It’s Halloween eve. The night is delightfully crisp, with a bright, low-lying moon. The thrill of anticipation can be felt in the air. The autumn leaves blow with a scritch-scratch along the pavement outside, accompanied by a moderate wind that chases them playfully into every corner and crevice, around trees, and across windows throughout the neighborhood.
Inside, the family has just finished dinner. Though the chill fingers of the outdoor wind seem determined to gain entry into the cozy confines of the warmly lit home, the house is sturdily built and well insulated. Warmth and family closeness, along with bellies full of hearty good food, gives everyone a sense of sheltered well-being and comfortable contentment.
There is one thing unusual about tonight, though. Mom’s dad, known to the kids as Poppy, is spending the night away from the nursing home with them. He’d never miss out on an opportunity to spend time with the grandkids, help prepare the Halloween doo dahs, and hand out candy to the neighborhood children.
With nothing particularly pressing to do after dinner, Poppy seizes the opportunity to tell one of his stories to the kids. “Come on outside and sit with me for a few minutes,” Poppy says. The three children run to grab their jackets with excited looks on their faces. They love Poppy’s stories.
Stacie, their mom, turns from the sink where she is rinsing the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. “Now, don’t you tell them anything scary,” she says. “I don’t want to have to deal with nightmares tonight.”
“Of course not,” Poppy says as they head outside.
Stepping outside, they are greeted by the sweet smell of wood smoke. Poppy takes a deep breath to savor the pleasing aroma. “There’s nothing like the smell of wood-burning fireplaces on a chilly night,” he says.
The house has an old-fashioned wrap-around porch. Poppy leads the kids to the right side of the house where there is a swing large enough for all three children to sit in while he tells his story. Best of all, Stacie won’t hear him tell the story from here.
As Poppy sits across from them in a wicker chair, he tells the kids, “Now, don’t tell your mom about our little story tonight. We don’t want her to be mad, do we?”
“No”, the kids reply in unison, with expectant looks on their faces. The children, Kyle, Kaylee, and Chris are 3, 5, and 7 years old, respectively.
The sun is almost gone now. Poppy lights a lantern left on a side table beside his chair and begins his story. He tells his version of the original Brothers Grimm story of “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.” He uses the boogeyman as a substitute for the wolf and human kids instead of goat kids. The children listen — wide-eyed and eager — experiencing the emotions of the good vs. evil story, terrifying parts and all.
The tale describes the demise of a dreadful wolf after he eats 7 kids whole, then falls asleep. The kids are rescued from the wolf’s stomach when their mother cuts him open with scissors, frees the kids, fills the vacated space with rocks, and sews the wolf back up. The wolf drowns as the rocks weigh him down when he tries to drink from a well.
When the story is finished, Poppy cautions the children to remember one thing, above all others.
“The boogeyman (wolf) is dead, killed by the good kids and their mother. He can never hurt anyone again.”
Later that night, after the children are tucked snugly in their beds, the bedroom closet door creaks open and one furious, gleaming red eye peers out at them. They hear a low growling and scratching noises on the closet door. Both boys scream and run from the room crying, begging to sleep with Mom and Dad. Kaylee, however, yawns, puts a pillow over her head to drown out the noise, pulls the covers over her head, then goes back to sleep.
Furious at such insult and indifference from a mere child, the boogeyman decides to pay Poppy a visit in his own room. He vows to teach that interfering, lying old man a lesson this night.
He’s in no mood for subtleties now, so he bursts through the closet door in Poppy’s room snarling, drooling, scratching sharp claws along the wall, and stinking. He’s doused himself in “Bloated Carcass Festering in Sun” cologne—his very best.
The boogeyman appears at Poppy’s bedside before Poppy even has a chance to take a breath. Boogeyman lets his viscous drool pour onto Poppy’s face, which is distorted with bulging eyes and open mouth. He lets his smell envelop Poppy and locks his furious red eyes on those of the old man. Although he’s trying to scream, nothing emerges from Poppy’s mouth other than a pitiful, mouse-like squeak. The boogeyman raises his face from the old man’s and steps back a couple of feet, not wanting the old one to have a heart attack before he can inflict his punishment.
The boogeyman points one long, sharp claw at the man. “You will be punished,” he says. “You have been teaching young ones that I am not to be feared. Why can’t you old ones leave us be? All we boogeymen want is to savor the tender fear of the young ones. We do them no physical or lasting damage. We don’t even have teeth, for crying out loud, because we don’t need them. All we want is to smell the young fear – to taste it and to savor it. That is our sustenance.
“Sometimes we can’t scare babies, though. Happy babies taste like canned spinach mixed with pureed liver and anchovies. I leave them alone.”
Boogey clears his throat and continues. “We have been relegated to hiding in closets, under beds, in sewers and drainage pipes, in wells, under bridges, and countless other undesirable places to feed our needs. Is that not enough?
“I don’t have any teeth, but I’m ugly as all hell and I’ve got a nasty-mean growl that would freeze your heart solid. My smell alone would knock your socks off if you were wearing any.
“My wings are a bit shabby now, but they will recover. I even have a Darth Vader breathing apparatus that’s really cool, but I left it on my kitchen table with my lunch. Darn. Lunch was a big fluffy rabbit. Well, I’ll just check out your backyard before I leave. I love rabbit. Their little hearts beat so fast when they’re frightened, and their fear tastes like Marshmallow Fluff.”
Boogey’s frustrated inner demon surfaces, rolls it’s eyes, and mentally warns him, “You’re sliding off-topic and you’re babbling again. How many times do I have to tell you that you need to stop with the talking and start with the bleeding? Just get it done quickly and move on, already.”
“Well, enough chatter,” says Boogey. You must pay now. For each child you influenced this day, I will cut off one of your fingertips. Not so bad, considering alternatives I could have requested from Boogey Local 13. Let’s begin.”
Boogeyman reaches into one of the pockets of his ragged bat wing to produce a bowl.
“Here,” he says, as he throws the bowl on the old man’s bed. “I’ve learned over the years to bring a receptacle for the bleeding. Otherwise, it gets pretty messy. Now, I’m not going to lie to you as you did to your own children. This is not going to hurt me more than it hurts you. If that were so, why ever would I do it?” The boogeyman places duct tape all around Poppy’s mouth and around the back of his head to muffle the screaming to come.
While holding Poppy’s left hand over the bowl, the Boogeyman quickly slices off the tips of three fingers from nail tip to nail base with a sharp claw. Blood spurts, then pour-drip-dribbles into the bowl, pooling around Poppy’s newly liberated fingertips. After a moment, Poppy’s mind comes to comprehend what has just happened and he begins to feel the terrible pain and shock of it. His screams are quietly useless.
After the cutting, Boogeyman reaches into another hidden pocket under his wing to produce a huge wad of gauze.
“Here. Hold this tight around your fingers to stem the bleeding.”
Once the bleeding is under control, Boogeyman asks, “Do you want me to cauterize that?” Poppy vigorously shakes his head with a look of renewed terror, compresses himself into a ball in the corner of the bed, and begins to cry.
“Oh hell,” says the Boogey. He reaches into yet another pocket, brings out clean gauze, and gingerly wraps Poppy’s wounded fingers — one-by-one — adding bunny-rabbit bandages around them to ease the pain.
“See, I’m not such a bad guy. I’m actually kind of fun when you get to know me. You should see me boogie at the Annual Boogeyman Convention. Where do you think the phrase “Boogie on down” comes from?”
Poppy starts to cry again.
“We all just do what we must to survive, old one,” says the Boogey.
“Make no mistake, Poppy. I will come back for any of you who attempts to plant seeds of disbelief. My once beautiful wings are tattered now. The tooth fairy has to wear dentures. Easter Rabbit has Mange. And cupid – Oh boy cupid – He now looks like one of those starving babies you see on infomercials.
“It’s all because of people like you telling the young ones that we don’t exist. The only one of us still hardy and healthy is Santa. No one tells young ones he doesn’t exist. They all elected me to do this dirty work because they didn’t want to tarnish their sweet reputations. Humph.”
“Well,” says the Boogey. “Time flies and so do I. It’s a very busy night. I hope I didn’t take up too much of your time. Don’t forget the lesson I taught you. Bye now.”
Poppy never spoke again except on All Hallows Eve nights, when the only word he said was “Boogey.” Over and over, each time someone spoke to him, he said, “Boogey.” All the ladies laughed and tittered, thinking he was asking them to dance.
Credit: M.R. McMahon
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