Because I’ve been talking a bit about horror lately, as well as having posted a few amateurish examples of my own work on here, I’m going to go ahead and pretend that people give a stuff about my opinions and post a list of short horror stories which I think people should have read by now, if they haven’t already. I specifically listed shorts because I firmly believe that with horror stories, unlike so many other things, shorter is always better. The order is simply the sequence I listed them in, not an order of preference.
1. Eric the Pie – Graham Masterton I can’t recommend this horrible and horribly effective piece of suburban grand guignol highly enough. One of the best splatter stories I’ve ever read. Even better, you can download the PDF for free at Graham Masterton’s website, here, along with several other shorts should you so desire.
2. The Signalman – Charles Dickens A creepy and effective morality tale from a man high school literature lessons may have mistakenly taught you to hate. Hunt out an anthology that contains this story immediately. I promise you won’t regret it.
3. Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad – M.R. James I’ve listed this one, but in truth I could have picked any James story. He was a genuine master of the low key story of creeping terror and slowly mounting tension. I chose this one, mainly for the evocative title. Just seeing it listed on the contents page of any anthology is enough to send an anticipatory shiver down the spine.
4. Pickman’s Model – H. P. Lovecraft Most people would immediately go to one of Lovecraft’s many tales of cosmic horror, or else The Rats in the Walls, but I chose this one because of its simplicity and the surprisingly deft way in which Lovecraft layers his prose from the simple opening to the hysterics of the denouement.
5. The Jury – Gerald Durrell I can’t say for certain whether this is genuinely a great horror story, or simply made more effective for being sandwiched in between Durrell’s signature gently humourous travelogues. Well worth seeking out anyway, since even if my memory has made it seem scarier in retrospect, you’ll still have Durrell’s thoroughly enjoyable memoirs to read.
6. We’re Going Where The Sun Shines Brightly – Christopher Fowler An unpleasant little tale, about unpleasant things happening to unpleasant people. Typically English in sensibility, brilliantly executed and nicely ambiguous in tone. Nothing gets explained satisfactorily either, which is always a bonus for me with short works of horror.
7. The Fall of the House Usher – Edgar Allan Poe A masterpiece of American Gothic. A lot of people claim it’s derivative of Poe’s earlier works, but since I read this one first, after seeing the Roger Corman film adaptation on television one night as a child, it remains my favourite.
8. No Sharks in the Med – Brian Lumley A typically English tale of a smug bugger getting his comeuppance.
9. The Lottery – Shirley Jackson Like I wasn’t going to list this one? If you like horror, especially modern horror, then this really is required reading.
10. Troll Bridge – Neil Gaiman Some people may argue that this is fantasy, due to it being a retelling of an ancient faiy tale, but they can get stuffed. Fairy tales were the horror stories of their day and this one is no different.
That should be enough for you to be getting on with, if you’re far enough from the horror mainstream to have managed to have read half or less of the stories above, get busy finding them. You won’t regret it.