January 10, 2024

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup - December 2023

The artwork for this roundup is taken from Francesco Crisci's cover for Kaleidotrope's Winter Issue. You can find out more about the artist at

In addition to my usual short story picks, I also read and thoroughly enjoyed two short story collections and an anthology recently:


It Takes Slow Sips by Michael Wehunt at Pseudopod (narrated by Jonathan Danz, first published in the anthology Lost Contact)

The light inside the apartment was like stagnant water through the blinds. His laptop and phone waited on the kitchen island, and a dryness spread through his mouth. He hadn’t seen her face since before the sun rose. He couldn’t get used to missing her, but leaving these devices behind was the only way he could keep a job. The job was the only thing stopping him from moving back to her early. Before the fall. Her name.

Wehunt's story is so deliciously dark and twisted. A man  is stalking a woman remotely (after being told to stay away from her by the courts) but, somehow, the tables are turned on him. Wehunt has a great ability in all his fiction to take everyday situations and settings (and bodies!) and infuse them with an almost disorienting sense of creeping dread and deepening darkness. 


Maladaptive Camouflage by Ann LeBlanc in Strange Horizons

“Ask me something only I would know.”

You say this to your wife because you know you’re human. You can feel it in the familiar ache in your back, and the fear writhing in your guts. You feel it in the cold seeping into your bare feet from the kitchen floor. You know you’re real because you remember.

A terrific twist on the horror / science fiction theme of mimics and doubles, about tricking people into believing the copy is the original, or vice-versa. I love how LeBlanc weaves uncertainty and duplicity into every strand of this story.


Useful and Beautiful Things by E. Saxey in Metaphorosis

This house was a man’s home, he was the gravity which kept these objects together. Without him, they spin off and spill into the garden, and get damp and chipped. But estate sales are bread and butter to the Guvnor; he’s a genius at house clearance, he can strip a place in a day. He helps to mitigate the tragedy of death by finding every item a new home.

A thoroughly enjoyable story where objects - furniture and all sorts of knick-knacks - can have unexpected effects on people who touch those items. For example, at an estate sale, there's a chess set where each piece seems to cause different sensations, abilities, and even physical and mental changes. Saxey's story is gloriously strange, finely crafted and utterly fascinating. Oh, and wrapped around that core of "weird items doing weird things" is a (possible) meet-cute, and a subtle, quietly delivered twist toward the end.


Tilamin by Carol B. Duncan in Fiyah #29

When he stepped out onto the Guineaman ship’s deck and into the sunlight, Tilamin, then Lamin, could hardly see; so used to the dark of the ship’s hold was he, a seaborne coffin stuffed with the nearly dead and barely living. He inhaled deeply through his tingling nostrils, his lungs struggling for the next breath.

An incredible story, threading together folklore and history, magic and reality, shapeshifting and the jagged evils of slavery. It's the story of Tilamin, who is taken from his home and brought elsewhere, and it's a story about his family and the people he meets on the way. Harrowing and gripping from start to finish.

D.E.I. (Death, Eternity, and Inclusion) by N. Romaine White in Fiyah #29

Carolyn Boone stood in the cavernous study of Demetrius Giannopoulos, her wedges sinking into the plush blood-red carpet, and knew that her goose was about to be cooked. Again. For the last time.

Vampire humour? Yes, vampire humour. Carolyn, who used to work in TV until things kind of fell apart, has just been turned into a vampire and now the big boss vampire calls her into his office for a talk. Turns out, she might be a diversity hire? A hilarious and just plain wonderful vampire story with a sharp sense of humour.

Kiss of Life by P.C. Verrone in Fiyah #29

I may be the last left who can tell you how the angels came to us, my beloved. 

Most from that time were snuffed out with the Kiss of Death. The Prophets told those of us who lingered that thinking back on those days, when the angels walked among us, was blaspheming. So few of us remain now, today’s Prophets need not forbid such talk and can get on to forgetting it themselves. They preach that our world was always like this, bridges climbing through bodies. But I lived it, and I have kept the angels’ Works in my heart.

I don’t even know how to properly describe the beauty and the darkness of this story. It takes the real history of the horrors of conquest and colonization, reimagining and refashioning it, and fusing it with luminous, lyrical prose and devastatingly terrifying imagery. It’s an outstanding piece of fiction that packs and emotional punch and with a weight and a depth that lingers.


Woke Up New by Erica L. Satifka in Kaleidotrope

The protection provided by Oregon’s ocean-hugging Coast Range keeps the worst of the poisonhead clouds away, but not all of them. Sandra pauses on her way to the chicken coop, wicker basket in hand, and surveys the sky.

“Storm coming,” she says to the wall in her mind, but the anchorite does not reply.

Satifka's story is set in the Pacific Northwest, where Sandra lives in her house, alone. Or kind of alone. The anchorite, another presence, is also there, living in Sandra's head, and sometimes forcing its way out. When a stranger comes calling saying he wants to talk to Sandra about her experience with a certain medical procedure involving the so called Narcissus Virus, Sandra is initially reluctant, but eventually shares pieces of her life story. I love the quiet and subtle way secrets are revealed and withheld in this story, and I love the central idea: an infection that causes profound changes in a person's mind and body. 

A No-Good Man, A Broken Cup, A Stolen Child by Sheila Massie in Kaleidotrope

We want to kill him. We don’t want to kill him because he cheats, right? We have big, tough-knotted and weighted fishing nets full of other reasons. But most by what he does to the child. For that we want to kill him.

A dark and sharp fantasy story about a community dealing with one of its own, a man who is bad and getting worse. Massie's writing is so excellent, and I love the way she threads this story together into a tale of empathy, revenge, and maybe even redemption for a community pushed to the brink by a no-good man's cruelty.


The Dreadful and Specific Monster of Starosibirsk by Kristina Ten in The Dark (first published in Weird Horror, Issue 2)

I know what you will say. You will say to me, Arseny, there are enough real monsters in this world—why do you make your own? But before I begin, before you make your judgments, like the others, before you tsk-tsk-tsk our failures and tell me what you would have done, there are some things that you should know.

You should know, first, that things were very bad in Starosibirsk.

What makes a monster? How can you create a monster, and what happens when and if you do? How does making a monster change the creator, and how does it change the world around both maker and monster? Ten's story has a terse, lyrical beauty and a visceral, psychological darkness that seeps into the everyday reality of a community and its inhabitants.


Disposable Gabriel by Brian D. Hinson in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Marguerite Kenner)

Since Gabriel had been so expensive, Jude had worked him into the play far more than the gospel narrative implied. The archangel watched over Joseph and Mary on their trek to Bethlehem, the wind from his wings blowing Mary’s hair as they walked on an embedded treadmill. He not only made the announcement to the shepherds, but also became the star that guided the wise men, holding aloft a bright, flickering torch of hologram flame. And after the newborn Jesus’ first cry in the manger, Gabriel stood atop the thatched roof of the barn and blew his curved horn to announce the birth of the Savior.

Ordering a real, live, manufactured angel for the nativity play might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but trouble starts when the angel Gabriel doesn't ... expire... the way he is expected to, but lives on, just a little longer. I love the dark humour and strangeness of this story, and the way Gabriel and those around him must deal with what it means to be, or think you are, an angel, with memories of heaven, who was made to serve a purpose and then die.


Five Books from the Alnif Crater Traveling Library by Stewart C Baker in Flash Fiction Online

The rim farms are older, more established. With the perchlorates that make Martian regolith poisonous to greenery leached away on their own farms, those who live there spend their spare time making the communal soil arable. Afterward, they seed dandelions, kale, ornamental onions. The plants have gone wild by now, spreading with a fierce determination, belonging to everyone and no-one, their green smell redolent in a way that belies their planetary surroundings.

A beautiful and tender story of a settlement on Mars, told through the books at a traveling library. I love the way Baker tells us so much about Mars, the way humans settled there, and the way they live their lives, with precision and evocative details. A beautifully crafted science fiction flash story.

Little Pound Shop by Rebecca Harrison in Flash Fiction Online

If one more numpty asks me how much the enchanted hand mirrors cost, I’m going to scream. A pound. Everything in the shop’s a pound. The clue’s above our door. Pound Kingdom. That’s a hint. Take it. Just because a silver bat flew through our doors last Wednesday sprinkling magic dust over everything doesn’t mean our prices have gone up.

A charming fantasy story set in a little shop where the items have been enchanted by a magic bat. Now, the pest control guy is coming to gather up the bat and things don't go quite smoothly from there. I love the whimsy and humour of this story, and the tickle of possible romance.


Morag's Boy, by Fiona Moore in Clarkesworld

Morag had a way with tech, everybody knew it. She’d found Seamus up on the spoil heap near the ruins of Gwydion Manor, or the Big House as it was known locally, and she was always mending people’s solar arrays or wood-burning tractors, or coming up with clever hacks like that machine she’d built for her neighbor Owen, which had started life as a rich person’s sentient grass-cutter and now saved Owen a lot of time around the rye harvest.

This is a great science fiction story, set in a near-future post-apocalyptic world where our current technological and political system has collapsed. People are finding different ways to live in this world, and many don't take kindly to those who try to take even tiny steps back toward the way things used to be in the bad old days. Cliff is good at fixing and building machines, and when he comes to Morag's place, he has a lot of ideas. I love how Moore keeps this story small and human, and nuanced, rather than going for some big explosive action. There are moments of learning and listening here, and there are glimpses of a new world, maybe, in the making.


The Blizzard Song, by Ed Grabianowski in Nightmare

You draw one icy breath before the blizzard snatches it away. You moan in the same key as the storm, a polyphonic nightmare sound: ice cracking across a wide lake, a melody of numbness, backed by whispers of death and the rhythmic thud of something nearby swinging in the wind. A blizzard is blindness, confusion, cessation.

A hauntingly beautiful non-fiction essay by Grabianowski. It captures the feeling of being in a blizzard, the feeling of winter and cold, the feeling of being exposed to the elements and vulnerable to the forces of nature, with exquisite precision.


Stones, Sins, and the Scent of Strawberries, by Kai Delmas in Zooscape

I skulk among the roots and fallen branches of ancient trees. My hackles rise at the scent of fungal growth and decay. This is my dark forest and I am its wicked wolf.

Little Red Riding Hood is my favourite fairytale and I love reading retellings and reimaginations of it. Here, we get the story from the perspective of the wolf. Delmas turns the tale into horror, with the slow realization for us, and the wolf, that nothing in this forest is the way it seems. I particularly love how the nature of Grandma and Little Red is turned on its head here.


Crumpled, by Steve Toase in The Deadlands

We erupt into the world of ghosts like ink congealing through water. There is a moment when I think we won’t have any form before we become coarse grey fabric.

A chilling and devastating story set in the afterlife, where a mom and dad find themselves turned to ghosts. The description of being turned into something made of fabric, like a ghost made of sheets, and losing what made you human is drawn in such beautiful sensory detail here. And the ending, well, it hits like a sledgehammer.


The Mercer Seat by Vajra Chandrasekera in Future Science Fiction Digest

The prosecuting bartender picks up the second bottle of poison and refills the jigger in silence. Hemlock is followed by an infusion of katkar oil. The murderer, after taking his second swig, drums his feet impatiently for a long half-minute while his legs strain from the effort of not swelling up. This bar has, of course, no tenderer of defenses.

Oh goodness. Read this, and dive deep into the strangeness and brilliance of the prose. A surreal and deeply moving story about guilt and sin and impossible justice. To quote Chandrasekera himself: "It's a story about most of the things that are on my mind lately—art and AI, war crimes and (denied) justice, dehumanization, science fiction, and the uses of the paradiegetic manoeuvre. I wanted to write a story that AI couldn't."

The story is part of the specal publication The Digital Aesthete: Human Musings On The Intersection Of Art And AI, edited by Alex Shvartsman. More about this anthology here: 


Born a Ghost by Nadia Bongo in Apex

The day I was born in Mwana hospital in Libreville, Mother realized that I was born to become a ghost. When I emerged swathed in amniotic mush, waste, and blood, Mother, the doctor, and nurses stared at the cobwebs enmeshed in my musty hair. The hospital staff remembered whispers that my father was some seaweed or eel living in the rill across my mother’s house.

A haunting tale of a girl growing up, partly a girl and partly ghost. I love how everyday reality blends with the spiritual world and magic here, where the presence of a ghost girl is accepted and even used by some. I also love the intimate point of view and the voice of the girl as she tells her story.

Just You and Me, Now by KT Bryski in Apex

The campsite looks like it wants to eat them. A fire pit yawns in the middle, an ashy-grey mouth ringed by rocks like rotting teeth. The trees crowd in, sizing them up, knifing the daylight. One gulp of that smoke-and-pine air, and Henry shudders head to foot.

Well, don’t read this story before you go camping, that’s all I can say. It’s a chilling tale where a family wakes up at their campsite, and the world around them and everyone else in it, has seemingly disappeared. Bryski expertly deepens the darkness and the strangling terror bit by bit until there’s no way out.

Spread the Word by Delilah S. Dawson in Apex

Mr. Marsh seems really nice, for a dad. He came out here to say hello to us, he was polite, he tried to make jokes. Maybe he’s so nice because he has a huge house and a pretty wife who makes lemonade. Or maybe some dads are just friendly and kind. I wouldn’t know.

A profoundly unsettling story set in the 1980s. One boy has just arrived as the new kid in town, and the new kid in school. He and his mom are starting a new life, but they are trying to leave behind a very dark and bloody secret that has everything to do with a Very Bad Dad. Dawson draws you into a familiar, almost Stranger Things / Stephen King-ish reality, and then, when the TV comes on during a sleepover, reality slips and shifts and twists into horror.


Gamut stories

I'm listing these stories separately from the rest because, hey, I'm kind of biased since I'm one of the fiction editors at Gamut. But I am also so very proud and excited that the first issue of the magazine is now out in the world. This first issue is free to read online. For future issues (and you'll want to read those future issues!), you can pick up a subscription at

We Never Went Away, We Just Hid Better, by Sam Rebelein in Gamut

"You know about the uncanny valley?” he asks.

It’s one of those questions where your answer doesn’t matter, he’s going to explain it to you anyway. He’s already mansplained a number of things to you tonight, including the end of Inception, which is the reddest of flags, as far as things men can mansplain go. But he did make a good case for how Leonardo was in a dream the entire time, and it actually did make you want to rewatch the movie for the first time since 2010, in spite of yourself.

Rebelein has a knack for uncanny stories, stories that twist what seems like ordinary reality into something else. This story about a first date that goes... awry... is quietly unsettling, and I love the way it gets stranger and weirder step by step all the way to the end.

Date Night by Jan Stinchcomb in Gamut

Nobody thinks of the mother, given the babysitter’s ordeal. The mother, still young, is counting on dinner and a movie with her husband. It is the best time of her life—the children aren’t babies anymore, but they still need her. They’re good at school. They have interesting things to say, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant.

They don’t ask her about the darkness, but they see it in her eyes, and she sees them seeing.

This story is an awesome and original take on all those slasher horror movies where a poor babysitter has to deal with a serial killer. There's this feeling of a whole world moving beneath the stories we know, a hidden world of mothers, babysitters, and children, locked in a strange symbiosis with the men looking to kill them. If you like slasher movies, if you like twists in the "final girl" trope, then this is a must-read. 

Persistent by AGA Wilmot in Gamut

You wait. You keep your right hand elevated, make sure the dish towel you’d grabbed before heading out the door, still smelling of tuna salad from the mess you’d cleaned up earlier that afternoon, is covering the evidence. That’s what your landlord will call it when he launches his next surprise inspection and sees what’s happened, what you’ve done. He’ll demand answers you don’t have, not now, not yet. He’ll say, Your damage deposit is fucking gone, Lena. You know how this works. And don’t ever let me catch you doing something like this again.

I am not even going to try to describe this story to you, but it is an outstanding piece of fiction. Wilmot masterfully conveys this feeling of a crack in reality, of something coming through, changing everything.


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