Short Stories With a Twist Ending
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Twist endings aren’t to everybody’s taste; they might seem contrived, superficial, or too commercial for a serious reader. An “epiphany” ending might be more resonant, but it’s hard to beat a twist ending for pure entertainment value, and when a surprise ending is done really well it's as satisfying a reading experience as any other kind of story.
Usually the author tries to give the reader a fair chance to figure out what’s going to happen.
Even though a twist ending is supposed to give the reader a jolt, in hindsight it should seem perfectly reasonable. The best ones seem inevitable and seamless.
Not all the twists are sudden, but they will all be surprising in some way.
Here are some great short stories with surprise endings. The endings aren't revealed here, only the set-ups.
The Interlopers | Saki
Two feuding family heads get trapped in the woods, giving them time to discuss their situation.
Twin Study | Stacey Richter
A woman attends a study of identical twins where she sees her sister, whom she hasn’t seen since the last study, four years ago. She struggles with her identity, comparing her life and traits to her sister’s.
The Open Window | Saki
A young girl tells a story of family tragedy to a visitor.
Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen | O.Henry
An elderly gentleman has treated a local indigent man to a hearty Thanksgiving Day meal for the past nine years. The poor man shows up to their meeting place in a condition that threatens to ruin the gentleman’s tradition.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | Ambrose Bierce
A Confederate sympathizer is condemned to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.
The Lottery | Shirley Jackson
A small town prepares for its annual ritual–a lottery–that is supposed to ensure a good harvest.
The Necklace | Guy de Maupassant
A woman borrows an expensive necklace from a friend, but she loses it and works to set things right.
The Last Leaf | O.Henry
A woman with pneumonia can see an ivy vine through her sickbed window. She counts down the leaves as they fall and tells her roommate that when the last one falls, the pneumonia will kill her.
Wish You Were Here | Frank Jones
A woman’s garden gnome is stolen; she begins receiving postcards that are signed by the gnome.
Roman Fever | Edith Wharton
Two middle aged women visit Rome with their unmarried daughters. In their youths, the women were romantic rivals. The women talk about their lives and daughters.
A Retrieved Reformation | O.Henry
A reformed safecracker faces a problem that could reveal his culpability in several robberies.
Man From the South | Roald Dahl
An elderly man bets a young man that he can’t light his lighter ten times in a row. If it fails to light on any of the ten attempts, the young man loses the pinky finger of his left hand; if all ten attempts are successful, the young man wins a Cadillac.
The Lame Shall Enter First | Flannery O'Connor
A young son mourns the loss of his mother, while his unsympathetic father is preoccupied with helping other people. The father invites a young delinquent into their home, who resists his efforts to help.
Barney | Will Stanton
A scientist on a deserted island tries to increase the intelligence of Barney, a rat.
A Continuity of Parks | Julio Cortazar
After a day of activity, a man reads a novel; he progressively becomes more immersed in the story.
Good Country People | Flannery O'Connor
Mrs. Hopewell runs a farm with her tenants and her daughter, a thirty-two year old with a prosthetic leg. A Bible salesman visits the farm and is invited to stay for dinner.
The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin
A woman gets the news that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. Over the next hour, she experiences a range of emotions.
Reunion | Arthur C.Clarke
Earth receives a transmission from an approaching alien ship. It says the aliens had originally colonized earth millions of years ago, before a non-fatal disease split the population. The returning aliens now have a cure for any who are still infected.
The Reticence of Lady Anne | Saki
A man tries to smooth things over with his wife whom he had argued with earlier, but she doesn’t respond to his efforts.
A Horseman in the Sky | Ambrose Bierce
During the American Civil War, a Federal sentry falls asleep at his post, but wakes in time to see a Confederate scout whose report could be deadly.
This story is a combination of parts that are very clear and parts that require more careful attention to figure out what's going on.
Taste | Roald Dahl
A dinner host and a wine expert make a bet. If the expert can identify the wine being served, he gets to marry the host's daughter; if he can't, he forfeits both his houses.
Charles | Shirley Jackson
A boy who just started kindergarten, Laurie, comes home everyday with stories of a classmate, Charles, who's disruptive, disobedient, and violent. Laurie's parents are concerned that Charles is a bad influence on their son.
The Gift of the Magi | O.Henry
A young couple with a low income try to find a way to get each other nice Christmas presents.
The Landlady | Roald Dahl
A young man stays at an eerily quiet but seemingly perfect bed and breakfast.
The Mouse | Saki
While riding in a train carriage with a woman, a man feels a mouse in his clothes and struggles to solve the problem discreetly.
Bella Fleace Gave a Party | Evelyn Waugh
A highborn but poor elderly woman comes into some money and throws a party, carefully choosing whom she will invite and whom she will snub.
Beware of Dog | Roald Dahl
A WW II pilot with serious injuries bails out of his plane. He wakes up in a hospital in Brighton (in his home country of England), with his injuries treated.
The Sniper | Liam O'Flaherty
A sniper on a rooftop gives away his position by lighting a cigarette. He exchanges fire with another sniper, and he knows he has to get off the roof before he's surrounded.
Dear Marsha | Judie Angell
During summer vacation, Marsha starts corresponding with a pen pal, Anne Marie. They talk about their difficulties and have a lot in common.
One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts | Shirley Jackson
Mr. Johnson walks around the city handing out candy, peanuts, and helping people wherever he can.
Clean Sweep Ignatius | Jeffrey Archer
Ignatius is the new Financial Minister of Nigeria. He is dedicated to ending corruption, and does such an impressive job that the President gives him a special assignment – rooting out Nigerians with secret Swiss accounts.
Read "Clean Sweep Ignatius" (Page 9)
Appointment with Love | Sulamith Ish Kishor
A returning lieutenant arrives at Grand Central Station to meet up with a woman he has never seen. They have been corresponding for 13 months during his tour of duty, and her letters have been a source of strength and encouragement. He feels he is in love with her, but he is also anxious to find out what she looks like.
A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner
Miss Emily Grierson dies and, as a town oddity, everyone goes to her funeral. The narrator recounts some episodes from her life, including a tax dispute with the town and when her suitor left her.
The Hounds of Fate | Saki
A wanderer approaches a house for a little relief, but is greeted as if he’s the returning owner.
Harvey's Dream | Stephen King
An older man relates his previous night’s dream to his wife.
Lamb to the Slaughter | Roald Dahl
A woman kills her husband with a piece of frozen lamb, and then plots to conceal her guilt.
Gold-Mounted Guns | F. R. Buckley
Pecos Tommy is an outlaw known for his gold-mounted guns. When a young man decides to start a life of crime, he finds Tommy and asks if he can ride with him. He even has an easy job lined up to get their partnership started.
A Man Who Had No Eyes | Mackinlay Kantor
A blind beggar comes down the street as Mr. Parsons comes out of his hotel. He feels pity for blind creatures and reflects on his own success. The man speaks to Parsons, and takes out an item that he’d like to sell.
Zoo | Edward Hoch
Professor Hugo's Interplanetary Zoo visits earth every August. Everyone looks forward to the strange creatures they will see this time.
The Painted Door | Sinclair Ross
John walks five miles from his farm to his father’s to help him with chores. His wife Ann doesn’t want him to go because they’re expecting a storm and she wants his company at home. He asks their neighbor Steven to drop in to play cards while he’s gone. Ann decides to do some painting to pass the time. After a while the weather turns bad.
The Dowry | Guy de Maupassant
Simon and Jeanne are newly married. Simon plans to use Jeanne's large dowry to buy a legal practice. They take a trip to Paris to enjoy each others company and to make the purchase.
The Wife's Story | Ursula K. Le Guin
A wife tells the story of her husband. He was a good husband and father, well-liked and respected. Something happened that she can't believe. Everyone says it was because of the moon and the blood.
After Twenty Years | O. Henry
A policeman makes his rounds, checking that the shop doors are secured for the night, when he sees a man waiting in an entrance way. The man explains that he and a friend made arrangements twenty years ago to meet there that night.
Broken Routine | Jeffrey Archer
Septimus is a claims adjuster at an insurance company. He maintains a strict daily routine in his work and home life. One day he is asked to stay a little late, which turns out to be very disruptive for him.
To Serve Man | Damon Knight
Earth is visited by an alien race, the Kanamit, who look like a cross between pigs and people. They have brought valuable knowledge for producing power, increasing food supply, and other things, at no charge. Some question the purity of their motives, but when the Kanamit are subjected to a lie-detector test, they pass.
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.
Button, Button | Richard Matheson
A hand addressed package is left at the door of Arthur and Norma Lewis. Inside is a contraption with a button on it, and a note saying that Mr. Steward will call on them at 8 PM. After assuring them that he isn't selling anything, Mr. Steward makes them a shocking proposition.
Marjorie Daw | Thomas Bailey Aldrich
John Flemming has slipped and broken his leg, leaving him confined to his couch. His friend Edward Delaney begins corresponding with him to pass the time. Delaney describes the family who live across from him, including their mansion and beautiful young daughter.
The Woman at the Store | Katherine Mansfield
The female narrator, her brother Jo, and their acquaintance Jim are traveling in the heat, looking forward to stopping for refreshment at a place Jim knows. He says the man of the place is generous with his whisky, and the woman is attractive and welcoming. They arrive at a lonely establishment and are greeted by a disheveled woman with a rifle.
The Memento | John Collier
Eric is out walking in the country when he is called over by a neighbor, an old man. They make conversation about their community, which includes a resident known for being a ladies man. The old man shows Eric his museum, a collection of items that all have something in common.
Read "The Memento" (Ctl + F the title, it's near the top)
Time Enough at Last | Lynn Venable
Henry Bemis really wants to read a book, but he can't fit it into his schedule. He works at Eastside Bank and Trust, and his wife takes up the rest of his time.
Third from the Sun | Richard Matheson
With the impending threat of a major war, a family and their neighbors decide to sneak away to safety on a spaceship. The father will use his position as chief test pilot to gain access to the vessel.
Brothers Beyond the Void | Paul W. Fairman
Marcusson is preparing for a space voyage to Mars. He and his friend Conrad talk about whom he will meet. Conrad explains that people are the same everywhere. Marcusson takes comfort from this and also feels some fear over his upcoming trip.
Four O'Clock | Price Day
Mr. Crangle is at home at 3:47 in the afternoon. Three weeks ago he realized he had the power to mark all evil people in some way. He would be the judge, and he had no moral qualms about using his ability. He sets 4:00 in the afternoon as the time when he will execute his judgment.
He-y, Come On Ou-t | Shinichi Hoshi
In a certain village, after a big storm, the people discover a hole in the ground. It's about a meter wide, but they can't figure out how deep it is. It seems to have no bottom. They think about what should be done with it.
Test | Theodore L. Thomas
Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet | O. Henry
Jeff Peters recounts an incident he had while posing as a medicine man. After being shut down by the constable, he meets Andy, a man with a similar trade. They want to go in on something together. Jeff gets an emergency summons from the mayor; he is sick and the local doctor is out of town.
The Lottery | Marjorie Barnard
Ted Bilborough is on his way home from work when he finds out his wife won a lottery. His acquaintances tease him a bit and ask what he will do with the money. He thinks about that as well, and also wonders where his wife got the money for the ticket.
Desiree’s Baby | Kate Chopin
Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby.