Before I was a writer, I was a reader and the VERY BEST thing for me as a boy was MAD MAGAZINE. I was fortunate to have a mom who had one rule about room cleaning and that was "If your door is shut, I don't care how you keep it!" That meant Mom never ventured in to throw away my Hot Rod Cards or Mad Magazines, which are now stored safely in my basement. In 1974 I had the Mad Magazine (pictured here) which began my quest; To see the movie it parodied. Being a Catholic boy, there was something very, very dangerous and delicious about pondering the evil potential within the story. I was SO scared of it, it was like a single lamp in the backyard that draws and destroys the moth who continually bangs against it. I HAD TO SEE IT! But Mom said "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" For you younger readers, please bear in mind that at this time our black and white television showed four channels and a test pattern of an Indian in a head dress. The point I was trying to make was that this was a much more innocent time, when there were NO slasher movies on tv, just the black and white Creature Features with The Werewolf, Dracula and The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. I have always loved scary stories and for some reason because October is the month of Halloween, I always watch scary movies during the month and read a book that is in the Horror genre.

So last night, after the lights were out in my house and everyone was in bed except me, I sneaked into my office and watched THE SCARIEST movie I have ever seen. It pulled me back to the year 1975, the year I was born. Ahem... okay, not exactly, but a year that would lodge itself in my memories because of ONE fateful night, and ONE fateful movie and ONE fateful error in judgment. It all came flooding back to me last night in such a real way that I literally know what it feels like to have the hair stand on end on the back of your neck.

First; the MORAL OF THE STORY - MOM IS ALWAYS RIGHT! The way to live a better, saner, fuller life - LISTEN TO MOM!
In 1975 I was a boy emerging into the decade of impending teenagedom. My parents were fairly, to be honest, really liberal and a bit lax in their parenting skills. Both were college professors and somehow the space they gave their students translated to the way they parented.

However, I must say it was an easier time. We ran in packs and no one messes with a pack of kids, especially in a then country neighborhood! No one was worried about a kid barely in
his double digits staying out 'till two in the morning on a hot, summer night because everyone slept in their backyards (kids anyway)in the summer. There were a few rules of course: NO LAKE OR POND after dark (unless there were at least five of you together). No crossing the highway after dark! Stay off the railroad track after dark. SOMEHOW everything cool happened after dark and I wasn't supposed to have any of the fun.
I was sitting up in my tree house with a couple of my pals and down below us there were some teenagers
(they didn't know we were up there.) They were smoking cigarettes and talking in loud whispers about how terrifying the movie they had seen the night before was. Blow by blow they talked about The Exorcist, which to that point I only knew about through the view of Mad Magazine. They talked about the scenes everyone who ever saw that movie has been unable to erase from their minds.

When the three teens jumped in their hot rod Mustang with a "Let's go see it again!" Me and my two buddies made a pact.
We were going to go see it. We made a plan which would require us to break SO many rules. We knew our Moms would NEVER let us see the movie and that we would be grounded FOREVER if we walked down the highway at night, so we made an alternate plan, which would end up breaking even more rules.

The next night we would each tell our moms that we were sleeping in the other's backyard tent (FIRST BROKEN RULE, LYING). Then right before dark, since The Exorcist was the second feature and we didn't want to be spotted in daylight, we would head down the railroad track (SECOND BROKEN RULE, RAILROAD TRACK AND DARK)which would take us the three miles to the outdoor Drive-In Theater past a lake and a pond (THIRD BROKEN RULE, AFTER DARK BODY OF WATER) and then we would have to cross the highway (FOURTH BROKEN RULE, CROSSING THE HIGHWAY AT NIGHT) to sneak into the drive-in theater (FIFTH BROKEN RULE, STEALING BY NOT PAYING TO GET IN) Where we'd stand out in the middle of the gravel lot, next to the speakers and watch the forbidden movie (SIXTH BROKEN RULE, DIRECTLY IGNORING A SPECIFIC RULE MOM SET DOWN) We'd all been there before with our respective parents, but this time we were hoofin' it!

At the last minute one of my buddies chickened out and so it was only going to be the two of us. Me and a kid we called PeePot
because of his propensity to wait too long to go to the bathroom and then frequently wet his pants (not exactly a guy you wanted spending the night in your tent). Both of us wanted desperately to beg off the dare, but neither wanted to lose face. So we stuffed our pockets with candy for the movie and headed out.

It took us forever to walk down that dark railroad track. The only time there was light to keep us from tripping on almost every railroad tie was the time the train came, sending us both hurdling down the incline, getting a bit scratched up from our overreaction. It seemed with every step it got darker as we ventured further out into the middle of nowhere.

Where was the moon? All I remember is with every passing half mile the terror began to grow to the point where neither of us spoke, because we couldn't. We both had FICM, fear-induced-cotton-mouth and we weren't even there yet. Just when I thought I would panic I realized we were where we needed to turn up a gravel road running directly into the old outdoor movie theater.

Even though not technically a highway, several cars came over hills catching us like 'deer in the headlights' and we would hear voices yelling at us to "GET OUT OF THE ROAD, STUPID!" and stuff like that. We began to jog and I swear I could hear something sloshing when Pee-Pot was running next to me. We both breathed a huge sigh of relief as we secreted our way across the highway and then slipped under the fence, finding our way to an empty spot where the speakers hung on the post. We stood far enough away from cars that no one should notice two kids standing at the DRIVE-in.

And then it happened, the credits rolled and suddenly we were in ancient Iraq at an archeological dig. "WHAT GIVES? THIS IS LIKE A NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MO
VIE?" I complained loudly, but secretly a bit relieved that this wasn't going to be quite as terrifying as I had thought.

Soon enough young Regan's head was spinning like a top and floating around her room with the scariest face I had ever seen. She was using phrases I didn't understand and language that would earn me a bar of Lava in the kisser if I ever repeated any of them (mom wasn't too liberal about that one.) By the end of the movie I wasn't sure if Pee-Pot was the only one who would have that nickname from that night on. I WAS T E R R I F I E D! Pee-Pot's eyes were so wide I thought he would
never blink again. I was sure the whole place was going to go up in smoke for showing such a movie.

I have never been that scared in my life and we had three miles of dark road ahead of me and by now it was well after midnight. We somehow hadn't counted on the three mile trek back in the now terrifying, "possessed" night darkness when we made the decision to go see the scariest movie ever made.

EVERY twig that snapped or coyote that howled convinced me with every step that I was becoming possessed like poor Regan. Pee-Pot completely lost the ability to speak and even though it was too dark to see his face, I was sure he was crying most of the way home.

I had never noticed how comforting the streetlight across the road from my house was at night, but seeing it as we crested the hill was like a beacon leading me home. Neither Pee-Pot nor I said a word, we both just knew there was NO sleeping in our tents that short night (by now it was around three in the morning).

I sneaked up the metal ladder that was below my window, against the house and pulled the screen off and squeezed my way in. I slipped down into my bed and pushed myself deep down under a cover in my bed, even though it was a hot summer night, I needed to be cocooned. Suddenly my bed felt like it was moving and I was sure I was about to begin floating.

I lay there wide awake, unable to close my eyes as they darted to and fro wondering when my dresser was going to scoot across the floor and pin me against the wall. I was totally terrified until the sun came up. It was the first night in my life I had stayed up ALL night. Though it was comforting to see the sun come up on the darkest night of my life, somehow I knew night would be sneaking up on me again too soon.

The worst part of my disobedience was that I couldn't tell anyone that I was so scared or why. I had to suffer night terrors for about a month before the raw, scary emotional response to seeing something I was WAY too young to see with not parental comfort began to subside.

I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life that night about listening to people who know a bit more about things than I do. I also decided that for the meantime, the parodies of adult movies in Mad Magazine were more my style and didn't feel compelled to go see something that I couldn't handle. If Mom said "NO!", then that was an answer. I would listen to more.

I confessed to the activities of that dark and scary night when I was in high school when enough time had passed and we could all "laugh about it". Mom told me Pee Pot had ratted me out back then because he was so scared he had slept with his parents for about six months. When I asked her why she hadn't confronted me about it back then, she said something like, "Are you kidding me? You were the most compliant, helpful, obedient kid for the next month that I'd ever seen and I could see you were punishing yourself enough. I didn't have the heart to do more." 

I said it before and I will say it again: The MORAL OF THE STORY - MOM IS ALWAYS RIGHT! The way to live a better, saner, fuller life - LISTEN TO MOM!

I had all but forgotten this horrific chapter in my early life until I once again watched The Exorcist all these years later and it all came back to me. I literally remember exactly how I felt the first time I dipped my toe into terrifying story telling. Though I am mature enough now to handle the terror and have a clear understand that it is simply a story of God winning, it is not like the cotton candy of my youth, which the last time I was at an amusement park made me wonder how I at one time in my life considered it one of my top five favorite foods. No, The Exorcist has remained horrifying and good storytelling to this day. I asked the question of my friends on facebook, What is the scariest movie you have ever seen and 40%+ named this movie.

Nothing since has come close, though the fear I felt at two in the morning not that long ago, after returning from seeing the Midnight Movie showing of The Ring with a buddy set me up a bit. Once I entered my dark, cold house and my phone started ringing that old fear gripped me hard until I looked out the window and saw my buddy gripping his cell phone and laughing hard at what must have been a white face with too-wide eyes. I haven't gotten him back for that one yet, but I will... BOOHAHAHAHA...

Now all these years later, I write stories and have been working on a scary one for years titled THE MAN IN THE WOODS, which I won't release until I am sure it holds the same terror for the reader that this movie held for me once.

But, generally, in my GP series, something from real life sparks my inspiration for my character's activities. This real life incident I have just told (in a too long for blog story, nod with me now) will surely show up in book 5 or 6 as something either Gabe and his friends do or something their older brothers do. Either way, it will have a similar backfire effect.

As a Catholic schoolboy I knew Thou Shalt Obey Your Mother and Father was one of the big TEN. Believe me after that experience I did a bit more obeying for a long, long time!

Still, I wish I could head out tonight to the Drive-In, but alas, it seems for the most part, they are gone from the landscape of our modern world.