Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

SIGN UP FOR SNEAK PEEKS OF MY NEXT BOOK + NEWSLETTER-ONLY UPDATES.

Visiting Bulgaria’s creepy abandoned homes

Welcome to author Rayne Hall, who joins us with a guest post about Bulgaria’s haunted homes.

*

As a writer of creepy ghost and horror stories, I like to visit spooky places for inspiration. Here in Bulgaria, I find a wealth of abandoned, derelict houses where I can soak up the atmosphere. Eerie, creepy and romantic at the same time, they feed my imagination.

Standing inside, surrounded by the detritus of people who once lived here, I listen to the sounds of insects buzzing, of wind-driven branches scraping against the outside walls, of dogs barking nearby.

I hear my own footsteps crunch on concrete rubble and broken roof tiles.

Bulgaria has a great density of abandoned homes. Whole settlements have turned into ghost villages. Even in otherwise thriving neighbourhoods, houses stand deserted, their gaping windows staring at passers-by.

Why are so many houses empty? Why don’t they get snapped up, restored, turned into desirable residences? Five causes carry the combined blame:

1. The old inhabitants die. Their young descendants, following career opportunities, have moved to big cities or abroad, and have neither the time nor the resources to care for the rural property. They offer it for sale, but since there are more houses on the market than buyers looking to purchase, many remain unsold. With every year, the chance of finding a buyer diminishes. After decades of neglect, they fall into such a state of disrepair that they can no longer be restored.

2. During the communist era, Bulgarians weren’t allowed to own more than one private property. If a family had two houses, they had to give one up. Most chose to keep their city home and surrender the rural house for which they had little use. While the authorities allocated some of these village houses to new residents, others remained unused. By the end of the communist era, when many properties reverted to their original owners or their heirs, those houses had already experienced four decades of neglect. Restoring and maintaining them would take time and money – and the new owners don’t want to pump cash into a remote, dilapidated house for which they have no use. So the already-derelict buildings continue to decay.

3. Bulgaria’s complicated inheritance laws state that if a person dies without leaving a will, all descendants inherit – and that a house can only be sold if all or most of the owners agree. This may sound reasonable… until you remember that after the fall of communism, the ownership of many buildings reverted to whoever had owned them in pre-communist days. Those people are long dead, leaving several generations of heirs. Many heirs live abroad, have no interest in a decayed rural property, or simply cannot be located. Getting them all together for a unanimous or legal-majority decision is impossible. (Disclaimer: I’m not a property lawyer. What I give you here is a layperson’s summary. The reality is more complicated.) Thus the houses keep on crumbling, with no hope of rescue.

4. During the 1990s, Bulgaria’s decade of chaos, many people invested in real estate, spending what funds they had on building new houses. With the banking crisis and hyperinflation, many found themselves without the funds to complete the construction. The country is studded with half-finished, bare-brick houses and grey skeletons of concrete frames.

5. Some houses are haunted or cursed. Nobody wants to live there and become the ghost’s next victim. You may smile at the local superstitions… but will you still smile when you learn that everyone moving into that building has met an untimely, gruesome demise? Can you laugh it off when you discover that these events are documented by police reports? Of course, you may put it down to unhappy coincidence – but can you be certain?

A house in my neighbourhood bears a curse. Over a hundred years ago, a young bride who lived here was buried alive. She managed to claw her way out of the grave at night and return home…only to be believed ‘undead’ by her in-laws, who promptly buried her again. The poor woman cursed all who lived in that house, and ever since, no resident has survived for long. The body of the last legal inhabitant was found dismembered in the freezer, and the squatters who moved in afterwards soon died in a horrific car crash. Unsurprisingly, nobody seems keen to buy the house. So it stands, waiting in silence for an ignorant purchaser who has not yet heard of the curse.

From the outside, the houses often look romantic and peaceful, especially when washed in the golden sunlight of a late afternoon. Stone walls stand in solid defiance, while mud-brick walls have eroded, washed away by decades of rain, until they look like lumps of molten honey-coloured candle wax.

Cobwebs stretch in the windows where some chunks of glass still stick in the wooden frames. Gnarled ancient vines cling to the crumbling facades, still bearing clusters of grapes. In the orchards, old trees still bear quinces and plums. Nobody collects the harvest, so the fruits fall to the ground and rot, their sweet-fermenting smell an irresistible lure to wasps.

Inside, the floors are strewn with rubble – broken roof tiles, crumbled brick, concrete and dust, punctured with modern debris like plastic soda bottles, goat droppings and bales of half-rotten straw.

Built-in cupboards are set deep into the thick walls and still bear wooden shelves. Once these held either everyday possessions or cherished religious icons, but of course those artefacts have long been plundered, and only the bare boards remain. Here and there, torn scraps of white-lace curtain still stretch like ghostly drapes across the windows.

The roofs have caved in, with only a few charred beams still standing like a skeleton’s darkened ribs, so the natural sunlight streams in and illumines the scene.

Broken furniture tells of how people lived here decades ago: couches and armchairs, their large-patterned 1960s upholstery squatting on the ground without the wooden legs and arms, a remnant of a cast-iron stove ornament sticking out from between shattered terracotta tiles.

Electric fittings and light switches have mostly been ripped out, leaving holes in the walls. Swallows have glued nests under the ceilings, and cobwebs stretch in corners and shiver in the autumn winds.

As a writer, I find these locations inspiring. I have already gathered material for several spooky stories…of ghosts and vampires, of travellers lost and sheltering in one of those eerie homes, of monsters and murderers and creepy mysteries. I plan to publish them as a collection of creepy tales set in Bulgaria.

My companion and writing muse Sulu – an abandoned cat I adopted from an animal-rescue shelter – often comes with me into these creepy buildings. Exploring weird places gives him a thrill. He sniffs in every corner and at every shard, and balances on the stark roof beams overhead, looking down at me.  When he’s finished his investigation, he finds a spot to relax – perhaps a windowsill, which gives him views of both the interior and the world outside.

Cats are believed to be able to sense the presence of ghosts and supernatural entities, displaying distress signs like raised hairs, stiff fluffed-up tail, and staring frozen at something unseen. Judging by Sulu’s behaviour, most of the places I visit are ghost free.

However, remember the house I told you about, with the buried-alive bride and the dismembered corpse in the freezer? Whenever we approach that house, Sulu makes distressed mewling sounds, and absolutely refuses to come with me into the grounds, let alone into the building. Perhaps he senses something that I don’t.

My Bulgarian neighbours agree with my cat. Nothing will make them enter that cursed house either. When they see me going in again, notebook in hand, they try to hold me back with shaking hands.

If I invited you to follow me into that house and explore its dark insides, would you come?

ABOUT RAYNE HALL

Rayne Hall writes fantasy, horror and non-fiction, and is the author of over sixty books. Her horror stories are more atmospheric than violent, and more creepy than gory.

Born and raised in Germany, Rayne has lived in China, Mongolia, Nepal and Britain. Now she resides in Bulgaria, where she enjoys walking in the foothills of the Sredna Gora and visiting ancient Roman ruins. The deserted, derelict buildings from Bulgaria’s communist period provide inspiration for creepy ghost and horror stories.

Her lucky black cat Sulu, adopted from the cat rescue shelter, often accompanies her on these exploration tours. He delights in walking across shattered roof tiles, balancing on charred rafters and sniffing at long-abandoned hearths.

Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, bellydancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.

If you want buy a collection of Rayne’s creepy short stories as an ebook or in paperback, Sulu recommends his favourite, Thirty Scary Tales.

Rayne’s bestselling Writer’s Craft series teaches writers how to craft compelling fiction. If this article has inspired you to create your own spooky tales, try Writing Dark Stories, Writing Scary Scenes, Horror Writing Prompts, More Horror Writing Prompts, Writing About Villains or Writing Vivid Settings.

Visit Rayne’s website raynehall.com, where you’ll find free creepy horror stories. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/RayneHall for writing tips and photos of her cute book-reading black cat.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

42 Comments

  1. Ooo. Great description. I would NOT spend any time in that haunted house. I do want to get my hands on one of your books, though, and read them under the safety of my covers!!!

    Reply
  2. Funny, I have watching on Youtube about abandoned homes and how so much is left. In fact, Vincent Minelli-Father of Liza and former husband (#2) of Judy Garland, had a home that now sits abandoned. He was a major Hollywood director but his home now sits alone and ghostly. I would go with you in a heartbeat to that home but I bet I would get a sense of foreboding. I wonder why the bride was buried alive? Who killed the person who was dismembered? Very interesting facts about what happened to these homes. What a legal nightmare for the people who have these homes

    Reply
  3. Thanks for publishing my post, J.H. I hope your followers enjoy coming on this tour with me. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for contributing! It’s a great post.

      Reply
  4. Would I go with you into that house where the bride was buried alive? If Sulu wouldn’t that would be enough for me to agree – not to. Interesting post Rayne thanks!

    Reply
  5. I’d love to go on an abandoned house tour and yes, I’d go in the cursed house. I found the bride’s story more sad than creepy – imagine the horror of being buried alive, the relief at managing to claw your way out, and then being buried again.
    Debbie

    Reply
  6. Decaying houses there look so much better than here. Old tobacco barns look cool though.

    That’s sad so many are a result of the war and communism.

    Reply
  7. @MARY AALGAARD: I hope you’ll receive my reply.

    The first few times I visited that house, I had no idea of its history, and the curse. So I was ‘innocent’ and visited. I went inside the rooms, and actually thought it had a lovely atmosphere! I didn’t sense anything supernatural or threatening. I picked plums and apples in the yard, and thought the apples particularly sweet.

    Many months later, I’m still alive and thriving. 🙂 So the curse probably (hopefully) applies only to people who live there, not to mere visitors.

    I went there again after I knew the full story… and I admit that now I felt uneasy.

    Reply
  8. @BIRGIT : I hope you’ll receive my reply.

    I can tell you why the bride was buried alive. The local priest told me what happened.

    The young woman woke at night, hungry. Being shy, she sneaked into the kitchen to find something to eat, trying not to get caught by her mother-in-law of whom she seems to have been frightened. She found a hard-boiled egg in a wall cupboard when she heard her mother-in-law’s steps. Hastily she crammed the egg into her mouth and swallowed. The egg lodged in her throat and choked her. She was unconscious and believed dead. That’s why they buried her.

    In Bulgaria, vampires are different from Transsylvanian and other vampires. They live ordinary lives, can go out in daylight, can eat and drink normal foods, can get married and have children. This makes them very difficult to spot. But they drain the life force from the people of the community. So the community may know there is a vampire among them, but don’t know who it is.

    Vampires aren’t created by bites from other vampires, but instead they are people who rise from their graves because of an error in the funerary rites. So they’re a kind of cross between a vampire and a zombie.

    Now imagine what went on in the mind of those people: They had seen this young woman dead. They had witnessed her getting buried. And now there she is, dishevelled, crazy, banging at the door in the middle of the night, demanding to be let in…. They rallied the whole neighbourhood, and they drove here back to the cemetery, back into the grave, buried her again…. The poor woman!

    I’m not surprised this desperate woman’s curse took such a hold.

    About who committed the murder of the dismembered body in the freezer: this is not known. Police investigated, but the case remained unsolved. I’ve read excerpts from the police and autopsy reports. Apparently, robbery was excluded as a motive, because the owner’s valuables were not taken. When the body was found in 2001, was in a bad state of decomposition (imagine what happens in a freezer if the power is cut off due to unpaid electricity bills). They didn’t have DNA for comparison, but the skull structure and bones were consistent with a man of the house owner’s age. (The house owner was a sea captain, and when neighbours didn’t see him for a while they assumed he was on a long voyage.)

    Reply
  9. @SUSAN : I hope you’ll receive my reply.

    Sulu’s dislike of the house makes me think, too. And yet… I went in there several times before I learned of the house’s history and curse. I didn’t come to harm. And I used to think what a lovely, peaceful atmosphere this house had. I even wondered whether it was for sale and toyed with the idea of restoring it…. But now that I know it’s history, I feel differently about the place. Now it gives me the creeps. There’s a room on the ground floor that now feels chilly – not temperature-wise, but it’s like a cold seeping into my bones. I wonder if that’s where the freezer used to be.

    Reply
  10. @RANDOM MUSINGS Debbie, I hope you’ll receive my reply.

    Yes, the fate of that poor young bride shakes me, too. I actually know what happened (the story of that house exceeded the scope of the blog post, so I kept it short). She choked on a hard-boiled egg lodged in her throat, was unconscious and presumed dead. She came to during the funeral, was aware of what was happening, but unable to move. Then she managed to claw out her way at night and run to the house. (The house is very close to the cemetery, so this is entirely believable.) She banged on the door.
    Her in-laws and husband thought she was undead (Bulgarian vampires get created not by bites from other vampires, but are buried people rising from their graves because of an error during the funerary ritual.) So her in-laws and her husband, together with neighbours, chased her back to the cemetery, drove her back into the grave, presumably drove a metal stake through her chest to stop her from rising again.
    The sheer horror of her experience is heart-wrenching. The poor, poor woman!
    I’m not surprised that a curse created in her intense desperation took such a strong hold on the house.

    Reply
  11. @L. DIANE WOLFE I hope you’ll receive my reply.

    The abandoned houses here in Bulgaria are beautiful in an eerie way. There isn’t the ugliness of wartime destruction. Instead, there is the gentle, slow decay.

    As well as long-abandoned family homes, there are derelict factories from the communist period (they were not commercially viable in a capitalist system, so they got abandoned) and, here in Hisarya, many abandoned spa baths, treatment facilities and sanatoriums.

    In the communist era, workers were looked after well. If they were ill, they got the best treatment, and this often included a stay in a sanatorium for spa treatment and thermal mineral baths.

    After the end of communism, there were no more state-funded spa cures for workers. Few people can afford to go to a spa. So in towns like Hisarya, only a few profitable institutions survived. The others were abandoned. So there are these big sanatoriums, standing empty… the paint peeling off the walls, the tiles cracked… Quite creepy but in a peaceful way, because these used to be positive places, where people came to heal and relax.

    Reply
  12. Beautiful pictures and descriptions. I thought the explanation of the five main causes as to why there are so many abandoned houses was very thorough. I wish I lived there so I could get some of that fantastic land.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your comment, Regina. I agree with you. Some of those homes would make lovely writing retreats with some time and TLC.

      Reply
  13. Thanks for sharing this, Rayne. Having lived in a supposedly haunted house for a number of years, I recognize some of those feelings and sensations. I also have a cat who stares at a blank spot on the wall sometimes and meows–the same spot on the same wall.

    Here’s looking forward to the tales your new surroundings inspire.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, John, and for signing up for my blog posts. I hope to see you back here again.

      Reply
  14. When I lived in Detroit in the eighties, you could find houses like these in many neighborhoods. (I suspect many are still there and still abandoned.) Unfortunately, the situation was more prosaic than in Bulgaria. The owners abandoned the houses because the could no longer afford the taxes or the increasing minority populations drove them to the suburbs and they couldn’t find buyers. This became a strategy of developers. Buy houses, sell to minority families and drive the home values in the surrounding neighborhood down.

    People didn’t fear the ghosts, but the crime. Abandoned houses became drug dens and even sites where rape victims were murdered and abandoned. I lived in one such neighborhood. Ironically, I experienced none of the crime so common in the area. I mentioned this to my neighbor while our kids were playing and she said, “Honey, you’re white. Nobody f___ks with you because they think you’re a drug dealer and will hurt them back.”
    I assured her I wasn’t, and she said, “Don’t let that get out.”

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, what a sad story, Phillip. I’m hoping things have improved in Detroit these days.

      Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting. Hope to see you here again.

      Reply
  15. @REGINA MORRIS Get some of that land? Do you mean, you’d like to buy a house with yard, or an orchard or something, and manage it as a homestead? I’m planning something like this for the near future. I’m looking at buying a small house with land (though not that cursed one).

    Reply
  16. @JOHN R HODDY Thanks for sharing, John.

    Is your cat staring at the wall in the haunted house, or is that a different abode? If not, do you have any idea what might trigger your cat’s behaviour?

    Reply
  17. @PHILLIP T. STEPHENS : What a story. To be taken for a drug dealer, and to be safe because of it! — I’m also intrigued by the abandoned properties you describe. I imagine the derelict homes in 1980s Detroit had quite a different atmosphere than those here in rural Bulgaria.
    I know you write stories: have you ever thought of writing a story set in that location and era?

    Reply
  18. @PATRICIA LYNNE AKA PATRICIA JOSEPHINE :

    I’m curious: how would you go about a ghost hunt?

    Reply
  19. Your story and setting could be coming straight out of The Walking Dead, Rayne! Have you ever thought about becoming a screen writer? I enjoyed this tour through the abandoned yards and homes in Bulgaria, and meeting your cat. Since you have survived so many spooky wanderings, I would come with you into the cursed house to check it out. But, I might have you read my tarot cards first. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for commenting, Liesbet. You’re always so kind.

      Reply
  20. Thank you so much, Rayne, for this so interesting post! As a native Bulgarian, it was really fascinating for me to read it, and I cannot wait to see more from you here.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your comment and for visiting my blog, Niya. I hope to see you again.

      Reply
  21. I would NOT go in a house that Sulu wouldn’t go into. (Sulu is stately and gorgeous, by the way.)

    I am reading Writing Scary Scenes right now, excellent!

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Priscilla, and thanks so much for leaving a kind comment for Rayne.

      Reply
  22. In reply to Rayne’s response

    The kitty occasionally stares at a spot on the wall about four feet above the bed in my current house, not the haunted one I used to live in. It’s always the same spot, and there’s nothing physical there to stare at. He’s been doing it since we moved in almost eleven years ago. We’re first owners.

    Reply
  23. Seriously, this is scary stuff, J.H.! Yikes! But this is why I can’t read scary stories. I have a great imagination and can visualize the scenes. Oh. My. Gosh! I hope I can sleep tonight.

    Enjoy your holidays, ladies!
    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for the comment, Victoria. Sorry for the impending nightmares.

      Wishing you a wonderful holiday season, and a very happy New Year.

      Reply
  24. @LIESBET I’ve never been tempted by screenwriting… I prefer to paint pictures with words, so my readers see the places in their imagination rather than on screen. Do you do screenwriting?

    Reply
  25. @NIYA UZUNOVA Are there abandoned homes in the area where you live in Bulgaria?

    Reply
  26. @PRISCILLA BETTIS I told Sulu about your comment. He thanks you for calling him stately and gorgeous, and asks if you will stroke his nose, please? 🙂

    Reply
  27. @JOHN HODDY Now that is creepy. If there was a known ghostly manifestation, or any other explanation, however weird, it would be reassuring. But in a house without history, where you’re the first owners, that’s beyond strange. The only thing I can think of is the ancient custom practised in some culture of incorporating a freshly-killed or still-living creature in the building – but that would hardly apply to a modern residential house. And besides, the sacrifice was inevitably buried in or under the foundations, usually under the threshold or under the hearth – not in a randon spot in the wall. If only we could ask your cat to explain what it sees!

    Reply
  28. @VICTORIA MARIE LEES (I hope you receive my reply.) If you can’t read scary stories, then it was brave of you to read this article (or to read anything on this blog, actually. 🙂 ) If you’re so creeped out that you can’t sleep tonight, I wish I could send you one of my cats to cuddle. I find it’s impossible to be afraid of anything while there’s a cat napping on my lap or snuggling against my body, purring.

    Reply
  29. I can’t believe they buried that poor woman twice! I probably would be tempted to go inside the haunted house–as long as it was daylight. Sulu is magnificent!

    Reply
  30. @TAMARA ANN NARAYAN Yes, this poor woman! I really feel for her. And I’m not surprised that her curse took hold. — I only visit abandoned houses in daylight, for safety reasons – not because of ghosts, but because with all the rubble and shards and fallen rafters, I want to see where I’m stepping. — Sulu thanks you for calling him magnificent, and observes that you’re obviously a human of excellent taste. 🙂

    Reply
  31. @Rayne, nope no screenwriting for me. I’m having a hard enough time finishing my first memoir. If only that would ever get turned into a movie. 🙂

    Reply
  32. @Liesbet Yes, the movie ambition might be a tad unrealistic. 🙂 But turning that first memoir into a great book is a good plan.

    Reply
  33. Great article! There were some of these creepy, abandoned houses on my street in Sofia (where I lived 2009-2010).

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.