Sensational Short Stories Every Student Should Read
Murder and madness in a miniature package! If you’re a bookworm, like me, you’re in for a real treat! If you’re here because you have a book report due and no book, you’re also in for a treat!
Whether you’re a reader or not, these sensational short stories are sure to please. They pack a real punch, doing more in three pages than what most books take three chapters! They make up for their menial size with originality and content that will leave you thinking long past you’ve finished reading!
While there are millions of amazing short stories out there, I’ve collected a few of my personal favorites (and the most critically acclaimed) and links to free access to each so you can get right to reading!
The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
Read it here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm
This is a story that evolves as you read it, slowly descending into madness. The whole narrative is told in the form of diary entries written by the main character, the first of which sets the scene.
Her husband, John, has rented a mansion for their three-month vacation. During their stay, the narrator is to remain at rest and avoid stimulation, forbidden from working, socializing, or even writing (including the story itself, which she hides from her husband). He assures her it’s the best cure for her condition, described as “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency.”
While staying in a mansion, having someone else doing the cooking and cleaning while you get to lay in bed all day might seem like a dream, for the narrator, it quickly becomes a nightmare. Her condition worsens, provoked by the ugly wallpaper that adorns her room and the oppressiveness of isolation. Her husband’s “cure” comes into question, and the state of the yellow wallpaper becomes a metaphor for the narrator’s state of mind.
The tale has an eerie ending that will leave you obsessing over the story long after the final diary entry. Besides excellent suspense and a unique subject matter, you’ll also find deep commentary on medical practices, the oppression of women, and attitudes towards mental illness during the period.
Unless you’ve been prohibited by the bed rest cure, there’s no excuse for why you haven’t read this yet!
The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
Another story about the narrator mentally unraveling with the plot (apparently a popular subject among short stories). The tension and poetic writing (of which Poe is a pro) will have your heart pumping with each page. The author is a master of the macabre, and the Gothic style is perfect for reading in bed late at night, huddled under the covers.
With a chilling narrative, the story gives you much to reflect on. For example, the sanity of the narrator, the reality of what’s happened, and how the effects of guilt can penetrate even the conscience of a cold-blooded killer.
While Poe has written many amazing short stories (of which you should also read), “The Tell-Tale Heart” retains a special place in my heart.
The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell (1893-1949)
Read it here: https://www.classicshorts.com/stories/danger.html
Ok, so this one is a little lengthy… but I wanted to include it since it’s the first short story I remember reading outside of school and remains one of my all-time favorites! While I’d like to say I tracked it down, it was my sister who introduced it to me. She explained it with the zeal of a sailor’s superstition, and I soon found myself drifting away to Ship-Trap Island, marooned in a tale of terror and entertainment!
The plot follows the main character, Rainsford, as he travels through the jungle… running for his life. A classic hunter becomes the hunted tale (in fact, the classic, kickstarting the common trope) with action and suspense at every turn. It feels less like a story and more like a sporting event, the main character’s actions narrated as he competes in a life-or-death competition against another notorious hunter. It fully consumed me as I read it, waiting with bated breath for Rainsford’s inevitable fate. I am happy to confirm that the suspense justifies the reading with a twist at the end worthy of a rollercoaster!
The author tackles heavy themes, such as the morality of killing for sport and being pushed to play into a sick game. It begs the question if all men have the capacity to kill and are simply pacified by the law and society.
If you’ve been hunting for a good story, look no further than “The Most Dangerous Game!”
The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson (1948)
Read it here: https://fullreads.com/literature/the-lottery/
If you like the Hunger Games, this is right up your alley! The story builds slowly, opening fairly normal. The setting is a small town, everyone gathering for a public event in the square. The townsfolk mingle and joke with one another as they wait for the commencement of the ceremony, known as “the lottery” (which takes place once a year). However, as the ceremony begins, the mood shifts. The people become nervous, and their true nature comes out. The lottery winner is drawn, and accusations are made. There is a deep sense of irony as these friendly neighbors are quick to turn on one another. The story ends with a message on the blind adherence to tradition and how, when it comes down to them or you, even those you trust most can play the part of Judas.
Living in a small town, I can relate to the intimacy of the little community. Everyone knows one another and engages in polite conversation. Consequently, the twist at the end had a heavy impact on me. If you’d like an unsettling tale about the manipulatable nature of society, this is the story for you!
All Summer in a Day, by Ray Bradbury (1954)
I remember reading this book in grade school. Don’t let that fool you, though; this story can be enjoyed by all ages. Like most of Bradbury’s work, it feels very down-to-earth, despite being out of this world. The themes are relevant, the characters relatable, and (despite some scientific inaccuracies) we catch a glimpse into what life might be like in the distant future.
The story is set on the planet Venus within an underground school setting. Outside the complex tunnels of civilization, there is a relentless downpour. However, for two hours every seven years, the sun comes out, which the people of Venus eagerly await. All of the children in the book are nine years old, except for the main character, Margot, who is five. While the other children came to earth when they were too young to remember the sun, Margot arrived more recently and describes it to them. The other kids are quick to pick on her, envious and unaccepting of poor Margot.
I managed to form a strong attachment to the main character in the matter of a few sentences. Bullied and homesick for Earth, she shows her humanity, which is easy to connect to. You reflect yourself onto the characters, and while reading the story, I felt their emotions. I eagerly awaited the sun with them, and I was overcome with their joy, and then with their sorrow.
The ending is dark and powerful, like the relentless rain in the story. It reminds us how consequential our actions can be, and that we should never let envy get the best of us.
Mild-mannered student by day, writer by night... but typically by day, I’m Bailey Werner, current junior and graphic design major at Fort Hays State University. With a passion for storytelling that stemmed from 3rd grade writing hour, I’ve been crafting worlds and characters as a hobby for over a decade. Now, as a part-time content creator for the school, I’m living out my dream of writing professionally. If I’m not in my room reading, gaming, or making art, you can find me at the lake. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling, and I’ll continue to use my writing skills after graduation, in my work as a graphic designer.