[30 October 2009]
There is a lot to be afraid of out there in the big, bad world; terrorism, swine flu, Lady Gaga and bad sushi, just to name a few. But of the things that frighten me, vampires, werewolves, zombies, mummies (which are just antique, gift-wrapped zombies) and ghosts are not amongst them.
Of course, it’s not because they don’t exist - as I’m certain you’re thinking - because they most certainly do. All of the full moon or no moon creepy crawlies that cause the jeepers and the creepers, the heebies and the jeebies, are all real. And by my standards, they’re also alright. See, without them, I’d be really freaked out.
As a kid growing up in Central Florida in the early to mid-’80s, I remember the night. Not even a Muppets nightlight penetrated more than a few feet of the inky black that enveloped my childhood home. It wasn’t an old home. As was the case with most neighborhoods I knew as a kid, our subdivision seemed to have recently sprung from marshy areas complete with K-Marts and drugstores. The Amityville house at the end of a long, creepy road ours was not.
Yet it terrified me.
My older brothers and sister convinced me our home was haunted. It’s still something that is mentioned on occasion to this day, so I guess they believed it to be so. Maybe it was. If so, the logic of them putting me, the youngest child by four years, at the back of the line during a midnight exploration of a mysterious sound perplexes me moreso than it did then. And even then, I knew on some level that it was bunk that I was at the end of the line. Couldn’t I be in the middle of the group so I’d neither be first nor last in the row, and the most vulnerable to the creatures of the night? No answer has been provided to me yet.
Anyhow, the children’s bedrooms were separated in the back of the house, far removed from the safety of the master bedroom by a long hallway, large dining room and massive family room. The parental units were far enough away that a certain brother or sister could be engaged in a violent throwdown without the sounds of screaming making it to the front of the house.
Needless to say, if a little boy with a throbbing bladder busting at the seams – if a bladder has seams, and since the mental image of mine is an old leather bota bag canteen, it does – needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t be easy to penetrate the dark silence (and overcome a father’s loud snoring) and reach the master bedroom with shouting.
So I had to go it alone. Getting out of bed and heading to the bathroom at the end of a hall was a trip filled with recollections of my oldest sibling’s Alfred Hitchcock recorded stories and the albums of Halloween sound effects. It was a walk remembering the scary parts of the “Thriller” video (in a time when Michael Jackson being a potential zombie and/or werewolf was the freakiest part about him). It was a painful pee-encroaching tiptoe where I couldn’t help but think about all the monster comics and horror movies seen by sneaking around corners and watching when I was supposed to be in bed.
I couldn’t run because I’d wet myself, and I couldn’t wait - my bad habit of remaining constantly hydrated was already in effect at that age. So I let them in. I let them all in.
It started with Frankenstein’s monster, followed by Bela Lugosi (not as Dracula but as Bela Lugosi), followed by werewolves. Freddy, Jason and the Creature from the Black Lagoon were there as was, yes, zombie Michael Jackson.
Despite my parents’ assurance that these beasties didn’t exist in the real world, I decided at that moment that they did. All of the things that go bump in the night became my escorts to the bathroom. What’s more, I began to acknowledge, address and attempt to control them. I distinctly remember telling Frankenstein’s monster, who was hiding behind the shower curtain, to leave me be and not watch me whiz.
By becoming aware of my fears, and accepting the reality of them, I could prevent them from controlling me – and avoid a wet and stinky pair of pajamas.
And on some level, by admitting they were real, I steeled myself for taking them out should the need arise. I consumed horror flicks and watched them as research. I thought myself to be a monster hunter and tough kid. The Wolfman could try to bite me, but I was armed with silver spoons and butter knives. Later on, when I read Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot,” the character of Mark Petrie – a Universal Monsters-obsessed boy who recognizes the town’s vampire threat before others – seemed to be modeled on my estimation of my young self.
Weirdly, by embracing the dark and all the things that stalk within it, I conquered other fears. When you’re a master zombie killer in the “Left 4 Dead” video game, or you know in the back of your head that the Ikea coffee table’s leg separates into an ideal wooden stake for vampire slaying – assuming vampires are susceptible to particle board - you become less interested in being armed with a bottle of Purell.
So it goes. There’s a lot to be scared of in this world, but once you allow for the fact that Imhotep’s mummy or creepy corn children might come for you any minute, you put swine flu into perspective and worry a lot less. Although Lady Gaga is admittedly pretty terrifying.
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Aaron Sagers writes about all things pop-culture each week, but you can follow him daily on Twitter under AaronSagers and on his site, www.paranormalpopculture.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.