10 Free Stories About Spirits, Ghouls, Mysteries & Monsters
From Viet Thanh Nguyen to Angela Carter, dip into some of Recommended Reading’s spookiest stories
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Nothing brings the spectral and supernatural to life as powerfully as a good story. In that spirit (!), we’ve reanimated 10 haunting tales from the Recommended Reading archives, featuring writing by the likes of Angela Carter, Kelly Link, Viet Thanh Nguyen, J. Robert Lennon, Laura van den Berg, and more.
The Monster by Ali Simpson
Recommended by the Southampton Review
Laura has a monster in her closet. The monster comes at just the right time, easing the ache of Laura’s loneliness. Soon they become inseparable, playing Pictionary and nuzzling on the couch. At first a charming and pitiful little thing, the monster demands more and more and more as his caretaker struggles to feed his violently insatiable appetite. This short story transforms our fear of imaginary monsters lingering in the shadows into the real monsters that haunt our inner thoughts.
Deathwinked by Vedran Husić
Recommended by the Fine Arts Work Center
“What’s immediately noticeable is that ‘Deathwinked’ plays on two different registers of time,” writes another RR author, Matthew Neill Null, who introduced this story for the Fine Arts Work Center. “One moment is heady and fleeting — adolescents racing down an alley, pursued by bullets — but then…. time falls away.” The term “deathwinked” is coined by our narrator, a sniper, and is the verb he uses to describe being killed by the shot.
Stone Animals by Kelly Link
Recommended by Electric Literature
In David Lynch-like style, the everyday becomes imbued with the uncanny and the horrible in this piece by short story master and author of Get In Trouble, Kelly Link. “Ostensibly,” writes Lincoln Michel, “‘Stone Animals’ follows a husband, a pregnant wife, and their two children as they settle into a new house in the suburbs. There are no murders or monsters. Nothing explicitly horrifying happens. And yet…” Read on to discover the terror.
The Lady of the House of Love by Angela Carter
Recommended by Kelly Link
As a vampire story that invokes “Beauty and the Beast,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and perhaps at a stretch, “Rapunzel,” this tale is a classic, swooping Carter masterpiece and appeared in the recent (posthumously) published collection The Bloody Chamber. Of the many works in Chamber, this one is Kelly Link’s favorite: “I love ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ for the luster of Carter’s language,” writes Link in the foreword, “[for] the tensile strength of the prose; its luscious, comical, fizzing theatricality.”
This Door You Might Not Open by Susan Scarf Merrell
Recommended by Fifth Wednesday Journal
In this retelling of the legend of Bluebeard, a nightmare commentary on the power roles of marriage, Merrell makes a crucial adjustment to the story: the wife has broken her husband’s spell and holds all the power. “Two modes — the magical and the mundane — coexist in compelling tension here, as in much of Merrell’s fiction,” writes Rachel Pastan of FWJ about a story that features both a cameo from Ina Garten and a man whose day job requires spells and incantations.
The Black Parasol by Jack Pendarvis
Recommended by Dzanc Books
The best remedy for a good scare is laughter, and yet when the frightful and the hilarious meet, it makes for a great story. Jack Pendarvis hits this sweet spot with “The Black Parasol,” which follows a lonely woman, a bartender, and a ghost story collector in the pursuit of the ghouls of the the most haunted town in America. But as Guy Intoci of Dzanc Books observes, “The Black Parasol” and Pendarvis’s other fiction “aren’t merely funny stories. First and foremost, they’re sincere pieces about people more similar to us than we’d sometimes like to acknowledge.”
Black-Eyed Women by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Recommended by Akhil Sharma
Akhil Sharma recommends this story from Nguyen’s recent collection, The Refugees, which offers irony alongside tragedy, surreality next to brutal reality. Despite her mother’s insistent superstitions, a ghost writer doesn’t believe in ghosts until she encounters her brother who died on their voyage to the U.S. from Vietnam. “There is a fantastic too-muchness to the story,” writes Sharma. “But the very fact that Viet’s stories succeed reminds us that there is a too-muchness to life also.”
Where We Must Be by Laura van den Berg
Recommended by the Indiana Review
The narrator in Laura van den Berg’s “Where We Must Be” makes a living out of being monstrous, realizing others’ fantasies: she’s an actor paid to embody Bigfoot at the Bigfoot Recreation Park. “It would be so easy for that to be the story — a person in service only to others, to the fantastic, who loses themselves in the effort,” write Britt Ashley and Peter Kispert in the foreword. But it’s not the story. Instead, van den Berg “blurs the line between reality and fantasy, illuminating the narrator’s struggle for her own sense of balance between the two.”
Tin Cans by Ekaterina Sedia
Recommended by Jeff VanderMeer for Weird Fiction Review
Jeff VanderMeer recommends this horror story on behalf of the Weird Fiction Review, writing that “‘Tin Cans’ appealed to us because of the precision of detail and the dark humor, juxtaposed with real horror.” “Tin Cans” is a horror story no doubt, but the power of its horror comes from the plausibility — the accessibility — of the man and tragedy it depicts. Narrated by an old man whose wife died the day the Moscow Olympics opened, Sedia’s story captures sundry terrors of life: unemployment, impotence, and aging.
The Cottage on the Hill by J. Robert Lennon
Recommended by Unstuck
“‘The Cottage on the Hill’ is a J. Robert Lennon horror story,” writes Matt Williamson for Unstuck, which means that it’s also a story “in which the characters’ loneliness — their disconnectedness, their inability, at times, even to speak or listen to one another — is more chilling than any of the supernatural elements.” Following Richard, Evelyn, and their children Lily and Gregory through the many vacations they have at the cottage. But with through framework of an idyllic life, Lennon shows us something terrifying: “in a world where we may not be able to prevent ourselves from hurting, terrorizing, or even destroying the people we most want to protect.”