Was that movement you spied from the corner of your eye just your overactive imagination? Did your bedroom curtains flutter because of the slight breeze outside? Is the thump you keep hearing in the middle of the night just the house settling? Or are there moments when the unseen collides with the tangible to make its presence known, when those who have long since passed on return to their old stomping grounds?
Most creepy urban legends are built around the concept that the dead are never really gone and that monsters lurk in the periphery, that there are things that the eyes are sometimes able to see but that the mind cannot comprehend. Here are ten such legends from around the world. Sleep is overrated.
10 Governor Van Noodt And The Lady In Grey
Spooky castles aren’t only found in Europe. In Cape Town, South Africa, stands the infamous Castle of Good Hope, the oldest existing colonial building in the country. The castle has a dark history of slavery and torture, making it the inevitable setting for urban legends of all kinds. One of these tales includes the fate of Governor Pieter Gysbert van Noodt. The governor was a cruel man, and among other atrocities, he decided to sentence a group of soldiers to death by hanging in the 1720s. Van Noodt didn’t deem it necessary to show his face at the execution of these soldiers, and during his absence, he was cursed by the last soldier just before the man died.
When the governor’s officers went to inform him that the soldiers had been hanged, they found van Noodt dead in his chair. There was a look of horror on his face. The story goes further to say that the governor roams the corridors of the castle to this day, unable to shake the curse.
Furthermore, there was also a crying female ghost, dubbed the Lady in Grey, that haunted the castle. However, since the skeleton of a female was discovered during excavation, sightings of the Lady have dramatically decreased.
9 Stick Indians
Native Americans have a slew of creepy legends. One of the more disturbing ones is the story of the Tsiatko, more commonly known as the Stick Indians. These creatures are said to be tall and slim and have the ability to run very fast. They also have ventriloquist abilities to the extent where they whistle to communicate, striking fear into the hearts of humans who hear the sound. Some believe they are a sort of “Bigfoot” creature.
Stick Indians wander through the woods at night, seeking out victims to throw their special powder at. This powder is made from the remains of the dead and is said to cause people to go into a deep sleep. While they sleep, the Stick Indians play pranks and even steal children and teenagers from villages to force them to become slaves. Brave men who think they can defeat the Tsiatko should rather stay away, as these creatures will start hating them and hunt them down with a bow and arrow.
8 La Mala Hora
La Mala Hora takes pleasure in driving humans insane. As if that wasn’t enough, this dark spirit also hypnotizes and paralyzes people and then attacks them while they are in that weakened state. After suffocating them, La Mala Hora leaves them next to the road. Citizens of New Mexico refuse to talk about it, simply referring to it as an evil thing. They believe that if you encounter the spirit in female human form, it is an omen of death. If you happen to see her at a crossroads, it is very likely that you or someone close to you will be dead soon.
In an apparent run-in with La Mala Hora, a woman was driving down a deserted highway just after midnight when a black shadow appeared at the crossroads ahead. When she hit the brakes, the shadow disappeared, and in its place was an old lady with red eyes and sharp teeth. The old lady proceeded to try and claw her way into the car. The woman sped off down the highway, only to find the freaky old lady was keeping up with her, running next to the car. She eventually outran the specter and saw in the rearview mirror that the evil old lady had grown to the size of a large tree. The woman returned to her house the next morning and found police officers waiting for her. Turns out her husband had been murdered just after midnight the night before.
7 Dead Body Train
A London urban legend has it that a train full of dead bodies once made the journey through a tunnel between Whitechapel Tube station and the Royal London Hospital. The train was appropriately dubbed the Dead Body Train. It is believed that the train operated in the beginning of the 1900s during a time of extreme poverty and disease in London, which almost makes the idea of a Dead Body Train something that could really have existed.
Whitechapel is well-known because of Jack the Ripper, and rumors that temporary morgues were set up under the ticket hall there aren’t helping the historic reputation of the place much. There have also been reports of a now-closed tunnel, which some believe may once have led to the Royal London Hospital. These reports have ensured that many people are convinced that the Dead Body Train was a lot more than just an unnerving urban legend.
6 Red Ghost
The legend of Red Ghost dates back to the late 1800s. In 1883, during the dying moments of the Apache wars, two men left their wives at their Arizona ranch to go and make sure their farm animals were safe. As the day drew near the midway mark, one of the women walked down to a spring to collect water. The remaining woman stayed behind with the children. Suddenly, a high-pitched scream rang through the air. Looking outside through the window, the woman in the house saw what looked like a massive beast with red fur sporting a demonic-looking figure on its back.
Terrified, the woman locked herself and the children inside the house and waited for the two men to return. The woman who went to collect water didn’t come back. When the men eventually came home, they investigated the woman’s claims, and shortly afterward, they found the other woman’s trampled body close to the spring. They also found large cloven hoofprints and strands of red hair or fur. So the legend of Red Ghost was born.
More sightings were reported, one of them by rancher Cyrus Hamblin, who said the beast was in fact a camel with a skeleton tied to its back. Weeks after Hamblin’s report, some prospecters at the Verde River also saw the camel and started shooting at it. They missed, but as they watched it bolt away, something dropped from its back. Walking over to the object, the men were horrified to find that it was a skull with hair still attached to it. Nine years later, another rancher apparently shot the camel dead after finding it in his garden. Examining the remains of the animal, the rancher found evidence that a person was once strapped to its back.
What is known in most countries as a meteor is described in Northern Australia as the eye of an evil spirit. Aboriginal residents here believe that this evil spirit, known as Papinjuwari, Thuwathu, or Namorrodor, reaches out with long claws as it makes its way across the dark sky, looking for souls and preying on those who are near death.
Namorrodor is also referred to as a flying serpent, and the legend of it has been passed down through the years. It is said that this evil being can also take on the form of a kangaroo or even a horse and makes sounds resembling wind. In order to avoid a run-in with Namorrodor, meat should never be cooked outside at night because the smell will lead it to attack from the bushes. When it does attack, its favorite prey is unprotected babies. It rips out their hearts and then flies away with their bodies. It is therefore imperative that if babies are included in a camping group or have to sleep outside near bushes for whatever reason, they must be turned on their stomachs or on their sides so that Namorrodor cannot reach their hearts.
In order to permanently get rid of Namorrodor, the services of a witch doctor must be called upon. The witch doctor will then kill the evil spirit with a special spear.
4 Janet’s Ghost
During the late 1960s, a young woman named Janet went missing from Kuching, Malaysia. She was a nurse at the time, and her disappearance, along with many others, was thought to have something to do with the construction of the Satok Bridge.
The general belief was that if construction on the bridge was halted for any reason, it would anger territorial spirits. Therefore, virgin girls had to be sacrificed by means of decapitation. Their heads would then be immersed into the pillars of the bridge. Since Janet’s remains were eventually found sans her head, the consensus was that she, too, had become a virgin sacrifice. Her parents dressed her in red and had her buried.
However, Janet came back for vengeance. Wearing her red burial outfit and shoes, she started appearing to unsuspecting bikers on the outer parts of Kuching. She would hitchhike until one of them offered her a lift, only to disappear at the end of the journey, leaving behind a stinking, rotten stain on the seat. Sightings of Janet were also reported from a ferry traveling across the Sarawak River. As soon as the ferry reached its destination, the red-clad figure disappeared from it, and any money on the ferry turned to leaves.
The ghost of Janet strikes terror into the hearts of Kuching residents to this day, with ferry operators refusing to work after 10:00 PM and people refusing to call her by her name. The Satok Bridge collapsed in 2004.
3 Abandoned Annie
The area known as the Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh was devastated by the plague. Rumors abounded that those struck by the disease were left to die in the streets. In the 18th century, the area became a ghost town, its buildings and homes abandoned and closed off.
The Real Mary King’s Close inevitably became the focus of ghost hunters and psychics over the years, all of whom have tried to draw out the ghosts of horrors past. In 1992, psychic Aiko Gibo visited the Close to film a documentary on supernatural incidents. Having found nothing spooky enough for her liking, Gibo was about to leave when she came to a halt at a specific room. She initially refused to set foot in it, as she felt a heavy sense of dread, but she eventually went in. Afterward, she said the only reason she did so is because the specter of a little girl asked her to enter. The girl told her her name was Annie and that she died long ago of the plague. Annie was sad because when she was alive, her family abandoned her, and she lost her doll. The little girl also tugged on Gibo’s hand.
Gibo then went to buy a Barbie doll for Annie and left it in the middle of the room. Ever since, the single Barbie has grown into a pile of toys and even money left by tourists. A guide at the Close has recounted his own experiences with Annie, claiming she once threw a coin across the room as he was leaving with a group of tourists. He also stated that several people have felt an unseen little hand touching theirs. Some of them became physically ill afterward.
2 The Elevator Killer
Korea is well-known for its treasure trove of creepy urban legends, some of which have been made into horror movies. One of these recounts the tale of a Korean teenager named Haruko who got home late one evening after doing homework at a library. Arriving at the building where she lived, she pressed the elevator button for the 14th floor, eager to get inside her apartment. Just as she got into the elevator and the doors started closing, a man ran up and stopped the doors so that he could get in beside her. He pressed the button for the 13th floor.
Haruko couldn’t help staring at the very handsome stranger. When he got out on the 13th floor, he said, “See you,” to which she replied, “Yes, see you.” Just before the doors closed completely, an astonished Haruko saw the man pull a knife from his jacket and heard him yell, “Upstairs!” Then he ran toward the staircase opposite the elevator.
Panicking, Haruko tried to stop the elevator from reaching her floor by pounding on the buttons. Unfortunately, she got there in no time, and the doors opened to reveal the grinning maniac standing right in front of her. Haruko’s body was later discovered in the elevator. She had been stabbed to death.
1 Single Braid
During Ghost Month in China, lots of ghost stories and urban legends are shared between residents as per tradition. One of the creepiest ones involves a girl referred to as Single Braid. The story goes that Single Braid, called so because of her long, braided hair, tried to sneak into Hong Kong with her boyfriend. They got on a train to the city, but the girl freaked out when police officers boarded the train and randomly started checking for ID documents. Being an illegal immigrant, she decided to jump from the train while it was still in motion. Her braid got stuck in the window frame as she jumped through the window. This caused her hair to be ripped clean off her scalp, along with the skin on her face.
She managed to get as far as a road (now called Single Braid Road) before she gave up and died. The next day, she was discovered lying in a pool of congealed blood. Her boyfriend never returned to find out her fate and simply continued his life as if she never existed.
Sightings of a ghost girl started cropping up in the area. One male student had a particularly horrifying experience. Walking down Single Braid Road, he noticed a girl just standing there with her back to him. He noticed that her hair was done in a long braid down her back. He called out to her to find out if everything was all right, but she didn’t respond. Reaching her, he touched her shoulder to get her attention. When she turned around, the young man was shocked to find that she had no face. Then she vanished right in front of his eyes.
Estelle lives in Gauteng, SA.