Most adults with phobias inherited those deep-seated fears from negative experiences in their childhood. It could’ve been a dog barking at you when you were a mere baby, a sibling thinking it would be funny to scare you with a mask, or a book you read late at night that you were sure wouldn’t scare you because you were a big kid. Unfortunately, many of us still carry those terrors and fears with us. It’s an evolutionary psychological adaptation: as small children, we were certain these threats, whether real or imaginary, were potentially life-threatening, so we’ve held on to them to this day.
If you were a child of the nineties, you almost undoubtedly spent some of your reading time with the children’s horror series, Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark. Our teachers and parents were happy we were reading, but really, we were hurriedly scarring ourselves for life while rushing through the pages of these books. We’d watch shows like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and very rapidly, we would have goosebumps and require nightlights if we ever planned on sleeping.
Ready to relive some of your childhood nightmares? You should be because we’ve got fifteen of the creepiest childhood stories here for you. Sure, some of them aren’t as terrifying now that we’re watching movies like Paranormal Activity, Oculus, and Sinister, but let’s be honest: these are the stuff of nightmares, what continue to wake us up in cold sweats and make us hesitant to look under the bed after dark.
15. The Dream
And just like that, we’ve jumped right into it. The Dream is a story in one of the many compilations by Alvin Schwartz (who, we’ve decided, is a professional tormentor of small children and some adults). In the story, a young woman is a traveling salesman and plans to move on to a town called Kingston. Before she leaves, she has a dream that a pale-faced woman with stringy black hair and black eyes comes to her bed in a strange house and says, “This is an evil place. Flee while you still can.” So the woman wakes up and reasons out that even if it was just a bad dream, she would just skip Kingston and move on to the next town: Dorset. However, Dorset turns out to be exactly where her dream was set, and in the middle of the night, she actually wakes to the terrifying figure as she did in her nightmare.
In essence, not so scary right? But think about it: the premise of the story is that if evil is in our future, it’s inescapable. No matter what we do to avoid it, it’s going to find us. THAT’S A HORRIFYING IDEA TO PUT IN A CHILD’S MIND.
14. The Red Spot
Here’s another one of Alvin Schwartz’s messed up stories, one that’s probably developed a fear of spiders in an entire generation of young people. It’s a simple story involving a tiny spider bite. But not the cool kind of spider bite that gives you superpowers.
Little Ruth was sleeping when a spider crawled across her face. The next morning, she had a little red spot on her face that her mother said was probably just a spider bite; no need to worry about it. But it got bigger and bigger, and eventually, it grew to be a painful boil on her face. One night, after a hot bath, it burst — and millions of little baby spiders poured out of the red spot on her face and crawled into her hair and mouth and eyes. And from that moment on, every child ever was terrified of spiders, pimples — and trusting their mothers.
13. The Drum
When you were little, you probably misbehaved and did so a lot around your mother. If your mother was especially fed up with you, she may have mindlessly threatened, “If you don’t behave, I might leave and never come back.” And you probably thought, “Well, too bad mom; I don’t believe you.” So you continued to misbehave and, in all likelihood, your mom stuck around and put up with you.
Well, that’s not how the story turned out in The Drum. Two little girls were envious of a drum a gypsy girl played. She said she’d give them the drum, but they had to misbehave as much as possible at home. They did, and the mother threatened time and again to leave. Finally, the gypsy girl revealed she was never really going to give the girls her drum, but by then, their mother had left. Any kid that read this probably ended up listening when their mom threatened to peace out.
12. Darby O’Gill and the Little People
This was a kid’s movie rather than a story, but we’re going to count it because — what the hell — it was terrifying. The Disney movie from the late fifties wasn’t exactly fine programming. Actually, it was kind of flat-out terrifying and was clearly made for the sole purpose of scaring the jeepers out of kids. It’s about an old Irish fart who tells stories of leprechauns and is battling to find a great replacement for his role as the Leprechaun King’s caretaker. Yeah, it’s a weird story. But it gets downright spooky when the Banshee shows up. It’s an animated green specter that doesn’t seem to do a whole lot, but its ominous presence is enough to creep any kid out. The creepiest part about it is that it seems to be constantly approaching its victim without ever anything… it’s just waiting to pounce. And darn it all, that Darby O’Gill looks so damn petrified of this Banshee, even a grown adult would be kind of unnerved by it.
11. The Last Unicorn
Though this story was made into a movie back in the early eighties, we’re not really talking about the movie. We’re talking about the book, which was so popular in the fantasy genre, it’s considered as being among the top five fantasy novels ever written. The essential premise is that this Unicorn lives in a sanctuary where hunters aren’t allowed to hunt. One day, when hunters considered hunting in the sanctuary anyway, one shouted into the woods that this unicorn was the last of its kind. Curious and unnerved, the unicorn ventured out into the world to find out what happened to the rest. Perhaps, one of the freakiest parts of this book (besides hunters luring the unicorn from safety with threats of extinction) was the ultimate bad guy: the red bull. Sounds silly these days, but this red bull didn’t give you wings. Instead, it loathed unicorns and drove them into the sea to kill their race. Seriously? Killing unicorns? This is some dark stuff for kids to read.
10. Burning Feet
Burning Feet is another one of Alvin Schwartz’s short horror stories, but it’s hardly his story. He adapted his story from the millions of Algonquin folklore nightmares about wendigos, which are evil spirits whose purpose is to devour mankind. Obviously the groundwork for a great story for kids, right? This particular story, which has scarred plenty of kids, was about a successful hunter that decided to venture into territory that was usually left alone, due to superstition. One night, the hunter was in his tent when a wind storm kicked up. He looked outside to see that it wasn’t windy, but he could still hear the gusts of wind seeming to whisper the name of his guide. The guide understandably panicked and ran. Somewhere in the darkness, something happened to him. He screamed, “Oh my fiery feet! My burning feet of fire!” Apparently, the wendigo had caught him and had dragged him until his feet burned off from friction. And as if that wasn’t enough, the wendigo flew the guide up into the air and dropped him to his death before eating him. So yeah… none of us ever want to go camping again.
9. The Hook
Alright. This short story isn’t as scary as people think it is. It’s kind of like every campfire story you ever heard as a kid. But imagine reading it all alone, sitting by yourself in your room as a child, the branches of a tree tapping against the cold glass of your window…
As the story goes, there’s a killer (isn’t there always) who had replaced one of his hands with a hook (of course). He’d escaped from the state asylum (obviously), and everyone was searching for him. But what do these darned teenagers care? They’re going on a date to the middle of nowhere where they can make out (or scream), and no one would know. But something was tapping against the car. Then the whole car shook and the kids panicked and hauled their asses out of there. By the time they got home, the girl found a bloody hook hand dangling from the handle of the passenger-side door. Moral of the story, kids: don’t trust your skeezy boyfriend who wants to take you to Lovers Lane. Instead, trust your gut and stay home reading TheRichest articles.
This stupid damn story. We’d say that we were just talking about the story and not also about the movie, but let’s be real: this movie is downright creepy and messed up. There are a lot of freaky parts that could (and likely did) scar you for life. Let’s review, shall we? Pinocchio is a puppet that magically comes to life. In the book, Pinocchio accidentally kills the talking Jiminy Cricket pretty early on by throwing a hammer at it. (If you weren’t scarred before, you are now). Then Pinocchio is kidnapped by a puppet master because, why not? Then he meets an undead fairy waiting for her hearse to pick her up for her funeral. Then Pinocchio’s dad is swallowed by a big sea monster. Then Pinocchio plays hookey and is turned into a donkey by this ass and then sold to the circus. Eventually, he gets his dad back and un-donkey-fies and turns into a real boy. Okay, cool… but what the hell was all that sh*t?! Pinocchio was always doing something totally innocent like walking to school or searching for his dad when these terrible awful things happened to him! Are we trying to inspire total fear of the unknown in our kids?!
7. The Girl With the Green Ribbon Around Her Neck
You know this one. We know you know this one. It’s the one that left you, as a six-year-old in the school library, staring at the last line with your jaw on the floor.
So Alfred met Jenny when they were both school children. Alfred liked her immediately and noticed she wore a green ribbon around her neck. He asked her why she wore it, and she answered that she would tell him someday. So, of course, as the two grew older, they fell in love and grew closer and closer. Yet every time Alfred asked about that damn ribbon, he got the same answer: “I’ll tell you later, baby.” One day, when the two were older, Jenny got sick and was about to die a long and terrible death. You know how her husband comforts her? BY ASKING ABOUT THE DAMN RIBBON. “You want to know that bad? Fine. Take off the damn ribbon,” Jenny answered. (We may be paraphrasing). So he did. AND JENNY’S HEAD FELL OFF. Those exact words end the story — with a little illustration of Jenny’s disembodied head lying on the floor. How cute.
6. The Black Cauldron
Alright, we’re fudging a little bit again. The Black Cauldron is not a book or a story, per se, but a movie. Made in the mid-eighties, it was a story about kids rising up against the forces of evil. How empowering and encouraging! Except that it was terrifying, and any kid that saw it wanted to make sure they never had to fight a battle like that in their lives. It was scariest because the villain, The Horned King, felt like someone straight out of a Lord of the Rings book, and we were certainly not old enough to handle sh*t that was that intense. And this was the toned down version! Apparently, there was a test screening for this movie, and it was so intense, most of the children fled the theater before it was halfway over. As a result, the filmmakers had to cut over twelve minutes from the movie of undead Cauldron-born armies brutally killing each other and of Taran slicing his enemies at the neck and through their torso. And it still ended up being terrifying! THIS WAS MADE FOR CHILDREN? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!
We’re not really talking about the movie. Sure, it did an okay job of telling the scary story, but do you know just how imaginative a child’s mind is? Amplify the scariness of this movie by eleven, and maybe you’ll get a better impression.
Coraline is one of Neil Gaiman‘s children’s books. It’s about a young girl who has moved with her family to a strange new home. Within its walls, she finds a small door that, when opened with her mother, reveals a brick wall. But at night, when she’s all alone, it leads to another home — a home that mirrors her own, except it’s fun and vibrant and strange. Her parents in that world, with button eyes, urge her to stay with them. Eventually, urging turns to threatening, and Coraline is almost trapped in a world opposite her own — the place getting darker and more twisted the longer she’s there. It’s downright creepy.
4. The Big Toe
Just take a quick look at the picture and you’ll know — this should not have been a story meant for little kids. Yet, here we are.
In the story, a little boy is digging around at the edge of his family’s garden. He stumbles upon a big toe that’s sticking out of the ground. He tugs and pulls and yanks at it until it pops off in his hand, and he hears something groan and scamper away. So he shows it to his mom, and do you know what she does? POPS IT IN THEIR SOUP FOR DINNER. AND OF COURSE, IT’S HAUNTED AS ALL HELL. In the middle of the night, something shambles into the house and into the little boy’s room while groaning, “Where is my big toe?” Then the thing screams out, “YOU’VE GOT IT!” And then the creature eats the boy up. So the moral is? Don’t eat human remains you find in your garden? There is no moral! They just wanted to scare the crap out of us!
3. High Beams
Okay, you want to hear a children’s story with a moral? Spoiler alert: always check your backseat before you get in the car. Also: women are never allowed to feel safe, even in the comfort of their own vehicles.
In this story, a woman is driving down secluded roads alone, and a truck is behind her. It keeps flashing its high beams at her but won’t pass her and is tailing her dangerously closely. It seems to be following her down every turn she makes. Obviously, as any woman would be in our modern times, she’s freaking out. This driver is being erratic and is clearly pursuing her. So she calls 911 and is doing everything that she should do, but you know, there’s still a maniac tailing her. The cops are waiting for her when she pulls into her driveway, but the maniac still follows and pulls in behind her in the driveway. As the woman gets out of her car, the police wrestle the driver to the ground. But shockingly, the man screams, “There’s someone in the backseat!” The cops whirl around to look at the woman’s car, then they fire, shooting a man with a butcher’s knife and who was just emerging from her car. When the backseat is searched, they find duct tape and handcuffs and all sorts of horrifying tools. The driver tells the woman, “I flashed my high beams every time he raised the knife to stab you, and he’d crouch back down.”
2. The Girl In the Mirror
Once upon a time, there was a little boy that found an antique mirror in the depths of his closet. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a little girl there — but she wasn’t behind him. She was a girl that lived on the other side of the mirror, and the two liked to talk. She asked the little boy to come to her side of the mirror and play with her, but the boy was nervous. She made the boy promise he would come back the next day and come to the other side of the mirror with her. But the boy got scared and abandoned the mirror. Years later, the boy has grown and has a wife, and the two are about to have a baby. He visits his parents’ home and rediscovers the mirror. The little girl asks him why he didn’t come back, and he panics, saying, “I have a wife, and we’re having a baby soon, so I can’t.” The girl just keeps her smile and responds by saying, “If you won’t play with me, I’ll just have to find someone else just like you.” And she disappears. Soon after, the wife promptly calls, alerting her husband about her miscarriage.
Holy crap. This children’s story just dropped the miscarriage bomb. Kids don’t even know what that is! This is way too creepy for kids and just genuinely inappropriate. Why were we allowed to read these?!
This nightmare incarnate should never ever EVER have been published in a kids’ book of short stories. And we will never EVER trust a scarecrow again in our lives.
As the story goes, these two dumbasses make a scarecrow really ugly and name him after a guy they don’t like, Harold. The two are super mean to this scarecrow — like psychopath mean. They beat it, throw food at it, talk to it, whisper hurtful insults to it — and the scarecrow almost sounds like it grunts at them, like it’s trying to retaliate. Well, one day, this scarecrow figures out how to animate and decides to slowly torment these guys before killing them. He stares at them from the corner, then slowly starts shifting around the house, and eventually ends up pacing the roof, just waiting to kill them. One guy gets away, but the other goes back for his precious milk stool. The next time we see him, Harold is stretching out the guy’s skin on the roof for drying. THEY TOOK IT TO SKIN SUIT LEVEL TERROR. WAY TOO HIGH FOR KIDS.
Footnote: If you think you’re totally over these stories and they can’t scare you anymore, get ready to lose your sh*t. Rumors hint that Guillermo del Toro will try to make some of the many Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark tales into a movie. And we’re already having nightmares.