Saturday, April 10, 2021

Ice

 I wrote this story in 2017. Submitted it to one place. Rejection. For some reason, I gave up on it. I don't know why. I kept believing in other stories that kept getting rejections, but not this one.

Maybe because it was weird, even for me. It's not really a story with characters and dialogue, it's more like… flashbacks and summaries and really short scenes that don't really explain a lot about the world or the main character.

Maybe because it was dark. Good things do not happen to this character, at least not until the end, and even then… it's not all happiness and glitter. It's just… peaceful?

Maybe because the whole story feels like it's a metaphor for something and I'm afraid someone will ask me about it because I don't know what it means.

In any event, I gave up on Ice. And then I found it in an old document and I still didn't know what it meant or if it meant anything, but I liked it. So I submitted it. 

And it was accepted.

And now I have to talk about it and pretend I have anything resembling a clue what the story is about. 

It's about a girl who explodes. It's about being different. It's about that episode of The Magic School Bus where they teach you about the rain cycle. It's about disability? Or maybe autism. No, no, it's about gender dysphoria…?

I don't know, man. I don't remember why I wrote it, to be honest. I'm sure it's about something different now than it was in 2017.

Read it for yourself, it's very short, and you can decide what it's about. Ice is available to read for free at Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Make America Goblins Again - a free, exclusive story

I always try to get paid for my work. I think my time is valuable, and I like the input of an editor to make my stories as good as they can possibly be. So I don't tend to self publish stories for free on my blog. I’m making an exception for this one because even those a good story can still be good years after its subject matter is in the public eye, there are some stories that might be best enjoyed now, rather than a few years down the line when it is finally published.

In this case, I wrote it during the previous presidency, hoping beyond hope that it would be irrelevant soon.

I don't talk about politics much. I care, and my views probably come through in my stories, but I generally don’t write politics into my stories on purpose. This time, I did.

My story is set before the 2020 election. It does not mention any actual politicians by name, but it should be clear which red hats I'm talking about. If the idea of there being a conspiracy to have figures from Irish mythology murdering political opponents throughout history, up to and quite possibly including the opponents of a certain recent cantaloupe in chief, bothers you, I have plenty of other stories that don't involve politics you might enjoy.

So without further ado, here is a story you will not read anywhere else… Make America Goblins Again


Make America Goblins Again

By Jennifer Lee Rossman


Ordinarily, the sight of no blood shouldn't be so distressing. No blood is good. No blood means no injury, no cleaning up, no calling the cops to report that my boss has been murdered.

But when there was absolutely blood–like, half a body's worth at least although I'm not an expert–a few minutes ago and there's no way anyone could possibly clean it up that fast no matter how many Mr. Clean Magic Erasers they used, no blood is… disconcerting, to say the least.

"It was there. I saw it. Saw him. Laying there, being…" Here, I do my best to mime being a senator with a gaping hole in the head, but I never was any good at charades. "Dead. Very, extremely not alive in a dead sort of way." I'm rambling, I know I am, and I just wish Taylor would say something, anything, so I could stop rambling.

"Do you think the killer is still in the house?" he says quietly.

Anything except that.

They must be. However they cleaned it up, that doesn't matter. The office window is still locked, and Taylor was right by the front door until I ran screaming to get him. They couldn't get out.

I wrap my arms around myself, put my back against the wood paneled wall, hyperventilate a little more for good measure. First time I set foot in this house, it felt like a mansion. Impossibly high ceilings, more bedrooms than people, little elevator just for food because you'll burn more calories walking all the way to the kitchen than you'll get eating the grilled cheese.

But now it's nothing short of claustrophobic. Closing in with every heartbeat, bringing the killer closer and closer.

Taylor has a baseball bat. One of the senator's, a gift from some sports person he met with last year after the World Series.

Right. Weapons. Come on, Susanna, you might be in a horror movie. Time to be genre savvy.

In a distant sort of way, I am aware that my employer–my kinda-sorta friend–is dead. I am aware that his murder was almost definitely politically motivated and therefore was an assassination. But all of this knowledge is trapped behind a thick glass wall of numbness and my inability to focus on anything except getting out of the house and calling the police.

Taylor does that for me, the phone call. And he stops the police from touching me while I give my statement. I might seem good on the outside, but it's just the shock. Inside, my autistic doomsday clock is just seconds from meltdown and all those flashing lights are not helping matters.

In the gloom beyond the lights, pressed against the sawhorse barriers, a crowd has gathered. Media, DC citizens, general gawkers. Whatever their political affiliation, whether Senator Kingsley was their savior or just a nuisance in the way of four more years, something has happened to the man who was about to announce his candidacy for president. It's a big deal.

But something about the crowd doesn't sit right with me and I can't identify exactly what it is right away, not until Taylor leans close and whispers in my ear, "Red Hat Society is here in full force."

Of course. How did I miss it?

Anxiety. But not the point.

Most of the crowd is wearing the red caps that have come to symbolize the values and hatred of the president's more extreme followers. I'm too stressed out to fully parse the feeling of foreboding looming inside my skull, so I whisper back simply, "Not good."

One of the gawkers, not a red hatter, recoils suddenly from the sawhorse she was leaning on, looking at her hand as if she has a splinter. I don't think I would have noticed except everyone in a red hat turns to look at her. All at once, heads swiveling like animatronic pirates that do want to eat the tourists.

One of them, he reaches out and touches her hand, then the brim of his cap. I can't see his face, and I'm not good at facial expressions anyway, but I have the strangest feeling that he looks satisfied.

"Very not good."


***


It barely makes the papers.

"How?" I demand, wishing I had a physical copy of the newspaper to slam down on the table because it's not worth breaking my phone just to be dramatic. Instead, I shove it into Taylor's hand and watch as he reads it.

His eyebrows go up incrementally with every swipe, until they are almost lost in his shaggy blonde bangs. He shakes his head slowly, doesn't say anything for a long while.

"You were there," I say. Plead. I know I've had my share of mental health problems in the past, delusions and hallucinations, but that's under control and it was never this bad. Minor government conspiracies, fleeting glimpses of fair folk… never entire murder scenes that disappear when I leave the room. "You were there, you came to pick me up last night. The police came."

Taylor sets down my phone, slides across the table like he never wants to see it again. "I was. I did. They did." He stares at me, lost and confused.

I can make eye contact with him, better than other people, anyway. His eyes don't lie to me, don't try to figure me out. Usually I find that sort of comforting, but not today. I wish his eyes would lie to me, squint at me and accuse me of losing touch with reality again, because Taylor is the most levelheaded person I've ever met, and if he is scared, that doesn't bode well for what I call reality.

He picks up his phone, starts to type, stops himself. "This isn't the first time it's happened."

He's right. I didn't pay that much attention to the story at the time because the real world was kind of pushed to the background while I was figuring out my mental health, but he's right. There were rumors that the governor of Iowa was going to run, and then she just dropped off the map.

Disappeared into thin air, more like. Car crash, the tabloids said, at least until the articles were deleted and the people who claim to have read them began to think of it as a Mandela Effect. Supposedly, she had been driving alone, but there was no body in the car. No blood.

"Devil's advocate," Taylor says, holding his hands up. "Even if it's not a cover-up, even if they're keeping the details secret during the investigation, there should be something. A blurb. Tweets from bystanders."

"The red hat bystanders," I remind him, pulling the collar of my shirt into my mouth.

There's something nagging at my brain, some bit of folklore I soaked up back when I was hyperfocusing on the mythology of Great Britain a few months ago to identify exactly what I saw that day in the Rose Garden. But it's a nebulous kind of thought, pieces of a puzzle floating in a vacuum, and even if I could put them together, the picture I think they would make is utterly ridiculous.

"What are you thinking?" Taylor asks.

I shake my head. "It's nothing," I say, but my eyes don't lie to him, either, and he gives me a look.

"Susie."

In those two syllables, he gives me a long speech about trusting myself, about trusting him not to think I'm crazy because he's seen me crazy and for some unfathomable reason he still wants to be my friend.

So I relent. "Redcap."


***


I was holding myself together pretty well, if I do say so myself. Acting all neurotypical so they would take me seriously, talking about the weather and I love your shoes and how about those Nationals. (Thankfully, no one asked any follow-up questions about those Nationals, because that is the most I have talked about sports in my entire life and I'm only about 70 percent sure it is baseball season.)

I was calm. I was focused. I was, in a word, Tayloresque. And then I saw the red cap hanging on the coat rack, and all of my cool left in a rush. I think it became sweat. I'm sweating. Like, a lot.

So that was easier than I thought.

This is not exactly something we can go to the papers with. Even if we eliminate the mythological murder goblins from the equation, what we are suggesting is absurd.

Tons of people go missing every year. Just disappear without a trace, becoming unsolved mysteries, something that is beyond belief… Okay, I think I'm just listing TV shows right now. I do that when I get nervous. Anyway. Sometimes, those people who go missing are politicians, and sometimes it's not as easy as deleting an article from the Internet. You can suppress the information, you can press people to change their stories, but you can't eliminate every copy of an obscure local paper printed in the nineteenth century from the world.

The stories line up. Politicians disappearing, always people who oppose the current administration, and the overwhelming majority agree, probably under duress, that there was no murder scene. Except sometimes people like me don't care what people tell us is true. We know we saw a body, blood, and we know we saw a suspicious person in a red hat. A fedora, a beanie, only in recent years has it become the red baseball hat with the white lettering.

The likes of which is hanging in the office of the police commissioner, looking a little faded in this particular instance.

We thought it would be harder, getting into talk to him, figuring out if he was part of the hypothesized cover up.

The phrase "too easy" comes to mind as he invites me to sit down.

"So, Miss…"

"Murphy." A new wave of panic goes through me. That's not my last name. It's not the name I gave them at the front desk when I showed my ID card. I just don't want them to know my real name, the Redcaps, although I feel like they have enough reach, they can find me no matter what I do.

"Miss Murphy. I was told you want to speak to me about an ongoing investigation, the disappearance of your employer, Senator Kingsley."

I force myself to approximate eye contact, staring at the space between his eyes while he glares at me. Can you glare while smiling? He's trying.

"Yes, sir–"

"Well, I'm sorry you came all this way. The senator has taken a leave of absence to treat his alcoholism and will not be announcing his candidacy."

That's not true. Kingsley came from a long family of people with addiction; he never had so much as a drop of alcohol in his life. It also occurs to me that Redcaps don't go after people who drink or do drugs, because even though the hat isn't technically part of their anatomy, they still feel the effects of the blood they drink. In some versions of the mythology, anyway. But that's mythology. It doesn't matter right now.

"It's unfortunate that he did not tell you this last week before he left, leading you to erroneously believe some great harm had fallen him, but these things happen, don't they?"

That's a challenge, isn't it? Him giving me the opportunity to fall in line, to agree with the conspiracy.

I hate myself for it, but I take the opportunity. Maybe it's the paranoia talking–but usually the paranoia sounds more like Jeff Goldblum so I doubt it–but I don't think I'm getting out of here alive if I argue with him.

"Yes, I suppose they do. Very unfortunate. I shall yell at him. Vigorously. Thank you for your time." I go to stand up, and whack my knee on a table that very rudely came out of nowhere and assaulted me.

The overwhelming pain pushes the second hand of my doomsday clock dangerously close to midnight. I'm already stressed and wearing a blazer and trying to make eye contact. I squeeze my eyes shut, tap my fingers together in a desperate attempt at stimming.

I don't hear his chair push back, or the footsteps. It's the heavy breathing, right next to my face, that snaps open my eyes.

But he's not looking at me, he's looking at the blood dripping down my leg. And there goes my last hope that the Redcaps were metaphorical.

He must be hungry. Really hungry, if he's willing to reveal himself like this.

I should've moved by now, but I'm not proactive like Taylor. By the time I can think through the pain, the chief's hat is in his hand and his hand is at my knee.

For a second, just a second, curiosity short circuits my fear. They're real. And if they are, maybe the fairies I saw when Senator Kingsley tried to take my mind off my troubles by letting me be his date to the Correspondents' Dinner…

My blood wicks up into the fabric of the hat, revitalizing the faded canvas like blush coming to the cheeks of someone in love. But it wants more than my blood. I can feel it sucking on my vein, on the muscle and bone beyond.

I am the enemy, an intruder on their territory, threatening to reveal the glamour they have cast over the ruins of democracy. I am the enemy, and it wants to consume me.

I jerk away, but the Redcap is faster; he blocks the door with his body, daring me to try and overpower him. Struggling will only make my blood flow faster.

I stumble back, staying out of the reach of his hat, already feeling lightheaded. How much did he take?

Trying to think like Taylor, I look around the room for something I can use as a weapon. I don't even know what I hope to find. Iron. Silver. Religious stuff. Supposedly poison for fair folk, although there's iron in my blood, so maybe not iron.

"People like you–"

"No!" I shout. "No, you don't get to explain why you're doing this. I don't care, it won't change my mind. Your politics are based on taking away the rights of people like me, and maybe you're going to kill me and eat my blood, but I don't have to listen to your bullshit while you do it."

He opens his mouth again, and something in me snaps. I grab the nearest book and throw it at him, not really expecting anything to happen, just to be annoying in my last minutes.

His head snaps back as he dodges it, smacking into the doorframe.

And then he's on the ground, and there is blood. So much blood.

His hat falls to the floor, just inches from his outstretched, motionless hand. Maybe he isn't dead. Maybe I could call out, save him.

The pool of blood expands outward, creeping, always creeping.

He would not extend me the courtesy of saving my life. He thought it was worth it, taking my life for the betterment of his country.

The brim of the hat comes into contact with the blood and flushes bright red. It absorbs, consumes. The body of the police chief starts to inch toward the hat and I shut my eyes.

When I open them, there is no blood, no body.


***


"The country is under attack and they don't even know it."

"They know it," Taylor promises me. "They just don't know exactly what is attacking them."

And there's no way to tell them. The Redcaps… they're everywhere, they have their hands in everything. The media, the news, the White House.

"So we go after them ourselves," I say quietly, because if I'm quiet, maybe the idea won't be so terrifying. "We… we find them, and we put something in our blood that's harmless to humans but poisonous to them. And then we…"

"Let them feed," Taylor finishes my sentence for me.

I just hope we can get them all before election day.


End

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Blame The Monster

I’m a science-fiction and fantasy author. And a halfway decent one, people tell me. I'm always going to be my greatest critic, but I have come to accept that I might actually be good at this.

But one part of my craft that I am unequivocally not good at is using a story as a metaphor.

Oh sure, there are metaphors in my stories. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. And sometimes, after I'm already in the middle of a story, I realize it could, and perhaps should, be read as an allegory to something else entirely. But it is almost never my intention from the beginning.

Blame The Monster is different.

I grew up watching The Twilight Zone. And when I was little, they were just fun and weird stories. As I got older, I noticed that they could be viewed as commentary on racism and mental illness and beauty standards. As I got even older, I realized that was not an accident. The writers purposely crafted a story about one thing that is actually about another thing.

And I did that.

Like, on purpose and everything.

Blame The Monster is a story about a monster terrorizing a small town, attacking the girls who go down to the lake to do wicked things with their significant others. It's also about sexual assault and victim blaming.

What were you wearing, why were you there at night, why weren't you being more careful.

The monster attacked them because it's a monster. Not for any other reason.

Blame The Monster is available in digital along with a dozen other stories published by All Worlds Wayfarer.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Real Jurassic Park Was The Gender Dysphoria We Felt Along The Way

My writing process:

Hey, there's an anthology of body horror. I don't know what that is, but I suddenly decided I need to be good at it.

[several hours of googling]

Still not super sure I understand this genre, but that's never stopped me before. The Fly is body horror. What if I did The Fly… but with dinosaurs? Just combine two separate Jeff Goldblum movies and pretend it's a good idea. Ha ha I am so funny. Clearly I am not going to do that.

OK but what if I did. And I added gender dysphoria metaphors. And I called it The Real Jurassic Park Was The Gender Dysphoria We Felt Along The Way. Ha ha I am so funny. Clearly that is not going to be the real title.

OK but what if it was.


I think I was too preoccupied with whether I could name a story The Real Jurassic Park Was The Gender Dysphoria We Felt Along The Way and didn't stop to think if I should. Which is a recurring reference in my story.

Look. I make a lot of references to things in my stories. Jurassic Park especially. Sometimes I'm more subtle about it, but with a story that has a title like that? I just went for it.

It is a story about people who are turning themselves into dinosaurs, and it goes horribly wrong when the main character find themselves turning into the wrong kind of dinosaur. It is The Fly but with dinosaurs, and the main character just kind of acknowledges that.

The Real Jurassic Park Was The Gender Dysphoria We Felt Along The Way is available in the e-book Twisted Anatomy. All proceeds go to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Camp Cretaceous Season Two!

You may remember late last year when I cried because Den of Geek asked me to watch Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous before the rest of the world and write an article about it for them.

They've done it again for season two. And I cried again, but for a different reason.

For this season, I got to write three articles. And that just blows my mind on its own. I am a fiction writer. I never liked writing essays in school. But get me subject I'm passionate about and apparently I love to write nonfiction.

When you write fiction, unless someone has specifically asked you to write something for them, you're kind of… writing in a void. It’s hard to know if anyone will like it, or if you should go in this direction or that direction, and then there's submitting. And yeah, you study publications as much as possible to make sure they are a good fit for your story, but good stories get rejected all the time and it's a waiting game every time you send something out.

Writing articles for an entertainment venue is a totally different experience. I had more time this season, but last season, I think it was just a couple days turnaround. Got the request on Tuesday, technical problems ate up Wednesday, I spent all of Thursday watching four hours of the show and doing research and basically wrote the article in a caffeine filled hour Thursday night. The show came out Friday, my article came out Saturday I think?

It's fast and it's stressful and it is so much fun. I could never do it as a full time job because my brain only thrives on adrenaline to a certain point, but my god is it exciting once in a while.

So here are the three articles I wrote for this season. Of course, spoilers abound.


Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous Season Two Ending Explained

This is the first article they had me write. Still exciting because I got to watch a piece of Jurassic Park before most of the world, but not that different from the article I wrote last time.


Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous Season Three What To Expect

This is the third article. And yes, I'm going out of order for a reason. Being asked to predict what might happen if the show is renewed for a third season… I love fan theories, and I got to be among the first to share mine with the world, because the editors know that I know what I'm talking about. There are obviously people who know the Jurassic Park franchise better than me, but I'm knowledgeable enough to be allowed to share that knowledge and my opinions. I just think that's amazing.


Camp Cretaceous Reveals The Real Monsters Of Jurassic Park

This is the one that made me cry. The editor I work with asked me to let him know if there was anything else about the second season I could write about. I rambled in his inbox about the entire franchise and how every movie and show depicts dinosaurs differently as you go through them because the real monsters are the people.

And he gave me the go ahead. And suddenly I wasn't just writing about this show, I was writing about the movies that made me who I am. And I cried because the things I write about in this article, and everything else the movies taught me that filled the gaps in my DNA, I wouldn't be here, able to write this article, without them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Cinder

 I love all of my stories. They are all important to me. But this one… this one is special.

On the surface, Cinder, available in the anthology Common Bonds which centers asexual and aromantic relationships, is the story of a princess who isn't interested in romance but still needs rescuing, so she turns to an app that connects princesses with princes for quick rescues, no strings attached. But there's more to it.

It's about a princess escaping her abusive home, learning to save herself, learning about the magic of friendship.

I started writing it around the same time I realized I had to leave home. And I finished it in my new home. It was the first story I finished here.

When I started writing it, I knew it was abuse and I knew I couldn't stay. And I was having feelings and I didn't have a lot of people I could talk to about them because I couldn't risk people knowing and telling her. A lot of these feelings, tiny little details, went into the story.

Like Ashlyn knowing she should be afraid of her stepmother getting angry, but trying so hard not to laugh because it's almost over and her stepmother has no idea. That was me. Listening to my mother make plans for a future I was not going to be a part of, trying to convince me I wanted to do things next month, when I knew I wouldn't be around that long so it wouldn't even matter.

Ironically, my escape went about as smoothly as the one I wrote. There was a plan, and the plan went to hell, but we made the most of it, me and my character. We got through it.

I think the story was finished when I moved here. But it wasn't good. The editing. That happened here, with my new family. With my friends.

At the end, when Ashlyn is in the car and worries that it's all an illusion that's going to come apart at midnight? That was me, too. Driving in the van with the staff members I consider my friends. And it's quiet, but the quiet doesn't mean tension. The quiet means peace. Comfort. Safety.

I had known my new family for a month when I wrote those lines. Already so attached to them that the idea of it all being a magic spell that can't last forever… it terrified me because this was too good to be true.

These people have been my family for almost 2 years now. Sometimes I still have little jolts of panic when we drive past places that look like where I used to live. My brain has not yet fully come to terms with the fact that this is real, it's my happily ever after, and I never have to go back.

Cinder is available in Common Bonds, in digital and paperback!


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Tell Me Half A Story

 Being a writer means learning a lot about technical aspects of the craft. Character arcs, plot twists, that kind of stuff. And the cool thing about it is while each writer uses them differently, it doesn't matter if it is a short story or a TV series, these are tools every writer uses.

It's kind of a double edge sword. You end up spoiling TV shows for yourself more often, but you get to appreciate the way the story is unfolding in a way that most people can't.

One of the things my mother always hated and loved about watching TV with me is that I could tell her when a character was definitely not going to die, because they had too many story lines that are not wrapped up yet.

Tell Me Half A Story is about sisters in the apocalypse, trying to apply this logic to real life. Every time one of them leaves camp, they tell each other half a story in an attempt to Scheherazade their way to survival.          

I won't spoil anything more, but please be aware there is death and danger in this story.

Tell Me Half A Story is available now for free at Abyss & Apex. https://www.abyssapexzine.com/2021/01/tell-me-half-a-story/