If you're the superstitious type, then you might want to be very careful today. But even those who aren't superstitious like to revel in the spooky and ominous from time to time. Here are five of the downright spookiest stories of all time to read in the dead of night this Friday the 13th, so you can get that giddy thrill that only comes from being truly afraid. Don't turn out the light - you never know what will be hiding in the darkness.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Bram Stoker's masterpiece Dracula is more than a hundred years old at this point, but you'd be surprised at how well it's aged. The novel's initial narrator Jonathan Harker is somewhat of a pompous blowhard, but once the story gets underway, you'll be terrified in no time. Perhaps the scariest part of the novel is the fate of poor Lucy, who has the titular Count swoop into her bedroom every night and cruelly drain her of her life force. What happens after Lucy's passing is even more terrifying. Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning that its story is compiled from imaginary correspondence between characters, newspaper excerpts, shipping reports and other documentation, but always with a sense of lurking and pervasive dread and doom. It's an approach that would prove very influential on later horror works, particularly Stephen King's Carrie.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
Possibly the greatest work of haunted house fiction, The Haunting of Hill House is the story of an ill-fated experiment in exploring the supernatural goings-on at the titular house, conducted by Dr. John Montague and his guests, heir to the house Luke, free-spirited artist Theodora and recently bereaved Eleanor. The imposing house and its sordid history are a source of fear in the novel, but what will stick with you after is the sense of utter loneliness and desperation that courses through each page. Through Eleanor's eyes we see the house play tricks on the most vulnerable of the party - herself - and slowly take control of her. Full of genuinely mysterious goings on balanced with paranoia and human vices, The Haunting of Hill House is a haunted house story like no other. It was also adapted into the incredible horror movie classic The Haunting in 1963.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Not your traditional scary story, but nonetheless likely to make you squirm while you read it. The dystopian setting is somewhere in North America, now called the Republic of Gilead after great social and political upheaval, where a group called the "Sons of Jacob" have installed a totalitarian regime that subjugates women to wives, homemakers and vessels for children. One of the first things we are shown in the novel are the bodies of dissenters strung up on a gigantic wall. The narrator of the story is Offred, a woman who is employed as a "handmaid" whose job it is to give children (preferably sons) to the man of the house. Throughout her strict and ceremonial existence, including sexual encounters that will make your skin crawl, Offred dreams of her former life and wonders after the fate of her daughter. As she uncovers the ultimate hypocrisy of Gilead's ruling class, it becomes clear how hopeless her situation is.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
Familiar to many for Christian Bale's star-making performance as the titular psycho Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation, Bret Easton Ellis's original novel of American Psycho is far more disturbing. Maybe what makes it so frightening is that it's not that hard to see a bit of yourself in Patrick Bateman, the serial murderer who just can't help himself. As he indulges in senseless, mindless violence, he also makes sure he keeps up appearances and continues living the yuppie dream. Handsome, well-groomed, successful, well-liked and leading a very comfortable life, Patrick Bateman always needs more more more. Those who have read American Psycho often report that the book has made them feel physically ill - sometimes too much to continue. Not just a pointless gore-fest, though, the novel is also smart and insightful, and that is why it's so scary.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Cormac McCarthy's desperate travelogue of a novel is so terrifying because it feels so close to reality. It follows two unnamed protagonists, The Man and The Boy, as they travel through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, trying not to die of hunger, thirst, exposure, or at the hands of roaming bands of cannibalistic bandits. The disaster that destroyed the world's ecosystem and human civilisation so thoroughly is never described or explained; we are simply dropped into the middle of this nightmare where the father and son at the centre of the story forge ahead, with no clue where they're going or what they'll find. Moments of fleeting joy - such as when the duo find a can of peaches - are contrasted with the bleakest horrors, such as the horrifying discovery that they make in the cellar of an apparently empty house. By the novel's conclusion you will be numb.