The 20 Best Horror Stories Available Online for Free

It’s Halloween, so let’s celebrate by reading some spooky stories available online for free. You have no excuse not to take a look at every single one of these. And hey, maybe buy a couple of the books linked below each entry. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

20. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

This is probably one of the most reprinted horror stories of all time, and for good reason. Go insane with its tortured narrator and read it here.

19. “The Night Wire” by H. F. Arnold (1926)

Not a lot is known about H. F. Arnold except for the fact that he wrote what is considered one of the most famous stories ever to be published in Weird Tales. Try googling the author, you’re not going to find much information about him. But goddamn could he write. “The Night Wire” deals with two graveyard-shift radio operators and a strange, unknown town in the process of being swallowed by fog. I love the story so much I even reprinted it in my anthology, Lost Signals, but you can read it for free over on Wikisource.

18. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (1948)

A classic! Even if you haven’t read it, you probably already know the twist. Always a fun story to revisit.

17. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (1953)

With an ending that’ll leave you feeling haunted years after reading it, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is pretty much perfect. I love all of her work, but this one here takes the cake. Enjoy.

16. “William and Mary” by Roald Dahl (1959)

Most people recognize Roald Dahl’s name from the many fantastical children’s books he penned throughout the second half of the twentieth century. You may be surprised to learn that he also wrote his share of adult horror stories, and “William and Mary” might be one of his best. Sharing the same morbid dark humor as Re-Animator, this short story deals with life after death, mad scientists, and vengeful wives. Read it here.

15. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (1966)

Joe Hill and Paul Tremblay recently described this as “The Ultimate Halloween Story” and it’s hard to disagree with them. I dare you to read this without letting it consume you with dread. This thing gets out of hand—and fast. Read it here.

14. “The Goosle” by Margo Lanagan (2008)

Prepare yourself for the most fucked-up reimagining of “Hansel and Gretel” you’ve ever read. From the author in a Nightmare Magazine interview:

What drew me to “Hansel and Gretel” was a Yiddish word, “gunsel,” that I happened upon in the dictionary. One of its several definitions went something like, “a youth, particularly a homosexual one, kept by a tramp.” So there’d been a time and place in which tramps commonly kept boys for sexual purposes—so commonly that there was a word for it? I immediately wanted to set a story there, and to tell it from the point of view of a gunsel.

From there I jumped to Hansel and Gretel simply because “gunsel” sounded similar to “Hansel.” Most of the energy of a short story comes from the challenge of fitting two disparate things together, and the idea of cramming a gunsel into the structure of “Hansel and Gretel” certainly gave off sparks for me.

Read “The Goosle” here.

13. “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders (2010)

Perfect for fans of Black Mirror. A hell of a blend of horror and science fiction. Prisoners being experimented on by shady government officials. My first George Saunders story but definitely not my last. Available from The New Yorker.

12. “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Stephen J. Barringer and Gemma Files (2010)

Easily one of the best stories I’ve ever read. There’s no way this wouldn’t be included on the list. Creepy and utterly fascinating. A “haunted film” story like no other. Read it over at Apex.

11. “Frontier Death Song” by Laird Barron (2012)

Did you honestly think this list wouldn’t contain at least one Laird Barron story? Puh-leaze.

10. “Skullpocket” by Nathan Ballingrud (2014)

Here’s another lengthy story, but also deeply rewarding. It’s rare to find world-building so authentic and disturbing like this. Read it here.

09. “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado (2014)

This story is so bizarre and hypnotizing. I don’t really know how to explain it. Machado is one of the best short story writers in the game right now, and she really shines in this tale. Read it here.

08. “The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson (2014)

This is a very long and depressing yet mesmerizing read. Prepare for your heart to shatter into a thousand pieces. Grab a tissue box and head on over to Tor.

07. “Lacrimosa” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015)

I loved Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, and it’s no real shocker that I also greatly enjoy her short fiction. “Lacrimosa” is a perfect introduction to her work, and a hell of a story. Read it on Nightmare.

06. “In the Cave of the Delicate Singers” by Lucy Taylor (2015)

Behold, the lovechild of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Neil Marshall’s The Descent. Lucy Taylor introduces us to a narrator with a unique form of synesthesia that allows her to feel sounds as vibrations. And yes, as the title indicates, there’s a cave involved. A cave with very tight places. I won’t lie. This one was difficult to read. I don’t do well with claustrophobic horror, which might be why I enjoy it so much. Brought to you by Tor.

05. “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong (2015)

When I pitched this list, I knew immediately I would include Alyssa Wong’s story. It’s one I frequently reread and study. It’s haunting, beautiful, and just a whole lot of fun. Available through Nightmare.

04. “The Night Cyclist” by Stephen Graham Jones (2016)

Have you ever ridden a bike in the middle of the night? Then I highly recommend you give “The Night Cyclist” a spin. Hell, go read everything Jones has written. But “The Night Cyclist” is a good one to embrace this Halloween. Available on Tor.

03. “Postcards from Natalie” by Carrie Laben (2016)

Holy shit, this story was a sucker punch to the gut. Just when I thought I knew where this was going, bam, another hit. I’ve never read Carrie Laben before but now it’s my mission to seek out everything she’s ever written. Read “Postcards from Natalie” on The Dark.

02. “No Matter Which Way We Turned” by Brian Evenson (2016)

Few sentences have unsettled me more than the opening line to this flash fiction by the immensely talented Brian Evenson:

No matter which way we turned the girl, she didn’t have a face.

What follows is a short, disturbing tale. Read it here.

01. “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine (2017)

How could you possibly not adore a story that begins with the following sentence?

At 2:25 a.m. on a quiet Friday night on a deserted country road in southeastern Pennsylvania, the first dead girl climbed out of her refrigerator.

Read the rest here.

And there you have it! Did I miss anything? Of course! There’s no possible way I could have included everything I wanted. Drop a note below in the comments with your own recommendations. Stay spooky, folks.

Special thanks to the following for recommending some of the above titles: Jessica McHugh, Brooklyn Ann, Shane Douglas Keene, Genevra Littlejohn, Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Gage Greenwood, Kenneth Vaughan, Marc Laidlaw, Richard Thomas, Anthony Cowin, Damien Angelica Walters, Beverly Bambury, Gary B. Phillips, Alex Kane, Paul J. Garth, Leigh Harlen, and BP Gregory.
Max Booth III

Column by Max Booth III

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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