This wasn’t the life she’d imagined. Even four months ago, if someone had told her she would have taken Devin and left Bill…yet here she was. In the country. Rolling hills and far-off horizons left her impatient and longing. And…she hadn’t been able to shake that feeling that someone was watching, right over her shoulder.
A rush of air swept over her body, jolted her senses, and then BOOM! She dropped the plate she’d been scrubbing and as it shattered like staccato notes in an arcing ever-present symphony, she instinctively ran to her child.
“Devin?!” she screamed as she reached the bottom of the staircase. But…she stopped dead in her tracks halfway up the creaky flight. The nightlight in the hall created an indistinct glow, and in its fuzzy midst, she saw her only son standing-no…rocking at the top of the stairs with his back to her.
“Devin?” she whispered.
“Shhh…they’re here, Momma,” he cooed back.
“Who’s here, honey?”
She watched him raise his arm like the grim reaper, pointing his tiny finger towards the haze of the hall. She cautiously began to walk up the stairs, towards Devin’s minuscule, silhouetted frame. Suddenly, he whipped his head around, every other part of his body frozen, and with a smile on his face and a tilt to his head was just too far to be natural, he whispered,“They’ve been watching you.”
Kids, man. They’re creepy af. Used as a classic trope since the beginning of trope-dom, there’s nothing quite like a minor with too much knowledge or an inappropriately timed smile to make my skin crawl. Honestly, if you want to induce a full-body shiver in your ol’ pal Maddie, just say ‘Malachai’ in a determined pubescent voice and you’ll get me every time. Small fragile voices spouting biblical text, precious lil’ eyes staring at things that don’t exist, hushed giggles whispering to their imaginary friends (who are actually there to eat you)…not okay. And that feeling isn’t just contained to movies or entertainment in general. Google ‘Creepy Things Kids Say’ and you’ll find about 100 lists of real-life hair-raising proclamations issued by toddlers. (I don’t actually recommend this if you have a child in your house. You’ll question their every move for 72 hours if you go down this rabbit hole.)
While there are plenty of names and a wide variety of references to this trope out there, I’m stickin’ with coming up with my own names for these tropes I ‘topsy’ because…well…it’s fun and I can. Therefore, this specific trope shall henceforth be referred to as: “The Creeping Kid”. I know, it’s like naming a goldfish goldy but…this one’s pretty straightforward so just go with it.
The first time I was freaked out by a kid on screen was a summer day in the early-2000s. Mom was flipping through channels and landed on TMC or AMC (before their banner Breaking Bad years) and there they were in black & white. Snow-blonde children with stoic expressions, staring. Staring a lot. Like all they flipping do is stare and occasionally speak with British accents (that really levels up the creep-factor, btw). And then their eyes turn into these silvery, shallow demon holes and they make everybody kill themselves slash each other. I’m sure most of you have caught on now. The classic Kid-Creep-Centric The Village Of The Damned. The first Creeping Kids I remember seeing and probably some of the first on film. I’m, OF COURSE, referring to the 1965 version. Because that is the only one that exists. Don’t argue. Those kids and their hair and their attitudes and their murderous brain powers…it really effed me and my vivid post-horror-film-nightmares up, guys.
But why is it so scary? Well, this one seems easy to answer, right? Like…kids are just total creepers. They draw obscure, weird pictures. They talk to dead grandmas from their cribs. They make up elaborate games where they turn your living room carpet into deadly molten lava and laugh about it. Like, what? Stop it, kids. Granted, most of the time, the extraordinary power and sponginess of a kid noggin is a beautiful wonder of life. They absorb the world around them at lightning speed and are in the midst of learning hundreds of things we now take for granted. On top of that, they are literally more capable of learning than we are. Every second we get older it gets harder for us to learn and imagine. So we normally view the wonders of childhood cerebrum in a nostalgic way. But that creepiness comes in when they surpass the ability we believe they are limited to.
‘Cause…duh. Kids represent innocence. When they act in ways that subvert our expectations, we panic. It is out of the realm of what we find possible and we can’t deal. Because we see everything right about humanity in our children. Goodness. Purity. Freedom. Most of us long for what these qualities can make us feel, or perhaps more accurately, what they make us not feel. Kids have the ability to live in an ignorant bliss we remember feeling but can never attain again. And we want them to stay there as long as possible. So, when they start psychic-killing people or seeing therapy ghosts we’re like ‘No! You’re innocent! Stop making people pass out in planes and stop talking to Bruce Willis!’
The other point to be made here is this: when children are experiencing things we can’t experience, we are no longer in control. If you ask my best friend Kristalynn it boils down to this: “How can you keep your kids safe from something you can’t see or experience yourself?” And that is a huge, huuuuge part of it, right? We are here as protection for our young. This is so we can survive as a species. All mammals do this to an extent, but we hold on to our kiddos about a million times longer than most living things. Can you imagine a 22-year-old grizzly bear still getting to live in the basement of the cave and not having to find his own food?
But, even with these observations, I don’t think we’re quite to that nougaty fear-core yet. So, I’m going to take it one step further. We are afraid of being surpassed. We spend, at the very least, the first 18 years of a child’s life preparing them for the world. We impart our knowledge and make it as clear as possible that ‘this is the way the world works’. If they surpass us, we become obsolete. If they can experience things we can’t if they can impart knowledge we don’t already know, if they can see grandma-ghosts when we only see air…we’re no longer superior.
Okay. I know, I know. I know some parents out there (I’m lookin’ at you Ma) are going to be like ‘I don’t feel superior to MY children’. But, listen…you do. You HAVE to. At least at first. Of course, there’s an inherent desire for your child to turn out better than you, but A) You hope for that when they’re like 25, not seven and B) There’s never actually going to be a time when you’re like “I’m done teaching my kid now”. Think about it. Think about your parents. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….you with me? So, when they surpass us in a way we can’t even relate to or are capable of something fraught with malice, sure, it makes us scared for them to lose their innocence and protection, but it also makes us feel unnecessary. It makes us feel like we’ve failed. And feeling like a big unwanted, unnecessary failure is one of the scariest, or at least most debilitating, things I can think of. We are purpose-driven creatures. What does a purpose-driven creature do without purpose? Meltdown.
So what does this all mean? Maybe when we see a child who cannot feel the freedom of childhood, we mourn for what they should have been and what we’ll never be again. Maybe when we see a child interact with something unfathomable, we are reminded of that fact that no matter what we preach to them, we cannot prepare them for everything. Maybe when we see so clearly in them their inherent ability to surpass us, we are reminded of the ticking clock of our own existence. And maybe, just maybe, if you consider all of those factors: the loss of innocence, the inability to protect, and the fear of obsolescence, you recognize that this fear, like all fears, is rooted in our deep instinctual past. All livings things work hard to propagate and last. Children are our legacy. When they know too much, feel too little, and see what we cannot see, we are reminded that eventually we, as a species, will become something we don’t recognize and that we are no longer a part of. They are a looking glass to a future we won’t experience. They are unrecognizable. Which makes us unrecognizable. And that…is creepy.
Notable ‘The Creeping Kid’ Moments:
The Village of the Damned
The Children of the Corn
The Sixth Sense
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Series): Season One: ‘The Anointed One’
Fear Factor Scale:
Nope. Nope nope nope.