And what of the authors who are able to conjure up a universe in just a few broad strokes, deepen the characters and suck you into their world in a mere ten or twenty pages. Doesn't therein lie the true craftsmanship? For this list I have looked at the lesser known, but excellent short stories ranging from the delightfully devilish to the horrifically funny.
1) The Vertical Ladder - William A. Sansom - A young boy gets coaxed by his peers to climb a ladder up a silo. Not a supernatural horror story, but the fear in the young boy going up the vertical ladder is very real and captured beautifully in this story. The following cruelty is one that can only be expected from children.
2) Lamb to the Slaughter - Roald Dahl - Who can resist the satirical imagination of this master of suspense? A woman kills her husband and finds an ingenious way of ridding herself of the evidence. Get your hands on a collection of Dahl's short stories as soon as you can!
3) The Shadow over Innsmouth - H.P. Lovecraft -The dealings of a young man in a strange and unsettling fisherman's village when he finds out more than he wishes to know about his family history. Told in Lovecraft's usual runny prose, it sucks you in deeper and deeper until the horrific conclusion.
4) Charlie the purple giraffe was acting strangely - David D. Levine - The title alone is wonderful, but wait until you read the story. A cartoon giraffe becomes aware of his readers and upsets his fellow characters. Technically speaking maybe not a horror story, but with an outcome that gives you the creeps anyway.
5) Christmas Meeting - Rosemary Timperly - On a lonely Christmas evening a middle aged woman laments her lonely life when a strange visitor arrives. The carefully woven English language, the realistic dialogue and the punch line of this story still comes to mind years after reading this story. Read only on a cold winter night when home alone.
6) Possession on Completion - Collin Brooks - A young author moves into a brand new house with his brand new wife, only to find that the house's lack of character is why he can't write. All the pages of this story seem to lead up to its inevitable ending and when it does, the blood runs from your face and the sweat breaks on your back. A must-read for any author suffering from writers block.
7) The Black Cat - Edgar Allen Poe - Does this one really need an introduction? Poe's tortured anti-hero spiraling down a vortex of alcohol and violence still brings both horror and grief to anyone who reads this horrific story.
8) The Cocoon - John B.L. Goodwin - Being an avid collector of bugs when I was growing up I couldn't leave out this story of a young boy and his collection of butterflies. It's revenge, darkness, a little boys imagination and big bugs. What can go wrong?
9) Lucy Comes to Stay - Robert Bloch - What else can we expect from the writer of Psycho than a story on... schizophrenia! A horrific tale of a woman driven to madness and getting help from an unexpected source. The character of Lucy is welcome and horrible at the same time.
10) Sandmagic - Orson Scott Card - This dark fantasy tale reads like the synopsis of a novel. A young boy trains himself in the dark arts of magic to take his revenge on the soldiers who killed his parents. The events follow each other in such fast pace that it leaves you breathless between the first word and the last. A great tale filled with anger and unscrupulous revenge.
So the next time you see an anthology or stumble upon a short story written by a budding writer on the internet, take the time to read a few pages. You might be holding gold! In the meantime check out these links: