by Michael Gold

An excerpt from "The Weirdness Virus," a chapter from
Horror House Detective by Michael Gold

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N O W   A V A I L A B L E :

a novel in stories
by Michael Gold

Publisher: Silverthought Press
272 pages
$11.99 + S/H
[click for details]


Max hit Jon in the chest to resolve a tragic chocolate pudding accident. Richie tried to imitate a New York Jets defensive lineman and ran at Max at full speed in the living room, then wrestled him down on the carpet and held down his arms until he said, "Give." Jon body-slammed Mark down on a bed.

My four sons. After I married Helen, I thought that would tamp down The Weirdness for a while. My brother Derek had been missing for almost 20 years and the black drum he made in my heart still remained, beating low, but ever-present against the muscle. Sometimes I wondered whether he was dead.

So to fight against that dread, I wanted to have a normal life and I thought the more kids we had, the better. There was Richie, the oldest, the leader, blond and handsome, athletic, and sarcastic as hell. Then came the Three Stooges—all with brown hair and brown eyes—Max, skinny and a striver, always thinking hard about things, but shy and easily insulted. Third was Jon, who, when not fighting, liked to read philosophy books. Fourth was Mark, very quiet and sensitive, but stubborn as hell.

We also got a dog, a small, black dachshund, free, from Jerry Huberman, a guy I was friends with from high school. He bred them as a side business. Richie didn't want to have anything to do with the dog. He said she was completely useless. The three younger boys were crazy about her, though, and they decided to call her Gee Gee, as in "Gee, we got a dog! Gee!" I wanted to name her Gypsy, but the three boys couldn't agree on that. Gee Gee was a decision made in their favor, but a weird one. The boys seemed to have some sort of obsession over the letter "G." I wondered if they needed counseling. However, I was grateful they were able to make a mature group decision without coming to blows.

It's funny, because I loved my kids but they drove me completely crazy. I wished they would treat each other better. It pained me when they fought, which was often. I didn't understand why they had to fight over everything, from whose toy it was to a monkey doll to a game gone wrong.

Richie was 11 years old, Max, 9, Jon, 7, and Mark, 5, and I hadn't gotten a decent night's sleep in years. That alone took me into Weirdness territory. The economy was humming—there was money out there. The President had sex addiction problems, which was affecting the election, but the economy seemed not to notice.

"You just have to go out there and find the money, Schreiber," as my wife would say, her cat's eye glasses arching upward with her forehead. I hate that name—Schreiber. Hate it. But, there are only so many fights I can have with my wife. I concentrated on the money argument, tried to tell her that things aren't so great with the business, for reasons that have nothing to do with the general economy.

I walked around in a daze, up at four o'clock in the morning, hustling from minute one, trying to build my housing business, pushing myself to make money, support the family, feed the enormous appetites of my male offspring and grab the brass ring of financial security. Then when I came home from a day on the front lines of the never-ending business war, I had four small boys acting like the worst examples of mountain gorillas fighting for dominance you've ever seen on PBS.

Halloween is the absolute peak of hostilities for all of southern Queens and my boys got caught up in it. I hate Halloween. The kids in Queens think Halloween is a free "Get Out of My Parents' Rules for Good Behavior Jail" card. The normal rules of life are suspended. You can throw a barrage of eggs at total strangers, hit them with a sock full of chalk. Some adults complain that a bunch of kids wrapped their tree branches in toilet paper. If only that were the biggest crime!

Because there are other, much better things for a kid to do. Like throwing rocks at moving cars. Stealing more than usual from the local stores. And setting garbage cans on fire. Running into total strangers and tackling them on top of car hoods is also popular. Throwing Frisbees at people's heads is a tactic passed down from generation to generation as a hallowed tradition of the Ozone Park Rough Boys.

An adult in a business suit is particularly vulnerable. That's a red cape to the bulls stampeding through the neighborhood. You'll get egged or stoned or tackled, guaranteed.

The petty crimes were one thing. The costumes took the definition of terror to a whole new level. A Frankenstein outfit is like the pure innocence of Heidi compared to this parade of freaks. Manufactured head wounds with gaping crowns of blood were popular. An ax in the head with the inevitable red gusher was a big one too. The mask from the Scream movies appeared all too frequently (Scream 3 had come out—Yay!). A guy named Pinhead was starring in Hellraiser V: Inferno. The kids of Queens, inspired, came out of their homes with little sticks of metal lining their rubber mask faces in grid patterns. Isn't that terrific? The Red Devil appeared in a few places in southern Queens, throwing live firecrackers at little kids who thought they were just going to get a lot of great candy wearing their thrilling little teddy bear, vampire, princess, and witch costumes.

The cops were out in force, don't get me wrong, but they were badly outnumbered. They were wary and tired already from taking care of the usual spatterings of New York City criminal activity on an everyday basis before they had to confront the teenagers taking absolute delight in acting like henchmen for the forces of darkness.

Halloween fell on a Tuesday this particular year. So people started celebrating on Saturday night to take advantage of the weekend. It would be like two Halloweens in four days—Saturday night and Tuesday night.

Max dressed up as Superman. He loved Superman. During summer weekends at the beach, he jumped around the dunes by himself, wearing a towel for a cape. He had a very rich fantasy life and this kind of scared me. Jon wanted to be Superman too. Max knew that Jon bought a Superman costume, because they went to the store together to buy them with their mother. Max complained at the time, and lost the argument with his mother. Now he renewed the argument with his mother in another part of the house.
They put on their costumes and Max argued with Jon, telling him he should be Batman. In Max's mind, Batman was clearly the junior partner to Superman. Jon insisted on Superman. Max did not like this. They argued more in the bunkbed room they share. Max punched Jon in the chest. Jon defended himself. Max swung hard at Jon and pushed him onto the floor.

The sound of a kid falling heavily to the floor brought me from the kitchen to their room. The sight of two little Supermen fighting brought The Weirdness on too for me.

Daddy broke up the fight. I put myself between them. Max tried to hit Jon again and I caught his little fist with a curved palm and gave him the look of death. He started to cry. Jon was sobbing too. I had two crying Supermen on my hands.

"Max, your brother has the right to be Superman too. Now deal with it." I'm not the most sensitive father in the world. My fallback position was "I'm doing the best I can with four little maniacs under my roof." I could have blamed my less-than-stellar parenting skills on my mother, but as Richard Nixon said, that would be wrong.

Mark decided to be Luke Skywalker, with a Day-Glo light sword, which was just fine with everybody, thank God.

Richie, 11 years old, had already dashed out of the house, with a huge brown paper shopping bag for candy collection and no costume. He did not think it cool to wear a costume. And it was even more uncool to be seen with your father. Helen and I prayed he would be safe. We told him he had two hours and to be home by nine.

The rest of the boys and I all marched out together to walk up and down blocks around our house, which was relatively safe from the marauding barbarians of the night. Still, in my casual slacks and a windbreaker, I carried a baseball bat, just in case. It's called "The Tennessee Thumper." The bat was made in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and it's thin at the grip and heavy on the end. The teenagers who saw me would know I had a more than effective way to retaliate against any aggression.

Max was still sniffling from his defeat at the hands of Jon and Daddy. But soon, he quickly dried up to focus on the serious business of getting candy from the neighbors.

The Saturday night on our neighborhood blocks went uneventfully, just some kids fired up to get candy, and I was grateful. We saw evidence of some attacks, eggs dashed on the sidewalk, toilet paper in a few trees, some chalk scratched into the streets. But we didn't see any problems while we were walking and I was relieved.

When we returned home later, I wanted the boys to go to bed, but they were all excited by their haul of candy. Helen and I watched as they poured their paper bags onto the kitchen table. Three Musketeers bars, Milky Ways, Mars Bars, Tootsie Pops, Sweet Tarts, Hershey's chocolates, Reese's Pieces, M&Ms, Mounds bars, Good & Plenty boxes, and other little confections came flooding out. Raisin boxes were tossed into the refrigerator immediately. They went into school lunch boxes over the next week. The boys can get raisins from their mother. They don't need a neighbor to give them raisins.
Mary Janes were tossed in the garbage. It's a peanut butter and molasses candy and not all that tasty to my kids, especially when you compare it to chocolate. Pennies came out too. Those went into the piggy banks for comic books and more candy at the shop up on the boulevard.

The boys wrote their names on their bags and scooped their booty back in. The bags went into the refrigerator. Each day three pieces of candy were to be consumed, under my wife's rules. Of course she couldn't watch them all the time, so they were sneaking some candy when the coast was clear.

Richie came home an hour later than his assigned time. Helen and I looked at each other as if to say, "What can you do?"

I give him a three-minute speech. He timed it by the cartoon cat clock on the wall in the kitchen. I had been completely ineffective in getting my point across.

The next day, Sunday, passed without any drama. The plain light of an October day kept the demons in their caves. The boys played football in the street.

When Monday came, the boys felt their own inner horrors even in the absence of Halloween's influence. School was like a black hole drawing them in with its gravitational power and they didn't like it one bit. Each of the four boys felt a certain little depression about having to slink in to classes, even Max. He would have preferred to read in some quiet place, not sit in the prison of school.

That Monday night, things were quiet. It was a little like one of those Middle Eastern cease fires. Both sides are sitting there, bristling with loaded weapons, filled with lust to shoot their guns. I didn't trust the false peace of Monday night because I knew what was coming.

Then Tuesday hit—the actual Halloween. It was a school night, but there were still parties and streams of random kids walking around the neighborhood in fright masks and ax-heads and rubber steak knives coated with a plentitude of fake blood.

The boys were not allowed to go out for this second night, but they ignored us. Richie ran out to find fun in whatever form he could discover. Max and Jon ran to the corner shop to buy comic books and football magazines.

On Wednesday, we woke up to a day that wasn't Halloween. The explosion of depravity had finally exhausted itself. I relaxed a little.

At seven at night, I put the television on in the den room. I settled into my black easy chair, the one that lays back. A rerun of Law and Order was on one of the cable channels. The one with Lennie Briscoe. The guy in the trench coat. He's tough and persistent. I wished I had him for a friend.

My enjoyment was abruptly finished by a scream from the dining room.

Helen ran in from the kitchen; I pushed myself out of my easy chair. We arrived simultaneously to see Jon holding his eyes with his hands. He sounded like he had been attacked by a pit viper.

The cause of his pain was immediately apparent. Max stood between the two of us, a spray-bottle of Windex in his right hand.

"What did you do?" I yelled.

Max said nothing, just stood there with his mouth open. We didn't really need an answer. He had sprayed Jon's eyes with the window cleaner, which my wife had unaccountably left on the dining room table. It was clear that if put in the right hands, anything could become a weapon in our house.

We hustled Jon off to the bathroom to wash out his eyes with New York City water. My wife relieved Max of the window cleaner. She sent him to bed.

I stuck Jon's head under the sink, turned his eyes toward the stream of water and turned on the faucet. The water distracted him from his crying. I turned his head for the other side. We repeated the procedure. I ran his head under the water for what seemed like several minutes.

"You OK?" I said.

He sniffled.

"Should we do it again?"


We did it again. Then I dried his head with a towel. He seemed calm. His eyes looked normal.

My parents had come to our house for a pop-over visit. Their house is about 10 minutes from ours, in Ozone Park, the Flats. Mom and Dad arrived shortly after the Windex attack. Ruth walked into Max and Jon's bedroom. Max was lying under the covers with the lights on, ashamed.

Mother was wearing a gray dress and some kind of short hose that were supposed to function as socks, I think. She stood a few feet away from the bunk bed and said to Max, "So, look what you've done to your brother."

Her voice was dripping with contempt. Max cried out and tried to squeeze himself into a ball.

I stayed silent. I didn't know how to respond to Mother, but I suspected that perhaps this wasn't the best way to talk to my son.

I wasn't home when the next things happened over the next few days. Helen was. Jon beat up Mark. Max beat up Jon. Richie beat up Max. Afterward, when Richie wasn't paying attention, Max hit Richie in the eye, gave him a black one. Mark took a chair to get to the kitchen counter, pulled the biggest knife he could find out of Helen's butcher block, calmly walked out of the kitchen into the dining room and pointed the knife at Jon and yelled, "I'm gonna get you!"

The three other boys fled to the other side of the dining room. Mark stood at the entrance of the room and waved the knife in the air like a desperate criminal, cutting wide arcs at his enemy brothers. Helen ran to the three older boys, who were staring at their youngest brother with sudden, great fear.

How were we going to get out of this one?

Mark breathed heavily. Helen noticed that the corners of his eyes were dripping a heavy yellow pus. Did he have pinkeye?

Helen talked softly to him. "Sweetie, want some ice cream?"

"I want chocolate!" he demanded, holding the knife high up in the air, high enough to carve a line in my wife's stomach.

"OK. You can have chocolate."

"With fudge and sprinkles!"

"Yes. OK. I'll make it for you."

"They can't eat any!" he said, waving the knife in an uneasy arc.

"OK, honey. Only ice cream for you. None for them."

If only all fights could be solved with ice cream.


Horror House Detective by Michael Gold is now available from Silverthought Press.




Copyright © 2009 Michael Gold

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Michael Gold lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in Queens, NY. His latest published work was “Mr. Head Gets Dirty,” published on Silverthought, and “The Heat Is Always On,” a short essay in “Thoreau’s Legacy—American Stories About Global Warming,” published by Penguin Classics and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Influences include Rudy Rucker—“White Light,” Neil Gaiman—“Neverwhere,” and Joe Haldeman—“The Accidental Time Machine."

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