The crisp air conjures something, doesn’t it? Yes, Halloween approaches. But autumn’s bite, combined with the dwindling daylight and dead leaves, makes us yearn for a frightening story. So, here are a few of our favorites. Some contain murder and monsters, while others chronicle descents into madness; all are perfect pre-bedtime scares for the season.
1.“The Midnight Meat Train,” Clive Barker
So saturated in blood is this story, I’m surprised it doesn’t leak from the pages. The source of said plasma is a madman armed with a meat tenderizer and butcher’s hook who attacks subway passengers with a brutal philosophy. When a desperate photographer snaps shots of the victims to make a name for himself, he stumbles down a gaping hole to hell from which he’ll never climb out. Bonus: It might contain the single most descriptive passage of a tongue-extraction you’ll ever read. Read it here.
2. “The Monkey’s Paw,” W.W. Jacobs
The influence of this 1902 classic has cascaded down through history, and across dozens of fictional works. You know the story: Using the titular wish-granting object, a husband and wife travel down an unexpected path. It’s an eerie, grief-ridden tale that makes it clear that no good fortune comes without hardship. Read it here.
3. “The Dunwich Horror,” H.P. Lovecraft
Sorcerers, massive translucent-skinned monsters and other mad creations populate this tale, one of Lovecraft’s finest. It’s a fairy tale as nightmare, packed with one gut-punch after another and set against a hardened New England sky. Read it here.
4. “The Big Toe,” Alvin Schwartz
While far less terrifying than most here, this tale — taken from the classic children’s book, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark — still grabs for the throat. A young boy digs up a lone, large toe in his garden and gives it to his mother, who adds it to her stew. When its owner appears, no one is safe. Read it here
5. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” Harlan Ellison
This Hugo Award-winning story by prolific sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison begins with a corpse, hung upside down from the ceiling and drained of its blood — and only gets worse from there. The corpse is nothing more than a sick ruse played by “AM,” a twisted supercomputer getting its jollies by tormenting the last four survivors of an apocalypse. To disclose more would ruin the story’s antiseptic horror; just know that after reading you’ll never think of your smartphone the same way. Read it here.
6. “The Man in the Black Suit,” Stephen King
Few writers bring such literary acumen to the horror genre as King. This story, which appeared in The New Yorker and earned King an O. Henry Award, is the best example of that. A nine-year-old boy is met by a prophesizing devil in the woods, an encounter that will shape and terrify him until old age. Read it here.
7. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Chronicling an unreliable female narrator’s plummet into madness, this story, now a feminist classic, is deeply unsettling in its account of psychosis. When she thinks there is someone people trapped in the titular wallpaper, we’re concerned; when she takes measures to free the person, we’re terrified. Claustraphobia at its finest. Read it here.
8. “The Telltale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe
A gothic classic, yes. That doesn’t stop it from conjuring gooseflesh. A jealous narrator is yanked into madness after he can’t stop hearing the beating heart of a man he killed and buried beneath the floorboards. Guilt has never felt so unbearable. Read it here.