When it comes to horror, the short story is the perfect form. Its brevity allows for a swift escalation into madness, but it’s not so short that it’s over before discomfort has had a chance to mount. With the advent of Halloween, we’ve compiled a list of five excruciatingly creepy short stories which you’ve likely never heard of before. Settle in, dim the lights, and be prepared to jump out of your skin if the phone happens to ring at just the wrong moment…
When curating a list of horror-related anythings the temptation to default to Stephen King is a powerful one. We haven’t entirely given in. This epistolary short story by Elodie Harper was the winner of a Guardian short story competition judged by King, and in terms of feel it does certainly have about it the robust creepiness that marks much of his work. When wild swimmer Chrissie ventures to a remote town in rural Lithuania in search of the perfect spot for a dip she ends up waking something that would have been far better off left undisturbed. Gorgeous.
The residents of the tiny village of Grommin have already seen off two bears this year, but this third one is something altogether different. It is clever. It is cunning and twisted. And it seems almost to be playing with them. Jeff Vanermeer’s short story begins dark, and proceeds to slowly ratchet up the tension and gore until the narrative is pervaded by a sense of starving desperation. There are no heroes in this tale, no happy endings, and certainly no salvation for the victims of the bear – or whatever else it may turn out to be.
Neil Gaiman has written so much brilliant horror that it’s hard to pick just one story of his to include, but this one has always been a special favourite, if for no other reason than its featuring of one of the all-time best ever fictional cats. “The Price” starts off innocuously enough, as the narrator takes in a stray cat that happens to wander by their home. Something, however, is clearly amiss, as every night the cat returns to them savaged half to death. This is one of Gaiman’s least gothic and initially mundane-seeming stories, but the slowly building tension and brilliant ending make it well worth the read.
Ducks are scary animals, but for all their violence and inhumanity they rarely feature in horror fiction – perhaps due to their inherently absurd appearance or cartoonish associations. Joey Comeau addresses that deficit in his haunting, sad, weird short story “One Foot Underwater”, which follows teenager Melanie as she deals with a somewhat unusual haunting in the wake of a terrible accident. If you’re looking for a story that has equal potential to make you laugh and cry, this one is probably for you.
Ted The Caver is the stuff of urban legends. It’s less literary than the other entries on this list, and veers into the territory of creepypasta, but it does so with such convincing style and grim patience that it certainly deserves to be read. What begins as an entirely straight-faced caving diary soon makes the subtle transformation into something altogether more supernatural as the narrator and his friend brush up against something strange and terrible deep beneath the earth. This tale comes complete with photographs, hand-drawn maps, and an authentically awful Angelfire website straight out of the 1990s.