A lot of people think that the annual haunted house gives the Jaycees the opportunity to dress up like headless zombies and drooling werewolves. As those of us who've dated a Jaycee can tell you, it's actually the other 51 weeks in the year that the guys are in disguise.
"How are we doing down there?" I ask.
For two years now, Kid has been trying to muster up the courage to make it all the way through the haunted house. The first year, we couldn't even get him out of his seat belt. But tonight, Kid is pumped. Laughing, screaming and throwing leaves at each other, little gremlins run past us on the street.
"Bobby Maxwell said he went through the haunted house three times," Kid says, holding up two fingers.
Bobby Maxwell is only 8 years old and already he's bragging about his stamina. Like father, like son.
It's two blocks shorter if you cut across Earl Swinson's lawn. Whenever I start thinking there is good in everyone, I think of Earl. He's a volunteer fireman, but given the choice, most people would rather watch their house go up in flames than have him set foot in it. And I'm not just saying this because he dated my cousin.
"Come on," I say, motioning with my head as I step onto Earl's lawn. Earl's grass looks like green velvet. Not a dandelion, not a sprig of chickweed. I have a theory that men love grass because it's the only thing that's more full of manure than they are.
Jaw set, Kid refuses to budge.
"Oh, come on," I say to Kid. "What's the worst that can happen?"
Giving this some thought, Kid pivots on his Reeboks and pads on down the pavement.
Moaning, groaning and chains rattling, the haunted house rises out of the unkempt lawn like a claw from the grave. Two days after Halloween, one of the Jaycees will hammer a Century 21 sign in the yard and call it a "nice fixer-upper."
Head leaned back, Kid stares up at the blackened windows. Then, taking a deep breath, he follows me through the wrought-iron gate to the admissions and resuscitation booth.
Walking up to the window, I pay for our tickets, turn around, and Kid is gone.
Heat radiating off his burning face, Kid is speedwalking down the sidewalk.
Head down, fists in balls, and totally oblivious to where he's headed, Kid plows across Earl Swinson's lawn kicking plugs out of the seamless turf like a Rototiller.
Kid's almost to safety when Earl's halogen spotlight catches him like a baby possum caught in headlights. Frozen stiff and wide-eyed, Kid just stands there as Earl, yelling like a maniac, comes running at him with his high-powered fire hose. For about five seconds there, Kid is airborne.
Limp and drenched, Kid sloshes along beside me.
"Shoot, any kid can go through the haunted house," I say with a flip of the hand. "But how many have the guts to get hosed down by a real live maniac?"
"I don't have big guts!" Kid cries, water and tears dripping off his freckled face. "I just didn't know where I was going!"
Somehow I suspect most of us are lost when we stumble into courage. (Copyright 1999 P.S. Wall. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.)