In Which HP Lovecraft, a Baseball Bat and a Balloon All Work in Tandem to Ruin My Night.
When I was a kid, HP Lovecraft was one of my favorite writers. The universe that he peopled with ghouls, monsters, Old Ones and amorphous unnamed entities appealed to my imagination until I was well into my twenties. Stories like The Lurking Fear, The Dunwich Horror, and Pickman's Model--classic Lovecraftian tales--kept me sleepless through many nights during my teen-age years.
Somehow over the years I read less and less of his material, even though I had plenty of it in my library. I began to see why he was criticized for his overly dramatic, antiquated writing style. As I got older, his rather wimpy, faint-at-the-drop-of-a-hat heroes began to appear ridiculous. Lovecraft gave way to Stephen King, John Saul and Clive Barker. His books wound up in a corner of my library, forgotten and unread.
I decided not long ago to re-read some of Lovecraft's stories, so one night recently I was in bed with a copy of The Lurking Fear and Other Stories. The only light on was the little night light by my bed-side, and I was deeply engrossed in The Outsider, a superb horror story and one of Lovecrafts best.
BUMPbumpbump. I sat up in bed, heart pounding.
"What the heck was that?"
My wife turned her bedside light on. "It sounded like someone slapping our window."
"You've got to be kidding." I looked at my bedside clock and groaned. 11:30. I heaved myself out of bed and peered out our bedroom window.
"I don't see anything. Guess I'd better go outside and take a look." An incredible number of transients, drifters and drug addicts hang out in the alley-way behind our house, so I took this rather seriously. It might be a tap on the window this time, and it might be a brick through the window next time. I put on a pair of jogging shorts and a tank top, what they call a "wife beater" and looked at myself in the mirror. Wow. A hulking Santa in a strap shirt. Now that'll scare off those naughty prowlers.
I walked out our front door, and looked around. Quiet. Nothing moving anywhere. I heard the distant roar of a car engine, and suddenly some guy screetched to a stop at the red light in front of our house, his car stereo blamming out so loudly I could feel my tooth fillings rattling. Typical in this neighborhood for 11:30 at night. As Mr. Ear-Splitting Music peeled out like a pee-wee Dale Ernhardt, I walked back to the porch, where my 10 year old daughter Mary had joined my wife .
"Is everything ok, daddy?" she asked anxiously. Mary is a worrier and I wanted to put her at ease.
"Everything's fine, sweetie. Go on back to bed."
She wound up climbing into bed with us, and 5 minutes later found me reading Lovecraft again while my wife and Mary snuggled. Ah, the protagonist is now looking into a mirror and receiving a rather nasty surprise&
BumpBUMP. A slap at the window again.
OK, that does it. I jumped out of bed and back into my shorts and wife-beater. "Where's the baseball bat?"
"Basil, don't over-react. Just let it go" said my wife. She shook her head. "Maybe they won't come back."
I looked at my daughter's tense, worried face. "Nope, I'm gonna do something about this." I groped for the baseball bat, one of those aluminum ones that could put a serious crease in the head of any skulking window-slapper. I started out the door, bat over my shoulder, like some demented Santa Claus with mayhem on his mind.
As I walked out my front porch and down the steps leading to the street, I noticed two cars parked in the parking lot across from and just past our house. When they saw me striding out of my house with a baseball bat at the ready they probably thought some insane over-the-hill wrestler was coming after them. Those folks hauled ass out of there like they were answering a 4-alarm fire. I watched their tail-light recede in the distance, and a moment later they were gone.
I looked up and down the deserted street. Nothing anywhere. I walked over to the duplex next door to see one of the neighbors, one I'd just met recently, and tapped on his door. He opened his door slightly and peered out at me.
"Hi, I'm your next-door neighbor. Have you seen a prowler around here?"
I guess he thought I was trying to pass myself off as the guy living in the apartment next to him. His eyes drifted over me, taking in the surly expression, the wife beater shirt, the wild-man hair and they clicked to a stop on the baseball bat slung over my shoulder. "Man, you are NOT my neighbor."
I gestured down the street. "I live right over there. Remember me? We met the other day&? Somebody's been whacking on my front window."
"Oh, yeah." His face brightened in recognition. He opened the door. "Prowlers, huh? Just a sec. Lemme get something."
He came back a moment later with a police billy-club in his hand. "If I have to use this, we'll never need your bat." He tapped his palm with it. "You can crack a head open with one of these things."
We walked up and down the street, talking about the flasher spotted recently in our neighborhood. Flashers and drunks. That's life in good ole' Smalltown, America. Another guy from the neighborhood, Carlos, saw us walking around and joined us, eager to pound the bejesus out of some lurking prowler. Our little group of vigilantes walked round the houses looking for our window-slapper and chatting like kids at a prom dance. We poked in the bushes and searched every dark corner on our block. Nothing. We met back in front of my house, and were talking about calling the cops, when my spouse walked onto the porch, a balloon trailing behind her. "Basil, it was a balloon."
"It was a balloon floating on the ceiling. When it bumps into the ceiling fan, it sounds like somebody trying to break in."
Terrific. I roused the whole neighborhood for a balloon. I looked around. Carlos cleared his throat and peered down the street. Matt studied the end of his billyclub carefully, lips pursed. My wife and daughter stood grinning on the porch. What the heck. I apologized profusely to everyone, went inside, and stood outside my bedroom door, knowing I was in for it. I sighed. Might as well get it over with. I opened the door.
My wife was lying in bed, her night light on, the damned balloon tied to it. Our daughter was lying next to her, and they were both grinning up at me like a couple of possums chewing on candy.
I ignored them both, lay down with my back to them, switched on my reading light and started back on Lovecraft.
I sighed. Oh, well. Here it comes. "What?"
"Will you protect us from the balloon burglars?" I didn't answer.
"Daddy, I saw a plastic bag on the front porch. I'm scared." They were both sniggering by now.
My wife chimed in. "Mary, if you have to write a paragraph in class tomorrow, you have a great topic. Write about how your daddy defended us from the Horrible Birthday Balloon. Tell everybody in class that the world's a safer place now, thanks to daddy."
I stood up and with as much dignity as I could muster said "I'm going to sleep on the couch. You can stay in here and tell jokes to each other all night." They burst out laughing as I trudged silently off to the living room. I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning as Lovecraftian images and black birthday balloons haunted my dreams. Maybe I'll read some lighter fare for a whileStephen King, perhaps, or Edgar Allen Poe. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones will have to wait for a while.