Some things are better left alone.

Every town has its Monster House. The house that inspires spine tingling neighborhood legends and sparks double dog dares. The house that, in the mind of a 12-year-old, must surely harbor evil beyond imagination.

Ours was the Devil House — an unpainted, crooked wooden dwelling on the edge of town, well known to every junior high and high school student. The overgrown yard was littered with a mixture of weeds, fantastically weird metal sculptures and rusted vintage signs — to a teenager, stark evidence of a mentally unbalanced individual. The most unsettling part of the house was the old bicycle that balanced precariously atop a sharply slanted roof. Like some kind of creepy lightning rod, that ghostly bike always scared the bejeezus out of me.

It was said if you drove down the side alley at night and looked in the basement window, you’d see candles and hooded figures and rituals being performed. If you were truly insane, you’d actually get OUT of the car on a dare. (Ever the instigator, I was usually the one doing the daring.) And if you were unlucky enough to attract the occupants’ attention, best to gun it and get the hell outta there.

To do that, however, you had to get past the Devil Donkey that lived in the backyard. A live donkey that had the face of the Devil himself. And driving down the alley one night with my best friend Hamster, I SAW it — it’s head hanging over a low fence. Watching us. I’d swear on a stack of pancakes, that thing was EVIL.

My senior year in high school, I was the editorial editor of the school paper. Hamster was the news editor. Together, spurred purely by blind ambition, we concocted a plan. Against better judgment, we would secretly interview whoever lived in that house, and break the story in our Halloween edition.

The two of us were scared beyond belief as we knocked on that door. Two Girl Scouts. And when a skinny man in his 40s, with jet black hair and devilish pointy goatee answered, I thought I’d pass out. After mumbling something about writing a story for our school paper, he invited us in. Looking back, I’m still aghast that we actually accepted the invitation.

Turns out the man was an artist. Eccentric didn’t begin to cover it. He studied us as we sat at his painted kitchen table taking notes, and I felt positive there was a good chance we’d never make it out of there. When he offered us a drink and the two of us answered “no thanks!” in unison, I knew Hamster was thinking the same thing. He’s going to drug us, kill us, turn us into hamburger right here on his black and white checked tile floor, and no one will ever know what happened to us. Because we told NO ONE where we were going that day.

Apparently, he was aware his house had a name. He laughed when we mentioned it. He told us it was egged at least once a week — the week of Halloween being the worst. To be honest, I don’t remember much more of the interview. I DO remember, once we had finished and were safely in Hamster’s station wagon, screaming gleefully at our feat of bravery.

The house wasn’t as scary after that, which was a little sad. Part of me wished we would’ve just let it be. And even though it was a good story, and we gained admiration among our peers for such brave investigative journalism, part of me wished it was still a mystery.

This week, inspired by a post at The Stephford Diaries, I went back to that house on the outskirts of town, to take a photo. It had probably been 20 years since I’d seen it. Initially, I couldn’t find it. And just as I was beginning to think it had been torn down, I saw the rooftop, and the bicycle. Only now, it had a rider. And now there were three. The house itself was so hidden by overgrown shrubbery and trees, the roof was literally the only part visible from the street.

I did go down the alley to take a peek into the backyard, and saw that someone had done some beautiful work over the years. Flowers exploded everywhere. And I was still able to pick out a few sculptures and signs. But, now, to my adult eye, the folksy garden was sweet. Clearly a creative individual still lived there.

I knew chances were slim, but I was so hoping to see the Devil Donkey. Or at least his offspring. I suspect he’s been gone for many years. The town has changed so much since 1986, but the Devil House will no doubt live in my memory forever. Just the way it was.

And it makes me wonder if there’s a new Devil House somewhere.

I hope so.


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21 responses to “Some things are better left alone.

  1. 1. I almost (okay totally) peed just reading this, you’re crazy MP!
    2. You’re crazy MP!
    3. I have an inexplicable urge to watch Big Fish


    (sorry, got carried away because i love that movie)

    i remember the house like this in my neighborhood growing up. while it wasn’t inhabited by an eccentric artist, it was occupied by a mean, old lady with pink hair. we used to play in the common area (aka “the gulley”) near her backyard and she used to yell at us kids to “GO HOME!” and the like.

    one day when we were a bit older – probably ~12 & 14yrs old – my brother and i knocked on her door and introduced ourselves. she gave us milk and cookies and was actually very nice. i’m sure she has long since passed, but i will never forget “Mean Lady”, as we referred to her as, and the adrenaline rush we would get while trespassing on her property.

  3. I totally love Big Fish too!

    And how brave were you guys? Knocking on Mean Lady’s door? I NEVER would’ve had the balls to do that at that age.

  4. The bicycles are killing me. I would love to know why those are up there.

    Anyway, this was fabulous. Right down to the pointy-bearded artist.

  5. Pingback: What’s with THAT House? The Bloggywood Edition. | The Stephford Diaries

  6. I lived next door to the freaky house. If there was ever a guy you’d expect to see on the evening news, it was the crazy owner. Guess he hid the bodies well.

  7. Awesome! You’ve got to go back and interview the new owner? What if it’s the same guy????

    p.s. I love Big Fish too! Have you seen it???? You must if not.

  8. We had a nearby hill that we called Devil’s Peak. It was a little more pointed on top than the other hills, and people shot their rifles at abandoned cars on the far side of it. The long-standing dare was to hike to the top of Devil’s Peak…

    My best friend and I did. There was nothing there. We walked down to the back side. A few abandoned cars with spent bullets, but no one shooting. Clearly, no devil.

    Years later I took my kids to the place I grew up. We were going to hike Muffin Hill, which was the hill right next to Devil’s Peak. My kids had prepared themselves for a grand adventure, based on all the stories I’ve told of the woods around where I lived.

    We hiked to the top of Muffin Hill in 5 minutes flat.

    Not much of a hill. Not much of a peak. Sometimes memories are best.

  9. Ah, Kindergarten Memories. Where everything is bigger than it REALLY is.

  10. Wow.

    That was like reading the beginning of a Stephen King novel, sans the cheesy yearbook pics. *lol*

    So glad it turned out folksy and artsy and less horrifying, albeit the mystery bubble that surrounded it, totally popped!

    I wish I didn’t hate where we lived, so much. I might be inclined to go in search of our own monster house.

  11. Auds, you have no idea how you just made my week. Stephen King is my all-time-fave. You saying that … I could KISS you!

  12. I love exploring spooky houses/roads. So much fun.

  13. Can you imagine not knowing where our kids are for a whole hour in this day?

  14. Sorry, I have no idea what this post was about – I got stuck on the hair in the yearbook picture, and the fact that some girl went by the name of “hamster”. . .

  15. Yep, you’re about my age. Can tell by the hair.

    Liked your story.

  16. another co-worker

    Dude, your hair in that picture is better left alone.

  17. I ran across a spooky house in the backwoods of the Boundary Waters of Minnesota once. It was a tiny log cabin with newspaper for insulation and a wood stove and homemade furniture. No one was around, but it was clear that someone was still living there in the middle of nothing. You had to take a boat to get anywhere because there were no roads. Creepy.

    Oh, and nice hair, dude. I might have to take that to Rachael at Blo so she can give me that do.

  18. Hey can we pay you to go back and knock on the door? Okay not ACTUALLY pay you…but more like really really encourage and support you over the internet. I want you to knock and have the guy remember you and you guys will laugh and laugh…..see? it could be good. 🙂

  19. OR, he could be off his meds and chop me into tiny leettle pieces …

  20. Pingback: Transcendence from the land of the non-bloggers « I Thank My Mother

  21. There were no houses like that in my neighborhood, so . . . I guess . . . that makes our neighborhood Monster House . . . MY house?


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