"Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Black Balloon Publishing
Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
2020, 304 pages, Fiction
Released on October 20th, 2020
Did you ever think there would be a full-fledged pandemic in your lifetime? Trying to think back to a year ago, such a thing seemed remote or even fantastic. Pandemics were the things in Michael Crichton books and cheap CGI movies that functioned as McGuffins to move the plot along a horrific path. Plausible, yes, but realistic? It did not seem that way, even though there has been precedent. Now it seems quaint the way we chagrined previous years for smaller reasons, and we are living a very real nightmare scenario. Fear is destabilizing a world that was already in a precarious state, infecting everything and everyone we know. It also begs the question: if this nightmare can become real, what other terrifying scenarios are closer to us than we think?
This is the reason that Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror, a new horror anthology edited by Nadxieli Nieto and Lincoln Michel, is such a compelling read. Having worked together on similar anthologies like Gigantic Worlds and Tiny Crimes, they have brought numerous talents together to explore short-form horror stories. The intended purpose was surely to offer a quality collection to coincide with the “spooky” Halloween season, but I don’t think any of them could know at the time just how much these tales of horror would become terrifyingly resonant. After all, the pandemic is not just about infection, but also a crisis of psychology. The very best horror stories play on our insecurities – they find our weakness and poke at it until we recoil, something that feels like has already been happening to us for the entire year. Many of these stories do just that, making the collection something the reader is compelled to race through, and simultaneously find deeply disturbing. The stories, divided into sections like “Heads”, “Hearts”, “Limbs”, “Viscera”, are each only a few pages, and subsequently each one needs to pack a wallop.
The stories are an interesting blend of styles and themes. There are modern narratives, filled with the trappings of the present, which lure the reader into a familiar space in order to strike. “Rearview” by Samantha Hunt is the standout of this type, relying on our comfort of the familiar to keeping us from questioning everything. “Doggy Dog World” by Hilary Leicher is another which pulls the reader back and forth from the ordinary into the surreal, and the blending effect is off-putting. Then there is the initially playful nature of “Candy Boii” by Sam J. Miller, which begins as a humorous look at dating app culture, but quickly takes a left turn into something horrifically plausible. Stories like “Carbon Footprint” by Shelly Oria expose the inherent violence of gender roles and plays with language in the way to incite panic within the reader. All these and many more seek to expose us all, to remind us that we are not above fear in any sense. Each one is simply a catalyst for showing us the ugly truth – that there are more horror stories happening in our “normal” lives than we care to admit.
There are also many stories that create new folktales, which play on fears much older and deeper within our psyches. My favorite example is “The Wheat Woman” by Theresa Hottell, which expertly blends the brooding fear of isolation with the fear of our surroundings, the anxiety that we will be swallowed up by our environments. “Leg” by Brian Evenson is another notable example, which combines his fantastic ability to create something that could have been written hundreds of years ago, albeit with a twist of high strangeness unique to his writing. “Fingers” by Rachel Heng is particularly disturbing, the story of a village beset by unseen forces. As the best scary stories do, the expected cathartic ending is instead ripped away by the worst case scenario, leaving the reader raw. “The Story and the Seed” by Amber Sparks also features something like this, adding a new twist to a somewhat familiar story, in both outcome and tone.
This is only scratching the surface of many, many different stories within this anthology, and of course, they don’t all fall into these lone two categories I mentioned. There are stories that go beyond categorization, ones that use language to dislocate the reader from a familiar place and take them somewhere darker. There are stories from familiar authors and stories from relatively new talents, all of them with their unique take on what horror truly is. There is something for everyone in here. Each story has its own merit, and the editors did an amazing job compiling this powerhouse collection. Be warned: considering the state of things, many of these stories may “hit different” in a way you did not expect. Perhaps that is what we need right now – after all, horror stories help us cope with the horror of reality in ways that have been proven. Maybe the tiny nightmares will help us put our larger nightmare into perspective, until the day that we finally wake up.
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