G. Short Stories
Below is the list of 72 wonderful short stories that can be found online for free. (Click on the title to go to the story page.)
So can you take a couple of days off from your busy schedule?
#1: All you zombies – Robert A. Heinlein (4.5 stars)
Probably the most convoluted and complex of all time travel stories, All you zombies is a masterpiece that has been lauded for its originality and the sheer mind boggling complexity of its plot.
#2: The last question – Isaac Asimov (5 stars)
The best work of the best sci-fi writer that ever lived.
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs
Asimov takes one simple, fundamental question and weaves a story around it – as story spanning billions of years, the vastness of the universe and the hyperspace. The narrative is captivating, enchanting and fast paced. There is a continued sense of awe throughout as the story nears completion. And then, in a single closing statement, Asimov pulls offs a stunner.
*Since “The last question” is rated 5 stars, no other story will be.
#3: A sound of thunder – Ray Bradbury (3.5 stars)
2055. Time machines. Safaris to the past – humans going back millions of years to hunt exotic animals including dinosaurs. Every moment is carefully planned to avoid making even the slightest change to the future. Or is it?
#4: They are made out of meat – Terry Bisson (3.5 stars)
We are not alone. But we might never know that. And there’s a reason why.
#5: 2BR02B – Kurt Vonnegut (4 stars)
The story of a utopia. Of mankind’s most lusted after ambitions come true. And mankind’s most dreaded horrors too. A painter, a father, a doctor, triplets, a woman with a strange job, drupelets and the Happy Hooligan.
Vonnegut’s dark “paradise” leaves much to be desired and pondered and answered.
#6: The Nothing Equation – Tom Godwin (4 stars)
The space ships were miracles of power and precision; the men who manned them, rich in endurance and courage. Every detail had been checked and double checked; every detail except—
THE NOTHING EQUATION.
An observation bubble at the edge of our galaxy. One man to oversee it surrounded by vast legions of nothingness. The first commits suicide, the second goes insane. Now there is a third.
#7: I have no mouth, and I must scream – Harlan Ellison (4.5 stars)
What begins off as another post-apocalyptic world story, where a sentient, all-powerful machine has annihilated humanity, gradually builds up to be a terrifying, what-if tale. 5 survivors of the end of humanity must endure against an immensely powerful and vengeful machine. And there’s no way out. There is just the 5 of them and an eternity of pain and torture.
#8: As long as you wish – John O’Keefe (3 stars)
A coin with a paradoxical statement on both sides: THE STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS COIN IS FALSE.
A Professor of Philosophy.
A strange discovery.
A hidden message.
#9: No moving parts – Murray F. Yaco (3.5 stars)
The story of a time far ahead in the future where everything works perfectly. Human intervention is no longer needed to maintain or fix things. But everything’s changing now.
That light will be flashing with more and more frequency in the months to come. But not just to signal trouble in space. If I were a superstitious man, I’d think that the age of the perfect machine is about to be superseded by the age of the perfect failure—mechanical failures that can’t be explained on any level.
I really believe, childishly, that the mechanics and motions of the galaxy may turn themselves upside down just to snap man out of his apathy and give him some work to do.”
#10: The Veldt – Ray Bradbury (3.5 stars)
A wonderful story of a utopia. Of a happy family. Of a time when the human civilization has advanced so much that everything you want is done by machines at the slightest thought. A story that explores the question of “How far can you go mechanizing things before you are redundant?”
#11: The nine billion names of God – Arthur C. Clarke (3 stars)
Lamas at a monastery have taken up an ambitious project – to list down all the 9 billion names of God. And they believe that this is what humanity was made to do. And once the 9 billionth name is listed, our purpose would be fulfilled.
But what happens after that? If we have no more use for God, what happens to us? Will everything end? Or is it just the religious fantasy of a bunch of devout fanatics?
#12: There will come soft rains – Ray Bradbury (3 stars)
A mechanized house. A pre-planned schedule. Machines running around frantically, executing every job. But where are the masters?
Bradbury’s story is more than what it seems – a bleak commentary on the horrors of nuclear wars and their aftermath.
#13: The star – Arthur C Clarke (3.5 stars)
AD MAIOREM DEI GLORIAM – For the greater glory of God
A scientific voyage to the remnants of a supernova discover one lonely planet encircling the white dwarf. They stumble upon the carefully and intentionally preserved remains of a civilization – advanced, intelligent and in full bloom of its youth – wiped away by the same sun that gave them life.
The team makes some calculations to estimate the date of the supernova explosion (it would have been visible on earth) and come across a startling revelation.
#14: Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut (3.5 stars)
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.
A few years into the future, everyone is equal. Now there are only two ways to achieve that – either uplift and empower everyone to the same level, or drag down everyone else to a lowest common ground. It’s not surprising what the human race chose.
#15: I don’t know, Timmy, being God is a big responsibility – Sam Hughes (3 stars)
Tim and Diane (and their team) have successfully built the first quantum computer – a device with infinite processing power and storage capacity. Diane programs a simulation of the Big Bang and creates a model of our universe to study. As she approaches the current day, she makes a startling discovery.
#16: The coming of the Ice – Green Peyton (4 stars)
Is love something entirely of the flesh, something created by an ironic God merely to propagate His race? Or can there be love without emotion, love without passion—love between two cold intellects?
A doctor in the 20th century, has finally solved the age-old problem of immortality. Our hero volunteers to be the first to undergo the procedure. However, immortality comes at a price – emotions. Every emotion, starting from love to hate, fear to rage, joy to sorrow, slowly deserts you, until you are nothing more than an empty shell, a walking automaton, devoid of the joy and beauty in everything.
Is the price worth paying?
#17: The cold equations – Tom Goodwin (3 stars)
What will you do when the only option is to kill someone? (No, this is not a case study on morality) But truly, the only option is to kill. There is no margin for error, no probability, however infinitesimal, that there could be an alternate recourse.
#1: A very old man with enormous wings – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (3 stars)
A normal family with a normal backyard. An unexpected visitor. Is it a bird? Is it a moth? Is it a fairy?
#2: Snow, Glass, Apples – Neil Gaiman (3.5 stars)
In a retelling of one of the most loved fairy tales of all times, Neil Gaiman provides a starkly different viewpoint on the events that transpire and the conditions that lead to them.
#3: Nicholas was – Neil Gaiman (3 stars)
A short story, short enough to be reproduced here in its entirety.
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.
Life and Philosophy
#1: Signs and symbols – Vladimir Nabokov (3.5 stars)
An old couple. A sickly child in the hospital. Referential mania. 3 calls from a wrong number.
#2: Lorry Raja – Madhuri Vijay (4 stars)
The story of a poor, wretched family, working in the iron mines, told through the eyes of the 2nd son, Lorry Raja is sure to stir up a lot of emotions in the reader. The plot is simple, the characters simpler still. And yet, the feeling it evokes isn’t some thing that can be explained easily.
#3: The necklace – Guy de Maupassant (4.5 stars)
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.” ― Kurt Vonnegut
A simple couple. A simple life. A wife that yearns for a more exciting life. A party invitation. A borrowed necklace. A wonderful night. A life changed forever. “The necklace” is one of the best stories of love, support, yearnings, strength and regrets. The ending leaves one with an entangle of emotions, most significant of which is a sense of unfairness.
#4: Silver Water – Amy Bloom (3 stars)
Told from the first person perspective of Violet, Silver Water is a tale of her elder, mentally unstable sister Rose. The story weaves through a, though lightly comic at times, gritty and realistic narrative of having to deal with and adjusting with a family member suffering from acute Schizophrenia.
#5: If you were a dinosaur, my love – Rachel Swirsky (3.5 stars)
The first person narrative of a woman who wishes her fiancée was a dinosaur and then weaves a fictional world around it – a world of dinosaur operas and weddings. A tale that will leave you chuckling, pondering and going back to re-read the story.
#6: The Egg – Andy Weir (4 stars)
You were on your way home when you died. It was a card accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless.
So begins a tale that spans religion, belief, life, death, afterlife, and reincarnation. Taking a leaf out of Asimov’s book, The Egg builds up to a wonderful climax. And delivers.
#7: Three questions – Leo Tolstoy (4 stars)
In this story, Tolstoy addresses 3 fundamental questions, which since then have been passed down as life lessons and parables.
#8: And all the earth a grave – C.C. MacApp (3 stars)
There’s nothing wrong with dying—it just hasn’t ever had the proper sales pitch!
You can sell everything if only you know how to. Even death. A brilliant satire on the current media industry and the wave of consumerism that has engulfed the world.
#9: The snows of Kilimanjaro – Ernest Hemingway (3.5 stars)
A writer. A festering wound. A re-living of regrets, of opportunities passed up, of chances not taken. The slow approach of death, like the night, creeping and inevitable interspersed with a melange of memories, good and bad.
#10: To build a fire – Jack London (4 stars)
A man and a dog hiking through the snow covered trails of the Yukon in Canada on a day that they shouldn’t be. It is “too cold to be travelling along” but the man persists. To defeat the cold, he would need to start a fire. A fire that would be the difference between life and death.
#11: The curious case of Benjamin Buttons – F Scott Fitzgerald (4 stars)
We have all seen the box office hit starring Brad Pitt in the titular role but there is an eerily, haunting quality to Fitzgerald’s writing that makes the experience even more wonderful. The story of a man who starts off as a old man when born and slowly ages backward, turning into a middle aged man, a teenager, a kid, an infant and finally an embryo is fascinating. It is a concept that has always had people wonder and Scott does a great deal of justice to it.
#12: The last leaf – O Henry (4 stars)
A woman, dying of pneumonia pegs her life to the last leaves on an ivy vine. Bereft of all hope, she plans to take her final breath as the last leaf falls. But will it? Will she?
A story about hope. About struggles and finding the strength inside. A story of finding something to live for. We have been told numerous times that appearances can be deceptive. Nothing reinforces the notion more than this masterpiece by O’ Henry.
#13: An occurrence at Owl Creek bridge – Ambrose Bierce (3.5 stars)
The scene opens with a condemned man being hanged on the bridge. Like everyone else on a death sentence, his whole life flashes in front of him. His only wish is to somehow escape the hanging, fall into the river and swim away to safety and his family. That is when the rope snaps.
#14: The hunger artist – Franz Kafka (3.5 stars)
The story of a man with an unusual occupation – a hunger artist. Someone who fasts for days on end to amuse the world and its spectators. The story is a clever satire on the world where the talented yet trivialized people spend their entire lives in search for a fragment of glory, a single word of appreciation, a small part of the acknowledgment they truly deserve.
#15: The one who walks away from Omelas – Ursula K LeGuin (3.5 stars)
A city that is the perfect description of a middle-age utopia with its beautiful people, its skilled artists, its bright festivals, its everlasting intellectual orgy of joy. A terrible secret revealed. A compromise that had to be struck. A price that had to be paid.
#16: The School – Donald Barthelme (3 stars)
30 orange trees planet by 30 kids of a class all dead. Soon followed by the snakes. And the herbs. And the fishes. Death creeps nearer each day. But everything is not as dreaded as you think. There is still hope somewhere out there. Or is it?
#17: The yellow wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman (4 stars)
A husband and wife move to a mansion temporarily, something that is grand but suspiciously cheap. The wife believes she is sick and has an eerie feeling about their new home. The husband, however, doesn’t. And then there’s the room and it’s yellow, shabby wallpaper. There is something definitely wrong with it.
#18: Hills like white elephants – Ernest Hemingway (4 stars)
A couple waiting for a train on a railway station have some beer and a rather intriguing conversation which leaves the reader puzzled and pondering.
#19: Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (4.5 stars)
“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”
Rarely does a book stir up so many emotions in the reader. Flowers for Algernon is one such. The story is about simple and kind man, Charlie Gordon, with a below average IQ of 65, who undergoes an experimental procedure to triple his intelligence. Told in a narrative, progress report style (Charlie was required to compile a daily diary to monitor his progress), the prose develops in tandem with Charlie’s intelligence – starting off as the scribbling of a kid, laced with spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, and evolving into the publication-worthy musings over Plato’s allegory of the cave.
Flowers for Algernon is a commentary on human condition, on our schadenfreud-ian tendencies, on the treatment meted out to the mentally challenged, and one man’s journey of finding something he never had, and then living through the horror of losing it all over again.
#20: Shooting an elephant – George Orwell (3 stars)
If you are the conqueror, the master, the dictator, are you really in control? Or are you just a face, just a puppet being manipulated by millions of invisible strings? The strings of the will of the people you oppress?
#21: Clean well-lighted place – Ernest Hemingway (4 stars)
There is something simple and yet enthralling about Hemingway’s words. There’s a beauty in those plain sentences. You don’t need to exert any efforts. You don’t need to read the story. The story reads you. It hooks itself to you and then starts to devour you, but in a pleasant way. And, in a short time, you are completely engulfed. You are now the story.
#22: Bullet in the brain – Tobias Wolff (3 stars)
A bullet to the brain is surely one of the quickest ways to die. Or is it? To the shot, does the last few milliseconds feel like an eternity?
#23: The bet – Anton Chekhov (3.5 stars)
A somber gathering of gentlemen soon turns into a passionate discussion about the morality of the death sentence. The ones who advocated it said it was more merciful than life imprisonment – cleaner and quicker. The ones against brought God into the midst of things and stated that the State does not have the right to take someone’s life when it itself cannot create life.
A young banker agrees with the latter and boldly claims that he would take life imprisonment over death. The host, a rich and pompous banker, bets 2 million in exchange for the young guy living in solitary confinement for 15 years.
This was on Nov 14, 1870. Today is Nov 14, 1885.
#24: The dream of a ridiculous man – Fyodor Dostoevsky (4 stars)
Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time.
Yes they are. In a dream, you can live an eternity but wake up none the older for it. In a dream, you can achieve everything you have ever wanted, every aspired for, ever lusted after, but wake up none the richer for it.
Our hero had had such a dream. And he was ridiculed for it. Mocked. Derided. Pronounced senile. Yes, you can call him a madman. But aren’t we all?
#25: The Happy Prince – Oscar Wilde (4.5 stars)
It’s astounding, the power of words. How they can sway us, infuriate us, flame our desires, preserve our hopes.
This short story by the master is a perfect testament of the power of words in the hands of the wordsmith. A story that was part of the school curriculum, at least in India, and one I revisited after years.
In a few thousand words, it encompasses a love story, a tale of sorrow, and a satire on human condition. In a few thousand words, it stirs up emotions of love, joy, sorrow, pain and contempt. In a few thousand words, it is as much the cold winds of the winter, as it is the warmth of the sun on a spring afternoon.
#26: Happiness – Guy de Maupassant (3.5 stars)
Happiness is relative. And a lot more simpler than it is made out to be.
#27: The Sugargun Fairy – Kuzhali Manikavel (3 stars)
“Because everyone must keep a box of things they don’t understand and can’t throw away”
A story that is as simple as the daily ramblings of a teenager, and yet brooding and sinister at the same time. One about the fleeting passage of time, and yet the inevitable existence and decay of things.
#28: A little cloud – James Joyce (3.5 stars)
One of the most wonderful feelings in the world is catching up with an old friend. We might not have a time machine (yet), but an evening of smoky conversations and reminiscence with old pals is good enough. There’s anticipation, carefree laughter, a hint of nostalgic fondness, and just the tiniest sliver of jealousy. Especially if the other friend has a life worth being envious of.
#29: Across the bridge – Graham Greene (3 stars)
Life’s a curious case. In the end, does money matter? Or influence? Can one final act of kindness undo (at least in part) a life brimming with sin, theft, lies, and debauchery? What is the source of happiness? Of contentment?
In this fast-paced story about a millionaire fraudster evading the law in a quiet, shabby town of Mexico, Graham Greene hopes to find the answer. At least to some of the questions.
#1: The lottery – Shirley Jackson (4 stars)
A village. 300 people. A charged morning. A lottery. A winner. A twist.
#2: A face in the dark – Ruskin Bond (3.5 stars)
From Mr. Bond, comes another story set in the backdrop of the hills and valleys of Shimla. The story of a boarding school and its brave headmaster. A story that brings out all of your primal fears. A story with the basic elements of horror – the dark of the night, the eeriness of the howling winds, a strange sighting and a twist ending.
#3: In the penal colony – Franz Kafka (4 stars)
In a fast-paced story that slowly reveals, in the true sense of an actual horror movie, its various twists and turns and its arsenal of fear, Kafka manages to scare the reader and at the same time fill them with a certain amount of sympathy for the devil and bewilderment at the actual happenings in the story.
A traveler is invited to be the witness to a sentencing – a seemingly, outdated custom that tortures the guilty for hours before killing them. He must pass a judgement on it. What would it be?
#4: Man From the South – Roald Dahl (4 stars)
“A fine evening,” he said. “They are all evenings fine here in Jamaica.”
In this brilliantly crafted tale of a bet between an old man and a young one, things suddenly take a turn for the grim. The pacing of the story is fantastic and keeps you hooked till the end. And the ending – another twist in the devil’s tale.
#5: The tell-tale heart – Edgar Allan Poe (4 stars)
From the master of mystery, comes a tale worthy of his praise. The first person confession of a madman who murdered an old man and then describes it to the reader in vivid detail to prove his sanity. The story is eerie – you have the constant feeling of being watched because of the ‘unreliable narrative’ and the fact that the lunatic addresses the audience directly.
#6: A good man is hard to find – Flannery O’Connor (3 stars)
A normal family. Mother, father, kids, grandmother. A routine family vacation. A little detour to find something exciting. An accident and a deadly encounter.
#7: The face on the wall – E. V. Lucas (3.5 stars)
A group of people discussing the supernatural. An outsider with a real narrative. Three extraordinary things about the story.
#8: The open window – Hector Hugh Munro (Saki) (3 stars)
A man with a nervous condition visits an old lady on the behest of his sister to calm his nerves. While waiting for her, he engages in conversation with her niece and tale goes grim.
#9: The most dangerous game – Richard Connell (4 stars)
A celebrated hunter and a published author is thrown overboard a ship on a dark night. With every ounce of energy in his body, he manages to swim to safety and arrives on an island, uninhabited by humans except for a game hunter and his looming man-servant.
Discussion over dinner soon converges to the one common topic – hunting. And how, for someone who has hunted all his life, most game is boring and no longer a thrill. That is when the hunter reveals a chilling truth – the discovery of an entirely new game that promises to break the monotony of the ‘cunning hunter vs the dumb prey’ routine.
#10: Where are you going, where have you been? – Joyce Carol Oates (4.5 stars)
A story that leaves you perplexed and befuddled. One where you are not sure what the story really was about?
Over the years, many people have attempted many interpretations of Oates’ masterpiece, but every alternative eventually leaves out something. This could be a story told from a delusional victim’s standpoint about the advances of her predator. Or it could be an allegorical tale about the corruption of young people by satanic cults. Or it could be on the broader theme of giving in to sins.
I don’t know. Let me, if you do.
#1: The secret life of Walter Mitty – James Thurber (3 stars)
Made into a motion picture starring Ben Stiller, The secret life of Walter Mitty is a comical narrative of a man who’s blurred the lines between reality day-dreaming. Weaving through multiple episodes of real life and fantasy, it is a wonderfully paced story that will leave you chuckling at the end.
#2: Cookies – Douglas Adams (3.5 stars)
A train journey. 2 strangers. And a packet of cookies.
#3: The nose – Nikolai Gogol (3.5 stars)
A barber wakes up one day and finds a nose in his roll. Another gentleman wakes up and finds his nose gone.
However absurd, or improbable, this may seem, it does happen. (Or does it?). Gogol again displays a knack for weaving stories out of the pure bizarre and sprinkle it with his signature flavor of comedy.
#1: About love – Anton Chekhov (4 stars)
What is love? Is it rational? Can it be defined scientifically or diagnosed medically? Why do people fall in love? Why, sometimes, do they fall for someone who is their exact opposite? What is it about love that leaves even the strongest of people completely hapless?
Is it fine to love someone who is already with another person? Is it fine to profess your love to them knowing well that it could disrupt their perfectly peaceful existence?
All these and a multitude of other questions are answered in this beautifully crafted tale by the master himself.
#2: A girl I knew – JD Salinger (4 stars)
I saw a girl standing on it, completely submerged in the pool of autumn twilight.She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together. The way the profile of her face and body refracted in the soupy twilight made me feel a little drunk.
A story that is not as much about love as it is about losing it. The story of a
man who flunks college and is sent to Europe to master his trade, is advised against socializing much and falling in love, but who inadvertently manages to do just the opposite. A classic love story of romance, of the first jitters of love, of moving away, of writing letters. A wonderful love piece with a few splotches of some grime here and there.
#3: Selkie stories are for losers – Sofia Samatar (3.5 stars)
A weird tale of love and loss. With just a pinch of folklore and fantasy. While you are jumping from one narrative to another, you feel like being shaken intensely without being allowed the time to understand what exactly is going on. But once the dust settles, you can see the whole picture.
#4: The eyes have it – Ruskin Bond (4 stars)
A blind man on a train journey meets a female companion. During their 3 hour conversation, he doesn’t let her know that he lacks sight. And then her station arrives and she leaves. (Oh the simplicity of it!)
#5: The water that falls on you from nowhere – John Chu (3.5 stars)
In the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to “come out” to his traditional Chinese parents.
The story of Matt and Gus, a same-sex couple who truly love each other, but do not know it yet is one that upholds the roots of traditional story-telling. There is no embellishments, no forced sub-plots. Everything leads to the next thing in a way that is simple, yet beautiful. The premise of the story is new and straightforward, but the narrative, due to the way it is seamlessly weaved together, lingers with you like the misty air on a December evening.
#6: The silence here owns everything – Kirsten Clodfelter (2.5 stars)
The perfect companion piece to the previous story by John Chu. It’s a story of two girls – Natalie and Kendra. Friends on the surface. Lovers and probable soulmates deep beneath.
Throughout the narrative, you can pick up subtle hints that Nat is in love with Kendra, but somehow, every opportunity where she could express it eludes her. The story ends abruptly, as if a teenage girl one day, simply forgot to take out her diary and pen her memoirs. It leaves you with a certain sense of absence, and yet you can feel that it’s the ending you really wanted.
#7: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning – Haruki Murakami (3 stars)
What do you do when you chance upon your 100% perfect girl? What do you say? Haruki Murakami comes up with the perfect story for such a rare happenstance.
#8: A rose for Miss Emily – William Faulkner (4.5 stars)
Faces are treacherous things. Behind the serene expressions that people carry lie complex machinations that no human technology or intuition can completely comprehend.
And so is love. Love drives us to do great things. It goads us to reach out, extend our arms, and push ourselves to achieve the impossible. But it also pushes us over the cliff once in a while – over the boundaries of sanity, of happiness, of self-preservation.
#1: Lamb to the slaughter – Roald Dahl (3 stars)
A perfectly happy couple. An expecting mother. A confession. A leg of lamb. And an intricately covered up murder.