Two Questions for Lyndsie Manusos

We recently published Lyndsie Manusos’s enigmatic “The Following.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) “Because maybe the darkness could give back after taking.” This is such a great story, I love it, but that line is so powerful and hopeful — it is my favorite moment in a story full of amazing moments. So. If you could get something back from the darkness (any kind of darkness), what would it be?

I wrote this piece right around when my second daughter was born. Darkness was familiar during those long witching hours, those sleepless nights (still a few sleepless nights lately). If you asked me after such a night, I would ask for the darkness to give me back a sense of being well-rested and awake. Energy! Long-lasting and without the crash of coffee. 
In terms of items, something that I might find on the lip of a mysterious hole, I think it’d be the first journal I ever wrote in. My parents bought it for me when I was very young. I wrote my first stories in there, one about a whale, another about a sloth. I read each story aloud to anyone who’d listen. And I honestly don’t recall what happened to it. So if the darkness gave it back to me, it’d be a confirmation of sorts, like writing came full circle. Who doesn’t want affirmation for their passions?


2) I love how the narrator in this story gives us the facts, the realistic details, but still thinks things like maybe their grandparents are on Saturn. That combination of acceptance and hope is such a powerful one — do you think people like the narrator will be better able to deal with what is happening in this world than someone who leans more to either side?

I sure hope so, because I cope with the unknown and any kind of grief in a similar way to the narrator. Meshing logic with a bit of the fantastical, or at least the possibility of the fantastical. That’s why I love speculative fiction so much, with writers like Amber Sparks, Helen Oyeyemi, Karen Russell, Ted Chiang etc. I love the breadth that genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror provide to navigate emotions, such as immense loss. Especially now, with *waves hand at the world,* genre provides both a lens and a cushion to explore these types of events that a year or two ago would seem absolutely inexplicable or otherworldly. 

The Following ~ by Lyndsie Manusos

It wasn’t long before a hole opened up and swallowed several cars on Michigan Ave. Not a sinkhole or some road collapse. Just a hole. Like Wile E. Coyote slapped one of those ACME dots into a canyon wall that the roadrunner sped through. The cars just disappeared, devoured. A wedding photographer in Millennium Park captured her clients kissing when the hole appeared beyond them. She sold the photo for thousands. 

And my grandparents and two cousins were in one of the cars. They were on their way home from one of those dinners the whole extended family knew about. An ultimatum dinner. A “What I deserve” and “Who will look after the kids?” dinner. A whole SUV just down, down, and gone. Religious sects and cults contacted my family. Alien enthusiasts emailed me. When something so inexplicable happens, it sets a fire in the chest and head like a cold, and people need to find out why, they have to know. I had nothing to give them. There was nothing to give. The government dropped lights down the hole without finding a bottom. They sent people to drill in from the sides, underneath Michigan Avenue, and they only found rock and cement; what was supposed to be there, but on the surface there was still the goddamn hole. 

More opened up all over the world, too, like the planet had become Swiss cheese. One swallowed a building that manufactured infant formula. Another one engulfed a Sequoia that was over 1,104 years old.  A slew of people willingly jumped into the holes, bypassing the security and barricades. One man wore wings strapped to his back. They called him The Angel. The public ate that shit up. The last thing people saw where the wings before the darkness ate him, too.

And I? What did I do? I couldn’t stop thinking of words I read in some book or another about being a person who spins on their own axis. Someone who could walk into darkness and not give a fuck where the lights are. I needed a nightlight growing up and God help me, I still have one now. A little lightbulb behind a single stain-glass shape of Saturn, burnt yellow and orange and white. I used to stare at it from across my bedroom. I knew Saturn is all gas but still, I imagined life there. Maybe that’s where my grandparents were, I thought, attending the funeral we planned for them. We laid empty caskets in holes in the ground, holes with bottoms, holes with an exact depth that we could measure, check, and measure again.

What a way, way down, to fall.

I’d like to think maybe they’re waiting for more of us to follow into it, be transported. Trust us, follow us, they might be yelling from the void. A few people have jumped in the hole with that very thought—to follow. There are rumors, they say, that items are beginning to appear at the lip of the holes. A wheel. A shoe. A feather. When I read in a chatroom of conspiracy theorists that a small lightbulb had allegedly been found by the hold in Chicago, I nearly wept for joy. Because maybe the darkness could give back after taking. Maybe it was confirming the lingering question. An affirmation. Follow us, see? We’ll leave breadcrumbs. We’ll leave footprints. See there, there, and there: a still-burning cigarette. A doll in mint condition. A watch. A necklace. And there, see? A light. There, a possibility. 

***

Lyndsie Manusos’ writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly’s 70th issue, as well as in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hobart, and other publications. 

Two Questions for Beth Moulton

We recently published Beth Moulton’s beautiful “Blasted.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I like how this story is told only in pieces, how we readers know what is going on in the white spaces without having to be told. Did you ever consider showing more of the story here, or had you always thought of it as these moments with the car, the tree and the long, long road?

All stories are a marriage of what is said and what is unsaid. Though this story is fictional, the tree is real, and she is close to a road. I hold my breath every spring, waiting for her leaves to appear. I’ve been wanting to honor her with a story, but a longer story didn’t seem quite right. A spare story, just the bones of the thing, seemed most appropriate. I finally decided to have my protagonist mirror the tree, with her physical and emotional blasting, and a loss that seems unsurvivable. There are things we can deduce without them being spoken–the unnamed place, the way in which the tree was injured, the great silent, spaces in a relationship. 


2) Speaking of the tree — what a beautiful, powerful moment at the end! Do you think this is a moment of recovery, of peace, for the tree and the narrator? A chance for them to both take a breath before continuing? Or is it something else?

In one way, I like to think of it as a bonding, the way survivors somehow recognize each other in the wild, and then hold on to each other. But in another way, the tree is maternal, and she’s nurturing the woman like a mother would cradle a baby. Giving her a resting spot until she’s able to move on.

Blasted ~ by Beth Moulton

Photo by Beth Moulton

Day 1: We drive in silence to the place where they will aim radiation at the place where my ovaries used to be. The incision has healed but I feel concave. I don’t know how to mold myself to this loss. We hold hands. I look out the window at the leafless trees. 

Day 6: The drive is becoming a habit. We talk about the roof, which has developed a leak. We talk about the neighbors, who may or may not be splitting up. We talk about the cat, who we haven’t seen for days. We hold hands. Some of the trees have that red, fuzzy look they get right before the leaves pop out.

Day 14: The drive is becoming a burden—45 minutes each way for a 2-minute treatment where I lay under the machine like a sacrifice. I have nightmares about the machine. I have nightmares about something growing inside me. I have nightmares. We talk more about the neighbors, bless them and their craziness, they save us from a silent ride. We don’t hold hands. The trees are green now, except for the one right next to the road, the one that was probably struck by lightning. It has a gaping hollow so big I could hide myself inside. It must be dead, I think. What could survive that injury?

Day 21: We argue on the way to the place. He wants to make plans for summer, maybe near the ocean, he says, but laying half-dressed under the sun reminds me of the machine. I crave shade and soft clothing. The hollowed-out tree is still naked. He doesn’t speak at all on the ride back, until he does. That tree is a hazard, he says. It’s dead. They should chop it down. 

Day 25: I drive myself to the place; he says it’s too much for him. Squinting at the wounded tree, I see a red haze around the tips of the branches. On the way back I pull over and walk up to her, because I know the tree is a her, and rub my hands over her bark and look inside where she is empty. I climb in. The great bulk of her drowns out the noise of the traffic. There is a slow breathing, but is it her or me? Maybe it’s both of us. I stay a long time, nestled inside her, until I finally climb out of the blasted place and drive home. 

***

Beth Moulton earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, in Rosemont, PA, where she was fiction editor for the Rathalla Review. Her work has appeared in Affinity CoLab, The Drabble, Milk Candy Review, and other journals. She lives near Valley Forge, PA with her cats, Lucy and Ethel.

Two Questions for L.P. Melling

We recently published L.P. Melling’s tender “The Caretaker’s Confession.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story.

1) I love the continuing imagery of the confetti in this piece, how it brings color into the caretaker’s life — and beyond. Do you think it is really the sweeping up of the confetti he likes, or do you think he is happier knowing he has missed a piece here and there?

The motif of the confetti came to me when I found a stray piece of confetti in an old suit, bringing back a happy memory. I love the idea of something disposable coming back to life for another occasion, whether a wedding or a funeral, as it slips from a lapel. Yes, I can certainly imagine the caretaker leaving the odd piece here and there for this exact reason, so even the coldest of days has specks of vivid colour, so bright memories are reawakened.  


2) This caretaker feels like such a kind, thoughtful person to me — how he cares for the forgotten things so tenderly. Do you think the church could possibly replace him, or is he one of a kind?

I like to imagine how people are drawn to unique jobs, and I imagine all the workers who give care in the world and how they want to tend to the needs of what they look after, whether it is a person or the graveyard of a church for those lost. The tender but slightly mischievous dimensions to the character drew me to him, and I imagined what he would do when they work for so long in such an environment. The things we might want to do ourselves if we were alone in a church. I can’t imagine any caretaker quite like him when he is replaced but I hope the new caretaker shows as much care and love in his job.

The Caretaker’s Confession ~ by L.P. Melling

The caretaker of St. Mary’s church likes sweeping up the confetti most. He collects the colourful piles and imagines the travels of the missing pieces, how they end up around the world and nestle under lapels and in shallow pockets for years until they are brought back to life at another wedding.

He also likes to stand in front of the stained glass, closing his eyes, trying to guess what colour his face is bathed in, testing if it feels different in sea blue, or pasture green, or heaven white-gold.

When no one is looking, he scoops out a Princess Diana cupful of holy water from the baptismal font. And he pours a thumbful over the soil of the lichen-marked graves that are too old to have visitors.

He hopes someone will do the same for him one day, knowing his time as caretaker is nearly over.

The caretaker sits in the church’s quiet that is like no other. In the musky, partitioned box, he confesses to the silence the things he probably shouldn’t do with confetti, holy water, and stained glass. And as the last of it tumbles from his lips, he feels at peace.

When he leaves the church for the final time as its caretaker, he thanks it for taking care of him all those days, and he hopes he gave as much as he took from doing his work. He returns each year to pay his respects and visits for the last time a decade later in a modest pine casket. And when the funeral has finished, when the church and its grounds return to the peaceful quite he always loved, the breeze catches a piece of confetti and sweeps it past his wreath-marked grave to a part of the cemetery only a caretaker visits.

***

L. P. Melling currently writes from the East of England after academia and a legal career took him around the UK. His fiction has appeared in such places as TypehouseARTPOSTFrozen Wavelets, and is forthcoming elsewhere. When not writing, he works in London for a legal charity that advises and supports victims of crime. 

Two Questions for L Mari Harris

We recently published L Mari Harris’s heartbreaking “Girl as Music Box Ballerina.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) The girl, in this story, is so realistic — she clearly is crying out for help, but at the same time she is trying to pretend everything is normal. Do you think she will ever be able to admit, yes, I need help, yes, someone please? 

She will keep trying. This piece stems from my own younger years, when I was seriously depressed for several of those years on and off. I learned a hard truth that many people can’t handle sadness and depression in others, so I was one of those people who learned to smile when eyes were on me. I’d tried to verbalize what I was feeling, why I wanted to be alone all the time. No one knew what to do with me, so everyone tended to avoid the situation of my “moodiness”. We have a lot of work to do to drastically improve how we respond to those we suspect or know are hurting. We tend to pull away, or we get mad—“Get it together”, “It’s not that bad”, “You have everything, so what do you have to be depressed about?”— when we should be wrapping our arms around our hurting brothers and sisters and truly, actively listening without judgment. And I don’t want this to sound like no one cares—so many people do care and can help. Pretending everything’s ok is a heavy burden to carry alone, and that’s what I hope I expressed in this piece. It’s so hard to open up, to keep reaching out, because each time someone doesn’t give you the response you need, it makes it that much harder to try again. But please please please keep reaching out. I found someone who would truly listen after many attempts. It’s ultimately so worth it. 

2) When I think of music box ballerinas, they are always dancing to a song my mother loved — “Love Story.” What song is the girl dancing to in her music box? 

It’s distant, faint, unnamable. I was obsessed with my music box when I was a little girl, but to this day, I cannot tell you what it played—probably something from The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. But what consumed me was how I could make her dance any time I wanted, simply by opening the lid, just as I could let her go back to sleep by closing it. I’d stick my face right up to it and gently lift the lid an inch, because I wanted to peer into that dark space, to see her folded up, and yet I knew by inching that lid up she’d eventually spring up and dance for me. Thinking about it all these years later, what is forefront in my mind is what a strange sense of power I held over that ballerina—I could make her perform at my will. The melody meant nothing to me; it was all about my eyes on her, about making her dance. And that’s so sad for me to think about now, that I only cared about how she performed for me. 

Girl As Music Box Ballerina ~ by L Mari Harris

This girl writes with glitter pens, draws little glitter hearts next to her name, adds XOXO. Doesn’t pick at her food and ask to be excused. Sings along to the radio, drums her fingers on the dashboard, catches her mother’s smile and blows her a kiss. Wears her sleeves pulled down to her fingertips, doesn’t look in the mirror when she undresses at night. Says “I don’t know what I was thinking” when her mother stares at her too long. Smiles at her teachers when tests are handed back, raises her hand when questions are asked. Draws little daggers in her notebook. Smiles smiles smiles. Thrashes at night, grinds her teeth, digs her nails into her stomach, her thighs, her upper arms, screams in her dreams. This girl dances when she’s opened. Spins until the lid is closed and she’s folded back into the beautiful dark.

***

L Mari Harris’s most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in matchbook, Ponder Review, (mac)ro(mic), CRAFT, Flash Frog, among others. She works in the tech industry and lives in the Ozarks. Follow her on Twitter @LMariHarris and read more of her work at www.lmariharris.wordpress.com.

Two Questions for Stella Lei

We recently published Stella Lei’s stellar “Space-Time.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) One of the moments that really jumped out for me in this lovely story is when the astronaut (as a girl) tries to lay her father’s hands over her own, ” like fresh cobwebs, like tattered gloves.” There is something so familiar and poignant in this moment — is this something purely from your imagination or is it based on an experience of yours?

While this moment is not drawn from any one memory, I have had experiences sitting with old and sickly relatives, holding their hand, and treasuring the time I have left with them. I built upon that feeling while writing this piece and did my best to convey it through my character’s actions and the way she interacts with the world around her.


2) The description of the astronaut’s environment in the opening is so perfect — are you someone who is interested in space travel? Or are you more of a homebody (with home, of course, being Earth)?

I do find space travel interesting and I am, as many writers are, in love with the moon. That said, I would consider myself more of a homebody and will likely stay on Earth all my life. However, one of my favorite parts of writing is creating an environment for the story to explore. I often turn to Google and YouTube to do so, and the sounds and images in videos are helpful in crafting imagery and further enhancing the setting. For this piece, I looked up how astronauts on the International Space Station spend their days: their schedules, habits, and any fun facts. I came away with a lot of interesting information and built the setting from there.

Space-Time ~ by Stella Lei

Now: an astronaut awakens according to London time. She has aligned her clock to those of her earthbound colleagues, even though she hurtles through space, even though the sun rises and sets in a burning blur, scarring the endless black sixteen times a day.

Then: the astronaut was just a daughter, just a girl. Watching the hospital clock tick, watching her father fade into pallor and wax. Inhaling antiseptic as he exhaled life. She scavenged the limp lines of his hands and tried to lay them over her own, like fresh cobwebs, like tattered gloves.

Now: the astronaut knows that the faster one moves in space, the slower they move in time. Each day heaves by as if through plasma and she wonders, how many seconds, minutes, has she been gifted? How many can she give away?

***

Stella Lei is a teen writer from Pennsylvania whose work is published or forthcoming in Gone Lawn, Whale Road ReviewKissing Dynamite, and elsewhere. She is an Editor in Chief for The Augment Review, she has two cats, and she tweets @stellalei04.