Sunday, October 13, 2013

Things that Go Bump in the Imagination of Kids

Somewhere it's written in the official book of sibling-hood that it's the duty of the older brother to scare the little sister. My brother Dennis took his duty seriously so I thought that with Halloween bearing down upon us, I'd share a few examples.

Dennis never went for shock factor: The bloody finger in the box or the rubber snake on the pillow. He did have a rubber snake called Mrs. Murphy but that didn't work cause I thought she was cute.

No, Denny's attempts to scare me were more psychological in scope. The meme planted in the mind and allowed to fester. Like the time he drove my younger brother Robert and I somewhere...I can't remember where we were going, though with my family's occasional thumbing of our nose at punctuality, I'm sure, wherever we were headed, we were running late. Dennis was nine years older than me so he was probably about sixteen (though helping my dad with his electrical contracting business, his driving started years before he was a legal driver). I'm guessing I was probably seven or eight. We drove past a park in which stood a rather large copse of trees. From it could be heard the striking sound of cicadas as they sang their song loud and proud. For those who've never heard cicadas when they let it blast, it can sound otherworldly. The sound of some species of cicada can reach 100 decibels. When mating or sounding warnings, the male cicada contracts the tymbal muscles on each side of the first segment of their bodies. The sound is amplified by air sacs in the abdominal cavity. I had one cicada loitering on my window one night this year and it was like the thing was right next to me where ever I went in the house. When you get enough cicadas singing at once, it can sound a bit like this:

You wouldn't think muscle contractions could be so loud. Some species come out every 13 years, some ever 17 years. Some are yearly visitors. I think the loudest are probably the 13 and 17 year cicadas and I may have never have heard them or been conscious of the noise they make prior to the day in question. For whatever reason, I was transfixed by the overwhelming sound on this overcast and eerie day as we drove.

So when I shot a concerned look out the window toward the copse of trees from which the sound emanated, what did my brother tell me was the cause of that disturbing noise? He told me, with perfect sincerity, that it was a flying saucer. Aliens had landed on the earth and were hiding in that copse of trees just waiting to invade.

This was the mid-70s. Every other book out there was reporting the latest Bigfoot sightings or Bermuda Triangle stories or alien visitation. And I ate all those books up. I was always reading some book on UFOs or watching some alien movie. To think they were real and preparing to launch their invasion from our local forest preserve...well that was pretty creepy especially since Denny warned me that if we didn't get past the forest preserve quick enough, the ship would come out and grab us. I mean, heck, it was just a few weeks prior to that, that I saw a movie from the early 1960s on "Svengoolie", a local late-night scare-fest, that had a Martian invasion in it where the Martians had needles in their fingers and when they poked someone with them, the victim was put to sleep and at the mercy of their alien captors.

Oh sure, there was probably some hidden message in the movie from the producers about the emerging drug culture of the time but what did I know? I was only eight and the only drug being abused at my house was alcohol and they used tumblers and shot glasses for that.

Perhaps I've shared too much.

Suffice to say Denny's claim freaked me out for a few days till Mom explained that the noise was produced by bugs, not aliens, coming up from the ground in preparation to invade. Somehow, that didn't really calm my fears.

Another incident happened when my brother was driving as the family made its way back home from the resort in mid-Wisconsin that we stayed at every summer. It took about eight hours and we drove the back roads, desolate and lonely. Since my family was preternaturally late, every year we usually arrived at the resort (and two weeks later back home) around midnight. This was often due to my father who knew every bar along the route and made it his mission to stop at every one. One year, my mother drove the kids up to the resort and dad came up a few days later because he had some business he had to take care before he could leave. So, on the way home, my parents drove in one car and Dennis drove in the other. And of course me and my little brother had to drive with Dennis.

As we traveled along the dark country roads, the surrounding farmland barely visible in the night, a mist began to form in the headlights. It thickened, creeping across the road ahead of us as if we were driving into some Universal monster movie. Now bear in mind, along with those books on Bigfoot and aliens, I loved to read books on ghosts. The Lively Ghosts of Ireland, a book I acquired from my sister, was a particular favorite. And also bear in mind that Creature Features, the other late night local scare-fests, was a show I watched every week, and it had one of the creepiest openings of a television show EVER!

AND, because I had a tendency to let my imagination get the better of me, there were nights that I was certain that in the middle of the night, if I went out of my room and looked down the hallway I would see a guy standing there who I wasn't sure would do me harm, but I was also not sure he wouldn't, which was why when the feeling gripped me, I hightailed it into my parents room across the hall and snuggled up with them for protection.

The point being that I could be a very impressionable and imaginative kid. So when the mist began to thicken to the point that it seemed as if the car was slicing through it, my brother thought it would be hilariously funny to tell his younger sister and brother that the mist rolling along the road wasn't fog, but rather the ghosts of dead relatives coming to get us.

Apparently the thought of the car being surrounded by ghosts wasn't bad enough, he had the possibility that all my dead relatives, past and present, now haunted the road before us.

Funny how the mind squirms at so young an age when faced with possibilities that seem plausible. Needless to say we made it home, all safe and sound and the spirits of the dead were left behind in Wisconsin. Bratty as these stories may have been, I still cherish the memories because they're memories that connect me with my brother Dennis.

This is why I know ghosts don't really exist. My brother Dennis died in 1997 at the age of 42. It wasn't aliens or ghosts or Bigfoot that took him. It was cancer. A much scarier thing. It would take my mother a little over a year later. A relentless and evil thing.

I know one thing, however: If ghosts did actually exist, I have no doubt that my brother Dennis would figure out some way to make his presence known. The timing would undoubtedly be highly inappropriate and his spirit would be doing his best to scare me. But so far there's been no cold spots, no ghostly whispering, nor anything moved out of place. that I look, I thought I straightened that photo of the family on the wall hanging so crookedly. That couldn't possibly you think?

1 comment:

  1. nicely written & more than a bit creepy. When I was young I used to say goodnight to my younger sister & turn all her dolls & soft toys so they were staring at her before I left her room. She could never sleep knowing they were all watching her so she would call out to mum that she was being watched & could not sleep... even at such a young age I knew the power of psychological warfare...

    I remember as teenagers, my mates & I would drive along lonely country roads at night when there was a full Moon & turn our headlights off (it was so bright we could easily see the road ahead) until a car travelling in the opposite direction was almost level with us, then we'd tun our lights on & watch the other car almost swerve off the road as we apparently appeared from nowhere. ha ha