Name That Trauma:: Dr. Nick on a Talking Skull Ghost Book

Hey! Love the show! Long-time listener, first-time caller, etc. I’ve had this on my mind for quite some time and am just now getting around to putting pixels to screen to get it solved. It is not a particularly traumatic memory that I need help with but it is one that has stumped me for years. Being a kid who was always interested in the macabre side of life I read every age appropriate ghost story book that I could get my hands on as a child. The one I am trying to find must have come from the library since I have never been able to find it in my collection. The book contained a story about a man walking down a lonely road. He finds a human skull in the road and he begins to kick it along as he walks. The skull begins to talk to him. I can’t remember what they talked about or what happened next but I SWEAR that the story ended with a new skull in the road (the walking man’s). This skull was described as new and glistening with blood in the moonlight. Well, at least that is my recollection of it. It was a visual that stuck with me as a child and into middle age. But search as I might, I cannot figure out where this story came from. I remember the book was a collection of stories and was most likely written for the elementary school set. Each chapter/story had a black and white illustration at the beginning and I can almost visualize the one that preceded this story (but not quite). Does anyone know what book this story came from? Or even the title of the story? Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much and sweet dreams!

Dr. Nick

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6 years ago

I wonder if it’s one of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books by Alvin Schwartz. These were a series of three children’s anthologies released from the eighties to the nineties, which are famous in the memories of many who were kids at that time due to the amazingly creepy B&W illustrations by a fellow named Stephen Gamell.

Give it a google, and see if the art style of the Gamell illustrations rings a bell. It’s extremely distinctive, so there’ll be no mistaking it if it’s what you’re remembering, even if that exact illustration isn’t among the search results.

6 years ago

Never heard of your story but Googled about and it might be from (((The Talking Skull And Other Selected Short Stories))) — Grave & Gay Paperback – 1947 by G. H. R. Young (Author)

Amazon, no reviews, no description or table of contents.

Google books was a bust too.

But I did find some stuff that makes me think that could possibly be your book/story.
G. H. R. Young was the author of a single collection of short stories, the British Library containing no further information, not even a full name. The book, (((The Talking Skull))), is subtitled “And Other Selected Short stories–Grave & Gay” and contains 19 stories in 128 pages, a mixture of mystery, drama, satire and humour, the tales often having a sting in the tail.

Comment section:
Mike W said…
Young’s “grave and gay” (probably a unique description!) stories were rather like Roald Dahl’s short stories – his tales of the unexpected which were darkly amusing, macabre, menacing but never totally chilling & horrific.

Also I found that it is possible that your story was made over from a tale of a hunter and a talking skull. Possibly the hunters tale came first. I’m making a great many assumptions.
Once a hunter was walking through the forest when he tripped on a
skull. He said out loud, to no one in particular, “What are you doing
Amazingly, the skull talked back! “Talking brought me here and be
warned, talking will bring you back here too if you don’t keep your
mouth shut.”
The hunter ran back to the village and started to tell everyone about the
talking skull. In time, word reached the king and he summoned the
“What’s all this nonsense I hear about a talking skull?” he demanded.
“It’s true, your majesty,” said the hunter. “I tripped on it and it talked to
me. I swear it on my life.”
“So be it,” said the king. “Take me to this talking skull.”
And so the hunter led the king into the very spot where the skull lay.
“Here it is, your majesty,” he said. He turned to the skull. “What are you
doing here?” he asked the skull. “Tell the king like you told me.” But
the skull said nothing. “Come on,” said the hunter, feeling worried,
“Talk!” But the skull did not talk so, angry with the hunter requests to a
silent skull, the king drew his sword and chopped off the hunter’s head.
A few months later, another hunter was walking through the forest when
he tripped on two skulls. He said out loud, to no one in particular,
“What are you doing here?” Amazingly, the skulls talked back. “Talking
bought us here and be warned, talking will bring you back here too if
you don’t keep your mouth shut.”
I wonder if he did…

6 years ago

I loved the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Probably one of the things that got me hooked on horror from an early age. Some stories were scary, some were silly/funny, but all the illustrations were super creepy.

Dr Nick Riviera
Dr Nick Riviera
6 years ago

Wow. Thanks for the help. I should note that the time period that we are looking at is late ’70s or early 80’s and this is an American book (probably from Scholastic book club).

Nessus: Thanks. It’s most likely not one of the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” books. Somehow I never ran into those ones as a child. I’ve looked at the chapter titles and nothing seems to match up for Volumes 1 -> 3. Amazing illustrations though.

chainman: Thanks for the in-depth research. I really doubt the book is “The Talking Skull And Other Selected Short Stories” – it doesn’t ring a bell and I don’t remember the book title directly referencing the story. But without any physical evidence it’s hard to say. However, the story that I read HAS to be derived from the hunter’s tale. I cannot remember the details of the story anymore but I believe the hunter’s tale has the bones of the story correct. I now have a vague memory of the end of the story being the original skull turning to the new skull, glistening with blood in the moonlight, and saying “I told you so”. However, I don’t know that is an actual memory or if it is just the cheesy writer in my completing the story for myself.

Great work! If anyone else has more information please add it. I need to read this story and see its dumb illustration again before I die or my soul will not be at rest!

6 years ago

Sorry to hear that Dr. Nick, that all of us have fallen a bit short. I thought I had a 50/50 chance on the book. Thought I had 90% chance or better on having the precursor to your modified tale.

At least since you recognize that Hunter’s Tale is a precursor, that fact gives us a very strong starting point for continued research. You should keep trying on this website and ask around on some book websites. I wish I knew of sites that deal heavily with spooky children’s tales.

I’d post this question over at IMDB Book Message Board. They seem to be a pretty active board.
You might have some luck over there. You should also ask if any of those posters are aware of any blogs or sites that would be likely to be able to ferret out your scary story.

I looked a bit more around the interwebs and came up blank. I think that the story you read was a good one but probably not a mainstream book or author. That is why you and the posters here at this site have been unable to find your story.

Your story is based on an African Folktale, I’m 98% positive. Besides posting at IMDB Books, also try these two sites.

Fairy Tale Magazine email Kate Wolford and email her if she would be of any help.
You will find another version of the Hunters Tale on that site.
The Talking Skull,by Jennifer A. McGowan
Email Jennifer and see if she can point you towards a website that can help you out.

Your story isn’t going to be an easy one to find. I wish you luck and please come back when or if your find your story.

Brother Bill
6 years ago

Off topic but this vital information has to be passed along somehow…