As always, these are actually my favorite short stories of all time rather than the greatest. You don’t climb to the top of the heap of bloggers by observing truth in advertising.
If you are a regular blog reader (and if you are, thank you) you know I like lists, and if you aren’t, look at the sidebar and you’ll see. For some time, I’ve been planning a list of short stories to accompany the other poorly-received lists, but it was too daunting a task, as there are too many to choose from and the list varies from moment to moment. It’s also too important, as short stories have formed the true backbone of the horror genre. Recently friends began bugging me to produce one, so I figured “What do I have to lose?” So here it is.
The ground rules first. These are my own opinions, and you are free (and encouraged) to disagree, and to do so in the comments. Please feel free to give vent to any vitriol you may feel, although once again, “dipshit” has become a way too overused epithet. To keep the list somewhat manageable, and to keep my head from exploding, I limited the stories to one per author, so it wouldn’t be a list of the best Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft stories, or every short piece T.E.D. Klein has written. I also made arbitrary judgments on novellas. Instead of using word length measurements, if a novella “felt” like a short novel rather than a long short story, it was disqualified. Therefore, no appearance by “The Mist”, one of my favorites.
Why 14 stories instead of 10? This was as far down as I could cull it, so I hedged my bets and cheated.
1. “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft. In my mind, this is one of the few stories that continues to give me chills. I re-read it every year in October.
2. “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner. I’ve spoken of my admiration for Wagner before, and this is probably his best.
3. “Who Goes There?” by Don A Stuart (John W. Campbell, Jr.). The basis for the movies The Thing From Another World and The Thing, I read it at a young age, and its central theme of paranoia about the true identity of those around you continues to resonate.
4. “Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe Lansdale. Lansdale has written a number of great short stories, but this tale of two young rednecks who should have watched The Night of the Living Dead is his best.
5. “Nightcrawlers” by Robert R. Mccammon. “Something Passed By” was a close second, but I love this story of a man truly haunted by the war in Vietnam, and the unlucky diner patrons who get to share that with him. “Charlie’s in the light!”
6. “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson was the great master of sea-swept horror, and this is probably his best short story.
7. “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber. Leiber is probably best remembered as a science fiction author, but he wrote in a number of genres, and his forays into horror are second to none. This story of an artist’s model who is a psychic vampire is my favorite.
8. “The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King. King has written a lot of great stories, and most people would pick one of his early works as his best, But this story of a man doomed by the purchase of an ever-changing painting sticks with me. I’ll always wonder what was in the paintings that were burned.
9. “The Ash-Tree” by M.R. James. A classic story from a nearly forgotten writer.
10. ‘The White People” by Arthur Machen. The dark sage of Wales framed this story as the diary of a young girl. Probably one of the most influential horror stories ever written.
11. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. The world around us as the source of menace. One of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorites.
12. “The Yellow Sign”, by Robert W. Chambers. The centerpiece of Chambers’ great collection of short stories The King in Yellow shows how horror can come from that which is not explained. (The sign itself is never described, and it’s effects are only loosely explained.)
13. “Black Man with a Horn” by T.E.D. Klein. Any of the stories from the far-less-than-prolific Klein that were published in Dark Gods (a must-read) or the story that became his novel The Ceremonies, “The Events at Poroth’s Farm” would qualify, but this is marginally my favorite of them. Beware the Tcho-Tcho.
14. "Pigeons From Hell" by Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan wrote some fine horror stories, and this is generally seen as his best.
If you haven’t read any of these, and you are a fan of horror, I suggest you seek them out. Then come back and tell me how wrong I am.