1. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison (1967)
Ellison's I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream was published several decades before anything else on this list — but I'm including it because its sci-fi/horror themes about the power of technology feel more relevant than ever. Ellison's nightmarish story follows the last remaining humans alive in a world wholly conquered by a sadistic artificial intelligence that runs them through a gauntlet of creative tortures.
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2. Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly, by Joyce Carol Oates (1994)
For her 1994 collection Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, Joyce Carol Oates wrote this imaginative retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw from the perspective of the ghosts. While Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly unfortunately (but necessarily) eliminates the ambiguity of James' original text, it makes up for the loss by offering such an intriguing spin on one of literature's most familiar and beloved horror stories.
3. A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman (2004)
Neil Gaiman won a Hugo Award for this clever pastiche, which blends together the best of both H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes for a case about a mysterious and disturbing death in London. As a bonus, the PDF copy of the story available online is a winking mockup of a 1914 newspaper story, with era-appropriate "ads" to match.
4. Abraham's Boys, by Joe Hill (2005)
Joe Hill may be Stephen King's son, but he's long since distinguished himself as a horror writer in his own right with works like Heart-Shaped Box and the horror comics series Locke & Key. In this story, which was originally published in the collection 20th Century Ghosts, Hill offers his own creepy and distinguished riff on vampire lore.
5. Split Lip, by Sam Costello (2006-2012)
Do you prefer horror stories with pictures? Working in collaboration with a wide variety of talented artists that include Sami Makkonen, David Hitchcock, and Ayhan Hayrula, Sam Costello's black-and-white comics offer a kind of contemporary variation on E.C. Comics classics like Tales From the Crypt — and with nearly 40 stories from the past seven years, you have plenty to choose from.
6. The Sloan Men, by David Nickle (2007)
Nickle's disturbing take on a Meet the Parents scenario unfolds more gradually than most stories in the genre, as narrator Judith becomes unsettled during an increasingly strange conversation with her boyfriend's mother. The story was also adapted into an episode of Showtime's all-but-forgotten anthology series The Hunger with Clare Sims and Margot Kidder.
7. The Bees, by Dan Chaon (2009)
This is a bit of a cheat, since The Bees can't technically be read for free online (though you can find it in print in Chaon's short story anthology Stay Awake). But this already frightening short story — which tells the story of a man whose long-forgotten wife and son begin to intrude on the happiness of his new life — acquires an entirely new hypnotic power in this free recording for the podcast Selected Shorts, with a stellar reading by four-time Tony winner Boyd Gaines.
8. Patient Zero, by Tananarive Due (2010)
Like many of the stories on this list, Due's Patient Zero is best-read with as little knowledge as possible, so I'll keep my summary brief. The story takes the form of a series of diary entries, written by a young boy who's being kept in a hospital for reasons he doesn't fully understand.
9. The Things, by Peter Watts (2011)
Since its publication in 1938, many writers have been influenced John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella Who Goes There? — and its John Carpenter-directed Hollywood adaptation, 1982's The Thing, is well worth your time. But the most creative variation on the story of all came just a couple of years ago, when Peter Watts earned a Hugo nomination for this short story that retells the familiar tale from the alien menace's perspective. Like Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly, it's the perfect way to take a familiar story and cast it in a totally different light.
Looking for even more terrifying fiction for Halloween? Here are nine classic horror stories you can read right now.
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