Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ashes and Entropy Story Spotlight: I Can Give You Life by Paul Michael Anderson

Today we continue our story spotlight on the extraordinary tales that grace the interior pages of our upcoming anthology ASHES AND ENTROPY with a feature of the very first story I accepted for the book, Paul Michael Anderson's "I Can Give You Life." Here's some more about Paul:

Paul Michael Anderson is the author of Bones Are Made to be Broken (Written Backwards), which Jack Ketchum called “a dark carnival of rigorous intelligence and compassion, the title novella alone of which is well worth the price of admission” and Fangoria said, “With BONES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN, Anderson announces himself as a major talent in the dark fiction realm, capable of fashioning imaginative, bold visions.”

Anderson’s stories, articles, reviews, interviews, and introductions have appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, and websites. He teaches in northern Virginia, where he lives with his wife and daughter. You can find Paul on Twitter under the inspired handle of @p_m_anderson, or at his website

Paul's story is the longest tale accepted thus far weighing in at a whopping 17,000 words (Paul calls that a short story. Ha!). This bleak and unsettling tale of a rookie Virginia state trooper investigating a strange mysterious highway accident really sits at the deep core of what I originally envisioned for this anthology. And while that vision has expanded drastically, this piece sits grim and lovely at the center of that expansion as a fulcrum tying together the other themes and extrapolations in an original and gritty entanglement of noir and weird cosmic folk horror. Here is the opening scene:

Charlie was a rookie, so he puked, but he was still a Virginia State Trooper, so he made sure to do it in the woods to the side of the highway, as far from the crime scene as possible.

(how do you know it's a crime scene?)

(what else could it be?)

Wiping his mouth, he stomped back to the road, trying not to trip over an errant tree root. His stomach sloshed with his footfalls, although he couldn't for the life of him imagine what could still be in there. The tree line was a few yards away, the shadows in the ditch beside 526 eastbound deepened by the twisting red and blue lights—


Why were there blue lights?

(blue lights are county aren't they this is highway)

He clambered up the ditch with as much dignity as he could manage, stumbling and scraping his left hand against the rocks puncturing the topsoil, wincing at the wire-thin pain.  Clips of voices drifted over, resembling beat poetry.

"Getting the an idea...exits already closed from Linden to 81...getting worse, is what it is...shouldn'ta run out like that fucking matters..."

The patrol cars—both State Police and Anbeten County—were parked willy-nilly across the closed lanes, framing the configuration of metal and glass in the center of the lane that might've once been a Ford Galaxie station wagon—the extended back was still in approximate shape—but wasn't any longer. The entire frontend had been flattened to the shattered windshield and what remained of the passengers resembled ground chuck, pressed into the vinyl seats.

(how? how does that happen? how is this a crime scene? what does that?)

He approached the officers, grouped by grey gray or tan uniforms. Most looked up, their faces tight and gazes unreadable; men of varying ages, hair colors, and complexions but sharing enough similar traits—the wideness between the eyes, the thin lips—to mark them as local. He was the only Trooper in Area 13 who hadn't been born in either Anbeten, Frederick, or Warren County.

"Trooper," one of the county boys said, nodding his head slightly.

"Brooks," Harrigan, Area 13's Master Trooper, said, his bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows drawn together. He didn't look up and his eyes were distant, as if he was trying to figure out a difficult math problem. The other troopers stood behind him, all Trooper IIs; Charlie was the only probie. "You and Trooper Caldwell are going to Schlossen. That's where the folks—"

"Temoin family," a trooper behind him said. He was slightly pudgier than the others, his lank blond hair longer.

Harrigan nodded. "Thank you, Caldwell. That's where they called this in from. They're staying at the Cool Harbor Motel. Go there to get their statement."

He looked up and studied Charlie. His eyes were sharper, but his eyebrows were still bunched. "I'm under no illusions that you expected this on your third day in Area 13 and this is a delicate matter—" The tip of his tongue darted out, wetted his lips. "—and the academy didn't train you for it. Caldwell is lead. Understood?"

Charlie nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Dick and his boys are going to handle this." Harrigan inclined his head to the man who'd addressed him. Dick planted his thumbs in his Sam Browne belt. There were fewer county boys than State Troopers, but they seemed to set their feet more firmly, take up more space on the road.

Charlie's eyes cut back to his superior. "Sir?" 

"They'll maintain the road closure until public works has cleaned the mess," Harrigan said. He gestured at a tight clutch of VDOT workers, their orange jumpsuits giving them away, on the far side of the accident. They crowded behind a wiry bald man, his head thrust forward like a strutting cock. His hollowed eye sockets resembled a skull.

Questions piled up in Charlie's head, the questions anyone new would ask and feel stupid for doing so because the answers must be obvious, but he looked away and said, "Yes, sir."

Harrigan lifted his chin. "All right, gentlemen. We all know our jobs."

The two groups dispersed—the Troopers to their Fords, while the county boys spread around their sheriff.

(welcome to the illustrious life of a virginia state trooper charlie brooks!)

And then, a softer voice, a voice he knew but refused to acknowledge:

(isn't this what you wanted?)

Caldwell said, "C'mon, probie," and started for a patrol car, the blue detailing made black in the emergency lights.

Charlie followed. The other officers glanced at him as they walked around the incident—the strange knot of VDOT workers openly gaped at him—but Charlie resisted hunching his shoulders. He was a Virginia State Trooper now; he had his certificate—even if the ink hadn't fully dried yet—and his assignment to prove it.

But he still felt their eyes on him


and he hunched his shoulders, anyway.

You can read this story in its entirety in ASHES AND ENTROPY when it is released into the wild in December or sooner by getting the extremely limited single story chapbook of "I Can Give You Life" through our Kickstarter campaign launching on August 1st! Keep an eye out for more story spotlights and other upcoming news about ASHES AND ENTROPY here on the Nightscape Press webpage!

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