to bother, he said he felt like he didn’t have a choice.  How nice of him!

Nancy Whittiker – November 5, 2014
5star

 

Here’s a little thing that I guess you could call a “lifehack” — gas has been so expensive lately that driving to and from work (I work in Whitbridge but live in Haymeadow) has gotten too expensive, but for the past month I’ve been ordering hayrides to get me where I need to go and it’s been wonderful! I’m on a first-name basis with a few of the drivers now.  It takes longer, sure, but if I plan ahead I can get to work and home without ever having to use my own car.  I wonder if the service will go past the normal hayride season or if I’ll have to go back to driving myself?  Here’s hoping!! :-)

Xander Harris – November 13, 2014
5star

 

I’ve heard the Usher company is in negotiations with both the Haymeadow AND Whitbridge town boards to take over operation of public transit for the entire county.  As a libertarian, I can think of nothing better for the economy of this region — even if I wish we didn’t have to deal with those scrubs over in Haymeadow constantly crowding our wagons.  Anyway, that’s actually the beauty of the free market: if enough of us demand separate services we’ll eventually get them.   I’ve loved the hayrides I’ve been taking and can’t wait to see how a stronger Usher influence in local government turns our little corner of southern Indiana into a center of 21st century industry!

Alessa Donovan – December 5, 2014
5star

 

I have no idea why this app is still offering rides in December but I love it!  It was so nice taking a hayride through the first snowfall of the year.  It tells you something that the drivers love their job so much that they’re keeping this going year round!

Travis Wexler – January 2, 2015
4star

 

With the new year we’ve seen the launch of a second hayride app in the Haymeadow-Whitbridge area, but the original is still the best!  My driver was pleasant and talkative and even offered some warm cider.  It could have been warmer, but that’s the only criticism I can come up with about this great service.

Casey Starr – February 9, 2015
4star

 

My car broke down a few weeks ago which means I couldn’t get to work, but this app has been a lifesaver!  It’s also such a pleasant way to get around.  One of my drivers even said that you don’t even have to have your own horse and wagon anymore, Usher will lease them to you.  Maybe I’ll take up a little side job!!

Least positive

Karin Hedley – January 7, 2015
1star

 

Who wants a hayride in January?  Well I was curious so I called one up.  I recognized the woman who gave me the ride as one of the ladies who works the checkout at Wal*mart and I asked her how she liked the job and she said she hated it shed never worked with horses before and I asked her why she was doing it and said she didnt have a choice she needed the money.  I said maybe you could get another job and she just started crying.  Extremely unpleasant.

Melvin Lowe – February 28, 2015
1star

 

Unreliable drivers.  Will often take weird routes and detours that make the commute too long and you end up late to wherever you’re going.  Wagyn (locally owned) is a much better alternative.

Norbert Pflum – March 5, 2015
1star

 

My driver was obviously drunk and drove our wagon straight into the Juggascrow War Memorial in downtown Haymeadow.  Driver incoherent.  Awful.  Talked with Charlotte Raith in Usher Customer Service who arranged a refund for the ride, one bright spot.

Darcy Metcalfe – April 11, 2015
1star

 

Had a weird issue where the GPS stopped working and the driver got lost.  We ended up out on some country road and we could see the mansion the Usher guy built at the old quarry and these big black dogs came out and followed the wagon really close.  Didn’t growl or bark or anything, just followed.  My son was crying and it was definitely getting to the driver but he was so scared of the dogs!  Where did they even come from?  I thought all the dogs in town ran away months ago.

Tater Breyer – May 18, 2015
1star

 

I’ve used Wagyn from Chunch Technologies before and loved it, but since they sold out to HeyRyde after the founder passed away I don’t have another option and I HATE this!!  The drivers are always surly and won’t talk to you and if they do usually it’s weird stuff you don’t want to hear and don’t even get me STARTED on the self-driving wagons which the offices say they don’t have but then why do they keep showing up??? Usher is a bad company.  Instead of taking me where I want to go the self-driving wagons will just go out onto country roads for hours on end and i can’t stop them whenever i call up a hay ride and one of the self-driving wagons shows up i don’t get on anymore even though they sit outside my house for like an hour.  Would like an update where you can choose to not get a self-driving wagon

Carol Jordan – June 20, 2015
1star

 

For over 35 years my father worked as a chemistry teacher at Haymeadow High School (Go Ravens!) and just retired at the end of this last schoolyear.  He felt bored with the new downtime and figured that driving for HeyRyde would be a low-stress hobby that he could also get paid for.  I didn’t like the idea of him working a job in his retirement but he was insistent!  Well he started driving for them a two weeks ago and the shifts just kept getting longer.  Last time he was out for almost an entire day and came back at three in the morning (he moved in with us after he retired).  When he’s home he just goes into our spare bedroom and sleeps.  I’ve told him he doesn’t have to keep doing this but he won’t listen.  I hate this app!!

Angela Legg – July 5, 2015
1star

 

i took a “fourth of july” hayride which was an awful idea. it was hot and itchy and the driver wouldn’t stop so i could get a drink, he just kept saying “we have to follow the route.”  i was so thirsty i came close to having a heatstroke i was hallucinating that the road was glowing like bright red and the horses had too many legs. i don’t recommend using this app but if you do at least bring your own drinks that’s what i’m doing when me and my friends do our bastille day hayride next week.

Dusty Moller – July 8, 2015
1star

 

My daughter sank into a pile of hay in the corner of the wagon and we couldn’t find her for almost five minutes.  Eventually we managed to dig her out but now she has a really bad case of lice.  The driver didn’t even care.

Louis Caulfield – July 16, 2015
1star

 

I wanted to have a pleasant Bastille Day hayride, but there were a bunch of Haymeadow bumpkins on my wagon who wouldn’t stop asking me what Bastille Day is so I had to sit very uncomfortably while they read the explanation on the back of my Happy Bastille Day t-shirt.  Very annoying.

Joe Samson – September 8, 2015
1star

 

Got stuck on a group ride with a bunch of uppity Whitbridge folks and some annoying teens (also probably from Whitbridge, they were vaping).  They spent the entire part of the ride that took us through Haymeadow talking about how our sidewalks were dirty and that our street signs were hard to read.  When the ride finally turned around and took a country road into Whitbridge (I didn’t want to go but the driver couldn’t stop) I started talking really loudly about how their giant street signs make it look like a town where only old people live, but I was the only person there doing it and everyone just stared at me.  I hate Whitbridge folks.

Patricia Azikiwe – October 11, 2015
1star

 

I wish the town boards had better negotiated that public transit deal with Usher because after a year of nonstop hayrides they just don’t seem that special, even when they’re seasonally appropriate.

Tara McIntyre  – October 31, 2015
1star

 

self-driving wagon would not let me or my son off to trick or treat, just drove back and forth for three hours i had to buy candy for him from the store later. also i think the hay gave us both lice

Jackson Liu – November 7, 2015
1star

 

People love to say ridiculous stuff about services like this, like my friend who swears his sister took a HeyRyde and never came home, but that’s such bull**** when there are so many real things to complain about.  Moldy hay, ridiculous pricing even though it’s after Halloween, and the wheels of the wagon were making this weird squeaking sound that the longer I listened to the more it sounded like someone screaming.  Oh also the ride lasted way too long and I started having weird f***ed up thoughts in case that wasn’t obvious!

Maria Kendal – November 21, 2015
1star

 

I live on the Haymeadow-Whitbridge border and it’s hard to sleep with the wagons running by my house all night.  Who’s even riding them so late?  They just keep coming and going from that weirdo’s mansion at the old quarry.

Gene Kim – January 23, 2016
1star

 

I was in the area on a business trip, doing some negotiations with Usher, and decided to check out this service.  I will say, I immediately called my home office and told them we should scuttle any partnerships — everyone knows the founder of Usher has some idiosyncrasies but this whole HeyRyde thing is something else! Even though everyone talks about these wagons being self-driving these days I had a deeply unpleasant driver, an old man in a large straw hat and ragged overalls, smelled like he hadn’t washed in weeks  He never looked at me or acknowledged me, but  he just stared ahead and kept moving his hands like he was leading horses.  But there weren’t any horses!!

Xander Harris2 – February 16, 2016
1star

 

I know I’ve reviewed this app before and positively, but I just want to say that I take it back totally.  The founder of Usher, despite his admirable libertarian principles, has proven to be all talk, interfering with the free market by buying out his competitor Wagyn and letting the monopoly of his brand result in subpar service.  I’ve tried calling the Better Business Bureau (much to my shame) but ever since Usher bought all the cell towers in the county the calls just redirect to their help line.  And the local government is backing them every step of the way!! This isn’t capitalism, it’s corporatism!!!! BOYCOTT

Brynne Landau – April 6, 2016
1star

 

I don’t even know what the point is anymore. Why leave a review? The service sucks. Wagons don’t go where you need them to.  Have to deal with hicks from Haymeadow sharing your rides, and the nightmares, dear god, the nightmares

Most recent

Charlotte Raith – October 28, 2016
nostar

 

I must admit I was skeptical when I was told we would be setting up a Midwestern office, and in rural Indiana of all places.  Why?  My supervisor at the time, who was in direct communication with someone who was in turn in direct communication with the CEO, told me many things about untapped markets, civic duty to under-served areas and populations, all what one might expect.

I was disappointed when I was told that I would be moving here to oversee operations in a new division of my old department.  It was hard to say goodbye to California, even harder to adjust to these small, indolent towns and their insolent people.  There are strange rivalries here that an outsider would not and cannot understand, long-simmering resentments, and the trauma of recent tragedies.  This is to say nothing of the absolute obsession these people have with Halloween.

Over the past two years the situation has progressed… strangely.  Our CEO, a recluse at the best of times, has become almost a total non-entity.  The media speculates as to his activities and his mansion, which he had built on a small limestone cliff between these two small towns, sees no visitors, though the windows of the upper floors still glow orange at night.  Meanwhile, reviews of our services have degenerated.  And even then — people continue to use our app.  Revenues are on a steady increase.

I admit I’ve been letting my work for the company slide as I’ve watched this situation develop.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in the libraries in both towns.  I drive myself, of course, I do not take the wagons.  Most of them are self-driven these days.  I do not recall a company memo about when we made the switch, but surely there must have been one.

Anyway.

I’ve been looking at old maps, studying divisions platted by this region’s settlers nearly three hundred years ago.  I’ve been reading books.  Very strange books.  I’ve learned what ley lines are.  And I suspect there was a reason the founders divided this land the way they did.  But I’ve also been tracking the wagons.

There is a pattern forming.  The paths crossed once and over again by our company’s vehicles are knitting together two towns that, for centuries, have been held apart.  I am not a superstitious woman, but I have heard the rumors about our CEO and his interests — who could forget the sensational quote about drinking human blood — and I am beginning to wonder what his plan is for this operation.  I have my suspicions, but they are suspicions only.  I write this in the hopes that someone, anyone, especially someone outside these towns might read it.  I fear the worst.

I’ve made the decision to close my office for the day.  I’ve called my ride.  His gate only opens for the automated wagons these days.  The assortment of objects in my briefcase boggles my mind, even though I chose them — placing the of vial holy water next to the stun-gun, the box of purified salt next to the unregistered Glock — but time is short and I must have options.

The end is coming, first here, and then perhaps everywhere.  And we were its Ushers.  Forgive us.  The road to Hell is subject to surge pricing, and we’ve made a tidy profit.

The previous entries in the Haymeadow saga are here and here. This post was funded by readers like you through Patreon.  If you like what you read, want to see me write more, and want to get a chance to choose what I write about, please consider pledging.

Kitty Horrorshow’s Pontefract and Shakespeare as author-medium

Pontefract is a 2012 Twine Gothic horror game by Kitty Horrorshow.  In this blog post I will talk about the game generally, but specifically my aim is to tentatively theorize how Horrorshow’s game makes use of Shakespearean allusion, what affordances its buys her as a creator, with the overall goal of opening up questions of what this might mean for us (me and my cohort) as Shakespearean  and early modern scholars.

In Pontefract, the player takes on the role of an unnamed character, perhaps a knight, in a Gothic fantasyscape.  You work your way through several rooms of a semi-abandoned castle, populated only by apparently undead humans.  Primarily how the games works is this: you enter a room.  The room is described, sometimes with occasional observable details (for instance, when entering the kitchen, instead of directly confronting the cook you can check out what she’s boiling in her cauldrons).  If there is an NPC in this room, they will ignore you, instead carrying out routines (praying, cooking, being eaten by a floating horse’s head) that bespeak either their undead qualities (ie, they are zombies, not fully human, and only carry out certain deeply wired routines) or their artificiality (they are, in the most literal sense, videogame NPCs, written only to carry out certain limited, repetitive behaviors).

You can choose to interact with these characters, at which point you are presented with two options.  The first is always “friendly” — you either attempt to get the NPC’s attention, or help them if they seem to be in trouble.  The second is always hostile, and involves drawing your sword to kill the NPC.  For three NPCs you meet — a priest, a stablehand, and a cook — choosing the friendly option will result in your character’s death.

Progression in the game involves killing these NPCs.  After being slain they leave you with keys which will unlock the door to the castle dungeon.  You know you want to do this — apart from the fact that a locked door in a videogame always implies the goal is to open it — due to an encounter with the fourth NPC in this section of the game, the so-called “Pale King,” who sits eyeless and presumably also undead in the castle’s throne room.

This is the only NPC with whom you have no options for interaction.  Instead, when meeting him he speaks “into your thoughts [with] a hundred clamorous voices”:

HAVE I NO FRIEND WILL RID ME OF THIS LIVING FEAR? I WOULD THOU WERT THE MAN THAT WOULD DIVORCE THIS TERROR FROM MY HEART.

Somehow, you understand that the ‘terror’ of which the pale king speaks is locked away within the castle dungeon.

You take knee before the king and vow to rid him of that which grieves him so, before standing and turning to descend the stairs back to the great hall.

The line spoken by the Pale King is from Shakespeare’s Richard II, very close to the end of the play, and is curious enough in and of itself.  Henry Bolingbroke has recently deposed and imprisoned the rightful king, Richard II, and named himself Henry IV; in Act V, scene 3, Henry uncovers a plot against him by some nobles loyal to Richard and has most of the conspirators put to death.  In the next scene (V.4), a nobleman named Exton enters with his servant.  The scene is brief, so I will reproduce it here in full for you to see just how odd it is:

Exton
Didst thou not mark the king, what words he spake,
‘Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?’
Was it not so?
Servant
These were his very words.
Exton
‘Have I no friend?’ quoth he: he spake it twice,
And urged it twice together, did he not?
Servant
He did.
Exton
And speaking it, he wistly look’d on me,
And who should say, ‘I would thou wert the man’
That would divorce this terror from my heart;’
Meaning the king at Pomfret. Come, let’s go:
I am the king’s friend, and will rid his foe.
Exeunt

So Horrorshow’s Pale King quotes Henry IV, but only as he himself is quoted by Exton.  The scene to which Exton refers, in which the king speaks these lines, is not one we ourselves are allowed to see: the previous scene where Henry uncovers the plot against him contains nothing close to the statements that Exton attributes to him.  In fact, going thoroughly from the text, Exton hasn’t even shown up prior to this point in the play.

This scene seems to pointedly highlight the lengths to which the ambitious Exton is willfully misinterpreting the situation, if not in what Henry is referring to, at least in the fact that Henry is personally addressing the order to him: “And speaking it, he wistly look’d on me, / And who should say, ‘I would thou wert the man'[.]”  (Compare Horrorshow’s: “Somehow, you understand that the ‘terror’ of which the pale king speaks is locked away within the castle dungeon.”)

Indeed, the play ends with Exton presenting Henry with Richard’s corpse and Henry, horrified at what has been carried out in his name, disavows himself of Exton and the act committed for his benefit (though, of course, he does benefit).

In Horrorshow’s game the command is given directly and unambiguously, placing us in the shoes of a character who is and is not Exton.  It should come as no surprise to a player familiar with Shakespeare that when you venture down into the dungeon what you find is a weakened, miserable figure “you” immediately recognize as the “rightful king.”

Again you are presented with a choice: to peacefully beg forgiveness from the rightful king, or to kill him.  As before, the peaceful option proves ineffectual,  but this time, not because it kills you.  Rather:

You attempt to kneel before the rightful king, ready to apologize for your wrongful deeds and vow yourself to his cause, but your body resists you. The castle shudders and the walls begin to wail, and your head is filled with the lurching, ragged language of the stones.

NO. KILL HIM.

At this point you again have the same choice, and the only way to move forward is to kill the king.  The game ends immediately after: you die as the castle collapses around you, but almost immediately you find yourself once again in the woods outside the castle gates, preparing to enter.  The implication, perhaps, is that you are no different than the creatures that trace their endless, undying routines within the castle walls: as a player, you are finally robbed of the agency the game has dangled in front of you at every turn with its false choices, and you are at last subsumed into the machinery of the Gothic landscape.

Appropriately enough, Horrorshow’s hypertext game seems to adapt and extend Gérard Genette’s pre-Internet idea of hypertextuality as “any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it the hypotext), upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary” (Palimpsest: Literature in the Second Degree 5).  Rather than a simple allusiveness, or even a dense and methodical rewriting (eg, as between Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses), Horrorshow’s references to Shakespeare are more like the hypertextual apparatus of Twine itself: links that send us outside the text, or into another text, or a different part of the same text, but which do not do so to make a claim about Shakespeare or Richard II.  Rather, both texts become hypertexts, existing in tandem or parallel, creating a space for thematic echos and reader (re)orientation.

Exton makes a choice; we do not.  Exton must interpret what he will do; we must interpret what we have done, if we have done anything. It is Exton who allows the play its end, and despite his abjection, the consequences of his actions haunt the rest of Henry IV’s reign.  Our actions have, perhaps, no lasting effect in the larger context of the game’s endlessly looping plot, as we are simultaneously trapped within and enabled by the haunted house that is the game’s architecture.  Apart from Shakespeare, then, I would say Horrorshow’s game is commenting on the heroic power fantasy of videogames and the exhausted narratives of aggressive but ultimately impotent of bloodshed they often foster.

As a matter of fact, Horrorshow’s original post about the game makes no mention of Shakespeare at all, and so it’s possible many who played through it did not note the allusions if they had no foreknowledge.  The game is deeply allusive, but the allusions only “activate” for a player quite attuned to Shakespeare’s play — and nevertheless, the allusiveness is not present in any way that would seem to lessen the enjoyment of a player who didn’t know Shakespeare but who was very familiar with the Diablo game franchise, text adventures, or someone who wanted to poke around a haunted castle.

Overall, the game draws deeply from Shakespeare while also meticulously managing the impact of its Shakespearean connections through a variety of tactics, including letting its allusiveness go unspoken, choosing its allusions obscurely, or interweaving its allusions with formal misdirection.  Indeed, the “living fear” Exton says Henry decries is interpreted as the deposed king imprisoned at Pomfret — Shakespeare’s name for Pontefract, the actual castle where the historical Richard II was held captive until his execution.  Thus the games title is itself an allusion that displaces Shakespeare as a central, authoritative voice of historical record, underscoring the gap in terminology between our understanding of history and his.

Furthermore, Richard II is not a play that looms large in the popular consciousness, or at least, not large enough for Shakespearean capital to immediately pay off in a gaming environment as it does, say, when the text at hand is Hamlet or Hamlet or Hamlet or Hamlet or Hamlet.  Indeed, the lines from Richard II in Pontefract are not the most memorable of Shakespeare’s lines; they’re not even the most famous lines from Richard II.  Nevertheless, Horrorshow puts her obscure citations to work.

After beheading the rightful king, the castle appears to collapse and you hear the severed head whisper to you the game’s second direct lift from Shakespeare: “Grief boundeth where it falls.”  This is not, as it happens, anything spoken by Richard, but rather a comment made by the Duchess of  Gloucester near the very beginning of the play (I.2) when she is urging John of Gaunt to stand up for her husband (whose death she believes Richard sponsored), and implicitly foretelling the whiplash of political instability that will come to shadow the reign of Henry IV.

In Pontefract the player is primed for this line differently, as you descend to the dungeon and the game tells you,

The castle whispers to you.

Dost thou at ev’ry hail draw out thy sword?

From whither comes this eagerness to slay?

Thy lust for blood and anguish sees thee curs’t

These three lines of blank verse generically meld with the Shakespearean quotations, though they are not themselves Shakespeare (as far as I can tell, they are original).  Thus, any player not explicitly looking for Shakespearean allusions might be inclined to read the actual quotations from Shakespeare — if they seemed somehow stylistically distinct from the game’s narrative voice — as of a piece with this verse.  The final word in the quote above is a hyperlink, which takes us to a closing line:

ttO suffERRr EverR thISSs accuRRSSedd dDAyy

The styling of the text here — breaking with typographical convention to suggest the words are being spoken/thought in a hiss, or by an inhuman voice — recurs not only in her original post about the game (“P0ntteEFFraccctTTt”) but in the game’s code, where Horrorshow has named several passages after direct quotes from Shakespeare’s play in the same style:

R2
Click through for a larger image. Highlighted areas show where passages in Twine have been named with Shakespearean quotes.  This is only a section of these instances.

It was not until the game was re-collated in a directory page that the author’s note made the Shakespeare connection clear, “inspired by” Richard II, which provides the reader with an introductory signpost for the allusions.  I don’t meant to imply that Horrorshow is somehow “coming clean” about her allusions, but rather, the broad and subtle nature of the game’s allusiveness indicates a way of approaching Shakespeare that makes productive use of his corpus while insisting it is not the only corpus that matters.

Horrorshow’s Shakespeare is not an impeachable paragon of literature and humanity; he is the writer of Richard II as well as Hamlet, and also the author of dozens of less than memorable lines, dozens of less than memorable images.  Neither is Horrorshow’s Shakespeare an academic Shakespeare, a layered site where the machinations of cultural poetics are put on display if we perform an anatomy with right critical tool.

However, there is indeed something here of the Foucauldian author-function.  As Marjorie Garber has argued regarding the great dearth of personal and biographical information we have on Shakespeare, it is possibly exactly this dearth that makes Shakespeare such a literary powerhouse: “Freed from the trammels of a knowable ‘authorial intention,’ the author paradoxically gains power rather than losing it, assuming a different kind of kind of authority that renders him in effect his own ghost” (Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers 15).

Garber argues it is precisely Shakespeare’s ghostly nature that allows him to “possess” writers as distinct as Marx, Freud, and Derrida, whose use of his texts as examples for their theories means those theories forever thereafter exhibit the marks of a Shakespearean ghost-writing process.  But I do not think we can say the same about Horrorshow’s game: her allusiveness is never to Shakespeare-as-such, not like, for instance, the way Freud “uses” Hamlet to explain his thesis of repression.

I would like to suggest, then, that Horrorshow and Shakespeare work collaboratively.  What I mean is Shakespeare becomes not so much an author-function but an author-medium.  By “medium” here I mean something akin to what Marshall McLuhan means when she says “All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience in new forms” (Understanding Media 85).  This is similar to the way in which Garber argues Shakespeare ghost-writes Freud, Marx, and Derrida — there are things these writers wish to articulate, and Shakespeare provides the vocabulary for doing so.

But it is always Shakespeare’s vocabulary.  The authors work to preserve a whole and bounded idea of “Shakespeare” outside their own texts.  Horrorshow’s Shakespeare, however, becomes an active but epehemeral metaphor for the experience of authorship and creation.  Is Shakespeare ghost-writing Pontefract, or is Horrorshow ghost-writing Shakespeare?

Her textual use of Shakespeare blurs the boundaries between her in 2012 and him in 1595.  His blank verse appears alongside hers; shreds and patches of his words appear in the very underlying structure of of the game, rewritten in Horrorshow’s own typographical idiolect, meaning nothing in situ, hidden from the player, but serving as the connective tissue between the blocks of the story.

In the end, the game is not “based on” Richard II or an adaptation, but “inspired by.”  Horrorshow makes use of Shakespeare as one part of an available arsenal as a creator and — perhaps, disclosing now that my interpretation of Pontefract is as precarious as any one might offer — to express her interests and concerns regarding games and the stories of power and responsibility they can dramatize for us.

the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone

Happy holidays!  In the finest English Yuletide tradition, here’s a Twine ghost story for you, “the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone.”

It should take 20-30 minutes to read through, has two endings, and uses sound on the first page, as well as a few others.  It was sent a few days early to folks who played The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo and either paid what they wanted over itch.io, purchased the game’s Horse Armor DLC, or participated in the Amazon Horse Armor Extravaganza Cross-Promotional Event, and their names are listed in the credits.  They are very cool folks.

It has been a weird and pretty incredible year and I am thankful so many people experienced and enjoyed my art!!!

 

the uncle who works for nintendo

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My new Twine game, the uncle who works for nintendo, is now available for all to play.  It will take some time to get through one game, maybe 15 to 20 minutes at its shortest.  It has five possible endings.

The original commissioned artwork (some glimpsed in the above thumbnail) was made by the talented Kimberly Parker, who was absolutely amazing to work with.

The abstract artwork was made in the program Icosa by Andi McClure.

My inspirations are listed in the credits game itself, but I think it is appropriate to repeat them here:

Lights Out, Please by Porpentine, Vicky He, John R., Meghan, Jericho Bull, Ashley, Carli Velocci, Kitty Horroshow, Stephen Wilds, Aisley, Cathleen Macdonald, Sarah, and Kira, and the original story by Kaitlin Tremblay that preceded the collated anthology

Her Pound of Flesh by Liz England

You Were Made for Loneliness by Tsukareta

The Yahwg by Emily Carroll and Damian Sommer

History Lesson by withoutpillow

“Glitches: A Kind of History” in Arcade Review #3 by Alex Pieschel

My game uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation, as it was (is) fostered particularly among children in the broader culture of videogames.  If you follow games culture at all, there are some resonances with current events here, and given that, I think it would be remiss not also to point you toward Liz Ryerson’s blog, which hosts not only excellent games writing, but some of the most incisive commentary on our recent troubles.

Special thanks goes, as always, to my beta-testers: Spam, Matt, Jeremy, Dan, Ivy, Alex, Harrison, and Victor.

Empty Houses

This story was originally written around 2007,  when I was 19, and was published in the summer of 2010.  It was the first short story I ever sold, originally available on the website for the horror zine Dark Recesses, which appears to have gone under and then resurfaced with new management. The story is no longer there (the site was totally redesigned), so I’m reposting it here for posterity.  I’ve turned to writing scholarship and criticism more generally, but my fictive impulses still find their outlet on this blog and, obviously, my Twine games.

Empty Houses
by Michael Lutz

The house high on the hill was new, state-of-the-art it was once called, a behemoth of glass walls and cool white stone, and it was in immaculate condition. Every morning Argus stepped out of his closet and offered a cheerful greeting to the Housemind, which did not have the capacity to respond, but Argus said hello anyway.

On Mondays he mowed the lawn.

On Tuesdays he inspected the basement and cleaned the walls.

On Wednesdays he washed windows.

On Thursdays he went to town, for though he’d been told not to bother buying or preparing food he hadn’t been ordered to stop his weekly sojourns. He now walked a mile and a half down the hill to Sweetgum Street, stood for a few moments as if admiring the minivan that had been smashed into the light pole there since June, and returned home.

Friday mornings were spent in the attic running diagnostics on the Housemind while Friday afternoons were occupied with making unanswered telephone calls to neighbors who hadn’t visited recently.

Weekends were for inspection of the house’s interior: changing bedclothes, dusting the places the Housemind’s tiny drones could not reach, making sure the canned foodstuffs left in the pantry were not souring.

Every day after making a final once-over of the house and its grounds, Argus bid the Housemind goodnight and stepped into his closest at ten o’clock, leaving the empty house to bask beneath the blackened and pock-marked moon.

*

One day in September three men, a woman, and a small girl came down the dusty yellow road, heading toward town. They were each dressed in rags and coats. Two of the men pushed shopping carts piled high with cans, boxes, plastic bottles, and a half-dozen or so coloring books. A large bearded fellow led the way, cradling a shotgun in his arms expectantly. One of the men pushing the carts also had a shotgun hanging at his side, but the other man and the woman carried only pistols. It happened that this day in the lonesome September was a Monday. Argus was mowing the lawn as the party appeared over the hill. The leader, when he first saw the glitter of sunlight on Argus’s head, shouted something and swung his shotgun to the ready. The young woman cringed, pulled the child to her. The small girl jingled like a set of keys due to a band of bells looped around her neck on pink string.

The other two men readied their firearms. Argus recognized the signs of danger and did what was appropriate: his hands came off the handle of the mower and reached out, empty, alongside his head.

“Christ, Burt,” said the second man with a shotgun, stepping around the leader to get a better look. “He’s just a tinman.”

Burt grunted, the haggard growth of beard on his face rippling like the pelt of a snarling cat.

“He’s mowing the goddamn lawn, Burt. I’m near blind and even I can see that,” the other man said, fingering the rim of a pair of cracked spectacles resting across his nose. “And you know as well as I do that it doesn’t affect mechs, the only thing they got to worry about is being smashed up by the caravans. And besides, what’s buckshot gonna do at this distance?”

The bespectacled man dropped his shotgun and stepped forward to stand between Burt’s barrel and Argus. “We don’t mean to hurt you,” he called, squinting through the cracks in his glasses.

“Thank you, sir,” Argus replied.

“That means you can put your arms down.”

“Of course.”

“Keep on doing your work. We’ll talk more when we get down there, yeah?”

“If you wish so, sir.”

*

“Hello,” Argus said to the group as they drew abreast of him. He stopped the mower and bowed his head. “My name is Argus of the Allendale family. I am sorry to say Mr. Allendale is not in right now. In accordance with the Mandate, the family has vacated the premises until further notice. If you should like to leave a message, I will be more than happy to relay it to Mr. Allendale upon his return.”

The bespectacled man wiped a dirty hand across his brow. “We don’t know your Allendale. We’re travelers, you might say, all from out east. My name’s Jack, from Ohio. This is Burt from Illinois, then Ray from Vermont.” The men nodded.

“And then,” Jack continued, “the pretty young lady is Judy and her cousin Terry, who we picked up on our way through Kansas.”

“If you will pardon me,” Argus interrupted, “while I am most pleased to meet all of you, if you have no business with Mr. Allendale, I will have to say goodbye and get back to my chores. If you are solicitors I should have you know that even if you choose to leave a message Mr. Allendale will not respond.”

Jack returned his attention to the tinman. “Look, I’m sorry, we’re not salesmen. Or anything much, really. We’re just trying to make our way out to Seattle. They say there’s still people there. Not like the caravans… and sure as hell not like the walkers.”

Argus cocked his head to show puzzlement. “I am sorry. I do not understand.”

Jack’s eyes widened as he and his fellow travelers exchanged looks. “You don’t know?”

“I do not know what? I am sorry. I do not understand. If you wish to leave a message for the Allendales I will be happy to relay it to them.”

“Of course he doesn’t know,” sighed Burt. “He’s a goddamn tinman, Jack. He’s not gonna be any use.”

“When did… when did the Allendales leave, Argus?” Jack asked.

“The eighteenth of April, in accordance with the Government Mandate. The sabbatical is indefinite.”

Terry, who until now had been studying the tinman with a mixture of deep interest and deeper unease, turned to Judy. “He’s been alone all this time?”

“It’s all right,” Judy said, hugging the girl. “I’m sure Argus’s been okay with being alone, haven’t you, Argus?”

“I am performing optimally.”

“Argus,” Jack said, “you have to listen and understand something. You know about what happened, right? In New York? And DC?”

“Of course,” Argus chirruped. “What would you like to know? I am sorry I cannot provide live news feeds, those servers appear to be down.”

“Argus, those places are gone. There’s nothing there, it’s all burnt up. Hell, even… haven’t you looked up at the moon? You don’t know anything about that, Argus?”

“I am sorry,” said the tinman. “I do not understand. Would you like to leave a message for Mr. Allendale?”

Jack sighed. “Listen, Argus, if you can help us in any way–”

“I would be happy to aid you in any manner that does not infringe on my present orders.”

“Right, of course. Now, Argus, if we left could you come with us?”

“It is my duty to tend to the house while the family is away.”

“Could you give us any weapons or supplies or–”

“If you would like Mr. Allendale’s business card I may fetch one presently.”

“No, Argus, what I mean is, if you have any weapons, any guns or bullets — or any food…”

“Food will not be served until the Allendales return. If you wish to make a dinner date, please tell me which day of the week you prefer, as well as any favorite dishes or allerg–”

“Goddammit, Jack,” said Burt, “if we need the food we can just go into the house and take it. He can’t hurt us. They programmed that into them.”

Argus swiveled his head, his crystal eyes shining, to look at Burt. “You are threatening force, sir. I will warn you once more, after which if you do not vacate the premises I shall summon the authorities.”

Burt laughed. “Authorities? What authority you know of that’s left?”

“I am afraid I don’t understand. If you continue to threaten–”

“Shut the hell up!” Burt snarled.

Terry jumped, her necklace of bells jingling as she wrapped her arm around Judy’s waist. Her cousin bent down, embracing the child and whispering to her while Ray looked on with empathy.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Jack asked Burt, Argus forgotten for the moment.

“I’m trying to make sure we live long enough to make it over the damn mountains, Jack. It seems one of us is gonna have to–”

“You’re making sure we live, Burt? Cause last I remember, it was us who made sure you lived. Remember St. Louis?” Though he was the smaller man, Jack spoke sternly. He held Burt’s eyes with his own for a long moment, waiting, and then–

Burt looked away, chuffing.

“Argus,” Jack said, “we understand if you can’t help us. You do what you have to do.”

“Of course, sir.”

“But listen… there’s something behind us. Things behind us. We managed to outrun them because they’re not very fast, but they can track you, they just smell something and have to follow. They — they used to be people, but not anymore. I don’t mean like the caravans… Jesus, I don’t know if this makes any sense to you.” He cleared his throat.

“They’ll look like people, Argus, and I don’t think they’ll hurt you because of what you are, but they’re still dangerous for normal folks like us. So if you can somehow tell the difference between us and… whatever they are… you could…”

“I could what, sir?”

The man’s mouth tightened. “Destroy them.”

Argus paused. “I see, sir. Would you like to leave a message for the Allendales?”

Jack let out a long stream of breath. “Sorry, Argus. We’ll be leaving now,” he said.

“Goodbye sirs, miss, and little miss. Please return when the Allendales are here to receive you.”

Jack had only taken two steps when he stopped, his attention caught by something in the distance. “Argus?”

“Sir?”

“Who lives across the road there, in that old house by the pond?”

“The Clemms, sir.”

“You mean they’re… inside?”

“I imagine not, sir, due to the Mandate. But to be honest they have no Housemind for me to communicate with so I am uncertain. They haven’t answered any calls lately.”

“I see. Goodbye, Argus.”

“Have a pleasant walk.”

*

At seven o’clock, just as the sun was beginning to set and the western horizon to glow over the mountains, there was a rapid knock at the door. Argus, who had been cleaning the dust from the crystal, placed a wineglass delicately on the kitchen counter, dried his hands, and went to answer. “Hello,” he began while opening the door, “my name is Argus. I am sorry to say Mr. Allendale is not–”

“Argus,” said Jack, “we need your help.”

Beside him was Ray, hand clutched to his chest and the sleeve of his ragged jacket stained a deep crimson. Behind him stood Burt, looking as dour as always, and further away Judy attempted to soothe a wailing Terry.

“What is the injury?” said Argus.

“A bite, a possum bite.”

“I am qualified to give first aid and dress wounds. Please, come in.” Argus stepped aside, holding one hand out to welcome them.

*

“If I start to go, promise you’ll shoot me.”

“You’re not gonna start doing anything.”

“There was something wrong with that possum, Jack.”

“It was starving, that’s all.”

Ray hissed through clenched teeth as Argus poured disinfectant over the shallow but bleeding gash on the back of his hand, the liquid sizzling as it dribbled down the sink. Jack leaned in the doorway to the spacious bathroom. “Is it gonna be okay, Argus?”

“It appears superficial. I would still recommend seeing a doctor as soon as possible, however. There is a clinic in town. The Medicmind there tells me there is a free appointment slot as early as tomorrow morning. If you like I can make a res–”

“That’s unnecessary, Argus, but thanks. We’ll get to a doctor… at our next stop.”

“Of course. And the next time you and your friends go out hunting, please be sure to remember that opossums often ‘play dead,’ when they appear to be dead when in fact–”

“I think I learned my lesson, Argus, really,” Ray insisted.

“The bleeding has slowed. Excellent. Please, just a few moments more.” Argus patted Ray’s wound dry and wrapped it in clean white bandages. “Change the dressing daily and be sure to apply disinfectant,” he said, releasing the young man’s hand.

“All right, yeah, no problem,” said Burt, who had been watching silently from behind Jack. “Let’s just get out of here.”

The four of them walked to the front room, where Judy and Terry were looking at pictures hanging on the wall. Every few seconds the pictures changed or switched places in their frames. Some were loops, like the one of Mr. Allendale and his son standing together on the beach, laughing and holding a fat catfish between them. “Do you think they’re still together?” asked Terry.

Judy chewed her lip and was saved from answering as Argus, Ray, Jack, and Burt entered. “Oh, hey,” she said, “what’s the diagnosis?”

“He’ll live,” Burt said, and Ray gave an uncertain frown.

“Well,” sighed Jack, “we’ve been a bother for far too long. Even though it’s late, we’d best be on our way.”

“It was a pleasure having you here.” Argus escorted them to the front door and waved goodbye as the travelers walked out into the night, the sound of Terry’s bells growing fainter as they disappeared into the dark.

*

The following night the alarm went off. Wake up, the Housemind shouted in Argus’s closet, wake up wake up in the pantry wake up wake up.

Soon he was in the pantry holding the intruder by the neck. “Hello again, sir. You are on private property,” Argus said. “The Housemind informs me you have broken the lock on the back door. The local Crimemind has been contacted and the authorities are on their way. Until then I shall restrain you, but please remember that I will not injure you.”

“Go to hell,” Burt growled, the mane of his beard bushed up around his face by Argus’s silver hand. “Go to hell, you mindless piece of–”

“This conversation is being recorded. It may be used as evide–”

Burt swung one leg out, hooking it around the back of Argus’s knee, but the tinman did not even waver. “There are no police coming! Not anymore!” Burt shouted.

“I will detain you while we wait,” Argus told the man, his fingers looped about the man’s neck like a steel collar.

Two hours later, Burt was sobbing, his neck chafing and his fingers sore from clawing at Argus’s hand. “Please, I just — I wasn’t gonna do anything, honestly, I just wanna get back to the others… let me go, please…” His beard, puffed up in a mane around his head, was becoming damp with sweat and tears.

“I was ordered not to tolerate trespassers. If the authorities do not arrive I have the option of presenting you myself.” So Argus wrenched Burt’s arms behind his back and they walked out of the house and all the way down the hill to Sweetgum Street, past the minivan smashed into the light post, past the old grocery store and its sickening stench of rotted vegetables, right up to the municipal building and into the sheriff’s office. They passed through a side office where, in an ergonomic chair, was perched a uniformed skeleton, its head thrown back and a revolver still clutched in one withered hand. A dark brown butterfly was unfurled across the wall behind it.

Burt tried his best to vomit at the scene but Argus was unaffected. He saw only that the station was deserted for the time being, so he fished the keys out of the desk with his free hand and unlocked one of the two cells in the back. Again Burt begged to be let go: “Please, the others don’t know where I went. In the morning they’ll be worried about me.”

“They may come to the Allendale residence searching for you, at which time I will gladly redirect them here, explaining that you broke the law and therefore are obligated to meet with the police.”

“But the police aren’t here! You saw that thing in the office…”

“I do not understand. You will remain here until the police arrive. I will return daily to meet with you. If the authorities are not here, I will act as your caretaker until they arrive, at which point you will be transferred officially into their custody. If your friends have any objections I will advise them to wait as well.”

“There’s no one coming, Argus!”

“The authorities have been contacted and are on their way. I will return home now and visit you again tomorrow.”

Argus was good to his word. The next day he came to the station again, saw that Burt was asleep in his cell, and prepared lunch from the stocks at the empty house on the hill. When the man finally awoke he did not speak, but only accepted the food and ate in morose silence. No one came for him, and for the next two weeks Argus’s routine was expanded. He walked to the station and fixed Burt’s meals in between sets of chores at the house.

Once Burt asked if he could watch television to alleviate his boredom, and Argus complied. There was a small portable set on a rolling cart in a cabinet down the hall, but after Argus went through the trouble of wheeling it down and plugging it in Burt was dismayed to see that no channels were broadcasting save one, a skewed view of an empty news desk. The scene, though live according to the logo in the corner of the screen, was completely still and silent. “Shall you watch this?” asked Argus.

“No,” Burt whispered. “No. Turn it off. Take it away.”

“As you wish.”

*

At the beginning of the third week they came, an unsmiling throng that rushed down the hill toward the town. They shuffled and stumbled over the lawn of the empty house, each one moving with mysterious purpose, drawn by a force beyond an outsider’s perception. They staggered past Argus without even seeming to notice him. One might bump into his polished metal chest every so often, to which he offered a polite “Pardon me,” but they never replied. He couldn’t quite understand why no one responded to his medical advice when he commented on a gash across the forehead or the obvious fracture of an arm or leg.

Many of them had swarmed the municipal building, he discovered later. It was a hassle pressing through to get inside, but soon he made his way to the solitary cell. He found an entire silent horde pressed up to the bars, their arms flailing madly within the bars’ confines. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, move,” he said, pushing them out of the way.

Burt was gone. Something had been splattered across the floor and the walkers at the bars were scooping up handfuls and shoving it into their mouths. Argus returned with a mop to clean up the mess but when he unlocked the cell door the strangers poured past him, swarming the mess, and no matter how much Argus complained they refused to move. When the throng finally fell back there was very little left for him to clean up.

*

The walking throng thinned over the months but did not stop. The weather grew colder; there came a hard snow. Drifts were up to fifteen or twenty feet, and though the house on the hill stood far above the worst of it Argus could not go to town even if he were ordered. In dips between the drifts, pallid green fingers poked out of the snow, frozen in curls. The Clemms’ old home across the road collapsed with a shriek near the end of December. A family of mice took refuge against the cold in the basement of the house on the hill, which kept Argus busy for some time.

Spring came, and with spring came the thaw. The ice on the small pond by the Clemm house thinned and cracked. The curled fingers reaching out of the snow drifts blackened and dripped away, leaving only white bones; there was a rancid stink that, though it did not bother Argus, triggered a latent process in the Housemind across the way, and soon the house on the hill was puffed full of an artificial floral scent.

Then the snow melted in earnest and flooded down into the Clemms’ pond. There was so much runoff the pond grew higher until it was more akin to a lake. It enveloped the ruins of the Clemm home and carried them down the hill, whisking away the skeletal corpse of an opossum that had lain on the kitchen floor since the prior September.

Argus came out when the ground was clear and began his chores, raking away dead leaves and branches and whatever bones hadn’t slipped away in the thaw. He bleached the stone walls, cleared the gutters, and polished the windows. The house had been empty for a year.

*

The third group of travelers came in early August, heading east. Through the house’s expansive back windows Argus saw them as they entered town: a wagon piled high with bags and pulled by a team of horses, followed by smaller but similar wagons carrying weary-looking women and men. Many held their arms protectively around young children, at least one of whom jingled when she moved — though perhaps that was only the sound of the chains binding the legs of these riders to their wagons.

The entire procession was surrounded by two-dozen or more men on horseback, all carrying guns. From his vantage point Argus watched as the menagerie stopped at the old grocery store. Several men smashed the windows before ducking inside and emerging with plastic sacks fattened by cans. The bags were piled onto the wagons before the procession began to move again and the men on horseback spoke to one another, pointing up the hill. Argus saw the gestures, and even though the distance was enough to make him indiscernible to the people below, he thought they were greeting him.

He waved in return as the caravan shifted direction, moving up the hill.

The Privilege of Horror

Cameron Kunzelman via Twitter recently reminded us all of a thing:

Zoe Quinn’s Twine game is very good, and does precisely what I think she intends it to do — to demystify the strange fandom cult that Lovecraft accrues through a rigorous application of Godwin’s Law.  What I think is great about the game is how well it forces one to evaluate their principles with regard to Lovecraft by demonstrating that he was not just “some racist” in the way that nearly anybody 100 years ago (or today, as a matter of fact) would be susceptible to systemically and structurally inculcated racism.

HPL was the sort of racist who went out of his way to be racist, to think up ways to be even more actively racist than any white person living in the 1920s was on a day to day basis. Obviously Lovecraft’s racism is something I’ve known about for a long time, due to my familiarity with his work. It’s something I’ve developed thoughts on, but weirdly enough it wasn’t until replaying Quinn’s game last night that they all came bubbling out in a multi-tweet series. 

 

This was probably what did it, really.  My realization was that I know Lovecraft so well that I can actually sense the man in his racist statements devoid of context — both through his prose, and through the logic of his racism, the assumptions that underpin his scientific materialist worldview.

I got a perfect score on the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I suppose this is as good a point as any as to make clear my stance, however half-formed.

Horror is about being afraid — and I believe this is valuable.  It was valuable to me when I fell in love with the genre, because I was a very anxious child in a very unhappy environment and stories about monsters told me that it was okay to be afraid, because there are indeed things to be afraid of.

The cosmic despair of someone like Lovecraft is a luxury.  It is a result of his race and his socioeconomic class that he could survey all of creation, pronounce it barren and hostile, and then amuse himself by populating it with phantasmagoric projections of anyone who was different from and thus upsetting to him.  For Lovecraft the decline of humanity was synonymous with the decline of a certain type of rarefied whiteness, inevitably a result of miscegenation and the embrace of the unknown.

If horror has an ethical dimension, then it is this: to remind us that there are things to fear.  To remind us that we don’t always win.  That many humans on this planet did not win: they were mowed down by regimes of exploitation, oppression, and hate far greater than they could comprehend.

unWindr

unWindr

PLEASE remember to stay on-topic and respectful in your reviews.  Our automated system will flag anything that does not discuss the maze or seems inappropriate!

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

11/02/2013

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[Note: This post  is under moderator review for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

Incredibly sad to see this place go, we had some great times here!  I guess from now on for all my cider needs I’ll have to head down to Kellerman’s Cidería, the home of the best spiced apple cider in southern Indiana!

That’s Kellerman’s Cidería, just off Bockhoffer Road on the west side of Whitbridge!

Janice D.

Chicago, IL

11/01/2013

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Apparently everyone down here is insane, since I remember something about riots in this same area around Halloween last year.  Anyway, I saw the crazy woman myself, standing in the flames with her gas can in hand and barking like a dog (????) as the corn maze burned down around her.  At one point I saw her pick up this screaming toddler and chuck him right into the flames!  That might have been a hallucination though, I’ll have to talk with my therapist.  Plus I’d been breathing in a lot of smoke.

And of course, it being Halloween last night, the place was packed — screaming everywhere, people trampled underfoot.  THAT wasn’t all a hallucination.  Jesus.  They still don’t have a count of casualties beyond an estimate, and several people are still missing.  Even the town’s mayor was there, and no one can find him now.

All in all, not a very fun experience.  If it’s representative of trips to this venue, I would NOT recommend going.  The apple cider was good, though, and made for a quick and delicious way to put out my shirt when it caught fire.

George L.

 

10/30/2013

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almost ripe

almost harvest

Corey A.

Indianapolis, IN

10/25/2013

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Well, it’s that time of year again! We all know once autumn hits corn mazes pop up left and right here in Indiana, and those of us on unWindr take a break from searching out the best meditational labyrinths and hedge installations to experience these quaint seasonal projects — there’s something special about a maze that’ll be gone soon, lost to the elements, and built anew next year. Of course, with so many of these all over the state, the question becomes which ones are worth your time?

I have to tell you, the Harvest Maze out on the old Frumhel land (forget the stories you’ve heard) outside of Whitbridge is DEFINITELY one of the must-visits this season! After a rough start a few years back things are finally taking off for this amazing maze of maize!

The mayor himself is apparently in charge here, which tells you this place is of vital importance to the town.  A sort of farmer’s market has grown up around it, so there are plenty of pumpkins, squashes, and other fall produce to buy, freshly made cider, candy apples, etc. Hay rides are given in the evening and every Fri/Sat/Sun the maze’s “Spooky Hour” is accented with a creepy soundtrack and locals in goofy costumes jumping out and saying boo. (Note: younger kids may not find this so great! Our daughter is prone to nightmares so we left her to play with the son of the woman running the front stand, but she must have heard us talking about some of the “spooky” stuff, and she’s not sleeping well!)

The maze itself is of a surprisingly high quality and complex design for what is normally an amateur job. The paths are looping and intricate, and confounded even an experienced unWindr such as myself. You bet we’ll be back next year!

Tracey P.
Cincinnati, OH
10/15/2013

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We were in town visiting some friends, and lemme say, in Ohio we tend to look down on corn mazes (my family comes from a long line of die-hard hedgers). Hate to admit it, but this competes with the best! Tons of fun for all ages, by turns goofy and creepy and charming. Everything an autumn activity should be!

The hot cider is exellent, some of the best I’ve ever had, and an absolute must if you visit. The cider, according to the man who served was, was his own family recipe, so it was really great to see that this place had so much history already!

Still, it’s not the perfect corn maze experience — at one point during the journey I smelled something rotten, as if there was some bad corn or something just behind the path.  It can happen this time of year, especially if harvest is being put off, but still.

Erica D.
Haymeadow, IN
10/10/2013

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My boyfriend and I love the caramel apples at this place and also the cider! We wish there was an orchard so you could pick your own apples too but still you can get a discount for produce and the hayride together so it’s a good deal.

The people who run the maze have a little shack out front where they sell the cider and local farmers sell produce, and the lady behind the counter has the cutest little kid! The poor thing sits in a little car seat most of the time and he’s just so small and cute!!!

Also don’t go into the maze without the guides because it is VERY easy to get lost!!!!!

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/09/2013

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The doctors let me out on good behavior.  I told them everything they needed to hear, which is to say I lied.

Can you lie, when you don’t really understand what you’re lying about?

I don’t know what’s happening with this maze, not really.  And I’m beyond wanting to know.  But I think I know how to stop it.

~—~

Kelly R.
Whitbridge, IN
10/31/2012

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Amazing point of pride for Whitbridge, definitely one of the best seasonal mazes out there.  Plenty of challenge without any of the hassle. Really took our minds off all the stuff that happened over in Haymeadow.  Mayor Louis made a speech here last night about how much work it took to harvest a field in the olden days, and how we can kind of think of ourselves like that now: we’re all part of something greater.  I like that idea, because it’s times like these our community needs to stick together.

George L.

 

10/30/2012

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Shuxin J.
Columbus, OH
10/24/2012

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On my way back from seeing the labyrinth in New Harmony I had to detour because of an accident (heard later there were riots or something nearby — wow!) so I ended up driving by this place and decided to check it out. An excellent maze all around, with plenty to see and do. If you can believe it, I actually got lost a couple times! (Check my review history to see how uncommon this is.)

A little displeased with how there were obviously folks in costume stalking behind the rows at five in the afternoon despite the signs outside clearly stating that the “Spooky Hour” didn’t begin until 8. I imagine most of the people employed for the job are bored teenagers or elementary school volunteers, but at least give them something to do other than pretend to try and grab folks just out for a leisurely maze crawl.

PS. Even though it’s not related to the maze specifically, the cider is excellent!

Luke B.
Indianapolis, IN
10/22/2012

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This place is awful. My girlfriend Liz came here last year (before we started dating) and when fall came she wouldn’t STOP talking about going back. We get here, and what does she do? Breaks up with me right on the spot and then turns and walks straight into the maze without saying goodbye! I didn’t see her again that night and she’s not answering my calls.

Sorry I guess this isn’t the maze’s fault. Just a lot of bad memories.

If you go try the cider, despite everything I’ve said it’s excellent.

Whitney R.
Chicago, IL
10/20/2012

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Me and my sorority sisters came down from Bloomington to check this out. It’s supposed to be super creepy. Like years and years ago this old crazy dude and his family had a farm there, and they were like serial killers or whatever.  All Texas Chainsaw Massacre or whatever. It’s probably bullsh*t but that’s the story I heard.

Anyway we came during Spooky Hour and the spookiest part was was Elena realized her Uggs were completely caked with mud.  The maze itself had little to no challenge (back in high school the cheer squad did better designs out of gym mats for our Homecoming Labyrinths) and any scares the dudes hiding behind the corn might have tried to pull off were all undercut by this place apparently only employing six-year-olds wearing what looked like plastic bags over their heads, which is probably against some law or whatever.  I’ll have to ask my social policy professor.

Cider and hayride was fun, though.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/19/2012

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~—~

Liz O.
Indianapolis, IN
11/02/2011

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After reading all the lukewarm reviews, we were a little wary. But we needed something to do, and because some other plans fell through, we came down for Spooky Hour! What a surprise!

The maze itself is probably the single creepiest experience I’ve ever had. At one point I got turned around and realized my friends had gone on without me, but I couldn’t figure out which direction they had gone. I thought I had a better memory than that, but the paths all seemed to blend together, and even though I could hear sounds from other people in the maze or from the cider stand and hayrides, there’s something about the valley where the field sits that makes it seem like sounds are always coming from different places.

What’s amazing about all this is that most corn mazes have a bunch of dudes jumping out to scare you, and creepy music playing, this was totally not like that. It almost felt like the field was completely empty except for me, and I would simply wander the twisted paths of the corn for the rest of my life, alone, until I lay down on the brittle earth and my body withered like the corn husks and my insides crumbled into the earth to feed the corn, to grow, to build, to burst forth with new teeming and more deserving life, the beautiful children of a new era.

Haha wow!  What a great time!

There was a little distraction where the police showed up and arrested some woman who was making a scene in the parking lot, shouting at people and crying about her dog or something. But you can’t blame the venue for a crazy person showing up, right?

Also, the cider was incredible.  Last time I drank cider at Kellerman’s, I thought I’d never stop throwing up, but after a single glass of this stuff I couldn’t stop!

George L.

 

10/30/2011

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each season we reinaugurate the old rites

we cast our offerings to the thirsty earth and wait

do not fear being lost to the new veins we have scratched into the dry dust of this planet

only by being lost in the maze will you find yourself

Evan C.
Whitbridge, IN
10/28/2011

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Snore-fest, and confusing to boot. One of the old stories is that when Old Man Frumhel was making his corn mazes back in olden times or whatever he always did it by looking at the stars? I don’t know, that’s supposed to be creepy I guess, but the murder parts of the old stories were always creepier.

Anyway I think the people running this place now are still using constellations or whatever to make the mazes because it took us over an hour to find our way through and it was boring as sh*t.

Most exciting point? My little brother almost fell in this huge hole that was right there in the middle of the path. Smelled awful, like a septic tank. Safety hazard much????

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/25/2011

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This year I’ve been parking across the road and keep track of how many people go into this maze, and not all of them are coming out.

I can’t get the police to believe me, but if you’re reading this review, please, DO NOT GO TO THIS PLACE.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/24/2011

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Dalia T.
Boulder, CO
10/21/2011

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Good cider. Maybe you should drink a few before going into the maze, because you certainly won’t get any fun out of that. The design is unininspired, if not insipid, and the workmanship is shoddy — the edges of the paths are uneven, there are various weeds growing amongst the corn to begin with, and the costumes the kids are wearing here are not scary at all.  The “skin sloughing from my face like dead leaves” look is so cliche for an autumn maze like this.  Plus, who’s scared of kids?

~—~

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
11/15/2010

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The police won’t help me. Apparently the woman was telling the truth, somehow — the cops are also telling me her kids were “with their father.” So then who took Champ?  And I thought she only had one kid?

I came by after the maze closed. I could hear barking in the cornfield, out there in the maze.  I know I heard it.

Thomas N.
Bloomington, IN
11/01/2010

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I have seen a road sign for this place every fall when I drive to or from Indianapolis, and one day I finally checked it out. It’s off the beaten path, and down a windy road off of 37. When you don’t know where you’re going, sometimes distances feel a lot longer than they really are – don’t be discouraged by the drive – it’s really only a couple of minutes.

We got there at the very end of the day. There is a small house-like structure with the maze out back. We didn’t have time to go through the maze, which is okay because I’m more a hobbyist in that area than anything. We had some of their fresh apple cider (pressed the day we were there) and it was pretty good.

The best part was the view off of their side balcony overlooking the maze at sunset.  The woman who was minding the store had her kid with her (some poor little boy who talked very well but he’s still not old enough to be out of a car seat, bless his soul) but he was very well behaved.

It’s worth a stop if you’re a big cider fan like me (do NOT go to Kellerman’s Cideria!  Yuck!!), and enjoy a break in the really boring drive from Haymeadow to Indy.

George L.

 

10/30/2010

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Josh W.
Ann Arbor, MI
10/23/2010

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Pretty ok place. People working in the farmer’s market can be a bit touchy, but I guess that’s just how the region is.

I asked the woman behind the main counter what was wrong with her kid and she got really offended.  Jesus lady, I just wanted to know!  Anyway I got lost in the maze for two hours but I’d brought my unWindr gear so I had plenty of granola bars.  As I said an ok place, I’ve been lost in better mazes.

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/19/2010

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So I tried again to do the maze with Champ this year. I waited until the awful woman behind the counter wasn’t looking and then dashed for the entrance to the maze, but her creepy little sh*thead kid came out of nowhere and said he’d watch my dog for me while I went through the maze.

Well what was I supposed to do? I mean sure the kid couldn’t have been more than four (or a really small six, and Jesus that skin thing he has) but I didn’t want to look like I had been trying to break the rules, so I handed Champ over and went through the maze (time: 45 minutes. difficulty: medium-low).

I came back out and asked for Champ — but the woman at the counter said she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her that her kid took my dog while I went through the corn maze, and she told me her son was “staying with his father” this week.

You better believe I’m calling the cops.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/18/2010

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Jessica R.
Whitbridge, IN
10/17/2010

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The Frumhel land has been sitting derelict for I don’t know how long, but finally the town seems to want to do something with it. Mayor Louis owns the land, apparently, since he’s related to the Frumhels some way back. Can you imagine that, someone related to that family is now the mayor of this town?

Anyway, his generosity is appreciated, but unfortunately, just about every corn maze a bit further out of town is better in every way. As a lifelong Whitbridgean I hate to say this, but even the Haymeadow Muncipal Fall Fair has more to offer.

It’s just tepid cider, a walking path, and kids in terrible masks.  Mayor Louis gave an interview with the Whitbridge Gazette recently where he promised “great things were coming,” but I honestly think his son running away from home last year is starting to get to him.

~—~

Alberto H.
Chicago, IL
11/02/2009

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Staff woefully insolent and inattentive, available conveniences and souvenirs subpar. Not an auspicious beginning to this maze, which apparently was only recently established.

For an experienced unWindr such as myself, however, this is all secondary.

Design and layout of the maze, while rough, show that someone here has a lot of potential. Not necessarily professionally trained, but I swear one of the paths looped into a Gordian Hexaknot, a formation I haven’t seen outside of certain Incan ruins. If the maze designer from Podunk, Indiana came up with that independently, I eagerly await to see what they will do once they have a few years of practice under their belt.

Nick J.
Haymeadow, IN
11/01/2009

unwindr1

 

You might think I’m biased because I’m from Haymeadow, but seriously this place sucks hard. It’s one thing if you have a sad little shack at the front of a sad maze. But the people here are kind of awful. My wife overheard the woman running the place yelling “Stop!” and a bunch of other stuff at someone in the back of the little shack (Probably one of her kids, the little *ssholes were running all over the place) and she didn’t come out to wait on us for like 15 whole minutes after we got there. The cider is not that good, but you can at least sample its mediocre glory for $1 for a small cup. Don’t try paying at the back where they actually pour the cider though and, for god’s sakes, don’t try paying with a credit card because they’ll act like they’ve never seen one.

This is typical Whitbridge for me though: something that should be charming and endearing is ruined by the people running it.

Shanna D.
Mooresville, IN
10/31/2009

unwindr2

 

Even though the woman working here says it’s not supposed to be a scary corn maze, the piles of empty clothes scattered around the paths are pretty d*mn creepy.

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr5

 

[Note: This post  has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

I found it.  The exit to the maze.  A hole in the center. The only way out is to go deeper

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

Please please help jesus christ what is wrong with this maze where is everyone Trish wouldn’t stop crying and then Brandon went off the path I told him not to because I heard it moving out there but he didn’t listen I don’t know where Trish went either or Sam or Ashley and its too dark but I can hear them and I can hear something else something following me there’s someone out there beyond the path I can’t leave the path I can’t I won’t help me help me help me

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Profanity]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

IF SOMEONE DOESN’T SEE THIS SOON AND HELP US WE’RE GOING TO JUST BREAK DOWN THE F*CKING CORN AND STOMP OUR WAY OUT OF THIS MAZE

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

First, thank god I got this iPhone and 3g.

Second, so I think we’re fucking lost. We’ve been in this dumb*ss corn maze for like an hour and a half now and for some reason my calls out won’t go out but I can still log into this maze fetishist site, so FYI this is NOT A REVIEW, we actually need help. The maze closes in a few hours and no matter how much we shout it seems like the idiots out at the front can’t hear us! I’ll have my dad fire all of them when I’m out.

George L.

Whitbridge, IN

10/30/2009

unwindr2

 

Everyone at school was sort of excited when my dad said they he was going to put up a corn maze here. Our family has owned the land for years (since-you-know-when) and it’s seriously one of the creepiest spots in town — we all grew up telling each other stories about the terrible things Old Man Frumhel did, even if almost all of it’s probably made up.

Anyway Brandon thought it would be fun if we came out today to check it out, and even though it’s a grand opening, you wouldn’t know it. It’s this rinky-dink little place with crappy cider (that I think they just bought at Wal-mart? I think even Kellerman’s could do better) and we’re going through the maze right now and there’s not even anything creepy about it. Of course dad said it wouldn’t be good publicity to have a “haunted” corn maze since this area has such a reputation already.

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/27/2009

unwindr1

 

They say dogs are allowed but when we showed up with our terrier the woman behind the counter was all “I’m sorry no dogs in the maze.” APPARENTLY they just mean it’s okay to have dogs walking around the crappy little farmer’s market they have?

Well listen, I know we’re all diehard unWindrs here, but we need to remember that not all unWindrs walk on two legs, you get what I mean? Champ has sniffed his way through bigger and better mazes than this podunk piece of crap. While we were vacationing in Europe he slipped his leash in Le Grande Labyrinthe and when we finally came out the other side TWO DAYS LATER he was already there waiting for us.

But Champ and I, we take this as a challenge. We’ll unwind this dumb corn maze, just you wait and see.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/21/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]