In these short stories the planet has suffered a major disaster or that threat is impending. Humanity is hurting or trying to avoid their imminent doom. In the post-apocalyptic worlds, society has broken down in some way. The stories that run a bit on the long side are identified as novellas. See also:
The End of the Whole Mess | Stephen King
The narrator, Howard, wants to tell us how everything ended. He doesn’t have much time. His brother, Robert, who was the messiah, died a few hours ago. The brothers are from a bright family. Howard is smart but Bobby was beyond what anyone could have expected. Eventually, Bobby became obsessed with why people are so bad. He invented something he called The Calmative.
Read “The End of the Whole Mess” (First story in Amazon preview of Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse)
The Tamarisk Hunter | Paolo Bacigalupi
Lolo finds and destroys tamarisk, a plant that uses a lot of water. Water is in short supply. Most of the people have moved north. He manages to make his living. He also does something in secret that ensures he won’t run out of work. He rides to and from his jobs on his camel, Maggie. On his way back he runs into Travis, a man in the same trade.
Read “The Tamarisk Hunter” (First story in Amazon preview of Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse)
Bullet Point | Elizabeth Bear
The narrator believes she’s the last person in Las Vegas, and possibly in the world. The lights have been going out as reserve power runs down. She’s concerned about the potential danger if she isn’t alone, and tries to stay out of easy to see areas. She makes a note of things that do and do not exist anymore.
Read “Bullet Point” (First story in Amazon preview of Wastelands: The New Apocalypse)
The Hum | Rick Hautala
Beth is distracted at night by a sound, a low steady vibration. Her husband, Dave, can’t hear anything. The next morning Dave hears it too. They try to locate the source.
Read “The Hum” (First story in Amazon preview of The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse)
Third from the Sun | Richard Matheson
With the impending threat of a major war, a family and their neighbors decide to sneak away to safety on a spaceship. The father will use his position as chief test pilot to gain access to the vessel.
This is the second story in the preview of Duel: Terror Stories.
Nightfall (The Curse) | Arthur C. Clarke
The little town had stood through many hard times, but now it’s gone. It was hit by a stray rocket, one of the last ones fired. Everything is ruined.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.
“Bug Eater” by Nathan M. Beauchamp
The tribe’s men haven’t returned after three days and everyone knows there won’t be any food. Angi has been breeding generations of beetles, looking for a sustainable food source. She’s getting closer, but no one appreciates her work. They’re going to have to draw lots. Angi’s grandfather urges her to leave while she can.
This story can be read in the preview of OCEANS: The Anthology. (16% in)
The Star | H. G. Wells
Astronomers report that the motion of Jupiter has become erratic. An unidentified celestial body is the cause. It’s soon determined that this body is going to collide with Neptune. A mathematician calculates that it could be on a course for Earth.
This is the first story in the preview of The Big Book of Science Fiction.
“The Green Caravanserai” by Lavie Tidhar
Saleh is crouched on a tower of a majestic but abandoned building. He can see for miles—the Red Sea, the Saudi mountains, many more empty buildings, craters from the wars and sandworms, and lots of desert. He can see the Green Caravanserai approaching slowly. Saleh isn’t the designated trade agent for his tribe, but he plans on meeting them anyway. He has a special item.
This story can be read in the preview of Out of the Ruins: The Apocalyptic Anthology. (30% in)
The Comet | W. E. B. Du Bois
Jim is a black man working as a messenger for a New York bank. Everyone is talking about a comet. The bank president sends Jim into the filthy and dangerous vaults to find two missing volumes of records. While he’s down there, there’s a great crash and the door slams shut.
This is the eighth story in the preview of The Big Book of Science Fiction.
“Twilight” by John W. Campbell
Jim picks up a hitch-hiker, Ares, who says he’s a scientist from the year 3059. He says he traveled millions of years into the future, but came back to the wrong year. Life in 3059 is trouble free, with machines taking care of everything. Future Earth is in trouble, with all life extinct, except for humans and plants.
This is the second story in the preview of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Vol 1. (49% into preview)
Second Variety | Philip K. Dick
During a nuclear war between the Soviets and the United Nations, the U.N. authorities are forced to relocate to a moon base, leaving the troops behind. U.N. developers build “claws”, a basic robot with churning blades that seeks out warm bodies. U.N. troops are protected by a special radiation-emitting wrist device. After the robots turn the tide of the conflict, the Soviets want to talk to a high ranking officer to discuss a new threat.
This is the first story in the preview of Space Science Fiction Super Pack (Novelette)
Not with a Bang | 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.
This story can be read in the preview of The Best of Damon Knight. (20% into preview)
“No Man is a Promontory” by N. H. Janzen
A woman and a child, Pennyweight, are in Kelowna, trying to survive. They’re on a promontory, scoping out the scene. She keeps to herself, but Pennyweight managed to win her over.
This is the first story in the preview of Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse. (18% into preview)
“Morning Child” by Gardner Dozois
Williams brings John to the house they used to live in. It’s been destroyed in the war. John is happy there and like to play. He’s always full of energy early in the day. They hike back to camp. They aren’t the only people left, but they never see anyone.
This story can be read in the preview of Morning Child and Other Stories. (41% into preview)
“The Man Who Walked Home” by James Tiptree, Jr.
An accident at the Bonneville Particle Acceleration Facility decimated the Earth’s population and severely damaged the biosphere and surface. Decades later, a huge flat creature emerges from the crater at the explosion site and promptly disappeared. There are other sightings in the years that follow.
This story can be read in the preview of the anthology Timegates. (18% into preview)
“Fermi and Frost” by Frederik Pohl
Timothy is a nine-year-old boy at JFK airport. He’s been separated from his parents and he’s filthy. The terminal is packed with refugees looking for a flight. A nuclear sub has fired on another sub. Everyone knows the missiles will soon be launched at the landmasses. Meanwhile, Harry Malibert, who was on his way to a seminar at the British Interplanetary Society, ends up tending to Timothy in the confusion.
This story can be read in the preview of the anthology Armageddons. (29% into preview)
“Butterfly Island” by C. J. Tudor
A motley group of survivors hang out at a beach bar. Bill wants to go to Butterfly Island, a nature preserve from the old world that was owned by a rich inventor. It used to be heavily guarded, but with the way things are now, it can’t be. They get a group of thirteen people together and take two boats.
This story can be read in the preview of After Sundown. (7% in)
“More” by Nancy Kress
Catie is being released from prison after serving a fifteen year sentence for a widely known crime. She’s picked up by Wayne, who’s fifty now. They’re headed for the compound. On the way, she wants to stop to look at a dome, a model C-2 made by HomeWalls. They’re designed to enclose an area, making it a great living environment and keeping the less fortunate out. Fifteen years ago, someone had tipped off HomeWalls about their plan.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Solaris Rising 2.
“Hidden Ribbon” by John Shirley
It’s 2044 on the rooftop shack town of the BP building in Los Angeles. Giorgio cautiously crosses a swaying rope bridge. He leaps into an open window as a bullet hits the concrete behind him. He’s met at gunpoint by Banker, the landlord, who orders him out. He doesn’t want any trouble; he can see Limmy and his second-in-command pursuing Giorgio.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Brave New Love. (33% in)
Emergency Skin | N. K. Jemisin
You’ve been given every available improvement on the human design. You’re being sent on an important mission to the planet Tellus, the original home of the human species. It was abandoned due to full environmental collapse. Most of the population had to be left behind. Tellus will be barren and toxic. The journey will take years but feel like days.
The beginning of the story can be read in the Amazon preview.
“The Invariable Man” by A. K. Meek
Micah lives in the Boneyard, a technological dumping ground that includes lots of equipment from the Machine Wars. He has a knack for fixing things, even technology he’s not really familiar with. He lives with, and is assisted by, Skip, a bot with limited awareness. One day, he’s visited by Mr. McCray, who brings news of unusual frequency signatures.
The beginning of this story can be read in the preview of The Future Chronicles. (60% in)
There Will Come Soft Rains | Ray Bradbury
At 7 AM an automated house rings the alarm clock and prepares breakfast. It gives some practical reminders and says it’s time to go to school and work. Otherwise, the house is strangely silent.
To Serve the Master | Philip K. Dick
Applequist is making deliveries when he comes across a damaged robot in a ravine. When he returns to the Company defense ring, he asks the director about the war and why the robots were destroyed. He is told that information is off-limits. He decides to sneak away to look for the robot and get some answers.
Finis | Frank Lillie Pollock
Scientists have predicted the appearance of a new star. Four people are waiting for it at an observatory. Many other people are staying up to see it as well. It is winter, but as midnight approaches everyone realizes it is getting warmer.
The Machine Stops | E. M. Forster
Most humans live below the surface of the Earth, communicating with each other through video screens and rarely going anywhere. A machine takes care of everything for them. Vashti and Kuno, mother and son, live apart and have different views of their society – she is content while he is dissatisfied. He once visited the surface without permission. Soon, some new rules are instituted.
Read “The Machine Stops” (Novelette)
The Answer | H. Beam Piper
Years after a nuclear war devastated half the earth, two nuclear scientists work together to create an antimatter bomb and test it.
Dear Devil | Eric Frank Russell
A Martian vessel lands on earth. The Martian crew has tentacles and communicates with signs and telepathic touch. Earth has been devastated by some kind of disaster. One of the crew, a poet, finds a statue of a woman. The captain is preparing to leave when the poet says he wants to stay. The captain allows it.
By the Waters of Babylon | Stephen Vincent Benet
The narrator, a young man, is the son of a priest, and will one day be a priest himself. The people are forbidden to go east to the Dead Places, or to cross the river to the Place of the Gods, except for a priest. There is another more primitive group called the Forest People. He sets out to the east on a journey.
Embroidery | Ray Bradbury
Three women sit embroidering on a porch. The women are waiting for five o’clock, when the result of an experiment will become obvious.
The City | Ray Bradbury
A ship from earth lands on an unknown planet. The crew explores the surface. The city has sensors that gather information about the men. One of the men, Smith, gets nervous and wants to turn back.
The Last Night: A Story | Norman Mailer
Earth is contaminated with radiation. Humanity has less than twenty years left, with three quarters of the population only lasting five years. A plan is developed to send up to a million people to Mars.
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.
Salvage | Orson Scott Card
Deaver Teague drives a truck, collecting salvageable materials left over from the war. He’s heard rumors of gold hidden in a Mormon temple. He makes plans with two friends to go look for it.
The Last Night of the World | Ray Bradbury
A family is relaxing at home in the evening. The man and woman have reason to believe the world will end tonight. They talk about what they should do.
We Can Get Them For You Wholesale | Neil Gaiman
Peter Pinter is a moderate man who loves a bargain. When he finds out his fiance Gwendolyn is seeing another man, he takes out a “contract” on her life. He arranges a meeting in a seamy pub to discuss the details.
The Wheel | 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.
After the Plague | T. C. Boyle
A virulent disease has wiped out the population. The narrator was on his own in the mountains during the outbreak. A radio announcer said people were collapsing en masse, but the authorities were dealing with it and not to panic. He tried to get information about survivors.
Jody After the War | Edward Bryant
Paul and Jody are on a mountain. They are relaxing but are distracted with thoughts of survivors and their future. Jody has recurring nightmares of the disaster.
The Portable Phonograph | Walter Van Tilburg Clark
The earth is battle-scarred and the buildings are gone. Four men are gathered in a cave enjoying a fire. The host managed to save a few books and a phonograph. He agrees to take it out and play a song.
Speech Sounds | Octavia E. Butler
Rye is on a bus heading for Pasadena. She might have a brother there who’s still alive. Two passengers, young men, start getting hostile. When one inadvertently falls into the other, a fight breaks out. This leads to further hostilities. The driver stops the bus. There is lots of grunting and other sounds and many gestures, but no one talks.
You, Disappearing | Alexandra Kleeman
The narrator’s cat, Cookie, is missing. She doesn’t report it, but instead calls her ex boyfriend. She likes knowing he’s still there, even though he won’t always be. The apocalypse has begun. It’s not violent, though. Things are just vanishing.
Dog Days | Judy Budnitz
A man in a dog suit hangs around in front of the narrator’s house. Her mother accepts him as a dog, giving him scraps and letting him stay with them. America is in a state of national emergency because of a war. In February, her father lost his job. In March, the stores closed and shortages set in. Things keep getting worse.
The Quest for Saint Aquin | Anthony Boucher
Earth is a technocracy and religion is banned. The Pope has a special mission for a priest, Thomas. He must find Saint Aquin, a revered evangelist known for some kind of miracle. This will win new converts to the faith. To assist on his quest, Thomas is given a robass, a robotic steed for transportation and conversation.
The Last Day | Richard Matheson
Richard wakes up in a house with his friends after a bacchanal. Others are still sleeping. The last night is over. He and Norman talk about what they’re going to do. Norman says they should see their parents. Richard doesn’t want to spend his last moments hearing his mom talk about religion.
The Man Who Lived | Raymond F. O’Kelley
Edward Penderby is driven by hunger and heat to his London lodging house. He opens his window. He’s tired, unkempt and foot-sore from his job hunt. He sleeps for a while. Waking up, he feels impelled to leave his room. He cleans himself up and steps back out into the street. On the corner, a newspaper-seller is dead on the sidewalk. He hurries past it but the scene doesn’t improve.
Read “The Man Who Lived”
The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion | Edgar Allan Poe
Charmion welcomes Eiros to the afterlife. The world has ended. Eiros tells the story of Earth’s demise. It started with the discovery of a comet. Scientists believed them to be harmless to Earth, so no steps were taken.
Geriatric Ward | Orson Scott Card
Sandy, twenty-two-years-old, has suddenly started babbling and trembling. Her husband, Todd, is twenty-four and also near the end. He goes to the University to continue the tests. So far they haven’t found the cause of humanity’s accelerated aging.
The People of Sand and Slag | Paolo Bacigalupi
The narrator is called away from his virtual game by a security alert. There’s hostile movement inside the perimeter. He, Jaak, and Lisa put on their exoskeletons and grab their weapons. They head out in the HEV, tracking their target on the scanner. It’s an unusual target but they’re confident they’ll be able to deal with it.
Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels | George R. R. Martin
Greel is in the tunnels, farther than anyone has been in generations. He’s a scout for the People. The taletellers say the People came from these tunnels. Ahead, the tunnels are on fire. Greel’s eyes hurt. When he touched some of the fire, it wasn’t hot. He’s unsure now what it is. His mind-brother, H’ssig, is nearby. He reaches out to him for assistance.
The Plague | Ken Liu
A girl, Marne, and her mother are fishing. A man in a protective suit falls into the water. He struggles to breathe. Marne wants to help, but her mother says everything is poisonous to him. He’s from the Dome. She goes over and untangles his tubes.
Read “The Plague”
“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison
There are only five humans left alive—four men and one woman. They’re being held in a underground complex by AM, a supercomputer. It makes life miserable for the group, but won’t allow them to die. They haven’t been provided with any food for days. One of the men hallucinates about canned goods in the ice caverns. They suspect AM is merely playing a cruel trick on them. In their desperation, they set out for the caverns.
Read “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”