I’ve been retyping (and editing) some short stories I wrote 20 years ago, with the idea of possibly combining them with a bunch of new stories in a self-published anthology. The first three stories I retyped were extremely interesting in various ways, and actually fun to rediscover.
But the one I’m looking at now makes me uneasy. Not because it’s a bad story — I think it’s pretty good — and not because the content is raw. A few months ago I wrote a story that involves cannibalism, and it doesn’t bother me at all. This story is tame compared to that one.
It’s called “A Place to Stay for a Little While.” It was first published in the June 1986 issue of Asimov’s, and was anthologized in 1987 in The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 13. Two things about it disturb me. First, it’s about a young man who is trapped in a powerful addiction. At the end of the story he has not escaped from his addiction, and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to. Second, the thing he’s addicted to is control. The other characters in the story are weak. They have no way to fight him. They’re destined to be victims.
This dynamic makes the story creepy in a way that standard horror tropes like cannibalism aren’t.
Or maybe it’s that most of my stories have an implicit moral structure. They may end happily or unhappily, but in either case one has the feeling that the universe of the story exhibits some sort of pattern that incorporates good and evil in a meaningful way. “A Place to Stay for a Little While” is about people whose lives are on the edge, and there’s neither a white knight on the horizon nor a mushroom cloud. If there’s to be any moral structure in their universe, they’ll have to make it up for themselves as they go along — and it seems not very likely that they’ll be able to manage it. They’re too busy trying to live from day to day.
Plus, the guy murders the radio. I think the radio may be the only genuinely innocent character I’ve ever killed off in a story.
I suppose that may require some explanation. It’s a talking radio. There, does that explain it?