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Traumafessions :: Reader PhantomWerewolf on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

January 19th, 2009 by aunt john · 12 Comments

Growing up I watched a lot of horror movies; guess you could say I grew up with them. My cousins are not the bravest of folk and when they rented horror movies I was “forced” to watch them as well. This started when I was about 4 years old. I’ve watched everything from ‘80s slashers, to old classics, to horrid B-movies even MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 wouldn’t touch. I was not afraid, the only thing that remotely frightened me was CHILD’S PLAY, but that wasn’t even bad. I was quite confident I could watch anything or see anything and not be scared.

I was wrong.

My horrors came not from movies… but from a book. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. I believe this has already been covered, but only a particular picture was discussed and it wasn’t the one that made me sleepless for months.

I was about 10 when I discovered this book in my school library; the cover was rather eerie so I was drawn to it. Without looking inside, confident I would be entertained judging by the cover alone, I checked out the book and was on my way back to class.

It wasn’t until I got home that I started to read the book. The stories were rather cruddy but the pictures were what struck me. They were so otherworldly in the way they were drawn it sent shivers down my spine in a good way. That all ended when I saw ‘the picture.’

The story I believe was called “The Haunted House” or something close and the image that accompanied it was that of a woman’s face; if it could be called a face. Decay had taken most of her visage away leaving a wraith like being with scraggly hair and empty sockets with piercing pinpoints of light visible in the back of the skull. Her mouth was agape, lips nearly rotting off her and her teeth were few and far between. I was literally frozen with fear, staring at this being in the pages of a book.

Once I regained my composure, I slammed the book shut and threw it from me, never to finish it. My mother had apparently heard me yelp, I didn’t recall making any noise, and came in to see what had happened. I explained what I saw and she had to see for herself and was shocked to see such a graphic image in a kids’ book. She promptly did the mother thing and told me it was just a picture and couldn’t hurt me, but what kid really believes that? I was convinced this thing would come and kill me in my sleep.

The face haunted my dreams for the next few days, that simple image and my explosive imagination had done what no horror movie had ever done to me. I was afraid to sleep in the dark; I couldn’t sleep without waking up from a nightmare in a cold sweat. After a month or two the initial scare wore off and only trauma remained. To this day I cannot look at that image without shuddering, so imagine my despair when they released a new edition of the same book with that face adorning the cover.

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12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 FatherOfTearsNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Yep, if I was 10 and I saw that image while reading I’d be freaked out as well!  When I was about that age this book cover gave me the creeps!

  • 2 FatherOfTearsNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    {Grumbles} It was the “Audrey Rose” book cover where she’s walking in front of flames looking all ghoulish.

  • 3 drewbeardNo Gravatar // Jan 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I’m almost 30 years old and it has been some 19 years since I first found this book, having rummaged through my older sister’s room for something to take and read on a car trip. I had to scroll past the above image very quickly: I still can’t handle it. 

    Stephen Gammell was quite the illustrator but I do sometimes wonder about his state of mind.

  • 4 VicarOfVHSNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I bought a hardback collection of the “Scary Stories” books from B&N a couple of years ago, and it’s really fantastic. I remembered getting the shivers reading them as a kid, and I still get the shivers now–partly b/c the stories are really great campfire scares, but mostly thanks to Gammel’s amazing art.

    The particular picture under discussion is doubly effective, not just due to its excellence but due to the fact that it’s actually a literary JUMP SCARE! There’s a page of text to begin the story, and the very last paragraph on that page ends with the protagonist opening a door or hearing the door begin to open…then you turn the page and BAM! You’re staring right into that thing’s face, full page in glorious black-and-white!

    I don’t know if it was intentional, but if it was, the book designer should be applauded.

  • 5 PhantomWerewolfNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Good GOD I hate this thing… I can’t look at it for more than a few seconds without shuddering and scrolling down.

    Oh yeah, memory served me right… that story wasn’t nearly as scary as the illustration. Would be cool if it was though, be really nightmare inducing.

  • 6 micksterNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    This image reminds me of Ghost Story when she reveals her true self.
    I keep meaning to buy some of these books for my classroom. I always see them in the Scholastic catalogues.

  • 7 incognitovixenNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2009 at 1:33 am

    I was in fourth grade when I first happened upon this beast.  I vividly remember reading this particular story with my friend Kim, turning the page and then BAM! – we both literally shrieked aloud when we saw “the face.” 
    Apparently, the “Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark” collection is still a big hit.  Just last weekend, my nine year old nephew could not wait to show me this book and the picture of “the face.”  It’s something I haven’t thought about in many years, but I can honestly say it brought back the fear I had when I initially saw it.  Evil never dies, right?

  • 8 Cam1020No Gravatar // Jan 21, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I loved these books as a kid! I’d check them out from the library all the time (before I finally had the bright idea to buy them). Anyway, I always thought the illustrations were more cool than scary, but there were actually two stories that got to me. One was about two brothers who raised hell at home so that some guy would give them a drum, but their mom told them that if they kept doing that she’d leave with their baby sister and they’d get a new mom. They kept it up anyway, and finally got the drum. Then they get home, and they see their new mom…
    While that story creeped me out, this next one really scared me! It dealt with a scarecrow named Harold. I won’t spoil this one. (In retrospect, it kind of reminds me of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things!) 
    Anyway, reading this entry really makes me want to read those books again. They were probably my only outlet for traumatic horror before I was old enough that my parents let me watch more scary movies.

  • 9 EllochkathecannibalNo Gravatar // Jan 21, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    When I was about ten my friend and I would sit on a table in her basement and read these books. After we read the one about Harold we had to wait for her older brother to come downstairs and rescue us. Because we were too afraid to put our feet over the side of the table – God knows what would get us. Creepy ambiguous illustration too.
    The story that still scares me is “The Wendigo”.
    BTW I’ve met Stephen Gammell. Nice guy but it’s hard not to look at him and wonder.
     

  • 10 VicarOfVHSNo Gravatar // Jan 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Hate to cross-pollinate, but a couple of years ago I wrote this poem based on the Wendigo story from SSTTITD. It was part of a year-long poetry project I did back then. A lot of the poems are horror related (and a lot aren’t). :)

  • 11 Evil_TwinNo Gravatar // Jan 26, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    That is a creepy pic!  I read a lot of horror collections as a kid but not sure if I ever saw that one.  There was one collection that had a scary picture on the cover that I seemed to have fully blocked out of my memory because it scared me so bad.  I think it was a picture of a headless body standing and holding a woman’s head by her long dark hair (and her eyes were really scary too if I remember correctly – shudder!) and a knife in the other hand.  The book had some really violent, scary stories that were more crime related than supernatural.  The two I remember were one about a woman alone on a subway with two scary looking men helping to hold up a third scary looking man.  The woman escaped and a doctor who was on the train told her it was his opinion that the man in the middle was dead.  The other story was about two female roommates at night in the same bedroom (I think) and the one roomie being mad because the other was humming.  When she finally turned on the light a killer was sitting in the corner humming and holding her friends decapitated head.  Those stories freaked me out!  I wish I could remember what book it was.

  • 12 GinsuVictimNo Gravatar // Nov 2, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Holy crap. It STILL has an effect on me. I was 10 when I first read these books and now I’m 32. I can’t look at this for too long before I can feel it robbing me of my soul.

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