New Zealand Author Denver Grenell's Flash Fiction Collection '20,000 Bloody Words' Is Bloody Fun

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According to legend, American author Ernest Hemingway famously penned one of the shortest short stories with the six-word tale, ‘For sale, baby shoes, never used.’ Unlike a novel, where there’s the literary legroom to overindulge in-depth narratives, short stories require an immediate seizure of the reader’s attention. Flash fiction cuts that definition even closer to the quick; with the average available space of a social media post (sometimes less), it’s storytelling at its most Spartan.

Even for veteran writers crafting flash can pose a challenge, but a new generation raised in an ever-hastening ADHD pop cultural environment has adopted such diminutive prose as a way to showcase their storytelling skills. One of those who excels at exploring this microcosm of micro-fiction is New Zealand author Denver Grenell, whose latest collection from Beware The Moon Publishing, 20,000 Bloody Words, features twenty gleefully twisted tales sure to entertain any lover of the macabe.

A man holed up in his apartment after the apocalypse decides to make ‘A Quick Trip To The Liquor Store’ in the tome’s inaugural yarn. When the pressures of his job become too much for forty-year-old attorney Justin to handle, he develops a decidedly deadly interest in his mirror’s ‘Reflection’. A freshly-damned soul finds out the contest between Heaven and Hell isn’t played by rules any religion would recognize when they wake up in ‘Gehenna’, and a roughshod rural man comes face-to-face with the darkest sort of angel in ‘Fallen’. And when a young girl begs Santa for a special present it’s her parents who play the gruesome cost in ‘Wish I May’.

When a group of friends celebrating the ‘Night Of The Yule Goat’ conduct a séance at the scene of a decades-old massacre, they inadvertently contact the wrong spirit with dire consequences. Rendered entirely through dialogue, ‘Tiramākā’ relays the (justified) anxiety an eleven-year-old boy experiences when sitting overnight with his grandmother’s body prior to her funeral. First-person confessionals mark the two subsequent tales: A rabble-rouser recounts all the dangerous, dastardly, and downright dumb things he’s done with (and to) his lifelong bestie ‘Carl’, while ‘Sogni d’oro’ sees a man on the mend from recurring night terrors take a violent turn for the worst. Fans of The Crow will find satisfaction in ‘Dead Man’s Noose’, where a wrongfully lynched cowboy returns to life with vengeance on his (rotting) mind. A serial killer eagerly shares his ‘Composting Tips For The Avid Gardener’ so that other environmentally-minded murderers can learn how to dispose of those pesky unwanted corpses in eco-friendly ways. A pair of home renovators have a haunting experience while visiting the crumbling remains of the ‘Avon House’. ‘Wolf And Cub’ offers a delightful inversion of expected horror tropes when an aging lycanthrope reads Little Red Riding Hood to his feisty granddaughter. And ‘The Last Story’ is another post-apocalyptic fable that cleverly flips the perspective of the volume’s opener.

Similar to the 1950’s EC Tales From The Crypt comics of yore (and the HBO series based upon them), there’s a surfeit of ghastly gallows humor in 20,000 Bloody Words, and one can practically hear the Crypt Keeper's cackling on every page. Grenell instinctively understands the sleight-of-hand necessary for satisfactory flash: with such a minute fictional playing field, it’s almost as much about what you don’t see as what you do, and he uses that negative space to full advantage, giving the audience just enough to envision the wider worlds in which his characters exist and driving them from one scenario to another with almost addictive compulsion.

At a mere 96 pages the entire volume can be devoured by a dedicated reader in a single satisfying sitting, and while each entry is enjoyable, five are worthy of special praise: The darkly humorous ‘Diabolus’ centers on an infamous black metal guitarist who infiltrates the choir of a celebrity preacher’s mega-church with the intention of performing a diabolical musical ritual. A middle-aged teacher falls prey to the cruelty of his teenage pupils when he takes a bite of ‘The Apple’. The rootin’-tootin’ Old American West setting and a pair of determined undead gunslingers make ‘Double Happy’ doubly fun, while two Neanderthal siblings re-enact the brotherly strife between Cain and Abel in ‘Manos’.

But in terms of sheer pleasure, it’s difficult to top the ‘80’s nostalgia piece ‘Double Feature’: When a couple attends a drive-in showing of back-to-back vampires flicks, they get far more than popcorn stuck between their teeth. This tiny tale benefits from the sly self-referential winks between reader and author, and is in its own way a valentine to the movies and books from times past that made a generation of budding horror hounds who they are today.

A book like this is ideal for those who crave variety in their spookiness as well as bookworms pressed for time by a hectic workaday schedule. With his powerful prose, unabashed adoration for the genre and bountiful tongue-in-cheek tone, Grenell ensure 20,000 Bloody Words delivers the grisly goods promised by its title and much, much more.

I give 20,000 Bloody Words a solid 4 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. For those interested in more of Grenell’s short fiction, check out his earlier Beware The Moon collection, The Burning Boy and Other Stories. You won’t be disappointed.

4.0 / 5.0