Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.
If you want to wallow in some sadness for a while, you're on the right page.
The following short, emotional selections feature tragedy, mistreatment, grief, touching moments, and injustices.
There's a lot to read here, but it might be best to spread them out a bit. Give yourself some time to recover.
I hope these affecting stories are a cathartic experience for you.
Vanka by Anton Chekhov
Vanka is a nine-year-old orphan boy apprenticed to a shoemaker. He stays up late on Christmas Eve to write a secret letter to his grandfather. Vanka suffers abuse at the hand of his master, is given little to eat, and has no comforts. He begs his grandfather to take him in.
This story can be read in the preview of Great Short Stories of the Masters. (select in Table of Contents, 73% into preview)
A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane
A child is standing on a street corner when a little brown dog approaches. They have a friendly exchange, but it quickly turns rough with the child hitting the dog. The boy loses interest in the dog and heads for home. He notices the dog following. The boy beats the dog with a stick. Despite the mistreatment, it's eager to stay with the boy.
Read A Dark Brown Dog
Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy
Alyosha has been working since he was a young boy. At nineteen his father sends him to work for a merchant. He's an excellent worker, and everyone in the household orders him around. He never sees his wages. Alyosha maintains a cheerful attitude. He's used to having value only in relation to the services he can perform for people. One day he notices that his relationship with the cook has a different character.
This story can be read in the preview of Classic Short Stories. (37% in)
Coco by Guy de Maupassant
The huge Lucas Farm is populated by many animals and farmhands. Among the animals is an old white horse named Coco. The mistress of the farm keeps him for old time's sake. His care is entrusted to a fifteen-year-old farmhand, Zidore. He doesn't see the point in wasting resources on this old nag, and the others make fun of him for getting stuck with this job. Zidore takes his frustrations out on Coco.
The boy would fume, feeling an unholy desire to revenge himself on the horse.
— Guy de Maupassant
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
It's snowing on a freezing night. A little girls walks along the street, her head and feet bare. She's selling matches but she's had no buyers all day. She can't go home to her father without any money. She's getting numb from the cold. She wonders if she should dare to light one of her matches for a brief flash of warmth.
Read More From Owlcation
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it.
— Hans Christian Andersen
Twilight by Wladyslaw Remont
Sokol, an old sick horse, lies dying. His only company are the hunting dogs he used to run with, but they don't stay with him long. His nights are solitary and frightening. His plaintive neighing goes unanswered. He longs to run one last time.
Read an adaptation of Twilight
. . . they took no further notice of Sokol, except for the occasional furtive kick to remind him that he was dying too slowly. The others, thankfully, took no notice of Sokol at all.
— Wladyslaw Reymont
My Dead Brother Comes to America by Alexander Godin
The narrator recounts the foggy winter day his family arrived at Ellis Island. There was a crowd waiting for the passengers to disembark. People called out to their family members. He heard a shout calling his mother's name. It was his father. The family hasn't seen him in years. He went ahead of them to America. Now, he's waiting to see his wife and four children again.
Redemption by John Gardner
On a spring day, Jack Hawthorne accidentally runs over and kills his younger brother, David, with a tractor. His father is nearly destroyed by it and turns to smoking and women to survive. His mother is sapped by grief. She gets comfort from food and her friends. While no one blames Jack for the tragedy, he takes it badly, replaying the accident in his mind and viewing himself as evil.
Even at the last moment he could have prevented his brother's death by slamming on the tractor's brakes, easily in reach for all the shortness of his legs; but he was unable to think, or rather thought unclearly, and so watched it happen, as he would again and again watch it happen in his mind, with nearly undiminished intensity and clarity, all his life.
— John Gardner
All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
Young students in a classroom excitedly talk about the possibility of seeing the sun. They live on Venus where its been raining for seven straight years. The scientists say it will stop today, but only briefly. Margot is old enough to remember the sun, but her classmates don't believe her.
Read All Summer in a Day
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
The narrator, Jack, remembers when he was a young boy. His mother folded origami animals for him. She was able to breathe life into them. His mother was a mail-order bride from China. As Jack grows up, he draws away from his mother, preferring American toys and food. He won't answer her if she speaks Chinese. He's embarrassed by his mom.
Read The Paper Menagerie
What kind of woman puts herself into a catalog so that she can be bought? The high school me thought I knew so much about everything. Contempt felt good, like wine.
— Ken Liu
The Kiss by Unknown
A father rushes out of the house, late for work. His daughter rushes to see him off, but she's too late. She calls her dad, telling him he forgot to give her a goodbye kiss.
Read The Kiss (second story)
In the Restaurant by Unknown
A grown son takes his elderly father out for dinner. The older man makes a mess. His son helps him and takes care of everything.
Read In the Restaurant
The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol
Akakiy is a low-level official in public service. He's a copyist and he does his job efficiently and without error. He's shown no respect in the office; his coworkers make fun of him and his overcoat. He accepts the teasing, only objecting if it interferes with his work. The Petersburg cold becomes too much for Akakiy's old, worn out overcoat to bear. He knows he has to get it mended.
This story is longer than the others on this page, but it's one of the all time best.
Read The Overcoat
The young officials laughed at and made fun of him, so far as their official wit permitted; recounted there in his presence various stories concocted about him, and about his landlady, an old woman of seventy; they said that she beat him; asked when the wedding was to be; and strewed bits of paper over his head, calling them snow.
— Nikolai Gogol
The Stray Dog by Sadegh Hedayat
A stray Scottish setter hangs around the town square. It's hungry and tired. The dog has become anxious. No one cares about its suffering. People drive the dog away by hitting it and throwing rocks. The dog can still remember its former life, but those memories are fading.
Read The Stray Dog
Dog Star by Arthur C. Clarke
An astronomer wakes up to the sound of barking. He realizes it was in a dream. His dog, Laika, is long gone. He recounts their history—finding her as a puppy by the roadside, teaching her to behave, and their growing attachment to each other. Once, she even saved his life.
Read Dog Star (scroll down)