Childhood Memories

I've never been a normal kid.

I blame my father.

I’ve always had a fascination with ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and other sundry things that go bump in the night. Vampires and wizards, witches and demons, ghosts and the Bermuda Triangle, mysterious disappearances and UFOs, psychic powers and werewolves--if it was scary, gruesome, couldn’t be explained, dealt with the supernatural, or was just all-around bizarre, I was all about it. Big blue eyes, wispy blonde hair, tiny body—complete with a fascination for gore and horror that could not be sated.

I don’t think it surprised my parents when I told them I wanted to be a writer. Certainly not my father, who had always wanted to write a book, and in his heart, I believe secretly wished me to do what he was never able.

When I was a little girl, there was a show on USA called Saturday Nightmares. Anyone remember that? It was an hour-long show geared toward adults that told a horror story, usually quite gruesome and (from what I remember) with fairly decent plotlines. Dad would smuggle me downstairs into the basement every Saturday night, where we would watch the show together, me either curled up on the arm of the chair beside him, or, when I was feeling more adventurous, perched on the chest freezer to his left.

Keep in mind, I was seven at the time. Seven. And my Dad thought this a fantastic idea.

Suffice it to say, at 9 o’clock every Saturday night, we would watch the show together...

...And at midnight, I would be running into my parents’ bedroom, screaming as if Satan himself were after me. Of course, from what I remember of the subject matter of the shows, I’d prefer Satan chasing me to some of the things in them. I remember one particular dream in vivid detail. I won’t get into it here, but it involved my eyeballs being sliced open by a cat’s claws...a cat that just would not DIE and was everywhere I turned. I remember waking up right as the razor-sharp claws were piercing my eyes and flesh, so terrified, the only sounds coming out of me were strangled screams and whimpering.

Mom would then give Dad holy Hell for letting me watch "that horrible show" again. And Dad would then give me holy Hell for getting him into trouble. Mom would forbid me from watching the show the next week. On Monday, I figured, no sweat: Mom will have forgotten all about it by Saturday... As the weekend drew nearer, and it was clear Mom had not forgotten the...incident...of the previous Saturday, I cunningly switched tactics and reasoned with her: Mom, I promise I won’t be scared this time. And even if I am, I promise not to come wake you and Daddy up. See? Everyone wins! By the time Saturday rolled around, I resorted to what every child does when in a desperate situation—I whined: Moooooooom, you HAVE to let me watch this…pleeeeeeeeeease, this isn’t faaaaaaair. If I had understood the meaning of the word "fascist" at that time, I’m sure I would have thrown that in there, too. By Saturday night, I employed a well-known war tactic: I called upon my allies. Namely, Dad. He would then step in on my behalf and finagle a deal with my mom regarding who was responsible for calming me down and putting me back to bed when I would (inevitably) come running into their room later that night.

It was a weekly cycle. Wash, rinse, repeat.

For some reason, tiny beings terrorized me far more than huge, lumbering psychopaths. Pit me against Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Leatherface any day of the week—just don’t introduce me to Chuckie, any of the dolls from Puppetmaster, or Freddy Kreuger—the one life-sized killer fearsome enough to be placed in my ranks of the truly terrifying. It was the idea he could come after you in your dreams. Your dreams, man. There’s no escaping that. If you killed Michael Myers, sure, he’d come back, but at least you’d have a few years’ hiatus in the interim. Kill Freddy, and he’d just wait until you fell asleep three hours later then come for your soul.

And creatures like Chuckie and possessed dolls...they were tiny, but all the more horrifying because of that. You could see Jason Voorhees coming after you—usually at a shambling lumber just a bit faster than the speed of drunken thought. You couldn’t see Chuckie if he decided to hide under your bed and slash your tendons with a razor blade. You couldn’t see if one of Toulon’s demonic creations was lurking in a tiny slip of shadow in the corner. It was because of this fear that a certain porcelain doll of mine met with her untimely demise...but that is another story for another day.

It was at a friend’s birthday party sleepover, and it was Child’s Play. Actually not one, but all three. I stayed up that entire night with my girlfriends, giggling with surface terror. We had fun eating popcorn and letting ourselves be scared, drawing bravery from our fellow pajama-ed comrades. We liked to think we were scared, but all that was window-dressing. Stage terror, designed to give us a sense of camaraderie in the shared danger.

It was a little different the next night, when I was sleeping in my own bedroom...alone... in the dark. That was when true, creeping terror began.

I remember laying awake for hours at a time for a month straight. I couldn’t figure out which was the best way to lay: Flat on my back with the covers pulled up to my chin (everyone knows the monsters can’t get you if all your limbs are covered by a blanket)? But then there was the disadvantage of only being able to see straight in front of me, lest I turn my head. On my left side, so I could face the small gap made between my wall and bed, perfect for a cannibalistic doll to hide in? Ah, but then that would leave my back exposed to my entire room. Easier to see...however... more hiding places. So then I would flip onto my right side so I could face my room and window ...but then... then there was always the tingling sensation I’d get in my back as it faced against that dark crevasse. The tingling sensation itched halfway down—right about where I imagined a butcher knife held by a tiny little hand would plunge.

I told you I wasn’t a normal child.

And did I think Chuckie would come after me, hellbent on slitting my throat with his knife? Was I, Alisha, the object of his rage, though I had no reason to fear him? Did it matter that at no time had a child in reality ever died at the hands of a psychotic puppet? Had he, somehow, sensed through the projected images on an old TV set that I was watching him kill his victims, and, incensed by the fact I dared to intrude upon his murderous psychosis, was now hunting me in the nightmarish dark?

Oh, you betcha.

The same went for the Gremlins. Those scaly little bastards kept me awake for two months running, thanks largely in part to a malfunctioning dishwasher, which I was convinced was their work. Also largely due to my father, who, upon my asking him whether or not he thought it was the work of said creatures, said straight-faced, "I don’t think so..."

And then added, "...but I’d check under your bed tonight."

I am beginning to wonder if, perhaps, my father didn't take rather too much glee in messing with me.

He was also the one to give me my first Stephen King novel, and sparked a love affair between myself and the King of Horror that has yet to be diminished. I could never figure out why my teachers thought my choice of reading material odd. Just because I was in elementary school and dragging copies of Cujo, and Carrie, and IT to school… But then, I also couldn’t understand why, years later, my College Prep teacher took it upon herself to stop my mom in church and tell her she found my term paper topic a bit disturbing.

"Vampires, Hematodypsia, and the Dark Side of Human Nature" isn’t disturbing—that’s just doubly-damned interesting, if you ask me.

As I grew older and matured, so did my taste in sources of horror. I read Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine voraciously...but Stephen was my idol. I watched Tales from the Cryptand Are You Afraid of the Dark? religiously, and could sometimes get my sisters to watch with me. Well, Brianna...not so much Sharlee, who used to be scared of her own shadow. But when it came to watching The X-Files, I was on my own.

...in the same chair I had once watched Saturday Nightmares with my father. Every Friday night, before I was a cheerleader, before I could drive, before the lure of being seen at school football games outweighed the lure of the supernatural, I worshipped at the throne of Mulder and Scully. I’m not sure how many of you reading this remembers the first few seasons of the show…but there were some truly terrifying, creepy episodes. I would watch the show intently, glancing every now and then to the door that led to the back yard…and to the woods beyond. I couldn’t help but think that the forest that surrounded my house looked like every single scene of every single alien abduction in every single episode of The X-Files ever. I was convinced I would look over at the door one night and see a slobbering creature, gibbering its alien language as it pressed its slavering, demonic face up against the blackened glass.

One night, as I sat engrossed in the show, I heard a scratching sound coming from the other side of the basement…on the drywall…directly behind me. I dismissed it as a trick of my imagination. I settled back to watch the show. And again, the scratching came for a second time. I had now given up on concentrating on the show, and was instead, intently listening for the sound to come again. And for a third time, it did. The scratching came.
Not the frantic, tiny scrabblings of a mouse or the clankings of a pipe...but the slow, deliberate scratching of a creature smart enough to know how creepy it sounded. And suddenly, I knew what it was...

My dad. Who started laughing his ass off as he came from around the other side of the basement. I yelled at him that it wasn’t funny, and stalked back to my seat. He clumped back up the basement stairs as I settled in to resume watching the show once more, and closed the basement door.

I had just gotten engrossed once more, when the scratching came again. I rolled my eyes and yelled at my dad to knock it off...and then the words died in my throat as I remembered my dad had gone back upstairs and was now watching TV in the living room. And if... it wasn’t... my dad... on the other side... of the wall...

...then what...was it?

Suddenly, in the starkness of this dawning realization that the rest of my family was upstairs, I could see with crystal clarity the monster on the other side of the wall. The monster scratching on the other side of that wall. Making that deliberate, patient noise with the curved claws on the ends of its mangled hands. I swallowed the absence of spit down a throat suddenly dryer than cotton balls. Throat clicking, I stood up and reached for a baseball bat that leaned against the wall. Every single sense was heightened. I could feel my own heart beating in my ears, and my own steady breathing trying to strangle itself in my throat. I took slow steps to the other side of the room. Images from every single horror movie I had seen flashed through my head. I didn’t know what it was…but I knew it was evil. I was going to die, but at least I wouldn’t let it get my family...

When all is said and done, I believe the bravery of a child will always far outweigh the bravery of any adult. Adults battle with known fears—cancer, car accidents, war. In the end, death is the result. But children... children know that there are things out there far worse than death. There are things... an adult would never be able to grasp and accept, much less fight. But children know in that part of their mind which hasn’t yet been killed off by growing up and education and logic that there is the unexplained. There is always the unexplained, and it is blackness. Children haven’t yet lost that part of their brains that goes back to a time when all cavemen had to survive were their instincts. Children know they will never be believed...but they also know it doesn’t make the monsters any less real. Adults battle with the known. Children battle with the unknown. And the unknown is far more terrifying.

Back to the basement...

I stood there, next to the stairs. Three more steps and I’d be in the other side of the basement. Three more steps and I’d know what it was that had come to kill me. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears, and though my heart raced with heavy staccato thumps, and though every muscle in my body was tensed in a fight-or-flight stance, my brain was calm. I remember thinking to myself the best plan of attack would be to jump to the right as I entered the other side of the basement, and swing with the bat at the same time. With any luck, I’d be out of the range of the claws (or whatever it used to defend itself), and could score a hit with the bat before it got over its momentary surprise.

I took the last three steps... I jumped to the right and crouched down low, starting to swing the bat just in case...

...And almost connected with my sister’s head. My sister, who was laughing hysterically.

My sister, who was in cahoots with my dad. Not a monster, but my sister, who had snuck into the basement as my dad was stomping up the stairs, using the sounds of his footsteps upward to mask her own quiet ones downward. At the same moment, the door to the basement opened and my dad spilled out into the stairway, laughing so hard he had to sit down and wipe the tears away.

For a split second, I was relieved.

Then I was in shock.

Then I was pissed.

Then I tried to line drive my sister’s head again.

I remember thinking to myself two thoughts, almost one on top of the other. First, My dad is one sick bastard..., and then, I'm just like him...

Summer days and nights were spent with my best friend, Mike. We would roller blade, or swim, or play hockey until the sun went down and the moon came up. Other than my family, Mike factors into more childhood memories than anyone else in my life, having been present for the majority of them. Though exact opposites, we had befriended each other when we were only tiny children, and continued to be as close as sister and brother as we grew. I was the ever calm soul, he was the histrionic hypochondriac. Being the dreamer and future writer, I believed in all things unholy. Being the pragmatist and future doctor, he believed in nothing he couldn’t see, smell, or touch.

But there was one thing we agreed upon, and that was that aliens existed, and abductions were real.

This was thanks to him having just watched Fire in the Sky, and my having just read Communion by Whitley Strieber. Then, as we shared everything, we were so kind as to trade off with one another, thereby scaring ourselves two-fold. One night, we went a bit too far.

We were playing hockey (as usual) in my driveway. The sun had set an hour before, but thanks to the full moon, there was enough reflected light to see the ball for a while longer. Eventually, we called it quits, and sat down on my porch. We started talking, and the topic waxed and waned, as they always did. Eventually, we started talking religion, which led to the supernatural, which led to aliens. By this time, we had worked our way inside to escape the plague of mosquitoes, and my dad had joined us.

Not surprisingly, it had been my father who had introduced me to Communion.

As we discussed the subject of aliens and alien abductions, pondering just how frequent they were, and just what, exactly, they did to you while in their spacecrafts (the needle-in-eye scene from Fire in the Sky being the unspoken thought shared between the two of us). This was aided and abetted by my dad, who, I now suspect, took a few liberties in his "facts" and stories, as he had sensed Mike and I were coolly trying to appear as if the whole subject matter didn’t terrify the crap out of us.

By the time midnight rolled around and Mike reluctantly said he better go home, he and I had worked ourselves into a dimension of freaked-out we had never yet reached. He had to walk home alone, and, knowing full well that he was as scared as I was, though we were both pretending as if we weren’t so scared we could taste our own fear, I walked him halfway home.

The halfway point between our houses was where my gravel road ended and his paved road began. He wheeled his bike to the pavement and then we stood there, nervously stalling the inevitable. It was just bearable to walk up that road, half of it hidden by trees and the pond beyond when we were together. But when faced with the prospect of continuing on our ways home…alone…it wasn’t as easy. Finally, we gave up the façade of nonchalance and did what all kids do when charged with an impossible task: We counted to three.

"Ok...ok, on the count of three... we’ll... we’ll both take off. You run, and I’ll ride my bike, and we’ll both be home in a minute or so. That’s... that’s not so bad... right? Yeah...no...ok. Ok... count of three. Man, I wish these trees weren’t so dark... what? Ok, ok, you’re right, don’t make it worse. Ok. Ok... ok, ready? Ok, godspeed... what? Don’t look at me like that. That’s what sailors used to say on journeys away to wish them a safe trip—WHAT?? Ok, ok, I KNOW you know that, I was just SAY—oh, ok, yeah, you’re right. No more stalling. Ok. Focus. On the count of three..."

"One..."

"Two..."

"THREE!"

We both took off, he for his home, and me for mine. It takes about two minutes to get to his house by car, five minutes walking, three minutes running. Tops. That night, however, it felt as if it took all the ages of a lifetime to reach the familiarity of my porch lights.

I remember running like the wind, feeling the damp summer breeze whip my face as I flashed past the dark woods and shadows. I vaguely remember the half-thought that if my track coach could see me now, I’d have anchor position on the relay team for sure. I ran like the hounds of Hell were after me. I tore up the ground between the halfway point and my house with the fleet strides that only terror-induced adrenaline can produce. It was a wonder I didn’t twist my ankle or snap a shin on the uneven, rocky ground. And still, it wasn’t fast enough. Not nearly enough to escape the eyes I saw in the trees, nor the bony, rotting hand that was surely going to reach out of the woods and grab me around the ankle. Not nearly fast enough to outrace the shadows of demons arcing toward me from the midnight sky.

As I rounded the curve of the road that hides my house from view, along with the stand of trees along its edge, I put on an extra burst of speed, the very last in my reserve tank of energy...

...And some crouching inhuman figure jumped out from behind a tree with a blood-curdling roar and raced toward me by the light of the moon.

I shrieked so loud, something in my throat ripped and it hurt me to talk for three days afterwards. As my head whipped around to meet this expected terror, I tripped and started to fall. Luckily, I threw myself toward the grass—had I fallen on the road at the speed I was running, I would have been torn to pieces. Even so, I just got my hands down just in time to hit the grass with my shoulder and do a tuck roll, nicely executed considering the complete lack of finesse with which I dropped to the ground. About halfway through my somersault, it registered that the monstrous figure was my dad. I was screaming at him before I even came completely out of the roll.

He continued to lie on the ground, rocking back and forth with laughter. The more I yelled, the harder he laughed. I limped back toward the house with as much dignity as I could, given a bleeding palm and twisted ankle, winded beyond breath. My mom met me on the porch and I just stalked past her. I spared her one dirty glance, then stared straight ahead and kept walking.

"Don’t look at me, it wasn’t my idea. Your dad’s been hiding out there ever since you two left the house."

Limping my way upstairs, I heard her giving him the scolding of his life for scaring me like that as he walked across the yard toward the house.

He waved it away dismissively, still grinning. "Ah...it’s alright..."

"Someday, she’ll thank me for this."