M & me

From the back seat I watch M gripping the steering wheel, not moving, considering the situation. November ice glitters on the road ahead of our sedan, caught in the sheen of headlights.

The man lies crumpled and shivering on asphalt. His breathing is a shallow wheeze.

*

One minute ago M slammed on the brakes, and my wooden horse went flying out of my hands into the windshield. It landed with a crunch at the same time the man hit the ground.

*

Framed by the rearview mirror, M’s eyes have narrowed to pinpoints. On top of her head, and mine, damp hair is coiled around fat rollers with nylon bristles, held in stony compliance by metal pins and green silk scarves.

M is Mother if anyone stops us, if anyone wants to know. Our story is the same every night: We’ve driven to a salon to have our hair shampooed and set. We’re on our way home to eat macaroni and cheese with bacon for supper. These are normal things to do, in this place.

“Doing normal” is our specialty, M’s and mine. We blend. It’s why we’re here. We’ve seldom been noticed. Well, a few times.

Bundled in a corduroy coat, M’s habit is to work the brake and gas pedals with one foot on each. A cigarette dangles from her mouth, stained with orchid lipstick.

“We’re flyin’ now,” she likes to say, over her shoulder. We travel like this everywhere, middle-aged woman at the wheel and diffident seven-year-old in the back seat.

*

“Is this normal?” she asked, on our first night. “Does this configuration seem right?”

“Yes,” I assured her. “Children avoid their mothers, here. Don’t you see how they run away at the shopping malls, screaming, with snot on their lips?”

We have an understanding now, “doing normal” until orders arrive and the real assignment begins.

*

The street we’re on is famously tricky, divined half by instinct and half by repetition memory. Lamps tower overhead, broken, as derelict as the bare sycamores spreading wicked fingers at our passing car in the deep dark.

The man who came ambling across the street, out of nowhere (as they say), wore a gray suit and tie with a smart little trilby perched forward on his head. Maybe inebriated, or maybe not. Didn’t notice the bulky station wagon rounding the corner. Didn’t hear us coming, M and I. His senses were startled and sharpened when a wet tire skimmed the back of his leg.

The car halted with a shriek, rocking forward and back on its axel. The man froze. He turned toward us.

M set the brake and lumbered out of the car. She stood in the middle of the street, cold air buffeting her and the man, no one else in sight. The man’s voice was a shivery squeal.

“What the hell? Look what you’ve done!” His hat was gone and the back of his shoe, the part protecting his little Achilles tendon, was smashed flat.

“You’re all right,” M said.

“You could’ve crippled me!” he shouted.

“It’s only your shoe,” she told him, the bulbous mass of her cranium beginning to writhe beneath the green silk. “I will pay for your shoe.”

“Are you crazy?” he shouted. “You almost hit me! You should be arrested!”

“You’re all right,” she said again, her voice like water gliding over ice. I recognized the glimmer behind her eyes.

“You don’t belong on the road! Where do you come from, you maniac?” He pulled off his broken shoe, aimed like he was going to throw it at her.

M drew up to partial height, until the corduroy coat hung about her shoulders like a floppy bolero. A quiver of movement shifted her scarf to one side.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” she said. “Go to your home.”

“What the hell?” the man stammered. “You freak—you—you—bitch!”

M strode back to the station wagon and climbed inside, folding to her “doing normal” size again. She checked the mirrors, made sure the man was squarely behind the car, shifted into reverse, and hit the gas pedal.

The screech of brakes accompanied my toy horse flying from my hands. I saw the man fall and turn to a pulpy mass on the road.

*

M sits silently pondering. The driver’s door opens again.

Now the part that never gets old.

A flutter of wind catches M’s scarf, tugging it down around her neck. The green and writhing membrane opens, flaring from her facial bones like enormous wings. Flickering tongues emerge, naked, alive, and hungry. The run-over man greets the sight with screams until the membrane envelops his broken flesh with soft murmurs of digestive fluid: Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

From the trees something normal, deprived of a meal, takes wing and flies away.

 

— S.P. Miskowski

This story originally appeared in Forbidden Futures.

Franz von Stuck_Medusa

Medusa, Franz von Stuck

 

NOX PAREIDOLIA

Amid the flurry of end-of-year releases and end-of-decade lists, you may have missed this big, beautiful anthology, NOX PAREIDOLIA. Edited by Robert S. Wilson and magnificently illustrated by Luke Spooner, the book contains thirty-one haunting stories exploring the dark edges of pareidolia, “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern…the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness.” (Merriam-Webster)

This is a stunning anthology, gorgeous in both appearance and content. I’m proud to be included among these talented writers of strange fiction. NOX PAREIDOLIA is an excellent reading choice right now, during the post-holiday doldrums, and it could use some ratings and reviews—blog posts, social media sharing, Goodreads, Amazon… Show the love, to help other weird fiction lovers find this book.

Thanks and happy reading in 2020!

Table of Contents:
“Watch Me Burn With the Light of Ghosts” by Paul Jessup
“Immolation” by Kristi DeMeester
“Her Eyes Are Winter” by Christopher Ropes
“8X10” by Duane Pesice and Don Webb
“Bag and Baggage” by Greg Sisco
“The Dredger” by Matt Thompson
“Hello” by Michael Wehunt
“Gardening Activities for Couples” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
“Lies I Told Myself” by Lynne Jamneck
“The Unkindness” by Dino Parenti
“Merge Now” by Kurt Fawver
“when we were trespassers” by doungjai gam
“Rum Punch is Going Down” by Daniel Braum
“Unmoored” by Sean M. Thompson
“Just Beyond the Shore” by Elizabeth Beechwood
“The Schoolmaster” by David Peak
“The Past You Have, The Future You Deserve” by K.H. Vaughan
“Herr Scheintod” by LC von Hessen
“The Room Above” by Brian Evenson
“Sincerely Eden” by Amelia Gorman
“Wild Dogs” by Carrie Laben
“The Moody Rooms of Agatha Tate” by Wendy Nikel
“Salmon Run” by Andrew Kozma
“The Little Drawer of Chaos” by Annie Neugebauer
“When the Nightingale Devours the Stars” by Gwendolyn Kiste
“Far From Home” by Dan Coxon
“Birds” by Zin E. Rocklyn
“Strident Caller” by Laird Barron
“The Taste of Rot” by Steve Toase
“Venom” by S.P. Miskowski
“In the Vastness of the Sovereign Sky” by S. L Edwards

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Cover illustration by Don Noble.

Legends of Claudia

“If you don’t mind, I find it advisable to schedule activities early in the day. Even a simple task, or a conversation, requires all of my concentration.

“By dusk my thoughts will skitter and slide away from me. Maybe that’s a blessing. Lately I find I can only remember well what I’d rather forget. I’m told this is common in people with similar conditions. Without warning or invitation, the errant past will sneak up on me and flood the more confusing nights. Crimson light bleeds into the edges of multiple images, and memories stutter in their frames until they begin to burn and curl at the corners.

“I’ve known many stories. This one doesn’t matter anymore, and I don’t know what it means.

“When I was twelve years old my parents took me on a road trip to kidnap my cousin. ‘Kidnap’ may be the wrong word. Maybe ‘abduct’ or ‘collect’ or even ‘contain’ would be more accurate. Whatever the term, Claudia was running wild, my parents were sent on a mission to stop her, and they decided I should join them…”

SamDawson

—from “Legends of Claudia,” S.P. Miskowski, Supernatural Tales 40 (Summer 2019)

Cover art by Sam Dawson

 

Nowhereville

Coming soon and available for pre-order: NOWHEREVILLE: WEIRD IS OTHER PEOPLE edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski (Broken Eye Books), which includes my story, “Patio Wing Monsters,” in a very exciting lineup of talented authors:

WALK SOFTLY, SOFTLY
Nuzo Onoh

Y
Maura McHugh

NIGHT DOCTORS
P. Djèlí Clark

THE CHEMICAL BRIDE
Evan J. Peterson

PATIO WING MONSTERS
S.P. Miskowski

UNDERGLAZE
Craig Laurance Gidney

THE VESTIGE
Lynda E. Rucker

THE CURE
Tariro Ndoro

KLEINSCHE FLÄCHE OF FOUR-DIMENSIONAL
REDOLENCE
D.A. Xiaolin Spires

NOLENS VOLENS
Mike Allen

VERTICES
Jeffrey Thomas

LIKE FLEAS ON A TIRED DOG’S BACK
Erica L. Satifka

URB CIV
Kathe Koja

OVER/UNDER
Leah Bobet

A NAME FOR EVERY HOME
Ramsey Campbell

TENDS TO ZERO
Wole Talabi

MY LYING-DOWN SMILEY FACE
Stephen Graham Jones

LURIBERG-THAT-WAS
R.B. Lemberg

THE SISTER CITY
Cody Goodfellow

 

 

Knock Knock sale & giveaway

This week only (August 18th at 8 am to August 25 at 12 am) the Kindle edition of my Shirley Jackson Award nominated debut novel, Knock Knock, will be available for 99 cents. And the publisher, Omnium Gatherum Media, is giving away three paperback copies of the book. All you have to do is go to the link and sign up, for a chance to win one of three paperback copies.

At the center of this novel-length fairy tale are three restless girls, best friends stuck in the backwater of Skillute, Washington in the late 1960s. Their neighbors and families are petty or poor, or both. They warn the girls not to go into the forest. Something evil lurks there, they say. During a playful oath, the girls wander too far and their mistake unleashes a malignant spirit that terrorizes Skillute for the next fifty years.

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“Along with Brendan Connell’s The Architect, I rate Delphine Dodd as the best novella I read in 2012, and Knock Knock as the best book I read in any category… Eventually the story achieves a momentum all its own, rushing headlong to a shattering finale, and the prose…attains a fever dream intensity, so that we can’t trace any clear divide between reality and the skewed perspectives of the characters, the two blurring into each other, everything viewed through a blood red filter and in the light cast by flickering flames.” – Peter Tennant, Black Static

“One of my favorite horror writers…” – Laird Barron, for Locus Magazine

“…more than a great read; it is a fascinating meditation on the nature of horror. There are supernatural elements to the book, yes, but the setting (an impoverished, ruined logging town) and the main characters (three school girls with hopes and dreams made improbable if not impossible by their realities) are a beautifully rendered commentary on the cyclical nature of real-world human tragedy.” – Molly Tanzer, author of Creatures of Want and Ruin

“Beautifully written and relentlessly suspenseful, it’s a great book to curl up with on a cold winter’s night. Just be sure to keep the doors locked and all the lights on!” – Lucy Taylor, author of The Silence Between the Screams

“…excellent character-driven, creeping horror, featuring mostly women in the main roles, with some very good writing. What’s not to love?” – Chelsea Pinson, Silk Spun

 

cover art and design by Russell Dickerson

Available for Pre-Order: The Worst Is Yet to Come

My new, short novel is now ready for pre-order at the publisher’s site. Trepidatio is offering the book in paperback and in three ebook versions. You can purchase the ebook (ePub, mobi for Kindle, or PDF) or buy the paperback to be released February 22, 2019, and receive the ebook of your choice to download immediately.

This little book went through a lot of changes. It began as a straightforward thriller about a family experiencing strange occurrences after meeting a teenage girl from a broken home. As I continued to write, the more magical and disturbing elements of Skillute, Washington began creeping in on all sides.

Skillute is the fictional setting for my first novel Knock Knock, novellas Delphine Dodd, Astoria and In the Light (Omnium Gatherum) as well as an origin story for one of the characters, soon to be published in the anthology Sisterhood edited by Nate Pedersen (Chaosium). Each may be read as a stand-alone but there are overlapping and intersecting characters and events that take on new meaning if you read all of the stories. Over the course of these tales the setting has altered, its history becoming entwined with the fate of its residents, and the land itself has taken on a central role.

I decided to let Skillute guide me this time. The result is a psychological and supernatural story of longing, of illusions clouding reality, of escape and the desire to belong. All I can promise you is that, no matter what occurs in this weird town where every creature and every object seems to have a life of its own–the worst is yet to come.

Synopsis

For most of her fourteen years, Tasha Davis has languished in the rural-suburban town of Skillute, Washington. Her parents offer plenty of comfortable—if stifling—emotional support, but what she needs is a best friend.

In her final year at Clark Middle School, Tasha meets a strange, new classmate. Briar Kenny is the self-styled rebel Tasha wants to be, and the Davises are the kind of close-knit family Briar covets. A moment of unexpected violence spawns a secret between the two girls and awakens a mystery from the past.

Unknown to Tasha and Briar, their secret also attracts something monstrous from a forgotten corner of Skillute. The town is haunted by its history, scarred with the lingering spirit of broken and scattered families, abandoned real estate ventures, and old scores never settled between neighbors. But there’s more to the place than memory and legend. Beneath the landscape something malignant rages, and it will stop at nothing to find a route into the physical world.

twiytc_cover

Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

The Worst Is Yet to Come

For most of her fourteen years, Tasha Davis has languished in the rural-suburban town of Skillute, Washington. Her parents offer plenty of comfortable—if stifling—emotional support, but what she needs is a best friend.

In her final year at Clark Middle School, Tasha meets a strange, new classmate. Briar Kenny is the self-styled rebel Tasha wants to be, and the Davises are the kind of close-knit family Briar covets. A moment of unexpected violence spawns a secret between the two girls and awakens a mystery from the past.

Unknown to Tasha and Briar, their secret also attracts something monstrous from a forgotten corner of Skillute. The town is haunted by its history, scarred with the lingering spirit of broken and scattered families, abandoned real estate ventures, and old scores never settled between neighbors. But there’s more to the place than memory and legend. Beneath the landscape something malignant rages, and it will stop at nothing to find a route into the physical world.

Coming February 22, 2019 from Trepidatio Publishing.

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Cover art by Mikio Murakami.