Monday, October 29, 2007

Local Superstitions...

It’s the bewitching month of October, and I love this time of year. Of course I love it more in places where it actually feels like autumn. Where the leaves change colors, apples and pumpkins are growing in abundance, folks are sporting outerwear, and you don’t have to guess if your neighbor is a Las Vegas stripper or just dressed up for Halloween. (Yes, Brandi, I’m looking in your direction. And yes, so are my children, so for the love of heaven, cover yourself.)

Ever since my elementary school days, I have enjoyed the spooky factor of Halloween. First candy, then costumes, then spooky. In that order. I’m not so much interested in the macabre factor. I have zero interest in the blood n’ guts horror movies. But I do so enjoy the spooky, foreboding tales that give me what has been technically termed as the heebie-jeebies.

I don’t know why it is around this time of year I succumb to such unsettling, ominous fables. The repercussion is horrible. Like when you’re on your way to a buffet. All you can think about is how you are going to eat amounts of food that make feeding time at the zoo look docile. And when you’re done, you’re like, “I will only eat salad for the rest of the year. Why do I do this to myself? Do I hate me?” And then you go to undo your belt, and you realize you’re not wearing a belt. And then you weep.

It’s the same with spine-tingling tales. So fun to get properly freaked out…but then you have nowhere to go, and nobody to blame. Oh, the humanity. Movies, books, television specials, personal anecdotes…whatever raises my eyebrows and makes me reach for a blanket under which to hide.

It started in my youth, really. I would occasionally hear older kids talking about The Hillside Strangler and The Walk-In Killer. These were both true crime cases indigenous to southern California during the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. This, combined with my own naïve mind, caused me to conclude that all unnerving stories I heard took place locally. So when my brother and I found a book of eerie tales at the local library, of course we read it cover to cover – at night! – and of course we assumed these things were happening in our own neighborhood.

The eeriest of these tales, which has stayed with me lo these many years, is the story of the young, single woman who, after attending a civic meeting in the nearby town, began a late-night drive back to her rural home. As the lights from the town faded in her rearview mirror, and the faint moonlight lit the overshadowing trees, she was suddenly overpowered by the headlights of a large truck behind her – almost riding on her bumper! It backed off a bit, leaving her frantic and ready to pull over, when it started up on her again! She drove for several miles like this, near hysterics and terrified as to why this stranger was bent on killing her. As she reached her driveway, with the truck pulling in right behind her, she sprang from the car to run inside and call the police…when the driver of the truck ran up alongside her car to apprehend the knife-wielding maniac … who had been hiding … in the back of this lady’s car … Each time this lunatic, with much cunning and surreptitiousness, would rise up to overpower the young woman with his knife, the truck driver would shine the brights of his headlights, and run up on the car, forcing the would-be killer to hide and wait for the most proper and perfect of moments to strike.

To this day, I still look in the back of my car before I get in. And if I’m in a van, yes, I open the back, peek beneath the seats, poke around the seats with a crowbar, and then get in.

As far as television goes, I also recall a very special episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, not all of which were especially amazing. But this had to do with a man who worked as a janitor in a prison, and who was almost completely blind. One of the inmates, a cruel and conniving woman, convinced this poor, humble, and trusting man that if he would help her escape, she would see to it that he got the expensive eye surgery that he so desperately wanted in order to repair his vision. “But how can I help you?” he asked. The idea was simple, yet dangerous. At an appropriate time, the man would finagle the keys from a guard and leave the woman’s cell unlocked. Then, the next time the bells rang for the caretakers to come collect the casket of a deceased inmate, she would sneak into the casket with the dead body. Once the casket was buried, the old man would come and dig out the casket, setting the woman free to help him. The man was able to lift the keys, unlock the cell, and replace the keys before anyone was the wiser. Now the woman would patiently wait. Wait for the bells to ring. Finally, late in the evening, they did. She crept through the dark until she found the room holding the casket. In the dark, she shoved the body to one side of the casket and wedged herself in. The casket was then carried to the cemetery and properly burred. The woman was almost giddy with the anticipation of freedom as she waited for the old fool to come dig her up. So she waited. And waited. Trying to remain calm, she took a match out of her pocket and struck it, to give some light to her surroundings. And there, in the casket with her, was the very man for which she was waiting to come and set her free. The old man had died that very night. Terror overtook her as she realized that nobody was coming to save her. She let out a scream…but the final camera angle was a pull-away shot of the grave, from above ground…where there wasn’t so much as a whisper of wind…

As far as movies go, I have just one observation. HOW is Poltergeist rated PG? Honestly, how is that movie rated PG?! And it didn’t help that that special gem of the silver screen was actually filmed in the next town over from where I lived as a youth. That didn’t help at all. But it did help my theory that all things spooky happen locally. Bwa-ha. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!