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10 Unnerving Legends from Around the World

by Estelle
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Some of the most chilling legends stem from a terrifying bit of reality. Whether it is an unexpectedly creepy encounter with an unnerving person or a fleeting moment with something seemingly not human, reality has a way of folding in on itself at times.

This happens all around the world. Between busy city streets and softly lit countryside homes lies the unknown. Dark woods and abandoned buildings make the skin crawl for no apparent reason. Old, dilapidated houses echo with footsteps while no one is around. Disasters and tragedies leave confusion and fear in their wake.

Those sensitive to things outside this realm believe that people’s lives become imprinted in their surroundings. The circumstances surrounding their deaths reverberate so loudly that they are catapulted back into the land of the living. They appear suddenly, only for no one to see them. They scream loudly, only for no one to hear them.

But, sometimes, we do. And just like that, a terrifying legend is born.

Related: 10 Creepy Sleep Paralysis Theories

10 Private Rex

Paranormal ‘Encounters’ from World War I

Soldiers often guarded No Man’s Land during WWI. They protected the area between opposing trenches, especially during disputes. During the heat of conflict, a lieutenant only known as Smith marched some of his men from one area to another. The group was exhausted but stayed somewhat alert to the sound of distant shelling.

Smith chose to walk behind the soldiers and soon noticed that one of them, Private Rex, started lagging. The private walked slower and slower until Smith caught up to him without effort. Smith asked the private whether he was cold or ill, and he replied no both times. Smith asked him if he was hungry, and Rex replied, “A little.”

The lieutenant had nothing to give Rex except a few malted milk tablets. As the private took the tablets from him, Smith noted with a start that the young man’s hands were ice cold. Before he could give this much thought, Smith’s attention was drawn to the other soldiers who needed extra commands to keep going. When he returned a short while later to where Private Rex had been walking, the soldier was nowhere to be seen. Smith immediately stopped the procession and walked back a distance to look for Rex. There was no sign of him.

So Smith ordered a junior officer to start a search for the missing private before they would continue on their journey. The junior officer gave Smith a strange look before telling him that Private Rex had been killed in action and buried three days earlier.

Shocked, Smith spoke with the soldier some more and insisted that he had seen and spoken to Private Rex no more than an hour earlier. When the reality of the situation became clear, Lieutenant Smith could only utter these words, “It takes away all fear of death, for I know that Private Rex lives, though dead.” [1]

9 Melon Heads

What are The Melonheads – Scary Urban Legends Animated

New England has many lost spirits and entities, too. However, only a few people in southwestern Connecticut have had an experience with the much-feared Melon Heads. There are a couple of roads rumored to belong to the Melon Heads. These include Zion Hill Road in Milford and Saw Mill City Road in Shelton.

But who or what are Melon Heads?

It is said that Melon Heads are deformed backcountry humans who have existed for at least a century. They hide all day and only come out to eat. When they do appear, they feast on wild animals, cats, and teenagers.

Stories of the Melon Heads first started making the rounds in Connecticut at the end of the Second World War. Rumor has it that they came from a family banished after being accused of witchcraft. Alone in the wilderness, the family eventually succumbed to inbreeding, leading to the rise of the Melon Heads.

Another theory has it that the Melon Heads escaped from a mental institution in Newtown. According to this theory, they were mental patients running from a fire in the building. They eventually turned to cannibalism, and this caused their heads to become swollen and deformed.

In the 1980s, a group of high school girls braved the night searching for Melon Heads. They parked on the infamous Velvet Street in Trumbull and left their car’s headlights on. They only managed to walk a couple hundred feet when they heard the unmistakable sound of a car door slamming behind them.

They hardly had time to turn around before the car started moving towards them. The girls saw humanoid figures inside with small bodies and huge heads. Their eyes glowed with orange fire. The girls ran, terrified. It is said that the Melon Heads kept the car and still drive it to this day. [2]

8 The Screaming Woods

Britain’s Most Haunted Village (Screaming Woods Forest!)

The Dering Woods do not have a Melon Head legend, but this does not mean you should walk here at night. Nicknamed the Screaming Woods, this woodland near Pluckley, England, is considered one of Europe’s most haunted places.

In the dark of night on Halloween 1948, flashing lights and strange sounds emanated from the Dering Woods. No one ventured between the trees to find out what was happening. The following morning, a dog walker stumbled on at least twenty bodies stacked on the forest floor. The bodies were those of villagers who lived in Maltman’s Hill before inexplicably dying in the woods. Police and a coroner could not find a specific cause of death and settled for “died by carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Just before the turn of the millennium, four college students decided to go camping in these woods and disappeared. The typical twist here is that these stories are just more legends that those who are scared of woods and creepy places dreamed up. Still, that does not detract from the several reports of screaming coming from the woods at night. Many believe the screams come from those who got lost in the Dering Woods and never found their way out.

There is also the story of the beheaded highwayman. Legend has it that a highwayman once preyed on travelers in the Dering Woods. The local villagers had had enough of his crimes and decided to capture him. They doled out a punishment equal to those of horror movie storylines by lynching and beheading him. But it seems the highwayman still roams the woods and its surrounds.

A driver in 1997 nearly crashed their car after hearing hooves clatter in the area where the highwayman died. Building on the history of movie lore, a babysitter reported seeing a horse-drawn carriage with lights and horses slowing moving along a street in the same area. If they had looked up, they might have seen the ghost of the highwayman up in a lonely tree overlooking the place where he lost his life in such a brutal way.[3]

7 The Blue Mountains Ghost

Lady In Black Ghost Of Victoria Pass Murder In The Mountains 👻

Caroline James was introduced to tragedy and brutality from a very young age. Her parents were both convicted criminals, and her mother was an alcoholic. One day, Caroline’s mother was found hanging from the rafters in their home. Her father was accused and convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

Caroline had no choice but to look for work to support herself, which is how she met the Collits family, one of Hartley Vale’s most respected families. While working for the family, she met 25-year-old William Collits and married him at the age of thirteen.

Caroline had a terribly unhappy marriage. She soon discovered that William was a drug addict, and she left him to go and live with her sister. Unfortunately, more bad times awaited. Her sister was married to an ex-convict who promptly proceeded to sleep with both the young girls. Later, reports would surface that Caroline, her sister, and the ex-convict, John Walsh, were involved in a messed-up, unorthodox relationship.

Two years later, Caroline sat in the local tavern with her husband and John. It is unclear what happened, but a brawl started between the two men. Caroline grabbed John’s hands and shouted for William to run. Each went their own way, or so it seemed. The next morning, a postman found Caroline’s battered body along the road on Mount Victoria Pass on the western side of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.

It was later determined that she had been raped, with some sources saying she was also decapitated. A rock smeared with her blood was found close to her body. John Walsh was soon convicted of Caroline’s murder and sentenced to hang. However, Caroline was not free from her suffering.

She now appears as the infamous Lady in Black. From the middle of the 19th century onward, travelers have reported seeing a young woman dressed in black appear in front of them on the Mount Victoria Pass. She holds out her arms pleadingly while her eyes shone brightly in the dark. Others have reported a girl dressed in black suddenly appearing on the road and then clinging to the back of their vehicle. Some drivers have also noticed a terrifying detail about Australia’s own Lady in Black: sometimes she has no head.[4]

6 A Tragic Engagement

The Uniondale Hitchhiker

Urban legends thrive on unhappy endings, just like this next one.

Late on Good Friday in 1968, Maria Charlotte Roux and her fiancé Giel Oberholzer drove along a pitch-black stretch of road leading to Uniondale in South Africa’s Western Cape province. They were going to Maria’s parents to tell them about their engagement.

It rained heavily, making it nearly impossible to see the road even with the car’s headlights blazing. Giel lost control in the deluge, and the car rolled into an adjacent ditch. Some say Maria was sleeping in the backseat and died on impact. Other versions of the story say that Maria was thrown from the car and tried to crawl her way back to the road to find help despite her severe injuries. She eventually succumbed to hypothermia.

The tragic accident made headlines for a while, but people eventually forgot. Then, on the night of Good Friday 1973, a young man drove toward Uniondale on the same road the doomed couple had their accident. The man spotted a young woman standing on the side of the road as the car’s headlights spilled over her. He braked abruptly and asked her if he could offer her a lift. The dark-haired woman got into the car without saying a word. The strong scent of green apples followed her.

When the man asked her where she wanted to go, she whispered, “Porter Street, number two, de Lange.” She did not look at him as she spoke. They drove in silence for a short while. Suddenly, the man realized with a shock that the woman was no longer in the car. For the second time that night, the car screeched to a halt. He jumped out, fearing she may have somehow fallen out along the way. But, there was no sign of her.

Shaken, the man drove to the nearest police station to report the incident. A police officer followed him back to the road, and as he looked on from his own car, the man’s passenger door opened and closed by itself. The police officer, believed to be the most credible witness of Maria Roux’s first appearance as a ghost, reported what he had seen and made an official statement.

It was not the last sighting of Maria Roux. Many claim to have encountered her tragic spirit on the road to Uniondale. It seems she cannot move on, forever stuck in limbo without her beloved fiancé.[5]

5 The Cabbagetown Tunnel Monster

Investigating Toronto’s Tunnel Monster | Cryptid Profile

Long before Toronto’s creeks made way for city streets, the Algonquian tribes living there reported seeing hairy monsters in the water or inside hollows carved in rocks. They believed that if the creatures spotted them, they would blow their canoes off course.

According to Algonquian mythology, these creatures were created out of tree bark and did not have noses. When Toronto eventually built over its waterways, the monsters disappeared.

Or did they?

In 1978, 51-year-old Ernest was going about his own business one August morning, caring for a litter of kittens. While checking that the kittens were eating, Ernest realized one was missing. After searching his entire apartment located in Cabbagetown, he started searching outside the building.

As he walked around, calling for the kitten, he stumbled across the mouth of a dark tunnel. Fearing that the kitten may have ventured inside, Ernest entered the tunnel. He did not get very far when a massive creature appeared before him. According to Ernest, it was 3 feet (0.9 m) tall, long and thin, with dirty fur and huge teeth. The monster glared at him with glowing red eyes and hissed: “Go away.”

Ernest did not have to be told twice. He turned and ran away, relating his experience to only a few of his family members and friends. Inevitably, the story reached the media, and a journalist from the Toronto Sun newspaper approached Ernest. Ernest agreed to answer questions about his experience, but only if the article omitted his last name. Ernest’s wife confirmed to the journalist that her husband was terrified when he returned home.

Several months later, the newspaper staff members, accompanied by Ernest, decided to venture into the tunnel. Again, Ernest only made it a few steps in when he found the remains of a small cat. Devastated, Ernest recalled for the first time the strange and horrifying sounds he had heard the first time he entered the tunnel (likely the sound of his kitten being killed by the monster).

There have been several theories about the Cabbagetown monster. Some believe the monster was real and fled to a UFO base underneath Lake Ontario. Others believe the monster is an alien roaming the Toronto tunnels. Some people even believe that the creature is related to the Chupacabra. Either way, the legend of the Cabbagetown monster remains shrouded in mystery.[6]

4 A Girl Named Sally

4 Haunted Schools In Singapore

Singapore is known for its girl ghosts. However, these ghosts do not often appear in tunnels or dark alleys but in high schools. For example, a specific toilet at the Loyang Secondary School always has the lights on to keep evil spirits at bay. At the Raffles Girls’ School, the walls have been painted yellow to appease the ghost of a student who hung herself on the school grounds.

The Paya Lebar Methodist School also experienced the suicide of a student named Sally. Sally’s teacher and classmates were heartbroken at the news. The teacher thought it would be a good idea to buy a mannequin and dress it up as Sally to help the students work through their grief. The mannequin wore Sally’s old uniform, blazer, and a name tag.

The teacher set up the mannequin in a classroom that overlooked the sports track. The mannequin, however, faced the front of the room. Before long, pupils turned up in the teacher’s class, complaining that the mannequin kept staring at them during PE. Checking the mannequin’s classroom, the teacher shook her head in annoyance. The mannequin was still facing the front of the class, which meant there was no way it could “stare” out of the window.

Thinking nothing more of the complaints, the teacher continued her work, leaving “Sally” in the classroom. Early one morning, she sat down with a cup of coffee, ready to mark exam papers at her desk, when she caught a glimpse of a school uniform. Sighing internally, she looked up, expecting to see another complaining student. Instead, she saw Sally, the mannequin, right in front of her, staring her down.[7]

3 The Girl Who Learned to Count

Ghostly encounters on Tekong Island

Girl ghosts are terrifying everywhere, especially when they appear in places where people expect them the least. Palau Tekong is an island used by Singapore Army Units as a base for army training. It is also a place well-known for its eerie legends and ghost stories.

One legend states that the ghosts of a little girl and her grandmother often walk along the bunks at night. They walk slowly, with the girl audibly counting the number of sleeping soldiers. The unlucky military recruits in the bunks cannot see the ghosts, but they often hear the little girl’s voice getting louder as she approaches each of their beds.

Those with first-hand experience of this haunting have warned new recruits never to open their eyes when they hear the girl counting. Instead, they should keep their eyes tightly shut and pray until the counting stops. Those who dared open their eyes mid-count saw a huge shadow falling over their bunk and faces. And all they could do was wait for whatever horror was about to happen.[8]

2 Tsunami Ghosts

Tsunami Spirits: 100s of Ghost Sightings After Japan’s 2011 Earthquake (Details Netflix Left Out)

When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, entire villages were destroyed. The effects of the tsunami reached as far as the east coast of South Africa. People in the immediate path of the water wall died violently, most of them by drowning.

The stunning island of Phuket was badly affected by the disaster, with major flooding, damage, and deaths. And those who survived here also suffered trauma of a different kind. Several taxi drivers refused to go near the beach after the disaster, saying that ghosts of tsunami victims roamed there. The ghost stories did not stop there.

Several villagers in Sri Lanka reported hearing desperate cries from the ocean. A woman sleeping in a Beruwela temple woke up screaming and began tearing her hair out. When she finally calmed down, she felt the sensation of her neighbor pulling her into the waves. Her neighbor drowned during the tsunami. In Indonesia, a student got the fright of their life when they saw a shadow enter a house when the door was locked and the place empty.

Back in Thailand, one story circulated about a Phuket taxi driver who picked up ten tourists and drove them to Kata Beach. Upon his arrival, however, there were only two passengers left. The taxi driver fled, and this incident caused other drivers to refuse rides to tourists.

Some still see ghosts running on the beach and tourists drowning while trying to escape the massive waves. Others fear a repeat of the disaster, which would possibly lead to even more lost and confused souls wandering the places where they died.

The same phenomenon occurred after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, which was followed by a tsunami.[9]

1 Patient 9

The horror continues for the last entry on this list of unnerving legends.

This creepy tale is about a Vietnamese man on an overseas trip. Upon his return, he started noticing constant ringing in his ears, which a local doctor eventually diagnosed as tinnitus. The doctor prescribed medicine, but the ringing did not let up. It got steadily worse. The man returned to the doctor when it became unbearable after a few weeks.

The doctor then informed the man that his condition was too far advanced for further treatment and that he would lose his hearing. The man became enraged and attacked the doctor. When the doctor’s lifeless body thudded to the floor, the man fled.

He was soon caught and sent to an asylum instead of prison. His violent fits of rage continued as his hearing gradually decreased. Soon, he was completely deaf. He was let out for only one hour a day because of his violent tendencies. Then, one day, when the asylum employees opened the room, he did not emerge.

Knowing he was deaf, the employees entered the room to let the man know it was time for his one-hour free time. They were shocked to find the man with bloodied hands and empty eye sockets.

Terrified, one of the employees turned to run from the room, but the man somehow grabbed hold of him and practically ripped him apart. Because the other employees stood frozen on the spot, he didn’t notice or become aware of them. He left the room, guiding himself by running his hands against the wall. Finally getting to an exit, he disappeared into the woods.

The man, named Patient 9 at the asylum, is said to still be roaming the woods waiting for unwitting victims. The only way to escape his rage, should anyone encounter him, is to stay completely still and wait for him to move along.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.