These stories about competition or rivalry have characters who hold a grudge or are competing in some way. They could also have characters who get into arguments or fights, or even life and death battles. For short stories about competition that focus on athletics or games, see:
Short Stories About Competition or Rivalry
“That Man From the Bitter Sands” by Louis L’Amour
Speke is in the desert, his lips cracked and face burned. He was robbed and left to die by Ross and Floren, two men he had helped. When he hears birds chirping, he knows there’s water nearby.
“That Man from the Bitter Sands” is the second story in the Amazon preview of The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour: Volume 1.
“One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A corrupt mayor needs treatment for an abscessed tooth. He goes to an unlicensed dentist. The dentist doesn’t want to help, and they exchange some words. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Echo” by Paul Bowles
Aileen is in a small plane on her way to Columbia to visit her mother. She rereads a letter which says her mother and Prue (a woman she lives with) are happy there, that she feels a bit guilty about not saying goodbye, and that she will like Prue despite the tension between them.
This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Paul Bowles.
“Duel” by Richard Matheson
Mann is driving to San Francisco for an appointment. He passes a semi pulling a trailer. Shortly after, the semi roars past and abruptly cuts in front of him. He’s not sure what to make of it. He has to slow down a bit. He doesn’t have any spare time. Mann decides to pass again.
This is the first story in the preview of Duel: Terror Stories.
“Metzengerstein” by Edgar Allan Poe
There is an age-old rivalry between the Metzengersteins and the Berlifitzings. Shortly after Frederick, the last Metzengerstein, inherits the family estate, the Berlifitzing stable burns down. A horse turns up at Frederick’s place, presumably from the Berlifitzings, even though the grooms claim no knowledge of it. He keeps it.
This is the second story in the preview of Complete Tales and Poems.
“Crown Jewel” by Joseph S. Walker
Keenan Beech is driving to his twin brother Xavier’s ramshackle house in the country. Xavier has Keenan’s White Album—one of them, because Kenan has many more. Keenan made the mistake of telling him about it, and Xavier went and got it himself. They’ve always had a strong sibling rivalry. He’s going to steal it back. Xavier will be out partying tonight.
This story can be read in the preview of Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. (26% in)
“The Piano Tuner’s Wives” by William Trevor
The piano tuner, a blind man, married Violet when he was young. They had a full life together. Two years after her death, he married Belle, when he was an old man. Belle wanted to marry him the first time around, but he chose Violet. She used to drive him around for his work, and would describe everything to him. Everyone in the area is aware of the circumstances around their union. Belle feels the lingering presence of her old rival.
This is the first story in the preview of Selected Stories.
“Not with a Bang” by Damon Knight
After a war has decimated earth, Rolf and Louise are the only two people left alive. There are having a meal at a cafe talking about their future. Despite their situation, Louise maintains her moral view and is concerned about the propriety of their union. There are no ministers to marry them. Rolf tries to convince her that they need to hurry up and start repopulating the earth. It’s a major sticking point for them.
This story can be read in the preview of The Best of Damon Knight. (20% into preview)
Competition Stories, Cont’d
“Blood-Burning Moon” by Jean Toomer
Louisa is a black woman working as a domestic helper for a white family, the Stones. She has a secret relationship with Bob Stone, a son of her employer. A black man, Tom Burwell, is also interested in her.
This story can be read in the preview of Black Voices: An Anthology of African-American Literature. (Pg 19)
“Relative Stranger” by Amanda Witt
Glory is working in the kitchen when the doorbell rings. Through a window, she catches a glimpse of her husband, Owen on the step. When she opens it and he fully faces her, she’s surprised to see it’s not him. He knows her name and says Owen told him to come inside. Glory is unsettled, but she can’t lock him out. Her boys are outside.
This story can be read in the preview of When a Stranger Comes to Town. (39% in)
“Buck Hunt” by Livia Hunt
Lilly is at a bachelorette party with her friends. She was also talked into letting her cousin Madison come, despite the recent unpleasantness. Her maid-of-honor, Fiona, has arranged a special game—a Bachelorette Buck Hunt.
This story can be read in the preview of Stories on the Go: 101 Very Short Stories by 101 Authors. (64% in)
“The Bookstore at the End of America” by Charlie Jane Anders
Molly owns a bookstore on a hill that’s right on the California/America border. It has two entrances and two cash registers for two different kinds of currency. The stores look quite different, catering to the different tastes of each clientele. It has a tremendous amount of books, including variations for the other audience.
This story can be read in the preview of A People’s Future of the United States. (23% in)
“Popular Mechanics” by Raymond Carver
A man and woman, possibly married, have an argument as he’s packing to leave home. The subject of their baby comes up, causing a quick escalation of the conflict. (Summary)
“Gunfight at the Golden Gator” by Tyson Blue
Roger James, a Larey County Deputy, is headed back to the Sheriff’s office with his partner, Tim Foster in the very early morning. The Mullis brothers, who’s criminal empire rules the southern part of the county, have put out a hit on Roger. His testimony could put Woodrow Mullis in jail for a long time. They get a call from dispatch about a disturbance at the Golden Gator, a hangout in Mullis territory.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of A Time For Violence: Stories With an Edge. (67% into preview)
“The Confession” by Guy De Maupassant
A woman makes a death-bed confession to her older sister about something that happened over 40 years ago.
“Old Mother Hubbard” by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
Randell replaces Curly as the foreman of a ranch. The men like Curly and are critical of the new boss. They also look forward to Curly’s return, and a potential fight between the two.
“Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton
While on vacation together in Rome, two middle-aged women talk about their past and their daughters.
Competition Stories, Cont’d
“The Interlopers” by 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.
“A Fine Old Firm” by Shirley Jackson
Mrs. Concord and her daughter are visited by Mrs. Friedman. They both have sons in the army who have written about the same event, though they have presented it differently. The women talk about the job prospects of Mrs. Concord’s son.
“To Da-duh, in Memoriam” by Paule Marshall
The narrator, an adult, tells the story of when she was nine-years-old and went with her sister and mother to visit her grandmother, whom she had never met, in Barbados. The narrator and her grandmother are both strong-willed. They feel a competitive urge as they talk up where they come from—Barbados and New York.
“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
Three men arrive in Fort Romper and go to a hotel. The proprietor’s son, Johnnie, is quarrelsome and likes playing cards. He draws some of the men into a game. One of them, the Swede, gets drunk and hostile.
“The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind” by Ray Bradbury
A city, probably in ancient China, is surrounded by a wall shaped like an orange. The leader gets a message that the adjacent city, Kwan-Si, is going to build a wall shaped like a pig. Since a pig could eat an orange, the inhabitants are worried that their city will suffer and Kwan-Si will prosper. At the suggestion of his daughter, the leader consults with the city’s stonemasons and builders to come up with a plan.
This story can also be read as an allegory for the cold war.
“The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” by Ernest Hemingway
The doctor hires some local Indian men to cut up a stray log for him. They argue when one of the men says the log is stolen.
“The End of the Duel” by Jorge Luis Borges
The narrator tells the story as he heard it of Manuel Cardoso and Carmen Silveira, two men with adjacent properties who started quarrelling. Their grudge continued into a civil war where they fought on the same side.
Competition Stories, Cont’d
“The Blood-Feud of Toad-Water” by Saki
The Cricks and the Saunderses are the only two families for miles. One of the Crick hens gets onto the neighbors property, sparking an outburst.
“The Baby Party” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edith Andros and her two-and-a-half year old daughter, Ede, are invited to a baby party. Edith doesn’t really like the hostess, Mrs. Markey, but they keep up friendly appearances because their husbands are acquainted. When Edith’s husband, John, arrives late to the party, he hears a commotion and knows there’s trouble.
“The Deal” by Leonard Michaels
Twenty boys, fifteen-years-old and under, sit on a stoop and watch a neighborhood woman cross the street and go a store. She drops one of her gloves. When she realizes it’s gone, she approaches the group to ask if they’ve seen it.
“The Golden Honeymoon” by Ring Lardner
The Frost’s travel to Tampa to celebrate their 50th anniversary. They gently spar with each other about a few things. When they arrive, they have a chance meeting with someone from their past.
“The Light of the World” by Ernest Hemingway
Two young men are passing through town. They stop at a bar for a drink and then encounter a motley group at a train station. Two of the women there, prostitutes, argue about a boxer they once knew.
“Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara
A young girl, Hazel, trains for a May Day race while looking after her older, mentally challenged brother, Raymond. Hazel is known as the fastest runner in her neighborhood and is determined to live up to her reputation and beat her rivals.
“Broken Routine” by Jeffrey Archer
Septimus is a claims adjuster at an insurance company. He maintains a strict daily routine in his work and home life. One day he is asked to stay a little late, throwing off his routine and putting him at odds with someone.
“The Challenge” by Mario Vargas Llosa
An older man informs three men that a member of their gang, Justo, will be fighting the Gimp, a member of a rival gang. The men prepare for the encounter and talk about what led up to it.
Competition Stories, Cont’d
“The Iliad of Sandy Bar” by Bret Harte
Scott and York are seen walking in opposite directions after the sound of an altercation and two gunshots. The townspeople try to get the details of the dispute but it remains hazy. The men were partners in a mining claim. A lawsuit is launched over possession purely out of spite as it is now worthless.
“What They Sell In the Shops These Days” by Daniil Kharms
Two men disagree on how long one of them has been waiting for the other. The argument escalates.
This is a very short and absurd story.
“The Gesture” by Gil Brewer
Nolan lives on a private island with his wife, Helen. A photographer, Latimer, is visiting, shooting a picture story of the island. Nolan likes having Helen isolated; he doesn’t like other men looking at her beauty. Latimer and Helen are spending time together. Nolan knows he has to do something.
“The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths” by Jorge Luis Borges
A Babylonian king tells his guest, an Arab king, to enter his labyrinth. The Arab king gets out and tells the Babylonian king that he also has a labyrinth, and he will see to it that he gets to walk in it.
“Sense of Humour” by V. S. Pritchett
Arthur, the narrator, is a traveling salesman in a new town. He goes to church to make a good impression. He meets Muriel, a hotel clerk. She has a boyfriend, Colin, a mechanic who rides a motorcycle. Arthur is more polished and has a car. Muriel starts to prefer Arthur’s company.
“The Bull” by Saki
A farmer, Tom Yorkfield, gets a visit from his half-brother, Laurence, a painter of animals. Tom had recently gone to look at some of Laurence’s work. They aren’t close; they feel some rivalry over their chosen professions.
“The Quiet Man” by Maurice Walsh
Shawn Kelvin goes to the States at twenty to seek his fortune. He returns home at thirty-five. His family farm had been bought cheaply by Big Liam O’Grady. Not wanting any conflict, he buys a small farm and lets the matter drop. He lives quietly, visiting with friends and going to church on Sundays. After a while, he notices a woman who sits in front of him at church—she’s an O’Grady.
Read “The Quiet Man”
“Three Bears Cottage” by John Collier
The Scrivener’s hen has laid two eggs. Mrs. Scrivener boils them for breakfast, giving the white one to her husband and keeping the brown one for herself. Mr. Scrivener takes exception to her keeping the best one. They argue about how the food has been getting divided.
I’ll keep adding short stories about competition or rivalry as I find more.