Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beware the Box Monster

What is the scariest monster you've seen on Halloween? A zombie? A werewolf? A ghost?

When I was a pre-teen boy trick-or-treating, I saw a creature that chilled my blood.

From a distance, the figure looked like a box: a box with feet and long arms that dragged on the pavement. The box was the same height as I was, so there must have been a child wearing that odd disguise.

As I approached the box costume, I saw that it wore a ghoulish, terrible face. And then it spoke:

The voice was gravelly—like an elderly man—but distorted like a smoker's artificial speaking valve. Was there a grown man inside that child-sized costume? Was it even... human?

The box costume became the Box Monster. I ran away, convinced the Monster's snake-like arms would grab my ankles and pull my fright-filled self into its eternal embrace.

I made it home alive, but I stayed frightened of the Box Monster for many nightmarish nights. If I never went trick-or-treating again, my excuse was that I had outgrown it. But I knew the real reason:

So be careful this Halloween. There are scary monsters out there. And there is one monster who may put you in a box too.

Beware the Box Monster

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Day at the Ranch

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a cowboy. I even had my own cowboy hat.

So when my teacher announced that our forth grade class was taking a field trip to a ranch, I was in heaven! My maverick destiny had arrived, I reckoned.

At the ranch, we were each assigned a horse. My horse—named Joker—was taller than I had imagined, but it was a hoot 'n' a holler to ride at a relaxed trot.

But as the horses sped to a run, I was suddenly overwhelmed with panic.

So I jumped.

A ranch hand told me how dangerous it was to jump off a moving horse, and to please get back in the saddle. Holding back tears, I did.

But when my horse regained its fast gallop, my reflexes took over: crying, I jumped off again.

And once more.

After that, my classmates watched the ranch hand lead me and Joker back to the barn. There's an Old West saying: "Never walk when you can ride."

I walked.

Humiliated, I rejoined some classmates at the pier, where the next outdoor lesson seemed simple: row a boat.

I stepped on the side of the boat, it pushed away, and I fell in the water.

While I shivered by the campfire, I witnessed my third ranch-related trauma.

My schoolmate, Tim, was screaming while his runaway horse tore down a steep hill. A ranch hand was yelling for him to "Pull the reins! Pull the reins!"

Tim replied:

He survived, but our outdoor spirits had not. We barely cared when the ranch hands gave us unlabeled cans of orange soda.

I took a sip.

That orange soda tasted like bliss. It was so sweet, so reassuring, and so everything right where the field trip had gone wrong.

My day at the ranch was filled with vivid memories. But I'll always remember that orange pop most clearly.

After that field trip, I never wanted to be a cowboy again. As a grown-up now, I prefer the comforts and joys of the great indoors.

But what if I had stayed on that horse, or stepped into that boat, or if my schoolmate pulled the reins?

Things might have turned out very differently:

Howie "Howdy" Woo

UPDATE - Nov 13, 2009: Here is my class journal from when I was ten years old, describing that day at the ranch:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How the Fire Started

Last month, the local news reported that a mushroom farm was destroyed by a massive fire.

The fire was attributed to hay bales bursting into flames due to spontaneous combustion.

But this photo—which was captured moments before the blaze—tells the full story:

And that is how the fire started.

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