I listed twelve of my favorite horror stories for fall & winter, but if you need something in your headphones to scare you to sleep instead, try my favorite audio versions of some terrifying tales.
Hands Off, a Nightfall show about a lab-grown serum that makes animals aggressive. Very aggressive. Not to be confused with the popular new radio series Nightvale, Nightfall was a Canadian public broadcasting show from the 1980s and the best horror audio show I know of. Try out several and I’m sure you’ll hit at least one that gives you chills. All of them are excellently produced, scripted, and acted. They often contain adult themes and occasional profanity, so they’re not for children!
Dark Benediction, a play about a disease outbreak with a twist– adapted by Sci-Fi Radio— an excellent collection of sci fi story radio adaptations.
Chicken Heart from stella OTR program Light’s Out by radio virtuoso Arch Oboler is under 8 minutes long and unusually chilling for the bizarre plot line. Many other Light’s Out programs are excellent as well.
Sorry Wrong Number is another famous Suspense OTR show starring Agnes Morehead as the (very) hysterical protagonist trying to prevent a murder being plotted.
Dracula. Bram Stoker’s tale adapted by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre in 1938. Welles– who plays Count Dracula here– often tried very ambitious productions on his Mercury Theatre. This version of Dracula works very well. Welles’ classic War of the Worlds is a chilling tale in itself too, but about an alien invasion.
Speaking of Dracula, what if Sherlock Holmes tried to catch him? Well, it would be this 85-minute 1981 BBC radio play– Sherlock Holmes v. Dracula— which actually works quite well despite the ‘what-if-Superman-fought-Batman’-style premise. The voice acting is excellent with superstar BBC radio voice actor John Moffat (of Hercule Poirot fame.)
Speaking of Poirot, this 90 minute Agatha Christie detective caper–Halloween Party— takes place at a children’s party. There is murder afoot, and only Belgium’s most famous detective can crack the case! All the Poirot radio plays on this album are very good.
The Ghost Train— a 90-minute BBC 4 adaption of a 1923 play– is a light, comedic spooky story for those who don’t want to have to sleep with the lights on. Many shorter BBC 4 Ghost stories are found in the same collection as well.
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.
I’ve curated some of my favorite spooky stories here and provided 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 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.