Compared to other living things, we humans are peculiar in lots of ways.
This brilliant insight occurred to me the other night while I was watching a creepy movie on TV. I was alone in the house — and the movie was phenomenally scary. Suddenly, our family cat leapt onto my back. My scream was so loud, that even the characters in the movie stopped what they were doing to look at me.
Why is it that humans — at least some of us — actually enjoy watching scary movies, telling spooky stories and going on thrill rides? You never see a bunch of horses standing around telling each other horror stories about glue. German Shepherds seem to have no interest in watching movies about haunted doghouses. And you’d never get a hamster to ride the roller coaster at the Puyallup Fair. I know … I’ve tried.
But humans, supposedly smarter than animals, LOVE that stuff. When I was in college, I remember a teacher explaining that our real, everyday lives are so routine, so devoid of genuine excitement — that we seek replacement thrills in the form of movies, rides, games and so on. Immediately after making those remarks, the teacher threw open a window and bungee-jumped out of it. It was an impressive demonstration, even though he wound up breaking his nose since the classroom was on the first floor.
As for the stuff in horror movies, it almost always exceeds the scariest moments of our actual lives. I mean, how often does the average person, in real life, open a closet door — and a skeleton falls out? It does happen to political candidates once in a while, but that’s a different matter.
But a scary, creepy thing happened to me once when I was a KID — and to this day, my family still asks me to tell them the true story of (cue the shock music): THE LEGEND OF FLY ISLAND!
I was about 11 years old. My cousins, Timmy and Tony, invited me to spend the weekend down at their family sprawling ranch. A creek ran right through their vast rangeland — ideal for fishing and swimming. The swimming sometimes took place in the nude — but never the fishing. Being nude around fishhooks is not a great idea. I know…I’ve tried.
One day, we decided to follow the creek a couple of miles upstream from the ranch to find a good swimming hole. It was a hot summer day, and we were looking for a wide spot with deep water so we could jump off rocks and do cannonballs, can-openers and other complex splashing maneuvers. After a couple of miles or so, Tony shouted out: “I found it! The perfect spot!”
Indeed, he was right. It was wide and shady — with a couple of big rocks on the bank to jump off. Plus, right in the middle of the river was a tiny island. It looked just big enough for one or two of us to sit on between splashes.
Tony was the first one in, performing a magnificent can-opener. He called it his electric can-opener, because he would thrash around in the water afterwards as if he receiving a shock. Timmy was next, attempting a cannonball. Sadly, he made a splash so tiny it resembled a Nerf ball.
To change things up, I dove in headfirst — not exactly a swan dive, but more of a crippled mallard. Then I stayed under water as long as I could in the murky creek, trying to see if I could make it all the way to other side in one breath. I didn’t come close though — and finally popped back up to the surface just alongside the tiny island we had spotted from shore.
After circling the island, I couldn’t find easy access, so I reached out with both hands to pull myself up onto it. That’s when I noticed two things: The surface of the rock was very spongy — it sort of gave when I pushed on it. The second thing I noticed is that its entire surface was black — with (cue the shock music again) FLIES!!!
I recoiled in horror, pushing myself back into the water and away from the rubbery island. But it got worse because exactly at that moment a neighboring rancher came strolling by along the opposite creek bank.
“Oh, THERE it is,” he said. “I’ve been looking all week for that old cow. Poor thing must have fallen in the creek and drowned.”
But long before the word “cow” had crossed the rancher’s lips, I was gurgling and splashing my way back to shore with Tony and Timmy right behind. Once on shore — with every one of our hairs on end — we fell onto the bank completely freaked out. Tony and Timmy’s eyes were bugging out like golf balls; mine, like beach balls.
Of course if it had been a movie, the cow would have risen up from the water — flies and all — eaten the rancher, and then gone after us. I’m relieved to report that didn’t happen. Still, I can’t remember ever being more scared in my life … than the day I tried to go ashore on (shock music) … FLY ISLAND!!!
The moral of the story? Only swim in public pools with crystal clear water. And always check for deceased cows before diving in.
Better yet, skip the swim and go watch a creepy movie instead.
Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.