Seven Spooky Summer Scares

By David Neilsen

Here at SpookyMG, we pride ourselves on saying that Spooky is Year Round. That means that while we adore Halloween (and as I live in Sleepy Hollow Country, Halloween is my own personal Christmas), there is no need to wait until October to read a spooky tale.

In that spirit (pun intended), I thought I’d list a few of the things about the warm, sunny season of Summer which we are about to enter that truly terrify me.

Seven Spooky Summer Scares:

HEAT: Hot things bother me. I am not a huge fan. Of course, I’m even less of a fan of cold things, so there ya go. But really hot things–like walking barefoot on the pavement while being followed by a three-headed monster, or standing still in the sunlight for hours afraid to move because of the gruesome slime creation that is only attracted to movement, or the sunburn that peels off your back and then transforms into an evil doppelganger made of your own burnt flesh–just freak me out.

INSECTS: They tend to come out in the Spring, but don’t go away until the chill of Winter freezes their little wings or feet or other appendages. I hate it when a swarm of these things buzz about my head, desperately trying to suck out my blood or gnaw on my flesh, one little itty-bitty bite at a time. You know that story about the kid who set his soda down on the wall, and when he picked it up and drank it, it felt lumpy, and then when he poured it out it was littered with ants? That was me. Honest-to-God. 12 years old. I have never recovered.

THE END OF SCHOOL: This terrifies me because the end of school means CHILDREN. Specifically, EVIL CHILDREN with nothing to do, so they hunt the neighbors, or hide out in creepy garages trying to raise the dead. Bored children are, perhaps, one of the true evils in the world. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly you notice that you are surrounded by about six of the little devils (they always hunt in packs) and you just know they’re looking for a human sacrifice.

THE ICE CREAM TRUCK: Don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream. It’s the trucks that frighten me. They slowly inch down the street playing the slightly-warped music that acts as a siren call to evil children (see above). Who drives these trucks? What are they really selling? They have a hypnotic effect over the younguns, and even some adults are often caught with a wistful, teary-eyed look on their face when that music enters their ears. And that’s just weird because nobody actually has any fond memories of an ice cream truck. We are simply drawn in by the IDEA of the ice cream truck. It’s mind control, plain and simple as a hammer to the forebrain. Evil mind control.

THE BEACH: Sand gets everywhere. And the things that live in the sand get everywhere. And they come out when you least expect them and crawl over your face and infest your body with spores. Other beach evils include: sharks, boating accidents, jet skis, crabs, poisonous sea anemonies, and kids playing frisbee, because they are always terrible and that frisbee becomes a spinning circle of death in their hands. A spinning circle of death that is coming for you.

VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES: What? You don’t equate ventriloquist dummies with Summer? You should. They live for the season when their shiny bodies can almost seem real on a late summer evening when the light hits them just right and they are walking toward you and telling you to stay calm, that everything’s going to be fine, that you have a new master. And their eyes are always open. They are always looking at you. Judging you. Imagining various sharp implements sticking out of you. You see, they really just want to shove their hand inside your body. Fair is fair, right?

SLIP ‘N’ SLIDES: There was this kid in my neighborhood who went on a Slip ‘N’ Slide and broke his knee. AND HE DIDN’T HIT ANYTHING. He just slid down the slippery, wet plastic and when he reached the bottom, his knee was broken. The next week, another kid slid down it and came up with massive rug burns on both shins. His legs were red for days. And yet just a couple of days later, that Slip ‘N’ Slide was out again, waiting for the next victim. Thing is, nobody knew whose it was. It didn’t actually seem to belong to anybody. It was just the neighborhood Slip ‘N’ Slide. And it had it out for the kids.

These are just a few of the fight-worthy things about Summer. I’m sure you can come up with a dozen more. Because Spooky is Forever.

Have a good Summer.

Haunted House Tales Don’t Always Take Place in a Haunted House

The Haunted House is one of the oldest spooky story settings in literature.

Scholars have traced this time-honored meme all the way back to the Stone Age and a series of cave paintings depicting four frightened cave teens entering Ye Olde Abandoned Cave and getting attacked by the ghost of Og who really doesn’t want other cave people messing with his cave even though he was stomped to death by a woolly mammoth a couple of years back.

That’s one interpretation, anyway…

As I travel around the country bringing the joys of all things spooky to elementary and middle school students, the discussion of The Haunted House is always one of my favorites. Nine times out of ten, the wisdom I share on the subject blows the kids’ minds (the tenth time I usually get chased by an angry mob to the city limits).

See, when you think of a haunted house story, you tend to think of a story about… a haunted house. The Haunting of Hill House. The Haunting. The Haunted House on a Hill. The Hill House Haunting. Things like that. But I have a few other favorite haunted house stories of which you may not have thought: Jurassic Park. Alien. A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Jaws.

In fact, for my money, Jaws is one of the best Haunted House films ever made. It’s almost the perfect Haunted House film.

“What? But… what are you…? There’s no….!! MY MIND HAS BLOWN!!!”

Relax. Allow me to explain.

The first thing to know about Haunted House stories is that there are RULES. Follow the rules, and everybody’s happy. Deviate from the rules, and the story doesn’t quite work. Simple as that. And the first rule of Haunted House stories is that they need to include a man-eating shark.

Actually, no.

The first rule of Haunted House stories is that they take place in an enclosed location from which there is no escape. The characters are stuck there and have to deal with what is going on. No putting it off until morning, no magical heel-clicking, no climbing out a window and leaving it for the next idiot who stumbles along.

The haunted house in Jaws is the ocean. In Alien it’s the Nostromo. In Jurassic Park it’s the island. Nightmare on Elm Street? Their dreams.

Next, you need something evil in the enclosed location. This can be anything–ghost, monster, dentist, you name it. This may seem obvious, but it’s important enough to stress. Otherwise you get a story of a bunch of people trapped in a room who take out their phones and play Fortnite until they’re rescued. Boring.

The third thing you need for a haunted house story is a collection of flawed characters. It’s no good having just one character, you need a bunch of them. Their flaws may be as simple as she or he lacks self-confidence, or they haven’t yet gotten over the loss of a loved one, but they all have something wrong with them. Maybe they think they’re better than everyone. Maybe they are obsessed with washing their hands. It really doesn’t matter as long as there’s an identifiable flaw.

The reason the flaw is important is because it generally leads to their death as the characters are taken out one by one. In general, anytime a character in a haunted house story finds himself or herself alone, you can be pretty sure they’re about to die. How does this translate to Middle Grade (since we generally don’t turn our Middle Grade books into blood baths)? They are taken out of commision. Knocked unconscious. Trapped in the cupboard. Turned into a newt.

And this happens because of their flaw. The character who lacks self-confidence didn’t think he can make the jump over the yawning chasm after everyone else has jumped across. And because he doesn’t jump, he’s captured by the seven-eyed monstrocity chasing them. And then eaten.

The last rule to remember is that only the innocent (and dogs) survive. Haunted House stories grew out of parents’ need to keep children alive.

“Mom? Can I go play in the abandoned glass, needle, and razer blade factory?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I said so.”

“Why not?”

“Because it is dangerous.”

“Why not?”

“BECAUSE IT’S HAUNTED! OK? THERE ARE GHOSTS IN THERE THAT WILL SUCK OUT YOUR BRAINS!”

“Oh. OK.”

By ensuring that only the innocent survive, we are subconsciously teaching our children to be good citizens.

“You should wash your hands, Billy. Remember when SallyJesse didn’t wash her hands in He Vomits On Your Grave? She exploded. You don’t want to explode, do you, Billy? Better wash your hands.”

Yes, spooky stories make for valuable life lessons.

And yes, the dog always survives.

All of these rules aren’t meant to constrict a writer in plotting out a story, rather they are intended to serve as a guide. If you know the rules, you can break them and know exactly what you are doing and everybody is happy. Haunted House stories are some of the most enjoyable spooky stories around. Writing one can be a whole lot of fun.

Just make sure the dog survives.

Happy haunting!