Spooky season is here and with it comes the desire to soak in all things horror. There are plenty of horror movies and novels to read this October, but if you’re looking for something a bit less time-consuming, short stories are an easy way to get in the Halloween spirit. The great thing about short stories is that many of them are available for free online, though it can be hard to know where to start. To make things easy on you, we’ve compiled a list of some of the darkest, spookiest short stories we could find. Below is a mix of contemporary and classic stories, with a few hidden gems sprinkled in. But ye be warned: These stories are not for the faint of heart.
via GIPHY“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil GaimanNeil Gaiman is known for his magical realism and haunting prose, on full display in novels like Coraline, American Gods, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. His short stories are as infectious as his longer works, and “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” is a spooky morality tale about the ugly vortexes of greed and revenge. Anchored by an unnamed protagonist searching for a mysterious cave and his guide, Calum MacInnes, the story is full of misty locations, mystical creatures, and a hefty dose of the macabre.Read it here.“Children of the Corn” by Stephen KingWe could do an entire list of Stephen King short stories, and it’s hard to narrow things down to just one. But “Children of the Corn” is a perfect one to single out since it has the horror master’s trademark ruthless terror on full, ghastly display. The story follows a couple who, on their drive to California, stumble across a ghost town in Nebraska governed by a cult of adult-sacrificing children. “Children of the Corn” spawned a movie franchise and ties into King’s larger Dark Tower mythos, but it’s a great work of horror fiction even on its own legs.Read it here.via GIPHY“The Summer People” by Shirley JacksonShirley Jackson‘s best-known short story is “The Lottery,” but that was hardly her only contribution to the horror genre. She also penned The Haunting of Hill House, and is the author of thousands of short stories, most of them scaryâ€”not all in the horror vein, but in the discomfort of normalcy, the terror of the everyday. “The Summer People” is one of those stories, about a New York City couple who spend their summers in a country cottage somewhere in New England. One year, after their children are grown, they decide to stay longer than usual, to the confusion of the locals, who themselves all opt to leave. Soon, the couple realize things aren’t what they seem in the cottage that they’re now stuck in.Read it here.“Berenice” by Edgar Allan PoeYou can read most of Edgar Allen Poe‘s short stories on the PoeStories.com archives, but we’ve singled this lesser known story set in a Gothic mansion and filled to the brim with the slow, mounting dread his tales are known for. A man named Egaeus and his cousin Berenice live together in a gloomy old house, both suffering. Egaeus has a disorder that causes him to obsessively fixate on objects and Berenice has a degenerative condition that affects her muscles. Over their time together, Egaeus grows obsessed with Berenice’s teeth, an obsession that takes over his life.Read it here.via GIPHY“The Third Bear” by Jeff VanderMeerYou might know Jeff VanderMeer best for his Southern Reach Trilogy, including the novel Annihilation, turned into an Alex Garland movie earlier this year. This story, from the short story collection of the same name, is about a beast from another dimension, called upon by a witch to wreak havoc on a small village. It’s a gory, surreal story that fits well into VanderMeer’s gory, surreal bibliography. The entire book is creepy, but this one stands out for the frightening images it conjures, and the ritualistic witchery it evokes.Read it here.“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. JacobsW.W. Jacobs’ horror story is one of the most famous short stories of all time, a key part of most high school English class curriculums. You’re probably familiar with the plot: A family of three is gifted an enchanted monkey’s paw that grants its bearer three wishes. As with any magical totem, it’s not as lucky as it may seem, and the family is tormented by their decisions. The story is famous, yes, but you might be surprised how scary it remains, even if you think you remember the ending. A simple knock at the door has never been so gut-wrenching.Read it here.via GIPHY“Kaleidoscope” by Ray BradburyRay Bradbury‘s short stories are known for their beautiful prose and haunting speculativeness. The collection The Illustrated Man is full of stories about the future, outer space, and the horrors of the unknown; “Kaleidoscope” blends all three together in a story that is as lovely in its telling as it is bone-chilling in its implications. After a malfunction on their spaceship, a crew of men float aimlessly through space, never to be rescued, forced to face their own mortality. Bradbury gets in the head of one of the men, probing at life’s big and terrifying questions, in a way that feels breathlessly, painfully real. Too real.Read it here.“Escape From Spiderhead” by George SaundersGeorge Saunders is the modern master of the short story, evidenced in his terrific and award-winning collection Tenth of December. “Escape from Spiderhead” comes from that book and is one of the freakiest, most sadistic things you’ll ever read. It involves an experimental drug called Darkenfloxx, and the patients unto whom it’s torturously administered. The story mines the depravity of inflicted human pain, explores the relationship between physical attraction and personal affection, and has a lot to say about the uglier aspects of the human condition. Don’t look for a happy ending here.Read it here.
via GIPHY“The Picture in the House” â€“ H.P. LovecraftH.P. Lovecraft is a titan of the horror genre, and also one of its most controversial figures. It’s hard to look past some of the vile things he wrote about his fellow man, but his stories live on as artifacts, and his vast influence cannot be denied. There are many Lovecraft short stories to pick from, but we went with “The Picture in the House,” a lesser-known entry in his prolific career. Set in a creaky old house somewhere in Lovecraft Country, the story is about the spooky old man who resides there, who may or may not be a cannibal.Read it here.“The Lady of the House of Love” by Angela CarterIf you love fairy tales, you simply must read Angela Carter, who is known for twisting, updating, and reimagining classic folk stories. Many are beautiful, many are terrifying; “The Lady of the House of Love” is both. It’s a retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty story, except Beauty is a vampire countess in a tower in Transylvania. The countess lives in darkness by day and feeds on garden animals by night. One day, a British soldier stumbles on the tower, and a dangerous love story blossoms.Read it here.