Written by Luke Greensmith Originally published on May 5th, 2021
This episode I want to tie into an upcoming project by Wanda Fraser, and do a quick exploration of urban legends. Urban legends are very much a modern branch of folklore, they’re the campfire stories we bring indoors with us. Not quite as recent as online creepypastas, which will have their own episode, but they’re very grounded in contemporary life. With that grounding, comes an extra chance to freak out, as these can land very close to home!
SECTION BREAK – Starting with a classic
Okay, here’s a great simple introduction to the concept!
Someone is driving home late at night, let’s say a taxi driver going home at the end of a shift, on a route taking them past a local graveyard.
They see a teenager holding their thumb out for a lift.
Now, while technically a taxi driver and not even working right now, they feel sorry for this teen stuck out at night alone.
The teen gets in the back, and the taxi driver tries to talk to them, but the teen isn’t chatty.
Eventually the off duty taxi driver loses patience as the teen at the very least needs to tell them where they are going to, so they go from trying to talk to the figure they see in the rear view mirror to turning to talk face to face.
Only there is no one in the back seat.
Phantom hitchhiker stories are a truly global phenomenon! If people drive? There are stories of picking up a ghost. How elabourate these stories get varies wildly, sometimes involving a jacket with a name in it that leads back to a grave in the graveyard. Sometimes there’s no graveyard at all, and the phantom hitchhiker was picked up at a roadside memorial to someone sadly lost in a traffic incident.
But this story gets retold a LOT. Campfire stories, childhood sleepovers, social media threads of ghost stories. Urban Legends may not always be scary, but what they’re really good at is spreading. I’ve got some good ones to share this episode, and an obscure slightly nonsensical one from my childhood that is fun for me to retell at the end.
SECTION BREAK – The perils of being a hormonal teen
Two teenagers drive up to the local “make out point”. A place close enough to town it won’t take long to get home from, but far enough away it isn’t likely you will be disturbed by accident. Fans of horror movies from the 60s to the 80s will definitely have seen these things, some nominal privacy along with a mutual understanding of what you are there to do.
These teens do what teens do, and fool around to the music of the local radio. Clearly the cell phone signal sucks, or else it would just be Spotify. But that’s an added bonus for a make out spot! No phone calls from a parent to disturb them. Although if the teen is local, there’s a fair chance they were conceived at that make out point and if the parents REALLY want to track them down they’re in trouble. Anyway, radio! It still exists apparently, and the teens are PG-13 making out to it when an emergency news broadcast plays, as we don’t do smut on LukeLore. Only wholesome terror and death.
“We apologise for the interruption, but we have important news. A criminally insane inmate being transported between Mental Health Wards escaped and authorities worry they will return to their previous haunts. Please remain indoors while they are apprehended. Do NOT accept hitchhikers. This report will be repeating every 15 minutes, everyone please stay safe. This patient is to be considered armed and dangerous, and has a prosthetic hook for a hand.”
This alarmed the passenger teen, who wasn’t too into the make out session anyway, and they wanted to go home. The driver teen, who was pretty into the make out session, didn’t want to go just yet. They convince their heavy petting friend to stay a while, as the news only just broke and they need to be home soon anyway. Hormones trump common sense, and the make out session continues.
But they hear a noise.
A scraping sound along the side of the car.
When they look out of the windows they can’t see anything, so the driving teen attempts to shrug it off. The more sensible passenger is having none of it, and demands they go home to make out another day when there are less dangerous criminally insane wanderers in the area.
Reluctantly, the driver gives in for the night. As they pull away there’s a strange jerk and thud. The driver wants to get out and investigate, but it doesn’t take much yelling at them to just go home instead.
When the passenger teen is dropped off, they scream after they close the car door. The driver gets out to see what the big deal is, and they scream too when they see the prosthetic hook in the passenger side door handle.
A door both realise with sinking horror, was not locked…
The Hook is a classic! Told around many a campfire, from a time before cell phones and roaming Internet data when the radio was much more likely to be used. It has assorted more extreme variations with allsorts going on, up to and including a hanging with dangling toes on top of the car. But the core remains the same: The hook is mandatory, you should listen to common sense over hormones, and the radio still serves an important function for local news.
SECTION BREAK – A famous Japanese lady in a surgical mask
Okay, over to Japan next, so dial the terror up a few notches. The Japanese don’t mess around with their scares. This, now, has a bit more of a global appeal thanks to mask use being adopted out of necessity.
In the 70s, “Cram school” got introduced in Japan. A way for the children to go back to school in the evening for intensive extra tutoring. This strange cruel practice is not the scary story we are focusing on, although it sounds bad enough. These poor victims of Cram school would then be leaving to walk home much later than usual on the night streets.
Now that children are stuck walking home at night? A tale of a strange and dangerous woman stalking those streets.
She wears a red dress in some stories, usually holding a pair of scissors but it can be a sickle depending on which variation you hear, but three things remain the constant.
1 - She likes to approach children in the street to ask them the same question.
2 - She wears a surgical mask to hide something terrible.
3 - She likes to show what she’s hiding behind the mask.
So, the question this strange woman stalking the night streets hunting children asks…
If she can catch up to the children, and she always seems able to, she will ask them “Am I beautiful?”
Should the answer be “No”, she will fly into a rage and kill the child with her scissors.
Should the answer be “Yes”, she will then remove her mask to reveal that her mouth has been split open from ear to hear and ask her question again:
“Am I beautiful?”
Answer “No”? Same as before, her victim will be killed with her scissors.
Answer “Yes”, and she will happily answer “Then I shall make you beautiful like me!” and use her scissors to split open the mouth of her victim.
To escape her, you need to confuse her or cause a distraction. A non-committal answer such as saying “You are average” can cause her to pause, allowing a swift escape. Likewise, not answering but instead throwing money or hard candy to her can buy you that pause and let you get away.
So, yay! The Kuchisake-onna, or Slit-Mouthed Woman. They’re pretty well ingrained into modern urban legend and folklore in Japan. Any child could tell you some version of this story, and there are loads of pop culture depictions of her. They can be viewed as an Onryo, a powerful and dangerous spirit of indiscriminate vengeance, or else more analogous with yokai, making the Kuchisake-onna a modern day monster woman of Japan. Any which way you cut it, this fits perfectly with Japanese folklore surrounding knowing the rules to make your escape or else you are doomed, typically there being a third way out of a paranormal dilemma.
SECTION BREAK – A babysitter who needed danger pay
Okay, I’m using a variant of this one, because I think the added detail here is awesome. It’s a detail plenty versions of this story do just fine without, but it’s a great garnish to this tale of babysitting peril.
It was a last minute babysitting job, and the parents are extra fussy, but the pay was good and the parents really wanted this babysitter as their usual wasn’t available but recommended this substitute.
After the long list of what not to do was gone over, the parents leave for their night out and their only child was already put to bed. All the babysitter needed to do was keep an eye on the child and the house for an easy payday.
As requested, the babysitter pops in to check on the sleeping child every hour. They aren’t too happy doing this though, as there’s a creepy life sized clown toy sat on a rocking chair in the corner of the room.
After checking on the child at midnight, the babysitter just sits back down on the couch when the landline rings.
A breathless voice describes what’s they’re wearing and starts to laugh. Panicking, the babysitter checks all the downstairs windows as they ring the parents on their cellphone.
“Hello? Oh, thank God I reached you. I think some creep is outside the house looking in.”
“Oh, okay. We’re heading back now anyway. Make sure everything is locked then please sit in with our child.”
“I just checked all the downstairs doors and windows. Do you mind if I move the big clown toy to sit on the rocking chair?”
“Yeah, the big life size one sat in the kid’s room… Hello, are you still there?”
“Listen VERY carefully. Call the police and go get a neighbour to help RIGHT NOW. WE DON’T OWN A LIFE SIZE CLOWN TOY.”
This is a fun slash horrific variation of the “the call came from inside the house” story. I’m kind of regretting this version now, actually… Maybe don’t listen to this episode while babysitting?
SECTION BREAK – Something special, if a little dumb
Okay, this is a childhood ghost story and as such doesn’t hold up to logic so good. Children don’t traffic in logic, but the imagination involved is top notch. Some elements will sound familiar, I compared stories online recently and there’s a little bit of a missing toe story in here, and I’ve heard killer doll tales with a similar rhythm to how this plays out, but this is a slice of my childhood which stuck with me across the years slightly altered to be told in my personal style. This is “Johnny, I want my liver back”.
A little boy called Johnny had just lost an older relative, a distant one who he didn't really know, who was now stored at the local morgue. Johnny knew all about this, and it didn't really bother him.
Johnny's parents give him money to go the butcher's with, and buy a liver for dinner. Only there was another shop Johnny was more interested in along the way... A toy shop, with a toy he wanted more than anything.
Now Johnny was three things: Greedy, unafraid of death, and a rotten little brat.
Johnny knew where he could get a liver for free, and he really wanted that toy.
So little Johnny comes home with liver wrapped in newspaper, and a story about finding the toy he really wanted sat abandoned in a drain. They ate well that day, with the nice big liver Johnny brought back from the morgue, and he got to have the toy he wanted.
That night, it began.
At midnight Johnny heard, in a singsong voice:
"John-ny, I want my liver back, I'm at the doorstep."
This frightened Johnny, but the voice was gone as soon as it came. He checked the next day and no one else had heard anything, so he just thought it was his imagination. Then, the next night, he heard in the same singsong voice:
"John-ny, I want my liver back, I'm in the hallway."
Little Johnny began to panic. While he didn't care much about what he had done, Johnny did get the toy he wanted after all, he knew he couldn't explain what had happened without getting into a lot of trouble. So he said nothing, and then that next night at midnight came the same singsong voice:
"John-ny, I want my liver back, I'm coming up the stairs."
Then the night after:
"John-ny, I want my liver back, I'm on the landing."
Then the night after that one:
"John-ny, I want my liver back, I'm at your bedroom door."
That day Johnny tried to sneak back into the morgue, hoping to swap a stranger's liver into the body of this distant relative and get away with what he had done. Only in the time that had been wasting, the relative had been buried. Johnny hadn't even realised, he had been so preoccupied.
So then it came, that night at midnight, Johnny was sat up in bed holding on to his ill gotten toy hoping to offer a trade. When the singsong voice came again, this time from inside of his room:
"John-ny, I wanted my liver back, NOW I'LL TAKE YOURS INSTEAD."
Little Johnny was missing, come that next morning, and no one could find him anywhere until someone found him in the graveyard. On top of the disturbed fresh grave of this distant relative, his new toy gripped tight in his cold dead hands, and his liver ripped clean out of him. No one ever did find little Johnny’s liver, no one thought to dig up the grave where they found him.
Where the body beneath held Little Johnny's liver in its cold dead hands...
That’s all for this episode. I’m looking forwards to seeing what Wanda comes up with for the Urban Legend series! Not expecting Johnny I Want My Liver back, but we covered some awesome classics here today so wait and see if she covers them. Do you have any cool urban legends to share? I definitely want to hear from you, and let me know if you would like a shout out as a contributor on a future Urban Legends episode.
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Goodbye for now.