My Fears Take Flight in “He Smelled Like Smoke”

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Whenever I’m asked why I write horror stories, my answer is simple: it’s therapy. Cathartic, terrifying, fiscally free therapy.

Though many are quick to say that putting something in writing gives it power, I feel the opposite in respect to horror. When I write a story chock full of the things I fear, I feel a little better afterward. I sleep deep. The gnawing in my chest lessens. There’s something about writing about monsters that releases them from the fine cracks in your brain and heart.

Writing “He Smelled Like Smoke,” published today in Ink Stains, Volume 5, from Dark Alley Press, was a triple-bonus therapy prize. This particular story contains not one, not two, but three of my greatest fears, which play out in taut, gruesome detail in less than 4,500 words.

One of those fears is flying on airplanes. I’ll admit, it’s a completely irrational fear and one that didn’t manifest until adulthood. It had nothing to do with 9/11. It has everything to do with being confined with strangers in a big, metal tube that’s hurtling through the air at ungodly heights at ungodly speeds, and sure, I know where the exits are should something go wrong, but…

Don’t even get me started with turbulence or in-flight storms.

“He Smelled Like Smoke” takes place at 35,000 feet. Naturally.

And wouldn’t you know it, I got on an airplane about a month after I’d typed the final sentence of the story and…I was calm and cool and didn’t have a single episode of vice-gripping a stranger’s arm during the flight.

Perhaps my calm was due to the fact that I knew, come what may, my fate would pale in comparison to that of Alexa, my protagonist in “He Smelled Like Smoke.” Because her fate? Worse than all the turbulence in the world.

I’ll give you a little taste here, but you’ll have get a copy of Ink Stains to find out what happens to Alexa – and to try to figure out those other pesky fears that no longer keep me up at night since I’ve exorcised them in print.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your fright…I mean, flight…

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He Smelled Like Smoke (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Keeping his eyes on mine, Jared reached up and hit the flight attendant call button. When his gaze became overbearing, I stared down at my black skirt and wished I’d shaved my legs that morning.

A tired-looking woman in uniform with a chignon barely holding to the back of her head came over. She put one hand on the headrest in front of Jared and the other on her hip. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I was hoping to get a pre-flight shot for my friend, Alexa, here,” Jared said. “Flying doesn’t agree with her.”

“It’s against federal regulation to serve beverages before takeoff, sir,” the flight attendant recited. “We’ll come through the cabin to take orders later.”

She took a step away, but Jared caught her hand in his. The flight attendance did a quick about face, a frown creasing her tan skin. “Sir…” she began, but she didn’t finish her sentence. The crinkle between her brows melted. She breathed in deeply through her nose as if she were standing in the cold, crisp air of a forest instead of a cramped cabin that smelled like sweaty, disgruntled, tired people. Her eyes bored into Jared’s and she started to look…aroused?

“Whiskey, neat,” Jared said.

“Of course.” The flight attendant’s voice held the quality of warm maple syrup. She turned and strode off in her orthopedic shoes, apparently to get us some liquor.

Jared settled back into his seat, coolly and slowly, smiling.

“Thank you?”

“Why the question mark?”

“I’m not sure what just happened,” I said.

“I asked for something. And I got it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I took an in-flight magazine out of the seat back pocket in front of me and flipped aimlessly through the pages.

The flight attendant returned a moment later with plastic cups, each filled with a thimbleful of whiskey. Jared’s long fingers wrapped around the plastic. “Thank you…Debbie,” he said, glancing at her name tag. Debbie walked off without a word.

Jared held out one of the cups to me. I could smell the smokiness of the whiskey. I imagined oak barrels and the forest and a hand up my skirt. I mentally swat myself in the face. Stop thinking about sex.

Jared and I tipped back our glasses and the first sip burned my throat and then coiled in my stomach. It expanded, coated my insides, and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Much better,” Jared remarked.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Jared took a pack of matches out of the breast pocket of his suit and let the pack flip and amble over his knuckles until our pilot announced it was time for takeoff. For some reason, I felt safe.

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To find out what happens after takeoff – and to read my favorite closing line I’ve ever written – pick up your copy of Ink Stains HERE.

 

 

 

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Author Interview with Danielle Davis of kINKED

Danielle Davis

kINKED, an anthology exploring the intersection of tattoos and kink, was released into the world last week thanks to Pen and Kink Publishing. And though I’m rather fond of my own story, “Begin Again,” which kicks off the collection, I simply can’t stop fangirling over another story in the anthology – Danielle Davis’s “The Courier.”

The story is set in a world where paper is incredibly rare and modern forms of communication don’t exist; thus, humankind has come up with a rather resourceful and…creative way to send messages to one another – inked on the bodies of couriers.

Davis’s story follows Pier, a courier who gets a lot more than expected when he delivers a message to a wealthy and handsome woman named Aubra.

“The Courier” is such an inventive and interesting story, I had to ask Danielle Davis a few questions to learn more about its inspiration and characters.

First of all, your story is absolutely mesmerizing. What inspired this particular tale and, more specifically, a world where paper is scarce and human bodies are used as parchment?

Thank you! I got the idea while thinking about what I wanted for a new tattoo. I wanted to get something important to my life, something that made a stark declaration. Later, as I was getting it inked on my foot, previous inklings (no pun intended) that were floating around my subconscious came together into the basis for the story.

Unfortunately, I knew my courier had a message inked onto them and that it was a socially common thing, but I didn’t know why anyone would do that to themselves until Pier entered Aubra’s library and showed me how shocked he was – then it was “BINGO! Paper’s valuable because it’s rare! How did I not know that before?” This was one instance where it was like I was looking through a magnifying glass at the story, and it wasn’t until I pulled back a bit that I saw the rest of the world these characters lived in.

You mention fairytales in “The Courier,” and the story itself almost reads like a dark fairytale or a piece of didactic lore. In the spirit of classic fairytales, what do you feel we, as readers, are supposed to learn or divine from your story?

I’m so glad that came through, because “The Courier” went through many iterations as a failed fairytale before it figured itself out. I think this story serves as a cautionary tale against the spell fairytale endings cast. Too often we hear “follow your heart,” but we forget that the heart can sometimes lie; listen to your heart, sure, but let your head lead. Pier gets what he thinks he wants, but it comes at a high cost.

You achieve such gorgeous intimacy between the characters of Pier and Aubra, though it’s their first meeting. What advice would you offer authors to help them establish connection and intimacy between characters?

Look at what the characters want (or think they want) and let them see some part of the other character as a fulfillment of it. Even if the other isn’t actually the answer to a character’s desire, they’re more likely to allow an organic intimacy to form faster than if you just put two people in a room and say, “Ok, now chat.”

If you were to describe Pier in one word, what would that word be?

Naive.

And Aubra?

Predatory.

What is a song that you feel sets the tone for “The Courier”?

Definitely Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”

Why do you think folks should read romance and erotica?

I think it’s important to be able to connect with those fantasies and desires you may or may not be able to share with anyone. It puts you in immediate contact with the carnal part of you that craves physical intimacy. While some may use it as a substitute for things they aren’t getting in real life (and then it’s a necessary escape to relieve the pressure), others can use it to heighten their own sense of sensuality in order to feed their relationship with their partner.

Where can we read more of your writing? Are you working on anything specific right now? 

My website is www.literaryellymay.com. I post stories on my blog all the time and I have a page that links to my other published works.

About Danielle Davis 

Danielle Davis

Danielle Davis is a liar, a cheater of cards, and a misrememberer of song lyrics; only two of these are true. Her dark fantasy and romance has appeared in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and Tailfins and Sealskins: An Anthology of Water Lore, among other places. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and beyond under the handle “LiteraryEllyMay.”

 

 

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Every tattoo tells a story… and you’ll want to read them all! Get your copy of kINKED today!

 

 

The Dangers of Smooching Frogs: Read “It’s in Her Kiss” in the After the Happily Ever After Anthology

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I’ve never liked “The Frog Prince.”

A spoiled princess becomes indebted to a frog after he retrieves her golden ball from a well. Though she promises the amphibian she will be his companion, the princess attempts to ditch the croaker at the first opportunity. When the frog shows up at the palace and asks to be let in, the princess explains the situation to her father, the king, and he forces her to make good on her promise. If the princess falters and doesn’t give the frog what he wants, he threatens to tell the king. In the original version from the Grimm Brothers, the princess is so disgusted by her fate, she throws the frog against a wall. Only then does he turn into a prince (which is a game changer), and they suddenly rush into marriage and live happily ever after. The end.

Can you say dysfunctional? Why should the princess receive a happy ending? And what the heck is up with that psychology? Why does the frog still choose her? Is he that much of a gold digging opportunist?

After all the entitlement and manipulation, the princess and the frog simply shrug it off and choose each other, which was never a satisfying conclusion for me.

When I learned Transmundane Press was putting together the After the Happily Ever After anthology, I knew it was my chance to retell a fairy tale that I’d always found troubling. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, my story isn’t all rainbows and happy endings, because let’s face it, fairy tales were meant to be didactic stories that youngsters could learn from. Some horrific shit goes down in fairy tales. But “It’s in Her Kiss” dives headlong into the psychology of the relationship between the frog and the princess. Of course, I’ve put a new spin on the classic take, too. 

“It’s in Her Kiss” is at once a re-imagination of a classic story, a satirical look at modern romantic relationships, and proof that happily ever after isn’t always what it seems.

It’s in Her Kiss

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Delilah has developed a fetish of the human-who-was-once-an-amphibian variety. Her predilection has progressed into a full-fledged addiction as three or four times a week, the door to our flat bursts open and a new prime specimen drips pond water onto the Ikea rug in the foyer.

Delilah wears a proud smile and clings to their arms, bright with infatuation, gleaming with accomplishment. After all, her rose-pink lips elicited their transformations. And they are all hers, rescued from the muck and ever-grateful to their savior.

Each specimen is distinctly different, but they all are ambitiously handsome. Last week, Delilah’s first catch was Italian. Olive skin, dark, emotional eyes, clothing that only a European can get away with wearing. He was young, so he was probably an exchange student. Her second catch looked like a lumberjack, a man with a full beard, bulging muscles, and enough freckles to create a connect-the-dots coloring book. I half-expected him to produce an axe to cut the lasagna they shared that evening. The third was an older Russian gentleman who moved with innate bravado and had the saddest blue eyes. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but Delilah didn’t care. She took him to bed anyway, as she does with all of them.

The next morning, she kisses them goodbye. When they’ve reassumed their froggy countenances, she affixes their legs with a little gold band. It helps her to determine which frogs she’s already romanced. Then, out the door and back to the park they go, as if nothing ever happened.

I’ve lost track of the number of suitors that have come through our door and dampened our rug. Does Delilah know? Does she keep track? Does she delight in her growing number of conquests?

And if she does, is my name at the top of the list? Does she fondly remember me as her first? Or does her lack of lust and passion for me exclude me completely from the ranks?

#

I’d resigned myself to an amphibian lifestyle the morning I met Delilah. I’d been a frog for nearly a year, the result of a tumultuous breakup and a vindictive ex-girlfriend who decided to teach me a lesson. When she threw me into the lake, a note full of expletives, blaming, and mentions of voodoo followed me.

At first, I thought someone would figure it out. My parents ordered a police investigation, but the ensuing search proved fruitless. You don’t leave a trace when you recede into a local pond. No cell phone records. No credit card transactions. People say you were completely normal the last time they saw you. And, of course, the woman responsible for the hex isn’t going to have a change of heart. Especially when you cheated on her—not one of my finest moments.

As the missing person posters shriveled on lampposts around town and were eventually replaced with the face of some other unlucky guy, I decided I’d make the most of my new life. After all, I’d always enjoyed the outdoors, I’d become an exceptional swimmer, and while I missed a choice cut of sirloin from time to time, I developed a taste for bugs.

While gathering breakfast one morning at the community park, a net dropped over me. I panicked. I jumped; I kicked; I squirmed, but then my little heart raced far too fast, and I grew heavy with exhaustion. I looked up, expecting to see a mean-spirited little boy, the kind that would subject me to light filtered through a magnifying glass.

Through the mesh, a pair of feminine brown eyes gazed down at me. A girlish grin lit up my captor’s face. And wouldn’t you know it, it was nice to receive a smile for once.

I didn’t struggle as Delilah scooped me into her palms and said, “Gotcha.”

#

The internet is a crock of shit. I can find support groups and rehabilitation programs and intervention specialists for some crazy things—people who eat the ashes of their loved ones, Satanic cultists, teenagers who sniff glue to get high—but I can’t find anything for sex addicts that use magic to ensnare, manipulate, and then re-enchant their lovers. The lack of resources is maddening.

I’ve done some medical research, too, trying to discern if Delilah has some kind of health condition that gives her lips transformative powers. Could this be genetic? Some insane recessive gene? But I’ve found nothing.

I’ve reached out to local government to express my concern in the recent surplus of frogs in our neighborhood. A state representative emailed me back saying that while he understood my annoyance, the increase in amphibian life in nearby ponds has proved ecologically beneficial. A rare species of fish, recently deemed on the cusp of extinction, now flourishes in ponds and lakes around town.

Since my ex mentioned voodoo in her departure letter, I’ve been trying to track down dark magic shops in the area, but my searches are spotty and uninformative. Apparently, none of these niche businesses are too concerned with having a web presence. I’m sure they rely on word-of-mouth marketing to keep them in business. “That son of a bitch cheated on you? Well, there’s this place you can go to get a potion that’ll turn him into a dog. Literally.”

My search is frustrating, but I understand how widespread, traditional marketing would pose a safety concern. A plague of frogs would likely descend upon the shop, if only the poor schmucks knew where it was.

***

To read the rest of “It’s in Her Kiss” and other fractured fairy tales, purchase your paperback copy of After the Happily Ever After on Amazon.

For fairy tale afficianodos, Transmundane Press is also offering a limited edition hardcover printing, signed by the editors, Anthony S. Buosi and Alisha Costanzo, which you can purchase HERE.

Rapunzel Gets a Happily-Never-After Ending in “Now You See Me”

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My mother, fair-skinned and wraithlike, crying openly into my father’s wounds is my most vivid and treasured childhood memory. As my twin brother and I watched, she cradled his head in her lap and sobbed as he stared, unblinking, past the fine curve of her cheek and into a churning grey sky. He writhed in response to her gentle touch, seemingly in confusion and pain. My father’s skin was a labyrinth of scratches and grooves, his injuries the result of stumbling blindly through miles and miles of unforgiving forest terrain. His blood blossomed like poppies on my mother’s blue dress, flowers that surged and flourished at a startling pace. Tears accumulated across the sharp relief of my mother’s chin and dripped down onto my father like rain.

I was heartbroken that this was how I was to meet my father after eight years of hearing stories about him. He was supposed to be gallant and handsome, not ruined and swooning and gasping for breath.

“He’s going to die,” I whispered into the stormy air.

But then my father’s random, floundering movements ceased. He became still, oh so still. The only action which indicated he was still alive was a wild fluttering of his eyelids. After a moment, he reached up and caressed my mother’s cheek with an assuredness and intention not possible for someone who’d been newly blinded. His gaze locked with my mother’s, and he smiled.

He struggled to speak, but at first, all that poured forth were meaningless gurgles. And then, “I can see you. I can see you. I can see you…”

My mother cried anew, but from her eyes poured happy tears, salt bred of love and renewal. Her fresh round of weeping became a magical anointment. My father’s wounds closed up like riverbeds reduced to dry ravines by scorching sun. My mother’s hair, shorn and ruddy, grew and grew until it circled them twice. Her tresses shone like gold, even in the dim light of the oncoming storm. My father’s blood disappeared, evaporated into the mist—or perhaps it found its way back into his body as color returned to his cheeks.

As my parents gazed at each other, it was as if they were seeing each other for the very first time. I saw their shared happiness weave an unbreakable thread between them. I knew they’d be together forever. Their love would make it.

And most importantly, as I watched my mother and father rediscover each other, I began to understand that true love requires equal parts sacrifice and baptism.

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Read the rest of “Now You See Me” in the After Lines anthology by Erebus Press, a collection of dark happily-never-after tales.

Have a blog and want to review the anthology? Contact stebuosi@gmail.com.

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Blog Takeover: Giovanni Valentino

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On April Fool’s day, Alternate Hilarities V: One Star Reviews of the Afterlife (a collection which includes my flash fiction piece “Bad Vibrations”) hit the interwebs, and the publication’s editor, Giovanni Valentino, was likely chuckling for a couple reasons. One, readers near and far probably wondered if Alternate Hilarities was a “real” short story collection or if they’d click on a link to purchase the book and simply be rickrolled. Two, the sheer relief of being done with a project of this magnitude (I’ve heard it’s hard to make a book!). And three, because the stories in this collection are damn funny!

As you shuffle off this mortal coil, many things will go through your mind. Will you be remembered well? Did you live the best life you could? Did you leave the iron on? And most importantly, did you remember to delete your browser history recently? But the big question that will finally hit you full on, is there something after all of this? And if so, will it suck? If only Yelp! had a category for the afterlife.

Here is a collection of humorous tales of the afterlife that covers the I.T. woes of Heaven, the dangers involved in using out-of-date occult tools, the perils of not saving appropriately for the hereafter, the shock of finding out that not every good deed will get you through the pearly gates and the cold hard fact that paradise just isn’t for everyone.

So go to the light at your own peril.

It could be life everlasting, or it could be an oncoming train.”

Sounds fun, right?

I also decided a blog takeover with none other than the mastermind of Alternate Hilarities V would be fun, too. Today, he’ll share a little behind-the-scenes peek into the creation of a comedic anthology (spoiler alert – it’s not just a laugh fest!). So, without further ado, I give you Giovanni Valentino and…

A Funny Thing Happened during the Submissions Process

Giovanni Valentino here, Editor in Chief of Strange Musings Press and editor of the Alternate Hilarities series. I’m here to talk about one of the toughest things for me when working on the anthology, the fact that humor is subjective. I read about 150 stories for One Star Reviews and only 37 of them made it into the final book.

Stories don’t make the final cut for a lot of reasons – poor writing quality, not quite fitting the Afterlife theme, or even humor themes that I’d rather avoid (in this edition’s case, I kept the big guy and his son out of the forefront).

You would figure since this is a humor anthology that all the submitted stories would be funny, right? Not necessarily so.

I’m not going to say that I have a monopoly on what’s funny. Sometimes my sense of humor can be a little juvenile. I think there is a fart joke in almost every story I’ve ever written and according to my wife, there isn’t a single oddball, expletive-filled cartoon that I don’t watch.

A story can fail the burden of funny for me on a few points. The first is poor pacing. One or two jokes, no matter how funny, isn’t quite good enough for a fifteen-page story.

Sometimes I pass on a story because I can see where the author is trying to be funny but it just didn’t hit me. If I don’t laugh at least once, the story is probably not going to fit with the rest of the collection.

Another reason might be lack of story. This is a fiction anthology, so they need to be funny stories and not just a series of unrelated jokes. Although, I do have one piece that is a series of afterlife-themed Feghoots but that’s because I have a weakness for the art form.

But beyond that, I’ve gotten more than one submission where I just didn’t see the humor at all. Sometimes to a disturbing level.

I could limit these submissions by being a little tighter with my guidelines. Still, I hate to tell people what is funny because then my submitters can’t surprise me with something new. So, I happily read the incompatible ones and hope there aren’t too many of them between me and the brilliant ones.

Giovanni

Giovanni Francesco Valentino has struggled at the art of writing for four decades against many demons like self-doubt, chronic depression, OCD and severe dyslexia. He has written a few memoir pieces about his struggles going undiagnosed for more than half his life as well as almost a dozen humorous speculative fiction short stories. His long-term goal is to become such a famous science fiction and fantasy author that other people want to write fan fiction in his worlds.

Thanks, GV! Want to connect with Giovanni?

Website:         http://giovannivalentino.blogspot.com/

Twitter:           https://twitter.com/thegiovanniv

Goodreads:    https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7772307.Giovanni_Valentino

Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/The-Giovanni-Valentino-514035118649690/

To purchase Alternate Hilarities V: One Star Reviews of the Afterlife, click HERE!

For more stops on the press tour, click HERE!