7 Ghostly Short Stories That Won’t Give You Nightmares
It’s Halloween — that time of the year when everyone’s thinking of scary stuff, like ghosts and witches and spiders and pumpkins and escaped serial killers banging heads on the roofs of cars.
I went looking for ghosts and creepy houses in the short stories I read this week. But what I found surprised me.
I’ve read my fair share of horror stories (they’re my genre of choice) and I do enjoy being creeped out by the best of them. I expected stories full of fear and monsters and blood. I expected to not want to read these stories at night.
Instead, what I found was a selection of ghost stories that were not frightful, but charming. Ghost stories that made me smile and say ‘huh’. I found well-written, relatable characters and storylines that drew me in and made me keep reading.
The following short stories are all available to read online for free.
1. What We Know About the Lost Families of — — House
By Christopher Barzak
What We Know About the Lost Families of — — House is an eerie ghost story.
“Of course the house is haunted. If a door is closed on the first floor, another on the second floor will squeal open out of contrariness. If wine is spilled on the living room carpet and scrubbed at furiously and quickly so that a stain does not set, another stain, possibly darker, will appear somewhere else in the house.”
An unnamed narrator, who speaks for the whole town, tells us the story of — — House. The house has an eerie history of murder and disappearances. The townsfolk believe the house is evil and haunted.
The narrator tells us the history of the house, at the same time giving us a perfect feel for the townsfolk who seem only moments away from grabbing up their pitchforks and flaming torches, marching up there, and burning the house down.
Jonas and Rose Addleson live there now. Before them, it was the Olivers. Before them, it was the family that built the house but no one remembers their name.
The narrator laments how poor Rose has been sucked in by the house. Rose’s car broke down nearby and when she knocked on the door of — — House, the house called to her and she never left. She married Jonas Addleson, believing the house was trying to communicate something. She desperately wants to understand it, while no one else in the town can see the point.
Then the townsfolk decide an intervention is required to save Rose from the house’s torments.
Published in Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 76, you can read this short story now: What We Know About the Lost Families of — — House
2. En La Casa De Fantasmas
By Brian Holguin
En La Casa De Fantasmas is a touching ghost story.
“Everyone knows about La Bruja. They say she lives somewhere down in the Avenues south of Eagle Rock. She is a tiny thing, short and round. Always dressed in black no matter the weather or time of year. Draped in mourning, they say, like La Llorona. Black wool dress, black coat, black shawl. A black veil that falls like a cobweb over her ancient face.”
La Bruja is old. Everyone knows her. Kids are scared of her; they’ve heard the stories.
But La Bruja is respected and performs a necessary job, carrying her strange little dollhouse with her.
When you need a ghost removed from your house, La Bruja will know. You’ll find instructions from her somewhere in your house and you must follow them to the letter, or she’ll turn around and go home.
Published on Shimmer, you can read this short story now: En La Casa De Fantasmas
3. Hearts in the Hard Ground
By G. V. Anderson
Hearts in the Hard Ground is a melancholy ghost story.
“I bought a slim Edwardian terrace with the money Mum left me. It declared itself a house of dead things right away. Old houses can’t help doing that. The years accumulate inside them, dense as tree rings.”
After her mother dies, Fiona buys an old house, hoping to move on with her life after so long spent caring for someone else. She struggles to deal with her own inner demons as she learns to live on her own, finally responsible only for herself.
The ghosts that haunt her house soon make themselves known as she wrestles with loneliness, guilt, and loss. The first ghost is a dead seagull she buried in the backyard and is soon followed by the ghosts of previous residents.
Published on the TOR website, you can read this short story now: Hearts in the Hard Ground
4. A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds
By Kat Howard
A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds is a bittersweet ghost story.
“I’d never been to my grandmother’s house before. She and my mom weren’t close, and Mom refused to set foot in the house, even after Lily died.”
Twenty years after her grandmother’s death, Luna inherits her grandmother’s house, but there’s a catch: she has to live there for a year first, otherwise the money goes to charity.
When she arrives, the house is full of birds. All types of birds, everywhere throughout the house. Luna is freaked out at first but then gets excited, feeling like it’s a mystery just for her. It’s strange because there’s no mess, some of the birds use household items for nests, and all the birds get along.
The first night there, she has trouble sleeping and hears some snippets of conversations in the air around her. The next day, at least three birds are missing and a new one arrives.
The second night, she again hears a small part of a conversation and wakes up to another bird missing. After a couple of weeks, Luna works out where the birds are coming from and where they’re going.
Published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 17, you can read this short story now: A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds
5. Not Haunted
By Rachel Watts
Not Haunted is a poignant ghost story.
“Delia was a sensible woman and on the morning of the sixth day she told herself sternly that the house was most likely, very definitely probably, not haunted. Besides, she was in her 60s already, deathly ill, and simply didn’t have time for hauntings.”
Delia has cancer and her husband has died. She moves into a 150-year-old cottage, determined to take care of herself. She settles in and starts to get comfortable until she starts noticing small eerie things happening around her.
Published on Tales from the Moonlit Path, you can read this short story now: Not Haunted
6. Being at Home
By Wynona Seabrooke
Being at Home is a fun piece of flash fiction.
“This house is haunted,” Eileen shouts, storming into the room. I half expect the fine china to rattle and portraits to fall off the walls with the force of her anger, but I suppose that would just prove her point.
An unnamed narrator can’t understand why her roommate, Eileen, wants to move out of the old house they share. Eileen’s partner, Mark, also can’t see what the problem is.
Published on Flash Fiction Magazine, you can read this short story now: Being at Home
7. The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor
By Delia Sherman
The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor is a steampunk ghost story.
“There was a ghost at Cwmlech Manor. Everybody knew it, although nobody had seen her, not with their own eyes, for years and years.”
Tacy lives in Wales near Cwmlech Manor. Her father is a blacksmith and has passed his love of machines onto her, but she understands that because of her gender and class, she’ll never be able to follow her dream of becoming an engineer.
Tacy’s always wanted to see the ghost of Cwmlech Manor, Mistress Angharad Cwmlech. Many years ago, when Angharad was seventeen years old, her father and brothers left to fight in the Civil War. When Wales was invaded, Angharad hid her family’s treasures but was killed because she wouldn’t tell the invaders where to find them.
The lord of the manor, Sir Owen Cwmlech, dies leaving a lot of debt and Cwmlech Manor is shut up and the servants let go. Tacy wonders why the ghost hasn’t made herself known so that the treasure can be used to keep Cwmlech Manor open. She breaks in but doesn’t see anything except an empty house.
Nearly a year later, Tacy is almost seventeen when she sees a horseless carriage heading down the lane. She follows it and meets Arthur Cwmlech, a young man not much older than herself, the new master of the house. He hires Tacy as a housekeeper because his ‘mechanicals’ can’t cook very well.
What she doesn’t know is that the Cwmlech family still has huge debts and that she may yet get her wish to see the ghost of Cwmlech Manor.
Published on the TOR website, you can read this short story now: The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor
And that’s it.
If you like your ghost stories with a bit more spice, check out FearSome Fiction for some ghostly recommendations.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far.