On fear, from a man born Friday the 13th
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H.P. Lovecraft
As the family legend goes, my parents were all set to name me Jason until I was born on Friday the 13th.
When I came out that day, they went back to “The Big Book of Baby Names.” They couldn’t call me after the main villain of the popular “Friday the 13th” horror movie franchise when I was born on the titular day.
I believe my birth that day — under the deep dark of a waning crescent moon — bestowed in me a great love of scary movies, scary stories, and scary books.
The first time my birthday fell again on a Friday, in 1991, I was only 6. But, every Friday the 13th birthday since then — in 1996, 2002, 2013, and 2019 — I have tried to celebrate by gathering a few friends for marathons of films from “Halloween,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and, of course, “Friday the 13th” franchises.
In my youngest years, no one in my family had any money, so few of us could afford cable TV or frequent trips to video rental place.
So, we — my mom, her sisters, my cousins, my mom’s cousins — mostly sat around and played cards and board games and talked …
… and told scary stories.
My mom and her sisters were great at it. They insisted every story was not only true, but that it happened to them, that they witnessed it firsthand and so could swear to its authenticity. I loved sitting there listening as a boy, getting so scared I jumped at shadows and had to watch a couple cartoons before bed just to calm myself enough to fall asleep.
All these years later, it’s hard — even despite my years of trained journalistic skepticism — to not believe in my bones that all these things actually happened:
As young girls, my mother and one of her sisters broke into an old, long-abandoned house to explore its dusty rooms. The house supposedly once belonged to a mad physician whose ghost still haunted the place. Throughout the house, my mother and aunt found odd hidden doors that opened secret closets, crawlspaces, and attics (that’s at least somewhat believable, because Battle Creek was a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and many homes at the time had secret compartments to stow away runaway slaves).
Through one such hidden door, Mom and her sister found a room with many, many antique glass jars filled with formaldehyde preserving rat tails, opossum heads, and many other odd animal parts, along with what my mother always insisted had to be a human ear.
On another night when my mother was a girl, she woke up from a nightmare and then heard vicious knocking on their front door. From the landing atop the stairs, she watched her uncle open the door to a bloodied man who asked to use the phone because he and his friend had just crashed their motorcycles right outside my mother’s house.
Unbeknownst to my young mother, her mother was at that very moment in the hospital, suffering a severe asthma attack.
Doctors had just pronounced my grandmother dead.
A second later, while Mom’s uncle was on the phone with the paramedics, that motorcyclist’s friend died right there in the street.
At the same time, doctors revived my grandmother.
Years later, my mother and father, as dating teenagers, went out after dark to explore one of Battle Creek’s old cemeteries — the one with the mythological statue of the Virgin Mary that supposedly cries at midnight — and stumbled across torn, bloody-looking clothes hanging from a tree. Beneath the tree lay a rolled-up rug that seemed to have something bulky inside.
When my parents moved toward the rug to examine it further, they heard a baneful groaning behind them and rustling leaves, like something big was moving very quickly toward them. They high-tailed it out of there.
A couple years after that, my aunt was driving down a country road late at night, high cornstalks on either side of the road. She passed a man wearing what looked like an orange prison jumpsuit, lumbering along slowly, with a limp.
As my aunt drove past, the man stared right at her with blank-looking eyes set in a ghostly pale face.
My aunt sped up, hoping to put as much distance as possible between her and the spectral figure, and saw him fade into the distance in her rearview mirror.
But, three miles down the country road and only a couple minutes later, she passed the same man again, staring at her with the same baleful look, still limping along.
I have to wait until 2024 for another Friday the 13th birthday, but I like to ponder on those stories every October, too, as Fright Night approaches …
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.