Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: When all of your parenting fears come true.

Light seeps in through the slivered gaps between the window shades, dripping little splashes of obnoxious sunshine right onto your eyelids. You strain to listen, but hear no sounds from the munchkin's room, so you stretch and turn over. Just for a few more minutes.

But despite the cheery transition from sleep to wakefulness, from shadowy night to revealing day, something unsettling tickles the edges of your awareness. You turn again. And then again. Is that a cry you hear? A faint, almost feline sound, too far away to be your daughter. Or is it? It sounds again, seeming to echo forlornly on another plane, a reality just barely touching your own.

Sighing, you haul yourself out of bed. Your wife slumbers still, turned away from you, a pillow shielding her face from the light. You rub your eyes, faint recollections from the night seeping slowly through your consciousness. Something about being chased, and running in slow motion, and then a creature with teeth and claws . . .

You stand outside of the munchkin's door for a minute, head resting on the door jamb. No sound. No faint cries. No whines. You crack the door, just a little bit. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, and it seems you can just barely make out something glowing, hovering just above her bed. You squint, and crack the door a little further. And then you realize that it is her eyes glinting in the darkness, reflecting back the light in the hallway. She stands in her crib, motionless. Just watching you. Her eyes never seem to blink.

You wait, wondering if she'll move. Can she really see you? Does she know that you're there? You feel your heart beating in your chest. You think of Poe's tell-tale heart. 

Screw it. You push open the door and walk in, uttering a happy greeting as though you haven't already been staring at her for three minutes. She still doesn't move. But as you go close to give her a hug, you step on something soft, something wet. You bend down to examine Mickey, his face erupting from the seams of its eyes, nose and mouth in moist white billows.

"What does dead mean?" your daughter asks, her first words of the morning. Then she opens her mouth, revealing a wad of stuffing. It cascades from her mouth in what seems a neverending stream. Her eyes are wide, still staring, never blinking.

At breakfast you watch the kid. Her oatmeal sits in front of her, untouched. "What are you waiting for?" you ask. And she says, "I'm waiting for the birds." She gazes at something behind you, then raises her finger to her lips and says, "Shhh." You're not sure if she's talking to you or something else. When you turn to look, there is nothing there, and you feel a little silly. When you turn back, she's no longer looking, but just stirring her oatmeal disinterestedly.

Since she refuses to eat, you let her play in the yard for a few minutes while you consider what to do next. Should you give her a cookie? Your wife hates it when you do that, but you want her to get something in her stomach.

It's at this moment that you notice she is on her belly in the garden, shoveling dirt into her mouth. When you stand her up and question her, she offers no excuse. She just pats her stomach and smiles mysteriously. So far this morning she has eaten only several mouthfuls of dirt, and Mickey Mouse's face. You offer her a cookie and she says, "No, I'm full."

While reading her nursery rhymes, you have a hard time ignoring the macabre undertones of "Rock-a-bye baby," "Ring around the Rosie," and "Three Blind Mice." Addison enjoys them thoroughly, asking you to repeat each several times, and on the last reading of "Three Blind Mice," she turns and stabs her sharp little finger at your eye. "Blind!" she shrieks. Obediently, she sits in time-out, as though it was all worth it.

At nap time you lay her in her crib with a sippy cup. You sit down at your computer, only to hear her shout, "Dubby! Need my dubby!" When you finally track down and bring her the disgusting, frayed little animal, she  lays down again, and hugs it close to her. And then she bites it hard, on its ears. On its face. You decide not to intervene, but just back out of the room slowly, with no sudden movements. 

When you check on her, she appears to have gone to sleep, the first time in a month. You breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe things are starting to look up.

Twenty minutes later, her screams rocket you out of your chair and propel you on a wave of fear into her room. She stands in her crib, her head back, her mouth a massive black hole of anguished screaming. She is damp with sweat and her hair streams from her head in all directions like snakes or fingers. Her face is criss-crossed with what seem to be arcane symbols, deep scars twisting across her head in strange shapes. Probably just the impressions of the blanket on her face, you tell yourself. For a moment you hesitate. But this is your daughter. Swallowing your unease, you sweep her up in your arms.

It was a nightmare. It takes her a full thirty minutes to calm down enough to explain it to you. It involves kleptomaniac bovines. And more birds. You feel for her. It's always worst when normally benign things become suddenly horrific

By the time you calm her down, her play date friend is arriving at the door. You apologize to her mother that your Addison has been acting a little strangely today, and she says that it's been the same for her little girl. You both turn to look at the children, and they are sitting in a corner, toys forgotten, strewn around them. They appear to be in conversation. When she sees you watching, Addison throws a block at her friend's head, making her cry. 

As you and the mother comfort her little girl, you suddenly notice that Addison has gone missing. Determined to enforce a time-out, you track her down, only to have her leap out at you from the shadows, her face a monstrous parody of its once bright pleasant features. Her mouth has become a jagged black line, her eyes burning coals within dark pits. A container of mascara drops from her fingers. Time-out forgotten, you scramble back down the stairs and apologize to the other mother as she whisks her daughter out the door. As they leave, the little girl lifts her head from her mother's shoulder and winks at you with a leer before burying it again.

Shaken, you collapse on the couch. You try not to move as your daughter makes her way down the stairs, dragging her bunny behind her like a small dead body, her decorated face grinning like a skull of a clown.

It is the end of the day, and the last rays of the sun disappear as though smothered by the falling darkness, and you sit trembling on the couch as your nearby daughter scribbles occult diagrams and horrific, hellish creatures on the walls. And then you suddenly realize that this evening things are going to get worse before they get better.

Because tonight, it's Halloween.