We asked our regular contributors through e-mail, What short story completely messed your mind? We got many interesting response. Here are some of them. We have just copied and pasted their responses, not editing them in any way and most of the respondents have requested to stay anonymous, so no names will be published.
1-5 Short Stories to Mess Your Mind
01. All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. It is set in the future where we’d colonized the outer planets. They could only see the sun for one hour every seven years. One of the children, Margot, moved to Venus from Earth five years earlier, and she is the only one in her class to remember sunshine, since the Sun shone regularly on Earth. She describes the Sun as “a penny”, or “like a fire in the stove”, and the other children, being too young ever to have seen it themselves, do not believe her. She is bullied and ostracized by the other students and is locked in a closet down a tunnel.
As the Sun is about to appear, their teacher arrives to take the class outside to enjoy their two hours of sunshine and, in their astonishment and joy, they all forget about Margot. They run, play, skip, jump, and prance about, savoring every second of their newly found freedom. “It’s much better than sun lamps!” one of them cries.
Suddenly, a girl catches a raindrop in her hands. Thunder sounds, and they start to cry and run back inside. At this point one of them remembers Margot, who is still locked in the closet. Ashamed, they let her out of the closet, standing frozen, embarrassed over what they have done, and unable to “meet each other’s glances.” The precious Sun has come and gone and, because of their despicable act, Margot, who loved the Sun the most, has missed it.
02. An elderly man was sitting alone on a dark path. He wasn’t sure of which direction to go, and he’d forgotten both where he was traveling to and who he was. He remembered absolutely nothing. He suddenly looked up to see an elderly woman before him. She grinned toothlessly and with a cackle, spoke: “Now your third wish. What will it be?” “Third wish?” The man was baffled. “How can it be a third wish if I haven’t had a first and second wish?” “You’ve had two wishes already,” the hag said, “but your second wish was for you to forget everything you know.” She cackled at the poor man. “So it is that you have one wish left.” “All right,” he said hesitantly, “I don’t believe this, but there’s no harm in trying. I wish to know who I truly am.” “Funny,” said the old woman as she granted his wish and disappeared forever. “That was your first wish…”
03. After dying God informs you that hell is a myth, and that “everyone sins, its ok”. Instead the dead are sorted into six “houses of heaven” based on the sins they chose.
We arrived first at the House of Lust. “House” is a misleading term. It was more of a camp, spread over acres and acres of lush forest. There was a white sandy beach (nude, of course) full of copulating couples. There were little cabins sprinkled all along the path, from which orgasmic moans regularly came belting out. Men with six pack abs and women with perky breasts strolled by without even noticing me and God. They only had eyes for each other, tickling and pinching each other with flirtatious giggles.
“What do you think?” God asked as we passed a nineteen-way taking place in a pool of champagne. Little cherubs flitted overhead armed with mops and cleaning supplies, thankfully. “Lust is our most popular sin.” I eyed the supermodel-like figures of a couple passing nearby, and could easily see why. “You can look however you want. Hell, you can be whatever gender you want. No fetish is too taboo, and no desire can be denied here.”
It was quite tempting, but I wasn’t ready to make a permanent decision here. “Let’s see the others,” I told God.
We carried on to Greed. We passed rows and rows of mansions, each more opulent than the next. Some of them were so large that they would have had enough bed rooms to fit my entire hometown. And so many different styles: one second, we were in a beautiful French vineyard in front of a gorgeous chateau with the Alps in the background. The next second, a warm tropical beach with a modern mansion atop breathtaking cliffs. After that, a ski chalet in Colorado with a roaring fire in a hearth large enough to fit an ox. Each one had various Italian sports cars and Rolls Royces parked in front, with the occasional smattering of boats, helicopters, etc.
“Any material desire you ever wanted,” God explained. “Your own world, where you can have everything. You want the Hope Diamond? You can fly to Washington DC in your own solid gold helicopter and buy it from the Smithsonian. Hell, you can just buy the Smithsonian.”
Also tempting, but I decided to keep looking.
Gluttony was next up. Tables and tables of the very finest foods: beautiful steaks cooked medium rare; butter-poached lobster tail; fresh oysters on a half shell; exotic wines in dusty bottles that had been hiding in the cellars of the world’s finest restaurants. Everyone had a glass of champagne in hand and simply lounged on couches and chairs near the tables, eating endlessly. As soon as the inhabitants took a bite, the food just instantly came back. My mouth watered even watching them.
“In every other House, the food is practically sawdust compared to Gluttony,” God explained. “You haven’t truly experienced heaven until you’ve been to Gluttony.”
I shook my head, and we kept moving.
Sloth was as you’d expect. An endless sea of the softest mattresses, stacked with cushions and pillows that made the story of the princess and the pea seem minimalist. Little angels visited each resident, giving them massages that made them all melt into their blankets.
Wrath was… well, a lot like what I’d expect Hell to be like. Fire, brimstone, whips, torture.. you know, the works. Except here, you weren’t the one being tortured. Every enemy you’d ever made in your real life was now under your thumb. “Lots of people choose their fathers,” God explained. “Lots of grudges against parents in general, you know. But you’re not limited to that. Someone beat you out for a big promotion back on Earth? Take your pound of flesh here.”
Then we arrived at Envy. It looked… well, a lot like home.
“Go on in,” God said, gesturing toward the door. I turned the knob and walked in… and found Emily waiting inside. She ran forward, wrapped her arms around my neck, and planted a kiss right on my lips. “Welcome home, honey.”
I looked back toward God. “Oh, don’t be coy,” he said. “You have no secrets from me. We all know that you were in love with your best friend’s wife.” She didn’t seem to hear him at all; she went back into the hall. “We all know that you just settled for your own wife while secretly pining after her. Well, this is your chance to live happily ever after.”
I peered into the kitchen. Emily was baking something, wearing nothing but an apron. Her curly black hair fell softly over her shoulder as she whisked ingredients. She turned back, noticed I was observing her, and an enthusiastic smile spread across her face.
“It’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?” God whispered in my ear.
I wanted to take it. God damn did I want to take it. But I shook my head.
God seemed puzzled. “You need to make a decision,” he told me.
“I haven’t seen Pride yet.”
He scoffed. “No one ever wants Pride, trust me.”
“Well, I want to see it.”
Pride was boring. Just a row of workbenches in a bare white room.
“I don’t get it,” I told God.
“Yeah, no one does,” he answered. “That’s why no one ever chooses it. Doesn’t cavorting in Lust sound better than sitting here building little trinkets for the rest of eternity? Wouldn’t you rather gorge yourself in Gluttony? Or spend time with Emily in Envy?”
I considered the options again. “I pick Pride,” I finally told him.
He narrowed his eyes. “What? Look at it!” He gestured around the room again. There wasn’t much to look at. “Why would you choose this for the rest of time?”
“Because you don’t want me to pick it,” I told him. If he was really God, he’d know what a contrarian I can be. And I knew he was hiding something, trying to pretend like Pride didn’t exist. There was something special about it.
God scowled back. “Fine.” He led me over to one of the workbenches. In the center, there was a black space. A blank, empty void that went on forever. “Here’s your universe,” he said. “You’ve got seven days to get started.” He took his seat at the bench next to me and went back to tinkering in his own world. After a long pause, he finally spoke again: “You know, it might be nice for me to actually have some company for once.”
04. The Mesopotamian folk tale “The Appointment in Samarra” seems to be a mind-fu*k for many students that I’ve read it to. Here it is in a retelling by Roger Hurn:
Once, many, many years ago, when the world was a very different place, a rich merchant lived in the city of Baghdad. One day, the merchant decided to hold a feast for his friends so he sent for his most trusted servant. “Ahmed,” he said. “I want you to go to the market place and search for food and drink that will astound and delight my guests when they come to dine with me tonight. Buy only the finest produce. My friends will expect nothing less than the best.”
“Don’t worry, master,” said Ahmed. “You can rely on me not to let you down.”
Ahmed bowed and hurried off but he wasn’t looking forward to his task. The day was hot and he knew the market place would be filled with bustling crowds. He was right. People were pushing and shoving each other to get at the best bargains. Ahmed sighed and plunged into the seething mass of humanity.
Suddenly, he felt a hand tug at his sleeve. Ahmed frowned and turned to see who it was. To his horror, a face he had hoped never to see stared at him. Ahmed gasped in fear and took to his heels.
He raced back to his master’s house and burst into the room where the merchant was counting his money. The merchant looked up in surprise. “You’re back soon,” he said. “I expected you to be hours yet. I hope you haven’t just bought the first things you saw.” “I haven’t bought anything,” replied Ahmed. The merchant frowned. “Why ever not?” he asked angrily. “You had better have a good reason for disobeying me.”
“I do,” said Ahmed in a very shaky voice. “Well, tell me what it is,” said the merchant. “And be quick about it.” “I went to the market place as you ordered,” said Ahmed. “But when I was there someone grabbed hold of my sleeve and pulled on it.” “Well, that was a bit rude of them I suppose,” said the merchant. “But surely it was no reason for you to come running home.”
“Oh yes it was,” replied Ahmed, “because the creature that grabbed me was Death herself!” “No!” gasped the merchant. “Yes!” said Ahmed. “And Death glared at me in a most horrible way. I was terrified!”
“Of course you were,” said the merchant, “you poor man.” “I didn’t know what to do, so I ran away.” “Quite right too,” agreed his master. “Look,” said Ahmed, “I can’t stay here now. Please lend me a horse and I’ll ride to Samarra and hide at my friend’s house. It’s the perfect solution. Death will never find me there.” “That’s a good idea,” said the merchant. “Take the horse and go immediately. You’ll be safe in Samarra, it’s miles from Baghdad.”
Ahmed saddled up the merchant’s swiftest horse and galloped off to Samarra without further delay. After he was gone, the merchant decided to go to the market place. He was angry with Death. “Ahmed was my best and most trusted servant,” he said to himself, “Death had no right to scare him.” The merchant strode into the market and sure enough he soon spotted Death standing by herself in a shadowy corner. He marched up to the creature and said in a very firm voice, “Hey, I want a word with you.” Death turned to the merchant and said in a voice as cold as the north wind in winter, “What do you want with me, mortal?” “Well,” said the merchant, “I want to know why you frightened my servant this morning. You had no right to glare at him.”
“I didn’t glare at him,” replied Death, “the look I gave him was one of surprise.” The merchant was puzzled. “Why were you surprised to see my servant Ahmed?” “Because,” replied Death, “I didn’t expect to see him here in Baghdad. You see I have an appointment with him tonight at his friend’s house in Samarra!”
05. “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke, where a Jesuit astrophysicist travels to the remains of a dead star three thousand light years away from earth and discovers something that deeply shakes his faith (link is PDF).
Also, “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe, mostly because I read it as a nine-year-old little girl whom no one warned about age-inappropriate reading materials, and that was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea, 0/10, do not recommend (to impressionable children).
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is another fu*ked up one, because of how casually morbid it was (another PDF link).
Another good one is “Mazes” by Ursula K. Le Guin.
6-10 Short Stories to Mess Your Mind
06. Have you ever walked into a room and found a vampire?
No, not the sexy kind, but a foul creature with bony limbs and ashen skin? The kind that snarls as you enter, like a beast about to pounce? The kind that roots you to the spot with its sunken, hypnotic eyes, rendering you unable to flee as you watch the hideous thing uncoil from the shadows? Has your heart started racing though your legs refuse to? Have you felt time slow as the creature crosses the room in the darkness of a blink?
Have you shuddered with fear when it places one clawed hand atop your head and another under your chin so it can tilt you, exposing your neck? Have you squirmed as its rough, dry tongue slides down your cheek, over your jaw, to your throat, in a slithering search that’s seeking your artery? Have you felt its hot breath release in a hiss against your skin when it probes your pulse—the flow that leads to your brain? Has its tongue rested there, throbbing slightly as if savoring the moment? Have you then experienced a sinking, sucking blackness as you discover that not all vampires feed on blood—some feed on memories?
Well, have you?
Maybe not. But let me rephrase the question:
Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly forgotten why you came in?
07. The Last Question is a pretty standard answer to this question, but even more of a mindfuck is Asimov’s later tale The Last Answer.
The Last Answer is about a scientist named Murray Templeton who dies and meets God — or at least, the being who created the universe. See, this being is immortal (or at least claims to be) and, having existed effectively forever, wants to simply die, but can’t quite figure out how to make that happen, so it created the universe as an idea factory: the universe produces all sorts of sentient beings, and the very brightest minds are collected upon their deaths to come up with interesting ideas with which to please their creator. These minds are not allowed to die: if they do die, they are recreated in a way that prevents them from dying again in that manner. Templeton does not like this state of affairs at all, and sets himself to concocting ways to kill his creator.
This is all well and mindfu*ky, but the real mindfu*k, not explicitly stated in the story, is the idea that the creator is himself in Templeton’s situation: that the creator is a mind kept alive after death to amuse its own creator, who in turn is a mind kept alive after death to amuse its creator, and so on, and there’s this infinite chain of minds kept alive after death by their creators, each trying to kill the mind above them, and each having created a universe to concoct ideas to kill them with.
08. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Here is the summary:
Peyton Farquhar, a plantation owner in his mid-thirties, is being prepared for execution by hanging from an Alabama railroad bridge during the American Civil War. Six military men and a company of infantrymen are present, guarding the bridge and carrying out the sentence. Farquhar thinks of his wife and children and is then distracted by a noise that, to him, sounds like an unbearably loud clanging; it is actually the ticking of his watch. He considers the possibility of jumping off the bridge and swimming to safety if he can free his tied hands, but the soldiers drop him from the bridge before he can act on the idea.
In a flashback, Farquhar and his wife are relaxing at home one evening when a soldier rides up to the gate. Farquhar, a supporter of the Confederacy, learns from him that Union troops have seized the Owl Creek railroad bridge and repaired it. The soldier suggests that Farquhar might be able to burn the bridge down if he can slip past its guards. He then leaves, but doubles back after nightfall to return north the way he came. The soldier is actually a disguised Union scout who has lured Farquhar into a trap, as any civilian caught interfering with the railroads will be hanged.
The story returns to the present, and the rope around Farquhar’s neck breaks when he falls from the bridge into the creek. He frees his hands, pulls the noose away, and surfaces to begin his escape. His senses now greatly sharpened, he dives and swims downstream to avoid rifle and cannon fire. Once he is out of range, he leaves the creek to begin the journey to his home, 30 miles away. Farquhar walks all day long through a seemingly endless forest, and that night he begins to hallucinate, seeing strange constellations and hearing whispered voices in an unknown language. He travels on, urged by the thought of his wife and children despite the pains caused by his ordeal. The next morning, after having apparently fallen asleep while walking, he finds himself at the gate to his plantation. He rushes to embrace his wife, but before he can do so, he feels a heavy blow upon the back of his neck; there is a loud noise and a flash of white, and everything goes black.
It is revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire third part of the story during the time between falling through the bridge and the noose breaking his neck.
09. A young boy is sleeping in his bed on a usual night. He hears footsteps outside his door, and peeks out of his eyes to see what is happening. His door swings open quietly to reveal a murderer carrying the corpses of his parents. After silently propping them up on a chair, he writes something on the wall in the blood of the dead bodies. He then hides under the child’s bed.
The child is scared beyond belief. He can’t read the writing on the wall and he knows the man is under his bed. Like any child, he pretends that he slept through the whole thing and hasn’t awoken yet. He lays still as the bodies, quietly hearing the breathes from under his bed.
An hour passes, and his eyes are adjusting more and more to the darkness. He tries to make out the words, but it’s a struggle. He gasps when he finally makes out the sentence.
“I know you’re awake”. He feels something shift underneath his bed.
10. Hello, my dear. You do not know who I am, but I know you. I am one of the three demons that were assigned to you at birth. You see, some people in this world are destined for greatness, destined to live happy, fulfilling lives. You, I am afraid, are not one of those people, and it is our job to make sure of that. Who are we? Oh yes, of course, how rude of me. Allow me to introduce us: Shame is my younger brother, the demon on your left shoulder. Shame tells you that you’re a freak; that those thought you have are not normal; that you will never fit in. Shame whispered into your ear when your mother found you playing with yourself as a child. Shame is the one who makes you hate yourself. Fear sits on your right shoulder. He is my older brother, as old as life itself. Fear fills every dark corner with monsters, turns every stranger on a dark street into a murderer. Fear stops you from telling your crush how you feel. He tells you it is better not to try than let people see you fail. Fear makes you build your own prison. Who am I, then? I am the worst of your demons, but you see me as a friend. You turn to me when you have nothing else, because I live in your heart. I am the one who forces you to endure. The one who prolongs your torment. Sincerely, Hope.