As an eleven-year-old boy I was quite aware that the world was full of monsters, ghouls, hobgoblins, and other creatures that roamed the earth. I knew this because I’d seen them in comic books and on our television set which was capable of receiving every channel available to mankind (which at that time was a total of three). I was afraid of these foul beings, but since I’d never actually run into one personally that fear was kind of ill defined in my little brain.
All that changed one dark summer night in 1965.
My fears at that point in time existed on several levels. In ascending order, they were: Fear of my mom if mud got on her floor, fear of my dad if I had not picked an adequate supply of butterbeans, and fear of monsters or snakes of any color or head shape. Although I didn’t know it, I was on the brink of adding a fifth fear to that list.
My great chum, Reverend Jim, and I built ourselves a hut deep in the woods, far removed from civilization, which is to say about five hundred yards from the house. We were chomping at the bit to camp out in that paragon of outdoor architecture, complete with four walls, a tin roof, and it was vented in several strategic places for air flow.
It was no easy task getting Mama talked into letting us spend the night in our hut. Once I promised to keep the mud off my feet and eat all my butterbeans, she relented. Reverend Jim and I were ecstatic with anticipation.
We began our preparations and had lugged to the hut every conceivable item that would make our evening more comfortable and interesting. We took sleeping bags, flashlights, food, cokes, firecrackers, and even a few scholarly magazines courtesy of some of older friends. The time had come for our big night out.
We settled in and were having a good old time, especially with those magazines that turned out to be quite informative. I should pause here to explain that Reverend Jim got his nickname later. In 1965 he was nowhere near fulfilling his calling as a clergyman.
So on that particular day all was right with the world. Then it got dark. I found my fifth fear.
All of a sudden, those comic book monsters took on a vivid shape and every sound outside the confines of our compound were mysterious and scary. I began to regret our choice of location because the hut was only a few yards from an extensive swamp. Sounds kept coming from that direction and I began considering the possibility that it might be the home of a monster I knew as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
It didn’t help matters that we had a full moon that night. When it rose, an eerie light penetrated the ventilation system of our fortress. I sneaked a peek outside and the woods looked like an ideal spot for another monster I’d seen on TV. Werewolves. We were in a state of near capitulation. This wasn’t as much fun as it was cracked up to be but the disgrace of going home was too terrible to contemplate. We would be labeled as cowardly sissies, and that was a reputation that was hard to shake.
We decided to tough it out. To our chagrin, it was only 10 o’clock. It was going to be a long evening hanging out in the dark with all these evil beings cavorting around our hut. We finally drifted off to sleep, but I can honestly report to you that it was not visions of sugar plums that were dancing around in our heads.
Sometime during the night one of the most blood curdling sounds I’d ever heard reverberated through the night air. I sat bolt upright in a dead panic. Disoriented from my monster-filled dreams, I bounced off three walls like a pinball trying to exit the building. Reverend Jim had no such difficulty. He found the locked door on his first sally and knocked it flat on his way out. I swiftly followed suit and noticed that Morgan County’s future defensive tackle was in a dead sprint in the direction of our house. His speed did him great credit as he left me in the wake of his departure.
Upon reaching the safety of the back porch, we looked at each other in shame. As it turned out neither of us were ashamed enough to go back to the place where those evil spirits had taken up residence.
Years later we decided it was a screech owl that had made the noise that sent us scurrying home. We laughed about it, but we both lived with the knowledge that it was several years later before we screwed up enough courage to spend the night in that haunted place where our primal fears—and things that go bump in the night—got the best of us.