Hallowe’en Reads: “The Three D’s”

I’m 12 or 13, and it’s Saturday night. I’m reading The 4th Armada Ghost Book, having only recently plucked up the courage to start reading and watching things explicitly identifying themselves as horror. Some of the stories are a little spooky, but I’m disappointed that none of them are as terrifying as I’d expected. Until, I finish reading “The Bus Conductor,” and begin reading “The Three D’s.” I had no idea before I started reading the story that I would be scared out of my wits afterwards…

First of all, I was quite surprised to see that it was written by Ogden Nash. By that time I was already familiar with many of his light comic poems from English-class readers at school. How could any horror story he wrote be scary?, I thought. When I started reading, I thought that my doubts had been confirmed: a posh girls’ boarding school!? Bleh! But it was only a few pages long, so I might as well read it. The completionist in me wouldn’t have it any other way anyway.

Because it’s so hard to find anywhere, and it’s so short, I think I’ll summarise the story. It’s hard to write about it without mentioning most of the plot, so beware that spoilers abound. A young girl, Victoria, is attending a posh boarding school, and wishes to join the popular clique. She’s already passed two of the initiation rites, and must now pass the third. Near the school, which is located in a remote, rural area, is the reported tombstone of Eliza Catspaugh, a witch hanged in Salem. Victoria must walk alone to the tombstone at midnight, and bring back a token as proof of her journey. Despite her terror, she makes it there, but little does she know that on her way back through the woods and rocks, she’s passed by something else, something small and ancient scurrying through the night, which arrives back at her bed before her…

The walk to the tombstone is terrifying enough, capturing every fear we have about being alone at night, but the way Nash describes the way Victoria is unknowingly overtaken by the witch on her way back is incredibly tense and really increases the tension. But the most horrific thing for me was the image of something shrivelled and dusty waiting in Victoria’s bed. The story ends with her about to climb back in her window, leaving us on the verge of her discovering the witch, always maintaining our image of that in our minds, without the relief of it happening, and its resolution.

Much of the effectiveness of the story is also undoubtedly due to surprise: coming from a “light” writer, in the middle of some fairly mild stories aimed at younger readers. And there’s probably not much practical point in sharing my thoughts about this as it’s quite hard to get hold of, but it’s probably the scariest single reading experience I’ve had. I was terrified to turn off the light that night. I can still remember how my heart was racing as Victoria made her way back to the school, and for many many nights afterwards I had the feeling that when I pulled back the sheets on my bed I’d find a dusty, shrivelled ancient thing waiting there for me…

 

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