When I was in grade school there was a woman who worked in the lunchroom. She wasn’t a lunch lady in the sense that she didn’t fill the tray compartments with stewed prunes and reconstituted potatoes and processed meatloaf by-product. She sat out in the lunchroom itself and it was her job to break up fights, open snack packages, and stop us from blowing up paper bags and popping them. Mostly her job, though, was to just keep us quiet. She also lived on one of the streets where I went trick-or-treating, and always had the coolest house. She had spiderwebs and decorations up, and colored lights, and she dressed up as a witch, complete with green face and fake warts. I realize now that, while she probably took the lunchroom job just because she liked kids, she was also a bona fide Halloween fanatic. One of her ways of keeping us quiet during lunch was to read stories, and I distinctly remember her reading to us from Maria Leach’s The Thing At The Foot Of The Bed.
While you’ll find Some of the same stories in One Minute Scary Stories, the versions here tend to be longer, and they range from the very funny (the title story, for one, has a hilarious and surprising ending) to pretty violent. There are two stories in which people are beheaded. Did I mention this was a children’s book? Leach doesn’t just tell the stories, though; some of them have historical background, such as her version of The Vanishing Hitchhiker, and the book also begins with an introduction to ghost stories. I’ve never forgotten that people born at midnight are supposed to be able to see ghosts.
Maybe it’s just the neighborhood where I live, but it seems like very few kids go trick-or-treating anymore. Ghosts and monsters under the bed have been replaced by admittedly real fears of child molesters and exaggerated concerns about poisoned candy. One story from the book, Big Fraid And Little Fraid, seems like a funny comment on these concerns, as a young boy who doesn’t know what fear is drives his parents crazy with worry. Finally his father plans to scare the boy, but ends up being scared himself.
This Halloween, just in case, I’ll be sitting by the door with some candy. And I’ll see if I can find my old, worn, and much-loved copy of The Thing At The Foot Of The Bed. Just in case some trick-or-treater comes by, I’ll slip it into their sack and hope they’ll appreciate it.