The idea for “You” came from a coworker’s desk calendar of practical jokes, one of which was to leave notes for people that just said — wait for it — you. And what better time to leave prank notes than Halloween? “You” was accepted (and paid for) by Brutarian Quarterly for the Halloween 2001 issue, but it’s not clear that this issue ever appeared. It still counts as a sale though! They’re my rules, I make ’em up …

There wasn’t anybody at the front door, just a big jack-o’-lantern with a kitchen knife stuck through the side. Hank could see the blade through the thing’s gaping mouth, the metal blackened by the flame of the stubby candle that guttered within. He stepped out onto the porch, the old boards creaking and groaning beneath his feet. Whoever had left the jack-o’-lantern had rung the bell and then vanished into the night like a coward.

He noticed a piece of paper pinned to the creamy orange rind. With one hand steadying the pumpkin, he yanked out the knife and dropped it off to the side, then picked up the note. It said, in big black letters, YOU.

Was that supposed to be a threat?

He blew out the candle, picked up the jack-o’-lantern, and took it inside. He put it on the kitchen counter, then went back for the knife; but it was gone. Whoever had left the pumpkin must have taken it while he was in the house.

Hank returned to the kitchen and spent a moment looking at the jack-o’-lantern. Probably just some kids picking on him; maybe they figured he was some kind of weird hermit or an axe murderer or something. He remembered his own childhood, when he and his friends had harassed old lady McGill simply because she never came out. They would ring her bell and run away, leave flaming bags of dog shit on her porch, unscrew the bulbs of her outside lights … whatever they could think of. Never anything as overtly threatening as this jack-o’-lantern trick, though; they were just having fun. But times had changed.

He had become old lady McGill.

And the kids had become psychopaths.

Continue reading “You”

California Steamin’

Well I guess I’ve been too busy watching the wildfires burning to the north, south, and east to post anything lately, which probably means I’m not a real blogger. (I’m a Web 1.0 type of person … so sue me.) Today is of course Day 4 of the fires and so far my town (Oceanside) remains unscathed, unless you count the smoky air and layer of ash that coats everything.

The smoke from all the fires shows up quite nicely on Doppler radar, as you can see in the enhanced image below from The Weather Channel. See the little tiny triangle of green in the northwestern corner of San Diego County? That’s where we are.


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Dumbledore’s Gay

In a recent appearance at Carnegie Hall, J.K. Rowling answered a question about Dumbledore by revealing that he was gay. Given the themes of tolerance and diversity present throughout the books, it’s not surprising that such a major figure should turn out to be homosexual, even if it wasn’t spelled out in the series. (I certainly didn’t pick up on it, and there seems to be some disappointment among activists that it wasn’t made clear in the books.)

Some have suggested that we can now look forward to a new series featuring Dumbledore’s earlier adventures in stereotypical “gay” situations. If that’s the case, I’d like to propose a few titles for Ms. Rowling’s consideration:

  • “Dumbledore and the Tastefully Decorated Studio Apartment”
  • “Dumbledore and the Fruity Drink With An Umbrella In It”
  • “Dumbledore and the Key West Vacation”
  • “Dumbledore and the Small Yappy Dog”
  • “Dumbledore and the Wardrobe Where Everything Matches”

And, of course:

  • “Dumbledore and the Big Magic Wand”

Those who despise the Potter books for “promoting witchcraft” aren’t going to like them any better now, are they? Perhaps they will be so flummoxed by this development that they won’t be able to decide which aspect to protest, the alleged occultism or Dumbledore’s orientation. Anyway, if any such people happen to see this, may I suggest reading His Dark Materials? That’ll really make your heads explode.

The Fold

I occasionally write something other than horror or fantasy, and when I do, it’s usually science fiction. “The Fold” is an example. Fans of hard SF will be disappointed as the science is more or less gobbledygook, but science isn’t really the focus. This story originally appeared in the Irish magazine Albedo One back in the fall of 2001.

Warning: This is a long one.

Parke got hung up at the Gate, as he did every morning when he left the Fold to go to his job at the Astoria II. He was already late, so of course the lines were especially long and virtually immobile. After ten minutes of standing in one place, Parke grew impatient. He stood on tiptoe and tried to look ahead, but he was too short and too far back to see all the way to the scanners. He did notice armed agents of the Governor, though, dozens of them, standing against the walls of the corridor like well-armed mannequins. Guards at the gate was not noteworthy, but they weren’t usually present in such numbers.

Parke leaned forward and tapped the shoulder of the man ahead of him. “Do you know what happened?” he said.

No response.

Rebuffed, Parke settled back to wait in silence, but then a woman behind him said: “I heard it was the Foldies.” He looked at her over his shoulder. She was small and blonde, dressed in a blue and white uniform, like Bo Peep from the old story. Her hair was tied back with a tattered red ribbon. “One of them went through with a plastic bomb set to go off when it got sniffed, and—”

She broke off as one of the Governor’s soldiers came up beside them. “There was an electrical malfunction in one of the scanners,” he said. “Rumor-mongering will not be tolerated. Desist immediately.” The guard backed off, but stayed within easy listening range.

Electrical malfunction? Not likely, Parke thought. He would believe ten rumors before he’d believe one official statement. Especially rumors about the Foldies, who could always be trusted to hit the Governor where it hurt innocent people like him. They just didn’t understand that no matter how much damage they did—no matter how bad they made things in the Fold—the Governor would just carry out his reprisals and rebuild what they’d destroyed, and life for the survivors would go on as it always had.

He finally reached the red line on the floor that marked the beginning of the run to the sniffers, three parallel archways that you had to pass through to continue along the corridor. They were separated by perpendicular plastic barriers that divided the hallway into thirds. The middle aisle was cordoned off with charge tape that hummed and crackled unpleasantly; the scanner beyond was a bent and twisted mess of dangling wires and severed tubes hanging down to a cracked and blackened floor.

Electrical problem. Of course.
Continue reading “The Fold”