This is the time of year I go back to Susan Cooper’s series The Dark is Rising, especially the second and fourth books (The Dark is Rising and The Grey King.) Greenwich is also scary, but in different ways, and I prefer Will’s adventures on his own to those with the other children.
But something about this time of year also makes me look inside. As you can guess from some scenes in my books, especially the Cat series, I have a dark streak inside me. Not only a tendency toward depression and despair, but I have a tiger inside as well. He is not a nice monster.
I learned early on that I have to keep a hold on myself, especially when the baser passions are stirred, because what lurks inside me is vengeful, cruel, and would love to lash out. I once spent an hour walking around and around until I was absolutely certain I could stay in control of that side of me.
I’m not certain if this vicious chunk of my personality is a legacy of my years as the target-of-choice in school, and how I set my mental defenses, or if it’s part of my basic package and would be in me even if I’d had a “normal” teen experience, for introvert values of normal. I have scared people, and myself, although usually not on the same occasions. When I was stewing about the flaming idiots who chased my instructor and I out of the aerobatic practice area and lied about it, I scared other people. Someone later said, “It was like watching the Morrigan coming down the hall.” On another occasion, those in the room who could read body language were edging away from me, and there was a betting pool at the other end of the teleconference if I was going to launch across the table after someone, and if so, would it be strangulation or simple battery.
Thus far, only once have I scared myself. “The tiger” roared out before I realized it, and I managed to grab it and hold it until the potential target left the room. Then I yanked my hat off the coat-tree and went outside, in the opposite direction, until I got the tiger back under control. Because I literally saw red and was within a few millimeters of doing something—justified, in my opinion at that moment—violent. I’d read about that happening to other people, but to feel it in myself? Scared me a little. No, not scared, but spooked is a better term. I didn’t want to hurt the person in general, but at that moment I’d have slammed them into the wall and hit their head against it as punctuation, or something similar. And I could have, because I was stocky and much stronger than the other individual. They were taller but skinny. Momentum and surprise would have done wonders IF the tiger had gotten loose.
There have been two later occasions when I did let the tiger off his chain, and thankfully, neither time did it come to physical blows. Just showing the tiger made the other parties back down and leave at a rapid rate. They wanted prey, not a p*ssed off predator looking for an excuse to cause mayhem.
I know the tiger’s in there. I know it hurts me a great deal when I have to grab the tiger, twist him around, and force him back into his lair, oh it hurts. The emotional pain of whipping from fury back to baseline and the energy it takes are dreadful. I’ve clenched my hands so hard that my nails cut the skin while I kept the tiger under control.
Why can I imagine some of the things that appear in my books? Because I’ve contemplated similar, and planned out in my mind how I’d do this or that. Often because I’m thinking, “OK, if Bad Guy tries to [verb] while I’m here, and if he comes in through [door] what would I do? What if he brings friends?” Then, when I need to write a scene, I just add the tiger.
As one of my best friends has said of himself, “I choose to use my powers for good.” I’m not quite as well-trained and bloody-minded as he is, but then he got paid to be ferocious and bloody-minded. I get paid to write books and to teach students history, not to scare the heebie-jeebies out of them, although apparently I have done that while play-acting in class. Not the heebie-jeebies exactly, but spooked them. Apparently I make a convincing Mafia collection agent.
I guess I need to get a pin-stripe suit with shoulder pads and wide lapels.
We all have a tiger, a monster. Some of us never, ever meet him, never have to deal with him. Others of us learn to control him, at best to guide and use him. I’m not scared of my tiger. I do not like riding him, but I know I have to. I respect and acknowledge him. But I keep him on a short chain, because I know what he might encourage me to do.