The Top 100 Scariest Stories to read online or in horror anthology books. This is an extensive list of the greatest short horror tales by the greatest horror authors.
The Jaunt by Stephen King
This is a sci-fi horror short story by Stephen King about the dangers of travel by teleportation. A family is preparing to go on a trip via teleporter and the father tells his kids about the history of teleportation. His son decides to stay awake during the trip instead of taking the sedative like he is supposed to which has disastrous results. This story really freaked me out when I was younger. The phrase the kid shrieked at the end as they’re dragging him off still sticks with me – “Longer than you think, dad! It’s longer than you think!” Like he lived lifetimes during transport that seemed almost instant to everyone else. What made the story so frightening was that it DIDN’T describe what the boy had seen… Just thinking about what the kid went through, living an eternity alone… That one has stuck with me for years!
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
A sci-fi horror story about a supercomputer that has wiped out civilization. It hates humanity and keeps a small group of people alive just so that it can torture them for all eternity. It’s one of those disturbing stories that stay in the back of your mind forever.
Harold from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Two farmers decide to make a creepy scarecrow and they name it “Harold”. This was the first story that really, really disturbed me. Just imagining the man coming back over the hill and seeing his friend’s skin stretched on a rooftop and baking in the sun is enough to make me shiver. It sounds so silly out of context, but coupled with the illustrations, the story is chilling.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
My english teacher read this to our class with no explanation beforehand. She just sat down and started reading it after class started. I kept spacing out and thinking, “Why is she reading us this boring story?” and then the ending came, and I was all, “Holy crap! Wait! Read it again!”
The Lonesome Place by August Derleth
This one freaked me out the most. It was the story of a local urban legend among kids about a monster that would chase you if you walked past a particular place. Of course, the monster never actually caught anyone, because the kids were too quick for it, but then the neighborhood fat kid walked by… I read it in a horror anthology when I was about 10 years old and it really freaked me out. I still get the willies when taking a shortcut through the woods.
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
A family come into possession of a severed monkey’s hand that is supposed to grant three wishes, but the wishes don’t turn out as expected. When I read this, I learned just how much more disturbing implied horror can be than described horror. I would lay awake at night, dreading that I would hear the dead son’s footsteps coming up the steps to knock on my front door.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A sickly woman is lying in bed after a nervous breakdown and comes to believe that her wallpaper is alive. I first read it in high school and it really stuck with me. It was so extraordinarily creepy! Her descent into absolute madness is based on Gilman’s own experience of a “resting cure” that was prescribed by doctors to unhappy women. It was 24/7 rest with no exertion at all, and it drove a lot of women mad. While I was reading the story, I felt like I was going insane as well.
The Graveyard Rats by Henry Kuttner
An unscrupulous grave-digger steals jewelry from the corpses he buries, but the cemetery is infested with rats and soon he will get his comeuppance.
In the Hills, the Cities by Clive Barker
about the people-monsters in Yugoslavia. I mean, it’s so bizarre that at first I didn’t grasp how horrifying it is. And then when things go south? I just can’t.
The Boogeyman by Stephen King
I will never, ever recover from reading Stephen King’s “The Boogeyman”. That thing was ridiculously scary, possibly because of the deeply unsettling image of a father listening to his children being killed and being too frightened to go to their rescue. Brrr. The thought of it folowing them even though the father and son moved house gives me chills. It was read to me at camp when I was about 11 years old and rocked my little world. After that, I always slept with the light on because my closet door didn’t close all the way.
The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft
The first HPL story I ever read, and still my favorite. This story creeped me out. A man moves into his ancestral castle, but every night he hears what sounds like a massive migration of rats in his walls, but the strange thing is no one else besides his cat seems to hear it.
The Drum from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This story about the kids who misbehave and get a new mother was one of my top two Scary Stories to tell in the Dark. It always creeped the hell out of me. The part at the end with “her glass eyes glistening, her wooden tail thumping on the floor” always got me.
The Thing in the Cellar by David H. Keller
A young boy is terrified of something he imagines lives in the basement of his family home. His parents are at their wits end and take him to see a psychiatrist who tells them that the only way the boy is going to get over his fear is if he confronts it.
Second Night Out by Frank Belknap Long
A passenger on an ocean liner is sitting on deck one night when he encounters a demon from the sea that takes the shape of some sort of black, dead, mutated monkey creature. One of the scariest stories I ever read. It still gives me shivers when I think of it. This was basically the reason why I slept with the lights on throughout my teenage years.
The Coccoon by John B.L. Goodwin
This terrifying tale is about a spoiled little rich boy who loves to catch butterflies and moths and pin them to his bedroom wall. One day he catches a strange caterpillar and waits for it to transform into a butterfly. Then, he pins it on his wall. What happens next, I have never been able to forget. This one scared the spit out of me as a kid!
They Bite by Anthony Boucher
Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard
This one is about two men who stay the night in an old, abandoned plantation house. During the night, they hear scary sounds coming from upstairs. Stephen King referred to it as “one of the finest horror stories of our century”. It just about scared my pants brown. The scene when they’re going up the staircase… very, very seldom have I felt so much actual tension reading a horror story. At one point, I had to put the book down. I couldn’t continue reading. It was the first time that ever happened to me.
October Game by Ray Bradbury
“…and then some idiot turned on the lights.”
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
I think this was the scariest story I ever read. It’s about this intelligent, optimistic dude who slowly comes to realize he’s been possessed by an invisible demon, or maybe that he’s going insane. It’s a tossup between the two options for almost the entire length of the story, and the horror comes from reading his words and going along with him on a journey from optimism to suicidal despair.
Survivor Type by Stephen King
A surgeon gets stranded on a deserted island with only his surgical kit and a large amount of drugs. It’s written as a journal of his thoughts as he slips into an increasing state of starvation and insanity and he begins performing surgery on himself to cannibalize everything from the waist down. It ends with him drooling over the prospect of cutting off and eating his fingers. “Ladyfingers! They taste just like ladyfingers!” Super creepy!
The Screwfly Solution by James Tiptree Jr (Racoona Sheldon)
That one scared the hell out of me. Now that I have three daughters, it scares me even more. Literally chilling — there’s a middle section involving violence done to female scientist, all off screen, that made me sick to my stomach.
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
A family are out for a drive when their car breaks down and they encounter a serial killer called The Misfit. Without a doubt one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. The part where The Misfit has a conversation with the grandma still gives me willies.
The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson
One that always terrified me — and still does. It’s written in the style of a child’s diary and narrated by a mutant child who is kept chained up in a basement.
The Quest for Blank Claveringi by Patricia Highsmith
I recall checking out an Alfred Hitchcock Presents Book in elementary school and seeing the illustration of a giant snail looming over a running man. I recall few details, but still clearly remember a passage describing the gruesome pain the protagonist endured as the snail consumed his flesh as numerous razor blades stripping the flesh away.
The Jigsaw Puzzle from Tales for the Midnight Hour
It’s about a woman finding a unusual second-hand store she had never noticed before. She goes in and buys an old jigsaw puzzle, but there’s no picture on the box. She gets home that night and starts to put it together and notices that the pieces are slowly forming a picture of the room she is in. It still makes me afraid to look behind me at night for fear of what might be lurking at any windows or doors.
The Thin People by Brian Lumley
This is the one story that has always stuck with me. It was about these tall, thin townhouses in London and the increase in street lamps. A man tells his friend about these tall thin men who live in these houses, all folded up to fit insde. He says they move in between the lamp posts when no-one is looking, but he has spotted them and he warns his friend to beware. The man is later found dead, ‘all folded up’. Then, one night, his friend spots one of these creatures walking in between the lamp posts and spends the rest of his life fleeing from them.
Don’t Look Behind You by Fredric Brown
The author speaks directly to you and says he has written this story and inserted it into the exact book you are reading. He says he is going to watch to see who buys the book so he can follow them home and kill them. Throughout the story, he keeps taunting the reader, daring you to keep reading and then, the final line is “Don’t look behind you… until you feel the knife.” I read it in Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories Not for the Nervous and I literally didn’t sleep for two days afterwards. I let a friend borrow the book in High School and he freaked out reading that story while in class.
The Green Ribbon from In a Dark, Dark Room
I read this back in elementary school. I think that the artwork really adds to the creepy factor of the story, especially when it is revealed why she wears the ribbon…
Free Dirt by Charles Beaumont
This story thoroughly freaked me out one night.
It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby
This story was famously made into a great Twilight Zone episode, but it is so much worse in written form. Imagine being at the mercy of an undisciplined little boy who can conjure up anything he wants using just the power of his mind. His parents have to keep him happy if they want to stay alive. A pure glimpse of hell on earth.
Lost Hearts by M.R. James
Call First by Ramsey Campbell
Skeleton by Ray Bradbury
A man is convinced that his bones are trying to get out of his skin. He finds a strange doctor willing to do an experimental procedure… and let’s just say the man got what he wanted. The last paragraph still gets me to this day. The thought of your body rebelling against you and driving you insane is terrifying.
Green Tea by J. Sheridan LeFanu
The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick
A man sees a dead body hanging from a lamp post, but nobody else seems to pay any attention to it. This story terrified me because I’ve known a whole lot of people who wouldn’t react at all if I reported seeing a dead body hanging from a lamp-post.
The Human Chair by Edogawa Rampo
A creepy Japanese tale about a strange man who wants to get close to women. It was published in the October 1925 edition of the literature magazine “Kuraku”.
The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
I read it in middle school and the description of it gliding through the treetop has stuck with me for a long, long time.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
A teenage girl meets a serial killer and he convinces her to run away with him.
You Must Flee Again
A man is walking home late at night. He sees a light flickering through a crack in a window of a boarded-up old house and peeks through it. He sees some figures in dark cloaks taking part in some kind of satanic ritual. One of them sees him and he runs away. After that, he believes the figures are following him wherever he goes, lurking in the shadows behind him…
The Cold Equations
A science fiction story where a young woman stows away on a spacecraft. Not so much scary, just horrifying and terrible and sad. I was always impressed that you could care so much about a character in so few pages. It’s what convinced me the short story is a great form of writing.
The Whole Town is Sleeping by Ray Bradbury
Even though there is a serial killer on the loose who loves to strangle his victims, a middle-aged woman decides to ignore all the warnings and walk home alone one dark night. This is one scary story that keeps you on edge up until the very end.
Sweets to the Sweet by Robert Bloch
I remember it creeping me out, even as an adult.
There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
While not particularly scary, this story is still bone-chillingly terrifying in its own right.
The Ash Tree by M.R. James
An old story, but a good one, about a gigantic tree that holds the mummified remains of a witch and produces gigantic black spiders. A truly terrifying read.
Click Clack The Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
A woman murders her husband by beating him over the head with a leg of lamb. Then, when the police arrive, she is left with the problem of how to hide the evidence.
A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber
It’s a short story about a family surviving after the Earth has been pulled from its orbit by a passing dark star — after the oceans have frozen, after the atmosphere has frozen, after all life except them is gone — really scared the holy hell out of me. Especially when they started seeing something moving across the street…
Why Benny Why (AKA She Ran) by Fredric Brown
A woman is walking home on a dark night when she hears footsteps behind her. She thinks she’s being followed so she starts walking faster, but then she hears the footsteps behind her getting faster and faster. She panics and runs and just before she gets to her front door the man catches up to her and murders her. It turns out that the killer is a gentle, mentally disabled man from the neighborhood and when the police ask why he did it, he just says, “She ran…” I read this as a kid and I knew enough to be wary about various evils in the world but it was the first time I realized that someone could do evil without being evil themselves and it became something new to worry about.
Pig’s Dinner by Graham Masterton
A few years ago, I read a horror short story about a man and his brother. They own a pig farm and operate some sort of huge steel feed-grinding machinery. One day, the brother accidentally falls into the grinder and his body gets chewed up. The man witnesses this and tries to save him. As he’s slowly chopped up, the brother tells him that he doesn’t feel any pain. In fact, it’s the best high he’s ever had and he begs him not to stop the grinder until he is completely chopped up. Later, the man is attacked by one of the pigs on the farm and he is horrifically wounded, losing both his legs. He doesn’t want to live the rest of his life without legs, so he decides to take the painless way out. He plans to kill himself, just like his brother, but he discovers that the grinder is not nearly as pleasant or as quick as his brother led him to believe. It’s one of the most graphic, hair-raising and unforgettable horror tales I’ve ever read.