Old Man Cook
Guest Post by Larry Seeley
I don’t know what it’s like today, but when I was a child, every small town had a bogeyman. The kind of mythical creature parents employed to keep their kids in line. In our little village of six hundred souls, it was Old Man Cook.
For years, I slept with the covers over my head with only a small hole channeled for breathing. Every noise or rustle told me that Old Man Cook was in the hallway, or the closet, or on the roof. His sole intent in life was to come to my bedroom and kill me. Sometimes I slept with weapons—a knife or rolling pin—once a shotgun.
Even teenagers believed in him—at least some of them. My two younger sisters were terrified, and, once she got into bed, the smaller of them refused to put her feet on the floor until morning. Our regular baby sitter, who was perhaps two years older than I, refused to look out the living room windows after dark for fear of invoking him.
One night my parents were out, and my sisters and I sat in the living room with our caretaker watching our favorite show, Your Hit Parade. Snooky Lanson, et al. We’d memorized every song and had great discussions over what would be number one in a given week.
I glanced outside and saw a shadow. Almost paralyzed with fear, I informed the others that Old Man Cook lurked somewhere in the front yard. Instant pandemonium. The sitter instructed us to bring the chairs and tables into a circle in the middle of the room, much like a wagon train under attack. I ran to the closet and got my dad’s shotgun, loaded it with number nine buckshot, and planted myself in the middle of the redoubt, my body in front of the women and children (I read a great deal and knew the ropes).
We stayed put for two hours. My little sister peed her pants rather than risk a trip to the bathroom. The babysitter held her knees and moaned most of the time, in mortal fear for her life. My mom and dad finally arrived home. It’s fortunate that I heard their car in the driveway, otherwise, they might have been picking buckshot out of their skins. To say they were angry is an understatement. My dad gave me the lilac bush stick on the calves and locked up his gun.
I still didn’t believe I’d been wrong about sighting Old Man Cook, so the next day, I enlisted my two best friends, and we went to the barn where he was reputed to have hung himself.
The barn, an old graying two-story structure with missing boards, sat on a hill not far from my home. The approach was a rutted wagon track that ended at what had once been a large sliding door that now hung by a thread and gaped open like the jaws of hell.
Local myth had it that Old Man Cook had strung himself up on one of the six-by-six beams that ran lengthwise across the barn and supported haylofts on either side. We crept inside and were instantly struck dumb and immobilized by the sight of a noose tied at the end of a ten-foot rope dangling from the center beam. We tripped over each other escaping, all of us shouting and waving our arms. THE STORY WAS TRUE.
At dinner that night, my father kept interrupting his meal laughing at something he didn’t share with the rest of us. At one point, he had to wipe away tears. It wasn’t until I was much older I figured out the joke. In the meantime, Old Man Cook continued to terrify and entertain—not a bad combination for a harmless local myth.
Larry Seeley is a mystery/thriller writer who lives in the mountains north of Santa Fe, NM with his wife, Katie, and their two dozen animals. His two novels include the award winning Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves, published in April 2010, and 17 Degrees North, published in February 2012. His third book, Bridge of the Americas is due out autumn 2012.
For more information, visit www.larryseeley.com.