December 30, 2013

Small Town, Big Evil: a review of Adam Cesare's "The Summer Job"

The Summer Job
256 pages
ISBN13: 9781619218123
Maybe you had a crappy summer job when you were young, but I'm willing to bet you didn't worry about a satanic cult congregating in the storeroom. For Claire, the main character of this time, she's not so lucky.

Claire is out of college with no job and no prospects, and eventually lets her roommate talk her into taking a summer job in the little town of Missions, Massachusetts, working in a bed and breakfast called the Brant Hotel. Claire is a recovering punk girl trying to infuse some responsible behavior in her life, so being squirreled away in a tiny, nothing-happening town for the summer just might do the trick. Too bad she's in Mission, Massachusetts.

To put it plainly, Mission makes Salem's Lot look downright quaint.

If the killer cult sacrificing tourists out in the woods doesn't get you, the killer cult sacrificing tourists behind closed doors in town will. Oh yeah, Claire is between a rock and a hard place, or at least she would be if she had half a clue what was going on under her own nose. Instead, she has fallen into some old habits from her wilder days, and fallen for the dashing rogue who belongs to the campfire commune out in the woods behind the Brant Hotel.

And there's the frustrating thing about The Summer Job. Claire is a classic dimwit in the slasher genre. And with the novel offering chapters from the viewpoints of other characters who are knee-deep in all of the unholy shenanigans, it's all the more confounding that Claire's Spidey senses are going off like Jiffy Pop. There was a lot of horror in this novel, but I didn't feel a whole lot of suspense. Granted, the characters are so fleshed out (no pun intended) and come nowhere near the two-dimensional meat puppets that you find in cinematic fare, that the enjoyment of the book comes from seeing the competing levels of depravity between the two groups, the old guard in town and the younger, hipper psychos in the woods.

The Summer Job defies the genre, so I give it points there, but I think it came down to me wanting a more keenly focused story through just Claire's point-of-view, which would have helped me become much more invested in whether she lived or died. As it stands, the spectacle is good, but more intrigue would have made it great.

December 27, 2013

Dead and Breakfast: an interview with Adam Cesare, author of "The Summer Job"

Adam Cesare is the author a new horror novel out through Samhain Publishing, called The Summer Job. I had the chance to ask Adam a few questions about the book, his writing career thus far, and about the horror genre in general. Enjoy!

Gef: It seems like you hit the ground running with Tribesmen not that long ago, and since then you've been steadily carving out a path in the horror field. How has it been for you the last couple of years in establishing yourself as a name in the genre, with Tribesmen, Bone Meal Broth, Video Night, and now The Summer Job?

Adam: I had to look up when Tribesmen came out to answer this question, February 2012, so not even two years yet. Yeah, in some ways it feels like no time at all and in some ways it feels like forever. I’ve put out a good amount of stuff since then, like you said (the Sam Truman novella Bound By Jade, too, and a collaborative collection with Matt Serafini) and, because of the way that publishing moves, I’ve got lots of material that’s written but not out yet and will be in 2014.

It’s been a fun two years, hustling, and I feel like I might be getting some traction, if not now, soon. The best part of the whole experience has been connecting with people I otherwise never would have. For example Cameron Pierce invited me to collaborate on a book with him and Shane Mckenzie, not exactly something I had to think about. I love their work, so it was kind of surreal to be invited in.

I’m proud of everything I’ve put out, but The Summer Job is the most special child, right now. She’s pulling straight A’s, is the head of debate club.

Gef: Samhain is trying like heck to become the go-to destination for horror readers jilted by the sad, sordid Dorchester fiasco. How have you found the working relationship with them thus far, and how do like their chances of carrying the baton as the anchor in the horror genre?

Adam: I love working with them. It sounds really lame, but the proof is in the pudding. They’ve got some choice Leisure alums (with some more coming, if you look far enough ahead on the release lineup), a really strong stable of newer guys and gals, and the man himself, Don D’Auria, kicking ass and taking names.

I think it’s important to note that Leisure may have been the “anchor” of the horror genre, certainly they were the most visible, most reliable when it came to straight-up genre, but I think horror has been and will continue to be alive in both the small press and to some extent the big New York houses, too. There are just too many good authors writing in all shades of the genre, and when you couple that knowledge with the fact that horror is hot right now and that it’s chic to be literate again (or e-literate, I love my Kindle, and wordplay): we all win, readers and writers.

I mean, Stephen Graham Jones has a book coming out with them, the same day as The Summer Job drops. It’s called The Gospel of Z and it’s great, like intimidating-ly good.

Don’s not only bringing in heavy-hitters all the time, but unique voices that long time Dorchester readers might not expect. I can’t speak for him and I’m not, but I’d guess that Gospel is something he NEVER would have been able to publish with Dorchester. It’s too risky, I think the attitude from them would have been that you couldn’t sell it as a mass market paperback (where you’re printing up thousands of copies and sending them to bookstores and Walmarts) and not alienate some people who buy it expecting a more vanilla kind of zombie book.

So is Samhain the new Dorchester? No, it’s better.

Gef: I read The Summer Job around the same time I read Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, and one thing I picked up on between the two books was an almost equal time in the limelight between protagonists and antagonists. The point of view would offer not just glimpses, but deeply contextualized portraits of the villains. Where sticking strictly to Claire's point of view would have offered one kind of story, you opted for more of an ensemble approach to drive the story. Was that something you decided from the outset or was it something that kind of developed as you wrote?

Adam: I haven’t gotten to Doctor Sleep yet, I’m always playing catch-up with King. I have Joyland, so by the time I get to that one the price will have probably dropped on Sleep. Looking forward to it even more now, though, I love his bad guys.

Originally I had the book structured a bit differently, it was going to be exclusively “strapped” to Claire for the first half of the book, then switch perspectives for maybe a quarter of the book (giving us chapters from all the secondary characters perspectives), then go back to Claire for the finale. But as I was writing that felt too rigid, like you said, we didn’t get enough context to place our antagonist(s)’s actions. Not to give too much away but there are secrets and twists in this book, so the hard part was developing those antagonist(s), giving them a distinctive voice, but not ruining the suspense of the central mystery. Likewise, we should always know more than Claire but at the same time she should still be a strong character with a ton of agency.

The result is that the plot’s WAY denser than anything I’d written up to that point, but it shouldn’t feel like that for the reader, it should be easy to keep everything straight. I think I did it right.

Gef: Is it just me or are Bed & Breakfasts inherently evil?

Adam: I’ve never stayed in one, but the first time I do I fully expect to be brutally murdered.

Gef: For decades, small towns have been a go-to backdrop for horror. I've seen old B-movies from the 60s about city-dwelling twenty-somethings becoming stranded in seemingly cozy small towns, only to wind up running afoul of someone or something. Is this just playing on the classic rural vs. urban tug-of-war that takes place in the economy and culture, or is there some other angle to it I'm not seeing?

Adam: I think it’s a trope that probably will be less and less effective in the coming decades.

Everyone’s connected. You have to go really far out to the boonies to get “off the grid” and I think eventually you won’t be able to at all. I tried to play with that here, in this book. When Claire first gets to the town, Mission, she misreads the folksiness of the hotel as a post-college kid who’s been living in Boston probably would: “Oh these people are hicks, life is simple here and I’ll be able to relax.” But then she meets the town’s young people and their parties are maybe exactly like the ragers she was trying to get away from. She finds the place through Craigslist, everyone’s savvy, even the people who traditionally aren’t supposed to be. So people are the same all over, except in a small town maybe it’s easier to get away with stuff.

Gef: So, with The Summer Job being released in the middle of winter, do you by any chance have a Christmas story set for release this summer? If not, what is next on the slate?

Adam: Ha! I hadn’t even thought of that, but now maybe I would.

My next book will be pretty soon after The Summer Job, which is awesome because I hate waiting. It’s a crime novella called The First One You Expect and it’s about a micro-budget horror filmmaker who gets caught up in a murder. It’s a bleak noir (oxymoron, I know, but I want to stress the bleakness) and it’ll be coming out from J. David Osborne’s Broken River Books in February. They’re a new publishing outfit, but jeez do they have some strong authors, simply ridiculous that I snuck in there. The covers are all by Matthew Revert.

Gef: Well, a big thanks to Adam for stopping by the blog. As for the rest of you, you can find out more about The Summer Job by visiting Samhain Publishing, or check out Adam's blog, or just head on over to Amazon.com and order a copy right now.

December 23, 2013

Merry Merry and Happy Happy!

Yeah, so 2013 happened.

50 Shades of Grey is on the fast track to being made into a movie, while Stephen King's The Dark Tower is not. Many were saddened to see some talented authors pass away, while others were maddened that truculent authors wouldn't just go away. Self-published erotica was on the receiving end of a huge crackdown, yet children's books by celebrities continue to be sold with impunity.

Yup, that about sums it up. Okay, there were a couple other items of note, but I'm not writing a yearbook here. I just wanted to say thanks to all of the writers and readers who have stopped by the blog over the last year. Wag The Fox has been going for nearly four years now, which is likely longer than it ever had any right to go. It's been my stump from which to prattle on about stories, whether they were mine or someone else's.

I can't say for certain what 2014 holds in store for me or this blog. I can tell you there are a bunch more reviews of books already scheduled to appear in the weeks and months ahead. Beyond that, it's all a roll of the dice, I suppose.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and an even greater New Year's. Unwrap some presents, drink some eggnog, and if you can find the time, read a book.

December 20, 2013

My Fave Five Novels of 2013

It's the last list of the year and it's the coup de grĂ¢ce. Novels, baby. Forget those anthologies and novellas. Who reads those, anyway? Everyone reads novels. Well, everyone who buys their books at airports and drugstores. I bought a book at a drugstore once. It was an Elmore Leonard novel, actually. I digress.

2013 saw some damned good novels hit shelves this year, and for as many as I read, I have an even bigger pile I have yet to read. Here are five, however, that were undeniably fantastic. And if you haven't read these books yet, I pity you. Get on that.


The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes - A time-traveling serial killer? Come on, that right there probably put this book on my list without even reading the book. But I did read it, and loved it, and I have a couple of Beukes' earlier novels on my to-be-read pile. And I'll definitely be watching out for what she comes up with next.

The Big Reap by Chris F. Holm - The third and final book in Holm's Collector series really left things off on a high note. Well, not high like a Scooby-Doo ending, but more in the highly satisfying conclusion to the three-book arc. I do, however, have my fingers crossed on a fourth.

The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale - I'm a sucker for a Lansdale story. That's just the way it is, and The Thicket really worked as a showcase for his insane characterizations and seamless blend of humor and the darkest edges of humanity.

Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride - Okay, this novel wasn't technically published in 2013, but December 2012 is close enough in my books. It's hard-boiled Missouri noir with a cute little mutt as a sidekick. Throw in the really catchy title and it was probably going to take a lot to make me not like this book.

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura - I tried and failed to read a novel each month from a non-English author, but I at least discovered this gem of a crime novel about a pickpocket at odds with a seemingly unstoppable kingpin. I have another of Nakamura's novels on my to-be-read pile, which I really need to read soon, because this novel was just fantastic.


And finally, I'll give honorable mention to Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey. The fourth Sandman Slim novel, Devil Said Bang, was a bit of a disappointment, but this fifth installment really reinvigorated the series and has me counting the days until the sixth book is published.

What was your favorite novel of 2013? I'm always looking for recommendations and these year-end lists, I find, are a wellspring for just that.

December 18, 2013

My Fave Five Novellas of 2013

I got a Kindle for Christmas two years ago, and since then I have been devouring novellas. The mini-novels don't get a lot of love in the traditional book formats, but as ebooks they are really coming into their own. I feels like more and more are getting published with the rise of ebooks, and 2013 saw quite a few gems. Here are five that I think dark fiction fans should check out if they haven't already.


Hell's Door by Sandy DeLuca - This mystery/thriller from DarkFuse was the second novella by Sandy this year, the earlier one being Messages from the Dead, which was pretty darned good in its own right. Hell's Door, however, may be the best of the DarkFuse novellas I've ever read. Mind you, they publish a novella each month, and I just can't keep up with that. Still, the blend of police procedural with slick horror made this one a standout.

A Wind of Knives by Ed Kurtz - Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy get a lot of airplay on the blogosphere, but what about the western? Well, Ed Kurtz wrote one helluva story of a grieving rancher on a wayward warpath to find the men who killed his beloved ranch hand. He took a surefire premise of revenge and added some elements to give it a unique appeal. Ed writes in a lot of genres, but I hope he gives the western a little more love in the years to come.

Nightsiders by Gary McMahon -Here's another novella published by DarkFuse that hit my TBR pile with a splash. Take reality and turn it on its head. That's what Gary McMahon did here. It feels a bit like a haunted house story, a little like a psycho-stalker story, but it becomes something all its own before it's all over. And when I finished it, I actually had to go back and re-read passages to see what I missed. I don't re-read stories that often, so that alone ought to be enough to make this little ol' list.

What Makes You Die by Tom Piccirilli - I don't know Tom Piccirilli. Never met him, likely never will. But I will say I was genuinely relieved to find out he is walking around cancer free right now after a harrowing ordeal in 2012 with a brain tumor. Apex Magazine published this novella while he was on the mend. I initially thought it was going to be something in the fantasy or sci-fi genres, since that's their specialty. But this novella showed off Tom Piccirilli's specialty, which is keeping readers on the edge of the seat with darkly tinged character studies.

Whitsable by Stephen Volk - Okay, I'll just say it: this was my favorite novella of the year. I could just as easy pick any of the five as the very best, but from the books I read this year Whitstable managed to tap into the nostalgia element with an homage to Peter Cushing, while still presenting a tightly-plotted, suspenseful story of grief, justice, abuse, and frailty. Spectral Press on their worst day puts out real, good stories. The day Whitstable was published, that was their best day.


And let's throw in an honorable mention for Hope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn. A run-and-gun thriller with a pair of hired killers, a metric ton of twists, and one vicious ending.

So, read any good novellas lately?

December 16, 2013

My Fave Five Anthologies/Collections of 2013

2013 is almost over, so you know what that means ... it's time for lists. Sooo many lists. And this blog will be no different. Each day this week, I will post a fave five list highlighting some of the standouts books I've read through the year. Oh, and a movie list too, but today it's all about short fiction. I'm trying my best to keep up with short fiction, but I have lagged a little bit this year compared to years past. Still, I managed to read some real standout anthologies and short story collections.


13 Ghosts of Christmas edited by Simon Marshall-Jones - Seems fitting to have a holiday-themed anthology on this list given how it's nearly Christmas. I read this last winter and thought it did a remarkable job at capturing that old gothic flavor, with some stories having a little Dickensian vibe, while others strived to be even darker. You should definitely look for it if you like to read ghost stories and other horror tales during this time of year.

Psychos edited by John Skipp - I read this book in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Nothiing like an anthology chock-full of serial killers, lunatics, and outhouse crazies to get you into the spirit of things. It served as a good time capsule of the genre, I thought. And the book is thick. If you don't want to read it, you can at least use it to bludgeon your enemies. Now that's crazy.

Shadows and Tall Trees #5 edited by Michael Kelly - This literary mag is going through some changes at the moment, leading up to its sixth edition, but I doubt that will have any effect on the quality of the stories published in its pages. It's a little engine that could kind of periodical, as it is an annual publication and doesn't get high profile attention, but it does get its fair share of acclaim from some big names in the genre. Reading this issue will show you why, too.

Shock Totem #6 edited by K. Allen Wood - For my money, the best darned horror magazine you can find. And this sixth issue featured a great line-up of stories, and an equally impressive collection of nonfiction, too.

SuperNOIRtural Tales by Ian Rogers - The one collection on the list authored by a single author. I had previously read three of the stories included in this collection as chapbooks, so it's good to see all of the existing Felix Renn stories brought together in one book, with hopes that even more readers discover this fantastic urban fantasy series.


And an honorable mention goes to Thuglit: Issue Seven edited by Todd Robinson. I checked this out for one specific story and wound up enjoying every one of them. Some good noir/crime short stories to be found in that series.

Did you read any standout short fiction this year? If so, leave a comment and let us know.

December 13, 2013

Monsters Vs. Alienation: a review of Stephen Volk's "Monsters in the Heart"

Monsters in the Heart
by Stephen Volk
Gray Friar Press (2013)
262 pages
ISBN: 978-1-906331-42-9

My first chance to read Stephen Volk's work came in the form of a novella published by Spectral Press, entitled Whitstable, which wound up being one of my favorite reads of the year. So when I was presented with a PDF review copy of a new collection of his short fiction, I was quite eager to peak inside its pages to see if lightning might strike twice.

With the theme of monsters, the collection manages to run the gamut with both real and imagined, the human and the very much not human. And the book manages to kick off by highlighting one of the most famous--and one of the biggest--monsters of all in "After the Ape". King effing Kong. Okay, King Kong's dead, but there's more to the story it turns out with the spotlight placed on the actress saved from the beast's clutches, now holed up in a hotel, desperate and terribly alone while the giant ape's carcass in broken down piece by piece in the bloodied city streets. Sad bit of nostalgia with some gruesome atmosphere just outside her balcony window.

Another bit of Hollywood horror comes from "Who Dies Best," as the country's impoverished and financially crippled are offered an out of sorts, and Hollywood gets to exploit their plight for all it's worth. And it's worth their very lives at the end of the day.

Harkening back to something a little more gothic, a little more British, was "Hounded." This was one of the meatier stories in terms of length, but also subject matter, because it acts as an homage as well as a followup of sorts to "The Hound of the Baskervilles." I mean, seeing Dr. Watson attend a spiritualist-style seance in the wake of burying his old friend, Sherlock Holmes, was mesmerizing.

Going a little more subtle is "A Paper Tissue." Have you ever had one of those moments where you have a chance to do something, but you don't? You let the bad thing happen. Well, this story plays with that, as a married couple run across an old friend--of sorts--and his new girlfriend, who hands the married man a note pleading for help. Like a drop of blood in pristine water. Definitely unsettling.

There were stories that felt familiar to me, like "Pied-a-Terre", which I had read in the House of Fear anthology last year, and "Monster Boy", which was a great little Hellboy story. Then there were stories that were downright surreal in their imagery like "Swell Head," which reminded me a little bit of Joe Hill's "Pop Art" from his 20th Century Ghosts collection.

Like any collection, it's a little hit or miss, but the book offers more of the hits to my way of thinking. It serves as both a time capsule of Volk's work over the years, but also his diversity in how he crafts his stories. You may not walk away liking all of them, but I'll bet you'll walk away loving one of them. For me, the bar was set the highest at the very start with "After the Ape." I mean, come on. King effing Kong.

December 12, 2013

Terrifying, Humbling, Gross: an interview with David Proctor, author of "Gross"

About Meat Locker Editions: In addition to creating books, MLE connects with and contributes to a vibrant independent arts community. We peddle a mobile community library, The Book Bike, which “delivers delight one book at time”; host a reading series, The Underdog Poets Academy; run panels and workshops; and participate in collaborative endeavours with other arts and social organizations to effect change in our community. Find them on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

About "Gross": In this work of short fiction, the reader meets Frank, a celiac baker whose professional and personal failures so consume him that he spirals into a bizarre dietary attempt at control, which inevitably destroys him. His estranged daughter Jackie, struggling to provide for herself while trying to establish her artistic career, is now left with the puzzling contents of the coroner’s report – paint chips, light bulbs, bullet casings – which completely unravels her previous understanding of her father. Bonus feature: a handwritten, removable list of all 144 stomach items!

Gef: "Gross" marks the inaugural publication from Meat Locker Editions. How does it feel being the first out of the gate?

David: I've come a long way from my initial response which was "terrifying." I started out with a great deal of fear and anxiety that they were resting a lot of their hopes for their business on my poorly-defined shoulders. But as our editing process became more and more involved and I was able to see the amount of commitment that they had to making the book the best it could be, I started realizing that they weren't going to let the book be anything less than a success. I feel humbled, perhaps. Lucky might be another word.

Gef: In "Gross", Frank, a baker, dies after apparently consuming some rather odd things. But rather than straight-up body horror, the story looks to take a different approach by way of Frank's daughter, Jackie. How did you come to the inclusion of a coming-of-age story in this gruesome sounding tale?

David: I'm not a baker with celiac disease, personally. Though I find that to be a rueful irony and something that's fun to write a story about, I also wanted to do something that was personal, and to bring myself into the book a little more. I AM a university graduate with an uncertain future. I DO worry about what kind of an adult I will be, and I AM slowly realizing that the people I know best are still complete mysteries to me. These are not feelings or fears that I have alone. These are real problems people my age are encountering. All of these things are what makes Jackie who she is. This kind of gruesome story will always find an audience with people like me, and I think seeing themselves reflected in Jackie's life as an added bonus will resonate more than something thats only gross for the sake of being gross.

Gef: A neat little bonus feature with this story is a handwritten list of Frank's stomach contents. Who came up with that idea?

David: Maddy and Sarah, the illustrious Meat Locker decisions team, always want the book to be more than a stack of paper. They want to push the boundaries, physically and digitally, to remind people how exciting reading can be, and I've always loved that idea. So all credit to them. Seeing the list, especially where it is meant to be found (a specific point in the story) fills out how you experience the book. Maybe it even encourages you to go back, read things again. It's sort of multimedia, while still being in the same media. I'm not sure which one of them came up with the idea for the coffee stain on it though.

Gef: Meat Locker Editions seems to have cast a wide net with their activities, hosting workshops and panels and reading series, even operating a mobile lending library. How has the experience been thus far working with them?

David: Again, humbling. They do what they do because they care about reading, and care about the literary community at large. To have the first chance to be the voice of such an organization is incredible. Especially because they are concerned with amplifying women's voices in the scene, to lend myself to that cause is a beautiful opportunity, and something I'm very passionate about. They took calls late at night when I didn't know how to end the book, they called me on all of my usual writerly bullshit. They put more time into putting this book out than I could imagine. I envy the next person that gets to release something with them.

Gef: What else do you have in the works, whether with Meat Locker or elsewhere?

David: Gross has a number of fun readings getting lined up, but for me I'm currently finishing up a post-grad in Video Game Design. Once that's done I have another book that I need to start working on that I'm incredibly excited about. Trust me when I tell you I know who I want to put it out.


December 11, 2013

Wish List Wednesday #150: Diana Rowland's "My Life as a White Trash Zombie"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

When am I going to tire of zombies? I would have expected to be over them by now, but writers keep coming up with new twists on the old monster. One of the latest authors to pop up on my undead radar is Diana Rowland.

Her novel, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, has a great title, a cool cover featuring art by Dan Dos Santos, and an enticing hook. A ne'er-do-well high school dropout whiles away her time in the swamps of Louisiana until she receives a job opportunity at the local morgue. Maybe it something to do with her recent craving for brains. Maybe it has something to do with the serial killer in the area who is decapitating victims. Who's to say.

Quite a few readers I have as friends on Goodreads.com have raved about this book, so I figure of all the zombie novels out there waiting to be read, I ought to make this one a priority.

Have you read a particularly good zombie novel lately? Have you read this one? If so, what did you think of it?

December 10, 2013

One of Our Own This Time: an excerpt of Maurice Broaddus' "I Can Transform You"

Maurice Broaddus has a new novella set for release through Apex Books called I Can Transform You. To help get the word out, Maurice and the fine folks at Apex were generous enough to provide an excerpt of the book to whet your appetite. Have a look then follow the links at the bottom to learn more about this talented author and his new book.

About the book: From the dust of The Trying TimesTM, corp-nations have risen up in place of failed governments, and twilight haze dropped down in place of the sky. The economy fell, and the Earth itself shot heavenward, transforming the very face of the planet into an alien landscape with towers punching past the new sky into one of many unknowns. Soon after, the jumpers started raining from among the blue lanterns that took the place of sun and stars.

Mac Peterson left the employ of LG Security Forces and now cobbles together a life in the shadows of the great towers, filling policing needs for people too unimportant for the professional corp-national security to care about. His ex-wife, Kiersten, stayed behind on the Security Forces, working undercover. When she turns up dead alongside one of the tower jumpers, Mac pairs up with Ade Walters, a cyborg officer, to uncover who would try to hide Kiersten's death among the suicides. Searching for the murderer of one of their own, Mac and Ade discover plans to transform the Earth and its inhabitants...plans that only started with the great upheaval and The Trying TimesTM.



I Can Transform You (an excerpt)
by Maurice Broaddus

Maybe the eruption event had been a sign of the end and the apocalyptos had it right.

Rows of phosphorous blue lanterns blotted out the night sky, creating an alien vista, completely different from the memory of only a few years ago, the only remnants of the caustic dust kicked up those nights twenty years ago. The glowing canvas rendered the downtown skyline in a perpetual twilight, like a forest under a thick canopy of tree branches. Giant stone buildings rose in the dimness, obsidian behemoths, like death’s bony fingers protruding from where they had inexplicably ruptured from the ground. Since the eruption event, the city-dwellers liked to whisper stories of men and women, those mixed-up souls ready to end it all, blissfully swimming upward through the opaque, dense air until they reached the top of the alien structures, where they found paradise and disappeared into the forever of the cosmos.

“Bullshit,” Mac whispered to no one in particular.

Mac viewed life through a lens of skepticism and impatience; the towers and the flight to heaven—complete and utter nonsense. Surrounded by a mess of blood, brain matter, and pieces of bits he could only guess were the remains of internal organs, the crime scene told another story he struggled to make sense of. Two bodies had exploded like human grenades upon impact after falling from the top of the tallest structure. His gaze followed the jutting stone until it disappeared into the haze. Maybe these two had been evicted from heavenly paradise and tossed to their deaths, he mused. The foul stench failed to turn the detective’s stomach, as he’d long grown accustomed to the stink of death. Thousands had died when the tower first shattered the mantle of the earth’s surface. It appeared as if this tower had simply claimed two more.

Mac lit up a Redi-Smoke and inhaled. Genetically engineered to mimic the effects of nicotine, the companies benefitted from using chemical formulas that hadn’t been banned yet. The packaging of the Redi-Smoke produced only wisps of smoke, which dissipated in the mouth almost immediately. The company’s marketing campaign preyed on the ritual of smoking itself, per VCC regulations. All Mac needed to know was that the burn leeched away at his lungs; the genetically-enhanced tobacco-like buzz hit hard and quick, dispelling most of his annoyance at being called out in the middle of the Godforsaken night for yet another tower death. The victims had been falling for months now, one or two a week. No leads, no evidence. Nobody could make out whether the jumpers were murdered or simply succumbed to an inner nihilistic cry, compelled to commit suicide. Whatever the case, Mac wished the bullshit would end.

“Hey, Mac. Sorry to call you in, but you know how it is.” The city’s deputy chief of police appeared out of the fog. Hollander grimaced at the scene around them before he shook Mac’s hand. Gray hair wrapped like a horseshoe on the chief’s otherwise bald head. He sported a Hitler mustache on his egg-shaped face as if he could bring the affectation back, but his extra jowls only accentuated the ridiculousness of his appearance. And his hands were too soft, like a woman’s. The blue haze darkened his eyes, seeming to erase them. Mac held the pack of smokes out to him, but the deputy chief declined.

“Yeah?” Mac pushed his hat down over his face, covering his eyes in shadows. “Well, fuck you. You want to tell me why the fuck either of us are out here stomping through the remains of some sorry-assed tower jumpers?” He knew the dance of bullshit when he saw it. The chief was holding back. No way was he going to be on scene, much less call out Mac, unless it was important.

“It’s a bad one.” The chief stepped gingerly around bits of innards. “It’s one of our own this time.”

“What do you have?” Mac asked.

The chief grabbed Mac by the elbow and led him a couple of feet away from the nearest set of ears. Mac couldn’t help but think that his former boss didn’t want to be seen with him. “A lot of shit is going down and I need you braced for it. Does the name Harley Wilson ring a bell for you?”

“Not even a little.”

“Goddamn, Mac, you live in a cave?”

“Hey man, fuck you. I don’t have a Stream connect, so I also don’t get the latest news on your favorite teen pop stars. You’re lucky I have a cop-net linkup.”

“Right. Whatever, you Luddite piece of shit. Harley Wilson’s that gangbanger out of Easton. Suspected of making that hit on, shit…”

“Shit? Seems strange that a loving mother would take a look at the sweet product of her loins and name it ‘Shit,’” Mac said.

“Always with the jokes. Anyways, I can’t remember the name. Some corporate muckety-muck. It’s in my notes back at the office. But this isn’t about him. It’s about Kiersten.”

“My ex?” That serpent in his belly stirred. The gentle swell of anxious nausea left him uneasy, and Mac wanted Hollander to just spit it out. “Last I heard, she’d been working undercover. Bravest lady I know.”

“Kiersten had been running with Wilson the past couple of months.” Hollander stared at his feet. “The squints in the lab have confirmed that the bodies who fell tonight were Harley Wilson and Kiersten Wybrow.”

The world lost its axis, and Mac leaned against a storefront wall. Kiersten. A rush of emotions hit him at once. Mac covered his face with his hand. The azure haze of the night skies shifted with the clouds, hiding his grief. He pushed the pain back, down into a personal dark space, a well to draw upon when needed, when the time was right.

“You all right, Mac?” Hollander stepped closer, concern underscoring his voice.

“Me and Kiersten were still…close…” A moment of silence passed between the two men. The bottom fell out of where he thought he had bottomed out. Only a yawning chasm of grief awaited him. His head went light with the vertigo of pain, but he steadied himself before anyone else saw. He scanned the onlooking sets of eyes just in case.

“I’m sorry, Mac. I had no idea.”


If you enjoyed this excerpt and you'd like to get your hands on a copy of I Can Transform You, you can find it on Amazon.com and other book retailers, or just head on over to Apex Books and support the author and publisher directly.

Maurice Broaddus has written hundreds of short stories, essays, novellas, and articles. His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, including Asimov's SF, Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine. He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology series (Apex Books) and the author of the urban fantasy trilogy, Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot Books). He has been a teaching artist for over five years, teaching creative writing to students of all ages. Visit his site at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.