10 Short Stories That Will Blow Your Mind

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Mya Nunnally

Staff Writer

Having loved books since the age of four, Mya is a writer and poet who looks to explore the complexities of life through language. They attend Barnard College of Columbia University with their kitten, Ramen. Their reviews of independent literature can be found at Foreword Reviews. When they aren't writing or reading, they're playing video games with strong female characters. Twitter: @literallymya Blog:

Short stories are hard to craft. Often overlooked in discussions about “real” literature, they have to pack the same sort of punch that a novel spends hundreds of pages working on. But when they do it right, they can be profound. Some of the works of art that have changed how I see the world have been short stories.

This list illuminates short stories that hit their mark with expert ease, leaving the reader different than they were before. You might be shocked, scared, or open to new concepts you hadn’t thought of before. No matter what, these ten short stories are must-reads.

the ones who walk away from omelasthe ones who walk away from omelas by ursual k le guin cover by ursula k. le guin

In the town of Omelas, everything is perfect. The setting is beautiful, vivid with color and life. The people of the town are cheerful, complex, and advanced. They want for nothing. They live long, happy lives.

But something sinister lurks in the bowels of Omelas. I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll say the perfection of Omelas comes at a heavy, heavy price. This short story makes the reader question what comfort is worth. Its metaphor can be applied to western society as a whole, making it all the more chilling.

You can buy this story by clicking the link on the title above, or you can read it for free here.

short storiesstory of your life by ted chiang

This story is the basis for the phenomenal film, Arrival. Chiang tells the tale of a linguist tasked with communicating with an alien species. Not only is this piece well-researched and realistic despite being science fiction, its emotional component is what makes it shine.

The linguist, Louise, tells the heart wrenching tale through nonlinear narratives and a deeply human perspective. This is a story that you’ll keep with you for some time to come.

This resides in the greater collection, Stories of Your Life and Others.

“the egg” by andy weir

the egg by andy weir

What happens when you die? Andy Weir, author of bestselling novel The Martiananswers this question with startling nuance. Talk about mind-blown.

It starts as such:

“You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.”

You can read this right now here.

short stories“a brief guide to other histories” by paul mcauley

Our America opened a portal into an alternate America years ago, and things are complicated to say the least. Soldiers from one world migrate to the other in a military project, and meet their doppelgängers. Some meet mothers they never had, because they died on our Earth decades before but survived in the other. Every page of this story makes one wonder about reality, fate, and whether or not this science fiction is really…fiction.

This short story is in the anthology Other Worlds Than These, which is a phenomenal collection of pieces on the theme of alternate universes. You can also find the individual story here.

“button, button” by richard matheson

You may have seen the film The Box starring James Marsden and Cameron Diaz. It follows the premise of the short story it was based on, “Button, Button,” though quickly diverges from the original material.

In “Button, Button,” a husband and wife receive a visitor at their door. The visitor explains that if they press the button given to them, someone they don’t know will die and they will receive 50,000 dollars. I won’t spoil the outcome, but as with many of the short stories I’ve listed above, nothing is as it seems.

short stories“victory lap” by george saunders

George Saunders is a master of the short story. His collection, Tenth of December, garnered immense praise for its unique, poignant work. One of the best stories in that collection is “Victory Lap.”

Three distinct characters collide as a normal day morphs into a kidnapping and a chance for anything to happen. Saunders writes each character with skill and unparalleled depth.

It begins:

“Three days shy of her fifteenth birthday, Alison Pope paused at the top of the stairs.

Say the staircase was marble. Say she descended and all heads turned. Where was {special one}? Approaching now, bowing slightly, he exclaimed, How can so much grace be contained in one small package? Oops. Had he said small package? And just stood there? Broad princelike face totally bland of expression? Poor thing! Sorry, no way, down he went, he was definitely not {special one}.”

You can read the rest here.

short stories“the lottery” by shirley jackson

Shirley Jackson, master of horror, lends her skills to the medium with “The Lottery.” Published in 1948, its eerie atmosphere still holds true. It focuses on a small town that participates in a lottery every year. What does the winner get? Read it here to find out.

“The poetry cloud” by cixin liu

Cixin Liu is one of the most prominent science fiction writers in China today. In The Poetry Cloud, he writes of a new Earth, one that is hollow inside. The surface description of the plot doesn’t do much to capture the breathtaking genius involved, so I won’t say much. I’ll just tell you you can find it in the Big Book of Science Fiction, an anthology with plenty of other mind-blowing short stories.

short stories“the yellow wallpaper” by charlotte perkins gilman

This short story is a staple of early feminist literature. When the main character is diagnosed with hysteria (a made up illness given to women who didn’t act ladylike), she is coerced to stay in the upstairs room of an old house. “The Yellow Wallpaper” details her descent into madness as she fixates on the yellow wallpaper of her prison.

You can read it here.


“The Green zone rabbit” by hassan blasim

What is at first glance about a rabbit who acts very strangely is actually a short story about impossible situations. Hajjar has left the army, trapped in a violent country with no escape when he’s offered a chance to get revenge on militants that killed his family. Oh and, his rabbit can lay eggs. A weird, powerful text, “The Green Zone Rabbit” eloquently illustrates life in a war-torn land.

You can read it here.

What short stories have blown your mind? tell us!