Things to Do, Things I've Done and Things That Have Happened
Scaring a Stranger
Published on January 15, 2012 by guest author: Steve LeBlanc

I’m sure we have all enjoyed the pleasure of scaring someone witless at one time or another.

Usually we are most comfortable doing this to someone we are close to. For instance, I know that if I toss anything that looks even remotely like a mouse in the direction of my wife’s face, she will scream and receive a terrible scare. Even after she realizes that the object is not a mouse, she still won’t be able to stop shaking for a minute or two. And I know from experience that, no matter how many times I pull this stunt, the shock it will give her will not diminish. Grey rolled-up socks, fuzzy microphone covers, cat toy mice, and real mice (dead or alive) are all great for scaring people who are afraid of mice.

Of course you don’t need any props to scare most people. All you have to do is to walk quietly up behind them and scream in their ears. This takes very little effort and is exceptionally effective. Given that it is so obviously easy to scare people, I am not going to write an article merely on how to give someone you know a good scare. I am not going to tell you how while in college my wife’s friend wrote “red-rum” backwards in glow-in-the-dark ink on the ceiling above my easily scared wife’s bed. Or about the likely effect of changing your wife’s computer’s desktop image to a screen shot of the scary face that briefly appears when the priest is walking out of the subway in "The Exorcist." Rather, I am going to write an article on what to do to give a stranger an absolutely terrifyingly scary and long lasting scare. (Something you should never do.)
Scaring a stranger is entirely different than scaring someone you know. Usually when you scare someone you know, you do so in order to have a fun laugh with them as soon as they realize that you scared them as a joke, even if they are still trembling. However, no matter how you play it, after you have given a stranger a really good scare it is unlikely that their fear can be mollified by your immediately joining in laughter with them. If you sneak up behind a stranger and scream in their ear, they will likely be terrified. Unfortunately, where your following up on such a scream with smiles and laughter might make your wife take the scare a bit better (somewhat, sometimes, and in certain situations), doing this after you scream into a stranger’s ear is probably just going to scare them even more so. Additionally, when you are scaring a stranger, your usual impulse will be to not get caught in the process. And if you manage not to get caught, the stranger then gets the double scare of having been scared initially, and then remaining scared that whatever unknown force that scared them the first time will re-emerge and scare them again. Therefore, the only reason I can see for scaring a stranger is to really, seriously, scare them. (Something you should never do.)

Of course, you should never scare a stranger. (I am serious about this.)  Please do not ever do any of these things that I am suggesting you go out and try to do. You would put yourself and the stranger in danger, and you might get arrested.

To show how the stakes are raised when you switch from scaring family/friends to scaring strangers, I’ll start with an example of how to scare a stranger that isn’t difficult or involved at all. It’s an example of something I’m sure you have all thought of doing at one time or another. Just wait until nighttime, and then walk up to a window of a house of someone you don’t know, and stand motionless with your face right up close to the window. Stare into the house with an expressionless face. If your face resembles my face in any way, you’ll be in good shape. Wait until someone notices you, and I’m pretty sure you will witness a pretty good scare of a stranger. The later at night, the better the scare - the only negative being that at night it will take longer for the stranger to notice you. If, after being seen, you can manage to slowly withdraw without changing your expressionless expression, the intensity and duration of the scare will be magnified. It will be quite a few nights before Mrs. Smith will be able to walk into the dining room alone without intentionally diverting her eyes from the window looking out onto her back-yard. By the way, please do not ever do this. If anybody (family, friends, or stranger) ever did this to me I would most certainly die on the spot. Incidentally, I can speak with authority in saying that this is a very effective method for scaring your wife.

Here’s a more involved suggestion on how to scare a stranger. I got this idea from a large painting that hangs in our house. The painting is from 1880s Paris (no … it is not an original), and is of a fashionable lady dressed all in black with a dour expression on her face. At least it is dour as far as I can tell - in the painting the lady’s face is in profile. One day while I was looking at it I thought it might be creepy if the next time I came into the room the lady’s face was no longer in profile - if, instead, she was looking straight into the room. Of course I immediately wondered how difficult it would be to pull that trick off on my wife. I quickly realized that I wasn’t motivated enough to spend the time and resources required to make that happen, and that even if I were, I didn’t think I could keep a straight face long enough to make all of the energy and resources invested worth it. Therefore, I decided that the only thing I could do with this idea would be to suggest it to others as a way to scare a stranger. (Something you should never do.) 

I can’t imagine that any of you are big enough losers so as to do all that is required to actually pull off this trick, so I’m not too worried about sharing the idea. By now you’ve probably already figured out how to pull it off. You just need to find a way to case various strangers’ houses until you’ve found an appropriate painting (and also an appropriate stranger - preferentially a timid, superstitious one). Once you’ve picked a house, you need to figure out how and when you can get in and not be noticed. Next, hire a very talented artist with a sick sense of humor (not hard to find, but probably expensive). Then go to the house with the artist at a designated time and modify the painting accordingly. Unfortunately you likely won’t witness the scare. But I guarantee it will be more profound and longer lasting than a simple window scare. It will be something the stranger will remember for the rest of his life. But don’t ever do this. Breaking and entering is very much illegal, and if the person dies of a heart attack due to your scare you are essentially guilty of murder. If you follow through on this idea just because I suggested it here, I will consider you mentally unstable.

I have one more idea of something to do to scare strangers. I got this idea at a moment when I was scared myself. I had recently finished watching David Lynch’s "Inland Empire" and for a while after seeing that movie I couldn’t seem to get into or drive my car without imagining that one or two of those human sized rabbits were sitting silently in the back seat. It was very late at night and I was driving along a winding New England back road. The night and the road were very dark.  There were no street lights or lit houses to provide illumination, and the car lights seemed to fade into the night fog. The fact that the woods hung in closely on either side of the road made everything seem even darker and more claustrophobic. After checking my rear-view mirror yet again for rabbits, I slowly wound around another tight curve. I realized that even without the fear of human sized rabbits, driving on such dark, twisting, wooded back roads late at night is always a fairly creepy experience - you never knew what might be waiting around the next turn. And I got an idea.

If you really want to scare a stranger, find a lady with pale skin and long jet black hair. If her hair isn’t jet black, have her dye it so. Once it is jet black let it hang loose. Put her in a plain white flowing dress. Cover her with white makeup powder so that her skin appears deathly white. Paint her lips ruby red. Emphasize her eyes with dark eyeliner. Get a step ladder about 3 feet high and paint it black. Get some thick rope and paint it with glow in the dark paint. Find some narrow, winding, wooded back road where on average one car passes every 30 minutes or so at one in the morning. Wait until one in the morning. Bring the lady, the rope, and the ladder to the road. Find a very tight curve followed by a short straightaway. Find a branch hanging over the side of the road at a spot that will be illuminated by any car that enters the straightaway. Put the ladder under the branch. Have the lady stand on the ladder. Tie the rope to the branch, and tie the rest of the rope in a noose around the neck of the lady standing on the ladder (so that if you can’t see the ladder, which is black, it would appear as if the lady were hanging from the tree). Instruct the lady to keep her eyes only slightly shut until she sees the light from the car coming, and then to quickly open her eyes a second or two before the car is about to pass. Hide yourself behind a tree and wait for the show.

Now, don’t ever do this. Chances are about 70 percent that the driver of the car will have a heart attack or at least a panic attack and drive directly into the lady on the ladder or into a tree on the side of the road. In either case you would be guilty of murder. So don’t be an insane psychopath.

Anyway, those are my ideas for scaring a stranger. If you have any ideas on how to scare a stranger I’d love to hear about them in the comments. For my next article I am requesting that you email me a personal anecdote! I’d like to hear about "Something you have done that you later wished you hadn’t forgotten about for so long’."  Read that description over a few times before you send me your anecdote. Send the email to I also might write about something that I have done that I later wished I hadn’t forgotten about for so long. Till then!

Steve LeBlanc lives in Lebanon, N.H., with his wife, son and two cats. His many interests include philosophy, theater, music and writing.

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User Comments
sarafoss | January 16, 2012 22:00

One of the worst scares I ever had was while on a walk in the woods with my friend Jennifer. There was a large boulder known as Devil's Rock - supposedly because the devil lived beneath. We were older, and no longer believed this, but as we were standing there we heard this evil cackle. We both started screaming and ran back down the path, not stopping until we reached the parking lot. Presumably, the evil cackle was made by a high school kid hiding behind the boulder, and not the devil but, either way, it was an effective way to scare a stranger.

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