There's nothing like a good scare on Halloween.
But in these times, when there are lots of scary things going on in the real world -- government shutdowns, identity thefts, Mylie Cyrus -- it's more and more difficult to raise goose bumps and send chills down little spines with make-believe scary stuff.
I'll never forget the Halloween I was taking Mario and Luigi (our boys cleverly disguised as the little Italian guys of Nintendo fame) trick-or-treating. Down Walnut Street and around the corner, we came upon a house that was really in the spirit.
Spider webs in the trees, ghosts and goblins and tombstones strategically placed in the yard, and an organ playing a funeral dirge over speakers hidden behind bushes.
To get to the door, we had to walk around a bevy of jack-o'-lanterns, a coffin, a skeleton haning from a noose and past a rocking chair with a life-size, pumpkin headed scarecrow slouched in it. They even made the rocking chair rock. Maybe someone was pulling on a rope, I told the boys.
A witch with a green face and a huge wart on her nose answered the doorbell. "Hello, my little pretties," she said with a wicked witch laugh. Mario and Luigi's eyes got bigger and bigger. The witch said she wouldn't eat them for breakfast if they could tell her a joke.
With a little help from Dad, they went with a classic: Why didn't the skeleton cross the road? No guts.
She let out a hideous witch laugh and put candy corn packets in their bags.
"That was pretty scary, huh guys?" I said as we thanked her and left. We walked past the skeleton and the coffin and the scarecrow. The chair stopped rocking. We stopped to see why and the scarecrow sprang from the chair and tried to grab Mario. We tore out of there so fast, Luigi dropped his treat bag. My heart was racing.
"Gotcha!" the scarecrow yelled when we got to the street. He and the witch had a good laugh. So did we when our hearts started beating again.
"Were you scared, Daddy?" Mario asked. "Naaaaahhhh," I lied.
It was almost as scary as the time we were playing in the basement of my childhood home. My brother said he had to go to the bathroom, so he disappeared up the steps. Then my sister went, too. They turned out the lights and I was all alone in the dark basement. Or was I?
We had two coal-burning furnaces down there. They were huge with pipes coming out of them every which way like octopus arms. Each furnace had a grate on the front that looked like big teeth, glowing from the fire raging inside. Gauges looked like bulging eyeballs. And like old furnaces did, they huffed and puffed as the coal burned and shifted. My brother had told me that a little boy who lived there had fallen into the furnace and was burned to a crisp. He was kidding, right?
Then the stoker that fed coal to the furnace kicked in and I was out of there. Past the furnaces and up the stairs three at a time. When I burst into the kitchen, they laughed at me. So I wrestled them down and swore I'd get even.
I never did. Yet.
One of our kids' favorite Halloween things was making up our own ghost stories. All it took was a dark room, a flashlight, a yellow Playskool microphone and a lot of imagination.
The boys, a couple of friends staying over and I sat on the floor Indian-style. I started things off, the same every time. I summoned my scariest whisper:. "It was a dark and stormy night. ..."
The boys pounded on the floor and I flashed flashlight lightning around the room.
"Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. ..."
I tapped the mike three times, menacingly. Tap. Tap. Tap.
"The door swung open. ..."
Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaak! (Back then I did a great creaking noise in my throat. Now that I'm older, I can get the same sound just bending my right knee.)
"And then ..."
I passed the microphone to the next kid.
He added a line or two.
Sometimes a bomb exploded. The kid made his best explosion noise and we all got knocked over. Or maybe the butler answered in a scary Lurch voice. And the mike passed to the next kid and he put in his 2 scary cents worth.
You never knew where the story was going. More often than not, there were howling ghosts, tornadic winds, shadows, lightning, monsters and an occasional man with a bloody hook for a hand.
The boys didn't think it was too funny the time I wasn't there when it was my turn to take the microphone. I was just over in the corner. But it was dark and they were little and they thought the guy with the hook might have gotten me.
Another scary moment, was when I said, "Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. ..." And the doorbell rang right on cue. We went to answer it and there was nobody there.
I never did figure it out. But if I ever find out it was my brother, I swear I'll get even.
Does anyone know where I can get a hook?