Illustration: Chelsea Beck/GMG

Waking life can be a nightmare, this much we know, and in the spirit of that, we kick off Jezebel’s favorite time of year: Our annual scary stories contest, in search of YOUR most terrifying and fucked up real-life stories. Past years’ winners have made me literally afraid to sleep in my own house for weeks on end. Let’s begin. Who can tell the spooooooookiest tale of all?

If you’re new to this, here are the rules; if you’re not, congratulations, the rules are the same:

  • Leave your scary stories in the comments. Or email me at frida.garza@jezebel.com. The cut-off for sending in your scary stories is October 25, 2018—please do not send me scary stories after that, as I like to compartmentalize my scared feelings with a concrete beginning and end, and I do not want to be spooked in November. (We already have midterms to deal with.)
  • The story must be true. Don’t make it up. This is a contest for the best stories about the scariest things that’ve really happened to you. As former Jezebel Managing Editor Madeleine Davies once said, we go by the honor system here—so if you’re talking about a ghost, what matters is that you believe it happened. Winning stories that are found to be fictional will be disqualified.
  • It must be scary.

Since last October, we are used to being terrified, so stirring up paranormal fear in our hearts may prove to be a little tougher than normal. But I will let you in on a secret, reader: I am still easily spooked, and I still love being spooked. So what are you waiting for? TELL US WHAT HAPPENED!

Need some inspo? Here are some of last year’s winners. The last one makes me wanna never sleep again:

Woman’s Best Friend by Tara (submitted via e-mail)

My husband lost his job and we ended up moving to a mobile home his parents own in the S. California desert where he grew up. After living my entire life in the liberal enclaves of PNW/N. Cali mountains & forests, an unexpected and unwanted move to a red zone where I knew literally no one besides my in-laws (who don’t particularly like me) was highly stressful to say the least. Add to the situation that our 6 year old was experiencing major culture shock and homesickness, I was about four months pregnant, and my husband was being a major taint crumb—just to give you an idea of the level of stress in the house. Oh, and did I mention we moved in the middle of July when temperatures were hovering around 120°F and my father in law neglected to tell us that the AC in the house was broken and there was no flooring in half the place? Yah. Waking nightmare.

After about a month of the three of us living in my FIL’s tiny study, the house is finally livable. It’s located on the fringes of a tiny town that is about 45 minutes from the closest city. We have a truck stop gas station, a fire station, a corner store and a smattering of houses. Our street dead ends at and is is surrounded by BLM land and is tucked in between low hills/backs up to mountains. Half the other houses are uninhabited. My husband found work near his parents house in the “city” and since his parents were willing to help with childcare our kiddo started school there as well. This left me at home alone with no car for long hours, which I secretly loved because it gave me time to unpack emotionally and physically and also meant I had limited interaction with my in laws, so I could enjoy being radiantly pregnant without jabs about how fat my face was getting.

One day, about three weeks after we moved into the house, something felt off. I was sitting down in the living room —which has no windows to the front yard —and suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I had to go let my dog in NOW, even though she’d only been outside for a few minutes. As I walked into the kitchen, I realized that it was eerily silent and still outside. Keep in mind, it was late August in the desert so the windows and doors were all closed and the AC was on, so I’m not sure how I knew it was creepy outside before I opened the door to call in my dog, but somehow I did. Usually there’s a breeze or bugs buzzing or hummingbirds hitting up the feeder on our deck, which had been the case when I let doggo out. But when I opened up the sliding door to call for my dog, there was absolute silence. And when I looked out into the yard I realized why.

Sitting at our gate was a gigantic black dog. I don’t just mean a big dog: the top of this dog’s head was just below the top edge of our 8 foot chain link gate. It was easily as wide as a Mini Cooper, and looked like a cross between a Newfoundland and a grizzly bear. My dog is a sharpei-pitbull mix and she only came to about mid chest on this huge beast. She’s sitting there, maybe ten feet from it with just flimsy chain fence between them, watching it quietly. Tears immediately started pouring down my cheeks (I don’t cry easily) and suddenly it felt like I was carrying two full sized adults over my shoulders. It took every ounce of energy I had to walk to the edge of our small deck. I tried to very quietly whistle for my dog, and nothing really came out or if it did it was swallowed by the silence. Still, right as I ‘whistled,’ both my dog and the black dog turned their heads to look at me. My dog slowly stood up and calmly walked over to me. You have to understand: she is the derpiest bounciest collection of happy squish face love and never does anything less than bound across the yard with her tail up, tongue out, and ears perked when she’s called, so this was completely out of character.

When she reached me, she turned and looked back at the black dog, then back at me, then started to walk back towards it like she wanted me to follow her. I made a lunge for her and grabbed her harness. The dog stood up, and we locked eyes. I was then hit by the deepest sadness I’ve ever felt. Worse than when either of my parents died, it was a like a cold wave crashed directly in the center of my heart. I was sobbing uncontrollably as I dragged my dog inside.

When I looked back, the black dog had begun to walk down the street towards the mountains. It went behind a large Palo Verde shrub, and disappeared. I sat on my kitchen floor sobbing and shivering for a good hour despite the searing summer temps.

I finally calmed down and worked up the nerve to take my dog out again later that afternoon. When I checked the area around the gate for paw prints there were none, but there was a giant void in the sandy tire tracks my husband made when he left for work. My dog remained subdued for a while, but was back to herself by the time husband & kid got home. I didn’t say anything to him (things weren’t really great between us and he was in a bad mood), but he noted later on how funny it was that our dog kept pacing back and forth in front of the gate.

About a week later I went in for a prenatal appointment. I’d lost my baby. The doctor said it was a failure to thrive/nothing I could’ve done/sometimes these things happen situation. I’d been feeling off for about two weeks, but had just chalked it up to how stressful life had been—I honestly would’ve marked the black dog off as a stress induced hallucination or something had my dog not ...interactacted?... with it so extensively.

About a month later, I was hiking on the south end of Joshua Tree with my husband. We turned around to follow a hawk that had flown overhead and there on the trail we’d just walked was a big black dog. Not as big as the one at the house—this one was closer to the size of a normal Newfoundland. It sat down and—as funny as it sounds—sneezed, then got up and walked off. My husband tried to follow it, but lost it. The area we were hiking was all low plants, nowhere for this dog to have come from or gone to without us seeing it for quite a while. Before it appeared, we’d been talking about our baby and had actually settled on a name for him, even though we’d never meet him.

I guess you could see the black dog as something malicious or blame it for losing the pregnancy, but I don’t. I think it came to escort the little soul I had onto its proper place in the universe, and it gives me great comfort to think of a little boy resting in the guard of a big, fluffy dog. My husband still thinks the one we saw while hiking was a stray, but whenever my dog meets someone new she sneezes as a sort of “I’m friendly!” gesture. I think the dog was letting me know that the little guy made it to where he needed to be safely.

Advertisement

Camera Obscura by Dirt_in_the_skirt

Tried posting this one a few years ago, but was too late. Not a ghost story, but it’s one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to me.

It happened during my freshman year of college, when I was back in my hometown for Thanksgiving break. I’m from a small town in New England, the kind of place you can’t wait to get away from because nothing ever happens there. I guess maybe this was my town’s way of getting back at me for thinking like that.

It was late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was at a friend’s house, happily reunited with my best friends from high school, since we were all home for the holiday. A fog settled in that night, owing to the classic New England mix of chill and humidity.

As I drove home, I went by our town’s library, which is situated next to a small duck pond. The fog was extra thick over the water and illuminated by the lamp posts surrounding the pond. It gave it an eerie, golden glow. Being the film student that I was, I had my camera with me, as always.

Without thinking, I turned my car around, and pulled into the library parking lot, which overlooked the pond. I considered walking down to the pond for a moment, but something told me not to do that. It wasn’t fear- not yet. I remember not feeling any fear at all, just excitement and awe of the sight in front of me.

But still, I didn’t get out of my car, and that decision probably saved my life.

Instead, I kept my car running, headlights still on, and rolled down my window. I stuck my arm out the window and took a few photos of the pond and the fog. I pulled my arm back inside, and looked over the photos. They were pretty terrible, given how bad of a technique I was using.

This was the first time something felt wrong. As I looked at the photos, I just felt... the best way I can think to explain it is that, sometimes, I have nightmares about being in open water. I know that there are sharks swimming beneath me. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. I realized I was having that same feeling in my waking life, as I looked through these pictures. I felt the danger before I saw it.

I looked up from my camera, fully alert and peered in front of me, but saw nothing for a moment. Then, a figure materialized out of the darkness around the pond and into the beams of my headlights.

It was a man. He was wearing dark jeans and a black zip-up fleece jacket. His hair was dark and short. I don’t remember his face.

He was walking in the direction of the library. In the direction of my car. I waited, not wanting to let my fear take over. Maybe he wasn’t walking toward me. Maybe he was going to the road.

But he kept coming toward me, walking faster and getting closer. I remembered my window was down and quickly rolled it up.

Then, he was right in front of the hood of my car, and I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was staring straight at me. The look in his eyes- his face was expressionless, but his eyes were intent, determined.

The moment we made eye contact, the moment I saw that look, I just reacted. I don’t remember feeling fear or panic. Just being more alert than I ever had been. I never took my eyes off of the man, as I threw my car into reverse and spun out of the parking spot I was in.

But I went the wrong way. Instead of turning my car toward the exit, I turned toward the back parking lot. Yes, there was another exit I could get to, but I would have to drive around the entire library to get there. Either that, or reverse all the way out onto the road, and risk hitting something- a tree, another car. I didn’t want to risk crashing- then I’d have no escape. I decided I would have to go around the library, it would take longer, but it was the safest option. All these thoughts went through my head in an instant.

The man ran to get in front of my car. One of my biggest regrets in life is not running him over there and then. But I didn’t. I put my car in drive and waited. He stopped running once he was in front of the car, then took his time. He walked slowly around the hood of my car, staring at me the whole time. Our eyes followed each other. He smiled.

The moment he was clear of the front of my car, two things happened:

He lunged for my car door.

I floored it.

I remember the sight of my car sailing past his outstretched hand. I drove as fast as I’ve ever driven, taking the corners at speed around the library. As I came out the other side, the exit was in sight, but the man wasn’t.

I drove as fast as I could toward the exit. As I got in front of the library again, I looked over, and saw the man running as fast as he could to get to my car. I sped out of the library parking lot and onto the main road.

The police station was a block away, and I made a beeline for it, still driving recklessly fast, hoping to be pulled over by a cop.

I got to the police station, and that’s when the fear finally settled in. I sat in my car and cried, breathing raggedly, completely frozen. I couldn’t get out of my car. I was terrified that the man had followed me there, that as soon as I got out, he would get me.

A police officer came out to my car and escorted me inside. They must have seen me on their security cameras.

I spoke with a female sergeant. I told her what happened. Gave her the best description I could. They immediately sent cars out, but found no one. I assumed that the man was after my car, my camera maybe, and said that aloud. The female sergeant looked at me and shook her head. What she told me, I’ll never forget:

“I don’t think he was after your car or your camera. He was after you.”

A Little Hole in the Wall by 4000ofthem

Ok, here goes. Writing this out makes me want to barf.

I was a news reporter right out of college, reporting on dismal topics in dismal towns. After three or four years of this, with the help of a friend, I landed an interview at an ad agency in Cincinnati. I got a job writing speeches and press releases and doing the usual early-pr-career grunt work. After stints in Alaska and West Virginia, Cincy seemed like a metropolis, and I picked a totally refinished first-floor apartment off of Craigslist. It was $400 a month and not in a great part of town, though the landlord assured me it was changing. Besides: in West Virginia, I was living in an old furniture factory for $300 a month and kicking crackheads off the front stoop. This place sounded like paradise.

My huge black dog Dozer and I drive down the street for the first time- a library! A record store! Restaurants! I pull up to my building, a few blocks down from the retail stuff, and it’s… not at all as described. The vestibule for the apartment is caked with grime. But I already have my key and I open the door to find an almost eerily perfect apartment. Everything is brand-new. The main room is in front. White carpet, white walls, a refinished bathroom, a boring but tidy kitchen. Huge windows, high ceilings. In the back is a small bedroom with a door leading out to a tiny, three-step back stoop and a little fenced backyard.

Over the next couple of weeks my friend helps me meet people, including her friend Alan. He’s great; we kind of friend hang out and kind of boyfriend-girlfriend hang out. Who knows. I have to drive around the state a lot for work and he watches Dozer while I’m gone- I always go to his place to pick her up on my way home.

The first time I do this, I come into the back of the apartment with my bags and race to the bathroom to pee.

The seat is up, and I fall right into the toilet. I figure Alan left it up, and unpack, go running with Dozer, etc.

A couple of weeks later, I have to travel again. I leave my keys with Alan so he can pick up Dozer after he gets off work. Same routine: I pick her up two days later and go straight home, in through the back bedroom door.

I go to the bathroom and sit down again; again, I fall right into the toilet. I think: I need to ask Alan not to do this when he picks up Dozer; it’s so weird. I walk out of the other bathroom door and into the main room.

Everything there is covered with a thick layer of dust, as if I’d been gone for years.

It covers my dining room table- the stray coffee cup I’d left there. It’s sunk into my mom’s old velvet couch, on my picture frames, onto every nook and cranny of the huge yellow hutch against the wall. It’s on the windowsills, on every handle of every drawer. Only the inside handle of the front door is perfectly clean. The door is locked.

I realize the white carpet is filled with even more dust- it’s white-on-white so I hadn’t noticed. I get out the vacuum and I fill two bags. I call the (Seattle-based) landlord and say that if he’s renovating other parts of the building they need to chill on the construction dust. He says he’s “short on funds at the moment” and my renovation was and will be the only one.

After that I’m home for a couple of weeks and everything’s… fine. I figure the air ducts burped out some old gross stuff. For my next trip, the usual. I come home with Dozer and the seat’s up. I had teased Alan about it and he’d said: I’ve never used the bathroom in your apartment.

I go out into the main room and the box of pictures from college I’d dragged around for a couple years was on a dining room chair. Every spring break picture of a girl in a bathing suit, some slutty sorority-themed outfit, a towel, anything sexy… they are all arranged neatly in a grid on the dining room table. I can feel my blood rushing in my ears. I walk through every room, look under the bed, open the front hall closet with a pair of kitchen shears in my hand… nothing.

I call Alan, politely, remembering that I don’t know him all that well, not really, and ask him about the pictures. He’d seen nothing like this, he says, and doing such a thing would be “hella creepy.” I’m so afraid that I can hardly hear him. I call the landlord to see who else has keys but he’s not picking up. I call over and over.

I don’t want to leave Dozer there, I’ve just been super weird to Alan, and I don’t want to sound insane. I’m just… standing in the apartment. I end up taking a picture of the picture grid with my digital camera to prove to myself that it happened, cleaning it up, making a sad dinner, and spending the whole night talking to everyone I can think of on my flip phone (2005 y’all) until I fall asleep. The doors are locked, Dozer’s on the end of the bed, and every light is on.

I’m in the office or at home with Dozer all week. Every time I walk in my apartment I’m terrified, but it’s just her waiting, wagging her tail. I get cool about Alan again- after all, my friends know him, he’s really fun- he just doesn’t seem like the type. Still, the next time I travel, I drop Dozer off at his house and I don’t leave him a key. He insists on coming with me when I go back to the apartment. Sitting neatly in the middle of the back stoop is a small black rectangle. I bend down and pick it up. It’s the remote control for my fancy digital camera I used as a reporter. Under it is a sheet of paper. It’s a printout of PICTURE I TOOK of the grid of swimsuit pictures left on my dining room table.

Alan goes in the house for me. Everything is locked tight, and my camera- the most valuable item I own- is gone. The living room is covered with deep, pillowy dust; the front doorknob is pristine. I don’t clean anything- I leave and go to Alan’s place, where I drink as much as possible. I call the landlord again- he says he has a key in Seattle, and I have a key in Cincinnati, and that’s all he knows of.

I call the non-emergency police, but the police are swamped in 2005 Cincinnati. They tell me a neighbor probably has a copy of my key, that all the Northside landlords are grifters, to get my own deadbolt and keep valuables locked in the trunk of my car. They will take a report if I’m willing to drive to the station.

I buy deadbolts for the front and back doors. I spend as little time in the apartment as possible. I try to break the lease but the landlord won’t let me out and I can’t afford to do anything else. I spend a lot of time with Alan.

On the next trip, I come back to find my toilet seat up and a bunch of my food gone.

On the trip after that, it’s just a day and half so I ask Alan to drop in and check on Dozer, do her walks, keep her company. Nothing happens.

Trip after that: Alan takes Dozer. Everything’s normal. I check the mail, still nothing but junk circulars, same as the past two months. Nothing I order arrives, so I start having things delivered to my office. But this time when I open the front hall closet to put my coat away: there’s the entire past two months of mail. Online orders, packages from my mom and faraway friends, all my bills. They are crushed, opened, ransacked, soaking wet and streaked with dirt. I just… run. Out into the street, on this sunny day, and everything’s normal but I can’t hear, I’m too scared, and slowly I realize the street is busy and my huge dog is out here and I get myself together enough to hold her collar and sit on the curb.

I turn around to face the building. A face at the very top window, in the attic, sinks below view.

Other stuff disappears over time- a collection of coins my dad has given me from the places he’s visited, more food, any drop of alcohol I buy. But nothing ever happens to me. No one breaks in when I’m home, there are no menacing figures at the window, no creepy feelings at night- and the face in the attic starts to feel like a dream. I even go up there- it’s just a bunch of people’s extra stuff in storage. This was some asshole with a key, I decide, and I’m making a good chunk of this up. The longer things are normal, the more it fades. I barely sleep; it makes everything feel even dreamier.

And then, one night, I’m getting dressed cute to go out. I use the blackness of the long windows to check my reflection. I put on my shoes and one turns white. It’s dust again. It’s not all over like before- it’s concentrated around my huge hutch. I get out the vacuum and get to work, teetering in heels, but it’s piled around the side of the hutch, which is hard to move. I turn off the vacuum, brace my legs against the couch, and push the hutch out toward the center of the room.

In the wall is a hole the size of a man.

The dust, of course, had been from the sawing. My company put me up in a hotel after that, until I could move. My landlord let me break the lease. Later, during the process of getting a felony conviction, I learned that two men did all that stuff specifically to scare me, that they sat peeping through the gap at the back of the hutch for months. One lived in the apartment next door. The wall opened into a little pocket between the apartment stairwell and the basement. They hid it with plywood.

My neighbor described it all for me in court, smiling at me. They watched me check myself out in the full-length mirror, cook meals, watch sad movies, flirt with guys on the phone, do sit-ups, talk to Dozer, have the occasional cry, go to the bathroom- everything. They kept a hoard of snacks from my kitchen in the wall to enjoy while they passed the time. My long kitchen knife was found in the wall, plus a boning knife I didn’t recognize- but they didn’t want to come in while Dozer was home, and I was never without her. Every morning on the way to work for six months, I’d driven past a “wanted” billboard featuring one of their faces.

I have never lived alone again.