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The horror story season is never over. Especially this time when the seasons change and pollen covers every tangible surface; What could be more scary than going through a day at work with an allergic headache? I look for fear while sitting outside trying to read without unsuccessfully knocking bugs off my face. For such cases, short stories are the perfect solution. After all, you only stay outside for a total of 15 minutes before you realize this is not intended. So I have for you a list of nine horror short story collections that helped me scratch the itch (these books are also excellent scratches for insect bites) of reading something short and definitely not cute.
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
This book has been compared to Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties so many times that in my opinion they are almost interchangeable. However, it is fair to say that Armfield’s fantasy is a creepy wonder in itself. In the stories, she explores gender roles, sexuality, social pressures, growing up and falling in love, all with a fabulous twist that will make you question what is bubbling beneath the surface. A must-have from the collection is “The Great Awake,” in which a strange phenomenon turns the majority of the citizens of a picturesque city into insomnia.
Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, Translated by Megan McDowell
If this skeleton, hugging its blankets lying in wait with flowers, does not arouse your interest, I apologize, but I will find you difficult to please. This is a book obsessed with death, sex, and ghosts, both morbid and lustful. The dead always crawl out from under the dirty streets and refuse to be buried. The pleasure is achieved through self-harm or the realization of a sadistic fetish. Read for yourself what the horrors of smoking in bed could be, beyond the obviously burned sheets. A recommended story from the collection is “The Well,” in which a child struggles with paranoia for life after visiting a well-known witch.
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
I read Tananarive’s novel The Good House and I am still thinking about it today. If you’ve always wanted to read a better, more contextual book version of the movie The Skeleton Key, then this is the place to check out. Why do I mention your novel when this is a list of stories? This is because Due also successfully accomplished many of the accomplishments of this novel in this collection. What stands out is Due’s love of history and her desire to share it – whether she’s writing a dystopia, a science fiction or an apocalyptic story, historical elements are present and taken into account. This gives their stories a level of authenticity in which it becomes difficult to look at Due without thinking about all of their characters. The first short story, “The Lake,” is about a woman who becomes what she is on the outside and sets the tone for the horror that is to come.
Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings from Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is the kind of writer who makes you scared of going outside, but you stay home only to realize that the horror has never left your home. While her short story “The Lottery” is well known, this collection contains some of her never-before-published stories. The first story, “Paranoia,” will show you what I mean by inevitable horrors of the mind. There are also fun tidbits from her daily life towards the end that prove to be a welcome change from your typical heart popping out of your chest.
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Taiping Tales of Terror by Julya Oui
I haven’t read that yet. However, this introduces the reader to a wide variety of ghosts narrated by boys who sit around the campfire. The author uses the landscape of Taiping, a city in northwestern Malaysia, to further emphasize the eeriness, creepiness and thrill of the short stories. The short stories are also littered with tons of Malaysian culture – think Nyonya houses, trishaws, and Buddhist temples.
Thin spots by Kay Chronister
Chronister’s focus in these stories is on women who struggle to be heard, who seek power and agency, who are haunted by real and imaginary ghosts. They swim in legend and the supernatural, but emerge in reality, which makes them all the creepier. You’ll find a whole range of characters here – witches to demons, mothers to daughters – as the themes of loss, grief, and resilience are explored. The story from the collection “The women who sing for Sklep” about a composer who is looking for a new sound is a must.
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, translated by Polly Barton
This collection is a retelling. It takes several Japanese myths and urban legends and turns them upside down. The stories woven here are so brilliant that I would eagerly look up what legend or myth the story I just read came from. On the surface, you’ve got premises like a busy aunt disapproving of hair removal or a happy lover who comes in every night for a plush bath, but it’s the undertones mixed with the simple narrative that are really let chills run down your back.
Burning Your Boats: Angela Carter’s Collected Short Stories
If your idea of horror is that unsettling feeling that creeps under your skin and stays there, then Carter’s entire collection is for you. Her work takes stock of our imaginations such as legends and historical figures and immerses them in their surreal and gothic imaginations. Her works are similar to the works of the Brothers Grimm, Burroughs, Hoffman and Poe, but vibrate with themes such as feminism, pain and macabre that are unique only to them. The highlights include “Loves of Lady Purple” and “The Tiger Bride”.
Stephen King’s night shift
Would it be a horror story list without King’s work? Probably. It’s by no means a requirement, but this collection is really excellent. It’s the first collection of his short stories, and each of the stories is fantastically edited and strung up. The first story, “The Lot of Jerusalem”, takes place a few years before his novel “The Lot of Salem” and serves as a flawless premonition of what is to come.
If you’re looking for something more scared, then check out some more collections of short stories or check out this list of horror listeners on the go!