There’s no doubt about it but fifteen is a scary age. Nobody in the world takes you seriously at a time when you know you are an adult masquerading as a child. My daunting memory of this time is of moving from a housing estate in the suburbs to the top of a hill in the Dublin Mountains. At the end of October, autumn brought magnificent changes to the mountainous landscape but the wind and the rain battering around the new house at night, together with the unfamiliar sounds of wildlife, was never an enticement to sleep. Bedding down in a bungalow was an alien concept and without any curtains as yet on the windows the feeling of vulnerability made you curl up in the bed with the hair standing up on the back of your neck.
We weren’t in the house a week when Halloween crept up on us. The house on the hill was the perfect environment to celebrate such an occasion, with the Hellfire club in the back garden and Massey’s woods across the road. A fog settled around the house and the picture was complete. My mother put the witches and ghosts that were my younger siblings into the car and set abouttrick or treating our latest neighbours. The perfect chance to get to know new friends. They brought some local wizards and Frankenstein’s back to the house for Bob for Apples and Barmbrack.
By ten o’ clock the kids were in bed and a quiet encircled the house. The fog had lifted somewhat and the wind had died down. My parents had been invited to a neighbour’s house for drinks.‘You don’t mind babysitting for an hour or two, do you?’ They were already half way out the door. ‘We won’t be too long, love.’ And they were gone down the path.
Tucked up in bed with a good book is your only man in situations like that and I was pyjamaed in no time and lost in a grown up novel that I had nicked from my mother; forbidden fruit. Bliss.
I’m not sure at what time I fell asleep but I woke to the sounds of chanting when the clock read a quarter to twelve. The book had fallen to the floor, with me still sitting up against the headboard. The unadorned windows brought a semblance of the neighbouring field being part of my bedroom and so the approaching white clad, hooded ensemble with their mixture of lanterns and torches made me feel that they were coming straight for me. It was at this stage I realised that I was actually a child masquerading as exactly that. Not an adult in sight. My mind told me to run out of the room and hide behind the sofa until they had passed but some perverse part of my brain made me sit forward to open the window, all the better to see and to hear them. I joined with the cows in their wide eyed staring. The haunting sound filled the fields and woods and their torches fired the trees and bushes. They continued through the neighbour’s field and on up the hill until their light and sound were just a vision in the far distance.
I was wide awake now and would probably never sleep again. I knew I should check the children and make sure the doors were still locked but I was rooted to the bed.
At one o’ clock it took a couple of minutes to persuade myself that it was indeed my parents chatting in the kitchen down the other end of the house and not some new version of the Klu Klux Clan come to finish me off. I shook as I walked down the dark hallway feeling for the unfamiliar light switch. I’m sure I sounded about five of my fifteen years as I babbled away to my parents hiccupping through my scary story.
‘I knew you’d sit and watch teenage horror films all night,’ my mother said tutting and shaking her head. ‘Get back to bed now. You have school in the morning.’
I retraced my footsteps down the hallway again, this time my fear shuffle being replaced with indignant stomping. How dare they not believe me? I still wasn’t speaking to them the next afternoon coming in from school but our neighbour’s presence in the kitchen made an attempt at politeness obligatory.
‘Your mother’s just been tellin’ me about your terrifyin’ ordeal last night, ye poor thing.’ How dare she make fun of me? I would kill her. ‘The little feckers,’ he was saying. ‘Every year they have the cheek to sneak up through my fields to the Hell Fire Club just before midnight in their fancy dress. Bloody university students. Ye’d think their brains could think up something cleverer to do with their time. I’ll have the Gardai here this time next year and I’ll chase the livin’ daylights out o’ them.’