I was interviewing Joe Peters over at the Walking Horse Hotel earlier this week about the haunted attraction he's started there. He made a comment that made me smile.
"Everybody likes to be scared," he said.
Well, that's not exactly true, and he realized it and followed it up with "when they know it's not real."
Now that, I can agree with. I am the least haunted-house kind of person you will ever meet. I'd rather read stock analyses than Stephen King and my idea of a horror story is my monthly bank statement.
But even I, Queen of the Milquetoasts, enjoy a thrill every now and then, as long as I know it's all pretend. The problem is, I'm a writer, with a writer's imagination, and I can create boogeymen out of shadows all on my own; I don't need Mr, King to contribute his own talents.
This is why "Psycho" (the old black and white version -- the good version) scares me much, much more than any splatter-and-gore slasher movie. I see enough gross and grisly things on a daily basis (have you cleaned a teenager's bathroom lately?) to be frightened by a little ketchup and Karo syrup. There is nothing more frightening than our own, private boogeymen, whether they are hideous, drooling monsters under the bed, or Kathie Lee Gifford on the television.
I think parents are easier to scare than kids, actually. Kids know, deep down, that the boogeymen aren't real. They have parents to tell them so.
Parents, however, know how real they can be. In order to protect our children, we have to anticipate what could happen. What's the worst that can happen? From car wrecks to unexpected expectancies, the answers are legion. To avoid these kinds of ambushes, parents struggle to see into the future and peer around corners.
The only problem with that is that sometimes those visions are foggy and distorted, and the things we have been fearing turn out to be little more than shadows. For instance, I dreaded having Ben learn how to drive. I feared he would be a rash, hysterical driver, or worse, a good driver who would disappear from my life as soon as he got a license and wheels, the way his big brother did.
I was wrong on both counts, so I ended up depriving him of independence and me of a convenient gofer for almost two years because of my fears. Sometimes the only way to conquer those fears is to face them (or have your impatient teenage son make you face them) and, in the immortal words of Cher, "Get over it."
Halloween is good practice for that. We face down the boogeymen in the darkness between the houses because we know, deep down, that tomorrow, sunlight will reveal its true nature as the hydrangea bush Mrs. Jones' St. Bernard likes to lie down on. Sometimes I, as a mom, create the nightmare of "What bad things could happen" just so I can wake up smiling the next morning, knowing nothing did.
But there are some really, scary things out there -- drugs, gangs, colorized classic movies and sarsaparilla, to name a few. Oh, and bad poetry. Here's my contribution to the scary stuff.
It's Halloween again, that spooky time
where we revisit every grisly crime --
From Lizzie Borden and her axe
to the Inquisition and torture racks.
But there's something even worse
than skeletons driving a ghostly hearse.
Frightening things, they invade our houses,
they whisper lies to our children, our dogs, our spouses.
They take away the simple joys
of trick-or-treating with girls and boys.
These scary monsters know no decency --
Not now -- not as far as we can see.
These demons are dark and shadowed, not deep
and they refuse to lie down and drift off to sleep.
Who are these boogymen, these misleading cads?
You've seen them all month -- they're political ads.
Like vampires and werewolves, they're worse once a year
Instilling unreasonable hatred, anger and fear.
They say things that aren't true, or don't need to be said,
and like werewolves and vampires, they refuse to stay dead.
So look forward to Halloween night, kid, get candy enough.
Your parents still have a week of this stuff.