Image via the AP.

Against all odds, we’ve somehow made it to October 2017, inarguably the best month of a mostly shitty year, and any year, period. As the weather gets brisk and Halloween approaches, another highly anticipated event looms like the full moon on an eerie night: The annual Jezebel scary story contest.

The rules are the same as they’ve always been:

  • Leave your scary stories in the comments. (Or email me personally at madeleine@jezebel.com. If you’re reading this after October 31, 2017, I rescind the offer—keep your stories to yourself until next October.)
  • The story must be true. 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.
  • It must be scary.

As the years go by, your judges have gotten harder and harder to impress. What scares us last year may not scare us this because we’ve grown use to the nightmare of a day-to-day existence under the Trump administration, the scariest monster of all. Which is all to say that the bar is set particularly high.

Here are some past winners to get you in the mood:

911 Calling by IndianaJoan

This took place when I was about 10 years old. My mom had rather quickly filed for divorce, but she only had a part-time job and made very little money, so finding a place to stay that was affordable and available immediately was tough. A friend of hers told her that she and her husband had a little mobile home that was currently sitting empty and we could rent it practically for free ‘til we figured out something else.

I immediately didn’t like the house. Part of this I’m sure was due to my parents’ abrupt divorce and having my life turned upside down, but it was also just the house itself. We lived in a mountain town, and this mobile home was way up a steep mile-long driveway. Beautiful pine trees surrounded it, but the house itself looked abandoned and out of place. It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, so my brother and I shared a room and my mom took the bedroom with the attached bathroom. It was a very ‘70s home, with wood paneling and dated fixtures. There were also areas that showed strange damage, like holes in the wall that were badly patched up. For whatever reason, I immediately refused to use the hallway bathroom. I wouldn’t even step into it. My mom never really asked me why or questioned it, but let me use her bathroom.

Anyway, my mom was gone a lot trying to find whatever work she could, so I would be home alone a lot after school and on the weekends. Each time I received the 911 call, I was by myself.

My mom always told us not to answer the door, but we should always answer the phone in case it was her. So when the phone rang one afternoon, I figured it would be my mom since no one else really had our number yet. There was a woman on the phone who sounded very concerned.

“Hello, this is 911, returning your call. We received your call, but we got disconnected,” the woman said.

I immediately got a sick feeling. I told her that I did not call 911, and she asked me if there was anyone else in the house who might have called. I said I was home alone, but I started to get really worried that maybe I wasn’t. She said she would dispatch police to our address just to make sure everything was okay.

At that point, I was terrified to be in the house, so I sat outside and nervously waited for the police, who showed up in about 15-20 minutes. The officer asked me if I had called 911, and I said “no,” but they claimed I had called them. The officer just sort of shrugged, and said, “This kind of thing sometimes happens. They say that it can’t, that the numbers can’t get mixed up, but it happens.” He did a cursory glance around the outside of the house and left.

I tried to convince myself that the officer was right. It was just a mixed-up phone call, and hopefully whoever did actually call got the help they needed.

About a month later, the same thing happened. I got another phone call from 911, saying they had received a phone call from my number. I told them again that it must have been a mistake. The woman on the phone scolded me a bit, telling me that 911 wasn’t something to play around with and I was preventing people from getting help. She didn’t dispatch any police this time. Again, I was really worried someone was in the house, so I cautiously checked and made sure all the doors were still locked.

I don’t know why, but I always kept the hallway bathroom door closed. Maybe because of the eerie feeling I got from it. As I was checking the house, I just knew someone was in that bathroom. I was terrified. Part of me felt like I needed to open the door to check, maybe to prove myself wrong, but I was too afraid. So I just sat in the living room, watching that door. It was so quiet in the house, that after a few minutes I swore I started to hear faint little sounds coming from inside, like a kind of shuffling noise. I asked my mom to check the bathroom when she got home and she quickly looked inside. She made me come and look to see that it was empty and I was letting my imagination get the better of me.

The 911 calls happened three more times over the coming months, and only when I was home alone. The fourth time the dispatcher told me I could face criminal charges for what I was doing and they would contact my parents. I hung up the phone sobbing and terrified. I had that feeling like someone was in the house again, but if I called 911, they probably wouldn’t even show up. I felt like the girl who cried wolf, only it wasn’t me. It was like someone was playing a horrible, twisted joke on me. I sat and watched the bathroom door again, hearing noises like someone dragging their fingers across the door.

I decided my mom was right, and I was probably just letting my imagination get away. I decided to try and leave the bathroom door open so I wouldn’t get so freaked out by the thought that someone was in there. Then I got the fifth 911 call. This time though, after I hung up the phone with the dispatcher, the bathroom door slammed shut.

I ran. I ran all the way down our steep driveway and found a place to wait till my mom pulled into the drive. When she arrived, she was angry with me for leaving the house, but she saw how upset I was. I think maybe she thought I was acting out due to the stress of the divorce. I refused to be alone in the house again though, so we worked it out so I would stay later at school or go to a nearby friend’s house till she got off work. Not long after this, we got a notice from my mom’s friend that we needed to move out of the house because she her mom needed a place to stay. I was so grateful to be moving out. I told my mom she needed to tell her friend that someone was wrong with the house, but my mom thought that was a ridiculous way to pay back someone’s generosity.

I moved around a lot the next few years and tried to forget about that house. It wasn’t until I was older that I really thought about it. I witnessed an accident and had to call 911 and the fear and paranoia all came flooding back. I decided to do some research, which honestly, I wish I had never done. A few years before we moved in, a woman was killed in that house in some kind of “domestic dispute.” It was days, though, before she was found, shut up in the bathroom.

A Real Fixer-Upper by picklejuiceinmypapercut

About five years ago, my husband Adam and I decided that it was finally time to start looking to purchase a house. We had always talked about buying an older, fixer-upper home because we’ve had the idea that they hold more charm and character. Plus we can appreciate a place that has its own quirks and we love the thought of turning something run down into something beautiful again.

With that being said, I grew up in a pretty rural farming town in Indiana that had more than its fair share of run-down houses. The surrounding areas had started to boom a little bit, with farmland being sold off and turned into new factory locations, along with new subdivisions for the people coming to work for them. I thought it’d be a great place to start on our house hunt. I figured we’d be a lot closer to civilization than I used to be growing up, but not so much so that we’d be living a stone’s throw away from our neighbors.

Adam and I decided to take a drive one summer Sunday afternoon so I could show him some of the backroads of my hometown and to also see what some of the properties we checked out online looked like in person. As we were turning off the main road through town and further onto a more secluded country road, we noticed that the very first house on the left was completely abandoned. We pulled into a small patch of the yard where the grass was the shortest (and where a gravel driveway used to be) to further investigate. It was painted a deep green color, which made it almost invisible against the tall grass, sticker-bushes, and weeds that had grown up around it. There was a massive tree in the front yard whose branches and leaves helped to camouflage this place even further. The house looked as if it were at least 100 years old. It looked like it had sat empty for years. It looked neglected, weather worn, and in need of major love. In that moment, it was perfect.

There was nothing but woods across the street and no neighboring houses in sight, so Adam and I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt if we just trespassed a little. I completely justified my reasoning by thinking, “Well, we’re interested in buying the property, we’re not here to cause trouble! We’re doing someone a favor, we could take this burden of a house off of someone’s hands... we just need to take a look around first, thats all!” Plus, there weren’t any NO TRESPASSING signs anywhere, so I was perfectly armed with my new found inflated ignorance and arrogance to assess this property.

We walked carefully through the brush toward the left side of the house, where we noticed a well that was still standing, complete with bucket, rope, handle and the original overhang. My excitement for a picturesque country house was building. Directly across from the well, there was a side entrance into the house through what looked like an added on mud-room. The screen door to the mud room was closed, however there was a wooden door behind it that was half open. This was our “not-really-intrusive-because-we-aren’t-breaking-anything-to-get-in” way in.

It was probably in the mid-90s outside that day, so when we entered ( Adam first) we were met with thick, stifling heat. The kind that holds so much humidity that it almost takes your breath away. What we thought was a mud-room was an extended pantry area or canning kitchen—it was tiny with one window, an old rusted sink, a small stove and the walls still held shelves upon shelves of canned (and spoiled) vegetables in jars. I remember thinking, “Oh yeah, this’ll be great, I totally remember how to can, and we can have a garden, and, and..” (Insert all kinds of other giddy thoughts women have while in the throes of house hunting here) It also had the doorway into the main part of the house, and this is where my elation came to an end.

Through the doorway was the the kitchen. What remained of the cabinets and sink were against the wall on the left, but they were either broken or hanging on for dear life or both. The kitchen connected to a wide open living area, with one side having walls streaked with black that led up to a half sunken, gray ceiling. There had been a fire at some point. The windows on that wall were filthy, covered in dust or ash that made the room much darker than it should have been in the middle of the day. My heart sank. I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford a costly repair of a house fire, but I kept that disappointing thought to myself.

The open living area had not one stitch of furniture, save for one small wooden rocking horse that a child would have. The floor was littered with magazines, as if someone had a giant stack of them and just threw them up in the air to see where they’d land. Curious as to what the former home owners liked in regards to reading material, I decided to check them out. Almost every single magazine was related to dolls in some way: porcelain doll collecting, barbie dolls, making dolls by hand, clothing for dolls. I felt a little creeped out by it, especially under the surveillance of the rocking horse’s dead, painted-on stare—but I figured that an old lady must’ve lived in the house before, and I created a self-medicating idea that her husband probably died and this was the only hobby she had to pass her time.

We decided to check out another room that was connected to the half-burned living area. Through the doorway to the left was a weird combination of a molded, stand-up shower with handicap handles, and assisted toilet next to it divided down the middle by a wall. On the right was a wall made entirely of built-in book shelves. The shelves were full of paperwork, manilla envelopes, books and even more magazines. It struck us as a pretty weird set up, but thought these people must’ve really loved to read while sitting on the toilet. My husband and I thought we could find out who the previous homeowners were since some of the paperwork on top of the stacks seemed to be old bills. If we wanted to look up property records, at least now we would have a name to go on. I grabbed a stack of papers and began to flip through them, when about half-way through the changed from being old telephone bills to printed out color pictures from the internet. Of porcelain dolls.

I put the stack of papers back on the shelf, and picked up a small, red, five-star notebook. I started from the beginning, casually leafing through and seeing daily entries of medications taken, blood pressure and glucose measurements written in a neat hand. About 20 pages in the entries started to change entirely. They became crude drawings of twisted faces, done in red ink. The faces had horns or bloody fangs. Then full on drawings of devils appeared in the pages after. I wanted to believe that a child had picked this up to doodle in, but I felt like this was something much different than that. After the drawings, the notebook became someone’s personal journal—written in what I assumed was an elderly man’s cursive. It told of how he knew he was coming toward the end of his life, and how he remembered being just a young boy when his mother passed away. He described, in detail, how the wake for his mother was held in the front room of his home and how during those nights, he crawled on top of his mother’s body in her coffin to sleep.

I could’t believe what I was reading. Even though I had been sweating from the thickness in the air, a sudden rush of goose-bumps came over me. I immediately showed it to Adam, flipping to the pages of devils and snarled faces—and then read, aloud, this stranger’s memories of his mother just to see if it was the same the second time around. After I finished, he said, “Well, this just got a whole lot weirder,” nodding to what he held in his hands. While I was reading the notebook, he had continued rifling through the mountains of papers—one stack not only had more printed pictures of dolls, but now they contained pictures of real women—in torture bondage: ball gags or electrical tape placed over their mouths, jumper cables twisting their nipples, being hog-tied with rope. Sometimes there was more than one woman in the picture. It felt as if a brick had been tossed into my stomach. For some, those images wouldn’t be disturbing, but in the context of our visit- my panic was starting to grow. I was torn between wanting to find out more and getting the fuck out. Adam reassured me that while it was on the creepy side, it wasn’t anything to necessarily lose my shit over since the women didn’t seem to be suffering or bleeding.

The burned-out living area was separated from the rest of the house by a staircase. The staircase had a room directly across from it, and a small hallway on the other side that led to the main room at the front of the house. We debated on going up to the second floor, but decided against since since it already felt as if we were roasting in an oven and were unsure of the stability of the second story.

Going into the room across the staircase, we noticed a few more doll magazines on the floor, but not near the number as the other rooms held. There were scattered plastic doll pieces here and there—random arms and heads. To the left was the original fire place with a couple tiny vases on the mantle. Smack dab in the middle was a framed picture of an elderly couple, smiling and happy. These certainly weren’t the type of people that would have pictures of women bound and gagged hidden away in their bathrooom. “These people could have been my grandparents,” I thought to myself.

To the right was a big bay window, and smack dab in the middle was a yellowed piece of paper with faded black, printed handwriting on it. It was for anyone on the outside of the house to see (before it became overgrown.) Reading it backwards from inside it said, “IF YOU’RE HERE TO TALK ABOUT JESUS, GO AWAY.” “That’s kind of hilarious,” Adam said after reading it for himself. “Yeah, it kind of is,” I half-chuckled, but something in my brain was now starting to nag me even more. Something wasn’t computing correctly for me. Thinking back, my mind was putting together that an elderly couple in this town would more than likely be pretty religious, and by the super small chance that they weren’t—it would have been gossiped about had someone seen that in the window. It was as if the house had held two very different personalities within. I told my husband that I just wanted to go into the one last room down the little hallway and then I would be VERY ready to leave.

Going down the small hallway, it became darker and cooler. It was a relief from the oppressive heat that we had been dealing with since first stepping inside. The shade from the giant tree in the front yard had blocked out a lot of the sunlight making it about 20 degrees cooler, but we soon realized that wasn’t the only reason this part of the house’s temperature was much more tolerable.

Rounding the corner into the last room, it took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the difference in light, but the change of the air was noticeable immediately. It was if we had stepped into a cave; the smell was dank and left a dampness on our skin. Once things came into clear focus, that’s when we saw it. The main reason our senses had shifted so quickly... the large hole in the floor.

At first we thought that perhaps the wooden floor was so weak that it had simply caved in on its own, or that the roof had leaked and caused this exact area of floor to rot away but upon getting closer it became obvious this wasn’t the case. The hole was about five feet across and went straight down into the earth, with about a two feet of space between the remaining floor and dirt. This hole was there because it was made to be there. My husband and I looked at each other. My heart was racing so fast that I thought it would burst through my chest. I said aloud to him while pointing, “What the fuck is this?! Why is this here?!

I panicked, my breathing becoming more rapid and shallow. Nothing was making sense and yet, the thoughts that had been running in the background of my brain were all coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. Then we saw them. The worn and faded social security cards, a few old and molded-over drivers licenses just thrown around haphazardly, checkbooks, credit cards. As if someone had emptied their purse or wallet in this room and then just disappeared into the hole.

I was overcome with terror and dread. I had to get out of this house. My skin felt like static, as if my whole body had been taken over by the sensation of when your foot falls asleep. I had tears forming in my eyes, and my mind just told me to run. Without having to speak, Adam quickly took me by the arm and led us back down the hallway, through the burned out living room and kitchen, out the side canning room and back out into the light of day. We ran back down the mangled and tangled driveway to the car. Remembering back, I get the eerie feeling that we weren’t the only two people in the house that day. Alive or dead.

(A side note, the house still stands. We never called the police to report us breaking into this house and finding a giant hole in the floor. However, we drove past it about a year later and the large tree in the front yard had all its branches removed. All the windows had been boarded shut, and after doing some research found out the land it sits on is for sale. The house itself has been condemned.)

When the Spring Came by overtheriver1991

My good friend—let’s call her Jane to protect her identity—told me her ghost story last year, and since then it has been confirmed to me by several people who were around at the time. It took place back in the late ’90s when she was in her early 20s.

Jane was living on a farm in very rural Appalachia with some other folks around her age because they were trying a back-to-the-land-type situation post-college. Most of their neighbors were really friendly and helpful, lots of old ladies making food for them and former coal worker guys who would help around the farm. There was one neighbor in particular named Jim who was known to be a former meth addict, but was cleaned up and acted as sort of a paid handy man around the farm. The farm was really old, including the main house which was built in the early 1900s. Each of the people who lived there had their own room, including Jane, who took the room closest to the front door of the house.

Eventually, one of the neighbors told Jane and her friends that the house was rumored to be haunted by a ghost of a man who lived there in the 1930s. Jane and her friends never really took it seriously, but they would joke around and try to scare each other in a pranking way. One night, though, Jane woke up because she felt the presence of something unusual in her room. She opened her eyes and could see a dark, ghostly figure standing silently in the doorway, staring at her. She repeatedly told the figure to leave, saying “You need to go now. I do not want you here.” Eventually after a few minutes the figure left. She didn’t tell any of her friends because she didn’t want them to freak out or think she was crazy.

A few days later, one of the other women who lived in the house told Jane that the ghost had appeared at her doorway and had actually come in her room, but she had laid in her bed silently in response. Jane then confessed the same thing had happened to her earlier, except the ghost left when she told it to leave. The ghost continued to appear to Jane occasionally, but she would just tell him to leave and he would.

That autumn, they had to stop paying Jim the handyman because they were running out of funds and couldn’t afford to have him around. Angry, he turned on the farm people and started doing terrible things to the farm, including vandalizing the barn, messing up the garden, etc. They never had proof that it was him, so the police couldn’t really do anything, but they were convinced he was the one doing it. One horrible morning in the middle of winter, Jane came outside and saw that the farm dog was hanging from a tree. They all assumed it was Jim who had done it and they called the police, but Jim wasn’t in his trailer up the hollow. It looked like he had skipped town.

When spring came, the snow started melting and one of the neighbors found Jim’s body in a creek that had been covered in snow for a while. The police investigated and surmised that Jim had been high on drugs, fallen into the creek, hit his head and froze to death. He died around the same time the dog was killed.

Anyway, the creepiest part of the whole thing was that Jane realized that the “ghost” had stopped appearing to her around the time that Jim went missing, but didn’t put two and two together until they found his body. She told me that she’s now pretty sure that it was Jim standing in her doorway silently at night, and that is so much creepier than a ghost.

I hope you’re well rested now, because your sleep for the next week or so will be completely shot.

Winners will be announced Friday, October 27.