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Halloween Favorites: Short Fiction

Halloween is my favorite season, and yes, it is a full season and not just a single day. The cooler weather, the leaves rattling in the trees, all things pumpkin, and of course candy and costumes – what’s not to love? It’s also the perfect time of year to immerse oneself in seasonal fiction. In that spirit, every Friday in October, I’ll be posting some of my favorite reads and watches that never fail to put me in mind of Halloween, starting with short fiction.

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkFirst beloved, best beloved, and always in my heart is the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, three volumes of folklore gathered by Alvin Schwartz, from urban legends, to campfire ghost tales, to eerie poems and rhymes, and everything in-between. Of course, the definitive version of these collections are the ones illustrated by Stephen Gammell whose horrifying illustrations make the stories that much more unnerving. My first encounter with the books was being read one of the stories in a classroom by a teacher. I immediately sought out the full collection in the school library, and eventually purchased copies of my own, reading and re-reading until the covers were cracked and tattered. They make regular appearances on the most frequently banned books list, and probably with good cause, but that’s all the more reason to read them, no matter what your age.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – a classic tale of gas-lighting whose true horror lies in the treatment of the protagonist by her physician husband, but which doesn’t skimp on the haunting and unsettling imagery.

The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft – elder gods and unimaginable horrors from the deep are all well and good, but for my money, the creepiest of Lovecraft’s stories is this one about an unnatural color that slowly and steadily drains the life from the land and people around it.

October CountryIt’s impossible to pick just one Ray Bradbury story to recommend, so I’ll recommend a whole collection, The October Country, which perfectly encapsulates the notion that Halloween isn’t just one day, or even a season, it’s a whole damn country. It’s a state of mind, a turning of the leaves, and a creeping dark. So many of my favorites are gathered here: Skeleton, The Jar, The Small Assassin, Homecoming, but really, the whole collection is brilliant from beginning to end.

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer – I’m a sucker for found footage and horror stories about film, and this is one of the best, the kind of story that sticks with you long after you put it down.

eyes i dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine – dead girls climbing out of refrigerators, dead girls on train tracks, dead girls wanting everything and nothing and refusing to stay in their graves. This isn’t a traditional ghost story, but it is certainly haunting.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – another story where the true horror lies in a husband’s treatment of his wife, but playing off the kind of urban legends gathered by Alvin Schwartz, and drawing on the very act of storytelling, complete with instructions to the reader on how to interact with their audience.

Really any collection edited by Ellen Datlow that tends toward the dark and the horrific is a sure bet for Halloween reading, and there are plenty to choose from: The Doll Collection, Nightmare Carnival, Hauntings, or any one of her Year’s Best Horror anthologies.

The stories above are just a small sampling of horrific tales, but they’re certainly a good place to start. What are your favorite short stories to read and re-read around Halloween?

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Favorite Short Fiction of the Year 2015

I full realize the year isn’t over yet, and this list will likely get updated a few times as I frantically cram in more reading. However, award season has already launched with Nebula nominations currently open. In the spirit of helping people find works to consider, here are some short works I thoroughly enjoyed this year. A separate post for novels, anthologies, and collections is on the way.

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon in Apex Magazine – spirits and myths bargain and battle for the soul of a dying god.

The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History by Sam J. Miller in Uncanny – a powerful speculative fiction take on the Stonewall Riots.

The Long Good Night of Violet Wild by Catherynne M. Valente in Clarkesworld (Novelette) – a gorgeous and decadent journey through lands every color of the rainbow, reminiscent of a gender-flipped Orpheus and Eurydice.

Be Not Unequally Yoked by Alexis A. Hunter in Shimmer – a painful and lovely exploration of gender and the animal transformation trope (covered in more detail in my March 2015 Women to Read Column).

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of the Dead by Brooke Bolander – a slick and violent cyberpunk gunfight/hacker/love story (covered in more detail in my March 2015 Women to Read Column).

The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací by Benjamin Parzbok in Strange Horizons – an eerie story of disappearances and the threat inherent in an ancient natural feature.

The Shape of My Name by Nino Cipri at Tor.com – time travel, family, and a character transitioning to their true self (covered in more detail in Non-Binary Authors to Read Part 2).

Documentary by Vajra Chandrasekera in Lightspeed – PTSD, were-helicopters, and the weight of memory.

Dr. Polingyouma’s Machine by Emily Devenport in Uncanny – a mysterious machine, eerie, unseen creatures, and the importance of janitorial work (covered in more detail in my May 2015 Women to Read Column).

The Animal Women by Alix E. Harrow in Strange Horizons (Novelette) – prejudice and the wild ferocity of women.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik at Tor.com (Novella) – an intricately woven, tale of myth, family, and uncovering the truth in old stories.

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker in Apex Magazine – the burden of memory and the consequences of war.

Beyond the Trenches We Lie by A.T. Greenblatt at Escape Pod – an unconventional war story about the power of lies.

A Shot of Salt Water by Lisa L. Hannett in The Dark – a lyrical story that reads like a complicated dance; women gather children from the sea (covered in more detail in my June 2015 Women to Read).

Forest Spirit, Forest Spirit by Bogi Takács in Clarkesworld – a former soldier, now an AI consciousness, protecting the forest it calls home (covered in more detail in Non-Binary Authors to Read Part 1).

Three Voices by Lisa Bolekaja in Uncanny – the obsessive artist archetype, the woman as muse, and the brutality of art.

eyes i dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine in The Society Pages – a powerful story full of rage, taking on the women in refrigerators trope (covered in more detail in Non-Binary Authors to Read Part 1).

The Walking Thing by Marlee Jane Ward in Interfictions – a unique twist on a zombie story, dealing with family, sacrifice, and growing up (covered in more detail in my July 2015 Women to Read).

The Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson at Tor.com (Novelette) – the decadence of Versailles, a child-like water spirit, and the perils and politics of indoor plumbing (covered in more detail in my July 2015 Women to Read).

In the Rustle of Pages by Cassandra Khaw in Shimmer – aging people transform into buildings rather than dying.

The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi in Shimmer – a beautiful story of myth, family, transformation, and the truth in old stories (covered in more detail in my August 2015 Women to Read).

All My Pretty Chickens by Josh Rountree in Farrago’s Wainscot – a world haunted by the ghosts of chickens, but where the ghosts of humans don’t return.

Three Small Slices of Pumpkin Pie by Wendy N. Wagner in Farrago’s Wainscot – an uneasy story of women as consumable objects (covered in more detail in my August 2015 Women to Read).

It Brought Us All Together by Marissa Lingen in Strange Horizons – a story dealing with the various ways people cope with grief and loss (covered in more detail in my August 2015 Women to Read).

Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma at Tor.com (Novelette) – a dark story of transformation and self-preservation.

Kin, Painted by Penny Sterling in Lackington’s Magazine – a gorgeous and lush story of art, gender-fluidity, and self-discovery.

Ghost Champagne by Charlie Jane Anders in Uncanny – a struggling comedian haunted by her own ghost.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant’s Tale by Damien Angelica Walters in Apex Magazine – the brutality beneath the glitz of the circus, and learning to let go.

A House of Anxious Spiders by J.Y. Yang in The Dark – angry words become battling spiders during family arguments.

States of Emergency by Erica L. Satfika in Shimmer – the apocalypse expressed by weird happenings across the USA.

Where it Lives by Nathaniel Lee in Nightmare Magazine – a dark story of grief transforming a child into something monstrous.

Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud by Fran Wilde in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a daughter finding her courage and learning to fly in order to save her father.

The Oiran’s Song by Isabel Yap in Uncanny – a lovely and brutal story about characters on the margins of war taking center stage.

Glaciers Made You by Gabby Reed in Strange Horizons – a ghost story without ghosts; a woman haunted by memory and landscape (covered in more detail in the October 2015 Women to Read).

All in a Hot Copper Sky by Megan Arkenberg in Lightspeed – a biosphere, a woman painted as a monster, and the woman who loved her.

July Story by K.L. Owens in Shimmer Magazine – a story about wanting, and friendship, and a house that steals people out of time (covered in more detail in my November 2015 Women to Read).

Ice by Rich Larson in Clarkesworld – modified humans, ice whales, and the rivalry between brothers.

And Never Mind the Watching Ones by Keffy R.M. Kehrli in Uncanny – a world overrun by inexplicable glittering frogs, and characters searching for their place in life.

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine in Apex Magazine – the moments after a living ship drives through a star (covered in more detail in the December 2015 Women to Read).

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong in Nightmare Magazine – what happens when you devour the darkness inside another human (or not so human) being.

The Devil Under the Maison Blue by Michael Wehunt in The Dark – a jazz-soaked story about ghosts, abuse,  and characters taking control of their lives.

When We Were Giants by Helena Bell in Lightspeed – the monstrous and wild nature of young girls.

Who Will Greet You at Home by Lesley Nneka Arimah in The New Yorker – women build their children out of sticks, mud, porcelain, and yarn; the sacrifices of mothers, and the monstrous nature of children (covered in more detail in the December 2015 Women to Read).

In the Pines by K.M. Carmien in Shimmer Magazine – the woods and a witch fighting against a spirit gone wrong.

Shimmering, Warm, and Bright by Shevta Thakrar in Interfictions Online – a rich and beautiful story of women harvesting sunlight against the sorrow that creeps in from the edges of life.

The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper by Carlie St. George at The Book Smugglers (Novelette) – a delicious fairy tale/noir mash-up.

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