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:
Short Stories About Imagination or Dreams
“Bread” by Margaret Atwood
The narrator tells the reader to imagine a piece of bread in a few vastly different situations. (Summary & Analysis)
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)
“Cleveland in My Dreams” by Lawrence Block
Hackett has been seeing his psychiatrist, Loebner, for some time over his recurring dream. Every night it’s the same. He dreams he gets a phone call telling him he has to go to Cleveland. He gets ready, gets in his car—where there’s always a briefcase on the seat—and makes the long drive to Cleveland. After returning home, he wakes up, exhausted.
This story can be read in the preview of Enough Rope. (73% in)
“An Unwritten Novel” by Virginia Woolf
A woman, the narrator, riding the train observes the five other people facing her. Four of them are doing something—smoking, reading, looking in a notebook and looking at a map. The fifth, a woman, is doing nothing and looks unhappy. She says a few things to the narrator and then stops. The narrator picks up the story herself. She starts inventing a life for the unhappy woman.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Works. (72-73% in, or select Monday or Tuesday in TOC, then the story title)
“Clothing Dreams” by Margaret Atwood
A woman has been having a recurring dream about clothes for fifty years. She’s unsure of her identity and why she’s looking through the clothes.
This story can be read in the preview of The Tent. (62% in: Go into Paperback preview first, then select Kindle)
“The Open Window” by Saki
A man is visiting the country for some relaxation. While waiting to be introduced to all the members of the household, a young girl tells him the story of their tragic family history. (Summary & Analysis)
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 Carvinal, along with many more stories.
“Luckey Quarter” by Stephen King
Darlene, a hotel maid, is upset when a guest leaves her a quarter tip. She’s a single mother of two with lots of expenses. Inside the envelope is a note saying it’s a lucky quarter. The man was polite enough and didn’t leave a mess, so she soon gets over it. After work in the lobby, she decides to rid herself of the quarter by putting in the slot machine. It hits and quarters start pouring into the tray.
“Under the Weather” by Stephen King
Brad wakes up from a recurring bad dream and finds his dog, Lady, under the bed. His wife, Ellen, is still asleep; she hasn’t been well lately. Brad takes Lady out for a walk, careful not to wake Ellen. He hears from Carlo, the doorman, that exterminators are coming to enter Mrs. Warshawski’s suite. She’s away in Vienna and there’s a terrible smell that everyone has complained about. There must be a dead rat inside. Brad goes to his job at an advertising agency. He thinks about some significant moments in his life.
“Now I Lay Me” by Ernest Hemingway
Signor Tenente (Nick Adams) lies awake through the nights, feeling if he closes his eyes in the dark, his soul will leave his body. He passes the time by imagining his old fishing spots in great detail. Sometimes he fishes four or five streams in a night and makes up new ones. When he can’t fish, he prays for all the people he’s ever known. Other nights, he tries to remember everything that’s ever happened to him, before the war and back to childhood. He shares the room with another man.
“Mr. Botibol” by Roald Dahl
Mr. Botibol, odd-looking and self-conscious, meets Mr. Clements about a business deal. He agrees to sell his company to Mr. Clements for the offer price, which was too low. They have a meal and drink alcohol, which Botibol rarely does. He reveals that he has never had any success in life. Botibol goes home and listens to a Beethoven symphony. He gets wrapped up in the experience, imagining himself the composer of the piece and the conductor of an orchestra. It’s a lot of fun.
“The Intruder” by Andre Dubus
Kenneth is a thirteen-year-old boy who likes to take his gun out to shoot tin cans and pretend he’s a military captain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jamaica Kincaid has several stories with dream-like occurrences and narration.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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”
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” by J. D. Salinger
Mary Jane arrives late for her visit with Eloise. The former college roommates drink, smoke and make idle chatter. After a while, Eloise’s daughter, Ramona, enters with her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno. Mary Jane asks about him. The conversation eventually turns to Eloise’s old love, Walt Glass, a young soldier who was killed in an accident.
“The Door” by E. B. White
A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors in the house, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.