Hallowe’en is almost here, and that means it’s time to talk about all things creepy and spine-chilling. But even though Hallowe’en celebrates the dead, reality can be much more disconcerting or disturbing. All these books have believable elements—which make them so much more frightening. So settle in for my top three picks for Hallowe’en reading!
1. Skeleton Man, by Joseph Bruchac
I read this book in elementary school. But even when thinking about Skeleton Man now, it still takes the cake for creepiest book. The premise is about a girl (Molly), and how her parents do not return home after having a date night. A man (Skeleton Man) shows up claiming to be her relative with fake pictures for support.
He doesn’t take Molly away. Something much worse happens. He moves into her house. Molly suspects something is off because Skeleton Man gives off a creepy vibe. (Side note: He’s called Skeleton Man because he’s so thin.)
Weaving in a Native American legend elevates the book, because the tale is about a cannibalistic Skeleton Man. The gritty realism makes Skeleton Man my number one choice for the scariest book that I’ve read.
Sure, the story might be “fiction.” However, the novel’s plot isn’t entirely impossible. A man could abduct a girl’s parents and then move in with her after claiming to be a relative. There’s also an extra creep factor, since Skeleton Man locks Molly’s door at night in addition to having a camera in her room, possibly drugging her food (it tastes funny), and an off limits shed.
So, yes. I might almost be 22 years old, but the book is still cringe worthy.
2. A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket.
This series is another book I read in elementary school. There’s something refreshing about a children’s series that isn’t sunshine and rainbows—because some people don’t always have the best lives.
It’s the general undertone that makes the series scary, as opposed to all of the plot points since the books aren’t part of the horror genre.
There’s something haunting about how adults keep failing the Baudelaire orphans, while their conniving relative (Count Olaf) concocts schemes to steal their hefty fortune. Murder, blackmail, and arson permeate the series, and darkness is a strong undercurrent. As a result, A Series of Unfortunate Events pushes the envelope for Middle Grade literature. Not every parent would be comfortable with his or her child reading something so dark. What makes A Series of Unfortunate Events easier to swallow than Skeleton Man is that the realism factor goes out the window because of convoluted plot points about murder, blackmail, and betrayal.
Sure, all of those things could happen in real life. But having them sometimes happen simultaneously and so persistently forces reader to suspend disbelief.
3. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, by Joyce Carol Oates.
I’ve read this story twice, and it still remains unnerving. It is about a teenage girl (Connie) who occasionally goes out during summer evenings and cruises for guys. She stays home one afternoon (when her family is away at a barbecue), only to be greeted by two men in her driveway. Arnold Friend does most of the talking, out of the two guys. He acts sketchy by claiming he and Connie have plans. Connie chats with Arnold Friend, and subtext soon reveals that Arnold Friend has sinister intentions. Oates doesn’t give a concrete description. But readers can infer that Arnold Friend rapes Connie after coaxing her into letting him inside the house.
The story doesn’t stop there.
Arnold Friend forces Connie to come with her and the other man, and it is unknown whether she’ll survive. There’s also a hint of Arnold Friend being demonic. The short story works well even without the possible supernatural element, because “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” sounds like some sort of true crime story that would be broadcasted over the news.
The “stranger danger” element makes this story terrifying because people sometimes have diabolical intentions in real life. Age is the only reason I put this below A Series of Unfortunate Series. since the Baudelaire orphans are younger than Connie when the series starts.
That concludes my list of scary short stories and books. Which ones do you find frightening? Have they haunted you for years? Be sure to share your own list of Hallowe’en-worthy reads!