Did you hear that if you feed them after midnight, Gremlins will turn into horrifying monsters?
Worry not. Not the case at all. Totally a lie.
Gremlins are already horrifying monsters, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I hope that makes you feel better.
Human awareness of the beasts appears to have originated with the Royal Air Force in the 1920s, when some pilots claim to have “discovered” them sabotaging their plans. Sabotaging early 20th-century fighter planes! Damaging already-fragile, relatively new technologies, long before current safety standards, near the beginnings of human motorized aviation, when a small error would almost certainly lead to the death of one person, and probably multiple people! Ahahahahahahaha! What a hilarious idea; let’s make that into a favorite children’s toy of the 1980s! “Awwwww, did the fuzzy-wuzzy wittle thing just cause a funny little in-flight disaster, dooming an aircraft and its entire crew? Naughty, naughty!”
Look on the bright side. We really didn’t hear much about the little beasts after that. That’s definitely because they don’t exist, and couldn’t possibly be that, having failed in a concerted effort to stave off humanity’s early, stumbling efforts to finally leave behind the barrier of Earth and become able to circumnavigate the globe, the Gremlins retreated, vanishing from our sight, but not from our lives.
Roald Dahl wrote about them, he wrote a cheery little novella, with the usual Dahl details, stuff along the lines of funny candymen, homicide, hideous multiple marital revenge scenarios, theft of sexual fluids from famous men for the purposes of resale (I like Roald Dahl, but that’s just the pleasant stuff; even I don’t like to think about the taxidermy story).
So they went quiet, the Gremlins did. Quiet, but still there. I’d mention some of the things they’ve done, but they’ve been behind disasters on such a scale that, if you thought about it in any detail, you wouldn’t feel like reading anymore. There’ve been a lot of things gone horribly wrong in the past hundred years. A lot of death. A lot of pain. A whole lot of things which oughtn’t fail which failed, fatally. A lot of supposedly solid things destroyed.
Much more, though. They’re not just behind the big bads, the Hindenburgs, the Titanics, the shattered bridges. How many fatalities by automobile alone, every single year? (A car’s left unattended much more often than an Armed Forces aircraft…) And as for the Internet, the Ghost in the Machine, the anger, the algorithms which magnify the tiniest things into national horrors, the half-truths which somehow become deadly gospel, the mutual fury which makes us barely able to speak to each other: all these things, they all have one source, one malign species which has made it a singleminded purpose to destroy humankind, and this is the part where I admit I’m lying.
Oh, I didn’t make the Gremlins up; you’ll hear about them again. And they’ve done some very bad things, but no. Much of the above isn’t true. I’m sorry.
Do you know what’s really responsible for Mankind’s undoing of Mankind?
And certain Things from Beyond.
But the root cause of the ills of Mankind is Mankind. And I’m not telling you this as if the idea was new; and I’m certainly not telling you to be a scold, to tell you to be harder on yourself and blame yourself more for the problems of our species. (If there were a set of cosmic scales, and we were trying to decide whether the world’s problems are more often made worse by Humans who won’t accept blame, or Humans who take too much blame onto themselves, the scales would shatter and one of the pieces would catch you straight in the eyeball; that’s the kind of thing we need to settle through understanding, not some kind of divine measuring apparatus).
No, I tell you this because I’d like to ask you a question:
If this story grabbed you (and if it did not, I’d appreciate, for the sake of this upcoming query, if you could pretend the tale was captivating)—
—if you liked this tale, I hope you felt a little frisson of some sort of emotion, perhaps the scare of a good ghost story, or mayhap the small, pervasive pleasure of mind-expansion, as a set of ideas stretch the way you think about the world. But tell me, after that, as I started to discuss how there were creatures out there who were responsible for our ills…
….did you feel relief?
Did it feel good to think that something supernatural was after us, and that’s why things get so bad?
I’ll be honest: It did for me. I was ready to go on some kind of Gremlin hunt, let me tell you. I was ready to pump some lead into some green lizardy bastards.
And now that I realize that the problem isn’t something I can shoot, isn’t something I can banish with some TV-style sorcery or destroy with some futuristic technology…
All I have left to do is one thing:
To find the Gremlins in my own brain, where they reside. To chase them down, to admit to them to know they’re real enough (if you’re in your mind, any metaphor which causes a change in mental state is “real”)—and to let them know that I am coming for them.
I cannot declare some glamorous supernatural war on all the Gremlins of the world. But I can enter into battle with those inside myself.
And it’s enough.
It’s a start.
Let me give you three things, three Slayers of Gremlins. Let these objects live in your head, and pick them up as needed.
A shield. A big shield, a tower shield. It’s okay to get behind that thing when your brain wants to blast you with hurt; you can hang out behind the shield until the intensity dies down. Just be careful; if you never drop the shield, you’ll never get anywhere, and you’ll never see anything.
A sword. In the Tarot, swords represent force of will. If you’re Alexander the Great, they represent linear thinking. If you’re me, the sword often resizes itself, because sometimes you need to cut through some big part of your headspace, and that takes something heavy, with a serrated edge; and sometimes you need to make a tiny adjustment to see what it does, and that’s a scalpel. Just be careful; cutting everything away tends to leave you a little inhuman, and that’s a hard way to live. I like it, but as you may have noticed, I am strange.
And a sleeping bag. I’m no camper; I like a nice big fat hotel bed when I can get one, which isn’t often enough. But I think of it as a sleeping bag, and maybe if you use it often enough, you can convince it to change shapes when you want it to do so. But it’s good to have something portable, because there are odd places in your brain. This is for rest. This is for zipping up to your chin, and snuggling in tight, and taking a little time away from the battle to recuperate.
Gremlins are real, but so is the part of you that lives in your head, and wants you to live, and wants you to be happy, and wants you to be part of the species that should be getting on with harnessing starlight for sleighs and singing sonnets to sunbursts.
Nurture that part of you. Teach it games and challenge it with puzzles and ideas.
And then go after the Gremlins and blast them in two with your head-cannons. You are a human, after all. Destroying things is one of our habits; it ain’t always a bad habit.
Good hunting to you, my kith and kin!!
Jeff Mach probably is not responsible for every bad thing which ever existed; pretty sure Aleister Crowley helped. Jeff continues to feel a temptation to start building some sort of long-running, slow-burn short story into these biographical bits, so that if you read them one after another, they’d tell some kind of tale, but he hasn’t actually tried to do that just yet, so please don’t worry about the tentacles coming out of the walls. Anyway, Jeff Mach writes stuff, which you probably know if you’re seeing this, considering the fact that the website is called “Jeff Mach Writes”. His Twitter is @darklordjournal, and there’s nothing to stop you from buying his novel, “There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN: Diary of a Dark Lord“, or going to his Villainpunk convention, Evil Expo. Except for common decency, obviously.