Scared Stiff


The young boy was frozen with fear, the sheet mostly covering his face as he lay still in the twin bed, afraid to make even the slightest movement that might reveal the fact that he was only pretending to be asleep. Just coming out of an early morning deep sleep cycle as the bright Block Island sun streamed through the bedroom window, he had come fully awake at the creak of the bedroom door as the mutilated killer had pushed it partially open to peer into the room.  He knew the intruder must be looking at him and his older brother, still asleep in the other bed across the room, watching for any signs of movement and deciding who to attack first.   The boy didn’t understand how the killer, one of his legs no more than a mangled bloody stump, had managed to steal so silently into the house.

He lay as still as possible, taking shallow, silent breaths. He knew that his father had gone out before dawn for some surf-casting down at Black Rock or over on west-side beach, and should be coming home soon.  If he could just stay still and silent long enough for his father to get back to the house, everything would be OK!  It must have been a half hour, an hour, he had no way to tell.  After an impossibly long time, at last he heard the old Volkswagen bus pull up outside and the sounds of his father opening the door and entering the house.  He heard his mother come downstairs into the kitchen, accompanied by the familiar sounds of morning bustling about and parents talking quietly.  Finally able to overcome his last trace of fear, he let himself move, shrugging off the protective bed sheet and turning to see that there was nobody there watching after all.  It had just been a creaky door in an old house, moved a few inches by the warm morning breeze through an open window……

I was that young boy and was eight years old as that August day in 1970 began. I remember the morning very well.  I was scared stiff and afraid even to move lest the killer be upon me!  I knew that horrible one-legged monster was watching me, at least until my father came home from fishing anyway.    That’s what I get for sitting up late the night before, listening to all the older kids telling spooky stories.


Staying on Coast Guard Road, we were just a short walk from the historic island cemetery, and we used to scare ourselves by walking through and pretending to hear spooky sounds coming up from the ancient graves below. I remember distinctly that the night before I woke up with the killer in my bedroom, we had walked through the cemetery before gathering in a circle on the lawn of our rental house to tell ghost stories.  I can still picture us, maybe six or seven kids, sitting there on the lawn.  I don’t remember any sort of bonfire but that could have happened.  Bonfires did happen on the island.  We told variations of the same stories that I think kids still tell each other today.  The young couple making out on a lonely road hears a radio bulletin about an escaped killer with a hook arm.  They think they hear something outside the car and drive away quickly, later to find the killer’s traumatically detached hook dangling from the car door handle.  Then there was the story (details are foggy now), about the man who lost a leg in a terrible car accident and set out to get revenge on the world by stalking and killing innocent people.  His victims heard his relentless approach as he shuffled along with his one leg-stump plopping down with each step – “swish-plop… swish-plop….swish-plop”.   And plenty of variations of those and similar stories.  That swish-plop guy always scared me the most and in fact he was the killer that was hunting me on that early morning in 1970.  It still creeps me out a bit today, in my early fifties – not because I’m really scared of him, but because I can still easily recall the fear of that 8-year old boy that was me.

(The preceding is an excerpt from a larger project that I have underway.)


The Working Stiff

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