Tag Archives: short story

Short Tuesday #26: “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide” by Kurt Fawver

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read the short story “The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide.” You can read it for free here…

True to its name, this story is written in an informal, guidebook style. The narrator never names themselves or gives personal details; really they just detail a mysterious maze that resides in the middle of the narrator’s small town which grows by the year. The maze features bleeding walls and presents those who enter it with off-kilter characters and eerie tasks. And of course, not all who enter the maze find an exit. Why enter at all? you might ask. As only suits a magical maze, this labyrinth has a mysterious pull on the townsfolk, tempting all resident teens to enter in what essentially becomes a local coming-of-age ritual.

This is the kind of story where suspension of disbelief only gets you so far. You can feel the author trying to pull us along towards believing, throwing in lines here and there to quell questions and preserve the mystery. One example: drone technology to fly over the maze for observation doesn’t work, for reasons. There are a lot of explanations like this to keep the story going.

You might be thinking, “Why don’t you go searching for those kids? Why don’t you run into that maze in parties and pull them out?” In the past, adults tried this, or so we’re told. They went in packing compasses and lights and maps and weapons—all the accoutrements of proper search and rescues. Despite their best efforts at navigation, however, the maze led them in endless circles and forced them to backtrack to its entrances when they used up their supplies. No matter how many times they subsequently resupplied and reentered and tried to solve the maze, they failed.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun read, and I did enjoy the accounts from the townsfolk who entered the maze. Some extended anecdotes from the local townspeople weren’t very convincing in terms of realistic dialogue… but frankly speaking, extended dialogue for the purposes of storytelling is a difficult thing to pull off if your aim is realism in how people actually talk. I’d say if you’re up for a short story that kind of feels like a hokey House of Leaves, then give this one a chance.

Short Tuesday #25: “Spore” by Amanda Downum

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read the short story “Spore,” which was published in a female Lovecraftian horror anthology. You can read it for free here...

“Spore” was a quick read, and I was interested in the premise of a purported fungal infection that is influencing its hosts in strange and unanticipated ways. I’ve thought of including some sort of magical fungus in the sequel to The Gold in the Dark, so I’m always psyched to see tangential ideas in fiction.

The language in this piece is really beautiful. Settings are detailed in a way that makes the piece come to life.

Condensation drips through the weave of the metal table onto the pavement. People pass us on the sidewalk, bright summer colors and chattering voices. Hands touch arms to punctuate conversation; shoulders brush; a couple rests their hands in each other’s back pockets.

I do wish we’d been given more of a glimpse into the further aftermath of ingesting the mushrooms, especially in terms of further physical effects and mental urges. I also don’t get a Lovecraftian feel from the piece, despite the anthology it’s housed in.

Nevertheless, I liked the detail-work in the piece and the MC’s personal struggles with her own personality as it relates to belief, so I’d recommend this story.

Short Tuesday #24: “More Real Than Him” by Silvia Park

This week I returned to Tor.com and read “More Real Than Him” by Silvia Park. I’m loving how there are so many works that have been released lately with a Korean pop culture thread. (Hart & Seoul is waiting for me in my ARC pile as I type this!) You can read the short story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story; it was a fun, quick read. The premise is that a young woman works as a programmer at a robotics company and drunkenly steals a robot from her company one night. She’s a mega-fan of a Korean actor; saddened by the news that he has enlisted in the mandatory two-year military service, she decides to craft the robot in his likeness, modeling its personality after the actor’s famous roles.

This is a great story for any fans of Black Mirror or Ex Machina. It delves into the endless philosophical questions revolving around AI and robot-human relationships. At what point is AI living? How do humans stay “socialized” in a world where robots are an easy band aid for companionship? What’s the fallout when robots are indistinguishable from humans? And so on and so forth.

The story flowed well, with some really lyrical language, and the underlying themes of the piece are fascinating. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in Asian culture and sci-fi.

Short Tuesday #23: “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

This week I took a detour from the usual weird short fiction and went back to a classic. I think the last time I read “To Build a Fire” was in middle school English—I have distinct memories of some of the kids in class thinking the expression “like a chicken with its head cut off” was just hilarious. You can read the short story for free here…

I really enjoyed this short story! If you’ve never read it, the premise is that a man and his dog are traveling through the Yukon in temperatures of seventy-five below. The MC is quite arrogant, and his actions lead him to have problems starting a fire. It’s a classic man versus nature tale, where you’re just waiting for the foolhardy MC to get his comeuppance. I already knew what was going to happen, so basically just spent the first bit waiting for everything to go to pieces.

Really I read this because I’ve been working on my WIP, and the MC confronts a dangerous blizzard early on in the book. It’s nice to see how a master storyteller like London tackles a similar topic, in terms of the observations and details. It was also just a nostalgic read; this story may be more than a hundred years old, but it definitely holds up, despite one instance of racial language that would never fly in the here and now. Just as I’m not going to dismiss Lovecraft for the infamously named cat in “The Rats in the Walls,” so too am I not going to dismiss London. Hope that makes sense, though others might feel differently.

Anyway, I recommend this short story and had a fun time reading it, even though it’s very different from the other short fiction I’ve been reading lately. It’s the kind of short story that really sticks with you once you’ve read it, so for that I can only give it five stars. 🙂

Short Tuesday #22: “Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang

This week I went back to Tor.com to take a look at another short story by JY Yang. I read another short story by Yang earlier this year and LOVED it, so was very interested to read something else by this author. You can read the short story for free here…

So some of you may not know this, but I majored in Chinese language and literature in college and I’ve actually spent a lot of time in China. I no longer have a day job that requires me to use Mandarin, so I’m growing rustier by the day, but suffice it to say that I know a lot about the Chinese language and culture. Lo and behold, this story has a lot of Chinese songs and poems interspersed throughout, along with many details that draw upon Chinese culture, so this added a fun element to the piece for me. I will say, though, that some translations for the Chinese text could go a long way in bridging the cultural gap for an English-speaking audience. I can understand not including a translation for a language with many English cognates, such as Spanish or French, but Chinese is decidedly not that.

I ultimately had a difficult time connecting with this story. It’s another one of those short stories where there is a ton of worldbuilding, but in the “thrown in the deep end of the pool” style. In media res-style details are tough enough in longer works, let alone in short fiction. All the details, with very little seeded explanation, made the whole narrative feel ungrounded. I also think this would be a doubly challenging story for readers who do not have any sort of background in Chinese; there are no translations provided for the Chinese text, and many Chinese cultural and historical touchpoints are thrown in without explanation. For example:

Only the starmages have the ability to defeat the Starmage General. But their suits have a limiter that stops them from performing the Seventy Two Transformations, and that is under the Starmage General’s control.

In the above quote, this was the first time I was hearing anything about the “Seventy Two Transformations.” In fact, this is the only time the transformations are mentioned in the entire story. However, a quick Google search revealed that the transformations are performed by a character in Journey to the West, a Chinese literary classic. I happen to think it’s cool that these referential details are included, but a little seeded explanation or context would be appreciated.

I also don’t understand why the author chose to put the whole piece in second POV. It’s a bold move that didn’t seem to add much to the story, and I’m curious to know the rationale behind the decision.

Whew, Short Tuesday has gone on a bit longer than I anticipated! To sum up, this was an interesting read, especially for someone with an interest in Chinese language and culture, but there were many aspects that took away from the story as a whole.

Short Tuesday #21: “A Forest, or A Tree” by Tegan Moore

This week I returned to Tor.com to take another look at their original short fiction. “A Forest, or a Tree” by Tegan Moore caught my eye—I mean, how could it not, with that frightful (in a good way) illustration. You can read the short story for free here…

This short story was a fun ride, following a group of girls hiking in the woods. Predictably, one of the girls falls sick and spooky things start happening: the GPS equipment is malfunctioning, a creature is spotted in the woods, one of the girls starts hearing strange noises, et cetera. It’s a story everyone’s seen a million times before, but there’s a reason for that: it’s a universally spooky tale that takes hold of your imagination.

I do think that the author tried to incorporate a bit too many threads into the story. There’s a barely-explored racial element, as well as a shallow conversation about memes and copypasta serving as modern myth. The story also ends pretty abruptly just as circumstances have changed and events are coming to a head—I wanted a more fulfilling conclusion. There were also some small niggling details that brought me out of the story—a character saying twice that her friend needs to stop reading so many “subreddits,” for example (instead of “Reddit posts,” which is how any actual Reddit user would phrase this). So these things bring the story down to three stars for me, but I still found it a fun read.

Short Tuesday #20: “Universal Horror” by Stephen Graham Jones

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.

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.

Short Tuesday #18: “Strange Scenes from an Unfinished Film” by Gary McMahon

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.

Short Tuesday #17: “These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw

This week for Short Tuesday I left Nightmare Magazine aside and returned to Tor.com once again to read “These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw. You can read the short story here…

This short story details the relationship between a witch queen and her maniacal young stepson. The piece has evocative, beautiful writing and definitely inspires a sense of dread.

Bones pour from every crack in the walls and windows. Lengths of rodent ulna. A blanket of hedgehog spines, undulating down the tapestries. Vertebrae, joined even in death, slithering like snakes. The molars from his first kill, the fragments of its skull. Everywhere, bones, clacking their way across the curlicued tiles.

It has a definite sense that this is the start of a larger work of fantasy fiction, where we are being introduced to crucial characters—this sentiment is echoed by many of the commenters on the story, who wonder if there will be a forthcoming piece featuring more of the main character. I don’t exactly count that as a good thing, though, since the story feels incomplete. Plot events happen, but not in any sort of way that comes together into a cohesive, satisfying story—we’re just left as readers wondering if there’s more. Can you count something as a short story if all we are given is set up, an event, and some back story? The whole thing is more like a scene than an actual story.

So while I did enjoy the writing here, I ultimately felt that this story wasn’t very successful.


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.