The five best horror stories you’ve never heard of

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(Image by Maria Korolov created with Midjourney.)

As a horror writer, part of the gig is to keep up with what’s going on in horror fiction. I’ve read hundreds of horror stories over the years, from the mainstream to the obscure. So it’s my absolute pleasure to present you with this list of the five best stories you probably haven’t heard of. They range in tone from psychological thrillers to the downright gory. But regardless of how the frighten us, one thing’s for sure—these stories all have impact.

5. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

The story: A rebellious teen stays home from a family event and is visited by two strange men who want to kidnap her.

Why it’s awesome: Oates is able to craft beautifully sensuous passages that completely immerse us in the action. She paints her characters with exquisite detail, from young, troubled Connie to her would-be captor, the mysterious Arnold Friend. The tension throughout the story is marvelous. Plus, it’s based on a true account of man who murdered three young women in Arizona in the 1960s. It’s absolutely chilling.

You can listen to an audiobook version of the story for free here:

4. Any Corpse by Brian Evenson

The story: Refugees struggle to survive caves in a bleak apocalyptic landscape lorded over by strange creatures called Furnishers who are rather dim-witted but surprisingly deadly.

Why it’s awesome: In the opening scene, it’s raining meat! We never find out why, and this detail ends up being just another strange occurrence in the bizarre world Evenson has built in this tale. There is much we do not learn here, including what the Furnishers are and how the refuges got into this position in the first place. But it’s the interaction between the humans and the Furnishers that makes this story unforgettable. The author gets bonus points for the eerie moments of necromancy and the reanimated, talking corpses.

If you have a library card and your library has a copy of the book, you can read the story for free on Overdrive.

3. The Raft by Stephen King

The story: Four teenagers give a last hurrah to fall by swimming out to a raft in the middle of a secluded lake. Once there, they discover a strange oil slick following them. Only it’s not an oil slick. It’s a living creature that dissolves human flesh. Now they’re trapped. And it’s hungry.

Why it’s awesome: Although this short story was a featurette in Creepshow 2 in the 80s, the film version pales in comparison to the original text. The King rolls out a story that literally oozes with drama. As the trapped teens fight to stay alive, their frayed nerves exacerbate the tension between them in the form of attractions, rivalries, jealousies, etc. King’s monster is delightfully original and hella spooky. The attacks, when they come, are very gruesome, and King seems to delight in describing the monster’s digestive habits in nauseating detail. Readers be warned—the misogynist tone set by the male characters might be tough swallow for some—this story was published in the 70s, after all. Despite this flaw, The Raft floats near the top of the pack.

You can listen to an audiobook version of the story for free here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pyv5E6zlqKc

2. Brushdogs by Stephen Graham Jones

The story: A man takes his young son hunting in a snowy wood that’s possibly haunted by an ancient Native American curse and swarming with ravenous, man-eating bears. After getting lost for a several strange hours, the boy reemerges, different somehow. Werebears, anyone?

Why it’s awesome: Stephen Graham Jones’s style stands out for its conversational, accessible tone and rich Native American undertones. We connect right away to the father’s inner turmoil as his growing son begins to lose his childlike innocence. Things worsen when the son turns up missing and then re-emerges. The horror here isn’t gratuitous in the traditional sense. It’s implicit in what happens to the man’s relationship with his son. The story climaxes in a somewhat ambiguous ending that perplexes while it titillates the mind, managing to score as one of my favorite horror fiction endings ever.

You can read the story for free at Nightmare Magazine.

1. The Night They Missed the Horror Show by Joe Lansdale

The story: A couple of bored small-town hicks set out on an evening of perverse, if not brutal, entertainment. Before their reign of terror is over, they will meet a horror far worse than them.

Why it’s awesome: Joe Lansdale is a masterful writer who excels at manipulating a reader’s emotions. Here, he introduces us to characters that are so despicable, it’s a struggle to keep following the story at all. Over the course of a few pages, the author does something remarkable. He makes us feel empathy for the characters when they meet an a far worse evil than they will ever be. Readers be warned: this is one violent story. Rather than seeking thrills through supernatural means, Landsdale explores the evils of the human condition. It isn’t pleasant. The story is highly offensive in many ways, with enough racist, misogynistic, and sadistic actions to turn your stomach for days. If the author is guilty of anything here, though, it’s exploiting our emotions to pull of this incredible, Russian nesting doll of a story. Truly this tale is a horror masterpiece—not one I care to re-visit often, but surely one I’ll never forget.

Have you read any of these stories? If so, you are a true horror aficionado. Let us know what you thought of them in the comments below!

Or watch me discuss all five stories with Maria Korolov in this video:

Robert Stahl is a former bartender who left his bottle opener behind to follow his dreams as a writer. Now the Dallas-based freakazoid writes advertising copy by day and fiction in the evenings. He loves to connect with others about the craft of fiction. Click the link to find his blog as well as links to some of his stories: robertestahl.com.

1 thought on “The five best horror stories you’ve never heard of”

  1. I’m a longtime fan of the Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King stories…trundling off now to read the rest!

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