These stories have characters who are are trapped, or believe they are trapped, in a predetermined course of events, or are headed for an unavoidable outcome. They might also address the question of free will and whether it is possible for these events to change. The events might be fated by a divine being or some other cosmic force. In some stories, accidents and coincidence play an important part in the plot. Many of Jack London’s stories suggest a fatalistic world-view.
“The Knowers” by Helen Phillips
The narrator is one of those who wish to know. This upsets Tem, her partner, who says it affects him too. The technology has been mastered and it’s not very expensive. She decides she’s going to do it. When she returns two hours later, Tem is anxious to find out what happened.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of Some Possible Solutions: Stories.
“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte
In an effort to improve their town, the citizens of Poker Flat expel a group of undesirables from their midst. They set out for the next settlement, making a difficult mountain journey. On the way, they meet up with a couple headed for Poker Flat, who share some provisions and direct them to a cabin to rest.
This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories: Western.
“He was too much of a gambler not to accept Fate. With him life was at best an uncertain game, and he recognized the usual percentage in favor of the dealer.”
—The Outcasts of Poker Flat
“The Improbable Imposter Tom Castro” by Jorge Luis Borges
Arthur Orton left London as a young man and went out to sea. He was a jovial and gentle idiot. In Sydney, he became acquainted with a servant, Ebenezer Bogle, a moderate and highly intelligent man. They became friends. In 1865, Bogle saw a report in the paper that gave him an idea.
This story can be read in the preview of Collected Fictions.
“A Touch of Petulance” by Ray Bradbury
Jonathan Hughes met his fate in the form of an old man while he rode the train home from work. He noticed the old man’s newspaper looked more modern than his own. There was a story on the front page about a murdered woman—his wife. His mind raced.
This story can be read in the preview of Killer, Come Back To Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury.
The Lightning-Rod Man | Herman Melville
On a very stormy night, a salesman calls on the narrator, warning him of the dangers of lightning. He tries to sell the narrator a lightning rod. Each strike of lightning makes his pitch more urgent, but the narrator trusts God with his fate.
This is the seventh story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.
“All the Myriad Ways” by Larry Niven
Detective Trimble ponders multiple time-lines—the universe branching off every time a decision is made. There’s an epidemic of suicides and crimes. It’s quitting time, but he doesn’t leave right away. There’s activity in the office, as another man—prominent and wealthy—has jumped off a building.
This story can be read in the preview of Madness from the Inconstant Moon. (20% into preview)
“The Hounds of Fate” by Saki
Martin Stoner is a weary, hungry man wandering aimlessly. He happens upon a farm-house. Thinking he might buy a drink with his last coin, he approaches the door. Before he can knock, he’s greeted by an old man who addresses him in a surprising way.
This story can be read in the preview of The Hounds of Fate: 13 Tales of Terror. (Pg 1)
When Twilight Falls on the Stump Lots | Charles G. D. Roberts
A young cow gives birth to its first calf. Nearby, a gaunt she-bear hungrily but patiently waits for a chance to strike.
The Killers | Ernest Hemingway
Two hit men, Max and Al, enter a diner to get some food and to wait for their target to arrive. They’re looking for a boxer, Ole Andreson, whom their employer has a grudge against.
Jeannot and Colin | Voltaire
Jeannot and Colin are close friends in childhood. One day Jeannot receives a fancy coat and is taken away to a prosperous life—his father has had a business success. Colin is downcast. Jeannot is thrown into the education of a wealthy boy, which, suspiciously, doesn’t involve learning much.
The Fatalist | Isaac Bashevis Singer
Benjamin Schwartz, a man in a small town, earns the nickname Benjamin Fatalist. He believes that everything in a person’s life, every trifle, is predetermined. There is an attractive young woman in town with many admirers, but she rejects them all. Benjamin tells her it is fated that they should marry.
The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller | Gustave Flaubert
After Julian’s birth, his parents are given two prophecies—that he will become a saint, and that he will attain glory in a royal family. As a young man he is given a third prophecy—he will kill his parents.
King of the Bingo Game | Ralph Ellison
A black man sits through a movie, waiting for the bingo game to follow. He falls asleep and dreams about an incident from his past when he was almost killed and the white people laughed at it. The man could really use the jackpot for his family.
Bezhin Meadow | Ivan Turgenev
The narrator, having finished grouse shooting for the day, heads home but gets lost. He ends up in Bezhin Meadow with five boys who are watching some horses. He rests while the boys tell superstitious stories.
A. V. Laider | Max Beerbohm
The narrator goes to a hotel to recover from a bout of influenza, the same hotel he stayed in the previous year for a similar recovery. On the letter-board, he sees an undelivered letter that he had written to A. V. Laider, a man he had talked to last time. He remembers the tragic story that moved him to write to Laider.
Mrs. Bathurst | Rudyard Kipling
The narrator gets the story of Mr. Vickery, a reticent man who deserted the navy. He became infatuated with Mrs. Bathurst, a hotel proprietor known for her generosity.
The Eye | Paul Bowles
Duncan March was a Canadian living in Tangier. He died several years ago. The narrator hears his story and decides to look into his death. Duncan rented a house. He hired a Moroccan night-watchman, dismissed the cook, and hired another cook recommended by the watchman. He soon experienced digestive problems.
“. . . when misfortune overtakes one of their number, the others by mutual consent refrain from offering him aid, and merely sit back to watch, certain that he has called his suffering down upon himself.”
An Episode of War | Stephen Crane
A lieutenant is dividing the coffee supply for the squads. Suddenly he cries out as if attacked. The other officers see blood on his sleeve.
The Triple Warning | Arthur Schnitzler
A youth is walking to a mountain. When he reaches the edge of a forest a voice warns he will commit murder if he passes thru it. He doesn’t see any danger, so he continues. He receives two more prophetic warnings.
On Hope | Spencer Holst
A gypsy has a monkey trained to steal jewelry. One day it brings him The Diamond of Hope, a necklace belonging to the princess. It’s too recognizable to sell, and it’s cursed. Wanting nothing to do with it, the gypsy mails the necklace back to the princess.
The Algorithms for Love | Ken Liu
Elena is on a weekend leave from the institution. She’s going with Brad to a bed-and-breakfast on the conditions that she take her medication every four hours and not be left alone. Elena designs dolls with A.I. that allows them to converse with their owners. The models have become increasingly complex, propelling her company to great success.
“According to a market survey, over 20% of the customers for Kimberly were not buying it for their kids at all. They played with the dolls themselves.”
—The Algorithms for Love