I always think screams and laughs are closely related. Some of the best comic writing comes in the form of short stories and so do some of the best scares, the literary equivalent of jumping out from behind the sofa and shouting ‘BOO’! Here, in no particular order, are stories I’ve read over and over again and which still give me that little leap of fright…
What I love about this story is that nothing is fully explained. Is the cat really a witch in disguise? Is the narrator simply letting his imagination run away with him? Does that final, inhuman howl really come from beyond the grave? We never find out, for sure, and that’s what makes the story so creepy.
More a novella than a short story, to be honest, but it doesn’t feel a word too long. Not that much actually happens – arctic explorers come across the remains of a long-lost civilisation, which may not be as dead as they suppose – but it’s rich in an atmosphere of awe-struck dread which stays with you long after you’ve closed the book.
Matheson’s horror and science fiction stories are among the best ever written. Simple as that. This story is, to put it mildly, deeply disturbing and yet filled with heartbreaking compassion. It’s like a nightmare trapped in prose and if this one doesn’t rob you of sleep, nothing will.
Written in 1892, this is a tale of psychological terror that was way ahead of its time and anticipates many of the themes in, for instance, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The unnamed narrator is shut away in a room for so long that in her mind she becomes one with the room itself. Very, very scary and utterly unforgettable.
A Little Something For Us Tempunauts by Philip K. Dick
Not strictly horror, as such, but certainly terrifying. Imagine yourself trapped in a situation in which, in order to escape, you have to have pre-planned your escape before you got trapped in the first place. If you see what I mean. This is a time-loop story which leaves you in a cold sweat of logical contradictions.