It was the summer of ’95, I was seven years old, and my life was consumed with evil lawn gnomes, mutated hamsters and magical shrunken heads. What I am talking about of course, was not real, but were stories, scary stories to be exact. The “Goosebumps” series by horror fiction novelist R.L. Stein, and I was obsessed. I couldn’t get enough. Book after book, as soon as I finished one novel I had the next one on reserve at the local library. I’m not quite sure what exactly fascinated me so much about Stein’s writing? Maybe it was the way his language captivated such a young audience, making us feel much older then we were, maybe it was the “high” I got from being scared. Or maybe it was that I longed to connect with my older brother, who I had nothing in common with. He was very social, active, and the athlete of the year while I was the shy creative daydreamer who would much rather stay home doodling. Whatever the reason was, that summer, one book managed to change my life forever.
It was a day like any other, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was under my bedroom covers with a flashlight, nose-deep into my latest guilty pleasure: Night of the Living Dummy. It was the story of Lindy and Kris, twins who couldn’t agree on anything if their lives depended on it. One of them finds “Slappy,” a ventriloquist dummy in a dumpster and the other in jealousy goes and buys one from the store, “Mr. Wood.” In typical R.L. Stein scripture, the dummies turn out be evil. The dummies duel it out to the death, with no pity for what their corrupt ways might cost their owners.
When I finally finished the novel I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My fixation grew day after day, thinking over the hair-raising narration, the ghastly concept and most of all the frightening illustration on the cover of a dummy smiling at me, his eyes looking right back at mine no matter what angle I looked at him. This image continued to flash through my mind long after I had finished the book. My imagination ran wild with all different types of scenarios, dummies attacking me, dummies stalking me, dummies hiding behind shower curtains, until I finally settled on this disturbing concept: dummies chopping my feet off while I slept!
I can’t say why this notion has stuck with me throughout the years, or why this particular story caught my attention more than the others. I also can’t say what causes fear in people or superstition for that matter, some people believe that if you break a mirror it’s seven years of bad luck, some people believe that garlic protects you from evil spirits and vampires. I believe that if I don’t cover my feet when I sleep, a dummy will come chop them off.
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