Fiction Fragments: Ron Gavalik

So, a few weeks have passed since we heard from Kristin Dearborn. Life and a holiday got in the way of progress, but this week I’m back on track with a visit from gritty Pittsburgh poet, Ron Gavalik.

Ron GavalikThe eternal search for truth in the dark forest of false prophets has been my life’s pursuit. As an author, it’s my role to explore and reveal the unique perspectives that broaden our understanding of the world. The poetry and stories I forge from whiskey-soaked memories and fervent observations awakens passions among devoted readers and ignites debates. When we engage in critical, independent thought we are then free to live our truths.

Raised by hard-boiled Catholic trade unionists in the Rust Belt of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my writing style is a smooth and uninhibited reflection of the once gritty region. In total freedom, I bleed untamed language onto each page to capture the powerful moments of life. My words paint portraits of the hidden beauty that’s often lost within the madness of our struggles. Now grasp my hand, and we will walk this treacherous path together.

Read Ron’s work. Get cool rewards: Patreon.com/RonGavalik

 Three Questions

GMM: When did you begin writing poetry, and why?

RG: The first poem leaked out of my pen at the age of 20. The words were pure trash, some kind of whiny ode to love or some other horse shit. The ripping sound of that paper as I tore it from that overpriced journal was quite satisfying. I decided then and there life must be lived before writing truth. That’s what poetry is to me: the purest form of truth. If one is still grappling with their place in the world, their poetry is going to read like shit. When the poet knows something worth sharing, that’s music on the page. I told myself that if I were still alive at 40, I’d revisit free verse. I then spent my early adulthood years pursuing avant-garde journalism in the arts and politics. Reporting on the acts of others honed my writing skills and often threw me into the mix of often unique and sometimes dangerous situations. I also dabbled in blog essays, short fiction, and I wrote a novel that will never see the light of day. Twenty years later, I authored Hot Metal Tonic, my first poetry collection. It went #1 on Amazon in its first week. I’ve penned three more collections since, and last year The Pittsburgh City Paper named me the second best poet in Pittsburgh.

GMM: Your poetry has an edge and the tone often feels angry. Are you angry? Should I be angry? What angers you the most?

RG: As I said, my work is my truth. That truth encompasses a broad spectrum of emotions. Rage, joy, sadness, eroticism, faith, love, betrayal, it’s all represented in my work. I wouldn’t characterize my poetry as angry, but I do find that perspective interesting. What you find angry, I probably penned as a representation of sorrow. The good news, Michelle, is that sadness that fuels anger reveals your righteous mind. Now, as for a broader viewpoint on anger in society, I am perplexed how any person can make it through life and not feel fucking rage at the murder of people and the murder of our souls. That shows me the power of apathy under empire.

GMM: As a poet, do you feel more of a responsibility to speak the truth than you might in another art form? Is it easier to convey the emotional realities found in your poetry than it is in your fiction? Do you prefer writing poetry?

RG: I love this question, and it deserves a 20 page response. The short answer is this: the best writing in any form reveals truth. Nonfiction and poetry are the most obvious arenas to really delve into facts that lead to conclusive truths. However, we cannot ignore the power of fiction. The works I’ve read by George Orwell or Cormac McCarthy have revealed to me some of our most powerful truths. I like to believe my voice represents our generation. Let’s be honest, we live under the rule of empire that most of us believe can no longer be controlled. Therefore, we gravitate toward identity politics as we watch greed destroy the social contracts that once held our heads above water through the 20th Century. If we ever wish to retake control of our lives, we must seek out our truths. Responsible authors were born to help us on that journey.

Selected Poems from Gothic Riot Dreams, by Ron Gavalik

Hard Labor Love
I came up in Pittsburgh,
the Rust Belt of hard labor
with a deep love of community.
As children, we collected railroad spikes
from the tracks and we cut our shins
on random iron shards in slag hills.
Some of us were union middle-class
while others breathed the gray air of poverty.
That hardly mattered.
As we stood atop foothills
that overlooked the city skyline,
soot embedded under our fingernails,
we lived as kings and queens
who oversaw the future.

Skinny Cigarettes
The old cashier at the car dealership,
she chain-smoked skinny, long cigarettes
all day, every day.
Her voice sounded like a bullfrog
that recently learned how to curse and laugh.
The crease lines around her mouth
and the folds in her neck
conveyed a relaxed style, confidence
earned from a hard life
and dangerous choices.

Sometimes there were no customers
in front of the cashier’s window
and no mechanics around to bust her chops.
That’s when she’d rest her elbows on the counter
and cradle a skinny cigarette
between two fingers near her cheek.
That woman’s eyes would gaze outside,
glossed over in what looked like daydreams
about all those lovers in their graves,
and their cliché widows
with their tiresome grandchildren
and their lovely lives.

Back in the day,
men in gray suits and skinny ties
never could resist her,
but then again,
few ever tried.

Pause and Look Down
The best sidewalks
are discolored
from the blood of youth
and the tears of victims.
Those sidewalks
tell stories, they provide lessons
of hard choices under
difficult circumstances.
Jagged cracks in the concrete
resemble the struggle
of so many souls
long gone.

Next week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Glenn Rolfe. Do you have a fragment you’d like to share? Send it to me at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Kristin Dearborn

Last week, Elsa M. Carruthers stopped by Girl Meets Monster, and this week, Kristin Dearborn shares her thoughts on why she prefers horror fiction to reality.

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If it screams, squelches, or bleeds, Kristin Dearborn has probably written about it. She revels in comments like “But you look so normal…how do you come up with that stuff?” A life-long New Englander, she aspires to the footsteps of the local masters, Messrs. King and Lovecraft. When not writing or rotting her brain with cheesy horror flicks (preferably creature features!) she can be found scaling rock cliffs, zipping around Vermont on a motorcycle, or gallivanting around the globe. Learn more at www.kristindearborn.com!

Three Questions

GMM: For some reason, while I read your fragment, the old adage, “write what you know” came to mind. Hopefully, no one ever pointed a gun in your face, but this feels like it was inspired by a real-life event. How much of your fragment is based on something that happened to you, or someone you know? How often do you draw from your own experiences as a writer?

KD: Thankfully I’ve never had a gun pointed at me, but I have been on an airboat ride in Florida! I’ve also worked a lot of retail in my day. I used to be the assistant manager of a Gamestop (I know, I know, NERD ALERT) and some of my coworkers were robbed once. Whenever I was counting the drawer at the end of the night I imagined the worst. Bethany’s case takes it a step further. The man with the gun isn’t just there for the money—that would be easy. You tell yourself if you do what they ask, you’ll be fine. This guy wants more than that, he wants to get into the swamp in the dark.

GMM: Is it easier to find your voice and convey your thoughts and emotions by writing horror? If so, why? Aside from Lovecraft and King, what drew you to this genre and why do you continue writing in it?

KD: Horror had me in its talons from the moment I read James Howe’s Bunnicula. I didn’t see a lot of horror movies as a kid, but I read a lot of books: Crichton, Koontz, King, John Saul, Dan Simmons. Horror stories make more sense than reality: when something awful happens, characters band together and fight it. Usually they win…that the outcome is not guaranteed only makes it sweeter when good triumphs. Horror is a fun way to process the awfulness in the real world, to escape from the 24-hour news cycle, most of which is a horror show on its own. Great horror is never about the monsters, it’s always about people and relationships—authors and filmmakers who struggle with that and paint the walls with gratuitous gore aren’t going to stand the test of time. I think it’s a testament to King’s staying power: he writes memorable characters that we come to care about.

GMM: You mention in your bio that people don’t think you look like a horror writer. What do horror writers look like? Do you think it’s because you look “normal”, or is it because you, like your character, have breasts?

KD: I think the average human expects a horror writer to be a bald guy with a beard and a black skull t-shirt. Now, I know, love, and respect more than a handful of super talented bald, bearded, black skull wearing horror authors, but there’s so much more to us than that! When I show up for work I wear a blazer and high heels, nice long sleeves covering up all my artwork. If I’m feeling wild and crazy I’ll show off one small velociraptor tattoo on my ankle. My eyebrow piercing has been gone for over a decade (RIP eyebrow ring, 2000-2007) and I don’t color my hair at all, let alone fun colors never found in nature. Subverting expectations is part of the horror genre, and I want to do my part.

Fragment, by Kristin Dearborn

Bethany looked up from counting her drawer when she heard the crunch of tires on gravel. A black sedan, windows tinted. It tucked itself in next to one of the rental cars the tourists brought. She watched, waited. As she gave up and resumed re-counting for the third time, the door opened, and a man stepped out.

Something in her gut twisted. Spidey senses tingled. Nothing terribly offensive about his appearance at first glance. Black slacks, cheap black dress shoes. Tan jacket. He wore his dark hair slicked back, and a pair of expensive sunglasses perched on his head. His skin, like most residents here, was deeply tanned, and wrinkles creased his face though he didn’t look much older than forty something. He carried a messenger bag over one shoulder.

If you didn’t go to college in Florida (heck, if you didn’t finish high school) and sometimes if you did, you basically doomed yourself to a life in the service industry. Bethany liked people, especially liked the kind of people who came here, a little ways off the beaten path and wanted to see real Florida.

This guy set off alarm bells in Bethany’s head. The way he carried himself, the bulge in his jacket even though the sun hadn’t gone down yet and the air was still warm. Lots of people carried guns, but something about him…

“Help you, sir?” she tried to sound cheerful.

He gobbled her up with his gaze, lingering on her breasts before meeting her eyes. She wanted to puke. On him. Instead she gripped the edge of her table as hard as she could. They’d talked about putting a gun in here, Cap thought it was ridiculous they didn’t have one. “A girl’s got to defend herself.” Jack believed in trusting people.

“I need to get on your last airboat. Gators after dark?”

“I’m so sorry, you’re about twenty minutes too late.”

She couldn’t even hear the buzz of Rebel Yell’s fans anymore. The Eastern sky had taken on a deep purplish hue, and soon Cap and his charges would be starting to look for alligators.

“I’ll pay for a private tour.”

Bethany pasted a smile across her face. She injected a faux brightness into her voice. “Sorry sir! Thursday is the next night we run the Gators After Dark tour. It’s supposed to be a full moon and clear that night. It’s going to be a great tour—”

Do you have a fragment collecting dust that you’d like to share? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Ryan DeMoss

44177254_1912898445465481_749535689380462592_nLast week, David X. Wiggin joined Girl Meets Monster and shared a fragment about an alternate dimension where birds are our overlords. This week, my friend and fellow SHU alum, Ryan DeMoss joins me to talk about the trap of genre and what really scares him.

R.D. DeMoss has an MA in English and an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. He has won awards for his short fiction and is continually working on his long fiction. He also teaches college-level composition in Washington and lives with a wonderful dog.

Three Questions

GMM: The scene you shared is a little scary. Is this a horror story or fantasy? A little of both? Which genre do you prefer? Why?

RDDI usually get lumped into horror, but my favorite stories are usually not defined by a single genre. Those are the stories I want to write. I’ve also found that the scariest horror books often have more hope to them than we assume, and cheerful books often have more chills than we want to admit. In other words, I see this scene as part of a coming-of-age tale, but it has its share of darkness. Then again, doesn’t life?

GMM: I know that you like to spend time outdoors. Living in Washington State must give you plenty of opportunities to get out into Nature. What was the weirdest or scariest thing you ever saw while hiking in the woods?

RDDI am certainly no mountain man, and I don’t think I have any experiences people would consider scary in the typical sense of a horror story. However, in my experience, the real terror of the outdoors is how easily and quickly situations change. I once did a hike in Hawaii that had a stone with dozens of etchings—a counter of deaths the trail had seen. On that same hike, in a muddy area, my friend slipped and started over the edge of a cliff. We laughed and called it a close call, but that fine line between a close call and tragedy terrifies me.

GMM: What made you stop writing this story? Do you plan to finish it? Without revealing too much, what happens next?

RDDI do actually have an ending to this story. I’m not sure if it’s the right ending, but it’s an ending. As I mentioned, I see this as a coming-of-age story, and when Finch finishes his plan, Tyler learns that not everything in life can be explained. The fine line between rationality and chaos is thinner than kids are led to believe, and adults spend their whole lives trying to understand the events that blur the borders. In the ending I have, Tyler spends his whole life waiting for the next time the chaos will cross into his rational world.

Excerpt from “Tell Me a Lie”, by R.D. DeMoss

Finch’s house bordered a green space that stretched on for half a mile before breaking at the highway. We’d explored the area a few times before but always with full daylight, which must have been why the woods seemed different that evening. Orange rays of the setting sun trickled and fell over the tips of the evergreens. Under their branches, shadows stretched onto the lawn, and an unseasonably cool breeze swirled through the leaves and swept over me, chilling the bare skin of my arms and legs. Somewhere, in a distant subdivision, a lawnmower buzzed.

The sun’s light seemed to almost vanish as we stepped under the boughs of the trees. Finch’s figure became a lean silhouette as I hurried to keep up with him. Fallen branches scraped my ankles, and a few times, I almost fell face first into the muddy trail. Each time I gathered my balance, Finch’s shape blurred a little more until he vanished, leaving only the sharp dark arcs of brush behind.

“Finch?” I called, but received no answer. A bird cooed somewhere high above me. The ground seemed to exhale a frigid gust of damp earthy smells, and I shivered. “Finch?”

In the darkness, someone whispered.

I said, “Finch, it’s getting cold. We need to go back.”

Another whisper.

My voice hid in my chest, but as I stepped closer, I forced out faint words. “Is that you?”

Finch grabbed my arm and pulled me behind a tree. “It’s behind you.” He pushed his finger to his lips, telling me to be quiet.

Out of the brush stepped a figure my mind couldn’t process at first. Maybe it was just a trick of the dim lighting, but next to me stood Finch and searching the trail was also the unmistakably tall, thin profile of Finch. There were two of him.

“Tyler,” the figure on the path called.

“Don’t answer it. It’s poisonous,” the Finch beside me whispered.

Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me I was in any real danger. I was nervous, sure, but I hadn’t felt threatened.

The Finch next to me twisted something clear and round in his hands. The top popped off with a soft sucking sound.

The creature on the path straightened. Its eyes darted toward where we hid. I held my breath. I was sure it saw us, but then it turned. When it did, its frame folded into the shadows and exposed what might have been its true form. It was a fraction of a fraction of Finch’s size, the size of a bug, a lighting bug. Its light shimmered with streaks of blue and magenta. It hovered in the air, bobbing as if it considering what to do next.

Finch sprung out from hiding. He swung the object in his hand over the creature that had looked just like him. By the time I understood the object he held was a mason jar, he had already screwed the cap tight. “Ain’t getting out, now,” he said.

The contents of the jar pulsed harsh shades of crimson, the colors of anger and warning. It wanted to hurt us. But, after a few moments the luminescence dimmed to a gentle pink.

“What is it? How did it look like you? Why?” The questions poured out of me as we walked back.

“It’s a wisp. You know, a wil-o’-the-wisp.”

I didn’t really know, but nodded just the same. “Why was it out there? Why did you catch it?”

“I baited it. Last night, I put a few of my journals out there. Wisp’s are really nosy, can’t keep themselves from invading someone’s privacy.”

Next week, Girl Meets Monster gets a visit from Elsa Carruthers. I’m so excited! Do you have a story to share? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: David X. Wiggin

74962_812727281055_1850019726_nLast week, David Day visited Girl Meets Monster and talked about genre as a means of choosing what to read as opposed to what to write. This week, I’m joined by David X. Wiggin. David and I have never met face to face, but we belong to Facebook group of weirdos who enjoy dark humor and laughing at our own shortcomings. I’m thrilled to have David as my guest today.

David X. Wiggin barely escaped Brooklyn with his life, though he still occupies New York City. You can find his most recent fiction on Pseudopod and in Black Treacle Magazine.

Three Questions

GMM: Tell me about this “mechanical manbody”. It’s sounds intriguing and creepy. What is it and where did you come up with the idea?

DXD: So, to answer the question a little bit of background first: the idea for this story came from a photo-collage I once saw that depicted a furious dog in a military uniform (it was in an issue of the Paris Review iirc.) That image really stuck with me (as well as some dog-men that appeared in a hallucination scene in an early episode of the TV show “Millennium”) and I wanted to write a story about this furious dog-man (this is usually how a story starts for me, by the way: a particular image or song or mood germinates in me like a seed until it starts to grow branches.) As I worked on the story other ideas started sprouting about this world of anthropomorphic animals and out of that came ideas for two more races: one that was a species of humanoids that managed to be beautiful in unconventional ways (the “Ill-Mades”) and the other was birds (the “Avians.”) I’ve always been fascinated by birds in general and in trying to dream up visualizations of humanoid birds I hit on the idea of them being normal, but highly intelligent and articulate, birds that walked around using cleverly contrived puppet bodies that gave them hands, legs, etc. Think like giant robots with pilots, but clockwork and, well, human sized.

Anyway, there was something kind of decadent about that idea and birds are almost always floating above the rest of the world so I thought it made sense to make them the rulers of this world. It’s also a nice metaphor for how they’re manipulating everyone else and making others do all the work for them

GMM: Based on the strangeness of the characters, my assumption is that your story is either set somewhere in outer space on another planet. But, I don’t know what the time period is in relation to our own past. present, or future. When is this story set? Do you prefer writing about invented times and places, or do you also write about alternative Earths?

DXD: It’s another dimension, more specifically, like Narnia or any number of fantasy worlds. I was messing around with an idea that it’s a world specifically hidden within our language, but unfortunately that idea was both too complicated and pretentious for me to pull off in the end… part of the reason this remains a fragment. As for when it’s set… well one character’s name is a pretty clumsy distortion of a historical figure from our world so I’ll leave it at that.

I’m a huge fantasy nerd so I love world building, but I’m not necessarily married to stories set in made up worlds. I published an alternative earth story a while back called “The Apollo Mission” about the ancient Romans developing space travel, but I haven’t done much with alternative earths otherwise. Maybe worth considering though!

GMM: There’s clearly a political or caste structure in your story. Is it primarily between species, or is it a bit more complicated than that? The dog-like creature is a decorated military man, so I assume that there is a hierarchy within that system, and I assume that there have been wars. Do you draw any parallels between what’s happening in this SFF story and what’s currently happening in our own time on Earth?

DXD: The hierarchy is pretty basic: the Avians have tricked the rest of the world through the power of their eloquence into letting them run it. The Bestials –which the dog-like creature belongs to, and all more or less look like humanoid versions of earth animals- are the “middle class” of the world (which is called Lexis.) They do all the dirty work for the Avians. Finally, at the bottom of society are the “Ill-Mades” who are unclassifiable but come in any sort of shape and size. The Ill-Mades are the serfs and the slaves and are considered to be no more than beasts. None of this hierarchy is legitimate or based on reality, mind you. It’s all a great big trick the Avians have pulled, pitting races against each other and making them think they’re inferior. Thilter, the dog-creature, is the only one to see through this big lie and, being a power-hungry megalomaniac uses this knowledge to lead a revolt of Ill-Mades against the Avians. Which, as we can see from the opening paragraph of the story, has obviously failed.

Does this story have any parallels with what’s currently happening on our own Earth? Well, I started this story a long time ago (maybe 10 years?) so obviously it’s not based on anything specific happening right now, but yeah I’d say there are a lot of echoes with a lot of hierarchy-heavy societies throughout history — where some people are given greater power and influence than others for basically arbitrary reasons. Some people live in mansions and eat caviar for breakfast because they can move numbers on a screen around while others starve and suffer because they can’t. Or even worse some people are better off than the color of their skin. That seems no crazier to me than a world where birds are in charge because they’re birds! So yeah, obviously this story reflects a lot of my feelings about the world, but it’s not in reference to anything specific. “The world is just awful, usually for stupid reasons” is about the gist of it — whether it be our world or a world run by birds and beasts.

Lexis, by David X. Wiggin

He wanted her to kill him.

Galatea understood what he was asking –demanding-, though they’d bound his muzzle shut with thin bands of steel fused together in a flawless web of metal.  That hadn’t stopped him from trying to reason with, beg from, and curse her every one of the countless miles they had traversed.  He struggled, but despite his seven feet of height and the hundreds of jangling medals on his chest that proclaimed his martial prowess, with his arms and legs manacled and chained he was no match for her.  His furred face was a froth of frozen snot, spit, blood, and mud and his yellow eyes burned with a heat that had in the past had typically preceded the death of thousands.  He frightened her, broken and bound as he was, as he had always frightened her.  Still, she would not surrender to his will as she had in the past.  For his crimes, he didn’t deserve death.  He deserved far worse.  They both did.

On the icy slopes of Mount Tattaghata, twenty thousand feet above the earth, whipped and nipped by the spirits of cold and wind, the two figures struggled against the elements and against each other.  One was a Bestial –a giant dog-man dressed in the rags of what had once been a beautifully tailored military uniform and fifty pounds of thick chain- the other an Ill-Formed-Woman.  Though most of them were hidden beneath her heavy coat, thousands of arms of every size grew from her back and her neck like the tendrils of an anemone.  Under her spider-fur hat, a head of thin hair-arms squirmed.  Had there been anyone to see them in this desolate corner of Lexis they would have been flabbergasted by the sight of a low caste Ill-Formed treating a decorated Bestial general like a prisoner.  No doubt it would have looked like a sick joke.  And there was no question, Galatea reflected, that was precisely what it was intended to be.  Prince Owlbert was known for his cruel ironies.

It had been her first time to see the inside of the Court (she’d been in the Castle of the Moon where the Avians held their winter sessions, but that had been after Thiltre’s Phoenix Brigade had purified it with flames) and after years of black jungles and scorched earth, the jade fountains, gilded floors, and occidental perfumes drifting through the air were almost unbearable.  Though Thiltre had had to be forced to his knees, Galatea had prostrated herself with an instinctual ease that terrified her.

They had conditioned her well.  She had experienced for herself the cruelty with which the Avians had repressed other races, stripping away their freedoms of mind and body to make pliant servants.  They had built their empire upon the bloodied backs of her people.  She knew all about their petty natures and pathetic hypocrisies.  She had seen first-hand just how mortal they were.  And yet… she had entered the court shaking, not from fear of the punishment that awaited her, but of being in the presence of her masters.  They had taken so many things from her.  Things she had never had to begin with.

Prince Owlbert had leaned down from his perch atop the neck of his mechanical manbody and studied them with blinking black eyes.  Followed by the faint whistle of spinning gears and winding strings the manbody raised a jeweled hand in an elegant gesture of greeting.

“Salutations.  Be welcome to the Court of the Sun, General Thiltre,” the prince murmured sleepily.  He spoke so quietly everyone in the hall had to lean in to hear.  “It is a glory to be presented with such a stimulating novelty in our paradigmatically dull chamber.  It has been unrelenting eons since we have had a suitable divertissement.  Is that not unequivocal?”  He looked to his courtiers: cardinals, parrots, ravens, peacocks, chickens, and blue jays; a brilliant mosaic of colored heads bobbing eagerly.  Then he turned back to the prisoners.

“You have given us sufficient of provocation over the past few turnings of the sun, General,” he mused.  “Karxxango, Dell-Where, and Tompiq conquered in a fortnight.  Approaching half a million Bestials and Ill-Mades aggregated from every corner of Lexis to stand beneath your tangerine banners.  You collected victory after victory over our Silver Legions.  Those squadrons of child soldiers- Nursery Killers, I think they were called-, were they of your own inspiration?  Delightful.  Your resolution to depart the court to lead this rebellion was a veritable disappointment. You could have ascended higher than your father.  He hung himself from shame when he heard that it was you leading the rebellion you know.”

Thitlre had snickered from behind his muzzle.  His cunning yellow eyes scanned the court.  Even then he had still considered himself undefeated, imagining that his devoted followers would come rescue him, and was taking catalogue of what precious things here he would claim for himself and who he would keep alive to torture on dull afternoons.  To his credit, he had returned from worse defeats.  This time, however, he had not counted on the extent of his second-in-command’s betrayal.

Next week, writer and climbing enthusiast, Ryan DeMoss, joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have a story you’re dying to share with the world (or at least the few people who read my blog)? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com.

Fiction Fragments: Alicia Wright

Last week, Girl Meets Monster had the pleasure of talking with Michael Arnzen. This week, Alicia Wright joins us to talk about space operas and when she loves writing science fiction and fantasy for YA audiences.

AliciaWrightI decided to write books about ten minutes before graduating law school. I’m now an Atlanta attorney, but I moonlight as author, electronics junkie, and secret superhero. With degrees in computer science and a healthy diet of fiction, I love all things high-tech and unreal. I write fantasy and science fiction for young adults. Currently, you can find my work under the name Alicia Wright Brewster, but additional books are coming soon under Alicia Ellis. Visit Alicia’s website and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/writeralicia

Three Questions

GMM: I enjoyed reading your fragment. What was the inspiration for this piece, and why do you think slavery is a recurring theme in Science Fiction and Fantasy? Do you think it’s important to continue to write about slavery despite the fact that many people think it is no longer relevant to discuss it?

AW: I can’t be sure what inspired this piece. I’ve always wanted to write a space opera, and I think one day, I decided it would be cool to write about space pirates. And then this story grew in my imagination.

Is it important to write about slavery? Yes, history is important. I wasn’t consciously thinking of history or trying to make a point when I wrote this. But to a significant degree, the plans I had for this story deal with colonialism, and there’s a historical link between colonialism and slavery. So when I needed a way to return Jax to Ren’s life and simultaneously make the Company look awful, slavery seemed like a good way to go.

GMM: What attracted you to the SFF genres? What was the first book, movie or TV show that caught your attention? Why?

AW: I love science fiction and fantasy because it’s simultaneously real and unreal. It’s different from the everyday, and thus it provides an escape. At the same time, SFF explores real-world joys and problems. I had no choice really; my father raised me on Star Trek and Star Wars, and I loved every minute of it.

My very first favorite book was science fiction, although at the time, I didn’t know what “science fiction” was. My copy of The Girl with the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts, was thoroughly battered after traveling with me during at least two (probably three) household moves. It remains my most-reread book, although it’s been decades since I’ve last read it. Perhaps it’s time for reread!

GMM: Is it easier to write for a young adult audience? What are some of the challenges? Do you struggle with subject matter in terms of what’s appropriate for young adults? Do you worry about how you audience will deal with difficult or uncomfortable situations in your fiction?

AW: I wouldn’t say it’s either easier or harder to write for young adults; I’d say it’s different than writing for adults. I love writing YA because the protagonists move me. They are passionate and reckless, and for them, everything is life changing. I can get a young protagonist into a lot more trouble than I can with an adult protagonist, because teenagers are allowed a wider range of mistakes. They mess up and they learn, and as readers, we allow them to do so without questioning their sanity. And when big moments occur, teenage protagonists are filled with excitement or devastation because they are experiencing things for the first time. And that’s why I write YA.

A challenge is that, obviously, I am no longer a teenager. I remember what I was like as a teen and what my friends were like, and that goes into my writing. But it’s important to stay in touch with teenage life to some degree, so that I don’t have teenagers in 2018 behaving as if they are in 1998. Clothes have changed. Schools have changed. Hangout spots have changed. Politics have changed. I need to know what’s happening now for teenagers, and sometimes that’s tough. It actually helps that I write SFF because, often, I make the world so I make the rules. But still, SFF needs to be grounded in reality.

Do I struggle with subject matter in terms of what’s appropriate for teens? Honestly, not much. YA can get pretty real and dark these days, so there’s little that I want to write about that’s out of bounds. I’m sure there are topics I wouldn’t touch, but I have yet to come across any in my own story ideas. Sometimes, I worry about cursing too much in my writing, but that’s largely about being acceptable to adults who choose books for teens. With that in mind, I tend to limit, but not eliminate, cursing. Basically, I save it for emphasis rather than sprinkling it everywhere.

End of Life, by Alicia Wright

CHAPTER 1

I hadn’t shot him in a vital organ. It didn’t call for all that screaming.

“Shut him up.” I gestured with my gun at one of his shipmates, a tall woman with a dark ponytail.

“You didn’t have to do that.” She pressed her hands against the hole in his leg and whispered in his ear, her tone soothing.

“Yes, I did.”

When a sixteen-year-old girl asks a crew to hand over its cargo, they rarely agree—even when she and her team have already ripped open the side of that crew’s spaceship. So I solved that problem. When I shot someone with a fifty-pound gun, they got obedient fast.

It made things easier.

The man’s howls quieted to whimpers.

Weaponless, my shipmate Kye examined the screen on his comm. “Batteries,” he told me, his tone flat.

“Could you put a little energy into it?” I whispered.

He and I stood at the edge of a dining hall. A long metal table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by sixteen plastic chairs. Four members of the crew had occupied those chairs when we peeled their ship like a tin can. They’d jumped to their feet, and two others had joined them from elsewhere on the ship, thanks to the commotion.

Behind us, a hole gaped in the wall. It led to a retractable tunnel attached to our ship. Before we left and took our tunnel with us, we’d advise them to seal the hole so they didn’t get blown out into space. We weren’t monsters, after all.

Louder, I said, “Where are the batteries?”

The four remaining crew members—other than the man I’d shot and the woman calming him—had clustered on the far side of the table. The largest of them stepped forward and pushed two of the others behind him.

“What batteries?” When I didn’t shoot him right away, he raised his voice. “We don’t have any batteries.” Brave.

Kye read from his screen. “One hundred fifty polynium-nitride batteries of various sizes. Estimated value of sixteen thousand universal credits.”

It would have made my job easier if he at least pretended to be mean. Kye was the nicest boy a knew—Granted, most people I knew were pirates. But between his six-foot-plus frame and shoulders twice as wide as mine, it would have taken little more than the occasional sneer to wrap up these jobs more quickly.

I pointed my gun at the brave man’s face. “You heard him.”

His mouth moved, but no sound came out. Useless.

“Somebody here knows where the batteries are. Or maybe they’re not on the ship—in which case, we might as well make an exit.” I turned my weapon toward the wall and flicked the ammunition switch from bullets to explosives. “This way, perhaps?”

The drug my crew took to survive hyperspace had some pleasant side effects—strength, speed, agility. Even as a Traveler, though, I couldn’t survive in outer space for more than five minutes, but these people didn’t know that.

The woman who’d been soothing the injured man shot to her feet. “There are no batteries. Our orders changed.”

“What are you carrying?”

Her face reddened. “Slaves.”

I glanced behind me at Kye for confirmation.

He offered an almost imperceptible shrug.

“Show me.” To the rest of them, I added, “No one leaves this room until I get back.”

Kye leaned against the wall and stared down at his comm. “I’ve got this under control.”

Even without a weapon, he could take them all down—probably. It worked in our favor that no one outside the Travelers knew the limits of the drug. These people wouldn’t risk their lives by confronting Kye—not for cargo they’d have to turn over to the Company anyway.

I followed the dark-ponytailed woman down a narrow, spiral staircase. My combat boots clanked against the metal steps. We stepped off it onto the dusty floor of the cargo bay. The space held a single item, a cage, barely large enough for the four people inside.

I turned to head back up the stairs. I’d confirmed her story, but we didn’t trade in slaves. There was nothing for us here.

“Ren?” a familiar voice called.

I spun back around.

While the other three slaves slumped on the ground in the tight space, a teenage boy leaned against the front bars, his arms propped against a horizontal rung. His dark hair hung over his forehead. Dirt streaked his face and clothing, but when he smiled, his teeth shone as white and perfect as ever.

“Jax.” I cursed silently at the flipping in my stomach. Why did he still affect me?

“You’re going to leave me here?”

I ignored him and started up the stairs. If anyone deserved slavery, it was Jax.

“I know what happened to your sister,” he shouted when I’d made it halfway up.

I ran back down, shoving the woman aside at the bottom step. I stopped in front of the cage, three feet away from him. The only way he’d know about my sister was if he’d been there. The information wasn’t out there—not in the gossip, not in the official record, not on the black market. “You’re a liar.”

“That’s true. But not about this. You want justice, right?”

I wanted justice more than I wanted those batteries, more than I wanted out of my Travelers contract, more than I wanted my next breath. But the last time I’d seen Jax, I was watching his feet walk away from me as I bled out on the floor. “You’re going to get it for me?”

“Let’s say I’m lying,” he said. “You take me with you, question me, and when you get nothing, I go back to the Company. What’s the loss?”

He had a point. I hated it when he had a point.

“Get him out,” I said to the woman still waiting for me on the staircase.

Next week, Girl Meets Monster gets a visit from across the pond. Stay tuned, and send your fragments to me at chellane@gmail.com.

Fiction Fragments: Michael Arnzen

Last week, Matt Betts stopped by to talk about the upside of writing fan fiction and how it can help novice writers find their voices and improve their craft. This week, horror writer Michael Arnzen joins Girl Meets Monster to talk about his writing process and why humor and horror are so closely related in our psyches.

ArnzenShades18Michael Arnzen holds four Bram Stoker Awards and an International Horror Guild Award for his disturbing (and often funny) fiction, poetry and literary experiments. He has been teaching as a Professor of English in the MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University since 1999. New stories are coming out soon in the anthologies Knee Deep in Little Devils and Collected Christmas Horror Shorts II, with more insanity soon to come. To discover his writing, seek out the books Proverbs for Monsters or 100 Jolts. To see what he’s up to now visit gorelets.com or follow him on twitter @MikeArnzen where he routinely posts news, oddities and random tidbits of terror.

Three Questions

GMM: What inspired this story, and how autobiographical is it? Are you like Reynolds? Do you dread talking about your writing when people put you on the spot?

MA: My process is very loose and I’m always on the lookout for story ideas by twisting things we take for granted, or paying attention to the peculiarities happening around us in everyday life. The idea for “Poe Bread” came to me last time I was visiting Baltimore, the land of Edgar Allan Poe and a place where you can get good Poor Boy sandwiches. I think I made some dumb pun about “Poe Boy” sandwiches at a restaurant, but after I stopped laughing at my own joke, I wondered whether there was a story there, and it mutated into the phrase “Poe Bread” in my mind. As I drove back to Pittsburgh, I mused over a plot that might unfold the meaning of the phrase and started writing the next day to see if the idea had any legs.

All my characters are always extreme or abstract versions of how I imagine I would act or react if I were that kind of person, but even when they might have the kinds of roles I might have — writers, teachers, pet owners, etc. — I don’t really identify with them much beyond that, because they are all always splinters of my personality on some level, even when they are completely unlike me. This is a tough question to answer, but a fitting one to talk about in your “fragments” series, actually… because characters are always fragments of a writer’s identity, while being embellishments, too, at the same time.

So Reynolds is a writer, and I kind of like his imaginary fiction series about dead rock stars (I love pop music and could totally get into writing that!), but I wanted him to be more of the kind of writer that the restaurant owner would fawn over, rather than the kind of writer I am. So he’s probably a lot stuffier and more reserved than I am. I don’t dread talking about my stories (well, not the finished ones), but I do kind of feel uncomfortable with people asking me to explain them. Though I do appreciate it when people read my work and tell me they enjoy it, I really don’t enjoy adulation, because I write to connect with people of a like mind, not to feel superior to them. I like it more when someone says “You’re a sick man, Arnzen!” with a knowing gleam in their eye than when they praise me fannishly.  But I can be a fan boy too, so I understand.  The waiter in the Metallica t-shirt is probably just as much like who I really am, too, if not more so — even though I’ve never waited tables or owned restaurants or baked bread.  It’s all fiction, exploration of the fragments trying to find a whole. And I ain’t done yet.

GMM: Academics have suggested that there is a connection between horror and humor. I think even many lay people would agree that there is a healthy amount of comic relief in horror films. Your work tends to employ humor even though you write about dark things. When did this connection occur to you and/or have you always written horror stories with a thread of humor? Is it just a personality quirk that comes out in your writing?

I think laughter bonds us, even though we’re all doomed.

MA: It’s funny: even when I’ve tried to write comedy, people tell me that it’s very disturbing or dark or not funny at all.  Or when I’m at a fiction reading, delivering a really devious and dark line with seriousness someone in the audience will erupt with laughter. Sometimes it’s just me, laughing at myself, too.  Fantasy is ludicrous, and the “gross out” often has a humorous (albeit juvenile) appeal, but that absurdity leads to originality and truth in a way that other things don’t. Horror comedy is tricky to write well and I don’t think I’m good at it when I try too hard to be funny.  So I have given up trying to be funny or scary:  I just write in a way that lets myself go, and try to not to censor myself too much.  I think what I’m doing as a writer is just like letting myself dream or be mentally drunk on the page, and to feel that liberty that you don’t get in everyday life.

An interviewer once categorized me as a “dark jester” in a feature story once and I kind of liked that, a lot, because it reminds me of Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse.”  Another writer called my work “sardonic” across the board, and I like that a lot too.  The comedic stuff I’m producing is probably just related to my worldview and my penchant for the absurd and ironic. I grew up with MAD magazine and Saturday Night Live, and love comedies as much as horror movies.  I like to laugh in the face of death and such — it’s a kind of defiance, but also a quirky way of dealing with anxiety and tension. I think laughter bonds us, even though we’re all doomed.

GMM: What is Poe Bread? I’m dying to know what happens when Reynolds eats it.

MA: Well, it’s only a fragment right now because I haven’t >fully< plotted out what happens, and what I've written has barely gotten to the real story — I gave myself too much liberty to explore character and setting at the beginning, and that's all it really is right now, building up to the very question you asked.  I like to leave a lot of space for new plot directions and other ideas to occur as I write, so I often don't know what I'm doing till I'm doing it, to be honest. I like to think that transfers over to the reader too, where discoveries seem to happen logically and at natural points. But I do know the answer to your questions. Without giving away TOO much, let's just say that there is an old dough "starter" — that is, a baker's saved ball of old dough that gets put into the next batch, and then a ball is taken out of that batch for the next one, ad infinitum — which has been passed down since Poe's day through the bread baking process over the years at this restaurant, and "Poe Bread" contains it. This bread is somewhat magical (or contaminated?) in that it "inspires" Reynolds to write some twisted things… and he becomes both obsessed with the dough and the man who owns it. The two main characters reveal their suspicions about what the dough contains as the story progresses and they begin to do devious things. Does the bread have opiates in it?  Could the starter contain the DNA of Poe himself?  All is revealed in a twisted ending, which I hope echoes the plot of a famous Poe story.

If, that is, I finish it. I might need more… inspiration.  And it's lunch time now, so I'll end there.  Bon Appetit!

Poe Bread, by Michael A. Arnzen

Jim Reynolds had long heard of Baltimore Batter but it wasn’t until he was actually sitting in the restaurant bakery, holding a Poor Boy sandwich in both of his hands, that he understood its popularity. The place had that comforting, beery odor of yeast that most good bakeries greeted its guests with — but here it had seeped into the yellowing stone walls and worn wooden tables for a hundred years, if its storefront sign was to be believed, saturating the place like smoke in a whiskey barrel. He loved it. The bakery’s ambience was so out-of-place compared to the other shops in downtown Baltimore that it had felt to Reynolds like stepping into a 19th century painting. And though time had certainly taken its toll on the decor, the disheveled look of the place only made the food taste better. The shrimp on his sandwich was so fresh it virtually wriggled on the bun and the special sauce in his mouth was as tangy as over-sweetened tea. But it was the bread that made him drool between bites. Eggy and warm in his hands, fresh out of the oven. He squeezed the crisping bun like a lover, and devoured.

The waiter — a thirty-something man with covered with both muscles and wrinkles — brought his check early, sliding it under the vertical roll of paper towels that served as a napkin dispenser. He wore a sweaty black Metallica concert t-shirt that had had faded so much it simply read “licca” above a hazy upside-down cross. He stood there, tossing razor-cut jet black bangs to one side like they were getting in his eyes as he diddled impatiently on his pad.

Reynolds slid him his Mastercard and returned to the precious last bite of his Poor Boy.

The waiter snapped up the card, turned, took one step, then pivoted back. “Wait,” he said to himself, then crouched down so that their eyes could meet. “You’re not the Jim Reynolds are you?”

A bit peeved, he swallowed. “Don’t know what you mean. There’s plenty of them in the phone book…”

“Yes,” the waiter grinned, scanning his face. “You’re him! I know you from your book jackets.”

Reynolds smiled. It wasn’t often that readers recognized him.

“Man, I love all your stuff. The Hendrix Appendix, The Joplin Goblin…shit, I’ve read them all. ”

He nodded, never quite knowing what to say when these things happened. “Thank you.”

“You’re a god to me, man. Damn, I wish I had a book you could sign.” The waiter padded his pockets, as though searching for one of them on his person.

“I’ll gladly sign the check,” Reynolds said.

“No way, dude. The sandwich is on the house.”

Reynolds started liking this guy. “In that case,” he said, reaching into his satchel, “I’ve got something else for you.” He pulled out an advanced review copy of his forthcoming rock-horror novel, scribbled something on the title page and passed it to the man.

“Ho-lee shit.” The waiter swiped his hands down his apron and held the book like it was the Shroud of Turin. He read the title aloud: “The Johnny Rotten Corpse. Man!” Then his eyebrows went squiggly. “Wait a minute…ain’t Johnny Rotten still alive?”

“Not in my book.”

The waiter laughed, read the inscription — “Hope the Poor Boy didn’t struggle! Yours, JR” — and shook Jim’s hand when he stood.

“Loved the food. The bread here is amazing.” He shouldered his bag.

“Tell you what,” the waiter said. “Any time you come here, the food’s on me.”

Reynolds’s eyebrows nearly jumped off his forehead. “I couldn’t…”

The waiter held up his hands in protest. “No, as the owner of this place, I set the rules. And I insist.”

“My friend,” Reynolds said, as his esteem for the man rose a notch and he held out a hand for another shake, “I will take you up on this. You can count on it.”

“Come as often as you like,” he said, shaking briskly. “But there’s just one stipulation.”

“What’s that?”

“That I get to sit with you and talk about your books.”

If there was one thing Reynolds hated about being a writer, it was being put on the spot about his work. He never took interview calls and he never attended conventions. He liked being a recluse — the chance to be left alone and be his own boss was what drew him to the profession in the first place. But the smell of bread in his nose and the tastes of yeast and fish still lingering on his tongue made this opportunity just too damned good to pass up. “You’ve got yourself a deal, my friend. Only I can’t promise I’ll be the best company.”

“Psht.” He waved his hand. “I’m sure I’ve seen worse.” A bell dinged from somewhere in the kitchen and the man frowned at the distraction. “For whom the bell tolls,” he muttered, and Reynolds wasn’t sure if he was being literal or referencing Faulkner or reciting Metallica. But it didn’t matter. He found his sneery reaction charming.

Reynolds began to gather up his bag.

“Okay, come back some… wait, don’t leave. I got something you’d appreciate in the back. Sit tight.”

Reynolds watched as he darted past customers and pushed into the “IN” door with his shoulder. He was back through the “OUT” door in what seemed like a heartbeat, carrying a paper bag, with a loaf of black bread nosing out of it.

“Take this, my gift to you.” The owner of Baltimore Batter handed him the bag, and Reynolds could feel lingering heat between his crackling fingers. “It’s the house specialty — a family recipe. It’s called Poe Bread. It inspires.”

Reynolds wanted to thank him, but the man was already back in the kitchen before he had the chance. He looked down at the Poe Bread, cradled in his arm and swaddled in crinkly brown paper like a newborn. “Inspires?”

Next week, Alicia Wright joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have a fragment screaming to see the light of day? Show it to me at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Matt Betts

Last week, K. Ceres Wright joined Girl Meets Monster to talk about how writers of color can foster support for other diverse writers and become mentors for young writers. This week, Matt Betts is here to share a fragment, talk about his influences, and the benefits of writing fan fiction.

40645515_267465454090059_5099031125666299904_nMatt Betts grew up on a steady diet of giant monsters, robots and horror novels. The Ohio native is the author of the speculative poetry collections Underwater Fistfight and See No Evil, Say No Evil, as well as the novels Odd Men Out, Indelible Ink and his latest, The Boogeyman’s Intern. Matt loves to travel and speak at writer’s conferences and workshops. He lives in Columbus with his wife and their two boys.

He can be found at www.mattbetts.com, on Twitter as @Betts_Matt and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mattbettswrites/.

Three Questions

GMM: Welcome, Matt. So, tell me about your fragment. What was your inspiration?

MB: This is a story I wrote a little over ten years ago. It’s a SciFi western that I really enjoyed writing. It was called a few things, but the final title was “Where It All Went Wrong.” This involves a ship with a crew of three, rather than the larger crew of the Serenity, but as the writer, I was really into Firefly and other space westerns at the time.

GMM: I love Firefly! So that totally sounds like something I would read. Why did you abandon it?

MB: Well, I’ve always meant to come back to it and rewrite it now that I feel a little more sure of myself, so I guess I can’t call it abandoned completely. But whenever I’ve circled back and reread it, it feels so much like Firefly fan fiction. Funny thing is, the story was accepted by two different magazines/webzines, but both went out of business before the story made it to print. I got a little scared it was a jinx and worried anyone I sent it to would fold as well. But I still really enjoy it and maybe I’ll consider expanding it, and cleaning it up, into a novel one day.

GMM: There’s often a certain level of stigma associated with writing fan fiction, but sometimes writing fan fiction can help you overcome writer’s block on another project, and in the highly improbable case of E. L. James, fan fiction can turn into a series of best-selling novels. Have you written fan fiction that you later developed into an original work of fiction?

MB: Writing fan fiction can certainly help with writer’s block, but it can also help with writing in general. I mean, if someone wants to get started as an author, but has no idea how to do it, writing fan fiction can help. With fan fiction, a writer already starts with characters they know, background, and a familiarity with the genre. Writing stories based off of that would be a great start for any aspiring writer. The pressure to create certain elements is off, so they can write character sketches, backstories, whatever. I’ve often heard that writing is like a muscle in that the more you work out (or write) the stronger you get. Any novice writer should practice writing in any way they can. Their work will improve and eventually, they might want to strike out and feel confident to do their own original work.

I’ve never done any fan fic myself, not knowingly anyway. The scrap I’ve provided today really ended up feeling like Firefly, but I never felt it until the story was done, edited and submitted. I didn’t set out to write about Mal and Jane and the crew of the Serenity, I set out to write a space western, and that’s what came out. I think since then, I’ve found my voice and style as a writer and I can avoid inadvertently drifting into someone else’s territory, or properties, a little better. Early on as an author, I tried to write in what I thought was Stephen King’s style, but the stories were my own originals, not based off of his stories or characters. And they were terrible. It took a few years for me to feel like I wasn’t copying off someone else’s paper as a writer.

I guess I’ve never tried to write fan fiction, really, and it might have helped me to learn story and structure a little sooner if I had. I can see how writing Star Wars or X-Files stories would have set me up for better storytelling earlier. Both have science fiction tropes, action, and strong characters — all things which play a prominent role in my work today.

Where It All Went Bad, by Matt Betts

Mason stared at the keypad next to the barn’s side door. The readout showed the security system was disabled and he hadn’t even touched it.

“Boss? We’re holding at the safe point, but we haven’t got a lot of time. What’s going on?” Bess’s voice came through his earpiece. “Are you inside or what?”

He pushed the door and it swung open with a creak. He sighed. Alarm turned off and door wide open? “Yeah. I’m in. Give me ninety seconds to start the roof’s retraction sequence and bring it in.”

“Can do.”

On a job like this one the unexpected was never welcome, especially after they had planned it so well. He pulled his sidearm and closed the door behind him. He paused next to a crate to let his eyes adjust to the low light.

Outside, the thumping of small explosions suddenly filled the air. “Looks like the town folk started their celebration a might early.”  Bess’s voice again filled Mason’s ear.

“Who can blame them? The festival of fruit only comes once a year,” he whispered.

Bess laughed. “Harvest celebration, genius.”

“Right.”

Mason scanned the building for any sign of life and found nothing; no movement, no sound. He could see a few crates here and there, some frames on the walls, a set of fuel pumps and, of course the ship in the center of the building that he’d come to take. He darted to the other side of the ship where the door control console was and began tapping in codes.

“On the way.” Bess said.

The crack of the overhead door coming to life drew Mason’s gaze upward and the light of the night sky began to creep in, punctuated by the occasional flash of fireworks. In the new illumination he could see his target much more clearly. The ship had been through a lot, and showed the scars of its long years of service; a scorch mark here, a cracked panel there. It was only about eight feet tall and three times as wide, it was designed as a one-man explorer, but two could fit in it easily.

“Thirty seconds.” Bess was right on time. “Secured yet?”

“Working on it,” Mason said “Take it easy.” He holstered his gun, walked to the nearest wing and set the lifting rigs before moving to the other wing and the craft’s nose. He took a minute at the front to lay his hand on the ship and feel its cold metal. He ran his hand along the letters that spelled out the ship’s name – Palomino. He smiled and nodded. “Nice to meet you.”

The retractable ceiling door clanged open to its limit and again, Mason’s eyes drew upward. He saw the clear night sky momentarily before it was blotted out by the underside of his ship.

“We’re here,” Bess said.

“No kidding?” The bay door of the ship opened and Mason could see the silhouette of the third member of their crew, Eli Fisher, feeding out the winch lines.

“Hey boss!” Fish’s voice yelled through the speaker in Mason’s ear. “Any problems?”

Mason grabbed the first line as it made its way down to him and attached it to starboard wing. “Not a one.” He attached the other two lines and checked them carefully. One last look around the barn made him marvel at how easy it had been. His stomach rumbled a little. “Not a one. Haul us up.” He stepped onto the ships ladder and grabbed hold of a rung for dear life as the Palomino was pulled up roughly off the ground.

“Sir?” It was Bess. “There seems to be a large crowd of angry folk headed our way in a hurry. We’d better move out and finish hauling you in later.”

Mason looked down at the building that was rapidly moving away from him. He’d nearly cleared the roof and could see the open sky. A flash nearby made him wonder if the fireworks were still going on, or if someone was shooting at them. The Palomino began to twist on the lines and Mason squeezed the rung tighter. “Uhm. Are you sure we don’t have time to haul me in?”

“Don’t be yellow. We’ll be to safety in two shakes. Fish? You may want to strap yourself to something.” Bess said.

Mason’s stomach churned again. “Wait! If he needs to strap in, what about me?” It was too late. Bess had already steered the ship sharply back in the direction it’d  come. More flashes burst nearby “Just fireworks. Just fireworks.” He hugged the craft and pressed his face against its cold exterior.

Next week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes a mystery guest. Stay tuned!

Fiction Fragments: Stephanie M. Wytovich

Last week, K.W. Taylor shared her thoughts on time travel tropes. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes horror writer, Stephanie M. Wytovich. Stephanie is an amazing friend who enjoys laughing at the darkness just as much as I do, and despite the number of years that separate our birth dates, I often think of her as a kindred spirit who would most likely help me hide a body. She was kind enough to find some time in her busy schedule to drop by, share a fragment of her fiction, and answer a few questions about one of my favorite subjects: vampires.

39137823_1705610252821603_5328446997055668224_nStephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Shadows Over Main Street: An Anthology of Small-Town Lovecraftian Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich at http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/ and on twitter @SWytovich​.

Three Questions

GMM: What inspired the fragment you shared with us today, and is this piece abandoned or simply “on hold” while you work on other projects? What would make you finish it?

SMW: Vampires have gotten to be a bit of a cliché, overwritten stereotype in the horror genre these days, so I wanted to challenge myself to write a story that turns the monster on its back (insert evil smirk here) and shows us insight into some of the problems that go on behind the scenes, you know, once all the blood and intestines are cleaned up.

Currently, this piece is unfinished, but it’s definitely something that I plan to get back into once a few other projects are off my desk. I’m in the middle of finishing my next poetry collection (The Apocalyptic Mannequin) and I have a novelette coming out the fall (The Dangers of Surviving a Slit Throat), so I’ll probably drag the undead out of their nest later this winter and snuggle up with them again once the world goes white.

GMM: We share a love of vampires, and we’ve talked about them extensively, but I don’t think I ever asked you where your love of vampires began? What story or character pushed you into the realm of loving monsters?

SMW: When I was little—like too little for this to probably be okay—I was downstairs in the basement watching Salem’s Lot with my mom while she ironed my dad’s clothes for work the next day. Seeing the little boy tapping on the kid’s window pretty much broke me—I had two windows next to my bed at the time—and I slept with the blankets up to my neck for weeks.

However, no matter how scared I was of what lurked outside my house at night, I became fascinated with vampires. I loved their look, their teeth, how intelligent and worldly they were. They weren’t afraid of their bodies or their appetite (sex or other), and I admired their confidence and their ability to be themselves. Plus, I’ve always had a thing for bad boys, and those pale dreamboats were—and still are—my jam.

I watched Interview with a Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula not too long after that and picked up every vampire book I could find…the more emo, the better. I was an insufferable tragic goth child, and when I got to middle school, I wrote my first vampire story, which was a piece about a traveling vampire clan that slaughtered a young girl’s family. My teachers thought it was way too dark, and I got sent to the guidance counselor for a chat. After that, I wrote flirtatious paranormal romance stories with vamps and other monsters in them to keep me out of trouble.

That is, until I got to college.

Then it was back to blood and sex.

You know, the essentials.

GMM: While vampires were originally seen as something nightmarish, creatures we should fear, over time they have become the heroes of romantic fiction. Do you think this shift in how we view monsters like the vampire is potentially dangerous, or do you see it as a healthy kink? Or, like most things that create cognitive dissonance in our minds, do vampires simply ride the fence between erotic and deadly?

SMW: I think vampires have always been this erotic, deadly creature in my eyes because the threat of violence, of death, becomes an adrenaline high for the reader/viewer. Vampires look at humans as these fragile, beautiful things because their lives are so short, and that energy, that delicacy is what makes a mortal erotic to them. I think it’s similar for us: we see them as these wise, confident, well-traveled and explored immortal beings, and the dance between their monstrous nature and what’s left—if anything—of their human nature, is a turn on. Everyone wants to be the one person that a vampire protects, loves, and refuses to kill.

However, I will say that while there is an absolute erotic slant to my writing when I’m playing with these creatures, I like to work the angle that these monsters are hunters, and no matter how beautiful they are, they are deadly and they should be feared. For me, paranormal romance is fun, and I like to live in that world on my personal time on occasion, but when it comes to my stories, vampires are about one thing and one thing only: blood.

Untitled, by Stephanie M. Wytovich

No one was happy to see him dead but me, but truth be told, I wasn’t all that happy. He had a beautiful throat, such a gorgeous neck. It was a shame to treat the human body like this, but with a pulse like his, his blood was art, and like the rest of his body, I needed it—wanted it—in my mouth. No matter the cost, no matter the price, the sanguine taste of sudden death always tasted better with a little panic etched into it.

“Julia,” Daven said, her hands shaking my shoulders. “Snap out of it. We have to go. They’re coming.”

“Let them come. I’m not finished yet,” I said. My vision was spotty and the inside of my mouth tasted like smoke and shame. The vibrations of death still rang in my teeth.

“Not finished?” Daven said. The vein in the middle of her forehead pulsed an ugly purple-red. “You’ve slaughtered half the people in this bar, and you’re telling me you’re not finished?”

I stood up and adjusted my shirt, hiked up my jeans.

The bathroom spun on a tilt, the lights growing brighter by the minute.

“That’s what I’m telling you,” I said. Josh’s ashen body lay propped against the toilet, his neck still offered to me under the fluorescent lights.

The room tinted red, pulsed like a bleeding vein.

My head lolled back and I felt a mute relaxation as my eyes glazed over and the corpse started to hum.

“Fuck’s sake,” Daven said. “You’re high. You killed him before you drank didn’t you?”

Daven and I had been staying in a flat in Lawrenceville—the two of us boozing, fucking, kidnapping the night. Pittsburgh become our own personal playground, but when I met Joshua two years back, he excited me, touched me in a way that Daven couldn’t, wouldn’t. Where she was a soft chamomile, a warm cup of tea, Joshua was hard, rough like calloused hands with a musk that was more sex than sweat.

He was new, something different, a wild stallion with a gentle heart, and I admired his stamina. He liked to be bit, and he was a generous donor, which worked well for me because Daven always complained about the bruising.

Joshua, however, wore them like medals.

I traced his jawline with my eyes, thought about the first time I drank from him.

He was beautiful a man, but dare I say it, an even more attractive corpse, and my tastes for the exotic ran deep, even if it was forbidden, even if I found myself in love, even if, but most especially when, I found myself betrayed.

“He was dead to me the moment he set eyes on her, Daven,” I said. Leah’s disfigured face seeped into the forefront of my mind. “But let’s not quibble over the specifics. The only thing left between us now is blood, and I intend to take what was promised.”

Daven paced.

“The Order won’t tolerate this,” she said. “You’ve broken the agreement. They’ll—they’ll kill you, Julia. It’s against our nature. And Leah–”

Red. So much red.

“You mean it’s against your nature,” I said. “You with your rules and your bonds. I’m not vampire, Daven. The Order doesn’t own me.”

“That’s the problem, Julia,” Daven said. “No one does.”

Next week, Speculative Fiction writer K. Ceres Wright joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have some premium work collecting dust in a drawer? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: K.W. Taylor

Last week, Girl Meets Monster had a visit from Lana Ayers who talked to us about her debut novel, Time Flash: Another Me and this week K.W. Taylor is here to share a fragment about a time-traveling elevator.

small_bw_headshot_professional_kw_taylor.jpgK.W. Taylor’s first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, came out in the spring of 2016 from Dog Star Books. Her debut novel, The Red Eye, combines urban fantasy and horror (Alliteration Ink, 2014). Her work has been published in numerous periodicals. Anthology appearances include Ink Stains (Dark Alley, 2017), A Terrible Thing (555/Carrion, 2016), Life after Ashes (Alliteration Ink 2015), The Grotesquerie (Mocha Memoirs Press, 2014), 100 Worlds (Dreamscape Press, 2013), Sidekicks! (Alliteration Ink, 2013), Once Bitten, Never Die (Wicked East Press, 2011), and 555 Vol. 3: Questions and Cancers (Carrion Blue, 2018). Taylor holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, an M.A. in literature, and teaches college in Ohio, where she’s working on her Ph.D. She blogs at kwtaylorwriter.com.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: What was your inspiration for this fragment, and why did you abandon it?

KWT: I started and abandoned this fragment in 2014, with the working title “Elevator Out of Time.” When I began it, I was noodling around with my thesis novel’s mechanics of time traveling, and I wrote this as a possible spin-off story that could explain how time travel worked. Ultimately, I didn’t like the mechanics, and I realized later that the setting was a little too on-the-nose for someone working in higher education (you’ll see what I mean).

Girl Meets Monster: Time travel is obviously a very popular trope in genre fiction, what was the first time travel story that caught your attention, and why?

KWT: Some of my first exposure to time travel was via the first Back to the Future film, which came out at a formative time in my life. BttF is a much more historic/nostalgic view of time travel, however, and the physics elements of it as well as the connection with space travel is much more apparent in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, which I read as a kid. Perhaps because of these two early influences, I tend to blend that sense of mystery and nostalgia with the element of physics and space travel, and my own time travel work is a bit more hybrid as a result.

Girl Meets Monster: In your opinion, what are some of the worst examples of how time travel has been used in fiction? Some of the best?

KWT: Some of the best examples of time travel fiction other than the above include Quantum Leap, which hits that history/nostalgia element really hard, and Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which does the same but goes much, much darker. In the latter, I especially love the added fate and horror elements that imply that while you may be able to travel in time, changing history is going to get you in some serious hot water and may indeed kill you. Conversely, some of the worst examples of time travel in fiction are those that are poorly researched. If you’re going to dive into the past, you need to recognize that you’re writing not just science fiction but historical fiction, too, and that even the recent past is much different culturally than the present. There were some dodgy examples of this in the recent hulu series Future Man and in the Hot Tub Time Machine films, for example, but comedic takes on time travel can overcome a lot of problems if the comedy is solid. Literature-wise, I have to admit to not being a huge fan of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, mostly because I think future time travel can come off heavy handed, as that book reads today.

Elevator Out of Time, by K.W. Taylor

Cheryl nodded to the other passenger in the elevator, a tall man with dark skin wearing what she thought of as the quintessential college professor attire—white shirt, corduroy suit jacket, and jeans. Cute. Awfully tall, and cute, she thought. She turned around to face the doors as they slid shut.

The elevator crept along and stopped at the second floor, where two students got on. “Oh, hey, Mrs. Tucker!” one chirped at her.

Cheryl cringed at the “Mrs.” but didn’t correct her.

“Hi,” she said. “How’s your semester going?” She avoided using the girl’s name, which escaped her, but she recognized her from a seminar the previous year. Kayley? Kelly? Something…

“Not bad,” the girl replied. She gestured to the boy beside her. “He’s graduating this term, though. Can you believe it?”

The boy gave Cheryl a wan smile. Cheryl knew him, too, from a different class. “Whoa, I just had you in 101!” she said. “Can that really be four years ago?”

“Yup,” the boy confirmed. He turned to the girl. “Kayla, text me when you get home,” he said.

Kayla, that’s it.

The doors opened on the third floor. “See ya, Mrs. Tucker!” The boy exited the elevator, and another girl got on, occupying the space he left. She hit the button for the fourth floor.

“You going to the quiz bowl meeting?” Kayla asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Cheryl answered. She realized a deeper voice had joined her own, and looked up at the man beside her. “Oh, gosh, are you Dr. Middleton?” she asked. She held out her hand. “I knew the new history department member was co-chairing this time, but I don’t think we’ve met yet.”

The man smiled and shook her hand. “Yeah, Jeff Middleton. Dr. Tucker, is it?”

“Ms.,” she corrected. “Still working on the ‘doctor’ part.” She willed herself to ignore the pang tugging at her with that admission and instead turned back to Kayla. “What’s your subject area going to be?” she asked.

“Mm, I’m thinking the world wars,” Kayla replied.

The elevator lurched and came to a stop, but the doors remained closed. An alarm sounded.

“Ah, crap.” The girl from the third floor leaned in front of Jeff and punched the “door open” button. “I got a class in ten minutes.” She started rummaging in her purse before pulling out a cell phone. “My battery’s dead. Anybody got a phone?”

“There’s an emergency panel,” Cheryl said, pointing at the rectangle beneath the buttons. “Here.” She scooted next to the girl and opened the panel. Instead of a phone there was an intercom speaker and a button. Cheryl knelt and pressed the button. “Hello? Hello? I think we’re stuck. We’re in the Roberts Hall elevator.”

Silence.

“My battery should be good,” Kayla said. She pulled out her own phone and started touching the screen.

“Call campus security,” Cheryl said, standing back up. She rattled off the number.

“How do you have that memorized?” Jeff asked.

Cheryl shrugged. “I’m probably not the only woman on campus who does,” she replied. “Unfortunately.”

“Oh, dear.” Jeff furrowed his brow. “I thought crime wasn’t a problem here. When I interviewed—”

“It’s not, not really,” Cheryl interjected. “I just work a lot of late nights and stuff. Can’t be too careful.”

Kayla frowned and pulled her phone from her ear. “I don’t think I have any bars,” she said.

“Not surprised,” the other girl said. “Probably not awesome reception in here, thick walls and all this metal. Crap, we have a quiz today!”

“It’s okay,” Cheryl said. “What was your name?”

The girl opened her eyes wide. “Simone. Don’t you remember me? I was in your class like last semester.” She held out her palm and pointed to a spot in the middle of it. “I sat right next to that guy who never shut up, the older dude.”

Cheryl laughed. “Yes, right, sorry sorry.” She shook her head. “I get pretty busy and sometimes names escape me.”

Except I’ve had trouble remembering a lot of things, Cheryl mused. Sure, I have a lot of students, but still . . . She thought back to a day the previous week when she’d driven herself home from work, only to realize she was at an apartment complex she hadn’t lived in for eight years.

“I have a mobile,” Jeff said.

Cheryl noticed for the first time that he had a slight lilt to his voice, not a thick accent but a hint of one. She imagined time spent abroad, studying and traveling. Interesting. And who calls it a mobile?

Jeff’s phone was an ancient device with a flip up panel. He opened it and started pressing buttons. “Wait, here we go, I think it’s ringing.” He held it up to his ear. “Hello! Yes, yes, we’re stuck in a lift in Roberts Hall. Four of us, two students, one staff, one faculty.”

Cheryl’s jaw clenched.

“Right, so d’you think you’d be able to send . . . Mm hm. No, Roberts Hall. What?” He pulled the phone from his ear and frowned at it. “This is campus security, yeah? Alpha College? Well, then, I don’t know what sort of . . . Blast!” He shut the phone. “They hung up on me.”

Cheryl looked up at him. “What? Why?”

“You’ll love this. They said there’s no such building as Roberts Hall and I should stop making prank calls.” He shook his head. “What sort of school have I signed on to here?”

The alarm ceased, and the elevator car began moving again, only this time it appeared to be going down instead of up. “My quiz!” Simone shrieked. She reached out to push the fourth floor button again, but Kayla put a hand on her shoulder.

“No, don’t mess with it! At least it’s moving now. You can run up the stairs,” she told Simone. “I’m sure your prof will understand.”

“Four flights? Ugh,” Simone muttered.

“Why would campus security say stuff like that?” Cheryl asked.

“Beats me,” Jeff said. He tucked his phone inside his jacket. “Perhaps they’ve got a new employee or some such.”

The elevator came to a stop, and the doors opened. Blazing sunshine greeted the four of them. Cheryl shielded her eyes.

Kayla leaned forward and peered through the doors. “What the hell?”

Cheryl blinked and looked outside.

Field. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Unblemished, mostly, save a few patches of earth that looked to be in the middle of being ploughed for crops. Cheryl recognized the highway, but the dozens of fast food restaurants occupying the east side were gone. The only familiar sight was a greasy spoon called Smithee’s, a run-down spot where one was prone to contract foodborne illness. But right now it didn’t look run-down, it looked pristine, a “GRAND OPENING” banner fluttering from its front awning.

Next week, Stephanie M. Wytovich will drop by to talk about vampires, which you know, is one of my favorite subjects. Do you have a fragment you’re dying to share? Open a vein and drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Lana Ayers

Last week J.L. Gribble talked to Girl Meets Monster about time machines and cats. This week we have another gifted writer here to talk about time travel. Lana Ayers is another member of my Tribe from Seton Hill University and if you haven’t had the chance to read her fiction, you’re in for a real treat. If fact, Lana was kind enough to share a sneak peek from the sequel to Time Flash: Another Me. Enjoy!

lana author newLana Ayers is a poet, novelist, publisher, and time travel enthusiast. She facilitates Write Away™ generative writing workshops, leads private salons for book groups, and teaches at writers’ conferences. Born and raised in New York City, Lana cemented her night-owl nature there. She lived in New England for several years before relocating to the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys the near-perpetual plink of rain on the roof. The sea’s steady whoosh and clear-night-sky stars are pretty cool, too. Lana holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, as well as degrees in Poetry, Psychology, and Mathematics. She is obsessed with exotic flavors of ice cream, Little Red Riding Hood, TV shows about house hunting, amateur detective stories, and black & white cats and dogs. Her favorite color is the swirl of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Visit Lana online at http://lanaayers.com/TimeFlashAnotherMe.htm

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: Welcome back, Lana! The last time you were here we featured your amazing horror poem, Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster. How has poetry influenced your fiction writing, and vice versa?

Lana: Thanks for hosting me again, Michelle. That poem is very dear to my heart. Poetry is akin to a spiritual practice for me. I’m much better at sorting myself out on paper, then I ever have been speaking. In making poems, I can explore my connections, thoughts, and feelings, and make new discoveries. With fiction, my characters need to find their own best ways of communicating. In my romantic, time travel adventure novel, Time Flash: Another Me (Volume 1), the character of Jon Garcia is a man who is not always able to speak his feelings to his wife Sara. He expresses his emotions best through reciting lines from his favorite book-length poem, Piedra del Sol by Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

In truth, likely all my novels will contain a character or two who relate to poetry in some way. Poetry is such an important part of how I move through the world, it would be difficult to leave it out.

Girl Meets Monster: Time travel has always been one of my favorite tropes in genre fiction, but it often presents challenges for writers because of reader expectations and a backlog of fiction that informs those expectations. What challenges did you face while writing Time Flash?

Lana: A major hurdle with writing time travel was claiming authority as a woman writing a Science Fiction trope. Even though two of my favorite time travel novels were authored by women—Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (1976) and Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)—women are still often given short shrift by male peers. Much of the criticism from males in workshops I attended had more to do with my gender and thereby, a presumed lack of authority on the subject, than the content of the story or the quality of the writing. That fact that I have a Science and Math background didn’t seem to matter.

The challenge you mention, of reader expectation, is a huge one as well. There are really two basic approaches to time travel – you can affect changes in the past and future, or you can only observe and change nothing. From movie examples, this is the difference between Back to the Future and The Time Traveler’s Wife. In order to ground the reader, the writer must present their own specific system—changes possible or not—pretty much right away and remain logically consistent throughout the story. If the approach is not presented early enough in the story, you run the risk of thwarting reader expectation. In Time Flash, protagonist Sara changes the past, often inadvertently, screwing up so much, she gets her husband killed—twice.

Girl Meets Monster: Writing a series can seem a little overwhelming to some writers. What advice would you give other writers for planning a series and how to follow through with that plan?

Lana: I honestly didn’t start out thinking Time Flash was going to be a series. This is the book I’ve wanted to write my whole life, and I didn’t know if I had another one in me. But in the course of writing the novel, I fell in love with one of the minor characters—Murray—an antagonist who only appears in a couple of scenes. I realized Murray has quite a lot of complicated backstory that wouldn’t be appropriate to include. So that’s where the fiction fragment here comes from. Murray deserves his happy ending and I want to give it him.

When I realized I was going to have to write Murray’s story, I went back into Time Flash: Another Me and made sure there was just enough substance and uniqueness to his character that readers would be curious to learn more about him.

I believe to write a series, the author must remain passionate about the characters and the world she created. If the writer is passionate, readers will be too. Allow the series plan to evolve out of that passion. Don’t worry about anything else.

EXCERPT FROM: Time Flash: A Better Me (book 2 of Time Flash Series), by Lana Ayers

Chapter 1  Murray, age 39

Thursday, August 31, 2000, 4:30 AM

Murray O’Keefe’s apartment, Bedford Falls, NY

My goldfish Carl looks at me funny from his round bowl on the tiny kitchen table, like he knows something bad just happened. He floats in place staring, blowing bubbles, and waving his orange-gold fins. He must a heard me screaming before I woke up on the sofa bed and turned on the lamp.

My twin brother Mal says, Fish can’t hear because they got no ears, dumbass.

But I know Carl can hear ‘cause he nods at me a lot when I tell him about my workday delivering people to the lab.

I want to call Mal, tell him I just had the most awful dream of my life.

Worse than the nightmares I have all the time about the car crash that killed our folks when we was in high school.

But it’s 3 AM and waking Mal now would be like poking a lion.

I nurse a cola on the rocks and wait for the sun to come up. I don’t feel like watching TV, so I go look at the pictures hanging on the wall. I tore two of ‘em out of magazines.

I stand in front of the picture of breakfast that’s up over the stove in my postage stamp of a kitchen. It’s my favorite.

The glass in the frame is pretty smudged with grease, but that should add to it. Two rippled reddish-brown pieces of bacon all cozy with a couple of sunny-side up eggs. The yolks are like twin suns.

I know it’s only paper, but I sniff real hard and close my eyes. I want to remember the smell, but nothing comes.

I could whip a pan out, drop a couple of slices in, and turn the heat up. But it wouldn’t do any good. No better than the paper.

The best smells are gone. Not just the good ones. All smells.

Probably forever, Aunt Clare says. Happens in brain injury cases like yours.

But I keep hoping to get those good smells back.

Even in my dreams, I can’t smell nothing.

Next, I go over to photo of the wide green lawn hanging opposite my kitchen chair at the table. It’s half a step away. My whole studio apartment isn’t more than a couple dozen steps all around.

Fresh mowed grass is my second favorite smell. It used to make me feel full of energy, I think. At the far end of the lawn are bushes full of pink roses like the Georgetown Tea roses my mother used to grow. She won a couple of prizes for ‘em too. Those flowers sure smelled pretty. Like my mom and her perfume, Shalimar. I keep a bottle of the stuff in my bathroom medicine cabinet. Even though I can’t smell it, it makes me feel like she’s near, watching over me.

I have a photo on the wall I can see from my sofa bed. It’s a real picture of my mom and pop and my brother and me. Old too, back when Mal and I were little. Maybe eight. You can tell which one is me because I’m looking at my feet while Mal is staring straight at the camera. Even at eight, Mal looks angry. And I guess I was always looking the wrong way. Even before my brain was bad.

After I go read a few comics, it’s getting light out, but still too early to call Malcolm. He’s probably got a hangover. He hits the booze pretty hard most nights. Likes to have a good time, he says.

But me, I can’t drink like that. Makes me dumber than I already am.

I wish we still had the twin radar. Then I’d know whether he’s awake. But heck, that would mean he’d dream the same torture I did. Or worse, I’d feel his hangovers.

Used to be we could converse in our heads. Well, not whole conversations exactly, but we knew what the other one wanted. That all changed the day of the car crash.

I was asleep in the hospital a long time after it happened. I didn’t dream then, or if I did, I don’t remember. When I woke it was three months later and Aunt Clare told me the bad news about Mom and Pop being dead.

They didn’t suffer, she said. Died on impact. She told me, Be a big man, Murray, and don’t cry.

But I couldn’t help it. I bawled like a baby even thought I was almost fifteen.

The good news was that Malcolm was fine. Not a scratch on him even though he was sitting right next to me in the Pontiac’s back seat.

Brain trauma, Aunt Clare said to me, and she’s a doctor, so she knew what was what. A piece of the wrecked car lodged in my skull. Did a number on my head. I was never going to be the same.

At the time, listening to all that, ya know, I didn’t worry about my damage. I was too broken up about my folks.

But it turned out, I didn’t have the twin radar no more. I couldn’t hear Malcolm. Plus I didn’t do good in school. It was like all that science and math stuff went in one ear and out the other.  I wasn’t any good at baseball no more neither. Couldn’t get a hit or catch and throw the ball to save my life. It made me so mad cause I was gonna be a pitcher for the Yankees when I grew up. That or a hockey player. But I couldn’t hardly keep my balance skating anymore either.

I still felt like me, but not like me. I was me without Malcolm in my head, which was lonely. Still is.

Next week, K.W. Taylor joins Girl Meets Monster to talk about time travel and share a fragment of her speculative fiction. Do you have fiction fragments gathering dust? Do you have a new writing project you’d like to brag about? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. See you next week!