Sunday, September 1, 2013

In a Dark, Dark Room

When I was a kid, about 7-years-old, we used to hold one English class in the Library every week.  To show how much the times have changed, our assignments included learning the dewey decimal system and actually researching topics by checking out books, reading, and presenting our findings in the form of a short story the following week.  I hated reading novels when I could be drawing pictures, so I usually checked out books that taught you how to draw or talked about sports.  I had no interest in learning about poetry in the 2nd grade.  But, in that year, I stumbled across a book that I must have checked out 60 different times between then and 8th-grade graduation.  It was one that I loved for so many reasons and couldn't get enough of.  Yesterday, I found that book.

"In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories" is a book that I've been talking about for years.  Whenever I see old classmates, this has a tendency of coming up because we used to argue over who got to check it out that week and why.  Because it was so great, we all fought over owning it for the next 7 days, regardless of how many times we'd already read it.  By just having it in our possession, it turned any time of year into a spooky time of year.  It's something I've been meaning to write about on The Holidaze, but never got around to ordering online.  Luckily, as we were looking for Halloween candy and decorations, we happened to find it at Michael's Craft Store. The memories came flooding back as soon as I saw the cover.

Basically, "In a Dark, Dark Room" is a collection of 7 scary stories written to scare the hell out of little kids.  I don't remember if they frightened me or not, but smart money says they did because they obviously stuck with me and one in particular.  The stories were short, but gave you enough information to let your imagination run wild.  With a bit more elaboration, every one of these tales could have been featured on "Are You Afraid of the Dark."  Even reading as an adult, they still hold up in a way some nostalgia doesn't.

The first story, "The Teeth," is pretty ridiculous, but I was younger than the character in the tale and put myself in his shoes.  This kid is hurrying home in the dark, attempting to avoid confrontation, when he comes across three different men who all end up grinning at him.  The first man had teeth measuring 3-inches-long, with the next two having gradually bigger grills.  As it says, he took one look and ran all the way home.

Sure, maybe these men were harmless people with poor hygiene, but he wasn't taking any chances.  Imagine seeing somebody with teeth bigger than your head!?  As an adult, that's insane to think about.  As a 7-year-old, that's ALL I was thinking about.  Thankfully I only lived one block away from school or I would have been going out of my mind.  If nothing else, this is a tale that reminds kids to brush their teeth or they'll end up like the begging bums standing in front of a toothpaste ad.

The next story entitled "In The Graveyard" creeped me out because of the art.  If you look at the images from "In a Dark, Dark Room," you can see why kids would be afraid.  While they're cartoony, the illustrations, along with the style and color, still manage to maintain a sense of realism.  I remember the first time I saw the dead corpses lying in their caskets.  At that age, I don't think I'd ever seen a dead body so this might have been my first visual.

To make things spookier, the story features a woman, sitting in the graveyard, talking to the dead corpses. Why in the world is there a woman talking to corpses in the graveyard?? That's scary enough, but then she asks "Will I be like you when I am dead?"  I was starting to wonder the same thing.

The response?

"You will be like us, when you are dead!"

Man, listen, this was art that stood out in my mind for a long time.  One guy is kicking his legs back, another looks like he's sorry for what he's about to do, and the third has red eyes; motioning in a way only vampire's do before they feast.  As soon as I got home and went through the pages, this brought it all back to me.  As a fan of Halloween, I respect the art and love what it did for me as a kid, but I can remember how scared I was to walk in the cemetery.  Tonight, I'll just tell myself they're homeless triplets who needed a place to sleep.

Skipping around here, let's move on to the next story, "In a Dark, Dark Room," which goes like this..

"In a dark, dark wood,
there was a dark, dark house.
And in that dark, dark house,
there was a dark, dark, room.
And in that dark, dark room,
there was a dark, dark chest.
And in that dark, dark chest,
there was a dark, dark shelf.
And on that dark, dark shelf,
there was a dark, dark box.
And in that dark, dark box,
there was a --

Okay, not the greatest of stories, but I remember my teacher reading it to us aloud on Halloween.  Like every good teacher, she spoke the words and showed us all the pictures by holding the book high and moving it from side to side.  There's always that one kid who says he can't see.

When she got to the last page, she screamed "A GHOST!" and flipped the book around as fast as she could!  Looking back, I think she found great joy in jolting our tiny hearts to beat out of our chests.  The tale may be dull, but the delivery was top-notch.  When I have kids, they're getting the same treatment.  It's only fair.

Next, we have "The Night it Rained" and this was a scary one.  This is actually so familiar that it may have been adapted into a television episode on one series or another.  Basically, as a man drove by the cemetery, he finds a young boy named Jim standing outside in the rain.  Feeling bad for him, he stops the car and asks him where he lives.  The boy tells him and gets in the car.  Because he's all wet and cold, the man gives him his old sweater and tells him he'll pick it up tomorrow.

When the man arrives to pick up his sweater, a woman answers the door.  The man asks for Jim, but the woman says it must have been another boy because here Son, Jim, has been dead for over a year.  She said, "He's buried in the cemetery."

Feeling horrible, the man went to pay his respects..

Creeeeepy! I have a similar story to share.  When I was a teenager, my family and I went to Salem, MA for their Halloween festivities.  We parked near a Dunkin Donuts and used that as our landmark to find the car later.  Well, little did we know there are a billion Dunkin Donuts' in Massachusetts.  We walked around for well over an hour, in the freezing cold, with absolutely no idea where we were.  

Finally, we found an old diner.  Being that this was before cell phones had taken over the world, we needed to ask for help.  My Dad talked to one of the waitresses and described the location.  She had a fairly good idea as to where we parked and offered to drive us there.  Thanks to her, we found the car and made it back to our hotel safe and sound.

The next day, we went back to the diner to eat and thank the waitress, but the diner had been closed for years...

Nahh, I'm just kidding, she was there and was very happy to help.  But how awesome would that have been?  That makes for a much better story.  I'm gonna stick with the lie.

I'm skipping "The Pirate" and "The Ghost of John" because they're not that great, but "The Green Ribbon" makes up for both of them.  This is the one that truly stuck with me.  In fact, when I talk about this book, this is the only story I care to mention because this really stood out as one of the scariest, freakiest, emotionally disturbing tales I'd ever read.  To this day, I don't think there's any "Goosebumps" episode creepier than this one.

Instead of summing it up for you, check out this video for the complete story!! I found it on YouTube so the volume's not great, but the story is worth hearing through the deep voice of the narrator.  Great stuff!

So, what do you think?  Did it scare you, by any chance?

I highly recommend buying this book, especially if you have kids who are old enough to read, but young enough to be scarred for life.  As for me, I finally own a 1984 classic and the whole world knows that I can read!


  1. I never knew about this book! I am very familiar with Alvin's other scary story books though: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Talk about freaky stories and majorly freaky artwork!

    It was fun reading your post and how much it took you back to your younger
    years. I have some books with memories like this too of course, really great feeling find them and reading them again.

    You're diner story definitely tricked me at first lol

  2. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is definitely a classic. I remember reading it as a kid, but don't remember enough to have any nostalgic connection despite it being more popular than this one. But the artwork is always really creepy!

    I'm glad the story tricked you, haha, if only it were a real ghost story!

  3. I had almost forgotten about The Green Ribbon, it was played for us in my 6th grade class.

  4. Such a great classic! Even in the 6th grade, it's the type of story that stands out. I'm happy you haven't forgotten it, it's so good.


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