Just like many of you ghost, ghoul, and goblin aficionados out there, I got my start young.
Before a car trip to Vancouver, my mom took me to the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, and allowed me to pick out one book to read on the road. Being around 10, I headed to the young adult section upstairs and began meticulously perusing the hundreds of titles for the PERFECT road book.
I'm not sure how I stumbled upon it, perhaps it was fate, but I found a slim paperback book with an orange cover, and a line drawing of a vaporous woman walking down a staircase on the front. I think the title was simply, "Ghosts."
It breaks my black heart that I cannot remember the title or author of this book, and I can't find it anywhere. After too many moves, and an unfortunate garage flood, the book has vanished from my possession. THE GHOST BOOK HAS VANISHED.
(Cue "Unsolved Mysteries" music. Cue Robert Stack.)
If you have any information on The Orange-Covered Ghost Book, write to me at Creepy Corner (IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com). You need not give your name (but please do! And tell me a story).
The Orange-Covered Ghost Book is described as a YA book, approximately 150 pages long, includes spooky "realistic" pen/pencil illustrations, and like I said, there's a most excellent picture of "The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall" on front. Last seen in the early ’90s. Proceed with caution, this book is armed (with creepy goodness) and glorious.
For every mystery, there is someone, somewhere, who knows the truth (about my book). Perhaps that someone is reading. Perhaps it's YOU.
(Cue music swell. Cue fog. Cue Robert Stack walking into Fog.)
Anyway, that book changed my life. It recounted the world's most famous hauntings in clear, no-frills detail, but with just enough style that it was fun to read. None of that "oooga booga" campfire story type stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that), but what felt like real "accounts" of paranormal activity to my young brain.
I was riveted. These were not ghost STORIES. Suddenly the world of the paranormal became terrifyingly, deliciously real to me. I read that book cover to cover and then again and again over the next few months. I had never been more frightened, but I couldn't get enough.
The stories in that book -- The Big Gray Man of Ben Macdhui, The Tulip Staircase Ghosts, Borley Rectory, The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, Glamis Castle -- still scare the hell out of me. They may be old news, even quaint compared to the twisted things that are documented or imagined now, but reading those stories was the first time I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified by something. Without that The Orange-Covered Ghost Book, I'm not sure there would be a Creepy Corner now.
It's the stuff from childhood that scares us best. We may find new eerie things to keep us up at night, but so much of that is drawn from when we were kids, and being happily afraid was a little more okay.
When I dig into my memory of the creepy stuff that endures, it all starts with things I read, saw or experienced as a child.
Some are more obvious like The Orange-Covered Ghost Book, or "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." While some, like the Crystal Gayle episode of "The Muppet Show", are more obscure.
So here is a short list of some of my favorite childhood frights that made me the creepy little weirdo you see before you today. They scared me sleepless then, and frankly, on a dark and stormy night, can scare me sleepless now.
The Crystal Gayle Episode of "The Muppet Show" with the Ghost Ship Number
I'm only just recently able to watch this number without tearing up. It's not that I think it's sad, or that I'm distraught that the song will get stuck in my head AGAIN, it's that this video used to scare me so much, I'd cry.
Just look at those ghost puppets swooping through the air, especially that horrible girl in the orange outfit on the left of the screen. I hate her.
And her green, seaweed-covered friend on the right, with the frozen howling face? In the hat? Having a slow motion "throes of death" episode? NO. I would see him when I closed my eyes.
Then the background screaming starts and I'm done.
When I was a kid I imagined them all to be the long dead victims of a HORRIBLE shipwreck. And Crystal Gayle and her hair are stuck with them for all eternity. Kind of like Bloody Mary and the mirror, I was afraid if I looked too hard at this video and it's mouth-agape horror-Muppets, I'd get sucked into their fate.
Does it make sense? No. Did this video totally scar me as a child and make me afraid of giant ships for a while? Absolutely.
Hey, Crystal Gayle, believing in magic didn't stop those poor Muppets' ship from sinking and silent screaming for all eternity.
The "Perils of Punky" Episodes of "Punky Brewster"
I actually thought I imagined this episode. I thought it was so sick and deranged that there was no way a show geared toward kids could get away with something like this.
Alan's zombie head stuck in a rock? Zombie-Skeleton Margaux screaming at Punky as her bones fly apart? No way, there was no way this happened.
But then one day my brother-in-law brought it up. He too thought he imagined the episode, and even now, once confirmed that it exists he can't bring himself to watch it. We are two grown adults, cowering from an episode of a TV show with a protagonist named "Punky." It's that effed up.
The "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" Books
I mean, come on. If you haven't read at least ONE of these books, get thee to Amazon.com or your local bookstore RIGHT NOW and buy them. Read them immediately. Thank me later.
You know what? If you're not reading-inclined (what are you doing here?) the illustrations alone are worth the price of admission. No book, children's or adult, captures dark and sinister quite so acutely as Stephen Gammell's mainly black and white drawings. Faces are warped, limbs are distorted and akimbo (when they are attached to someone), proportions are just WRONG.
Your nightmares will never be the same.
(And don't get the "dumbed down" version with the G-rated illustrations. It's a crime they did that in the first place, don't feed the monster.)
"THE HAUNTED REALM" By Simon Marsden
This book is gorgeous.
When I found "The Haunted Realm" at my local library, it awoke that same magical mixture (get out of my head Crystal Gayle) of terror and rabid fascination that The Orange-Covered Ghost Book did.
The photographs look as if just a moment ago, some otherworldly creature wafted through, the camera just a millisecond too slow to catch it. Actually, that's just it, the pictures look otherworldly. It's like seeing "life" through the eyes of a phantom -- draped in mystery, with a twinge of mourning, but with a promise of light somewhere.
Not only are the photographs darkly beautiful, but the simple, almost folksy telling of what haunts each site gives just enough explanation and information to let your imagination run rampant through the castles and abbeys of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
This is the book that made me want to see a ghost.
What are the books, TV shows, movies -- whatever -- that made you the Creepy Cornerista you are today? What still scares you?
Share all the still-spooky stuff from your childhood! We'll have a no-slumber party!