Just when the idea occurred to her that she was being murdered she could not tell. There had been little subtle signs, little suspicions for the past month; things as deep as a sea tide in her, like looking at a perfectly calm stretch of tropic water, wanting to bathe in it and finding, just as the tide takes your body, that monsters dwell just under the surface, things unseen, bloated, many-armed, sharp-finned, malignant and inescapable.
It's beautiful and horrible all at once, that fantastic paragraph above.
Writers long to create such lasting impressions with their prose, and so also should editors hope to begin their collections. I've heard that that the S.O.P calls for starting out with the second-best story. Then, arrange the tales thematically, but save the best for last.
ALWAYS SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST!
Readers will always try the first story, so it should be great. But why not then hit them with the strongest tale right after that? Make them read them all, just so they are thorough...
I start with "The Small Assassin" not because it's the best, but because it's universal. This tale is too well written, too simply wicked, to be overlooked...
"The Small Assassin" is a tale that challenges the very notion of "innocence." What if a child came into the world with bad intentions? What if a child came into the world, resentful of the disassociation from what were comfortable standards?
What if this child hated his or her parents?
Bradbury's prose is pristine and measured:
Alice was dead.
The house remained quiet, except for the sound of his heart.
She was dead.
He held her head in his hands, he felt her fingers. He held her body. But she wouldn't live. She wouldn't even try to live. He said her name, out loud, many times, and he tried, once again, by holding her to him, to give her back some of the warmth he had lost, but that didn't help.
This is Bradbury at his very best--nostalgic and romantic, and also thoroughly weird. This story, if you haven't read it, concerns a homicidal infant.
But here's the thing: this tale picks the bigger scab. All good fiction, at the very least, flicks at the scab...
What if it's better on the inside? What if life is better in the cloistered habitat of the womb? What if birth is far more violent than it is liberating?
Bradbury's tale is, I must say, a downer. That said, it's one of my favorites for the sheer audacity of its premise...