I think scaring people is enjoyable–probably much in the way horror authors and filmmakers or spook house creators do. That reaction—the yell, the jump, the popping eyes—tickles my funny bone. In honor of Halloween creeping up on us, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite ways I have scared strangers, friends and family.
1. The Trick-or-Treat Scare: For several years now, I have turned my yard into a graveyard for trick-or-treaters. On Halloween I am the candy giver. But my favorite job is the fog master. The faux gravestones, staked glowing skulls, floating ghosts and looming grim reaper set the scene, but the fog machine is the pièce de résistance. We hide it under rocks right by the door. Just after the doorbell rings, I press the fog button from inside my house and hear the screams. Mwhaaaaaaaah! It’s a pretty good scare: I’ve gotten high-fives from suspiciously tall trick-o-treaters (trick-or-teenagers); I’ve seen wee princesses and ninjas run away without getting candy, and I’ve actually gotten apologies from parents for their toddler being too scared to approach the terrifying lady holding the candy bowl. (Shouldn’t I be the one apologizing??) But now that I have told y’all my secret, I’m going to have to change it up. Nothing worse than a perfectly fearless 5-year-old zombie.
2. The Unintentional Scare. My father has always been sensitive to noise. To protect his ears, he built himself an office in the far corner of the basement to get some peace from his four loud children. Being sensitive to his auditory sensitivity, my mother would make one of her brood let him know that dinner was ready in person in lieu of shouting it from the kitchen. This too was a task that needed to be done with sensitivity. If you approached him too quietly then spoke, you’d be accused of sneaking up on him, which turned him into a sullen diner who’d ruin dinner. If you were too loud on the approach, you’d hurt his ears, and he’d hurt yours right back with a harangue and consequently, ruin dinner. I used to call it walking on egg shells. It was my turn to tell my father, so I trotted down the basement stairs with just enough clomp and stomp that announced me in an acceptable way. Feeling confident that he heard me because I saw him look up from an algebraic equation, I slipped into his office and said not too loudly, “It’s time for dinner.”
He screamed as if I were a monster who had just said, “You are dinner.” Not expecting his response, I reacted in the same way one might react to being jumped by a vampire: I screamed. Apparently, my scream was a frightening behavior and my father yelled yet again with the same vigor. I cackled as my father stared. I reenacted the ridiculous roaring and my father’s shell cracked. He laughed too. And dinner was delightful.
3. The Intentional Scare. My friend was sitting on my garden-level patio patiently waiting for me to finish unpacking some groceries and join him. As I walked up the sidewalk, I could see him sip his beer through the fence slats. Back then, I lived in an old Tudor in Platt Park. My 75-year-old house had some unexplained happenings that I told my friend about: a securely placed ceramic soap dish plummeted to its demise all by itself; an old woman donning a black bonnet popular in the 1800s was sighted several times peering into my kitchen window; my toddler told me about a ghostly man in a black suit that would often stand in the bathtub and watch him sit on the toilet. To my friend, my house felt a bit spooky. So naturally, I decided to capitalize on that. I put my bag of groceries down and tiptoed to the perimeter of the patio. Hidden by the fence overgrown with autumn hops, I growled very softly. My friend stopped mid-sip and his eyes widened. I smothered a laugh with my arm and waited long enough for him to decide it was his imagination and get back to the business of drinking. His lips made contact with the beer bottle, and I knew that was my cue: “Grrrrrrrrrr…” All alarms on. He was ready to fight or flee. With his posture on full alert, he waited for another growl. But I didn’t give it to him. I waited again. He sipped his beer looking left, then right. Suddenly, I peeked over the fence expelling a ROAR! After he was finished swearing and wiping beer off his shorts, we had a laugh.
4. The Scare-OP. I was cute-pregnant and my sister, who was six months further along, was gigantic-ready-to-pop pregnant. She told me to go through her closet and find the maternity clothes that she grew out of so that I could wear them before I too was splitting at the seams. We had plans to go out to dinner, so she took a shower as I flipped through clothes. She must have forgotten that I was in her closet, because after her ablutions, she lumbered onto her bed in her birthday suit for an après shower repose, baby belly basking in the heated fall air. I was stuck in the closet faced with two options: I could announce myself behind the door and scare her inadvertently or just pop out and scare her purposely. I reasoned she was safe on the bed–either scare would not cause her to fall off—her belly alone would stop her from rolling. So I went for the full-on pop out of the closet. And that’s how we got my nephew. Just kidding. But to this day, she will tell you that she was so shocked she almost gave birth right then and there. I wouldn’t recommend this scare unless you’re skilled in birthing babies.
5. The Hiccup Scare. You may have heard about scaring the hiccups out of someone. Most of the time it doesn’t work, but if you get it to work just once, you will forever frighten friends to relieve them of this annoying diaphragm malfunction. A friend of mine had the hiccups. We tried some crazy things to relieve him, one of which was to guzzle a glass of water with a pencil resting horizontally between his lips. Another was to drink water upside down, standing on his head. With those two failed efforts, we decided to wait it out. But he continued to hiccup. So I knew what I had to do: I would yell his name when he wasn’t expecting it. We were talking about some sensitive subject like hunger in Africa, then I seized the moment and yelled his name. He was so frightened he grabbed both my arms, unhinged his jaw and screamed a primordial “GAAAH!” I felt so bad that he reacted that way (as I was laughing my butt off), I apologized profusely and explained my intentions. He waited for the hiccup to happen. But it didn’t. Voilà.
So there you have it. If you are concerned about the “bad” karma I must be racking up, don’t be. There is another person in my house that likes to scare me. My oldest likes to stalk me in my basement office, spy on me in the kitchen, and walk closely, undetected behind me like a shadow. When he pops out, I yell every time and demand, “Don’t ever do that again!” But he doesn’t listen because he’s laughing too hard. And I don’t ruin dinner over it. Happy Halloween.