Ghost of the Main


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Photo by Jerry Permenter

During my early years in Nacogdoches, going to the movies was serious business in my world, and I wanted to get the most out of every single adventure.

As a teenager, I loved nothing better than a good prank — telling stories to scare my friends was, and remains, a favorite pastime. So when I asked my friend Diane to go with me to the Main Theater to see The Town That Dreaded Sundown in the mid-70’s, her first question was, “It’s not scary is it?”

This particular time it turned out the movie about the town that dreaded sundown was based on a true series of murders. They occurred up around Texarkana, many years before. Apparently, the killer was never caught.

As the movie unfolded before us, my sweet friend Diane and I cowered a bit in our seats. The murderer would suddenly appear in front of a car parked in a deserted rural lover’s lane, his head covered with a pillowcase with only eyeholes and mouth openings, always clutching a raised axe as a terrifying premonition of his dark intentions. He’d suddenly raise the hood and pull the battery cables, showing them to his potential victims.

As we were leaving the Main that night, I felt the evening chill. It was pitch black as we left the city limits after making the slow climb up Orton Hill. We were in Diane’s family truck, and as she dropped me off, I told her to be careful on her way home, teasingly raising an eyebrow to signal highly recommended caution. Her eyes grew wide as she read me like a book.

“Don’t you scare me, Jerry, so help me, or I’ll come back and beat the brakes off you!”

“I swear I won’t,” I said, keeping my fingers firmly crossed behind my back.

As she slowly turned her daddy’s truck around in front, I made my way inside and quickly shook a pillowcase from my bed, cut some eyeholes, then grabbed an ax from the woodpile.

As I heard Diane’s old Ford hit the red dirt road leading out, I knew my friend was seeing something sinister behind every pine tree. I made my way quickly in a shortcut through the trees, and got to the road’s edge just before her headlights came over the hill. The truck was moving at a high rate of speed but I stood firm at its center before the lights fully took me in, pillowcase loosely over my head and ax firmly raised.

Upon witnessing the actual heart-stopping sight of the movie’s monster literally coming to life under the bright gaze of her dad’s truck, my friend’s foot hit the accelerator and she barreled down on me like the true devil she thought me to be. I was timing her racetrack run but it’s hard to predict the speed of an old Ford with the velocity of weight and terror fully engaged behind the wheel. I barely jumped out of the way in time, with the old truck bumper grazing my heel as I pitched myself over and into the ditch. When I hit the bottom, that roadside trough was so deep and full of pine cones, I felt I’d rolled naked into a briar patch, but I still had to lie there laughing a spell like the heathen I surely was.

After taking her phone call later that night, and being called everything in the book per expectation, Diane told me, “If I’d run over you, no jury would’ve convicted me. I sorta wish I had!”

It wasn’t the end of my practical jokes, but I did learn to manage my pranks a little better over time, with less potential harm to others and myself as well. And Diane eventually forgave me, and we’d laugh all over again about the time she nearly killed me with her daddy’s old farm truck the night we discovered the town that dreaded sundown.

Jerry Permenter is the author of the upcoming novel, Red Dirt Boy, about his time growing up in Nacogdoches.

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