What’s the scariest story you’ve ever read?

I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamFor me, it is I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison.  This short story was published for the first time in 1967 in IF: Worlds of Science Fiction, and it won a Hugo Award in 1968.

I’m not claiming it’s Lovecraftian — but it is terrifying.  If you haven’t read it, I’d be doing you a disservice to even post a synopsis of the plot.  You should read it without knowing anything about it before-hand.

What’s the scariest story you’ve ever read, Lovecraftian, or otherwise?  Comment below.

64 responses to “What’s the scariest story you’ve ever read?

  1. Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY is still the scariest book I’ve read. Yes, I was much younger when I read it in 1983 & less cynical–but I still remember how creeped out I felt reading it.

  2. I have been reading “Horror” and most of its sub-genre’s for years and the only book that really caused me to look over my shoulder was The Exorcist. I was about 24 at the time and living in my first run-down apartment in an old building with about twenty apartments in it. The book had just been published and I sat alone one evening and read it cover to cover. I never thought that what I read could ever be effectively committed to the big screen but Blatty did a pretty darn good job of it. My best friend that saw the movie with me the day it was released spent a month sleeping on his couch in the living room with all the lights on. I’m 63 now and remember it so clearly as my all time best fright.

  3. “Sticks” by Carl Edward Wagner – and another story that I have not been able to track down, about an art student who in attempting to understand a troubled genius and his artwork, learns that the artist was simply painting what saw… scary stuff. Can’t find the author tho…

  4. I don’t knos. I’ve read some pretty creepy stuff online, but going on mainstream media, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a few disturbing tales. The Black Cat was a pretty creepy story what with the guy’s descent into madness and the things he does uncontrollsbly (not for the faint-hearted, especially those who’d rather not read about animal mutilation).

  5. That is one of my top picks.
    It’s a Good Life
    Who Goes There
    The Father Thing
    And for Lovecraft
    Imprisoned With the Pharaohs (while it is listed as Houdini Lovecraft pretty much wrote it from what Ihave heard).

  6. As much as I love Lovecraft, and I do, I never quite saw him as scary. No, for real fear you need something more plausible. Therefore, the answer is obvious.

    “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson.

  7. “Rats in the Wall” still gives me the shivers whenever I readit, and some of Bob Bloch’s stories are always creepy. But my all time favorite horror story is “Mujina” by Lafcadio Hearn. It’s barely a page and a half long but IMHO it has all the creepy, cosmic elements that make a classic horror story. It can be tracked down online.

  8. I’ve always been a scared-cat when it comes to ghost stories, for some reason. One I always found creepy (because I think about it too much) is (paraphrasing here):
    “A man woke alone and afraid in the dark. He reached out for a match to light his lamp, and one was put into his hand.”

    • That is somewhat reminiscent of the opening paragraph of Fredric Brown’s “Knock”: “The last man on Earth sat alone in his room. There was a knock on the door…” The rest of the story is pretty good, but not at all horrible.

  9. “The Whistling Room” by William Hope Hodgson – it’s in the public domain, so your only excuse is your fear! TRY to get that image out of your mind. As for a novel, “House of Leaves” by M. Danielewski.

  10. Fritz Leiber’s “Our Lady of Darkness” gave me such depressing dreams that my wife asked me what was wrong. I wrote him about them and he wrote back saying that they sounded like something out of DeQuincey’s “Confessions of an Opium Eater.”

    • Loved that book, lost my copy and could never remember the title.
      Thanks… and now off to Abe Books…

  11. Many of the stories already mentioned are high on my list, too. One of the most horrifying stories I’ve read (perhaps more “horrifying” as opposed to “scary”) was “Desire and the Black Masseur” by Tennessee Williams. I read it when I was a teenager – not sure how it would have affected me had I been older.

  12. l’ve read quite a few which gave me that frisson, but perhaps the one which gets to me the most is Robert S. Hichens’ “How Love Came to Professor Guildea”. As a friend of mine once put it, given the type of man he was, what a terrifying thing to happen… and a more human version of it can happen to any of us, at any time….

  13. “Negro Be-Grow” by J. Aspin Aspen. Published in xeroxed fanzine called Shockin’ Mall in 1986. I picked up a copy at Northwest Books in the mid ’90s, and it’s the best bargain bin purchase I’ve ever made. I’ve never found any info about either the zine or J. Aspin Aspen. I scanned my copy awhile back to avoid wearing it out. I should probably put it online.

    • I definitely did not expect to come across this.

      I’m J. Aspin Aspen (not my real name), and The Shockin’ Mall was a small ‘zeen that my friends and I put out for a couple of years in the mid 80’s in Pueblo, CO. I don’t believe we ever did an issue that had more than a hundred copies, so you have a genuine collectors item that no one wants. I haven’t written since the ‘zeen folded.

      I appreciate the kind words about Negro Be-Grow. It was probably the best story I ever wrote, though I’m not too fond of the title these days. If I were to republish now, I would probably call it The Dark Man or Herb I. Cide. Sadly I can’t do that because I only ever had hardcopies of my stories, which I lost in a fire in 1991. If you ever feel like sending me a copy of your copy, I’d sure appreciate it. I’ve thought more than once about rewriting it from the ground up as a novel, but I think the short form works better for this story.

  14. “The Dreams in the Witch House” really freaked my s#@t out the first time I read it (age 11 or 12). “Pickman’s Model” is also VERY freaky – I think all kids are afraid to go in the basement alone at some level, and the thought that THOSE GUYS might be “padding” about down there didn’t help! Other than Lovecraft, I remember Stephen King’s “The Mangler” being fairly scary to me the first time I read it.

  15. In terms of actually being frightening I would go with Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It’s all so very mundane and everyday when it starts and descends again in a very matter-of-fact way into such a terrible thing. Another story would be The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula Le Guin. Frightening because of what was done and the choice that somehow had to be made for one person, for everyone. I guess it is like The Lottery. The last one is Ray Bradbury’s Fog Horn. I first read as a child and for the longest time it frightened me so. The vast, vast ocean and this one creature that was so terribly alone.

    • I have to agree, the Lottery was pretty freaky, but I have to pass on the reading part (I’ve read it) but my reading was so informed by The Twilight Zone’s working of it . . . I’ve spent many night in worry over it.

  16. I still think Dracula is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. The scene of Lucy’s staking is absolutely ghastly (and wonderfully parodied in Mel Brooks “Dead and Loving It”)!

  17. I cut my horror teeth on Stephen King so I have to go with “1408”. That short story brought back old feelings from The Shining. The scariest novel I’ve read is the haunted house story The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons.

  18. “The Ball Room” by China Mieville, Emma Bircham & Max Schaeffer.
    And from the same volume, Mieville’s “Details” gets my vote for the scariest modern Lovecraftian story.

  19. Ring, by Koji Suzuki. A thousand fold better than the movie. I was housesitting for my grandparents, in their big house all by myself and I couldn’t get through ten pages before I had to set it aside. And I read the passage about the cursed video tape right before I went to work and was hearing things the whole day.

  20. “Sticks,” by the late and great Karl Edward Wagner always creeps me out (as mentioned above). The four tales which comprise TED Klein’s “Dark Gods” (“Children of the Kingdom,” “Petey,” “Black Man with a Horn,” and “Nadelman’s God”) are about as disturbing as it gets (for me, anyway). And a number of Laird Barron’s short stories are very scary.

    • All four of those stories are terrific, though I’m torn between “Black Man with a Horn” and “Nadelman’s God” as my favorites because in addition to the fright-factor, they’re also quite funny.

  21. ‘The God of The Razor’ by Joe R. Lansdale has certainly been the one that stuck with me longest but ‘The Boogeyman’ by Stephen King scared the bejesus out of me the first time I read it.

  22. I guess the Exorcist and Something Wicked this way Comes…I burned the book after reading the Exorcist, I was 25 then.

    • Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorites as well though I consider it more atmospheric than outright scary. I would love a signed first edition but it is hideously expensive. The movie is incredible, extremely close to the book.

  23. Oddly enough, for me it was The Inmost Light, by Arthur Machen. Not saying it would have the same effect on anyone else, but parts of that story certainly gave me the cold robbies.

  24. A recommendation from Mr. Lovecraft himself:

    “H.R. Wakefield, in his collections, They Return at Evening and Others Who Return, manages now and then to achieve heights of horror despite a vitiating air of sophistication. The most notable stories are The Red Lodge with its slimy acqueous evil, He Cometh and He Passeth By, And He Shall Sing, The Cairn, Look Up There, Blind Man’s Buff, and that bit of lurking millennial horror, The Seventeenth Hole at Doncaster.”

    —HP Lovecraft

  25. It is hard to narrow it down to a single story.
    “Dracula” by Bram Stoker was one of the best. “Phantoms” by Dean Koontz scared the living daylights out of me. “The Call of Cthulhu” of course.
    In short stories, The Notebook Found In A Deserted House” by Robert Bloch, “The Return Of The Lloigor” by Colin Wilson and “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft.
    Most of these I read a long time ago and I don’t know how I would feel about them today but they certainly scared the living daylights out of me when I read them that I still remember them today.

  26. dean koontz, phantoms . the novel was excellent but the film was a total piece of crap ! same can be said for stephen king`s the mist !

  27. Before I answer: I’ve not read a lot of Ellison (certainly not enough) but the first time I heard about him was at school when we were given Repent, Said the Tick Tock Man. (the title might not be correct, but it’s close). I was so enthralled by this art, I took it home and forced my four kids to listen to it and dig it . . . ah well, the trials of fatherhood. There have been a number of stories that have put me on edge, mostly by King and Bradbury, but the one that always rises to the top of the bloody heap is The Long Walk by Richard Bachman. I could go on quite awhile why, but I’ll leave it at that.

  28. So many of the books and short stories included by everybody are high on my list already, particularly “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Ellison; I’d include “The Rats in the Walls” by Lovecraft, “Shambleau” by C.L. Moore – I once dated a girl like that – and “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. Honorable mention might go to “The Mannikin” by Robert Bloch, which I read as a child.

  29. The Willows by Algernon Blackwood and The Color out of Space which I first readin a Lovecraft collection while camping in the Blue ridge mountains-.those woods substituted well for the “darkest of the hillside thickets”.

  30. “Strange Creatures from Time & Space” by John A. Keel. Read it one summer in 1970. Kept me cold during the heat. Not supposed to be fiction. He writes about monsters and apparitions and Bedroom Invaders and Men In Black and the Smiling Man among other things. About the past seemingly being overrun by black wolf-like monsters that killed humans with ease and a woman attacked by a skeletal thing that took blood then ran into a cemetery in it. Unearthly faces in windows and hands reaching over the window sill into a second story room…and it goes on.

    Keel was a reporter first then got interested in the paranormal after. Get any of his books they all fit together as part of larger whole on all this high strangeness.

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