Monthly Archives: July 2022

The Delaware “Cult House” Urban Legend

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lukasz-szmigiel-jFCViYFYcus-unsplash-1024x682.jpg
Just spooky, not correct to the locale discussed.
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

(Originally published on April 29, 2021, at the sunsetted GlitterCollective blog.)

When I was in 3rd grade, I was attending an elementary school in northern Delaware that is no longer extant, and one of my friends told me a story his older brother had told him about a haunted house near our school. I remember that we, as suburban 8-year-olds who didn’t live near the school and who had no means of getting anywhere without our parents, solemnly agreed that we both totally knew where the house was and that we would meet there at midnight. Most of the details escape me now, but I remember that it was a mansion with a gatehouse.

The next time I heard about a haunted mansion, I was in college in the late 1980s. This story had more details: it was a mansion with a gatehouse and a long driveway on one of the back roads of the Brandywine valley of Delaware near the Pennsylvania line. The trees around the house grew away from it as if leaning away from something evil, the windows were made in cross shapes and glowed red sometimes at night, and there were black trucks with tinted glass that would emerge from the lot near the gatehouse and follow you if you drove past the house too many times. Lots of Satanic Panic was involved, saying that there was a Satan worshipping cult and/or the KKK that met there. A decade later, the story I heard shifted a bit so that the trucks became SUVs, and the addition of mutilated animals first cropped up along with the tale of the Skull Tree, which supposedly had something that looked like a human skull embedded in its trunk. Of course, the versions I heard in the 90s were from people who claimed to have seen it, but still somehow couldn’t provide me with an address.

The original story put it somewhere in Greenville, Delaware. The last time I heard it from a person in Delaware (in the early 2000s), the house was identified as a mansion belonging to someone in the Du Pont family. This put it closer to one of the most visible still-occupied Du Pont mansions, Granogue, but it was clearly NOT that estate, since I knew where it was and had driven past it many times, and there were no oddly-grown trees or inverted cross windows. I note that several of the really spectacular Du Pont mansions have been turned into museums like Winterthur and Longwood Gardens, but there are a lot of other fancy residences belonging to Du Pont heirs and cousins (some of which have also been turned into parks or museums, like the Mount Cuba Center), as well as other Extremely Wealthy Colonial Families of northern Delaware (or the nouveau riche families who bought the mansions off them).

The fountains at Longwood Gardens. They get lit up at night with different colored lights, and there is a fantastical light show set to music. One of my favorite memories is of attending a July 4th show there.

In any case, I had never been able to get the name of the road it was on, though on a couple of occasions I drove over many of the roads in that area, sometimes with my wife, looking for the place unsuccessfully. Though we found an awesome feral bamboo forest in the meantime.

A Location? Really?

Today, out of curiosity, I googled “cult house delaware” to see what I got. Lo and behold, people are producing addresses. But how odd! The address provided is on the Pennsylvania side of the border in Chadd’s Ford… where it was never located in the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s.

The stories on the Weird Pennsylvania article appear to include the story my wife originally read on Obiwan’s UFO-free Paranormal Page back in the 1990s (with no address), as well as other stories that identify it as being on Cossart Road. One other site talks about the road’s residents and township’s reactions to teens cruising the road (eg, removing all the road signs, removing the Skull Tree), and so does this Reddit thread. Finally, I found a Youtube “drivethrough” of the road and watched it.

Fascinatingly, the supposed cult house is a) invisible from the road (how did people see the windows? granted some of that growth along the road is relatively young, if you look at it on GoogleMaps) and b) does not have a gatehouse or parking area visible from the road. I accept that the trees along the road are a little odd (but between the electrical lines run over them and the angle of the sun, the tilt makes sense), but they’re not along the house’s driveway or around the house itself, which is in contradiction to the earlier stories.

Development of the Lore

There are new eyerolling details about illegal incestuous marriages, although cousins aren’t actually particularly problematic, and there were and are plenty of extremely wealthy families for the Du Ponts to intermarry with (see also the Du Pont women who married into the English nobility, etc) so that cousin marriages were fairly unusual, as I recall from some of my reading. Also deformed babies killed by eugenic wealthy relatives buried under the Skull Tree. Wow, fascinating add-ons, folks.

There are a few vague mentions on some of these sites of a movie called “The Village” by M. Night Shyamalan from 2004, and I suspect that the filming site of this movie — a village set built in a field in Chadd’s Ford — is the source of this new “identification” of the house. There appears to be a rumor that the village was built near the cult house.

The location may also be tied to a trio of gang murders in 1978 in which the victims were shot and buried along Cossart Road. Those murders would actually date to just after the time I started hearing about the house, which would suggest that any movement toward the house being on Cossart could date from that time.

Also the aspect of being chased by red trucks or black SUVs seems to be dropping out of circulation in the post-identification era. There’s nowhere for them to come from, and this is one of the least convoluted roads in the area anyway, so nowhere for them to turn off to or for pursued drivers to duck off to… just a stretch of road with houses along it.

Well, Let’s Look At History

Me being me, I decided to hare off and see if there are, in fact, any Du Pont families along that road.

Cossart Road is a ~2-mile-long east-west road that runs from Route 100 (which roughly parallels the west bank of the Brandywine Creek) in the east to Route 52 (Kennett Pike) in the west. From a map of Birmingham township (the original township where Chadd’s Ford was located, which was, as you might imagine, a ford across the Brandywine, or the Fiske Kill as it was named by the Dutch colonizers who originally settled the area and shoved the Lenni Lenape out) that included land grants of the early 1700s, the eastern portion of the land that contains Cossart Road was owned by George Harlan, possibly granted somewhere around 1702. Cossart was part of Kennett Township, as parceled up by William Penn et al. The region was parceled off Kennett into Pennsbury Township in the late 1700s.

On a Pennsbury map from 1860, large swathes of the eastern portion of Cossart were owned by J.H.Pyle, with a single exception of a house on the road owned by P.William. The area around the address appears to be a W.Hawke with another singleton house on the road without a legible name. An 1883 map shows Pyle still in possession, splitting the road with a John McC(ann?oane?). In 1880, Job H Pyle is listed as a farmer in Pennsbury, living with wife Jane, son Henry, and a number of laborers and boarders. Other people on the stretch recorded by the census taker included Joseph B Pyle, miller, and his family, and families by the names of Cloud, Washington, Woodward, Dilworth, Sharpless, and Johnston. In 1900, Joseph B Pyle is still there, along with the Woodwards and a couple other familiar names, and the people living along that stretch of road are all still farmers. In 1910, Margaret Pyle, a widow, is still living among the Clouds and Sharplesses, people whose professions were farmers, farm laborers, creamerymen, carpenters, and schoolteachers.

In 1920, we get our first confirmed residents of Cossart Rd:

  • Ralph and Celia Keiser – he was an operator for the telegraph company
  • James and Edna Hart – he was a fireman for the railroad
  • Mark and Myrtle Mackey – he was a dairyman farmer
  • John and Louise Clendening – they were from England and he was a butler!
  • George and Helen Van Horn – he was a farm laborer and they had a large household of children, grandchildren, and boarders (who variously were farmers, stenographers for the powder company, and operators for the telegraph company)
  • John and Flora Nichol – both Scottish, and he was a gardener

Turning the corner off Cossart onto Parkerville Street Road (not sure at all what road this is in present; Parkerville is significantly north, but this continues through to Kennett Pike, which seems to make geographic sense), we also see:

  • Mary Lumb – a laundress in a private home
  • Rose Brittingham and her husband Wilbur – English couple; she was a housekeeper in a private home
  • Annie Boody – a laundress in a private home
  • among many others

So we have our first indication that there is a wealthy house in the neighborhood that supports a butler, housekeeper, and laundresses, as well as possibly a gardener or two.

In 1930, Cossart Road has quite a few people, and now we have more information. For instance, Ellen C Wilson and her nephew Floyd live in a house worth $600 — significantly more than many of her neighbors, whose homes are worth in the $6-$10 range. Still, she doesn’t have an occupation, but Floyd is a coalyard laborer — doesn’t seem likely to be the scion of wealth. Elsewhere on the road we have a George Bary and his wife Mary, a Russian trainer at a dog kennel. We have William Gregg, a farm manager, who has enough money to bring in a woman only known as Latchford, who is a cook in a private family (probably his). There’s Gordon Murray, a Scottish florist who works in greenhouses. Oh, and there’s Ralph and Celia Keiser — Ralph’s an agent for the railroad now, and their house appears to be worth $650. Looking around a little more, on Fairville Road there’s Albert Walker, a general farmer, and the value on his property is an appalling $5000. But then the geography gets muddled and the censustaker apparently goes north for his next census.

In 1940, alas, we do not have any reference to the street names, which makes the various private estates listed mysterious.

It’s fascinating that we have evidence of wealthy homes along these roads, but very few apparent census records of these wealthy homes. Guessing that these houses were gated and had no interest in participating in the census, making these homes even more invisible than they already are. Wealth hath privilege.

While the purported Cult House has no information online, I note that 935 Cossart, an admirable stone farmhouse, was on the market relatively recently and had some photos up. This 7600+ sq ft home was built in 1911, which is when we started to see servants and estate employees, so it makes some sense that the turn of the century is probably when the Money arrived on Cossart. Other houses with real estate listings appear to consist of a range of properties, from ugly recently-built McMansions (including a 12K sq ft monstrosity at 217) to 1950s suburban tract houses that have had some updates.

So, back to the Du Ponts. Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours arrived in the US in 1800 with his sons, one of whom, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, founded the gunpowder company on the banks of the Brandywine in Delaware that would become DuPont Company. Their first mansion was right there, Eleutherian Mills, and has in part been turned into the Hagley Museum (the site of my earliest remembered school field trip). It’s hard to track all the members of the family, because of course the women marry out and take a lot of money with them to join up with their husbands’ money and make more money, in the way of capitalists. There is no guarantee that some Du Pont or other didn’t live at some point on Cossart Road, but I can say that as of 1940, no one named Du Pont appeared on the census records in the area. There were other impressive names on private estates in Pennsbury, like someone with Morgan as a last name, but nothing to directly connect to the Du Ponts.


This is one of those urban legends that has grown in the telling, and it’s fascinating to see the changes that have transpired over 4 decades. I am not convinced that the “cult house” is or has ever been on Cossart Road, nor am I convinced that it ever existed at all. Still, it’s fun to have a “hometown” spooky story that I’ve been able to watch as it changes.

Thinking About Tabletop RPGs

(Originally published on March 19, 2021, at the sunsetted GlitterCollective blog.)

Tabletop RPGs have been a major part of my life for a long time now. 40 years? 40 years. I wasn’t one of the very first D&D gamers, but I started damn early, even making up my own game system before I had access to the D&D books. I ran my first games for my next-door neighbors, and went on to run a homebrewed D&D game (based on a novel my best friend and I wrote together) for 2 different gaming groups, tweaking the rules to allow the elf variants we made up and their special powers.

During my grad school and just-post-grad-school years and the abusive relationship that spanned that time, it was easier to worry about the stories than the mechanics, so boughten game systems were the way to go. D&D, Rolemaster, Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Superheroes, Champions, Chill, and the White Wolf games were all the rage in my gaming group then. I started running a Vampire: the Masquerade game the first week it came out, and continued running Vampire games for 4-5 years after. Werewolf: the Apocalypse didn’t grab me as much (until later GarouMUSHing happened).

Once upon a time, I really enjoyed painting figs. These are all figs I painted for my own characters in the uncountable D&D games we had in the early to mid-90s. You can tell how much each got played from the wear on the paint. Alas, the female figs had some obvious wear points.

Though I wrote for Mage: the Ascension, I didn’t run a game until I got together with my wife and we pulled a gaming group together. The Mage group was based in Philadelphia until we all up stakes and moved to New England. We ran another Mage game once we got relocated, and then I ran some short campaigns. There was a brief D&D game, I think, and a Big Eyes, Small Mouth game, and a couple of very homebrewed one-shots using a generic version of the White Wolf dice system. Other members of the gaming group ran games too, including a fantasy game using my friend’s SF game system, some Ars Magica, and an instance of testing the SF game system and setting. I also created a setting for a MUSH that took the White Wolf game setting and changed it heavily to get rid of the bits I didn’t like.

Our first New England gaming group broke up as some people absconded to New Zealand and we moved out of the city and into the burbs. Tabletop gaming was a little spotty for a few years as a result. We had a mostly-different group of friends who were willing to truck out to our house once a month, so I ran some nostalgia games: a short run of Vampire, a brief first edition D&D game, and a few homebrewed worlds and game systems.

One of these latter games slowly smoldered toward self-combustion over the course of a year. There were a few sources of ignition under the social lid, and we had a series of small blow-ups and player changes before the final explosion that not only ended the game but shattered the gaming group into flinders. The whole experience left me completely burnt out on tabletop RPGs for a long time.

My Relationship With Tabletop RPGs

My relationship with tabletop RPGs was changed and, in some ways, broken. I was unable to run tabletop games for about 5 years after the debacle. Though I now run games, I no longer consider it my “art form”: it’s a hobby. That change makes me sad — at one point this was something I did that was incredibly fulfilling in and of itself. Now it’s primarily a social thing, and any pride I take in a good GMing performance is the kind of pride I get from finding the perfect gift for one of my loved ones. It’s nice, but not the rush it once was.

The May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St Helens, which feels very apt to my experience of the game explosion, especially the collapse of the north flank of the mountain and devastation of the surrounding countryside.

I think that disaster may have also broken my relationship with games created by game studios. I mean, I was already trending away from them, or modifying them heavily when I did use them. I think the last tabletop RPG I actually bought was Blue Rose. While I was attracted to many (queer! thoughtful!) aspects of it and wanted to support it by buying the books, I still haven’t run a game of it because I ended up bouncing off the mechanics. With other games since then, I find myself cringing when I pull a book off the shelf (even virtually) and see the heteronormativity and whiteness that are rampant throughout them. Once upon a time, I could overlook it, but now? It’s like my relationship with comics and other media; if the queerness isn’t present, I’m just not interested any more.

A lot of my homegrown games are inherently queer the way my favorite fantasy and science fiction novels of the 80s and 90s (and later, of course) often are: the cultures just happen to be queer by default, and I’m much more comfortable running that as a very queer GM for my now-entirely-queer gaming group. My game mechanics are also much more geared toward providing randomization for story purposes than providing “realistic” combat, because I don’t actually much care about combat any more. (Though I’m contemplating creating a dice system that invokes all the things I find fun about dice systems while jettisoning things I don’t enjoy.) My games have become (and perhaps always were) all about the story and the character relationships.

Homebrewed Queer Settings

Victorian Frat Boys

The boys spent so much time intoxicated OR running OR both.

I eventually got a small inspiration and put together a baroque little 5-session game. It took me a year or two to write it and to feel out a small, trusted gaming group for their desire to play it. The game was structured like a theatrical LARP in that I wrote the characters as well as the setting; this was, in part, because most of my players were theatrical LARPers and LARP GMs. I had some fancy name for the campaign but that has been rejected in retellings favor of “Victorian Frat Boys” even though the Victorian frat boys were only one small section of the game. Every session started with the players getting a new version of their characters in a different setting: Victorian horror, D&D, SF psionics, and, uh, angel chestburster apocalypse.

In the final game session, they all woke up to discover that these different worlds were generated as a kind of magical VR experience. They were all actually Royal cousins being tested for which one would be the better member of the Royal Family to inherit the throne, and they had to resolve that situation. My players, being the ridiculous LARPing queers they are, settled on essentially a polyamorous triumvirate. Because of course they did.

Imaginary Realm and Summoning

My wife and I then developed a game loosely based on the Persona videogames, also drawing from the world of the Yami no Matsuei anime. In this version of modern day Earth, mages are people who can transmit their minds consciously into the Imaginary Realm (all humans do that while dreaming, but it takes knowledge and practice to do it while awake). They can make contracts with inhabitants of the Imaginary Realm, which generally allow the mage to summon the imaginary person/concept, either in the Imaginary Realm or the real world, and order them to use their powers. The mage is essentially offering reality in exchange for servitude. The more popular the person/concept, the more infused with “reality” they are and the more power they can provide the mage — and also the more interested they may be in getting more reality.

I liked Persona 2 and Persona 4, but Persona 3 is the one that really grabbed me initially.

In our game, the situation got murky very quickly, because our newbie mage characters could only get contracts with fairly minor characters initially, lacking the power to really trade in reality with the more powerful characters. Being friendly and fannish types, the characters chatted up their summons, developing relationships with them that started to bring the whole “servitude” aspect into sharper focus. Can you have a relationship with a being that is bound to obey you? If they start to develop sentience outside their canon, can you bring yourself to terminate a contract with them since it means that that version of them will eventually cease to exist as the reality giving them that sentience leeches away? Can imaginary beings ever have anything approaching free will, since they’re always in service to something, whether it’s their canon, whatever fanon they inhabit, or the mages they contract with?

Meanwhile, the characters were trying to save the world from people who wanted to mash the real world and Imaginary Realm together to “bring back magic.” It was a fun couple of years of game, and we added another person to the gaming group along the course of the first game (they joined while the characters were temporarily trapped in Equestria, so their first appearance in-game was as a My Little Pony). We engineered a big calamitous final boss battle. (Where the “final boss” was a long series of final bosses, some of which they’d fought before, some of which they hadn’t.) After a bit of a break post-first-campaign, we came back around to the setting and characters, added another person to the gaming group, and are running another campaign in the setting with commensurately higher stakes with their “higher level” characters.

The system we cooked up for this game was very loosey-goosey. The characters have no stats, only skills. They also have Head, Heart, and Theme Tarot cards, though we only ever actually ended up using the Heart cards, which are all Major Arcana. For our randomization, we also use Tarot cards — every player has their own mini-Ryder/Waite/Smith deck and the GMs have an extra-large deck. We use the cards for combat, skill checks, perception, anything really. As the GMs, we sometimes use card draws to inform whatever happens next. In combat, a “higher” card usually wins (with majors, we sometimes look at the number on the card), unless it’s reversed. Sometimes we have to get into creative Tarot interpretation. The games are very cinematic and dramatic at times, and we blame the decks for that.

My games aren’t dark and gritty either. I want hope in my life, even if I have to make it up.

Genderqueer Utopia Versus the World

I also adopted the Tarot system for my other setting, which is high-fantasy where I decided that there weren’t going to be any elves or dwarves, but other human variants created by magical genetic engineering. These variants include materials from other species, and therefore aren’t considered human, so there’s a long history of enslaved peoples in the world. At some point, one individual from one variant started a revolution that ended when that individual fell into a well of liquid magic and transformed into a dragon. After defeating her foes and freeing the enslaved people in that country, she went off to create a mountain-walled country where human variants, particularly people of her variant, could live safely.

The Dragon didn’t quite burn everything down. Just a few things, like that country’s entire navy. Photo by Sean Thomas on Unsplash

In the game I ran, it is 400 years later and characters who were essentially the superheroes of their country were being sent out to run a series of very light espionage training missions in 3 other countries. Light training missions turned into fighting zombies, blowing up mage towers, burning down part of an enemy city, and finding the tomb of their variant’s creator. That was the introductory game in 5 sessions. I have a whole Part 2 planned, but I need my writing brain to come back in order to write the updates to the characters.

I kept the skill list and Heart card concept for this game, but also added a magic system (based loosely on a combination of Ars Magica and World Tree) with skill levels. Given that there’s going to be 3 years between games, I’m letting players rearrange some of their skills and magic to better fit how the characters landed at the end of the first game. Oh, and did I mention that all the members of this variant are a) born in a female shape and b) can shapechange? Genderfluidity and queerness built in. They’re also finding out that the variant designer infused all of them with some inheritable quality taken from fossils of Great Beasts (like Dragons), and this is why their country’s founder transformed into a Dragon.

I’ve also built a version of this world that predates that game by a couple thousand years — before the variants were created, during a time when there were still human families that claimed ancestry from Great Beasts. We haven’t played in it yet, and I’m still poking the worldbuilding. I was thinking of using 1st edition D&D, mostly because I miss playing with dice, but I’m already dissatisfied with that as a magical system. I prefer looser magical systems, because my players are more creative than any of the lists of spells allow them to be. Buuuut if I’m ever going to run the game, doing it in D&D will be the way to get that to happen.

All The Things I Want From Dice

I really like our Tarot system and how narratively helpful it can be for me as a GM. But, being the gamer geek I am, I kind of miss rolling dice. Also, this trend for people to make really fricking spiffy dice is appealing to my sparklegland. Clearly I do not own enough dice yet.

I started thinking about what exactly I enjoy about using dice in games, and came up with a short list:

  • Spectacular successes (natural 20)
  • Spectacular botches (natural 1)
  • Using every type of die I own (including the d12)
  • Rolling character stats
  • Rolling whole handfuls of dice

Oh, but then it occurred to me that there are some non-dice-related things I like about some system mechanics:

  • Filling in bubbles for stats/skills (because I apparently didn’t get enough of this from the SAT/GRE)
  • Virtues and flaws
  • Spending skill points
  • Also maybe skill trees like they have in some videogames (FF10 for instance)?

I might also enjoy randomly generated character background prompts sometimes, but maybe not the books of heteronormative claptrap I remember from the 90s.

So yeah, now I’m trying to figure out how to integrate all these things into a super-lightweight system that I’ve given the working name “Dopamine Dice” (because it’s based on things that give me joy). I had some ideas in the shower a few weeks ago, and promptly forgot to write any of it down! Maybe it will have been brewing in the back of my head all this time and the next time I contemplate it in the shower, it will come out, fully formed as Athena. Sometimes my games do that.

3 Movies I Wanted in 1984 But Didn’t Get Till Middle Age

(Originally published on March 10, 2021, at the sunsetted GlitterCollective blog.)

The 1980s were the heyday of wildly successful woman-led movies, though no one seems to acknowledge it and today’s moviemakers have apparently all forgotten it. This happened with both mainstream movies like 9 to 5 (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton living a feminist corporate fantasy that’s still applicable 40 years later), The Color Purple, and Steel Magnolias, and iconic genre movies like Terminator 2, Aliens, and Labyrinth.

While I enjoyed T2 (and didn’t see Labyrinth until much later), my choice for Woman-led Genre Pic was Aliens, to such an extent that I cannot count how many times I saw it in the theater (the only movie that I saw in the theater more was Rocky Horror Picture Show). I loved Ripley, had a huge crush on Vasquez, and oddly did not find Newt annoying. (Actually, the actress, Carrie Henn, was bloody brilliant.)

The real power-up moment in Aliens.

Of course, the 1980s also sported a number of iconic and formative genre movies and series: Star Wars, Star Trek, the Indiana Jones movies, Superman, Mad Max, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Bill and Ted’s, Robocop, and The Princess Bride. I enjoyed a lot of them. My first birthday party with friends rather than family was going to see Superman II. I cried like a fool when Spock died at the end of Wrath of Khan and adored the soundtrack for The Voyage Home (still have the vinyl). I had to have friends tell me when it was okay to look again in the scene that punched all my horrible phobia buttons in Temple of Doom. A college friend and I bonded over quotations from The Princess Bride, as was required for all good geeks of the era.

But I wasn’t seeing anything like me in most of these movies. Vasquez was the closest thing to a butch that this baby butch saw in any movie of the time, and I was just starting to edge sideways into my butchness. Every non-woman-led genre movie had one (1) straight femme to exist in the male gaze and act as a love interest for the hero. There might be an accidental nerdy girl or a female villain in mainstream movies, but usually in genre, they kept the budget for hiring women short. (Also, sexual assault was normalized and romanticized, as in Blade Runner, and made things extra creepy.)

“Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
“No, have you?”

The 2015-2016 movie season suddenly served up 3 movies that punched straight through my middle-aged cynicism to the sad little teenager in the back of my head. It was an incandescent Utena experience all over again, only I was older and crustier and more cynical than I was in 1997. Why didn’t I have these in 1984?

The answer, of course, is Patriarchy.

Who Killed the World?

Speaking of Patriarchy, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Mad Max series. I watched the first 2 movies on VHS with my parents on a giant toploading VCR that Dad borrowed from work. And TBH I don’t remember them at all. They were kind of… brown and full of toxic masculinity and cars and desert? Oh, and that asshole, what’s-his-nuts. The only thing I got out of the third movie was that Tina Turner looked good in chain mail and sang a pretty good song about not needing another hero, though I wanted that movie to be better (and more about her character) than it was. But you know, what’s-his-nuts poisons everything he touches, so it’s not surprising.

I was more than a bit cynical when I heard about Mad Max: Fury Road. It was going to be another wet dream for the man-fans, I was sure. And I prepared to ignore it.

But then media I half-respected started to talk about it, and then my friends started to go see it and rave about it. Despite the enormous inertia I usually have to overcome (in myself mostly) to arrange outings to see movies, I did so.

Butch AND not just there for a joke?
Yes, please.

I spent the entire movie expecting the other shoe to drop. I waited for Max to become the star of the movie, the savior for all the poor li’l womenfolk. I waited for some sickening romantic BS between Max and Furiosa, some feminization of Furiosa. I watched for Nux to turn into the shithead I was sure he was. I anticipated the deaths of all the wives (Angharad’s death was a red herring down this road, but at least she died doing something instead of just getting fridged), or graphic flashbacks for their “origin” stories, or for one of them to betray everyone in order to get back to Joe.

I really wasn’t sure what to do at the end of the movie when… none of those things had happened. I joked that Eve Ensler, the “feminist consultant” on the movie, must have stood over the writer/director with a rolled-up newspaper and thwacked him every time he did something stupid or toxic.

Hit him again, Furiosa.

Additionally, the movie was the most cinematographically beautiful endless car chase I’d ever seen, with human interactions that felt raw and real, and a storyline that was actually heartwrenching. The loss of the Green Place. The Vuvalini so diminished. The devastation of all hope. Who killed the world, indeed. And Max’s best moment of the movie, cutting through the grief with a suicidal plan that might work, but if it didn’t, they’d be just as dead as they would if they tried to traverse the dry ocean.

I will probably never watch this movie again, though I own it, because the unrelenting violence is too much for me in my tender and soft middle age. I wish I didn’t think that it was a wild fluke on the part of the makers, one of those ideas that Pratchett talked about sleeting through the universe until it found the right place and time to get made. I wish I believed that any further movies in the series would be as amazing as this one was. But I don’t. Toxic masculinity ruins the party again and again and again.

Thanks, F-word Murdergirls!
(If you aren’t familiar, My Favorite Murder is a great comedy podcast about true crime and why everyone should be in therapy.)

We’re All Fine Here, How Are You?

I didn’t see the original Star Wars movie until it was rereleased a year after it first came out. I was very out of touch with pop culture as a small child, and it took my cousin getting an array of toys to convince me that I needed to see the movie. The Empire Strikes Back was the last movie my grandmother ever took me to (after that, I was going on my own), and she complained about not being able to nap through it because of the loudness of the shooting. I remember waiting in a line that wrapped around the mall for the opening day of Return of the Jedi. I listened to my double album of the Star Wars soundtrack on repeat throughout my childhood and tween years. I collected a number of the action figures, though my family couldn’t afford the playsets. I made my own Millennium Falcon out of a boot-sized shoebox, roughly laser-cannon-shaped pieces of plastic left over from a model I built, and a lot of scotch tape.

You bet your booties I still have Princess Leia. AND her little plastic cape AND her laser pistol. Because I am a GEEK.

I was skeptical of Princess Leia as a character, and certainly couldn’t be Leia in my imaginative play with my friends. I preferred Han or Chewbacca, letting the “real boys” play Luke. (And therein lies a whole analysis of Han Solo as feminized character or at least as acceptably detoxified Mary Sue Fanfiction Blues bait.) As I got older, I came to a deep appreciation for Leia’s presence and ferocity, as well as Carrie Fisher’s determination to make the character memorable when stuck in a film that should have ignored her. (We can thank George Lucas’ wife Marcia for her script and film editing as well as Fisher for making her performances unforgettable.)

While I enjoyed the callbacks to the Star Wars universe, I was disappointed in the depiction of Luke and Leia’s mother in Phantom Menace, and so I didn’t bother to watch the second or third prequels.

Cue being extremely skeptical about The Force Awakens.

But the advance hype sold me. Another woman, and this one a focus character? A Black character as a focus character? Leia returning? Han and Chewie returning? At the last minute, I convinced the gaming group to go see it on opening night.

The opening credits did their usual goosebumps thing (damn you, John Williams, damn you). But I didn’t expect to cry. I cried at multiple points in the movie, but my first breaking point was Leia’s appearance. Because, whether we knew it or not as kids, Princess Goddamn Leia was the fiercest, most memorable character in SF&F film at the time. And here she was, older and wiser and with far fewer fucks to give: precisely the model I needed in my middle age.

Antiope was the best thing about the Wonder Woman movie. I would’ve watched an entire movie set just in Themyscira, with zero men. But no, they had to ruin Wonder Woman by fridging Antiope and heteronormalizing WW.
At least General Organa didn’t get fridged.

This was the movie I came out of saying, “My inner 16-year-old wants to know why we didn’t get this movie the first time.”

It would have been trivially simple to make the twins both girls. (If Lucas had even had the idea of having Luke and Leia be twins originally, which I disbelieve.) It would have been even easier to give Leia a lightsaber and Force training. But no. It was a boys’ club and Leia was the Smurfette of the universe… until Rey came along. Rey was fantastic. Rey interacting with Leia was downright flooring.

Of course, none of my sniffling during Force Awakens could compare to my ugly sobbing at the end of Last Jedi when the dedication to Carrie Fisher rolled. Losing her was worse than losing Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy was sad. Fisher was heartbreaking.

Here. I can’t say it well enough. Watch this fanvid by Eruthros instead. Have Kleenex in hand.

Who You Gonna Call?

Was the original Ghostbusters amusing? Yes. Was it quotable? Yes. Did I quote it? Of course. Did I watch the heck out of it and its sequel? Yes. Did I mostly watch it for Sigourney Weaver? Yes. Was the humor chock-full of sexist bullshit? Yes. When I tried watching it again 10 years ago, was I able to watch it without spiking my blood pressure? Nope.

Not only was the original movie a pit of seething toxic masculinity “humor” but it was racist af (see all the information about what was done to Ernie Hudson and the character of Winston in case you missed that discussion). I think the movie had pretty decent bones, honestly, or it wouldn’t have been so enduring despite the shitty body it was given. I still feel pretty fond of the concept of the thing.


But but but.

Then the “reboot” (which I read as “alternate universe” or AU) of 2016 happened.

Not only did we get an all-women team of Ghostbusters, but I got one who rang queer, geeky, and butch to boot. The writing and comedy was solid, the characters were engaging, and I enjoyed the hell out of defenestrating Bill Murray’s character.

Yes, please, give me more.

My main issue was with Patty, who they treated at least as badly as Winston had been treated, and I wish to hell they’d fixed that problem. There’s no reason she had to be the “add-on” Ghostbuster. Leslie Jones would’ve rocked the hell out of a role like Abby or Erin. Patty could have been a disaffected PhD who was working for MTA because the benefits were better than in academia. (I’ve written some fic that postulates this too, because that’s one thing fic is for: fixit.) There were literally hundreds of less racist (and misogynist) possibilities other than what they chose.

I can still appreciate the Ghostbusters that Inner 16 wanted so much: the fat, competent scientist; the big, loud woman taking up space; the high-strung, serious scientist; and the geek butch geeking out and flirting madly with the nervy straight-wannabe who is attracted to both the project and the butch.


I think we saw the movie 3 or 4 times in the theaters and then I preordered the Blu-ray with the extended cut (I enjoyed the new content, particularly between Holtzmann and Gorin, but I think the released film is mostly better). I even started planning Holtzmann cosplay — I don’t do cosplay, you understand.

By the time Ghostbusters appeared onscreen, I hadn’t really spontaneously written fic for anything for something like 15 years. I don’t really count the little dribs and drabs that spooted out here and there (one very short piece for Fury Road, some cranky things about The X-Files and Doctor Who). For me, really being inspired to fic is the kind of thing I did with Utena: a few short pieces, a few longer pieces, maybe a novel-length monster that takes 10 years to finish. Ghostbusters was striking in that I not only had a several pieces appear in relatively short order, but I also wrote some Mature Content, which is very unusual for me.

Ghostbusters 2016 has actually gotten me more harassment than any of my other fandoms combined. I put a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Safety lights are for dudes,” with Holtzmann’s heart-radiation symbol, and I started getting dudes blowing their horns, flashing their headlights, and even following me as I drove through city streets (way too closely with brights on). (This behavior stopped as soon as I took the sticker off. It had never occurred with the pride sticker I had there before.) I have a “We Can Bust It” t-shirt with Holtzmann in the iconic Rosie the Riveter post and at a store in my town, the man (of course) behind the counter pointed at the picture on my chest (his finger halting less than six inches from my actual frontispieces) and opined that the movie wasn’t as good as the original. (I haven’t been back to said store, opting to go to a similar store at the other end of town instead.)

I cannot convey how much I wanted THIS Ghostbusters in 1984 and couldn’t even imagine it to want it.


Representation in media matters, y’all. (I say, preaching to the choir.) Women — and love between women — saving the world means so goddamn much to me. The way Black Panther means so much to so many Black people. The way having actual Native people playing Native characters matters. Inclusion matters. Having us not be goddamn tokens or placeholders to enable some dull interchangeable white dude matters.

What would these movies have done for me in 1984?

They would have given me joy. So much joy that it makes Inner 16 tear up.

And Patriarchy — as embodied in the white cis het men who whine and kick and throw whole screaming tantrums about these movies — is thoroughly invested in keeping that representation away from us. We — the queers, the women, the enbies, the BIPOC folks, anyone who isn’t a rich white cisgendered heterosexual man — are Not Meant to Have Joy in Western heteronormative capitalist neoliberal society.

If we have Joy, we might get Ideas, you know.

Carpe gaudium, my friends. Seize the joy.