“The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King
Available in the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes, this disturbing piece of literature does not deal with the supernatural or crazed maniacs. No demonic monsters, serial killers or the like cause the horror that makes this story so chilling. Rather it is human error (and perhaps even arrogance) and that's what makes this story hit home. Like much of Stephen King's work, it has been adapted for the screen. I first read this as a teenager, and its frightening conclusion has stayed with me ever since.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
It's a good guess that just about everybody has read this story at least once in school, or has heard about it, or has seen one of the numerous films adapted from or inspired by it. Written in the late 1800s, Bierce captures that sense of relief that one can feel escaping a dangerous situation, or rooting for a sympathetic or even unsympathetic character escaping a dangerous situation. He capitalizes on that, and then rips it away in a classic turn that makes this story timeless.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Clearly one of the most loved and well-known of Poe's works, this story is nearly flawless in its portrayal of distorted reality and the mind of a man slowly driving himself insane. It's been adapted to just about everything, from film to television and referenced in music.
“The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft
One of my favorites of Lovecraft's work, and often praised by many as one of his best, this story is subtle and creepy, slow and enticing. An alien substance forces an irrevocable change on the inhabitants, land, and livestock of a remote farm. For those that haven't read it, it's definitely worth checking out. And, though the story is slightly different in its concept of evil and where it comes from, one of my favorite adaptations that captures the essence of the story is the Italian horror film Colour from the Dark directed by Ivan Zuccon.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Considered a classic of American literature, this story sheds light on the horror of not questioning or refusing the status quo. Like many people, I was first introduced to this story in elementary school as part of a reading project. It's an unsettling piece, and has been adapted and referenced in modern culture many times over. And since 2007, in memory of the author, The Shirley Jackson Awards honors works of psychological horror.
Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Fellow of Film Independent's Project: Involve.