I do not mean just frightened. There are probably many among us who have felt fear in a foxhole, or from an angry wife. I’m not talking about that kind of fear. I mean absolutely frozen–unable to move “scared.” I’m talking about “little boy scared.”
The time I’m thinking about was when I was 9 years old, in 1951. I think my parents must have needed a night alone, and planned for my brother Ed and me to spend a night at my grandmother Ethel’s house. The plan was for us to have supper, then go to a movie. My brother, who was four years older, invited his friend Michael to come along.
After seeing the movie “The Thing ,”I knew my parents could not have known what movie Ed and his friend had chosen. They would have never allowed me to see it. “The Thing” was the first sci-fi movie I had seen, with a story to curl your hair. It was filmed in black and white. No blood, but a story I found believable, which caused me to slide down in the seat and cover my eyes.
“The Thing,” you see, was a creature discovered frozen in ice in the Arctic. No one knew where it had come from, what it was, or how long it had been there. Through a series of mistakes, it was allowed to thaw. That’s when the killing started and, already scared, I came close to bolting for the door.
My brother’s friend Michael was a strange fellow and delighted in teasing me. He was big for his age and when he came to our house to visit Ed, he loved playing “Monster,” particularly aimed at scaring me. We played a form of “Hide-and-seek.” I would hide and the Monster (Michael) would come after me trying to look and act like Frankenstein. He was good at it. That movie was made for him.
After the movie we had three cold, dark, and windy blocks to walk to Ethel’s house. There was nobody around–just the three of us. Michael loved it–three more blocks to terrify me. With adrenaline pumping, I’m sure I could have run the three blocks in under a minute, but Ed said, “No.” We finally got to Ethel’s house; and the house I knew well, the house where I had had countless hours of fun, had turned into a creepy old house in the shadows.
Ethel’s bedroom was on the first floor at the foot of the stairs. She had gone to bed. There were two bedrooms on the second floor–one for Ed and Michael, and one for me–all alone. Old houses make creepy noises, and then there were the pigeons, who roosted outside my window, making spooky noises all night.
After the lights were out and I was alone in a big bed, the fear I was already feeling multiplied by the minute. Every groan of the old house turned into the “Thing” slowly dragging itself up the stairs. Had it already done Ethel in? Would I be next? The wind was moving tree limbs outside my window and casting strange shadows on the walls of my room. What could I do? There was no escape. Too frightened to move, I knew I could not run for the stairs. After all, I was positive, judging from the sounds, that the “Thing” was by now close to the head of the stairs and my end was near. I was trapped, and petrified with fear.
According to the movie, the only thing that could stop the “Thing” was fire. I didn’t even have a match. Bullets would not have stopped it–even if I had had a gun.
I once had a fellow tell me that a friend of his “woke up dead”. That always sounded so strange. How do you wake up if you are dead? Well, I woke up and it was light, and I was not dead. I don’t think I was ever so happy to get back home and to sleep in my own bed, just down the hall from my mom and dad.
That night is still clear in my mind. To this day, I still do not watch horror movies. I did, however, get the courage—years later–to watch “The Thing” again. It must have been on TV because I would have never gone to a theater to see it. Even ten or more years later, I still found it frightening.
By the way, the “Thing” was played by James Arness, who later played Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke.” He was an imposing 6’ 7”–just what was needed for the part.
STAY WELL…..6’ APART
Bill Minus lives in Chestertown and can be seen out and about Kent County, safely.