“A child’s fear is a world whose dark corners are quite unknown to grownup people.” —​ American novelist Julien Green

“I am the one hiding under your bed; Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red
I am the one hiding under your stairs; Fingers like snakes and spiders in my hair.”
– “This is Halloween” by Danny Elfman

Jan Roundy was a child just like any other. She wasn’t afraid of any one thing in particular, but then, she hadn’t been around long enough to have established specific fears.

That was about to change.

Unable to sleep in the middle of one memorable night, she crawled from her warm bed and crept downstairs, into the deep night world typically inhabited only by grownups. 

What Roundy found in the normally safe surroundings of the family living room sticks with her 60 years later. 


“The TV was on and my parents were watching a scary movie,” Roundy says. “It was about a creepy old house that had a trap door in the ceiling and when someone sat in a chair far below, the door opened and an axe was thrown down. I went back to bed in a hurry and couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. But, the worst part was that we had a trap door in the hallway upstairs and I had to walk under it to get to my bedroom or into the bathroom.” 

Years later, Roundy encountered the same movie that had so shaken her as a child. The movie was an adaptation of the famed horror novel “The Haunting of Hill House.” 

Viewed on a clunky, black-and-white television when Roundy was just a sleepy little girl, the images from that now-classic horror film stayed with her. 

No matter how she tried to shake the feeling, passing under that ominous trap door night after night was a clinic in fright. Trap doors were bad news. She had seen it for herself on the TV.

“For years and years I would always check to see that the hook was latched so that the door couldn’t be opened before I would walk under it,” Roundy says now. “I had nightmares and couldn’t tell my parents because I thought I would get in trouble for sneaking downstairs when I should have been in bed. 

“I got over it,” Roundy says, “but to this day I don’t watch horror movies.” 



That’s the strange thing about fears encountered in childhood. It’s not always the big stuff that leaves the most prominent mark. By and large, most children have to navigate through a minefield of trouble as they toddle on toward adolescence — bullies, peer pressure, family financial uncertainty, parental separation . . . 

Yet it’s often less significant things — things that might even be laughable to a less imaginative kid — that lodge in the developing mind of a child and lay there festering for years. 

A heap of clothing on the back of a chair that contorts itself into terrifying shapes when the room goes dark. A closet door that swings open for no earthly reason in the middle of the night. 

Fantastic things that live under the bed, waiting with inhuman patience to grab your leg the moment you get up to pee. Phantasms, specters and boogeymen that grow so large and vivid in a child’s imagination, they might as well be real. 

But they’re not, right?



Allison Heckethorn’s embodiment of terror came in the form of a childhood toy so beloved, young Allison used to take it to bed with her. 

“My talking Mickey Mouse doll,” she says now, shuddering somehow even through email. 

Heckethorn’s relationship with that once-adored doll ended abruptly with the help of a cruel older sister. 

“She loved to tell me he would walk into my room at night and get me,” Heckethorn recalls. “I had no clue what ‘getting me’ entailed, but I didn’t want to know.” 

As we’ve seen in countless horror movies, when an evil doll is at hand, the first order of business is to get rid of it. As we’ve also seen, in those same movies, the ploy almost never works. 


“I would throw the doll into the basement,” Heckethorn says, “and my mother would unknowingly bring him back up to my room, thinking he was accidentally misplaced.” 

Heckethorn can’t say for sure how long Mickey went on haunting her. One day, she simply got over it, to the point where she doesn’t even remember what happened to the doll that so troubled her.

The source of Heckethorn’s nightmares came straight out of Disney, a source not generally equated with nightmares. For the sheer number of terrors it inspires, it’s hard to beat the old family television set. 


In the early 1960s, Richard Whiting was a young boy home from school with strep throat. Freed from the monotony of the classroom, the lad did what any American boy would do when faced with that kind of unexpected freedom — he planted himself in front of the television set, where reruns of “Superman” were on the tube.

What’s so frightening about old George Reeves playing America’s favorite superhero? 


“Mole men,” Whiting answers. “They were little bald-headed men, like nasty munchkins — maybe ‘Wizard of Oz’ alums — who came out of the ground for apparently nefarious purposes. There was a scene where several came out of the ground at night and went single file somewhere, which gave me nightmares.” 

Six decades on from the episode that ruined his day home from school, Whiting can still describe those skulking, sinister mole men with shivering clarity. 

“Weirdly terrifying,” he says of them, “and definitely memorable.” 


When you’re a child with an active imagination, one tangible object isn’t always required to bring on the fright. Sometimes, the very walls around you — and the floor below and ceiling above — are enough to leave a kid sleepless and near paralyzed with terror. 

Add a dark and stormy night, a scary story at bedtime, and fear will wrap around that trembling child like hot and sticky bat wings. 


Setting is everything.

“When I was 6, I lived in the creakiest, scariest house on 15 acres of woods and fields in New Hampshire,” says Jeannette Raymond, now 85 and speaking of horrors 79 years passed. “Our upstairs had three bedrooms in a row. Bedroom one contained my parents. Number two was a wide open space at the top of the creaky stairs and contained me. Number three contained my two brothers. 

“My Dad used to tuck me in each night,” Raymond recalls, “with a goodnight kiss and a warning to watch out for the boogeyman, not realizing I had conjured up what this freaky character might look like —something like an ape or ghost.” 

Though Raymond was only 6 years old on the night in question, the power of true fear is such that she remembers even minute details about it. 

“In the middle of one summer night, we were having a tremendous thunderstorm,” Raymond says. “The stairs were creaking like mad with the wind. In the flashing lightning, I suddenly spotted a white figure floating on the floor — slowly, toward my bed. Frozen with fear, unable to scream or move, I thought, oh no! This must be the boogeyman and he had come up the stairs to get me!”

For the 6-year-old quaking in her bed, the fright of the unknown had given away to a terror in tangible form. Here he was, the boogeyman of lore, coming straight for her to do God knew what to a little girl who had summoned him forth with her thoughts alone.


The horror. The horror.

“I watched this figure get closer to me,” Raymond continues, “and reach up from the floor, grab my sheet and whisper to me. ‘Sis, I am scared. Can I get in bed with you?'”

The boogeyman? Naw. It was just Raymond’s 4-year-old brother, likewise scared witless by the creaking and groaning of the dark house around him.

“Never had I ever been so glad to see him,” Raymond says.

She and her little brother survived that dark and stormy night, as it happens, but bedtime was never the same. 

“Relating this story in the morning,” Raymond says, “my mother told Dad not to tell me anymore boogey(man) stories.” 



Lin Prescott, of Auburn, didn’t need boogeymen. She had spiders.

Or did she?

“I would stay awake all night for most of my childhood years, knowing that they were crossing the ceiling above me to get to the window,” she says, “and were going to drop one day on my bed. I knew what it would feel like and sound like when they did. Phloop. Not a plop, but a phloop. Soft sound, round sound.”

To give Prescott the benefit of the doubt, there WERE spiders. She wasn’t just imagining the things.

“Big fat-bellied gray nasties that crept out of the closets at night and made new webs that I removed every morning in my window,” she says. “Years of lying awake until — one night it happened. By then I was 17 and I froze when I felt it land on the blanket that covered my legs. No breathing, no moving, until I could not hold it any longer and then the screams came.”


The girl’s screams woke the household and Prescott’s mother came running in with a flashlight.

“She wiggled the blankets around as I found some strength to crawl out of bed,” Prescott says. “No spider — and she thought it quite funny anyone could feel a spider land. No, I did not get back in bed. I marched downstairs and slept on the couch. In the morning light, I slunk back upstairs and tentatively lifted each blanket off the bed, shaking uncontrollably as I did. And, yes, indeed, trapped in one of the disturbed blankets was the biggest, fattest, meanest giant-bellied demon spider I had ever seen. Indeed, one CAN feel and hear a spider drop. Never doubt the hypersensitivity of those childhood fears.”


Thomas Jay Searls, of Auburn, says he’s completely over the trauma of some good old-fashioned ghost stories told around a long-ago campfire.

But he tells the story with such awe and clarity, we kind of wonder. 

“When I was 10 years old in Matawan, New Jersey, ” Searls says, “one of the attractions heavily advertised in Boy’s Life (magazine) was camp, which in my case meant two weeks of swimming, horseback riding, rifle range shooting, arts and craft sessions, daily Mass before breakfast, and a bunk house where slept about 20 new friends. One night after the evening meal, we gathered in the common building to, unbeknownst to us, hear a ghost story. I’m quite happy to say that I have no recollection of most of the tale, but what I do remember are a few details that I brought home, at the end of the two weeks, that I relived just about every night at bedtime for the next few years.” 


Searls, separated from that night of horror by decades, relates the details of those stories with skin-crawling relish. 

“One was the return, in the story, of the old woman who sought to find someone in the night and do nasty things to his body,” he says, “and the other was the hand of the man, buried alive, who died as he pushed his arm up out of the soil on his grave, the fingers locked in a claw-like configuration as if to rake the flesh of anyone who might be caught by them. 

“The woman carried a lantern held high in front of her,” Searls recalls. “It cast terrifying shadows on her face, and with each step her one good leg hit the floor hard in order to drag her other leg, paralyzed and useless, as she searched the realm for her victim. So when I went to bed each night thereafter, I could not help but to listen most carefully for the sound of that old woman approaching my room and quickening her pace to get her hands on my throat. I never expected any damage from the dead guy’s hand, but I had to keep an eye open to avoid stumbling upon it, lest it take the opportunity to grip my ankle. 

“Curiously,” Searls says, “for about 30 years after the camp trip, I held my pillow in my arms folded around the back of my head to cover both ears. I found that routine comfortable for years and eventually let it pass.” 

Today, like Poe’s narrator in “The Tell Tale Heart,” Searls boldly declares his sanity and his complete triumph over fear. 

“All of those youthful fears are gone,” he says. “Now there is no such thing as cringing when the monster shows its face in the movie, and I couldn’t care less who lives in the closet or under the bed, as long as they keep quiet and don’t kick the mattress.” 


We believe him. Mostly. 


Melanie Gerard, of Lewiston, was a child haunted by snakes, and this was a girl who couldn’t even blame television or Hollywood for her nocturnal troubles. 

Gerard was just a girl of 2 or 3 when her nights became a terrifying world of serpents. 

“The minute my mother would turn the lights out, I would struggle to focus my eyes,” she says. “Then, the most terrifying thing would happen: I would see shadowy forms of giant snakes slithering around my room. Giant boa constrictors, huge pythons, anacondas . . . all making their way to my bed. Each one would disappear under my bed, and I would start shrieking loud enough to startle Mrs. Burdick next door. This went on for a couple of years. The memory of it is as vivid as when it happened so many years ago.” 

Gerard’s nights are no longer vexed by things that slither and creep, but to this day, she’s at a loss to explain why such things so haunted her childhood. 


“So, this was 1960,” Gerard says. “My family did not buy a television set until 1964. I had not yet been to a movie. We had no books about snakes or the Amazon. How on Earth did I know about snakes? Explain that one.”


Like Allison Heckethorn and her ominous Mickey Mouse doll, Tonya L. Scott-Stevens found nothing but the creeps in a popular cultural figure. 

“The Hamburglar from McDonald’s,” she says, describing what we THINK must have been a dream.

“When I was about 7 or 8 growing up in New York, he came out of my closet and started laughing,” she says, “Then poof, he disappeared. His costume stayed in a pile on the floor with his dang hat placed neatly on top. Scarred me for life!” 

When we asked readers for their childhood fears, the response was fast and varied, with only a few common themes coming into view.


We got a few votes from our readers for Carrie White’s hand rising up out of the grave at the end of the movie — what else? — “Carrie.” 

That one didn’t bother yours truly so much, yet the dream hand rising out of the cold lake at the end of “Deliverance” left me sleepless and quaking for two nights. 

And that was just a month ago. 

I was also more than a little rattled by a Dr. Seuss story called “What Was I Afraid Of?” The story entailed a furry little Seuss character who happened upon a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside ’em. There the pants were, taking moonlit walks, riding a bike through town and doing all sorts of things a pair of pants shouldn’t be able to do with nobody inside ’em.

In the sane light of day, the story thrilled me. After dark, though, I’d get to thinking about those pale green pants, powered by God only knew what supernatural force, and my imagination did the rest. What would I do, I wondered, if my own pants go up and started meandering on their own?

To this day, I keep all my pants on leashes.



No fewer than four people crept in to tell us that the movie “The Blob,” with Steve McQueen, scared them almost sick.

“Scared the living daylights out of me,” says Bob Stone, of Auburn, who saw it at the theater. “My brother and I sat there with eyes like saucers!”

“I had nightmares about it for years,” says Cheryl Mercer, of Augusta.

“Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” unnerved more than a few children in its day, as well. Timeless classic? Try dream warping horror show.

The flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz,” flapping around and obeying commands from the wicked witch, haunted the dreams of many a child, too, according to our survey.


A few admit that “Jaws” traumatized them as kids, with one man saying he avoided contact with the ocean the rest of his life and another admitting that he wouldn’t even go into a swimming pool after seeing the film.

Sarah Lapierre, of Mechanic Falls, says she was traumatized by a number of movies that were made specifically for kids. The 1970s cartoon versions of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” nearly did her in. 

“Those were nightmare fodder to my 4-year-old self,” Lapierre says. “I loved them, but they also terrified me.”


Lori A. Hallett, of Auburn, was afraid of spiders and thunderstorms as a child. Guess what? She’s still afraid of them. 

Abominable snowmen? We got those.


“Sledding in the back yard in the dark,” says Sandy Mathieu Paine, of Lewiston. “The big boot prints in the snow looked like they belonged to a bear or a monster. I used to run back up the hill as fast as I could. Never told anyone about this.”

Fears don’t have to be reasonable to suffer from them when you’re a child. One woman says she was afraid of ketchup when she was a little girl. Another was afraid of windshield wipers, and still is, kind of.

One woman reported being afraid of the lamp-control device known as “The Clapper” in the 1980s because she believed it was ghosts controlling those lights, not a gimmicky electrical switch.

Jim Shine, of Oxford, is rather leery of loud noises, especially at night. You can hardly blame him. 

“I heard a loud boom late one night when I was about 6 or 7,” he explains. “It scared me, but I did my best to convince myself it was nothing.” 

That’s a wise and rational approach to fear. Unfortunately, in this case, Shine’s wariness was well-founded.


“A house in the neighboring town exploded,” he says. “It was all over national news. My grandparents’ house had a crack in the wall from it. After that, I was always scared of loud noises at night.”

The explosion was in Oakville, Connecticut. He moved away, to Indianapolis, and gradually began to forget about the horrors of that night.

But not for long.

“In my late 30s,” Shine says, “heard and felt a loud boom one night. A house in a nearby neighborhood exploded. It wiped out an entire subdivision. Killed a few people in the process, and damaged the hearing of dozens. So I am sorta on edge with booms at night again.” 


Like so many of us, Mary Wallace had an older sibling to help her fears along. Older brothers and Stephen King. With those kinds of influences, what child is going to get through his or her youth without fear? 


“I hated closets because of my brother,” she says, “We had a closet that went to all of our bedrooms and he use to hide in it. He’d make eerie noises and jump out at me. The movie ‘It’ scared me to death growing up. I hate clowns because of it, but who knew I’d move to Maine anyway!” 

Older brothers will do that to you. Ask Brenda Colfer, of Randolph.

“My brother used to have a battery-operated robot that he would chase me with!” she says. “Smoke came out the top and I think the arms did something. Seems silly now, but back then . . . eeekkk!”

Big brothers were at work in the home of Ann Chouinard Brown, of Leeds, as well.

“I was deathly afraid of the pump in our cellar, as a kid,” she says. “It was behind a small door and there was an 18-by-18-inch hole, full of water, and the pump was in there. When it ran, my older brothers would tease me and tell me the alligator was hungry and they threatened to throw me in the hole if I didn’t go hide.”

Little Ann, 5 or 6 years old, would go hide in her room, which spared her older brothers the chore of babysitting her. It’s brilliant when you think about it.


Clowns were also noted as sources of dread in childhood. There were also nods to attics, basements, whatever was hiding behind the shower curtain at any given time, the woman in the famous “Where’s the beef?” commercials, and Lady Elaine Fairchild from Mr. Rogers. 

Hey, if it scares you, it scares you. I knew a boy who was afraid of a Halloween scarecrow sitting on his own front porch. 

That boy may have been me. 


Most childhood fears — the faceless bogeymen, the wandering spirits, the various allamagoosalums that live under beds — typically have one thing in common. In the light of day, they’re too outlandish, too unrealistic to be believed. Though terrifying within the sweaty realms of a child’s imagination, most boogeymen can be easily vanquished by logic and sound adult reasoning. 

But for Connie Venskus, of Rumford, the most tenacious and omnipresent fear of them all was one that left even rational grownups quaking in their slippers. 


Venskus’ biggest fear had the distinction of being 100 percent, verifiably real. 

“I am 74 years old,” she says, “and so I grew up in the era of the Cold War. My fear was that the Russians were going to bomb us. One day after school when I was in the third grade, I was walking home and heard some older kids talking and I thought I heard them talking about that very subject. I remember running all the way home in tears.” 

The Cold War may be over, but the constant threat of annihilation as the result of geopolitical conflict? Still there, as always.

You just have to look inside a newspaper, rather than under your bed, to see it. 

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