I’ve placed all the short stories I’ve written to date over the last couple of years, (which isn’t many, although there are several on the go), but Everything He Touched, Burned is the first to see publication. It’s in the latest issue of Dark Horizons, which is published by the British Fantasy Society and edited by Stephen Theaker.
The cover of the magazine can be seen on the Stories page, but I though I’d share the accompanying illustration with you, which was inked by my friend and ex-colleague Owen Priestley, a great artist, illustrator and graphic designer whose work you can check out in the appropriate Links section. Owen’s also illustrated a couple of my other stories and I’ll pop those up too, when they see the light of day.
The story is the first of several that are inspired by the subway systems and tunnels beneath New York, employing them both as a location, and as a character. It also revolves around the idea that once the darkness of the tunnels has seen you, got inside you, it’s difficult to make the break and return to the surface of the City.
Here’s an excerpt from Everything He Touched, Burned:
“That, my friends, that is why we lives like we lives. Ain’t nobody giving none of us a ball contract. What we got is a complete lack of talent. That’s what God gifted us. What you waitin for? Go git it little man!”
Milton’s barked order awoke Julius from his sun-induced stupor. He jumped to his feet and went after the rogue basketball that bounced down the slope surrounding the decaying court.
“Hurry UP half-breed! It only a bit of plastic, it CANNOT be faster than you! Man that was one poor attempt…”
Julius heard these last words trailing off in disgust, thankfully aimed not at him, but at Will who’d made the awful shot. The other boys laughed and echoed their leader’s jibes. Julius sensed their impatience with the quality of their game, and with him. He was fourteen, a Latino, neither black nor white in a predominantly black neighbourhood: the youngest, newest, and smallest of the crew. These facts of his life meant he often sat out the game, reduced to the lowly task of ball boy. He hoped to earn their trust and respect gradually, on his own terms. He’d learnt his first lesson fast: do not argue with Milton, even when you are in the right. His arm was still bruised where Milton had proved his point the week before.
He scurried towards the broken concrete path that traversed the park’s baked mud flats. The ball was gaining speed, gravity and rubber outpacing him. If he’d been paying attention this wouldn’t be happening. The damn thing was rolling into the storm drain! If he let that happen he’d take another beating and be expected to come up with a new basketball in time for the next game. Which was something he knew he wouldn’t be able to do: he couldn’t ask his mom for a loan; she had other priorities these days, and he certainly wasn’t one of them.
The basketball bumped into the storm drain with a hollow thump. Julius reached it one second too late, but the ball didn’t disappear from view as he expected it to. Instead it wedged itself into the space between the discoloured concrete lips and sat there, waiting for him.
Please, please stay right there…
“Man you IS lucky.”
Julius ignored Milton’s distant observation, luck was something he was sure he’d never experienced, and bent down to retrieve the basketball. He linked his hands behind it, and felt something lick or breathe or both on the backs of his hands. He ripped the ball towards him, scrabbled backwards as fast as he could and fell onto his backside. He heard his crew laughing even harder behind him, but their merciless taunting quickly faded into the background ambience of the City.
Julius sat on the path with the ball in his lap, and stared at the face that watched him from the drain.
The story was partly inspired by reading The Mole People by Jennifer Toth which gave me a great deal of ambience, which would otherwise have necessitated a trip down a sewer system. A viewing of the film Dark Days also helped set the tone once the story moves beneath the surface. Finally, I would like to thank Rick Kleffel and Kealan Patrick Burke for their advice and comments.
If you’re interested in reading more then I believe you can purchase Dark Horizons from the British Fantasy Society by emailing Helen Hopley at email@example.com. The issue looks pretty good judging by the diversity and interests of the contributors, all of whom are detailed on this page.