#ShortReads Day 18: "The Grief Frequency" by Kealan Patrick Burke

Available on Kindle.

This is a knock out of a short story, creepy and sorrowful. After his wife dies, Paul is drawn so deeply into his grief that he begins to see… I won’t tell you what. Burke does a fantastic job with this story, creating deep characters in a short space and invoking the feeling of grief, while also making it all so unsettling. 
Favorite Line(s): I dug deep into the pockets of my overcoat and grabbed fistfuls of patience as I watched them queue for the opportunity to be sorry.”

#ShortReads Days 16-17

“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

The widow Sorensen forms a new, if unconventional, family for herself at the shock of the local town. Though Agnes Sorensen is clearly human she is portrayed as nymph-like with a magical collection to animals and her new paramour. A sweetly romantic and whimsical tale.

Favorite Line(s): “Seeing no one there (except for a family of rabbits that was, en masse, emerging from under the row of box elders), Father Laurence felt a sudden, inexplicable, and unbridled surge of joy — to which he responded with a quick clench of his two fists and a swallowed yes.”

“Sleepwalking Now and Then” by Richard Bowes
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

Art imitates life or, rather, life imitates art in a theatrical play staged in a dilapidated hotel in 2060. I love the idea of a stage play that takes place over multiple days and rooms in which the audience can interact with the actors. I didn’t much connect with the characters or story as a whole, though; the ways theatre sets a stage for violence is a common theme.

Favorite Line(s): “Like many New Yorkers, Jacoby Cass saw the rising waters as a warning of impending doom but, like most of them Cass had bigger worries.”

#ShortReads Days 13-15

“As Good As New” by Charlie Jane Anders
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

A young woman playwright who is the only survivor of the apocalypse. You’d think that would mean the end of all things, but it turns out the apocalypse has some surprises left. The story is charming and funny and has a lot of dialog about theater and stage writing. So much fun.

Favorite Line(s): “When Marisol let herself think about all the people she could never talk to again, she got so choked up she wanted to punch someone in the eye until they were blinded for life.”

“The End of the End of Everything” by Dale Bailey
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

A considerably darker and more fatalistic story than what I generally like, in which a bleak ruin is slowly consuming the world and the rich spend the end of days in lavish parties with some picking themselves off periodically in suicide. It dragged a bit for me, but the characters were lost and real, and the ending brought it around to a powerful and moving conclusion.

Favorite Line(s): “Words were but paltry things, frail hedges against the night. Ruin would consume them.”

Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
Published at Strange Horizons

A young woman deals with the aftermath of her mother’s departure. I don’t really want to say anything more than that, because this is a sad and moving tale, one I recommend you should go read right now.

After you read the story, check out this fabulous analysis of what’s not said by Anaea Lay.

Favorite Line(s): “I hate selkie stories. They’re always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said “What’s this?”, and you never saw your mom again.”

Friday Flash: The Dead Among the Dead

Behind a gate on a hill, the house skulks with the weight of its memories. It’s gardens bear rotting fruit. Vines crawl up its siding and peel back it’s wooden skin. It’s windows are cracked and broken, shutters clinging to rusted hinges, peeling away like a woman’s fake eyelashes at the end of an alcohol soaked night. The roof gapes up at the sky, open mouthed, drinking in sunlight, rain, and snow indiscriminately.

The house is home to specters, fragments of broken hearts and shards of regrets, drifting lonely and angry over the termite infested floors, nestling under the mildewed drapery, curled up in soggy chairs. They roam the many tilted floors, drift through peeling walls scattering mice, and wander into spiderwebbed rooms tasting the lingering once-was that paints a sheen over slow destruction.

When the front door falls off its hinges and the interlopers wend their way through the entry, taking up and altering space, the specters wail a distant keening easily mistaken for wind whistling in the eves. The interlopers offer up their own low moans, and for a moment their two lost nations take up a song of esurience.

Accustomed to percieving the ancient house as draped in its historic glory, as vibrant and fresh as when they were alive, the specters do not recognize the interlopers for what they are. They do not notice the flesh peeling in strips from bone, do not smell the too sweet stench of decay, do not comprehend the hollowed out emptiness of the interlopers that shamble without apparent purpose through the dim rooms.

The specters respond as they always do to invasion — slamming shutters, knocking wrinkled books off shelves, casting dark flitting shadows — expecting the screaming flight such actions traditionally evoke. But the just-bodies of the interlopers give no response other than to amble jerkily in the direction of each new sound. Confounded, the specters use up their electrostatic strength in games of fright that have no effect.

One interloper, in shuffling toward the sound of a portrait crashing, collapses through a wood rotted floor and smashes like an overripe melon on the stone basement floor. Specters huddle around it, waiting for one more to rise up and join their numbers. But the husk remains a husk with nothing to offer, not even its own ravenous hunger.

The specters learn. Unable to terrorize the interlopers into fleeing, they draw them with their howling, herd them with their bumping and knocking, guiding them to the hole to fall and smash and shatter and grow still. One unravels wire bit by steely bit until the chandelier, dusty and laced with cobwebs, crashes into a clutch of shambles, driving them through the cracking stairs into the rooms below.

One by one, the specters steer the interlopers to destruction until at last their home returns to its own quiet ruination, allowing the specters to slip back into their rumination and drift cloud-like through the fading chaos of memory.

* * *

Chuck Wendig invited writers this week to play the sun genre boogie this week. My random drawing pulled “haunted house” and “zombies” — which is utterly perfect for me.

#ShortReads Day 11 & 12: "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "Tuning Philomel’s Steely Strings in the Wasteland’s Dark Matter"

“There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury
Published in The Martian Chronicles.

This is one of my favorite short stories of all time, which haunts me every time I think about it, so of course I had to reread it for this Short Story Month challenge. 

I got chills all over again. Bradbury makes this tragic smart house come alive, breathing with its own mechanical needs and passions and fears in the absence of humanity. 

A reading by Leonard Nimoy of “There Will Come Soft Rains” can be found on YouTube.

Favorite Line(s): “And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.” (Hard to choose a favorite line, since each word in this story sings.

Tuning Philomel’s Steely Strings in the Wasteland’s Dark Matter” by Carina Bissett
Published in Nonbinary Review.

This lyrical retelling of the myth of Philomela and her sister Procne poetically unveils a story of brutality and revenge. Two women reclaim their own sense of power following terrible and brutal abuse.

Favorite Line(s): “Through the centuries our story twists and turns, contorting to fit into new molds, yet the rumors persist as rumors will. They tear apart truths to meet their needs, finding new ways to silence our protesting screams. Only we know the truth.”

Any story suggestions?