Here’s how it works: Below are my picks for Top 10 Horror Short Stories (in no particular order). I use the term “horror” broadly: This list actually encompasses not only true horror stories, but also classics, gothic, science-fiction, and the macabre. Simply pick one that you vow to read sometime during October. (Some even have links to full online text.) This was a difficult list to compile, and by no means is it complete! These are some ones that jolted me enough to leave their mark, even after many years.
Let me know which pick you choose by leaving a comment. Also, let me and other readers know which stories you like that don’t appear on my list. Or leave me a link to a post of your own Top 10. I will post the list of Readers’ Choice mid-October.
I’d also like to know what you thought of any story. You can email comments to me at writerlylife at yahoo dot com.
Happy reading, everybody!
LK’s Horror Short Story List
(Some stories are available as podcasts at Classic Tales. Thanks, Verbivore!)
1. W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw. Straightforward but unforgettable horror classic. Be careful what you wish for…
2. Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher. I was torn between this story and The Cask of Almontillado, which actually is (to me) scarier. But The Fall of the House of Usher is perhaps the first short gothic tale and one of Poe’s great works of craft, characterized by many as a story wherein each and every detail is relevant.
4. Shirley Jackson, The Lottery. Often anthologized, this story is considered a masterpiece of the literary short story genre. And it happens to be authentically creepy.
5. Jerome Bixby, It’s a Good Life! I read this in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies when I was a kid, and I never forgot it. (Too bad Haley Joel Osment is all grown up. He would have made a perfect Anthony!)
6. Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. This tale gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” (The film Total Recall was based on this work.) I’m not a sci-fi buff, but Philip K. Dick is a master storyteller, particularly in the difficult arena of short science fiction. This particular story is sometimes categorized as a novella, rather than a short story – I’m including it here nevertheless because Dick simply must be read.
7. Guy de Maupassant, The Horla. For the truly twisted, check out this author, who has written a whole slew of fantastic and often macabre tales. This one happens to be a psychological tour-de-force about madness.
8. Isak Dinesen, The Monkey. This peculiar yet brilliant story of a prioress matchmaker is a study on the nature of change. From the collection Seven Gothic Tales. Here’s a quote from the story: “beware … of people who have in the course of their lives neither taken part in an orgy nor gone through the experience of childbirth, for they are dangerous people…” Now, how can you NOT read this?
9. Daphne du Maurier, The Blue Lenses. I read this as a child, and it really got to me. Simple, well-crafted, utterly terrifying and quite satisfying story about the recuperation of a woman who has had eye surgery. This story is included in a 1959 paperback called The Breaking Point (republished in 1970). I couldn’t find text online, so I will mention another du Maurier story that you might be able to find more easily. It’s called Don’t Look Now, and although I haven’t read it, Danielle of A Work in Progress raved over it, so I’m sure by her recommendation, it’s a fine example of du Maurier’s work.
10. Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I confess, I have a weakness for this descriptive, atmospheric story and its beleaguered hero, Ichabod Crane. More folktale than horror story, this really captures the essence of early America, with its tug-o-war between civilization and wilderness.