Tag Archives: scary story

The Legend of the Hook


Informant: “The story happens in a small town, and there’s a small darkened road that teenagers would go down and park along to kiss and make out. So, the story follows these two teenagers who are parked alongside the road and start to get a little amorous…”

Collector: “Do we know anything about the identities of the two teenagers?”

Informant: “They were just two young kids from the local high school that haven’t been dating for long; they’re very innocent and new to the dating scene, so the whole situation is exciting for them. Anyhow, they’re out, things are starting to get hot and heavy, but they hear some noises out in the woods. The guy rolls down the window and asks, “Hey, is anybody out there? Do you need help?” There’s no response, so they just go back to making out. A few minutes go by, and they hear the same noises again, and the kid rolls down the window and again asks if anyone’s out there. The girl tells him, “Why don’t you go out and take a look?” and so he goes out and looks around the car and sees nothing. He gets back in and rolls up the window, but they hear yet another noise, and this time it sounds even closer, so they start to get concerned. They realize how late it is and decide to head home, and on the way home, they turn on the radio. On the radio they hear that a mass murderer had just escaped from a nearby mental institution and was on the loose. The broadcast described the man as having one defining feature: a hook for one of his hands. And so they’re like, “Oh, well, at least we’re out of that area.” So they drive home, and when they stop in front of the house, the guy gets out to open the door for her, and there on her door handle is a hook.”

Context: The informant is a 63 year-old man who was told this story by his grandmother as a teenager when she was cautioning him against staying out late at night. The informant said that the legend accurately referenced a mental hospital that was close to where he lived as a boy in upstate New York. He explained that the moral is that you can be much closer to danger than you think, and that you should trust your instincts whenever you feel like something isn’t right.

Analysis: Legends can function as a powerful social tool, and this story is a prime example of the kinds of effects that they can have. Legends typically intersect with both reality and some supernatural or extraordinary element(s), which can blend together to become powerful persuasive devices. In this case, this story was used to scare teenagers into behaving responsibly, and I will attempt to analyze how it does so, taking into account the distinctive western context that it is situated in. Teenagers often have a reputation for being fearless and reckless in their behavior, and many American teens, especially, are heavily influenced by the American education system, which arguably prioritizes rational thought and critical inquiry and de-emphasizes superstition and blind adherence to belief. As a result, it is reinforced in many American teens and adolescents with traditional schooling to be skeptical of fantastical monsters and stories. Thus, in an attempt to use storytelling as a method of persuasion for teens, it helps to incorporate some tangible aspect of reality for credence, which legends as a narrative form tend to have. Therefore, in teens, the legend would seem to be particularly effective over myths and tales, which are understood by most at their age as not factually true. The manipulation of reality in “The Hook” is particularly effective here, referencing a real location–a mental asylum–where criminals were really known to be held, in order to give the story a greater rhetorical weight and degree of plausibility. The supernatural element, a deranged man from the asylum, blends so seamlessly with the factual details of the story that I see how it would be highly useful in persuading a skeptical, rebellious teenager (as my informant once was) into avoiding staying out late at night.

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. 

Teeny Tiny Lady


“Once there was a teeny tiny lady and she lived in a teeny tiny house outside a teeny tiny village and she lived with her teeny tiny dog and her teeny tiny cat. One day the teeny tiny lady decided to go to the teeny tiny village to market. On her way home she saw a teeny tiny bone in a teeny tiny field, so she picked up the teeny tiny bone and took it to her teeny tiny house. When she got home she made herself a teeny tiny supper and she sat down to eat it. She heard a noise from her teeny tiny cupboard, very quiet, barely a whisper, ‘give me my bone.’ She shook her head and didn’t pay it much attention and she finished eating her teeny tiny supper. Then she went to her teeny tiny bed and she went to sleep. When she was laying in her teeny tiny bed the teeny tiny lady heard a teeny tiny voice from her teeny tiny cupboard saying, ‘where’s my bone?’ The teeny tiny lady was afraid so she pulled up the teeny tiny blanket to her teeny tiny face. A little bit while later she heard the voice a little bit louder, ‘Where’s my bone?’ The teeny tiny lady covered her head with the blanket and she pushed herself all the way down into her teeny tiny bed. And then she laid there for a while, and then she heard very loudly coming from the cupboard, ‘I want my bone!’ Then the teeny tiny lady stuck her head out of the blanket and she said, ‘You can have it! Take it!’ And she covered her head back up and crouched down into her bed. In the morning she got up and she went to the cupboard and she opened the cupboard and the teeny tiny bone was gone.”


The informant first heard this tale as a child during the 1960s from either her father or uncle, because it was so long ago she can’t remember which. She says that her family enjoyed listening to a show called “Fractured Fairy Tales” one of these tales being “Old Mother Hubbard”,

“Old mother Hubbard, she went to the cupboard, to get her poor dog a bone, and when she got there the cupboard was bare and so the poor dog had none.”

She says that she used to ask questions about the fairytales they heard. The tale was an explanation for why there was no bone in the cupboard because, why would she check the cupboard if she knew there was no bone? She clearly thought there was a bone in the cupboard? 


This tale is used to explain why Mother Hubbard went to check the cupboard and gives context as to why she would think there was a bone in the cupboard for her dog. The use of a tale to explain and give context to another tale is very interesting as one could consider it a sequel, or in this case a prequel. Which shows that tales giving context to folklore are also considered folklore. Of course, the tale itself can be told separately from “Old Mother Hubbard” and be used as a scary story to prevent children from picking things up from the side of the road or taking something that does not belong to them.