Looking for a short story that will keep you riveted to the end? The stories compiled here have held up as some of the most interesting and engaging ever.
Some short story writers keep coming up when readers name the most interesting story they’ve read. Some of them are:
- Richard Matheson
- Ray Bradbury
- Agatha Christie
- Damon Knight
- Charles Beaumont
- John Collier
- Shirley Jackson
- Roald Dahl
- Neil Gaiman
- George Saunders
- Guy de Maupassant
- Alice Munro
You’ll find at least one story from each of these authors below, as well as other standouts.
Admittedly, the selections here are biased to my personal taste of what’s interesting. These aren’t necessarily the stories I’d consider the best, but they’re engaging from beginning to end.
De Mortuis | John Collier
Mr. Rankin is in his cellar, doing some patchwork on the floor. He hears his door closing upstairs, and then the voices of Bud and Buck, calling out to him. They want him to come fishing, but he’s not feeling particularly sociable.
This is the second story in the preview of Fancies and Goodnights: Vol 1.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet | Richard Matheson
Wilson sits on a plane that’s preparing for takeoff. He’s shaken by the thunderous noise of the engines. He isn’t feeling well, physically or mentally. He rushes into the bathroom and tries to calm himself. He returns to his seat and tries to sleep, but can’t. Looking out the window, he sees something moving around on the wing.
This is the first story in the preview of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories.
The Pelican | Edith Wharton
Mrs. Amyot, a widow in debt, gives lectures to support herself and child. She’s a natural speaker, and comes from a family of female intellectuals. Her lectures are of dubious quality, and her audience is more interested in them as social events.
I don’t think I’ve ever read this many interesting sentences in one story.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton.
To Serve Man | Damon Knight
Earth is visited by the Kanamit, a hairy pig-like alien race. They bring gifts—technology for increasing food production, power generation, and other helpful things. They sit in on a session of the U. N. , where some of its members question the Kanamit’s motives. A criminologist has a bunch of equipment brought in to demonstrate the results of a lie-detector test.
This story can be read in the preview of The Best of Damon Knight. (35% into preview)
Perchance to Dream | Charles Beaumont
Philip Hall goes to a psychiatrist. He’s thirty-one, and hasn’t been able to sleep for 72 hours. He’s afraid if he goes to sleep, he’ll never wake up. He explains how his problem started when he discovered the power of his mind.
This is the first story in the preview of Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories. (34% into preview)
Mars is Heaven! | Ray Bradbury
A space ship with a crew of seventeen lands on Mars. To everyone’s surprise, Mars looks like small-town America in the 1920’s. Captain John Black is hesitant to leave the ship, but after confirming the atmosphere is breathable, he allows a small party to disembark. The ship’s navigator and the archaeologist offer theories to explain what they see. They approach a house.
Wasps’ Nest | Agatha Christie
John Harrison is out in his garden when he gets an unexpected visit from his old friend, the detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot explains that he has come to investigate a murder that hasn’t yet happened; he’s going to stop it, and he would like his friend’s help.
Wet Saturday | John Collier
Mr. Princey has his daughter, Millicent, go over the details of a serious occurrence—so serious that he believes she could be put in a criminal-lunatic asylum, or possibly hanged. Millicent was out in the stable putting away the croquet set. Withers, the curate she’s in love with, stopped by with some happy news. She reacted to it badly.
The Landlady | Roald Dahl
Billy Weaver, a seventeen-year-old salesman, gets into town at night. Looking for some accommodations, he finds a private bed and breakfast that looks pleasant and comfortable. He was headed for a hotel, but he feels drawn to this place. He rings the bell.
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains | Neil Gaiman
The narrator, an unusually small man, is looking for a cave on the Misty Isle. He wants to hire Calum MacInnes as a guide. MacInnes is reluctant to go because of the legends about those who take gold from the cave, and it’s a long journey.
The Bus | Shirley Jackson
Miss Harper is headed home on a wet, nasty night. She’s upset about having to ride a dirty little bus. She plans on writing a letter of complaint to the bus company. Settling into her seat, she hopes to get some rest on the bus ride home. Her thoughts are on a hot bath and a cup of tea.
The Summer People | Shirley Jackson
The Allisons, a couple from New York, are spending the summer at their cottage. They’ve spent seventeen summers there away from the conveniences of the city. They always leave around Labor Day, as do all the vacationers. This year they decide to extend their stay.
Sandkings | George R. R. Martin
Simon Kress lives alone outside the city. He likes unusual and exotic pets. After his last trip his animals died, so he goes looking for something new. He finds a shop, Wo and Shade Importers, where the proprietor introduces him to sandkings, an insect-sized life-form with a hive mind that fights wars with other colonies.
This is a longer story, but it didn’t feel like it to me.
Graveyard Shift (Day of Reckoning) | Richard Matheson
Luke sends his father a note saying the Widow Blackwell has been murdered. Her son, Little Jim, is scared and hiding. He tells his father to send the sheriff and coroner right away. In the next letter, Luke’s father, Sam, informs the Widow Blackwell’s brother of the tragedy.
Read “Graveyard Shift” (PDF Pg 103)
The Necklace | Guy De Maupassant
Mathilde is married to a minor government official. They’re of modest means, but Mathilde has expensive tastes. When they get invited to a party, she borrows a necklace from a rich friend.
The Vendetta | Guy de Maupassant
A poor widow’s son, Antoine, is murdered by a man who then flees to Sardinia. The boy’s mother vows to take revenge against her son’s killer. He has no male relative to carry out the vendetta; the mother ponders the problem herself.
Friend of My Youth | Alice Munro
The narrator recounts the life of Flora Grieves. She lived on a farm with her sister, Ellie, and her brother-in-law, Robert. She tells us how the house and work was divided, how Ellie and Robert came to be married, and how Flora responded to the many changes in her life.
The Interlopers | Saki
Ulrich is out patrolling his forest with a rifle. He’s not hunting the usual game; he wants to catch his neighbor, Georg, poaching on his land. Their families have a long standing feud over the territory, going back to their grandfathers. They hate each other intensely. Ulrich leaves his men on a hill and walks deeper into the growth.
The Semplica-Girl Diaries | George Saunders
A forty-year-old father of three girls starts a diary to inform future readers how life is in the present. He chronicles the events leading up to the thirteenth birthday party of his oldest daughter, Lilly. The family is middle-class, but they live beyond their means. The father wants to buy his daughter an expensive present, and also wants a status symbol to show off to the neighbors.
Read “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” (New Yorker)
The Escape | J. B. Stamper
Boris is being led down a long hallway to the solitary confinement cell. He was caught in an escape attempt. He’s terrified of his punishment and begs to be spared. He promises he’ll never do anything wrong again.