Category Archives: Scary Stories That I Used to Believe in as a Kid

The Ghost of 44 Russell Avenue

According to my mother, I wasn’t exactly the kind of kid you could trick with ghost stories. Precocious, shrewd, and more than a little bit of a skeptic, I asked too many questions to be fooled for long. Or I asked too many questions for any adult to successfully stick to the story for long.

Despite being an analytical child, I avidly engaged in fantasy. Playing pretend wasn’t enough, oh no—I quickly branched out into making up fantastical tales and sharing them as fact. (This tendency would get me into trouble numerous times as a child.) I found myself stumped when trying to think of scary stories I believed as a kid for this blog, so I turned to my mom. Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of any either. She did, however, share that “I used to believe many of your tales, but inevitably, a unicorn would appear in the story and that was when I knew we were in fantasy land.”

Spinning scary stories was never my favorite pastime, but my house at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey (I’m an Army brat) was ripe with opportunities for ghost stories. Built in the early 1920’s, it was a large brick home with a roomy attic and plaster walls. It had tall, slender wooden doors with small, brass knobs that creaked in the winter, and a spooky basement with an old-fashioned cellar door that pulled open from the outside.

The last house on the right is 44 Russell Avenue.

The attic had obviously once been used as a bedroom, and the exposed pipes and supports that crisscrossed the room had been painted in bright bands of red, white, and blue. The ceiling leaked in one spot near the dormer windows, and an old tin bucket was already in place collecting errant rainwater when we moved in. The steady metallic “plink” of water into the bucket, the sound of wind around uninsulated walls, and the creaking and settling of the old wood were the soundtrack of the room. Long rectangles of light streamed in from the dormer windows, but the sloping corners of the rooms were constantly in shadow. Though I found it rather charming overall, it was all too easy to twist the generally cheery ambiance of the room into something sinister.

I started constructing the story of the little boy who lived in the attic room not long after we moved in. Reginald, I thought, was a fine name for a little boy born in 1932. I imagined Reginald to be much like myself—prone to exaggeration and flights of fancy, fiercely patriotic, and convinced that his father could save the world.

A consummate history buff, I delighted in associating him with historical events. Reginald was nine years old when the US entered World War II, I decided. He would work in the family’s victory garden and volunteer with his mother and three older sisters, of course, but he wanted more. He wanted to fight. So, the intrepid Reginald snuck off base one day and enlisted. Apparently, my imminently practical eight-year-old brain did not find it difficult to believe that an Army recruiter could be fooled by a ten-year-old.

By the time I was this far along with my creation of Reginald’s life, we were approaching our first Halloween at Monmouth. I’d already gained a bit of a reputation for my storytelling, and more than once other children asked me to tell scary stories. I didn’t have any. One day, as my friend Emily pestered me for a spooky tale, it hit me— Reginald. Poor, poor Reginald, run-away-to-war Reginald—dead Reginald? And so, the ghost of 44 Russell Avenue was born.

The Harvey family ca. December 2003. Author is on the far right.

I told them of Reginald as though he was real, as if he still swung from the painted pipes and crowed with me over games of marbles. At first, it was benign. I’d created an image in my head of a boy who might have been my friend, and I was loathe to let go of it. But children are bloodthirsty, and my friends wanted something more frightening than a friendly ghost. Tales of ghostly heads popping out of walls or non-corporeal fingers dragging icily across a neck for a laugh only went so far.

Too proud to disappoint, I reluctantly turned my purported interactions with Reginald sinister. No longer did he appear to me bright-eyed and well-groomed, with a pressed uniform and a jauntily-angled hat; instead, he was dirty and bloodied, with ragged clothes and a thousand-yard stare. Reginald, you see, did not make it home from the European theatre alive. I started doing research on the second world war, looking at haunting images and reading frightening accounts of soldiers who were never the same.

My stories turned dark. Reginald no longer waited for me to come up to play, but haunted me at all hours of the day and night. I told my friends that sometimes he kept me awake with whispered pleas—to apologize to his mother, to watch out for his sisters, to bring them peace of mind—crying at my bedside, begging with tears in his eyes. Other nights, I said, he would scream—at the enemy, at his fellow soldiers, at God—angry and broken and desperate to move on.

At some point, even I started to forget that the stories weren’t true. A boy with haunted blue eyes and a torn uniform began to haunt my dreams. Every rush of water through the pipes or creak of the sighing house made me flinch, wincing in anticipation of a ragged voice that would never come. My friends were no longer so excited for ghost stories, the images of a boy destroyed by war a bit too close to home on a military base. Halloween passed, and they were happy to return to games of make-believe, no ghosts allowed. They forgot Reginald and my haunted attic.

I never did. Reginald would follow me for years, the embodiment of a story taken too far, a constant reminder not to forget the line between fantasy and reality. The attic, once the focus of my romantic notions of a garret hideaway on top of the world, never regained its appeal. My escape was irrevocably tainted with the specter of a little boy who never was.

A Story Too Scary

Any basic scary story growing up involved the typical monster under the bed, or the boogey man in the closet. Although these didn’t scare me as much, I would still check my room before sleeping, to make sure I was safe. Being alone in your room, in the dark, though, is completely different than when having a sleepover with your friends. When I was younger, any time someone had a successful sleepover, a scary story was told late at night to keep the adrenaline at a peak as the sugar high wore off. At sleepovers, I was usually the one telling the scary stories. The classic, Bloody Mary or Redrum (spoiler: spelled backwards it’s murder) were my go-to classics to freak out my friends. Although telling these stories was fun for me, the scary story I couldn’t shake as a kid transpired from the movie: When a Stranger Calls.  

For those of you who are unaware of the plot, the story focuses on a high school girl who is babysitting two kids in a giant house in the middle of nowhere. The parents pay her to watch television and the kids are already sleeping when she gets there. Sounds like easy money, right? Oh, you’re so wrong.  

The babysitter gets creepy calls from a guy all throughout the night. His voice is scratchy and chilling, especially to me, as a thirteen-year-old girl watching this for the first time. He nefariously whispers questions through the phone like: “why do you have the lights turned off?” Or, “have you checked on the children?”  

Can you imagine being in the middle of nowhere, in someone else’s home, and a psychopath is somewhere out there watching you? That is equally as terrifying to me now as compared to when I first watched the movie. The babysitter calls 911, which I would do too, and they say if she can get this freak to talk to her for a certain amount of time, they can trace the call. So, the babysitter finally gets the psycho to talk for over a minute by asking him questions back, and come to find out he is in the house. This may sound lame to those who watch hardcore horror films, but as someone who grew up making her money through babysitting gigs, you can only imagine my dismay after finding out the killer is in the house. I was the babysitting guru back in my day, but after that movie, I changed to walking dogs during the day.  

After When a Stranger Calls came out, I swore off scaring my friends with my own shuddering stories. To this day, this is the tale that still frightens me. Although I don’t have sleepovers with my friends anymore, if I ever were in a situation that prompted scary stories, this particular one would be off limits. 

 

Things I used to be Afraid of or: Teen Wolf lied to me about what to expect with my public school experience with werewolves

I used to be terrified of the idea of things coming to life from my nightmares and walking around with me during the day. I would dress in my red, green, and black plaid jumper uniform, with a white button-down shirt and red snap-tie, and head into elementary school like everything was normal in the aftermath of a nightmare. In the watery sunshine of a Hampton morning, fog rolling in off the James River into the backyard, “older kids’ playground,” things seemed just a bit unreal every morning. It was just surreal enough to look like the opening to a fairy tale that nightmares seemed a plausible reality. Things would start to appear in the corner of my eye, the candles at mass seemed to jump and flicker just a bit more than usual when I walked by, and I kept thinking that someone was calling my name when no one was, keeping me in a perpetual half-turn. 

I have a vivid memory from when I was a kid about walking downstairs after a nightmare to get a glass of water. I walked into the kitchen after carefully walking across the creaky hardwood floor in front of the stairs, and just happened to look out the big floor-to-ceiling panel windows that looked out into the side-yard. There, perched in-between the softly swaying pines and bushy mint stalks, was a big, black, furry thing with glowing, red eyes, and what I’m sure were huge teeth. At this point my brain was screaming at me to FORGET THE WATER KID LET’S GO, but for some reason I stood there and stared at it until it lumbered off. Thus satisfied, I quickly walked-maybe ran-upstairs to bed and promptly fell back asleep.  

I had an active imagination as a kid. I read a lot of books that I probably should have waited until I was just a touch older to read. But, somewhere around sixth grade I had a revelation, and I’m not entirely sure but, I’m placing the blame squarely on Stephanie Meyer’s crappy writing shoulders with all the Twilight hype that was going on–all terrible middle school ideas should be her fault. Anyway, I had this idea that things only became nightmares because there was no one to love them wherever they were, you know, trapped in the liminal space between alive and somehow not, all alone in the dark only to interact with people in their nightmares.  

So, it became my little sixth grade mission to lucid dream in my nightmares and try to hug creepy demon-monster things, and then during the day try to put out enough “I am a happy and loving person who totally will be friends with anyone who needs one” out into the ether. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but I haven’t had many nightmares since then. I do sometimes catch myself skating my eyes over the corners of rooms, and almost turning to respond to someone saying my name.