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What is the Scariest Short Story You've Ever Read?

Illustration for article titled What is the Scariest Short Story Youve Ever Read?

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?

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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.

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I've included "Harold" below (along with a YouTube video of a good book-on-tape telling of "Harold."

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.

Your turn.

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.

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DISCUSSION

enceldus28
enceldus28

"Candle Cove" of Creepy Pasta fame I thought was some of the best horror I've read recently.

NetNostalgia Forum - Television (local)

Skyshale033 Subject: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Does anyone remember this kid’s show? It was called Candle Cove and I must have been 6 or 7. I never found reference to it anywhere so I think it was on a local station around 1971 or 1972. I lived in Ironton at the time. I don’t remember which station, but I do remember it was on at a weird time, like 4:00 PM.

mike_painter65 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? it seems really familiar to me…..i grew up outside of ashland and was 9 yrs old in 72. candle cove…was it about pirates? i remember a pirate marionete at the mouth of a cave talking to a little girl

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? YES! Okay I’m not crazy! I remember Pirate Percy. I was always kind of scared of him. He looked like he was built from parts of other dolls, real low-budget. His head was an old porcelain baby doll, looked like an antique that didn’t belong on the body. I don’t remember what station this was! I don’t think it was WTSF though.

Jaren_2005 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Sorry to ressurect this old thread but I know exactly what show you mean, Skyshale. I think Candle Cove ran for only a couple months in ‘71, not ‘72. I was 12 and I watched it a few times with my brother. It was channel 58, whatever station that was. My mom would let me switch to it after the news. Let me see what I remember.

It took place in Candle cove, and it was about a little girl who imagined herself to be friends with pirates. The pirate ship was called the Laughingstock, and Pirate Percy wasn’t a very good pirate because he got scared too easily. And there was calliope music constantly playing. Don’t remember the girl’s name. Janice or Jade or something. Think it was Janice.

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Thank you Jaren!!! Memories flooded back when you mentioned the Laughingstock and channel 58. I remember the bow of the ship was a wooden smiling face, with the lower jaw submerged. It looked like it was swallowing the sea and it had that awful Ed Wynn voice and laugh. I especially remember how jarring it was when they switched from the wooden/plastic model, to the foam puppet version of the head that talked.

mike_painter65 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? ha ha i remember now too. ;) do you remember this part skyshale: “you have…to go…INSIDE.”

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Ugh mike, I got a chill reading that. Yes I remember. That’s what the ship always told Percy when there was a spooky place he had to go in, like a cave or a dark room where the treasure was. And the camera would push in on Laughingstock’s face with each pause. YOU HAVE… TO GO… INSIDE. With his two eyes askew and that flopping foam jaw and the fishing line that opened and closed it. Ugh. It just looked so cheap and awful.

You guys remember the villain? He had a face that was just a handlebar mustache above really tall, narrow teeth.

kevin_hart Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? i honestly, honestly thought the villain was pirate percy. i was about 5 when this show was on. nightmare fuel.

Jaren_2005 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? That wasn’t the villain, the puppet with the mustache. That was the villain’s sidekick, Horace Horrible. He had a monocle too, but it was on top of the mustache. I used to think that meant he had only one eye.

But yeah, the villain was another marionette. The Skin-Taker. I can’t believe what they let us watch back then.

kevin_hart Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? jesus h. christ, the skin taker. what kind of a kids show were we watching? i seriously could not look at the screen when the skin taker showed up. he just descended out of nowhere on his strings, just a dirty skeleton wearing that brown top hat and cape. and his glass eyes that were too big for his skull. christ almighty.

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Wasn’t his top hat and cloak all sewn up crazily? Was that supposed to be children’s skin??

mike_painter65 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? yeah i think so. rememer his mouth didn’t open and close, his jaw just slid back and foth. i remember the little girl said “why does your mouth move like that” and the skin-taker didn’t look at the girl but at the camera and said “TO GRIND YOUR SKIN”

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? I’m so relieved that other people remember this terrible show!

I used to have this awful memory, a bad dream I had where the opening jingle ended, the show faded in from black, and all the characters were there, but the camera was just cutting to each of their faces, and they were just screaming, and the puppets and marionettes were flailing spastically, and just all screaming, screaming. The girl was just moaning and crying like she had been through hours of this. I woke up many times from that nightmare. I used to wet the bed when I had it.

kevin_hart Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? i don’t think that was a dream. i remember that. i remember that was an episode.

Skyshale033 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? No no no, not possible. There was no plot or anything, I mean literally just standing in place crying and screaming for the whole show.

kevin_hart Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? maybe i’m manufacturing the memory because you said that, but i swear to god i remember seeing what you described. they just screamed.

Jaren_2005 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? Oh God. Yes. The little girl, Janice, I remember seeing her shake. And the Skin-Taker screaming through his gnashing teeth, his jaw careening so wildly I thought it would come off its wire hinges. I turned it off and it was the last time I watched. I ran to tell my brother and we didn’t have the courage to turn it back on.

mike_painter65 Subject: Re: Candle Cove local kid’s show? i visited my mom today at the nursing home. i asked her about when i was littel in the early 70s, when i was 8 or 9 and if she remebered a kid’s show, candle cove. she said she was suprised i could remember that and i asked why, and she said “because i used to think it was so strange that you said ‘i’m gona go watch candle cove now mom’ and then you would tune the tv to static and juts watch dead air for 30 minutes. you had a big imagination with your little pirate show.”