Overcast skies have a way of deepening the green of the trees outside your window and darkening the shadows inside. And while you’re home, dry from the downpour outside, it can be harder to escape the other torrent — of doomsday-signalling headlines. On these days, when the world — both outside your window and on your screen — is dark, any attempt to lighten the mood is futile. But, what you can do is make space for that sense of gloom and doom, and really embrace it while it stays. We put together a list of excellent short stories (available to read online for free) that promise to chill you more than the winds outside and make you sink a little further into your blanket.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Stetson (1892)
A young woman is confined to a room with bars on the window within a crumbling colonial mansion. After the birth of her child, she has been diagnosed with hysteria and is prescribed ‘rest cure’ — which means she must remain isolated and also refrain from reading and writing. Unsurprisingly, she goes insane. What’s most chilling is that the short story is based on the author’s own experiences. Read it here.
‘Dusk’ by Saki (1930)
“Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognised.” A man sits on a park bench at dusk enjoying the general air of dejectedness. He encounters an emphatic young man, either a crook or just horribly unlucky. Read it here.
‘The Postmaster’ by Rabindranath Tagore (1891)
In this story set in pre-independence India, the torrential rain could well be a character. A postmaster arrives in a tiny village in India, and befriends a local orphan girl, Ratan. When it is time for him to leave, we, along with Ratan, learn about what grief feels like. Tagore expertly writes about themes like loss and grief, and this short story is a great example of it. Read it here.
‘All Summer in a Day’ by Ray Bradbury (1954)
Children can sometimes be quite cruel. Like these kids in a school on Venus — where it has been raining for seven years and the sun will come out for just one hour. Ray Bradbury is known as a master of science fiction, but in this story, he also strikingly exposes the cruelty human beings (even the most innocent ones) are capable of. Read it here.
‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson (1948)
In a small village, all the people gather one afternoon to draw a lottery. It is an old revered tradition and the air is rife with excitement, tension and fear. We don’t know what the lottery is for and as the story proceeds, perhaps we don’t want to know. The Lottery manages to chill you to the bone even on a beautiful, sunny day. Read it here.
‘Symbols and Signs’ by Vladimir Nabokov (1948)
An old Russian couple visits their son on his birthday. They’re at the sanitarium where the “incurably deranged” young man resides. He has referential mania, so he imagines everything happening around him to be a veiled reference to his personality and existence. “Clouds in the staring sky transmit to each other, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His in-most thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees. Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns representing, in some awful way, messages that he must intercept. Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme.” This weather you may be reading in? It would be worse for him. Read it here.
‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’ by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)
This list would be incomplete without a tale by Poe. A curious young man decides to visit a “private mad-house” to see what it’s like. To reveal why this is a phenomenally bad idea would be to offer spoilers. Read it here.