Short Stories About Fear or Anxiety

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.

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“The Viaduct” by Brian Lumley

Two boys, John and David, are walking along the beach on a warm spring day. They head for the viaduct. On the way, they have an encounter with Wiley Smiley, the village idiot. The boys bother him before going on their way. When they reach the viaduct, they remember something they were going to do.

“The Viaduct” can be read in the Amazon preview of The Mammoth Book of Nightmare Stories: Twisted Tales Not to be Read at Night.

“Autopsy Room Four” by Stephen King

Howard has been in the dark for a while, and has the sensation of movement. He hears a squeaky wheel and feels contact on his body. There are voices. Now he’s being moved. He thinks he’s in a hospital. He can’t move or speak. Everything feels too real to be a dream.

This story can be read in the preview of Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.

“Welcome to the Club” by R. L. Stine

JJ is working the night-shift at the restaurant. He goes outside for a five minute break even though the owner, Florian, doesn’t like it. He sees some kids from his high school hanging out in the parking lot. JJ’s the new kid in town and he doesn’t know the group. A little before closing time, the kids from the parking lot come in. They have a favor to ask.

“Welcome to the Club” is the first story in the Amazon preview of Fear: 13 Stories of Suspense and Horror.

“By the Water” by Paul Bowles

Amar decides to visit a neighboring city where he believes he has some cousins. He sets out for the bus station in the early morning; he doesn’t arrive in the other city until after dark. He tries to find somewhere to sleep.

This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Paul Bowles.

“Wildcat” by 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.

This is the third story in the preview of The Complete Stories.

“Never Stop on the Motorway” by Jeffrey Archer

Diana is looking forward to going to her friend’s farmhouse for the weekend. She gets held up at the office, and can’t leave until 6. She’s divorced, and it’s her husband’s weekend with the kids. She doesn’t like being by herself. It’s slow going getting out of the city. When she finally gets her speed up, there’s an incident.

This story can be read in the preview of The Short, the Long and the Tall.

“Paranoia” by Shirley Jackson

Mr. Beresford is headed home after a day’s work. He’s pleased with himself for remembering his wife’s birthday. He has candy for her and plans to take her out for supper. While trying to hail a cab, a man in a light hat unsettles him. Changing his mind, he tries to board a bus, but the man in the light hat shows up again.

This is the first story in the preview of Let Me Tell You.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” by 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.

“My Financial Career” by Stephen Leacock

The narrator goes to the bank to open an account. He’s uncomfortable and awkward. Everything about the place rattles him. He’s gotten a raise, though, so he feels an account is a must.

This is the first story in the preview of My Financial Career and Other Follies.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes (Suit)” by Hans Christian Andersen

An emperor loves nice clothes and spends all his money on them. He ignores his real duties. Two men say they know how to weave the most beautiful cloth that can only be seen by people who are smart and good at their jobs. The emperor pays them a huge sum of money to make him some clothes.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories and Fairytales.

“The Paperhanger” by William Gay

The doctor’s wife is home with her four-year-old daughter, Zeneib, while workers are renovating the place. She has a hostile exchange with the paperhanger before leaving the room. She goes to her car in the driveway and calls Zeneib.

This story is in the anthology The Best American Noir of the Century.

“The Griffin and the Minor Canon” by 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.

Read here

“That Evening Sun” by 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.

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“Once Upon a Time” by 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.

Read here

“The Circus” by 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” by 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.

Read here

“Anxiety” by 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” by 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.

“The Norwegian Rat” by 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.

Read here

“On the Rainy River” by 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” by 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.

Read here

“Where Have You Gone Charming Billy” by 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.

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“The Colonel” by 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”

“To Set Our House in Order” by 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 through.

“Snow” by 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.

Read “Snow”

“The Wife’s Story” by 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.

Read “The Wife’s Story”

“A Saucer of Loneliness” by 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.

Read “A Saucer of Loneliness”

“The Elevator” by 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.

Read “The Elevator”

“Cemetery Path” by 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.

Read “Cemetery Path”

“The Key Game” by Ida Fink

A family is living in their third apartment since the beginning of the war. It’s late but they can’t go to bed until they play the key game—the mother imitates the doorbell, the boy stalls while pretending he is looking for the keys, and the father hides.

Read “The Key Game”

“The Fqih” by Paul Bowles

A dog bites a young man in the street. People say he should go to the doctor, but he laughs it off. Concerned, his younger brother consults the fqih, who gives him drastic advice.

Read “The Fqih”

“Fear” by Guy de Maupassant

A ship’s captain tells some passengers about a time he felt afraid. One of the men objects, saying the captain doesn’t know what real fear is. He tells his own story to illustrate his point.

Read “Fear”

“The Wheel” by John Wyndham

An old man is outside sitting on a stool doing a little work and getting sleepy. He is roused by a sound. When he locates the source he is shocked and panicked. It’s a young boy pulling a wooden box on wheels.

“The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allan Poe

The narrator suffers from catalepsy and is afraid of being buried alive. He relates some of the many known cases where this has happened to people. He takes all the precautions he can so this doesn’t happen to him.

Read “The Premature Burial”

“Three Skeleton Key” by George G. Toudouze

The narrator relates the most terrifying experience he’s had. He was working with two other men in a lighthouse. The night watchman woke everyone at two in the morning. A large ship was sailing right for them. It missed them but then came around and headed for them again. They tried to figure out what was going on. When they examined the ship with their binoculars, they were alarmed at what they saw.

Read “Three Skeleton Key”

“The Second Tree from the Corner” by E. B. White

Mr. Trexler regularly visits a psychiatrist because of dizziness, despondency, anxiety and tension among other things. The doctor assures him he’s just afraid, and will be fine.

“Calling the Shots” by Karen Dionne

Jason is working in the woods alone. He just had an argument with his girlfriend. He told her he couldn’t go thru with the marriage even though she’s pregnant. Their families aren’t on good terms. He starts up his chain saw and begins cutting the trees.

Read “Calling the Shots”

“Oh, the Wonder!” by Jeremy Larner

Willie is a philosophy student at Columbia. He’s behind on his papers and studies. He’s engaged to Sarah, a student in Philadelphia. He’s afraid of everything.

“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle

A young woman, Helen, makes an early morning visit to Holmes and Watson. She lives with her stepfather, who is known for his outbursts. Her sister died two years before in their home. Her dying words referred to a speckled band. She was engaged at the time. Now, Helen is also engaged, and she’s heard the same type of noise her sister mentioned before she died. She’s very afraid.

Read “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”

“The Angel of the Bridge” by John Cheever

The narrator, a businessman, finds out that his mother is afraid of flying. He also finds out his brother has developed a fear of tall buildings, especially the elevators. He doesn’t take an understanding view of his brother’s problem. On the way back from New Jersey, he experiences a strong reaction to the George Washington Bridge.

“An Anxious Man” by James Lasdun

Joseph and Elise Nagel are on a family vacation. Joseph is distressed because their investments have gone down badly over the past four days. They argue about their situation. After an inheritance left them with a sizable sum of money, Joseph began to think they had to raise their standard of living.

Read “An Anxious Man”

“The Escape” by 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.

Read “The Escape”

“Beyond the Bayou” by Kate Chopin

An African-American woman, La Folle, was frightened “out of her senses” as a child. As a result, she won’t cross an imaginary line in her area; she has never been beyond the bayou.

Read “Beyond the Bayou”

“The Bus” by 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.

Read “The Bus”

“The Man and the Snake” by Ambrose Bierce

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.

Read “The Man and the Snake”

“Covered Mirrors” by Jorge Luis Borges

The narrator has been uneasy with mirrors since childhood. He prayed that he wouldn’t dream of mirrors. He relates a story about the horror of mirrors. It involved a young woman, Julia, who he associated with for a while.

Read “Covered Mirrors”

“The Night” by Ray Bradbury

You are a child in a small town in 1927. You’re home with your mom. Your older brother, Skipper, is twelve and allowed to stay out later. When it’s almost nine-thirty, your mother wonders where Skipper is. After a while, she says you’re both going out for a walk.

“Why, Honey?” by Raymond Carver

A woman responds to a letter she received about her son. He doesn’t live at home anymore and she’s afraid of him. She reads about him in the paper sometimes. She relates some of the troubling incidents from their past, starting with the disappearance of their cat.

Read “Why, Honey?” (PDF Pg. 4)

“The Secret of City Cemetery” by Patrick Bone

Fourteen-year-old Willard disappeared one Halloween night, and his body was never found. He was a bully. One of his favorite pranks was to hide in open graves and scare kids who were out playing.