Thursday, June 6, 2013

Childhood Trauma Flashbacks Part IV: Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark

Back in elementary school, I used to look forward to the Scholastic Arrow Book Club flyers that came out every month.  It would be chock fun of awesome books and other education-ish things (all meant to get kids to read and such).  The book club still exists today, but to me there was something special about that late 80's book club flyer that offered up a multitude of genres...everything from The Babysitter's Club (which of course all the girls read) to Garfield and Far Side Compilations (my best friend always got the Garfield books...those were so great!).

Of course in October they would have an extra section full of spooky seasonal books.  This is where I first came across Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.  The stories in these books were actually collected from folk tales and urban legends from around the world.  In the back back of the book the author would explain where each story originated from, which I always found fascinating.

For a while there were many parents who tried to get the books banned due to the
highly disturbing nature of the illustrations and even the stories themselves, but by and large these books are very fondly remembered by a good many kids in my generation.  

I used to read the stories in these books to my family (whether they wanted me to
or not!) because I thought that they were so incredibly creepy and I was constantly trying to create that "campfire tale" kind of feeling....whether it was after dinner, or sitting around in the living room on a Saturday night.  I just wanted everyone to huddle together and listen to these lurid tales of horror that I was completely obsessed with.  

Most stories were downright creepy, and some had a funny twist to the them (like The Viper)  but there were some that I just couldn't get out of my head:

A story about two farmers who take their cows up into the hills to graze for two months, because it is much too hot in the valley.  They quickly become bored with the monotony of their everyday routine.  So one of them comes up with the idea to make a man sized doll and make it look like a local farmer they hate, named Harold.  They tied him up in the garden during the day to scare away birds and at night they would take him in.  Sometimes they would jokingly play around with him and when they were in a bad mood they'd punch and kick him.  One night Harold grunts.  It freaks them both out but they rationalize that it must be a mouse or insect that got inside him, making the noise.  After a few days all goes back to normal and they play and mistreat him depending on how they feel.  Finally one day, Harold stands up and walks out of the hut, climbing on top and then pacing back and forth, then goes and stands by himself in the far corner of the field. The men gather their cows the next day and take off, Harold nowhere in sight.  Feeling relieved that they were away from Harold they started down the path back to the valley, soon realizing that in their haste, they forgot the milking stools.  Neither wants to go back, but the stools are expensive, so they draw strays and one heads back, saying that he'll catch up later.  As the lone farmer leads his cows back to the valley he turns and looks back at the hut as he reached the top of a hill.  Harold is there on the roof of the hut, stretching a bloody swath of skin out to dry in the sun.

That story scared the ever lovin' crap out of me.  I read it alone in my room one night.  It must have been toward the end of school, because it was quite warm and I had the window open and my fan blowing full blast.  I can remember feeling a chill run down my spine, despite the heat.

The Thing:
Late one night two friends are talking near a turnip patch.  Suddenly something that looks like a man stands up and walks out of the patch and into the road.  The more adventurous of the friends walks up to the the thing and gets a good look at it.  It looks like a skeleton with sunken eyes.  He screams and they both run.  A year later, that friend got deathly ill.  On his final night as his friend sat with him, his friend was horrified to find that his friend now looked exactly like.....The Thing.

Sure this one is standard campfire tale material...but there was just something about the way it was written....the imagery that it placed in my mind.  This one stayed with me for quite a while and anytime there was a shape moving int he dark of night, I was sure it was The Thing.

Maybe You Will Remember
A mother and daughter are traveling and the mother starts to feel ill, so they stop at a hotel.  Once they are settled, the daughter calls for a doctor.  When he arrives and examines the mother, he sends her on a wild goose chase.  When she returns to the hotel, everything is different and no one remembers who she or her mother is.  The story ends with no resolution, per se.  However we are instructed to flip to the back of the book to find out exactly whats going on.  This is what really creeped me out:  The doctor knew as soon as he saw the mother that she was about to die of a horrible disease.  He sends the daughter out on the wild goose chase so that he and the hotel management can dispose of the mother's body (who died immediately after the daughter left) and completely reorganize the hotel and make the staff act as though they don't remember anything about the girl or her mother.  All to keep the death quiet and avoid public panic.  

Man, after reading this one and finding out what had really happened, I was afraid to go on vacations with my family.  Sure everything is all great one minute....the next Mom's got a caugh, I get sent out of medicine, I come back and BLAMMO!  Instant Nowhere Man.  That was some seriously fucked up shit, my friends.

You can still find all three of these books (used) on ebay or amazon....but whatever you do, DO NOT purchase the revamped versions that came out recently.  They replaced the incredible illustrations by Stephen Gammell.   Sure the stories are still spooky, but only when paired with the freaky as drawings by Gammell do they become legendary.  

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