Charles Austin Muir
My seventh-grade year, my classmates bullied me. They didn’t beat me up or anything, they just ganged up on me constantly. They called me names, laughed at me, threw spit wads at me, left garbage under my desk. Girls stood in front of me and talked about how gross I was. These were kids I had known since kindergarten. Sometimes even my teacher took part in it.
I hated myself. And I hated my ex-friends for making me feel so ugly. I became a very hateful person. I hated my teacher, the school. I hated every moment of every day. Most of all, I hated being subjected to a system of abuse that could go on because it left no evidence on my body.
As the days dragged on though, I learned to mold my hate into an equally invisible defense. This happened because I watched a lot of movies on TV and saw characters who had the qualities I needed to deal with my enemies.
Strength. Focus. Purpose.
The sort of assets you need to be the caretaker of a very special hotel. The sort of assets you must have if you are to maintain the hotel during the off-season like my all-time favorite horror-movie antagonist… Jack Torrance.
If you’ve never seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s about a man named Jack Torrance who falls under the spell of the Overlook Hotel. Bad things have occurred inside the hotel since its beginning. Those events have left behind a destructive energy that consumes susceptible individuals if they stay at the hotel for too long. Being the Overlook’s caretaker through the winter, Torrance falls prey to its ghosts and transforms into a maniac who tries to murder his wife and son during a blizzard. Reciting nursery rhymes and gleefully wielding an axe, he plays the fool as if he’s the court jester to a nobility of demons. It’s as if the hotel’s evil — which Torrance calls his “employers” — demands not only blood, but comedy with the new custodian’s performance.
The more I watched The Shining, the more I appreciated Torrance’s rage-fueled hilarity.
I felt if I could channel it I could take my power back at school. With that in mind, I practiced “being” Jack Torrance.
I memorized his dialogue, imitated his gestures and facial expressions. One time I got on the bus and stared ahead with my head tilted down like Jack Torrance looking out the window with an expression that has always struck me as that of listening to instructions. I held the posture thirty miles to the end of the line and back. The experience gave me a nasty headache, but also an intense connection to the man I needed to eliminate my enemies.
With the spirit of Jack Torrance inside me, I soon lost my fear of my classmates. I might have been a gross, subhuman thing, but being the vessel of Jack Torrance gave me strength, focus and purpose. He/I felt tremendous power knowing we would stop at nothing to please our “employers.” Now whenever our enemies ridiculed us we smiled to ourselves, looking forward to when we would be called upon to fulfill our duties. We spent the rest of the school year staring out the window, awaiting instructions from our employers.
Fortunately, they never asked us to do anything worse than throttle a kid until his friends pulled us off him. A few months later, the bullying stopped. Still, Jack and I sat together in the back of the classroom facing the bookcase, ignoring everyone. The house — as one of the ghosts calls the hotel’s evil energy — had taught us patience. We waited for more instructions from our employers.
Our freshman year of high school, we were going to follow this bully off the bus, spray his face with insect repellent and stab him to death with a butterfly knife. But the house told us to desist because the punk left us alone that day. The house knew when we should teach our tormentors a lesson in civility and when we should let them walk away unharmed.
Clearly, the house functioned a little differently from the Overlook Hotel in the movie. It kept my aversion to being incarcerated in mind.
Looking back, I realize I had not only invoked the spirit of Jack Torrance, I had created a mental image of the hotel he served so faithfully. That image gave my hatred a form that helped me reorganize my experience of being bullied. Rather than play a helpless victim, I reimagined myself as a servant of evil capable of performing any task, however dreadful.
Given that I was bullied emotionally rather than physically, this kind of inner alchemy offered me a path to power and self-discovery.
So go ahead, try it. After all, winter is drawing near. Ghosts are stirring in the Overlook Hotel of your subconscious. They are telling you the bullies are out there and they are coming for you. The bullies want to steal your thoughts, your wealth, your soul. They want you to hate yourself. Let it happen. Because hate is useful. A snow storm is approaching and you will need the power of hatred to sustain you through the treacherous work ahead. You must maintain the hotel at all costs — because the hotel exists to protect you.
Shh. Do you hear it? The ghosts are speaking again. They are telling you to pick up that axe. Swing it at the door in front of you. Who is screaming on the other side? A neighbor? A co-worker? A family member? Good. They should be afraid — they’re bullies. Now stick your face in the hole you’ve cut into the door. Smile at your enemy cowering in the corner. Say it:
Charles Austin Muir is the author of THIS IS A HORROR BOOK and BODYBUILDING SPIDER RANGERS. He has also been published in several horror anthologies, including Peel Back the Skin, 18 Wheels of Horror and The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. He loves old typewriters and wandering around in hedge mazes. He hopes you’ll give him an axe for Christmas.