Anyone who knows me knows that I love scary stories. I love talking about them, I love reading them, I love listening to them, and I love searching for them online. I love real stories that other people have shared, and I love fictional ones created by authors to scare and entertain their readers. Ever since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by the idea of the supernatural. When my brother and I were little, we had Alvin Schwartz’s well-known trilogy of “kid-appropriate” spooky short stories, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I’m not sure if I owe my obsession with scary stories to these books, or if they just added to it, enhancing my love for all things spooky. My brother and I brought them everywhere with us, from school, to our grandma’s house, and even all the way to Canada. We would take turns reading them out loud, trying to scare each other every chance we got. One of our favorite spots to read these stories was around the campfire with our parents, roasting marshmallows for s’mores and frequently looking over our shoulders towards to woods surrounding the cabin.
Part of what made Schwartz’s collection of scary stories so terrifying would be the illustrations by Stephen Gammell that come along with them. In recent years, the collection has actually been re-released with new illustrations, trying to make it less scary for today’s generation of kids. Each story that appears in the collection is nothing more than a few pages. Sometimes, the shorter the story, the scarier it was. Schwartz gathered inspiration for these stories from folklore and urban legends around the world. He includes information in the back of the books that explains the origins of each story. While I don’t remember all the stories, I do still remember a few of the details from the stories that I enjoyed the most.
“The Hook” and “High Beams” are two widespread urban legends, and variations of them have even been used in scary movies (Urban Legends) and television shows (Supernatural). Both of these stories appear in the first book in Schwartz’s collection. My first exposure to these widely known urban legends comes from reading this book with my brother. If you’re not familiar with these stories, you must be pretty sheltered—or maybe just not be as obsessed with scary stories as I am. For those who never heard of them before, Schwartz’s simple version of “The Hook” is about a teenage boy and girl who are on a date when they hear about a murderer with a hook for a hand, who escaped from an asylum. The girl wants to go home, but the boy wants to stay in his parked car and make out. Finally, the boy agrees to drive the girl home. When he gets out of his car and walks to her side to open the door for her, he stops and stares. Confused as to why, the girl rolls down the window to ask him what he’s doing. That’s when she looks down and sees a bloody hook on the door handle. To this day, this is still one of my favorite urban legends.
“High Beams” is about a girl who’s driving home when a truck driver behind her begins flashing his bights at her and following her. The girl is terrified and races home, the truck driver keeping up behind her and following her the entire way there. He gets out of his car and points a gun towards her, only to explain that there was someone in her backseat with a knife, and he flashed his brights every time that person raised the knife as a way to warn the female driver. I still check my backseat every time I’m getting into my car at night because of this story. Although I no longer know what happened to my brother’s and my collection of these books, fortunately they are all available to read online here.
Written by Sam Miller