As usual, if you haven’t picked up Standalone, yet, you can get it directly from the publisher here. I mean you could get it at all major retailers, but you could also get it directly from the publisher. Just sayin’
I just realized, Jesus Christ, my new book comes out in ten days–on my birthday, no less. I hope you’ve pre-ordered it, and I hope all the reviewers and people who are getting a copy through their September 2020 package enjoy it.
But, what the fuck, wanna get a little taste? The first one’s free.
Moving along the deer path towards the campfire light, Jenkins thought, not for the first time, how much he hated the summer camp gigs.
He paused at the break in the trees, sweating through the bodysuit, breath fogging the bottom of his helmet’s faceplate. A young woman sat with her back to him, watching the fire. Someone snored in a one-man tent by the tree. Beyond, the main camp house was ablaze with light and the thump-thump of bass rattled the windows. Most of the people in there, some down by the docks. None in the actual camp lodges—the camp didn’t open for another week.
Jenkins adjusted his grip on the hatchet. The heavy gloves numbed his sense of feeling. Sending up a prayer to a god he didn’t believe in, he stepped through the tree break and strode over to the woman, raising the hatchet high. He stepped on a stick, deliberately, and the woman turned, just in time to see the hatchet come down. The blade slammed into the top of her skull and blood jumped, errant droplets hitting his face-plate. It reminded him of a movie he’d rented once. She didn’t even have time to scream.
He yanked the hatchet out, and the woman collapsed backwards. He dropped the hatchet with a flick of his wrist, sending the blade deep into the soft soil, and reached into the tent, grasping the bottom of the sleeping bag, holding onto a pair of ankles through the thick material.
A man’s voice, fuzzy with sleep—”Whu…?”—before Jenkins yanked the body forward. Bordered by the sleeping bag, a blur of a young man’s face—Christ, these kids couldn’t be older than twenty—and then Jenkins adjusted his grip, lifting with his arms and turning with his waist, winding up the torque. In his ear, he heard the hum of the suit taking the extra weight.
The man in the sleeping bag came up and around and Jenkins slammed it headfirst into the trunk of the elm. He heard the crunch of bone and cartilage, saw the way physics shoved the young man’s face all out of living shape, turning the flesh juicy red. He dropped the body and it lay still.
Panting now, feeling a burn in the small of his back, he glanced at the house, but the music stayed on, no one stood at the windows to see the first two murders.
Turning back, he felt in a waist pouch for the metallic stickers—they were thicker than gumball machine stickers, the one his daughter Janey used to beg for at the grocery store—and slammed one onto the sleeping bag, then another onto the woman’s back.
Two done. Another eight to go, according to the gig’s diagnostics. A brutal number. The only silver-lining had been the all-caps line at the bottom: NO SURVIVORS. Survivors made hard jobs infinitely more shitty.
He grabbed his hatchet, then moved his way around the back of the house, where there were the fewest windows, the forest pushing up so close the space between was meant for an oil tank and nothing else. He came around the other side and spotted their vehicles—models he didn’t recognize because this wasn’t his time and place. He didn’t bother slashing the tires. No survivors meant no hunting and stalking.
This camp wasn’t a gauntlet. It was a killing floor.
Beyond the dust-and-gravel side yard was the access lane, lodges on one side and the lake on the other, complete with a long dock and two tied row boats. He could just see the two white Adirondack chairs at the far end.
Another glance at the house, a flash of someone moving by a window on the first floor, but no one lingered to see the man in the spacesuit. A light on the second floor went on.
Jenkins stepped onto the dock. The lap of the shoreline and the rhythmic knocking of the boats masked his footsteps. Man on the left, woman on the right, talking quietly. The man was smoking, but Jenkins’s helmet, as well as filtering the air, removed all smells.
He switched the hatchet from his left to his right as he approached. The security lights around the house didn’t reach this far, no shadow spreading out before him.
“Toldja Benji got the best,” the man said, his voice strangled, exhaling a plume. “You sure you don’t want any?”
“Not if we’re swimming. That shit always fucks me up.”
A board creaked behind the two chairs. Jenkins had time to think, Shit, as both people stiffened. The man started to turn and Jenkins’s left hand shot forward, grabbing the man by the back of his neck, fingers on his jugular. The suit hummed, compensating, as he squeezed and the man’s neck crunched inward like an empty soda can.;.
Artery blood leaped from under his thumb and hit the woman square in the face, stopping the scream her mouth was building. He swung the hatchet in a sideways arc, and the blade bit at eye-level, burying itself an inch inside the sockets.
He let go of the man and wrenched the hatchet out from the woman’s head. Her body dropped, hanging over the arm. The white paint of the Adirondack chairs was speckled with blood colored black in the dim light.
Leave two, the read-out had stated. Jenkins glanced up at the night sky, the three-quarters moon off-center against the Navy blue expanse, the constellations he couldn’t identify. He hoped Janey could see the stars where she was, could name them. He’d check when he finished.
He turned back towards the house. Six more to go.
Back behind the house, through the kitchen door he knew would be unlocked. The music was louder, the bass thicker and furrier, shivering through his suit. House music, they’d called it when he was a teenager. Who knew what the fuck it was called now, or in this place. It masked his heavy footsteps across the faded linoleum. He set the hatchet, the blade tacky with blood, on the counter amidst the beer cans and liquor bottles, and pulled a butcher’s knife and a meat cleaver from the magnetized strips along the backwall of the sink. Be creative, the diagnostics said. It always said that. Jenkins had stopped seeing it; the notion had become ingrained.
Two hallways, one ahead and one to his left. He took the left one.
The hallway ran to the front of the house, with a wide archway to the right leading to the living space and lit up like midday. The sound of conversation between two people, barely registering beneath the heavy thump of the music.
He stepped in. Two young men, dressed for the beach and sitting in chairs with a sidetable between them, talked animatedly, gesturing with their beer bottles. Empty bottles littered the table itself. He was halfway across the room before they registered him.
The man on his left, wearing a type of plastic visor that Jenkins hadn’t seen since the mid-1980s, reared back in his chair, mouth forming the word, “Jesus—” while his companion, a bro wearing a polo shirt with a popped collar, was slower to react, his glazed eyes widening in increments.
Jenkins drove the butcher knife straight into Visor Boy’s throat, through it, puncturing the other side, while he brought the cleaver down on Popped Collar Bro’s. Jenkins let go of the kitchen knives and stepped back. He caught his reflection in the mirror—man in a spacesuit that reminded him of the old MTV commercials. God knew what these kids saw. It’d been in the diagnostics, but Jenkins had skimmed that part. Again, this wasn’t a hunting ground. He didn’t need to lean into whatever legend haunted this place.
He slapped metallic stickers onto the knees of the young men, then looked around for his next weapon. He grabbed a strong-looking poker from the set beside the stone fireplace, then took the stairs two at a time. An overhead light was on. The upstairs hallway ran parallel to the stairs, two doors immediately in front of him. One was a linen closet. One was a spare bathroom. The doors lining the hallway were proper bedrooms, three of them, two to the side and one at the end. The door of the one closest was ajar, as was the one at the end, though the one at the end allowed the glow of a nightstand lamp to escape.
He went to the first bedroom. Over the thrum of bass beneath his feet, he could just hear the rhythmic creaking of bedsprings. He nudged the door further open, the glow of the hallway light just falling short of the couple in the military-style single bed at the opposite end of the room. They paid no notice. Missionary position. Lucky break.
Jenkins moved, gripping the poker with both hands and raising it high. He walked right up to the bed, just as he saw the eye of the woman on the bottom open and then widen as she saw whatever the suit made him look like.
He drove the poker down, grunting, feeling the hum of the suit, impaling both man and woman through the center, still shoving it forward, the tip puncturing through the woman’s back, the bed, the old spring, hitting the floor with a thunk.
He stepped back and watched them squirm. The man’s mouth dribbled blood onto the brow of the woman’s head. They flailed, weakly, then stopped.
Jenkins toed through the dead couple’s clothes, found the holstered knife he knew the man had on him. He fumbled it out of its sheaf—a Bowie knife, so spotless it caught the residual glow of the hallway light and turned it into a shine. Not a bit of wear on its blade. Probably bought especially for this trip.
Jenkins pulled two more stickers from his pouch, slapped them onto the man’s back and the woman’s limp arm, then moved back into the hallway, keeping close to the wall. Inside the master bedroom, a man asked, “How long are you going to take, babe?”
A woman’s answer came from further away. “I might be camping, but goddamn am I going to smell like it every minute we’re here.”
A soft laugh from the man. “You’re going to be a natural Wildlife Activities Director, lemme tell you.”
“I can stay in here until you’re as soft as cotton, y’know,” came the reply. He heard water running in a sink.
Jenkins grimaced. He didn’t want to hear these kids talking. He didn’t want to know their pasts, what they thought their immediate futures were going to be. He had a quota, dammit.
He stepped in and swung in a sideways motion almost blindly, knowing generally what direction the man was in. He caught the man, sitting up in bed, blankets around his nude waist, slightly off-center of the mouth, slicing through a part of the cheek like a half-assed Chelsea smile, pushing the blade through the back of the mouth. The man’s head thunked against the headboard.
Jenkins switched hands, keeping the head in place against the headboard, pulling the knife out. The man’s feet drummed on the mattress, and he gagged around a mouthful of blood.
“Todd?” the woman asked.
Jenkins drove the knife into the man’s throat, then pulled the blade back hard, opening the neck up into a wide grin. The most blood yet, soaking the man’s chest, the sheets, the arms of Jenkins’s suit.
He pulled the knife out and straightened as the bathroom door opened behind him. He turned, and a young woman stood in the doorway, looking impossibly small in an oversized yellow tee shirt baring the caption CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE above a woodcut image of a canoe on the water. Her wet face gleamed in the nightstand lamp’s light, her skin too pale. Jenkins knew she had to be 19, or 20, but she didn’t look it. She looked like a child. She looked uncomfortably like Janey.
Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open, but she didn’t scream. Instead, her expression just looked quizzical. “Why…why are you wearing a spacesuit?”
Jenkins jerked at that, but the woman’s eyes slid towards Todd, and they seemed to gobble up her entire face. “Oh god…”
Warning bells exploded in Jenkins’s head, and he was moving, flicking the knife of excess blood, and the woman looked at him again, the confusion and grief turning to fear—but not terror. Her expression wasn’t that of the two idiots downstairs, or the woman out at the dock. She had the look of a person who was given some unbelievably bad news, but it was so sudden and so massive and so new that her brain didn’t quite know how to comprehend it yet.
But her body moved, backing her into the bathroom, hands trailing against the door, the sink, knocking aside a jar of face scrub, her travel toothpaste. Her mouth worked, but she didn’t scream.
The back of her legs struck the side of the tub and Jenkins lunged, stabbing her in the chest as she fell backward, pulling the shower curtain with her. It was a graceless fall, all limbs bumping and bending and in the way.
She stared up at him, eyes foggy with confusion, mouth working, blood dribbling at the corners. “Spacesuit,” she whispered. “Why…spacesuit…” Jenkins raised the knife again. The woman’s eyes sharpened and, even more than before, seemed to seehim.
“I’ll…find you…again,” the woman whispered, blood spilling over her lower lip. “Spacesuit…”
Jenkins brought the knife down again. And again. Until the movement of his thrusts turned her face aside, her glazed eyes looking elsewhere.
Two more stickers, he left the knife in the unnerving girl, and then he stumbled back downstairs. He didn’t have to, but he paused long enough to turn the stereo off.
Grabbing his hatchet off the kitchen counter, Jenkins made his way back to the campfire. He listened to the crackle of the flames, then the songs of—crickets? cicadas? He’d been a city kid, born and bred, and had never been able to tell the difference. He listened to the sound of the woman inside his head, asking why the spacesuit, saying she’ll find him again.
He shook his head to rattle the voice free, then reached into his pouch for the palm-sized remote. It reminded him of car fobs, only more triangular. Two of the three buttons were small, colored red and green. He hit the green one; the helmet kept him from hearing the pop! of air rushing in to fill the spaces where the bodies he’d stickered had lain. Both the woman he’d killed with the hatchet and the man he’d bashed to death with a tree-trunk were gone. Just the fire and the overturned bench and the one-man tent. When the authorities made it out here, they’d find the two people at the dock, a lot of blood, and nothing else. No answers, certainly. The story would spread—whatever story it was that tended to circulate through this time and place.
The woman’s voice in the center of his head: I’ll find you again.
Jenkins hit the small red button. In front of him, in the center of the fire pit, a large upright triangle, limned in electric blue, sizzled into existence. The view of the world in the center of the triangle took on the look of a world glimpsed through a shifting curtain of heavy rain, the kind you’d need the windshield wipers working at their max to see through. The flames looked like tissue-paper streamers, orange and yellow.
Jenkins hit the black button, larger than the other two, and the air in the center of the triangle dissolved into a view of the beige-colored sterilization chamber.
He stepped through and the triangle closed behind him.
So…now that everyone’s preordered the September package from the wonderful people of Night Worms (thank you, by the way! Knowing the care and attention Sadie and Ashley put into each month’s box, you’re in for a treat; I mean, yay, you’re getting my book, and a signed bookplate from me, but you’re also getting so much more and I’m excited for people to get them), what are Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and I doing with people who just pre-order Standalone from us?
Check out below!
The above is one of six (6) limited-edition trading cards that will be sent, along with a bookplate and the book itself, to the first 350 preorders. Did you collect trading cards, as a kid, like sports cards or, if you were like me, the Marvel Comics cards of the early 1990s? Those were the springboards for this.
Designed in-house by the wonderful Lori Michelle, the illustrations were done by Luke Spooner (who’s illustrated a ton of my stuff over the years, from I Can Give You Life in Nightscape Press’s Ashes and Entropy, to “The Universe Is Dying” in You, Human from Written Backwards, to “Everything You Leave Behind” in PMMP’s Lost Signals anthology), based off descriptions I dreamt up from the novella itself. In fact, readers of that book will find the Scarecrow figure very familiar.
On the back of the cards is trivia and thumbnail origins, which was fun to make up. It reminds me of articles you see periodically of all the novels Stephen King has referenced he has had ideas to write, but never did (like, I dunno, that I, Jason tweet I shared on my social media).
Here, though, are slasher movies I’d be pretty excited to see, personally (it beats watching, I dunno, Pieces again). In fact, while writing the copy for these cards, I got an idea for a story.
Hey, gang! Today, over at the horror site Inkheist, a new Standalone-story called “Everything Feels Wrong without You” is premiering. It involves a secondary character from the novella, named Martin–at least, that’s what he goes by right now.
“Everything Feels Wrong without You”, like Standalone, deals with movies and our reaction to them–although it’s more references in the novella, and the short literally takes place in a version(s) of Hollywood. Quick little Easter Egg, while I hint at Martin’s origins–they’re a bit, ahem, Arthurian–Billy Settle’s name was an homage to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (“Settle” here, instead of “Pilgrim”, showing the essential differences between the two characters). This was written around the same time as “The One Thing I Wished for You” (which originally appeared in Unnerving #3)–meaning, the shorts predate the novella. “The One Thing I Wish for You” is included, by the way, as a “bonus” story at the end of the book.
While I was writing Standalone, I got to a point where I needed characters more knowledgeable about the situation than my main folks–I tend to write from what-ifs and have people work their way through the problem, learning as they go–and the character of Martin (or the presenter from “TOTIWFY”, although he’s just called “the man in a black suit” there) popped into my head. Someone who’s been around the multiverse-block and could fill in some blanks for my main people.
Martin’s kind of an antagonist here in the short, while an ambivalent ally in Standalone, but this, like the short story “The One Thing I Wished for You”, is the first time I’ve ever re-used characters. That’s, honestly, kind of exciting for me. I’m not one to have central cast–and anyone who’s read my work knows that the stories don’t tend to lend to them coming back. I tend to, with a few exceptions, loathe series characters in what I read, too, so I’m always wary of repeating characters myself. But, I gotta admit, it was fun.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. Hit me up on Twitter to let me know. You can find the story here. Big thanks to Rich Duncan, Shane Keene (who’s been a big supporter I’m grateful to have since Bones Are Made to be Broken), and the entire Inkheist crew.
After you’re done reading, if you want to see more of Martin, and learn more about the multiverse, you can preorder the book here.
It’s not a terrible surprise–my name was on the teaser banner for the September 2020 package, and I haven’t been able to shut the fuck up about my new book–but Night Worms, the awesome horror subscription service, revealed over on Instagram that Standalone is officially part of the package. My portion, not counting if my publisher includes bookmarks or whatever, will include signed bookplates and they look legit, fam. We made them look like old school video store rental cards, and that’s just fucking neat.
This is my second time with Sadie and Ashley, and I absolutely love it. Not only do they love horror, but they love curating a cool product and that means I get my books in front of people who truly enjoy the genre. You can’t beat that.
Next, Adam Cesare, the writer of Con Season and Zero Lives Remaining runs the Project: Black T-Shirt channel over on YouTube, where he pairs new releases or reissues of films and then pairs them with a book recommendation. On Wednesday, Adam recommended Standalone, saying, in part, that Standalone “has a lot of heart, a lot of psychological depth, a lot of interesting twists and turns….It’s really good and I really, very much recommend it.”
Check it out below (and, hey, if you like cult films, Black T-Shirt’s channel will hook you up with info):
And then, yesterday, Ben Walker, a BookTuber and reviewer for outlets such as Gingernuts of Horror, Unnerving, and Kendell Reviews, posted this:
…and that just absolutely floored me.
It seems people, as they see the book, are starting to dig Standalone, and, lemme tell ya, I am here for it. I mean, all writers are neurotic messes (don’t believe anyone who won’t cop to it), so people digging the work means I can push my imposter syndrome down a little bit further.
It’s rare, but it’s fun when one of my stories gets the audio treatment. Today, over at The Wicked Library, they have an all-new story, called “The Man at Dealey Plaza” premiering, performed by Graham Rowat. It fits into the half-assed cosmology readers have seen in works like “The Doorway Man” and, more recently, “Hollowness”. I’m not much of a weird writer, say sorry, but I have fun when an idea occurs to me, and Mr. Rowat knocked it out of the goddamned park, friends and neighbors. When asked to do something in audio, I always try to think of some way to utilize the form and work backwards from there. I did something similar (with voicemails) in the story “Where You Find Faith in Things”.
In this instance, it’s a guy talking into his digital recorder and all the sounds digital recorders pick up. Being asked to limit the amount of dialogue helped in that respect, so that the story is less a narrative and more of a transcript. Making the guy a journalist and someone who became blind helped give me a sense of how to tell a story. This was also the first story written when the Covid-19 lockdown hit Virginia and schools went on what was originally called an extended spring break.
You can check “The Man at Dealey Plaza” here. Big thanks to Nelson W. Pyles for asking and the entire 9th Story Studios crew for facilitating, and big-big thanks to Graham Rowat for creating the voice I heard in my head.
And why the fuck now–pre-order Standalone, my upcoming slasher novella, here!
My story “Feeling Like a Big Kid at the Beginning of the End” (written during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown here in the States, when my county decided to extend Spring Break and “see what happens”) will be appearing in Chiral Mad 5, due out sometime in 2021 by Written Backwards and curated by my long-time (and long-suffering) editor Michael Bailey.
This will be the third time I’ve appeared in a Chiral Mad anthology–my story “The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim)” appeared in Chiral Mad 3 and the novella I wrote with Bracken MacLeod How We Broke (which was later released as a limited-edition paperback and hardcover by Thunderstorm Books) appeared in Chiral Mad 4.
What’s different with this anthology is that, much like the first Chiral Mad, 100% of proceeds will be going to charity–this time the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, it’s fucking awful that this needs to be done, but it does, and we all do what we can.
To that end, if you wanted to get in on the IndieGoGo campaign for Chiral Mad 5 (there are, as of this writing, 12 days left), go to this link.
This is the second time I’ve worked with Sadie and Ashley and Night Worms–they commissioned a limited edition of How We Broke, the novella I wrote with Bracken MacLeod for Chiral Mad 4 back in March of 2020, working with Thunderstorm Books. I love working with Night Worms and, in general, just love Night Worms. Their monthly packages, of which I have purchased a few in my time, have always been spectacular and have led me to being introduced to new authors, such as Craig Davidson and James Sabata. The last one I was a part of introduced me to a bunch of new readers and I’m excited to see how it goes this time.
You can pre-order the package at the link and, yes, I know, they haven’t revealed how I’m a part of the package, but let’s keeps it real for a sec–what new book of mine is coming in September? (And there’s a whole bunch of stuff working behind the scenes on that, too!)
Updated the main menu–I haven’t had a single book for some time, so I slid the BONES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN page, created pages for HOW WE BROKE and STANDALONE, and slid the entire mess under a basic BOOKS page. Also, cleaned up my STORIES & EDITING page, because, y’know, that’s something that should be fairly contemporaneous. As this site transitions from a basic blog to an Oh-So-Very-Important ™ writer’s website (see the new domain?), it’s mostly me getting ready for the September launch of Standalone (which you can preorder by clicking the title there; go ahead, do it for Jesus).
Speaking of Standalone, final revisions are being done, and I’m lining up enough podcasts and articles that I feel simultaneously practical and pretentious to refer to the period from mid-August to mid-September as a “press junket”.
Also, there are other things going on with Standalone, but I’ll talk about that when I sign some names. Which might not happen! But I’m hoping it does. Anyhoo.
My next book, my first standalone book–called, ahem, Standalone–is coming in September from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. It’s about slashers and alienation and the Multiverse.
Here’s the cover copy:
They are killers. They are monsters. They are evil.
They stalk through summer camps, abandoned hospitals, rundown schools, and isolated houses, hunting anyone foolish enough to visit these places, leaving behind carnage, terror, death, and destruction. Sometimes, there are survivors. Always, there is blood.
And they do it to protect and preserve all of existence across the Multiverse.
But now they are the ones being stalked and hunted, and life as we know it hangs in the balance unless they figure out a way to survive.
Sound neat? Head over to the Night Worms blog to see the cover and the sweet, sweet blurb Stephen Graham Jones gave the book. (Oh my Christ, SGJ dug my book!)