Five unsettling short stories to read for spooky season

We are not entering spooky season, as we get close to Halloween and immerse ourselves in the fall spirit. In honour of spooky season, I’ll be sharing a variety of books and stories that could be considered “spooky” either by having supernatural elements or having thriller/horror elements. Enjoy!


For this week, I wanted to share some unsettling short stories or collections of short stories that will get you in the mood for spooky season.

I personally love short stories. They’re a great way to get a taste of a specific author or tiptoe into a new genre that you’re not super familiar with.

These short stories and collections can be a way to get in the mood for spooky season, especially if you’re not a big fan of horror or thriller books. They will give you a taste of something unsettling without putting you too far out of your comfort zone.

These stories are not what you would typically think of for Halloween, but they all have some kind of unsettling element.

I’ve also included a variety, from being published across many different decades and from authors around the world.

Let me know what you think in a comment below!

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Five unsettling short stories

Here’s a list of five short stories or short story collections to get you in the mood for spooky season.

  1. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
  2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
  3. Someone Like You by Roald Dahl (1953)
  4. Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha (2018)
  5. The Test by Sylvain Neuvel (2019)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Year Published: 1892
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, mysterious, fast-paced
  • Considered an important early feminist work based on it’s portrayal of women’s mental health

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wall-Paper is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, this short but powerful masterpiece has the heroine create a reality of her own within the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wall-paper of her bedroom–a pattern that comes to symbolize her own imprisonment.

This key women’s studies text by a pivotal first-wave feminist writer, lecturer, and activist (1860-1935) is reprinted as it first appeared in New England Magazine in 1892, and contains the essential essay on the author’s life and work by pioneering Gilman scholar Elaine R. Hedges.

Links:

Metamorphosis (1915)

by Franz Kafka, translated by Stanley Corngold

  • Year Published: 1915
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, magical realism, philosophy, dark, reflective, medium-paced
  • One of Kafka’s best-known work

Waking after a night of troubled dreams, Gregor is surprised to find himself trapped in the body of a hideous man-sized bug. As he lies on his shell and gazes into space, his mother and father begin calling to him from outside his bedroom door. He must get out of bed, they tell him. He has to go to work. They need his money to live.

Gregor replies to them nervously, his voice sounding strange to his ears.

He’ll be out very soon, he says. He’s just getting ready…

But he can’t keep saying that forever.

Links:

Someone Like You (1953)

by Roald Dahl

  • Year Published: 1953
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, fast-paced
  • Note, Roald Dahl is considered a problematic author, you can read more here. If you choose not to read his work, I completely understand.

In Someone Like You are fifteen classic tales told by the grand master of the short story, Roald Dahl.

Here, in Roald Dahl’s first collection of his world famous dark and sinister adult stories, a wife serves a dish that baffles the police; a harmless bet suddenly becomes anything but; a curious machine reveals a horrifying truth about plants; and a man lies awake waiting to be bitten by the venomous snake asleep on his stomach.

Through vendettas and desperate quests, bitter memories and sordid fantasies, Roald Dahl’s stories portray the strange and unexpected, sending a shiver down the spine.

Links:

Apple & Knife (2018)

by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, horror, short stories, dark, medium-paced
  • Language: Bahasa Indonesia
  • You may want to check content warnings before reading

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These short fictions set in the Indonesian everyday—in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages—reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes wacky and always engrossing, this is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Mara finds herself brainstorming an ad campaign for Free Maxi Pads, with a little help from the menstruation-eating hag of her childhood. Jamal falls in love with the rich and powerful Bambang, but it is the era of the smiling general and, if he’s not careful, he may find himself recruited to Bambang’s brutal cause. Solihin would give anything to make dangdut singer Salimah his wife – anything at all.

In the globally connected and fast-developing Indonesia of Apple and Knife, taboos, inversions, sex and death all come together in a heady, intoxicating mix full of pointed critiques and bloody mutilations. Women carve a place for themselves in this world, finding ways to subvert norms or enacting brutalities on themselves and each other.

Links:

The Test (2019)

by Sylvain Neuvel

  • Year Published: 2019
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, dystopian, challenging, dark, emotional, fast-paced

Award-winning author Sylvain Neuvel explores an immigration dystopia in The Test

Britain, the not-too-distant future.

Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.

He wants his family to belong.

Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.

How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of short stories.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books and stories to read. I’d love to know which stories you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Those eyes become the sky

This is a quote from the book Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein.

Quote by Intan Paramaditha, “She seems almost to smile, but no smile is reflected in her grey eyes. Gita watches as those eyes become the sky. Clouds gather within, they let loose rain, but no thunder.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

If you’re interested, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

Apple & Knife – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These stories set in the Indonesian everyday – in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages – reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. This is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Dark, humorous, and vividly realised, Apple and Knife brings together taboos, inversions, sex and death in a heady, intoxicating mix.

Note: It’s important to understand that some stories require a trigger warning.

Copyright © 2018 by Intan Paramaditha.

Translated by: Stephen J. Epstein

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

People speak of her only in whispers

Excerpt from Apple & Knife by Intan Paramadith

Photo by Trang Nguyen on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein.

‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?’

Gita sees the woman for the first time. Her face is hard, cheekbones high, jaw sharp. Her sallow, mottled skin does little more than mask her wispy frame. Cheap batik is draped haphazardly around her waist, and a black kebaya and black headscarf render her even more sombre. As soon as she draws near, Gita catches an odd, pungent odour. It’s not human sweat but fragrant cloves from a distant realm, incense for departed souls, stiff bodies bathed in flowers before being placed into the grave.

No scent of life wafts from the abode. Its distance from the city and its seclusion should have freshened the house but the owner cares little for vegetation. Brown curtains dangle in the windows. Branches of frangipani shade the yard, making the sun reluctant to greet the weeds spreading on the ground. A dark fence, peeling and rusty, serves as a barrier between the house and the outside world.

Like a snail in a shell, shunning interaction.

And rightly so. The woman now in front of Gita is notorious in her hometown, which is nestled up against the cliffs of Cadas Pangeran. People speak of her only in whispers. Sumarni. A witch. A sorceress allied with the devil. A second Mak Lampir, the evil conjurer. Yes, Lord, may she not find forgiveness.

Gita realises that the woman is waiting for her to answer.

‘I’m doing research,’ says Gita, trying to conceal her nervous ness, and to convey and attitude of respect. ‘Of course, your name and place of residence will be disguised.’

The wrinkled woman squints and regards her coldly. ‘That is necessary.’

Her eyes probe, trying to confirm that Gita hasn’t smuggled in a camera or some other recording device. Maybe the women has lost a substantial sum buying off the police. Or maybe she is irritated because most visitors take advantage of her. Recently, a TV crew came from Jakarta to interview her as a source for a crime drama. They broadcast her later in blurred black and white, masking her eyes with a thick strip. The episode’s title? ‘The Dark Side of Women.’

Gita enquires delicately about the woman’s profession. What it is that she does. How long she has been… practising it.

Embarrassed, Gita does not utter the phrase that dances in her thoughts: disposing of life. It sounds like a mantra of the damned.

The old woman’s lips are clamped shut, even though she has already worked out the situation. She knows what people expect of her. The mark is on her forehead, a bright red stamp that will never disappear.

‘I’ve been doing this for a long time,’ she says, slowly and heavily. ‘Maybe thirty years. Maybe more.’

It’s as if time is gnawed away by termites here. The hours melt into the night, and the tick of the clock no longer matters.

‘Why do they do it?’

‘They don’t want to, child, but nature punishes those who give in to lust. They can’t control themselves: their eyes, their fingers, their breath, their womb. They are like leaves that yellow, dry up, and fall to the ground.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Ah, no one tries to understand.’

‘Why do you do it?’

Sumarni’s lips turn up slightly at the corners. She seems almost to smile, but no smile is reflected in her grey eyes. Gita watches as those eyes become the sky. Clouds gather within, they let loose rain, but no thunder.

‘Child, for the sake of one life, sometimes you have to extinguish another. Some birds must destroy themselves in flame to give birth to a new generation. We consider it natural, even noble, to be born to sacrifice. Like Sinta in the Ramayana. And therein lies your value. You never knew, child, that dead birds surround you, breathing the same air as you. They look alive, but maggots, invisible to the eye, gnaw their rotting flesh. They are only present as givers of life; like water, sometimes polluted, which gushes forth continuously formless. Water can only mould itself to the vessel.

‘And I, child, I have indeed been an ally of the devil. Because I know that some birds don’t want to destroy themselves in flames. I know that there are waters that simply want to freeze rather than become wellsprings for the sake of a stillness that they have never known.’

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Apple & Knife – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These stories set in the Indonesian everyday – in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages – reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. This is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Dark, humorous, and vividly realised, Apple and Knife brings together taboos, inversions, sex and death in a heady, intoxicating mix.

Note: It’s important to understand that some stories require a trigger warning.

Copyright © 2018 by Intan Paramaditha.

Translated by: Stephen J. Epstein

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Women in Translation: 5 books from Southeast Asian women

This month, August, is a chance to celebrate women in translation, specifically women authors who’s works have been translated. There’s so much good translated literature out there. For this month, I’ll be sharing some inspiration for women authors from around the world who have had their work translated into English.

I know a lot of people read works translated from English into their own language, and there’s so many languages that works need to be translated into. But since I only read in English, I’m going to be highlighting works that have been translated into English.


This week we’ll be visiting Southeast Asia, which usually consists of countries including: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Indonesia.

I find that these countries are less likely to be included in lists of translated literature, which makes me feel like it’s even more important to highlight books from this region.

When it is difficult to find women authors from specific countries, it makes me wonder how much we are missing out on. Every country has talented authors, with incredible stories to tell. And it breaks my heart that certain countries are just seen as not a priority for the publishing world.

But the more that people take time to notice and show interest in these countries, the more likely that publishing world will also pay attention. After all, publishing is still a market, so where there is demand, there will be a supply. So let’s create the demand.

Five books from Southeast Asian women

Here’s a list of five books with women authors from Southeast Asia.

  1. Vietnam: Paradise of the Blind by Dương Thu Hương (1988)
  2. Malaysia: The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu (2010)
  3. Thailand: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by วีรพร นิติประภา (Veeraporn Nitiprapha) (2013)
  4. Vietnam: Mãn by Kim Thúy (2013)
    Vietnam
  5. Indonesia: Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha (2018)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve ordered them based on the year they were published in their original language (not the year of the English translation).

Paradise of the Blind (1988)

by Dương Thu Hương Translated by Nina McPherson & Phan Huy Đường

  • Year Published: 1988
    English version in 2002
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Country: Vietnam
  • Currently banned in Vietnam

Paradise of the Blind is an exquisite portrait of three Vietnamese women struggling to survive in a society where subservience to men is expected and Communist corruption crushes every dream. Through the eyes of Hang, a young woman in her twenties who has grown up amidst the slums and intermittent beauty of Hanoi, we come to know the tragedy of her family as land reform rips apart their village. When her uncle Chinh‘s political loyalties replace family devotion, Hang is torn between her mother‘s appalling self–sacrifice and the bitterness of her aunt who can avenge but not forgive. Only by freeing herself from the past will Hang be able to find dignity –– and a future.

Links:

The Age of Goodbyes (2010)

by Li Zi Shu, translated from Chinese by Y.Z. Chin

  • Year Published: 2010
    English version in 2022
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, emotional, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Language: Chinese
  • Country: Malaysia

By one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting writers, The Age of Goodbyes is a wildly inventive account of family history, political turmoil, and the redemptive grace of storytelling.

In the summer of 1969, in the wake of Malaysia’s deadliest race riots, a woman named Du Li An secures her place in society by marrying a gangster. In a parallel narrative, a critic known only as The Third Person explores the work of a writer also named Du Li An. And a third storyline is in the second person; “you” are reading a novel titled The Age of Goodbyes. Floundering in the wake of “your” mother’s death, “you” are trying to unpack the secrets surrounding “your” lineage.

The Age of Goodbyes—which begins on page 513, a reference to the riots of May 13, 1969—is the acclaimed debut by Li Zi Shu. The winner of multiple awards and a Taiwanese bestseller, this dazzling novel is a profound exploration of what happens to personal memory when official accounts of history distort and render it taboo.

Links:

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth (2013)

by วีรพร นิติประภา (Veeraporn Nitiprapha), translated by: Kong Rithdee

  • Year Published: 2013
    English version in 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, magical realism, emotional, slow-paced
  • Language: Thai
  • Country: Thailand
  • Won the prestigious South East Asian Writers (“S.E.A. Write”) Award for fiction and a best-seller in Thailand

On the day Chareeya is born, her mother discovers her father having an affair with a traditional Thai dancer. From then on, Chareey’s life is fated to carry the weight of her parents’ disappointments. She and her sister grow up in a lush riverside town near the Thai capital, Bangkok, captivated by trashy romance novels, classical music and games of make-believe. When the laconic orphan, Pran, enters their world, he unwittingly lures the sisters into a labyrinth of their own making as they each try to escape their intertwined fates.

The original Thai language edition of The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth won the prestigious South East Asian Writers (“S.E.A. Write”) Award for fiction and was best-seller in Thailand. It is translated into English by Thai film critic and recipient of France’s Chevalier dans I’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Kong Rithdee.

Attuned to the addictive rhythms of a Thai soap opera and written with the consuming intensity of a fever dream, this novel opens an insightful and truly compelling window onto the Thai heart.

Links:

Mãn (2013)

by Kim Thúy, translated from French by Sheila Fischman

  • Year Published: 2013
    English version in 2014
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Language: French
  • Country: Vietnam & Canada
  • Kim Thuy is a Vietnamese-born Canadian writer, whose debut novel Ru won the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband – a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Mãn is a mystery – her name means ‘perfect fulfillment’, yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair.

Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.

Links:

Apple & Knife (2018)

by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, horror, short stories, dark, medium-paced
  • Language: Bahasa Indonesia
  • Country: Indonesia
  • You may want to check content warnings before reading

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These short fictions set in the Indonesian everyday—in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages—reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes wacky and always engrossing, this is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Mara finds herself brainstorming an ad campaign for Free Maxi Pads, with a little help from the menstruation-eating hag of her childhood. Jamal falls in love with the rich and powerful Bambang, but it is the era of the smiling general and, if he’s not careful, he may find himself recruited to Bambang’s brutal cause. Solihin would give anything to make dangdut singer Salimah his wife – anything at all.

In the globally connected and fast-developing Indonesia of Apple and Knife, taboos, inversions, sex and death all come together in a heady, intoxicating mix full of pointed critiques and bloody mutilations. Women carve a place for themselves in this world, finding ways to subvert norms or enacting brutalities on themselves and each other.

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books written by Southeast Asian authors.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite book written by a Southeast Asian author, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

The Blind Woman Without a Toe

Excerpt from Apple & Knife by Intan Paramadith

Photo by Nong V | Accessed on Unsplash.com

This is an excerpt from the book Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein. The book is a collection of short stories, and this is from the first short story called “The Blind Woman Without a Toe.”

Come. Come, child. Sit by me. Are you sure you want to hear how I became blind? Oh, it’s a scary tale, child. So much blood was shed, like when an animal is sacrificed. It was an awful event involving someone very close to me. You may know of her. I was butchered. Yes, you could say that. And I even butchered myself. My eyes were pecked out by a bird. They say it was a dove from heaven, but it was actually a black crow straight out of hell. I screamed. I begged it to stop. But my shrieks were drowned out by its caws. It got to the point that you could no longer tell what was flowing, tears or blood. The crow only heeded its owner and she wasn’t satisfied until my eyes were hollow sockets.

Long ago, before I became blind, I lived with my mother and my two younger sisters. The youngest wasn’t my biological sister. She was my stepfather’s daughter. Her name was Sinderlarat. You’ve heard of her, haven’t you? She is already legendary, so maybe you won’t believe what I’m about to tell you. Sin – that’s what we called her – was so dirty, she looked like she had powdered herself with soot. And she really did live in the attic. I won’t deny it (thought I regret it, since that’s where she colluded with the thing that granted her powers). What I want to do is correct history. History has killed me off in favour of her, who people say lived happily ever after. You want to know the real truth? Sin is dead. I’m the one who survives.

Yes, we were unfair to her. We ordered her to do the heavy work. When she wanted to go to the ball, we threw rice in every corner and wouldn’t let her leave the house until she had gathered all of it in a bowl. Of course, it was wasted labour, but at that point we didn’t know she was being helped by a spirit, that accursed Fairy Godmother. That’s the story you’ve heard? Well, now I’ll tell you something different.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Apple & Knife – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These stories set in the Indonesian everyday – in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages – reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. This is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Dark, humorous, and vividly realised, Apple and Knife brings together taboos, inversions, sex and death in a heady, intoxicating mix.

Note: It’s important to understand that some stories require a trigger warning.

Copyright © 2018 by Intan Paramaditha.

Translated by: Stephen J. Epstein

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.