This was taken during the optimistic, golden time just before beginning the complete basement renovation that would ultimately destroy us.

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The world's best scream

Edvard Munch - the scream

Probably the best blood-curdling horror movie scream of modern times can be credited to Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween movie. Hers was the scream that launched a thousand wannabe horror movie “sound-alikes”. The last of the Halloween movies I saw was Halloween H20; Jamie Lee was in that one too. She was more mature, a lot more self-assured while dispatching Jason, and didn’t scream a whole lot. Just as well, because these days Jamie Lee Curtis’ screaming crown is in serious jeopardy by none other than my own daughter Ellie, a four year old girl no less.

Ellie is my first child and I certainly do not have a lot of experience with children prior to her, but one thing I do know is that 4-year olds are afraid of their own shadows. She will not move 10 feet without an escort. She will not remain on any level of our house unless a parent is on that level with her. Sometimes I think that everything frightens her. Despite this, as far as I can tell, she simply loves it when I scare her.

When I jump out of a dark corner and Ellie screams, that scream is such a pure and totally unadulterated sound. Far louder than you would expect possible from such a small package, it sounds like she is mostly terrorized and just partly thrilled. Ellie’s screams actually hurt my ears, the pitch overloads my ear drums making my tympanic membranes thrum like the blown speakers in my station wagon.

Ellie throws her whole body into the scream too. If I take the time to recollect, I recall that she throws her arms out straight to her sides with her hands wide open. She jumps slightly. But all of this is ancillary. It is the scream that is the thing. It was just this afternoon that she let one of her patented horror-movie screams out. I tell you she’s got a real talent.

It is important that I not take her completely by surprise. Do that and I risk not getting any scream at all, just a very irritated little girl who does not appreciate being frightened that way and cries very loud as well. She must be complicit in the adventure. The game is best played when I tell her that I am coming after her and then chase her part way around our race-track shaped house interior, before ducking into an opportune corner along the way. As she rounds back to where we started, inevitably she will enlist the eyes and ears of her mother. Mom will usually attempt to throw Ellie off course (I think your dad went outside…), a ploy that Ellie is more than familiar with and one that never works. Ellie usually has a pretty good idea of where I am and will come towards me creeping slowly and call my name and feeling, I am sure, the same knot in the pit of her stomach, that I am feeling as I lie in wait.

It can be excruciating, the moments leading up to the scream, but when I feel the moment is right I will come out quickly and noisily like a large bear charging through the bush, and Ellie will sing out that scream that is so brilliant and pure - and just plain loud.

Afterwards, when I am feeling guilty, like maybe I am setting up my young daughter for an early heart-attack, Ellie will start begging sweetly: “Again, Dad? Can we do it again?”

The world's best scream

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Maybe read No Big Deal, a story I consider to be the very best thing I ever wrote.