The end of October approaches–the days grow colder and darker and the leaves twist and scurry, pushed and pulled by chill breezes. But is it only the wind that taps against our windows and creeps beneath our locked doors? Or is it something more sinister, something that lurks in shadows and darkens our dreams?
With Hallowe’en less than a week away, I thought I’d tackle some of the creepier monsters in myth and legend, starting today with ghosts. The spirits of the dead are known to creep closer as November approaches, waiting for that time when the veil is thin enough for them to go wailing out into the night, bemoaning lives wasted and loves lost. With no further ado, here are six of the creepiest ghosts in literature.
1. King Hamlet, Hamlet
“Murder most foul!” Shakespeare employed ghosts as a device in more than one of his plays, but the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father is by far the creepiest. He wanders purgatory with blood trickling from his ear, reliving his murder and demanding revenge. Later, he haunts his traitorous wife’s closet wearing only a nightgown. *shudder*
2. The Headless Horseman, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Supposedly a Hessian soldier hired to suppress the American Revolution who was beheaded by an errant cannonball. Every night, astride a demonic steed, the headless specter gallops through the streets of Sleepy Hollow with his severed head lashed to the pommel of his saddle. And beware to those who cross his path–he might subject you to the same fate that ended his life.
3. The Bloody Baron, Harry Potter
Forced to hunt down and then slay his love Helena Ravenclaw after she stole her mother’s diadem, the Bloody Baron committed suicide out of remorse for his sin. Now, he haunts Hogwarts Castle covered in rivulets of his own blood, frightening young witches and wizards and terrifying Peeves the Poltergeist.
4. Jacob Marley, The Christmas Carol
The late Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, a terrible specter who is double shackled with long chains made of “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” Symbols of his greedy and extortionate behavior in life, Marley rattles these chains at Scrooge to warn him of the purgatory he will face if he does not alter his ways.
5. Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights
Another victim of love gone desperately wrong, Catherine wanders the moors in the form of a young, lost girl. Doomed to forever haunt the mansion of the man she loved but spurned in life, Catherine knocks on the windows of unsuspecting houseguests, clawing at their arms with ice cold fingers and demanding “Let me in! Let me in! I’m come home–I’d lost my way on the moor!”
6. The Heart, The Tell-Tale Heart
After the carefully calculated murder of an old man for no better reason than his creepy eyes, the criminal who committed the murder begins to hear the insistent heartbeat of the old man from beneath the floorboards. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The sound grows steadily louder until the murderer begins to lose his mind from guilt, and finally breaks down and confesses his crime.
Do you have a favorite literary ghost? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and make sure to check back for Monster Mash Part II: Witches!