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Literature / Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

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This trio of books is probably one of the most controversial series to hit American bookshelves. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a trilogy of children's books written by Alvin Schwartz, made up of stories based on urban legends and local myths. These are the three volumes:

  1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981)
  2. More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1984)
  3. Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (1991)

The series is geared towards extremely young audiences (not that this stops the stories from being surprisingly violent), and while the stories may be scary for an eight-year old, older audiences will find them more cheesy than anything. Instead, what makes the books so scary (and controversial) are the illustrations that accompany them.

Using little more than black ink and water, Stephen Gammell has given us some of the most notoriously terrifying pictures you'll ever see in a book. So much so that the Scary Stories are on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books (ie, Moral Guardians demanding they be pulled from library shelves), being the number one most challenged book for over a decade.


Likely because of this controversy, Harper-Collins released Scary Stories and More Scary Stories in new editions with considerably less unnerving artwork by Brett Helquist (best known for his work on A Series of Unfortunate Events). There was a price spike (and a high one!) when older editions were pulled from store shelves, but Scholastic Press, who released the books originally, still sells them with the original art. Hooray!

The stories were also collected and turned into a series of audiobooks with the same names. While they didn't contain any of the scary pictures from the books, the sometimes over-the-top telling of the stories could be a great replacement.

A film adaptation of the books, co-produced by Guillermo del Toro and faithfully adapting the infamous Gammell artwork for its monsters, was released in 2019.


These books provide examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Addie Fitch in "Such Things Happen." Even though she (may have) tried to ruin the protagonist's life with spells, she was still at heart a lonely and grieving old woman who dearly loved her cat. The amount of agony she's put through is so much even the farmer starts to feel sorry for her.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The nursing school in "The Dead Man's Hand." Apparently at this school, being nice and friendly and not having bad habits is a bad thing.
  • Ambiguous Ending:
    • "The Bed By the Window". Did the window disappear as punishment for Richard murdering George? Was there ever a window at all? Did George actually exist? In the original story's ending, George is revealed to be blind and only made up all the things he saw outside the window to cheer up Richard.
    • "Alligators" has the protagonist being placed in a mental hospital after claiming her husband turned himself and her sons into alligators before trying to change her as well. The story ends with it unclear whether her family drowned and she made up the story to cope or if her husband actually did what she claimed. However, the ending also makes it clear that the father and sons are still around since local fishermen claim they saw three alligators swimming in the river at night despite what other people say to the contrary.
  • Ambiguously Evil:
    • The twins' new mother with the glass eyes and wooden tail in "The Drum" (an adaptation of Lucy Crawford's "The New Mother") is never explicitly stated to be evil, but considering the tone of the story, it's clear she's not exactly benevolent.
    • Addie Fitch in "Such Things Happen". While it's likely true that she's a witch who tried to ruin the protagonist's life with her spells, she only did because he accidentally killed her cat, the only friend she had in the world.
    • The ghost in "Hello, Kate!" never does anything to the protagonist except glare at him menacingly.
    • The cats in "Wait 'till Martin Comes." Despite being abnormally large, they don't do anything to the man, because they're waiting for their friend Martin. What they're planning to do is uncertain, but the man isn't willing to find out.
  • Ambiguously Human:
    • The knife salesman from "No Thanks" is just described as "a man" in the text, but his appearance in the original illustration suggests otherwise.
    • The infamous pale woman from "The Dream". Bizarre appearance aside, she only appears in a dream beforehand and shows up even after the protagonist tries to avoid meeting her.
  • And I Must Scream: "The Bride", in which the titular bride accidentally traps herself in a trunk and dies inside.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The husband in "Just Delicious". Being described as "a bully" who abused his wife, Mina. He deserved to get killed by the ghost.
    • The woman in "A New Horse", who puts innocent farmhands through the painful experience of being transformed into a horse and ridden at high speeds around the countryside. While her comeuppance - being transformed into a horse, having horseshoes nailed into her hands and feet, and transforming back into a human, with the horseshoes still on - is quite painful and freaky, we don't feel too bad for her when it happens.
    • Addie Fitch from "Such Things Happen." See Disproportionate Retribution below for details, although there's also a degree of sadness surrounding her death.
    • Samuel Blunt in "Wonderful Sausage". A revolting butcher and Serial Killer who murders pets, men, women, and children alike and turns them into sausage meat, who ends up killed by an angry mob when he's caught chasing a boy from his shop with a knife. Needless to say, nobody should be sad when he earned such a gruesome death.
    • Billy in "The Little Black Dog". After killing a member of a rival family even after he pleaded to be spared and murdering his dog when it tries to console him, he is haunted by the dog's ghost until it ultimately kills him.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals:
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: "What Do You Come For?". A lonesome old woman wishes for some company. She gets a living corpse that comes down the chimney piece by piece and (most likely) kills her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In "The Bad News", both protagonists die, but they end up playing baseball in Heaven. One even teases the other that he better have improved his pitching game.
  • Body Horror:
    • "The Red Spot". An itchy spot turns out to have spiders pouring out of it.
    • At the end of "The Wendigo", after DéFago's encounter with the titular creature, his face is turned to ash.
  • Bowdlerise: The new Brett Helquist illustrations are far tamer than Gammell's. This blog article compares some of them. However, the original illustrations are still being printed in different editions.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: In "The Window", a girl sees a monster lurking out her window and she's too frightened to do anything. She unfortunately gives it the time to smash its way in, grab her, and bite into her throat. Her screams allow her brothers to save her and chase it off. The police pass it off as an escaped lunatic who thinks he's a vampire. Months later, the vampire comes clawing at her window again, but she screams at the sight of it and her brothers are able to track and kill it.
  • The Bully:
    • George from "Just Delicious" is stated to be a bully, and Mina worries that George will hurt her if he finds out that she's eaten the liver she cooked for him, so she cooks a human liver from a dead woman being displayed open-casket nearby. She ultimately escapes her situation by telling the ghost who owned the liver that George ate it, and the ghost offs him.
    • The corpse from "Somebody Fell From Aloft" belonged to a big man that bullied McLaren a lot, so McLaren gets him back by murdering him. Years later, the corpse of the big man comes back and gets his revenge by hauling him overboard with him on a foggy day.
  • The Con: In "Maybe You Will Remember", a girl, Rosemary, and her mother are on vacation in Paris. Rosemary's mother is ill, so Rosemary is sent to get medicine, but ultimately has her time wasted by the driver on the way back, and when she returns to the hotel, nobody recognizes her, telling her she has the wrong place. Her mother is gone, too, and when Rosemary asks to see the room they stayed in as proof they were there, the clerk shows her a completely unfamiliar setup, making Rosemary wonder what happened to her. In the appendix of the book, the scenario is explained. Rosemary's mother was sick with the plague, and the doctor, recognizing it, knew she would be dead very quickly. Rosemary was put on a wild goose chase for the medicine and given a driver who would delay her, with the doctor and hotel staff working to dispose of her mother's body and re-decorate the hotel room while Rosemary was away. With Rosemary unable to verify that she was in the hotel, and unknowing that her mother died of plague, the hotel avoided any negative publicity that would have occurred if anyone were to find out a guest had the plague. The hotel's PR was saved, but Rosemary was left doubting her sanity.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Brett Helquist drawn cover of More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark features an illustration of "A New Horse", which doesn't show up in that book; it's in the first one.
  • Creepy Crows: All three of the Brett Helquist covers have a crow on them.
  • Creepy Good: The woman from "The Haunted House" is the most notoriously terrifying illustrations, but all she wants is for her husband to face justice for killing her.
    • Same goes for the pale woman in "The Dream". She appears in the protagonist's dream in order to warn her about the "evil place" she's staying at, and tells her to leave. When the protagonist sees her for real at the new apartment she goes to, she runs away, presumably to safety due to the warning from the dream.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: "Bess". Specifically, the hero of the story is told by a fortune teller that his favorite horse — the titular Bess — will kill him. By the time she dies, he thinks he's in the clear. Then he visits her skeleton, where a snake has nested itself and fatally bites him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Samuel Blunt in "Wonderful Sausage" is ground up in his own sausage grinder. Or possibly even fed to his own hogs.
    • Bob in "Faster and Faster" is shot to death with a ghost arrow.
    • The titular character from "The Bride" accidentally locks herself in a trunk and suffocates or dies of starvation.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The creepy woman from "The Dream" saying that the house with the carpet shaped like trapdoors and the windows nailed shut is an evil place. We never learn why, and it appears to be part of a larger story that the protagonist is not meant to be part of. She leaves before we learn anything more.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: "High Beams." It turns out that the actual killer has been hiding in the backseat of the woman's car the entire time.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • The strange woman in "The Dream" as well as (presumably) the creature from "Is Something Wrong?". Not that they're any less terrifying because of it, though.
    • Then, of course, there's the ghost from "The Haunted House". The iconic illustration is horrific, but all she wants is her husband brought to justice and her death avenged.
  • Dead All Along: In "Something Was Wrong," the protagonist finds that everyone downtown is terrified of him. He decides to call his wife to get help— and is told that she's at his funeral!
  • The Dead Can Dance: In "Aaron Kelly's Bones," the titular character is reduced to a rotting skeleton after he decides he doesn't feel like being dead. A fiddler who's trying to court his widow gets annoyed at the intrusion and absentmindedly starts playing one night. Aaron can't resist the music and starts dancing like mad, but the force of his moves sends his bones flying, and the widow scrambles them in his coffin to make sure that he can't come back.
  • Deadly Prank: A variation in "The Dead Man's Hand." Nursing student Kate irritates her schoolmates with her positivity and skill, so they decide to play a cruel trick by tying a corpse's hand to the drawstring of her room's light. When they don't hear her scream, they go to investigate and find that she's gone insane from the horror. The story notes indicate that in some versions, Kate is found strangled with the hand clutching around her throat.
    "The prank had worked, but nobody was laughing."
  • Dem Bones: Skeletons make many appearances: "The Thing", "Aaron Kelly's Bones", "The Bad News", "Is Something Wrong?", "What Do You Come For", whatever the hell that thing is in the sky in the illustration for "Oh Susannah" etc.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "Such Things Happen". As a poster on YouTube put it, "Accidentally running over someone's cat is one thing. It's another thing entirely to kill a defenseless dog out of spite."
  • Domestic Abuse: George Flint from "Just Delicious" is heavily implied to be abusive towards his wife, Mina. He's flat out stated to be "a bully."
  • Doomed New Clothes: Inverted with "The White Satin Evening Gown.” The dress dooms whoever wears it but the dress itself remains unharmed.
  • Downer Ending: Quite a few stories end badly, with the main characters suffering from horrible consequences. While some of these protagonists are suffering from Laser-Guided Karma for being jerks, others are kind, innocent people who don't deserve their cruel fates.
    • In "The Dead Man's Hand," a kind and polite nursing student is driven insane by a cruel trick and never recovers.
    • In "Faster and Faster," two young boys play with a buried drum, which summons a ghostly hunting party. One of them is promptly killed with an invisible arrow.
    • In "The Bride," a beautiful young bride plays hide-and-go-seek on her wedding day, only to end up trapped in a brass trunk, where she suffocates to death.
    • In "Maybe You Will Remember...", Rosemary's mother dies while her daughter is trying to get the necessary medicine to save her—and then everyone in the hotel they were visiting gaslights her into believing she was traveling alone because they don't want anyone to know that her mother died of a plague. Poor Rosemary never receives closure and thinks she's going mad.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The main character in "Room for One More" has a dream about a hearse filled with people appearing outside of the house where he's staying. The driver calls out the title line, then moves on. The next day, the dream turns out to be prescient: the man's about to step on a crowded elevator when a passenger—with the same face as the driver—turns and says "There is room for one more." The man wisely declines, and the elevator crashes, killing everyone on board.
  • Due to the Dead: Many stories have characters meet a grisly end because they desecrated or stole from the dead.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The giant flying multi-limbed "horrible thing" from Is Something Wrong? could be described as such, but he might be a friendlier one.
    • Several of the monsters that appear in the illustrations, like Oh Susannah and The Dead Hand are indescribably surreal and never actually appear in their respective stories.
  • Empathic Environment: "Clinkity-Clink." As usually happens in these kinds of stories, a fearsome storm rolls in as the ghost of the dead woman goes looking for her stolen money.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: "The Black Dog" has Peter bringing his two watchdogs into the house after seeing the titular black dog. The first time he brings them in, they act as if they were the only dogs in the house, but the second time he brings them in, things get hairy. When they settle into Peter's bedroom, they suddenly start barking and snarling at the invisible black dog. The black dog ends up killing one of the dogs while the other cowers in fear.
  • Excited Show Title!: "Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!", "Oh Susannah!", "Hello, Kate!", "It's Him!", and "Thuuuup!".
  • Eye Scream: The ghost in "The Haunted House" has a pair of empty eye sockets that seem to look through the viewer.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: "The Red Spot". Well, it's really "Face Full Of Spider Wing Wong", but it still applies.
  • False Reassurance: In "The Man in the Middle," one of the gangsters tells Jim, the eponymous man in the middle, that "You'll be fine." It turns out that Jim has a deadly bullet wound in his head.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: For a children's book, the stories delve into the gore field quite frequently, one key example being "Wonderful Sausage". The ending of "Harold" is also very gruesome, even if we just see the results of it. But what we see...
  • Fat Bastard: Samuel Blunt from "Wonderful Sausage" is a described as fat and jolly, yet he grinds people, kittens, and puppies into his sausage grinder.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Samuel Blunt of Wonderful Sausage is described as a "fat and jolly butcher". Said "fat and jolly butcher" kills people and grinds them into sausage to serve to his customers.
  • Fed to Pigs: At the end of "Wonderful Sausage", it ends up being unknown if George was killed by this trope, or by being fed into the very same sausage grinder that he used to grind up his human victims.
  • Flaying Alive: Happens to Thomas in "Harold". Harold stretched Thomas's skin to dry on the roof and the other man runs away in fear.
  • Forced Transformation: "A New Horse", Throwing a magic bridle on someone transforms them into a horse. Fortunately for them, removing it changes them back.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: What makes the illustration for "The Haunted House" so terrifying, as pointed out here.
    The ghost is looking at YOU. YOU are trapped in that creaky old house, staring down the empty, rotted eye sockets of some girl who was strangled by her lover.
  • Gaslighting: A horrific example occurs in "Maybe You Will Remember." Rosemary reaches a Paris hotel with her mother, who becomes sick. A doctor sends her across town for some medicine, but she gets the feeling that she's being deliberately delayed for unknown reasons. When she finally returns to the hotel, her mother is gone, the room she was staying in has been completely redecorated, and everyone insists that she was originally traveling alone. Poor Rosemary feels like she's going out of her mind, but no one will confirm the truth. It turns out that her mother had somehow contracted a deadly plague, and the hotel, fearing the damage to their reputation, pulled an elaborate scheme to make it seem like she was never there.
  • Genre Savvy: Some of the protagonists are this, knowing local folklore. A farmer remembers that his grandfather taught him how to fend off a witch, and thought it was a story. He follows his grandfather's instructions, and successfully kills the witch though feeling bad about her suffering.
    • Played for Laughs in "Wait 'Til Martin Comes," when the old man who is accosted by monstrous cats eventually decides that he's not going to stick around to meet the titular character. "When Martin comes, you tell him I couldn't wait!"
  • Ghastly Ghost: A given, as the series deals with the supernatural and ghosts make an appearance.
  • The Ghost: Martin in "Wait 'till Martin Comes". We never see him but it can be assumed he'll be far bigger than the last three cats, with the last one as big as a tiger.
  • Ghostly Animals: Quite a few examples show up in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, almost one for each volume. Some noteworthy examples include "The White Wolf" (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), "The Little Black Dog" (More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), and "The Black Dog" (Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones).
  • Godzilla Threshold: In "Such Things Happen," Bill Nelson suffers from a string of bad luck, but he refuses to believe that Addie Fitch is the culprit and won't perform the witch-killing ritual that his grandfather taught him. But when Bill's beloved, perfectly healthy dog drops dead without warning, he gets angry enough to try the spell.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The "Dead Man's Hand" story is all about medical students trying to play a scary prank on their apparently unshakeable colleague. They manage to reduce her into a nervous wreck instead; some versions even have the nurse strangled by the hand.
    "The prank had worked...but nobody was laughing."
  • Good All Along: The trucker in "High Beams". He wasn't trying to hurt the girl, he was following her to keep the psycho in the backseat from killing her. Him turning on his high beams was to catch him off guard whenever he rose up to kill her.
  • Good Shepherd: The preacher in "The Haunted House" enters the titular building when he hears rumors of a restless spirit inside. Throughout the night, he feels a ghostly presence getting closer and closer, but he remains calm and prays for guidance, invoking the name of God and the Holy Trinity to protect himself. This pacifies the ghost enough for her to manifest in front of him and explain how he can lay her spirit to rest. He does as she says, which also qualifies him as a Badass Preacher, considering that he has to expose a murderer to do it.
  • The Grim Reaper: Appears as a character in 'The Appointment.' Nobody really bats an eyelash at him unless he beckons to them, but he seems a pretty cool guy.
  • Hear Me the Money: From the story "Clinkity-Clink":
    "When the gravedigger got home, he put the two silver dollars in a tin box and shook it. The coins made a cheerful rattling sound, but the gravedigger wasn't feeling cheerful. He couldn't forget those eyes looking at him."
  • Hellhound: The titular canine in "The Black Dog" haunts a man's house, running down the stairs and disappearing. It gets more intense once it kills one of the man's dogs.
  • Heroic Bystander: One truck driver sees a man sneaking into a girl's car, in the backseat. He proceeds to follow her and keeping his lights on so the man can't attack her. When the police come and demand and investigation, he points out the would-be assailant.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • The ghost(?) in "The Dream" may well be cringe-inducing to look at, but to be fair, she did save the girl in the story from some unknown gruesome fate, so...
    • The truck driver in "High Beams" is a straight example. Once he explains the situation —there was a man in the girl's backseat area and waiting for an opportunity to attack her— the police and the girl apologize for the misunderstanding after arresting the real criminal.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • In "A New Horse" the witch's method of turning men into horses backfires gruesomely.
    • Though never shown or stated, the ending to "Wonderful Sausage" heavily implies that vengeful townsfolk grind up Samuel Blunt after discovering the secret behind how the title objects were being made.
    • The grave robber in "Rings on Her Fingers" dies by falling on his own knife after trying to steal the rings off a corpse that isn't as dead as he thinks.
  • Howling to the Night: The wolves in "The Wolf Girl" howl in the night before attacking the livestock of the men who took the titular wolf girl, and the wolf girl responds before fleeing with them.
  • In the Dreaming Stage of Grief: In "Oh, Susannah!", Susannah gets fed up with what sounds like her roommate Jane humming at night, and goes over to her bed to remove her covers. She's shocked to find Jane's body laying there without a head. Susannah tries to convince herself that this is all just a bad dream, and that everything will be alright when she wakes up. The story ends there, implying that this was not in fact a dream.
  • Insistent Terminology: The story and cast keep calling Harold a doll instead of a scarecrow. This may be due to its folkloric inspiration, Sennentuntschi, being a doll. She's sometimes constructed like a scarecrow, but meant for company, not for keeping crows at bay.
  • Irony:
    • Two of the funny stories in Volume III, "Is Something Wrong?" and "T-H-U-U-U-U-P!", have two of the most terrifying pictures in the series.
    • In "The Dead Hand," Tom tells his friends/fellow villagers that if he gets scared or runs away during their dare, he'll never make fun of them again. It turns out he can't make fun of them again because the monsters he encountered in the swamp not only ripped off one of his hands, they turned him into a gibbering wreck.
  • Jerkass: The husband in "Just Delicious" and the gypsy girl in "The Drum", who knowingly ruins two young girl's life by forcing their mother to abandon them.
  • Jump Scare: In the film version of "Clinkety Clink" it SEEMS like that story would end with the old woman's ghost being unable to find her two silver dollars. But then... fade to black... two second pause... "YOU'VE GOT IT!" (scream)
    • It's invoked in the book version - it's meant to be read out loud, and requires the reader to do the same to the audience, complete with grabbing someone.
    • Inverted in "The Attic". The reader has to scream as loud as they can at the end, and end the story there. At least someone in the audience will ask why they screamed - the reader then explains you'd scream at the top of your lungs, too, if you stepped on a nail.
    • Other stories involving jump scares that the reader is supposed to inflict on listeners include "The Walk," "A Man Who Lived in Leeds," and "The Voice."
  • Kick the Dog: The gypsy girl in "The Drum" tricks the girls into tormenting their mother and baby brother in exchange for the drum, and by the end, tells them it was all a joke and that she was never going to give up her drum. Afterwards, their mother abandons them and leaves them to live with their new mother.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • The last story is always a lighter version of the first story. All three books' end portions have a comedic collection of the supernatural.
    • The version of "The Babysitter" has the intruder caught by the police before he can do any harm to the sitter or the kids.
  • Lightning Reveal: Three fishermen shelter in an abandoned house in Mobile, Alabama, only to hear someone being murdered on the upstairs floor. The murderer gets revealed by a flash of lightning, showing a grisly grin. At this, the three fishermen immediately get out of the house and flee into the stormy night.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Part of the setting for "Such Things Happen." While a man is subject to horrible misfortunes, and blames his neighbor for being a witch, and takes anti-witch methods that seem to be the cause of her death, we're never told explicitly that she was a witch or that the man's measures were effective, and it could have been tragic coincidences.
    • "The White Wolf". It's never made clear if it was some kind of ghost or just a regular old white wolf.
  • Mega Neko: In "Wait 'till Martin Comes", there are three black cats: one normal sized, one the size of a wolf, and one the size of a tiger. None of the three are Martin, leading to the conclusion that Martin will be far bigger than the other cats.
  • Mind Screw: "A Man Who Lived in Leeds". The film version does this as well, in a VERY messed up way.
    • Mr. Gammell somehow manages to pull off a few in the illustrations. Stare at "The White Satin Evening Gown", "The Black Dog", "The Ghost in the Mirror" and "The Trouble", and especially "Oh Susannah" for a good five minutes.
    • "The Church", both in the book and the film version. Hands up, who expected sheep?
  • Mistaken for Dog: In "Sam's New Pet", Sam's parents adopt what they believe to be an exotic breed of dog called a Mexican Hairless. Turns out it's a sewer rat. With rabies.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Faster and Faster." It starts with two young boys having fun in the woods, and then the supernatural stuff rears its ugly head.
    • The books themselves - all of the volumes have a collection of humorous stories near the end, ranging from terrible puns, black comedy, or hilarious subversions of the usual endings.
  • Mundane Ghost Story: "The Girl Who Stood on a Grave", "High Beams", "The Babysitter", "No Thanks", "The Cat in a Shopping Bag", "The Man in the Middle", "Sam's New Pet", "Wonderful Sausage", "The Red Spot", "Maybe You Will Remember", "Oh, Susannah!", "The Bride", "Rings on Her Fingers" and "The Hook".
  • Mundane Solution: Thomas considers setting Harold on fire after the scarecrow starts grunting. Alfred considers it too rash an idea.
  • Never Trust a Title: In "Wait 'till Martin Comes", the titular Martin never actually shows up.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In "Rings On Her Fingers," a young woman is in a coma for weeks, and the doctor eventually declares her dead. She's buried wearing valuable jewelry, and a grave robber sneaks into the cemetery to steal it from her. When he can't pry off her rings, he tries cutting off her fingers instead—but the shock and pain instead revive the young woman, who wakes up! She immediately brushes herself off and goes home, while the terrified robber, thinking she's a zombie, tries to flee and ends up falling onto his own knife by mistake.
  • Nightmare Face: Oh yeah. Made even worse by the Nightmare Fuel-rific illustrating style depicting them. The most iconic example of this is the woman's face in "The Haunted House".
  • No Antagonist: Used to horrific effect in certain stories ("Bess", "Something Was Wrong", "The Red Spot", "The Bride", "The Girl Who Stood On A Grave"), about tragic and fatal accidents befalling innocent people. Other times it occurs when the ghost or "villain" isn't malevolent.("Aaron Kelly's Bones", "Cold As Clay", "The Wreck," "The Bad News," "The Viper," "The Bus Stop","Is Something Wrong?") Besides these, there's:
    • "Sam's New Pet." Some clueless tourists bring home a rabid(but non-malicious)"sewer rat" they mistake for a hairless dog.
    • "The Wolf Girl." An account of a stolen baby girl raised by a pack of wolves who comes into conflict with the people trying to take her back into human society.
    • "The Trouble." The strange events are caused by a teenager's latent and disruptive psychic powers, which he's completely unaware of.
  • No Ending:
    • "The Dead Man's Hand", where some medical students tie a cadaver hand to a light pull to prank another student. All we get for an ending is her gibbering in the closet under the hand. "The prank had worked. But nobody was laughing."
    • "The Attic". The story ends with Rupert screaming after stepping on a nail in his barefeet and we never find out what was making noise in the titular attic. Also, he never found his dog, which went missing at the start.
    • "Wait 'till Martin Comes" ends with the protagonist fleeing the house before the titular character gets there, meaning we never find out who Martin was or what the cats were going to do when he finally arrived.
    • "The Walk" ends with a scream, but since the man and the uncle were scared of the other, its not specified who screamed or why.
    • "Oh, Susannah!" ends with the main character finding her roommate beheaded, and that's it. No resolution, no confrontation with a killer, just her hoping it is all a bad dream.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: What "The Voice" turns out to be, and "Footsteps" as well. "Sounds" might count, although it's subverted toward the end.
    • "The Curse" might also count. We never do find out exactly what happened to the boys who went into the house.
    • In "The Dream" we never find out the identity of the mysterious woman or why the place is supposedly evil.
    • In "The Trouble," we never find out why Tom may have developed telekinetic powers and why they stopped a month later.
    • In "Me Tie Dough-ty Walker" we never really find out what happened after the head turns to see the boy.
    • In "The Black Dog" we never find out what the dog is, or why it appeared in the man's house.
  • Not Quite Dead: Daisy in "Rings on Her Fingers" is buried alive after being mistaken for dead, but luckily, a grave robber decides to dig up her grave soon after she wakes up. Things don't end well for the guy.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: In "One Sunday Morning," Ida successfully escapes the living dead in the church, but she loses her coat and hat as she runs. When she gets home, she wonders if the whole adventure was just a dream—but later that day, her friends drop off the coat and hat, which were found in the cemetery, "torn to shreds."
  • Our Vampires Are Different: In "The Window", the vampire is a hideous creature with Creepy Long Fingers that can break into houses without an invitation, and sleeps in a burial vault.
  • Parental Abandonment: "The Drum" gives us one of the worst possible examples of this at the end. When her daughters misbehave, the nameless mother threatens that if they go too far, she will leave them with her baby son Arthur and a new mother will take care of them. They know she's not bluffing, but the promised drum is much too tempting. Sure enough, things go too far, and the mother vanishes.
  • Pet the Dog: George actually gets one in "Just Delicious!". It's too bad that it comes at an inopportune moment.
    George: (unknowingly eating the liver of a deceased old woman) Have some liver, Mina! It's just delicious!
    Mina: I'm... not hungry, you finish it.
  • Questioning Title?: "What Do You Come For?", "May I Carry Your Basket?", and "Is Something Wrong?".
  • Raised by Wolves: "The Wolf Girl", obviously.
  • Red Right Hand: The new mother in "The Drum" has glass eyes and a wooden tail. It's unclear if she's actually evil, but given that their real mother left them with her as a form of punishment, it doesn't seem too far off that she would be.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: "Alligators" (with the added twist that the titular 'gators are actually the protagonist's transformed husband and sons), and "Bess" (in which the protagonist is fatally bitten by a rattlesnake.)
  • Rise of Zitboy: "The Red Spot" mostly consists of the protagonist complaining about the disgusting, itching, hurting and growing spider bite - which is basically a zit - on her cheek. However, it turns out to be much worse than just a zit...
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: "Sam's New Pet". Apparently it was the size of a dog.
  • Rule of Three: In "The Haunted House," the ghost tells the preacher that he must complete three tasks to lay her spirit to rest: dig up her corpse and give it a proper burial, use her pinky finger bone to expose the man who killed her, and donate her money, which she hid in the house, to the poor. The preacher follows through and the ghost is finally able to move on.
    • In "Such Things Happen," Addie Fitch gradually sickens and dies over three days, and requests a cup of sugar (which would break Bill Nelson's power over her) three times, each more desperate than the last.
  • Savage Wolves: "The White Wolf" has plenty of wolves attacking people's livestock, and then the titular white wolf strikes back harder once all the other wolves are out of the way.
  • Scary Scarecrows: The eponymous "Harold", also provides the page image.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: A downplayed example in "Such Things Happen." Bill Nelson accidentally kills Addie Fitch's cat, and he apologizes by immediately offering to purchase her a new one. But Addie is offended by the implication, as she raised her furry friend from a kitten, and simply buying a different cat can't make up for their bond.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Played for Laughs in "Wait 'Til Martin Comes." After the third cat—this one as big as a tiger—appears, the man in the story decides that while it and the other cats are free to stick around for Martin, he's going to leave now: "When Martin comes, you tell him that I couldn't wait!"
  • The Secret of Long Pork Pies: "Wonderful Sausage" has an evil butcher named Samuel Blunt kill people and pets, using their remains to make a special sausage that he sells to unknowing customers.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A more malicious interpretation of "The Dream". Lucy has a dream about a pale woman in a strange room who tells her to run away because it's an evil place, and Lucy takes this as a sign not to move to the village she was planning to move to. When she finds another village, Lucy happens to arrive at the very place she saw in the dream, coming face-to-face with the woman from the dream as well. Fortunately for her, the woman's message impressed upon her and she leaves, but the warning may have actually been to engineer her arrival.
  • Serial Escalation: The hook of "Wait 'Til Martin Comes." An old man takes shelter in an abandoned cabin and meets a normal-sized black cat. As the tale progresses, two more black cats appear, each bigger than the last—the second is the size of a wolf and the third the size of a tiger. Given that all of the cats are waiting for the titular character, it's implied that they would just keep getting larger and larger, with Martin as the biggest of all—but the old man, in a surprising case of Genre Savvy, decides to cut and run before anything else happens.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In "The Baby Sitter", when the girl learns that the calls are coming from upstairs, she simply calls the police and leaves and the man is arrested. The end.
  • Shown Their Work: Most definitely. Each book ends with a comprehensive collection of sources, references, times, dates and locations. Of course, there are plenty of mistakes in those lists. See the YMMV page for details.
  • Sinister Subway: "The Man in the Middle" takes place in one.
    "Don't worry," Sally had told her [mother]. "The subway is safe. There's always a policeman on duty." But that night, she didn't see one.
  • Slashed Throat:
    • One of Peter's dogs in "The Black Dog" gets killed by the titular hound tearing its throat open.
    • Bill Williams in "The White Wolf" is found slumped against a tree, dead, with his throat torn out by the titular wolf.
  • Spiders Are Scary: "The Red Spot," which features a young girl who is bitten on the cheek by a spider. The resulting mark—the titular red spot—seems to be just an allergic reaction...until the ending, where it's revealed that the supposed pimple was actually an egg sac. Gammell's illustration for the story features the girl as the baby spiders begin crawling all over her face.
  • Swamps Are Evil: "The Dead Hand" takes place in the bayous of the southern United States. The locals know that mysterious horrors lurk in the swamps, but one man, a Troll, likes to mock their superstitions and brags that he could easily navigate the bog. And oh, how wrong he is.
  • Taking You with Me: "Somebody Fell From Aloft" has a body falling, and McLaren wants it thrown overboard. But when he does the job himself, the body suddenly grabs him and pulls him overboard with it. The body turns out to have been a big man McLaren had murdered because the former had bullied him back when he was alive.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • In "The Bride," the eponymous bride cleverly whispers to herself "They'll never find me there." Turns out she was right.
    • "Bess" starts with horse raiser John Nicholas going to a fortune-teller who tells him that his favorite horse will be the reason behind his death. John is unconvinced and laughs the idea off. At the ending, said favorite horse has been put down and reduced to bone. John gets fatally bitten by a rattlesnake who had living inside the horse's skull.
    • "The Slithery Dee, he came from the sea. He ate all the others, but he didn't eat-" cue the titular monster coming back to finish the job.
  • Token Good Teammate: In "One Sunday Morning," the majority of the undead in the town church have come back wrong and hate the living with a passion. However, the recently-deceased Josephine, who was a friend of main character Ida, tells her to get out of the building before the service is finished. The warning buys Ida enough time to escape before the zombies can capture her.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: In "Something Was Wrong," John Sullivan finds himself downtown with a case of Laser-Guided Amnesia. He tries to approach various passerby, but they all panic and hide at the sight of him. John tries to call his wife—only to be told that she's at a funeral, because her husband was killed in an accident downtown yesterday.
  • Transformation Trinket: The witch's magic bridle in "A New Horse" transforms anyone who puts it on into one.
  • Uncanny Valley: The illustrations never leave it. Even relatively innocuous ones like "The Babysitter" are extremely unnerving. Even when something perfectly normal is drawn, it still manages to look really creepy just by now unnatural it looks.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "Aaron Kelly's Bones". Features a widow's husband rising from the grave because he doesn't feel dead enough to die. In whatever universe this story takes place in, the rising dead are apparently nothing special, with the characters more annoyed than anything that this corpse insists on living. How that dead man danced...
    • Also 'The Appointment', where the Grim Reaper just kind of... hangs around the town and people seem more annoyed by him than anything else.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: "Bess" is based off the Primary Chronicle's account of the death of the medieval Varangian ruler, Oleg of Novgorod.
  • Villainous Glutton: George Flint, from "Just Delicious," is described as "a cruel man who loves to eat." He closes his shop every day for two hours just to feast on a massive lunch that he forces his wife Mina to cook for him.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: In "Alligators," a woman is convinced that her husband is a "were-alligator" who has the power to transform into a reptile every night. It gets worse when she has children and he immediately starts teaching them to swim, as she suspects that he's trying to turn everyone in the house into alligators, too. She eventually skips town, but the locals report seeing a giant gator and two smaller ones swimming around the river...
    • In "The Cat's Paw," it's revealed that a local woman is actually a were-panther who has been attacking local farms. One farmer manages to shoot off one the panther's paws, which serves as a Red Right Hand when it turns back into a human foot as soon as it leaves her body. A posse hunts down the woman, who is "spittin' and yowlin' just like a cat" as she's led away.
  • Wendigo: Well, "The Wendigo", even though in the Sources section in the back, Alvin Schwartz makes it sound more like a Greek mythological Siren than an evil spirit of cannibalism. This is because the story is an altered version of Algernon Blackwood's 1910 short story "The Wendigo", which doesn't much resemble the original folklore either.
  • Wicked Witch: Addie Fitch in "Such Things Happen," although it's deliberately left ambiguous as to whether or not she's a real witch or simply a crone. The fact that she's apparently susceptible to a folklore-based method of witch hunting tilts the evidence toward the former.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The thing in "The Big Toe" stalks the boy who took it's toe, and is strongly implied to have killed him.
    • Samuel Blunt in "Wonderful Sausage" chops up several people to make his eponymous sausage, including several neighbourhood children. His last would-be victim is a chubby boy who thankfully escapes and exposes his secret.
    • The drum in "Faster and Faster" summons a spectral hunting party when beat, who chases two boys and shoots one dead with a ghostly arrow.
    • "The Dead Hand" has a hot-headed young boy journey into a swamp after dark to prove there's no monsters living there. Whatever he encounters rips off his hand and keeps him in the swamp for weeks. By the time they find him, the poor kid's mind has been broken.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Several of the stories use this for spooky effect.
    • In "Bess," a fortune teller warns a farmer that the titular horse—his favorite—will cause his death. Since Bess is a gentle mare, he highly doubts it, although he feels some relief when she passes away. As he goes out to pay his last respects to her skeleton, a snake that made a nest in her skull leaps out and fatally bites him.
    • In "The Appointment," a young man is walking through town when he spots The Grim Reaper, who beckons to him. He runs home and drives to a nearby big city, thinking that Death will never find him there. The young man's grandfather then goes to speak to Death himself, who politely apologizes for his actions. He was just surprised to see the man in town, since he has an appointment with him that afternoon in the city...
    • This trope is somewhat in effect in "The Dream". After the eponymous nightmare, the girl in the story can't bring herself to visit the town she originally intended, so she visits an alternate village instead. Guess who she meets in this new town? That's right, that bloody pale woman.