The night was dark. The wind was wild. Bare branches grasped at the white face of the moon like skeletal fingers. And, in the back of our car, sat The Haunted Boy.
No, you haven’t stumbled on the wrong column. I am describing tea-time last Friday: my husband, two small sons and I were on the way to our local firework display, listening to the children of the night (“Give me back my McFlurry!” cried one. “Shut up, you slag!” cried another. “What sweet music they make,” remarked my husband), when an ambulance blared past and my three-year-old son said something truly bone-chilling.
“There’s a little boy in that ambulance,” he intoned, for all the world as though we were role-playing a scene from The Sixth Sense.
“Mummy, the little boy in that ambulance is sad because he fell off his bike,” my son continued, absently, as the hairs prickled on the back of my neck. “And now the little boy is lying so, so still.”
Then – I shit you not – the little bugger started humming a nursery rhyme.
To be honest, I’ve always wanted to have a spooky kid. I’ve always wanted to be a spooky kid. I spent half my childhood with my nose buried in Misty, the girls’ horror comic, or Reader’s Digest Mysteries Of The Unexplained; thrilling over tales of the faces of drowned sailors appearing in the sea; or the ghosts of Borley Rectory. Above all, I longed for my mother to take me aside one day and tell me that my grandmother had had “the gift”, and that I’d inherited it.
But I have no gift. I am not a spooky lady. I have the face and disposition of a concussed chipmunk, and the closest my mother ever got to that conversation was to cock her head one afternoon and tell me, “I think you’re developing your grandmother’s nose” (reader, she was right).
The first time I turned on our baby monitor, I half-expected to hear a creaky disembodied voice lulling the baby to sleep
And although I lean towards scepticism, my fascination with the unexplained has followed me into adulthood. Look, some people have scrapbooking. I have this. I have prayed, with every house move and hotel room, for a haunting; and I’ve even had the odd inexplicable experience (as a Fortean, I like to keep an open mind). And, as it follows, since I have become a mother, I have hoped against hope for a spooky kid.
The first time I turned on our baby monitor, I half-expected to hear a creaky disembodied voice lulling the baby to sleep. But that never happened. When our older son first learned to talk, I waited for him to freak us all out with tales of his “old” family or “before-Mummy”. But no such luck.
In the last couple of years, however, he has been slowly ramping up the creep factor. We were playing in the dining room one afternoon, soon after we’d moved into our current house (built in the 1920s; high haunting potential), when he looked over my shoulder and said the most terrifying thing I have ever heard:
“Mummy, why is that white clown dancing slowly up and down in the garden?”
Obviously, nothing was actually in the garden. Nothing in my visible spectrum, anyway. Around the same time, he’d ask who the “grey face” belonged to whenever I went in to see him at night, and “Are we dying?” is a question that will pop up from time to time.
More recently, my son insisted that a flight we were on was going to crash. He kept saying it: “The plane will break and crash.” My husband hid this from me at the time and I could not be more grateful for that.
Last Friday, speaking so robotically about the little boy in the ambulance, my son was the spookiest kid I had ever seen. He was staring at me in the moonlight – eyes wide and serious; hair in a golden page-boy halo; looking like little Danny Torrance from The Shining with a background of screeching violins – and, in all honesty, I was slightly afraid of him.
“Er, what, um, is the little boy doing now?” I asked, in a quavering voice.
“Oh, he’s a giraffe,” my son yawned, and voluptuously picked his nose. “He’s a giraffe in a giraffe ambulance, and he’s going to the zebra hospital. The zebra hospital is in a moon volcano, and we have to watch out for the lava, and CAN I HAVE A SAUSAGE?”
Maybe, I thought, there is no little boy in that ambulance.
“There’s a little girl in that car,” my son pointed at a neighbouring Vauxhall. “She is happy because she lives with a kitten! There is a rhino in that van; he is grumpy.” The boy was on a roll now. “CAN I HAVE A SAUSAGE?”
Oh, fine, maybe my son isn’t developing “the gift”, either. One thing’s for sure, though: he’s getting my grandmother’s nose, too.