11 Scary Stories To Read This October

Spooky Season is finally upon us!

For this season’s edition of My Favorite Things, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite scary stories. This list is dedicated to short fiction–since I’m sure you can easily find dozens if not hundreds of scary novel recommendations out there. The titles on this list were handpicked by yours truly and whittled down to only the eeriest, scariest stories I know of. And, for your convenience, I’ve included a “spookiness rating” to separate the eerie from the scary and the scary from the down-right nightmarish.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Happy (and haunted) reading!

Yours always,

Miss Breathing

Harry by Rosemary Timperley
Rating: scary

There’s a reason I included two Timperley stories in this list: she’s that good. “Harry” is a beautifully written story about a mother’s growing weariness toward her young daughter’s imaginary friend Harry. Timpereley’s makes great use of literary language in this story. Intrigue is built and maintained so well that reaching the story’s climax feels at once dreadful and inevitable.

This one’s not for the faint of heart, though. I’d recommend you skip it if malevolent spirits and creepy kids aren’t your thing.

Control Negro by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
Rating: chilling, but not at all scary

Strictly speaking, this is not a horror story; but, it’s haunting nonetheless. This story is written in the form of a letter from father to son. As the story unravels, we learn that this letter is an apology. I don’t want to give too much away, but I urge you to read this one.

If you like your spooks in the vein of Jordan Peele, full of cerebral social commentary, this one is for you! There are no ghosts or demons anywhere in it, but this is one of those stories you won’t be able to shake.

In the Tube by E.F. Benson
Rating: very scary

Making use of a conversation between friends as a framing device, this story details a man’s ghostly encounters in the London Tube. The descriptions of the paranormal are superb–eerie and believable and at times downright terrifying. (I could write an entire essay on why the supernatural elements work so well here).

While certainly not a perfect story (Benson falls repeatedly into the “too much telling, not enough showing” trap), I highly recommend this one if you’re looking for something haunting and full of rich imagery. Just don’t blame me for your nightmares!

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Rating: bone-chilling and eerie as hell, but not scary

This is another one of those genre-defying stories that, although free of any supernatural elements, shocks and rattles readers to our cores. A haunting exploration of mob-mentality, this story takes place on the day of a small village’s annual lottery. Shirley Jackson remains unrivaled in her ability to so elegantly and seamlessly establish a tone of horror within descriptions of the mundane. This is the type of story one could read over and over.

Eight Bites by Carmen Maria Machado
Rating: chilling and just a little bit spooky

Like most of Machado’s works, this is social commentary at its core. Set in a futuristic but recognizable universe, the story focuses on a woman’s decision to undergo a surgery that will prohibit her from eating more than eight bites of any food. Machado’s poetic style of prose is one of a kind, albeit at times pretentious. This story is richly imagined and just the right amount of spooky.

Content Warning: This story could be triggering to anyone with a history of eating disorders.

The Sweeper by A.M. Burrage (Ex-Private X)
Rating: scary

In this story, the young new employee at a wealthy old woman’s estate becomes increasingly frightened by the mysterious sweeper who sweeps the yard late into the night. The writing in this one is a tad embellished, and the story runs a bit long, but it is oh-so-scary. This story has the single best (and spookiest) description of a ghost I have ever read. If you’re here for spooks, this one’s for you!

This is easily one of my favorite stories by one of my favorite writers, and I simply cannot recommend it enough. I promise you will never forget this one!

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
Rating: spooky

I had to limit myself to only one Poe because otherwise, this would have just been a list of his stories. I can’t imagine there is anything I could say about this one that has not already been said, but I love it so. This story starts with a man luring another down into the catacombs under the pretext of showing him some wine. Unsurprisingly, things get very spooky.

This story is a testament to the darkness of Poe’s imagination and a brilliant exploration of evil. No ghosts or demons in this one either, just very evil men.

Christmas Meeting by Rosemary Timperley
Rating: spooky

This story details a curious encounter between two lonely souls on Christmas day. Approximately three pages long, it is the perfect length for a quick read that’ll haunt you for days. Timperley packs in a surprising amount of spooks and twists into this one, making it the perfect October read.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado
Rating: eerie but not scary

At an author reading at the Harvard Bookstore, Machado referred to this story as her “hit single.” This dark and twisty retelling of “The Green Ribbon” enamored critics with its feminist overtones. Machado carefully balances all the creepy elements of the original story with more modern spooks surrounding femininity and marriage and sex. While it runs a bit long, I promise you will never be able to shake that last, haunting image.

Content Warning: This story contains graphic depictions of sex and some gore.

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
Rating: eerie and thrilling, but not spooky

If you’re looking for an atmospheric and twisty read, minus all the creepy crawlies that typically come attached, this one is for you! The Most Dangerous Mind is the story of a castaway who, following a shipwreck, finds himself alone in a wealthy and mysterious gentleman’s private island.

I first read this one back in middle school, and it stuck with me for years and years. Revisiting it in adulthood, I was pleased to find that the story holds up as one of the eeriest I’ve ever come across. Plus, the Zodiac Killer quoted this in his infamous letters to the police, so it doesn’t get any spookier than that.

The Hitch-Hiker by Lucille Fletcher
Rating: very spooky

This was technically written as a radio play, and it is, therefore, a bit more dialogue-heavy than your typical ghost story. Luckily, transcripts are easy to come by, and I highly recommend it for fans of classic ghost stories. It follows a man on a cross-country road trip as he tries to make sense of the unsettling hitchhiker he inexplicably keeps seeing throughout his trip. This story goes seamlessly from atmospheric to oppressive so that, by the last few lines, you are quite literally at the edge of your seat.

A Writer’s Journals

I got my favorite journal in Venice when I was seventeen. Had we known that the pretty, Italian leather journals and customizable wax stamps were a staple in all the large Italian cities (an obvious tourist trap), maybe we wouldn’t have stopped in that Venetian shop. But it was our family’s first time abroad, and Venice was the first city we visited.  After a full day of seeing me stare longingly at displays on store windows, my uncle caved in and offered to buy me a journal. 

Inside, the store was heaven. It was dimly-lit, as if by candlelight, and wooden shelves covered the walls from floor to high ceiling. The scent of leather-bound books was intoxicating. I deliberated for at least a half an hour, trying to choose the prettiest journal to take home. Eventually, I picked a blue-green hardcover with a leather spine and a set of thick strings holding it shut. 

Some of my favorite journals. Featuring the Venice one (the second from the top).

At first, I was scared to use it. I’ve always been a little superstitious, and I kept holding off on writing on the new journal until I could find something important enough to write about. I brought the journal with me to Boston when I started college that fall, and I christened it by writing a crappy little poem about some boy I never saw again after the first month of classes. I’m no poet, but the moment felt just right regardless. I was sitting under a tree in the Boston Commons, the leaves had begun to turn, and there was the slightest nip in the air. It was my first autumn, and arriving in Boston for the first time had felt like coming home. It’s hard to explain, but that moment sitting in the Commons felt like a (happy) conclusion, like everything in my life had led to that small moment. 

A small sampling of my journals.

It gradually became easier to write in the journal. This was notable in that I had never before been able to keep a journal; I had tried countless times, and I have shelves of evidence at home. But, little by little, I began to fill the pages of that journal with everything from haikus (all of which suck) to opening lines to character descriptions.

Years later, as a junior in college, I had a scriptwriting professor who gave us a grade for keeping what he called a writer’s journal. According to him, a writer’s journal is different from a regular journal because it’s not about reflecting or documenting; writer’s journals are meant to be a place in which to document anything that might lead to stories. At that point, I had already learned to carry my Venice journal around with me everywhere I went, and I found it extremely validating that someone had thought of a name for this. My favorite journal was a writer’s journal. 

On the last day of my junior year, we were having class in the Boston Commons when I felt the sudden urge to write a poem. I have to reiterate, I am no poet; however, the need to write these words down was strong. I stuck around after class, and I sat on a solitary stretch of hill to write. The words flowed out of me until they filled every corner of the very last page. I thought it absurdly fitting that both the first and the last thing I wrote in the first journal I ever filled was a poem inspired by the Boston Commons. 

When I started writing this, Dear Reader, I intended for it to be a brief and practical post about the usefulness of keeping what my old professor dubbed a writer’s journal. I didn’t mean to get into overly-sentimental detail about my one journal, but I suppose this kind of discovery is what the blog is meant to be for.

My current writer’s journal has a full family tree for the character

I won’t try to preach to you about the importance of keeping a writer’s journal since I’m well aware that the process is different for everyone. But I will say that writer’s journals take many forms–I’ve seen everything from an iPhone Notes document to an actual piece of crumpled notebook paper kept in jeans pockets. And I can personally attest to the usefulness of journals kept specifically to jot down and expand upon creative ideas. Everything I know about Anne Marie and her family started out as a few lines in my current writer’s journal. At first, it was a handful of descriptions of things I found inexplicably alluring: a Cuban restaurant, a homemade carrot cake. It wasn’t until I began asking myself, “what’s the story here?” that I could flip back through the pages of my own writing and begin to connect the pieces. Writer’s journals, I’ve found, really work for me. I urge you, Dear Reader, to give it a try too. 

Yours,

Miss Breathing 

Self-Care For Writers

What makes good writing? 

I’m seriously asking here. I have no clue what qualifies as “good writing.” I’m not even sure such a thing exists. Even when I think about my own writing, all I can talk about is a feeling; some pieces of writing just feel better than others. 

One thing I do know, however, is that, for me to write something “good” (i.e. something I don’t want to rip to shreds and set ablaze), I need to have somewhat of a clear mind. In other words, I believe that what a writer does when she is not writing is almost as important as the act of writing.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite ways to unwind before and after (and sometimes even during) writing.

Table for one! Take yourself on a date. This doesn’t have to be expensive–in fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything at all if you don’t want it to. For me, this usually means treating myself to a cup of coffee and a cookie at the Barnes & Noble Cafe. Even if I don’t buy any, just being in the company of books feels like a treat. You could do anything from taking yourself on a picnic to making fancy dinner reservations for one. The objective here is to take yourself somewhere new or novel.

Read. You know the old saying: writers read. The tricky part is finding the time, between writing and researching and procrastinating writing and researching, to simply unwind with a book. I try to gift myself a couple of pages before bed every night. Another little trick I like: keep a book in the bathroom instead of a magazine or newspaper. Leave your phone in another room, and enjoy the go (I’m not sponsored by Charmin, I’m just a dork)! 

Word games. My personal favorites are word searches and crossword puzzles. The key here is to keep it analog, to give your eyes and brain a break from backlit smartphones and computers. Dollar Tree and Five Below sell entire books of word games for as little as 1$. Alternatively, try finding some free crossword puzzles or word searches online and print them out. 

Collaging. Tired of words? If you’re sick of staring at words on a screen, options 2 and 3 might not sound very appealing. Whenever I get like this, I try to focus on images and colors. If you’ve got a stack of old magazines somewhere in your house, skim them for images that catch your eye, cut them up, and work them into a collage. This is a great way to keep the creative momentum going while still giving your brain a little break. 

Coloring. There’s a reason therapists keep coloring books and crayons in their waiting rooms. Coloring is a great way to relax and unwind. The adult coloring book phenomenon has grown so much that you can now find themed coloring books for almost every show, movie, and graphic novel you can think of. I’m especially fond of the Harry Potter coloring books. 

Soothing smells. Aromatherapy is the real deal, guys. I’m a sucker for a good scented candle! When I was still in college, I went through at least half a dozen sticks of incense a night during finals season. I also have a trusty diffuser by my bed and an assortment of essential oils to choose from–lavender, citrus, and mint are the best for relaxing. I have to mention Five Below again because I’ve seen scented candles, incense, and essential oils in their stores for 5$ or less.

Beautiful noise. This could mean something different for everyone. For me, it means listening to Brandi Carlile or Ben Platt as well as the instrumental piano songs and rain sounds included in my Calm subscription I highly suggest this subscription for any writers who can afford it. It helps me stay grounded and focused while writing, and it relaxes me after a long day of working on my WIP. Whatever you listen to, try to do it mindfully. Lie down, turn off the lights, plug in your headphones, and just concentrate on the music for a few minutes. It might also help to listen to something new or that isn’t on your daily playlists.

Stress toys. The Gen-Z in me (I’m on the Millennial-Gen-Z cusp) is showing, I know. But trust me on this! Squishy toys, slime, and even clay are great ways to unwind. Psychologists agree that engaging with our senses helps soothe and ground us. The good news is that with the increasing interest in “satisfying videos” (type that into the YouTube search bar and enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole!) you can find stress toys almost anywhere. I get my slime at (you guessed it) Five Below, and Dollar Tree has tubs of Play-Doh for 1$. 

Use your phone. Just NOT for social media. Social media is the enemy of the modern writer. Admittedly, it is also a great self-marketing tool, but this means that mindless surfing can easily turn into a form of work. Instead, try using your phone to play a game that keeps you engaged. My favorite smartphone game is a hidden-objects game called Seekers Notes. It’s non-competitive, fun, and it features a pretty neat storyline!

Retail therapy on a budget. I promise this is more than just another plug for Dollar Tree and Five Below (how do I look into getting them to sponsor me?). I love the feeling of coming home with a new purchase; it’s like Christmas morning, minus the surprise element and a bit of added guilt. Luckily, there are a couple of ways around that yucky feeling of guilt. Firstly, I get things I will actually use and enjoy. You could lose me in the school supply section of Dollar Tree (a girl can never have too many pens)! Secondly, I hunt for bargains–hence my love of Dollar Tree and Five Below. Thrift stores and the dollar section at Target are great alternatives too. Even if you have just 5$ to spend, you can get yourself something you’ll enjoy at any one of these places. The best part? You made it outside of your house, away from your computer, and probably interacted with other human beings. Go you!

I really enjoyed compiling this list! I hope, Dear Reader, that you can find some use in it! 

Yours,

Miss Breathing