Halloween is Saturday, which means spooky season is in full swing! I L O V E Halloween – I look forward to handing out candy to ghouls and goblins of all ages, I love getting dressed up, I love gorging myself on candy, and I love scary movie marathons! Fall is my favorite season and by the time All Hallows Eve rolls around, I am one happy haunt!
In honor of Halloween, I am sharing with you my top ten scariest short stories. To be fair, some of them aren’t all that short and not all of them are technically scary – some are D I S G U S T I N G and some are u n s e t t l i n g. Either way, I recommend reading with the lights on.
10. The Ice Palace by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I will readily admit including this short story by one of my all-time favorite writers is a stretch. It’s more of a modernist short story than a thriller, but I will also readily argue that there are elements of horror within this spectacular short story. The protagonist, a bright, young woman named Sally Carroll, is trying to figure out who she is and after a near death experience in – you guessed it! – an ice palace, her whole attitude towards life shifts in a way that leaves the reader unsettled.
9. Guts by Chuck Palahniuk
This is the most disgusting short story I have ever read (totally beats Survivor Type by Stephen King). Chuck Palahniuk is ridiculously, stupidly, almost unjustly talented. Everything he writes is gold in my opinion, but this short story is … well, it’s something else. I made a point to read it after Palahniuk wrote about it in his writing memoir Consider This. He talked about how the story had people passing out and vomiting when he read it and I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” BUT MAN – this one stuck with me. I told people about it and even though they didn’t read it, my re-telling stuck with them for days.
8. Feminine Endings by Neil Gaiman
If you can, listen to the audio of Gaiman reading this gem for the audience during “An Evening with Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer.” I think it’s always best to hear the author read his work, but the audience reaction and Gaiman’s delivery are awesome. I play this for my Creative Writing students, and it’s so much fun to see them slowly realize the creepier elements of the narrative. However, this story is also kind of charming.
7. A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
I vividly remember reading this my sophomore year of high school. I can still feel the cold and uncomfortable desk, and I can still hear the buzzing of the lights, and I can still see the textbook open flat on my desk when the full weight of the ending hit me. And it reminds me of a My Chemical Romance song, and I’m a total sucker for moments when my pop culture worlds collide.
6. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
What would a scary short story list be without the one, the only, the incomparable Edgar Allan Poe? There are many, many Poe works to choose from, and they’re all good, but I’m going with The Masque of the Red Death because it’s timely as hell. Trying to avoid a disease by locking yourself away and partying and ignoring the devastation occurring outside only leads to more death, according to Poe. Death is inevitable, unavoidable, and this short story is a stark reminder.
5. That Bus is Another World by Stephen King
Confession: This short story knocked me on my ass. It’s extremely unsettling in its voyeurism and premise, and forces the reader to think long and hard about their ow moral compass. When we witness something horrible happening to someone else, what do we do? What will we do? The images are powerful and grotesque, but it’s the introspection those images inspire that makes this story truly terrifying and haunting.
4. The Cape by Joe Hill
I was W I L D L Y unprepared for the ending of this story. The pacing is masterful and it’s heartbreaking work on multiple levels. I love Hill’s exploration of unrequited love in all its forms; not only romantic, but familial and parental. What does it really mean to be alone? And what does desperation due to the lonely? OMG, so good.
3. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
C L A S S I C. The cathartic energy that – again! – comes from masterful pacing is wonderful! The terror that slowly dawns on us as we realize what’s happening is mirrored perfectly in the narrative shift that occurs when the nightmare begins. I read this with my students and it NEVER EVER fails to leave them uncomfortable.
2. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates
The same can be said for this ABSOLUTE GEM by Joyce Carol Oates. One of my students told me this story made his stomach hurt. It’s all kinds of wrong and awful but gorgeously written. It’s universally accessible because it hits us where we live; in our need for attention and affection, and how that need can sometimes put us directly in the path of danger. WOW.
And – drum roll, please – number one is … Best New Horror by Joe Hill.
I will NEVER EVER forget where I was when I read this short story. I was in Barnes & Noble (naturally), and I was just browsing the stacks. I’d loved, loved, LOVED Hill’s novel Heart-Shaped Box and was interested to see what else he had up his sleeve. I picked his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, off the shelf. I read the whole thing standing in the aisle. I stood there for close to 20 minutes and when I finished, I wanted to scream and cry and throw up and tell everyone I knew about it. There’s a story within the story and both narratives are awfully enthralling.
Plan on reading any of these to celebrate Halloween? Do you agree or disagree with the list? Let me know in the comments xoxo