Everyone was scared of something, growing up I had two things that I was terrified of.
The first was Her.
She had Her house on a dead end. The street started out normal enough until you got to the last few houses closest to Hers. The houses had been abandoned ages ago. Sickly weeds that were barely alive managed to cling on to life long enough to wind around metal pieces of junk that were strewn haphazardly across the abandoned lawns in disarray. The pieces were so ancient and rusted that no one could have even speculated what their original purpose had even been. The only difference between the deserted homes and Hers was that all the other houses' windows were boarded up with wood.
Some of the braver kids who lived on the street would dare to creep over to the forsaken dwellings at the very end of the street just to get a glimpse of Her. A tall imposing figure with wild hair like lightning, her heavy steps crescendo-ed with the help of large licorice colored rain boots. And Her eyes, it was a well known fact that if you got close enough to look at Her eyes it wouldn’t be long until… well.
She was the number one scariest thing.
The second was Timothy Harper, he was almost as scary as Her.
Timothy ‘Nails’ Harper to be exact.
Nails was a name I heard often when I had moved up grades with my paste eating peons. From the naivete and innocence that elementary school provided and into the tyrannical nightmarish inferno of my life that was titled ‘Middle school’.
Timothy ‘Nails’ Harper, was uncanny. He was the strangest looking person I had ever seen to this day. Nails’ had a pug nose, freckles and a red face made him look like a whistling tea kettle whenever he got mad. He had the appearance that he had once been tall enough to be a basketball but then got stepped on by a giant and got squashed down into something more wide and solid . He reminded me of Saltwater taffy, not the good kind, mind you, but the kind that got stuck in your teeth and didn’t come out for days, the kind with a flavour that counted your mouth and its’ after taste made your whole body shiver, the kind that tasted sort of like medicine.
Nails looked strange enough that he should have been at the bottom of the proverbial social ladder, but apparently Nails didn’t take too kindly to that. I figure he thought in his warped mind that if he couldn’t get what he wanted by being normal popular, he would terrorize everyone into cowering beneath him. I wasn’t there when it happened, I arrived in the middle of his reign, but it’s said that he climbed up the social ladder so fast that it made people dizzy when he knocked them off. Most of my young life was filled with the fear of his reign of terror that spread all throughout the small town of my childhood as he gripped all of our lives with his meaty iron fists.
The truth and rumors that spread all around the town about what Nails had done and what he was willing to do were akin to vultures. Ever looming above their prey as a macabre omen of death.
One of the ubiquitous rumors illustrated a time when Nails’ once mistook a kid's laughter to be aimed at him, later that day the same student had fallen down and had to go to the hospital because their jaw cracked in three different places. Nothing was proven of course but everyone knew that Nails’ had caused it. (Another less popular rumor got passed around that he had even gone down Her street and looked Her in the eye, no one believed that one of course. As previously mentioned, it was common knowledge to all of us kids that you didn’t look Her in the eye.)
The rumors were plenty and varied but they all had one thing in common, The Warning Signs. How Nails’ face would puff up as if he were having an allergic reaction, his sausage-like fingers curled into ham fists as his eye went sharper than tacks. Once Nails’ face morphed, every kid in my town knew you needed to watch your back for a week.
Nails’ used this reputation of fear to his every advantage. No one gave him orders and everyone followed his. He managed to buy a pair of steel toed Cowboy boots that befitted his station as head of the rabble. Those boots were a trophy of his power. He had bought them by using other kids' allowances and lunch money. I should know, five milks and three sandwiches and an entire month's allowance of my money went into those high grade leather boots. Even though I had been one of the lucky ones, to this very day when I heard the click clack of boots my heart beat spikes, my feet speed up and my hand flies to my wallet in a subconscious attempt to save any spare cash that I have on me.
Life under Timothy ‘Nails’ Harper was what I had expected, we all knew it was best to keep your head down and avoid his wrath and live in fear.
All until one day.
One day keeping my head down didn’t seem to be enough. Maybe I had accidentally looked at him that day. Maybe Nails was in a bad mood, saw me and thought I was the reason. Maybe my Mother had drawn a giant target on my head without me knowing.
I don’t know.
What I did know is that day Nails cornered me like a scared rabbit cowering in front of a rabid pug dog.
He shoved me up onto the hard ground, crushing the grass and wildflowers beneath me. My eyes darted wildly looking for some form of protection, but all the other kids had wildly ran. I couldn’t blame them, if I had my way I’d be with them.
“Hand it over.” Said Nails as he loomed over me.
My streak of terror could have gone to the Heaven’s and back and I froze. I couldn’t move and it took too long to jam my hand in my pocket to pull out what could have only been pennies when I started to see The Warning Signs. Nails’ face puffed up like a big balloon, his sausage-like fingers curled into ham fists as his eye went sharper than tacks as his eyes bore into me. His boots made him look taller and from above with gray thunder clouds in the sky clustered around him giving him an aura of fury that only enhanced my terror.
I did what any sensible little kid would have done in the face of almost certain death.
I had never run so fast in my life! Never before in my short life had I thanked God for gym lessons. As I ran I sang praises to the class I was forced into as I dashed in utter terror, those laps in Gym class were the only thing saving my hide from that long and eternal sleep.
I took as many turns as I could to try and loose Nails, but he seemed less like a rabid pug dog to me and more like a raging bull. I had taken so many turns, in fact, that I didn’t recognize where I had gone and the brevity of my decisions. My eyes caught lights, a house! I turned into the yard just hoping the owner would be there. My adrenaline was making my blood pound in my ears so loud that I barely noticed the sharp pangs of rain that had started to drizzle down since the beginning of the hunt, nor could I hear the crackle of thunder of the blood pounding in my ears. Nary once did I look back at my pursuer for fear that he would gain, unfortunately I remember looking forward was rather hard as well since the rain had begun pouring.
I ran until I reached the house at the end of the street, I ran up and started banging on the door with all my might.
Had I paused, I might have seen the decrepit homesteads nearby. Had I paused I might have seen the sickly overgrown weeds. Had I paused I would have seen the rusted up pieces of metal that junked up the yards.
But I did not pause.
The door swung open knocking me down against the almost rotting wooden porch beneath me as it slammed against the wall. My heart almost went from beating too quickly to not beating at all when my eyes laid upon…
She was even more horrifying up close. Her dark hair was a frizzy rats nest with shocks of lighting white running through it that had been wrangled into a bun. She stood over me with a shotgun with her licorice rain boots as she glared off into the distance
She raised her gun like a soldier preparing to fight the oncoming enemy and fired. I heard a shriek but I didn’t care. I was fearing for my life because I was only a few feet away from Her. This was the first time in my life that I had truly understood the meaning of ‘Out of Frying Pan and Into The Fire’.
I scrambled back on the porch uncaring for the splinter I gathered in my hands. She set down her gun and stared at me with thunder in her eyes.
“Boy…” She hissed.
I trembled but made no motion to move.
“Is your home close, boy?” She barked.
I shook my head vehemently, no words coming out of my mouth. How could they? My mouth felt as if it had been stuffed with chalk and that my jaw had been frozen with permafrost. All I knew was that this was the farthest I’ve been from my house and that I had run too close to Her house. I had left school in the opposite direction. Her eyes went past me into the distant rain and She sighed. “ ‘s starting to rain hard, you better come inside.”
I said nothing. I could only shiver on the porch and not from the cold.
“Well?” She said as She opened the door wider, not exactly in an inviting manner but I scrambled with no intent to be disrespectful to Her. She slammed the door behind me as soon as I got in her house.
“Damned brats…” She muttered under her breath giving me a glare (Looking back on this I realized that she was most likely mad that I was dripping water and bringing mud into her home, I’ve gotten mad over the same thing in my adult years). She stormed past me down the hall as I only looked on in terror.
“Might as well sit down!” I heard Her yell.
I fled to the nearby living room and sat down instantly too terrified to even shake from fear. Oh the things I feared She would do to me! I heard the clanking of metal and screwed my eyes up tight. This was it! This was the grand finale of my life! She was getting a knife or maybe an axe! I couldn’t have been sure how much time had passed as my life passed before my eyes at the time, (All I knew was that it was regrettably shorter than I would have liked as I was only twelve years old). Please God, let my parents find my body! Or better yet, don’t let her kill me!
The sound of a sharp whistle broke me out of my spiraling thoughts of murder and I opened my eyes expecting to see imminent death or the light at the end of the tunnel. I was shocked at the scene in front of me.
She had walked over a stove.
She made a cup of tea. The situation seemed so bizarre and surreal to me, even though She was doing something completely normal, something I had seen my mother do nearly everyday. I stared at Her, unable to connect all I knew of Her and the tea that was set down in front of me.
“How come you didn’t run home?” I jumped out of my trance as She sat on the seat opposite to me looking me over.
“I-I got scared and r-ran.” I wasn’t ashamed to admit and you wouldn’t have been either.
There was a quiet moment, the thunder in her eyes had been replaced with something akin to curiosity and almost amusement? And then she laughed, a cannon boom of one.
“Of him?” She waved a finger at the door. “Harper? That red faced freckled boy?” She slapped Her knee while cackling gleefully. I just stared as my jaw lay on the floor and I was unable to pick it up. She was laughing. She was laughing at Nails! Not only that, She was laughing loudly at Nails! I was sitting in front of the scariest thing in the world cackling like a hen about the second scariest thing in the world. I thought I had lost my mind.
“Harper?” I echoed unsure of my own ears.
She nodded. “Sure, brat comes over to my house and throws rocks at my door, last time I came out with my gun and he wet his pants!”
I laugh at the image to this very day. The thought of my childhood tormentor wetting his pants. It was a feeling of schadenfreude that even the great Nails’ could be brought down.
“Weren’t you ever scared of something?” I asked belligerently, Perhaps I had contracted a cold and lost reason or maybe it was from standing too close to the microwave but I must have gone through a temporary bout of insanity to have forgotten my fear, but I’m glad I did.
She looked at me, and I looked at Her. There was a shining gleam in her eye. “Dogs I suppose.”
(I tried to imagine being scared of a dog at the time, and the only thing I could imagine was the rabid pug face of Nails.)
She nodded with a wistful smile. “Yeah, one of the bastards bit me when I was about your age. Scared me out of my wits.”
“What did you do?”
“Took my Father’s BB gun and shot the next time it ran at me.”
I managed to relax enough to actually look around. Her home was, if not a little barren, clean. No bones lay scattered around on the floor, only wooden planks. It wasn’t darker inside, there was a neat little light on the ceiling that cast off the shadows. I stayed in her parlor until the rain let up. We talked about fears; about dogs and Nails. I asked Her stories about when She was my age. I caught the hands on an old grandfather clock and was amazed at how long I had stayed, and had actually enjoyed my stay.
It was odd walking back home, the empty houses didn’t seem so bad now, just out of the way.
The next time I saw Nails, I could see the shock that I was still alive. Out of habit I lowered my head and couldn’t believe my eyes.
There was a bandage on his leg.
A bandage that meant something had actually hit Nails.
And I knew what.
I didn’t say anything to him, but I looked Nails right in the eye and laughed. That earned me a punch in the face that left a black eye and knocked me down on to the ground.
I knew why he needed that bandage and I knew what happened when She fired her gun.
She nicked Nails’ arm.
I could have sworn that I saw him falter as I laughed wildly from the ground with my forming black eye. I kept right on laughing as he walked away because She was a towering figure in rain boots holding a shotgun. Her dark hair was frizzy with shocks of gray running through it.
And She beat Timothy ‘Nails’ Harper!
She was the number one scariest thing and she didn’t scare me, so why should I be afraid of Timothy Harper?
What a day!