I love to be scared. I’ve spent much of my time scouring books and websites for stories that I hope will keep me up at night (and then feeling sorry for myself when I’m too frightened to sleep). Here are my three absolute favourite short stories and novellas that you can read for free online. They’re the ones I think about late at night years after I first read them, and all three provide a different kind of scare.
The Jaunt, Stephen King
I’m starting with this absolute classic from the master of horror. It’s disturbing in so many different ways – in its realistic vision of the future of capitalism and the prison system, in its between-the-lines understanding of our fears for our family as we try to build them a good life in a crumbling world, and then that ending.
In a future where teleportation is possible and humans can colonise other planets in the time it takes for a refreshing nap, a loving father regales his adorable children with stories of science and Space travel. What could possibly go wrong!
TW for ableist language.
You can read it here.
They Go Bump, by David Barr Kirtley
This is another sci-fi story, but with a very different vibe. A solider with low-esteem is sent out to test military invisibility gear on a planet rumoured to house invisible assassins. The mission turns out about as well as you’d expect, and on the way there’s psychological horror, pervasive learned helplessness, the horrible power of imagination, and a feeling of dread both urgent and unfixable.
I read this one at about 5am when I couldn’t sleep before an early start at work, then wandered out alone into a dark world full of spooky noises and creeping shadows. It’s been years, and I’ve never quite shaken the feeling of being followed.
You can both read and listen to this one, as it featured on the phenomenal podcast Escape Pod, right here.
Guts, by Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk, who you will know as the author behind Fight Club, continues his exploration of how gross men are – and how repression makes us all grosser – with this unforgettable short story. It’s an intense scrutiny of the shame and accidental violence of exploring your own sexuality and, according to legend, this story has made people pass out with horror.
I really don’t want to spoil this by setting up the plot (except that it’s not another sci-fi), but if you’re into gross-out horror you’ll absolutely love this one. Even so, be prepared to feel sick no matter how iron your stomach is.
TW for ableist and racist language, and mentions of suicide.
Read it here, and remember to hold your breath.