Sunday, June 23, 2013
I think most of us can recall at least one strange notion or idea that burrowed itself into our brain during the naiveté of childhood. Something we allowed to take up residence in a dark corner and even in the face of contradictory evidence we refuse to let it go without a fight. At the age of ten I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I failed to hold my breath the entire length of a cemetery that something awful would happen. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, only that it would be an unbelievably ugly and gruesome scenario. My father tried to convince me that if I subjected the idea to logical analysis it would crumble like day-old bread. Problem being not even one-tenth of a young boy’s thoughts and actions can be loosely interpreted as logical. The way I saw things, an average graveyard in a rural community had no less than two-hundred stones. At least ten percent of the spirits were crafty enough to have broken free from the chains that tether those wandering the after-world—you’ve seen the movies, right? That leaves a bare minimum twenty spirits roaming free, of which as a general rule, roughly thirty percent are inherently evil because mom said one in three boys is a born hoodlum and bound for prison. So lurking somewhere in every ‘valley of the dead’ are 6.67 renegade spirits lying in wait for a fresh body to throw themselves into. No kid wanted to be the cause of subjecting his family to neighborhood ridicule if a priest had to be called in to perform a full-blown exorcising for a measly .67 parts of a demon.
Holding the breath equalized internal pressure and prevented a breach of any and all orifices; an invisible force-field if you will. But all good battle plans require a secondary line of defense and since everyone knows the eyes are the window to your soul you must be diligent.
My older sister, Maggie, was thirteen and jumped on every opportunity to tease me about the childishness of my ritual. She’d often make stupid noises or tickle me in an attempt to break my resolve. Even the time I became so infuriated that I doubled up my fists and blindly bloodied her nose did little more than deter her temporarily. However, Pop reaching in the back seat and eventually finding a fist-full of my hair, which he used for leverage to head butt me against the back of his headrest, rather permanently cured me of losing control of my emotions when in his presence.
I suppose I liked my sister as much any little brother will admit. In fact on that eerie night the dreaded and unretractable words, “I love you” rolled off of my tongue like I meant it. In my own defense I was simply a victim of circumstance. What was a kid brother supposed to do with his own flesh and blood lying in the middle of the road, face a pale shade of blue, gasping for what I knew to be a final breath?
It was Halloween night, and because of such everything appeared creepier than usual. The moon nearly filled the drivers-side rear window, and it seemed no matter which direction Mom turned the car it hurdled across the sky to stay on my side. It was much bigger than I had ever seen; orange and angry, as if toxic air from an apocalyptic night had over-inflated it. Near the top of the bloated orb were black slashes for eyes, and their gaze bore through me like lasers. My insides shifted as I tried to stare past it, but it wouldn’t let go of me. Suddenly the moon morphed into something ten times worse. A mangy werewolf, mouth bloody from a fresh kill, appeared at my window and lunged at me. I jerked back to avoid the slash of his razor sharp teeth and collided with my sister.
“Hey, stupid, it’s only a reflection of the mask you’re wearing! Ha…ha, you’re such a scaredy-cat. Now get off of me before you smash my princess costume!”
Being cast back to my side of the seat rather forcefully, I decided to use my flashlight to examine the floorboard. Not one shard of glass where only moments earlier a hairy arm plunged through the window in search of my jugular. My sister was right about the reflection. I hated when she was right about anything. A combination of anger and embarrassment welled up in me, boiling until it spilled out my mouth.
“Bet you just love Halloween, don’t do? The one night of the year a witch can play a princess. Well, you’re still a mean, ugly, hag on the inside and only a heart transplant can fix that!!”
Her punch landed squarely in the ear-hole of my werewolf mask. Despite the ringing in my head I slugged her back. Certain areas on girls are off limits so I aimed just below her boobs. I smiled as I heard the ‘uuumph’ and the air temporarily leave her lungs.
“What’s a matter with you two back there? Stop it, or I’m going to turn this car around!”
Mom was not nearly as adept as dad at launching the heat-seeking arm into the back seat, and I was pretty sure she’d never considered head-butting me into anything to make a point. As a precautionary measure I pressed back into the seat.
Using the sweetest fake voices we could muster, my sister and I responded in unison.
“Nothing, mother, we’ll behave.”
With mom’s radar tripped and on high alert Maggie knew better than to continue pushing buttons. She leaned over and whispered to me.
“Hey, Sammy, Wilson cemetery is just up the road. Better close your eyes and hold your breath. Don’t wanna let an evil spirit in do ya? Well do ya—you stupid little wart!”
I wanted to grab her face, pry those smug lips apart, and rip out her tongue so I didn’t have to listen to her annoying voice ever again. Each moment that passed anger consumed another chunk of me until I had nearly forgotten the situation at hand. I lifted my head just in time to see the hood ornament of the car even with the first row of stones. I drew an exaggerated deep breath and pressed my eyes closed hard enough to make the skin crumple around them.
Wilson cemetery struck fear in my heart. Nearly a half mile challenged the capacity of my lungs, but Halloween night was certainly not the time to slip up. As I went inside my head to prepare for battle I felt my sister’s fingers slitter around my rib cage, searching for the secret spot that would break me. I slapped her hand away gently the first time. Knowing her persistent nature I figured to be more forcefully the second and show her I wasn’t playing. I waited and waited for what seems like forever, but nothing. Then I heard an ugly gasp followed closely by a tapping on my arm. I pretended to feel nothing. The annoyance increased in frequency and urgency as did the realistic gurgling noises coming from the other side of the car. Maggie was putting on quite a performance, but if she thought I was folding that easily she had underestimated my tenacity. As if she intercepted my thoughts and heard the resolve and stubbornness, my sister buried the nails of her left hand deep into the flesh of my forearm. The pain threshold quickly superseded that of logical thinking. My eyelids slammed open and I wheeled on her. Immediately I wanted to close them again. Not because of the ritual but because my young eyes had seen too much.
“Stop the car, Mom, NOW! Maggie’s dying!”
Most if not all of the evil thoughts I’d considered were playing out. My sister had swallowed a demon on Halloween night and it lodged in her throat. I was ashamed that part of me wanted to smile and say I told you so, but the look of horror etched on my sister’s face washed away any and all animosity. Her eyes bulged like a bull-frog squeezed too tight in the middle, and the way she clutched at her own throat screamed desperation. She needed help in a bad way.
The car came to a screeching stop and mom and I nearly collided in a head-long rush to reach Maggie’s door. Each of us grabbed an arm and dragged her from the vehicle onto the road. I glanced to see if there might be a softer resting spot in the grass, but instead saw a tombstone barely twenty yard away. For the love of God….mom stopped the car too soon and now we weren’t just playing on the fridges of hell; her error in judgment had cast us right into the middle of a bubbling cauldron. My knees buckled, head started spinning, and everything went into slow motion. I was overcome by a near catatonic state and only vaguely aware of the words dribbling from my mouth.
“Hail Mary full of grace….”
To this day my mother denies such words of sacrilege every crossed the threshold of her lips, but a young boy remembers such trespasses. Her words hung in the air like the stench of a double-bean burrito fart.
“Screw Mother Mary. Screw her!! Help me get your sister on her feet”
I was uncertain whether the voice was completely her own or some morphing mixed with a gravelly voice of possession. Drool oozing from my sister’s mouth found its way to her arms making mother’s request a slippery proposition. I stood directly in front of them helplessly waiting for mom to work her magic on the limp and lifeless shell of my sister. Hanging over mom’s right shoulder laid that awful orange moon, pouring his sinister smile down upon us. I watched intently as mom drew her fists into my sister’s gut.
The sheer ugliness lying ahead was inescapable, the lesser of two evils. If my sister was to live the demon must be expelled, but I could only imagine the agitation of a spirit settling into his home only to be puked onto the ground in a chunky stream of Skittles and Milky Way. My sister was responding now. She moaned from time to time and her gut wrenched back and forth like a cat ratcheting up a hairball. I broke into a cold sweat at the prospect of meeting a demon head on. I had no idea if I possessed the intestinal fortitude to stare long and hard into those fiery red eyes and live to tell about it. The moment had arrived; that split second when you finally find out if your guts are made of steel or Laffy Taffy. Maggie heaved a final hurl and I saw the pinkish hue of a rotten demon’s soul emerging from her mouth. Then at the speed of sound it launched itself directly at me, striking me squarely between the eyes.
Mom loosed a blood curdling scream, “There it is!!” she exclaimed.
After touching my face to make sure it hadn't been completely melted off and I had eyes left to see, I looked on the ground. Just as mom said…there it was, indeed…a half-chewed chunk of Hubba Bubba! Seriously.