Best Stephen King Short Stories

Stephen King, author of novels like It and short stories like Secret Window, against a black background smiling slightly.

Image Credit: fredcukierman on Deviant Art.

While Stephen King is well-known for his absurdly long novels, many of which have been adapted for TV, he’s also a master of short stories.

As effortlessly as King seems to navigate his huge tomes of horror, so too can the author’s stories deliver shockingly horrific twists in only a few pages.

Few authors can compare to the dread King can conjure with his scant words in his short stories. These are just a small sample of the prolific author’s offerings—but they are the best.

The Reaper’s Image (1969)

Several gold-framed antique mirrors on a black or brown wall in dim lighting.

Collection: Skeleton Crew

The setting is simple: an antique collector visits a museum, looking to buy an infamous mirror.

Supposedly, the mirror’s haunted, and everyone who peers into its crystalline depths has gone missing.

Spangler is understandably dubious of such claims, and insists on inspecting the mirror personally, figuring that the worst that could happen is a disappointment.

 

Suffer the Little Children (1972)

Four children in rainboots and colorful jackets hold hands, only visible up to their chests.

Collection: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

This excellently written story plays on the fears of all adults that children are actually small monsters, capable of committing terrifying acts without a shred of remorse since they have not learned empathy yet.

In this story, a teacher slowly becomes paranoid about her students becoming monsters, which eventually culminates in drastic action.

 

It Grows On You (1973)

An eerie Tudor style house during the fall with leaves falling in front of lens.

Collection: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

This isn’t your typical haunted house story. The house is possessed by something, of course—but it’s not as simple as just killing people who visit, or scaring local kids.

Instead, the house grows when events take place there, expanding seemingly into infinity.

New rooms and entire wings of the house are generated, representing everything that happens, because the house always remembers….

 

Children of the Corn (1977)

A dark cornfield under an ominous stormy sky.

Collection: Night Shift

One of King’s most popular short stories revolves around a group of children who worship an evil demon in a field of corn, known only as He Who Walks Behind the Rows.

The children execute any member of their group who is over the age of 19, and have killed all of the local adults.

When a pair of unfortunate adults stumble across the deserted town, they’re wholly unprepared for the evil they encounter behind those far-from-innocent faces.

 

The Cat From Hell (1977)

A gray cat stares into the distance against a blurred background.

Collection: Just After Sunset

A professional hitman is hired to take down an unusual target: a murderous cat.

The cat is speculated to be seeking revenge for the use of cats in clinical drug trials, and has been meticulously hunting down those involved.

While the plot of this short story is a little silly, King actually manages to make the idea of an assassinating feline quite creepy.

 

 

Jerusalem’s Lot (1978)

Abandoned and unkempt set of stairs in front of an equally dilapidated building, both covered with foliage, moss, dirt, and signs of damage.

Collection: Night Shift

This short story serves as a prequel to King’s famous book, Salem’s Lot.

It tells the story of a village in the 1850s, known as Jerusalem’s Lot, and takes the form of letters and diary entries.

A curious man and his servant venture out to explore the abandoned village, and learn what secrets it holds.

 

The Mangler (1978)

A vintage laundry mangle machine set up outside a museum.

Collection: Night Shift

King worked in industrial laundry before making his fortune as a writer, and this story likely encapsulates his feelings about his employment.

The story centers around a laundry press, known as a mangle, which has become inhabited by a demon.

As the mangler gains power, it becomes less of an amusement and much more of a threat than anyone could have guessed.

 

The Monkey (1980)

Black and white monkey toy with eerie expression and cymbals in hand.
Image Credit: Meatard on Deviant Art.

Collection: Skeleton Crew

King’s “The Monkey” revolves around a toy monkey that claps its cymbals together and seems to have a mind of its own.
Clearly, the toy carries a malevolent power—proven when it starts to kill off the protagonist’s family, one by one.

Soon, Hal has no one left to rely on, and must then find a way to get rid of the cursed monkey for good.

 

Crouch End (1980)

Police tape against a blurred background of road and lawn.

Collection: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

In this short story inspired by the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, King delves into a London neighborhood where the strange has become commonplace.

A police officer takes the report of a woman who lost track of her husband in the neighborhood. While there, she saw unimaginably eldritch beings looming over her.

The officer has been in charge of that section for many years, with numerous similar reports under his belt. He notes that some people lose their way in Crouch End.

And sometimes, they never find their way back.

 

The Jaunt (1981)

Streaked lights meeting in a center point, like space travel.

Collection: Skeleton Crew

This terrifying story follows a family in the distant future as they prepare for their travels.

Faster-than-light travel, or “jaunting,” now exists.  More akin to teleportation than anything else, jaunting requires a person remain unconscious for its duration.

A young boy decides to stay awake during the jaunt to understand the process better—a decision he will regret for a very long time.

 

 

Word Processor of the Gods (1983)

Vintage computer against a plain white wall.

Collection: Skeleton Crew

A writer, disenchanted with his life, marriage, and family, suddenly loses his beloved nephew and sister-in law, along with his reprehensible brother.

He then finds a computer among their effects, meant as a gift, and sees that it can alter reality based on what he types.

 

The Sun Dog (1990)

Black dog barking and baring teeth in the woods.

Collection: Four Past Midnight

This story follows a boy who receives a camera for a present. Initially excited, he becomes increasingly worried when a strange dog shows up in the Polaroids.  However, it doesn’t seem to be present in reality.

The camera compels whoever has it to take more and more pictures….allowing the dog to move ever closer to the foreground.

 

 

Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)

A silhouette of a man in front of a large window, black and white.

Collection: Four Past Midnight

Mort Rainey, a writer, meets a man who claims that Rainey plagiarized his work.

As the story progresses, Rainey learns some uncomfortable truths about the man, John Shooter, as well as his true motives for coming forward.

This short story was made into a successful horror movie, starring Johnny Depp, in 2004.

 

via GIPHY

Stephen King’s ability to terrify—and mess with your head, long after you finish one of this works—is as evident in his short stories as it is in the many novels King puts out, year after year.

In fact, his short stories might showcase his talent better than any other medium. Any author who can so thoroughly scare and unsettle in just a few pages deserves every bit of hype he gets.

For more book recommendations, check out the best psychological thrillers or pandemic novels.

Or, for more of the macabre, binge these horror anime series sure to keep you up at night.