Monday, October 08, 2012

“Where are my eyes?”

Kids like scares, and they don’t need Halloween as an excuse. They like creepy stories, books and movies. That was true of me when I was a kid, too. I paid for it in nights where I couldn’t go to sleep, worried that some moaning specter or the Headless Horseman would suddenly appear. It didn’t stop me from reading scary stories, though. And even now I sometimes pick books for young readers just to read what kinds of chills authors of this media-saturated age can deliver.

I just read The House on Hackman’s Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon, published by Scholastic Books in 1985, At 126 pages, it’s a perfect length for an elementary school reader level. For an senior reader, like me, tired of plowing through bloated 600-page novels for adults, it was a good, fast read. It's out of print, but still available from

I thought the story told by Ms Nixon was perfect in setting up a situation a kid could identify with. During a raging snowstorm two youngsters, Jeff and Debbie, are trapped in a large haunted house, deserted for years. Over the years, as they have heard from a Mr. Karsten, anyone who has tried to stay in the house has run out screaming that there was something there.

The owner, who had disappeared years before, had illegally obtained a mummy with jeweled eyes, and stashed it in the basement. The kids see a man-sized statue of the Egyptian god, Anubis, in the foyer, then go into the basement and find the mummy. Then their troubles really begin, as this creepy sequence shows.
’We’d better get them right now,’ Jeff said, as he snapped off his flashlight. He had one hand on the doorknob and one hand on the key, ready to turn it, when they heard measured footsteps coming toward them, up the stairs!

‘Who’s here?’ Jeff croaked, and it frightened him even more to know he was following so closely the story Mr. Karsten had told them.

The footsteps stopped.

Jeff remembered the little desk chair. Trying to tiptoe, but stumbling and tripping, Jeff grabbed the chair and quickly shoved it under the doorknob of the door, making sure it was wedged tightly.

Again there was silence, until a board on the stairs creaked, and the slow footsteps began again.

Neither Jeff nor Debbie moved as the footsteps came closer and closer, then stopped outside the door.

There was a pause, as though someone was listening. Then a light scratching began on the other side of the door.

Debbie gasped. Jeff’s knees wobbled. He backed up and plopped down on the bed, sending up a cloud of dust.

He knew Debbie was going to say it, and he shuddered, knowing what the answer would be.

‘What do you want?’ Debbie whispered.

And a voice whispered back, ‘Where are my eyes?’
I believe Ms. Nixon would have her young readers panting with fear, identifying with her characters on the other side of the door from a walking Egyptian god. She helped them visualize it with her vivid writing.

There’s a name written in childish handwriting on the inside front cover of the book, “Rachael.”

I wonder if Rachael felt a chill go down her spine when she read that. Did she lie awake in bed that night waiting for a scratching on her door and a whispered voice? If so, then the author succeeded.

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