7 Creepy Short Stories Set In The Countryside, Because There's Nothing Scarier Than Total Isolation
The countryside might not immediately strike you as obviously creepy, especially while the weather is warming up and our associations of it are more frolicking lambs and sunny planes. But according to these short story writers, the countryside is very much a creepy place. If you need convincing of the eerie credentials of rural life, these creepy short stories set in the countryside should certainly do the job.
But first of all, why do we find things creepy? Well, according to the Smithsonian, it was Charles Dickens who coined the term "creepy" in his novel David Copperfield, meaning a "tingling, unpleasant chill up the spine." A 2013 study by psychologists Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S. Koehnke at Knox College, Illinois, found that finding things creepy is a "universal human experience" predicated on "threat detection" — basically, the fear of the unknown.
And there can be something slightly unknowable about rural life. A Vice essay on the British countryside described it as "vast, unlit," and "a territory of dark satanic and hedonistic potential" — I couldn't agree more. Perhaps it is about the undeniable eeriness of finding yourself alone surrounded by wilderness. After all, some of the most terrifying horror films of all time, like The Wicker Man or Deliverance, are set mostly in the great outdoors. So join me for a spellbinding exploration of the creepier side of Britain's fair pastures.
'Mrs Fox' by Sarah Hall
This award-winning tale is about a woman who, while out on a walk with her husband, inexplicably morphs into a fox. Her (deeply understanding) husband responds by wrapping a coat around her now vulpine body and carries her back home, where he has to reckon with how to live with a fox instead of his formerly gentle mannered wife. And credit to him, he does, bringing her fresh meat and offal from the butchers, until eventually he has no choice but to set her free. An eerie tale of suppressed desire as transmogrification.
'Feather Girls' by Claire Dean
Set in a sleepy and unspecified parochial British countryside village, Claire Dean's story follows Bill, a local lad who repeatedly refers to the mysterious "feather girls" found in the village: white haired and thin women, with an other-worldliness about them and a penchant for feather covered coats. His wife is having none of it, believing the women to be a result of years of in-breeding, but Bill is obsessed, convinced that they live in the lake, and is more than a little alarmed by their presence.
'Morning, Noon And Night' by Claire-Louise Bennett
Claire-Louise Bennett's hypnotic short story collection Pond was described by The New Yorker as "pleasantly insane". This story, taken from the collection, features the central female character found in all of the collection's stories: a semi-recluse academic living in the countryside on the west coast of Ireland. In Morning, Noon and Night she lies beside her boyfriend in bed, and takes mental inventory of all the fruit and vegetables "out there," relaying rules for the growing and preparation of said fruit and vegetables, with an increasingly unhinged intensity.
'The Cast' by Nicholas Royle
A weekly game of football takes a sinister twist on the field. One of the players brings along his new girlfriend, Zsa, who he keeps a close eye on. "I know what you're thinking: I'm one of those jealous, possessive types who watches his girlfriend," he tells his mates, while watching her smiling creepily across the pitch. The game gets going and he goes to shoot the perfect goal, skidding on his knees and generally making a bit of a meal out of it, but he then finds himself, quite literally, frozen. An uncannily creepy tale.
'Uimhir a Cúig' by Paul McVeigh
A couple living a close-to-blissful life on a farm that could be set in either Ireland or England find their happiness ruptured when the husband, ahem, copulates with the apple tree in their back garden. The tree promptly bears a little tree child made of branches, who the husband is deeply ashamed of and cold towards. The husband later has another (human) child, a sweet little girl, who befriends the branch boy and visits him regularly, much to her father's horror. Culminating in a very unsettling end, this story is as sad as it is scary.
'The Stormchasers' by Adam Marek
A little boy and his dad stare out the window at the expansive countryside that surrounds their home. The little boy tells his dad he's frightened of tornadoes, and his father reassures him that in England encountering one would be very unlikely. To reassure his son further, he instructs him to hop in the car, telling him they wouldn't find a tornado if they went looking for one — and off they go, while the boy's mother recovers from dental surgery in bed. Except the dental surgery is a terrible lie, and what she is recovering from, is far more malevolent. This subtle story lures you into a false sense of security before giving you a genuine jump at the end.
'My Daughter The Fox' by Jackie Kay
Another fox theme and generally eerie short story, this time about a mother whose daughter is... a fox. "I had to stroke her fur and hold her close all night," the narrator tells us, proving a mother's love truly knows no bounds. However, others do not share in her view — nay, they are horrified to find she has tucked up a little fox cub up in baby's blankets and a crib, and is bringing her fruit and chicken for her breakfast. But daughters (and foxes) grow up, and at some point, parents have to let go.
These stories are sure to have you viewing the British countryside in an entirely new light, and will perhaps make any future jaunts to the great outdoors, all the more exciting, and of course, creepy.