Thirty scary memories from my past have led to this Halloween post. I had to choose one last memory to leave everyone before they set off into the night to celebrate the holiday.
Just remember: No matter where you go, you have to come home at some point. And at some point, you’re going to end up alone in the dark.
In junior high, I remember dreaming I was solving a crime like Sherlock Holmes. I was leaving an investigation with the realization I was dealing with a vampire. At that moment, my dream froze as a beautiful illustration. In the picture, I was walking between two clumps of trees between my house and the neighbors’ house. Hidden in the trees, fangs at the ready, was a vampire. The moment was frozen in time, as was my character’s (my?) doom.
Months later, I had to walk the same path in the dark. I checked carefully and, even though the vampire wasn’t there, the vampire WAS there.
Wherever you go tonight, whoever you’re with, you will be alone in the dark tonight. The things you know are not real will become real again, like it or not.
When my parents gave me permission to visit the local Denver Jaycees Haunted House, I was shocked.
Hadn’t they heard the rumors? Supposedly there was a guy throwing around a real chainsaw. Supposedly they made you hold a real cow eye before they let you out. When I waited in line, I prepared myself for the moment when I had to hold the cow eye in my hand. It shook me to my core.
I was a little miffed there was no cow-eye holding anywhere within the haunted house. I didn’t really WANT to hold a cow-eye, but after I spent so long preparing to hold a cow-eye, it seemed anticlimactic that there was no cow-eye to be held.
Also, our pastor was one of the monsters inside the haunted house. Recognizing him removed all fear from the trip as quickly as if they turned on the lights.
At middle school, when kids described the haunted house, it was clear they were more interested in spreading the legend than telling the truth. I enjoyed the haunted house a lot, but I didn’t remember watching a guy shrink and run into a small door on the ceiling.
I think the greatest haunted house would be a haunted house where people were hypnotized right after walking into the darkness and told every horrible thing they heard and every thing they dreaded while waiting in line had already happened to them, just like they knew it would.
It would be the equivalent of the urban legend of the haunted house too scary to survive, documented here on snopes.com.
If you’ve heard a tall tale about a haunted house, why not share it in the comments section of this post? You don’t have to say if you believed the story or not. We’ll make our own assumptions.
In the 80s, we tight-rolled our jeans and we loved us some Garfield. Garfield EVERYWHERE. Garfield in the comics, Garfield on your TV, Garfield stuffed animals on your bed. . . When the book orders came in at school, half of the kids got Garfield books.
When commercials began advertising a Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, well, what could be better than that? Millions of us turned on our televisions to watch our favorite fat cat on our favorite holiday
Years later, we survivors still bear the scars. My wife and I both share this fear. We re-watch the special from bed most Halloweens, with all of the lights out. I may be imagining thing, but I swear she holds me just a little tighter when Garfield reaches the end of his trick-or-treating journey.
The opening moments of Garfield’s Halloween Adventure are bland and corny. Things get creepier when Garfield and Odie start trick-or-treating. When they end up in an old house on an island, things get real. The ghosts who come from them are so clearly bent on serious murderizing they’re ALMOST scarier than the old man who warns the cat and dog about the ghosts’ curse.
As an adult, imagine being outside at night. A slimy, screaming thing bleats at you and crashes around in the bushes. Does it seem like a good idea to bring this thing into your home?
Now I know, you’ve all seen E.T. and you know Elliott did the right thing by befriending a lost little alien.
This is the exception that proves the rule. Most of the time, bringing slimy beasties into your home results in, at very least, a series of painful, preventative shots. If the odds are not in your favor, something claws its way through your chest.
When I saw E.T., I was very young and I was in the theater. My parents were sympathetic to my fear and suffering, and tried to help me find ways of avoiding a meltdown. At one point, I faced away from the the screen but swore I could still see E.T.’s image reflected on the glass outside the projectionist’s booth (note: I couldn’t).
Somehow, I survived the film. When I figured out how magically wonderfully E.T. really was, I felt ashamed of my earlier fear. I tried to convince my entire family I actually loved E.T. Whenever I saw anything related to the film, and thanks to the power of Spielberg I was always seeing something related to E.T., I would pretend I loved the little bastard.
I didn’t. He’s creepy. And powerful. I’m still cautious.
I met Dee Wallace at a Crypticon and mentioned my fear of E.T. She confirmed other people had shared this fear with her, but she stated she never understood why.
I now suspect E.T. was waiting in her room, hiding in the towels, ready to jump out and bleat while kicking her if she violated the Code of Silence.
Be careful when allowing powerful, slimy things in your house. I stand by this.
If you picture a person badgering someone with ghost stories and weird facts until the listener simply HAS to go out and order an expensive set of books to satisfy their curiosity, you and I used to watch the same shows.
Each commercial teased viewers with creepy bits of stories. Some involved ancient cultures and their amazing buildings. Some involved psychic connections without scientific explanation. Some of the stories came from beyond the grave.
The Time Life people present their sideshow of oddities as a perfect companion to the sensible world of business and professionalism in the late 80s. The message? Having a little bit of weirdness is a healthy part of life that you’ve been missing out on. Essentially, it’s the same idea used by Playboy and Maxim magazines, but it promotes cheap thrills through spookiness instead of sexiness.
People did buy these books. I know because I would watch for the in friends’ houses with a vigilance other children reserve for finding candy. If I were left alone with any of these books for any length of time, I would ignore whoever I was supposed to be playing with to read them. Then, I would pretend I wasn’t terrified as I stared at their digital clock that night, trying to work up the courage to go to the bathroom.
From what I remember of re-visiting these books in college, they were mostly based on superstitious folklore and friend of a friend stories. Still they were enough to get my imagination churning. I spent one night a little worried an angry Bigfoot might be peeking in my window. In Dinkytown, blocks away from the University of Minnesota Campus.
A very helpful coworker of mine, who delighted in tormenting me, discovered the film version of The Muppet Frog Prince was available on YouTube. In the privacy of my own home, I decided to face my fears and watch it.
Thanks to that viewing, I now remember I was just as scared of the witch with the creepy voice as I was Sweetums. Awesome. Good job, me.
Laugh if you like. My wife certainly does. However, remember this. We are all Big People because we were once Little Kids. You were once small, too. And when you were small, some tall thing made you aware of how vulnerable you were to being destroyed by something in the world of the Big People.
Under his big, furry mask, Sweetums is my version of the Bad Big Person, reminding me of the defenseless Little Kid inside me. You’ve got your own Big People fears. The question is: Do you know what mask they wear?
The happiest playtimes of my childhood were spent in the woods beside our house. If you drove by those woods now, you wouldn’t know all of the wars fought with boys ducking behind trees for cover before aiming their plastic guns at each other. There are no permanent marks from where sleds raced down slopes and tried to dodge stumps.
There are probably still a few reminders I was there. There are places where the course of the creek changed direction because we dammed it. There are still bits and pieces of forgotten forts.
When we were out there, if we needed to build a structure or just got bored and began investigating, we would pry up logs and rocks.
Underneath, you never knew what you could find. There might be fat old earthworms, or small silver things that darted. There might be webbed fungus or bulging mushrooms. The whole thing might be stained a color of rust.
Trying to break my habit of leaving my lunchbox at school for weeks at a time, my mother assigned me the chore of cleaning out the lunchbox Tupperware after it had been abandoned for far too long. It was a good plan. Opening the small orange container that used to hold applesauce, I was mortified was surprised to find small grey blobs of mold. They looked like a cross between an inner tube and the corpse of a small space alien. It smelled more like the corpse. Years later, when I read the Stephen King short story “Gray Matter,” I pictured the awfulness I found cleaning my lunchbox.
It’s all fun and games until it occurs to you. You’re ALWAYS surrounded by these nasty things. How many more things are out there and growing, slimy and quiet and just out of sight?
I imagine my wife feels the same way when a mouse darts out in front of her. Nothing nastier than small, silent things waiting for you in the dark.
I finally got to meet Tom Savini at Crypticon this year. I immediately asked if he had brought “Fluffy”, which is the name he gave to the insatiable eating machine from the fourth segment of the film Creepshow. He laughed and politely told he he thought the Fluffy prop worked well because they were careful to avoid showing it too often. Fluffy remained mysterious.
I was star-struck around the man who defined the look of gory horror special effects from the 70s on. I mostly babbled and nodded and tried not to sound ridiculous.
I wanted to tell him to take that back, because I knew in my heart Fluffy was real and he lived in a crate under stairs and popped out to eat people.
34 may be too old to believe in monsters, but Fluffy is different
After I cancelled a trip to the local haunted house in the sixth grade, I decided to stay at home to watch Creepshow. I taped it off late night network TV. I was convinced I was finally old enough to handle scary movies. The “Father’s Day” and “Something to Tide You Over” segments disturbed me, especially when Cheers Ted Danson faced drowning in the tide while buried up to his neck in sand.
Then, I got to “The Crate.” All you need to know about “The Crate” is that a small, furry thing with big teeth waits in a crate until the audience forgets he’s in there. Then he pops out, opens his mouth about a mile wide, and shreds any flesh he’s near.
That night, I slept on a chair to keep myself breathing through what was probably another fall bronchitis attack. This chair was positioned in the corner of the room. If you picture it, you’ll soon realize that leaves a small space between the back of the chair and the corner of the room.
You guessed it. Perfect Fluffy hiding place. I spent the night working up the courage to look behind me, sure with each peek thumb-sized teeth would crack through my skull while taking a bite out of my face.
It was a long night.
Later, while hanging out with a junior high friend, I brought Creepshow to a friend’s house. I was terrified, and he just fell asleep. When the movie was over, we switched to It and within five minutes he was horrified and I felt vindicated. Sorry, Pennywise. Fluffy got to me first. I’m spoken for.
Fluffy, I know you’re still out there. I know you’re hiding under staircases, waiting in dark places. I know you’ll eat my face off someday, and I’ve learned to accept this. I’ll give you a high-five when you finally do pounce at me, but you’ll probably just eat my hand, too.
If you’ve been reading my Pegged Jean Nightmares updates, you’ve noticed most of my childhood fears came from books. This entry starts in the same vein, but it has a nice twist at the end.
I didn’t finish reading Monster Tales. The first two stories were scary enough. One story, “Wendigo’s Child,” earned my trust with a gentle tone and then shocked me senselessly by the time it was over. Coupled with excellent artwork, “Wendigo’s Child” kept me away from horror stories like college keggers make freshmen swear off drinking.
Which means, of course, I came back to scary stories. I started making serious attempts to write horror stories, starting in my junior year of high school.
One of my biggest goals, as a writer, was to earn a place in one of the Borderlands anthologies. If you’ve never read any of these books, and you enjoy horror fiction, you really ought to give them a try. I submitted a story to this anthology and waited.
I never heard from the anthology, and I frankly expect it’s because the story wasn’t that good. This is not false modesty; I would not submit this story to a market again.
The twist in the end? A prominent editor in the Borderlands series was also the author of “Wendigo’s Child.” Thomas F. Monteleone has been an amazing writer and editor for decades. His fearless ability to fight for his own writing, and the state of the genre as a whole, is well documented in his “The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association” columns, originally run in Cemetery Dance magazine.
I didn’t know this until a few weeks ago, when I was researching these posts. It’s perfect. I’ve gone from the frightened one to a writer trying to earn his place in the genre.
I don’t think Thomas F. Monteleone needs to worry about being challenged by my writing. The man’s career speaks for itself. I’m simply thankful I accepted the challenge of recreating, for someone else, the nervous terror he created for me.
When I have to explain the 80s to future grandchildren, I think I’ll just tell them the only man they need to know about is Steven Spielberg.
From Jaws to E.T. to movies he produced, like Gremlins, no man captured the way it was like Spielberg did. He combined boyish wonder with lots of gore and made everything twice as majestic as any theater screen could hold.
He wasn’t content with just theater screens, though. He annexed our televisions with a production called Amazing Stories. Amazing Stories was such a grab bag of styles I can’t help but consider it disjointed. Some episodes were perfect for children, and others were perfect for scarring children. Some of the stories were whimsical flights of fancy, and others were so much darker.
Frankly, a lot of them are lame and dated now. You can catch up with the show on Netflix, where shows we remember from our childhoods are resurrected to embarrass us now.
The obvious episode to discuss of Amazing Stories was “Mummy, Daddy,” about an actor dressed as a mummy running into a real mummy on his way to the hospital, where his wife had give birth. It’s a good episode, and it has Spielbergian scary moments mixed with comedy. You should watch it.
Somehow, “Thanksgiving” ends up far scarier to me. Starring David Carradine and Kyra Sedgwick, the episode immediately drops us into squalor. Sedgwick wants to be free of Carradine, and they both think the strange creatures they found in their well might be their ticket to a better life. They send food down the hole on a rope, and they haul gold out of the hole. Carradine gets greedy and lowers himself into the well with a shotgun and a giant winch and . . .
I rewatched “Thanksgiving” to prepare this column, and it still worked for me. The final sun-drenched discovery is haunting, and the Spielberg humor makes the tension more perverse.
Maybe it doesn’t age well, but that Spielberg stew somehow stands the test of time. It might scare you, too.