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Short Tuesday returns! #19: “In a Cavern, in a Canyon” by Laird Barron

And we’re back! It was nice to take a couple weeks vacation from Short Tuesday, but I’m excited to return and dive into more weird short stories. First up is “In a Cavern, in a Canyon” by Laird Barron, courtesy of the excellent Nightmare Magazine. You can read the short story for free here…

Let’s first set the mood. The title of this story is actually the opening verse of the classic song “Oh My Darling Clementine”—one of those earworm childhood songs where you know the chorus intimately but have only a vague sense that there are other verses as well. Oh, how I love horror that draws on old tunes to set an eerie tone! You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious—this is one of Stephen King’s oldest tricks in the book (har har), and it’s the reason why “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” features heavily in one chapter in Specter.

This is not a mood piece masquerading as a short story, but an actual full-fledged work, hallelujah. The story follows a middle-aged woman who has an obsession with search-and-rescue hunts and proceeds to track the eerie events in her childhood that led to her developing that interest. The Alaskan, working-class setting works perfectly for the story; everything feels very grounded in reality until the point when the weird shows up to say boo. So many of the short stories I read have this floaty, mood-driven tone where you know things are going to happen and nothing will really be explained. And sometimes that kind of works, but more often it drives me a little bananas; I crave a bit of grounded realism as a story base, and that is what the author delivers here.

I’m going to leave it at that, since this is the kind of short story you should really let unfold for you, with no spoilers. I loved it and am excited to read more from this author. If you are at all a fan of creepypasta and Lovecraftian elements, then this is a short story not to miss.