Book Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

A powerful collection of short stories that gave me the creeps and Girl Power feels all at once.

4/5 stars

cover-slasher-girls-and-monster-boys

synopsis for reviews 2

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

This was my first time reading a short story collection, and Slasher Girls & Monster Boys made it a good experience. I read the stories across the month of January and the beginning of February, and every time I came back to the anthology, the haunting stories sucked me back in.

My favorite part of this anthology is the strong Girl Power themes throughout. The stories really do pit Slasher Girls against Monster Boys, and though the end results are creepy as hell, they were also strangely comforting and empowering. I also loved how each author interpreted that idea a different way, creating a complex collection of Monster Boys and Monster Girls’ revenges.

My only problem with this anthology was that it was not consistent in its horror aspects, sometimes confusing me. The first two stories were deeply, deeply creepy—so much so that I almost stopped reading. But the next few stories were lighter, scary in a different way. By the end of the anthology, I liked that authors had taken different approaches to writing horror, but in the beginning, I was disappointed by the constantly changing tones. I don’t read a lot of horror, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the darkest, and I felt let down by some of the stories that were not as horrifying.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma

4/5 stars

The first story launched me into the anthology really well. This story creeped me out with a combination of paranormal and real-world terrors. Though it was a little predictable, I loved the satisfying vengeance at the end.

In The Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan

4/5 stars

By far the most haunting story in the anthology. Even now, thinking about it makes the hair rise on my arms…but also makes me smirk. The story started with a good main character and a creative monster and grew to a genuinely horrifying reveal. I wanted a little more from the writing itself, but the story was ingenious.

Emmeline by Cat Winters

4/5 stars

This was one of my favorite stories. Set in a bombed-out house in France during WWI, the story was defined by its clear and emotional setting. The story was less aggressively terrifying than the previous two, creating a gently scary story that made me feel mournful more than anything else.

Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo

3/5 stars

One of the most vivid stories in the anthology. It had a clear voice and a strong premise, building an emotional, complex and gritty story. I liked the pop music angle; putting the horror in a fully contemporary setting worked really well for the writing style and the story itself. But while this story definitely gave me the creeps, I felt like the paranormal elements were underdeveloped, keeping me from having that “aha” moment that I expected.

Hide-and-Seek by Megan Shepherd

3/5 stars

This was both one of my favorite stories and least favorite stories. I loved the premise—playing hide-and-seek with death in order to escape dying yourself—but it did not feel like it fit in this story collection. “Hide-and-Seek” was a great story to read: fast-paced, surprising, and original, but it just wasn’t creepy like the rest of the anthology. Also, it lacked a Slasher Girl, removing the agency of revenge from the female protagonist.

The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige

DNF

Yeah, I hated everything about this story. The set-up was painfully cheesy and cliche, relying on the “smartest girl must be a loner” trope—my least favorite trope in the world. It’s “analysis” of Frankenstein was weak and obvious, starting the book on a bad note while trying to prove the main character’s social-life-killing brilliance. Add a cringey romance and vague dream sequences I didn’t stick around to see the horror part develop.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke

4/5 stars

I loved this story. It was dark, heart-wrenching, stressful, and deeply distributing all at once, with vividly drawn characters and an emotional premise. I was impressed with its deft use of flashbacks and compelling characterization, as well as by the fact that it actually acknowledges that girls the get into Harvard have to work their asses off (if it hadn’t, I might have DNF-ed the story). Coming from the organizer of the collection, this story has one of the most interesting interpretations of the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys theme, making it a stand-out.

Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry

3.5/5 stars

The main character was the most fascinating part of this story. In the space of a short story, the author created a conflicted, complex protagonist that I was never completely sure would not turn out to be the monster herself. I loved the writing style, but the horror elements were really obvious, never giving me that reveal that I craved. Still, the ending was pleasantly surprising and uplifting.

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff

3/5 stars

Another story I am extremely conflicted about. The good: this was by far the most surprising and horrifying story in the collection. It kept growing and twisting, shocking me over and over again. The bad: it was incredibly problematic, using the “I’m not like other girls” trope, the phrase “kiddyqueer” (like…what???), and kind of male slut-shaming. Also, while I did read this anthology to get scared, I don’t feel like I signed up for the terrifying date-rape vibes of this story. If you want to be scared by a really effective piece of horror, this story does that, but it is so dark that I don’t know if I would actually recommend reading it.

M by Stefan Bachmann

2.5/5 stars

This story could have been powerful, but it felt like the author never pushed themselves. Everything ended up being predictable or obvious, which in a story that centers around a murder mystery is the exact opposite of what I wanted. It had a good setting and was a nice mystery, but a lot of the story felt like Plot™, rather than an actually captivating story. Additionally, the main character was blind, but the author’s approach to her character made it clear he had chosen that disability purely for the horror effects without really considering the larger implications for her character.

The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu

3.5/5 stars

This story transformed as I read, starting with sympathy and ending with pure hatred for the main character. It was not creepy so much as darkly satisfying. Honestly the most terrifying part was how deeply I hated the main character by the end, how effectively the author got me to root for his downfall.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman

3/5 stars

This was one of the less effective stories for me, mainly because it lacked that hard core Girl Power feeling I had come to expect. I enjoyed the pacing of the story, but the constantly changing POV was a lot to handle in such a short story. Overall, it was more bittersweet than creepy.

Stitches by A. G. Howard

4/5 stars

This story was a perfect penultimate tale for this anthology. The writing was gorgeous, with a powerful use of imagery to create a creepy (yet readable) story. The reveal was surprising, and the ending was strangely healing—not just for that story, but for the anthology as a whole. I loved the new angle on Girl Power and the successful re-imagination of Frankenstein.

On the I-5 by Kendare Blake

4.5/5 stars

This story killed it. The writing drew me immediately and unfolded well, with no jarring exposition at all. It had a gorgeous take on Girl Power, focusing on solidarity between victims and (of course) revenge. Creepy, but not too dark, the story was the perfect ending for this anthology. It spoke up for all of the girls that didn’t beat their Monster Boys the first time around, helping me heal from the emotional roller-coaster that was this anthology.


Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While this collection is not overwhelmingly problematic, it definitely is not perfect. Some stories use mental illnesses and disabilities as a plot devices. As discussed above, “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff was incredibly problematic for me.

Trigger warnings: Nearly everything. Strong TW for sexual violence/assault, physical violence, and abuse. If you’re curious about a specific trigger, comment or email me and I can confirm/deny it.

January Wrap Up!

January is finally over. I saw finally, because this month lasted about a million years. I can’t believe first semester has only been going on for three weeks!!!

In My Life

I started off this month with a few days with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle in Death Valley—which despite the ominous name is one of my favorite places. I’m planning on sharing some gorgeous nature photos with you guys next month (I’m just getting around to looking through the photos and editing them.)

Once school started, everything got crazy. Second semester got off to a roaring start. I’ve already had tests in basically every subject, and I’m back to hours of homework every night. Still, I’m feeling optimistic for finishing off junior year strong. (We’ll talk in a few months, that might change 😉 )

In Blogging

This month was okay for my blog. I had 13 posts. At the beginning of the year, I talked about my resolutions for reading and blogging in 2016. I revived my weekly feature Weekend Words for a week, and then it kind of fell apart again…

I also took part in Guest of the Month Club again. This time, Sophie @ Sophie the Bookworm was my partner, which was great! You can read her post here, and my guest post on her blog here.

In Reading and Reviewing

Despite school being crazy, I was able to get in a lot of reading this month. I loved most of the books I read, and I’m really excited to have another year filled with great books.

Unlike most months, I actually wrote reviews for every book I read this month this month. (Sorry for how awkwardly that is phrased.) Some of them didn’t get posted, but at least I’m starting to break my cycle of writing reviews like two weeks after I read the book…

Books I read this month 

(If I’ve written a review, it is linked to)

I also started reading The Catcher in the Rye with my English class. I AM SO TORN about this book. I don’t know if I hate Holden or if I love him. We’re a bit more than halfway through, so we’ll see what I think by the end. 🙂

In Writing

This month was actually pretty great for writing! I’m really proud of myself for starting off 2016 and not immediately abandoning my goal to share more stories and poems on this blog. I took part in two Chuck Wendig writing challenges, which led me to write about some struggles I have when writing short stories. I added about 5,000 words to my WIP, which isn’t exactly great, but it’s better than none. 😉

Poems

Short Stories


So that was my January! How was yours? Did you read any great books? What are you plans for February?

 

Short Story: The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

This story was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest for this week, Ten More Titles. I chose “The Hero Will Not Be Automatic” as my title.


Trial #1

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot responded to the stimulus (gunshot) by scanning for open wounds. Locating the bullet wound in the patient’s chest, the robot’s processors directed it to perform emergency surgery. The patient did not survive.

Comments: Chest wounds should not be operated on in the field. Coding should be adjusted to take into account this situation.


Trial #2

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response time (between the gunshot stimulus and wound recognition) is down to 2.5 seconds. The gunshot was in the leg this time. The robot followed the new coding advice and dragged the patient out of the field while initiating emergency distress calls. Being dragged through shrapnel increased the patient’s wounds; the robot then deemed amputation necessary. Patient is alive but unable to walk.

Comments: The leg is different from the chest—can we get a coder who has taken anatomy?!?!


Trial #5

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Robot is now able to adjust response based on location of gunshot.

Comments: Perhaps amputation should not be such a knee-jerk reaction in the coding.


Trial #12

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Battlefield risks have been added to the testing environment. Robot took three gunshots while dragging the patient to the medical tents and was unable to reach its destination.

Comments: Could this thing dodge bullets?


Trial #13

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s new reinforced shell was able to sustain five bullet wounds without loss of operating capacity exceeding 35%. Patient was brought to a sheltered environment and a tourniquet was administered.

Comments: Robot’s response times to administrator commands were slower after the battle ended and the robot was retrieved.


Trial #15

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot refused to respond to gunshot stimuli. Upon hearing the beginning of the “battle,” the robot’s processors entered forced hibernation mode. The patient received four bullet wounds and died while the robot stayed frozen.

Comments: Did you code this?


Trial #16

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot shut down after being exposed to the battlefield setting. No stimulus other than location was involved. Technicians could not reboot the robot until it had been brought out of the battlefield and let to sit for two hours.

Comments: Fix this. Now.


Trial #17

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The self-preservation process has successfully been destroyed. Unfortunately, the robot has lost its risk-processing abilities. Though scans and records indicated a 75% chance that the battlefield contained landmines in the immediate area, the robot dragged its patient across them anyway.

Comments: I hope you backed up your files.


Trial #21

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot is unable to perform basic functions. Having dragged its patient within two feet of a land mine, the robot suddenly shut down. The patient received two gunshots—one to the leg and one to the stomach—before the robot rebooted and finished dragging the patient to the medical tent. Before the doctors could take the patient, the robot amputated its leg.

Comments: I thought you had fixed the amputation tendencies.


Trial #30-36

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response to stimuli is erratic. The sound of gunshots will force a shut down, then a rapid reboot. Land mines are sometimes run over in a frenzy to escape the battlefield. Sometimes just the threat of a landmine will keep the robot from moving, even to reach the patient. Sustaining gunshots to its shell will sometimes cause the robot to hibernate, sometimes to operate suddenly on the patient, sometimes to override system controls and attack the other field agents. Even outside of the battlefield, the robot will sometimes short-circuit, initiate worst-case-scenario self-destruction, or shut down. No coding method seems to be able to fix these problems.

Comments: This project is a bust.


The Automatic Hero Project was discontinued on February 4. All records will be archived, pending review.

The Struggle of Writing Short Stories

I know I said I’d write more discussion posts, but I haven’t thought of any great bookish topics, so I’m writing one about writing instead. Hope you enjoy it anyway (I bet some of you can relate to it)!

I love the idea of writing short stories. Condensing storytelling into a few thousand words, getting the creative juices going for a few hours and actually finishing something—it strikes me as the epitome of writing. Like, if I can successfully write a short story, I will have transitioned into a new phase of being a writer, I will have “leveled up” in some cosmic way.

I don’t know, that’s just me.

The problem is, short stories are hard. (That’s probably not surprising to most of you, but it always seems to surprise me when I sit down to write one and nothing magically comes together.) I seem to face three specific roadblocks:

1. What the heck should I write?

Probably the most obvious problem. There have been countless times when I sit down to write a short story and…nothing comes. I’ll even start with inspiration—anything from my countless Pinterest boards or the random writing challenges floating around—but no plot comes out of it. I have an easy time coming up with characters and worlds and funny one-liners, but stringing all of those elements together with the elusive device of PLOT???

Nope. That doesn’t happen often.

2. Well, that’s just an exposition with a dash of plot for flavor

So here’s what happens: I start with a picture or a prompt or whatever that sets off a lightbulb in my mind and the words start pouring out. After a little while, I have a few pages written and I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself.

Until I go back and reread it, when I realize that everything I wrote is a great set-up for a larger story (read: novel), but it isn’t close to being a short story. Sometimes, I’m fine with this (my current WIP started off as a random idea for a short story), but now that I’m fully committed to my WIP and I just want to write short stories to blow off steam, this gets annoying.

Being a pantser definitely doesn’t help this situation. I figure out the story I want to write by randomly exploring characters and scenes. That works well (if slowly) for longer projects, but not for short stories. I can’t tell you how many Word documents I have saved on my computer that are three pages of abandoned exposition.

3. And that’s just a lot of dialogue…

Sometimes I over-correct and ignore exposition completely. The stories that result from this are 80% dialogue, with the sparsest descriptions added to give the story context.

I actually love these stories, though they feel like scenes instead of stories (less plot, more snapshot). And though I love writing snappy dialogue back-and-forths, I can never shake the feeling that these stories are missing the backbone that is, you know, scenery and all that.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, there’s the hope that some of you have struggled with these same problems and have useful hints to help get over it. There’s also the hope that some of you have been trying to write short stories and not knowing why they aren’t working, and you’ll read this post and go “ah-HAH, that’s my problem!”

Also, I’m curious: what types of short stories do you like to read? Are these actually problems, or am I just imagining them?

But really, I’m sharing this with you because writing it down helps me focus on what I’ll do better next time. and putting it online forces me to do better next time. I really want to write short stories, mainly because it means that I can share more of my writing with you guys, and part of that process is sharing why I haven’t been sharing short stories with you guys as much as I would like.

So…what are you thoughts? Relatable? A mountain out of a molehill? Do you have any tricks for conquering the monster that is short stories?

Flash Fiction: Forest of Monsters

Hey everyone! This piece of Flash Fiction was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge for this week, in which we were supposed to choose a random  Flickr photo to serve as inspiration for a story. I chose a picture of redwoods.

The characters and set-up are related to another Flash Fiction story I wrote a few months ago. This story takes place before the other one, and you really don’t have to have read the other one for this one to make sense. I’m just having fun developing different snapshots of these characters and their world.

Hope you enjoy!


 

Anyone who has tried to tell you that the forest floor is made soft by the layers of moss and decomposing leaves is a liar.

Or maybe they just never had the enlightening experience of being thrown into the ground by a guy twice their size.

We shouldn’t judge people for their ignorance. Trevor always says that.

Trevor also talks about monsters no one else can see. We’ve all had practice not judging.

For a second, I stare up at the forest above me, letting the details of the fight drift away. The forest is sways gently above me, detached from my pain, beautiful, almost…magical. An arboreal siren.

I blink and the illusion is gone, leaving only a weary tightness in my gut.

Groaning, I ask, “Was that really necessary?”

Jack’s mouth twitches in a cocky smile. “I always forget what a lightweight you are.”

I make a halfhearted attempt to bruise his shins. “You? Forget I’m bad at fighting? How could you, when it’s all you ever talk to me about?”

He pulls me to my feet. “No, I mean, you are literally a light weight. I usually need that much force to down the other guys out here—with you, I guess it was kind of superfluous.”

The other guys. I’m still chewing on those words when he asks, “Ready to head back?”

I shake my head. “Trevor’s gonna kill me if I don’t start clocking more hours out here.”

And it doesn’t hurt that Jack is head of combat training for Society members under eighteen. Jack, whose smile makes my stomach execute gymnastics my muscles can barely dream of. Jack, who had the body—and attitude—of a superhero. Jack who uses words like superfluous.

Jack, who I’d been nursing a stupid, pointless, ridiculous crush on for two years now.

Jack, who thinks of me as one of the guys.

I do hang out with a lot of guys, but it’s not like I have a choice. I’m one of the only girls Trevor allowed to join the Society. (I’ve pointed out the sexism, believe me.) But my dad was Trevor’s best friend since high school, and when Trevor asked him to sell his house and move to the middle of freaking nowhere so the two of them could hunt monsters, my dad said yes, as long as his daughter could come.

If it sounds like we’re a cult, we probably are. I’ve been here for three years and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re the kind of people the rest of the world laughs at.

I’d laugh too, if I couldn’t see the bodies.

“Are we going to fight or what?” I ask.

His foot flies at my head. I duck, years of training inelegantly shoving me out of the way. Before I can catch my balance, I throw myself the other direction, a desperate attempt to get out of the way of his fist.

I make it, but not with my dignity.

God, I’m bad at this.

Stay focused. Let your senses take over. Pay attention. Anticipate. Take charge, don’t just react.

Three teacher’s worth of advice floods through my mind. Dad, Trevor, and Jack have all tried.

None of it matters. My body doesn’t do this.

I try for a kick of my own, but it misses by a comical degree. Jack is already twirling toward me, throwing a fist into my jaw. I block it and try to return the favor, but he playfully backpedals, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “That all you got?”

If I were a character in a book, this would be the moment I get angry. My anger would crystallize the world around me; I’d suddenly know where Jack’s kicks and punches were going before did. For once, Jack would be the one on the ground, gasping for air.

Instead, I just feel tired. I want back to the libraries and the labs, where I don’t fall on my face, where I can actually hold my own. A horrible, secret part of me wants back to the real world, where monsters are just something children talk about.

Jack’s coming at me again, but I don’t do more than dodge. The sorry answer to his question is yes, this might be all I’ve got. I’m just not the guerilla fighter that I was supposed to become.

For a while, I trained because I believed the picture Dad painted: Becca 2.0. Becca: Badass Edition.

Now I train out of a mild sense of duty to my father’s memory and to keep Trevor off my case.

Boom.

Jack’s foot catches my shoulder and I fly backwards, my elbows slamming into discarded bark, my tailbone crashing into the packed earth.

Hands on his thighs, Jack leans over me, breathing heavy. “You weren’t even trying that time.”

“I was distracted,” I say, waving him out of my eye line. I like the forest more than I like him right now.

“Yeah, by what?” Jack asks, but I barely hear him. The forest calls me, dancing around my consciousness.

Something flickers at the edge of my vision, blackness and sparkles in one. My gut heaves and my ears ring, but I can’t tear my eyes away. I can’t even close them, I realize as tears burn in their corners.

“Becca,” Jack yells, yanking me backward.

It breaks the spell. I roll onto my knees and dry heave.

“What happened?”

I drag my hand across my mouth and fall back onto my heels, defeated. No matter what arguments I’ve made, Trevor is right. I need to be here. The Society needs me just as much as it needed my dad.

“There’s a dead body in that tree.”

Jack turns to look, even though we both know he won’t see it. Trevor gets to see the monsters, I get to see their victims.

I can never decide which one of us has it worse.

Short Story: Sticking It to the Man

To say this wasn’t her dream job was to put it lightly.

Abigail was supposed to be a fashion designer in Paris, hanging out in cafes with all of her gorgeous models and smiling demurely at young men in scarves, making them wonder what made her so special. She belonged in the city of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the best fashion houses in the world.

Ending up in the backroom of a sewing repair and equipment shop was not the plan. Returning to her home town of Boring Ass, California, after four brutal years of fashion design classes was not the plan.

Reality, however, wasn’t playing along with her dreams. In fact, it seemed determined to crush them.

There were no elegant men to flirt with, only the jocks and geeks that she hadn’t wanted anything to do with even in high school. The only café was the local Starbucks, packed with noisy students who naively championed collaboration as an excuse for a social hour. There were no fashion houses, only George’s Sewing Notions and Repair, Family Owned Since 1972.

And instead of designing avant guarde gowns for Parisian runways, Abigail was stuck cleaning neglected sewing machines, explaining the difference between ballpoint and jersey needles, and trying to convince novices that bridesmaid dresses and Halloween costumes were not one-day projects, even for the best. The only interesting task she got to do—the only task that in any way validated her college degree—was building the shop’s specialty: custom dress forms.

At least the shop didn’t service vacuum cleaners. Abigail probably would have gauged her eyes out if she had to stoop that low.

Building dress forms was the calmest part of the day. It got Abigail out of the main room, away from the clutter and clatter that was the retail business. The sewing required was not the type she had imagined herself dedicating hours to, but it used a needle and thread, and at the end of it, she’d created something. Most of the time, that was enough to keep her self-destructive thoughts at bay.

Then came the day when Susan Baker ran into her in the street and sneered at the high-minded girl with the nerve to think she was better than the rest of them, and laughed at her inevitable return to the gutters.

Abigail was back in high school, clutching brochures for fashion colleges on the other side of the country, trying to get her guidance counselor to help her with her applications, trying to keep Susan and her clique from seeing the logos. The insecurity and bitterness that Abigail had shoved away for so long came rushing back, but four years of college had changed her—even if Susan couldn’t see it.

She didn’t cower or hide from Susan’s abuse.

She just brushed past the lip-glossed bully, cutting a piece of her cheaply dyed hair with the tiny sewing scissors she always carried in her pocket.

Susan never noticed. Abigail, deciding she could go without another cup of coffee, headed back to George’s, straight for the back room.

Abigail’s roommate, Cassy, had been from New Orleans, an eclectic girl from an entrenched family that had thrown at fit when their youngest daughter left the city in favor of the Big Apple. But Cassy hadn’t left her heritage entirely behind, or it hadn’t let her escape. After two semesters of prickling sensations on the back of her neck and shadows flickering in the corner of her eyes—and after a night of drinking that shut up common sense—Abigail worked up the courage to ask her friend just what exactly her family business was supposed to be.

Abigail had promised to keep Cassy’s gifts a secret—but she didn’t have to tell anyone about slipping Susan’s hair into the stuffing of her latest project and muttering a few ancient chants under her breath. No one would know—no oath was broken—except for Susan, the first time someone stuck a pin in the dress form, and Abigail, who would smile whenever she imagined it.

Tossing and turning in bed that night, Abigail didn’t relish in her victory. She couldn’t shake a memory of Susan crying in the junior high girl’s bathroom when her dog died. Red-eyed and regretful, she hurried into work that morning only to discover the dress form had already been boxed and shipped.

She puked in the bathroom and swore to never do it again.

She kept her promise for six whole months, until Chad Walker got one two many beers in him and ruined Abigail’s night off. He left the bar woozy and rejected. She left the bar feeling violated, with a clump of his beard in her pocket.

George’s rarely received orders for male dress forms, so she held onto the tangle of hair until one showed up. It took two weeks, and by the time she tucked the sample between her stiches, Abigail had made up her mind. It was premeditated. It was just, she told herself, ignoring her clenching stomach.

A month later Ella Kwong yelled at her child in the supermarket. Her daughter was sobbing so loudly that Ella never noticed the faint snip of Abigail’s scissors. Two weeks passed before Abigail gave in to the temptation of her scissors, punishing Father Washington for his hypocritical sermon against adultery, when it was common knowledge that he was not faithful to his wife.

More and more dress forms were sent across the country with custom measurements and secret punishments. Abigail swayed between the heady sensation of power and the sickening fear of her own immoral character. She was the Hand of Justice, the righter of wrongs, she assured herself.

She was the devil on earth, prideful enough to think herself separate from the complexities of human ethics, her conscience whispered back.

A year and a half after that doomed encounter with Susan Baker, Abigail read the story in the newspaper: Local Woman Commits Suicide After Bouts of Inexplicable Pain. She read half of the article before she stopped, the words blurring in front of her eyes. Rushing to the bathroom, she threw up the breakfast she had managed to eat, and called in sick to work.

The town was gray with mourning. Abigail could not go outside without making eye contact with a former classmate of hers and Susan’s. She would flinch and dash away, back to her house, away from the penetrating gazes that surely, surely could see the evil corrupting her soul.

Did she even have a soul left to corrupt?

Yes, she realized, shoving away another plate of food and closing her blinds tighter. If she lacked a soul, surely this would not hurt the way it did.

When she showed up to work a week later, her manager was shocked at how pale and gaunt her face was. Abigail avoided crowds and started at loud noises; she wouldn’t look anyone in the face. Her manager pitied the young woman for the obvious toll her grief had taken on her spirit and offered to give Abigail another week off to recover. With a look of horror, Abigail refused, rushing to the back room and grabbing the stack of orders from which to choose her next project.

Even in the backroom, the chitchat of the shop reached Abigail’s tortured ears. All anyone was talking about was Susan’s death. Some raged at incompetent doctors; others reduced her to an attention-whore with mild aches. One of the town’s grandmothers was certain that Susan had arthritis, while a young grad student swore that the pain was the psychosomatic result of some trauma received earlier in life.

Was it possible?

Could Susan have died from something other than Abigail’s vengefulness? Could Cassy’s magic be nothing more than the grimmest of fairy tales?

There was one way to find out, only one way to give Abigail what she deserved if she had actually caused the death of her former classmate.

Before she could think about her actions, Abigail reached behind her head and clipped a snippet of her hair. The dress form she build around the cutting was her fastest project to date. It shipped that night, and Abigail lay in bed, unable to sleep under the threat of self-inflicted pain.

She must have fallen asleep at some point in the early morning, her guilt-ravaged body taking refuge in sleep long into the afternoon. Possibly, Abigail would have slept forever had she not been awakened by a sudden stabbing pain.

Jolting awake with a scream, Abigail got her answer.


Whew! I haven’t written a short story in a while, but I’ve been playing around with this idea for a few weeks now and I decided to go for it. Hope you enjoyed! (It isn’t my favorite thing that I’ve ever written, but I like the mood I created.)

A special thanks to my sister for teaching me about this sewing lingo (or forcing me to learn it by being in the same house as her sewing exploits) and for letting me take the dramatic picture of her dress form featured in this post. You can check out her sewing blog here.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Just Another Dead Guy

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is simple:

I want you to take your story and it must begin with a dead body. That’s it. That’s the only stipulation. In the first paragraph you must introduce a dead body. Doesn’t matter the context or the genre. But you gotta check that box marked

[ ] DEAD BODY.

Here’s my somewhat random response. Hope you enjoy 🙂


I found the body by tripping over it.

In my defense, it was six in the morning. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I hadn’t even gone to the bathroom yet, because the corpse was lying on its stomach in front of my bedroom door.

It was while I was sprawled on the ground, blood slowly soaking into my pajamas, my ankle aching, that things started making sense. The coffee pot was gurgling downstairs and my house smelled like cinnamon rolls. The radio was on, volume just low enough that I couldn’t tell what they were talking about.

“Good morning to you to,” I muttered as I limped into the kitchen, not surprised to find Jack sitting at my counter. I turned my radio off and turned to look at the one person who had dared to intrude into my new life. He was wearing dark jeans and a black shirt, no sign of his hunting gear except for a knife peaking out of his hiking boot.

He took in my blood-splattered shirt and laughed. “What, did you trip over him?”

“I wasn’t wearing my glasses,” I said, pouring myself a cup of coffee, not bothering with sugar or milk. I needed to wake up. I glanced at Jack, who had moved on to smirking at my bed head. I should have brushed my hair.

“You’re not blind without them, right? You can still see large male bodies strewn across your landing.”

“I wasn’t exactly expecting it to be there,” I snapped. “When will the cinnamon rolls be done?”

He waved off my impatience with a vague motion. “You don’t want to know who he is?”

I glared at him. “You’re like the cat I never had. Bringing me godforsaken dead things in the middle of the night—”

“I didn’t kill him.”

I paused, but I refused to get sucked into his world again. “That’s new. Did you finally go to that therapist I told you about?”

He ignored my comment. “I was going to kill him. But someone got there first.”

I rubbed my temples, wondering how Jack was this alert when the sun hadn’t even graced us with its presence. “So you brought him to my house?”

“You don’t have to be snippy. I also brought breakfast.”

“Right, and my appetite is simply whetted by the corpse upstairs.”

My sarcasm was finally getting to Jack. I watched his face change, the tease in his eyes replaced by a tight clench in his jaw. “You really didn’t see it?”

“See what?” I asked, cracking the oven open to peak at my breakfast.

Jack was at a loss for words, somewhere I’d never seen him. “The body—I thought—you really didn’t see anything?”

“It’s six AM, I wasn’t exactly giving the guy an autopsy.”

He just stared at me as everything slowly clicked into place. All the stories, all the rumors. He hadn’t believed them, apparently. Idiot.

Lost, he glanced around my kitchen, taking in the normalcy of it. No specially carved blades in my knife rack, no protective potions in my spice collection. It was the house of a normal college graduate who couldn’t get a job with her major—though few people had quite as niche of a major as mine.

“You really left,” he says, almost a question.

Anger I hadn’t let myself feel for half a year came back with a vengeance, stronger after the aging process. “I think that’s what I meant six months ago when I said, ‘I’m leaving.’”

Jack’s silence was broken by my timer going off. I slapped it to shut it up and took the baking pan out of the oven.

“Things are getting bad back at home,” Jack said. “That guy upstairs—I just thought, if you saw him, if you knew what got to him, you’d come back.”

“Sorry, Jack,” I said. “He’s just another dead guy to me.”