There’s a movie from the 90s about a girl and a boy. There’s a boy who seems bad but is maybe good, and a girl who seems good but is maybe bad. A dad is there, too, and he can’t seem to figure out whether he’s sad or mad, but he’s definitely bad, just not in a cool way. Have you seen it?
The credits roll. Dark waves slam against granite cliffs, fog drapes over crafstmen houses. A few chimneys and pine treetops penetrate the mist, looking just obscene enough to make us feel shy. Someone is going to have sex in this wet, northwestern town. And how could they not, cloaked in the anonymity of all that fog?
Actors names appear as watermarks along the forest floor—the letters of which are the only clarity amidst moldy leaves and jagged, black twigs. Vines coil tightly around the bases of tree trunks, choking the only living things to the brink of not being living, anymore. Someone will go from living to not living in this movie. He or she may or may not be choked. The thing to fear might be choking.
The girl seduces the boy or vice versa. It depends on which one is bad, which is a tough call to make when the visibility is so poor. You can see faces, but not their intention; features, but not how they coalesce. The boy has a vague past. He’s shadowless.
The boy does have a real life shadow. He’s not a vampire.
The family may or may not be new. New to the town, new to the northwest, or maybe just new to each other—the girl is blonde and triangularly faced, while the mother’s hair is dark and kinky—tangled around her shoulders in the inescapable, Northwestern mist. We look at the dark ringlets wrapping around her neck and remember that the thing to fear might be choking.
The family is all very pale; they are also not vampires.
No one in this movie, to my knowledge, is a vampire. The thing to fear is not vampires.
The dad may or may not be new to his job. New via transfer or new via midlife career change. But he is not new to being sad or mad or suspicious of good or bad boys that do bad things with his daughter on roller coasters—which isn’t me being figurative— the boy finger fucks the girl on an old wooden roller coaster. This tells us he does not hold hygiene or maybe even human life in the highest esteem. But the girl is the one who orchestrates the encounter, begging to ride the roller coaster, taking the boys hand and guiding it further and further underneath her flannel skirt and giving vigorous consent when it reaches, we assume, its destination. This tells us she is not at all concerned with vestigial popcorn kernels or cotton candy crystals being lodged inside of her, which might also mean she is not so concerned with her own human life or at the very least her self worth. The thing to fear may be roller coasters, or bacterial vaginosis, or carnivals.
There are several moments when the girl says, “You’re not at all what I expected.”
When people say, “You’re not at all what I expected.” What they really mean is, “You’re not at all what I wanted.”
The sad dad stews in his office full of charts and graphs with squiggly lines that would remind you of roller coasters if you craved that sort of symmetry. But the steep lines of his graphs are visual representations of the company’s impending doom, which might mirror the girl’s steadily declining self worth, because as we are about to find out the boy isn’t just bad in a cool sexy way—he’s bad in a jealous and not as smart or funny as she thought kind of way; a way that makes him simultaneously pathetic and scary. Pathetic because he has bought a one way ticket to a solipsistic meltdown, and scary because his past is vague enough that it could include doing murders.
The dad’s office grows more and more chaotic, unfinished charts and graphs everywhere, files strewn about. He has no time for work because he’s spending hours on the phone trying to find out some concrete details of the bad boy’s past to tell the girl so that she will once and for all stop engaging in sex acts on carnival rides.
With his new information on the boy’s past (which, somewhat predictably, involves foster care), the dad confronts the boy in a Hey, back off kind of way. The boy takes this opportunity to tell the dad about their carnival-based sexcapades, but in a completely euphemistic, I’ve never actually had real sex before type of way. Yeah, I touched her all the ways, Mister Dad. And I did all the hot moves to all of her wet tight parts and boy oh boy did she squeal in a way that made me think she was definitely still alive and feeling what I was doing to her. Despite the boy’s vague and figurative speech, it’s pretty clear to the dad that the boy did some bad things to the girl and what’s worse, the girl did some bad things back.
The dad returns home to lay down some hard-lined forbidding of contact. But he doesn’t have to, because unbeknownst to him, the girl has lost interest in the boy due to his escalating jealous and violent nature. The dad would know all this if he took the time to talk to his daughter instead of spending time in his office among the slow and massive accretion of graphs and charts. And the girl would tell her Dad but she’s still too mad about the fact that he is married to a woman who isn’t her mother. So she hides and lies and he hides and doesn’t pry and it’s easy because the fog makes visibility poor and accountability low.
The crime spree begins around the sixty-minute mark. The boy assaults the girl. He date rapes another girl. He chokes and snaps the neck of a boy in the woods. You might remember the choking vines and think hey, that was ominous.
I used to have sex with someone who said omnibus instead of ominous. I would sometimes say to this person, “You are not at all what I expected.”
The crime spree comes to a head at the girl’s home (the boy, along with two other bad boys intrudes, beats the woman who isn’t her mother, pistol whips the dad and ties her up). And as he’s running around the house performing various forms of physical assault and emotional terrorism, it’s hard to know what drew her to him besides the fact that she thought he was something else; the thing she expected, rather than what he was. This is a tough thing to realize because she is disappointed not only in him but in herself for not seeing things clearly—fog or no fog. The thing to fear could definitely be fog.
And until he is pushed out of a window to the jagged, wave pounded rocks below, he keeps shouting, “You don’t know what you mean to me! We have something special!” But what he really means is, I know only what you mean to me, and will never know you outside of that meaning—because the only feelings and reality he knows are his own. And that is special but in a very dangerous way.
And I want to say that there are two types of people in the world, the people who say drastic things and the people who get drastic things said to them.
And I want to say that I’m the latter, that I’ve never said anything about my very big feelings without regard for anyone else’s reality. But I think we all have it in us to be the one saying things, which is why the real thing to fear and generally avoid is saying I love you.
Analisa Raya-Flores, like most of her stories, is short. Her work has appeared in Out of Nothing, Monkeybicycle, and is forthcoming in Glimmer Train. She writes about dying, mostly, but for now she is alive in Los Angeles.