The nights were dark in the woods surrounding the shabby farmhouse my father moved us into when he decided country life beat suburban sameness.
That was fine by me as long as I was in the living room with my family or tucked sleepily in my bed.
However, when my mother would send me to take my bath and I would look up at the giant square of blackness that was the bathroom window, I worried.
What lurked out there, I wondered, and it did not take long for my child mind to answer:
Not only were the monsters were out there, they would creep through the window and tear me limb from limb the moment I closed my eyes to wash my face. I knew it was so.
There were no monsters. There are no monsters. Monsters do not exist. There is no such thing as monsters.
I know that now. But I did not know it then.
Kids have not changed. If they believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, why should they not believe in monsters?
The staircase is steep and dark between the second and third floors of the big old house my wife and I moved into a year ago.
At the top of the stairs is a door, and on the other side of the door is a spacious expanse of cream-colored beadboard walls and floor-to-ceiling windows.
It is cheerful in the daytime, with the sunlight filtered through the faded lace curtains that came with the house.
Getting there requires mounting the stairs and turning a creaky doorknob before stepping into the light, however.
When we first moved in and showed our 6-year-old granddaughter Olive around, she eagerly explored the first two floors. I took her to the third-floor stairs, preparing to offer the entire space as a playroom.
Olive looked up. She did not see what I saw. Olive saw a long, dark tunnel and a door to the unknown.
She stood stiffly. “I’m scared,” she said.
“No big deal, just some stairs and a cool room up there with plenty of space for toys. Want to see?”
“No. I’m scared.” She shook her head.
Clearly, her fear was real. We retreated downstairs to the comfy couch in the living room.
Years ago as a photographer for the Ironton Tribune across the river, I spent an evening each year shooting pictures of thrillseekers at the haunted tunnel that is an annual Halloween attraction. It was dark, noisy, confusing and, yes, scary.
That’s fine for those who like that sort of thing, but not for the tiny children crying in genuine terror while their parents dragged them by the hand into the dark.
More often than not the parents were chuckling at the amusing sight of their children’s abject fear. It’s not that they were uncaring. But they were unable to concede the truth their children sensed — that the skeletons were real, the chain saws were sharp and hungry for human flesh, and the witches were fighting over scraps of dismembered corpses.
After more than half a century it seems implausible that a boy of the mid-20th century would fret over imaginary beasts in the dark.
It seems likely the children screaming in the haunted tunnel were dry-eyed and thinking about Halloween candy within minutes of exiting.
And sometimes I wonder whether it would have been better to coax Olive up the stairs to confront and dismiss her fears.
Then I remember what I told myself when my own two children were small, and I grew impatient with their reluctance to go to sleep with the lights out.
It was this:
All too soon the tables will be turned. They will be teenagers and not afraid of anything.
Then it will be your turn to be scared. They won’t understand why you worry when they are late and don’t call home.
They will roll their eyes, chuckle and tell their friends that your voice shook when you handed them the car keys. Worried parents — how amusing.
Your fear will be real then. Theirs is real now. Respect it.
Reach MIKE JAMES at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.