Welcome to my third annual Best Free Short Speculative Fiction list! In regard to my personal writing accomplishments, 2021 was another period of minor victories but still no major breakthrough. My flash fiction piece “The Stony Gaze of Eternity” can be found in the new horror anthology 99 Tiny Terrors alongside stories by authors Cat Rambo, Seanan McGuire, Scott Edelman, Meg Elison, and more. I also sold a story entitled “Children of the Moon” that will come out next year. My tastes still dwell in the realms of horror and darker/grittier sci-fi and fantasy so with that in mind, if you’re looking for more stories to read, I highly recommend the following ten. They’re all free to read and every one of them is excellent. Here is my list of the best free speculative short stories published in 2021.
I’ve read and enjoyed multiple short stories written by Thomas Ha this year. All of them are dark, otherworldly, and thoroughly engrossing. This tale in the latest issue of Metaphorosis explores how far a father will go to save his only child from a horrific disease and death.
White Ribbon, Grey Fur
Uncharted is a welcome new entry in the short story market and this twisted tale of living through a deadly epidemic in a world that’s both similar yet weirdly different from our own by Marisca Pichette hits particularly hard given our current COVID plight.
The Lonely Box
The Fall issue of Underland Arcana features this melancholy piece of flash fiction by Manfred Gabriel. I think anyone familiar with the heartache of seeing relationships die as time marches past can relate.
Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre
Combine Dracula with Sherlock Holmes and what do you get? It might be something like author Lavie Tidhar’s character, Judge Dee. This tale found on the Tor website of a vampire detective and his long-suffering human familiar Jonathan is highly entertaining and will leave you wanting more.
The Nature of Things in Motion
A single-minded robot in post-apocalyptic America befriends a curious boy, doing its best to protect him to the (very) bitter end. Marlan K. Smith paints a dark picture of mindless industry and the fragility of man in the premier issue of Etherea Magazine.
We Will Weather One Another Somehow
This tragic sci-fi tale by writer Kristina Ten will ring especially true for anyone who has watched a loved one suffer from a debilitating illness. Poignant and touching, it can be found in the June issue of Diabolical Plots.
This tale of mourning and magic by Sarah Grey was published in the March issue of Lightspeed Magazine. I don’t know if so many of my picks this year are sad and reflective because of my feelings about the pandemic or because so many great writers out there felt much the same, but this story fits right in.
Cleaver, Meat, and Block
Maria Haskins’ post-apocalyptic tale of a young woman coming to terms with the cannibalistic murder of her family is harrowing in a way few short stories can manage. Originally published in 2020 by Black Static, it is available for free in PseudoPod 745.
Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels
That’s right, author Lavie Tidhar and Tor.com not only earned two places on my list; they did it with the same characters. I can’t get enough of vampire detective Judge Dee’s adventures with his sidekick Jonathan. I could easily picture this becoming an animated series on Netflix or HBO Max in the near future. Sign up Tim Burton to direct, Johnny Depp to voice the judge, and I’m ready to binge watch!
And finally this tale of a harbinger of the afterlife and the moral quandary he must face written by Alix E. Harrow and published in the resurrected Apex Magazine hit me right in the feels. I challenge you to finish this one dry-eyed.
If you enjoyed these stories and want to find more great short fiction, check out these 20 websites.