Interview with Roger McKnight Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am delighted to be interviewing Roger McKnight. Author of Hopeful Monsters a wonderful collection of short stories recently published by Storgy Books.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Roger I really appreciate it.

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you first got into writing?

RM: I was born and raised in downstate Illinois. I worked as a teacher in Chicago, Sweden, and Puerto Rico before coming to Minnesota for grad school. I now reside in Minnesota.  I’ve always been a writer, though first as a student of journalism (whose courses I didn’t much like but learned from) and then on scholarly research projects.  I’ve always written fiction.  In recent years I’ve worked with a bit more determination at getting my fiction published. Composing stories was my dream even in childhood.

DS: Addiction and Obsession are two key themes throughout the collection. What made you decide on these themes and how did you shape your stories around them?

RM: I consider addiction, if by that is meant drug or alcohol abuse, to be a key theme only in “Rain Shadow” and “Iago.” What interested me most in those stories was not the substance abuse per se, but the mind-set that led the characters Raul and Nick down that path.

Obsession as a theme occurs during the stories, in my opinion, only in the sense that the world has been experiencing troubled times ever since Vietnam.  Most of us, as I see life around me, are eager, if not desperate, to find answers to those troubles, both world-wide and personal. In some cases, as in “Forgetting She Forgot”, they search insistently for answers to life dilemmas (resulting, in this story, from a disaster such as Desert Storm) that aren’t wholly of their own making.  If the present-day search for answers can be described as an obsession, then we’re all probably obsessed to one degree or another. Being troubled by what’s facing us is what flesh is heir to.

By the same token, one can empathize with the anxiety experienced by Jake and Al in “Basic Skills,” even though they keep their feelings under wraps below the surface.

DS: You have lived in both Europe and the US? What are the differences in cultures that interest you? Which have helped inform your writing?

RM: I’ve lived in Scandinavia and the US.  Differences do exist, no doubt about it, but they are hard to put a finger on in brief. In general, one feels more respect for human dignity in Scandinavia, on both the personal and governmental levels.

I tried to write that attitude into “Out the Window,” in which the Swedish employees and the Swedish government have every seeming reason to toss the hospital patients out in the cold, especially the ones who came to Sweden from other countries, and some Swedish employees would not be against doing so.  Yet society chose to keep, house, and protect the helpless.  In that story, Laila has a lot to teach Ewen.

As for Hopeful Monsters as a whole, reviewers tend to remark that the stories all hold out some hope in the end. That softening influence comes from my experience of Scandinavian life and culture, an attitude that’s not wholly missing in Minnesota and will be needed greatly as the state becomes increasingly multi-cultural.

DS: I adored how you drew history into your stories, to reflect how turbulent the world has been over the years. How much research did you do for each story?

RM: For some stories, much research was needed. With tales like “Iago,” “Out the Window,” “Down the River,” and “Sixteen,” I read a lot and talked with people who were there and experienced it.

For example, what happens/happened in a crack house; what was the history of institutions for the developmentally challenged in Sweden; how could the Civil War Era’s Old Slave House have existed in a free state like Illinois and why would Abraham Lincoln have visited there and dined with the illegal slave owner while blacks were held captive in the rooms above them; what was it like fleeing Somalia and coming to the US (I got that straight from a 15-year-old boy in Minnesota).

For other stories, I used my own memories from living in the US and Sweden as events happened, including hearing detailed descriptions of washing diapers by hand, as in “Speed Clean” (though I had to read up on Speed Clean washing machines, even if my own mother owned one).  Fact and fiction blend together and suggest the truth.  Research and lived experience worked in unison.

DS: Where there any moments when you were writing the stories that you thought I am maybe going to far? If so in which stories and why?

RM: In the expository sections of the stories I never made any authorial claims to the truth or any favouritism. I made a conscious effort to address vital issues without taking an authorial stance. Some of my characters do take definite stances, but throughout the stories I worked at maintaining a sense of ambiguity about the status of their attitudes.

In “Victoria” Sylvia agrees to do what she can to help Tori, but she isn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do.  She ends the story wondering if ‘good’ is always the same as ‘right’.  In “Loving Sören” Karen and Josh have definite opinions on sensitive issues, but they are willing to reserve final judgment on them while trying to figure out if they truly understand Kierkegaard or not.  “Yesterday’s Storms” brings up the debate between creationism and scientific proof.  That debate is never settled in the story; the issue ends in ambiguity. Ex: Gerome first argues for an expanding universe, but he ends up describing a closed universe.  It’s not clear what he, an astronomer who’s expected to know, does believe in, except the beauty and mystery of what’s out there.

No, I never went too far. I made an honest effort to address important issues without being polemic.

DS: Would you mind talking a small about your writing style please? As I find it extremely unique. I am curious to learn how it developed and where it first came from?

RM: I can try out some comments on my writing style, but I’m not sure exactly what to say. First of all, I didn’t know it’s unique.  If it is, that’s surely because I think in an unlikely combination of academic circumspection and straight-to-the point southern Illinois rural dialect mixed in with some Minnesota neologisms (a contrast I vaguely touched on in “Speed Clean”).

Also, I read lots of Scandinavian literature, in which understatement and chariness of comment are common.  There’s kind of an iceberg effect in much Scandinavian lit, in which as much is left unsaid under the surface as appears above it. What one critic called “the art of the half-told tale.”  I hope my stories tell more than half, however. I try to be somewhat subtle.

DS: Who would you say were your writing influences growing up? Which writers would you encourage everyone to read and why?

RM: Steinbeck.  Hemingway.  Edwin Arlington Robinson.  Winesburg, Ohio.  Spoon River Anthology.  T. S. Eliot. Thoreau.

People should read: the Swedish novelist and dramatist Hjalmar Söderberg (1879-1941). 

Try his novel Doctor Glas.  It’s about a medical doctor, who goes about committing the perfect crime.  And his collection of stories called in English simply Short Stories.  You might have to get them through a library or very good bookstore.

For a perfectly structured drama, I suggest Miss Julie by the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg (1849-1912).  Study how the drama’s skilfully put together.

DS: Finally what is next for Roger McKnight?

RM: Another collection of short stories.  Maybe a novel.  I’m fishing around.

Thanks to Roger and Storgy Books for allowing me to do this interview. The interview was carried out over email. Thanks Roger for your insight answers to my questions.

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You can buy the book now! On the link below:

HOPEFUL MONSTERS: Paperback & Ebook available now!

 

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Review of Hopeful Monsters by Roger McKnight Written by Dan Stubbings

Why Not Pre-Order Now by Clicking This Link: https://storgy.com/2019/08/02/hopeful-monsters/

Book Synopsis

Hopeful Monsters: Profound Book of Short Stories Explores Humanity Through Lens of Minnesotans. Roger McKnight’s ‘Hopeful Monsters’ is a beautiful collection of short stories, reflecting on Minnesota people, that takes readers on a journey through pain, defeat, triumph and hope. Covering social issues including immigration, race and social injustice – McKnight showcases humanity through the periscope of one of the United States’ most unique groups of people.

Roger McKnight’s debut collection depicts individuals hampered by hardship, self-doubt, and societal indifference, who thanks to circumstance or chance find glimmers of hope in life’s more inauspicious moments. Hopeful Monsters is a fictional reflection on Minnesota’s people that explores the state’s transformation from a homogeneous northern European ethnic enclave to a multi-national American state. Love, loss, and longing cross the globe from Somalia and Sweden to Maine and Minnesota as everyday folk struggle for self-realization. Idyllic lake sides and scorching city streets provide authentic backdrops for a collection that shines a flickering light on vital global social issues. Read and expect howling winds, both literal and figurative, directed your way by a writer of immense talent.

Review

Upon opening Hopeful Monsters Roger’s voice bursts off every page like a lightening bolt begging you to listen. His voice is a road map helping us peel away the hidden meanings behind his words. It felt almost at times as if he was giving me a social commentary on our current climate. Presenting stories that focused attention on several problems throughout the world that effect everyone in one form or another.

One story that struck this point home most was a story called September Mist. A story of two people who love each other deeply but because of race and other circumstances can never truly be together. Roger’s words seem effortless as he conveys the struggle these two face to be accepted within their respected communities before they can even begin to see a future together. A line that stood out for me on this theme was “Yes, some places black folks don’t go very often-not that we can’t-we just don’t” said by Eve. One of the two main voices in the story when encountering glances from a white gentleman in a restaurant. I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the segregation of blacks in the 1950s in the US and wonder whether Roger was trying to get the reader to realise that unfortunately some of these longheld prejudices have never truly left the modern world.

A story which I have read countless times was Rain Shadow. The story centres around a group of homeless people who tackle daily battles with each other as well as their own demons. Roger explores many different problems that impact upon the group from addiction to helping draw one another back from the brink. The reason I keep coming back to it is because of its rawness. Roger presents in sixteen pages, a hollowing account of what it truly means to be homeless when all you have is your own thoughts and a few friends to keep you sane. Nothing feels overexaggerated or put in simply for dramatic affect. The scary thing is he was only scratching the surface.

Addiction is a theme that Roger revisits numerous times using different characters throughout the collection to display his message. Roger paints the corrupt forms that addiction takes in a way that I haven’t encountered previously. He uses addiction as a hook to help show the depths that a person will go to get their fix regardless of the consequences. Whether it is relationship break down, loss of their job, or their kids being taken away. Yet he does it in a way that never comes across as judgemental showing the reader that even the best person can make the wrong decision.

This truth is displayed wonderfully in a story called Iago where our character goes to the pits of society in search of what he thinks is eternal bliss. I felt this was the most powerful story in the whole collection as it demonstrates the dark horror of drugs. Exposing the reader to the wide spreading effects addiction can have on a community in a sensitive and eye-opening verse that forces you to push the boundaries on what you think you know.

What I adored most about Hopeful Monsters was the fact that Roger highlighted the plight of several vulnerable groups within his stories. He wasn’t afraid to discuss sensitive topics such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, and mental health creating an array of intriguing characters and scenarios to give a voice to the forgotten in our society.

Every story seems to be centred around some key universal themes that help to create a narrative that explores the hidden corners of the mind and society. Begging the question how much has really changed? For me Hopeful Monsters is more than a short story collection. It is a memoir of how different life choices can set a person down a path that sometimes they cannot return from. I look forward to reading more of Roger as this collection was a work of art. It receives 5 stars. A must read.

I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

About the Author

roger

Roger McKnight hails from Little Egypt, a traditional farming and coal-mining
region in downstate Illinois. He studied and taught English in Chicago, Sweden,
and Puerto Rico. Swedes showed Roger the value of human fairness and gender
equity, while Puerto Ricans displayed the dignity of their island culture before the
tragedy of Hurricane Maria and the US government’s shameful post-disaster
neglect of the island’s populace. Roger relocated to Minnesota and taught Swedish and Scandinavian Studies. He now lives in the North Star State.

 

 

 

Review of Shallow Creek from Storgy Books Written by Dan Stubbings

Review

After being such an avid reader of Storgy magazine. I was intrigued to discover what the crew of devilish dark minds that run the publication had in store for us from their annual short story competition. I am pleased to say they haven’t disappointed. Enabling readers to face their fears and go into a world entirely of their own making. The Storgy team challenged us to drip our toes into their eerie playground of Shallow Creek. A town with a past many hadn’t survived all we were given through the generous invite of the mysterious Mallum Colt was a character, a location, and a special item that had to be involved at some stage throughout your story.

This blank canvas of options has allowed for unique and original tales to be born. With writers constructing their haunting babies along the way. Diving far into this imaginary town in search of its hidden treasures. This collection is a masterpiece and does the world of story and imagination proud. So strap yourselves in while Uncle Dan tells you all about it.

Sometimes when I open a collection of short stories, I find myself reading out of order. This is usually due to several different reasons it maybe because a certain writer is present, and I have read their previous works and want to see if they have expanded on an existing world or character, or it could be something as simple as a title of a particular story catches my eye. However, with Shallow Creek I found myself glued from the first page to the last.

The reason why this was the case with Shallow Creek is because I experienced something that hasn’t happened since I read Interview with a Vampire for the first time. Every story ignited a fire within me that forced me to absorb every word, dissect every paragraph, and begin my own investigation into every plot twist as if I were an expert detective sent to close an unsolvable crime.

The beauty about this anthology is that even though it keeps a steady pace maintaining your interest throughout. You don’t feel as though you are missing any important details or discarding themes that may become significant later on. Ross, Tomek, and Tony the editors have done an incredible job of assembling this intertwined narrative that exposes us to all corners of Shallow Creek from Devil’s Gorge to the asylum. Introducing readers to a cast of charismatic characters that you hope to never meet in a dark alley by the time you finish your fingers are bleeding with excitement.

What makes this collection stand out in the never-ending sea that is the horror and supernatural genre is the themes that have been highlighted within the context of this spooky old town.

One story I couldn’t stop reading was Behind These Eyes by Alice Noel. A haunting story told through the eyes of multiple characters that centres around the illness dementia. However not all is as it seems and the story takes on a sinister twist. Alice opened an insight into the loneliness and terrifying world of dementia in a way that I haven’t encountered. Weaving threads of deception that make you question whether you ever truly know a person? By the time I finished my hands were shaking.

Arrowhead by Daniel Carpenter was another that stuck with me long after I had finished reading. Its my favourite story within the collection. For me it just has everything mysterious characters, intrigue, and that sense of mystery that allows it to transcend several dimensions of the horror genre. Told through the eyes of a dead-beat Lenny. We are taken into a world of addiction and obsession that gets under your skin. As more of the narrative was revealed you closed your eyes. I adored how Dan was able to fully submerge me into the world he had created in his mind. It was that one story that when I finished I had to reread it straight away just to revel in its mastery. Bravo Dan Bravo.

I am not going to discuss every story in the collection as I would be here all night. There is however one final gruesome tale I want you all to know about. A story called Backwards by Adrian J Walker. A murder investigation with an ending I didn’t see coming at all. To say I was afraid by what Adrian produced wouldn’t even begin to cover it. I will say this though whatever you do don’t read this one in the dark. It reminded me of a demonic cross between Jack Reacher meets the Walking Dead.

This collection has all the aspects that makes me love this genre. From creepy murder mysteries to abandoned shacks in the middle of nowhere. It has something for every reader of the weird and wonderful delving deep into the masters of collective narrative from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice. Yet at the same time creating a fresh perspective on what is achievable within the unexplored depths of the dark.

It receives five stars. Congratulations to all the writers you have constructed something totally unique. I adore Shallow Creek and hope to experience countless visits.

I received a copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review this doesn’t affect my views.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 3 Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis-

Welcome to The Shadow Booth, the international journal of weird and eerie fiction.

Volume 3 is published as an ebook and a 200-page mass-market paperback.

Volume 3 contains stories by: Nick Adams, Judy Birkbeck, Raquel Castro, Armel Dagorn, Jill Hand, Richard V. Hirst, Verity Holloway, Tim Major, Annie Neugebauer, Robert Shearman, Gregory J. Wolos.

My Review

Tales from The Shadow Booth is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read every year. Volume 3 was no exception. Two hundred plus pages of eerie mind -bending tales that have a way of seeping underneath your skin, forcing you to consider every twist and fright long after you have turned the final page. As it says on the cover enter the Shadow Booth and you will never be the same again. I personally don’t think there could be a more accurate statement about how each volume changes you as a reader and a writer.

Dan Coxon has done an incredible job with the editing compiling a delicious blend of stories that leap off the page. They are so vivid that you feel as though you are watching a collection of movies, with each new tale adding something extra to the mix. What I enjoyed most about this dark tome was that it stayed true to the previous volumes yet at the same time added a new branch to the tree of horror and supernatural. Venturing into landscapes that explore a wide range of cultures and shed light on stories that include love, lost, violence, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

As with all collections there were stories that I enjoyed more than others. However, what I will say is that this volume makes you take your time as you sample each offering delivering a buffet of visionary delights that rival the best in the genre.

Some of my favourite stories from the volume were:

The Cherry Cactus of Corsica by Verity Holloway

It’s a story I have reread numerous times.  It’s a story of concern, experiments, and blood. It hooked me from the first paragraph. It centres around a young teacher who notices some odd behaviour being exhibited by a troubled pupil. As he digs deeper and tries to understand what could be causing it, we are drawn into a world of poisonous plants, strange professors, and beings that genuinely send a shiver down your spine. Verity has been able to create a story that taps deep into readers fears. Tales that used to keep you awake as a child. Yet present the reader with a different idea on some of the oldest beings in the arena that is horror.

I adored how she delicately pulled back the veil between our world and theirs. Making you hold your breath as every character trait and flaw was exposed in a frenzy of delicious prose that made me yearn for more. I didn’t want the story to end. I think she could early turn it into a full novel. If you read one story from this collection read this one, it will change how you view the world.

I Have a Secret by Raquel Castro

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of a boy’s changing relationship with his sick mother and neglectful father. That develops into a compelling yet worrying picture of how all family dynamics change over time. Enabling this narrative to be told from the child’s perspective adds a greater sense of vulnerability and naivety. That adheres to the theme of the volume of showing how we as humans are sometimes not aware of the damaging impact our actions have upon young minds. The supernatural element which runs parallel to the main thread within the story, only heightens the interest as you struggle to protect this child from what is about to happen next.

The School Project by Richard V Hirst-

This story gives you as a reader what you look for when you enter the supernatural and weird genre. What I mean when I say that is it makes the ordinary day to day things take on a sinister twist. The story opens with the author setting the scene an isolated school in a village that has a murky past is about to undergo an inspection from an outsider.  What appears to be your ordinary secondary school soon turns into something much darker. The story reminded me of a mashup between the Manchurian Candidate and Van Helsing. The dark undertones ripple out well beyond the narrative and make you question the origins of your own school days.

Cousin Grace by Jill Hand-

This piece of horror sinks it teeth into you as soon as you run your fingers across the first sentence, causing a sensory explosion within your mind. What appears at first to be unsolved family trauma takes on many faces, forcing the reader to doubt every word that is being fed to them. It is an expert example of how to write an unreliable narrator and opens the collection beautifully.

This volume builds on the legacy of the previous two issues. Pushing the boundaries on what the horror and supernatural community thinks belongs in their field and tastes. It receives four stars and I encourage any readers and writers of creepy disturbing stories to pick it up.

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of A Wasteland of My God’s Own Making By Bradley P Beaulieu Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Djaga Akoyo left the grasslands of her homeland long ago and rose to prominence in Sharakhai’s fighting pits as the famed Lion of Kundhun. What Djaga revealed to no one, however, is the terrible secret that drove her to leave Kundhun in the first place. That secret is brought back to the fore when her sister tribeswoman, Afua, comes to Sharakhai unannounced and threatens to reveal her shameful past, a thing that would upend the life Djaga has worked so hard to build for herself.

Djaga and Afua’s pasts are linked. Afua tells her that with one final bout in the killing pits, both their demons will be excised. But Djaga has more to worry about than Afua’s demons, or even her own. She has Nadín as well, a woman she hopes to share a life with once she’s left the pits for good. But how can she start a new life with Nadín when the terrible acts she committed in her homeland still haunt her?

Djaga must decide once and for all whether she’ll face them, but in doing so she may lose the one she loves.

My Review

After being engrossed by the imagery and vastness of the Song of Shattered Sands series. I couldn’t wait to digest the latest offering a novella focused entirely upon Ceda’s mysterious pit fighter trainer Djaga. A character I have been fascinated with since first reading Twelve Kings. The reason being is because Bradley only gives the reader limited information on who she is and why she is important to Ceda. Shrouding her in mystery and intrigue which you can’t help but want to explore. This novella helped answer some of my nagging questions about her background whilst at the same time create an interesting character development that I hope is explored in further stories.

What I enjoy most about this novella is that it plunges you straight into the action, opening up with Djaga seeing the love of her life Nadin seriously injured in a hospital bed that forces her to make a choice. This sets in motion a chain of events that spans decades. Exploring present day as well as flashbacks from her early childhood where we learn about her fractured relationship with her cousin Afua and discover that Djaga has her own dark secret.  We are given hints of this secret throughout that drives the story forward making you hungry to discover why she ended up never returning to the pits.

This novella has all the elements that make Bradley’s works a must read for any fantasy fan or aspiring fantasy writer. The action beats like a well- tuned guitar slick, clean, gut wrenching, and makes you feel as if you are the one fighting. Throwing every thrust, kick, and punch as you hope for survival.  I think one of the beauties of Bradley’s writing is that it makes you detach from your own world for a few hours. Taking  you into a sizzling sprawling desert that you can’t see an escape from but at the same time don’t want to leave.

This novella is an enthralling entry into the Song of Shattered Sands Universe. Giving us more information on the desert tribes and settlements away from Sharakhai. Which is a refreshing change from the City of Kings. I loved how we got to see a time before Ceda. Enabling me to explore characters that have helped shape Ceda but maintain a uniqueness that makes you as a reader get lost in their stories.  Bradley delivers a banquet of ideas in this glimpse of what I feel could be a much wider arc. Introducing new gods and mythology that I hope he will be able to drip feed into the six books. As I really enjoyed the cost associated with this secret, and what it could mean to Ceda in the long run. The threads in this universe are mind-blowing. If you haven’t read these books yet, please do. 5 out of 5 stars. Magnificent.

I received a copy of this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

 

 

 

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 2 Edited By Dan Coxon Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

The booth juts at an angle from the sand, the canvas taut beneath the weight of the drifting dunes. Janet almost passes it by. But it’s the sign that snags her attention. Painted in rust-red onto three pieces of driftwood, the sun-bleached planks lashed together with lengths of twisted blond twine, it looks surprisingly fresh. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.
The Shadow Booth, a journal of weird and eerie fiction, returns for Volume 2! Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky hinterland between mainstream horror and literary fiction.
Volume 2 contains new stories by: 

Chikodili Emelumadu
Dan Grace
Kirsty Logan
Johnny Mains
Ralph Robert Moore
Mark Morris
Gareth E. Rees
Giovanna Repetto
George Sandison
Anna Vaught
Aliya Whiteley

Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again…
Review

This collection of dark and eerie tales from several contemporary and diverse writers is a readers dream. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. Every story has its own uniqueness that draws you in and forces you to keep reading with each one seeming to build upon the last.

Three stories from the collection that stood out for me were:

We Are the Disease by Gareth Rees. An eerie tale set abroad a ship trapped in the Arctic ice. As more crew members become effected by their isolation they begin to see and witness strange creatures and behaviours. Throughout the story Gareth had me on the edge of my seat making me wonder is this real, or is it the crew giving into their basic fears, which is making them create these sightings. Throughout the entire story your never quite sure what is the disease? Gareth’s voice and writing style is simply gripping. I could almost feel my fingers burning as I turned pages racing to finish.

The next was My Father’s Face by Giovanna Repetto. A tale about a man who has lost his memory and how he fights to get it back. As the story unfolds however we begin to question is this person trustworthy, and what are they hiding. It moves at a neck-breaking speed and makes you question everything you thought you knew about family. It was my favourite story in the collection. The voice is so unique. I want to read more by this author I loved it.

The final story was Feasting;Fasting by Anna Vaught. A story featuring elements of tradition horror and supernatural. A strange house, an unusual family, and a small village with a story to tell at no point does Anna give away who they are, what they are, and why they are there. She allows you as a reader to draw your own conclusions, and decide for yourself who these people are, and what their story is. It is a totally different take on the haunted house narrative.

This book has something for everyone. Unique writing styles, cultures, and author voices that make it stand out from the crowd. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the weird and wonderful. The three stories I selected are only glimpse of what awaits. Go and check it out. It gets four stars. It is a highly polished read.

I received a copy from the publisher for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

Short Story- Erased Written by Daniel Stubbings For Storgy Exit Earth Contest

Blood had long been forgotten, all that mattered now was ink.  It was all that mattered ever since he had vanished clutching my arms, begging me not to let him go.  I can still see the fear in his eyes as his body turned to dust like all the others. Blood was just a trace of our old lives, flashes of a world before the erasing had begun. That was five years ago and still, I harboured the scars.  Those scars had lead me to a place I knew all too well, cloaked in darkness, a place where I had truly learnt what it was to be what they called drawers. Bending my knees, I slid down onto the stone floor, pressing my back against the wall as I peered into the darkness. A cold prickle going down the back of my skull as a face emerges from within. Covered in scars, eyes deep emerald, a grin spread across its lips, begging me to remember. Who was it?

A cold sweat ran down my spine. I stood and walked over to a set of old Chester drawers. A dull light shone in from two small windows just above eye level, hidden from the outside world. A grey, steel spiral staircase leads up to other parts of the house. The basement is small and damp, multicoloured geckos running along the walls. A battered grey mattress covered in plain white sheets acted as my bed, positioned tight against the wall. A full-length mirror hung above the headboard reflecting back a self with rows of leather bound journals piled high, covered in dust. Each one numbered and dated, giving me a timeline of when this all started; dreams, nightmares, and keeping track of the erasing.

I pull open the drawers and peer inside two leather bound journals stared back at me reaching down I turn the pages of the first one I come to. It is filled with random sketches, unfinished stories, and details of each event. I push it aside, grabbing the other flicking to its final few pages, tracing my fingertips over the wolf’s head on its spine, its silver eyes whispering within my mind. Stirring my blood, forcing millions of images to flow across my eyes the hairs on the back of my hand stand on end, wind whistling through my ears. I stare down at my hands blackening from heat radiating from the journal, it was coming…… it was here….. what I knew as the ink. I turn, throwing the journal against the wall, my skin tingling as red flames pulse through veins. A shadow crossed my face as I looked into the mirror. My mouth is suddenly dry like a dessert; I lick my lips as the air crackles around me like the atmosphere of an electric storm.

The muscles in my arm tense as I focus on the ink surging through my veins.  taking a deep breath I try to remember every detail of my dream. My eye develops a muscle spam out of my control as the ink spreads underneath my skin, glowing a deep purple as it rises to the surface. I stared at my reflection; my eyes are tired and sore. A voice whispering in my mind. This is what you are, what you have become….. you’re a drawer. Quickly, I placed my fingers over the mark, two silver eyes within a black wolfs head and pressed firmly down. The response was instant, violet ink erupted from my fingertips. Tears ran down my face like acid, eating away at my flesh, and scraping against bone, as my dream began to appear in front of me. A pair of piercing amber eyes framed in a flat ebony face, stared at me as I begin to guide it onto the papers of my journal. My skin tears with every stroke a piercing scream breaks across the air; my legs give way forcing me to the ground. Lifting my head, I peer at the journal.

There it was….. my dream, my nightmare, lording over me as if it were a king.  A smile creeps over my lips, as I inspect my body. Deep purple slashes run along my arms, parts of my flesh have been melted away. Vapours of black smoke rise, pools of dark black ink surround my feet and hands as a thin line of sweat covers my forehead. A shiver gurgles down my spine; I try and stand but my legs collapse from under me. My eyes are haunted with fear as I turn and look into the mirror seeing dark shadows pooled in its corners. A wide grin across their dark, featureless faces, all laughing at me, all saying the same thing….. “More ideas are coming and you’re running out of time. I push myself up and run towards the stairs, taking them two at a time only stopping for breath when I reach the top. Grabbing the door handle I throw it open allowing a blinding white light to escape that pierces my eyes.  I step into a large living area and before I have barely taken two steps, I collide with a tall gentleman.

He dressed in a long grey overcoat interrupted by shabby dark hair and a pair of old biker boots strapped to his feet, all accompanied by deep ruby tattoos covering his neck and legs. Partial drawings of buildings, weapons, and scripture from important speeches throughout history adorned his body. His voice was husky…..“Nice to see you, there’s no need to fall at my feet.” He laughed as he held me up allowing me to catch my breath. He walked me over to an old wooden table, surrounded by two sturdy leather chairs with each of us taking a seat. His long shabby hair covered his eyes. “What are you doing here Reggie, were not supposed to meet until tomorrow?” A fresh cut leaked blood down his left cheek. “I heard some rumours, details that might be of interest to you” he said nervously. Last time you came to me with so called information, it just added more questions to what we already knew. We both know you are just in the same position as me so show me your arms Reggie.” His eyes scanned the room checking all the doors and windows. “Why do you need to see my arms Jin?” growled Reggie as he clenched his hands into fists. “Easy there Reggie, I just need to check something out, you know we are both drawers?” Have you been having any impulses lately?” Reggie just stared into space tapping his bonelike fingers against the wood.  Leaning forwards, she stared into Reggie’s eyes, a deep, piercing look. “Okay Jin, I do have some drawings you need to see.” Thoughts raced through Reggie’s head as to what drawings, he was thinking on his feet?  After an uncomfortable silence Jin responded, “Okay Reggie, let’s see them”.

Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out a battered, old leather-bound journal, larger than hers but in the same style, then placed it down on the table. Pulling up his sleeves as he often did, his tattoos moved spontaneously as if they were alive. I reached out and traced my fingers over them and felt a humming energy building that forced my eyes to change to a deep blue. Surges of emerald flames danced up my arms blackening my flesh. I quickly pulled back into my seat; this was an energy I had only felt once before. He was going to a place drawers should not seek.

Grimacing pain slowly etched across his face, his mark had dissolved, his protection was gone. “Reggie! what have you done?” I screamed. His lips curled into a cruel grin, his eyes manic with fury. “You know what I’ve done Jin, you know where I have been.” The colour drained from my face as his eyes turned a milky white, the heat radiating off him in waves pushing me backwards. His skin rippled emerald flames cutting into his bones as the tattoos fought to break free. Listening to his final words as he stared at me with soulless eyes he muttered, “Jin, it can’t be erased otherwise our world has no meaning, all the events we’ve experienced will be erased forever. We embraced it, you know what we did?” he whispered. The flames took him into the shadows blinding me for a moment as I slowly moved to open his journal. “This will only add to your burdens” I thought to myself as I fought to resist the temptation.

I hadn’t even heard her approach as she glided across the floor in front of me. Her hair glistened with silver flashes of time woven into a tight indigo ponytail that swayed down her broad back. Her dark oval face was deformed by two parallel scars that sliced through her full black lips, like a shadow trailing in her wake. She glanced back every so often as she moved towards an ivory seat. Her eyes were strangely hidden offering no insight into what she may be thinking; who was she I wondered?

Grabbing Reggie’s journal, I turned to the last entry; it was of a woman, the description matching her perfectly. It must be her; surely it couldn’t be anyone else?

I didn’t move as she glided back towards me, her eyes still hidden. Staring down at the picture another name began to rise from the page burning in golden fire. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the fierce light before I recognised the outline of a name….Keira! Kiera!

As Kiera moved closer her eyes emerged, they were a piercing deep amber. I recognised her as the girl I had seen in my dream. What was she doing here? “It’s good to see you Jin” she whispered quietly. “How about you listen for once, and forget what you just saw on that last page?” She flicked her wrist, threads of golden ink emerged from a vortex in her outstretched hand, wrapping around the journal and igniting it in a ring of deep orange flames. The intense heat burnt my hands; I was beyond being comfortable so reluctantly, dropped it onto the floor. I edged backwards resting against the table, the ink moving in parallel lines underneath my skin. “Who are you?” I asked uncomfortably. “How do you know me and why were you in my dreams?” The questions stumbled out without me pausing for an answer. My hands were shaking uncontrollably as I tried to disguise my increasing anxiety. Kiera laughed at me and began to run her hands through her hair “I am Kiera, I know you well but you know that already, I am in your dreams but you have seen me before. Think carefully Jin and ask yourself, “What am I?” I know you have heard my name before…….” One question merged into another as I felt myself becoming frustrated at my inability to work it out.

I systematically searched my memories but tiredness began to overcome me. Finally, something clicked……. “You’re an imaginative.” I whispered at first before rising to a piercing scream. “That’s right Jin I am” her eyes instantly going black. Her shadow spread like a wild fire engulfing us both. Quickly I shut my eyes trying to focus on what I could hear but it was too late.

A wave of coldness washed over me that grew with every heartbeat, spreading up my arms and legs. Tentacles emerging from within searching for my eyes as a foul-smelling fluid rose in the air.  I twisted and turned, screaming, trying to break free of its embrace. I dug my nails into my skin trying to force ink to the surface. “Jin, what have I told you? I would only add to your worries”.  Keira’s voice sounded menacing as I fought to keep my eyes shut from her piercing finger nails cutting into my eyelids. My ink slipping away, my energy fading, the dream had been too much; talking with Reggie had been too much. I had felt that energy once before, the energy I felt surging through Reggie was all flooding back entering my head as a distant memory resonating back to that day, back to him. I soon realised that I had been here before, I’d seen this all before. “Glad to see some of it is coming back to you” said Keira.  “Why don’t you open your eyes? We are here now”.

At first, I was hesitant but slowly I opened my eyes. Keira was staring back at me but her shadow had vanished. Her arms cradled around me like a baby, her eyes blurred with tears. As she lowered me to the floor she whispered, “Sorry about that, it was the only way I knew”. “What do you mean it was the only way you knew?” I screamed. “Really Jin what do you think it was?” She replied fixing me with those deep amber eyes as she stood behind me, her image coming in and out of focus as she lifted me to my feet. “I am not sure but I am sure I felt it before in a time away from here” I said nervously. “I can’t answer that for you, why don’t you look all around?” she whispered. Taking a deep breath I turned my head. I was surrounded by mirrors with a dull blue light coming from a source unseen. I stared into one of the mirrors looking past my reflection and focusing on Kiera. One of her eyes had turned black and had sunken into her skull, her hair had changed to charcoal black. Her scars vanished leaving behind full red lips, she smiled squeezing my shoulders “Don’t worry’’, I look worse than I feel” She giggled. “All will be revealed shortly”. She said moving towards a dark corner.

I noticed we had company, their back facing me in the room, a hood concealing their identity. Kiera glided in just behind them and whispered something in their ears. Even before she spoke I heard the words in my head “She is here so what do you want to do?” There was a pause…. “It is time Kiera, she has to know leave us.” Kiera turned giving me a brief smile and wave as she faded back into the shadows.

All around went silent as one word erupted from the figures lips, “Erased.” Suddenly stone began breaking underneath my feet as the energy built. An orb of yellow light surrounded the figure, blinding me for a moment as it stretched out its arms towards the mirrors. I watched in horror as mirrors grinded against the stone floor, cracks forming over their surface sending shards of glass in all directions, cutting my face and hands. Black droplets of ink hit the floor as wind whistled around me pushing me down turning me onto my back I lifted my head and quickly scanned the room. Nothing much was left but for a tunnel lined with bright white candles. In a moment, the figure took me by the arm with a tight grip and dragged me towards it, each candle spontaneously lighting seconds before we approached it.

A hot wind touched my skin blowing grit into my eyes. The air turned humid making it hard to breath but the figure pulled me through the dark tunnel, shimmers of light guiding us to some unknown destination. “Where are we going?” I shouted looking up at the figure but it remained silent, tightening their grip menacingly. As we grew near to the end of the tunnel a large, round stone chamber came into view with a strange red light flowing across it walls. The figure loosened their grip around my arm and took my head into their hands turning it clockwise towards the wall. Despite my fear I couldn’t look away, my eyes widening as I took it all in. The walls were covered in drawings and images of jungles burning to the ground with rivers flowing blood then turning to dust. Statues had been decimated and lay randomly across the ground.

I stared at the figure intensely, “What is all this?” I asked. It took a moment before answering in a hoarse voice, “You remember now don’t you, you know what happened?” I stared again as it pointed to the middle of the room. I turned my head and could see a girl; she was laid down on a black dentist’s chair, strapped securely by brown leather straps. Black orbs of liquid dripped from her lips. The figure released me, its face still concealed by their hood. I rose slowly unsure of how to proceed…..”Why does all this feel so familiar? Why do I know this room?” I began asking myself.  I ran my fingers through my hair and walked forward peering down at a female presence, her skin covered in deep black scars oozing ink from within. Her eyes were now a piercing emerald green and blank of any emotion, her clothes ravaged and torn from her body. Clear tube like structures stemmed from her forehead pumping a solid blue liquid around her brain. As I approached slowly she sat up fixing a stare at me with her eyes. “Welcome home Jin” she whispered reaching her hands out towards me.

I edged back unable to take it all in. “What do you mean welcome home?” I shouted peering into her eyes as something troubled me at the back of my mind. She smiled and replied, “Really Jin, you been gone too long.” I grabbed her by the shoulders shaking her, demanding an explanation.  I turned to my left and peered into the shadows watching intently as another hooded figure began to emerge. Reggie smiled at me with a crooked grin, Kiera turned away as the hooded figure pulled back their hood revealing themselves. His long black hair, thin face and bright blue eyes gave me a friendly smile. I screamed at them repeatedly “What are you? What are you?” expelling air from my lungs as I dropped to the floor exhausted. I looked into the mirror and saw the face I had been dreaming about night after night. Scars shaped like crosses on my cheeks, emerald eyes, misshaped head and ink surging through my veins.  I suddenly realised It was me strapped to the chair talking to myself, crawling at my flesh as screams echoed through my skull.

My dreams finally made sense as the memories flooded back. Screams thundered through the base of my skull causing my eyes to ache….what had I done? Why was I here? Why could I only remember the ink? Sobs rocked my body as James came and hugged me “Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt, were all just broken memories” he whispered as he kissed my forehead. He gave me one last hug before joining Kiera and Reggie as they faded back into the shadows.  I laid back looking up at the images as they merged into one. I stood alone in a sea of bodies, a tidal wave of ink covering their skin; the mark of a drawer branded across their arms glowing in a violet light.  I looked above the images, slowly realising there are some words written in my own hand burning in a pure white light. I read them several times before I understood. Jin Drawer your ideas ended our world, you’re the only person left. I closed my eyes and cried myself to sleep I was never leaving this place. What had I become?