Bumping In The Night

It’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to harvest the fall crop of horror movies.  The most memorable scary movies are those which echo the fears of the moment.  The Exorcistarrived at a time of tension between science and spirituality, pitting a very modern single mom and her daughter against an ancient terror.  Halloween unleashed a faceless, unstoppable evil into the backyards and living rooms of a comfortable suburb.  Jawsreminded audiences that overcrowded beaches full of overfed tourists are but the top layer of some very deep waters.  The Blair Witch Project used creepy little twig dolls to teach a high-tech, know-it-all generation that old-growth forests still exist, and you can still get lost forever in their shadowy embrace.

The latest films to tickle our collective anxieties belong to the Paranormal Activity series.  The first is available on DVD, while second opened in theaters this weekend.  Our homes have become castles, fortified with giant plasma screens and high-speed internet, but the malevolent spirit haunting these movies walks right through our best electronic defenses.  It doesn’t even bother knocking until it’s already inside.

The central conceit of Paranormal Activity is brilliant in its simplicity: an average suburban family uses video equipment to capture the increasingly disturbing late-night adventures of a presence they initially believe to be a ghost… but which turns out to be something far more terrifying.  The first movie is filmed largely with a camcorder, set up to record the weird things that happen around a young couple while they sleep.  The sequel, which is actually more of a prequel, widens the scope to include footage from multiple security cameras, and ups the ante by placing a larger family in peril… including a baby boy who proves to be the main interest of the phantom intruder.

The goosebump factor of these movies should not be underestimated.  I saw the original on DVD, and the sequel in theaters.  It’s a lot more fun to see them in theaters.  Even if you have a little difficulty finding the chills in a door that slowly opens itself, you can surf the waves of tension rolling through the audience.

The reason so many people find Paranormal Activity scary is that it presents a familiar situation, which they can easily relate to.  You won’t have trouble replacing the sketchy characters with your own friends and family.  Everyone knows how unsettling it can be to hear sudden loud noises at three A.M.  Everyone has seen a baby or animal stare into empty space, and wondered what they were looking at.

We pride ourselves on the comfort and security of our carefully wired homes, and shiver at the thought of our privacy being violently invaded.  Paranormal Activity 2 begins with the family discovering an act of vandalism, which probably isn’t the work of the evil spirit – it’s too weak to trash the whole house at the beginning of the story.  It’s still a creepy scene.  I could see many members of the audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats.  A lot of us have been there.  The supernatural invasion of privacy which follows is a fantastic extension of a very understandable anxiety.

There isn’t a lot of plot or characterization in these movies, but the two husbands are interesting.  The male protagonist of the first movie is a man-child who attempts to appear courageous by taunting and provoking something he should be running away from.  The husband in Paranormal Activity 2 appears more capable at first, and has an engaging sense of humor… but when the situation deteriorates, he responds with an act of callous selfishness, a human evil to match the inhuman hunger of the demonic spirit.  Sure, he’s scared and worried about his family, but he’s still a complete bastard.  Not only are the two sisters at the heart of the story haunted by a creature of the pit, but they have lousy taste in men.

Part Two has some important differences from the first movie.  It takes a lot longer to get going, but once the spirit starts feeling its oats, things spiral out of control more quickly.  The new movie pushes a lot of buttons designed to manipulate fans of the original film, including a brief encore by the oh-crap-here-we-go video fast forward.  The multiple cameras allow for more elaborate storytelling, an opportunity not fully exploited by the director, but used quite effectively in a few scenes.  The conclusion seems rushed, and I found myself expecting a teaser for Paranormal Activity 3 after the credits.  Apparently, this evil spirit is only subtle when it has to be.

I liked the slow build of the first movie, but Paranormal Activity 2 may work better for some, because the climax feels so wild and out of control.  Like all horror films, it won’t work for everyone, but the popularity of the Paranormal Activity series testifies to a certain commonality of the horror it offers.  No matter how sophisticated and sturdy your home might be, you may still find yourself wondering what happens in the darkness around you while you sleep… or what your dog is barking at, three hours before sunrise… or why your baby is suddenly crying like he’s scared out of his wits.  The normal adult response is to tell the baby everything is all right.  Paranormal Activity thrives on the icy suspicion that you might be wrong.

Impertinent Questions: What Are The Resources Of The State?

The central idea behind every form of collectivism is the belief that the State is better able to address most social problems than free-willed individuals.  The government is morally and intellectually superior to its citizens.  It can be trusted to act in their best interests, while greedy private corporations will only try to take advantage of them.

What resources does the State have, to accomplish these important goals?  There is only one worth talking about.  The primary resource of the government is compulsion.

The government might be able to make a little money from fees for services rendered, or leasing property it owns.  As it turns out, most of the government’s attempts to turn a “profit” are dismal failures – the Post Office and Amtrak spring to mind as examples.  It always ends up using compulsive force to subsidize its losses, or rig the market against private-sector competitors.  The vast majority of its funds are collected through compulsory taxes, and its influence on the marketplace is expressed through regulations and penalties.

Compulsion is a resource held exclusively by the government.  Private entities cannot forceconsumers to do anything.  Even Microsoft and Wal-Mart cannot compel you to do business with them, as Apple and Target would be happy to testify.  When a true monopoly is born, the State is always the midwife, for government compulsion is an essential ingredient.

The State is the only source of compulsion in an orderly society.  It is proper for the State to have exclusive rights to the use of force.  The purpose of a government is protection of its citizens’ rights, and every aspect of this lawful duty – from border security to law enforcement – requires compulsion.

Compulsion is a curious resource.  It offers diminishing returns.  It is diluted by dissent and resistance when used excessively.  Despite the formidable apparatus of law enforcement, it does not take much compulsion to prosecute just laws against theft and murder.  Most citizens go their whole lives without being arrested or investigated by the police.  A great deal of force is deployed against criminals, including lethal force, but they are a small percentage of the population.

On the other hand, the compulsory collection of taxes to fund our massive government unleashes a great deal of compulsion against the populace.  Most of us will encounter the I.R.S. at some point during our lives.  Americans spend billions of dollars each year complying with our elaborate tax laws.  The enormous enforcement system for ObamaCare will soon become an equally integral part of our lives.

Resistance from the population reduces the value of excessive compulsion.  When tax laws impose high rates, along with loopholes designed to control the behavior of taxpayers, the taxpayers alter their behavior to avoid the most punitive taxes.  This means high rates never bring in as much revenue as politicians anticipate, while producing unintended consequences that make a mockery of central planning.

Look at all the unpredicted steps businesses have already taken to get around ObamaCare.  A huge amount of compulsion was injected into society, to make these health care “reforms” work, but the actual value of this compulsive resource has been far below what the State expected.  It’s like designing a car that should get 50 miles per gallon, but the fuel turns out to be thin and weak, so the car only gets 10 miles per gallon.

Simple logic tells us Government must seek to minimize dissent and resistance, in order to preserve the value of its sole resource.  Citizens should be obeying the enlightened rules laid down by their betters in the ruling class, not finding ways to avoid them.  Rich people should be happy to pony up their “fair share,” rather than taking advantage of loopholes and special rates, or restructuring their business to avoid punitive taxation.  The wisdom of the State should not be questioned in public, or else it could lead to more dissent, and a further loss of value for the compulsion resource.

This is how modern liberalism became so repressive and close-minded.  Reverence for the mental and moral superiority of the State means a liberal must also suppress and denounce resistance to the laws and pronouncements of the State… or else the crucial resource needed to achieve the State’s magnificent designs will wither and grow stale.  Those designs are notsuggestions. Because liberalism requires complete faith in the superiority of the State, it has become a nearly religious devotion to compulsive force.

Punish Your Enemies

In a radio interview for Latino audiences, President Obama laid bare the ugly reality of statist government:

“If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,’ if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder and that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2.”

Referring specifically to Republicans such as Senator John McCain, who formerly supported an overhaul but now are stressing border security and supporting strict immigration laws like Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration measure, Mr. Obama said, “Those aren’t the kinds of folks who represent our core American values.”

Did you ever imagine you would witness a President using this kind of rhetoric?  Well, get used to it.  He was dumping a fresh load of shame upon the office he occupies, but Barack Obama was also giving Latino voters some perfectly reasonable advice.

The power of the State is the power of compulsion.  In a free country, this power is used to protect the rights of citizens.  The “core value” of the Left is the embrace of “positive rights.”  They believe citizens have a “right” to health care, affordable housing, and various other benefits.  The State has a moral duty to use compulsive force to secure these “rights” for everyone.

What does a “right” to health care imply about the rights of doctors and insurance companies?  The progressive taxation of income, which funds the State’s quest for social justice, compromises the right of highly taxed citizens to ownership of their time and property.  The “right” to affordable housing unleashed the Godzilla of Fannie Mae upon the downtown Tokyo of the American economy.

It is logically impossible to provide a positive right to some, without compromising the rights of others.  If cheap health insurance is compelled for those with pre-existing conditions, the right of insurance companies to run their business in a prudent, profitable manner is negated.  If “free” health care is seized by government and distributed as it sees fit, the medical industry will become first indentured, and then nationalized, without regard to the will of its members.  In a land where food is “free,” farmers are slaves.

A socialist government becomes an arbiter of rights.  The State decides whose rights must be discarded, so that others can be satisfied.  Naturally, politicians will make these decisions in accordance with their political interests, for as long as they must suffer through popular elections.  An individual’s rights become contingent on the influence of their political collective.

A highly organized group with well-connected leadership can expect its “rights” to be honored, at the expense of others. No doubt you thought of at least half a dozen examples while you read the previous sentence.

President Obama was entirely correct to advise the Latino voting bloc to hang together, obey its leadership, and trade their votes for rewards from the ruling class.  When rights are balanced against each other, in an equation resolved by the use of compulsive force, those who belong to opposing groups are your enemies.  Your prosperity comes with their defeat.  Holding interest groups together becomes vitally important for success under the total State.  The force which binds those groups will inevitably sour into hatred.

This is not a core American value, but it is a core value of the modern Democrat Party.  Their President gave his Latino audience a taste of things to come.  Tomorrow is France, and the day after is Greece.

Impertinent Questions: How Much Stimulus Do We Need?

You know what America really needs?  More stimulus spending!  We’ve got double-digit unemployment and a moribund economy after President Obama’s first trillion-dollar stimulus bill.  Obviously we need more.

How much more?  The President was asking for another $50 billion back in September.  On the wilder shores of the storm-tossed deficit sea, Paul Krugman has been heard to mutter something about doubling or tripling the trillion we’ve already spent.  He thinks the first stimulus was far too small, because it was based on ridiculously inadequate projections made by people like… Paul Krugman.

Tales abound of “stimulus jobs” created at a cost of millions per job.  The average cost nationwide has been computed at $246,436 per job.  By some estimates, we’ve lost over 11 million jobs since the recession began in 2007.  At two hundred grand a pop, we’ll need roughly $2,200,000,000,000 in stimulus spending to recover them all.  It might be time to think about invading Alpha Centauri to get the money.  Hopefully their soldiers will wear solid gold armor, and use guns that shoot diamonds.

The return on investment from these massive stimulus bills is pitiful.  We could have generated more economic activity by holding a trillion-dollar lottery.  Why is stimulus spending so wasteful?  Because it pushes a huge pile of money where it doesn’t want to go.

A great deal of the stimulus money was simply looted by the government, to shore up bloated public sector payrolls.  More was thrown into needless infrastructure projects, which would have been completed long ago, if they could have justified their cost.  The opportunity cost of such economic meddling is huge.  All the places where that trillion dollars of cash and laborwanted to go are left barren.  The swelling deficit adds to economic anxieties, which prevent businessmen from expanding their operations and creating jobs the natural, healthy way.

The State cannot make its people rich by simply printing a lot of dollar bills, and handing a fortune to each deserving citizen.  It cannot generate lasting economic activity by spending a lot of money on useless junk.  It cannot legislate contentment by imposing a $20 per hour minimum wage.  By pulling time and money out of the private sector, it inevitably reduces the total value of the economy.  A billion dollars spent by a million different people produces more healthy economic activity than a billion dollars in the hands of a politician.  By squeezing the choices of those million citizens out of the money, it cannot help but reduce its value.  The choices were always the most valuable treasure.

Prosperity flows from the exchange between producers and consumers.  Money produces less prosperity when it is assigned rather than spent. Giant stimulus plans are just another example of the State telling people what to do.  Our future will be richer if we let them do what they want to do.  No amount of government spending can buy prosperity.  It must beearned.

The first step on the road to poverty comes when the State interferes with the glorious union of free people who need each other.

Remember the 111th

The 111th Congress began by dropping a trillion dollars in debt on the American taxpayer.  The money disappeared in a wild spending spree, buying $2 million jobs in Los Angeles, and evaporating into nonexistent zip codes.  Billions of dollars remain clogged in the filthy pipes of government, producing nothing but more debt through accumulated interest payments.  Much of the “stimulus” money was used to pump lard into government payrolls, creatinguseless jobs that vanished as soon as the taxpayer subsidies ran dry.  The President recently admitted that the stated reason for appropriating this vast sum of money, the creation of “shovel-ready jobs,” was an outright lie.

Government payrolls, are the only thing that expanded during the past session of Congress.  Public sector jobs multiplied like a virus, and the number of six-figure government employeesskyrocketed.  Meanwhile, real unemployment in the private sector – including seasonal adjustments, long-term discouraged workers, and the underemployed – hit 22% nationwide.  The lights burned bright and merry in the plush offices of K Street lobbying firms, while the rest of the economy slid into darkness.

This Congress demonstrated its economic wisdom with the Cash for Clunkers program, which wasted billions of your dollars in a futile attempt to shovel new car sales from one quarter to another, giving them a “success story” to tout for a while… until they realized nobody was gullible enough to consider it successful.  Meanwhile, it drained sales from healthy industries, destroyed the used-car market, and provided incentives for low-income buyers to rack up more debt they cannot afford to repay.

The 111th congress stank with the corruption of Christopher Dodd, Jack Murtha, Maxine Waters, Charlie Rangel, and Harry Reid.  The ruling Party made it clear that it would go to any lengths to protect its worst members from investigation and punishment.  The agenda of this Congress was conducted behind closed doors, or slipped like poison into the legislative bloodstream, to escape the notice of the American people.  Fat bailouts for loyal union allies were hidden inside bills that were supposed to fund the military.  Nobody knew what this Congress was really voting on… including members of Congress, who didn’t bother to read the bills anyway.

The House of Representatives was presided over by a Speaker of astonishing arrogance, whorecklessly abused her power for personal convenience.  Caught in a trap of her own making, after trying to score political points against terrorist interrogation techniques she had been fully briefed on, Nancy Pelosi tried to weasel her way out by claiming the CIA lied to her.  The disgraceful “leadership” of Pelosi and Reid will be studied by generations to come, in the kind of class future kids only have to take when they’re caught skipping more interesting classes to fool around on their hoverboards.

This was a Congress at war with American business, which is a war against American liberty, since business is the instrument through which we invest the hours of our lives.  The 111thCongress spent its term menacing the private sector with disastrous, economy-killing ideas like cap-and-trade, Card Check, and value-added taxes… then wondered why nobody was creating any jobs.  There’s no point in taking risks and doing the hard work to be a winner, when the losers get taxpayer bailouts, provided they have employees from the right labor unions.

Of course, this is the Congress that shoved ObamaCare down our throats.  Drafted in secret, hidden behind fraudulent cost estimates, and understood by none of the people who voted on it, ObamaCare is the most shocking dereliction of Congressional duty in recent history.  Its architects flirted openly with violating the Constitution to inflict it upon us throughreconciliation, before they managed to buy enough votes with our money.  It has alreadydestroyed thousands of jobs, and inflicted painful new costs on hapless workers who thought their health insurance was supposed to get cheaper.

The passage of ObamaCare shattered the myth of the “moderate Democrat” for a generation. Every one of them is an accomplice to this radical offense against the American people.  Private comments from Congressional representatives made it clear they knew exactly what they were doing to us.  They saddled us with a system designed to fail, and pave the way for something even worse: single-payer socialized medicine.

Faced with electoral destruction at the hands of an enraged populace, the Democrats of the 111th Congress spent their last days calling the voters stupid and insane.  They scurried out of town without even passing a budget, leaving a recessionary economy tied to the ticking bomb of the expiring Bush tax cuts.

Remember the arrogance.  Remember the cowardice.  Remember the ugly hatred of middle-class America.  Remember the sheer blind stupidity of those who demand the power to write our destiny, when they’re not yelping in surprise at the latest piece of “unexpected” economic news.

Remember the 111th Congress this Tuesday, and render your verdict in the voting booth.

The China Family

It has long been my practice to write a horror story on Halloween, and share it with my friends.  I posted last year’s effort at Hot Air, along with an essay about horror entitled The Very Witching Time of Night.  I thought I would share this year’s story as well.  Happy Halloween!

The China Family

By John Hayward


The Autumn Leaf rolled through a thirteen-foot wave, listing so far to port that half her rigging came up dripping seawater.  Lightning popped overhead, momentarily brighter than the sailboat’s emergency lighting.

“Tell me that was land I just saw!†Ben shouted over the wind.  The ship’s wheel twisted out of his hands for the third time in the past ten minutes.  He swore and brought his boat under control again.

Angela checked the GPS display, then wrapped one arm around a railing and aimed her binoculars into the night.  A new lightning flash lit up the horizon.  “It’s there!†she screamed.  “There’s an island dead ahead!â€

A seasoned sailor would have considered it unsafe to make landfall in such weather conditions.  Ben was young.  He took in the terrified expression on his wife’s face, felt his churning stomach pump acid into his throat, and aimed the bow of the Autumn Leaf at the dark mass of rock and trees ahead.

An hour later, Ben and Angela left their six-figure sailboat dug into the wet sand of a narrow beach, and peered through driving rain at the house which dominated the little island.

It was a formidable pile of old Spanish architecture, much bigger than a typical Caribbean plantation house.   There were no lights.

“Nobody home,†said Angela.  She leaned against Ben.  He felt her shiver.  Her skin was cold, and she was soaked to the bone.

“Or the power’s out,†he suggested.  He snapped on a powerful halogen flashlight, and played the beam over cracked plaster and faded paint.  “It might be abandoned.  Come on, let’s get you inside.  You need to be out of this rain.â€

Angela grunted her agreement.  They carefully mounted a flight of wet stone steps.  Ben gave Angela the flashlight while he pounded on the sturdy red wooden doors.  When there was no answer, he took the light back and played it through the windows.  Angela produced her own smaller light and had a look around the front porch.

When he was satisfied the house was deserted, Ben tried the door.  It was unlocked.  He had to fight decades of rust on the hinges to pull it open.

The great room was filled with antique furniture.  There was dust, but not too much, and no cobwebs.  “Somebody lives here,†Angela said nervously.

“Maybe they cleared out before the storm hit,†Ben suggested.  He shined his light around, and found no light switches or electric fixtures.  A match from the waterproof case in his pocket brought an oil lamp to life.  “Everything is old fashioned,†he observed.  “I think this might be a historical site, probably owned by the Mexican government.  We should be careful not to touch anything.â€

“I’m getting a fire started,†Angela said, producing her own matches and heading for the fireplace.  “The Mexican government can settle up with me later.â€

Ben found some old, dry wood stacked in a wrought iron frame.  “Think this is historical firewood?â€

She snorted.  “Throw it in.â€

The fire spread light and warmth through the room.  The wind and cold rain lashing the windows grew more distant.  Ben was digging through their emergency rations, and thinking about returning to the Autumn Leaf to make some more distress calls, when Angela put her hand on his arm.

The fire had nourished her.  Dull fatigue was replaced by bright curiosity and captive firelight in her big brown eyes.  “Ben.  Look.â€

He peered through an open door into a sitting room.  At just the point where orange firelight blended with charcoal shadow, he saw a row of beautiful china dolls, dressed in colorful Mexican clothing.

He followed Angela into the sitting room.  There were a few dozen dolls neatly arranged on shelves, and seated in doll-sized furniture.  The girls wore dresses, ranging from homespun cloth to elegant silk.  The boys were dressed as farmers, musicians, and soldiers.  An old spinning wheel in the corner looked to be the source of the beautifully tailored clothing.

“These are all period,†said Angela.  She carefully ran a doll’s skirt through her fingers.  “Honey, this stuff has to be better than a hundred and fifty years old.â€Â  She used her flashlight to examine a few of the dolls more closely.  “There’s a name stitched into each of their outfits.  Marguerite.â€

“Marguerite was a hell of a seamstress,†Ben said respectfully.  “Hey, there’s more over here.â€

Beyond the sitting room was a larger room, arranged as a diorama.  The walls were painted to resemble the island, with a somewhat distorted rendition of the great old house silhouetted against a lovely Caribbean sunset.  Actual rocks were piled against the mural, making the image come alive.  There was even sand poured into a wooden frame on the floor, creating an artificial beach.

The diorama was decorated with more dolls, but these were much larger.  The biggest one might have been three feet tall.  Their proportions were oddly distorted.  Some had limbs of different length or thickness, while others had extraordinarily large or misshapen heads.  The quality of their costumes remained consistently high.  They were dressed as laborers and fishermen.  A better-dressed couple sat higher upon the rocks, taking in the scene with happy painted smiles.  Their porcelain hands were touching, and they had been posed with their heads resting against each other.  The male doll had a big, furry moustache, while the female wore her long dark hair in a braid.

Ben went back into the living room to fetch the oil lamp, giving them a better look at the diorama.  “There’s a plaque on the wall with some writing in Spanish,†he told his wife.

Angela translated for him.  “This is our happy home, which we built with the fortune Esteban earned upon the high seas.  We prayed to God every night for a child, but Marguerite could not conceive.  This broke her heart, and Esteban resolved to mend it.â€

“It’s a history display,†Ben whispered.  “Like Disney World.â€Â  His light found another door.  “And there’s more.â€

They went into the next room, gasping in astonishment when the flashlights and oil lamp showed them what it contained.

This room had a high domed ceiling.  Its walls were painted with blue sky and sunset clouds.  The floor was laid with blue and white tiles, which resembled waves on the open sea.  One of the walls was dominated by a huge model of a sailing ship, complete with canvas sails and rigging.  The years had eaten away some of the craftsmanship, but it was still a remarkable sight.  The crow’s nest was a good fifteen feet above the ground.

The toy boat was crewed by more of the large dolls, including another version of the man with the furry beard, who must surely have been Esteban.  He was now dressed for adventure on the seven seas.  His face had been painted with an expression of unbreakable resolve.

Angela found another plaque.  “Esteban sailed to the far corners of the world, looking for a medicine that would make his wife’s belly fit to hold a child.â€

Ben shook his head in wonder.  “This is great,†he said.  “We gotta get our cameras from the boat later and take some pictures.â€Â  He noted the door to the next room was on the right-hand wall.  “We’re going clockwise through the ground floor of the house.  Let’s finish the tour.  There should only be a couple more rooms.â€

His wife readily agreed, and they took their flashlights and oil lamps into the next chamber.  The fire was now a distant memory, and Ben felt the cold seawater soaked into his skin.  He was about to ask Angela if she wanted to spend a little more time by the fire, but she was already stepping past him, playing her flashlight around the room.  “Looks like Esteban found his medicine in the South Pacific,†she said.

This room was decorated to resemble a jungle.  A painted wall showed Esteban’s ship riding at anchor in a lagoon.  Dolls representing the intrepid captain and a few of his men were trading with the natives.

“Oh, my God†said Ben.  He leaned close to look at the native dolls.  “These guys are horrible.â€Â  The natives were even more misshapen than the other dolls, and their faces were carved from wood instead of china.  They were made to look diseased, perhaps even leprous.  Many had been provided with ugly tumors of painted wood, and the wood was oddly stained, to suggest discolored skin.  Their painted expressions hinted of shame and predatory cunning.

Angela found the room’s plaque hidden among paper trees, silk vines, and wax models of South Pacific fruit.  “They sold him a potion that would let a barren woman carry a child,†she said.  “They told him it was the blood of a god who lived beneath their island.â€

The twisted native dolls made this exhibit Ben’s least favorite part of the tour.  He was already pushing through the next door while Angela was reading the plaque.  He left the oil lamp on the floor, in the middle of the South Pacific room, and took in the next chamber in a spray of cold blue halogen light.

Ben froze.  It took him a few minutes to process what he was seeing.

“Angela,†he said.  His throat was so dry that it hurt to speak.  “Honey.  Get in here. “

Angela had been studying the deformed native dolls with the appreciative eye of a fellow artist.  Her interest in the craftsmanship far exceeded her revulsion over the subject matter.  She came to join Ben in the next room, her pace slowing as she saw its contents.

This room was not a diorama.  It had been kept mostly in its original state.  It was a bedroom, dominated by a four-posted bed draped in white silk.  The bed was empty, but the wall behind it was painted with black shadows against white paint, as if the image of a dreadful event had been burned into the wall by a powerful flash of light.  It was the silhouette of a woman, her back arched in unspeakable agony, mouth open in a jaw-breaking scream.  A male silhouette sat vigil at her side, head bowed in prayer or grief.

The wall across from the bed was dominated by a work bench, from which a dozen china doll faces peered back at them.  Some of them were unpainted, pale white ghost faces with cataract eyes.

Angela’s light found a plaque next to the bay windows, which were sealed by tough wooden shutters.  She walked slowly into the middle of the room to read it.

“She died,†Ben guessed.  He walked to the side of the bed, and stood where Esteban would have knelt a century ago, to cast the shadow of his lowered head upon the wall.  “The natives screwed him over and sold him poison.  He gave it to Marguerite and she died.â€

“No,†breathed Angela.  “No… it worked…â€Â  Her eyes danced across the plaque, reading each of the Spanish words carefully.  “He didn’t understand what it was… not the blood of a god but the seed of a god… the children came out of her by the dozens…â€

“What?â€Â  Ben spun around to put his own flashlight on the plaque, even though he couldn’t read the words.  “That’s…â€

“They were twisted and small,†Angela whispered.  “Their faces were so terrible that Esteban hid them, to hide his own shame. “  She quoted the exact words of the plaque: “Now I am alone, and I will spend my last hours preserving my shame forever, so that God might accept my contrition.  I leave behind also the blasphemous children my wife brought into this world.  They will also dwell here forever, for they are eternal, and so is their…â€

A rending snap of wood ripped through the room like a gunshot.  The old floorboards beneath Angela’s feet gave way beneath the weight of her body and survival gear.  She screamed and fell, but the hole was small, and she was able to catch the edge and save herself.

Ben was at her side in an instant, howling her name.  He grabbed her arms and tried to pull her back to safety… but then he saw her flashlight lying on the floor of the room beneath her.  It revealed a basement filled with human bones.

Ben remembered the first diorama, and its depiction of the island house in happier times.  There had been many fisherman, farmers, and servants living here.  They were all in the basement.  Every one of the skeletons had been pulled apart.

The door to the bedroom slammed behind him.

Still fighting to hang on to his wife, Ben looked over his shoulder.  There was just enough light to see what had joined them in the room.  He started screaming before Angela did.

Every doll from the diorama chambers had slipped silently into the bedroom.  They stood shoulder to shoulder: sailors, peasants, and natives.  There were dozens of them.  They were shivering with excitement.

The Esteban doll from the first chamber stepped forward.  The thing behind its painted china face was panting.  A thick line of drool bubbled between its cold porcelain lips, and pooled at the floor between its misshapen legs.

Ben wore a knife on his belt.  He held his terrified wife with his left hand, and made a play for the knife with his right.

The children of Marguerite were capable of moving with perfect silence, and remaining utterly still for long periods of time… but when they moved, they were fast.


Human Events: The Mind of America

Sorry to be making this update a bit late, but a lot has been happening lately.  I’m very happy to announce that I’ve joined Human Events as a full-time writer!  My first essay has been posted at www.humanevents.com:

The Mind of America

I’ve also posted a farewell to Hot Air, my blogging home since April 2009, which you can readhere.

Since I’m writing exclusively for Human Events now, I’m not sure what will become of this web site.  I’ll continue posting links to Human Events as my work appears there, and would invite everyone to join the discussion in their comment forums.  My role there will be expanding in the next few weeks.  I’ll be writing a lot more.

I greatly appreciate the high quality of discourse produced by readers of this web site.  Keeping my day job running has made it hard for me to participate in the discussions, but now that writing will be my day job, I hope I can do so more frequently.  I would like to proudly invite everyone to join the discussion at Human Events.  They are a revered institution of conservative thought, and they’ve expressed remarkable faith in me.  I’m determined to prove myself worthy of their trust, and bring further honor to their name.  This is a dream come true, and everyone who left such kind and thoughtful comments here, during the past year, helped to make it come true.  I hope to bring further honor to all of you, as well.

– John Hayward