By the time you’ll read this, Halloween season will be over and done, but for me right now the world is nothing but decorative gourds and creepy decorations and weird costumes. And, of course, scary stories. Okay, so not every short speculative fiction piece on this list is of the horror variety, but don’t let that stop you from indulging in ten absolutely excellent stories.
Kathleen Naytia’s alternate history story posits a world where the Civil War wasn’t won by the North but instead ended in a truce between the USA and the CSA (the Confederate States of America). A century later, Lara and her father are part of the last group of enslaved people to be freed. They’re desperate to get across the border, but monsters and men who behave like monsters aren’t keen on letting them have the freedom they deserve. If you’ve read P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, this makes a good companion piece.
Speculative City (Fall 2020, Issue 9)
A beautiful and beautifully queer story about several lovers who change the universe in ways they don’t expect. The lovers are legendary for their tragedy. The lovers fell in love instantly. The lovers fell in love over years. The lovers split up, and the lovers came back together. Love gives way to war and grudges, and other times it gifts children and peace. “The laws of physics are remarkably vulnerable to the laws of love…The laws of love are remarkably vulnerable to the laws of life.”
Lightspeed (October 2020, Issue 125)
What would you do if you had the chance to go back and change your life? Would you seize the opportunity or accept things as they are? After getting on the wrong train and winding up in a time travel station, our narrator is faced with these very questions. The story is honest and exploratory without being preachy or judgemental. Congyun ‘Mu Ming’ Gu’s writing style is hard to explain; it’s neither flowery nor plain, yet it’s uncluttered enough to lend itself to the reader imagining a whole world between the lines. I hope to read more of her work in the future.
Samovar (October 26, 2020)
Picking my favorite story from the brilliant Tor.com and FIYAH collab felt like an impossible task, and for a while I considered just putting the whole series as one entry here. But days later, the character that keeps popping up in my brain unbidden is WC Dunlap’s fat Black superhero. Monique Renée lives rent in my heart now, and hopefully in yours as well. The plot is simple enough that I can’t really talk about the story without spoiling it, but it’s powerful and meditative and unflinchingly Black.
Tor.com: Breathe Fiyah (October 19, 2020)
WHAT. A. STORY! Ao-Hui Lin’s story starts off as a kind of haunted house story, except instead of ghosts, parts of the home she shares with her husband Victor start to disappear. The story doesn’t feel like horror, not at first, until suddenly it does, and by then there’s no turning back. The horror here is less the mysteriously vanishing rooms and more Victor himself, an abusive, gaslighting husband. Sharply unsettling and deeply satisfying.
Drabblecast (October 4, 2020, #432)
Resting Bitch Face is one of those phrases that sounds powerful—a woman who isn’t afraid to look tough!—but is really mired in misogyny and patriarchal bullshit. Lucie McKnight Hardy pulls at those threads with her hella dark horror story about a middle-aged wife and her mediocre husband. What with all the gruesome body horror, I cringed through this entire story, but it wasn’t unpleasant or unenjoyable. It’s awful and chilling and brutal like the best kind of horror stories, and I loved every shuddering moment.
Black Static (September/October 2020, Issue 76)
“The war claws at the coast, but up here in the dry blue sky, the only turmoil is the wind.” This was a moving story about a scientist who helps a fascist government rise to power then retreats to a cave when their guilt gets the better of them. There, they don’t wallow but create, turning their genius from works of evil and oppression to something…else. Told in a series of vignettes, the plot unfolds piece by compelling piece. Particularly evocative, given our current political climate.
Interzone (September/October 2020, Issue 288)
“There is a jumbie on the Stretch.” This killer story by Shari Paul features a haunted patch of highway where people keep dying. After her brother is killed, Jenaiah goes out to the site to see the Jumbie for herself. Guess how that turns out for her. Paul has a knack for vivid descriptions—you can practically hear the sound of the crunch of metal, the scent of burning rubber, the feel of the car spinning wildly. A thoroughly creeptastic story.
The Dark (October 2020, Issue 65)
“I burn, and wake, with no time at all in between.” Amaranthe is trapped in a time loop. Every morning she wakes on her spaceship, and every evening she dies when a supernova flare burns her up. But she isn’t driven mad or into despair over her circumstances, at least not by the time we meet her. She has accepted her semi-life and finds comfort in the routine. Until another woman gets caught in the loop with her. I really loved the way Lauren Ring framed being alone as being different from lonely, something I think a lot of people can’t distinguish between.
Apparition Literary Magazine (October 2020, Issue 12)
There is something disconcerting about the suburbs. And I say that as someone who has lived in them most of her life. They’re simultaneously liminal spaces and intensely rigid and concrete environments, a world of sharp corners and seething chaos. Nino Cipri digs into this contrast with this story about a father and son who take early morning drives through their town. One morning they come across a herd of deer, and the stags are shedding strips of bloody velvet from their antlers. The experiences disorients the boy in profound ways.
Baffling (October 2020, Issue 1)