Although the media has a powerful way of creating vivid images, sometimes there is nothing more terrifying than the work of our own minds. From early English literature to modern scares, here are 10 of the best chilling reads for the end of October and dark days.
- “Desperation” by Steven King
Driving through the desolate desert of Nevada, Peter and Mary Jackson are pulled over by Collie Entragian, a sheriff in local town Desperation. After learning they are in possession of marijuana, possibly planted by him, Entragian takes the couple to jail. When arriving at the station a little girl is found dead, leaving a rapid spiral of terror in its wake. After an exhilarating turn of events, Mary is left among other travelers taken into the sheriff’s holding who all share one common goal: survival. Although this is a long read, it’s one that sparked my love of Steven King and in turn is one of my favorite chilling tales.
- “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories” by Tim Burton
Tim Burton’s name is one that is often associated with horror. Some of his works like “Corpse Bride,” “Beetlejuice,” “Edward ScissorHands” and other films often resurface during the Halloween season. The talented and bizarre filmmaker shared more of his disturbing tales in 1997 short story anthology, “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.” The compilation has stories that range from a short paragraph to pages of frights, all with disturbing drawings that only add to the discomfort caused by the stories. This anthology is perfect for a quick read or a long telling.
- “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series by Alvin Schwartz
These books were one of the fastest-selling at the Scholastic Book fairs and the horrors for children still plague my adult mind. With stories like “The Dead Man’s Hand” to “The Wendigo,” these short stories are ones that have plagued the dreams of children since 1981.
- “The Adventure of the German Student” by Washington Irving
When a German student is sent to Paris in an effort to control his drifting sanity, the newly erupted French Revolution allows for anything but that to be accomplished. After a long night at the library, the man makes his way back to his humble apartment when he becomes fixated by the guillotine fresh with blood and a woman sitting on its steps. The woman, with incomparable beauty, transfixes the man and sends him down a path where his madness cannot follow. Irving, in his usual manner, provides a tale that leaves the reader shocked and startled. This 1824 short story can be found online as it is in the public domain.
- “World War Z” by Max Brooks
In 2013, the film adaptation of “World War Z” challenged the popularity of zombies in pop culture by showing viewers a realistic take on the world’s fear of an undead uprising. Although the movie was good, the saying holds true that the book is always better. “World War Z” is chilling in its originality and believability. The novel follows Garry Lane, former U.N. Investigator, but it challenges readers to think of what their lives may look like if our worst nightmares became a reality.
- “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
Hunting is all fun and games until you understand the feelings of the prey. Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney are big-game hunters traveling through the Amazon in search of a jaguar. Rainsford falls off of his yacht and is forced back to shore. After a wild storm leaves him stranded from his party on the island, Rainsford realizes that General Zaroff, another big game hunter, is using the land for his own adventure. While joining Zaroff for dinner, Rainsford learns of the general’s unquenchable thirst for challenge. The biggest beast of the world being too easy of prey, Zaroff begins for a truly challenging hunt: the hunt of another man. The short story is filled with suspense as it follows Rainsford’s attempt to not only survive the island but those hunting him as well. This short story is perfect for a quick suspense setting tone that is longed for during the spooky season.
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
The idea of fear and its effect on one’s actions is taken to the extreme in Poe’s classic short story. A narrator, who declares himself sane, is plagued by the desire to kill his neighbor for a reason he cannot express. Readers are left following the man through his desperate thoughts before he loses what little reason he had left. Poe’s short story masterfully illustrates the devolving of a man’s mind and the consequences that it can bring about.
- “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
The tales we tell for centuries are often the most terrifying. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker is a tale that’s known by most everyone in pop culture. While the myths and legends of vampires have been common knowledge since the sixteenth century, it was the publication of this 1897 novel that was one of the attractors to “vampire culture” seen today in everything from the “Twilight” Saga to underground vampire courts in Austin, Texas. Stoker’s story follows John Harker, a young lawyer who was sent to Count Dracula’s castle for business. Upon arriving, Harker quickly realizes that the man he was with is anything but human. Dracula makes his way to England where he proceeds to torment Harker’s fiance, Mina, and her best friend Lucy, as he works to transform them into vampires. The book follows as men of science are faced with the challenge of stopping the supernatural. “Dracula” proves the fear of the unknown to reside in us all.
- “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
On the surface, “Lord of the Flies” can be read as a chilling tale of adventure and survival. With deeper thought, the novel explores the horrors of the response of men and their predestined nature of evil. After a harrowing plane crash, a group of British schoolboys is left with no one but each other to survive. What starts off in an organization and civilized society quickly dissolves into chaos as the boys give in to their true evil nature. William Golding, a veteran of World War II, shares his thoughts on mankind in a way that challenges readers to reconsider their view of human nature. This novel may not be riddled with the supernatural but leaves readers desturbed by the evil that resides within all our hearts.
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Literature is interesting as it gives perspective to the way another views the world. This becomes much more interesting with an unreliable narrator. The story follows a young woman as she journals her experiences with her husband and the room to which she is confined. Although it is clear from the beginning that the narrator is ill as she mentions physicians, the cause of her ailment is never discussed. As she journals her life with the changing season, you see infatuation with the yellow wallpaper in her room develop into a much more chilling relationship. “The Yellow Wallpaper” challenges your sense of reality in an unsettling way that I have never seen any other short story cover as well.