Knock Knock – an excerpt

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Art by Yves Tourigny

It was terrible, but it had to be done. Now Beverly could breathe easier. Now her daughter would be safe. Her neighbors and friends were safe, all because of what she and Marietta had done. That was something. That was the thing to remember.

She finished wiping down the living room lamps. For a minute she stood still, breathing hard. Beads of perspiration trickled between her breasts. The white cotton blouse and black knit pants clung to her skin. She itched all over.

Outside the living room window the first drops of a downpour plopped onto a row of premature tulips, forcing their stems flat in the cool air. It had rained hard that afternoon then let up completely. Now a second storm was rolling in.

Beverly arched her back and listened to the plunk-plunk on the roof. She thought she heard raindrops hitting the back door, too. But there wasn’t enough of a breeze yet, for that. She fanned herself by flapping the front of her blouse.

At the end of the short hallway, past the turquoise bedroom on her left and a shapeless laundry nook full of odds and ends on her right, she studied the back door. No need to clean that. The wood paneling was in decent shape. A spyglass at eye-level afforded a narrow view of the back yard, with its Japanese maple and its catalpa, and on into the woods.

Beverly was gazing through the spyglass when she heard tapping at the front door. She smoothed her blouse and went to the living room, expecting to find the rain-soaked Pastor Colquitt on her doorstep with a morbid replay of the day’s memorial and a plea to attend his regular Sunday service. Such impromptu visits made Marietta’s son Henry unpopular around town, especially among his neighbors on Connie Sara Way.

Beverly looked out the glass and aluminum door. No one was there.

Now she heard tapping at the back of the house. Tapping, louder than the plunk-plunk of raindrops. Knocking. Someone was clearly knocking on the back door. That damn girl, she thought, and then remembered that the damn girl was dead and gone.

Beverly returned to the spyglass. With her fingers splayed, flat against the door, she leaned carefully forward. No sooner had her eye focused on the yard than she heard knocking at the front door again! It was ridiculous!

The rain was starting to come down like mad. In this torrent, anyone dashing from one end of the house to the other, outside, would fall down; but there was no sign of anyone, no matter how fast Beverly charged from door to door.

It had to be kids playing pranks, probably more of the Dempsey boys, some of the pathetic cousins from those little trailers up in the woods. They drank whiskey, all of them, and they played cards late into the night sometimes.

She would look up into the woods and see the amber lights of kerosene lamps, because most of them didn’t have electricity. There were five or six trailers and vans parked on one piece of land. The grownups kept pretty quiet except during hunting season, but the kids were bored. The kids got into trouble. Not like Connie Sara, just the usual kind of trouble, stealing cigarettes at Misty Mart. Dumb stuff.

Beverly took a detour into the kitchen. She knelt on the checkerboard floor and opened a cabinet under the sink. She grabbed the first thing handy, a can of foaming cleanser. That would give them a surprise!

She shook the can hard and strode toward the front door, ready for action. Then she looked up, and froze. The stimulated contents of the can crept out the nozzle like drool and ran down onto the carpet. She dropped the can.

On the opposite side of the glass and aluminum door someone was watching her intently, facing the door, so close to the glass that Beverly couldn’t make out any features, only the outline of a head, shoulders, and arms.

“Hello?” She said.

The person didn’t answer or move.

Beverly thought: Halloween pranks in the spring! Stupid kids!

But she didn’t laugh.

“Is that Darrell Joe Dempsey?” She asked.

“Rodney Junior?” She said. “You better answer me.”

Not a sound. She tried to move, but she couldn’t force herself to go forward. She wanted to slam the wooden door shut against the security door and lock it, but she couldn’t.

Whoever it was grabbed the handle and shook it hard. The door made a tin, shuddering noise. Beverly thought it was coming off the hinges.

She stayed frozen. As suddenly as the shaking had begun, it stopped. The figure outside let go of the handle, drew back, and spat a wad of phlegm at the glass. The mess stuck and dripped down leaving a slug trail.

Startled by the smacking, fluid sound, Beverly lurched forward and slammed the front door over the glass and aluminum one. She slid the deadbolt into place. Immediately she heard knocking at the back of the house again.

She crept to the back door. The breath felt sharp in her chest. She flicked through a mental inventory of latches, bolts, and locks. She knew that all the window shutters were open but there was no way to secure them without going outside, and she was not going outside, not for anything. All her nerve had buckled when she heard that metallic rattle. She finally noticed the telephone on the kitchen wall, and dialed a number before she realized there was no tone. The line was dead.

The knocking was gone. The rain was gone, too. Not like the storm had subsided, but like the sound of the world outside had been muffled or quilted over. As if the clouds overhead had hunkered down until they covered only the house. Nothing spoke or moved.

Beverly’s heart beat hard, and she swallowed dryly. She was listening with her whole body, stiff, aching. Faintly, she heard another sound: Scratching or scraping across the side of the house.

She opened the bedroom door and looked in. Outside the narrow window near the ceiling, the only thing visible was a cluster of dark clouds. Rivulets of water coursed down the glass.

Maybe it was over. Hope flickered inside her ribs and it hurt, like something broken trying to fly.

She heard the scraping again. This time it seemed softer, more muffled. She crept to the living room and looked at the door, the ceiling, and the window.

She turned toward the fireplace. And while she stared at the dry, cold center of brickwork, a thin stream of soot fell gently down, followed by another. With a scratching and grunting noise, something heaved its way down through the chimney, forcing out another quick stream of soot…

Knock Knock by S.P. Miskowski

Happy October!

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Return to Skillute

As I revise my new novel–The Worst Is Yet to Come–set in the fictional town of Skillute, Washington, it seems like a good time to promote the Skillute Cycle. These four books–a novel and three novellas–form a kaleidoscopic pattern of overlapping characters, histories, themes, and images. At its core the story is about shattered childhood dreams, recurring cycles of abuse, and a dark, magical undercurrent born of unhappy women trying to break free of the roles they’ve inherited. Two of the books were nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. I think they are best read in the following order: Knock Knock, Delphine Dodd, Astoria, In the Light. Here’s what other people have to say about the series:

“Everyone needs to read this story.” – Gemma Files, author of Experimental Film, reviewing the series on The Outer Dark

Knock Knock is a powerful debut, opening strong and ending with a punch…one of the better weird horror novels of the past few years.” – Justin Steele, Arkham Digest

Delphine Dodd not only expands and illuminates the tragedy in the brilliant novel, Knock Knock, but also further proves Miskowski possesses that talent most enviable in a writer: she makes you believe.” —Simon Strantzas, author of Burnt Black Suns

“Beautifully written and relentlessly suspenseful.” – Lucy Taylor, author of The Silence Between the Screams

“…more than a great read; [Knock Knock] 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 Vermilion

Knock Knock is awesome. It combines the two things I love best: creepiness and clean, beautiful writing.” – Michael Wehunt, author of Greener Pastures

“Eventually the story achieves a momentum all its own, rushing headlong to a shattering finale, and the prose, which Miskowski uses with such care and accuracy throughout, in the final pages 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

“There are scenes that may horrify the reader, but that is because it looks clear-sightedly, without rancour, at cruelty, selfishness and deceit. And there is as much beauty here as there is horror, thanks to the author’s finely-crafted prose.” —David Longhorn, editor of Supernatural Tales

“Miskowski further enriches the all-too-real horror movie world of Knock Knock with Astoria, a novella that is part Hitchcock, part David Lynch, and all Miskowski’s distinctive, thoughtfully crafted, slow-burn literary terror.” —Molly Tanzer, author of A Pretty Mouth

“S.P. Miskowski has been chronicling the mundane horrors of women’s lives – marriage, motherhood, family, and domesticity – through the lens of the supernatural since the publication of her Shirley Jackson Award nominated novel Knock Knock. Continuing with her related Skillute Cycle of novellas, Miskowski is unafraid to plumb the darkest impulses of the female psyche, and her gift for vivid characterization and naturalistic detail suffuses her fiction with a sense of frightening and devastating reality. In Astoria, a white-knuckle terror trip across the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the darkness closing in on one woman’s desperate bid to escape the monster she birthed and the life she loathes becomes as palpable as the pages we’re turning; we can bolt the door and turn on the light, but in the end, Miskowski warns us, no matter what we do, our demons are coming for us.” —Lynda E. Rucker, Black Static columnist and author of The Moon Will Look Strange

Astoria by S.P. Miskowski is a perfect and unique blend of The Omen and Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull of the Moon. Miskowski’s writing is dark, delicious, and wonderfully layered. As always, her effortless elegance shines through the chilling prose, highlighting the ugly feelings that we wish weren’t inside all of us. She manages to turn the reader inside out alongside her characters, revealing that we’re all monsters and merely human at gut level.” —Mercedes M. Yardley, author of Beautiful Sorrows

“…a flair for imbuing mundane things with a strange sense of menace…a beansprout grown in a cup and a moth fluttering around a child’s bedroom take on subtle qualities of malevolence…” – Rob Russin, Geeks Out

“The tension and fear is built up with small details, each innocent in itself but together evoking a sense of forces beyond the character’s control…” – James Everington, This Is Horror

“A wonderful and fitting end to the Skillute Cycle, though it’s a shame to say goodbye. Full of beauty and life and dark magic, the Skillute books are a joy to read.” – Alison Littlewood, author of The Unquiet House

All four books in the Skillute Cycle are published by Omnium Gatherum. The new novel is forthcoming from JournalStone/Trepidatio.

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Cover art by Russell Dickerson

This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year

My novel, I Wish I Was Like You, just won Novel of the Year at This Is Horror. I’m amazed, delighted, and very grateful to the readers who voted for the book. Thank you to This Is Horror, to my publisher, JournalStone, to editor Dan Mason–and to Jess Landry and Christopher Payne for believing in and promoting the novel.

Congratulations to runner-up Andy Davidson, author of In the Valley of the Sun (Skyhorse Publishing). Congrats to Philip Fracassi who won Short Story Collection of the Year for Behold the Void (JournalStone). Big love to editors Justin Steele and Sam Cowan. Their non-themed Dim Shores anthology, Looming Low (which includes my story, “Alligator Point”) was named Anthology of the Year. And congrats to all of the winners and nominees, for some ass-kicking horror in 2017!

Here’s my response at This Is Horror:

“I’m honored, and surprised. Thanks to everyone who voted. Thanks to my publisher, JournalStone. This Is Horror sets a high standard for inquiry and discussion without a hint of elitism or pretentiousness. The site’s reviews, articles, and interviews are offered in the best spirit of horror, which is (after all) a leveler, an admission of vulnerability. Horror embodies the knowledge that we may be smart and pretty and popular and well-off but at four a.m., alone with our worst fears and suspicions, we are all scared animals waiting for daybreak. I’ll try to live up to the honor of the award by staying true to that spirit. Thank you!”

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Best Horror of the Year Vol. Ten

Ellen Datlow is one of the most respected and admired editors in horror, science fiction and fantasy. I’ve been reading her themed anthologies for years, for pleasure and for education. Her taste is impeccable. Every year when she begins reading for the annual ‘best of’ anthology, every writer I know hopes to have a story selected. In fact, simply having a story on her Honorable Mention long list is an honor my colleagues and I happily post on social media.

This year three of my stories made the extended Honorable Mention list:

“Muscadines” a Shirley Jackson Award-nominated novella published by Dunhams Manor Press

“Somnambule” in the anthology The Madness of Dr. Caligari, edited by Joe Pulver, Fedogan & Bremer

“Water Main” in the anthology Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis, Lovecraft eZine Press

This is lovely news. Better yet, Ellen Datlow has selected “Alligator Point,” my story in the Dim Shores anthology Looming Low, edited by Justin Steele and Sam Cowan, to appear in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten.

I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to Ellen and Night Shade Books, and thanks to Jordan Krall, Joe Pulver, Mike Davis, Justin Steele and Sam Cowan for accepting and publishing my stories. I’m very fortunate to be able to work with such talented individuals who are helping to shape the current horror and weird fiction landscape. Cheers and best wishes to these wonderful editors!

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Art by Chenthooran Nambiarooran

Table of Contents

Introduction

Better You Believe Carole Johnstone
Liquid Air Inna Effress
Holiday Romance Mark Morris
Furtherest Kaaron Warren
Where’s the Harm? Rebecca Lloyd
Whatever Comes After Calcutta David Erik Nelson
A Human Stain Kelly Robson
The Stories We Tell about Ghosts A. C. Wise
Endosketal Sarah Read
West of Matamoros, North of Hell Brian Hodge
Alligator Point S. P. Miskowski
Dark Warm Heart Rich Larson
There and Back Again Carmen Machado
Shepherd’s Business Stephen Gallagher
You Can Stay All Day Mira Grant
Harvest Song, Gathering Song A. C. Wise
The Granfalloon Orrin Grey
Fail-Safe Philip Fracassi
The Starry Crown Marc E. Fitch
Eqalussuaq Tim Major
Lost in the Dark John Langan

 

 

 

2017 Bram Stoker Awards® Nomination

The new year has been surprising in many ways, not least because my novel, I Wish I Was Like You, is a Bram Stoker Awards® nominee for Superior Achievement in a Novel and is a finalist for a This Is Horror Award. The former is determined by active and lifetime members of the Horror Writers Association. The latter is open to the public and you can send your vote to This Is Horror via email following the instructions at the site.

Awards don’t prove excellence. They provide a spotlight for a certain kind of writing, in this case the horror genre. All of the nominees are noteworthy and interesting. So, take time to read the lists and look up the books you find intriguing.

I’m honored and humbled to have a book listed among fine novels by Josh Malerman, Andy Davidson, Victor LaValle, Ania Ahlborn, Steve Rasnic Tem, Christopher Golden, Stephen King, and Owen King. And if you think it feels perfectly natural to type that sentence, you’re cuckoo or you don’t know me. Congratulations to all of these writers–and to all of the nominees in all categories! Thanks to the Horror Writers Association and This Is Horror!

This Is Horror Awards 2017

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This Is Horror Awards 2017 is open for public voting for ONE MORE DAY. More information is here.

Voting closes at 12:01am GMT on Monday 26 February 2018.

Novel of the Year

  1. Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
  2. I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski
  3. In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson
  4. The Changeling by Victor LaValle
  5. The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Novella of the Year

  1. Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  2. In the River by Jeremy Robert Johnson
  3. Mapping The Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
  4. Quiet Places by Jasper Bark
  5. The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

Short Story Collection of the Year

  1. Behold the Void by Philip Fracassi
  2. Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester
  3. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado
  4. She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin
  5. 13 Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod

Anthology of the Year

  1. Last Podcast on the Left
  2. Lore Podcast
  3. Lovecraft eZine Podcast
  4. Post Mortem with Mick Garris
  5. The Horror Show with Brian Keene