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20 Spooky Halloween Stories That Will Keep You Up at Night

If you love scaring yourself silly on Halloween and beyond, these terrifying tales will do the trick.

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Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Forget baseball—swapping ghost stories is the best American pastime. But you have to do it right: Sit in a circle on the floor with the lights off. (Or, if you really want to set the mood, venture to your local cemetery on a moonlit night.) Feel the eerie weight of the tension in the air and a tingle of nervous excitement for the next ghoulish tale to be told. Of course, you don’t believe any of it, but as the spooky stories go on you think, “What if it is true?” Might dark, mysterious things like spirits and demons exist? There are a lot of people who swear they’ve seen ghosts. Could they all be lying? Could they all be missing some sort of rational explanation, or do Ouija boards, seances, and witchcraft really work?

Whether it’s Halloween or you’re just fiending for a scare, we’ve got plenty of terrifying tales to pull at the threads of your sanity. Some of them are made up, but others are eyewitness accounts from real people. Are you willing to suspend disbelief? Read on…if you dare.

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The architect’s key

There was once a man named Edward, who designed and built his own perfect house. He lived in it for many years until he eventually passed away. A new family soon moved in, but whenever they went into the basement—where Edward’s personal study had been—they would get the feeling that someone was watching them. One day, the father of the new family decided to fix up an old jacket, which every tailor in town had told him was beyond repair. So, he went down to the old study, laid his jacket on a chair, and then tried to see if there was anything in the old desk that could help him mend it. But the drawers were all locked, and he couldn’t find a key anywhere. The next morning, he came back down to find the key on the desk, all of the drawers open, and his jacket completely fixed. Here are more haunted house mysteries no one can explain.

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A mother’s love

Some people actively go out looking for ghost encounters, and every once in a while, they find one. When Kevin was a teenager, he and his friends had heard about a dangerous turn on the nearby highway that caused many accidents over the years; it was now haunted. The most well-known story was of a mother who took her own life after her son had crashed his car and died there. It was said around town that her ghost remained at the deadly turn to protect people from ending up like her deceased child. Kevin and his friends decided to put that theory to the test.

At night, Kevin drove his friends out to the highway. When the group of boys arrived at the turn, they pulled over. They’d brought a bag of flour with them and proceeded to sprinkle the white powder on the road, the grass, and the car. The idea was to get footprints to prove that the ghost was indeed real. The boys hopped back in and began to take the car around the turn. Kevin accelerated faster and faster and—THUMP. The car came to an abrupt halt as if someone had slammed down on it with their own two hands. They immediately got out of the car and saw two woman-sized handprints in the white flour on the hood. For more haunting tales, check out these scary podcasts.

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The ghost in the hall

Four young women moved into an old New England apartment together. (You know, the type with squeaky floorboards and a long, dark hallway, like you’d find in the scariest Halloween movies.) A month after they moved in, one of the roommates realized that her favorite stuffed teddy bear was missing. The others all said they hadn’t touched it or seen it. Weeks went by, and she almost forgot about her teddy when something strange happened. She opened the door to one of the closets they hardly ever used, and there on the top shelf sat her furry friend. All of her roommates swore they had no idea how it had happened. Now, whenever the teddy bear goes missing for a few days, she knows exactly where to find it.

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A voice in the desert

Two young men in their 20s, Josh and Dan, went on a camping trip together in a desert in New Mexico. They didn’t take much with them besides sleeping bags, food, and materials for a fire. After they cooked their dinner, they fell asleep as they gazed up into the starry night sky. The beauty and peace of the trip were short-lived, however. In the early, dark hours of the morning, Josh was startled awake by what sounded like Dan’s voice, but frantic.

The voice said, “Come here, quick! Look!” Sleepy and confused, Josh got up to see what his friend was talking about. He heard again, “Come here, quick! Look!” It sounded unnatural; a perfect repetition. Josh took a few steps forward, and then someone grabbed him from behind. He turned around to see Dan with his finger in front of his mouth, warning Josh to keep quiet. They rolled up their sleeping bags and left. They still don’t know who—or what—was trying to lure Josh away into the desert. Freaked out by this spooky story? These hilarious Halloween memes will calm you down.

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Echoes of the past

A young bachelor at the beginning of his career became very successful very quickly, so he bought himself a house. One morning, he awoke to the sound of running water. He rushed to the bathroom and saw that the bathtub faucet was running on full blast. He was perturbed by this, as he lived alone. A week later, it happened again, only this time it wasn’t just one faucet—it was all of the faucets in the house. The young man called a repairman to fix the pipes and the water damage…but, as it turned out, the pipes weren’t broken. The repairman, a local, seemed visibly shaken. “What’s wrong?” the bachelor asked. “The woman who lived here before you,” said the repairman, “she drowned in that bathtub.”

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No one steals twice

Jen went to the same convenience store every day after school for a snack. Over time, she became good friends with the cashier, Lucy. Out of curiosity, one day Jen asked Lucy how she would stop someone if they tried to steal from the store. Lucy replied, “Oh, no one ever steals anything from here twice. The store won’t let them.” Jen didn’t know what that meant but dropped the subject.

When she went back to the store at the start of the next school week, Jen walked in to find Lucy talking to some cops. Apparently, a man stole from the store and drove off, but his brakes mysteriously failed and his car went soaring off a cliff. The cops asked Lucy if she knew what happened. “No,” she said. “I was stocking the back room. I didn’t even know he’d come in.” No one ever steals twice… If you’re looking for spooky stories that are a little less creepy, these Disney Halloween movies might be more your speed.

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When the candle burns

Three little girls were having a sleepover one night when they decided to try to host a seance. One of the girls, Clara, recently lost her grandpa and wanted to see if she could commune with his spirit. The three girls gathered some candles and a few items that belonged to the late grandfather: his watch, his cigar case, and a photograph of him. The girls held hands and started the seance. Suddenly, the candles began to flicker, and the hands on the watch began to spin. Clara was sure it was her grandpa! Elated, she began to talk to him and ask him questions, when all of a sudden one of the candles flew, as if by some invisible force, and almost hit her head. “Grandpa would never do that,” she said, shaking. She was right. It wasn’t her grandpa—and whoever it was clearly did not like being disturbed. Read up on these signs your house could be haunted.

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The curse of the eldest son

Inaya’s parents came to the United States from Pakistan. Before they were married, Inaya’s father was engaged to someone else. It was an arranged marriage, and the prospect made him unhappy, so he broke it off. The woman went off the deep end; there were rumors in the town that she had started using black magic. She even ran right up to him in the street one day, screaming that she had put a curse on his eldest son so that he would die before he reached manhood. In fact, Inaya’s older brother, the eldest son, died in a car crash on his 18th birthday. Read up on the spooky origins of Halloween creatures before the holiday rolls around.

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The uninvited party guest

One night, a group of adults was having a dinner party. There were six of them, and they had all just taken their seats when they heard an unexpected knock at the door. The woman hosting the dinner party opened the door to see who it could possibly be, but no one was there. “Somebody must have realized they had the wrong address,” she explained to her guests. But when they all turned their attention back to the table, there was a seventh plate set. “Was that there before?” one of the men asked. “I… I must have set an extra place by mistake,” said the hostess.

She took it back to the kitchen, but when she returned, another plate was there—this time with a glass next to it. The other guests had been talking amongst themselves and hadn’t seen anything strange. But when they realized what had happened, they were shocked and didn’t know what to do. At this point, they figured the best strategy was to play along, so they filled the empty glass and plate, so as not to upset their mysterious uninvited party guest. While you might not get your very own ghost to show up, these Halloween party ideas will make for a scary good time.

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After hours

It was nine o’clock, time for the store to close. Valerie, Ginny, and Kelly were the only ones working. As they were cleaning up the store, a pile of shirts fell to the floor. None of the girls touched it. “It’s probably the ghost,” Ginny said. “Very funny,” said Kelly. “No, really,” Valerie replied. “He’s a little boy. He likes to play.” Kelly still didn’t take them seriously, though; she thought they were teasing her because she was younger. But when she went into the backroom to get her keys to go home, she saw a flash of a young boy in the mirror next to her. When she looked back, her keys had been placed on the floor.

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The lonely Ferris wheel

The carnival came to town every summer, and this year was no different. But Charlie had just started working there, so he didn’t know what the rest of the workers knew about the Ferris wheel he was in charge of operating. The first night of the carnival was bustling with people, but as it came time to close, it was practically a ghost town. However, there was one boy who showed up at the last minute. “One for the Ferris wheel, please,” the boy said, giving Charlie a ticket. Charlie looked around. “Where are your parents?” he asked the little boy. The boy just took his seat and didn’t answer. Unsure of what to do, he let the boy go on the ride. But when the ride was over, the boy was no longer in his seat!

Charlie ran to his boss to tell him the story. The boss casually said, “Oh, that’s Thomas.” He handed Charlie a clipping from an old newspaper. It had the boy’s picture and the headline: “Boy Falls from Ferris Wheel, Eight Years Old.” These are the most haunted places in America, according to paranormal experts.

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The laundry thief

A woman and her daughter moved into a new house. The mother worked a lot, so it was up to the girl to do the household chores, including the laundry. One day, the girl went down to the laundry room and put in a load of clothes. When she came back, the door to the washing machine had already been lifted open. “That’s weird,” she said to herself. “I thought I closed it.” She shrugged it off, but the next time she did laundry, it happened again. And that’s not all: Each time it happened, one piece of her clothing would go missing. One time it was a sock, the next a pair of shorts, and so on. After a few weeks, she went down to the laundry room again to find a complete outfit set out for her, with all the clothes that had been missing.

Hotel Room Doorknob Next To Silhouette Of Boy With Text Room 213rd.com, Getty Images (4)

The child in Room 213

An executive went on a business trip for her company. When she arrived at the hotel, she got the keycard for her room, 213, and went straight up. She was exhausted and couldn’t wait to sit down, but her keycard didn’t work. She went down to complain to the front desk and promptly got a new card. That one didn’t work either! Just as she was storming off to go back to the lobby, the door to her room creaked open. A little boy had opened the door, and he was standing in the dark. She went to the front desk again. “There’s another family in my room,” she said to the man. “No, that’s impossible,” he said. “No one has checked in but you.” You just might find an apparition at one of these haunted hotels and end up with some spooky stories of your own.

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The traveling photograph

After Anna’s dog, Bo, passed away, she started carrying his photo with her everywhere. She loved Bo more than anything, which is why she was so heartbroken when she lost the picture. Anna lived in a big city and was sure she’d never find it. But when Bo’s birthday came around the next year, she found the photograph in the closet next to his old leash. “Good dog, Bo,” she whispered. Can dogs see ghosts? Here’s what the science says.

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Shattered glass

Sam, Peter, and John met up every day after work for a drink. This time, they decided to try someplace they had never been before. “They say this place is haunted,” Peter told his friends of the bar they’d chosen that night. The other two insisted that was nonsense, and they all sat down in a booth. When their drinks arrived, they were about to make their usual toast when both Sam and John’s glasses completely shattered. “What gives?” they yelled. “Apologies,” said the waiter. “That happens sometimes.”

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The daughter’s scarf

One freezing January night, a man was driving down a deserted road. The snow was picking up and quickly turning into a blizzard. But this man was not the only one on the road; there was another man driving behind him. The other man flickered his car lights to signal him to stop, and both men got out of their cars. The second man stretched out his hand and gave the first man a pink scarf. It was soft and looked just like his daughter’s. The man who gave him the scarf had a terrible look in his eyes and a terrible smile to match. Frantic, the father jumped back into his car and sped home, where he found the police already waiting for him. Read these spooky urban legends from all 50 states.

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Wedding in the dark

An engaged couple planned to have their wedding reception at their absolute favorite restaurant. But on the day of the wedding, the bride tragically fell down the stairs and died. Now, it’s said that every night after the restaurant closes, the ghost of the bride walks down the very stairs she fell from and sets up all of the tables and chairs for the wedding guests she never got to see. These haunted wedding venues around the world really exist.

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Three’s a crowd

Two sisters were at home while their parents were out at an event one evening. They stayed up late, talking and telling stories in the older sister’s room. Suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by the sound of loud music. They looked at each other, confused and unsure of where the music could be coming from. The older sister got out of bed and began walking down the hallway. It sounded like the music was coming from their parents’ room. She peered into the dark room, saw her father’s laptop open—screen on, music blaring. And right then, the music stopped.

Scared, the girl ran back to her room, where her younger sister was waiting on the bed. Frightened, she shut the bedroom door behind her and got back under the covers, holding her little sister tight. They heard slow, heavy footsteps one after another, heading toward their end of the hall. When the footsteps stopped—BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Three hard knocks on the bedroom door. No one came in, but they certainly didn’t try to leave the room for the rest of the night.

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A psychic warning

Not all spooky stories are scary—sometimes, they’re just otherworldly. Frank was at the mall one day by himself when, in the middle of walking from one store to the next, an older woman ran up to him gasping for breath. “I ran all the way from the other end of the mall to find you because I sensed you were here,” she said. Frank had no idea who this woman was, and was understandably frightened. He tried to push her away. Then she said, “I have to tell you: Your brother’s death was not your fault.”

Frank was stunned. He had never met her before in his life, but she somehow knew that his brother had died and that he felt guilty. Frank’s brother had been a drug addict. He called Frank the day he died, but Frank didn’t pick up the phone. “Your brother doesn’t blame you,” she said with compassion. Satisfied that she had fulfilled her duty, she walked away and disappeared back into the crowd of shoppers. Frank broke down in tears. Check out these mysteries that were actually solved by psychics.

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When art imitates life a little too closely

There was a house in a small neighborhood in Maryland that went overboard with Halloween decorations every year. Whenever the crisp, fall air rolled in, the entire town would look forward to the unveiling of the new display. But no one ever really talked to the person who did the actual decorating; he was a loner. People only knew him for his Halloween spirit, and his decorations became grander and more lifelike every year. The newest one was a Vlad the Impaler theme: hyperrealistic, bloodied mannequins were pierced through with wooden stakes and left to the crows in a gruesome display. It was the ultimate work of horror—so much so that it caused quite the controversy in the town. While some loved it, many of the local parents wanted it taken down for their children’s sake, so a town official made the trip to the house soon after the unveiling to discuss the matter with the man who lived there.

She knocked on the front door. No answer. Knock, knock. Nothing. She rang the doorbell. Nothing still. It was then that the official realized there was a putrid smell in the yard and an unusual amount of bugs buzzing around for this time of year. She wandered over to one of the mannequins to get a closer look at the incredible craftsmanship. The smell got worse. She gagged and had to put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes went wide. The official put her trembling finger up to the doll…and felt the soft, smooth, cold touch of human skin. After that, no one was able to locate the man who’d once lived there. Now, it is truly a haunted house.

Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest's Culture, Advice, Travel and Pets beats. She is also a music journalist who has contributed to Alternative Press, Loudwire, Revolver, Kerrang! and more. Markarian is the author of the book, 'From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society', which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College.

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