Halloween season is officially upon us.
In the spirit of that, LBPS, esq. and I have embarked upon our yearly "Countdown to Halloween," with the requisite badly-done photoshops. Today I was doing one with some of the artwork from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, and I started thinking about that series. The artwork was undeniably terrifying, but the stories themselves weren't all that scary.
For the most scares per weekly checkout in your elementary school library, the top prize goes to Jack Prelutzky's "Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep." I was simultaneously obsessed with and horrified by this book when I was a kid. I must have checked it out from the library at least every other week (I think the even-numbered weeks were devoted to books about sharks). I would read the poems voraciously during the day, memorizing passages to scare my friends with. But when the sun went down those same poems would haunt me, reducing me to a terrified, shivering ball of nerves underneath my covers. I would promise myself tearfully to never read the book again, to take it back to the library and never even look at the cover again, if I could just survive the night without dying of fright.
Then as soon as the sun came up and I was awake again, I would be pulled in once again by the siren song of the book. The long dark nights would become a distant memory as I memorized the passages and studied the gruesome illustrations.
In the intervening years, I decided that my reaction to the book (listed for ages 7 to 9) was due more to my fraidy-cat nature and less due to the poems/illustrations actually being scary. The guy who wrote the book is a well-respected kiddiebook author, I told myself. I was overreacting to this! Surely the illustrator, who gave the world such innocuous fare as Frog and Toad Are Friends, wouldn't purposefully try to scare kids! It was all in good fun, and I was just overly-sensitive.
Today I googled it, and found a listing of the poems. It included the one that remains the most seared into my brain, The Ghoul. The drawing was not included, but I remember it vividly: the creature sits atop a jngly gym, awaiting the inevitable release of the children from school. Then he will eat them up.
So...perhaps I wasn't overreacting. This seems a bit much for a 7 year old:
The gruesome ghoul, the grizzly ghoul,
Without the slightest noise,
Waits patiently beside the school
To feast on girls and boys.
He lunges fiercely through the air
As they come out to play,
Then grabs a couple by the hair
And drags them far away.
He cracks their bones, and snaps their backs,
And squeezes out their lungs.
He chews their thumbs like candy snacks,
And pulls apart their tongues.
He slices their stomachs and bites their hearts and
Tears their flesh to shreds.
He swallows their toes like toasted tarts,
And gobbles down their heads.
Fingers, elbows, hands and knees,
And arms and legs and feet.
He eats them with delight and ease,
For every part’s a treat.
And when the gruesome, grizzly ghoul
Has nothing left to chew,
He hurries to another school,
And waits, perhaps, for you.
I've located the book on Amazon, and I think I'll buy a copy. I hope that at the age I am now, pushing into a new decade of life very shortly now, I can read the poems and still be able to sleep.