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MIDNIGHT STAYS: A SPOOKY SHORT STORY REC LIST

‘tis the season!  october’s almost halfway through, the evenings are stretching out across the days, the leaves are falling, and it’s cold enough to warrant whole days curled up inside with a book.  here are some of my favourite scary stories for that extra chill:

  • each thing i show you is a piece of my death, by Stephen J. Barringer and Gemma Files – originally published in the 2nd of the excellent Clockwork Phoenix anthologies; this is one of my favourite short stories, period.  It’s also one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read.  Even Cat Valente, who was also included in that anthology, recommends it wholeheartedly.  The premise is very simple – what if spirits could haunt film? – but done originally and very, very well.
  • Shirley Jackson, the queen of American Gothic – I’ve expanded on my love for Jackson on countless occasions.  Her most famous story is likely The Lottery, but The Bus, The Possibility of Evil, and, unfortunately not available online but widely anthologized, The Lovely House, are all also excellent and creepy, as is her longer fiction.
  • A Rose For Emily, by William Faulkner – to stick with America and the Gothic for a moment; I first read this in English 12 and it haunted me for weeks afterwards.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – in some ways one of the most terrifying short stories ever written, particularly the more one reads into it, this Lit class classic about a woman with postpartum depression and the woman she sees in the wallpaper grows and refracts upon itself with each new reading, making it endlessly creepy and rewarding both.
  • and, of course, the king and founder of American Gothic, Mr. Edgar Allen Poe – most or all of his known works are available on Project Gutenberg, but some of my favourites include The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask Of Amontillado, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, Morella, and, of course, The Tell-Tale Heart.
  • The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann – the author of the story that would become the beloved Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker also wrote a story so alarming that Freud wrote an entire theory on it.  In fact, The Sandman is probably just the most quintessential Hoffmann tale as, long before Freud ever wrote about him, he produced a great deal of tales focussed on the uncanny and an undermining of perception and the security of the self (which is all a highfalutin way of saying that Hoffmann anticipated the anxieties of his readers to come in fascinating and unsettling ways.) 
  • Don’t Look Now, by Daphne Du Maurier – unfortunately not online so far as I can tell, this is one of my favourite stories ever by one of my favourite authors, the masterful creator of Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, who also wrote the short story upon which Alfred Hitchcock based The Birds.  This story was also adapted into a film in the early seventies, starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, also a favourite of mine.
  • The Landlady, by Roald Dahl – another story dramatized by Alfred Hitchcock, about the horrors of taxidermy.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving – thanks to the Tim Burton film and the currently-running tv show, we all know this story.  Or at least, we think we do.  Irving wrote something a bit different than either of those adaptations lead us to believe of the story.
  • The Monkey’s Paw, by WW Jacobs – an exemplar of the “be careful what you wish for” genre.
  • the works of Algernon Blackwood – personal favourites include The Willows, The Kit-Bag, and The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York.  Blackwood is one of the originators of what would become the Weird tradition within horror writing, although he had much more of a sense of humour (and was much less racist than HP Lovecraft)
  • HP Lovecraft – speaking of, if you must read him (and he does loom large over almost all horror written after him), I suggest doing so critically, without ever trusting him, and with an eye towards doing better.  I also suggest the stories Cool Air, The Thing on the Doorstep, and The Whisperer In Darkness
  • William Hope Hodgson creator of one of my favourite literary figures, not least for the possibilities he opens up, Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, who is essentially a supernatural Sherlock Holmes.  Hodgson also wrote one of the forerunners of cosmic horror, a novel called The House on the Borderland.
  • I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison – a postapocalyptic sci-fi story featuring a vengeful computer that was groundbreaking at its time of publication and remains quite scary.
  • the late, great Ray Bradbury – one of the most formative influences on my own imagination, and one of the most important writers of the last century.  A lot of his work isn’t available online (although he’s beloved of almost every librarian I’ve ever met so finding his work shouldn’t be a problem), but here are a few: The Veldt, The Pedestrian, and The Pendulum
  • The Entrance, by Gerald Durrell – when I mentioned to a friend and prof that I was fascinated by mirrors in literature, she recommended this story by Durrell, who is better known for being a naturalist, an author of charming memoirs, and brother to Lawrence Durrell, but she failed to mention how terrifying it is.
  • Faces in Revolving Souls and Houses Under the Sea by Caitlin R Kiernan – two particularly disturbing stories by a writer who is perhaps less famous than she should be.
  • The Krakatoan, Who Is Your Executioner?, and The Cellar Dwellar, by Maria Dahvana Headley – three short stories by one of my favourite writers, author of Queen of Kings and Magonia, and keeper of a truly excellent tumblr
  • The Bone Key and other stories by Sarah Monette The Bone Key: The Necromatic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth tells the story of Booth, an awkward and introverted archivist who finds himself in the midst of a host of supernatural mysteries, sometimes to do with his own shrouded family history.  They are easily some of the most engrossing and enjoyable short stories I’ve ever read.  Wait For Me, The Replacement, and White Charles are all available online, as is the newer story To Die For Moonlight.  Two other Monette stories, unrelated to Booth, that I recommend highly are Queen of Swords and Under the Beansidhe’s Pillow.
  • A Kiss With Teeth, by Max Gladstone – vampires and parent-teacher meetings, enough said.  My favourite story I’ve read recently.
  • Madeleine, by Amal El-Mohtar – my favourite story I’ve read all year, which is perhaps unsurprising as I adore El-Mohtar’s writing (not to mention her passion for speculative fiction and poetry and raising its visibility), about memories, and loss, and struggling with your own mind.

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