When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate lent me Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror. The phrase “based on a true story” was engraved on my impressionable mind, giving me goosebumps every time those words popped unbidden into my head, and Jody’s red, glowing pig eyes seemed to follow me everywhere. Despite the fact that I slept with my head under the covers until I was in my 20s, I still checked that book out from the library every summer when I visited my grandmother in New York.
Side note: Clearly, there was no parental censorship of my reading material going on. I assure you, I was not permanently traumatized and believe I am better off for reading books that were above my maturity level. Case in point, no one stopped me from reading my mother’s The Clan of the Cave Bear when I was 8, and I survived that, too. Luckily, I probably didn’t understand half of what I read. Side side note: I was raised by a wonderful mother, lest this anecdote cause you to think otherwise.
But The Amityville Horror is not solely to blame for my overactive imagination, which had me picturing poltergeists ripping off the bed sheets at night. No, I’ve been obsessed with ghosts since I was a little kid, starting with Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I would check out all of the nonfiction I could find on ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. Then I progressed to Mary Downing Hahn (Wait Till Helen Comes) and Christopher Pike.
In middle school, my grandfather bought me a copy of the third book in The Amityville Horror series. Since I read it at home and not in the comfort of my grandparents’ cozy house in upstate New York, it terrified me more than the first book, and I threw it behind a storage area in our family room, where it lay dormant until we moved several years later, when it ended up in the trash.
Fast forward a few years (er, decades), and I still love to read scary stories, mostly in broad daylight. If you would like to re-create that childhood fear of monsters under the bed, try these:
Stranger Things by Gwenda Bond. I’m sure I’m not the only one excited to hear Stranger Things will be back for a fourth season. While you wait, check out this prequel that reveals the story of Eleven’s mother. In 1969, young Terry Ives signs on as a test subject at Hawkins National Laboratory after hearing about an important government experiment. A twisted conspiracy lurks in the lab, and Terry enlists the help of her fellow test subjects to face it.
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. Just 20 years after the publication of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky publishes a second novel that is nothing like the first. With a small town, imaginary friend and portal to hell, Imaginary Friend is more reminiscent of Stephen King and Paul Tremblay. Another crowd pleaser for the Stranger Things fans.
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon. New York Times best-selling author McMahon knows how to do creepy. In this chilling ghost story, a husband and wife start building the house of their dreams in the woods of rural Vermont. But then they discover the property has a dark and violent past, beginning with a hanging in 1924 and spanning generations—and the story isn’t over yet.
The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. The audiobook is engrossing and will leave you feeling unsettled and a little depressed (but it’s worth it). During a visit to Venice, professor David Ullman, a leading authority on demonic literature, witnesses a terror in a tiny room. Then, his 12-year-old daughter disappears before his eyes, and Ullman embarks on a grim journey to find her while confronting an unspeakable darkness.
Growing Things by Paul Tremblay. Read this one around a campfire late at night in the middle of the woods—or maybe in broad daylight in a crowded place. These stories will suck you in and creep you out as Tremblay tackles a range of mysterious subjects, providing just enough detail to leave room for your own imagination to fill in the rest.
For some real-life thrills and chills, come to Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s Fredericksburg Branch at 1201 Caroline St. on Friday, October 18, from 6–8 p.m. John Sullivan of Fredericksburg Paranormal Research and Investigation will lead a ghost hunt throughout the library.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.