Tomorrow would have been the 92nd birthday of author Roald Dahl, creator of such memorable tomes as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "James and the Giant Peach" and "Matilda." He was also the author of a collection of short stories called "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More" which absolutely, positively scared the living, breathing daylights out of me as a child and scarred me for months thereafter. The particular culprit in this instance was a story called "The Swan," in which two boys bully another young boy, kill a swan and then make the boy wear the dead swan's wings as he (presumably) jumps to his death from a tall tree. I remember my mother accidentally gave me this book when I was maybe 9 or 10 and home sick from school. By the end of the story, I was sucking down Nyquil and smoking sugar cigarettes just to blot out thoughts of bloody, de-winged swans.
It's funny looking back at as adult at the types of things that scared you as a child, like a preview of all your future neuroses. That "Swan" story scared me not only because of its gruesome nature but because of the bullying (no fun for a kid who used to get crammed in the occasional locker or two herself) and the fall from great heights. (Hate heights.) I remember also reading "Dracula" as a kid...and getting so scared that I hid it under the couch, thinking that if Dracula somehow leaped out from inside the book, the hefty davenport, as my grandmother used to call it, would crush him before he was able to do any exsanguination. This was a manifestation of my future ability to be an idiot and also my aversion to men in slightly gay capes. (See "Batman.")
"Bambi," "Charlotte's Web" and "The Cricket in Times Square" also left me a quivering mess, what with the matricide, the barnyard traumas and the separation of friends and family -- all with cute illustrations!
Other media also did the trick. I remember being terrified of The Abominable Snowman in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and also this gremlin dude from "The Twilight Zone" episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring a semi pre-hammy William Shatner:
Today, I look at that gremlin and see a guy in a cheesy rubber mask but when I was seven, the sight terrified me to such a degree that I was literally frozen in place. I remember trying to scream for my parents to come and turn off the TV for me and not a single squeek emerged. And yes, every time I get on a plane, I think about that damn gremlin. I shake my fist at you, Mr. Serling, and your unsettling tales of the manifestation of 20th century anxieties! (I'm pretty sure that's what I wrote in my Hello, Kitty diary once I'd calmed down...)
I can't be the only one with these kinds of childhood traumas, though, right? What books, movies or TV scared you as a kid?