introduction

For the month of December, Short Fiction Friday is being upgraded to feature daily stories as part of an advent calendar exchange I’m running with a friend! Every week, Black Forest Basilisks will be shining a spotlight on each of the short stories, novelettes, or flash fics that we exchanged for each day of advent. All of these stories will be available online for free. 

 

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December 1st

Shvaugn’s pick: God Bless You, 2011 by Hiromi Kawakami

This story is available online for free at: Granta.com – Click through to read!

The bear invited me go for a walk to the river, about twenty minutes away on foot. I had taken that road once before in the early spring to see the snipes, but then I had worn protective clothing; now it was hot, and for the first time since the ‘incident’ I would be clad in normal clothes that exposed the skin, and carrying lunch to boot. It would be a bit of a trek, somewhere between a hike and a stroll.

Despite the title, this is not a particularly religious story. This story is interesting in part because it was rewritten, allowing the reader to compare the original version with a newer version. This is a mundane story about the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown, in which people are really just living their lives… albeit with reasonable precautions. Kawakami was inspired to update and rewrite her original story following Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent meltdowns in Fukushima’s nuclear power plants.

My pick: Axolotl by Julio Cortazar

This story is available online for free at: Bolles.org – Click through to read!

It was their quietness that made me lean toward them fascinated the first time I saw the axolotls. Obscurely I seemed to understand their secret will, to abolish space and time with an indifferent immobility. I knew better later; the gill contraction, the tentative reckoning of the delicate feet on the stones, the abrupt swimming (some of them swim with a simple undulation of the body) proved to me that they were capable of escaping that mineral lethargy in which they spent whole hours. Above all else, their eyes obsessed me.

Axolotl is a story I’ve loved ever since I first read it years and years ago. It’s a short, surreal tale of a man who stares into the abyss, only to find that the abyss not only gazes back… but will also swallow you whole. 

 

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December 2nd

Shvaugn’s pick: The Little Angel’s Exhumation by Mariana Enriquez

This story is available online for free at: Short Story Project. Click through to read!

The little angel doesn’t look like a ghost. She doesn’t float, nor is she pale, and she isn’t wearing a white dress. She is half-rotten, and she doesn’t talk. The first time she appeared I thought I was dreaming, and I tried to wake up from the nightmare; when I couldn’t, and I started to understand that she was real, I screamed and cried and hid under the sheets, my eyes shut tight and my hands cupped over my ears so I couldn’t hear her, because at the time I didn’t know that she was mute. But when I emerged, a few hours later, the little angel was still there, wearing some shreds of an old blanket over her shoulders, like a poncho. She pointed outside with one finger, toward the window and the street, and that’s when I noticed it was daytime. I asked her what she wanted, but she just kept pointing, like in a horror movie.

I’ll confess, I wasn’t wholly sure what to make of this story, especially the ending. It’s an odd tale about how our past follows us and what we owe to those who came before. I enjoyed reading it, and I loved the imagery and prose… but I’m not sure that I quite captured the meaning. This may be one I need to revisit to fully understand. 

My pick: Cares of a Family Man by Franz Kafka

This story is available online for free at: Live Long Day. Click through to read!

No one, of course, would occupy himself with such studies if there were not a creature called Odradek. At first glance it looks like a flat star-shaped spool for thread, and indeed it does seem to have thread wound upon it; to be sure, they are only old, broken-off bits of thread, knotted and tangled together, of the most varied sorts and colors. But it is not only a spool, for a small wooden crossbar sticks out of the middle of the star, and another small rod is joined to that at a right angle. By means of this latter rod on one side and one of the points of the star on the other, the whole thing can stand upright as if on two legs.

Really, this one is less of a story and more of a small bit of thought. It’s a consideration on how we think and how we worry and how we wind ourselves up into a pointless little ball. It is, perhaps, less Kafka-esque than one might expect… especially if you’re less familiar with Kafka in general. I still enjoy this odd little snippet, nevertheless, and wanted to share it. 

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December 3rd

Shvaugn’s pick: Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

This story is available online for free at: Uncanny Magazine. Click through to read!

It woke her husband, who flew into a great rage, saying she had broken her promise to him. When the woman wept that she had only wanted to free him from his curse, he picked up the skin, tossed it over her shoulders, and threw a bag of iron shoes at her feet. He said that the only way to make him a man day and night was to wear his bear’s skin while wearing out seven pairs of iron shoes, one for each year of their marriage.

Although I’d read this story before… well, let’s just say there’s a reason it both won the Nebula award for short stories and was a nomination in the Hugo Awards. This story is in equal measures optimistic and heartbreaking. Although we struggle to envision living in a world without chains, we have the strength to take them off and live. 

My pick: You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong

This story is available online for free at: Uncanny Magazine. Click through to read!

When the desert finally lets you go, naked and stumbling, your body humming with raw power and the song of dead things coiled under your tongue, you find Marisol waiting for you at the edge of the bluffs. She’s dressed in long sleeves and a skirt over her boots, her black hair tucked under a hat and a blanket wrapped around her shoulders against the night cold. Madam Lettie’s bony horse whuffs at you in the glow of the lantern as you approach. 

This is a weird Western filled with the magic of the dead and the needs of nature. It’s about progress, law, and a host of other themes. It had been a while since I read this when I initially put it in my advent calendar, but I remembered loving it. It holds up to every good memory I had of it. Wonderful for fans of the strange and surreal. 

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December 4th

Shvaugn’s pick: Tender by Sofia Samatar

This story is available online for free at: OmniVerse. Click through to read!

I am a tender. I tend the St. Benedict Radioactive Materials Containment Center. I perceive the outside world through treated glass. My immediate surroundings are barren but comfortable. I can order anything I like, necessity or luxury, from the Federal Sustainability Program. The items I order are delivered by truck and placed in a transfer box that decontaminates everything that enters it, including the air. The purpose of this system is not to protect me from contamination by the outside world, but to protect the world from me.

I really, really liked this story. It’s an incredible representation of how we externalize our internal turmoil, bringing it to the forefront of our existence. Samatar’s prose is, as always, gorgeous; I’d read The Winged Histories before, but had never dipped my toes into her short fiction. That, clearly, was a mistake; I have definitely been missing out. 

My pick: “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison

This story is available online for free at: pbworks. Click through to read!

That is the heart of it. Now begin in the middle, and later learn the beginning; the end will take care of itself. But because it was the very world it was, the very world they had allowed it to become, for months his activities did not come to the alarmed attention of The Ones Who Kept The Machine Functioning Smoothly, the ones who poured the very best butter over the cams and mainsprings of the culture. Not until it had become obvious that somehow, someway, he had become a notoriety, a celebrity, perhaps even a hero for (what Officialdom inescapably tagged) “an emotionally disturbed segment of the populace,” did they turn it over to the Ticktockman and his legal machinery. But by then, because it was the very world it was, and they had no way to predict he would happen possibly a strain of disease long-defunct, now, suddenly, reborn in a system where immunity had been forgotten, had lapsed he had been allowed to become too real.

Ellison’s works tend towards the dark, but this one has a decided flavor of the absurd to offset it. In a dystopia where being late results in minutes being shaved off your life in the most literal sense, one man bucks the system by playing havoc with schedule and order. 

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Past featured short stories can be viewed here.

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?

Let me know in the comments below!