Scary Book Moments

Ramses the Great alive. I can’t bring myself to post a pic of his dead face…

Two events stand out as the scariest book moments I ever experienced. I wish I could tell you the works that frightened me were by famous horror writers, but one of them was a children’s book. The other was a history text, and the scare was unintended.

Runner-up for the scariest moment I ever experienced while reading a book comes from grade school, when I was fascinated with ancient Egypt. I  was sitting down with a big 8″ by 11″ tome. I turned the page and suddenly discovered a life-sized image of the shriveled-up face of Ramses the Great.

I recoiled in fear and dropped the book. It was a helluva creepy thing to come upon. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking ancient Egypt is sure to have pictures of mummies, right? Well, maybe, but I’d never seen a picture of one unwrapped before, and I wasn’t even reading about mummies. I was reading about the conquests of Ramses the Great. One minute I was thinking about chariot battles, then, suddenly I was eye to empty eye socket with his long-dead face.

But that was just the runner-up to my scariest book moment. First place and grand prize goes to those scary green pants with nobody inside them. Thanks, Dr. Seuss. I know you fully intended that story to be about overcoming fear and prejudice, but your story scared the bejeezus out of me. Those ghostly pants freaked me out so bad that I was actually afraid to touch the Sneeches book in which the story was found. I loved that Sneeches story, though, and I thought the one after the Sneeches, about the Zaxx, was pretty good, so I’d read those two, but I was always afraid I’d accidentally turn the page too far and see those damned pants. I wasn’t one of those kids who got a secret thrill from being scared. I never “accidentally” took a glimpse to get my blood racing. I HATED those things. The funny thing is, most people I’ve talked to didn’t have any problems with them, including my own son. When I realized my wife had been reading him that traumatizing story, I nearly tore out my hair. But it never phased him at all, as he mentioned over breakfast this morning.

Wish I could say the scariest thing I ever read was “Pigeons from Hell,” or The Shining, but nothing tops those moments. I hope nothing else ever does.  How about you? What’s the scariest book moment? And what did YOU think of those pale green pants?


8 Comments on “Scary Book Moments

  1. I had memorized Dr. Seuss’s “What Was I Scared Of?” (which I referred to as “The Pale Green Pants” story) when I was about 3 years old. My parents would encourage me to repeat the story at gatherings so that everyone could be visibly pleased. Now, it’s one of my 3-year old’s favorite stories. (And I _still_ have it memorized, some 37 years later. It comes in handy when reading the story in the dark.)

    • Wow — 3 was probably at the point I was too freaked out to even touch the book, even though I loved The Sneeches part. And you had it memorized! Weird how some things affect people in different ways.

  2. One of my children was TERRIFIED of that Pale Green Pants story as well. She would let me read it to her, but she would be scared to death the whole time. And inevitably, she would have trouble falling to sleep if I read it to her.

    • I sympathize. I’d always make sure that my mom did NOT read me that part of the book. I could just never remember if there was another story after the Zaxx story, or before it (about the mother with all the kids named Dave, maybe?) which is how I’d sometimes still see those stupid pants.

  3. I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t remember the Pale Green Pants story. We weren’t allowed to read picture books as children (too easy, only lazy kids read them) so I only came upon Dr. Suess as a teenager. The scariest thing I’ve ever read — so much so that I’ve never re-read it — was Bradbury’s story “Gotcha”.

  4. I have been meaning all day to go look up “Gotcha.” Is that the one that ends “and then some fool turned on the lights?” That was a horrific gem.

    I love a lot of Dr. Seuss. I still love The Sneeches, and Yertle the Turtle is great fun, and perhaps my favorite of all of his poems to read out loud.

  5. My two are probably a little more traditional, although I read them both in probably 5th or 6th grade. The first was Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”, which I came across in one of those Alfred Hitchcock anthologies they used to have in the children’s section at the library. The “surprise” ending did actually surprise me.

    Second was Lovecraft’s “Colour Out of Space” — I picked up the Jove paperback of the same name because it had this really bizarre monster on the cover. All of the stories got to me at some level or another, but “Colour Out of Space” in particular really hit me — just the image of everything (and everybody) on the farm kind of turning grey and crumbling into dust.

    • I’ve heard about that Bloch story, but have never read it.

      I did, however, read “Colour Out of Space,” and I have to agree that it’s one of the creepiest of Lovecraft’s stories. That and “The Thing on the Doorstep,” which I don’t usually hear people mention, were the ones that disquieted me the most, in a different way from all the others.

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