Mama Said: Why scary stories aren’t as fun as they used to be
There used to be nothing cosier than snuggling up and listening to a ghost story, but feeling the fear has lost its appeal
Every year when things turned Christmassy, me and my Dad would watch something scary on TV. Don’t worry, we did also watch the classics, but they’re all also a bit scary if you think about it. Little kid gets left alone at home? Man attempts to throw himself off bridge during a bad financial episode? We watched them all.
But me and Dad would also watch something properly scary. Something a bit messed up like an M.R. James tale about a haunted abbey. The fire would be crackling in the grate, the Christmas tree twinkling away and little me on the sofa with a blanket over my head and one eye peeping out as Dad allowed my impressionable little brain to have a cold blast of fear. But not so much that it ruined my life, mind you. Although, some of what I saw on the TV during those sessions did a little bit ruin my life. I still can’t run up the stairs in the dark. But no one can.
As little kids on Hallowe’en sleepovers with friends, telling ghost stories was also a huge thing. I don’t think kids do it now? They just go on their DEVICES, carve pumpkins for Instagram and make TikToks. But if you’re aged 30–50 and reading this, you know what I’m talking about, right? You know why we mustn’t ever, EVER let even a tiny bit of our hand go over the edge of our beds when we’re asleep. And must I remind you never to go and check what the drip drip drip noise is in the bathroom? No, I didn’t think so. We’ll leave that there.
This year me, Tom, Girl and Boy went to a hotel during half term, just for two nights and it was dead cosy. We had dinner in the hotel and afterwards, recalling my fond childhood memories with Dad, I said we should all get into bed and tell ghost stories. “Oh yeah!” the children answered excitedly. “Let’s definitely do that!”
So we snuggled in our bed and Tom started up a story about an old haunted hotel and something terrible, something truly haunted and dreadful, being under the bed. I knew almost instantly that telling our 9 and 5-year-olds a story of this nature as we lay together in
an old hotel was in fact a huge mistake. “And the man put his hand down by the side of the bed and felt...a little lick,” said Tom. I looked at him in horror. What was he doing? Not THIS story, surely? Not for the CHILDREN!
Both children were lying very still, blinking in the dark, barely breathing. I think one was making little whimpering sounds or possibly just crying. Tom continued to unfold his terrible tale and I tried to signal to him with my eyes (in the dark) to wrap it up quickly. Luckily he caught my drift. “And the man realised....” Tom continued darkly, “that underneath the bed was...” we held our breath, “TWENTY CATS WITH LASER BEAM EYES.” It was a nice recovery.
I have to heavily edit all fear from books at bedtime for Boy. He’s too easily spooked. We got a new book called The Kitten With No Name because how bad could it be? But the kitten LOSES his mummy on page three, and there begins a harrowing journey to find her involving
a cuckoo, a frog and finding a cat that looks a bit like her but ultimately isn’t her. It’s quite a long book and too long to finish in one reading, so in the interest of getting to bed and stopping the tears from flowing we had to flick through looking at the pictures until we felt sure that he does eventually find his mummy again towards the end. Just maybe not tonight.
I think children’s fear-threshold has gone down. Or maybe it’s just my fear threshold that’s gone down. Feeling afraid has lost its appeal for me over the years. Maybe because the real world is frightening enough. Anyway, sweet dreams.
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More by this authorEmily Martin