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.
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].
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.