Who Knows Why?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who Knows Why?

There is an old covered bridge that spans a loud, rushing creek not very far from my house. Straight off the pages of a ghost story, it rattles and moans when you cross it, one car at a time, and once inside it is dark and dank, with unseen terrors that lurk, without question, in its sinister, cobwebby shadows - terrors that follow your progress as you slowly pass through like the eyes in an ancestral portrait.  The journey across causes the adult imagination to spark uncontrollably and it doesn’t take much to work out what it might do to that of a child.

I was that child and when I was little and October came round, my father would often, under intense and vociferous pressure, load up the family car with me and my little girlfriends and we would drive to that bridge to listen in rapt, shivering attention as he told us the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Lord, how we loved it.  Sitting huddled together, giggling nervously, we half expected poor, frightened Ichabod Crane to come careening out of the darkness, with the horrid Headless Horseman in menacing pursuit.  I never cross over that bridge today without smiling.  But I still keep my eyes straight ahead.

Why do we love to be scared?  The Songwriter has an enormous collection of classic ghost stories - M. R. James and Le Fanu, Poe and Wharton - and he relishes pulling them out to reread on these windy fall nights.  I myself love nothing better than those old black and white movies with haunted houses and keening ghosts - I tend to pop them in this time of year as well.  I hasten to state that I’m not talking about the slasher movie or ultra gory tale.  Those I tend to regard as rather sick, devoid of wit, and not worth my time.   Horror?  No.  But spooky?  Oh my, yes!  Give me a good, old-fashioned scary story on a black, moonless night - like The Uninvited, or The Others, even the original Wolfman - and I am guaranteed a most enjoyable evening.

As costumed children on long ago Halloweens, from our vantage points behind our plastic masks, the world, once so ordinary, now seemed strange and delightfully different. There was a delicious sort of fear in the air that we absolutely loved.  Even now, who among us hasn’t felt that same fearful thrill once or twice when we've groped for a light switch around a darkened doorway, wondering if our hand might perhaps meet another, one clammy and cold, just waiting to clasp ours inside the empty room beyond? 
 Doesn’t our pace quicken a bit when we pass by the grey abandoned house, the one with the broken windows and the porch swing that rocks, back and forth, back in forth, in the wind?  And don’t we laugh a bit nervously when we’re safely on the other side?

So yes, once again, I’ve chosen my witch hat, the one with the extravagant pheasant feather.  I have bowls of candy at the ready, and candles waiting to be lit.  Greig and Mussorgsky play softly, but distinctly, in the background and The Songwriter is out putting the finishing touches on his frightful tableau for the garden.  Soon our street will fill with wee little goblins of every mysterious shape and size. 
Who knows why we love it.
But we do.
Happy Halloween to All!