Get out your flashlights because these 10 spine-chilling short stories are calling to be read this Halloween night. Continue if you dare…
#1 The Nesting Place by Emily Carroll
Creepy comic genius Emily Carroll blends the gothic strangeness of her stories with macabre illustrations to get your hairs standing on end. My sister in law gave me her book Through the Woods for my birthday and The Nesting Place is definitely the most horrifying horror story of them all.
‘But the worst kind of monster was the burrowing kind. The sort that crawled into you and made a home there.’
#2 The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
A master of gothic horror this story is Poe at his best and was one of the forerunners of this style of ghost story to come into vogue. Driven mad by his guilt a murderer hears the beating of his victim’s heart beneath the floorboards.
“‘Villains!’ I shrieked, ‘dissemble no more! I admit the deed!-tear up the planks-here,here!- It is the beating of his hideous heart.’”
#3 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The story tracks the decline of a woman locked away with ‘slight hysteria’ which then progresses to pure psychosis. Regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, probably the most horrific part of all is the illustration of the attitude toward women’s health, both physical and mental in the 19th Century.
“For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.”
#4 The Other Place by Mary Gaitskill
The story of a father who sees his own fantasies about murdering women in his son.
‘Mostly, though, he draws pictures of men holding guns. Or men hanging from nooses. Or men cutting up other men with chainsaws—in these pictures there are no faces, just figures holding chainsaws and figures being cut in two, with blood spraying out.’
#5 The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
Blackwood is one of the forgotten masters of the Edwardian ghost story renaissance and was brilliant at capturing the sinister side of nature. This story about an ominous boat trip was a personal favourite of Lovecraft, who wrote of it: ‘Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a single false note.’
‘The eeriness of this lonely island, set among a million willows, swept by a hurricane, and surrounded by hurrying deep waters, touched us both, I fancy. Untrodden by man, almost unknown to man, it lay there beneath the moon, remote from human influence, on the frontier of another world, an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows. And we, in our rashness, had dared to invade it, even to make use of it!’
#6 The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft
With so many scary stories to his name it was hard to choose just one. I chose this one because I like the idea of an anti-hero and feel so much for poor Wilbur who is said to be a somewhat autobiographical figure for Lovecraft himself.
‘Above the waist it was semi-anthropomorphic; though its chest…had the leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile or alligator. The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply.’
#7 Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
I have a big soft spot for Neil Gaiman and love his scary stories best. This one from his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions is a wonderful fairytale reimagining with Snow White as a murderous vampire while Prince Charming is a necrophiliac.
‘Lies and half-truths fall like snow, covering the things that I remember, the things I saw. A landscape, unrecognizable after a snowfall; that is that she has made of my life.’
#8 The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
To me, this story is kind of like the original Coraline (incidentally also a good Halloween read) with two children escaping into a simulated grassland to solve their disappointment with their parents. This one is for crime novelist, B. Michael Radburn who introduced me to Bradbury.
‘They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.’
#9 The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
One of the most famous ghost stories, The Monkey’s Paw has been adapted into other media so many times that everyone’s heard of it. The Monkey’s Paw at the centre of the tale is a source of great desire for the owner of it has three wishes granted. However terrible things can happen when one begins to interfere with fate.
“‘It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,’ said the sergeant-major, ‘a very holy man. […] He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.’”
#10 The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens
A signal-man tells of a ghost who has been haunting him and explains that each time the spectre appears, a tragic event follows on the railway line he works on. Thought to have been inspired by two real train crashes—the Clayton Tunnel rail crash on 25th August 1861 and the Staplehurst rail crash on 9th June 1865 the latter of which Dickens himself was involved in—the story preyed on the fears provoked by new rail technology at the time.
‘There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so, though I could not have said for my life what. But I know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice, even though his figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench, and mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset, that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.’
What are you favourite ghost stories? Are there any horror tales you like to read for Halloween? Let me know in the comments and have a haunting Halloween.