Demonology 101

by Artemis Greenleaf

I kill a lot of people.

Granted, they are people who only ever existed in my imagination. And most of them are very bad people. In real life, however, not only am I a vegetarian, I don’t even kill bugs in my house – I scoop them up in a cup and put them back outside.

Recently, when I was on a ride-along with HPD, the officer and I were talking about sociopaths, as you do when you’re driving around a bad neighborhood late at night. I told him about an article I’d heard on NPR about a soldier who quit his white collar job and enlisted after 9/11. The soldier said that he was surprised by the number of men who told him they had joined up for the opportunity to kill someone without repercussions. I found that chilling.

But then, I realized that I essentially do the same thing.

Why do some people like to write about murder, and others like read about it? Is it that we need a proxy for our suppressed rage? Everyone knows at least one person who, as H.H. Munro once said, would be greatly improved by death. Since most of us have a failsafe in our brains that prevents us from killing people, even really awful people, unless we are in a life or death situation, we may have a lot of pent-up frustration with regard to others of our species.

It could be that in our modern, sanitized, civilized society, most of us are far removed from death. Meat, for those who eat it, comes in handy plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery store. The elderly go to nursing homes or hospice care; fewer people die at home than ever before. Most of the time, we only see the mortician’s artfully arranged end product, lying peacefully in a casket. Perhaps on some level, we crave the primal dance of life and death, because death, up close and personal, tends to bring life into sharper focus.

Or perhaps, it is a way to exorcise our demons (or possibly exercise, depending on your point of view). We explore the dark, whistling past the graveyard on our way back to our warm safe houses. But on the way, we’ve tangled with the most terrible of monsters – the ones that are real, and may even live next door to us – and survived. Because in books, the detective always solves the case, and the world is patched up and set right (or as right as it can be, after the killer’s rampage). The demons are at least caged, conquered for the time being.

Until the next time we need them. Because we all have a shadow, a dark side, that most of us keep tightly under wraps. But sometimes, the demons need to come out and run so that they’re tired enough that we can play nice with others.

Do you like to read and/or write crime/horror/mystery stories? Share what you like about it in the comments below.