Discover 13 scary, spooky short stories from the vaults of classic literature! You can read these short horror and ghost stories for free online.
Scary, Spooky, and Haunting Short Stories from Classic Literature
On days gloomy with mist or blustering winds, or autumn evenings when darkness falls quickly, you’ve got the ideal backdrop for reading a spooky story. A little bit of atmosphere goes a long way in forging a connection with the books you read. It’s why I love seasonal reading, or matching my reading material to my mood.
The next time you find yourself in shivery weather, delve into one of these classic spooky short stories! These haunting tales are perfect to read around the campfire, to read aloud on Halloween night or in the dark on a long road trip, or just curled up under the covers of your own warm bed. I strongly recommend you accompany their reading with hot chocolate or tea!
In the following list you’ll find some of the best short stories of ghosts, hauntings, horror, weird fiction, and Gothic literature from classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, M. R. James, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Sheridan Le Fanu. These are all vintage, old-fashioned stories. Some have a light touch, and others will creep you out and have you jumping at every noise!
Most of these spooky short stories are available to read for free online, but to save you from digging you can sign up for my newsletter using the form below to have the stories delivered as PDFs straight to your inbox. You’ll get the first story immediately, and then one each night for two weeks, along with fascinating background info on the stories and authors.
13 Classic Spooky Stories to Read Aloud
Note: I’m intentionally keeping the descriptions brief, so that I don’t give anything away. Several of these stories have twists, and if you look them up online the descriptions usually spoil them! So, be content with a sparse premise and you’ll maximize your enjoyment of the stories when you read them. You can read these stories in any order, but I did intentionally choose the following reading order to vary the pacing and tone, or to highlight certain themes within stories by having them back to back. Enjoy!
1. “The Mezzotint” by M. R. James (published 1904)
A Cambridge University man who collects art on behalf of the museum receives a mezzotint engraving of an English country house. At first glance, the picture is completely unremarkable. But a closer inspection reveals that there’s much more going on than meets the eye…
2. “Squire Toby’s Will” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1868)
In a mouldering estate in the north of England, an old squire dies and leaves a divisive will for his two sons to feud over. But the inheritance he’s left them is more than just material–the sons are haunted by his legacy of vice, and even visitations from beyond the grave may not be enough to heal old wounds.
3. “The Open Window” by Saki (1911)
An Englishman goes to a restful country spot to cure his nerves, but while meeting the neighbours he hears a ghostly story that may set him back considerably.
4. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce (1890)
Set in Alabama during the Civil War, this is a haunting story of a Southern civilian who attempts to sabotage a Union-held bridge.
5. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)
Fortunato, an Italian aristocrat with a weakness for fine wine, follows his friend Montresor into the catacombs to sample a cask of amontillado that’s stored there. What Fortunato seems to forget is the fact that once he deeply insulted his friend. Unhappily for him, Montresor’s memory of the insult is still quite fresh.
6. “The Tower” by Marghanita Laski (1955)
Caroline, a newlywed living in Tuscany, takes out the car for a bit of sightseeing while her husband is busy in a British Council meeting. The last stop on her list is the 16th-century Tower of Sacrifice that rises from the surrounding countryside…
7. “Olalla” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885)
Set during the Peninsular War in Spain, the story follows a wounded Scottish officer who retreats to the mountains to convalesce. He takes up residence in the hacienda of a declining aristocratic family, and there meets the beautiful Olalla.
8. “The Outsider” by H. P. Lovecraft (1926)
Told in the first person, “The Outsider” follows a lonely protagonist who lives in a gloomy and secluded mansion, but one day decides to venture out into the wider world.
9. “The Thing in the Forest” by Bernard Capes (1915)
Through the snowy Hungarian woods in the deepening twilight, Elspeth hurries to reach the comfort of her own warm cottage. But something stalks her from behind.
10. “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell (1852)
In the story, a nurse recounts to her young charges tales of long ago, when she was young herself, and fiercely protective of their orphaned mother, Rosamond. Nurse and child go to live in a gloomy manor in the hills of Northumbria, where dark deeds committed in the past cry out for restitution–and the innocents may pay the price.
11. “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens (1866)
A traveler has a strange encounter with a railway signal-man, who believes he’s receiving presentiments of tragedies to come.
12. “Lady Ferry” by Sarah Orne Jewett (1878)
A little girl goes to spend the summer with her elderly cousins in their sprawling New England mansion. But someone else lives there as well–the mysterious and melancholy Lady Ferry who dwells in the past but seems unable to die in the present.
13. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood (1907)
Two friends are on a canoe trip down the River Danube during summer flood, and stop to camp on a tiny island amid a landscape of shifting sandbars and crouching willow bushes. They’re struck by the beauty and wildness of their surroundings, but something powerful and unknowable dwells in this willow-land, too…
Want more seasonal short stories you can read for free? Head to this post for classic Christmas short stories!