Blog – Posted on Tuesday, Apr 23
25 Flash Fiction Stories Worth (a Small Amount of) Your Time
Flash fiction is no doubt one of the most fascinating creative mediums in this day and age; however, it’s also one of the most difficult to write in. After all, flash fiction requires writers to abstain from complex structure and elaborate phrasing in lieu of snappy, to-the-point prose — effectively cramming a whole narrative into 1,500 words or less.
But when writers rise to this challenge, the results can be exquisite. This post is dedicated to those dazzling works by the masters of flash fiction, from Franz Kafka to Joyce Carol Oates. Some of these stories are a few paragraphs long, some a few lines, and others only a few words — but all of them display incredible storytelling ability. Without further ado, here are 25 flash fiction stories worth a (very quick) read.
1. “Angels and Blueberries” by Tara Campbell
Campbell’s sweet, wholesome story posits various explanations for the color of the sky, one of which (naturally) involves angels and blueberries. Besides making you crave a fruit smoothie, it’ll open your eyes to the delightful possibilities of imagination when we disregard science for a few minutes.
First lines: “Why is the sky blue?” you ask. Well, it all depends on who’s answering.
2. “As the North Wind Howled” by Yu Hua
Translated from the original Chinese, this brilliantly bizarre story follows a man who awakens one morning to find a stranger pounding down his door. The stranger insists that he’s come to visit his sick friend — the only trouble is, our narrator has no idea who he’s talking about. The uncanniness escalates from there, culminating in a dark yet comic ending that deftly comments on the oppressive nature of social obligations.
First line: Sunlight had sneaked in through the window and was creeping toward the chair where my pants dangled. I was lying bare-chested in bed, rubbing some gunk from the corner of my eye. It must have collected while I was sleeping, and to just let it stay there seemed inappropriate.
3. “Baby Dolls” by Becky Robison
This super-quick vignette from Becky Robison manages to be profoundly moving and disturbing at the same time. It details the circumstances of the narrator’s birth, during which her mother was dressed as Raggedy Ann… or had perhaps morphed into her, depending on how you interpret the poetic prose.
First line: My mother isn’t always Raggedy Ann, but she was when I was born.
4. “Curriculum” by Sejal Shah
One of the most praised pieces of flash fiction in recent memory, “Curriculum” is divided into three parts: Area Studies, Women’s Studies, and Visual Studies. As you might expect, however, the details of each are not purely academic, but provide a rich context for the narrator’s life — particularly her relationships to cultural identity, womanhood, and her mother.
First lines: The map was printed on a handkerchief. It is a map of a place that no longer exists.
5. “Give It Up!” by Franz Kafka
“The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial,” and “The Castle” are all very good stories, but “Give It Up!” is a perfect summation of the Kafkaesque: disconcerting and ultimately hopeless. Clocking in at just over 100 words, it’s also one of the most impressive feats of flash fiction by an author largely known for his full-length works.
First line: It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was walking to the station.
6. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
From the author of A Small Place comes this insightful passage on what it means to be a girl, presented in an almost stream-of-consciousness series of instructions. From how to cook and clean to the most appropriate ways to present oneself to men, “Girl” potently demonstrates the many near-impossible standards that women are expected to fulfill without faltering. Don’t worry, though — there are a few surprisingly optimistic moments in the piece as well.
First lines: Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline.
7. “John Redding Goes to Sea” by Zora Neale Hurston
“John Redding Goes to Sea” delivers on its title in a surprising yet sweet way: John is a 10-year-old boy, and the “sea” is the nearby river where he launches his twig ships. This 750-word story is a lovely rumination on dreams, obstacles, and how we change as we grow older. And in the vein of Their Eyes Were Watching God, it’s full of Hurston’s signature lyrical description and historically accurate dialect — both proof of her careful attention to detail.
First lines: The villagers said that John Redding was a queer child. His mother thought he was too. She would shake her head sadly, and observe to John’s father: “Alf, it’s too bad our boy’s got a spell on ’im.”
8. “Housewife” by Amy Hempel
A quintessential work of microfiction, this single sentence encapsulates the experience of a bored but clearly aspirational housewife. We’ve copied it here in its entirety for you to enjoy:
She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, “French film, French film.”
9. “Likable” by Deb Olin Unferth
Another superb meditation on womanhood, Unferth’s story dissects what comes after the stage of Kincaid’s “Girl”: that is, the process of growing older and becoming less “valuable” in the eyes of society. This heart-wrenching piece will resonate with any woman over the age of 40, and force the rest of us to confront what exactly makes the narrator feel so unlikable.
First lines: She could see she was becoming a thoroughly unlikable person. Each time she opened her mouth she said something ugly, and whoever was nearby liked her a little less.
10. “My Dead” by Peter Orner
This piece tells the tale of two relative strangers attending a séance. But rather than using horror to compel readers, Orner turns instead to good old-fashioned wit: “What’s the hurry?” one of the characters says at one point. “Everybody’s already dead.” However, the ending will get your heart racing with its sudden hairpin turn into drama… and not in the spooky manner you might think.
First lines: Her name was Beth. We didn’t know each other. We took her car and headed to Missouri from Chicago. I remember that by the time we’d gone a few miles south on the Stevenson we’d already run out of things to say.
11. “Possession(s)” by John Smolens
Though we’d normally steer clear of anything to do with a writer and his dead wife, “Possession(s)” proves that it can be done without a hint of misogyny — and indeed, with remarkable nuance. The narrator of this story describes the excruciating process of adjusting to a new life when one’s spouse passes away — namely, figuring out what to do with her things. Infused with incredible emotion and rendered in beautiful prose, “Possession(s)” is an affecting account of mourning that you won’t soon forget.
First line: When your wife dies, you find music tastes different and food sounds the same.
12. “Ramona” by Sarah Gerkensmeyer
“Ramona” is a great combination of Miranda July-esque, intimately observational prose and unexpected elements of the surreal. The narrator is best friends with (and has romantic feelings for) the eponymous Ramona, who wears her heart outside her body… literally. Pain, love, and an incisive sense of nostalgia all intertwine in this roughly thousand-word short story.
First line: Ramona used to say, “When it’s on the outside I feel self-conscious.”
13. “Riddle” by Ogbewe Amadin
If you’ve ever pondered the true nature of good, evil, and the shades in between, you’ll likely sympathize with young Idara. Her mother claims that Idara’s aunt is an evil witch — but from what she knows of Aunt Adesuwa, this can’t possibly be true. Or can it? Contemplative and haunting, this story (and especially its resolution) has the staying power of a much longer piece.
First lines: I think Aunty Adesuwa is a witch. Mama says so sometimes.
14. “Sorry Dan” by Erik Cofer
The full title is this one is actually “Sorry Dan, But It’s No Longer Necessary For a Human to Serve As CEO Of This Company”... which pretty much sums it up. Published in McSweeney’s in 2014, Cofer’s satirical letter to a boss made obsolete by his robotic counterpart has only become more relevant over the past few years. Not to mention that its apologetic-but-firm tone flawlessly imitates actual downsizing notices.
First lines: I like you, Dan, I really do. You’ve been the face of this company for many years, overseeing a period of unprecedented net growth. And on a more personal level, you’ve become a dear friend. Heck, our wives attend spin class together twice a week! But unfortunately, friendship only means so much in today’s cutthroat business environment.
15. “Sticks” by George Saunders
“Sticks” is one of the best-known pieces of flash fiction this side of Hemingway’s alleged baby shoes — perhaps because it puts a serious spin on the infamous Seinfeld Festivus pole. The narrator’s father keeps a metal pole in their yard and decorates it not just for the winter holidays, but for every significant occasion: Groundhog Day, Veteran’s Day, the Super Bowl, etc. Yet his affection for the pole doesn’t seem to extend to his own children. Fans of David Sedaris’ dysfunctional family anecdotes: this is the story for you.
First line: Every year Thanksgiving night, we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he'd built out of metal pole in the yard.
16. “Taylor Swift” by Hugh Behm-Steinberg
The premise of this wonderfully weird story is that anyone can order a perfectly replicated clone of Taylor Swift straight to their front doorstep — or multiple clones, if you want to build yourself a herd. Another much-praised bit of flash fiction from the past few years, “Taylor Swift” is like a Black Mirror episode meets celebrity fanfiction meets… well, you just have to see for yourself.
First line: You’re in love; it’s great, you swipe on your phone and order: the next day a Taylor Swift clone shows up at your house.
17. “Three Is A Rational Number” by Michele Finn Johnson
This is a funny, poignant glimpse into the minute melodrama of seventh grade: the narrator’s twin sister, Lola, starts dating the “goon” of Darby Junior High, Billy Maguire. Needless to say, her brother isn’t exactly thrilled, and even less so when Lola starts cheating off Billy’s algebra papers. Vivid details and an authentically juvenile voice will transport you right back to your own seventh-grade bus scandals — especially if they involved copying homework.
First lines: Lola’s lost her rational numbers worksheet. She’s got the whole school bus looking for it — when Lola says to do something, it’s like she’s an orchestra conductor and we all just fall in line.
18. “The Huntress” by Sofia Samatar
A gorgeous piece of almost folkloric flash fiction, “The Huntress” describes its titular predator in ambiguous terms (“a stench of fur,” “she left a streak”) that somehow makes its terror even more palpable. Though critics are divided on whether the Huntress is meant to be a metaphor, the evocative strength of Samatar’s writing leaves an incredible impression.
First line: For fear of the huntress, the city closed like an eye.
19. “The Wife on Ambien” by Ed Park
What does the wife on Ambien do? Quite a lot, according to Ed Park — even if she doesn’t remember it. This hypnotizingly anaphoric account of her musings, activities, and general welfare is equal parts sad and hilarious, complete with an ending that will have you questioning the narrator’s stability as well.
First lines: The wife on Ambien knows the score. I mean this literally. Rangers, 4–3 in overtime. Devils fall to the Flames, 3–1. Knicks lose again at home. In the morning, I open the paper and none of this checks out.
20. “The Visitor” by Lydia Davis
Widely renowned as the queen of flash fiction, Lydia Davis has produced countless micro-stories over multiple anthologies, but perhaps none as excellent as “The Visitor.” Beginning with an anecdote about the narrator’s sister and a strange houseguest she once entertained, this barely 300-word story soon moves into unexpectedly sweet territory, and its usage of the past to anticipate the future is nothing short of subtle genius.
First line: Sometime in the early summer, a stranger will come and take up residence in our house.
21. “This Is How You Fail to Ghost Him” by Victoria McCurdy
More of a thinkpiece than flash fiction per se, “This Is How You Fail to Ghost Him” nonetheless deserves a place on this list for its acerbic wit and all-too-cutting observations of modern dating life. If you read “Cat Person” and loved it, you’re sure to enjoy McCurdy’s writing here too.
First lines: Swipe right. Swipe right. Tinder. Bumble. Be unable to remember which, but this younger, generically handsome boy whose face reminds you of a Playmobil figure has driven from the suburbs tonight to meet you.
22. “Unnecessary Things” by Tatyana Tolstaya
Though translated from the original Russian, this piece retains a stunning sense of clarity in its rumination on “unnecessary things”: items that do not, or no longer, serve a commercial or useful purpose. Our narrator happens upon a teddy bear that fits this description, but her feelings for it still overwhelm her — and might just cause the reader to shed a tear, too.
First lines: This Teddy bear once had amber eyes made from special glass — each one had a pupil and an iris. The bear itself was gray and stiff, with wiry fur. I adored him.
23. “War of the Clowns” by Mia Couto
This 600-word story gives new meaning to the phrase “clowning around,” as two battling jesters resort to more and more aggressive tactics. And while they entertain their spectators at first, their violent delights most definitely have violent ends.
First lines: One time two clowns set themselves to arguing. The people would stop, amused, to watch them.
24. “Where Are You?” by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates’ simple yet elegant style lends itself extremely well to flash fiction, as this piece demonstrates. In just over 500 words, she paints a striking portrait of an elderly married couple and the discord between them, which stems from their inability to communicate.
First lines: The husband had got into the habit of calling the wife from somewhere in the house — if she was upstairs, he was downstairs; if she was downstairs, he was upstairs — and when she answered, “Yes? What?,” he would continue to call her, as if he hadn’t heard and with an air of strained patience: “Hello? Hello? Where are you?”
25. “Widow’s First Year” by Joyce Carol Oates
Our final entry also comes from Oates, and probably holds the record for most succinct display of emotion in flash fiction history. Here it is, all four words of it — though of course, you also need the title to understand the full impact: I kept myself alive.
Want more quick reads? Check out these 15 interesting short stories that may change the way you think.