This has been a crazy couple weeks.
I work as a felony prosecutor in Texas.
So, I see a lot of "Bad Guys," as my kids call them.
With most defendants, I can look past the stuff they've done and see the person behind. I often still send the person behind to the pen, but even so, usually I can see the person behind, and sometimes I feel sorry for them.
But every once in a while you come across someone who has done something so terrible, so evil, it eclipses the person behind the act. They lose all status as a person who made a bad choice. They become, in the minds of anyone who knows what they've done, evil. Maybe it's a defense mechanisim we use to distance ourselves from someone who has done unspeakable things. Or who knows, maybe that act really does make a person so evil that there is nothing defining left about that person except the evil they chose.
This past week, I saw evil. I will not burden anyone else with details of that evil, even second hand. But, it wasn't bad choices, or acts of frustration, or lack of choice or insanity. It was pure, chosen, deliberate, uncomprehendable evil. And like evil does, it tortured and destroyed the helpless, the innocent.
Dealing with evil makes me exhausted, and somewhat hopeless. Every time I think surely there could not possibly be another living person as depraved. Then, I get proof that there is.
It makes me angry, and it makes me afraid for the children I have brought into this world, who are helpless and innocent right now. I desperately want to shield them from ever having to face evil. Always, even when they're grown, and no longer helpless or innocent.
So, to avoid dwelling on gruesome details, on the flashes of horror that play in my head after a brush with evil, I try to intellectualize it. Make it acedemic.
Which means I now have a debate going with myself. Which is more effective as an antagonist in fiction? The person who makes bad choices, who you can understand even when you disapprove of their acts? Or the person who has chosen to do such evil things that they are what they do--simply, incomprehendably, evil. The reader cannot identify with them as anything but the big bad.
And finally, is evil contagious? Does it spread? It doesn't usually in fiction. But in life? I'm not so sure.