Supernatural stories, haunted tales, scary campfire stories of every kind are read and told at Halloween. Be they stories from myth, stories by horror legends like Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe, or stories you found online. But what are some of the best short ghost stories around?
Unmissable Short Ghost Stories
Ones that make for perfect scary campfire stories. Let’s take a look at some of the best short ghost stories that you can read alone by the fireside or recount to friends around the campfire. And, because of our love for translated fiction, some of these stories come from the world over. All the better to frighten you with, my dear.
The Road Virus Heads North by Stephen King (Everything’s Eventual)
Kicking off this list of short ghost stories with a legend like King is predictable, yes, but trust us when we say that his short ghost stories are far more haunted, more unsettling, more creatively creepy than any of his more well-known novels. Take this beauty, for example.
The Road Virus Heads North, from the short story collection Everything’s Eventual, tells the story of a painting depicting a car moving at high speed. The owner of the painting begins to notice that, each time he admires the painting, the scenery shifts to a place he recognises.
Soon he pieces together that the car in the painting is moving closer to where he lives. It’s a chilling story, one of those ideal scary campfire stories that’ll leave a shiver down your spine that you just can’t shake off. To add to this creep factor, King himself actually owns the painting that inspired this story.
How he can stand to look at it with an imagination like his is beyond us.
Reunion by Bora Chung (Cursed Bunny)
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur
Cursed Bunny is a weird and wonderful collection of stories by Korean author, professor, and translator Bora Chung. The tales in this collection cross many genre boundaries, from body horror to sci-fi, to fantasy.
But it’s the final story, Reunion, which makes for one of the best short ghost stories you’re likely to read any time soon.
Reunion places a Korean woman in Warsaw. She’s there doing research, but she is captivated by the repeated sight of an old man crossing the town square, over and over again, from East to West.
She eventually meets and falls into a relationship with a young man who talks with her about the old man, about ghosts, about the effects of World War II on Poland.
Reunion is a ghost story, but it isn’t actually scary. It is, however, a sweet and beautiful story full of atmosphere. If you do want to be scared, however, there are other stories in this collection that will chill your blood.
The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
The Birds is, of course, best known by its 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation. Incidentally, if you go back and watch 1960s Psycho right now, you’ll find that it holds up surprisingly well. The Birds, on the other hands, hasn’t fared as well.
But the original short story by 20th century gothic legend Daphne du Maurier, while not actually a ghost story, is a terrifying and chilling story that wipes the floor with its film adaptation in terms of atmosphere and unease. A short horror story masterpiece and the perfect horror story to read alone by the fireside of an Autumn evening.
Don’t Ask Jack by Neil Gaiman (Smoke and Mirrors)
While not one of your classic short ghost stories, Don’t Ask Jack is something arguably more sinister, for we don’t ever know exactly who or what Jack is.
This most subtly supernatural of supernatural stories is from Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection and tells the story of a mysterious jack-in-the-box which sits alone in an attic nursery, silently tempting the children to play with it.
Questions about the box swim in your head, and you’ll find your brain buzzing with scary story ideas as you move deeper into the tale and the mood grows heavier and darker. It’s a fantastic short story and a lesson in tension and trepidation. One of those eerily perfect scary campfire stories.
Read More: The 9 Best Translated Horror Stories
Our Neighbour’s House by Emily Carroll (Through the Woods)
Some of the most successful short ghost stories have come to us in graphic form, and Through the Woods is the perfect example. Five scary campfire stories told through eerie, unsettling, frightful illustrations. None of them are gruesome or bloody, but each one is truly frightening.
The best of them being the first one: Our Neighbour’s House. In this most chilling of supernatural stories, three young sisters are left alone in their cabin home while their father goes out hunting. Left alone for days, they one by one begin to disappear, and so we come in contact with a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
Or… is ‘man’ the right word? This whole book is a collection of masterful short ghost stories and scary campfire stories; Our Neighbour’s House being the most perfect of them all.
Hanging Blimp by Junji Ito (Shiver)
While we’re on the subject of graphic horror stories, let’s discuss the undisputed king of graphic horror: Junji Ito. Ito is a Japanese mangaka whom you’re either already a huger and dedicated fan of, or you’ve never heard of.
But please trust us when we say you’ll never be more unsettled, frightened, chilled, and even upset by a simply image the way you will be by Ito’s.
Digging deep into his short ghost stories and horror stories is to be truly frightened of turning the next page. In his short story collection Shiver, he demonstrates the very peak of his storytelling and graphic horror prowess.
The best of Shiver, if you’re in the mood to be truly haunted, is Hanging Blimp. In this story, enormous inflated heads depicting the faces of real people float across Japan, seeking out their counterparts.
When they find them, we see that each balloon has a noose hanging beneath it which ensnares its human and kills them, leaving the body to float off with the balloon. This, and every other story in this collection, is nothing short of distressingly terrifying. You will walk away feeling truly haunted.
Sewing for the Heart by Yoko Ogawa (Revenge)
If you don’t know Yoko Ogawa, you should start knowing her now. Ogawa is one of Japan’s major talents. Her story of love and acceptance — The Housekeeper and The Professor — is a truly unique and memorable masterpiece.
And her newest book to be translated, The Memory Police, is a dystopian novel that will go down beside the greats like Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In Revenge, Ogawa has crafted and curated a collection of tales which, while not short ghost stories, are something just as terrifying and arguably far cleverer and more memorable.
The most chilling tale of all may be Sewing for the Heart. This story tells of a woman who comes to a tailor who makes bags seeking a custom bag to hold her heart.
Her heart is exposed, and she seeks a protective bag. The tailor grows quickly obsessed with her request, with his task, and with the woman herself. The graphic images this story conjures and the relationship that’s formed make it one of the truly great modern scary campfire stories.
Read More: 15 Romance Novels from Around the World
Blood by Intan Paramaditha (Apple and Knife)
Modern fairy tales are unfortunately rare. What’s even rarer are truly chilling and frightening fairy tales. But in Apple and Knife you’ll find all of this in spades. You may not think of fairy tales as being ideal scary campfire stories, but dive into Apple and Knife and you’ll see why these ones absolutely are.
The most child of these tales, Blood, is less a fairy tale and more an urban legend, and one of those short ghost stories that must be read to be truly understood.
It tells the story of a young woman who works for a marketing firm. When her team is faced with the challenge of advertising menstrual pads, our protagonist recalls a local legend told by her grandmother of a ghostly old woman who stalks bathrooms looking for used menstrual pads to steal and suck on.
It’s a story with deeply embedded feminist themes, and at once one of those short ghost stories that will leave you feeling haunted for days.
Nightmare by Ha Seong-nan (Flowers of Mold)
Korean horror is the best around right now. If you need convincing, check out films like The Wailing and A Tale of Two Sisters.
And if you want a Korean horror novel to dig into, The Hole by Pyeon Hye-young is one of our favourites. For short ghost stories and scary campfire stories, we have Flowers of Mold, a book of creepy, unsettling tales that reveal the weirdness beneath the surface of ordinary life.
For a truly uncanny tale, dive straight into the second story, Nightmare. On a rural farm, the owner’s daughter is convinced that a farmhand is sneaking in to sexually assault her.
Believing she knows who it is, she seeks bloody revenge while her father has doubts about her story and its culprit. It’s a bloody and discomfiting tale, and an ideal one to be read or told amongst these scary campfire stories.
Headlights by Samanta Schweblin (Mouthful of Birds)
Schweblin is an author with a serious talent for the weird, the off kilter, the unnatural kinds of tales that are best told as scary campfire stories. In her newest collection, Mouthful of Birds, she spreads her skills across the entire spectrum of weird.
But the very first story, Headlights, is the one most born for the fireside. A young couple at the end of their wedding day are driving along a quiet open road when, suddenly, they stop for her to use a public restroom (there’s only a women’s; no men’s).
Once she is out of the car, her husband abruptly speeds off without her, and she is left in the dark, drawn slowly across a field by the sound of wailing women… Here is one of those haunted supernatural stories for the ages.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
You can’t end a list of short ghost stories and scary campfire stories without mentioning the chilling chops of gothic legend Edgar Allan Poe. In one of his most famous and infamous works, The Tell-Tale Heart, we are introduced to a creepy, wildly unsettling narrator who wishes to convince us that he, in fact, did not murder anyone.
All the while, the thumping of a heartbeat begins and steadily grows louder. Believing it to be the still-beating heart of the old man he killed, our narrator is steadily haunted by his guilt and led to madness.
Beyond the eeriness of the beating heart, what makes this one of the great supernatural stories of all time is the unclear relationship between the narrator and the old man he murdered. The lack of clarity adds such an ambiguous discomfort to this story that ensures it remains nestled in your mind for a long time after you’re done.