7 Books Featuring Hauntings That Don’t Require Houses

Everyone has a haunted house story. It’s something that always draws us back, those huge houses with so much history and so many people passing through them. Houses are places full of dark corners, odd secrets, and there’s something so strange about a house that’s stood empty for just a little too long. But there’re significantly fewer texts about haunted places that aren’t houses. This is kind of a shame. There’s no reason why houses should get all the glory, especially when there’s much more fertile ground in abandoned factories, cars, buildings, and even objects. So with an eye to the vast world outside houses, here are seven hauntings that take things out of the stuffy confines of four walls and a roof, and play around a little more with what can serve as a ghost’s vessel.  

 Christine, Stephen King

You have to hand it to Stephen King: when he sets his mind to an unusual premise, he delivers. Christine is a novel about love, obsession, abuse, death, and a 1958 Plymouth Fury with some rather unusual characteristics. Arnie, a bespectacled nerd all ready to buy his first car, stumbles upon a classic car in an incredible state of disrepair. Despite some initial misgivings from his friends and family, Arnie sets about restoring the car, which he names “Christine,” even as his appearance and mannerisms start to mimic those of Christine’s former owner and the car herself reveals a murderous, jealous side of her own. King devised the novel as “a haunted house story where the house is a car,” and it’s incredible how well that works, blending tropes like Arnie being possessed by the ghost of the car’s former owner and the way Christine rebuilds herself the more deaths occur around her and the more power she gains over Arnie. 

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 House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

A mainstay of discussions on unconventional haunting stories, House of Leaves is odd because technically the entire book is one haunted house. Told in a rather dizzying metafictional style, House of Leaves is the story of a young man named Johnny Truant, who decides to edit a manuscript he found in a dead man’s house. That manuscript (also titled House of Leaves) is a critical essay on a found-footage movie called The Navidson Record that doesn’t actually seem to exist even in-universe. As that manuscript is edited, it seems to bleed into the “real world” and affect Johnny’s life, adding another layer. But the grandest conceit of House of Leaves is that the book you’re reading is simply another layer, another way for the bizarre entity to reach victims by using Johnny’s story as another part of its eldritch architecture. While it’s one thing to attempt such an ambitious idea, House of Leaves actually manages to stick the landing, using its odd typography and nested reveals to create something unique, memetic, and instantly recognizable to any of the readers enticed into its dark depths. 

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 Luckenbooth, Jenni Fagan

From the first time someone steps into the building in Jenni Fagan’s odd mosaic novel, there’s a sense something is wrong with it. Jessi MacRae, the first narrator, gets there after rowing her dad’s coffin to Leith, the cellar is apparently home to a catacombs, and the first POV character is told she can sleep on the floor and that she’ll need to fight off rats. Things do not get any less strange at 10 Luckenbooth Close, as the building seems to draw in a variety of odd inhabitants and weirder events, each further haunted not just by the fallout of what happens to Jessi but by the buildup of the residents’ individual experiences, spinning wild tales of bone library workers, taxidermied polar bears, drag performers, beat poets, and a variety of others. It’s an interesting look at how a place can grow and change based on who inhabits it, and the odd sense that Luckenbooth Close is already an eldritch location and grows more so as the inhabitants come and go only drives that theme home. 

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 The Graveyard Apartment, Mariko Koike

A family moves into what seems to be their dream apartment in a rather affordable building. The one drawback to all of this is that it’s next door to a rather sizeable graveyard. But as the Kanos go about their lives in their new home, things start to feel more and more wrong, beginning with the death of their pets, and infecting the building with a sense of malaise tied to the terrifying presence in the basement. As tenants move out, the presence only grows stronger, with the Kanos trapped due to the economic pressure of finding another affordable place and trying to sell their current apartment. It’s a slow burn of a novel, but the claustrophobic setting, urban-gothic atmosphere, and novel solution to the “why don’t they just move” problem make this one stand out in the haunted house genre. 

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 Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most Haunted (Fictional) Buildings in the Weird, Wild World, ed. Eric J. Guignard and Charlatan Bardot, illustrated by Steve Lines and James Gabb

As you can probably tell from the incredibly descriptive title, this anthology serves as a guide to haunted buildings of every stripe except houses, something even pointed out in Guignard’s introduction to the collection. In these 27 stories and 36 shorter pieces, you will experience haunted churches, abandoned clothing factories, fishing markets, and military bases just to name a few, each one with its own bizarre story to tell. As an added bonus, the accounts are written by some of today’s best ghost story writers, from Eugenia Triantafyllou’s story of a haunted “fish church” to Elizabeth Massie’s take on a haunted theatre. The book also contains somewhat humorous notes on the venues from Charlatan Bardot himself, offering even more flavor on the weird, wild world.

Standout Stories: “Still Hungry” by Ramsey Campbell, “The Norge Theater” by Elizabeth Massie

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Ghostland, Duncan Ralston

In the small town of Duck Falls, there lies a theme park and augmented-reality attraction called Ghostland. The resting place for thousands of famous spirits and cursed objects, it’s one part ultimate horror attraction and one part edutainment exhibit. In an attempt to reconnect with his former best friend, Ben drags the PTSD-haunted Lil to Ghostland, with Lil’s therapist tagging along as a chaperone. But when a park malfunction causes Ghostland to go into lockdown, the three of them are forced to fight for their lives, using all their knowledge and resources to escape before it’s too late. Ralston does an excellent job with the setting, with Ghostland‘s ebook even having an interactive guide to the various ghosts of Ghostland, and the beginning setting up a protest movement demanding equality for dead souls. It’s an odd premise, but once it gets moving, it’s a fascinating exploration of life, death, trauma, and friendship, among other things.

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 The Sun Down Motel, Simone St. James

Alternating between 1982 and 2017, The Sun Down Motel begins with the disappearance of Viv from a seedy motel in a crumbling upstate New York town. Years later, her niece Carly tries to piece together what happened in the wake of her mother’s death. Both their paths lead them to the Sun Down Motel, a place where the ghosts are as ubiquitous as the stains on the carpet. As the narrative flips back and forth between Viv and Carly, it fills in alternate views of the town of Fell, NY, each side informing and adding more context to the other. But at the center is a strange, sketchy motel that perfectly nails the eerie feeling of being at a rundown roadside retreat sometime in the small hours of the morning, complete with a door that won’t stay closed and a noisy ice machine, both ripe for supernatural activity. 

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