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7 Terrifying Horror Novellas

These horror books pack a frightening punch—in fewer pages than full-length novels.

The Rotting Within by Matt Kurtz
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  • Photo Credit: The Rotting Within / Matt Kurtz

Horror novellas are a fever dream of terror that can only be accomplished in the focused space of a shorter story. They’re meant to hit hard, immersing us in fear immediately and with sudden ferocity, then leaving us to deal with the aftermath alone. They’re gritty and instinctual and intense—and one of the best formats to tell the most frightening stories.

We’ve gathered seven of the most terrifying novellas that promise to scare even the toughest horror fans.

nothing but blackened teeth cassandra khaw

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

By Cassandra Kham

An abandoned Heian-era mansion sounds like the perfect wedding venue to a group of ghost-loving friends. But their evening of laughter and games quickly turns into a terrifying fight for their lives. There’s another bride in the house—and she wants a groom.

Khaw draws the reader into the complicated dynamics of these characters with a sense of longing and dread that only escalates as the mansion begins to devolve into a string of nightmares. Filled with sharp sentences that bite, palpable tension, and visceral descriptions that linger, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a complex ghost story that continues to haunt long after the last page.

Related: Cassandra Khaw Brings New Life to Horror's Most Beloved Tropes

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, body horror by Eric Larocca

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke

By Eric LaRocca

It began with a family heirloom for sale—and from there, two women begin talking in a chat room. Their friendship spirals into something else. Something more. Something tinged with sadomasochism and obsession. Every conversation escalates until they’re on the edge of destruction, with nothing but their darkest impulses holding them together.

The less you know about this novella, the better. Told through a series of emails and chats, this story is an intimate and horrifying look into manipulation and control. The writing is piercing, the descriptions are a literal gut-punch, and the ending a shocking nightmare. It will leave you with just one question: what have you done today to deserve your eyes?

Related: 32 Horror Authors Every Scare-Chaser Needs to Know

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour Candy

By Kealan Patrick Burke

Phil Pendleton and his son Adam seem like a normal father and son. They go to the fair, take walks in the park, eat at the lake. It isn’t easy being a single dad, so maybe that explains why Phil is a little too lenient with Adam at times. Why his health seems to be deteriorating. But the truth is, before a chance encounter at a grocery store, Phil had never seen Adam in his life.

Every detail packed into this novella is a masterclass in dread. Burke skillfully weaves a shocking narrative that twists when it should turn, spins when it should barrel ahead. Sour Candy is the kind of horror that sticks in your subconscious, inducing chills at the most mundane moments—like when you hear a child cry in the grocery store.

Related: 10 Family Horror Books

The Worm and His Kings, a cosmic horror novella by horror author Hailey Piper

The Worm and His Kings

By Hailey Piper

Monique has fallen through the cracks of the system and now lives in in an abandoned train tunnel beneath the streets of New York City. To make things worse, her girlfriend Donna disappears. But then Monique hears rumors of other missing women and the monster that’s hunting them. Determined to save the woman she loves, Monique descends deeper underground, where she encounters a world of monsters, fanatics, and an infinite darkness that threatens to consume everything.

The metaphors between fiction and reality are brilliantly woven throughout this novella. It grounds the reader into the parallels of life while drawing out the otherworldly cosmic horror into deeply unsettling proportions. The Worm and his Kings burrows into your psyche, not only challenging the way you think but transforming it.

Related: 8 Emerging Horror Authors Who Are Changing the Face of Horror 

The Rotting Within by Matt Kurtz

The Rotting Within

By Matt Kurtz

Kenzie Moore takes her two children to her grandmother’s secluded inn when she runs from her abusive boyfriend. There’s only one rule: stay away from the third floor and the two reclusive women that live there. Other than that, it’s an ideal place to start all over. But when her grandmother leaves and a storm isolates the inn, Kenzie discovers there’s something malevolent in the walls. And it wants her to kill her children.

Filled with heart-pounding jump-scares, nerve-shredding dread, and an ending that will shock and disturb you, The Rotting Within is a rare horror story that will have you holding your breath until the very end.

best horror books of 2020

Ring Shout

By P. Djèlí Clark

It’s 1915 and the Klan is growing in America. They spread fear and exact violence across the country, but there are demons underneath the hoods. And they plan on bringing Hell to Earth. Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow Harlem Hellfighters will do anything to stop them. After all, even demons can die.

The similarities in our own history enhance this horrific but emotionally charged story. A gory novella that doesn’t hold back when it comes to body horror, Ring Shout will live in your nightmares. 

Related: 15 Best Horror Books of 2020

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins

By Stephen Graham Jones

When Sawyer and his friends find a discarded mannequin, they know it’s what they need to execute the perfect prank. They disguise it as a patron at their local movie theater as a way to get back at the assistant manager who punished them for sneaking in. What starts as a harmless prank, quickly escalates into a terrifying bloodbath.

In his classic style, Jones blends classic slasher horror with edgy prose and an unthinkable ending. The supernatural elements are subtle but severe, blurring the line between what’s real and what isn’t. Night of the Mannequins is gritty, gory, and deeply disturbing, all blending together to leave an acrid coating of burned popcorn in the back of your throat.

Related: 8 Books by Indigenous Horror Authors