What are the best short stories to read on Halloween? This time of year, I like to read scary stories with my classes.  Which ones do you recommend?

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'The Landlady' by Roald Dahl - deliciously horrific. Or 'The Way Up to Heaven'. Both found in the collection of short stories entitledKiss Kiss.These stories are thrilling and full of death and fear.

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Ambrose Bierce wrote some really fun scary stories. He loved to shock his readers with a twist at the end of the story. 

Bierce had his own philosophy about life. One of his famous quotations really exemplifies his attitude toward people.

There are four kinds of Homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.   Ambrose Bierce

 

I believe that Bierce is under appreciated as a writer.  I like his stories. Here are three that work well at Halloween.

"The Boarded Window" is a fun story to read at Halloween.  To  summarize this  brief story, a man named Murlock lives alone in the wilderness in a house with a boarded window. The narrator explains that the window was boarded up sometime after Murlock’s unnamed wife died. The narrator goes on to describe the strange events that happened the night after Murlock prepared his wife’s body for the grave. While Murlock watches over the dead body, a panther enters the cabin. Murlock attempts to shoot the unknown creature in the dark, after which he falls unconscious. Upon awakening the next morning, he discovers a piece of the panther’s ear between the clenched teeth of his dead wife. Although incredibly short, the story raises numerous questions for readers and it calls for discussion.

Another Bierce story that is spooky is "The Man and the Snake."  It involves a man's phobia about snakes and also involves a little psychological repartee to add to the thrill of the story.

Although there many more scary stories by Bierce, the last one that I recommend is "The Damned Thing." A dead body is found sitting at a table. Here is a brief part of the plot:

The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked and showing in the candle-light a claylike yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.

Pretty gruesome for a story from the 19th century.  It sounds like something from CSI.

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Since Halloween is a time to read creepy things, one of the best short stories to read is: "Monkey's Paw." It is not directly related to Halloween, but it is very well written and it is pretty scary. I am sure that many people would enjoy this one.

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I teach eighth grade, so I always enjoy sharing "The Monkey's Paw" and "The Hitchhiker" by Orson Welles.  "The Hitchhiker" has just the right combination of suspense and detail so that the ghostly ending completely baffles the students.  You can just see the wheels turning in their heads as they flip back through the story, trying to figure it out. 

"The Monkey's Paw" has always been one of my favorites, the perfect spooky story for Halloween or sitting around a campfire.  The degree of terror in the ending always surprises the students, who can hardly believe such a scary story can be in their literature book. 

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Where would the world of literature be without the contributions of Edgar Allan Poe. I agree with all of the suggestions, however, a few that have not been mentioned that would make great additions to the list would be "The Black Cat." eNotes has some more information about this story.

There is also a story that I read years ago which might qualify, but I do not remember the title. I remember that the main character was afraid of something, ghosts maybe, so to prove his bravery, he was going to walk through the cemetery at night. He had to leave his dagger there to prove he had completed the challenge. He was terrified that the spirits would capture him, but he stabbed his dagger into the ground. When he rose to leave, he couldn't move. As he had feared, the  spirits had captured him. Terror won out, and he died of fear. When he was discovered the next morning, his dagger was stabbed through his cloak. This was what trapped him not spirits.

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I always dust Edgar Allen Poe off when Halloween and the crisp fall weather rolls around.  Any of his psychological thrillers but modern scary movies to shame.  While his "Cask of the Amontillado" is my favorite, for Halloween "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Masque of the Red Death" are perfect.  It seems in Hollywood any good scary movie has a mentally ill person, so when Poe begins with "‘True!—nervous—very, very nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?’’ the reader is immediately grabbed and on edge.  "The Masque of the Red Death" has every thing we love to see in our scary stories; rich lavish parties, the unknown killer, and the gruesome bloody death.

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Of course, "Sleepy Hollow" is the first to spring to mind. Yet I am fond of some of the lesser known Sir A. Conan Doyle short stories. One that is good for Halloween, yet won't traumatize a tender sensibility, like "Tell-Tale Heart" will (!!), is "The Great Keinplatz Experiment." It is about a psychologist, in Doyle's earlier era, who is continually asking himself, "whether it was possible for the human spirit to exist apart from the body for a time and then to return to it once again." He tries his experiment with Halloweenish (on the mild side) results and a tad of humor thrown in for good measure. Another Doyle story is "The Horror of the Heights." It is about a man, his head and a fall. In Doyle's signature first-person narration, it starts mildly enough but soon sinks into missing persons and mystery.

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My favorites are: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Monkey's Paw, and The Landlady. I also read The Raven because Halloween wouldn't be the same without it! The FOX television show "The Simpsons" did a wonderful version of The Raven in the second season for its Halloween episode. I looked for it on YouTube, but because of the copyright, it's not there. I'll have to buy the whole 2nd season if I want to show it, I guess. They really did a good job with that one.

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The classic, of course, would be the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." But I actually think some of Poe's short stories are far scarier. "The Masque of the Red Death" might be the most appropriate for Halloween, though it's obviously best suited for high school students. Any of these stories would be well worth the time.

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