In these short stories with cliffhangers, something happens to put the protagonist in a precarious situation or a major question is raised. Of course, many action stories have cliffhangers during the narrative that are eventually resolved, and these are in the first section (although now that I’m looking for them, they’re a bit hard to find). The second section has stories that end on a cliffhanger, leaving something important unresolved.
For a relevant anthology aimed at a younger audience, check out Comprehension Cliffhanger Stories.
Examples of Short Stories with Cliffhangers
“The Metal Men of Mars” by Joe R. Lansdale
John Carter, Jeddak of Helium, is restless for some adventure. He takes his weapons and heads out in a small flyer over the Martian desert. One night, while his ships floats moored to the ground, he closes his eyes to sleep. His ship is struck by something that sends him over the edge, dangling from the side.
This story can be read in the preview of Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom. (35% in)
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
Raisnsford is on a ship headed for the Amazon. He’s a big-game hunter. While on the afterdeck smoking his pipe, he hears the sound of gunshots in the distance. When he investigates, an accident puts him in a dangerous situation.
Short Stories with Cliffhanger Endings
“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)
“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)
“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. Grandfather urges her to leave while she can.
This story can be read in the preview of OCEANS: The Anthology. (16% in)
“Unreasonable Doubt” by Stanley Ellin
Mr. Willoughby is on vacation to calm his nerves and relax, on the advice of his doctor. While resting on a train, he overhears an experienced lawyer telling a story about the most interesting case he ever had. Hosea Snow, the richest man in town, was found murdered; one of his nephews, Ben, was arrested for the crime.
This story can be read in the preview of Mark Twain’s Medieval Romance. (22% in)
“All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” by Stephen King
Alfie, a salesman, pulls into a Motel 6 for the evening. He takes his notebook with him but leaves his samples in the car. He won’t need them tonight, or ever. On his way in, he sees the lights of a farmhouse in the distance and thinks about the family inside. He settles into his room, opens his briefcase, takes out the gun, and puts it at the head of the bed. He reads through some of the entries in his notebook that he’s been compiling for the last seven years. He gets ready to end everything, but is a bit concerned about the impression the notebook might give.
I’ll keep adding short stories with cliffhangers as I find more.