Remember 1996? Let me help. “Macarena” is Billboard’s #1 song the past fourteen weeks, Space Jam is box office gold and Nanook, the Siberian husky Beanie Baby, is born. Meanwhile, Goosebumps is everywhere. The TV series is in its second season and the books are only halfway through an eventual 62-title run. If you’re reading each book as it comes out, you just finished The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and are eagerly awaiting How I Got My Shrunken Head. You are unaware, of course, that future classics like Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns and Calling All Creeps are already in the pipeline.
One day your mom buys a specially marked bag of Doritos. You find inside a teeny tiny Goosebumps book, individually wrapped so it doesn’t get covered in orange dust. You read the short story, love it, and discover that TWO more teeny stories can be obtained if you submit enough UPC codes. To sweeten the deal, the promotion includes a cardboard “library” for “shelving” your books.
Ring any bells?
Hopefully so—and hopefully you held on to those mini Goosebumps books because they are now rare treasures and very expensive. I vividly remember reading “Don’t Make Me Laugh” but somehow lost my prized copy along life’s weary road. Like many, I resorted to eBay to replace my collection and cringed when I saw the final price at checkout. So worth it, though, because it doesn’t get any more ’90s than UPC code promotion Goosebumps. Hell yeah!
Aside from the memories, the mini books (“Bad Dog”, “Don’t Make Me Laugh”, and “The Halloween Game”) are peak Goosebumps spine-tinglers. Maybe not worth the $200 needed to buy them today, but still great fun. Here’s a spoiler-ridden run-down for each story:
Sean and Cathy are your typical pre-teens, only they love school for some reason and take shortcuts through a cemetery. One day they run across a dog in the graveyard. This dog is a total Cujo, with “mangy yellow fur,” a sinister growl and one eye ominously “swollen shut.” The kids shoo the one-eyed dog away but it stands firm, not letting them pass. Some other kids from school see their dilemma but offer no assistance. Sean is scared while Cathy maintains composure until the dog eventually disappears. Totally weird!
Later, the creepy dog shows up at the kids’ house, barking and snapping its “ugly yellow teeth.” What’s wrong with that dog? And, wait, why are those same kids from school outside too? Hmm…
The next day Sean and Cathy are once again crossing the cemetery and are, once again, confronted by the dog. “‘Noooooo!’” Sean yells in terror. To Cathy’s surprise, there’s those same kids from school watching them suspiciously. This is getting crazy! She asks the kids to help her, but they run away.
Undeterred, Cathy bravely grabs the growling, snapping dog by the collar and drags it deep into the woods. We’re talking DEEP into the woods. Her plan is to drag the dog all the way through the endless trees and dump it in the town on the other side. Then maybe she and her brother can cross the cemetery in peace.
The plan works! The mangy mutt doesn’t follow them back. They get to school an hour late, but nobody cares because they are ’90s kids. Everything is resolved, except when they get out of school — THERE IT IS! The bad dog is BACK! Furthermore, so are Judy and Martin, the kids from school who’ve been following them. What’s going on?!?!
Judy and Martin confront them at last. They know why the dog follows them around, and they know why it growls at them! Confess!
Cathy and Sean do make a twist confession, but that’s not the only surprise. Judy and Martin have a confession of their own. And their solution to scare away the bad dog is delightfully outlandish, as only Stine could imagine.
DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH
Josh and his buddy are bullies with an affinity for tickling. You can beg them to stop, but they won’t. They’ll only tickle harder and laugh maniacally as they do it. “Sure it’s mean,” they say, “But it’s also fun!”
After running out of victims, the two tickle monsters head to the playground to find someone else to torture. Except the surprise is on them because they meet an alien. We’re talking an honest-to-goodness, purple-skinned onion-shaped freaky martian. Right there on the playground!
They try to run but are no match for the alien. The bullies are beamed up into the spaceship where they meet Crog, the captain. Crog explains that his planet is very sad with no laughter. He’s watched the bullies generate a lot of laughter with their tickling antics and would like them to help bring that joy to their planet.
The kids are skeptical—they are more experts in torture than laughter, after all—but they have no choice. They are introduced to the King and Queen of the planet where they must produce results—or DIE!
They get to work tickling the royals, but it’s no good. These purple people eaters aren’t ticklish. Not a giggle or a grimace. It’s hopeless!
Desperate, they make funny faces as if entertaining babies. The faces only startle the aliens, however, and they are soon sentenced to be “disintegrated.”
With nothing left to try, the bullies succumb to certain death—and it’s in that dark moment that the aliens find humor. They laugh! Oh wow, whatever the kids are doing, they have to keep doing it. FOREVER if necessary!
But then there’s one last twist for the bullies that’s even worse than perpetual misery. It’s almost harsh enough to feel bad for them, but they totally deserve it.
THE HALLOWEEN GAME
At the wizened age of twelve, Krista and Carl basically have one foot in the grave. Or at least they feel “too old” to go trick-or-treating. So instead they go to a friend’s house where a mysterious “Halloween Game” is underway. The rules are they must explore a spooky old mansion nearby where candy is hidden all throughout the house. The winner will be the one who returns with the most candy. Everyone agrees that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do and should be fun. Yay!
Except NOT yay because before they can even break into the house, they are accosted by a mysterious beast with red eyes. It’s hard to see in the dark gloom, but it looks like a panther. Yikes!
Krista and her friend escape into a tree, but Carl injures his arm and is helpless. When they emerge, Carl is gone. Instead of looking for him, a mysterious force compels them to continue with the Halloween Game. “I can’t explain it,” explains the narrator, “something was forcing Krista and me to continue on our way…”
When they find the block with the creepy mansion, a new discovery boggles their minds. All the houses are the same! It’s an entire block of old, creepy mansions! Totally yikes—and now they aren’t sure which house is the correct one. The solution: check them all.
The first house they pursue is populated with a fire-breathing dragon. Before they can run, the dragon snaps up Krista by her costume fairy wings. Our narrator once again shows no interest in rescue. Instead, they become enamored by the open door of one of the other identical creepy mansions. Again, the narrator feels they must continue the Halloween Game.
Inside the mansion, the androgynous narrator (their gender is never stated) is drawn into a bedroom where a candy bar lies invitingly on the bed. I know it sounds pervy, but it’s not. It’s SCARY, okay.
The kid picks up the candy and places it in their Halloween bag. Suddenly, they are aware of someone else in the room. Indeed, a “hideous creature” with “three yellow eyes” and mouth filled with “jagged teeth” appears. Then it gets worse. The creature multiplies into three—then six! Six terrifying, toothy ghouls!
Suddenly there’s a break in the narration and we learn what mysterious power has been pulling the strings the entire time. It even explains why the characters are drawn to continue the Halloween Game after their friends are gobbled up by monsters. A classic, Stine twist!
Stine is an underappreciated author in general, but he really deserves extra credit for his short stories. These micro tales are delightful snippets within the Goosebumps canon, but so are all the “Tales to Give You Goosebumps” short story collections. Then there’s the YA short “The Vampire Club” which I feel is excellent enough to be assigned reading. I know I would have appreciated that level of art and entertainment in the classroom.
All that said, the real draw to hunting down these rare books is nostalgia for the 1996 “Haunted Library” Halloween promotion which no doubt blew many of our young minds at the time.
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