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"...And every year on the date of the accident, it runs again as a warning to others, plunging into the gap, shrieking like a lost soul!"
Percy, Thomas & Friends, "Ghost Train"

"It Was a Dark and Stormy Night..."

Ah, the classic: everybody's gathered around a campfire, telling spooky stories just in order to see who can freak the others out the most. Usually, in fiction, the stories will be made up on the spot and may even have to do with the location the campers are staying in; when this happens, it often turns into a ghost hunt, after someone's fevered imagination takes the story a little too seriously. Whether or not the location actually is haunted varies, but even in cases where there's a rational explanation for the strange occurrences the campers experience, it's common to leave the story with a somewhat jokey Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane ending.

A common variation is for a parent — who may also be a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant, or perhaps simply has no sense of what would be Harmful to Minors — to tell their children a story like this right before bedtime, leading either to nightmares on the kids' part, or overactive imaginations leading to a hunt for the ghosts like in the main version. In other cases, a parent may employ such a story to scare a misbehaving child into behaving.

See Ghostly Goals for the frequent motivations of the ghosts in the stories and Our Ghosts Are Different for the various ghost story-writing conventions.

Probably the ur-source for the Horror genre and a lot of Urban Legends. For that reason, most actual literature that is this genre should probably go on one of those pages, rather than this one, which will restrict its examples to usage as a plot device.

Note that this doesn't have to take place on a camping trip, and the story itself needn't actually involve ghosts. Any fiction that has the characters trying to scare each other with stories in-universe counts.

Not to be confused with book 13 of The Dresden Files, the Peter Straub novel or its film adaptation, the Coldplay album, the film A Ghost Story, the webcomic A Ghost Story, or the anime Ghost Stories. Super-trope to Scarily Specific Story.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Some seagoing Vultures in After War Gundam X tell stories of the Sea of Lorelei, a place haunted by the singing ghost of a woman. Garrod buys it immediately, and Dr. Farzenberg recites a poem about the river hazard it was named for, which manages to spook the other crew members. It turns out the location is the resting place of a Newtype woman who was put in stasis and then lost during the war, Lucille Lilliant.
  • Aria the Scarlet Ammo has an OVA which, aside from being a Hot Springs Episode, is also essentially a ghost story. As with classic ghost stories, there is no real resolution.
  • One episode of Ask Dr. Rin! has Shinagawa tell everyone the story of a volleyball player who died in an accident and now haunts their school. Cue the soccer coach becoming injured in a freak volleyball accident after school. It turns out that the "accident" was most likely intentional, but not due to spirits. Rather, it was Eddy's way to get to Meirin. All the characters find is a bird with a very strong round-things-obsession.
  • Both Cardcaptor Sakura and ×××HOLiC have episodes with ghost stories that are actually true.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor: In "The Day the Soyokaze Vanished", the marines are telling a ghost story about the previous captain who killed himself out of guilt after his vessel was Reassigned to Antarctica (just like them) and several members of his crew jumped out the airlock, who haunts the ship When the Clock Strikes Twelve (the time he killed himself). At midnight the Soyokaze passes through a Negative Space Wedgie and a ghost starts haunting the ship in an attempt to kill the captain and first officer but gives up in disgust over their constant bickering.
  • Two are shared in episode 3 of Is the Order a Rabbit?. The first by Chino, but for Rize and Cocoa, it's obvious she's referring to Tippy. Chiya shares one too, but the scene cuts from the beginning of it to the very end, and we only see the Thousand-Yard Stare some of the girls display.
  • One episode of Lucky Star has Konata tell a ghost story of a bus driver who, when no one was looking around... would suddenly burst into a rendition of "DANZEN! Futari wa *** Cure".
  • Rebuild World: Since hunters (Private Military Contractors who scavenge for Lost Technology to sell) are superstitious, there are a lot of these, usually with some basis in fact of an Artificial Intelligence being Shrouded in Myth.
    • "The Tempting Specter" is a story that in the ruins of Kuzusuhara, a ghost will offer to lead you to relics, only to lead you to your death. This is presumed to be based on Akira's Virtual Sidekick Alpha… but it turns out the myth was deliberately planted by the government to supplant an older one: The original Tempting Specter is the A.I. manager of the ruins, Tsubaki, who would offer hunters deals to get them to Turncoat and attack other hunters.
    • Shiori entertains Reina with stories from the Mihozono Ruins, one of which says that the dead wander, and out of loneliness, kill others to keep them company. The truth is the A.I. of the city Sarenthal hacks into dead hunter's Powered Armor to move them like People Puppets in a Night of the Living Mooks.
    • There's later another Mihazono story about 'the maid of the ruins', who is only briefly visible and can kill you in an instant. This is the Robot Maid agent Olivia after she got awoken and returned to base.
  • Sgt. Frog has a chapter in which self-proclaimed "Cosmic Junji" Keroro challenges his Earthling hosts to a scary story contest. Angol Mois causes much embarrassment when she gets kuaidan (Japanese for "ghost story") and waidan (Japanese for "dirty story") confused, and Fuyuki manages to tell a story scary enough to spook an actual ghost. The anime throws in Koyuki and Dororo as contestants; Koyuki tells the legend of the yuki-onna (which is more sad than scary) and Dororo tells a Mundane Ghost Story implying that as kids, Keroro made a prank long-distance call on Dororo's family's phone line that left them with a "frighteningly high" phone bill.
  • In the special episode of The Tower of Druaga, Utu proposes that his group of Climbers tell scary stories to entertain themselves. He proceeds to tell a story about a curse doll. He continues to suggest "Let's tell scary stories!" during tense or dangerous moments throughout in the series, and in the second season, the Curse Doll itself makes a brief appearance in the "House of Eternal Spring".

    Comic Books 
  • In Irredeemable, the character Kwaidan has the ability to tell ghost stories... and then the ghosts from those stories appear and fight her enemies. It turns out that this ability is quite a bit more powerful than she'd ever let herself realize.
  • One issue of Lumberjanes features the girls telling each other ghost stories around the campfire, with an Art Shift accompanying each one. Jen's story ends up freaking the girls out the most, to the point when they hear someone approaching their campfire, their response is to run like hell. It's the Bearwoman, who promptly helps herself to their snacks.
  • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: "Beyond the Horizon" sees Diana confront a violent marine ghost, only to find it is the mourning ghost of a child abandoned at sea who died trying to save her younger siblings who were abducted and abandoned with her. She is laid to rest when Diana tells her that she kept her youngest sibling alive long enough for him to be rescued and live a full life.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Calvin and Hobbes share these in Chapter 5 of Calvin and Hobbes: The Movie.
  • In a Halloween chapter of A Game of Cat and Cat, a group of young Mikado Samurai discuss one of these during a boring patrol. According to legend, a boy from Tokyo journeyed to Mikado to find his adopted mother, only to be executed as a spy. He's been haunting Mikado Castle ever since, occasionally killing the careless. The second half of the story reveals that the boy was Nanashi, and he pretended to be a ghost to wage a sabotage/psychological warfare campaign. The execution was real, but Nanashi came back to life.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Barking Dogs Never Bite: As the homeless man and the janitor share the janitor's stew, the janitor tells him the story of "Boiler Kim". Supposedly, Boiler Kim was in the basement inspecting the boiler, when he got in a fight with the construction workers, stumbled back into a wall, and died when his head slammed into a nail protruding from the wall. The construction workers panicked and walled him up, and Kim's spirit haunts the boiler which moans at night. As the janitor tells this story, the light from his stove lights up his face from below in classic spooky ghost story style.
  • The Burning: Around a campfire, Todd tells the story of Camp Blackfoot's caretaker Cropsy, and how he got burned. Eddy uses the moment to scare the canoe trippers that are listening by dressing up in a scary costume.
  • The whole plot of Candyman is driven by a young woman investigating a local urban legend involving a Bloody Mary-like ghost.
  • Partial example in Exit 0. Charles tells Billy and Lisa about Captain Edward Louis, who took shelter in the Doctor's Inn (the hotel where Billy and Lisa are staying) when his ship sunk. When Billy and Charles meet up in a bar later, Charles tells Billy that the captain's ghost is said to still haunt the hotel.
  • The Fog opens with the old sea captain Mr. Machen telling a group of children these at a beach bonfire.
  • Friday the 13th:
    • In Friday the 13th Part 2, the characters are around the campfire, and one of them tells about Camp Crystal Lake's bloody history. It is also used to give audience some sort of explanation of Jason's sudden presence.
    • Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, one camp counselor scares the others with the story of Jason Voorhees, and then follows up with, "I can only think of one thing even more terrifying." That thing is a bus load of rowdy, bratty kids. "I think I'd rather deal with ol' Jason", replies another camp counselor.
  • In Ju-Rei, a schoolteacher staying afterschool with a student waiting for his mother decides to pass the time by telling him one of these... right before the ghost of the boy's mother shows up.
  • Lemon Tree Passage: The Americans and the Australians are telling scary stories around a fire on the beach. Oscar then tells the story of Lemon Tree Passage Road, which inspires everyone to check it out to see if it's real. Unfortunately for them, it is.
  • Madman opens with Max telling the main characters the story of Marz while sitting around a campfire.
  • Meatballs: Tripper Harrison is the head counselor at the Camp North Star summer camp. He tells a ghost story (the urban legend "The Hook") to the children around a campfire. At the end he reveals that he is wearing a hook, causing the kids to run off screaming.
  • The Wasteland (2021): After Diego's birthday celebrations, the family are telling scary stories to each other. Salvador tells them the story of the beast.

  • Aunt Dimity: In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, the islanders on Erinskil have a local ghost story about Brother Cieran, the sole survivor of a Viking raid on a local monastery; he had gone to a small nearby island to meditate, so the Vikings didn't kill him, and after attending to the dead, he returned to island to die, pushing the boat away and haunting the place ever since (along with the cries of the murdered monks). Sir Percy tells this tale to Lori over dinner at DunDrillin Castle; predictably, the lights go out just after he recounts a creepy detail, and Sir Percy's face reappears in the gloom illuminated from below by a lighted match.
  • The Short Story collection Stitches features several stories in which the main character encounters or directly interacts with ghosts in one way or another, such as "Library" where the main character and several of her classmates see the apparition of a young girl running around inside the school library, and "The Kimono", where the main character encounters the ghost of her long-dead sister.
  • The Framing Device of The Woman in Black has the family of narrator/protagonist Arthur Kipps sharing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. When they press him to tell one, he refuses and leaves them in agitation, then resolves to write down his own horrific past experience, in the hopes of "exorcising" it from his memory.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Andy Griffith Show: Andy tells the "Where's My Golden Arm" story around the campfire.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?: A teenagers' club named the Midnight Society meets around a campfire in the woods once a week to tell ghost stories.
  • It takes five seasons, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the monster himself telling the story: Buffy hunts down Dawn in Spike's crypt, rapt with attention of how he murdered a whole family, and then heard the faint sound a child's gasp in a pitch-dark coal bin. Buffy's Mama Bear instincts immediately go to red alert, and she intimidates Spike into changing the ending.
  • Code Black: The episode "Corporeal Form" is one, complete with a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane ending.
  • Community: In a Halloween Episode, Britta finds from psychology test scores that one of the group is a potential homicidal maniac and tries to determine who it is by getting each of them to tell a spooky story.
  • Dexter: Dexter starts telling a story about the Trinity Killer to Cody's Little Sailors' group. The other "dad" there cuts him off when it starts sounding a little too disturbing for the kids.
  • Ghosts (UK): In the episode "The Wormwood Men," Mike and Alison decide to camp out on their property to save money while the house is being fumigated. Pat, the ghost who was a scout leader while alive, tells the others a campfire ghost story so scary two of the other ghosts run screaming into the night.
  • Kenan & Kel:
    Kel: When the bread popped out of the toaster, no one knew what to put on it jelly, margarine, cinnamon-sugar. I suggested butter, crumbs were everywhere...
    Kenan: Man! He said let's tell ghost stories, not toast stories.
  • Ms. Marvel (2022): The Muslim Pakistani-American Kamala mused about growing up being scared by Djinn stories, which "are kind of like Ghost stories, except they are so much worse since they are actually real!!"
  • Supernatural: One of the main types of monster the Winchester Brothers' hunt is ghosts or angry spirits. Very often, the early scenes in any ghost episode have the brothers researching local lore and people telling them of ghost stories they heard and several episodes contain scenes of the story being told.
  • In the Royal Pains episode "Astraphobia", we first meet Ranger Pete at a campfire telling a group of scouts a singularly weak story about a "rule zombie", to lukewarm reception. After he gets struck by lightning, causing a personality change, we see him telling another story — it's still nominally about rule zombies, but his delivery is more animated, and the campers actually seem scared.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Neelix tells a scary story to the Borg children about a Monster of the Week, which is naturally a noncorporeal lifeform.

  • The page image is taken from Rea Irvin's cover illustration for the June 16, 1951 issue of The New Yorker.

  • In Redrum 327, when the group of friends arrive at the house, Hyeri demands that they begin telling ghost stories. Woony tells one, scaring everybody else and making Gahui feel sick.

  • "The Beaches of Cheyenne" by Garth Brooks.
  • "Camoflage" by Steve Ridgeway is about a lost PFC in 'Nam who is escorted to safety by the ghost of The Big Guy, whose callsign was "Camoflage" and whose Dying Wish was to run a rescue operation.
  • "Swamp Witch" by Jim Stafford.
  • The music video for Childish Gambino's "Bonfire" depicts a group of campers who were sacring each other with ghost stories. In particular, they were telling a ghost story of a local ghost, the spirit of a man who was lynched in the woods who might still be lingering there. Gambino's character was that man, and he's set to come back every time his story's been told, never realizing that he died until he figures out for himself.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Done a couple times in Calvin and Hobbes, like when Calvin tells one to Hobbes, only for both to freak out when their father comes out to see them, as they believe him to be the monster mentioned in the story.

    Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Bill Cosby has a routine on his Wonderfulness album called "Chicken Heart", about listening to the radio show Lights Out! while home alone and having basically the same reaction as from a campfire ghost story.

  • Musical Touken Ranbu: The second Shinkenranbu Sai event concerns the Touken Danshi attempting the Hyakku Monogatari — a challenge where each participant goes round robin and tells a scary/supernatural story until they've finished 100 tales — on a winter evening to warm themselves up. Most stories they tell are trivia about themselves or places their masters or smiths have been, such as Kogitsunemaru telling the myth about how he was forged or Mikazuki Munechika talking about the execution grounds near Sanjou Bridge and the Riddle for the Ages surrounding who took Kondou Isami's decapitated head.

    Video Games 
  • Da Capo II includes an event which is a test of courage in the school, where they collect tokens hidden on the locations for The Seven Mysteries of the school. Each location is presented with a ghost story before the event begins.
  • Kentucky Route Zero is heavily inspired by Appalachian folklore, in which ghosts, poltergeists, and other strange and uncanny beings and happenings figure heavily. True to form, the game features a whole slew of ghosts: dead miners, dead townspeople, and most notably Weaver Márquez, cousin to one of the protagonists.
  • Kingdom of Loathing: Ghost stories are a tradition of recurring holiday Yuletide. Most of these are parodies of urban legends and films, but some are retellings of in-game events in spooooky ways.
  • In Love & Pies, Esme tells her grandniece, Amelia, the story of when the former met the Pie Ghost on her 20th birthday, who was eating the family's very first pie in the café's former stockroom (which is now a romantic date room). Amelia doesn't believe her, but Esme warns her that she might hear a ghost say "pies" three times in the date room.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Zelos tells Lloyd and Genis a ghost story about the Gaoracchia Forest. After they run off screaming, he cracks up and confirms to the audience that he made the entire thing up.
  • Wick's plot is driven by an in-game one of these. Five children haunt the woods at night. As it turns out, it's true.


    Web Original 
  • The British Railway Stories: In episode 17, Stephen tells a story to the other engines about the titular engine, a failed experimental fireless engine who now haunts the tracks of British Rail after burying itself alive in a cave-in which it caused out of anger at being abandoned.
  • The fourth episode of Camp Camp starts with campfire ghost stories. David tells a story about a dog getting tangled in his laundry, Gwen starts to tell a vampire romance story, and the Quartermaster warns the children to stay away from Spooky Island with tales of demons and aliens. It turns out that the Quartermaster's story about Spooky Island wasn't true (it was a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax to stop kids from snooping around and discovering his weird sex parties), but there's a real ghost on the island.
  • In Marble Hornets, we hear a story about the old forest describing how during the pilgrim-times, villagers would kill criminals by tying them to trees that grow constantly and quickly for unknown reasons, tearing the victim apart. They continued this brutal practice until one day they discovered the corpse of a child strung up in one of the trees. It's heavily implied that the Operator is somehow linked to this old legend and the forsaken forest described in it.
  • Unwanted Houseguest: A lot of his "TRUE Scary Stories" are these.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Arthur, the kids spend their lunch break having a ghost story contest. When it's Fern's turn, thanks to her knack for storytelling, she manages to tell a rather horrifying one about her insect-studying uncle's encounter with "the Thing" and ends up scaring everyone so much that they begin avoiding her. Of course, she reveals that none of it was real, but they're still not convinced.
  • Daria:
    • In "The Teachings of Don Jake", the Morgendorffers go on a camping trip and try telling ghost stories the first night. Jake's is just a retelling of his traumatic childhood where his dad took him camping and subsequently got drunk. Helen tries telling an erotic vampire story and quickly censors herself when it gets too racy. Quinn simply does a version of Cinderella where the horror part comes in Cindy's fashion faux paus. Daria settles on a very gory version of Hansel and Gretel.
    • "Legends of the Mall" follows this trope more accurately in the form of an anthology story centered around Lawndale urban legends. The last story, The House of Bad Grades, is about a home haunted by a vengeful ghost who died when she was sealed inside a bomb shelter while trying to work on her college applications. The ghost focuses on destroying the academic futures of any child living in her old house, because if she can't leave Lawndale, no one will.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) episode "Superdoo", Launchpad is telling a spooky story at the end of the episode.
  • Freakazoid!: The episode about Candle Jack starts with a bunch of campers telling these stories to each other. Wood is a common theme. Freakazoid is the clear winner, terrifying everyone with the Mundane Ghost Story of Sinbad getting another sitcom.
  • In the Futurama episode "Where the Buggalo Roam", the gang are telling ghost stories over the campfire, and Fry starts blurting out the endings before they even begin.
  • Hey Arnold! has several of these, usually Gerald being the storyteller, but grandpa as well. The episodes are also very successful with creeping out the viewer with tales such as the headless cabbie, four-eyed Jack, the ghost bride and the haunted train.
  • Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil: Brad tries to tell a ghost story to Kick, Gunther, Pantsy and Horace, successfully scaring everyone but Kick (and making Gunther throw up).
  • In one episode of The Mighty B!, the Honeybee Scouts are camping, and Penny tells the story of a mean girl no one liked who gets lost in the woods, speaking in a deep, creepy voice. The story freaks Portia (and her mom) so much she runs away into the woods.
  • Molly of Denali: In "The Worm Turns," Grandpa Nat tells the kids a scary story about giant ice worms. After the power goes out, the kids think that the ice worms ate the power lines.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "Look Before You Sleep", one of the sleepover activities on Twilight Sparkle's checklist is scary stores. After some Mundane Ghost Stories from Rarity and Applejack, Twilight goes on to tell an actual ghost story, the legend of the Headless Horse, which is successfully scary.
    • In "Sleepless in Ponyville", the Cutie Mark Crusaders go camping with Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity. Rainbow Dash tells some scary stories; the episode deals with Scootaloo's fear of them, but also how she wants to hide her fear in order to impress Rainbow Dash.
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: Lt. Pug scares the pups with one while on a camping trip in "Goose Pimples". He tells them of a horrible monster who lives in the woods named Lockjaw. Throughout the rest of the episode, the pups believe that Lockjaw is in the woods with them, and then they start to disappear one by one...
  • Rugrats (1991):
    • One episode is named, you guessed it: "Ghost Story". This episode even has appearances by the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, another Klasky-Csupo Nicktoon.
    • Another episode involves the kids hunting for the "Satchmo" after listening to one of Grandpa Lou's stories.
  • One scene from The Scooby-Doo Project has Velma trying to tell the gang a ghost story that Shaggy recognizes as one of their past adventures.
  • The Simpsons: This is used as a Framing Device in the early "Treehouse of Horror" episodes.
  • In The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, the 3D CGI parts are used as a Framing Device for the 2D animation sequence that tells the ghost story.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Graveyard Shift", Squidward scares SpongeBob with the story of the Hash Slinging Slasher. Then he starts freaking out when the story appears to be coming true.
  • Thomas & Friends LOVES this trope:
    • The aptly-titled "Ghost Train" opens with a story told by Percy about a steam train that got into an accident and, every year on "the date of the accident", runs in ghostly form as a warning to other trains. Thomas brushes this story off and Percy's driver, who told Percy the story, admits that it was "a pretend ghost" he saw on TV.
    • In "Duncan Gets Spooked", Duncan pokes fun at Peter Sam for letting his slate trucks break away and fall off a bridge, joking that they'll "come back to spook him and his special funnel". In retaliation, Rusty decides to give Duncan a little scare by telling him a story about an engine who fell off the same bridge and, in the afterlife, attempts to cross the bridge, but never reaches the other side.
    • Edward seems fond of telling ghost stories during Halloween, as seen in "Scaredy Engines".
  • Tiny Toon Adventures uses the bedtime story version in one episode.
  • In the We Bare Bears episode "Slumber Party", while staying in the Bears' cave during a violent thunderstorm, Chloe tells a rather creepy ghost story to the Bears about her encounter with the Slug-Man. The Bears are terrified despite her reassurance the Slug-Man isn't real, but a shadowy cloaked figure that appears outside their cave convinces them otherwise. It turns out that the figure is actually Chloe's dad.

    Real Life 
  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the result of a contest between friends to see who could write the scariest ghost story. Lord Byron was also present and contributed a fragment which inspired John Polidori to write his genre-codifying short story "The Vampyre".
  • The very first recorded ghost story comes from Pliney the Younger, a famous lawyer in Ancient Rome. He spent the night at a haunted villa, and met the specter, a man wrapped in chains. The ghost led him to a certain spot and disappeared. When Pliney ordered the spot dug up, the laborers found a skeleton wrapped in chains. Once the body was buried properly, the haunting ceased.


Video Example(s):


Gobloon Story

Tigger tells a story about a legendary Halloween figure called the Gobloon, who roams the Hundred Acre Wood every Halloween turning every unsuspecting victim he captures into jaggety lanterns. However, if someone manages to catch him, they get to make a wish.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / GhostStory

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