Friends, it’s HALLOWEEN, the best holiday in October! You know how we celebrate Halloween here at Crunchings and Munchings? We have creepy sleepovers where we read scary stories; then in the morning, we have Halloween brunch where we make elaborate Martha Stewart Haunted House Cake and watch movies like The Craft and Hocus Pocus!
We don’t know about the sleepovers that you attended in your youth, but ours often involved scary storytelling—more like urban legend-remembering—and they never went well. Sure, as tweens we weren’t that concerned with having a well-crafted plot arc in our stories, but it does help to bring about chills and frissons of terror. Maybe you’d like to put together your own super-scary Halloween Sleepover? Or perhaps you’d like to come to ours? You can really never be too old, we assure you. If so, here are some of our favorite scary stories to ensure you never get to sleep. But don’t worry, if you can make it through the stories, you get the cake!
compiled by Rebecca & Tessa
Found in the Robert D. San Souci collection Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales and illustrated by Katherine Coville, this illustration and accompanying story haunted my sister and I for years and years. It’s only repeated exposure therapy and the wisdom of old age that allow me to look at it now. I scanned it so that all of you dear readers could understand.
Imagine a voice whispering through your walls, all night, after you chopped off and ate a snake-like tail that was conveniently sticking through a crack in your log cabin. The voice wants its tail back (or its “tailypo”, who am I to question the dialect of chimeras in the deep fictional wilderness). You can’t give it its tail back, you ate the tail! You know it. It knows it. You try to ignore it and go to bed, hoping for the sunrise. Instead you wake up to those GLOBES OF HORROR at the bottom of your bed.
The tailypo is being returned, doesn’t matter if it’s half digested.
You may know this story from its effective adaptation in Alvin Schwartz’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark under the title “The Drum”. It was originally published (in English, I have a vague recollection of my roommate telling me that there is a Russian version of it, but that’s hearsay) by Lucy Clifford in her Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise from 1882. (It’s free as an ebook on Google, so click click).
“The New Mother” is about two impressionable and unfortunately named children, Turkey and Blue-Eyes (Turkey is a fine name for a cat, but I draw the line at children.) Their goodness is tested by a girl they meet at the edge of town, who says she has such a thing as a pear-drum, with little people who dance inside of it. But she can’t show it to T & B-E unless they go home and behave as badly as they possibly can. No, they don’t understand, she tells them, you have to be positively evil.
The more they misbehave, the more their mother gets upset. Not just frustration upset, but really upset. Something really bad will happen if they continue their Pear-drum Campaign of Badness, she says. She will be replaced. With a new mother. One with glass eyes and wooden tail.
I think we all can see where this is going. Urgh, the feeling of consequence: your mother is really gone. You are alone, and here comes this new . . . not-quite human thing up the walk, to live with you.
#3 THE BOOGEYMAN
I just re-read this Stephen King short story, from the Night Shift collection, in order to re-assess it as an adult. Although my faster reading speed makes the story unfold more quickly and robs it of a little of of its power, it was so scary to me as a tween that I’m still a little afraid of closets. I spent many a night awake, sweating under an unnecessary bedspread, with my eyes averted but whole body attuned to whether or not the closet door. Might. Be. Opening.
I mean, let’s overlook the fact that Mr. King used “The Boogeyman” partially as a chance to do a character study of a guy who was bumbling and misogynistic and racist, and focus on some of the excellent, teasing descriptions:
“Last year wasn’t so good. Something about the house changed. I started keeping my boots in the hall because I didn’t like to open the closet door anymore. I kept thinking: Well, what if it’s in there? All crouched down and ready to spring the second I open the door? And I’d started thinking I could hear squishy noises, as if something black and green and wet was moving around in there just a little.”
“Harold” is from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, collected by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell 4EVA, no offense, Brett Helquist. Someone read it aloud at a scary story share a couple of years ago and it still made me want to physically run from the room. As if Harold were in a corner of it . . . and he suddenly grunted.
Again with the theme of something not human interacting with an uncanny intelligence with humans. It freaks me out.
“Harold” is also acting as a stand-in for all the Schwartz collections. They reign supreme!
Kelly Link has a story called “Monster” and illustrated by Shelley Dick in this book called Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and some other things that aren’t as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Far, and one other story we couldn’t quite finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.
Firstly, Kelly Link is a modern short story genius. I urge you to click on that link above where her name is and download Magic for Beginners from her site, if you haven’t read it yet. So this story is fun to read aloud. It’s about kids at camp, and about the monster that they meet in the woods. The monster is startling. The kids are funny. Kelly Link perfectly describes the cabinthink of a camp group, the finality of gossip, the way things instantaneously become The Way Things Are.
“‘There wasn’t any monster,’ Bryan Jones said, ‘and anyway if there was a monster, I bet it ran away when it saw Bungalow 4.’ Everybody nodded. What Bryan Jones said made sense. Everybody knew that the kids in Bungalow 4 were so mean that they had made their counselor cry like a girl. The Bungalow 4 counselor was a twenty-year-old college student named Eric who had terrible acne and wrote poems about the local girls who worked in the kitchen and how their breasts looked lonely but aslo beautiful, like melted ice cream.”
“Siren Song” from Ghostly Companions: A Feast of Chilling Tales by Vivien Alcock
: a boy gets a tape recorder for his birthday and through his taped diary entries we hear him discover children singing in the yard at night, their songs asking him to come out to play (hoooo, hoooo!)
“The Snipe Hunt” from Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour: 13 Stories of Horror by J.B. Stamper.
: a group of campers is sent on a wild goose chase (aka a snipe hunt). But one catches a snipe.
Now, on to Rebecca’s picks!
All My Best, Scary Tessa
Holy monkey brains, Tessa, I couldn’t agree with your picks more! Kelly Link is totally a short-story-genius, and I heard her read a few months ago and it was chilling and detached-sounding. The Scary Stories books (and especially the amazing illustrations) haunted my childhood too. The line “people can lick to” is one of the all-time scariest. So, I just got back from a week in New Orleans with C&M guest writer S. Dubs, who lives there. It really got my Halloween juices flowing. I’m not saying that we jumped the fence at Lafayette Cemetery #1 at midnight to light a candle on the Mayfair Witches’ grave, but I’m not saying that we didn’t.
So, without further law-breaking, here are my picks.
#1. IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES, by Clive Barker
“In the Hills, the Cities,” is in Clive Barker’s collection Books of Blood, volume 1 (1984) and it’s one of my favorite short stories. It’s more creepy-bizarre-cool than it is scary, which would make it a nice breather for our so-far-totally-terrifying sleepover. Mick and his lover, Judd, are on vacation in Yugoslavia, looking for an historic church in the middle of nowhere, and realizing that their politics are . . . incompatible. They decide to drive down the valley of the Ibar and go see the hills. Duhn duhn duhn! Never have hills been so ominous! Well, I guess in The Hills Have Eyes, but this is quite different fare. Judd and Mick stumble upon a ritual contest between the cities of Popolac and Podujevo:
“Every single citizen, however young or infirm . . . all made their way up from their proud city to the stamping ground. It was the law that they should attend: but it needed no enforcing. No citizen of either city would have missed the chance to see that sight—to experience the thrill of that contest. The confrontation had to be total, city against city. This was the way it had always been. . . . Tens of thousands of hearts beat faster. Tens of thousands of bodies stretched and strained and sweated as the twin cities took their positions” (144-5).
For any Nine Inch Nails fans in the room, you might know “In the Hills, the Cities” for another reason: Trent Reznor borrowed one of Barker’s lines from this story for the song “Sin”: “I told you, I don’t want to see another church; the smell of the places makes me sick. Stale incense, old sweat and lies” (137). Also, though it’s not sleepover-length, you should totally read The Hellbound Heart (what the Hellraiser films are based on) by Barker, too.
#2. THE LOTTERY, by Shirley Jackson
I think “In the Hills, the Cities” would segue really well into another of my faves: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948). I sort of feel like anyone who has never read “The Lottery” should just stop reading this post right now and go read it—I envy you getting to experience it for the first time. It is one of the most subtle and masterful examples of evoking terror from otherwise banal pastoral moments. Originally published in The New Yorker on June 26th, the story takes place on June 27th, as if with creepy prescience, and upon publication it received more hate mail than any New Yorker story in history (the mark of a winner, Shirley!). She lived in Bennington, Vermont for a time while her husband taught at Bennington College, and she reportedly was inspired to write “The Lottery” because she was thinking about the sinister underbelly of the idyllic small town.
Actually, I am of the opinion that everything Shirley Jackson touched turned to gold. Also check out The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Make sure not to miss this amazing cover by Thomas Ott, one of my favorite graphic artists!
#3. LOOKING FOR JAKE & FOUNDATION, by China Miéville
China Miéville is one of my favorite authors, and his short story collection Looking For Jake is a total treat. They’re all great, but the first two, “Looking For Jake” and “Foundation” are great to read out loud. Both are gorgeously textured stories of shifting, roiling, disappearing urban landscapes. In “Looking For Jake,” an unnamed narrator writes to Jake:
“It’s dark out here on the roof. It’s been dark for some time. But I can see enough to write, from deflected streetlamps and maybe from the moon, too. The air is buffeted more and more by the passage of those hungry, unseen things, but I’m not afraid. I can hear them fighting and nesting and courting in the Gaumont’s tower, jutting over my neighbours’ houses and shops. A little while ago there was a dry sputter and crack, and a constant low buzz now underpins the night sounds. I am attuned to that sound. The murmur of neon. The Gaumont State is blaring its message to me across the short, deserted distance of pavement” (13).
And in “Foundation,” a man speaks to buildings whose foundations are
“a stock of dead men. An underpinning, a structure of entangled bodies and their parts, pushed tight, packed together and become architecture, their bones broken to make them fit, wedged in contorted repose, burnt skins and the tatters of their clothes pressed as if against glass at the limits of their cut, running below the building’s walls, six feet deep below the ground, a perfect runnel full of humans poured like concrete and bracing the stays of the walls” (27).
#4. THE BLOODY CHAMBER, by Angela Carter
First published in a collection of the same name in 1979, “The Bloody Chamber” is a retelling of the Bluebeard tale. In Carter’s version, the girl who marries the Marquis (the Bluebeard character) is a pianist, and a blind piano tuner hears her playing and falls in love with her music. When the Marquis returns to find that his young bride has looked in the forbidden room and found his victims, her mother saves her. Long live moms! Badass. My absolute favorite Carter is Nights at the Circus (1984), which is too long to read at a sleepover, but which (along with Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love) so set the genre of weird-circus fiction for me that I’ve never been able to look at a circus book and not wish I were reading Carter. Also, I like to tell myself that Christina Aguilera’s video for “Hurt” is inspired by Nights at the Circus. God, I love that song.
#5. WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, by Joyce Carol Oates
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1966) is inspired by three real-life murders that took place in Tucson that same year. 15-year-old Connie gets picked up by a drifter who first acts charming, but then begins to threaten her family while getting her to do things for him as he describes to her exactly what is happening to her parents and neighbors . . . It’s creepy, with an inconclusive conclusion, and Oates signature insidious eerieness. For an extended creepfest, check out Oates’ Zombie (1995), told from the perspective of a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer.
There are certain people that I didn’t want to list above because, heck, I wouldn’t know which of their stories to pick. Edgar Allan Poe is a classic for a reason—one of my all-time favorite short story writers, and you really could add almost any of his stories to our sleepover. A few personal favorites = “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” As for H.P. Lovecraft, another classic, well, he was a racist, intolerant little shit, but some of his ideas are amazing. I actually don’t think they would read out loud that well, and many of them are pretty long, but dang are they bizarre, so go read them quietly in a cemetery or something.
Another standby for me is Harlan Ellison, who wrote so many kinds of messed up shit I wouldn’t even know where to begin. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is great, and “Midnight In the Sunken Cathedral” is one of my faves. Check it out if you like underwatery things:
“He marveled that, if he were indeed somewhere beneath the Bermuda Triangle, in some impossible sub-oceanic world that could exist in defiance of the rigors of physics and plate tectonics and magma certainties, then this subterranean edifice was certainly the most colossal structure ever built on the planet. A holy sunken cathedral built by gods” (Slippage, 356).
Roald Dahl! Holy childhood terrors, Batman. There is just something about this man’s imagination that got me all my soft, squidgy parts. The Witches is absolutely terrifying, but in terms of short stories, I’d have to nominate “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “The Landlady,” and “Royal Jelly.”
So, Halloweeners, what are you bringing to read to the sleepover?! Tell us in the comments.