Kage Baker was a connoisseuse of The Weird. That’s with capital letters, maybe in a coloured font; definitely to be heard in italics. It’s a distinct condition of being or maybe a phase state of energy: like The Beat. Soul. Gestalt. The Mandate of Heaven, the Will of the People, Public Opinion; only, not imaginary.
The Weird is not stories about people who give pedicures to possums, or very stupid criminals getting stuck in laundry chutes. It’s not about nutty laws like the one that prohibits shooting all game (except whales) from the California highways. It’s not lists of the 15 most amazing ways to die while riding a train. All those, amusing though they may be, are just examples of the sheer idiocy of human nature. They’re normal.
The Weird is the antithesis of normal. Kage felt that The Weird moved through the world like a fog bank, manifesting here and there, in season, when certain conditions were met. It could develop nearly everywhere, but some places were more prone to it – like Lookout Mountain Drive, off Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. It wasn’t necessarily alarming or uncanny. It wasn’t always frightening. One could go hunting for it (Lookout Mountain Drive is pretty reliable …) but normally you just suddenly find yourself enveloped in it.
One of its more common manifestations – at least for us – was that some days people looked funny. Have you ever noticed a day like that? No matter how regular their features, everyone looks – odd. Their eyes are too far apart or their shoulders are jointed strangely; their facial bones suggest peculiar geometries beneath the skin. Obviously one meets unusual-looking people all the time; it’s only a sign of The Weird if everyone you see is like that. And sometimes, that happens. It’s interesting.
Kage watched for it, and the reports of its passing, all the time. It was the weather of the fantastic, she said. Writers have radar for things like that. No matter what they write – they may compose the sunniest children’s stories in the world, they still have their antennae on for places where the world is thin. It’s their natural resource, the raw material to be shaped however their particular pen demands.
Kage said UFO flaps could be signs of it, though in this age of Photoshop and RC hummingbirds that is getting rarer. Bigfoot sightings were more likely to be true signs of The Weird – not necessarily signs of Bigfoot, you understand, but of some electromagnetic, neurotropic static that produced strange sensoria in people. Haunted houses, she felt, were rarely actual instances of The Weird: more often haunting phenomena are caused by bad electrical insulation, faulty plumbing, really old wood settling. Maybe even by dead people, but they don’t count as The Weird – Kage felt that dead people, especially if they were lively enough to be haunting somewhere, were a perfectly normal part of life.
Sometimes, it’s true, The Weird is a warning: a sudden chill on a back road, a flicker in the corner of your eye that sets your heart pounding. Have you never passed a section of road you were unwilling to traverse? And wondered, as you sped past and were vaguely grateful your tires were sound, if something were watching you from the verge? That’s a sign, Dear Readers. It may be a sign you need coffee and a Snickers Bar – and in fact, it probably is – but then again, it may be something else.
Kage always opted for the something else. When we passed someplace on the road where The Weird hung in the air like a fragrance, she would be moved to tell stories. Sometimes they were scary ones, as those could be guaranteed to keep me awake – at least until I began gibbering, yelled “Oh, screw you!” and drove off to find the shelter of an open McDonald’s. If whatever we sensed had scared Kage, though – which was surprisingly hard to do – she would tell happy stories to fight it all off. Love tales, adventures, the triumph of heroes and honest men. Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
Lord Ermenwyr was born in part of panic on a dark road …
Stories in the news, things glimpsed on the road, extraordinary statements overheard in a crowd. They were a hobby for Kage, like birdwatching. She kept Life Lists for both. Today, a hooded merganser. Last week, sun dogs stacked above the Tehachapis. And from the WTF file at CNN, reports of lilies blooming in the Sargasso Sea.
Tomorow: maybe some snapshots of The Weird