by Tom Maul

This time of year has me reminiscing alot. I've been thinking back to the time we set up a haunted house in my backyard. I must have been about ten. The idea was to charge all the neighborhood kids twenty-five cents apiece to walk through our haunted house. It sure seemed like a wonderful idea at the time.

My best friend, Timmy, lived right next door to me. He was very quick-witted, like his father, Chuck. His younger brother Jeff must have sipped from the shallow end of the gene pool, as he was only dim-witted. Chuck was great. He used to come home, from his bartending job, slightly tanked up and jolly as a fried chicken vendor at the million woman march. When we saw Chuck walking down the street, we'd usually stop our game of ghost in the graveyard. We knew Chuck would have some jokes and stories to tell us. We'd crowd around him on Timmy's front steps while he'd tell us graphic and hilarious jokes for an hour or two. The only breaks would be when he'd send Timmy into the house to fetch him another "cold one." Chuck died awhile back, but I always think of him whenever I'm writing comedy. His timing was flawless and his material was endless.

Anyways, Timmy and I came up with this idea for a haunted house. We figured we'd tie clotheslines, running parallel, and drape sheets over each line for walls and one over the top for a roof. It became more like a haunted maze than a haunted house. Once we started on the project, we realized we were going to need more help. We recruited Tim's little brother, Jeff, and a hillbilly kid who just moved into the dilapidated old house by the railroad tracks, Weber. Our recruits were a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but they were eager to help.

After a few hours, we had most of the haunted tunnel finished, but we needed more old sheets. Weber ran home and was back in no time, clutching a ball of the most wrinkled and foulest smelling sheets known to science. We had to use them for the roof, as I didn't want the whole neighborhood seeing them stains and assuming I pissed to bed on a nightly basis. We completed the maze and were now brainstorming on how we could make it scary.

We put Jeff in a chair and had him pour a half a bottle of ketchup over his head. We also gave him an old hatchet from my dad's toolbox. We told him to pretend he was dead until the people got up close to him and then to chase them with his hatchet. Next, we sent Weber back to his house to fetch a half dozen rat-traps that he saw in his basement. We randomly placed these throughout the maze in patches of high grass where they would be unseen. Weber's job was to run along the wall of our maze, from the outside, and yell scary things while swinging his aluminum baseball bat into the wall. Tim was to operate a trap door which would keep the kids going around in a big circle. My job was to collect the money and operate the phonograph. I didn't have any scary records, so I snatched the Beatle's White Album from my big brother, Red's, record collection. I figured we could just keep playing Revolution#9 over and over. It was the strangest thing any of us had ever heard and we all agreed it was scary enough.

By the time we had everything set up, it was nearing dark. My parents had gone out, so that gave us time to try and find some customers. Most kids had to be in by dark, but we saw Chuck coming home from work.

"Hey dad!", yelled Timmy, Come try our haunted house!"

Chuck looked at us, slightly drunk, and responded, "Timmy, if you messed up my house I'm going to knock the fruit-loops out of you, eight essential minerals and all."

"Naw dad, it's in Tom's backyard, come see..."Timmy reassured him.

"Awwh hell, lemme see what kind of mischief you boys are into now."

"You want to try and walk through it dad?" asked Tim.

Chuck surveyed our effort, "Jesus, you boys really worked at this project, didn't you...Yeah, I'll try it, but go fetch me a cold one, Timmy, I don't want to go walking into these piss stained sheets unarmed."

Jeff quickly ran to his spot and poured some fresh ketchup on his head before picking up his hatchet. Weber had his baseball bat, but appeared nervous, "What am I supposed to yell?" he asked me.

"Just anything that sounds scary", I whispered back.

Chuck paid us a dollar and told us to keep the change. Timmy returned with his beer and, as he entered, I cranked up Revolution#9 on the phonograph.

"What the hell kind of racket is that?", we heard him ask from inside the sheets. Apparently, the excitement was just too much for Jeff. He forgot to pretend he was dead and was now charging at his dad with the hatchet.

"Jeffrey, put that damn thing down!" We heard Chuck scream from somewhere inside.

At this point, Chuck was backed up against the sheet wall. Weber came from out of nowhere and yelled, "Die Motherfucker!" while swinging the aluminum bat with all his might. It sounded like he connected with a pumpkin. He accidentally hit poor old Chuck solid in the back of the head. We heard Chuck collapse to the ground and then the loud "Snap!" of a rat-trap.

I ran in and looked. I knew it was serious when I saw that Chuck had dropped his full can of beer. He was unconscious and his pinkie, already throbbing purple, was caught in the rat-trap. This was turning scarier than any of us had anticipated, particularly Chuck.

"Go call an ambulance!" I screamed.

Timmy ran into my house and called. Within five minutes the police were at my house. They first assumed it was Jeff who needed the ambulance because of the ketchup. They called out for him. He ran at them with his hatchet in the air, growling. Jeff wasn't too bright, but he tried like hell. I think Weber and Jeff could have used just a little more guidance about how this haunted house was to operate. Now it was too late.

I was relieved to see the ambulance finally arrive, although I wasn't thrilled that my dad's car was behind them. The paramedics ran into our maze with a stretcher. The police, as well as my parents, were asking alot of questions. As the paramedics were carrying Chuck on the stretcher, I heard another "Snap!"

"Awwwrrggghhh!!!, Dammit!!!", screamed the paramedic.

One of our rat-traps had caught the medic's foot. He was in such pain that he dropped the stretcher, Chuck and all.

"Number Nine?", we heard Chuck faintly mumble after hitting the ground.

As the angry paramedic unclamped the trap from his foot and got Chuck back on the stretcher, the police officers began interrogating us.

"How did this happen?" the policeman asked.

"Uh, well...Weber hit him on the head with a bat by accident" I offered.

The cop turned to Timmy, "Did you hear Weber say anything before he hit your dad?"

"Uh, er...I think he said, 'Die Motherfucker', but he was only trying to be scary, he didn't know my dad was against the wall trying to get away from Jeff's hatchet...Weber isn't real bright", answered Tim.

"I don't think any of you are", added the policeman.

The police hauled all of us down to the station, including my dad, who was about as happy as a Jew with Hitler. They grilled us for a long time and , when we got back home, my dad spanked me so hard, I could have went to a palm reader and had his fortune read. I was grounded for months afterward. Chuck's head was okay, but the rat-trap did break his pinkie. Even though we got in alot of trouble, I'm quite sure that Chuck enjoyed telling about his trip through our haunted house while he was working in the bar. Chuck saw the funny side of everything.

© 1997, Thomas Maul

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In Memory Of Chuck Silbaugh, 26 March 1998