It is Friday night and the movie Signs is on TV. I settle in to watch it with my ten-year-old son at my side, snuggled under a throw. I've seen the movie before, years ago, but all I remember of the story line is that it involves extraterrestrials. This will be my son's first, official scary movie. A bit over-protective, you say? Perhaps, but Jaws ripped a bloody hunk of wide-eyed innocence out of my childhood, so deal with it.
Maybe I'm a wuss by today's standards of horror, but it's the little things that scare me, the rustle of corn stalks in the wind, a momentary shadow blocking the light shining under a closed door, the hint--no, the promise--of something more to come. As the tension in the movie builds, I look over and see that my son has stuck his fingers in his ears. When I question him about this, he says it's in case something jumps out on the screen. Hmmm, clearly I'd done the kid no favors. I gently remove the fingers from his ears and place them over his eyes.
We get through the shadowy figure on the roof, an otherworldly ankle retreating into the corn, a clawed hand reaching underneath a pantry door, and finally the big moment has arrived--the alien appears in full-body view. I gasp and assume fetal position. My son shouts too, but it's not fear I hear in his voice. "Ewwwww. He's naked. I can see his be-front." (I find out later that a be-front is the opposite of a be-hind. Kids.)
Naked? I peek through my fingers, concerned now that I am not only frightening him to death before bedtime but also exposing him to alien nudity at ten years of age. I can feel my head tilting to one side, assessing the situation. I wouldn't exactly say naked. He looks a bit like Kate Moss, circa 1993, in a washed-out, grey catsuit. In fact, she may have worn something just like that on a catwalk in the past.
The movie ends and Jon brushes his teeth and climbs into bed. Much later, I make my way upstairs in the darkened house. My eyes are closed as I climb the stairs and my fingers feel for the light switch in my room. I laugh to myself, remembering I did this very thing as a child whenever I was afraid and said a special prayer, taught to me by Grandma Pasqualine, that was 100% effective in warding off bad dreams. When I hear my son call out from his room, saying he can't sleep because he's disgusted by that naked alien, I tell him he can come sleep with me. Little does he know that he's helping me out.
When I relate this story to a friend the next day, he exclaims, "You're kidding?" A lover of all things horror, he can't imagine that I was that freaked by the movie Signs. I remind him that I have alien issues that began almost fifteen years ago.
It was my thirtieth birthday and my cousin, let's just call her Cuzzy, sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers and two mylar birthday balloons tied together, one floating higher than the other. That night, I crawled into bed with a copy of Communion by Whitley Strieber, a supposed true story of the writer's abduction by aliens at his summer cabin. Years later, they made a movie of the book, starring Christopher Walken who, in all fairness, has always frightened me a bit whether he was in a horror movie or not, the only exception being his appearance on Saturday Night Live with the delivery of the line "I got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell." But I digress.
As the ceiling fan whirred and my book light cast a concentrated beam in the otherwise dark room, I turned page after page of the frightening account. Eventually, I couldn't keep my eyes open and succumbed to sleep. Hours later, something woke me and I opened my eyes to see two silver-faced creatures bobbing at my bedside. I screamed like I had never screamed before, over and over again, and my husband jumped many feet into the air. Had I been a person of lesser health, my heart could not have survived the fright. By the time my husband peeled himself off the ceiling, I was kneeling in the middle of the bed, pointing my finger, babbling incoherently. He turned on the light to reveal that I had almost been abducted by...wait, it's coming...a pair of mylar balloons. Of course, you know that I've never lived this down.
Though the "aliens" were debunked, the scientist in me (yes, believe it or not, there is a scientist in me despite my "I want to believe" philosophy) had to know how those balloons made it to my bedside on the very night Whitley Strieber was scaring the crap out of me. The next day I created a re-enactment and realized that the ceiling fan, set to draw the hot air up and cool the house, had also sucked the balloons from the kitchen, through the foyer, up a flight of stairs, and into my room to end up at my side of the bed. You see the problem though, don't you? What stopped them from getting sucked up into the ceiling fan? Why did they "choose" to linger at my bedside? Mwhahahahahahahaha. I can honestly say that no horror movie has ever scared me more than that night did. All mylar balloons are now tied down before bedtime in my house. Wince. And that's because, yes, it's true, this event happened twice to me.
Sometimes I wish I were more like my son, able to get through the scary stuff with just an "ewwww" and some mild digestive upset.