Content warning: This post contains stories involving abuse and homicide.
Fear is an interesting human response. It’s there to protect us, giving us a warning when there’s incoming danger or when the ~vibes are off~ for any reason. We can also experience it in a whole bunch of different scenarios.
Recently, redditor u/Wonderful-Wash-2145 asked, “Have you ever been scared to the core of your soul? What’s the story?” And because fear varies drastically from person to person, the responses highlighted all kinds of different situations where people felt truly afraid. Here are some of their harrowing stories:
1.This person got sucked out to sea on a bodyboard AT NIGHT:
“Sucked farther and farther out to sea on my bodyboard after sunset while surfing triple overhead waves, just as the fog bank rolled in obscuring the coastline — and the direction I needed to swim to get home.
Took a couple hours in near dark open ocean to land a couple miles up the coast, guided solely by the faint, faraway string of a few streetlights and headlights that broke though the fog.
Every splash I heard behind me was definitely a great white shark. I’d panic paddle whenever there was a big splash behind me (again, I was in 20 foot seas. This happened constantly) until I could regain my calm center and try to drop my heart rate, the whole while thinking about how all that fast paddling I did probably just attracted a shark.
This was near San Francisco, lost at sea in great white breeding grounds while looking like a seal on a winter night, in horrendous conditions. It’s not easy landing on a tiny strip of beach when twelve foot waves are dumping onto dry sand and the current is ripping at a decent pace… two miles away, I landed safely.
Slept like a baby, waking up screaming every two hours.”
2.This person thought for a second that something was seriously wrong with their 2-year-old nephew:
“Went into my then 2-year-old nephew’s room to wake him up for the day. He was in his crib laying in a kind of weird posture, with his eyes wide open staring off at nothing. I figured he was awake already and thought ‘haha he looks dead…’ to myself, and said ‘Good morning Matthew!’ and his eyes didn’t move to look at me. I said ‘Matthew?’ and got closer to the crib and the way he looked was worse up close, just unfocused dead eyes looking at nothing, body limp. I shook him gently, then harder, saying ‘Matthew? Matthew?! MATTHEW?!’ and when I yelled his name his eyes suddenly focused and he smiled at me and stretched like he often does when he first wakes up. Little fucker was asleep with his eyes open! It was only a few seconds but I swear my blood turned to ice, was never so scared in my goddamn life. No idea what caused it and he never did it again!”
3.This person took their eyes off their daughter for just a second…
“We were at the beach and my son needed to use the washroom. I took him and my 2-year-old daughter into the washroom, my son went into the stall to do his thing. Because his swim trunks were wet, he had trouble pulling them up. I went in the stall to help him for literally 15 seconds and when I came out my daughter was gone. I ran out of the washroom, looked to the beach, she wasn’t in sight. I started screaming her name and i couldn’t find her anywhere. Then someone said ‘I think I saw her at the playground.’
I ran up a grassy hill and saw her on the slide. That minute she was missing was the scariest moment of my life.”
4.This teacher had a major scare in class:
“When I was new to teaching (HS), I was being observed by a principal. The class was being mostly good, but this one student was head down sleeping. I called his name, no response, so I went over to wake him up. I touched his arm and he just fell over, yellow foamy drool everywhere. He had overdosed. Thank God the principal was there with their walkie to call for help while I did what first aid I knew. Student survived — but I was so scared because I wasn’t sure how to help, or if my helping was hurting. It’s the feeling of being utterly powerless and incompetent when someone’s life is in your hands.”
5.These students experienced a school shooting drill that was not presented as a drill at all:
“When I was in sixth grade, we were in choir one day when out of nowhere an announcement comes over the loudspeaker. ‘WE ARE GOING INTO LOCKDOWN, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, THERE IS AN ACTIVE SHOOTER IN THE BUILDING.’ We all panicked, switched out the lights, and packed ourselves into the furthest corner of the room away from the door, all 110 of us. Some people were crying, others were praying. My hands were shaking and I was just whispering, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.’ At some point, someone came by trying the door and pounding on it, and I had never felt terror like that before and I haven’t felt it like that since. After the longest five minutes of my life, they got on the loudspeaker and said, ‘Thank you for your cooperation during the drill, students. You may resume class as normal.’ We went from utter terror to relief to rage in a matter of seconds.
The school received a ton of backlash for the way they handled this. A bunch of people pulled their kids out of my district and a lot of students didn’t come to school for a week. From then on, all active shooter drills were announced as soft or hard lockdown drills and we knew about them beforehand.”
6.This person experienced every skier’s worst nightmare:
“Got lost when I was out skiing and almost dove off a cliff. Wound up hanging on the edge of a tree branch off like a 100 foot drop. It was 25 years ago and I still can feel that almost hollowed out feeling in my chest. Almost like a vacuum.
I was able to scoot/seal back up. Halfway some people came. I heard a ‘Whoa! There’s tracks here!!’ and I saw a guy peeping over the edge. He reached down with a pole and helped me.
The area was roped off, but the rope was probably 100 yards from those cliffs. But I heard the ski patrol have started putting ropes by the actual cliff as well. I hope not because someone actually went off it.”
7.This person met a cute and cuddly thing that meant danger was incoming:
“Met a bear cub walking through the forest. It was 10 feet away from me, and was curious so was walking towards me. Couldn’t see its mom. Just slowly backed away and kept walking backwards for probably half a mile.”
8.This person was dealing with extreme paranoia:
“When I had a psychotic break and I left the hospital I was afraid of everything. I couldn’t leave the house without feeling like someone was about to murder or kidnap me. I’ve never experienced such fear and paranoia to that level before. Which is saying a lot because I suffer from paranoid delusions.”
9.This new father nearly lost everything:
“The birth of my son. Wife started having contractions, but wanted to keep waiting because she is in the medical field and didn’t want to be that woman that gets sent home for false labor pains. Gets to the point where you are supposed to go in and she’s still arguing with me. But then the pain gets so much my wife, who has a high pain tolerance, almost collapses. And now the contractions are starting to run into each other. I put my foot down and say, ‘We are going NOW.’ I grab the prepared bag and my wife understands I’m not taking no for an answer. We drive to the hospital.
The contractions went back to a normal pattern and we’re in the check in. Everything is looking good, but the nurse notes the baby’s heart beat is a little low. We get checked into the room. After we’re all in the room and things are progressing, the door bursts open and about a dozen doctors and nurses fly into the room. They have my wife move into different positions, as I notice the lead doctor is worried about the baby’s heartbeat. Lead doctor says, ‘We’re going to the operating room now, where’s the father?’ I pipe up that I’m the father. ‘Ok, come with us and KEEP UP.’ The team then grabs the bed and RUNS to the OR, with me trailing.
As we’re running one of the medical people is telling me they’re going to do a cesarean section, and once they get set up they’ll come and get me to scrub in. We get to the OR and have me wait outside, across the hall. Now begins the scariest half hour of my life. They don’t come get me. Once [in] a while I see people running in or out. My mind is racing. What if we lose the baby? What if I lose my wife? What if I lose them BOTH?? It was only a half hour, but it was a brutal half hour.
But this story has a happy ending. Eventually they come out and tell me my son has been born and he and my wife are doing good. They bring out my son and I hold him in my hands for the first time, and I feel a joy I cannot describe.
A couple of weeks later, in the follow-up appointment, my wife’s doctor explains we very nearly lost them both. If I had been 10 minutes later, things could have been bad. But we’re all happy and healthy now. All is well that ends well. But that half hour was easily the scariest moments of my life.”
10.This person felt true terror for seemingly no reason, except for a gut feeling:
“It’s a strange one, because I had no actual, logical reason to feel scared, yet I was terrified. I worked in a shop a few years ago and was tidying up at the front of the store near the windows and the entrance. I saw a man walk in, but I only saw his back when he came into the store. He had long hair and wore a leather jacket or leather trousers or maybe both, can’t remember. I thought nothing of it at the time. A few minutes later the same man was walking back towards the doors and I looked at him casually. He was looking at me too so we ended up making eye contact. Instant goosebumps, shivers. Whatever vibes he was giving off it scared the sh*t out of me to the point that I couldn’t move or even take my eyes off him. He slowly walked towards the doors while maintaining an eye contact. When he walked past me, he had this smirk on his face that was just purely evil. He proceeded to walk out of the store and turned right and for a few moments he was covered by a huge sign in our window. Every cell in my body screamed at me to go. Run. Even though he was actually leaving clearly, I still felt the need to get as far away from him as possible. But at the same time I felt like I didn’t want to lose him out of my sight until I knew for sure he was gone. As he came back into view he was still looking at me. When he finally walked past our window I almost cried from relief that he was gone. He never said a word. Never even approached me. All he did was looking at me and it scared me more than anyone ever. I never saw him again and I hope I never will.”
11.This person narrowly avoided a horrible fate:
“I was almost murdered. It’s a long story but I’ll try to paraphrase it.
When I was a senior in high school a girl in my neighborhood went missing and about a month later was found dead. During that time her adoptive father was contacting people left and right. Apparently he had his suspicions about my ex-boyfriend of three years who dated the missing girl in middle school. Adoptive father comes to my house to talk to me about ex and never really asked me anything about him but he talked about himself the whole time and how he was in a white supremacy gang and kills 12 people a year. After he left my house he kept trying to get me to meet with him alone without my mom present to talk to me more about my ex because he felt like I was leaving stuff out in front of my mom. I told him no, I wasn’t comfortable and he just kept insisting. It got to the point where I had to have security walk me to and from my car at work and school. Adoptive father ends up getting arrested on unrelated charges and the detectives come and talk to me to figure out what he said to me, etc. They told me to stay away from him and that he is dangerous. They pulled my mom away to speak privately to her. I didn’t find out til I was in college that they told her that they think he murdered the girl, and that he was planning on murdering me and blaming it on my ex: that he went crazy and started murdering all his ex-girlfriends.
It’s been seven years since this happened and the adoptive father was just convicted of murdering his daughter in February. But, I’m always terrified that one of his ‘brothers’ are watching me since I testified against him.”
12.This person’s partner got violent during a mental health episode:
“My ex-girlfriend had a psychotic breakdown … within a week. One night I took her to the hospital during one of her episodes and the doctor pumped her full of sedatives and said to bring her back in the morning as they had no beds. I didn’t feel comfortable about leaving the hospital but he assured me she’d be fine until the morning.
When I woke up the following morning I opened my eyes and saw she was lying on her pillow staring at me wide-eyed and grinning. It scared the hell out of me. As we got up to get ready to go back to the hospital she came at me with a knife and tried to stab me. I was able to get away from her and calm the situation long enough to call the police and paramedics. She later said that she had to kill me.
I shudder to think what might’ve happened if I had stayed sleeping for longer that morning.”
13.This person ended up in any driver’s nightmare scenario:
“I was driving home through the mountains and drove into a freak May snowstorm. I was on a road with a canyon on my right side, mountain on my left, and my wipers weren’t doing a damn thing to help me with the snow. I couldn’t see a fucking thing. My heart was beating so hard and I wanted to stop, but there were cars behind me and I couldn’t so I had to keep just crawling forward. Finally got to a scenic overlook and was able to pull off. It was terrifying.”
14.This girl was harassed at a music store and bolted:
“I’m pretty sure these two old dudes were going to kidnap me once when I was 16. When I tell this story, people think I’m overreacting to some typical ‘harmless’ creeps who weren’t seriously going to do anything to me. But you would have just had to see their body language and hear this man’s voice for yourself to get it. Like most women, I have heard my fair share of creepy comments from the usual men that cat call women in parking lots and stuff. This was very different. I was browsing CDs alone in a store. The CD section was completely empty, aside from me. While I was looking, suddenly these two middle aged men materialized out of nowhere. They had me corned up, standing so close they were almost touching me. I looked up into the face of the one on my left, and he just had this completely blank face. With no inflection in his voice, he said, ‘Hey gorgeous, what are you doing tonight?’ I remember being surprised by how normal he looked, because he looked like he could have been one of my friends’ dads or someone my dad knows. Very typical looking man in his mid to late 50s with completely gray hair and glasses, and a buttoned up long sleeved shirt tucked into his jeans. He looked clean and well kept. But he was giving off major serial killer vibes. His cold, expressionless face, his monotone voice… I just knew he wanted to do some Ted Bundy stuff to me. I didn’t look at his friend’s face, but I remember that he had a huge beer gut. I didn’t reply, I just quickly darted between him and his friend and ran away.”
15.This person thought they saw a ghost for a second:
“Regularly drove by an old timber house that served as the town museum. One time there was a mannequin in one of the windows dressed in old-timey clothes. The split second I saw it I felt a fear I never felt before or since. [The] best way to explain it was that it was painful even. Shook me completely, left me cold, and I felt physical pain. Then the next second I realised it was a mannequin and [the fear] was gone. I have hunted for that sort of fear and rush since then but never found it.”
16.This person saved a life and nearly lost their own in the process:
“My partner and I were driving to dinner, pulled off the highway and saw five cars pulled to the side of the off-ramp. We stopped because I saw someone waving their arms, and then I noticed a car down the embankment. A couple dudes were looking through the passenger windows, there was smoke coming from under the hood, and there was a woman absolutely screaming bloody murder, ‘She’s burning, she’s burning, oh my god, she’s gonna burn to death.’ Turned out there was still someone trapped in the front seat, and no one was able to get her door open. Between me, my partner and another man, we got her back window broken, but by the time I climbed into the backseat, and they got the passenger door open, there was fire pouring through her dashboard and up along her windshield, coming through the floor. And her foot had gone through the floor and was stuck at an angle that made it impossible to pull her free. So I had to lean into the front seat to grab her leg and maneuver her foot free while we were seconds away from the car going up in flames and killing us all. We managed — the sole of her foot and my hands got pretty badly burned, and her leg was broken severely, but we got her out and over the road to the other side of the embankment. We had barely cleared the asphalt when her car exploded.”
17.This person had a terrible feeling while they were in bed:
“I have a number of sleep disorders but this one night really shook me to my core. I was sleeping on my side facing the wall when I suddenly woke and I had a feeling of complete terror and dread washing over me. I know it was just in my mind, but my brain was telling something is standing behind me right next to my bed and it’s staring at me. I shut my eyes and just told myself that it was just a dream and that it’s going to be ok. I have no memory of anything after that, I just remember waking up the next morning and thinking back on what happened. Thinking about it doesn’t scare me anymore but I remember at that moment in time I was absolute scared for my life and I thought I was going to die. Just a part of my sleep disorders, I guess.”
18.This person had a sudden bout of psychosis:
“I went into psychosis in the car on a family road trip. we had to stop at a stress center (mental hospital) halfway for me to be evaluated. Unfortunately, they had no beds and it was Labor Day so they couldn’t admit me, but they sat me down with my parents and doctor. I remember hallucinating and seeing angels in the hallway and on the walls. I looked at a fire alarm box thing on the wall for 20 minutes just trying to figure out if I was alive, or if I was just imagining myself.
My mother is not the best. So after all of this she decided we still needed to go on the road trip. She sat in the back of the car with me while my dad drove, and I remember drinking a McDonald’s smoothie (best damn smoothie, may I add) and still feeling like I wasn’t real.
The whole trip I was completely out of it. I remember totally feeling like I was in outer space. Like genuinely, I did not believe I was on Earth or human.
I’m better now, but those were the scariest moments of my life.”
19.This person damn near got shot by a hunter, if not for their quick (but random) thinking:
“I went to go stargazing with a friend at a nearby field in Pennsylvania, near Collegeville, around 1995–1998. We were laying down in the tall grass and looking up at the stars and we heard a rustle in the trees nearby…and then the nose of a gun poked out of the bushes maybe 15 feet away, pointed in our direction. It was a hunter who thought we were deer, because he couldn’t see us, but he heard and saw the movement of the grass. We knew if we moved, invisible (as humans) in the tall grass, we would be shot. We even saw a deer earlier, as he probably did.
I felt pure terror in that moment and without even realizing I was doing it, I found myself raising my hand slowly while singing “You are my sunshine”; I just wanted to be as NOT DEER as possible. I kept singing until I was standing up and the gun retreated and I heard twigs snapping as the hunter walked away. I honestly don’t remember what happened after that, adrenaline and all, but I assume we must have walked back soon after. I have no idea why that song came to mind, as I was on total auto-pilot survival mode.
Probably the bravest thing I have ever done and I’m glad it was just a hunter hoping to bag a deer. I’m glad I was able to convince him I was not a deer.”
20.Those were all pretty heavy, huh? To close things out, here’s one about a person who saw a scary intruder — with a little twist:
“I was 11, maybe 12 years old. Dad worked late most nights so I was home alone per usual. Home, however, was a ranch house far out of town in a Florida pine forest. It was late and dark. The doors were all French-style glass with no blinds or curtains. Outside those glass doors was only a hauntingly dark tree line, dimly lit by the moon. Leaving all the lights on and a TV gave some comfort but this meant it was much easier to see in than it was for me to see out…
On this night I had to get something out of the ‘back room,’ this was our name for a garage that was absorbed into the house. The concrete floors and unfinished walls gave the room a cold air. As I’m searching for what I need, I glance up to see a large bleach-white figure standing outside the glass door. Six feet tall with no head and no expression. Just white hair draped in front like The Ring girl. This was the night I learned there was another option besides fight or flight. It was freeze. I stood frozen in fear, as if the blood in my body just drained. Unable to do anything until my brain recognized it was a horse’s ass. The horse got out of its pen and was chilling under the carport, with its ass against the glass door.”
Some responses have been edited for length or clarity.