Halloween is finally here! What better way to spend Halloween night than by reading horror short stories? Novels are great, but not everyone has the time to finish one in a night. Besides, you’d be missing out on the spooky variety that makes Halloween so much fun! It’s better to read a bunch of shorter stories than be stuck with one long book during such a fun holiday.
With thousands of titles to sift through, it’s hard to know where to begin. If you need help getting started, this handy list of 13 different short stories should get you in the Halloween spirit. Happy reading!
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
Honestly, Poe’s entire catalogue deserves to be read on Halloween night. He isn’t called the ‘Master of the Macabre’ for nothing.
In this classic, an unnamed man explains in detail how and why he committed murder. Why would he do such a thing? Well, to convince us that he’s not crazy, of course! There’s a reason why this is Poe’s most famous short story. Its writing style and psychological insights are mesmerizing.
“The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens (1866)
Charles Dickens’ second most popular ghost story is about a railroad signal-man who explains to a visitor why he is so nervous all the time. Anytime a tragedy is about to strike, a ghost gives him an emergency signal.
If you don’t know any of Dickens’ stories, read this and you’ll understand why he’s considered a master of the written word.
“The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce (1891)
Why did that man keep his window sealed up after his wife died? Odds are you won’t be able to guess.
Before Ambrose Bierce disappeared in 1913 he left us dozens of intriguing stories, all containing a “wild west” flavor. He had a knack for writing bite-sized stories with jaw-dropping endings. If you’re new to his work, this is a good place to start.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
One of the best psychological horror stories ever written also happens to be a feminist classic.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman crafted this tale of an ill woman driven to madness by drawing from her own personal experience. In doing so, she paved the way for other genre greats like Shirley Jackson.
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs (1902)
An elderly couple and their son are given a magical monkey’s paw that grants three wishes. But, of course, those wishes come with strings attached.
This spine tingler is responsible for popularizing the “be careful what you wish for” trope. Since there have been so many retellings and parodies of this story, you may think the original would no longer be effective. You’d be wrong. The whole story still packs a punch, but the final act alone is enough to warrant “The Monkey’s Paw” a spot in the horror hall of fame.
“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M. R. James (1904)
There’s no better way to spend Halloween night than by reading a good old-fashioned British ghost story, and this is one of the greatest.
A rational gentleman is suddenly dogged by spooky visions after blowing an ancient whistle he dug out of the ground. If nothing else, you should read this story for the amazing dialogue. M. R. James was a marvel at writing organic conversations.
“Caterpillars” by E. F. Benson (1912)
In this story a man has a horrifying late night encounter with a swarm of caterpillars; but surely it was just a dream, right?
If you’re not a fan of bugs, this one is guaranteed to freak you out.
“The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft (1929)
Old “Wizard” Whatley’s daughter gives birth to a very unusual boy who grows and matures rapidly. Meanwhile, the townspeople get suspicious about whatever it is the family is hiding in their house.
Lovecraft was the king of weird fiction. Like Poe, all of his stories deserve to be read every Halloween, and it was difficult to pick just one. “The Dunwich Horror” represents the period when Lovecraft’s style had fully gelled. It’s an unsettling yarn full of shocking turns and slimy details.
“The Graveyard Rats” by Henry Kuttner (1936)
A cemetery caretaker likes to do some grave robbing on the side, but a humongous infestation of rats is getting in his way.
Are you afraid of rats? Are you afraid of tight spaces? If so, you will not sleep for weeks after reading this one. It’s one of the most terrifying, sweat-inducing short stories ever written.
“Notebook Found in a Deserted House” by Robert Bloch (1951)
An adolescent boy leaves behind an account of what became of him and his family, and pleads for the reader to stop “them ones” before someone else disappears.
Robert Bloch and H. P. Lovecraft were good friends, so it’s no surprise that they influenced one another’s work. In this story Bloch expanded Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos by introducing a new race of supernatural monsters for you to worry about while you’re trying to sleep.
“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl (1959)
We all know the children’s books written by Roald Dahl had a creepy edge to them. His adult fiction did, too.
A teenage boy decides to stay at a local woman’s bed & breakfast instead of the motel. That’s all that can be said about this story without ruining the whole thing. You’ll just have to read it. What’s interesting about “The Landlady” is how it forces you to piece together what’s happening for yourself. Dahl doesn’t spoon feed the answers to you.
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (1966)
A teenager girl is home alone when a mysterious fellow named Arnold Friend pays her a visit. Who is he? What does he want? Where did he come from? Who’s that guy with him? What do those numbers mean? Why did he choose her? We don’t know; that’s the point.
Not all horror stories need explicit details to scare you. Sometimes the scares come from what you don’t know. Joyce Carol Oates understood that concept when she wrote this unique psychological thriller.
“The Jigsaw Puzzle” by J. B. Stamper (1977)
Who says children’s stories can’t be scary? Years before Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark traumatized schoolchildren, J. B. Stamper released her horror anthology Tales for the Midnight Hour. Each story is effective, but “The Jigsaw Puzzle” might be the most memorable.
This campfire tale about a girl putting together a mysterious puzzle in her room is remarkable for its escalating tension, and you don’t have to be a tween to be frightened by it!