Title: Mr. Tilmore, a.k.a. “The Wonderful World of Stephen King Presents ‘Mr. Tilmore'”
Author: Aaron N. Carmichael
Illustrator: Michael Wepplo
Published In: Disney Adventures Magazine #12
A Warning from Stephen King:
Dear Scary Story Fans,
There are always a few frumpy grown-ups out there who like to go around moaning that kids are too busy watching TV and playing Nintendo to read anymore, let alone write stories. It’s pretty clear to me that the current crop of grumps missed the Scary Stories Contest in Disney Adventures magazine, because if they had seen the six final entries that I saw, they would have changed their minds in a hurry. Tommi Lewis, the editor in charge of taking care of the contest entries, told me there were over seven hundred stories in all, and if the ones I saw were any indication of how much good writing kids are doing. . . wow!
I liked Kyle Christenson’s “One Night In The Museum,” a story that explains just how dead things sometimes get in the Egyptian Wing, and Keegan Buckingham’s “Attack of the Killer Hose,” where a vampire garden-hose wakes up and goes looking for its ghoul-friend (or was that its girl-friend?), but the best of the bunch – for me, at least – was “Mr. Tilmore,” by Aaron N. Carmichael. You may think your own little town is boring, but until you read Aaron’s freaky fable, you won’t have any idea how dead things can get on summer vacation.
Okay, enough jokes. I just want to say that this story really is good. The adults who run the world always make allowances for kids, as you know; that’s why Little league fields are smaller than regular baseball fields and the baskets are sometimes lowered when the Pee Wee Basketball teams play. We make the same allowances when it comes to painting pictures, playing music, writing poetry. . . Or making up scary stories. But if you think the story you are about to read is going to be scary “for a kid,” you may be in for a surprise. . . and you may find yourself remembering Mr. Tilmore, that slightly strange fellow next door, after you turn the lights off tonight. You may even – heh-heh-heh – imagine he’s there in the room with you. Fair warning, okay? My congratulations and admiration to all the finalists, including David Tamaki in Cresskill, New Jersey; Jeffery Winter in Partlow, Virginia; and Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, in Linthicum, Maryland. . . But my special congratulations to Aaron Carmichael, who wrote a story that’s not just “scary for kids” but is “scary for anybody, even Stephen King.”
And for the rest of you, just remember that the best way to fight fire is with fire, and the best way to fight fear is with fear. In other words, keep writing those scary stories.
Gruesomely yours, Stephen King
As you can all see, my efforts to find lost and forgotten horror stories of the 1990s have been turning up some interesting finds.
I’ll discuss this more in-depth when I get around to finishing The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson, but my curiosity has been piqued by the knowledge of the vast array of uncollected and forgotten short stories Stephen King’s written over the decades.
As it stands, while doing some more perusing online I stumbled upon another find from Disney Adventures Magazine. Some of you may remember years back I did a recap on Goosebumps: The Surprise on the 13th Floor which was published in Disney Adventures along with the story Made In Transylvania by Amy McCamphill.
The moment I saw “Stephen King Horror Story Winner” on the cover of this issue, I zeroed in. Luckily the issue’s available via archive.org, but I ordered a copy of Disney Adventures #12 just to have it on me. In the meantime, I’m also looking to see if I can find the other two stories mentioned in King’s introduction, or any of the other contest entrants to see if they still have THEIR stories.
Michael wants you to know that he kids around, that’s what kids do, but he’s being absolutely serious this time! You gotta believe them! [Wing: Boy. Wolf. Cried. Who. It’s a puzzle for you, Michael.]
It happened on July 1, 1991, because it was the 90s you see, and Michael was out mowing the lawn. It was a hot day, and the lawn should’ve been mowed days ago, when Michael saw Ms. Tilmore getting into her car and driving off for that day. That meant Old Man Tilmore would be home alone while his adult daughter was out working.
Michael figured today would be the day he finally got backpay for the mowing they’ve done over at the Tilmore place.
See, everyone in town thought Mr. Tilmore was “cuckoo,” and that’s why his daughter lived with him. She bought his groceries and paid the utilities. It was just father and daughter. Ms. Tilmore had no significant other to speak of. She was devoted to taking care of her dad. Sure, she could’ve had him put in a nursing home, but Mr. Tilmore refused to budge. If father wouldn’t leave, daughter would keep an eye on him.
Michael mowed the Tilmore lawn because Ms. Tilmore was too busy working all the time to do it herself. Other kids thought the Tilmore house was haunted because they never saw Mr. Tilmore. Well Michael frequently saw him while they mowed the lawn or on their way home from Little League. There he’d sit in the living room, reading the paper.
After finishing up on his own lawn, Michael told his mom he was heading over to collect from the Tilmores. Mentally rehearsing the right way to say it, Michael went up to the house and saw Mr. Tilmore through the blinds. Reading the paper, as usual. The kid rang the doorbell but there was no answer. Figuring the doorbell either wasn’t working or Mr. Tilmore was hard of hearing, Michael rang again before knocking on the door.
Discovering the door was unlocked, Michael slowly stuck their head in before entering.
Michael came face to face with Mr. Tilmore.
What was left of him.
That’s when Ms. Tilmore entered the house, and calmly smiled saying she’s wanted to introduce Michael to her father for a while. For some reason, her dad just doesn’t feel like meeting people anymore. But he needs to socialize, don’t you think?
Ms. Tilmore pulled Michael up to the skeletal remains of her father in the recliner, the faded newspaper still clenched in his bony fingers. Michael watched as daughter patted her father’s head, running her fingers through the strands of hair clinging to the dried scalp. Up close, the date on the paper read “September 7, 1979.”
Kneeling down to face her father’s dead body, Ms. Tilmore asked her dad to say hi to Michael. Now Michael, you say hi to Mr. Tilmore.
Realizing there is indeed one loopy Tilmore but not the one everyone assumed it was, Michael ran. He didn’t even accept the check for the mowing that Ms. Tilmore insisted her father wanted him to have.
Michael doesn’t mow the Tilmore lawn anymore, but on Monday nights on his way back from Little League he can still catch glimpses of Mr. Tilmore, with the newspaper in his hands.
See, sometimes horror doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be overly fantastical to scare kids.
Sometimes all you need is a dead body and a child’s unconditional love for their parent.
[Wing: Heartbreaking and fun little story.]
Bonus Recap: Attack of the Killer Hose by Keegan Buckingham
I was able to find Keegan Buckingham, one of the entrants mentioned above, and he was able to locate his story “Attack of the Killer Hose.” Keegan uncovered the original version before it was cleaned up for submission to Disney Adventures.
Young Keegan was about to do some gardening when the hose suddenly came alive! Not only did it flood Keegan’s house, it went and bit Keegan’s pet cactus Spike! Keegan watched in horror as Spike turned bone white. Great, not only was the hose alive, it was a vampire too!
Keegan escaped from the vampire hose and ran into a phone booth downtown. He dialed an emergency number to deal with the hose. After hanging up, Keegan watched as an airplane flew over his house carrying… a HUGE PIECE OF GARLIC BREAD.
The pilot parachuted from the plane, and the giant garlic bread was dropped onto the vampire hose. Overwhelmed by the garlic, the hose was destroyed. No more vampire hose.
After that, Keegan stuck to doing gardening with his trusty watering can.
If only the watering can hadn’t suddenly bit a flower and drained it white.
Keegan kindly shared some of his thoughts with us: It’s still kind of surreal that this happened. I’m active in standup comedy and know lots of people who were born after this issue came out, but I still think of myself as an up-and-comer. My writing has always been a strength and I ended up majoring in English (and Art) at the University of Iowa. Standup ended up being my real passion because I crave the immediate feedback, but there’s obviously an element of writing in that. During quarantine when it looked like live comedy could be done forever, I started working on a memoir about my time in standup. I put it aside when venues started opening up, but now that I’ve been on America’s Got Talent, that should be at least one more chapter. King probably would have ended up being a hero of mine even without the contest. Like the late Roger Ebert, even though he’s arguably the most famous person at what he does, it all feels eminently personal and relatable. Hope you enjoyed my vampire hose story.
Final Final Thoughts
Cute. I love the idea of a vampire gardening equipment and the thought of someone having THAT MUCH garlic bread on hand for such an occasion.
Thank you again Keegan for a delightful find to be preserved for posterity.
[Wing: I want the vampire gardening equipment to team up with Bunnicula. This is fucking adorable. I’m so glad you shared it, Keegan, and I very much enjoyed your vampire hose story!]