Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas 2015: The Visit

It's Christmastime, so I'm continuing my semi-annual tradition of posting a Christmas related story, my yuletide gift to you all.

This story was inspired, in part, by a drive I took recently through a good part of Texas. The roads can be lonely and dark, with barely another vehicle in sight. The moonlight is different, the skyline is a landscape of its own. I do some of my best thinking on the road (and my best storytelling) but my experience in Texas was especially powerful.


11:22 PM

I hugged Becca goodbye in front of The Tamale Plant, one of our old haunts back when I lived here. The restaurant closed at 10:00, but Becca and I stood out front, her smoking a cigarette, me balancing awkwardly on the curb, long after they locked the doors and turned out all the lights, laughing and chatting and reminiscing about the good old days. Only back then, I would've been smoking, too.

It was warm for December, but that's Texas for you. Maybe I'd just gotten more used to the cold of Michigan winters. It was hard to believe I'd been away for 5 whole years. So much had happened since then. The Tamale Plant was still the same, though. Best fish tacos this side of Mexico and margaritas the size of slop buckets. It was strange to be back, comparing the things that hadn't changed a bit with everything that had changed way too much. It's true what they say, you can't go home... not that Nacogdoches was home anymore. My parents had sold their house and moved to Austin not long after I left for college. Becca was my only remaining tie to the old homeplace, but there was this lingering feeling between us, like maybe she resented me for getting out, but maybe that was all in my head. A manifestation of the guilt I felt for moving on and leaving my lifelong friend behind in the Texas dust.

"You really sure you wanna drive back all that way in the dark?" Becca asked for the twentieth time, the cherry of her lit cigarette bouncing as she spoke, "I got a perfectly good sofa bed you can crash on, you know."

"I know." I reply for the twentieth time, "But mom would be pissed if I wasn't there first thing in the morning when she starts baking. You know how she is..." I trail off, shrugging. Becca knows alright. She's always hated my mother.

Becca drops her cigarette onto the sidewalk and crushes it out with her boot. "Ok, then." she says, hugging me. I hug back, even though the smell of tobacco on her clothes and in her hair almost makes me choke. Did I ever really enjoy smoking?

"It was good to see you." she says, reminding me again how seldom I make the trip, or even the effort to keep in touch with my old friend. "You, too." I turn and walk towards my car. Becca stops me by grabbing my wrist.

"Be careful, ok?" she says, "I don't want you hurt, not if you're going to be president or something someday."

"Thanks." I smile, "I will." And then I'm on the road again.

12:07 AM

I hit the scan button on the radio dial again, cursing myself for going cheap and not getting a rental car equipped with satellite radio. The stations blur by, a preacher yells about hell fire and brimstone, a crooner sings a ballad about a lost love, and a girl band belts out a poppy country tune, all interspersed with static as the car moves from one area of coverage to the next. Finally, I settle on a classical music station that seems to be holding strong just outside of Bryan.

The music is strangely calming, almost meditative. I like driving, or at least I don't mind it, but it's especially nice on the long backroads highways of rural Texas. No streetlights, few houses except very close to the cities and towns, and a soft half moon throwing glowing light over the peaceful farmland on either side of the road. I've only seen one other vehicle, a semi, this lonely Christmas Eve morning. I'll probably make it to my parents house before the sun rises, which makes me feel a little sad. I've always loved the sunrises here, which just aren't the same in Michigan.

I'm a little tired, after a flight, a layover, and driving down to see Becca, and our visit at the Tamale Place, but that's alright. I've done it before. Becca and I used to take road trips all the time, to see music in Houston or Dallas and sometimes to the beach. I always drove and I always stayed awake. I've never even gotten a speeding ticket, not that I believe that would be possible in the little Korean compact I rented. I'm almost tempted to floor it just to see how fast it can go, but I resist the urge and in a moment it passes.

The radio station fades in and out with increasing regularity. I hit the scan button again and begin counting mile markers as they appear alongside the road. Every now and then I see cows sleeping in their fields and oil derricks churning in the darkness, moonlight glinting on their backs.

The road seems to stretch on forever, a ribbon of grey in the darkness. I start to slip into road hypnosis as the white dashes dart by and the monotony of the journey errodes my focus.

I'm almost on auto pilot, when the car is suddenly stopped fast and completely dead. I snap to attention. The lights are out, even the clock/radio. I didn't hit anything. There was no impact, the car was just moving at one moment, doing almost 80 miles an hour, and the next, it was still.

I feel my heart begin to race, my blood thundering in my ears as my breath starts hitching in my throat. Did I fall asleep? What happened? I turn the key but it does nothing, not even click. I take a deep beath, trying to force myself calm, and reach for my cellphone. My stomach fills with ice when I see that it's completely dead, just like the car. How can that be? It's still hooked into the charger. Maybe there was an EMP or something. Could that have happened? Could it be a terrorist attack or something? I hold down the power button, feeling desperation begin to creep in. My mouth goes dry when it doesn't respond.

I could try to flag someone down, but it would be a long time before anyone came along. I glance up at the road ahead, and that's when I see them.

Long, pale forms that seem to glow in the moonlight with bottomless empty holes for eyes and mouths emerge from the woods, cloaked in shadow.

Panic. What the fuck are those things? I turn the key in the ignition again, frantic. I twist it so hard it hurts, but nothing. The things are coming closer, reaching too-long fingers towards me, their shapes contorting, stretching, twisting in the moonlight. They move in quick, halting motions, jerky, like someone removed several frames during playback. Tears run down my face. I bite my lip and taste blood.

They come closer. I press the button to lock the doors but it doesn't do anything. I sob even though I can barely breath.

I gasp as one of them appears on the other side of my window, moving several yards in a split second. I try to scream, but I can't. I feel like I'm paralyzed. Warm wetness spreads on the seat beneath me as my bladder lets go.

I shut my eyes, it's all the control I have over my body. I squeeze them so tight it hurts.

I hear the door open and a sound like nothing I've ever heard, like harsh wheezing played backwards, fills the void.

Cold fingers, colder than anything I've ever felt, wrap around me, my entire head in one hand, my shoulders in another. They drag me from the car.

Instinct kicks in and I open my mouth, biting down hard on a finger that feels too soft to hold me and as smooth as glass.

A scream like sirens and all goes silent.

I fall to the ground, my shoulder and my knee take the impact. My mouth is full of hot, stinging fluid that tastes like batteries and fire. I choke and gasp as I roll to the side and throw up. I can feel my lower lip and my tongue beginning to dissolve.

I open my eyes. They sting, but I can see. I cannot hear. Around me, there is no one. Nothing. Only the cows and the derricks and the darkness.

The car jolts to life suddenly, headlights flashing on, the overhead light illuminating above me. I imagine the music on the radio is playing again, but I can't hear it.

Coughing and choking, I feel wet chunks of things that should stay inside me coming out. They splatter on my hands and arms and the pavement, looking black in the pale light of the moon. I am covered in something that glows the color of Christmas lights and makes my skin bubble and blister and ooze.

Christmas lights.



Friday, October 30, 2015

Hallowed Ween

I've always loved Halloween, ever since I can remember, but I was a bit worried about it this year, concerned that it would hurt and open up old wounds... Halloween was one of the very few things I had in common with my brother, whom I lost earlier this year.

He and I really weren't close. We didn't see eye-to-eye and we really didn't get along, except for that magical few weeks every autumn leading up to The Big Day. Halloween unified us, created a bond like nothing else could. We decorated together, watched Halloween specials (An old Halloween episode of Martin, any of Roseanne's Halloween specials, Treehouse of Horror, and the classic Garfield special were among our favorites), critiqued the neighborhood decorations, helped each other out with our costumes, and sat together in his room, listening to Halloween themed (and anything you could even stretch to fit that theme loosely) records and 8-track tapes.

He loved inflatable skeletons. I briefly debated getting one and hanging it up in front of the house as some sort of memorial, but I couldn't make myself do it. I think perhaps it's because one of the last gifts I ever sent him was one of his favorite brand of inflatable skeletons.

Honestly, it doesn't hurt as much as I feared it would. I do still love Halloween. For a little while in there, I was almost afraid that I wouldn't, that I'd lose something that has been a defining factor in who I am as a person since I was very, very small. But I focused on some of the good Halloween memories I've had, and shared with others. I wanted to share a few of them with you, my friends and readers, as well.

When I was 3 or 4 and made my first Halloween costume all on my own. I was a picture of a vase of flowers, and I thought I was sooooo clever. I'd taken this big old picture frame I found in the trash, taken the glass and the picture out, and drawn flowers in a big vase on the cardboard backing. Then I cut a hole for my face, dressed all in black and put the hanging wire over my shoulders. No one got it. I mean NO ONE. I got progressively more crestfallen as the night went on and I had to keep explaining what I was to people.

When I was 5 or 6 and insisted on being Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for Halloween. I wasn't old enough or worldy enough to really understand why that might not be the best choice for a kid that young and I was absolutely adamant about the accuracy of my costume, right down to the plunging neckline and tiny dagger (which I made out of foil and poster board, colored, and glued glitter to). THANKFULLY it was bitterly cold out that Halloween and I ended up wearing a puffy coat over my hilariously (to look back on it, anyway) inappropriate costume.

When I was 9 and went as the headless horseman and my brother went as a skeleton. One of my happiest memories of him involves that night, when, for effect, he not only lent me but actually SUGGESTED I borrow one of his most prized possessions (an inflatable skull, which was apparently very rare and incredibly precious to him). I knew how much it meant to him and it really touched me that he'd let me carry it around the neighborhood just to add to my costume. Granted, he watched me like a hawk the entire time, but it was incredibly touching nonetheless.

When I was 15 and depressed, not planning on doing anything but hiding in my room, writing and watching whatever spooky thing was on television,  and my best friend, Laura, came over and dragged me out. For the first time in recorded history, I didn't have a costume planned and wasn't going to dress up, but she convinced me I had to (and she was right!) So I went outside and gathered some sticks and made a necklace resembling that thing from The Blair Witch Project, which had recently come out, and wore it over my all black outfit, calling myself the Blair Witch, which, I rationalized, was fair as the witch herself is never actually shown in the movie.

Halloween 2013, when I dressed up as a Calavera/Sugar Skull Makeup and enjoyed this interaction with a local kid:

Favorite moment of the night:
Teenage boy wearing a trash bag with arm/neck holes: "You're barefoot. Aren't you cold?"
Me: "The dead don't get cold."
TB: *scoff* "You're not dead."
Me: "Shine that flashlight in my eyes." (My pupils are hyperreactive so I don't blink in bright light, and I'm wearing FX lenses that look like red flowers)
TB: *takes a few steps back, then turns and calmly walks about 5 paces before bolting*

Those are a few of my favorite Halloween memories, now it's your turn. What are some of yours?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Maelstrom Girls

The sixth installment of Brian Keene's Maelstrom series from Thunderstorm Books goes on sale today, and as excited as I always am for those sets, this one is special... this one includes a novella by myself and 3 other truly fantastic authors.

I chatted with the other Maelstrom girls and asked them some brief questions about their novellas. Check them out and OF COURSE buy the set!


Tell me, in a sentence or two, what your novella is about.

It's about a young black girl in the 1960s who must deal with her everyday life of bussing and forced school integration, while accepting that she is so very different than the other children around her.

What was your inspiration?

The small town that I grew up in, Hopkinsville KY. The family dynamic and small town vibe all remind me of home. I write a lot about small towns because I moved to Atlanta at a young age and always missed Hopkinsville. But I realize it's not really home anymore. You know what they say, you can never go home again...unless you recreate your own version of it, I suppose.  

Do you (or have you) intend to write more about these characters or in this universe?


Tell me, in a sentence or two, what your novella is about.

A soldier returns to his rural Kentucky hometown after a long tour in Afghanistan and has trouble re-integrating into normal society, especially when his post-war symptoms begin to manifest as deadly hallucinations.

What was your inspiration?

I have a friend who came back from Afghanistan with a lot of interesting stories and experiences. Being a writer, I let some of those stories spin out of control in my mind until I came up with a psychologically damaged character with an eerie story of his own. I was born and raised in Kentucky so I knew a lot of storytellers growing up, and I wanted this weird, mental, pseudo-ghost story to be told in that Kentucky front-porch-gathering style, so a lot of the dialogue is pretty heavily southern.

Do you (or have you) intend to write more about these characters or in this universe?

Nope. I have a real creative wanderlust, so I find it tedious to stick with one person or group of people for too long. I guess there might come a day when I run out of stories to tell, or characters to exploit, and I might go back and revisit some folks from the past, but as of now I have no intention of coming back to the characters in this story.

Tell me, in a sentence or two, what your novella is about.

 I could write a few sentences about the plot, but I don’t think that’s what the novella is really about. I think it’s about an extremely damaged and broken woman – a woman who in a metropolis of Lovecraftian monstrosities is a greater monstrosity by virtue of being actually less monstrous (in the Lovecraftian way) - who is trying to simultaneously make herself better than circumstances and life have made her (as we all do) and discover the origins and purpose of her existence.
What was your inspiration?

Well, I’ve wanted for a number of years to write another long piece set in my colossal Lovecraftian megalopolis of Obsidia, so I decided to combine that with a setting that drew on the many years I’ve spent in the corporate world, in particular the publishing industry. There was an embarrassment of riches to draw on, I have to say.

Do you (or have you) intend to write more about these characters or in this universe?

I do intend to, but I can’t reveal anything more at this point. But, yes, readers will definitely see this protagonist and this world again – a number of times, in fact!


Tell me, in a sentence or two, what your novella is about.

A race of alien berserkers invades an airport and tries to take it (and maybe the rest of the world...) over by bloody, brutal force.

What was your inspiration? 

A few things. The idea itself came to me on vacation. I was standing in line at the gate, waiting to board a plane, and the woman in front of me was just so incredibly annoying... I imagined a gruesome death for her, and my story started to take shape. I also took some inspiration from the Clickers series (one of my favorites!), action movies, friends, family, and what have you. It's sort of a mash up love story/ode to everything good in my life that just happens to be populated by hungry, carnivorous aliens.

Do you (or have you) intend to write more about these characters or in this universe? 

I started a sequel to tell the rest of the story about a week after I finished the first draft. Hopefully, it will see publication someday...

The curator of this phenomenal collection, Mr. Brian Keene himself, also answered a few questions for me:

Daughters of Inanna is a very different project than anything you've worked on in the past. What inspired the idea for the collection?
Each year's Maelstrom set is designed with the same goal in mind -- one of the books is always by an author I enjoy, and that I think my readership would enjoy. It's a good way of convincing buyers to take a chance on that writer. Previous years have included Kelli Owen, Sarah Pinborough, John Urbancik, Geoff Cooper, and others. This year, I wanted to promote four writers instead of one. I thought if we did an anthology--something similar to NIGHT VISIONS or 4X4, that would be a good way to go.

 You've selected writers with very diverse styles and approaches, tell me a bit about that decision.

When I started going over my short list of  authors I wanted to use, I saw your four names (Chesya, Amber, Rachel, and Livia) and decided to reach out to the four of you. To be honest, once you all said yes, it also provided me a chance to champion diversity -- something which I try to do in my own writing, but here was a chance to do it from the publishing side. Diversity is something that is important to Paul at Thunderstorm, as well, and he happily agreed with the line-up.

Were you hoping for somewhat of a cohesive theme, or is the vast array of topics, styles and themes by design?

All four of you have VERY different voices and styles. You're writing very much in the vein of J.F. Gonzalez, Livia's got a real Clive Barker meets Thomas Ligotti kind of vibe, Chesya's novella is sort of Southern Gothic by way of Joyce Carol Oates, and Rachel is resonating with Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon. All of which are exactly what I'd hoped four -- to showcase a broad range of voices and styles that will appeal to the widest variety of readers.

(Author's note: I have to admit to getting a little choked up when Brian compared me to J.F. Gonzalez, one of my literary heroes and the very first interview ever posted on my blog)


There you have it! The inside scoop! Now go order it already!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Identity or What's In A Name?

As many of you are aware, I just got married. With that came many changes. Ok, who am I kidding? Almost nothing has changed. My new husband and I are still stupidly in love. We still hang out with our dogs and play video games and D&D in our spare time. He's still my biggest fan, friend, and advocate. I still cherish every moment we spend together. So what, you may ask, has really changed?
My name.
Yeah, I know, obvious and small, right? Well, obvious sure. But small? Not at all.
While I still have the same initials (in all honesty, only 2 letters in my last name are actually different) everything has changed.
As you may have noticed, I've hung up the old "Alyn Day" cleats. I'd like to take a moment or two to explain why, especially to those of you that knew me only by that name.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time going down the negative path leading back to why I chose to use a pen name to begin with. After all, this is a happy, exciting, wonderful time for me and I really don’t want to dwell on bad experiences or past miseries, but I know that some of you may have questions, so hopefully the next few paragraphs will answer them for you. If not, feel free to poke me onTwitter.
There were a lot of reasons I chose to use a pseudonym even before I began my writing career. I’d been born with a name that wasn’t given to me out of love or pride or anything like that, but more out of obligation. I was never allowed to forget that as a child, either. I knew the man that gave me my last name never wanted me to have it, and in fact, he told me several times over the course of my childhood that I was disgracing it. It’s a pretty unique name, too, so there was no use pretending otherwise. The name made me recognizable as well to people my father had pissed off or owed money to and they didn’t hesitate to vent their displeasure at me, his daughter, even after he’d disowned me and I’d moved to the other side of the country.
I also worried that my father himself would track me down and demand or beg for money. He has the sort of reputation that would lead me to fear something like that. After the way I was raised and the hand he had in that, I’d rather he not be able to locate me, at least without expending some serious effort.
I also had a very traumatizing experience with a stalker. No, not the infamous Tony G situation some of you may recall, this was years before that happened. I was in college. It was bad. The depraved slimeball behind it ended up behind bars. Not because he terrorized me for months on end, but for child pornography and violating the terms of his probation. But my issues with him had brought those transgressions to the attention of the authorities, so in a way I guess I’m to blame for his incarceration. I worried that he’d find me online, through social media or otherwise, once he was released. Whether he wanted to apologize or begin the nightmare anew didn’t matter. I wanted to be hidden from him.
Lastly, I spent many years being told that I’d never be a writer from a number of sources. My father, teachers and professors, friends and romantic partners all discouraged me from pursuing my love of scribery and horror. I can’t tell you how many times my dreams of seeing my name in print were mocked, made fun of, or were flat out disparaged. I never had aspirations of being the next Stephen King, either. While that would be awesome, it wasn’t what I was hoping for. I wasn’t even looking to write for a living, I just wanted something that was mine, that I had penned, with my name on the cover, to hold and to sign and maybe to donate to a library, a dream that tens of thousands of people have realized. It might seem foolish, maybe even pathetic, that I believed them, but after so much time with so much discouragement and so very little in the way of support or belief, you begin to question yourself and your talents. Maybe they were right. Maybe I was being stupid. Maybe I’d try and fail spectacularly. Creating a pen name to write under was a way for me to distance myself from that possibility. It wouldn’t be me putting my name on the line, facing rejections and dealing with the potential for harsh critiques and even death threats from people who didn’t like my work, it would be Alyn. (Which started as A. Lynn, short for Amber Lynn, before I did away with the initial and squashed it into one name).
But now, all of that is behind me. Now I have a new name, one that was given to me by a man who loves me and values me for who I am, who believes in me and supports me and my writing career, who acts as editor, muse, prereader, and sounding board for my ideas, and who has even gone as far as helping me act out scenes from my current WIPs, just so I can be sure I have the angle of the knife swing or the grip on that machete right when I put it down on paper.
I’m proud to carry his name, my new name. I’d like to shout it from the rooftops, but the last time I did something like that, the neighbors got mad. (Kidding!... well, mostly) so instead, I’m sharing it in other ways. Social media, of course, my blog, business cards (for the day job) and now my writing. Everything I do going forward will be under my awesome new name, starting with the novella I wrote for this year’s Maelstrom set from Thunderstorm Books. I’m thrilled to be a part of that project, even moreso because it will be the first thing I have published under the name Amber Fallon.
I hope everyone understands the reasons for the name change, and I hope that all of you will continue to share your friendship, support, and amusing cat videos with me long into my bright, beautiful future. I wouldn’t be here without all of you. I will always cherish the legacy of everything I built as Alyn and I hope to continue to build on that as Amber, finally stepping out as who I really am, who I’ve always wanted to be.

Friday, June 19, 2015


My little brother died yesterday. He would've been 30 years old on November 18th.

Why was it so easy to write posts about people I'd met a handful of times, and writing about my own brother is so hard?

We weren't very close. I hadn't seen him in about 15 years. There was some bad blood between us. Stuff that seems so meaningless now.

He loved Halloween. He loved music. He loved The Rocky Horror Picture Show, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  and a silly british claymation thing called Foxy Fables. In fact, that was his screen name before he lost internet access so many years ago.

He loved Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Were Made For Walking and tinkering with old projectors and reel to reel tape machines.

He loved a cranky old siamese cat named Mylar (called Meelo) who died when he was 12, I think. Wherever he is, I hope they're together now.

He was a genius with anything electronic. He used to make improvised flashlights from old batteries and strings of broken christmas lights when we didn't have power.

When he was little, he wanted to be a heart surgeon. He used to check out this video about it from the little local library in Zionsville where we grew up. He must've watched it a hundred or more times before we moved away.

Life was really unfair to him. He deserved a lot better than he got.

He wasn't a bad person.

I still can't believe he's gone. I keep catching myself wondering if maybe it was a mistake and he's not really dead and I still have time to tell him that I forgive him and that I knew he was a better person than he thought he was. That I cared about him, even though I didn't think about him as much as I should have.

I wish things could've been different. I wish there was something I could've done.

Goodbye, Reid.