Bad Kid

As many of you long-time followers of Speculating Canada know, I try to have a little gift for you around the holidays – a tale inspired by this time of year. There is a long history of telling stories (and especially spooky stories), after all, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is the time of year with the longest nights. 

The story I bring you is inspired by a monster from Yule traditions – Gryla. She is an Icelandic ogress who eats naughty children on Christmas. If you want to learn more about Gryla, check out my post on Through the Twisted Woods at https://throughthetwistedwoods.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/creepmas-yule-monsters-gryla/.

Note: Trigger Warning for discussions of abuse and family violence

Bad Kid

By Derek Newman-Stille

I know I haven’t been the best kid this year. I know that I’ve caused trouble. I know that I keep making Dad angry. I know that he hits me because he wants me to be better.

All of the other kids seem happy this time of year, as Christmas approaches. All of them seem to be excited for the holiday season and to be rewarded… even the kids that I don’t think are good… even the kids that bully me.

But who am I to know what is good? I’m a bad kid, so how am I to determine who is good or not. How am I to decide what is good behaviour or bad?

None of them seem to be afraid.

None of them worry about her.

Not like I do, at least.

Even though I know that it is still a few weeks before she comes down from the mountains, I can hear the chomp of her jaws, hear the clomping of her feet, and feel the chill of her breath.

Dad told me about her when I was really little. “If you don’t behave, Gryla will come down from the mountains and slice you into pieces and throw you into a pot and boil the evil out of you and she will eat you.”

There was even a statue of her in the town square with her oversized ears, her horns, her big nose, and teeth worn flat from chewing the bones of children. She leared over a big pot, looking hungrily into it.

If you wanted to, you could climb up on her statue and even climb into her pot, pretending to be a sacrifice to her monstrous appetite. While the other children crawled all over her, dropping themselves into her pot and laughing as they looked up into her looming face, I couldn’t go near it.

Father would push me toward the pot, telling me “Those children think it’s funny. They think Gryla will leave them alone. That she is just a silly troll from our stories, but you, my dear, you know she is real. Maybe they don’t think they have anything to fear from her, eh? Maybe they think that they have been good little boys and girls who listen to their fathers?”

He would look down on me with the same monstrous hunger that Gryla’s statue showed. I would tremble as I looked up at him “I don’t know, father. I don’t know why they aren’t afraid”

“Are you afraid, my girl?”

I would silently nod my head, my curls bouncing up and down.

“Say it, girl.”

“Yes.” I would squeak out, “I am afraid.”

“And why are you afraid?”

“Because I’m never good, daddy.”

“That’s right. Never. Good children listen to their fathers. You never do. Go, get up into Gryla’s pot. Remember what it feels like. That could be you this year. That could be your Christmas, eaten up by Gryla the troll.”

This year I was extra afraid of Gryla. The eyes of her statue seemed to follow me, and they seemed hungry to me. If I stared too long, I swore I could see her move.

Just a little.

Not even a step.

Just a slight shrug and she was closer.

The other children began to sing.

“Down from the mountain

I come abounding

on silent feet

up to your window.

I hear your breathing

hear your fear

knowing you’ve done

bad deeds this year.

Leaving my Yule Lads

up to their mischief

as my cat

goes prowling at night.

I am hungry

hungry for meat

even though you are rotten

even though you are bad.

I come abounding

out of the darkness

Gryla the Ogress

Gryla the Troll.

My hooves will step lightly

My hooves with step sure

Before you know it

I’ll be at your door.”

The children laughed and rolled in the snow and I watched on, wishing I could be like them. Wishing I didn’t have to be afraid.

Last month, I asked one of the boys in my school, Einar, why he wasn’t afraid of Gryla.

He had stared at me and asked “You don’t really believe in her, do you? The Troll?”

I nodded back at him.

He began laughing, calling all of the other children “Hekla believes in Gryla! Hekla believes in Gryla. She’s a little baby.”

He shoved me in the snow, kicking me in the face. Red ran into the snow as other kids joined him, laughing and kicking snow into my face.

I lay still.

It was the same thing I did when my father hit me. I pretended I wasn’t there. I wished I was invisible. I wished they had something to distract them.

I wished Gryla would take them and eat them.

“Your parents give you presents and your parents say that Gryla will eat you so you will be good all year.” Said Magnus, pushing the other children away and looking at me with something worse than anger. A sadness.

I knew that couldn’t be true. My father wasn’t smart enough to think of something like Gryla, wasn’t smart enough to lie that well. His lies were always so silly, blaming me for things that he did.

He didn’t need to lie well.

He had all the power, and I had learned a long time ago that powerful people don’t have to lie.

Magnus reached down and I winced. I think he was trying to help me up from the snow, but I knew it was safer to look after myself.

I spat blood into the snow. Father said I should never spit, but the taste of the blood was making me sick. I rolled over and stood up while Magnus held his hand out for me. He moved closer to help me up and I pulled away. I didn’t know what he wanted.

“You know,” Magnus said, “It’s okay to believe in Gryla. I just wish you wouldn’t. Parents made her to make us afraid. She’s not real. The other kids make fun of you because they don’t believe in her any more.”

“Do you?”

“No… of course not.”

He still looked uncomfortable and I noticed his eyes drifting toward the mountain. Toward Gryla’s home.

I nodded to him.

It was our secret.

I knew he didn’t want to admit it. He wanted the other kids to think he was tough.

I was late, so I hurried home.

I didn’t realize that my coat was stained with blood until I got to my house.

“What happened to you?” His voice was angry, not worried.

He pulled at my coat, knocking me down.

“I’m sorry.” I said, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. He hated when I whined.

He didn’t ask what happened. It didn’t matter to him. I always tried to figure out what I had done wrong and I knew I had done something wrong. I ruined another good coat. I got into a fight at school. I was making him look bad. I- I-

“Get in here. The neighbours are going to see all that blood and think that I’ve been hitting you. I shouldn’t have to get in trouble because you can’t behave and you do things like this.”

He could get in trouble for hitting me?

He always said that it was a parent’s right to punish their child. Even the teachers said it. And the priest said it. How could he get in trouble?

“You will have Child Protection knocking on our door and then what will I do? Huh? What?” He was screaming in my face, spraying it with spittle. If the neighbours cared that he hit me, they would have called Child Protection before now. They must know. How couldn’t they know?

I looked at the floor like I always did. Looking up was “getting smart” with him. I stared hard at the floor, trying to memorize every knot in the wood, every burl. I ran my toes over the worn parts of the floor, which he seemed to think was me being apologetic.

“Get to bed. No dinner” He dragged me half way up the stairs before I could get my feet under me and run the rest of the way to my room.

I closed the door, wishing it could keep me safe. Wishing it could keep him out.

Wishing it could keep Gryla out

***

I heard the crunching of snow outside my window.

Or was it bones?

It didn’t have the crisp sound of boots in the snow or even bare ogre feet. It made a grinding sound, wet and slushy.

I pulled my blankets off of my bed, darting beneath it.

I knew she could smell me.

I knew that the reek of bad girl was all over me.

I knew that her big ears could hear my breathing, my sobs.

I could feel my finger nails dig into the palm of my hand. Maybe if I just hurt myself that little bit, I could keep from sobbing out loud. I clenched my teeth down on my tongue.

Everything in me said “run”.

My body was shaking with fear.

I knew I couldn’t outrun her. How could she eat so many bad children if they could all run away? She had to be faster, had to be able to catch us.

I couldn’t tell if it was the huff of my breath or if it was hers. It seemed too close.

My bed sagged down with me beneath it.

I swore I could smell the stink of rotted flesh from her breath.

“Don’t be afraid” came a gravelly voice. It was a voice that was used to harshness, used to yelling, but trying to be soft-spoken, comforting. It made it all the more terrifying.

“You don’t need to fear me.” I let out a squeak of fear and shoved my hand into my mouth, breathing around it.

“It’s okay. You’re a good little child, aren’t you?”

I wanted to shout “No”.

“You are, you know. I wish you knew that. You don’t smell like food to me. You smell like fear, but you wouldn’t taste good. There’s nothing rotten in you.”

I wanted to tell her that I was rotten – that I knew it. I wanted to tell her that I deserved to be eaten. I was more than rotten, I was downright evil. I knew it. I still had the lash marks on my back to prove it.

“Something rotten has been done to you. Parents are supposed to look after their children.” I heard a low chuckle, “I look after the Yule Lads, feed them fresh meat from the bad people of the world. I keep them fed. I clothe them. I give them the clothes of the people we eat. I’m a good mother.”

I felt her shift on the bed above me, but she still didn’t look over the edge. “But you. No one has looked after you, have they? Oh, I know you have clothes. I know you have food. I know you have a bed and a house. But you don’t have a home, do you? A home is where you should feel safe, protected. You’ve never felt that. Don’t you think you deserve it?”

I let out a whispered “No”.

“Have you never felt wanted?” She waited, but I couldn’t answer again. “What if Gryla wants you? What if you could be my child? No, no, not to eat. There is enough rot out there to keep me fed.”

A ragged, warted hand appeared over the side of the bed, reaching down gently, slowly. I could see the blood under her nails, see the pustulant warts leaking down her hand.

It hovered there, open and relaxed.

It reminded me of Magnus’ hand, reaching out to help me out of the snow. This wasn’t a fist, wasn’t a hand that was grabbing at me. It was a hand that was offering something.

I think anyone else would be disgusted by those thick knuckles, by the sprouts of hair, by the thick, yellow nails. I think I would have been disgusted before.

I just knew I wanted something and there had only been one thing that I had ever wanted – escape.

This was a hand of escape. It was a hand that was marked by living in the wild.

The blood didn’t even bother me… and I didn’t know why.

I reached a finger up and touched it to the middle of the hand.

She didn’t move.

I pushed a little with my finger and she playfully pushed back, tapping her fingers on mine.

I let out a giggle.

Somehow things are more funny when you have been scared. It had gotten me in trouble so many times, those little laughs when I was being punished – those “outbursts” as he called them.

I pulled my hand away, afraid that Gryla would hit me for laughing at her.

“It’s okay” came the gravelly, whispery voice.

I don’t know what it was about hearing those words — maybe it was because I had never heard them before, maybe because nothing ever seemed okay — but I let my tears fall and grabbed onto her hand, really believing that it could be okay.

Part of me still expected her to grab my hand and drag me away to the dark of the mountain… but she didn’t. Her rough hands caressed the back of my hand.

“It’s okay” she said, over and over again. “You’re safe now. Will you come out from under the bed?”

I pushed myself across the floor, craning my neck up to see her.

She looked just like the statue, all rough bark-like skin, warts, and horns.

But her face seemed gentle. Natural. And her eyes were gentle, brown and wide with compassion.

“No one will hurt you again.”

My heart jolted. “What about him?”

“Do you know when a bear is at her most angry and scariest?”

“No” I said, looking up into those eyes.

“When her cubs are in danger. She becomes fierce.” Gryla lifted her other hand, showing off her blood-crusted nails and playfully swiping at the air. She made a little grr sound.

I giggled again.

I don’t think it was the awkward giggle of fear.

She smiled with her flat broken teeth, but somehow they seemed soothing, even silly. I couldn’t help but smile back. “I am the mother to children who have been hurt by bad people. I am the mother to children like you. I don’t let my cubs get hurt.”

I finally knew what she meant.

I looked again at the blood on her long, yellow nails, at the crusting of blood around her hairy knuckles, at the drip running over the lines on her palm. I jumped up and grabbed around her neck, holding tight.

I finally pulled back, looking deep into her eyes. “But, you already have children. You have the Yule Lads”

“Oh, my dear, do you think those were Leppaludi’s children? He is so lazy, he never moves. No, they are children like you, ones who haven’t been loved like they should.”

“But you only have Yule Lads. I’m a girl.”

“I know, love, I know. That’s the way the story goes. But my children aren’t all boys. There are girls too – Yule Lasses. They may even do more mischief than the boys do.”

She gathered me up into her arms, standing up so that her head pressed against the ceiling. She looked down at me again, a smile on her twisted lips “Do you think you could do some mischief?”

I smiled back at her.

I would start thinking of mischief I could do. Nothing really really bad. Maybe just pinch some bullies. Just a little pinch. Just to let them know that Gryla is watching.

Abuse and Ideas of Home

Abuse and Ideas of Home

A review of Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” is an intensely powerful and intensely painful tale that examines ideas of safety, security, and home. I should start my review by adding a trigger warning that “Superfreak” contains discussions of sexual assault and abuse as does this review.

In a world where people develop Gifts as they age, Danielle is a character who hasn’t developed a gift. She is told that this makes her part of a vulnerable population and she is also teased by other youth about her lack of Gifts. Despite this, when Danielle is called “Superfreak” by other young people, she decides to take on the name, to use the language that was meant to disempower her to instead give her strength. The name allows her to fight back against some of the horrors that she has seen in her life.

Danielle moved from the Caribbean to Canada to escape an uncle who was sexually assaulting her, only to be sexually assaulted by the uncle she was living with in Canada as well. She is able to escape and get to a youth shelter where she is able to start developing a sense of community.

Shades Within Us is a collection of tales about migration and border crossing, and while Liburd does deal with a literal crossing of a border into Canada, her story is more about the philosophical and emotional ideas of “Home”. Liburd explores the unsettled feeling of people in situations of abuse, the total inability to find a sense of safety and security in the notion of “Home” that non-abused people feel. Danielle is a character who is seeking some sort of sense of being free of threat, and Liburd uses the character to explore the idea that a notion of “Home” always takes time for abused people. It is not something that can be secured by a certain place – by four walls. It is something that is constantly being negotiated, something that is constantly sought after and constantly disrupted by past trauma. Liburd examines the complexities of home that non-abused people ignore and highlights the conflicted nature of homes.

“Superfreak” is a story that cuts to the quick, but it also reveals a great deal about the sort of lasting pain that comes from abuse and trauma.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/

To find out more about Tonya Liburd, visit https://thespiderlilly.wordpress.com

Hawkeye’s Deafness

Hawkeye’s Deafness
A review of Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez’ “Hawkeye #5: All New Hawkeye” (Marvel Comics, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  
As a disability scholar and a fan of Jeff Lemire’s work, I was extremely excited to discover that Lemire had taken on the writing of the Hawkeye comics. Hawkeye has been recently reinvented as a deaf character (I use the small “d” deaf here because Hawkeye doesn’t engage with many aspects of Deaf culture). Rather than using sign language, this Hawkeye uses a powerful hearing aid created by Tony Stark (Iron Man) that allows him to hear. Fortunately, at various points in the comic, Lemire has Hawkeye lose the use of his hearing aid to illustrate his deafness. Hawkeye’s deafness is rendered in Ramon Parez’ illustrations by showing empty speech bubbles, having the reader take the role of Hawkeye in trying to discern what is being said. This is an effective way of conveying Hawkeye’s deafness since the static form of comics doesn’t allow for the movement of lips. Further, the choice not to make Hawkeye capable of reading lips in the midst of battle is an effective one since lip reading is largely not effective when bodies are static let alone during the movement of battle. 

Lemire covers the early life of Hawkeye, illustrating when the character becomes deaf through the abuse of his father. This narrative links Hawkeye’s deafness to his early life and represents the intersection of two bodily identity narratives – the abused person and the deaf person. Lemire resists the temptation of making Deafness into a symbolic medium that many able-bodied authors fall into. Instead, Lemire presents deafness as a bodily experience and one that is only part of the multiplicity of experiences and identities Hawkeye experiences.

Lemire avoids the narrative of the “supercrip”, where a character with a disability is given superpowers to compensate for his or her disability (like Daredevil). Instead, Hawkeye has gained his skills through practise and doesn’t have any additional superpowers. The focus on vision for Hawkeye is significant since deafness normally means a focus on vision as the medium of communication and interaction. Indeed, the deaf community has been referred to as the “people of the eye”. The link between vision and Hawkeye’s name, indicating both accuracy, but also a precision of vision makes a firm link between his deafness and his focus on developing his visual skills. 

In addition to exploring Hawkeye’s deafness, Lemire explores the character’s role as a mentor and the complicated relationship between mentor and mentee, bringing attention to the role of aging that is generally elided in superhero narratives. Hawkeye is shown preparing the next generation of heroes for the future of the role. 
Lemire’s reference to Hawkeye’s history as a circus performer brings attention to the way that Deaf and disabled people have been involved in the circus industry, finding a place of belonging amongst other people who have been socially discriminated against. This role in the circus plays with the notion of the circus community and the disabled person as both being figures who are stared at in a society that constructs difference as pathological. Lemire examines the way that this intersection shaped Hawkeye’s experiences, propelling him to develop his skills in circus performance (particularly his role as a bowman) that eventually will lead to his role as a superhero. 

Lemire’s Hawkeye is represented as fundamentally shaped by his history of experiences, illustrated to be a composite of his past and his present understanding of his role as a superhero. 

To discover more about Jeff Lemire’s work, visit his website at http://jefflemire.wix.com/jefflemire.

Steam Until Completion

Steam Until CompletionA Review of OnSpec 100 (Spring 2015, Vol 27)  

By Derek Newman-Sille

  
Steampunk is a complicated category and OnSpec’s much anticipated 100th issue was a great opportunity to explore some of the complexities of the genre. For this volume, OnSpec pushed the boundaries of the *punk genre, exploring areas like fairypunk, alternative histories, and diselpunk while examining all of those new areas waiting to be punked. This is not the traditional steampunk or cyberpunk collection but rather a look into those fringe areas, the under-represented. OnSpec extends the punk genres into unexpected areas.

Punking genres allows for the exploration of deep social issues and this volume explores issues such as fascism, the potential for criminals to become resistance fighters, eugenics, sexism, domestic abuse, racism, reproductive rights, espionage, and climate change.

To discover more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca

Life Drained by Residential Schools

A review of David Jon Fuller’s “Sin A Squay” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

By Derek Newman-Stille

Residential schools were a real life horror for indigenous Canadians. Taken from their homes, punished for speaking their own language, forced to abandon their own culture and lifestyle, subject to abuse and starvation, Canadian aboriginals from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s endured victimization by very real monsters.

David Jon Fuller’s short story “Sin A Squay” takes the very real horror of residential schools and overlays it with modern mythical monsters. Jenny and Marion were both subject to torture at a residential school – beaten, starved, cut off from their family and their heritage they had their lives drained from them… literally. While at the MacDonald Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, the girls were subject to both psychological and physical draining by the vampiric Miss Harrow.

Trained through violence to submit to others, Marion lost the empowerment that her werewolfism brought to her, her alpha status, and it is only through her confrontation with the person who subjected her to violence, Miss Harrow, that she is able to discover herself and her own power.

David Jon Fuller brings attention to the historical issues around the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, particularly aboriginal women. He highlights the violence of the residential school system by showing two women drained of their lifeforce by a vampiric other, here representing a system that sought to drain aboriginal people of their heritage (their blood). Using the figure of the werewolf, Fuller brings attention to the way that the residential school system claimed that its role was to “tame” aboriginal Canadians and force them to submit to a white domestic culture in which they were treated as pets. Marion’s werewolf side has suppressed its role as an alpha to others because of this depriving of independence and freedom of thought.

He highlights the continued and very pressing concern about the disappearance of aboriginal women in Canadian history and its continuity today. When Miss Harrow is feeding on children and killing them, stashing them in the basement, they are ignored by the police who believe that any white woman working for the residential school system would be above reproach.

You can explore David Jon Fuller’s work at http://www.davidjonfuller.com/ .

Read more about the collection Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast on Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html .

Transformative Art

A Review of OnSpec #91 Vol 24, No 4 (Winter 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of OnSpec (Art by Kenn Brown)

Cover photo courtesy of OnSpec (Art by Kenn Brown)

One of the key narrative threads running through Volume 24, number 4 of OnSpec is the transformative power of art and writing. This thread is most potent in Kevin Cockle’s Palimpsest, a short story about a man who learns how to transform the world and people around him through calligraphy, over-writing people’s personalities, histories, and selfhood with simple movements of pen and ink. The world becomes a transformative space, subject to authorial whims and transformative thoughts.

Gaie Sebold’s Sharali focuses on an artist who is resisting social pressures to devote his artistic energies toward capitalist means. In a society that is over-writing the natural world with the destructive industrialist enterprise, Charentin concentrates on painting natural scenes and scenes of natural beauty, capturing the numinous quality of the natural environment rather than scenes of industrial expansion and wealth. Through his artistic ability to overlay the natural, Charentin is capable of releasing himself and the prostitute Sharali from their lives of servitude and artificiality.

William B. Robinson’s poem Delta Theta Alpha Beta concentrates on the numinous quality of letters, the ability of letters to transcend the limits of simple meaning – the power of sigils to speak to more than their representative value but summon an eldritch quality that arises from beyond the mundane.

In Steven Popkes’ 10 Things I Know About Jesus, the transformation that occurs is on a mythical level, shifting the tales told from the past to illustrate how rumour leads to legend, leads to myth, and the mythical says very little about the original subject and speaks more to the ideologies of those creating the myth. Jesus in this story is far different from the character outlined in Christian belief. He plays poker with Satan and Lazarus, doesn’t attend a church, has little interest in performing miracles, and views the events leading up to his crucifixion as his last foray into the realm of politics. He resists the mythical structure that has been built around him.

David Gordon Buresh’s The Devil’s Eyes looks at the transformative power of consumption and hunger, the way that the act of eating can fundamentally shift something in the structure of human beings, pushing them into something Other, something mythical.

Leslie Claire Walker’s Ghost Ride explores the world of a driver for the dead, bringing the deceased to their new destinations (whether it be Heaven or Hell). Mack, the driver, seeks to change destiny, trying to find his wife (who committed suicide) a means of finding her way into Heaven, transforming the stigma and spiritual blight that was branded onto her soul by her act of suicide. The transformative quality of this story is huge, facilitated by the vehicle of travel (the car ride to the realms of the dead) and the transformative quality of death itself, moving between one state of being and another. The life (and afterlife) narrative of the passengers is in flux, determining what their next steps will be.

Kim Neville’s One Shoe Highway is a powerful transformative travel narrative. Like Ghost Ride, it is focused on the roadway as a place of transition and change. Women in this story disappear periodically from the road, leaving behind a symbol of their travel as well as of their previous lives – their shoes. These women have the option of giving up their previous lives (often marred by abuse) and separating themselves from the world that victimises them.  Bringing attention to the social issue of so many battered women disappearing, Kim Neville has her characters instantly be forgotten after they disappear (mirroring the social response to women who are victims of assault and abduction, which is often to forget about them and erase their memory). Instead of being abduction victims, however, the women in One Shoe Highway are given the option of changing their narrative future and instead of tolerating a future of spousal and societal abuse, they are allowed to move out of the world into a space primarily for battered women.

As a medium that brings the SF community short stories, SF artwork, interviews, and editorials in one volume, it was incredible to see OnSpec’s focus on the power of narrative and stories to shift and change and to alter the world around them. SF stories have the potential to bring social attention to issues in our world – they can shift our consciousness, help us see things that we ignore, and open our minds to new possibilities. Art and narrative really are transformative – they can change the world.

On a personal note, as a disability scholar, I was extremely excited to see the interview conducted with Kevin Cockle and his discussion of the influence of his own medical disability on his authorial work.

To find out more about OnSpec, you can visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .