(My contribution for Humor Meets Horror Month)
“Sorry, Venkman, I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.” —Egon in Ghostbusters
Once in my life, and once only, I was scared speechless—literally speechless. I wanted to speak, but terror had erected a blazing barricade on the road between my brain and vocal cords. Of all my reactions to fear over the years, this was the dumbest.
What occasioned this unspeakable horror? A small child, probably 8 or 9 years old. And what did she do to trigger my wordless panic? She opened the door to her house.
Now, before you start questioning my testicular fortitude, let me explain the series of events that, for a 10-second eternity, rendered me completely mute.
I was 14, delivering newspapers on my bike route, when I decided it was also a good time to canvass for new Daily Sun subscribers. As I stopped at one house, I noticed a solid-black cat in the driveway. Although I didn’t consider myself superstitious, I’d seen my father more than once hang a U-turn if a black cat crossed the road in front of him. This witch’s familiar crossed the street and slinked up the driveway of the house that I wanted to solicit as a new subscriber, so I ended up following it. The drive led into a double carport with two steps up to a side door into the house, which is the one I decided to knock on. As I entered the carport, I noticed it was dimly lit with an eerie green light. This seemed strange, so I looked up and saw that there was a skylight, where a rectangle of the solid roof had been replaced with corrugated semi-opaque green plastic. As I went to the door, the black cat followed.
At the door, I could hear some music playing inside the house, and it didn’t take long for me to recognize it as the strident, spooky theme music to a TV show, a popular Vampire soap opera called Dark Shadows.
So to recap what was stewing in my unconscious—a black cat had acquired me and led me across the street to a weirdly greenish-lit carport attached to a house with Vampire music playing inside. As I said, I’m not very superstitious, but the bizarre confluence of these unnerving elements was starting to get to me. Maybe I didn’t really need any more subscribers.
The truth is, whenever you go up to a strange house and knock on the door, you have no idea who or what is going to answer. The door is going to open on the unknown, and what could be more frightening than that?
Before I describe the little girl, let me point out that things that ordinarily seem harmless can sometimes become horrifying. Is Chucky just a little doll? Is Pennywise just a clown? Is the flaming Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man just a big toasted confection?
So the door atop the steps slowly opens. I don’t remember any creaking. And there above me stood the little girl.
Reflexively, my head snapped down and to the left to avoid her gaze—to avoid being turned to stone, I suppose—while my heart began auditioning for the cannon volley part in the “1812 Overture.”
She was short, with unusually pale skin and unnaturally yellow, dead-straight hair. But I think it was her eyes that had made me most react. They were larger and rounder than ordinary, with the brightest white sclera I think I’ve ever seen—except for the visible red capillaries zigzagging across the eyeballs. They were Bride-of-Frankenstein eyes. At least that’s the way my brain interpreted the nanosecond’s worth of information my eyes had taken in before I had turned away. Another way of saying it would be that she was a petite, bright-eyed blond girl—but I stood my ground. Because cowards don’t run in my family.
She politely asked, “Can I help you?” and although I wanted to respond, my brain was on lockdown. The inmates were rioting, but they couldn’t get out. I thought, “I hope this isn’t permanent. I hope this is only aphasia I’m going through.” Finally, I was able to blurt out, “Would you like to subscribe to the Daily Sun?” She said she’d ask her mother.
While she was gone, with Vampire voices in the background, I started a mental mantra: “Please don’t subscribe to the paper. Please don’t subscribe,” and when she returned, she quietly said, “No thank you.” The child of Dark Shadows would be letting no Daily Sun into her life, after all.
I was saved. Saved!
And I set a new bicycle speed record pedaling to the next house—almost flying—like the first bat out of hell.