Nightmare Fuel / Paul Jennings

The short stories of Australian children's writer Paul Jennings are often laden with Nightmare Fuel.


  • A particularly disturbing one is "Clear as Mud", in which the protagonist steals a rare insect from a lab, gets bitten by it, and soon finds that his skin is gradually turning ''transparent'' to reveal his own bones and innards, like an X-Ray. He flees a terrified but horribly fascinated public, and lives as a desert hermit for over ten years, keeping the beetle in a jar. Then it bites him again and his skin is restored to normal. However, there's a rather horrible twist: the protagonist's condition has spread to the rest of the world: they're now all transparent, and hence he's still a hideous freak. All this in barely ten pages.
  • The book series Wicked! is even worse, detailing the spread of a new virus that transforms normally harmless animals and objects into monstrous plague-spreaders: swarms of giant innards-eating maggots, smart sheep with steel wool and rather psychotic grins, cannibalistic frogs, and apple-head dolls that shockingly sprout kilometre-long strangling creeper vines! And that's nothing compared to what it also does to humans...
  • One story had a boy (called Gerald) jump from a train before the narrator's eyes after losing the flowers he was going to give her in a tunnel. This wouldn't be so bad if a few days later the flowers didn't suddenly sprout from the narrator's hands, all with Gerald's sad face on them afterward.
  • Another story No Is Yes is about a guy who meets a Mad Scientist who has trained his poor daughter Linda the opposite words to everything in an attempt to understand human language. The scientist keeps all the opposite words in a book; yes is no, mother is father, etc. The horrified guy feels pity for Linda and tries to rescue her from her dad, but suddenly a house fire breaks out, it is implied that the Mad Scientist was caught in the blaze. The Nightmare Fuel comes when the fire brigade asks Linda if her father is in the house. Her answer? "No."
  • Another story involved a headless chicken that scares two bumbling crooks who are robbing a pub, they are making a robot replica of that same chicken to scare the owner into giving them money. They are literally scared to death- and end up drowning into the pub's local river... Their ghosts are seen frantically rowing in row-boat, all while the ghost of both chickens sing "The Wild Colonial Boy" to them forever.
  • A story had a boy with no middle fingers because he stuck them under a mower while it was still running. He finds a way to regenerate them by his pet drop-tail Gecko, but the problem is his new fingers keep dropping off! This also leads to a nightmarish gross out scene at the local supermarket.
  • You know what makes a good kids story? What about a literal trip to hell, that oughta put smiles on their faces!In the short story Unhappily Ever After a school headmaster that enjoys beating his students far too much gets sucked into a whirlpool and is forced to watch images of people doing to others what those others do to them. This drives him to suicide and when he wakes up in his office you expect it was a dream. Nope! Now he's dammed to an eternity of the beatings he so enjoyed subjecting others to while he was alive.
  • "Shadows" is all about a hall of mirrors that house villainous doppelgangers inside them. The protagonist meets his and figures out that his reflection wants to switch places with him.
  • "Noseweed" is about a boy who is forced to consume cod-liver oil at the will of his grandfather, but he refuses to swallow it, which causes a plant to grow out of his mouth and envelop his head.
    • The ending of this becomes heartwarming, as the plant produces the apple his grandfather had been attempting to create in memory of his wife.
  • In "One-Shot Toothpaste" the protagonist finds out that a creepy old man he knows is testing experimental toothpaste on innocent animals, causing them intense discomfort. When the boy gets back at him by forcing the old man to use some of his concoctions, it causes his single tooth to grow and consume him.
  • In "Souperman" a boy is caught in a trash compactor. The titular superhero is within rescuing distance...but he's completely powerless until he drinks some soup and he can't find the tin opener.
  • From The Naked Ghost, BURP! and Blue Jam:
    • A boy ventures into a haunted bunker, where a ghost steals his clothes, cursing him to stay there in a ghostly state until someone else comes along.
    • An overweight boy discovers a spellbook that allows him to transfer his excess body fat to anyone he wants. He uses this to get back at everyone who has ever wronged him, before eventually going mad with power and casting the spell for increasingly petty reasons, such as getting back at a girl who rejected him and eventually just doing it for laughs. Far too late he finds out that the spell is a double-edged sword and; for every ounce of fat he dispensed, he'll get it back in four years - all at once!
      • The story also has a particularly disturbing description of the yapping corgi he killed by making it put on so much weight that it couldn't move, and eventually its heart couldn't take the strain.
    • A jam seller harvests a tree that produces blue plums. Business booms, but only because the blue jam is highly addictive. When the tree runs out of plums, the locals go mad and try to eat him instead.
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