Recap #329: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz Part 1

Title: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, a.k.a. “The Big Toe Is A Metaphor For Climate Change”

Author: Alvin Schwartz

Illustrator: Stephen Gammell

Summary: A wonderful collection of tales about eerie horror and dark revenge designated to captivate and enthrall readers for hours. There is a story here for every reader – tales of lovers who come back from the dead, skeletons with torn and tangled flesh who roam the earth, and people who stand on graves to be grabbed by death.

Initial Thoughts

Our next commissioned recap is brought to you by my friend NerdyTextileArtist over on twitter.

So, funny story. For most of my life I had in my possession the second and third books in the Scary Stories series, but it wasn’t until a few months ago I acquired a copy of the original book. That is to say, I found it one night while I was going on a walk to a friend of my mom’s to pick up some weed for her. It looked like someone was throwing the book away and, well, I don’t THINK it’s haunted.

[Wing: It is clearly haunted.]

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this collection after I sat down and finally read it. A number of the stories in here are actually songs and games, so this will be an interesting change of pace. As I’ve done with the Short & Shivery recaps, I’ll also be discussing the places I’ve heard some of these stories before.

Honestly Wing I think you did a better job trying to recap this through podcast, as some of these don’t translate as well through recap form. Oh well.

And unfortunately no, I haven’t seen the movie yet. I still haven’t seen the Fear Street movies either.

[Wing: I’ve had several copies of these books over the years, and currently have a set of originals, though not first editions, and an omnibus. Not sure why I have the omnibus, to be honest. I have seen the movie, even though it has that horrible spider thing. I shudder even typing that. I liked it! Loved the Fear Street movies. We’ll get around to them at some point.

It’s been several years since I mentioned this, and I know Jude has a lot of resources I don’t, so: I’ve been looking for a story for awhile now. I thought it was in this trilogy, but it’s not. What I remember is that two siblings (I think an older sister and a younger brother) are left home alone at night (while their parents grocery shop or go to a restaurant or something, I think). They are supposed to keep the windows shut, but don’t really believe the stories. They hear scratching along the outside of the house. No worries until the sister realizes there’s a window open. She slams it shut on a hairy, clawed paw. Just when they think they’re safe, the creature breaks into the house. They flee upstairs (into the attic, I think), and listen as the creature comes for them. The hairy, clawed paw appears at the top of the ladder – and then the parents come home, the headlights sweep over it, and the creature runs off. Help?]


1. The Big Toe

So a boy named Boy was just digging around in his garden one day when he saw a big, human-sized toe sticking out of the dirt. The Boy did the only rational thing one would do when they see a big toe sticking out of their garden.

He yanked it out.

[Wing: I’d like to think I wouldn’t pull it out of the garden, but let’s be real, at some point curiosity would get to me and I’d go back for it. I’m doomed.]

The fact that he heard something whimper and run off wasn’t a red flag or anything.

The Boy brought the toe to his mom, who decided why not just serve up this toe her son randomly dug up out of their garden. [Wing: This family’s real weird.] Mom put it in a stew, and Dad cut up into three pieces. One for everyone. They ate the toe, did the dishes, and went to bed.

That night the boy heard a voice.

“Where is my to-o-o-o-o-e?”

The boy thought the voice didn’t know where he lived so he was safe.

But then the voice got closer.

Then the boy heard his back door open.

Then the boy heard something on the stairs.

Then the boy heard something outside his door.

Then the boy heard something open the door.

So where is the big toe?


Another version of the story has the voice calling from a chimney, because apparently the boy has a fireplace in his bedroom. [Wing: I want a fireplace in my bedroom! Or my art studio! I have one in my office, though it’s a gas one and therefore not nearly as fun as wood burning.]

The boy asked the strange creature why it had such big eyes.

Why it had such big claws.

Why it had such a big mouth.

Why it had such sharp te-CHOMP!

[Wing: LOVE THAT VERSION. Obviously. It’s very Little Red Riding Hood.]

Where I’ve Heard It Before: The immediate story that comes to mind is Tailypo, which I covered in the first Short & Shivery collection.

2. The Walk

Funny story. My uncle was out on a late night walk when he came across a man. The man looked at my uncle. My uncle looked at the man. Lots of looking was being done.

The man was scared of my uncle. The uncle was scared of the man. Lots of scaring was being done.

But they kept on walking, and kept on being scared.

They kept on really walking, and kept on really being scared.

Now the man was terribly scared of my uncle, and my uncle was terribly scared of-AAAAAHHH!!!!

3. “What Do You Come For?”

This old lady sat home alone and wished she wasn’t alone. Her wish immediately came true when something dropped down from her chimney.

But because it was July, it wasn’t Santa Claus. The old lady wished it was.

First came two horribly rotted feet.

Then came two horribly rotted legs.

Then a horribly rotted body.

A horribly rotted pair of arms.

And a horribly rotted head.

The horribly rotted parts became a horribly rotted man who did a horribly rotted dance around the old lady. Faster and faster until he stopped and looked the old lady in the eye.

She asked what the horribly rotted man came for.

And the horribly rotted man came… for YOU!!!!!

[Wing: So many jump scares. I loved telling these stories as a kid for that reason.]


A house was supposedly haunted by a bloody head that always appeared in its chimney every night. A bored rich man with nothing better to do bet two hundred dollars to anyone brave enough to spend a night in the haunted house. A boy agreed to do it, so long as he could have his dog with him for company.

The boy and dog spent the night in the haunted house, and built a fire in the fireplace to make the place seem more cheerful.

Then they heard a strange voice singing a strange song.

“Me tie dough-ty walker!”

Even stranger, the boy watched as his dog sang back!

“Lynchee kinchy colly molly dingo dingo!”

…okay so the dog’s not Beyoncé, but it’s still impressive.

[Wing: It’s worth spending the night in a haunted house to learn Monster Dog can sing!]

The boy was stupefied as he heard the strange voice singing again, coming closer and closer as the dog continued to sing back the same strange words. The boy tried to stop the dog from answering but it did no good.

After it remained silent for about a half hour, the voice and the dog began singing again when the boy realized the voice was coming from the chimney!

At least, the aforementioned bloody head finally fell from the chimney and landed right near the dog. The dog saw the head and died of fright. [Wing: WTF, don’t like this turn.]

The head turned to the boy and-AAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

5. A Man Who Lived In Leeds

The following is a poem:

There was a man who lived in Leeds,

He filled his garden full of seeds.

And when the seeds began to grow,

It was like a garden filled with snow.

But when the snow began to melt,

It was like a ship without a belt.

And when the ship began to sail,

It was like a bird without a tail.

And when the bird began to fly,

It was like an eagle in the sky.

And when the sky began to roar,

It was like a lion at my door.

And when the door began to crack,

It was like a penknife in my back.

And when my back began to bleed,

I was dead, dead, dead indeed!


6. Old Woman All Skin and Bone

There was an old woman all skin and bone

who lived near the graveyard all alone.


She thought she’d go to church one day

To hear the parson preach and pray.


And when she came to the church-house stile

She thought she stop and rest awhile.


When she came up to the door

She thought she’d stop and rest some more.


But when she turned and looked around

She saw a corpse upon the ground.


From its nose down to its chin

The worms crawled out, and the worms crawled in.


The woman to the preacher said,

“Shall I look like that when I am dead?”


The preacher to the woman said,

“You shall look like that when you are dead!”


[Wing: The pacing gets off toward the end there, which is a shame. It’s fun otherwise.]

7. The Thing

Ted and Sam were a couple of swell pals who were spending an evening on the fence near the post office, just hangin’ around talkin’ ’bout stuff.

Their fun chat took an abrupt stop when they noticed a bizarre occurrence in the nearby turnip field. This thing, whatever it was, looked like a man but it was too far away for Ted and Sam to be sure. It kept wandering back and forth onto the road and then back into the field.

Ted and Sam were good and scared and started running, but then thought they might’ve been acting foolish because what exactly were they running from? Well they had a perfect opportunity to ask because the thing had followed them!

Sam, of course, made the sensible decision to touch the thing to see if it was real. Up close, Sam saw the thing looked like a rotted skeleton in pants, a shirt, and suspenders. Ted screamed. Sam screamed. The two ran all the way home, with the thing following after them.

Inside of Ted’s house, the two watched the thing from the door. It disappeared after a while.

A year later, Ted got sick and died. By the night of his death, Sam realized Ted now looked exactly like the thing.

[Wing: So cowardice brings disease? Not that not touching the weird dead thing from the turnip field is cowardice. Nice change from death being transferred through touch which is so often a metaphor of sexually transmitted diseases.]

8. Cold As Clay

It was a tale as old as time. The farmer’s daughter loved the farmhand, but the farmer didn’t want the farmer’s daughter dating the farmhand. The farmer sent the farmer’s daughter to live with her uncle across the country.

Then the farmhand got sick and died. What did he die of? Some say a broken heart. The farmer suddenly felt guilty for destroying the relationship of the farmer’s daughter, so he kept the farmhand’s death a secret.

The farmhand’s daughter spent many a day and night thinking about the farmhand, when he showed up at the uncle’s house saying the farmer had sent for her. The farmhand felt weird, but didn’t know why. He had a terrible headache and he was terribly cold. The farmer’s daughter wrapped a handkerchief around the farmhand’s head to keep him warm.

By the time the farmer’s daughter arrived home, she was surprised the farmer was surprised to see him. And where did the farmhand go?

He went right back to his grave, of course. The farmer had him dug up to prove to the farmer’s daughter that the farmhand was dead.

But they didn’t remember burying him with that handkerchief around his head.

[Wing: A more active hitchhiking ghost? I love this type of story.]

9. The White Wolf (TW: Animal death)

So French Creek was full of timber wolves, like lousy with timber wolves. So many timber wolves. It was like DC did Legion of 3 Worlds but it was nothing but different versions of Brin Londo.

Wow I hope a Legion of Super-Heroes fan is reading this.

Anyway, the wolves were causing problems for the farmers by eating and killing their cattle. The state offered to pay hunters ten dollars for every wolf pelt they killed.

This was olden people times, so ten dollars back then was like enough for a down payment on a new house. Maybe. Probably. I’m not a calculator.

Moving on, a butcher named Bill Williams [Wing: Isn’t Bill usually short for William? So this dude is named William Williams? What the fuck, Williams parents?] figured this would be easy money and switched careers. He managed to kill five hundred wolves a year, earning him FIVE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS. [Wing: Motherfucker, I’m coming for you.] [Wing: Wait, what. Five thousand, right? Or have I missed a joke. That’s very likely. … does this tie back to you not being a calculator? Damn, I am too literal and miss the joke a lot lately.]

And then by the fifth year there were almost no wolves left in the area. But Bill wasn’t ungrateful. He retired and vowed to never harm another wolf since wolves made him rich. Cuz, you know, after killing like 2500 wolves that’s when you start to feel bad about it. [Wing: Yeah. *cracks knuckles* *cocks shotgun* I’ll be he feels bad about it.]

That’s when Bill heard about a white wolf killing a farmer’s sheep. Only this wolf was strange. The farmer swore he shot the wolf and made a hit, but the bullets had no effect on it. It didn’t even bleed. [Wing: GOOOOOOOD.]

Now everyone was seeing the white wolf. It was unstoppable. It got in everywhere. After it killed Bill’s pet cow, Bill decided FUCK IT and went back to wolf hunting. After purchasing a lamb to use as bait, Bill was seen heading into the woods. Armed with a gun, Bill set the bait and waited.

Days later, Bill was found dead. Sitting under the tree, perfectly still. His throat had been torn out, but there’d been no sign of a struggle. His gun hadn’t even been fired.

After that no one ever saw the white wolf again.


10. The Haunted House

So there was this house that was haunted for at least a decade. A lot of people made attempts to spend the night there before they were scared off by whatever the hell was haunting.

The local preacher announced “I ain’t fraid of no ghosts,” but since the Ghostbusters didn’t exist yet he took it upon himself to dispel the hauntedity of the house. Armed with just a bible and his belief in GOD, the preacher headed for the house.

Now here the preacher was, reading his bible by the fire, minding his own business, when the haunting began. It started in the basement. Like someone running back and forth, followed by an interrupted scream and what sounded like a brutal fight.

Instead of going to investigate, the preacher waited for the noise to dissipate so he could go back to reading his bible. He was at an especially juicy part when the preacher heard footsteps slowly coming up the basement stairs. Just as the basement door slowly opened, the preacher demanded to know what the person on the other side wanted. The door quietly shut on its own.

Trembling but undeterred, the preacher opened the bible and read for a while without incident. When he got up to put more kindling in the fireplace, the footsteps returned and the basement door opened. The preacher saw what looked like a young woman emerge from the basement. When he asked what she wanted, it was like the woman couldn’t remember and vanished before the preacher’s eyes.

Well, the preacher was indeed scared, but he wasn’t licked yet. He knew the ghost would come back and decided to wait. He turned his chair to face the basement door and sure enough, the footsteps returned and the door swung open. The preacher invoked the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and demanded to know who the woman was and what she wanted.

The ghost hovered in front of the preacher and he could make out what a bad state she was in. Decayed, worn out. Practically no flesh on her face, and empty eye sockets. The woman explained that she’d been killed by her lover and buried in the basement. She just needs someone to give her proper burial so she could move on.

Oh but that’s not all. The ghost wants the fucker who killed her to pay. [Wing: As one does.] Specifically, she wants to give him the finger. The preacher was instructed to take the little finger from her left hand and put it on the collection plate in church. She’ll point out who done it. As a reward, if the preacher comes back after all that she’ll tell him where her money’s hid to use for the church. [Wing: This is a pretty sweet deal.]

The preacher went about doing exactly that. He buried the woman’s bones. Left her finger on the collection plate. The finger immediately latched onto the hand of a certain man, who panicked and screamed and finally confessed to the murder. After the killer was jailed and hung, the preacher returned to the house and was told the ghost’s money was located under the fireplace.

The only proof the preacher had left of his encounter with the ghost was the imprint she left when she grabbed his coat. No matter what he did, the stain would never fade.

11. The Guests

A man and woman had a late start traveling to see the man’s mother. So late that by nightfall, the couple decided to find a place to stop and rest before continuing onward. They drove by a small house and asked the owners if, by any chance, they rent rooms. The elderly couple didn’t rent, but were happy to let the man and woman spend the night.

The elderly couple were gracious hosts who treated the man and woman to cake and coffee. Even though they were offered money for their troubles, the elderly couple for just happy for the company.

The following morning before they left, the woman left some money in an envelope for their hosts. Stopping at a restaurant in the next town for breakfast, the man and woman mentioned where they spent the night. However, no one could believe they slept in that specific house.

Simply because there WAS no more house.

According to the restaurant owner, that house burned down five years ago and the people who lived in died in the fire. Well the man and woman didn’t believe that so they drove back to find…

The charred skeleton of what was once a house.

With a neat envelope filled with money left on what remained of the kitchen table.

[Wing: They’re just friendly old ghosts who want some company! I love this story.]

Final Thoughts

This was another recap which took longer than it should have, but because Nerdy continues to be such a good friend I’ve decided I will spend the rest of this year recapping all three books just for her. I’ll have the second part for the first book done for April.

And hopefully I’ll have an easier time recapping the rest of the tales that are straightforward stories.

[Wing: These stories are terribly silly, but I love them still. The jump scares are the silliest part, really. The core of most of the stories are great fun. And the original illustrations remain fucking terrifying.]