I’m sure I’m not the only individual of my age who was psychologically scarred by the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (Sidebar of Legalese: I’m obligated to tell you that clicking that link will lead to the Amazon page for the book, and that I am not an Amazon employee.) I’m sure there were thousands of children similarly warped by it – as much by the artwork as the tales themselves – but those children were probably just as eager as I to snatch up the next volume and do it all again. Brief aside; I don’t care for the new edition much; they stripped all the original, fabulous artwork and replaced it with stuff that, while certainly richer, doesn’t have the same impact as the old stuff.
Yeah, that’s freaky as hell, isn’t it? That particular image came from The Haunt, which isn’t my favorite in the collection, or the one that burned me the worst (those honors go to The Thing, which also had an absolutely nightmare-inducing image to go with it) but that picture is certainly the worst of the batch. Gone now, alas. Very saddening.
Anyway. Got sidetracked for a moment, there. The actual relevant issue here is a little tale called The Drum. It’s a fairly standard cautionary story, and one you’ve likely heard variants of before; two little kids meet a little Gypsy girl with a marvelous mechanical drum. They beg and plead, and the girl tells them she’ll let them have the drum if they behave in terribly naughty ways. The kids agree, run home, and behave like little snots all night, driving their mother and baby brother bonkers. They come back to the Gypsy girl the next day, tell her all the bad things they did, and she laughs at them. “No, no. Not naughty enough,” she says. “Try again.” So they go back home, and get even worse. Their mother begins to threaten them that she’ll take their baby brother and leave them with a “new mother,” with glass eyes and wooden tail. They promise to behave, saying “It’s okay; we’ll get the drum, then everything will be alright.” Not so; the little Gypsy girl tells them “Nope, still not nasty enough.” This is repeated a few more times, until on the last day, they find the Gypsy girl without her drum. She tells them her family is moving on, and that she was just playing a game with them, to see how badly she could make them behave; she never intended to give them the drum at all. Distraught, the children return home… to find their new mother waiting, and their real mother and baby brother nowhere to be found.
Pretty basic cautionary tale, as things go. But still one that stuck with me, for a lot of reasons. If you’d like, you can read a full version of the story right here. But this afternoon I was thinking about it, and somehow it got all mixed up in my head with the scene in Fight Club where Tyler is explaining to Jack what’s really going on. Specifically the torching of Jack’s apartment. Suddenly, Caleb (who will be my narrator for this piece, I think) came to life in my head. Telling me how he met this beautiful young woman one night when he was trying to drink his troubles away, thinking things couldn’t possibly get any worse. Caleb told me that she promised him everything… if he’d do just a few little things for her. Naughty things, maybe. Illegal things. But most telling of all was how I saw Caleb in my head; in an orange prison jumpsuit, shackled, and scarred head to toe.
I don’t know if it’ll be a good story. I don’t even know if it’s something I could publish without being sued for too many similarities to The Drum, Fight Club, Stephen King’s Nona or the PS3/360 game Catherine. But it wants to be written, I think. Caleb is rattling the bars in the back of my mind, begging to be “let out.” So I think I shall.