Category Archives: Short Story

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Vampire

“Clarimonde” by Théophile Gautier – My original Classics Club pick for September was The Devil’s Elixirs by E. T. A. Hoffmann. At about 30% of the way through, I realized that I had kind of lost track of characters. The story is *very* Gothic with many characters and secret relationships between characters. For the time being, I’ve put The Devil’s Elixirs aside, to be visited more gradually with pen and paper in hand. To keep up RIP momentum and still cross a title off my Classics Club list, I chose a short title that I thought would still work for Gothic September. “Clarimonde” was perfect.

Published in 1835, the vampire tale “La Morte amoureuse” (“The Dead Woman in Love”) or, “Clarimonde” predates Le Fenu’s “Carmilla” by over 35 years. Our titular vampiress tempts a priest, but is, alas, eventually overcome. I found it surprisingly racy for the 19th century, though the parting “moral” of the story is, “Men, beware of women . . .”


“Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” by Stephen King – I read “Jerusalem’s Lot” and was confused. Wasn’t this Stephen King’s vampire story? While nosferatu get name-checked, the end of the story seemed to suggest something much more Lovecraftian in nature. And then I realized that King had also written a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot. I had heard of ‘Salem’s Lot but more in the context of the movie adaptation. I thought it was just the clever sales way of giving the project a more evocative title. But, no! Two separate projects, though both in King’s literary universe. Yes, there are vamps in Jerusalem’s Lot. We just don’t see them in their full vamp glory in the short story. For that, we have to go down the road to Tookey’s Bar in “One for the Road” and try to save some out-of-towners from the Lot’s denizens during a blizzard.


Abraham Lincoln: Vamipre Hunter

Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 45m
Rated: R

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith

Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper

Initial: Oh, why not . . .

What Did I Think:
If you take this movie as a bit of fun, it’s ridiculous, but not really a *bad* movie. The action is a little too CGI, but you don’t really need to exactly follow what’s going on in any of the fight scenes. The plot adds a little to vampire lore and it’s fun to imagine vampires in the burgeoning United States before Dracula.

But if you think about it a little too long, it could be a little problematic. Is this film really saying that the South was full of slave-owning vampires and not slave-owning people? I guess they’re going for allegory and I’m missing it(?) Also, full of factual errors (aside from the vampire thing). This isn’t the movie to watch for history.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Creepy Fungus

Picture of orange mushroom.
Photo by Joe on Pexels.com

“Come into My Cellar” by Ray Bradbury

I first read this story when I was about ten years-old. It put me off mushrooms for a long while. Not that mushrooms were a common ingredient in my mother’s cooking, but I was well into college before I began to appreciate mushrooms on my pizza and an occasional grilled portabella on my hamburger.

This story begins as many of Bradbury’s do: in the picturesque suburbs. Hugh, the head of the family, is fairly happy with his life, but feels like something is a bit off. His friend and co-worker, Roger feels it moreso. In fact, Roger starts acting weird, abruptly leaving his wife and calling Hugh to warn him about express mail packages. The only express mail package Hugh’s family has received is a mail-order mushroom farm that his son sent away for. Surely, Roger doesn’t that? His own son has the same mushroom farm…

“Gray Matter” by Stephen King

“Gray Matter” is an interesting contrast to Bradbury’s story. It does end up being a much more direct variation on the theme of some sort of fungus taking over a human, but King’s treatment of family is quite different. Richie, also the head of his family, has become something of a ne’er-do-well since his accident. The only contact the community has with him is through his son, whom Richie sends on beer runs. And in this case, some bad beer, not a mail-order scheme, sets off Richie’s transformation.

Don’t worry. This story won’t put me off beer…


In the Earth

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1h 47m
Rated: R

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith, Hayley Squires

Ringworm is a type of fungus. A mycorrhizal mat is formed by a type of fungus connecting the roots of trees. Mix these two concepts together and add a dash of folk horror in the form of a woodland legend and you have In the Earth. Plus, the world outside the forest is being ravaged by a deadly virus and scientists in the forest want to…communicate with the forest? The intentions here are all a little fuzzy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The main characters don’t quite know what’s going on either. On the “scary” end of things, there is some body horror, though I think Martin gets along awfully well for a guy who gets a couple of his toes chopped off. There are also some extended scenes with flashing lights and jumpy images which might be hard for some people to get through.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Necromancy

Early 20th century poster for magician "Joseffy: Necromancer"
A poster for one of my favorite “necromancers.”
Magicians have a penchant for hyperbole.

I chose/happened across several works this week that fit the prompt of necromancy about as well as the magician Joseffy fit the title. But then again, Joseffy’s most famous trick was Balsamo, the Talking Skull.

Picture of Joseffy, the magician, performing with his Talking Skull, Balsamo.

“The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” by Elaine Cuyegkeng

I chose this story because it won this year’s Eugie Award and all the nominees are on my short fiction TRB lists. It’s not exactly a tale of necromancy, but sort of a remix of necromantic ideas with a little bit of far-fetched science thrown in. And at the heart of the story is a mother-daughter relationship that isn’t going too well…


Series: Brand New Cherry Flavor

Year: 2021
Runtime: 1 season, 8 episodes
Rated: TV-MA

Creators: Nick Antosca, Lenore Zion

Stars: Rosa Salazar, Catherine Keener, Eric Lange

Initial: Decided to try out one of Netflix’s original series, especially since it fit R. I. P. (because I need more reason to watch horror…).

Production Notes: Based on a book by Todd Grimson, which is pretty much out of print. You’d think everyone involved would want an available tie-in, but what do I know?

What Did I Think:
This series is full of the reanimated dead, so it reasonably fits the “necromancy” category. I’m not sure I can say anything else very definite about Brand New Cherry Flavor.

Comparisons have been made to the works of David Lynch and, yeah, I can see that. I don’t really consider that a good thing. Lynch always feels a little too random and chaotic to me. BNCF isn’t quite as annoying as a David Lynch film, but there are definitely a few cases where what I assume to be rules of this world are inexplicably violated. The other comparison is to David Cronenberg’s works; that’s mostly because there is a pretty strong body horror aesthetic going on. I don’t mind body horror.

Story-wise, I don’t mind a morally ambiguous protagonist, but there is a moment of change-up that seemed false to me. Maybe it’s because we’re not given much hint that there’s something bad in Lisa Nova’s past until that’s important or that the parallel between her past and current circumstances is never fleshed out.


“The Necromantic Tale” by Clark Ashton Smith

Not very necromantic at all despite the title. In fact, it’s sort of libromantic, since our protagonist reading a book sets off a chain of events that is side-tracked by reminding himself that he’s reading a book. Nice and creepy though.

R.I.P. Bingo ~ Plague

Photo by Tess Myrl on Pexels.com

I’m a slow reader, but luckily R.eaders I.mbibibng P.eril isn’t just about reading long works. So, maybe I have a chance at blacking out that bingo card. 😉 For some of the prompts, I want to combine an appropriate movie with a short story or two. First up, “Plague.”


“Fever Dream” by Ray Bradbury

At some point in the last year, I half lost a finger to rheumatoid arthritis. It’s the pinkie of my left hand. I’d been noticing that my wedding band was irritating the main joint of the pinkie (the proximal interphalangeal), but didn’t pay it much attention. When I did, finally, I found that the joint was permanently inflamed and would no longer straighten. It’s still serves as my main Shift/CTRL pinkie, all is not lost ye, but this is something that’s going to happen to me for the rest of my life. Like Charlie in “Fever Dream,” bit by bit, parts of my body are going to betray me.

Charlie’s situation is a little more dire. According to his doctor, it’s scarlet fever complicated by a cold. But Charlie knows. You’d think the doctor would know too when Charlie’s own hands try to strangle Charlie, but the doc just chalks it up to the fever dream of an imaginative boy. It’s a fever dream that wants to infect the world…


It Comes at Night

Year: 2017
Runtime: 1h 31m
Rated: R

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Writers: Trey Edward Shults

Stars: Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Carmen Ejogo,

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a semi-joke that preppers were just mad because this wasn’t an apocalypse they could shoot. AKA, a global pandemic doesn’t play out like It Comes at Night. And I know this movie is more about human interactions when dealing with pressure and the unknown, but I was really annoyed by the lack of any good quarantine/disinfection procedures.

The one thing that It Comes at Night does get right is its title. How many nights in the past year and a half have I laid down, tired, past bedtime, and suddenly wondered… Is my chest tight? Can I still taste and smell? Is this actually really how I breathe?


“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

A tale of the super rich and privileged who can’t avoid the inevitable: death. But it’s death from a contagion, so the conclusion sits uneasy these days: what chance do little people have as we try to stay safe? Which is why I hadn’t reread this story until now despite it having some of my favorite imagery in all of literature. In theme, It Comes at Night does mimic “Masque.” In both, characters are trying to beat circumstances with isolation and the house in the movie is maybe as much of an architectural conundrum as Prospero’s imperial suite.

Reading Notes, 6/3/21

Finished Reading

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

Heard about this book from What’s Nonfiction’s fabulous blog.

I’ve read quite a few books about magicians and, tangentially, spiritualism due to the vocation of many magicians to debunk (or, alternatively, learn from) mediums. As a skeptic myself, I find mediumship curious. So much of it is a con, but there is also often an aspect of self-delusion. Even magicians who have done mind-reading or séance type acts—professionals who know they are not communing with spirits or guides—have reported the feeling of working beyond what they’re capable of. But they also realize that this is a feeling and not reality.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding begins in 1938 when a normal British housewife begins to be harassed by poltergeist activity. Nandor Fodor, a “ghost hunter” for the International Institute for Psychical Research, investigates. Fodor believes in psychic phenomena, but he wants badly to have scientific proof of it. When we begin this story, he’s in some hot water with the IIPR because he has, disappointingly, proved several mediums to be frauds. He is desperate to find a true case of a haunting, but has also begun to theorized that these poltergeists might be manifestations (still psychic in nature) of trauma. As Alma begins to get attention, from the press and the IIPR, the poltergeist activity shifts to being apports (manifested objects) and mediumship, things that Fodor wants to see of her. There is an interplay between the expectations of Alma and Fodor. Their relationship becomes maybe too co-dependent. And Fodor eventually finds out that Alma isn’t as simple as she seems. This is all against the backdrop of a Britain under increasing pressure as WWII become immanent. Summerscale mentions that there was an increase in news-worthy cases of poltergeist activity during this era, which is a interesting detail.

At times, the book was maybe a little repetitive and there were a few too many a names. I had a tough time remembering who everyone was after putting the book down for a day or two. For me, this is a good addition to my framework of magic and spiritualism. It brought me further into the 20th century than my usual reading.

Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This was my May Classics Club Spin book, which I did finish in May. Barely.

I forget sometimes that Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe were contemporaries. What wonderful dinner parties those would be… Anyway. Like Poe, I’m not a fan of Hawthorne’s straight-up allegories. We’ve talked about this before when I touched on “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” during Deal Me In. To me, the only way a writer should present allegory is if they can do it with a level of actual story. So, a few of the stories in Mosses (“The Celestial Rail-road ” & “The Procession of Life”) were rather torturous for me to get through. But so many others are such wonderful, if cynical, stories. I’m still a Hawthorne neophyte, so I’m still surprised by the very dim view Hawthorne takes of humankind. I’m not used to that from authors. Ironically, while I am not a fan of allegory, I am a fan of speculative fiction genres and the two go hand in hand, especially in the pre-pulp days. “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and even “Feathertop” and “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” have gooey horror fiction cores.

Deal Me In

4♠️ – “The Cold Embrace” by Mary E. Braddon
Speaking of early horror fiction… Ever read a story where you say, “Oh, you naive boy. You don’t know what kind of story you’re in”? Yeah, I did that here and enjoyed every second of our main character’s comeuppance.

Currently Reading

Started on my summer reading and then was quickly sidetracked my an impulse read, All the Flavors by Ken Liu, while I was cataloging the books on my Kindle. Next up is The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K Hartman and then back to Journey to the Center of the Earth.


Reading Notes, supplemental (5/27/2021)

Willa Cather Short Story Project

The Willa Cather story for May was “The Conversion of Sum Loo.” This was a deviation from the schedule (a chronological list of Cather’s early works) because this is a bit of a rework of last months story, “A Son of the Celestial.”

Without getting too far into the plot weeds, “A Son of the Celestial” is more of a two-person story focused on how Ponter and Yang change each other and relate to their communities. “The Conversion of Sum Loo” widens the scope, somewhat, while being even moreso about Sum Chin and his wife, Sum Loo. The Ponter character is taken up by Girrard, a young man who is torn between the priesthood and art. The Sums are a fairly successful Chinese immigrant couple, though Sum Loo is much younger than her husband, and more open to the Christian influences in her community. Sum Chin is very concerned about the well-being of his son, possibly his only chance for securing a legacy and making sure that there is a next generation to take care of him and his wife. He does not object to his wife having the baby baptized; the more Gods favoring his child, the better, right? The conclusion of this story was quite the gut-punch.

The two stories were published seven years apart and Cather’s craft has absolutely improved in that time. “A Son of the Celestial” is not much more than a sketch, where “The Conversion of Sum Loo” is a more well-rounded story.

Interested in reading along? Short Fiction of Willa Cather, Phase II

Finished Reading

The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination

The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles

During my second semester as an English major (being my fifth semester as a college student), I took a course called “Stories and the Human Experience.” At the time I worried that it was kind of a useless class because it didn’t fulfill any specific English requirement and I would easily end up having enough non-English department elective credits without it considering the amount of now superfluous math and science I had already taken. (The war between STEM and the humanities has always been strong in me.) But it ended up being a great course. The two sections were taught by different instructors with slightly different syllabi. We’d join up every couple of weeks to jam on what we’d all been reading. (It occurs to me now that my advisor might have been really working to fill the class since it was the first time is was offered and they needed two sections.) I remember that we read King Lear, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (a novel I found slightly traumatic), and selections from Robert Coles’ The Call of Stories. (There were other things on the syllabus, but I don’t remember them. It’s been a while.)

I decided a few years ago that I wanted to revisit Coles and the concepts he presented. On the surface, Coles argues a point that does come up time and again in the STEM vs. humanities debate: stories teach empathy. They present characters who model behaviors both good and bad. They potentially offer insight into characters similar and different from ourselves. Coles presents what the scientific world would call anecdotal evidence. The most compelling portion of the books is reading stories of his students (mostly medical students, but also a few in fields like law and business) who have read a novel or short story and strongly identified with characters and plot situations. These stories have made them think about the morality of their behavior in new ways.

What left me a little cold was the actual talk of morality. Some of the points of view struck me as pretentious and privileged. This might be my own prejudice, but I can’t shake the feeling that Coles and his students (all Harvardians) find people less fortunate than themselves to be, well, unfortunates. Or maybe it’s because all these people are discussing problems that maybe wouldn’t be problems if they were worrying about making the rent. The irony of reading a book about stories and empathy, but not being super empathetic to the people presented in the narrative, is not lost on me.

Also, I wonder what it says about me that the characters that have “lived with me” the most are Schmendrick, Molly Grue, Henry Palace, and a man called Ishmael.


The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall

During my reading of The King in Yellow, I read H. G. Wells story “The Door in the Wall.” Since the collection was on my Classics Club list and I enjoyed the titular story quite a bit, I decided to finish the book before moving on.

The Chambers story “The Demoiselle d’Ys” is said to have anticipated Wells’ “The Door in the Wall.” In both, our protagonist crosses over into some other time or place. In “The Demoiselle d’Ys,” Philip is time-slipped into the past where he has a curious encounter. In “The Door in the Wall,” Lionel Wallace goes through a green door as a child and enters some sort of utopia. Though he promises to return as an adult, he never does, even though he sees the green door several more times throughout his life.

To a certain extent, I think Wells’ “A Dream of Armageddon,” bears resemblance to the Chambers’ story as well. In this case, a man named Cooper relates the “consecutive” dream he’s had. He has lived a whole other life within a dream world—what he purports to be the far future. At first this other world is Idyllic, but it turns dark when war breaks out. Cooper ends up living out his entire life and dying in the dream, similar to Philip’s snake-bitten fate in his time-slipped past.

Wells spends a lot of time in “A Dream of Armageddon” describing the beauty and terribleness of the war machines. This appreciation and dread of industrial machines is revisited often in these stories. In “The Cone,” a fairly basic revenge tale, I personally don’t know enough about smelteries to know when Wells is being fanciful, but his descriptions are vivid and full of grandeur. So also are the descriptions of deaths in “The Cone” and “The Lord of the Dynamos.” The victims meet their demises due to the evils of man rather than the evils of machines—the machines are only the tools—but their deaths are horrible in ways that only technology can seem to facilitate.

Man’s mind doesn’t fare well either in the industrial world. In “The Door in the Wall,” it’s Wallace’s business ambitions that keep him from going through the door again. The life of the protagonist in “The Diamond Maker” is pretty much ruined by his gem fabrication technology. (The story includes a long description of the actual technology.) The protagonist of “A Moonlight Fable” is also driven a little mad when he isn’t let by his mother to wear his very nice, spiffy suit. The suit is a thing of the modern world, which is being curtailed by the past, and the man just can’t take it.

Unfortunately, some of Wells’ 19th century attitudes are on display as well. When Neptune and a rogue celestial body are hurtling toward Earth in “The Star,” the “savages” believe it’s a good portent while the scientist are sure that humanity is screwed. (Neither are exactly correct.) “The Lord of the Dynamos” gives us Azuma-zi, a black assistant from the “mysterious East,” a savage of the sort that “give(s) souls to rocks and trees—and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or tree.” Azuma-zi ends up sacrificing his abusive supervisor to the power plant’s main dynamo…

Wells does subvert colonial notions in a stronger manner in “The Country of the Blind.” Nunez, a sighted English mountain climber, finds a sequestered city where everyone is blind. Believing the adage “In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king,” he attempts to conquer them. When that doesn’t go well, he tries to fit in, but eventually leaves when the head of the society demands that his eyes be put out. In a way, this is a tale of colonialism repulsed.

Whatever the subject matter, I do like Wells’ style of writing. While many writers might shoot for dry allegory, Wells is always lively enough that I don’t feel entirely preached at. Definitely a bright spot in the early 20th century writings I’ve been reading lately.