When I think of scary stories, they’re usually relegated to the chilly days of crunchy leaves and jack-o '-lanterns that just precede Halloween. But as any girl scout (or really any gal who just loves sitting around a good campfire) will tell you, scary short stories definitely have their time and place throughout the summer months too — and the campfire-worthy stories on this list are some of the creepiest short stories of all time. Whether they’re cringe-worthy sci-fi disasters, hauntings of the supernatural, or just eerily relatable enough to ensure you’ll be up all night (forever) if you don’t mind the heart-pounding adrenaline of a good scare these stories are just what you need to make your next thunderstorm, camping trip, or summertime bonfire truly terrifying. At least, I think so… but then, it doesn’t really take a whole lot to scare me, so you might just have to read them and judge for yourself.
Indulge in these nine creepiest short stories ever written, perfect for adding a little fright to your summertime reading list. And a word to the wise (or to the chickens) wherever you’re reading these tales, be sure to have a flashlight ready — or your fave flashlight app, because it is 2016 after all.
1. The Infamous Bengal Ming by Rajesh Parameswaran
Included in Rajesh Parameswaran’s collection I Am An Executioner , the short story The Infamous Bengal Ming is narrated by a captive tiger whose unconditional love for his zookeeper ends in gruesome, disastrous consequences. Though you still can’t help but root for him — he’s intimidated by the alpha male who shares in his captivity, his mating partner wants nothing to do with him, and he didn’t know his unrequited love would end so terribly. Nonetheless, this one’s still cringe-worthy.
2. Reeling for the Empire by Karen Russell
The second story in Karen Russell's collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove , short story Reeling for the Empire introduces readers to Kitsune, a worker in an all-female sweatshop for silk production. Unlike the other workers, who were sold to the sweatshop by the men in their families, Kitsune oddly chose her employment—or enslavement, as the case may be. With a Kafka-esque vibe, this short story is filled with creepiness, as well as a moral message.
3. The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
Credited with being the first modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue follows C. Auguste Dupin, a man moonlighting as a detective intent on solving the mysterious, brutal murders of two women. At the crime scene, witnesses heard an unfamiliar, unidentifiable language; and then Dupin finds a lone, telling hair… Shiver.
4. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
Included in Neil Gaiman's collection, Smoke and Mirrors , this Snow White retelling is definitely not what you remember from the fairy tale of your youth. Snow, Glass, Apples is told from the perspective of Snow White's stepmother, who it seems has been misunderstood all along. But don’t be expecting Maleficent — this scary tale features vampires, necrophiliacs, and incest.
5. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
Fans of Anne of Green Gables (the television version) will remember this narrative poem from Anne’s theatrical performance of it at the White Sands Hotel. The Highwayman is just one of the poems included in Alfred Noyes' century-old collection Forty Singing Seamen , and if you manage to recite this story of murder, revenge, and an a cruel, desolate landscape as dramatically as Anne did, you’ll terrify (and impress) your campfire buddies. Promise.
6. Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders
This short story, part of George Saunders’ collection Tenth of December , is just so seriously messed up — so if you’re into that kind of creeped-out-ness you’ll love it. Set in a prison where experiments are performed with random abandon on the prisoners — inspiring everything from obsessive passion, to self-mutilation, to involuntary truth-telling — Escape from Spiderhead will haunt your mind just as much as it does the prisoners described here.
7. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
A novel brief enough to qualify as a short story, IMO, The Island of Dr. Moreau is science fiction at its most eerie — when a shipwrecked sailor lands on a strange island, he finds himself surround by experimental human/animal hybrids who have been surgically manufactured, and tortured, by none other than Dr. Moreau. You’ll never look at an island the same way again.
8. Quitters, Inc. by Stephen King
Featured in Stephen King's story collection Night Shift , this is another short story with a moral message as prominent as it’s creep-factor. Quitters, Inc. introduces readers to Richard Morrison, a smoker whose old college roommate recommends he turn to an organization called Quitters Inc. to help him beat his addiction. But the organization’s unorthodox, intrusive, and violent methods of addiction recovery might be more than anyone can handle.
9. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
When an aging couple and their son steal a mystical monkey’s paw — discarded by the paw’s previous owner, even though it’s said to grant the owner three wishes — they think they’ve found the answers to all of their problems. But they quickly learn that getting exactly what they think they want may be the worst thing that has ever happened to them. Plus, what ever happened to the rest of the monkey? Read The Monkey's Paw to find out.
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