Tag Archives: short fiction

Short Tuesday #42: “No Exit” by Orrin Grey

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read Orrin Grey’s short story “No Exit.” (Not to be confused with No Exit by Taylor Adams, which has been making the rounds the last couple years.) You can read it here for free here…

I loved this short story! It features an MC whose sister was involved in a brutal, ritualistic killing at a rest stop by a cult based in Kansas. The bleak setting and the author’s rock solid voice had me sold from pretty much the first paragraph.

“No Exit” read extremely Lovecraftian to me, not just in terms of the evocative descriptive details and the too-monstrous-to-understand world-building, but also the format. I’m no Lovecraft expert, but a lot of what I have read by him involves pages and pages of exposition and set-up without any actual scenes, followed by a horrifying conclusion where we at last get a POV scene that thrusts us front row center into the madness. In this day and age where the popular writing style has such a focus on “show, don’t tell” and close first POV, it requires a really talented writer to pull off this kind of a story.

This is a fun one that has an eerie, slow crawl to the visceral details at the end. I can actually kind of see it as pairing well with another Nightmare Magazine favorite of mine, “Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi. Anyway, I really enjoyed this and would love to read more by this author!

Short Tuesday #41: “Good Girls” by Isabel Yap

This week I was watching my favorite streamer play the game Dreadout 2, which is set in Indonesia, and it got me very curious to get better acquainted with horror from Southeast Asia! I feel like East Asian horror is fairly well understood in the West, but we don’t hear much about horror from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Googling didn’t get me far, so I threw up a post on Goodreads for fiction requests and got some interesting responses, one of which is Isabel Yap’s story “Good Girls.” You can read it here for free here at the now defunct Shimmer Zine…

I had a really great time reading this short story! Yap’s language is very evocative, but the plot doesn’t get bogged down in language. The story is split between two different settings, the Philippines and California, and it has all sorts of textural details that just get me more interested in Southeast Asian horror. The imagery of the piece really caught me, and I was a big fan of the sudden, extreme body horror details. Normally I’m not big on trigger warnings, but anyone with young children or an aversion to icky might want to pass this one up. It reminded me of a short story by a Chinese author I read eons ago in college with a detail about an ant and a baby (no idea what it was or who the author was, but if anyone knows what I’m talking about, leave a comment below).

Also, can we talk real quick about one of Yap’s other works, Hurricane Heels? Because it totally sounds like a Sailor Moon send-up, and I would be really on board for that.

Anyway, this was a fun one, and it just wetted my appetite more for horror from this region. I’d love recommendations if anyone has them!

Short Tuesday #40: “Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio” by Adam-Troy Castro

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read “Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio” by Adam-Troy Castro. You can read it here for free here…

I thought this short story was a really fun read! It’s quite short, and the set-up is fascinating: a mysterious entity who interviews a small town under the pretense of being a news crew, then deletes their memories of the interview. Aliens, perhaps? I’d really like to see more of this type of framework, as well as some expansion on the purpose of these interviews.

I thought the dialogue was great, and I enjoyed the wide spread of people who were interviewed, from a grocer to a truck driver to a reverend. I did start to lose interest when one of the interviews got political near the end, and I thought the ending interview was a cheap way to end the piece, but the whole framework of the short story really worked for me. It was short and sweet; if you’re looking for a quick read with a great hook, I’d try this one out.

Short Tuesday #39: “Alligator Point” by S.P. Miskowski

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read “Alligator Point” by S.P. Miskowski. You can read it here for free here…

This short story didn’t inspire much horror in me, I’m afraid to say. Not much is happening throughout the story–you get some vague details about a woman escaping an abusive relationship with her two daughters, but nothing really comes together into a tangible story, to the point that I skimmed back through a couple times because I felt like I was missing something. (Maybe I am; correct me if I’m being an idiot over here!)

In terms of scariness, there’s not much here beyond a foreboding mood and a scary dream. Don’t get me wrong; in the right hands, an eerie mood and some well-written bad dreams can pack a wallop, but this short story wasn’t doing it for me. That’s a real shame, because I’m a sucker for horror set in the swampy South (Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, for example). Maybe with some expansion (this short story weighs in at a scant 2700 words) there could have been something here, but as is I can’t recommend it.

Short Tuesday #38: “Elo Havel” by Brian Evenson

This week I went back to Old Faithful, i.e., Nightmare Magazine, to see what new short fiction they had on offer. I didn’t actually realize until I got to the end of “Elo Havel” that it’s by Brian Evenson, who wrote the excellent short story “Cult.” You can read Elo Havel for free here…

I liked “Elo Havel” okay, but it didn’t measure up to “Cult” in my opinion. The writing is strong, and there’s a lot of forward momentum, but the letter framework and the ending took away from the overall piece. This is one of those short stories that feels like it could be part of something larger, but because there isn’t any continuation of the story, what readers do have to work with ends up feeling hollow and incomplete. What’s going to happen to the main character? How did he even end up receiving a letter in his current state–did it just simply appear? Why is he so impatient to take action, when it seems he has all the time in the world in his changed state?

Some short stories manage to make their ambiguity satisfying, but that’s a tightrope line that most often ends in disappointment. I’m definitely up for reading more by Evenson, but “Elo Havel” was just so-so for me.

Short Tuesday #37: “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” by Neil Gaiman

This week I took a look at Tor.com for Short Tuesday to read “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” by Neil Gaiman. You can read the story for free here…

This was one of those short stories that I can tell is technically great, but that I had a difficult time fully immersing myself in. A good heaping of that is due to the whimsical tone of the piece; I don’t have an issue with whimsy per se, but it has to hit me right. The Sookie Stackhouse series is just perfect in this regard (for example, I adore the notion of a vampire Elvis–excuse me, Bubba), but anything that veers tonally towards Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Good Omens I’m going to have a difficult time with. I never want my fiction to have a smarmy, “aren’t we all so clever for liking this” feel. I mean, just look at the title of the piece; I couldn’t even type it in right to my WordPress blog tags. 😡 Or maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood today, lol.

So this story was mildly entertaining for me, but I was happy it was short. As always, the Lovecraft touches are a winner for me, and Gaiman’s breadth of language was a breath of fresh air. If you like Neil Gaiman and Lovecraft, this story’s a no-brainer, but personally it was only okay.

Short Tuesday #36: “Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine for Short Tuesday to read “Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi. You can read the story for free here…

This short story was right up my alley–some body horror mixed with Lovecraft (oh, those non-Euclidean geometries!), all with an I-found-it-on-the-Internet framework. The premise of the story is that the MC’s brother has been following the online coursework of a man who promises to be able to help him access other planes of reality via his dreams. The MC, his brother, and his brother’s friend are all down on their luck or seemingly on the outskirts of society; it was never mentioned in the story, but I couldn’t help thinking about how a lot of men in the US who have dropped out of society have fallen into opioid addiction. Sad and isolated people can be drawn to dangerous and unhealthy things, and that’s exactly what happens to these guys as they get sucked into an alternate and terrifying reality.

The tone is equal parts ethereal and grounded: great poetic imagery, but the MC doesn’t hesitate to talk like a normal person.

“Freud said that the buildings inside our dreams are pulled from a collective pool of unconscious architecture.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“It’s an evolutionary development. The blueprints are engrained in our DNA. Every single person. If you learned to dream actively you could walk the rooms of these dream places and every time you returned, they’d be exactly the same.”

“I genuinely don’t understand.” I zip, zip, zipped a line of screws into the drywall and Rob took his hands away. It floated there like a kind of magic.

What else was great about this? The woodsy setting was perfect, along with the descriptions. And best of all, it has a great horror ending that fits the rest of the piece, hallelujah. That’s not always common ’round these parts. So if you’re feeling up for a bit of horror as we move into the dark months of winter, give this one a try; it’s good fun.

Hey, one more thing: on the off-chance that the author reads this post (which has actually happened in the past), or really anyone who has ever written short fiction, I really recommend you get your short fiction listed on Goodreads! I always try to post reviews of short fiction on GR if possible, and it can be a crapshoot whether the stories are there or not. I was pretty bummed to see that this author is only listed in anthologies on GR with no individual story entries; he’s so good and should really list his stories separately! Short fiction can be a great way to start gathering a fan base (I often add books by Short Tuesday authors to my TBR) so why not use your short fiction to its full potential? Just my two cents.

Short Tuesday #35: “The Secret Life of the Unclaimed” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine for Short Tuesday to read “The Secret Life of the Unclaimed” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa. You can read the story for free here…

I loved this short story! It’s set in Nigeria and incorporates tons of the local flavor, in terms of the dialogue, setting, and local superstitions. I’m realizing that maybe I have a thing for African horror, since I also love the South African duo S.L. Grey–maybe I should put in a conscious effort to read more genre fiction from that area of the world, since I always find the African-tinged worldbuilding so fascinating.

All the body horror fans listen up, because this story is for you. If you’ve ever wanted a first-person view of what it’s like to turn demonic, with all the gory teeth-gnashing and claw-growing details, definitely check this one out. That’s the story in essence–as simple as a poor high school boy who is unlucky enough to go through a second monstrous puberty. The author gets it done with vivid imagery and a pacing and tone that I found riveting and oddly poetic. It was the kind of story where I just couldn’t look away; if you’re looking for a quick horror read, this is one I highly recommend.

Short Tuesday #34: “Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine for Short Tuesday to read “Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson. You can read the story for free here…

I thought this short story was great! It follows two Mexican brothers who discover a baby in the middle of the road while they’re walking home from a night spent drinking. I was really impressed with the atmospheric tone Larson sets immediately, as well as the quick characterization that nevertheless totally allowed me to understand the dynamic between the two brothers in the story. Larson accomplishes a lot in this quick short story; the whole thing wraps up within 1500 words!

The Mexican cultural details contributed a lot to the piece, and everything had just the right amount of ambiguity–I’m never on board with horror that shines a light on every detail. I also loved the author’s voice, and would definitely read more by Larson. It didn’t have that extra je ne sais quoi to take it to a five-star read, but nevertheless, I really recommend giving this story a read if you have ten minutes to spare.

ARC: A Midnight Clear by Sam Hooker, Alcy Leyva, Laura Morrison, Cassondra Windwalker, Dalena Storm, and Seven Jane

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Spot Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. A Midnight Clear debuted November 5th.

I’ve made a concerted effort this year to read more short fiction; the vast majority of my weekly Short Tuesday series focuses on dark genre fiction. So I was intrigued by this short story collection from Black Spot Books, which has a dark holiday focus. Like a lot of short story collections, this one was kind of all over the place. I’m going to give each story a mini review, since there’s only six of them.

“The Dauntless” by Sam Hooker was a strong start to the collection. Great prose, fun details, and a gripping premise: the ensuing legal fallout when a ship of Santa’s elves is sent to deliver Christmas joy to one of Lovecraft’s monsters. If you’re a Lovecraft fan, I could see picking up A Midnight Clear just for this story. 4 stars.

“Tidings of the New Moon” by Alcy Leyva was well-written, but didn’t grip me–more a me thing, I think, than anything else. I’m generally a fan of werewolves in fiction, but this story was maybe a bit too on-the-nose for me in terms of some of the details. Nevertheless, Leyva is clearly a talented writer. 3 stars.

“Movin’ On Up” by Laura Morrison was a fun one for me, since I’m letting a Hell-themed project percolate in my mind right now, and that’s what this was: a trio of three inhabitants of Hell trying to persuade a woman destined for Heaven to venture downstairs instead. I wish this story had been given more room for growth, by at least a few thousand more words; it felt rushed. Yet it was tons of fun overall. 4 stars.

“The Poetry of Snow and Stars” by Cassondra Windwalker was a story that I unfortunately did not get along with. It has an adverb-soaked voice and tons of backstory that put me in mind of those romances you read where the author is trying to catch you up on all the previous characters in the series–I’ve never been a fan of that myself, and that sentiment counts doubly for a short story, where no word should be wasted. The maybe-murder-maybe-not plot didn’t catch me, and the Stanley Hotel setting felt wasted. 2 stars.

“Sleep, Sweet Khors” by Dalena Storm is actually the second work I’ve read by this author in 2019; I was introduced to her by her debut novel, The Hungry Ghost. Like Ghost, this story has a strong mythological spine, this time from the Slavic tradition. I didn’t like the mythology infodump in the middle of the story; I always prefer these kinds of details to get threaded through the narrative. As with Ghost, this author feels like she is currently developing her voice; she has some great ideas, and I’m digging the mythology threads she interweaves with her stories, but I’d like to see a bit more lyricism to her prose. 3 stars.

“Snow Angel” by Seven Jane was a weaker end to the collection, sadly. The prose felt overworked, and much of the narrative was spent in the main character’s head, which got tiresome for me as a reader because the MC was just bemoaning the holiday season the entire time–I didn’t want to spend any more time with her than need be! When we got to the big magical climax, I had a difficult time believing that all this was happening to the main character; was she really special enough to have all this magical attention lavished upon her? So this story and I sadly didn’t mesh. 2 stars.

In sum, this collection was a bit of a bumpy ride, but there were some fun, bright moments. If you’re looking for some Christmas-themed stories and you like your fiction with a dose of darkness, consider giving this a go.