Short Stories Reviews

The House of Mechanical Pain

by Chaz Brenchley


Let me start by saying that “The House of Mechanical Pain” really resonated strongly with me. I really empathized with the female character in this one, and I will get into why in just a sec, but if that skewed my review of this story so be it. Actually this story hit so close to home I had a very hard time coming to terms with my reactions and then writing about them on this blog. If it wasn’t for this month’s theme of the Social Justice Challenge I might not have posted this at all. It’s a bit of a tender spot, to say the least.

“The House of Mechanical Pain” is a horrific short story from The Years Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 it is also included in the book Phantoms at the Phil: The Third Proceedings. It is about a woman named Tasha who wants her friend Jonny to come home with her to her family’s mansion where her father is about to sell off several items from the family estate that she holds dear. Part money grubbing move, part power play in this damaged and dysfunctional family, Jonny is supposed to take pictures of everything that is going into the sale, but really he is there as moral support for Tasha.

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The Return of the Light

[openbook booknumber=”1569246173″][rating:3/5]

In The Return of the Light Carolyn McVickar Edwards assembles twelve legends, folktales and fairy tales told about the “return of light” that occurs at the winter solstice. I should have read this in December but when I came across it earlier this month I couldn’t help checking it out from the library. I wanted to know more about the roots of the older traditions surrounding the Winter Solstice before it was taken over by the Church. I didn’t really find that, but I did find several different takes from around the world on just what happens during the solstice, the shortest day of the year, and their explanations for why the sun goes away, and more importantly why it comes back after.

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by Paul Walther


The short story “Splitfoot” was published in The Years Best Fantasy and Horror 2008. It is a story about a young woman named Violet who is in financial debt with a man named Royce, to help get her out of debt she calls in her friend Trixie to exchange some property up north. Trixie pays off her debt by giving the land to Violet, Violet pays off her debt by then transferring the land to Royce. All right and tight. Until they go up to see the property and see that something there has somehow gone terribly wrong.

I read this story through twice. I still don’t think I understand completely what happened, why it happened, or what the ending was supposed to mean. The evil found haunting the house up north was frightening. What happened was horrifying in a very The Exorcist sorta kind of way. That said I’m not sure what to say to not spoil it because I don’t get what’s pertinent and what’s not. Did they bring the demon? Was the demon already there? Was the demon attached to one of the characters? Why did it target the child? Why did two of the three main characters pretend nothing had happened afterward? It was all very confusing and I’m afraid I didn’t catch the vibe at all with this one.

Hum Drum

by Gary McMahon


The short story “Hum Drum” turned out to be a really intriguing horror/psychic/ghost mystery with a truly chilling nemesis and a very interesting psychic protagonist Thomas Usher. This short story can be found in The Years Best Fantasy and Horror 2008 and The First Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories.

In it Thomas Usher works as a psychic detective, he can see and communicate with the dead and helps people unfortunate enough to be in dangerous circumstances with these ghosts. His job is to try and find out what they want, why they are there, and get them what they need to go back to where they came from. In this story a man purchases a sinister toy drum from an antique shop and feels compelled to drum it. Doing so summons the ghost and results in him having to find Thomas Usher as the ghost is even more sinister than the drum. What does the ghost want? Why is the ghost bothering this man? Why is the drum still sounding on and on and what will it take to make the beat of the drum finally stop?

This short story would have made a terrifying TV Show. I could just picture the drum, innocent at first, but slowly resembling more and more an ancient relic made of human bone and flesh. The ghost was at times truly terrifying and the ending was, well not totally unexpected, but what happened after certainly was. Thomas Usher was fascinating to read about and I loved how the ending showed so much about him and who he was and that there were more stories to tell. In fact the author is writing more about him and is publishing a book with further tales in To Usher, The Dead which is coming out later this year, but isn’t on Amazon yet.


by M. Rickert


This story ended up giving me chills. You can find it in The Years Best Fantasy and Horror 2008. “Holiday” is the name of a girl child ghost that starts appearing to a man in his apartment. He knows who she is. The author hints at, but never straight out says, that she is Jon Benet Ramsey. Thus starts a story that unravels through the sometimes sad, sometimes confusing and very hurt and terror filled world of a survivor of child sexual abuse, and his resulting ghosts.

By the end of the story I felt really sorry for him as it seemed to me in his trying to reach out to these ghosts he was trying to reach out to his own lost childhood and trying to reclaim what both he and the ghosts lost, even going so far as to dress as a clown for a child’s party for the ghosts. Someone else somewhere posted that it was a ghost clowning around with a grown clown. Which casts the ghosts in a far more sinister light. Child sexual abuse is shown to twist and distort reality for the sufferers in this story in a truly profound, and horrifying, way.