Back in the days before self-publishing made submissions irrelevant, I used to love submitting to themed anthologies, mostly because I loved the challenge of writing something specifically for those guidelines. One such anthology was called Vile Things, and the guidelines listed a number of old horror anthologies to turn to for inspiration. It just so happened, I had one of those anthologies, GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by H. Wise. So I leafed through the book and stopped on a story called “Caterpillars” by E. F. Benson. All these years later, I couldn’t tell you a thing about that story, but I know where I got the title and the idea for this one.

First I had to get the background details right, so before I even started the story I researched Thalidomide babies and discovered such a condition CAN be genetic. Time to get started.

For main character inspiration I only needed to look to my mother. She had a finished basement with basically a small one-room apartment down there and one day when I went over there I saw the basement was full of someone’s junk. Not her junk because it wasn’t there last time I’d been over, so I asked where it came from.

She had a cousin who had been out of town for years and years and was coming back to town and had decided he was going to be staying there so all his stuff was now in the basement. I’m not sure he ever actually showed up to stay, but his stuff was definitely there.

Check, I thought, one deadbeat cousin who needs a place to stay and comes into this weird situation he doesn’t understand with this Thalidomide baby.

What next?

Well, he has to be forced to deal with the girl, and what better way to make sure he can’t beg off and hide out downstairs or at his buddy’s house than to have the parents vanish in the night, glad to be free of this burden.

But what kind of parents would do such a thing to an innocent girl? Hey, who said she was innocent? What if there was more to this girl than just an absence of arms and legs?

Like what?

I remembered King’s THE DARK HALF and Thad Beaumont’s undeveloped conjoined twin. Holy crap, what a creepy image if, on this girl’s back, there was a whole other girl. One with little nubby limbs she could use to skitter around the house late at night, legs like a caterpillar.

At the time, I was reading SILK by Caitlin R. Kiernan and I think a lot of it went over my head, but I remember something about a pretty girl and spiders and I thought what if this girl coughed up spiders and spun webs.

This would totally freak this guy out, let’s see how he would handle it.

While all of this was going on in the story, though, I also had to tell the story of this innocent girl who just wants to live as normal a life as she possibly can. And having a daughter of my own who means the world to me, it wasn’t hard to write Jessica as a real person. And from there, he relationship between her and the main character developed naturally and, if I do say so myself, quite wonderfully. I’m very proud of the work I did in this story with those characters, and with how dark and creepy it got in the last third.

To this day, in my opinion, Joon is one of the most unsettling characters I’ve written, and I’m happy to have done so.

I don’t know what comes out of the cocoon at the end of the story, so don’t ask. Use your imagination and decide for yourself.

And now, the first scene of The Caterpillar:

IT WASN’T MY FIRST CHOICE, and I was pissed at my parents and my sister for saying no, but whatever. So when I came back to town I wound up staying with my cousin Judy and her husband Jeff in their basement. I don’t think they wanted me there, more likely they were just too polite to turn me away. I showed up on a Tuesday and hauled what I could in through the garage to the basement, then parked the moving truck in front of the house so Jeff could have the driveway and went inside to thank Judy, again, for letting me stay.

I heard a door close down the hall and then Judy appeared, emerging from the dark with a towel in one hand and an empty bowl in the other. I’d forgotten about their daughter. Jessica was ten and we’d never met. But I knew about her.

She was a second-generation Thalidomide baby. According to the FDA, only 17 American children were born with Thalidomide-related deformities. Jeff’s mother had been one of them. While another article, published in DRUG SAFETY, assured the drug did not cause further defects, and yes Jeff had been born normal, Jessica suffered from Amelia, which meant she’d been born with no limbs.

I followed Judy into the kitchen, thanking her, as she put the empty bowl in the sink and laid the towel on the counter.

“No,” she said, “it’s okay. You get settled. It’s good to have you home.”

I wondered how sincerely she meant that. I’d been in Florida for ten years, involved in a number of businesses, all of which had failed. I had a moving company, owned a miniature golf course, a bar, a skateboard shop, just to name a few. I had good ideas, just bad luck. And maybe bad business sense. So after a decade of failure, I decided it was time to come home and just live a life again where I wasn’t dodging creditors all the time or watching my possessions being sold at auction to pay my debts. Not to mention the cost of living is a lot cheaper in the Midwest.

I returned every few years to attend reunions or show off my success for a weekend, but I always left before my cash ran out or the bill collectors tracked me down. I never stayed in town long enough for the cracks to show. And I rarely kept in contact with any of the family. So it came as no surprise when I detected reluctance in Judy’s tone. Not to mention I’m sure she and Jeff had enough problems with Jessica without worrying about me in there, too.

Just a couple weeks, I reminded myself.

Judy said to make myself at home, asked if I was hungry. I was, but I said no. I commented on how they had a nice house. She said thank you. Then I returned to the basement to start unpacking.

To read the rest of the story, you can it as a standalone ebook HERE.

This is a blog post I’ve wanted to write for some time, or at least one like it. But I have a ton of short stories and never know where to start. So today I left it up to my team, emailed them and asked which story they would like to read the backstory on. The first answer was for one of my favorite stories called “Cunt”, but that’s a pretty personal one and one I’m not comfortable sharing. Luckily, the second answer was for another favorite, probably my very favorite, called “Monday”. So here it is.

“Monday” was originally inspired by the first line in the song “Working for the Fat Man” (which also inspired another story with the same title) from the band The Escape Club. The line is “Every day is Monday in the house up on the hill.”

For half a decade at least, I carried that line around, knowing there was a story in there if I ever just made time to write it. But the first time I tried, it was a story about a guy who winds up on a crew building a house and every morning when they get to the site, they find all the work they did the day before has been undone, and the job turns into a neverending race to get it built before the end of the day when the work is undone all over again. It wouldn’t have been a bad story.

But it wasn’t THE story.

So I scrapped it and started again. I’ve no idea where the final version of the story came from, I only know I sat down one early morning while it was still dark out and wrote the opening scene of Maddy waking up and getting her day started. Maddy’s morning routine was pretty much the same as my morning routine, so the writing went pretty easy that day.

The part about “every day is Monday” informed the opening about waking up with déjà vu, but I didn’t know with that first scene where the story was going. So I kept writing. I talked about the people across the street who insisted on parking in front of Maddy’s house because at the time I had some neighbors who always parked in front of my house–the orange Mustang, however, belonged to the people who lived across from my mother although I don’t know if they ever parked in front of her house; I just thought it was a noticeable and obnoxious car.

And then, somewhere mid-scene, I realized what Maddy was about to do and the shape of the story, if not the key to it (that calendar page), came to me.

I hesitated a bit, thoughts of “Groundhog Day” in my head, and not wanting to tell a story that had already been told, but damn I was enjoying the writing of this one, so I kept going.

I wrote that opening scene on day one, then came back the next morning and wrote the next full scene. I wrote the story over five days, each day pretty much just repeating what I’d written the day before, then going back to edit some details (I admit I got a lot of the structure for the recap sentences from the SAW movies, the short, clipped way they do the recaps in the end when the big twist of whichever installment it is reveals itself) and add new ones. By day two, I still don’t think I knew the thing about the calendar as the stuff about Maddy’s grandmother didn’t happen until day three. By day two I was still just enjoying the process and having more fun writing anything than I had in a long time.

By day three, when I wrote the part about her grandmother and the calendar, the whole thing came together in one rush of information and the next three days writing became crystal clear.

I have similar thoughts as Maddy sometimes when I have deju vu, trying to remember why I feel like I’ve done something before, and then trying to remember if the outcome had been good or bad and, if it was a bad, how do I change it? It doesn’t happen quite as often now, but once upon a time, it was ALL the time.

But from there, it was just a matter of getting Maddy closer and closer every day until she reached her goal, solved the puzzle of the déjà vu, and was able to bring the story to a close. It was really quite simple, in the end, and I can’t believe every story isn’t that easy to write.

A few key details, all the Ms. Maddy, Monday, May. All on purpose.

“Monday”, along with a lot of other stories are available in my collection THE DICHOTMOY OF MONSTERS here. Now, here’s the first scene of “Monday”:

Monday

C. Dennis Moore

 

She woke with déjà vu, as if she’d been dreaming about waking, and then lay there staring at the ceiling for a minute before managing to climb out from the covers. In the bathroom she emptied her bladder, brushed her teeth, and took some aspirin for her headache. In the kitchen she replaced yesterday’s filter with a fresh one, scooped coffee into it, filled the water reservoir, then turned on the pot. The red-orange glow indicating the thing was on only increased her anticipation of that first cup.

While the coffee brewed, Maddy walked into the living room, past the chair, glancing at the clock on the cable box once to see it was now 8:18, then went to the front window and stared outside. The sight promised a warm May day, and she contemplated a walk before changing her mind; going out would mean getting dressed, and Maddy was perfectly fine in her pj’s, thank you.

She stood there and watched the woman across the street, whose name she’d never bothered to learn, pull her ugly orange Mustang back into her driveway after dropping her two kids off at school, get out still looking half-asleep, and trudge into her house. Maddy had never bothered to learn the woman’s name because when they moved in, for about the first month, the woman’s husband used to come home from work at night and park his truck in front of Maddy’s house. Maddy had her own driveway, but it was the principle. She’d hated them right away. That was last year, and the man hadn’t parked there since, but that first impression had tainted Maddy’s opinion.

In the kitchen, the coffee gurgled, telling her it was done brewing and ready for drinking, so she turned and headed back to make that first cup.

Maddy’s sugar and powdered creamer were kept in similar-looking plastic containers and she had a habit of telling which was which with a shake. The creamer was silent while the sugar sounded like maracas. A hearty sprinkle of creamer and four scoops of sugar, a stir, five times clockwise, five times counterclockwise with three delicate taps of the spoon on the edge of the mug. The spoon went to the ceramic cradle beside the coffee pot and Maddy grabbed her cup and went into the spare bedroom where her computer monitor displayed a series of interweaving designs in various colors until she sat down and nudged the mouse to deactivate the screensaver.

Four new emails awaited her, including a notice she had accrued $5 in Borders Bucks from the book store, and a “get-to-know-me” survey from her friend Anna, which Anna should know very well Maddy was not going to fill out–and scrolling down to the line which read “Which of my friends is least likely to respond”, Anna had entered Maddy’s name.

“Good thinking,” Maddy said out loud.

But she perused Anna’s answers, then the list of other addressees to whom Anna had sent this particular email, always curious about the outside ties people form from their core group.

She sipped her coffee, then, as it cooled, took bigger gulps until the cup was empty. As she stood from the chair, she noticed her desk calendar. Monday. Déjà vu again, but it was only her dream resurfacing for a moment to remind her and suddenly Maddy felt very uneasy, but couldn’t pin down what it was that caused the feeling in the first place. That déjà vu, that dream. Whatever it had been.

Like it matters now anyway, she thought, and realized that was right. Whatever caused that feeling, it was a moot point at this juncture.

She put the cup in the sink, then turned off the pot, always wary of a stray spark setting the house ablaze, but didn’t bother dumping out the remains she hadn’t drank, and got a glass of water.

She had a bottle of pills in her purse, and now she took these out, dumped the contents onto the coffee table, and counted. Twenty.

She tried to swallow three at a time, but that was too much. She settled on swallowing two at a time until they were all gone. Then she set the near-empty water glass back on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch, staring out the front window. She had no idea how long it would be, but it was a beautiful May day. The clock on the cable box told her it was 9:02. Outside the sun sent down brilliant orange rays and the grass had never looked greener, she thought. Soon she found her eyes heavy, her chest thick, and it was a little harder to draw the next breath. She slumped over, groggy, wondering what day it was and how long she’d slept. Then her eyes closed and she fell over.