11 of Stephen King's Scariest Passages

Stephen King can bring the scares.
Stephen King can bring the scares. / Marc Andrew Deley, Getty Images

Few writers have unsettled the collective nerves of readers more than Stephen King. The author of classics like 1974’s Carrie, 1986’s It, and dozens of others has become the standard-bearer for horror fiction. Take a look at 11 of his creepiest passages ... if you dare.

1. "Survivor Type" // Skeleton Crew (1985)

In “Survivor Type,” from Skeleton Crew, a surgeon stranded and hungry after a plane crash makes a lifesaving decision on dinner in a passage that will likely cost you your appetite:

“I’ve amputated my left foot and have bandaged it with my pants. Strange. All through the operation I was drooling. Drooooling. Just like when I saw the gull. Drooling helplessly. But I made myself wait until after dark. I just counted backward from one hundred … twenty or thirty times! Ha! Ha! “Then… “I kept telling myself: Cold roast beef. Cold roast beef. Cold roast beef. Cold roast beef.”

2. The Shining (1977)

At the snowbound Overlook Hotel, the Torrance family is forced to deal with a newly-homicidal patriarch. The passage in which Wendy Torrance braces herself for an attack by her husband, Jack, is guaranteed to send chills down your spine:

“The mallet smashed into the bathroom door, knocking out a huge chunk of the thin paneling. Half of a crazed and working face stared in at her. The mouth and cheeks and throat were lathered in blood, the single eye she could see was tiny and piggish and glittering.”

3. Cujo (1981)

Animal lovers beware—King's rabid dog shows no mercy in Cujo, which sees the titular canine corner helpless victims of his boundless rage:

“He drew back a little to spring. She timed it and brought the door toward her again, using all of her failing strength. This time the door closed on his neck and head, and she heard a crunching sound. Cujo howled in pain and she thought, He must draw back now, he must, he MUST, but Cujo drove forward instead and his jaws closed on her lower thigh, just above her knee and with one quick ripping motion he pulled a chunk out of her. Donna shrieked.”

4. Christine (1983)

King has written several stories about sentient vehicles, but none more chilling than his tale of a 1957 Plymouth Fury that lives up to its name. The car even has a knack for paranormal body work:

“Christine turned onto Hampton Street even before the first of those awakened by the screaming of her tires had reached Moochie’s remains. The blood was gone. It had reached the front of the hood and disappeared. The scratches were gone. As she rolled quietly toward the garage door with its HONK FOR ENTRY sign, there was one final punk! as the last dimple—this one in the left front bumper, the spot where Christine had struck Moochie’s calf—popped back out. “Christine looked like new.”

5. 'Salem's Lot (1975)

King's vampire novel sees protagonist Mark Petrie get a visit from a recently deceased friend at his second-story window:

“Mark Petrie turned over in bed and looked through the window and Danny Glick was staring in at him through the glass, his skin grave-pale, his eyes reddish and feral. Some dark substance was smeared about his lips and chin, and when he saw Mark looking at him, he smiled and showed teeth grown hideously long and sharp. “'Let me in,’ the voice whispered, and Mark was not sure if the words had crossed dark air or were only in his mind.”

6. "The Mangler" // Night Shift (1978)

Laundry workers feel the wrath of a vengeful clothing press in this brutal short story from King's Night Shift collection:

“It stood over Jackson, who lay on his back, staring up in a silent rictus of terror—the perfect sacrifice. Hunton had only a confused impression of something black and moving that bulked to a tremendous height above them both, something with glaring electric eyes the size of footballs, an open mouth with a moving canvas tongue. “He ran; Jackson’s dying scream followed him.”

7. It (1986)

King made his mark on the killer-clown trope with his epic novel about a clown named Pennywise who goes hunting for the children of Derry, Maine, every 27 years:

“Smells of dirt and wet and long-gone vegetables would merge into one unmistakable ineluctable smell, the smell of the monster, the apotheosis of all monsters. It was the smell of something for which he had no name: the smell of It, crouched and lurking and ready to spring. A creature which would eat anything but which was especially hungry for boymeat."

8. "The Raft" // Skeleton Crew (1985)

A group of college kids are cornered by a malevolent black goo in this classic King short story:

“The black, viscous substance ran up her arm like mud … and under it, Randy saw her skin dissolving. She opened her mouth and screamed. At the same moment she began to tilt outward. She waved her other hand blindly at Randy and he grabbed for it. Their fingers brushed. Her eyes met his, and she still looked hellishly like Sandy Duncan. Then she fell outward and splashed into the water. “The black thing flowed over the spot where she had landed.”

9. "The Moving Finger" // Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993)

In this short story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes, a man struggles with a disembodied and demonic digit that demonstrates some surprising strength:

“He could not see the finger, at least temporarily, but he could hear the finger, and now it was coming fast, tictictictictic right behind him. Still trying to look back over his shoulder, he ran into the wall to the left of the bathroom door with his shoulder. The towels fell off the shelf again. He went sprawling and at once the finger was around his other ankle, flexing tight with its charred and burning tip. “It began to pull him back toward the sink. It actually began to pull him back.”

10. The Long Walk (1979)

A man forced to keep walking during a dystopian stroll loses his grip on reality in this early effort that King published under the pen name Richard Bachman:

“His voice kept climbing and climbing. It was like a fire whistle gone insane. And Barkovitch’s hands suddenly went up like startled doves taking flight and Barkovitch ripped out his own throat.”

11. Gerald's Game (1992)

Handcuffed to her bed, her husband having died of a heart attack, Jessie Burlingame has to go to extreme measures to escape her predicament. Fortunately, a broken drinking glass provides a gruesome solution:

“The cuff was moving because the skin it rested on was moving, sliding the way a heavy object on a rug will slide if someone pulls the rug. The ragged, circular cut she had inscribed about her wrist widened, pulling wet strands of tendon across the gap and creating a red bracelet. The skin on the back of her hand began to wrinkle and bunch ahead of the cuff, and now what she thought of was how the coverlet had looked when she had pushed it down to the bottom of the bed with her pedaling feet.”