Ghost stories are a vital summer tradition; a mainstay of summer camps, sleepovers, and sleeping in a tent in the backyard. The goal is to terrify your companions. A successful ghost story doesn’t just have jump-scares, but it lingers so that your audience will fear the dark for some time between a day and 35 years. In the US, stories of Bloody Mary and Baby Blue, or an escaped convict with a hook for a hand, are commonplace. Other cultures have even more terrifying ghost stories you’ve never heard. Here are five nightmare-inducing ghost stories from around the world. Use them responsibly next time you’re around a campfire.
This ghost story is kind of just a dig at single people. The legend says people who died unhappily, such as by suicide or unmarried, can turn into vampire-esque ghosts. The strigoi have red hair and purple eyes and feed on the blood of the living. But there’s a way to stop the curse. If you know someone who died single and you’re worried they’ll return to feast on old friends, bury them with a bottle of whiskey. While vampires are always a creepy story, this seems more like a cultural commentary on singlehood and the best ways of coping with it; by a stiff drink.
Haunting the train tracks of India are the skondhokatas, headless ghosts of train accident victims. Legend says they’re violent but also easy to escape. If you die in a train accident, you could become one of them, haunting the site of your accident and looking for vengeance.
In Japanese schools, there’s a ghost not unlike Bloody Mary. Legend says if you go to the girls’ bathroom on the third floor and knock three times on a stall, you’ll open the door to reveal a girl wearing a red skirt. There are plenty of variations of the story (in some, the girl is a lizard); either the ghost-girl wants to play, or she drags victims into hell through the toilet. Hanako-San stories go back to World War II, when a bomb fell on the school, trapping the girl inside where her tormented spirit seeks vengeance.
If you had a sibling prone to torturing you, this ghost story might ring especially true. The Gjenganger pinch you while you’re sleeping, turning your skin blue. The pinch infects its victims with a wasting disease that travels to the heart and kills the person. Gjenganger look just like ordinary people, maybe even your younger brother, making these ghosts extra menacing.
Sleep paralysis explains a lot of supernatural experiences. In Brazil, people tell the story of la pisadeira, a skinny woman with red eyes and long fingernails. She creeps along rooftops, watching families eat dinner. If someone goes to sleep with a full stomach, la piesadeira crawls in through the window and sits on top of them. They can see her, but can’t move or scream. The best part about telling this story around the campfire is it adds terror to that beloved summer pastime of eating too much barbecue and taking a nap.