To get in the Halloween spirit, I’m sharing a bookish spine-tingler from the past.
It was a dark and stormy night. . .
It came from a dark and stormy drain. . .
A week or so ago, the illustrious Chuck Wendig asked his readers to discuss their favorite Stephen King story. That’s a tough one. I could rattle off at least a dozen of Scary Stevie’s stories that continue to haunt my dreams and spur irrational fears twenty-five years after reading.
By far, IT scared the crap out of me more than any other book ever— 1100+ pages of pure horrific terror. For those of you too chicken to delve into the pages of the classic nightmare in print, a quick summary: 1958. Derry, Maine. Something is preying upon children, hunting them, devouring them. This something trawls children’s nightmares, shape-shifting into whatever will terrify them most. But its signature is that of Pennywise the clown, a fanged Ronald McDonald/Bozo lurking in the storm drains, clutching festive balloons. The seven kids comprising The Loser’s Club discover the monster, confront it, and kill it…or so they think. Thirty years later, the murders start again, and the group’s members return to Derry, to the horror they’d blacked out, to stop it once and for all.
Maybe because I read IT when I was thirteen (what the hell were my parents thinking?) and the unlikely heroes of the story were around my age. I was already plagued by an overactive imagination, and IT crawled into kid’s brains and dragged their worst fears and phobias into reality. I’d been creeped out by clowns since watching Poltergeist at eight (again, thanks Mom & Dad). Or maybe IT was just a damn good (though occasionally wordy) tale.
IT preyed upon my irrational phobias. When I was six, I was stuck in the hospital for two long weeks. After my parents left to get some much needed sleep, the sadistic nurses allowed me to watch two movies that tormented me for decades: Piranha and Jaws. Picture it: an already frightened little girl, alone in a dark hospital room, eyes wide in horror as Jaws chomped on Quint and piranhas devoured kids in inner tubes. In the dark hospital room, evil fish baring razor-sharp teeth swam around my bed, waiting for me to dangle a toe in the blood-drenched water.
I saw them for years.
Once I read IT, I became terrified of my swimming pool. The pool had a drain. IT came through drains. IT would appear as a swarm of piranha, stripping my pale flesh with razor-sharp teeth. IT would shift into a shark, pulling me under the turquoise water, swallowing me whole.
I stayed out of the deep end. And I barely swam alone until I was seventeen.
Oh, and there was the little episode of the balloons. . .
My wonderful Dad had read IT before I did. Prankster that he is, he decided to
traumatize his child play a prank. The drain in our shower had been loose for weeks. Though I was a mature thirteen, I placed an oversized bottle of shampoo on top of the metal grate, just in case (as I wrote—overactive, occasionally irrational imagination). That evening, I’d dropped my towel in the bathroom. One of my parents called me away, made me do a chore or something before I could turn on the water. When I returned, I pulled back the flowered curtain to find the shower drain tossed against the wall. . . and a bunch of balloons bobbing against the harvest gold tile directly above the open pipe. My parent’s laughter couldn’t drown out my screams. ***
Explains a lot about me, right?
In the spirit of this spooky time of year, which book(s) scared the bejesus out of you?
***Please note: after digging though our respective memories, my mom and I have realized that she bears no responsibility for said “Balloon Incident.” My father admits nothing.