In case you hadn't noticed, it's not Halloween (if I wanted to be proper, I'd spell it Hallowe'en, but I'm more interested in being irritating than proper, so Halloween it is). Nonetheless, I think the time is right to whip out a creepy story. Really, isn't it even more creepy and surprising when I roll it out in March? No? Well, just play along. Humor me, and nobody gets hurt.Mine was a bookish family, and we would actually buy books for fun. I feel I can trust you all enough to share the frank reality of our collective dorktivity. Sure, there was plenty of fiction in the mix - my mom really dug her historical romances, which were not bodice rippers, man - but my brother Timmy was always fascinated with facts and true tales. Timmy was responsible for many copies of Guiness Book of World Records and Ripley's Believe it or Not about the house. Thus did we come to be in possession of a Reader's Digest book about strange, unexplained phenomena. I think the book was called Amazing Mysteries or Unsolved Mysteries, or some such. I couldn't find it with a Web search, so I'll just let that detail go. (see update at the end of the post)There were lots of other stories in that book, but I couldn't tell you anything else that was between those covers except for the strange and chilling tale of Spring Heeled Jack. That was the chapter I would come back to over and over again. For those unfamiliar with the story, Spring Heeled Jack was a menacing, demonic, jumping figure that was reportedly sighted on numerous occasions throughout England between 1837 and 1904. Described as tall, vaguely devilish, dressed in a cape and helmet, with metal claws, glowing eyes, and the ability to spit flames, Jack would leap out from the shadows and take passersby unaware. He attacked and molested several women, and terrified men and women alike with his sudden appearance and just as spectacular disappearance, all involving his jumping heights that an unassisted human could not.It's widely speculated that this was the invention of a nobleman with a bizarre sense of humor and a low opinion of women, and that the jumping was accomplished with the aid of "spring shoes" (although no one has yet been able to duplicate anything like it that would actually work). It didn't matter, though; I was totally hooked on the story, and it's no exaggeration to say I looked at that book every day for a long, long time. And it was all safe and good. Demons don't really walk, or jump around, the earth, do they? Logically, this had to be a prankster with deep pockets and engineering skills. And in the daytime, I could read this story over and over again, all brave-like, analyze it all to hell, and wonder cavalierly why someone didn't just take a big stick and swat him out of the air, then douse him with water. Silly Victorians!I mean, really. In the light of day, is this scary?Stop or I'll dazzle you with my tight slacks!Ah, but the night time is different. All things are possible at night. Especially scary, creepy things.Once the sun went down, and I was outside, or even if I had to walk through a dark room in the house, my certainty that Spring Heeled Jack was waiting around the corner to pounce on me went up like blood pressure in rush hour. I could tell myself a million times "That's stupid. There is no Spring Heeled Jack. I'm fine." And I'd still jump as high as Jack himself if I heard an unexpected noise in the dark.Peeing in the middle of the night? Well, that was out of the question. I'd have to get out of bed, in a dark bedroom, walk down the stairs, in a dark hallway, walk through a dark kitchen and dining room, and then make my way into a dark bathroom with cold, crooked tiles on the floor. Then, once I'd drained my frightened little bladder, I'd have to do it all again in reverse. No way was I gonna give Jack that much opportunity to spring out of nowhere and likely scare me to death before his claws even touched me. Walking home from friends' houses after dark? It was to be avoided, but if I fucked up and stayed past sundown, my walk home would be more of a freaked-out trot, accompanied by much craning of the neck this-a-way and that-a-way.I was even more disturbed by the whole thing when I read that in the years following Jack's most spectacular attacks, parents would warn their children that if they didn't behave, Spring-Heeled Jack would jump up and peer in their bedroom windows at night.AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!As if it wasn't bad enough to grow up in a haunted house, I now had the completely unfounded fear that some demon-man with glowing eyes and flames shooting from his mouth would jump up and stare through my window while I slept. The thought of any face peering through any
window at night was enough to send me into severe sphincter spams as a kid; the thought of a devil face leering at me through my second-story bedroom window was enough to make me lose control of every shred of dignity my bowel control afforded me.I don't know when my Jack terrors subsided; I would imagine that I finally just stopped reading the damn book every day, and slowly but surely, my obsession faded to the point where I wouldn't automatically think of the jumping firebreather every time I went outside. Didn't think of it for years, in fact.Recently, I saw something on TV that reminded me of Spring Heeled Jack, and all the time I'd spent as a kid being all freaked out by the story. I laughed heartily at my childish foolishness, at being frightened of what was obviously a person in a costume acting like an asshole. Isn't it nice to have some distance from our unfounded childhood paranoia? What a silly child I was. Then I realized it was nearly bedtime, and I hadn't gotten the mail. So I got up, walked out the door and down the porch steps into the night...And damned if I didn't flinch when I came past the side of the house. Because, you know, that's totally where Spring Heeled Jack would hide.God, I'm an idiot.Really, now - did you think you'd get through this whole post without at least one gratuitous schlong?
UPDATE: Many thanks to Evil Uncle Dave (suuuuper genius) for having more brain cells than I do and coming up with the very book in question!