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.

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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.

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!

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