25 scary stories by Stephen King and other great horror writers you can read NOW

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Oct 17, 2013, 11:05 AM EDT

We live in an age where you can experience horror in a multitude of ways, but a short, spooky story is still one of the purest.

The short story is a time-honored part of literature as a whole, but it's always been particularly successful as part of the horror genre. Think back to when you first read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" in junior high and you'll know what I mean. There's something about the finely honed, brief burst of the short story that makes it absolutely perfect for scares, and that's left us with a plethora of spooky tales from centuries of writing to enjoy over and over again.

Though you have to visit a bookstore (or your e-book store of choice) to enjoy many of these tales, quite a few of them have found their way into the public domain by now, or they're just available for free via one publication or another. So to make your Halloween as creepy-on-a-budget as possible, we assembled more than two dozen spooky stories that you can read online, for free, right now, for the 17th installment in our 31 Days of Halloween series of features.

Just click on the story title to enjoy its creepy contents. Enjoy them one at a time in the days leading up to Halloween, or read them all in one evening and spend the rest of the night with crippling insomnia. It's entirely up to you.


"Beyond the Wall" by Ambrose Bierce

Bierce is one of the best known creepy story writers of the late 19th and early 20th century, and this story is one of his best, featuring a classic horror staple: creepy tapping from inside walls. 

"The Thing on the Doorstep" by H.P. Lovecraft

No Halloween would be complete with out a creepy Lovecraft tale, so enjoy this particular installment from his legendary Cthulhu Mythos. 

"The Haunter of the Ring" by Robert E. Howard

Though Lovecraft is the undisputed creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, numerous horror writers -- many of them contemporaries of Lovecraft, have contributed to it over the years. This tale by Conan the Barbarian creator and legendary horror writer Robert E. Howard is one of the more significant contributions.

"The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers

Chambers' book The King in Yellow is considered a classic of horror fiction, and this story is one of its essential parts.

"The Empty House" by Algernon Blackwood 

Blackwood is considered one of the greatest ghost story writers of all time, so "this rather traditional haunted house tale is certainly worth a look.

"Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly" by Joyce Carol Oates

Though you might not immediately think of horror when you think of Oates, she's capable of crafting some of the creepiest stories you will ever read, and this is just one example of dozens.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Though The Haunting of Hill House might be her most famous story by now, "The Lottery" remains one of Jackson's most widely-read (and haunting) scary stories.

"The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire" by Poppy Z. Brite

This tale is one of many scary stories produced by Brite, but it's one of a select few that was acclaimed enough to be nominated for a coveted Bram Stoker Award.

"A Dream of Red Hands" by Bram Stoker

The Dracula creator didn't just earn his horror cred by creating the most famous bloodsucker ever, as tales like this prove.

"The Ghost and the Bone-Setter" by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Le Fanu is considered one of the great Gothic writers of the 19th century. This Halloween, dig into one of his earliest stories for some thoroughly creepy fun.

"The Monkey Spoons" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman 

Counselman might be one of the lesser-known spooky writers of the 20th Century, but her contributions to the legendary Weird Tales magazine -- including this story -- are certainly worth checking out.

"The Planet of the Dead" by Clark Ashton Smith

Along with Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Smith was one of the most significant Weird Tales contributors of the early 20th Century, placing him in very esteemed horror company. He was also a friend and follower of Lovecraft's, and this story's cosmic qualities are certainly satisfying in a Lovecraftian way.

"The Bell in the Fog" by Gertrude Atherton 

Though she's often best remembered now for her determination and involvement in the early feminist movement, Atherton was also capable of writing some really creepy stuff, as this story proves.

"Mrs. Zant and the Ghost" by Wilkie Collins

He's best known today for his early mystery novel The Woman in White, but Collins was also skilled in the art of the short story. 

"The Haunted House" by Charles Dickens (and others)

Dickens is not actually the sole author of this piece. He's the orchestrator, who collaborated with several other authors (including Wilkie Collins) to create a nice collection of spookiness, which makes it a very intriguing experience. There's even the classic Dickensian connection between ghosts and Christmas

"The New Catacomb" by Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes will always be his most famous creation, but Doyle was adept at spooky stories as well, including this one.

"The Lost Ghost" by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

Though you might not know her name, Freeman was a very prolific and prominent author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and her output included effective ghost stories like this one.

"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This story about a man who witnesses a devilish gathering in the woods is one of Hawthorne's most famous, and it's still very effective.

"The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant

This tale of a man haunted by a supernatural presence was crafted by one of the most famous practitioners of the short story, and is certainly worth a read.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe

This creepy tale of monstrous machinery is one of Poe's most famous, and if you've never reader it, now might be the time.

"The Body Snatcher" by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might be his most famous scary work, but it's not his only one. Check out this creepy tale for more of Stevenson's knack for horror.

"The Tractate Middoth" by M.R. James

James is still considered a master of the ghost story, and this tale is one of the best examples of why he deserves that title.

"Premium Harmony" by Stephen King

In this 2009 tale, the King of Horror revisits his iconic fictional town of Castle Rock for a story of marital strife and general creepiness.

"A Short Guide to the City" by Peter Straub

This creepy tale by the acclaimed author of Ghost Story combines an enthusiasm for tourism with a tale of murder to create a terriying mix.

"Nightcrawlers" by Robert R. McCammon

This story by the author of creepy novels like Swan Song is best known for its adaptation into a season one episode of the revived Twilight Zone series in the 1980s, but the original tale is certainly worth a read.