8 Short Stories Guaranteed To Scare The Crap Out Of You For Halloween
As soon as October 1 rolls around, everyone I know starts losing their minds over all of the scary movies they want to watch before Halloween. Personally, I just don't get that excited about the idea of watching scary or otherwise Halloween-themed movies (except Hocus Pocus, natch). But dedicating the month to rereading some of my favorite scary stories? Now that's a movement I can definitely get behind. Sure, you can break out your Clive Barker novels and reread It for the 100th time, but can I suggest a shorter alternative this year?
Standing at 5'2" on a good day, I'm living proof that terrifying things come in small packages. You don't need to read an Infinite Jest-length novel to have the beejeezus scared out of you. In fact, some of the scariest stories I've ever read have managed to pack their frights into a tale just long enough to get you through your morning commute. (Please note that under NO CIRCUMSTANCE should you grab the person next to you on the train when you hit a scary scene. Normal commuters do not do like being scare-cuddled by strangers, and the ones that do should probably be avoided anyway.)
The short stories below have been read and selected by yours truly and were picked to scare the crap out of you. If you're really brave, try reading through all of them in one sitting. Of course, when you get nightmares, don't go blaming me.
"The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft
I am a HUGE Cthulhu fan girl. I first read Lovecraft's classic in a college class and became a worshiper of the Great Old One that very day. Cthulhu, for those of you who don't know, is a giant, winged, tentacled monster who sleeps on the island R'lyeh and awaits the day that he can wake up and plague the earth again. He is worshiped by a violent cult that wants to free him. The Cthulhu mythos can be found in a number of Lovecraft's tales, but I would recommend starting with "The Call of Cthulhu," which is told through the journal entries of Professor George Gammell Angell. Angell finds himself face to face with Cthulhu's bloodthirsty followers and, eventually, the beast himself. The Cthulhu tales are a horror classic, and every horror reader should be well versed in his mythos.
"Children of the Corn" by Stephen King
You've probably seen one of the creepy movie adaptions of this, either the 1984 classic or the less famous but gorier and more accurate 2009 version. A couple called Vicky and Burt are driving through rural Nebraska when they hit a child who runs out into the road. After attempting to take the body to the local police station, the couple realize that the town is desolate and only the local church remains active. After investigating the church, Burt discovers that 12 years ago the children of the town killed all of the adults, sacrificing them to a demonic entity called He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Burt and Vicky escape and warn the world about this murderous kid-ruled town, right? If you think that you've obviously never read a Stephen King story. Be prepared to be weirdly afraid of cornfields for the rest of your life.
"The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant is one of my favorite short story writers, but he isn't necessarily known for his horror writing. "The Horla," however, is a genuinely creepy tale of a man, who, after waving at a large ship that passes by, finds himself plagued by a supernatural creature who wreaks havoc on his life. The Horla is scary on its own, but what's truly terrifying about this tale is the way our narrator spirals into madness before our eyes. By the end of the tale, our narrator believes that only he or the Horla can survive. I'll let you decide who to bet your money on.
"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe
It's hard to pick a favorite Poe story, since his name is synonymous with the horror genre. I picked The Black Cat because it confirms my already strong belief that under no circumstances should you mess with cats. Our narrator loves his cat until, in a drunken rage, he carves out the eye of the animal. Initially guilt-stricken, he eventually grows angry at his cat and hangs it from a tree, killing it. He later adopts a cat that looks remarkably like his deceased pet, though he grows to hate this animal as well, hallucinating that a white spot on the chest is shaped like a gallows (foreshadowing alert!). When the narrator murders his wife and tries to hide her body, guess who witnesses it? The cat. And guess who seems hell-bent on making sure that our narrator pays for his crimes? Seriously, people, DO NOT piss off your cat.
"The Hollow Man" by Norman Partridge
Admittedly this is a horror tale for readers who like to dig a little, as the monster (our protagonist) is only described in pretty vague terms. He (she?) is a great winged beast who controls the hollow man, a creature that he controls through the use of metal rings screwed to his neck. (Where does the hollow part come in? You really don't want to know.) When a group of hunters come to his cabin seeking shelter, our protagonist decides to turn them against each other, leaving the strongest to survive to become his new plaything. For all of its vagueness the story is gruesome and disturbing and strengthens my conviction that the woods are full of monsters and that's why I do not go camping.
"Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman
Since I spent a large portion of my childhood terrified of Coraline, I shouldn't have been surprised that Neil Gaiman could come up with another fairytale that would scare the crap out of me. Our narrator is the "Wicked" Queen, taken from her home by a handsome King with a terrifying daughter. Our precious Snow White is a bloodsucking seductress who kills her father and then turns her sights on the people of the forest. Even ripping out her heart can't stop this little vampire! The Queen, in an attempt to save her people, poisons Snow White with an apple, only to see her plan foiled by a necrophilia-inclined Prince. This is an incredibly creepy, disturbing take on the tale that I would highly recommend if you like scary, erotic retellings of fairytales. In other words, I would recommend this to everyone, because who doesn't like that?
"50 Year Sword" by Mark Z. Danielewski
Technically a novella, but bare with me, as this tale by the author of House of Leaves is definitely worth a read. At a woman's 50th birthday party, she hires a storyteller to entertain the children in attendance. The storyteller pulls out a bladeless sword, telling the children that this 50 Year Sword can only harm its victim once that person has lived for 50 years. Scoffing, the woman "cuts" herself all over her body with the sword to show the children they have nothing to fear. Any guesses what happens when the clock strikes midnight and the woman reaches her 50th birthday? This creepy tale is even better read aloud, as its unusual formatting calls for multiple narrators to read together, alternating on a word-by-word or phrase basis.
"Long Distance Call" by Richard Matheson
If the plot of this story sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone, that's because Richard Matheson has written a ton of scripts for the show. In this particular tale, an older woman who is confined to her bed begins receiving strange phone calls from someone who refuses to speak when she answers the phone. The calls continue to come, and Miss Keene becomes more and more paranoid, much to the exasperation of her nurse and the employees of the phone company. Eventually, however, they're able to track down the calls to a fallen wire at the edge of town... right by the cemetery. This creepy little tale will make you think twice before answering a call from an unknown number.
Image: Dawn Ellner/flickr