Faces thrown into shadow by flickering flames, your mouth sticky with the remains of a melted marshmallow (or ten), the night gloom closing in around you as you listen to an increasingly creepy tale about a killer with a hook for a hand and obviously it's not true, but um does anyone have an extra flashlight it just seems kind of dark right now … when it comes to creating visceral childhood memories, is there anything quite like a good old-fashioned campfire ghost story?
For the sake of nostalgia and passing along this wonderful (and only slightly psychologically damaging) ritual to our own kids, here are 5 of the most memorable and scary campfire stories, perfect for sharing during a campout this summer.
Story #1: "Humans can lick too."
Premise: Girl left home all alone at night hears dripping noises from her bed, but every time she goes to check, she finds nothing. Each time she gets back in bed, she feels secure when her "guard dog" licks her hand from underneath the bed. Until finally, she checks her closet and finds her dog hanged and dripping blood in the closet with a scrawled note that says, "Humans can lick too."
Notes for telling: Build up the suspense by dragging out these scenes and slowing down the parts right before the "dog" licks her hand yet again.
Story #2: "The hook-hand killer."
Premise: Teenage boy drives his date to a deserted Lover's Lane for some late-night smooching. While he and the girl are kissing, the radio cuts to a news bulletin warning the public about a murderer -- who just escaped from a nearby asylum! -- with a hook in place of his right hand. The girl flips out and insists they leave, and after trying to appease her by locking the doors, the boy reluctantly agrees. Upon arriving at the girl's house, she gets out of the car and begins shrieking in terror: hanging from the door handle is a bloody hook.
Notes for telling: Make a big deal about how the boy hastily drove away from Lover's Lane, to support the notion that the hook might have been caught in the door because he sped off.
Story #3: "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?"
Premise: Two girls share a college dorm room together. They go out partying one evening, and one of the girls, Meg, returns to their room and retrieves her purse without turning on the lights. Later, the second girl, Julie, heads back to the room to sleep. Meg stays out until late, at which point she returns to find a bunch of police officers outside her dorm. They try to restrain her, but she insists on entering -- where she sees her bloodied dead roommate, and written in blood on the wall, "AREN'T YOU GLAD YOU DIDN'T TURN ON THE LIGHT?"
Notes for telling: This one's all about the creepy payoff, so take your time leading up to it. Like all ghost stories, there are a million versions of this one -- some have Meg coming back to sleep and discovering Julie in the morning, etc. Whatever seems spookiest!
Story #4: "The choking Doberman."
Premise: A man and woman return home from a night out to discover their Doberman Pinscher choking to death. They rush the dog to the veterinarian, but as soon as they get back home, the vet calls them in a panic. "Leave the house! Now!" The vet screams at them, and as they stumble confusedly outside, the police arrive. The vet shows up and says, "Have they got him?" He reveals that he'd found what the dog was choking on: a human finger. Just then, the police drag out a man bleeding from one hand. "We found him in the bedroom," they say.
Notes for telling: You can put a different spin on this one by having the man or woman staying home, unaware of the proximity of the would-be attacker.
Story #5: "The pink jelly bean." (This one was my favorite -- and it's great for younger kids.)
Premise: At the end of a long, dark road is a long, dark path. At the end of the long, dark path is a lone, dark house. And the lone, dark house has a single, dark door. Behind the single, dark door is a long, dark hall. At the end of the long, dark hall are some tall, dark stairs. (Story continues, narrowing in from a room to a closet to a chest to a box, etc.) And in the small, dark box is … a pink jellybean!!!!
Notes for telling: The idea here is to build as much suspense as possible before you leap forward and dramatically shout the jellybean line. You'll know you did it right if your audience reacts by instantly pooping their pants.
What campfire ghost stories do you remember from when you were a kid?
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