I love a good story. And Halloween stories or spooky stories are some of my favorite. Even as a kid, those were the stories my family told as we circled up in an attempt to entertain one another. My dad was the storyteller in the family, everyone knew it. He could spin a tale like nobody’s business, and my imagination always followed right along. He walked a fine line with his stories. They were often scary and a bit ghoulish, but they worked because he was my dad…and I knew he would never hurt us.
One of the stories I will never forget my father telling began as a way of calming the family’s anxiety as we fled from Hurricane Allen in the late ’80’s. We went to stay with my Aunt Janet who lived near Austin. My aunt lived in a house my cousin had built. The house was beautiful, set back in a wooded area. But there were a few things about it that didn’t quite make for standard measurement. Some things didn’t quite fit.
And although I am not sure of the whole story, I do remember the fridge wouldn’t make it through the door, so it stayed out in the garage. The bed didn’t fit up the stairs. And the toilet was a bit catty-wonker. It made the visit interesting. We loved the house because it came from our dear cousin and because it was a bit quirky. I mean, really, who wants a house that is like every other house…not me!
So the family packed up and caravaned to see Janet. Now Janet is my father’s sister. The family that arrived on her door step included my father, mother and brother…along with my mother’s side of the family. Her mother, sister, two nieces and a newborn. Can you say hurricane party?
The storytelling began as we nested in for the night. One of the upstairs rooms was vacant to begin with, but when my mother and her sister, my Aunt Joyce, got through with it, there was a sea of blankets. And monkeys in every corner. My mom and dad hunkered down on one side of the room, brother and cousin on the other. I was the last to arrive. And as I finished washing my face in the bathroom, with the light spilling over into the dark room where my family waited, my father began his tale.
“You heard the man on the radio talking about the convict that escaped from Bastrop County Prison, didn’t you?” The crowd answered….oh no…no, we didn’t. “He was wanted for murder.” From the bathroom I could hear the floor dwellers rearranging themselves so they could see the storyteller’s face in the shadows. “Seems the lights must have gone out from the storm and some of those convicts got restless. One of their worst criminals, I think his name was Archibald McCafferty, well he escaped late last night.” What was he in there for?….someone was heard to say. “Murder.” What!? Are you making this up? (Knowing full well that he was, cause he always did, but praying that he would not break the illusion.) “Noooo,” he would answer back. “That Archibald, he is one of the craziest men ever to stay in Bastrop County Prison. Killed three men. The radio announcer told the story, didn’t ya’ll hear it? It was all over the news?!”
We hadn’t heard it. Of course, we hadn’t heard it. We all knew good and well that the storyteller was spinning this tale. He spun it because he was creative, because his imagination was ripe with danger and intrigue, but he spun it mostly because the ones he loved expected it and he would not let them down!
The wind howled outside. No, Dad, we didn’t hear it? He continue…. “Last I heard on the radio, the reporter said he was heading this way. Said he had been spotted walking the tracks near that crossing we stopped at earlier. You know, the one up the road. ” Actually, I did remember the tracks. And the picture of some escaped con creeping across them, sent a chill up my spine. “They said he is vicious…killed three people. That’s what got him in there. When they interviewed his cell mate, the guy said Archibald kept saying that the voices in his head told him to Kill Seven. The authorities are afraid he is out looking for another four to add to his three.”
Other four!…There are at least four of us in here!….(The crowd was starting to buy into the story. Perhaps they were having trouble splitting away from the possibility that the story might be true…just like me.) “Yah,” Dad started again,”hope he didn’t see us all crammed in the station wagon while we were riding along the tracks.”
I moved from the bathroom where I had been washing up, to be closer to my family. I had a blanket and pillow waiting at the foot of the palette where my brother and cousin were tucked in. My feet faced a little door that led to the attic. Attic’s had always been a bit creepy to me, just like Archibald McCafferty.
The storyteller continued, describing the care the three-time murderer had taken in staking out his first three kills. How he preferred working on stormy nights so that the sounds of his footsteps could be drowned out by the rustling of leaves and limbs. How Archie had learned to pick locks so that he could enter the house in silence. And how he often hid in the house for hours and hours, just waiting for his victims to fall sound asleep.
As my father’s words painted pictures in my mind, I fought with the body’s nature to want to rest and slumber when cuddling in for the night. Could I really sleep with a madman on the loose? I began tracing our day. First the railroad tracks, then there were those few hours when we had all gone to the supermarket just after dinner for food for the next day. But where would he hide?
My feet felt cold and vulnerable. Here I was so close to that attic door. The door that nagged at me. What was behind there? Darkness, creatures of the night, a deranged lunatic….Archie ?
I decided to crawl in between my brother and my cousin. I knew they wouldn’t mind sharing. I was sure they were as scared of Archie as I was. Quietly…so as not to disturb the story, I snuck towards them. The room was silent except for my father’s voice, the deep attentive breaths of my family, and the ovation offered by the trees around us. I could just make out the shape of my family, resting like little tombstones in the darkness of the night. My hand reached out to feel for a space where I might fit in…searched the floor, first for the blanket and then ….yes, there it was, a foot. And then, BAMM! Something had hit me.
Something hit me hard. Smacked in the face…with more force than I had ever been hit with before. So hard it made me scream. I saw stars, ringing in my ears joined with the screams of my family. My father yelled, “What the hell!?” And I knew then and there, Archibald was in the house. A shadowy body moved through the room. “He’s here!” I yelled. More screams. And then lights.
We looked around. Backs to the wall. My father…He’s not here! Me….He hit me! Smacked me hard! My father…It was just your imagination! Me….Look at my eye. Imagination doesn’t throb like that!
My brother, standing by the lights….Yah, something touched me. Touched my foot. It was him. I kicked him hard. My mother, the smart one put it all together…YOU kicked HER! What!? But sure enough, there was no murderer in the room that night, only a sneaking sister who met with a heel-in-the-face gut reaction from an unsuspecting brother.
It was one of the best stories ever told by my father…and there were many…and still more to come. I tell the story of Archibald now, any chance I get. It is one of the traits I inherited from him…my dad. We share brown hair and brown eyes, good humor, and a love of music and nature….but anyone who knows my dad and has heard me spin my tales knows where I got it from. I am undoubtedly The Storyteller’s Daughter.
- Stories Are Us (psychologytoday.com)
- The Art of Storytelling – Hear a Story, Tell a Story (freetech4teachers.com)