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The Night He Said I Love You by K.C. Mead-Brewer


Toward the end of K.C. Mead-Brewer’s “The Night He Said I Love You,” the narrator offers us this observation: “Dan knows with a startling clarity that this didn’t have to happen. There’s no reason for it.” There is something startling in these lines, something unsettling and tinged with an eerie finality. The core of the entire story seems to be brilliantly and succinctly rendered. There’s a rhythm to the language, a tone that feels simultaneously resigned and threatening. Mead-Brewer pulls us into the world of Shelly and Dan, two kids playing “out in the middle of kudzu-covered nowhere” under the supervision of a distracted babysitter when a monster comes calling. What follows is an exploration of the immense randomness of life. Yet, paradoxically, the story’s elements are so precisely rendered that by the end there is a feeling of destiny. That this story—this particular night for these particular kids—could never play out any other way.

Thematically, “The Night He Said I Love You” recalls the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s True Detective. Picture Matthew McConaughey as Rustin Cohle, tucking cigarette after cigarette at the edge of his dry, flat lips, pinching a crushed beer can between his fingers, words slipping out in his sizzling drawl: “Time is a flat circle.” What has happened will happen, again and again and again. If Shelly and Dan could relive this night over and over, would the outcome be any different? What small change in action or reaction might send us skittering away from the timeline of this story and into a different outcome—perhaps better or perhaps more horrific?

From a craft perspective, the story succeeds in playing with certain tropes of the horror genre—the loyal canine companion, the teenage babysitter and her boyfriend going at it on the sofa while the killer looms, the isolated rural setting—while also giving us central characters who are fiercely realized. Shelly and Dan feel like two kids whose lives we can imagine far beyond the confines of this story. They ground us in this world, and the sharpness of their voices and individual personalities work brilliantly both against and in conjunction with the dramatic action and tension of this fast-paced plot. Mead-Brewer uses artistic control to show us what is out of our hands. In her author’s note, she writes: “I realized randomness was at the heart of the entire story.… The endless looking-over-your-shoulder anxiety of knowing: The gods will do what the gods will do, and it all could’ve been different, but it isn’t.”

Just as this story exists in the same universe as Mead-Brewer’s “The Angel Finger,” published with us in October 2020, we’d like to think it also exists in the same world belonging to detective Rustin Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart. In the final beats of the season finale, a recovering Rustin tells Marty he’s been looking up at the sky, thinking, “It’s just one story. The oldest […] Light versus dark.” Marty notes that the darkness occupies a lot more territory, but Rustin, the perennial cynic, reveals his own mental shift, saying, “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing […] Once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

There is no doubt life can be dark, but for Dan and Shelly, we’re rolling the dice in favor of the light.  —CRAFT


 

Shelly died first. Some combination of tuberculosis and an ancient family curse. Then her ghost killed Dan, strangled him with his own bed-curtains. They both agreed to leave Good Boy alive—the game is Ghost Children, not Ghost Dogs. Shelly loves horror movies (she claims she doesn’t mind the nightmares) and watches them secret-secret when her folks aren’t around, but she hates that the dog always dies by the end. Dogs shouldn’t die, not even in stories.

They’ve been killing and haunting each other out in the woods behind Dan’s house most of the evening, leaving the babysitter inside to grope her boyfriend on the couch. Dan and Shelly watched the pair go at it from the back window for a while, but it started to feel weird, so they stopped, wandered off, and took Good Boy for protection.

Dan’s house is out in the middle of kudzu-covered nowhere. The old telephone pole at the edge of his yard looks like a horned demon in the night, thick vines smothering its original shape. And the way the trees crowd, crackling in, the lightning bugs blinking strange codes, strawberries bloodying the ground—his house can almost feel like a secret.

As Shelly dies for the fourth time, she cries their passphrase to the heavens, “No more, spirit! No more! Be gone!”

She can practically see Dan count to five in his head before he announces, “The gods have heard your plea. The gods are satisfied.”

They break together with a lunchbox of cold fried chicken: Shelly sitting cross-legged in the grass and Dan standing, cradling his chicken leg in a paper napkin. A thin clutch of trees hunches close around them.

“You ever wish you were a god?” Shelly asks, looking up at the demonic telephone pole and licking her greasy fingers. “Gods get to do whatever they want and it’s holy. Everyone has to be fine with it. Whatever they say, that’s how it has to be.”

“Oh no,” Dan says, “no.” He hates that telephone pole; it can see him through his bedroom window at night. He doesn’t want it to hear them talking like this.

Dan’s younger than Shelly by a full year and neat as a deck of cards. He loves math and Greek mythology. He doesn’t like stains or wrinkles or odd numbers. He can’t wear white shoes because he’d spend all day staring at them, taking only the carefullest of steps to avoid smudges. His favorite thing is the black plastic comb he carries everywhere so he can comb and re-comb his straight blond hair whenever he gets bored or nervous or flustered.

He never gets bored with Shelly. Nervous, sometimes. Flustered, constantly. Bored, never.

Good Boy paws at Shelly’s knee, asking for chicken, as if he weren’t plenty big enough to snatch it from her. “Here you go, loyal supplicant,” she says, and tears off a tiny piece for him. That was the Word of the Day last Sunday School, supplicant, a believer who pleads to the divine for aid. “Keep chewing until you feel the god in it,” she tells him. “God is in the eating. In the act.”

Shelly says random stuff like this all the time. Like she knows, like she’s heard it somewhere before. Probably from her best friend Morgan, Pastor Paulson’s youngest. But Shelly’s not allowed to see her anymore. “A bad influence,” Shelly’s parents said. “Not like Dan.”

And it’s true, Morgan makes Dan nervous (even before she sent her sister to the hospital), but he doesn’t think it’s fair to call her “bad.” Morgan’s weird maybe, but she’s not so different from him and Shelly. Morgan understands: dogs aren’t supposed to get hurt. He knows she’d understand this chicken, god-chewing thing, too.

Over the years, Dan will eat many, many chickens, so many that he’ll lose count—belatedly, he will begin a journal where he logs each of his meals, keeping a special tally of the chickens—but only five times will he feel the god in it. An odd number; a bad sign.

Taking a cautious bite now, Dan chews slowly, staring hard into the leafy ground. He tries to taste it, listen for it, recognize it, but “I don’t know, Shelly.” All he tastes is chicken. And what about how “Pastor Paulson says god is love.”

The word love makes Dan blush. His dad says it’s not a thing that men are supposed to talk about. His dad doesn’t care about stains or wrinkles or odd numbers. His dad walks around with dirt under all ten fingernails like it doesn’t bother him at all.

The woods bend toward them as the evening darkens. Night air whistles between the trees as if they were teeth. It gets real dark real fast out here in Nowhere, but they aren’t concerned. They can still see the yellow squares of light from Dan’s house, not far away at all.

“I guess we should go inside,” Dan says, pacing around. They’ve eaten all the food, and mosquitoes are sucking the blood out of his arms. Shelly’s burying the chicken bones under some leaves.

“Just sit down, will yah.” Shelly pats the ground beside her, but he can’t sit there and she knows it. He’ll get dirt on his pants. He’s about to argue the point when they hear the first scream.


The babysitter’s name is, unfortunately, Ukulele, but she has the good sense to go by Kaylie. The boy above her on the couch isn’t really her boyfriend, but she doesn’t care about labels or the pretense of some deeper relationship. Even if she did care, it wouldn’t redeem this moron who keeps calling her Laylay as he grinds against her. Lucky Laylay’s gonna get laid. Lucky me Laylay’s such a good lay. Yeah, okay. As if she’s going any further than this tonight. Goddesses aren’t known for their patience with dopes like this, but he’s sweet most of the time and it’s not like there’s much else to do in this town. They’re both still in high school, one more year. She doesn’t plan on going to college (what for?—the debt? the handsy professors?), but she also doesn’t plan to live around here much longer. And so, she won’t.

The murderer will see to it.


“Can you see anything?” Dan whispers, peeking at his house from between the dark trees. Only, it doesn’t feel like his house anymore. His house doesn’t scream.

Good Boy paws the ground, anxious to run toward the sound, but Shelly’s got hold of his collar. She stands slowly. Or, it seems slow to Dan, graceful even, like a huntress. Artemis.

Another scream.

Shelly gestures for him to get behind her, get behind a tree, and Dan doesn’t argue. Picking up the now-empty lunchbox, The Incredible Hulk roaring over it, he brushes off the dirt, snaps the box’s clasps, and crouches silently behind her. He forces himself to leave his comb in his pocket. Shelly’s standing there so still, watching the house; he doesn’t want her to see him fidgeting.

“What is it?” he whispers. “Is it bad?”

“Don’t be scared,” she says, reaching blindly for his hand and squeezing it. It’s only then that Dan realizes, yes, he’s terrified. “You don’t suddenly have a cell phone, do you?”

They both know he doesn’t. His parents don’t think he’s old enough. Shelly’s was taken away last week.

“Is Miss Kaylie okay?” Usually it cracks Shelly up that Dan calls the babysitter Miss, but she doesn’t smile this time. She doesn’t smile and he knows, he’s known, oh: “It’s really bad, isn’t it?”

“You’re going to stay right here,” Shelly says, squeezing his hand again. “And don’t move until I come back.” Sometimes she sounds so much older than him, it makes him furious. She pushes Good Boy’s collar into Dan’s grip. “He’ll keep you safe. Don’t let him go.”

“What!” Dan can’t tell what his face is doing, can’t even hear himself at all, but Shelly motions for him to keep his voice down. “Where are you going?

“I can’t see what’s happening from here. I have to get to a phone. It’s the only way.”

“The only way to what!” He knows he was too loud that time, but he can’t help it because no way: “You can’t go!”

“Kaylie’s in trouble,” she says. “We need to get to a phone to help her. That’s what we’re supposed to do. 911.”

And sure, that all makes sense, Dan knows, but he can’t think and he needs to comb his hair but he’s holding the dog and the roaring lunchbox and it’s full-dark now, everything’s a shadow, the trees, the stupid telephone pole, and there’s the glowing house screaming again. Three screams, an extra bad number.

“Stay. Here.”

Good Boy clearly doesn’t like this any more than Dan does. He huffs and strains against his collar. His sharp whine is a splinter in Dan’s ear.

Watching Shelly leave, Dan can’t catch his breath. She isn’t really a ghost, she didn’t die of tuberculosis or any family curse, which means she could still die now. She could get hurt and then he wouldn’t have any friends at all. It took him forever to even find Shelly, and she’s a girl. Dad would be furious.

Gods are in the eating, she said, and the thought of Shelly being eaten makes Dan have to pee, his stomach cramping. He drops the lunchbox, grabbing for his comb with a sweaty hand, but Good Boy struggles forward, making him fumble and drop it. A black comb in black shadows against black dirt that’s filthy and bugful. He can’t comb his hair now! What if he got lice or mites from it? Dirt that won’t come out no matter if he combs til he bleeds and then what? Infection? His hair could fall out. His skin could boil up and the pus would leak down into his brain and he’d go nuts and die and pee himself and none of it would matter because Shelly’s going in there alone to be eaten alive.


Luke, Kaylie’s not-boyfriend, made certain not to pee before they got started on the sofa. Makes it more intense.

Luke is what’s known as “a good kid.” He does “good kid” things like come in his pants instead of his girlfriend. He’s going to college soon and his parents will pay for it. He believes in capital G God and he showers once a day. He wants to have his own business eventually—a plant nursery. A place to nurture harmless things into being. He stops grinding his hips when he sees the sudden fear on Kaylie’s face; she’s beneath him on the couch and her gaze has moved to somewhere beyond his shoulder. He means to ask her what’s wrong but instead he screams, seizing against a bright alien pain in his back.

“Fuck!” Kaylie shrieks, thrashing beneath him. “Fuck! Fuck!”

“What?” Luke coughs. He can’t put thoughts or words together. His back is on fire, his mouth keeps opening and closing, his blood outside himself. “Who?”


Shelly still can’t tell who’s standing over the sofa, so she creeps closer. She’s already clear of the trees and well into the fenceless backyard, hopscotching from shadow to shadow, ducking behind lawn chairs and Dan’s old swing set before finally reaching the back window for a closer look. All she knows is this: It’s someone who’s not supposed to be there.

People who are where they’re supposed to be don’t wear Halloween masks in June. A big plastic polar bear mask, white as a lightning strike. It’s the largest person Shelly’s ever seen, even bigger than Dan’s dad. Their hands are gloved, their thick neck flushing pink as they loom over the living room sofa. There’s red splattered across the mask’s white snarl.

Questions that don’t occur to Shelly until much later: Why is the murderer just standing there? Did he mean to come after Luke and Kaylie, or Dan and his parents? Is he a serial murderer like Freddy and Jason, or just a one-off kind of guy? Why did he come tonight? Why a polar bear? Who is he? What does he want?

For now, all she thinks to wonder is, Where’s Miss Kaylie?

Shelly cranes her neck, looking past the spindly legs of an upturned lawn chair, but the angle’s tough—she can’t see anything below the windowsill or beyond the tall, yellow rectangle of the glass back door. Her view: The living room from the top of the sofa upward, part of the hall toward the front stairs and door, the entrance to the kitchen. Polar Bear Man reaches down and yanks on something—there’s a knife in his hand now.

Oh my god, Shelly thinks. Oh my god, oh my god.

Maybe Kaylie ran upstairs, or maybe Luke did. Or maybe they’re both dead on the sofa. Maybe Polar Bear Man will go check upstairs for more victims and that’ll be Shelly’s chance to sneak in and call 911 from the kitchen phone.

Maybe Polar Bear Man was able to get in because she and Dan left the back door unlocked.

Maybe this is all their fault.

All her fault. Dan never would’ve snuck out on his own.

“I’m a bad influence,” she whispers, and she can feel the need to cry lodge tight in her nose.

What if Morgan really did influence her somehow, infect her, make her a bad kid? Shelly’s mind is a knot of ghost children and random deaths, of curses we cast and catch. Her chest clenches around the thought: What if I infected Dan too?

Her hands are shaking and her legs hurt but she can’t feel much over the throb of her heart behind her face. Dan’s parents won’t be back for hours and their house is at least a couple miles away from anyone else’s. They have a strawberry field where they charge summer-parents three dollars to let their kids run wild with baskets and sticky fingers. They’ve got trees everywhere, tall as anything, but not a neighboring house for forever. She could just wait in the woods with Dan and Good Boy, but then Polar Bear Man would get away. Luke and Kaylie won’t stand a chance, if they aren’t dead already.

Polar Bear Man turns his head as if he heard something from deeper within the house.

Yes,” Shelly whispers. “Go, go, freaking go.

Urged by this little ghost, Polar Bear Man moves away from the sofa, coming to stand within full view of the back door. The knife in his hand, it drips.

He heard me. He saw me. He knows. He’s coming.

Shelly’s thoughts swarm with gods and pleas for help—hear your supplicant, please, hear me, help me, help Dan—and wildly she thinks of Good Boy begging for the tiniest bite of chicken. If someone has to get chewed, she figures it ought to be her, but she doesn’t want it, she’ll do anything. She swallows back something acidic and it burns like a claw pressing down through her throat as Polar Bear Man moves away toward the stairs, stopping, like her heart, when the doorbell rings.


Good Boy knows something’s not right. His boy doesn’t smell right. The lights in the house aren’t right. The scream isn’t a sound that’s supposed to be there, not in Good Boy’s house. His boy holds his collar too tight; it’s uncomfortable, but he’s glad his boy’s staying close where it’s safe. Together, they skirt around the backyard to the front, giving the house a wide berth. The windows glow like eyes, as if a giant car were speeding toward them. Good Boy strains for the visitor’s door and, thank goodness, his boy understands, his boy moves with him. He has to get inside. He has to get that scream out of his house.

The way the girl licked her fingers in the forest, the way she waved the bones about. You can’t simply chew away a thing like that. You have to tear. You have to rip. You have to swallow it down in lush bleeding pieces so the meat can regrow about your soul. He growls deep at the thought, at the kind of waste that summons demons, at the succulent power that will now never shine bright within his heart.

His boy stops at the door, breathing hard, his human hand a white trembling ball around his black comb. He presses the button that makes the house ring and then stands back, shoulders straight, waiting for the door to open.


If you ask Kaylie how she got out from under Luke’s body, if you ask her how she scrambled away from the murderer’s knife, she wouldn’t be able to tell you. She’d laugh, Maybe I’m the final girl, but her laugh would pitch higher than normal, hysterical and full of tears. She doesn’t remember much beyond the horrible weight of Luke’s body, the reek of his blood, the noises he was still making even as she ran to the front door, yanking on the knob, but where are the keys? Where the hell are the keys? Her cell phone, where’s her cell phone? It must be somewhere lost in the sofa, humped out of her pocket and fallen between the cushions.

The world narrows to the scraping sound of keys behind her, and Kaylie freezes. She knows: he has them.

The children—she thinks of them then, Dan and Shelly, and holy fuck, what if they’re already dead? She shouldn’t go upstairs, she’ll be cornered, but what choice does she have? No, they could jump from the window in Dan’s bedroom—there’s a patch of roof not too far down, a little awning just over the bay window in the kitchen below. Use it as a buffer; two small jumps instead of one big fall. Even if that doesn’t work, there’s a landline upstairs in the parents’ bedroom, isn’t there? (Is there?) There’s one in the kitchen, she knows, but no way she’s going back for it.

The keys scrape again, and she runs.

Shelly, Dan, Shelly, Dan, Dan, Shelly, Shelly, Dan, she’s up the stairs and throws open the bedroom door, “Dashley! Sheldon!”

The floor might’ve melted to sludge beneath her feet in that moment, but all she can think is, Empty. The room’s empty. The children are gone.

The children are gone and she’s upstairs like a fucking turkey waiting to be carved.

She thinks of all the babysitters in the world and she hates every one of them. She isn’t going to die as part of their pack. She isn’t going to die trying to save these kids from the killer downstairs. She isn’t going to die at all, ever. She will rise up like the goddess she’s always known herself to be and yawn as the world devours itself.

She opens her mouth to curse, to cry, to scream, but it’s the chime of a doorbell that comes out.


Luke isn’t dead yet, don’t worry.

He bleeds out into the beige sofa and imagines a flowerbed going muddy beneath him. His hand dips into a furrow of softening earth and pulls at a weed in the shape of a cell phone.


Five things are about to happen: the murderer is about to unlock the front door, Kaylie is about to go for the landline in the parents’ bedroom, Shelly is about to go for the landline in the kitchen, Dan is about to wet his pants, and Luke is about to realize he can’t steady his trembling fingers.

The world, perhaps only in a small way, is about to change.

The murderer opens the front door just as Shelly opens the back. She sees Dan standing there beyond Polar Bear Man and gasps, the back door snapping shut behind her just as another door claps upstairs. Polar Bear Man turns from Dan to see Shelly, to glance upstairs, and that’s the moment Dan wets his pants, losing his grip on Good Boy’s collar, the dog a charging snarl for Polar Bear Man’s knife arm.

Shelly’s heard men yell before—yell at pinch runners and wide receivers, at their TVs, their wives, their children, stubbed toes and hammered thumbs. Men yell all the time; it’s speaking softly that comes as a surprise. So, you can trust her when she tells you later, stammering, that it wasn’t any human yell that came out of Polar Bear Man as the dog’s fangs sank into his arm. It was a roar.

The knife clatters to the ground and Polar Bear Man’s other hand tangles furiously in Good Boy’s fur.

Shelly doesn’t discuss matters with herself, she simply leaps forward to wrap around the monster’s legs, jamming her bony shoulder into the back of his left knee. Someone has to protect Good Boy while he’s protecting everyone else. Dogs shouldn’t die. They just shouldn’t.

The monster stumbles to the ground, grasping uselessly for the bannister, and the wood floor knocks hard into Shelly’s head but she doesn’t let go, she won’t let go, not until Good Boy lets go. It’s a tangle of snarls and roars and growls; the only human sound is Dan sobbing in the doorway, pleading for it all to stop. If the gods don’t listen to that, but Shelly doesn’t know where that thought’s headed and she doesn’t want to follow.

Something stabs her in the back and she screams. Dan screams in echo.

It’s the monster’s dropped knife, it’s trying to cut her into bite-sized pieces, she knows that’s what it is. It’s in the eating, she thinks. It’s going to eat me. It’s going to cut me up and eat all the god out of me. Everything special in her, whatever that is, slipping away, taken away, and what can she do about it? What can anyone do about it?

It was supposed to be a battle cry, but it comes out a whimper as she bites deep and then bloody deeper into the monster’s leg.


Here comes Kaylie down the stairs.

Luke’s finger on the button.

Dan, what can Dan do? Dan the Chicken. Dan the Big Baby. Jesus, Dan, his dad sometimes says, but never Dan the Man. Dan—Dan, what are you doing, run! Dan, run!

The monster rears up, and Dan knows with a startling clarity that this didn’t have to happen. There’s no reason for it. The ancient Greeks, master mathematicians, never bothered with probability because they knew it didn’t matter. The gods will do what the gods will do, and it all could’ve been different, but it isn’t.

“Okay,” Dan says, outside himself. “Okay.” He touches the pee on his pants, already gone cold, a bitter stink, and some impulse has him lifting the quivering wet hand out to the monster in offering. A supplicant, pleading, “No more, spirit. Please, no more. Be gone.”


Shelly leans heavily against Dan on the front step. He knows he ought to say something comforting, but he can’t think of what that might be. He thumbs the black teeth on his comb, his hands shaking with the need to brush his hair, but he can’t; he hasn’t gotten a chance to wash it yet. He spent what few minutes he got to himself changing his pants. He looks at Good Boy lying in the grass at Shelly’s feet, blood crusting his snout, and realizes, You made it, Good Boy. We made it. At least for tonight.

“Can you tell us anything about his physical appearance? Anything at all?” the police ask Kaylie. Three sets of parents—Dan’s, Shelly’s, and Kaylie’s—all lean in to hear her reply.

“I already told you, he was wearing a mask,” she says, throwing her hands to the night air. “He was tall. He was white. He wore blue jeans and a polar bear mask. He didn’t say anything. He stabbed Luke three times and never said a word.”

She starts crying again and Dan wonders if it’s real or if it’s to get all the parents and police to stop asking questions. It strikes him as a very adult thing to wonder.

The particulars as Kaylie relayed them:

She was watching a movie with Luke on the couch. The children were upstairs playing a game. (Why she told this particular lie, Dan has no idea. All he knows is that it’s easier to keep a lie going than to suddenly start telling the truth.) She doesn’t know how the intruder got in. She thought both the doors were locked, but all of a sudden there was a knife in Luke’s back. She screamed and the kids came running. It was mayhem after that. A whorl. Luke managed to call the police from her dropped cell phone. The dog saved their lives—he and Shelly leapt at the intruder, giving Kaylie the opportunity to grab the baseball bat from the hall closet. But by then the intruder was gone, fled.

There’s so much about this that isn’t true, Dan wouldn’t know where to begin, so he doesn’t bother trying. He’s just glad his dad hasn’t pressed him for details. His dad hasn’t said anything to Dan, in fact, but to Danny. “Danny, god, son, are you okay? Are you hurt?” And instead of yanking Dan into one of his usual one-armed hugs, the giant of a man got down on both knees, as if this hug might also be a prayer.

Later, years from now, long after Kaylie flees town and the ghosts of this night, after Shelly’s episode with that weird cult out west, after Good Boy dies gently of good old age, Dan will scroll past a headline tucked between other bylined horrors but then stop, scroll back, and read: Polar Bear Man Slays Seven—Polar Bear Man, just as Shelly called him—but he won’t click and read the full article. He won’t share it. Dan will wrap himself in the belief that not knowing is the same as being safe. He will assure himself that the full truth of his childhood attack wouldn’t have saved anyone in the Now, that he doesn’t even know what that “truth” would be. He can’t remember. It isn’t his fault. He’s studying to be a doctor, to help people; he wears white all the time now. Seven, he’ll think. A bad number. He will lie awake that night, snuggled in close to his boyfriend, and pretend to be dead until he falls asleep.

He smells wet blood. He was gripping his comb too hard, like in the movies when people squeeze their fists too hard, except no, his hand’s fine. It’s Shelly’s hand with blood on it. She touches the inside of her lower lip again and pulls away more red.

“It’s not mine,” she says softly. “It’s Polar Bear Man’s.” Her smile shakes a little on her face as she says, “I don’t know if I taste any god in it, though.”

Luke’s blood is all over the couch, and now it’s at the hospital, too. He isn’t dead yet, but he might be soon. There’s even some of his blood on Shelly’s back, where the dropped knife dug against her shoulder blades. She thought she was cut at first, but it’s only a bad bruise. What luck.

“Shelly,” Dan whispers. He grips his comb. He avoids the telephone pole’s ancient gaze. If he’s a supplicant to anything, he knows now it’s to Shelly. “I’m sorry I’m not like Morgan. That I need things to make sense all the time. But please don’t leave me in the woods again. Please don’t ever leave me.” That’s what he meant, but what he said was, “Shelly, I love you.”

Shelly scoots in closer to him, her head on his shoulder. “Yeah,” she says. “I love you, too.”

 


K.C. MEAD-BREWER lives in Baltimore, MD. Her fiction appears in Electric Literature’s Recommended ReadingJoyland MagazineStrange Horizons, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Tin House’s 2018 Winter Workshop for Short Fiction and of the 2018 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.

 

Featured image by Valentina Locatelli courtesy of Unsplash

 

Author’s Note

I love the phrase “you can’t make this shit up.” There’s something both unnerving and delightful about situations that call for it. Situations laden with coincidence, the absurd, the inexplicable, the unpredictable—the random. Situations where it feels like, if there are indeed gods at work around us, maybe they didn’t strain themselves in this particular moment.

Though I’ve been taught to avoid randomness in stories, it inevitably popcorns up all through my writing process, something I might later try calling inspiration. It felt totally random to me at first that Shelly was best friends with Morgan Paulson, the main character of my story “The Angel Finger.” I’ve never written sequels or same-world stories before, and I didn’t set out to write one here. Still, once it was said that Shelly and Morgan were friends, there was no denying it. It made perfect sense. I was tickled by this bit of randomness and happy to follow its lead, waiting to see when and how things would come together so that it wasn’t quite so random anymore. Except that didn’t happen.

Draft after draft, I found I couldn’t draw much more from this connection, but it never felt right to deny it either, to just quietly delete or alter the detail and pretend it didn’t matter. It matters. Friendship always matters. And it was through this snag that I realized randomness was at the heart of the entire story. The randomness of random violence. The randomness of where we grow up, who we grow up with, how all our choices collide and bounce off each other. The randomness of when a prayer seems to be heeded versus when it’s coolly ignored. The endless looking-over-your-shoulder anxiety of knowing: The gods will do what the gods will do, and it all could’ve been different, but it isn’t.

 


K.C. MEAD-BREWER lives in Baltimore, MD. Her fiction appears in Electric Literature’s Recommended ReadingJoyland MagazineStrange Horizons, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Tin House’s 2018 Winter Workshop for Short Fiction and of the 2018 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.