When I was a kid, my folks would sometimes get the older kid next door to babysit my little brother and me. My brother’s name was Joe, and we shared a bunk bed. The babysitter’s name was Gordon, and sometimes after we went to bed, Gordon would sneak out the front door and around the yard to our bedroom window. Then he’d pound on the window and scream like he was an axe murderer trying to get in. We’d yelp and pull the covers over our heads and be terrified. My mom would ask us the next morning how things went while they were gone. “Fine, Mom,” we’d say, even as our hands trembled while we shoveled breakfast cereal into our mouths.
Once, my mom asked me and my brother to run next door to Gordon’s house to deliver a message or borrow a cup or sugar or something. I can’t remember what the errand was. I’ve repressed it. Because just as we approached the door, all innocent and unsuspecting, we heard a scream from inside the house. Our blood froze. Long silence. We looked at each other, and what with one thing and another, we wound up opening the door and walking in to investigate. There was Gordon, lying on the kitchen floor with an enormous butcher knife in his hand. His chest was all covered in tomato ketchup, but we didn’t know that. We thought it was blood. And we ran screaming home. Somewhere between Gordon’s front door and ours, we realized that the blood we’d seen must be ketchup, and we just felt stupid. So when we got home, and ran into my dad, and he said “Everything okay guys?” it was “Yeah, dad. Sure, dad” even as our teeth chattered and our knees knocked together.
Gordon was a lousy babysitter. But he sure was good at scaring kids. Which we totally admired. Gordon was the king.
Sooner or later, someone was bound to knock Gordon the babysitter off the throne as king scarer. When I was in High School, for one brief, shining moment, I thought it was going to be me. Russ McKell and I had asked these two girls to the Halloween dance at the school, and we thought it would be cool if we ate dinner before the dance in the Andersen place. The Andersen place hadn’t had any Andersens in it, except maybe ghosts, for fifty years or more. It was a little old terrifying wooden house in the middle of a field of yellow grass off 200 West in my hometown. We thought we could light some candles and really spook up the place and give our girls the shivers. The morning of the big dinner, we went to the old Andersen place and set everything up. We got a table and chairs and set them up in what must have been the dining room, and put candles on the table. It was going to be super spooky. We were kind of spooked out as we were setting up, especially because just off the dining room, an old mysterious door yawned wide into some dark room beyond. Man, it gave me the shivers. ‘Can we close that door?” I said. I knew he’d laugh at me. And he did. But he closed the door. I think he was a little creeped out too. But as he close the door, I saw a little light bulb of an idea click on in his head. He turned to me. “Do you have any string?” He said. “And do you have a thumbtack?” Well, I didn’t have one ON me, but I lived close by, so we drove and got a spool of string and a thumbtack. Quick as a wink, we were back at the Andersen place. We cut a piece of string long enough that if you tacked the string to the bottom of the mysterious door, it would reach along the floor and end just under the chair I was going to sit in. We tried it out. You could pull gently on the string, and the door would silently swing open. We thought that if, by candlelight, in a pretty dark room, I pretended to lean down to tie my shoe, and while I was down there pulled on the string, the door would swing mysteriously open and the girls would scream and freak out and it would be awesome. We were all set.
At dusk, we went to pick up our dates. And we took them to the Andersen house, along with a couple of pizzas from Brick Oven pizza. And we’d had a buddy of ours light all the candles in the dining room so they’d be burning when we got there. “Ooh! Spooky” the girls said when they saw it all. These girls were awesome. The pizza was awesome. Everything was awesome. And then it came down to it, that moment when I was to bend down to tie my shoe. And down I went, and I was the picture of nonchalance. Man, it was smooth. I grabbed the string, and pulled it gently. The mysterious door swung open to reveal the yawning blackness beyond it. And as it opened, there was a scream.
But it was Russ. It was Russ that screamed. He had forgotten about the awesome trick we were going to play, and when the door opened, he screamed for all he was worth. And he grabbed me by the collar and yanked me right off my chair and to him in a terrified, clutching bear hug and that made me scream. And there were Russ and I holding onto each other and screaming like little girls as our dates looked up from their slices of pizza. They had missed the whole thing.
Someday, Somewhere, Gordon the babysitter is going to get knocked off the throne as king scarer. But that night, I quit scaring people for keeps. It’s not, as it turns out, so good for my blood pressure.