My short story “The Garden” had a very strange origin, with inspirations from Guns N’ Roses and Georgia O’Keefe equally.

First was Guns N’ Roses and their song, “The Garden”, which gave me a title and, for over a decade, a mood. I started the story in mid-2006 and worked on it for a week or so before realizing the couple hundred words I had were going nowhere and amounting to nothing, so I abandoned it, knowing I would get back to it later.

The first incarnation was about a boy walking through a meditative labyrinth who … something something magic and something, I never really figured it out.

And I did a TON of research on walking and labyrinths and meditation, took a lot of walks myself, hoping to get into the headspace for a story about walking, but it just never happened, nothing came to me, there was no story.

Then one day, years later, I saw something about Georgia O’Keefe and her particular style of art (flowers were made to represent a certain part of the female anatomy) and I had a vision in my head of a guy being seduced by a beautiful woman in a garden, only there was no woman, he was being hypnotized by sentient plants. From there, the story pretty much told itself and I wrote the first draft over a couple of days.

The names of the characters, Gordon, Randy and Bobby were he names of the guys I hung out with around the same age I imagined Gordon to be in this story. Gordon Bennington, Randy Collings, and Bobby Fairchild. The name Mya means “great one” or “mother”.

The Garden

Gordon showed up at the back of the Rogers farm like Randy’d told him to, but his friend was nowhere to be seen. Randy’s bike lay at the edge of the woods where the property stopped, and there was his jacket among the flowers. The Rogers had a good twenty acres and this far back from the house, Gordon knew they wouldn’t see him and come out to run them off. Then again, there was a garden back here that looked pretty well-tended, so who knew? He wasn’t even sure this far back was considered their property at all. He hoped not, if what Randy told him was true.

Gladiolus, tulips, Madonna lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, begonias all reds, yellows, whites, pinks, blues and oranges. Gordon didn’t know the names, but they smelled good. Hidden among these, half-buried, were several larger bulbs that could have been watermelons except they were grey.

He called out, “Randy!” several times, but got no reply. He must have wandered further
into the woods. Gordon sat down on the jacket and was about to call out again when something got his attention, something lumpy under his ass. He felt and found Randy’s jacket pocket. He reached in and pulled out something slick.

This was what Randy told him he’d been doing up here the past few days.

Gordon had no idea what the flowers were called and the bigger bulbs in the ground were an equal mystery. But Randy had told him the leaves were edible. More than that, they’d given him one hell of a high. No after effects, either. He’d chew a few leaves, lay back, and before long he was in the middle of one of the best trips of his life. Gordon found a plastic bag with a rolled bundle of leaves in Randy’s jacket pocket. Maybe he was going to take them home and try to smoke them. But surely he wouldn’t mind if Gordon had a couple for himself. After all, this was what Randy’d called him up here for in the first place.

He pulled two, then took a third from the rolled bundle, slid the rest into the bag, then back into the jacket. He looked at the leaves and wondered how they’d taste. Bitter like grass? He sniffed them, and it was a familiar scent, but he couldn’t place it. They were dark red and shaped like hearts.

He called out, “Randy! Hey!!!”

When he got no reply, he put the leaves in his mouth and chewed. Almost as soon as the chemicals in the leaves touched his tongue, but surely by the time he’d swallowed them, the leaves took effect. He lay back in the grass, staring up at the brilliant blue summer sky, cloudless and crisp. His head felt thirty pounds lighter. His fingers tingled and, he realized, so did his toes.

Whatever this stuff was, Gordon would have to thank Randy as soon as he figured out where he was. For now, he wouldn’t worry about it, he just wanted to ride this wave.
If he lay still enough, he could feel the blood rushing through his veins, into his brain. He could hear it pumping.

His vision swam and suddenly he felt himself sink into the earth, into the grass and flowers, and he felt their leaves tickling and trying to wrap around and drag him down. Gordon tried to sit up and scream, but the flowers had become thick vines and his puny strength was no match. His heartbeat raced and he thought he might be sweating but if that were true, the sweat burned his skin like acid and the sky turned purple overhead and a shriek echoed inside his skull and then, before he could fully comprehend what was happening . . . it stopped. Gordon sucked in a huge breath, shot up from the ground, clutching his chest.

He sat there, panting and being glad he was alive when he heard a noise. A high, lilting sound. He looked over and saw something in the trees. She was tall with long blonde hair. Her face was that of an angel. Finally he managed to catch enough breath to say, “Hello?”

She stepped out from behind the tree. She didn’t say anything, just giggled again. Her walk was fluid, as if the structure of her legs were free-floating, more for motion than support. The sight of it had a strange effect on Gordon’s equilibrium and he had to look away for a second. She glided closer, giggled again, and Gordon asked, “What?”

“Nothing,” she said after a moment. “You just looked funny laying there all splayed like that.” Her voice reminded Gordon of rainbows and butterflies. Who was this girl? “What are you doing here?”

He hesitated, reluctant to tell her about the leaves or his quick but intense trip. At least, he thought it was quick. The sky did look a little darker.

He started to get up, found his legs too weak, and he fell again with a grunt.

The girl giggled again.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Gordon said. “Help me up.”

“What for?”

“Because I have to get up,” he said. “I was up here looking for my friend. Hey, have you seen him? Bout this tall–” (he held a hand just an inch or two above the top of his own head) “long black hair? Wears glasses?” She shook her head.

“Probably wearing a Chiefs cap?”

She shook her head again.

She shrugged and sat next to him on the ground. Gordon was surprised to see her just drop down onto the grass because she was dressed in a long white sundress and the way it shone even in the lowering sky, Gordon knew she was about to stain it. He didn’t want to stare, but it was hard to take his eyes off her. Gordon knew who he was and knew this girl was beyond his reach. She’d see that in a minute and get up and walk away.

So he was taken by surprise when she turned and said, “What’s your name?”

“Gordon,” he said, feigning indifference by looking into the trees for Randy.

“Mine’s Mya,” she said. “Do you live around here?”

He shrugged. “Close enough, I guess.”

“What are you doing up here?”

“Looking for my friend,” he said. “I already said that.”

“Well,” Mya said, looking around. “Doesn’t seem like you’re looking very hard.”

“His stuff’s right here,” Gordon said. “He’ll be back to get it.”

“What if he doesn’t come back?”

“Then he’s gonna lose a jacket and his bike,” Gordon said. “Because his bike’s just over there and I’m not taking them both with me when I go. Maybe the jacket.”

“What if he’s never coming back?”

“Uh-huh.”

Gordon wished she’d stop talking to him. This kind of attention from someone this beautiful was making him uncomfortable.

“What if he’s dead?” she asked.

Get the rest of the story in my short story collection THE DICHOTOMY OF MONSTERS.

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.

The Caterpillar (Horror Singles Book 4)

It was only supposed to be temporary, a place to stay when he returned home, just until he got back on his feet. Then he woke up to find his cousin and her husband gone, vanished in the night. But that was only the start. What they left behind was so much worse.

On the B-Side, in “Blue Moon Story”, one cop is still trying to find the man who murdered his wife. He’s about to learn the truth of what really tore his wife to pieces that night might be closer than he ever thought.