I was a little kid in a distant and mythologized era we now refer to as the ’70s. One day in that dimly-remembered decade, probably around this time of year, I was over at my cousin Debbie’s house. And I was feeling very privileged. Debbie was thirteen and a bunch of her friends were over, hanging out in the basement. Despite the stark age difference, I was not being ostracized as I fully expected to be. Instead, I was permitted to hang with them while they sat in a circle that evening and told ghost stories.
A good ghost story is told exactly the same way you tell a good joke. There’s a setup, a pattern is established, and then a punchline surprises you. Just like the many jokes that are passed down through the generations by oral tradition, ghost stories also rely heavily on who tells them, how the teller embellishes an often familiar tale, and how they perform it for an audience. The highlight of that evening was when one of Debbie’s classmates told his version of the old chestnut about the couple who run out of gas on a country road in the middle of the night, just when reports of an escaped lunatic come over the car radio. There are a million variations of this story, some of them involving a hook hand, some involving a persistent thumping on the roof of the car that lasts all night. The boyfriend character always gets killed, and the girlfriend character is usually driven mad by fear. I had never heard any version of this story before, and I couldn’t even tell you now which version he told that night, but I was mesmerized. And I was inspired.
I desperately wanted to tell a ghost story of my own to entertain everybody, but I didn’t know any. Not one. So I decided to make up one on the spot. The room was hushed, and all ears were on the little kid on the end who had been allowed to sit in with the group of big kids.
The story I told was, as close as I remember, “A bunch of people went to a scary castle and Frankenstein killed them.” There may have been a few more details, but it didn’t run much longer than that.
Ghost-story raconteurs and comedians doing standup share another commonality. They both run the risk of bombing. I remember many blank stares in the basement that night.
“Did you make that up yourself?” one well-meaning big kid asked, obviously enchanted by how adorable I was.
“Yeah,” I shyly admitted. And then I shut up for the rest of the evening. I needed better material and I knew it. Step one, I figured, was to stop being eight years old and grow up so I could develop some sort of frame of reference – preferably by watching lots of horror movies.
A heaping pile of years later, I think I can do a bit better. Witness my more recent attempt at a Frankenstein story. “Monster” was published in the Frankenstein Reassembled anthology a few years ago. With all rights reverted and an agreement struck with artist, Gabriel Morrissette, it now finds a home hosted here at Eyestrain Productions just in time for Halloween. Click through the gallery to read the story and hit the “View full size” button if you want to take a closer look at Gabriel’s fine illustrations.