- Friday, October 30, 2009 7:56 AM
- Written By: Andy Wasif
It was a dark and spooky night, a night not unlike this night. The full moon’s luminance was dulled by a fog as thick as Maurice Jones-Drew’s legs. A gnarling wind whipped against the car as I sped down the dark, one-lane, suburban road for home. Such wind I had never experienced before, except maybe from Rush Limbaugh in his incessant rants about why he’s no longer part of an NFL ownership group.
It had gotten late early, a paradox made possible by the simple phenomena of daylight savings time ... though I still maintained that Bud Selig had something to do with it.
I was driving my six-year-old nephew, Harrison, home from an afternoon of off-track betting ... at his insistence. (That little dude’s hooked.)
“We’re almost home, Harrison. And just in time too, so Mommy won’t be mad at us. Did you have fun today?”
“Yes,” he said, before a pensive pause. “Uncle Andy?”
“Yes, Harrison?” I answered cheerily.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, Harrison.” Uh oh, I thought. Is this going to be where babies come from or what mommy and daddy are moaning about after he’s asleep? I’m an uncle. I’m not built for this.
“Do you think they will ever scrap the BCS rankings and install a playoff system weighing teams’ wins to determine seeding?”
Dammit. Tough question. “Your parents are having sex, Harrison.”
Harrison, lost as he looked out the window, turned to me quizzically. I think he was about to say, “Huh?” – or maybe “Oh, I knew that” -- when all of a sudden, we felt and heard a big thud against the car.
We jumped! “It’s okay. It was just a tree branch.”
This was followed by an almost primordial screeching, like nails on a chalkboard.
“Uh, a very large tree branch.”
And then a pop and the unmistakable sound and feel of shredded rubber rolling over the wheel.
“Okay, we ran over a very large tree branch.”
I slowed down and pulled onto the dirt shoulder angling the car off a slight decline leading to a thick-wooded area. To a complete stop now, I exhaled for the first time in two minutes. Silence.
I clicked the hazards and we sat in silence, solved by an intermittent click which seemed to reverberate against a low howling outside. “No problem,” I said, attempting bravado, but achieving nervous trepidation. I took out my Larry Bird figurine from the glove box, put it on the dash board, and started rubbing it for luck. “I’ll just fix the tire. Stay inside.”
Now I knew as much as he did that I had as much luck fixing the tire as a mid-major school has of winning the NCAA championship. He already had unbuckled his belt and grabbed his new Ricky Rubio European carryall to join me.
I walked around to his side and opened his door. We stood and witnessed what looked like an entire tree was growing from the car’s axel. “Yeah, we’re not fixing that,” said Harrison, almost consolingly.
I checked my cell phone. No signal. Seeking to set the boy's mind at ease, I said, “It’s okay though, I know these woods as I know the back of my --- ahhhh! Get it off! Get it off!!!!” I shook my hand violently, too quickly for my other hand to simply remove the cobweb on my right hand.
Finally, I was satisfied the back of my hand was clean. “Ahem. As I was saying -- we'll be home in no time, Harrison,” I said confidently as a little bit of pee trickled out. Just take my hand.
I held his hand to make him feel safe, yet I noticed that he was holding mine to make me feel safe. We walked off the road in the direction I suspected was his house. Through a layer of dense trees, we walked for what seemed like two hours, but it was only 20 seconds. I stopped. "Shhhh! You hear that?” We heard footsteps.
Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, a billy goat scampered by. Harrison held me closer. “It’s just a billy goat, Harrison.” I chuckled. “They’re harmless. Well, unless you believe in superstition, then it’s at least a hundred years of bad luck.”
The trees receded into a clearing highlighting the backyards of two residences. I brightened as I began to recognize our surroundings. “I think I know where we are. There’s the Ortiz house. Be careful if you go trick or treating there. Don’t take anything that’s not factory-wrapped. They’ve been known to hand out spiked protein shakes unknowingly.” I directed his gaze to the neighboring home, a base of stone and marble that was split down the middle, as if by some giant chain saw, segregating it into two houses. “And that one there is the McCourt home. Mrs. McCourt’s away now, but she might be coming back.”
Moving ever slightly on an incline, we reached the crest of the hill past the two abodes. There, rising up without remorse on the horizon was a monstrosity of a home; one that seemed to have no beginning and no end. It had towers and turrets with bay windows, tinted for maximum obscurity, and gargoyles perched, ready to strike, chiseled into the pillars.
We stared for what seemed like an eternity, but actually was an eternity. The house on the hill loomed above us. Then it dawned on me. “Oh,” I said, “that’s Antoine Walker’s house. At least, it used to be. It hasn’t been occupied since the bank took it. But if you listen closely, you can hear the ghoulish sound of him splitting aces at the blackjack table. D-did you want to get a closer look?” I stuttered.
“No,” Harrison said succinctly.
“Thank you.” I’ve known the inquisitive nature of a child ever since I accidentally went airborne in my father’s hot air balloon experiment fortunate to land safely, without any damage, in my family’s attic. Harrison was much smarter than I was.
We walked past the house and a few moments later came to this stone fence, decrepit, yet perfectly preserved. A ray of light reflected off the fog to illuminate the sign arched above. It read “Paul Allen Cemetery.”
The night was still now ... too still. “Oh, it’s a sports graveyard. I didn’t know this was here. He must've moved it. It used to be in a busier area."
“A graveyard?” Harrison’s eyes got wide and he shuffled his feet backyard ever so slowly.
“Oh, well, it’s safe. We’re not afraid of a little grave—”
“H-h-h-hooo!” came the sound from the darkness.
“What was that?!” Harrison was on full alert.
“It’s okay, Harrison. It’s just Eric Mangini pondering which quarterback he should start.”
"Uncle Andy, I’m scared,” Harrison said to me, though my attention had been captured by a large structure 20 feet inside the gate. I moved closer, tugging my nephew into my hip.
“Well, would you look at this?" The structure was a tombstone. “It's the gravesite of Pacman Jones’ career.”
Trying to remain calm, Harrison asked, “What’s this open one next to it?”
I leaned closer. It said, “Reserved for JaMarcus Russell.”
“Oh.” A sharp, loud chime pierced the night air. We jumped and held each other closer. A beat. Then silence. Harrison looked up at me. “Was that your cell phone?”
I relaxed. “Yes, I think it was.” I scrambled into my pocket for the device. “We must have a signal up here. Maybe it’s a message from your mother.” I looked. “No, it’s just a Tweet from Ochocinco. He says he’s going to do something wacky upon scoring his next touchdown.” Gee, that's helpful. “This is good though. We can try to call your mom.” I pushed some buttons, and held the phone up to listen. The phone had gone dead.
As this realization washed over us, we saw a creature silhouetted in our periphery. Harrison attached himself to my leg. “Uncle Andy, IT’S A WOLFMAN!”
I spun around to see. “No, no, it’s just Pau Gasol. He’s letting his beard grow again.”
Harrison started to cry. “I want to go home!”
“Okay, let’s go.” We started to run. “I’m pretty sure your street is on the other side of that fence.”
As the moon peeked out from the clouds again, more creatures began to appear from behind other tombs. “Brains! Brains!” they mumbled, as they shuffled toward us in unison. Zombies!
Well, not exactly zombies. “Oh, no, it’s the umpiring crews from the baseball playoffs. We don’t want to be near them! Run, boy, run!” He was betrayed by his short stature. I almost dragged him, til I decided to just pick him up and tuck him under my arm.
We were able to put some distance between us and the maligned umps, and then we saw it. Galloping toward us and closing fast was a headless body wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey.
“Uncle Andy, look out!”
“It’s the headless safety William Gay. Legend has it,” I explained as I hauled ass, “that he once tried to tackle Adrian Peterson, but was bowled over, his head being knocked from his body in the process. He roams these grounds looking for someone he can tackle. Well, it sure as hell ain’t gonna be us,” I said as I picked up speed.
Gay positioned himself between us and the fence. I made sure to protect my nephew from being stripped and lowered by shoulder. Upon impact, Gay went down.
We’d reached the fence. The umpires were still coming. “Uncle Andy, hurry!”
I hoisted my nephew up to the top of the fence. “Hold on!” I jumped to the top of the fence and was about to pull myself over when I felt a tug at my foot. The umpires had reached me. I kicked one of them away. Then another hand reached out and another. I kicked as violently as I could. I clocked one in the head – I think it was CB Bucknor – who fell against the others like bowling pins. It gave me the opportunity I needed to spring myself over the fence, reach up, grab my nephew and keep running to pay dirt.
On the door step of his house, Harrison and I shared a uncle/nephew bonding moment. I cried at his coming of age, but mainly because I’d never been so frightened in all my life. “We’re safe,” I said as I rang the doorbell. “Nothing that terrifying will ever happen to us again.”
His mother opened the door. “Oh, Harrison, I was getting worried. Let’s get you some dinner. And you’re missing your favorite sport on television.”
“Oh? Who’s playing?” he asked.
“The Yankees are in the World Series again,” she answered with no judgment.
We turned to look at each other. “Noooooooo!”
I cried for what seemed to be 20 minutes, but in actuality, it was 14 minutes and 10 seconds.
Happy Halloween, everybody!