Delineating fears: clowns, pirates, Pinhead and the dark

by Brian Clarey

When I was a kid I was afraid of the dark. I slept with the light on until it was no longer age-appropriate. If I stayed at a friend’s house past dark I would run home in a panic. I kept a flashlight near my bed. That kind of thing. I’m no longer afraid of the dark. I’m not sure when or how it happened… maybe I just faced up to it one day, or maybe I realized that there are things much scarier than the monsters in my head…. So it’s Halloween, you know, and we’ve done much in the way of preparation for the holiday in my house. Primary costumes have been settled upon, with back-up options enumerated. A neighborhood has been chosen to pilfer for candy. Pumpkins have been carved; seeds have been roasted. The jack-olanterns are turning to mush and attracting tiny black flies on my front doorstep as I write. Our plans Sunday night were to trek out on Church Street to the Woods of Terror, which has been scaring the crap out of area thrill-seekers for the last 17 years. I envisioned it as a family affair, and I assured my three children: “It’s just a bunch of teenagers in make-up and stuff.” In hindsight, I realize it was a bad idea. My kids are not afraid of the dark. But I had conveniently forgotten how, just a couple months ago, my first-born son took a walk down the path at Wet ‘N’ Wild instead of riding a relatively tame waterslide; or how his little brother, until recently, would run inside the house when I started my lawnmower; or how my Babygirl jumps and shrieks when I pop my head in her room. They don’t like roller coasters and they don’t like swimming in the ocean, and they’re not the type of siblings who would ever, say, solve a murder mystery together or explore a hidden cave. Unless it was on a video game. These are not particularly brave children, is what I’m saying, and that’s just fine. They’re children, after all, and I’m not trying to raise a brood of badasses. But I figured they had become somewhat inured to formalized fear by video games and movies and the horrible things cartoon characters do to each other on television. And though I’m a believer in facing up to fear, I can’t bring myself to be the kind of parent who regularly pushes his kids outside of their comfort zones. Kids are afraid of what they don’t know, what they can’t see. Kids are afraid because they’re small and powerless, and somehow they realize just how vulnerable they are. By Sunday afternoon, Babygirl and my middle child, 4 and 6 respectively, had succumbed to their fear of the unknown. “I don’t think I’m old enough,” the 6-year-old admitted to me after dinner. Normally I try to disabuse him of such notions. This time I didn’t. His sister talked herself out of it by way of a crying jag that concerned, I believe, a princess dress and a pair of tights, and lasted throughout the late afternoon. So it was to be my big boy and me, and I stopped for a bag of red-hot pork craklin’ for us to munch on the way out there. “You sure about this?” I asked him. He nodded and smiled. Of course he was sure. Inside the grounds — acreage of attractions including a horror museum, a clearing for watching horror movies, a fun house and the haunted forest itself — he stayed close. Each night at the Woods of Terror begins with a sort of monster promenade, where all the horrible creatures parade along a path, scaring the bystanders before we all stand for the National Anthem. My big boy lasted about three seconds. An evil clown knocked him for his first fear-filled loop, and then this dude dressed like a pirate with red contact lenses severely freaked him out. By the time the guys with chainsaws came running through, the kid was pressed so tightly against me I could feel his heartbeat. He has never stood so close to me in his whole life, and he stayed that way as we walked in darkness through the parking lot, got back in our car and headed for home. He stared out the windshield quietly for most of the ride. “A lot of them weren’t teenagers,” he eventually said I told him he was right. “Who was that guy with all the spikes in his head?” he asked me. “That’s Pinhead,” I said. “From Hellraiser?” “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t like him.” “No,” I said. “I guess you didn’t.” And I brought my first-born son back into his house, watched him snuggle against his mother for a spell and then, wide-eyed, relate the event to his younger siblings. When he took to his top bunk, he was still just a little bit spooked out. I gave him a hug. I told him he was safe. And I left the light on for him.

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