US author Ernest Hemingway was famously economical in his style. He was once challenged, supposedly for the price of his bar bill, to write a complete story in only six words. Hemingway rose to the challenge brilliantly:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
The science fiction writer Frederic Brown is also credited with writing one of the shortest stories ever, though in truth his 1948 story 'Knock' goes on to develop a plot from the story that is introduced thus:
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...
A complete story in itself. 'Knock' inspired a response by Ron Smith who gave his story a tongue-in-cheek title that was almost as long as the story itself. He called it 'A Horror Story Shorter by One Letter than the Shortest Story Ever Told' and it goes like this:
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a lock on the door...
Augusto Monterroso was a Guatemalan writer who devoted himself almost exclusively to short stories, many of which were very short indeed, but none as terse his 'El Dinosaurio':
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
which translates as:
When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
This next could be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that a college class was assigned to write a short story in as few words as possible covering the themes of religion, sex and mystery. One story was rated A+:
Good God, I'm pregnant; I wonder who did it.
Some of the world's shortest stories have arisen from a competition called 55 Fiction, started in 1987 by an American editor and publisher Steve Moss. I believe the competition still runs annually in The New Times. The basic premise is that every entry must contain 55 words or less, and must have a setting, one or more characters, some conflict and a resolution. The forerunner, I guess, of the many Flash Fiction competitions you see around today. You might want to check out Steve Moss's original 1995 anthology The World's Shortest Stories.
As a writer, I couldn't help rising to the challenge myself. Unable to match the six-word gems of Hemingway and Atwood, here's my fourteen-word effort which I call 'The Proposal':
He asked her as the lift gave way. She smiled. They fell, in love.
I'll be pleased to hear any other examples readers have to offer, whether written by themselves or others.