Best Halloween Short Stories
October 18, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the best truly bone-chilling horror short stories for halloween?

I have been looking for great short stories to get me into the halloween mood, but I want to find some stories that will actually creep me out. I tried looking online, and I cant seem to find a good list of books to read. I have been reading some short stories by H.P. Lovecraft, some stories from Nocturne by John Connolly, and want to keep on going! Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.
posted by SharkLangasta to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 132 users marked this as a favorite
If you weren't traumatized by the Scary Stories book as a child, prepare to be so as an adult.
posted by griphus at 6:54 PM on October 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

Stephen King has some fantastic short stories. I'd actually argue that he should've stuck to short fiction, as some of them are fantastic. In particular, check out the books Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. The Boogeyman story terrified me when I was younger, and Mrs. Todd's Shortcut is, while not pure terror, a stunning, unsettling story that will make you pause, sort of in the best Bringing Mary Home sort of way.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:58 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Adventure of the Speckled Band is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story. I don't know if I'd call it bone-chilling, but it sets the stage better than any of the other stories and is quite creepy. Spoiler alert: don't even look at its wikipedia page.

Roald Dahl is also great: Lamb to the Slaughter, The Landlady
posted by phunniemee at 6:59 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I first heard of At The Bottom of the Garden here on AskMe.
posted by piedmont at 6:59 PM on October 18, 2010

The Veldt
The Lottery
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

I have a soft spot for Sheridan Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly
posted by Paragon at 7:08 PM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Monkey's Paw (still gives me shivers) and some of Poe's short stories.
posted by headnsouth at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2010

There's the Dionaea House, to start with.

Quite a few of the other links in these threads creeped the hell out of me.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:10 PM on October 18, 2010

Ray Bradbury, The October Game.
posted by Lucinda at 7:11 PM on October 18, 2010

"The Red Tower", by Thomas Ligotti.
"Dread", by Clive Barker.
"The Bees," by Dan Chaon.
"20th Century Ghost," by Joe Hill.
"The Neglected Garden," by Kathe Koja.
"The Voice of the Beach," by Ramsey Campbell.
"The Signal-Man," by Charles Dickens.
"Mr. Justice Harbottle," by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
"The Great God Pan", by Arthur Machen.
"The Willows", by Algernon Blackwood.
"The Other Side", by Count Stenbock.
"Young Goodman Brown", by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I've pruned many of these choices from the two excellent anthologies Poe's Children (modern literary horror) and The Dark Descent (classic horror).

I also generally recommend "Uh-Oh City," by Jonathan Carroll, which is more of a novella than a short story and more of a ghost story than a horror story, but it really is very, very, very good.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 PM on October 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

I do not spook easily. However, last night, I reread Michael Marshall Smith's "What You Make It", and a good 80% of the stuff in that book made me positively SQUIRM OUT OF MY OWN SKIN. Choice disturbing stories: "Save As...", "More Bitter Than Death", "The Dark Land".

Also: Stephen King's "1408".
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:24 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Creepypasta, definitely.
posted by electroboy at 7:30 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever I wish to terrify my students (by some method other than my grading, I mean), I put the following stories on the syllabus:

J. Sheridan Le Fanu, "An Account of Some Disturbances in Aungier Street" (later revised into "Mr. Justice Harbottle," linked above)
M. R. James, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"
E. F. Benson, "The Room in the Tower" (this one gave me nightmares the first time I read it--which, under the circumstances, may be a recommendation)
posted by thomas j wise at 7:31 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, Ted's Caving Page.
posted by electroboy at 7:32 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce.
posted by Ndwright at 7:47 PM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Dean Koontz - Down in the Darkness
posted by cali59 at 7:58 PM on October 18, 2010

Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Island of the Immortals" from Changing Planes haunts me forever and ever.
posted by changeling at 7:59 PM on October 18, 2010

Stephen King -- The Jaunt
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:00 PM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pretty much anything by M R James. I'd start you off with "The Mezzotint" or "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come To You", both of which are in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:21 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, M.R. James. Amongst other things, you'll never want to reach under your own pillow again.

posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:43 PM on October 18, 2010

It was a battered old book, bound in read buckram. He found it, when he was twelve years old, on an upper shelf in his father’s library; and, against all the rules, he took it to his bedroom to read by candlelight, when the rest of the rambling old Elizabethan house was flooded with darkness...
Alfred Noyes, "Midnight Express".
posted by Iridic at 9:26 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Brothers Grimm - original tales, not the Disney versions. Still disturbing after all those years. Particularly The Juniper Tree (infanticide, cannibalism, and one creepy recurring poem/song). Try reading that one outside with a flashlight in the dark.
posted by tamagogirl at 10:32 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Roald Dahl's selection of other people's ghost stories is very good. In the introduction, if I recall correctly, he describes how hard it is to find good ghost stories and notes that women are particularly good at writing them.
posted by pracowity at 1:39 AM on October 19, 2010

I will second The Willows. It was an inspiration to Lovecraft, and I would dare to say that it's a better 'lovecraftian' story than Lovecraft's work in general.

Among Poe's stories, The Masque of the Red Death is quite good, especially if you are going to attend a party -- you will see why.
posted by Anything at 2:31 AM on October 19, 2010

I wholeheartedly agree re: M.R. James. It's the kind of English ghost story you rarely find anymore. Le Fanu, Machen, Blackwood, all of those are exactly what you want..
posted by Kitteh at 6:36 AM on October 19, 2010

Edith Wharton wrote several ghost stories, that are excellent and really, really creepy.

A longer scary book I love is The Ghost Writer, by John Harwood, which scared the crap out of me a couple of years ago. I thought I was past that too, being an adult, you know, sitting up late at night being terrified because I was alone in my house reading that book.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:00 AM on October 19, 2010

Arthur Porges: 'The Mirror'.

Margaret St. Clair: 'The Pillows'.
posted by jamjam at 8:47 AM on October 19, 2010

Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner.
posted by marxchivist at 8:51 AM on October 19, 2010

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:20 AM on October 19, 2010

EDIT: I'm sorry, you wanted short stories. Bill Pronzini's "Peekaboo" scares hell out of me every time I read it
posted by magstheaxe at 9:25 AM on October 19, 2010

The title story from Joyce Carol Oates's Night-Side is truly haunting: Victorian seances, unexpected passings, visitations from beyond. (And dig those low, low used book prices!)
posted by Work to Live at 9:37 AM on October 19, 2010

Suzy McKee Charnas' "Boobs".
posted by benzenedream at 11:37 AM on October 19, 2010

"Guts" by Chuck Palahniuk. It is so incredibly hideous, I couldn't read it more than once.

According to the author, 73 people have (so far) fainted during his readings of this story.
posted by 4ster at 1:33 PM on October 19, 2010

Guts is not a horror story, it's a gross-out story.
posted by Anything at 2:38 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

N*thing the Scary Stories books. I remember being in 4th grade, terrified out of my mind, thinking that elementary school was no place for that book. Not to mention the disturbing ink/watercolor illustrations. Uuugh.
posted by shesaysgo at 5:44 PM on October 19, 2010

I just googled the book I referenced, and immediately had to look away. It might be built on child-hood trauma, but the illustrations and stories are truly terrifying. If you want the truly creeped-out effect, read the stories AND look at the pictures.
this picture haunted me dreams as a childs, and now this one will as an adult.
posted by shesaysgo at 5:50 PM on October 19, 2010

As a child, Robert Westall's short ghost stories always creeped me out, and I'm willing to bet that they still would. In fact, this question has inspired me to dig them out again. Try The Haunting of Chas McGill and Other Stories.
posted by jonnyploy at 4:07 AM on October 20, 2010

For a scary story with a new media twist (the framing device is an online discussion forum), read Kris Straub's "Candle Cove".
posted by Zozo at 8:51 AM on October 20, 2010

When I was a kid, we had a record album called Drop Dead. It's been converted to cd and .mp3. Seems to be out of copyright. It was a collection of narrated horror stories with sound effects, and we were all terrified by it. I'm delighted to find it online, so I can terrorize my siblings, but no way am I going to listen.
posted by theora55 at 11:23 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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