Part 4 of an 8 part series

by Philip Wallace

. Little Town of Horrors .

The anticipation of holidays is a major current running through childhood. Second only to Christmas is Halloween. Schools would throw parties. Classrooms would be decorated and kids would color pumpkin pictures. Orange and black crayons would get worn down to their nubs. Bats hanging on elastic strings would jiggle from the ceilings and Frankenstein monsters covered doors. The promise of candy was so thick in the air we almost expected a candy corn rainfall. The threat of ghosts and goblins was real in our imagination. Come Halloween, the small city I live in would become a little town of horrors.

I knew I wouldn’t get to go trick or treating, but that didn’t stop me from haunting the Halloween sections in the local department stores. Gangs of kids would cruise through these areas. Masks would be scattered in the aisles. Snot nosed brats would hide among the costumes and leap out to scare the tinier snot nosed brats. I would daydream of the costume I would wear until I was almost mad, but my parents would shoot my imagined holiday down. I had to console myself with watching Universal monster movies during the week and Hammer horror films that a local station showed on the weekends.

It was okay to watch monsters on television, but I couldn’t go trick or treating. I also could never convince my parents to take me to any of the local haunted houses. The local top forty radio station, WGNS 1450 AM, would advertise these houses. The commercials were just awesome. You were given the impression that the haunted houses were real. I don’t know how scary they were since I never got to go into one. I’d see them when I rode with my parents through the town. They were usually old spooky houses some fraternity or local club was using to raise money. Ambulances would be parked outside. The radio commercials were always talking about people fainting of fright.

A friend who lived across the street made up these great stories about these houses. I doubt he ever actually went, but his tales of bloodshed were fantastic. We weren’t allowed to cross the street so we used to get at the edge of our driveways and throw rocks at each other while we talked. I’d say he was lying and he’d say he wasn’t. I’d hit him with a rock and then he’d hit me. When I doubted that a lady had died in the haunted house he claimed to have went to he picked up a handful of rocks and slung them all. That’s how our conversations always ended, though sometimes it would be me chucking the handful of gravel. Even if I disbelieved his stories, inside my imagination was able to picture the scene: A young lady is alone in the haunted mansion completely in the dark when she suddenly bumps into a wild haired madman. Madmen always seemed to look like hippies to me. He chases her up the stairs of the crumbling house brandishing a rusty and blood covered butcher knife. She runs down a long hallway screaming so loud I have to cover my ears. Finally, she crashes through a window falling onto the top of the ambulance. When the police search the house, they only find normal people who were just working at the place. The madman has escaped.

Years later my parents lifted the ban on haunted houses. I went to as many as I could go to. I will detail a few in the future, but none have been able to compare to my ten year old imagination. This is a good thing, because I don’t really want to bump into a wild haired madman wielding a butcher knife. But someday when I visit a haunted house I will perhaps accidentally bump into a long haired person dressed like a drifter. When that happens the chills will go down my spine and my heart will race. I just hope there’ll be some gravel nearby.

Read Part 5: The Boy With One Red Shoe

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