Posted on October 31, 2016 by Bernadette Nason
I’ve just got in from my last Halloween storytelling session for this season — I calculate about 3,300 children in the past ten days have gobbled up those Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night. It’s my most heavily booked program because, without a doubt, creepy tales are the most popular among school students. Every year I’m treated to squeals of delight and screams of gleeful horror. Even kids who say they don’t like to be scared seem to get a kick out of a little mild terror.
I especially appreciate the older kids — 4th through 6th grade — who insist that there’s nothing I can say or do to frighten them. They look me up and down, sneering and disdainful, and know FOR SURE that this middle-aged woman can’t possibly offer anything to give them goosebumps. “Go on,” they dare me. “Do your worst!” Imagine my pleasure then, when the simplest suspense tales freak them out. I watch their faces change: eyes widening, lower jaws dropping, heads shaking with disbelief. These youngsters have seen some of the worst possible movies…violent, disturbing, shocking movies, quite unsuitable (in my opinion) for children their age…so they think they’re untouchable, indestructible. But set up a horror story so they’re living it with you — something’s dragging itself up the stairs, you’re the victim, where can you hide?; that sweet-looking horse you’re riding is actually a goblin and he’s stealing you away forever; that weird little man your mother warned you about is going to boil you and eat you for supper — and those same children are eating out of your hands. They don’t need massacres and bloodshed when delectable tension and delicious anticipation will do it every time.
At the end of today’s program, I told a group of 5th graders that last year I’d sat on my front porch with a huge bucket of candy, dressed as a witch, and every time a child went by, I cackled, “Ha ha ha! Come and get some candy, if you dare!” Then I embellished the anecdote, saying that when the children were too fearful to collect the goodies, “I ate every Kit Kat myself! Ha ha ha!” For some reason, this tickled them, the idea of small kids being afraid to get treats. One boy, however, was as stunned as if I were telling him another ghost story. He kept shaking his head, trying to form words. Finally, he put up his hand. “Did you really do that?” I took on the witch persona. “I did, I did. I frightened them all away! Ha ha ha!” His hand was still up. “No, I mean, DID YOU REALLY EAT ALL THE KIT KATS?!”