|Excerpt from Chapter Six, The Boy Who Hid In Leaves:
We kids all looked up to Paul Clemmons. He was my age, ten, but a year ahead
in school. Smart, but not bookish or
intellectual; he was an outdoorsman who knew cool things that other boys
were eager to learn. His coarse brick-orange hair, cropped short, was only a
couple of shades brighter than the tan on his seasoned, freckled face and
muscular arms. Paul's parents had home-schooled him while his father was
stationed on Coast Guard Island near Oakland, California. When a back injury
led to his dad taking early retirement, Paul’s family moved to Hansburg, where
his mother had grown up.
Paul Clemmons showed us how to start a fire by condensing sunlight through a
He gave us the idea to build motorless go-carts for downhill racing, made from
wooden crates, with tires from old
wagons and tricycles, steered with rope.
He demonstrated how to make a magnet by coiling wire around a nail and
hooking it to a six-volt battery.
One year, a few days before Halloween, Paul suggested turning my parents’
floor cellar into a “haunted realm” and charging ten cents admission. He
us how to use false perspective to create the illusion that my basement floor
an acre of desolate landscape.
You couldn’t walk more than six feet into our cellar without having to bend
The hard clay floor sloped upward, following the rise of the hill on which the
house sat, until it narrowed to a dark crawlspace.
Crawling through real cobwebs to the back of the cellar, we darkened the two-
foot high wall with flat black paint and then dotted it with luminous stars.
Directly in front of the painted wall, I placed my small plastic model of a
haunted house. Working our way backwards, we scattered cardboard cutouts
of tombstones, gnarley trees, a scarecrow, and a haystack, each object
getting larger as they approached the cellar entrance. It was phenomenal. A
couple of well-placed dim lights, and you could have sworn you were looking
across a vast, creepy wasteland.
|"Ant" - photo by Jamelah Earle
|Anne Wade, doll-making hobbyist and future hair-stylist girlfriend of Roger,
fashioned a giant tarantula from a stuffed pillowcase dyed black, cardboard
tube legs, glue, and hair trimmings. To enter the cellar, our young
customers had to walk directly below this red-eyed, furry black spider as it
scrutinized them quietly from a web of white twine.
The next thing our customers encountered was a long makeshift table,
boards laid flat on cinder blocks, which ran from side to side and held a
series of exhibits. This also blocked everyone from approaching the fake
landscape for a closer look.
My guiding flashlight lit one exhibit after another as I described the contents.
Raw hamburger, molded into the shape of a glistening brain, sat in a clear
Pyrex mixing bowl. Two plastic eyeballs from my Visible Head
model kit floated in a mason jar half-filled with water. And so on.
Halfway through the grisly display, a strange rustling noise would sound from
somewhere in the darkness. This would be Paul, hiding behind the old
obsolete oil furnace that we had camouflaged with black paint. I would
point the flashlight at the distant scarecrow, and say, “Did that scarecrow
As I finished describing the last dissected organ to the kid/customer, Paul
would make another rustling sound. By now, Paul had also snatched the
scarecrow to himself by means of a black shoelace attached to its base, so
when I beamed the light in the direction of the scarecrow, it was gone!
“Where’s the scarecrow?” Sometimes I said this, but it was even better when
the kid/customer said it.
At which point Roger, in full terrifying scarecrow regalia, stood up behind the
victim, hissing and cackling, face covered in burlap. Because of his height,
Roger stooped awkwardly under the low ceiling. This made him look
all the more aggressive and grotesque as he chased screaming children out
of the cellar, his scarecrow elbows splayed at right angles by a cut-off broom
stick inserted across his shoulders, elbow to elbow under the
sleeves, forearms dangling, straw bristling out from every seam.