Short Stories About Time

Time is an important factor in these short stories. Often, it is manipulated in some way, passing faster or slower than our usual perception indicates.

The narrative could be non-linear or a character might be confused about where they are in time.

Some stories could be interpreted as making some statement about time.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

A man is on a bridge in Alabama, his hands bound and a rope around his neck. He’s a civilian, a confederate sympathizer, and is being held by Federal soldiers. He’s been sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

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

“The Wedding-Knell” | Nathaniel Hawthorne

The narrator recounts the story of an unusual wedding between a man and woman in their sixties. Rather than being introduced by uplifting music, the wedding was introduced with a funeral knell instead.

This story can be read in the preview of Twice Told Tales.

“Axolotl” by Julio Cortazar

A man goes to a zoo aquarium and stands for hours watching the axolotls (a larval salamander). He says he has become one of them. He explains how this transformation took place.

This is the first story in the preview of Blow-Up: And Other Stories.

“The Rememberer” | Aimee Bender

A man experiences rapid, reverse evolution. He goes from man to ape to sea turtle, losing about a million years a day.

Read “The Rememberer”

“The Wave” | Liam O’Flaherty

A two hundred foot high cliff has developed a cavern at its base from “battling” for thousands of years with the incoming waves. Waves continue to crash in, and high tide is approaching.

This story has no human or animal characters. The “characters” are the cliff and the waves.

“The Daffodil Sky” | H. E. Bates

A man returns to a town after many years away. He’s looking for Cora Whitehead, a woman he used to see. We hear the story of their relationship and of a decision he made that changed everything irrevocably.

Read “The Daffodil Sky” (Page 222, about halfway down)

“The Secret Miracle” | Jorge Luis Borges

Jaromir Hladik, an author, is in his apartment when he is arrested by the Nazis. He is sentenced to die by firing squad; he is terrified, but his biggest concern is that he won’t be able to finish his latest drama.

Read “The Secret Miracle”

“Pet Milk” | Stuart Dybek

The swirl in the narrator’s coffee from the evaporated milk reminds him of his grandmother. It also reminds him of the swirl in a drink he used to get with his girlfriend. He remembers their young love.

“The Masque of the Red Death” | Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero invites a thousand nobles to his castle where they seek refuge from a plague, The Red Death, which is devastating the population. They plan to wait it out, having welded the doors shut. The prince holds a masquerade party as a diversion.

Read “The Masque of the Red Death”

“Midair” | Frank Conroy

Sean Kennedy is six-years-old when his absent father shows up to take him home from school. No one has a key so they climb in thru the fire escape. His father is manic. Eventually, some staff arrive from an asylum to get Mr. Kennedy. The narrative jumps ahead to future incidents in Sean’s life.

“Half a Day” | Naguib Mahfouz

A young boy has his first day in school. His experiences parallel the events of a lifetime.

Read “Half a Day”

“August 2002: Night Meeting” | Ray Bradbury

Tomas stops at a lonely gas station on Mars on his way to a party. He talks to the old owner about how different Mars is from Earth, and how time seems different as well. Tomas leaves and soon meets a native Martian; they make a surprising discovery about each other.

‘”Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’ | Harlan Ellison

The Ones Who Keep The Machine Functioning Smoothly become aware of a disruption, the Harlequin, a man who pulls pranks that throw off their carefully planned schedule. This rebel is becoming a hero to some; they need to find out who he is. Being on time is of the utmost importance—it can even affect how long someone lives.

Read “Repent, Harlequin”