Remember the simple days of childhood when books such as TheBailey School Kids, Magic Tree House and Goosebumps were a constant staple at your local libraries and book stores? I love longstanding series that stretch on longer than a summer’s day. There’s always another book to consume, another adventure to embark on and another chapter to be read. Earlier this year, by a random stroke of luck, I stumbled upon a UK kid series known as BEAST QUEST. Written by various authors under the pen name of Adam Blade, Beast Quest made its debut in 2007 with Ferno the Fire Dragon. Amazingly, Beast Quest rages on to this very day, with new entries scheduled for the summer of 2021 and beyond. As of this writing, the series spans over 150 books and has sold over 20 million copies! Off the top of my head, I don’t know if there’s a chapter book series more prolific than Beast Quest. It certainly warrants a closer look, so let’s delve right in.
WHAT IS BEAST QUEST?
Beast Quest follows the adventures of young Tom and his friend, Elenna. They live in the land of Avantia, which was once guarded by 6 beasts. But peace never lasts very long. For a jealous and evil wizard roams the land, seeking his chance to rule with an iron fist. Malvel’s black magic has corrupted the guardians, turning them against the denizens of Avantia. It’s up to Tom and Elenna to free the beasts and save Avantia.
Each book in the main series is a little over 100 pages and can be read in an hour or less. The Special Editions hover around the 190 page mark. Admittedly, Beast Quest is rather unoriginal and full of tropes. But it does serve as a perfect gateway and introductory point to the world of sci-fi fantasy and quasi horror for younger readers.
DISCOVERING THE SERIES
Earlier this February I was browsing Target.com for a book with the name “beast” in it. It led me to these badass Beast Quest covers. I’d never seen it before, so I did a quick Google search to find out more. I was sold and suddenly found myself on eBay. Out of wild curiosity, I did a completed items search. I almost wish I hadn’t…
Earlier that SAME evening, someone bought this for just $45! It was a Buy It Now, and the seller listed it earlier that day. I missed it by mere hours! I even messaged her to let know I was interested in buying it if the buyer didn’t come through. She said she’d keep me in mind but I knew it was futile. The buyer paid for it and that was that. Man, if only I had discovered the series a little bit earlier that day!
But life has a funny way of working out sometimes. A few days later I went back to the completed search and found an auction selling 80 (!) books that ended in December 2020 with 0 bids. I sent her a message, figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. Turns out she took the auction down because shipping was too costly. I offered to buy 60 of the 80 books (#19-78 — I recently bought #1-18) and asked if she could fit them in 2 medium or large priority mail boxes. As luck would have it, they were a perfect fit in 2 medium boxes. Best of all, she gave it to me for only $50!
Opening this felt like Christmas morning! I love what a snug fit they were and how the bright colors bounce off the box like a shimmering treasure chest full of shiny gold coins.
She even threw in Special Editions #1 and #2 for free. Because what does a series with well over 100 books in the main lineup need? Spin-offs and side entries, of course. Even better, the books still had the collector cards tucked in at the back. Most tear the cards out, so imagine my shock and joy when the books arrived in very good condition AND still had their trading cards intact. I truly lucked out. So glad I missed the first auction by mere hours! I’ve had some crazy memorable eBay dealings in my day; this one definitely ranks up there.
GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL
Each book comes with 4 trading cards (or a bookmark and 2 cards) tucked in at the back of the book. Like I said, if you’re buying used copies then odds are that the cards will be missing. So be aware of that. Also, some later entries stopped featuring cards (bummer).
Cards highlight the big baddies, secondary foes, fellow allies, places of note and even weapons and items. The cards aren’t anything to go wild about (there is nothing on the back — a small missed opportunity), but they’re still a fun bonus that I’m sure as a kid I would have loved immensely.
Also note that the US editions came with no cards. Only certain UK editions did.
Just another reason why the UK imprint is far better than the North American one!
This is exactly the kind of cool shit I would have loved peddling with my friends on the school playground before the morning bell rings.
This is most likely what you’d find when buying these books second hand. Torn out cards at the back. It’s a damn near minor miracle when they’re not. To receive 60 books with their cards intact was a pleasant surprise!
THE ART AND SOUL OF BEAST QUEST
But even better than the cards are all the amazing illustrations littered throughout each book. There’s cool artwork every couple pages or so. This makes it a super easy read and the pictures — especially those of the beasts and monsters — add a lot of charm and quality to the overall package.
Most of the art is quite striking, containing a pseudo anime style. Although not credited anywhere within the books, the illustrations were drawn by Steve Sims. With pictures like this and the collector cards, it’s no wonder this series was/is such a smash hit in the UK. It’s almost everything a 7 year old could ever want from a book series.
I’m 37 and the kid in me absolutely loves this. I can only imagine how much more if I were 7!
An ancient scaly sea dragon raging war with a prehistoric killer mutant shark? TAKE MY DISPOSABLE INCOME!
Of the 3 books I’ve read thus far, the prose is decent enough. The writing isn’t the best in the world but it’s not overly simplistic, either. The art, however, is what makes Beast Quest truly stand out.
“What a shame there were no toys as well,” said no parent ever.
Beast Quest does remind me a bit of Monster In My Pocket from the early ’90s.
Shoot, with all the different monsters they created, they could easily have had their own Beast Quest action figures.
Beast Quest also reminds me slightly of one of my all-time favorites, Battle Beasts. Hard to believe that was almost 35 years ago now!
Come to think of it, a weekly animated series would have been a smash success as well.
THE VIDEO GAME
Although they never capitalized on a toy lineup or a cartoon series, there is a Beast Quest video game. Released originally in 2016, the game is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam. The Switch version goes for $29.99 but I’ve seen it on sale for $10 from time to time. Might pick it up down the road once it hits $5. Reviews aren’t too favorable but your mileage may vary.
USA VS. UK
Scholastic published the first 24 books in North America from March 2007 to October 2012. If you want book #25 on, you have to buy the UK editions. But my recommendation is to skip the US editions altogether. The UK entries are far superior in every which way. Not only do they come with trading cards (if they weren’t already yanked out), but the illustrations are night and day…
See what I mean? It’s not even close! But the biggest offender of all…
SPECIAL EDITIONS AND MORE
As previously mentioned, there are books in the series that deviate off the main path. You have Special Bumper editions, Battle of the Beasts (only 3 were written) and even a Choose Your Own Path spin-off.
There are also books highlighting the beasts and a special Ultimate Story collection that features color pictures.
I own the first 110 books (Series 1-21) but am missing some entries from Series 21-25. I never buy them new so it’s just a matter of waiting to fill in the gaps. I also own most of the 24 Special Editions. #25, Arkano the Stone Crawler, is set for release on July 27, 2021. This is, pardon the pun, a beast of a series with no end in sight.
Another look, but with the box sets flipped around. I also own the spin-off series, Sea Quest. That series retired after “only” 39 books. It features entirely new characters and its own universe. But yeah, definitely just an excuse for “Adam Blade” to mass produce more easy to sell books to young children. I haven’t read Sea Quest yet, but one dad on Goodreads and his son said that they actually like it a lot better than Beast Quest because of “better world building and some nifty gadgets.”
It’s insane how many books are in this series. It’s almost like The Simpsons of the chapter book world in that there is simply no end in sight. It’s very possible that the quality dips and fluctuates over the course of time (inevitable with so many ghost writers in the series). I’m sure there’s bound to be a point of fatigue and saturation but this series scratches my OCD itch to collect ‘em all. My wife is probably shaking her head as she reads this
So far I’ve read the first 3 books (only 228 left to go!) and honestly, I had a blast with each one. Granted, it’s only the beginning so everything is still novel at this point. Although I can already see there’s a certain formula. It opens with the titular beast causing havoc, then shifts to our main protagonist, Tom, and his quest to conquer the beast — which he does each time, shocking, I know! And when Tom does defeat the beast, he gains a special item, skill or ability that comes into play in the following book. Like I said, classic literature this ain’t, my friend. But if you’re looking to introduce a fun book series that features sci-fi fantasy and scary monsters to a reluctant young reader, Beast Quest does well to scratch that itch. In fact, I bought the series with the hope to one day read it to my future kid(s). Boy or girl, they’re going to love hearing it read aloud to them around 5 or 6. And by 7 or 8 start devouring on their own before moving on to more advanced, complicated stories. Man, if only this series was around in 1990 when I was 7. Maybe I’ll be able to live vicariously through my future child while helping to cultivate their sense of wonder and imagination. One can only hope so.
Today marks 20 years since the unfortunate and untimely passing of one of horror’s most prolific writers, Richard Laymon. On February 14, 2001, Mr. Laymon sadly left this world far too soon, dying at the tender age of 54. To honor his amazing legacy and life, I can’t think of a better time than now to share some memories and highlights. So whether you’re brand new to Laymon’s lunacy or a long time fan, sit back and grab a cold one. This one’s for you, Uncle Dicky!
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Ever since the ripe age of 6 — when I first experienced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween — I have been a huge fan of horror. Naturally, that love carried into the mid ’90s with R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumpsbooks.
Following Goosebumps, the next logical evolution was Fear Street. R.L. Stine wrote this series for a teenage audience. I had a blast reading these books, especially The Babysitter and its sequels. Fond memories of reading Hit and Run in one sitting late one summer night in 1995.
Given my history with horror, one might assume the next step to be venturing out with adult horror books, such as Stephen King’s It. Except I didn’t. By the time I hit high school in the fall of 1997, I stopped reading for leisure and only read to fulfill class assignments and essays. Reading — something I once loved dearly — became strictly perfunctory.
Fast forward over 20 years to April of 2019. Randomly visiting a Goodwill by my girlfriend’s place 2 hours out of town, I hit the mother lode. Displayed enticingly before me on the shelf were over 50 R.L. Stine horror books. And just like that, I was back in.
2 short months later, in the summer of 2019, I did a random search for horror books on eBay. Came across CANNIBALS by Guy N. Smith. Up to this point in my life, I had yet to read an adult horror novel. I knew right away that Cannibals had to be the one to pop my cherry. It was, and it was glorious.
Suddenly, the floodgates opened. The summer of 2019 began my obsession with buying and reading as many vintage horror paperbacks as I could. Books like SPIDERS by Richard Lewis spooked the shit out of me, and I couldn’t get enough.
Sure, there were some disappointments along the way, such as Guy N. Smith’s MANITOU DOLL. But I loved the fantastic art of these (cheesy) vintage horror paperbacks from hell, and I loved hunting for the next great creepy read.
Enter Richard Laymon. In July of 2019, I was browsing the horror aisle at a mom and pop book shop and came across THE CELLAR. I had been reading online and the name “Richard Laymon” had crossed my desk more times than once. I picked it up, recalling that the word on the street was that Richard Laymon isn’t for the faint of heart. And boy, were they not kidding.
A week or so later, I won a lot of Richard Laymon books off eBay. One of the books was The Woods Are Dark. It was the first Laymon book I read. It was graphic, insane and read like a trashy 1980s slasher movie. Admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it certainly left an impression.
In September of 2019, I struck gold when I won a massive lot of 39 Richard Laymon novels. As the auction title suggested, it was an “instant collection.” I remember making an $87 offer, so with shipping it would be just under $100. The seller was nice enough to accept, and I won the whole shebang for $99.63 (this was right before eBay started taxing winning bidders). $2.55 a pop? Sign me up!
I remember the day the package came. My heart raced a bit faster when I got home from work and saw that big brown box sitting gloriously on the porch. Opening it felt like Christmas morning! There were so many books that the seller organized them in two layers. Here’s the top…
And here’s the bottom. The rest of that year I started devouring Richard Laymon novels like crazy. One a month, sometimes two. Although many of his books are over 400 pages, because of the plentiful dialogue and the crazy plot points that move briskly, those pages (often times) fly by rather fast!
From that picture I’ve read One Rainy Night, To Wake the Dead, and The Beast House (sequel to The Cellar — the first Laymon book I bought). Of those 3, I enjoyed To Wake the Dead the most — it’s a creepy story about an ancient mummy that comes back to life and wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting community! Throw in a ludicrous sub-plot about the (really) dark side of human beings and you have a truly horrific and harrowing read!
From this pile I’ve read Out Are the Lights, The Woods Are Dark (the version in the picture above is the unedited edition), Endless Night and The Traveling Vampire Show. My wife and I are currently reading Darkness, Tell Us. That one involves a Ouija board and some college kids. As you can expect, much mayhem ensues. The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age novel that’s often lauded by many horror fans. I was actually somewhat disappointed in TVS. I thought it would be a lot more epic but it ended up being a bit uneven.
I’ve read In the Dark, Night Show, and After Midnight. In the Dark is easily my favorite of this pile. It’s about a quiet librarian who one evening discovers a note offering her some cash in exchange for completing a simple task. As one might guess, the tasks get increasingly more complex and dangerous as the cash offerings go up. Not to mention… is the “Game Master” even human at all… or is it some kind of monstrous demon? It is a very unsettling read at times. Laymon, at his best, paints these horrific and vivid images in your brain that you’ll NEVER forget.
The last pile I’ve read Island, Funland, Bite, Come Out Tonight, The Cellar and Night in the Lonesome October. NitLO is hands down my favorite Richard Laymon horror book of all time. I don’t think anything will ever top that, or even come close. You can read my review for more. One of the most atmospheric and addicting books I’ve ever read. Funland takes place in a beach town and involves a corrupt amusement park. “The Trolls” are running roughshod and people are disappearing after dark. A local gang of teenagers decide to take matters into their own hands and do some investigating. But has this group of vigilantes bitten off more than they can chew? The climax is all sorts of trippy and insane. A lot of people love Funland but it had some pacing issues for me. Still, definitely a fun Laymon entry. Also notable for being the first 500+ page book I ever read!
But my favorite book in that pile, and my second overall favorite Laymon novel thus far, is COME OUT TONIGHT. This book is just a notch below Night in the Lonesome October for me. It captured the seedy streets of Los Angeles perfectly. Check out this bat shit crazy plot: it’s one of LA’s most scorching summer nights. Duane and Sherry are about to get it on, but there’s no condom. So Duane goes down to the local 7-11 and never returns. Sherry, sensing that something terrible has happened, ventures out into the muggy and sweltering LA night… what she finds will change her life forever. Very underrated and reads just like a movie. You can almost see every single scene unfolding in your head and it’s just magic when a writer can do that!
BTW, Island is my wife’s favorite. I enjoyed that one, too. It’s brutal, and if it wasn’t made clear to you yet, just know that Laymon isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of potential trigger warnings. Rape and a heavy focus on women’s breasts are pretty much in all his novels. Every book of his has the word “rump” in it many times over. He had a very distinct writer’s voice, and you can tell a Laymon book almost right away. No one wrote like how he did.
Although the horror world lost Richard Laymon all too awfully soon, his legacy lives on with his 40+ published books. So far I’ve read about 20 of them, with my top 3 favorites being Night in the Lonesome October, Come Out Tonight and In the Dark. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of 2 star duds. Bite was a sack of shit and Out Are the Lights was a bad day at the office for ol’ Uncle Dicky. But for the most part, his books are entertaining and wild. If you have any interest in horror at all, I recommend reading a few of his works before all is said and done. I especially recommend Night in the Lonesome October. That one MUSTbe read exclusively at night. I often wish I could go back and read that one for the first time again.
It’s been 20 years now since Richard Laymon’s passing. And yet the horror community still raves about his work and he is often recommended in horror book recommendation topics. It’s not hard to see why. I’m sad knowing I’ve already gone through half his catalog. I will certainly savor the last 20 or so Laymon books I have yet to read over the next 10-15 years. I hope this article inspires you to pick up a Laymon book in the near future. Happy reading!
As a kid I loved going to the library. My mom and dad would take me there at least once a week. I always made a beeline for the scary books. Anything that had to do with ghosts, monsters and the macabre — I was there. Over time however, namely around high school and college, I fell out of love with reading. Reading became a chore. Something I had to do in order to ace a test. I lost my way with reading, and every year “reading more” became a New Years resolution that would inevitably crash and burn by February. But as readers of Adventures in Book Shopping know, over the past year I’ve rediscovered my passion for books. So much so that I decided to add a brand new category to RVGFanatic: BOOKS R US.
I understand this may seem like quite a deviation as for the past 13+ years I’ve used RVGFanatic mainly as a platform for all things Super Nintendo. However, I have never shied away from writing about other random things. I will continue to write SNES game reviews and articles when I feel inspired to. But to be perfectly honest and frank, over the past year the bulk of my down time has been devoted to reading the many books on my to-be-read shelf. Due to this rediscovered passion of reading, I’d like to share some quick thoughts about the books I read. I hope this addition to RVGFanatic will serve you in some small way, whether it conjures nostalgic memories about books from our youth, or simply gawking at the trashy, pulpy horror fiction paperbacks that proliferated bookstores throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope you will come along for the ride! Now, let us continue on with the main show…
HOW THE FEAR BEGAN
My love for R.L. Stine began in the early-mid ’90s, when I, like countless other kids, fell helplessly in love with his Goosebumps series. My best friend Nelson and I devoured them often in one sitting.
But I knew Goosebumps weren’t the only “scary” books R.L. Stine wrote. Prior to evil talking dummies and egg monsters from space, R.L. Stine wrote scary books for a slightly older audience. His Point Horror books (such as The Babysitter series) and his Fear Street franchise were popular sellers back in the day. Reading one was sort of like a rite of passage. After consuming Goosebumps by the dozens, Fear Street was the next natural step.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Fear Street novel. One day in late 1992, Nelson and I were on our way to the kids section. But you could never get there first before passing by the aisle displaying the latest teen novels. Remember those movable glass panels libraries used back in the ’90s? It afforded you a glimpse at those teen covers and it was here that Nelson and I had our very first Fear Street encounter. The cover showed a high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutching her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. The forbidden book stood high on the top glass panel as if not to be touched. He dared me to reach up and take it down. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 year old kids…
There was nothing like going into Waldenbooks and heading straight for the horror section. There was a new Goosebumps book published each month, but perhaps even better than that was scanning the covers of all those teen thrillers. When you were only 9, it felt like you were getting a glimpse behind the curtain.
RETURN TO FEAR STREET
In January of 2019, my girlfriend and I were out for lunch one day. We ordered some Chinese food and picked up some Popeyes fries since the two stores were in the same plaza (nothing like combining different comfort food together). We had about 15 minutes to kill and saw that there was a Goodwill nearby. We checked it out and I ended up buying a book and an Ernest collection DVD for $2. The very next month we found ourselves back in that plaza and I came across an old childhood book, Bunnicula. I bought it for a buck and thus began the nostalgic book hunting adventures.
April 13, 2019. My girlfriend used to live about 2 hours away, and she worked on Saturdays until 8 PM. Both were less than ideal but we worked around it. It was on this fateful cloudy Saturday afternoon that I met up with her during her lunch break. Before heading back to work, she loaned me the key to her apartment so I could hang out at her place to watch sports or play my Switch until she gets off at 8. Before heading to her place though, something told me to check one of the Goodwill stores near her place. I had never been there before, and I kind of had this crazy feeling that I was going to find some nostalgic books from my childhood there. After pulling into the parking lot, I noticed two things right away. Number one, it was FREAKING HUGE and second, it was one of those beautiful lazy cloudy spring afternoons you never wanted to end. The good gut feeling I had prior to entering the parking lot had just multiplied tenfold! There was going to be a special find inside that Goodwill store. I could feel it in my bones…
I was speechless when I arrived at the books section. It was a freaking gold mine. Most of the books were in great condition, and each book sold for $1.99. It wasn’t long before my eye caught sight of the wonders hidden within.
R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers and Fear Street franchise haunted me as a kid, but I didn’t get to read very many of them. Mostly, I remember gawking at their gaudy covers as a kid and wishing I would be able to read them. I never got around to, other than reading maybe 5 or 6 of them. So seeing all this left me speechless. Talk about taking a time machine and rewinding the clock some 25, 30 years!
For those counting at home, there are 52 teen thrillers in the cart, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. I bought most of the Fear Street books in one fell swoop. All of them were in good to excellent condition, and it felt like one of those lucky legendary finds that you’ll never forget. I was at the right place at the right time.
In addition to the 52 books, I found 15 other books from my childhood. Stuff like Old Yeller, My Teacher is an Alien and Aliens Ate My Homework. I spent $133.33. Each book sold for $1.99. It was insane to buy 67 books, and I remember laughing to myself at what a stupid crazy find this all was, as well as how to break this to my girlfriend
Last month, it hit me that it was the one year anniversary since I bought these books. April 13, 2019. What an incredible haul, and what a fateful Saturday that proved to be. It made me recall that day and weekend with a deep fondness. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of these books in the past year until recently. But that’s the thing about a library… just as it is with video games… it’s nice knowing you have a copy for whenever the urge strikes to read (or play) a certain title. Now that I’ve added a section devoted entirely to books on RVGFanatic, be on the lookout for random book reviews and such. I’m sure I’ll end up writing about some of the books you see above. So until next time, happy gaming AND happy reading!
For the past handful of years, my New Years resolutions have always been to lose 10-20 pounds and read more again. The weight goal sees varying degrees of success, but the reading one for some reason has always managed to elude me. Until recently. For the first time in over 20 years, I’ve read 20 books already this year. It was hard to stop once I got the ball rolling. It explains the lack of updates on RVGFanatic this past summer. Usually the summer season is when I crank out material like crazy. Not so this summer. Because this was the summer I got back into books and more importantly, back into reading. How’s how it all came to be, for the morbidly curious…
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
One of the many highlights of my youth was all the library trips I took with my mom, dad and my childhood best friend, Nelson. We visited the library it felt every Friday afternoon after school. Although I loved playing video games on the weekend, I loved reading as well. I always looked forward to the end of the school week so I could raid the local library and pick up a new stack of books to devour. It was a memorable and innocent time.
Nelly and I ate up the Goosebumps series. We were absolutely in love with R.L. Stine’s monthly tomes of terror. Actually, they weren’t that big in size or scary, but as kids we couldn’t get enough.
We read some of R.L. Stine’s more grown up work as we entered junior high in the fall of 1995. Maybe some of his work hasn’t held up too well over the years but they were definitely a sign of the times. Damn good times they were.
But along the way, at some point in high school probably, I stopped reading for pleasure. Any reading I did was because I had to. Whether it was because I had to write a book report in an English Lit. class or a college professor assigned some reading for homework, suddenly reading became something of a chore more than a reward. It was a means to an end. And it would remain that way for many years… until this past year…
The seed was planted on January 13, 2019. My girlfriend and I went out to order some Chinese food for lunch. After being told there would be a 10-15 minute wait, I suggested that we hit up the Goodwill just next door to pass the time. As we walked over I shared with her that the last time I went to a Goodwill was way back in 2012. And how I found some rare Sega Saturn games for cheap which I couldn’t resist but flip on eBay for a nice little profit. I rarely did that during my game buying career, but an extra $150 or however much I was bound to rake in was difficult to resist on that cold December evening of 2012. So it was with that little trip down memory lane that I entered Goodwill with a glimmer of hope that maybe lightning would strike twice. Little did I know, it was that innocent little visit that would spur my book fervor into motion.
As we were flipping through the DVD and book section (there were no video games on hand that day), I caught glimpse of What To Expect The First Year. It was in very good condition and at only $2 I felt it would make for a tremendous resource one day. Then I spotted an Ernest Triple Feature boasting the critically acclaimed (or not) Ernest Goes To Camp, Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Goes To Jail. At 50 cents a movie, I couldn’t pass up on that. The clerk at the counter grinned when he rung me up, saying, “You can read up on babies while watching Ernest do his thing.” My girlfriend and I both laughed and that was that. If only I had known what a snowball effect this would have…
About a month later we found ourselves back at Goodwill browsing the book shelves. On that fateful day found a copy of Bunnicula. Suddenly mauled by a tidal wave of memories, I felt like I was 8 years old again. I remember seeing Bunnicula a lot as a kid, but I can’t recall any story details. Nostalgia bit me and the $1 price tag made it an easy slam dunk. Pandora’s Box was unleashed, and there was no stopping it. I suddenly began to long for all the books I read during my childhood that I wanted to read again, or to read those I had missed out on. In many ways, it was eerily similar to my SNES resurgence from early 2006. I swooped up SNES games left and right 13 years ago in 2006, and now 13 years later I was buying books by the boatload…
As I quickly discovered, Goodwill can be a gold mine for book hunting. Quality and quantity vary of course from location to location, but man have I been lucky. The Goodwill stores that I hit up always knock it out of the park. The books are usually in great condition and go for $1.99 a pop. I’ll never forget the first time my girlfriend and I ran across an unbelievable selection of books at a Goodwill. It’s rare for me to not walk away with at least an arm full of books!
Saturday, April 13, 2019. Stepping out of my car, I could feel something funny. No, not that Taco Bell burrito I had moments earlier. It was something else. I felt it in my bones. Something big was inside that Goodwill. I double checked to make sure my car was locked. Satisfied that it indeed was, I marched to the entrance like a man possessed.
As I stood there in awe and reverence, my mind did cartwheels and fist pumps as my eyes caught sight of something very near and dear to my heart… I could see them from the corner of my eyes… this was going to be a haul for the ages…
I felt like the lucky millionth customer who just won a shopping spree. The shelves boasted a bunch of R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers. I hadn’t seen those books stacked up like that in 25 years, not since I last saw them in 1994 at B. Dalton and Walden Books*. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were all in very good to great condition, $1.99 a pop and ripe for the taking. I was in book Heaven! It was like righting a childhood wrong; I always wanted to read more of Stine’s teen thrillers but I only read a small handful. This was a second chance!
Freaking out on the inside, for a moment it felt as if time had stood still. I could see sounds, smell colors. A swirling sensation wrapped around me as I found myself instantly transported back to B. Dalton or Walden Books some 25+ years ago. Today’s find was one for the ages. I stole a glance around the store to see if time did in fact freeze. A few ladies down the aisle were shopping for clothes while a boy and girl ran down another aisle laughing and joking. Snapping out of my trance, I calmly began to place the books into the shopping cart by the handful.
I could tell the books were donated by the same person. And that he or she kept them in great condition. The only R.L. Stine teen thrillers already in my library were The Babysitter I-III, Silent Night 1 and 2, and I Saw You That Night! So most of Stine’s offerings sitting before me were taken off the shelf and judiciously plopped into the shopping cart.
Back in 1995 my dad took me to the library on a Friday night and I borrowed a book called Hit and Run. I got home that night and started reading the book. I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I remember being absolutely hooked and enthralled by it. There’s nothing like being wrapped up in a good book. Nearly 25 years later and here it was, live in the flesh. The thrill of book hunting!
I bought 52 teen thrillers that day, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. At $1.99 a pop, it ran me a total of $103.48. An insane amount to spend on books, I know, but to get most of Stine’s older work in one fell swoop felt like a chance encounter. One not to squander or pass on. Especially in the condition they were in. I could make 1,000 more Goodwill trips and probably would never run into something this good ever again.
Back at my girlfriend’s place, I sprawled the books out to take a photo. I have no idea how long it’ll take me to read them all. Honestly, I’ll probably end up reading only the ones I really want, and not get around to the others. So why still buy them all? Part of it is to set up one hell of a library for any future children I may have one day. If I ever have kids, one thing’s for sure, they’re going to develop a love for literature.
On Saturday, May 4, 2019, my girlfriend was working but had a chance to swing by a Goodwill for a minute. She snapped this photo and texted it to me. I zoomed in and gasped. I found a childhood book, The Time of the Witch by Mary Downing Hahn, that I always wanted to read but never ever ran across. I remember reading a preview of it once in a book when I was young and being intrigued ever since. You know, those blurbs you would find on the back pages of a book. A fan of Hahn’s writing, she wrote many scary books for kids over the years. So to see it at last blew my mind.
I frantically texted my girlfriend back, telling her to please pick up The Time of the Witch (and The Jellyfish Season also by Mary Downing Hahn). I showed her where on the picture and she was left stunned. “How in the HELL were you able to make that out?! Alright baby, you got it.” What a saint
We met up at a pizza parlor on her lunch break and she handed me the books. It was the first time I ever saw The Time of the Witch. I was ecstatic. When you’re building a library, any wanted book found is worthy of a (mental) fist pump.
I always get a kick out of reading the back of books, much like I do the back of video game boxes. There’s something cool about it that takes you back to the days of reading the back of VHS boxes at your local rental store!
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOPS
Beyond Goodwill, I’ve found plenty of nice finds at local bookshops. Support them! They’re good for the community and you might run into some really good stuff.
I read the first Wizard of Oz book as a kid, and absolutely adored it, but I never read the other 13 books in the series. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to doing.
SCORE! At last I found a copy of Curtains by R.L. Stine. This was one of those books that haunted me during my childhood due to the intensity and creepiness of the art cover.
My favorite film of all time is Field of Dreams. It’s just a fun, uplifting and magical movie. The soundtrack is absolutely spine-tingling. Years later I discovered it was adapted from a novel called Shoeless Joe. I remember borrowing a copy from the library in 1999 and reading it. I enjoyed it and have always wanted to reread it. 20 years later, I finally have that chance
Speaking of novels made into movies, Jaws by Peter Benchley was on my want list from the beginning of 2019. 7 months later I finally ran across a mint copy at a local bookstore. I loved how the white spine and crazy shark art on the spine made it stand out in the crowd. For this one I might have actually done a legit fist pump… no shame! It’s an interesting read for sure, but the movie is definitely better. Still, it’s nice to see where the movie was inspired from.
I’m such a sucker for the old Point Horror teen books with their cool art covers. It just takes you back to an innocent time where all the rage were thrillers and horror stories. Diane Hoh and Eve Bunting had some good ones.
On the hunt for more childhood books and ones I never got around to reading, I found one of my absolute favorites on this trip. Remember the author Robert Kimmel Smith? He penned such books as The War With Grandpa, Jelly Belly and Chocolate Fever.
But it was Mostly Michael that stuck with me over the years. I had to get the original edition I read from my childhood, and there it was in very good condition. It was my first time seeing it since my youth years, and it gave me a jolt of nostalgia that tickled my toes. It’s about a boy who receives a diary journal for his birthday. At first he thinks it’s a crock, but he writes in it and through his entries you get to experience what he goes through. I remember being captivated by it as a kid and the ending was very touching I recall. Can’t wait to read it again.
For the most part, I’m not a fan of today’s kids books in terms of art covers and such. There was something magical about a classic Dell Yearling book cover that I absolutely can’t get enough of. Apple Paperbacks are also good as well as Avon Camelot, but Dell Yearling takes the cake for me. And no author in my opinion represented Dell Yearling better than Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder penned some really interesting books. Her style is unique and charming. I never read her books as a kid but boy do I wish I had.
Naylor’s Witch series was one I missed out on as a kid. I wish I didn’t. I mean, just look at that cover! It’s creepy and unsettling. This is the stuff you don’t see anymore. Nothing beats a classic Dell Yearling novel. The Witch Herself is the 3rd book in a 6 part series.
The first in the Witch series, Witch’s Sister, eluded me for months. Sure I could have bought a more recent edition, but those lack soul and character. I waited it out, and when I spotted the original edition of Witch’s Sister sitting on the shelf, I did cartwheels internally.
I missed out on these books as a kid, but they look great for some Halloween reading
The Henry Reed series by Keith Robertson is another great one I was able to hunt down and highly recommend.
Before moving towns in the 7th grade, my best friend Nelson gave me a book called The Bullies and Me by Harriet Savitz. It was about a boy who moved towns, got bullied and had to figure out a way of making sense in his own world. It felt like art imitating life, although I didn’t get bullied in my new town thank goodness. Still, the message of the story resonated deeply with me. I even wrote a review for it on Amazon way back in the year 2000.
GOING TO READING THE MOVIES
The best part of a book hunting trip is going into the store with a mental list of some books you want but knowing the odds aren’t great that you’ll find it since they’re of the older variety… and then finding it! On this particular jaunt, I walked in thinking how nice it would be if I could find the movie novelization for Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff. I remember seeing it on the shelf all the time as a kid in the early ’90s, but never getting a chance to read it as I was too young at the time. After making my rounds in the young adult section, I almost went to pay for the books when a funny feeling said to check the Sci-Fi section. Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a mint copy of Gremlins 2! What can I say, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a book you’ve long wanted in the wild.
Fun story: the night my girlfriend came home following my purchase of Clash of the Titans (the original 1981 version not the 2010 remake), we watched the movie. It turned out that her grandfather used to love watching it and she would watch it along with him. I hadn’t seen the movie in over 25 years and I thought it held up surprisingly well. Now I gotta read the book
Alan Dean Foster has been a busy man. He’s penned many books and many movie novelizations. His finest work, according to many, is the original Alien. Some go as far as to claim it’s the best movie novelization ever crafted. Read it for yourself and decide!
This was the big one. There are only 6 books in the history of mankind I can think of that are bursting with enough machismo to be able to fill my mailbox like that. Let’s rip ‘er open to see which 6 they are…
I truly am a sucker for movie novelizations. Some are bad but the good ones add details in a way a movie can never quite hit. Similar to video game adaptations of blockbuster movies, it’s fun to suss out the diamonds in the rough.
FUN NOTES AND MORE
One fun perk of buying old used books is you never know what you might find inside. Sometimes you might find the author’s signature, other times a friendly letter left tucked inside or even alternative endings. It’s all part of the fun!
This past summer has seen a resurrection for my love of books and reading. For years my goal would always be to read more but inevitably I would never carve out the time. This year alone I’ve already read 20 books. Admittedly, I’ve gone a little book crazy. My girlfriend will surely attest to that. My book resurgence is very similar to how I got back into the SNES in 2006. There are many parallels. I remember getting back into the fandom and the feeling of excitement that would course through my veins knowing that any swap meet (or book store) would assuredly mean coming home with several goods. Part of me is honoring the past by rereading old childhood favorites, but another part of me is honoring the future and what might come. I’m building a massive library for my future kids. They’ll never run out of literature to read and if public libraries do ever go the way of the dinosaur, at least my kids will have a safe haven. And certainly, libraries these days don’t carry the old classics. There will be plenty of Apple Paperbacks, Avon Camelot and Dell Yearling books for my kids to enjoy! I know it’s impossible to read every single book in my library but that’s just it. A library is meant to present one with many different choices at any given time depending on your current mood.
As much as I love the hunt and thrill of finding books to add to my library, nothing beats getting wrapped up in a really good novel. The words start to jump off the pages, worlds and characters form almost tangible images in your mind and it’s imagination intertwining with literacy and art at its finest. Not every book is worthwhile or memorable, but it’s awesome when you read one that sweeps you away. It’s a great feeling. You find it hard to put the book down and you hate when it ends. Some stories definitely stay with us for the long haul. I hope this article inspires you, if you haven’t read much lately, to look for a book that strikes your fancy. Who knows, maybe you’ll start reading regularly again just as I have. And on a final note… look for a certain series of book reviews coming in October right here on RVGFanatic!
There’s something special about having a best friend growing up. Someone you can truly call a best friend unequivocally. A best pal who sticks with you through thick and thin, good and bad, highs and lows. Nothing completes a healthy childhood like having a best buddy. And if you were lucky like me, you had one growing up. This is a tribute to my childhood best friend, Nelson. The greatest times we shared, the coming-of-age adventures of our youth, the falling out, the reconciliation and the most recent events that transpired between us not long ago…
SEPTEMBER 1988: DAY OF RECKONING
In a second, streams of sunshine. I heard a muffled voice that rose like a crescendo.
Great. Armageddon had finally come. The inevitable, as it were. No longer was I a free man. No more watching cartoons all day long. No more playing in the backyard with my brother’s Lego toys while he toiled along at school. I would wave good-bye to my brother and watch him disappear down the block before making a mad dash for his precious Lego stash (which he rarely let me touch in his presence). The sleek black spaceship called THE INVADER had more planets to conquer and it needed me to help it do that. Was I ready to give all of that up? Hell no. But you know what they say about Armageddon — it’s always got a face and a name. And now, a date as well.
Somehow, my mom managed to drag me to Room 1 by eight sharp. I sat in the corner, arms crossed with a scowl carved on my face. And it was then that I noticed a chubby boy sitting in the opposite corner who looked like he wanted to be there even less than I did. By the end of that week, the two of us became friends. Best friends. Nelly and I.
THE EARLY ’90S
Nelson and I had so much in common. We both loved monsters, ghosts, video games, wrestling, cartoons, TGIF, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the list goes on and on. We lived only two blocks away from each other. On my way to school each morning, I would stop by to pick him up. After school, if he wasn’t at my house, I was at his. My mom often took us to the library. Nelly and I used to borrow all the monster books we could find. My local library had a small monster section that we often raided as though we owned it. And maybe we did. To this day I still vividly remember borrowing the Godzilla book and others from that classic Ian Thorne series. I also remember us believing in those infamous Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot photos that we found in the library.
We watched all of the Showa era Godzilla movies together except for one: Destroy All Monsters. We read in a monster book somewhere about how Destroy All Monsters featured “all the TOHO monsters in it.” It then became an obsession of ours to track down a VHS copy, but at the time it proved very difficult to find. It’s not like today where with the power of the internet almost any obscure movie can be resurrected from the ashes. Oh no, back then it was the Wild, Wild West. We never did manage to track down a copy of DAM. I remember the author’s comment on DAM to this day. Nelly and I were flabbergasted when we read, “The movie is sadly not as good as one might hope.”
Nelson and I grew livid and defensive. “No freaking way! ALL the monsters are in it! It CAN’T BE ANYTHING BUT AWESOME! YOU BLIND JERK!”
Many years later I finally caught DAM when it was released on a larger scale. I have to say I agree with that author after all. So buddy, if you’re reading this somehow, I take it all back. On a side note, Nelson and I caught the opening night showing of Godzilla (2014) and it was glorious. Can’t wait for the 2019 sequel.
THE BURIED NOTE
Sometime in 1991, Nelson and I had the idea of burying a “Best Friends Forever” pledge in my backyard. We printed our names in blood (or at least, a sharp #2 pencil anyhow) and truly believed that in doing so we would remain best friends ’til the end of time. Ahhhh, the innocence of being eight. As we were preparing to dig a hole in my backyard, a booming voice rang. It was big bro. As big brothers often do, he spoiled our plans. The note, sadly, was never buried.
THE LEGEND OF THE MASKED MANIAC!
Back in 1992, Nelson told me a story that haunted me for weeks. In our hometown, according to him you understand, there was a maniac on the loose. On the prowl. Believed to be… at large. Again, according to Nelson, mind you. He wore a white hockey mask and wielded a horrific chainsaw. He was… THE MASKED MANIAC. Of course, a part of me knew my best friend was just spewing crap, but a small part of me grabbed and held on to the story. So imagine our shock and delight when we first saw Stanley Decker the following year in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. HOLY CRAP! It was Nelson’s MASKED MANIAC come to life!
The Masked Maniac became our little in-joke as the years went by, and I still believe The Masked Maniac is the world’s greatest slasher movie yet to be made.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF FIGHTING GAMES
The Street Fighter II craze hit the nation in 1991. Nelson and I fell in line but it was really World Heroes in 1992 that we truly adored. We both knew Street Fighter II was by far the superior game, but we sort of adopted the lesser touted World Heroes as one of our own. While the lines for the Street Fighter II cab went out the door, Nelson and I were perfectly content playing World Heroes with little fanfare. Nelson bought the SNES port in the fall of 1993 and we played it to death.
One of my favorite gaming memories came in late 1993 when both Super Street Fighter II and World Heroes 2 were jousting for arcade supremacy. On a rainy as hell Saturday morning, my dad dropped Nelson and me off at this gigantic jack-of-all-trades hobby store. I’ll never forget how my dad stopped the car right in front of the store, how Nelly and I streaked out of the back seats and to the safety of the store’s awning but not before the downpour managed to soak our jackets. Upon entering the humongous hobby shop, we wiped our feet and were immediately greeted by the soft Norwegian tunes of Erik’s stage from World Heroes 2. It’s just one of those simple little moments that stick with you forever. One of those magical childhood moments that even now as an adult you can still see vividly happening in third person.
THE FALL OUT
A lot changed in September 1992. I was a 4th grader in a 3-4 combo class that school year. Meanwhile, Nelson was in a standard 4th grade classroom. For the first time ever, we were separated. I met Timmy and Jerome, two third graders in my combo class, and we became good friends right away. At lunch I didn’t know whether to hang out with Nelson and Manny, or my new friends, Jerome and Timmy. I ended up hanging out with Jerome and Timmy more. Not surprisingly, this drove a riff in my relationship with Nelson. The line in the sand was drawn. It’s possible we had a fight prior to this which led to me picking Timmy and Jerome over Nelson and Manny, but I can’t quite remember the finer details.
Later that school year, things began to sour between me and Timmy. Somehow, we went from good pals to bitter rivals. This divided Jerome and our little three man clique disbanded as quickly as it formed.
Around December 1992, my teacher had each of us make a shoe box diorama. The box had to be decorated with things you liked. I chose my family and wanted to depict a typical lazy Sunday afternoon. My mom cooking in the kitchen, my dad reading the paper in the den, and my bro and I playing Street Fighter II on the SNES in our living room. Doesn’t sound bad on paper… until you factor in the cheap cut-out paper I used to represent everything in my shoe box. I’ll be honest, I didn’t do my best on that one…
Timmy, on the other hand, used grand 3D models: small dinosaur toys littered his diorama along with a pleasant looking volcano perfectly situated in the middle. Trees, even! It was a lush depiction of the Jurassic period, no doubt about it. He earned an A while Ms. Holly was kind enough to give me a C. Timmy’s shoe box sure bested mine, but it was what he did later that day that made me snap.
“What grade did you give Steve?” he asked Ms. Holly annoyingly.
“Timmy, that’s inappropriate to ask.”
“Did you fail him? Did you?”
“Timmy! What did I just say?”
I sat there and watched as Timmy grinned his stupid fat grin.
I glared at his scrawny ass from my seat. I saw the stupid bastard grinning like a Cheshire cat as he continued to pester Ms. Holly to spill the beans. He came up to me at the end of the day with his usual smug expression looking all arrogant and cocky.
“Steve, you know what, actually, your shoe box isn’t THAT bad… I mean, you really did justice to your family… after all, they’re all so… lifeless!”
And that’s when I snapped.
Timmy had crossed a line he could not return from. But since we were still in class, I had to restrain myself well enough not to kill him then and there. Instead, I sat quietly in my seat with the rage festering inside. My eyes were glued to the clock counting down until the end of the day… just a few more minutes…
As soon as Ms. Holly excused my table, I bounced out of my seat like I was sitting on a spring. Storming out to where Timmy already was, he turned around, saw the intense look in my eyes and he knew IT WAS ON. He flinched right before I sprinted after him. He zipped through the school courtyard like a little jack rabbit, but I was right on his tail.
Down the 3rd grade sector we ran. No one attempted to stop us. Hell, I didn’t even see anyone around as everything suddenly became a blur and Timmy was the only concrete image I could make out. It was one of those out-of-body experiences. Not before long I managed to grab his shirt. I felt the life being sucked out of his puny body as I pinned him against the wall. Peering deeply into his eyes, I saw the resignation in it. He didn’t struggle, didn’t whimper.
It was the look of the lamb… right before the slaughter.
“Don’t you ever — EVER — insult my family again!”
I let his limp little body go. He held his left cheek as he walked off with his tail tucked between his legs. Timmy never messed with me or my family again following that.
I’m not saying violence solves issues, but at the time it just felt right. I defended the honor of my family’s name. The second half of that school year, Timmy kept his distance and I went back to being best friends with Nelson and Manny — the guys I should have stuck with all along. I guess at some point, every relationship has to go through the fire. Then, and perhaps only then, do you know what’s what.
BACK IN BUSINESS
The very next year saw a reunion — Nelson and I were in the same 5th grade classroom together. The band was back, baby!1994 turned out to be the best year of my childhood. Nelly and I were ten, and ten is a funny age, you know. Some days you feel like you’re five, and other days you feel like you’re 15. It’s a time to relish the twilight years of your childhood, as well as a time to look forward to all the teenage turmoil to come. Not only were we reunited but we also had the two prettiest girls in the whole school in our class: Jennifer and Elaine. Elaine was the “Prom Queen” type. Jennifer was more like the classic Girl Next Door. She was my version of Winnie Cooper growing up.
One spring day after school somehow, the four of us found ourselves walking home together. We never did this before and we never did it again, but there was magic in the air that day. All our friends shot us jealous and stunned looks as they watched me and Nelson escort the two cutest girls home. I remember us walking through the school’s huge baseball field just taking it all in, enjoying the sunshine beating down on us and shooting the shit with the two hottest girls in the entire school.
LAST MAN STANDING
Nelson and I were surrounded by a cast of characters. We were good friends with Manny and Jonathan but Manny and Jonathan didn’t get along. Jonathan was the new cocky kid in town. Manny didn’t appreciate that. For weeks we felt their budding rivalry build until finally, one fateful dreary day it came to a head.
During that lunch period, we were eating our Lunchables and drinking our Capri Sun pouches when the fireworks started AGAIN between Manny and Jonathan. Manny then challenged Jonathan to a game he deemed “LAST MAN STANDING.” It was the challenge to end all challenges. Manny and Jonathan would take turns doing something crazy and then the other had to copy. Whoever fails to do so first loses. The LAST MAN STANDING wins. Manny started it off by sliding down the slide head first. Jonathan followed suit. I winced as his head landed awkwardly on the tanbarks. But in typical cocky Jonathan fashion, he brushed the dust off and asked Manny, “Is that all you got, tough guy?”
It was Jonathan’s turn now. He stood there on the tanbarks, bent his knees and fell backward. He landed awkwardly and got up gingerly, rubbing his back. He grimaced and grinned at the same time. “Try that!” he yelled at Manny. Manny then placed both arms on his shoulders, crisscross style, and did a full on trust fall. No bent knees. No cheapies. It was the real deal. He shot back up like nothing happened. The dude was Wolverine. Now it was his turn. But not before Jonathan could shout, “LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT!”
Rookie mistake. Jonathan didn’t know Manny like we did. And that’s when Manny went for the kill.
Jonathan, Nelson and I found ourselves standing at the base of the first tetherball set. There were a total of six tetherball poles in all, each separated by 10 feet. Like a man possessed, Manny sprinted to the opposite end. We stood there staring on in bewilderment wondering what he had in mind. I’ll never forget what I saw next. Manny began charging 200 miles per hour with his right arm fully extended. You could hear the sickening SMACKof steel on bone as Manny streaked past all six metal poles. The sight of his arm jerking backward at a 75 degree angle following each pole made me cringe. After Manny was done, he stood there beaming not five feet away from us. He gestured to the end of the first tetherball set as to say, “You’re next.”
Exasperated, Jonathan threw his arms in the air and yelled, “You crazy son of a bitch!” Nelson and I watched as he walked off. There was only one thing left to do: we raised Manny’s arms in the air and declared him the undisputed champion.
Nelson and I share a passion for all things Halloween (both the movie franchise and the actual day). Anything that had to do with monsters, ghosts or ghouls, we were there.
Every October Nelly and I cranked up our year-round monster love to the max. Telling ghost stories in our rooms, watching horror movies, reading the latest FANGORIA issues — it was such a great time to be 10 years old and have a like-minded best friend.
We entered a phase where we were obsessed with collecting as many horror cassettes as we could. I’ll never forget this one in particular — “Sounds of Halloween.” That cover was epic!
We bought these tapes thinking they were taboo. We’d sit in Nelly’s room, close the blinds and listen to them while swapping ghost stories. I also loved the cheesy warning labels. Looking back on it all, these tapes weren’t that great, truth be told, but it was a time capsule. A sign of the times and days of innocence.
Speaking of things that go bump in the night, we were obsessed with Goosebumps. It was kind of the Harry Potter of the ’90s before Harry Potter.
Nelson’s favorite was The Haunted Mask.
And this was mine.
From that point on, I was hooked. Nelson and I had a friendly competition where each month we’d see who could read the latest Goosebumps edition first. Made for some fun times. Half of the fun was discussing it with your best friend afterward.
I remember seeing these at the local library with Nelson. We always psyched ourselves out and made these books scarier than what they really were. It was all part of the fun.
It was just a magical time. You’d go to the arcade with your best friend to play all the latest fighting games. Then you’d swing by the local book store to peruse the latest EGM and GameFan issue before making your way to the back of the store where they had R.L. Stine’s latest and greatest. Whether you were into Goosebumps or Fear Street, it always made for a good time with your best pal.
In my hometown growing up, Game Hunter was widely revered. It carried nothing but video games and anime (hell, even a few arcade cabs). Everything from handhelds to Neo Geo, you name it, they had it. Best of all, they even carried import games. Japanese versions of games you couldn’t wait to play that would not be released in North America until weeks or even months later! Game Hunter was legendary
Nelson rented Fighter’s History and I chose King of the Monsters 2. Their North American versions were still weeks away. I remember thinking that Nelly and I were the two luckiest kids in the whole town that weekend. Needless to say, we were glued to the TV like a pair of zombies that epic weekend. Great times.
Whenever I see Lee’s bucolic stage, with those damn ducks, the fisherman dipping his line lazily in the water and those moss-covered hills, I can’t help but be instantly transported back to Nelson’s living room on a hot Saturday afternoon of June 1994.
TWO WEEKS LATER — EGM SCORE!
My brother slept at a family friend’s house two hours away. For me and Nelson, this meant only one thing: UNRESTRICTED AND UNLIMITED ACCESS TO MY BROTHER’S EGM STASH!That very first day Kevin was gone, Nelson rode his bike over in record time. I’ll never forget the image of Nelson opening my brother’s drawer and seeing him pull out with both hands a HUGE stack of EGM issues. He looked like a man possessed!
EGM in 1994 was God-like. We didn’t have internet or YouTube back then so EGM was our source of news, rumors, reviews and previews. There’s something inexplicably awesome about flipping through an EGM issue with your best friend back in those days. You could literally spend hours lost in those magical pages…
GRADUATION — JUNE 1995
They say all good things must come to an end. In June of 1995, Nelson and I were facing our final days together in elementary school. We had a hell of a run, but it was nearing time to enter the hollowed halls of junior high. On Friday, June 9, 1995, Nelson, some other friends and I walked to the local theatre to see the opening of Congo. I remember it was our first time walking over by ourselves and we felt like such a big deal. We came late though so we had to sit in the front row and crane our necks for the entire showing. The movie kind of sucked, too, but that was besides the point. We were on the verge of a brand new chapter in our lives, but we were going to hopefully stick together through it all.
Later that night, it was our school’s End of the Year Dance. We all attended but not before we all fished for reasons and excuses not to. Hey, we were 11 and it’s what 11 year old boys do. But in the end we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t. Seeing Jennifer and Elaine there and interacting with all our friends for the final time made it worth it. I remember a lot of multi-colored dots dancing around the cafeteria and drinking a lot of fruit punch. Talking with my friends and enjoying our final days in grade school together. The following week we graduated and I knew deep down that life would neverbe the same…
THE MOVE — JANUARY 1996
Halfway through my 7th grade year, I had to move. Even though Nelson and I would only be separated by about 20 minutes, I knew things were going to be different. Neither of us could drive and it just isn’t the same as when you live within walking distance. We slowly but surely fell out of touch.
FRIDAY: SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
Now a junior in college, it was my tradition every Friday after my final class to hit the gym on campus and play pickup ball. I became obsessed with basketball (see Coach Butler and 9/11 for more). It was on this fateful Friday late afternoon walking out of the gym that I noticed a local news station on campus. Before I knew what was happening, they approached me to ask if I had any thoughts on a hot topic related to my campus. I spoke to the camera for about 15 seconds and afterward they told me I’d be on the 5 o’clock news. I raced over to my cousin’s house in my old hometown to record my 15 seconds of fame. My little cousins were screaming when they saw their cousin on TV. I felt like a rock star. Feeling like I could move mountains, I decided to break the silence and reach out to my old best friend, Nelson.
It had been two years since we last spoke. Hell, I had no idea if he even still lived at the same place. We were 20 now so there’s a good chance he had already moved out of his parents’ place. Only one way to find out for sure, though.
And so, it was around 5:45 on a cool early Friday evening that I swung by the old haunt. Butterflies were swooning in my stomach as I parked in Nelson’s old driveway. I rung the doorbell and waited anxiously.
It was his mom.
“Yes! Hi, does he still live here?”
“He sure does, but I’m afraid he’s out.”
“Oh,” my voice couldn’t help hide the disappointment.
“I know it’s been a while… he’d be so thrilled to see you again.”
“Likewise. Please tell him I stopped by.”
She invited me in for a drink but I told her I should get going. That ol’ road beckons me home. As I started walking back to my car, a huge black Toyota truck came roaring into the driveway. We both stared at each other stunned for a second.
“STEVEN!? Holy shit, how long’s it been?!”
We went to his backyard, the same one where Nelson and I spent many hours of our youth during the dog days of summer, and we caught up on the past couple years of our lives. The skyline was beautiful. The sun was just dipping over the horizon with a light September breeze gently greeting us every few seconds. That evening Nelson and I talked. About the good old days. About Elaine and Jennifer. About college. We talked about LIFE.
It wasn’t all rosy, though. I found out that evening that Nelson had dropped out of college. He felt directionless. He also took up smoking and not just cigarettes. He told me he was trying real hard to quit but it’s just that — real hard. Part of me had difficulty processing the ‘new’ Nelson. I never envisioned him in a million years as someone who would use drugs or drop out of school. But I guess that’s life. Things change and shit happens. On the bright side, Nelson was working as a part-time mechanic and making some money at least.
We ended up shooting the breeze for a couple hours straight as it was soon nightfall. It felt surreal to be back in the same backyard I used to patrol some odd ten years ago. Except now we were no longer 10 year old kids. No longer children of innocence. Now we were 20 and young adults. My life was on track while Nelson’s was a bit more uncertain. And despite the long disconnect and “growing apart,” that evening we found out we would always be friends at the very least. No matter what happens, or where life takes us, Nelly and I’ll always share an unbreakable bond.
FRIDAY: MAY 23, 2008
Nelson and I always have our mini-reunions after x-months of not seeing one another. On this day we decided to catch up over dinner with two other mutual friends. They were a couple — the guy lived next door to Nelson growing up and I used to have a crush on the girl back in college and possibly vice versa. Quite the interesting evening it turned out to be. The four of us shared a lovely dinner at a steak house. Afterward Nelson and I drove to the theatre to catch the new Indiana Jones movie.
On the drive over, Nelson shared some very deep issues with me. He talked about how our friend Jake possessed such natural charisma speaking to the waitress serving us, and how much Nelson wishes he had the same ability. I encouraged him with a little pep talk and told him to keep his head up.
“Wow Steve… no one has ever believed in me like that before. My whole family’s kind of written me off a little bit y’know… it’s nice to see you have my back and believe in me.”
I know, it was a sappy little moment, but I tell ya, Nelson is my guy. I’ll always believe in him and want the best for him. It’s not easy to be real like that, to open up and be so vulnerable to another person. We all have our shortcomings and having support is key. It takes a lot of guts to share something so personal.
MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
That spring 2008 semester I student taught at my childhood elementary school. Yup, the very same one where Nelson and I met and became best friends. My dream was always to return home, teach there and give back to the community. It was a blast coming back to the old digs. One day after school I went to my car and found in my haste earlier that morning I’d accidentally locked the keys in the car. D’OH! Fortunately, one of the back windows was opened about two inches. There was *JUST* enough space for a clothes hanger to maybe prop the lock open.
Luckily, my grandmother happened to live just half a block from where I parked my car. I walked over and she loaned me an old wire hanger. Much to my chagrin, the wire proved too weak to get the job done.
Then I called Nelson, who still lived in that same house about a block or two away from our old elementary school. After describing the embarrassing situation to him, he was on his way.
Next thing I know, as I’m standing there on the sidewalk by my car, in the far distance I could make out Nelly coming around the corner on his bicycle! The scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin immediately flashed in my mind, complete with the cheesy ’80s song “Heat of the Moment” blaring in my overactive mind.
Nelson brought one of those back scratchers, and this was the result:
But then we applied a little force, pushing the stick down. It slid down and we managed to prop the lock open!
My ’92 Honda had been through the wars and the back right window stopped working a while back, so it was opened an inch or two permanently. I covered it with some tape… it all looked very tacky as you can see. But this defect allowed me to skip calling AAA which I didn’t have at the time. At first the stick wouldn’t go in but a couple clever angle squeezes and it just barely made it through.
I treated Nelson to lunch afterward where we laughed about this incident and just talked about life, carrying on our conversation from a few weeks ago. There’s something about connecting with someone who knows your history as well as you yourself do. There’s something very special about that.
FRIDAY: MARCH 26, 2010
While I studied to earn my teaching credential in college, I minored in Theatre Arts. I’ve always been fascinated by acting, and I love the camaraderie that it naturally builds. Rehearsing late nights, even past midnight, has a funny way of bonding people. Well, on this night I was playing a Roman soldier and we opened to a house of 2,000 people. Among the two in that audience of 2,000? Nelson and yes, my childhood crush, my Winnie Cooper… Jennifer. It meant so much to me that they both showed up. It was a great night.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2015
Fast forward five years. Nelson and I crossed a major item off our bucket list: attend a freaking WRESTLEMANIA. WrestleMania 31 was one of the greatest live events I’ve ever been to. We had pretty decent seats and it was a childhood dream come true. Hell, we got to witness Sting’s first and only WrestleMania match!
FRIDAY: AUGUST 5, 2016
Nelson and I share a special bond where we may go months without contact but whenever one of us gets in touch it’s like we never left. Precisely one year ago, as I write this, I decided to visit Nelson’s new place in Southern California. We set out to visit Disneyland since it was about 30 minutes away from his apartment.
As I was about three miles away from his place, I passed through a neighborhood that I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. That’s funny. How can it be familiar if I’ve never been here before?
It suddenly dawned on me. Was it? Could it be? No way. I passed a few traffic lights before finally pulling over. I had to quench my curiosity before heading to Nelson’s. Busted out my phone and typed into Google:
“HALLOWEEN 1978 FILMING LOCATIONS”
A website came up and an address in South Pasadena was given. My hands were shaking as I punched said address into Google Maps.
“1.8 miles away”
I had just driven by one of the iconic Halloween filming locations! HADDONFIELD IN THE FLESH! The Halloween super geek in me was coming out big time. What were the odds that my childhood best friend (who also loved the Halloween franchise) would live three miles away from Haddonfield?! It was a moment of true serendipity. I texted Nelson to tell him I’d be coming 30 minutes late. I had no doubt we would return later but for now it was a personal pilgrimage I simply had to brave for myself first. And this is what I recorded on that serendipitous day:
Following this, I drove the three miles over to Nelson’s. I showed him the pictures and video I took. He couldn’t believe it! He moved to L.A. about seven months ago but had no idea he lived just three miles away from “Haddonfield.” Next thing you know, we found ourselves on an impromptu trip down memory lane. What initially began as a trip to chill with Mickey turned into a trip of HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN. We ended up driving all over South Pasadena that late afternoon looking for a ton of Halloween nostalgia live in the flesh. This is what we found that day…
HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN
Michael’s house was demolished and moved to a new location. It now serves as an office. Despite the disappointment of that, Nelson and I still sat there in awe. Reminiscing and laughing about the good old days, that’s when we noticed a DirecTv satellite dish on the side of the house. We also could hear the loud humming of an air conditioner. It was a hot August day in Haddonfield… the dog days of summer indeed. That’s when the line of the day was uttered by yours truly. “What the hell, Michael Myers watching Game of Thrones with the AC on? DUDE IS GETTING SOFT!” Nelson added, “What’s Michael Myers doing browsing PornHub!?”
We laughed hard for what felt like minutes. We laughed so hard we both had tears in our eyes. Man, I hadn’t laugh that good in quite a while. A mere hour prior to this, we both just assumed we’d catch up a bit and find Mickey. Little did we know! Instead, we found ourselves reconnecting and hunting a boogeyman who has haunted us both since childhood. Suddenly, we were chasing a ghost from our past. A ghost with no face. “And the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” Rest in Peace, Donald Pleasence.
Each filming location foray brought me and Nelson closer to the edge of a bygone era. An age we both thought had all but disappeared. It was like slipping through the back door of a time machine. Suddenly, we were wide-eyed kids again. Completely unjaded and uncorrupted by the foul orders of life and the cruelties of growing up.
Wow. Standing there taking this picture sent goosebumps up and down my spine.
Next on the list was the old elementary school featured in the 1978 film. It still looked pretty much the same. It was crazy thinking it had been almost 40 years since Michael stalked Tommy here.
Here Nelson and I sat in his car on a street used in the filming of Halloween. We shot this quick video below:
After this, Nelson and I decided to drive around L.A. randomly and then get some dinner.
You can’t go to L.A. and not take a shot of those beautiful palm trees.
What else would two guys in L.A. do on a Saturday night but break out the good stuff? Nelly and I hit up the local laundry mat so he could have some fresh clothes for Disneyland tomorrow.
The laundry mat had a Neo Geo cab! How cool is that? That led to some natural reminiscing about World Heroes and the like.
Nelson took me to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor for dinner. It was the ultimate haven for comfort food. We ordered a large piping hot pepperoni pizza, some chicken and potato wedges. I probably consumed like 2,500 calories alone but it was damn worth it. Totally hit the spot!
After dinner Nelson drove us through a fancy part of town. We drove up to the top of this hill and it overlooked the city. It was nice to get away and just shoot the shit with my old best friend. Every once in a while it’s nice to drive far away and get away from it all for a bit. Nelson smoked a cigarette as we talked. I stared at all the tiny houses below, and wondered what was going on in that house with all the lights turned on. Nelly and I just stood there reminiscing for a bit before talking about current life. My teaching career. His new life in L.A. It was a good night to be alive. Hanging out with your old best friend. Then Nelson asked me if I had seen Stranger Things. I laughed. That’s exactly the show we would have watched as kids. We drove back to Nelly’s apartment and watched Halloween to end the evening. After everything that went down earlier that day, it was the only proper way to close out that night.
Nelson and I went to Disneyland the next day and we had a blast. We left the park around 9 PM because his back started to flare up. He took me to this local Chinese joint that he said was legit. We spent the rest of that night eating some of the best Kung Pao chicken I ever had and reflecting back on the highs of our little two day adventure. It was truly a magical weekend — the kind that stays with you for life. Hunting Michael and Mickey with your childhood best friend all within 24 hours? Can’t top that.
It’s crazy that Nelson and I have known each other now for nearly 30 years. I always have a great time with Nelson. It doesn’t matter how long we go without communication. The second either one of us reaches out, it’s like we never left. Those friendships are the best. Maybe we’re no longer best friends, but I’m grateful we still keep in touch and that we still know how to have a good time together. No matter what happens going forward or where life takes us, there will always be a special place in my heart for Nelson. My childhood wouldn’t have been as awesome without him, and the memories we have forged over the years — all the ups and downs — have played a role in who I am today. That’s priceless and I’ll always cherish the experiences we had. Here’s a toast to Nelson and all the best friends out there. Cheers!
Growing up there weren’t many things better than going to the local library. Unlike a trip to the toy or video game store, with the library you knew you were never coming home empty-handed. A journey to the library meant wild adventures with seafaring pirates, chocolate factory crazed CEOs and magical phantom tollbooths. Your imagination had no limits and each book took you somewhere exciting and new. My childhood is filled with good memories of heading to the local library with my parents and my best friend, Nelson.
For kids growing up in the mid ’90s, GOOSEBUMPS was a phenomenon. It was a monthly horror series for kids. The books were not really scary but R.L. Stine found lightning in a bottle. Dark humor, twist endings and spooky happenings that was as addictive as it was macabre. Many kids in the mid ’90s became readers because of R.L. Stine’s tentpole series. Because of Goosebumps I came to love reading. Not only that but I became interested in writing as well. I am far from the only ’90s kid for which that rings true. 20+ years ago all the kids were reading them and discussing the latest chapter (excuse the pun) in the famed franchise out on the playground. The writing wasn’t Hemingway or Fitzgerald, and there was a certain cheesiness to them, but in a way, it was all part of the charm. And a sign of the times. It was more about the feelings that these books evoked. Seeing a new Goosebumps book on the shelf sent a quick shiver down your spine. Be it mutant worms or sinister scarecrows, the books gave kids a rush like few other books did.
THE BIRTH OF A MONSTER
It all began in July 1992. Right away the embossed title and spooky artwork grabbed my attention. At the time there really wasn’t anything else quite like it. WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE. Oh wait, is it called Goosebumps, or Welcome to Dead House? And just who is that creepy bedraggled figure in the window there? So many questions raced through my mind. And so too for Amanda and Josh, the two protagonists of the story. Arriving at their new home in Dark Falls, they can’t help but feel a strange sense of dread about their neighborhood. Despite being the middle of July, there seems to be an artificial darkness created by massive, overhanging tree limbs. Dark brown leaves and shadows are everywhere. Just who is that ghost in the house that Amanda saw? And with this classic first entry, the cult series was off and running.
STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT was its second entry in the series.
It’s a lovely warm winter day in California. Siblings Margaret and Casey Brewer are outside playing frisbee. Margaret flings the frisbee her dad’s way as he passes through the backyard. Mr. Brewer gruffly declines, stating he has too much work to do in the basement. But, what exactly does he do in the basement, anyhow? Neither Margaret nor Casey knows, but something is happening down there…
Ever since he got fired from PolyTech, their dad has buried himself away in the basement. Slaving away at all hours of the night, he’s been experimenting with plants. Once, Margaret tried to get a sneak peek at her father’s laboratory, only for him to fire her a stone cold glare, yelling STAY OUTTA THE BASEMENT!
Goosebumps returned in September 1992 with its third entry, Monster Blood. It opens with 12 year old Evan Ross being dropped off at his creepy old aunt Kathryn’s for a few days. He soon bumps into Andy, a cute 12 year old girl in the neighborhood, who asks him to accompany her into town to pick up an early birthday present for her cousin. All too happy to oblige, Evan joins her as the two end up at a toy store in town called Wagner’s Novelties and Sundries. There they find a metal can with the words MONSTER BLOOD written on it. Naturally, the shopkeeper warns them not to buy it but they insist and pandemonium soon ensues.
Kris rearranged her pillows, then glanced across the room to the window. The dummy’s face was half covered in shadow now. But the eyes glowed as if he were alive. And they stared into hers as if they were trying to tell her something. Why does he have to grin like that, Kris asked herself, trying to rub away the prickly feeling on the back of her neck. She pulled up the sheet, settled into the bed, and turned on her side, away from the wide, staring eyes. But still, even with her back turned, she could feel them gazing at her. Even with her eyes closed and the covers pulled up to her head, she could picture the shadowy, distorted grin, the unblinking eyes. Staring at her. Staring. Staring. She drifted into an uncomfortable sleep, drifted into yet another nightmare. Someone was chasing her…
Goosebumps was quickly turning into a household name. Initially, I purposely avoided it. I was a quirky kid: if something became too popular and I was not there in the beginning as a fan, then I hated hopping on the bandwagon. So while everyone at my school was raving about Goosebumps, I stubbornly held out. That all changed one fateful day in late ’93. It was reading time in Mr. G’s 5th grade class. I chose The Girl Who Cried Monster. Figured it couldn’t hurt to read a few pages. A few pages turned into the entire book. It was a spin-off on the classic tale The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Lucy is obsessed with monsters. Late one night, in search of her roller blades, Lucy gets locked in when the librarian closes up shop. She never realized how spooky the library can be until she found herself shrouded in its dark, twisted corridors. That’s when she discovers a horrifying truth: Mr. Mortman is a monster!
I’ll never forget standing there that day in 5th grade, staring at Mr. G’s books trying to pick one to read for silent reading time. I saw The Girl Who Cried Monster near the top of the shelf and finally succumbed. I never looked back.
October 1993. In time for Halloween, The Haunted Mask is one of the greatest Goosebumps books of all time. It tells the tale of Carly Beth: a shy, overly trusting, reserved girl bullied by some guys at school. Carly Beth is often a target for torment. After being scared yet again by the bullies, Carly Beth decided it was time to deliver a little payback. Riding into town she heads for the local costume shop. Distraught that it’s closed for the evening, fate stepped in. The mysterious owner of the store opened the door, ushering her in. As the owner tends to his shop, Carly Beth stumbles into the backroom where she finds the most hideous and grotesque mask one could ever hope to see. The owner refuses to sell her the one she wants, but she throws her money at him and takes off. After racing home she puts the mask on. It feels horribly warm and flesh-like. Her voice changes as well as even her demeanor when adorning the foul mask. The more she put it on, the harder it became to take off. What follows is an unforgettable Halloween night of mischief, revenge and terror. Steve and Chuck get the scare of their lives, and Carly Beth relishes her ultimate conquest. However, Halloween is now over… and the mask justwon’t come off. Packed with Halloween atmosphere, The Haunted Mask is arguably R.L. Stine’s finest work.
By December 1993 there wasn’t a single kid who didn’t have Goosebumps fever. The last entry that year was The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. One of the gnarliest covers in the series, the book opens with this chilling intro:
We moved to Florida during Christmas vacation. A week later, I heard the frightening howls in the swamp for the first time. Night after night, the howls made me sit up in bed. I would hold my breath and wrap my arms around myself to keep from shivering. I would stare out my bedroom window at the chalk-colored full moon. And I would listen. What kind of creature makes such a cry? I’d ask myself. And how close is it? Why does it sound as if it’s right outside my window? The wails rose and fell like police car sirens. They weren’t sad or mournful. They were menacing. Angry. They sounded like a warning.
You Can’t Scare Me opened up 1994 with a bang. The 15th entry in the franchise, it sported a strikingly creepy cover that you couldn’t help but stare long and hard at. The aesthetic of the design is perfect. From the embossed title to the memorable artwork to the cheesy little tagline, each book’s cover was special in its own way.
Courtney is a total show-off. She thinks she’s so brave and she’s always making fun of Eddie and his friends. But Eddie’s had enough. Eddie is going to scare Courtney once and for all. And he’s got the perfect plan. He’s going to lure her down to MUDDY CREEK. Because Eddie knows she believes in that silly rumor about the monsters. Mud monsters that live in the creek. It’s too bad Eddie doesn’t believe the rumors…
#16, One Day At HorrorLand, still haunts me to this day. As a little kid I always fancied amusement parks and small town carnivals. It always spooked me to think… what if the attraction site holds a terrible secret… a secret no one is supposed to ever know. What if there was a bloody murder or mishap years ago that haunts the place? I mean, working in a carnival has got to drive one a bit nutty. Who knows what kind of death trap we could be stepping in? One Day At HorrorLand examines those childhood fears and more.
When the Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park, they stumbled onto another amusement park instead. Never seen or heard of before, there are no lines, no crowds and no hassle at HorrorLand. It seems to be everything one could ask for: killer rides and none of the wait. But as the Morris family is about to find out, the rides are killer indeed. Because there’s something weird about the rides at HorrorLand…
One of my favorite things about Goosebumps was reading the back cover. It always sported a lovely caption along with prose that made you want to read the whole book in one sitting right then and there. But the best part was down at the bottom. It actually revealed the title of next month’s entry! Why I’m Afraid of Bees, #17 in the series, is one I will never forget. My best friend Nelson received the book one cold morning. Nelly and I sat across the room from each other. I saw his jaw drop as he read the back cover. What could it be? Nelly showed me the back cover but being across the room I couldn’t quite make it out. That’s when Nelson flipped to the end of the book where there was a page with bigger text. And there I saw it.
At that point I knew about sequels in the world of movies and video games. But I never saw a sequel to a book before. Mind you I was 10 at the time and not the biggest book connoisseur, but yeah. It just blew my mind that R.L. Stine was penning a sequel to one of the most iconic books in his famed franchise. It gave Nelson and me great hope that there may be sequels for other greats in the months to come, such as Night of the Living Dummy and The Haunted Mask. (We got our wish, by the way).
#20 in the series holds a distinct soft spot in my heart. I have always been big on round numbers and coming out in May 1994, it was the last book order of 5th grade. Heading into the summer with the latest Goosebumps entry sounded like a pretty bang up way to kickstart one’s summer. And one of the coolest things about these books was hoping and wishing that R.L. Stine would write one centered around a certain monster or nightmare you were particularly fond of. For me, it was scarecrows. I’d always been fascinated by them; the idea that evil spirits could possess them was a scary thought. With their hideous burlap faces and twisted bodies, scarecrows are the last thing I want to stand next to under a full moon. No thank you!
October 1995. The long awaited sequel to The Haunted Mask finally arrives, a full two years later. This time, Steve (the bully from the first book) finds a horrible mask and it latches onto him like a face hugger. Yeah, sure, it makes Steve the king of scares on this Halloween night, but the problem is, the longer Steve wears the decrepit mask, the older and older his body feels…
R.L. STINE BEFORE GOOSEBUMPS
In the early ’90s it was a weekly tradition for my mom to take me and my best friend, Nelson, to our local library. On our way to the children’s section we had to pass by the aisle containing teen novels, displayed in movable glass panels. Their cover would stick out and you could see some of the books. One day in late ’92 Nelson and I were strolling by when we caught sight of a cover so incredibly disturbing and creepy that it would forever haunt us. A high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutches her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. It stood high on the top glass panel as not to be touched. He dared me to read it. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 years old…
R.L. Stine’s teen horror novels from that point on became the stuff legends were made of. Nelson and I would peek at the covers whenever we went to the library, but neither of us dared to even pick one up. We definitely made them out to be scarier than they were, but it was all part of the fun of being a kid and being best friends with someone who also loved monsters and horror as much as you did. Throughout ’93 and ’94 it became sort of a running joke between the two of us to see who would read the first teen horror novel. Nelson and I both saw Stine’s teen novels as Goosebumps on steroids. While they scared me as a kid, that didn’t stop me from admiring the covers whenever I stopped by the book store or the library. One of the most gripping and memorable covers was CURTAINS. The image of the lady trying to stab the guy is one that has never left me. These teen novels seemed legitimately disturbing, especially when you were 9 or 10. Even more than 20 years later, most of their art covers are still firmly embedded in my mind.
THE NEXT LEVEL OF FEAR
Fall 1995. I just began the 7th grade. It was silent sustained reading (SSR) time in my language arts class. I thumbed through my teacher’s library of books, trying to find something decent to pass the time. That’s when I first stumbled upon The Babysitter. It’s actually one of the older books R.L. Stine wrote. The Babysitter tells the awful tale of a high school babysitter being stalked by a stranger in the night. Creepy stuff. The back had the best description:
From the minute Jenny accepted the Hagen babysitting job, she knew she had made a mistake. First there was the dark and disheveled Hagen house, moaning and groaning with her every step. Then the crank phone calls started. “Hey babe. Are you all alone? COMPANY’S COMING.” When Jenny discovered a creepy neighbor prowling in the backyard and a threatening note in her backpack, she realized this wasn’t just a harmless game. But who would want to hurt her? What kind of maniac wanted to scare Jenny… to death?
I love this book and actually reread it about six years ago. It holds up well; I believe it’s perhaps Stine’s finest work. Published in the summer of 1989, it also has the distinction of being one of his earliest efforts. The Babysitter made ya think twice, even thrice, about babysitting.
SEND IN THE CLONES!
As with anything else that catches fire, inevitably you’ll get some clones popping up in an attempt to get their own slice of the pie. Goosebumps inspired a string of horror novel series for kids. The first I can recall was Betsy Haynes’ Bone Chillers. Even the title was embossed! There was no shame. The Bone Chillers series opened with Beware the Shopping Mall and ran for a solid 20-plus entries. Of all the clones, I liked this one the most. I’m particularly fond of Frankenturkey. It’s as absurd as it is abominable. Like the other clones, I never chose Bone Chillers over Goosebumps, but they were a decent alternative whenever the latest Goosebumps book was checked out at the library. Hell, there was even a 13 episode run of Bone Chillers on ABC television in the mid-late ’90s. Not bad, Miss Haynes, not bad at all.
Ah, Shadow Zone. My least favorite of the clones, it does hold a special spot in my heart, though. My mom took me and Nelson to the library as usual one day, and we saw Shadow Zone sitting there. Another clone, I thought to myself, and I know Nelson thought the same. There’s something unspeakably awesome about discovering something alongside your best friend. The books themselves weren’t very good. They seemed to lack the charm of Goosebumps. The artwork was also quite awful. The Goosebumps covers were more often hit than miss, but Shadow Zone had some terribly unappealing art Nevertheless, Shadow Zone was a sign of the times: a time when seemingly everyone and their brother was hopping on the youth horror novel bandwagon. If nothing else, it gave us plenty of choices to choose from.
Deadtime Stories. Again with the popular embossed letters, this series was written by the Cascone sisters. I felt it fell somewhere in-between Bone Chillers and Shadow Zone. It wasn’t bad, but it was not my favorite of the clones either. It was just… kinda there. They did have some pretty badass covers, though, so I’ll give them that much. The Faerie Tale one sticks out in mind… it was genuinely creepy to see back in the day, and even now it remains a bit unsettling to look at.
Finally, we have Graveyard School. They were unique in the sense that all the stories revolved around the students of Graveyard School. It was cool to see some sort of connection from one book to the next. Plus, as a kid I got a huge kick out of the author’s fake name, Tom B. Stone. Oh Mr. Stone, you are a funny one, good sir. I was not a huge fan, though. Like Deadtime Stories it was just kind of there for me. Still, not a bad read from time to time when Goosebumps was checked out.
AND A SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO…
I would be gravely remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to SCARY STORIES to Tell in the Dark. Published in 1981, it’s one of those infamous books we saw in bookstores growing up that we wanted to pick up but were too scared to. I finally read through it in the 4th grade. And simply put, it scared the shit out of me. The stories were as disturbing as the twisted artwork itself. It seemed like something that crawled straight out of hell. Those eerie black and white drawings are firmly embedded in my soul. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you probably have a memory of Scary Stories as well. It was just one of those infamous books that everyone knew about. It was damn near mythical.
The one story that haunts me most, as well as many others, is the one about the lady who got bit by a spider. A red spot appears on her left cheek. She thinks nothing of it. One day she begins scratching it because it’s so itchy. The spot pops and out comes crawling dozens of baby spiders. Ugh. The drawing still creeps me out to this day. This was the story my friends and I always referred to whenever we talked about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories book. In fact, they’re making a movie about it. I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s half as disturbing as the book was, it will be a mega-hit! Do our childhood proud, Guillermo Del Toro!
Goosebumps played a big role during my childhood. Not only did they cement me as an avid reader, but it grew my love for horror. Goosebumps came during a special period in my life. Right around 1993 and ’94 when the SNES, Saturday morning cartoons and toys were all running wild — what a great time to be a kid. My old best friend Nelson and I used to have friendly competitions where we’d see which one of us could read the latest book each month first. Then we would discuss our thoughts the next day out on the playground. It was all part of the fun. Talk to any kid who grew up during the mid ’90s and they’re sure to fondly recall Goosebumps. Yeah, it was a little cheesy. But there is no denying the success the franchise enjoyed and the profound impact it had on a generation of kids who are now grown adults. Thanks in big part to R.L. Stine, we came to love books and things that go bump in the night. Simply put, Goosebumps struck lightning in a bottle, and I’m lucky to have lived through that era. Looking back, it was truly a magical time.