At Halloween I always recall my childhood brush with the supernatural. My parents had taken my grandmother to visit relatives and so my grandfather had been left in charge of my brother Todd and me, not to mention my grandmother's very fat black cat.
My brother and I were fed easily enough. My grandfather carted us down cellar, opened the furnace door and we roasted hot dogs over the coals while conjecturing cheerfully about what might be lurking in the dark coal bin, behind the boxes of earth where the dahlia roots were buried for winter.
The cat was another matter. After futilely calling, my grandfather shoved an opened tin of Puss N' Boots under a kitchen chair.
"The cat must have got out. If he shows up he can eat." He preferred looking after his tomato plants. He always knew where to find them.
"Maybe something eat kitty," piped up Todd.
The expression on my grandfather's face became, as my grandmother would've said, "sour as pig swill."
"What would do that, here?"
"Don't know...something," said my brother, giving the final word a certain alarming twist
My grandfather did not lack imagination. In later years, after he'd cleared the pigs and rabbits out of the barn and had some spare time in the evening, he'd often don his spectacles and launch himself into a book of flying instructions which, while not as current as they had been during the bi-plane era, were every bit as adventuresome.
No, what he was against was the febrile wool gathering that during his boyhood had been a prime cause of tuberculosis in obscure romantic poets. When he saw Todd threatened he nipped it quick as he'd pick a cut worm off a cabbage.
"My razor strap will something you," is how he put it.
Todd chose not to pursue his theory. The razor strap wasn't as mind bendingly awful as what might be lurking in the coal bin, but it stung worse.
"Kitty just out," he agreed.
I suppose I was somewhat responsible for my brother's flights of imagination. Being five years older I felt I should take some part in his education. I decided to teach him useful words. A selection of everyday items would be laid out on the table in front of us.
"Scissors," I'd explain, pointing. "Apple ... orange ... banana ... bandanna (I was a tough taskmaster) ... amorphous horror."
Todd cast a bewildered look at the empty air I pointed toward.
"Exactly," I said, giving the word a certain alarming twist.
My grandfather marched us upstairs early. The unfamiliar bed was high. More than high enough for something to have slithered underneath. But before we could check, the light was switched off and the room plunged into darkness.
As with all children, we spent our last moments of wakefulness waiting for sudden shrieks, eerie glows, disembodied voices and things that dropped off the ceiling smack into the middle of your bed. I generally slept with the covers pulled up over my head, snorkeling air through one partially exposed nostril, fingers clutched at the bed sheet in case something tried to pull it off.
In the strange dark of my grandparent's spare room our sensations were heightened. For awhile we listened for telltale scratching from beneath the bed. It struck me that this was a good time for a favorite diversion - recounting recent nightmares.
It's been a long time since I've had a nightmare worth remembering. My dreams have grown gray and mundane. But when I was younger my nights were filled with killer robots, werewolves and skull littered plains stretching endlessly into the distance beyond my closet door. This evening I plunged into the "barn dream."
"It was dark," I began. "When I climbed the stairs I suddenly felt another presence. Something waiting. Something indescribably horrible. Waiting for me...behind the boxes piled in the corner."
Todd's face floated in the dark before me like a gibbous moon. His eyes were round with fear. It took few words to call forth that consciousness of inexplicable horror shared by the young and submerged later in life beneath the paltry annoyances of reality.
When I paused the room filled with a terrible quiet. There was a sudden rush of breath from my brother's side and then, from somewhere all too near, there came a distinct, hideously loud THUMP.
When he spoke, Todd's voice was heavy with resignation. "There it is."
"And it isn't the cat."
For a few seconds we both contemplated this mind numbing truth in mute terror. Then my brother regained his voice.
"A morpus horror!" he cried. We both started shrieking.
My grandfather came upstairs and cleared the air with his razor strap. Next morning the cat was nowhere to be seen, but the cat food had been eaten.
I'm glad I didn't see what ate it.