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. Continue reading