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.

These are great stories for learning or teaching careful reading. Sometimes 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.

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.

Read The Interlopers

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.

Read Twin Study

The Open Window | Saki

A young girl tells a story of family tragedy to a visitor.

Read The Open Window

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.

Read Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | Ambrose Bierce

A Confederate sympathizer is condemned to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The Lottery | Shirley Jackson

A small town prepares for its annual ritual–a lottery–that is supposed to ensure a good harvest.

Read The Lottery

The Necklace | Guy de Maupassant

A woman borrows an expensive necklace from a friend, but she loses it and works to set things right.

Read The Necklace

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.

Read The Last Leaf

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.

Read Roman Fever

A Retrieved Reformation | O.Henry

A reformed safecracker faces a problem that could reveal his culpability in several robberies.

Read A Retrieved Reformation

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.

Read Man From the South

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.

Read Barney

A Continuity of Parks | Julio Cortazar

After a day of activity, a man reads a novel; he progressively becomes more immersed in the story.

Read A Continuity of Parks

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.

Read Good Country People

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.

Read The Story of an Hour

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.

Read Reunion

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.

Read The Reticence of Lady Anne

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.

Read A Horseman in the Sky

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.

Read Charles

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.

Read The Gift of the Magi

The Landlady | Roald Dahl

A young man stays at an eerily quiet but seemingly perfect bed and breakfast.

Read The Landlady

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.

Read The Mouse

Bella Fleace Gave a Party | Evelyn Waugh

A highborn but poor elderly woman comes into some money and throws a party, carefully choosing who she will invite and who she will snub.

Read Bella Fleace...

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.

Read Beware of Dog

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.

Read The Sniper

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.

Read One Ordinary Day...

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... (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.

Read "Appointment with Love"

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.

Read "A Rose for Emily"

The Hounds of Fate | Saki

A wanderer approaches a house for a little relief, but is greeted as if he’s the returning owner.

Read "The Hounds of Fate"

Harvey's Dream | Stephen King

An older man relates his previous night’s dream to his wife.

Read "Harvey's Dream"

This story has a surprise ending but it’s not a sudden twist; it’s more of a slow realization. This is an excellent story to teach careful reading. The clues are in plain sight.

Lamb to the Slaughter | Roald Dahl

A woman kills her husband with a piece of frozen lamb, and then plots to conceal her guilt.

Read "Lamb to the Slaughter"

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.

Read "Gold-Mounted Guns"

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.

Read "A Man Who Had No Eyes"

Zoo | Edward Hoch

Professor Hugo's Interplanetary Zoo visits earth every August. Everyone looks forward to the strange creatures they will see this time.

Read "Zoo"

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