Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark

Are you afraid of the dark?

Maddux is. She sleeps with a Christmas tree in her room year ’round. The door is always cracked about six inches. And her blinds are open, which she claims is in case Peter Pan wants to visit, but which I suspect is because she appreciates the comforting glare of the streetlights.

Now, when I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, too. Because, as any child of the ’80s knows, Darth Vader’s armor and Emperor Palpatine’s cloak are both very well camouflaged by bedroom shadows, and if you don’t have the covers up to your chin and a stuffed animal on either side of your head, you may well find yourself staring up at the emperor’s chalky visage as he glares at you with soulless, bloodshot eyes, zaps you with The Force and chortles, “Yessss, yess, I can feel your anger!” while Lord Vader stands nearby, choking you with his mind. In fact, Chris will tell you I still can’t watch anything more frightening than “48 Hours Mystery” right before bed.

But Maddux is not the lucky recipient of nightly visits from Maleficent or Ursula the sea witch. The only thing she’s afraid of is tripping over her Barbies as she frolics quietly (and, sometimes, not-so-quietly) in the wee hours. In fact, my intrepid daughter cannot sleep properly unless she has been told a story that includes pirates, skeletons, wolves, man-eating sharks, ghosts, malevolent space aliens, evil owls, or a combination thereof. Routinely, she will badger me to allow her to watch a movie she spied in the grown-up section of our media center — a movie all about her favorite subject, aliens.

“Mommy, I want to watch the movie called ‘Aliens’,” she told me recently.

“Oh, no, you can watch a movie about aliens, but you may not watch ‘Aliens’,” I replied.

“But I will be SO GOOD.”

“Well, sweet pea,” I told her, “That movie is for grown-ups only, because it’s really scary and the aliens kill lots of people and they don’t come back to life.”

“That’s OK, Mommy,” my preschooler replied sweetly. “I will be really brave.”

Maddux’ powers of persuasion are strong, but not strong enough for me to allow my little princess to watch gruesome disembowelings performed by slavering razor-toothed killers. So we watched “Chicken Little” instead, to her great disappointment.

But a few nights later, as I tucked her in, she resumed her incessant badgering.

Me: “What would you like your bedtime story to be about?”

Maddux: “I would like you to tell me the movie ‘Aliens’ because I really want to see it and you and Daddy won’t let me. But you can just tell me about it.”

Me: “How about a different alien story, with a girl superhero?”

Maddux: “How about ‘Aliens’?”

Me (tired after a long day of arguing with kids and not using my best judgment): “OK. Once upon a time, there was an astronaut princess named Ripley.”

Maddux: “You mean Maddux.”

Me: “Of course. Maddux. Anyway, the astronaut princess named Maddux was sleeping in her special refrigerator on her spaceship when she got a message from a planet asking for a superhero to come help. When they got to the planet, all the people were gone, but there were some alien eggs.” I leave off the part where an alien attaches itself to a guy’s face.

Maddux: “What about the aliens?”

Me: “Be patient! So Maddux and her astronaut go back onto the spaceship and are minding their own business, enjoying their dinner, when all of the sudden, a horrible evil alien POPS RIGHT OUT OF AN ASTRONAUT’S CHEST!”

Maddux is totally unfazed.

Me: “The alien EATS THROUGH HIS CHEST with its slobbery, razor-sharp teeth. And then the cool robot doctor sews him up as good as new.” (Because even if my daughter is a coldblooded enjoyer of gory R-rated bedtime stories, the only people who die on my watch are wolves, pirates and, of course, aliens.)

The story proceeded, but instead of cowering under her blankets, Maddux seemed nonplussed. After all, the Big Bad Wolf gets disemboweled routinely in our stories, courtesy of the kindly woodsman (you know, to remove the gobbled-up granny). So I pull out all the stops.

Me: “Now, this was not just any old alien. Instead of a humanoid head, the alien that was chasing Maddux and her friends had a long, pointy head with dozens of pointy teeth, and inside his gigantic, gleaming head was a tiny little box-shaped head that would shoot out of his mouth with amazing speed and CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP at people just when they thought they were out of his reach. And as they hunted for the alien, HE was hunting for THEM, waiting in the dark with slobber dripping from his rows of terrible teeth.”

Maddux (not even a little wide-eyed after this terrifying slumbertime narrative): “Like Thomas?”

Me: “Uh, sure. And as they hunted the alien, they foolishly decided to separate. And the alien gobbled up everyone on the ship, one by one. He even ate (dramatic pause) the robot doctor.”

Maddux: “Noooooooo! Not the robot doctor! I am changing your story and putting him back together.”

Me: “OK, so she puts the robot doctor back together and they program the ship to self-destruct. They get into an escape pod and fly out of the spaceship as it bursts into flame with the alien still inside it. Then the robot doctor sews everyone up and they throw a royal ball, where Maddux meets a prince astronaut, they fall in love, and are married that very day. The End.”

Maddux curled up in her bed with a happy sigh. “Thank you for telling me the ‘Alien’ story, Mommy,” she said blissfully. “It was so cyooool!”

Ten minutes later when I returned upstairs to tell James his trucks needed to honk more quietly, Maddux was snoring away softly — dreaming, no doubt, of saving the day from drooling, razor-toothed extraterrestrials. On top of the covers.

I draped her blanket over her. She may not be afraid of the Alien, but you never know when Palpatine and Vader might show up.

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