Those of us who love short stories know the magic behind a well-told tale. There are times when you just need a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, we’ve got some great news: A lot of incredible short stories are actually available online, and you can read them for free right now! It’s the perfect way to spend a lunch break, the moments while dinner is in the oven, or your last few minutes before bedtime. Without further ado, here’s our list of great short stories you can read for free right now. The list features a blend of works from contemporary authors, as well as short stories from your favorite classic authors. Read on for our complete list of free short stories!
Contemporary Free Short Stories
These stories are by contemporary authors. If you’ve never read these authors before, their free short stories will give you a taste of their style before you commit to one of their longer works. There’s something for everyone, with genres ranging from science fiction to historical fiction to horror.
“The Hunter’s Wife” by Anthony Doerr
Gorgeous descriptions of nature fill this story of a hunter and his younger, psychic wife during a Montana winter. After reading it, you’ll be amazed by Doerr’s talent, which was also behind his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.
“Premium Harmony” by Stephen King
King fans won’t want to miss this 2009 short story which appeared in The New Yorker. A bickering couple stop at a convenience store and find their lives taking an unexpected dark turn. If you read closely, you’ll also catch references to the horror writer’s other works here.
“Broads” by Roxane Gay
You’ll get a kick out of this saucy story by Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist. Jimmy has a thing for loud, bold women. But it’s not until he meets a diner waitress that he finally seems to get what he wants.
“And of Clay Are We Created” by Isabel Allende
We’re transfixed by this story based on a real-life natural disaster. A volcano erupted in Colombia in 1985 and caused mudslides that tragically killed 23,000 people. Weaving culture with a gripping personal drama, Allende’s story centers on the rescue of Azucena, a girl trapped in the mud.
“The Embassy of Cambodia” by Zadie Smith
First appearing in a 2013 edition of The New Yorker, this story — both beginning and ending at the entrance to the embassy of Cambodia — details the life of domestic servant, Fatou. Though simple in nature, bestselling author Zadie Smith’s meticulous prose emphasizes how the smallest things in life can raise the largest questions.
“Girls, at Play” by Celeste Ng
This story by the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere may shock you at first. It focuses on three 13-year-old girls who play a very adult game at school. But when a new girl arrives, they are able to recapture some of the innocence they’ve lost.
“Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff
This poignant story follows a mother on her evening walk as she contemplates the history of her neighborhood, the personal lives of the people within, and her own raging emotions. Though short, it’s a powerful read for those overcome by feelings in their own lives.
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
A finalist for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, this short story is more than it seems. While on the surface it’s a tale of the battle between bees and wasps, underneath it carries deeper political themes and questions that you will want to discuss with your book buddies.
“The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin
Hugo Award–winning author N.K. Jemisin proves why she’s an acclaimed science fiction writer in this short story that sees New York City in an entirely new light. Once a city has aged, it will be born anew, but the future of this cosmopolitan playground is left to a wispy hero who must learn how to identity with his home in order to save it.
“The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link
We’re betting you’ll find this Kelly Link story as delightful as we do. Genevieve’s grandmother Zofia claims her handbag houses a group of fairies. One day, Genevieve discovers if it’s true. This acclaimed story won three major awards — the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo.
“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu
What if it rained every time someone lied? That’s the world where Matt exists in this fanciful, thought-provoking John Chu tale. When Matt needs to come out to his traditional Chinese parents, not to mention discuss marriage with his partner, he’ll have to weather the challenges — in more ways than one.
“The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson
In a post-Civil War America, a family is forced to reckon with how slavery continues to define their existence, even in a “free” world. Wilson’s striking prose paints a haunted picture of prolonged servitude under supposed liberation, and how it continues even generations after emancipation.
“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell
Those of us who adore Karen Russell’s magical realism know that this stoxry is a must-read. A group of werewolves’ daughters come to a halfway house run by nuns, where they are encouraged to become civilized. But the girls struggle not to fall back on their old wolfish habits.
“Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler
We’ve got a serious crush on this story from the author of The Jane Austen Book Club. Jude’s suspicious when her 15-year-old daughter, Chloe, starts dating a mysterious boy. She becomes even more so when he comes to dinner, because Eli is far from normal…
“Queenie” by Alice Munro
This short by Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro is a slow burn, but powerful. After her sister Queenie elopes with an older widower, Chrissy reflects on her own choices and what could have been.
“The Fruit of my Woman” by Han Kang
Stuck in a fruitless marriage, Kang’s protagonist imagines herself as a plant, growing away from her monotonous world into a life of beauty and fulfillment. Kang’s prose is effortless, and while his landscape is surreal, the feelings he invokes resonate deeply in reality.
“Any Way the Wind Blows” by Seanan McGuire
This charming short story from a New York Times bestselling author follows the travels of Isabelle Langford, an airship captain in the Cartography Corps who’s tasked with exploring parallel worlds. What those different “layers of reality” contain is a mystery; they could be home to everything from carnivorous pigeons to Greek gods — or even a version of New York’s iconic Flatiron Building.
“With the Beatles” by Haruki Murakami
It’s not the first time the Beatles have played a role in Murakami’s writing, and he returns to the band in his latest short story, narrated by a man reflecting on falling in love as a high schooler. You can also hear from Murakami on “With the Beatles,” which touches on themes of memory, youth, and aging, here.
“Go, Team” by Samantha Hunt
This dynamic short story from Hunt, whose debut novel, The Seas, won the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 prize, follows a group of mothers as they discuss a woman who mysteriously disappeared during their children’s soccer game. The dialogue-driven story has a fast-paced feel that’ll immediately pull you in.
Classic Free Short Stories
If you haven’t read these classic short stories, you’re missing out. Cozy up and take 15 minutes to read one of these free short stories today.
The Nine Stories collection by J.D. Salinger
If you loved The Catcher in the Rye, you won’t want to skip this collection of Salinger stories published in 1953. Of particular note are “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esme — with Love and Squalor,” two of the more well-known tales, both featuring children and illustrating the haunting effects of war.
“The Dead” by James Joyce
We’re so curious about the shocking twist in this story by acclaimed Irish author James Joyce. At a lush Dublin New Year’s Eve party, Gabriel’s wife tells him a secret that will have a lasting impact — on him and the reader.
“The Lady with the Little Dog” by Anton Chekhov
Published at the turn of century, this Chekhov story follows a married man who has a brief but passionate affair with a younger woman whom he meets while she’s walking her dog. It’s rumored to be a favorite of fellow classic author Vladimir Nabokov.
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London
Readers who are drawn to Jack London’s stories of survival in the wild shouldn’t skip this short. Set in the frozen Yukon Territory, it follows a man who unwisely decides to hike with only a dog for company and is forced to put his survival skills to the test. You’d better read this one with a hot cup of tea or coffee nearby.
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
If you haven’t already read it, “The Monkey’s Paw” will unsettle you — and make you think very differently about wishes! When the White family is shown a mummified monkey’s paw with the magical ability to grant wishes, Mr. White can’t resist making a simple wish. But the price he pays is ghastly…
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
Horror fans — especially those who’ve read Poe’s other work — will find this revenge story delightfully macabre. After his friend Fortunato wrongs him, Montresor lures him during the carnival season to the catacombs, where he introduces the man to a truly sinister fate.
“God Bless America” by John O. Killens
Despite the fact that African-Americans had fought and died in every American war, it was not until 1948 that the Armed Forces were desegregated. However, the executive order did little to rectify the treatment of people of color in America’s military. John Oliver Killens, cofounder of the Harlem Writers Guild, examines the paradox of risking your life for a country that barely cares for yours as he sends his main character, Joe, off to war.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain
A quirky Twain tale that is not to be missed! Jim Smiley loves to bet. But when he finds a frog, trains it to jump, and wagers that this prized frog is the best jumper in the county, he learns a painful lesson.
“Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
This story is one of the last published by the Moby-Dick author. One day, at his Wall Street copyist job, Bartleby refuses an assignment from his boss, saying, “I would prefer not to.” What happens will have you glued to the pages.
“In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka
Though strange and disturbing, you’ll still be thinking about Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” after you’ve finished. A visitor to a penal colony witnesses an odd method of execution: a machine which engraves the crime on the prisoner before he dies. But does the punishment fit the crime?
“Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov
Appearing in a 1948 issue of The New Yorker, this story centers on an older couple who visit their mentally ill son who has just attempted suicide. Returning home, the father decides to remove the son from the hospital. Interwoven in the story — which lends itself to multiple interpretations — is the family’s history as Russian Jews.
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
If you adore Bradbury as much as we do, you’ll love reading this science fiction story about technology gone awry. A family of four lives in a home equipped with advanced technology, including a simulation room for the children to experience their wildest fantasies. But when their parents become disturbed by the house’s control over their children, they must fight back.
“Liars Don’t Qualify” by Junius Edwards
Published just before the height of the Civil Rights Movement, “Liars Don’t Qualify” exposes the difficulties African-Americans faced when trying to vote, even though the 15th amendment explicitly states that every citizen — no matter their race — has the right. When Army veteran Will Harris attempts to register in his Southern hometown, he is obstructed by two men who claim to know better.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
The beloved Southern writer takes on serial killers, righteousness, and religion in this short story, first published in 1953. And in the years since, it’s sparked plenty of discussion thanks to a dramatic ending that’s open to interpretation. In other words, we hope you love a good debate.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
Faulkner’s famous short story, the first of his to be published in a major magazine, is Southern Gothic at its finest. It opens with the death of 74-year-old Emily Grierson, the secluded spinster who has become something of a “hereditary obligation upon the town.” Throughout the tale’s five sections, Faulkner explores Miss Emily’s isolation and eccentricity — including her mysterious decision to purchase arsenic.