Hello, my name is Heather, I’m thirty-eight, and I still can’t look in a mirror in the dark. Why? Because when I was in grade four, I got a Scholastic book order, and it contained an ad for a book called “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”
All the cool kids were ordering Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, and I was no square, so I ordered it too.
Sure, I still wasn’t over watching “E.T.” at three years old, and just the theme song of “Unsolved Mysteries” sent me running for cover, but of course I was going to order this terrifying book about terrifying things.
My mom, being like any mom, gave me the, “If I spend money on this, you better friggin’ read it” speech, so I knew scary or not, there was no going back. I placed the order. It came. On the front was the profile of a skull with intact teeth, nose, ears, and eyeballs.
The eyeballs were turned to give the vague sense the skull was looking at me. It was smoking a pipe, as skulls do of course, but where the tobacco was going I don’t know, because the skull seemed to be growing out of the ground like the worst flower ever.
The picture was black and white, minus the bright blue where the skull was cracked, and a nose and mouth covered in red.
I hoped the red indicated he was simply a messy Spaghettios eater, I mean he had no arms, at least not above ground, it would have been unreasonable to assume he would eat neatly.
In the background was a full moon in a brooding sky, a far-off cemetery, and some sort of abandoned shack. “This is fine,” I told myself. “Smoking, still sort of fleshy skull growing out of the ground giving me the side-eye with no eyelids, pshhh, whatever man.”
The Sweet Valley Twins Halloween special edition had kept me awake for weeks, but I could handle this.
As it turns out, I could not handle Scary Stories To tell In The Dark.
But, I kept my promise. I read it. Now there’s going to be a movie, so we can live our nightmares in motion. Of course, they are basing the visuals on the original illustrations, which means Xennials can both rejoice and wet themselves.
I read the story about the woman with the velvet ribbon around her neck singing, “Oh Susanna” until someone pulled the ribbon and her head fell off.
I read that fucker but good.
I read the one with the creepy scarecrow, and the guy who ends up at his own funeral, and the hook hand one.
I read them all. And then I put that motherfucking, scary-ass, who-in-bloody-hell-thought-this-was-appropriate-for-children, traumatizing, admittedly well-illustrated book somewhere in my room that I would never have to come across it again.
And then Scholastic posted a sequel and we did it all over again.
And again when they offered a third. At this point, I had a love-hate relationship with these books. Like the Ouija board hidden at the top of my closet because it was too scary to have accessible but I was I worried about the implications of throwing out, these books both terrified me and intrigued me.
Then one day, I had a sleepover. We read the books. We took turns telling the scary stories to each other, and checking out the horrifying black and white drawings, until one of us, I don’t remember who (but probably not me) decided to up the ante.
We were going to summon Bloody Mary. (Organ music, Dun Dun Duuuuun.)
We gathered our ten-year-old selves and headed to my bathroom. We shut the door and turned off the light. We squeezed in front of the full-length mirror. We stood in silence. We stood in silence for several minutes.
Finally, I said, “Are you going to say it?”
“Hell no!” my friend replied.
“Me either, let’s get out of here.”
We ran back to my bedroom, ditched the books, and didn’t speak of that night until we were adults.
To this day, neither one of us can handle a mirror in a dark room. And now there’s a fucking movie.
In speaking with other 80s and 90s kids, my experiences with these books were not unique. It seems we were all traumatized, yet we hold a fondness for this series. So, it’s no surprise that the movie is getting a lot of buzz because apparently we are masochists.
A while back, they redid the artwork to be less, well, absolutely horrifically inappropriate, and the 80s and 90s kids united to fight for our beloved creepy artwork. We fought so hard they brought it back!
I don’t know if I would be brave enough to let my kids read these stories – I think the idea of being up all night with a nightmare-having kid scares me more than the lady whose head fell off – but I’m certainly glad my mom let me read them.
Who needs a mirror in the dark anyway?