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Folks, y’all brought it this year. I, like many of you, have been reading the comments and finalists for Jezebel’s true scary story contest for over a decade—long before I started working here—and this year’s entrants were truly special. The sheer range of spooky topics alone was impressive, from haunted old buildings to threatening peeping Toms to inexplicable moments that feel like a sinister glitch in the matrix… these entrants had everything.


To that end, I ended up pulling 11 finalists, instead of our traditional 10. (I figure most people will not complain about having an additional fright to consume, but if anyone’s mad about me bending the rules of this informal contest, I suggest taking a walk around the block.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that while I was compiling these stories, the space bar on my keyboard began to go crazy, inserting dozens of phantom spaces in my draft, and once I closed the tab of the call-out post, everything reverted to normal. Spooky!!! Now, could that be due to the volume of comments (nearly 700!) I was wading through on my MacBook’s somewhat limited computational power? Sure. But I want to believe.

Please enjoy these real-life frights and, if you need more, check out the finalists from 2022; 2021; 2020; 2019; 2018 part 1 and 2018 part 2; 2017 part 1 and 2017 part 2; 2016; 2015 part 1 and 2015 part 2; 2014 part 1 and 2014 part 2; 2013.

These stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Image for article titled 11 Real-Life Scary Stories That Will Make You Sleep With the Lights On

When I was 12, every night for close to two months, someone would knock on my bedroom window. It was usually after 11 p.m. and before 2 a.m. and, at the beginning, would wake me from a dead sleep. A few times I even heard the knocking in my dreams and then woke up and the knocking was still happening. I lived in a ranch in a newish neighborhood, so there weren’t any mature trees whose branches could be hitting the house. And I was certain of the distinct sound of knuckles on glass.


I had a small nightlight, but no nightstand lamp, so I would have had to get out of bed and go to the other side of the room to flip the switch to turn on the lights. I had mini blinds that covered the windows, but the thought of being illuminated with someone outside terrified me, especially because my bedroom window faced the backyard, which faced a giant cornfield. Everything outside at night was pitch black unless the moon was close to full.

After a week or so of the knocking, I asked my younger sister if she was doing it. She was seven at the time and me even asking about it scared her, so she tattled on me to my parents. They confronted me, saying I was telling stories and I swore up and down I wasn’t. The knocking kept happening for weeks and weeks, and my behavior changed because I was always scared and never sleeping.

A teacher pulled me aside to inquire about my dazed state and not paying attention in class, and I told her about the window knocking. She took me to the principal’s office, and he called my mom, and they had a meeting behind closed doors that my mom would not tell me about.

My mom slept on the trundle bed that night in my room to see if I was telling the truth. I woke up around 1:30 a.m. to the knocking on my window and reached down to wake up my mom and she wasn’t there. I was terrified stiff and laid there until the knocking stopped, maybe 30 seconds, and then slid to the floor and army crawled down the hall and into the living room. My parents were asleep on the couch with the TV on.

Out of probably fear, frustration, and disappointment, I started scream-crying, which startled my parents awake. My dad got angry and said something like, “Fine, then tomorrow me and you and my shotgun will wait outside.”

The next night I’d hoped he’d forgotten about that promise but nope, we bundled up in all black (me) and camo (him), and wedged ourselves between the back deck and the house, with a clear view of both the corn field and my bedroom window. A partial moon was up in clear skies, so you could make out the outline of the landscape and house. I star gazed for a bit but fell asleep pretty quickly and my dad woke me up around 4 a.m. to take me back inside, saying all he saw were some deer in the cornfield and maybe I’d been hearing bucks fighting. Then he went to bed.

Not more than five minutes later, I heard a loud BANG BANG BANG that hit so hard it rattled the blinds on the window. I almost peed myself I was so scared, and laid awake for the rest of the night with my heart pounding so hard I thought I was going to explode. The knocking never returned after that, and my parents maintain to this day it was all in my head. Seabassy

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When I was in fourth grade, my mom and I moved a few hours away to live with my grandma. I was an only child and painfully shy; all my friends had been my friends since forever, and I had no idea how to talk to these new kids at school.


One day at recess, a girl named Lizzie introduced herself and instantly became my new best friend. We would walk home from school together and hang out for a while before she walked the rest of the way home. My mom was still at work in the afternoons, but my grandma was always around. Grandma was starting to act weird, though. Sometimes she’d call me by my mom’s name, or yell at me and accuse me of stealing her things. Lizzie and I mostly played in the backyard to avoid my grandma, but sometimes I’d look up and see her smoking a cigarette and glaring at us through the windows.

Lizzie told me about camping with her family in the woods, something my family had never done. I was fascinated by the idea, so we would play-act all the things they did—”hiking” around the backyard in circles, pitching an imaginary tent, fishing in an imaginary stream, and gathering sticks and logs for firewood. One afternoon, as we slipped through the house to the backyard, Lizzie grabbed my grandma’s lighter off the end table next to her cigarettes and motioned for me to stay quiet. It didn’t occur to me to worry. We went into the backyard, where we had previously built an enormous mound of fallen tree branches, twigs, and dry leaves, and Lizzie bent down and flicked the lighter on.

Have you ever really watched a fire grow? For the longest time, it seems like nothing, like it’s going to just burn out. And then the time from when it starts to get going to when it blazes out of control goes by in the blink of an eye. I guess until that point, I somehow thought it wasn’t going to get big. And then the side of our house was on fire. Lizzie dropped the lighter and ran, and I just stood there, dumbfounded.

I don’t remember a lot about what happened after that. I remember my grandma freaking out and the sirens. Luckily the fire department got there quickly and my grandma’s house wasn’t completely destroyed. But my mom sent me back to live with my dad, and I went back to my old school. I was too ashamed to tell my friends what had happened. I’m sure someone—some adult—must have asked me how my grandma’s house came to be on fire, but I don’t remember talking about it. Within the year, my grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my mom was spending all her time taking care of her. The only time I saw my grandma again after I moved away and before she died, she had no idea who I was.

Recently my mom made a comment about how much it had worried her when I couldn’t make friends as a kid. I was a little hurt—I had friends, just not for a few weeks after she uprooted me in the middle of the school year!—and I brought up Lizzie.

“Lizzie?” my mom said. “Who’s Lizzie?”

I realize, in retrospect, my mom never actually met Lizzie. But surely she knew of her existence? Lizzie wasn’t in my class but we spent every recess and lunch together. She was at our house almost every day after school, with my grandma watching us through the window. My mom had no recollection of Grandma ever mentioning a friend of mine, and in fact, she remembers being told at a parent-teacher conference shortly before the fire that I still seemed to have no friends and was always alone. I wracked my brain for some evidence of Lizzie’s existence that might have survived the years, but I don’t remember any pictures, or anyone else I talked to during that time who might have seen her.

My mom asked where she lived. I said I hadn’t ever been to her house, but she told me she lived just a few blocks down the street, and I always saw her walking that way when she left our house. My mom shook her head and said there weren’t that many houses that way—ours was the last block, and after that was an industrial park. The few houses that way had no kids living in them as far as she knew. —Antigone

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My freshman year of college, I lived in an all-women’s dorm located on a quiet street not far from the center of campus. The campus itself is old and rural, tucked away in the mountains, and the isolation gives it a reputation for safety. But what all freshmen are warned about early are the ghosts. There are a number of them on campus. In one of the all-men’s dorms, a room supposedly locks people in as an angry spirit batters the walls and doors, and there’s a music building where a friend reported a sense of constant, malevolent observation during any piano practices. My dorm, too, had a reputation for haunting although my roommate and I didn’t know that at the time.


Only a month into the semester, I was woken up by a noise late at night. Half asleep, I remember glancing at my roommate. I could see the faint outline of her in the bed across the room, sitting rigidly upright. I heard another sound, but this time I was more awake and could see something at the door: a dark blurred outline. This wasn’t unusual. We never kept our door locked, and our suite mates and friends down the hall would often wander in, especially if they were tipsy and looking for company or a late-night snack. Perhaps because of that, I don’t remember being afraid, just tired. I looked at the shadow, told it to leave, and fell back asleep.

The next morning, I only foggily remembered the whole thing and wasn’t too concerned, but my roommate was terrified. She insisted on reporting it to our RA. It was from her that we learned about the ghosts. The dorm, she said, had once been a Civil War field hospital. Late at night, the ghosts of lost soldiers walk up and down the corridor, knocking on doors as they search for a way out.

Neither of us was entirely convinced, I think. I know I still suspected it was just a friend drunkenly looking for their own room. But it was undeniably exciting to have a ghost story attached to us. With a bit of a thrill, we and our friends began a sort of “ghost watch,” listening for footsteps, and collecting stories from older residents. As soon as we started, we noticed strange, disquieting things: rustles through the walls, knocks on doors late at night. A friend of ours reported seeing a face trapped and reflected in the glass of her bedroom window. After a couple of weeks, the thrill wore off, and we were increasingly afraid. We told the other RA, a skeptic who rolled her eyes and told us not to worry about it. Upperclassmen just like to scare freshmen with ghost stories. But we knew something was there, and we began to feel like we had no options. We felt trapped as we waited for the ghost to appear again, watching us as we slept.

When it came again, it was like the last time: a sound in the dark, my rigid roommate, a dark shadow in the door. This time, however, after weeks of watching, I was afraid. And maybe it was my fear, but this time it felt larger and like it was much farther into the room almost to the foot of my bed. Filled with adrenaline, I sat up, clutched my fists, and told it to back the fuck off. For a moment, nothing happened. Then it was gone. It took a moment for either my roommate or I to move, but when we could, I flipped on the light, and she rushed to close the door. We stayed up all night and most of the next. But ghosts respond to assertive swearing apparently, and, it didn’t appear again.

It was a couple of weeks later, that we learned the real horror story. The campus police captured a prowler lurking outside another residence hall, peering through the windows. Reports had been happening for weeks. Other students had noticed an intruder, seen a face peering in through windows, heard strange noises. The police had been telling dorm staff to warn students to lock their doors while police searched for the prowler. Our RAs, however, didn’t take it seriously. The campus was too safe. My roommate and I lived for weeks with a prowler lurking just outside our room. The rustling through the walls, the dark outline in the door. It was him—watching and waiting for the opportunity to come in. wiredwyrd

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In 2005, I spent the majority of the summer hitchhiking. I had just graduated from college and wanted to try something completely unfamiliar to me, and I insisted on making it a challenge. I lugged everything I had in two large backpacks, one carried on my back and the other on my front. I had a sleeping bag but no tent, a pre-paid card for pay phones but no cell phone, no watch, no maps, and usually only a few dollars in my pocket.


I’m not romantic about that summer; most days on the road were hard. I spent many more hours waiting on off-ramps than riding in vehicles, and the solitude was often unbearable. Once I arrived in the Deep South my hitchhiking days stopped being the usual mix of good and bad and turned toward the truly dicey. In Oklahoma, I got picked up by a stripper who took me to her drug dealer boyfriend’s house in Tulsa for two hours, where I pretended to be one of her classmates so as not to arouse his suspicions. One driver in Georgia had us hurtling down I-85 at over 100 mph, as he explained to me in slurred speech that he had just beaten his ex’s boyfriend half to death right before picking me up. Even my nights off the road were unpleasant; summers in the South are terrible for being outside, least of all huddled and sweating in a sleeping bag under clouds of mosquitoes.

By October I had decided it was time to hang up my packs for a good stretch and stay in New Orleans; I had already spent a few weeks there doing post-Katrina relief work and was looking forward to returning. Early in the evening, my ride is headed south down I-59 in Mississippi before dropping me at the Purvis exit. Purvis is a town of less than 2,000, about three miles away from the exit; I can only see fields and a single road veering toward the unseen town, so I stick my thumb out again, hazarding that I can luck into one more ride to take me to my destination by nightfall. I don’t wait long before a red pickup truck pulls over and the driver ushers me in.

I learned that my driver —we’ll call him Jared—was also headed south for hurricane relief work in coastal Mississippi; the federal government had shipped hundreds of FEMA trailers to towns like Purvis, and Jared and his crew had secured contract work to pick up the trailers, drive them to the coast and set them up. When I mention that I would be doing relief work in New Orleans as a volunteer, Jared scoffs. “You’re not getting paid? Hell, you come work for me on these trailers, you’ll make $50 an hour. Easy work, good-paying work. Best time to make some money.” I demur, stating I would rather head to New Orleans, but Jared isn’t hearing it. “Just come work for me for a day at least, see how you like it. Then you can be on your way.” I eventually relent, now truly at the mercy of my ride.

A short time later Jared receives a call that weather conditions have worsened on the coast, so he decides to turn us around and return to Purvis to spend the night, with plans to pick up a FEMA trailer in the morning. Of course, I am now a party to these plans, and any objections I raise only make him more irritated and adamant that I’ll be joining him. As he takes more calls and as dusk settles in, I learn a few more things about Jared. He complains at length on one call about one of his workers asking for his money. On another call, he asks about another of his workers, “Really? Julio took a bike?… Where the hell’s he trying to get to?” On other calls he speaks about me: “Yeah, I picked up a new Jap friend. … Me and my new Jap friend are headed back, we’ll be by again in the morning.” Suddenly it dawns on me what is happening here. Jared has been picking up people to join his crew and not paying them, and as his workers quit or escape he scouts out new blood, many of them migrant laborers, including his new “Jap friend.” I was already aware of many migrant laborers being exploited this way in New Orleans, and while I don’t know for certain if this is the same situation, I am seized with the unmistakable dread of being in possible danger.

It is well past dark once we take the Purvis exit and rumble into town. I check for any signs as to where we are and find none; there are no street lights, no moon or stars out, no other vehicles. Eventually, we pull up to a gas station, bathed in sickly fluorescent light, a single man standing inside at the till. It is then that Jared, nonchalantly and without forewarning, calls up his girlfriend and begins having phone sex with her. And it is ONLY then—the accumulated horror of my situation, the indignity of being party to this phone call, the strain NOT to see his hand moving inside his pants—that I decide it is time to ditch my ride. Immediately.

Except I have no idea what to do. The freeway is miles away and I don’t know how to get there. Outside the small radius of light from the gas station, it is pitch black. I notice a pay phone inside which I could use to call the police—I could even ask the man at the till to call for me—but in a town this isolated I can’t expect help to arrive promptly, and once Jared is finished he’ll want to whisk me away in his car again, and I do not want an altercation with him if I refuse. I see only one option in front of me.

I mutter to Jared about having to make a phone call and quietly gather up my packs. He reaches over his unoccupied hand to my knee. “Whoa, why you need all that for a call?” I mumble a non-answer as I slide out, dragging my packs inside the station. Pretending to talk on the pay phone, I glance at Jared repeatedly as he sits in his pickup, engrossed in his call. Minutes drag by in agony as I consider the insanity of what I’m about to do. I slowly put one pack on my back, the other on my front, shuffle to the gas station doors, crack one open, take a step outside—


I sprint for the road and am immediately plunged into darkness. “HEY!” someone yells behind me. I don’t even stop or turn my head, just continue hurtling forward, my packs rocking in a rapid whish-whish-whish-whish against my shoulders as I run. Carrying my packs feels stupid now, everything about this is stupid, I don’t know where I’m running to—and then I hear an engine start. Immediately I veer off the road into a ditch, ripping my packs off and tossing them away from me as I flail and stumble and fall flat, eyes staring madly up in the dark, trying not to make a sound as I gasp for breath. I am SO fucked. I can’t have gone more than a quarter mile, I’m not even hiding somewhere, I’m out in the open in a damn ditch waiting for him to find me, everything about this is stupid—

That’s when I hear a car. It roars down the road I was just on, heading away from the gas station. I don’t know if it’s him; I can only hear the noise and glimpse the glare of headlights in my peripheral vision. It could be any car, I tell myself, as I have no idea how long I’ve been lying in this ditch. He probably doesn’t even care what happens to me, I tell myself.

Then I hear a car coming the opposite way down the road, much slower this time. I have a better view of the headlights as they rumble towards me, but still in the dark, I have no idea if it’s the red pickup or an entirely different car. Once it passes there is a long silence. It seems a half hour has gone by, maybe more. I start to pull myself up and grope around for my packs.

Then another car starts approaching, in the same direction as the first car. And it is definitely approaching more than driving, at just a few miles an hour. I dive back to the ground, lying as flat as possible, eyes still fixed directly above me, not even daring to tilt my head toward the road for a better look. At its closest approach, this car will be no more than 15 feet away from me. This ditch is shallow enough that anyone taking a closer look can easily spot me. I have no idea what to do if the car stops. If someone gets out. I only hear that oppressive engine hum and see the headlight glare as the car trundles up to me.

And then continues, ever so slowly, down the road, until the engine and lights fade completely into the night.

It takes another hour before I can steel myself, stand up, locate my packs, and start walking as briskly and quietly as I can toward where I think the freeway is. Two hours go by as I stagger along, tripping over brush and gravel. Once in a while, a car or truck rumbles by and I have to drop back to the ground and out of sight as it passes. When I do find the freeway it is still dark and I can’t hitchhike out; I find a clearing in the bush nearby to sit. I do not sleep. Once the sun rises I make for the off-ramp and stick out my thumb, only to realize, disturbingly, that the person who pulls up to give me a ride may very well be Jared, the man who I know is headed out of town this morning going the same direction I am, the one and only driver I have ever escaped from in all of my travels. I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens. I have to trust that another driver will pick me up soon, before he arrives.

And one does—three awful hours later. He takes me all the way to New Orleans. And I never hitchhike again. —Stevie Peace

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In my early teens (early ’80s,) I went to a sleepaway summer camp in upstate New York. It was a gorgeous place, in the mountains, on a lake, and very isolated from everything. The town the camp was in was a 15-minute drive away, and this was well before cell phones and internet, so the camp was truly its own little world.


On the last night of camp, we would always have a bonfire on the beach. Besides the light from the fire and from the camp’s cabins up the hill behind the beach, it was pitch black. There were no towns or homes in the woods on the other side of the lake, so looking out over the water, you saw only black nothingness. It was eerie at night, but there were a hundred or so of us on the beach, playing music from boom boxes, and seeing if maybe our crush would agree to a makeout session before we all left the next morning. There were plenty of tears, hugs, and exchanging of (landline) phone numbers.

It was maybe 9 p.m.

Suddenly, a male voice screamed from somewhere on the water. “Please! Somebody help me!”

We all froze, looking around to make sure that we’d all heard the voice. (We clearly had.) It was dead silent for a moment. Then, one of the head counselors shined his flashlight over the surface of the water. There was nothing. No person, no boat, no splashing sounds. Nothing.

Slowly, the group began to relax, and there were some nervous giggles like you sometimes see after a tense situation. Maybe it was a practical joke? If so, hats off to whoever was responsible for scaring the shit out of us.

But then, it came again. It sounded closer, like it was just short of the beach, and more anguished. “PLEASE! SOMEBODY HELP ME!”

Again, flashlights came out and scanned the water, and again, we saw nothing. One of the head counselors shouted “Where are you? We can’t see you! Tell us what you need!”

No response.

Finally, the head counselor, in a low, tense voice, said, “All of you, to your cabins, NOW.”

We didn’t need to be told a second time. All of us hauled ass up the hill and into our respective bunks, the camaraderie of the evening forgotten. Staff members were assigned to stand watch over each cabin for the night, and we stayed up really late talking about what had happened and speculating about it before finally falling asleep.

The next day, we were awakened by the big bell that woke us each morning. The plan was to clean up the camp, stow all of the gear for the winter, that sort of thing, with everyone pitching in. The buses that would take us downstate would arrive at about lunchtime.

Instead, our counselor entered the cabin and said, “Buses will be here in 20 minutes. Pack your stuff as fast as you can. We’re out of here.”

“What about breaking down the camp?” we asked.

“No. Pack up.”

So, we did, our buses came, and we left, shaken by what had happened over the last 10 hours or so.

Over the years, as the Internet became the Internet, I’ve done several searches for what might have happened that night, but I haven’t found anything. Did someone drown? Was there someone trying to scare or hurt us? I don’t have an answer, and 40 years later, it seems unlikely that I ever will.

The camp is still open, and there’s a kind of “alumni” Facebook page that I’m a member of. Every now and then, someone will post something like, “So who remembers the last night of camp, 1982?” People might respond with “Yup, I was there,” but nobody ever wants to talk about it in depth. I’m pretty sure, however, that none of us have forgotten. —igor2OC

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My freshman dorm was co-ed: boys and girls divided into parallel halls on each floor, split by a bank of elevators in the middle. On my floor, the elevators were rumored to be haunted by a student who struggled with depression and died in his room about 15 years earlier. The circumstances were unclear but part of the story was that he left behind a letter about how girls wouldn’t talk to him. I’d heard about it when I first moved in and then forgot all about it.


Later that first semester, I was struggling a bit in an advanced economics class. I sat next to this very sweet, shy guy (we’ll call him “K”) who didn’t talk much but always had great answers to our class discussions when the professor called on him. One day after class, K mentioned that he lived on my floor and had seen me around and would be happy to help me study. I agreed right away and we planned to meet in the library.

K was an excellent teacher. He explained things in a way that our professor never could and it was like re-taking the whole class in 2 hours. I was so grateful and told him I owed him one. His shyness vanished out of nowhere and he asked me out then and there. I didn’t find K that physically attractive but his smarts and sweetness intrigued me so I said yes. We made plans to go out that Friday.

While I was getting ready, K sent me a message, asking me to meet him in his room. He said it was just off the elevators.

When I walked in, he’d set up pizza and beers and a movie. The plan had been to go get Chinese food down the street but I was flexible, so I settled onto his futon. His room was very bare bones—nothing on the walls, no color—and I started to feel really uncomfortable. Like almost a vertigo sensation. The second bed was stripped bare and K told me his roommate had moved out because the room creeped him out, so he’d been living alone since then.

If you haven’t guessed yet, this was apparently the same room where that freshman had died years before. K told me he’d done a bunch of research on the guy and that he had all these issues with women, a record of stalking and harassment, and some drug problems, but also he’d loved horror movies and had an old webpage somewhere listing his favorite ones. K told me that he’d been trying to watch all of them. And the plan was to watch another one tonight.

By that point, I was overwhelmed with this intense dread. I told him I didn’t like horror movies. Couldn’t we watch something else instead?

“Shh! He’s listening,” said K, motioning around himself. He turned the movie on and put his arm around my shoulders.

Nope, I needed to get out of there. I told him I really couldn’t stand scary movies and maybe we could do this another time. As I was turning his door handle to leave, he said, “OK but remember, you owe me.”

That became a theme for weeks. I aced that exam and when I messaged him to say thank you again for the studying help, he replied, “You owe me.” He wrote “U O ME” on my roommate’s dry erase board when we left the door unlocked one day. He wrote it again on one of the fogged-up bathroom mirrors while I was in the shower. He had clearly learned a lot from the horror movies he was watching.

I was so freaked out and went to my RAs, who told K to leave me alone and stay out of the women’s bathroom. He did but he also started leaving his dorm door open all the time so if I ever used the elevators, he’d be there, staring at me.

Then he was just gone one day. His room door was open and everything was cleared out. Even the beds and desks were gone. The doorknob was missing from the door. And despite my experience gone sour, I remember feeling sad about it because he was so smart and really should have been excelling in college. He had started out sweet and helpful. A good classmate and someone I thought for a moment could be a friend.

But as I got to know more guys from his side of the hallway, they started sharing how K had gone from really nice and a little withdrawn to dark and mean and obsessed with the “ghost” of the guy who’d died in his room. He claimed the guy was talking to him at night and that his former roommate had actually moved out because he didn’t feel safe in there. Security recovered several knives and other weapons under his bed.

My RAs finally told me months later that the school made him leave after he was found in one of the girls’ bathroom stalls with a knife in his pocket. “Oooh, guess he needed a sacrifice,” joked the male RA, which I didn’t find funny at all. Especially because they told me I needed to call the police if I saw him on campus. And ESPECIALLY because they didn’t let anyone else move into that room. Not that year, not the years after. The room became a legend itself and the door always stayed open. People would claim to see dark figures in it late at night or hear noises coming from it. I never dared to look in it again, kept my back to it whenever I was by the elevators.

Cut to years later, I’m in grad school and engaged to be married. A few months before my wedding, my fiancé and I both get a friend request from a random guy that neither of us knew, no profile picture, but he had gone to our college.

I did a search for the name…and it led me to articles about the suicide in our dorm from the ’90s. Someone was using that kid’s name.

Yep, you guessed it: I got a message request later that night that said “u o me.” —AnotherDogNamedLuna

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It was the summer of 2020 and my husband, Connor, and I were lamenting the implosion of our long-awaited European vacation. On a whim, we decided to go on a road trip to a small college town in upstate New York. We had lived there happily for years while my husband worked to get his PhD at the local university, and it was known for its excellent restaurants, beautiful hiking trails, and (at the time) low COVID numbers. A four-hour drive from our apartment, it seemed like the perfect getaway from our suddenly suffocating one-bedroom.


We enjoyed a magical weekend filled with socially distanced catch-up sessions with old friends, delectable food and drink, and hiking to our hearts’ content. In no rush to return to our quarantine digs, we delayed our trip home until the late evening on Sunday, heading out into the pitch black and steamy summer night after enjoying one last delicious meal at our favorite restaurant.

Now, I have taken this drive countless times, having been long-distance with Connor during his first year of grad school. Because of his insane schedule, it was almost always me who had to make the long drive up and, after prolonging our goodbyes as long as possible, I often drove back in the dead of night. Most of the drive takes place on one, long state highway, through rolling hills. Although I would occasionally feel a bit on edge during my solo trips—feeling the high beams of a car linger behind me for a little too long, wondering how alone I really was during my pee breaks—I never had any actual incidents to speak of.

After a quick break, my husband took over driving, leaving me to enjoy controlling the music and staring out the window at the formidable fir trees that stretched endlessly in all directions. We were about two hours into the ride, seemed to be the only car on the road, and our conversation had just fallen into a comfortable lull. It was then that my eyes caught sight of the mangled corpse of a deer on the side of the road. The deer looked fairly fresh and the impact on the animal seemed severe, but most disturbing to me was its position. The way it had been dragged to the driver’s side of the road along the divider, far from the woods it must have wandered onto the road from, was strange. Its body was carefully splayed out, not like it had been struck and then hastily dragged aside as one might expect, but like the perpetrator had given thought to how to position the deer in its final resting place, and not in a respect for nature kind of way. Connor spotted it seconds after me and we let out “ohhh’s” of pity for the poor animal.

About 10 minutes later, another dead deer came into view—again on the driver’s side, and again, carefully laid out along the median as if it were a work of art and not a slain animal.

“Yikes,” Connor said softly as we passed by. Spotting roadkill was not uncommon along this road, but I couldn’t shake this feeling of creeping panic. That heightened sense of alertness I’ve felt when I’ve been out alone in the evenings shot through me. I peered out my window into the black forest searching for any signs of life.

Another 10 minutes passed. “Is that another deer?” I asked Connor, now convinced this was deliberate.

“Yeah,” he breathed. “That’s weird,” he added after a beat. After another pause, he casually continued a conversation we had over dinner about anime, one of our favorite “let’s change the subject” pivots, and I felt my pulse begin to slow just a bit.

But then 10 more minutes had gone and a bloody coyote was on display this time, our headlights casting a cold spotlight on its lifeless body.

“OK, what the FUCK!?” I yelped.

“We’ve heard that animals have started venturing out further than usual during COVID, since there are less humans around,” Connor said slowly. “Maybe there are more of them running out into the road than usual?” A true scientist, he is always searching for the logical, least spooky explanation.

He tried, in vain, to continue our conversation and 10 minutes later, we were both on edge. That’s when I saw it. Not a deer or a coyote, but what appeared to be a BOBCAT, bloody and meticulously displayed on the side of the divider.

Now it was my husband’s turn to say “What the fuck?!” We fell into an extremely uncomfortable silence.

All the hairs on the back of my neck shot up as I forced out an insane and unsettling thought: “It’s like these are mile markers.”

Connor glanced at me in horror, refusing to weigh in on the Twilight Zone episode we found ourselves in. Although he said nothing, I felt him press harder on the gas. If they were markers, I dreaded finding out what they were leading us to.

We continued passed a few more dead animals as we wordlessly prayed for the EZPass signs to appear, signaling that we would soon be turning off onto a much more populated and well-lit thruway. I couldn’t shake the feeling that despite the lack of other cars on the road, we were NOT alone out there. For what felt like an eternity, my eyes darted between the rearview and the shadowy trees ahead, hoping that nothing new entered my line of vision. Finally, we reached the toll booth and Connor slammed on the gas as soon as he saw that our EZPass payment had registered, like he thought someone may leap into our car at any moment.

As we turned onto the busier thruway, we both let out a long sigh and realized we had been holding our breath for the last few minutes. We didn’t see another bit of roadkill for the rest of our drive. Once the immediate sense of peril subsided, we let out nervous laughter and talked about how fucking crazy that was—though we never mentioned it again. I don’t know who or what was killing those animals, what they were leading to, or what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten off that road. —UncleanLevity

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Summer ’97. I was nine and scared of my own shadow, so this experience only furthered my fear of the world.


My mom and I drove up from Revere, Massachusetts, to Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire to camp. My dad was going to drive up the next morning to meet us because he had work.

So, everything was going normal at the campsite; we set up the tent, built our fire, all was well.

It was still daylight when we noticed that the lone, greasy-haired man in the campsite across from ours was continually running and leaping onto a wooden post, then attempting to balance himself on one foot. He kept doing this, over and over and over.

It was odd, but we just figured he was some lonely kook, and had a good laugh at his expense. My mom thought maybe he was trying out for the circus.

Cut to nighttime—absolute darkness if not for the campfire. My mom and I were sitting and roasting s’mores over the flames when we heard footsteps approaching from the other campsite.

Out of the pines, the lone man stumbled onto our site, and he was ghastly and ragged in the firelight.

I could tell my mom was tense. She asked the stranger what he needed.

“Hey,” he mumbled. “I need your help in my campsite.”

We waited, and he didn’t go on. My mom asked what he needed help with.

The filthy man said, “Locked my keys in my van. I need you to come over and help me.” He then looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, kid. You can stay here with your fire.” I remember getting goosebumps at that.

My mom said, “I don’t know how I can help you with your keys.”

“You must have a spare hanger lying around somewhere,” suggested the man.

My mom told him she didn’t.

The ghoulish man wouldn’t let up, though. “Yeah, you must have a hanger lying around here somewhere. Maybe you dropped one on the ground near your tent.”

My mom adamantly told him she didn’t have a hanger, and quickly added, “My husband will be here soon. Maybe he can help you. He’s a pretty strong guy!”

“Yeah…alright,” the creep slurred, and he started to trudge away into the dark.

But, he turned his head and said, “Well, if you do find a hanger, come help me. I’ll be here.”

And with that, the horrible man left.

My mom and I barely slept that night. I felt her moving at every sound outside the tent. Looking back, my poor mother must have stayed up through the long night, worrying a butcher knife was going to slash through the tent wall.

And so, morning eventually came, and when we stepped out of the tent we immediately saw that the lone man and his camper van were gone.

Later in the day, I heard my mom exclaim. I ran over to her and watched as she picked something up from the ground beside our tent. She held it between us, staring at it, not speaking.

It was a metal hanger. —Sean Whiteley

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Years and years ago, my friend (A) and I were invited to stay in another friend’s (B) holiday home in the south of France. It was a beautiful old building in an ancient village on top of a hill, and B reckoned there’d been a dwelling on the spot for around 1,000 years. I’m not sure how old the house was, but the ground floor bathroom was in a literal CAVE, accessed from the kitchen, which was apparently used as a cool room in the days before electricity so… yeah. Pretty old.


It’s tall and very narrow, this house, so there’s pretty much one room per floor and a LOT of stairs. Because the top floor is a roof terrace and everything below that is pretty chilly and dark, B tells us that they tend to spend most of their time up top, though there’s a formal sitting room on one of the middle floors. The bedrooms are also on the top level, so A and I grab our luggage and follow B up the many, many flights of stairs, through this gorgeous old house.

I forget which floor the sitting room was on. But I’ll never forget the feeling I had as we passed its open door. Cold and gloomy the house might have been, but it still had a welcoming, homey feel to it—except for that room. You know that feeling where your blood runs cold and every nerve in your body is yelling, “RUN!” There was nothing in that room—that I could see—but I knew instantly that there was no force on earth could persuade me to set foot in it. Ever.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to. Up we went, up and up, and the welcoming, homey feeling returned as we left That Room behind us. We stayed in the house for almost a week, and every time I had to pass That Room, I would rush past and keep my eyes firmly away from the entrance. The “RUN!” feeling happened just the same.

I didn’t say anything to B (because, duh, I’m staying in their home for free), and I thought A would either freak out or laugh, but as A and I were on our way back to the airport at the end of the holiday, somehow or other the subject of That Room came up. I told A how it made me feel.

She was silent for a while. I was driving, so I couldn’t look at her face, but I could tell by the air in the car that she wasn’t about to make fun of me.

“I saw something,” she said at last. “In the armchair.”

Directly across from the doorway of That Room was an old fireplace, piled high with logs. In front of it stood a wing-backed chair.

There was no way I could NOT ask. “What…did you see?”

She was silent again for a moment. “No,” she said eventually. “I don’t think I can tell you.”

It’s been nearly 20 years. I’ve lost touch with both A and B. A never would tell me what she saw in That Room, though, and after a while, I stopped asking. I’m not entirely sure I want to know. —Eimeo

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Long ago, before everyone had dating apps on their phone, us gay boys would sit at our desktop computers and try and meet guys for sex on sites like Manhunt and DudesNude.


One late night I’d come home from the bars, jumped online, and started chatting with an unfamiliar local guy whose profile looked promising, We unlocked pics for each other and mutually agreed to meet up. He was “hosting” (which means I would go to his place) and lived around the corner from me. He told me his buzzer was broken and that I should just knock and come in.

So I walked over to his place on Gold Street between Fulton and John. The apartment was strange for New York: The door sits on the sidewalk. There are no steps. No lobby. No vestibule. It’s just a door to an apartment, right there on the sidewalk. I knocked on the door, which must have been ajar because it opened from my knocking. All the lights were off, but I could see from the streetlamp that the apartment was completely empty with the exception of a broom and a plastic bag of trash. No furniture. No lighting. No nothing. There was an open door to a room that was pitch black, so I said “Hello? You here?” in that direction. No response. “Hello?” I asked again. “I’m here.” Still no response.

I was freaked out; felt like I was being watched from the shadows. I stood there silently, afraid to make a sudden move. And all of a sudden I could hear another person breathing softly.

I turned around and booked it out the door around the block. I was afraid to go back to my building because I felt like he might’ve been following me. By the time I got back to my place, I sat down to send him a “WTF????” message but his profile had been deleted along with our chat. —Phineas D’Istude

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My bf and I live in a warehouse that stretches from a busy street to a back alley. We lack a backyard, so we spent a lot of time in the alley, which is cozy despite being open to public traffic. Two lots across the alley are undeveloped and overgrown with tropical vegetation and large oak trees, providing ambiance. Bordering them is a lot with a single-family home facing the next street over, and a larger wooden two-story subdivided house in the back, built right to the edge of the alley. The upstairs units had balconies—large landings at the top of outdoor stairways, and they looked like bungalows amongst the trees.


We often hung out in the alley with a firepit, grilling some food, sipping drinks, and listening to music on a Bluetooth speaker. Friends would stop by on occasion to join us for little hangs.

A woman lived alone in the bungalow unit that had a view of our fire spot. She seemed to have substance and mental health issues, and would frequently berate and throw bottles at people in the alley, but none of her ire was directed at us, until it was.

She would sometimes startle us and our friends by chiming in on fireside chatting from her balcony, which required a bit of shouting on her part. One night she dominated all conversation with a graphic retelling of the film Apocalypto. We tried our best to stay on her good side by humoring these interruptions.

The back of our warehouse is a workshop with no AC. The space has a 10-foot metal garage that slides up, and iron gates outside the garage. Since we often keep this open for ventilation, my bf equipped the iron gates with rows of thin bamboo fencing, overlapping to provide privacy but allow for some airflow.

One evening we were zoned out, bingeing a show in the workshop, and he paused for a bathroom break. As soon as he disappeared into the other room, I heard the woman ask, from just outside our open garage, “What you watchin,” followed by a few questions about the show. The sort you might ask someone you are watching with. She waited until I was alone to make herself known. I freaked out and screamed, “FUCK OFF BITCH!” My bf rushed out and discovered the woman was crouched on all fours on the ground outside, peering through the smallest gaps in the bamboo, watching us watch TV.

After this, we adjusted for security. We installed CCTV, and ceased our alley firepit hangs. We had become the main targets of her outbursts.

I also got a dog, who I love more than anything ever (this was not for security and was something I had been wishing for a while).

Since I now had a dog who needed walking, I would occasionally encounter her waiting for me on her stairs, she would sneer and make crude remarks as I attempted to hurry past and avoid eye contact. She said things like, “Wow, you’re so skinny, not much you could do to fight back.” One day she inflected a wicked witch tone and proclaimed, “I am gonna kill you, and your little dog too.” Threatening my dog was too far. It took everything I had to not respond.

I lived with near-constant fear of what her next grand gesture of terror would be so I reached out to a friend, a criminal defense attorney. He used his subscription databases to find her name and records. It was not comforting information. She was known to possess a firearm and was fired from several jobs (she had been a security guard) for erratic behavior. My friend warned me to be very careful, and I worried he was holding back what he uncovered to spare my (admittedly fragile) mental state.

I googled her and found her blog displaying amateurish paintings of semi-abstracted horrors. The paintings depicted the loss of a child, seemingly a toddler. I felt some empathy for her. When she occupied the balcony, she sat on one of those ubiquitous cheap white plastic lawn chairs, but always directly across from another exactly like it, but child-sized. I had assumed she used it as a footrest, but now it signified something tragic.

Loud and violent episodes resulting in police visits were near daily events. The landlord moved to evict her. Her final departure was dramatic and we watched on our CCTV while quietly listening, scared that she might damage our property or take whatever swipes she could on her way out. For weeks after, we often saw her car, driving slowly through the alley, cursing the property as she passed, throwing detritus out the window at her former home.

I felt better when her appearances diminished. For a bit. A new tenant appeared, a single man. He didn’t seem unhinged or troubled like his predecessor, maybe a little off.

On a morning walk, the man was there at the bottom of the stairs, as if waiting, to greet me and my dog. I tried not to let history color what was probably neighborly kindness, but it did raise some hackles. He seemed to greet me before he could have known I was there.

There was some discussion between my bf and I as to whether his tenancy was legal. He always left the window on the balcony open, including during tropical storms and one hurricane. No one had seen him move in and no one saw him move out. We didn’t see him use the door or the lights. He didn’t appear to own or use any form of transportation. When he would speak to me, it was unintelligible: I could make out maybe one or two words per interaction, and relied on a general contextual sense to provide my brief, nervous replies. He never spoke to my bf.

He began to spend more time on the balcony. I told my bf I was feeling uneasy about the tenant but there was nothing substantial to justify it. The encounters where he would shock me on dog walks were increasing. I couldn’t figure out how he would always know when we would be coming. Was he spending the whole day at the base of his stairs? Was his eager presence born of loneliness?

Walking the next street over, I realized a lot of the overgrown lot next to the bungalow had been gradually cleared and that several parts of my walk were visible from where the man lived. There was no one on the balcony then, and when I passed the stairs in the alley there was no one there.

The next day, taking the same route, I had the sense I was being watched, so I looked up at the unit, and my stomach dropped to the core of the earth. In the window I saw fingers, parting the blinds. I stole glances at each of the unit’s windows that were visible from my route, trying my hardest to be discreet, by keeping my head down and glancing up with my eyes. And at every window, I saw the same thing, crinkled blinds with fingers holding them apart. He was moving around the perimeter of his unit to watch me from different vantages on my walk. Of course when I rounded the part of the alley that met his stairway, he was there at the bottom with a greeting.

I told my bf. He thought I was over-anxious but said he’d check it out. I described the route to him, and he took my dog on a walk that way. He came back and confirmed the blinds were warped in every spot you can see from the route. After that, he firmly requested that I only walk my dog when he could come along, or to take a route that avoided the sightline of the building entirely.

Before many questions could be answered, a big shakeup occurred. The landlord was not able to rent the front house for long and the back units were nothing but trouble, so they evicted everyone and tore down both houses on the property. I watched the day it was demolished, gladly sucking down any asbestos, lead, and mold particles to see this monument to so much personal anxiety crumble. The contractors got a kick out of how I was watching their work and put on a show for me, which was fun. The blinds were so heavily crinkled that they never went back to form, and remained creepily bent as they crashed into the earth.

This property pushed me over the edge of belief in the supernatural although most of these occurrences were clearly mental health related. And this is why: Once the man started to utilize his balcony more frequently, he brought out a chair, one of those collapsible camping chairs. And a second chair, the same style, but sized for a child. They were always arranged facing each other, in the way the woman’s chairs were once situated. In the years we had to interact with this building and it’s tenants, we never saw a child there.

Now it is just an empty, overgrown lot like the two that sit next to it. There are some interesting pieces of salvage that I would scavenge from literally any other location, but I will not touch due to their provenance. On two occasions while walking my dog, I saw totally mundane things on the lot that are terrifying in context. One day, there was a return of the cheap white lawn chairs, sitting at the edge of the remains of a fire that had apparently been lit the night before. The fire pit was encircled with coconuts and littered with broken bottles. Later, I found two miniature plastic chairs from a child’s dollhouse wrapped into the wire of the fence surrounding the property. These were years apart, and years after the demolition. —Tropical Situations