When my kids were young they liked to dress up for Halloween.
The usual thing, witches, vampires.
Lots of fake blood, and pretend scars.
So we’d dress the basement up with the usual props.
Spider’s webs everywhere, skeletons, witches, monsters.
Try to make it look like a crypt or a graveyard.
The main idea being to make it as scary as possible.
Then we’d switch the lights off so it was pitch black, and give them a torch.
And leave and their friends them to tell ghost stories in the dark.
One year I thought I’d add to the atmosphere a bit.
So I went to HMV and bought a CD of horror movie sound effects.
Creaking coffin lids, groans, shrieks, axes chopping up bodies.
And I also bought a blank C120 tape-cassette.
I wound the blank tape on until it was about half way through.
Then I recorded a soft knocking sound from the FX CD.
Then more knocking, more insistent this time.
Then a creaking coffin lid opening.
Then horrible groans.
Then terrifying roars.
And finally screams.
Then I rewound the tape to the beginning.
And I put the cassette-player in the corner of the basement, where no one could see it.
On Halloween, all the kids came down to the basement.
While they weren’t looking, I turned the tape player on and left them alone.
For half an hour the children told scary ghost stories in the dark.
Each one trying to outdo the other in horror and gore.
While the tape player wound silently on over the blank bit.
Suddenly, the kids heard knocking coming from somewhere in the dark.
They stopped and looked.
Then, from the dark, the knocking got louder.
Then the sound of a coffin lid creaking open.
They. Were. Terrified.
Then came the awful groan of a rotting corpse coming to life.
Suddenly the kids just jumped up and ran.
They were out of their like small rockets.
It took me a while to calm then down.
Eventually I convinced them to come back down to the basement and showed them the tape player.
And eventually, they all laughed with relief.
And they understood the only really scary thing was their imagination.
But that’s always true.
What we fear is nearly always worse than the reality.
And that’s why sound can be more powerful than vision.
The power of suggestion over description.
To calm the kids down, we put a horror movie on the DVD player for them.
And they sat around watching it, eating popcorn.
Talking, joking and laughing.
And it wasn’t nearly so scary as the basement.
Because that was just pictures.
And pictures are finite.
Whereas imagination is infinite.
Imagination is always, as far as you can possibly go plus one.
As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”