Friday, August 3, 2018

Ashes and Entropy Story Spotlight: Ain't Much Pride by Nate Southard

Time for another ASHES AND ENTROPY Story Spotlight! Today's beacon of anti-hope shines on Nate Southard's "Ain't Much Pride." "Ain't Much Pride" is a nautical tale of a mob henchman and his boss and cohorts hiding out at sea from "the feds." But something unfathomable lurks beneath the water waiting for them and, like our anti-hero, it's hungry for more than just fish.

Nate Southard is the author of Bad Dogs, Porcelain, Will the Sun Ever Come Out Again?, Red Sky, Lights Out, and Just Like Hell.  When he isn’t writing scary stories, he’s probably cooking.  Usually Thai food or fried chicken.  He loves fried chicken.

Nate lives in Austin, Texas with his girlfriend, a dog, and two cats.  The cats are total assholes.

I've loved Nate's work ever since I first read his submission "Mouth" for Horror for Good back in 2011. He continues to write phenomenal raw and emotional pieces of brutal fiction and he was an obvious choice when I set out to make a list of authors to solicit for this collection. And unsurprisingly, he brought that same sense of brutal originality to ASHES AND ENTROPY with this story. So without further ado, here is the opening to "Ain't Much Pride":

Used to be, I loved fish. Tuna, swordfish, red snapper, striped bass—found me a chef who knew how to cook it, and I’d belly up. I’m not talking about deep frying catfish or beer-battered cod, either. Any goon can do that. Cooking a real piece of fish; that takes skill. Try to say I’m wrong, you get cuffed behind the ear. Hard.
Now? Man, I hate fish. The look, the smell, the taste. Jesus Christ. Makes me sick just to think about it. Seven months hiding out in international waters will do that to you, though. Don’t matter if you’re on a luxury yacht or not. No steak or pork or chicken on this floating tomb. Just fish. We eat what we got; we get more. It’s like the circle of life, except with a skeleton crew, couple of girls, a looming drug trafficking charge, and so much sea food it’ll grow you gills.
Boss Wilburn sits in one of the yacht’s bigger rooms—I know crap about boats, but my guess is it’s a ballroom…maybe a dining room—in one of his better suits. Months without a dry cleaner have left it smudged with salt air, but he still suits up every Thursday. Says it’s important to keep things formal. He insists on formality while doing lines off Betty Numero Uno, whose name is Cynthia.
I stand in the corner, hands folded in front of my crotch like I need to piss. The 9mm is hard against my ribs, but I’m used to it.
Gregory reads him one of the latest encrypted emails. Wilburn receives one a week, no more, and he’s powerful enough to afford keeping a lawyer like Gregory on board to explain all of them. Back when boredom hadn’t chained him to a gold straw, he’d insisted this would keep us all safe and secure. I want a steak so bad I’ve been considering a Facebook account so I can display our location, maybe tag the Feds. Pretty sure they don’t serve fish in prison.
“Okay, yeah, sure,” Wilburn says. “Skip the pretty words and tell me what it means.”
“It means the Feds aren’t tossing the investigation,” Gregory says. “Another month, maybe, but for right now we’re staying put.”
“Fine with me. Ain’t it fine with you, Cindy?”
Cynthia giggles, her stomach spasming, and Wilburn holds up both hands. “Hold still, dammit! I got two lines left.”
“Sorry, Baby.” Her red hair lies in a perfect fan on the mahogany tabletop.
“It’s good, Sugar. We all so good.”
The lines disappear, and I dream of fried chicken.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Ashes and Entropy Story Spotlight: The Kind Detective by Lucy A. Snyder

Week two of our ASHES AND ENTROPY Story Spotlight series kicks off with a truly weird/cosmic horror tale from the amazing Lucy A. Snyder. This is definitely another story that hovers within the inner circle of my original vision for this anthology. A truly weird cosmic horror noir with a brilliant aesthetic and an ending that will almost certainly take you by complete surprise. Lucy's latest collection Garden of Eldritch Delights is available in trade paperback for pre-order now on Amazon. I would advise you go shell out some cash for this one!

Lucy A. Snyder is a five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author. She wrote the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, and Switchblade Goddess, the nonfiction book Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit: A Writer’s Survival Guide, and the collections While the Black Stars Burn, Soft Apocalypses, Orchid Carousals, Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, Czech, and Japanese editions and has appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Scary Out There, Seize the Night, and Best Horror of the Year. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and is faculty in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. You can learn more about her at and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.

The Kind Detective is a gritty Lovecraftian tale with a protagonist who is unstoppably kind at his very core, but the case he finds himself smack in the middle of just might pull him up from his roots. Here is the opening scene:

One Sunday at exactly 4pm, Detective Craig McGill was nursing an Irish coffee and poring over the cold-case murder photos spread across his cigarette-pocked kitchen table. His eyes ached. There had to be some small but crucial details he missed the first twenty times he studied these black-and-white snapshots of death and misery. He was certain, sure as a priest about the truth of a loving God, that if he just looked at things the right way, he’d solve these grisly puzzles. Justice would be served. And if a horror could be met with no meaningful justice, at least grieving families could finally gain some closure.
            A loud bang! made him reflexively dive to the worn yellow linoleum floor. His ears popped as if he were on a jet that had taken a sudden 20,000-foot plunge. Vertigo surged bile into his throat as he rolled sideways to draw the .38 revolver he kept in a holster bolted beneath the table.
            He crouched in the shadow of the table, waiting for another bang! None came. It hadn’t been gunfire. Too loud, too low. But it had come from the street in front of his house. Maybe closer. A bomb? His mind flashed on the pressure cooker IEDs the narc squad had recovered from a backwoods meth lab. Who would have tossed a bomb into his yard?  The local Klan, angry that he’d sent one of their boys to Angola for murder? Gangbangers? A random lunatic?
            After a ten count, he crouch-ran to the living room window and peeked through mini-blinds. The only thing that registered at first was that something was terribly wrong with his yard. But for a couple of seconds his brain rejected the missives from his eyes because what he beheld was an impossibility.
            The massive pecan tree that shaded the front yard of the shotgun bungalow since his grandfather built it in 1930 was gone. Not exploded, not burned down – gone. It had a canopy as wide as the house and a trunk he couldn’t get his arms around and there wasn’t a stick or leaf left of it. Not even the main roots remained. A wide, perfectly hemispherical scoop of dirt and concrete sidewalk was gone, too. McGill was relieved that the water and gas mains hadn’t been broken.
            Nobody was visible on his street except for his catty-corner neighbor, Mrs. Fontenot. He gave her all his pecans every fall, and the pies she made from them were one of the purest joys in his life. Before he tasted one, he’d scoffed at people who declared that this or that food was a religious experience. Mrs. Fontenot made him a believer. His first bite made him declare that she should be a pastry chef, and she laughed and replied that it would be the ruination of a fine hobby.
            Mrs. Fontenot was dressed in her gardening hat and matching lavender gloves and rubber boots and sat beside a scooped crater in her front yard. Her magnolia was gone. She was hunched over, listing to the side in the way that people do when they are in profound shock.
            McGill shoved his pistol in the back waistband of his cargo pants and hurried out to see if she needed help. The heavy smells of tree root sap and fresh overturned soil were thick in the humid air. He glanced down at his missing tree’s crater as he hurried past it. The remaining roots were cleanly severed at the margin of the hemisphere. What kind of machine could have done such a thing? And why?
            “Miz Fontenot, are you okay?” he called as he scanned the street for strange vehicles. His snap judgement that this was the work of criminals he’d crossed seemed ridiculous now. Someone who could take a pair of big old trees like this could have taken his whole house with him inside it. But someone did do this strange, powerful thing, so maybe the perpetrator was watching? The hand of God hadn’t just scooped out their trees. The universe didn’t work that way. Did it?
            Mrs. Fontenot made no reply to his call, did not move, so he ran over and knelt beside her.
            “Miz Fontenot?” He gently touched her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
            She slowly turned to face him. Her dark face was wet with tears, and her brown eyes stared wide. He’d once seen that same expression on a small boy who’d watched his father cut up his mother with a hatchet.
            “Oh … Detective. So fine of you to visit.” Her voice was as flat as a salt marsh.
            “Did you see what happened?”
            “I saw … I saw ….”
            She started to weep. Deep, wracking, soul-wrenching sobs. People her age who got this upset sometimes had heart attacks or strokes. McGill wondered if he should call for a squad, but he wasn’t sure if she had health insurance. If she didn’t, the ambulance and ER bills might break her. She didn’t seem to be in immediate danger. Maybe she just needed a chance to rest and gather herself.
            “Can you stand up? Let’s get you inside. I’ll make you some tea.”
            He gently helped her up and escorted her back into her house. She stopped crying, but her whole body shook as if she were walking through snow. Shock, definitely. He got her settled in her easy chair, pulled off her boots, and tucked a crocheted afghan over her legs so she’d stay warm.
            “Thank you, Detective. You’re a kind man. Don’t let nothing tell you otherwise.”
            McGill smiled at her and went into her kitchen to put the kettle on.
            When he returned with a steaming mug of chamomile tea, Mrs. Fontenot was dead.
            The purely practical part of McGill’s mind told him that a squad wouldn’t have arrived in time to save her. They just wouldn’t bust the speed limit for a black lady with vague symptoms, not even if a white off-duty cop was calling on her behalf. And that renewed realization – the system he served was horribly flawed – made the mess of sadness, anger and guilt stewing in his skull almost boil over.
            He hadn’t shed a single tear at any of the terrible murder scenes he’d investigated. Nobody wanted an emotional cop. It was not professional, it was not manly, and he would not weep now for this sweet old lady slumped in her favorite chair, even if nobody could possibly see him.
            He would not cry. He would do his job: find out who did this to her. This wasn’t technically murder, but he was sure to his core that whoever took her tree, took her life just the same. He would work this like any other case, and he would solve it, and there would be justice.