It’s that time again! That time when I refuse to leave my home because I’m fearful of those egg-throwing, spray-painting ghouls also known as adolescents.
Not to be a wet blanket (though that sounds like a great, easy Halloween costume, hmm), but I prefer to spend my Halloween holed up at home. I might light a couple candles, heat up some cider, and eat some carefully curated vegan chocolate. Given the inevitability of a million strangers milling up and down my street getting progressively drunker as the night progresses, I might also opt for noise-canceling headphones and satisfy the spirit of the holiday by reading spooky tales.
In case you’re interested in doing the same, here are some creepy short stories to get in you in the mood (from the comfort of your own home). I’ve chosen stories that are free online so all you need is your computer, a wi-fi connection, and a super antisocial attitude to do the Holiday right:
1. “The Jar” by Ray Bradbury
You know I love Ray Bradbury, right? “The Jar” is one of the first short stories I remember reading. I’d found my brother’s copy of his collection The October Country and surrepticiously read the entire thing in one sleepless night (the next few nights were sleepless as well because I WAS A LITTLE KID AND TOTALLY FREAKED OUT). “The Jar” has stuck with me over the years for its imagery, language, and profound emotional impact. When I think of Bradbury, I think of carnivals, the circus, the strange and unsettling lurking within the everyday, ordinary experience. And I think of the way he writes, which I’ve always loved:
“It was one of those things they keep in a jar in the tent of a sideshow on the outskirts of a little, drowsy town. One of those pale things drifting in alcohol plasma, forever dreaming and circling, with its peeled dead eyes staring out at you and never seeing you.”
2. “The Crow Palace” by Priya Sharma
I recently discussed “Priya Sharma’s “Egg” on my blog, so you can comfortably and correctly surmise I’m on a bit of a binge-reading-kick with her work. I actually read “The Crow Palace” this morning, and was not disappointed. It shares many themes with “Egg” and conjured similar feelings. But scarier. Like many good horror stories, “The Crow Palace” offers an unexpected twist.
On the surface it is a very effective horror story that creates an unforgettably creepy atmosphere (thereby satisfying my deep desire for Halloween-inspired imagery and symbolism.) On a deeper (and, to me, more terrifying) level, it’s a meditation on relationships. Sharma offers a raw glimpse into the guilt, love, regret, and complexity that many of us bring to our most treasured and intimate relationships.
I highly recommend her entire collection, All the Fabulous Beasts, for more of her fiction.
3. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison
Oof, Harlan. I read “I Have no Mouth, and I Must Scream” months ago and really wanted to talk about it at length on my blog. I still might, at some point, but I have to issue a disclaimer: there’s some really gross and visceral imagery in here. It’s possible I’m just a baby when it comes to anything resembling gore, but I had a tough time stomaching some passages. Also, I have complex feelings about this story because there are some definite misogynistic undertones.
I feel like I’m not really selling it very well. But believe me: it’s a very effective creepy short story despite its flaws and some of its problematic language. It’s a classic, Hugo-winning sci-fi horror short story that offers a vision of a sentient, omniscient robot computer overlord. I mean, c’mon.
4. The Weird Reader, Volume III (A Collection of Short Stories)
Disclaimer: I have a short story, “Badlands” published in Volume III of The Weird Reader. All shameless self-promotion aside, I really enjoyed reading through the stories and poems in this independently-published literary journal of all things creepy and macabre.
One of my favorite aspects of the collection is its peculiar tone, which wavers between horrific and absurd at any given time. The editors selected a lot of stories from authors who inject their horror and sci-fi pieces with a healthy dose of humor. As an example of the tone, one of my favorites in the collection is entitled, “For Your Safety and Comfort, Please Keep Arms, Legs, and Tentacles Inside the Car at All Times,” by Michelle Ann King.
Based on that title alone, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t go check it out. There’s also a lot of unique poetry and visual art inside by lesser-known authors and artists!
5. “Where Are you Going, Where Have you Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
I almost didn’t include “Where are You Going, Where Have you Been?” in this list because I assume everyone had to read this very famous short story by a very-well-regarded author in highschool or in English Literature 101 classes in college. But just on the off-chance that you never had to read it, I highly recommend you give it a try.
Without hesitation, I can say that it’s one of the top five most impactful stories I’ve read in the horror/creepy division. It offers a vision of a villain so twisted and terrifying – but so utterly believable – that I still find it bobbing to the surface of my mind like a poisoned apple sometimes when I’m alone in my house.
6. “The Glass Bottle Trick” by Nola Hopkinson
Nola Hopkinson is an incredible writer, and I was thrilled to stumble upon “The Glass Bottle Trick” a couple of weeks ago. It features a re-telling of a very well-known fairytale, which I find to be a particularly effective way of ramping up horror elements in a read. To me, fairy tale tropes allow me to engage with texts in a bone-deep sort of way, since they synchronize with all those archetypal elements instilled into my mind.
I won’t reveal which fairytale the story re-imagines because I believe that part of the magic of Hopkinson’s short story is the way she gracefully unveils truths, weaves in foreshadowing, and subverts some common expectations throughout.
Her language is absolutely gorgeous, as well. I love her descriptions, which have this incredibly powerful way of drawing you into the scene with all your senses:
“Sunlight was flickering through the leaves of the guava tree in the front yard. Beatrice inhaled the sweet smell of the sun-warmed fruit. The tree’s branches hung heavy with the pale yellow globes, smooth and round as eggs. The sun reflected off the two blue bottles suspended in the tree, sending cobalt light dancing through the leaves.”
Despite my tendency towards being curmudgeonly, I hope you enjoy this night of debauchery and future-dental-caries. What are some of your favorite creepy short stories? If you have links to stories online, please share them in the comments!