USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘scary story’
Legends
Narrative

Casa del Prado Cinderella

Informant: Joshua is a 24-year-old student living in Southern California. He formerly lived in San Diego before moving to Los Angeles. He used to work at the Casa del Prado, a prominent theater in San Diego. Notably, the Casa del Prado is attached to a tall clock tower.

Main Piece:
Josh: “Supposedly, at the Casa del Prado, they were putting on a performance of Cinderella. The lead actress went missing one night and they were looking all around for her. Apparently, over by the clock tower, when the clock hit 7, people saw her body fall from the tower and hit the ground.”

Interviewer: How did she fall?

Josh: “Well, nobody knows, but according to some people, it looked like she was pushed out by somebody.”

Interviewer: And there was no sign of who pushed her?

Josh: “That’s just it. The doors to the clock tower were all locked. She shouldn’t have even been able to get up there. Nobody came out of the tower after, but some people said that occasionally you could see her ghost backstage.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant was told this story as a teenager while working as an actor at the Casa del Prado. It was his first show and the piece was performed to him by the stage manager.

Context of Performance: The piece was performed backstage in the dark.

Thoughts: This story almost seems to be part of a hazing experience. The informant was young at the time and just started acting at the Casa del Prado. The stage manager could have intended to scare him as part of his induction into the group of people working at the theater.

Digital
Narrative

“The Smiling Man”

The following is a story my friend Will sent to me that he found on Reddit. The subreddit, a small community of people interested in a similar subject, he found this on was called /r/nosleep, where people write their own scary stories and share them with people around the world. He sends me a couple that he enjoyed, and he said this was his favorite. Down below after the story, I ask him about why he likes this story. The story is titled “The Smiling Man”.

“About five years ago I lived downtown in a major city in the US. I’ve always been a night person, so I would often find myself bored after my roommate, who was decidedly not a night person, went to sleep. To pass the time, I used to go for long walks and spend the time thinking.

I spent four years like that, walking alone at night, and never once had a reason to feel afraid. I always used to joke with my roommate that even the drug dealers in the city were polite. But all of that changed in just a few minutes of one evening.

It was a Wednesday, somewhere between one and two in the morning, and I was walking near a police patrolled park quite a ways from my apartment. It was a quiet night, even for a week night, with very little traffic and almost no one on foot. The park, as it was most nights, was completely empty.

I turned down a short side street in order to loop back to my apartment when I first noticed him. At the far end of the street, on my side, was the silhouette of a man, dancing. It was a strange dance, similar to a waltz, but he finished each “box” with an odd forward stride. I guess you could say he was dance-walking, headed straight for me.

Deciding he was probably drunk, I stepped as close as I could to the road to give him the majority of the sidewalk to pass me by. The closer he got, the more I realized how gracefully he was moving. He was very tall and lanky, and wearing an old suit. He danced closer still, until I could make out his face. His eyes were open wide and wild, head tilted back slightly, looking off at the sky. His mouth was formed in a painfully wide cartoon of a smile. Between the eyes and the smile, I decided to cross the street before he danced any closer.

I took my eyes off of him to cross the empty street. As I reached the other side, I glanced back… and then stopped dead in my tracks. He had stopped dancing and was standing with one foot in the street, perfectly parallel to me. He was facing me but still looking skyward. Smile still wide on his lips.

I was completely and utterly unnerved by this. I started walking again, but kept my eyes on the man. He didn’t move. Once I had put about half a block between us, I turned away from him for a moment to watch the sidewalk in front of me. The street and sidewalk ahead of me were completely empty. Still unnerved, I looked back to where he had been standing to find him gone. For the briefest of moments I felt relieved, until I noticed him. He had crossed the street, and was now slightly crouched down. I couldn’t tell for sure due to the distance and the shadows, but I was certain he was facing me. I had looked away from him for no more than 10 seconds, so it was clear that he had moved fast.

I was so shocked that I stood there for some time, staring at him. And then he started moving toward me again. He took giant, exaggerated tip toed steps, as if he were a cartoon character sneaking up on someone. Except he was moving very, very quickly.

I’d like to say at this point I ran away or pulled out my pepper spray or my cellphone or anything at all, but I didn’t. I just stood there, completely frozen as the smiling man crept toward me.

And then he stopped again, about a car length away from me. Still smiling his smile, still looking to the sky.

When I finally found my voice, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. What I meant to ask was, “What the fuck do you want?!” in an angry, commanding tone. What came out was a whimper, “What the fuu…?”

Regardless of whether or not humans can smell fear, they can certainly hear it. I heard it in my own voice, and that only made me more afraid. But he didn’t react to it at all. He just stood there, smiling.

And then, after what felt like forever, he turned around, very slowly, and started dance-walking away. Just like that. Not wanting to turn my back to him again, I just watched him go, until he was far enough away to almost be out of sight. And then I realized something. He wasn’t moving away anymore, nor was he dancing. I watched in horror as the distant shape of him grew larger and larger. He was coming back my way. And this time he was running.

I ran too.

I ran until I was off of the side road and back onto a better lit road with sparse traffic. Looking behind me then, he was nowhere to be found. The rest of the way home, I kept glancing over my shoulder, always expecting to see his stupid smile, but he was never there.

I lived in that city for six months after that night, and I never went out for another walk. There was something about his face that always haunted me. He didn’t look drunk; he didn’t look high. He looked completely and utterly insane. And that’s a very, very scary thing to see.”

Me: So, Will.

Will: Can I curse in this?

Me: Yeah, man. Just be yourself.

Will: Yeah, but how much of myself?

Me: Like 25%.

Will: [laughs] Okay.

Me: So, “The Smiling Man”. Where’d you first find this story?

Will: I think I first read it, maybe in 2013? I was a junior, and it was before Cass and I started dating, so I had a fuck ton of free time. I started binge reading the nosleep subreddit, and this was the one that always stuck in my mind.

Me: Why?

Will: It’s scary as fuck, dude. I think it was because I always loved the idea of going out on walks by myself at night. They always seemed so peaceful. Then I read this story and was like “I’m Audi!” [Audi is how Will says “I’m out”]

Me: So when you walk to Subway do you get scared you’ll see that Smiling Man?

Will: If I do I’ll just kick him. You’ve seen my sweet kicks.

[Will then demonstrated to me how high he can kick. He cannot kick very high.]

Me: So, do you tell this story to people?

Will: Yeah. I went camping with a few friends last summer and I told them this story.

Me: Did they think it was scary?

Will: Not really. Cass did though.

Me: I was going to ask you what you would do if you ran into The Smiling Man, but I guess you already…

[Will demonstrates his kicks for me again]

Me: I’m not putting this in the report. [I did.]

I can completely understand why Will likes this story. As he said, he has always liked the idea of going out for walks at night, and for as long as I’ve known him he still does. I think this story was a bit of a warning to Will: not that he was going to run into “The Smiling Man”, but just about the dangers of walking alone. This might be while he was so affected by the story and likes it so much. In a weird way, he can see this having happened to him.

general

The House-Sitter

The story:

A girl who was house-sitting heard banging in the basement. It was night, and she was alone. She called 911 to report the noise. The police said they would come in half an hour. Shortly after the call, while the girl was sitting in the living room, the SWAT team broke in. When the girl asked what was going, one of the officers told her that after she hung up the phone, the police heard a second click on the line – someone else had been listening, a murderer who had recently killed two victims.

Analysis:

The informant heard the story when he was around 11 years old at a summer camp. In this transmission, the story’s primary function was to entertain the informant who also explained that ever since he heard the story, he’s always “listened for another click.” The primary element at play seems to be that the source of the story’s tension, the murderer, had successfully kept his presence unknown to the house-sitter – in other words, like many scary stories, this one utilizes the existence of forces of fear that we cannot effectively control. The turn at the end of the story that provides the button works because it illustrates that such forces can be much closer than we anticipate them to be.

In this performance of he piece, the informant didn’t make much of an attempt to scare his audience with the story, but instead was trying to remember the piece as he used to tell it to his friends in middle school.

Collector: Why do you think you continued to tell the story?

Informant: I don’t know. Like…maybe I was just power obsessed, [name omitted].

(chuckles)

Collector: You think?

Informant: I mean I don’t know. That’s just me speculating at this point. But I think that’s just what kids that age do. They just try to get the other person to think they know more.

 

In a similar vain to how children use riddles and jokes to assert their desire to subvert a system, perhaps scary stories function in a similar manner but more among peers. While I got the sense that the informant was merely joking when he mentioned the possibility of his use of the story as being manipulative, I wouldn’t be surprised if a collection of stories revealed that part of the appeal of transmitting scary stories is in the dominance granted in the active bearer who could control his/her audience’s reactions.

Legends
Narrative

Haunted Hotel of the French Quarter

The urban legend:

“Back in the ’20s or so, a couple visited a hotel in the French Quarter. The only room that the hotel had available was rumored to be haunted, but not believing in superstitions, the couple took the room. Weeks after the trip, they received in the mail pictures of themselves in the hotel room – pictures taken from the ceiling of the room.When they called the hotel and asked where these pictures came from, the owner replied, ‘I warned you. The room is haunted. A man hung himself in that room years ago.'”

Analysis:

The informant first heard this story when she was 17 and on a ghost tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans, which was also her home town at the time. Ghost tours are perhaps more on the edge of folklore being that one of their objectives, in addition to preserving lore, must be to make a profit, and the stories the employees share surely come from an authored text of some training manual. Nevertheless, by virtue of a ghost tour existing in New Orleans, I would venture to guess that ghost stories play enough of a part in the culture that even the manual’s stories has its origins in native lore.

Keeping this in mind, I think it appropriate to first note the aesthetic of this ghost story. Like many ghost stories, the scare tactic of this story lies in the use of an unobserved presence: the Ghost that was in the room that the couple didn’t recognize was there. Then again, while no physical harm comes to any of the characters, they experience a subversion of belief through the evidence of what they previously didn’t believe to exist. What is also unsettling is that a haunted room in a hotel would be available despite the owner knowing it’s haunted. The ghost illustrates a continuing discomfort over the liminal space between life and death. While the story (as the informant told it) excludes any details as to why the man hung himself, the informant herself seemed to fear that he would reach out to the living even without considering that the ghost’s motivation may not have been out of malice. When I asked the informant if she remembered a more specific date for the occurrences in the story, she said she did not. It seems then that perhaps the element of time, the ambiguity over when the story occurred is less important, that the story’s having survived over the years is enough to be unsettling. Something to note, however, is that while the date is unspecified, both the fact that the story is placed in the reality of our world – in fact, an existing construction – and the ambiguity of whether it’s true contribute to the overall aesthetic of the piece.

However, being that the informant heard the story in a ghost tour, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether the story serves as anything more than entertainment in the existing culture. As for the informant herself, she explained that she shares the story to peers that tell her that they’re going to visit the French Quarter to “psyche them out” and also get them interested in the area. Interestingly, a story that very well could have come from lore, entered authored literature for tourism, and has returned to the realm of folklore to further tourism.

general

Scary story

“When I was in Elementary school there was this weird scary story, well it scared me to death at the time. This one girl, Samantha told me her babysitter told it to her.

This one girls parents left her home for a night, home alone and when the girl went to bed she felt her dog licking her hand and then heard dripping in the bathroom. Um and then she went into the bathroom and saw that her dog was dead in the bathroom with blood dripping. That was the dripping. And then she went back to her room and there was a man in there that killed her.

Samantha told everybody in our class this story, at least all the girls. She was a few years older than us so she seemed really cool and we believed her. ”

So about how old were you?
“I would say like second grade so seven or eight.”

For how long did this story scary you?

“It scared me for awhile. I would say, I asked my mom about the story and she said she had heard it too. So i stopped being so scared by it because I realized it was fake. But now I don’t know if she said that because it was true or she was just trying to make me feel better.”

Did it change any of your behavior, after hearing it?

“Not really. It just made me more cautious at night. I didn’t want to walk my house at night by myself. But I got over that.”

So this story wasn’t popular amongst the boys?

“No, it was definitely just the girls.”

 

The informant has provided a cautionary tale warning against children being (left) home alone. It is interesting that the informant noted that the story was directed towards the girls and not boys, even before I inquired again about it. The story warns against young females about being alone and not young boys. It could be said that females are more physically vulnerable than males. Also, girls especially young ones are more often victims of abuse and assault than their male counterparts. I also found it interesting that there is no implications that the girl in the story put herself in the position of being home alone so she is not directly responsible for the repercussions. I’m assuming since the original source of this story was a babysitter, her intention was to reinforce the important of her presence while the girls parents were away. Most elementary school kids perceive themselves to be older than they are and without need of adult supervision so this tale serves as a violent reminder that they still need to be taken care of and protected.

general
Magic
Myths

Scissor Lock

Scissor lock

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Los Angeles, CA. He is an only child and stayed in Southern California his whole life. He came over to my room one day and I randomly asked him if he had any good stories. I asked him specifically if he ever heard about the scissor lock and he told me:

The Story:

You’re asleep. You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re in your room. You see a figure in a corner – a grandma. She’s a Korean grandma wearing traditional clothing, not the nice kind of the type that commoners and poor people wear, with gray hair. She’s sitting on a chair, moaning and weeping. You want to get up and talk to her but you can’t. All you can do is move your eyes. You look to the right and it’s a blank wall. You look back at the grandma and she’s gone. Suddenly you feel a presence at the base of your head. You want to look up but you can’t – you’re petrified. You want to do something but you can’t because you’re stuck. You can’t move. Then I started saying prayers and singing praise songs and everything went away.  You wake up with your arms crossed and hands on your shoulders, like a scissor.

 This never happened to me, thankfully, but I know people who have experienced it.

The Analysis:

The scissor lock is an occurrence that I first came across two years ago. When I asked my friend to tell me this story, it was late at night around 11pm. The room was very bright and the story did not seem scary at the time. The scissor lock appears to be a common occurrence among Koreans, Korean Christians especially. This version included specifically seeing a grandma clothed in old, dirty clothes. It is not known whether this is a general case of a specific case for just my friend. The name scissor lock appears to come from the position in which one wakes up in, with your arms crossed diagonally across the body.

Legends
Narrative

Grandmother’s Ring

This is a scary story told by my informant’s father to her and her sister when they were children, that he said his father used to tell him.

“Basically this boy and girl, siblings, very spoiled, and they have this insanely rich grandmother that they never really cared for. One day, she passes away and they attend the funeral and it’s very sad, parents are a mess, everyone’s crying and it’s an open casket ceremony. So when they get their turn to get up and see the grandmother for the last time, instead of feeling sad, um, all they can notice is this huge ring on her finger, that’s just got a huge rock on it. And they’re thinking, you know, ‘our grandma was so rich how dare she die and not leave anything for us, she has all this money and we didn’t get a cent of it, and here she is burying herself with all these treasures.’ And so after the funeral, the boy and the girl start scheming, and they decide that they’re going to go visit the grave and get the ring.

Yeah, so, they get shovels and they dress in black and they start making their way to the gravesite and they get there and they start digging, and the entire time they’re just so excited thinking about the ring and how they’re going to get it. And they’re just totally disrespecting the site, and so they finally dig up the grave, open the casket, and there she is lying there looking beautiful with the ring on her finger. And the girl reaches to go for the ring, and she’s like “I can’t get it off! Her fingers have swollen, it’s stuck!” And the boy is like “let me see, like, get out of the way, we can get this off”, and he starts pulling and pulling and pulling and it won’t come off. And so finally they realize they’re going to have to chop off the finger. And so the boy takes the shovel and, um, severs the finger from the hand and they make off with the ring. And I think they kind of shantily throw dirt back on the spot and make it look somewhat normal, but really they were just happy to get out of there.

But the thing is, they live in this kind of mountainey area and it’s winter time, and there’s a storm coming in and, um, it gets very blizzardy and they begin to become uncertain if they were returning the way they came, the correct way, and they start wandering about. And you know, it’s getting colder and colder and they’re hungry and it’s dark and really at this point they’re starting to question whether or not it was even worth it to come out here because they may not make it. And then up in the distance they see a light, and they hurriedly run towards it hoping that its some sign of civilization and they come across a cottage and they’re banging on the door banging on the door, saying “someone please let us in we’re cold we’re starving”, and finally after a few minutes the door opens and there’s this very nice looking lady.

And you know she’s got a shawl on, your classic grandma figure, and she ushers them in and gives them new clothes, gives them tea, and, um, she’s sitting there and asking them do you want anything to eat? And they say yes, we would love cookies if you have cookies, and so she goes into the kitchen and she starts telling them about her life. And, um, how she had a family once but they didn’t really care for her anymore and that made her sad, and, um, sometimes it makes her very angry. And, um, basically she’s bringing them the cookies and as she’s putting the tray down the children notice she’s missing a finger. And the little girl looks at her brother, looks at the grandma, and says excuse me but I can’t help but notice you’re missing a finger, who would ever do something like this to you? And the grandma says in a loud, scary voice, “YOU DID IT”*. And that’s the end. And you never know what happens to the kids.”

*According to the informant, the teller at this moment is supposed to look menacing and bend towards the audience and say that line very loudly.

The prevalent theme in this story is the importance of honoring your family. Regardless of how greedy these kids may be, they should have put their grandmother’s memory first and shouldn’t have been so selfish. This story is a scary story for children that warns against disrespecting the dead and against greed. The scary things, of course, happen at night, in a dark storm, and the kids seek refuge in a warm house with an elderly women and cookies (much like Hansel and Gretel, though with very different personalities). The story is left open ended effectively, letting kids fill in a more terrifying gap than words could really express. Unlike the similar Hansel and Gretel, this story is not guaranteed a happy ending because of the difference of the natures of the two protagonists.

Digital
general
Narrative

Japanese girl’s suicide drawing

My informant tells me this story of a teenage girl in Japan who drew a drawing Japan shortly before she committed suicide. The story and drawing went viral in Asia. In the forums online, it is said that you can see the girl’s sadness in the eyes of the girl in the picture. Forums warn against staring into the girls eyes for longer than 5 minutes, telling me that people have committed suicide after doing it. According to my informant, people say the picture changes,as you view it there is a hint of a growing taunting smirk appearing on the girls lips or a dark ring grows around the girl or her eyes.

Me: “Have you looked into the picture for five minutes?”

Informant: “No! I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s really scary when you actually try it! I can’t meet the girl’s eyes for more than a few seconds because I’m afraid of what I will see!”

Me: “Do you believe that people have committed suicide from looking at the picture?”

Informant: Not really… I don’t think they did. But it’s a freaky story, so I don’t know.

Analysis: Through my research, I could not find any solid news articles to support the claim that people have committed suicide after looking at this drawing, though many people claim there are hundreds. Furthermore, I found some forum posts that claim a video-game designer in Japan was the real artist of the portrait and that he was still alive and well. Some forum posts claim that because the image has a blurry quality to it, if you stare at it for too long, your vision will get blurry as well and you are under the illusion that the picture is changing before your eyes. This also has to do with the image being seen on a digital screen.

Because of the context of the story and the atmosphere in which it is often read, this will help induce fear and influence a person’s response. This most likely is an elaborate internet hoax, much like a chain email letter. People enjoy being scared because it provides an adrenaline rush which can be extremely addicting.

My informant is 23, Korean-American, and currently studying at USC (expected graduation 2013). She first saw the picture and heard the story when she was in high school, approximately 16 years of age.

Legends
Narrative

Goatman’s Bridge

Additional informant data: My informant was born and raised in Northern Texas, about thirty minutes from Denton.

Contextual data: My informant told me this story when I asked about ghost stories from her hometown. She says she learned it from friends, when she was around 16 years old. She says she would tell this story if she was “telling someone where to go for fun,” and one time she and her friends actually made a trip to the place (though one friend got really scared so they didn’t get out of the car). The following is a description of the legend in her own words:

There’s a bridge in Denton, Texas called Goatman’s Bridge. If you park outside the bridge at night and honk your horn three times a goatman will appear. He’s half-goat half-man. I want to say that he screams, but I don’t remember. There’s the bridge, and then there’s this sort of cul-de-sac area around it, and if you park in that area then he appears in the entrance of the bridge. On an unrelated note, a lot of people have died there–I don’t think in the recent past, but a long time ago–and I don’t know how, but I know it happened. It’s in a really sketchy area.

This type of story is a common one, involving a haunted place and a summoning ritual (often including a 3x repetition of an action). My informant wasn’t sure about the historical background, and neither was I, but a little research showed that legend has it that there was a successful black goat herder who lived near the bridge and was hanged off the side by angry Klansmen. According to my informant, taking a trip to Goatman’s Bridge late at night is a fun and scary adventure, and it’s often a bonding experience, as everyone gets scared together.

Annotation: Seen in YouTube user SilkOlive’s documentary video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIrnzzTmP0s.

general
Legends
Narrative

Hanged Man on Halloween

When my informant was younger, she was told a story by her brother that he had apparently heard in school. It was an urban legend about a young man who had hung himself a night before Halloween in a tree in a nearby neighborhood. Apparently, since it was Halloween nobody took the body seriously, believing to be just another gruesome prop. A few days later people realized it wasn’t a prop thanks to both the smell and the birds coming to eat away at his body.

This legend is fairly disconcerting to my informant, who believes this legend to be real. When she had asked her father if it was real, he had replied in the positive, citing his cousin as a source. Apparently the boy it had happened to was the son of a distant relative. This story may or may not be true.

This story seems like a warning against complacency for a holiday that has become a mockery of what it used to be and still is for some people. The fear that some props used on this night may actually be flesh and blood instead of plastic and paint is deep seated in superstition, and that is why so many people really do get a good fright from haunted houses and the like.

It could also be seen as a warning against suicide, as the boy didn’t recieve a particularly pleasant death and his body was desecrated by the local wildlife and exposed to the elements for quite some time.

This story seems to hold a particular significance for my informant, who has told me previously that her best friend attempted to commit suicide when they were much younger, and that to this day he lies in a coma as a result.

[geolocation]