The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

Coming Out of the Closet

closet-doorThere was a man who lived alone. He has long passed his youth, and could remember a time or two when he’d been brave. But time had passed, and he’d grown older. Now, he was ready for a quiet life, for days spent in his comfortable home, with no concerns except which book he might read, or which bottle of wine to open.

That was before the food started to disappear.

He noticed it first one morning when he went to make his breakfast. He opened the door of his refrigerator and saw the items had been disturbed. When he looked closer, he saw that food was missing.

He thought it odd, but wasn’t afraid. Before he went to sleep that night he locked his doors, and took one more accounting of his refrigerator, just to be sure. He awoke at an early hour, just as the sun was tempted to rise, and went downstairs. He made some coffee, and walked to the refrigerator for some cream.

The shelves were half empty.

You’re not alone. What an irrational thought. The doors were locked, he’d checked immediately after his discovery. There was only one possibility. Someone was sneaking in at night and stealing from him.

He went out and purchased strong locks, latches for his windows, and hired a man to install everything just right. He checked every room, the crawl space, under the bed. There was no one. He felt safe until the next morning when the food disappeared again.

His resolve hardened. The man made a trip to the nearest electronics store and purchased a security camera system, one that could be monitored using his cell phone. It was about noon the next day, while he was at work in his downtown office, that he decided to try out his new cameras. He hit the app on his phone and the screen opened on his kitchen, and a figure moving within it.

The man called the police. Someone had broken into his house. They had somehow done it without leaving any trace of their entry. Officers rushed to his house and moved cautiously toward the front door. The first one tried the knob, and found the door locked. They surrounded the house, and finally broke down the door and stormed inside. They went room to room searching, but they found no one. The search expanded to the grounds around the house, and then to the neighboring houses. But none of his neighbors had seen anything, and there was no evidence of a break in.

The old man confirmed to the police that he had locked every door before leaving for work. He showed them where he’d placed the cameras, and told them that for a week he’d noticed that food was missing from his refrigerator. That’s when the officer saw it, at the end of the hall. A cabinet door was slightly open.

The officer stepped cautiously toward it, and drew his weapon. He placed his fingers on the corner of the door, took in a breath, and threw the door open.

She didn’t scream. She just stayed curled, her knees up to her chin in that compressed space high off the floor. Her clothes were dirty and tattered, and the smell that traveled on the air rushing from the door was sour, an intensely human smell. They pulled her down from the closet, the thief who had lived in the man’s house undetected, watching him, hearing him sleep, sharing his house and his food for an entire year.

The man had locked himself into the house with a woman he didn’t know, who lived in his closet.

True story: read it here. 

Writing Beautifully Disturbing Things

“Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin.”

—-  Mary Shelley, from the novel “Frankenstein” (public domain)

Although I have read almost more books that I can count by Stephen King, my favorite book wasn’t written by him. I also enjoy books not by “commercial authors,” of which – for better or worse – Stephen King is considered one of. My favorite book is “A Prayer for the Dying” by Stewart O’Nan. He writes dark literary fiction, but when I stumbled upon this book and finished it, I was shocked. This was horrifying to its core. And, delightfully beautiful.

By Stewart O’Nan

It was this book that inspired me to write in a new fashion.

“A Prayer for the Dying” is the story of a lawman, minister, and undertaker – all the same person – in a time of plague. But it’s not just his story – it’s yours as well, because the novel is written in second person.

Not many writers can pull this off, at least, not that I’ve seen. But this book is brilliant. You feel the emotions stronger, you feel the desperation as if it was yours, and you know the horror is real, because you are the one confronting it. Stewart O’Nan scarred me for life with this one, and I liked it.

But more than the unique perspective, this was the first modern horror(ish) novel I’d ever read that paid as much attention to the prose as it did to the events. The way he uses the language is an essential part of the story, for it puts you in the proper time, and the right place to see the things that are happening. It takes place before cell phones and the internet and the automobile. It is about a time when people rode trains, and bicycles, and sent messages by telegraph. I think in that time, attention spans were longer, and people looked to words not just to be thrilled, but to be enraptured.

When you think of horror as a genre, a few authors come to mind – Lovecraft, Stoker, Poe, Shelley. None of these writers would be given a chance today, because “literary horror” is not considered marketable, at least, by many in the business. But I wonder why? “Dracula” still scares me when I read it, and I’ve read it more than once. The words keep bringing me back. Poe frightens me with poetry – an art form that is decidedly on the out in popular media – and the line I presented at the beginning of this post – a line from “Frankenstein” – shows how deeply we can connect our fears to the beauty of our existence.

I wonder what you think? Is there a place in the market for a book that tells what could only be considered a “horror” story, and yet does not follow the pattern or the style of modern commercial fiction?  Would we have such staples of our culture as Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster if writers of a century ago were concerned with churning out as many novels in a year as they could? Or is it our fault for wanting something much simpler to read, that doesn’t challenge us to take note of the more subtle uses of the language? Will literary horror – like a mummy rising from a tomb – live again?