Averyell A. Kessler
Long before Freddy Krueger haunted Elm Street and Leatherneck cranked up his chainsaw, another villain lurked in Belhaven. Most of my childhood monsters lived in story books or in the imagination of Walt Disney’s illustrators. They were not my friends. Accordingly, my eyes widened whenever Rumpelstiltskin taunted the miller’s daughter, or the wicked witch tried to push Hansel into her oven. This myriad of frightening tales was a sure recipe for keeping my closet light on all night. In my opinion, the, Brothers Grimm were aptly named.
For me, the scariest creature of all did not appear in story books. Mr. Disney didn’t portray him in blazing color; Mama and Diddy never mentioned him at all. Instead, he emerged fully formed in whispered warnings from my friends who assured me that he was hiding somewhere in Belhaven just waiting for a chance. For what, they did not say; but I recognized the terrified look in their eyes. His name was the bogeyman. Nobody knew exactly what he looked like.
I was spending the night with my friend Helen. We were in the second grade. After endless games of Chinese checkers, lots of giggles, and slices of gooey strawberry pie, we were sent to bed. Soon the house was pitch black, and quiet as a country graveyard. We lay in bed talking in whispers, as a freight train passed the behind her house and rattled away into the darkness. Then silence. When we heard a twig snap outside our open window, sleep galloped away on a fast horse.
“I wonder if it’s him?” Helen asked.
“Who?” I said.
“You know, the bogeyman,” she answered. “What if he jumped off the train.” I was aware of the bogeyman’s stealth and cunning, as well as his ability to steal children during the middle of the night. We both sat bolt upright. There was nothing between us and the bogeyman except a thin window screen. Helen pulled back her curtain and peered into the backyard. It was deserted, but a soft night wind was blowing harder now, whipping up a storm.
“I betcha he’s out there,” Helen said. “He wears a black cape and a hat pulled down low, so you can’t see his eyes. His face is green too.”
“You saw him?” I asked. My heart thundered.
“No, my brother, Champ, told me.”
We saw lightening flash in the distance. No rain, not yet, but a tall pine tree was swaying and sending down a clatter of broken cones. I pulled a blanket over my shoulders, so I’d be safe.
“What’ll we do if he comes?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Helen replied.
Lightening flashed again. This time we saw him, a monstrous figure loping across the yard like the Billy Goat Gruff’s wicked troll. We screamed. The creature ran to our window, growling and raking its fingers across the screen.
“I’m gonna get you,” it hissed “Grrrrr.”
We screamed again.
“I’m gonna take you awaaaaaay.”
Our shrieks split the night apart. Helen’s father dashed into the room. He was barely awake, a semi-conscious man in baggy striped pajamas.
“The bogeyman!” we both yelled. “He came to the window.”
“There’s no such thing as the bogeyman,” her father said.
“But I saw him.” Helen insisted. “He had huge red lips and fangs, long white fangs!”
“Fangs?” her father asked. “Red lips?”
“Yes,” Helen panted. “And a big brown hat. Like yours.”
“Stay here. Don’t move.”
We watched, frozen with fear, as he opened the back-porch door, picked up a rake, and stepped outside. Our noses were an inch from the window screen. First, he searched the azaleas bordering the patio, then the boxwood hedge outside of our window. Nothing. Finally, he drew the rake under a large camellia in the middle of the yard.
“Stop! That hurts!” We heard a familiar voice.
“Come out,” Helen’s father yelled. “Now!”
Slowly, Champ crawled out, a deflated figure in a superman cape and his father’s best hat. His lips were smeared with blood red lipstick; his face covered with green finger paint. His father yelled for a good five minutes, using words I didn’t know. Then, Champ coughed out a pair of plastic monster fangs. I couldn’t hear everything Helen’s father said, except “You’re grounded for six weeks, six long weeks.”
Champ’s teeth were locked in a death grip when he apologized. But he had no choice. He was a slimy green mess and covered with pine needles, so that he resembled a deranged porcupine. He’d also ruined his father’s best hat. I’m sure the worst punishment was listening to Helen and me giggle as he said, “Sorry Sis.” Before he shuffled off to the shower, he looked over his shoulder and said. “That train comes by every night, ya know. Better watch out.”