I guess the weird music finally got to me. Or maybe it was all those voices that didn’t belong to Peter Falk or Raymond Burr. Heck, maybe I finally got sick of not knowing. All I know is that one night I got out of bed to see what was on TV. And it was the worst mistake I ever made.
It turned out mom and Sue were watching a movie. By then I knew that certain movies and TV shows only came on late at night cause they weren’t for kids. I couldn’t imagine what was so bad that kids couldn’t look at it. Mr. Voight at Voight’s Party Store kept magazines behind the counter that had pictures of big booby women on the covers and a sign that said “ADULTS ONLY.” Every time I asked what was in the magazines, mom would tell me they weren’t for kids. I figured it was the same with movies that came on past bedtime. There were either monsters or big boobies in them. Only this didn’t look like a big booby movie. And it didn’t look like a monster movie cause it was in color and Uncle Charley from My Three Sons was in it. Hey, what the heck was this?
“This is a crazy movie,” said mom. “You’d better not watch or you’ll have bad dreams.” I trusted mom. She told me there was no such thing as ghosts. She told me that Heaven was for good people and that bad people made their own hell right here on earth. So if she said that the movie on TV would give me bad dreams, I believed her. And then there was my sister, Sue. She was sitting all scrunched up on the sofa with half her face hidden behind her knees. That’s when I thought, uh-oh.
The first thing I did was cover my eyes. I wanted to watch, but I was afraid of seeing something that would give me nightmares. So, mom and I worked out a system. She told me when and when not to look. For the moment, everything was all right. I could look. There wasn’t much going on. There were some people dressed up for a dinner party. A husband. A wife. Then some whispering and – “Don’t look!”
Up went the hands. I heard freaky electronic music and creepy voices. I heard the scariest sounds that ever came out of our television set. Still, I trusted mom. When she told me it was safe to look, I looked. Same people. Same dinner party. Again I asked, what the heck was this movie about?
Systems like these never really work, but I was too young to know that. Whether mom came in too late or I uncovered my eyes too early doesn’t really matter. The point is that I looked when I wasn’t supposed to and saw something I shouldn’t have seen.
First I’ve got to tell you about my grandmother. My grandmother was pretty old but she could do a whole bunch of stuff. She sewed quilts. She baked really good bread. And she made dolls. I didn’t mind the quilts or the bread, but grandma’s dolls really freaked me out. What she did was take an apple and let it dry in the sun until it got all brown and wrinkly. After that, she pinned these small eyes on it. She added hair, glasses, and sometimes a hat. Then she put the head on a miniature body that was dressed in miniature handmade clothes and placed it in a display case. There were display cases in grandma’s kitchen, display cases in the living room, even a display case in the bathroom. Every time we went to grandma’s there was a new apple-head doll in one of her display cases. And grandma would say, “That’s my farmer,” or “That’s my princess,” or “That’s my hobo.”
People like mom and Aunt Nora thought they were cute and funny but I’ll tell you something; since the day those dolls started to appear, there was no more spending the night at grandma’s for me. I hated the things. I hated their wrinkly faces and their fake hands and their beady eyes. Plus, there weren’t any locks on the display cases. There was a lid but there weren’t any bricks on top. Seriously, how hard would it be for those things to come to life and climb out? Especially when it got dark.
With that in mind, I’ll give you one guess as to what I saw on TV when I should have had my eyes shut. Yep. It was one of grandma’s apple-head people. Only this one wasn’t “farmer” or “princess” or “hobo.” This one was “monster.” It was the same size as one of granny’s dolls only it had the body of a hairy black gorilla and facial features that were bigger and scarier than the kind grandma attached. Oh, yeah, and it was alive. Specifically, it was under the dinner table, pulling a napkin off Kim Darby’s lap in a movie called Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. I happened to look right when Kim did, and both of us went “Huhh!” when the thing looked up at us. I didn’t stick around to see what Kim did next. I bolted for the bedroom and bawled my eyes out. With the light on, of course.
Mom spent the next hour and a half trying to calm me down. There was no calming down. I was hysterical. I didn’t know where the thing came from, or what it wanted from poor Kim Darby, but none of that mattered. I was frightened out of my skull. This wasn’t the sorta scare Abbot and Costello got when they met Frankenstein. This felt like somebody took a hot poker and burned the image in my brain. Every time I shut my eyes, I saw that freakin’ apple-head monster staring back at me.
But there wasn’t just one. There was a whole bunch of them and they came out of the chimney at night. Maybe if they lived in some dark castle in a foreign country where people still rode around in horse and carriages and didn’t have electricity, I wouldn’t have been so scared. Only they didn’t. They were in regular peoples’ houses, in regular peoples’ chimneys (we had a chimney). They could hide behind heater vents (we had a lot of heater vents). Or they could wait inside of closets (ditto). And if I listened hard enough, I swear I could hear them whispering.
Suddenly the rules were different. Before, I could watch something on TV and switch it off and that’s where it would stay – off. Only now, seeing something on TV brought that thing out of the TV and into my world. Seeing something gave it existence in reality. On the same note, this meant that I could be sucked into the reality of what I’d seen. I wasn’t clear on the physics, I just knew that if I got scared enough, reality was pretty much up for grabs.
The dark would never be the same.
UNK SEZ: For more BORN ON THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD just jump right on over HERE! If you are someone whose life has been strongly affected by movies you are sure to devour it like a zombie would a brain or a shark would a foot or an ape would a banana. I could not get enough of it!