When the little brass bell over door to the shop rings, it’s usually someone boring: the Midwestern tourist coming to gawk, the professor looking for a rare tome, or the overly-invested boyfriend on a quest for a first edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit.” They all flock like a gaggle of unwanted geese to Dr. Borgen’s Book Shop. But with every dull clanging of that little bell, I hold my breath and my stomach gets that creepy sensation that it’s filled with bugs because it might just be someone with something to sell. And sometimes that something is just a first edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” but sometimes it’s a tsantsa from Ecuador or a wild hog with flamingo wings made by a Florida taxidermist.
I’m standing at the old walnut counter running my finger nail into the well-worn grooves, when the door creaks and the bell gives a brassy clang, clang, clang and a gust of October air thrusts into the shop. I glance up quickly, but my guest isn’t a seller. I can tell by the way his eyes widen at the rows of books broken here and there by a specimen jar or dusty glass display case. He pulls his brown corduroy jacket a little closer; it’s cold and dry in here. The pop of my bubble gum makes him jump. I push my obsidian-black hair out of my face and smile a too big grin in a way that makes him glance at the door behind him, but he must really want something because he gives his head a small shake and pushes his shoulders back before walking up to the counter.
The vulture’s claws scrape my arms like fire and find purchase on the grit of stone. There is a moment where all is quiet, and only the lush fall of wings breaks the silence. Their talons are made to dig deep, and they do. Small chunks of rock splinter off my shoulders like glass and if I could bleed I would be. The missing pieces burn like raw nerves. At least I know they can’t take stone Underground.
Salem glows a little in the fog down below. The Vulture’s wingspan can’t quite drown him out. His brightness is good, they’ll have trouble pulling him down with the energy he’s got. It buys me time. Salem flails, all fists and elbows, as if his suggestions of arms will make a dent in a Vulture. They won’t. His visage flickers like it’s not getting a signal, and I know it’s the pull of the Underground already stealing the tiny bits of his soul.
I look back to the church. Derik watches, and I know this is my test. Salem hangs in the balance. My skin still burns where his own brushed it.
This Vulture that holds me has made a mistake. They never grab us, mostly because we’re heavy but also because we bite. There’s something like venom in us, but we have to be strategic about it. My eyes pan below me, and the Vulture wheels for a crop of trees just as Salem reaches the church. He’ll be safe in there, but much less on the other side. Even if he sprints to the Gate, he’s an easy target if I don’t get out of the sky to cover him.
I stroll down the halls. Detention starts at 4 o’clock, but I don’t want to be early. Or on time. Or even five minutes late. Those times say, “I’m trying.” My locker is gray and bland. I dump the books and papers I’ve collected today inside. A few sheets slip between the cracks and down into the locker below. No reason bringing homework home that I have no intention of completing anyway.
This hallway has no windows, but I feel eyes on me. The hairs on my arms stand on end. I worry the ring on my thumb before slamming my locker door shut. The metallic boom echoes down the empty corridor. There isn’t a student or a teacher in sight. Guess no one wants to be here longer than they have to. The heavy tread of my boots thumps in time to the beat of my heart. I hum the summer’s one-hit wonder and follow my mental map of the school.
A half set of stairs leads down to the Science wing. The temperature drops by ten degrees and the skin on my arms prickles in response. They must keep it cooler down here for health reasons or they lack the funding for fridges. They better have protective clothing. No way I’m dissecting shit and getting formaldehyde all over my vintage 1990-era Screaming Trees threads. The shirt was dad’s … before the accident.
I push past the double-swinging-doors labeled “Dissection Lab – Beware” and find myself in a large room filled from floor to ceiling in stainless steel appliances, tables, cabinets, and flickering fluorescent lights. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe I’d stepped into a morgue. Imagined eyes sweep over me. I ignore the way my skin crawls because the room is as empty as my dad’s spot at the dinner table.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. As a tiny human, “I cut my teeth on horror books in the darkness” (sung to Lorde’s Royals). There’s something visceral and vitally important about being scared. And what better way to do it than under your covers with a flashlight in one hand and a good book in the other?
In honor of the season, and to get you in the spirit, here are five books perfect for nighttime reading (listed in the order of publication):
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
“Sometimes dead is better….”
When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son — and now an idyllic home.
As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly cat. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth — more terrifying than death itself…and hideously more powerful.
I read this when I was 9 or 10. It made my heart beat a million miles a second. And I loved that feeling of uncontrollable fear! We watched the movie at a Halloween party and screamed our heads off. I’m sure the neighbors loved us. It’s a classic horror story that sticks with you long after the last page.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
Twelve-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother, Michael, have never liked their seven-year-old stepsister, Heather. Ever since their parents got married, she’s made Molly and Michael’s life miserable. Now their parents have moved them all to the country to live in a house that used to be a church, with a cemetery in the backyard. If that’s not bad enough, Heather starts talking to a ghost named Helen and warning Molly and Michael that Helen is coming for them. Molly feels certain Heather is in some kind of danger, but every time she tries to help, Heather twists things around to get her into trouble. It seems as if things can’t get any worse.
But they do — when Helen comes.
I got this book from a library sale in my preteen years. The cover is what caught my eye. I loved this story as a kid, so when I read it a couple years to see if it held up, I was happily in love again. I hold all ghost stories against this one, my first.
Goosebumps by R. L. Stine
Discover the original bone-chilling adventures that made Goosebumps one of the bestselling children’s book series of all time!
Something scary is happening in GOOSEBUMPS HORRORLAND, the all-new, all-terrifying series by R. L. Stine. Just how scary? You’ll never know unless you crack open this classic prequel!
Discover the fan-favorite thriller and chiller that first introduced the world to the wooden face of fear. The puppet who pulls all the strings. None other than Slappy the Dummy!
My brother devoured these books. Each book is a new story with a new monster. R. L. Stine has often been called the Stephen King of Children’s Literature — and with good reason. They make the perfect gift for a younger reader.
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.
Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate’s baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.
Creepy town. Captivating characters. Chapter Eleven Human Love is my most favorite chapter in any book I’ve read in a long time. IMO, it’s the heart of the novel, and it’s the heart of what makes love simple and complicated and perfectly human.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand…Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Gothic setting. An attic full of possibilities. Old movies. A cemetery filled with children hunting vampires. And a thrilling mystery that unfolds as darkly as a stain of blood on a crisp white shirt.
What are some of your favorite horror novels?
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