Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: October 2019

With the arrival of October came a flood of amazing horror short fiction. But it hasn’t been just ghost stories and haunted houses. We’re talking alien invaders, possessed handbags, wicked magicians, clever old women, and more. So settle in with your flashlight and a blanket and get ready for some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in October.

 

“An Arc of Lightning Across the Eye of God” by P H Lee

A young space station magistrate out of his depth meets a woman who is not a woman wearing a space suit that isn’t a space suit. Zhou Wenshu is at a loss as to what he should do when a being in the shape of a human enters the outpost through a portal. For as long as anyone can remember, the portal has been one way—no one comes through and those who enter never return. As Zhou interrogates the interstellar subject, the gulf between humans and aliens becomes increasingly apparent. So too does Zhou’s attempt to force her to conform to a human-centric way of being.

Clarkesworld—Issue 157, October 2019

 

“Escape” by Tanvi Berwah

In her introduction to this short story, Melissa Albert described “Escape” as “all spikes and rising oddity, a sharp-toothed thing that nods to Helen Oyeyemi and Kelly Link, but does its own thing.” And she isn’t wrong. Tanvi Berwah slowly builds out a story about an orphaned teenage girl sexually abused by a relative’s boyfriend into a powerful tale of revenge. Magic seethes in the shadows, then lurches out with vicious claws and bloody bites.

Foreshadow—Issue 10, October 2019

 

“Forget-Me-Nots for the Potter’s Field” by Wendy Nikel

“It’s not only the living who shiver when someone treads on their grave.” And with that chilling opening line, Wendy Nikel begins her ghost story as narrated by the ghost herself. For years she hovers, forgotten and forgettable, her grave covered up by weeds, the stone marker worn with age. Then a woman begins digging up the ghost’s past and unearthing secrets that are supposed to stay buried. The ghost wants to forget what happened when she died and what she did when she was alive while the woman wants to expose the truth. But the skeleton of this ghost story is one of family troubles and finding peace, even if it means letting go of those who hurt you.

Deep Magic—Fall 2019

 

“The Great Mandini and the Dead Man’s Hand” by Kevin Wabaunsee

“What you have to understand is that the magic, the real magic, is in guiding the audience’s attention, setting up expectations, leading them down one path, letting them think they know what’s going on, and then—poof—showing them that they had it wrong right from the beginning.” The Great Mandini says that to his potential protege, a Native American man who is surprisingly skilled at card tricks. But that quote could also be applied to the card player, and the story itself. The magic is in the telling and the trick is in the twist, the reveal that nothing is what the reader thought.

Strange Horizons—October 14, 2019

 

“The Haunting of Olúwo Street” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

I do love a good haunted house story, but it’s not often I’m gifted with one set from the perspective of the house. On a busy street in a neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria, stands a dilapidated old house. Inside is a pantry. And in that pantry lives Mọ́rìnsádé Awẹ́lẹ́wà, a spirit who must relive her death every night. All the house wants is to be lived in, and all the spirit wants is to be respectfully acknowledged. When a nosy American filmmaker comes poking around, a wise neighbor reminds him: “What you’re calling fear is respect, see. We know some things are simply what they are, and are better left alone.”

Fireside Fiction—October 2019

 

“Inheritance” by Elsie Stephens

Upon her death, Maria Elena wills to her three grandchildren not her belongings or property but her memories. Memory grafts are new technology and very expensive. Clearly the gesture meant something important to her, even if her grandchildren aren’t very interested. Still, they divvy up her memories and graft them onto theirs. Carmen, still reeling from yet another miscarriage, takes Maria Elena’s memories of cooking and gardening. She changes, bit by bit, but how much is her and how much is her grandmother? Elsie Stephens explores loss and forgiveness in this bittersweet story.

Escape Pod—Episode 702, October 17, 2019

 

“Mr. Buttons” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard

“Mr. Buttons” reminds me of one of those darkly weird episodes of Supernatural, like where something is murdering imaginary friends or where a cursed coin brings a teddy bear to life. And I mean that as a compliment. This is no sugary sweet story about a little boy and his beloved stuffed dog, although it starts off that way. Brief yet creepy, this short story is the perfect Halloween treat.

Flash Fiction Online—October 2019

 

“Necessary Cuts” by Bryan Miller

Speaking of horror stories, “Necessary Cuts” is one of the most unsettling of the month. David loves his work as a professional editor, a little too much if you ask his partner Karen. Until one day he’s sent a particularly odd piece. “Story” is too formal for what this manuscript is. It’s jumbled and distorted, and the more he edits the more it possesses him. The vileness of the words cut into his mind, his soul, his skin, until he succumbs.

Drabblecast—Episode 416, October 1, 2019

 

“Of the Green Spires” by Lucy Harlow

“Of the Green Spires” is more like a poem than a short story. Where it lacks plot it more than makes up for in feeling and atmosphere. A mysterious, shapeshifting plant develops an affinity for a troubled, lonely woman. As the alien plant begins to colonize the stately old buildings at Oxford University, Kathleen samples its fruit and decides to make amends with her sister and niece. Gorgeously and evocatively written, this story proves that Lucy Harlow is an author to watch.

Interzone—Issue 283, September/October 2019

 

“Water: A History” by KJ Kabza

“Earth is wet. The whole planet is wet, and the oceans taste of tears.” An old woman is the last person on the struggling colony on the inhospitable planet Quányuán who remembers life on Earth. She recalls her romance with Sadie, her partner who died of cancer caused by the treacherous alien environment. At the same time she forges a new friendship with an eager teenage girl who only knows of life on Quányuán. All our narrator wants is to remember the feel of wind and rain on her skin, but to do so on this planet is a death sentence. But death comes for us all. The most we can hope for is to go out in the way we want.

Tor.com—October 9, 2019

 

Alex Brown is a teen services librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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