Seeing my swashbuckling self now, you wouldn’t believe it, but I was a huge scaredy-pants when I was a fledgling. My friends read the Goosebumps series; I couldn’t read the summary on the backs without glancing nervously behind me, sure that something was creeping up on me. Most of the year, I stuck to stories free from ghosts, monsters, and unhappy endings.
Every October, though, when the librarians put out the Halloween displays, everything changed. I was drawn to the collections of scary stories–and always ended up checking one out. I could handle most of what I read, but there was invariably that one story that scared the daylights out of me, reducing me to a sweating, whimpering mess when it came time to climb the dark stairs to my room.
One year, it was the story of the Wendigo, a wind spirit that made people run until their feet caught fire. In it, a trail guide returned to camp swaddled in a blanket. When the others, angered by his silence, pulled the blanket away, all that was left underneath was a pile of ash.
One year, it was a story of a demon scarecrow that killed the farmers one by one and laid their skins on the roof to dry in the sun (I still say that story had no business in a book for kids).
My mother tried to discourage me sometimes. Several years of early-November nightmares were enough to convince her that the scary books should stay on the shelf.
“Are you sure about that one?” she’d say in the check-out line, staring at the skull on the cover. But I would not be denied.
It became a tradition. Every year, I’d be pulled irresistibly toward something new and terrifying. I’d even hold the book delicately by the edges, making sure no part of my skin touched the image on the cover. Every year, I’d spend two weeks shivering with the lights on, regretting my decision even to crack the cover. But as soon as October rolled around again, the same thoughts returned: “I was scared last year, sure, but that was a year ago. I’m so much more mature now. Besides, my tolerance must be built up after last time. And this one just looks so good…”
Last year I read The Shining, by Stephen King. I won’t get into details, but there is a particular scene with a corpse in a bathtub that scared me so badly that a full month after I finished the book I was still jerking the shower curtain open, poised to run. It was wonderful.
This year, I returned to Stephen King with Thinner. The back didn’t sound nearly as scary as The Shining was—this one is more Gypsy curses and weight loss than psychic little kids and demon hotels—but I figured, maybe that’s what I need this year. I’m living alone, after all, and nothing goes bump in the night quite like the dark silence of having just finished a terrifying read.
My Thinner review will be up soon, so keep a weather eye out.