A Special Look at Alex’s Past Fight-or-Flight Responses


Alex Ralston

It’s Halloween today, and that means trick-or-treating, scary movies, and the over consumption of candy, among other things. People all over the country, children and adults alike, take delight in frightful festivities on this day, and some even label Halloween as their favorite holiday.

That being said, though, I’m not one of those people. I’m not a person who particularly likes being scared or going through any sort of thrill. For example, I’ve only gone to Worlds of Fun once because the emotional toll of roller coasters put me into a sickly panic. And the whole idea of trick-or-treating is great as a child, but as I’ve grown up, my stomach has turned, if you’ll allow the pun, away from excessive sugar consumption. Besides, I’m too old to go trick-or-treating.

As a result of all that, I generally treat Halloween with as much ambivalence as I would a Justin Bieber record — yes, it exists, and people like it, but it doesn’t do much for me.

As I started searching for reasons why I don’t like Halloween, I came up with two events from my early childhood that most likely made me fear fear itself.

The first thing that turned me away from the whole idea of scary movies was watching Stephen King’s “It” in my basement when I was a third grader. This was way back when my old Gateway desktop sat up against my basement wall where the light didn’t shine perfectly well, and when it did, it always had an eerie feel to it.

I had my friend over that day after school, and I wanted to show him a clip I found on YouTube from the horror flick “It.” I really liked scaring myself at the time, and I wanted to test my limits. I only made it through thirty seconds when I watched it by myself, so I figured I could last longer if I had backup.

I was horribly wrong, though. I ended up hightailing it out of my basement about a minute in when Pennywise the Dancing Clown starts chatting up some kid and asking him to shake hands between the bars of a sewer grate. On the other hand, my friend stayed to watch the clip until the end. I waited upstairs until I thought the clip was over. Finally, my friend emerged from the darkness, and said to me, with the ghastliest grimace I’ve seen to date, “He bit the kid’s hand off.”

It should come as no surprise then that Pennywise still stars in the nightmares where I’m stuck in the basements when the lights don’t work.

That’s an example of one of the greatest survival skills: fight-or-flight. In that case, I fled from a compromising situation because it seemed like the best option. I’m usually one to avoid combat, so I’ll usually take the flight option.

However, there is another situation in which actually involved a fight response from me, and it’s one of the few memories I have that deals with Halloween.

During fourth grade or so, I decided to try out the new haunted house my neighbor had built in his garage. His name was Jeremy, and he was about five years older than me. I brought my friends along with me again, and together we entered the very small, low budget haunted house.

What I didn’t know was that Jeremy had a rubber chainsaw that he was using as a prop. So about halfway through the garage, Jeremy popped out wearing a “bloody” mask and chainsaw. This was all too much for fourth grade me (and come to think of it, twelfth grade me). In response, I took the stick that was part of my hobo costume and beat Jeremy over the head with it, and sprinted through the rest of the haunted house.

I waited outside for a few minutes with my pulse racing, gripping my hobo stick with white knuckles and waiting for the next assailant. But the only people who came out were my friends, who thought my assault on Jeremy was possibly the funniest thing they’d ever seen.

When we take a look at these events, (1) we can understand the basic fight-or-flight instinct, and (2) we can know either that I’ve been a wimp about being scared my entire life, or that these events scared me into hating being scared. I assume it’s the latter, but I’ll let you be the judge.

But one thing is for sure: I will be digging up my old night light this fright night, and I’m keeping that stick by my bed. Don’t jump me, Jer.

Happy Halloween!