You may have your Netflix queue all filled up with scary movies to watch for Halloween, but what about your bookshelf? Here are seven scary short stories that will have you sleeping with the lights on.
1. “THE DAEMON LOVER” // SHIRLEY JACKSON
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is undeniably the horror writer’s most famous story, but there’s plenty more eerie tales in her oeuvre. “The Daemon Lover,” from the same 1949 collection as “The Lottery,” opens on a woman dressing for her wedding day. Her fiancé, though, never shows up, leading her on an increasingly anxious journey to figure out where he went—and if he exists at all. The full text can be read online, or you can buy an audio version read by the author herself.
2. “OH WHISTLE, AND I’LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD” // M.R. JAMES
Though he spent his days a medievalist scholar, the early 20th century writer M.R. James is best known for his horror stories—he has been called “the most influential author of ghost stories in literary history,” in fact. “Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” published in 1904, is one of his most famous stories. It follows a professor who digs up an old whistle that, when blown, summons a dangerous specter. It’s online on here, or you can get a hard copy from Amazon.
3. “THE BLOODY CHAMBER” // ANGELA CARTER
In the title story of Angela Carter’s 1979 book of reimagined fairy tales, a young bride’s wealthy new husband goes away on business, leaving her with keys to every room in the house. He tells her not to go into one room at the end of the hall. Predictably, her curiosity gets the better of her, and inside, she discovers the corpses of her husband’s previous wives. Carter’s Gothic, often frankly sexual tales shocked readers at the time of their publication, but she’s now considered a feminist must-read.
4. “CHILDREN OF THE CORN” // STEPHEN KING
The prolific horror master’s 1977 short story set in a fictional town in Nebraska has been referenced in everything from Eminem’s raps to Wreck-It Ralph. In it, a couple trying to save their marriage with an ill-fated road trip run over a child darting out of the corn fields onto the road—only to discover that his throat was slit before they hit him. Things only get spookier after they drive into the nearby town of Gatlin. It’s available as an ebook for 99 cents. Once you finish the story, the 1984 movie adaptation is streaming for free until November 1.
5. “THE DUALITISTS” // BRAM STOKER
Dracula may have been his masterpiece, but Bram Stoker could churn out a delightful horror story on the small scale, too. “The Dualitists” is, per the opinion of his publisher, Dover, “Stoker’s most horrifying story.” In it, two neighborhood boys with an obsession with knives and a penchant for destruction go from victimizing dolls and household objects to torturing rabbits and other pets. And yet, Stoker writes, “the passion for hacking still remained.” When a pair of cherubic toddler twins show up on the scene, things get gory. You can read it for free online.
6. “HAMSTERS VS. WEBSTERS” // PATRICIA HIGHSMITH
The celebrated author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train has an entire book of stories devoted to grisly tales of everyday pets and pests turning violent. If you have a fear of rodents, best not to read “Hamsters vs. Websters,” a story of a boy’s careful hamster husbandry gone awry. The hamsters aren’t the only ones with murderous intent, either. The whole collection is on Amazon for $14.
7. "EQUINOX" // JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST
In this short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the Swedish writer behind the vampire novel Let the Right One In, a woman house sitting for her neighbor finds a disturbing surprise. In 2013, Booklist Review called the whole collection, titled Let the Old Dreams Die, “terribly effective horror fiction.” You can get a used copy of the book on Amazon for less than $5, but be warned: You may not want to read it in the dark.