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.