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The Hop.

A Doctor Suess story and a sock mannequin. They’re fairly innocuous in nature, but in my early childhood mind, they combined forces to conjure a beast of pure horror. It lurked in the corners of my dreams and in the corners of the house in which we lived. My late 60s/early 70s life was consumed with thoughts and visions of this thing, so minimalist yet so damned frightening. If it wasn’t haunting my nightmares in sleep, I was always looking over my shoulder with dread while awake. Known simply as “Dah”, it would scare the living shit out of me for the better part of five years.

SOURCE 1: Seuss
I used to get sick when I was a youngster. The croup, to be exact. When it landed, I’d spend days in my room with a vaporizer running in an effort to loosen up all the junk in my lungs. During one particular bout, our neighbors sent over some books that they thought would help me pass the time and maybe feel a little better. One of them was Dr. Seuss’ “Sneetches and Other Stories”. It was a collection of four parables that subtly tackled issues such as equality, individuality, fear and acceptance, all told in that magical Seussian meter. I loved the book EXCEPT for the very last story that centered around a haunted pair of pants. If the book were mine, I’d have ripped the pages out. As much as I enjoyed the other stories, it may as well have been dipped in anthrax, to be avoided it at all costs. The thought of an empty pair of pants with a mind of its own, chasing someone, drove a deep ribbon of fear into my young brain. It set the stage for more frightening things to come.

SOURCE 2: Hosiery
My grandparents lived just outside of Scranton, a former Pennsylvania coal-mining boomtown. Once or twice a year, we’d visit for a weekend, the highlight of which was a day-long trip to the Globe Store. The Globe was one of those swanky joints from the golden age of department stores, cut from the same cloth as Saks or Bergdorf Goodman. Dozens of departments across five floors, with names like “Intimates”, Millinery”, “Stationery” and “Coordinates”. It was a massive playground for a little kid, with toys, books, circular clothing racks to hide in and elevators with sliding metal gates and and uniformed men who operated them. Amidst the wonderland, there was one department where I drew the line and would not enter: Hosiery. Perched atop the sock and hose shelves, standing bolt upright were flesh colored mannequins that looked as though a leg had been amputated from the knee down, each adorned with its own carefully selected sock. Among them all, it was the one with the plain black sock that got me every time…dark, ominous, evil. I’d avert my gaze 180º once I saw it or knew that we were nearing it. Plainly said, it freaked. Me. The. Fuck. Out. With the Suess story firmly planted in my subconscience, the limb conspired with it to form a heady, toxic, nocturnal brew. They set the stage for a fear that gripped and wouldn’t let go.

The first time Dah appeared in a dream, I was alone, walking down the 2nd floor hallway in a huge house my parents once rented. The hall was long, running the length of the house. It never seemed to be illuminated well enough and at night, the ends of it became black voids. While approaching one of the extremities, something caught my eye. Barely visible through the gloom, there it was. The leg. The black sock. I turned to run and it gave chase, doing just what a disembodied leg would do: hop. It was a mechanical, rhythmic hop, like it was on a pogo stick and it was fast. Dah was coming to get me. Just as it closed in on me I woke, startled, shaken and crying. The first night of hundreds.

From the ages of 3 to 8, Dah was there. Not every night, but often enough that it crept into my daytime life. It had appeared in a dream set in a grocery store, so naturally I peered down every aisle with dread while on shopping trips. I always feared it would be in a dressing room, behind a hedge, or waiting as we opened a garage door. In dreams, the locations were always different, but the M.O. was the same: a chase. And they never got any less scarier.

In 1970, we moved to another part of town. It was exciting, for it would be a new house and neighborhood to explore and the home would belong to us. I also thought that I would be making a fresh start, leaving Dah behind to hop through the halls in the old place with no one left to chase. I was wrong. The very first night in my new bedroom, it came back with a vengeance. The nights were filled with hopping and chasing, ad nauseam. The fears were strong and real. Dah consumed me for three more years. I never wanted to sleep.

By the age of eight, I was growing sick and tired of Dah. It didn’t appear quite as often, but when it did, the horror was just as fresh. But the powers that be must have heard my silent pleas to please, please, please make it end. I was searching our unfinished basement, bare save for the concrete walls, a washer, a dryer, a furnace and a hot water heater. The water heater was of particular interest to me, more so what might be behind it. I crept toward it slowly and as I neared it, stopped and peered behind. Of course Dah was there. Once again, the chase was on, the white hot blade of fear running up my spine as I ran and ascended the stairs to the kitchen. But this time, the plot was different. As I reached the top of the stairs, I turned and dropped to my knees to confront it. As Dah hopped up the stairs and threatened, I reached out and grabbed it. Arms outstretched, I did the only thing I could think of and squeezed as hard as I could. As I increased the pressure, Dah simply melted like candle wax, leaving me with an empty black sock in my hands. From that moment forward, I never saw it again.

Exuent. Fin. The end.

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