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Haunted Houses

There are Great Truths to be learned in haunted houses.

I was twelve years old when I learned my first Great Truth. Twelve is a particularly good age for haunted houses. Much younger than that and you can’t really appreciate the depth of what’s going on. Much older and you become cynical, jaded by your adolescent omniscience. But at twelve you’ve become aware of all the rotten things the world can do to you, yet you’re still defenseless against most of them. A very good age, twelve.

And of course it was Halloween. Arbor Day doesn’t work well for haunted houses. Neither does Memorial Day, even though we’re supposed to think about the dead then, too. Somehow I have the impression that any ghosts you met in May would be in their military uniforms, with ribbons on their chests. Impressive, maybe (if they were of high enough rank), but not horrifying.

But Halloween, when the trees have changed and the year is shriveled up and dying, that’s a good season for spooks.

Halloween, age twelve. Hey, throw in nighttime for good measure. Stir well.

Santa Barbara, when I was twelve, was one of those in–betweenish sort of places. It hadn’t yet grown into the urban center it is today, but it wasn’t exactly Hicksville, either. It had been settled for quite a while, but there were still large areas of wilderness—or at least, a twelve–year–old’s idea of wilderness.

There was an old Victorian house alone on a hill, deserted. In those days, no one restored Victorian houses. No one painted them pretty colors like the Painted Ladies of San Francisco in the Seventies. If the house was not kept up properly—and most weren’t, since that kind of house requires an army of servants for its upkeep—then it was simply old, an eyesore to be shunned by respectable people.

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