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Spooky Stories to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

As the air cools, the leaves turn, and pumpkins find their way to nearly every porch, stairway, and railing we pass, something else stirs in the air. Late fall is the perfect time to feel a little chill — and not just the kind that inspires us to grab a sweater.

There’s something about the written word. It has a unique ability to worm its way into our minds, letting the imagery of a scary story follow us when we get up from our cozy reading spot. Perhaps it’s the way a writer paints a picture in the mind, but leaves just enough space for us to fill in our own details. Or perhaps it’s the silence that fills the room as the words fill our minds. Whatever it is, there’s nothing quite like a scary story.

Below you’ll find some fun reads as you yourself feel the chill in the air this fall — and perhaps, the chill down your spine.

The Tell Tale Heart

Most know Edgar Allen Poe’s work as the type of writing that inspires the spooky feelings we’re all chasing at this time of year. The Tell Tale Heart, which some regard as Poe’s most successful creepy story, is no different. In it, a narrator, who is tormented by a mental affliction in which he’s highly aware of everything around him, murders his roommate. He thinks he’s succeeded in getting away with his crime — but something lingers.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving has made its way into the American Halloween zeitgeist so much so that many of us may forget where the image of the headless horseman came from in the first place. It’s worth revisiting this classic tale in which Ichabod Crane encounters a headless horseman. (Interestingly, a headless horseman has been a mythical figure in various cultural forms since the Middle Ages. It’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, though, that brought it into the American zeitgeist.)

The Lottery

The Lottery isn’t set in the dark woods, nor does it have phantoms or specters. Perhaps what makes this tale all the more chilling is that it’s set in broad daylight, in a crowded town square, where a dark town tradition is playing out — one in which the townspeople willingly sacrifice one of their own. This story, written by Shirley Jackson, was written in the 1948 and was published in The New Yorker. It caused quite a stir. Jackson would routinely pick up piles and piles of mail forwarded to her from The New Yorker — people who had read the story and were appalled by its darkness. Jackson wrote the story while living in North Bennington, Vermont, and the town square there — which is largely unchanged from Jackson’s days — is said to have inspired the setting of the tale.

The Landlady

Roald Dahl is an expert in weaving whimsy with fright, as even his children’s stories, which are not regarded as horror, show (did anyone else recoil in fear while reading The Witches, or The BFG?). In the short story The Landlady, which is regarded as a horror story, Dahl introduces his reader to Billy, who finds himself in a bed and breakfast where nothing quite seems right — particularly the names in the guest book (and how many of them there are).

Dear David

Breaking from the literary, this is a modern tale, told in a modern form, which nevertheless inspires chills and fright. For a long while, writer and illustrator Adam Ellis shared tales of a ghost he said he was cohabiting with on Twitter. Ellis shared tales of the ghost, known as Dear David, a little bit at a time over a long swath of time, creating something akin to a serial. People tuned in regularly to follow the goings-on of Ellis and his haunted apartment.

A Perfectly Normal Interview with Carmen Maria Machado Where Everything Is Fine

Another departure from the typical scary tale is this truly odd interview with Carmen Maria Machado after the author edited and introduced a reprint of the classic scary tale Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. Though the interview starts as a somewhat typical dip into literary discussion, it takes an odd turn that has the unwitting reader suddenly a bit on edge.

We hope you enjoy perusing these scary stories, old and new, in both literary form and otherwise. There’s no time like fall to curl up with a cup of tea (may it not taste like almonds, per Dahl’s landlady) and let your mind wander, especially when you wonder if any of the characters followed you from your reading spot into the other rooms in your home.

Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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