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As editor of Tangled Web Magazine, I’ve read enough short stories to fill our pages for decades. Most follow familiar story structures, some artfully, others less so. But occasionally an author upends conventions with delightful results.

This is what Musa Jafar accomplishes with the chilling I Stopped Breathing Yesterday, the winner of our summer contest. Jafar fractures the narrative between two timelines: one outlines a family’s move to an idyllic, gated community where ‘your safety and peace of mind are guaranteed’, while the other, told backwards, depicts the narrator’s disturbing actions of the previous day.

At first, I found the disjointed timelines a little disorienting, but as the story progresses, the tension mounts, drawing you in. Pleasant details about the utopian community soon take on an ominous tone. What darkness, you might wonder, lurks beneath the tranquil surface?

I won’t spoil the story if you’ve not read it yet, but it’s safe to say Jafar uses these interwoven narratives to keep his readers off-balance. The eventual twist, while not wholly surprising, still delivers an unsettling payoff, and leaves just enough ambiguity to send your imagination skittering down shadowy paths

Throughout this story, precision of language, pacing, and structure all hit perfectly for me.

I particularly liked how Jafar juxtaposed the family’s coordinated conformity, their organised happiness, against the implication that the narrator had committed some awful act.

With I Stopped Breathing Yesterday, Jafar has constructed something unique and unforgettable. By subverting expectations and challenging narrative conventions, this unsettling story is a deserving winner of our contest, cementing Jafar, in my mind at least, as an author to watch.


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