There was once a boy who was never frightened—for he had not enough sense to be scared.
One day, Hans and his big sister were walking home after dark. The wind howled, and the trees creaked and groaned. The road led past a graveyard, where the moon lit up rows of tombstones.
Hans’s sister began to quiver and quake.
“Ooh!” she said. “This place gives me the willies!”
“The willies?” said Hans. “What are the willies?”
“Do I have to tell you everything? The willies are when you get so scared, you shiver and shake.”
“Well!” said Hans. “I never had anything like that! I wish I would get the willies, so I’d know what they’re like.”
The more Hans thought it over, the more he wondered about the willies, and the more he wished he could have them.
One day he told himself, “If I want the willies, I’d better go look for them.” So he said good‑bye to his family and started down the road.
Hans walked for many days. Everyone he met, he asked, “Can you give me the willies?”
Many tried, but none could.
At last he came to the King’s castle and stood before the King. “Your Majesty,” said Hans, “can you give me the willies?”
“Of course I can. I’m the King!” The King waved his royal scepter. “I command you to have the willies!”
Hans waited, but nothing happened. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, I still don’t have them.”
“Oh well,” said the King, “at least I know where you can get them. On the other side of my kingdom is a haunted castle. If you spend the night there, you are sure to get the willies.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty!”
“There’s just one problem,” said the King. “No one who goes there ever lives through the night. But, if you stay alive and break the spell, you’ll find the castle treasure!”
“That’s fine with me,” said Hans, “as long as I get the willies!”
It was midnight when Hans reached the castle. The towers cast eerie shadows under the full moon. The drawbridge lowered itself at Hans’s feet. Creeeeeeeeeeeek.
“Seems like a friendly place!” said Hans.
As Hans entered the great hall, a fire sprang to life in the huge fireplace. Hans pulled up a chair and settled himself to wait.
“Now I’m sure to get the willies,” he said.
The clock in the great hall struck one. Bong.
“Velcome!” boomed a voice behind him.
Hans looked around and saw two men playing cards. One had a long, black cloak, and the other had a furry face.
“Vould you care to join our game?” asked the man in the cloak. “It’s been so long since ve had anyvun to play vith.”
“Certainly,” said Hans, taking a seat. “It will pass the time, while I’m waiting for the willies!”
“I vill explain the rules,” said the cloaked man. “If my furry friend vins, he vill rip you to shreds. If I vin, I vill drink your blood. If you vin, ve vill let you live.”
“Sounds fair to me!” said Hans.
The furry man snarled and dealt the cards. They played for almost an hour. In the end, the cloaked man won.
“I vant to drink your blood!” he said, moving closer to Hans and showing two long, pointy teeth.
“I think you cheated,” Hans said. He reached for the pointy teeth and broke them off—Snap!
“YEEE-OWWWWWWWW!” howled the man as he ran from the hall.
The furry man roared and leaped at Hans, but Hans sprang away and the man flew past—right out an open window. Hans heard a piercing scream, then a dull thud.
He settled himself again before the fire. “I enjoyed the game,” he said, “but when do I get the willies?”
The clock struck two. Bong. Bong.
Hans heard a rattling, and into the hall marched a long line of skeletons.
The first skeleton snapped its fingers. Click. Click.
The second skeleton knocked its knees. Clack. Clack.
The third skeleton drummed its skull. Clock. Clock.
The fourth skeleton tapped along its ribs in a little tune. Clackety, click clock. Clackety, click clock.
“Nice beat!” said Hans.
The other skeletons formed a circle and started to dance. One skeleton stretched a hand toward Hans.
“Don’t mind if I do!”
Hans took hold of two bony hands and danced in the circle around the hall.
The music got faster. Clackety, clackety, click clock clackety. Clackety, clackety, click clock clackety.
“Hold it, I can’t dance that fast!” shouted Hans over the clatter. But the skeletons gripped his hands harder and danced even faster.
Clackety clickety, clackety clockety. Clackety clickety, clackety clockety.
“I said HOLD IT!”
Hans gave a yank and—Pop!—the two skeletons’ arms came right off. The music and the dancing stopped.
“I think you lost something,” said Hans.
The skeletons rushed at Hans and started jumping on him. Hans grabbed a chair and swung it, this way and that.
Bones flew here, there, and everywhere, till the skeletons lay all in pieces on the floor.
Hans gathered them up and tossed them out the window. “I like a little dancing,” he said, as he settled again before the fire, “but I wonder when I’m going to get those willies!”
The clock struck three. Bong. Bong. Bong.
From up the chimney, a deep voice called, “LOOK OUT BELOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWW!”
Something huge came falling down, swerved to miss the fire, and—thump—landed before the fireplace. It was a giant body, with no arms or legs or head.
“LOOK OUT BELOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWW!”
Thump thump thump thump. Two giant legs and two giant arms landed next to it.
“LOOK OUT BELOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWW!”
Thump. A giant head landed by the rest.
“I get it!” said Hans. “It’s a puzzle, and I have to put it together!”
Hans heaved the two giant legs and stuck them onto the body. Snap. Snap.
“Hey!” thundered the deep voice, close by. It was the giant head. “You got the shoes pointing out!”
“Oh, sorry,” said Hans. He switched the legs. Then he stuck on the arms and the head. Snap. Snap. Snap.
The giant jumped up. “The spell is broken! You’re the only one ever to get me together. The others all died of fright long before this! Now follow me to the castle treasure.”
Hans followed him to the doorway. The giant said, “You first.”
“After you,” said Hans.
The giant led him to the courtyard and pointed to a shovel under a tree. “Dig there!”
“You dig there!” said Hans.
The giant dug till he uncovered three pots of gold. “Take them inside!”
“You take them inside!”
The giant took the pots of gold into the great hall. He said, “One is for the king, one is for the poor, and one is for you.”
Then he fell into pieces again and flew up the chimney—first the head, then the arms and legs, then the giant body.
“Some folks just can’t keep things together,” said Hans. He went back to his chair before the fire, curled up in it, and sighed. “It’s nice to be rich, but when will I ever get the willies?”
* * *
And that is how Hans stayed alive, broke the spell, and found the treasure. When the King heard the tale, he let Hans live in the castle, and when Hans grew up, he married the King’s daughter. Within a year they had triplets—three fine sons. Hans named all three of them Willy.
“And now,” he said, “at last I have the Willies!”
Tips for Telling
Of course, this tale is especially suited for Halloween, but it can be told any time of year. Scary stories are always popular—even if they’re not really scary.
You can tell the story just as it is here, but it’s also a great vehicle for improvisation. In fact, that’s partly how I developed it, as mentioned above and described in my article “Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Storyteller.” At the striking of the clock, I had my audiences suggest opponents for Hans in the castle, then instantly spun out the scenes. It isn’t as hard as you might think, if you keep Hans’s character firmly in mind. You can string out as many scenes as you like between midnight and dawn, while the clock keeps striking the hours. Of course, you’ll want to wrap up with the giant, an important traditional element.
Part of the fun of this tale is the sound effects—the creaking drawbridge, the werewolf’s growls, the snapping together of the giant, and of course, the striking clock. For the bong, I hold a fist in front of me and shake it back and forth to create a strong vibrato. You can invite your audience to make the sounds with you. In fact, you could create a whole four‑part chorus out of the skeleton music.