15 Horror Short Stories to Read & Learn to Tell Your Own

Posted on Dec 4, 2023

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Written by Bella Rose Pope

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There’s something special about horror short stories, and they can be a powerful tool for writers. Being able to frighten and create tension in a short medium can pay off big time both for the short stories themselves, but also for learning how to construct those types of scenes in larger works of written art, like in a novel.

You can also learn a lot by reading horror short stories for the same reasons. Noticing the small differences that add to the fear without making a piece of writing feel cheesy and overdramatic are crucial for producing the right effect.

But even if you want to write some and nothing else, we’ve got the guide for you.

Here’s what you’ll learn about horror short stories:

  1. What makes them special?
  2. Horror short story examples

What makes horror short stories special?

What’s unique about horror short stories specifically is the ability to create fear in such a short amount of time. In other genres, in order for fear and the general feelings of terror indicative of the horror genre, it takes a lot more time to build up to it. There has to be ample character development, exposition of the stakes, and more.

But with horror in short story form, the authors have managed to do all of that with very little. They use atmosphere, foreshadowing, and other elements that pack a powerful fear punch with little else to go on.

It’s that skill that’s potent in these horror short stories and exactly what you can learn from.

15 Horror Short Story Examples to Read & Learn From

Nothing will teach you more about horror short stories than reading several of them. You’ll pick up on nuances and details that are almost too difficult to grasp in writing. But as always, and with all the advice I give in my blog posts, examples will teach you the most.

Here are some classic horror short stories.

1. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)

As far as horror short stories goes, this one is pretty well known. Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale, The Tell-Tale Heart, is a psychological masterpiece that explores the fine line between sanity and madness. The narrator’s obsession with an old man’s vulture-like eye drives him to commit a gruesome act, leading to a crescendo of paranoia and guilt. Poe’s mastery of suspense and psychological horror makes this short story a timeless gem.

2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (1948)

This story takes a seemingly ordinary small-town event and turns it into a horrifying ritual, which in itself is a lesson in what you can turn into a terrifying scenario that’s pretty typical most of the time. Set against the backdrop of a traditional lottery, the story gradually unveils the dark truth lurking beneath the surface. Jackson skillfully builds suspense, leaving readers questioning the true nature of the village’s chilling tradition.

3. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs (1902)

W.W. Jacobs highlights unintended consequences in one of the horror short stories, The Monkey’s Paw. When a family acquires a mystical monkey’s paw that grants them three wishes, they soon discover that every desire comes with a ghastly price.

This cautionary tale explores the theme of be careful what you wish for, as the characters grapple with the consequences of their decisions. It’s also a great example of mixing some fantasy and supernatural subgenres into the horror one to mix it up and keep it interesting.

4. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

A chilling exploration of women’s mental health in the 19th century, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a haunting tale of confinement and descent into madness. It’s definitely a strong contender among horror short stories for the best way to do psychological thriller.

The story unfolds through the diary entries of a woman prescribed the “rest cure,” revealing the horrifying consequences of being denied agency and autonomy. Published in 1892, still valid today.

5. The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

Poe does it again, with many examples of horror short stories. It might be a little alarmding. Was he okay? The consensus is “no” I think. Edgar Allan Poe makes another appearance on our list with The Masque of the Red Death, a gothic tale that explores the inevitability of death. Set during a plague, the story follows Prince Prospero as he attempts to escape the grasp of the Red Death through a lavish masquerade ball. Poe’s vivid descriptions and symbolic imagery create a haunting atmosphere that lingers in the reader’s mind.

It’s a great example of taking a tragedy, like the plague, and making it even more horrific.

6. The Lottery in Babylon by Jorge Luis Borges (1941)

Jorge Luis Borges infuses existential dread into this horror short, a surreal and philosophical exploration of fate and free will. In the mysterious city of Babylon, a lottery determines the destinies of its inhabitants, reflecting Borges’ profound contemplation on the arbitrary nature of life’s outcomes.

7. The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe (1846)

Poe’s mastery of the macabre is showcased once again with this one. The story unfolds as Montresor seeks revenge against Fortunato, luring him into the catacombs with the promise of a rare wine. The sinister nature of Montresor’s motives and the chilling descent into darkness make this tale a classic in the horror genre.

Also, highly relatable, because many would go to great lengths for some good wine. Me included.

8. The Veldt by Ray Bradbury (1950)

Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt explores the dangers of unchecked technology and the blurred line between reality and virtual worlds. Set in a futuristic home with a virtual nursery, the story follows a family whose children become disturbingly attached to the virtual African veldt, leading to a horrifying revelation.

9. The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft (1936)

H.P. Lovecraft, a master of cosmic horror, as is made evident by The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The protagonist’s visit to the decaying town of Innsmouth unveils a dark secret involving interbreeding with aquatic entities. Lovecraft’s narrative skill and the pervasive sense of dread make this story a quintessential example of his contribution to the horror genre.

It’s a bit out there, which is what makes it one of the better horror short stories you can learn from to see just where you can take things.

10. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates (1966)

Joyce Carol Oates weaves a tale of psychological horror in Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? The story follows a teenage girl, Connie, as she encounters a mysterious and menacing stranger named Arnold Friend. Oates explores themes of vulnerability, power dynamics, and the sinister undercurrents of seemingly ordinary encounters.

With many horror short stories, the trend of turning the ordinary into something horrifying is perfectly encapsulated here.

11. The Hitchhiker by Roald Dahl (1977)

Roald Dahl, known for his children’s literature, takes a dark turn in this story. A man picks up a mysterious hitchhiker on a desolate road, and as the journey unfolds, the sense of unease intensifies. Dahl’s ability to infuse ordinary situations with an eerie atmosphere makes this story a standout in the realm of adult horror fiction.

I think we might be able to blame him for the reputation hitchhikers get.

12. The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov (1889)

Anton Chekhov’s example of horror short stories explores the corrosive nature of greed within a seemingly mundane family.

When the protagonist, Ivan, believes he has won the lottery, the family dynamic shifts dramatically, revealing the darker aspects of human nature. Chekhov skillfully delves into the complexities of desire and disappointment in this short but impactful narrative. Plus, this author is well-known for his foreshadowing, so you’ll learn a lot about that in this story.

13. The Jaunt by Stephen King (1981)

Stephen King, the undisputed king of horror, wrote The Jaunt, a chilling science fiction tale that explores the consequences of teleportation.

As a family prepares for a journey through the Jaunt, a teleportation device, King unveils the horrifying truth about what awaits those who experience the process without sedation. The story combines elements of science fiction and horror to create a truly unsettling narrative.

14. The Open Window by Saki (H.H. Munro) (1914)

Saki, the pen name of H.H. Munro, crafts a tale of deception and psychological manipulation in The Open Window. When a young girl spins a tale of tragedy to a visitor, the consequences are both unexpected and darkly humorous. Saki’s wit and ability to subvert expectations make this story a delightful yet unsettling read.

15. The Last Question by Isaac Asimov (1956)

Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question” takes a cosmic and existential approach to horror. Spanning billions of years, the story explores the quest for knowledge and the ultimate fate of the universe. Asimov’s narrative skill and the profound implications of the story’s conclusion leave a lasting impact on readers, inviting contemplation of humanity’s place in the vastness of time and space.

Whether you’re just a fan or want to learn how to write horror short stories, this list will give you a crash course for writing a good one. And if you want to learn how to expand these ideas into full-length, quality novels, check out this free class that teaches just that:

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