5 Of The Best Horror Short Stories By Stephen King

Stephen King is one of the greatest writers of his generation—not necessarily because of his scintillating prose, but because of his masterful ability to tell a story. While he is primarily known for his novels, Stephen King’s best work might be done in the form of the short story. While he has more than a few collections of short stories published, his best horror short stories were in his first few publications released. Here are five of his best:

The Mist

From his collection Skeleton Crew. This counts more as a novella, as it really is too long to be considered a short story, but it is included in this short story collection. The story centers around a man and his son, who live next to a lake in a small town in Maine. After a particularly nasty thunderstorm, the two notice a curious mist hanging over the lake. As they leave for town to collect supplies to repair their home, they find themselves trapped in a grocery store as the mist has spread to the town and seemingly swallowed up those who venture into it.

The story ambles through the conflicts of those trapped in the store, the rapidly depleting food supplies, and the monsters that lurk in the mist. As wonderful and macabre as the story is, the story has an abrupt and dissatisfying ending. Despite the careful balancing of narrative and horror, the ending of the story can leave a bitter taste in the mouth of a reader. King himself admits in the preface that he—despite being a master storyteller—was unable to bring the conflict to a satisfying conclusion.

The ending notwithstanding, the story is an excellent example of what King is best at: taking a simple idea—a group of people trapped in a grocery store surrounded by monsters—and turning it into a horrifying narrative.

Quitters, Inc.


From his collection Night Shift. This short story is about a man who meets an old friend who has quit smoking and “looks great.” The man—a smoker himself—wonders how his friend quit such an aggravating addiction like smoking. His friend credits a company called “Quitters, Inc.” and hands him the business card. The man eventually follows up with the company and learns they can help you quit smoking, but at a terrible price.

This short story is effective because unlike many of King’s stories, the premise does not rely on any supernatural elements. The company “Quitters, Inc.” is a completely plausible company that might exist—although extremely far-fetched. This story relies on our own fear of commonplace addictions like smoking and the toll it takes on our loved ones around us.

Crouch End

From his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes. This story begins with a distraught woman coming into a police station at 2 AM on a sleepy, quiet side of town. She recounts to the officers her terrifying night, claiming she lost her husband on a street entitled Crouch End. After the woman departs, the officers decide to check the street out for themselves. The story ends after the officers realize too late that the woman was not lying about Crouch End.

This story—told mostly in a flashback—is thoroughly creepy and tense. As to be expected with a short story by King, the story is taut with no extraneous details mucking up the story’s arc. The story wraps up nicely, as the officers themselves confront the same terror the woman did in her flashback.

Gray Matter

Another from his collection Night Shift. The story is very brief and involves a group of men drinking at the local bar on a blustery winter night. The young son of a local man bursts in, claiming his father has transformed into something terrible at their house. After listening to the impassioned pleas of the young boy describing his father’s slow transformation at the hands of alcohol, the men the travel to the house. The story ends as the men finally confront what the boy’s father has become.

This very brief story is simple and highly effective. It takes the simple concept of how alcohol abuse changes a person and puts a horrific spin on it. Like the above mentioned “Crouch End,” King demonstrates how flashbacks and the like are effective tools to scare readers, as it allows the reader’s imagination to fill the gaps in the characters’ retelling of a story.

Chattery Teeth


From his collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes. This story involves a beleaguered man traveling across the desert in Nevada. He chances upon a gas station during a sandstorm and while fueling up, finds a big set of wind-up teeth. He purchases the trinket for his son and makes the ill-fated decision to give a lift to a hitchhiker before resuming his jaunt across the desert.

“Chattery Teeth” is a bit longer than most of his short stories, but extremely well-done and executed flawlessly. The premise of a hitchhiker-cum-bloodthirsty rogue is nothing fresh, but the introduction of the wind-up walking teeth certainly is a new and strangely terrifying spin on the old saw. Unlike some of his other short stories, this one has a clear beginning and end, with the protagonist chancing upon the same gas station a year later at the end.

Read More: 4 Under-appreciated Horror Movies

27 thoughts on “5 Of The Best Horror Short Stories By Stephen King”

  1. Always enjoy finding decent new reading material. Last book of King’s I read was The Stand which was dragged out a bit. These look great.

  2. Good memories there. Read a lot of king and other so called “para literature” until I hit college and university to study ” real ” literature. Punctuation intended because elitism.
    Since you mention The Mist what’s your take on the movie version? Especially the resolution vs the book?

  3. A wiser fellow than myself once said “Sometimes you eat the
    bear, and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you..”

  4. His short stories are a lot better..so I’ve heard. Never read his longer work.

    1. Cuz part of being a better man is being well rounded and diverse thinker. Reading is the cornerstone of that.

  5. Probably one of his best works is The Running Man (when he wrote under the Bachman pseudonym). In some ways it actually kind of portends how the media has ultimately degenerated into garbage today and people doing their own research and digging wind up finding out the truth of the world around them.
    A lot of King’s work is pretty good because it tends to be grounded in reality and he doesn’t bullshit about that in his work. It also usually centers around towns and small communities which help make the world feel more alive and interesting.
    Though probably my favorite short story of his is definitely Battleground which is also from Night Shift. Probably the greatest climax to a story ever. I won’t give it away, but trust me, you won’t read anything this crazy just about anywhere else.
    Except maybe HP Lovecraft.

  6. king himself said that the ending of the movie “the mist” is the ending he would have written had he thought of it.

    1. I loved the IDEA of Darabont’s ending but the execution was so over-the-top and pleased with how shocking it was that it didn’t have nearly the power it would have if Darabont had just shot it straight and not put in all the slo-motion and wailing vocals and all that pretentious shit.

    2. I hated the movie ending of the Mist because i generally loathe movies with sad or bad endings. I much preferred the novel ending although i too admit it didn’t conclude properly.
      Incidentally, I would love to see a sequel prequel called “the Mists.”

  7. My favorite King story is probably the one where the main character is a sensitive writer from New England who’s afraid of conservative authority figures.

  8. If a novella like THE MIST can qualify then you can never forget THE LONG WALK.
    The most stunning thing about that story is that I think King was only 19 or so when he wrote it.

  9. Great article. I love Quitters Inc. The notion that we really can change and live up to our full potential if we’re forced to…especially if there’s a threat to ourselves or loved ones.

  10. Quitters, Inc. was turned into a movie, part of the “Cat’s Eye” movie of King stories

  11. Here’s 5 more that are just as good/better:
    1. Survivor Type – Doctor stranded on an island, eats himself.
    2. The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands – Guy who is cursed not to touch people.
    3. Here There Be Tigers – Overimaginative child has great fears.
    4. One For The Road – Great vampire story.
    5. The Ten O’Clock People – People quitting smoking learn a terrible truth.

  12. You guys should check out Jack Ketchum. I mean King himself called him “the scariest man in America” and that alone ought to be enough of a recommendation.

  13. I think 1922 was one of his more poignant works in the short story form. It is simple and unnerving his details of a man’s downward spiral into insanity.
    That said, I am an enthusiastic ready of all Kings works (Including Dark Tower) so I am a little biased.

  14. Stephen King’s biggest failing is that he can’t write good endings. It’s a shame otherwise he would be a master genre writer.

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  16. It was hardly a short story, but I thought The Stand pointed up the best of all what happens to feminism and the notion of “Women are equal, women are strong” when the lights go out. It points out the relationships between men of goodwill vs evil and that it takes good men to rebuild, to defeat evil, to start anew. Now that all is safe for women, their protections built on our backs, they become cunts, more and more often, displaying their true nature and disrespect. Take away the grid, all that falls apart. I’m not looking forward to that day of dog-eat-dog, but if there was to be satisfaction, the stripping away of the lies of feminism, the tearing down of the systems constructed in the West and especially the U.S. to ruin the lives of the average man in favor of weak, dopey, undeserving women would be a major satisfaction. Absent that scenario, it all continues.

  17. The Mist was how I learned to read adult fiction. My grandfather read it aloud to me when I was in elementary school (I think he skipped the worst parts) and it inspired me to learn to read it on my own when he forgot the book at our house… it was hard, but I was highly motivated because it was a cool story. No “sit still and behave” school curriculum could inspire that level of interest.
    Stephen King’s fiction is not perfect and he may not be “ideologically pure” to all; oh well. He’s the literary equivalent of Metallica – took an unknown style, found something in it the masses could relate to, and marketed it.
    Of course 25 years later, I would say the Poe and Ligotti are better horror writers, but neither of them would have gotten me into reading, I would have just found them confusing and weird at the time. King is important because he is a “gateway” writer who inspires certain readers to look beyond what he himself has written.

  18. I’ve never read any of the others but i have read “The Mist” and i too consider it among his best not so short, short stories.
    My all time favorite novel of his is “The Stand” which did a wonderful job demonstrating how easy it will be for the true character of people to manifest once society and civilization itself crumble into dust.
    SK is a brilliant writer however his non fictional thoughts leave much to be desired. He is a hardcore leftist who routinely engages in straw man type arguments with regard to his political enemies.

    1. …says the theocrat w an American flag distorted by crosses in place of stars. well played.

  19. Oh hell’s bells! None of these are in the ballpark of “Needful Things” (Novel), or even King’s better short stories as presented in some of his other compilations.

  20. I liked King better when he was just a writer and not a post-accident douchebag. I won’t read any more of his stuff. I refuse to put any more money in his pocket with the way he’s become. Indeed, I regret all the books I bought back in yonder days now.

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