11 Real-Life Scary Stories That Will Make You Sleep With the Lights On

From unidentified appearances to terrifying houses to creepy children, the 2023 finalists of our annual scary story contest will freak you the hell out.

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Illustration: Vicky Leta

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.

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