In October 2015, I wrote a blog entry about my thirteen favorite short horror stories. In the reading I’ve done since then, I’ve come across a number of newer pieces of short fiction that are creepy, eerie, or downright terrifying. I wanted to highlight some of these works, so below is a list of thirteen “short” (novella-length or shorter) horror stories I’ve read for the first time during the past five years and greatly enjoyed.
“The Night Cyclist” by Stephen Graham Jones (on Tor.com): A chef who bikes home late at night after his restaurant closes forms a bond with a fellow cyclist who’s more than he appears. This was a riveting story, one of the few I can say I truly got lost in.
“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” by Stephen King (in If It Bleeds): As I said in my review of the collection, this felt like a classic campfire ghost story.
“He Sings of Salt and Wormwood” by Brian Hodge (in Ellen Datlow’s The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea): This was my favorite story in a strong anthology. A competitive diver witnesses something during a training run gone wrong that may be a hallucination induced by oxygen deprivation or may be something weird even for the deep sea.
I’ll Bring You the Birds from out of the Sky by Brian Hodge: This is another one I blogged about on its own. Its descriptions of folk art and its concern with the ecological devastation wreaked on Appalachia by coal mining serve to ground the story. It also gives a fresh take on the “sinister piece of art” trope.
In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant: A group of teen detectives set out to handle one last case before adulthood scatters them to the winds. Naturally, it ends up being a lot more than they bargained for. The way in which the main character is eventually forced to choose between biological family and found family adds a level of poignancy to the tale.
“How Love Came to Professor Guildea” by Robert Hitchens (in David G. Hartwell’s The Dark Descent): This is one of the most unusual ghost stories I’ve ever read, because it manages to be unsettling despite the fact that no human or spiritual entity seeks to do any harm whatsoever to the main character.
“Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner (also in The Dark Descent): A great Lovecraftian tale with an interesting premise. And, like “How Love Came to Professor Guildea”, one that hasn’t been appreciated or reprinted as much as it should be.
“Spectral Evidence” by Gemma Files (in her collection of the same name): This one is tough to describe without giving too much away. It’s a mystery story involving a group of parapsychologists, and the way in which the clues are presented is a big part of what makes this story so intriguing.
“Standing Woman” by Yasutaka Tsutsui (in Jeff and Ann VandeMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction): The past four years have led to a resurgence in the popularity of dystopian fiction, and this story presents a subtly horrific tale of life in a totalitarian state.
“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (on Tor.com): This story has some similarities to “I’ll Bring You the Birds from Out of the Sky” in the central role played by art. Here, though, it’s not only the artist who gets drawn into the world he portrays, but his model as well.
“Snapshot” by Joe Hill (in his collection Strange Weather): An ominous man with an even more ominous camera threatens a young boy. This is one of the stories that really proves Joe Hill is his father’s son.
“The Emperor’s Old Bones” by Gemma Files (in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Thirteenth Edition): The interpersonal relationships in this story are just as disturbing as the supernatural element. This story won the International Horror Guild Award for Short Fiction in 1999, and it’s easy to see why. Though it isn’t explicitly gory, it’s not for the faint of heart.
“Coming Soon” by Stephen Millhauser (in his collection Voices in the Night): We’ve all had the experience of returning to a place we used to frequent and finding it irrevocably changed. “Coming Soon” takes the feelings of dislocation this experience provokes and makes them the foundation for a compelling horror story.