It’s that time of year again when the old Celtic festival of Samhain gets celebrated in its more modern incarnation – Halloween – in various parts of the globe. This mostly takes the form of donning costumes, making lanterns out of pumpkins and letting one part terrified and 99 parts hyper children loose on our streets, chanting the well worn mantra, “trick or treat.”
I happened to be out walking with my own children at dusk the other evening and I asked them what did they want to do this year for Halloween.
“Nothing,” the little fella replied.
I was somewhat surprised as he usually has a plan regarding his costume, for the big night, a few weeks in advance.
“Huh?” I asked, “nothing?”
“Nope, nothing,” he confirmed.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of those creepy clowns,” he said in a voice that tapered off towards the end of his sentence as his eyes scanned the shadows, “they’re everywhere.”
“Yes, they’re everywhere!” His sister concurred in that all knowing voice reserved solely for use by big sisters.
I stopped walking. I was a little bit on the concerned side at this point. I don’t want a bunch of fools with nothing better to do than dress up as clowns and go around creeping people out turning my kids into a pair of agoraphobes.
“Hey guys,” I said, “come on, we’ve got to get this into perspective. Those creepy clowns are nothing but a bunch of idiots with nothing better to do. And it’s not like there’s been any spotted around here.”
My children stood there in the half light, the looks on their faces telling me they remained unconvinced.
I soldiered on.
“Hey, those fools have more to fear from the people they’re trying to scare than the other way around,” I assured them. “A few of them have been punched and beaten with baseball bats.”
The little fella seemed pleased with this news.
“Really?” he asked with a smile.
“Really,” I confirmed.
“Cool,” he announced, “I’m going to bring my baseball bat with me when I go trick or treating, that’ll send them a message.”
With that he walked on, quite happy now he had a plan to deal with the creepy clowns.
His sister looked at me. “I’m not so sure the creepy clowns have too much to worry about from Baseball Bat Boy but I’ll think about it.”
“Okay,” I said as I fell in beside her as we resumed our walk.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I stopped to get it out. My daughter walked on. The night was nearly fully upon us.
Thirty seconds later I practically bumped into my daughter as I put my phone back in my pocket. She was standing on a patch of grass looking at an old house.
“Creepy,” she whispered.
I looked at the house. It’s one I am familiar with as its on one of my walking routes. I’ve only ever seen it in the day time and it’s definitely on the creepy side. However, here in the near dark of the night it looked positively sinister.
“There’s someone watching us,” my daughter said, her voice hushed.
I looked at the house, in particular at the windows in the centre of its structure. I’d initially thought it was abandoned but every time I walk past it I feel like someone is watching me. However, I wasn’t about to mention this to my daughter!
“Oh, I think there’s been too much creepy talk tonight,” I laughed nervously.
She looked at the house and then she looked back at me.
“No, there’s something in there,” she said, quite certain, “on the other side of that window.”
Silence fell between us. I don’t believe in dismissing my children’s feelings on things. I’ve never uttered the words, “don’t be silly” when it comes to situations where they feel uncertain. I want them to develop and hone their instincts so that they learn to trust them, thereby following them and staying as safe as possible in an increasingly unsafe world. On the other hand I don’t believe in them scaring the shit out of themselves either! There’s a fine line that needs to be tread here and I was grappling to find my way along it in the Brisbane moonlight the other night.
Thankfully, Baseball Bat Boy saved my ass.
“Hey!” He shouted from down the street, “what are you two doing? I’m getting creeped out here all by myself!”
“Okay!” I hollered back, “we’re coming!”
I placed my hand in the small of my daughter’s back and gently nudged her along. There was no hesitation on her part but she was still looking up at the window. The very same window I always feel there is someone on the other side of – looking at me as I pass.
Later that night I dreamed of a house from my own childhood, a house I was terrified of. It was a beautiful old property surrounded by ancient trees and it had a huge, shiny green door with an enormous brass knocker. However, to my ten year old’s mind, it always seemed dark. Even on the brightest of days you could never see through its dark windows. I never saw a living soul at that house but always felt like someone was watching me as I walked by. Other kids used to take a shortcut through its grounds or climb its trees on their way home but me, never. I never set foot within its domain.
Was there something sinister there or was my fear of this house a result of my exceptionally overactive childhood imagination – something my daughter has in common with me. I don’t know but I do know this: whenever I’ve trusted my instincts in my life, they’ve never, absolutely never, been wrong.
And on that note I would like to wish you a safe and not too scary Samhain.