It’s hard to beat a twist ending for pure entertainment value.
Even though a twist ending is supposed to give the reader a jolt, the best ones seem inevitable and seamless. Not all the twists in these stories are sudden, but they will all be surprising in some way.
The stories by Jeffrey Archer are available in his first volume of Collected Short Stories, which has many other stories with twist endings and is a fun read.
Here are some great short stories with surprise endings. The endings aren’t revealed here, only the set-ups.
1. “The Interlopers”
2. “Twin Study”
3. “The Open Window”
4. “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”
5. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
6. “The Lottery”
7. “The Necklace”
8. “The Last Leaf”
9. “Wish You Were Here”
10. “Roman Fever”
11. “A Retrieved Reformation”
12. “Man from the South”
13. “The Lame Shall Enter First”
15. “A Continuity of Parks”
16. “Good Country People”
17. “The Story of an Hour”
19. “The Reticence of Lady Anne”
20. “A Horseman in the Sky”
23. “The Gift of the Magi”
24. “The Landlady”
25. “The Mouse”
26. “Bella Fleace Gave a Party”
27. “Beware of Dog”
28. “The Sniper”
29. “Dear Marsha”
30. “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts”
31. “Clean Sweep Ignatius”
32. “Appointment with Love”
33. “A Rose for Emily”
34. “The Hounds of Fate”
35. “Harvey’s Dream”
36. “Lamb to the Slaughter”
37. “Gold-Mounted Guns”
38. “A Man Who Had No Eyes”
40. “The Painted Door”
41. “The Dowry”
42. “The Wife’s Story”
43. “After Twenty Years”
44. “Broken Routine”
45. “To Serve Man”
47. “Button, Button”
48. “Marjorie Daw”
49. “The Woman at the Store”
50. “The Memento”
51. “Time Enough at Last”
52. “Third from the Sun”
53. “Brothers Beyond the Void”
54. “Four O’Clock”
55. “He-y, Come On Ou-t”
57. “Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet”
58. “The Lottery”
59. “Desiree’s Baby”
60. “Cheap at Half the Price”
61. “Everyone Talks”
62. “The Dinner Party”
63. “The Bookbinder’s Apprentice”
64. “Calling the Shots”
66. “The Chef”
67. “The Human Chair”
68. “Mars is Heaven!
69. “Perchance to Dream”
Two feuding family heads get trapped in the woods, giving them time to discuss their situation.
Read “The Interlopers”
A woman attends a study of identical twins where she sees her sister, whom she hasn’t seen since the last study, four years ago. She struggles with her identity, comparing her life and traits to her sister’s.
Read “Twin Study”
A young girl tells a story of family tragedy to a visitor.
Read “The Open Window”
An elderly gentleman has treated a local indigent man to a hearty Thanksgiving Day meal for the past nine years. The poor man shows up to their meeting place in a condition that threatens to ruin the gentleman’s tradition.
Read “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”
A Confederate sympathizer is condemned to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.
Read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
A small town prepares for its annual ritual—a lottery—that is supposed to ensure a good harvest.
Read “The Lottery”
A woman borrows an expensive necklace from a friend, but she loses it and works to set things right.
Read “The Necklace”
A woman with pneumonia can see an ivy vine through her sickbed window. She counts down the leaves as they fall and tells her roommate that when the last one falls, the pneumonia will kill her.
Read “The Last Leaf”
A woman’s garden gnome is stolen. She begins receiving postcards that are signed from the gnome.
Read “Wish You Were Here”
Two middle aged women visit Rome with their unmarried daughters. In their youths, the women were romantic rivals. The women talk about their lives and daughters.
Read “Roman Fever”
A reformed safecracker faces a problem that could reveal his culpability in several robberies.
Read “A Retrieved Reformation”
An elderly man bets a young man that he can’t light his lighter ten times in a row. If it fails to light on any of the ten attempts, the young man loses the pinky finger of his left hand; if all ten attempts are successful, the young man wins a Cadillac.
Read “Man From the South”
A young son mourns the loss of his mother, while his unsympathetic father is preoccupied with helping other people. The father invites a young delinquent into their home, who resists his efforts to help.
A scientist on a deserted island tries to increase the intelligence of Barney, a rat.
After a day of activity, a man reads a novel; he progressively becomes more immersed in the story.
Read “A Continuity of Parks”
Mrs. Hopewell runs a farm with her tenants and her daughter, a thirty-two year old with a prosthetic leg. A Bible salesman visits the farm and is invited to stay for dinner.
Read “Good Country People”
A woman gets the news that her husband has been killed in a railroad accident. Over the next hour, she experiences a range of emotions.
Read “The Story of an Hour”
Earth receives a transmission from an approaching alien ship. It says the aliens had originally colonized earth millions of years ago, before a non-fatal disease split the population. The returning aliens now have a cure for any who are still infected.
A man tries to smooth things over with his wife whom he had argued with earlier, but she doesn’t respond to his efforts.
Read “The Reticence of Lady Anne”
During the American Civil War, a Federal sentry falls asleep at his post, but wakes in time to see a Confederate scout whose report could be deadly.
Read “A Horseman in the Sky”
A dinner host and a wine expert make a bet. If the expert can identify the wine being served, he gets to marry the host’s daughter; if he can’t, he forfeits both his houses.
A boy who just started kindergarten, Laurie, comes home everyday with stories of a classmate, Charles, who’s disruptive, disobedient, and violent. Laurie’s parents are concerned that Charles is a bad influence on their son.
A young couple with a low income try to find a way to get each other nice Christmas presents.
Read “The Gift of the Magi”
A young man stays at an eerily quiet but seemingly perfect bed and breakfast.
Read “The Landlady”
While riding in a train carriage with a woman, a man feels a mouse in his clothes and struggles to solve the problem discreetly.
Read “The Mouse”
A highborn but poor elderly woman comes into some money and throws a party, carefully choosing whom she will invite and whom she will snub.
Read “Bella Fleace Gave a Party”
A WWII pilot with serious injuries bails out of his plane. He wakes up in a hospital in Brighton (in his home country of England), with his injuries treated.
Read “Beware of Dog”
A sniper on a rooftop gives away his position by lighting a cigarette. He exchanges fire with another sniper, and he knows he has to get off the roof before he’s surrounded.
Read “The Sniper”
During summer vacation, Marsha starts corresponding with a pen pal, Anne Marie. They talk about their difficulties and have a lot in common.
Mr. Johnson walks around the city handing out candy, peanuts, and helping people wherever he can.
Read “One Ordinary Day with Peanuts”
Ignatius is the new Financial Minister of Nigeria. He is dedicated to ending corruption, and does such an impressive job that the President gives him a special assignment— rooting out Nigerians with secret Swiss accounts.
Read “Clean Sweep Ignatius” (Page 9)
A returning lieutenant arrives at Grand Central Station to meet up with a woman he has never seen. They have been corresponding for 13 months during his tour of duty, and her letters have been a source of strength and encouragement. He feels he is in love with her, but he is also anxious to find out what she looks like.
Read “Appointment with Love”
Miss Emily Grierson dies and, as a town oddity, everyone goes to her funeral. The narrator recounts some episodes from her life, including a tax dispute with the town and when her suitor left her.
Read “A Rose for Emily”
A wanderer approaches a house for a little relief, but is greeted as if he’s the returning owner.
Read “The Hounds of Fate“
An older man relates his previous night’s dream to his wife.
Read “Harvey’s Dream”
A woman kills her husband with a piece of frozen lamb, and then plots to conceal her guilt.
Read “Lamb to the Slaughter”
Pecos Tommy is an outlaw known for his gold-mounted guns. When a young man decides to start a life of crime, he finds Tommy and asks if he can ride with him. He even has an easy job lined up to get their partnership started.
Read “Gold-Mounted Guns”
A blind beggar comes down the street as Mr. Parsons comes out of his hotel. He feels pity for blind creatures and reflects on his own success. The man speaks to Parsons, and takes out an item that he’d like to sell.
Read “A Man Who Had No Eyes”
Professor Hugo’s Interplanetary Zoo visits earth every August. Everyone looks forward to the strange creatures they will see this time.
John walks five miles from his farm to his father’s to help him with chores. His wife Ann doesn’t want him to go because they’re expecting a storm and she wants his company at home. He asks their neighbor Steven to drop in to play cards while he’s gone. Ann decides to do some painting to pass the time. After a while the weather turns bad.
Read “The Painted Door”
Simon and Jeanne are newly married. Simon plans to use Jeanne’s large dowry to buy a legal practice. They take a trip to Paris to enjoy each others company and to make the purchase.
Read “The Dowry”
A wife tells the story of her husband. He was a good husband and father, well-liked and respected. Something happened that she can’t believe. Everyone says it was because of the moon and the blood.
Read “The Wife’s Story”
A policeman makes his rounds, checking that the shop doors are secured for the night, when he sees a man waiting in an entrance way. The man explains that he and a friend made arrangements twenty years ago to meet there that night.
Read “After Twenty Years”
Septimus is a claims adjuster at an insurance company. He maintains a strict daily routine in his work and home life. One day he is asked to stay a little late, which turns out to be very disruptive for him.
Read “Broken Routine”
Earth is visited by an alien race, the Kanamit, who look like a cross between pigs and people. They have brought valuable knowledge for producing power, increasing food supply, and other things, at no charge. Some question the purity of their motives, so the Kanamit are subjected to a lie-detector test.
Read “To Serve Man”
Judson and Mabel Webb are preparing to leave their mountain cottage for the winter to return to the city. When they left last winter, someone broke in and stole some of Judson’s liquor. He expects the thief to return, so he prepares a surprise.
A hand addressed package is left at the door of Arthur and Norma Lewis. Inside is a contraption with a button on it, and a note saying that Mr. Steward will call on them at 8 PM. After assuring them that he isn’t selling anything, Mr. Steward makes them a shocking proposition.
Read “Button, Button”
John Flemming has slipped and broken his leg, leaving him confined to his couch. His friend Edward Delaney begins corresponding with him to pass the time. Delaney describes the family who live across from him, including their mansion and beautiful young daughter.
Read “Marjorie Daw”
The female narrator, her brother Jo, and their acquaintance Jim are traveling in the heat, looking forward to stopping for refreshment at a place Jim knows. He says the man of the place is generous with his whisky, and the woman is attractive and welcoming. They arrive at a lonely establishment and are greeted by a disheveled woman with a rifle.
Read “The Woman at the Store”
Eric is out walking in the country when he is called over by a neighbor, an old man. They make conversation about their community, which includes a resident known for being a ladies man. The old man shows Eric his museum, a collection of items that all have something in common.
Read “The Memento” (Ctrl + F the title, it’s near the top)
Henry Bemis really wants to read a book, but he can’t fit it into his schedule. He works at Eastside Bank and Trust, and his wife takes up the rest of his time.
Read “Time Enough at Last”
With the impending threat of a major war, a family and their neighbors decide to sneak away to safety on a spaceship. The father will use his position as chief test pilot to gain access to the vessel.
Read “Third from the Sun”
Marcusson is preparing for a space voyage to Mars. He and his friend Conrad talk about whom he will meet. Conrad explains that people are the same everywhere. Marcusson takes comfort from this but also feels some fear over his upcoming trip.
Read “Brothers Beyond the Void”
Mr. Crangle is at home at 3:47 in the afternoon. Three weeks ago he realized he had the power to mark all evil people in some way. He would be the judge, and he had no moral qualms about using his ability. He sets 4:00 in the afternoon as the time when he will execute his judgment.
Read “Four O’Clock”
In a certain village, after a big storm, the people discover a hole in the ground. It’s about a meter wide, but they can’t figure out how deep it is. It seems to have no bottom. They think about what should be done with it.
Read “He-y, Come On Ou-t”
Robert Proctor is out driving with his mother. When another vehicle clips his front fender he struggles to maintain control.
There seems to be more than one published version of this story.
Read “Test” (Simpler version)
Jeff Peters recounts an incident he had while posing as a medicine man. After being shut down by the constable, he meets Andy, a man with a similar trade. They want to go in on something together. Jeff gets an emergency summons from the mayor; he is sick and the local doctor is out of town.
Read “Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet”
Ted Bilborough is on his way home from work when he finds out his wife won a lottery. His acquaintances tease him a bit and ask what he will do with the money. He thinks about that as well, and also wonders where his wife got the money for the ticket.
Read “The Lottery”
Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby.
Read “Desiree’s Baby”
Consuela, a former model, is married to her third husband, Victor, a rich American banker. They have flown to London for Victor to close a big deal and for Consuela to look for a birthday present for herself. Consuela searches the usual high-end stores without success. She finds a new shop with an exquisite item, but the price is steep even for her husband.
Read “Cheap at Half the Price” (Ctrl + F the title)
A new detective goes to the hospital to write up a report on a gunshot wound. The victim is sedated so she can’t talk to him. His passport says his name is Jack Reacher. The detective returns after her shift to get his story.
Read “Everyone Talks”
A colonel and a young girl disagree on whether women can keep cool in a crisis.
Read “The Dinner Party”
Joly, a visitor in Venice, finishes reading when he is approached by an older man, Sanborn, who admires his book. He invites Joly for a drink where he is introduced to another man, Zuichini, a skilled bookbinder. Joly is suspicious of his new acquaintances but accepts their hospitality.
Read “The Bookbinder’s Apprentice” (scroll down over halfway)
Jason is working in the woods alone. He just had an argument with his girlfriend. He told her he couldn’t go thru with the marriage even though she’s pregnant. Their families aren’t on good terms. He starts up his chain saw and begins cutting the trees.
Read “Calling the Shots”
It’s war time in London. A jeweler has his display set up for the day. A man with a limp, Gebhardt, get off a bus and looks in the shop window. He goes in and tells the jeweler that his watch has stopped. He wants it fixed and asks for a new strap.
Doris wakes up in a hospital. Her doctor tries to find out what she can remember. She knows there was an explosion, and that she had been visiting her father, but is hazy on the other details. She can remember that she’s a professional chef, and she tells the doctor about her work.
Read “The Chef”
Oshiko is a popular writer. Every day she receives letters from admirers and amateur writers looking for feedback. She takes the time to read them all. She starts reading a manuscript, but it begins with “Dear Madam”—perhaps it’s a letter instead. A man, a chair-maker, says he has to confess a terrible crime. He’s been in hiding for months, but a change in his thinking impels him to reveal his secret.
Read “The Human Chair”
A space ship with a crew of seventeen lands on Mars. To everyone’s surprise, Mars looks like small-town America in the 1920’s. Captain John Black is hesitant to leave the ship, but after confirming the atmosphere is breathable, he allows a small party to disembark. The ship’s navigator and the archaeologist offer theories to explain what they see. They approach a house.
Read “Mars is Heaven!”
Philip Hall goes to a psychiatrist. He’s thirty-one, and hasn’t been able to sleep for 72 hours. He’s afraid if he goes to sleep, he’ll never wake up. He explains how his problem started when he discovered the power of his mind.
Read “Perchance to Dream”