Santa Clause Versus The Smoke Monster

I hope the next me remembers the current me with reverence, waking up at age thirty-five and donning my dead man’s clothes with at least a bit of sympathy. I hope the next me is more Santa Claus than smoke monster.

From Be Scared of Everything, by Peter Counter

In time for the holidays and all the little horrors it can invite, ENJOY this excerpt from Peter Counter’s Be Scared of Everything. From us to you, this is “Santa Clause Versus The Smoke Monster”.

Consider The Santa Clause.

It’s a horror movie. Really. Divorced toy company executive Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa by startling him as the jolly old saint tromps around on the roof. Calvin puts on the deceased Claus’s clothes and begins to transform. And then, after he saves the Christmas he imperilled, Calvin’s body begins to change shape. He doubles in weight, his hair turns shock white, and any attempt to shave his face is met with a full beard regrown mere seconds after his cheeks are smooth.

Calvin is distressed by his transformation. He fights it. He goes to the doctor and worries about his mood swings—from Tim Allenesque misogynist grumpy to revelrous and joyful in an ancient Saturnalian way. His family recognizes him and honours his memory, even as the levee of his consciousness breaks. Calvin is flooded with naughty lists, nice lists, visions of children sleeping and awake, even memories of secrets from decades past: in the final scene he gives Judge Reinhold’s character an Oscar Mayer Weenie Whistle, a toy he privately wished for at age three.

By the end of The Santa Clause, Scott Calvin no longer resists the creeping metamorphosis because Scott Calvin is dead. He has become host to the Christmas spirit, which holds his knowledge and wears his face.

The moral of the story: don’t put on a dead guy’s clothes.

Now consider the smoke monster.

Starting in the first episode of the ABC television series Lost, the show’s ensemble of castaways are terrorized by a sentient black cloud that takes the forms of the dead to lure our protagonists away from safety. It scans their memories and tests their mettle to see who is worth harvesting as an avatar, so it can achieve its goal of escaping its island prison.

In the show’s final seasons, the smoke monster takes the form of beloved man of faith John Locke, who died in the fourth season. Locke’s return is a false resurrection. The smoke monster attempts to fool everyone on the show (and many viewers at home) that the walking, talking corpse of Locke is really Locke. But he’s not.

The smoke monster version of Locke is an abomination. Some preternatural force animates him like a marionette built to scale, vocalizing his catchphrase, regurgitating his memories, manipulating the audience’s emotions and those of Locke’s living comrades. The grotesque pantomime of the smoke monster in its Locke-suit makes us long for the genuine article taken by the unfairness of death. It presents us with nothing but memory as manipulation, zombie nostalgia. Frankly, it’s off-putting, practically offensive.

The moral of the story: memory is not a substitute for reality.

Now consider Louis de Pointe du Lac.

In Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Louis describes with longing his transformation into a bloodsucking creature of the night. After drinking the blood of the vampire Lestat, Louis’s senses changed. His present moment grew overwhelmingly vibrant. But Louis’s new self comes at the price of his living body.

Louis tells the titular interviewer that as soon as he became accustomed to the decadent sights and sounds of vampiredom, his body began to ache: “All my human fluids were being forced out of me. I was dying as a human, yet completely alive as a vampire; and with my awakened senses, I had to preside over the death of my body with a certain discomfort and then, finally, fear.”

For Louis, this transformation was literally his death. After centuries of bloodsucking and decadence, Louis came to regret not viewing his passing with reverence and fascination. An eyewitness to his own demise as he was reborn from the outpouring of his fluids, a vessel emptied onto the forest floor, doomed to an eternity of trying to fill himself with the essence of others.

The moral of the story: treat the death of transformation with the reverence you’d give a final sunset.

Finally, consider your cells.

It takes seven years of cellular reproduction for the human body to replace itself completely. By the time you turn seven, the material of your infant self is gone. At fourteen, that seven-year-old is nothing but memories and photographs. At twenty-one, you’re barely recognizable, an adult who has moulted three other bodies.

I like to think my transformation is more than a story supported by a narrative of memories, photos, and journal entries. But when I imagine being seven, or fourteen, or twenty-one, I’m really just picturing my present self in another body. I think the way I think now, imposing present values on past scenarios, retrofitting continuity to justify my present politics and cultural taste.

I like to believe that even if the thirty-two-year-old me typing this sentence is borne of four and a half corpses, the shifts have been so gradual as to be painless—nothing like Louis’s vampiric birth or Scott Calvin’s yuletide possession. But when I think of all the pain those past Peters endured in between the pleasant memories I cling to, I worry as if they were strangers who died without ceremony. I hope the next me remembers the current me with reverence, waking up at age thirty-five and donning my dead man’s clothes with at least a bit of sympathy. I hope the next me is more Santa Claus than smoke monster.

I don’t know the moral of this story. I expect that’s for the next version of myself to figure out. I’m a living memory in the making, destined to serve the aspirations of whoever grows out of my dust. If you’re still you when he gets here, can you please ask him for me?

Peter Counter is a writer exploring ideas of faith, violence, horror, identity and memory though criticism, creative nonfiction, and playwriting. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner, their grumpy cat, an old rabbit, and his family Ouija board.

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