Ethical Stories: Short Stories With Moral Dilemmas, Ethical Dilemmas and Ethics

These ethical stories feature characters who face moral quandaries, ethical dilemmas or who are otherwise put in difficult moral situations. In other stories, the ethics of the situation are clear, but the character has strong motivation for ignoring their conscience.

Short Stories with Moral Dilemmas

“The Shadow of the Thing” by Tyler W. Kurt

Dakota goes to Maeve and Jason’s place. Maeve is a travel blogger. Jason is an extreme-sports enthusiast and computer programmer. Dakota knows that Maeve has something important to say. She’s decided to do something and she wants Dakota to be with her during the experience.

“The Shadow of the Thing” is the first story in the Amazon preview of After Dinner Conversation: Season One.

“Bread” by Margaret Atwood

The narrator tells the reader to imagine a piece of bread in a few vastly different situations. (Summary & Analysis)

“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson

A hand addressed package is left at the door of Arthur and Norma Lewis. Inside is a contraption with a button on it, and a note saying that Mr. Steward will call on them at 8 PM. He arrives at the appointed time and makes them a startling proposition.

This is the first story in the preview of The Box: Uncanny Stories.

“The Bewitched Jacket” by Dino Buzzati

A man gets a referral to a little-known master tailor and has a suit made. The tailor has an unsettling effect on him and he puts off wearing the new suit when it arrives. When he finally puts it on, it’s more remarkable than he could ever imagined. (Summary)

This story presents a different take on a similar premise to “Button, Button”.

“Abrama’s End Game” by David Shultz

Abrama is summoned to the Grand Temple by Sir Gödel. Abrama is a native, but she understands the language of the outsiders who can appear and disappear suddenly. Sir Gödel has bad news about Abrama’s world. She doesn’t accept that there’s nothing to be done to prevent what’s coming.

“Abrama’s End Game” is the second story in the Amazon preview of After Dinner Conversation: Season One.

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Ethical Stories with Moral Dilemmas, Cont’d

“The Coup de Grace” by Ambrose Bierce

In a regiment are two brothers, Caffal and Creede Halcrow. Caffal is a sergeant under Captain Madwell, and they are long-time friends. Creede is a major and has a hostile relationship with Madwell. Madwell’s company is ordered to hold the head of a ravine, but they are driven from their position with heavy losses.

This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.

“Curly Red” by Joyce Carol Oates

Lili Rose wasn’t allowed to return home until her father was weakened and dying at seventy-three. She was exiled at thirteen, sent to live with an aunt and uncle. She had four older brothers who were often in trouble. Things changed when a local boy was attacked and beaten, and died soon after from his injuries. Lili Rose overheard some conversation. She made a decision that alienated her from her family.

This story can be read in the preview of I Am No One You Know: And Other Stories(9% in)

“Boule de Suif” by Guy de Maupassant

The Prussian army advances while the French army retreats. Ten passengers are given clearance to board a carriage and leave the city, with the possibility of crossing into England. Among the passengers is Boule de Suif, a prostitute who has to make a moral decision that will affect the whole group.

This is the second story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.

“A Jar of Goodwill” by Tobias S. Buckell

Alex Mosette works on a space station and has low status. Alex is in oxygen debt. The harbormaster could put Alex in stasis between jobs and take a percentage to pay off the debt. He gives another option—a ship is looking for a professional Friend. They’re secretive about the mission and are offering half a point on the profits, which they claim will be high. Despite some safety concerns, Alex takes the risk.

This story can be read in the preview of The Final Frontier: Stories of Exploring Space, Colonizing the Universe, and First Contact(10% in)

“The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton

A long time ago, a barbaric king had a peculiar method of putting criminals on trial. They’re placed in an arena and the public is allowed to attend the proceedings. The accused is brought out before the king. Opposite him are two doors. Behind one is a beautiful woman; behind the other, a hungry tiger. The accuser must choose.

This is the first story in the preview of The Lady, or the Tiger? and Other Stories(Select Paperback preview first, then Kindle)

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin

The citizens of Omelas are happy, but the narrator is vague as to what exactly they have which makes them so. However, the people’s happiness depends on one thing, which all the citizens are aware of.

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is the third story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.

“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

Abner Snopes is being tried in a small-town court for allegedly burning down his landlord’s barn. He’s kicked out of town, and finds a new job working as a sharecropper.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories.

“Bright Moment” by Daniel Marcus

Arun floats on an ammonia ocean on his powersled for a little relaxation. His e-field protects him from the elements and allows him to live in this foreign environment. A monstrous wave is approaching and he prepares to ride it. He notices something below the surface—a large squid-like creature. He loses control and awakens back on Athena Station. They’re going to terraform the moon he just came from. A wormhole allows travel between the sites.

This is the first story in the preview of Bright Moment and Others(22% into preview)

“Conspiracy on Callisto” by Frederik Pohl

Duane and Stevens are in a ship’s corridor ready to draw their guns. Duane found out his payout from this job won’t be what he was expecting. Stevens has a private arrangement with their employer, Andrias, and won’t give up any of his share. An alarm bell sounds throughout the ship, indicating a change of course in one minute. Everyone needs to get to their cabins and strap in.

This story can be read in the preview of The 15th Science Fiction MEGAPACK. (4% into preview)

“The Cold Calculations” by Michael A. Burstein

A non-human is dying in the vacuum of space. Before his mental pathways deteriorate completely, he wants to leave a record of what happened. Lieutenant Jason Sawyer was leading the Zecca on a rescue mission to Titan base. They were down to their last backup generator and the lives of the fifteen crew members were at risk. Jason’s only crewman was Zec, a robotic AI that could run the ship.

This story can be read in the preview of Fantastic Stories Presents: Science Fiction Super Pack #1(10% into preview)

Short Stories With Moral Dilemmas, Cont’d

“The Epsilon Directive” by David Bruns

The war with the Scythians is essentially over; their fleet’s been destroyed and they’ve scattered. Epsilon Units are hunting down the last Scythians and killing them. Noog finds himself in one of these squads, even though he was against the war. He succumbed to family pressure and joined anyway. When they scan Talos 5 for Scythian life signs, they get a hit.

This story can be read in Best of Beyond the Stars(17% into preview)

“The Day of the Execution” by Henry Slesar

Warren Selvey, a prosecuting attorney, has just secured his first big conviction. The accused has been found guilty and will get the death penalty. He’s not a junior anymore. He takes in the admiration of his peers, and looks forward to celebrating with Doreen.

This story can be read in the preview of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense(50% in)

“Transgalactic Consciousness Transfer” by Mark Starlin

Dr. Roosa and Dr. Nooft have teamed up to build the technology that can send consciousness across galaxies. This procedure has been outlawed due to a major ethical concern which they’re comfortable ignoring.

This story can be read in the preview of A Sci-Fi Shorts Anthology: Vol 1(79% in)

“Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck” by Neal Asher

Tameera, her brother Tholan, and his assistant Anders are accompanied by a guide on Myral hunting gabbleduck. The species isn’t native to the planet, but have been rumored to be there. Their trip is interrupted when Tameera kills a sheq, a native species. This puts them in danger, both from the sheq and the authorities.

This story can be read in the preview of The Gabble And Other Stories(8% in)

“A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry

Jimmy Valentine, an expert safe-cracker, is released from jail after serving nearly ten months. The warden urges him to go straight. He goes to see Mike Dolan at his café; Jimmy’s room is upstairs. Starting a week after Jimmy’s release, there’s a string of burglaries. When Jimmy starts going straight he’s faced with a dilemma.

This story can be read in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other New York Stories(14% in)

“Everything’s Eventual” by Stephen King

Dinky Earnshaw, a nineteen-year-old dropout, has a good job. It doesn’t pay a lot, but it comes with a house, a car, and weekly delivery of what he wants. He’s not allowed to contact any of his old friends. He’s also not allowed to save any money—whatever is left at the end of the week has to be discarded. Dinky has only met his boss, Mr. Sharpton, once. He doesn’t see who drops off his pay or the cleaners. Mr. Sharpton recruited Dinky for a special ability he possesses.

“Rest Stop” by Stephen King

John Dykstra, a suspense novelist, drives home from a writer’s meeting. He thinks about who he is at different times—John Dykstra or his writing alter-ego Rick Hardin. He had several beers before leaving and desperately needs to stop somewhere. He pulls off at a rest stop he’s used before. There’s only one other car there. As he walks toward the men’s room he hears a commotion from the women’s room.

“The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler

Martha had just gone to her kitchen for some food after a night of writing. She suddenly finds herself with God, surrounded by grayness. God has selected her for a job—to help humankind through its tumultuous adolescence and enable it to live better. She can ask questions and think about her decisions as long as she wants. It’s an overwhelming job with many potential pitfalls.

“The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad

A ship is anchored in the Gulf of Siam. The new captain sees another ship anchored nearby. The second mate identifies it as the Sephora, which is transporting coal. The Captain decides to take the first watch himself. He notices the rope ladder over the side hasn’t been hauled in. As he deals with it, he sees the pale body of a man in the water. The man has been swimming a long time. He doesn’t want to raise an alarm. The Captain learns the man was under arrest on the Sephora but escaped. He has to decide what to do with him.

Read “The Secret Sharer”

“The Photograph” by Will Weaver

Bobby Johnson tells some teammates that his father happened to see the phys ed teacher, Ms. Jenson, skinny-dipping in the lake by her home. Lance, the quarterback, tells Bobby and the narrator, who’s a photographer, to stay and talk about it. He has a plan.

Some of “The Photograph” can be read in the Amazon preview of No Easy Answers: Short Stories About Teenagers Making Tough Choices.

“The Extra” by Greg Egan

Keeping a stock of Extras—clones of oneself with minimal cortex—is legal, but most are discreet about it. Not so with Daniel Gray, who houses his Extras near his own home. He goes so far as to parade them in front of his guests at a garden party. He has five batches of them, each batch ten years apart. Daniel has already had several transplants from Extras to keep himself in great shape. Eventually, he plans to have his brain moved into one of the clones.

This story is in the anthology Clones.

Ethical Stories, Cont’d

“An Unnatural Mother” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A few village women make a negative judgment on Esther Greenwood who recently died. They claim she deserted her child and, as a result, the child is now under the care of the town. One of the women points out how the village benefitted from Esther’s actions, but she’s quickly contradicted. A boarder from the city overhears the gossip about this unnatural mother and wants the full story.

“The Last Sixty Minutes” by Susan Glaspell

The clock strikes eleven as Governor John Morrison sits in his office. In exactly one hour his term ends and the newly elected Leyman will take his place. Governor Morrison, an old man now, thinks about his time in office, especially how everyone knows he’s merely been a figurehead. The real power has always been with Harvey Francis. He thinks of his idealism as a young man and how little he’s accomplished.

Read “The Last Sixty Minutes”

“The No-Guitar Blues” by Gary Soto

Fausto wants a guitar more than anything. When he finds a lost dog, he is sure there will be reward money that he can use for a guitar, especially if he embellishes the story.

Read “The No-Guitar Blues”

“Four O’Clock” by Price Day

Mr. Crangle is at home at 3:47 in the afternoon. Three weeks ago he realized he had the power to mark all evil people in some way. He would be the judge, and he had no moral qualms about using his ability. He sets 4:00 in the afternoon as the time when he will execute his judgment.

“Pelt” by Carol Emshwiller

A hunter and his dog are on the frozen planet Jaxa. The dog senses they are being watched, but she doesn’t know how to signal this to her master. The hunter is looking for trophies to add to his collection, and furs to sell.

Read “Pelt”

“The Doctor’s Heroism” by Villiers De L’isle Adam

Doctor Hallidonhill is a renowned lung specialist with a steady stream of patients. One day a man in terrible condition comes to see him. He is tall, has enlarged pupils, is emaciated, and he’s looking for help.

“The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont

The narrator recounts his experiences traveling through Europe before he commenced his professional life. He ended up falling sick with pneumonia in Germany. He woke up in the Abbey of St. Wulfran’s, under the care of a monk, Brother Christophorus.

“The Enemy” by Pearl Buck

Dr. Sadao Hoki, who’s a surgeon, and his wife, Hana, live on the coast of Japan. Japan and America are at war. On a foggy night, the Hoki’s are out on the verandah. Through the mist, they see someone stagger out of the sea. Thinking he might be a lost fisherman, they run to him. To their surprise, and consternation, he’s a wounded white man—an escaped American prisoner of war. They don’t know what to do with him.

Read “The Enemy”

I’ll keep adding ethical stories and short stories with moral dilemmas as I find more.