I remember the exact place where they were kept. They hovered together, trapped tightly between two wood slabs until they could be freed. I tried to ignore them, but they called out to me, over and over, in a deep low-pitched moan. Aliiiiiiiiissa. Aliiiiiiiiiissa.

In third grade I discovered these three books of short stories in the library at Mason Ridge Elementary which would basically ruin my life.

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The first time I saw them, I slid a slim black-spined volume off the shelf and settled down on the orange carpet. I mean, really, how scary could Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark be? A few minutes later I stood up, visibly shaking as I made my way to the librarian’s desk. I was terrified. I was also hooked.

It was a vicious cycle. I’d check them out, reading them only during daylight and in the company of others, choosing an innocuous and demon-free zone like the kitchen table. Then I’d return the book, spending three to five nights sweating under my sheets, swearing with absolute certainty that The Thing was standing just outside my bedroom door.

Oh, you remember The Thing, right?

That’s from the audiobook, which I’m really glad I didn’t know about back then

For a few weeks I would avoid that corner of the library entirely. But once I got up the nerve to revisit the shelf, I would check them out again. It didn’t matter if I had read them before. If I practically knew every word by heart. If the thought of seeing certain pages made me quite literally feel sick to my stomach. I wanted to read them over and over and over.

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The two men responsible for my childhood psychosis were Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell. Schwartz, the author, was careful to note that these were not his stories, rather they were collected from folklore. Somehow this made them even more terrifying to me, because collected from folklore meant they could absolutely be real.

But as many a child of the 80s will tell you, although the stories might have indeed been scary, the illustrations by Gammell were what kept us choking back tears as we rallied the nerve to close the closet door before we went to bed why was the closet door open anyway what was that scraping sound in the closet??????

I mean.

I still have kind of a hard time looking at that.

Some parents, concerned about their kids’ welfare, tried to get the books banned. Not mine, by the way, who let their eight-year-old cozy up with a paperback plastered in rotting corpse fragments. Oh, she’s reading, isn’t that wonderful!

But it appears that the puritans were successful. A few years ago, to celebrate the books’ 30th anniversary, Gammell’s artwork was swapped out with some awfully vanilla illustrations:

Seeing the new versions makes me wonder about the future of today’s youth. If I had encountered the sanitized version, I probably would not have spent all those hours engineering a foolproof way to breathe while hiding my entire body beneath two Laura Ashley pillow shams. But would I also have as active imagination as I do today? Probably not.

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Scaring yourself—and I truly believe this—is an important part of growing up. It has made me a better person. Of course, it is also why, I cannot bring myself to watch The Blair Witch Project again.

I re-read a few of the stories and they are indeed still very scary—they totally hold up. I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough to read these herself. But I feel very strongly that she have the exact same experience I did. I’m finding her the originals right now.

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