Short Stories About Imagination, Dreams or Surreal Experiences

These stories will have characters with rich inner lives or those with imaginations that tend to get out of control.

Some stories take place in a dream, are about dreams, or feature characters having a surreal experience.

See also:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | James Thurber

A mild and ineffectual man has a series of daydreams while accompanying his wife on her weekly errands.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is in The Thurber Carvinalalong with many more stories.

Sredni Vashtar | Saki

A ten-year-old boy, Condradin, seeks refuge from his cousin and guardian by playing in a tool shed. He has two pets there, a hen and a ferret. He imagines the ferret is a god.

“Sredni Vashtar” can be read in the preview of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.

The Scorpion | Paul Bowles

An old woman lives in a hollowed out cave that her sons had prepared for her before they left to live in the town. She is content there and doesn’t talk to anyone who passes by. The cave is also home to many scorpions.

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

Mr. Arcularis | Conrad Aiken

Mr. Arcularis goes on a sea voyage to England to help himself recover from an operation.  He meets Miss Dean, a beautiful young woman, and they talk. He feels he is falling in love with her.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken(59% 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)

Robot Dreams | Isaac Asimov

Linda Rash, a robopsychologist, shows a master of the field, Susan Calvin, what has happened. Elvex, her robot, claims to have dreamed. Susan analyzes Elvex’s positronic brain patterns. Linda has applied fractal geometry to its brain to add complexity. Susan isn’t sure whether this is brilliant or disastrous.

This story can be read in the preview of the anthology Future on Ice(46% into preview)

Dream Children | Gail Godwin

A woman imagines that people are talking about the terrible experience she’s had. She rides a horse like she has nothing to lose. She has a normal routine and appears normal to others. She starts reading mystical books to understand her situation.

Read “Dream Children”

The Wish | Roald Dahl

A young boy tries to make his way across a carpet, imagining it to be full of hot coals and snakes.

Read here

The Witch | Shirley Jackson

A young boy on a train tells a stranger that he saw a witch. The man humors the boy and then tells him a story about his own little sister, which upsets the boy’s mother.

Read here

Imagined Scenes | Ann Beattie

A young wife, a nurse, cares for an elderly man at night. The man tells old stories, and the narrator imagines things in her sleep deprived state.

The Invalid’s Story | Mark Twain

The narrator recalls a train ride where there was a mix-up in the cargo being transported. Not knowing the contents of the boxes, his imagination runs wild and torments him.

Read “The Invalid’s Story”

The Night Face Up | Julio Cortazar

A man on a motorcycle has an accident. After he’s given an anesthetic at the hospital, he dreams he’s a Motecan Indian fleeing from Aztec warriors centuries ago in Mexico.

Read here

The Great Good Place | Henry James

George Dane is a successful writer with much responsibility and work to do. Soon after he feels like he’s experiencing a rebirth into a great good place, somewhere charming and peaceful.

Read here (Page 224)

What I Have Been Doing Lately | Jamaica Kincaid

An unidentified and unnamed narrator answers the door but doesn’t find anyone there. After having a look around, the narrator goes on a dreamlike walk.

Read “What I Have Been Doing Lately”

The Mummy’s Foot | Theophile Gautier

A man goes to an old curiosity-shop looking for a paperweight. He finds a mummified foot – the foot of the daughter of a Pharaoh. He’s satisfied with the purchase and goes out eating and drinking with his friends.

Read here

A Way Out of the Forest | Maara Haas

Rouga and Arnie, young siblings living in poverty without much adult involvement, make a game out of their situation by pretending they live in a tent in the cold and are waiting for provisions.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities | Delmore Schwartz

The narrator dreams he is in a movie theatre in 1909. He watches a movie about his parents’ courtship. He reacts strongly to several parts of the film.

Read “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”

An End to Dreams | Stephen Vincent Benet

James Rimington is under anesthetic for an operation. He dreams of his personal and professional history, including all the stepping stones in his path to success.

A Dream of Armageddon | H. G. Wells

On a train, a man starts a conversation with the narrator about dreams. He says that he has recurring, vivid dreams that are killing him. He dreams he is a different man living in another place, and he always dies in the dreams.

Read here

Maud Martha and New York | Gwendolyn Brooks

Maud daydreams about New York – all the expensive things to buy, the tasteful homes, the fancy food, and the arts and entertainment scene.

The Coffin-Maker | Alexander Pushkin

Adrian Prokhoroff attends an anniversary party where there is a lot of drinking. The men poke some fun at his profession of coffin making. He gets angry and it affects his sleep.

Read “The Coffin-Maker”

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams | Sylvia Plath

The narrator is an assistant to the secretary in the out-patient ward of a hospital. She is responsible for typing up people’s dreams and complaints about life. She becomes obsessed with transferring the hospital records to her own bible of dreams, with Johnny Panic as the god. One day the director catches her with the official records.

Read “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”

The Dream | O. Henry

Murray is in a cell on death row. The time for his execution is almost here. He talks to his friend Bonifacio in a nearby cell. He is also visited by a reverend.

This is O. Henry’s last story and is incomplete. An editor fills in some information at the end.

Read “The Dream”

A Bread and Butter Miss | Saki

Bertie and Odo are discussing which horse they should bet on in an upcoming race. There is no clear favorite. Sir Lulworth adds to the confusion with an insider tip. When Lola says she dreamt of the race, everyone is attentive.

Read “A Bread and Butter Miss”

A&P | John Updike

Three young women wearing bathing suits enter a grocery store. The manager warns them to be appropriately dressed next time. Sammy, a teenage clerk, doesn’t mind, and imagines who the girls are based on their appearance.

Read “A&P”

What the Moon Brings | H. P. Lovecraft

The narrator has a surreal walk in his garden. The moonlight seems to be affecting his perception. Flowers that blow into the nearby stream look like dead faces.

Read “What the Moon Brings”

Tenth of December | George Saunders

A young boy, Robin, gets his pellet gun and goes on a rescue mission. He suspects the Nethers, a species he’s had previous run-ins with, of kidnapping a classmate of his, Suzanne. Robin comes across a coat, still warm inside, on a bench. He sees a thin, older man in the distance, walking off in the cold. Robin knows something is wrong. He changes his mission.

Read “Tenth of December”

A Piece of News | Eudora Welty

Ruby comes in to her cabin out of the rain. She and her husband, Clyde, live in an isolated area. She hardly ever sees anyone else and is lonely. She has no T. V. or radio—the newspaper is her link to the outside. When she opens it up, she’s surprised to read her own name. Her imagination takes off.

Snow | Ted Hughes

The narrator has survived a plane crash. He has lost his memory. He has walked a long time—he thinks maybe up to five months. He’s having dreams that slowly fill in some blanks.

The Function of Dream Sleep | Harlan Ellison

McGrath wakes up and sees a large mouth closing up on his side. He’s sure it isn’t a dream—he sees and feels it. He gets a call from Sally, the widow of his recently deceased friend, Victor. In the morning, McGrath goes to the doctor about his side. She suggests that the recent deaths of several friends is affecting his mind.

Read “The Function of Dream Sleep” 

Farewell Summer | Ray Bradbury

Doug’s Grandpa says farewell to summer. Doug goes to have a snack and a nap. He dreams of a band playing and thinks it’s a parade. When he looks out the window, he sees familiar people on the lawn.

This story is the first chapter of the novel by the same name.

The Last Night of the World | Ray Bradbury

A man asks his wife what she would do if this was the last night of the world. He tells her that really is the situation they’re in. He dreamed about it, and everyone at his office did too. His wife and the other neighborhood women also dreamed about it.

Read The Last Night of the World (PDF Pg. 104)

“Lord Mountdrago” by W. Somerset Maugham

Dr. Audlin, an accomplished psychoanalyst, waits in his office for Lord Mountdrago, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Lord Mountdrago’s many good qualities are balanced by some major defects of character. He’s reluctant to tell Dr. Audlin why he’s come. He’s been having troubling dreams.

Read “Lord Mountdrago”