This week I dove in to Nightmare Magazine’s backlist once more, picking up “Universal Horror” by Stephen Graham Jones. You can read the short story for free here…
The premise of “Universal Horror” is a group of friends playing a drinking game on Halloween, where a little mummy trick-or-treater is coming around to the house a few too many times for comfort. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time connecting with this story—the whole thing felt a bit detached. I think that can partially be chalked up to the age and life situation of the characters. They’re grappling with some life changes and don’t seem to know how to handle them—break-ups, “getting old” (we’re talking thirty here), the question of whether or not to have a child. And while they’re trying to come to terms with all the important life stuff, the author is also heaping on a long-kept secret, not to mention the requisite dash of horror. It’s a lot of different threads all smushed together, and I didn’t find that any of the elements were strong on their own or in tandem.
Also, as a woman who’s twenty-nine, I’m not huge on stories about people in my age bracket coming to terms with the fact that they’re proper adults now. So many of these characters strike me as weak, nihilistic, and mopey—maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of YA. 😛 So this story is sadly not my favorite of Nightmare Magazine’s offerings.
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.
This week for Short Tuesday I took a look at Gary McMahon’s “Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film,” courtesy of Nightmare Magazine. You can read the short story for free here…
I came into this story hopeful that it would be similar to The Ring, one of my most beloved horror films. Yet this story was overall clunky to me, in the writing style, characterization, and story. Coming in just over 3000 words, it rockets along to a very predictable conclusion; the pacing combined with the MC’s lack of disbelief at what is happening to him really had me wanting the author to stretch things out a bit and allow the action of the piece a bit more time to unfold at a gentler pace.
There’s also a matter-of-fact, tell don’t show quality about the piece that almost reminded me of work in translation. (I’ve done no formal research to back this up, but my experience with translated work is that English-speaking authors place much more emphasis on sensory, non-telling details. Different strokes for different folks?) There were a good amount of times when we slid into infodumping that could have been expanded into actual scenes.
He was a strange and often dangerous man, but for some reason our relationship had lasted a number of years.
Like, why is he dangerous? Can we get an example here? The author is more forthcoming later, but there’s no reason to keep us hanging.
So unfortunately this was a rushed, jumbled mess to me, with a plot that begged for refining and more subtlety.
A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th (less than ONE WEEK OMG!) and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.
This week I returned once more to Nightmare Magazine, selecting for this week’s Short Tuesday a story by Seanan McGuire. I only realized when I reached the end and looked at the author bio that she wrote this story! I’ve never read anything by McGuire myself, but I’ve definitely been seeing her books making the rounds. You can read the story first here…
“Carry On” documents a policy change that airline companies have adopted requiring passengers’ bags not only to be weighed, but also the passengers themselves. Please don’t let your eyes glaze over with the words “airline” and “policy change”—”Carry On” is not a dry story at all, and as you read through it you’ll be fully in the MC’s shoes, wondering if you’ll come in under weight. It’s a story that you can feel yourself dismissing as kind of ridiculous… until you remember exactly how nightmarish and invasive flying already is, then you’ll be on board. (Har har.)
McGuire has a strong voice that I’d describe as conversational—it has a lot of forward momentum that keeps you reading on. I will say that I wasn’t absolutely riveted by the story, and I was a bit turned off by the moralizing tone at the end. Even so, I enjoy me some speculative fiction, so overall it was a fun read.
A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th, and the paperback and ebook are available for preorder at all major retailers and from Hidden Bower Press.
This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine, which I only learned about last week; it seems to have a really excellent selection of dark short fiction, so I’m stoked to add the site to my rotation! I decided on the just-published “The Night Princes” by Megan Arkenberg. You can read the story first here…
“The Night Princes” is a multilayered piece of fiction, with a woman telling a long, winding story to three children. (Are they her children? As far as I could tell, this bit remains unclear.) As the woman spins the tale, the story shifts between multiple characters—Death and her own three children—with occasional interjections from the real world. The structure and pacing gave the piece a fairytale-like quality, the tone at times almost bordering on the mythological. It’s a quiet piece that I could see reading again (not at all nightmarish, despite its publisher), and the story wraps up with an ambiguous ending that suits the whole work well. I really enjoyed this story, and could definitely see reading more from this author.
A small aside—if you haven’t seen the book trailer for Specter yet, check it out! Specter debuts July 7th (just one month away!!!!!), and is available for preorder at all major retailers.
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