Telling Scary Stories

Do you like to be afraid? Spotlight tells scary stories – and looks at why people like to hear these frightening tales.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Do you like to be afraid? Many people around the world enjoy feeling fear. They love telling and listening to frightening stories. Many cultures tell different kinds of scary stories. Some involve creatures beyond what we can see and feel. Others are about dangerous monsters, like evil spirits. Today’s Spotlight is on scary stories and why people tell them.

The feeling of fear is a strong one. Being frightened creates extreme feelings in the body. When a person is scared, her heart beats faster. Her senses like touch and hearing might become stronger for a short amount of time. Some people tell scary stories to experience these extreme feelings.

But telling scary stories can also have a more complex purpose. Scary stories are often fantasy - they are not real. They only happen in a person’s imagination. Telling frightening stories is safe. But it lets people think about what they fear in real life.

For example, scary stories can be about frightening places. These places are real, but there are stories about them. One of these places is in Mexico. In English it is called “The Island of the Dolls.” Dolls are toys shaped like human children. Sometimes they can make a person feel strange and afraid. On this island, there are thousands of dolls. They hang from trees everywhere. They are missing body parts and they are dirty. Adam Navis tells the story of the Island of the Dolls.

Voice 2  

“Don Julian Santana Barrera lived alone on a small island. One day something horrible happened. Don Julian found a little girl floating in the water. The little girl had drowned! A little while later he saw her doll floating down the river.

Don Julian felt very bad about the little girl. So he hung her doll from a tree, to remember her. He believed the girl became a ghost, and visited Don Julian. He believed he heard strange whispers and sad sounds in the darkness. The girl’s ghost wanted him to find more dolls. So Don Julian continued to hang more and more dolls from the trees.

When he died, his nephew found Don Julian’s body in the river. It was the same place where he had found the girl. Today, there are still dolls everywhere on the island.

Voice 1  

This story may make a person feel strange and afraid. It just seems wrong. But scary stories can also have a particular purpose. They can teach a lesson. Fear can influence behaviour. This is the case in a story from Japan. Bruce Gulland tells the story of the Jikininki.

Voice 3  

It is late at night in a small village in Japan. A man named Muso is sleeping. He has travelled all day. Finally, he has found a room to stay for the night. But in the middle of the night, a boy wakes Muso. “We need to leave,” he says. “Why?” Muso asks sleepily. The boy answers: “There has been a death.” The boy is shaking with fear. He continues: “You are a stranger here, and do not know. Frightening things happen in this village after a death. So we must leave.

But Muso does not leave. He is a priest. It is his duty to say prayers over the dead. Later that night, Muso sees a spirit. As Muso watches, the spirit does something very horrible. It eats the dead body. Muso watches, too frightened to move. He has seen a Jikininki – a kind of evil spirit.

Later in the story, Muso finds the Jikininki. He discovers it is the spirit of a greedy priest. The priest stole money from dead bodies when he was alive. As punishment for his evil acts, he became a Jikininki. At the end of the story Muso frees him. But the greedy priest suffered as a Jikininki for 100 years.”

Voice 1 

The story of the Jikininki teaches a simple lesson about greed. But some writers also like to tell scary stories about more complex ideas. A very famous example is by an English writer named Mary Shelley. There are no spirits, or magic in this story. It is about a normal person - a scientist. Christy VanArragon tells the story of Frankenstein:

Voice 4  

“Victor Frankenstein was a very intelligent scientist. But he wanted to do impossible things. In his experiments he learned how to give life to non-living things. Using this knowledge, he created a creature from old, dead, body parts. And then he gave it life! The creature was intelligent. It could speak, read and write. But the creature was also very ugly. So Victor told it to leave.

The creature only wanted a friend. But everywhere it went, people were frightened of it. They thought the creature was evil. It began to hate Victor Frankenstein for giving it life. So it hurt Victor. It even killed his wife. At the end of the book, Victor dies. The creature cries over Victor’s body. Victor only wanted to bring good things to the world. But by creating the creature, he destroyed both it and himself. The creature runs away and is lost forever.”

Voice 1  

The story of Frankenstein is not as frightening as other scary stories. Instead, it questions the things people fear. The creature looks very frightening. So people believe it is evil. But it does not want to be a monster.

So, why do scary stories continue to be popular around the world? Neil Gaimon is a British writer of scary stories. In a 2014 TED talk he explained another reason why he thinks scary stories can be good for people. He said:

Voice 5  

“Fear is a wonderful thing in small amounts. You begin the scary story knowing you will come out after a time in safety. It is always good to know that you are still here, still safe. You know that nothing strange has happened, not really. It is good to be a child again, for a little while. It is good not to fear real scary things like governments or relationship or money problems or distant wars. But instead we can fear things that do not exist.”

Voice 1  

Do you like to be frightened? What kind of scary stories have you heard? Tell us what you think! You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at And find us on Facebook at

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “Telling Scary Stories”.

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Do you like scary stories? If yes, which one is your favorite? If no, why not?


Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on October 31, 2016

Sometime I see the scary stories on movies. I like that includes surprises.
Nice the new look of spotlight.
God bless you

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 02, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Wednesday 02, November 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Dan Christmann, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!

No, I do not like scary stories because I am afraid of zumbies, ghosts, and other creatures in which we cannot see them.

The best regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 03, 2016

Neil Gaimon said correctly ‘‘Fear is a wonderful thing in small amounts.’‘After telling and listening to scary stories people with pleasure come back from imaginary, horrifying area to reality, safeness of normal common life. Surely, it would be excellent if all wrong, horrible events could exist only in scary stories and not in the real, present life as well!
Thanks for interesting topic!

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 31, 2019

When I was youth, I read a lot of scary stories, and I liked stories written by Edgard Allan Poe. He was, in my opinion, the best writer of this kind of story. Amontillado, The Black Cat, and Tell-Tale Heart are delicious short stories exploring scary feelings. Nowadays, scary literature does not attract my attention anymore.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 02, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To spotlight program
Subject to answer to the questions below
Location São Paulo city SP Brazil
Saturday 02, November 2019

Dear Dan Christmann, Liz Waid, and Michio Ozaki

Thank you for producing and writing more one great article for us brazilian people and others around the World.
Question 1 - Do you like scary stories?
Answer 1 - No, I do not them.
Question 2 - If no, why not?
Answer 2 - Because I am afraid about zombies, evils, ghosts and other creatures of which I cannot see them.
Yours regards,
God bless you
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 06, 2019

When I wan a child my mom used to tell me scared stories they make me scared when I grew up I could understand everything she had used that way to change my bad behaviors

Avatar Spotlight
Anas Hassan
said on December 14, 2019

Frightening story is attached to my childhood. In fact,  I was an energetic boy. Whenever I went, there would be lots of noise,many problems and l had fights with neighbors.
To keep me calm,my aunt used to tell me a scary story of Abo Slah.
He is a crazy old man. When you look at his eyes, fires coming out of it. He could fly with a stick and have a basket
Abo Slah takes naughty children who do not listen to their parents to a dark, frightening place where no one could see or help them. He will come at the middle of the night. The only way to avoid seeing him is by being quiet, do homework and keep in well touch with neighbors and family.
This story had been scaring me until i was 12 years old. I had not could go any where when the night came. My father recognized that by chance. So he asked me to bring him a tool box to fix the broken door that l ruined.
” where is it daddy”  l asked him
” it is on roof of the house.hurry up my son do not be coward , nothing will happen to you” he said.
There was no a piece of light that night, but to show that l am brave not coward and as strong as my father,l fetch it to hom getting over all my fears of Abo Slah.
Since then,  l haven’t feared anything whatever it is