Horror, SFF, Short stories

Tidemarks

I have a new story out! “Tidemarks” is available to read in Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World, edited by Eric J. Guignard from Dark Moon Books.

When Eric contacted me to ask if I were interested in writing a ghost story for the anthology, there were only two restrictions. First, whatever building was being haunted, it couldn’t be a house. Secondly, it couldn’t take place in any real building. I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot the second condition twice, and my haunted aquarium ended up being dumped further along the Otago peninsula coastline than any similar building which may or may not have inspired the story.

My sole defence is that I was so excited at the prospect of writing a story about ghost penguins that I promptly forgot anything else. Yes, penguins. There was nothing in the brief that said my story had to be about human ghosts so I went straight to the ecological uncanny. Anyway, there are penguins on the Otago peninsula and I would like for them to stay there, so this is a future-set ghost story in which red tides have taken the place of penguins, and those poor extinct birds reappear late at night, suffocating under algal bloom. (Yes, ghost penguins of tragedy, don’t read this for a happy ending to hauntings.)

But still. Ghost penguins!!!

Horror, SFF, Short stories

Seedling

After seven years of submissions, I’m delighted to say that I finally, finally, have a story in Fantasy & Science Fiction. It has taken a long time, and some of the stories I sent there were very good and were published in other markets, but F&SF is one of those bucket list magazines for speculative writers, and they get a heap of excellent stories every single day, so it’s no surprise that it takes persistence to succeed there. Well, persistence I have.

The story that finally got me there was a flash piece about fairy tales and cake. “Seedling” was inspired by the Hansel and Gretel story, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the fairy tales that has typically interested me the least, as well as being the fairy tale that most inspired every childhood birthday cake. My parents had the old birthday cake book from Women’s Weekly that every New Zealand family had at one point, I’m sure, and there are a lot of delightful cakes in there but, as a kid, nearly every year I picked the gingerbread cottage because it had a roof covered in Pebbles and the whole thing was just marvelous. That’s about the only thing I care about in the Hansel and Gretel story: that cottage made of cake, like a sugary angler fish in the middle of the forest.

Except in this story, it’s not the cottage that’s made of cake. Because if you’re trying to camouflage predation in a forest, surely a better option is baumkuchen…

I never had baumkuchen for a birthday cake. It’s on my baking bucket list, though.

Horror, Papers, Science, SFF

Inoculation and Contagion

I have a new paper out! Something very appropriate for the times, too, in that it deals with infection and disease. The paper’s called “Inoculation and Contagion: The Absence of Vaccination in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and it’s free to read at Supernatural Studies. If you go to the table of contents for the issue you can also download a free pdf of the paper, which is great.

I love Dracula. I really do. It’s one of the great horror stories of all time, and yet when I reread it again a couple of years back, I began to wonder. Why is there no mention of vaccination in it? Two of the main characters are doctors. They treat vampirism as a contagious disease, and vaccination was, at the time of Stoker’s writing (and at the time the novel was set) an accepted medical practice. It was even a compulsory practice when it came to smallpox. And yet… nary a mention. Not even to say that it wouldn’t work so no use trying. Now, Stoker is long dead and so can’t be asked, but still… can a bit of research find a reason for this curious omission? It just might, I thought, and it has. Without verification from Stoker we can’t be sure if it’s the right reason, of course, but it’s certainly a plausible one.

And honestly, for me, plausibility is enough. My curiosity is satisfied. I would say, however, that just because you can’t vaccinate yourself against vampirism doesn’t mean you can’t vaccinate yourself against a number of other diseases. You can, and you should.

Horror, SFF, Short stories

YBHH: Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead

I have a new (old) story out! “Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead” has been reprinted in the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, volume 6, from Red Room Press. The story was originally published in The Dark.

This is the second time I’ve had a story in YBHH, and I’m grateful to the editors Randy Chandler and Cheryl Mullenax; I remember them making it plain that people shouldn’t overthink whether their story is “hardcore” or not before submitting. It’s what encourages me to send stuff into them, because honestly? “Otto Hahn” is a very dark and deeply grim little story, but if I had to think of a single word to describe it, I’m not sure that “hardcore” would make the top of the list. It probably wouldn’t even make the top ten. If I had to pick a single word, it would probably be “tragic.” The story deals with an episode in the history of chemical warfare. There’s a lot of terrible things in that history, but this, about the suicide of chemist Clara Immerwahr, may be one of the saddest.

“Otto Hahn” is a story about grief and regret, and in some ways it is a story about the utter uselessness of doing better, because when you have chosen to involve yourself in something so monstrous, well. Is atonement even possible?

I don’t know, but I suspect not.

Horror, Short stories

Worm Blood

I have a new story out! It’s called “Worm Blood,” and it’s free to read in issue 71 of The Dark Magazine. I’ve had several stories in that magazine now, and they’re one of my favourite markets.

As you can probably tell from the title, worms play a big part here. It’s a squirmy rural horror story where something terrible has gone wrong on the farm. I can’t honestly say it’s my usual sort of horror story, but I like to try new things and so disgusting creatures that crawl out of holes in the back paddocks fit the bill. For me, though, there’s got to be more than disgusting creatures in a horror story. After all, I’m a biologist at heart, so even supernatural worms must have something about them that’s interesting or appealing if they’re going to be the real centre of the story. These don’t, so they aren’t. What’s more important to me is why they’re there, disturbing the locals and destroying crops, and just what those locals are going to do about it.

I should say at this point that apparently, over in Australia, exist giant Gippsland earthworms that can apparently grow to over three metres long and a couple of centimetres thick, and if you think seeing these delightful creatures is not on my bucket list, you probably don’t know me very well yet. (Though I will say the Gippsland earthworms are much less horrific than the worms of my story, who have no redeeming features whatsoever… )