Please welcome J.S. Breukelaar to The Qwillery as part of the Collision Blog Tour. Collision: Stories was published on February 19, 2019 by Meerkat Press.
Writing Speculative Fiction
I love writing speculative fiction—fairy tales, science fiction, horror—this is my sandbox. Whatever the first fantastic tale I read—Poe maybe, or King or Bradbury—I can still remember how it made me feel like I’d come home to something, and that was where I belonged.
I still feel that way. I’m comfortable creating worlds and beings that make other people feel uncomfortable. I’m at home in homelessness. Scared or uneasy or in the wrong time and the wrong skin. The dark woods, the broken mirror, the sentient city, the haunted road. Welcome. I am the author, your g(host). Hope you enjoy your stay.
These elements of speculative fiction in Collision—from mysterious armless piano players to evil AIs to talking dogs to ghosts in the machine—are my way of weirding a consensual reality, and punking the idea of a universal reader who is whatever a certain set of influential authors want them to be at that time. I don’t belong to that set. I was reading King’s IT when most of the serious readers I knew were reading Zadie Smith or Jonathan Franzen. I was writing stories about weird multiverses and phosphorescent pouched aliens and suburban witches when many writers I know were writing about—not that. And I don’t know if it matters. Being creeped out is my way of getting all my senses to stand at attention—and to get my readers to pay attention too. There is lots of so-called mainstream fiction that creeps me out as much as the creepiest Shirley Jackson. The Virgin Suicides, White Noise, Emily Dickenson, Dashiell Hammett, Henry James, Dickens, Shakespeare, Raymond Carver—stuff as weird as the weirdest speculative fiction. I could not have written Collision without reading outside speculative fiction and my work as much a collision between literary and genre fiction as anything. The way I see it, speculative fiction needs to do what any good fiction does. It needs to make us ask serious questions about how to be human and how not to be, in this world, or any world.
Meerkat Press, February 19, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook 220 pages
A collection of twelve of J.S. Breukelaar's darkest, finest stories with four new works, including the uncanny new novella "Ripples on a Blank Shore." Introduction by award-winning author, Angela Slatter. Relish the gothic strangeness of "Union Falls," the alien horror of "Rogues Bay 3013," the heartbreaking dystopia of "Glow," the weird mythos of "Ava Rune," and others. This collection from the author of American Monster and the internationally acclaimed and Aurealis Award finalist, Aletheia, announces a new and powerful voice in fantastical fiction.
The sky bulged above the diner at the edge of town. Cassi let the heavy curtains drop back over the window. She had tried to nap but now sat up with her legs over the edge of the bed. It was the middle of the day, and formless shadows made the walls of the room recede into nothing. She once again peeked through the windows at the ominous sky. The collision was coming sooner than she thought, than any of them thought. Her computer screen pulsed at the desk, encrypted messages waterfalling down the screen. She reached for her phone to check an incoming text message—surely her colleagues in the scientific community were as alarmed by the herniated sky as she was.
But the message was only from her brother, Issac. Everything’s changed.
That was it. Her phone splished again and she opened a garbled audio message of him crying out, “But why?” Cassi held the phone at arm’s length. The question sounded as loud as if her brother were in the next room. But that was impossible. Issac had left for school hours ago. She checked her watch. The lunchtime bell had just rung. In the background of the message, more faintly, Cassi could hear a jumble of quaint words that she had almost forgotten: “fairy,” “fruit,” and “fag.”
Cassi stared at the phone as if it were a foreign object, something from the future that was already past. The words were from another time that would, Cassi had once promised Issac, never hurt him again.
They were their father’s words.
Even though she could see that he was typing again, she texted back, Where are you? and the answer came before she finished: In the first-floor bathroom.
He was eight years younger than her, a junior at Fairstate High. Cassi taught physics at the same school, except on Mondays, her day off, when she tried to catch up on her own research. Today though, she had spent most of the time in the dark staring through the curtains at the terrible sky.
Another audio message came in from her brother, and more garbled yelling. If she didn’t know that he was in the bathroom (he liked to use the unisex facility on the first floor) she would think that he was watching a movie with his arty friends. Mostly pale and fragile creatures, unlike tall, ruddy Issac, they wore Stranger Things T-shirts and huddled in one of the small screening rooms at lunchtime, eating leftovers from home and discussing The Fall of the House of Usher and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But how could Issac be watching movies in the unisex facility on the first floor? And anyway, these weren’t movie screams.
They were real.
She pulled her sneakers on, the tattoo on the back of her ankle faded to a vascular blue. Then she was outside in the high, bright white of noon, pedaling toward the school, desperate to get there before that bubble burst in the sky. Their neighborhood diner, where Issac sometimes hung out, loomed ahead at the junction. But just before she could turn off toward the town, the sidewalk split open, and Cassi went flying into space. Everything went dark and the bike felt pulled out from under her by a hidden hand. Then she was lying on the ground blinking through her tears at the bulging sky.
“Issac?” she screamed toward wherever her phone had landed.
“Who?” A waitress from the diner stood over Cassi with hands on her hips, splaying emerald-green fingernails that glittered in the sun.
Cassi heard the waitress’s words echo off the sidewalk, multiply into a chorus of croaks, and circle back to ask her again: Yes, tell us who.
The whirr of spinning bicycle wheels broke through the echo, and Cassi side-eyed the huge gash in the asphalt—would she have seen it in time? She felt foolish now. Her knee stung and her shoulder throbbed where it had hit the pavement. The waitress wore a name tag that said Alphonso Jaya, the name of Issac’s friend who worked at the diner.
“You’re not Alphonso,” Cassi said to cover up her embarrassment. She tried to push herself to a sitting position. The crack in the sidewalk heaved beneath her like she was something indigestible—the pale ground pushing her back to where she came from, to where she should be. “My brother’s in trouble over at the school.”
“Alphonso?” the waitress said.
Cassi was Issac’s legal guardian, had been for five years, since she turned twenty-one and moved them back to town from their cousins’ farm. Their cousins were significantly removed in geography and blood lines, and much older than the siblings—more like an aging aunt and uncle. They were too old to raise a couple of kids—runaways that family gossip told them they should have seen coming—but as Cousin Emily primly said, you never see the obvious until it’s right in front of you, and sometimes not even then. Anyway, they had done their best. They took Issac and Cassi to church every Sunday, allowed them to bathe on Saturday afternoons once their chores were done, and never laid a hand on them. They never used the names Cassi had run away from (“fairy,” “fruit,” “fag”) and eventually Issac, and the world, moved on.
But Cassi never forgot. She still heard those names in her dreams, remembered how they scared her, even more than the man—their father—who used them. The names had a life of their own, she knew, and like all evil things, would find what they were looking for.
J.S. Breukelaar is the author of the Aurealis-nominated novel Aletheia, and American Monster, a Wonderland Award finalist. She has published stories, poems and essays in publications such as Gamut, Black Static, Unnerving, Lightspeed, Lamplight and elsewhere. She is a columnist and regular instructor at LitReactor.com. California-born and New York raised, she currently lives in Sydney, Australia with her family. You can find her at www.thelivingsuitcase.com.