(Editor’s note: SHORT SHOTS is a column where I review short stories from horror anthologies.)
“Cabin Twelve” by Daphne Strasert won the Next Great Horror Writer Campfire Horror Story Challenge, and “The Face” by Naching T. Kassa finished runner-up. The tales are featured in the flash fiction anthology, Horror Bites: Campfire Tales, edited by Emerian Rich and published by HorrorAddicts.net in 2018.
Strasert’s “Cabin Twelve” follows a counselor on patrol of the campgrounds at night. The opening paragraph is a perfectly spooky setup: “There were stories camp leaders wouldn’t tell the kids. Some they didn’t even tell the counselors. A pet alligator grown to giant proportions or an escaped circus bear, those were told in good fun for a shriek around the bonfire. Truth was, there was nothing in those woods bigger than a coyote and even they weren’t much of a worry. The directors never told the real ghost stories like the boy who drowned in the lake or the girl who went for a hike and never came back. And they never told us about Cabin Twelve.”
The counselor, of course, stumbles upon the run-down Cabin Twelve with a recently nailed sign on the door reading “STORAGE.” Curiosity and the furtive rustle of a curtain overcome the counselor’s fear. What’s inside the cabin? Well, you’ll have to read to find out, but it’s not dusty old kayaks in storage.
The final sentence — “After all, the whole point of camp is to make new friends” — deviously puts a spin on one of the main reasons for attending summer camp. “Cabin Twelve” flawlessly captures the spirit of a campfire tale and earned a well-deserved win in the HorrorAddicts.com challenge.
Kassa’s “The Face” knocks the “campfire tale” out of the park, slyly using an elderly woman’s diminished mental state to quickly ratchet up the tension. The characters in the story are Agatha and Dorothy. Agatha is the dutiful daughter caring for her frail mother Dorothy. “Hair like spider webbing covered her head, deep lines furrowed her brow, and her eyes had lost most of their shine. Once, she’d been a vivacious woman who loved baseball, but she lay bedridden, staring out the window. It saddened Agatha.”
One night, Dorothy chants dire warnings in her sleep — “He’s coming to the window” and “Don’t let him in.” Agatha sees a black-eyed face with red-stained teeth in her window. As Dorothy’s terrifying messages escalate, Kassa ramps up the intensity and pace to a boiling point, sending Agatha on a frantic search of the house. The cleverly cathartic climax of “The Face” finishes with an unexpected shock caused by a singularly unexpected final word. You’ll love it.
“Cabin Twelve” and “The Face” are old-fashioned and nostalgic horror stories written by two talented authors who know how to pack a maximum amount of suspense in a minimum amount of words.