These stories have characters that are afraid, usually because of a physical threat, a danger to someone close to them, or because their imagination runs wild.
These stories might interest an avid reader, or might be suitable short stories for middle school kids.
See also Dystopian
Wildcat | Flannery O’Connor
There are reports of a wildcat loose in the area. The young men are planning to hunt it down, while “Old Gabriel”, an elderly, blind man, is afraid of being attacked by the cat, which he claims to be able to smell.
“Wildcat” (PDF page 39)
The Griffin and the Minor Canon | Frank Stockton
A griffin hears that a likeness of him is being displayed at a far away church. He wants to see it, so he goes to the town and calls out for someone to talk to him, but the people are afraid. They suggest the minor canon might speak to him.
That Evening Sun | William Faulkner
Nancy is an African-American washerwoman who’s been treated unjustly in the town. A man, possibly her husband, believes that the child she’s carrying isn’t his. He leaves but Nancy is afraid that he’s coming back to attack her.
Once Upon a Time | Nadine Gordimer
A woman, scared after hearing a noise at night, tells herself a bedtime story about a happy, affluent couple who are afraid of people of a different color. They increase the security of their home to keep safe.
The Circus | Katherine Anne Porter
A child, Miranda, is taken to her first circus. She’s overwhelmed by the sensations of the event and gets frightened.
The Pit and the Pendulum | Edgar Allan Poe
A man is put on trial and condemned to death. He finds himself in a cell with a deep pit in the center and, above, a blade swinging back and forth on a pendulum.
Anxiety | Grace Paley
An older woman watches people from her tenement window. When a man and his young daughter walk by, she questions his behavior and warns him about the dangers of the world.
The Way It Felt to Be Falling | Kim Edwards
The narrator, Kate, relates the events of the summer she turned nineteen. Her father went insane after his business failed. Her boyfriend, Stephen, was violent and suicidal. After Stephen lost a bet at work, he had to go skydiving and Kate was selected to go with him to witness it. She also decides to do the jump herself.
The Norwegian Rat | Naguib Mahfouz
The tenants of a small apartment building are afraid of the possible invasion of their building by Norwegian rats. Reportedly, the rats are very dangerous, attacking cats and even people. The senior tenant of the building gives instructions on how everyone can prepare for and protect themselves from the rats.
On the Rainy River | Tim O’Brien
The narrator tells the story of what happened to him twenty years ago. He was too embarrassed to tell it before. After college he received a draft notice for the Vietnam War. He had complex feelings about the war and was uncertain about reporting.
Suzy and Leah | Jane Yolen
In her diary, Suzy writes about the refugee camp in her town where she and other children have brought candy bars to the children inside. They will be attending her school soon, and she’s not looking forward to it.
In letters to her mother (who is deceased), Leah writes about being in the refugee camp, and the conditions that she and others endured during the war and while fleeing from the Nazis. She is afraid of going to school in America.
They become classmates and are assigned to work together, but they don’t understand each other.
Where Have You Gone Charming Billy | Tim O’Brien
Paul Berlin is serving his first day in the Vietnam War. Earlier in the day, one of his platoon members was killed by a landmine. While on a night march, Paul tries to control his fears.
The Colonel | Carolyn Forche
The narrator recounts a tense dinner in the home of an unidentified powerful man. He has an important message to give his guests.
Read “The Colonel” (Coarse language warning)
To Set Our House in Order | Margaret Laurence
Beth has to go to the hospital two weeks before her due date. Her husband, Ewen, is worried, as is her daughter Vanessa. Her mother-in-law, Grandmother MacLeod, is stoically detached. Ewen and his mother argue about getting some help for the house. Vanessa relates her feelings during the episode, and talks about the changes her grandmother has lived thru.
Snow | Julia Alvarez
Yolanda narrates her early experiences in New York, going to school, learning a new language, and coping with the possibility of a nuclear conflict.
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.
A Saucer of Loneliness | Theodore Sturgeon
A man rushes into the sea to help a woman. It’s hard to find her in the tumult, and a panicked search ensues. Years earlier, she had a remarkable experience in a park that affected her deeply.
The Elevator | William Sleator
Martin, twelve-years-old, has moved to an apartment building with an old, small elevator. He wants to avoid it, but he lives on the seventeenth floor and doesn’t want to look like a coward. One morning an unusual lady rides the elevator with him, increasing his sense of dread.
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.
I will try to add more stories about fear or anxiety that could be helpful for teaching reading and reading comprehension to middle or high school students. Eventually, I hope these pages will become a teaching resource.