Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Night Terrors

The most recent post on Hyperbole and a Half, aka the Funniest Blog of All Time, gave me the idea for this one.  The “Hyperbole” post was about the author when she was a 6-year old girl and her nightly battles with her demons; in this case a Fire Monster living in her closet.  She resents her 3-year old sister for sleeping so obliviously to the danger at hand so her solution it to tell her sister the scariest story she could think of.

It got me thinking about the years I spent sharing a room with my younger brother.  We cohabitated from the time he was born until the time I was a sophomore in high school.  Until then, I didn’t even remember a time when we didn’t share a room.

First of all, we really didn’t have much in the way of night terrors.  Dad wouldn’t allow them, I suspect.  Mom used to tell us when we were sick, that we could come and get them if we needed them in the night.  But I knew that I would have to be bleeding from my eyes before I’d go in there and wake up my parents at night.

Our biggest quarrel was how much light to allow in the room.  I always wanted the door closed tight, making the room all black and cave-like.  Ed always wanted the door cracked a bit so there was a little bit of light.  The hall light was always on for my sister.

They usually left the door cracked… it was the least disruptive.  And Dad always said, “You can’t see the light if you close your damned eyes and go to sleep!

So I made do.

Often times, Ed and I were too punchy to just go to sleep.  We didn’t dare to actually get out of bed… that invariably invited a visit to our room from Dad… a visit we definitely didn’t want, thankyouverymuch.

Instead, we’d try to make each other laugh.  It wasn’t anything elaborate… just fart noises and stuff.  But it passed the time until we actually got sleepy.

But while we weren’t necessarily afraid of the boogeyman in the closet, the alligators under the bed were another story.  I NEVER let anything hang out from under the covers and over the edge of the bed.  I figured that alligators were a much more realistic threat because they’d fit very nicely under the bed.  There was no room in our closets for any boogeymen. 

In fact, there was only one imaginary being that ever came around and my brother was the only one that ever saw him.  His name was Boo-Man.

According to Ed, Boo-Man wore a hooded mask and cape.  It didn’t take too much investigation to figure out where he got such a notion. 

Budweiser used to have a cartoon character called Bud Man.  My dad used to have a poster of him or something.  It might have even been this one:

You can imagine a little kid looking at that, seeing the capital UD and mistaking it for OO; hence BUD MAN becomes BOO-MAN.

According to Ed, Boo-Man’s chief occupation was hiding in the bushes and farting on people that came by.  He used to regale my mother with detailed stories of Boo-Man’s adventures… the places he went, the people he farted on, etc.  She must have been very proud.

I tell you, every time Ed’s son Sammy talks about his NNNNNUTS, or drops a fart on his older brother, I realize that it’s inevitable given his lineage.  He is his daddy’s doppelganger.  I wonder if they have any Bud Man costumes for kids any more.

OK, I’m wandering…

The only night terrors were experienced by my sister at the hands of my brother, during those rare occasions when we all had to share a room, like on trips to Grandma’s house.

Ed and I would be in a double bed and my sister would be on a cot, across the room.  He used to be a master at slithering out of bed, snaking across the floor, then popping up by our sister’s bedside, scaring the shit out of her.

It was a dangerous process because there was always the risk that she’d cry too loud, or worse, go downstairs and tell.  Ed used to roll the dice on that one.  Luckily the parents were usually carousing downstairs with the rest of the extended family, so unless it was a real meltdown, it passed unnoticed.  Although, not by my sister, mind you.

I remember once, when I first moved to Baltimore (in my late 30s), I stayed over her place one Halloween and we played scary movies all night.  I know we watched “Halloween” and I think we also saw “The Exorcist” and “Aliens.” 

I remember the next morning telling my sister that she should be thankful that I didn’t creep out of bed, sneak under her bed and start shaking it.  I’d considered it, but couldn’t be sure she didn’t bring any kitchen knives in there with her.

You know, my brother and I really should have offered to chip in on therapy for her.

There was only one thing that ever shook me up at night.  It happened twice.

The first time, I was in Jr High and was old enough to “baby-sit” while my parents went out to dinner or a party or something.  So one night, after we were all in bed, but before the folks came home, I heard noises.

Creak-creak-creak-creak

Just like that… in sequence.  It sounded exactly like someone walking up the hallway to our bedrooms.  Our room was right over the garage, so I knew it wasn’t Mom and Dad.

Creak-creak-creak-creak

Holy shit, I was petrified.  Ed was sound asleep, but I was stiff as a board, too scared to move, too scared to even breathe.  You know what it’s like… you figure if you don’t move, the Bad Guy might go away. 

I must have laid there motionless for a solid hour… it seemed like an eternity… senses on full alert, straining to hear any clue as to if there’s really someone out there or not.

Finally, I heard the greatest sound in the whole world… my parents’ car pulling into the garage.  Whew, my Longest Night Ever was finally over.

We chalked it up to the house settling.  Whatever… all I know is that was the first and last time it did that.

Then a couple years later, after we’d moved up to the old farmhouse in Toledo, the same thing happened.  The folks were out, we were all in bed, all in our own rooms now, and I started hearing all kinds of strange creaks and thumps.

While I wasn’t nearly as terrified as I had been the first time, I was still concerned and more than a little bit alarmed.  It really sounded like someone or some thing was messing around downstairs.  And I thought to myself, “If someone came up here, what do I have in my room that I could use to defend myself?” 

I concluded that the most dangerous thing could put my hands on was a steel-toed work boot.  That did not give me much comfort.  To this day, I’ve never heard of someone beating back an intruder using nothing but footwear.

Once again, the folks came home and all was well.  But the very next morning, I went out to find something that I could take back to my room to give me piece of mind.  This is what I came back with:
A croquet mallet.

Don’t come fuckin’ near me or I’ll blast you right in the wickets!

I know it would look silly, me standing there wielding a red croquet mallet like a samurai sword, but I certainly wouldn’t want to risk getting the business end of that thing smacked upside my head.  So I knew that I’d never again lack a plan for dealing with spooky, creaky night invaders.

And you know what?  In the subsequent 35 years, I’ve never once had that situation arise again.  And do you know where that mallet is?  It’s still right beside my bed.

I’ve taken it with me to every house or apartment I’ve lived in and have always kept in within reach of my bed.

I must admit though, it’s more for the mojo now than a real weapon.  I upgraded back in the 90s:
Meet ‘Louie.’

I keep him right beside the mallet.  Anything that comes in my door unexpectedly at night is liable to see me swinging for the fences.

I just have to remember to keep the label facing away.  I’d hate to crack the bat.

21 comments:

  1. First of all, Maelie is wrapped like a fearless burrito.

    Secondly, I used to keep an aluminum softball bat under my bed at all times. And then I got one for the backseat of my car. Until I had kids, I kept my Army switchblade under the drivers' seat. No one would catch me with my pants down.

    I'll have to write about my Mom's store some day and how it was all kinds of haunted.

    Lastly, I'm the first commenter and I have 3 kids. Boo yah.

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  2. Cassie,
    "Burrito" is my favorite way to sleep. I used to love the days when Mom changed the sheets. That meant she made the bed and she always made it real tight. I'd slide in and not move all night. Then I'd slide out in the morning, so to not disturb the covers for the next night.

    It wasn't hauntings I was worried about; it was real live burglars, punks or kidnappers. The house creaked in sequence, sounding exactly like someone was walking around out there.

    Still, I want to hear your store-haunting stories.

    And lastly, that's just another reason you freakin' rock. 3 kids, including one fresh one. AND, back down to being all skinny, just two weeks later. Admit it... you stole that baby...

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  3. I keep an aluminum bat next to my bed just in case. You just never know.

    When I was a kid I was so afraid of the monsters under my bed that when I got into bed at night I had to get a running start and launch myself into the air three feet before I hit my bed so I could sail over the 'danger zone' and the monsters wouldn't be able to reach me as I climbed into bed.

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  4. Raven,
    I tell you, that's the best 'piece of mind.' And a bat has the added benefit of there being no chance of it going off accidentally and blowing a kid's head off across the room.

    The bed leap is also a good idea. Alligators have to get out from under the bed before they can jump.

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  5. I keep a Louie in my trunk.

    And I remember Bud Man.

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  6. BOO MAN! YES!!! You must tell Sammy about BOO MAN. He needs this lore.
    And Edward did his part in scaring poor old
    Miss McGlade as she came down the sidewalk, home from work. Remember he'd run down over the yard, pull down his pants and yell, "BOO MAN!" But he didn't fart. (Don't think so anyway).

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  7. Trash,
    I have a sawed off hockey stick handle between the seats. Got it the same way as the mallet. About 35 years ago, I was sitting in traffic on the main drag in town when a bunch of teenagers started running between cars whooping it up and causing trouble. Again, I realized I had no deterrent with me, so I got an old hockey stick I'd outgrown and cut off the blade. I still have it with me, but the situation never happened again. But you never know.

    Mary Ann,
    I didn't think Boo Man got invented until we moved to Bexley. But I know our old neighbor got her eyes filled with toddler peen on a regular basis.

    Me? I used to bring her flower buds. Ed brought out his wang.

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  8. My biggest fear was also alligators under the bed. To get into bed, I would start running down the hallway and leap into bed so the alligator couldn't bite my toes. Then I would lean over the edge of the bed, pull the bed skirt up and look to make sure there were indeed no alligators.

    My dad, in his sick sense of humor, found a large rubber alligator and put it under my bed. So you can imagine the night I bent over to look and there actually WAS an alligator under my bed. I wonder how mom punished dad for that one...

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  9. A croquet mallet...the perfect defense against a really preppy boogeyman who lives in Palm Beach, vacations in the Hamptons, wears Cole Haan loafers and drinks Sidecars.

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  10. Jessica,
    At least with your living in Louisiana, alligators are a plausible concern, as opposed to living in, say, Pittsburgh or Chicago, like we did. Scariest wildlife in Pittsburgh was probably the carp found in the rivers.

    Pulling the covers up was key, I agree. Covers cannot be allowed to touch the floor, lest something crawl up underneath.

    I love that your dad pulled that stunt. I know I’d have done the same thing. Which is probably why it’s a good thing I don’t have kids.

    Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    The mallet may look stupid, but you wouldn’t want to meet the ‘business end’.

    I’d actually have a choice… Notice that only one end has a rubber cap on it. I could hit the intruder with the rubber side, but if he really pissed me off, I could use the cap-less side with the bare wood. Of course there are no guarantees that even if I used the rubber side, it wouldn’t dissolve on contact, just from being so old.

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  11. Dude, those carp are scary enough to give me nightmares. Really.

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  12. Cassie,
    Maybe that's where those giant fish sandwiches come from.

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  13. OmGosh bluz, I thought I was the only one who thought there were alligators under my bed as a kid! We lived different childhoods together! Except I believed in invisible paint for a very long time, so all I needed was a can of that paint and a brush and voila! I was invisible. Well...my mom had given me an empty can of corn and a basting brush and told me the can contained invisible paint. I only stopped believing in that last year.

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  14. Cher,
    Alligators are nothing but real-life dragons. No wonder kids are afraid of them.

    Sounds like your mom had a good plan for getting you out from under foot...

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  15. I used to strategically arrange my body in my bed, with my head covered, so you couldn't tell a body was in the bed in the event a serial killer broke in, which was my fear. I realized at an early age that it was better to try to outsmart the invader than a battle of strength. I'd totally lose. Now, I just keep my phone by my bed and lock the bedroom door.

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  16. Faux Trixie,
    Yes, camouflage! It works in nature...

    Just occurred to me: Someone should market "Escape Beds". They're like trundle beds... you know the ones where a second bed slides out from underneath? They should make those but once you get in the lower bed, you can pull yourself back under the bed so it looks like no one was ever there. (As long as you straighten up the top part.)

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  17. Oh, that was perfect!

    I, too, would never, ever, have allowed anything to dangle over the edge the bed. EVERYone knows THAT!!!

    Boo-Man. :-) I'm going to remember that for a very long time.

    Great post.

    Pearl

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  18. As the "baby" of the family, I had one of our three bedrooms to myself until my oldest sister turned 13. Then she fought for a room to herself and got mine, while I moved in with sister #2. We generally laughed ourselves to sleep, but she did like to torment me. We started reading Stephen King in our early teenage years, and I remember when we both were reading "Salem's Lot." She kept murmuring, "Don't look at the window. They're out there." I was 14, but she made me so terrified still that for a month straight, I'd pull the covers up over my head each night.

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  19. Pearl,
    Thanks for visiting, Pearl. Welcome!

    Yes, never underestimate the protective powers of covers!

    Boo-Man... I tell you, I hadn't thought about that in ages, until it just jumped out and wrote itself down in this post. Little did my brother know he would be entertaining people online 45 years later.

    Sherry,
    Funny how the youngest is always the receptacle for entire family's fears and phobias.

    It's cheating to use Stephen King though... that's heavy artillery.

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  20. I didn't have any weapons around until some perverted creep broke in and woke me up in the middle of the night when I was a teenager - house full of family and all. The guy had balls.

    Now I sleep near a loaded gun. If someone ever tries that again he won't have any balls left.

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  21. Kernut,
    I have no affinity for guns but if I were a single female, especially one who had the same experience you did, I might do the same. And here, I thought the creaky house was a life-changing event…

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