One muggy night this summer I stayed up late on my computer, sifting through old files I had made as a twelve year old. It was fun: I found old journal entries, story ideas, drawings. I caught a glimpse into a world I had left behind years ago. It was like cutting my own trunk open and seeing a whole tree ring of being, a year of my life that had long been overgrown by the many burnt bark years of puberty.
Among the stories were a small set of tales I had told about the Tails Doll. Now, the Tails Doll was this one-off asset from an obscure Sonic the Hedgehog game, a fairly unsettling puppet version of one of the main characters, Tails, who was your average young talking fox. But memes will be memes and people started telling scary stories about the Tails Doll appearing to gamers and cursing them or killing them or whatever. I don’t remember a single one of those stories, but I must have been excited enough by the idea to write out a few of my own.
So, what was there to say about the literary aspirations of my pubescent self? Each story in its own way reminded one of an archipelago; that is, each story had about a paragraph or two (the big islands) where the real ‘meat’ of the story happened, with some solitary lines (the little islands) scattered throughout to make the transitions very dramatic.
The transitions were very dramatic.
We’ll be kind to my younger self and say that I just hadn’t figured out how to get a story going. The plot of each story more or less involved a young boy, usually in his bedroom, who accidentally invoked the feared beast by humming its cursed theme song, or playing its cursed video game. In a few of the stories, the narration was in first person. In a few others, the main character had names like ‘Zach’ or ‘Mark’ or ‘Jared Anderson.’ Hm.
Interestingly enough, when I was the protagonist, the Tails Doll would never successfully kill me, but he did manage to kill all of the third-person protagonists. At the end of one episode, I was being hunted down in the suburbs by the creature but then rescued by a mysterious young man who banished it with stabs and then recruited me into his organization dedicated to fighting the menace. After that point, I began to record interviews of other young boys who were brought into the organization after having harrowing experiences with the dreaded Tails Doll.
The style was interesting. There were moments when I took a stab at humor and it didn’t work. There were also moments when I used words like ‘bilge’, ‘baffled’, and ‘patu paraoa’, which one wouldn’t necessarily expect from a young person. But most of all, it was just very boring. My young self had not understand the necessity of pacing, or detailed description, or interesting character interactions. It’s more like I had been listing what happened than truly telling a story. Again, we have to be kind to my younger self and realize that I had just started to make those awkward wing flaps that are the beginning of flight. Indeed, reading those stories was about as uncomfortable an experience as it would have been to watch myself, naked and fresh from the egg, wildly flailing my stubby arms at the keyboard and expecting to somehow get a good story out of it.
It all made me paranoid, though. Not that I might suddenly bring the wrath of an old creepypasta upon me, but rather paranoid that I hadn’t grown as a writer in the past seven or more years. Had I learned to pace well? To give detailed description? Did I have interesting character interactions?
Now, it’s important you understand the layout of my room. My desk is in my closet, and at the top of the closet is a small portal into the attic, covered with some cheap semiwooden board that, though duct taped to the portal, does a terrible job of keeping the warmth in my bedroom in winter. This, I swear, is the unadulterated architectural truth. In the summer I can feel the roiling black heat of the attic trying to leak onto my head as I sit in various hunched and contorted positions over my softly whistling laptop. I will probably have tremendous back problems when I am older. I only wish I could get a job in the circus: give me a laptop and I would be able to sprawl in such ungainly and unnatural fashions that Aunt Fanny’d lose the stuffing in her parlor seat, that’s for sure.
All in all, with such a spooky set-up, I can’t believe I thought I was going to get away with reading all of those old cursed stories. Sure enough, after reading all of them, I heard a screeching sound above my head. The attic board was being removed. Then, in the muggy darkness above appeared the little fox face of the Tails Doll.
I waved to it awkwardly, not sure of what I should say. It descended as if it were a spider on a silken string. I rolled my chair away across the room and let the Tails Doll rest itself on my laptop keyboard. I hoped that it wouldn’t try to mess with my hard drive in anyway. I’ve got a lot of important stuff on there, after all. It would suck if all my journal entries got cursed and turned to virtual mush.
The Tails Doll sat limply for a while, so I decided to man up and break the ice.
‘Hey man, it’s been a long time.’
‘Too long, Mike, too long.’
‘You’re not here to collect my soul or anything, right? I mean, I don’t remember selling it or anything and it would kind of suck if I arbitrarily had to be damned forever because I wrote some crappy stories about you in middle school.’
‘Don’t worry about it, man. Water under the bridge.’ Tails Doll was being reticent, I could tell. It had meant to confront me about something, but was now freezing up. I didn’t blame it; I’m pretty bad at thinking on the spot myself.
‘Well, welcome back to my bedroom. As you can see I’ve got, uh, a Pikachu doll on top of my bookshelf, I don’t know if you’re into that or whatever, and there’s a Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt right next to you in the closet there. You know Sonic, right? I’m pretty sure I just read in the journal that I wrote as a 12 year old about getting that very t-shirt at Wal-Mart.’
‘You wrote a whole entry in your journal about getting a Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt at Wal-Mart?’
‘I… yeah. I had a boring childhood! Or youth, or whatever.’
‘Tell me about it!’ I misunderstood this a first. I thought Tails Doll was just expressing casual sympathy, but then realized that he was curious: he genuinely wanted me to tell him about my childhood.
‘Gee, I don’t know. I stayed inside a lot. I was homeschooled. I mostly met all my friends online until I got to high school.’
‘Go on.’ Tails Doll’s jewel was bouncing back and forth in the air like bait in the lake. I felt like I was the one being fished for.
‘I played a lot of video games and read a lot of books. I wasn’t very curious and didn’t want to learn or go to school or go outside. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer for a long time, and I kept a journal of my story ideas. I wrote about ideas all the time, but I never actually wrote stories. Honestly, I think the most I ever wrote when I was young… was about you. Yikes, that hurts to say. I mean, sorry, it’s nothing against you, it’s just…’
‘You wish you’d written more than bad creepypastas and one page fanfics that never went anywhere. I get it.’
‘Yeah, exactly. When I look through my old journals or my old stories… on the one hand, I’m really grateful. I’m glad I was earnest and had friends online that I talked with. Without all those ideas, silly and immature as they might be, I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t have had some of the ideas that I really love, the ones that I’m really proud to bear and hope to share with others someday. Okay, so, I still love all those internet friends that I had and I wish them well. But I can’t help but think that there’s something wrong with me because I spent so much of my time growing up interacting with people in a really shallow way. Internet friendship is great but it’s so cold and disembodied. You can tell when you read my journals. On the one hand, my vocabulary and awareness of narrative concepts might have been higher than the average twelve year old. But the way that I connect those ideas and talk about them is so immature. I’m just not interested in good things or writing good things: I just want to consume interesting entertainment and then replicate it in the pages of my journal. And part of that is excusable because I was young and hadn’t fully developed: that’s the earnest, childlike side of things that I appreciate. But part of that isn’t excusable: part of that was just wrong and has always been wrong, and has always been dragging my soul down. I was a fat, vapid child who only wanted to please himself and didn’t want to work for it. I hated learning. I hated poetry. I hated both my English composition class and my Latin language class. And most of all, I hated talking with real humans. As many as I can name of the subjects and activities that would make one a better writer, these were the things that I reviled–except for reading, and thinking, and sitting on my ass.’
‘Do you feel like any of that has changed?’
‘Oh, for sure. I love having the chance to study English, Latin, and poetry. And I treasure getting to talk to people. But those moments seem to be so rare, and when they come upon me like a sudden wave I’m knocked off my feet. I don’t know what to do. I keep telling myself that each time I talk with someone I am talking with an immortal being, full of experiences and learning and words and powers that I will never grasp but can always admire… but then I don’t know what to do in a conversation besides strive to be the least awkward I can be. That always becomes the number one priority. I want to be as kind and as encouraging as I can, not to mention funny or imaginative or even wisely opening myself up to be inspired by others’ words. But talking happens so fast. I can’t control the pacing the same way that I can online, in a chat or messaging or texting. I can’t stop and think about it like I can with a book. Not without making the other person really uncomfortable.’
‘Do you feel like talking with people is a large influence on your writing?’
‘That’s what writing is! It’s just a different way of talking with people. That’s why I love reading books. It’s a way of having a conversation with a great man, preferably one who’s dead. And so I want to write stories, so that I can enter into that centuries long form of the conversation, and have people in their own century respond to me. But I feel like my imagination, my words, my tongue of fire is still in bondage because of the pride I had as a twelve year old. I will speak and I will write because that is just the burning of one end of the fire of the soul to the other. But I want my words to be a sacred fire on the altar, ready to deliver sacrifices to God, not some wildfire that sets the state alight and fills all the eyes of the fall season with smoke.’
‘I wish I could help, Mike. But I’m just a bad creepypasta.’
‘Me too, dude. Me too.’