Well, I did it–I read the short story that at one point reached #144 on the entire Kindle story. “Kissing the Coronavirus” came onto my radar via a writing friend. (“Have you heard??” etc. etc.) Welp, I’ll admit it shamelessly: 99 cents was too sweet a deal to pass up, and it took all of thirty seconds before I hit the Buy Now button. (It’s also free in KU.) Here’s the link if you want to buy it yourself…
What’s the story about? I figure the cover speaks clearly enough about that, but essentially our horny MC is working in a research lab searching for a COVID cure and has trouble containing herself around the mesmerizing, “bubbling, creamy liquid [sloshing] around the inside of the [test] tube.” After that, sexual chaos ensues.
There are some really great lines here, like:
Alexa’s heart fluttered like it had one the time she’d fucked the farmer’s cross-eyed son and uncrossed his eyes.
Alexa edged back, pushing back until her back pushed back against the wall.
Disturbingly, one blockhead reviewer on Amazon rates the story one star in part for the above sentence. Awful writing, one star! Goodness gracious, is 2020 the year that humor officially died?
I’ve seen some claims that this is tasteless and shouldn’t have been written; I never really buy arguments like that, since “Kissing the Coronavirus” is abundantly obvious about what it is, and you could just choose not to read it. I also don’t think anyone’s getting off to this–or maybe they are, I don’t know. Strange times and all that. Anyway, I’m glad I gave it a read, and I think, given it’s one-of-a-kind nature, that really there is only one way I can rate this story.
We’re back for another Short Tuesday! Today I headed back to Nightmare Magazine, this time to read “Outside of Omaha” by Ray Nadler. You can read the story here…
I loved this story from the very first sentence: “You would have hated your funeral reception.” Such a striking sentence, and as the rest of the story reveals itself, the author spins a quiet tale of a man, his unearthly wife, and a hatred for others that knit their relationship together into a hidden paradise. This is a story beautifully told, especially in terms of pacing and language.
On the days I went to town I felt as if, as my mule stepped out onto the country road, I was crossing a barrier beyond which was another place, not our own. Inside, our world was bright and cunning as a painted Persian box, where I lived in lacquer with someone strange and stranger than myself. And I would unlid for no-one what was inside.
This is the kind of muted, subtle tale that you can’t help but love. Not much happens, just hinted-at secrets and a richly detailed description of an unlikely relationship. Yet the whole mood of the piece can’t help but draw you in–I was loving the feeling of a dusty, forgotten America where monsters hide in plain sight. It’s a story on the shorter end, so if you’re wanting a palate cleanser with purposeful, gorgeous language and a philosophical feel, give this one a try.
We’re back (finally) for another Short Tuesday! I was so happy to head back to Nightmare Magazine, this time to read “Spider Season, Fire Season” by Carlie St. George. I’d read a different story of hers last year which I adored, “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future,” so I was excited to read something else by this author. You can read the story here…
I thought this was a fun read, though it didn’t wow me as much as St. George’s other story. It’s a story in detached parts about a pregnant woman who can see ghosts, and it’s the kind of story where you have to be paying attention and fitting together the pieces. (I still don’t quite understand the section with Dot.) The mood is just right, and I especially enjoyed the main character’s matter-of-fact interactions with the ghost in her house.
The man is gone. It’s just a woman now, in her late twenties or early thirties. Dark frizzy hair, pale skin, a soft, sagging belly underneath a sleep-wrinkled tank top. “I don’t suppose you remember me yet,” the woman says. “I’m December, and that’s Clara. We’ve done this a few times now.”
I do wish, though, that this was a longer piece; it’s on the shorter side at 3700 words, and there’s a lot that’s going on here, especially given the jumps in time. I think this could have been a more satisfying story if it was given a bit more space to breathe. Nevertheless, it was a fun read, and I’m definitely up for reading more by this author.
Short Tuesday makes a triumphant return this week–hurrah! Normally I reserve this spot for horror-tinged SFF, but I thought I’d do something a bit different this week, so actually turned to a novella by romance author Mary Jo Putney. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which anyone who’s spent a little time around these parts will know is super interesting to me right now. You can buy it off Amazon for $1.99… (I receive no commission for this link.)
I really enjoyed this novella, which flew by for me in about an hour and a half. It’s branded as a Christmas novella, but Christmas has the smallest of influences on the story–I didn’t feel weird at all reading it in May. I didn’t much get along with the last work I read by Putney (strangely, also Christmas-themed), due to 3rd POV reasons, but I didn’t experience any of those frustrations here.
This is a tale as old as time (har har): a man with confidence problems reluctantly falls in love with a smart and charming beauty. It’s a retelling of the classic fairy tale, but sticks strictly to those bare roots of the story–the magic is in the budding romance between the MCs, rather than curses and talking teapots. I was definitely aching for these two MCs to get together; the male MC’s insta-love wasn’t off-putting to me at all. A fair warning that anyone looking for sex scenes won’t find them here–there is definitely romantic longing and tension, but the one sex scene is top down and detail-free. I wouldn’t have minded things to get a bit more X-rated, but I can understand from a pacing standpoint why Putney didn’t go there.
I’m really happy I read this short story–one, because I’m on a Beauty and the Beast tear, but also because it gave me a second chance to read this author. I think we might have gotten off on the wrong footing; I’ll probably give one of Putney’s full-fledged novels a chance some time. This novella definitely has a thumbs up from me. 🙂
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.