Title: Collision: Stories
Author: J.S. Breukelaar
Release Date: 2/19/19
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Horror, Weird, Fantasy, Scifi, Dystopian
Book Depository - https://www.bookdepository.com/Collision-J-S-Breukelaar/9781946154170?ref=grid-view&qid=1550063645546&sr=1-1
Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946154172
B&N - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/collision-js-breukelaar/1128942076?ean=9781946154170
Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41945987-collision
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.
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.
Link to giveaway:
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.
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.
When the girl turned up for the job in her black jeans and cute haircut and no arms, Deel just shook her head, no. Girl wiggled her shoulders and flicked her hair in that way.
“Just give me a listen,” she said.
Selwyn at the bar stared at her out of his good eye, pushed his glasses up on his nose even though they were already up as far as they could go, and Deel waited but he just kept staring. And then Henry trotted out from behind the bar with beer stuck to his whiskers because he’d been drinking the slops again and went right up to the girl and sat on her shoes. Black Van sneakers with pink trim. No laces.
“Are you wet?” Deel said, looking at the water seeping out from under the girl’s soles.
It was one of those blue June days, the air heavy with the smell of overheating asphalt and baked pollen. Deel yanked at the neck of her tank top, sucked hot hair in through her mouth and felt like she was choking.
“I had a dip in the lake,” the girl said. “Water’s so clear you can see right down to the stones.”
And Deel noticed fine strands of hair stuck to the wide, pale forehead, but whether from sweat or lake water, Deel could not tell. The girl was wearing a T-shirt and the sleeves hung out over the smooth nubs of her shoulders and flapped empty against her torso.
“You do realize that the gig’s for a piano player?” Deel said.
“So do I get an audition or what?” The girl shrugged out of her satchel strap, stepping out of one shoe and catching the satchel in her lifted foot all in one motion. Deel caught a glimpse of a challenge deep below the surface of the girl’s whetstone eyes, and she didn’t like it. Fast-forward to an interior shot of Deel’s mailbox, a letter stamped from the antidiscrimination board vying for room with all the bills and notices and empty offers.
“Henry’s drunk again,” Deel said to Selwyn. “Those slop trays don’t empty themselves.”
The girl—whose name, according to her crumpled CV, was Ame—flicked her eyes between Selwyn and Deel as if to gauge what ran between them. Satisfied, she acknowledged the listing, slobbering dog at her feet with a nudge of her sneaker and turned her pale head finally to the unused Casio keyboard in the corner of the small room, wavering in reflected light from the bottles and glasses behind the bar.
“Guess we better give her a listen.” Selwyn kind of shook himself like he just woke up and Deel glared.
“Cain’t hurt,” said Pete, his Carolina vowels making Deel’s flesh crawl at this ungodly hour. She could barely cope with his cain’ts and ain’ts and gee mahnour sayvenths after sundown with a couple of beers under her belt, much less in the hard daylight of a Saturday afternoon. But Pete was the bassist and Deel’s daddy had played bass in a college band so she let it lie. The girl, who’d left out the bit about having no arms, was the only one who’d replied to the small ad that Selwyn had placed in the Pennysaver. They’d all agreed that the whole band had to be there for the interview, Jake the drummer a no-show as usual.
Deel caught the girl’s hard smile and regretted not wearing lipstick for godsakes. She sipped from her cold coffee for something to do with her hands, but she had a slight hangover and what she really needed was a drink.
“Okay,” she said. “But . . .”
But the girl was kicking off her other shoe and at the keys before Deel had worked out but what. And what she pounded out with her feet was Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell.” Crashing chords and swarming riffs. Her smooth feet and long, black-varnished toes were stark against the keys, and every so often her head would shake to the side or nod back and forth. Because the instrument was so high relative to the reach of her legs, she played slightly hunched and looked to be levitating on the stool, her torso motionless and her legs, impossibly limber, dancing up and down the keyboard.
Afterward, she swiveled around to face them. No one said anything. Henry furtively lapped at a pool of his own vomit and no one stopped him. Selwyn’s good eye, the color of rain, just stared at the silent keys which seemed to have taken on a kind of conspiratorial nakedness, privates unfairly flaunted. Deel looked away. Beams of dirty light fell on the bottles, and a cell phone bleated from downstairs, the smell of oil and exhaust sharp and cold from the no-name Gas and Lube.
“What?” The girl looked from one to the other. “You did say it was an eighties band.”
The girl put her shoes back on and waited downstairs while they talked it over. Deel pointed out how you can’t have an amputee keyboard player in a town like Union Falls.
“I don’t need this,” Deel said.
And Selwyn said, calmly returning her affronted gaze, that no one did. “But the Lake View’s taken all our trade with that open grill and fresh charr and so-called music, is the thing.”
And in Selwyn’s good eye Deel caught a glimpse of her own ferocious ponytail and worried mouth, but Pete just kept saying, “chick is hot, chick is smokin’.” So she said, “Well better ask Jake about it,” but Selwyn just shrugged. So, in the end, Deel said she’d give it a month and hadn’t they better go wake up their so-called drummer and start rehearsing?
After the boys left, she called the girl back in but when Deel said her name, the girl interrupted.
“Ay-mee,” she said. “It’s spelled Ame, but you say it like Amy.”
Deel asked for references, which Ame pulled out of the satchel with her teeth and which Deel gingerly removed from her mouth. Deel didn’t like this. Shadows sliced across the girl’s face and fell like a mask across her dark eyes and Deel noticed tiny scars hatched on her jaw and one on her chin. In the wrong light she could be just standing there with her arms held behind her back as if hiding something in her hands.
“Boo!” she said.
Deel flinched, a cold knot of rage tightening in her chest.
“You were looking at me like you’d seen a ghost,” said the girl, a wide white smile instantly enlivening her features. “The scars are from falling on my face. When I was a kid.”
Deel swallowed and started leafing through the references. She saw that the girl was from Albany, was twenty-two and had dropped out of music school but had been playing in bands since she was thirteen.
“If you’re looking for the section that says how I lost my arms,” Ame said. “You won’t find it there.”
Deel put down the references. The girl’s lips curved in that joker grin that did not quite extend to her eyes. An insolence to her affliction. For the second time this morning Deel felt her flesh crawl, but this time she hated herself for it. She felt momentarily frightened and wanted to call Selwyn back in but stopped herself. She needed time to think of a way to fob the girl off, no matter what the guys said. It was her bar, in the end, and her call.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
The girl shrugged like she didn’t care one way or another, so Deel went behind the bar and poured the coffee, telling herself that the whole thing was a bad idea, not just the girl, but the whole band thing, and maybe even the whole bar, just taking it over when she did, and what she should have done was sell the house and move on like everyone in Union Falls told her to. Move on, yes, but then Selwyn turned up for the bar job, not a college boy, too old for that, but not a farm boy either, not exactly. Guitar in a muddy case on his back. And things just moved along from there.
“How do you take it?” she called into the shadows, Ame hidden from her at this angle. “Your coffee.”
There was no answer, and Deel thought—hoped—that maybe the girl had gone, but then her voice cut across the shadows, an effortful croak.
“With a straw,” she said.
GUEST POST TOPIC: LOVE
Love is an important aspect of my work. A lot of people find this surprising, but dark fiction is often about love, about characters who are heartsick, lovesick, homesick, or all three. You may have heard it said that horror writers are the nicest people—when they’re not writing about ravenous monsters or demonic violence or vengeful, bloodthirsty ghosts, the ones I know are playing with puppies and bragging about their kids, or busy with their volunteer work in shelters. Dark fiction is often as much a way for writers to deal with their fears as it is for readers—and what greater fear is there than to lose the ones you love? Love is often the engine that fuels the darkest fiction and mine is no exception. Every story in Collision has love at its heart. “Union Falls” is about love between two damaged women, and the possibility of new love for Deel. “Raining Street” is an Orpheus in the Underworld story about a woman driven by grief to follow her partner to a place from which one or both might never return. “The Box” is a break-up story. “Ava Rune” is about the vengeful ferocity of mother-love. “Lion Man” is tainted love. “Fairy Tale” is about the intersection of love and fear. In “Fixed,” a dog’s love for her human continues from beyond the grave. “War Wounds” is an interesting one. This is perhaps my most horrific story about the end of a childhood friendship played out in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. And on it goes. Because, love really is the drug, the emotional logic that gets us bent all out of shape. And it doesn’t have to be love for a flesh and blood being. Homesickness is love too—as in my story, “Glow”— and homelessness is perhaps the greatest, and oldest fear of all.