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It recently occurred to me that shapeshifters of one kind or another tend to show up in my stories quite a lot. This realization came to me as a bit of a surprise because I’ve never really considered myself particularly enamored with or fascinated by shapeshifter lore.
The shapeshifter in Skin Dancing is something out of a nightmare.
Two women meet in a bar in the boondocks on a sweltering summer night. Each woman revels in the presence of a kindred spirit. They share laughs, stories, and an appreciation for a rare drink. The setup is ordinary but there’s something just a little off-kilter.
The younger woman has no idea what the older one has in store for her.
The night stretches on. The younger woman gets so drunk she can hardly even stand. She’s at the older woman’s mercy. The predatory one prepares to strike but something unexpected happens.
Fate intervenes. The younger woman escapes a fate worse than death.
Lucky her. Right?
Short Story Status: Complete
I’ve touted Firecracker as a godpunk webserial but the truth is I have my own questions about that.
I haven’t quite managed to pin down an exact definition of godpunk. As far as I understand it, godpunk is all about the mythological gods of old existing in the modern world. Now, are there rules attached?
What if I created a brand-new god with a whole new mythology and plopped her down into the modern world?
For all intents and purposes, Cassandra Baron is a god, a deity engineered by ancient aliens. She’s got the awesome powers to prove it too. She roams the earth in search of clues to mending her broken sister. During her search, she encounters the Rath, a powerful wolven race, older than the vampires. She becomes embroiled in a feud between factions. A brutal attack sets the young god on the warpath and she vows to bring the entire race to its knees.
Does a story like that still count as godpunk?
I suppose it would have been simpler to make her some ancient Egyptian or African deity, then I would have known for sure but that would have been a whole other story.
Webserial Status: Ongoing
When I set out to write my first (and possibly only) horror story, one thing immediately came to mind. It was that episode of the X-Files in which Mulder and Scully encounter that red-eyed creature that might have been one of the Conquistadors who came to Florida with Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth. My mind drifted back to the last scene of that episode where Scully exits her hotel room and the last thing you see is that red-eyed creature watching her from under the bed.
Tightrope Cat isn’t so much an attempt to recreate that moment as it is an endeavor to capture the feeling that delightfully horrifying scene evoked.
I’m not exactly sure what else inspired this story. There are some tribal elements and in the story but while the protagonist suggests that her experience might be steeped in African lore, that isn’t something I know for certain. It’s a purely made up story, concocted from the flotsam and jetsam of my memories and many a half-baked notion.
Tightrope Cat aims to entertain and quietly horrify. I can’t say for certain that it achieves this goal but at the very least, I can confess that among my older works, it’s a definite favorite.
Read Tightrope Cat online at SpecFics.
Short Story Status: Complete
Imagine a woman who can walk across realms, a transdimensional nomad, if you will.
She’s taken up residence on a non-magical planet called Earth. She, a wayfarer, lives there in peace until unknown enemies track her down and leave her near dead.
Her estranged husband arrives soon after, bringing devastating news. Afterward, the wayfarer sets off across worlds to track down the source of the attack with the wizard, a witch, and the doppelganger of her dead son in tow.
Along the way, a twisted sorcerer’s dire warning leads to run-ins with over-civilized vampires, desperate demi-dragons, and a demented god.
The wayfarer’s universe begins and ends with two simple truths:
Blood binds. She knows this because she is bound.
Blood finds blood. It never fails. She knows this.
Webserial Status: Ongoing
Deep in the country, the grown-ups have little else to do at night but play dominoes and tell rum-soaked stories by the firelight outside Miss Betsy’s little shack of a grocery shop. Bobo Dread and five other red-eyed farmers are gathered around the table set up outside, laughing and arguing jokingly with spliffs hanging out the sides of their mouths. They each take turns slamming the little white bricks down onto the table top.
The smell of ganja fills the air. Draw too close and the smoke will make you cough and your eyes sting and turn red at the rims. Before you can worry about your asthma acting up again, Paulie beckons to you from behind Miss Betsy’s shop. Paulie’s a local and one year older than you. Nineteen and brave and athletic, Paulie is everything you aren’t but he doesn’t seem to mind the differences. He’s been your friend ever since your parents decided to plop down in this Rastafarian village in the middle of bum-freaking nowhere two years ago.
You both drop down low and creep into the shop through the back door. Paulie grabs a bottle of rum and hurries outside beckoning for you to follow. You both sneak off into the wood-line and down the footpath, toward the river. Down by the river, you take turns taking a swig straight from the bottle. The first gulp goes down like acid. You cough. Tears spring forth. Snot plugs up your nose. A slow fire begins to burn in your belly.
Deep in the woods, the voices of the villagers can’t reach you. Pale moonlight shines down through the ghostly treetops. The sound of rushing water melds with the seething song of crickets. Dead leaves and branches make a crunching noise underfoot as you and Paulie make your way to the river’s edge. You both sit on the river bank, content and slightly buzzed from the rum worming its way into your bones. You’re content to listen to Paulie speak in hushed tones.
“Yeah man,” he says. “I think I would like to go to America. Not to live there but just to see what it’s like, you know?”
“I think that’s a great—”
There’s a really loud splash, a little bit down river. You peer into the semi dark, straining to get a look at whatever it was. The crickets have gone silent. There’s no sound save for the leaves fluttering in the breeze and the gurgling of the river water. You know enough about Jamaican ecology to know that there shouldn’t be anything big enough to make that kind of sound in the river.
“What do you think that was?” You ask.
Paulie shrugs. He’s trying to peer into the semi-darkness too and seems uneasy. He stands after a few moments.
“Come on,” he says nervously, “let’s get out of here.”
You hear him but you don’t move from the spot where you’re seated. You can’t. Your eyes are fixed on the water and you’re sitting there frozen in disbelief. A shadow is rising up out of the wet. First the head, then the naked torso of a beautiful woman. She is dark, almost melting away into the darkness of the night. Her black hair is long, twists about her shoulders and back in wet, snaky tendrils. Her eyes are inky and magnetic. She looks right at you and she bares her teeth. Spiky, inhuman teeth.
“Rahtid!” Paulie croaks, lapsing into the local dialect.
Rooted to the ground, you whimper. You want to run but you can’t. The strength has gone out of your body. You can only sit there trembling, the sound of your heart hammering away in your ribcage drowning out the sound of the rushing water.
Paulie drops the rum bottle, grabs you by the shoulders, and yanks you to your feet. He takes your hand and half drags you along as he runs away from the creature coming up out of the river. You struggle to keep up. You can barely catch your breath. You hear the slosh-slosh of wet footsteps behind you. Your heads whips around briefly, but you see nothing there.
You and Paulie arrive at your house.
“Hurry up!” He urges as your trembling fingers fumble with the keys.
The door opens. Paulie ushers you inside and shuts the door firmly. Moments later, there’s a thud against the door. Then nothing. You and Paulie wait in silence. You’re bent down, wheezing and struggling to catch your breath. When you finally catch your breath you look to your friend.
“Shhh!” He hisses.
He unlocks the door and cautiously opens it to look outside. He recoils, slams the door shut, and secures the deadbolt. He’s gone pale and his eyes are wild and scared.
“Rahtid!” He hisses, pacing back and forth in front of the door. “A duppy dat!”
“English, Paulie!” You plead.
He stops pacing long enough to wave a hand at her frantically. “You know! Riva Muma, yeah?”
You’ve heard of Riva Muma, the spirit that haunts the rivers of Jamaica. She lies in wait below the surface, waiting for unsuspecting victims to approach. Then she drags them under and drowns them.
“That’s just a myth!” You splutter.
Besides, who’s ever heard of Riva Muma coming out of the river?
Paulie stops pacing again but before he can set you straight, there’s another thump on the door. You hear that sloshing sound of something wet moving around outside.
You can’t keep the rising panic out of your voice. “What does it want?”
“Only Jah know!” Paulie snorted. “Just don’t open this door, you hear?”
There’s another thump on the door. Then another. Then another. Each thump is louder and more forceful than the one before.
Your voice dissolves into a panicked whimper. “Paulie, what do we do?”
— To Be Continued (By Someone Else)
This piece was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s “Scary Story” Flash Fiction Challenge.
*Riva Muma (River Mumma) is a mermaid spirit from Jamaican folklore.