As the days blend together and our minds wander, many of us are looking for gripping reads that can hold our attention. While creepy short stories may not scream “stress relief,” successful horror rewards us for our complete attention with full-body thrills and chills.
Here are some of the most memorable scary stories you can read online right now:
By Mark Mayer
American Short Fiction
One of the standout stories of Mayer’s collection, Aerialists, “The Clown” follows a real estate agent who daydreams about his inner persona, a murderous clown. For the coulrophobes (those afraid of clowns) out there, this premise will immediately have you on edge, and Mayer does an excellent job building suspense by keeping readers close to this unforgettably unsettling narrator.
By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
See if you can picture this—a horde of people addicted to American materialism swarm the stores at the hazard of themselves and others. Reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead and George Saunders’s early work, the title story of Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection, Friday Black, combines the stress of a mall on Black Friday and the fact that all the customers are zombies to create an alternately surreal, humorous, and disturbing story. It’s consumerism pushed to its goriest ends.
“The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror”
By Carmen Maria Machado
This recent story from a modern master in genre-bending fiction follows a young woman as she joins a theatre troupe known for their graphic performances. Machado steadily marches forward through a world of lust, dependency, and voyeurism, resulting in a climax you won’t be able to turn away from.
By Maryse Meijer
For Maryse Meijer, fear is cerebral. Her work reads like a great psychological thriller, destabilizing readers by pulling them into the minds of the most unreliable characters. Told from the perspective of a family pet, the narrator’s relationship with the two girls is anything but warm and fuzzy.
By Brian Evenson
Like his other books, Song for the Unraveling of the World is haunting, paranoiac, absolutely absorbing, and this story sets the tone perfectly. A man is visited by a sinister version of his therapist in the middle of the night, resulting in a narrative riddle that teeters between reality and delusion. “Born Stillborn” is like looking in a funhouse mirror—you’re going to need to take a second look.
“The House They Used to Live In”
By Sam Weller
Sometimes the scariest stories are deceptive. Beginning with bright memories and a post-Christmas drive, Weller shows how one change in perspective can turn nostalgia into horror. “The House They Used to Live In” will appear in the upcoming book from Hat & Beard Press, Dark Black.
“The Bad Graft”
By Karen Russell
The New Yorker
“The Bad Graft” is a perfect example of how Karen Russell blurs the line between black comedy and dread. During a couple’s trip, the soul of a Joshua tree “leaps” into the main character. Body (and spiritual) horror ensues. You can also find this story in Russell’s newest collection, Orange World.
“The Night Cyclist”
By Stephen Graham Jones
This novelette has one of the all-time great horror loglines: a middle-aged chef’s nightly bike ride home is interrupted by an unexpected encounter. Jones entices readers to lean in with his vivid details of a truly eerie setting, creating the perfect atmosphere for a jump scare.
Michael Welch is a daily editor for the Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review Online, Iron Horse Literary Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. Find him at www.michaelbwelch.com and @MBWwelch.