Very Short Stories for High School & Middle School
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.
These stories offer a complete reading experience with great economy of words.
Reading a few could be just what someone needs to get motivated to read a regular-length one.
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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)
Looking for a Twist Ending?
- Short Stories with a Twist Ending
A description of famous short stories with surprise endings.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Barney | Will Stanton
A scientist on a deserted island conducts experiments to try to increase the intelligence of a rat.
Read "Barney" (915 words)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Read "Home" (750 words)
Home is a chapter from the novel Maud Martha, but it has often been anthologized as a short story.
Yours | Mary Robison
Allison, thirty-five, and her husband Clark, seventy-eight, carve pumpkins in the evening until one o'clock the next morning.
Read "Yours" (730 words)
This story has a bit of a twist ending. It packs a great deal of meaning into few words, and would allow for a lot of discussion.
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.
Read "War" (1,600 words)
Some of the themes in War include sacrifice, patriotism, and intellectualizing our emotions.
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.
Read "My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn" (1,000 words)
This story deals with friendship, identity, and Hispanic culture.
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.
Read "Popular Mechanics" (500 words)
This is an example of a minimalist story, stripped down and without judgment, leaving readers to interpret for themselves.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
I couldn't find an online version, but there's a download available of the story with background information. Just search the title and author name and include the word cabarrus. It's a PDF that should be the first result. (1,375 words)
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.
Read "On Discovery" (670 words)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
The Answer Is No | Naguib Mafouz
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
Read "A Letter to God" (1,100 words)
This story has a humorous ending.
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)
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)
Important Things | Barbara L. Greenberg
Children are pestering their parent to tell them about the Important Things. When they get a bit older, the parent imparts some advice, but the children aren't impressed with it.
Read "Important Things" (340 words)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Blackberries | Ellen Hunnicut
A man returns to his campsite with freshly-picked blackberries. His wife starts talking about being out of milk, and 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)