To this day, I hate boardwalks.
It was Halloween weekend and the last place I wanted to be was at the shore. It was the year my folks took their sweet time closing up the beach house. Instead of hanging out with friends embarking on more tricks than treat, I was stuck wandering the cold and damp planks of a boardwalk that's seen better days.
And man, nothing creepier than a boardwalk off season. The first thing that struck me was the silence. And God, how everything was so still but the ocean raged more violent than I've ever seen it.
Looking at the amusement stands that were normally so filled with verve, I started to fill in the blanks with the echoes of the summer -- children screaming in the distance, that creepy accordion of the carousel, bells and whistles from the pier and those ding dongs of retro pinball machines.
And then someone whispered my name. It was a woman I think.
I snapped around but no one was there. Was it the wind? I put my Walkman headphones back on and cranked the Bruce that somehow seemed so apropos. Times were good to him on this wooden way but it seemed like such a long time ago.
The buildings were timeworn and weather-beaten and some cried to be condemned. The gyro stands, pizza joints, corn dog shacks and penny arcades (which was false advertising by the way) were lonely now and had to wait another long winter to wake up.
A wind whipped up from behind me and knocked over a trash can as I watched it roll in front of an arcade. Then I heard a maniacal laugh. Almost demented.
The laughing grew louder. She said, "Come in..."
I spun again and noticed this time that the arcade was open but no one was inside. Were the owners trying to drum up off season business? I wandered in and noticed all of the machines were off.
Then in the corner, she blazed on.
'Laffing Sal' taunted me with her uncontrollable and almost demonic cackle.
My blood ran cold when I saw her.
She was made of papier mache over steel coils and frame. She had a detachable head, arms, hands and legs and was held together with fabric, staples, pins, nails, nuts and bolts.
She had a wig of non-human hair with a large gap between her evil front teeth and had to be at least 6 feet, 10 inches high.
The laughing continued and truth be told, she broke me. As I ran out of the arcade, I dropped my Walkman - Bruce tape and all. I didn't turn around until I was down the ramp and on the street of my cozy shore home.
"Fine..." I said not letting on. "But I'm gonna need a new Walkman."
"Anyone on the boardwalk?" she asked.
"Eh, a couple people," I darted back before I went into my bedroom trying to make sense of what just happened.
I never exactly found out. But like I said, to this day, I hate boardwalks.
Photos: ksweatherford and shoregal via Flicker