- Margaret Atwood (via cannonbonecracks)
Ouch… maybe that’s true.
THE LAST DAY - a short story
by Patrick Shand
She exhaled, cigarette smoke streaming from her mouth. Though it was August, I instantly thought of winter, when every breath turns to fog before your face.
“Pretty night,” I said, looking up at the starry sky. I nudged the ground with my sneaker, making the backyard swinging bench rock lightly.
Mackenzie put out her cigarette on the sole of her shoe, and leaned back on the swing, her red hair falling behind it. The skin of her upper arm rubbed against me as the swing moved.
“It’s alright,” she said, staring into the starry expanse. “I mean… you’ll never get too much in Long Island. Stars, I mean. Too close to the city.”
“It seems like a lot,” I said.
“That’s because you’ve never left Long Island, JF,” she said. She leaned her head against my chest, and I smelled her perfume—she was wearing the one I liked best—which badly tried to cover the smell of the weed we had smoked.
I chuckled. “Are you high?”
She seemed normal—I mean, you could tell when she was really gone, because you’d lose 98% of the food in your house in a period of ten minutes—and I wasn’t that high either. We didn’t have rolling papers, so I had to rip a page out of a book and roll the weed in that. When we smoked, we mostly tasted the paper, so I’m not sure how much it could’ve worked. I did feel off though, as if I were halfway there. My chest felt tight, like there was a pocket of air caught under my sternum trying to push its way through my bones.
“We should’ve saved it, probably,” I said.
She sat up straight. I saw in her eyes that she was tired, maybe wanted me to drive her home, but I didn’t want her to leave so I didn’t pursue it.
“I wanna draw this. The sky,” she said.
“I thought you didn’t think it was that nice,” I said.
A sly smile made its way across her lips and she stuck her tongue out at me. “I changed my mind, Troy.”
I couldn’t help but smile too. I loved when she called me that. Probably because she was the only person I knew—not counting family, of course—who sometimes called me something other than JF. The name “Troy” may not be a great name, but hell, it’s better than JF. People have been calling me JF since fifth grade. It stands for “Jew fro.” Not something you’d like to be known for, eh? I mean, it’s something that even my friends call me, so it isn’t like I go home and cry about it. It’s just nice to be called something real once and a while.
“Want me to go inside, get a pencil or something? Paper?” I said. “I could…”
“No, no. Let’s just sit here.”
“Not a problem.” And it wasn’t. Some of the best moments, at least in recent years, were spent sitting here with Mackenzie. Watching her long red hair spread across the flower-patterned cushion of the swing-bench, like fire raining down on a bed of daisies. She was beautiful, and I think that I might have loved her, if I even knew what the word meant. She probably knew.
For a long time, we stared up into the sky. Every now and then, a plane would pass. It sort of shattered the image, seeing something man-made careening across the sky, but we still watched anyway. I’m not sure how much time passed before we saw it, because what happened before and what happened after really doesn’t matter.
Mackenzie and I saw it at the same time. Mostly, it looked like a clamshell. A closed, metal clamshell, round but flat. There was light coming from it, but not the blinking sort of light that comes from a plane. It was more of a glow, like the white-hot light of a star captured in the sides of this craft. I stared into the sky, incredulously watching it move, my mind churning at overdrive.
“A balloon?” Mackenzie murmured, but I didn’t answer. I laid my hand over hers, and she turned her hand over, locking her fingers between mine as we watched the thing in the sky.
I might have believed it was a balloon or some kind of man-made craft if it didn’t move like that. Its movement was smooth, more like a tiny fish gliding underwater than anything flying through the sky. It was fast, so incredibly fast, that a blink would cause you to miss half the spectacle. It was over before we could truly marvel at it; the thing, the craft, glided so quickly into the distance, descending on a downward angle as it went. At that rate, it would surely crash into the canal just beyond the Northern Woods… But seconds, a minute passed, and I heard nothing.
I was about to say something to Mackenzie, but when I turned to her, I was caught by her excited and incredulous gaze. Her face said everything. We couldn’t have seen it, but we did, we did!
For a moment, I’m sure my face said the same thing—I felt it inside, the excitement and a whole shitload of fear—but then, when I looked back towards the sky and saw that it was the same crisp sky as before, I sighed. “No,” I said, breaking the dazed silence. “No. We’re high.”
“Not really. More like buzzed. And hardly even that,” Mackenzie said.
“Well… well maybe you were right,” I said. “It was a balloon.”
“Right,” she said, cocking her eyebrow. “I’m no, er, ballooneer, but that… did you see the way it…?”
She was right. I mean, I think she was. The way it sped across the sky as if it were its natural habitat. Unlike the plane, it fit into the sky perfectly. Looked like it belonged. I might have been wrong, and there might have been some scientist or ballooneer who knew for damn sure I didn’t see what I thought I saw and could prove me wrong, but they didn’t matter. I was—we were—fairly certain.
I laughed loudly. It wasn’t a sound of mirth, more like a release of nerves. I was grinning stupidly. “I… That thing was headed down,” I said. I noticed that Mackenzie was still holding my hand. I didn’t want to let go, not to get her art supplies or to run from whatever had landed, but I looked at her, my eyes probably big as saucers, and said, “Should we, like, go inside and watch the news or something? To see if… I don’t know… anything is happening?”
I felt ridiculous saying it.
She shrugged. “Nah. Not unless you really want to. I mean… if something happens, we’ll know. Probably first.”
“Heh,” I said. Another expulsion of nerves. “Kinda scary.”
She leaned back, the strands of her long red hair flowing down the flower-patterned cushion like a river of blood. “A little. But mostly not.”
She lit another cigarette and returned to watching the sky. The tip of it glowed brightly and the tobacco crackled softly as she inhaled. She giggled, blowing a stream of smoke in my direction.
“Want one?” she asked.
Once again, she leaned back, resting her head against my chest. She does that often, switching positions and then switching back again. She tapped my chin with her index finger as if she were knocking on a door.
I looked down at her. She was looking up at the sky.
“Does it make you feel small?” she asked.
I considered this. Fact was, it didn’t matter what I may have felt—I was small. No getting around that. To the universe, everyone was. Everyone is small, and everyone is expendable. What I saw that night pretty much solidified that for me. But with Mackenzie’s head against my chest, her red hair spreading down from my heart to my lap like blood, none of that really mattered.
“No,” I said. “It doesn’t.”
“Good,” she said. “Me neither.”
GODSTORM Expanded Reading Order
A lot of people have been tweeting at me, messaging me, and blogging about how Godstorm ties into the other Zenescope titles. While all of the Grimm Fairy Tales titles are linked, there is a definitive build to the events of Godstorm. While you can definitely read the series on its own (I’d be a fool and a bad writer if you had to read supplementary comics to understand it), I figured I’d offer a somewhat official list to those who want to get the big picture.
1. Grimm Fairy Tales Annual 2012: Venus, one of the main players in Godstorm, attempts to align herself with the other power players in efforts to begin a war against humanity. This sets up the overarching storylines for her, Neptune, and Zeus. You can purchase the issue through Zenescope or digitally through Comixology.
(1.5 Grimm Fairy Tales presents… Angel one-shot: Now… I’d never write a series that absolutely required another writer’s work to be read, but this will certainly add to the overall experience. Dan Wickline, current Sleepy Hollow writer, wrote this one-shot that focused on Zeus’s daughter, Heather. I wrote a recap panel in Grimm Universe #1 that catches the audience up to speed on this character, but this is certainly worth reading. This resolves the Ares subplot from my annual.)
2. Godstorm #0: While this is part of Godstorm and directly sets up Zeus’s arc and Zagreus as an impending threat, I purposely wrote it so that it adds to the experience while not being essential to understand #1-4. It’s a prologue, sure, but it has ramifications, character-wise and especially thematically, throughout the series. You can purchase the issue through Zenescope or digitally through Comixology.
3. Grimm Universe #1: This just came out today! It picks up Neptune’s story from the annual and takes it in a really dark direction. Hades plays a big part, and Heather does as well. This standalone story sets a lot of things up for the overall direction of Grimm Fairy Tales as a fictional universe, but also sets up character arcs for Neptune and Heather that will play into Godstorm #3-4. This is in stores right now and just hit Comixology for digital download.
4. Godstorm #1-4. And that’s it! Here’s the series that has all been building toward. #1 debuts at NYCC, and hits local shops next Wednesday (10/17).
Tomorrow: My New York Comic Con schedule.
On the eve of the Godstorm…
In one day, Godstorm #0 will be released in comic shops all over the country. To celebrate that, and maybe tease you a little bit, I’ll tell a little tale of how the series came to fruition.
Last April, Ralph Tedesco (editor in chief at Zenescope and co-creator of Grimm Fairy Tales) asked me to write theGrimm Fairy Tales 2012 Annual, which told the stories of Greek and Roman gods in the GFT Universe. Based on Joe Brusha’s outline, I spun a yarn about the gods of old living in modern times. Some of them have adjusted quite well - Zeus is living as a business man named Gregor Brontios, Venus is a fashion icon, and Ares is… well, still loving war, and there is no shortage of that in our world. Others… not so much. Neptune has become a homeless wanderer, and Hades has been locked in the underworld after refusing to join Venus in her plan to reclaim their former glory and take over Earth. And that really was the crux of it - Venus, not content with her fortune and fame, was rallying the troops for a war against humanity… and I was the guy that got to set it up. Very gratifying.
(GFT Annual 2012)
The issue debuted at Wizard World Philly, the first show where I hung out at the Zenescope booth. I was in my glory - the GFT Annual was out, and the day before, Raven Gregory had called me to give me the job writing Robyn Hood. At that point, I knew nothing about the book. The conversation with Raven had gone, “Pat, GUESS WHAT YOU’RE WRITING! Robyn Hood! New flagship title for Zenescope! It’s all you, man!” Annnnd that’s all I knew about that book. It was called Robyn Hood and I was writing it. I was approached by Dave Franchini from Zenescope, and he congratulated me on getting that gig. “Man, I love Robyn Hood. So, you know, don’t fuck it up,” he said (which was the best advice I’d gotten about the book - Ralph and Raven would later repeat that to me). He told me what he knew about the book, which was that Robyn was a lady (I’d assumed, and honestly hoped, because I’d already crafted a voice for the character) and that it was spelled with a “y.” Compared to what I knew about what the book would be, that was a veritable wealth of information. Then, off-handedly, he said, “Yeah, with that and Godstorm, we’re gonna have some cool stuff.” Before he could even explain, I knew what Godstorm had to be. The series that I set up in my annual - Venus going to war with the other gods and humanity to reclaim her former glory. He said he thought Joe Brusha would write it, and all I thought was, “That’s going to be one hell of a story.”
Fast-forward a bit. I’m writing Robyn Hood, and going through a bit of a personal issue. The writing was going well, but I was in a pretty bad place. I was talking to Raven, who had quickly taken on the role of more than an editor but also a personal mentor, and he was giving me advice. He was like, “No matter what goes down, just look in the mirror and be like, ‘I will get over this. There is no one like me. I’m Pat fucking Shand and I’m writing Robyn Hood. And probably Godstorm too. No one else can say that!’ Bam!” After I’d processed the advice, I asked him, a bit nervously, “Wait, what? I’m writing Godstorm?” He laughs. “I think!”
A week later, I’ve got the gig and I’m crafting a story arc from the ideas that Joe gave me and Raven. I had the freedom to really make this story, which has a giant impact on the GFT Universe, my own. It follows through on the promises we set up in the annual, but it’s also a crime drama; there is the epic battles of supernatural powers you’d expect from such a title, but it’s also about a regretful father and a woman who turns his vengeful son into a weapon; it’s a completely modern story that I was able to lace with everything I love about classical literature; it’s at once the biggest, most action-packed story I’ve ever written and the quietest character piece I’ve done; it’s a strange, weird mix, and I’m pumped to see what people thing. Reviews have been strong so far, and I honestly feel good about the book, and the characters have all forced their way into my heart and brain to the point where… well, just about every day, I think, “What would Zeus (or Hades or Neptune or so on and so on and…) do if I put him in this situation…”
If anyone enjoys the book nearly as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’ll be very pleased indeed.
Hey, everybody/anybody! Zenescope Entertainment fans! Comics fans! Folks who haven’t ever opened a comic but might read my stuff! I’m taking any and all questions you might have about Robyn Hood, Godstorm, Grimm Universe, or any of the other books I’m working on. Also, any other kinds of questions.
To answer your first one, hyenas are my favorite wild animal.
I’ll be posting answers on my Tumblr. Leave ‘em here or inbox me.
Can’t Stop Growing Old
This is a short story that appears in last year’s There Was a Crooked House anthology from Pill Hill Press. You can buy that book here.
Can’t Stop Growing Old
by Patrick Shand
He always felt awkward when people took his picture. The smiles that he forced when his friends said “Cheese” looked like pained grimaces, so he had taken up making himself laugh when someone was about to snap a camera at him. It looked more genuine, but it also made him appear slightly crazed compared to the other people in the picture, who had calm, effortless smiles.
The camera flashed and Noah laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Addie asked, taking in a long drag of her cigarette. She’d recently started smoking the skinny black ones that smelled like cinnamon and cracked when you sucked in the smoke.
Noah shrugged, trying to rub the bright green spots from the flash out of his eyes. “Nothing, I guess.”
“The picture is sick,” Seth said as he jogged over to them, the camera hanging from his neck as always. “Looks creepy.”
“Thanks, asshole,” Addie said, punctuating the word with a punch to Seth’s shoulder.
“No,” Seth said, holding up the Polariod for them to see. “Look at how the flash barely hit the house. Just looks like this giant thing is creeping behind you, ready to pounce. Scary as hell.”
“Let me see,” Noah said, plucking the picture from Seth’s hand. Looking at it, he thought he looked so dull next to Addie—granted, her hair was so freshly dyed that the base of her neck and fingers were splotched with hot pink, but still. Still. Before he even realized what he was doing, he stuffed the picture into his pocket.
“What the hell, man?” Seth said, going to snatch it back.
“Let me have it,” Noah said, forcing another laugh and pushing him away. “You’re right, it is creepy. I want to put it up on my wall.”
“Whatever,” Seth said, sucking his teeth. “I don’t need your ugly faces in my shit anyway. We came for this.”
He pointed the camera beyond them at the dark, shadowy Crooked House.
The house had earned its status as a proper noun long before any of them were born. It was hard for such a house not to become a legend: each side was painted a different color (blue, purple, red, yellow), no one had lived there as long as anyone could remember, and, as per the name, the side of the house had sunken so deep into the ground that the house was harshly tilted to the right.
Also, because all small towns needed one of these, it functioned as the local haunted house. The stories varied, as they often do, but Noah’s friends were convinced that the ghost of Old Man Aubey, who went mad and tortured his wife and daughters to death, roamed the halls, reenacting his family’s murders on anyone who dared to enter.
Noah, who had always been fascinated with the Crooked House, discovered through a simple internet search that Aubey Shellman was never married, died from natural causes at the age of ninety-six, and never even lived in the Crooken House. He didn’t tell that to Addie and Seth, though, because he didn’t want to ruin the fun. They’d been talking about breaking into the house since they met in freshmen year of high school and, now that they were seniors, they were finally going to see if they could get in.
“You done?” Addie asked. She grabbed Noah’s hand, curling her fingers into his.
“What are you doing?” he asked, trying to hold back the smile that was creeping across his face.
“Think I’m walking into a haunted house without a hand to hold?” Addie said, raising a brown eyebrow. “You give me more credit than I deserve, bucko.”
“You guys are seriously gonna hold hands?” Seth asked, snorting. “Do you want me to run to the store? I can pick up some diapers.”
“Yeah yeah,” Noah said, taking the first step forward. This time, with Addie’s hand in his, he didn’t have to force a smile.
The three of them walked across the crunchy grass that had been cooked by the summer sun. Seth leading the way, shining a flashlight at the broken steps to make sure none of their feet went through the holes that were surely filled with spiders and worms. They walked around the wraparound porch to the side of the house, where they found a broken window that left a tight entryway for Seth, who used the cuff of his shirt to brush off some remaining shards of glass.
“Maybe you should’ve skipped out on that last double bacon cheeseburger,” Addie called after him, poking Seth’s round belly a moment as pushed himself through. He hit the floor on the other side with a thunderous crash. Noah and Addie glanced in to see if he had hurt himself, but saw that he was already taking pictures of the room from the floor.
“Maybe you should’ve skipped out on that whole being born thing,” he said in a high pitched screech that one could only assume was his attempt at mocking Addie’s voice.
“You’re so clever,” Noah said. He looked at Addie then, as if to silently ask if she wanted to go first.
She nodded, let go of his hand, and, with a toss of pink hair over her shoulder, she stealthily slipped through the window like a cat. There was barely a sound when she landed inside on her feet.
Noah didn’t find it quite so easy peasy, but his entrance was less theatrical than Seth’s. He stumbled a bit when he landed, slipping on the heavy coat of dust that carpeted the wooden floor, but Addie was there to grab his arm, steadying him. He grinned at her, but it was too dark for them to see anything but shadows.
“We totally have to have a summer party here,” Seth said, walking through the bare, dark room. As soon as he stepped away from them with the flashlight, the room fell into inky darkness. Noah reached out to grab Addie’s hand again, this time out of instinct, but she had already walked past him to follow Seth. Noah stuffed his hand into his pocket and caught up.
They moved to the next room up, which had obviously been the living room. The skeleton of a couch leaned against a wall, just a wooden frame with yellowed foam clinging to it in places. Seth slowly handed Addie the flashlight and reached into his pack, pulling out a tiny camcorder. He flipped open the screen and began recording.
“Night vision,” he said, giggling like an excited child. “Looks so cool.”
Addie held the flashlight close to her chest, casting more light on her face than the actual room. Her usually confident grin was replaced with a tight, nervous line.
“You okay?” Noah asked.
“I hate to be the stereotypical girl,” Addie said. “That is so fucking lame. But why do you guys seem like you just walked into any old house? This is the Crooked House. Can’t… I don’t know, can’t you feel it?”
“You misunderstand, dear Addie,” Seth said. “I’m not afraid to admit that I’m scared shitless. I fully believe that this place in haunted. Got absolutely no doubt. I’m putting that fear aside, though. Do you know how badass this footage is gonna look?”
Addie looked at Noah, shining the light in his face. He blinked and feigned a smile. “I am. I am scared,” he lied.
“Good,” she said. “Good. At least I’m not alone.”
Noah watched Addie and Seth explore the room, pointing at little drawings on the walls that suggested that maybe people had visited the house before them. Whatever creepy feeliog Addie felt, Noah didn’t. In fact, the only thing he could feel was the physical pain in his chest that was his sudden and disturbing longing for Addie. They’d been casual friends all through high school, hanging out in a group every now and then. She always had some punk boyfriend with a two foot tall Mohawk or five rings in his face. Noah never got to talk to her much until the month before they snuck into the Crooked House, when Addie came to his house the week before finals and begged him to help her study for her English 12 test. They ended up making out on Noah’s bed, her then blue hair spread over his pillow like a piece of sky.
She hadn’t mentioned it and she hadn’t made another move, which he was pretty sure meant that he was being rejected. He was nothing like any of the guys she ever dated. He didn’t have crazy hair or any facial piercing or even any t-shirts with band names on them… but sometimes when she smiled at him, he thought she might have felt the same way.
No, the Crooked House wasn’t scaring him. Being close to Addie, from holding her hand to when they approached the porch to when she helped steady him, was making him anything but frightened.
They went down the hallway which ramped down to the sunken part of the house. Seth opened every door in the hall as they walked, peering in and snapping pictures and nothing in particular. Even Addie’s fear visibly dissipated when each step forward confirmed what Noah had suspected all along: the house was nothing but a trashed, abandoned, tilted structure.
They finally reached the door at the end of the hall. The floor had become so slanted that they had to lean against the wall in order not to fall into the room when they opened up the door.
“What’s in there?” Addie asked Seth, who was peering into the room through his camera.
“I don’t know. The night vision isn’t…” he said. “I think something’s wrong with the camera…”
She reached over him and shined the flashlight into the room, but the beam of light just disappeared into the darkness.
“Know that creepy feeling I mentioned before?” Addie asked. “Yeah, that’s back.”
“What the…” Seth took a step toward the room, holding the camcorder out in front of him as if it were a sword. He took a big step forward and disappeared into the black. Addie moved forward to follow him, but stopped suddenly, her forehead wrinkling in concern.
“What’s in there?” she called.
Seth didn’t respond.
“Stop messing around!” she cried.
Addie turned to Noah. Without the beam of the flashlight, she just looked like a black shape. But he could feel the heat of her breath when she came close and said, “Do you think he’s messing around?”
“Definitely,” Noah said. “Let’s just go in. I’m sure it’s nothing.” He took the opportunity to grab Addie’s hand again and pull her through the door. They walked into absolutely darkness, looking for the glow of Seth’s camera.
There was nothing.
“I’m scared,” Addie whispered.
“Don’t be,” Noah said, squeezing her hand. “I’m here.”
“Oh, great, Noah’s here,” Addie said. “What the hell are you going to do against a…”
“Against a what?” he said, laughing despite himself. The flashlight and night vision not working had made him start to question his surety that they were just walking through a normal old house, as stupid as he knew that was.
“I don’t know! Don’t laugh at me!” she hissed.
“Sorry,” Noah said. With his free hand, he reached out in front of him like a blind person without a walking stick. They took slow step after slow step together. When the door closed behind them with a groan, the impenetrable darkness seemed to melt away, and an inviting, warm, red glow filled the room. Noah and Addie looked around the room and saw that they were in a completely empty wooden chamber. There was no lamp for the light to be coming from. There was no Seth.
“Where is he?” Addie whispered.
Noah shrugged, trying to remain composed. He knew that if he began to panic, Addie would lose it, so to give himself something to concentrate on, he began to scan the room for a source of light. “There’s no lamp,” he said. “What is this?”
“I’m ten minutes past wishing we didn’t come, Noah,” Addie said. “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
She ripped her hand from Noah’s and made to walk to the door, but right before she could reach out for it, she fell to the ground and began convulsing violently, her body flopping against the wooden floor with hollow thuds.
“Addie!” Noah cried and made to kneel down to her, but the moment he bent forward, he felt all the blood rush to his head. He tried to stable himself, but it suddenly felt as if every vein in his body tightened, cutting through his muscles, wrapping themselves around his bones, squeezing. He tried to cry out, but the darkness swallowed his scream. The red light grew brighter and brighter until it felt as if it was so hot that his eyes were melting. He squeezed his lids shut and then, he saw—
Noah leaves house. Goes home. Has quiet summer. Goes to college. Meets girls. Nothing serious. Good grades. Wins scholarships. Gets degree. Grows older. Builds connections. Gets job. Drawing for company. Moves up. Does what he wants. Grows older. Meets girl. Good artist. Good wife. Good kids. Future. Grows older. Cancer. Doesn’t hurt long. Dies holding wife’s wrinkled, cold, wonderful hand.
“—you okay? Oh my God, Noah, get up, get up, get up! We have to get out of here!”
Noah blinked. He saw legs. Long, smooth legs in front of his face, not hands with paper thin skin. He followed the legs up to see Addie’s pretty face twisted into a mask of panic made worse by the red glow of the room.
“Noah, get the hell up!”
His mind racing, his legs shaking violently, Noah put his arm against the wall and pushed himself to his feet. He took in a deep, steadying breath and then turned to look at Addie. He remembered seeing her seizing on the floor just a moment ago… or a lifetime ago, he couldn’t tell.
“What did you see?” he asked, his mind still racing with memories of a life that he hadn’t lived. “Did you see… I don’t know, something?”
She looked at him, her glazed eyes looking like embers in the red light, and tried to respond, but the sound that came out of her was broken.
“No,” she whispered, her voice quivering. “I didn’t.”
Noah knew to stop pushing, but he was dying to know what she’d seen… if he featured at all in whatever she had seen. He wondered why she wasn’t in his… whatever it was. He wondered what the red light was, what the room was, what the house was, and why it was putting these images in their heads.
But then, when he saw tears begin to dribble down Addie’s face, all of his questions sank to the back of his mind, and he walked over to her. He slowly, tentatively wrapped his arms around her. She put her forehead against his.
She choked out, “Why am I being so weak? Why are you…”
“What did you see?” Noah whispered. “Please… tell me.”
“I saw…” she said. “I saw my life. I saw me, older. It was so… fucking normal. I was a goddamn housewife. A housewife. Me. With a fucking rich husband like every woman I hate. Why the hell… Why…”
The red light once again started to brighten. Addie buried her face into Noah’s chest, turning away from it.
“I don’t want to see it again. I can’t.”
“I’m here this time,” he said. “Hold my hand.” He clasped both of his hands over hers and, once again, felt the burn of the light. This time, however, they didn’t fall. They just closed their eyes and—
Noah and Addie leave house. Go home. Lovely summer. Kissing. Sex. Holding hands. College. Alone. Noah leaves college. Addie leaves the state. Noah begs, Addie listens but she feel nothing but pity… sympathy. Rocky year. Kissing. Sex. Growing older. Addie feels cold. Addie looks grey. Noah is alone when Addie is with him. Growing older. Noah believes that he made a mistake. Addie never wanted him. Addie never wanted anything. Noah always wanted too much. They grow older and they are very, very alone. Noah’s cancer. Feels like boulders growing from his insides. Long, useless fight. Dies alone. Addie grows older and older and older and die on a sofa while watching a soap opera she never cared about, clutching a badly knit mitten in her gnarled hands.
The light slowly dimmed until the red was only a dull glow.
This time, Addie didn’t beg him to leave. She just looked at him, her mouth hanging slightly open.
He turned away from her, letting go of her hand. He couldn’t look at her, not now, not after that, not after living with her not loving him for the rest of his life, not after…
“What did you see, Noah?”
He sat on the floor, away from her. She stood over him, looking beautiful, looking like something he wanted more than anything in the world. Only then did he realize that he was back in the room of the Crooked House, not… not where he’d been. He clenched his teeth to keep from crying.
“Us,” he replied simply, his voice like a scratch on cardboard.
She put her hand over her mouth. Noah didn’t know if it was to stop herself from crying again or to stifle a scream. He felt like doing both. He’d felt himself with her, felt himself love her, felt her not love him back, felt the desire to end it all, to hurt her, to die…
And here he was, back again, wanting to do nothing but hold her close and tell her it was okay, that it wasn’t real.
To kiss her.
He got up and started to move toward her, but again, before he could reach her, the red light fell over the room like a wave.
Leaves house, goes home, quiet summer, college, girls, scholarships, degree, job, wife, kids, future, dies, hands, wonderful hands, and—
They stood in the room, looking in each other’s eyes. Tears flowed down both of their faces, both from the sting of the light and the sting of what they were seeing.
“Did you see it again?” Noah asked. “I saw—”
“What you saw the first time,” Addie said. “That’s what I saw. I saw the first…”
He took a step toward her. “I have an idea. I think I know what’s going on.”
“I’m going to kiss you,” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Can’t we just leave? Can’t we…”
“I’m going to kiss you, but when you’re done seeing what you’re seeing, you have to stop me,” Noah said. “Because I know I won’t be able to.”
She stared at him for a moment, the color completely drained from her skin, leaving her face a perfect white canvas for the red glow. Finally, she nodded and closed her eyes.
He stepped up to her and rested the side of his face against her cool cheek. When the light started to brighten, he softly put his lips on hers, kissing her goodbye.
The red blotted out all else but their thoughts, and then—
Noah and Addie, summer, kissing, sex, hands, alone, leaving, begging, listening, compromising, kissing, cold, alone, old, mistakes, cancer, pain, death, older, alone, and—
Addie broke the kiss.
When Noah realized that he was back in the room, he felt her hand on his face, her eyes looking down at the red washed floor.
“We’re seeing what happens if…” she whispered.
“I know,” he said, turning away again, trying to hold the sob in, trying to trap it in his chest.
“Hey,” she said, walking over to him. “Hey, hey, hey. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
“How is any of that okay?” he said, realizing a second too late that he wasn’t able to hold it. He let out a wail and pressed his face into Addie’s neck, feeling the suddenly familiar press of her skin into his. He’d lived it all. Before he’d walked into the Crooked House with her, he wondered if she wanted to date him for the rest of the summer. Now, he’d loved her for two entire lifetimes. He’d died alone because of her, but he couldn’t stop it. He just wanted to kiss her again.
“Shhhhh,” she said. “Shhhhh.”
The light began to glow brighter.
Noah looked at it, realized that he was still holding Addie close, knowing what he was about to see again.
He closed his eyes, ready to embrace it.
Gently, Addie put her hands on his chest and pushed him away. He looked at her, almost unable to see through the blinding red glow.
She shook her head.
“But…” he said. The light faltered, dimming, as if it were waiting for them. “But you weren’t even happy the first time. You lived all… normal. You’re Addie, you’re not… you’re not going to be a housewife. You’re not…”
“I don’t know what I’m going to,” she said. “But I’m creeped out. And I’m tired of seeing this shit. And I don’t know what the hell it is, but I know it shows us something horrible every time we’re… Let’s just go, Noah.”
He looked at her for a moment, her pink hair blending into the red light, her pretty face scrunched and strained from what she’d seen, her hands hanging empty at her sides.
He shook his head. “I’ll see you later.”
For a moment, it seemed as if she were going to protest, to make him come with her. But just as the light started to flood the room again, she turned away, leaving Noah in the room alone, enveloped by the glow.
He saw many things before he left the room. He walked through the blackness, into the hall, through the living room, into the kitchen, through the window, and onto the porch, where he found Seth curled in the fetal position next to a few shards of broken glass.
“Are you okay?” Noah asked, his voice emotionless, drained.
Seth looked at Noah, his pupils dilated. “What did you see?”
Noah shrugged, looking past the house at the hill where Seth took a picture of him and Addie. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out the picture, and said, “Myself. Getting older.”
“I saw me… and my cameras,” Seth said, his voice wavering. He looked over his shoulder. Noah followed his gaze and saw the broken camcorder and the ruined Polaroid in pieces behind him. “I was taking pictures of… I was… alone.” He began to cry, holding his knees to his chest as his body shook with sobs.
Noah looked at the picture—the last Seth would ever take.
“That seems to be going around.”
When Noah finished college four years later, he decided to invite everyone he’d ever known to his graduation party. The more guests, the more generous gifts for me, he figured. A few of his closest college buddies came out to celebrate, but since the party was back home at his parent’s house, the majority of the people who were eating his chips and drinking his beer were classmates he barely remembered from high school.
He was, however, glad to see Seth. He hadn’t even seen his old friend enter, but just found him in the corner, playing a game on his phone.
“Hey man!” Noah said, reaching out his hand.
Seth looked up from the game, smiled briefly, and took Noah’s hand in his. They shook. “Congrats.”
“Thanks,” Noah said. “So… long time no see, talk, communicate in any way whatsoever.”
“Yeah,” Seth said, forcing a chuckle. “Weird how that shit happens.” He glanced down at his phone.
“Weird, yeah,” Noah said. “Listen, we should totally get together sometime. I mean, we haven’t really talked since the summer of senior year. I have so much to learn about what it means to be Seth now!”
“Not much to say,” he said, this time not even faking a smile. “Not many surprises when you already know how it ends..”
Seth shook his head. “Forget about it.”
For the first time in a while, Noah began to feel the familiar creeping sensation that he associated with a pulsing red glow. Trying to ignore the feeling, he feigned a smile as if someone was about to take his picture and walked away from Seth, who was too busy fiddling with his phone to notice.
Feeling suddenly uneasy, Noah moved through the crowded room. No one looked at him. No one said anything to him. He wondered if they really cared.
He walked out the back door, looking for Dave, his college roommate, but the only person outside was a brunette smoking a thin, black cigarette that smelled like cinnamon.
“Excuse me,” he said, stepping past her.
“You’re very not excused,” she said. “Not even a ‘hello’?”
Noah turned around, squinting at the girl. She was pretty, if a bit plain. He vaguely recognized her but couldn’t put his finger on it, which he could tell was making her more and more pissed by the minute. The moment she stood up, whipped around, and flicked the cigarette at the ground, Noah was hit by a memory of a girl with pink hair turning around and making her way to a the door, and then falling, shaking…
She froze, her hand on the knob. “We have a winner,” she said, not turning to look at him.
“I can’t believe you came,” he said, and before he could stop himself, he reached out and grabbed her hand. For some reason he couldn’t explain, as soon as he felt her skin on his, he braced himself for something, but when nothing came, he looked up at Addie. He was just holding her limp hand.
“I can’t believe I came either,” she said.
“You look good,” he said. He looked at her hair. Her clothes. “You look different.”
“Gotta grow up, I guess,” she said, letting her hand slip out of his. “You know that better than anyone. College graduate, huh? How many of these fucks in our senior class can say that?”
Noah shrugged. “I don’t know any of them, really.”
“Why’d you invite them, then?”
“Figured they’d bring money. Or at least a completely ingenuine thank you card. But it looks as if they kinda just want my beer.”
She chuckled but didn’t meet his gaze.
“So how have you been?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Sort of a balance between being perpetually creeped out and at awe with how old I’m getting. I’m twenty-two, yet I remember how it felt to run barefoot to the ice cream truck when I was seven. How did we get so damn old?”
“If an actual, honest-to-God old person heard you say that, I think they’d laugh. We’re still young, Addie,” Noah said.
Addie shook her head. “I guess. Can’t stop growing older, though.”
Noah took another step up so they were on eye level. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in four years.”
“Time flies and all that cliché bull.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just… I guess you’re right. These past four years seem like… Well, honestly, sometimes it seems like they just stretched on forever and I can remember every little detail. But when I think back, when I think about where I’ve been, I…”
He looked down, searching for the words.
“Yeah?” Addie said.
“When I wonder where all the time has gone, for some reason… all I can picture is a red glow and a crooked house,” he said.
Addie closed her eyes, biting her lip. “Stop.”
“Sometimes, all I can think about is that house,” Noah said.
He reached out and touched her soft brown hair, beginning to remember things he hadn’t in a while, things he’d tucked safely into the deep corners of his brain in order to preserve his sanity. He remembered how she saw herself as normal. Saw something that she didn’t want to be.
“Are you happy?” he asked softly.
She took a step back from him. “Working on it. Are you… you know?”
Noah thought about it for a second. “Kind of almost there, I think.”
“Good,” she said. “I’m glad.”
With another word, she walked back into the house and disappeared into the crowd of people that he didn’t know.
Even though it was his own graduation party, Noah walked in the opposite direction, away from his house, down the road, up a hill, and found himself on the porch of a colorful crooked house. He looked at the broken camera on the floor, wondering what Seth had seen that had ruined him. He looked inside the house and wondered what kind of a wife Addie would be for someone else. He looked back down at the wooden planked patio and, moving a pile of leaves aside, found a faded picture of a young boy with a goofy smile and a beautifully strange girl with pink hair. His arm was draped awkwardly but carefully around her, and her head rested on his. The menacing silhouette of a crooked house crouched behind them, looming over them, looking down on them, waiting for them.
Reflection On: Grimm Fairy Tales 2012 Annual
Grimm Fairy Tales 2012 Annual, which I wrote, comes out today. I drove to the comic shop, bought some copies, grabbed the rest of my pulls, and headed home. I just finished reading the book through and, even though I’ve obviously seen the completed comic before, it still felt a bit magical (cheesy as that is) having it in front of me like this. It’s my fifth comic in total and my third time playing in Zenescope’s Grimm universe, but I just can’t get past the sense of excitement. I’ve got comics coming out nearly every month from here on out, and I hope to never lose this sense of joy of getting to participate in the grand, epic, longform story that is Grimm Fairy Tales.
Writing comics really is the best job in the world.
From now on, I think it’ll be cool to write something here every time I put out a comic. Whether it be commentary, a reflection, a story about the comic, or something else entirely, it’ll be a fun way to celebrate.
I actually knew about the GFT annual before I knew I was going to write it. I’d seen Sean Chen’s cover to the issue and Mike Debalfo’s cover to GFT: Angel one-shot (which continues some story threads from my annual) around the time I was finishing up co-writing this year’s GFT: April Fools with Ralph Tedesco. My thought upon seeing those covers and hearing what those books were about was, “Man… it would be awesome if I got to write one of those.” Very shortly after, Ralph reached out to me about scripting the Annual, and I enthusiastically agreed.
For those familiar with the Grimm universe, this issue finally puts the spotlight on Venus (who will go on to co-star with the other devious GFT villains in the BAD GIRLS miniseries, coming next month). Zenescope has been building to a big Greek/Roman god arc for a long time now, since introducing Venus in the back of the ninth Grimm Fairy Tales trade. Raven Gregory built on the mythology of the gods in his recent arc on GFT, and it was an honor to spend this Annual with the diabolical Venus as she puts the final pieces of her plan together.
For newcomers, and I hope there are a few of you, I tried to write the Annual as if it’s the epic first act of badass fantasy movie. At it’s core, it’s a story about rebuilding and feeling out of place - the time of gods is over, so what does that mean for the gods? What is their place? Where do these epic Greek/Roman mythological figures fit in? Do they assimilate or do they destroy?
I was an English major in college, and spent a lot of time studying, reading, and writing about these myths. It’s a dream come true to get to write comics in general, but a special privilege to write a comic with Venus, Zeus, Hades, and more. You really can’t get more iconic than these characters, and I hope I’ve done them (and Joe Brusha’s epic plot) justice. If anyone has as much fun reading it as I had writing it, I’ll be pleased.
“Just” Work for Hire
I went back and forth about whether or not I’d actually write this post, but I think it’s pretty important. I’ve been lucky enough in my career in comics to meet a bunch of awesome and talented people, and I’m grateful for that. I read a comic today that made me pretty mad, though, and it made me decide to write a post about an experience I had with the writer of said book at this past New York Comic Con.
This writer is a really well-known creator of a bunch of wonderful indie books. Books I love. When NYCC rolled around, though, his latest release was the first issue of a series he’d written for a company owned property. I still respect and love the guy’s work, so I won’t give anymore than that. Anyway, I walked up to his booth, did the whole “nice to meet you” thing, and told him how much I loved his first issue of _________.
He looked at me as if I’d just said “Would you like a bite of this shit sandwich, good sir? I made it myself. Just now.”
Nervous that I’d somehow walked up to the wrong table, I laughed and said, “You… you did write that book, right?”
He nodded and said, “Yeah, but it was just work for hire. Did it a while ago. I guess they’re putting it out now.”
Flabbergasted and a bit put off, I nodded, talked with him for a minute or two more, bought one of his other books, and left. Hoping he was just having an off day, I went online and searched to see if he had posted anything about having written this book. Annnd he did. He did an interview that talked about that book and another property he was writing (one that I love). In this interview, his response was dismissive of the interviewer’s question and he even reiterated that both of these projects were work for hire, so that the devout fans shouldn’t expect much.
I was let down that a creator I respect would say this about any work of his, much less work that I enjoyed. And as his just-work-for-hire series went on, I noticed the drop in quality every issue. As it went on, the levels of shits not given increased exponentially, climaxing in the final issue, which I got around to reading today.
And here’s my thoughts. Some pretty cool blog recently described me as an “up-and-coming comics writer” so I’ll go with that. My first gig was my dream gig… Angel. Working in a world that Joss Whedon, my writerly hero, created was more than I could have hoped for - but I only had two pages with which to tell my story. I made those two pages the best damn two pages I was capable of. And after that, did I fulfill my second dream of doing a Supergirl/Stephanie Brown/Stargirl team book? Naw, I got some work for hire. I’ve been writing comics for Zenescope ever since and, yeah, it’s work for hire, but there is no “just” in the equation. I was offered a shot at writing a good portion of their 1000 Ways to Die graphic novel. I’d never seen the show, but you can bet I watched every episode I could before I went to script.
Point is this… if you, as a writer or artist or actor or whatever, can’t find it in yourself to care about what you’re writing, then don’t write it. Just don’t write it. I am the last person to say “never write for money” because, let’s face it, that’s an inherently flawed piece of advice to give to writers. If you’re a Career Writer, what you’re doing is attempting to make a living out of writing - you write for money. The dangerous thing is when you start looking at work for hire as a “just” instead of a privilege and a challenge to live up to. Thing is, there are hundreds of other hungry, talented writers out there who would love to get their hands on the book you are currently not giving a shit about.
And so help you if you give a fan a weird look for saying they like your work, even if it’s something you just pulled out of your ass for a check. The day I do that is the day I stop writing.
Comic Book Creators
As Steve Niles said in a recent blog post, it’s time for comic book creators to start supporting each other. It’s a hard industry, so much so that I’m tempted to use a cliche jungle metaphor. I’m restraining.
I’ve felt the same way as Mr. Niles recently. Because of this (and, honestly, money issues) I’ve dropped almost all of the Big Two titles I was pulling in favor of indie books. Also, I’m finding that books like Whispers and The Unwritten are a lot more fulfilling than your average superhero fare. Emphasis very heavy on average, because there are some greatgreatgreat superhero books out. Synder, Lemire, and Spencer are completely killing it.
But that’s just my own side of things. I want to spread the love. So here. I’m encouraging you all to check out Faith Erin Hick’s webcomic, Friends with Boys. It’s funny, pretty, brilliant, and (coolest of all) different. The entire thing is posted here for free, but it would be awesome if, after reading it, you bought the hardcopy. And hey, I dare you not to want to, because this comic is so damn good that your shelf is currently weeping because it needs a copy of Friends with Boys on its empty, lonely surface.