As a parent, I found I would do almost anything, within reason, to keep my daughters safe and happy. When the Police Department Union sponsored a haunted house in the mall, probably 1984 or 1985, Allan and I had great fun helping with the preparations. Tamara was old enough to deal with the fright of it all but Ashley was probably four years old and was terrified from beginning to end. On opening night, I worked as a guide and found that I was a little spooked myself. What can I say? As a result of our experiences in the haunted house, I wrote this short story to help Ashley cope. Through the years, I have shared it with all four of my grandchildren as well.
“That’s just the Halloween fun house. I told you about it a couple of weeks ago, remember? It’s a pretend haunted house, filled with make-believe witches, ghosts, and goblins. The house opens around this time every year, just so boys and girls like you can go through it. It’s full of Halloween fun.” Her mom tried to make it sound more about fun than frights.
Nikki frowned and moved closer to her mother. “I don’t like it,” the four year old screeched. “It scares me too much. I won’t go in it, not ever.”
“Don’t be afraid, honey. It’s just make-believe for kids like you and your sister. Everyone inside dresses in Halloween costumes and has fun pretending to be witches, ghosts, and other kinds of Halloween characters. It’s like when you wear your costume for your Halloween party at school.”
About that time, Nikki and her mother could hear loud, spooky sounds coming from inside the house again. Nikki started crying and told her mother, “I want my Daddy. Let’s go home. NOW!”
As soon as her mom parked the car, Nikki ran to tell her old sister about the haunted house they had seen. “Lynn, I was really scared and I don’t like being scared.”
“You are such a baby.” Lynn was at that age when she couldn’t resist teasing her baby sister.
“No, I’m not. You stop teasing me or I’ll tell Mommie,”
“I’ll bet you’re too scared to go trick or treating tonight.” Lynn continued to taunt Nikki as the four year old ran to tell on her.
But, in her heart, Nikki knew Lynn was right. She really was afraid. “All this Halloween stuff is too scary for me,” she thought as she bumped into her daddy in the hall. “Daddy, Daddy, Lynn is teasing me. She said I’m a baby, too scared to go trick or treating tonight.”
“I see. Well, what do you think, Nikki? Are you too scared?”
Nikki frowned even harder. “No, I’m not and I’m not a baby either; I’m just afraid of scary things like ghosts.”
“You have to remember this Halloween stuff is all make-believe. The ghosts and goblins are just people wearing costumes and make-up, trying to look scary. If one of them seems really spooky to you, try thinking about who he might really be and you won’t be so afraid. It’s like one big game. Oh, Nikki, look at the time. It’s six-thirty already, time to get ready to go trick or treating. Remind me when we get back to the house, I have a special Halloween surprise for you later.”
Nikki ran down the hall to her bedroom to change into her clown costume. She found her daddy waiting in the den and asked him to tie her big, orange clown collar. Nikki thought to herself, “My costume isn’t very scary. Why can’t all the kids wear something like this?”
Nikki took a flashlight from the kitchen drawer so everyone outside could see her after dark and her daddy reminded her to bring her trick or treat bag. Lynn walked out of her room, dressed in a devil’s costume; but it didn’t scare Nikki because she had seen it already. “Where’s Mom?” Lynn asked.
“We’ll see her later; she had an errand to run.” Dad watched as the girls headed out to join some friends down the street.
Nikki was shy at first, until she figured out who was behind each mask. When she realized they were all friends, she relaxed and began having fun. There were so many different costumes…from witches to vampires to Raggedy Anns. Some were scary and others were just cute.
About an hour later, Nikki’s dad told her he was ready to start back to the house. “Is it time for my special surprise, Daddy?” Nikki looked into her bag to see if she had enough candy and decided she definitely did. She and Lynn agreed to start walking back toward the house.
As they turned into the driveway, Nikki begged her dad to tell her about the Halloween surprise; but he wouldn’t even give her a hint. He told her they would have to go for a short drive before he could tell her about it. She crawled into the family car and Lynn helped buckle her safety belt. “Do you know what my surprise is, Lynn?”
“No, I don’t; but I hope I get one, too.
They looked through their bags of treats, making plans for which candy they would eat first. Nikki glanced up just as Daddy stopped the car…IN FRONT OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE.
“Oh, no, Daddy! Why are we here? I don’t want to go in the haunted house.” Nikki was already crying hysterically.
Suddenly Lynn told her dad she didn’t want to go inside either. “I know it will really scare Nikki and I don’t want her to cry.” Lynn tried to sound very grown-up as she explained.
Her father smiled widely and turned to Nikki. “See, you aren’t the only one who is nervous. Lynn is a little scared, too, even though she is older than you. But I want both of you to go through the haunted house with me so I can show you that it is all just for fun.” Both girls whimpered and held onto their dad while he paid for their tickets.
“Daddy, p-l-e-a-s-e, let’s go home and I’ll share my candy with you,” Nikki pleaded.
“Come on, girls, we can go in with the next group.” It was plain to see Dad had made up his mind, as the girls followed him into the scary, old haunted house.
As the doors closed behind them, Nikki and Lynn realized it was very dark inside and all they could hear was loud, spooky music. They tried to listen as the guide told them to follow closely so nothing would happen to them. As they walked through total darkness, they wandered from one scary room to another. They saw ghosts and witches with green faces. Just as they got away from Dracula, they ran into a werewolf and then a goblin dressed in black. Nikki insisted her daddy carry her and Lynn held his hand so tightly there was no chance he could get away from her. Both girls were screaming and crying by the time they reached the last room. Suddenly more monsters jumped out and scared them, all over again.
“I want to go home now!” Nikki was yelling for all to hear. “This is not fun! These monsters are scaring me.”
“Do you remember what Mommie and I told you about this being make-believe? None of these goblins are real and they won’t hurt you.” Her daddy used his most reassuring voice.
“Yes, they will, Daddy; I know they will,” Nikki cried as she buried her face in her daddy’s chest.
“Daddy, Daddy, a witch just grabbed my arm.” Now Lynn was screaming at the top of her voice.
“Which witch?” Nikki yelled, too afraid to open her eyes and look.
“This witch, little girl. Are you two sweeties ready to go home or do you want to stay with me f-o-r-e-v-e-r?” The witch screeched her words, as she tickled Nikki’s arm with her long, black fingernails.
“NO!!” screamed both girls.
I won’t hurt you and I really love pretty, little girls.” The witch slowly removed her mask.
“MOMMIE,” screamed Nikki, “it’s you! You really scared me.”
Lynn and Nikki both grabbed their mother and hugged her as she led them outside into the lighted area.
“Your mother and I wanted you to see that everything in this haunted house is make-believe. All the ghosts and goblins inside are people just like Mommie, working in the haunted house because it is fun. No one in there wants to hurt you. It’s kind of like being in a Halloween play.” Their dad tried to comfort them.
Both girls sighed with relief and started to laugh. Lynn looked at Nikki in disbelief. “Can you believe we were afraid of our own mother?”