In Memoriam: Part 6

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          Kyle motioned threateningly with the knife, or, at least, he attempted to do so. His movements came across hesitant, and with that hesitance he might as well have shouted his utter inability to make good on his threats.

          “No, I won’t,” Anita said responding to Kyle’s insistence that she would return his daughter to him. Anita stepped towards him, while Jonesy rooted through the cushions of the therapy couch behind her. “I will do no such thing. Your daughter has passed, and I ain’t piercing the veil for you anymore than I would for myself when my own Charlie died. It’s high time we end this farce.”

          She held out her open hand and waited. At last, Kyle sighed, handed her the knife, and fell into a nearby armchair. He didn’t weep or apologize, nor did he hint at any emotion beyond resignation.

          Anita returned to the couch with Jonesy. Only ten feet separated her and Kyle, and yet a gulf existed between them, a great chasm of unease and distrust. Kyle had shattered the harmony of their relationship, leaving in his wake a great discord.

          Kyle cast his gaze about, avoiding eye contact with Anita, settling at last upon his own clasped hands resting upon his belly. He fidgeted idly with his thumbs, one pressed to the other, then glanced away looking over the empty couches. A lonely pallor hung over the room, settling upon it like dust with the ages.

          He wanted to speak. The words welled up in his throat and caught, burning, an acidic reflux, and he swallowed them back each time. Anita provided him no further respite from the silence, no proffered olive branch to bridge the rift that had formed. Whether she sat in silent judgement, simply grieved for the loss between them, or pondered some other course entirely, Kyle did not know. What he did know is that she had made no move to call for help, though by all rights she could have him arrested.

          “Why…” he started.

          “… don’t I call the police?” she finished.

          Kyle nodded.

          “Should, I s’pose. Might. But would you have done it, really?”

          “No.”

          “Of course not.”

          “But,” he started, “how… how can one…” He paused, his mind swirling in the eddies of possibility – the infinite might-have-beens that lay now just out of reach. His daughter, his Charlotte, was no longer a period full-stop, but a simmering question mark imbued with the potential of actuality, an existence beyond death.

          “How,” he continued, “can we know that death lacks finality and not seek to overturn it?”

          “Laws of nature, Kyle, and of something more. Life doesn’t come from nothing. You read the records. You know about the Mackies. You found Rose Newsom in the adoption files, but did you see her mother in the paperwork? Did you find any record of Christy Newsom?”

          “A death certificate.”

          “There you have it. A barter, not a gift. Christy hadn’t been long gone even. Your daughter, three times longer. What price must be paid? Would you have that on my conscience? On yours?”

          Yes, Kyle thought, but he did not reply. He had failed to face death in that morgue, and he knew that here too he would fail. His daughter should be returned. Order should be set right, and his life was a trifle to pay, but he could see the anguish in Anita’s weathered features and her half glances. She had lived with the guilt of that woman’s death for decades, had abandoned the use of her gifts because of it, and he had no right to force her to walk that path yet again. The damage this time could be irrevocable.

          “No,” he said, swallowing back his words once more.

          “Good.” Anita nodded at him, then rose, tapping her leg and sending Jonesy bounding to her side. “Well then, it’s been a long night. Kindly show yourself out.”

          Kyle rose, but before he reached the door, Anita stopped him once more.

          “I’ll see you on Thursday.”

          How she had the capacity to forgive him Kyle could not fathom. He faltered there in the light of that kindness.

          “After everything that I did?”

          “You’re a pacifist,” she replied. “It makes your threats idle at best. Bless you child, but you don’t have the heart to kill.”


***

          He slashed quick and deep, slitting the rabbit’s throat. The blood sprayed frantically and he lowered the dying creature swiftly to the urn, not expecting the arterial gush to send the blood so far. They needed as much of the blood as possible.

          The rabbit twitched struggling with its dying breaths, and bobbing as he held it by its ears and tail just above the urn collecting as much of its blood as he could. Inside himself he felt something tear with each diminishing shudder. He could see the confusion in the animal’s eyes as the vibrancy faded from them, slipping away into the nightlands beyond life.

          Anita had been right about him. Kyle Ingham lacked the capacity to kill. At least, he had lacked the capacity to kill. Something had changed since their conversation that night, and with this act, with his final commitment to action and his stand against death (with death?), Kyle felt his own sense of right and wrong dying within him, an internal parasite in its last throes.

          Anita reached into the urn, bathing her fingertips in the rabbit’s blood and running a streak in a line down her forehead and along the bridge of her nose. As she lifted her finger away the blood trickled in tiny rivulets, some concluding at the tip of her nose and dripping through the air, while other streams converged and pooled in the dip of the philtrum just above her lip. So adorned, she rose from her place by the urn and began to chant.

          “Vi supplico spiriti,” she began, “ascolta la mia chiamata.”

          Kyle could only focus on her words with great difficulty, and even then he did not speak the language, so he found the affair rather futile. Instead he focused on her person, her arms splayed out in supplication, and he did his best to imitate her posture per her instructions. As he attempted this he noticed that she had changed her attire, wearing now a long, thin, gown-like vestment. The material was a transparent black, with a golden trim, revealing her aged body beneath lined with the wrinkles and scars of a life well-lived. The exhibitionary nature of the dress made Kyle blush, and he felt ashamed both for finding any shame in her attire and also for being so easily distracted in the midst of such an arcane and solemn ceremony.

          “Ascolta la mia chiamata,” Anita intoned once more, her voice rising. A light breeze began to stir.

          Kyle refocused upon her vestment itself. The cloth appeared frayed and moth-ridden, as if stored for decades. Yet it also bore fresh dirt across its entire surface, so thoroughly stained that he couldn’t help but to imagine it as itself recently exhumed.

          “Ascolta la mia chiamata!” Her voice cracked, a tone of pleading piercing through the increased pitch. Kyle may not have been able to understand her words, but he knew her tone. Anita was begging. The breeze tickled at Kyle’s arms and he watched in dismay as the salt and ash began to shift ever so slightly.

          Anita’s chorus ended and her tone shifted again. A hint of pleading remained, but now her tone demanded obedience, as if chiding a petulant child. “Su questa ora, la sua, i morti, un’ultima stretta alla vita dare. Per lei il cui tempo è finito, lasciare che una volta di più il flusso del fiume del tempo.”

          Kyle felt a warmth emanate from the earth, the heat surging through the soles of his feet and up his legs, crisp and dry and pleasant, as if standing upon a furnace grate on a cool winter’s eve. He glanced down, his arms still spread, and his back suppliantly bowed, and noticed a hint of steam rising from the ash and salt runes. The smell of burnt leaves filled his nostrils calling forth images of bonfires spent with his parents as they cleared the first fall of autumn.

          Anita resumed her former pleading chorus, her voice beginning to rise to a crescendo. As it peaked, she began to shout into the black of the night.

          “Custode dei morti, una miseria offro per voi di sentire il mio appello. Su questa ora, la sua, i morti, un’ultima stretta alla vita dare. Ritorno a Charlotte la scintilla della vita, e di prendere da noi il debito che è dovuto.”

          With that she bent down, dumping Charlotte’s remains from their casement in the burlap sack spilling them upon the earth in the center of the pentagram. Kyle jolted at this, unable to look away from the gentle swaying of Charlotte’s cratered skull rocking to a slow stop at Anita’s feet.

          The steam turned to smoke, and the ash and salt seemed to boil, as Anita lifted the urn in her arms then emptied it upon Charlotte’s remains. The blood washed over the stained bones and leathered flesh, bathing all in a viscous crimson and Kyle stumbled, his feet hitting upon the inner circle. A shock of pain stole up his leg, buckling his knees and sending him to the earth between two points of the star. He could feel his flesh bubbling where the salt line had burned him even through the soles of his shoes.

          Still Anita never wavered. She ploughed on, her incantation still unfinished. As she continued the wind howled and in the distance an outcry of dogs rose to join in the morbid melody birthed of the mingling of the chanting and the wind tearing through the trees.

          “Accettare la nostra offerta, miseria prima, e poi con la mano preso in pieno.”

          The star and the circle and the runes burned into the grass and dirt, not with flame but with a scorching red-hot heat that branded the ground in its image.

          Anita returned to her original chant, this time Kyle joining with her having heard the words enough to stumble his way through the incantation. The summoning? “Ascolta la mia chiamata. Ascolta la mia chiamata.”

          Her voice burned at a fever pitch and in her final intonation of the chorus she shifted the language ever so slightly. “Ascoltate la nostra chiamata!”

          The wind tore through the cemetery casting aside the ash and the salt, leaving only the brand of their form behind. The baying of the dogs continued, escalating as more joined. At last, Anita knelt before the bloodied remains of Charlotte and ended her pleas with one final utterance, soft, at almost a lover’s whisper.

          “Verrà la morte in vita. Death will come alive.”

          The wind and the baying and the chanting, all of it, ceased instantly. A calm settled over the cemetery, leaves torn asunder in the previous gusts now falling gently from the sky, catching in Kyle’s hair and Anita’s wispy vestments. Kyle brushed the leaves from his head and shoulders, first with one hand and then the other, keeping the balance, then turned to Anita.

          Again he did not speak, the words forming but this time turning to ash in his mouth. Nothing that he could say bore any weight this eve, so he simply waited for the inevitable or for nothing, and unsure now of which he desired, or if the course chosen had even been just. If it worked, and all signs pointed to there being at least some truth to Anita’s talents and the rumors of her past, then Kyle knew that his time would soon be at an end. The exchange would be made. Death would come for him, taking his life for that of his daughter.

          Kyle stood, leaning on his right leg as pain surged up his left from his burnt foot. Determined, he hobbled over to Anita, and more importantly to Charlotte. At his feet rested her bloodied bones, yet no life pulsed through them.

          “She will come,” Anita said and he did not know if she meant Charlotte or Death.




Back to Part 1

In Memoriam: Part 5

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          Sequentiality dissolved. Time had no order – no model, only a tangled knot of moments intertwined beyond separation, infinitely looping back upon themselves. Kyle’s mind reeled with the onslaught as memory after memory burst like fireworks clouding out the present.


***

          “Mr. Ingham, Mrs. Ingham. Please take a seat.”

          The morgue attendant motioned to two simple chairs set before a normal office table. The room held no coldness, no metallic sterility, just the stale unoriginality of a run-of-the-mill office with slightly less decor. No nick-knacks graced the shelves and the walls were adorned with only the simplest and most pastel of images. Everything had been designed to offer no offense.

          In all of the room, the only thing out-of-place was a simple photograph placed face down at the center of the table. Yet that photograph cut Kyle deeper than any faux-pas of decor ever could. He had been told what to expect, but confronted with that photograph waiting to be turned, waiting for his acknowledgement, he felt dizzy.

          He stumbled grabbing at the back of nearest chair. The attendant stepped forward offering his hand in support, but Kyle waved him off. He sucked in a deep breath and prepared himself for the inevitable.


***

          His heart exploded, his chest pounding and his head throbbing. His breathing came rapid and panicked. No time to stop. He had to keep going. He had to.

          His shoulder jerked back on impact. He barely felt it as he ran straight into a large man wearing a John Deere cap. The diaper bag slid from Kyle’s shoulder and fell into the puddle at his feet. He paid it no mind.

          “Hey mister, your bag?” The man lifted it brushing off some of the muck and holding it out.

          Kyle kept going, ever forward. No time. His head snapped from side-to-side – looking every which way – but never finding her, never locking on his daughter.

          “Charlotte! Charlotte!”

          Strangers began to turn, pitiful glances locking on the stuffed pig in his hand and noticing his desperation. Parents knew that panic when they saw it.

          “Charlotte,” he shouted again. “CHARLOTTE!”


***

          “Daddy?”

          Charlotte curled against Kyle’s chest, the two lying on the living room couch. She snuggled close, her hair slick with sweat and her words muffled by the pacifier in her mouth. Her fingers pulled idly at the hair upon his wrist.

          “Yes, sweetie?” Kyle ran his hand comfortingly through Charlotte’s hair, easing her head against his shoulder and attempting to calm her back into her afternoon nap.

          “Bee-bee?” Her vocabulary had exploded recently, but Charlotte had always had her own names for things and those did not fade easily. Bee-bee was her term for blanket.

          “Here you go.” Kyle gently pulled up a cast-aside throw covering the two of them to Charlotte’s shoulders.

          “Better, sweetie?”


***

          “I’m fine,” Kyle said, being anything but.

          Officer Hansen patted him on the shoulder and eased into the bar-stool beside him. They sat in the kitchen, Jill pouring glasses of iced tea, focusing on anything but the horror show playing out before her. Kyle sat slouched before the island bar, Officer Hansen now beside him. Another officer, detective (Kyle couldn’t remember which), stood at the end of the bar speaking and turning from Jill to Kyle and back as he went on. His words came out calm and compassionate, but they rang hollow, as if forced with an undercurrent of restraint and constant self-checking undermining any warmth intended.

          Kyle couldn’t focus on the specifics, not the particular words, but he made out enough. A body had been discovered. In Sycamore Creek within Umstead Park. A young girl. Possibly Charlotte. Charlotte. Most likely Charlotte.

          Kyle blocked it out. He and Jill had known for some time. They had tried to hold out hope, but contrary to the immortal words of Alexander Pope, hope does not spring eternal. It hadn’t for them at any rate.

          “… if you’d like to speak with someone, there are groups, bereavement groups that we can put you in contact with.”

          “Where is she?” Kyle couldn’t care less about counseling. He needed his daughter.

          The officer, detective, mystery man with forced compassion, started to respond, then stutter-stopped. He took a breath and made a second attempt.

          “She’s with our chief medical examiner. We can drive you there, if you’d like.”

          Kyle nodded.

          “I don’t want to distress you any further,” Officer Compassion continued. “I realize how hard this must be on you – but we do need you to identify her. So when we go down an attendant will be showing you a photograph. I’m telling you this so that you will be prepared. You won’t see her, not directly, not unless you want to. Understood?

          Kyle nodded again.

          “Good. You can still ask to see her, but for your own sake, I recommend against it.”

          “Stop.” Jill. She’d had enough. She set down the pitcher of tea and took a seat herself. They sat in quiet for a moment, the emptiness of the house inescapable. At last Kyle spoke.

          “Can we go?” Kyle asked.

          “Of course. But you don’t have to both come, not if you don’t want to. We only need one of you for a positive ID.”

          Positive ID. What a load of shit. Positive had died the moment his daughter disappeared. Their daughter? Had he and Jill already begun to fracture even then?


***

          The vase shattered, a hail of glass and dead flowers raining down upon Kyle.

          “Out, out, out!” Jill screamed. “I want them all out.”

          Kyle flinched as another vase shattered, this one bursting against the wall off to his right. He felt the glass pepper against his skin and wondered absently if he’d been cut. He didn’t see any blood, but how many shards of glass were catching against his arm, caught in the thick hair that his daughter had once plucked as she drifted off to sleep?

          “Are you listening?” Jill shouted. “I told you to take these out. I can’t look at them anymore.”

          She stood beside an assortment of flowers and other care packages that had been delivered to them following the funeral. Before the funeral? Hell, they had been arriving since Charlotte disappeared. Now most of the flowers had wilted in waterless vases and the care packages all remained unopened. Breaking those seals would have meant accepting the truth of what had happened, the reason for their delivery.

          “Damn it, Kyle! I need you to wake up!”

          A third vase shattered behind him, this one just barely missing his face on its way to the wall. He felt the glass burst and sprinkle against his back. He couldn’t look his wife in the face, not if it meant confronting her grief and her anger, and he couldn’t make himself discard the flowers either. That act purported a finality for which he was not ready. Kyle averted his gaze and instead focused on the miniscule slivers of glass now bespeckling his arm. He reached down to brush them aside, tugging at one that would not be removed. As he did, his fingers pinched at his arm hairs.


***

          Kyle plucked them idly just above his wrist – a nervous habit. His daughter used to pull at those same hairs, tugging softly just so with her little fingers as she drifted off to sleep. At the time that rhythmic picking had driven him insane. Kyle had touch issues. Always had.

          Now he would have given anything for his daughter to be there fidgeting as she fell asleep, her nighttime sweaty head soaking into the shoulder of his shirt. He missed the smell of her silky baby hair and her lavender body wash all around him, as she lay there on top of his chest. Most of all he simply missed her.

          Kyle pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds, slapping the pack against his palm a few times, then peeled back the plastic wrap. He pulled out the first cigarette from the top left. That was the order of things – top to bottom, left to right, everything in its proper sequence. Order held importance, it held a sway over Kyle, and it acted as his guide. Without it, he was adrift.


***

          “Before you look,” the attendant continued, “you need to know what you’re going to see. The photo is close-up on the right side of her face. Not much will be visible, but we’re confident it will be enough to identify your daughter.”

          Kyle sat mute, his head still spinning.

          Jill spoke up filling the vacuum that he left in his silence.

          “The officer said there was… was head trauma?”

          “It won’t be visible. Not in this photo. Not much. If you see anything it will be in her hairline. Everyone reacts differently, and you can look as long as you would like, but from previous experience I suggest a quick look. Just enough to ID her is usually best.”

          “Thank you.” Jill looked to Kyle.

          He nodded back and reached for the photo.


***

          His hands met with the soft, shoveled earth, slipping inside it, the dirt encasing them. His fists clenched and unclenched within as he rocked on his knees sending tiny avalanches pebbling down the surface.

          “You shouldn’t have seen that. Her. I’m sorry.” Anita stood above him now, reaching down for him. In her other hand she held the sealed bag containing Charlotte’s remains. Kyle shrank back scrambling towards the grave’s edge, putting any and all distance that he could between himself and this moment. Anita understood, nodded at him, and walked into the circle, setting the bag with Charlotte at the center of the pentagram.

          “We don’t have much time,” she said, “but I can finish the preparations.”

          Kyle pressed his face into his dirt-encrusted hands, then pushed evenly on both sides as if to pop his… skull. He could still see it, Charlotte’s shattered skull peeking out of Anita’s bag. He closed his eyes, pushed into their sockets with his palms, but the image could not be erased.

          “Fuck.”

          He fumbled about the ground searching for his cigarettes, finding them a moment later, the pack discarded in the grass. He lifted the pack with shaking hands and flipped it open. The cigarettes shook within as his hands continued their unstoppable tremor. The rows shifted and mixed, the middle row falling into the absence of the top, the bottom angling into the newly formed void, and everything jostling to form a new order: a wrong order. He tried to stop it, to fix it, but as he struggled to right it, the box slipped and the cigarettes spilled out upon the earth.

          It was all wrong. All completely wrong.

          “When I finish, however,” Anita continued as if no time had passed (and had it, had it really?), “I’ll need you to help with the ceremony.”

          Kyle looked up from the spilled cigarettes. Anita pulled some salts from the squirming leather bag, then walked out from the center of the pentagram towards the unfinished circle. As she did, Kyle focused upon her feet, unable to look her in the eye. Forgiveness… How could she forgive him? How could anyone forgive him? How dare they? He stared at her shoes, her simple, worn sneakers, and watched as they stepped over the lines of salt and ash forming the pentagram, past the physician’s bag and its manic, writhing form, and past the urn waiting to be filled.


***

          “It shouldn’t take long to finalize the paperwork,” the funeral director said. “You brought everything we spoke about over the phone, yes?”

          “Yes.” Kyle stared past the director to a set of urns on display amongst the numerous coffins, part of the most horrid sales floor he could possibly imagine.

          “From our previous conversations I gathered we would be going with a casket, correct, Mr. Ingham? Or are you and your wife considering cremation?”

          Kyle turned to the director, a balding man with a salesman’s paunch.

          “No,” he said. He lifted a bag carried at his side. In it the director could make a tiny polka-dotted dress. “She loved this dress. She should be wearing it.”

          “Of course. Absolutely.”

          Absolutely, Kyle thought. Why? There would be no viewing. No open casket. What had been done could not be undone.

          “It’s beautiful,” the director continued. “Lovely, really.” His words sounded nothing more than useless prattle, white noise, like raindrops on a tin roof pelting the metal. Hard and constant.


***

          A consistent knocking. It came from the front door. Kyle and Jill had dreaded that knock for weeks. Each sat apart, only lifting their gazes as that rapping disturbed the brutal silence between them. Once the interruption sounded, however, they could no longer hide.

          For a moment they looked at one another eye to eye, their locked gazes piercing the solemnity of the room and hinting at the intimacy that once existed within those walls. That moment passed quickly. Jill averted her eyes and Kyle rose beginning the long journey to that door, through the labyrinth of flowers and care packages. Every footfall slowed. Every moment sharpened. Even half grounded in that graveyard in that present that he denied, he could still hear the grandfather clock ticking away the seconds from the foyer.

          The wood flooring had felt rough beneath his feet, covered in grit and litter. He hadn’t been able to remember when last they had swept it. Perhaps two weeks prior? Three weeks? His mother had been down then, but she’d been gone for at least two weeks now. Tragedy can bring a family together, but waiting, waiting rips it apart. As the days passed the inevitable had grown too much to bear. Soon Jill and Kyle had lived alone in the house.

          At last Kyle arrived. The knocking sounded again, and he could see the silhouette of the man outside filtered through the kaleidoscopic oval of glass at the center of the door. He reached out and opened the door.


***

          “Charlotte,” Kyle screamed again! He tucked the diaper bag tight to his shoulder and stepped away from the concerned vendor at the food cart. “Charlotte, you come here right now!”

          No response. He turned back casting a questioning glance at the vendor.

          “I’m sorry. I didn’t see,” the man said.


***

          “But I have to see. I have to see her,” Kyle insisted. The attendant paced. “I can’t stop you, Mr. Ingham, but I do want to reiterate that I don’t recommend this. Your daughter’s wounds, her skull was severely fractured. Most parents, this is not the final memory that they want of their child. I know it isn’t proper, but I beg you both to reconsider.”

          Jill shook her head. “Not me. I’m staying here. I’ve seen enough. We both have, haven’t we Kyle?”

          Kyle set the photo back face down.

          “No. One last time. I have to hold her one last time.”


***

          “It’s never enough, is it,” Elsie said more than asked. She and Kyle leaned against the brick wall outside a medium’s place of business in Zebulon, Elsie chain-smoking and Kyle puffing lightly on the last cigarette in his pack: the proper one from the bottom right. They had just left from a group session with Miss Ava where Elsie had “spoken” with her dead husband, Edward. Charlotte had not been in attendance.

          “Never,” Kyle agreed.

          Elsie gestured with a flask at Kyle.

          “No thanks.”

          “Fine.” She took a swig. “Skeptic bitch is here, again.”

          “Who?”

          “The skeptic. Have you not seen her before? I thought you were a regular.”

          “I guess I missed her. If she doesn’t believe, why does she come see Miss Ava?”

          “Oh, it’s not just Miss Ava. She’s everywhere, everywhere except in session. Old bitch wants us nutters to see God or find inner harmony or some bullshit. Can’t accept that there might be more to life than quilting and spreading the word, or so I hear. See, there she is.”

          Elsie pointed at a stooped old lady across the street, a shawl draped around her neck, and a few wispy hairs blowing in the breeze accentuating her bald pate. She waited there watching the door to Miss Ava’s, Kyle and Elsie directly in her line of sight.

          “Yeah, I’m pointing at you, you old bitch,” Elsie shouted, flicking the woman off to mark her point. “Get your own damn life and let us be, you fucking Bible thumper!”

          Elsie continued to harass the lady as Kyle finished his cigarette. He didn’t like Elsie much (drunks usually got under his skin), but she was part of his new family, a family of mourners seeking answers. Still, as Elsie shouted profanities, Kyle felt a hint of admiration for the old woman standing across the way in the breeze, unflappable. She stood statuesque, despite her noticeable hunch, never registering the slightest emotion as Elsie unleashed on her. She simply waited, but for what Kyle did not know.


***

          No matter how much he wanted to, Kyle couldn’t look away. He stared at the photo of his daughter. He’d been staring at it for nearly ten minutes. Her last photo.

          The shot was dark and closely-framed. It held tightly to the right side of Charlotte’s face, where her hair had been brushed into bangs covering her forehead, something which was not normal for her. Her skin had purpled and her face seemed more full, bloated, but it was her. The longer he stared, the more Kyle felt himself drawn to her hairline and to those misplaced bangs. They just weren’t right somehow. Without looking away, he finally addressed the attendant.

          “Yes, that’s… that’s her,” Kyle said, his voice broken and soft. “It’s Charlotte.”


***

          His daughter was dead and Kyle had hit bottom. He was alone, broke, and angry… so angry. At everyone and everything. That anger had consumed him even quicker than the cancer. He’d been stumbling out of a shithole with a neon Psychic sign, and she’d been watching from across the street – the skeptic. He’d cursed and sweared and yelled at her, but she’d just stood there. So he had marched over full of hate and ready to unleash on someone, anyone. When he’d finally reached her, however, she weathered every curse and every foul utterance. At last, Kyle had collapsed, and Anita had caught him.

          As he had sobbed against her shoulder, she leaned in close and whispered in his ear.

          “You have to let her go.”

          He knew that she was right. In that moment he felt it and knew that it was time to move on. It was time to let Charlotte go.


***

          But he couldn’t. He couldn’t turn away.

          Her tiny body lay on a metal slab in the morgue covered up to her neck, but leaving revealed the worst of it. Her head was the pain point.

          Looking on her right side he saw the daughter he had known: his puddle-splashing angel with the boundless energy. Even through the bloat, of which the attendant had warned, and through the discoloration, he could see that fearless, wonderful little girl. Looking at her left side, however, Charlotte became unrecognizable. Her skull had collapsed inward like a crater. Her hair collapsed with it and her brow had been totally shattered, the depression seemingly elongating her eye socket. Even her cheek had caved in. Severe trauma to the face they had said. Severe put it lightly. Severe was a joke.

          He inched forward. He had come to hold his daughter one last time, yet every footfall carrying him towards her diminished her. Charlotte became more and more the body the closer he came to her. At last he stopped.

          “I can’t,” he said.

          “It’s okay,” the attendant replied, and as he did he pulled the cover back over Charlotte’s face.

          Kyle had come to say goodbye, but instead he had cracked in the face of death.


***

          “Now, Kyle. It’s time.”

          Kyle looked up. The broken remnants of his cigarettes fell between his fingers, shredded and ripped. He must have been tearing at them, but everything since catching a glimpse of his daughter’s skull had blanked, overwritten by a wash of jumbled memory.

          “Stay with me now,” Anita said.

          Kyle looked to her and to the pentagram in which she stood. The circles had been completed, with even more ash and salt runes etched in the void between the two circles. At each point of the star a candle burned, the red one flickering closest to the grave. The bag of bones (Charlotte, the body) rested dead center, Anita standing behind it over the urn. To her right sat her physician’s bag, still squirming and writhing. She plunged her hand inside and pulled out a small, panicked rabbit.

          “I need you within the circle, Kyle. Now. And do not disturb it in any way. Do you understand?”

          “Yes,” he said, as he crawled forward then rose to his feet. With every step closer he kept his gaze unwavering, focused on Anita and that rabbit.

          “Yes,” he repeated though he really didn’t understand at all. He knew that there was a cost to this ritual. He knew that there was sacrifice required, but this was not what he had expected. This was miniscule. Nothing.

          The cancer had come to claim him and he had come to deny it that right. Life requires death, or so he had learned from Anita. No one could be returned without that barter to balance the scales. So he had come this night to pay his due and see his daughter returned. That was sacrifice. That was the cost that needed be paid.

          He toed over the salt lines and entered the pentagram, still puzzling over the rabbit. His bewilderment did not go unnoticed.

          “Merely an appetizer,” Anita said, as she slipped a knife from her belt and handed both the rabbit and the blade to Kyle. “The price must still be paid in full.”




Back to Part 1

In Memoriam: Part 4

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          The door smashed against the wall, then bounced back at Kyle, but he merely swatted it aside. His breath came in heavy gasps and he could feel himself weakening with the strain but he had forced himself to remain standing.

          “Christ on a stick, Kyle. Have you lost your mind?” Anita rose from one of the many couches in the therapy room, confronting him. Jonesy yapped from behind her legs. “How’d you even get in?”

          Kyle tossed a rock in the air, catching it and tossing it again. “I had a key.”

          “You’re paying for that door.”

          Kyle snickered, then coughed. Anita stepped forward, but Kyle righted himself quickly.

          “No,” he said.

          “Fine, Mr. Ingham, but if you don’t mind me saying,” Anita continued, “you don’t sound so well.”

          “I reckon not.” Kyle wiped at his brow, then stood straight as he could. “You see, I heard a rumor about a family. A certain family that had lost a daughter.”

          “That load of horse shit has been dragged across my carpet year after year, but you know what? End of the day, it’s still just shit on my carpet.”

          “Colorful.” Kyle kneeled setting down his rock and grabbing a nearby tennis ball. “Here, Jonesy. Here boy.”

          The corgi bounded over, the sight of the tennis ball wiping all perception of the animus in the room from its mind.

          “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.” Anita shuffled forward, her composure wavering.

          Jonesy grabbed the tennis ball in his muzzle and shook it violently as Kyle kept his grip on the ball.

          “I don’t mean any harm, ma’am. I just want the truth. See I didn’t believe that shit when I heard it either. Not at first. Then I did some digging of my own.”

          “There’s nothing to dig up, Kyle. Christy Newsom came to me looking for a way to turn back time, to bring her daughter back. But that would have been news, Mr. Ingham. Rose Newsom never returned from that grave, no matter the rumors.”

          “No. No, that’s what I thought, too,” Kyle said, scratching Jonesy’s head while the dog shook the tennis ball in either direction. “Then I noticed that the Newsoms, they disappeared,” he continued. “They just up and vanished from Raleigh shortly after they contacted you.”

          “People move.” Anita stepped forward.

          “No, Mrs. Shaw.” Kyle reached into his pocket sliding out a large Gerber knife and folding open its blade. He continued scratching Jonesy’s head. “Don’t.”

          Anita came to an abrupt halt. This wasn’t the man that she had come to know. This was a man stretching at the end of his tether, a man who felt that he could suffer no further loss. In that, he didn’t know how wrong he was.

          “You see, they didn’t move,” he continued. “They just ceased to exist. The whole family. I find that kind of odd, don’t you?”

          Anita made to speak, but Kyle interrupted her.

          “It’s a rhetorical question,” he said. He coughed into his sleeve, loosening his grip on Jonesy’s tennis ball. The ball flew from the corgi’s mouth and bounced under a distant couch. Delighted in the chase, the dog bounded after it. As he did, Kyle eased himself to his feet.

          “I didn’t know what to make it of it at first,” he said, “but a little more digging and I found the record for the name change. The whole family just changed their names and moved. All of ‘em. Suddenly the Newsoms were the Mackies. Same ages, same socials, new names. You know what the kicker of it was, though?”

          Anita slumped to the couch. The time for charades had ended.

          “They had a daughter,” she said. Her voice came out weak, tainted by a rare tone of resignation.

          “That’s right, they had a daughter. Adopted. So the papers say. One the same age as their dearly departed Rose had been six months prior, give or take. See she didn’t have the same social or nothing, but I know it was her.”

          Jonesy ran over and lept into Anita’s lap, his tail wagging fiercely, the tennis ball clutched triumphantly in his mouth. Anita petted him absently, her eyes locked with Kyle.

          “And you need the same for your daughter.”

          “That’s right. Right on the nose.”

          Anita brushed Jonesy from her lap, rising as her determination welled back up once more.

          “So, rather than come ask me about what happened, rather than asking me for my help, you break into my place of business and you threaten me, you try to coerce me into helping you. Is that the gist of it? And please don’t bother answering. You appear to be well-versed in rhetorical questions. So if it pleases you or not, you can see yourself out right the fuck now you two-bit Judas.”

          Kyle laughed, not a ha-ha laugh, but a light chortle at the absurdity of the situation. He traced the knife along a nearby doily sending it feathering to the floor.

          “You speak your mind, Anita. Its honestly what I love most about you. Right now maybe the only thing. See, you want to talk about betrayal. You want to cast yourself as the betrayed. I can’t help but to find that all kinds of absurd. You bring the desperate here, the grieving, and you speak to us of healing and moving past the pain, applying a band-aid to an amputation when you could have returned the damn limb. That’s betrayal.”

          “If it was that easy, don’t you think I would have? Don’t you think I would have returned your loved ones to every last one of you? I see your pain every night in this room. I see the pain of everyone in this group, but what I did that night, that wasn’t natural. It wasn’t right, and it didn’t come without cost. I can’t do it again.”

          “I’m willing to pay, no matter the price.”

          “This isn’t about you, Mr. Ingham, or a price that you can pay. You can’t make it worth my while. It’s about your daughter. It’s about me. It’s about the rift between the living and the dead. This isn’t a matter to be taken lightly or even at all, so let me be clear: I can’t help you.”

          Kyle sighed, slumping ever so slightly, then straightened himself out, cracking his neck. It popped loudly. He shifted and cracked the other side, balancing it out, then confronted Anita once more.

          “I want my daughter back,” Kyle said. “And you’re going to make that happen.”


***

          “How’s that?” Anita called down. Kyle replied from within the grave beside her.

          “I said I can’t lift her.”

          Anita knew that the girl couldn’t be that heavy, not this far gone, and Kyle’s cancer, bad as it was, hadn’t yet so far incapacitated him as to prevent his lifting his daughter from her grave. Still, she didn’t have to be psychic to know what he meant.

          For that matter, she wasn’t psychic – merely a medium for the dead. She had dealt with death as far back as she could remember, since the first spirit appeared in her nursery singing her its macabre lullaby. She had seen ghosts, poltergeists, corpses and the like. Anita was well-versed in the reality of death, in all its aspects and had long since lost any squeamishness in its presence.

          For Kyle, however, the corpse in that coffin was his daughter. By now Charlotte would be little more than bone and strips of dessicated flesh. Of course he couldn’t be the one to remove the remains.

          Anita lowered herself onto her rear and swung her legs over the edge of the open grave. Her feet dangled there for a moment, kicking, like a child’s legs dipping into the waters at the edge of a pool.

          “Give me a hand,” she said. “I’m coming down.”

          Kyle reached up, grabbing her around the waist as she lurched into the pit. He tried to ease her down but another fit stole over him and as he coughed they tumbled back into the earthen wall. Dirt and mud and worms rained down as they tangled together slipping into the back of the open coffin.

          Kyle heard a snap of bone beneath them as they landed and cringed. He knew that those remains were not Charlotte, that the bone breaking was a thing, a remnant and nothing more, but as it snapped he pictured her leg snapping, the bone shattering and piercing through the flesh. He could see his daughter collapsing grasping at the fracture, blood gushing between her fingers as she cried out in pain, a child too young to understand, too young to have to suffer so.

          He bit his lip, fighting to restrain his emotions. A hand touched his shoulder, knobby, almost skeletal itself, but with a faint hint of warmth.

          “It’s okay.”

          Kyle opened his eyes meeting Anita’s tender gaze. So much had fractured between them, yet now, as his pain came flooding back, as thoughts of Charlotte’s final hours bombarded him, forcing themselves out from the recesses to which he had banished them, she met him with kindness. She touched his cheek and he saw the warmth that she had always conveyed in their sessions. She forgave him, which made it all so much worse. He did not deserve her absolution.

          She tilted her head, gesturing back towards the top of the grave. No words were needed. Kyle closed his eyes and nodded at her, thanking her. He sniffed, sucking the snot back up his nose, as he struggled against the flood of emotion battling to escape. Then, with no further acknowledgement, he grabbed the top of the open grave and scrambled up and out. He could feel the clods of earth ripping away from that wall as he did. He tried not to imagine them falling upon his daughter’s remains, but his imagination was less forgiving than Anita.

          As at last he pulled himself free and knelt on the grass once more, face down, staring into the dirt as if perched over the edge of a toilet bowl, he shook, his arms trembling as they bore his weight both physical and emotional. His lip quivered and he winced his eyes shut. Fairy lights danced in the darkness, then images of Charlotte: laughing… crying… screaming!

          His eyes shot open and he hauled his gaze from the wet grass searching for any sign of reality, any hint that this night was anything other than what it seemed. He sought any signal that this was some mad delusion. His fingers gripping into that muck, the tickle of the wet grass playing against his palms, it all hinted at the vacuum behind him – the chasm in which his daughter had been laid to rest – the truth of her death and the absurdity of what he had come to do. It couldn’t be done. It couldn’t be real.

          Yet as he raised his eyes above that disturbed soil, he saw the earth marred by a mix of salt and ash laid out in a circle at the foot of the grave. A pentagram had been similarly etched within the circle, and at each point of the star rose a candle, as of yet unlit. The far points all bore black candles, but that closest to the grave had been adorned with a lone red candle.

          The circle must have been ten feet or more in diameter for in the hollow at the center of that star rested Anita’s physician’s bag, an urn laid out beside it just back of center of the circle and enough empty space remaining for one to stand with room to spare. The bag itself writhed, once more seemingly alive. Kyle averted his gaze, glancing to the edges of the symbol.

          In the gaps between the arms of the star and the enclosing circle various runes had been etched with the same mix of salt and ash, while beyond that circle could be seen the start of a second circle enclosing the first. Kyle must have interrupted Anita’s work. Staring at it, he couldn’t help but to think that one good gust of wind could destroy all of her preparation.

          As that thought flitted through his head, the reality of what he was attempting hit home. Rather than stand, Kyle sank back to the ground and rolled onto his back. The wetness of the grass felt good soaking through his shirt, earthy and nostalgic dredging up hints of childish innocence that had no right to exist in this time or place. He stared up through the branches of the trees his eyes catching on the faint twinkling of the stars above – those not obscured by the lights of the nearby city. He stared at the majesty of that vast black and its peppering of stars, and he fumbled into his pocket, yanking out his pack of cigarettes.

          He slipped out his fifth cigarette of the evening (fifth from the left on the top) and fumbled the lid closed, then thought better of it, and slipped out the sixth as well. He lit up the one and held the other aside in waiting.

          He was still lying there on his back, staring up at the sky, puffing at his cigarettes when Anita slipped a bag over the lip of the grave and hauled herself up, crawling her way to the surface, covered in muck and looking as if she wouldn’t have been out of place on the reels of a Romero film. One hand before the other, reaching and clawing, she came, but as she hauled her head above the ground line, her furthest stretched arm jostled against the discarded bag. A clatter of bones could be heard, then the opening of the bag stretched and Kyle saw it, just a tiny dirt-streaked glimpse, but enough to know that bulging at the tip of that bag lay his daughter’s skull, a maze of fractures spider-webbing above the empty socket that once held her left eye.

          He looked away, but it was already too late. The memories came flooding back.




Back to Part 1

Inspiration: A Foundation in Prose

© Mike_kiev | Dreamstime.com – Books In Library Photo


By Chris Hutton

          Many writers stress the value of reading to one’s own writing. I won’t quote figures, because I don’t have them, but I don’t think that the value and corollary of being a strong reader to being a strong writer can be overstated. If one isn’t reading, I do not reasonably know why that person would be writing. I write to create stories both that are begging me to tell them and to bring the same pleasure to my readers as a I take from reading a good story. If my ultimate purpose in this world was to bring a little pleasure, a little escapism, that allows another living soul to take solace and make it through the day, I would consider my life well spent.

          Thinking upon that I found myself this evening pacing in front of my bookshelves, glancing over the well-worn spines of the many books that I’ve hoarded away over the years, and thinking not just upon the value of reading, but the way that reading shapes us, and personally how it shaped me as a writer. I looked to the books that I had revisited over the years, and began to wonder about my chronology as a reader. What path led me from toddler to a nearing middle-aged adult compelled to write science-fiction and horror?

          Perhaps this is self-indulgence, a hasty exploration of myself best taken in solitude, but I have blog posts to fill and deadlines to make, so if you’re willing, then bear with me. And if you’re not, thanks for accompanying me this far. Until next time.


Picture Books

          My earliest memory of books probably began with P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? but my earliest fascination with books began, as best as I can recall, with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. That mad rumpus and it’s precedent, those terrible roars, the gnashing of those terrible teeth, the rolling of those terrible eyes, and the showing of those terrible claws, still clings to me. In fact it has such a grasp on me now, even some thirty-odd years later, that it became the first book that I purchased for my daughter (one of which she has numerous copies in multiple languages – all of which I adore).

          I can’t rightly say if those monsters began my fascination with the dark and frightening tales that are now much of my evening reading – I cannot safely declare Maurice Sendak a gateway drug to horror – but I do know that the next memorable portion of my journey through literature began yet again with a tale of monsters and ghosts. In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz and Dirk Zimmer is one of the first books that I can remember reading on my own. I have never forgotten the long yellow teeth of The Teeth, or Jenny’s ever present green ribbon around her neck. Images of teeth in the dark and severed heads haunted me long beyond my childhood years until I had even forgotten the name of the book and its creators; but one Google search for those yellow teeth later and I had it, again.


Elementary School

          By this point I was in kindergarten or elementary school and I had access once a week to the school library. The books that followed me home ranged from abridged retellings of the Universal Monster movies, to ghost stories, to books on the paranormal and UFOs. I’m not sure what sort of library I had at my elementary school – I can only vaguely recall the one single room, divided by a half height shelf separating the checkout counter from the stacks – but I do remember those books vividly. As I moved into the later grades of elementary, stepping beyond picture books to novels for young readers, I remember the monthly Scholastic Arrow Book Club pamphlets from which I would always choose 2-3 books and eagerly await their shipment. Invariably I chose books centered on mummies rising from the dead, or ghosts hiding in the dark, but I remember each of those journeys with great fondness.


Middle School

          Had I continued on this track, likely my reading and writing would have stayed with the typical ghouls and ghosts. It did through the beginning of middle school. By that point I had fallen into my first literary crush, this for the books of R.L. Stine. This was before Goosebumps became his most-remembered work. Instead I grew up reading his previous series, Fear Street. Here the monsters were rarely of the supernatural variety but consisted more of stalkers, and murderers – boogeymen chasing after teens. My own written stories at this point of my life were mainly ghost stories, preferably spoken around a campfire in the middle of the night.

          Around this same time my English teacher, Mrs. Petherbridge, introduced me to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a man whose writing still haunts me and which begs me back to re-explore its pages on a regular basis. At this point I had entered an AG program for English and suddenly my world exploded with books – usually it meant lists of possible novels that I could read, followed by short book reports (and for a brief and odd stint in seventh grade by calculated word count reading levels and demerits for speaking). During this period I discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Between Poe, Stoker, and Shelley, horror left the realm of the mere ghost story, of the frightening tale to pass away the hours, and showed me its literary peak, the heights of horror that could be reached by masters of the craft. Between Stoker and Shelley I also formed a great appreciation for epistolary horror, a genre that I miss deeply, but to which we shall return.

          Then, suddenly the horror genre came to a screeching halt. I became derailed. I began my first literary love affair with The Lord of the Rings. This would have been in seventh grade. That book, and all of Tolkien’s works would follow me for decades. They still call from my shelf every few years for a rereading. Yet I became so enamored with his work that my previous exploration of the paranormal became sidelined with an extreme interest in medieval times and an obsessive compulsion to memorize the minutia of Middle-Earth. Now I can’t say that I could hold my own with Colbert (I couldn’t), but it was a deep well from which I drank often.

          This fascination led me to seek any outlet to quench my love of fantasy literature. Soon I was reading Dragonlance, the works of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman sculpting the remainder of my middle school years. Other writers would come and go, but their works and Tolkien’s were a constant.


High School

          As I entered those formative years of high school, the range of my reading expanded, though at its core still rested Tolkien, Weis, and Hickman. I became introduced to science-fiction through Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Frank Herbert’s Dune. George Orwell opened my eyes to dystopian literature with 1984 and then the walls of genre fell apart completely as I discovered Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and the tragic tale of Heathcliff and Catherine. This was a strange and diversified time for my reading, but it helped expand my understanding of stories, of the characters at the crux of any good tale, and the range of stories possible.

          Still, fantasy literature was my mainstay and it could not be so easily deterred. It would remain…


Undergraduate Years

          …following me to college. At this point I discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, along with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The former intrigued me through its evolution of style, tone, and subject as a reflection of the growing maturity of its characters and its audience, while the latter intrigued me for the stark realism with which it portrayed its fantasy world and the re-sensitization to violence that it’s primary character deaths imbued upon the reader (something that did not carry over to the later TV series). Now Tolkien, Weis, Hickman, Rowling, and Martin formed the core of my library (favorites like Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Orwell, and Brontë not withstanding).

          Yet, something strange happened at this time as well. I found that my previous love of horror came calling back to me, and it found its grounding in the works of Stephen King. I consumed his books, devouring as many as I could (I’m a slow reader, so that does have its limit – especially at that point in my life, when fantasy literature dominated). I began logically with The Eyes of the Dragon, then segued into his horror works. To this day my favorites are Carrie, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Duma Key,‘Salem’s Lot, and It. His non-fiction book On Writing is also an extremely compelling read, and one of the best books on the craft of writing that I have ever read.


Graduate School

          In 2006 I began graduate school, majoring in Writing for Screen & Television. My reading time became limited, and my obsessiveness over Tolkien finally began to dwindle (despite a deep love for his work that I will never relinquish). I wanted to move on and read a larger variety of work. I continued my exploration of King’s oeuvre, but also expanded into mystery fiction reading the works of Michael Connelly (of which The Poet is my favorite), Kathy Reichs, and Michael Crichton. Not willing to leave fantasy completely behind, I searched for new authors that could come close to the heights that I found in Tolkien. Philip Pullman came the closest, with The Golden Compass or His Dark Materials. The audacity of the book, the mingling of a child’s tale with an all out examination of, if not war against, religion intrigued me, and I am still greatly impressed with the scope and courage of the books.


My Thirties-ish

          With graduate school behind me, life became consumed by patterns that fluctuated between one of three stages: 1) looking for work, 2)adjusting to new jobs, and 3)finally acclimating to a job and reclaiming time to read and write. During these years, of which I am still in the middle, my writing has often had to confine itself to short works. Due to this constraint I found myself delving deep into horror short stories (the story type I most often write in short form), exploring once more the works of Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and now also H.P. Lovecraft.

          Simultaneously, the meandering path of my career realigned me with an early love of science, reawakening my fascination with space, and in the past ten years two distinct branches of fiction reading have emerged: science-fiction and horror. Leaving now behind the foundational works of my youth, I’ll look to the writers from whose work I’m currently reading.

          On the science-fiction front I have explored the works of Arthur C. Clarke (Rendevous with Rama being my favorite), Carl Sagan (Contact and his non-fiction masterpiece Cosmos), James S. A. Corey (or Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and their series The Expanse, and more recently Andy Weir of The Martian fame and whose second book I am eagerly anticipating.

          With horror I continue to read Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King (all of whose work is vast enough to keep me occupied without exploring other authors), but I have also been actively searching for new (or old) authors whose voices I have not yet heard. Among these my most recent discoveries have been John Ajvide Lindqvist (Harbor), Nick Cutter (The Troop), Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box), and Dan Simmons (The Terror), though I am also looking into David Wong (John Dies at the End), Scott Smith (The Ruins), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), and Ania Ahlbom (The Pretty Ones). During this exploration I came across my favorite modern horror book due to an excellent recommendation by the ever talented Nate Ruegger. The book: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Never has a book so actively engaged me, redefining the scope and bounds of a story, and exploring epistolary style with such a layering of tales. If you haven’t read it, and you don’t mind a dense, multi-layered read, it is worth your time.


The Point…

          I suppose I’m supposed to have one of those, right? Well, I do. It comes back to the very first two paragraphs of this post: the value of reading for a writer, and the way it helps mold us and the stories that we tell.


Horror

          I have to wonder if it weren’t for Where the Wild Things Are and A Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories would I write horror? If it weren’t for Stephen King would my horror stories take character as such a central focus? If not for H.P. Lovecraft would that writing not have such an other worldly exploration at its center? If not for Dracula or Frankenstein would I still find myself compelled to explore the human themes at the heart of my horror stories? Would my tone be different had I never been exposed to the rich atmospheres crafted by Poe? Every one of these writers and these books has shaped the type of horror story that I write. They have helped me find my voice.


Fantasy

          Yes, I do not write fantasy currently, but it was the longest mainstay in my years of reading and I know for a fact that it imbued me with a sense of world. Tolkien, Herbert, Pullman, Martin, they all crafted worlds complete with mythologies, religions, histories, languages, and cultures completely unique to their works. The level of detail needed to write within those realms and still keep your story center stage is astounding, and from reading those works, I learned to create my own worlds (whether modern or futuristic) with a depth of history, culture, and detail that grounds my work. This allows my fiction to rest upon a solid foundation, a reality that allows a reader to suspend disbelief in the story itself due to the level of reality presented in setting – at least I hope that it does that.


Science-Fiction

          Finally, what have I taken from the collective works of Orwell, Card, Clarke, Corey, Sagan, and Weir? A grounding in science. I like my science-fiction heavy on reality, close to near future, human tales bound by physical laws. I love worlds where astronauts still float in zero G or artificial gravity is a product of centrifugal force. I like colonization that has failed to terraform but exists precariously with nothing between colonists and death but man-made habitats. My stories have become those that explore issues of society, politics, environment, technology, and philosophy, and use the future to explore those themes.


Conclusion

          This is simply a matter of making my case. As a writer I am a product of what I have read. Without reading, I am nothing – not in a literary sense. So if you want inspiration, if you want to find a voice as a writer, please, no matter what else you do, read, and do so with a voracious, insatiable appetite. Never stop. That’s my lesson for the week, I guess. Hopefully it hit its mark.

          Anyway, Happy Writing All!


Arcas – Sample 4

© Art by JC Thomas from ARCAS

Below you’ll find the pages 6-8 of the upcoming graphic novel Arcas. These pages correspond to roughly the second half of the script pages from Arcas – Sample 1, and are in progress pages. Minor amendments to copy are still pending, but the art begged to be shared. Enjoy.

Arcas page 6, illustrated by JC Thomas
Arcas page 6, illustrated by JC Thomas
Arcas page 7, illustrated by JC Thomas
Arcas page 7, illustrated by JC Thomas
Arcas page 8, illustrated by JC Thomas
Arcas page 8, illustrated by JC Thomas


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In Memoriam: Part 3

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          After that night behind the cleaners, Kyle had stopped looking for Anita and started looking to understand her. He had begun to attend the Thursday meetings, to grieve with Wilton and the others that had fallen under Anita Shaw’s wing, but, even then he had stayed wary. He’d watched Anita, listened to her, and waited for any sign of her past.

          In the evenings after work – those evenings in which he wasn’t at the meetings or deep in a bottle – Kyle scoured the local libraries. About a month into this stop-and-go research he came across the first classified ad in the archives at D.H. Hill. It had been embedded in The News & Observer deep in a back issue from ‘81.


Séance. Sat. Mar 7. 7-11pm. Madam Shaw’s. 527 New Bern Ave. Limited seats. First come first serve. $30/person. 919-979-7429.


          She had been just one more fraud in a long line of fakes. The thought had revolted him. Sure, he had attended her sessions leery of her motives, but at the same time he had felt himself slipping under her spell, beginning to believe, as all the rest had, that she truly cared about him; that she wanted to help her group through their grief. Then he realized she was just one more cheat playing a long con. She gained their trust, but at what point did she plan to tip her hand and reel them in?

          He had arrived at group two hours early that Thursday finding Anita’s Volkswagen already parked outside the laundromat. As he stepped to the back entrance, he could hear Jonesy bounding through the therapy room, likely chasing after that same damn tennis ball.

          Kyle had pounded upon the door, a constant unending knock. He hadn’t even realized he was rapping on the glass without pause until he had heard Anita cry out from inside.

          “For heaven’s sake! One knock will do. I’m old, not deaf.”

          Anita unlocked the door and cracked it open, holding Jonesy back with her foot.

          “Crap, Jonesy. I’m fixin to lock your ass up, you don’t settle down.” Anita looked up at Kyle. “Come in, just help me with him will ya?”

          “Sure.” That had been all Kyle could manage to mutter. He had wanted to scream at her, to yell, ‘con!’ and rip into her, but as she set there holding back her corgi between her ankles and pulling the door ajar in invite, he had felt that affinity bubbling once again to the surface. Anita always seemed nothing if not genuine.

          Kyle had pushed Jonesy back scratching behind his ears, then, grabbing and throwing that tennis ball, had sent him bounding back into the therapy room. Anita had made to follow after, but Kyle stopped her, pulling the adjoining door closed and leaving them in the employee hall separating the back room from the laundromat.

          A lump formed in his throat and he remained there motionless.

          “Out with it already,” Anita said, never much with patience. “Obviously you got something rattling around up there.”

          He tried to speak, finding that lump still constraining him. At last he had managed to out the accusation. Anita had simply shaken her head in response, but let him plow through it nonetheless.

          His allegation complete, Anita had gestured Kyle into the therapy room. Yes, she had performed séances in the past she had explained, though she had insisted hers to be genuine. She had communed with the dead for a price, but it had taken her years to realize that her wages were earned not in dollars but in tears. Even if successful in dredging the spirits back for one final goodbye, the living could never leave it at that. Their grief would drag out, the same customers returning week after week, year after year, never letting go.

          Finally Anita had closed her doors, unwilling to continue to profit off a pain that she could not end. The Triangle area was rife with universities and she had returned to school eventually earning a MA in psychology. A few years at Holy Hill and she’d left and become a grief counselor. That, however, had officially ended shortly after her Charlie’s death.

          Her tale done, she had offered Kyle a glass of sweet tea, and asked that he stay for the evening’s session. The conversation had allayed his suspicions at the time, so he had accepted her offer and passed the evening with his fellow bereaved, and he had continued to do so over the next few months. It had been a peaceful time, a time of healing for Kyle, until a rumor finally reached him – a rumor of the returned.

***

          Kyle wheezed, his breath rattling in his throat, then shifting, converting into a deep, hacking cough. He paused, leaning against the shovel, now five feet deep in his daughter’s grave, and struggled to hold himself together as the fit tore through him wracking his body in tumultuous heaves.

          “Kyle?” Anita asked, peering down into the open pit.

          Kyle wiped a dirt-crusted hand across his lips, then cracked his back. “I’m fine.”

          “My wrinkled, white ass.”

          “Let it be. It won’t matter long, anyway.”

          Kyle opened up his Reds taking out the fourth cig, straightening up the pack as he did. Shielding the flame from the wind, he lit the cigarette and leaned back against the earthen wall of the grave.

          “What about you?”

          Anita shook her head in her usual disapproving way. “It’s coming along. Though I’ll need her soon.”

          “Of course.” Kyle glanced to the soft earth beneath his feet. He had to be close, so close. Soon, he’d hear the clink of metal on wood, and there’d be nothing but the coffin between him and Charlotte. Daddy was here, and this time he wouldn’t turn away. This time there’d be no losing her. At last he’d come to find her, to find his Charlotte and bring her home.

          “Hey,” Kyle shouted softly.

          Anita peered back over the edge. “Yes?”

          “I really am sorry, Mrs. Shaw. To… to make you do this.”

          She harrumphed and made to turn.

          “Wait,” Kyle said. “When we’re done here, when it’s all over,” he tapped his jacket pocket, “well, everything you need is right here. Okay?”

          “Yeah. I hear ya.”

          Anita turned and walked away. Kyle had killed most of the amity that had once existed between them, no matter how she tried to disguise it. Now she had too little time to waste with his confessions; she had her own preparations to finish.

          

***

          Kyle had been downtown hopping bars, when he’d run across an acquaintance from his time searching for answers from psychics: Elsie, a chain-smoking widower with a tendency to drink too deeply from the bottle. He had spotted her while he had been waving down the bartender and had immediately lowered his hand preparing to leave before Elsie spotted him back. For once, however, the woman behind the bar had actually noticed his hand and had approached for his order. Before he could brush the bartender aside, Elsie and he had locked eyes. Trapped, Kyle had ordered his beer and joined Elsie for a drink.

          A couple beers in, and they were both out on the balcony smoking and staring out across the city. Kyle had reached near the end of his Reds, with four remaining on the bottom right. The cigarettes had tipped in the box, and he had been frantically trying to realign them. He’d straighten them out, then convinced the order was wrong, he’d shuffle them. They needed to be right. They needed to be in sequence.

          “Here,” Elsie said, tucking a cigarette between Kyle’s lips and flicking her Bic beneath the tip. He puffed, the cigarette lighting, and tucked his own pack into his pocket. He brushed at his hands trying to calm down.

          “Tough night?” Elsie asked. “I see you haven’t changed.”

          “Nah.” Kyle exhaled and leaned on the balcony, careful to balance his arms symmetrically against the railing – the pressure of the metal rail equal on both. “To be honest, I was this way before Charlotte passed. Can’t imagine I’ll grow out of it now.”

          “I suppose not. We’re all fucked in our own way.” Elsie took a swig from a personal flask hidden in her jacket pocket. “You want some?”

          Kyle waved aside the offer.

          “Your loss.” Elise pocketed the flask, then leaned against the rail beside Kyle. She lit her own cigarette and began to fidget with the cuff of her jacket. She had something to say, but she couldn’t quite get on with it. Kyle didn’t want to be pulled back into that circle – he’d made progress with Anita – so he left Elsie to her silence and tapped out the ash from his cigarette.

          At last she spoke.

          “Did you ever find that lady? The one that hangs out outside the psychics and whatnot? The skeptic?”

          “Yeah.” He didn’t know why he had told her the truth, but he also hadn’t seen any reason not to do so.

          “Huh.” Elsie pulled out a fresh cigarette, lighting it from the tip of her first, which she then stamped out in the ashtray. “I heard she’s more than a skeptic.”

          “You don’t say…” Kyle really didn’t want to get into this.

          “I do. Another?” She offered him a second smoke, but he hadn’t finished his first. He shook his head.

          “Fine. Well, yeah, I heard about this family, this mother who’d been trying to contact her daughter. You know, contact, contact?”

          “Yeah, I get it.” Kyle hadn’t liked where this had been heading.

          “Anyway…” Elsie stopped. “Look it doesn’t matter. Just, can you tell me where I can find her?”

          “The skeptic?”

          “Yeah.”

          “Why?”

          “Come on Kyle. For an old friend?”

          He couldn’t help but to think that Elsie was throwing the term friend around awfully loosely. He tapped his cigarette again and leaned deeper against the rail. Then he asked her. He didn’t know if he had done it out of genuine curiosity, or merely to derail Elsie so that he could avoid giving her Anita’s info. Elsie was still searching, but Anita she worked cleanup. Your search had to be done before she could sweep up the pieces. Either way, Kyle had asked.

          “What happened with this mother?”

          “Well,” Elsie started, “they say she wasn’t satisfied with communing.”

          “Okay. Your point?”

          “My point is that she didn’t want to talk to her daughter. She wanted her daughter.”

          “She wanted to see her, you mean?”

          “No. Not exactly.” Elsie lit a third cigarette. “You sure you don’t want another?”

          “Fine.” Kyle grabbed a cigarette from Elsie and placed it on the edge of his lips as he smashed out his other one. He didn’t, however, bother lighting it. “You were saying?”

          “She didn’t want to see her daughter. She wanted her back.”

          “We all want that.”

          “Yeah, but she meant it. And she got it.”

          “Bullshit.”

          “Probably. But word is our skeptic might be the real deal. More than. This lady, her family up and changed their names and disappeared, but when they left, well, they had a daughter again. So what do you say? Can you tell me how I can reach her?”

          Kyle snatched Elsie’s lighter and lit his cigarette. He sat there smoking, but he did not answer. He’d seen the runes in the therapy room. He knew that Anita had once been Madam Shaw, psychic extraordinaire and leader of many a séance. Could she have been more? Could Elsie’s bullshit be real? He peered over the Raleigh skyline, ignoring Elsie’s further entreaties, and he made a decision.

***

          Clink. The shovel hit wood. Kyle dropped to his knees and began to frantically brush the dirt aside. With every handful, he could see more and more of the coffin, its laquer faded, but the casing still strong.

          “I’ve found her,” he shouted, raising his voice a little too far.

          “Shhh.” Anita said, then peered down. “So you have.”

          She twirled a stray hair with her finger as she watched Kyle brush away the earth. He had found his daughter. He had come this far. She plucked the hair from her scalp and let it fall to the dirt. She was afraid. Afraid of what was to come. Afraid of Kyle. Just afraid.

          “We don’t have to do this,” she said. “You can still turn back.”

          “No.” Sean coughed, grabbing and yanking a handful of dirt and roots from the grave wall as he fought to maintain his balance. “No,” he continued, as the cough subsided. “I’m not turning back. And neither are you.”

          He stared down at the tiny coffin. It measured no more than three feet from end to end. So small, he thought, trying not to imagine his Charlotte inside. She had been so young. He glanced back up to her tombstone with the cartoon mud puddles and pig, and he locked on the last line.

“May She Play Forever Among The Angels”

          “Not tonight.”

          Kyle grabbed the shovel, jammed it into the crack on the underside of the coffin lid and pushed down with all of his might. He strained against the handle, his face reddening and his veins popping against his too thin frame. He coughed, his whole body quivering as he did, but still he pushed, throwing everything he had left behind that shovel. A splintering sounded, the coffin cracked, and the lid flew open.




Back to Part 1

Before Page One: The World Of Your Story

© Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime.com – Desert


By Chris Hutton

          Two weeks ago, when discussing the blank page, I touched upon how I move from inspiration to detailing out an idea. This was in a brief segment, which you can find replicated below.


Beginning the Outline

          Let’s say you have an idea. It’s great. It’s an amazing idea. Now you want to write it. How does it begin? How does it end? Who is the main character? Where is it set? What is it about? What’s the plot? The themes? How do all of these elements tie together? How do you sequence this out to tell your story? That’s a lot of work to start. As long as the page is blank, the outline hasn’t begun and once again it becomes easy to say, ‘You know what, it’s late. It’s 12:30 am and I really need to get some sleep. I’ll start this outline when I wake up.” After finishing my work day on October 27th, (a few hours before this very moment mid writing this post), that seemed like a valid excuse. I could have ended it there and put this off until tomorrow. Instead, I sucked it up and drafted out the basic ideas of what I wanted to express. Why? Because once I start typing, the blank page is gone and I can move forward. As long as I mull it over and keep it blank, it is so very easy to stop before starting.


Detailing This Out

          This week, I’d like to expand upon what I only briefly discussed prior. First, the segment above really hints at two processes – 1) drafting the world of your story and 2) outlining. We’ll be focusing today on that first process. Before I start writing any of my longer works of fiction, I try to make sure I have a basic understanding of the story that I am planning. This isn’t outline detail, but its key aspects of the story that help ground me before I write. I’ll step through each portion of the process that I hinted at last week in the featured segment.


1) The Beginning & The End

          Usually, when I’m writing, I start with these two elements firmly in place. Even in my short work, these are the cornerstone upon which I build everything else. Typically for me, my work comes largely from dreams, everyday events, or what if scenarios upon which I’ve deliberated and each of these sources typically provides me a beginning point. For Last Call, for example, I came up with the idea, logically enough, after I woke up with a hangover. I realized immediately that’s where that week’s story had to begin – in the thick of an early morning hangover. Then came the deliberation. How did the story end? I paced. I ate and sipped some water and did what I needed to do to mitigate the worst effects of my previous night’s excesses. Then, at last, the image came to me: the thing responsible for the horror of that story birthed itself as I contemplated my pounding headache. I won’t say more than that about the end – as I hate spoilers – but with those two points locked, I knew the trajectory of my story and the real work could begin.


2) Note Taking

          Now comes the data dump. I jot everything down: every thought I have on the story, any lines of dialogue rattling around in my head, and scenes that I want to play out, etc. I write down anything and everything related to that story that is even remotely being considered. This usually provides hints at what is to come. The first inklings of my characters, my setting, my themes, all bubble up in this process. Of course at this stage, they are a jumbled mess, a mass of word vomit, and still need to be sorted out. The ideas need to be rewritten in a structure that makes sense.


3) Logline

          If I have drafted out enough details, I should be able to pump out a 1-2 sentence logline around which I will base the remainder of my work. This may get altered later, after I actually write the story, but having this up front gives me a guide to help craft everything that follows. Still, loglines are an art in and of themselves. Back in 2015 I entered numerous screenwriting contests, seeking exposure for my current scripts. During that process my werewolf pilot, The Cage, took honorable mention in the appropriately named Screenplay Festival. After that placement I received some advice on crafting loglines, which I have been using ever since. It boiled down to covering the following elements:

  • Hero
  • Hero’s Flaw
  • Opponent
  • Ally
  • Life-Changing Event
  • Hero’s Battle

          Now every time I’m crafting loglines, I keep this in mind. It allows me to ground the story in my protagonist, the prevailing forces helping and hindering that protagonist, his or her character flaw that needs to be overcome (seeking to move beyond just plot points, but focusing on three-dimensional characters), the event that sets everything in motion, and the battle that the protagonist must fight (which is usually more than just a plot, but something core to that character). Here’s an example from The Cage with the elements above highlighted:


The Cage – One Hour Drama – Supernatural

          A struggling father (hero) riddled with self-doubt (flaw) crosses paths with a local sheriff (ally) as a pack of werewolves(opponent) wreak havoc (life-changing event) in a small Minnesota town and is forced to find strength and faith within himself if he is going to survive for his family (battle).


          It’s not a perfect logline, and I’m always adjusting, but it’s a good model for capturing all of those details in a succinct way. Of course, rigidity to any writing advice can be detrimental, so I allow for wiggle room if a logline flows better without strict adherence to these steps. An example of a more loose logline can be seen with Last Call.


Last Call – Short Story – Horror

          Teagan (hero), a foul-mouthed, rock enthusiast (flaw – not really), and her boyfriend (ally) find themselves hungover, struggling to remember the night before, and unable to reach their friends (life-changing event). But as flashes of the previous evening bubble to the surface, Teagan begins to suspect that something may be very, very wrong.


          As you can see, I am missing the opponent and the battle on this one, which I have eschewed in favor of a little mystery that hints at the danger. For this story that seemed a better path, avoiding spoilers. I also provided a character trait more than a flaw for the main character. These traits define her perspective in the story, but I don’t find them to be an inherent issue needing to be overcome. Were this for a novel or longer work of fiction, I likely would have set out establishing a longer character arc in my notes and thus called out a flaw in the logline. As is, I feel it does its job.


3) Setting

          This step, and steps 4, 5, and 6, are highly integrated for me, usually being developed simultaneously. It is key to me that the setting reflects the same themes that play into the protagonist’s emotional arc and that it fits within the tone & style (typically determined by theme). So as I draft out setting, I contemplate a place that emotionally resonates with a theme, which is critical to the protagonist’s journey, and matches the tone being established.

          For this, let’s look to a previous pilot that I drafted – Forgotten. In this script my lead is a former detective with retrograde amnesia (Character). I’m exploring perspective, how our memory shapes our perspective and defines us, and how those things that have been forgotten impact our lives and alter that perception (Themes). I knew that I wanted high contrast with extreme brights and darks and a scorched feel steeped in grit, tension, and mystery, and all grounded in a realistic world with some light comedy (Tone & Style). Setting wise, the tone & style told me I needed to be in the desert, with a past set in large city (playing on extreme contrasts and the scorched and gritty elements). Furthermore, thematically I needed to deal with the idea of the forgotten, and thus chose to set the story around Salton Sea, in a town once planned to be the next big resort city, but whose path shifted as the salinity rose causing mass die-offs and leaving much of the development a ghost town. For a big city, the logical leap to match geographically with Salton Sea was Los Angeles. This duality of the Salton Sea and Los Angeles, of the desert and the big city, of a city that became forgotten and a protagonist suffering from amnesia, all provided for me the resonance I find critical in setting a story.


4) Themes

          For this element I look for items that resonate with my notes around the lead characters. What journey am I exploring? What emotional arcs do I wish to follow with each? What is the age group of my characters? Matching with this, I look at tone & style. Is this a light-hearted show? If so that is going to impact the style of themes I explore. Is a dark story aimed at mature readers? If so, again my themes will shift. We’ll stick with Forgotten to help see this out, as steps 3-6 are heavily integrated as I mentioned.

          In Forgotten I knew that my lead character had retrograde amnesia. This idea was central to the whole concept of the show. I also knew that I wanted a gritty tone with extreme contrasts and that I would be setting the story between Los Angeles and the Salton Sea. With these elements in mind it was easy for me to work out the necessary themes. This was a series about the forgotten (the title came later). I knew that I would be looking at cultures, histories, and people that have been left behind. The show needed to tell the stories of cities that have been forgotten, memories that have been lost, and mysteries that went unsolved. It would be about the world that we choose not to see, a seedy underbelly hidden in the middle of nowhere, and it would play with our sense of perception. Can the past be trusted, or even our memories? The viewer would be forced to question the perspective with which they are presented to weed out truth from biased viewpoints and in so doing the story could explore themes of the forgotten and hidden, the gaps of our own memories and how our perception of a past partially forgotten shapes our culture and our individual selves.


5) Tone & Style

          This element often pulls most strongly from the characters I have chosen to explore, though I perform a balancing act to make sure it matches as well with the themes and setting. Are my characters young or are they mature adults? This could make the difference between a light coming of age angle, or a dark and seedy tone. What about themes? What do I have in mind? If this is a TV series that could impact the network upon which I can air the show, which itself has some mandates on tone & style. If this is a book or a short story, what genre am I exploring. Much like a network that can have its own ramifications on tone. So now, back to Forgotten.

          My lead was a former detective with amnesia, so I already knew that this was a show that could deal with crime, murder, and mystery. The amnesia element had already helped me form ideas around exploring themes of the forgotten and memory and how this defines our perception of the world. Those themes meant I wanted a slower, thoughtful take on the story, and with the crime element, I knew I could take this dark. This made me think to aim for a FX-like cable network, or, with some loosening of the grit, shaping it for a USA style network. At the same time, if the idea of the forgotten was so central, than genre here became key. It needed to reflect on this concept of people, towns, and cultures that had been forgotten, which made me think to explore both the western and film noir. Now with my character age under consideration, a knowledge of my networks and genres, and a decent grasp on the slow and darker tones of my themes, I decided on a high contrast style of lights and darks (noir) with a scorched look (Western) and a tone steeped in grit (Western/FX), tension, and mystery (Detective show), all grounded in a realistic approach to the world with untrustworthy perspectives (themes) and some light comedy (USA network).


6) Central Characters

          Admittedly by this point so many ideas around my protagonist have been feeding into my themes, my tone, and my setting, that character has really become this ever evolving concept, birthing new ideas, then reabsorbing those ideas to shift and establish new takes on overall characters, which itself is now feeding back into those same three elements, until I have revisited this section over and over again. This is why it is the last of my four highly interconnected world-building elements. Until the previous three have taken final form, I can’t fully flesh this one out. Once that’s done, however, the dominoes usually fall into place pretty quickly.

          With Forgotten I always knew my protagonist was a former detective. But by the time I finalized steps 3-4, I also knew it was a show about contrasts. So my lead needed to fall. He needed to be on parole, which meant I had to have a parole officer. She quickly became my co-lead. I wanted to explore the Western, I wanted to examine other cultures, and I deeply value diversity in my stories, so I chose for the female lead and many of the characters to be Native American. Also due to the parole, I had to find a new job for my lead, which meant exploring his new town and peppering in local characters that helped define that setting and with the noir aspects to the story politics had to be involved. From these two strains, I evolved the co-lead’s brother, a shady politician and part of her own dark past, and the protagonist’s boss, an optimistic small town mayor firmly believing in second chances (for his town and for our lead). Crime would feature heavily, so I also needed a local sheriff. As a noir and a show about memory, this series had to delve into our lead’s past, which meant populating the Los Angeles portion of his life. As a detective he needed a partner that acted as his foil, other officers at the station, and a grounding figure, his fiance, who is no longer in the picture in the present, leaving him unmoored. We also needed a bridge character, someone tied both to past and present, someone to aid our protagonist but also be in constant friction with him. This birthed his ex-brother-in-law, who became a third lead, and established a central love-hate bromance into the series concept.


7) Plot/Story

          After I have laid out all of these concepts, I develop the story. How am I going to get from that beginning to that end grounded in this setting, exploring these themes, maintaining this tone, and building that progression from a place of character with the cast that I have created? Bear in mind this is not an outline, but broad strokes direction of the story. If it is a TV series I’m likely looking at some major act outs for the pilot, then logline level descriptions for the first six to ten episodes, along with end points for the first few seasons and the series. If this is a short story, I bare bones it with major elements that the characters are going to hit. Finally if I’m working on a novel, then I think about chapters. Here I look at which characters are point of view characters and determine a balance of pacing out chapters between each character. From there I think of each character’s arc, it’s beginning, it’s end, along with a few major beats along the way. Typically with a novel, I like to start with an idea of ten character beats, each defining a chapter for that character (more if my cast is smaller). Based on this information I draft out one to three paragraphs summarizing the story.


8) Finalizing

          Now, if I have been constructing this all in one document, I have a mini-bible for my story, or a pitch one to three page pitch document for a series. I make sure it is clearly articulated by section, I proof it thoroughly, I sit on it for a few nights, then I go back and re-examine it. Over the course of those few nights or a week, I can sculpt this down to its core, make sure all elements are aligned and proofed, and come up with a reasonable document that is the foundation for every element of the story moving forward.


That’s a Wrap

          And, well, that’s my world-building process. This is how I go from the inkling of an idea to the basis of my stories. But as mentioned its not an outline. So, before I put word to actual story page, I still have to hit the outlining process. That, however, is a post for another day.

          Hopefully this can prove helpful to any of you out there looking for tips on how to sculpt your ideas and mold them into something more concrete. That being said, I would reiterate that holding to any advice rigidly is a recipe for disaster. This is just one approach, one that is the basis for my work, but one to which even I won’t adhere every time. You have to be malleable, but you also have to have a framework from which to deviate. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

          Anyway, Happy Writing All!


In Memoriam: Part 2

© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo

By Christopher Opyr

          Breaching the gap in the fence, Kyle stood, brushing himself off. As he did, he noticed Anita hefting up a large black physician’s bag. It bore an old, split handle design, and she sealed it up at the center as she lifted it. For a moment he caught a glimpse of the contents: vials, candles, and a hint of decay wafting up from the interior. And movement? The bag seemed to writhe as if alive.

          “Didn’t your momma ever teach you not to stare?”

          “Yes, Ma’am.” Kyle glanced away scanning over the grounds of the cemetery. Row after row of tombstones spread out before him. Here in the northern corner they were older, smoothed and worn by age, if not broken and savaged by teenage stupidity. His daughter’s grave wouldn’t be far. His family had a plot set aside nearby. Generations of Inghams had rotted in this soil. It was family tradition, after all.

          And now his daughter had been confined under that soil as well. The thought sickened him, and that, mixed with the lingering image of the leather thrashing of its own accord, and he decided that he needed that third cigarette after all. Kyle flipped open the pack. The cigarettes had shifted, slanting to fill the void. He carefully straightened them, as if rearranging crayons in a Crayola box, then, satisfied, slipped out the third from the left on the top.

          “Not feeling squeamish, are you?”

          “Neither of us is backing out, now,” he said, lighting the cigarette and taking a good puff.

          “Fine.” Anita hoisted herself straight as she could and shuffled forward. “Let’s get a move on, then.”

          He exhaled a long stream of smoke, watching after Anita as she hobbled off among the graves. One more puff, one more brief moment of calm, and then he followed after her.


***

          After that night outside the fraudulent cesspool with the neon Psychic sign, after Anita Shaw had held Kyle and calmed him soothing him ever so slightly for perhaps the first time since Charlotte had died, after that meeting Kyle had asked around about Anita. He’d returned to previous haunts, though few with whom she had spoken remained. Those that knew of her simply described her as a bitter skeptic, telling Kyle that she sought to turn people away from the occult, urging them to grieve and move on with their lives. What right did she have to tell them how to grieve? Why grieve at all if you could reach out beyond the curtain of death and still commune with those you loved? What if there was still hope? These individuals cursed Anita, though most did not know her name.

          At first, Kyle found himself agreeing with this lot. He felt ashamed that he had allowed Anita to soothe his pain, even if only for a moment. His daughter was still dead and he was still to blame. He had looked away, he had lost sight of her, and in that moment he had also lost her forever. He’d been driven mad by the indecency of it, not just by the atrocity of her death, but also by the disorder of it.

          Father before daughter. Not the other way. The world had an order to follow, as he had told himself many times.

          As his anger mounted, it muddled forming a thick and righteous slop of grief and madness, and of anger and denial, until he found himself ready to burst. The seances and tarot readers, the fortune tellers and the psychics, they brought no peace. Their predictions and communions now rang hollow and Anita was to blame.

          The search took some effort, but eventually he had tracked down an acquaintance from a seance he had attended shortly after his divorce – a Wilton Hendricks. Wilton had lost his husband and had attended hoping for one last conversation with his beloved. The medium that led the affair, however, had offered only vague words, hollow and easily interpreted in any direction desired. She had been a charlatan. Everyone attending knew it, even if they did not want to believe it. Anita had found Wilton that night, waiting outside the storefront for any that needed her.

          Afterwards Wilton had stopped searching for his husband. When pressed on Anita, he told Kyle that she was a retired grief counselor, a good and lonely samaritan just looking to help those in need in a way that only she could. She had helped Wilton accept his husband’s death and to move on with his life. She had warned him against charlatans and had peeled back the curtain revealing the tricks of the trade.

          A few cigarettes into the conversation and Kyle had gleaned the information that he really needed. He had learned where to find her. After that first encounter, Wilton had met frequently with Anita behind a cleaners off New Bern Avenue. There was a room in the back where she held informal group sessions. Her husband had run the cleaners prior to his death and she still owned it though she stayed out of the business for the most part. Still ownership granted her the room and privacy to hold her sessions.

          It took Kyle two weeks to work up the nerve to confront her. Then finally he had found himself standing outside the cleaners, watching as a late night session ended and one after the other Anita’s “patients” trickled out into the parking lot. He had waited until only one car remained, then ran up to the door, his face concealed by the same hoodie he had been wearing the day of Charlotte’s abduction. He tapped on the glass.

          A small hamster of a dog bounded towards the door yapping at the stranger. Then slowly Anita shuffled up behind him.

          “Shut your trap, Jonesy,” she shouted, then cracked the door open, pushing Jonesy back with her foot.

          “Yes?”

          Kyle looked her in the eyes and immediately he could see the flash of recognition as she stared back at him.

          “I’m afraid you missed the meeting. Every Thursday at 7.”

          She had made to shut the door, but Kyle blocked it, slipping his arm in at the last moment.

          “I just want to talk, Ma’am.”

          Anita had scoffed. “That’s the point of the meetings. 7pm. Thursdays.”

          “No. Just you. You and I.”

          Anita had eyed him up and down, her corgi barking incessantly. At last she turned away from Kyle, stooping over and grabbing a tennis ball from the floor. She threw it towards the back of the therapy room, which looked itself like little more than a large living room decades out of style with a few too many couches and doilies. Jonesy dashed off after his prize, no longer caring about the stranger at the door. Anita straightened up and, one hand on her back, made her way to the nearest couch.

          Kyle waited in the doorway, inching it open and now massaging his palms, trying to balance out the pressure from where he had caught the door with one hand. The other hand lacked balance. He stood there, kneading his palms, not knowing how to proceed.

          “Well, come in. It’s already after nine. I don’t have all night.”

          Kyle had stepped inside ready to confront Anita, and yet finding instead that his anger had washed away. Entering into the therapy room he noticed small runes drawn on the walls, mixed and hidden among family portraits, blue glass decor, and candy trays.

          “Who are you?” Kyle had asked.

          “Anita Shaw. We’ve been over this.” She motioned for Kyle to sit.

          Instead Kyle walked to the nearest rune trying to make sense of it.

          “But I thought you didn’t believe in all of this.”

          “When you assume, you make an ass out of yourself.”

          “That’s not the phrase.”

          “It is when you make assumptions in my place of business.”

          Kyle turned towards her, studying her aged face and her balding head. Her usual shawl had been draped over the back of a nearby recliner. She set there, defiant and somehow noble – an unbreakable woman.

          “But if you believe,” he asked, “then why do you turn us away before we find answers?”

          “Answers?” She laugh-snorted. “Honey, you ain’t ever gonna find answers in a place like you’ve been searching. All the shiny lights and giant signs might as well scream con artist.”

          “But…” Kyle started.

          “Look,” she said, motioning once more for him to sit. This time he did. “Those who believe, those of us who know there’s more, we also know what’s good for us. Death is a not a barrier to be crossed, no matter how much you may want to fling those gates open. Nothing good can come of that path.”


***

          “Are you sure?” Kyle asked.

          “Yes. We have to move fast. It’s nearly midnight.”

          David looked down at the tiny grave marker at his feet. It had a smooth marble finish, with roughly textured edges and would have seemed quite normal if not for the brightly colored cartoon image of a winged Peppa Pig splashing in a puddle. The edges of the marker shaped around the contours of the character, giving it an off balance feel that always set Kyle’s nerves on edge.

          He had thought that the cartoon image was a bit much, but Charlotte had loved Peppa, and she’d loved the rain, and splashing in the puddles. He could hear her laughing running from one puddle to the next jumping in her oversized galoshes through the driveway. Behind him Jill shouted for the two of them to come in, but Charlotte was having so much fun. Jill had been right to add the embellishment. Looking at it now Kyle couldn’t hold back the tears. It perfectly embodied their daughter.

          Below the cartoon image the marker read:


In loving memory of
Charlotte Rose Ingham
Jan. 6, 1996
Oct. 20, 1997
Our Precious Daughter
May She Play Forever Among The Angels


          “Now!” Anita shouted. “This ain’t no time for crying. We have to hurry.”

          She was right. Kyle glanced away from his daughter’s marker. He couldn’t look at it a second more, not and do what he must. Cheeks still wet, he turned his gaze away, hoisted up the shovel, and plunged it into the earth.




Back to Part 1

On to Part 3

November 2016 Status Update

By Chris Hutton

          The second of my monthly status updates…


THEN:

          Last month I had entered into the thick of managing my online presence.

    I had:

  • Created professional social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Created a professional channel for Arcas on Facebook
  • Established a blog to provide content to my audience (You’re reading it)
  • Joined the Scriggler writing community
  • Completed a horror short story – Seeing is Believing
  • Drafted three blogs posts on writing
    I was in the middle of:

  • Establishing my online brand with audiences of:
    • 127 Facebook followers
    • 17 Arcas Facebook followers
    • 487 Twitter followers
    • 106 Instagram followers
    • 3 Scriggler followers
  • Building my presence on the Scriggler writing community with:
    • One Scriggler story post
    • Admittance to one club
    • 505 persons having read my work on the platflorm
    • Achieving a #12 ranking on the story chart for September
  • Building my blog audience, which had:
    • Been viewed by 133 unique users
    • Had 492 pageviews
  • Working on my writing with:
    • Ten pages complete on my next comic book idea
    • Two parts of a new science fiction short story complete
    • Forward movement on my partnership contract
    • Around 35 pages of the Arcas graphic novel completed by illustrator and collaborator, JC Thomas
  • And I intended to:
    • Double my social media audiences
    • Finalize my partnership contract
    • Finish the Inflow science-fiction short story
    • Draft a new horror story
    • Begin another serialized story
    • Resume work on my iZombie Spec


NOW:

          So how’d things go? Well, let’s see where I’m at completion-wise first. Since my last update I:

          So overall, I finished the two stories that I intended to finish, expanded my toolset for social media management, wrote two new blog posts, and expanded my presence on Scriggler. However, I failed to resume work on my spec script and did not finalize my partnership contract. As for the other items on which I intended to work…


PROGRESS:

          …well let’s jump into that.

Metrics for my author’s platform:

Facebook

  • My official page held roughly steady with a gain of 3 followers for an audience of 130
  • My Arcas page also held steady with no gain for a total audience of 17 persons

Twitter

  • Gained 546 followers for a total audience of 1033 followers

Instagram

  • Gained 22 followers for an audience of 129

Scriggler Profile

  • Gained 2 followers (up to 5 now)
  • Had stories admitted to 2 more clubs, spreading my presence across 3 clubs
  • Seeing is Believing has now been viewed by 714 persons, climbing to #9 on the Story charts for September
  • Inflow has now been viewed by 485 persons, climbing to #4 on the Story charts for October
  • Last Call has now been viewed by 223 persons (place on November charts unknown)

My blog

  • Has been visited by 293 unique users
  • Has had 857 pageviews

          As far as social goes, I hit my goals with my twitter, but fell short on all other platforms. As twitter was my focus for October, I’m counting this as a win.


My Writing:

  • Finished part one in an original horror short story, In Memoriam
  • Am moving forward with my partnership contract
  • Am pushing forward with Arcas promotion, releasing samples via my blog:

          That being said, I met my goals for writing progress beginning another serialized story, and am continuing progress on my contract and my first graphic novel.


NEXT STEPS:

          So where do I go from here?

          I’m going to continue my twitter focus and aim to grow the audience of my author’s platform, while pushing out new original content for my blog, and somehow finding time to continue work on my non-blog posted writing.

          In total, I aim to:

  • Increase my twitter audience by at least 50%, but will push to double it
  • Increase my Facebook and Instagram audiences by 50% each
  • Double my Scriggler audience
  • Find ways to increase audience engagement on my blog
  • Finish writing In Memoriam
  • Draft at least one new short story from scratch
  • Begin another short story
  • Write at least 3 new blog posts on writing
  • Resume work on my iZombie Spec
  • Resume work on my next graphic novel script
  • Resume work on my first horror novel
  • Begin compiling my horror short stories into a potential collection

          Despite not meeting all of my goals last month, I’m feeling ambitious once again and have definitely increased my goals for the month ahead. This ought to be fun.


Conclusion:

          So another month done, and my list-crazed mind has pumped out one more of these insanely bulleted updates. Eek. If you’ve read this far, well I guess you’re really interested in what I’m up to with my writing. Thanks. If not, well, you’ll never see this line anyway, so let’s just stop there.


          Happy Writing, All!


P.S. – I may be opening up a terrible can of worms here (or no can at all if this gets nothing bug crickets), but if you have any thoughts on what you would be interested in reading about for new blog posts, suggestions for methods of engagement that you would like to see integrated into the blog, thoughts on increasing my social media presence, or ideas around types of stories that you would like to see written, please leave me some comments. Thanks, again!

Arcas – Sample 3

© Art by JC Thomas from ARCAS

Below you’ll find the first 5 pages of the upcoming graphic novel Arcas, beautifully illustrated by JC Thomas. These pages correspond to roughly the first half of the script pages from Arcas – Sample 1.

Arcas International Space Station

Arcas page 1, illustrated by JC Thomas

Panning from entry ladder down spacestation corridor into central as laughter can be heard

Arcas Page 2, illustrated by JC Thomas

Pan into dining area across bolted down chairs and into common room

Arcas Page 3, illustrated by JC Thomas

Pan through common area by entertainment viewing corner, workout area, and to a Foosball table

Arcas Page 4, illustrated by JC Thomas

Pan out of common area, into a view room with seats facing screens that show the Jovian system.  Voices over each panel. Voice 1"You Cheat" Voice 2 "You lose poorly" Voice 2 "You're up." Voice 3 "I'm busy" Voice 2 "Too bad. Time for R & R, Gant."

Arcas Page 5, illustrated by JC Thomas


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