Death and elements of horror feature prominently in gothic stories. They often contain decayed settings, human psychology, and strong evocations of nature. They are scary but usually not as graphic as horror stories, although there is definite overlap between the two. 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 also stories here in the regular horror genre. There are separate sections for American and Southern gothic. See also:
My favorite anthology of this type is The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (Amazon). It’s light on traditional gothic tales. No Poe, Hawthorne or Pushkin. But it’s full of mysterious occurrences and seldom seen pulp stories. It’s also where I first read “The Summer People”, “Sandkings”, and “The Long Sheet”, so I’ll always appreciate it. And it’s absolutely huge. Another large, standout anthology is The Complete Masters of Darkness.
“A Casual Encounter” by Quinn Fern
A young woman targets older men on a forum. They’re easy to catch because they’re bored and lonely. She agrees to meet a professor at a motel in two hours.
“A Casual Encounter” can be read in the Amazon preview of Howls From Hell: A Horror Anthology. (26% into preview)
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
The Whites live in an out-of-the-way place, and the weather is bad. Despite this, they receive a visit from Sergeant-Major Morris, who tells them interesting stories. Mr. White urges him to tell the story of something he had only mentioned before, a monkey’s paw. The visitor is hesitant, but he tells it.
This story can be read in the preview of The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales. (40% into preview)
“Duel” by Richard Matheson
Mann is driving to San Francisco for an appointment. He passes a semi pulling a trailer. Shortly after, the semi roars past and abruptly cuts in front of him. He’s not sure what to make of it. He has to slow down a bit. He doesn’t have any spare time. Mann decides to pass again.
This is the first story in the preview of Duel: Terror Stories. (7% into preview)
“Vanishers” by Josh Allen
Jacob and Jakob, sixth graders, live next door to each other and are best friends. They do everything together and don’t want other friends. Jakob has to write a story for class. They collaborate on what it could be about.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe. (40% into preview, For younger readers)
“The Heart” by Theodore Sturgeon
A writer is accosted by a disheveled woman on the street. She has a story for him. She got to know a thin, sickly man. They spent time together and she started to really like him.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of The Ultimate Egoist Volume 1: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. (37% into preview)
“Welcome to the Club” by R. L. Stine
JJ is working the night-shift at the restaurant. He goes outside for a five minute break even though the owner, Florian, doesn’t like it. He sees some kids from his high school hanging out in the parking lot. JJ’s the new kid in town and he doesn’t know the group. A little before closing time, the kids from the parking lot come in. They have a favor to ask.
“Welcome to the Club” is the first story in the Amazon preview of Fear: 13 Stories of Suspense and Horror. (22% into preview)
“The Terrible Old Man” by H. P. Lovecraft
Three thieves decide to visit the Terrible Old Man, known for being rich and feeble. There are many rumors about him in Kingsport and people usually stay away. The three thieves aren’t from Kingsport, so they see him only as a target.
This story can be read in the preview of Complete Lovecraft. (select in table of contents)
“Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson
An unidentified narrator, a child, tells their story through diary entries. The child is chained up in the basement, and has to keep out of sight or be beaten.
Read “Born of Man and Woman” (first story in Amazon preview, 34% in)
“Autopsy Room Four” by Stephen King
Howard has been in the dark for a while, and has the sensation of movement. He hears a squeaky wheel and feels contact on his body. There are voices. Now he’s being moved. He thinks he’s in a hospital. He can’t move or speak. Everything feels too real to be a dream.
This story can be read in the preview of Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales. (27% in)
“The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles” by 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.
This is the seventh story in the preview of The Big Book of Modern Fantasy. (54% in)
“The Queen of Spades” by 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.
This is the first story in the preview of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida. (35% in)
“In at the Birth” by William Trevor
Miss Efoss is elderly but spry, and has lived a full life. One day, she’s contacted by Mr. Dutt. He and his wife are looking for a babysitter. Miss Efoss visits to talk about it. The Dutts assure her that Mickey won’t give her any trouble at all. He’ll sleep the whole time, and they’ll leave contact information in case there’s any problem.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories. (84% into Kindle preview)
“The Wedding-Knell” by 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.
This story can be read in the preview of Twice Told Tales.
“Cargo” by E. Michael Lewis
Tech Sergeant Davis, a Loadmaster, is assigned to a crew headed for Jonestown to evacuate Americans. They’ll be taking a C-141 StarLifter, the largest freighter and troop carrier in the military. As Loadmaster, his job is to secure the cargo. There’s a last-minute change of plans—the Med crew won’t be accompanying them. When they arrive at the airport, there are rows of coffins.
This story can be read in the preview of Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales. (30% into preview)
“Dry” by Brady Golden
Cashell is on Lake Tanner in a motorboat. It’s a drought year, and the water is low. Earlier, a ski boat was punctured by something and got hung up. His customers had to be brought in by the park ranger. Cashell gets out a mallet and crowbar to break it free. He bangs his hand against the underwater object and suffers an odd injury.
This is the first story in the preview of Fearful Fathoms II: Collected Tales of Aquatic Terror. (25% into preview)
“The Hanged Man” by Edward Bryant
Rockaway is hanging upside down from a tree branch, a tight nylon rope around his ankles. Owen refuses to cut him down. They talk while Rockaway suffers.
This story can be read in the preview of Among the Dead and Other Events Leading to the Apocalypse. (24% into preview)
“Rise, My Love, Rise” by Heinrich Böll
The narrator stands at a deteriorated grave, crying. He asks his love to rise. He becomes aware of a shadow behind him and hurries away. He puts some distance between himself and the grave. He can’t see or hear anyone, but he still senses the shadow.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories of Heinrich Böll. (26% in)
“Trapped” by Yukari Kousaka
Alarms ring on a vessel doing deep sea research. The divers haven’t come back.
This story can be read in the preview of The Deep: An Anthology of Dark Microfiction. (82% in)
“The Case of Lady Sannox” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Douglas Stone was one of the most famous surgeons in England, and an all-round talented person. He had a lot of money and spent lavishly. He was infatuated with Lady Sannox, a very beautiful married woman. His pursuit of her was interrupted one evening by a visit from a stranger, Hamil Ali, from Smyrna. His wife had suffered an accident, and he persuaded Dr. Stone to come operate on her immediately.
This story can be read in the preview of Capital Crimes: London Mysteries. (15% in)
“Marmalade Wine” by Joan Aiken
Blacker, a writer, leaves his country house for a walk in the woods. Before he’s gone far, he’s surprised to see a dead pheasant on the path. He thinks about how to turn the incident into a poem. With his thoughts distracted, he almost walks on another dead pheasant. He’s curious to know what’s happening to them.
This story can be read in the preview of Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen and the Criminally Insane. (75% in)
“The Green Letter” by Steven Hall
A research and analysis team have studied the green letters extensively. They always arrive within the same two-minute window. Most unusual of all is that the letters aren’t delivered by anyone—CCTV footage shows no one near the sites when the letters appear. Everything about the letters is the same, including the envelopes, what’s written on them and the contents.
This story can be read in the preview of Dead Letters Anthology. (32% in)
“A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf
All through the night, there are doors shutting and a ghostly couple walks hand in hand through the house, looking for something. If the couple living there get up to look, the house will be empty.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Works. (71% in, or select Monday or Tuesday in TOC)
“The Torturer’s Apprentice” by John Biguenet
Alain becomes apprenticed to a torturer who’s devoted to his work. Alain learns the trade and bonds with his master. After a while, an accusation is made against Alain.
This story is in The Torturer’s Apprentice: Stories.
“The Boogeyman” by Stephen King
Lester goes to Dr. Billings, a psychiatrist, to talk about his three children, who have all died. He claims to be responsible for their deaths. Before starting, Lester wants to see the inside of the closet. Satisfied that it’s a normal closet, he begins. Lester claims a bogeyman from the closet killed his three children.
“The Lame Priest” by 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” by 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.
“Ethan Brand” by 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.
“Luella Miller” by 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.
“The Body Snatcher” by 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.
“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” by 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.
“The Feather Pillow” by 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.
“The Mummy’s Foot” by 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.
“The Outsider” by 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.
“The Artist” by 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” by 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.
“August Heat” by 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.
“The Coffin-Maker” by 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.
“The Wife’s Story” by 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.
“Mister Taylor” by Augusto Monterroso
Mr. Taylor, an American, lives in the Amazon jungle with a local tribe. He is poor and miserable. One day he is accosted by an Indian man offering to sell him a human head.
“Markheim” by 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.
“White Rabbits” by 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.
“The Doctor’s Heroism” by 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” by 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.
“The Tarn” by Hugh Walpole
Foster has visited Fenwick to “put things right”—he heard Fenwick had some kind of grudge against him. Fenwick hates Foster but assures him everything is fine. Making conversation with him increases his irritation until he has to act.
“The Hospice” by Robert Aickman
While taking an unfamiliar route home, Maybury gets lost and runs out of gas. He comes across a hospice offering food and accommodation. It’s an unusual place, but desperation makes him stop for help.
“Click-clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman
A young boy asks a visitor, his sister’s boyfriend, to tell him a bedtime story. They start the long walk upstairs. The boy talks about Click-clack the Rattlebag. The boyfriend isn’t familiar with this and asks him a bit about it.
“The Voice” by Silvina Ocampo
The narrator, a young woman, goes to her boyfriend’s house with her new cat. She doesn’t want to marry Romirio. She can’t stand his voice.
“The Fall River Axe Murders” by Angela Carter
The Bordens are a prosperous family who live in a small, comfortless house. Mr. Borden is a miser. Mrs. Borden is a joyless glutton. The weather is intolerably hot. Lizzie Borden murders her parents one morning.
“The Bookbinder’s Apprentice” by Martin Edwards
Joly, a visitor in Venice, is reading when he is approached by an older man, Sanborn, who admires the book. He invites Joly for a drink where he is introduced to another man, Zuichini, a skilled bookbinder. Joly is leery of his companions but accepts their hospitality.
“The Anatomy of Desire” by John L’Heureux
Hanley, a soldier, is in a veteran’s hospital after being flayed by the enemy. He’s attended to by a nurse known as the saint. Hanley wants to be possessed and loved.
“The Desire to Be a Man” by Auguste Villiers de I’Isle-Adam
It’s midnight in Paris in October. Everything is closing to meet the curfew—martial law is in effect. While the crowd rushes off, one man—tall, sad-looking, and oblivious—arrives and stands before a café mirror. He suddenly looks older. He knows he’ll have to retire from acting.
“The Hand” by Guy de Maupassant
A judge relates an inexplicable incident from his past. An Englishman moved to a villa in France with a servant. Rumors spread about the man, so the judge found a way to get to know him. One evening the man shows the judge into his parlor, which contains an interesting item.
“The Handler” by Ray Bradbury
Mr. Benedict is the mortician of a small town. He’s built up a good business over the years. Despite his success, he feels inferior to others and is the butt of many jokes. He looks forward to the time he can spend in his mortuary with the bodies. He likes the power reversal his work affords.
“The Dead Valley” by Ralph Adams Cram
A man tells a story from his childhood when he and his friend Nils found the Dead Valley. At the market they found a little dog for sale. They got the money together to buy it but didn’t want to wait until the next week. They walked to Hallsberg to get it. The next day, after staying over night with Nils’s aunt, they set out for home. They left a bit later than planned and ended up still out after dark.
Read “The Dead Valley”
“The Secret of City Cemetery” by Patrick Bone
Fourteen-year-old Willard disappeared one Halloween night, and his body was never found. He was a bully. One of his favorite pranks was to hide in open graves and scare kids who were out playing.
“Third Wind” by Richard Christian Matheson
Andy is running on a country road. He’s done over 25 miles. His goal is 50, and today is the day he’ll make it. He loves to push himself and always reaches his goals. He’ll be the head of his law firm in a few years. Running puts him in the right frame of mind for success.
Read “Third Wind”
“The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen
Mrs. Drover goes to her shut-up house to get some things. It has been abandoned because of WWII. It’s dusty and cracked from the bombings. She’s surprised to see a letter for her on the hall table. She takes it upstairs to read.
Read “The Demon Lover”
• American Gothic Short Stories •
A subgenre of gothic fiction, American gothic often features monsters, alienation, guilt, and things that are familiar yet strange.
“An Alpine Idyll” by Ernest Hemingway
Nick and John have come down the mountain after a ski trip. They pass a peasant’s funeral on their way into town. They stayed skiing too long. The sun spoiled the snow during the day. They stop at an inn for a drink, and to catch up on their mail. They hear the story of the funeral.
“The Rats in the Walls” by 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.
“Time and Again” by 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.
“Death in the Woods” by 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.
“The Striding Place” by 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.
“The Lonesome Place” by 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.
“Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” by 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.
“Human Moments in World War III” by 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.
“The Door” by E. B. White
A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.
“Popular Mechanics” by 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.
“Exchange Value” by 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” by 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.
“Replacements” by 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.
“The Veldt” by 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.
“Family” by Joyce Carol Oates
The narrator relates the family history of her youth. Her family was wealthy. Her father liked to spend time on the roof observing all the construction in the Valley. There was an economic downturn. The National Guard starts patrolling the area for feral animals and criminals. The Mother and Father go to the capital for a loan. Mother comes back by herself with the news that she and Father have separated. This leads to a series of unusual events.
“The Summer People” by Shirley Jackson
The Allisons, a couple from New York, are spending the summer at their cottage. They’ve spent seventeen summers there away from the conveniences of the city. They always leave around Labor Day. This year they decide to extend their stay.
• Southern Gothic Stories •
Southern gothic is a subset of American gothic set in the south and often includes grotesque incidents sparked by poverty and other social ills, characters with notable physical and mental flaws or eccentricities, and decay.
“A Rose for Emily” by 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. (Summary & Analysis)
This story can be read in the preview of A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. (18% into preview)
“The Paperhanger” by William Gay
The doctor’s wife is home with her four-year-old daughter, Zeneib, while workers are renovating the place. She has a hostile exchange with the paperhanger before leaving the room. She goes to her car in the driveway and calls Zeneib.
This story is in the anthology The Best American Noir of the Century.
“The Ballad of the Sad Café” by Carson McCullers
Miss Amelia was a rich woman, having inherited a store from her father. She also operated a still that produced the best liquor in the county. She was solitary, and most of her days were the same, apart from a ten-day stretch when she was married. Things changed when Miss Amelia was thirty. Late one night, a hunchbacked stranger, barely over four feet tall, came to her store. He said he was looking for Miss Amelia because they’re related. He sat on the steps and cried. The few onlookers had no doubt Miss Amelia would run this stranger off her property and out of town.
Some of this novella can be read in the preview of The Ballad of the Sad Café: And Other Stories. (18% into preview)
“Daughter” by 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.
“A Worn Path” by 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.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by 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.
Most, if not all, of Flannery O’Connor’s stories can be classified as Southern gothic.