Why I’m Afraid of Sardines

This story is so spooOoOooky that we just had to post it on Halloweeeeen.

When I was five years old, my family moved into the house across the street from the town’s haunted mansion, probably to help me face my fear of everything. Also, because it was my grandma’s house. The move landed me in a new school where the other kids picked on me mercilessly for being too afraid to do things like jump off short fences or watch Disney’s Hercules, but I knew they whispered tales of how I was the only one who’d brave the yard of the witch. For most of my young life, that house was the only thing that kept me cool enough to avoid daily pummeling and ridicule.

Sadly, the cookie-pushing, Lawrence-Welk-marathoning, little lady passed on a few years back, and since then, her former haunt has served as the perfect spot for me and my hooligan friends to escape supervision just long enough to make a series of increasingly bad decisions. It was a fun place to hang out, except that no one could make it through the night without being haunted by the curse.

One fine dusk not too long ago, my foolhardy chums and I decided to brave the unholy dwelling in an effort to play a game of Sardines, which is hide and seek backwards. One person hides and everybody else seeks, then, when you locate the sneaky inconspicuant, you cram yourself in there with them like sardines in a can.

But before the game could begin, we had to get inside, which inevitably involved considerable spiderweb face-collision, and all too often you’d find living, poison-filled arachniterrors sinking their tiny, vengeful fangs into your vulnerable exposed bits minutes later. Having made it to the relative safety of the indoors, we did our best to ignore the flickering shadows cast by the house’s dim, failing light bulbs. Since that clearly wasn’t scary enough, half of said light bulbs had been replaced with harsh red ones over the years, turning the long, twisting halls into gateways to Satan’s darkroom. We walked apprehensively toward the living room, each floorboard creaking from termite damage. Mice skittered nervously through the walls, and honey from the massive network of beehives that extended halfway through the ceiling dripped to the floor with alien, insectoid indifference.

Basically, the minions of mother nature had agreed to temporarily set aside their differences in order to scare the living shit out of us.

But we were mature college students. To admit being unnerved by such trivialities was childish. By god, we were going to play Sardines wherever and whenever we wanted.

We decided to have two people start as hiders, ensuring that they’d be cramped and uncomfortable, forced to squeeze together in one of the mildewy nooks, crannies, basements, or closets that comprised the ghostly grandma mansion. Also, the buddy system triples your chances of surviving a wraith attack. As the sun sank below the horizon, we settled on the rules, which consisted solely of “no hiding outside.” And thus the most fateful game of Sardines I would ever play commenced.

One countdown later, there’s about six of us overturning couches, yanking open doors, and generally trashing the place, but try as we might, we simply cannot locate our friends’ slippery, fish-like bodies. I know the house inside and out, but after checking the weird bonus closet inside the bedroom closet, the secret basement behind the bookshelf, and that strange, snowy kingdom in the wardrobe, I’m befuddled. Maybe the bees had returned to exact their revenge. Blood for blood. Thorax for thorax.

Suddenly it dawns on me that perhaps our quarries have used devilishly clever wordplay to their advantage—you’re not allowed to hide outside, but we never said you couldn’t go outside. Feeling brilliant, I step out into the hazy glow of twilight, ready to prove that it’s not strength or agility that wins games, but a mastery of the English language.

But they’re not in the garage, or the tool shed, or the outhouse.

I wander back into the haunted mansion to share my abject failure…but the place is empty.

Honey drips in the silence.

I make a loop of the house. Now that they’re all together, finding them will pose no challenge for keen-eyed Russ. Nobody.

Mice skitter in the darkness.

I was gone for under two minutes. They never could’ve hidden that fast.

Boards creak in the night.

I glance into the mirror beside the candelabra and see shadows dancing in glee, a hoedown of the occult.

That was the proverbial straw that snapped the camel’s fraying psyche, so to speak. Now I’m freaking out like my gutless, terrified self, reduced to whispering reassurances. “It’s gonna be ok, Russ. You’re just playing a game.”

But what if it’s not just a game? What if my friends have been systematically hunted? I start to call out in desperation.

Then it hits me. I’m in a horror movie. The serial killer murdered everyone else while I was outside, and I’m the last one left. My viewers are yelling at the screen, “Don’t open that door! Run, damn it! For the love of God, run!”

But I don’t run. I don’t call for help. I just keep looking, whimpering like a helpless puppy trapped in a hair-raising game of Sardines.

Then I hear a cry of pain from my grandma’s bedroom, and, following the same instincts that made me try to help that crazed, frothing squirrel, leading to a bloody finger and a legion of rabies tests, I sprint up the stairs and head toward the noise. It’s coming from a closet situated behind a heavy chest. I’d already tried opening it multiple times, but it was locked.

As I reach for the handle, I can almost hear a thousand moviegoers facepalm.

I twist, sure that my never-having-been-stabbed days are about to come to a pointed end.

Apparently it was never actually locked—just warped and stuck with bee-goop.

After a couple good yanks, it swings open, and I peer inside to find—

Everyone, sighing with palpable relief, finally able to unleash their muffled pain and discomfort. They were buried in clothing and old spiky things, and had been lying on top of each other for the past half hour, an uncomfortable experience both physically and socially.

Some of them had bloody scratches, others, deeply-embedded flesh-dents. They had endured as long as they could, all in the name of freaking  me the hell out.

Hey, at least my friends are willing to make sacrifices for me, right?

Happy Halloween, everybody!

UPDATE: The 3rd episode of the new TV show Grimm features a haunted house with dripping honey!! WTF?! They totally stole that straight from my life.

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30 Comments

Filed under Stories

30 responses to “Why I’m Afraid of Sardines

  1. Oh my, what an excellent story, that would engage even Edgar Allan Poe. And your illustrations are beyond belief!! (I wish I could draw to straight lines together!)

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  2. So funny! Great illustrations to go with your story too! 😀
    I love playing Sardines

  3. undefineme

    I was about to say that you guys make my Tuesdays. Then I realised that it’s Monday and you’re a day early. Congratulations on TOTALLY confusing me. And thanks for entertaining me, once again. 🙂 PS Are you a millionaire yet?

  4. Happy Halloween, Russ and Sam.

    You’re right – you never should have made fun of Captain Planet – he’s a hero… gonna take pollution down to zero, you know. =p

  5. Insectoid indifference? Great morning read. Happy Halloween!

  6. 277roshan

    humorous horror-you guys know how to handle oxymoron!!!:)

  7. 277roshan

    and what device do you use to create your illustrations???

  8. Egad!! I think I would have killed my friends. After I found them.

  9. Wonderfully written story. And the illustrations are great!

  10. An awesome story, and oh I wish I’d known about Sardines 30 or 40 years ago. It rocks.

    (Plus I’d know how to hide from AquaSurf.)

  11. That would have to be the most epic sounding game of Sardines ever.

  12. Benjamin Halliday

    Most definately brilliant, you never fail to catch my interest and the interest of others… next time you have to film it so we can all witness the horror that is. 5/5 I say!!!

  13. Wow. Your words never cease to amaze me. Great story and awesome writing. The illustrations kick all that is phenomenal.

  14. Sam. Russ. Were I wearing a hat I would take it off to you, or at least tip it in a cowboy-like show of respect. Hi-freakin-larious.

  15. msperfectpatty

    I am cracking up! This is hilarious with a bit of suspense!

  16. Oh man, I almost forgot about sardines! This was super suspenseful.

  17. That was brilliantly funny. It was a smooth, flowing subtle humor. I loved it. I’m going to have to visit again, and see if I can get any pointers to improve my own comedic endeavors. Great job.

  18. Ha, I totally forgot about that version of hide and seek. I never thought of playing it in college, unfortunately.

  19. This was wildly entertaining and hilarious! I love the looking from side to side illustration. Don’t worry! You two will be millionaires with mansions on the moon soon enough!

  20. Hmmm. I’ve never heard of this version of hide and seek until now. I somehow feel that I’ve been robbed of a key part of my childhood. I’d better redouble my efforts on that time machine that’s gathering dust in the corner. Great story 🙂

    • I believe in you! Hey, once you create it, can you have a raffle or something for who can hop in there with you? In fact, maybe we could just play sardines for it, and that could be the hiding place.

  21. I never would have considered dripping honey as an effective addition to a haunted house but you pulled it off. Well done.

    • Right?! I wrote the first draft and totally glossed over it with something like “and honey kept pouring from the ceiling,” and incomparable artist Sam was like, “dude, that’s not normal. People aren’t going to have any idea what you’re talking about.” I didn’t understand, so he continued, “Honey doesn’t just drip from ceilings. It doesn’t happen.”

      I guess I’ve just gotten so used to the quirks of my grandma’s house that I forget how unnatural they are haha.

  22. Searching for the Light

    And you have provided another good chuckle! Thank you.

  23. And again you make me laugh. I think I’m going to recommend this to a friend of mine. He’s an adament reader so I think that he will find this excellent, LOL

  24. Pingback: Blogs and websites that you should absolutely be wasting time on « allenavw

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