“My Love, In Pieces” Serves Up Edgar Allan Poe-Inspired Body Horror

Quoth the Raven cover

Initially, I didn’t plan to write a story to submit to Quoth the Raven, an anthology of contemporary tales and poems inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’d seen the call for submissions from Camden Park Press floating around the interwebs, and it sounded like a cool project, but I hadn’t had that lightbulb inspiration moment.

And then, I read a story a friend of mine planned to submit, and as I read her incredible manuscript, I thought, Wow, this is a brilliant retelling…and now I want to be part of this project. (Spoiler alert – my friend’s story, “Marcela,” was accepted for the anthology, because like I said, it’s brilliant! Penny Paling, I owe you, girl!)

So, I did a quick Google search for stories by Edgar Allan Poe, promising myself that I would only invest in writing a new story if I got an idea that melted my face off. That jolt of inspiration came as soon as I read a synopsis and then the full text of “Berenice.”

Here’s a brief description of the story from Wikipedia:

“‘Berenice’ is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835. The story follows a man named Egaeus who is preparing to marry his cousin Berenice. He has a tendency to fall into periods of intense focus during which he seems to separate himself from the outside world. Berenice begins to deteriorate from an unnamed disease until the only part of her remaining healthy is her teeth, which become the object of Egaeus’ obsession.”

Now, I didn’t post the full description of the story above, because it contains spoilers for the creepiest, crawliest parts of the narrative, the parts that didn’t jive with readers when Poe first published it. That’s right, folks complained that Poe had gone too far with this particular story. Because of mass public upset, Poe ultimately decided to self-censor the work to make it more palatable to polite society.

So, I’d found a story that had a conclusion so horrific it was censored? Yep, I decided that was the story I wanted to resurrect and give new life.

And it was the right choice, because “My Love, In Pieces,” which you can read in Quoth the Raven (out today!) is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written.

Here’s a little taste:

“I wasn’t ready to see you like that, broken and bandaged and so very ashen. Your skin, once the color of fresh cream, was the color of dirty snow. Your face was swollen and bruised, a misshapen fruit, thanks to the airbags. Your leg was broken in two places, but it had been reset and shrouded in plaster. The doctor said one of your lungs collapsed and you had a concussion. Your injuries were many. Thus, the medically induced coma. They had you on painkillers and steroids and other medications that had so many syllables, I wondered if the doctor was making them up for my benefit.

The worst part was that wretched plastic tube down your throat, the contraption responsible for your breathing, since you could no longer manage that on your own. I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t see my wife, the shining constant of my life.

My chest grew hot as a branding iron, and I feared I’d spontaneously burst into flame. My flesh would drip from my bones, and then…then, I’d be unrecognizable to you, too. Maybe that would be better.

“She’ll wake up, right?” I managed.

The doctor gave me a kind smile. “In time, yes. We’ll take her off the barbiturates that keep her under as soon as possible, but she has a lot of healing to do. I can’t give you a definite timeframe. Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help in her recovery.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted. My fists curled and hardened at my sides, ready to fly.

I told the doctor thank you and shook his hand, though my palm was cold and clammy. He left the room, and we were alone. I sunk into a chair, ran my hands through my hair, and listened to the metallic beep of your heart.

It’s cliché, but it all felt like a bad dream.

I thought of that morning, of the time before. You’d surprised me, climbing atop my hips in the gray light of dawn, bringing your finger to your lips while grinning mischievously. You’d bit my shoulder to keep from waking the girls. You smiled at me. You gnashed your teeth in the throes of our lovemaking. You were so warm and alive.

A fine pressure mounted in my chest, and I tucked my head between my knees to alleviate a sudden swoon. As I gulped in sour hospital air, an object on the floor near your bed caught my attention. It was blindingly white, slightly round with distinct grooves, no larger than a fingernail.”

Y’all, you’re so not ready for what happens next! Pick up your copy of Quoth the Raven HERE and see how this creeptastic story unfolds.

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Fahrenheit 451 (AKA USA 911)

Photo by flickr user ".sarahwynne."

Photo by flickr user “.sarahwynne.”

A few nights ago, I turned the final page of Ray Bradbury’s seminal work Fahrenheit 451—and found myself wondering how and where Bradbury gained his awe-inspiring prescience, because the dystopian world he created in 1953 is a little too close to the real world of 2015.

If, like me, you were never assigned this classic to read in school, it’s a dystopian work that Bradbury wrote when the U.S. was ensconced in the Cold War and the television was a brand new invention. Bradbury essentially asks in Fahrenheit, “What would happen if society became morbidly obsessed with TV, discarding the emotional resonance and knowledge in books for frivolous, digital entertainment?”

Well, the world of Fahrenheit 451 happens, a world where firemen don’t put out fires, they start them—for the sole purpose of burning books, which have been outlawed. If you’re found to have books, the firemen come to burn them and you’re arrested. If you run, mechanical hounds sniff out fugitives and kill them.

But Fahrenheit citizens aren’t angry or fearful. Rather, they go with the status quo. Reading and writing aren’t taught in schools. Concepts like love and happiness don’t exist. Citizens are anesthetized with TV screens the size of walls, “seashells” in their ears that transmit constant noise, pills, and monotony. Suicides are frequent, but emotionless. And despite frequent flyovers by military jets, no one seems concerned that a war or destruction could be looming.

In Fahrenheit, we follow Guy Montag, a fireman by trade who is married to Mildred and working hard to get her a fourth TV screen for their living room. One night, while walking home, Montag meets Clarisse, a young girl who simply strolls around town at night (unheard of in this society) and doesn’t own a TV, instead choosing to spend time talking to her flesh-and-blood family (also unheard of). Montag is immediately fascinated by Clarisse and at one point, calls her a “mirror.” Something is awakened in Montag and his emotional stirring hurtles him into a dangerous awakening.

When Montag starts to wonder about the taste of rain and the impending war and the words on the pages of books, he begins to set himself apart—and in doing so, makes himself a target for his neighbors, employer, and even the government. Will Montag be able to break the shackles of this oppressive society? And if can, then what?

While the story of Guy Montag and the society of Fahrenheit is fictional, the parallels to modern society are uncanny. We’re living in a world where books are fading into the background and TV reigns supreme. Even the format of books is changing. Everything is going digital, impersonal, intangible. Pretty soon, I fear the firemen of Fahrenheit 451 wouldn’t have anything to burn in our world. Perhaps they’d consider that an accomplishment.

The character of Mildred, Montag’s wife, is an extreme caricature of societal influence—and yet she doesn’t seem like such a stretch in today’s world. Mildred is always plugged in. Those “seashells” don’t leave her ears (can you say ear buds or Bluetooth devices?). Instead of spending time with her husband at night, Mildred goes into the living room to spend time with her “family,” the characters that talk to her through her TV (complete with name personalization, because that’s not creepy or anything). How many people watch the Kardashian family on TV instead of having dinner with theirs?

And, of course, Mildred takes handfuls of pills to “help her sleep,” and can’t remember when she overdoses. She shrugs off her brush with death and continues to live her life drugged and deluded. How often do we push pills instead of dealing with larger issues like depression, unhappiness, and restlessness organically? We often turn to anesthetization—a quick fix for a larger problem, because it seems simpler. But at what cost?

I finished Fahrenheit 451 a few days ago, but I think I’m finally getting around to digesting it today. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But also an important one.

Now I wonder—if Bradbury wrote another dystopian novel based upon the society of 2015, what would be next to burn?

 

Photo license.sarahwynne.