Monday, October 12, 2020

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online October 2020

October brings a seasonably creepy slew of stories to Flash Fiction Online. Stories that deal with some of the classics in horrifying SFF--ghosts, werewolves, and monsters (oh my!). Now, not all of the stories deal with these elements in...particularly horrifying ways. Rather, the stories offer up an array of different approaches to the tropes. Complications and twists on the classics that make for some fascinating and (as always) quick reads. It’s certainly appropriate for the month, and I’ll jump right into those reviews!


“Ghost Collecting” by Sheila Massie (994 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a collector of ghosts, a collector of haunted objects, and so when they see an ad on Craigslist for a haunted rocking chair, they’re excited about the possibilities. They have to check it out first, though. To find out more about the haunting, and ask permission of the ghost to take them home. Only, maybe there’s a bit of an ulterior motive when it comes to wanting to check out the haunted object first. One that has less to do with making sure the deal is sound and much more to do with trying to initiate a new person into the fine tradition of ghost collection. After all, not everyone can even see ghosts, so for someone to have put one up for sale, it means they might be special. The piece if fun and sweet, the voice slightly conspiratorial but without malice, and ghost collecting sounds like a fun hobby.
Keywords: Ghosts, Collecting, Luck, Commerce
Review: I like the way that the story frames itself as about this transaction, the narrator wanting to buy a ghost, and becomes something else. About where the real joy in this hobby comes from. Not necessarily about the objects every time, not necessarily about the collecting. But a lot about community. About the connection between ghost and living person, about growing the ranks of ghost collectors. Of maybe bringing another into the fold, as it were. Because there’s something wonderful about being a part of something like that, about having other people who share in your interest, your collecting. They you can not only speak to people about what you’re doing, what your latest acquisition might be, you can also know that there are other people out there who care about this as much as you. Who are going to do things right, who are going to treat the ghosts and their objects with care and respect. And who are in turn going to be helped by their ghosts, creating this very mutually beneficial relationship that will allow living and ghost to cohabitate, to keep each other company, to really help each other in ways both simple and complex. And I just like the idea that there’s this net out there, this niche of ghost collectors. And maybe there’s a drim side to this, especially when it comes to malevolent ghosts and the like, but for this story it’s pretty much all wholesome and light. The ghosts are nice, the people are compassionate and willing to try and be kind, and it all works out well for everyone. A wonderful read!

“Fences and Full Moons” by Corey Farrenkopf (947 words)

No Spoilers: Clark is facing a challenge in the form of how to keep his son, Leo, safe and happy when the boy is a werewolf. And despite elaborate cages, despite spending more money than he has to try and keep his son contained and comfortable, a growing werewolf is very tricky to manage. And Leo is breaking out more and more, so that Clark has to go out and bodily try to restrain him. The result is rather heartbreaking, Clark having to face an uncertain future, a weariness and a desire to do right and maybe keep his head above water. It’s a wrenching story of trying to care for a while while struggling financially to get what would help most, forced to always compromise in various ways, nothing ever quite enough.
Keywords: Werewolves, Cages, Parenting, Transformations, Employment, CW- Physical Restraint
Review: This story looks at parenting and a kind of speculative disability in an interesting way, though the werewolf/disability line is messy and fraught and ehhh. I mean, on one hand the story is very much about this father doing everything he can to try and accommodate his son, getting special bedding and housing and going into debt to try and do things “right.” And certainly Leo doesn’t seem to have chosen this, and it’s very possible that it’s a burden, Leo’s condition one where he doesn’t like what he does when he transforms, struggles against it but ultimately isn’t in control. Where the metaphor perhaps fails, though, is that lycanthropy brings about a transformation that makes the werewolf violent, aggressive, out of control...all rather negative stereotypes of a lot of disabilities and neurodiversities. That the focus is on caging Leo, is on physically restraining him when the cage doesn’t contain him, is a bit uncomfortable for me personally because of how the tone of the story seems to treat the condition more medically/sociologically than mystically. And while it places Clark in a rather wrenching place, where he has to decide to put himself in danger to restrain his kid, where he fantasizes in some ways about letting his kid go so that he won’t have to deal with the...burden I guess of raising a child with these needs...that again, isn’t the most comfortable thing ever. If the piece were just about the mythology of werewolves, I think it would strike me differently, but I just can’t get over some of the imagery used and without Leo given more of a perspective, more of a voice, stories that center the (able, neurotypical) struggles of the parents, while sympathetic (Capitalism is not just when it comes to raising a disabled child), falls into certain tropes and triggers that make me unsure if this was one to condense into flash fiction. But I certainly suggest people give it a read and see how it strikes you. Indeed!

“Larry” by Elsa Richardson-Bach (1000 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has worked in an office for years now, but hasn’t yet discovered exactly what it is that Larry, one of their wo-workers...actually does. And everyone else has a slightly different answer. Management. Custodian. Security. Each one plausible. Each one...right quite right. And then the narrator has to work late one night, and things are made clear enough what Larry does. The piece is delightfully creepy, playing into the corporate/office culture of passing the buck, of not wanting to be the one to draw attention, of making sure the dangers and toxic elements at work just sort of continue, so long as they don’t single you out. It’s unsettling and grim and viscerally strange and terrifying.
Keywords: Employment, Offices, Co-workers, Management
Review: For me there’s such a creepy vibe to Larry that works so well when placed in this nondescript Larry. Like it implies that every office has a Larry, or something like Larry. Something that everyone knows isn’t right. Maybe a person that everyone knows not to be alone with, but somehow he’s still working there. Or maybe it’s a strange smell that no one wants to examine too closely. There’s the feeling at least for me that everyone has probably noticed that something is off with Larry. But offices tend to run by avoiding confrontation. Because the truth is that none of them are probably getting paid enough to deal with Larry, to really confront what he does. The narrator is curious but in a sort of bored way. Even when it becomes more suspicious, when Larry seems like he must be some sort of...threat, I guess. Even then the narrator really doesn’t take steps to do anything about him. Not to report him, not to quit, not to even band together with the rest of the employees. There’s a culture of silence about Larry, and the story captures how that works, where the narrator not only doesn’t do more but perpetuates and participates in the cover up, telling the next person who starts to ask the same lies that they were told. And while it might save them from having to face the full horrifying truth of Larry, is also leaves Larry space to thrive. Because what he seems to need more than anything is that silence, is the space to do...whatever it is that he does. And he’s given that, and probably that is not a good thing at all. Like, _at all_. But it is what it is, and I like how the story comments on that aspect of office culture and shows it in its terrifying immensity. A wonderful and creeping read!


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