The dark minds behind Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning: Part 2
Human beings—the undisputed top of the food chain, the long-standing masters of planet earth. Or are we? What may be crawling out of the sludge to take our place? What monsters have we created in our labs, factories, and our very own genetic code? In the fourth installment of Firbolg Publishing’s Enter at Your Own Risk series, which pairs Gothic masters such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and H.P. Lovecraft with modern authors of the dark and macabre, the theme is environmental horror. As mankind’s tsunami wave of progress, industrialization, and technology reaches spectacular new heights, sinister things are churning beneath the surface. An unfamiliar stench on the wind. Waters a bit too murky. Soil a bit too red with blood. Progress at a price. A terrible, terrible price. Will we survive? What strange new worlds will emerge from the chaos? With an introduction from Holly Newstein, Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning explores both the horror of the end and the hope of new beginnings for our planet and ourselves.
From where did these dark, frightening tales emerge?
Step into the minds behind the shadows, nightmares, and terrifying visions in
Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning
We asked the authors two deceptively simple questions…
1) Where did you get the inspiration for your story?
2) How did the environmental issues we face today impact your story?
I was living in the eye of the urban hurricane known as Los Angeles when life picked me up and threw me into the whirlwind. When I landed, I found myself in hill country, West Virginia. Mountaintop removal had been going on for years by then, and right in the middle of lush, blue-green mountains, you’d see these flattened, barren stretches, like the surface of the moon. Most people could see that the very thing that made West Virginia so special in the first place—those untamed, ancient mountains—was being destroyed. But coal had been king for too long.
It sometimes happens with mountaintop removal that old family cemeteries get wiped off the mountain along with everything else. The dead get discarded like trash in a landfill. I’ve always loved those fantastical stories like the old Grimm Brothers fairy tales, where the animals and elements of nature come to life and jump right in the middle of human affairs. How great it would be, say, if a flock of blackbirds really could help a heroine out of her troubles, or a vengeful wolf could make a villain think twice. In West Virginia, it seemed to me that the time had never been better for Nature to rise up and take matters into its own hands.
I left West Virginia years ago, but the idea of those displaced bones and that dark, disturbed earth stayed with me. What might happen to those who stuck around long enough to see the mountains start coming back to life—and what else might come back to life along with it? When I sat down to write a story for The End Is the Beginning, I went back to those mountains and found a man sitting alone in one of those blasted moonscapes. The rest of the story is what happens when the living and the dead get pushed too far, and start pushing back.
As for me, I’m putting my money on the birds, the bees, and the bones.
Find more on B.E. Scully: www.bescully.com
Up front: Most of what I know first-hand about the Pine Barrens of New Jersey is 40 years out of date. That said, let me go back to Pennsylvania, 1950-something.
Summers, mom, dad, cousins and I would hop into the old man’s green-over-cream ‘53 Bellaire hardtop and point the grille toward pre-Trump Atlantic City. We’d make the Delaware crossing into Jersey on the Chester-Bridgeport Ferry and two hours later our first half-dozen layers of winter skin would have blistered to a sweat-slick peel and Steel Pier salt-water taffy would have yanked a year’s worth fillings from our heads.
Before becoming beach-blanket brisket, though, we had to cross inland Jersey. I spent those 70-plus non-air-conditioned miles in the Chevy’s back seat meditating on undertow or on skewering a bare foot on the tail of summer’s first horseshoe crab. Being thus occupied it wasn’t until years later that I noticed that most of Jersey was trees.
Later still, I learned those 70-some miles, the whole of central Jersey in fact, was a geo-political entity: the Pine Barrens. As explained by my elder and smarter cousin Fred, the Barrens was a dark woodland inhabited by six-fingered folk who lived in caves. They prayed to odd and grubby gods, made their own gas from pig shit and ate lost travelers. They called themselves “Pineys.”
Much later, I made a now long-gone documentary film about the region called …Where the Sun Never Shines and found Pineys, sadly, to be garden-variety Americans. I’ll let your personal demons inform whatever image that concept conjures.
Pineys are independent-minded and don’t care to be fussed over about where they live or what they do. They do a lot for themselves, things most of us gave up doing a generation or more ago (that about pig shit and gas? That is true). Their world is deep forest and truck-wide sand trails; it is small streams and cedar swamps, abandoned bogs and the smell of decay and sphagnum moss. The tales they tell outsiders are curious and spooky. Of course.
Off-highway, a stranger navigates the region by compass, odometer and Geodetic Survey map. Places dot these maps: Ong’s Hat, Goshen and Hog Wallow. Silence lives in these now invisible towns. A sense of the once-was and never will-be hangs in those clearings and the shallow hollows that once were homes, stores, places. Any stranger who’s arrived at one of those named spots on his map, who stands at a five-point wideness in his trail and buries his eyes into that old, old darkness all ‘round, feels the lurk of the strange.
Someday I’ll get that feeling on paper.
There are economic, political and social reasons why the Barrens, despite squatting at the heart of the Megalopolis, remains green, relatively human-free and “unimproved.” These reasons are not part of this tale’s fetchin’s.
Point is: I liked the area. I admired the people and, despite the arrogance of youth, I learned a little about them.
Another thing I learned: it’s a hard place to get right. My film never caught it. Later, I set a story, Veterans, in the Barrens. Later still, having sold two screenplays, bing/bong, like that – I adapted Veterans for film. Veterans, the Movie, remains unproduced. Worse, it remains unsold.
One supremely good writer I know set a story there. He missed it. One of the best episodes of The Sopranos was set there. The show’s city-bred wiseguys were money-on as strangers in a strange land, but that episode, The Barrens, shot in some generic woodland with no spirit of the Pines, lost the chill of the place.
When I was asked to submit to an anthology of tales on a theme of fang and talon, the Pines somehow entered my head. I guess I wanted another shot at getting it right.
Okay, thought I, the salient features of the Barrens are trees and sand. Trees with claws? A cliché. Sand with teeth? Well…
The editors passed on “So Many Tiny Mouths.” They were right to do so. That version focused on the tourists from Philly. Apparently, I was still sitting in the back seat of Dad’s Chevy.
I re-wrote and read the story a number of times in a few venues. Martin Mundt asked to buy it for the late, lamented Feral Fiction prozine, so the “Mouths” got out and into the world.
Since then, the story has been re-thought, published in ink and paper and made available in spoken word form on the Tales to Terrify podcast.
I hope I got the Barrens right. I think at least I’m closing in, but wouldn’t bet on it. It is an elusive place.
Oh, by the way, Earl Sooey, the coot through whose eye we watch the world end: He’s a fiction, just a coincidence. Really.
Check out “So Many Tiny Mouths” at the Tales to Terrify site!
Enter at Your Own Risk: The End is the Beginning