The stuff of nightmares

“What do you think?” I pointed to the sign made from the wooden slat of a mandarin orange box.

“Fear is that little dark room where negatives are developed.” — Michael Pritchard, American speaker, wellness coach and youth guidance motivator

“What do you think?”

I pointed to the sign made from the wooden slat of a mandarin orange box.

It read, “Beware! Spook’s Forest,” and looked as if it had been crafted using a child’s wood-burning set. In truth, it had — mine.

I had nailed the sign to a poplar tree just that morning and placed an old pig skull at the base of the tree for effect. My brother nudged the skull with the toe of his sneaker.

“Where did you find this thing?”

“Behind the barn,” I replied. “Spooky, isn’t it?”

My brother shrugged his shoulders.

The small hill of scrub poplars just a quarter mile northwest of our farmhouse was about to become infamous, at least in the overactive imagination of a 10-year-old farm kid.

I got the idea one summer afternoon when my brother and I were hiking through the “forest” and happened upon the bleached white skeletal remains of a long-deceased milk cow.

I had always loved ghost stories so it hadn’t taken me long to conjure up a name and history for our five-acre parcel. I concocted a story about missing livestock and a timber wolf that roamed the forest.

I would need a few props to make the forest appear an authentic haunt. I located a few more animal skulls around the farm then hauled the collection to the forest in my wagon.

After placing each strategically amongst the trees, I began to plot the practical joke I would spring on my sister and city cousins.

Some time later, my brother and I ushered the group through the forest.

We stopped occasionally to call attention to a pile of bones or a skull nearly obscured by the tall grass. Near the end of the tour we shared, in hushed tones, the timber wolf story, then laughed uncontrollably when all ran screaming back to the farmhouse for refuge.

Years later, my sister and cousins confessed that they had been truly frightened by Spook’s Forest. My fantasy had become their reality — the stuff of nightmares.

Someone told me that fear is “false evidence appearing real” and the only way that you can overcome it is to look straight at it.

Spook’s Forest was a fantasy — a tale cut from whole cloth — an illusion given weight by realistic props and a spooky narrative.

What frightens you?

Perhaps you’re afraid of something specific like spiders or snakes.

Maybe your fear is grounded in a past experience like falling off a ladder or being bitten by a dog.

Many people live with an indistinct yet ever-present fear in the form of a vague uneasiness that permeates everything they say, think, and do.

Fear is a normal and healthy emotion. Fear protects us and keeps us safe.

Some people live in areas of the world ravaged by war where death is a distinct possibility and fear a daily companion.

For most of us, however, the fear we experience is built upon a series of uninvestigated beliefs, such as, “I’m not worthy or deserving of success and happiness,” “If I try I’ll fail,” “I must please everyone,” or the big lie, “Nobody will ever love me.”

In reality, there’s often no more substance to these notions than there was to my haunted forest story.

Likely, these ideas were accepted by you at a young age.

You bought into them, reinforced them and then filtered your experience to support them.

Viewed from the right perspective, fear can bring you self-awareness — the first step toward improved self-esteem.

Think of fear as a storehouse of information about you and your belief system. Ponder what frightens you and why.

Once you understand your fear, you can devise methods that will help you best face it and work through it.

American author, editor and public speaker Marilyn Ferguson once said, “Ultimately, we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”

We each have our own Spook’s Forest.

A little investigation may reveal our fears to be nothing more than a spooky story and a strategically placed pile of bones.

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at