I saw a question on Facebook recently, asking which movie frightened you witless as a child, and scarred you for life. I’m embarrassed to say that for me, it’s the original Ghostbusters. Watch it now objectively, and I can’t believe it would frighten a two year old – but when I was 9, in 1987, it was paralysing and I spent the rest of the film behind the sofa. At the age of 43 I still get that frisson of terror when the statue begins to come to life.
Since then, I seem to have overcome that fear monumentally by becoming the biggest horror fan – name a thriller, slasher or paranormal film and I’ve probably seen it, even some of the really naff ones – and very little disturbs me these days. But that didn’t stop me being scared witless, like the child I once was, when I had my own brush with forces that could only be supernatural, this very Christmas.
On Christmas morning, one of my lovely presents was a talking Dobby, the house elf from Harry Potter. Press his little button, and he utters one of a few phrases from the films. He’s very cute and I set him up immediately on my dresser, and let the boys try him out too. Here’s what he sounds like:
After a lovely day, and replete with all varieties of Christmas cheer, we went off to bed; and as usual, I put on the lavender diffuser on the dresser to help me sleep. Which I did, beautifully, until 2:46am. Something brought me to that hazy place between sleep and waking…and then it jerked me awake with the following pronouncement: “Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!”
As I’m writing this, I’m safe and warm in my bright sitting room by the fire – and it really doesn’t seem that terrifying. But in that uncanny witching hour, when it’s pitch black and everyone else is asleep, fear of things you can’t see is magnified by 100 – and especially when you remember that the gizmo ONLY TALKS WHEN IT’S ACTIVATED. And that thought, in the dead of night, is very frightening indeed – as is the realisation that there’s no off switch on the thing, either.
I don’t know about you, but my brain works very strangely in the middle of the night, and all rationality seems to leave it. With no off switch, the only way to ensure its silence for the rest of the night was to take out the battery. This would require a tiny screw driver – you know the sort – and going on a tool hunt did not seem appealing to me; although getting Dobby and the risk of further unexpected Pottery pronouncements out of the room remained a high priority. So I took the only reasonable course of action that presented itself to my addled brain (perhaps the Christmas cheer had something to do with it too) – I bolted downstairs, and stuffed the little wretch into the dog biscuit tin. Of course.
Flying back upstairs to the guaranteed safety of bed, I started to worry about why it had activated in the first place, and whether it would be audible to the boys if it started up in the room under theirs – the sort of overthinking that can keep you awake far longer than you want to be. I also pondered on what Mr RLC would say about it, hardened anti-paranormal sceptic that he is. But I nodded off again eventually (perhaps thanks to the Christmas cheer, after all).
Naturally, all my fears and imaginings seemed far less likely and far more silly in the morning, as such things always do. I related the tale to Mr RLC, who found it boundlessly funny, and not even remotely likely to be the start of the next great poltergeist haunting. “Ha!” I said. “But how on earth did the accursed thing turn itself on in the middle of the night? Explain that to me – if you can!”
It turned out he could. “Moisture. The diffuser’s right next to it, and all it would take is a tiny drop to make the internal connection to start the sound, without you (or your poltergeist) needing to press the button.”
And that, my dear readers, is the story of my Christmas Ghost – and why the house elf is now kept where house elves are supposed to be: in the kitchen.