7 spooky (not scary) short story collections

7 spooky (not scary) short story collections

A few weeks ago, I shared some highly anticipated fall reads on Patreon (the video is still available). It was a LOT of fun, but it was still 90 degrees in Louisville. I joked about it being fall on the page and in our hearts, if not in our actual, physical world.

But finally, last weekend, I felt a chill in the air. I even pulled out a sweatshirt (for more than 5 minutes at 6am!). Fall is here, readers. And I am ready to cozy up with books that match my October mood. 

Seasonal reading looks different for everyone. I’ve seen quite a few Stephen King novels and similarly scary read on #bookstagram lately, but as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and all-around scaredy-cat, I stay far away from the truly frightening stuff. Instead, my penchant for mystery and suspense leads me to spooky but not scary stories that give me just a taste of the season, nightmare-free.

Short story collections are perfect for readers like me because they are short. You can fulfill your curiosity and read all the way to the end and then set the book aside until your heart rate slows down. With Daisy at my feet, and a cup of tea by my side, I can handle a few goosebumps or a chill down my spine. (And then recover from a light scare with a more comfortable book.)

Today I’m sharing seven short story collections that will get you in the mood for spooky October reading without keeping you awake all night. These collections range from old school classics to ultra-modern, and they vary on the scary scale. 

I’d love to hear what you’re reading this season! And please share your recommendations for not-too-scary stories in the comments.

Spooky Short Story Collections
His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined

His Hideous Heart: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined

You might remember reading Edgar Allan Poe’s delightfully creepy tales in middle school, and perhaps the eerie pounding of “The Tell-Tale Heart” haunts you to this day. His stories perfectly capture the moody, gothic atmosphere of a gloomy October evening. Dahlia Adler and a team of 12 other popular YA authors teamed up to modernize Poe’s 150-year-old horror stories, taking fresh perspectives on the classics. A modern retelling of “The Oval Portrait” by Lamar Giles peaked my interest, and the original tales are included in the book for comparison. With a different audio narrator for each tale, this collection is worth listening to as you crunch through piles of leaves on a walk or prep ingredients for a warm pot of chili. More info →
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Dark Tales

Dark Tales

Thanks to recent film adaptations of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson's fiction is more popular than ever. Her famous short stories like "The Lottery" are just as entertaining, and perhaps more HSP-friendly, than her adapted novels. Jackson expertly turns the seemingly mundane into deeply unsettling events, revealing the darker side of humanity in the process. The first story in this collection stars "Miss Adela Strangeworth" who hates sloppiness and loves her home. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and Miss Strangeworth's stroll around town takes a sinister turn. More info →
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The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural

The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural

Tana French says that "reading a perfectly plotted Agatha Christie is like crunching into a perfect apple: that pure, crisp, absolute satisfaction." Christie’s short stories are especially crisp, tightly plotted, and thoroughly mind-bending. This collection features mysteries with supernatural elements: ghosts, haunted houses, and ancient curses. Our favorite detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, make appearances, and you can count on Christie to include a puzzle in each bite-sized suspense. More info →
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The Rendezvous and Other Stories

The Rendezvous and Other Stories

A novelist deals with heartache. A fiancé has bad news for his beloved. A warship gets rescued by another ship. At face value, these plots don’t sound particularly suspenseful, but fans of Daphne du Maurier's novels know better. Her protagonists are ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary, even dangerous, situations. The suspense unfolds slowly, building to a crescendo as secrets are revealed. Atmosphere hangs heavy over well-drawn characters. If you enjoyed Rebecca for its quiet, romantic mystery, don't miss out on this short story collection. More info →
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Bloodchild and Other Stories

Bloodchild and Other Stories

Science fiction might be the eeriest genre of all. Think of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror (neither of which you'll catch me watching before bed). In this genre, otherworldly elements often highlight real human themes, and Octavia Butler is a master of the craft. Her only collection of short stories includes the Hugo award-winning title story "Bloodchild," which examines a strange bond between tic-like aliens and the humans who have colonized their planet. Other stories are more realistic, but every tale exposes a new truth about the human condition. More info →
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The October Country: Stories

The October Country: Stories

Author:
Sometimes a title is sheer perfection. Covering everything from weird family folklore to classic monster horror stories, The October Country is truly meant to be read in October. Bradbury opens this classic collection: "October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay…" His stories reflect this mystical, gloomy time of year, and despite being written in the 50's and 60's, their themes remain poignant. More info →
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Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side

Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side

This collection makes me think of Anne’s Story Club, the one in which she and her friends write about "love and murder and elopement and mysteries." Anne would simply devour a book full of romantic ghost stories. Though somber and brooding, these 19 tales of heartache, secrets, and hauntings showcase Montgomery’s eloquent style and vivid imagination. It might be a little tricky to track down (try Thriftbooks or your local used bookstore), but it’s worth hunting for Montgomery’s unique and fascinating collection. More info →
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How do you feel about scary stories? What spooky-but-not-scary titles would you add to this list?

For more seasonal reading recommendations, check out 31 spooky (but not too scary) books for your fall reading list, and let’s make autumn reading a thing.

On the podcast front, I recommend What Should I Read Next Ep 176: Books in the freezer, & other horror stories and Ep 186: Finding the book that feels like it was written just for you.

And finally, when I was picking up my library books the other night, a conversation broke out about the movie A Quiet Place. I’d love to see it …. but I’m afraid it will be too scary. (See what I did there?) If you have advice on this question, please share in comments!

39 comments | Comment

39 comments

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  1. Kelly says:

    I’m huge into horror and I didn’t find A Quiet Place scary at all. My two best local friends who are NOT into horror also enjoyed it. It’s more tense than anything else. (Did you see Jurassic Park? A Quiet Place is basically a whole movie of raptors in the kitchen.)

    • Kelly says:

      Oh, also, did you see Get Out? That’s also not scary (more social commentary thriller than actual horror) and it’s really good. It was nominated for Best Picture. 🙂

      You might also like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and/or The Final Girls (the one with Malin Ackerman and Taissa Farmiga). They’re horror comedies and way more funny than scary. It’s seasonally appropriate and good for people who don’t like scary but who want to enjoy Halloween (the best of all holidays).

      • Sarah says:

        Yes I love horror comedy that are more gory/funny than jump out scary (not my fave). I remember liking “Idle Hands” as a horror comedy in the vein of “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” (which I also loved).

        • Kelly says:

          You should definitely watch Final Girls then; I think you’d love it.

          I need to rewatch Idle Hands; I remember loving it but I haven’t seen it in ages.

      • Ashley says:

        I loved Get Out! I thought it was amazing how Jordan Peele took tropes from a familiar genre and subverted them to say something entirely new. I think that’s what art is at it’s best.

  2. Sarah says:

    Sooo glad you included Bradbury. He writes the most perfect creepy but not too much short stories. Really some of the best short stories all around.

  3. Anne says:

    I cannot watch horror movies at all, and I enjoyed “A Quiet Place.” There are a few jump scares, and quiet tension pervades the entire movie, but it was just right for me. My 12 year old, who likes to be scared, liked it but wished there were more jump scares. My 10 year old, who can’t handle even the possibility of being scared, passed on it.

  4. Julie R says:

    I love Ray Bradbury stories! Something Wicked this Way Comes is another excellent one to add to this list of not too scary reading.

  5. Carol says:

    “A Quiet Place” is just the kind of scary movie for people who don’t like scary movies – like me! I saw it at the theater and it was pretty fun actually: silence versus popcorn noise. 😉 Have you seen “Bird Box”? Pretty much the same vibe.
    Now on short stories, I’m not a big fan of those either but when I was in college I remember reading Roald Dahl’s short story “Lamb to the Slaughter”. If you like dark comedy, you’ll enjoy this one.

  6. Jennifer Tanner says:

    So glad you included Lm Montgomery and Daphne DuMaurier. Almost did not read this post as I m not a fan of the category but I’m so glad I did to see there are good, fun options. Just checked a beautifully illustrated version of the Raven, another book on Edgar Allen Poe short stories and Legend of Sleepy Hollow for the season ( the redo with Johnny Depp is a fun fall movie, if a tiny bit gruesome.) Also a new friend loaned me Turn of the Key by Rachel Ware and initially I was not excited when I read the jacket( scary!) even though she said it was her favorite, I got through it just fine and it was not frightening but interesting twists along the way. A funny side note as I end-Headed to NC next week for our family fall trip and have seriously debated coming to one of your events, but sadly decided the additional drive is way too far outside of Asheville to be practical ( I’m only there for 5 days.) here is hoping 2020 includes central Florida!

  7. Lindsay Payne says:

    An anthology I loved is Stories: All New Tales edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. Many of the stories are spooky, but not outright scary or gory, and I found I really enjoyed almost all of them. Rare for an anthology!

  8. Sarah Ann says:

    On my to-read list are several fairy tale anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’m highly sensitive too, and I’m hoping they won’t be too scary, because they look fascinating.

    • Julie R says:

      I love those! It’s been a while since I have read them (time to revisit!) but I don’t remember any of them being especially scary.

  9. Nicole says:

    Highly recommend Omnibus, Roald Dahl’s collection of slightly disconcerting short stories. I’m extremely HSP and these are perfect and masterfully written.

  10. Roald Dahl is my favorite!! His shorts are always suspenseful and just a little bit eerie. Go big on his Short Story Collection Book 1 (Book 2 is even creepier, if you’re into it).

    Also, Ray Bradbury! Check out The Illustrated Man.

    • Katharine says:

      Yes, I was hoping to see Roald Dahl in this list. As a kid I loved his children’s books, but it was when I switched to his adult short stories that I really appreciated his writing AND learned how enthralling short stories can be!

      • Kat says:

        I think any of Stephen King’s short story collections would be good for spooky short story reads. If you’re looking to be intrigued but not scared his stories “Stationary Bike” and “The Gingerbread Girl” are both good and recorded as stand-alone audios.
        His latest collection, Bazaar of Bad Dreams has some stories that are not gory and more psychological and the recording cast for the audio version is pretty great!

  11. Brandi says:

    I read Among the Shadows when I was a teenager and loved it! I’ll have to check and see if I can find my copy and give it a re-read this month. Loved this list, thank you for sharing it!

  12. Dodger says:

    HIS HIDEOUS HEART is definitely on my TBR list. I caught a glimpse of it at my local indie and was very excited, but it didn’t make it into my three-book limit. Definitely want to pick it up soon, though.

  13. Anne, I’m spending the month reading mysteries, which is my HSP version of a scary story. I finally read A Share in Death after your multiple recommendations. I just have to say — it was SO good. I was skeptical about an American writing British fiction, but it was great!

  14. Marion says:

    Avoid all gruesome and gory mysteries is my motto. Just a who done it is the farthest I will go to read or watch a mystery. “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” I watch but even get a little uncomfortable in the grave yard scene.
    Marion

    • Ashley says:

      My favorite spooky short story collections are Trigger Warning by Neil Gaimon (it’s not spooky, but I also really like what he has to say about trigger warnings and upsetting content in books in the intro, I think it’s worth reading just for that) and The Bone Key by Sarah Monette. Right now I’m reading In the Woods by Tana French on the recommendation of everyone, it’s definitely creepy.

  15. Beth Kelley says:

    How about adding the short story, Skin by Roald Dahl as a creepy story. Check out his short stories with the same title.

  16. Susan James says:

    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is one of my favorites- I read it in audio form which is also narrated by Mr. Gaiman. What a delight!

  17. Olivia Jorgensen says:

    I can’t handle horror movies either but recently watched A Quiet Place, Bird Box, and Get Out. I was completely fine. Get Out is more unsettling than scary and I really found A Quiet Place and Bird Box to be more stressful/suspenseful than scary. Or more like a “scary-in-the-moment” but you can recover after the movie is over and still be able to sleep.

  18. Marilyn says:

    I prefer the gentle and soft mysteries. I just finished “The Christmas Cookie Crumbles” by Leslie Budewitz. Rhys Bowen’s mysteries are a favorite as are “The Mrs. Jeffers Mysteries’. I have most of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books but not “Among The Shadows”. I did enjoy “Jane Eyre, “Rebecca” and “Wuthering Heights”. Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt’s Gothic mysteries are great. I am a big fan of the “Dark Shadows” television series. I have most of the “Dark Shadows” paper backs.

  19. Barbara says:

    I like the Dahl stories, too. For a short,creepy treat, try the New York City Library’s video clip of Neil Gaiman reading “Click Clack the Rattle Bag.” I heard him read it at an event. It was masterful.

  20. Suzanne says:

    I think I must be in the ESP (Extremely Sensitive Person) category, which is a step above HSP. I am not a fan of the supernatural, but I am a great fan of Agatha Christie, as well as L.M. Montgomery. I’ll sleep (or try to sleep) with the lights on.

  21. Sarah says:

    Ronald Dahl Was hired in Britain to create a collection of scary stories for their version of, Tales of the Crypt. It ended up being sold to America who rejected his collection, being an author, he published them. Some of the kids I was baby sitting were reading them and I thought, why not?… Ha! They were extremely scary and I managed to scare myself for several months. In fact, one scene was so visibly written about a ship’s portal (window) that several years later we went on a cruise ship, it gave me pause for a moment. This is the only time scary stories have affected me to that degree, now scary movies, that’s a whole other chapter!

  22. Cheryl Alsippi says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I always enjoy your posts and share with my FB friends and others. Please keep them coming. BTW, some of the authors you have noted here are my favorites (top of my list if Agatha Christie).

  23. Lillian says:

    If you haven’t read The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, please add it to your list—at the top! Back in the day, when it was more difficult to order non-mainstream books, I actually stole the school library’s copy. No one had checked it out for years and they were culling the shelves, so it was going to be thrown out, but I took it before that could happen and I don’t regret it!

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