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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Everyone has a short story that traumatized them from middle school English class.

I usually go for full-length novels rather than short stories, but recently, my creative writing class has us reading one to two short stories per week. (And let me tell you, some of them have been quite memorable…)

Reading all these short stories has reminded me of the ones I read in middle and high school that continue to haunt my nightmares. I’m still not sure why my English teachers thought it was perfectly cool to have 13-year-olds read such unsettling stories, but all I know is that the horrifying plots of these five short stories will forever be ingrained in my mind. Note: these aren’t ranked in any specific order, they are all terrifying in their own ways. (Be warned, there’s some spoilers ahead.) 

 1. “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell 

This was one of the first short stories I read in Eighth Grade, and I still remember my class’ reactions to all the plot twists and turns in this chilling adventure. 

The story is about a big game hunter who falls off his boat into the ocean, and luckily survives by finding an island. Oh wait never mind–The deserted island is actually run by a madman general who is trying to hunt him. I liked the irony of the situation: the hunter becomes hunted. The plot is a simple idea, yet the tension and psychopath general really keep the reader entertained.

2. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor 

It’s almost comical how annoying and frustrating every character is in this story. It makes me not even care about what happened to the family in the end.

In the story, a family goes on a road trip holiday, taking their bitter grandma along with them. There’s also a serial killer called The Misfit on the loose in the area. But they couldn’t possibly run into him, right….?

I loved O’Connor’s voice and characterization in this story: The grandmother’s manipulative tactics, both subtle and overt, effectively shape the dynamics within her son’s family. The tension mounts as she persuades her son to venture down a secluded path, intensifying the unease. 

3. “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is known for his iconic children’s stories like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was surprised to discover this horrifying tale was written by him.

“The Landlady” is a short one, but definitely not a sweet one. It’s about an elderly lady who owns a Bed & Breakfast, and who at first appearance, seems to be lovely and accommodating. Teenage Billy stops at her B&B, in need of a place to stay, but everything gets even more ominous from this point…

The readers get the sense that the lady has clearly done “something” to her former lodgers, but we don’t know what it is – which makes it so unsettling! Another side note: why am I recognizing a pattern that most of these stories involve creepy elderly women?)

4. “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner

Two words–The ending. EXCUSE ME? WHAT? I remember being so disturbed by this one in high school. 

“A Rose For Emily” is a Southern Gothic tale that includes (you guessed it) a creepy elderly woman. In this case, it’s her death that terrorizes a town, brings mysteries, gossip, and economic inequality to the surface, and punches you with a mind-boggling spooky twist.

What I found most interesting about this was Faulkner’s use of collective narration. The story is told in flashbacks, by Emily’s nosy neighbors, who never got to know her. They, along with the readers, speculate and try to fill in the disturbing gaps of Emily’s life. This provides an addicting sense of mystery.

5. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe is not afraid to go to dark places, and in this case, that is eerie catacombs under a carnival in 18th century Italy. The story is pretty twisted– There’s a tipsy jester, a connoisseur of fine wine, and a deadly plot of revenge. intense atmosphere. What makes this story so unsettling is its achievement in building a sense of dread, malice and foreboding to come. This holds the reader’s attention and curiosity to find out what happens to Fortunato…

Side note: Do NOT read this if you have Claustrophobia. 

Over the years, I’ve found short stories to be such an interesting format for writing. You get quantity and variety, and aren’t as much of a commitment to a full-length novel, which is great if you have a terrible attention span like me.

So, if you are in the mood to be spooked, go ahead and take your pick from this list! (But if you find yourself unable to sleep for a few days, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Anna Bitonti

Wisconsin '26

Hi, I'm Anna! I'm a sophomore at UW-Madison studying Graphic Design and English. I’m from the Twin Cities area, but originally grew up in South Jersey. I've always loved to create, whether that be drawing, painting, writing stories, or taking photos. In my free time I love exploring new places, reading, and organizing my entire life on Pinterest :)