As you probably know, I recently published a book on the kindle store about a vampire hunter. What you probably didn’t know is that it’s autobiographical. Well, semi-autobiographical. Well, maybe not autobiographical exactly. But inspired by real life events. Sort of. I mean, did I have a handgun or a katana? No. But, being in the fourth grade, I really wanted one. Did I slay supernatural creatures of the night? No. Well… sort of. But young Matt Kincade’s prey wasn’t a vampire.
It was a werewolf.
It all started on a warm Saturday in late October, the day of the elementary school Halloween carnival. On that day, every year, the blacktop playground of the school was transformed into a carnival midway, littered with pumpkins and hay bales and scarecrows, orange and black crepe-paper bunting, rows of games and attractions, food and drinks and entertainment.
What I mostly remember about the Halloween carnival was being hot. As the days got shorter and the nights crew crisp and cool, as the trees turned to orange and yellow and the scent of woods-stove smoke drifted in the air, naturally thoughts would turn to wintertime, to sweaters and hot chocolate. And then, every damned year, there’d be a last minute heatwave in late October, and the halloween carnival would be a bunch of little kids crammed into elaborate, semi-functional, sweat-soaked costumes, wandering around on heat-shimmering asphalt and bordering on heatstroke.
Aside from that, the carnival was actually a lot of fun. After buying a fistful of tickets, kids could wander around and play games of skill to win prizes, knocking over milk bottle pyramids with baseballs, throwing darts at balloons, or lobbing ping-pong balls into mason jars in order to win short-lived goldfish in plastic bags, goldfish that the children would then bring to their unenthusiastic parents. There’s a whole other story behind my goldfish acquisition, and I’ll get to that some other time. But the prizes are important here.
See, little fourth-grader me, dressed up like a pirate, was wandering around with a bag of loot. Pirate loot. It was just a plastic bag filled with all the stupid little crap I’d won playing the carnival games. Hard candy. A rubber snake. One of those little plastic whistles shaped like a bird that you fill with water. A few novelty pencil erasers. The kind of junk you order from Oriental Trading Company when you need prizes for an elementary school carnival. But a significant amount of stuff. Hard and heavy, you might say. This factors in later.
So anyway, the main event of the Halloween Carnival was the haunted house. The rest of the year, it was the school library. But, thanks to the efforts of an army of volunteers and a few hundred yards of black plastic sheet, every year it was transformed into a labyrinth of macabre horror, just scary enough to terrify a young, sensitive child like myself. But this year, I decided, I was going to be a man. I was going to go through the haunted house. By myself. No parents holding my hand. So I paid my fistful of tickets and went inside.
Spooky music. Rattling chains. The screams of the damned. It was all there as our tour guide, dressed as a green-skinned witch with a hooked nose, beckoned us with one finger into her chamber of horrors. I and the rest of my tour group (a bunch of other terrified elementary school kids) huddled close as we shuffled around the corner.
Oh no! There was a mad scientist! Eyeballs in jars! A serial killer! Guts made out of spaghetti! Horror piled upon horror!
In retrospect, this was an amateur production, but as a nine year old it seemed pretty real and it absolutely scared the piss out of me.
Which is why I plead self-defense.
Following behind my tour group, we rounded one more corner. And the lights went out. In the utter darkness for a span of heartbeats, my imagination ran wild.
Then the strobe light kicked on. And there, advancing in slow-motion through the smoke-machine fog, was a god-damned fucking werewolf.
Flash. There he was. Flash. Closer now. Flash. Bloody red fangs. Flash. Claws outstretched. Flash. Even closer. Flash. Reaching for me.
My survival instincts kicked in.
Honestly, even today I’m pretty proud of my reaction. You know those crisis moments where your body just takes over, and you do things without conscious thought? It’s like your brain just shoves you out of the driver’s seat and gets it done. Like, for example, when a boat falls off of a trailer on the freeway in front of you. (Again, a story for another time.)
So. As this terrible, slavering werewolf advanced, illuminated by strobe-light bursts, I sprang into action.
The bag of candy in my hand. The heavy bag full of plastic toys and hard candy. I swung it.
But oh, I didn’t just swing it. I swung it. I swung the bag forward, upwards in a circle, then pulled it sideways over my head, building up a terrific head of steam, yanking it around in a hard, flat arc, all in the stuttering slow motion of the strobe light.
Right into the side of that werewolf’s face.
It was a sublime hit. I couldn’t possibly have done it better. Through the handle of the plastic bag, I felt it connect. I heard the hard, solid Thwok as plastic struck werewolf flesh. Stunned, the werewolf stumbled sideways a few steps. It shook its head.
Then the creature spoke to me: “You little shit!”
The werewolf tore off his mask, revealing a very angry high-school drama student with a red mark on his cheek.
High-schoolers were scarier than werewolves.
He grabbed my by the arm and dragged me away, down into the bowels of the haunted house. Which, oddly enough, looked like the periodicals section of the school library. He hauled me in front of the grown-up in charge and said, “This little asshole hit me in the face with a bag of candy!”
“What did you do that for?” asked the grownup.
“I was scared,” I answered.
I think I saw her suppress a smile. “What’s your name?”
I made up a name. Ralphie or something.
“Are your parents here?”
“No,” I said. In reality, my mom worked for the school and was volunteering in another section of the carnival.
“How did you get here?” she asked. I said I’d walked, which was plausible in this particular tiny foothill town. She asked me where I lived, and I lied an address.
Finally, realizing she had nothing on me, my interrogator said, “Okay, get out of here. You’re banned from the haunted house.” Fine by me, lady. I scuttled away, into the light and the late October heat.
Did that encounter whet my appetite for supernatural justice, planting the seeds that would lead me, years later, to write a story about a cowboy vampire hunter? yeah… probably not. But it’s good to know that if I’m ever attacked by a werewolf, and I happen to have a bag of candy in my hand, I know exactly what to do.