Halloween isn’t usually a time I associate with being frightened. Don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty often nervous that something is going to leap out from under the basement stairs and eat my face, or that an evil presence is biding its time, waiting for me in the crawl space on my third floor. That irrationality, however, isn’t based on the fact that it’s near the end of October, as I’ll grapple with the same quietly insistent nervousness in every season of the year. That little voice isn’t based on anything; it’s simply the reality of a worldview built on having watched a tremendously large amount of scary movies as a kid. I’m on the verge of peeing my shorts virtually all the time, in other words. Regardless of what month it is, I’m exquisitely aware I could be a single clumsy misstep away from an axe blade.
So while trick or treaters and pumpkins and the other seasonal hallmarks of Halloween don’t freak me out – although kids in my neighborhood seem to form packs and sprint down the street, shrieking and waving plastic swords – they do, especially in October, remind me of the situations I’ve tried to keep myself out of wherever reasonably possible. You know the ones. Don’t stay at the unnerving roadside hotel with the desk attendant that winks at you. Don’t investigate the noise in the cellar. Don’t build your house on an Indian burial ground. Don’t investigate a stray, seemingly abandoned space craft. This is common-sense life strategy, for the most part, but it’s easier to be cognizant of it when you live in New England during this time of year, and the wind whips around piles of leaves spookily and it gets dark sooner and sooner.
My (admittedly over-the-top) awareness of these things is precisely what makes my actions earlier this week so jaw-droppingly inexcusable.
Like most people, I’m relentlessly the target of spam emails at my job. These deliveries are puzzling – various Russian merchants and people who COMPLETELY FUCKING DEDICATED TO THE SCIENCE OF MALE ENHANCEMENT PILLS, for the most part – but they’re largely the harmless, easily identifiable thing you’d expect. You see them, you delete them because the subject lines are gibberish and you move on. However, as part of my job I often interact with clients, and in many cases, those folks don’t identify themselves ahead of time or have particularly descriptive subject lines. You may be able to discard spam emails thoughtlessly, but I generally have to at least take a quick gander to make sure Fred L. or Helena Q. or whatever isn’t someone to whom I’m contracted to deliver services. Again, in the vast majority of instances these do turn out to be a boner-loving robot from Eastern Ukraine, but it’s my professional duty to leave no one behind, even if they seem suspicious.
So I clicked this email from a person named Michelle the other morning. There was no subject line, and once I clicked to preview it, I saw that there was no message text, either. Great, my brain says. That means this is spam, and I can immediately press the button to d-
There’s a file attached (of course there is, you’re saying, and of course you should not look an attachment from an emailer that you don’t know. Trust me, I know), and for a reason I cannot honestly comprehend, I felt compelled to click it. It was a .png file, so I was reasonably sure I wasn’t about to download some executable file that would lay waste to my entire system. It was one measly, harmless photo; how bad could it be? We’re talking some random single frame of porn in the worst-case scenario, and if that’s what we’re dealing with, then we just say whoops, blame it on spam email, and move on with our day. I felt the impulse gnawing at me. Knew I wouldn’t be able to help myself.
So I clicked the file. Here’s what it was.
JUST WHAT. IN THE FUCK. IS THAT.
That is one thousand times worse than unsolicited terrible porn or a Trojan horse. Do you know why? Because that image – that perhaps meaningless but undoubtedly vaguely sinister image – has no logical explanation. The images that have no logical explanation are invariably the ones that have some sort of property that lands a fucking demon-witch-troll-vengeful presence target on your back. The images that don’t make any sense but freak you the fuck out are the ones that first inform you that congratulations, you’re now a character in a horror movie and you are totally, irrevocably fucked. Who sends that? Why do they send that? Even if I’m not about to tumble headlong into a nightmare battle with an exceptionally hungry dickhead of a ghost, what is the spam program that produced that sort of lovingly detailed and yet troublingly creepy picture? What jerk put that algorithm together some Wednesday night? You’re not selling anything. You’re not trying to bait me into offering some personal information or my credit card.
You’re just sending me a weird thing! On Halloween!
I’m left to indulge what you’ve likely already concluded is a well-fueled imagination and wonder what, precisely, Michelle’s trying to convey to me or get back at me for doing. I’ve been pretty careful in life not to kick over any tombstones or poop atop sacred ground; Hell, I’ve never even touched a Ouija board. But I can’t help wonder, usually as I walk the dog at night or feel my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night: did I do something I can’t account for? Have I sleep-punched a gypsy sorceress? Am I the great-great-great-grandson of the man who defeated an ancient race of vampires and now I’ve gotta learn to stake things and buy lots of garlic?
It’s impossible to know for sure, I guess, and so, like Michelle there, I keep my weird mspaint eye open wide when I walk around. I’ve got lots to think about.