So three neighbors were sitting on the porch with freaky jack-o-lanterns and floating ghosts and a big bowl of candy to hand out. It was a chilly night, with rain sometimes, and occasional glimpses of the moon. “So, what’s the scariest thing you’ve seen so far this year?” I asked. I’m the guy who owned the house the porch was on.
We were wearing sweaters and jackets and we watched a log of oak burning in the metal brazier, with the smoke drifting here, there, and into our eyes, as we sipped cans of beer. Our wives were on the porch next door. “What’s the scariest thing?”
Paul, who lives next door to my right, says, “Guy goes into a small town Indiana movie theatre and the ticket seller says ‘Can I see proof you’re 21? This movie is R rated—restricted.’ And the guy says, ‘I need ID to see a goddam zombie movie? You gotta be kiddin’ me! Shit you fucker, I just killed 18 people in Afghanistan, and you want proof I’m 21? Screw you, dude. If you think you can make me give you proof go ahead and try.’ And the ticket taker backs down. The guy and his pals buy their tickets and go in. Twenty minutes into the film, a horror flick called ‘Zombies,’ the guy who said he killed 18 people pulls out a gun, shoots himself in the head, dies right there and then.”
“Oh yah. I saw it in the paper,” Paul said. “It was for real.”
“If it’s in the Star it must be real.”
“Right. I know we’re not s’posed to say nothin’, ‘cause everything about our soldiers oughtta be ‘rah rah rah!’ but I’m only sayin’. That’s the scariest thing I heard—was in the Indianapolis Star 2 weeks ago. Been hauntin’ me ever since. Imagine sitting in a zombie movie, and a guy pulls out a gun, shoots himself. The military is great, but Jeez. It’s like the 500 pound gorilla nobody can talk about except how great it is. They are great. But a few go rogue and do a lotta crazy violent stuff an’ then commit suicide. And now they say whenever a movie has gunshots in it, some of the people in that theatre see a ghost of that guy lurching up the aisle gun in hand, wound in his head, aiming at them. Yah, him with a hole in his head, staggering like a zombie up the tilted aisle, pointin’ the gun haphazard-like. It happens every night now, and it’s getting’ huge. Kids flock there to see it.”
“That’s kinda sick,” I said.
“Brrrrr, it’s cold.” Paul made a face and said “Yuck!” A little kid in a ghost costume almost started to walk toward the porch; but seeing Paul’s face he had second thoughts. Paul said, “They also say that the theatre where it happened had a live Victoria’s Secret lingerie show there one night instead of showing horror films. Owner thought it might clear the air. Goddam if the ghost doesn’t show up anyway, out of habit, hole in his head and waving the gun at the girls in their wings and push-up bras. It was enough to make the owner get religion! One Sunday they held a Christian Revival meeting there—goddam ghost doesn’t care, comes staggering up the aisle showing his wound like they came to see a Zombie! A lot of people threw up, and one went into a fit. The preacher tried to exorcize the spirit, but it came back next day anyway, not long after the coming attractions and opening credits rolled. When the theatre was dark an the film showed a cemetery. Enough for what scares me. What’s the scariest to you?” asked Paul.
Les, my neighbor who lives to my left said, “I guess the rapist they let outta prison on parole and six months later they come to find he’s got all these dead bodies of rape victims stashed in his house and buried in his yard. In six months, I think it was, he’d killed 13 or more. It was on TV just today. What would cause somebody to act like that? Just think about it. Down in his dark basement, the horrible things you’d see. Sick grisly bastard rapist killer. And imagine being the guy who’s sent down to the basement to change the outmoded water meter there, seeing the dead bodies—the bones and carnage, the hands sticking out and the faces with their horrified expressions” That was Les’s answer. “That’s a scary-ass haunted house to beat them all, you ask me!”
“Where was that?” Paul asked.
“Ohio. But in a town this size, you know there’s guys like that right here.”
“In fact, just a block away there’s a foreclosed boarded-up house, and the neighbors say they hear strange things inside there every night. Cries, pounding.”
“Ahhhhhh! Helllllp! Oh God, how horrible!” Les yelled.
Just then a little kid was coming up the walk, dressed like Sponge Bob Square Pants, but when he heard Les’s words he turned around without skipping a beat and scurried away. “Mommy!” He tripped over his costume, fell and started crying. His mother said, “Get up and come here.” Then, still shrieking like a tiny tragic figure from a Halloween drama, he got up, still blubberin’, adjusted his rectangular sponge costume, put his chin up, and valiantly walked carefully away.
How about you?” Paul asked me.
I said, “Weirdest worst thing I heard lately?” I was thinking I’d say how a friend of mine was telling me about her work at an animal shelter, where they test so many stray dogs, and have to put so many to sleep. It sounded like an Auschwitz for dogs. Or the number I saw—“3000 homeless children every night in Indianapolis.” Or the stories during the Iraq war, about how some faction was using electric drills to torture enemies. Every day, for a while, there were stories about how many bodies with drill holes in them were found on the streets of Iraq. But instead I decided on something else that came to mind. “Oh Jeez. The worst was about this place in Iowa. (Or was it California? Or both?) Near a prep school, where kids keep walking out on the tracks and deliberately standing there, getting hit by a train. They go and stand there of their own free will, just let it run them down. Not an accident. Deliberate. Half a dozen or more in the past few years. Yah. On purpose. Voluntary! There’s a certain spot they go to, they step out and stand there, let themselves be run over by the freakin’ train, when they want to die. Their pale hopeless faces watching the train come at them, bigger and bigger, in the mist. I ain’t sure what they’re tryin’ to prove. And there are other places like that around the country I heard. Certain bridges people go to jump off. Lovers’ leaps.”
“The train place, is it exam time when they know they’re gonna fail” Paul asked.
“Dunno. Anyway, whatever reason, it became a tradition. I guess if they don’t wall off that part of the tracks it’s just gonna keep on happenin’. Some kids get a cravin’ for death. They go for it. If that ain’t the eeriest damn thing, I dunno what is. But who knows. Look any day in the paper. Bound to see some crazy-ass weirdness. Death shit.”
“You got that right,” said Les.
“But picture being the conductor of that train, and you’re going along, and suddenly some stubborn little bastard steps out of the eerie fog and stands there in front of your train, staring at you, letting the train run over him. And having that freaky scene happen, year after year, just when you’re not expecting it. Enough to drive you out of your skull. Suicide by cow-catcher. Ugghh!”
The sound I made scared a small cluster of kids coming up the walk dressed as Witch and Clown and Joker. They ran, scaring other kids in costumes, dropping candy.
“Do trains still have cow-catchers?” Nobody was sure.
“And the authorities are in a fix because of the copycat effect. If they report each death on the tracks, and it’s in the news, it draws more suicides to the train tracks! People are so unoriginal, especially those macho-cowards. Tryin’ to prove they’re so tough.”
So then a grey funnel cloud appeared on the horizon, like a funeral cloud you wished would go away, but you know it won’t. It twisted closer, made an impression of ugliness, like a swarm of mean pests and dust, an organized dirty mess of bad luck coming to menace everyone out on Halloween night. It tore through the neighborhood fast, and the three of us guys barely had time to yell to our wives next door to go inside, and to grab the bowl of candy and run inside ourselves and slam the door. “The scary thing is always when things happen that shock the bejesus outta you, and you see that your life is not going to be like you thought.” We looked out the window at the chaos.
The weird lightning, and the eerie sounds of the wind blowing things around gave me strange sensations. Like vertigo in a haunted house, going on and on, while you want it to stop. I could hear a screen door flapping in the winds until it ripped off and flew away.
We were glad we were inside, but through the walls and windows we kept hearing horrible shrieks. It sounded like a bunch of trick-or-treaters were being scooped up by the twister and whirled through the air above the houses. Some of them might have been dogs yelping too. And cats screeching. The iron brazier from the front porch sounded like it was picked up and thrown around, and, along with some tin roofing from a neighbor’s shed, tangled inside the big branches of the front yard oak tree. All that metal stuff got all mangled as it got banged around, twisted and wrapped in thick branches. It was very dark out there. At one point it sounded like a little kid had been picked up by the wind and strung up in the branches, and was yelling and screaming in the most terrified voice. A couple of times I thought I might need to go hug the thickest pipes I could find in the basement, because plumbing is the strongest thing in most houses, and if a tornado picks up everything else, it might not be able to rip the plumbing pipes out, like the deepest roots of a tall tree. I almost did that, but didn’t.
Then the tornado passed. Everybody went home. We all dreaded waking up next day to see what we would have to clean up. We hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as we feared.
But in the middle of the night, I woke up after dozing off that night, and deep in the pit of my stomach was a worse horror. I’d had a nightmare. A huge figure coming at us, composed of zombies, slashers, selfish conservative despisers of the poor, haters of blacks, politician corpses, Tea Party vampires. Together they composed a figure with a scythe. That figure changed to weird Tea baggers who unconsciously want to be like cosmic vampire babies—having everything and making everyone else serve them while they suck everybody’s blood. They distorted facts about climate change and denied the reality of the interconnectedness of everything in the world, using Fox news and expensive spin artists to keep the populace in the dark. They were like auto-immune diseases, looking at other groups in society as foreign bodies that had to be destroyed, no compromises possible. Together they made up a demonic baby as huge as a Macy’s balloon in the Thanksgiving’s Day Parade, but with huge teeth that were real. That figure in my dream became a zombie baby toddling up the tilted aisle with a hole in his head and a gun in his hand. It was the worst nightmare I ever had. The baby had to have his way. Maniacal stubbornness, sucking everyone’s blood. Now that’s some scary shit!
So those were the scary things that came up on my street this Halloween. But maybe for me the scariest of all was when I wrote up the things we experienced that night and sent it to an ejournal, “MicroHorror,” and almost immediately the editor wrote back “We’re going to pass on this. People don’t like to read grisly stuff like that, we just publish you know, stories of horror. They have to be more fun, and scary in a weird sorta fake way. You just wrote up the horrible realities. No thanks. No one wants to read that. Real horror is really not our cup of tea. Good luck placing it elsewhere.”
In fact he put a PS at the end. “You’re scaring me. Don’t submit any more stuff, OK. I can’t allow it. We deal in the horror genre here, and you just don’t get it.”
“P.S. You’re supposed to put that real scary shit out of your mind—didn’t anyone ever tell you? Suicides, murder sprees and rapes, cut throat politicians and “Acts of God” are meant to be forgotten. One of the things to help you paper over or wipe out that shit is horror stories. So don’t foul the nest with your true horror shit. OK?”
So, being the obliging type, I send him more stuff from the news every time I think about it. Just so he’ll know what it is that he doesn’t consider to be horror, just so he’ll remember what it is he wants to paper over.