The Goosebumps books have haunted my dreams for 15 years
from the Autumn 2008 issue

I am a very cowardly man. I will not mince words about this matter. I am afraid of squirrels, the dark, ethnic minorities, cities, and the countryside. When I am forced to travel on airplanes, I take large amounts of Valium and cower like a little girl in the corner of my seat. At night, I keep the lights burning all around the house to prevent monsters from attacking me. I am 25 years old.

As a child I was adventurous. I climbed tall trees. I rode a dirt bike for hours and specialized in tricks involving jumping over rocks and small animals. I broke my wrist twice and my arm once. Each time I got right back on my bike. I did high dives into un-chlorinated pools. I watched the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series and ridiculed my sister when she screamed in fright.

One day, when I turned ten, my parents gave me some books as a birthday present. They wanted me to read more, they said, and they gathered that a certain popular author’s novels would appeal to my sense of adventure.

The quiet patience required for literature bored me, and between bike riding and high diving I had little time for books. But it was raining on my tenth birthday, and there was nothing on television.

And so I discovered the novels of R.L. Stine. Night of the Living Dummy, about a ventriloquist’s dummy that ruins the lives of two girls, entertained me in the way that the author managed to recycle several urban legends. I burned though Living Dummy in an afternoon. I quickly completed The Girl Who Cried Monster, about a girl whose librarian and parents turn into monsters, and A Shocker on Shock Street, about two robot children built to test a horror theme park.

But once I started with Mr Stine, I found it was harder to sleep. I lay awake worrying that a ventriloquist’s dummy would come and attack me. When eventually I fell asleep, parent-disguised monsters attacked me in my dreams. The next night I had a nightmare in which I turned into a robot and was attacked by sideshow freaks. The fear of attack overtook my life. I have not slept soundly in 15 years. I fear the monsters under my bed, the man walking behind me on the sidewalk, and the abandoned gun factory on the outskirts of town.

As I grew older, I came even to fear the book itself. Its raised and pimply cover struck terror into my heart, foretelling as it did the terror inside. This did not abate. When last week my wife returned from work with the latest Danielle Steel novel, the raised letters of Rogue set me into hysterics. I screamed for several minutes. My wife tried to soothe me with a cold compress as I shook in fear of Maxine Williams, a dedicated, stylish doctor, and her handsome and unpredictable ex-husband, Blake.

I curse you, R.L Stine, evil man of letters, merchant of fear, friend only to psychoanalysts. May rabid squirrels attack you in the night.

Zachary Doyne lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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