Halloween month finds Flash Fiction Online in a rather horrifying mood, with three new stories to delight and terrify. Now, not all of the stories are scary, but 2/3 ain’t bad when it comes to getting into the spirit of the season, with rituals involving the dead (and undead), and an old stuffed animal who just wants some love. The pieces deal with children or teens and their families, and what they have to do in order to help those they care about, or how there are forces trying to lead them astray into ruin and shadow. There’s a lot to see, so make sure the lights are on and prepare yourself for a few quick jaunts into nightmareland. To the reviews!
“The Planting Prayer” by Caroline Diorio (919 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a young person sent into the woods with the heart of your sister to complete a ritual that even adults struggle with. The piece focuses on the look and feel of the forest, the traditions running through this ritual, the horror growing deeper and deeper the further you want beneath the trees, searching out a bit of sorrow and tragedy that you’re expected to face alone. Much of the backstory isn’t entirely revealed, but that’s part of where the horror lurks from, from the creeping way the tragedy is revealed and the full scope of what is expected of you sinks in.
Keywords: Death, Prayers, Rituals, Family, Undead
Review: Death is a scary enough thing, especially for young people who often lack much context when it comes to loss and death and grief. Though you seem to be rather familiar by the time the story open, having already lost your mother at a young age. But still, the loss of your sister in a much more traumatic wound, it seems, especially because it seems like she was more your responsibility, despite being a child yourself. That you must have raised her, felt somewhat responsible for her, and they she died. And you could do nothing except be the one to perform this last rite. It’s creepy and it’s great the way it leads the reader in, so at first maybe it’s just a religious ceremony. Maybe it’s taking place in a “normal” setting. But no, here there is magic, and these kinds of bargains and rituals and rules have a very palpable power. It matters, that people stay to the course. Not just for their own sake, their own souls, but for those of the dead. And as your situation becomes clearer, it’s still shrouded enough that the revelations only heighten the fear, the dread over what’s happened. Because it taps into all of your fears. To have to hear in the voice of the dead something seductive and deadly. Because you want to believe that you can have your sister back, and because you might be young enough to think that the adults are wrong, because it’s unfair, because you want so much for there to be a way to undo it. It feeds into some dark fears, and some desperate wants, and it’s a great way to kick off this spookiest of months. Go check it out!
"You Called Me” by Avra Margariti (999 words)
No Spoilers: Janie is a teenager who has been chosen by a goddess, who is called all around the world and can respond via teleportation. Carol is her mother, and used to the constant travel, the constant worry, but who is also dealing with her own sadness about it, about the way it has strained the relationship between mother and daughter. Tucked further into that, though, is a deep guilt and fear that the origin of the strain is from something she did in the past. It’s a piece full of emotional distance and mutual hurt, about the ways that parents fuck up their kids, and the ways kids fuck up their parents. Plus, well, divine super powers.
Keywords: Family, Parenting, Teleportation, Divinity, Powers
Review: This story takes a close and careful look at the strained relationship between a mother and her child, and I think in a way that does respect both to the mother’s feelings of abandonment and grief and the daughter’s hurt and right to independence and safety. Because at the heart of the issue seems to be an incident from a long time ago, and perhaps also just Carol and her feelings of guilt because of how she reacted to her own frustration in one moment, using her child’s tantrum as a chance to teach her a lesson which involved the threat of abandonment, something that was tempting to Carol at the time. And it’s an understandable, human moment, where she wants to stop her daughter’s “bad behavior” and regain control of the situation. But instead it does something very different, and in large part because it’s a rather abusive move, one that right ruined Janie’s trust in Carol. Which is also not unreasonable. It was a definite breech of trust where the parent punished a child out of frustration, anger, and embarrassment and ended doing some damage. Opening room in this case for the goddess to come in and give Jaine powers. And so Carol resents the powers because they’re a reminder of that failure, of that harm that she’s done. And I like that the harm is never wiped away. Jaine is never blamed for any of what has happened. And it doesn’t change what Janie is going to do. But at this point, at this distance, Jaine is able to perhaps understand more and work through it. Not in a way that erases anything, but to be able to reforge a relationship with her mother where she can protect herself but maybe forgive a bit that betrayal. It’s a lovely read, wrenching and with this solid distance between the characters that finally starts to close by the end, but still respects the messy nature of the relationship A wonderful read!
“Mr. Buttons” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard (950 words)
No Spoilers: Taylor is a young boy facing the prospect of moving cross-country to Connecticut following his parent’s divorce. As part of the move, he has to decide what toys to take, and which to leave behind. He’s trying to leave Mr. Buttons, an old stuffed animals, in part because he’s faced ridicule for talking to the old toy. He wants to grow up, wants some control over his life, but also isn’t sure about leaving Mr. Buttons. As the piece progresses, it becomes obvious that the reasons why are complicated...and maybe a bit disturbing. It’s a subtle turn toward horror that becomes an all out sprint away from something fucking creepy as shit. So...good times!
Keywords: Stuffed Animals, Moving, Family, Fear
Review: I really appreciate how this story turns into horror in a rather unexpected manner. At least for me, the piece manages very well a tone and atmosphere that seems like it will be about Taylor struggling with the move. With his feelings about the big changes in his life. Figuring out how to grow up in his own way, even if it might open him up to bullying. It builds that up so well, where he is afraid of what this future is going to hold for him, and he’s dragging his feet even as there really isn’t much holding him in his old home. Except for Mr. Buttons. But even there it doesn’t seem very horrific, just that he feels he has to give up his stuffed animal to avoid being teased and mocked. Despite it having brought him comfort. Even the bit about Mr. Buttons “being right” about things seems at most like the stuffed animal will be magical, or an imaginary friend. Something that Taylor will have to figure out going forward. He’s poised to leave the toy behind but in the end can’t, and that’s when the story turns in an abrupt and terrifying way. And seriously, it’s pretty fucked up how dark and how fast this story goes. Which is a brilliant choice, not really giving readers a chance to catch up with the “oh shit” until it’s too late, so that we, like Taylor, don’t really get what we’ve agreed to until the full implications of the action are felt. And by then...it’s a very effective horror story, deceptive in the way it masquerades as something wholesome and sweet (much like Mr. Buttons themself) when in reality it is something much, much more sinister. An incredibly read!