Mr. McClusky’s Occupation
by Charles C. Cole
I’ll never forget that day, in mid-fall of 1975. Len and I were waiting in the pre-dawn chill outside the bus stop shelter, commiserating about high school. We were standing on or off the curb, depending on who had been playfully shoved last.
Meanwhile, the twins Sally and Susie Warren were chain-smoking in the shelter. The red glow of their cigarettes danced as they cackled at dirty jokes about our favorite television actors.
“They should show more respect,” said Len. “Actors are people, too.”
Len grumbled quietly about girls but didn’t know enough for a long discussion, so our conversation quickly turned to horror movies on Chiller Theater, hosted by Chilly Billy Cardille, the only weekend sparkle in this little town just southwest of Pittsburgh.
Naturally, from there, Len brought up “the gorilla in the room,” the subversively quiet mansion that scowled in faded opulence immediately across the street.
Our entire development was built of jigsaw puzzle pieces from some former steel industry executive’s estate, encircling the home. The roads had been purposefully designed so that the remaining original lot existed on a virtual island, segregated by a black wrought-iron fence.
“I’m telling you, the guy’s a vampire. The curtains are always closed,” said Len. “Think about it.”
“At least he’s our vampire,” I said, rather than debating the point.
“Would you rather go out to eat or have your mom heat up leftovers?”
“Go out, of course.”
“So, meaning: he never snacks on any of us even though we’re conveniently accessible,” I explained.
“Mr. McClusky’s a vampire?” asked Susie, having joined us.
“It’s just a theory,” said Len.
“You boys don’t have any matches, do you?” asked Sally. “We’re all out.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“What if he gets the munchies in the daylight hours?” asked Len.
“We’ll be at school,” said Susie. “And he can’t exactly go trolling the neighborhood because he’d go up in smoke in sunlight.”
I was impressed: a girl who knew horror lore.
“This was all his family’s land once. Maybe there are tunnels,” said Len.
“My dad said he’s heard drilling at night,” I said, “but that’s probably because of the coal mining everywhere.”
“If he comes looking for a fight, I’ll give him one,” said Len, suddenly puffing up with pseudo-manliness.
“You’re just a kid,” said Sally. “What are you going to fight with, your breath?”
“I’ve got a wooden stake under my mattress, from Boy Scouts, right where I can grab it.”
The bus was late and the sun was cresting when Mr. McClusky’s black sedan with the tinted windows appeared at the bottom of the neighborhood, turning slowly off Route 19.
“Don’t look now, but here’s your opportunity,” Sally said.
“I don’t exactly have a stake in my pocket. Why’s he doing coming home at this hour?”
“He probably works the graveyard shift,” I joked. “He’s probably all bloated from blood: an easy target. Not to mention how tired he must be, after staying up all night prowling. This is your chance. Strike first.”
“Fine,” said Len. He scooped up a marble-sized pebble at his feet and tossed it underhand at the passing car, probably never expecting it to make contact, but it did. Ping!
McClusky slammed on the brakes.
“Run,” I said, but nobody moved.
McClusky stepped out. He was towering. His face was bone white, like from a bad makeup job, with a bluish scar dropping down from the corner of his left eye. Dressed in a tuxedo, with a flat wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face and a short cape over his shoulders. He looked back at his car as if it had a large disfiguring X of disrespect on it.
“What’s the idea?” he growled.
“My friend thought you were a vampire,” said Susie. “He was trying to get you to step outside.”
“Here I am. Now what?”
“I’m not running,” said Len. “I can’t. I’ve missed so many days, I heard my mom talking about the possibility of keeping me back.”
“Are you a vampire?” asked Sally, to the point.
“Not exactly, just an actor who makes a spooky living doing a lot of late-night parties.”
“Why do you always have your curtains pulled, and you’re never out in the daylight?” I asked.
“Did you hear me? Because I work a lot of late-night parties.”
“Do you know Chilly Billy Cardille?” Len blurted.
“We’ve met at a couple of events. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be pumping gas for a living. So you should keep watching his show.”
“Maybe you should apologize,” I whispered to Len. “My friend here thought you were someone else, something else. Honest mistake.”
“It’s a compliment, right?” said Mr. McClusky. “You thought I was the real deal, huh?”
“Sort of,” said Len. “You live like one.”
“Sorry if I creeped you out, but no more throwing rocks at cars, okay?”
“Okay,” said Len. McClusky stepped forward and shook his hand to make it official.
“And you girls should be pretty proud of him; that was a brave thing to do. I could have been a real dangerous supernatural monster.”
“Mr. McClusky,” asked Sally, “can you put your fangs in before you go, so we can see what you look like on-the-job?”
“I’m kinda off the clock and wiped out,” he sighed. “But for cool-ghoul neighborhood fans like you, maybe just this once.”
He turned to get in his car, then swung around on us, fast, and hissed, I swear, just like Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Sally screamed, but it was like a roller-coaster scream, more thrill than fear. She fell back into Susie’s arms, laughing.
Mr. McClusky spat out his fangs into his hand. “You boys better take care of these girls. Life can be a freaky place.”
“Promise,” I said. Len nodded.
Mr. McClusky jumped into his car and drove off through the large gates and down his long driveway.
“What just happened?” asked Susie.
“Life and movies crossed paths,” said Len. “And it was cool!”
Copyright © 2016 by Charles C. Cole