Some Delicious Short Stories

I've been reading loads of short stories, mostly scary stories but a few that are surreal, and have some recommendations for you. I've got a couple of awesome zombie tales, one about a woman who has already faced tragedy and now faces an agonizing death at the hands of a lunatic, a story about a group of children growing up in a world where growth can be halted and rights are not automatically granted to parents and some others that are equally interesting.

The Living Dead is a zombie anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, who has put several of the stories online for free. The selection is fantastic and I enjoyed almost all of them. (There was one in particular that I did not care for at all. The cruelty in the story was deeply disturbing and I wish I hadn't read it.) It's hard to choose the ones I liked the best because the overall quality is so high but my favorite is probably She's Taking Her Tits to the Grave by Catherine Cheek, which was originally published at ideamancer.com. It's about a beautiful and vain woman who returns from the dead and is dismayed by what she finds. Unlike most zombie fiction it's told from the point of the view of the undead, who also isn't part of a ravening horde. She just wants to make sense of it all and find out who raised her and why.

Followed by Will McIntosh is from the same anthology and is a deeply creepy story about responsibility and the hidden cost of things we may not even notice. It's an emotional story that will likely send you scrabbling for your checkbook.

I also particularly liked Dead Like Me by Adam-Troy Castro, which is also about cost, but a very different kind of cost. This one is populated with your more traditional George Romero type zombies, the ones that wander about moaning and groaning, desperate for brains and acting as though they haven't got one in their heads. Not exactly problem solvers these fellows but of course they can solve just enough problems to be a major problem themselves.

I'm still reading Stephen King's latest collection of short stories called Just After Sunset. So far so good. I'm enjoying all of them but the second one is a powerhouse, standing out above the others. Called The Gingerbread Girl, which is the perfect title incidentally, it's about a woman who is struggling to cope with the death of her baby by running ever increasing distances. First she runs away from her marriage, then she runs all the way to Florida and then she runs into a killer.

What follows is a fantastic story that raised my pulse almost as much as if I was also doing some of the running. The heroine is brave, strong and determined, but doesn't come off as impossible or a super woman.

As I've mentioned in some of my columns, there's something very satisfying about a horror story or film where the person in danger does the sensible thing. None of this "I'm going to put this shotgun and lantern down and go in search of my friends who have vanished one by one" stuff. She makes good choices in a terrible situation and utilizes her strengths, both intellectually and physically. There was really only one thing this heroine does that made me cringe, and that may be just because I'm on the paranoid side when it comes to being hunted by a mad person. When you pick up the book and indulge yourself you should make sure all the lights are on and the doors are locked.

One of the short stories from Just After Sunset also exists as a series of web episodes, made in conjunction with Marvel comics, found at nishere.com. This is a fascinating story about a psychiatrist who is drawn into a patient's world. The patient, called only N, is an obsessive compulsive who believes that his compulsions keep the world safe. The story reminded me of some I've read that take place in the Cthulhu Mythos. There is a lurking unspeakable horror, nameless monsters, impending doom; the whole shebang. The entire story has been animated and is available for free. You can access the trailer here

Small Beer Press and Benjamin Rosenbaum have released his book The Ant King and Other Stories as a free download. This is a fun collection of surreal stories, which are a mix of lighthearted stories and those that are somewhat grim. I especially liked The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale, which is a bit like the story of Orpheus, if Orpheus was a software magnate and Eurydice was turned into yellow gumballs. I also very much enjoyed Start the Clock, a story that explores the rights and responsibilities of children and parents in a thought provoking manner. The story takes place after an event where children's physical ages were frozen but they continued to mature in other ways. Start the Clock focuses on a set of friends and what happens when the dynamics of their group begin to change. You can access the book here: http://lcrw.net/cc/index.htm#rosenbaum1

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Steam Junkie who wrote in to discuss a new computer game, saying, "Killing Floor by Tripwire interactive was released yesterday on Steam. When I first saw this game I wasn't very interested, but the more I read the more it sparked intrigue in me. When I finally played the game, I was pleasantly surprised, the game is fantastic, sporting several perks that increase the amount you will use specific weapons, and many different types of enemies. I will not be getting bored of this game anytime soon." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.