Blog Tour and Interview: Rebecca Jones-Howe

Rebecca and I go WAY back, some 17 years or so to The Cult, LitReactor, and, Write Club—three forums and workshops where we hung out and honed our craft. I’ve published her work in quite a few places—her Vile Men collection of stories at Dark House Press, “Cat Calls” in the Exigencies anthology, and then “Tourist,” and “Ghost Story” reprinted at Gamut. Love her work. She has a new story out, so I asked her to stop by and answer some questions about it, as well as her career. This is the first in an ongoing series that I’ll be doing with authors. I hope you enjoy the content.

QUESTION ONE: Tell me about your story—a brief synopsis, genre/s, and tone.

ANSWER ONE: When Mary, an isolated woman living on the outskirts of town, finds a man on her property, she is quick to make a friend. The man, Nathaniel, observes of her strange skin rash, taking it upon himself to help, and Mary finds herself accepting of his seemingly good intentions in more ways than one. But Mary’s understanding of their relationship is put to the test when Nathaniel turns out to be the the new doctor at the nearby asylum.

“Woman of the White Cottage” is a gothic horror story that focuses on how society looked at women who didn’t fit into the rigid purity-ridden “true woman” ideals of the Victorian era, and shines some light on the horrors of how they were often dealt with.

It’s now available in the Anomalies & Curiosities, an anthology of gothic medical horror from Quill and Crow Publishing House.

QUESTION TWO: Where did the idea for this come from?

ANSWER TWO: The call for the Anomalies & Curiosities anthology was for gothic fiction, which isn’t my normal affair. When I found the call, I did have a “vaguely historical” stalled story about a woman with a white cottage in my drafts folder. I often like writing about female issues and feminism and so I settled on writing a story about female hysteria and did a lot of research. This particular article was of major inspiration, both providing me themes and some incentive for my villain.

QUESTION THREE: Why this story, why now?

ANSWER THREE: I’m relatively new to writing horror, but I do feel like the genre is growing and that people have more interest in reading it, especially women. Gothic horror has always been a very female-centered sub-genre, the tropes of which parallel a lot of the subjects that I enjoy writing about often in my neo-noir fiction. Dangerous men. Female issues. Societal issues.

I started writing a lot of transgressive, gritty fiction, but then slipped into neo-noir, which allowed me the flexibility to write minimalism while borrowing influences from other genres. 2020 found me gravitating more toward various horror tropes than any other, and something about this particular anthology call really pushed me to embrace horror entirely for the first time. One thing I love about gothic fiction is its heavy reliance on atmosphere, so writing in this genre really pushed me into using a different voice than my usual minimalist one. I loved having to blend minimalism with atmosphere and it made for a very enjoyable writing experience for me.

QUESTION FOUR: What do you hope people take away from this story?

ANSWER FOUR: “Woman of the White Cottage” definitely isn’t that uplifting a story, but I do hope that it forces people to look back on some of the women who suffered a myriad of physical and mental health issues all because doctors weren’t able to “figure women out” and then just diagnosed them under the umbrella of “hysteria”.

I did write the story to a bunch of female-led sexually charged music like “WAP” and Madonna’s “Human Nature” and Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away”, and if there is any hope in the ending, it’s in that power of reclaiming words and meanings of things. Society still has a long way to go from forcing women into specific boxes, and so I do appreciate anthems and stories that are rather shameless in doing so.

QUESTION FIVE: What are your comps for this story—what authors, titles, and other projects are similar to it, and share the same vibe?

ANSWER FIVE: Probably Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper, but infused with some nice Chuck Palahniuk-inspired minimalism.

QUESTION SIX: Aside from this story, give us a quick bio, and tell us about your writing career.

ANSWER SIX: I’ve been writing since the third grade, when my awesome teacher would give the class weekly writing prompts for us to write stories with. The practice really made me fall in love with telling stories, and I gained a lot of confidence reading my stories in front of the class. Short fiction has always been my favoritism thing to write. I joined the Chuck Palahniuk writing group in the 2010s, which eventually became LitReactor, and through the online courses I really managed to up my craft and meet other writers (including you!) who have been lifelong friends that I’ve never actually met.

My work has been published in Pank, Pulp Modern, Dark Moon Digest and in various other anthologies. In 2015 I published my first collection of short fiction, Vile Men, of which you also had a very big part in making real. Since then, I painstakingly worked at writing my first novel, The View From the Basement, a psychological horror that was inspired by my experience with becoming a mother for the first time. I’m currently querying said novel while also writing new short stories, most of which are horror, of course!

QUESTION SEVEN: What are three books (and/or authors) that have influenced your writing the most, and how did they do that?

ANSWER SEVEN: Chuck Palahniuk was an early influence. I just loved how bold and punchy his prose was. His novels were always about something massive and grand but they always cut right beneath the surface with his careful use of minimalism. Another favorite of mine is Gillian Flynn. Her work is just so dark and scary and a bit sexy too.

Lastly, and kind of shamefully, I’d say that I’ve been subconsciously influenced by V.C. Andrews for years. Her work might seem trashy on the surface, but she was one of the only bestselling female horror authors of the 70s-80s horror trend, and there was a very good reason for that. It was almost like she knew exactly what kind of weird horrific stuff women loved reading about. She shamelessly wrote about all that forbidden stuff that women were often not expected to speak of. She definitely put a nice spin on the old gothic horror romance tropes, with her eerie father figures and mansion settings. I wouldn’t say she was the greatest writer, but she definitely knew how to tell twisted and messed-up stories that kept women talking.

QUESTION EIGHT: What are your top three favorite movies of all time, and why?

ANSWER EIGHT: Heathers for its razor sharp black comedy. Scream for its crafty spin on the 80s slasher film. And Hot Fuzz, because everyone needs that fun go-to movie to watch when they feel like garbage.

QUESTION NINE: What is one bit of advice you’d give a new author on how to find their voice, tell great stories, and succeed in their career?

ANSWER NINE: Get raw. Even in genre fiction, the best writers can put their own twists on things by writing about their guilty pleasures or the the strange facts and stories they find on a good Wikipedia wormhole bender. Read more. Go for walks. Listen to music that makes you feel stuff. The right blend of influences will always find you if you take the time to enjoy things.

As for succeeding in their career, I can’t say that I know. My ultimate goal is to become the next Gillian Flynn, which isn’t likely to ever happen. I know this but I still want it. Writing is a tough gig that is mostly wrought with disappointment. Only a handful of writers will ever really achieve what they originally intended to, so part of having a successful writing “career” is doing what makes you thrive while also being flexible about where the journey of establishing a career might take out. Never put too much weight on one piece.

For me, writing was always a coping mechanism for insecurities and I’m sure I’m no different from many other writers when I say that not getting enough compliments or even a reaction to a story I’ve written can be tough. Take pride in what you do. Try to take the criticism into every next project and always let the praise you receive guide you.

QUESTION TEN: What’s next? Do you have any other stories coming out, are you working on a book, is there a collection coming soon? Do tell.

ANSWER TEN: I’ve got a story in an upcoming anthology about the experience of young fathers in today’s work-centered society. It was heavily influenced by the whole online subculture of “dead malls”, and also inspired by my husband’s struggle with balancing work and home life. I personally think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, so look out for that.

I’m still hard at work that querying the novel but have mostly been writing short fiction just to distract myself from the painful process of agent rejection over and over. Thankfully, I’ve had a nice set of story acceptances in great markets, and will hopefully have a nice collection of short fiction query with some small presses soon.

FOR MORE information about Rebecca, visit HER WEBSITE HERE.

I’m Moderating a Panel on Writing Horror in a Post-Covid World. Join us!

The Horror Writers Association is proud to present the seventh installment of Skeleton Hour, which will feature a panel discussion about writing horror in a post-covid world.Panelists will include: Richard Thomas (moderator), Sarah Langan, Usman T. Malik, Josh Malerman, A.C. Wise, and Lucy A. Snyder

REGISTER HERE FOR THE FREE ZOOM WEBINAR:
https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_QA61HT1kTpSocdGUu-nmXQ

Skeleton Hour is a one-hour horror literature webinar series produced by the HWA in collaboration with The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

Panelist Bios:

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots, Staring into the Abyss, Tribulations, Spontaneous Human Combustion, and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. His over 160 stories in print include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), Cemetery Dance (twice), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, and Shivers VI. Visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com for more information.

Josh Malerman is the New York Times best selling author of Bird Box and A House at the Bottom of a Lake as well as one of two singer/songwriters for the Detroit rock band the High Strung, whose song “The Luck You Got” can be heard as the theme song to the Showtime show “Shameless.” He lives in Michigan with the artist Allison Laakko and their countless animals.

Sarah Langan is the three-time Bram Stoker Award Winning author of the novels Good Neighbors, The Keeper, The Missing, and Audrey’s Door. Her short fiction has most recently appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Best Horror of the Year, Volume 12. She has an MFA from Columbia University, an MS in Environmental Toxicology from NYU, and is a founding board member of the Shirley Jackson Award.
Usman T. Malik’s award-winning fiction has been reprinted in several best of the year anthologies, including The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series, and translated into several languages. Pulitzer Prize finalist Kelly Link has labeled him “a master of the uncanny and the sublime” and Pen/Faulkner Award winner Karen Joy Fowler (author of the NYT Bestselling book THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB) lauds him as “the spell-caster par excellence”.Usman’s fiction has won The Bram Stoker and the British Fantasy awards and has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, the Million Writers, and twice for the Nebula awards. Usman is the co-founder of The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction, which seeks to vet and nurture aspiring Pakistani writers of speculative fiction.”

A.C. Wise’s fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Apex, Uncanny, and several Year’s Best anthologies, among other places. Her work has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, as well as twice more being a finalist for the Sunburst Award, twice being a finalist for the Nebula Award, and being a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She has two collections published with Lethe Press, and a novella published by Broken Eye Books. Her debut novel, Wendy, Darling is forthcoming from Titan Books in June 2021, and a new horror-focused collection, The Ghost Sequences, is forthcoming from Undertow Books in Fall 2021. In addition to her fiction, she contributes a regular short fiction review column to Apex Magazine. Find her online at www.acwise.net.

Lucy A. Snyder is the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of 15 books and over 100 published short stories. Her most recent books are the story collection Halloween Season, the forthcoming poetry collection Exposed Nerves, and the forthcoming novel The Girl With the Star-Stained Soul. She also wrote the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess, the nonfiction book Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide, and the collections Garden of Eldritch Delights, While the Black Stars Burn, Soft Apocalypses, Orchid Carousals, Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Czech, and Japanese editions and has appeared in publications such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, and Best Horror of the Year. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. You can learn more about her at www.lucysnyder.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.

The PRISMS Anthology (PS Publishing) is Now ON SALE!

ICYMI the PRISMS anthology is now on sale over at PS Publishing. There is a hardcover and a signed/limited edition. This anthology includes my story, “Saudade.” Details below. This book looks GREAT. Get yours now!

AN ANTHOLOGY edited by Darren Speegle & Michael Bailey
CATEGORY SF/Fantasy
PUBLICATION DATE Spring 2021
COVER ART Ben Baldwin
PAGES 327

EDITIONS 
Unsigned Jacketed Hardcover — ISBN  978-1-786367-04-4 [£25]
100 Jacketed Hardcover signed by the author — ISBN 978-1-783367-05-1  [£35]

ABOUT THE BOOK

Prisms are instruments, mirrors, metaphors, gateways humankind must pass through in order to achieve, to overcome, to realize, to become. Contained herein are nineteen transformative tales from some of speculative fiction’s most brilliant minds. So open your eyes and let the light pass through . . .

CONTENTS

  • WE COME IN THREES – B.E. Scully 
  • ENCORE FOR AN EMPTY SKY – Lynda Rucker
  • THE GIRL WITH BLACK FINGERS – Roberta Lannes
  • THE SHIMMERING WALL – Brian Evenson
  • IN THIS, THERE IS NO STING – Kristi DeMeester
  • THE BIRTH OF VENUS – Ian Watson
  • FIFTY SUPER-SAD MAD DOG SUI-HOMICIDAL SELF-SIBS, ALL IN A LEAKY TIN CAN HEAD – Paul Di Filippo
  • RIVERGRACE – E. Catherine Tobler
  • SAUDADE – Richard Thomas
  • THERE IS NOTHING LOST – Erinn L Kemper
  • THIS HEIGHT AND FIERY SPEED – A.C. Wise
  • THE MOTEL BUSINESS – Michael Marshall Smith
  • EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS ALSO A LIE – Damien Angelica Walters
  • THE GEARBOX – Paul Meloy
  • DISTRICT TO CERVIX: THE TIME BEFORE WE WERE BORN – Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • HERE TODAY AND GONE TOMORROW – Chaz Brenchley
  • THE SECRETS OF MY PRISON HOUSE – J. Lincoln Fenn
  • A LUTA CONTINUA – Nadia Bulkin
  • I SHALL BUT LOVE THEE BETTER – Scott Edelman

Would You Like an ARC of My Next Collection?

If you are a book reviewer / blogger and would like an ARC of my next short story collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion, email me your mailing address to richardgthomasiii@gmail.com. I’m starting to build a list for my publisher. Thanks!

I’ve Signed With Turner Publishing for My Fourth Short Story Collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion!

BIG NEWS! I’m thrilled to announce that my fourth short story collection, SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION, will be out with Turner Publishing in early 2022. They did a great job with the Burnt Tongues re-release, so I decided to partner with them again. More details to come. It’ll cover the best of my work from the last five years or so. Stoked.

In His House, by Richard Thomas

Some kind words about my epistolary, Lovecraftian story, “In His House.”

The Miskatonic Review

“It’s not hard.
I just need you to listen.
And keep listening.
That part is essential.
I need you to recite a few strange words the morning sun, or the afternoon doldrums, or the long, ever-expanding night. Wherever you are, whenever you are, whoever you are.
In his house, he waits dreaming.”

—Richard Thomas, “In His House”

Is there a better way to round out the year of reviews than with the big “C” himself? I didn’t think so, either. This review also introduces us to a new anthology, and an author I’ve not reviewed before, but one with whose work I am familiar. Richard Thomas is well known in the horror fiction community not only for his fiction, but probably more as a teacher of fiction. He is the host and professor of Storyville, an online writing workshop with multiple class offerings for any experience level. In addition…

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BOGO Sale at Storyville

From now until the end of the year, Storyville’s At your Own Pace Short Story Mechanics class is buy one get one free! Purchase a full class for yourself or someone you love, and get an extra one to gift to someone else. These include the lesson packets with the reading material and exercises including feedback from Richard Thomas (that’s me) and a full critique of a short story! And, it’s at your own pace so you work on your schedule with no classes to attend.

TESTIMONIALS:

“Richard is a tireless and dedicated teacher. Regardless of class size, every lesson feels like a one-on-one meeting with an expert on craft. Every time I’ve worked with him, I’ve moved my writing up a level.” —Sarah Read, author of The Bone Weaver’s Orchard (Winner of the Bram Stoker Award)

“The most positive thing, for me, was how participating in the class, and Richard’s comments encouraged me to write even when I perhaps was not feeling like writing. Thank you!” —R. Schiaffino

“My experience in Richard’s workshop was one hundred percent worth it. Before taking this class, I felt ill-equipped to write those sweet 1,500-5,000 word stories, but that has all changed. Richard teaches a concise method for crafting and developing stories in this word range, and his insight is well worth the tuition price.” —Chris S.

“This class was a shotgun blast to the face of ultimate fiction crafting. He walks you through a story idea, from a bare-bones concept to polished, submittable story. This class elevated my chops to a new level. You can’t beat this combination of low-cost and superior instruction.” —Doug B.

“Richard has a keen eye for the little details that make a story work as well as for the bigger picture that brings together the plot. His professional demeanor and kind manner make working with him a real pleasure. He catches the things that most writers miss, and that’s a real gift.” —Bryan H.

“I have contracted Richard to edit several short stories, and have found that his ability as an editor is a direct reflection of his resume as a writer—impressive to say the very least. I have found his editing to be of tremendous value, and would recommend his services to any emerging writer.” —Nicholas M.

“Go ahead and write the best damn story you can. Edit tirelessly for weeks on end. Have your writer friends critique it and their writer friends, too. Then go back and write that perfect final draft. But I bet that even after all that, give it to Richard Thomas and he’ll still find redundancies, misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, plot holes—you name it. What I’m saying is if you want to sharpen that latest draft, Richard is your man.” —Ryan S.

The Caged Bird Sings in a Darkness of Its Own Creation

NOTE FROM RICHARD: This story was originally published in the Shallow Creek anthology. I am sharing it here so that you might read it this Halloween season and get a shiver, or perhaps a flush of excitement, or maybe have some strange epiphany about the state of our existence. Whatever your reaction, I hope you enjoy the story!

How it is still standing, after all this time? That can be debated.

Perhaps it was built in the shadow of a huge oak tree that shades the structure, protecting it, the occasional acorns raining down on the wood and metal roof, creating a ripple of percussion in the otherwise quiet forest. Maybe it’s the animal fat that is slathered over the frame, the sinew wrapped around one board after another, dried now, creating a bond, that might be cemented even further tomorrow, or the next day. Or it might be something else entirely—an illusion, some sort of glimmer of technology rippling under the building, a line of gold running through the tiny house, as if a motherboard had been pressed into the rotting wood, a surge of electricity running over it all, then fading as the sun pushes through the dense foliage. Whatever is happening here, the old man standing in the doorway holds a flickering presence, both daunting in the shadow and void he creates, but vulnerable in his sickly thin appearance, an old flannel shirt barely covering his pale flesh and bony arms,  dirty jeans leading down to black boots that are grotesquely oversized, the only bit of joy his shockingly bright hair in a rainbow of colors, as well as a red bulbous nose in the center of his face. He grabs the sphere and rips it off, leaving behind a gap where a fleshy proboscis must have once resided, flinging the spongy crimson ball to the forest floor, where it bounces into a pile of leaves and disappears. He turns and heads back into the residence, the nose back on his face, a bit of magic here, the illusion continuing.

When the acorns fall again, he begins weeping, muttering the name of a long lost love under his breath, his sobs turning into a rasping cough, then to something darker—something wet. Other random noises emanate from the hut—sometimes from him, and sometimes from the dozens of jars that line the walls, shelves full of clear glass, and a curiosity of items. As he rolls about on the cot, transferring white paste and powder to the dirty sheets and blankets, the tension in his stomach builds until he leans over and vomits up a long stream of tangled balloons, in a shocking mix of rubber iridescence. Mixed in with the puddle of primary colors is a smattering of glitter, a few chunks of some glistening meat, sawdust, and a handful of marbles, that go rolling across the floor.

In the jars, there is much more.

A tiny heart floats in a yellowing liquid, somehow still beating. Next to it, a bowl filled with Yoyos, the strings dirty, crusted with brown stains, a meaty smell lifting off of the faded toys. In a large glass mason jar there is nothing but hair—long blonde strands, several puffs of dark, curly tightness, and brown clippings in a number of lengths, all mixed together.

It doesn’t stop there.

A little glass music box is filled with glittering metal—rings, and necklaces, in silver and gold, some plastic, some onyx, all inlaid with memory, and trace amounts of DNA. Next to that is a large clear vase filled with toothbrushes in a variety of colors—some brand new, or nearly that, others worn down, the bristles frayed, handles bent and faded, the edges worn away from use. There is a jar filled with flickering fireflies, humming and buzzing in the night. A clay bowl is overflowing with little rubber balls that mix and mingle, vibrating with hate and sorrow. A gilded cage toward the back of the little room is filled to bursting with tiny birds, in a cacophony of pigmentation—chirping red, twittering blue, gasping black into the encroaching night. There is so much pain gathered here, and the sobbing form lying on the floor knows exactly what he’s done, the role he has played in all this sadness.

As the darkness settles in around the humble abode, the hut goes quiet, a crinkling of leaves buried under snapping sticks, the tall shadows outside standing in a semi-circle around the building, their long necks, and slender arms extending in ways that are hard to rationalize. Six of these elongated figures hold court in this desolate forest, chittering to each other, a dull glow seeping from their myriad eyes. Their skeletal frames rise nearly to the top of the encroaching trees, their oval heads brushing up against the green leaves, bent over in worship, or perhaps just to get a closer look.

Inside, he stirs, swallows with some effort, a coil of madness unfurling in his gut, the time for his departure at hand. He has played host for so many years now, and a series of black and white photos unfurl in front of his watering eyes—cracking jokes in grade school, sent to the corner of the room, a dunce cap on top of his head; sitting at a bar sipping beer and telling stories, as the women eased in closer, the laughter slipping from their blushed lips, their eyes crinkling with happiness; the television cameras bearing down on his face, as he cavorted for their amusement, the children at his feet filled with wonder, the ache in his gut swirling around and around.

He knows they are here now, returned. But the price he had to pay, it seems exorbitant, out of balance with what he has reaped, what has been sowed. In the beginning there was no length he wouldn’t go to in order to get back what he loved. But over time the cost grew, and expanded, one more task, one more item, until there was no turning back.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

And that pound of flesh has been taken. Over and over again.

To what end?

Eventually, it was inverted. Not the death of one for the good of many, but the opposite—the death of many for the good of one. Or the few.

Or so he thought.

As the ripples of his actions scattered across the globe, and beyond, the man with the funny shoes and the sparkling eyes wept into his trembling hands. And the worm in his belly squirmed with a heady anticipation.

They were going home.

*****

Somewhere in the dark, millions of miles away, and yet, entirely on top of this event, so very distant, and yet, essentially, filling the same space, a massive pair of hands are busy creating. They are moving quickly, a blur, and yet, upon closer inspection, moving infinitely slow. There is a vast tableau in front of this being, spilling out in every direction, the great presence surrounded by satellites of life, motes of dark energy, electric fields riddled with animation—so many sights, sounds, and smells.

Taking a deep breath in, it exhales into its fists, a flurry of feathers circling like a fixed tornado in blue and white, spinning round and round, forming a murmuration of life and movement. Off to the left several hundred bluebirds scatter into the never-ending darkness.

The hands reach out into the ether and conjure up a handful of dirt, packing it in tightly, then reaching up as if to find a lost memory, pulling twigs, and berries out of nothingness, pushing the wood, and red juice together, tugging here and there, eventually opening its massive hands to spill out a herd of deer, some antlers budding, others fully formed, the creatures standing on tepid legs, then dashing off in excitement, and fear.

Holding one giant hand over the other, its fingertips sprinkle dust and droplets of water over the cupped hand below, and a squirming starts to spool and twist in the palm of the mighty being—dark green, the smell of algae and seaweed swimming up into the air, one tentacle after another pushing out of the mass, growing faster and faster until it overflows the hand that holds it. With a sigh and squinting eye, a handful of sharp teeth are shoved into the wriggling creature, an undulating mass of tiny bulbous eyes crammed into the middle of the rippling mass. When it surges again, it is released into the darkness, a singular monstrosity, destined for a distant planet, an ocean with unlimited depths.

This has been happening for a long time, it is happening now, it will happen for all of eternity.

It bends over and snaps its fingers, lighting a fire at its fingertips, the flames licking at what must be flesh, trying to cajole the flickering light, a difficult task, the smell of meat cooking, an earthy wood burning sweet and smoky, the sinuous form leaping out of the gesticulating hands before it is complete, before it becomes what was planned. But this is life, this is creation—intention, and then chaos.

With a long, steady blow a wind leaves its massive lips, a funnel of cool air whirling about in the space before it, swirling and taking on mass—long, leathery wings extending—the creator narrowing its gaze, shaking its head, trying to manipulate the shape, as a beak elongates and talons scratch at the air, first one winged beast, then two, doubling in number, released with frustration, scales and needles spilling behind them, this experiment another failure.

Only two, it thinks. It could have been worse.

And in its anger it makes a fist, pounding what would have been a table, a surface, if such things existed here, but it finds resistance nonetheless. And in that singular gesture, a spark of atoms spills out of the clenched fingers, a sickly yellow cancer spreading out and over the trembling knot of digits, the tiny flashes of light and oozing sickness taking on a microscopic form, expanding and then contracting, breeding in and of itself, and when its presence is noticed, fully formed, it disappears into the ether, death wandering out to claim its stake—seeking out weakness, and feeding on misery.

It pauses for a moment, this rippling form, taking in a deep breath, its many forms shifting as a wave of emotions washes over it. Calm, collected, legs folded, hand on knees. Then its head tilts back its eyes ablaze, as a deep laughter builds up from inside tinted flesh, feet to hooves, and then nubs bursting from a cracking skull. It inhales and its pale flesh expands, running a hand over its bald head, an expanding belly, a gleam in its eyes, a smile upon its fleshy face. And then its arms double, then triple, a third eye upon its forehead, a glitter of gold sprinkling down like rain from a cloud, a clash of symbols, and then silence.

It was all things, it is all things, it will be all things.

It goes back to work.

It focuses for a moment on mankind—and pulling a sack of what might be seen as marbles out of the darkness—it spills the assortment of spirits upon a false ground. In a flurry of activity, the shapes ping off of each other—a clacking sound, and then a great sigh, a moan of contentment, and then a cry of fear and loss—as it manipulates the dozens of entities with a deft touch and a sharp eye. They shiver into life. A push here, a pinch there, a whisper to this handful, cupped up close to its mouth, and then scattered back on the floor, a sparking of blue and green, and flash of red and orange, a singular white orb spinning and hovering all by itself, while a solitary black sphere sits in one place, vibrating with anger and vengeance.

It scatters the bulk of these new beings out into the universe, some seeking light, others wallowing in the endless darkness. It picks up the only one left, the obsidian globule, bringing it close to its trembling eyes, the hard shell cold in its grip, a shallow pulse of warm light buried within, that sparks white, sparks yellow, flashes a momentary glow that makes its creator smile.

It is given a name now, it is shown how to bring joy to the world, the children, it is told of how other life might exist far beyond its reach, and it warns of how such power and knowledge might corrupt, eventually.

And then it is set free.

It is born unto the Earth.

It will hear laughter in the form of innocent children.

And it will make decisions—both horrible, and inspired.

Such is life.

*****

At a very young age Edward Carnby had the first in a series of visions that would transform and define his life. And because he believed what he saw, these moments had great power—to alter his future, and those around him as well.

Some say that the tall shadows were nothing more than a fever, a flu when he was lost in the woods, a sickness that caused the boy to lie in bed for weeks on end, a cancer in his bones that would cause a slight limp in his gait.

Others can confirm what was there in the forest—too many concrete details kept in their fluttering minds, in metal tins at the back of closets, in safe deposit boxes, the keys rusty and lost long ago. There is no real way to explain away the tiny knobs, levers, and bits of heavy black rock that was melted into odd shapes. Found downstream, in the back of caves, and buried deep in an assortment of fields—the materials they were made of cannot be found anywhere on Earth.

But there may be a third explanation here as well.

Three moments, three wishes.

What happened?

At the age of 12 Eddie used to wander the woods in search of arrowheads, empty wasp nests, tree bark curled into sheets of paper, and bright blue robin’s eggs—some intact, others cracked open, and empty. He was fascinated by the offerings nature presented to him. He might find a field filled with budding flowers—in yellow and purple, with hints of red. He might see in the ponds, lakes, and creeks a variety of silver-backed fish swimming in schools, some with a wash of shimmer and a stipe of color—perch, trout, bass, and carp. And sometimes he found death—that egg cracked open with a bit of fluff and bone inside, a singular eye gazing up; a skeleton riddled with a sour stench inside a thorny bush, the red of its fur faded and damp; now and then just a splash of blood, and a bit of sinew, nothing left but a stain, with buzzing flies marking the expiration.

It all fascinated him—life, death, and everything in-between.

It was on one of these hikes that he found the shadow child, a thin trail of smoke leading up into the sky, a dent in the earth, and a smattering of flickering metal across a field of puffing dandelions. There was an echo in his head, his ears filled with the sound of cascading water, and at the same time, entirely quiet.

When a baby bird falls from a nest, the story is that it shouldn’t be touched, that any kind of interaction with human flesh will taint the creature, the mother bird pecking it to death, sensing only trouble, and danger. This is not true. But that doesn’t mean the action goes unnoticed, that the bird is not aware, that the gesture is not recorded—for future action, good or bad.

Of course Eddie bent over and touched the clear gel, the shadow pulsing within it, the strange form lying prostate in the dirt, a hum of some machine winding down, the smell of oil and plastic burning. It was unlike anything he had ever seen.

He thought that there were words slipping from the form, some sort of plea. As he knelt in the field, in the itching grass and moist soil next to the fading silhouette, it was in his nature to touch it, his hand slipping through the glistening form, a gasp from them both, a ringing of bells, a stinging across his flesh, a triggering of some alarm, his body suddenly covered in a sheen of sweat. It was electric, it was liquid, it was a marking in self-defense by the creature lying beneath him.

Pulling his hand back, the shadow dissipated, the remaining gelatinous shape seeping into the earth, Eddie’s hand held up high in front of his flickering gaze—glowing red, then absorbing into his flesh, around him the metal and plastic smoking, melting—reduced to ash, the wind scattering the detritus to the far corners of the field.

Standing up, it was all gone. No smoke, no fragments or evidence—just an empty field, the sound of wildlife slipping back into focus. They boy swallowed hard, and turned in a circle. He walked the field, pushing aside long grass, sending dandelion seeds flying, but nothing more. He was unable to see the remnants, his vision distorted forever, altered in some crucial ways. It would be much later when others would find the strange remains.

He looked to the sky, asking for an explanation, wishing for something more. He was eager to learn, to grow, to comprehend.

That would be a mistake.

Later that night he would take a very long time to fall asleep.

The next day the memory would fade, and he would forget it had every happened.

Mostly.

Almost.

But not quite.

It would be twelve years down the road at the ripe old age of twenty-four that he would revisit this moment, in an entirely different way.

Standing in an alleyway outside a local bar, smoking a cigarette, and thinking about a girl that was inside playing pool, Eddie noticed a gathering of shadows down by the trashcans and dumpsters. For a moment he thought it was some local boys he’d had trouble with in the past—simple folk that had no aspirations, often offended by his lengthy conversations, the attention of blonde and brunettes alike stirring up something close to a primal, territorial rage. But it wasn’t those kids.

In an instant, Eddie was on his knees, one hand help up, inspected by the shifting shadows, a glow spilling into the night. His mouth open as if to scream, but nothing came out. His vision was watery, shimmering, a darkness descending upon him like a ratty blanket, the smell of smoke and burning plastic filling the air, and before he passed out, a sharp pain in his gut. They would hardly leave a mark. The only evidence of this moment was a tiny red dot—something a mosquito, or spider, might make.

When he wakes, there is only one thought in his head.

Wait.

Don’t go.

Hold on.

It is fading fast, the memory, but he has glimpsed something extraordinary, and he wants to see more.

And he will. In time.

In the coming weeks he will get sick—a fever of 103; a horrible rash that creeps across his skin in mottled hues; nausea that causes him to vomit into the toilet with a violent upheaval, the blood and mucus dotted with tiny flecks of metal, all triggering some deeper knowledge that he is afraid to truly recognize.

And then it is gone.

The hosting is complete.

His work only beginning.

The third time will cement their relationship, ten years later, as he sits in front of a mirror, putting on his makeup, the lights on the dressing table bright yellow, a smile splitting his face, as he glues on the red nose, pulls the wig on tight, a wriggle of anxiety in his gut.

There is a woman, Gina.

She is everything he has ever wanted in a woman—long blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, curves hidden behind modest dresses, and an easy smile that fills his gut with mating butterflies.

For Edward, this is the love of his life, a relationship that has bloomed over the last couple of years, through cups of coffee, dancing at local watering holes, seeing her out in the audience at his shows, smiling with glee.

For Gina, these are merely coincidences, a Venti Mocha on the way to work with a nod to the strange pudgy man in the corner booth, a night out with the girls at the only place to dance for miles, a visit to the television station to laugh at the clown, a bit of a local celebrity, kept as a safe distance, after all.

In the shadows of his closet, there is a murmuring, a beckoning, and Edward, soon to be Krinkles (and only Krinkles) answers. He stands in the back of the tiny space and nods his head. He listens to what is offered. And it is set in motion.

It will spill out into the future.

Look close, and see what it becomes.

See what you want to see, as Krinkles does.

The truth is a slippery fish.

*****

When the tired old man leaves the hut once again, they are waiting. Patient for so long. With all of their technology, their abilities, and their desire, they cannot walk the earth in shadow, for the eyes of the planet are upon them. They have been seen, and they have been hurt.

But their work here is done now.

And in a blink, they vanish.

In a distant laboratory the worm is removed under bright lights and a sterile environment. It is placed into a container where later it will be downloaded, dissected, and documented for the benefit of them all.

In the living room of quaint little cottage, just on the edge of an entirely different set of woods—not far from a rippling stream filled with colorful fish, and a field overflowing with blooming flowers and dancing grass—Edward sits and smiles. He rocks in his chair, sipping a cup of chamomile tea, comfortable in his soft new flannel shirt, his faded jeans, the windows open, birdsong slipping in, the television quietly playing black and white shows from his childhood.

He laughs.

When the woman enters the room, he takes the plate with the ham and cheese sandwich on rye, a bit of Dijon mustard slathered on there, rippled potato chips, and a dill pickle on the side. She kisses his forehead, and he thanks her, saying her name. It’s a recognizable name. When she enters the kitchen her skin flickers, the tapestry that is tightly wrapped over her metal frame, plastic shell, and colored wiring dissipating for a moment.

On a wall to the left of Edward is a large mirror. There are days he stares at it, thinking he sees a shimmer. But most of the time he is content. He thinks of his childhood, his career, the woman he loves, and while parts of it feel thin at times, a headache forming if he looks at it too closely, he is grateful.

Behind that mirror there may only be a wall.

Behind that mirror there might be men watching Edward, taking notes, and nodding their heads, smiling in the darkness, their work a success.

Behind that mirror there could be elongated shadows, stretching to the ceiling, hunched over, chirping in the gloom, eyes glowing.

There may not be a mirror at all.

Edward may lay dying in that first forest, his dark deeds finally absorbing the last of his humanity, death a welcome respite.

The jars, the bowls, the DNA—perhaps they were stolen in secret, nobody harmed (especially not the children), saving an alien race from a plethora of sickness and disease.

Or maybe it’s something much worse.

In the expanding corners of a never-ending universe, the creator smiles. Its work here, is done.