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The Creepiest Ghost And Monster Stories From Around The World
Credit: Phoebe Boswell for NPR
It's Halloween — a time for Frankenstein monsters and vampires and werewolves. But many of us have our own monsters from different cultures, and when we threw out a call to our readers asking what ghost stories and folktales they grew up with in their own traditions, we got back stories of creatures stalking the shadows of Latin American hallways and vengeful demons from South Asia with backwards feet. (And that's before we get to the were-hyenas and the infernal bathroom stalls.) Below are some of the best we've found or that were told to us from Code Switch readers.
Read on...if you dare.
The Night Demon
An evil creature stalks the Tanzanian island of Pemba in the Indian Ocean. It can change shape — a bat sometimes, a human-like form at others. It prefers to come out at night, but some say they have seen it during the day. The popobawa — "bat-wing" in Swahili — is indiscriminate in its targets. But in a common retelling, the spirit sexually assaults men.
Here & Now | Ghost Stories From Around The World
Ghost stories from around the world.
The popobawa story is rather new — only dating back a few decades from a time of civil unrest following the assassination of the country's president. The popular thinking goes that after a popbawa attack, victims must spread the word to others on Pemba. Otherwise, they will continue to be visited by the popobawa.
Reports of attack send some locals into a panic. A few years ago, a series of night-time sexual assaults were blamed on the popobawa.
"Some men are staying awake or sleeping in groups outside their homes," the BBC reported in 2007. "Others are smearing themselves with pig's oil, believing this repels attacks."
A peasant farmer named Mjaka Hamad claims he was attacked by the popobawa in 1997 .
I couldn't see it. I could only feel it. But some people in my house could see it. Those who've got the spirits in their heads could see it. Everybody was terrified. They were outside screaming Huyo! It means the Popobawa is there. I had this bad pain in my ribs where it crushed me. I don't believe in spirits so maybe that's why it attacked me. Maybe it will attack anybody who doesn't believe.
Beware the third stall.
The Girl In The Bathroom
In Japan, the schools contain an infernal secret. If you go into the girl's bathroom on the third floor of the building, and walk to the third stall, you might find her.
"You have to knock 3 times and call her name," a Code Switch reader named Jessica tweeted at us . "When you open the stall door, a little girl in a red skirt will be there."
The little girl with the bob haircut is Hanako-san. She wants friends to play with, maybe. Or perhaps she wants to drag you to Hell — through the toilet.
"Depending on which part of Japan you live in, she may have a bloody hand and grab you, or be a lizard that devours you," Jessica said. "Although I am getting scared just thinking about her right now."
Hanako-san has become a fixture of Japanese urban folklore over the last 70 years. The most popular origin story for the tale holds that during World War II, a schoolgirl was using the bathroom when a bomb fell on top of the building. The school collapsed on top of Hanako-san, who has been trapped there ever since.
But Hanako isn't the only schoolgirl who haunts Japan's school bathrooms. Kashima Reiko, another young girl, was said to have been cut in half by a train. Now her disfigured spirit inhabits bathrooms, asking children who enter the stalls where her legs are. The legend goes that if Kashima Reiko is not satisfied with their answer, she will rip their legs off.
The Woman Of Your (Worst) Dreams
In Brazil, a tall, skinny woman with long yellow fingernails and red eyes creeps along the rooftops, and watches families inside of their homes. She watches them as they sit at the table for dinner. She watches them while they eat. La pisadeira.
After the meal, when someone goes to sleep on a full stomach, la pisadeira sneaks into their bedroom. Then she sits on their chest so that they cannot move. The pisadeira that has attacked them watches them as they begin to panic — the victim's eyes partly open, but they're neither fully asleep or fully awake — helpless and trapped in a body that won't move.
Sleep paralysis is a well-studied disorder. "The worst thing is when you try to fight or call for help," a Redditor said in a conversation about what the experiences with it were like. "Your voice doesn't work and your body will not respond. You just feel helpless."
And among those who suffer from it across many cultures, there is one, unsettling common experience — a sense that a malevolent force is hovering over them in their immobile state.
"The earliest one I can remember is with my mother in the room and she's sitting on my bed, her face morphs into a demon like thing," a Redditor shared in a thread on sleep paralysis. Or: "A large dark figure, kind of a human silhouette, emerging from the foot of my bed and staring down at me."
(Could her "mom" or the silhouette have be a pisadeira?)
They went on. "Ugh, I need to stop trying to remember these things. I'm getting chills."
The Weeping Woman
Her name was Maria. She lived in Mexico. She had long, dark hair and a covetous heart. The man she loved would not have her, so she took her children in a fit of rage, took them down to the river, and drowned them, one by one. When the man she loved spurned her again, she realized what she'd done. She took herself to the water and threw herself in, to subject herself to the same fate as her children. But heaven would not have Maria, and she was condemned to wander the world in perpetual grief. She is La Llorona — the wailing woman.
The people who have seen her said they can her walking, soaking wet, wearing all white. And she can be heard crying out for the little ones she killed. "Ay, mis hijos!" she weeps. ("Oh, my children!") Some say that she snatches other young children as she walks, mistaking them for her own young children she knew.
"¡Ay, mis hijos!"
Children along the Mexican border grow up with her story, which traces itself to stories about several different female spirits of the Aztec empire.
"My earliest memory [of her] is being in elementary school and being in the girl's bathroom," says Terry Martinez, who grew up in Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. She and the other young children would try to summon La Llorona in a bathroom mirror.
"The lights had to be out," Martinez says. "The door had to be closed."
They'd splash water on the mirror and say her name three times.
La Llorona. La Llorona. La Llorona.
"It was just seeing who could stand being in the darkroom and seeing how long we could stand there waiting for her to come out of the sink," Martinez said. "It usually ended with a bunch of little girls screaming and running out of the bathroom."
Kat Chow contributed to this story.
Demonologist: Scariest Ghosts, Ranked
These are the scariest of all ghosts in Demonologist.
Currently available via Steam's Early Access program, Demonologist is an innovative take on the co-op horror genre. Players can use a variety of tools to attempt to hunt down, identify, communicate with, and ultimately exorcise a number of different types of ghosts, many of which have their origins in the traditional folklore of various cultures around the world.
Related: Devour: Beginner Tips For The Survival Horror Game
The game also features a number of novel, immersion-enhancing mechanics, such as allowing players to interact with the environment in a number of maps by using their microphone. And, it's also really terrifying. This list covers eight of the scariest kinds of ghosts in Demonologist .
As if regular pyromania isn't a scary enough concept on its own, Demonologist has its own equivalent in the form of the Myling. Not only does the Myling like fire, but it's drawn to it, and tends to be less hostile when the player is holding a candle.
However, the Myling can't be totally pacified, and will actually extinguish fires before starting a hunt, which is pretty scary. Players can identify a Myling with Ectoplasm, the Spirit Box, and how it behaves in freezing temperatures, as long as they don't get caught out in the dark first.
If players are looking to go full Exorcist (which, for those not in the know, is one of the best-regarded but also most controversial horror films of all time ) when playing Demonologist , then they're sure to love hunting the Abaddon.
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For pretty much anyone else, this is nothing less than a terrifying experience. The Abaddon is incredibly aggressive, but will ease off is players are wielding a crucifix. Naturally, players need to use a variety of tools during a hunt and can't cling onto their crucifix the entire time, so tracking down this type of ghost can feel like a race against time to switch between using different items without getting punished for taking too long to do so.
While perhaps not as likely to spike players' adrenaline through the roof as some of the other ghost types in Demonologist , hunting a Goryo can be an incredibly eerie and creepy experience.
This is because the Goryo will only interact with ESG if there aren't any players nearby. In doing so, it creates a dynamic full of tension and anxiety on a level on par with some of the best co-op horror games out there , as players can be left feeling like they're completely in the dark with regards to where the ghost might be or when it might strike next. Goryo can also be identified with Fingerprints and EMF 5.
Some of the ghosts in Demonologist definitely like to play hardball, and the Yurei is one of them. This type of spectre actually becomes more aggressive against larger groups, so anyone playing the game in single-player will have an easier time with them.
Those on co-op, though, will have a different experience entirely (hunting them is about as terrifying as anything in the strongest horror titles the gaming world has seen ). The Yurei can be identified using EMG 5, ESG, and Ectoplasm, making it arguably one of the more finicky ghosts to actually be able to successfully hunt in the first place.
Few ghost types in Demonologist ramp up their aggression in the way that the Deogen is capable of. Basically, the Deogon is less reactive and hostile the further away players are from it. This can essentially lull players into a false sense of security, believing that they're in little danger or are dealing with a less dangerous type of ghost (a clever mechanic that shows how Demonologist is capable of creating scares as compelling as some of the best horror titles ever ).
Related: Horror Games Inspired By Silent Hill
However, the closer they get, the more intently the Deogon will start pursuing them. Players can identify the Deogon by finding Fingerprints, Ectoplasm, or through the use of the ESG.
Having to hunt a Guipo is usually very tense, frightening, and, at times, confusing, too. This is due, in part, to the fact that fans of Demonologist are still figuring out how this particular type of ghost operates, which, frankly, makes it even more frightening.
What is known, though, is that the Guipo can be identified via ESG, Ectoplasm, and the Spirit Box. Knowing this is half the battle, but players still have their work cut out for them in dealing with what is, in any case, a very intimidating ghost type, and about as scary as many of the enemies in some of the best horror games out there .
Of all the ghost types in Demonologist , few have as fascinating and, frankly, creepy interplay with the environment as the Agash can. The trademark of the Agash is that it's most active in freezing temperatures; when it decides to hunt, players can actually see its breath turn to vapor in the air, an effect almost reminiscent of Lovecraftian horror titles .
Related: Best PS2 Horror Games
Other forms of evidence that players can use to identify an Agash include Ectoplasm and Fingerprints. To make matters worse, Agash are incredibly fast, which can make them incredibly difficult to get away from when they do decide to pursue the player.
Appropriately, the Demon class of ghost in Demonologist is easily one of the game's scariest and most anxiety-inducing types to hunt, being absolutely on par with rival title Phasmophobia's scariest apparitions . Not only is the Demon generally not very responsive to the player's attempts to interact with it, but it becomes incredibly aggressive once it decides to start its hunt.
Players can attempt to identify a Demon with the easel, Ectoplasm, or by how it behaves in freezing temperatures.
Demonologist is out now on PC via Steam Early Access.
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11 Of The Scariest Ghost Stories From Reddit
Leave the lights on when you read these bone-chilling stories of average people encountering the paranormal.
Lady Ghost on Staircase
[via Discovery Inc.]
It wasn’t a little girl
I was camping with my husband and his family at a small, remote lake in New Mexico. There were about 10 people in our group and another group of six people in the next campsite. It was nighttime and both groups were doing typical activities: making s’mores, having a few drinks and telling stories, when we all heard what sounded like a little girl yelling out for help. Neither group had children with them, but we were all positive we were hearing a little girl and decided to search the area we heard the noises from together.
There was a field behind our campsites, and we all saw a very tall, pure white figure standing maybe 100ft away from us in the field, making the noises. We all agreed this thing looked maybe 6 feet tall, skinny, and white as can be. We made our way closer to investigate, but whatever it was that we saw started backing off as we got closer, and it disappeared into the trees. All night we continued to hear a little girl calling for help as we tried to sleep.
The walking dead
I'm a psychiatric nurse and early in my career, I worked at a residential mental health facility. One of our residents was an elective mute, which means that he didn't/wouldn't/couldn't talk, but there were no medical reasons as to why. He had spoken earlier in his life and in fact seemed quite normal back then, with the exception of being close to seven feet tall. He'd been raised in the Deep South and joined the military when he was 19, but one night he vanished. He was declared AWOL, and eventually he was declared missing and dead.
Ten years later, a seven-foot tall man walked into a VA Hospital emergency room in my part of the Midwest and said to the receptionist: "My name is Marion Duchene (not the real name), and I've been dead for ten years."
Those were the last words he ever spoke.
He was covered with dust, and he was wearing the same clothes he'd been reported to be wearing the night he vanished. His social security number had not been used and he had no identification on his person. However, they were able to identify him, I guess via fingerprints. The family was notified but they said they had already grieved their lost man and that whomever was claiming to be him simply could not be. They demanded not to be contacted again.
Marion paced all day every day, moving his mouth that looked like talking or muttering, but no sound came out. He had an unnerving habit of throwing his head back with his mouth wide open as if he were laughing heartily, but not even a breath could be heard. If I talked to him, he appeared to listen, periodically throwing his head back in that laughter-mimicking way of his.
Various medications were tried, but they did not affect him either positively or negatively. Occupational therapy did nothing because Marion would just grin and unless told to stay put, he'd get up and start pacing again.
On my last day at that job, the last thing I saw was Marion, pacing in the parking lot, throwing his head back to "laugh." Later I wondered if all along I'd been dealing with a ghost. All these years later, I still don't know.
The unrest stop
I was driving across country with my mom and sister when I was 16 and my sister was 20. It was late, but we were well rested still and alert. We were driving along an interstate and needed gas and a bathroom break, so we stopped at the only rest stop in 200 miles. There was a van full of teenagers on a road trip at the gas station, as well as a small grey car parked at the pump in front of us with two young men standing still outside of it.
When we got there everything felt wrong. We'd been on the road for days and seen many rest stops at night and had never been afraid until then. My mom and sister went inside and I stayed in the car. I heard the teenagers say they were creeped out and couldn't get the pump to work, and they left in a hurry. I was watching the car in front of us, and the two men had not moved at all. Not an inch. They weren't talking. They weren't on phones. They were just standing there, still as stone.
My sister and mom came running back out to the car and when they got in, the two men slowly turned to look at us while not moving or pivoting the rest of their bodies, and I swear to fucking shit, we all saw the same thing - they had eyes dark as pitch and empty. Truly empty. Not black, not reflecting any light at all, just a void.
We sped out of there and didn’t stop until we were in the next city. The worst thing about the entire experience? We couldn't find the place on any map. We knew exactly which spot on the interstate to look, and we couldn't find it on Google maps or any paper map we had. We even asked locals about the creepy gas station out on that stretch of road and got only confused looks. We've traveled on that interstate since, and there is no rest stop.
It came for us in the graveyard
We were driving my friend’s really old beat up Subaru through a massive graveyard. We stopped and walked down a hill and came across a little pond. There was someone sitting on a rock on the other side of the pond. The figure was all black and we couldn’t make out any features other than the fact it looked like a man who was wearing some old-style top hat. We stupidly waved and shouted “Hi!”. He didn’t show any acknowledgement and continued sitting still on the rock. All of a sudden, he jumped to his feet, started running to us on the water and then vanished in thin water about halfway on the pond. My friends and I screamed and ran back to the car.
The car wouldn’t start, and we heard something banging on the back of the car. It wasn’t a constant bang, but every few seconds or so we’d hear it. Nobody was outside from what we could see in the dark, but something was making a noise on the car. I opened my phone and started dialing my mom to come give us a boost, but I had no service. None of us had any cell service. The next 30 minutes were spent trying to get her car started. No banging was heard afterwards, but we felt this heavy pressure around us.
Finally, the car started and she hit the pedal to the metal. We sped out of the graveyard so fast. Immediately crossing the gates, all of our phones regained cell service. One thing I know for certain is that someone or something was out there, and it was not an animal or a human.
It was good to see an old friend
When I was 37, I went to my high school reunion. I flew into the nearest airport and rented a car. The distance was about 35 miles through a very rural and almost abandoned part of the country. About three miles outside of town I see someone on the side of the road, flagging me down. It turned out that it was one of the guys I had attended school with. Jim (not his name) gets in the car and we start talking. I had not seen him in twenty years, but he still looked the same, maybe a little older. We get to town and I ask him if he wants to come to the VFW and have a drink. He says "No, just take me home." Jim's parents had lived only a few blocks from my grandmother’s house, and I turned in that direction but he said to take him to the outskirts of town. There was a mobile home park out there, and I figured that is where he lived. When we reached the end of the turn off he said, "Just drop me here. It was good to see you again" and he walks off into the night.
I go to the VFW, met some of my old classmates, we start to talk. As we are talking about who is coming to the reunion, I mention that I had just picked Jim up three miles east of town and had dropped him off. Everyone gets quiet; even the guy singing karaoke stops and lays down the mike. My cousin goes white as a new t-shirt.
"Barb, Jim died on that curve eight years ago. Rolled his car. We were all at his funeral," I was told. I started to feel really dizzy, and I went out to the car to take some deep breaths. There on the seat is the local newspaper, printed eight years previous, containing Jim's obituary. I still have the paper.
Someone take Reddit away from me. I can’t stop reading ghost stories — rym (@fiincheresque) March 25, 2021
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
After we moved into our home, we were told a woman had died there at the hands of her abusive husband. She hated men. My dad would wake up with scratches all over himself, and whenever my brother was mean to my sister or I, he would have scratches on him as well. One day, my brother hurt our sister he hit her with something. When he woke up later that night he had a horrible bloody nose.
The day we moved out, my brother accidentally broke his twin’s arm trying out a wrestling move. He swears that he would have died that night if it wasn't our last in the house.
Death came for him
I was standing in my parents’ room, talking to my very sick dad at the time. He was dying of stage 4 esophageal cancer. I got the feeling something was behind me. I looked towards the doorway to the living room and something about 4'6 and fully black is peeking around the corner, with its hands on the door frame. I ran towards it, and it slipped back around the door. When I got outside the doorway, there was nothing. My dad was completely confused when I step back inside the room when I tell him. People who stayed at my house in my dad’s final days claimed to have seen it. My mom saw the figure on multiple occasions in multiple places until he passed away. We haven't seen it since.
I don’t know what possesses me to binge read Reddit true/real life ghost stories about twice a year when each place I live always has some kind of resident spirit. 😱 — Dr Fish Philosopher Todd (Dr FPT)🐟 (@ZoeSTodd) February 4, 2021
My mother attracted evil
After my parents divorced when I was a teenager, I lived with my mother. I experienced lots of paranormal happenings. Several times when I was reading in my bed, the room would start to feel really “icy.” Next, it would feel as if something/somebody that hated me was staring at me. When I got that feeling, I would leave the room and come back an hour later. Sometimes during the day, I would see a shadow figure sneaking along my bedroom walls.
Something in the flat was pretending to be my dog. I went into my room and heard a deep growl from under the bed. My dog wasn’t capable of making a noise that deep. It sounded like either a really big dog or a man doing his best dog impersonation. Other times, my dog would whimper and pace in the room next to mine but wouldn’t come when called, as if he was afraid of something in the hallway.
When I moved in with my father, the paranormal activity stopped.
Evicted by a ghost
Shortly after college, I got married. We immediately moved into a basement apartment because that's all that was available within our budget. This place had a poltergeist, and my wife was terrified. Whatever resided there with us made it clear it wanted to live alone. Dishes, glasses, and other items would fly off the shelf. My wife was hit several times. There was always an ominous feeling like we were being watched. At night when we walked through the apartment in the dark, there would be insanely bright flashes of light that would illuminate the entire room.
One night while we were going to bed, as soon as my wife and I walked into the bedroom we heard a voice from nowhere say, "[My name], move." My wife looked at me, I looked at her...I said loudly, “you've got it, bud.” We moved out 2 days later and stayed with family. The old lady who owned the place died a few months later, and the house was torn down. It is still an empty lot to this day, nothing but grass and a tree. I still drive by it every now and again.
The Death March
My dad used to work as a corrections officer at a rural prison. He drove the perimeter of the property for his entire shift, where he would check empty buildings for runaway inmates. It was generally a boring job.
One night, my dad was parked on a hill reading a magazine when he started to feel a thumping in his body. He described it as the feeling you get when speakers are playing a song with really heavy bass.
He put the magazine down and checked his rearview mirror where he saw someone outside the truck. He grabbed his pistol and jumped out of the truck with his weapon drawn. Outside the truck, he realized it was a procession of Native Americans walking through the truck (and directly through his seat) only to disappear at the exact spot he was sitting. He said it was clear they were ghosts because many of them appeared injured. This went on for a few seconds, and then the whole procession disappeared.
He called the other perimeter guy on his walkie to try to explain, and the other guy almost immediately stopped communicating. Turns out the other guy had seen this happen before but didn't believe in ghosts, so he wouldn't talk about it.
The demon’s room
I worked as a forensic nurse in a hospital’s lock-up unit. We had one older lady who swore she was being haunted and abused by a demon she would call Tiberius. So many crazy things happened while she was on the unit. We’d go into the room, do normal care, leave, and seconds later she’d start screaming bloody murder. We’d run into the room to find her looking like she’d been in a fight with a boxing champ—bloody lip, black eye, markings all over her body. No one ever saw her doing this stuff to herself. Things would get moved around the room by themselves. At one point she was in protective restraints because the doctor thought she was hurting herself. There was no way she could have moved or done anything to herself while in these restraints, but new marks would always appear or her tray/cart would be across the room. The room was secure so there was no way someone else was doing this. When we asked her questions, she’d just say, “It was Tiberius.”
After she was discharged, we always had trouble with that room. If there was going to be a rapid response or code, it happened in that room. One night a guard reported lights blinking on and off. It was that room.
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