While summers in the Pacific Northwest are (usually) amazing, fall might be my favorite season. The crispness in the air, the changing color of the leaves, the back-t0-school vibe and cosiness of getting ready for winter. It’s my favorite backpacking season, and also the best time to curl up with a good book on a rainy, windy night.
Throughout October in the run up to Halloween, my book of choice is usually a classic tale of terror. Most classic English literature can be downloaded and read for free either on Kindle at Amazon.com, archive.org, or Project Gutenberg. Your local library may also have it available to borrow in ebook format.
There’s a lot of mediocre scary stories out there, so I’ve curated some of my favorites here and providing links where you can get them for free. 1 & 2 are longer short stories, 3 – 9 can be read in one sitting each, 10 is a longer short (and not really scary per se, more of a folksy fall classic), and 11 & 12 are novel length.
- The Willows by Algernon Blackwood – This is the creepiest story I’ve ever read, and I read it for the first time in my 30s. Maybe it was the fact that it was set on a canoe backpacking trip that made the horror seem more real to me. I could imagine myself on the windswept shore of a dark river at night, peering with unfamiliar terror at the strange shapes Blackwood describes. (I won’t spoil it for you.)
- The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood – This is the second best Blackwood story that I’ve read. It also involves being on the in woods, so maybe I’m just revealing a fear of bad things happening while camping :). (None of Blackwood’s other stories I’ve read, including xxxx, were worth reading in my opinion. Not bad, but not scary, and they start to get pretty formulaic after you’ve read a few.
- Edgar Allen Poe – 3 through 8 in this list are all in this collection. Edgar Allen Poe is widely acknowledged as the master of the horror story, and for good reason. The collection linked above has all of the below tales, or you can download some individually with the links provided. The Raven, a rhythmic tale of melancholy that’s a lot of fun to recite out loud
- The Fall of the House of Usher. Hints of incest inform this tale about the fall of the ‘line’ of an aristocratic family enduring hard times.
- The Masque of the Red Death. About a group of Renaissance Italian aristocrats that flee the plague engulfing the city to a country estate to revel until the disease is gone. A perfect story for coronavirus season.
- The Mesmerist. A creepy tale about a person hypnotized just before death as an experiment to see what happens when they die while still hypnotized…
- The Tell-Tale Heart. Another classic about a somewhat-insane murderer. A good one to read out loud to a small circle of friends and family in a dark room lit only by candlelight.
- The Cask of the Amontillado. A tale of revenge served cold.
- The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson (1912). Also available here on archive.org.
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. The linked collection has this humorous tale of an urbane school teacher who falls in love with a farmer’s daughter and then encounters a mysterious headless horseman on his way home from the rich farmer’s country harvest party. It was also made into the fun Disney short narrated by Bing Crosby.
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (Send this file to your Kindle like this.) This is a novel, not a short story, and was also made into a well-done radio play by Orson Welles on his Mercury Theatre (good if you want to get the story in a condensed version vs reading the longer prose original!)
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Originally conceived when Shelley, her husband Percy, and Lord Byron competed to write ghost stories while on holiday in the Swiss Alps, this novella about the famous monster was first published anonymously by Shelley in 1818.
Enjoy! If any of the links don’t work or are no longer free, search Amazon for ‘<book title> kindle free’ and see what pops up. If that doesn’t work, do the same search on Google and find an archive.org or Project Gutenberg link, download the MOBI file, and email it to your Kindle email address.