10 ghost stories you can read online for free

What better way to spend Halloween than cosying up with friends or family, lighting candles against the dark and telling ghost stories to scare each other senseless? Here are a few spooky stories you can read online for free – guaranteed to send shivers down your spine.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe masterfully tells the story of a man driven mad by a crime he has committed. The frantic tone and narrator’s matter-of-fact reassurances to the reader – ‘observe how calmly I can tell you the whole story’ – add to the horrific nature of the tale. The almost unbearable suspense is sure to make your heart pound and your nerves tingle.

‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ by M.R. James

This story, about the discovery of an old brass whistle in some ruins, is a wonderful mix of humour and terror. The witty exchanges of dialogue – ‘I thought I should do nicely to keep the ghosts off’ – lull the reader into a false sense of security. But the hallmarks of a classic ghost story – a bleak landscape, wind moaning about the casements and things that go bump in the night – leave you in no doubt as to what kind of tale you’re reading.

Cannibalism in the Cars by Mark Twain

Set in the dim interior of a train that has come to a standstill in a snowstorm, the sense of claustrophobia means this story is perfect for reading on a chill autumn night. Days of hunger stranded in the train lead to a discussion – which is somehow both funny and horrifying – about how the passengers are going to survive.

The Open Window by Saki

A brilliantly creepy tale that I can’t say too much about without giving away the ending, this bite-sized short story is perfect for those who don’t have much time on their hands.

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

This creepy story begins in the vein of many classic ghost stories: with characters sitting around a fire telling tales on a cold, wet night. A mysterious monkey’s paw, brought back from India by a sergeant, purports to grant three wishes to the holder. The clever twists and turns of the plot keep you reading even as the story fills you with dread, and the ending is brilliantly terrifying.

The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This spooky, slightly odd story is worth it if you can muddle through the antiquated language. A minister distresses his puritanical flock when he starts wearing a black veil at all times, for seemingly no reason at all. Although not a traditional ghost story, its eerie atmosphere will still appeal to those searching for something to send a chill down the spine.

John Charrington’s Wedding by E. Nesbit

It’s difficult to convey a sense of character in a short story (particularly in a genre as full of clichés as the ghost story) but Nesbit manages to create three-dimensional characters in a few deft strokes. This story is full of premonition and dread, and you won’t easily forget the horror of the last few paragraphs.

The Lives of the Dead by Tim O’Brien

This is easily one of the most well-written stories on this list, exploring the ways in which we try to keep the dead alive. The matter-of-fact language and moments of humour somehow make the horrors of war all the more upsetting.

The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen

This story’s strength lies in its protagonist’s determination to remain calm and collected despite events pointing to suspicious – and possibly supernatural – elements at play. This only makes the sudden ending all the more shocking.

Death by Landscape by Margaret Atwood

Although the longest story on this list, Atwood manages to create a sense of dread from the first paragraph to the last in this story of a woman looking back on her time at a summer camp. Not a traditional ghost story, it nevertheless retains a ghostly sense of things just on the edge of sight, lurking in the shadows.

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