Children are not inherently frightening. Beyond noise levels that some people don't tolerate well, or maybe a mess that looks like a violent crime scene, children really aren't all that scary. Maybe that's why they make particularly creepy wraiths and monsters?
I was thinking about this as I drove back from daycare this morning: I love the sound of children playing in summer -the shouts, the laughter, the noise of hurrying feet and the occasional wail when someone's knee hits the sidewalk, or little hands slip off the monkey bars. There's something both refreshing and reassuring about kids in summer. Maybe it's half-nostalgia and half-hope for the future.
Children's laughter and voices where they don't belong, however, are entirely different matters.
In the house where I grew up on the north side of Chicago, my sister and I frequently heard children's voices. We'd hear singing. We'd hear conversation. The only problem is that we were the only kids in that house, we were older than the voices we were hearing, and we usually heard these sounds coming from an empty room. And believe me, there's nothing like a baby crying in the middle of the night to keep you awake: especially when there's no baby in the house and the cries are coming from somewhere in your own room. Did I mention that my sister and I shared a bedroom that once upon a time was the home's nursery? I still get a little bit of a chill when I think about some of those experiences.
Maybe it's the idea that death during childhood is unnatural. I know the idea of losing a child is a nightmare like no other I can imagine, as a parent or as a grandparent. The thought of a sweet, bright youngster being taken before reaching adulthood, before fulfilling all the potential in those shining, innocent eyes, is too dark to even contemplate. So maybe the wrongness of a child's death is what makes the idea of a child's ghost more, for lack of a better word, haunting.
And I know it's not just me. Hollywood has had a busy time with dead children, from "The Innocents" back in the days of black and white, to "The Other" as well as George C. Scott's classic movie about a dead child's vengeance, "The Changeling." (Try watching that one alone at night - I dare you!) Sometimes movie makers take it a step farther and turn children into complete monsters. "Village of the Damned" comes to mind, even though the late Christopher Reeve, discussing the remake he participated in, remarked that it was hard to act frightened of his little costars when the cameras were running because they were as cute as puppies.
Nevertheless, there is something just a little bit more chilling about a child ghost, and I'm still trying to figure out the why's and wherefore's of it. Maybe thinking about it more will give me a better handle on it. Or even better, the idea for a book.