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Nightmare Fuel / Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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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 a 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.
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  • "One Sunday Morning". A young girl attends a different church than she usually does, only to find that it is a service of the dead...and they are furious at her for being there. The later discovery of the girl's shredded jacket proves that both her supernatural encounter was real and that the undead had savage intentions.
  • 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, shows the heavily detailed face of a rotting corpse woman with empty eye sockets and a decaying mouth that weakly hangs open. Even worse, one collection put the offending illustation RIGHT. ON. THE COVER.
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  • "Harold". A living scarecrow modeled after a dead hateful farmer 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.
  • "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 pained face, namely how Gammell draws it. Her screaming face is stretched into a horrible caricature of terror and agony, staring directly at the viewer.
  • "Is Something Wrong?"'s illustration. Something with a giant bloody skull for a head is tapping a man on the shoulder.
  • "The Window". A young girl, Margaret, is attacked by a vampire. And not a Classical Movie Vampire- a hideous creature with "a shrunken face like that of a mummy." She survives the attack, and her brothers manage to kill the vampire, but it'll still make you move any beds near a window far, far away.
    • Even if the Brett Helquist illustrations are tame, the illustration he does for "The Window" is surprisingly creepy. Nothing like looking out the dark window to see a dark skull face looking in at you, complete with eye sockets glinting in the dark.
  • "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 story is the classic "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" urban legend, while the illustration depicts... a withered head with a single arm, glaring down at a man in a rocking chair being pulled through the sky by a flying root? (The new illustration, depicting an irritated young woman lying in bed, is more literal.)
  • "Sam's New Pet". A boy's parents find a scruffy little stray 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. And the illustration's even worse, resembling a tumorous mutant iguana more than anything.
  • "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 laughing 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. And unfortunately for him, she's willing to settle for his...
    Then the light went out - and George screamed, and screamed.
  • "The Drum" is an abridged version of the short story, "The New Mother" which is a tale of young sisters who continually misbehave and eventually have their mother replaced by... something as a punishment.
    When they got home, they saw through the window that the lamps were lit, and there was a fire in the fireplace. But they did not see their mother and Arthur. Instead, there was their new mother- her glass eyes glistening, her wooden tail thumping on the floor.
  • The fate of Alice in the ending of "The Dead Man's Hand". All because a bunch of college students hated her for being too perfect and wanted to find a weakness. "The joke had worked but nobody was laughing."
  • "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... a corpse's feet fall out of the chimney. They're soon joined by a pair of legs, a torso, two arms, and a head, who combine together into a tall, gangling man. He dances around the room for a while, faster and faster, then stops and looks directly into the old lady's eyes. She timidly asks, "What do you come for?" His reply? "What do I come for? I come... for you!" The story ends there, but he probably kills her.
  • Stephen Gammell's illustrations are so scary, they actually got a mention in Lemon Demon's song "Nightmare Fuel".
  • "The Bed By The Window". It's one of the more mundane stories, and that to some makes it even more disturbing. In the story, two bed-bound old men, Richard and George, live in a nursing home. George has a bed near the window, and he constantly describes in detail what he sees to Richard. Eventually, Richard gets jealous and secretly hides George's heart medication, with the intent to have him die of a heart attack. All for the bed by the window! It works, and he finally gets the bed in front of the window, only to look out and see a blank brick wall. He killed his best friend for nothing. And now he has nobody left to keep him company, so he's going to spend the rest of his life alone, living with the guilt. It gets worse when you read the original story's ending: George is later revealed to be blind and told Richard the things he saw outside the window to cheer him up. Ouch! It says a lot when in a book full of ghosts and monsters, one of the more profoundly disturbing stories has no supernatural elements at all.
  • 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. It shows the swamp the story takes place in and around... with some sort of corpse-tree hybrid, roots jutting out of its shattered skull, dominating the picture.
  • "The Slithery Dee, he came out of the sea, he ate all the others, but he didn't eat-" S-L-U-R-P
  • "Wonderful Sausage" is a terrifying example. A butcher goes completely Ax-Crazy and then starts to kill 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.
  • The illustration for "The Trouble." What the hell is going on?! It's just a black, spongy cube floating in nothingness, with a cubical hole underneath it.
  • See that illustration up there? That's 'The Thing'. It's fairly tame (ha!) by Gammell's standards, but the story is one of the bad ones. Two best friends are sitting on a fence by a field on a hot summer night when they see something in the field. Its silhouette is described as only vaguely human, and slips eerily in and out of perception. Suddenly, it appears behind the boys, reveals itself as a horrible animated corpse, and digs its fingernails into one of the boy's arms. They manage to escape— except they don't. The cuts in the boy's arm become infected, and his family (and best friend) can do nothing as they watch him literally rot away. On the day of his death, the boy's friend comes to visit him... and his horrified to see his friend looking exactly like the zombie.
  • "The Black Dog" features a ghostly black dog haunting a man's house. It doesn't do anything bad at first, just roaming around the house, but when the man brings in his guard dogs for the second time, things get a bit hairy. The guard dogs detect the Black Dog and start barking at it, and one of the dogs gets attacked and killed by the Black Dog, which rips its throat out, while the other dog cowers in fear. In the end, the man has no choice but to leave the dog be and let it roam around his house every night.
  • "The Wolf Girl" is a supposedly true account of a feral child raised by wolves near the Rio Grande. The last anyone saw of her was when she was a young adult, feeding two wolf cubs. The story is tame, but the accompanying illustration is plain freaky. You can't tell if it's a picture of a girl turning into a werewolf or a picture of a wolf with a girl's head.
  • "The Voice" is a very short story but still loaded with Paranoia Fuel. A girl hears a voice whispering that it's coming for her, first up the stairs and then standing in the hall and then standing right next to her bed. Pause, and..."I'VE GOT YOU!" The girl calls for her parents, who look everywhere in the room for the source of the voice, but they can't find anything. Nobody knows what the voice is or where it came from.
  • "Footsteps" is another Paranoia Fuel / Nothing Is Scarier hybrid story. A girl's doing her homework in the dining room when she hears someone walking in. It's not her mother, though, since the footsteps are heavier. She worries that whoever it is will be after her sister, so she checks up on her and is relieved to find her still asleep. Then as she hears the footsteps getting closer to them, she yells at the owner of the footsteps to "GET OUT!", and the owner promptly leaves. When she looks out the window, there aren't any footprints in the snow.
  • "Bess" is about a farmer who owns an old horse (the titular Bess) that he had raised from foalhood, but he gets a warning from a fortuneteller that Bess will cause him to die. Startled, he sells Bess to a farmer, who takes care of her until she gets so sick that he has to shoot her to put her out of her misery. The first farmer goes to say goodbye to the horse as he pats her skull, but then a rattlesnake which made its home in Bess's skull bites him and kills him. The fortuneteller's prediction had ended up coming true.
  • As mentioned before, the illustrations alone are nightmare fuel in and of themselves, but it deserves a second mention because they're just that scary. And this is a children's book series. Moral guardians tried to get the books banned because of the illustrations. While they weren't banned, they were re-released with tamer illustrations, which was met with huge backlash. Awesome Art though they may be, those drawings are still bound to haunt your dreams for years.


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