Lights are on! It’s locked. Getting your nerves worked up when the source isn’t real can be fun. We asked some booksellers and other people who like reading to tell us which scary stories they think are the best ever. Here are twenty of them.
The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
It’s the winter of Jack Torrance’s life. He’s a recovering alcoholic and a failed writer. He and his wife Wendy and their prescient young son, Danny, spend the winter in the haunted Overlook Hotel, where Jack gets cabin fever like nobody’s business. No, I haven’t read the book on which the movie is based. If not, say how many people love it. A branch manager at a library in Ohio says, “It’s the ultimate “book was better than the movie” conversation starter.” “It was the first book I threw across the room because I was afraid.”
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
A young woman is the governess of two very fearless and strange children, Miles and Flora, who live in a remote country house called Bly Manor. The house is beset by mysterious things and evil creatures. It was written by famous Henry James, who wrote 1881’s The Portrait of a Lady. It was made into a serial in Collier’s magazine in 1898 and is now a classic. Block: “It still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end.” Ghosts, strange children, mysterious caretakers, and a story that hits you hard are all in this book.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
Iconic: One of the most well-known ghost stories in modern history was written by a master. In 2018, two movies and a Netflix show were based on the story. Four researchers stay in an old mansion to see if there’s any truth to the rumors that it’s haunted. Then the house starts to want one of them as its own. Wellesley Books in Massachusetts says it’s “a classic ghost story that everyone should read at some point in their lives.”
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)
Rocking chair. A child’s cry that cuts through the fog. The Woman in Black. Alice Drablow’s lawyer, Arthur Kipps, visits her home to deal with her estate. He sees a ghost of a woman who is a sign that a child is going to die soon. Pamela Klinger-Horne, the owner of Excelsior Bay Booksellers in Excelsior, Minnesota, says this dark ghost story is “a traditional Gothic tale that will make you keep the lights on.” It was made into a hit play in London and a movie in 2012.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (1975)
This is only King’s second book, but it’s just as scary as any of his other works. People who read this book will meet Ben Mears, who lives in Maine and returns there to look into the history of a house that is now owned by Kurt Barlow: a strange person who turns out to be an old vampire. A young boy turns into a vampire, and soon, others do, too. The horror quickly escalates. Keep you up at night and look over your shoulder during the day, says Klinger-Horne. My babysitting job was almost over because I was afraid to be alone in the house.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015)
“Scared the hell out of me,” Stephen King said in a blurb about this book. You know it’s a good book if that’s what he says. Marjorie Barrett, a teenager, looks like she’s going crazy and is thought to be possessed by demons. Then she ends up on a reality show called The Possession, where even more devilment happens. After a few years passed, Merry, her sister, went back to the show to find out what happened, and why. This is what Conrad says at Wellesley Books: “It took me two tries to finish A Head Full of Ghosts…. In the first time I tried to read it, I couldn’t finish it because it was so scary. The second time I tried to read it, I could only do so in the morning, when the sun was out.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (2017)
To start, a woman is dying in a clinic but doesn’t know why she’s there, and a young boy she doesn’t know is questioning her. It was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize. She starts remembering a story about how the boy’s mother took her sick son to a healer, who tried to revive him by letting half of his soul be taken over by a stranger. The stranger turned out to be a monster that she had to fight. People at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts say that “Fever Dream” is one of the scariest books ever written. “The creepy little book made me sweat because of the suspense that built up slowly.”
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (2015)
“What Do You Do?” is a short story by the author of “Gone Girl,” which is famous for its twisty plot. It was first published in a short story collection as “What Do You Do?” Young woman: She works as a fake psychic and is hired by a rich woman to check out her home because it might be haunted. After a while, the con artist starts to believe that the phantoms she’s seeing might be real. This is especially true when the woman’s teenage son’s behavior changes in a weird way. As Conrad puts it, “Flynn also does a great job of making the reader wonder whether there’s anything supernatural going on at all or if it’s all in the protagonist’s head.”
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
Some time later, four friends find that they are the hunted after killing a herd of elk on land they were not supposed to be on. The spirit of one elk comes back to haunt them. The book is “both a thrilling story that will make you jump at the slightest sound (I can say this from personal experience), and a poignant look at cultural identity and what it’s like to live in a world that wants to kill you.” She says, “I finished this book and ordered two more books by Stephen Graham Jones right away, because he is truly a master.”
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The Terror by Dan Simmons (2007)
In 1845, a group of explorers were looking for the Northwest Passage and were led by a mysterious Inuit woman. They ended up stranded in the Arctic Circle while being stalked by an unknown creature on the ice. It’s based on a real-life expedition and won the International Horror Guild Award for best book.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
One of the best-selling debut novels of all time about a young family moving into a house that isn’t even a home. Their house is bigger inside than outside, and a savage growling noise can be heard coming closer and closer to them.