I have always loved Halloween but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. I mean, yes, I love it for those too … the time of year is truly magical with those first truly crisp nights (at least anywhere I’ve lived), fallen leaves dancing over the streets in autumn breezes scented with woodsmoke, and flickering candles in pumpkins and on windowsills. What I looked forward to the most, though, was the frisson of excitement that skittered through my friends and classmates when we talked about costumes and how late we’d be allowed to stay out. We made construction paper decorations, eagerly counted the days till class parties and more sweets than we were normally allowed. Most of all, we sat out in the playground in our jackets and took turns telling or making up spooky stories, a little more eager than normal to come back inside to the safe warmth of the classroom after recess was over. I loved Halloween because a good scare seemed to bring people closer together.

Enter the girlhood sleepover, which proved my Halloween theory all year round. There were times I was bundled off to the homes of other girls in my class–sometimes girls I didn’t know very well, or didn’t always see eye to eye with. Once or twice, even girls who picked on me and my closer friends. We were encouraged to socialize, to branch out and give our moms a rare night off so we packed our PJ’s and pillows, our sleeping bags and off we went.

scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-darkAlmost every one of these sleepovers seemed to start out the same way–dinner or snacks, a parent-approved movie, board games (and if we were lucky, the GOOD junk food–candy, ice cream, even … gasp … SODA). At some point we would be left to our own devices and almost inevitably, the scary stories would begin. Bloody Mary, light as a feather and stiff as a board, ghost stories about the creepy old houses around Charleston, the notorious Low Country Lizardman, stories girls made up about the mean neighbor or that strange clicking sound that came from another friend’s basement … sometimes, the lights would even go out, flashlights appear and gleeful screeches, shivers and the most wonderful storytelling one-up-(wom)manship would occur. If we were lucky, someone would have a good scary book–I don’t know how many people remember Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark–or, “that red, white and black book with the creepyass drawings,” as one of my friends so aptly put it. The book, part of a series of three by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, was full of wonderfully evocative, eerie stories and minimalist illustrations that were made even scarier by the light of a crappy K-Mart flashlight with ancient batteries which had seen better days.

We’d take turns reading in dramatic voices, some girls even embellishing the stories with their own flourishes and anecdotes or others busting out tiny plastic boomboxes and rewinding their Thriller cassette over and over again while the reading spun on and we all held to our pillows, riveted in suspense.

We scared the crap out of ourselves.

Best of all, socially nervous girls like me forgot to be scared of present company–we had far creppier, spoopier things to be afraid of. Like, you know, women who undo the black ribbon around their necks only to have their heads fall off. Or wallpaper vines that come alive and wrap around and around you like a mummy. Or Critters. The sleepover became the creepover, and we forgot our differences in wake of the connection we felt in light of this spookiness. The lights would inevitably come back on, someone’s parent reminding us tiredly of what time it was, and by the time the morning rolled around and we packed into our mom’s cars or walked back home, we were (at least a little bit) better friends.

So, do any of ya’ll have tales of bonding through scary narratives and shared fright-nights? Happy Halloween, and here’s wishing everybody a wonderful fall!