Andy Williams got it wrong. The most wonderful time of the year isn't the winter holidays, but the month before Halloween, when weekends are spent apple picking by day and terrorizing each other with scary ghost stories by night. Is there anything more enjoyable than watching your audience's faces freeze into rictuses of terror as your tale goes on? No, there is not, especially if your listeners are among the 18 percent of Americans who say they've seen a ghost firsthand. If your material is spooky enough, you might even scare yourself a bit.
Although most people might like to think society has left behind the days of the Salem witch trials, belief in the paranormal remains fairly widespread across the world. In the United States, polls indicate that about 45 percent of citizens think that spirits of the dead can return from the afterlife in certain situations; it's no wonder that ghost stories are so prominent on- and offline. Stories about (ostensibly) real paranormal encounters surface every few weeks on Reddit, and creepypasta — short, fictional horror stories shared online, like Jeff the Killer and Candle Cove — is a thriving genre.
All this means that if you don't feel like creating your own ghost story, there is plenty of material out there to retell. Read on for a list of 12 ghost stories, both old and new, to scare the pants off your friends this October. Try not to creep yourself out in the process.
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1. Screaming Jenny
According to legend, in the town of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, an elderly woman called Jenny lived alone in a small, ramshackle hut along the newly-built railroad. Although she didn't have much — just the shack, whatever food she could scrounge that day, and her small fire to stay warm — she shared what she could with her neighbors and passersby.
One day, she was so focused on that night's dinner that when a spark from the fire lit her skirts on fire, she failed to notice until the flames had reached her skin. As they spread, she bolted up and ran along the tracks toward the railroad station for help. Unfortunately, her screams masked the sound of an approaching train, and despite the conductor's attempts to slow down, she was hit moments later.
Poor Jenny was buried in an unmarked grave and promptly forgotten... until a few weeks later, when another train headed for the station mowed down a screaming woman on fire. The conductor, of course, was unable to find her body. The fiery apparition was Jenny's spirit, which desperately searches for help on the anniversary of her death each year to this day.
Read the full story on American Folklore.
2. Her Sister's Follower
In a Reddit post from 2014, user r/stef-witt described a paranormal experience that stretched on for far too long:
"My older sister has a ghost that's followed her around for years.
I lived with her once for about 3 months, and so much weird stuff happened in that time. All my sister would say to me when I mentioned it was that her ghost 'didn't like me being there.' Things like going to bed with everything locked up and switched off and waking up in the morning with the back door open, lights on and the kettle switched on. ...
But probably the most scared I ever felt was one afternoon when I was the only one in the house (which never happened as 4 other people lived there). I'd arrived home from work and headed straight to the bathroom... All the doors/windows etc [sic] were closed. I was standing in the bathroom and started squeezing a pimple on my chin when a female voice in the hall said, 'Stop picking your zits!' It was loud enough and sounded real enough and at the time I thought it was my sister."
As it turns out, it wasn't. She was unable to find her sister in the house — or anyone at all. Nobody human, at least.
Read the full story on Reddit.
3. The Long Black Hair
Centuries ago, the lord of a distant land called on the service of a samurai living in the Japanese capitol. Given that he had fallen on hard times, he quickly accepted, but instead of bringing along his wife, he invited another woman to accompany him on his travels.
Years later, his duties were finished, and he found himself missing his wife at last. He must have been nervous when he returned to his old house in the capitol, especially when he found the woman sitting alone in silence. But she didn't appear to hold him any ill will; in fact, she happily welcomed him back. That night, they fell asleep in each other's arms for the first time in years.
The next morning, the samurai woke to find himself clutching nothing but a pile of bones and long black hair.
Later, his neighbors explained that his wife had fallen ill the previous summer. Abandoned by her partner, her body was left to decay where she died: in the house he had left so long ago.
Read the full folk tale on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.
4. The Shadow
Once again, Reddit proved to be a gold mine of spookiness when an Ask Reddit thread asked parents to tell creepy stories about their children. It's safe to say user r/Sam_Jam_Goose won with their story about their niece's shadowy companion:
"I was baby sitting my niece once while I was staying at my brother's place and they had the baby camera setup so I could see her on the little TV it came with. I was studying and started dozing off when I heard some whispering and realized it was coming from the monitor, though I initially thought it was some feedback or something, but when I looked at the TV there was a dark shadow near her crib. I have never been more terrified in my life but the shadow was clearly there where it had not been before.
I ran to her room and looked around and saw nothing but I took her the hell out of there. I went back to the TV and the shadow was clearly gone. I told my brother what happened and he pulled me aside and told me not to mention it to my sister in law because she'll freak out, but that he had seen that same thing several times now, with the same whispering."
Read the full comment on Reddit.
5. The Vanished Hitchiker
The tale of the vanishing hitchhiker is an oldie, but if you do it right, it's still worth telling. According to legend, a doctor was driving on a major highway in Maryland when he spotted a hitchhiker clad in a white evening gown on the side of the road. As they were near a notoriously dangerous intersection, he slowed and allowed her to hop in the backseat. After she gave him her address, she was quiet, and he assumed she fell asleep.
A short drive later, he pulled up to the house and turned to wake the girl. The backseat, however, was empty.
Worried, he pounded on the house's front door. The man who opened it looked tired but unsurprised. His daughter, it turns out, had died years ago at the intersection where the doctor had given her a ride. Every month since, she had begged for rides home, only to vanish before reaching her destination.
Read the full story (one of many versions) on Snopes.
6. The Stairwell Savior
Judging from this Reddit user's ghost story, posted online years ago, spirits can be good or evil. Let's hope the nice ones outnumber those with less-than-pure intentions.
According to their post, r/Baldur87 had always heard whispers in the dark as a child. One December, they had woke up in the middle of the night, and on their way to the bathroom, they spotted something unusual.
"I walked out from the door and distinctly heard the phrase 'Look!' and to my astonishment, a red light, almost like a spotlight, was cast upon the wall at the very bottom of the stairs. Being a little kid, and it only being a few days from Christmas, I KNEW what this light was. IT WAS SANTA!!! ... I was so excited I began walking down the stairs to greet him, picking up my pace after the second step as it began to creep off the wall and fade into the darkness in my living room.
That's when I heard him. A very strong, masculine voice. Different from the first. Not at all like my father's (not to say he isn't masculine, it was just distinctly different). It said, 'Stop! Right now. Go back up those stairs and get your mothers purse.'"
When the child did as the voice said, they heard an enormous crash from downstairs. The next morning, the family woke to find the downstairs Christmas decorations in disarray, and a wooden sink appeared to have been torn from the wall.
Read the full post on Reddit.
Written by A.M. Burrage and published in the '30s, "Smee" is worth reading in its entirety. The gist, however, is as follows.
One Christmas Eve, a group of adolescents start a game of Smee. The rules are simple: Each player is given a piece of paper. One of these papers has the word "Smee" written on it. After turning off all the lights, the person who received the Smee paper runs and hides, and the other players look for them. The catch? Nobody knows the Smee's identity; the only way to tell is if you come across them and ask. If they're the Smee, they sit in silence instead of answering, and you sit with them until the rest of the group finds you. The last person to find the Smee loses.
In Burrage's story, the teenagers are playing Smee in a house where a young girl had died in a game of hide and seek. There are twelve players, but each time the game ends, they count 13 people.
Read the full story on Scary for Kids.
8. The Sarah Scoule
In the early 19th century, two sailors, George and Charles, fell in love with the same woman. Their friendship turned to bitter rivalry, and when George ultimately won her heart, Charles disappeared. George was so happy with his wife that he named his new ship after her: The Sarah Scoule.
Unfortunately, the ship was doomed. Not long after its maiden voyage, the Sarah Scoule was overtaken by a black ship captained by none other than George's former friend. Charles and his crew quickly boarded the ship, slaughtering the crew. George, however, was left alive, so Charles could tie him to the ship's mast and send him off to die alone on the sea.
George thought this was the end, but as he drifted, the murdered crew began to stir. One by one, they rose from the dead and guided the ship back to shore, where George could return home safe and sound. To this day, sailors along the East Coast claim they see the Sarah Scoule floating along the horizon.
Read the full story at History.com.
9. Dolley Madison
The wife of former president James Madison, Dolley Madison was popular for being incredibly friendly, as long as you didn't cross her. During her time as First Lady, she planned and built the famous Rose Garden.
When Woodrow Wilson took office, his wife told workers to dig up the Rose Garden, but they declined before they even began. According to legend, Dolley's ghost rose from the grave to intimidate the entire crew of workmen into leaving her beloved garden intact.
Read the full story at History.com
10. The Open Door
In this Reddit post, the user relates they reason they began sleeping with the door closed, and honestly, it will make you want to lock your door every night.
"When I was little, I would always sleep with my door open. I went though a [phase] where I would wake up between 3:00 /4:00 AM every night, and every single night I would hear footsteps walking up my stairs, around my living room, through my dining room, across my kitchen and down my hallway. They would always stop right before my doorway, then turn around and go back into the basement. But one night they didn't stop, what I saw was a shadow of a little girl/boy (couldn't tell) walk right in front of my doorway, look at me for a few seconds, then it walked away, back down the stairs.
I slept with the door closed the next night."
Read the full post on Reddit.
11. The Veiled Woman
Years ago, a man named Carlos was on a midnight stroll around the cemetery when he spotted a veiled woman gliding along nearby. He scurried over and made a few attempts at small talk until she asked him what he wanted. Naturally, he asked her on a date. She said no, but told him to ask again tomorrow night at the same time.
When he returned the next night, they talked for hours. At the end of the night, he asked her out again, and again, she said to return tomorrow.
When he came back a third time, he asked her to lift her veil for him to kiss her. After a few moments, however, he opened his eyes to see that he was kissing not a beautiful woman, but a decaying skeleton. He tried to tear himself away, but she held him tight and pulled him into her tomb forever.
Read the full story at American Folklore.
According to legend, the tale of Hanako-san is a sad one. During World War II, the schoolgirl was using the bathroom when the building was hit by a bomb. She was killed instantly, but her spirit still haunts the bathroom stall where she died — not just in her own flattened school, but in all of them.
To this day, children can find her waiting in the third stall of any third floor school bathroom. If you knock three times and call her name, she will appear when you open the door. Sometimes, she wants to play. Other times, she might just drag you to the underworld.
Read the full story (and some history) on NPR.