Short Story Review – There’s Nothing Left Without the Smoke by Osahon Ize-Iyama

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A man wakes up amidst a pile of bodies in a forest. He’s filled with an irresistible desire to burn things. Not the trees, but everything around the trees, and burn he does. Some time passes. The man hasn’t been able to sleep since that night. He craves the smoke. He thinks only of fire. As the story go on his need to burn grows, and memories of the night that the fire infected him come back.

You can probably imagine how this one ends.

The story takes place in Nigeria, but the themes are relatable to pretty much any millennial. As the memories of the critical night come back, we learn that our main character was lonely and wallowing in self-pity. He was struggling to find a job after graduation. He did what society told him to do, but society didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The final straw occurs on a night where he meets others like himself at a club. They hit it off and spend the evening bar hopping together. He’s drunk and high. In a vulnerable moment, he admits that spending time with these people is the happiest that he’s been in a long time and he loves them for it.

They are, perhaps understandably, a little weirded out by this revelation. They met the man literal hours ago, and they don’t even know his name. Though he has memorized all of their names. This seems to be the final humiliation that allows a dark entity to take hold of him. From this point on the man wants only to burn it all down. He can’t be happy with anything that the smoke hasn’t touched.

At least, that’s my interpretation of it. This is another great example of horror being used to artistically express negative emotions. In this case isolation and alienation. Anger at the whole world that rejects you. My only complaint with this story is that the super natural element feel like both an afterthought, and slightly overexplained. There is an element tacked on at the end of the story explaining, but not satisfactorily what is going on. I think it might have been better to leave it ambiguous if anything supernatural was happening at all.

Final Verdict

Very well written story with a compelling theme. It sticks the landing at the end, but it does stumble just a bit.

7 arbitrary stars out of 10 arbitrary stars. Go check it out at Dark Magazine.


I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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