01134 … a story of terror
(originally posted 10/27/2017)
Halloween got me to thinking. And remembering. And wondering if I should share.
To a large degree a man is judged by what scares him. Or doesn’t scare him.
Is it violence? Spooky places? Emotional intimacy?
There are men who can dash into combat seemingly without a care but cannot stand the sight of blood. Nerds who can walk boldly into a graveyard at midnight while the jock cowers in the car. Apparently fear isn’t so much a litmus test as a wild card in the human psyche.
Because I like to write seasonally I want to write a scary story Halloween but the truth is the only scary story I have is one that 99.9% of the population will not find scary at all. They will just add it to the growing body of evidence that I’m not only a poor writer but a mental case.
But in the spirit of the season I will share it none the less.
When I was a child the scariest Halloween costume I ever wore was a calculator.
Wait! Come back! I’m not finished!
If you are in the .1% of the population that thinks like me I’m about to explain why this is scary.
I built it as a large rectangle. I spent a lot of time making sure it was accurate, every number and obelus in place. For those of you in the 99.9% crowd an obelus is the horizontal line with a dot above and below that represents the division sign. So even if this story doesn’t fill you with terror at least you learned something.
Near my feet was the LCD display screen and on that screen was the number 01134.
If you just felt a small chill run down your spine then there’s hope for this tale yet.
When I said I made sure that every number and obelus was spot on I should have mentioned the one button that caused my blood to run cold.
There was a button that generated a random number. You set the parameters you wanted and it would generate a random number between those two numbers. That button had me laying awake at night (the depths of this fear reflected by the fact that I was laying awake instead of lying awake as I grammatically should have been).
As a kid the idea that this inanimate object was making a decision freaked me out. I was ok with it adding and subtracting but who/what was deciding on this number?
I used to hold the calculator, an object assembled by various natural resources and chemicals created by science, and instead of asking myself how mankind ever came to creating such a marvel I instead stared at it as if it contained some devil.
How does a calculator decide a random number?
I wasn’t imagining some Terminator-type robot roaming the landscape killing the very humans that had created it as much as some inter-dimensional being that was using the seemingly-harmless bit of technology to influence our world.
And I was holding this portal in my hands.
Then it happened. 5th grade. 3rd period.
The stuff of nightmares.
My friend approached me with his calculator held upside down.
‘hEll0’ on the screen.
A scream escaped my lips. So long and high pitched that I ended up in the nurse’s office.
It had spoken to me. It had introduced itself. Across the cold abyss it had found a way. I had never been so scared in all my life. To this day when I see a hand-held calculator my heart skips a beat.
I remember making my Halloween costume. Putting it on and walking out into the brisk October night. Wondering if somewhere in another dimension a hyper-intelligent creature was allowing a smile to creep across its enormous dark maw. I visited house after house and was met with curious and amused faces. A few asked if I was afraid of math. I snorted a curt reply, scooped up a handful of candy and moved on.
Moving randomly though neighborhood after neighborhood.
Then I came to Old Man Robinson’s house. A widow. A recluse. A man rumored to be unstable and brilliant. He opened the door, took one look at me, his eyes wandering down to the screen near my feet, and promptly had a massive coronary and died on the spot.
I’ll never forget the look of terror on his face.
I’ll never forget the smile that crawled slowly across my tiny dark maw.