Tag Archives: scary stories

Tale — Where is my Big Toe?


K is a freshman at USC. I asked him if there were any stories he exchanged around a campfire. In America, scary stories are often exchanged around campfires and amongst children. Some of them tend to be nonsensical, with seemingly random and almost humorish roots. Still, these stories don’t fail to be passed around.


K: There was a small family in a barnyard – the son of that family decided to go out into the fields to gather food when he saw a toe buried in the ground, like a big toe. He decided to, he wanted to get the toe – I don’t know why, but he wanted to get the toe to serve it up for food. So, he reached down to get the toe and he pulled, and it was really stuck in there for some reason and he pulled with all his might and he was able to get the toe. And later, he showed it to his mom and she decided that she’ll cook it up with the stew. So she does that, and later on they’re eating the stew, and they cut up the toe. And they each eat part of it, I guess. Later that night, while they’re sleeping, the boy wakes up to hear a voice that goes in a very gruff and slow voice, “WHERE IS MY BIG TOE?” And he could hear that phrase over and over as it gets louder and closer, and with nothing to do, he just hides under his blankets, hoping it’ll go away. That didn’t happen. So the figure enters the room asking where his big toe is to the little boy, and then he grabs the little boy by the ankle and drags him outside, and takes him back into the earth where he found that toe to begin with, and he was never heard from again. That story gave me mixed feelings. Like why would you go ahead and take a random toe, like I’m going to grab this toe and go on with my day. 

Me: Where did you hear the story?

K: I heard it from a friend in middle school. It was a good story, but definitely gave me nightmares. 


When it comes to scary stories, and especially this particular story, it’s hard to say where it comes from. It likely originates in person-to-person narrative, and yet, amongst children, there is a popular book series known as “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” From my distant childhood memory, that was a story in the text. Another instance of a recorded story was the one about the Mexican pet – the dog that turned out to be a rat with rabies. In these cases, stories like this have become so immensely popular that they have become canonized – decreasing their multiplicity and variation. And despite this, these stories still manage to be exchanged even outside of the purchase of these children’s books. The story’s ability to still retain some of its folkloric nature post-canonization speaks to the strength of both the story and the cultures that continue to retell it. 

Legend – Slenderman in Real Life


J is a freshman at USC studying screenwriting, and a good friend of mine. 

Slenderman is an online-created urban legend spread throughout the site CreepyPasta. It originated with photoshopped images of a slender, tall and faceless man in a suit.


J: So one time when I was a kid, my cousin and my mom were talking about Slender Man, because I guess they both heard of it. And I was like, eight at the time. And I had never heard of this because I was like, eight years old. And I had no connection to like, creepy pasta or anything on the internet. And so I asked them to tell me a story about it because I wanted to know what he was like. So they told me this story about this girl who was home alone one night, and she forgot to get water before she went to bed. So when she was in bed, she was like, oh, I need to get up and get water because I’m really thirsty. So she went to her kitchen. And as she was getting the water, she saw this weird, creepy figure in the corner of her kitchen, and it really freaked her out. But instead of going back to bed, she continued to get the water. And so then when her parents came home, they saw that she wasn’t there. So they looked around, and they asked a bunch of people. And eventually they found out that she was at the hospital. And so they went to the hospital to talk to her and ask her what happened. But her ears and her tongue and her eyes were all cut out. And her hands were cut off. So that she couldn’t see if he was going to come again. She couldn’t hear if he would come again. She couldn’t speak what happened, and she couldn’t write down what happened. And so that way, he would remain anonymous. 

Me: They told you this when you were eight?

J: Yeah. And so then I remained afraid of Slenderman until I was like, in the middle of high school. Because the legend goes that like, if you cease to believe that Slender Man exists, then he will come kill you. But so long as you believe that he exists, you’re sort of safe. And so that made me not want to stop believing in it. But then it kept freaking me out.


Slenderman is a curious case of folklore in which it takes on a life of its own outside of its place of origin: the internet. Creepypastas tend to be another form of scary storytelling for children and young people, and they are, in a way, a place akin to campfires for the exchange of scary stories. For something as famous as Slenderman, however, it evolves into a cultural being despite having been started with fan narratives that were written down, which is not how we traditionally think of folklore. Yet because there is no official canon nor a copyright, the people are able to be communally creative while making agreements on who this character is and what he should be. 

Legend – Couch Island


P is a freshman at USC, and a good friend of mine. In the United States, children tend to go to summer camps, where they spend time with nature and with older camp counselors who supervise and lead them.


P: So the camp was at a lake and across the lake you could see like, I don’t know if it was an island, it was just another strip of land and there was just a couch there. Just a white couch with nothing else around it, just a couch. Yeah, we could see this couch like we could see it and so we called it couch Island. I don’t think it was an island though. That area of land, we called it couch island because it looked like it was surrounded by water kinda, and so I think the legend was, you should never step foot on couch island because — we had boats, like wooden boats. We have like, you know, canoes and we would canoe around the lake. But you’re not supposed to go on couch Island. Because there’s like some shadow guy, some shit that lives there. And like that’s his couch. You don’t want to fucking sit on his couch. But sometimes the couch would get removed and then there wouldn’t be the couch there. Like I would see the couch. Like it just wouldn’t be there some days other days it would be sometimes it was just like a chair. You know, it was switched out? Yeah, it was weird. I think, really there was a house over there. It was somebody’s house and they would just put furniture out sometimes. But we would never see them sitting there, was the thing so we were like they would always switch out the furniture so it must have been like after we’d left the camp because there was a daycare. But sometimes we would have overnights and we still wouldn’t see who was over there. So people would just make shit like people were talking about this they saw like a shadow man over there one time or whatever. But you’re not supposed to go to Couch Island. That’s what I remember. Don’t set foot on Couch Island.

Me: Did you ever hear stories about someone who stepped on couch Island and got killed? Or got caught by the Shadow Man?

P: Maybe, if anything, it was just like they stepped on the island and then they would never be heard from again. Yeah. Like that’s why you wouldn’t go there. Because if you stepped on his couch, if you sat on the couch immediately either the fog and Shadow Man  or the couch just enveloped you.


Folklore tends to be the most believable for children, who are obviously less knowledgeable on how the world works and are more susceptible to believing legends. In this case, there are clear trends on what is unseen and the legends that surround things. When something is foggy or unexplained, there tends to be more mysticism and magic around it. For the couch, there might be a very logical explanation for it. But because there is so much in the unknown, people, and especially children, are likely to come up with a more fantastical and interesting explanation for it. In many ways, the reveal of what actually happened doesn’t matter — what is real is not what’s important, what’s important is what we believe and choose to believe. 

The Garden Shed Behind School

Background information: My brother is currently a sophomore in high school in Alameda, CA. He can still recall folklore he heard as an elementary school student at the school we grew up going to.

Brother: Behind our elementary school, there was a shed like right on the grass after the playground. It’s like a gardening shed, but I remember hearing a lot of different things about what people thought might be in there. Kids made up a lot of things – um, some said there might be a monster or some kind of evil creature, and other people said there was like a killer guy living in the shed, and that’s why you could sometimes see chainsaws in there. I don’t think there were actual chainsaws, it was more like leaf-blowers and gardening tools. I remember hearing different things from lots of different kids though, in all the different grades too.

Me: Did you ever go near the shed?

Brother: Yeah, I looked in one time and thought I saw like…a glowing red light? Like, I thought for a second that it might be an eye but it was probably just something reflecting or something like that. And other than that I just saw gardening stuff. I don’t really know what’s in there.

Hearing my brother talk about this garden shed was somewhat shocking, as I was surprised at how well I remembered what kids would tell me about the shed, and how eerie it seemed to me when I was a child. Folklore like this, one that is so widespread and widely talked about within your own community, can become so salient that, even years later, I could recall how scary the garden shed seemed to me and my friends – so much so that children rarely ever went near it.

The Headless Drummer Boy


I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.



Subject: Grandpa used to tell us this ghost story when we were kids about a drummer boy who had no head and would patrol the castles in Scotland. I have no idea why he’s headless or what happened, but he would sometimes get lost from the castle and show up to houses and play the drum to find his way home.

Interviewer: Was he scary at all?

Subject: Yeah, it was meant to scare us, cuz I think if you heard the drum it meant bad things were coming because the boy was so mad that he couldn’t find his way home.

Interviewer: Did it scare you?

Subject: When I was a kid it was frightening!



I looked up this scary story to find The Headless Drummer is a known tale in Scotland. According to visitscotland.com, “His identity and the story behind his decapitation remain a mystery, but it is said he made his first appearance in 1650. This was the fateful year Oliver Cromwell launched his invasion of Scotland which culminated in the capture of the castle following a three month siege.” I think there’s a certain fascination with young children who die at the hands of war, or defending something larger than their innocent selves. It’s a sad, glum fascination, but it’s clearly tied heavily to their past.


Fanthorpe, Lionel, and Patricia Fanthorpe. Mysteries and Secrets: The 16-Book Complete Codex. Dundurn, 2014.