A short story published in Cinnabar Moth Literary Collections – the Summer 2023 Pride issue. Cinnabar Moth Publishing will also be releasing my first Science Fiction novel, “Beyond Tomorrow’s Sun” in December 2024, as well as a few more short stories in the lit zine between now and then.
Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 2022
My short story “Fitting In” was published by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. This month it received an Honorable Mention in the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 2022. That’s top 12 out of over 2400 entries.
Judges comments and link to story and a new bio are here:
A piece of flash fiction published by Drunk Monkeys – written a long time ago but seems quite relevant during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
WordPress doesn’t like the Drunk Monkeys URL so I can’t embed it. A simple link will have to do.
[My third essay for The Dillydoun Review, in which I make the case that writing is the journey and publication is the (first) destination.]
Writing is the First Step
So you want to be a writer, and the starting point seems obvious, write something! Therein lies the problem. Writing, creating, storytelling, that is the beginning of the journey, not the destination. The next step is getting published, and as hard as producing good work can be, getting it in front of readers (other than friends and family) can be the most difficult step to take.
Let’s say you’ve done the work, you’ve refined your novel, you’ve even got objective feedback and some editorial guidance. Now what? Find an agent or a publisher or go the self-publish route? There’s a lot to unpack related to those decisions and processes, so I’m going to save that for my next essay.
In this essay I’m going to focus on the business of getting your short work published digitally, in print, or both. Because you can go big and swing for the fences with your first novel if that works for you, but there are rewards to be reaped when you go small and submit your short stories, creative non-fiction and essays for publication.
A quick search of the internet will turn up thousands of places to submit your work, including literary journals (online and print), writing contests, publishers (particularly anthologies), and several blogging/self-publishing platforms (e.g., Medium). The latter of these offer an opportunity to build and monetize an audience in a ways that didn’t exist before the internet.
Before I dive into the more traditional offerings from this short list, I want to caution new righters. If you choose to post your work on a blog (even your own), or on sites like Medium or Wattpad, be aware that the overwhelming majority of literary journals, writing contests, and publishers consider anything published to any digital platform to be previously published work. This means either they will not consider the work for their platform/publication our it will be treated as a reprint, which at a minimum means any pay rate for the work will be lower than that for previously unpublished work.
I have a WordPress site and I publish almost nothing there. I post links to my published work, which helps both my site and the publishing website. Right now my site generates about 2000 page views per day, which means several hundred people every day have the potential to discover new platforms where my work exists. Is it breaking any records? No, but if a literary journal publishes your work it’s in everyone’s best interest if you direct readers to that journal. The goal, as a new writer, is to get published and connect with readers. I recommend that you consider yourself in a symbiotic relationship with any publisher that gives your work a platform.
With all that said, let’s talk about my three favorite places to submit work, and why.
First and foremost, I love literary journals. I said there were thousands, but this is an understatement. There are online and print journals to match any and every taste and genre. Some are run by large well-funded teams affiliated with a university, others are side projects by young writers, some still in high school, and still others are the result of dedicated writers and editors who are passionate about the written word and give their heart and soul (as well as time and money) to an effort that might never generate revenue.
One of the great things about submitting your work to a journal, whether online, print, or both, is that quite often you will receive editorial feedback on your submission. You may pay a reading fee to get that feedback, but as I said in my previous essay, this is a legitimate and useful tradeoff, a win-win situation.
Keep in mind that most literary journals have limited resources and it takes time for submissions to go through the review process. Patience when submitting your work isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. If you’re not comfortable waiting, perhaps months, to find out if your work has been accepted, then you’re a good candidate for additional fees. In other words, if you want an expedited response, there are quite a few journals that will give you one for a price. To me this is fair, but keep in mind you are likely one of many writers who have submitted and paid a fee for a fast turnaround. The fee guarantees nothing beyond the response time – your odds of acceptance don’t go up, and might even go down due to the speed of the reply. Spend your money wisely.
It’s a good idea to have multiple active submissions at any given moment, even if you’ve only produced one piece of work you feel is ready for submission. I personally do not like simultaneous submissions (submission of the same work to multiple journals). Yes, it is a numbers game to some extent and you need to write, submit, repeat. But as good as it feels to get a “yes” from one journal, if you’ve submitted to multiple journals you’ll have to withdraw your work from consideration from all of them. This is not fun, and while most journals accept work that has been submitted elsewhere, having a piece of work withdrawn is no fun for them either.
My strategy: write, write, and write some more. When I’m not writing, I’m editing. When I think a piece is ready, I find a match (if I haven’t already) and submit. Then move on. Once you submit, it’s out of your hands so you might as well start something new.
Because you never know when an opportunity is going to pop up, a call for submissions or a contest, that is a good match for your work.
Writing contests are second on my list of favorite places to submit my work. Second because they tend to have a long run-up before even a short list is announced. I submitted two stories to a competition and by the time the winners were announced I had revised both stories several times and they were accepted for publication at two different journals. This is where my simultaneous submission rule breaks down. I’d rather withdraw from a competition if my work is accepted for publication than miss out on a chance to get published. To each their own on this point.
Whether you win a competition, make the short list, or are rejected outright, there’s a lot of value in the process for new writers. At the least, you’ll see where you stand against other writers by reading the work of those who place in the competition. In some cases, your submission will garner critical feedback. Such a competition may have a higher entry fee, but in many cases it’s worth it. Just be clear on the vetting and feedback process before you pay your entry fees. As with anything, not every competition is worth the price. Of course, there’s always the chance your work will win the top prize. If this happens, make sure you shout it from the highest mountain top because you deserve the recognition, as does the competition. For lists of sites that can guide you to excellent writing competitions, check out the links in my first essay in this series.
Finally, let’s talk about publishers. In this case I’m referring to book publishers who also publish anthologies of short work. An example of this would be Ab Terra, the sci-fi imprint of Brain Mill Press. While Ab Terra’s focus is on publishing novels, they also produce an annual sci-fi anthology. As with most publishers, submissions for these publications are usually open for a brief time once per year (more often for more frequently published anthologies). This is where preparation and patience are critical. Make sure your work is ready because there are no do-overs, and be certain you are a good fit for the publication because it could be months before you learn whether or not your work is accepted.
The beauty of submitting your work to a publisher for an anthology like this is that the publication will be available in print, and if your piece is accepted, there’s nothing quite like holding a book and opening it to the page where your short story or essay lives. I just ordered two copies of the “Queer as Hell” anthology from Haunted MTL to give away because I honestly can’t wait to crack open the cover and see my story in print. This may not be special to everyone, but to me it’s the first time one of my short stories will appear in print, and in the end, getting published is, for me, the point. Getting published in a print anthology? That’s icing on the cake, and who doesn’t love a little icing now and again?
Just remember, like I said, it is a numbers game. If your work is solid and you know it’s ready, submit it and get back to writing. The more your write, the more you can submit, and in so doing, shift the odds a little more in your favor. Yes, you’ll have to deal with more rejection, but if you’re not ready for rejection, you’re not ready to submit.
But if you’re truly ready, rejection will only make you stronger. Keep writing, keep reading, forge on. You got this.
TIP: If you’re submitting your work, you need a third-person bio. If you don’t know what that is, or how to write one, check out this great set of tips from the folks at Coverfly. (https://www.coverfly.com/5-tips-for-crafting-your-perfect-writer-bio/) Note that these tips are geared toward screenwriters, but they are still useful in helping any writer hone their “pitch.”
A bit of fiction published by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. This goes to a dark place, it is not for the faint of heart. If you can make it through to the end, you’ll see that the story is really about finding – and owning – your truth, no matter the cost. Because the lies will eat you alive.
[My fourth and final essay for The Dillydoun Review. A couple of notes – since I wrote this I have become a member of both the SFWA and the Author’s Guild, and my first traditionally published novel “Beyond Tomorrow’s Sun” will be published by Cinnabar Moth Publishing in December 2024]
In my previous essay I said that the next step, after writing something, is to get published. Following that same line, the next step after publication is to get paid. Of course, lots of people write for the sheer joy of writing and are satisfied for their work to be published without ever getting paid.
I do not fall into that category.
I want to do this full time for the rest of my life and to make that work, I need to earn a living at writing. Additionally, some of the best writers’ associations, like the SFWA – Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – require members to be published in paying markets that meet specific criteria.
After two years, I’m happy to report that this year I managed to turn a small profit. About enough to pay my electric bill for one month, but a profit all the same. That income was small because it was stacked against the losses incurred with my first book.
It may seem strange to think of writing that way, profit and loss, but it’s essential for me because I self-published that first book, and there’s a ton of cost associated with such an effort.
Of course, I’ve said it before – I made every mistake a new author can make in the self-publishing game, and invented a few new ones. Mistakes cost extra, like sides at a homestyle diner.
There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing and there are a lot of people making very good money at it. But for every one of them there are thousands who never earn a penny from their self-published work.
This may be changing as platforms like Medium and Wattpad offer writers new ways to monetize their writing. For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to focus on a few of the ins and outs of self-publishing novels as compared to traditional publishing, and leave these newer platforms out of the discussion.
Experienced readers can spot most self-published books in an instant, first from the cover, then the layout and font, and of course there’s always the dreaded typos. Enough of those and your novel will look more like alphabet soup than a polished work of art.
Yes, I made all of those mistakes. I created a hideous cover using stock images, chose a terrible font, failed to properly align my pages and paragraphs, and filled every chapter with the worst of amateurish writing (including multiple typos in every chapter).
In the end, for me, that was OK.
It was my first go at a novel and I was in fact an amateur. I got over the embarrassment because after 20 years in the entertainment and media business, I’ve got thick skin that protects me even from my own self-inflicted barbs. Thankfully I had not made any effort to market the book at that point.
Before I go any further, let’s take a moment to set the self-publishing stage.
Amazon is the most obvious behemoth in the industry, but it’s not the only one, especially if we’re talking e-books. The digital marketplace for novels is enormous and multifaceted, with Apple, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Kobo, and others all getting in on the game. This is not an exhaustive list, but its enough for now.
On the print side, print-on-demand (POD) continues to evolve and grow. Many people still love a bound copy of a book, myself included – I’m a former bookstore owner after all. But the convenience of loading up a lightweight device with a store’s worth of books is hard to beat.
If you’ve written a novel and have decided on self-publishing, like it or not you’re now a player on this stage. If you’re like me, you’re somewhere back in the rigging, or lost in the curtains, nowhere near the spotlight. Gotta start someplace, but before you take the plunge here are some things I learned along the way.
First, publishing your book does not equal selling your book. You need to package that book to look as much like traditionally published books as possible, choose the right platform and format, hire the right editorial services, if you can afford them, and get your marketing game working, including social media.
Quick note: as a good friend and fellow writer once told me, Twitter isn’t for sales, it’s for snark. Your mileage may vary, but I do believe he’s right about the first part of that statement. Use Twitter to build a following and make connections, but don’t expect it to deliver book sales.
When I received the box containing printed copies of my first book, the cover art was like syrup of ipecac for the eyes. Yes, it was that bad. Then I started reading and it got worse. The saving grace is that no reader perusing a shelf would have picked up the book and started reading in the first place.
If you’re going to self-publish, do yourself a favor and get a professionally designed cover, or at least take the time to research what a good cover should look like and how to create one. I redesigned mine and while it’s still not great, it will do for now and has garnered a few compliments, so I’ll call that an improvement. Social media is a good place to find talented artists creating amazing book covers. These will set you back at least $500, and the best ones will cost a lot more. However you create your cover, both your e-book and printed book will use it, so make this first impression count.
Now that you have your packaged product, it’s time to decide where to sell it. This is too broad a topic to cover in one essay, but basically if you go with Amazon and you use Amazon’s free ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and place your e-book in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, you’re done, that’s it. You won’t be able to place your book on any other platform without violating Amazon’s terms, and that ISBN will only be searchable via Amazon. You have to decide if this is OK for you, and clearly there are many writers for whom it’s just fine.
For me, it was a mistake that still needs correcting.
I urge you to buy your own ISBN. It’s neither difficult or expensive and I believe it’s more than worth it. ISBN.org is a good place to start.
Because once you’ve done that, a whole world of opportunity opens up. You can publish your book through every e-book and print-on-demand market out there, and you can hire a company to handle that for you. One such company is Draft2Digital. I’m not endorsing them, I am not currently a customer. But as examples go, they’re a good one. They also get a nod of approval from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and their “Best Self-Publishing Services” list.
A service like Draft2Digital can take your finished novel and cover art and publish to multiple e-book and POD markets simultaneously. This particular company does not charge any upfront fees and instead takes a cut of sales. If you go this path, do your homework before making any commitment, but its nice to know this type of service exists, especially one that takes some of the risk, and cost, out of the equation.
This is also true for any editorial services you might purchase. A good editor, like a good agent, is worth their weight in gold. I didn’t bother to ask anyone, much less an editor, to read my book before I published it. Huge mistake. I’m eternally grateful to whatever forces in the universe prompted me to re-read my book before I began marketing it.
That’s the next piece of the puzzle, marketing. It’s not enough to post your book to social media, unless you’re Stephen King and one tweet can reach millions of fans. But social media didn’t build Stephen King’s catalog into a juggernaut. Old-school publishing, and a bunch of scary movies, did that.
As with publishing, there are a lot of companies out there that claim they can market your book to their huge social media following. In my opinion, most of these companies are not worth it. They have no idea who is going to see a book promo on their social feeds, and you have no idea if their numbers are legit or their followers are your target audience. Some may be better than others, but if you’re going to use a marketing service, go back to that ALLi list and make an informed choice. I prefer a service that has highly targeted email campaign capabilities, but you may find success elsewhere.
NOTE: DO NOT PAY for reviews of your book on Amazon or any other market. This is a fast way to get the reviews deleted and your book pulled from the platform. Many companies offer this, and it is true that reviews help drive sales, but any company that charges for reviews puts your hard work at risk by potentially violating the terms of almost every marketplace out there. Don’t waste your money. Instead do book swaps, give-aways, etc, always with the caveat that you seek honest reviews, good or bad. You and your readers deserve honest feedback.
Which leads me to the next part of this process, ongoing marketing. You can’t market your book once and expect sales to continue on forever. You can light a fire with a single match, but if you want it to keep you warm through the long dark night, you need to stoke it every so often. A great way to do this is to build your own email list. If you’re serious about being an author, you should have a website. If you have a website, you can place links to your site and to your email sign-up page in your ebook. There are low-cost and free services like TinyLetter that provide an alternative to full-fledge email marketing tools and services. If you want to keep readers engaged, keep them in the loop via opt-in emails. When your next book comes out, you’ll be able to market directly to consumers who’ve already shown interest in your work. You can’t get much more targeted than that.
Now, if all of that hasn’t scared you away from self-publishing then I say go for it. As for me, I was spending more time on publishing, sales, and marketing than I was spending on writing. It was costing me money on top of the time as well.
But I still don’t have a publishing deal because I haven’t put in the effort to get one. After a few ham-fisted attempts at querying agents I realized two things. First, I didn’t know what a good query letter looked like and second, I wasn’t ready for an agent. What I am ready for is a publisher who accepts unsolicited work from un-agented writers. There are more of these out there than you might think! That’s my focus now. I want go the traditional publishing route with my novels going forward, but through a publisher first. If I can make that happen, then maybe I’ll need an agent later and presumably I’ll be ready for eventually. In other words, if a publisher picks up one of my books, and that book sells, it should make meeting a good agent much easier.
Because a lot of what you have to do to be successful as an author, an agency and/or publisher will do for you. They will be taking on the time, effort, cost and risk associated with bringing a new novel from an unknown author into the world. They’re good at it and that’s why they take a percentage, but it’s also why it’s the more difficult path for new authors. We represent unknown risk, and any business that survives for any length of time does so in part by mitigating risk, and publishing is filled to the rafters with risk.
Whichever path you chose, if you take the time to educate yourself, spend you money wisely, and put in the effort to learn as much as you can about the publishing business, you’ll get where you’re going eventually. When that happens, don’t forget where you came from and the journey you’ve undertaken. There are a lot of successful writers out there and one thing many have in common is a willingness to share what they’ve learned on their own journey. In that sense, we call all be like them, even before we’re one of them.
Best of luck – you got this.
A short story published by Cinnabar Moth Literary Collections – my first-ever paranormal romance. The original was over 7000 words, so cutting it down by 50% was a fun challenge. Cinnabar Moth will also be publishing my debut YA SciFi novel, “Beyond Tomorrow’s Sun” in December 2024. (I have a second story in this edition as well – “Dust and Memories”).
[Originally published on September 22, 2021 in HauntedMTL’s “Queer as Hell” horror anthology as “Transmigration of a Serial Killer.” This is a revised version with a new title that I think reads a little better. This was my first short story in a print anthology. It’s available on Amazon.]
My feet ached and my legs burned like fire. Hanging over the edge of a thousand foot drop really fucked with my senses. I suppose I should explain how I ended up hanging by my wrists so high up. If I’m being honest, it had to do with all the people I killed. They deserved it, but not everyone saw it that way. I don’t give a damn. Everywhere I went, somebody managed to get on my list.
The voices started out as just voices. Then they showed up in my apartment. Thin fuzzy gray things that oozed out of the walls and did this funky dance, all twisty and gray-black foamy puffs of nothing gyrating away in front of me until I sat up and took notice. After that, every time they showed up I knew what they wanted. More people dead.
I fought like hell the first few times, I think. I don’t remember. I know one night, it was morning actually, but still night, I just accepted they owned me. There was no reasoning with them. Then I killed whoever they told me to kill. That’s what they wanted me to do, so I did it.
One day it was a crotchety old man who drove too slow and flipped off everyone who honked at him, including me. Big mistake. Another time, it was this suburban douchebag with his fat ass wrapped in skinny jeans he stole from his gay brother-in-law while they vacationed at their lake house. He couldn’t be bothered to make his kids shut up and settle down at the burger joint. He just let ‘em raise holy hell and drive everybody nuts. Those little turds sealed his fate when one of ‘em crashed into my table and spilled my beer.
Then there was this cute young princess who wouldn’t stop yammering away on their phone in the checkout line at the grocery store, so damn rude. They never held up a line again.
My favorite was the snot-nosed punk from the private school down the street. That dumbass took a job at my neighborhood liquor store and couldn’t be bothered to say ‘thank you’ when I paid for my case of vodka. I taught him some lessons. He reminded me of Tommy, if Tommy had clear skin and a pretty haircut.
It went on like that for years, maybe months. Time wasn’t much to me, just a slow drag from point a to point b with a bunch of shit to do in-between. I think they thought I could get rid of all the rude, mean, nasty, condescending, dismissive, arrogant people in the world. That’s a tall order for one guy. If Tommy hadn’t left he could have helped. Or maybe he would have ended up on the list. Hard to say.
They didn’t like it if I let anyone get away, so I got better at it and eventually the TV was talking about a serial killer, one of the worst ever, but the TV didn’t know it was me, it just knew it was somebody. Every channel had their own name for me, each of them tried corner the market on the story. It was on all the time until I got sick of hearing it.
I killed the TV, problem solved.
Then the cadre started to pay me visits. I knew what they were because they looked like those asshats from the military school the judge sent me to when I was a kid. Jail would have been better, at least there you can hit back. Want to make a horror movie? Follow a 12 year old around a military academy filled with psychopaths and pedophiles for a year, that shit will keep you up at night.
The cadre didn’t ooze out of the walls like the fuzzy gray things and they damn sure didn’t dance. I’d go to sleep and they would show up, all of them together, wearing their black and red regalia with their shiny gold face plates. They looked liked Hell’s Best Marching Band and when I said so they laughed and told me they didn’t have anything to do with the music, that was a different department. I never did see their faces. I could hear them just fine, even through all that metal, which was weird at first but like everything else I got used to it.
They claimed me as their hero, said I had passed all the tests but one. I didn’t know I was taking tests but I was sure happy to learn I’d been passing them. Hadn’t passed a test since college, as far as I knew, not until the cadre showed up and told me I was their star pupil.
I liked college. Drink, smoke dope, have sex, me and Tommy never got tired of it. Guess that’s why we dropped out, or they kicked us out, or maybe we just stopped going, I don’t know. That was a long time ago.
Finding a job was a hell of a reality check. Tommy worked days, I worked nights, we never saw each other. I’m not even sure when he left. I came home after my overnight shift cleaning taxis and he was gone, along with almost everything in the apartment. Could have been a day, could have been a year, who gives a fuck? He was gone.
Cleaning taxis was a shit job, the lost wallets barely made up for the giz and bubblegum people smeared all over the back seat. You wouldn’t believe what people get up to in those cars. It would make your skin crawl, if you had to clean it up. I got used to it.
My grandad finally died and left me a little something. That wheezy old fart never liked me and I don’t know why he left me his money. Guess it was pity, or maybe I was the only one who would sit in a room with him. He stank of cheap cigars and piss and dirty diapers and never opened a window, not even on nice days. Maybe he wanted me to take care of all those cats he kept locked up with him. That was easy, I just left the door open. One more problem solved. I didn’t give a shit they ate his face off, but the EMTs didn’t take it well.
Anyway, I quit that job and focused on the task at hand. Guess that’s why I started passing the tests, all but the last one. I got real busy after that, my list grew like the trash piles in the alley between my building and the burned out warehouse next door.
The last test was the best test, the cadre said, and if I could pass it I could take things to the next level, wherever that was. They told me I’d be happy there, could live like a king or even a god, and I guess that was good enough for me. If I could pass this last one, they told me, I could be rid of their fuzzy gray intermediaries. That sounded nice too.
All the killing was wearing me out, I almost never slept, which is why the cadre showed up whenever I did mange to catch some shuteye. They said they had to strike while the iron was hot, which made sense to me.
We went together up to the roof of my building. I didn’t know where the roof was before then, I thought it was a lot lower. My building must have kept growing after I moved in, which is an odd thing to consider but it must have happened because it took a long time to get there and it was a long way down when I stepped to the edge.
“This is it,” all of them said, “third time’s the charm.” I didn’t recall a first or second time, but that didn’t surprise me. My head was filled with gaps and dark spaces I’d given up trying to fathom. I didn’t know what day it was most of the time, and I didn’t much care. All of them laughed together when I had that thought. I sometimes forgot they could read my mind. I didn’t think it was funny, but that didn’t stop them from laughing.
I looked down and my city street had turned into a canyon, a dark black ribbon of river flowing through the middle and a big patch of sandy shore directly below me. Strange I could see so clearly so far down, but there it was.
Then they hung me out over the edge.
My feet ached and my legs burned. I never liked heights because my body didn’t like heights. I couldn’t even look at a picture of a height without that throbbing pain and burning sensation clawing at me, pulsing up through the soles of my feet and wrapping itself around my calves, squeezing and squeezing like it was trying to push my legs away from danger, all the blood jamming up at me all at once, burning all the way. People sitting on ledges, construction workers on skyscrapers, some dude about to jump out of an airplane. I couldn’t look at any of it without that pain, that burning.
If you said height was the only thing I was afraid of you’d be spot on. I guess that’s why they chose the roof for the final test.
I was dangling over a canyon 1000 feet deep. How it got there, I’ll never know. The street was gone, the buildings were gone, everything was grey stone cliffs, burnt umber sky, yellow sand, black river.
My feet ached and my legs burned and I knew this was my last chance to pass the test.
“I can do it,” I said, not entirely certain I could.
They laughed together again, and how they managed to all laugh the exact same way at the exact same time, well that’s yet another mystery I’m not gonna solve, “You say that every time,” all of them replied.
“I can do it, I swear!”
“You better hope so, this is your last chance.”
Last chance. Last chance or what?
Then it hit me.
I had to pass this test or things were never gonna change. I would go on forever, a ghost haunting the city. I would have to keep killing until I died of old age. It wasn’t an entirely unappealing option. I was good at it. But I was getting tired of the fuzzy gray things always showing up like that, giving me orders, and the cadre, never letting me sleep.
This was my chance. I could move on, start some new phase of this little operation they’d spun up for me. I knew what had to happen next. I knew how to pass the test. The cadre always loved it when I swore at them, so I tried that little trick again.
“Fuck you, let me go!”
“Look at your hands. You’re holding onto us.”
They were right.
That was the trick. They didn’t have to let go, I did. I could feel their flesh beneath mine, like rough stone scraping at my skin. I could see my fingernails bleeding from the white-knuckle grip, my palms shredding against their rough stony bones. Behind those shiny metal masks I was sure they were all smiling at me, certain I was about to fail again.
Not this time.
I smiled back at them.
“Fuck you,” I said again, just for fun, then I let go.
My feet ached and my legs burned and my heart pounded like the drum they used in an orchestra, the one that sounds like thunder, or bombs, or a cannon.
I fell some more until I wasn’t falling, then stopped so quick I hardly noticed. Everything was quiet and dark for a while. Then it wasn’t. Someone was laughing. Not the cadre’s laughter, this was different. A softer sound, with the hint of a hiss and a bit of crackle, with a resonant rumble running beneath it.
I didn’t open my eyes right away. I felt the gritty grains beneath my back, a hot breeze wafted over my face. I gripped the sandy soil with my fists, like a toddler squeezing a big fat finger just for the feel of it.
The laughter again, closer, not approaching but drifting somewhere behind me, pulling me into the place I’d landed. I sat up. I opened my eyes.
The canyon walls were gone. The fuzzy grays were gone. The cadre were gone. Everything was burnt umber sky boiling over the horizon and rolling above the sand and the river and me, so close I tried to touch it.
I felt a rapturous blast of heat at my back, turned to look and saw the black ribbon of river carrying a tall spinning spire of fire twisting away over the middle of the current. The fire danced and twirled and laughed, maybe at me, maybe not. Maybe it liked being fire and laughed at everything.
My head itched and my feet tingled and my legs began to twist and crack and shape into something bizarre yet familiar, like something from a book I’d read back when I still cared about books. It was a thick one bound in leather and one time my mother slammed it against my wrist to crush what she called a preacher’s wart. I think it worked, the lump went away and my hand still managed to do what it was meant to do.
I smiled when I felt the horns growing from my skull, then marveled at their beauty and symmetry as they curved and twisted up and the pointy tips curled in toward each other. I couldn’t help but laugh.
The fire heard me. It reached out a flickering red-orange appendage and whipped its tip a few times, seducing me with light and heat and motion, a tongue begging for a kiss, or possibly something else.
I rose and stood on black cloven hooves where once my feet had been. Ankles, knees and hips clad in oily fur and bending in directions I didn’t know they could go, all opposite of where they’d once been.
I stumbled at first, then found my balance and stepped onto the river, walked over the flow and danced with the fire, laughing and laughing and laughing, until all the world was fire and motion and deep rumbling throat noises wrapped up in crackles and hisses and pops.
My feet didn’t ache and my legs didn’t burn. I’d never danced before, but now found I couldn’t stop. I spun and leapt and burned in the fire and laughed in the scorching heat’s embrace.
My time had come, my time to dance, and there would never again be any height to fear.
I was recently engaged by eDigital to help the company with their website relaunch, marketing communication, and blog content. Links to the individual blog posts are below, and you can check out the website while you’re there. They’ve got a compelling product suite aimed at the OTT/VOD/Streaming industry. If this is your area, you might enjoy this content and learn something new about a growth-oriented start-up in the media operations sector.
A recently published bit of flash fiction. I like the longer version of this story better than the flash version, but this is the one that got published. The editor said she “loved the tenderness of this piece” and I’m grateful for those words – that is the tone I was going for after a couple of darker stories were published over the previous few weeks. This is another of my stories related to identity.
The “Queer as Hell” horror anthology from Haunted MTL includes my story “Transmigration of a Serial Killer.” Available in print and for Kindle on Amazon: