double dog daring
I was nine and going on ten years old when the Night Stalker first struck in San Francisco. The news of his arrival exploded across the media. The city was immediately in a panic. He had caused such terror in southern California, slashing across Los Angeles County on a gruesome murdering spree, that everyone in the north, when he finally arrived, was seized by his mysterious presence. The victims that survived had been stricken from the horror, usually raped and assaulted, always left damaged beyond repair. The victims that didn’t were shot and stabbed and sometimes carved and mutilated, dead either way. One had her eyes gouged out. It was brutal.
When I was introduced to the Night Stalker I was in Dions’ living room sitting cross legged in front of his television, a large nineteen each color set that was built into a huge, accommodating furniture cabinet. It had brass handles on fake drawers that didn’t pull out from the bottom, and two doors that folded and closed over the screen. The whole piece was covered in wood paneling, even the fake drawers, which had ornate designs carved into them for authenticity. On top of it they’d set four framed photos of people I didn’t know, sun washed photos so pale you could barely make out who was in them, people in clothes you never saw anymore who were smiling in a moment long gone. Bleached out memories that were fading in color, leaving impressions of which just to stare and consider in curiosity. When I asked Dion who they were it seemed he didn’t know much either. They were just people in another history going on around him. In another life independent of his own. In between the pictures was a small black statue, made of marble or stone, of two figurines entwined in a romantic embrace. Their legs were tangled in such a way that you lost whose were whose by the base of it. On the corner, behind them all, was the biggest piece, a mahogany clock Dion bragged was made by an uncle of his that was serving time in jail. The glaze had worn and its hands had stopped moving but they kept it up for sentimental reasons.
On the floor sitting in front of it, and us, was his Atari video game system. On the screen was a man made up of colored squares swinging from a rope made of colored squares over a dangerous square black pit with an even more dangerous green squared crocodile. The game was named Pitfall but we defiantly called it Raiders of the Lost Arc. It was the grandest novelty to me. All of it. The entire circumstance. Everything in it. The toys of a tycoon.
Dions mom can into the room and said not just to us but to anyone and everyone that was listening, “Keep your eyes peeled, the Night Stalker is everywhere and he’s gonna get you if you don’t watch it.”
We kept playing our video game, unfazed. Who could worry about a crazed killer when high scores were to be reached? What brand of death could distract us from our pixilated entertainment? Dion passed another level and I sat jittery with impatience, waiting my turn. His mother slurred something incoherently about getting what will come to us and left the room, leaving a burning cigarette in the ashtray.
Later we were around the corner, hanging on the porch of an apartment we didn’t live in, letting dusk fall behind the dim illuminations of the street lamps. The Night Stalker was on everyone’s lips like a secret just revealed, a shocking truth still under great consideration. It had been agreed that he would never venture to our neighborhood. It was too dangerous, too insular, too rooted in the resident’s own violence to concern itself with outside threats. Were he to come to our ‘hood he would get bum rushed, mugged, bullied by the older kids that had suffered so much misery in their own short lives that the pain he would cause could only be scoffed at and dismissed while angry black fist rained down on his rotted, sunken face. We only wished he dared come to our district and try to terrorize us, hardened urbanites. We had each other to fear, he was a no one compared to the locals. If it was one thing we felt safe from living in the ghetto, it was that no one could scare us any more than we were already scared. At least not us kids.
When the sun fell behind the mountains we all had to go home. It wasn’t the Night Stalker that forced us inside but our parents that made the rules. Were it up to us we would have waited, surrounded by the makeshift weapons of a littered city street, and greeted him with evil grins. But alas, we could not exercise our courage after the sun went down.
So we went back to playing our video games.