The Haunted House in Jericho- a Thinning Line Between the Worlds
Posted by Will
I thought a little Halloween tale would be appropriate for us in the writing tribes. You might call this an epilogue to the Supernatural post I sent in earlier, where your belief in the Alleged Real World momentarily breaks down. We pretend, at this time of year, that the elements of classic horror tales are “living” among us- and we pretend that we’re not pretending with each other. This is a tale of an older time- by which I mean, the 1960s- where let us just say the options were more limited. Maybe we were narrow-minded as well. I think with so much less choice around us, we pared down to the things that really mattered. Like feeling and inflicting terror.
You need to picture the scene. The mid-1960s in rural northern Vermont: Jericho at once quaint and Biblical, site of the famous Red Mill and birthplace of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, who between them populate two-thirds of all greeting cards exported from New England. More dirt roads, fewer TV channels, and simply acres of open space between houses. Less to do, more to imagine- snow on the ground by Halloween. Our house, a sprawling manse of bricks and white shutters, looms on a small rise just off the road where the first settlers came through in the 1600s. Nine people live inside- five sisters, two parents and “Uncle Don” staying with us in those days- and everyone knew the Hahns of Jericho. We decided- no, give credit, Uncle Don talked us into one of his many harebrained and hilarious acts of creation- to host a haunted house for the trick-or-treaters. No one did that in Vermont in the 1960s. It would be ten more years before any of those classic slasher movies came out (and then, only in the theaters, not on TV or your phone or projected on the wall by a kid with some snazzy new wristwatch). But late night walking on rural Vermont roads, holding hands and seeing your breath better than what was behind that bush: we were IN the movie.
Everyone had a part to play and honestly, any kid today old enough to walk would have just laughed at us. Again, remember it was the 60s- if you weren’t alive back then, think of the Stone Age and add bad suits with thin ties. And one more thing- high school kids did NOT trick or treat like they do now. Slouching up to your door with their hands out, saying, “yeah- huhuhh, I’m dressed as a public school student, huhhuh”. Approaching the house in Jericho was a line of kids- and pretty soon a stream of them, and the next year a rising tide- all under 13. And it was the 1960s, and no one had ever had a haunted house. We used cardboard and tin foil, and lipstick and candle-light. And we scared the stuffing out of them.
Uncle Don greets you at the door, dapper and delighted, directing your attention to the closet opposite, where my youngest sister Frannie thrashes about under a wool blanket that felt scratchy and in the lantern-shadows looks reasonably like Cousin It from the Adams Family TV show. Guided to one side, they see my eldest sister Stephanie in a white gown, lying in state on the couch- while nearby the piano plays on its own, thanks to a miracle of modern technology in the form of our cassette tape recorder inside the bench. “Her last concerto” Uncle Don mournfully intones- and indeed she had played it herself. Suddenly up jumps the ghost, my next-youngest sister Monica under a plain sheet, running from the corner of that room into the next, when she simply hides behind the door and where not a single one of the dozens who come through ever thinks to look for her.
They are no doubt distracted by the dragon on the bed in there. Me, age eight I think, green pajamas, red work gloves with cardboard talons, and a painted box over my head with teeth and flames- but I roared real good, and some kids squeal. On into the bathroom that connected back to the main hall, where my sister Mary in a black leotard posed as a cat in the tub. So perfect! Just black tights and a few pipe-cleaners for whiskers, but Uncle Don says “oh no, we have to cross its path” and some kids won’t go unless older siblings hold their hands.
In the final room, my sister Michele flits past dressed as a harmless butterfly, on and up the stairs while next to the back door stands my mom holding a bowl of candy, dressed as the nicest witch since Glinda. I usually trail along behind the pack (without my box-head I’m just Billy Hahn), and I can see everywhere kids starting to relax.
Clump- Clump!– CLUMP! Booted steps on the basement stairs, a door across from the rear exit. Again, Uncle Don makes the mood, shouting that we have forgotten to chain him up. The last step, every kid frozen- an endless moment’s pause, then the door slams open to reveal my father- a strapping fellow around 6’2″, his arms thrust a half-foot through short jacket sleeves, and two bolts on his neck.
The panicked rout was audible for miles. In the country, everyone CAN hear you scream: they just don’t care. A wave of waist-high humanity, urged by the friendly vampire, ran from our back door, flooding past the queue waiting out front, thus setting the stage for their own visit. One group fled into the night where the line between worlds had been thinned to near-transparency. The others waited on bobbing feet, eager to have that barrier shaved for them next. Lather-rinse-repeat, probably forty times in one night.
And the following two years we did it again, with variations in theme but not budget. When we finally stopped, we still got more door-ringers than anyone in the village, disappointed the way only rural folks without Sci-Fi channel could be.
This is the life we are still living, I firmly believe that. We look around this Alleged Real World, eagerly seeking places where the line is thin, and just another step, or a turned page, takes us before the heroes of the past, or monsters from another planet, or nameless horrors crusted in grave-dirt and longing to drag us back with them. Someone goes to a little trouble, like Uncle Don- my godfather and one of the most creative influences in my life- a bit of effort recruiting us to his mad scheme of terror, and what happens. We eagerly assist, letting his mind guide us to the same master plan; and little kids practically beat down our door to get in and be sent forth screaming- no really, screaming their lungs out- a few minutes later. I could see them back on my bed through the side window, as I waited for the next crew. No laughing, no rib-pokes of “gotcha”, just throats and feet at full throttle. After reaching our driveway, a few split off from the rest, did a hairpin-turn, and came back to wait on line.
We write fantasy, and science fiction, romance, horror, mystery- for those kids who turned back for more. It’s a noisier world; I’ve been in a mood to complain about the competition this summer (and hey, no writing on my WiP- coincidence? I think NOT). But I still believe there are many- maybe most- who really enjoy being carried away, across that thin line between the worlds. We don’t have the flash-paper, the CGI, the crowds of extras. By comparison to movies and the internet, we writers are working with cardboard and tin foil. But a book is not unlike a rural road, right from the first page it brings a separation from the comfort zone of the world’s noise and choices. And once you get them alone, or in small groups, your pen or fingers on the keyboard are like a plane, shaving that line between this Alleged Real World and the one that’s yours.
They want to go there. Do it well, they’ll come back. Stop and they’ll miss you. But if you just sit and complain, eventually there will be other choices. And THERE’s a scary tale, if you’re in the writer’s tribe.
About WillI'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at all the major online retailers.
Posted on October 24, 2013, in about writing, Authors - Will Hahn, Genre - Fantasy Stories, misc, or browse all books and tagged adventure, family, fantasy adventures, horror, mystery, writing advice, writing life. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.