In Praise of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

At long, long, way-too-long last: a new Cracked column! Five Reasons the Scariest Thing Ever Written Is a Kids’ Book. Because we all read and loved Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Or we were taken away in the night and replaced with a changeling that does not feel.

Sorry for all the delay. I’ve been working on a massive print project in addition to the day gig, and now it’s all wrapped up! So I can throw all my time back with my one true love: dark comedy.

When I was a kid I exhausted all the paranormal books in the library. But before that ever happened, someone in nursery school read us Taily Po, the story of a man who lived in a remote corner of the swamp with his dogs and shot…something. Whatever it was, he only winged it. He took the tail he’d shot off home and made a meal of it.

And that night, something prowled the roof. And a voice, more like a cat’s than a man’s, buzzed beneath the raging wind, “Whooooooo? Whoooooo toooook myyyyy Taily-Po?”

The man’s hounds were no defense. Killed or scared off, they left him alone with the thing, far beyond any help. And when it came down the window, looking like a raccoon-cat with lemur eyes, it wanted its Taily-Po back. But the tail was in the man’s stomach, and he couldn’t give it back.

I was a not-right kid for a week or more after that. But when I recuperated, I had a sick thrill for the unknown terrors from beyond. Nuclear war didn’t scare me; ghosts I knew couldn’t exist did. The horror was specifically that the thing could not be and yet IT WALKED AND TALKED AMONG US.

I think “Taily-Po” made it into Scary Stories, though I was exposed to it in a standalone book.

One more, about twenty years ago. It’s November, a few days after thanksgiving. We’re driving one town over to Waterford to get a Christmas tree. Even the pumpkins are in now. The sky is an iron-grey, the leaves have burned out to a sparse brown, and I’m sitting in the back of my parents’ blue Chevy woody wagon, reading Scary Stories. The pine tree farm is rocky, like most new England soil–in southeastern Connecticut a lot of the rock is a single piece that extends from the Race Point in Long Island Sound out to the old farmland along the shore. In short, it’s a perfectly creepy New England day: penned in top to bottom and sustenance exhausted all around. I think i realized something about where I grew up that day, as well as about what made Evil Warning Woman such a terrifying figure, and about myself and my odd thrill at the scarce terrain and impending danger always just behind your shoulder as you trudge deeper into the cold Connecticut forest.

Nice memories. Thanks, Alvin Schwartz.