Dear Prudence

The Spookiest Letters Ever Written to Dear Prudence

Haunted houses, mandatory gravesites, and the reincarnation of an evil witch.

Two skeleton heads on either side of an illustrated pumpkin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. In this special edition, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share some of the best letters we’ve received about creepy happenings . Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.

Dear Prudence,

 I love my house, which I bought about four years ago. I feel comfortable, peaceful, calm, and happy in it. I lived here about a year before one day my neighbor across the street asked if I knew about the woman “who died there years ago.” I said “No!” with utter surprise, and he began to scold the realtors for not disclosing the details. He said it was “very sad” and “tragic,” but I don’t know anything about who she was or any circumstances surrounding the story. All I know is that there were some not-so-great people living here for years while the house was rented out, and that this neighbor has lived on the street for a long time. If anybody knows something about this street, it’s probably him.

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I haven’t told anybody about this. I’m engaged now and neither my family nor my future wife know. If we felt ghosts moving things around or felt evil spirits or something, I’d feel more compelled to say something. We both feel complete peace and have even talked about how peaceful the “air” is, so to speak. I feel like saying something will only open a can of worms. She loves this house and wants to stay here until we are old! She is generally freaked out about ghosts and spirits. Even talking about them makes her uncomfortable and causes her to change the subject. I would like to know more about the history of our house, but I don’t know where to look. More importantly, should I say something that could put a stain on how she loves our house, or do I leave that skeleton in the closet?

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I’m not sure what you would tell your partner, if you decided to. I don’t want to creep you out unnecessarily, but my guess is that most houses of a certain age have seen at least one death within their walls. You have, almost certainly, at one point or another been inside of a building someone else once died in. The whole planet is a grave of everyone who has ever lived before you! (I realize this makes me sound like a Cure song, but you know what I mean.) If the most recent owner of the house had been brutally murdered three weeks before you bought the place, and the killer were still on the loose, you might have grounds to say something to your fiancée and the realtor who sold you the place. But all you have is a gossip-y neighbor and the vague intimation that a long time ago he didn’t like the family who used to rent your house. You’ve lived here peacefully for years, you and your future wife both love it there, and no one else has stopped in front of your yard, lifted a trembling finger to your front door, and whispered, “That’s it … that’s the murder house.” I don’t think you’re withholding important information from your partner, and I don’t think your property has had an unusual relationship to death. I hope you two are able to stay there until you’re old, too. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: Help! Should I Tell My Fiancée About the Grisly Death That Happened in My House? (June 10, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been living with my roommate, “Leanne,” for three weeks. I thought she was a hipster who put up pictures of old indie rock stars on her wall. Then my friend came to our dorm and told me the dudes in her pictures were serial killers: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein. I freaked out and asked Leanne to take them down, but she refuses. She won’t explain why she put the pictures up, which also freaks me out.

I hate looking at pictures of these evil people and have been spending nights in my friends’ dorms. I have to wait to transfer rooms until there’s an opening. Leanne and I barely talk now. I’m not someone who enjoys horror films, and I get scared easily. I want to be comfortable in my room, and I’m not sure how to do that. Am I being immature for not getting over this?

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It is very reasonable and not at all immature to say, “I don’t want pictures of serial killers all over my walls.” By no standard of the maturation process is it reasonable to say, “By such-and-such an age, you must feel extremely comfortable falling asleep under a poster of Ed Gein.” If your roommate isn’t willing to compromise, then I think it’s worth involving an RA or your university’s housing office. She can look at serial killers all she likes, just not on the walls you two have to share. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Roommate Won’t Say Why She Decorated Our Dorm With Photos of Serial Killers.” (Sept. 5, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

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My boyfriend, “Peter,” wants to break up with me. Obviously that’s his right, I know that, but it feels like I’m actually being irresponsible by just leaving. Peter has always had an interest in the paranormal and things like that. So do I, although I prefer M.R. James to actual, real-life creepy places. Over the past six months, however, Peter has moved further left of the socially accepted idea of normal. He’s become convinced that I’m the reincarnation of an evil witch. And sure, maybe he just thinks I’m an evil witch and wants an excuse to dump me. I’d actually be relieved if that were true, to be honest. Peter really seems to believe that I’m an evil soul, though, and is quite sad over this.

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I just don’t know how to navigate this breakup ethically and respectfully. He’s not violent or a risk to himself, and there are plenty of worse conspiracy theories out there. On the other hand, he also wants to end a three-year relationship because he’s realized he’s dating an evil spirit. That doesn’t seem like the decision of a healthy psyche, and this has all just happened in a relatively short space of time. He doesn’t talk to his family—he’s always said they were weirdly religious, which seems relevant now—and he’s distanced himself from his old friends so he could find ones with the same interests. Right now it feels like I’m the only person in his life with a healthy dose of skepticism, and that it would be irresponsible to just … leave for saner pastures. But he’s a grown man and he doesn’t want me around anymore (since I am apparently unconsciously feeding on his purity), so is there anything I can do? He’s obviously not inclined to take my evil-inspired advice right now.

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There is a complicated gray area in between “totally unreasonable/baffling but part of the rich tapestry of human weirdness” and “deeply concerning, time to call a doctor,” and I’m afraid this might fall into it. Certainly I don’t think you should stay in a relationship just because you’re afraid you’re the only tether a person has left to sanity—that’s not a reasonable or healthy burden to place on yourself. If you want to try to remain even distantly connected so that you can periodically check in and potentially try to intervene if or when his delusions do strike you as more worrying, then I think that’s worth doing. But I think this romantic relationship is clearly over, and to whatever degree you’ll be able to remain in his life, it’ll be as someone who cares deeply about his well-being and wants him to maintain a strong grip on reality. I think the best thing you can do now is accept that this relationship is over.

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I don’t want to say that just because he’s fallen prey to a conspiracy theory/is experiencing what sounds like delusional thinking, you are necessarily in danger, but I do hope that if he ever escalates from “You’re an evil spirit” to “You’re an evil spirit, and it’s my responsibility to get rid of evil spirits,” you’ll already be far away and well-protected. To that end, I think you should make sure that you’re not alone with him right now. I know you say he’s not violent or a risk to anyone, and I’ll take your word on that. I’m not suggesting you need to call the police or put him in a psychiatric hold—I don’t think that would do him much good. But if he ever does start offering threats, please prioritize your safety. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Boyfriend Thinks I’m the Reincarnation of an Evil Witch.” (June 3, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

Last year one of our neighbors was really ticked off about our Halloween decorations being too scary. We really do go for the more ghoulish decorating and have a lot of fun with it! What’s Halloween without the fog machines, scary music (not loud), ghosts, and gruesome decor? The neighbors on either side of us have joined the fun and put up quite a display themselves. None of the decorations are over-the-top blood and guts, but the standard Halloween fare. The angry neighbors across the street have a 5-year-old daughter. They said she wouldn’t sleep with the light off for a month after our “horrifying” decorations “scared the daylights” out of their little girl. They also said they hoped that we would refrain from the frightening decorations since we now knew they upset their daughter. They still will barely speak to any of us who decorated using anything “scary” to a 5-year-old. Prudie, the kids on our street are a wide variety of ages, with the vast majority of the kids being 8 or older. I have three boys ages 8, 10, and 12 who have a great time with the scary stuff. Is it insensitive for us to decorate with tombstones, scary witches, and skeletons? My boys and their friends next door are already planning new ideas for the Halloween display. Should I pull the plug on the fog machine and plan a super-duper Happy Halloween?

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My daughter was still in her high chair having dinner when our first trick or treater—wearing a wolfman mask—came to the door, and my husband thought it would be great to bring him into the house and show our toddler. Naturally, hysterics ensued. Nonetheless she recovered and went on to be dressed as a witch and a skeleton during her elementary-school years and even asked to go back twice to the house of the people with the twitching plastic rat. Sure, your neighbor’s daughter was scared, but being a parent means not expecting the world to bend to your child, but guiding your child through the world. If the parents have carried out this grudge for a year, I feel sorry that their little girl is missing lessons in humor and resilience. My suggestion is that before you start the decorating you go over and speak to the parents and say that you’d enjoy it if their daughter (and her parents) came over to help your sons decorate the house. Say that you think if she helps the big boys, and can see all this scary stuff is just things in boxes and not so scary after all, that she will really enjoy the festivities. If they shut the door in your face, tell your sons to skip their house when they go out for candy. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Neighbors Say Our Halloween Decorations Are Too Scary for Their Daughter.” (Sept. 25, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

For more than a decade, I have been involved in my city’s pagan community (Wicca to be precise). My husband is also Wiccan. I’m not some 20-year-old flake rebelling against her parents. I am educated, intelligent, and articulate, and I came to Wicca in my 30s, spending these past years soul-searching and learning. After advice and support from my husband, my teachers, and members within the community, I have decided to leave behind my 15 years in the corporate rat race to begin spiritual mentoring and teaching, full time. My dilemma is this: Virtually everyone—except my business contacts, my parents, and sister—knows that I am a devoted pagan. Believe me, coming out of the “broom closet” is a one-way trip. I have never hidden the fact that I’m Wiccan, but I have also never advertised it. I’m worried about my parents’ and sister’s ability to cope with what they will see as a very sudden and “weird” change in my life. How do I tell them about my religious practices and my choice to go “public” without them trying to have me committed and deprogrammed? Seriously, can you help me?

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Perhaps you shouldn’t have “saved up” your religious conversion news for a decade, but since you did, your best bet is a sit-down with your folks and your sister. If Prudie were in your broom closet, er, shoes, she would explain that believing your selection of religions would strike them as weird, you spared them the information. Being a practicing Wiccan for all these years, however, you can tell them that you wanted them to know at a time when they would no longer think it a hasty decision. Be prepared, however, for some resistance to what is still a misunderstood and minority religious practice. Chances are that people who know nothing of Wiccan culture imagine it’s about pointy hats and cauldrons. Good luck. —E.Y.

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From: “Witch Way” (Dec. 4, 2003)

Dear Prudence,

I dated my first husband for eight years before we married a decade ago, so I was considered part of his family. We were both in our early 30s. Within the year he died suddenly of a massive heart attack. As you can imagine, it was a terrible shock. His parents handled all the arrangements, which I really appreciated. However, this included a double gravesite for the two of us, with his name, date of birth, and death, and my full name and date of birth on the tombstone. Obviously I should have paid more attention, but I was just numb. They still refer to “our” gravesite, even though I am happily remarried and have 3-year-old twins. I tend to tiptoe around this, but clearly they expect me to be buried there. However, my preference now is to be buried with my current husband. My first marriage was so short, and I am happier and more fulfilled in this one. My former in-laws are in their 70s, so in the ordinary course of things they should go first. But if that doesn’t happen, I don’t want to cause an ugly fight. Is stating my preference in my will sufficient? I don’t want to be cruel, but whenever I try to gently broach the subject it does not go well.

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If your former in-laws are otherwise accepting of your new husband, I’d be inclined to tell you to make your own arrangements, say nothing to them, and bank on the very strong odds that you will outlive them. But as your own experience bears out, life does not always follow the “ordinary course of things,” and the potential fallout and hurt feelings that could result if either of them outlived you would be very painful for your husband and children, I’m sure. Rather than try to broach the subject, which implies that you are inviting their input, just tell them (kindly, of course) that while you loved their son very much, when you die you’ll be buried with the father of your children. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Deceased First Husband’s Parents Want Me to Be Buried Next to Him.” (Feb. 17, 2016)

More from Dear Prudence

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

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