"I don't quite know how to comprehend this," my mother stammered over the phone.
"What am I supposed to think? What does this mean? Is this who you really are?"
"That is the most disgusting junk I have ever read in my life," my girlfriend
said, her voice somewhat breathless, her chair pulled back from the table
where I sat. "I can't believe that you dreamed up this wretchedness. I can't
believe that I... that I ever let someone like you touch me."
"Son," my Dad cautioned me, "If you don't keep this weirdness in check, it
will have a terrible impact on your life. You have dangerous impulses. I'd
like to recommend you talk about these stories with a professional."
I asserted to them all that I was not the Asp. Suggesting that the Asp
reflects any part of me is like saying that Hitchcock was homicidally
psychotic because he directed "Psycho."
"If I'm anyone in these stories," I protested, "I'm Woodear: the shocked,
helpless narrator, pained by the atrocities he witnesses in the Asp; unable to
oppose the omnipresent, menacing evil around him."
"It came from somewhere inside of you," my father proclaimed, "It's your
pain, your anger, your soul that's sweating out all this poison."
What could I attribute these stories to? Where could I say they came from,
if not my own imagination, some fetid crevices in my own soul?
To an extent the Asp stories were shaped by the medium in which I began
writing them; like some strange parasitic algae evolving deep in the drains of
some decrepit bath house, their formation was largely independent of human
design. I was experimenting with anonymous remailers in the alt.anonymous
newsgroup. The messages there were almost entirely devoid of content.
Writing a brief, intensely emotionally charged Asp story seemed like an interesting way to disrupt the monotony and surprise
people. The first Asp stories were entirely devoid of background; they
described vividly awful, brief episodes stripped of any context, making them
more mysterious, and -- like much violence in contemporary society -- more
arbitrary and therefore more frightening.
To my vast surprise, people seemed to enjoy them; find them funny,
pleasurably strange, and not really shocking at all. They asked for more.
That's it! There's my excuse.
"I was led on. People kept asking for more of them. I couldn't stop or I'd
make the Asp fans unhappy. It wasn't me; I was yielding to the will of the
readers, none of whom really had any direct involvement in my life."
Some fellow students at my law school found my Asp stories on the newsgroups and on my Asp page, and they began
avoiding me. The Asp was lawless, heartless, and vile. Perhaps they thought
it reflected my lack of faith in the earthly justice that in none of the
stories is the Asp ever duly punished for his acts.
"A future public defender," they probably thought of me.
But evil describes impulses within all of us, and we project it into every
corner of our existence. The Asp finds evil in ordinarily harmless places: in
markets, in medicine, in chance meetings with strangers. Evil is not, as
simplistic horror seems to suggest, restricted to random psychotics,
malevolent spirits from beyond, past victims lashing out wildly.
And, like Woodear, I am unable to rein it in. It pursues me on the level of
imagination, just like it pursues Woodear the occasional narrator on the
physical level. But there's more to it than that.
"Woodear," one astute reader speculated, "is the Asp. Or, better put, the
Asp is his alter-ego. Woodear commits horrible deeds, and he can't live with
himself for having committed them, so he creates this imaginary person to
blame them on. Finally the imaginary character becomes a very palpable
hallucination, and begins to control and torment him. This solidifies his
rationalization scheme, but it tears him apart inwardly. His lack of self-control terrifies him. Woodear is a deeply troubled, broken man, far too
cowardly to confront the fact that the evil in his life is entirely his own
creation, and that at some level he loves his own evil, since it frees him to
break the rules of the society he feels at odds with."
It would be trite to declare that there's a little of the Asp in all of us,
and simply wrong to claim that everyone loves evil. While chaos is, in its
own way, alluring, and while lawlessness has a certain romantic charm, these
things are threatening to most people, and seemingly the Asp's evil subserves
no greater good.
The Asp's acts are, at times, like violent performance art. He gauges the
success of his acts negatively, in terms of shock and pain, and at other
times, performs them in total isolation. The Asp both craves society and
rejects it. What he craves is its rejection of him, and what he rejects is
its attempt to dictate who he should be. In so doing he affirms his strength
as an individual, a cosmic unit unto himself. Natural laws bend to his
imagination. Logic contorts. Forces and ideas that people rely on to make
life predictable are rent asunder. Values becomes nugatory.
The context-free nature of the early Asp stories was preserved. The shadowy
identity of the characters has not been spoiled over the many Asp stories that
have been posted on the Internet. Order is interred in ambiguities and
inconsistencies. Dissorder acts as rhyme and motif.
These stories are literary shreds, visual fragments, guess-work at lives that
are falling apart and acts that are terrible. They are also terribly
I would like to give special thanks to Liz Kane, who responded
thoughtfully to all of the Asp stories, to Monde, who praised many of them,
and to Jim Clark, for his creative energy.