Most of the ghost stories centered around 313 Greene Street. It fit the bill as the requisite scary house of the neighborhood. Each generation of neighborhood kids learned the tales about the house and embellished on them. It wasn’t hard to make up stuff about the place.
For one, the house itself looked like it hadn’t been painted since before the First World War. The porch railing missed posts in several places and some claimed that the overhang, which carried the second floor, sagged a bit to the left.
Second, the house sat back far from the sidewalk to make room for a yard full of overgrown plants and weeds. Who knows what lived in that yard.
Finally, a creepy old man lived in the house since forever. And though he must have been a young tike once in his miserable life, no one could recall, thus supporting the theory that he was born when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. His name was Jedediah Crepe, but all kids of all ages universally called him Creepy Man.
Every Halloween, without fail, some kid would receive the perennial dare to ignore the “NO TRESSPASSING” sign, go through the gate of Creepy Man’s property, and walk up to the house to ring the doorbell or knock on the paint-peeling door. The keepers of the dare waited on the sidewalk behind bushes or discreetly across the street while the Loser who got the short stick carried out the deed.
The Loser had to overcome three obstacles in order to reach the front door. Generations of storytelling about Creepy Man and his creepy house have embellished the obstacles from the sublime, to the ridiculous, to the pinnacle of avant-garde. First came the gate. It looked the part, like something straight out of the Munsters, all rusty wrought iron and shit. Legend has it that the fence could be electrified and that Creepy Man stood just inside his front door leering out the peephole to see when some kid dared to open it. He’d wait for the right moment, then zap he’d fried the kid. No one ever actually saw this happen, but it made a great story. Most kids used a stick to open the gate because of it.
Next came the passage through the yard. This part was by far the worst for the poor Loser. That yard had every plant known to man stuck off on it, and most of them drooped and hung over the walkway to the house. Legend had it that something evil lived in the unkempt yard. The form of that evil depended on the popular horror movie of the day. On a long ago Halloween, when the blob was the monster du jour, a giant banana slug crept out of the weeds, slithering and making hissing noises, so the story goes. This sent the Loser making the trek to the house flying out the gate and up the block never to be seen or heard from again. Other boogeymen included Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman (even though this was California and it didn’t snow), anacondas, alligators, crocodiles, giant killer bees or wasps, Orcs, a baby T-rex, quicksand, rats, tar pits, vampires, werewolves, Bella Swan, and killer plants from outer space.
90% of the Losers who chickened out did so during the passage through the yard. All the stories about the place made it easy for them to transmute every little sound they heard into a life-ending terror.
Those who rocked their mojo in the yard and made it all the way through then reached the third and final terror: the front porch. The house, as described above, looked on its last leg, like a good wind could knock it sideways. The stairs creaked, naturally, which not only tapped into a primal fear all humans seem to possess over creaky stairs, but it also announced the arrival of the intruder to Creepy Man. Some say he owned a sawed-off shotgun. But usually the story went that he would pour boiling oil over intruders as they climbed up the steps.
The porch presented a whole different layer of terror. It not only creaked, but it also felt like it would give way at any moment. And woe be tide anyone who fell through. First, it would hurt like hell. Second, you’d find yourself inside of Creepy Man’s lair. Though the yard contained the greatest variety of stories, the house itself posed the greatest threat, Creepy Man himself, a threat so great that it needed no embellishments to heighten its dangers.
Only the few made it to the end to ring the doorbell. If Creepy Man answered at all, he usually just shrieked through the unopened door, to scare the intruder away. After going through the ordeal to get to the door, it didn’t take much to scare a person off. But at this point, those who made it all the way to the end were no longer called Losers. They became Badasses or Mac Daddies or Mac Mommas. No better creds existed than saying you survived a trip to Creepy Man’s door and back.
This tradition had been going on since forever, until Halloween 2012. A group of kids gathered in front of Creepy Man’s house as usual, after sunset, after going trick-or-treating with parents and guardians. They had their iPhones loaded with an app that drew straws. They were good to go. But then one noticed that the gate was opened. Opened! Creepy never left his gate opened, but there it stood. Even more, it had a sign attached to it: Enter Here, If You Must.
No one knew what the make of it. Conspiracy theories grew instantly. It’s a trap, someone said. He wants to bake us into puddings, said someone else. No, man, he’s a zombie and wants to eat our brains, said a third person. All five of them looked at each other then looked at the opened gate and the sign attached to it.
“Well,” Bobby said, “We could draw straws and see who gets to go in and find out what’s up.”
“But it ain’t the same, Bobby,” Elise said. “He’s inviting us in. I think we should all go, together.”
Richard, the tall skinny dude, started shaking his head and putting up his hands. “Uh-uh. I ain’t going in there so that Creep-Dude can eat out my brains.”
“You got nothing to worry about,” Sam said. “If he tried to eat your brains, he’d starve to death.”
Richard slapped Sam across the back of the head. Everyone did that eventually to Sam.
They got into an argument and Bob tried to mellow them out. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane, who hadn’t said anything at that point, just went through the opened gate and walked into the yard.
Richard noticed her and called out, “Yo, Sarah! Come back!”
But she kept going, slowly mind you, but she moved along. After going a few feet deep into the jungle yard, she turned around and said, “The garage door is opened!”
So many weeds grew in the driveway you’d never know that Creepy Man’s house had an attached garage.
“Come on!” Sarah Jane called out to everyone else.
First Sam went in, then Elise. Finally Bobby and Richard came through. All five stood along various parts of the walkway, the dreaded, horrible, awful walkway between the Free World and doom.
“I’m allergic to poison oak, you know,” Richard said nervously.
“Well come on! Haven’t got all night!” someone hissed at them.
Everybody jumped. There in the opened garage stood the Creep Man himself, wizened and white-haired, with long spindly fingers beaconing them to come closer. His voice sounded like a rasp.
“I said come on! You made it this far. I’m not going to bite you! I have something to show you kids. Come on!”
Others froze, but Sarah Jane kept walking towards the garage. Eventually, the others joined her.
To be continued. . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.