Short Stories

Following is a listing of my published short fiction in order of most recent appearance. A few have links to read online. You can also click on the publication links to see more details about the magazine, book or editor, and the cover thumbnails to see larger images.

In addition to the best of these published stories, my forthcoming short story collection, Shadows on the Wall, includes 20,000 words of new fiction.

Harold the Hero and the Talking Sword (with Jack Dann)

and-then-vol-1-front-coverJack Dann and I had been talking for a while about doing a project together when the opportunity to write a story for the Clan Destine Press And Then… anthology came up. He showed his story “The Talking Sword” to Lindy Cameron and she loved it, but suggested it be expanded because the theme of the anthology was for stories with two protagonists, and the demon sword held sway over his “sidekick” in Jack’s original tale.

As Jack and I talked about it, we soon found ourselves brainstorming the further adventures of not just the time-travelling sword, but having his unlikely wielder, Harold the Hero, come to the fore. We took our inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, and asked ourselves what would happen if the sword somehow lost its powers. The result was “Harold the Hero and the Talking Sword”. It was great fun to write and hopefully great fun to read.

  • And Then… Volume 2 (ed. Ruth Wykes and Kylie Fox), Clan Destine Press, Australia, 2017.

Christmas Morning

hells-bellsThis little story was written for an Australian Horror Writers Association flash fiction anthology. The brief was to write a Christmas ghost story in 500 words or less. I tried to think of the most frightening thing that could happen at Christmas time and this was the result.

  • Hell’s Bells: Stories of Festive Fear by members of the Australian Horror Writers Association (edited by the AHWA Committee), AHWA, 2016.

Two Tomorrow and Logic Loop

paroxysm-100-lightnings-e1475825801846These are anthology reprints of a couple of my most popular flash fictions stories. “Two Tomorrow” was originally published in Eidolon and is now one of my most reprinted stories. It’s very short, weighing in at a mere 650 words, but to my mind it punches well above its weight. “Logic Loop” was originally published by Peter McNamara in Aphelion and has now been reprinted in books in Australia, Canada and Spain.

  • 100 Lightnings (edited by Stephen Studach), Paroxysm Press, 2016.

Pest Control

cthulhu-ddu_thumbThis is a story based on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, but set in an Australian suburban setting. Isobelle Carmody said the story “evokes the void through the domestic, making it as horrifying as if we had looked into a plug hole to see an eye peering back at us”. I set out to leverage a common pulp fiction technique used by H. P. Lovecraft and others of his contemporaries writing stories in the golden era of Weird Tales. That of a lone narrator facing unspeakable horrors. But I wanted it to raise the form above its somewhat hackneyed pulp history by applying modern sensibilities. The story mechanics of using only a single character make it difficult to develop conflict, but I think I achieved a good balance between the old and the new.

  • Cthulhu: Deep Down Under (Horror Australis), edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens, 2015.

Severing Ties (with Maurice Xanthos)

short_and_twisted_2009_cover

A flash fiction pun story written with my old friend Maurice Xanthos, who unfortunately writes all too infrequently these days. The action takes place in the marital bedroom where things come to a grisly end.

  • Short and Twisted 2009 (Celapene Press), edited by Kathryn Duncan, 2009.

Ma Rung

dann__webb_-_dreaming_down-under_coverartA ghost story that has received as much praise for its portrayal of the Vietnam jungle and the men who fought there as it has for its supernatural thrills. From the introduction Jack Dann writes: “Paulsen takes us back to the horrors of Vietnam where those walking point sometimes see more than just the Viet Cong in the heat of battle.”

  • Dreaming Down-Under (HarperCollins Australia), edited by Jack Dann & Janeen Webb, 1998.
  • Dreaming Down-Under – Book One (HarperCollins Australia), edited by Jack Dann & Janeen Webb, 1999.
  • Dreaming Down-Under (TOR, USA), edited by Jack Dann & Janeen Webb, 2000. (Hardcover).

The Sorcerer’s Looking Glass

fantastic-worldsThe “Sorcerer’s Looking Glass” is a young adult fantasy story with a touch of horror. Some people believe that mirrors are doorways to alternate worlds or different dimensions. Others believe they are not so much doorways as traps or prisons. But if that’s so, who holds the keys? This is a tale of obsession that will make you look twice at mirrors in the future.

  • Fantastic Worlds (HarperCollins Australia), edited by Paul Collins, 1997.

In the Light of the Lamp

This tale is a contemporary Cthulhu Mythos horror story drawing on H. P. Lovecraft’s poem “The Lamp of Alhazred” for inspiration. I wrote it for Leigh Blackmore’s ground-breaking Terror Australis anthology. Blackmore kindly described it as “one of the few Mythos tales of real quality written in the last decade”. It was picked up by Robert M. Price and reprinted in the Chaosium anthology The Cthulhu Cycle which won the 1996 Origins Award for Best Game-Related Fiction. I was pleased as punch to have an extract from my story on the back cover alongside an extract from “the Call of Cthulhu” by Lovecraft himself. It was also published in French and Spanish translations.

  • Terror Australis (ed. Leigh Blackmore), Hodder & Stoughton, 1993.
  • The Cthulhu Cycle (ed. Robert M Price), Chaosium, USA, 1996.
  • Le Cycle de Cthulhu (ed. Robert M Price, translated by Eric Holweck), Oriflam, France, 1998.
  • La Saga de Cthulhu (ed. Robert M Price, translated by Eric Holweck), La Factoria de Ideas, Spain, 2006.

pcuser_thumbGreater Garbo

In 1992 I was thinking about garbage and the environment, and I was thinking about a news story I has seen about a young man marrying an elderly woman. This humorous high-tech SF story combines these two ideas with unexpected results.

  • Australian & NZ PC User Magazine, edited by Geoff Ebbs, October 1992.

Stray Cat

eod7_thumbThe original short story as written for adults which later became my spooky children’s book The Stray Cat. It was written for Chris Masters’ Esoteric Order of Dagon magazine.

  • EOD Magazine #7, September 1992

Two Tomorrow

A futuristic SF story where population control laws force families into making terrible choices (read this story online at Eidolon.net). This tale is close to my heart. It brought tears to my eyes when I wrote it and it has proved to be one of the most popular stories I have written.

  • Eidolon #3 (ed. Jeremy G. Byrne, Jonathan Strahan, et al), Spring 1990.
  • Beyond Fantasy & Science Fiction (ed. David Riley), UK, June/July 1995.
  • 100 Lightnings (ed. Stephen Studach), Paroxysm Press, 2016.

Old Wood

“Old Wood” is a ghost story about haunted timber. It came about as I watched a shipwright build a unique pergola for a friend. Fortunately the old wood they used came from a different source. When I wrote it, I was what is known as a “discovery writer” rather than a “planner”. I usually started with a character or a situation, maybe some idea of how it would end, and I would start writing to see what happened. As a result of this technique, I often had false starts and ended up with stories that went nowhere. But with “Old Wood”, all these individual ideas came together as a whole and resulted not only in a finished story, but one that has been very popular.

It was originally published in Terror Australis magazine before being reprinted in the Penguin anthology Strange Fruit edited by Paul Collins. In her review of that book in Meanjin, the popular crime writer Kerry Greenwood described the story as one of “the best ones” in the anthology.

  • Terror Australis #2, edited by Leigh Blackmore, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce J. Stevens, July 1990.
  • Strange Fruit, edited by Paul Collins, Penguin Books, 1995.

Talisman

“Talisman” is another ghost story, this time set in the steamy jungle of Vietnam. The story was judged by Bruce Pascoe as the best local submission, and it later became the basis of my popular story “Ma Rung”.

The Place

terroraustralis1_thumbThis little story distressed me when I wrote it (and still makes me uncomfortable today). So why did I write it? I wrote it in response to a spate of family murder/suicides and child murders that were reported in the news that shook me to the core. What drives a mother to drown her babies? Why would a father throw his daughter off a bridge? I don’t understand how any parent can kill a child. There is no possible reason or excuse and yet people do it. Mental illness, I hear some people say. It makes me want to weep, so I guess this story was an attempt to exorcise the pain.

  • Terror Australis #1, edited by Leigh Blackmore, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce J. Stevens, April 1988.

Logic Loop

A micro-fiction story that is literally a logic loop. A popular little story published in two anthologies alongside big names such as Robert Heinlein, Frederick Forsyth, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury among others.

  • Aphelion #5, Summer 86/87.
  • Worlds in Small (Cacanadadada Books), edited by John Robert Colombo, 1992.
  • Grandes Minicuentos Fantasticos (Alfaguara), edited by Benito Arias Garcia (Spanish translation).
  • 100 Lightnings (edited by Stephen Studach), Paroxysm Press, 2016.

Errand Run

Another micro-fiction story from the same issue of Aphelion SF Magazine edited by Peter McNamara.

Art Critic

This was my first published short story. A humorous SF piece that was inspired by the Sydney Art Biennale and asks questions about what constitutes good art. If you think the art in this story is weird just have a look at the real thing.

  • The Cygnus Chronicler, Volume 4 No 3, June 1982.
  • The Melbourne Report, July 1989