(Editor’s note: SHORT SHOTS is a column where I review horror short stories.)
“Quiet Embers” opens with the heart-wrenching line, “My neighbors house burned down six months ago with their children inside.” The tale then gently explores how the now empty lot haunts the narrator, a new resident of the neighborhood.
“Quiet Embers” is one of the short stories in The Midnightmare Collection: Ten Haunting Tales by California author Kyra R. Torres. While many of the selections in Torres’ debut book emit campfire tale vibes, the author also tackles grief in three of the stories.
One of them, “Quiet Embers,” is a thoughtful meditation sparked by the sight of an empty lot where a family was killed by a house fire. The narrator, who didn’t know the family, is nevertheless troubled even six months after the tragedy.
“As I stepped closer I could feel the sorrow that radiated from that bare, open area.”
Torres adds subtle details to heighten the emotion. Like when the narrator sees three angel statues – one for each dead child – and feels hurt after noticing one is knocked over on its side.
The narrator then speaks to Carlos, one of her new neighbors who witnessed the fire. Carlos shares more details of the horrific tragedy. As the narrator turns to go home, the witness asks, “Have you heard them yet? … The children. Have you heard them laughing yet?”
Startled by the questions but intrigued, the narrator heads home and conducts a Google search on the tragic blaze, which leads to a blog about ghost sightings and a reference to the house fire.
While the narrator seeks to understand the tragedy, no easy answers emerge. However, the story culminates with the best and most powerful line in the entire collection to me.
“I’ve stood out there some sleepless nights, looking up at the moon and wondering what kind of memories that family could have made if someone had just smelled the smoke sooner.”
Sad and introspective, “Quiet Embers” – as its title implies – is quiet horror. There’s no blood or gore, no fear or suspense, and no monsters. Instead, the author Torres takes the long-extinguished scene of a fatal house fire and struggles to find meaning in the ghostly remains of three dead children.