Halloween is an interesting time of year.  It’s bright with Fall colors, fun with pumpkin art and dressed up scarecrows.  It’s scary creepy with ghost tours and haunted houses.  I think the huge attraction of Halloween is the carefree scare factor.  The SAFE tricks of terror.  We love to be scared so long as we’re safe.  I’ve attended and worked at many Halloween tours of fake haunted houses, haunted campgrounds, haunted woods and the like.  The people who come out for these attractions do so with the hopes of getting the living daylights scared out of them.  But they are willing to risk such fear so long as they know they are safe.  I get this a lot, “Will anyone touch me?”, “They won’t really hurt us or anything will they?”  Yeah, they want total reassurance before embarking on the tour into fake hell.  Despite assurances that no one will be touched, many of them go through the experience screaming in terror and maneuvering desperately to escape possible contact.  Children cry because it’s all so very real to them and big people scream because they suspend belief for just a few minutes and accept that the horror before them could be as real as the children think it is.

I like going through these concocted attractions for the “jump” factor.  If someone manages to startle me suddenly, my heart skips and whether I want to or not, a scream often follows.  Fun stuff.  That little burst of adrenalin that accompanies such moments is quite a rush.  Maybe that’s what this is all about…getting a rush without the use of harmful drugs!  The gory scenes and small “plays” enacted in some of these scary Halloween attractions don’t scare me but I do enjoy watching people make fools of themselves pretending to eat fake body parts and mess around with fake blood.  I’ll take fun however I can get it!

We experience many moments in our lives, the ones we remember best are the ones that elicit terror, sadness and extreme joy.  Halloween isn’t for sad moments or joyful ones (at least not for the most part!).  As a kid, Halloween was about dressing up and getting candy.  Fun stuff.  As a teenager, Halloween was about haunted houses and scary movies.  As an adult Halloween is about decorating, scaring others and spooky stories (the book stores are full of horror books during October).

It really is a whole different kind of scared when you think your life is really about to end, though.  I should know.  I had one particularly terrifying moment in which I thought exactly that.  I was eighteen at the time and visiting friends in another state.  One night I was sitting at a small desk in the kitchen talking on the phone to a guy I’d met while out dancing the night before.  The only light was from the small desk lamp.  The rest of the family (three girls about my age, their brother who was ten, and their mother) were all in the living room watching a movie.  I heard the garage door open but didn’t pay it any attention.  The door was to the left of the desk.  I was so engrossed in my conversation that it took a moment for the heavy breathing to penetrate my consciousness.  I remember turning to look for the cause of the sound and then freezing in shock.  I literally could not move.  I wanted to scream, but no sound would come out of my suddenly useless mouth. Bruce (the guy I was talking to) rattled on, totally unaware of the major drama unfolding on the other end of the line.

The person standing before me was wearing a black ski mask, a long black trench coat, black boots, and black gloves.  In his hand was the longest, sharpest, shiniest knife I had ever seen.  He held it up high in his right hand, poised to strike.  My eyes focused on that shiny blade (it caught the light from the desk) which moved in unison with his breathing.  My thoughts scattered in many directions all at once and yet somehow I managed to keep track of them all.  My immediate concern was the rest of the family sitting unaware in the living room.  I accepted that I was going to die.  Truly, my top priority in that horrifying moment was to warn the others, though I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage it since I couldn’t make a sound.  I wondered if I’d get my voice back while the knife was striking and if I could live long enough, thus keeping the killer occupied long enough, to allow the others to escape.  As those rather heroic thoughts flitted through my mind, my whole life flashed before my eyes (yeah, it really happens, it’s not just a cliche) .  I thought of everyone I knew and loved and all the wonderful moments I had with them.  I was grateful for the good moments and filled with regret for the bad ones.  I thought of all the fights and upsets and how stupid they all now seemed.  In those few seconds, so many things crowded my mind.  Why hadn’t I done more with my life?  Why hadn’t I been a better daughter, sister, friend?  If only I could do it all over again.  But no, at eighteen, my life was about to end by the blade of a sharp knife.  I wondered if it would hurt.  I wondered if I should close my eyes.  I must have been an amusing sight sitting there as still as death, my mouth opening and closing, my eyes wide, afraid to blink.  Speaking of my eyes, I wondered what to do with them.  Shut them so I wouldn’t SEE the knife descent or keep them open?  What to do?  Eyes open?  Eyes shut?  Strange thoughts for sure.

Suddenly the person starts laughing and the hand holding the knife drops down.  The other gloved hand pulls the mask off.  It’s one of the girls I was visiting.  Reaction set in.  I dropped the phone and began to shake all over.  I wanted to cry with relief but could do nothing but hyperventilate.  My heart which seemed to have stopped only moments before, was suddenly pounding furiously.  I nearly sank into a boneless heap onto the floor.  I wanted to tell her that the joke was not funny.  But I couldn’t make anything sound coherent.  That mouth of mine which could prattle on for hours was quite useless in a crisis! Ronnie (the girl) put her finger to her lips to indicate I was to say nothing and replaced the ski mask on her head.  Before I could stop her, she went running down the hall to scare the rest of her family. For some reason, she didn’t use the kitchen entrance into the living room.  I managed to stand up and shakily make my way to the livingroom doorway where I wordlessly watched the terror unfold.  Ronnie’s mother saw her first.  She was laying on a couch which had direct line of sight to the hallway.  She turned her head to look and immediately screamed.  She had no problems with body parts refusing to move as she jumped up onto the couch and did a wild in-place run.  Waving her hands in a wide arc, she screamed in a terrified-but-determined-to-save-her-children voice that they needed to run! RUN! RUN!  The two girls sitting on the floor jumped up in unison, a move that couldn’t have been more perfectly choreographed.   Instead of running, they stood stock still, hands on chest, and screamed.  I knew they probably couldn’t run because their legs wouldn’t budge but I thought it interesting they had no problem getting their vocal cords to work.  Their young brother scrambled up onto the back of the couch where he’d been lounging and crouched there, screaming over and over and over.  Were this a real intruder, we all would have died.  Well, maybe not the mother.  Her body was working just fine.  Though why she jumped up on the couch I don’t know.  Maybe it’s what people do when excited.  Didn’t Tom Cruise do that once?

Thankfully, Ronnie realized that the terror she was eliciting was really not acceptable and quickly removed her mask.  Soon as her mother realized it was her daughter and that they weren’t about to be slain to death, she jumped off the couch and nearly killed said daughter!  She grabbed Ronnie’s shoulders and shook her hard.  “You stupid girl, I could have killed you!  If I had had anything to strike you with, I would have done it. Don’t you EVER do anything like this again.”  We had to pull her off.  I knew it was a total adrenaline charge taking over.  We had all truly believed we were going to die.  The horror of that doesn’t just seep away.

What that incident taught me were several things. 1)  Don’t pull a supposed life-threatening prank on someone who will believe the danger is REAL, there’s no telling how they might react…they might just shoot first and ask questions later!  2) Your life really does flash before your eyes…every moment and every day of it!  3) Arguments and disagreements mean NOTHING when facing the end of your life.  4) We need to show appreciation towards our loved ones more (I couldn’t remember the last time I’d told my family that I loved them and that bothered me immensely).  5) When terrified, we cannot move and we cannot think rationally.  If we could just push the panic down when facing danger and allow our brains to THINK clearly, we’d probably find a way out of the mess. 6)  Don’t rant and rave at the stupid actors on TV when they stand there and allow their gruesome ends to occur. They are doing what would probably happen in truth.  If your body knows it canNOT escape, it will freeze in terror.  7) You probably aren’t as selfish as you might think.  I truly was concerned for the others even as I thought my own life was over. And finally, adrenalin overload makes your body as weak as a kitten once the danger has passed. Something to keep in mind if you ever go through a traumatic event.

Fear is a rush of excitement caused by a flood of adrenalin in the body.  That’s all well and good.  Enjoy the rush.  But when inducing that fear, keep it at acceptable levels.  Jump at people, scream suddenly, rev that chainless chainsaw, spurt the fake blood, chomp on plastic body parts but don’t ever make someone think they might really die.

Hope you all have a great, scary fun Halloween!!!

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