The most faithful and long-suffering of my loyal readers (I think there are maybe three of you?) will remember the story “Plural,” first published last March in Cosmos Magazine. Well, the science fictionistas at Escape Pod have now produced this story as a podcast, so you can listen to it while you pull dandelions or drive to Graceland or suffer away on the elliptical machine. Whatever your thankless activity, Amanda Ching has done the reading so you don’t have to! Give it a listen, if you please.
This is a story I have toiled over: since it was first drafted in January 2013, it’s gone through two major revisions–splitting into columns, doubling in length–and about a thousand minor ones. I hear the editors had a tricky time getting the text online in the desired format. So “Plantation | Springtime” has always been a challenging text, it’s always required a little extra work. The result might be a slightly challenging read. But I hope you’ll give it the extra minutes, and I hope it’s worth the effort for you. It’s always felt like the best kind of challenge to me.
“At last!” everyone is saying, “so long have I waited! All this time I have wished, nay, yearned to read a story about people on the subway!” Yes, everyone’s really talking like that! with exclamation points and everything! Okay, they’re not, I’ve just been reading a bunch of Lovecraft lately. Anyway, so you’re wondering how you can tap into this mysterious new current of the zeitgeist, right? Or maybe you’re just wondering what on earth I’m talking about? Okay.
Here! finally! It’s Blurring the Line, an anthology of the dark, the weird, the creepy-crawly, and unspeakably grotesque monstrosities from the most fearsome depths of an inbred madman’s unimaginable imagination! Wait, no, scratch that last, that’s Lovecraft again. Let’s see what editor Marty Young has to say…
Blurring the Line is a mixture of fact and fiction—but perhaps some of the fact is really fiction, and some of the fiction is fact. The lines have been blurred between the two, the division lost, and that was the whole point of this whole adventure.
We have monsters within these pages, and madness, too. There are ghosts and killers, molesters, and things beyond our rationale. There are stories filled with sadness and others full of gore, and all of them written by some of the best in the business of making you believe.
— Marty Young, Introduction to Blurring the Line
Some of the best in the business, you hear that? Plus me!
So where does my story, “Empty Cars,” fall in the spectrum? Well, probably best to let readers be the judge of that. As I told Gregory Norris, this story comes from the empty cars on the subway. It occurred to me after I’d written that background bit, as I was rereading, that there’s another story behind this. Back in the 90s when I was in high school, there was this graffiti tag all over Minneapolis, on mailboxes and newspaper boxes and office buildings and everything: SO EMPTY INSIDE. Probably some angsty kid, right? But I liked to think it was a more literal statement about the emptiness of the world, in a nihilistic but weirdly funny way. Like this person was checking everything systematically, verifying, labeling. What about this mailbox? Letters, bills, postcards? Nope, empty inside. Newspapers? Empty inside. The bank? SO EMPTY INSIDE. And so that’s a big part of this story, too: an absurd, methodical, and hopeless search for meaning by someone who’s having trouble seeing any.
All right, enough talk from me. Here’s a paragraph to get you going:
On the subway: corpses hang rotting from the handles, soft teeth ground into gingival mush, their eyeballs rolling down to mobile devices. They’re texting each other—they’re calling the authorities, they’re alerting the press. I’m in trouble. I don’t smell right. It’s a hallucination and I know it. So I don’t call for help, I don’t puke or cry; most days I don’t even get off at the next stop. I sit down. I take out my newspaper and watch ants scribbling their legs across the page.
This is every day.
(from “Empty Cars”)
If you’re interested, Blurring the Line is available from Cohesion Press, via Amazon, for $5.99 (ebook). I think there’ll be a print version, too. Buy it. If you want.
Oh, and hey! Almost forgot. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!