If you know anything about me you know I am the last person who should be writing about horror. I don’t like gore as a general rule, so my immediate response to even the most casual horror movies tends to be, "Pass." I had nightmares for a week after The Exorcist came out, and not because I watched the movie, but because a friend recapped it for me during recess. I have to be chaperoned by a friend every time a new season of Stranger Things comes out. Once I cried during Adams Family Values. Basically, I am a huge wuss.
And yet, for some reason, my fear of horror doesn't extend to short stories. Blame it on being raised by a Twilight Zone dad, but there's nothing I love so much as a good creepy story. Maybe it's because horror usually involves a dramatic plot twist, a missed step as you walk down the stairs in the dark. Maybe it's the knowledge that if something gets too scary I can always shut the book closed. Maybe it's the fact that they're short. Whatever the reason, I've read more than my fair share of ghost stories, so much so that if anyone so much as brings me a campfire, the urge to talk about Shirley Jackson takes over. I don't make the rules!
In the spirit of Halloween, here are five of our favorite scary short stories, complete with links to either free online versions or audio narrations. Fair warning: these are scary stories, which means they are... scary. These stories aren't necessarily violent, but they do aim for that knot-in-your-throat kind of dread. Ye have been warned.
The Summer People by Shirley Jackson
When it comes to slow-churning dread served with a side of sunny side up diner eggs, nobody does it better than Shirley Jackson. You might have heard of her story “The Lottery” which famously flooded the New Yorker offices with complaint letters and cancelled subscriptions after the magazine published it in 1948. “The Summer People” a short story about a wealthy New York couple who decide to move into their summer house and immediately come under suspicion by their small town neighbors. If your pandemic IG feed was clogged with wealthy people buying houses upstate, you'll likely experience a strange kind of schadenfreude at the end. Listen here.
Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby by Donald Barthelme
A Philly boy, Barthelme was famous for his punchy flash fiction, and “Some of Us” is one of his best. The titular Colby becomes alienated from his learned, upper crust friends, for the unspecified crime of "going too far." Things take a sudden turn when the friends begin discussing the details of his upcoming hanging with the kind of polite interest reserved for planning a society lunch. “Some of Us” is a short flash horror that resonates deeply in our age of internet outrage. Fair warning– this story, though humorous, contains instances of violence. Read here.
Our Temporary Supervisor by Thomas Ligotti
In our current Amazon hellscape, Thomas Ligotti's story of a factory worker caught in a system consuming him from within, rings eerily familiar. For the full experience, blast Bo Burnham while you read. Read here.
The Dirty Kid by Mariana Enriquez
The Argentinian writer Mariana Enriquez takes us to a seedy neighborhood in Buenos Aires, where a well-off woman becomes fixated on a homeless child, the titular Dirty Kid, who sleeps on a mattress in front of her palatial house. If you're the kind of person who cringes when a pet owner smiles a little too widely when talking about their "rescue," you'll likely recognize the uncomfortable charity at play. Read here.
The Shift by Rasheedah Phillips
This wild tale asks the question, "What if time lost all significance? Would society deal?" The answer, unsurprisingly, is a resounding "Hell no." Phillips, who is part of Philly's own Black Quantum Futurism and Metropolarity collectives and is currently finishing up an artist residency at CERN, goes very meta in this story, which also features audio, collages, and footnotes. Read here.
Featured in this story:
- Le Pen Retro Colors in Magenta
- David Shrigley Opening Hours Ceramic Mug
- KOMONO Matt Sunglasses
- BAGGU Reusable Cloth Set in Quilts
- Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism - Amanda Montell
- Goth Halloween Card
- Karimoku Furniture Mystery Box
- Insomnia - The School of Life
- KITTA Popup Stickers Alien
- Akata World Online Stickers by Chibuyum
- Sailor 1911S Fountain Pen in Wicked Witch of the West
- Toyo T-190 Stackable Storage Box
- Macon & Lesquoy Hand Embroidered Pin Green Extraterrestrial
- Kaweco Sport Rollerball Pen in Mint
- Jugetsudo Organic Apple Hojicha Tin
- BAGGU Puffy Earbuds Case in Black Calico Floral
- Kaweco 50mL Bottle Inks