Story of the Week #9 — “Chance” by Conor Powers-Smith

Found a horror/fantasy/speculative fiction mag called Black Treacle the other day. They are a Canada-based online magazine that publishes bimonthly. Though I’m not from Canada (and they give preference to Canadian writers), I submitted something anyway. The worst they can say is no.

This week’s Story of the Week is, actually, written by a guy from New Jersey. “Chance” by Conor Powers-Smith is an entertaining trip through the proverbial looking glass into another world — a family enters a corn maze and finds the center, only to learn that the exact route they took through the maze has brought them to an alternate universe. I won’t tell you how it ends, but suffice it to say that Black Treacle publishes speculative horror, and this definitely falls into that category.

Ha, category. You see what I did there? (Read the story and you will.)

Powers-Smith’s story is written well — nice increase of tension throughout, dialogue is believable. Not to mention the language is beautiful:

The noise—the babble and movement of a few dozen people, the laughter and shrieks and running footsteps of children, the crying of at least one baby at any given moment, it seemed—receded, too, when the smell was present, as if Paul’s senses were straining exclusively toward the sharp fragrance of invisible smoke.

My favorite image, though, is the little girl of the story, the narrator character Paul’s daughter Beth. At the beginning of the story, she is trying to convince her parents to go with her through the maze at the fair, then effectively drags them toward it with a focus only a child could muster:

He must’ve made some sound or gesture of acquiescence, because a wet, sticky kiss hit him on the cheek. Beth giggled at the effort necessary to disengage her caramel-encrusted lips from Paul’s face, then started wiggling again as Diane set to work on her cheeks with a wet nap.

As she twisted in his arms, the small white scar on his daughter’s left temple seemed hardly to move, as if her whole body were pivoting on its fulcrum. Paul had an impulse to kiss the scar, but thought better of it immediately. Instead, when her face was as clean as it was going to get for the time being, he set her down on the ground, where she took his right hand in her left, Diane’s left in her right.

Beth strained against their arms as she led them across the grounds, seemingly oblivious to the strolling families and sprinting, screaming lines of children which Paul and Diane maneuvered to avoid.

This story is good and creepy. You won’t be sorry you read it.

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