Last week, we shared the winners of this year’s scary stories contest, and as always, we’re sharing another round of even spookier, even freakier tales. These tales have it all: creeps, crypts, and more. Get to scrolling and enjoy.
Back in college, I spent a semester abroad studying in New Zealand. Over one weekend, some girlfriends and I decided to book an overnight horse trek with a company just outside the city on the south island where we all went to school. The company offered an hours-long ride to a small, secluded beach where we would stay overnight in a tiny cabin and ride back the next day.
Our guide leads us on an enjoyable trip on horseback through rolling, green hills and some farmland, reaching the white, sandy beach (not longer than 200 yards or so, if I remember correctly) in the evening. We spend some time riding the horses on the sand, and then our guide takes us to the small cabin, which is set back from the beach about 100 yards and surrounded by a bunch of huge trees. The cabin was built something like 150+ years before this, and had no electricity or running water.
To finish painting the picture, on either side of the beach are rocky cliffs. There is an unpaved, narrow road ending at the eastern part of the beach, but it doesn’t look like it gets used very much. It leads back up into the steep hills the way we came.
The guide helps everyone unsaddle and unbridle the horses, brushing them down and leaving them in a pen for the night. After unpacking the dinner the trek company made for us and starting a fire in the fireplace inside the cabin, the guide takes off back to the horse farm for the night.
Darkness falls. And it’s dark dark. We are practically in the middle of nowhere. An isolated beach on a moonless night.
So, we sit on the floor around the fire with headlamps, eating our stew, chatting and playing boardgames that were left at the cabin.
There isn’t a lot to do in a dark cabin on a secluded beach, so of course the conversation turns to ghost stories. I really wish I remembered more about the stories that were told, because at the time, I myself had none, and was sufficiently creeped out by everyone else’s experiences.
We are in the middle of one girl telling us about the knocking on her two-story bedroom window she used to hear as a kid, when we look out the window to see headlights on the road on the hill at the east end of the beach. A car continues down the road slowly, pulling onto the sand and stopping. We are freaked out. Is this the guide coming back to check on us or some random person wondering if anyone’s staying in the ancient cabin over there?
Of course there is no cell phone service, and I think only one of us even had a cell phone at the time anyway (circa 2003 in a foreign country), so we stand motionless at the window of the cabin, watching the car on the beach.
After what seemed like eternity, but was in reality probably five minutes, the car turns around and drives back up the road. Ok, we think, they’re gone.
We turn back to the fireplace and I look above it, suddenly horrified to see a painting hanging there of the word MURDER in huge, red capital letters, complete with backwards “R.” WHAT. THE. HELL.
Several of us gasp. Was this painting there the whole time? Of course it must have been. The windows of the cabin were not very big, and the sun had already disappeared behind the hills when we had arrived, so the place was dimly lit. Plus, we were all sitting on the floor right before this. But what kind of sick joke are these horse trek people playing on us?
We decide to call it a night, but not before a couple of us venture outside to use the outhouse some ways from the cabin. We use our headlamps as we follow a narrow path. Then we hear loud rustling in the trees. We drop to the ground. My heart is about to jump out of my chest and then we hear a snort and realize, OMG, it’s just the horses!
We are somewhat relieved but finish our business quickly. On the way back to the cabin, I can’t help but notice how restless the horses seem. They aren’t eating, they’re just standing there - looking in the direction of where the car had pulled up on the beach.
The cabin has two rooms, the room with the fireplace and a small bedroom with two, ancient-looking wooden bunkbeds. We crawl into our sleeping bags. I am on the top of one of the bunkbeds.
I try to sleep, but my mind is racing. It’s pitch black and every little noise, whether it be the horses stirring or the wind blowing outside, makes me jump a little. I pull my sleeping bag over my head and eventually doze off.
At some point during the night, I jolt awake. I’m covered in sweat but freezing cold. And something is wrong. Very wrong. At first, it’s dead quiet, which is unsettling. Then, I think I hear something in the next room, like a chair moving across the wooden floor. The way I am laying, I can see directly through the open doorway into the room with the fireplace - but the fire has gone out and I can’t see a thing. I pull my sleeping bag back over my head and wait. I don’t hear the noise again, but I can’t hear the horses outside, either. Somehow, I fall back to sleep.
Some time later, I jolt awake again. Again, it’s dead quiet, and I’m sweaty but the room feels ice cold. I hear the crackle and pop of the fire in the fireplace, and see a soft glow through the doorway in the next room. But, didn’t the fire already go out? Something again feels very wrong. In the darkness, I climb down from the top bunk (there is no ladder, so it’s not easy) and walk over to my sleeping friend in the other bunk. “Sarah!” I whisper, “Sarah, wake up!” Sarah does not wake up. I grab her shoulder and shake her, but she does not wake up.
Suddenly, I jolt awake again. It’s still dark and it’s still cold. The same feeling of dread overcomes me, and I can’t tell if I’m awake or dreaming, but I need to check on my friend. I climb down from the top bunk and walk over to her, shaking her. “Sarah!” I say loudly, “Wake up! Wake up so you can wake me up!”
My eyes snap open. I’m back in my sleeping bag in the top bunk, but this time, I can’t move. The air is frigid, but my clothes are soaked with sweat. All I can do is look around with my eyes. I can see a red glow coming from the next room. And what looks like a seated person in the middle of the room, silhouetted by the faint fire light, facing directly into the bedroom. I am absolutely terrified but completely unable to move or shout to wake up my friends. Then, the figure moves forward onto its hands and knees.
I wake up. I’m in the top bunk, in my sleeping bag. It’s daylight. My friends are up and about, getting dressed and packing up their stuff. I am exhausted, I don’t feel like I’ve slept at all. No one else seems to be bothered, despite the weird events of the night before that I know we all experienced, so I don’t say anything about my “nightmares.”
The guide returns and we ask him what’s up with the giant “MURDER” painting in the cabin. The beach, he says, is called “Murdering Beach.” In the 1800s, white settlers were attacked by Maori natives on the beach. Evidentially, one of the white men had previously stolen from these Maori. Several settlers were killed, but the conflict ended with the slaughter of dozens of Maori.
He can’t explain the tire tracks on the sand, though - that wasn’t him.
I don’t know the specific origins of the cabin or the painting, but I know I probably won’t spend the night there again.
I’m a social worker, and I worked for two years in a homeless shelter in Ireland. The shelter was big, divided into apartments, and housed mostly women - often with children - who were recovering from substance abuse and getting their lives together. There were a lot of one-on-one case-working between staff and residents, so we generally had close relationships. Staff - social workers, night staff, employees - handled admin and maintenance, managing the shelter, and looking after health and safety. I’ve mentioned this shelter was in Ireland - in fact, it was a former ‘Magdalene’ home. For those of you in America and beyond, who may not know, these were institutions set up and run by the Catholic Church to, for the most part, detain ‘fallen women’, women who’d had children outside of marriage, and put them to work in industrial laundries. This, along with borstals and ‘mother-and-baby homes’, etc, were common in Ireland in the twentieth century. Women were basically taken from their homes, locked up in the institution, made to work, and forcibly separated from their children, for their ‘sins’. These days, revelations about the abuse and cruelty done to women in these places, as well as the fact that their babies were often sold into illegal adoption abroad, is an ongoing topical controversy in Ireland. You may have heard about it.
Anyway, this shelter where I worked had been a Magdalene home, back in the day. Now it was run progressively and secularly, but still in the same seriously creepy nineteenth-century building. I remember going into the attic shortly after I started, and seeing spooky old prams and old-fashioned toys stowed away; in the corridors and staircases, there were life-sized religious statues and Catholic effigies everywhere. The whole place gave me the creeps, but some parts more than others - the older wings, with the most evidence of religious mania.
The first sign of something else being awry came when night staff started to report, separately and frequently, that the sound of a baby crying was coming from one of the rooms in the shelter late at night. This room was in the basement of the building, and more than one member of night staff - these staff being contracted and interchangeable, so they didn’t know each other - recorded that they had heard crying at night, gone down to knock on the door, and gotten no response. They were angry because they assumed this meant that a woman, who was staying in the room, was either sneaking out at night and leaving her baby behind or, possibly (unfortunately) using drugs, or drunk, and not seeing to the baby. This was the reason they recorded it and the reason this complaint was raised at a staff and board meeting...only for us to confirm that there was nobody staying in that room. This room was empty at night.
The second stage of weird came when I went up to case-work a new woman, who had moved in with her little kid, in a different room, upstairs. She reported that everything was fine and she was settling in, working with social workers, etc., but she joked that her four-year-old son kept messing around in the old wardrobe and claiming that he had a friend in there - another little boy called ‘Michael’. ‘Yeah,’, the kid said from where he was playing on the floor, ‘Michael comes out of the wardrobe to play with me at night.’ This is eerie enough, but more so because we’d heard this before. The family stationed in that room prior to this woman had a little girl, who likewise played with her imaginary friend, ‘the boy in the wardrobe’. I kind of had to act like I wasn’t freaked out by this - by now, we were under instruction not to talk about the creepy aspects of the building in front of the residents, in case they got anxious or wanted to move rooms.
In another room, we had kids talk about ‘the woman in the wall’. In a room with a low-hanging beam, a resident called us one night, distressed, and explained that - even though she knew it ‘sounded crazy’ - she kept dreaming of a woman hanging from the beam. She woke up and felt sure she could see this woman ‘hanging’, that she wasn’t alone in the room. She knew it sounded crazy and she was sorry to be trouble, but could she, by any chance, switch rooms?
About this time, one of my co-workers was also a pastor who nonetheless came from a culture with a healthy respect for the supernatural. I asked him, did he think there was something up with the building? He answered, simply, ‘oh god yes. It’s haunted.’ He then said, ‘but they don’t mind us. They don’t have a problem with us. It’s the nuns they don’t like.’
I didn’t like the nuns either. There weren’t many of them left, but they lived in one wing of the building, most being old and past retirement. They didn’t have formal control of the shelter anymore but often tried to intervene and so, partly to annoy them, some of my co-workers and I decided to officially request, of management, that we be allowed to take down all of the religious effigies and symbols from the common areas since, as we pointed out, this was no longer a strictly Catholic space, but non-denominational. The nuns were quite annoyed, as you can imagine, but had to agree. We took it all down and put it in the store room. For a joke, I pilfered an old wooden crucifix. I was having a house party that night - it was close to Halloween - and I thought that it would make a good, funny, accessory.
I brought the crucifix home and put it on the coffee table. During the party, a friend of mine asked what it was about, and when I told her, she seemed kind up upset. ‘I really don’t like it,’ she said. ‘It’s making me feel...weird. I think you should put it back. That place (the former Magdalene home) is bad luck.’ To appease her, I put it on a shelf out of the way. That night, as I lay in bed alone, I was woken by a sound from downstairs. This was a sound of dragging, like something dragged along the wall, followed by a crash. At the time I was by myself and immediately thought it might be an intruder. Fired by adrenalin, I got up and put the lights on, calling ‘who’s there? Go away.’ When I came downstairs I saw that there was nobody there and everything was locked, etc., but, in the middle of the floor, there were two framed pictures broken. The pictures had been hanging on the wall by the shelf - the same shelf where I’d put the crucifix - and had apparently managed to fall from the wall, on their own, with nobody there to touch them. The sound I’d heard had been the sound of these heavy frames, hung by string, being lifted up from their hooks, scraping the wall, and smashing on the ground. These, by the, were framed photos of family and friends.
Believe it or not, I went upstairs and back to bed. I don’t think I could cope with the craziness of the idea that the crucifix might have had something to do with it. I had never felt threatened or unsafe in this house, where I’d lived for years, and which I loved, but I’ll never forget the dream I had the following night. I dreamt (I am sure it was a dream) of sitting up, seeing the landing light come on, and also seeing the shadow of a figure standing outside my room: a figure with hooves for feet.
Needless to say, I brought that crucifix right back to the storeroom and left it there.
I’ve since moved on, and I no longer worker in that shelter, but I still work as a social worker and deal, more often than you’d expect, with the legacy of religious oppression and institutionalization in Ireland. Also, last year, after I had left that job, a very big news story broke over here - so big you may have seen it in the US. An old mother-and-baby home in Tuam, County Galway, was investigated and shown to have a hidden and disused septic tank underneath it. What was in the septic tank? The shrouded remains of almost seven hundred babies and children who had died, of neglect or illness or at birth, in the home, and been placed there instead of having proper burials. Naturally, the country was outraged, and horrified: it’s basically a crime scene, with activists fighting to have further investigations into what went on in these homes over the decades they were active revealed. I think of the crying ‘baby’ in the basement of my old workplace, to be honest. In the past it might have been crazy to think there was more to the building than it being creepy and sad - that there might be something underneath the building, but now it doesn’t seem quite so crazy. I also think of what my co-worker said, though - that the ghosts, or the unhappy spirits, or whatever they were, didn’t have any problem with the staff and residents. They were there, but they didn’t want to frighten or torment us: it was the nuns, the evidence of religious oppression, that held all the bad energy. The fact that I wasn’t all that afraid when the crucifix seemed to throw pictures off my wall tells me, also, that this was a warning, rather than anything too bad - I brought the thing back, and it left me alone. But there is something seriously wrong with that old building, where so much unhappiness went on, and I don’t think we’re done with having the crimes of the Church brought to light.
And for fun, a palate cleanser: