The sky is gray. A ghastly fog surrounds you. You feel an unwelcome chill; you tense up. It’s... Halloween, baby, and time for Jezebel’s annual spooky story contest! We want to hear all of your most macabre and terrifying tales, and then we will share them with the class.
Ready to scare your fellow Jezebel commenting comrades into pissing their pants? Make sure you follow the rules:
- Leave your scary stories in the comments below. If you must, you can also email them to directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Scary Story Contest” in the subject line, but comments are preferable. The cut-off for sending in your scary stories is Friday, October 25, 2019, 12 a.m. EST. If anything spooky happens to you after that date, save it for next year, as this is an annual contest. You already knew that. Oh, and don’t forget to give your terrifying tale a title, too.
- The story must be true. Don’t make things up! Scary stories are only scary if they actually happened—of course, while I’d love to debate the existence of ghosts (real), ghouls (also real, if we’re referring to ghosts) and other paranormal minutiae, the fact of the matter is that there’s spooking to get to. Like last year and the years before it, I’ll quote former Jezebel Managing Editor Madeleine Davies: You are “on the honor system here and—of course—when we’re talking about ghosts, the truth is relative to what you believe. To clarify: It must be experienced or sincerely believed by YOU, the teller. If a winning story is found to be fictional, it will be stripped of its title and a ghost will come haunt you as a punishment for ignoring the directions.” Amen.
- It must be scary. If you need some inspiration—I can’t imagine why, 2019 has been a total nightmare—I’ve selected some of my favorite contest winners from last year. And now I won’t sleep, I’ll only pray for the sweet release of death.
A few years ago, I was getting ready to move from Cleveland, OH, south to Columbus. A week before my move, I went out of town with a friend. We stayed for a weekend and drove back the following Monday. The drive was long, we were both hung over, and all I could envision was getting to my own car, inhaling some fries, and sprawling on my couch. Plus, my roommate had already moved out. So when I got home, it was just going to be me and my cat, Harley. I was ready.
So sure enough, my friend dropped me off at my car that Monday evening, I drove down the street to McDonald’s for some fries and a shake, and then was finally, FINALLY home.
When I opened the front door, Harley was right there, waiting, like she usually does when she hears my key in the lock. But as I walked in that night, she was crying—making this horrific noise she doesn’t usually make. Normally, when I get home, Harley chirps a little, but this was a mewling that sounded painful. I knew something was up.
Of course I asked her (“What’s wrong, girl?”) and then looked around.
That’s when I noticed the TV I had in the living room was gone.
I immediately ran up the steps to my bedroom, and that TV was gone, too.
I ran back down the steps and called my roommate, asking if she had decided to borrow the TVs for the weekend (which I knew was super unlikely, but I was also trying to be optimistic). Of course she said no, and then said she’d come over, because obviously someone had broken in.
I called another friend, who had helped watch Harley while I was gone. He, too, said that there had been TVs there all weekend but that he hadn’t been in the house since Sunday night.
I went outside, sweating, realizing that I might not be alone in the house. I was afraid to go near the basement or my roommate’s empty room. I called the police; I called my landlord. Everyone converged on the house. It was only when the police were there that I went into the backyard and discovered that our kitchen window had been expertly removed. The window was propped against our recycling bin, which was on its side.
The police asked me if I had any idea who would want my TVs (and some other objects we discovered were missing, although the TVs were the most glaring items). I couldn’t think of anyone. My landlord kept asking if I had any exes that I had pissed off, which I thought was weird and I insisted that there wasn’t even an ex, much less an angry one. He asked at one point, “Not even a dude you rejected at the bar?” To which I asked how a guy I had rejected would know where I lived.
With all of the paperwork filed, the police said that a detective would come by in the morning to fingerprint the window and some other areas of the house. They advised me not to stay in the house that night, given that sometimes repeats happen. They also told my landlord not to touch the window itself, but that he could board the window opening with plywood temporarily. The police said everything in the backyard needed to stay exactly as it was.
I asked if my landlord wanted me to stay while he boarded the window; he said no, and told me to go stay with my roommate for the night.
I slept but was unsettled.
The next morning, I met the detective at the house. When we got to the backyard, the whole scene had been rearranged. The recycling bin had been moved across the yard; the window was flipped. Items that had been scattered from our kitchen in the backyard were thrown away. I told the detective, who kind of shrugged it off, and then he took fingerprints from the window as well as some furniture in the house.
Everything had either been wiped down or touched by someone wearing gloves. He couldn’t get any evidence from anything in the house or what was left in the backyard.
After he left, I called the police department again, as I was still concerned that the scene had been rearranged. The police chief ended up on the phone with me; he told me to never be at the house alone. It seemed someone might not be done with me. Since I was moving anyway, this was easy enough.
A friend with a pitbull sat with me the rest of the week while I packed. Harley and I stayed with my old roommate every night. I got a tattoo and had a going away party. I left the house behind.
While I was driving to Columbus, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the break-in and the fact that someone had come back. It had been so clean; no broken windows, no broken locks, nothing.
And then I remembered, somehow, that just after we moved into the house over a year before, my roommate and I had run into our landlord while we were out. We had said hi and moved on, but then he kept texting me, trying to get us to a different bar. We never met up with him that night and never saw him out again.
He’s the only person I “rejected” who also knew where I lived.
In my first job out of college, I moved from a big city to rural coastal Louisiana to work for a newspaper. I’m talking an hour and a half south of New Orleans, deep in the swamp, alligators on the roads, old people still speaking French to each other, and the only way between towns was miles and miles of remote two-lane highways winding along bayous.
Late one night I was coming back from an assignment extra tired. I worked hard at my job, slept bad and the stress was bone deep. I just wanted to get back to the office, finish my writing for the night and go home. Bayou Sale Road would get me to my destination sooner, though I hated to take it at night. It wound in sharp corners through the open pitch-black marsh. No shoulder, no street lights, just a few skeletal trees and the open grassy water. I slowed down to a crawl to drive it. This was the end of the world and no one was coming to get you if you made a mistake.
But when I took one of the hard, blind corners, I had to slam on my brakes. There was an older man in the road, and he didn’t flinch even when my brights caught him in their spotlight. I wondered if he was drunk and worried about what I should do. There were no houses around here and he might be in some kind of trouble.
I sat there with my foot on the brake, waiting for him to say something, some small desperate tale like, “Thank God you came, I’ve been in an accident!” or “My car broke down and I need a ride into town!” But he was as still and quiet as I was, and we only stared blankly at each other waiting for the other to make a move. You could just leave, you know, a small part of me said. You’re a woman, and you’re alone. No one would blame you. The only way past him on the narrow road would be to pass him so closely he could have reached out and touched my car door.
I cracked my window and asked if he needed some help. He only looked at me. I started to feel a creeping panic, my body responding to the idea that something was wrong. Fuck this, it screamed. Not now. Not today.
“I’ll call someone,” I told him finally, and rolled my window up firmly, checked the door locks and took off around him. He didn’t waver from his spot in the road even as I hit the gas and carefully dipped around him, crunching on the narrow gravel shoulder. One quick turn and he disappeared behind me in the marsh.
I was spooked, so I drove fast and didn’t stop and waited until I finally saw the first lit up signs of civilization, a gas station and convenience store, to get out of my car to call the cops in the presence of other people. The clerk listened silently while I reeled off my story on the phone to an officer who promised to drive down there and look for the man after taking my information. When finally hung up, she said, “You were down there on Bayou Sale?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“He was alone? No car?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I have no idea how he got out there, there was nothing.”
“He ask you for a ride?” she said.
“No,” I said.
“You offer to give him one?” she said. Great, I thought, now she thinks I’m some kinda asshole.
“No,” I said. “But—”
“Good,” she said. “Because that probably wasn’t no man this time of night.”
The road, she said, was haunted by spirits who would often try to catch tourists, people who didn’t know any better, and if you agreed to pick the spirit up, he could ask for for another favor, usually your soul, she said. I nodded gravely at the woman but laughed hysterically to myself when I finally got back into my car, still shaking a bit with adrenaline and fear. What a stupid thing to get taken in by, the hitchhiking ghost was a classic kid’s campfire story. I had more to fear from any living man than a dead man.
When I still couldn’t shake the creeps the next day, I called the cops back to see if they’d ever picked someone up, sure he’d just been some old drunk. They drove the road several times, the cop said. There was no one.
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.