Laura Kasischke is the author of the dark collection of short stories, If a Stranger Approaches (Sarabande Books, $15.95), looking at how playground stories can become twisted. Here she shares the strange stories she heard as a child.
These were the stories we told on the playground to one another, and knew to be true. This was the suburban compendium of our shared childhood, its oral anthology, representing what we questioned and understood of the world.
I don't recall a single adult involved in the transmission of any of these stories--except for one time when a teacher got closer to us than we knew she was, and she overheard, and she cleared her throat and said, "That doesn't sound like nice children's chatter," before she wandered away, and the story continued.
We didn't need adult editors, their advice. Adults never had anything but the thinnest of narratives. Their descriptions were colorless. They left out the good parts. This was ours.
Our culture, our chronicle, the arcane knowledge we gathered and dispensed during those free twenty minutes twice a day as we circled the swing sets and slides, churning ourselves into human citizens, into particular products of a place and time.
Here are fifteen horror stories my classmates told me:
• A white van pulled up on the corner and two men jumped out and grabbed Sandy McDonald's hippy sister, and now she's a prisoner in the basement of a house on Elmwood. John Buchanan looked in the window and saw her face.
• When Matt Pruitt was hit by a car outside the junior high school, the top half of his head flew off and his brain landed on the other side of the street. On the sidewalk.
• Long ago a girl got her head caught in the monkey bars, and strangled. No one knew until after school. It's why the principal walks around the playground after the last bell rings, to make sure no kid is left out here dead.
• David Straub's mother made him eat glass. She had to go to prison for a while.
• Mary Alice Ferguson's sister doesn't eat. Mrs. Ferguson ties her to a chair and pours milkshakes down her throat, but she just spits them on the floor.
• If you make a small hole with your fist and look into it you see a demon. Don't do it. Stephanie Marsh did and her dad got killed in a car accident that day.
• Bill Riedel had a worm growing inside him. Part of it came out of his mouth and the other part came out of his butt hole.
• Missy Beck's father was born in a concentration camp in Germany from his mother's dead body.
• One morning Lance Collins found a human poop in his sand box. They think somebody's living in a hole dug out of the vacant field behind their house. Mr. Collins sits up all night with a shot gun waiting for the pooper to return.
• Sarah Black's sister got sent away because she kissed the penis of a boy she was babysitting.
• The janitor found a two-inch baby in the girl's bathroom in the high school. It was alive.
• Frank Belieu's mother picked up the phone in January, and it was his sister Margaret Belieu, who died in December of making herself throw up. Mrs. Belieu had to go to an asylum or something.
• Beth Strahan is so pale because her real parents kept her in a closet until she was six years old.
• The only reason Mr. and Mrs. Vandermulen had Bruce was because they wanted to give his blood to his sister, but she died anyway and now they make him sleep in her room with her pink sheets and curtains and all of her dolls and things.
• Officer Reynolds put his gun in his wife's ear and told her to shut up
during the fireworks display last summer, but she just kept talking and talking. It happens all the time.