SHORTS: Larson, Carroll, St. George, Yang

SHORTS: The annual Halloween edition. Our horror-themed column this week, reviewing some recent online short fiction works, features demon babies, slasher film heroines, ghosts and more.

“Growing and Growing” by Rich Larson (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

Ignacio and Hector are on their way home after a night of drinking when they find a baby crying in the middle of the road. Ignacio decides to bring it home for the night so he can take it to the hospital in the morning. But on the way home, the friends begin to realize that something about this abandoned baby is not quite right…

“Growing and Growing” is a very short (12 minute) creepy tale that works great in the audio format performed by Stefan Rudnicki, one of my favorite narrators. You can find this at Nightmare Magazine’s podcast.

I’d recommend this for anyone who’s in the mood for a spine-tingler, and especially for any parent who has silently suspected that their own child is a demon. You might feel better after reading this story. ~Kat Hooper


“Mama Bruise” by Jonathan Carroll (2019, free at Tor.com)

An adopted dog belonging to a married couple bolts away on a walk and causes the wife to have a brutal fall, which is normal enough, though upsetting. But when they get home, she sees a ten-inch black bruise on her thigh in the shape of block letters spelling out “MAMA BRUISE.” And that’s only the latest eerie occurrence. Cookies and birthday presents are magically transported from place to place, faucets turn themselves on, words appear and disappear on their bodies. Eventually the wife suggests a theory about why these things are happening.

“Mama Bruise,” like the crazy events that occur to the couple, gradually shifts “from whimsical to worrisome and whaaaat? to dangerous and destructive.” The final events in the story seem random, supported only by the wife’s theories, which come almost completely out of left field, so I couldn’t fully buy into the story or its rationale. On the other hand, Jonathan Carroll comes up with delightfully imaginative plots, and this story is no exception. He’s also an excellent wordsmith who knows how to come up with phrases that jolt you with their insightfulness and truth.

A fall like that always reminds us how, in a second, life can skid off the road straight into our very own black hole. Down deep we know sooner or later it will, God forbid. A trip, a bad stumble, stagger, and fall shouts the ugly fact we’re never really in charge or control of our steps, our days, our lives.

It’s a quirky story, but worth reading. ~Tadiana Jones


“Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future” by Carlie St. George (2019, free at Nightmare Magazine)

According to her biographical sketch at Nightmare Magazine, Carlie St. George “is particularly passionate about horror movie tropes.” This becomes evident as you read “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future.”

Written in the second person, it invites you to imagine yourself as a teenage girl who keeps surviving the types of massacres we see in corny Halloween movies. Maybe your survival isn’t as lucky as it seems.

“Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future” is gory, but it’s more amusing than scary. For a story with so much death and destruction, there’s an unexpected bit of warm-heartedness at the end.

I enjoyed listening to the audio version which can be found here with the print version or at Nightmare Magazine’s podcast. It’s 33 minutes long and is very well-performed by Judy Young. ~Kat Hooper


“Under Their Wings, These Starving Ghosts” by Grace Yang (2019, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

The ghost of a teenage boy awakes each year on the day of the annual starling migration, when birds blacken the skies and spirits walk the streets of the town of Sujing. The townspeople all stay inside on this day, keeping their doors closed and their windows boarded up against the hungry ghosts. So the boy, starved for the human touch and without any memory of his human life, cannot find peace. That is, until he meets Sujing’s fox witch, who is abrupt and dismissive but at least talks to him. In her garden he’s at least able to find a little bit of a feeling of belonging. But he still longs for the memories of who he is and whether anyone mourned his death.

The plot of this melancholic story is on the slight side and the ending doesn’t offer much by way of resolution. But I appreciated many of the details that added flavor to this story: the starlings waking the ghosts, the salt blistering the ghost boy’s feet, the sluglike older ghosts, a magical cup of green tea. There’s also an interesting theme about choices and unintended consequences. It’s a haunting tale, in more ways than one. ~Tadiana Jones


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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