If your students are struggling to get into the short story, or you’re pressed for time, here are some very brief stories to get you started.
They’re not as short as Hemingway’s famous six-word story (For sale: baby shoes, never worn.), but they’re manageable even for reluctant readers. Most are under 2,000 words; I’ve included an approximate word count where I could.
If you want to be able to reference a print edition at your leisure, one of my favorites is “Little Worlds” (Amazon). This anthology has 31 short stories for students. Their lengths vary. They aren’t all as short as the ones on this page. Part 1 has 14 selections divided by the usual story elements. Part 2 has another 16 stories.
Here are some short stories that deal with themes and subject matter appropriate for high school students. Many of these stories can be read quite quickly so they make for great discussion topics in class.
- “The Story of an Hour”
- “The Use of Force”
- “Lather and Nothing Else”
- “Three Questions”
- “One of These Days”
- “Old Man at the Bridge”
- “Popular Mechanics”
- “Dead Man’s Path”
- “A Conversation From the Third Floor”
- “Say Yes”
- “My First Goose”
- “Hearts and Hands”
- “The Other Wife”
- “The Answer Is No”
- “The Falling Girl”
- “The Pedestrian”
- “The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind”
- “The Dinner Party”
- “The Eyes Have It”
- “The Tenth Man”
- “A Dead Woman’s Secret”
- “The Flying Machine”
- “The Aged Mother”
- “The Wave”
1. “The Story of an Hour” | Kate Chopin
A woman is given the news that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. In the next hour, she experiences a range of emotions as she contemplates her life.
Read “The Story of an Hour” (1,020 words)
2. “The Use of Force” | William Carlos Williams
A doctor makes a house call on a sick young girl. She has hidden the severity of her symptoms and resists the examination.
Read “The Use of Force” (1,565 words)
3. “Girl” | Jamaica Kincaid
A mother imparts advice to her daughter on how to behave and how to be a woman. This is a prose/poem hybrid; it’s one long run-on sentence.
Read “Girl” (650 words)
4. “Lather and Nothing Else” | Hernando Tellez
An armed man enters a barbershop for a shave. The barber recognizes him; they are on opposite sides of some kind of political conflict that has turned violent. He has to decide what he will do with this opportunity.
Read “Lather and Nothing Else” (1,900 words)
If you’d like to compare this with another story where a barber has an objectionable customer, see Ray Bradbury’s The Beautiful Shave.
5. “Three Questions” | Leo Tolstoy
A king wants the answers to what he considers to be the three most important questions. His experience with a wise hermit gives him the answers he seeks.
Read “Three Questions” (1,560 words)
6. “One of These Days” | Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A corrupt mayor goes to an unlicensed dentist for treatment of an abscessed tooth. The dentist refuses to help, and they have a hostile exchange.
Read “One of These Days” (920 words)
7. “Old Man at the Bridge” | Ernest Hemingway
An old man sits at the side of a country road during the Spanish civil war. Everyone is fleeing the area, and although he has already traveled 12 kilometers, he is too exhausted and distracted to continue.
Read “Old Man at the Bridge” (765 words)
8. “War” | Luigi Pirandello
In a train carriage in Italy during WW1, several passengers talk about their sons who have been sent to war. They argue over who among them feels the most grief. Some of the themes in War include sacrifice, patriotism, and intellectualizing our emotions.
Read “War” (1,600 words)
9. “Popular Mechanics” | Raymond Carver
A man is packing his suitcase to leave home for good. He and his wife have an argument that escalates quickly. This is an example of a minimalist story, stripped down and without judgment, leaving readers to interpret for themselves.
Read “Popular Mechanics” (500 words)
10. “Dead Men’s Path” | Chinua Achebe
Michael Obi is appointed headmaster of an African school. He and his wife are eager to modernize it and educate the locals, ridding them of their superstition. Obi restricts access to the school grounds even though the use of a path running through is very important to local religious beliefs.
Read “Dead Men’s Path” (1,230 words)
11. “A Conversation From the Third Floor” | Mohamed El-Bisatie
A woman goes to the outside of a prison to try to speak to her incarcerated husband.
Read “A Conversation From the Third Floor” (810 words)
12. “Say Yes” | Tobias Wolff
A husband and wife are doing the dishes together when the question of interracial marriage arises. They have different views on the subject. The husband wants to drop it, but the wife wants to talk it out.
Read “Say Yes” (1,680 words)
13. “My First Goose” | Isaac Babel
The narrator reports for duty to Commander Savitsky, leader of a Cossack Division of the Red Army. The narrator is educated, weak, and Jewish; he knows he won’t be readily accepted by the soldiers. He has to find a way to fit in.
Read “My First Goose” (1,280 words)
14. “Hearts and Hands” | O. Henry
A marshal handcuffed to a prisoner boards a train and sits across from a beautiful woman. She recognizes the marshal, and they catch up with each other.
Read “Hearts and Hands” (870 words)
15. “The Other Wife” | Colette
Marc and Alice are out for supper when he sees his ex-wife seated nearby. They talk about his ex and their new happiness.
Read “The Other Wife” (1,050 words)
16. “The Answer Is No” | Naguib Mahfouz
The announcement of a new headmaster puts a female teacher in a haze. He had been her private tutor many years ago and had taken advantage of the relationship.
Read “The Answer Is No” (1,200 words)
17. “The Falling Girl” | Dino Buzzati
Marta, a nineteen-year-old, lets herself fall off a skyscraper balcony after looking at the rich, important people in the city. She doesn’t fall in real-time; she has interactions on the way down and sees others falling as well.
Read “The Falling Girl” (1,550 words)
18. “The Pedestrian” | Ray Bradbury
In ten years of taking evening walks, Leonard Mead has never met up with another person; it’s common for everyone to stay inside and watch television. He is spotted by the police and approached.
Read “The Pedestrian” (1,440 words)
For more science fiction stories under 2,000 words, see the bottom of this article.
19. “Skipper” | Alden Nowlan
Ethel and Rupert have five sons. Skipper is the youngest son, and Ethel wants to keep him from his father’s world, the world that claimed her other four sons—working at the mill, getting drunk, and abusing his family.
Read “Skipper” (1,600 words)
20. “The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind” | Ray Bradbury
A city is surrounded by a wall shaped like an orange. The leader finds out that the neighboring city, Kwan-Si, is going to build a wall shaped like a pig. Since a pig can eat an orange, the citizens are worried that their city will suffer and Kwan-Si will prosper. His daughter suggests that he consult with the city’s stonemasons and builders to come up with a plan.
This story is an allegory for the cold war.
Read “The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind” (1,700 words)
21. “The Dinner Party” | Mona Gardner
At a dinner party, a spirited discussion breaks out over whether women can keep calm in a crisis.
Read “The Dinner Party” (530 words)
22. “The Eyes Have It” | Philip K. Dick
While reading a paperback novel, the narrator discovers an alien threat to Earth. The author casually describes beings with inhuman abilities. The narrator’s panic increases as their unusual abilities accumulate.
Read “The Eyes Have It” (1,070 words)
23. “The Tenth Man” | Ida Fink
Chaim the carpenter returns to his town. He is barely recognizable. He is the first Jew to return since the occupation. Others soon follow.
24. “Pilon” | Sandra Cisneros
The narrator remembers a feeling from her childhood when she was unselfconscious about her body and appearance.
25. “A Dead Woman’s Secret” | Guy de Maupassant
A dead woman’s adult children, a judge and a nun, sit vigil over her body. They decide to read some of her old letters, which reveals an old secret.
Read “A Dead Woman’s Secret” (1,400 words)
26. “The Flying Machine” | Ray Bradbury
In ancient China, Emperor Yuan is relaxing when a servant excitedly gives him the news that a man was seen flying with wings. The Emperor enjoys simple things, and this amazing development makes him think about his people’s safety and way of life.
This parable could illustrate resistance to change or a desire to hold on to power.
Read “The Flying Machine” (1,700 words)
27. “The Aged Mother” | Matsuo Basho
A local despot proclaims that all aged people are to be put to death. A poor farmer prepares to let his mother die in a humane way – by bringing her to a mountain and leaving her there.
Read “The Aged Mother” (900 words)
28. “The Wave” | Liam O’Flaherty
A two hundred foot high cliff has developed a cavern at its base from “battling” the incoming waves over thousands of years. They keep crashing in, and high tide is approaching.
This story has no human or animal characters. The “characters” are the cliff and the waves.
Read “The Wave” (1,000 words)
Here are some stories that will get plenty of laughs and provoke some serious discussions as well.
- “They’re Made Out of Meat”
- “The Death of a Government Clerk”
- “The School”
- “The Reticence of Lady Anne”
1. “They’re Made Out of Meat” | Terry Bisson
Speaker #1 reports that they’ve discovered a planet where all the inhabitants are entirely made of meat. Speaker #2 is confused; he wants to locate the beings who sent out the radio signals, not meat.
Read “They’re Made Out of Meat” (815 words)
This in an all-dialogue story, amusing but also with the possible theme of isolation.
2. “The Death of a Government Clerk” | Anton Chekhov
While at the opera, a government office manager sneezes, accidentally spraying the man in front of him, a fellow office manager. He apologizes profusely but isn’t satisfied that the matter is closed.
Read “The Death of a Government Clerk” (1,020 words)
3. “The School” | Donald Barthelme
In a monologue, a teacher relates all the experiences with death that his class had one year.
This story is written in a conversational style. It’s humorous and easy to read.
Read “The School” (1,215 words)
4. “The Reticence of Lady Anne” | Saki
Egbert tries to break the ice with his wife whom he had argued with earlier. She doesn’t respond to his efforts.
Read “The Reticence of Lady Anne” (1,050 words)
There are several witty lines in this brief story.
Here are some short stories that are appropriate for middle school students. These stories deal with a variety of themes and are easy to read. They are great to use as an introduction to different styles of writing.
- “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
- “Miss Brill”
- “The Chaser”
- “A Continuity of Parks”
- “Nicholas Was…”
- “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn”
- “Grace Period”
- “What I Have Been Doing Lately”
- “On Discovery”
- “The Zebra Storyteller”
- “The Oval Portrait”
- “A Letter to God”
- “The Pose”
- “If Not Higher”
- “The Blue Jar”
- “The Man in the Brown Coat”
- “The Spirit of Giving”
- “The Japanese Quince”
- “So What Are You, Anyway?”
- “The Fun They Had”
- “The Far and the Near”
- “The Trout”
- “The Appointment in Samarra”
- “Cemetery Path”
- “The Flowers”
- “The Stolen Party”
- “The Key Game”
- “My Name”
- “The Escape”
- “The Interlopers”
1. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” | James Thurber
A passive and put-upon man has a series of daydreams while driving his wife on her weekly errands.
Read “Walter Mitty” (2,080 words)
2. “Miss Brill” | Katherine Mansfield
Miss Brill, a middle-aged woman, takes her weekly Sunday walk in the park to observe and listen to people. She overhears some remarks that upset her routine.
Read “Miss Brill” (2,010 words)
3. “Luck” | Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
An English military captain wins all his campaigns and continues to advance his career despite blundering at every turn.
Read “Luck” (1,780 words)
4. “The Chaser” | John Collier
A young man buys a love potion, but is surprised to find it only costs a dollar. The merchant sells another product at a much higher price to make up for it.
Read “The Chaser” (1,060 words)
5. “Snow” | Ann Beattie
A woman recounts the time she spent in the country with her lover and realizes that he viewed the same events differently.
Read “Snow” (750 words)
6. “A Continuity of Parks” | Julio Cortazar
A man resumes reading a novel that he had started a few days earlier. It’s about lovers who are plotting against the woman’s husband. The man who’s reading becomes immersed in the story.
Read “A Continuity of Parks” (635 words)
7. “Barney” | Will Stanton
A scientist on a deserted island conducts experiments to try to increase the intelligence of a rat.
Read “Barney” (915 words)
8. “Nicholas Was …” | Neil Gaiman
This is about an old man.
The entire story is only 100 words long, so there’s no need for me to say anything else about it.
Read “Nicholas Was …” (100 words)
9. “Home” | Gwendolyn Brooks
A man tries to get an extension on his mortgage payments. His family waits for him on the front porch, eager to know if the house will be lost. “Home” is a chapter from the novel Maud Martha, but it has often been anthologized as a short story.
Read “Home” (750 words)
10. “Yours” | Mary Robison
Allison, thirty-five, and her husband Clark, seventy-eight, carve pumpkins in the evening until one o’clock the next morning. This story has a bit of a twist ending. It packs a great deal of meaning into a few words and would allow for a lot of discussions.
Read “Yours” (730 words)
11. “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn” | Sandra Cisneros
A young girl admires her friend Lucy and wants to be around her all the time and be just like her. This story deals with friendship, identity, and Hispanic culture.
Read “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn” (1,000 words)
12. “Grace Period” | Will Baker
While in his front yard, a man gets the feeling that something terrible is about to happen. He tries to figure out what to do.
Read “Grace Period” (scroll down to exercise 2J; 690 words)
13. “What I Have Been Doing Lately” | Jamaica Kincaid
The narrator answers the door but finds no one there. After looking around, she takes a dreamlike walk.
Read “What I Have Been Doing Lately” (1,375 words)
14. “On Discovery” | Maxine Hong Kingston
Tang Ao, a Chinese explorer, discovers The Land of Women. He is captured and has a physical transformation inflicted upon him as a prerequisite to meeting the queen.
This story can be read as an allegory for the experiences of Chinese immigrants in America. It could also represent the treatment of Chinese women or women in general at different times.
Read “On Discovery” (670 words)
15. “The Zebra Storyteller” | Spencer Holst
A Siamese cat learns to speak Zebraic. When he speaks to Zebras in their own language, they are stunned; the cat takes the opportunity to tie up the zebras and kill them.
This short fable illustrates the function of the storyteller.
Read “The Zebra Storyteller” (365 words)
16. “The Oval Portrait” | Edgar Allan Poe
The injured narrator seeks shelter in an abandoned mansion. There are many paintings with an accompanying book that describes them. The narrator focuses on a painting of a young woman and looks up the story of when she modeled for the portrait.
Read “Oval Portrait” (1,300 words)
17. “A Letter to God” | Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes
Lencho is a hard worker who has experienced misfortune. He is confident that this year’s crop will be excellent because rain is coming. It rains and hails too much, ruining the crop, prompting Lencho to write a letter.
This story has a humorous ending.
Read “A Letter to God” (1,100 words)
18. “The Pose” | Anwer Khan
While out walking, a young woman suddenly changes her course and goes into the Shandar Cloth Store. She quickly enters the show window, removes the mannequin, and strikes its pose.
Read “The Pose” (1,500 words)
19. “If Not Higher” | I. L. Peretz
Early every Friday morning, rabbi Nemirov vanishes. His followers wonder where he goes and what he does. One of them decides to find out for sure.
Read “If Not Higher” (1,200 words)
20. “Ha’penny” | Alan Paton
The narrator works at a reformatory for young boys in Johannesburg. He likes to make small connections with his charges and ask about their families. One boy, Ha’penny, tells a story about his family that motivates the narrator to look into his background.
Read “Ha’penny” (1,700 words)
21. “The Blue Jar” | Isak Dinesen
A rich Englishman and his daughter are sailing in pursuit of his hobby, collecting ancient blue china, when the ship catches fire and sinks. His daughter gets left behind, but is rescued at the last minute by a young sailor.
Read “The Blue Jar” (1,035 words)
22. “The Man in the Brown Coat” | Sherwood Anderson
A historian writes while his wife works around the house and goes about her daily routine. The man is comfortable with books and writing, but there is distance between him and his wife.
Read “The Man in the Brown Coat” (1,025 words)
23. “The Spirit of Giving” | Maxine Chernoff
A woman sends her sister an Eskimo calendar, but she doesn’t like it. She also buys earmuffs for a friend, but he doesn’t like them. She tries to choose gifts with more care.
24. “The Japanese Quince” | John Galsworthy
Mr. Nilson feels a bit peculiar. He takes a walk in the nearby gardens. He sees his neighbor, which makes him feel awkward because they have never spoken.
Read “The Japanese Quince” (1,050 words)
25. “So What Are You, Anyway?” | Lawrence Hill
Carole, a young girl, is on a plane by herself going to see her grandparents. The couple seated by her start asking about her background.
Read “So What Are You, Anyway?” (1,400 words)
26. “20/20” | Linda Brewer
Bill and Ruthie are on a road trip. Bill finds her conversation simplistic; she refuses to argue anything.
Read “20/20” (<250 words)
27. “Daughter” | Erskine Caldwell
The Sheriff locks up Jim in the town jail. Lots of people come by to get the details, asking him if it was an accident. He keeps saying his daughter was hungry, and she had been a lot lately.
Read “Daughter” (1,800 words)
28. “Blackberries” | Ellen Hunnicut
A man returns to his campsite with freshly-picked blackberries. His wife starts talking about being out of milk, and of a theater tour in New York. He talks about frying up some cattails and other things they can do where they are.
Read “Blackberries” (610 words)
29. “Snow” | Julia Alvarez
A young girl is attending Catholic school her first year in the United States. She learns some English words, eventually becoming aware of the communist threat.
Read “Snow” (430 words)
30. “The Fun They Had” | Isaac Asimov
In the year 2157 Tommy finds a real book. It is about how school was in the old days. He and Margie talk about how different school used to be with human teachers.
Read “The Fun They Had” (1,070 words)
31. “The Far and the Near” | Thomas Wolfe
An express train passes by a cottage on the outskirts of a town for over a twenty year period. On each pass the train’s engineer blows the whistle, bringing a woman and her daughter out of a cottage to wave. This means a lot to the engineer.
Read “The Far and the Near” (1,430 words)
32. “The Trout” | Sean O’Faolain
A young girl and her brother find a fish in a narrow well. She doesn’t know how it got there, and she thinks about how it has been alone for so long.
Read “The Trout”
33. “Ruthless” | William de Mille
Judson and Mabel Webb are preparing to leave their mountain cottage for the winter to return to the city. When they left last winter, someone broke in and stole some of Judson’s liquor. He expects the thief to return, so he prepares a surprise.
Read “Ruthless” (1,025 words)
34. “The Appointment in Samarra” | W. Somerset Maugham
A servant meets Death in a Baghdad marketplace and flees from him.
This parable shows it’s impossible to avoid death.
Read “The Appointment in Samarra” (200 words)
35. “Cemetery Path” | Leonard Q. Ross
Ivan is known in his village as a timid, fearful man. When he walks home at night he goes the long way around the cemetery, even though it’s cold. One night he is challenged to cross the cemetery.
Read “Cemetery Path” (560 words)
36. “Identities” | W. D. Valgardson
Moved by childhood memories, a man leaves his own affluent neighborhood and goes exploring. He ends up in a seedy area. He can’t blend in because he’s driving a Mercedes.
Read “Identities” (1,015 words)
37. “The Flowers” | Alice Walker
Myop is a ten-year-old girl who is out exploring the woods behind her family’s sharecropper cabin on a beautiful summer day. As she starts to head home she makes a shocking discovery.
Read “The Flowers” (565 words)
38. “The Stolen Party” | Liliana Heker
Rosaura has been invited to Luciana’s birthday party. Rosaura’s mother works as a maid for Luciana’s mother. She doesn’t like the idea of her daughter going to “a rich people’s party.”
Read “The Stolen Party” (2,020 words)
39. “The Key Game” | Ida Fink
A family is living in their third apartment since the beginning of World War II. It’s late but they can’t go to bed until they play the key game—the mother imitates the doorbell, the boy delays answering while pretending he is looking for the keys, and the father hides.
Read “The Key Game” (840 words)
40. “My Name” | Sandra Cisneros
The narrator tells us about her name—what it means in Spanish and English, its history in her family and whether it suits her.
Read “My Name” (320 words)
41. “The Escape” | J. B. Stamper
Boris is being led down a long hallway to the solitary confinement cell. He was caught in an escape attempt. He’s terrified of his punishment and begs to be spared. He promises he’ll never do anything wrong again.
Read “The Escape”
42. “The Interlopers” | Saki
Ulrich is out patrolling his forest with a rifle. He’s not hunting the usual game; he wants to catch his neighbor, Georg, poaching on his land. Their families have a long standing feud over the territory, going back to their grandfathers. They hate each other intensely. Ulrich leaves his men on a hill and walks deeper into the growth.
Read “The Interlopers”
Here are a few stories that will make middle school students roll over with laughter. These short stories contain plenty of discussion points as well, and they are a great way to introduce different styles of writing.
- “Wrong Channel”
- “The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones”
- “There Was Once”
- “Important Things”
- “A Gentleman’s C”
1. “Wrong Channel” | Roberto Fernandez
Barbarita goes to the doctor so she can get her green card approved. Her friend Mima comes with her to translate. It doesn’t go smoothly.
Read “Wrong Channel” (<275 words)
2. “The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones” | Stephen Leacock
Melpomenus is a clergyman who has trouble saying goodbye after visiting people. Before his vacation starts, he visits a couple for tea. He is persuaded to stay much longer than he wanted.
This is a humorous story.
Read “The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones” (920 words)
3. “There Was Once” | Margaret Atwood
Someone tries to tell a traditional fairy tale but is constantly interrupted by the listener who objects to all the clichéd and politically incorrect elements.
Read “There Was Once” (600 words)
4. “Answer” | Fredric Brown
A man completes a circuit that connects all the supercomputers of all the inhabited planets of the universe—all ninety-six billion of them.
Read “Answer” (255 words)
5. “Important Things” | Barbara L. Greenberg
Children are pestering their parent to tell them about the important things. When they get a bit older, the parents impart some advice, but the children aren’t impressed with it.
Read “Important Things” (340 words)
6. “A Gentleman’s C” | Padgett Powell
An English professor’s father is enrolled in his class. He feels his father had been hard on him so he returns the favor by giving him a C.
Read “A Gentleman’s C” (163 words)
Here are some super short stories, with each one of them being under 500 words. These flash fiction pieces are great, and they will provoke plenty of great thinking and talking points for readers.
“Housewife” | Amy Hempel
Short, but captivating, “Housewife” fills every word with drama, keeping you engrossed all the way until the end.
“I Don’t Need Anything From Here” | László Krasznahorkai
A beautiful and lyrical piece of writing, Krasznahorkai takes you on a wondrous and enthralling journey, packing dense word after dense word into one long run-on sentence.
Read “I Don’t Need Anything From Here”
“The Huntress” | Sofia Samatar
A gorgeous piece that leaves your head spinning, “The Huntress” is a deft piece of flash fiction that is equally gripping and beautiful.
Read “The Huntress”
“Sticks” | George Saunders
This absurd story takes a seemingly innocuous pole and turns it into one father’s tabula rasa.
“The Outing” | Lydia Davis
In one sentence, Davis paints a vivid outline of a trip gone horribly wrong.
Read “The Outing”
Visit Short Story Guide to find the right one.