There are rare occasional occasions in my house when No. 5 son (age 11) needs to be home on his own. He’s been agitating for that “right” already for years, saying “I can handle it!” and “I’ll be fine!”
Now he feels completely the opposite. And I can pin it to a very specific date; it all started Dec. 30 when we arrived back home late in the evening returning from Indiana, where we celebrated the holidays with my mom, my siblings and a couple nephews.
You see, No. 5 spent the entire 11-1/2 hour mini-van ride home relentlessly reading a book given to him by my big sister: “UNEXPLAINED! Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena.” It’s chock full o’ stories about UFOs, mermaids and mermen, and the possibility that pterodactyls still exist. It was written by a guy named Jerome Clark, who included in the book one of those fairly lengthy bios that guys who write about UFOs, mermaids and mermen, and the possibility that pterodactyls still exist always seem to have (including mentions of awards and recognition from science-y sounding organizations).
(In fact, Clark was honored by The Society for Scientific Exploration with its “Dinsdale Award,” which Clark is probably really super-proud of, but which makes me laugh out loud, because it brings to mind the classic Monty Python sketch about the Piranha Brothers (Doug and Dinsdale) which spent a good bit of time discussing Dinsdale’s fear of a giant hedgehog named Spiny Norman, which would roam the streets of London calling, over and over and over “Dinsdale?” “Dinsdale?”
Anyway, I hope none of this was lost on Jerome Clark when he won the award. But come to think of it, it must have made no impression on him, because after all, his “UNEXPLAINED!” book has no mention whatsoever of the possible ACTUAL existence of Spiny Norman.
But there’s plenty of speculation about long-necked serpents living in lakes, hairy ape men roaming the Indiana woods, and alien encounters. Speaking of which, there’s a chapter entitled “Stuart’s Monsters,” about a guy from New Zealand named John Stuart, which I’ve sometimes been called when people don’t hear my name right. In the early 1950s, Stuart has a number of encounters with a “ghastly alien,” which I’ve also been called when people don’t hear my name right. Anyway, the hideous being is eight feet tall, with a large, bulbous head, red eyes and grayish, sinkingly putrid flesh. Slack mouth dribbling, horrible lips ... oops, sorry, got a little too engrossed in the gross parts.
And that’s apparently what happened to No. 5 son as he read this book for 11-1/2 hours. He seems to have taken a bit too much of it to heart, because Jerome Clark, bless his Dinsdale award-winning little head, pretty much offers up tales like “Stuart’s Monsters” without much disbelief.
Thus, No. 5 isn’t quite so sure that being home alone is all that wonderful after all. I thumbed through the book with him a bit, focusing on the bits about UFOs, mermaids and mermen, and the possibility that pterodactyls still exist.
Turns out he’s not afraid of these. The bigger concern is that he’ll meet the same fate as Oliver Larch, an 11-year-old boy from near South Bend, Ind., who, in 1889 or 1890, was sent out one night to fetch water from the well. It was a clear night, with ample snow on the ground. Moments after Oliver leaves the house, the inhabitants inside hear blood-curdling screams! Cries of “It’s got me!” They rush out to find the cries coming from ... the sky! And Oliver’s footprints in the snow ... have simply stopped. Oliver is never seen again.
I rifled through the book to read this for myself, hopeful that Jerome Clark debunked it a little bit, and ready to rip it out and toss it in the trash. But it turns out the story wasn’t even in the book; my big brother had told No. 5 this tale, which came from a “Strange But True” book my brother had read when HE was a kid.
I was ready to pick up the phone and give my brother a bunch of grief about it when I realized I too, had read that story when I was a kid, and (like my own son) had half-believed it. But honestly, who wouldn’t? That book had been written by a guy named Norman Spiny!