Memo: Bill R. L. Stine for my Therapy

Bill R. L. Stine for my therapy

By Autumn Carpenter


When I was young, my greatest fear was always not being believed by my parents. I asked my mom, specifically, on multiple occasions, “If I ever told you something crazy was happening to me, would you believe me?” She always assured me she would, and that she would protect me, but I was still plagued by the idea of not being trusted in a crucial moment, which would lead to my inevitable death. I was always close with my parents, and had a relatively normal household, so where did this fear stem from, you ask? From none other than the Stephen King of children’s literature himself, Goosebumps author R. L. Stine.  I was an avid reader when I was in elementary school, and already beginning to acquire a taste for the macabre, I read any Goosebumps books I could get my hands on. I loved them all with their equally-worn pages and vibrant colors. The tactile, creased covers of, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight, Werewolf of Fever Swamp,  and Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns left the library regularly in my hands. But one segment of the series deeply unsettled me (and from my understanding, all children in America), about a ventriloquist dummy named Slappy. 

            Slappy had numerous books dedicated to his story, and was basically a younger rendition of Child’s Play’s Chucky. The dummy would always terrorize some unlucky victim in shockingly violent and psychological ways, and would turn back into a wooden shell whenever a parent stepped into the room. The traumatized kids would always beg for intervention, only to be met with disbelief and lack of concern from the very people who were supposed to protect them. This idea absolutely terrified me to my core, and because I was apparently a disturbed individual, I continued to read about Slappy until it induced recurring nightmares. 

       In the more prominent one, I was Slappy’s owner. With the implicit context that only dreams can provide, I was being tormented by him, and in an epic battle down the stairs in my house, I would somehow defy the laws of physics to shove his wooden head through the bannister poles, pinning his flailing body down with my knees. I always had a pair of scissors in hand, poised at his neck, ready to behead the beast and end his reign of terror, when my mom would emerge from her bedroom at the top of the stairs. Of course, Slappy would always go limp, and I would look like a psychopath trying to mutilate my toy. My mom would call me some variation of crazy, and would go back to the bedroom to get my dad. At this point, Slappy would re-animate, and in the moment of distraction, free himself and lunge at me, scissors placed at my own neck. It was here I would scream myself awake, and weigh the options of moving to the safety of my parents room, but having to maneuver through the dark to do so. 

            Through many years of avoiding Slappy the dummy, I slowly overcame the fear. I now watch the Goosebumps movies when they’re on, and somehow hearing my childhood monster voiced by Jack Black really takes the terror out of it all. More importantly, though, my parents have continued to believe me over the years when I’ve come to them asking for help with things that sounded improbable or outlandish. In addition to decades of loving and caring for me, my parents have always come through for me and proven themselves ready to stand guard for me against any and all monsters and villains alike. I don’t have those nightmares anymore, but if they ever came back, I know sanctuary is only a phone call away.