Come Join Us by the Fire has released Season 2 just in time for Halloween. It’s available for free on the Google Play Books app. There’s a bit less stories than the first season, but with 27 horror stories, there’s still hours of spooky entertainment. Since the first season contained a lot of flash fiction, and season 2 only has a couple five minutes pieces, they’re probably about the same length.
Most of the stories in this collection are between 15 minutes to half an hour long, which feels like the right length. There’s a mixture of original stories and reprints. The narrators all do a great job reading the stories. As with any anthology, I liked some stories more than others. Since art is subjective, you may like/dislike different stories than I did.
Since this is a horror collection, I found it odd that a couple of the stories had content warnings, but most didn’t. I think they only put content warnings on stories involving self-harm, but they easily could have given a content warning for all the stories.
I didn’t care for the 5 minute stories myself. I think it’s just hard for me to really get into a story that short. I also generally don’t care for revenge stories, but fortunately, there were few of these. My least favorite in this collection were “If Living is Seeing I’m Holding My Breath” by Sunny Moraine and “Emergency Landing” by Seanan McGuire.
“If Living is Seeing” takes place in a world in which people die if they see another person, There was too much about the scenario that didn’t make sense, and at 45 minutes long, it took too long to get to where it was going.
“Emergency Landing” takes place aboard an airplane that lifted off right when terrorists kill pretty everybody in the world. I didn’t understand the point of this one. Our point of view character decides to spend the last few hours of her life keeping the truth from her fellow passengers in order to keep them from panicking, even though they already know most of the truth and they already are panicking.
In both “The Changeling” by Sarah Langan and “Things Boys Do” by ‘Pemi Aguda, parenthood is a punishment. Parents are forced to raise monstrous babies for doing something monstrous themselves. I originally heard “Things Boys Do” in Nightmare Magazine. There are three different fathers being punished in this story, but none of them are named which makes it easy to confuse them with each other.
I was disappointed in “Standing Water” by Caitlín R. Kiernan since the last story of hers I read was so amazing. In this story, a bored bookstore employee encounters a mysterious mud puddle. Eh.
Some of the stories contain humor. “Jōren Falls” by Laird Barron, about an elderly couple who think they have a squirrel in their attic, does have one horrifying scene, but it ends on a punchline. “Prodigal Son” by Daniel M. Lavery is a humorous retelling of the Biblical story. It’s a stretch to call it horror, but it was fun. “The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherynne M. Valente, about a woman living through the zombie apocalypse, has its funny moments as well.
Friends play with a Ouija board in “The Sound of Footsteps” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which was pretty good. I also liked “Mama Tulu” by Jessica Guess in which a teenager in Jamaica uses magic to kill her abusive father. It turns out not being a simple revenge story, however. “Spyder Threads” by Craig Laurance Gidney involves a model who encounters a fashion designer whose models tend to mysteriously disappear.
Some other stories I really liked include “Things We Lost in the Fire” by Mariana Enriquez which concerns an epidemic of women burning themselves and “The Fireplace” by Clay McLeod Chapman in which a man finds something stuck in his chimney.
In “Some Breakable Things” by Cassandra Khaw, “you” are haunted by your dead father and consider hiring an exorcist. Some poetic lines in this one such as “the kelp tangle of your hair”. Chilling.
Perhaps because I’ve read and watched so much horror, I’ve become pretty jaded, so most of the stories didn’t work as horror for me. However, “Blood Daughter” by Matthew Lyons in which a man creates a surrogate daughter out of pieces of himself was truly horrifying.
A teacher attempts to help a troubled student in “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca. At an hour, it’s the longest story in the collection. Antosca uses the extra time well to slowly build tension. Another favorite from this collection is “The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley in which a child helps a man make a volcano so he can point a telescope at it and see the stars beneath.
“The Song of the Lady Rose” by Gabino Iglesias makes the best use of the audio format. Students have an audio-editing assignment and choose an incident involving a disaster aboard a ship as their subject. Their teacher comments upon the different choices they made with regards to sound.
My favorite story in this collection is “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link. Originally published in 1998, winner of the World Fantasy Award, and appearing in numerous best-of anthologies, I think it’s safe for us to call this a classic at this point. Twins whose mother died recently and whose father is obsessed with an obscure poet, like to play “the dead game” with their babysitter until one day, they find a hat made out of teeth. I’ve heard it before, but it’s still as good the second time.