It is windy and overcast as I write this prompt. There’s a chill seeping into my apartment, which may be due to my building’s crappy uninsulated windows, and a palpable unease in the air that could possibly be related to the current geopolitical moment. But I think I’m cold and frightened because Jezebel’s annual scary story contest is upon us, and my body is preparing itself for what you’re all going to bring this year.
- Submit your own scary story in the comments of this post. If you must, you can email them to tips@ or n.biette-timmons@ jezebel.com (with the subject line “scary story contest”), but that’s way less fun for all the other commenters sharing their horrific real-life run-ins with the supernatural or otherwise.
- Your story must be true. Look, I’m not going to phone up your college roommate or whoever else to corroborate your experience, but this isn’t a flash fiction workshop. To quote former Jezebel 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.”
- Your story must be scary. Not pithy or Making a Point...scary in that I have to turn around to check the six feet between the back of my chair and my apartment wall to make sure some otherworldly thing hasn’t appeared there to haunt or murder me.
- Unnecessarily long stories will be penalized in the final judging. AKA I will be less likely to pick them. We’re reading these to be scared, not to memorize a map of the neighborhood you grew up in. The only edits these will get will be for the purposes of legibility.
Just in case you need some inspiration, below are two of my favorites from recent years. Otherwise, get to posting your own terrifying stories in the comments. We’ll select the 10 scariest over the next few weeks and publish them for everyone’s collective reading horror.
Back in the early 2000s I moved in with a now ex-boyfriend. He lived in a bungalow style house in one of the neighborhoods of a large midwestern city. This happened when I was taking a personal day from work after moving in to finish getting things arranged and unpacked.
It was midafternoon when the doorbell rang. Through the peephole I saw a conservatively dressed woman. My guess was Jehovah’s Witness so I planned to say no thanks and get back to unpacking.
I opened the door and got a better look. The woman was about my age, late 20s, and she had frizzy hair like a perm gone wrong. It was a nondescript brownish blond and looked dry and damaged. All her style choices looked like those of a stereotypical grandmother. She wore a lightweight tan jacket, a white turtleneck that looked like it had been washed many times, a long khaki skirt that buttoned up the front, and loafers styled like moccasins. She was underdressed for a late November day. The only break with her style was shiny, black aviator sunglasses. I couldn’t see her eyes.
I opened the door but left the screen door closed. “Hi! Is Scott* home?”
I started to say he wasn’t home but then my instincts started to kick in. I asked what she needed and she held out a paper plate wrapped in foil. “I made these for Scott. He helped me out the other day and I wanted to thank him.” That almost made sense. Scott was a firefighter and he’d had a call to a house recently but...why would she bring them to his house? How did she find his house? Why was I instantly uncomfortable and panicked once I opened the door?
I told her she’d have to give it to him at work. She asked if he was at work, I said she’d need to talk to him later at work, she asked when he’d be home, I said she’d need to speak to him, she’d ask if he was home, it was an endless loop. I noticed she had a jerky manner of talking, like she had to move physically to speak. Finally I broke the loop and said I couldn’t talk to her anymore and she’d have to leave. As I closed the door she slammed her hand on the screen door and screamed, “No!”
I closed and locked the door quickly. Almost instantly, there was knocking at the back door. That didn’t make sense - the back yard was fenced and we kept the gate locked. The lot was long and narrow so along with the locked gate it took a little time to go from the front to the back. I ran to the back and peaked out. She was there and now she was yelling that she knew he was home and I had to let her in. I looked at her out the backdoor. She clearly had a problem and I didn’t know if 911 was the best way to help or not.
The doorbell rang as I looked at her. Hopefully it was someone else. I went and looked out the peephole. There she was again. She gave me a big grin and the knocking started in back. I marched to the phone. There were two of them so I was sure this was a crime and she was putting on an act. 911 was my best bet. As I reached the phone it rang. I expected it to be her but it was our neighbors across the street. They were older but not too much. He (Jim*) was a retired cop, she (Jenny*) worked an office job in the city. She was off today and was just wondering if Scott and I would like to come for dinner-
I cut her off, panicked, and asked if anyone was at my front door. She said no and I begged her to double check. She asked me why and I explained. Immediately she got Jim on the phone. Jim told me he’d be right over and to go to the interior of the house away from the windows. All this time, the bell rang in the front and there was knocking in the back. Eventually it stopped. Jim yelled at the front door it was him and I could open up. He asked me a lot of questions and then we had the following conversation I’ve never forgotten:
“If that thing ever comes back again don’t open the door.”
“Jim, if she ever comes back I’m calling the police. Wait...what do you mean that thing?
“I don’t know what religion you are but you should get something for protection and hang it by the door. Don’t talk about it again, either.”
Scott was as confused by it as I was and didn’t recognize her from my description. At first we talked about it but then I noticed after he was talking to Jim one day he didn’t want to discuss it any more. He was raised Catholic and a few days later he hung a crucifix near the door. He insisted it was just something from his grandma’s house he’d had a long time and it reminded him of her.
I lived there for a little over a year and nothing else happened. About a year after I moved out Scott called me at work. He thought I’d want to know Jim had died. During the call, we talked about old times and Scott talked about how Jim had been so concerned about me after the incident. The same thing had happened to Jenny late one night when they’d just had their first child. I tried to take it beyond Jim’s concern but Scott said Jim had asked him never to talk about it and he wanted to respect that. Since then I’ve lost touch with Jenny and Scott.
It wasn’t until a few days after the call I realized it. Jim and Jenny were my parents age. Their first baby is a few years older than me. That means the same thing happened to her in the 1970s. I still don’t understand it.
We have never figured this out. And now, the three living witnesses have to be good and fucking druuuunk to discuss the whole thing.
I was 7, my brother 10, my mom in her early 40s, my grandmother (her mom) in her 60′s. So we were all cogent. No one was too young or too senile to not recall this nonsense. Yet, still no bloody answer.
Grandma lived on an isolated country road in NC that was named after her family since they were the only crazy fuckers who lived on the land for about 1000 acres. And I *do* mean crazy. We have stories about relatives that start with, “You remember that time Uncle Bob was in the ditch with a shotgun?” “WHICH TIME?!”
Her house had been empty for several weeks while she’d been visiting us in Florida, but we were all back, spending the weekend with her before trekking back to the Sunshine state. The house is in the foreal country, literally over train-tracks, past a salvage yard and her nearest neighbor (a cousin — everyone is related to everyone who owns a house on the road) ain’t within screamin’ distance. Yes, that seems to be a real system of measurement — “screaming distance.”
It’s early in the AM, like just before daybreak. We’re awake because these are farm freaks who wake at the crack of dawn from sheer ingrained habit. We’re eating cereal when we hear someone pull up outside. Curious, we all run to the big picture window that looks onto the front yard. There is a strange truck there. No one seems to be behind the wheel, though the engine is idling. The truck is… well, old, for one thing. It’s old-timey like from maybe the 1930′s? You could picture the Joad Family heading to California in this thing. It’s rusted but it was probably once painted blue.
We stare at the thing, bewildered. Mom asks grandma if she knows who that is. Nope, not a clue, says grandma. She runs to get the phone to call her cousin and ask him to come up — she thinks maybe it’s a hired hand and he’s just at the wrong farm. Just as she asks him to come on down, the phone goes dead. Well. That’s unsettling.
All at once, there is a loud, insistent banging on the front door. We all scream. My grandma, who is terrifyingly resourceful, huddles us all into the living room, away from a window where anyone can see us. Then, while mom, me and my brother tremble there on the couch, she grabs a serrated bread knife from the kitchen and cautiously approaches the front door. She peeks out a side window, very stealthily. She turns back to us and looks confused. She shakes her head, like, “No one is there.” We all kind of breathe easier.
Then EVERY goddamn door in the house is banging — relentlessly. I can still hear it. Rhythmic and terrifying, like all the doors are about to splinter and crack. There were two doors in the basement beneath us, so the sound is also a reverberation at our feet. The three ground-floor doors are shaking — we can see them trembling and jerking on their hinges from our vantage point on the couch. Finally, mom runs to the window — either from a psychotic break with reality or terror, I have no clue. She cries, “Oh thank Christ — Cousin is here!” We run to her and peek out the picture window — there is no one that we can see in the yard, but we can’t see all the doors from our viewpoint.
Cousin walks by truck with a shotgun in his hand. Cousin, it should be noted, has pretty much every gun ever made. He looks puzzled, looking at the rear of the truck, then he glances in the cab window and he stops. He goes pale, runs a hand down his face. Then he RUNS towards to house, towards us.
My grandmother flings open the kitchen door as she sees him coming. He shouts, “Everyone get behind the couch! Get DOWN!” He runs past us as we bolt for the couch. The banging starts AGAIN, all the doors and now we can hear the windows rattle. It’s like a tornado or the end of the world. We are too scared to even scream. Cousin flings open the front door and fires the huge shotgun, once, BANG, deafening. As he does, the truck roars into life and it sounds like a train. We scramble up; the banging stops, mercifully. Cousin is advancing onto the lawn, gun leveled at the truck. We run behind him, wanting to be out of that shaking, quivering house and near the dude with the gun. The truck peals out, backwards, cutting across the yard and racing into a breakneck speed. Tires squeal, rubber is burned. Cousin fires again and we all cower behind him. He blows out the back window with the sound of a thousand plates smashing into linoleum but the truck never even hiccups, just roars down the road. No tags, not even a vanity plate on the back.
There was NO ONE behind the wheel of that thing.
We all had a clear view. Everyone agreed. Not a driver in the cab.
Not anything we could SEE, anyhow.
The police were called (Cousin had to go home to his house to call — this was way pre-cell phone era). The phone line had been cut. There was not a single boot print in the entire yard except Cousin’s, from where he’d run into and out of the house. Cousin reported that there had been no plate but when he looked into the cab, it looked like “something from a horror movie.” He said there were all kinds of weird restraints — handcuffs, c-clamps, nylon straps — and he said the floorboards looked covered in what “smelled like” blood to him (Cousin was famous for his keen sense of smell and the window was down, so it’s possible).
Cousin said he thought he saw a blur of something out the picture window and ran to fire the first shot, but “missed” because, once he stood there, nothing or no one was on the lawn or in the truck. Then it shot backwards out of the yard and out of our lives, leaving no answers, just a deep sense of unease every time we’d visit.
Grandma and Cousin have passed. Deeply religious people, they stuck by their unchanging versions of the story until they died. My brother, mother and I have never been able to figure it out — neither did the cops, I think it should be noted. We don’t know how all the windows and doors were banging, and we don’t know why we never saw a SOUL anywhere or how they could get around the sides of the house without leaving a trace in the damp earth.