“It was getting very late when we came to a certain house that was not at all like the others on its block.”

–from “Boo,” by Richard Laymon


October is in the chair, as Neil Gaiman might say — and has said! — check out his story “October Is In the Chair” in his collection Fragile Things. But seriously, it’s October now. Much as I love the summer, much as I believe the hot months are the real incubator of the imagination, and that they are the closest months we get to Paradise in this life . . . I have to admit that October is the single most focused imaginative month. After we’ve charged far afield and frolicked and absorbed as much sun as we could through the warm months, it’s sober October that sits us down before the fire and makes us gaze into the darkness of things. We catch our breath, and we shiver. We remember how good it is to be scared by a scary tale — so much better than being scared in real life! In stories, we just can’t resist seeking what’s out there — what’s down there. What might be coming, even now.

I have fond memories of growing up with tales of weirdness and fear. First, Andersen’s fairy tales: whenever I was sick as a kid, lying on the blue velvet sofa, shivering and sweating and unable to hold liquids down, Mom would get out the little blue hardback collection of Andersen and read to me. Strange and scary things happened in those stories. There were witches and magic, dogs with eyes as big as saucers, and my experience of them came with the mingling of physical discomfort, delirium, and the wonderful glow of love, care, security, and relief. My mom was there, taking my temperature and bringing me Seven-Up. And that, I believe, is fundamental to my perspective on horror. If I didn’t have a core belief that things will be all right, I’d have no reason to enjoy horror.

Bloodcurdling LovecraftThen there’s H.P. Lovecraft. I think I’ve mentioned before how I used to see the covers of his books on the racks at our family bookstore, and they looked like the perfect books to me as a nine- or ten-year-old boy: hideous monsters, tentacles, crumbling stonework, etc. Oh, how I wish I had an image here of the very first cover that drew me to Lovecraft! I’m pretty sure it was a collection called The Dunwich Horror and Others. At any rate, the edition you read doesn’t matter too much, as long as it’s Lovecraft, and as long as you read enough stories to get a feel for him. I particularly recommend The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, edited and with an introduction by S.T. Joshi. There’s also a More Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, annotated by S.T. Joshi and Peter Cannon. Although I’m talking October books here, my childhood recollections of Lovecraft are of the dusty back room of our bookstore, reading and drinking Pepsi with my knees propped up against the edge of the battered desk . . . and of reading him outdoors at Annotated H.P. Lovecrafthome on hot, hot summer days — heat and light all around me, heat waves shimmering in the fields, leaves whispering in the breeze — and in the pages, coldness and subterranean darkness, moldering crypts, secret rooms, sagging gambrel roofs in ancient New England towns. . . .

Lovecraft is one writer I enjoyed as a kid and kept right on reading as I grew up. Back in about 1995, I lived and taught in the town of Shirone, but I also had a couple classes once a week in Sanjo. To get there, I took a bus to a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere (a town/station called Yashiroda), where sometimes I had to wait well over an hour for a train to come along. I would sit there at the station reading H.P. Lovecraft — outdoors in the summer; in the winter, cozied up to the kerosene stove inside.

In gradeschool we used to have Book Fairs in the “All-Purpose Room” — a big gray chamber at the heart of the building where lunch tables and seats folded down out of the walls, then retracted again when it was time for an all-school assembly, band practice, a play, a film, or p.e. class. Such Fairs were a delight: there were tables stacked with books, and you could browse among them and buy them for ridiculously low prices like five cents or ten cents. (At least that’s how I remember it now — any North School kids out there want to correct me?) It was at one such Book Fair that I bought a morbidly grim volume called The Creature Reader. And one of the stories in it was “Wendigo’s Child,” by Thomas Monteleone. It was about a boy in Arizona who rides his bicycle to a nearby archaeological dig, hoping to find cool artifacts, and he finds a little, leathery, wizened mummy that seems half human baby and half bird. Ill-advisedly, he takes the thing home and hides it in his basement, finding out along the way from a native American friend (to whom he doesn’t show the mummy) that such creatures were guardians of the burial grounds. Yes — what you’re imagining — that’s what happens in the story. The book gave me nightmares for months afterward. I loved it!

There was also a story in that book called “Godosh” [the author escapes me], about a sleeping giant inside a mountain who wakes up and wreaks a terrible vengeance when heartless land developers come to bulldoze the forest. Very satisfying to a pre-teen nature lover’s sensibilities!

I don’t know what ever happened to my copy of that book. I’m one who takes very good care of books, and I rarely lose track of ones I like. But the fate of that one is a true mystery. It vanished without a trace at some point.

There was a book called Shudders on the shelf in my bedroom for years and years. (When I visited my Cousin Phil’s parents back in 2006, I noticed a copy also shelved with his old books, which didn’t surprise me. We tend to gravitate toward many of the same books, even if they’re really obscure.) I honestly don’t know whether it’s a good collection or not, because I never got past the first story: “Sweets to the Sweet,” by a young Robert Bloch. That story scared me so badly as a kid that I stopped reading, put the book back into the bookcase, and didn’t touch it for what I think was a couple years. When I opened it again and read the Bloch story, it scared me again and I put it back on the shelf. I’d say there’s a fairly good chance that if I found the book again today, I still wouldn’t make it past the Bloch story.

As a teenager, I got into much of the earlier work of Stephen King. I devoured The Shining, I loved his short stories in Night Shift, and ‘Salem’s Lot is still one of my favorites of his — and one of the best vampire books around. But my favorite Stephen King is the novel It. (The novel, I stress: don’t even bring up the visual dramatization of it!) I read It at a major transition time in my life: I started it in the early summer of 1988, my final year in the States; I finished it in Tokyo in the winter of 1988-9. So my memories of it are bound up with both Illinois and Japan, and that time of moving to a new phase of life. It — to my thinking, this is the very best of Stephen King. All the pulse-racing, skin-crawling horror is there, but it’s tempered by an achingly beautiful nostalgia for childhood in a vanished era and a portrait of lifelong friendships — friends who will stick with each other though their lives hang in the balance. It’s a wonderful book.

Best Ghost Stories of Algernon BlackwoodDuring one of my first few summers in Japan, I found my way to the stories of Algernon Blackwood. In those years of my early twenties — a searching, angry, passionate, lonely, joyous, discovering time — I used to sit astride the seat of my parked bicycle on some forest trail near the sea, and in the green glow of filtered light, I’d read books. That’s where I read Blackwood’s “The Willows,” one of the scariest stories of all time. It was at around this time — 1990 or 1991 — that I had a very close brush with publication. A now-defunct small-press magazine titled Midnight Zoo expressed strong interest in my story “Iowa Mud,” but asked for revisions. I immediately subscribed to the magazine, revised the story, and sent it back. As I recall, they liked it still more, but wanted more revisions. So I obliged them. I loved reading the magazine — it was well put together, and the stories were right up my alley. They accepted the story, but before it saw print, they got into financial problems, as small-press magazines almost inevitably do. They asked if they could pay me in contributor copies instead of money, and I said sure. Then they ceased publication and disappeared altogether, and I never heard from them again. The story never made it into print. (Which may be a good thing.) [Oh — the point of telling about this near-publication experience {NPE} is that I sat around in that same pine forest revising “Iowa Mud,” so my memories of that time are all interwoven — my story, Blackwood, and Ambrose Bierce.]

About Blackwood: in the same collection, he has a story called “The Other Wing” which I always thought completely surpasses any notion of “genre.” It ought to be anthologized in college freshman literature survey textbooks, along with Lovecraft’s “The Strange High House in the Mist.”

The years have gone by, and I’ve always been on the lookout for good, scary tales. I know some people just don’t “get” horror, but given the choice between any two stories, I’ll almost always take the frightening one. (Like I said a few posts back: our oldest fully-English piece of literature is the story of a hero battling monsters — it’s in our blood.)

October Dreams coverMy first novel Dragonfly was/is an ode to Hallowe’en. And speaking of that holiday: THE BOOK to read in this season (while you’re taking breaks from Dragonfly) is an anthology entitled October Dreams, edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. What makes this one so wonderful is that it isn’t just a compilation of great Hallowe’en stories by a whole host of writers, some extremely famous, some virtually unknown — but it also includes, between the stories, mini-essays by many of the writers on actual memories of Hallowe’ens in their lives. If you read it, you may even decide you like the essays best of all. In fact, I’d love to see a whole book dedicated to that. Someone should solicit Hallowe’en memories from about fifty speculative fiction writers, ranging from the bestsellers to those in the small press — wouldn’t that be excellent? Anyway, in that book is my favorite short Hallowe’en story ever: “Boo,” by Richard Laymon. I won’t spoil it by giving away particulars, but I will say that this story captures pretty much everything I love about Hallowe’en. It’s beautiful and nostalgic; in places it makes you laugh out loud — partly at what’s happening, and partly at your own memories it evokes — it makes you ache with longing, not only for the Hallowe’ens of your youth, but for childhood itself — and, like any proper All Hallows tale, it packs a deeply disturbing wallop. “Boo,” by Richard Laymon — I dare you to find better! (And if you find better, please please pleeeease tell us about it here!)

Finally, two movies I’ve seen recently, which represent a tip of the hatDog Soldiers to those two mighty pillars of the horror genre, the vampire and the werewolf. . . . Several friends had been recommending to me the film Dog Soldiers (2001). It is a genuinely creepy and entertaining story, and it’s the sort that I think I may like better on subsequent viewings. (To be 100% honest, after the way so many trusted friends raved about it, I was a tiny bit disappointed on my first watching; it’s a good film, but it had a lot of hype to live up to. But I liked it enough that I’m talking about it here, aren’t I?) A group of soldiers on training maneuvers in the Scottish highlands end up trapped in an isolated farmhouse, desperately trying to hold off the werewolves until dawn. What I found at once surprising — and ultimately unsettling — about this movie was the lack of movement on the part of the werewolves. I believe (don’t quote me on this; I could be wrong) that they were depicted by using people in costumes — people in unnatural postures, on stilts, perhaps; and given all that, the actors actually had very limited mobility. There’s almost no lunging or pouncing. What we have are instantaneous glimpses of nearly motionless werewolves — monsters frozen in terrifying silhouettes, looming in the shadows. And whether intentionally or not, this taps right into our childhood fantasies and nightmares. Think about it: as kids, the imagined images that scared us the most weren’t lunging enemies — they were the things that lurked . . . that watched us from the shadows . . . that towered over our beds. Capitalizing on that fear, Dog Soldiers delivers quite a bite!

Let the Right One InBut far and away the best movie I saw this summer, irrespective of genre, was the vampire film Let the Right One In. It’s a Swedish film, so you have the option of watching it either in Swedish, with English subtitles, or dubbed into English. So far I’ve watched it once each way, and there are things I like better about each version. It’s dark, haunting, beautiful, sad, and it uses the canon of vampire mythos to help us ask some profound questions. Some critics call it a “fairy tale.” Perhaps. Again — without giving too much away — it’s the story of the bonding and love between two lonely children — one living, one a vampire. It’s skillful and subtle, and it’s so thought-provoking that some of us discussed it for weeks after I saw it.

All right: that should give you puh-lenty of scary stories to chew on as we go into October (and it’s only the second day!). My plea for reader participation this week offers you two options. (Heh, heh — I hope this one fares better than my mythology quest, which went over like a lead balloon!) The first is obvious: tell us about great scary stories you’ve run into. What are your favorites? Under what circumstances did you experience them? How can we find them?

The second, if we can get a little creative, is this: we’re just now starting October. . . . If we act now, we can set up next week’s post. Use your imagination and come up with a sentence that suggests a spooky paragraph. Give us the first line. Evoke possibility. You don’t have to tell everything: the challenge is to suggest, to set questions exploding in the reader’s mind. Look back up to the very top of this post: that would be a perfect example. What makes that house different from all the others on the block? Surely you can think of one provocative sentence. If you devote some time to it, you’ll probably come up with five or ten set-up lines. You will probably have a hard time shutting yourself off. One of my own examples (which I’m probably misquoting) is the first sentence of my story “Shadowbender”: “Aunt Estelle wasn’t so bad; it was her house that bothered Shan.”

I’m inviting you to post a line — a sentence — that may yield a good, scary paragraph. Next week I hope to line up all these sentences and let readers choose one and try writing the paragraph it suggests.

As always, please remember that some younger people are reading the blog, too.

Meanwhile, happy October!


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21 Responses to “Boo”

  1. Marquee Movies Says:

    Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Scott Corbett. He wrote “The Big Joke Game,’ “Ever Ride A Dinosaur?” and a terrific series of books that began with “The Lemonade Trick.” This was a series that involved two boys, a chemistry set, and a strange old lady who they’d meet in the park who may have been a witch. There was also “The Hockey Trick,” “The Disappearing Dog Trick,” “The Hairy Horror Trick,” and others. I loved reading and rereading his stories – but there was one I read only once, and never picked up again. “The Red Room Riddle” was a story of two boys who go into a haunted house. I remember the pictures being as mildly disturbing as the story – I think one of the boys was kind of a swaggering bully. But the actual red room riddle? It frightened me terribly – because there was a picture that went along with the riddle of the room. For some reason, the mystery was tied in with the slaughter of children as commanded by Herod around the birth of Christ. The drawing in the book had these ghostly images of men in Roman helmets holding up babies in one hand, and swords in the other, while women stood by screaming.
    Welcome to children’s horror of the 1970’s! I somehow doubt that would make it past the publisher’s desk today. I still loved (still do, if I think about it) Scott Corbett, but I never picked up that book again.
    Speaking of pictures – another of the most disturbing pictures I ever saw was in the hardcover book of Roald Dahl’s “The Magic Finger.” Near the end, as the girl of the story really loses it, and points her finger right out at the reader(!), the same picture is used for the next five pages, but with different color schemes – the final one is gold, I think – and it’s that picture that both spooked and amazed me – because though it was the same picture as the others in the past four pages, this one suddenly looked like a photograph. The golden hue had put some sort of reflection in her eyes, so it looked like she was actually ACTUALLY looking at you! I would close the book, but would be drawn back to gaze at her again and again. Very hypnotic.
    I will try and think of a sentence soon! Happy Halloween!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Whole volumes could be written about the potential of pictures to scare us, especially when we’re young. For awhile in the seventies, Sesame Street had a magazine that I sometimes read. I don’t remember now whether I got it through school or through our bookstore — I’m thinking the bookstore.

      Anyway, there was one sequence of pictures in one of the magazines that really frightened me as a child. I showed it to my parents, and they agreed that it was weird and they could see how it could be really scary to a kid. My mom was even a little angry at the publishers, I think.

      I don’t know what the artists were getting at, but it was, as I remember it, a two-page, full-color spread. There were no words at all, just visual images. I think it was supposed to help kids see continuity from image to image. It showed a horizon, and various things were rolling up over the horizon (in the way a sun rises) — much like the screen on a slot machine, with three images side-by-side, coming up and passing by each other at different speeds. There were numbers, other objects. . . . You’d see parts of them appearing, then you’d see them in full, and then you’d see the lower tail ends of them as they passed on upward out of the frame.

      Well, what terrified me was this bizarre human face that appeared. It was the head and shoulders of a creepy, utterly hairless man. He rose up over the horizon, staring at me. Somehow seeing parts of him added to the terror: it was like a game of peek-a-boo with a creature of evil and perversion that meant me harm. I remember seeing it in a room by myself, throwing down the magazine, and running for my life into the room where my parents were.

      I remember finding that magazine again when I was cleaning out our house after my parents passed away. Even as an adult, I was creeped out.

      Anyway, I remember the name Scott Corbett from when I was a kid, but I don’t remember what of his I read. It wasn’t any of the titles you cited.

  2. Marquee Movies Says:

    Fred, I hope you’ll be able to find and read this comment amidst the swarm of other comments you’re getting here. Since I posted about books that frightened me as an elementary school student, I’ll say just a few things about a movie that frightened me at that age. While I still have a few images in my head from such things as early Brian DePalma films that I should not have seen at such a young age, there was one film that made a huge impression on me. Back when the ABC Sunday Night Movie was a huge deal (no such thing as VCR’s), the Sunday night movie was always a huge deal, and they’d play commercials endlessly for it. Jaws or James Bond, it was always exciting. But sometimes they’d show something that I just KNEW I was not going to be allowed to watch. One Sunday, after days and days of commercials for a certain movie had nearly hypnotized me with how scary it seemed, I decided I would stay up past my bedtime just to try and see the whole thing. After about an hour of it, I realized that was right to try and sneak this movie in, because it was creepy, and had great music, and grownups were doing things and saying things that I knew was happening somewhere in the world…..and then all of a sudden, THAT SCENE happened. The movie was Rosemary’s Baby. And I, watching all alone in my dark basement, had the royal all-time heebie jeebies scared out of me, and I turned off the TV, and tried to quickly scamper up the stairs, and past my parents, and up to bed. They stopped me. “Do you know what time it is?” Oh, uh…..late? “What were you doing?” (They knew exactly what I was doing.) Uh….watching TV. “What were you watching?” Uh…..I think a movie, I don’t know….. “Were you watching that movie on channel 7?” I think so…. “Well, if you don’t care about the rules in this house, and that movie is so important to you, why don’t you just march yourself down there and finish watching it.”
    I will never forget the sheer terror I felt when they told me to do that. This was worse than any yelling or grounding. So I had to head back down there. I turned every light on in the basement, and watched McCloud, with Dennis Weaver. During commercials, I think I switched back to the movie, perhaps to feed that insane desire to be scared, but I think now it was more about hoping I’d see a scene where a group of people would have a big heavy chain around them, and someone would rip off their masks, and say, “So it was YOU who frightened everyone! Thank goodness there’s really nothing to be scared of at all!” In fact, I think that IS how the movie ends.
    Scary movies – The Wizard of Oz had some of the scariest moments I can recall as a very young ‘un. And for those of you (Shieldmaiden!) who didn’t make it out to see the film in the theatre, I’m so sorry. But it’s STILL the 70th anniversary all year, and the latest version on DVD is supposed to be the best looking and sounding ever. So why not have a Wizard of Oz party at home, and serve your family out of a picnic basket like Dorothy’s, and watch the latest DVD, with the sound up and the lights down. Popcorn, hot chocolate, the works. Make it an event.
    One last comment on books – a few years ago, I happened to buy that book October Dreams that Fred loves so much, and that story “Boo” by Richard Laymon is indeed one of my favorite short stories too. It really is just perfectly told – a little bit scary, a little bit nostalgic, a little bit funny, a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll. (Love Donny and Marie, but probably not appropriate for scary stories.) And I thought, Hey, I’ll tell Fred’s blog readers how easy it is to get on Amazon. Well, bad news – it’s out of print, and the cheapest copy is over 30 dollars! Yikes. So, I urge you to rush to your local libary, and grab this book. It really is a blast to read.
    Finally – a sentence for a potentially scary story. “After the blog host saw how few people had responded to his heart-felt posts as of midnight, he calmly turned off his computer, put on his coat, grabbed a bag of duck treats from his dresser, and stumbled out into the night.”

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Heh, heh! I love the ending!

    I also love the story about trying to watch Rosemary’s Baby in your basement. I can’t imagine the terror of being sent back into the basement after you’d had the tar scared out of you down there.

    What a fantastic recommendation for a The Wizard of Oz party!

    Thank you for a fantastic comment!

  4. Jedibabe Says:

    “It was a dark and stormy night…”

    • Daylily Says:

      Hey! That was going to be MY entry!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That’s the way Madeleine L’Engle chose to begin A Wrinkle in Time, isn’t it? It’s the way Snoopy begins his novels, and if I’m not mistaken, it first came from Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
      It is a good one!

  5. Shieldmaiden Says:

    I haven’t run into many scary stories. Unlike most of you here, I never liked to be scared. My first horror flick was animated; Bambi at age three or four. I think I might have gotten about half way through it before I hid under my seat huddled into a ball. I was pulled out by my father who carried me from the theater over his shoulder, while I screamed all the way up the ramp and to the car.

    Then, The Wizard of Oz was indeed my first and probably only scary movie as a child. I was three. I still remember every scene, I just sat there in front of the TV, frozen, never even made a sound because I was too scared! I didn’t fully understand death at three years old, or know what it was or how it worked, but I knew that due to the amount of fear inside my body I would absolutely cease to exist. I KNEW I could not possibly make it through this movie and continue to… be. But I did. And although I wouldn’t watch it again for a long time it later became my favorite childhood movie. It happens to also be one of my husbands favorites, so it of course has become a family favorite. As for a The Wizard of Oz party, that is exactly what we planned to do. We were all a go when we came home from the attempt at ticket buying, but my daughter (who is still irrational when disappointment is severe) would have no part of it, “It wouldn’t be the same” was all she could say. She is five. So it is on the calendar this month, and I will let you know, Marquee Movies, how it goes.

    Growing up, and even as an adult, I just didn’t see or read scary books or movies. I did see the original Halloween movie one night at a friends house, there was just no way out of it (I think I was in the ninth grade). But that is it. Not even Jaws if you can believe it? Then last October I decided to read Dragonfly. I absolutely loved it. It was disturbing on levels I didn’t know existed and I had nightmares for at least six months, probably longer. They’d only recently gone away and then, as you know, I just read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I really enjoyed it! I will definitely read it again and again. It also gave me nightmares, but not of vampires, oddly enough my closet started to attack me again nightly and my Dragonfly dreams haunted me in full force once more. Oh, and totally worth it!!

    Here are my attempts at a sentence that suggests a spooky paragraph: Keep in mind that I don’t read scary stuff, and you can only groan at mine after you leave one of your own. Deal?

    “No one walked past this particular house even in daylight but I knew someone lived there, though I’d never seen them.”

    “It wasn’t dark yet; the sky was gray and looked like static as the wind screamed past us, rattling the old boards at the end of the street.”

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I remember being taken to see Fiddler on the Roof when I was very young — my first-ever movie in a theater, if I remember correctly. (I kept glancing behind me, because I’d heard how President Lincoln was killed, and I was afraid that might happen to me in a dark theater — I kept looking for gunmen lurking behind the velvet curtains and in the balcony. . . .)

      But anyway, at one point in Fiddler, there’s a fantasy/dream sequence of a woman rising up out of a grave, beginning with a cadaverous hand clawing through the soil. That scared the beejabs out of me and gave me nightmares!

      In Japanese, the word for “mummy” is mira, pronounced with a long e, like “mee-ra.” A friend here tells of being taken to the theater to see The Mummy by her father when she was little. And she was given NO WARNING as to what kind of film it was! She assumed Mira was the name of a pretty little foreign girl — she thought she was going to see a film like Heidi. NOT! She had bad dreams long afterward about moldering bandages and the long-dead mummy shambling out of its crypt.

      I guess I was older by the time I saw The Wizard of Oz — I have no memory of its being scary. (But then, I don’t think Dragonfly is scary at all, and I remember arguing with Marquee Movies once about whether or not Jaws was scary. “It’s an ADVENTURE movie!” I contended. But yes, I agree now that it’s scary. One of the greatest adventure films of all time, but yes, scary.)

      I am truly honored that Dragonfly was your introduction to scary fiction — and that Dracula brought back Dragonfly memories!

      And thanks for the two sentences! Great! (Watch the next post for further developments!)

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      Are you kidding? Those flying monkeys are frightening! They scared me beyond scared!! And the witch was frightening too but not as bad as those creepy monkeys. Well, until she turns over the hourglass, that was horrifying for some reason. And when she shows up in the glass after Dorothy sees her Aunt in it. Oh, pretty much anything with the witch in it scared me to death too!

      Oh yeah, the scene in Fiddler did me in. I was about seven and that scene freaked me out. I fell asleep with my door open (my room was at the end of the hallway) looking out into the hall where I made my parents leave the light on forever. I didn’t sleep right again for a year. I didn’t watch that movie again because of the fantasy/dream sequence until 1997 and I was shocked by how crystal clear I remembered every single scene. I was glad to see it again, because though I did remember it perfectly I hadn’t understood what was happening historically when I first saw it, and things that I had noticed or wondered about as a child were answered. That movie really made an impression on me. It is now a favorite too. Funny how that happens, the things that were the most frightening to me became most loved later.

      Fred, I can’t believe you don’t think Dragonfly is scary! Wow. One of these days I will tell you the closet dreams I have had, they are pretty funny… you know, later, after I am awake and sure that it was only a dream. And I sure won’t be reading anything you do consider scary, I would surely die.

      And Marquee Movies, I loved the, “Is that supposed to look like blood? It doesn’t even look like real Kool-Aid!” line! Your whole story really, “Didn’t everyone know it was time for the haunted house to start?” and your increasing degrees of irk and irritation as they set in! I really laughed. And I love your sentence! The warmer strands tightening around his fingers! LoOooved it!

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        OK, one more:

        “A sound piercing the night hurt my ears, only when I’d run out of air did I realize it was my own scream.”

  6. Jedibabe Says:

    I think I’ve said this before, but I was never scared by stories, it was real life that terrified me. Bambi and Black Beauty were devastating to me as a child, but not scary. Nowadays, the things that scare me are usually documentary movies, though Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan can cause me to chew my nails off. I guess I tend not to get worked up much by the things I can’t change, but if I can change the situation, then the adrenalin gets pumpin’!

    This time of year I acutely recall my attempt at the haunted house at my elementary school carnival. I was in the fourth grade and went with my friend. I loved crawling through the dark under the desks, the floor smeared with spaghetti, but when the live “witches” came at us, I beat them away with the plastic snake I had won as a prize and tore through a side door, dragging my friend Leah to “safety” with me, whether she wanted to go or not! I didn’t go back to another haunted house until my senior year of college. My friends were persistent and it could have been my Jedi costume or the light saber hanging from my belt, but I had a great time and didn’t flip out or scream once.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I love the image of you beating away the live “witches” with a plastic snake! I’ll bet once they picked up their hats and gathered up their fallen warts, they limped back to their boss and began negotiating for higher salaries — or at least a medical plan.

  7. Marquee Movies Says:

    Shieldmaiden, if I had thought I was going to get to see The Wizard of Oz on the big screen, and had to come home all disappointed, I would have behaved exactly the way your daughter did. I mean, if it happened now, at the age I’m at, I would have come home all bent out of shape with bitter disappointment. I’m delighted you’re planning a Wizard of Oz special home showing. I can’t wait for the details!
    Oh, haunted houses. My parents were pretty nice about taking us to them, even though neither ever expressed any interest in coming in. I do remember a really disappointing one at my grade school, though. (I know, what was I expecting, right?) We walked on to the stage at the left, and were told to peer into each curtain hole as we moved from left to right. (There weren’t really holes in the curtains, I just can’t remember how they partitioned the stage.) So I eagerly looked into the first hole, and saw a large bowl, sort of goldfish bowlish, with what looked like watered-down red Kool-Aid running down the sides. It was some sort of fountain thing, like when water keeps cascading back up to and out of the top of some spigot. I waited to see what would happen – would something leap out of the bowl? Would someone come along and drop fake body parts into it? I watched for so long, that a line built up behind me, and I had to let others look, while I took a step back. I was irked, because I thought, You know, I’ll bet whatever’s supposed to happen will happen JUST as I’m not looking. What puzzled me, though, was how quickly the other kids were moving onto the next partition. That seems dumb, I thought, as I quickly darted back in to see what would happen. It doesn’t look like anything has….then I’d have to let more people look in. I began to get pretty irritated. Didn’t everyone know it was time for the haunted house to start? Then, I looked over someone’s shoulder as they were looking in. The person gazed for all of about two nanoseconds, then moved on. It was only then when I realized that that was it. Just a stupid bowl with….oh, man, is that supposed to look like blood? It doesn’t even look like real Kool-Aid!
    Then there was the last haunted house I ever went to. My younger brother and I were in high school, and it was what you’d expect – people leaping out, different ghoulish things to look at. (This was NOT at my elementary school!) But at the end, as my brother and I were nearing the final door, we were approached quickly by one more person who was holding something in his hands. Suddenly, the sound of an incredibly loud chainsaw filled the tent, and we both ran out, very upset. As I look back, I did finally figure out that it must have been a tape of a chainsaw. But – that was it. Last one ever.
    Potentially scary sentence: At the first exhibit at the grade school haunted house, Billy knew his hand was dunked into a plate of cold spaghetti, and not “body parts,” as his cousin claimed, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it seemed as though some of the strands were warmer than others, and had tightened slightly around his fingers.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      What an excellent story! The line “It doesn’t even look like real Kool-Aid!” had me laughing until tears came! (The implication being that, if it did at least look like real Kool-Aid, that would be a tiny, tiny fraction scarier. . . .) [I know, I’m being like a certain college professor of ours by explaining the humor of your joke. I just didn’t want anyone to miss it!]

      On a much more serious note: I remember an actual news story from about 15-20 years ago about a haunted house near my hometown — it wasn’t in Taylorville, but somewhere within driving distance, as I recall. Someone actually had the utter lack of sense to use a real chainsaw to scare visitors to a community haunted house. There was an injury — not life-threatening, but an injury. I remember my parents and me shaking our heads in horror and disbelief as we read the article in our local paper. So you and your brother were right to run away and be upset. You never really know, and when humans are involved, it’s best not to make any assumptions.

      Very nice scary sentence!

  8. SwordLily Says:

    I’m no good with scary stories. I hated watching Bambie when I was little or any other Disney cartoon movies for that matter. The Lion King scared the eyeballs out of me when I was about six. It’s now one of my favorite movies, but there were a few years when I wouldn’t watch it if you gave me a truck of chocolate. I’ve only watched one scary movie that was labeled as such, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks afterwards. It was miserable, so I have sworn off scary movies. I’m okay with books, but maybe that’s because the words don’t usually form any pictures unless I want them to.
    I’m not good with scary stuff, but this challenge tickled my creative antenna, so here they are, three sentences that could, possible, maybe evolve into something creepy (the second one is technically three sentences, but I hope it still qualifies):

    “The tree was weird.”

    “There shouldn’t have been a crack in the sidewalk. It hadn’t been there yesterday. The odd squishing sounds I had heard during the night came back to me as I leaned in for a closer look.”

    “It was a night when the white moon sucked all color from the world; a haunting melody was riding the breeze, but nobody in the car seemed to hear it but me.”

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, SwordLily!

      I have to chuckle here about how often Disney has come up in this discussion of scary movies!

      Anyway, I REALLY like all three of those scary beginnings!

  9. Kyran Says:

    I love scary stories, even though they scare me to death =) I am more inclined to read scary books as opposed to watching scary movies because I can usually sleep after reading a scary book, same as SwordLily. I still like scary movies though, and if someone recommends one to me I’ll watch it. x)

    I could make up A LOT of scary paragraphs or scary sentences but it’s a little harder for me to come up with something that just “suggests” possibility. Anyway here are the ones I came up with.

    “I watched, frozen in silence, as a deformed black shadow inched its way up the street….but where, pray tell me, was its body?”

    “Two large red eyes, missing their pupils, stared at the boy, a mouth with multitudes of reddish teeth slowly materializing in the darkness.”

    “The moon twisted and moved, forming impossible shapes in the cold night; something black, with small beady eyes, sat atop it.”

    “She screamed as something rose out of the black water, making as if to grab her with its white bony hands.”

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Kyran, those are delightful! The one about the black thing sitting atop the moon reminds me of a pseudo-haiku I wrote years ago:

      under the river
      a creature lives and counts things;
      the moon, too, is afraid

  10. shari Says:

    Does anyone know where find the book ” shudders”….I am searching for one of the stories contained in the collection titled ” Sweets to the Sweet” by Robert Bloch. I once had the book ( as a child), but I can no longer find it. I’d like to read it to my class.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      The book you and I both had as kids is called _Ten Tales Calculated to Give You Shudders_, edited by Ross R. Olney. You can get it used on Amazon for $1.

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