Tag Archives: short story

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.

Short Tuesday #16: “Carry On” by Seanan McGuire

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.

Short Tuesday #15: “The Night Princes” by Megan Arkenberg

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.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Kobo | Hidden Bower Press

Short Tuesday #14: “Cult” by Brian Evenson

This week I took a look at Brian Evenson’s short story “Cult.” I don’t remember exactly how I got turned on to Brian Evenson’s work, but I can tell even from reading just the one story that he is an author right up my alley. You can read the short story here…

I loooooved this. The story features an unnamed protagonist who receives a call from his abusive ex-girlfriend asking him to pick her up from a so-called cult. Both the protagonist and his ex-girlfriend have rock-solid characterization, and the prose is exactly as it needs to be: matter-of-fact, with a stream-of-consciousness feel. Somehow it reminded me tone-wise a bit of Haruki Murakami.

And the relationship between these two characters felt so real. We get a granular insight into the MC’s thought cycle, and how he is slowly but surely being dragged back into a relationship with his abuser, like a leaf circling a whirlpool. I highly recommend this short story, and will definitely be looking at more work by Evenson.


Just wanted to add a little tidbit at the end here… BECAUSE THERE WILL BE A COVER REVEAL FOR SPECTER THIS THURSDAY!!!!!! So keep watching this space. 😀

Short Tuesday #13: “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce

This week for Short Tuesday I was on the hunt for short fiction by Georgina Bruce, who has a new short story collection that was just published this month. “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” is an older story, but I wanted to get a sense of her voice before making a decision about checking out her new collection. You can read the short story for free here…

The story focuses on a young lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality; she has a strong imagination, and interspersed throughout the story are vignettes from a seemingly magical book. It’s all very fuzzy and magical realism-ish, and I wasn’t in love with the vignettes if I’m being honest, since they felt pretty unconnected from the rest of the piece.

The ballroom of the Grand Hotel by candlelight is amber and sepia, drifting into darkness at the edges like an old postcard. It smells of stale water, tallow, and dust. The ruby carpet is threadbare and shiny, and the plaster has been knocked off the walls, leaving bare brick in places, water-stained and sick. But in the candlelight the room still has a certain romance.

The bits in the real world also have a floaty, unmoored feeling. I had a difficult time in the beginning of the piece getting a sense of how old the MC was; she read wayyyy younger to me at first than she actually is. The additional feminist focus had me speeding towards the end to be done with the story. I can appreciate a magical realism story with a coming-of-age focus, but once you start throwing in Patriarch Fish and horses named Andrea Dworkin, we’ve entered territory too silly and ideological for my preference. If there’s anything I can say about my taste in fiction, it’s that I never want to feel like I’m reading short stories penned by r/TwoXChromosomes power users.

“You’re an artist,” says Zillah. She shows Joy what she’s reading, pushing the book over the table.

It is Ursula Bluethunder, Zillah and Joy’s favourite comic book. Ursula Bluethunder is a radical black, woman-loving superheroine, whose mission is to establish a lesbian separatist nation with money that she steals from banks using her superior intelligence, strength, and martial arts skills. She likes hanging out in libraries, too.

See what I mean? It’s just too much for my tastes, though some might love it. So despite some pretty descriptions, this piece was unfortunately not for me.

Short Tuesday #12: “Bluebeard’s First Wife” by Ha Seong-nan

This week I left Tor.com (though probably only temporarily!) for a short story by Korean author Ha Seong-nan. She has a new short story collection out, and I’ve heard good things, so I wanted to try out a short story of hers to get a sense of her style, then maybe pick up the collection. I ended up reading “Bluebeard’s First Wife,” which you can read for free here…

I enjoyed this story well enough. It’s a smooth read for having been translated, and I especially enjoyed the imagery and the sense of displacement woven throughout the story. I did feel the plot progressed in a kind of dizzying matter; the MC is suddenly engaged to this guy, and you don’t have a sense of how it all happened. They met on a plane, and then… marriage? Their relationship has the weight of a cloud, but it works for the plot and feel of the story.

Even so, I guess I was left wanting a little bit more. Everything felt a bit too flat and matter-of-fact. The repeated poem also didn’t seem to have much relevance to me… or maybe I’m not picking up the symbolism for some reason.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

With stories like these, I’m sometimes left feeling a little bit stupid. Why is this not working for me? What does the author mean by this? At the same time, I feel that if I’m not gleaning at least some of the deeper symbolism on a first read-through, perhaps the story isn’t being told successfully. In any case, I would definitely read more short fiction by this author, as I am intrigued by some of the reviews I’ve seen of her other work, but this story was just so-so for me.

Short Tuesday #10: “You Know How the Story Goes” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

I went back to Tor again this week for another look at their short fiction, since most of it is just so damn good! “You Know How the Story Goes” was a fast, fun read; you can read it for yourself here…

This story feels like a more polished version of r/nosleep stories; the voice coupled with the monstrous elements lend the piece a distinctly creepypasta vibe—and that’s not a bad thing! There’s so much to love about the horror that’s been birthed from Internet culture, whether that’s Ted the Caver, Petscop, or The Interface Series. (Hmm, maybe I should devote an article sometime to an introduction of my favorite Internet horror/weird stuff.) In any case, you could easily expect to read this story on r/nosleep, especially given the multiple references to Reddit. In fact, if you can’t tell from the title, this short story is meant to feel like something familiar—like the ghost stories and horror memes that rattle around in the back of your subconscious, rearing up on dark nights or when you’re deep in the back of the basement.

So though the piece is nothing distinctly new, I don’t think anyone should mind that, since it’s a gripping story, with great visual descriptions that are never too much or too little.

There was something wrong with these fingers. They were not longer than before, but still, they looked like they were. Long and curved. Cold-cold blue. Almost dripping. And I noticed the tips had no nails. What had happened to her nails?

Some might complain about a slow start, but I liked the pacing; my favorite horror always starts with a slow creep. The ending was also satisfying—a “this happened to me, so it could happen to you” resolution that felt just right. If you are in the mood for creepy, I’d really recommend this one.

Late Tuesday #9: “Yiwu” by Lavie Tidhar

I feel a bit like Jenna Marbles right now. “We-put-out-new-videos-every-Wednesday-slash-Thursday-SUBSCRIBE!!!!” Sometimes life happens, and you run a little late. This week it was health stuff… But I’m here now and ready to rumble. 🙂

So this week I returned yet again to Tor.com to check out their original fiction. I was intrigued by this story by Lavie Tidhar, since I have a passion for and academic background relating to the Chinese language and culture, so “Yiwu” it was. You can read the short story here…

I liked this story… okay. I appreciated the focus on environmental details in the story, but there were just so many of them that it gave an overall jumbled effect.

The air smelled of hot leather, shoe polish, fried garlic, knockoff Chanel No. 5 perfume, uncollected garbage, frangipani and the recycled air blown out of a thousand air conditioners. 

Used a bit more sparingly and with greater care, these details could have done a great job setting the scene (I’m thinking specifically of Haruki Murakami, who’s an expert at this sort of thing), but here the narrative felt cluttered by details that gave the impression they were only there to grant exotic flair.

The sparse plot, too, I was only halfway invested in. Once we got to Esham visiting the lottery office, I was getting a bit excited, since it seemed like we were going to get a chance to peek at the wizard behind the curtain. I was definitely wondering if everything thus far was some sort of virtual reality… and maybe it is? But the author shields us from garnering any further truths, which just left me a bit frustrated. I wanted more of a concrete look at the realities of this mysterious world, but the simple ending just left me a bit annoyed. So I’ll give this three stars for some nice imagery and the tantalizing feeling of being just about to see the cogs that are making this world tick… But overall I just wanted more substance.

Short Tuesday #8: “Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll

I sound like a broken record: this week I again returned to Tor to peruse their original fiction! This week’s Short Tuesday contender is a short story by Jonathan Carroll published just a few days ago. You can read it here… FYI that there will be spoilers in this review.

I enjoyed this story, both in terms of voice, pacing, and plot. I thought it was interesting how there are no names for any of the main characters—perhaps this is author trying to emphasize the soul inhabiting the body rather than the body itself? Reincarnation is central to the plot, so if we were juggling names I think that would take away from the message. Also want to add that somehow this is not the first “reincarnation in animal form” work of fiction I’ve read this year! If you like this sort of story, perhaps give The Hungry Ghost a try.

The ending, too, came as a pleasant surprise. At first I was all, oh, their dog’s come home. But if we’re to take what the female MC says as accurate, I think the most logical conclusion is that the other dogs in the neighborhood have come to take out the main characters, so that the secret knowledge they’ve garnered stays secret. It was an unexpected end, perfect for a last boo.

Ooh, I’m really liking all these Tor short stories! And it seems there’s a big backlist and that they publish new works regularly, so I have a ton of great content for more Short Tuesdays. 🙂