|Where I'm From|
by Jim Allen
Brandeis Shakel (Shaky) was about twelve when his aunt and uncle and their half-dozen children got the first television in their little community. Shaky had been invited over to their farm house to watch the Saturday night Creature Feature, Blood of the Werewolf.
Back where I’m from, when a person is a bit nervous or is easily spooked, we call them scaryfied. Shaky was the epitome of scaryfied and every cousin piled in front of the TV that night knew it. When the movie ended, nobody in the house wanted to go to their dark bedroom, much less walk the hundred yards across the shop yard like Shaky did to get to his bed.
“Y’all watch me to make sure I get there okay. And leave the lights on ‘til you see me flash the porch lamp on and off,” Shaky instructed. Of course, as soon as he stepped across the threshold, they locked the door and flicked the light switch off.
Shaky pounded on the door for some time. He could hear them giggling on the other side. Then he decided to make a mad dash for it. He made it about half way across that dark expanse before running full throttle into his uncle’s ’39 John Deere Model H. When he finally managed to crawl to his folks’ porch and beat his head against the front door, his mama said he was bruised up something awful and that he was pretty addled. At least the bruises got better.
Shaky got a job with the highway department while I was working there. He chain-smoked cigarettes…said it calmed his nerves. As often as we got a chance, we’d poke a little piece of what looked like wood (called a load) down into one of his cigarettes with a match stick to where it would be touching the butt. Shaky would always savor that last draw, holding the cotton filter tight with the tip of his index finger and the tip of his thumb. KaBam! He’d go into a tirade, threatening to “whoop us all.” Usually later that same day, we’d empty six or eight shotgun shells into his ashtray. That flash has sent him falling over backwards in his chair on more than one occasion.
I had known Shaky through high school, long before the highway department job. A hamburger joint in the county seat called the Dairy Dream was a favorite weekend haunt for teenage boys who liked to see and be seen after football games and on Saturday nights. The boys that were not lucky enough to have dates, or those who took their dates home early, were always there. One Saturday night, I stopped by just before they closed to get a Coke. As usual, the loose gang of 10 or 12 diehard, bored-out-of-their-brains boys were all there, leaning on their cars, occasionally hollering at a passing vehicle, inviting them into the fold.
Like clockwork, as soon as the Dreams’ owner turned off the lights in the parking lot, the town’s only night policeman pulled up, bowed his chest out and told us for the thousandth time to “leave the premises immediately. We were trespassing and he might just have to haul us in, being that he was the law and all.” Everybody called him Barney, either because of his uncanny resemblance to Don Knotts or because it was rumored that he kept only one bullet in his pocket.
After he left, some of the fellas started talking about the crowd moving out to the old “haunted” house. It was a house that a couple from out of town had moved into after he got a job at the lumber mill. Both of them were brutally murdered in the house during an apparent botched robbery. This had happened years earlier (before any of us were born), the double murder was never solved by the authorities and the house had remained empty.
It was a rite of passage, a test of mettle for us teenage boys to walk through that house alone at night with only a candle or cigarette lighter. But everyone in our group was already a member of that club. We needed a new schlemiel.
We would use the same tactics that were used on each of us; as soon as we convinced the sucker to be brave, two of our high school football team’s linebackers would announce that it was their curfew and excuse themselves. They would instead drive to the haunted house, hide their car and wait inside.
Ol’ Shaky drove up about that time with his cigarette drooping out of his mouth, one eye closed where the smoke constantly stung his eyeball and a white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was trying to look like James Dean muscle but came across more like Jimmy Dean sausage. After much cajoling, we finally took up a collection and for a little less than ten bucks, Shaky agreed to put his fears aside.
It was a clear, moonless night with a sky full of stars when we pulled up in front of the house. A buddy of mine announced that he wasn’t scared and went inside to convince Shaky that it was alright. But only after us reminding him of the nearly ten dollars from the pool he now had in his pocket did he finally cave in to our taunting and climb the few steps onto the porch. The screen door screeched as it bumped closed behind him. With only his trusty Zippo for light, we watched as he crept slowly down the center hall into the bowels of the deserted structure. Just then, one of the linebackers jumped from a closet with his arms held high in the sky and before Shaky could get wind enough to scream, the other guy grabbed him from behind. This is why we used large folks for this gag and it usually worked; just hold the victim until they calmed down then walk them out to meet up with the other guys and have a few laughs. It didn’t go as planned this time.
Shaky kicked the guy in front of him so hard that he had to be carried home in the back of his pick-up still in the fetal position. The second prankster said later that with that same upward kicking motion, Shaky flipped over backwards, breaking his grip. He then landed behind his attacker on his feet in a full gallop.
From outside, we saw the Zippo’s flame suddenly go out and could hear loud rumblings along with squawks not unlike the screams of a rabbit that’s been caught in a snare…only guttural with bits and pieces of barked human words. With three long steps and the speed of a three-minute miler, Shaky hit the wrong side of the screen door, tore it off of its hinges and flew by us still squawking, swatting at the air around his head and body like something might try to grab him again.
A couple of ravine ditches and a slough slowed him down some. Three miles later, it took a 4-strand barbed wire fence to finally stop him. Doctors told his folks nearly forty years ago that he’d eventually grow out of that twitch. Wonder how long eventually is?
Disclaimer: The story you just read is based on reality. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any likeness any character in this story has to you, your family or anybody you know or have known is completely coincidental.