Sunday, May 11, 2014

The End is the Beginning!

Most dreams play out over a matter of seconds. Some nightmares last far longer. So was the case with one I experienced twenty years ago, in which I found myself trapped with other survivors in a house hidden among tall Douglas firs, located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. We moved around the house quietly, ever mindful of an unidentified danger lurking outside the walls of our fortress and prison. It rained nonstop throughout the nightmare; it was always night beyond the windows.  I only caught glimpses of the faceless horrors lurking on the other side of the door, which was even more effective -- my imagination has always responded to instances when what you don't see is more terrifying than what you do. Before dream's end, the situation inside the house degenerated to a level as dangerous as the one outside, and there was something else I remember quite clearly: the trees, and the rich smell of the needles and pitch.  It burned in my nostrils.

The dream quickly got recorded on a note card and went into my catalog of ideas, but was not so quickly written.  Not until 2010, when the longhand manuscript was dashed off in a matter of days and then went into my file cabinet, part of the 'inventory' I keep of completed first draft manuscripts.  Out it again came in December of 2013, and off it went to Firbolg Publishing's latest anthology call, Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, a collection of environmental-themed horror fiction edited and compiled by the brilliant Dr. Alex Scully. I'd already appeared in their amazing previous release with my story told from the perspective of H.P. Lovecraft's ultimate big bad, C'Thulhu, Dark Muses, Spoken Silences -- and which featured reprints by Poe, Polidori, Lovecraft, and Washington Irving, along with a lineup of some of my favorite contemporaries.  And I was beyond thrilled to learn that my tale, "Every Seven Years, Give or Take", would be part of this important book.  As with the previous release, End features reprints by such notables as Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, M. R. JamesNathaniel Hawthorne, and Mr. Poe, my favorite writer of all time.  And again I share an incredible Table of Contents with many of today's most talented scribes, many of whom shared the back stories behind their stories.

Eric J. Guignard on "She Will Rise Again":  "As a lover of fairy tales and Greek mythology, I delight in the fantasy concepts of invisible gods and elements surrounding us, spirits residing in trees and flowers, animals, and even inanimate objects. Mother Nature, in particular, is a wonderful personification of the life-giving and nurturing aspects of the world we live in. I wanted to explore the idea that if she were a real being, what would be the circumstances or effects of her existence as one of substance but who is hidden from civilization. After a few failed envisionings, she ended up with a C'Thulhu-esque element, as one who slumbers while the planet turns, rising only with sacrifice and when she is needed."

B. E. Scully on "Nothing But Skin and Bones":  "I was living in the eye of the urban hurricane known as Los Angeles when life picked me up and threw me into the whirlwind. When I landed, I was in hill country, West Virginia. Mountaintop removal had been going on for years by then, and right in the middle of lush, blue-green mountains you’d see these flattened, barren stretches, like the surface of the moon. It sometimes happens with mountaintop removal that old family cemeteries get wiped off the mountain along with everything else. The dead get discarded like trash in a landfill. I left West Virginia years ago, but those displaced bones and that dark, disturbed earth stayed with me. When I sat down to write a story for The End Is the Beginning, I went back to those mountains and found a man sitting alone in one of those blasted moonscapes. The rest of the story is what happens when the living and the dead get pushed too far, and start pushing back. As for me, I’m putting my money on the birds, the bees, and the bones."

Tais Teng on "The Art of Losing Wars Gracefully":  "When pigeons awoke me one morning with their insistent and deeply annoying cooing I realized that, though, we built the cities we never really own them. For the pigeons our proudest high-rises are only cliffs, nesting places. Fire ants gnaw the timbers of our homes and have their own highways in our walls. Below us rats rule the sewers and there are urban foxes hunting in our back-gardens. All my life we have been at war with the animal kingdom: mice steal our cheese and nibble our bread no matter how good we hide it. There was a wasp-nest once in our front garden; the exterminator had to come back three times before those insects were gone. ‘You should not plant anything edible there for at least  a year,’ the exterminator told us. ‘The poison I used is rather strong.’ That skirmish with the wasps didn't feel like victory and we knew they would be back. I got it: never try to win a war with animals, a draw, a temporary stalemate is the best you can hope for."

Kenneth W. Cain on "Her Living Corals":  "My story came to me while studying my Nano-reef tank. There are many mysteries in this tank, which make my mind wander.  I’ve always had a fear of the ocean. Not the water itself, but the haunts in its depths. These waters often frequent my stories. Who knows what exists in the deepest recesses of the ocean? What a man or woman is capable of within those areas? With this story I wanted to explore the ongoing ruin of our coral reefs. While keeping and maintaining reef tanks can be a rewarding experience, it can never compare to the real thing. The seas are full of life, brimming with extraordinary creatures, some of which can barely be seen. Besides millions of beautiful fish, there are copepods and amphipods, many varieties of snails, tiny anemones and feather dusters, limpets and chitons, starfish, and so much more that we need to preserve. Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t explored these reefs; check it out before its too late. In the meantime, do your part to help."

K. Trap Jones on "The River":  "The inspiration came from the idea that sometimes we take nature for granted. We look upon her with beauty, but often times ignore the power that she can possess. I wanted to tell a story of how easily something bad can happen. With one slip of a foot, a traditional fishing trip can go horribly wrong. Mother Nature, to me, can be a gentle loving soul, but then unleash rage at any given moment. Through this narrative, I wanted to give both sides of Mother Nature almost like a wonderful woven spider web. From afar, the web is spectacular, but once it has you in her grasp, the situation alters from beauty to dismay. Through the depressive narrative tone and the mental anguish of the narrator, the story comes off as a battle between the will of man and the overall endurance of Mother Nature. One slip was all that it took."

Rose Blackthorn on "Consequences":  "My story is set in a small town on the Oregon coast, not far from where I once lived. I have an abiding love of the ocean and its wildlife, including not just those who live in the water but the myriads of birds and animals who live near the shore. I think people for a long time have thought that the renewability of the ocean was boundless, but it’s becoming clearer now that over-fishing and the indiscriminate dumping of waste is building to a possible point of no return. With the nuclear plant in Japan bleeding toxins into the Pacific, it just adds another layer of worry about what is happening to our natural planet. So, I wrote a story about a woman who is dealing with general life issues -- aging, divorce, trying to make ends meet -- who is lucky enough to live in a beautiful place that she loves. Then I added in one variation of a worst-case scenario to the changes wrought in nature, and the possible consequences. Honestly, the whole idea scares me, too."

Julianne Snow on "There Is No Wind That Always Blows":  “When I saw the call for Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning, I was immediately struck with a number of ideas that could work. After discarding all of those I settled on the premise for a wicked little apocalyptic tale that asks what would happen if the winds picked up to the point they wiped most of humanity from the surface? In Chaos Theory there is a statement: It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. But what if more than one butterfly flapped their wings in unison? Could a cataclysmic event actually occur? And what would the remnants of humanity do to survive? ‘There Is No Wind That Always Blows…’ explores the physical and emotional strain such an event wreaks and leaves you wondering if the next gust of wind will ever end.”

Mark Patrick Lynch on "The Mourning Worm":  "A pleasure of writing SF is the world building. Creating planets, alien moons, and exotic space stations can be great fun -- but sometimes a little demanding. In 'The Mourning Worm' I went for a real location, a place I’d actually stayed in. Gregory’s cottage is as described (though as yet awaiting the interior refit), surrounded by the dense woods and rolling countryside of Wiltshire. It is enchanting in almost every aspect. But real locations bring with them their own hazards. In this case it was the low beams of the ceilings. I’m 5’11 (and a half). The cottage was built hundreds of years ago, when people were shorter in general... Yeah, you do the math. I didn’t come out of that stay with a concussion, but my head was like Braille for someone who reads the bumps and orbits of skulls. Maybe it was as I was wandering around a wee bit senseless that the notion for 'The Mourning Worm' came to me: holes in the world, absences…like the memories and minutes I seemed to have lost after I forgot to duck while walking from one side of a room to the other."

Sydney Leigh on "Rabenschwarz":  "There’s something about the fact that while intended for children, fairy tales are actually rather terrifying -- their settings, mood, atmosphere, and messages are all fascinatingly macabre. I felt this might make for an interesting backdrop for an environmental horror story, and loosely based ‘Rabenschwarz’ on 'Foundling-Bird', one of the lesser-known tales from the brothers Grimm. The unknown has always been the most frightening possibility for me in terms of natural disasters, ecological horrors, and the infinite list of environmental threats -- and the first thing that comes to mind when I worry about what the future brings is always the extinction of animals. The idea of them being removed from their natural habitats by mankind is the driving force behind this story, which plays on the idea that an unseen presence dwelling in the forest is not taken into account while some fairly grisly events are unfolding and no one quite knows who to blame. I’m afraid the supernatural element in the story allows for a happier ending than I think the animals in our world will the presence of this force, raven-black and understandably sinister in nature, was my way of illuminating that for the reader."

Lawrence Santoro on "So Many Tiny Mouths":  "Someone said horror starts when innocence sets foot in the forest.  Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden for example; the forest primeval. Pennsylvania, 1950-something:  Summers, mom, dad, cousins and I would hop into the old man's Chevy and head toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Three hours later our first half-dozen layers of winter skin would have blistered to a sweat-slick peel and salt-water taffy would have yanked the year's fillings from our heads. Before becoming beach-blanket brisket though we had to cross inland Jersey, eighty-plus non air-conditioned miles, me in back meditating on undertow, riptides, and sand sharks.  Thus occupied, I didn’t notice that most of Jersey was trees.  Those eighty-some miles, the whole of central Jersey, was a geo-political entity: the Pine Barrens. Nighttime, homeward-bound, cousin Fred (who knew about such things) whispered tales about the woods that unspooled by our car in the dark.  They were inhabited by six-fingered folk who lived in caves, who prayed to odd and grubby gods, made their own gas from pig shit and ate lost travelers.  They were "Pineys” and you stayed away from them. Much later, I made a film in the Barrens.  Alas, Pineys turned out to be garden-variety Americans.  I got to know them -- somewhat -- and the Barrens -- a bit -- and have tried I don’t know how many times to get the place down on paper.  I keep trying.  Love, I think.  This is one such effort.  I think I’m closing in, but wouldn’t bet that I’ve got it.  It’s an elusive place.  The forest always is. By the way, Earl Sooey?  He's fiction, a coincidence.  No one I met.  Really."