My 11-year-old son recently got over being scared to death, and he can finally endure scary movies. He tells me his nightmares are even fun.
So I can really lay it on this Halloween.
The magic of Halloween is the frights, the mystery, the unknown.
“There’s a house,” I told him. “I don’t even like to walk past it. The yard is overgrown and the house is dark even in the daylight. On Halloween night, there’s finally a sign of life there -- a lone jack-o’-lantern in the window. Its frown is haunting.
“One Halloween,” I continued, “many years ago, that jack-o’-lantern wasn’t frowning. It was grinning. Only it didn’t start the night that way. When most everyone else had retuned to their homes for the night, the last trick-or-treaters of the night crept up to the door. A sweet old lady answered. No, she didn’t turn them into toads. She offered them a table of Halloween treats -- cakes and candies, cookies and desserts.
“The trick-or-treaters loaded up their sacks, wished the old lady a happy Halloween, and were on their way. They didn’t even notice the change in the jack-o’-lantern’s now mischievous face as they stepped off the porch. But that’s not all that changed -- the treats in the kids’ bags turned into bugs and lizards. And the treats they’d already eaten . . . Well, you can guess what happened.”
There was no debate with my son about this house.
“We hafta go!” my son announced with great excitement.
That’s all he and his friends talked about for days. My wife said our son’s friends were making fun of him.
“He’s too old to believe in haunted houses and witches and Halloween magic,” she told me.
“I didn’t tell his friends the story,” I replied. “He told them. And they’re not making fun of him. They’re making fun of me.”
Regardless, there was nothing we could do at that point. The gauntlet had been thrown down, the damage done, the magic in their minds.
“Does your dad really believe that story?” my son’s friends asked him.
“No, he just likes to have fun,” he told them.
“Yeah, “ I interrupted to save my son from humiliation. “It’s all for fun. But, just so you know, there is a frowning jack-o’-lantern in the front window, and nobody ever goes up to that house. Those parts are true.”
The kids laughed. I was bummed, defeated -- my son was too old to believe in Halloween magic, not old enough to appreciate the true meaning of Halloween.
“What is the true meaning of Halloween?” my wife asked.
“Candy!” I said with new realization. Halloween could still be fun.
So I challenged my son and his friends to beat an old record of filling two pillowcases with candy. I’d never even filled one, but had heard of a kid who actually came home with two, even after snacking on treats throughout his travels in the night.
“That house I was telling you about,” I said, “I really wasn’t lying -- nobody goes there. Ever. That’s why you’ll score big. The old lady there will be so happy to see you she’ll empty all her treats into your bags.”
The kids were brimming with anticipation, salivating for the full-size candy bars I promised the old lady would give.
Yet I wondered -- when darkness sets in on Halloween night, would my previous tale have more impact? It’s one thing to make fun of such a story in the daylight in the comfort of friendly company. It’s another thing to walk down a dark path on Halloween night toward a big, lurking house, the cold air creeping up the back of your spine, the shadows from the trees obscuring any crouching creatures, and with the thought of potential horrors up ahead.
What would my son and his friends do? Did they have the guts to go up to that house? Or would they run?
As I’d told my wife previously, the gauntlet had been thrown down, the damage done, the magic in their minds. On the way to school earlier this week, my son and his friends stopped by that dark house and knocked on the door. The old lady answered.
“My dad says you’re a witch.”
I’ll tell you this: I don’t have the guts to go up to that house now.