It can be hard to find good short stories, what with the sheer volume that is out there right now, and even harder to maintain focus to read one while Facebook and Twitter beckon.
So I’ll make it easy for you and point out 3 stories I read in the last few days that were really good, and will manage to keep your attention.
1. Mount Chary Golore by Jeffrey Ford
This story, in Ellen Datlow’s Fearful Symmetries, is the first of Mr. Ford’s stories I’ve ever read, I think. It starts off with a description of a witch in a small-town type of setting, veering dangerously close to being cliché but somehow works quite well. We are then introduces to three kids and, through what I suppose is Ford’s magic, immediatelly like them. The story takes a different path than I thought and is more “weird” than “horror”. The kids get paid to spy on the witch, in what is an effort by the local priest to discover just what it is that the witch does to create her special ointment. Things take a turn for the disturbing.
The story was good, though not exactly satisfying as Ford plays with the reader’s expectations. Still, it’s clear that Ford knows what he is doing, and I was never once temtped to check my phone as I read the story (a sure sign of quality in these times).
2. Night Porter by R. B. Russell
If you haven’t read an issue of Shadows and Tall Trees, do yourself a favor and get you’self a copy now. There are six issues total, but I have only read that latest (and, unfortunately, last) issues and they are both great.
Night Porter tells the story of a woman who gets a job as a night porter at a cheap hotel. An older woman comes in one night with a tired, apparently dazed young man to the hotel and asks for a room, paying cash and leaving a hefty tip. She carries the young man to the room but does not stay there herself. When the night porter suspects something is up she opens the room but finds no one there. This happens again. The night porter then managed to get into the room right as the mysterious woman leaves, and finds a wrinkled man holding a large bronze syringe over the latest drugged young man, who is tied and gagged. Weirdness ensues. The good kind of weirdness, that uncategorizable fantastic that I’ve come to expect from Shadows and Tall Trees.
3. Will The Real Psycho in This Story Please Stand Up? by Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan, like Jeffrey Ford, is one of those writers I feel I should have started reading a while ago (so many good writers, so little time to read). This story is also from Fearful Symmetries but is unexpectedly free of any elements of the supernatural but just tells the story of an unfortunate teenager, neglected by his parents and teased at school. The main character’s friend invites him to the prom where something unexpected happens. We learn, however, that the boy is perhaps not as unhappy about being abused and neglected as we thought, and the atheist in me grinned at the reasoning behind this (I find many elements of the world’s most popular religions deeply creepy, and this hits on one of those).
I decided to chase down more of Pat’s stories I might have and read Eenie Meenie Ipsateenie in Datlow’s Hauntings after this, and am now reading a story in Nightmare Magazine’s Women Destroy Horror by Pat. And look! A Pat Cadigan story in an issue of Apex I own.