Gothic Short Stories

Death and elements of horror feature prominently in gothic stories. They often contain decayed settings, human psychology, and strong evocations of nature.

Some of the other mainstays of gothicism include young maidens, clergy and other religious figures, castles, monasteries, night-time journeys, insanity, and violence.

There are separate sections for American and Southern gothic.

Here are some selections to explore. They are all highly regarded stories that are worth reading.

See also Death

See also Depression | Mental Illness

Gothic Short Fiction

The Queen of Spades | Alexander Pushkin

Hermann is an engineer in the Russian army. Tomsky tells him a story about his grandmother, a countess, who won a large sum playing cards because she knows a three card secret. The countess is still alive, so Hermann schemes to learn the secret from her.

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The Oval Portrait | Edgar Allan Poe

The injured narrator seeks shelter in an abandoned mansion. There are many paintings with an accompanying book that describes them. The narrator focuses on a painting of a young woman and looks up the story of when she modeled for the portrait.

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The Lame Priest | S. Carleton

As the narrator is walking back to his cabin, he sees a priest hurrying to the village. Later, the narrator’s friend warns him that a dangerous wolf is in the woods, and when he encounters the priest again, he gives a similar warning.

A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter | Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Schalken is in love with Rose. His proposal is rejected by her guardian who has matched her with a rich and mysterious older man. When he arrives they are shocked by him, but the marriage has already been agreed to.

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Ethan Brand | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ethan arrives at a lime kiln that he used to use. He tells the lime-burner, Bartram, that he left the kiln to look for the “unpardonable sin”, which he claims he has found in himself. The townspeople are told that Ethan has returned.

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Luella Miller | Mary Wilkins Freeman

Lydia Anderson, a woman in her eighties, tells the story of Luella Miller, a woman who had an unusual knack for getting people to care for her. The people who helped Luella seemed to lose their power and deteriorate.

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The Body Snatchers | Robert Louis Stevenson

While Fettes is drinking with some friends, Dr. Wolfe McFarlane arrives; Fettes angrily confronts him. The narrator uncovers the story: Fettes and McFarlane went to medical school together. They used to receive and pay for cadavers for dissection. One delivery makes Fettes suspicious of his associate.

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The Wedding-Knell | Nathaniel Hawthorne

The narrator recounts the story of an unusual wedding between a man and woman in their sixties. Rather than being introduced by uplifting music, the wedding was introduced with a funeral knell instead.

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The Masque of the Red Death | Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero invites a thousand nobles to his castle where they seek refuge from a plague, The Red Death, which is devastating the population. They plan to wait it out, having welded the doors shut. The prince holds a masquerade party as a diversion.

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Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment | Nathaniel Hawthorne

A doctor claims to have water from the legendary Fountain of Youth. He invites four elderly acquaintances over for an experiment. He offers them a drink of the special water.

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The Feather Pillow | Horacio Quiroga

A newly-married couple live happily, but with some distance between them, for about six months. The wife, Alicia, gets thin and sick. The illness hangs on, so doctors are called and Alicia is bedridden.

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The Mummy’s Foot | Theophile Gautier

A man goes to a curiosity shop looking for a paperweight. He buys a mummified foot that is supposedly the four-thousand-year-old foot of Egyptian princess Hermonthis. Later that night he has a strange episode.

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The Outsider | H. P. Lovecraft

The narrator lives in a castle and has never seen sunlight or had contact with others. His only company and knowledge of the world is from antique books. He decides to free himself from his prison and explore the outside world.

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The Artist | Joyce Carol Oates

A painter relates his career path which began with stills, mostly eggplants and then moving on to a variety of vegetables. The family’s garden started to shrivel and eventually vanished. Next, he turns his attention to the family’s pet parrot, Sheba.

The Adventure of the German Student | Washington Irving

Gottfried is a contemplative young man who goes to France. He feels there is some kind of evil presence hanging over him and is preoccupied with dark things. He spends his time in libraries, devouring decayed literature. As he walks the streets one night, he meets up with a woman on the steps of the guillotine.

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Hop-Frog | Edgar Allan Poe

The king loves jokes, especially practical jokes. His court jester, or “fool”, is a dwarf and a cripple named Hop-Frog. The king treats him badly, but Hop-Frog does his best to get by. A great state party is approaching, so the king turns to his “fool” for some costume advice.

“Hop-Frog”

August Heat | W. F. Harvey

James Whithencroft records the events of the most remarkable day of his life while it’s still fresh in his mind. He works all thru a hot August day on a sketch of an enormous man who was just sentenced by a judge for some crime. He then takes a walk, happy with his artistic output, conscious only of the oppressive heat.

Read “August Heat”

The Coffin-Maker | Alexander Pushkin

Adrian Prokhoroff attends an anniversary party where there is a lot of drinking. The men poke some fun at his profession of coffin making. His agitated state leads to an unusual incident.

Read “The Coffin-Maker”

The Wife’s Story | Ursula K. Le Guin

A wife tells the story of her husband. He was a good husband and father, well liked and respected. Something happened that she can’t believe. Everyone says it was because of the moon and the blood.

The Cask of Amontillado | Edgar Allan Poe

The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man who insulted him. Montresor lures the man into his cellar with the promise of tasting a rare vintage of Amontillado.

Read “The Cask of Amontillado”

Markheim | Robert Louis Stevenson

Markheim goes to a shop under the guise of looking for a present for someone. He really has murder on his mind, so he can then steal the dealer’s money and goods.

Read “Markheim”

White Rabbits | Leonora Carrington

The narrator lives on Pest street across from a creepy looking house. She doesn’t see any activity there until one day when a woman comes out on the balcony and empties a dish of bones for a raven. The woman tells the narrator she would appreciate her bringing over any bad meat she has.

Read “White Rabbits”

The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles | Margaret St. Clair

Mortensen, a rope salesman, prepares to call on the gnoles. They have a bad reputation, but he figures they must have need of rope, and a big sale would help him reach his quota. He reviews his sales manual and then sets out for the house of the gnoles.

Read “The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles”

The Doctor’s Heroism | Villiers De L’isle Adam

Doctor Hallidonhill is a renowned lung specialist with a steady stream of patients. One day a man in terrible condition comes to see him. He is tall, has enlarged pupils, is emaciated, and he’s looking for help.

The Colomber | Dino Buzzati

When Stefano turns twelve his father takes him aboard his ship. While they’re out sailing, Stefano spots something mysterious. His father turns pale when he sees what it is – a colomber, which is bad news for Stefano.

Read “The Colomber”

American Gothic Short Stories

A subgenre of gothic fiction, American gothic often features monsters, alienation, guilt, and things that are familiar yet strange.

The Rats in the Walls | H. P. Lovecraft

The narrator restores his ancestral home, Exham Priory, in England. He recounts some of his family history, including an ancestor who was supposedly cursed by God, and tales of murder and infestation by bats and rats. After moving in he hears sounds in the walls.

Read “The Rats in the Walls”

Time and Again | Breece D’J Pancake

The narrator is called out to plow roads by his coworker, Mr. Weeks. He hears his hogs making noise, and thinks how he would like to rest and just let the hogs get old. He picks up a young man who is hitchhiking.

The Black Cat | Edgar Allan Poe

The narrator, a condemned man, relates how he came to blind and later, kill a cat due to his loss of control from drinking. A second cat eventually comes into his home, causing a further escalation of hostilities.

Read “The Black Cat”

Death in the Woods | Sherwood Anderson

The narrator tells the story of Mrs. Grimes based on what he’s heard and his imaginings. She married her husband, a known thief, to escape a bad situation as a servant. One day she goes to town to trade eggs for some supplies.

Read “Death in the Woods”

The Striding Place | Gertrude Atherton

Weigall is staying at an acquaintances place in the country. He stops grouse hunting early. He is distracted because his best friend, Wyatt, who was staying at the neighboring estate, has been missing for two days. A search of the woods and moors revealed nothing. Instead of going to sleep, Weigall takes a walk along the river.

Read “The Striding Place”

The Lonesome Place | August Derleth

Steve tells the story of his boyhood in a small town. He says that he and his best friend, Johnny, were guilty of murder. They lived near a grain elevator and sometimes had to pass by it at night. They knew that something scary lived there.

Read “The Lonesome Place”

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams | Sylvia Plath

The narrator is an assistant to the secretary in the out-patient ward of a hospital. She is responsible for typing up people’s dreams and complaints about life. She becomes obsessed with transferring the hospital records to her own bible of dreams, with Johnny Panic as the god. One day the director catches her with the official records.

Read “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”

Human Moments in World War III |Don Delillo 

The narrator and Vollmer are orbiting earth during World War III, collecting information on the enemy. Vollmer has many possessions with him while the narrator doesn’t. The narrator is bothered by Vollmer’s voice, his conversation, and his happiness.

Read “Human Moments in World War III”

The Door | E. B. White

A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors in the house, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.

Read “The Door”

Popular Mechanics | Raymond Carver

A man and woman, possibly married, have an argument as he’s packing to leave home. The subject of their baby comes up, causing a quick escalation of the conflict.

Read “Popular Mechanics”

Exchange Value | Charles Johnson

Cooter and Loftis, brothers, break into an elderly woman’s apartment. The woman had worked as a maid and been poor her whole life, so the brothers are stunned by what they find.

Snow | John Crowley

Georgie’s rich first husband buys a tiny surveillance device for her called a Wasp. It records her and downloads it to a system called The Park. After his death, Georgie is used to the Wasp and continues to allow it. When she dies her second husband accesses her memories from The Park.

Read “Snow”

Replacements | Lisa Tuttle

While walking to work, Stuart comes across a cat-sized animal – hairless, leathery, and bulbous – that disgusts him. He kills it but immediately feels bad. He later has some trouble getting in touch with his wife. Finding she has left work early, he goes home to see her. It turns out she has also encountered one of these creatures.

Read “Replacements”

The Veldt | Ray Bradbury

A family lives in a futuristic house that automatically meets all their needs, including a nursery for the children that can create any scene they want. The parents are thinking about reducing their reliance on technology by taking a break from the nursery and all the automation, but the children are against the idea.

Read “The Veldt”

Southern Gothic Stories

Southern gothic is a subset of American gothic and often includes grotesque incidents sparked by poverty and other social ills, characters with notable physical and mental flaws or eccentricities, and decay.

Daughter | Erskine Caldwell

The Sheriff locks up Jim in the town jail. Lots of people come by to get the details, asking him if it was an accident. He says his daughter was hungry, and she had been a lot lately.

Read “Daughter”

A Worn Path | Eudora Welty

An elderly African-American woman, Phoenix Jackson, walks through the Mississippi forest to get into town. She encounters many obstacles along the way.

Read “A Worn Path”

A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner

A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life.

Read “A Rose for Emily”

A Good Man is Hard to Find | Flannery O’Connor

An extended family is headed to Florida for a vacation. The grandmother wants to go to Tennessee instead, so she talks about an escaped murderer – The Misfit – who is suspected to be on his way to Florida.

Read “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

Most, if not all, of Flannery O’Connor’s stories can be classified as Southern gothic.