Tag: stories that end with the main character’s death

Short story: “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby”

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby,” by Donald Barthelme

Appeared in the New Yorker, May 26th, 1973 (subscribers can read here); collected in Amateurs (Farrar, 1976), and in Forty Stories (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1987), and in a collection of the same title (Penguin Books, 2011); read online here and here; also read on Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast

1,634 words—I would have guessed much shorter

I enjoy Barthelme’s occasional rambling absurdity. “It didn’t rain, the event was well attended, and we didn’t run out of Scotch, or anything.” That “or anything” is good. The last line, with that mention of gratitude, is wonderful.

Note that all the characters seem to be adults, since one of them “runs a car-and-truck-rental business” and the others seem to drink Scotch and know a lot about event planning. They’re all men.

Satire? I dunno, maybe, maybe not. I notice the characters live in a country where the death penalty has been abolished.


Flash fiction story: “Milestones”

“Milestones,” by Janice Leagra

Appeared here in Spelk, February 5th, 2018

416 words

Oh man. Really good portrait of a fucked-up parent-child relationship. On my first read I was picturing the “you” as a father for some reason, but I think it’s actually a mother. I was slightly distracted at the end wondering how the narrator was speaking from beyond the grave, but whatever.

Short story: “The Plutonian Drug”

“The Plutonian Drug,” by Clark Ashton Smith

First published in Amazing Stories, September 1934; appeared in PseudoPod 591, April 20th, 2018, and replayed July 27th of the same year; also online here

4,072 words

Clever. The initial dialogue infodump is a bit clumsy, but maybe that was a common convention at the time. (Or does it count as infodump if it’s mainly for worldbuilding rather than having much effect on the plot?)

Short story: “The Jesus Singularity”

“The Jesus Singularity,” by Zoltan Istvan

Appeared in Terraform, August 24th, 2016

2,519 words


Short story: “Me”

“Me,” by Hunter Liguore

Appeared in Spark: A Creative Anthology Volume II, online here

3225 words

A fun story.

Short story: “Whimper”

“Whimper,” by Joanna Scott

Appeared in Black Clock, issue 21, spring/summer 2016

9.5 pages, maybe 5k words?

This is beautifully painful, and I didn’t see the twist coming till it was upon me.

Short story: “Rules for Ordinary Heroes”

“Rules for Ordinary Heroes,” by Sandra McDonald

Appeared in Nightmare Magazine, issue 32, May 2015

3305 words

On one hand, I was disappointed to find that our protagonist is not an ordinary hero. He is passive, with no real character arc and no redeeming nobility, a “hero” only by the loosest conventions of screenwriting. All this is by design, but it makes him harder to care about. On the other hand, would the existential bleakness and sweetness of the end be as effective with a more heroic protagonist, someone who made a Herculean effort to clean up the filthy toilet stall and talk to someone about sanitation? I tend to think a story like that would be more effective, but maybe not. In any case, it would be a different story.

We never learn whether Angela Quintana survives and whether her son understands what she did for his sake. I’m not sure if McDonald is satirizing Hollywood here or if she genuinely wants to keep the focus on her bland, probably white protagonist.

I’m surprised to see this story in Nightmare, and to see it labeled as horror. To my mind this is dark science fiction (or more precisely, literary fiction with a dark theme and a science fiction plot element).

“The only time machine is time itself” is a good line.

Short story: “Going for a Beer”

“Going for a Beer,” Robert Coover

Appeared in the New Yorker, March 14th, 2011; read by Joshua Ferris in the May 2015 New Yorker Fiction Podcast

1,083 words (My guess was pretty close: 1,000)

Unlike “The Babysitter,” this story is held together by its main character and a definite, if unconventional, chronology. It works much better for me. In fact, it’s beautiful in its unity and in its nightmarish power.

Edited to add that it’s worth a chart. Will add that later.

Section Word count
He goes for a beer 74 *


He dates the young woman 253 *





The wedding 73 *


Children happen 134 *


He goes for a beer, has an affair 106 *


The fallout 131 *


He doesn’t go for a beer, then does 205 *




Beers, orgasms 12
Deathbed, death 95 *



Short story: “The Nervous Writer”

“The Nervous Writer,” by S. W. Flores

Appeared in Contrary Magazine, Spring 2014 (Flores used to be associate editor)

1,467 words

I’m a sucker for writer stories and I’m a sucker for workshop stories and I like this very much. The only line I don’t like is “The writers responded as if he had sneezed.”

Short story: “The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World”

“The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World,” by Patricia Highsmith

Appeared in the New Yorker on May 27th, 2002 (subscribers, read here); collected in Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith and elsewhere; read for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast by Yiyun Li

? words

“Life is a long failure of understanding, Mrs. Palmer thought, a long mistaken shutting of the heart.”

I love it when a short story embodies its central idea as precisely as this does. Also, it’s possible I don’t give Highsmith enough credit for compassionate insight.

Edited to add: Unlike Li and apparently Treisman, I was rooting for Mrs. Palmer to give the brooch to Mrs. Blynn—the one kind thing she can do for someone who’s otherwise unreachable by kindness, a redemptive act. Though perhaps Li is right in thinking she would hate herself for it, and perhaps Treisman is right in saying it’s something that has to be done at the very end. If so, there is such a small window of opportunity for redemption, and of course Mrs. Palmer misses it. But surely not everyone misses it?