Short Stories About Survival

In these stories people struggle to survive while the elements, animals, an oppressive system, other people, or anything else tries to kill them.

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“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.

Snowflake | Ruth Ware

Leah’s father wants a wall built around their island. She’s not sure why. They lug back all the rocks they can find. Wood won’t be strong enough for what’s coming. They fled a war on the mainland. Uniformed men came to their home at night, but her father was prepared so they escaped.

The beginning can be read in the Amazon preview of “Snowflake”.

“Father, Son, Holy Rabbit” by Stephen Graham Jones

A father and son are lost in a snow storm. They have no idea which way to go. They’re cold and hungry. The father only has a knife. It’s been days. One time, after waking up, the boy tells his father about a rabbit he dreamed. The thought keeps them going. The father goes out looking for the rabbit.

This story can be read in the preview of The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology.

That Man from the Bitter Sands | 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

“The Awakening” by Arthur C. Clarke

The Master is going to sleep for a hundred years. He wonders if he’ll dream. He found out his heart was failing, so he made arrangements to have himself frozen until the required treatment became available. He rests in a secure place.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke(28% into preview)

A Passion in the Desert |Honore De Balzac

A captured French soldier escapes but gets stranded in the desert, and encounters a panther.

This is the second story in the preview of Great Short Stories of the Masters.

“Moonwalk” by H. B. Fyfe

The radio operator on the Lunar station stops calling. They’ve lost contact with Tractor Two, manned by Hansen, Groswald, Van Ness and Hernandez. It’s been an hour. They’ve only recently begun surface exploration. Meanwhile, Hansen is alone on a ledge, trying to keep his balance.

This story can be read in the preview of Explorers: SF Adventures to Far Horizons(25% into preview)

“This Is Not the Way Home” by Greg Egan

Aisha weeps over a helmetless Jingyi, whom she can see through the window. Jingyi had kept her going, and was instrumental in formulating their plan. Aisha puts her daughter into their shared suit and packs for the trip. There’s no indication a rescue team is coming. The buggy is ready. She’s going to head for the farside of the moon.

This story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Top Hard Science Fiction Stories 4(7% into preview)

“Precious Cargo” by C. H. Hung

The USS Marilyn Barton is a bioship, carrying a large human delegation. One of Marilyn’s rooms is sagging and has turned a sickly yellow. Doctor Thrasher is working to fix the problem. The life of the ship and the passengers are at risk. Normally, a bioship knows what is wrong with it, but the deterioration happened too quickly in this case. Marilyn needs to be healthy enough to get everyone to Aurigae Prime.

This story can be read in the preview of Beyond the Stars: Infinite Expanse. (23% into preview)

The Open Boat | Stephen Crane

Four men are floating in a dinghy after their boat went down. They are rowing and bailing water, trying to make it to shore.

Read “The Open Boat”

To Build a Fire | Jack London

In the Yukon, a man is traveling on foot with a husky in the wilderness to meet some acquaintances. It’s –75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots, necessitating a fire.

Read “To Build a Fire”

The Sea Devil | Arthur Gordon

A Florida man takes his rowboat out at night to cast his net. He wants to catch some fish, but he catches a manta ray instead.

Read “The Sea Devil”

A Mountain Journey | Howard O’Hagan

A trapper is traveling alone in the wilderness with his goods. He’s exhausted but he presses on to a cottage where he can rest in warmth and safety.

Read “A Mountain Journey”

The Sniper | Liam O’Flaherty                                 

At night a sniper waits on a rooftop. He risks lighting a cigarette which alerts a nearby sniper of his presence.  They exchange some fire. The sniper feels trapped, but he knows he has to get off the roof before enemy forces converge on him.

Read here

Grace Period | Will Baker                          

A man in the yard of his country home senses some kind of impending disaster. He tries to get some information or help.

The Birds | Daphne du Maurier

A farm family is attacked one winter’s night by some birds. They try to rationalize the situation, but the next day the husband sees thousands of gulls gathered over the sea.

This is a novella.

Read here

When it Happens | Margaret Atwood

Mrs. Burridge, a fifty-one-year old woman on a farm, prepares for some kind of societal breakdown, probably a war. She doesn’t believe her husband will be able to protect her—he could be dead or gone—when it happens.

Read “When It Happens” (Pg. 44)

Poison | Roald Dahl

A man lies motionless in his bed, terrified, because a poisonous snake is under the covers on his stomach. When his roommate gets home, he sends him to get a doctor.

Read here

The Most Dangerous Game | Richard Connell

The owner of an island hunts people; if they can elude him for three days they are allowed to go free.

Read here

The Little Match Girl | Hans Christian Andersen

A young girl seeks shelter from the cold in a nook. She can’t go home because she was unable to sell any matches; her father would beat her. She wants to light one of her matches to warm herself.

Read here

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Alexandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn

Ivan is a political prisoner in a Siberian work camp. His days are all about survival: doing minimal work, hiding tools, getting enough food, and currying favor with the right people.

This story is a novella.

Read here

Celebration | W.D. Valgardson

Mabel fries potatoes while Eric balances on a kitchen chair. Mabel says they need more wood for the stove, but Eric tells her to get it herself. Mabel has been drinking so she responds harshly; Eric has been drinking more, and he escalates the argument. Their arguments have turned violent before, and this one seems to be heading the same way.

Leiningen Versus the Ants | Carl Stephenson

Leiningen owns a large plantation in Brazil. An army of ants, twenty square miles in size, is advancing on the plantation, destroying everything in its path. Leiningen has been warned to abandon his property—for the safety of himself and his men—but he plans on making a stand and fighting off the ants.

Read “Leningen Versus the Ants”

Pond Time | Gretel Ehrlich

Madeleine is flying to Alaska to find the daughter of her deceased husband whom he had with another woman. The engine fails and the pilot is forced into a crash landing.

The Torture of Hope | Villiers De L’isle Adam

Rabbi Abarbanel has been held in a dungeon and tortured for a year for usury and scorn for the poor. One day the Rabbi sees a sliver of light between the door and wall; he tries the door and finds it unlocked.

Read “The Torture of Hope”

I’m Coming In | Joseph N. Bell

Navy training pilots are out flying when an extreme weather report comes in. The officer on tower duty recalls the cadets or instructs them to land in a safe location.

Taman | Mikhail Lermontov

The narrator relates his narrow escape in Taman. As an officer traveling on government business he is given lodging at a private residence. It is an eerie place with no master, a blind servant boy, and a daughter who has run away. At night a shadow flickering across his room gets his attention.

Read “Taman” (Pg. 149)

And of Clay Are We Created | Isabel Allende

In Latin America, mudslides have buried towns and killed thousands of people. A thirteen-year-old girl, Azucena, is buried up to her neck in one of the mudslides. Rolf Carle is the first reporter on the scene. Volunteers are unable to rescue the girl, and Rolf gradually pays less attention to his job and becomes more emotionally attached to the girl as he tries to assist her himself.

Read “And of Clay Are We Created”

The Sun-Dog Trail | Jack London

Sitka Charley is relaxing after a day on the Alaskan trail. He and the narrator start talking about a painting, which reminds Sitka of an arduous journey he once made. When he was a letter carrier on Lake Linderman, a young woman hired him to take her to Dawson. Then she hired him to travel with her. She was desperately looking for something but didn’t tell him what.

Read “The Sun-Dog Trail”

It’s A Good Life | Jerome Bixby

Aunt Amy is on her front porch while little Anthony is tormenting a rat he caught. Bill Soames drops off a box of groceries. Bill is terrified of Anthony, as is everyone else in town. He has powerful mental abilities that make everyone subject to his whims. Aunt Amy is preparing for a party that evening.

Read “It’s A Good Life”

Wild Honey | Horacio Quiroga

Gabriel Benincasa, an accountant, feels a need to leave city life for a while to test himself in the jungle. His godfather warns him that he won’t last in the jungle and tries to look out for him.

Read “Wild Honey”

Soft | F. Paul Wilson

A man is watching the news and exercising what is left of his legs when the newscaster’s jaw goes soft. He has contracted the disease—the softness—that has devastated the population. The man and his daughter are holed up in their apartment, trying to survive.

Read “Soft”

The White Silence | Jack London

Mason, Ruth (his wife), and the Malamute Kid are on the Yukon trail, low on food, with a long trip in front of them. They know they will have to eat some of the dogs. They reach a high bank that proves difficult for the weakened dogs to climb.

Read “The White Silence”

Frost and Fire | Ray Bradbury

Sim is born during the night. He quickly becomes aware of his surroundings—a cave and lots of older people, including his father. His planet is close to the sun. The days are scorching and the nights are freezing. Life spans are very short. Their descendants crashed on the planet. There is a working spaceship in sight, but they can’t reach it.

Read “Frost and Fire”

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”

Three Skeleton Key | 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”

A Descent into the Maelström | Edgar Allan Poe

While resting after a mountain climb, an older man tells his companion a story. Years ago, he and his two brothers were caught in a hurricane while on a boat.

Read “A Descent into the Maelström”

The Dinner Party | Mona Gardner

A colonel and a young girl disagree on whether women can keep cool in a crisis.

Read “The Dinner Party”

The Chase | Italo Calvino

The narrator is in a car chase: he’s being pursued by an armed man in another car. They are separated by several cars, stopped at a traffic light. The narrator muses about their relative positions and his possible paths of escape.

Read “The Chase”

Calling the Shots | 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”

I Want to Live! | Thom Jones

Mrs. Wilson finds out she has uterine and breast cancer. It’s also an irregular kind of cancer that will complicate the treatment. Her doctor is good but lacks bedside manner. She thinks about her options and copes with her ordeal.

Read “I Want to Live!”

The Edge of the Shoal | Cynan Jones

A man is out fishing in a kayak. He catches only one, which is unusual. He has his father’s ashes with him. He’s near the bay where he and his father used to cook their food, but it’s occupied. He heads out to sea to allow time for the bay to empty. A storm develops.

Read “The Edge of the Shoal”

The Last Question | Isaac Asimov

Multivac is a supercomputer that analyzes, and provides solutions for, many human problems and questions. One day, in 2061, two of its attendants, Adell and Lupov, have a conversation about how long Earth’s energy will last. The output has already been drastically increased due to Multivac’s analysis. Still, they figure twenty billion years is probably the limit. They decide to ask Multivac how to massively decrease entropy in the universe.

Read “The Last Question”

Where There’s a Will | Richard Matheson & Richard Christian Matheson

A man wakes up—it’s dark, cold and silent. Trying to sit up, he hits his head. He feels around, finding a mattress under him and padded walls above and on the sides. He can feel that he’s fully dressed. He reaches into his pocket and finds a lighter. The flame catches, and he’s able to check out his surroundings.

Read “Where There’s a Will” (scroll down)

Kilifi Creek | Lionel Shriver

Liana, a young woman traveling in Africa, arranges to stay with an older couple in Kilifi. She thinks nothing of imposing on their hospitality. She’s been swimming in Kilifi Creek, a large river by American standards. On the fourth day of her stay, she swims a different route and ends up a bit farther out than she expected.

Read “Kilifi Creek”

A Dreadful Night | Edwin L. Arnold

The narrator recounts an episode from five years ago when he was hunting in Colorado. He left his camp alone in the afternoon. He wounded a buck and pursued it into untouched wilderness. When he caught up with it, he found himself on the brink of a slippery slope above a cavernous mouth in the ground.

Read “A Dreadful Night”