Nightmare Fuel: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, oddly enough, has stories that are fairly tame. The original illustrations however are totally horrifying and turn the most cliché urban legends into something terrifying. These are children's books by the way; they should have just called them Scary Illustrations to Traumatize Your Child. That said, they still manage to pack some scary stuff into the literary content as well. Here is but a sampling:
- "Maybe You Will Remember". A girl's mother dies in a hotel, and the hotel makes it look like nobody had been in the room. Quite a nightmare: lost in a foreign city, losing a loved one, the entire hotel keeping secrets from you, thinking you're insane, not knowing what to do.
- "Like Cat's Eyes," a short but unnerving tale about shadowy little men with glowing, catlike eyes who drive up to sick man's home in a hearse, rush in with superhuman speed past his wife, and rush back out carrying something into the hearse with them as they drive away. The wife returns to her husband to find him already dead.
- One of the most boring stories in the book gets one of the most terrifying illustrations: "The Haunted House". Building is haunted. Preacher Man is called in to exorcise. He meets the ghost. The ghost tells him where some treasure is and leaves her finger bone with him. Preacher Man digs up the treasure and uses the ghost's finger bone to out the guy who killed her. The ghost's killer is punished and she is put at peace. They all lived happily ever after. Now, the illustration◊, on the other hand...
- "Harold". A living scarecrow◊ SKINS A MAN ALIVE and leaves his skin out to dry in the sun.
- "Sounds". Three fishermen take refuge in an abandoned house during a thunderstorm and hear a man (or the ghost of a man) murdering a woman and disposing of her body. The scary part of the story is that this is something that actually happens in Real Life.
- Someone was nice enough to post a mini-gallery of Gammell's work on some message boards.
- "The Red Spot". A girl develops a red bump on her face. She doesn't know what it is, her family can't figure it out, and even a doctor they bring in can't work it out. The whole time the bump is just growing and itching. At the end, red bump suddenly bursts while the girl is taking a bath, a swarm of small spiders crawling out from where their mother had laid eggs in her cheek.
- Oddly, the horror of the illustration comes not so much from the spiders as from the girl's extremely distorted face.
- The story about the potato-sack monster on the ceiling of the young girl's room, with the beady eyes and tons of sharp tiny little teeth.
- "Is Something Wrong?"'s illustration. Some...thing with a giant bloody skull for a head is tapping a man on the shoulder.
- The story about the vampire corpse and the window will make you move any beds near a window far, far away.
- "Me Tie Dough-ty Walker". Not just the extremely scary illustration of a screaming decapitated head in a fireplace, but the fact that this story takes the comfort of having a dog with you when you're scared, and tells you that the dog will lead some horror to you, then drop dead before it can protect you.
- "The Dream"'s illustration. The story very simply describes the mysterious woman of the eponymous dream as having "a pale face, black eyes, and long black hair". Unfortunately, Stephen Gammell took the already present eeriness of the situation and cranked it◊ Up to Eleven by giving the woman beady eyes, a jaw like an orangutan, and an alien-esque slit-like mouth. Plus, the expression she's wearing is vague, but can't quite be called a smile. Or if it is, then it's like the Joker's smile; you can't tell if it's happy or sinister.
- "Oh, Susannah!" Not only is the original illustration terrifying, it has little, if anything, to do with the story it accompanies (the new illustration is more literal).
- "Sam's New Pet". A boy's parents find a scruffy little dog while on vacation in Mexico and decide to bring it home for him. A few days later the dog starts foaming at the mouth, so they take it to the vet. He tells them that it's a sewer rat with rabies. Terrifying illustration enclosed◊.
- "Someone Fell From Aloft" has a fairly simple but haunting image of a man clutching a body as he appears to fall. It illustrates the climax of the (relatively simple) ghost story in the most sparse yet terrifying way possible. Our friend Stephen simply refuses to ever draw normal human beings in any of the images in these books, and so you get to see the faint black outline of what is supposedly the guy from the story being grabbed by a screaming oily corpse and taken overboard.
- "Just Delicious" is one of the select few examples from all three volumes where the story outdoes the illustration. An abusive husband is unknowingly fed liver taken from a dead old woman, and the bad news is that dead woman's spirit wants her liver back. The worse news? She's willing to settle for his.
Then the light went out, and George screamed, and screamed...
- "The Drum" is a tale of young sisters who continually misbehave and eventually have their mother replaced by...some thing as a punishment. You just have to read the description of the replacement mother and wonder why? Just why?
- "What Do You Come For?" has one of the grimmest examples of a wish backfiring. A nice old lady wishes she had some company to ease her loneliness, and then...well, see for yourself.
- Stephen Gammell's illustrations are so scary, that they actually got a mention in Lemon Demon's song "Nightmare Fuel".
- "The Bed by the Window". An old man becomes so jealous of his roommate's ability to look out the window and see the world. The friend describes many wonderful things out there, and the old man essentially murders him, allowing him to claim his bed. In the end, he discovers there is nothing out the window other than a brick wall. It just seems symbolic for the ugliness of the human soul.
- The illustration◊ for "The Dead Hand" (not "The Dead Man's Hand") is quite possibly one of the most twisted images to ever come out of Stephen Gammell's imagination.
- "Wonderful Sausage" is a terrifying example. A butcher goes completely Ax-Crazy and then starts to murder people to make sausage. "People" includes little kids, and he later eats kittens and puppies. Just read it.
- "The Bride". It starts with an innocent hide-and-seek game being played at a wedding ceremony. The titular bride opts to hide in her grandpa's trunk. "They'll never find me here", she says. Unfortunately, she was right, as she got knocked unconscious and subsequently trapped inside the locked trunk. No one ever found her until years later, when a maid opened the trunk to look for something only to find a skeleton inside.
- "No one will ever know how long she called for help or how hard she struggled to free herself from that tomb." Brrrrr...
- The accompanying illustration is pretty nightmarish as well, showing the bride in the skeletal state that she was presumably found in.