Stephen King once said that “a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger”, and that’s probably the most accurate description of the written craft I have ever read. A short story doesn’t have the luxury of settling down and building a lengthy relationship with you, nor does it have the intentions to do as much. The short story is here to intimately show you everything it’s got as quickly as possible. It’s a torrid affair that ends like a lot of spontaneous romantic rendezvous do- with the desire for more from one party and no promise of rekindling the tryst from the instigator in the matter.
In the case of short stories, the instigator is the writer who entices us to enjoy a quick yarn. The reader is the fool in love, wishing the moment could last longer even after the kiss is long gone.
Perhaps no literary genre is more appropriate for the short story than horror. From Poe and Lovecraft to King and a multitude of incredibly talented indie authors these days, horror short stories have been a major force in the literary world for as long as the written word has been around.
Horror benefits from the art of the short story because ambiguity is one of the genre’s favorite ingredients, allowing an author to suddenly end a story whenever they see fit, whether our protagonist has finished their nightmare or not. Acts of terror and violence are best served in small doses and the short story form gives authors the license to pack quite the concentrated punch in their tale.
There isn’t a more satisfying form of entertainment in this writer’s opinion than the short story, and I thank my lucky Blackness from the Stars (Lovecraft, baby!) that my favorite genre has had such a long-lasting tryst with the form.
The kisses may be bloody and the dark is something to be feared, but I simply can’t get enough.
We all know about the amazing short story work of Poe, Lovecraft and King, but if you haven’t read the short works of Joe Lansdale, Ambrose Bierce and Ray Bradbury, then I don’t know what you are doing reading this when you should be reading them! On second thought, finish this article, share it all over social media and THEN dig into some amazing short stories by some of the best writers to ever scribe a story.
Have you read all of the aforementioned authors? The independent author world is chockfull of vibrant and amazing writers just dying to tell you the tales that keep them up at night. Do yourself a favor and read up on Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Damien Angelica Walters, Eric S. Brown, A.J Brown and Glenn Rolfe, amongst many, many others.
Here is a list of ten short stories that every horror-loving book junkie absolutely must read as soon as possible!
Pigeons from Hell, by Robert E. Howard- murder, voodoo and sexual depravity run thick in this short story that is widely considered one of the best ever written. Joe Lansdale even re-wrote and adapted this story in comic form in 2008.
The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury- think this man wasn’t ahead of his time? Read this story and then remind yourself that he wrote about a life lost in technology and virtual reality- in 1950.
Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu- this Gothic masterpiece arrived twenty-six years before Dracula and centers around the most haunting female vampire in literature history.
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James- since it’s debut in 1898, this is one of the go-to stories when one wants to read a truly unsettling short horror tale. Ghosts, heartache and claustrophobia run amok here.
The Open Window, by Saki- in this one, the reader gets to sit in as one character scares the living daylights out of another. It’s all about setting and pacing with this one.
The Minister’s Black Veil, by Nathaniel Hawthorne- what a title! This is as good as it gets when it comes to horror based in Puritan New England in the 1800s. Religious undertones, ahoy!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving- we all know the story, but if you haven’t read the actual short tale, get to it. Nothing beats the written word and you can practically feel the fear of Ichabod Crane throughout these pages.
Ten Things To Know About The Ten Questions, by Gwendolyn Kiste- if Bradbury were still writing today, he’d firmly approve of this eerie tale that is soaked in paranoia and the most delicious morsel of horror- trying to figure out why something is happening when there really is no rhyme or reason behind it.
Grey Matter, by Stephen King- check those beer cans before you start chugging this Memorial Day weekend! Aliens and a snowstorm are a terrifying combo and King is chugging on all cylinders with this one.
Bubba Ho-Tep, by Joe Lansdale- Elvis and JFK meet in a senior living home and team up to destroy an ancient evil mummy. If that doesn’t reel you in, then you may want to check your pulse.
Short stories are a wonderful way to spend a lunch break or take you away while you are riding the train home. A good short story will stick with you long after the last page has been turned. A good short horror story will stick with you longer after you close your eyes at night, as well. Happy reading!