A Latchkey Kid's Tale

When "Swerve" was nine years old he started having a recurring dream of a blighted house. This decrepit building would appear as a type of diabolical hideaway spot full of ominous intrigue - a place that he seemed to have mortal terror for yet could not resist the curiosity of going in to discover what was inside. In this titillating nightmare the house always manifested as a small cottage with dingy walls the color of green or brown vomit. Some of the windows were boarded up while others were shattered through. Piles of rotten, wormy wood, trash, and loose scrap metal sometimes surrounded the old house.

Mannequins lived in that frightful place. A woman with long flowing brown hair and pretty green eyes yet a pale, ghastly, lifeless visage. Cold and inhuman. She always wore a filthy tattered dress smeared with cobwebs and dead cockroaches. Usually Swerve could see her at a window just gazing straight ahead with her dead eyes. Deep inside the darkness Swerve often would notice the shadowy form of another mannequin. Her companion. But Swerve could never get a decent look at its face or what it was wearing.

Although altogether putrid, the house itself was not inhabited by ghosts, just repulsive due to its condition, probably infested with a myriad of creepy crawly insects, rats, and diseases. Still, its occupants seemed to live there comfortably as a couple. A frigid wind would now and then swirl around outside, ensnare a piece of wood from the pile, and then knock out more of the glass from the busted windows.

Swerve was basically a "normal kid" who was best friends with a rebellious boy, who went by the moniker of "Mahony". Mahony was the unofficial leader of Swerve's group of four friends, the other two being Leon, a.k.a. "Fatty", and Nicky. The summer vacation of 1981 had just ended, and this was the first weekend of the new fourth grade school year.

During summer evenings Swerve would watch the tiny black and white t.v. his parents allowed him to have in his little room with an Atari 2600 set up with it. He was enthralled by shows like The Twilight Zone, his favorite episode being "After Hours", and movies like Tourist Trap starring Chuck Connors. He also spent much time listening to his turntable or radio/cassette player, which his folks let him play as long as it wasn't too loud or too "weird".

On this particular dusk Swerve was listening to his favorite record, the Mr. Pickwick Famous Ghost Stories! This was a collection of narrated tales featuring some classics such as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-tale Heart", Charles Dickens' "The Signal Man", Guy De Maupassant's "The Specter", and a truncated version of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepyhollow". The recordings were filled with spine tingling scary sounds throughout which Swerve loved hearing again and again.

As the last story on the record was about to commence Swerve's mother emerged at his door. "Honey, your friend is here. You fellas better be back in an hour."

Outside, Mahony was on his bike beakoning with a sense of urgency. "C'mon, Swerve, let's go! Nicky and Fatty are already on their way there!"

Both boys were soon peddling fast down the street toward a cemetery that was nearby. This was going to be another session of "Cemetery Storytelling": a game that Swerve had invented in which the object was to find an interesting grave and be able to tell a story about the person buried there. Whoever found the coolest tomb and told the best story would be the winner for the night and be named the King of the Ghouls. And that title was one that Swerve loved to sport until the next session of the game.

A middle aged "Swerve" in retrospect now looks back on those innocent days as an expression of his first glimmerings of the fear of death and the sad condition of not living life to the fullest. Fun, excitement, adventure - just so long as those pursuits were not carried to extreme. "Swerve" is now a professor of English, specializing in creative writing, and an established author. Looking back on those chidhood escapades gives him a fresh, youthful jump start...and a deep grief for his long lost friend...

Nicky and Fatty were already at the rendevous with their bikes - a mausoleum at the center of the rows upon rows of gravestones. The entire grisly yard was just adjacent to the train tracks on Balance Blvd. Nicky took off his backpack and emptied out a pile of flashlights and snacks, mostly soft drinks and chips.

"Alright, you sissies!" Mahony erupted, "let's pick a dead son-of-a-bitch and give him a late eulogy! If anyone is brave enough to dig up a dead body, they win automatically!"

After the boys split up Swerve wandered into a part of the graveyard he was not too familiar with. It had more twisting branches overhead and strange shaped bushes offering a new tone of mystery. Swerve eventually found an expensive tomb with the statue of an angel on each side of it. They each held a long sword in an apocalyptic battle stance. He read the name on the grave and decided to go with it. Turning to go, Swerve noticed an anomaly on the ground. A woman's face drawn on a sheet of yellow paper glared up at him. After picking it up he realized it was actually a flyer showing a lady mannequin dressed up in skimpy clothes. Swerve's eyes widened since this reminded him of his dream. A strange word was printed across the top of the flyer: AGALMATOPHILIA. Beneath the sketch of the mannequin a phone number was supplied along with an address. Agalmatophilia? What in the world was that? Without thinking Swerve folded up the flyer and shoved it into a pocket.

When they met back at the mausoleum they let Fatty go first, then Mahony. Fatty found this boring cracked grave stone and didn't have much to say about it. Mahony tried to be slick by putting a lot of litter around his grave and saying the person came back to life every night and ate snacks and drank cokes.

Swerve was up next. He proudly showed his tomb and declared, "Here lies Enrico Bernardi. He was a rich business man but never used to dream so one day he went crazy and jumped off a skyscraper, thinking he could fly. These two angels stand guard here to make sure he doesn't escape hell."

Nicky then was on. Unlike Fatty, Nicky was lanky and had more imagination. He stood by a child's grave stone and spun a yarn about the little girl having been kidnapped, molested, and murdered by a serial killer whom eventually was sentenced to the electric chair.

Despite Nicky's gruesome deadpan delivery the boys voted Swerve as having the niftiest looking resting place and the most interesting story. Swerve's heartbeat sped up as he was named the King of the Ghouls. He glowed all the way home.

"What is this shit?" Swerve's father asked in the doorway of the boy's room. His dad was holding up the yellow piece of paper.

The flyer! It must have slipped out of Swerve's pocket when he took out his keys. He had forgotten all about it after winning the game. "I don't know," Swerve mumbled. "That's just something I found on the street."

"Where on the street? Where did you boys go? And what the hell did you pick it up for?"

"Nowhere really. We just rode our bicycles around. I thought it would be good to draw that so I took it," Swerve murmured.

His father studied Swerve's face. "I don't like you hanging around with that jerk Mahony. Believe me son, if I ever find out you kids are doing something...weird together, that will be the day you will be so sorry..." His dad crumpled the yellow paper into a ball and clenched it in his fist.

"Mahony had nothing to do with that. I was the one who found that..." Swerve began.

"I hope so, young man, for your sake," his dad interrupted. He started to walk off but then turned again toward his son. "You guys should get involved in sports or something and stop wasting your time roaming around."

Monday after school Mahony paired off with Swerve to walk part of the way home. Like many children Swerve and his buddies walked to and from school because both of their parents worked. Swerve usually got home about 2:45 and was alone for at least two and a half hours, which he enjoyed. This gave him time to fix himself a snack and watch t.v. until either his mom or dad got home.

"Ya know something, Swerve," Mahony said, "I'm getting tired of that cemetery game. We've been playing that all summer. We need a new thing."

"Like what?"

Mischief blazed from Mahony's face. "The City Park! You'll see. We'll talk more about this later. I'm thinking about going there Saturday when the sun goes down."

Swerve shrugged. His strict father was a mechanical engineer who would be working on a ship docked at the river until at least midnight on Saturday while his mother, who worked as a nurse at an ER, would not be home until around the same time. Swerve contemplated what Mahony could have up his sleeve. Mahony was a devilish kid who sometimes smoked cigarettes and sneaked Playboy magazines to school. "Fatty asked me to go by his house on Saturday," Swerve responded flatly.

Mahony rolled his eyes. "Don't waste time with that wuss," he groaned. "Stick with me, Swerve."

Swerve silently agreed. Fatty was boring to play with one on one and the least popular of their gang. A Saturday at his his house meant comparing football cards, playing a few worn out video games, listening to the radio, and watching some dull family movie while his mom came in and out to offer them ice cream and sodas. Fatty mostly preferred to stay inside, which bored Swerve.

From his booksack Mahony pulled out a small tape recorder that began emitting a heavy metal song with a tough riff that soon transformed into a more melodious chorus. Mahony bobbed his head with enthusiasm.

"Yeah, that sounds good," Swerve remarked, "what is that?"

" 'The Thrill Of It All' by Black Sabbath," Mahony beamed.

Professor Swerve drives home solemnly in his silver Chrysler 300. He plans on taking out his wife and teenage daughter for a steak and lobster dinner later that evening. Leon, a.k.a., "Fatty" called him earlier that afternoon with the news. Mahony was now deceased, stabbed to death in a fight over some crackhead slut he barely knew. "Fatty" is now a state trooper, which is why he is so privvy to such matters.

Mahony had never stopped seeking the next exciting thing. To his credit, he served valiantly in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps, but after he returned home he just could not adjust back to the boring routine of civilian life. He started drinking uncontrollably and experimenting with meth and cocaine.

After his second divorce Mahony had started dating some whitetrash girl in her late twenties. Late one night Mahony is just getting high with this chick at her apartment - a deplorable one bedroom unit with a backed up toilet and roaches feasting from the solied, broken dishes left on the dirty floor. Suddenly, some wacked out lunatic barges into the apartment, demanding that the woman give him crack and unspeakable sex acts. Being no slouch, Mahony bursts into action and readliy beats this guy in the face and pummels him with his fists. Seeing that Mahony would prevail, the junkie pulls out a blade and carved Mahony up in a crazed frenzy and then raped the crack whore.

Swerve sighs and drives into his upscale subdivision. He hopes the perpetrator will get the death penalty.

On Saturday Swerve and Mahony rode out to the City Park as the sun set. City Park was approximately two miles from their school. There were tennis courts, soccer, football, and baseball fields along with a stadium where high school games were played. A golf course lay adjacent to the grounds of the park. A humble concession stand in a building with public restrooms would now be about to close.

Mahony had still not told Swerve what their purpose was for being out there. When they zipped past the museum of art and the botanical gardens, Swerve got an idea of what was in Mahony's head. The amusement park! It was closed for renovations. Mahony wanted to break in and mess around in the Kiddie Land.

Sure enough, Mahony stopped his bike near a broken part of the iron fence around Kiddie Land. There was enough room for them to slip in and even bring in their bikes between the gaps of the ruptured iron bars. A faint sound of a tennis ball bouncing could be heard in the near distance. Beyond Kiddie Land were a number of empty wooded pic nic tables covered by branches of huge oak trees becoming shadowy in the imminent night.

"Ain't it great?" Mahony abruptly bubbled up. "We can do whatever we want!"

"How's that? Place is closed," Swerve responded.

"So what?" Mahony demanded. "We can start these rides ourselves and then take turns riding them!"

Obviously Mahony had seen someone operate the rides and thought he could just copy what they did to run them. His first target was the mini roller coaster. What he hadn't counted on was that all the controls had been locked up to prevent such safety breaches.

"Goddamnit!" Mahony growled.

"Don't worry about it, man," Swerve said. "Even if we got these things running someone would notice and call the cops on us."

Mahony paused as if with an epiphany. "You're right, Swerve. You're smart." Without another word he sprinted toward the "haunted house" ride.

Failing to get the car going that would move them along a short train track into a dark tunnel-like little building, they decided to just walk through. The small building was blessedly open, only covered on each end by black rubber curtains. But it was pitch black inside. Mahony took out a flashlight from his pocket to illuminate the blackness. Grisly, artificial characters suddenly came into view. Although unanimated the figures still posed a chill. A Medusa-gorgon shrew seemed to wink as they passed. Skeletons and goblins leered at them, bug-eyed, as they continued through.

"This is cool!" Mahony blurted out.

Swerve was not so impressed. He could see huge cockroaches crawling up the walls, probably flying cockroaches. Near the end of the tunnel Mahony suddenly cried out, "What is this? Swerve, come see."

A hyperdermic needle was on the ground in the light of Mahony's flashlight.

"What the hell is that?" Mahony asked.

Being that his mother was a nurse Swerve knew. "A needle to inject medicine."

"So what's it doing here?"

"I don't know," Swerve answered.

The boys dismissed the issue and then escaped out the other end of the tunnel. By now it was fully dark. Swerve could see that Mahony's face was beginning to fall with disappointment. True, it was a little spooky being out there, but there wasn't anything to do. The boys milled around from ride to ride looking for something to catch their attention. As unruly as Mahony was he was not interested in vandalizing anything. Of course, Swerve was not either; Swerve always had an unconscious wish to encounter something supernatural.

"Did you hear something?" Mahony suddenly asked.

"No, nice try, there's nothing out here."

"No, really," Mahony said seriously. "I thought I heard something rustle out there."

They strolled toward a booth in which a gypsy lady sat encased in glass. Inserting a quarter into the machine would prompt the device to spit out a fortune printed on a ticket. Both young men paused in front of the glass, becoming mesmerized by the mechanical lady. Crickets and frogs could be heard uttering their nighttime sounds in an otherwise serene setting. Passing vehicles hummed by Kiddie Land at an inaudible level.

Swerve smiled strangely for no reason and spread out his hands. "Tell us, lady, what do you foresee in our future?"

The gypsy stared at him with her motionless emerald eyes and dark brown hair tumbling down to her shoulders. Swerve turned to Mahony and both of them chuckled. "Talking to her is better than listening to our teachers," Swerve added with a silly grin.

Mahony stepped up and tapped firmly on the glass. "What about me, hot stuff? What's in store for me?"

That same expressionless face glared at Mahony.

A distinct hissing sound was now evident. An oppossum burst from behind the gypsy booth hissing and growling. Instinctively, Swerve and Mahony lurched backward from the scary marsupial. After the initial shock, they both laughed, but moved further back just to be safe.

Assuming no threat the oppossum uttered some nervous noises and then disappeared back behind the soothsayer.

"Good thing that thing didn't bite you!" Swerve exclaimed.

"You ain't kiddin'!" Mahony declared.

"So, whadaya think? We had our fun tonight. Wanna head on back?" Swerve suggested.

Uncharacteristically Mahony looked down and nodded, "Yeah, let's get outta here."