Stories have their own lives

/ Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 / No Comments »

I have this horror story called “The Blessed Days.” It first appeared in Tales of the Talisman in 2009 and was adapted to audio by Pseudopod in 2010. Now it’s part of a new e-anthology called Past Future Present 2011 that’s available on Amazon for 99 cents. In fact, you can read it free, because it’s included in its entirety in Amazon’s free sample, though I hope you’ll purchase the anthology — given the lineup, with work by Hugo winner John Grant and two-time Nebula nominee Vera Nazarian, it’s certainly worth the price.

I’m going to use this opportunity to give a demon its due.

The spark of inspiration for “The Blessed Days” came from a conversation from a friend here in Roanoke, Jon Smallwood, who was meditating on the tidbit that “bless” evolved from a term that meant “mark with blood.” But as I wrote the story it involved into a piece in which I tried to express how I felt as a reporter when covering (from afar, yet feeling very much connected) events like the 9/11 attacks. (By the time the story was published, the 4/16 shootings at Virginia Tech had also factored in.)

But mind you, it is also a lurid tale of monsters, human and not. It went through many, many drafts, including an extensive rewrite just before the Tales of the Talisman issue that held it went to press. I’m still grateful that David Lee Summers took a chance on it. I still love the blunt illustration by Jag Lall that introduced the story with a bit of gory sleight-of-hand: dead-on accurate, yet what you see doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Reselling it to Pseudopod brought it to a bigger audience, and here’s where I kick myself a little, because the story generated more buzz at the time than I realized it was getting. (I was not yet a Google Alert master, heh.)

Take, for instance, this review from blogger Scientifically Bookish:

A reporter wakes up naked next to his girlfriend, covered in blood, beneath plastic sheets. But the story transcends its splatterpunk opening to achieve a more psychological brand of horror. The odd part is that the first half seems like an entirely different story than the second half. A lot of time is spent on how humanity deals with magically waking up covered in blood every morning, from infections down to haircuts. It is made clear that the blood isn’t the blood of the sleeping people, but appears out of nowhere.

Then the protagonist gets to use his exceptional lucid dreaming abilities to help a scientist friend figure out what’s going on, since the blood only appears when you’re asleep. From here we get into Lovecraft territory, and as the Pseudopod outro points out, you can’t help but think of Nietzsche’s famous “when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” This one is truly scary despite the bloody, unlikely premise. The Mayan Apocalypse tie-in annoys me, but isn’t unjustified, and the ending is very good, in the horrifying sense of “good”. Love the last line.

I totally missed this when it first came out!

I also missed the initial comments in the Pseudopod forum, which made the same mistake this review makes.

A conversation I had with another friend here in Roanoke, Anne Sampson, led to the inclusion of Mayan mythology in this story, specifically the significance of the ceiba tree. That conversation happened sometime during Spring-Summer of 2005. (So now you know how long this story percolated.)

I regret that I can’t, two years later, wade back into this discussion and say: “Folks. You all have 2012 on the brain. I know that movie just came out. But this story way predates that. AND THERE IS NO MENTION OF THE MAYAN CALENDAR ANYWHERE IN THIS STORY. None whatsoever. Ahem.”

Timing is everything.

But it didn’t seem to damage things too badly, if this review from blogger “Ready When You Are CB” is any indication:

If you are a fan of horror fiction, especially a fan of dark horror fiction, you owe it to yourself to give Mike Allen’s “The Blessed Days” a listen. The stories hero has been plagued by debilitating recurring nightmares his entire life. He has sought help from sleep scientists as well as less reputable dream experts, to no avail. But his dreams, along with the dreams of everyone else on earth stop altogether after The Blessing begins.

One night, humanity experiences The Blessing simultaneously, as everyone wakes to find themselves covered in blood. Their own blood, which has leaked out of every pore in their body at once, just before they awoke. This continues to happen every time they fall asleep over the following two and a half years. No one dreams; everyone wakes up covered in blood.

How creepy is that?

Mr. Allen’s story is a tribute to the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, the kind of story about the unleashing of dark and primitive gods, gods who demand blood sacrifice and give nothing in return that Clive Barker wrote about in his Books of Blood series. If it’s not your sort of thing you’ll run away screaming as soon as it begins. In fact, you may have run away already. But if you’re a fan of dark horror fiction, you really should give it a listen. It’s very good. It kept me sitting in my car in the parking lot at work listening. At National Public Radio they call that a driveway moment, but I don’t think “The Blessed Days” is quite what they had in mind.

You’ll note this reviewer mistakenly thinks folks are waking up in their own blood. I’ll attribute that to reviewing a story just listened to rather than one where you can flip back pages and double-check. Except, you know, people reviewing print make goofs like that all the time too, heh.

Maybe what I’m most sorry I missed: one of the commentors in the Pseudopod forums disagreed so strongly with what he believed my story was asserting about the essential nature of evil that his comments, on my story and subsequent ones he felt were similar, ended up leading to a huge forum debate in Summer 2010. How cool is that?

Our stories, they have a life of their own when we’re not watching.

Maybe I’ll get to be a more attentive parent this time around.

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