I recently began reflecting on some of the most formative, and influential things that have shaped me over the years and brought me here to this blog writing such intimate and personal things about myself.
One of those would be the story “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King. This is the second story in “Different Seasons”. It is the story of a boy named Todd who discovers that one of his elderly neighbors is actually a notorious Nazi fugitive, living under a false identity. Todd is quite precocious for a boy of 13, as he suspects his neighbor, then goes about following the man secretly, and even acquires his fingerprints from Mossad to compare them to the fingerprints he has lifted from his neighbor’s mailbox.
After he confirms that this man is indeed the fugitive Nazi he believes he is, he confronts this man on his doorstep. The Nazi, Dussander, is quite surprised by this accusation and after initially denying it, finally admits that yes, he is this man. He is quite taken aback when Todd explains he has no interest in turning him in. But he does want something from Dussander. He wants to know all about the things he has done. All the crimes he has committed, all the gory details. All the “gooshy” parts, he tells Dussander.
Todd is quite fascinated by the Jewish Holocaust. Once he learns that over 6 million jews were killed, he rapidly and voraciously consumes any information he can find about it. He is quite excited by the prospect of hearing first hand accounts from a man who has perpetrated such atrocities.
Over time Todd continuously visits Dussander and listens to the many horrors that Dussander has both witnessed and committed. The two become strange friends. They develop a co-dependent relationship. Todd forces the relationship by threatening to turn Dussander in. The tables are turned on Todd when he is forced to accept Dussander’s help in fooling a guidance counselor who has requested that Todd’s parents come in for a meeting. Dussander pretends to be Todd’s grandfather and is able to fool the guidance counselor into believing him.
The story picks up four years later as the two begin to be affected by the stories and memories Dussander tells Todd. They both begin to suffer nightmares. To alleviate their suffering, both men take to killing homeless people as a way to distract themselves from their nightmares. The thrill of committing murder temporarily makes them feel better.
At first, neither knows the other is killing homeless people. This changes when in the midst of offing his latest victim, Dussander has a heart attack and must solicit Todd for assistance. Todd cleans up the body of the derelict and takes Dussander to the hospital.
While in the hospital recovering from his heart attack, Dussander is recognized by a former holocaust survivor and before he is arrested, Dussander commits suicide. After he dies, the bodies of his homeless victims are found in his basement.
This sends Todd into a tailspin of fear and paranoia. He too has killed several homeless people, plus he knows he will be questioned about his relationship with Dussander and his knowledge of the bodies found in Dussander’s basement. He finally snaps when the guidance counselor who he and Dussander fooled several years ago shows up and asks how he came to be involved with a Nazi war criminal. Todd kills the guidance counselor and essentially commits “suicide by cop” by going to a secluded overlook and shooting people in cars until he is finally taken down and killed by the authorities.
The best thing about the story, and really the best thing about Stephen King’s writing, is the way he portrays his characters inner monologues and inner lives . While the story is told in the 3rd person, we are privy to what is going on in the minds of most of the main characters. Todd’s internal monologue is markedly different from the way he portrays himself to his parents, his friends, the entire outside world. Internally Todd is angry, contemptuous and disinterested in the usual trappings of society that make his parents and peers happy. He goes through the motions and is quite successful in his endeavours. He gets good grades(except for the time when he first meets Dussander), he is an excellent and awarded baseball player, and has an attractive and desirable girlfriend. He is preparing to go to college and would seem to have a bright future, should he desire it.
But he doesn’t care about any of these things. They are obligations he must keep up to be allowed to pursue his “GREAT INTEREST”, the Jewish Holocaust. He is quite fascinated by this dark chapter of human history. He has no interest in “regular” sex with his girlfriend. He can only get off by fantasizing about rape and torture. He despises most people, his peers, his teachers and he can barely tolerate the day-to-day interactions with his parents. He kills derelicts because he is disgusted by them, by their weakness, by their inability to keep themselves clean and free of alcohol. It provides a relief to the pressure he feels to keep up appearances.
All of this is well illustrated by the way we are privy to Todd’s inner thinkings as he interacts with others. For example, he comes across as embarrassed about being congratulated by his father about making the “All star” team in baseball. But inside, he literally does not care, thinking to himself “Who gives a ripe fuck?” When his father laments how youthful and glowing Todd’s girlfriend is, Todd thinks “She’s a bitch in heat. Maybe that is what makes her glow.” Todd’s agitation escalates as he either realizes, or convinces himself that Betty Trask, his girlfriend, might be Jewish. When speaking to his father, he thinks to himself “Your buddy Trask is a yid! That’s why I was impotent with his slut of a daughter last night!” Finally, a part of him takes charge and tells him (internally) “Get a hold of yourself right now!” Its as if those thoughts are shut off behind a steel trap.
Boy do I relate to this. I feel so different from other people, so removed, so annoyed and contemptuous of people’s everyday banal concerns. I feel like I see through the world, and see how things really are. That knowledge disgusts me. I have judged the world and all its stupid inhabitants and found them wanting.
I am very interested in the dark side of human nature. Serial killers, sex crimes, horror and death all capture my attention. Like Todd, I have found the Jewish Holocaust a source of great interest and fascination. While the systemic extermination of a particular group of people, be it for ethnic reasons, religious reasons, political reasons or otherwise is certainly nothing new and has been seen many many times even AFTER the Jewish holocaust, there is something so compelling about the way the Nazi’s went about this. Never before, and never since has there been such an organized and efficient mechanism to exterminate a particular group of people. They made it their business. My own German heritage is quite piqued by the way the Nazi’s drove the process. They almost succeeded in wiping the Jews from the Earth. While I do not admire the horror they inflicted upon the world, I am not ashamed to say I admire how they went about it. The rise of Nazi Germany, what they did, and how they went about it illustrates to me the true darkness of human nature. It is so fascinating to me. It is a sickly thrilling feeling to contemplate how their ways could be applied to many of society’s ills. In fact, this is referenced in “Apt Pupil” when Dussander learns that Todd will be bussed to another school district as part of affirmative action. “Ah yes, the Schwarze.”, he says. “For years, America has fretted about what to do with the Schwarze. But we know the answer, don’t we boy?”
So am I an evil sociopath like Todd? I don’t think so. I never have, and don’t believe I ever could hurt someone in a sadistic and unfeeling manner. Rather, my contempt and hatred of others is a defense mechanism. I am very compassionate, sensitive and caring but only to those I allow close to me. Like Todd, I am very disinterested in the typical concerns of most people. I find most people to be hypnotized by the glamour of modern society. They go along without question, believing in the usual myths about how life is fair and never stopping to question anything they are told. They swallow the latest tripe about society, politics, entertainment, sports and never really contemplate what it all means, and why we are here.
I do not. I question it all. I must know why. I don’t take anyone at their word. I trust my own thoughts, my own feelings, my own perceptions. Everyone else is suspect. To me, they are ignorant or liars until proven otherwise. In a way, I have given up on the many accouterments of American society and have refused to “play the game” as many people say in this country. I have chosen my own path, one that does not concern getting the latest materialistic toy, service or status that so many of my contemporaries have sacrificed their futures and the futures of their children for. What I am striving for, and what I want to do now is probably a post I will write later.
Just writing about this story again has prompted me to pick it back up and read it again. I have read this story at least 20-30 times and each time I am pulled in and carried along by the story as if I am there, seeing it happen first hand. I can recite certain passages from memory. It is etched in my brain. I too am an “Apt Pupil” excelling outwardly at life, but inside I burn with an intense hatred and contempt for most people who populate and overrun this small blue rock we call home.
Thanks for reading…