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Most of the people I know have at least one scary story in their pocket. Something that Iswearreallyhappened, reserved for those times when the night is winding down, but nobody’s ready to go home yet. You can bet these stories get darker with every telling, a distant cough becomes a deep growl. Embellishment is all in the name of a good story, especially when you’re attempting to one-up the last teller, who practically gets his mail at Greenwood Cemetery.

Having grown up in a house filled with macabre antiques – military netting hung over my childhood bed, thanks Grandpa – I can always think of some sort-of true tale to contribute. But I’m never the winner. See, we nicknamed the noises in the house Eddie and assigned him all sorts of likable traits over the years to make him fun and friendly. Eddie loves pizza night! Eddie thinks we should get a kitten! 

Eddie stories are not so scary and I’m no good at pretending they are. Not when I rub my hands together and smile at the memory of an imaginary friend shared between sisters, beginning with, “Eddie was the best.”

Eddie was the best, but he’s not in this story. Now it’s time to dim the lights.

Since reading The Never List, I’ve been thinking about a little incident that happened so long ago I was too short to board the rides at Disney World. We were on vacation with my grandmother and uncle, walking around Sea World when I squeezed my way to the front of the Stingray pool. After a while my uncle got impatient. He took my hand and hurried us away back to the sprawling parking lot. We’d exited the park almost running. Had zig-zagged through a few rows of cars when a security guard shouted out and my grandmother came charging after faster than I’d ever seen anyone move in my life.

He dropped my hand and disappeared. I don’t remember if the guards chased him down. I’d like to say that the moment I realized the man wasn’t my uncle, that he’d grabbed my hand and I mindlessly followed because he wore the same blue button-down shirt my uncle had on, was a moment of I’m-never-going-to-wander-again terror. The kind of terror Margaret Atwood wrote about in a recent guest post over at Book Riot:

Terror is the fear of something dreadful yet to come.

I was not the smartest kid. That close call embarrassed and confused, but didn’t scare me. I figured the stranger mistook me for his child as I mistook him for my uncle, and never thought of this as a scary story. Everyone gave me such a hard time for walking away with a stranger that I didn’t dwell on the fact that a stranger had walked away with me. To me, that “What if” is way more frightening than strange noises and misplaced objects suddenly found.

Next time it’s scary story time I’m going to win. Plus there’s a moral: Not every man in a blue button-down shirt is my uncle.