10 Scary Stories From Your Childhood That You Forgot About

Photo: Courtesy of Scholastic.
Where were you when you first read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? I was in my elementary school library. My gateway Scary Story was “The Ribbon.” You know, the tale of a woman who always has a ribbon tied around her neck and tells her husband she can’t take it off. One day, his curiosity gets the best of him, though, and he decides to untie the ribbon. Poof, her head rolls off.

Yeah, that kind of scared the crap out of me as a kid. I was also very wary of people who wore chokers for a long time. What were they hiding!?!?

Anyway, the topic of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (originally published in 1981) and its sequels, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, came up in recent staff meeting during a conversation about Halloween stuff we actually find scary, and it turns out I’m not the only one they scared the bejeezus out of once upon a time. An informal Refinery29 staff poll revealed that 93% of employees were equally terrified of these stories when they were younger. Apparently, these books really wreaked havoc on the Youth of America, given that the series is No. 1 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most "challenged" (i.e. banned) books in the 1990s.

Sending out the poll in an email also revealed a lot of fond — err...repressed fear — nostalgia for some of the earliest horror stories to which we were exposed. “They were so scary that my mom had to call the school and ask them not to read the book anymore,” one R29 editor Gchatted to me. “I STILL HAVE NIGHTMARES,” another wrote in an email.

The nostalgia isn’t limited to us, it seems, because there are two Scary Story-based movies in the works. One is a documentary; the other a feature film. The question remains, though, whether or not the stories are still scary now that we’re adults.

We located a site called Scary for Kids that offers retellings of many of Schultz’s original tales. Ahead, we take a look at some of the spookiest stories whose titles sent tingles down our spines as soon as we laid eyes on them again. Will they still terrify you an adult, though? Click on through to find some genuine Halloween chills and nostalgic thrills.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
Room For One More

The story: A woman is walking to her new job in a big office building when a hearse pulls up next to her. The driver, who has a terrifying and deformed face, asks if she needs a lift by pointing to the empty coffin in the back of the car and saying, “Room for one more.” The woman sprints away to her office building, where the elevator is also full, but someone in the car who sounds just like the hearse driver says, “There’s room for one more.” When she hears his voice again, the woman freaks out and decides to take the stairs. Halfway up the stairs, she hears a huge crash. The elevator cable has snapped, killing everyone aboard.

Still scary? This one is actually more terrifying now that we’ve worked in huge office buildings and been in crowded elevators many times.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
The Scarecrow

The story: An old farmer has the best crops in the area, and whenever people ask why, he credits the terrifying scarecrow he built. The next farm over is owned by two lazy brothers named Harold and Josh, who are jealous of the old farmer's bumper crops. One night, they steal the farmer’s scarecrow and stow it away in their house. The farmer asks for the scarecrow back, but they say they have no idea what happened to it. In the middle of the night, Harold and Josh destroy the scarecrow because they don’t want the scary-looking creature in their house, but it comes to life and kills Harold. Josh flees, but is pursued by the scarecrow, who now has a new head, which looks a lot like Harold’s.

Still scary? The idea of scarecrows coming to life hasn’t been quite so frightening since we saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) — I mean, they don’t have brains. Plus, this story really just teaches a quality lesson: Work hard on your own farm and don’t waste time being jealous of old farmers who have awesome scarecrows, Harold and Josh.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
The Viper

The story: A man inherits a house that’s rumored to be haunted, but he moves in anyway. One night, the phone rings and the voice at the other end of the line says, “I am the Viper. I will be there in two hours!” The mysterious person keeps calling back to say he’ll be there in half an hour, then 10 minutes, then five, then one. The man is terrified. He calls the police and locks the windows, but the Viper arrives first. “I am the Viper. I come every night to vipe your vindows,” he says when the petrified man opens the door thinking it’s the police.

Still scary? You know those jokes you find hiLARious as a kid? "The Viper" was one of those for me. A real bait-and-switch based on how German and Polish-speaking people pronounce the letter “w.” I probably found it funnier than most because my grandparents are from Poland, and they have a tendency to switch “w” and “v” sounds all the time. My aunt and uncle’s dog Wally became “Vally,” which meant that the sport of volleyball was “named after the dog” (actual quote from my grandmother back in the day). Anyway, “The Viper” was right in my humor wheelhouse as a kid. Today, culturally insensitive.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
The Big Toe

The story: A boy is digging in his garden when he sees a big toe sticking out of the ground. He decides to pick it up, and even though it appears to be stuck to something, he yanks really hard until he’s able to pull it off. The boy gives the toe to his mom, who puts it in the soup she’s making for dinner. The family eats the toe soup and goes to bed. That night, the boy wakes up when he hears a voice asking “Where is my big toe?” Slowly, a creature comes closer and closer, demanding to know what the boy has done with his toe.

Still scary? I mean, yes. But who tries to keep a toe they find in their garden?! And who makes soup with it?!
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Design by Abbie Winters.
Me Tie Doughty Walker

The story: A rich man passing through a village learns of a haunted house that no one will enter. He offers $1000 to anyone willing to spend a night there, and a boy says he’ll take the challenge as long as he can bring his dog with him. As he’s settling down for the night, he hears a voice singing, “Me tie dough-ty walker.” His dog, who’s never spoken before, responds, “Lynchy-Kinchy-Colly-Molly-Dingo-Dingo.” This dialogue keeps repeating until a bloody severed head comes rolling down the chimney, and the dog dies from fright upon seeing it. The head then starts screaming at the boy. The next morning, when the rich man goes to see how the boy fared during his night at the haunted house, he discovers that the boy’s hair has turned white, and he won't stop screaming.

Still scary? Um, yes. Still extremely fucking scary.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
Sunday Morning

The story: A girl named Josephine is always late for Sunday mass. One Sunday, she wakes up at midnight and, not realizing what time it is, rushes to church. The chapel is full, but she doesn’t recognize anyone there, including the priest. The priest asks everyone to pray for the soul of a girl Josephine knows named Francoise, who has just died. Slowly, Josephine realizes that everyone in the church is dead, and she’s at a spectre’s mass. Her grandfather, who’s been dead for three years, is standing behind her, and he urges her to run away as quickly as possible. Josephine sprints out of the church. Later that day, someone returns the shreds of her hat and coat, which were found in the cemetery.

Still scary? This story is definitely a good reminder to get to church on time.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
High Beams

The story: A woman is driving along a deserted highway when a car starts following closely behind her, frequently flashing its high beams. Finally, the woman calls 911 and reports the car following her. When the police show up, they handcuff the man in the car who’s been flashing his high beams. He starts screaming that there’s someone in her car, and the police point their gun at the woman’s car and fire. It turns out there was a murderer in the woman’s backseat, and every time he raised a butcher knife to kill the woman, the man would flash his high beams to scare the killer.

Still scary? YES.
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Design by Abbie Winters.
The Ribbon

The story: Bill asks his girlfriend Sally to marry him, but she still won’t tell him why she always wears a thick red ribbon tied around her neck. They get married, have a baby, and are very happy, but still Sally won’t explain the reason for her ribbon. Bill decides to buy Sally a necklace for their anniversary, thinking that she’ll have to take off the old ribbon to wear the necklace. Still, she doesn’t. One night, Bill wakes up and decides that he’s loved Sally for 20 years, and it’s about time he finds out why she always wears the red ribbon. He slowly unties the ribbon until it gives way, and Sally’s head comes off, rolling onto the floor. “I warned you,” she says as a tear falls from her eye.

Still scary? Yup, and again, this story still makes me skeptical of people who wear thick chokers. And no means no, Bill; respect your wife's wishes. Although, a red velvet ribbon is kind of a genius Halloween costume idea. Don't let anyone untie it all night.
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Design by Abbie Winters.

The story: According to an urban legend, there’s a witch buried in the middle of the cemetery in a small town. One night, a girl accepts a dare to stand on the witch's grave. To prove that she was really there, the girl has to stick a knife in the soil. The girl walks to the woman’s grave and plunges the knife into the ground. As she turns to leave, she finds the hem of her dress caught on something. The girl thinks that the witch is pulling her down into the ground and starts screaming so hard that her heart gives in and she dies. The next morning, her friends discover that the girl accidentally plunged the knife through her skirt and was merely stuck.

Still scary: This one is more sad than scary, really. It’s hard to overcome the deepest fears in your mind. That’s the super deep premise of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, I think.
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Design by Abbie Winters.

The story: After a young couple’s wedding reception, the guests decide to play Hide and Seek. The groom is the seeker, and he manages to find everyone but his new wife. No one is able to locate the bride, and eventually they give up, assuming that she decided to run away after having second thoughts about getting married. Years later, a cleaning lady finds an old trunk in the attic. When she opens it, she finds a rotting corpse wearing a bridal gown, a wedding ring on her ring finger. It’s the missing bride, of course. She’d hidden in the trunk, gotten locked inside, and died.

Still scary? This story ends with an image found in many of Schultz’s tales: a face frozen in a silent scream. It’s one that’s quite terrifying to both children and adults, and perhaps explains why Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” continues to be a seminal work of art. This story also contains a good lesson for children (and adults who have really unique ideas about what to do after wedding receptions) about risky hiding spots during games of Hide and Seek.