(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
By Kiersten White, author of SUPERNATURALLY
The other day I was in a bookstore when I found a copy of a book. THE book. The book I read once a year as a little girl because it scared me so much I could only handle it once every twelve months, but it scared me so deliciously well I had to read it at least that often. Wait Till Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn.
It has a new cover—for some reason the mullet the little girl is sporting was cut. I love that mullet! It represented pure terror. And not just from a fashion standpoint.
Although this was the first book that came to mind when I thought of books that scared me, I can barely remember what it was about. There were step-siblings, and an old house. Writing on a wall, mysteriously trashed rooms, a lonely ghost. A final scene in a pond with weeds clinging to feet, trying to drag children down to a watery grave.
I want to read that book again, but the truth is, I’m scared to.
I mean, I’m not scared it’ll scare me. I’m scared it won’t. So few things do these days. I’ve dissected and dismantled and studied story so much that I can trace the paths any given book might take before they are taken. I’m not always right, but I usually am. For me reading is, unfortunately, a rather clinical experience except in very rare cases.
Ghost stories can only happen so many ways, after all. Come to think of it, an old manuscript of mine that happens to be a ghost story has all of the same elements I mentioned earlier, switching out step-siblings for long-lost-relatives, and an inlet for a pond. Maybe I hadn’t forgotten this book very much, after all.
Or maybe it’s simply the archetype for a scary story in my head.
That’s what I want it to be. I want it to be the story that scared the living daylights out of pre-teen me. I want it to be a perfectly crafted, sleep-with-the-lights-on, can’t-bear-to-read-it-but-can’t-help-myself sort of book. Honestly, I don’t think it’d live up to what it became in my subconscious. But that’s the true mark of a ghost story. It isn’t the sum of its parts. It isn’t what you read when you read it, or what happened to you that night you lived one. It’s what came after, in the telling, in the remembering. It grows beyond the actual experience, seeping past the facts, raising the hairs on the back of your neck, burrowing down into the deepest parts of you, the parts that you can’t turn the lights on, the parts where fear grows and feeds and stays.
So I won’t be reading that book again. I don’t have to. Because I remember just how much it scared me, and how much I loved being scared. I remember how I felt, and remembering is the best—and scariest—part of any story.
Kiersten isn’t the only one who’s scared by Wait Till Helen Comes! Check out what editor Martha Mihalick said about the book in her guest blog.
Kiersten White is the New York Times bestselling author of PARANORMALCY, a YALSA Teen Top Ten book, a Utah Book Award winner, and, as her son describes it, a rectangle. SUPERNATURALLY, the second book in the trilogy, is out now, with ENDLESSLY to follow next summer. MIND GAMES and FLOOD AND STONE, two new books, will be out in 2013. And, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Kiersten is exceptionally fond of sleeping.
Visit Kiersten at kierstenwhite.com.
Follow @kierstenwhite on Twitter.
Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!
Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away: