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August 17, 2016

The Creepy House at the End of the Street --- Guest Post by David Neilsen, Author of DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM

Posted by Rebecca M
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Part of the fun of being a kid is the wild imagination that comes along with being young. After all, why shouldn't you make the most of every moment when there could be a monster under your bed or a witch living in the spooky house just down the street? Although he's technically a grown-up, actor, storyteller and author David Neilsen has no trouble remembering the delicious fear that so many of us felt when we were young. In his book, DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM, Neilsen invites us to Hardscrabble Street, where a mysterious old man has just moved in to the town's creepiest, funnest house. Now, it is up to three precocious kids to figure out Dr. Fell's true intentions for their neighborhood --- no matter how scary his old house may be. In celebration of the release of DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM, we're participating in a blog tour along with several other middle grade book review sites. In this post, Neilsen describes his inspiration for Dr. Fell and his mysterious home.

In my book, DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM, a strange old man moves into the long-vacant house on the end of Hardscrabble Street and begins to work his nefarious deeds. The house, and the playground he builds in front of it, become the central focus of the book --- an ominous structure suggesting magic, danger and evil.

The idea of the creepy, often haunted, house at the end of the street is nothing new. Nearly every neighborhood across the globe has one. Just ask the children who live there and they will unerringly point out --- often in the barest of whispers --- where the witch lives, or where the strange old man lives or where there’s some sort of dangerous monster kept locked away in the basement.

When I was a kid in Northern California, we had the witch’s house. It was near the top of a long, winding, rural road called Quail Run and every kid knew to stay well away from it. It was your basic ranch house, with a two-car garage, wood-panelled siding, and a large, puke-green glass brick window by the door. Driving by, you wouldn’t think anything of it. But every child in the area knew what it was. We all knew that’s where the witch lived.

In hindsight, I feel slightly guilty for going along with everyone and believing, if even for a moment, that the poor woman who lived alone in the house was a scary witch. For all I know, she was probably just a lonely old woman whose husband had passed away and whose kids had grown up and moved away. However, in our defense, we didn’t just randomly decide she was a witch. We had reasons.

There were two concrete things known about the witch who lived at the end of Quail Run. The first was that she could every so often be seen speed-walking down the rural lane clutching an axe handle in her hands. She wasn’t going anywhere specific (there were no stores or anything within walking distance), she was just out for a walk. And she carried with her at all times a large, wooden axe handle. It was maybe about two feet long and it terrified every child who saw it. I assume she brought it along for protection--she was an older woman walking down a sometimes-desolate road. Of course, we all assumed it was her broom in disguise. Sometimes, when word would spread that the witch was on a walk, we’d peer out of windows as she passed by in hopes of seeing her magically turn her axe handle into a broom and fly away.

She never did.

The second piece of evidence of her being a witch was that she refused to answer the door at Halloween. Everyone would trick-or-treat their way up Quail Run, gathering loads of candy, and eventually arrive at the edge of her driveway where we’d all clump around and dare one another to run up and ring the doorbell. I took that dare once (only once). After enough egging on, I skittishly tiptoed up the driveway until I reached the small cement path leading to the door. I took another look back at my friends, who waved me on from the safety of the street, then walked up the short path to the porch.

I rang the bell.

Lights were on in the house, but there was very little sound coming from within. I waited, my eyes flickering time and again over to the creepy wall of glass brick through which nothing concrete could be seen, my candy-filled bag held tight in my clenched fists. How long did I have to stay on the porch? Was I supposed to ring a second time? What if nobody was home? Worse, what would I do if she actually opened the door?

I had just about convinced myself that she wasn’t home when I saw a dark shadow cross in front of the eerie, puke-green, glass-brick window. No one came to the door, no one called out from inside. But I’d seen movement. The witch was in there. Waiting. Mixing potions. Planning her revenge on any child dumb enough to dare disturb her on this most witch-like of nights.

I turned and ran.

In my book, I tried to instill the home of Dr. Fell with the same sense of creepy menace I felt that night. My main characters, 10-year-olds Gail and Nancy and 8-year-old Jerry, grow increasingly wary of the home, increasingly worried, increasingly fearful. And then, of course, I force them to find their way inside, each shaking in nervous fear much the same way I did on that Halloween night.

Childhood is filled with countless little, mental obstacles to overcome, such as the real but unfounded fear of the creepy house at the end of the street. Facing these fears is an important part of growing up, and I encourage all kids to go on up and knock on that door.

There probably isn’t a witch on the other side.

Probably.

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We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh my! to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on YA Books Central.