Halloween is coming up in a couple of months, which is close enough for me to start getting into the spooky mood. Given, a good horror story is timeless and welcome during any time of the year. For those seeking to get their fill of creepiness, look no further than horror short stories that you can read online for free.
Many literary magazines publish their work online, and many offer their work for free. Some magazines wait a bit so paying subscribers can get first dibs, while others publish the issue online right away. In any case, the internet is rife with excellent horror short stories by talented writers. I’ve expounded on my love for horror literary magazines before. The magazines I mentioned there are always a great jumping off point to fill your horror craving. This list supplements that article, compiling stories recently published from horror and other genre magazines.
The best part: You can read (and/or listen) to all of these stories for free. The stories included come from across the horror spectrum, from creepy to gothic to downright frightening. It is my hope that you’ll find a story that fits your horror capacity. If not, I highly recommend checking out other stories featured in these amazing literary magazines.
Also important to note: some of the stories include trigger warnings, so take a gander at those if needed.
8 Horror Short Stories to Read Online For Free
I ordered the below list alphabetically by the surnames of the authors. They cover a range of horror and genre publications, and I highly recommend reading the full issues these amazing stories are found in.
“√i” by Marty Cahill, published in Nightmare Magazine
“No gentle note to the heart to stop beating. No kind word to the brain to stop firing. The driver of the car gets plucked away from the wheel. The car keeps going.“
Cahill does an amazing job building dread in a short amount of space. Sometimes the most horrible thing is the unknown — what we can’t see — and in this short story, a darkness moves outside the classroom, searching for prey who are too loud, and it’s the new, unassuming student who makes the dreadful mistake in gaining the darkness’s attention. This story is terrifying in how it portrays an acceptance of violence as a daily occurrence, which has become a norm for many of us lately.
“There Are No Monsters on Rancho Buenavista” by Isabel Cañas, published in Nightmare Magazine
“Then Rosario reached for her throat, sank her fingers into her skin, and pulled.”
Whew, I love a visceral flash horror story. If you enjoyed Cañas’s recent horror novel The Hacienda, then I promise you will enjoy her short fiction. It follows Antonio, who is jealous of his cousin, Beto, and the mysterious woman named Rosaria, who Beto is courting. Antonio hopes to catch Rosario in an act of betrayal, and instead discovers something else entirely. In under a thousand words, Cañas crafts a brilliant story inspired by a folk tale of Mexico, where a man claims his wife is a monster.
“The Cabbit” by Maria Dong, published in Nightmare Magazine
“He shushes me with a finger. ‘You’ll scare it,’ he whispers. He taps the dish, and the cabbit edges out of the cage a few inches. ‘Cabbits are special. They eat the parts you don’t want anymore. Hair, fingernails. That kind of thing.'”
This story revolves around a cat-rabbit hybrid creature with an uncanny appetite. The narrator, a young woman seeking attention and love, realizes the cabbit can devour more than just fingernails and hair. This story is both creepy and incredibly poignant, reflecting toxic societal needs that many experience — the temptation to change our physical and emotional selves in order to be loved.
“Sonskins” by Dare Segun Falowo, published in Baffling Magazine
“We know they will wake soon, hungry to find the Beast again. How futile our midnight errands seem against this force that no witch, Bible or pastor has been able to remove. A wildness!”
This story is a whisper of skins, Beasts, anger, and protectiveness. There is a collective “we” point of view, as the narrators wear the skins of their sons, hunting and searching. Falowo is a queer writer of the Nigerian Weird, and writes absolutely stunning and unnerving prose. For those seeking a brilliant, quiet, uncanny story, this will check that box.
“Fisheyes” by Ai Jiang, published in The Dark Magazine
“I stare at the eyeless fish, remembering Dad, imagining it as my mother, imagining it as the boyfriend.”
This story is perfect in its pacing and unsettling images. There is so much to unpack here, and each time I read this story, I discover something new. It follows Elaine as she is sent to retrieve takeout for her mother and boyfriend when the power goes out. There are images that stick out amongst the darkness, the syrupy descriptions of sauce and food. Elaine’s mind is still on her father, now gone, and the way he said fisheyes are good for you. Jiang writes a story about seeing, about being seen, and the horrible moment when the people around us see us for what we are.
“Milk Teeth” by Annika Barranti Klein, published in Weird Horror
“Twilight was my favorite time of day. With the curtains drawn it was as though the moon never rose in her full glory, only waxed to her most gibbous and protuberant point before disappearing for three days and reappearing, still gibbous but turned about and ready to wane again.”
Fellow Book Rioter Annika Barranti Klein crafts a sublime gothic and atmospheric horror story with “Milk Teeth.” I have read this story multiple times, and still I hear the swishing of curtains, and feel the hot breath of wolves at my heels. For fans of Red Riding Hood retellings and Shirley Jackson, this one is for you.
“Them At Number Seventy-Four” by Lindz McLeod, published in Pseudopod
“When body number four is discovered, Mrs. Patterson thinks that surely now she and her husband will be caught. Days creep past, then a week.”
Pseudopod is a great place to read and listen to super fantastic horror stories, and you’ll want to do both with this story. A friend and talented writer, Lindz McLeod excels at building tension. “Them At Number Seventy-Four” is a truly spectacular story about mundanity and murder. An aging couple bolsters their marriage through the shared passion for murder. Days go by in supreme normalcy, as Mr. and Mrs. Patterson run errands, chat over meals, and watch TV shows, all while perfectly planning the next kill. I was both scared and charmed at the same time, which such a unique combination.
“Bonesoup” by EUGENIA TRIANTAFYLLOU, published in Strange Horizons
“‘Children need strong bones to grow,’ my grandmother continued. She sat next to me at the table and spoon-fed me the soup until the bowl was clean.
A bone for a bone.”
Wow did this story hit on all levels for me. This takes the doting, protective grandmother to the tenth power and adds a sprinkle of cannibalism and past trauma. There is affection for loved ones mixed with the terrible sacrifices we enact to keep them safe and healthy. Come hungry to this story, and you’ll leave it both satisfied and slightly disturbed, but in the best possible way.
More Reading for Your Horror Pleasure
Truly, there are so many wonderful horror stories waiting for your to dive into their delicious, terrifying tension. I know I used a lot of Nightmare Magazine examples — because it’s one of my favorite horror publications — but you can find great horror short stories in many literary and genre publications. And don’t even get me started on great horror novels. (You can totally get me started on horror novels, but outside of this article, because deadlines.) If you’re interested in finding other resources and lists for your horror fancy, check these out: