This is the print version of a post that appeared on Psychobabble in audio form as my one and only podcast five years ago today. It was part of my long dormant series Things that Scare Me, in which I evaluated whether or not I was justified in being terrified of the many, many things that terrified me when I was an overly terrified kid. Enjoy!
My experience with scary stories began when I was four or five years old. My sister was having a slumber party for her birthday and my prankster parents decided this would be a terrific opportunity to traumatize their kids and a gang of neighborhood kids. The evening began with everyone gathered in the living room and perched on their sleeping bags, the lights dimmed, and my mother hovering over us with an arsenal of classic ghost stories. The first one she read was based on an old Washington Irving story called “The Adventure of the German Student”. Irving’s tale is about a college boy who encounters a forlorn young woman in Paris during the French revolution. She wears a black ribbon around her neck, which she refuses to remove under any circumstances. The terrifying denouement of the story reveals her to be a victim of the guillotine who wears the ribbon to tether her severed head to her severed neck. This print story was later simplified for its oral version, re-titled and re-tinted and passed from person to person as “The Green Ribbon”. This was the version of the story my mother told at that slumber party.
The next story was less dependent on plot and more on the way it was told. It was a story called “The Golden Arm”, which tells of a man who marries a woman with a golden arm, an object he covets till the day she dies. At that point, he sneaks out into the night, digs up her body, and swipes it. Creeping home in the night, he begins hearing a ghostly voice calling “Who stole my golden arm?” The phrase is repeated over and over with mounting intensity until, finally, the storyteller grabs the nearest listener and screams “You did!” Everyone jumps and everyone pees.