When buying a short story collection, there’s nothing I like more than seeing the word “complete” in the title. If you want Bierce’s stories in book form, The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce is all you’ll need with almost 100 selections.
• Ambrose Bierce Short Stories •
A Horseman in the Sky
During the American Civil War, Carter Druse, fighting for the North, falls asleep at his sentry post. We learn how he joined the Union forces.
This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs. (5% in)
“He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime.”
—A Horseman in the Sky
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
A man is on a bridge in Alabama, his hands bound and a rope around his neck. He’s a civilian, a confederate sympathizer, and is being held by Federal soldiers. He’s been sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American Civil War.
Read “An Occurrence . . .” (Includes Analysis)
A six-year-old boy, who is a deaf-mute, wanders off one afternoon. He gets scared by a rabbit and then runs off and hides, falling asleep. He wakes up to an unusual sight.
This story can also be read in the above preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs. (23% in)
“With a startled cry the child turned and fled, he knew not in what direction, calling with inarticulate cries for his mother . . .”
A Son of the Gods
A group of soldiers advances to a difficult point. There’s a clearing ahead. At the far end is a stone wall. Behind the wall is a hedge and behind that are some trees. The enemy could be concealed somewhere within. Something must be done.
This story can also be read in the above preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs. (30% in)
The Coup de Grâce
In a regiment are two brothers, Caffal and Creede Halcrow. Caffal is a sergeant under Captain Madwell, and they are long-time friends. Creede is a major and has a hostile relationship with Madwell. Madwell’s company is ordered to hold the head of a ravine, but they are driven from their position with heavy losses.
This story can also be read in the above preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs. (65% in)
The Damned Thing
A group of men, including a coroner, are seated around a table with a dead man on it. They’re conducting an inquest into his death. They’re joined by a young man from the city. He’s a reporter who has investigated the man’s death and was with him when he died. He’s questioned about the day’s events.
This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories. (73% into preview)
My Favorite Murder
The narrator murdered his mother. He’s been on trial for seven years. When the judge calls it “one of the most ghastly crimes” he’s ever encountered the narrator’s lawyer objects. He says this is nothing compared to when his client murdered his uncle. The judge allows the story to be told.
This story can also be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories. (84% into preview)
The Boarded Window
A man who lives in the wilderness prepares his wife’s body for burial. There is an incident that night, which the narrator claims explains the mystery of why his cabin had a boarded window.
This story can also be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories. (80% into preview)
Orrin Brower was in the county jail for murdering his brother-in-law. He escaped, hitting his jailer with an iron bar and fleeing into the forest. He’s unfamiliar with the area; he soon gets lost. He knows it won’t be long before he’s found.
Read “An Arrest”
Thurston is a first Lieutenant in a Federal brigade. He’s not generally liked. The narrator, a topographical engineer, is busy with his work. Thurston joins him on a hazardous expedition. When they encounter an opposing regiment, Thurston reacts in an unusual way.
Read “George Thurston”
The Man and the Snake
Harker Brayton relaxes on the sofa with a book. In a corner of the room, under his bed, he sees two tiny points of light. He tries returning to his book but can’t focus on it. Looking at the spot again, he finds the points of light still there—they might even be closer. Startled, he drops his book.
The narrator and Moxon discuss whether machines can think. Moxon is convinced they can. They also discuss the definition of life. Later that night, the narrator finds Moxon playing chess against a surprising opponent.
Read “Moxon’s Master”
Oil of Dog
The narrator tells the story of his parents. His father manufactured dog oil and his mother disposed of unwanted babies. The narrator would assist his father by procuring neighborhood dogs and his mother by carrying away the remains of her work. One day, he inadvertently improves his parents’ business.
“In my boyhood I was trained to habits of industry; I not only assisted my father in procuring dogs for his vats, but was frequently employed by my mother to carry away the debris of her work in the studio.”
—Oil of Dog
A Psychological Shipwreck
After a stressful time with his business, William Jarrett books passage for New York on the Morrow, an English cargo ship. There are few passengers. One of them is Miss Janette Harford, a young English woman. They spend a lot of time together. He feels a definite connection to her, but it’s not love.
A Vine on a House
An old house in Missouri has been unoccupied for years and will probably stay that way—it has an evil reputation. It’s decayed and overrun by a large vine. The Hardings lived there along with the wife’s sister. In 1884 the husband said his wife had gone to visit her mother.
“This vine—of a species which no botanist has ever been able to name—has an important part in the story of the house.”
—A Vine on a House