Things that go SPLAT in the Night

The clicking of the sprinkler heads in the neighbor’s yard caught my attention while I was supervising the dogs on their pre-bedtime elimination break earlier, and brought me, momentarily, back to being five or six, and being completely content with an afternoon of dashing through the sprinkler in my grandparent’s suburban New Jersey back yard, risking rose-thorns in my tender feet for a few minutes of refreshing coolness. Ususally this was on the days when we didn’t go to the beach, for one reason or another, but it never seemed like the lesser choice. That I was splattered by an errant sprinkler on the way to lunch today probably helped the memory to surface, but it’s a happy one, so it’s all good.

Back inside, sitting crosslegged on my bed, with my laptop propped on two pillows, and a dog sleeping on either side of me (and the unspoken threat that I’d better not THINK of moving) I spent a quiet hour catching up on other people’s blogs, including WWdN in exile. As much as I enjoy Wil Wheaton’s writing, he has this tendency to post things that are lurking in MY brain, which drives me crazy. Recently, for example, he posted about a childhood afternoon spent watching Poltergeist in the hope that seeing a scary movie in broad daylight would reduce the impact on an over-imaginative brain.

Tonight, those afore-mentioned sprinkler heads were sending my mind down similar tracks, a route travelled several times over the last couple days, as summer as truly descended and the air has thickened, and partly inspired by my friend Alisa including me in a mailing of a net-quiz that determines how New Jersey one happens to be (I scored 99%, which isn’t bad for someone who hasn’t been back in over six years). I wasn’t so much thinking about watching horror movies, though, as making them.

Summers, when I was a kid, meant making really bad Super 8 movies using my grandfather’s camera. My cousin Cathy was chief cinematographer and co-writer, mainly because, at fifteen, she was tall enough to reach the cabinet where the camera was stored. I helped write, as well, and served as resident ingenue. Her brother, KJ, heckled, mainly, but sometimes he helped. He was seventeen, and caught between childhood and adulthood, and liked to pretend to be a mafia thug, just to scare us. (He wasn’t, of course, but we were kids.) I’d seen the original black and white version of Frankenstein that summer, and that, partnered with a latenight radio rendition of Bill Cosby’s “Chicken Heart” story, had put a fear of the darkness, and a love of horror movies, into the deepest part of my brain.

I slept with the closet light on, and my hands fisted into the covers the entire summer I was eight, because of my own imagination, but a few years later, at fourteen, I embraced the darkness. I fell in love with vampires, learned to scream more effectively than Linnea Quigley, and developed the PERFECT recipe for stage blood (the secret is to use karo syrup and red food coloring as a base, add a touch of baby powder, to make it opaque, and then mix in the merest hint of green food coloring, because it looks more visceral when it’s not candy-apple red). I devoured issues of Fangoria and learned exactly when to start the tape of A Nightmare on Elm Street at slumber parties, so that the last half hour would play in real time. (It’s scarier that way. Trust me.)

Years after that, on a rainy evening in San Francisco, my best friend H. confessed that she really wanted to design a line of costumes for strippers, and I admitted that I wanted to write the ultimate vampire novel, or go to film school. Six months later, I’d realized I don’t function well in institutional educational facilities, and gone to work for my mother, but I think she really DID make clothes for strippers.

I still love horror films, though, and I still have an overactive imagination, to the point where I didn’t sleep for a week after watching Ringu (and even just typing it made me shiver), and I still flirt with writing that vampire novel. Sort of. It’s changed into something about mermaids, sharks, blood and the sea over the years…

But that’s another entry, for another night.
And tonight, I’m going to sleep with the sound of sprinklers merging with the half-remembered sound of a super 8 camera in my head.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Things that go SPLAT in the Night by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Things that go SPLAT in the Night

  1. Dude…you should write a story about Snape as a vampire :-)

    I loved this entry, it was so evocative of so many things for me.

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