Where The Blacktop Ends–why can we admit fear as children, yet not as adults?



Everyone has their own childhood memories, right? I remember this really scary house where the black-top ended and a spooky woman lived. As a child, I recalled many things that scared me and then sometimes I’d make them up into fictional stories. When I consider this, it occurs to me how easily false memories might be implanted in a child when they’re encouraged to remember things that frightened them. How simple it is to invent stories to explain what makes us afraid. So while the environment in my story surrounds the childhood of my past, the story is fictional and the heroes remain lost in the nostalgia of my childhood. We are courageous as children to admit when we’re scared, but as adults, we’re not quite so brave.   

Where the Black-Top Ends

Hot and sticky, I felt sweat drip between my shoulder blades, the way I imagined blood running down my back would feel. I was six and summers were hotter back then, and time moved so slow, I could hardly tell one day from the next.

I was the youngest of three, my brother thirteen, and my sister eleven. That was the summer I’d turned invisible, because neither my brother nor my sister, nor their friends, acknowledged my existence. Blistering hot tarmac led to the old house where the pavement ended and a dirt driveway curved around. Fir trees moaned when the dry, dusty wind blew and grasshoppers screeched.

The house, dirty, dull gray with the front porch leaning inward, looked as though it would collapse with the slightest breeze. The jagged front steps looked like broken teeth. Mrs. Ivers lived with her son in the house where the black-top ended. She’d cut off your head as soon as look at you, at least that’s the story my brother and sister told.

One scorching day, the leader in our neighborhood, double-dared my brother to ride onto her property. I knew by the way his deep blue eyes got buggy, my brother was scared. He ran his hand through his hair, but with so much Brillcream, he couldn’t mess it up if  he tried.

When my brother hesitated, his friend raised his eyebrows and said one word in a voice that challenged. “Scared?”

Without a word, my brother jumped on his bike and started pedaling, flying around Mrs. Iver’s horseshoe-shaped drive, raising clouds of dust so thick no one could see a thing; only a nasal voice could be heard, screaming for him to get off the property.

My brother returned and the kids slapped him on the back like he’d just won the big game. We all felt safe on the black-top. The group scattered, leaving me alone. I was so much younger than the rest, what if I stayed invisible forever? Heading to our backyard, I noticed my brother and sister’s bicycles, leaning drunkenly against the cottonwood tree.

I had to do something, that, not only my brother and sister, but the whole group would respect, so I climbed on my sister’s blue bike, finding it too clunky. Instead, I hopped onto my brother’s sleek black and silver chrome bike.

I pedaled to the end of the black-top and plowed onto the dirt part of the horseshoe drive, crashing hard on the ground. My brother’s bike landed on top of me. I tried to squirm out from under it, but my sock stuck in the chain, while blood streamed down my leg. My vocal cords froze when I saw the red-haired giant towering over me.

He lifted the crazily bent bicycle off me, tearing my pink sock. Scooping me up in his arms, the giant carried me up the front porch, and, using his bony shoulder, shoved open the torn screen. He took me inside and placed me on a fake leather recliner and left without a word.

I looked around and saw one wall full of holes, leaving the Sheetrock looking raw in its nakedness. Any fool knew snakes must be in those holes. A pinch of fear knotted my stomach, and I prayed the snakes wouldn’t come out.

The red-haired giant came back carrying a striped washcloth and a tube of ointment. His overalls were faded like his blue eyes, and he wore a denim shirt with sleeves rolled up. His arms were long and stringy, ghostly pale, except for the blue veins that bulged like thin ropes. His red hair stuck up in all directions and he was so old—at least over thirty.

He washed my ankle and smeared ointment on my cuts with a surprising gentleness. The strange noises he made sounded like his voice must be rusty. I nodded, pretending to understand him. He left me again.

I knew when he’d returned by the creak of his boots, even before he stepped into the room. I took courage in the fact that I wasn’t dead yet and might eventually get home. He motioned to me. I leapt up from the recliner and followed him into the kitchen.

I sat at the gray Formica table, and he set a plate filled with celery stuffed with peanut butter and a tall glass of strawberry Quick in front of me. In spite of everything, my stomach rumbled and I smiled gratefully before taking a piece of celery and stuffing it in my mouth  A lop-sided grin slashed across his face as he watched me eat.

My dirty blond pony-tail was more cock-eyed than usual, and my white shirt had slipped down my shoulders. With one crooked finger, he stroked the curve of my neck all the way to my shoulder blade. Goose bumps danced along my arms. I tugged at my blouse and pulled it up higher on my shoulders. As I slurped my Quick, I heard dragging footsteps cross the living room floor. Mrs. Ivers stormed into the kitchen.

Built close to the ground, she was nearly as wide as she was tall. I realized where my giant had gotten his crazy hair, because her iron-gray strands poked out every which way. Her wrinkles made spidery wrinkles of their own, while the space between her front teeth caused a whistling sound when she yelled. Her voice filled the entire kitchen.

“Do you want to go back to jail? Remember what happened last time you brought a little girl into this house?”

“I’m sorry, Mama. What’ll we do?” he asked in a creaky, nasal voice.

She grabbed my arm. When I looked down, it seemed strange to see her wormy white hand with the blue veins pinching my sun-browned arm. She dragged me into the bedroom and tossed me onto the bed.

The red-haired giant followed.  He gave me a vacant smile before his mother’s hand flattened across his mouth. I ducked as though the slap was meant for me.

“Why did you do that?” he whined. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

“What did I do to deserve a son like you? I’ll go find some rope.”

He peeled off my other pink sock and stroked my toes. I noticed the pink polish my sister had put on for me was chipped and peeling. I curled up my toes to protect them, even if I couldn’t protect myself. I didn’t want to die. I hadn’t learned all my math facts yet. I wondered if my brother and sister would be glad they didn’t have to play with me anymore.

The giant’s breath was fast and ragged, and there was an oily shine to his face. It reminded me of my brother’s hair greased up. The giant placed his long, thin fingers on my shoulders, leaving me sick and scared.

The floorboards groaned and I knew the old lady was returning. She stood in the archway of the dim bedroom with four thick ropes slung over her fat arm. “Kyle, stop!” she shouted at the giant.

“I wasn’t doing nothing, Mama.”

“We’ve got to get rid of her, or you go back to jail.”

“Yes, Mama.”  He reached on top of an old wardrobe and brought down a sharp knife that glittered like a silver dollar.

Hypnotized by his long, stringy arms and the hand gripping the knife, I stared at him, so close, I smelled his sour breath. The blade arced toward my throat in slow motion.

A sharp rapping and rattling of the screen door reached my ears. “Mrs. Ivers, have you seen my kid sister?” my brother shouted.

The red-haired giant remained with the knife hanging in mid-air. I screamed, “Help me!”

The screen door banged open, pounding footsteps raced across the living room and down the hallway. My brother and my sister ducked past Mrs. Ivers when they spotted me on the bed. She and her son seemed rooted to the spot.

My brother yelled, “Let’s go, now!”

I jumped up and kicked the giant in his private parts before flying toward my brother and sister. The giant doubled over and let out a yelp, while his mother lumbered over to him. She shrieked at us.

Sandwiched between my brother and sister, I flew out the ragged screen door and dashed down the dirt driveway, until we reached where the black-top ended. As we paused to catch our breath, I felt my brother and sister’s love wrap around me. I knew they would keep me safe.

Years later, I returned to the old neighborhood and walked down the driveway and stood where the black-top ended. The saggy-bottomed gray house no longer existed. The pines were gone. It was hotter back then in the summer and the days lasted almost forever—but not anymore. Sometimes, I’m still scared of where the black-top ends, and I wish I had my brother and sister beside me once more.

The End

Thanks for stopping by to where the blacktop ends! And don’t worry if you still shut the closet door completely before you go to sleep at night, so do I. It’s okay to be scared sometimes, even if we are adults.




5 Responses to “Where The Blacktop Ends–why can we admit fear as children, yet not as adults?”

  1. Rosemarie Kelly-Cunningham says:

    That was a good one Brenda! I can remember listening to “Inner Sanctum” on the radio as a kid on Monday nights. That was a really scary radio production and when I would hear the squeaking door opening on the radio, I was so scared, I would put a blanket over my head, thinking someone was entering the apartment where I lived! Funny, how your story triggered a memory of my childhood.
    Thank God your brother and sister rescued you in your story and proved to you that you were not “invisible” to them.

    • Thanks, Rosemarie. Childhood memories are really funny & can be scary. The odd thing is that I had a really scary dream just after posting that yesterday. I dreamt someone was ‘after’ me. I guess it’s one of our universal fears.

  2. Shel says:

    I could see and feel the whole thing.. You’re great Bren..

    • Shel, Thanks so much. I know you have a fascination with old pictures as well by some of the pics that you post on FB. It’s weird how so much of our past comes back to us in those pictures.

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