Sunday, July 31, 2005


This is the beginning of a short story I started some years ago and never finished; I came across it just a little while ago when I was looking through an old directory of writings. When I was a kid I was scared to death of the Boogeyman whom I totally believed was going to eat me in the middle of the night long before I'd ever make it to my first day of kindergarten. (For the record, his name is not pronounced with a long O sound as in Bogart, but rather with the same double OO sound made in pronouncing book. If you say it wrong, he'll only be more pissed and eager to get you.) Maybe I'm wrong, but I think some elements of this story will strike a familiar chord because the Boogeyman is most decidedly a guy thing. Women just wouldn't understand...

"For God's sake it's NOT the damned house creaking! I screamed. "You don't know. You just don't know!" I must have been a pathetic sight standing there at 2 in the morning beside the couch where the wife took to sleeping when my snoring started, but there I stood in pajamas soaked with sweat and my heart beating hard enough to burst through my heaving chest. "It's HIM!"

And it was him. I knew it now just as I had known it 30 some years ago when I'd slept with my knees tucked under my chin and the covers over my head pretending not to hear his incessant hungry shuffling in the attic which my mother dismissed then as easily as my wife did now with lame explanations of houses "settling", wind bending old timbers, and that age old favorite "expansion and contraction." But there was no mistaking that frantic shuffle as he paced up there, waiting for the opportune time to descend the attic stairs to claim what he had been denied so long ago.

"I'm going up. You stay here if you want," Elsie groaned heading for the stairs. "We'll talk about getting you some help in the morning." I climbed onto the couch and I knew to keep my mouth shut to avoid an all night battle about how I wasn't sick, wasn't having bad dreams, wasn't the victim of an over active imagination. I'd learned as a six year old kid who had pissed the bed that women don't hear him - not his shuffling nor his screamed whispers of your name. They were safe; the Boogeyman only came for boys. Elsie and our two girls could sleep safely upstairs till Doomsday - he was here for ME. Mercifully I fell asleep - with all the lights on like some kind of shit-the-pants kid.

Breakfast may as well have been served in a meat locker, both of us knowing that a break in the chilly silence would only turn into a stalemated screaming match. If a marble sized lump in the groin couldn't force me to see a doctor, then no "dream about some Boogeyman" would either. We'd deal with this like everything else - me pretending that nothing was wrong and she casting glares of ice until some pressing need forced one of us to speak at which point life would continue and all thoughts concerning the "issue" would go unspoken as if by mutual agreement. Except this one wasn't going to go away. Tonight it would be back - HE would be back until he got what he wanted which was me.

I guess I couldn't blame Elsie or fault her for the grudgingly sympathetic glares. Men pushing 40 don't normally awaken their wives from a sound sleep in the middle of the night jabbering about the Boogeyman walking around in the attic. Or maybe they do, but what woman's going to admit to THAT around the lunch table at work where they usually compare notes about their husbands' sins. Come to think of it, guys don't talk about HIM either. Once we've escaped childhood without falling victim we conveniently lock away the memories of Jimmy Keller and the other kids who had been eaten in the night, but every time we see a boy's picture on a milk carton we shudder privately as unconscious memories try to bubble to the surface. No locker room conversation begins with, "I heard the Boogeyman again last night," although many tree house ramblings did and might still.

Before Dr. Spock elevated raising screwed up kids to an art form The Boogeyman was no delusional fantasy of conscience existing only in the minds of guilty little boys. Looking back I realize that the parents of my generation weren't using him as a threat to make us wise up and be good. They were WARNING us - no, imploring us to be good. Not long removed from the Old World they KNEW that bad boys were often gobbled up in the night long before "missing children" were routinely considered delinquent runaways. Pop psychology and the Spocks have taken away the warnings, sparing delicate psyches with scientific explanations of the sounds upstairs, leaving today's bad boys without so much as a hint of the gruesome fate awaiting them in the night.

All of which leaves me where? Alone. Alone with nobody to talk to who's not going to dismiss me as some kind of idiot in need of help. Oh, I need help all right, but not the kind they'd sign me up for. It's disturbingly funny how easily humans in a few generations have taken stories of vampires, werewolves, the Boogeyman and the like which have existed for hundreds of years in cultures throughout the world and lumped them all together as fiction. I've always wanted to hear how they can acknowledge the existence of these creatures in the literature of every continent across the span of so many years and yet dismiss their reality as coincidence of folklore. They can't explain this of course, but science has taught us to take the things it can't prove and comfortably treat them as if they don't exist, thus mysterious disappearances simply get tagged as unsolved crimes and those who cry out in the dark are made out to be lunatics.

I had been a bad boy. But the stories of being eaten in the night by something as ridiculous sounding as the Boogeyman went in one ear and out the other. After all, they'd lied about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, so what stock should I have put in their tales of the darker nighttime visitors? Yet I can recall the dread in my mother's voice when she told me of such things - a tone which was in retrospect all too convincing that SHE really believed the shit she was telling me. And the sign of the cross when she spoke of them? She was always making that - too often for me to have considered it anything more than a melodramatic attempt at scaring me into being good. Mom's graphic stories giving all the horrid details of other bad boys who had met those devouring teeth at night in their own beds were just too much. Hell, she made it sound like she had been there taking notes which was enough to convince me that she was weaving these tales on the spot. The old man? He was content to bluntly bark, "The Boogeyman'll get ya if ya keep that up," in the same tone that he'd use for, "I'll kick your ass." Equally unconvincing.

It was at night on the day that I'd done in old Mrs. Zabro's kittens with some cinder blocks that I first heard the noise in the attic. I laid there relishing the sounds of those little cats screaming as I laid a block atop each of their bodies to slowly squash the air out of them, but enjoying more the whipping that Tommy Starszek got when I said that I saw him under old lady Zabro's back porch where the litter was kept in a box of rags. It started right above my head - that same godforsaken dragging sound I heard last night like somebody was up there sliding the boxes of Christmas decorations back and forth across the bare wood floor.

In an instant I remembered Jimmy Keller's haunted face when he had told us about it - how he had been hearing it up there for over a week every night coming closer to the steps. And then the night after he said he had heard it on the stairs he was gone. The police had questioned us over and over, but none of us was about to tell the godawful truth that we knew but consciously denied. Naturally they didn't find any remains. When HE gets you he gets you good in one big mouthful.

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