You know, if you’re going to continue to rise when the alarm clock says to, if you’re going to persist in showing up to work every day like you do, then the next thing you know –
It’s the weekend.
And boy, do you deserve it. Look at you over there, all hard-working and responsible. You never fail to amaze me.
So what’s coming, huh? Saturday? Sunday? What can we expect?
Lucky for you, I’ve got the answer. You may not know this about me – and why would you? – but I own an iPod that, set on shuffle and played during my Friday morning’s commute, tells the future.
Hey. It could happen.
Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen
Ditch by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face by Mark Ronson, featuring The Daptone Horns*
Love Train by Wolfmother
Honey White by Morphine
Get on the Good Foot by James Brown
I Feel for You by Chaka Khan
So! Looks like you’ll do some traveling, maybe experience a little rain (watch those ditches!), and once again, in the words of my father, it’s suggested that you continue to avoid the heroin.
And now -- and a little longer than usual -- a story.
News of my parents going out on a Saturday night was always met with great enthusiasm by us kids. Their going out meant wonderful things were going to happen. We would slouch. We would drink from the tap. We would make phone calls to people to ask them if their refrigerator was running. We would have Banquet pot pies for dinner.
Even better than a frozen dinner, though, was the full, uncensored access we would have to the scary shows on TV. Our mother strictly censored horror shows, a stance in direct and opposite correlation to our desire to watch them, but our father didn’t care what we watched.
Mother saw things differently.
“For cryin’ out loud, Paul, you can’t let them watch that. Don’t we have enough problems without the TV feeding them crap?”
I was ridiculously superstitious regarding anything that had ever been featured on the local midnight creature-feature. Horror Incorporated went from midnight to 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and I had been introduced to it at a slumber party at the last trailer court. In a few short slumber parties, I knew everything I needed to know about mummies, vampires, the walking undead, and the King Kong, if you will, of the horror-show monsters: The Devil.
I feared all monsters, of course, but I had a special fear for The Devil, who could, if he desired, leave Hell only to show up in my bedroom closet after my parents went to bed. I’d heard about that movie, The Exorcist, and even knew its theme song, thanks to my Dad, who pointed out “Tubular Bells” every time it came on the radio. A man in a trench coat standing under a street light was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I became obsessed with worry. What if one of us became possessed while our parents were out? I was acutely aware of my lack of preparation. The Wolfman, I knew, could be killed with a silver bullet; and for some reason I was sure that I could, somewhere in the court, get a hold of one. Garlic would keep Dracula away, and we had plenty of that in the fridge. But The Devil? How do you keep The Devil out of the house? What if Karen or, more likely, Kevin, became possessed? Where in the world would I get my hands on a priest in this neighborhood?
Word on the slumber-party circuit here in the new trailer park – not that I had been included yet – was that Saturday nights held a new show called “Night Gallery,” a Rod Serling cornucopia of twisted stories with dark and ironic endings.
Oh, how I wanted to see Night Gallery. What kind of stories did they tell? Stories about The Devil? Would it be scary? How scary could it be?
Tonight was the night: Our parents were going out. It would be a full Saturday night of burning candles in the living room and dipping our fingers in the wax, of eating ice cream straight from the bucket, of polluting our minds with televised tales from beyond the grave.
Night Gallery came on at 10:00.
By 9:55 we are on the couch, pointed toward the TV, huddled under piles of my mother’s current craftiness: afghans. The trailer, as usual, is a brisk 64º.
We crouch anxiously under the blankets.
“Mom’s going to be mad,” Karen says.
“Mom’s not going to know,” Kevin retorts.
“Shh!” I frown. “It’s starting!”
The screen is dark as Rod Serling steps into it.
“That’s Rod Sterling,” Karen informs us.
“SERling, not STERling,” Kevin says.
“It is too Sterling, isn’t it, Pearl.”
“Shh!” I hiss, “It’s starting!”
Mr. Serling is speaking: “…a showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way – not because of any special artistic quality but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”
There is a collective gasp from the couch.
“A frozen moment of a nightmare,” Kevin whispers.
Karen pulls the afghan up, clutches it under her nose. “Pearl, I don’t think we should…”
“Well I just don’t think we should be watching this,” she mutters.
“Shhhhhhhh!” Kevin and I both hiss at her this time, and she pulls the blanket up until only her eyes and her hairline are visible in the darkened room.
On the TV screen, Rod Serling is standing in front of an oil painting alive with reds and oranges. He is speaking: “…our selection this evening, an import from that nether region, that inferno down below…”
The figure in the painting, rising amongst the flames and falling bodies, is horned and violently grinning evil. “Hey.” Kevin’s voice is hoarse and -- do I hear it shaking?
“Offered to you now, in living color and with a small scent of sulfur, our painting is called “Hell’s Bells”.
That's it! At the word “hell”, Karen and I begin to scream. “AHHHHHHHHHH!” We were guilty, guilty, guilty and Mom was sure to know.
Karen pulls the afghan up over her head. “Turn it off,” she wails, “turn it OFF!”
Caught in the hysteria, Kevin begins screaming, too, and our voices rise in dissonant panic.
“Turn it off!” I scream.
“You turn it off!” Kevin screams back.
And it is Kevin who finally makes the dash to the TV, jabbing frantically at the on/off button, and leaping back to the safety of the couch and the magical blankets.
With nothing but the still-burning candle for light, we sit very still, our minds reeling with fear and guilt. Karen was right – Mom is going to be mad.
The candle flickers as the autumn wind blows against the trailer, and there is a sudden sense of vulnerability.
My mind leaps, irrationally, to the garlic in the fridge.
Kevin breaks the silence, whispering. “Do you know who that was, in that painting?”
Karen pulls the blanket up over her head. “SHHHHHHHHHHH!” The hysteria that she and I had just barely contained is released anew, and the sound flies from our lips as if on springs.
It is quiet again. The trailer’s siding rattles in the wind.
Kevin turns to me, his eyes glowing in the candlelight. “You hear him out there, shaking the trailer? You know who that was on the TV, don’t you?”
“It’s like a tin can on wheels in here,” Kevin muses. “What if he pushes us over and gets in? Oh, man, we really should’ve thought about this.”
I put my hands over my ears.
Kevin laughs. “I’m just kiddin’, Wood Tick.” Grinning in the dark, he pulls my hands down. “You know it won’t really happen.”
I slide my arms back under the blankets. A sudden burst of wind whistles hollowly through a crack in a kitchen window.
“The Devil’s not outside…” Kevin whispers.
The plastic over the windows in the kitchen blows out and snaps back loudly.
Suddenly, Kevin jumps up from the couch, pulling the blankets with him. “He’s not outside because he’s in the kitchen! The Devil's in the kitchen! Run! Run for your lives!”
And with that, Kevin runs from the living room and down the hallway to the bathroom, laughing maniacally.
Blankets gone, Karen and I run after him, hearts pounding, the Devil at our heels.
Karen’s little fists beat against the door. “Let us in!” she screams. “Let us in!”
A noise from the kitchen sends the cold hand of certain death up my spine, grabbing the back of my neck. The Devil is here and he has come for me.
“Kevin!” I scream. “Open –“
“Let us in!”
“ – door before –“
“ – I tell Mom and Dad!”
The sound of Kevin’s laughter echoes in the bathroom.
Karen and I look at each other and burst into tears. Surely this is the end of us. We hug each other.
“If I don’t make it,” Karen sobs, “Tell Mom I love her.”
The bathroom door opens a crack. “Geez,” Kevin says.
We push our way in, punch Kevin in the arms and chest, and lock the door behind us.
“We can’t never ever watch that show again,” Karen cries, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. “Promise?”
In what is the single-most sincere moment in my life up to that point, I hold my hand up, like I’d seen on TV. “I swear!”
“Oh, geez,” Kevin says. “Fine. I swear, too. We’ll never ever watch that show again.” It is a solemn pact. We affirm it by leaving the bathroom, turning on every light in the trailer, and eating bowls of vanilla ice cream covered with Hershey’s syrup.
And we don’t never ever watch that show again – at least not until the following week, which is the next time our parents go out and leave us in charge of each other.
As Dad liked to say, you could tell someone from the family, but you couldn’t tell them much.
Gnome, Sweet Gnome
3 hours ago