Halloween raises the interesting question: why do we enjoy being scared when there's enough in real life to scare us anyway? (Photo by Michael Freeman).

With Halloween coming up in two days, this might be a good time to ask: what scares you?
Knowing I have a lot of pragmatic-minded friends, I can easily anticipate the sorts of answers I’m likely to get.
“My tax bill.”
“Obama’s re-election.”
“My wife in 10 years.”
“The scale in my bathroom.”
“The responses I get on Match.com.”
Sigh. People, people, people, you’re missing the point. Bad a) politicians, b) dates, c) expenses …. are all pretty much ho-hum, everyday stuff. Yes, they’re all annoying, aggravating, and capable of raising the tedium level to new heights, but … scary? We can do better than that.
I happen to have an irrational fear, which I’ve been stuck with since I was a kid. To put it bluntly, I’m afraid of the dark. I hate, hate, hate being in dark places.
I hate walking into my house alone at night. That first split second when I step into the room and I’m in the pitch darkness, and I reach for the light switch … I always get an eerie chill in the moment before the light flashes on. I always sort of freeze up in anxiety and wonder — am I going to see the exact same old place I’d normally recognize as being my living room, or …. is there going to be something else in there that I hadn’t expected? You know — serial killer, ghost, collections agency representative, something truly terrifying. I’m happy to report that I usually flick on the light and find my same old couch and flat screen TV and DVD collection, but I have to admit, I always truly, truly do sigh in relief when my eyes connect with that pleasant blandness. 
I hate walking down the streets at night, alone, in the darkness.
“That’s ridiculous,” my buddy Brek laughed when I told him that. “You live in a safe neighborhood.”
“What if I got mugged?” I said.
“Michael,” he sighed, “consider where you live. Statistically, the chances of you being mugged here are about zero.”
Problem is, you can’t apply logic to an irrational fear.
For years, I’ve had a recurring nightmare that I leave a public building at night, then walk into the dark parking lot … and I can’t find my car. I stumble from one row to the next, and can’t find my Kia Rio. I get progressively more anxious and scared when I don’t see it.
Weird, but I’ve had this dream for years, and I think it adds to my ongoing irrational fear of the dark.
But I really blame it on the bedroom I had as a kid, growing up in a three-story house in Fall River, Massachusetts. The attic that had one very large room — my bedroom — which included a closet that separated my room from a doorway leading to the main attic hallway. Being isolated up there, with my entire family sleeping one floor below, was always a bit creepy for me as a kid.
I used to wake up in the middle of the night, in the pitch darkness, and hear the door between my room and the hallway open — and shut. I would sit up with a start and stare out into the darkness to see who — or what — had just walked into my room.

The closet in the attic room that Mike Freeman used as a bedroom growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts .... where he heard strange, eerie sounds in the middle of the night, in pitch darkness. (Photo by Michael Freeman.)

And every time I did that, I found I was always alone.
Don’t ghosts drive you crazy?
It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. The web site theonlythingtofearisfearitself.blogspot.com is actually devoted to irrational fears like mine — spiders, heights, elevators, etc.
The site’s author, Lounsey, notes that this is a blog where “I post the irrational fears that people send to me. Maybe reading about the fears of other people might make you realise that your own irrational fear isn’t so strange at all.”
That’s for sure. At least being alone in the dark — where your vision and senses are limited, and where you can feel considerably more vulnerable than in the daytime — seems semi-normal. Some of the responses were doozies.
“I’m terrified of Abraham Lincoln,” Joe Spence wrote to this blog. “Ever since I was in elementary school and read a book on ghosts of the White House, I have a reoccurring nightmare where Lincoln’s Ghost is standing over me … watching me sleep … it’s disturbing.”
That one is nothing if not original. And outside of that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
Or this from Erica: “Chewing gum. I absolutely detest it. In my view, it is nothing more than a half-masticated, saliva-drenched food mass with the consistency of industrial rubber.”
And I thought walking alone on a dark street made me seem irrational. Mama!

Every Halloween across the country, the cash registers rings as the spooks come out to play. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

I asked some of my own friends what scares them, and got some interesting — or less bizarre, anyway — responses, like my friend Desmond, who wrote, “Drowning or out of control fire. Basically losing control of a situation.” I can see that.
On the other hand, my friend Darren returned to the real world, writing, “Evangelicals, large crowds of people, and Rick Scott.” Okay, we’re back to reality-is-scarier-than-the-supernatural, I suppose.
It’s interesting to think that we all have our fears, and phobias, and irrational worries, some of them grounded in the real world, some not so much — and yet once a year, around October, we turn our fears into a hot commercial product called Halloween that becomes very big business, particularly here in Central Florida with its lavish theme parks. We all love a good scare, as long as it’s a safe one.
By the way, I did ask Brek to answer my Halloween question, and tell me what scares him.
He wrote back: “Halloween questions.”
Now that is scary.

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