To celebrate the paperback publication of The Stolen Ones by Richard Montanari, a thriller that promises to wake your deepest childhood fears, we spoke to some of our authors about what scared them most when they were younger. Richard Montanari shares his story.
‘ A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere …’
Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
I remember the night as if it were yesterday. It was to be the first nature outing of my Cub Scout pack. Summer was in full, glorious burn. We rode to the North Chagrin Reservation in two cars, and hiked deep into the forest. Okay, it was probably less than a mile, but we six eight-year-olds were intrepid adventurers.
Our little group was led by our den leader, Mr Singer, along with this older guy, Danny, who had to be all of twenty.
As the sun set we found a clearing, and dutifully went about collecting kindling and dried branches. Before long the adults had a nice fire going.
The mosquitoes were at bay. The apple cider was cold. Hot dogs and toasted marshmallows consumed, it was time for campfire stories. Mr Singer started off with a mildly unsettling tale of ghosts and old, creaky mansions. Then it was Danny’s turn. He chose The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
As the firelight cast long shadows we heard the account of a Hessian soldier who’d had his head blown off by a cannonball, a headless monster that haunted the bridge leading to Tarry Town, New York.
Wait a minute, we all thought. We had to cross a bridge to get to this campsite, didn’t we?
As the tale continued we noticed that Danny had something in his hands. It was a cannonball. And it was covered in blood. By the time Danny got to the part where Ichabod Crane confronted the Headless Horseman, we noticed something else.
Mr Singer was gone.
We then heard a noise, the unmistakable sound of footfalls in the forest. We turned to look at the source, just as —
A headless man stepped out from behind a tree.
All six of us leapt to our feet and took off through the woods in six different directions.
The moon was full, and as I approached the bridge, my heart in my throat, I was certain that before I could set foot onto the worn planks, the headless Hessian — who had surely circled around ahead of me — would spring from the darkness.
He did not.
They found the last of us (me) hiding under a pile of leaves around three a.m.
As it turned out, the object in Danny’s hands wasn’t a bloody cannonball at all, but rather a balloon, spray-painted black, with ketchup on it. Mr Singer’s head — made to appear missing by a cleverly buttoned sweater — was still firmly planted on his shoulders, although the mothers of the children who disappeared into the woods had thoughts about relocating it.
That night was the first time I encountered the power of storytelling, how it has the ability to move, to frighten, to engage on a physical level. It taught me one formidable lesson, one that I’ve never forgotten:
Like Tuff and Bean — the two little girls in The Stolen Ones — I learned that it never hurts to look inside the closet before shutting off the light. Just in case …