Pen and inc drawing by Jeff Mason from October Dreams, a Harvest of Horror
Copyright 1989 by David Kubicek & Jeff Mason
It is almost an impossible task to make a list of good horror stories because there are legions of them, and there are many authors who aren’t on this list and probably should be. But in the interests of keeping the list manageable, I will only note a few of my favorites. The stories are listed in approximately the order in which they were published, ranging from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 1820 to “Sun Tea” in 1989.
This is a well-crafted story by one of the first master’s of the American short story. With his richly-detailed descriptions of the settings, the people, and the food, Irving transports the reader into his tale.
I first encountered this short gem in class when I was in elementary school. Poe, like Irving, also did much to develop the style of the American short story. He wrote many other stories that are worth a read, but “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of my favorites.
This is my favorite all-time horror story, probably because it doesn’t show, but rather implies, and the implications are chilling. I also read this one (or my teacher read it to the class; I can’t remember which) when I was in elementary school. Teaching horror stories in elementary school seems to have been a trend when I was young.
I have never been a huge Lovecraft fan because, even though he wrote in the 1920s and 30s, his style was reminiscent of authors writing a century earlier. Also, he struggled with dialogue, so there isn’t much of it in his stories. That said, his imagination has generated many stories that have kept generations of readers awake at night.
This is another one of my favorites. When Jeff Mason and I edited our anthology of original horror stories, October Dreams, a Harvest of Horror, we wanted to publish a classic story, and we chose this one because it had been out of print for years. Now OD has been out of print for years (although you can still pick up used copies on Amazon and other used book outlets), but fortunately this story is online in its entirety.
Actually, this was my first choice for our OD classic horror story. Originally published in Bradbury’s first collection, Dark Carnival, it had been out of print for years. But while we were preparing our anthology, it was reprinted in a collection of stories from Weird Tales magazine, so we went with our second choice, “The Graveyard Rats.”
I saw the Rod Serling’s Night Gallery segment based on this story before I read the original. I highly recommend it, both the story and the Night Gallery adaptation.
This is as good of Stephen King story to start with as any. He has filled several volumes with many excellent short stories. “Children of the Corn” is from his first collection, Night Shift.
This gruesome little gem (only about 175 words), had appeared in a magazine a short time before Jeff and I published it in October Dreams, can be read on the author’s blog.
“Sun Tea” by Robert E. Rodden II
Published for the first time in OD, this 12,000-word story currently is not in print, but if you can snag a used copy of OD, it is well worth a read. I hope at some point the author decides to re-release it as an e-book.
First, it may seem that I am shamelessly self-promoting my horror anthology; however, since that book has long been out of print, all of the copies you’ll find online were bought and paid for long ago, and I won’t receive a single dime for any of them that are sold today (except for a few copies I have, should I ever decide to sell them). And besides, they were in OD because Jeff and I liked them.
Second, this is by no means an exhaustive list of horror stories or of authors. If you want to investigate this genre further, in addition to the authors listed above check out the work of Robert Louis Stevenson (especially The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and “The Body Snatcher”), Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, as well as the plethora of horror anthologies on the market.