I remember as a child (in the nineties) reading a story where the narrator was a little boy and how he was scared only twice a day – when the clock read 3:33. The 3's would be powerful enough (there were three of them at 3:33) to leave the clock in the boy's room for one minute and do what they want. They terrified the boy for that one minute they were free.

I don't think it was R.L. Stine, but I cannot remember the author.

Update: It definitely wasn't R.L Stine, but the story was in a similar style.

I know it was only a 15-20 page story, so maybe it was in a short story collection?

  • The comments asking for clarification and making suggestions before the accepted answer was posted have been moved to chat.
    – Null
    Oct 20, 2017 at 13:36
  • 11
    Beware! The votes are currently at 314, and are creeping up to 333!
    – uhoh
    Aug 25, 2019 at 2:44
  • 8
    @uhoh there they are! i.imgur.com/FibwHU6.png
    – Tobias F.
    Nov 5, 2019 at 6:58
  • 3
    @TobiasF. Bingo! (and half way to the next "scary" number)
    – uhoh
    Nov 5, 2019 at 7:12
  • Lets all get this to the more appropriate 555. It looks like the answer is almost there
    – user13267
    Dec 21, 2021 at 3:39

1 Answer 1


The story is "The Homework Horror" by Greg Cox. It was originally printed in Amazing Stories, Volume 62, Issue 1, but was reprinted in Bruce Coville's Book of Nightmares II: More Tales to Make You Scream, which is probably where you read it.

The evil number in the book is 5, not 3.

a picture of three five-like dragons

Five stayed in the shadows and kept her distance. Until 5:55.

At that moment, as soon as the numbers on the digital clock changed over, five slided down the wall and onto the floor. Before Danny could move, five's curved tail hooked around his feet and pulled shut. Barbed-wire teeth stabbed him through his socks. Danny's body jerked. He dropped the report card. The radiator suddenly clicked on and newborn air currents blew the card, complete with its shiny little sticker, all the way across the room.

Five tightened her grip, grinding Danny's ankles together painfully. Even as he cried out, though, he refused to surrender. He could still see his golden star. Five was not in charge here, Danny knew, not as long as he could still remember how to add.

With his small right hand, Danny grabbed the giant five by her single vertical bar, then stood up, partially dragging the hissing number from the plane of the floor. He reached for the clock-radio with his other hand. It was still slightly too far away. Without letting go of five, Danny stretched his arm until a few fingers just grazed the clock's plastic face. He held his breath and tried to visualize a plus sign between the five and the clock.

For a second, he really saw it: two crossed bars of intangible light hanging before his eyes. Then a momentary flash of green to the left of his head attracted him. Danny turned and saw the numbers of the digital clock jump instantly from 5:55 to 6:00 P.M.

Five's jagged tail loosened and pulled away, and Danny kicked his feet apart. He felt five's thin neck shrink between his fingers. Downstairs, the cuckoo clock released the first of a half-dozen enthusiastic chirps.

Danny gave his clock a friendly pat. "Way to go, little six. You did good!"

The glowing green number flickered once, as if to agree.

UPDATE: I did an embarrassing amount of research to confirm this.

First, I went to Google and just searched for "short story evil number" and got this LibraryThing post which seemed similar and offered a little more detail about the boy doing homework and the number possibly being 5. Since it was more detailed, I went to Google Books and searched for books between 1980 and 2000 that had the words homework and 5:55 in them and proceeded to just walk through all the results (Google Books search would be a lot better if you could just filter between non-fiction and fiction!)

And then there, on page 9 of the results, was the Amazing Stories result which unfortunately you only get snippet view, so I searched for the phrases around the phrase I found to get some different snippets to do some more research. It clearly was the story the LibraryThing poster had read, and since it involves the number 5 being able to come out of a clock at 5:55, to me it's the story zompz read.

Unfortunately, because it was just a snippet view, it didn't have the author or the story, and the Google Books link has an extremely blurry and basically worthless table of contents. But it said Amazing Stories, Volume 61 (1987), so I went searching.

Turns out Amazing Stories volumes are printed bimonthly, so there were 6 issues of Volume 61 - and they also overlap years, so Volume 62 also kicked off in 1987. I knew the story was on page 122 (from the Google Books result), and some Locus searching led me to conclude the story was called "The Homework Horror", which is actually from Volume 62, Issue 1, not Volume 61 (the Google Book that was scanned is probably an anthology.)

Then it was easy to see that the story had been reprinted in the Bruce Coville anthology, which are exactly the same kinds of books I was reading in the early 1990s so QED.

UPDATE: I emailed Greg Cox about the question. Here's his response:

Wow. I had no idea people were still talking about that story, which I haven't thought of for years. I can't speak for the original questioner of course, but that description sure sounds like my story, which I wrote nearly thirty years ago!


  • 110
    Fantastic, Kyle! In case you didn't know, this is the single most famous unanswered question on the site: it's been referred to for years as "the big white whale of unanswered questions" and said to be unanswerable. Answering this will guarantee you instant celebrity and probably tons of bounties. A resounding welcome to SFF.SE!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 22, 2015 at 19:55
  • 67
    This. Is. AMAZING. Thank you so much for doing the sleuthing! I now have to go buy all these books so I can reread them all!
    – zompz
    Oct 23, 2015 at 13:10
  • 31
    3000+ reputation from the first and only post the user wrote on this SE site, must be some kind of record.
    – Rev
    Nov 8, 2015 at 22:03
  • 11
    @Rev1.0 It is! Kinda crazy ... though obviously most of the credit goes to the question : ) data.stackexchange.com/scifi/query/387329/…
    – Kyle Hale
    Nov 8, 2015 at 23:13
  • 2
    @EngineerToast I know it's been a few months, but do you happen to remember if you saw this post on the HNQ list that appears on the desktop site and stackexchange.com? Or might it have been a "hot" question that you saw on a mobile app? According to the HNQ formula, the former option shouldn't be possible! Mar 24, 2016 at 19:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.