By Zeke Jarvis
I’ll start by telling you the rules. I’m going to describe four figures in the crime/crime fighting industry, and then I’m going to tell you a story of someone’s childhood. Your task is to figure out which of the four went through that childhood. Trust me, it’ll make sense once we get into it.
The first figure is Baskerville, so named because they take the form of a hound, hunting down the wicked. Their methods are unsurprisingly grisly. Some will argue that Baskerville’s methods are too brutal. If you’ve seen people with half their faces gone, it’s easy to feel like the cruelty is much more of the point than the justice. But there are also those who believe that only Baskerville’s severe methods will keep things in line. The flipside to being creeped out by a half-faceless corpse is...a half-faceless corpse creeps people in line. Not that the half-faceless state is even the worst of Baskerville’s attacks. The worst was probably when Baskerville tore apart a low-level meth dealer. And “tore apart” is completely literal there. It was on YouTube for a couple of hours before it got reported and taken down. You can still find it without too much effort. It definitely freaked people out, whether they were the right people or not. The other debate, of course, is whether or not Baskerville is an actual person. Some people claim that they’re just a badass dog being controlled by a crimefighter, but a number of people have seen Baskerville take down a criminal run off and then be replaced by a figure in a trenchcoat. Of course, it could be some odd, magical keeper of a hellhound. But we firmly believe that that’s not the case.
The second figure is also on the crime fighting side of things, but he serves as a sharp contrast to Baskerville. Lift tries to fight crime as well, but he does so by subduing criminals and attempting to “reprogram” them. He does this by assigning them readings, a regimen of diet and exercise, and a series of tasks to accomplish. Only one of these criminals has since been “rehabilitated”, but, thus far, he’s been reintegrated into society without incident. But there’s a lot of focus on him, and it’s hard to say if all of that focus and pressure is really making his life better. Critics also point out that Lift must have an incredible amount of money to sustain such an operation, and many have suggested that Lift is likely starting some kind of cult. This puts Lift in a tricky position, because any denial would only lead to further suspicion from his critics. Lift, up to this point, has not commented, saying that he wants “to stay above it”. The phrasing strikes some as too on the nose, deepening their belief that he’s trying to brainwash people.
The first of the criminals for consideration is Hellbourne. Hellbourne makes a point to only steal from large corporations with a lot of money. Hellbourne makes a point to leave notes, generally telling the CEO’s and shareholders of said corporations to “choke on a bag of fucksticks”. This implies a coherent philosophy, though Hellbourne never shifts from stealing to actually giving to the less fortunate. Or, if they do, it’s done anonymously. There is footage of Hellbourne, but they’re also so heavily cloaked and armored during all of their robberies that determining gender, race, or age is almost impossible. Generally speaking, Hellbourne knocks people out but doesn’t murder. The main theory about this is that their choice of large, inhumane corporations is because such corporations tend to inspire so little faith and loyalty that they’re able to get in and out with a minimum of real harm. Hellbourne supporters say that this shows that they’re, at least on some level, good. Critics say that he just stole the basic idea from the criminal couple in the beginning (and end) of Pulp Fiction.
Finally comes Krush. Krush is a flipside to Hellbourne. Seemingly taking little from their victims, Krush picks out the marginalized, the vulnerable and, until they murder them, nameless. In fact, it’s recently come out that Krush had been murdering and leaving calling cards for years before anyone noticed. Because so many of the people murdered were “insignificant”, their deaths rarely merited any real investigation. Even after Krush was identified as a mass murderer, many of their victims are left unidentified. There are few people who don’t flatly condemn Krush, but there are probably even fewer who expect them to be caught. With seemingly little pattern and no motive other than destruction, Krush’s attacks are incredibly hard to predict. More than that, there is little to no will to actually stop them. So, while there will likely be op-eds, angry speeches, and other public condemnations, maybe even some angry vigilantes, the chances of meaningful action are statistically insignificant.
So, these are the figures, now comes the backstory. The figure was born and grew up in a suburb. Their life was, for the most part, unremarkable. They did well at school, neither excelling so much as to draw much attention nor struggling so much that they needed extra help or got ridiculed for it. They had one sibling but only an average level of rivalry. For a very short time, they took piano lessons. They made going to the lessons annoying enough that their parents gave up after two years. And yet, the figure always felt like something was missing. Sleepless nights, alienation from their peers, and sullen nights in their room (their family had enough money that each child could have their own room) marked their teenage years. Still, their behavioral problems were limited. Mild defacing (scribbling in textbooks and one instance of public urination that went undiscovered). They were also generic in the sense that they did not enter the military, commit themselves to a Church, or help a nonprofit organization. They graduated from high school and went to college, where they majored in engineering. They got a decent job out of school and were earning decent but not crazy money before they went into their new field. That’s it. To give the specifics of their transformation into the figure would give too much away.
Now, there will be many questions about the purpose of this discussion. For instance, some will ask if this is to give away key aspects of the figure’s identity so that they get exposed. Hopefully the indication that there’s no clear traumatic event (the murder of parents, being physically beaten by bullies, etc.) in the backstory makes it clear that the figure’s identity is not, in fact, given away. To be fair, after this is published, we will also be disclosing the identity of the actual figure to the authorities. Think about that and ask yourself what you’d do if you were in a position to act on this information. Let’s say that you find the identity of Krush. Do you put them through the system, or do you disclose Krush’s identity to equally brutal members of the crime fighter field (Baskerville, for instance) and then let things play themselves out? Or, let’s say that you find out Lift’s identity. Do you disclose it or sit on it in case he really is doing good? And what is our motivation in making this disclosure? Are we a rival of the person from high school? Are we the figure themself, wanting validation or punishment from the system? It doesn’t really matter what we say. After all, we could be wrong. But, by the time that it’s set in motion, it may well be too late, and all that there’ll be to do is to judge and reflect.
Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Moon City Review, Posit, and KNOCK, among other places.
His books include, So Anyway..., In A Family Way, The Three of Them, and Antisocial Norms. More about Zeke can be found on his website.