Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: June 2020

Gather ‘round ye fans of short speculative fiction, for I come bearing gifts of ghosts, nightmares, aliens, and soldiers. Take a break from the crushing heat of summer with ten of my favorite short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from June 2020.

 

“Auntie Cheeks” by Renée Jessica Tan

The story, a recollection about a strange old woman who lived under the sink in the narrator’s childhood home, is slight yet unsettling. It lingers in the mind just like the titular character does. For Auntie Cheeks isn’t some twee little fairy creature who helps out her household but a crone who folds and twists her body into the cramped space between the cupboard doors and the curling pipes of the kitchen sink. A creature of sharp fingernails and missing teeth and skin like “gray sheets of parchment.” The narrator should fear her, but instead she becomes the calm in the center of a roiling family storm.

Flash Fiction Online (June 2020)

 

“The Black Paintings” by Simon Avery

In Simon Avery’s striking story, the cancer slowly killing a dying artist wants to have a little fun. Lucien Halcomb was ready to face death and was not prepared for his cancer to start speaking to him. Who would be? The pair head out for a night on the town, one that Lucien will never forget for the rest of his life. A sinister little tale made even creepier by Vincent Sammy’s intense accompanying illustration.

Black Static (May/June 2020, Issue 75)

 

“A Compass in the Dark” by Phoebe Barton

“The day after my fifteenth birthday, I followed my father out of the airlock and learned how to guide lost spirits home.” That’s one hell of an opening line, and yes, everything that comes after is just as good. A ghost story set in space, beautifully written. Phoebe Barton crafts descriptions so striking I could practically feel and taste and hear them.

Analog (May/June 2020)

 

“Dégustation” by Ashley Deng

“You are a spore, barely more than a twinkle in your many parents’ breeding-breathing air.” Ashley Deng’s gem of a story is about a young woman who grows mushrooms on her skin. Her parents teach her to love her sprouts but the world they thrust her into only offers derision and dismissals. Her differences make her special to her family but odd and unfamiliar to the rest of the world. How many times will she cut pieces off herself to please people who take no pleasure in her? Will there be anything of her left when she finally decides she’s had enough?

Nightmare Magazine (June 2020, Issue 93)

 

“The Fastener” by Natsumi Tanaka (trans. Toshiya Kamei)

On the surface, this is a story of a person who removes layer after layer of their skin at the behest of an artist until there is almost nothing of them left. But it left me thinking about how we sometimes find ourselves trapped in toxic relationships, not necessarily of physical violence and not necessarily a sexual or romantic ones. Relationships built on a destructive foundation, where your partner takes and takes and takes until you feel like there is nothing left of yourself. But then you find that last scrap of you and use it to break yourself free. I don’t know if that’s what Natsumi Tanaka intended, but regardless her story struck a chord with me.

Daily Science Fiction (June 23, 2020)

 

“The First Task of My Internship” by Ziyin Xiong

Let’s get two things straight: 1. I hate math with the fire of a thousand suns; 2. I love everything about this short story. Written by a Chinese high school senior (!!!) who thought it up while in lockdown due to the coronavirus, the narrator reflects on her internship at Olive Garden where “the manager has asked me to help her figure out how to offer unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks to customers given our finite universe.” It’s a quirky and unusual story, a breath of fresh air in a time of anxiety and frustration. Whatever Ziyin Xiong does with her life, I hope she keeps writing.

Nature: Futures (June 3, 2020)

 

“A Love Like Bruises” by Jeremy Szal

This story starts off in familiar territory. If you’ve read a lot of science fiction set in space, you’ve probably read at least a few where the captured enemy alien is interrogated by a open-minded scientist type. What makes Jeremy Szal’s version so compelling – besides the fascinating background worldbuilding details and the exceptional writing style – is the killer twist at the end.

Kaleidotrope (Summer 2020)

 

“On Lore” by Tamara Jerée

A new restaurant opens in town and the narrator’s partner becomes obsessed with dining there. But no one seems to be able to describe 3AM in any coherent way. “Sometimes the atmosphere was quaint, sometimes it was edgy. Some people praised the farmhouse décor. Others said they were struck by the use of hard metal edges and glass.” 3AM is no ordinary restaurant and Tamara Jerée is no ordinary author. A brilliant, macabre tale that makes me want to read everything else Jerée has written.

Fireside Magazine (June 2020)

 

“Refuge” by Ben Peek

“Refuge” is a story that is also a letter. The writer, Laena Kae, addresses Mr. Quilas, the author of a biography of a military general that Kae discovered was full of historical inaccuracies. It’s a clever way to tell a rather straightforward story about a war-weary warrior who takes on slave traders and corrupt soldiers. Ben Peek doesn’t linger or wander, but his story never feels unfulfilled or underseasoned. Best of all, it makes me wish for a whole novella starring the tough Captain Aned Heast and his eager second in command Zafne.

Lightspeed Magazine (June 2020, Issue 121)

 

“Zsezzyn, Who Is Not a God” by Jennifer Shelby

“A lone man watches over the universe, and the pen he wields contains the power to erase from existence all he deems unworthy. His daughter, Zsezzyn, plays at his feet.” As Zsezzyn grows, she witnesses the destructive power of her father’s pen first hand as he snuffs out star after world after star after world until there is nothing left. Jennifer Shelby muses over legacy and tradition, over the stories we tell our children and the lies we tell ourselves.

Metaphorosis (June 2020)

 

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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