By Natasha Ganes
“A long time ago there was a beautiful young girl named Muffet, and she had a little brother that their father liked to call Obe-One. So one dark and spooky night around Halloween, when all the ghosts and witches were flying through the air to hunt food, Muffet and Obe went out for a walk with their parents,” my father’s whispered words were already spreading goose bumps across my arms. I could feel my younger brother shifting closer towards me, as far away from the edge of the bed as he could possibly get. “Only because it was so cold outside the family had to wear ski masks under their toques, which made it hard for them to see anything. So they had to keep track of each other by holding hands and …”
“And also they knew where they all were, because they could hear the crunching of the fallen leaves that they walked on. But after a while it got too cold, and the mom started to complain. The family decided they had better head home, and since the shortest way home was through the local graveyard, that’s the way they went,” I continue with the story, the words giggling out of me in anticipation of where this may lead.
“Ooh…why they wanna go and do that for?” My brother’s voice interjects, cracking in disbelief. My father answers this with an extended eerie laugh that leads to hysterical shrieking and high-pitched laughter. Suddenly harsh bedroom lights flood through the make-shift tent, penetrating our dark world and flinging us back into reality.
“Mom! Turn off the lights!” Muffled complaints echo across the room. “We’re just getting to the good part.”
“Honestly, if I can’t get them to sleep tonight…” her voice trails off as the lights go out and we creep back into the moonlight graveyard, shivering with expectation.
This is how I grew up: lurking under the covers. At least weekly my father, brother, and I would crawl into my parent’s bed, hide underneath the blankets, and take turns telling scary stories. My brother’s additions always produced great agitation on my part and plenty of laughter from our father. Consisting of one brief sentence, he usually halted the impending story with something along the lines of: “and they lived happily ever after.” However, although a hapless storyteller, he always proved to be the best audience: laughing, gasping, and interrupting in all the right places.
These narrative inventions soon led to my compulsive reading habits and love for literature. From the very beginning, fiction threw me into a parallel universe and my imagination ran rapid while adventures happened at any given moment. Small creatures battling dragons, ugly witches terrorizing lost children, kitchen sinks that produced orange and grape soda, bubble-filled bathtubs that soared through the air, delicious worlds made of licorice and chocolate: that was the blessed reality in the places I read about.
My father encouraged my enjoyment of the written word by reading to me out of thick fairy tale books, long after everyone else had fallen into slumber. The books were ancient with cracked bindings; treasures from generations back, filled with descriptive words and elaborate pictures. My father’s hypnotic voice baited me with scenes of pirates searching for hidden gold and enormous men that towered over the largest of trees. I always felt that there was so much more to learn, so many places that existed I had yet to discover. Just imagine places where squalid orphans hungered for their daily porridge and whole families lived in giant tree houses! It was all exceptional to me, the lure of the open road with the possibility of a million outcomes. The year I turned eight I reread my father’s copy of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit three times because I didn’t want all the action that appeared with every new page I turned to ever end.
My reading soon became a habit of sorts, as I continued to read everything from cereal boxes to anything written I could get my hands on. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Raisin in the Sun, Anne of Green Gables, Old Man and the Sea, The Bell Jar, The Great Gatsby, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: I read stories based on the interesting covers, the suggestions of others, or just because I found it on someone’s bookshelf.
Every time I opened a book, knowledge wrapped around me, and new lessons were exposed. When I became Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned sensitivity and an acceptance of others. After I landed on a deserted island with the outrageous boys from Lord of the Flies, I discovered the repercussions of a world without maturity. When I tiptoed towards deserted mansions and uncovered dusty treasures with Nancy Drew, I felt mysterious and important. And while The Diary of Anne Frank took me to a frightening place, I became aware that the world isn’t always pretty and bad people exist in real life too. When I traveled beside Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, I felt the desperation of growing up, and knew someday I’d face the same fears he did.
To this day I am never without a book, continuously searching for that next possible adventure. My passion for literature was born solely out of my father’s own pleasure in the unknown and the ability he had to pass that trait along, tempting us under the covers with whispered words of fascination. Because of the many lives I’ve led in these stories, my need for adventure and knowledge continues to expand, slowly growing into the path I’ve chosen to live.
My mother never participated in the family haunts; claiming it would give us all nightmares, she instead spent the time escaping into her own books. My mother, a very wise woman, had a point about those darkness jitters. I also spent a great deal of my time during childhood trying to convince my mother why “I should sleep with you two just for tonight,” and I still find myself slowly peering around corners whenever I’m forced to enter a basement. And I have to be honest: walk into my bedroom today and you will find a glowing nightlight casting shadows in the corner, perhaps warding off anything else that may be lurking under the covers.