|Above: "Basement Halloween Landscape" by Bill Ectric
|backwards, we scattered cardboard cutouts of tombstones, gnarly 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.
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 cinderblocks, 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.
Paul Clemmons could disappear, too, or so it seemed. No one knew how he
did it. No one, until I discovered his secret. During a late evening game of
kick-the-can, I was the only one to see him hide in leaves.
Kick-the-can is like a combination of hide-and-seek and tag, which uses an
empty metal can as a kind of base. If you are “it” you stand with one foot
on the can, eyes closed, and count to fifty while everyone else hides. Then
you look for them. When you find somebody, you call the person’s name,
run back to the can, and tag it with your foot. If the “found” person races
past you and tags the can first, they get to go free and hide again.
Otherwise, they become a “prisoner” and must sit in a designated area near
the can. If anyone who hasn’t been caught manages to sneak up and kick
the can, all the prisoners get to run and hide again.
We mainly used a big Maxwell House coffee can because they were easiest
to kick after dark. A Campbell’s Soup can was definitely too small. Del
Monte made a medium sized peach can that I could really boot skyward if I
caught the sweet spot.
We usually played kick-the-can at Anne Wade’s house. Anne was a lanky
tomboy at this time. When she wanted to get her golden hair cut like the
boys in a newly popular rock and roll band, her parents were dismayed until
they saw the Beatles on television.
“Go ahead!” said her father. “I’d be more upset if my son let his hair grow
Anne later grew tall and slender. By the time she became a hair stylist and
Roger’s girlfriend, she had long blond hair falling straight down her back like
a hippie folk singer.
Anne Wade’s parents had the best yard for kick-the-can because of the
hiding places. There was a large oak tree, two good-sized pine trees, a
hedge of shrubs along the side of the house (good for advancing, unseen,
toward the can area), a big brick barbecue grill, a tool shed, and this
particular autumn evening, three piles of raked leaves mixed with small
branches, shrub trimmings, and pine cones. It had rained earlier so the piles
were wet. It was a Friday, just before sunset.
Anne Wade was there, of course, because it was her house, and also my
brother Jeff, tall Roger, big Eric Littleton, Nancy Griffith, me, a couple of
other kids, but so far, no sign of Paul Clemmons.
Anne Wade was it.
Nancy Griffith was the first one caught. I was next, because my mind had
wandered from the game, thinking about how Nancy Griffith looked like the
doe-eyed, dark-haired girl on the Lost In Space TV show, Angela Cartwright.
When Anne Wade saw me behind a tree, I gave up without a fight and sat
down beside Nancy.
“Hey, Raven Head,” I said.
“My name is not Raven Head.”
“Okay. Nancy. I tried to make one of those paper fortune tellers, but I
couldn’t figure out how to fold it. Remember you said you would make one
“I will, if you stop calling me Raven Head.”
“But don’t you think it’s a good nickname? Because, you know...”
“Yes, I get it,” sighed Nancy. “My hair is black and you like Edgar Allan Poe
so you call me Raven Head.”
Indeed, Nancy had silky black hair that curved in toward her face just above
her eyebrows and just below her ears and around the back of her neck. And
there was something about her body. She wasn’t overweight, but just
plump enough that I wanted to squeeze her, to see how it felt.
Instead of putting my arms around her, I started quoting Poe’s The Raven,
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…”
Nancy rolled her pretty eyes.
An excerpt from Tamper,
a novel by Bill Ectric
Chapter Six, 1960s
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. His
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.
|Above: "Ant" - a photo by Jamelah Earle
|Above: "Autumn Kick,"
a photo by Jamelah Earle
Paul Clemmons showed us how to start a fire by condensing sunlight through a magnifying glass.
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’ dirt
floor cellar into a “haunted realm” and
charging ten cents admission. He showed
us how to use false perspective to create
the illusion that my basement floor was
an acre of desolate landscape.
You couldn’t walk more than six feet into
our cellar without having to bend over.
The hard clay floor sloped upward,
following the rise of the hill on which the
house sat, until it narrowed to a dark
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