Archive for the ‘ Short Fiction ’ Category

AGATHA’S BARN: A CARPENTER’S FARM STORY (part 2)

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Welcome back to “Agatha’s Barn” by Michael Bailey. This is a tie-in to Carpenter’s Farm, the serial novel by Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, Inspection, Malorie, and others. Created with permission, and free for all to enjoy during this strange time. Featuring illustrations throughout by Glenn Chadbourne.

If you’re new to “Agatha’s Barn,” be sure to read Part 1 first. I also I highly recommend catching up on Carpenter’s Farm (at least the first twelve or so chapters) before continuing on to this Part 2. Josh adds new chapters each Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

Anyway, enjoy the woods!


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life
hangs on
by a string,
so delicate,
a never-ending cyclical nightmare;
when will humankind learn how to listen
to sense, logic?
not ever,
until
death.

past
creates
illusions,
in retrospect,
premonitions of uncertain futures;
history repeats every so often,
all unprepared,
shocked by the
present,
now.

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Agatha folded the strip of notepaper in half, twice, thrice, then put everything back in her pack. Five jars clang-clunked inside. Broken bells for the dead. Her stomach ached, the food all but gone. With no books in which to hide her poem, she chose a willow at random, sliced a slit beneath its bark, slid in the secret message. Paper returned to the trees, she mused.

“Paper Earth,” she said aloud, thinking of the earlier poem, one of the smaller stanzas suddenly there and then gone forever: What to write, fill the thoughts of few / as each word cuts deep, every last thing … and then part of another: We were here … which then dissolved.

How long she’d been in the woods, she didn’t know, but each willow at the edge of the farm held a story. Some now with stories within stories, for she’d lost count of the poems she’d given them, each a snippet of her subconscious. Days? A week? She’d been in the woods long enough for her nails to grow out and hold dirt from all her digging.

“We were,” she said to her youth, past-tense.

Agatha ventured deep into the woods, sure, but something always pulled her back to the farm (the barn) and like the shadows she’d imagined (or had seen) slinking out from between trees, and the windows by way of impossible light, she too would find herself stepping out of that world, then in, as she admired the farmhouse until its glow winked out each night.

Roll over, Oliver, over all of her.

The alliteration of the phrase flowed through Aggie, not through her older self, and so Agatha’d find herself questioning the girl. Questioning the “her” in that ramble, for Oliver’d come to this place on his own. Alone. From the cover of the copse, they’d watch him between windows in his cover of the house (a different world) filled with the energy of a child, pulling linen and other coverings from the furniture. Unghosting the ghosts.

He’d brought electricity to the house (and to the barn).

Soon he’d bring others once like him. Stories, more stories …

All over her, Oliver, the girl would sing, swapping the order, and Agath’d wonder about the name, how she’d come across the words. No one ever said their name aloud while alone, unless crazy, unless— Right, Aggie?

She’d come to the edge of the willows each night, one step out, one step in, and watch from afar. She’d open her journal, write under moonlight when words called her. Poetry writes itself, she knew. And then she’d give the words back to the trees in the morning, bleeding their sap. They’d accept, their salicylic acid absorbing her pull (of the pool) of thought as their own.

This morning, like all mornings, she resisted the gravity of the farm.

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The empty jar buried beneath the rock behind the barn wasn’t the invisible string constantly tugging her to return. Something more. She turned her back to the mystery, tugged against the resistance, made her way as far as she could into the woods until she fell to the ground.

Mother Earth had its pull on her, the way the ever-slowly winking and unwinking eye of the moon moved tides one way or another—eventually giving up and letting go; the woods called Agatha just as regularly, wanting her to unearth Mother’s truths. Mother’s story.

Soft and saturated soil hemorrhaged in her hands. Agatha dug as the icy-wet ground bit her fingertips, wriggling worms splitting and squirming between them. She dug until her fingers found what they’d expected, what they’d happened upon each separate morning, what shouldn’t be there, in the ground, the glass smooth: a Mason jar buried not so deep.

“Mother,” Agatha said, reading the dirty label.

The girl’s handwriting.

Mama, Aggie said.

A strip of paper inside, like all the others. A single word written in neither of their fonts. Mother’s script, but no, that couldn’t be. She brushed away smears of brown, held the jar up to the sun peeking between the canopies above her: ‘fire,’ this one read, lit in yellow.

Agatha unscrewed the lid, put the puzzle piece in her pocket, copied the single word on a page in the back of the notebook where she’d transcribed words found in others: ‘ash,’ and ‘borne’ (perhaps ‘born,’ the last letter a smudge of dirt or ink or not there at all) and now ‘fire.’

Fragments of the untold.

“What are you trying to tell me, tell us?

Wind sighed through the trees, not a bird on a branch, not a flutter of wings or a peep. The woods inhaled, exhaled. She did the same, as if they were breathing in sync. She’d read The Wind in the Willows in grade school, couldn’t remember a lick of it, something to do with badgers or foxes or— and how could the “Mother” jar even—

Had she slept? Where? Agatha couldn’t recall. She could only remember the banshee cries of Help! from the foxes a night or two or three ago, one trying to find the other. Could only remember walking deep into the woods and then back again, to the light. Could only remember waking from somnambulism, on her feet, close to the edge of the woods. Dirty fingernails, caked underneath and red and sore. Sometimes waking wet during hard rain and seeking shelter.

She reburied the empty jar, déjà vu of déjà vu forming and fading, becoming jamais vu, never seen, and placed a pile of rocks over it, obvious-like, so she wouldn’t dig there again. There would be more. There would always be more. The same jar each morning, different spot.

How—?

“We’re losing it, Aggie,” she’d tell her younger self, but her younger self’d shrug off the paranormal as normal. “Are you hungry, thirsty?” The girl’d nod inside, and she’d nod.

Agatha considered the worms.

Three days, three nights. Three jars buried in the earth.

“No, not yet,” she said, meaning the meal.

She dumped out her backpack. Four jars spilled out, each empty, but not: “shame” and “pity” and “fear” and another not yet labeled. Long ago, some unknown when (three days, longer?) she’d taken her name out of the pity jar, and the other strips of paper. The last day at the barn. She’d crumpled ‘Aggie’ into a wad, took it in her mouth and swallowed and cried and—

Don’t say nothin’ to no one or I’ll—

No, she’d no longer pity herself that way, with thoughts of her father, her past, nor would she ever again. The past is past. The past has passed. The dead buried. The jars she’d once filled with nails, she’d hammered out all those terrible flaws into the old wood, gave them all to the barn on Carpenter’s Farm. This was the name for the place, she knew, but knew not how she knew, like the name Oliver.

Roll over, Oliver. All over her, Aggie sang. Give ‘all of her’ to Oliver.

The can opener and an empty can of what smelled like peaches fell out of the bag, as well as the lighter, her knife, notebook and pen, and spent wrappers from granola bars and trash she couldn’t toss out into the wild for that would no longer make the wild wild. She couldn’t remember when she last ate, and lifted her shirt, counted ribs. Jeans a bit saggier.

But where were her other changes of clothes, the bottle of water? Perplexed, Agatha up-ended the bag and out fell the hammer that had ended Chris. She shook out crumbs and dirt, not much else. She’d lost her other possessions, or no longer needed them, like her shoes.

How long have we been going about barefoot?

The labels on the jars defined her, in a way. Her old self.

The labels, like her flaws, those ugly traits, would need to go.

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A seasonal creek side-winded and split the earth a good half-mile out. She could follow that, she knew. It would lead to more water, to life. But instead she went there to drink as she had before. Her stomach clenched at the cold, at perhaps something else, and when she looked up, she met the eyes of a silent doe at the water’s edge, young enough to have spots. Unconcerned about her presence. As she stood, the deer looked past her, drank again, then went on its way.

Agatha: No parents.

Aggie: Like us.

Agatha: All alone.

Aggie: Unlike us.

They were not alone in the woods, that much was understood, but with her fear jar emptied, the shadows between the trees no longer seemed anxious.

Her older self considered following the stream as her younger self played naked in the water. They were both a mess, and so she let little Aggie take over. Children rarely minded frigid waters, at least when “swimming” was concerned, and that’s what one did while the other bathed and watched out for peeping (father) predators.

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Agatha: He can no longer hurt us.

Aggie: ’Cause he’s dead?

Agatha: Yes.

Aggie: But that hasn’t stopped him before.

The gaunt woman in the water’s wavy face rippled and exposed protruding cheekbones, dark deep-set sockets, skin smudged with bruise or mud, the reflection becoming merged generations: Agatha-Mother. What she could remember of the woman, anyway, for she was about Agatha’s age now when she’d died. This was back in New York before she and her father’d moved out west. Only eleven and motherless, her mother’d been taken by pneumonia.

Aggie: A lie he told us to make us forget, to learn a new truth.

Agatha: Not pneumonia, no. Taken by the city’s teeth.

Aggie cried, remembering the day.

Agatha wiped away the tears for her, as she always had.

The girl went fully under to mask them, stayed there a while, counting one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, and this was fine, listening to her heartbeat in her ears as she waited for the boom, the crash, the world falling apart, which she’d always expected whenever the news’d replay what’d been caught on cellphones from the dusty-gray people on the ground, all necks tilted back: the plane silently entering one side of the building, disappearing out the other, like some kind of magic trick. Soundless. Lightning impossibly distant.

Nine-eleven-one-thousand, lungs already ready to explode, the count lost.

The world’s tallest smokestack billowing, then the first—

Agatha: She wasn’t even supposed to go in that day.

Aggie: To the tower.

Agatha: The second one.

Aggie: …

Agatha: …

Red dragons scream through hot breath,
rushing in to those running out.
Countless miniature hands cover mouths
so as not to aspirate their fiery breaths
billowing from all directions.
            (gray cauliflower)
                        (warm yeast blooms)
An island of multi-millions looks skyward,

changed to identical skin, within seconds,
camouflaged by debris
against a backdrop of terror.

She’d stashed the poem in some paperback (a school reading assignment that’d never had the chance to sink in) left forgotten back “home” when they’d fled. All she remembered of the poem … and one other bit about people running. The memories soon disintegrated—

Monochrome miniature heads glance back
so as not to miss the acrobats
tumbling from all directions.
            (spiraling cartwheels)
                        (somersaults)

—but she remembered the hand across her face a few years later, the bruise that followed like a glove pink on her cheek. We gotta go, Aggie! You fuckin’ listen, you unner’stand? but she hadn’t then and didn’t now. Only unner’stood the pain, the confusion of having to move so suddenly away from all that was familiar. The ’monia took her (protecting little Aggie with the lie, but why with all other truths out in the open?) and now we gotta go! She hadn’t taken any of her books, her stuffies, her music, the physical things that helped define her as a teenager.

Forty-one-thousand, lungs burning afire underwater and about to collapse, forty-one-one-thousand, like the first tower, forty-two-one-thousand, mom calling to say she was okay in the second, her staticy voice saying the damaged floors were beneath her, I love you, Aggie, then Aggie handing over the phone to her father as requested, Let me speak to ‘him’ (never ‘your father’), and overhearing that people were smashing windows and planning to—

                        / blink

The burned-in image of Aggie crumbling to the ground synchronous with the second building brought Agatha gasping out of the water.

She got out of the creek and air-dried, shaking from more than the wintry waters, and redressed. A shadow of a man stepped into cover. A glimpse of black foot, bare ankle. “I see you,” Agatha said, but did she? Her words never mattered; the shapes appeared and disappeared as they pleased. Their stories came out of the trees and onto her page in inky wisps, erased by wind. She had an audience for her poetry, and so she pulled out her notebook and pen and titled what came out of her mind as “Cartwheels,” always there, for poems write themselves.

they fly like superheroes
arms outstretched
scarves flapping as capes
swan dives
pencil dives
cannonballs
hands holding hands
so as not to be alone
in the empty sky

clouds float like battleships
over an ocean of asphalt

they fly like superheroes
hand-over-hand
feet-over-feet
tiny silhouettes
five-pointed stars
falling through daylight
pinwheels
tumbleweeds
acrobats

the world flips
down becomes up

Agatha’d always thought of her mother as one of the blurry dots jumping to her death instead of burning up inside—a hundred floors or higher. She’d dreamt the moment often.

Walking into a stranger’s office, following Mother to the window, saying,

“Where you going? Mom?”

Mother climbing out the window, not listening or unable to hear little Aggie. “Mother!” little Aggie yells, realizing where she is, and when, and the exact day and the exact time, and the woman turns to her, then, so unlike her mother, a witch—eyes solid black, too large, obsidian—and then she’s standing on the ledge, smiling.

Mother doesn’t look down. Mother doesn’t look at her daughter. But she speaks, or tries to with a sound like static, a needle along vinyl; words broken, same as always, she says,

“The worst part about finding yourself is reaching the end,” or sometime in the phrase is flipped and she says, “The worst part about reaching the end is finding yourself.”

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And then little Aggie’s finding herself, reaching the end of her mother.

The same loop repeated forever and ever and EVER!

Other times she’s back in her childhood living room, father on his chair sipping warm beer, his Kool dangling a crooked finger of ash, and the television from which she watches the news upside-down (or she herself upside-down on the floor), watching Mother falling up. And sometimes the clips are played in reverse, people reeling from ground to sky, chairs unbreaking windows, smoke unbillowing, planes materializing out of the buildings and flying in reverse; father’s crooked finger of ash becoming a new cigarette, the phone unringing.

Agatha folded the poem (and her mind), folded again, and again.

Where the shadow-leg’d disappeared, she approached the closest tree, used the blade of her knife to notch a sleeve in the bark, tucked the square of paper inside, where it would rot.

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The farm pulled hard with its spidery silk. Agatha’d walked as far as she could before it pulled taut, ready to snap. Perhaps two miles. Seemed farther without shoes or socks. A hum in her mind, there, but barely. Flick that cord and life would ping a note diminuendo, soften till silent.

Would she snap out of this waking dream, then, find her freedom? To slice her tether to the barn, she knew, would be like cutting her wrist past the point of hesitation—she had those marks too, thought about them often. No turning back once that note played. How far beyond the woods could she go before bleeding out? How far into life, as she once knew it, could she travel before life no longer wanted her in its story?

She became one with the dark as the sun kissed the roof of the farmhouse on its slow descent. Oliver was there, in the yard, talking to no one, then talking to one of the shadows, or to his own distorted shadow. He held an empty jar (not “Mother,” she knew, buried behind the barn and buried impossibly everywhere in the woods). The other (a man, a farmer) pointed out to the crops, some of which were dead, some not, then pointed at the jar in Oliver’s hands.

The one Agatha’d placed in the pantry, which she’d labeled “forgiveness”?

She couldn’t tell for certain.

Was forgiveness a trait?

She supposed it was.

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She found the next “Mother” jar by way of fox, gray like ash. The creature made the only sound in the woods other than the trees exposing the wind. She couldn’t remember sleeping, or waking, or ever eating, but simply coming to, suddenly there and in the now. The sound of tiny feet digging in the dewed dirt drew her attention to the patch of soft earth. A fresh grave.

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The fox gave up, disappeared into brush.

Everything here is unfeasibly green, Agatha realized, the ground fresh and there, everything more alive, more vibrant, more now, the blue through the trees more blue.

“Like the painted backdrop of some play,” she told her younger self.

How long she’d been walking, or where to (or where from) was a clandestine moment. Not cold, and not far from the edge of the protective fence of willows surrounding the farm. Sad is the word she might put in the pity jar to describe her first thought.

“When and what is this?”

Morning, and also mourning, she and her younger self considered.

During her stay in the barn, she’d always thought of the tree line as an impassable boundary for discovering one’s self, the entrance to a stage, the shadows like brushstrokes on props, but now that she was beyond the curtain and inside its warm and loving embrace, she realized the woods had realization / revelation. A more primitive power. Mother Earth, the writer, a mother to all, who understood all, who controlled all …

Her younger self thought of all this as “neat,” how the fox unearthed today’s secret.

Her older self thought of all this as “coincidence” and nothing more.

Aggie: There’s no such thing as coincidence.

Agatha: Just appropriately timed incidents.

Aggie: But what is today, really?

Agatha: Now, I guess. I guess it’s right now.

She took over for the fox, falling to her knees. She dug with her hands, most of her fingernails broken down to nothing, but not bleeding.

Aggie: Daddy’s dirty fingernails, remember?

Agatha: Stop.

The old Mason jar was buried about as deep as the others. The soft dirt gave way, revealing the same damn jar as before, the same jar labeled “Mother,” weathered by many years. Mother buried long ago. Agatha brushed off the mud, held the glass up to an impossibly blue-painted sky, and shook it to flip the strip of paper inside in order to see what was written.

Agatha: Did you bury these here?

Aggie: Not that I can remember.

Agatha: Did I?

This one read ‘rise.’

She flipped to the back pages of her notebook, taken aback by the other words already written there besides: ‘fire’ and ‘borne’ (or ‘born’) and ‘ash.’ In the girl’s childish handwriting were three prepositions: ‘up’ and ‘from’ and ‘despite.’

Agatha: You wrote these?

Aggie: Not that I can remember.

Agatha: Did I?

They buried the “Mother” jar, again (forever Mother now, no longer mother), and found some rocks to use as a makeshift headstone, and created a pile to keep them from digging in the same spot again during their absent-minded wandering.

Fire, born(e), ash, up, from, despite, rise

Mother’s secret story.

A puzzle putting itself together.

The poem writing itself.

Aggie: Neat.

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The five jars had also changed at some point, those with prior labels ripped off and possibly swallowed to satiate the hunger. The knot in her stomach had unknotted, filled. No more need for labels. No more pity, no more shame, no more fear. She’d spilled the contents out of her backpack after realizing the impossible weight she carried on her way back to the fence of willows surrounding the farm. Not walking from the woods to the tree line, she knew, but from the dead and not-so-dead fields to the copse of trees. She couldn’t recall how the jars had filled, like her stomach, only that one of the shadows had shown her where to go to fill them, to the crops. A farmer. A mosaic of shattered glass, this memory. Had she returned to the barn?

Inside, the jars were no longer empty, each full with greens.

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Why (how) do I know these jars are filled with traits? She thought of the “Mother” jar buried behind the barn and likewise buried deep in the woods (impossibly everywhere). Empty, but not, like mother’s coffin back in New York. Is “mother” a trait?

She asked the trees, and figured it was.

Agatha fed until filled, held her belly.

Chris’d wanted her to have that trait, had tried forcing it upon her some nights, with the heavy desire of father. Chris’d wanted a boy to carry on his family name, and’d said if she shat out a girl they’d try again, and again, and again; that they’d abort (as if he had any part in it), to try for a boy instead. After years of trying, he’d lost interest in all but the back of his hand.

Agatha’d always figured her father had wanted a boy. Both her father and Chris had that in common, yes, and she’d fallen into the leading role for Women Marrying Men Like Their Fathers—a tragic play. Until she’d headstoned that final nail.

Openness.

Conscientiousness.

Extraversion.

Agreeableness.

Neuroticism.

Those were the five main traits, she knew. She’d learned as much trying to figure out who she was over the years, what made her, the shift from Aggie to Agatha undifferentiated.

a never-ending cyclical nightmare;
when will humankind learn how to listen

The poem from the other day all but gone, lost to the trees:

past
creates
illusions,
in retrospect,
premonitions of uncertain futures;
history repeats every so often

When would she learn?

not ever,
until
death.

Something deep inside (maybe little Aggie, stuck there forever) told her she’d gone into the barn: Agatha’s Barn. She’d stayed there awhile to feed, and had come back to the woods with her toes caked in mud, as they’d remained the last few days (if time mattered), her entire being more nourished. Lifting up her shirt, she counted the ribs, and there were fewer exposed.

There were thousands upon thousands of traits under those five categories, “as many as four thousand,” she’d once read, and when put together they defined a person. Traits could be learned, forgotten, swallowed; and they could be grown.

“What’s in the barn?” Agatha asked the night.

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“The worst part about finding yourself is reaching the end,” and sometimes “The worst part about reaching the end is finding yourself.”

Her father’d eventually found himself, had reached his end. This was shortly after Agatha’d turned sixteen, midway through her sophomore year of high school. She’d come home carrying the same backpack she’d later carried on her back on her bike ride out of Chris’ life, the same she carried through the woods on this new journey. Father’d died years after Mother—

Aggie: Tell me the story.

Agatha: You already know the story.

Aggie: Tell it again. I need to hear it. We need to hear it.

All those years ago, but still fresh, the fire flash-fried into her subconscious, his charred corpse only conjured there, sure, but a clear image of his body smoldering, unable to rise from his fleshy ashes. A black silhouette stamped as a means of commemoration of his cremation. The truth had meshed with her imagination over the years. “The passing of time immaterial to death, as light is insignificant to night,” she said aloud, looking at the cloudless sky over the farmhouse.

Light is insignificant tonight, little Aggie mused. Jamais vu!

Not a star shined, though there should be countless, the moon no longer winking. There, but not. New. Not until tomorrow would the Cheshire cat begin to smile. The night at this moment stayed as obsidian as Mother’s eyes boring into little Aggie’s in the recurring dream. The black hole hidden in or under or behind to the barn pulling as strong as ever.

“What is it about this place?”

Mother stepping out the window. “Where you going? Mom?”

The same loop repeated forever and ever and EVER!

Falling down / falling up.

Aggie: We already know this story.

Agatha: …

And so she tried to recall the day she’d moved out of the “home” with her father to a foster home with another’s father. The system’d sent her from house to house until she’d turned eighteen (an adult not yet ready to adult) and when old enough to—

Aggie: Earlier than that. Start with the alarm.

Agatha: Fine.

The nine-volt batteries had bled out their lives, one by one. She’d watched her father remove the battery from the alarm in the front entryway, balancing on the penultimate rung of the ladder, beer in hand. She’d wished then for the ladder to tilt, tilt, tilt, but he’d killed the alarm instead of himself, left the plastic compartment dangling. For weeks it stayed that way. The one on the hallway ceiling outside her room started chirping next. This was a few weeks later. It’d chirped in odd intervals, just enough to be annoying. Aggie’d invested time in her geography homework, hours into it when white puck let out a cry.

She’d waited for her father to swear from his semi-permanent spot on the couch in front of the television, then’d forgotten while calculating surface area. Some random moment later the alarm let out another beep, and again she waited. After the third beep, she’d thrown her papers to the side, found her father asleep in the living room surrounded by red and white Budweiser cans. One of his Kools balanced on the very edge of the ashtray, the burning tip over the coffee table.

Aggie’d imagined him holding the wrong end of the cigarette, eyes closed or blurred to the point of seeing in duplicate, then flipping it / them around, lighting one or two or all three, or maybe not realizing he’d lit one or any at all. She’d imagined he’d passed out drunk before ever putting the thing to his lips; three-quarters had burned, ash falling onto a stack of bills spread out over a newspaper. A ring had burned into the latest Chicago Tribune.

They’d moved out west to Illinois after New York had fallen to pieces. Their lives had likewise dispersed to dust, covered in the detritus of surviving in a seemingly post-apocalyptic city. After burying her mother (nothing’s in the coffin, Aggie, just pretend), family friends’d periodically check in to see how her father was doing, how little Aggie was doing. Some had seen the bruises, the marks on her arms, the “signs of troubled youth,” of “domestic violence,” according to the uniformed man. And so they had to go, her father’d said (right now, dammit!) and they had to move out west, maybe to as far as the windy city by the big lakes.

“Dad,” she’d said to the snoring monster on the couch.

No answer.

“Dad!”

Aggie’d shaken his arm, his leg, said his name over and over again (just don’t say it three times) but he was deep in the dark of drunkenness, what some of her friends at school’d called “blackout.” Some of her friends’d achieved that status, but she could never understand why anyone’d ever want to not retain every last detail of life. I don’t even remember anything that happened that night, one would say, as if proud. Woke up the next morning in the bathroom / bed / floor. All their stories similar but different. Anything might’ve happened, but I don’t remember. And Aggie’d be the one with reason to say You could have been raped, always the overly-concerned one, the unpopular, and the girls’d shrug, brag about other things.

Agatha: …

Aggie: The fire.

Agatha: I’m getting there.

She’d shaken him hard. He was alive, then; the snoring’d provided that truth. Aggie’d even slapped his face (not hard, not at first), splashed water on him, but he’d sound-sleepily brushed at his face to ward off the bug crawling over him. “Dad!” she’d yelled, loud as ever.

No answer.

And so she’d slapped him hard as she could across the face. Hard enough to hurt her hand, her wrist. What could father do other than wake out of his fake death in a rage and do the same to her? His face’d moved from one side to the other, but sleep held him. An impression of her hand’d slowly formed on his cheek, as had a smile on little Aggie’s. She’d counted one-thousands, got to thirty- and slapped him again, just as hard, the other cheek this time, and he’d swatted at the hand no longer there. She’d stood over him, then, thought of slitting his throat, and she could do it, too. All the things he’d done to her over the years. How he’d ‘growed her up.’

She’d waited until eleven after nine before making her choice.

Pulling a chair into the hallway, she’d removed the battery from the only other fire alarm in the house, the one beeping incessantly at her door, left the plastic compartment dangling, just as he’d ‘showed her.’

There was enough paperwork on the coffee table beneath the ashtray to catch, and so she’d returned to her father after, bent down and blew him a kiss across the newspaper. The Kool tipped over, then, fell onto the Tribune. The second long kiss’d turned the end of the cigarette orange and spread a flame.

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Aggie: And then?

Agatha: I don’t remember.

Aggie: I don’t either.

“Who’s that?” she asked the night, but she knew.

A man stood in the center of the closest dead field, the setting sun stretching his shadow ever-long. An old man. Very old. The farmer who tends to the crops. He watched her a moment as she watched him, then squatted to the ground to dig into the earth with bare hands.

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The next thing she remembered was the pull at her back, a hard tug. Apparently she’d walked all night, her fingernails raw and earthy. Any farther and her tether would snap, and then what? She’d unburied the “Mother” jar a few more times, it seemed, all of them, for on her way back to the willow-barrier surrounding the farm she came across dozens of piles of rocks. She’d added many new words to the back of her notebook as well. Frantic scribbles in childish handwriting. Mud-fingerprints littered the pages, but the words were there. All of them.

Poetry writes itself.

This was the first morning she’d not hungered, yet the jars remained heavy in her backpack. She held the hammer, the claw caked with dirt. Had she used it to ease her unburying of Mother? Had she cracked any of her jars? Each of the headstones had their own gravity, pulling her toward them as she stumbled barefoot. She fell next to one, moved the rocks.

No, Aggie pleaded, she’s not there!

Agatha set the hammer aside and dug with her fingers, as the farmer had shown her. She expected the hard surface of glass, but as she kept at it, like the fox, she eventually gave up and moved on. Nothing there. No empty jar. No sign of Mother. A part of her knew that under the next pile of rocks she’d find the same. She dug anyway. Nothing there. No empty jar. No sign of Mother. The third miniature grave revealed the same loosened earth and nothing more.

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She read Mother’s poem, over and over again.

This one she wouldn’t lose, wouldn’t offer to the trees.

Men and women and children eased back into the shadows as she made her way to the farm, pulled there. No, not the farm, nor the farmhouse. The barn.

“Mother,” she said.

She had to check that one too.

Her second vacant grave.

She thought of the empty jar in the pantry labeled “forgiveness,” how she’d left it on the shelves. Oliver was there now, and soon his friends, if not already. She knew this somehow, part of the compulsion to return. Compulsion, is that a trait, or a flaw? She had to get back. To the farm. To the crops. To the farmhouse, maybe. To the barn, definitely.

Roll over, Oliver. All over her, Aggie sang in her head, a little made-up ditty. Give ‘all of her’ to Oliver. All over her, Oliver.

He’d find the jar, throw it out, and who wouldn’t?

Empty like Mom’s coffin.                

She neared the willows surrounding the farm, figured this might be her last time here, at the edge of the blade. She looked for Oliver, and for the farmer, but it was still early, perhaps not yet five o’clock, the sun just peeking over the horizon, the dew starting to rise like spirits from the wet earth. And there at the tree line she pulled out her notebook, reflected on The End, wherever or whenever or however that may be, in case this would be the end of her story. She let the poem write itself, as she always had, pulling from the pool, her subconscious. She titled this one “Lest We End” and let the pen do its magic. She inked her father, her mother, her self.

everything burning
encourages upheaval,
all-changing,
affected swiftly sometimes.
and drawn onward,
fragile existences erased effortlessly;
people scared by echoed pain …
no, exhausted!
never odd or even
as chance is questioned,
reflected minds distorted by confused thought,
elegantly damaged
when refracted light of life
            / splits then
                        mirrors
                        ————
                        mirrors
            then splits /

life of light refracted when
damaged elegantly,
thought confused by distorted minds, reflected;
questioned, is chance, as
even or odd, never
exhausted, no …
pain echoed by scared people
effortlessly erased, existences fragile,
onward-drawn, and
sometimes swiftly affected,
changing all;  
upheaval encourages
burning everything.

Agatha tore out the page, folded the paper in half, twice, thrice. She sliced a new slit in the bark of the nearest willow, slid the poem inside where it would rest until its end.

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jars_24

Unnoticed, she returned to the barn. Her barn. Agatha’s Barn. Someone else had been there, so said the ghost footprints in the dirt floor, so said the dust on shelves wiped by hand. Her tent and sleeping bag and everything else she’d left behind were gone. Taken? All the nails she’d pounded into reclaimed wood to repair the place, even the patch she’d made on the roof, they were gone, too. All her repairs. Reversed? No one would do such a thing. She set the hammer down where she’d originally found it, removed her backpack, which seemed lighter.

Someone had disturbed this place, she knew, which made her think of her father, which made her think of her mother buried behind the barn. She went to her. Moved the rock aside. Dug with her fingers, thinking of all she’d put in the empty jar now that she’d revealed / realized the truth. She dug, and dug, and dug …

“Mother,” she said, not finding her.


Agatha’s story continues here:

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I hope you enjoyed this strange tale, Glenn’s illustrations, and every other piece of writing, art, music, poetry, or what-have-you inspired by Josh Malerman’s Carpenter’s Farm currently (and soon-to-be) popping up around the Internet. Since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to focus on writing anything other than poetry, so thank you, Josh, for getting me out of this rut! After reading the first four chapters of his novel-in-progress, and Shane Douglas Keene’s chapter-by-chapter corresponding poems, (seriously, read them), I reached out, asked if Josh would mind if I wrote a tie-in short story, he said to go for it, and so I hashed out this story in a single day. I started writing at around noon on a Saturday and multiple drafts / edits by midnight.

But Agatha’s story wasn’t quite finished, and so now there’s a part two, which I finished the following weekend. This story is now over 11,500 words, with a part 3 already in the works. This short story has grown into an novelette, and soon into a novella. Anyway, I hope you’re having as much fun as I am … making the best of things.


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AGATHA’S BARN: A CARPENTER’S FARM STORY (part 1)

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Welcome to “Agatha’s Barn” by Michael Bailey. This is a tie-in to Carpenter’s Farm, the serial novel by Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, Inspection, Malorie, and others. Created with permission, and free for all to enjoy during this strange time (Josh loves it, and we hope you will too). Featuring illustrations throughout by Glenn Chadbourne.

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jars_01

There is Agatha.

jars_02

There was Agatha.

Right?

jars_03

Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to tweeze a nail between two fingers with one hand, tap-tap, then pull away and drive it in hard with the other. Father’d taught Agatha to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood.

Like this, he’d say, eyes asquint, tapping the head, setting the nail in place and you’s (she always imagined the letter ‘W’ splitting apart) use a comb or fork to keep your hands lookin’ like mine all tore up and he’d hammer the soldier into the pine, three-quarter’s way, sometimes flush. If he missed and headstone-tipped the nail, he’d crater it flat, out of anger or irritation. Cigarette dangling. Kool, always. His breath a warm left-out beer. Red and white Budweiser cans, always. He’d go through a case of each over a weekend—the only “quality” time she ever spent with him after Mother’d died of pneumonia.

The 16-penny nails sometimes took five or six swings, but she rarely missed, driving them straight. Pencil dives, she’d imagined with that innocent child mind all those years ago, making perfect-round little splashes, sap or soaked-in rainwater rising to the surface. Good, Aggie, like that. There you go (sipping Bud, smoke in her hair), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as a proper woman. Some took seven or eight; same as her age, for all she could remember. He’d ‘growed her up,’ as he’d say.

But the reclaimed wood she hammered into now smelled not wet and piney, but stunk of dry rot and bad memories, of jagged dinosaur-back mushroom shelves on wet left-out firewood. Earthy. Like her father. Like the soil beneath his fingernails. They went in despite the cries. The sound of life long dead dying again. Stripped youth, aged by force.

Father’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a parent.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

jars_04

“You’re new here,” the man behind the counter said. He had a boyish demeanor about him and a short mop of brown hair, like he’d rolled out of bed that way. Mouth crooked.

She’d read enough Stephen King and’d seen enough book jacket photos to imagine what he must’ve looked like as a teenager, and this guy in his blue apron seemed much older than that but a doppelgänger nonetheless, his mind perhaps held back a dozen or so years.

Agatha nodded.

“That’s a nasty shiner,” he said.

“You got any recommendations—”

“—for the shiner?”

She wasn’t fond of make-up, of prettying up, of covering bruises. The hard lessons of life had taught her to speak true. Never hold back. Never flinch. Especially with the face.

“Whiskey,” she said, “or bourbon, I don’t care. All I see on the shelves that’s brown is Knob and Old Crow. And this,” she said, pointing at what Chris had done, “is what happens when you let your guard down, when you give another power over you. Anything good?”

Bookman’s General had what could be expected from a general store in mostly-nowhere, Michigan, but apparently had bottled shit-water for booze. The gray-green building dilapidated as all get-out, surrounded by fields of endless agriculture. Inside: dusty-bottles, as though no one in the small town drank out of anything other than aluminum.

His smile cracked. “Blanton’s,” he said, “but it’s pricey.”

“What’d’you consider ‘pricey’?”

“You look like you could use a good drink, so I’ll sell it to you at cost. Never had it before, must be good. Some fellow special-ordered, never returned, so I’ve been holding onto that bottle some time. Six … ty.” He stretched last word and put an inflection at the end, either a non-question becoming a question, or whittling the price down because of the bruise.

“Where can I find it?”

“Have it in storage. Frozen peas are back that way,” he said and pointed, then disappeared into some back part of the store. He returned carrying not a bottle but a box, which he opened on the counter in front of her, and in the box a brown cloth bag, and in the brown cloth bag a roundish honeycomb-like bottle. “Small batch,” he said.

Batch number and other information were inked by black pen on the label, by hand. Adorned on the stopper: a metal horse in full run, a rider holding on for dear life.

Running, Agatha mused, like me.

“I’ll take it,” she said. “You have any Mason jars, like for canning?”

The man in the blue smock showed her where to find them.

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She labeled the first quart “shame” and filled it to the brim with 16-penny nails. She labeled another “forgiveness” but didn’t fill it with anything just yet. No one to forgive, maybe not ever. She imagined someday filling the jar with names. Another she labeled “pity” and on a scrap of paper wrote Aggie and slipped it inside. The third jar she labeled “Mother” and filled with the memories of her, the empty jar carrying an impossible weight. Each Agatha sealed with a lid, screwed on the rings. She dug a hole behind the barn, not so deep. Mother’s second vacant grave.

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She found paint cans on shelves as old as the willows surrounding the farm; the wood planks held long-dead stories of trees, she imagined, and in one of the dented cans a dollop of sludge, brown as dried blood. She finger-painted her mother’s name on a rock, childlike, to serve as a headstone—using her mother’s maiden—and flipped it over (just another insignificant rock among rocks), smoothed out the dirt after burying the “Mother” jar.

Only the two of them’d ever know this secret place.

Movement in the tree line of willows shot adrenaline through her as she made her way back to her work, and faint weeping. Aggie’s pulse (she always thought of herself as Aggie when anxious) sent a war drum beat out her chest. The silhouette of a man with hands held to his side faded into black between trunks, as if taking a step back. Caught and then gone.

No, not him, she told herself. Not Chris, not Father.

She’d left her car at home, a beater Honda Civic cancerous with rust and oil-clogged piston-lungs, and had fled on bike instead—the old Schwinn angled against a wall in the barn. No one could have followed her. She’d left no trace, other than the empty Mason jar back home (not her home) once filled with cash labeled “freedom” in Sharpie over a tear of duct tape. She’d hidden her savings behind cleaning supplies in the garage, the jar itself inside an old Folgers tin.

“I see you,” she called to the woods.

The trees swayed in the breeze, leaves whispering, dangly arms groaning.

Agatha, not Aggie, scribbled “fear” on a label she adhered to the fourth jar. She dropped a handful of nails inside, raining metal against glass, and kept a lone nail in her palm as she hefted the hammer and stood. The tool becoming a weapon, and she held it as such.

She walked toward the spot with purpose, got within a stone’s throw of the woods. There, she waited as the chaos in her chest calmed to smooth rhythm and blues. Imagination, she knew. These woods were miles from town, the home on the property, as well as the barn, abandoned by its owners long ago, left to the putrefaction of nature to retake occupancy of the land. The nail bit into her palm, but she didn’t mind, squeezed a bit harder.

Staring into the striped camouflage of shadows and trees only created more illusion, not one shape, but countless. Many, then none at all. Branches oscillated by wind.

Alone once again. Jitters, is all, she told little Aggie.

She returned to her task of gathering reclaimed wood, piling neat stacks outside the barn. And until she patched the holes in the roof and secured the doors, she’d sleep there within a tent under its drooping rafters. If anyone happened upon the farmhouse in their travels, she figured, they’d stop there first, the main house, knock on the door, look through the windows, which would give her plenty of warning, too, to slip into the cover of the woods.

She pulled nails from her jar of fears and reinforced the doors.

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Agatha setup camp inside the barn. She sat outside her tent awhile, a hard wind testing the hinges, invisible hands pushing against the wood and rattling the handles. The moon shot flashlight beams through holes in the roof, periodically flickered by fast-moving cloud. She’d have to see to that in the morning, but for now sipped straight from the neck of the bottle, enjoying her shelter despite the frigid air. She thought of her poems, which was her initial escape. A few stanzas in particular resonated in this hiccup of thought, though she’d slipped the entire poem into a library’s copy of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters for someone else to find:

Blink not to forget
            but to cover individually
            with pleasant-past
                        / blink

When you close your eyes
            their lives inverted silhouettes:
                        hidden in memory
                        hidden from the children
                        hidden inside
            washed away by a sleeve
            they are gone

The whiskey kept her warm, or the bourbon, or whatever the stuff was, and so she drank enough to give her a buzz, which didn’t take long. She tried to remember more lines, but most were gone, lost in her unpleasant-past. She never kept poetry, always slipped it somewhere else.

Night sighed exhaustively, blowing in a storm. Before she knew it, the first droplet of rain slapped her cheek. The peas had done their work and had since thawed, and so she ate them directly from the bag, not enjoying the shriveled things, but survival-eating. Peas, peace. They went as well as they could with the cold can of raviolis purchased from the general store.

She’d bought a can-opener there, a pack of lighters, nonperishables, bottled water, all she could carry on her handlebars without tipping. Paid cash. Traceability the last thing she needed.

Ever wonder why a woman sometimes has two black eyes? Chris often said, usually around “friends” as a joke, always long after her visible bruises healed. ’Cause she didn’t listen the first time. He’d think it funny, hilarious. Isn’t that a hoot?

Fuck him.

In the rain, she wrote his name on a slip of paper, put it in the pity jar next to her own, then moved everything inside the tent. The tearing zip of the zipper flap reminded Agatha of the Levis her drunken father had once swung at her one night. Their jagged teeth had breadknifed into her arm. Still had the scar. ‘Fell onto a rake playin’ in the yard,’ you’ll say if anyone asks and that’s what she always said when asked, until her memories shaped the lie as truth.

Blink not to remember
            but to let go
            of the loss
                        / blink

Part of her remembered the rake, part of her the jeans. The round spots on her knuckles, were they not remnants of icy burns of warts removed, or from another kind of Kool?

She had cozied into her sleeping bag, trying to think of happier times, curled tight and mind adrift, when a gunshot shot her upright with a bright spark of light. The round buried deep into her gut and she found herself holding the wound, but it was only her bladder. She’d fallen into microdream, passing hours in an unrealistic time-shift. Lightning. Not now, she told herself, hold it ’til morning, but both the water and the whiskey wanted out of her. She waited for the rain to let up, but it only came down harder, machine-gun firing heavy onto the failing roof, then falling as heavy drops against the thin canvas of the tent. Aggie needed to pee. Agatha told her to just use one of the damn jars, “But not in here,” she said aloud.

Wasn’t so bad outside the tent, though muddy streams had formed around the hay she’d spread across the barn floor. Another flash splintered brilliant white through every crack and knot hole, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand and then the boom, a mad god’s bass drum pounding. The largest hole in the roof had created a waterfall in the back of the barn, but the slope of the ground, from what she could tell in the strobed light, drained water away from the structure, so no immediate need to worry about flooding.

“This is ridiculous,” she said as the barn doors jiggled.

Open this goddamn door!

Her father, only a memory now, but always there.

She thought of the fear jar, how many more nails she’d need to add to it in the morning, how many more’d be required to secure this place. She thought of the forgiveness jar, how it would always remain empty, like Mom’s coffin, how it didn’t belong with her, not here.

The barn creaked and swayed with the wind, every nail crying out in separate agony, yet holding the place together somehow, and oh how that reflected her once frail and fragile form.

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

washed clean by endless tears
            they are never gone
            in death they still run:
                        into the earth
                        down drains
                        from thoughts

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

The barn door burst open, the wet breath of the storm knocking Agatha onto her backside, the pants she’d slept in wicking the puddle beneath her. Far across the dead field, revealed by the open maw, the farmhouse stood sentinel as lightning flashed behind it, a black stamp signifying its existence. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand and then the boom, the storm moving away, it seemed, yet still in a frenzy.

The farmhouse disappeared, swallowed by the black storm’s hungry mouth, and in its wake a soft yellow rectangular glow remained. A window, lit by candle or oil lamp. No electricity in the house, Agatha knew, because she’d let herself in one of the windows the day before, had searched every cabinet and cupboard for food. Lifeblood of water ran through its groaning pipes at a trickle, clear and minerally with a subtle taste of clay—perhaps fed by well or natural spring—but no power, no beating heart of electricity pumping through the veins of its old framework. No power in the barn either, despite switches and sockets.

Someone’s in the farmhouse. Squatting, like me.

Rolling light fluttered from one cloud to the next, and in that long moment Agatha scanned the property for cars, for signs of life. Nothing but unkempt crops, dead fields, an empty driveway. As the sky darkened and the rain hammered down as heavy nails, the light inside the farmhouse went out. No, not out, someone at the window, barely perceptible.

                        / blink

Her bladder let out into the mud, but what did it matter now?

She stared ahead, unable to focus.

The lightning blinded Aggie temporarily—the frightened girl still hiding inside her—and absorbed the woman in the window entirely (she knew in her every fiber it was not a man), and then all turned dark. She made it to eleven-one-thousand before thunder rumbled. The belly of a hungry dragon flew within the clouds, then suddenly a spotlight shone upon her. Agatha—her stronger, adult self—ran to the barn doors, pulled one side closed, then the other, and they tried pulling back. She slid the bolt latch hard, the sound of a new round loaded into a rifle, as the mess she’d made ran down her leg.

Get ahold of yourself; her mother this time, buried inside a jar, but there.

The gap between the doors was enough to peek through. Between every new flash, she watched the house, straining for what wasn’t really there, convincing herself that what-wasn’t-really-there wasn’t now heading her way, about to spring out of the darkness. She tested the doors, but the latch held strong, making her wonder if she’d forgotten earlier to latch it. She pulled, but the swing doors only slightly swung. No way they’d’ve opened on their own.

She thought of her father, lights out, sneaking inside her room, inside other places.

More nails to hammer, so many more nails.

Father’s dirty fingernails.

You’ve wet’cherself; her father this time, buried twenty years, but still there. Best clean up ’fore your mother finds you dirty like this, he’d said / said now, haunting past and present. He’d died after Mother, which wasn’t fair. She’d simply vanished, no body ever found, Father not the slightest concerned. Burying nothing, an empty casket, offered no closure.

Agatha stripped out of her clothes, trembling, imagining eyes peering between every slat and through every weather-worn knot hole, and from above, as well as below. Only her pictures at the funeral, she recalled, and showered by way of rainwater pouring through the roof. She washed her soiled clothes the same, then shivered in the cold until mostly dried-off as the rain eased, moved elsewhere. Another slug of Blanton’s warmed from the inside, settled her anxiety. Naked in her sleeping bag, dreams eventually found her, the sleep-conductor waving his magical wand and composing his horrid dreams, and soon after she woke in panic to the morning.

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With everything wet, she let the sun dry the world, and enjoyed the body heat trapped inside her cocoon. Perhaps six or seven o’clock, she figured (always o’clock as she was raised and never a.m. / p.m.). No use hurrying out to fix the roof, slip-sliding off or crashing through.

The jar labeled “shame” called her attention. ‘Accident’ went inside on strip of notepaper, along with ‘Anxiety’ and multiple What-dad-did thoughts, simply written and placed in the jar as the numbers ‘7’ through ‘13,’ sometimes duplicates, her age for whatever bad thing wanted to surface. The glass jar quickly filled. There were enough bad things to warrant multiple containers, the little strips of paper smashed in layers. The jar labeled “forgiveness” called her too, though she had nothing to put inside. “You’ll forever remain empty,” she told the jar. The jar said nothing back to her. The others she’d filled with nails, one 16-penny for every thought—each entirely forgotten, to be repurposed to hold together this temporary shelter.

Agatha spent the next hour on poetry, managed to write a few stanzas of free verse, letting it flow as it may. She thought of this one in particular as “Paper Earth” and like the other’s she’d written over the years (she had written and hidden hundreds throughout the world), for as long as she could remember, came from a mysterious pool of streaming thought:

We make our way to the writing ground,
paper-white, as far as any eye can see,
where exhausted trees no longer shed.

What time is it, but does that matter,
and can life be measured such a way?

Rain will soon seal everything together,
forlorn-fallen tears cementing in layers,
where blackened trunks stand as sentinels.

What to write, fill the thoughts of few,
as each word cuts deep, every last thing.

We wait patiently for the clouds to part,
expecting the hands of angry gods,
yet humankind’s fingers do the pointing.

Who’s fault is this, and should we care,
one way or the other, and is it too late?

Countless stories are carved in the earth,
until every last broken finger is bled,
not-so-forever tales of what once was.

We were here, some layers will read,
existence recorded semi-permanently.

But well before the expected rainfall,
Father’s clock of life will tilt, tilt, tilt,
as Mother lets out her sighing breath.

You were never here, She will whisper,
and His hourglass will flip, begin again.

She ripped the paper from the notebook, folded it once in half, twice, thrice, then set it inside an unlabeled jar, sealed it like the others. What to call this one, she wondered, meaning the container. “The other voice?” she said, considering. “The pool?” she said. “Un-Aggie, or Anti-Agatha?” You’re not right in the head, talking to yourself like this, she thought, which meant it was time to get out of bed. She dressed into dry clothes from her backpack. She had only a few outfits on her, figured that’s all she’d need until deciding where to go. Wisconsin, maybe.

The uncertain fears from the night before she pounded as nails into planks to cover the larger gaps where siding had otherwise dilapidated or had weathered away as fine as stardust. The roof could wait, she knew, and so could replacing the soaked hay. What mattered now was confirmation of the main house being empty, that she was truly alone on this farm.

As an afterthought, she took out the poem and slid it into her pocket instead. She’d hide it in the world like she had all the others. No sense keeping it. No sense keeping the forgiveness jar either, if nothing’d ever go in it, so she took that with her too, and left the barn.

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The storm had slicked the earth, every surface glimmering.

Hammer at her side, she and the forever-unforgiven jar of nothing went to the house. She imagined different conversations, what she might be asked, how she might respond if someone were there. On my bike and riding past this place when the storm hit, she’d say. The hammer? Oh, I found that in the barn. Protection, she’d say, but from what? I camped in your barn, sir, to get out of the rain, see, and—

No one was home, though. Not a car in sight. The place deserted for years, perhaps. Dead weeds—wet dead weeds now, finally watered—sprouted around the place. Haunted, came to mind, which sent a shiver down her spine from what she’d thought she’d seen the night before, that little rectangle of yellow light, but as she approached, curtains at that window were drawn at a diagonal, as if one side of the rod holding them had fallen.

Would have seen a triangle of light, she wondered, not a square. And no movement inside, for nothing inside (besides spiders and other bugs) had stirred for some time. Years.

The front door would be locked, she knew, because it had been locked the day before. The only way in, she knew, was the kitchen window on the opposite side. She went to the door anyway, set the jar down, and knocked. The doorbell only depressed. No electricity.

You were never here, Agatha mused, one of the lines of the poem in her pocket.

She knocked again.

“Hello?”

See, no one’s here, Agatha told her younger mind. She then used the back of her fist to pound against the door, loud enough for anyone in the house to hear. She recalled grade school chalkboards, little Aggie licking that same part of her hand, pressing it against the chalky green to make a wet baby-foot image with her spit, then licking the tip of her finger and tasting the chalk and making five little toes. Baby feet. You’ve got baby feet, child-of-mind. No one’s here.

Aggie dared her older self to try the knob, teasing her that it would turn and the door would open because someone was waiting for her—a dare as juvenile as closing one’s eyes in a bathroom while holding a candlestick and chanting Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary and opening them to find you’ve conjured her apparition as a witch or ghost in the mirror, an impossible act of catoptromancy.

Still locked, she discovered, as expected.

Yet to be absolutely certain, she’d need to go inside, again.

The kitchen slid open with ease, allowing entry by an old-fashioned weighted window. She placed the forgiveness jar on the counter next to the sink, levered herself inside. A rat scurried across the floor, but rats’re cowards unless cornered, so it didn’t bother her. Aggie’s mom’d had a pet rat, Silky, one of younger Agatha’s earliest memories. Put it back in the damn cage, her father’d say, and mom’d say “Cages are meant for criminals, for those who do bad things,” though Aggie wouldn’t learn the difference between the two for a while.

Sunbeams yellowed the room and brought warmth to the old house, turned cobwebs invisible. She called out another hello, and the house answered silence.

She’d checked the kitchen the last time through, cabinets and drawers: silverware and plates, glasses and mugs, all one could expect in a kitchen, pots and pans, an abandoned coffee maker. But no food; scavenged over the years by squatters, maybe, by high-schoolers and college kids daring each other to the door, some making it inside and devouring, or devoured.

Room by room this second time through, she found more nothing; or, more appropriately, lots of things no longer with purpose, perhaps waiting for purpose. Things, waiting.

The place was fully furnished, but abandoned. Everything covered in off-white sheets to collect dust, as if every lamp and couch and cushion required rest without its occupants, or pretended to play ghost while dressed in linen.

Aggie pushed her onward.

She found the window in question, curtain rod tilted as she’d seen from outside. She set it right, then looked out the window at the barn, imagined an older version of herself staring across the field at her older self staring back. Come nightfall, she’d be the silhouette. Behind her was the candle, aged-yellow like the wallpaper. She smelled the wick, unburned for years. The small room had a porcelain toilet and tub like the bathroom of her youth, no shower. A splash of déjà vu: a familiar crack in a tile by the door, the same wooden-framed mirror hung slightly kinked.

Similar, she convinced herself, but not the same as back home.

And then it all came rushing in at once, the not-so-long-ago past. Chris pounding on the door. Picking the lock with a hair pin and barging inside as she cried on the throne. The red in his face, eyes wild. His smoky red aura of hate. The way he grabbed her wrists, both in one of his giant mitts, twisting, her bones grate-grinding as he pulled her into the adjacent room, tossed her with ease against the wall where she feta-crumbled to the floor. Say his name three times in the mirror under the glow of candlelight and he’d come for her again, and again, and again …

jars_08

Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood. But Chris’d wanted more than tomboy, and had taught her the past could be repeated, that adult life could mirror one’s youth.

Like this, he’d say, forcing her down, pulling her hair back, setting her mouth just right with ever-strong fingers, the ooh’s anything but fake (she always imagined the letter ‘O’ splitting her mouth apart one day), and cry again or clamp down’n I’ll rip your fuckin’ jaw right open as he’d have his way with her, any ol’ way, sometimes in a rush. But finally Agatha’d had enough and headstone-tipped the nail that was his head, cratered him out of anger and irritation alike with the hammer. Eye dangling. Cool as always. His breath a panicked gasp. Red spattered against the white, always. Thought-flashed like this in her mind, always. And she’d left him that way, a little damaged, a little dead but not quite. She’d ridden away from him on bike.

It had only taken one swing, like father’d taught her, and she hadn’t missed. Cannon ball, she’d imagined with that far-but-innocent adult mind only days ago, making a perfect-round splash of hot gore, not so little, the sap of his mind rising to the surface. Good, Agatha, just like that, she’d told herself, then. There you go, breathe (sipping panic-attack wisps of air, then guzzling deeper wheezes), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as serious. If her father’d ‘growed her up’ at seven or eight, Chris’d ‘growed her up’ at twenty-seven even more so. She imagined she brought his IQ down to single-digits with a single swing.

Stripped age, youth by force.

Chris’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a spouse.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

20200401_194305

jars_09

She stayed in the farmhouse until full dark, the passing of time immaterial to death, as light is insignificant to night. Light is insignificant tonight, little Aggie mused. Her older, wiser self lit the candle in the bathroom mirror with one of the lighters she’d purchased from the general store, from the Joe Hill or Owen King lookalike, and made her way to a shelf next to the fireplace and pulled a copy of their father’s novel Lisey’s Story—about the language of love, of all things—and slid her poem between the pages for another to find, maybe someday, maybe never. The empty jar labeled “forgiveness” found a new home as well, placed in the pantry on an equally empty shelf. Someone might find a use for it, or it might go unnoticed until the very end. She returned to the mirror, stared through herself at the small yellow window behind her.

“Agatha, Agatha, Agatha,” she said to the woman in the tent: her reflection.

jars_10

The next morning she hammered the rest of the “shame” and “pity” nails into the roof of the barn, careful with the ladder and with her footing. She drove every nail straight, most in a single swing or two, rarely three. A few small craters, some cracks in the reclaimed wood, but she wasn’t staying long. The weak barn needed another week, long enough for her bruises to turn from purple to yellow to gone. And then she’d be gone.

Black shapes watched from the woods, peering between willow trunks then slipping back. Black shapes watched from inside the farmhouse.

Agatha visited her mother each morning, knelt beside her, flipped over the rock. “Hi, mom,” she’d say (her parents always mom and dad, never Mom and Dad). “I know you’re not really there, but are we ever? I’ll never forgive dad. And I’ll never forgive you for leaving me with him, for what you let happen. And I’ll never forgive Chris for what I let happen. And I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done …” She’d usually trail off, then, her mind pulled to the woods or to the house, or to her unfinished work on the barn.

The roof still leaked during hard rains, but not as much.

She still cried nightly, but not as much.

jars_11

“Shiner’s looking better, barely noticeable,” the man in the blue smock said. It was a decent walk to Bookman’s, but nice after the change of seasons. “Last of the rain for a long while,” he said.

She’d left her Schwinn leaning against the wall in the barn, brought her backpack this time, took only what she needed, and bought from him only what she’d need. She’d left the tent, her sleeping bag. She’d left the Blanton’s there as well for someone else to find. Once pulled from the barrel and bottled, whiskey, or bourbon in this case, never went bad. Days or years or generations from now, someone’d stumble on the bottle, pull off the metal horse stopper and take a slug, and it’d be just as good. Not much in life was that certain. One’s time tended to spoil.

Where she’d go, she didn’t know. She only knew that her new path started at the edge of the woods, at the willows, for the shadows there continued to call for her, and she could no longer ignore them, lest she stay in the barn forever, haunted by their hiding and seeking.

Not to mention the new ghosts who’d recently taken over the farmhouse, perhaps a bunch of kids dared to touch the door, to ring the doorbell, to knock. One in particular, Oliver, seemed as though he’d stay a while, maybe until the end of summer, maybe forever.

“How was it?”

“How was what?”

“The spirits.”

Agatha smiled. “Best I ever had. You got any books?”

He pointed behind her at an old spinning rack of paperbacks.

Inside an old dog-eared copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, she slipped in a folded piece of paper, a snippet of a poem she couldn’t quite finish during her short time there:

The shell,
same shade as the rest,
begins to crack.

Life explodes,
reborn.

jars_12

There was Agatha.

jars_13

There is Agatha.

Right.


Agatha’s story continues here:

agathas_barn_logo_pt2


I hope you enjoyed this strange tale, Glenn’s illustrations, and every other piece of writing, art, music, poetry, or what-have-you inspired by Josh Malerman’s Carpenter’s Farm currently (and soon-to-be) popping up around the Internet. Since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to focus on writing anything other than poetry, so thank you, Josh, for getting me out of this rut! After reading the first four chapters of his novel-in-progress, and Shane Douglas Keene’s chapter-by-chapter corresponding poems, (seriously, read them), I reached out, asked if Josh would mind if I wrote a tie-in short story, he said to go for it, and so I hashed out this story in a single day. I started writing at around noon on a Saturday and multiple drafts / edits by midnight.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed!

The story continues soon …


Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00

Written Backwards can be contacted via email at written@nettirw.com, or reached on social media at facebook.com/nettirw or twitter.com/nettirw.

FREE READING MATERIAL (continued)

Thousands of free eBooks were downloaded during the last Written Backwards giveaway within the first few days, which means readers need books now more than ever. So, let’s do it again. Let’s keep the love of the written word going, helping however we can.

With the recent pandemic hitting the world, many are in self-quarantine, or being forced to work from home, or have lost their jobs (or will be looking for work soon) or are under mandatory shelter-in-place, thus turning homes into offices and classrooms. And it looks like we might be in this predicament for a while.

If you find yourself needing reading material during this difficult time as a distraction from life, I am making the entire Chiral Mad series of anthologies available for free on Amazon Kindle starting midnight on 03/20/2020 through 03/22/2020. This is about half-a-million words of fiction, poetry, and artwork, by some incredible creators.

Simply click the covers for direct links in the US, or see other options below if you’re in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, or Japan (that’s as far as my reach is capable at the moment).

If you find yourself not short on cash, consider helping out this small independent press by purchasing other titles available on the www.nettirw.com page. Check out the different tabs for Novels, Collections, Anthologies, and Misc, or simply donate to help keep this press alive.

Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00

Written Backwards can be contacted via email at written@nettirw.com, or reached on social media at facebook.com/nettirw or twitter.com/nettirw, although the press is not open to submissions at this time.

Stay safe, everyone …

CM4 - COVER (9X6)

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

9780999575444 CM3 CS_Cover (2nd Edition)

Amazon: eBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020)| trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

AmazoneBook (free 03/20 thru 03/22/2020) | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

FREE READING MATERIAL

With the recent pandemic hitting the world, many are in self-quarantine, or being forced to work from home (or will be soon) to cope with both schools and businesses temporarily closing. If you find yourself needing reading material during this difficult time as a distraction from life, I am making all my books (that I can) free on Amazon Kindle starting midnight on 03/14/2020 (the soonest I can), through 03/18/2020.

Simply click the covers for direct links in the US, or see other options below if you’re in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, or Japan (that’s as far as my reach is capable at the moment).

Stay safe, everyone …

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00094]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00073]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

SP - Cover

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00009]

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan,

PR - Cover

Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan

All titles are also available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Paul Michael Anderson is also making his fiction collection available as well:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]

LEAP YEAR OVERSIGHT!

Want to familiarize yourself with the strange fiction of Michael Bailey? Have a Kindle? Like stories that blend science fiction with horror? Celebrate the leap year with a free copy of Oversight

Starting midnight on 02/28/2020 through the end of 03/03/2020, have a complimentary copy of Oversight. The collection features two novelettes (“Darkroom” and “SAD Face”) and a short story (“Fade to Black”). All that’s asked for in return is a review on either Amazon.com or Goodreads (or both).

3D_layout_OS

Also available in trade paperback for less than a fancy coffee.

AmazoneBook | trade paperback. Also available in the UK, Canada, Australia, GermanyFranceItalySpainIndiaBrazilMexicoNetherlandsJapan, and Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Nobletrade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

MISCREATIONS: GODS, MONSTROSITIES & OTHER HORRORS – NOW AVAILABLE!

MISCREATIONS - Full Spread

Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors, one of the most anticipated anthologies of 2020, is now available in all editions!

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we make monsters of ourselves? Grotesque beings lurch from our darkest dreams. Vicious beasts stalk our twisted pasts. Lost souls haunt our deepest regrets. They are the blood on our hands. They are the obsessions in our heads. They are the vengeance in our hearts. They are Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors.

This anthology of dark speculative fiction is edited by Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano and Michael Bailey, includes a foreword by Alma Katsu (author of The Hunger, The Deep), and illustrations throughout by HagCult.

Available just about everywhere in the world:

AmazoneBook | trade paperback | hardcover. Also available in the UKCanadaAustraliaGermanyFranceItalySpainIndiaBrazilMexicoNetherlandsJapan, and a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Noble: trade paperback | hardcover

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback | hardcover

MISCREATIONS - Wraparound (cropped)

[ hardcover edition ]

All editions include 23 illustrations by HagCult, one for each of the following stories and poems:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Matryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“One Day of Inside/Out” (poem) by Linda D. Addison
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell
“You Are My Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“The Vodyanoy” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Not Eradicated In You” by Bracken MacLeod
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“The Old Gods of Light” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Benediction of Corpses” (poem) by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover

[ trade paperback edition ]


Read what our pre-readers to say, or write your own review at Goodreads!

eBook Cover Display 1

[ eBook edition ]

OVERSIGHT

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00094]

OVERSIGHT, a themed collection by Michael Bailey, is now available in affordable trade paperback and eBook. This collection was previously released as a signed / limited hardback by Unnerving, limited to 60 copies. Includes “Darkroom” and “SAD Face” (novelettes), and “Fade to Black” (short story). About 25,000 words.

AmazoneBook | trade paperback. Also available in the UKCanada,Australia,
Germany, France, ItalySpainIndiaBrazilMexicoNetherlandsJapan, and Kindle Unlimited where available.

Barnes & Noble: trade paperback

Books-A-Million (BAM!)trade paperback

MISCREATIONS: E-BOOK PRE-ORDER!

eBook Cover Display

The official release date of Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors is February 18th, 2020, but the eBook edition is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle!

For Amazon outside the US, the anthology is available in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Japan, and is a part of Kindle Unlimited where available.

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we confront the monsters inside ourselves? These are the grotesque things that should never have been. These are the beasts that stalk our twisted pasts. These are the ghosts of our own making that haunt our regrets. They are the blood on our hands. They are the obsessions in our heads. They are the vengeance in our hearts.

Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano & Michael Bailey present the next anthology by Written Backwards, featuring a foreword by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Deep), and illustrations by HagCult (such as this one):

addison-poem.jpg

The eBook edition (as well as both the trade paperback and hardcover) includes 23 illustrations, one for each of the following stories and poems:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Matryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“One Day of Inside/Out” (poem) by Linda D. Addison
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell
“You Are My Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“The Vodyanoy” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Not Eradicated In You” by Bracken MacLeod
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“The Old Gods of Light” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Benediction of Corpses” (poem) by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

And for a very limited time (12/07/19 through 12/08/19), you can pre-order the trade paperback edition through Night Worms, and have the opportunity of owning a physical copy a month earlier than the official release date in February. Click the image below to sign up for their subscription package. First-timers also get a $5 discount.

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover

Yes, Night Worms will be rolling out their next subscription package soon, which will contain a trade paperback edition of the anthology (image above), along with two other similarly-themed books. Get yours a month before anyone else!

Then, on February 18th, 2020, Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors will be released simultaneously in eBook, trade paperback, as well as in a special hardcover edition (image below).

MISCREATIONS - Wraparound.jpg

MISCREATIONS: NIGHT WORMS

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we confront the monsters inside ourselves? These are the grotesque things that should never have been. These are the beasts that stalk our twisted pasts. These are the ghosts of our own making that haunt our regrets. They are the blood on our hands. They are the obsessions in our heads. They are the vengeance in our hearts.

Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano & Michael Bailey present the next anthology by Written Backwards: Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors, featuring a foreword by Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Deep), and illustrations throughout by HagCult.

The trade paperback edition is now available for pre-order (for a very limited time) by Night Worms! Order from Nigh Worms and get the book a month earlier than its official release date (02/18/19). The eBook edition can be pre-ordered on Amazon, or by clicking the cover below.

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover

Yes, Night Worms will be rolling out their next subscription package soon, which will contain a trade paperback edition of the anthology (cover artwork above), along with two other similarly-themed books. And you can get your mitts on a copy of this anthology an entire month before its official release on February 18th, 2019.

What can you expect?

The following fiction and poetry, each featuring an illustration:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Matryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“One Day of Inside/Out” (poem) by Linda D. Addison
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell
“You Are My Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“The Vodyanoy” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Not Eradicated In You” by Bracken MacLeod
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“The Old Gods of Light” (poem) by Christina Sng
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“A Benediction of Corpses” (poem) by Stephanie M. Wytovich
“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss.

Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors will be released simultaneously in eBook and trade paperback, as well as in a special hardcover edition (artwork for the full wrap-around cover below).

wraparound_hc

Want it before anyone else? Click here!

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE MAKE MONSTERS?

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Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors received nearly 900 submissions during its open call window, and will be available in early 2020 by Written Backwards. Pre-order now (a month before its official release) from Nightworms!.

Table of Contents:

Foreword by Alma Katsu

“Maytryoshka” by Joanna Parypinski
“One Day of Inside/Out” by Linda D. Addison (poetry)
“My Knowing Glance” by Lucy A. Snyder
“Paper Doll Hyperplane” by R.B. Payne
“Sounds Caught in Cobwebs” by M.E. Bronstein
“I Am Your Neighbor” by Max Booth III
“Only Bruises Are Permanent” by Scott Edelman
“Umbra Sum” by Kristi DeMeester
“Butcher’s Blend” by Brian Hodge
“Frankenstein’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss
“Operations Other Than War” by Nadia Bulkin
“A Benediction of Corpses” by Stephanie M. Wytovich (poetry)
“Not Eradicated in You” by Bracken MacLeod
“The Vodyanoy” / “The Old Gods of Light” by Christina Sng (poetry)
“Ode to Joad the Toad” by Laird Barron
“Imperfect Clay” by Lisa Morton
“Spectral Evidence” by Victor LaValle

“The Making of Asylum Ophelia” by Mercedes M. Yardley
“One Last Transformation” by Josh Malerman
“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik
“Brains” by Ramsey Campbell

What happens when we make monsters? What happens when we confront the monsters inside ourselves? These are the grotesque things that should never have been. These are the beasts that stalk our twisted pasts. These are the ghosts of our own making that haunt our regrets. They’re the blood on our hands. They’re the obsessions in our heads. They’re the vengeance in our hearts. These are Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors.

Bram Stoker Award-winning editors Doug Murano and Michael Bailey welcome you to submit your best work for consideration in this anthology, which will launch in early 2020. Follow news and announcements on Facebook!

MISCREATIONS - Mock Cover


Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors
 
will be released by Written Backwards in February 2020, simultaneously in hardcover, trade paperback, and eBook.

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