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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

OK. Maybe No More TV for the Kids

I started a new job last week, mid-headcold.  Still with the same company, just several cubes away from my old cube -- and Tamra, who left for another company!  I have taken more notes in the last week than I have for AGES...  Below is a repost from 2011, I believe it was.  


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.

And 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.  Of course, 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?

At 10, 9, and 8, we are old enough to watch each other, and tonight is the night: Our parents are going out. It will 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 comes 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 64ยบ.

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 are guilty, guilty, guilty and Mom is 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?”

“Stop it!”

“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, where he locks himself in.

Blankets gone, Karen and I run after him, hearts pounding, the Kitchen 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.

“Kevin!” I scream. “Open –“

“Let us in!”

“ – door before –“

"Let us in!"

“ – I tell Mom and Dad!”

The casually cruel sound of Kevin’s laughter echoes in the bathroom.

Karen and I look at each other and burst into hysterical 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.


Shelly said...

Vanilla ice cream slathered in Hershey's syrup drives out many devils. This was a very enjoyable piece, my friend~

Pearl said...

Thank you, Shelly. :-)

joeh said...

Well that brings back some similar memories!

I would laugh at the ridiculousness of being scared at that show's introduction, but I couldn't go into our basement for three years after I saw "The Creature From The Black Lagoon."

A dude in a mask and some frog fins scared me to heck! Dang.

Pearl said...

joeh, my dad talked about the original "Thing" in hushed tones even decades later. :-)

Buttons said...

Crap you scared the crap out of me now I need vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup:) Great writing Pearl. I be scared your Mom was right. B

Pearl said...

Buttons, my mom is right a lot of the time. :-)

vanilla said...

That's what brothers are for.

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

Just the memory of "Devil Dog: Hound from Hell" is enough to send me lunging for the afghan.

Pearl said...

vanilla, he was exceedingly good at his position. :-)

Dawn, "magic covers". :-)

Steve said...

Thanks for the story. I almost fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. Rod Serling was the best. Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

I hesitate to mention that you didn't even WATCH the show y'all....you got scared to the dickens by the introduction.

jenny_o said...

You certainly had a well-rounded horror education for a young one. I can't remember ever watching something like that - if something was the least bit scary in a normal movie I couldn't pry my hands off my eyes.

I love the line "What if Karen or, more likely, Kevin, became possessed?" Brothers ARE always more likely to do that, aren't they!!

Esther Montgomery said...

It's true - if we asked ourselves why the Devil would bother to leave Hell to rattle around in the kitchen, it might help us leave many of our fears aside. It's so difficult not to take things personally!

Pearl said...

Steve, well good!!

Delores, never saw The Exorcist, either, until well into adulthood, but that didn't stop that dang "Tubular Bells" from scaring me every time it came on the radio!

jenny-o, Oh, but Horror Incorporated came on at midnight, and what better way to end a night living in a trailer park?!

Esther, oh, touche. :-) You are absolutely correct, my friend.

terlee said...

Oh man, I'm still laughing!

This post so reminds me of my two sisters and I watching scary movies when Mom and Dad went out on Friday nights. I was terrified of the movie with...gulp...The Hand!!

Geo. said...

Kindred spirit. I recognize another who was irreversibly scared silly.

HermanTurnip said...

I love Night Gallery, but hate seeing how cigarette smoking affected Rod Serling after he wrapped up The Twilight Zone.

River said...

I remember the Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, I didn't get to watch much of either, being in bed usually by the time Twilight Zone came on, but I could hear it as my Dad watched. Sometimes I'd sneak out and watch from the doorway. I remember the year The Blob came out and advertisements for it showed screaming people racing out of the cinema. When I saw it finally, I just laughed at it, because in between times I'd seen scarier stuff. The Exorcist which I'd read first, so knew what to expect.
My kids loved horror stuff too, they'd sit up late with newspapers and magazines ready to huddle behind, they loved getting scared silly and never had nightmares.

Daisy said...

Fortunately, I have a devil repelling blanket, and a bucket of vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup! All is well!

esbboston said...

I am glad for you! I am finaLLy starting to get busy in the printing business after about seven months. Yea, new beginnings!

Linda O'Connell said...

Between Norman Bates and that little freaky slasher doll in Trilogy of Terror, I was afraid to go into the bathroom.

Diane Tolley said...

Yep. Night Gallery. Our family's favourite program. FAVOURITE. We never missed it. Well, we were sitting in front of the TV. How much I actually took in through the blanket over my head is questionable. Remember the terrified Roddy MacDowell and the changing paintings? Greensleeves? The former SS officer hiding out in Brazil and his mistaken leap into the wrong painting? Oh, I'm shivering with delight . . .