Photo: Steph

Halloween is mere weeks away—what better time to revisit Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories? In grade school, these collections were highly prized. I read and reread every story, marveling at the disturbing illustrations that were so different from every other book in our school library. (Here’s the scariest, in my opinion. Trigger warning: Spiders.) At Electric Lit, Matt Bell and Amy Valente analyze their favorite stories from each collection, reminiscing about their childhoods. The quotidian becomes terrifying, once more. Here, Bell meditates on the short story, “The Haunted House”:

Do you know that there are Youtube clips of teenagers playing Bloody Mary? Testing the thresholds of reality, Millennial-style. “The Haunted House” is a story that taps the same anxious vein, about a preacher who spends the night sitting up and reading his bible in a house “in his settlement” that has been “haunted for about ten years” … And then, in my edition at least, you turn to the page to find one of Gammell’s most terrifying illustrations, perhaps the one I remember most vividly across all the years between readings of these books. “It look liked a young woman,” Schwartz writes, but this young woman has no eyeballs, just “a sort of blue light way back in her eye sockets,” and “no nose to her face” … Horror is all about getting the reader to imagine something worse than anything you might put directly on the page: What exactly does it sound like when a voice is “coming and going with the wind blowing it”? And why does it get more disturbing the more precisely I try to imagine it?

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