Short Stories About Survival

In these stories, people struggle to survive while the elements, animals, an oppressive system, or other people try to kill them.

See also Dystopias

See also The Holocaust

See also Apocalypse

The Open Boat | Stephen Crane

Four men are floating in a dinghy after their boat went down. They are rowing and bailing water, trying to make it to shore.

Read “The Open Boat”

To Build a Fire | Jack London

In the Yukon, a man is traveling on foot with a husky in the wilderness to meet some acquaintances. It’s – 75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots, necessitating a fire.

Read “To Build a Fire”

The Sea Devil | Arthur Gordon

A Florida man takes his rowboat out at night to cast his net. He wants to catch some fish, but he catches a manta ray instead.

Read “The Sea Devil”

A Mountain Journey | Howard O’Hagan

A trapper is traveling alone in the wilderness with his goods. He’s exhausted but he presses on to a cottage where he can rest in warmth and safety.

Read “A Mountain Journey”

The Sniper | Liam O’Flaherty                                 

At night, a sniper waits on a rooftop. He risks lighting a cigarette which alerts a nearby sniper of his presence.  They exchange some fire. The sniper feels trapped, but he knows he has to get off the roof before enemy forces converge on him.

Read here

Grace Period | Will Baker                          

A man in the yard of his country home senses some kind of impending disaster. He tries to get some information or help.

The Birds | Daphne du Maurier

A farm family is attacked one winter’s night by some birds. They try to rationalize the situation, but the next day the husband sees thousands of gulls gathered over the sea.

This is a novella.

Read here

When it Happens | Margaret Atwood

Mrs. Burridge, a fifty-one-year old woman on a farm, prepares for some kind of societal breakdown, probably a war. She doesn’t believe her husband will be able to protect her – he could be dead or gone – when it happens.

Poison | Roald Dahl

A man lies motionless in his bed, terrified, because a poisonous snake is under the covers on his stomach. When his roommate gets home, he sends him to get a doctor.

Read here

The Most Dangerous Game | Richard Connell

The owner of an island hunts people; if they can elude him for three days they are allowed to go free.

Read here

The Little Match Girl | Hans Christian Andersen

A young girl seeks shelter from the cold in a nook. She can’t go home because she was unable to sell any matches; her father would beat her. She wants to light one of her matches to warm herself.

Read here

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Alexandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

Ivan is a political prisoner in a Siberian work camp. His days are all about survival: doing minimal work, hiding tools, getting enough food, and currying favor with the right people.

This story is a novella.

Read here

Celebration | W.D. Valgardson

Mabel fries potatoes while Eric balances on a kitchen chair. Mabel says they need more wood for the stove, but Eric tells her to get it herself. Mabel has been drinking so she responds harshly; Eric has been drinking more, and he escalates the argument. Their arguments have turned violent before, and this one seems to be heading the same way.

Leiningen Versus the Ants | Carl Stephenson

Leiningen owns a large plantation in Brazil. An army of ants, twenty square miles in size, is advancing on the plantation, destroying everything in its path. Leiningen has been warned to abandon his property – for the safety of himself and his men – but he plans on making a stand and fighting off the ants.

Read “Leningen Versus the Ants”

Pond Time | Gretel Ehrlich

Madeleine is flying to Alaska to find the daughter of her deceased husband whom he had with another woman. The engine fails and the pilot is forced into a crash landing.

The Torture of Hope | Villiers De L’isle Adam

Rabbi Abarbanel has been held in a dungeon and tortured for a year for usury and scorn for the poor. One day the Rabbi sees a sliver of light between the door and wall; he tries the door and finds it unlocked.

Read here

I’m Coming In | Joseph N. Bell

Navy training pilots are out flying when an extreme weather report comes in. The officer on tower duty recalls the cadets or instructs them to land in a safe location.

A Passion in the Desert | Honore De Balzac

A captured French soldier escapes but gets stranded in the desert and encounters a panther.

Read here

Taman | Mikhail Lermontov

The narrator relates his narrow escape in Taman. As an officer traveling on government business he is given lodging at a private residence. It is an eerie place with no master, a blind servant boy, and a daughter who has run away. At night a shadow flickering across his room gets his attention.

Read “Taman”

And of Clay Are We Created | Isabel Allende

In Latin America, mudslides have buried towns and killed thousands of people. A thirteen-year-old girl, Azucena, is buried up to her neck in one of the mudslides. Rolf Carle is the first reporter on the scene. Volunteers are unable to rescue the girl, and Rolf gradually pays less attention to his job and becomes more emotionally attached to the girl as he tries to assist her himself.

Read “And of Clay Are We Created”

The Sun-Dog Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is relaxing after a day on the Alaskan trail. He and the narrator start talking about a painting, which reminds Sitka of an arduous journey he once made. When he was a letter carrier on Lake Linderman, a young woman hired him to take her to Dawson. Then she hires him to travel with her. She is desperately looking for something but doesn’t tell him what.

Read “The Sun-Dog Trail”

It’s A Good Life | Jerome Bixby

Aunt Amy is on her front porch while little Anthony is tormenting a rat he caught. Bill Soames drops off a box of groceries. Bill is terrified of Anthony, as is everyone else in town. He has powerful mental abilities that make everyone subject to his whims. Aunt Amy is preparing for a party that evening.

Read “It’s A Good Life”

Wild Honey | Horacio Quiroga

Gabriel Benincasa, an accountant, feels a need to leave city life for a while to test himself in the jungle. His godfather warns him that he won’t last in the jungle and tries to look out for him.

Read “Wild Honey”

I will continue to add stories about survival for avid readers and possibly for students.