Wednesday 21 March 2018

'I've always loved scaring the bejaysus out of kids'

David Diebold on transforming into a monster each Halloween

David Diebold likes to spook trick-or-treaters
David Diebold likes to spook trick-or-treaters

Halloween has always come easy to our house, but I'm not quite sure where our annual tradition of parking our car on top of a splayed effigy of a trick-or-treater came from.

It probably started one year when the kids propped up a stuffed dummy in the driveway and I accidentally backed over it on my way in.

The dummy was named 'Spiderooky', originating from a year-round bedtime tale we'd tell the kids about three witches, named Toothy, Hairy and Toenail, who inhabited the walls of the creaky old house we lived in, with its rattling pipes and elderly next door neighbour who played the organ.

"Oh, that's Spiderooky," we'd tell the kids when our neighbour was in the middle of late-night practise for church. "He's the witches' pet monster. The music means he's hungry."

Sometime subsequently, a Halloween tradition was born.

They'd set to work on Spiderooky in the days leading up to Halloween, expertly stuffing clothes and positioning a stuffed hoodie so the thing looked eerily hunched over. The wind would invariably knock him to the ground and, eventually, the car ended up on top of him.

Next thing we knew, bunches of little ones were screaming their masks off, climbing over each other to get away, as fuming parents loitering at the gate muttered about it being 'a bit much'.

In fact, we became rather a hit with the swarms of diminutive ghouls that rustled up to our door each year, murmuring nervously before ringing the bell, and I think the 'bloodied' footprints we made with a boot dipped in ketchup leading up to our porch, only added to the effect.

As years went by, the third eldest of our four would have a fancy dress party on his birthday, two days before Fright Night, and we once brought his little friends on a flash-light tour of the nearby cemetery, where I'd placed the odd stuffed glove poking out of a grave.

Who knew such little people could scream so loudly? We were hooked.

As our elder two grew into door-answering duty, I'd lay on the ground in the background, twitching, or put a pillowcase over my head and repeatedly shuffle into the wall down the hall like a stuck zombie. "Oh, don't mind him," one of our teens would say. "He's just UNDEAD."

Some stuffed clothes, a bit of ketchup, an old pillowcase and an honest passion for scaring the living daylights out of anyone that called to the door, and hands up, it was streets ahead of what anyone else was doing in the neighbourhood with their plastic skulls, styrofoam graves and cotton-wool cobwebs.

Not surprisingly, our four have grown up with quite a taste for the macabre, and though most of them have left Halloween behind, they still have a penchant for horror films, zombie fiction and the like, which makes gift buying in December a treat. It's Halloween at Christmas more often than not.

Suffice to say, they still enjoy nothing more than a good scare.

One thing they've never been afraid of, however, is anything lurking under their beds, the howling of wind in the night or any of the other invisible fears many find difficult to shake off into adulthood.

The only ghosts they've known are laboriously fashioned from coat hangers and torn sheets. The unknown holds no terror, the darkness only the fear of tripping up, or not being able to see to read.

Our 'house of horror' school of parenting won't have any how-to books bothering the self-help shelves any time soon, but I reckon, if there's one thing we've managed to somehow teach our kids, it's that all the scary things out there in the world are man-made.

They seem most afraid of being late for school or college, or forgetting their lunch, or running out of milk for their tea, or the Wi-Fi not working.

And that's a good thing.

Hopefully, they can leave the real fears, of surviving in a world slowly spiralling into chaos, for much later.

Meanwhile, the countdown is on. There's just a week left until Halloween weekend, and only one left in the house under 18. I wonder has she outgrown the magic of mischievousness yet.

"I think Spiderooky is going to be down to you this year," I tell her just now, as she comes in the door, exhausted from school and bowed under the weight of books.

She perks up and I see her eyes glisten. "Sure. I don't mind," she chirps.

Me, I'll probably be rattling my chains at the front door on Halloween long after she's joined her brothers on their world travels, one of these years, all too soon.

And when they someday pluck the washing-up- liquid bottle plastic fangs from my mouth and cart me off to the furnace, I hope my epitaph is: 'Here lies David. He always took things too far... But he wasn't afraid of the dark'.

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