What work of fiction freaked you out the most? What two-sentence horror story, short bit of prose, or even poem made your hair stand on end?
Back in June we asked you all what was the scariest book you've ever read, and you did not disappoint. And now I beg of you, what was the one short story, lyric tale, or poem that chilled you forever? Please include the story (or a link to the story), the author and why it freaked you out!
For me, the absolutely most terrifying, no-I-do-not-want-to-read-that-again short story was "Harold" from Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The scarecrow story really got me right at the part where Harold began to trot around on the roof, "like a horse on its hind legs." Just that imagery. Harold was first and "The Drum," (from that very same book) was second; you may remember it as the story where the mother constantly threatened to give her children away to a new mother with a glass eyes (plural) and a wooden tail. Ugh. Note these stories were only intensified by the amazing work of illustrator Stephen Gammell. And we still refuse to recognize the child-friendly edition that replaced all his wonderfully creepy drawings with G-rated doodles.
I've included "Harold" below (along with a YouTube video of a good book-on-tape telling of "Harold."
When it got hot in the valley, Thomas and Alfred drove their cows up to a cool, green pasture in the mountains to graze. Usually they stayed there with the cows for two months. Then they brought them down to the valley again. The work was easy enough, but, oh, it was boring. All day the two men tended their cows. At night they went back to the tiny hut where they lived. They ate supper and worked in the garden and went to sleep. It was always the same.
Then Thomas had an idea that changed everything. "Let's make a doll the size of a man." he said. "It would be fun to make, and we could put it in the garden to scare the birds."
"It should look like Harold," Alfred said. Harold was a farmer they both hated. They made a doll out of old sacks stuffed with straw. They gave it a pointy nose like Harold's and tiny eyes like his. Then they added dark hair and a twisted frown. Of course they also gave it Harold's name.
Each morning on their way to the pasture, they tied Harold to a pole in the garden to scare away the birds. Each night they brought him inside so that he wouldn't get ruined if it rained.
When they were feeling playful, they would talk to him. One of them might say, "How are the vegetables growing today, Harold?" Then the other, making believe he was Harold, would answer in a crazy voice, "Very slowly." They both would laugh, but not Harold.
Whenever something went wrong, they took it out on Harold. They would curse at him, even kick or punch him. Sometimes one of them would take the food they were eating (which they both were sick of) and smear it on the doll's face. "How do you like that stew, Harold?" he would ask. "Well, you better eat it - or else." Then the two men would howl with laughter.
One night, after Thomas had wiped Harold's face with food, Harold grunted. "Did you hear that?" Alfred asked.
"It was Harold," Thomas said. "I was watching him when it happened. I can't believe it."
"How could he grunt?" Alfred asked, "He's just a sack of straw. It's not possible."
"Let's throw him in the fire," Thomas said, "and that will be that."
"Let's not do anything stupid," said Alfred. "We don't know what's going on. When we move the cows down, we'll leave him behind. For now, let's just keep an eye on him."
So they left Harold sitting in the corner of the hut. They didn't talk to him or take him outside anymore. Now and then the doll grunted, but that was all. After a few days, they decided there was nothing to be afraid of. Maybe a mouse or some insects had gotten inside Harold and were making those sounds.
So Thomas and Alfred went back to their old ways. Each morning they put Harold out in the garden, and each night they brought him back into the hut. When they felt playful, they joked with him. When they felt mean, they treated him as badly as ever.
Then one night Alfred noticed something that frightened him. "Harold is growing," he said.
"I was thinking the same thing." Thomas said.
"Maybe it's just our imagination," Alfred replied. "We have been up here on this mountain for too long."
The Next morning, while they were eating, Harold stood up and walked out of the hut. He climbed up on the roof and trotted back and forth, like a horse on its hind legs. All day and all night, he trotted like that. In the morning Harold climbed down and stood in a far corner of the pasture. The men had no idea what he would do next. They were afraid.
They decided to take the cows down into the valley that same day. When they left, Harold was nowhere in sight. They felt as if they had escaped a great danger and began joking and singing. But when they had gone only a mile or two, they realized they had forgotten to bring the milking stools.
Neither one wanted to go back for them, but the stools would cost a lot to replace. "There really is nothing to be afraid of," they told one another. "After all, what could a doll do?"
They drew straws to see which one would go back. It was Thomas. "I'll catch up with you." he said, and Alfred walked toward the valley.
When Alfred came to a rise in the path, he looked back for Thomas. He did not see him anywhere. But he did see Harold. The doll was on the roof of the hut again. As Alfred watched, Harold kneeled and stretched out a bloody skin to dry in the sun.
Oh and if you want to hear some "true" ghost stories go to Jezebel because they are doing their annual true stories round up and just damn.