Put the lotion in the basket


The first time I saw “Silence of the Lambs,” I was 12 or so, and it was late at night in a cramped hotel room. The lights were off, and the TV cast its metallic, ghostly shadows onto the walls. I sprawled on the ground, using my hands to cover my face and stifle the occasional scream.

“Are you scared?” my older cousins asked, as they lounged on the bed.

Scared wasn’t the right word, of course. Terrified didn’t cover it. Therapists probably had special words for the type of fear gripping my chest, and even at a tender age I had a feeling I would spend my later years reclined on a couch trying to find them. Instead, I unglued the fingers from my eyes and mumbled, “Who? Me? I saw this a million times already.”

Our parents were still gathered downstairs in the hotel restaurant for the family reunion, and someone must have agreed it was a good idea for the older cousins to babysit the younger cousins back in the room, with instructions to watch a movie. I could imagine our parents in the dim light of the restaurant, chatting happily and sipping hotel wine, believing — or at least wanting to believe — that their lovely brood was parked in front of a television somewhere, watching a pleasant farce, a cartoon maybe — certainly not a thriller featuring a cannibal serial killer providing professional advice to pre-op tranny serial killer who enjoyed wearing his victim’s skin as clothes.

To be honest, I never saw that coming either. Who lets a child watch this? I remember thinking.

Years later, I still get chills when I descend a dark staircase. I still wonder what lurks around the corner, who might be watching silently in the darkness, waiting to pounce. I had never enjoyed scary movies before that night in the hotel room, but it was as if some psychological switch had been thrown in the deep recesses of my brain as the movie came to a sudden end, informing the rest of my body that it would forever find no solace, no respite from the ghouls and goblins that haunt the imagination. I remember sprawling on the hotel carpet, wishing an adult was in the room to protect us all. It didn’t occur to me that the adult would probably be just as terrified.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that Emmeline and I approached a life-sized depiction of Hannibal Lector in the Halloween Super Discount Store the other day. We were there to find Emme a bee costume and were striking out. It is incredibly difficult to find a costume for a 3 and a half year old, because the plush infant and toddler outfits are too small and the child-sized girl costumes with their short skirts and flimsy tops call to mind streetwalkers instead of mildly menacing worker insects. We scoured the aisles for an outfit and found ourselves wandering toward the spookier adult section. It was then that Emme gripped my hand, suddenly stopping our search.

“Who’s that?” she whispered, her eyes wide.

The Hannibal Lector mannequin was incredibly life-like and, thankfully, inert. The plastic statue was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and resting on a hand-truck, the kind used in the movie to transport him out of prison. That familiar, haunting brown mask covered his mouth so that just the buggy eyes were visible. I explained that it was just a mannequin and Emme and I shared a nervous chuckle, as if neither of us were really afraid.

As we hurried past the penal implant, our movement must have triggered some sensor within the mannequin, because it suddenly starting speaking. I have no memory of what it said, and I’m still not sure what scared my daughter more: the creepy tone of the faux movie villain or the high-pitched, frozen scream of the man who is supposed to protect her. Or maybe, I wondered later, it was the unpleasant feeling of being pushed aside so the same man could find a clearer route to the exit.

When I later found Emme, she was huddled under a bin of skeleton fingers, her body still shaking. I hugged her and offered words of apology, telling her it was just a mannequin and that there was really nothing to be afraid of.

“It’s OK,” I whispered, “It’s OK.”

But it was a lie and I sensed we both knew it, because the truth was she’d never be OK. A switch had been thrown. Ghouls and goblins would always hide just around the corner, waiting to pounce. And if she’s anything like her father, she’ll be running and screaming for her life for the rest of it.


  1. THANK YOU. My friends think I’m strange because I do not do scary movies AT ALL. I always say that people who like such things have no imagination because my imagination is precisely keeps me awake at night after watching scary movies, wondering if the Blair Witch is coming to get me (and that’s why I refuse to make Jillian stand in the corner when she’s acting up, instead resorting to the incredibly wimpy and ineffective Time Out). I do not like scary movies. At all. No way, no how. Nuh uh. Give me some horrible thing with Jennifer Lopez trying and failing miserably to “act” and I’ll happily watch that mess over anything classified as ‘horror.’

  2. Really good post. My switch was thrown with Poltergeist … tho I have overcome my fear of red jello.

  3. Missy Litzinger says:

    ok I have tears rolling down my face – what a great post – tears from laughing – there is just something about a man screaming like a little girl ( I read the ‘like her father’ post) – what a hoot.
    Thanks for sharing

  4. for me it was “pet cemetery” what the hell is wrong with older cousins anyway?

  5. I could not watch that movie until I was 20. I remember trying to read the book once and putting it down after a few pages. And yes, older cousins are evil. But so damn fun.

  6. I did a horror movie marathon on my own one summer… nothing like realizing you live between Stephen King novels to mess up your sleeping… (Children of the Corn & Pet Sematary- cornfield across the road, buried pets out back in the woods).
    BTW- Target out here (Ohio) had an adorable “Bee Fairy” costume- perhaps you could snag one and modify it to be what Emme wants?

  7. That movie still scares the shit out of me!!!! Child’s Play is another! I somehow saw that movie when I was like 7 and that same year asked Santa for a “real looking” baby doll. When Santa delivered I was super stoked…until my loving older sister commented on how it looked like Chucky and I had better watch out!! Dolly ended up locked in my closet until my Mom got rid of it!

    The photo of Emme is both beautiful and eerie!!

  8. Apologies but some of the comments got stuck in a spam filter until now. I think you’re onto something, Rachel, as I find myself more frightened of scary movies after the fact, too. And you couldn’t pay me to bring home a Chuckie doll.

    Thanks for the costume tip! We’re making a bee dress for her, complete with wings, crown and scepter for the outfit, because apparently she’s a “queen bee.”

  9. When I was a teen my then BF took me to one of those “haunted houses” put on my the county and the theater dept of one of the local colleges. At one point I was so terrified that I shoved my BF so hard he hit a wall bruising his ribs in my effort to run as far and fast as I could possibly get away from that place. He never took me to another one.

  10. I can’t wait to see Paranormal Activity. I have a real love/hate relationship with scary movies. I’m one of those throw-the-shower-curtain-back kinds of people. As a kid, Amityville really did me in. Scream was great too. Happy Halloween!

  11. My switch was Poltergeist. I cannot sleep with a dead-looking tree outside my window.

    I am also terrified of the dark. I sleep with a nightlight and will turn on every light in the house if I need to walk through it in the middle of the night.

  12. OH yeah! And thanks to Stephen King’s “It”, I am afraid of storm drains…and grated manhole covers…and grates in the street (I found myself caught in the middle of the one on Hyde Street at Civic Center and froze. My friends had to pull me off because I was having a panic attack and couldn’t move on my own.).

  13. I’m loving everyone’s “switch.” And lordy, “It” practically killed me. I can still see the little paper boat bobbing along the gutter, heading toward the storm drain. I think that book ruined a generation on clowns.

  14. ‘penal implant’ *snort*

    It wasn’t one movie in particular for me, but a common scenario that shows up a lot in them, and tv as well – when the victim walks into the house and flips the light switch, and discovers that the power has been cut. And then the phone line. (this was waaaay before cell phones, of course) To this day, I can’t walk in to a completely dark house.

  15. Gore and killing and eerie-ness aside, a lot of times I can’t get past the utter absurdity of the ‘plot’ of most horror flicks. You see blood dripping down the walls, YOU DO NOT GO UPSTAIRS. Duh. [eyeroll]

    My ‘switch’ was Stephen King’s ‘The Tommyknockers.’ The book, even. We had just moved into a new house and were still in the process of cleaning and rearranging and stuff. I was up late, reading, and there is a part of that book which involves an Electrolux vacuum. I was reading that, looked up and saw our Electrolux vacuum staring at me from across the room. It took me MONTHS to pick that book up again, and to this day, I have never re-read it (and I’ve read every book I own many, many times).

  16. Kim aka "Mama Sxia" says:

    Penal implant. :) Ha!

    I wonder if this year Blue Eyes will refuse to go into the houses with the spooky black-lit ghosts floating in their front window. The one that she looked at nervously last year and the ones that her first year she stared at as they glowed and swirled around. I doubt I’ll get her to go in the yard where teenagers hide in the bushes with rattling cans of coins, ready to jump out.

    Oh, and I never saw Silence of the Lambs until I had to work on it a few years ago. It’s not so scary when there’s timecode up in the corner of the screen and the screen itself is about 7 inches wide. (Wide enough to cover with one hand if you need to.)

    Poltergeist? That’s another story. I was 8. After the first half-hour, my mom shooed me out of the living room where I watched with my older brother and dad. I was too young. So, I *listened* to the rest of the movie from the hallway, my brain imagining the worst with every scream, every clap of thunder, every eerie note of music. First they were coming through the phone, then the TV and then the mirrors. What were they leaving us? Grass? Nope. Because the skeletons came up through the ground too. It was hopeless. Thanks Poltergeist guys. Thanks a lot.

  17. Kim aka "Mama Sxia" says:

    PS I’m writing a screenplay… or well, started to write one a long time ago and maybe I’ll finish it now… where the main character is afraid of the dark so much that it inhibits her “really living”. But I thought the main character wasn’t realistic. Who else (but me) would still be afraid of the dark into her late 20s, early 30s? I’m not alone! Yay! Oh, and remember that guy in that one Seinfeld episode, “Mr. Giggles” or something like that? Hearing the tiny feet scuffling across the floor and not being able to see him scared the crap out of me. To the point where even now, when nursing and rocking the Teddy Bear in the middle of the night, I have to have the door completely closed so nothing can sneak in the room unbeknownst to me.

  18. I’m pretty sure lots of things can get beyond closed doors — just FYI for the next time you’re nursing late at night …

    That sounds like a great movie! I hope you finish it! Those are fun to write.

  19. Christine says:

    My freakin’ church group got together to watch Candyman. Who the heck was responsible for that selection? Parents of the house we were at were present!

  20. no scary here either man… i’m 35 yrs. old still high step up the stairwell like my bumcheeks are on fire so the “thing” in the dark basement doesn’t grab me. clearly a departure from the dna of my mom whose favorite show is ghost hunters. as if.

  21. Kim aka "Mama Sxia" says:

    Yeah, but at least I would see the door open (or move a bit) and KNOW that something had come in. Course, by that point I’d probably be dead anyway. Stupid poltergeist.

  22. These are awesome. Mine was Pet Cemetary. That movie ruined me on cats…and most blonde headed small children. I’m glad my kids have brown hair. And then there’s the whole cutting of the Achille’s tendons and the face…sheesh. Nightmares tonight. Thanks for the reminder. Where DID I put that nightlight???

  23. Oh my word — the tendon cutting! I had blocked that out, but I remember dashing out of bed as fast as possible if I needed to get up in the middle of the night, because I was sure someone was under there with a razor. This was last week. Thanks for bringing it all back!

  24. I’m 34 and cannot sleep with hands or feet hanging over the side of the bed. Monsters will get me.

  25. Oh man! I’m glad I’m not the only one who hears “Put the lotion in the basket” and gets chills! Great story! Every now and then my husband will say that quote to give me a good scare!

  26. LOL! I’m so glad I’m not alone in the Pet Sematery camp … I saw it on video when I was about ten or so at my Dad’s place — I think it would’ve freaked me out less, though, if my big sister hadn’t been too scared to see it through to the end!

    And I, too, still have an unnatural fear of having my achilles tendons severed.

    For me, though, the movie that touched it all off was, ironically, ‘The Girl Who Spelled Freedom,’ which I saw on TV when I was about three or four years old. I remember the main character talking about the dream she has wherein she’s being marched through the jungle with or by a group of people and suddenly realizes they all have ‘three toes and three fingers,’ or something along those lines.

    To this day, I can’t sleep with my hands and feet uncovered, LOL … but I love truly scary movies (not the splatterfests that are so popular now, but the sneaky ones that get under your skin).


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