Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 10

Worst book of the 1980's, take ten. This chapter opens with a strange little interlude. It's very short, so I'll share the whole thing with you:

     "Did you listen to CFAX this morning?" Michelle asked Dr. Pazder, wide-eyed, as she was taking off her coat. He said he hadn't. "Well, they were talking about The Victorian and the different things that are written in The Victorian, and the guy, the announcer, said, "Black magic is being practiced in Victoria and has been for years, and if you want to read about it, get a copy of The Victorian." And he was talking about how it really shocked him, this cultism, and about a woman who'd been their victim. Poor woman--I wonder if she still lives here."  
     "Did you go buy a copy?" Dr. Pazder asked.
     "No way!" 

I like this passage because it manages to capture perfectly (and most likely unintentionally) what it's like to make any attempt to track the lore of the Satanic Panic. When you first approach the subject, it has the illusion of being well-documented. Every believer seemed to know that there were Satanists out there murdering children; most were positive that they had seen a TV news report or read an article, and many could even name the show/magazine/newspaper that ran said report or article. When pressed for more information about the report/article, however...well, most of the time they can't or won't give much more detail than, "I heard the president of Procter and Gamble told Phil Donahue that his company donates a percentage of their profits to the Church of Satan on live TV!"

Even when you do track down such "sources," they are invariably disappointing. For instance, the article* Michelle was talking about is included in the appendices at the back of the book, and for all its sensationalist claims that, "Witches practicing black magic sounds like something out of a medieval myth but they are right here--in Victoria," the article is based on the testimony of a "former" member of one of these covens who sounds a tad delusional at best, and it includes a statement from the police chief that the report this fellow filed did result in an investigation which turned up no evidence of any witch coven. There's not even any mention of the woman Michelle was talking about who was a victim of witches, except for a vague assertion that said witches try to recruit "young girls."

Hell, the source doesn't even give any names. Despite ostensibly being a former insider of this group that supposedly included "prominent business people" whose names would move a looooot of copy if you could pin a scandalous story on them. Which you can't, because this whole stinking thing is an urban legend that spun out of control and anyone whose real name you attached to this malarkey could sue you. 

Anyway. More evil Satanists doing evil things.

The nurse abruptly drags Michelle out of the hospital (somebody must have filled out her discharge paperwork off-screen), bundles her into a car and drives until they come to "a large, rambling, turn-of -the-century house in poor repair." I like to think it looks something like this:

The nurse then proceeds to lock Michelle in three different closets, saying the name of a different direction each time. As in, she locks Michelle in the first closet, waits a while, and then says, "North," while dragging her out. Then she repeats the process and says "West." Then a third time. "South," and this book still isn't bothering to explain just what the hell is up with these people and their points-of-the-compass obsession. Cardinal directions are not evil.

With the last named direction, east, Michelle finds herself locked in a basement instead of a closet. And left there, for a very, very long time. Every now and then the nurse returns to crack the door open and tauntingly say Michelle's name, but she doesn't let the kid out or even bring her any food or water. Once Malachi comes down to hang some ducks he shot from the basement rafters, but he ignores her. This goes on so long that she's forced to eat splinters from the wooden stairs and drink her own urine to stay alive. Dr. Pazder will later theorize that this was a sort of brainwashing technique to make her compliant to the cult's desires.

You know, Michelle Remembers Satanists, there's a much more effective way to make children share your beliefs and do what your faith demands of them. It's called indoctrination. All you have to do is start feeding your beliefs to them from the cradle. Make sure they grow up with the message that your particular brand of Satanism is the one and only "right" way to live ingrained deep, deep into their minds. It's an extremely effective technique. Your enemies the Christians have used it to terrifying effect.

Also it's a lot less risky than stashing a kid away in some creepy abandoned house (which may not be as safe a hiding place as you think--places like that tend to be magnets for urban explorers, teens looking for a place to make out/drink illegally, homeless people in need of shelter, and various other nosy folks) and camping there for gods only know how long, worrying that the kid might escape while you sleep or that you might accidentally starve her to death before whatever time your deranged mind has decided is a proper incubation period for brainwashing has passed. Not to mention, despite all the fears of scary Communist mind control** that were floating around in the 1950's, the truth is that brainwashing--especially this kind of break-their-spirits brainwashing--isn't quite as effective as it's cracked up to be.

Michelle eventually escapes the basement (by opening the unlocked door. These particular Satanists apparently believe that once you shut a door behind someone, they're honor-bound not to open it until you say they can, or something.) only to run into her mother who drags her into another ritual. First, Malachi and the nurse try to make her eat some foul-smelling, ash-laced paste out of a bowl. She refuses, and the adults handle her refusal in a manner both douchey and surreal:

     The nurse addressed Michelle's mother. "Give it to me," she said, and Michelle's mother handed the nurse a doll.
     Oh, no, not again, Michelle cautioned herself, There's probably a dead bird under it. I'm not going to be fooled again.
     Suddenly the nurse flung the doll to the floor, smashing its head, and a seething glob of little bugs came out. Michelle screamed. The moment she screamed, Malachi shot the horrible stuff in the bowl into her mouth.

Snerk. So now I'm imagining the nurse spending hours on end picking up ants from the yard with tweezers and gently dropping them into a cheap doll head, just in case she has to freak out a recalcitrant child today. Also the use of the verb "shot" makes it sound like Malachi squirted the smelly crap out of a Super Soaker. This book would be a lot better if he had.

We get more creepy rituals: The adults take Michelle to a graveyard, sacrifice a cat ("What the hell do people think Satan has against cats?" is a question I will be asking a lot over the course of this book) and imprison Michelle in a grave. That conveniently happens to be empty, and "cracked on top" so that it's easy for the nurse to open. I guess this world's cemetery groundskeepers aren't much more competent or attentive than its police.

The ceremony ends with the ceremonial "rebirth" of Michelle to the nurse, and her mother revealing that she intends to give Michelle up to the coven. The book wants us to believe she's evil for this. To me, though, it reads more like something she was forced into doing. Oh, and we learn that the ashes in the stuff Michelle was forced to eat were from the murdered lump woman. Lump woman, we hardly knew ye.

One more note before we close out the chapter. When Michelle is being lifted out of the grave, she pretends she's a ghost. "Just like Casper..."

Damn it, Satanists, which one of you was letting her watch TV and/or read comic books? Everyone knows that exposure to secular culture is poisonous to religious indoctrination! Not that you made much more than a half-assed, inefficient attempt at indoctrination anyway. Oh well...

It's pretty amazing Michelle can find the time to absorb pop culture in her busy schedule of being horrifically abused nonstop anyway.       

*If you're curious, the article is titled "'Witchcraft in City' Claim," and it's from the January 28, 1977 issue of The Victorian, which I assume is a local newspaper (Or possibly was. I haven't been able to find any evidence of it on the web so far.)

**At least in the States. I don't know how much those ideas spilled over into Canada, but if they did, I can see them being a possible source of inspiration for Michelle's fantasies.

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