Let's talk about the fantastic mistake
Now I gotta figure out how an 11 year old would see a flaming shit house so I can end this thing.
Did you buy that place to compete with Trent Reznor buying the Tate house?
Better yet, everyone - do you entertain the idea that objects retain memory? I love used books for this reason.
Was that serial killer Keith Jesperson? Also this is brilliant. I have this weird relationship with my vacuum where no matter how many times I see it from the corner of my eye it always looks like a person and I always scream thinking someone has finally come out of the walls to reveal they’ve been living there all along and watching me scratch myself and masturbate. It’s always my vacuum but it’s also always a small man living in my walls.
It’s nice that you cut the piece right before another reveal. In this abridged version, the bunnies live.
I recall you talking about this scene from ‘Jesus’ Son’ in this vid (at 47:20): https://youtu.be/dw7ty_EFWJ8
This isn’t a mistake in perception necessarily as like shown/made reference to in the above, but I love the scene in ‘American Psycho’ where Bateman has a panic attack as he’s reading a newspaper story about supposed giant flying rat sightings in New York, only for him to then get angry when he sees an apparent picture of one that somebody has sent to the paper. The line in which he describes the thing in the picture after shifting from fear to rage always kills me -- “It looks like a fucking Big Mac.”
Luke Skywalker: Look, he's trapped in the pool by that snake.
Obi Wan: That's no snake...
At the moment, I’m struggling to come up with stories that use this trick, but I’m sure I will notice it going forward. Kind of like morphing objects (see Guillermo del Torro’s Nightmare Alley) or ticking clocks (see the sick mom in Andor).
The only thing I’m coming up with now, is a vague memory of Jorge Luis Borges praising GK Chesterton’s detective stories for presenting a mystery, then first offering a supernatural solution, before finally revealing a rational explanation. His example was The Invisible Man, where a man is murdered in a house being watched. The watcher swears no one came or went. Ergo, murderer must be invisible! On further inspection, it’s revealed the watcher overlooked the mailman, because mailmen aren’t considered consequential. I think most of Chesterton’s mysteries are built like that, kind of like Scooby-Doo. The story takes the tour through a magical mystery before showing it’s grounded and all very human level cards. I wouldn’t say it’s the same as Denis Johnson’s “fantastic mistake” but it’s kind of “fantastic mistake” adjacent.
You live in NYC and all movement near the ground is an assumed rat. Jump first.
To Serve Man - The Twilight Zone
There are many examples of people's perceptions being clouded by wish fulfillment. Harder to think of examples where it reveals something more complicated.
Not stories per say but Ive made my own (minor) (not so fantastic) mistakes. Misinterpreted song lyrics, misperceptions about movie plots. Actually I did once misperceive a large opening in a room between two rooms as a big mirror, I guess because the two rooms were identical and I was high. So slowly stepping from one room to another felt like stepping through a mirror until the moment it wasn’t.
Chuck, Thank you for sharing that this phenomenon has a name: the fantastic mistake. I make them all the time...and that feeling of terror and awe when you make one, like the floor is falling out beneath you, like your worst fears or your deepest desires are coming true as you described in the first story and your own anecdote really are so revealing...as a window into to the characters psyche but also your own. Gonna start paying more attention to my fantastic mistakes and work one into a story. I just started following your cause someone said that you and Margaret Atwood are sharing about writing in a way that isn’t mystifying and inaccessible. My family members on my moms side are always having supernatural experiences. They are farmers who live in the middle of the prairies in Kansas and I love hearing their stories. I have collected them in a notebook for years and have always wanted to do something with them. Perhaps one could be a fantastic mistake? Although it seems like such a let down....they really believe they have seen ghosts and had contact with the spirit world...the let down part for me is that I also want to believe what they experienced was “real”. Anyways thanks for sharing! Looking forward to following you here.
Even though I knew Chuck's story was most likely the trick, I was still glued to the text believing it was all true. Great post.
Can't come up with other stories using this, but made me think of this day I parked my car, a brown, 1983 four-door Honda Civic, out front of some shops, went in, did my shopping, came back out, and my key wouldn't fit in the lock. I started to fit the key in again, easier like, and when that didn't work, I started to jam it almost to the point of snapping it off. Da fuq? Then I was aware of stuff in the passenger's seat that wasn't mine: a half-peeled orange; a Webster's Dictionary; some McDonald's empty wrappers. Freak out. Who the hell got in my car? Of course, by then, it was obvious that my car was parked four spaces down. Case of mistaken Honda identity. But a spontaneous vision out of nowhere hit me: I had a double "me" gallivanting about in a duplicate brown four-door Civic, and that our timelines had gotten crossed up for some reason. I seriously considering hanging out in the bushes to see my doppelganger emerge.
Anyways, as usual, thanks for the great post and giving a name to this phenomenon. Will pay more attention on how to use it.
Just leaving a comment to say that you really got me on this one. You wrote it so perfectly that you panicked and wrecked me for two paragraphs thinking about you really finding a dead child. Chef's kiss.