Posted by: trevormeers | December 2, 2011

Things That (Still) Go Bump

Most NFL defensive backs who played on Thanksgiving afternoon can cover 40 yards in around 4.4 seconds. But on Thanksgiving morning, not a man among them would have caught my nephew Isaac as he blazed up the hill behind our house, legs spinning like Fred Flintstone on the freeway as he headed for the door—or more importantly, headed away from the woods.

This absolutely authentic, undoctored trail cam photo posted anonymously on the Internet proves that the Jersey Devil is real. And has a taste for venison.

Isaac is 9 and, it should be pointed out, precocious about the items he incorporates into his play time. While other boys play “war,” Isaac plays Falkland Islands invasion. “I’m going to be Great Britain, and you’re going to be Argentina trying to wrest control of the Falklands away from me,” he told Allison last week as they prepared for Nerf-gun battle. In this habit, I consider him a kindred spirit, since I was the only kid in third-grade Crayon fights who wanted to be James Oglethorpe (dashing founder of Georgia) while everyone else was arguing over who got to be Batman.

On Thanksgiving, when Isaac came bursting through the deck door clutching his B-2 bomber glider and gasping for breath, I realized that we shared a bond that runs deeper than obscure military history.

“What’s the matter?” my sister-in-law asked.

“The woods,” he said, as he tracked damp leaves into the kitchen. “I got worried about the Jersey Devil.”

While all the other adults were asking why on earth he was worried about an NHL team, I was saying, “True that, little man.” There’s hardly a thing in the woods creepier than the Jersey Devil, even if you can’t even find New Jersey on the map.

Some of us never outgrow worries about a few things go bump in the night, no matter how many manly exploits we put between us and childhood nights spent wondering what’s in the closet. Sometimes, our boogey men are custom-made. Allison, for example, refuses to go to the basement alone at night because she’s convinced a red-eyed deer will peek through the window. (Unless, the iPad is down there, and then a girl just sucks it up and does what she has to do.) When I was 8, I was totally mind-freaked by both the Spotmaker, a Riddler-like baddie that haunted housewives who didn’t use Calgon, and the devil dancing on cans of deviled ham.

And when I was about Isaac’s age, I stumbled onto the Jersey Devil in Reader’s Digest while looking for “Laughter, The Best Medicine,” which I kept reading in the hopes that the jokes about taxes would someday become funny to me. I learned that the Jersey Devil haunted the Pine Barrens, a remote New Jersey woodland. The creature with a horse’s head, a snakey tail, wings and huge claws had been roaming the barrens since the Colonial era, when everything was generally about 76% creepier, thanks to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Creepy (right) and not creepy (left).

Both Isaac and I realized at a young age that this was clear wobbly-knees-while-taking-out-the-garbage material. Even now, after years of wandering about wild places in the dark, I can still get the heebie jeebies by letting my imagination wander too much. To help organize the concerns, I’ve compiled the following table of worrisome phantoms, ranked in ascending order of scariness:

10. Darth Vader – The Dark Lord of the Sith still creeps out Teri, but for me, he’s almost like an old friend compared to the rest of this lineup. Maybe if I hunted deer in Alabama, where things can look a lot more like Dagobah, I wouldn’t be so glib.

9. Frankenstein – Sorry, big fella, but loaning your look to Fred Munster and appearing on the Frankenberry box doesn’t help the ominous factor.

8. The cook at church camp – Probably not much supernatural about him, but the day he grabbed me by the neck for fooling around with a loose drainage pipe outside his kitchen? Still unsettling.

7. Dracula – Too smooth-talking to trouble me. I know Vlad the Impaler will theoretically drain your veins, but James Bond doesn’t frighten me.

6. Zombies – En masse, a real handful. But one-on-one in an open area, they don’t mount much of a threat. Ditto for mummies.

5. Sasquatch – Not what you want to run into on the trail, but if you’re out in woods that look “Squatchy,” you’re already worrying about proven-to-exist bears and cougars. A mythological primate has to get in line.

Tell me this isn't troubling. I dare you.

4. Mimes – Now we’re getting serious. Mimes may seem harmless enough, what with constantly locking themselves into invisible boxes and all. But I’m not buying the act. This isn’t a line of work you take up because you’re well-adjusted.

3. Ventriloquism dummies – Never turn your back on them. Clearly possessed of murderous intent. If your relatives have one in the closet of the room you’re supposed to stay in, sleep with a chainsaw or move to a hotel.

2. Jersey Devil – This critter was pretty much doing The Blair Witch Project on people’s minds before the Boston Tea Party. Who am I to outwit that kind of tradition?

1. Wolfman – Hands-down the most tenacious worry of all. Stealthy. Speedy. And just close enough to the real, albeit remote, threat of wolves to keep you nervous.

With most of these haunting figures, you could trot out the “they’re not real” argument. But it’s weak consolation. For proof, I turn to the example of two professional supernatural investigators who regularly get the willies around things they know are almost certainly frauds. Let’s call them “Shag” and “Scoob” to protect their identities. During the height of their careers, they ran frantically through weekly musical montages while being chased by various apparitions. Every week, it turned out to be old Mr. Smithers from down at the mill. But that never stopped Shag and Scoob from maniacally fleeing and/or distracting the beastie with hilarious slapstick routines that usually involved dressing in drag. And if hardened X-Files-caliber pros like these can’t keep their imaginations in check, I don’t feel so bad.

Especially not on the night after Thanksgiving, when Isaac’s dad and I sat by my firepit, listening as night settled down on the woods. We heard a strange screeching, hooting sound somewhere in front of us.

“Heh, heh, it’s getting Squatchy out here,” I said. “Or maybe it’s the wolfman—oooooo!”

“Nah,” Jeff said calmly. “The wolfman would come from behind.”

Zoinks.

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Responses

  1. Clowns! What about clowns? No one except unsettled homicidal maniacs would dress up that way! And no, Mimes are not the same thing as clowns, clowns are mimes on steroids when it comes to the creep factor…by the way is that Mr. Bean as a mime? Odd…

  2. I agree with Ryan! Clowns…creepy!!! Aught to give anyone nightmares!!!

  3. I have to agree on the clowns…and the only thing worse than normal clowns…midget clowns. Yikes! Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a guy with a neck tatoo and not been a little leary.

    Speaking of letting your mind wander, I remember the time you said you spent at some bed and breakfast where they told you there was a ghost that haunted the place and you could not sleep that night…the mind is a crazy thing isn’t it.

  4. While staying at a house duing a corale tour in highschool I stayed in a room with a ventriloquism dummy sitting on the shelf. There was a few others staying in the room with one of which had a particular aversion to these dolls. About an hour or so after the lights were out and we settled down, i grabbed the dummy. The friend who was dummy phobic layed unsuspecting as I crept towards him with the doll. it only took a few strokes of the dummys hand on his leg to have him across the room turning on the lights. Needless to say it was one of my fondest memories, and proabbly his worst.


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