As the residents of Halloween Town sing in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, “Life’s no fun without a good scare.” I’ve always loved horror stories and weird fiction, and I’ve always been enamored of short stories (regardless of genre). So in honor of All Hallows’ Eve, here are my thirteen favorite scary short stories, in no particular order.
“The Rabbet” by China Mieville (in Three Moments of an Explosion)—The title isn’t a misspelling; a “rabbet” is the groove of a picture frame into which the picture itself fits. There are a number of well-known stories about haunted or otherwise supernatural pictures (Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, Stephen King’s “The Road Virus Heads North”, etc) but in this one, it’s the frame that takes on a sinister aspect.
“The Music of Erich Zann” by H.P. Lovecraft—This story isn’t nearly as famous as “The Call of Cthulhu” or “The Dunwich Horror,” but it’s always been my favorite of Lovecraft’s works.
“The Erlking” by John Connolly (in Nocturnes)—John Connolly is best known for his detective fiction, but he has also written two collections of weird fiction. This story draws on old legends about fairies for its inspiration—not cutesy Tinkerbell-style fairies, but the Fair Folk known for stealing children.
“N.” by Stephen King (in Just After Sunset)—It was tough picking a favorite Stephen King story, and while I generally prefer his older work, this is one of those stories that sticks with you long after you finish reading it.
“The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir (in Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 2015 issue)—You wouldn’t think that Lovecraftian horror and a coming-of-age story about a teenaged girl in suburbia would mix well, but Muir makes it work.
“October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman (in Fragile Things)—This story, which inspired Gaiman’s novel The Graveyard Book, is a classic ghost tale.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe—This one probably doesn’t need any explanation.
“Mother of Stone” by John Langan (in The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies)—This deeply creepy story did a great job of presenting a mythology behind the entity that the story centers around.
“Technicolor” by John Langan (in The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies)—There’s quite a bit of gorgeous imagery in this story, as well as a unique concept.
“The Emissary” by Ray Bradbury (in The October Country)—This story should be heartwarming, focusing as it does on a dog that’s devoted to a bedridden child. But it takes a sharp turn into horror when the child’s tutor dies and Man’s Best Friend tries a little too hard to cheer him up.
“Out and Back” by Barbara Roden (in Northwest Passages)—Several of Roden’s stories fall into the horror category, and they all tend to use an atmosphere of isolation to create unease in the reader. “Out and Back” is particularly successful at this—it’s the kind of story that will make you jump at an unexpected noise.
“Pyret” by Karin Tidbeck (in Jagannath)—Written in the style of a scholarly account, this story about a folkloric being that can shapeshift to mimic other creatures is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings. It takes a turn for the ominous towards the end, and there’s quite a bit of downright eerie imagery.
“Voluntary Committal” by Joe Hill (in 20th Century Ghosts)—Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and while most of his writing is in the same general vein as his father’s, he definitely has a voice and style of his own. This story is the last one in his collection 20th Century Ghosts, and it ends the book on a high note.