Short Horror Stories: Scary, Gothic Fiction Online
This page compiles short gothic horror stories. They aren't very gory or graphic. Most of the stories here are more about mood and atmosphere, or creating a foreboding doom.
If you're looking for slasher stories or ones with vivid descriptions of brutality, these aren't for you. I hope you find something scary here.
Links are provided for easy reading.
If you'd like to check out an anthology, I like The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. This book is huge, with stories that blur the lines between horror, gothic, and very strange. I'll always appreciate this anthology—it's where I first read "The Long Sheet", "The Summer People", "Sandkings" and several other memorable stories.
1. "Graveyard Shift" | Stephen King
Hall works the night shift at a textile mill. It's the hottest June ever in Gates Falls. The mill is infested with rats. Hall likes to throw empty cans at them. The foreman, Warwick, rounds up a crew to clean out the basement level. It hasn't been touched for twelve years. It's going to be a tough job—dark, damp and filthy, with rats and maybe bats as well. It comes with a bump in pay, so Hall agrees to help.
Read "Graveyard Shift"
2. "The Monkey's Paw" | W. W. Jacobs
The White family sits in their isolated home on a stormy night, playing chess and knitting while waiting for a guest. Sergeant-Major Morris arrives shortly and they drink and talk. With a little prodding, he tells the story of a shrunken monkey's paw that he owns. Supposedly, it can grant three wishes to three different people. So far, it has only been used by two.
Read "The Monkey's Paw"
3. "Paranoia" | Shirley Jackson
Mr. Beresford is headed home after a day's work. He's pleased with himself for remembering his wife's birthday. He has candy for her and plans to take her out for supper. While trying to hail a cab, a man in a light hat unsettles him. Changing his mind, he tries to board a bus, but the man in the light hat shows up again.
He had reached out his hand to take the rail inside the bus door when he was roughly elbowed aside and the ugly customer in the light hat shoved on ahead of him.— Shirley Jackson
4. "The Cask of Amontillado" | Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator relates how he carried out his vow of revenge against Fortunato. He tells Fortunato he's going to ask a rival wine connoisseur for his opinion on a new purchase. Fortunato won't hear of it and insists on going immediately to the narrator's vaults.
5. "Click-clack the Rattlebag" | Neil Gaiman
A child asks his sister's boyfriend to tell him a story before going to bed. It's a very big house and he's a bit scared. He says the best stories are about Click-clack the Rattlebag. The boyfriend has never heard of these stories. The child tells him about them.
6. "The Terrible Old Man" | H. P. Lovecraft
Angelo, Joe, and Manuel are hoodlums from out of town. They've heard of a rich and feeble old man in Kingsport. The locals know to keep their distance. The three men plan on visiting him and persuading him to give up his hidden fortune.
...and they saw in the Terrible Old Man merely a tottering, almost helpless grey-beard, who could not walk without the aid of his knotted cane, and whose thin, weak hands shook pitifully.— H. P. Lovecraft
7. "Time and Again" | Breece D'J Pancake
The narrator lives alone—his wife died and his son ran off. He drives a snow plow on the mountain road near his farm. He wants to rest and watch his hogs get old and die. He gets called out to plow the road. He picks up a hitchhiker.
8. "The Summer People" | Shirley Jackson
The Allisons love their summer cottage. They've stayed there every summer for seventeen years. It has no modern conveniences. They always leave right after Labor Day. This year they decide to stay another month. When Mrs. Allison tells the grocer, he says no one has ever stayed past Labor Day.
Read "The Summer People" (Ctrl + F the title)
9. "The Masque of the Red Death" | Edgar Allan Poe
The "Red Death" has killed half the population. Prince Prospero summons a thousand of his friends to join him in the safety of an abbey. It's full of provisions and entertainments. The doors are sealed. They plan on waiting out the scourge. The Prince throws a magnificent masked ball.
No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.— Edgar Allan Poe
10. "The Parricide Punished" | Anonymous
Mr. de Vildac has gotten married. After the festivities, the narrator retires to a chamber in the owner's castle. He's awakened by the noise of chains dragging the floor and footsteps approaching his door. An old man with a white beard enters his room.
11. "The Damned Thing" | Ambrose Bierce
A group of men, including a coroner, are seated around a table with a dead man on it. They're conducting an inquest into his death. They're joined by a young man from the city. He's a reporter who has investigated the man's death and was with him when he died. He's questioned about the day's events.
12. "Royal Jelly" | Roald Dahl
Mabel Taylor is worried to death over her baby. After six weeks the baby weighs more than two pounds less than when it was born. It won't feed. The doctor's say not to worry about it. Albert Taylor, who's obsessed with bees, agrees at first. After reading about the incredible nourishing power of royal jelly, he has an idea.
Read "Royal Jelly" (PDF pg 51)
In fact, everything had gone pretty well for Albert until this strange little baby girl came along and started frightening them out of their wits by refusing to eat properly and losing weight every day.— Roald Dahl
13. "The Outsider" | H. P. Lovecraft
The narrator can only remember the old and horrible castle he's always lived in. He's only seen light from candles and doesn't remember interacting with any people. He's experienced the outside world through old books. His longing to escape his solitude builds. He decides to climb the dilapidated stairs and then climb the tower.
14. "Strawberry Spring" | Stephen King
The morning paper reminds the narrator of eight years ago. At college a young woman was killed by someone who came to be called Springheel Jack. Her boyfriend was arrested for the crime. While he was in custody another body was found.
15. "The Bus" | Shirley Jackson
Miss Harper is headed home on a wet, nasty night. She's upset about having to ride a dirty little bus. She plans on writing a letter of complaint to the bus company. Settling into her seat, she hopes to get some rest on the bus ride home. Her thoughts are on a hot bath and a cup of tea.
Don’t panic, Miss Harper told herself, almost whispering, don’t panic; it’s all right, it’s all right, you’ll see that it’s all right, don’t be frightened.— Shirley Jackson
16. "Cool Air" | H. P. Lovecraft
The narrator explains why he's afraid of cool air. He lived in a New York boardinghouse. Above him lived Dr. Muñoz, a recluse. One day while writing, the narrator had a heart attack. He struggled to make it to the doctor's door. When it opened, he was hit by a rush of cool air.
17. "Where There's a Will" | Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson
A man wakes up—it's dark, cold and silent. Trying to sit up, he hits his head. He feels around, finding a mattress under him and padded walls above and on the sides. He can feel that he's fully dressed. He reaches into his pocket and finds a lighter. The flame catches, and he's able to check out his surroundings.
Read "Where There's a Will" (scroll down)
18. "The Cats of Ulthar" | H. P. Lovecraft
In the village of Ulthar killing cats is forbidden. There was an old farmer and his wife who trapped and killed the neighborhood cats. The other villagers take care to keep their cats away from them, but they don't confront the couple. One day a caravan passes through. Among the travelers is an orphan boy and his black kitten.
But whatever the reason, this old man and woman took pleasure in trapping and slaying every cat which came near to their hovel; and from some of the sounds heard after dark, many villagers fancied that the manner of slaying was exceedingly peculiar.— H. P. Lovecraft
19. "Candle Cove" | Kris Straub
A user posts on a NetNostalgia Forum, asking if anyone else remembers a children's show called Candle Cove. It was a strange show about puppet pirates and a little girl. New responses add details and help jog the memory of the others.
20. "A Tropical Horror" | William Hope Hodgson
A ship is far out at sea in calm waters. At midnight, an apprentice joins the narrator on the deck for a talk. After a break in the conversation, the apprentice looks up to resume talking. His face freezes in horror. The narrator turns and sees a huge tentacled sea creature.
21. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" | Richard Matheson
A man, Wilson, is sitting on a plane at take-off. He's anxious and put-off by the thunderous noise of the engines. He tries to relax with a cigarette and the newspaper. He's a bad flyer, and starts to feel even worse. He looks out the window. He's shocked as he believes he sees some kind of creature on the wing.
He didn't want to read, he couldn't sleep . . . He looked along the cabin and saw that, except for a single passenger in the forward compartment, everyone was asleep. A sudden, overwhelming fury filled him and he wanted to scream, to throw something, to hit somebody.— Richard Matheson
22. "August Heat" | William Fryer Harvey
James Whithencroft relates the occurrences of a remarkable day while they're still fresh in mind. He spent the day at home sketching a criminal who had just been sentenced. It was one of his finest creations. After, he went out for a walk in the oppressive heat. It led him to a mason's yard. He felt compelled to go in.
23. "The Escape" | J. B. Stamper
Boris is being led to the Solitary wing of his prison—punishment for bad behavior. He's terrified, as he's heard others describe how bad it is. He begs to be spared, but the guard only laughs as he locks Boris inside.
24. "The Night Wire" | H. F. Arnold
The narrator relates an experience he had as the night manager of a news hub in a seaport town. Reports would come in over the wire from all over the world; the night operator would record the stories. His employee, John Morgan, was a "double man", someone who could listen to two reports at once and type them both out simultaneously. One night, John has both wire's going because there's a report coming in from the town of Xebico. A heavy mist has settled over the town, stopping all traffic and blocking out the lights.
Fires and disasters and suicides. Murders, crowds, catastrophes. Sometimes an earthquake with a casualty list as long as your arm. The night wire man takes it down almost in his sleep, picking it off on his typewriter with one finger.— H. F. Arnold
25. "A Vine on a House" | Ambrose Bierce
An old house in Missouri has been unoccupied for years and will probably stay that way—it has an evil reputation. It's decayed and overrun by a large vine. The Hardings lived there along with the wife's sister. In 1884 the husband said his wife had gone to visit her mother.
26. "Luella Miller" | Mary Wilkins Freeman
Luella Miller has been dead for years and her house is still empty. The only person in town who knew her relates her story. She married Erastus; he deteriorated and died soon after. As a teacher she didn't do much work. One of her students, Lottie, did most of the teaching for her. Lottie slowly faded and died.
27. "The Handler" | Ray Bradbury
Mr. Benedict is the mortician of a small town and has gradually built up a good business. Despite his success, he feels inferior to others and is the butt of many jokes. He looks forward to the time he can spend in his mortuary with the bodies. He likes the power reversal his work affords.
Read "The Handler" (PDF Pg. 85)
Mr. Benedict walked down the steps and out the gate, without once looking at his little mortuary building. He saved that pleasure for later. It was very important that things took the right precedence.— Ray Bradbury
28. "The Cat From Hell" | Stephen King
Halston, a hitman, is visiting with an old man in a wheelchair. A trusted go-between arranged the meeting. He wants to hire Halston, telling him his target is right behind him. Halston reacts quickly to the threat. It's not what he was expecting.
Read "The Cat From Hell"
29. "The Queen of Spades" | Alexander Pushkin
Tomsky tells a group of card players about his grandmother. She once lost a huge sum of money in a game. Desperate, she called a friend of hers, a Count, a man legendary for his remarkable knowledge. He taught her a three card secret. She used it successfully to repay her losses. Apparently, she never passed the secret along to anyone. One of the listeners, Herman, becomes fixated on learning it.
30. "Trapdoor" | Ray Bradbury
One day Clara Peck notices an attic door above the landing on the stairs. She's lived in her old house ten years and has never noticed it. She's surprised she's never seen it before. Her house has always been very quiet, so she didn't have reason to look at the ceiling. That night she hears a faint tapping from above.
Read "Trapdoor" (select in Table of Contents)