Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Time: Recommended Halloween Short Fiction

[Image of pumpkin made from a book by Anthology on Main, an Etsy seller specializing in book page "flowers" for weddings and upcycled book holiday centerpieces. Photo used here with permission. Click here to view the Anthology on Main Etsy shop.]

The idea for this post came about by accident; one day in early September, I had about fifteen minutes to spare while waiting for my husband so I went in search of a short podcast by clicking on the "miniatures" tag on the Podcastle website. The story that caught my eye was "We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout, and it put me in such a Halloween mood that I decided to go out looking for more Halloween fiction. The stories below were some of my favorites. They're not all creepy or scary -- some are funny or even moving instead, but for me, they all say "Halloween" in some way.

[Alphabetical by author]

"The Great Old Pumpkin" by John Aegard

This was published back in 2004 in Strange Horizons, and I remember being delighted by it then just as I was upon rereading it now. Part of the joy in this story is realizing just what this parody mash-up consists of; the clues come quickly, so it won't take you long. I don't want to say more than that, but trust me, this story is funny and wickedly clever. (And I really wish I could draw well enough to whip up an illustration for it!) Read here.

"The Scream" by Nancy Fulda

This is a horror story (some might call it dark fantasy) about a boy named Pete. His brother Kody, who has a troubled past, sticks his knife into a pumpkin in order to carve it for Halloween, only to release an evil psychic scream that takes up residence in Kody's head. I found the resolution uncomfortable, but that was kind of the point. This story, at approximately 3,900 words long, is very well-written, and I recommended it for those who like the darker stuff.

This was published on and is available here.

"Night Witch" by Shawn Scarber

This story isn't as Halloween-oriented as the others, but for me, it still has the right feel for this time of year. And it technically is about a witch, so there you go. In this story, the "Night Witch" refers to a Russian female bomber pilot during World War II; they were so called for their tactic of silencing their engines right before a bombing run. A German Bf 109 squadron encounters a Night Witch, and there's more to her than initially meets the eye.

I first heard this story read aloud at a writing event earlier this year and have been meaning to go back and read it ever since I heard it had been published. It perfectly suited my mood for this month, with just the right amount of creepy atmosphere. I also thought the aerial battle was particularly well written. This appears in a 2015 anthology titled Strange Afterlives, edited by A. Lee Martinez.

"Strong as Stone" by Effie Seiberg

This is a sweet, beautifully written story about a girl made of stone, who spends much of her time in the hospital while doctors study her condition and try to deal with some of the unique physiological problems that she faces. She begs her parents to be allowed out on Halloween, assuming she will finally fit in since that's the day everyone deliberately tries to look and be different. Alas, she discovers that Halloween is not a holiday from cruelty, but she also learns, with the help of a new "neighbor" in the hospital, to appreciate her own strength and beauty.

This story appears in an unusual venue for fiction: a fashion magazine that describes itself as "edgy." The story is "illustrated" with stunning photos of a woman looking at roughly humanoid figures made of stone. In a way, the photos don't go with the tone of this story, but at the same time they didn't feel wrong, if that makes sense. I was glad the photos were there, because they're gorgeous to look at -- but I'd also love to see this story specifically illustrated for children.

This link goes to a PDF that is a portion of the magazine issue; just click forward through a few pages to get to the story.

"We Clever Jacks" by Greg van Eekhout

And last but not least, I absolutely loved this story. And although I think I would have loved just as much if I'd read it as text, for me it's one of those stories that just begs to be read aloud. Here, reader Marshal Latham infuses the story with wry humor, and the background music adds yet another layer of quirky creepiness. The story is narrated by a Jack, a Halloween pumpkin. He (I'm going with he because they're all named Jack, although of course they don't all have to be male) goes through a roll call of the neighborhood Jacks, including Laughing Jack, Shrieking Jack, Happy Jack, and Wailing Jack. But it's Grimacing Jack who has big plans for the "holiday" this year.

This is a perfect Halloween story for kids, because it's delightful and creepy but not at all gory or violent. It's not scary, really, just very atmospheric. (Podcastle rates it as "PG.") This was originally published on the author's blog here in 2007, and reissued as a podcast by Podcastle in 2012 here.

* * *

I know there are likely to be all kinds of great new Halloween stories published this week, but I didn't want to wait until Halloween to talk about Halloween fiction -- I love the time leading up to holidays, but once the day itself passes, I am very much done with that holiday until the next year! In the meantime, I'll be posting at the end of the month as usual, about some favorite stories read during October that don't happen to be Halloween-themed. In the meantime, Happy Trick-or-Treating!

No comments: