The 50 Best Short Horror Stories To Seriously Freak Yourself Out At Night

Don't read these in the dark.

woman reading short horror story Ron Lach / Pexels via Canva

I have always loved everything that goes bump in the night. Nothing makes me happier than stuff that's going to scare me so badly that I can't go to sleep, like great ghost stories.

While a lot of people can tell you where they were and what they were wearing during major events in their lives, I can do the same... about the important works of art about horror, and the state I was in when I discovered them all for the very first time.


Horror movies are easy to find, horror novels almost just as easy, but when you want a quick hit of horror to the veins, nothing does it quite the way short horror stories do.

Though they may be a bit hard to find, we've compiled the best short horror stories proven to be some of the absolute scariest around.

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50 Best Short Horror Stories

1. “The Infamous Bengal Ming" by Rajesh Parameswaran

"Awwww, a story about a tiger who falls in love with the tiger keeper! How sweet!" is not what you will be saying when you read this short story and discover how, exactly, said tiger expresses that love. Yikes!

2. “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman

If you've always thought "Snow White" was a little disturbing, so did Neil Gaiman. In this short story, she's a dangerous blood-sucker and her prince is only attracted to dead bodies. How... romantic?

3. “The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you're a woman, there's nothing more terrifying than this short story. A woman confined with hysteria begins to think that there are people living in her wallpaper... and that she is one of them! A classic, and an important read that's scary in a myriad of ways.

4. “The Monkey’s Paw" by W.W. Jacobs

You can't have a list of horrifying short stories and not include this OG. TL;DR version of the story: dude gets a monkey paw, makes some wishes, dude does not think things through and comes to deeply regret his choices.


5. “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill

If you haven't read anything by Mary Gaitskill, what are you even doing with your life? This story will suck you in. It's about a father with dark fantasies about murdering women, who discovers that his son shares his predilections. Your hair will stand on end!

6. "In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka

Some people think that "The Metamorphosis" is Kafka's most terrifying work of short prose. Those people have never read this story about convicts who are tortured by a device that effectively punishes them with their own crime. Not for the faint of heart!

7. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison

It's the 1960s and mankind is done for... except for these four human beings who are being systematically hunted and tortured by an all-powerful and totally evil computer. Technology FTW, I guess?

8. “Dress of White Silk" by Richard Matheson

If you're a fan of short horror stories and you don't know Richard Matheson, rectify that right now. This story is told from the perspective of a very creepy child who has been locked in her room by her grandmother. It doesn't get much spookier than that.


9. "Out of Skin" by Emily Carroll

Carroll is brilliant at using the form of comics to create truly sinister stories and this is one of her best. It's about undead women and once you're done with it you won't be able to banish it from your mind.

10. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

If you thought "The Hunger Games" was original, you'd best check this story out. Each year a lottery occurs in this tiny town, but the "prize" isn't exactly something anyone would like to win. Read it for yourself and you'll see why.

11. "The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

No one is a master of getting inside a character's guilty conscience like Poe. In this classic, a man kills his mortal enemy only to be tormented by the phantom beating of his victim's heart beneath his floorboards.

12. "The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King

Some people might say that Charles Dickens is the master of the short story, to which I say, maybe he's good, but it's King who's, well... king. This story is essentially just about a painting... much in the way that "The Shining" is about a hotel.


13. "The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

While Blackwood's name might not be one you know, he was a favorite of fellow author H.P. Lovecraft. In this tale, a simple boat ride turns into a nightmarish adventure.

14. “The Screaming Skull” by F. Marion Crawford

This is an oldie but a goodie. A gnarled sea captain finds just part of a human skull. He begins to tell a story and, as he does, just how much he really knows about this skull fragment comes into focus in a terrifying way.

15. “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

A lot of people don't know this, but this novel about a man with a low IQ who is given the "gift" of a high IQ actually started off as a short story. IMHO, it's actually better than the novel, and even more upsetting.

16. “Lull” by Kelly Link

"Lull" is a story about, well... stories. There are several characters, each one struggling with regret, but what does that regret manifest as in this chilling tale?


17. "A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Meet the mother-in-law from hell who, in turn, meets the carjackers from hell. It's a terrifying tale, one that really underlines the grim nature of humanity. It's a must-read whether you like scary stuff or not.

18. "The Green Ribbon” by Alvin Schwartz

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies, says the woman who never takes the ribbon off from around her neck whenever anyone asks her why it's there. What is she hiding?

19. "Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

If the only Hawthorne you've read is "The Scarlet Letter," you're missing out. This is a deeply eerie story about a woman who literally turns to poison — and that's just the beginning of what goes wrong.

20. “Dial Tone” by Benjamin Percy

Nowadays we almost never pick up our phones unless we know the number because we don't want to talk to telemarketers. Telemarketers are the crux of this scary tale that has to be read to be believed.


21. "The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen

A woman is running late to meet an old boyfriend and she's panicked about it. You would be too if the old boyfriend in question actually happened to be a demon who was out for blood.

22. "Haunted" by Harris Tobias

While many of us have read a classic haunted house tale, the short story "Haunted" is about a house in the middle of Arkansas. But this house is home to a ghost who has a hobby of... baking. Creepy, right?

23. “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis” by Karen Russell

When a group of bullies finds a doll that looks exactly like a little boy they used to tease, they don't hesitate: they string it up on a tree in the area where they like to play. Little did they know the danger they were inviting into their lives.

24. “Lukundoo” by Edward Lucas White

Having a skin disorder is upsetting enough, but having a skin disorder where small furious men burst out of your pores? That's an entirely new level of deeply upsetting, and I say that as a fan of Dr. Pimple Popper.


25. “Don’t Look Now” by Daphne du Maurier

The author perhaps best known for the novel "Rebecca" creates another gothic nightmare that will, in turn, enthrall you and leave you utterly terrified.

26. "Selfies" by Lavie Tidhar

In this story, we follow a young girl who has recently purchased a phone at the local mall. However, her fate reveals that the purchase was the mistake of a lifetime. The story is told through the selfies found on the phone.

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27. "Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner

If you loved HBO's first season of "True Detective," then you need to check this story out. The "sticks" in question actually served as a major source of inspiration for the crime that is the show's center. The story is perhaps even more frightening.


28. "The Babysitter” by Robert Coover

This story got me good — a serious case of the chills! It tells the story of a woman who works as a babysitter... through the eyes of the men who watch her, and fantasize about her. Is there anything scarier than an obsession?

29. “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl

Dahl didn't just write stuff for kids, oh no. In fact, some of his best work was horror stories for adults. In this tale, the tenant of a new apartment learns that his landlady has a horrifying hobby: taxidermy — and not just the usual kind either.

30. "Fabulous Beasts" by Priya Sharma

"Fabulous Beasts" follows a strange woman who is living with her lover in luxury. But things from her dark past start to spiral when her uncle is released from prison.

31. “Caterpillars” by E.F. Benson

The perfect horror story creeps into your subconscious and preys on your deepest fears, no matter how strange they might seem to others. In this story, the fear exploited is the fear of bugs. I literally can't type more about it without shuddering.


32. “Le Horla” by Guy de Maupassant

The author of this story was hospitalized for total insanity... weeks after he finished writing this story about a world that is coming completely off the hinges. Will it drive you to madness too?

33. “Miriam” by Truman Capote

When you think of horror, you probably don't think of Capote, but you might want to rethink that. This is a tale about a child who is more than she seems. She's well-dressed, well-spoken, and well-near the scariest thing you've ever read.

34. “The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler

What sets this scary story apart from the pack is the fact that it is based on actual events. A young woman is sent to a reform school where no speaking is allowed... and other students start to disappear.

35. “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter

Carter's beautiful adaptation of the popular "Bluebeard" will have you thinking twice about marriage. A young bride learns secrets about her husband that lead her to believe that her life may be in danger.


36. "The Dark House" by A. C. Wise

"The Dark House" is about a photographer's unsettling obsession with a haunted house that is the location of a suicide. Be warned, this tale isn't for those who are easily set off.

37. "Survivor Type" by Stephen King

"Survivor Type" is a diary-format short story that follows a disgraced surgeon turned drug smuggler Richard Pine. Pine ends up being marooned on a barren island alone. As he waits for a rescue, he notices that there is nothing to eat, but himself.

38. "The Night Cyclist" by Stephen Graham Jones

This story is about a middle-aged chef who takes a nightly bicycle ride home after work. Seems pretty ordinary enough, except this ride is interrupted by an unexpected encounter.

39. "The End of the End of Everything" by Dale Bailey

A married couple gets invited to an exclusive artists’ colony. They soon find out that the members of the colony indulge in suicide parties as the world teeters on the brink of extinction.


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40. "Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad" by MR James

The story is about a young, scientifically-minded college professor who finds an old bronze whistle while exploring the ruins of a Knights Templars' preceptory. That night, he blows the whistle and a vision comes to him of a dark expanse with a lonely figure in its midst. A bunch of strange things start happening to shake the professor's disbelief in the supernatural.

41. "The October Game" by Ray Bradbury

The story is about a husband, wife, and daughter. The couple is in a dispute and the husband decides to hurt his wife... by killing their daughter.


42. "The Dunwich Horror" by HP Lovecraft

"The Dunwich Horror" is a monster story following a family as they try to figure out what is going on in Dunwich. The monster is vicious and invisible and can only be seen by using a special powder, but it only works for a few seconds.

43. "How To Get Back To The Forest" by Sofia Samatar

Everyone likes camp — the hiking, mixers, and games, it's a blast. Wrong. Cee hates camp and knows that something is going on with the campers. She drags some of the girls to the camp bathrooms to get it out and, well... you'll just have to read it.

44. "Abraham's Boys" by Joe Hill

Abraham has one rule for his sons: never be out after dark. With vampires in the area, the boys believe their father. Though they have never seen one, that all changes when they find a photograph.

45. "Lacrimosa" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Roman has moved away from home and hasn't been in contact for 10 years. He's living his own life, but ghosts of his childhood come to haunt him, including a figure who resembles La Llorona, the woman in an urban myth who drowned her children and roamed the land in search of them.


46. "A Collapse of Horses" by Brian Evenson

We follow a very unreliable narrator who can't decide if his house is growing and how many children he has. Read this psychological thriller for some goosebumps.

47. "Patient Zero" by Tananarive Due

"Patient Zero" follows a special kid who has immunity to a horrible virus. This immunity keeps him in a sheltered life within the walls of a hospital. But the staff is keeping him safe from what is really going on outside.

48. "In The Cave of The Delicate Singers" by Lucy Taylor

A caver who can feel sound waves goes on a rescue mission into a terribly dangerous cave, and not just because of natural dangers. What will happen to this protagonist with synesthesia?

49. "The Ash of Memory, The Dust of Desire" by Billy Martin (writing as Poppy Z. Brite)

This story follows a couple whose relationship is not doing well. They end up in a shady industrial town to keep a sketchy medical appointment. What is the appointment and what exactly will happen in this town...


50. "Into the Wood" by Robert Aickman

Margaret Sawyer, the wife of a prosperous Manchester building contractor, is bored with life and struggles with insomnia. On a business trip to Sweden with her husband, she stays overnight at the Kurhaus, a sanitorium for insomniacs, some of whom have not slept for years.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.