Halloween is just over the horizon (no really, as of this writing, it’s tomorrow).
Here’s a list of 5 suspenseful short stories you can nail-bite your way through during the spookiest holiday.
Note: this list isn’t purporting to be THE list of the THE BEST suspense short stories of all time—I left out Poe and Co. for a reason. Here are 5 good stories, some more well-known than others. So curl up with some hot apple cider and read these stories while you hand out candy to those cute little gremlins/princesses/[insert superhero here].
5. “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell, from her collection named, um, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (2013, Knopf)
Chances are, you’ve gotten a little sick of vampires at this point. You’re probably convinced that vampires are just for lovesick, tweenage girls. But what if I told you that there was a contemporary, literary short story about vampires? You’re probably licking your lips, um, fangs, because the title story of Karen Russell’s most recent collection is a delectable subversion of the genre. Clyde is a centuries-old vampire living in a lemon grove with his vampire wife. They both feed on lemons, (in lieu of blood), but the lemons have become less satisfying. Russell plays with genre stereotypes (vampires can go out in daylight; it just gives them an allergic reaction), and meditates on the expectations and temptations of being a vampire and the loneliness of immortality. There’s a lot to like in this story, and it’s gripping and funny, too. Plus, how could you not be interested in a story called “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”? That’s like the best title ever, hands down.
4. “Pastorale” by James M. Cain
(available online: http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmMercury-1928mar-00291)
James M. Cain, “poet of the tabloid murder,” also wrote a few short stories in his day. “Pastorale” tells the tale of an ill-conceived, grisly murder and the killers’ ill-fated escape on a country road. The atmospherics are great, but it’s the sense of voice that really excels here—you really feel like a townsperson is telling you the story, further confirming Cain’s propensity for voice and suspension of disbelief.
3. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (available in Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man or online: http://www.d.umn.edu/~csigler/PDF%20files/bradbury_veldt.pdf )
I’ve got to admit, this is one of my favorite short stories by one of the masters of the medium. Bradbury’s “The Veldt” concerns the life of a futuristic family, whose children play with a virtual-reality nursery and seem fixated with the African veldt. Their father, George Hadley, insists on cutting back on their screen time, and the children rebel, darkly. A sinister social commentary way ahead of its time, “The Veldt” is a tightly coiled fuse and crackerjack story.
2. “Aunt Granny Lith” by Chris Offutt (available in Offutt’s Kentucky Straight: Stories or in The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff).
Chris Offutt showcases his mastery of Appalachian dialect in this tale that combines marital problems with the conventional horror story, all set in the foothills of Eastern Kentucky. Beth marries Casey, a man who’s already had two wives die under mysterious circumstances. To make matters more disconcerting, there’s a mysterious figure who’s marked Casey from childhood, and she will not be stopped until he gives in to her dark power—I can’t say anything else, except for that “Aunt Granny Lith” is chilling and excellent reading.
1. 1.”Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (available online: http://www.d.umn.edu/~csigler/PDF%20files/oates_going.pdf )
Perhaps Joyce Carol Oates most famous story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” centers around a young girl named Connie whose life is forever changed when she encounters the enigmatic Arnold Friend. I can’t really say anything else, except for that it is a severely stressful story of suspense. As Oates’ psychic distance zooms in on Connie’s inner awareness, the story grows in intensity and gut-wrenching development. Oates is a master; WAYG, WHYB? is a masterpiece.
So—what’s your favorite suspenseful short story? Comment below!