I love a good scary short story! And even though I don’t need an excuse to read them year-round, October (or, Halloween Month) is always a great opportunity to sit down with some of my absolute favorites! This list will be a combination of some classics you’ve already read, as well as more obscure titles that might not have crossed your radar. Whether you read one or all of them, I hope you enjoy these 31 chilling tales!
1: The Lottery (Shirley Jackson) This is one of those stories that starts out in such a way that you don’t even realize that it’s a horror story until it’s too late. Without giving too much away, the story is about a group of people in a small town, coming together for the annual lottery. That’s it. Nothing suspicious or scary here, right?
2: The Monkey’s Paw (W. W. Jacobs) A man is visited by an old friend from the army who reveals that he has in his possession a strange bit of magic–an old, mummified monkey’s paw that has the ability to grant three different people three wishes each. But, he warns, the wishes that the paw grants do not always happen the way that you want or expect.
3: Something Fell from Aloft (Alvin Schwartz) This is one of my favorite scary stories to read aloud. A sailor recounts the chilling events that happened during a voyage out to sea, and the horrors that do not stay buried.
4: The Willows (Algernon Blackwood) Two friends go for a canoe trip down the River Danube. But, when they arrive at a grove of willow trees, what they see there will be the stuff of nightmares.
5: The Minister’s Black Veil (Nathaniel Hawthorne) During a sermon on secret sin, a small-town minister appears before his congregation wearing a black veil over his face and refuses to remove it or explain why he wears it, to the deep consternation of his congregation.
6: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (Edgar Allan Poe) An experiment to halt death, by putting an individual under hypnotic trance at the moment of expiration backfires horribly, leaving the dying man trapped in a state of suspended animation, neither truly alive or dead, and physically unable to die, as his body slowly breaks down.
7: The Bottle Imp (Robert Louis Stevenson) Keawe buys a strange, unbreakable bottle from a wretched old man, who tells him that an imp residing in the bottle will grant his every desire. However, if he dies with the bottle in his possession, his soul is bound for hell. In order to get rid of the bottle, he must sell it to someone else for less than he paid.
8: The Kit-Bag (Algernon Blackwood) After covering a particularly gruesome murder trial, Johnson is just happy to be able to get away from it all and go on a trip. The night before he’s scheduled to leave, he asks a friend to loan him a kit-bag that he can use for the trip, and is haunted by a ghostly phenomena that leaves him doubting his senses.
9: The Devil and Daniel Webster (Stephen Vincent Benet) After a surge of back luck leaves him broke and nearly starving, Jabez Stone makes an unfortunate deal with the devil–his soul for seven years of prosperity. But, when his time is up, and the devil grows impatient with his requested extensions, Jabez turns to the best lawyer in New Hampshire to help him save his soul.
10: The Outsider (H.P. Lovecraft) He has been living isolated in the castle for as long as he can remember. But, one day, our mysterious narrator decides to leave the quiet protection of his home and go in search for human contact.
11: The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman) A woman suffering from postpartum depression finds that a suggested summer trip and a restful getaway turns into suffocating psychological battle. Prevented from reading or writing or anything too stimulating as a cure for her depression, her mental state begins to unravel when she starts seeing a woman behind the yellow wallpaper in her room.
12: Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) A wedding guest is accosted by a mysterious mariner who tells him of the horrifying fate which befell him while lost at sea, and the evil forces which battled for his soul.
13: The Speckled Band (Arthur Conan Doyle) Sherlock Holmes and Watson are hired by a young woman who suspects that her stepfather murdered her sister–while she was sleeping all alone in a locked room.
14: Smee (A. M. Burrage) A Christmas party game takes a dark turn after the guests hear a story about a young woman dying during a game of “Smee”– which is similar to hide and seek and played in complete darkness. To make matters worse, the revelers realize that there is an extra player at the party, and no one knows who she is.
15: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving) Either a long short story or a short novella, this classic tale is the story of a schoolteacher who scoffs at the local legend of the headless horseman–and does so to his great peril.
16: The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York (Algernon Blackwood) Sent by his employer to get some documents signed by an old eccentric, a secretary finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a potentially deadly situation when he’s forced to spend the night at the man’s house.
17: A Rose for Emily (William Faulkner) It’s the day of the funeral of old Emily Grierson, an eccentric who has been living her life as though trapped in the past in very odd and even gruesome ways, such as refusing the bury the body of her father after he passes away. Throughout the story, the narrator brings to life some of the stranger points of Emily’s life, crafting a story that is both darkly beautiful and disturbing.
18: The Mark of the Beast (Rudyard Kipling) During a New Year’s Eve party, a group of English soldiers stationed in India become drunk and one of them desecrates the temple of the monkey god. Expecting a lethal punishment, they are surprised when the worst that happens is a leper priest biting the offending soldier. But, after he begins to act strangely, the group starts to wonder if perhaps there’s more to the punishment then they realized.
19: The Canterville Ghost (Oscar Wilde) An angry British ghost does everything he can to scare away a loud, outspoken American family that moves into his house after his death. At turns delighted and oblivious, the Americans are anything but frightened, making the increasingly desperate ghost’s job harder and harder in this hilarious ghost story.
20: The Body-Snatcher (Robert Louis Stevenson) In order to acquire a steady collection of corpses for his anatomy classes, a doctor turns to a disreputable resurrection man to provide the needed cadavers. But, when the doctor’s assistant learns just how the bodies are acquired, everything takes a very dark turn.
21: Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad (M. R. James) A professor who claims he does not believe in the supernatural discovers a very old whistle in a crack in a rock on the beach during his vacation. He blows on the whistle and accidentally summons a creature beyond his realm of understanding. This terrifying tale kept me on the edge of my seat until I finished reading!
22: The Drum (Alvin Schwartz) Two children become very naughty when their mysterious new playmate promises them a very special toy in return for bad behavior. This chilling cautionary tale is one of my favorites to read aloud, and the imagery is quite chilling. Best of all, there’s no gore, just that cold heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach when the story ends.
23: The Call of Cthulhu (H.P. Lovecraft) Often considered one of Lovecraft’s greatest works (and certainly one of his most famous!) this tale of terror recounts the discovery of the nameless elder gods living deep under the water, who are starting to awaken from their supernatural slumber, threatening the fate of humankind.
24: The Vampyre (John William Polidori) Crafted at the same party that produced Frankenstein, this tale is considered to be the first of the vampire genre. When a young Englishman meets the mysterious Lord Ruthven, he soon realizes that the aristocrat possesses a secret that threatens everything he cares about.
25: Mr. Arcularis (Conrad Aiken) A patient recovering from a heart surgery goes on a trip to England by ship. While on the ship, he becomes acquainted with Mr. Arcularis, another passenger, who has an unsettling habit of sleepwalking, and each night disappears deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship.
26: The Hand (Guy de Maupassant) During a visit to his new neighbor’s home, a judge learns of a terrible feud that the man had participated in, resulting in his taking his opponent’s severed hand as a trophy. But, there’s something horrible and grotesque about the hand, including its singular size and the chain around its wrist.
27: August Heat (William F. Harvey) An artist sketches the portrait of a killer, just after sentencing has been handed down. When he arrives at the workshop of a stonemason later that day, he discovers the mason perfectly matches the sketch in his pocket, and is working on a tombstone with the artist’s name on it.
28: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Ambrose Bierce) A Southern planter and supporter of the Confederate cause is about to be lynched by Union soldiers. The story recounts the fateful event and what happens next.
29: The Devil and Tom Walker (Washington Irving) A greedy man strikes a deal with the devil in order to obtain a notorious pirate’s treasure. This story is actually one of the inspirations for The Devil and Daniel Webster (#9 on this list!)
30: The Signal Man (Charles Dickens) A no-nonsense narrator has an encounter with a superstitious railroad employee who believes that he saw a ghost.
31: The Horla (Guy de Maupassant) Told in the form of a journal, a rich man finds himself in terrible anguish after he unthinkingly waves at a strange ship, thus inviting the supernatural horror onboard into his life. This story is considered the inspiration for The Call of Cthulhu (#23 on this list!).