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  • Writer's picturejmalexanderwrites

Fan of Ambiguous Endings

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

"Amatheia" by Jan M. Alexander
Cover art by Jan M. Alexander

I grew up on fairy and folk tales. My mother read them to me all the time—the original versions, not the sugary, Disney ones, although I read my share of those as well. Suffice to say I’m not always on the hunt for a happy ending. I enjoy happy endings, of course. It felt great when Elizabeth finally married Mr. Darcy, but I don’t need a happy ending. I don’t mind contemplating a story once I’ve finished it, backtracking and following the breadcrumbs left by the author: hints of what the message or moral or theme might be. I enjoy that kind of reading, the kind I have to mentally chew in order to digest. But I also love reading stories I don’t have to work so hard to understand. I just read Storm Front by Jim Butcher, which was pure adrenaline, pure fun. Those kinds of books are fantastic in between more dense reading.

Lately, I’ve been writing short stories, but maybe a more accurate tag for them would be modern fairy tales and/or ghost stories. What I’ve noticed is that each of these stories has an ambiguous endings, where the story might continue after the words disappear on the page. I also like a little bit of darkness, especially in fairy tales, and I enjoy experimenting with this type of fiction.

Below are the opening paragraphs from “Treasure,” a new short story I just finished, which again has this type of ending. I'm hoping to include it in an upcoming collection:

“Amatheia kept chests full of bones. Swimming idly, she swept her fingers along cheek bones, angular jaws, milk-white clavicles and ribs. She traced jagged teeth once covered by soft mouths, pondered the hollows where eyes once gazed. She remembered each man and woman, how easily she tempted them with promises of gold or the gift of her body. Some professed loyalty and love if only she’d kiss them. Whatever you want, her kisses said. Haunted, they whispered how she had answered their prayers, until gratitude turned to struggle as they sank deep into her cold realm.

But some begged to be dragged down: “Please, somewhere other than here,” they pleaded. They struggled less.

Amatheia licked her fingers. She wished she understood.

When the world turned dark and the moon bloomed over the water, Amatheia sat upon her favorite rock jetty. For three nights a man had wandered the beach. Her tail flicked when again his silhouette appeared. As he ambled along the shore, a glint of gold fell from his pocket and splashed into the ebbing waves. He didn’t retrieve it, and she dove into the water, swam around the jetty until she reached the shallows. With delicate fingers she shooed away a curious crab and scooped up the pretty thing. She turned it over in her palm: a gold key with a ruby set in its center. Deftly she knotted it into her pale green hair.

I will trick him with the promise of its return and lure him to my home with a kiss.”

Thanks for reading!

Until next time, follow the breadcrumbs!


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