A long time ago, in a suburb far far away, there was an elementary school called Greenwood Forest Elementary. It served children between kindergarten and 5th grade with great teachers, horrid bullies, and spoiled children. Well, I was spoiled. So were a lot of my classmates. Trust me, you know who you are.
In this suburb that seems so far away to me now, I remember the bell would ring in the late afternoon and all of us tykes, in all our different age groups, would practically run through the playground's various metal webs, bars, barrels, and contraptions, through the copse of too tall pines, and to that mystical van covered with pictures of various ice cream bars, sandwiches and tasty candy treats.
The music was loud, but not earsplitting. I don't remember what the ice-cream vendor looked like, but I know this– I wasn't afraid of this man. He always made sure we had the right change. He was always patient and somehow managed to keep order with all those children begging to part ways with their coin for a sugar high.
In those days, I walked fearless, except for the fear of bullies, of course, through the neighborhood and back to my home. I never heard the music of the ice cream man except outside that elementary school. After 5th grade, when I moved on to the middle school, I never partook of the confectionary wonders of that brilliantly colored van.
I am a couple of months shy of 39 now. I have no children of my own, but I like kids. I always have–except when I was one of them. All that aside however, I was sitting here and working on my horror novella when I heard music. Caliope. A music box wound to an insane volume or an organ grinder being played by a gorilla the size of king kong.
Those bells. I heard those bells and for no reason I can think of, my skin erupted into goose pimples and a shiver ran through my bones. And still the bells grew louder. I was frozen to my chair, unable to really do anything except cock my head toward my front door as the bells grew louder still.
Adrenaline coursing through frozen veins, I managed to get up from my chair, open the front door and peer out. A large econoline van, modified with a facade overhang, made its way down my street toward the cul-de-sac, those bells piercing the afternoon air and shocking the singing birds to silence. The van was white, covered in decals. The windows were tinted. I stood there agape as the van passed by.
The van continued down the street and I was riveted in place as the vision of a twisted faced madman, absurdly large canines jutting from swollen, grey lips filled my mind. A small curl of blood dripped from one of the yellowed, cannibal teeth to stain the lapel of the white jumpsuit. With dead eyes, the ghoulish thing surveyed the empty lawns, heart hammering in its unnatural chest as it waited for its next morsel to bounce out from a front door and come running into its waiting, taloned arms.
How many children's body parts were in the refridgerated cases in the back of the van, beneath the colorful wrappers of sugary, frozen joy? How many girls and boys had felt the terrible zip of those sharpened claws down their sturnem as they were eviscerated for his pleasure? How many parents wondered were their children had gone, not even remembering the cheerful kaliope music that accompanied their child's disappearance?
The imaginary ghoul trolled through my neighborhood, those bells shrieking to children to come, visit, and stay a while. Maybe forever. I felt fear in a way I haven't experienced for a very long time. It was the fear of losing the last of my childhood. The last innocent memories I have left.
Here I am, childless, and I've been briefed to death about the lurkers, the pedophiles, the child molesters, the child murderers, the lost boys, and all the other horrors in the world that now conspire with the media to make every shadow seem as though it's wielding a knife or gun. Every man who smiles at a child, me for instance, might be some kind of sex criminal. Or violent offender. Better check the pervert registry! They could be on your street!
There are some of us who carry sticks when we go walking after dark. We say they're to ward off mean dogs or the pack of coyotes that supposedly haunt The Woodlands. I've seen us carrying them. I've seen the cans of mace tied to hands, dangling from clenched fists. I have watched the expression of a young woman change from casual disinterest to nervous fear when I've said hello.
The fear. The terror. The panic. The distrust.
We horror writers, we entertain you with it. We scare the hell out of you with it. You come to read our literature or watch our mmovies because you like those fears. You like those fears because they are so absurdly implausible when compared to the news we see and read every night. Who should be afraid of reptillian alien monsters when we know from the paper that the truly scary monsters are your neighbors, the strange kid on the block, or the fucking ice cream man driving down the street.
I think my innocence is finally dead. I've know it was for a long time, but I think I have just now accepted it. Once and for all. To think, all it took was to have that last memory taken away from me. And strangely enough, it was all due to the sinister profile of that econoline van and its tinted windows. That, ladies and gentlemen, is all it takes to put the final stake in the heart of a childhood. That is too fucking scary.