©1991 John Tynes
[The second part of the infamous “severed dog’s head” story appeared in this installment of my editorial, to the delight and horror of our readers, making this one memorable for me.
The band I quote directly below, a local group called East Ash, broke up in 1992 (as I recall) much to my regret. However, the guitarist hooked up with a female singer/keyboardist, a drummer who played informally with East Ash’s drummer, and bassist Rich Marinaccio, who did our music-to-play-Cthulhu-by cassette, to form a new band called WATERWORKS. They’ve just released an excellent self-titled CD, and I hope to hear more from them in the future. So should you. — John Scott Tynes, 1994]
I’d like to talk about mayhem.
sister’s in the water
the gun is in the boathous
my mother’s only daughter
fishin’ for her bleedin’ baby in the water
I think I better go now
’cause I’m the one that shot her
mommy and daddy died when I was seven
daddy went to hell and mommy went to heaven
drivin’ and drinkin’ my daddy wasn’t thinkin’
his body’s in the back room
rotting and stinking…
The lyrics above are from a song called “Push!” by a band here in Columbia known as East Ash. I wish you could hear it as you read this; the song runs over six minutes long, carried along by a swiftly mournful rhythm that gets to the heart of mayhem.. This issue of the Oath is the mayhem issue. Within, in their own ways, the writers explore mayhem in its varied forms.
The word “mayhem” has lost its original connotation of senseless violent activity; it has been appropriated by advertising people and hack comic book writers and misused until its original meaning has shifted into something almost innocuous. Look at the origins of the word “bedlam” and you’ll see the same process.
Mayhem denotes a certain malignant violence, embodied in the East Ash song and expressed in innumerable horror films. I believe we’ve lost touch with the kind of day-to-day mayhem that once inhabited people’s lives. The days when slaughterhouses were common, concrete parts of a town are gone, for most of us. We don’t sneak in with our friends on a dare to watch the horses be put down and ground up. Society and money divide most of us from such sights; work like that is considered dirty work, unclean work, unwholesome work, regardless of the fact that the result of this work is what ends up on our plates and in our mouths.
The processes of life and death, birth and renewal, are known to all but understood by few. The rituals of calving, the awful but wondrous implication found in severing the umbilical cord of a newborn, have lost their meaning through overexplanation, and the value of life has been lost like a joke told too often.
As I write this, we’ve had a vibrant demonstration of mayhem in its older, almost medieval sense, with the actions of George Hennard in Killeen. By the time this sees print you may have forgotten that Hennard is the man who drove his truck through a cafeteria window and shot and killed over twenty people.
It seems to me that there is a continual upping of the scale. As the majority of our society, the middle class and above, become less and less familiar with the cycles of nature and the beautiful violence of creation, it takes more and more to make a statement. Magazines run scorecards of different killers and their totals, like kill flags on a jet fighter. Mayhem just isn’t what it used to be. As a word it isn’t powerful enough to get across the gist of horror, the gut veracity of terror and the bitter silver taste of fear.
Perhaps this issue will help put the teeth back into “mayhem.” If we aren’t bitten we shan’t wake up.
That was all I had intended to write on the subject. But, Oath artist Blair (Shea) Reynolds came through again with something that, in a small but significant way, changed the parameters of my life, and those of some of my friends. Where I was content to just sit back and proselytize from my soapbox, Shea went out and showed me that while I was on the right track, I wasn’t really prepared for my words to become life. He did this guilelessly and in fact won’t see this editorial until this issue is printed. But his timing was impeccable.
To understand the background to this, it will be helpful if you’ve read the Dread Page in TUO2. Within I described how Shea had discovered the frozen headless body of a dog in a dumpster. No, I’m not joking. Suffice it to say that a more-or-less reasonable explanation was eventually obtained, but it certainly shook Shea and us up a bit.
Anyway, Shea called us shortly before Halloween and said he was about to ship… something… from his home in Alaska. What it was he would not say, only that it would be something very special. Artist Jeff Barber and I were to be the recipients of the shipment.
Well it arrived in time for Halloween alright. It came in a largish cardboard box, via 2-day air delivery. The box had a peculiar odor. Within, we found the box walls were packed with insulation material. Inside the box was something wrapped in two plastic trash bags, then enclosed within two extra-large ziplock bags.
Jeff and I donned the sterile surgical gloves Shea thoughtfully enclosed and began to unwrap the item. It was distinctly cold and heavy, and smelled rather foul. As we got closer and closer we began to suspect it was something genuinely strange.
We weren’t disappointed.
I won’t describe our conversation as we undid the wrappings, nor the growing panic in our voices as we speculated as to just what it was Shea had sent. Finally, we got it unwrapped.
Shea had mailed us the frozen, severed head of a dog.
At least, it was frozen when he mailed it, a couple days before. It was now thawing, hence the odor. The dog was (judging from the incomplete portion in our possession) largish, light tan or brown in color. It still bore a green collar, but had no tags.
“That atrocious bastard,” I remember Jeff saying.
He and I wrapped the dog’s head back up and stuck it in the freezer, for lack of a better idea. Of course we soon called and told almost everyone we knew. Word kind of drifted around our friends and my co-workers that we had the severed head of a dog in our freezer. Uniformly, the reaction was one of disgusted shock.
Followed by laughter.
For our problem was not without humor, and it became a question I posed to people whenever I had the chance: what would you do with the frozen severed head of a dog?
Yesterday, we took the most sensible advice and buried it. Come summer we’ll dig it up and have a nice clean dog’s skull. What we’ll do with *that* I have no idea.
What I found most interesting about people’s reactions to all of this is how quickly they adjusted. I mean, it was rather like having your room painted a different color in secret while you’re away. When you come home it’s a shock — but you get used to it almost immediately.
If this is the first issue of the Oath you’ve seen, you’re probably wondering now just what the hell kind of magazine this is. Well? It’s one that lives in a world of life and mayhem, just like you and me.