The 29 Best Stephen King Short Stories

Stephen King is one of the most successful fiction writers of all time. Over the course of his career, he’s written over sixty novels and over two hundred short stories. While he’s most famous for his novels, many Stephen King short stories are also fantastic works of fiction.

Photograph of Stephen King
Stephen King

 

Stephen King was a name I’d heard long before I ever read any of his works. Even in the 90s in Germany, his popularity was enormous, even among those who’d read none of his books. I guess this was because of the many movie adaptions of his works.

The very first book I ever read by Stephen King was The Gunslinger. I still remember how impressed and fascinated I was by it. It differed from anything I’d read before. I was a young teenager, and until then most of what I’d read comprised folktales, fables, fairy tales or books I had to read for school.

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger was full of bloody action, cursing and set in a world so strange and vast it blew my mind. After The Gunslinger, I devoured the rest of his Dark Tower series, comprising four books at the time. I loved it.

Over the years, though, I only read a few more of Stephen King’s novels. I read his entire The Dark Tower series, The Stand, The Dark Half and the Bachman novels Thinner and The Long Walk.

As a horror writer, I recently decided to read more horror literature. Last year, I read all the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. After that, I checked out the works of Stephen King.

Since I’m mostly a writer of short stories, I started off with his short story collections. Over the last couple of months, I read all six of them and it was a very enjoyable experience. There’s a reason Stephen King is as popular and as well-liked as he is.

After I finished his most recent collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, I put together a list of my favorite Stephen King short stories.

Something worth noting, though, is that Stephen King is a much more prolific writer than I’d thought. I’d expected his collections to comprise horror and suspense literature, but found quite a few stories that were different. While I enjoyed almost all of his stories, what I was looking for was tales of horror and suspense. Yet, some Stephen King short stories differ from what I’d expected, and I felt somewhat disenchanted with them.

This list won’t include any of Stephen King’s novellas though, for those I created yet another list which you can find here.

But now, on with the list of my favorite Stephen King short stories.

 

29. Cain Rose Up (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

Cain Rose up is a story that you’d probably not see published in this day and age because of its controversial subject. It’s one of shorter Stephen King short stories on this list about a university student Curt Garrish.

We follow Curt as he walks back to his room, interacts with some of his fellow students before he shoots people with a sniper rifle from his dormitory room.

It’s a story that’s unsettling and disturbing. The most disturbing aspect of the story was how normal Curt’s interaction with other people was, and that none of them suspected a thing.

Sure, Curt’s mind was disturbed as we saw from his thoughts, but he could put on a facade, pretending to be just another student. I’m not sure if King had this specific idea in mind, but I felt the story showed strongly how normal psychopaths like Curt Garrish can act in public.

Another interesting part of the story were the things the narrator sees and his images and that he thought it didn’t matter if he killed people. It was truly chilling.

Cain Rose Up might be an earlier effort of Stephen King’s but it’s still a disturbing story, more so because of how believable it is.

 

28. Survivor Type (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

Stephen King wrote he likes his stories to be grisly, but this one might have gone a bit too far, even for him.

I have to agree with him, but that’s also a reason Survivor Type stands out so much. It’s more gruesome and absurd than almost any of the other Stephen King short stories I’ve read.

The story is written as the diary of a surgeon, Richard Pinzetti. He was aboard a cruise ship, attempting to smuggle a sizeable amount of heroin when the ship sunk. He escaped via lifeboat and finds himself on a tiny island with limited supplies and no food.

The diary reveals Pinzetti thinks of himself as a survivor. Determined to hold out until rescue arrives, he goes to horrifying lengths to survive. Desperate for food, he eats insects, kelp and seagulls. After breaking his ankle and a subsequent infection, he self-amputates it. Yet, he doesn’t waste it. This, however, is barely the beginning.

What made this story so much more interesting was the detailed backstory Stephen King created for his protagonist. It’s for this reason everything else works out so well and makes sense, at least in a way.

The diary format, too, works incredibly well as it showcases the narrator’s descent into madness brought forth by drug abuse, blood loss and starvation.

Truly one of the most disturbing Stephen King short stories out there, one that made me quite uncomfortable. Yet, it’s interesting, if only to show how far King can go.

 

27. That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French (Everything’s Eventual)

Cover of Stephen King's Everything's Eventual
Stephen King – Everything’s Eventual

 

King suggests that hell is not “other people”, as French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, but repetition and enduring the same pain repeatedly without end.

That’s what this story is about. A woman named Carol is on her second honeymoon, yet as she and her husband drive along the road, she gets this strange feeling. It’s a feeling, she knows, that you can only say what it is in French. She knows the place they’ll pass by, the things she sees, and eventually, it all ends with the same outcome.

It’s never explicitly stated what happened to Carol and her husband, but we get enough information to figure it out.

What I enjoyed the most about this tale was the brief hints and the strange feeling you get throughout the story. We all know the feeling of a déjà vu and how unsettling it can be. The idea of not having it once, though, but constantly, is really unsettling to me.

It’s downright creepy and I have to agree with Stephen King. His version of hell is one that’s truly terrifying. Yet, this is a different type of horror, one that we’re not used to from usual Stephen King short stories. It’s one that’s entirely existential.

 

26. Willa (Just After Sunset)

Cover of Stephen King's Just After Sunset
Stephen King – Just After Sunset

 

Willa is an odd little tale, but one that I enjoyed a lot. It’s different from the truly terrifying and gut-wrenching Stephen King short stories I became so used to. Instead, Willa is a nice, almost cozy little tale.

It’s about a man who finds himself at a train station with a few other passengers. He’s unable to find his fiancée Willa and sets out to find her at a nearby town. The others warn him that the train will arrive any minute and it takes a three-mile hike to get to the town. Even worse, it’s through deserted terrain inhabited by wolfs. He ignores their advice and heads out anyway, having a close encounter with a wolf.

Eventually, he finds Willa at a club, sitting alone in a corner booth. He tries to convince her to come back with him, but as the two of them talk, he realizes something he’s known all along.

Willa is a nice little tale, one that’s almost a romance story if not for the haunting ending. I don’t know what made me feel so strong for this tale. Maybe it’s because it’s not just a tale about love, but one about life’s fragility.

As I said, this tale differs from the usual Stephen King short stories, but it’s a good one and well worth the read.

 

25. The Reaper’s Image (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

The Reaper’s Image is a story about an antique collector, Jonson Spangler. He visits a museum to buy a legendary Delver’s Mirror. The museum’s curator, Mr. Carlin, recounts the mirror’s infamous history and that anyone who looked into it mysteriously disappeared.

Supposedly the Grim Reaper appears in the mirror, standing close to those who look into it. Spangler, of course, doesn’t believe any of the rumors and looks into the mirror himself.

The Reaper’s Image is as typical as Stephen King short stories can be, but it’s by no means a bad one. It has all the hallmarks of a great horror story. What I liked the most, however, was the history of the mirror and how it sets the mood for the rest of the story and hints at what’s coming.

While it’s not the most original or groundbreaking one among the many Stephen King short stories, it’s well worth the read for how unsettling it is.

 

24. Sneakers (Nightmares and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

What I really enjoy about most Stephen King short stories is that they are not happening in a vacuum. Stephen King always puts together a nice, alive setting before he slowly introduces the horror.

Sneakers is the story of a recording studio executive named John Tell. One day, he notices a pair of dirty old sneakers in a stall in a restroom at work. At first he assumes the shoes belong to an employee or a delivery person. However, when he visits the bathroom again, the sneakers are always there, haven’t moved and are surrounded by dead flies and other bugs. It dawns on him that there might be a body in the restroom, or something even worse.

What made this story so great wasn’t just the unsettling imagery of the sneakers surrounded by dead flies and bugs. It was the framework narrative at the recording study. The minor details and intricacies about recording and editing Stephen King mentions made the story just a tad it more interesting.

Stephen King once mentioned that people are naturally interested in the work and the jobs of others, and I have to agree that it’s true. While the mystery of the sneakers lured me in, the events at the recording studio also fascinated me.

 

23. The Dune (The Bazar of Bad Dreams)

Cover of Stephen King's Bazar of Bad Dreams
Stephen King – The Bazar of Bad Dreams

 

The Dune is an interesting and gripping little tale. Stephen King mentioned The Dune features one of the favorite endings he ever wrote, and I have to agree. What makes this tale so good and the reason it stands out so much is the ending.

The Dune is the story of a retired Judge named Harvey Beecher, who has a lifelong obsession with a mysterious dune on a small Florida island. As a child he ventured there for the first time, looking for buried treasure, only to find the name of a person he knows written in the sand. Before long, he discovers that any person who’s name he discovers written in the dune’s sand will die within a month.

He confides this story in his lawyer Anthony Wayland, who he visits to help him with his last will.

The Dune was one of the shorter Stephen King short stories I read, but it was one I enjoyed immensely. I have to agree with King though, what makes this story is clearly the ending.

 

22. My Pretty Pony (Nightmare’s and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

Stephen King once planned to write a Richard Bachman novel about a group of hitmen. Eventually he grew disenchanted with the project and scrapped it. Yet, one part survived, a flashback in which the protagonist, as a child, talks to his grandfather.

In this story an elderly man, whose death is approaching, gives his grandson a pocket watch. After he gives it to him, he talks to him about time.

He tells him that when you grow up, time moves faster and faster, slipping away if you don’t hold on to it tightly. He ends by telling him that time is a pretty pony with a wicket heart.

My Pretty Pony is a fantastic one among the many Stephen King short stories. Both characters, the old man and his grandson, feel alive and realistic. Yet, what makes this story so great is the topic matter. It’s something that many of us realize. As we grow older, time moves faster.

It’s a melancholic topic, one to muse on and one that hits a little too close to home.

 

21. Strawberry Spring (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Strawberry Spring is one of the most visual unsettling Stephen King short stories out there.

The unnamed narrator reads the words ‘Springheel Jack’ in the newspaper and recounts his memories from eight years back.

At the time he attended New Sharon College. On the 16 of March 1968, the strawberry spring arrived. It brought thick fog covering the campus at night and also Springheel Jack, a serial killer.

The narrator describes the dark mood it cast over town, the various victims of the killer, the rumors spread about them, and the toll it took on the entire community. Even worse, he states, no suspect was ever found, and the case remains unsolved.

Now, eight years later, a new strawberry spring arrives and so does Springheel Jack. Another victim was just discovered at New Sharon College.

It’s a very creepy and visual unsettling story. As the thick fog envelops the small town, fear and trauma envelope its inhabitants. It’s one of the darker and more melancholic Stephen King short stories, but it still packs a punch. It’s well worth the read, not only for its eerie and somber atmosphere but also for its great ending.

 

20. Dedication (Nightmares and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

Dedication differs from other, more typical Stephen King short stories. It’s less a horror story, but a weird genre mix.

Now, full disclosure here, this story gets mentioned quite a lot because of a certain… deed, the protagonist commits. It’s frankly said, disgusting.

While this scene made me shudder, the rest of the story was incredibly well written and deeply interesting to me. Who knows, maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself, so stories about writers are inherently interesting to me.

Dedication is the story of a black maid named Martha Rosewell. One day she arrives at work, showing her friend and colleague Darcy Sagamore that her son’s first novel has arrived.

At the end of their shift, the two woman meet up to have a few drinks and Martha reveals the truth about the dedication in her son’s novel.

While Dedication is not a horror story, it’s still one of the darker Stephen King short stories. It involves a violent husband, a gifted, yet hateful and racist write, and black magic. Yet, Stephen King molded all of those elements together into an interesting mixture and a great story, apart from one little detail.

What’s interesting to note is that Stephen King wrote this story to explore the idea gifted and famous people can be utterly horrible in real life.

Dedication is honestly one of the weirder Stephen King short stories, yet somehow I came to enjoy it and hold it dear.

 

19. The Raft (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

The Raft is one of the more simple and straightforward Stephen King short stories. Yet, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

A group of college students go to a lake and swim towards a wooden raft. One of them, Randy, notices a mysterious black substance floating on the lake’s surface and that it chases the last of them as she makes her way to the raft.

Soon after, one of them, Rachel, states that the strange substance’s surface sparkles in various beautiful colors and leans forward to touch it. When she does, she’s pulled into the water and torn apart by the substance.

From here on out, the story continues as the remaining three deliberate what to do and how to escape from the raft and the mysterious creature.

As I said, it’s a rather typical monster story, but Stephen King can still make it more interesting in various ways. There’s the setting, the titular raft. There’s something about confined spaces that makes things so much more interesting.

Even though this is one of Stephen King’s earlier works, he’s still able to populate it with interesting characters and make us feel for them. During the first half, we learn much about their relationship and its superficial nature. This makes the dynamic between the characters much more interesting and makes us feel for them once the horror hits.

While The Raft is a simple story, I all around enjoyed it. Stephen King’s at its best in this. It’s gory, it’s violent, and it’s scary.

 

18. Autopsy Room Four (Everything’s Eventual)

Cover of Stephen King's Everything's Eventual
Stephen King – Everything’s Eventual

 

Autopsy Room Four is one of the most suspenseful Stephen King short stories of all time. The premise is downright terrifying, and it makes for some delightfully unsettling reading.

It’s about a man who wakes up in an autopsy room and is paralyzed after an incident during a golf game. While he’s conscious, his body appears to be entirely lifeless.

Soon enough, the medical person present prepares for an autopsy to learn what caused his supposed death. All the while, the narrator tries to get their attention via the smallest minute signals.

What makes this story is the palatable tension, the idea of just lying there while people talk about which part of yours to cut open first. And Stephen King renders it in acute and minute detail.

Autopsy Room Four was one of the tensest readings I ever had, and the sheer idea of being in this situation made me shudder. My only problem with the story was the rather humorous ending, but I guess there are different ways to relief tension. And I might say it was rather unexpected.

 

17. I Am the Doorway (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Stephen King has written his share of science-fiction short stories. While I enjoyed him switching to different genres and topical matters, I wasn’t too big a fan of most of them.

I Am the Doorway stood out to me though.

It’s the story of a crippled former astronaut, Arthur. After being exposed to some sort of extraterrestrial mutagen during a space mission to Venus, he notices strange changes to his body.

It’s tiny eyeballs push from his fingertips, allowing an alien species to see into our world. Yet, as the story continues, we learn that it’s not all they can do.

I Am the Doorway is one of the stranger and more surreal Stephen King short stories. I’m a big fan of body horror, and the idea of alien eyeballs sprouting from your own body is utterly unsettling and revolting to me. And as so often, Stephen King describes them in intricate detail, making things so much worse.

Overall, I Am the Doorway is one of Stephen King’s stranger stories, but one that lured me in with a scenario both fascinating and terrifying.

 

16. Quitters, Inc. (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Good old Quitters, Inc. a story I first got to know from the anthology movie Cat’s Eye.

Quitters, Inc. is the story of Richard Morrison. One day he meets an old friend at the airport. His friend used to be a heavy smoker, but has now given up on the habit and enjoys a better life. Before he leaves, though, he hands Richard a business card for Quitters, Inc. a company who helps people to give up smoking for good.

Unhappy with his life, he eventually pays them a visit and learns of the unorthodox methods the company carries out to get its clients to stop smoking.

Quitters, Inc. brings forth one of the most interesting and bizarre concepts. Of course such a company would never work in real life, but the story itself works damn well. It’s such a strange concept, one that grows more terrifying as the story continues.

The story resonates with me especially. As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to give up the habit and how easy it is to slip back into it.

Quitters, Inc. is one of my favorite Stephen King short stories and one that I enjoyed immensely.

 

15. 1408 (Everything’s Eventual)

Cover of Stephen King's Everything's Eventual
Stephen King – Everything’s Eventual

 

1408 is one of the most popular Stephen King short stories of all time and for a good reason.

The story begins with Mike Enslin’s arrival at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. He’s a writer of books about haunted places. His books are very successful, but Enslin himself is not a believer in the paranormal. For his newest book, he plans to spend a night in the hotel’s most infamous rooms, 1408.

As he learns from the hotel’s manager, Olin, there have been 42 deaths and 12 suicides in the room over the last 68 years.

Olin tries his best to convince Enslin to give up on his idea, but he eventually agrees to lead him to the room.

From here on out, the story takes up steam, as Enslin himself comes to experience the horror of 1408.

What made this story so great, as the slow build-up and Olin’s tale of the incidents related to the room. It not only unnerves Enslin, but us readers as well and prepares us for what to come.

What happens in the room itself is pure nightmare fuel and Stephen King describes it in great detail, using stunning imagery. The horror that happens in 1408 is utterly surreal.

I think it’s one of Stephen King’s best pure horror short stories. The only problem I have is that the time Enslin spends in the room is rather short, barely taken up half the story.

 

14. The 10 O’clock People (Nightmare’s and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

What an interesting and strange story The 10 O’clock People is.

Our protagonist, Pearson, is an office worker in Boston who tried to give up smoking before and cut down on his habit.

During his 10 o’clock smoke break, he witnesses a strange bat-like creature on his way into the office building. A young black man, Duke, keeps him from screaming and calms him down. He explains that if he doesn’t want to die, he’s got to act normal and go about his day as usual.

The two of them meet up after work and Duke explains to him it’s the unique chemical imbalance caused by nicotine withdrawals that allows them to perceive the creatures as what they really are.

Duke is quick to invite Pearson to a meeting of his group and Pearson gets along, to learn more about the strange bat-creatures.

I really enjoyed this story of monsters lurking amongst us and disguising themselves amid society. It’s a premise that’s always interesting and The O’clock People delivers.

 

13. Children of the Corn (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Children of the Corn is another one of the most popular Stephen King short stories. It’s another story I knew about because of its movie adaption. While I enjoyed the movie for what it was, I was impressed by how good the original story was.

The story follows a couple, Burt and Vicky, as they are on their way to California for a vacation hoping to save their failing marriage.

While driving through rural Nebraska, they accidentally run over a young boy. They soon discover that the boy’s throat was slit and he must’ve tumbled into the road as he was dying. They decide to report the incident to the police and make their way to the nearest town, a small, isolated community called Gatlin.

When they arrive, they find the town deserted. The only building that’s still maintained is the church. While Vicky stays in the car, Burt explores it and finds hints of a strange cult. Soon after, the two of them encounter the titular children.

What made this story so interesting was in large parts because of the characters. Stephen King is always great when writing realistic characters and his portrayal of Burt and Vicky’s failing marriage, and the tension between the two is incredibly well done.

Yet, it’s the rich setting that makes the story. Stephen King provides us with beautiful descriptions of an abandoned town, religious subtext, crazy pagan children, endless cornfields and the terror lurking within.

Children of the Corn is without a doubt one of the best Stephen King short stories out there.

12. Gray Matter (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Gray Matter is another one of the earlier Stephen King short stories.

The story is told from the perspective of an older man who sits together with his friends at a convenience store during a heavy snowstorm.

Soon a young boy, the son of a local man named Richie Grenadine, arrives. They all know the boy because his father sent him to the store frequently to buy his beer.

Henry, the store owner, takes the terrified boy aside and speaks to him privately. Eventually, Henry, the narrator and a few of the other man, decide to bring the beer to Richie themselves. On the way, Henry tells them the terrifying story the boy told him.

Gray Matter is typical among the many Stephen King short stories out there and does exactly what it’s supposed to do, terrify us and gross us out.

What made this story so great was the creeping horror, the disgusting imagery and the body horror. It’s a fantastic, unique story that I truly enjoyed.

11. The Woman in the Room (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Here we have another different one among the many Stephen King short stories. The Woman in the Room is less a horror story and more a heart-wrenching tragedy.

It’s the story of a man who’s burdened by deep remorse and pain because of his suffering and terminally ill mother. The story details the last time he visits her at the hospital.

The Woman in the Room might not be a horror story, but seeing our loved ones wither away and die is horrible. It’s a poignant read, a tale rooted in the real world and horribly realistic and relatable. While it’s essentially a simple story, the intimate way it’s told, the details and the description make it so good.

What truly stuck to me was the description of the narrator getting drunk throughout the day before he made his way to the hospital. It’s a fantastically sad tale with one of Stephen King’s strongest finals.

We all have to say goodbye to our loved one’s one day, and this story tackles it in the most heart wrenching of ways.

 

10. The Last Rung on the Ladder (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Another one dark and tragic one among the many Stephen King short stories, but one that’s fantastically told.

The story regards a man named Larry, who discovers that his sister has committed suicide. He recounts how the two of them often played in the family barn when they were children. They’d climb on top of a very tall ladder and leap into a huge haystack. However, the ladder was old and unsafe. Finally, on the last turn, the ladder breaks and his sister is left clinging to the last rung.

This intense scene, though, is only part of the story and Stephen King ties it together with the rest of the story, showing the impact the incident had on both Larry and his sister.

The Last Rung on the Ladder is a deeply and stunningly emotional tale. What made it so great was the tie-in between past and present. EVRYTHNG about this raw and emotional tale is great, but the final is truly devastating.

 

9. The Ledge (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

The Ledge is another early Stephen King short story. Similarly to Quitters, Inc. I first came to know it from the anthology movie Cat’s Eye.

Our protagonist is a man named Stan Norris, who’s currently held at the penthouse of Cressner, a wealthy crime boss. Cressner intends to get revenge on Norris because he had an affair with Cressner’s wife.

Instead of killing him, though, Cressner proposes a wager. If Norris can circumnavigate the small ledge surrounding the building in which the penthouse is located, he can have both Cressner’s wife and $20,000.

Should Norris refuse, he’ll be framed with heroin possession and never see his lover again. With no other option, Norris accepts the wager and makes his way outside.

As someone who’s afraid of heights myself, The Ledge disturbed me immensely. I was anxious throughout the entire story, and it didn’t help that Stephen King painted such an impressive picture of the small ledge and the view down onto the street. It was an incredible, never-wrecking read, but one that came to a very satisfying conclusion.

The Ledge is one of the best Stephen King short stories in his collection Night Shift and stands out because the horror is entirely realistic.

 

8. Graveyard Shift (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

Graveyard Shift is one of my favorite Stephen King short stories. It’s such a dark, visual tale of horror it’s amazing.

It’s the story of a young man named Hall who’s been working at a textile mill in Main. Warwick, his foreman, recruits him and others to clean the basement of the mill. It’s been abandoned for decades, and over the years it’s gotten infested by rats.

As the men make their descent, they notice how severe the rat infestation is. Eventually they discover its source, a sub-basement which Hall and Warwick descend to investigate.

There’s something about cleaning an old, abandoned basement in the middle of the night. Adding in a rodent infestation only serves to make things worse.

Yet, King isn’t satisfied with just this and he makes the story much worse and much more nightmarish.

I truly loved this story. Once more, Stephen King, as so often, makes his characters realistic and interesting.

The best part about this story, however, is the visuals. The dark decrepit tunnels and rooms of the mill’s basement and later the sub-basement are rendered in intricate detail, as are the rodents who infest it.

Graveyard shift is a true treat for any horror fan out there.

 

7. The Moving Finger (Nightmare’s and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

There are horror stories that only allow us a glimpse at the true horror or only a small part of it. The Moving Finger is one such story.

It’s the story of a man named Howard Milta. One day when he goes to the bathroom, he finds a human finger poking out from the bathroom sink.

At first he denies the finger’s existence, but when he returns to the bathroom, the finger’s still there. Eventually more and more of it pushes from the sink and even attacks him.

Finding a finger pushing out from the drain in the sink is already creepy and surreal enough, but the image of the finger growing and extending makes it so much worse. Yet, as I mentioned above, there’s a deeper horror about this story, a finger can’t exist on itself and is always part of something…

It’s one of the more outlandish Stephen King short stories out there, but a great one.

 

6. Crouch End (Nightmare’s and Dreamscapes)

Cover of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Stephen King – Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

Crouch End is one of the Stephen King short stories inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. As a Lovecraft fan, I absolutely loved this story.

The story starts off with two police constables in London, Ted Vetter and Robert Farnhame who work at a small station in the London suburb of Crouch End.

The two of them discuss the case of Doris Freeman, an American woman who reported the disappearance of her husband and spoke of monsters and other supernatural occurrences.

Doris relates how she and her husband got lost in Crouch End while searching for the home of a potential employer. As they wandered the neighborhood, it becomes strangely deserted and alien, and things get weirder and weirder.

I really love the idea of places in which the dark of the universe can slip through easier than in others, and where the influence of otherworldly entities is stronger.

What made this story was the warping of Crouch End and the descriptions of the outlandish place it became, as well as the strange things going on there.

Crouch End is a fantastically creepy story that works so well because it’s not only about being lost at an unknown place, but a place that’s truly alien and surreal.

 

5. The Reach (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

There’s a fair share of wholesome or sad Stephen King short stories, and The Reach might very well be the best among them.

It’s the story of Stella Flanders, one of the oldest residents of Goat Island. She’s never crossed the reach, the water separating the island from the mainland. She states she never had a reason to go.

Stella has visions of the dead people of the island and realizes her time to go is approaching. Dressed in her warmest clothes, she finally makes her way across the frozen reach towards the mainland.

The Reach is a story that’s both sad and beautiful. It’s a tale rip with emotions and one that made me tear up at the end.

I highly recommend people to read The Reach. While it might differ from Stephen King’s usual work, it’s fantastic.

 

4. Jerusalem’s Lot (Night Shift)

Cover of Stephen King's Night Shift
Stephen King – Night Shift

 

As I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of H. P. Lovecraft, and Jerusalem’s Lot is the closest Stephen King ever came to writing a true Lovecraft story.

It’s an epistolary short story written as a series of letters and diary entries by a man known as Charles Boone and his man servant Calvin McCann.

The story details what happens after Charles and his manservant arrive at Chapelwaite, the ancestral home of Charle’s dead cousin. Many of the people in the nearby town consider them mad for taking residence in the mansion because it has a history of strange events, disappearances and mysterious noises.

Eventually they discover an old map of a deserted village called Jerusalem’s Lot. Thus starts their exploration of the decrepit village, and the two soon discover how the Boon family line is related to it.

While the format and style of the story might not be for everyone, I enjoyed it. The plot of this story was close to what one’s used to from Lovecraft’s works. It’s a slow, deliberate uncovering of an old family mystery and its relation to otherworldly, lovecraftian powers.

As a Lovecraft fan, I absolutely loved this story. The writing, the atmosphere and the archaic vocabulary make it feel more akin to Lovecraft’s work than the other Stephen King short stories.

One of the best, if not the best story from Stephen King’s collection Night Shift, albeit I’m biased here.

 

3. Gramma (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

Gramma might be the most suspenseful short story Stephen King has ever written. While there are other Stephen King short stories ripe with tension, there’s something about Gramma, about the intimacy and the narrative voice that made it stand out to me.

The story details what happens one day when an eleven-year-old-boy named George Bruckner has to watch over his grandmother. His mother has to leave because George’s thirteen-year-old brother has broken his leg playing baseball and she has to drive to the city that’s an hour away.

The rest of the story details not only what happens that day but also events George witnessed earlier in his life regarding his grandmother.

Before long, George hears strange noises from his grandmother’s room and eventually realizes that she’s died, but this is only the beginning.

What made this story so enjoyable was the narrative voice. The entire story is told from the perspective of a young boy who’s clearly freaked out about what’s going on. Stephen King nailed the voice and the thoughts of a young boy perfectly. It makes you wonder if Stephen King ever was in a similar situation, left alone with an invalid relative as a young boy.

The story is also fantastically well written. It’s told in a way that never releases the tension, and instead, the suspense just keeps growing and growing.

Gramma is definitely one of my favorite and one of the best Stephen King short stories of all time. I absolutely loved it.

 

2. The Jaunt (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

I stated before that many of the Stephen King short stories in the genre of science-fiction were hit or miss for me. The Jaunt was definitely a hit. I think it’s one of the absolute greatest short stories he’s ever written.

The story is set in the future in which a form of instantaneous teleportation called ‘The Jaunt’ was developed, allowing humanity to colonize the solar system.

The story begins with Mark Oates and his family at one of the jaunt terminals in New York City. While the family waits for their turn to be jaunted, Mark relates them the history of how Victor Carune, an eccentric scientist, discovered the Jaunt.

What I really enjoyed about this story was the pseudo-history about the Jaunt and its creator, Victor Carune. I don’t know why, but I really enjoy these pieces of pseudo-history in fiction and Stephen King tells it masterfully. Yet, there’s more to this tale. The Jaunt is not merely a fictional history lesson, as we soon learn when Mark reveals the biggest problem about the Jaunt.

It’s an absolutely fantastic story, masterfully told and containing a concept that’s both fascinating and utterly terrifying.

I can’t recommend The Jaunt highly enough. It’s clearly one of the best Stephen King short stories of all time.

 

1. Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (Skeleton Crew)

Cover of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Stephen King – Skeleton Crew

 

Mrs. Todd’s shortcut is my favorite Stephen King short story of all time.

The narrator, David, meets his elderly friend Homer. The two of them talk about Mr. Todd’s new wife and how she differs from his former wife, who vanished years ago.

Homer relates his experiences with the former Mrs. Todd and her habit of finding shortcuts. At first things are normal enough, as she explains her different routs, their length and the time she saves following them. Soon enough, though, the tale gets stranger as Homer realizes her shortcuts shouldn’t be possible.

The entire concept of the story is incredibly unique and told in such an interesting way, I couldn’t stop reading.

I think anyone who’s used to driving certain distances frequently has tried to find a shortcut before. Mrs. Todd’s habit, however, borders on an obsession, but it’s what makes the story so interesting. The meticulous way she explains things to Homer, the minute detail Stephen King goes to in describing her routes. It’s simply fascinating. Even before any of the weird elements were introduced, I was drawn in by this story and wanted to learn more about Mrs. Todd’s various shortcuts.

I don’t know what it was, but I was absolutely blown away by this story and the idea behind it. There’s something about this among the many other Stephen King short stories that made it stand out to me so much.

Even though it was one of the first of Stephen King’s short stories I read, I think back to how good it was constantly. That’s the reason I think that Mrs. Todd’s shortcut is the best of the over two-hundred Stephen King short stories out there.

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