a #talesfromblackfriday short story

Hidey-ho, lovelies!

Today is so-called Black Friday here in the good ol’ USA, and I have many opinions about it. I shan’t delineate them all here. All I’ll say is that I’ve never participated in Black Friday, and I never plan to.

Also, I wrote the following short story, the tone and content of which should tell you enough plenty about my Black Friday thoughts. 😉

So. Here ya go. Happy reading!

Oh, and I wrote this story in a series of tweets. Because Twitter’s kinda my thang.

BOOYA.

blackfriday

When You Look This Good, Nobody Cares If You’re Murderous

by Courtney Cantrell

I stumble into a crowd of shoppers. They brandish hand mixers like pitchforks. Unholy light flickers in their eyes.

Atop a La-Z-Boy display, a man in Target red screams, “THE SPECIAL BEGINS NOW. MAY THE PRICES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.”

With yips and barks, the crowd surges forward. They carry me with them. A man goes down under a sea of trampling feet. Someone’s mixer tangles in my hair, pulling me into a nightmare aisle of pink and Barbie.

I have no mouth, and I must scream.

In their shiny boxes, the Barbies turn to look at me. “WE GIRLS CAN EAT ANYTHING,” they chorus, blood in their teeth.

Whimpering, I lunge away. A woman grabs my arm and swings me toward the Barbies. “They just want to play, dear.” Her eyes are big and blue and flat. Painted on.

Like the dolls’ eyes.

I try to pull away, but she pushes me into the Barbie boxes. A cascade of inarticulate limbs and blond hair washes over me. I fall to the floor. Inside their boxes, the Barbies claw at the clear plastic. Their fingers are razor-sharp talons, shredding plastic. Those talons slash toward my face. Toward my eyes.

“WELCOME TO #BLACKFRIDAY,” say the Barbies.

Moving jerkily, a Ken doll crawls into the mêlée. Followed by another Ken. And a third. They’re attached to each other.

KENTIPEDE.

Baring bloody, point-filed teeth, the Barbies whisper in chorus, “MEIN LIEBER DREI-KEN.”

I scramble backward. My back hits somethng solid. I look up. Life-size Santa doll stares down at me with solid black eyes.

“CHRISSSTMASSS ISSS COMING, PRECIOUSSSS,” says Santa. Maggots squirm from his lips. “I SSSEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE SSSLEEPING.”

Darkness closes in. I feel the Barbies’ teeth and claws sink into my flesh. There’s the stampede of shoppers’ feet as each clamors for their portion. “BEST DEAL,” cries the Kentipede. “90% OFF LONG PORK.” Barbies giggle.

The crazed retail vultures descend on me, slavering. “HAPPY HOLIDAYSSS,” hisses Santa. I hear discordant jingle bells.

Then, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

THE END

Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster…and Courtney Cantrell

YEAH BABY.

I’ve known for just over 48 hours, and I’m sure it hasn’t really sunk in yet. But, lack of sink-innage notwithstanding, I’m a-gonna blare it out to the world anyway:

Around Christmas of this year, I shall have a story in the SAME short story collection as HARLAN ELLISON and ALAN DEAN FOSTER.

As my friend Josh (who’s gonna have a story in the same collection) says,

“This is what we in the business call a pretty big deal.”

In case you’re unaware, dear inklings, Ellison and Foster both are so well-known in the sci-fi world, it would be downright silly for me to tell you about them here. Really that’s why God gave us Google and Wikipedia. Thus, if you go get Googwikified over these two gents, you’ll find out everything you need to know.

But. I’ll say this much: Ellison has been in the writing biz since the late 1950s, and Foster made me fall in love with him when I read his “Pip and Flinx” novels as a teen. If that gives you even a slight reference point for my excitement, we are good to go.

So! The short story collection in question is KINDLE ALL-STARS: RESISTANCE FRONT, the brainchile of one Bernard J. Schaffer.

Sometime around three months ago, Bernard put out an intarwebz call for short stories: He wanted to do a ground-breaking anthology to showcase independent authors in today’s e-media. The “resistance” aspect of the project refers to our collective determination no longer to let the traditional publishing model squelch our writerly voices. Bernard writes,

“Whole generations of authors have been lost to us because they could not penetrate the murky swamps of corporate publishing. I imagine all the works of art that we’ll never know of simply because the vicious cycle of query-letter, agent, synopsis, publisher, book-seller, and eventual consumer did not work out for that individual.

“When an industry coins a phrase like ‘Slush Pile’ to reflect their opinion of where your work belongs, you get a pretty clear idea of your place in their world.”

You might imagine, my darlings, that every word of this resonates with me. : ) Not only that, but the proceeds of the project all go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These people find kidnapped kids and fight child porn. No question that I can get on board with that!

So. Longish story shortened, I finished up the short story I’d been working on and sent it in to Bernard. He sent it back with edits, and I had a mild freak-out while my writer self dealt with the knowledge that I’d not only sent my work to a total stranger, but now he was asking me to change it. And I mean change it. The dude wanted me to clip an entire thread from the story. And it was a thread I happened to like. Zoinks.

In the meantime, I found out that Ellison and Foster both had donated stories to the project. So now, if I got in, I’d be getting in with Ellison and Foster.

Have I mentioned that this is kind of a big deal?

Here I am, trying to edit and re-write a story, and the deal just keeps getting bigger and bigger. No pressure, right? I had to get over myself — no, really, I had to get over my fear. Why does it always come back to that?

Fear holds me back again and again. This time, it was fear of rejection…and maybe even a little fear of success. I have no idea where all of this might lead. But some possible future paths aren’t necessarily grand.

But I sucked it up, did my re-write, sent it back to Bernard — and waited. Ten days, y’all. I kept telling people it wouldn’t ruin my day if my story got rejected in the end…but that was only a half-truth. I wanted this bad. And during those 10 days, the fear kicked in again.

I rode it out. Did other stuff. Painted a crimson dragon. Published a whole magazine. You know, the usual. ; )

Then, two nights ago, the final participant announcements rolled in over Twitter, and I was on the list. Even better, Josh was on the list, too. Spider Robinson Wisdom ruled my personal celebration:

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased -— thus do we refute entropy.”

I love it when entropy takes one in the kisser.

For the record, applying Bernard’s feedback to my story was fun, once I got over myself. (Strangely enough, I’m wanting to paraphrase Pumbaa from The Lion King: “once I put my behind in my past”; but I don’t think it really applies here.) As I trimmed and re-wrote and copypasted, I saw a startling new shape emerge from the story…and it was a shape I very much appreciated.

It was the shape of a story that was better for the changing. Having an editor’s feedback made me a better writer for the story. Who’d a-thunk? ; )

My horror short “If This Were a Stephen King Story” will appear in Kindle All-Stars: Resistance Front in December 2011.

“Few projects slung my way, these days of electronic idiocy and bad writing, can perk me up and get the fireworks. This is one of the best, sweetest ideas I’ve heard in years. Nothing but the smiles of Success are due the project, the people putting it together, and the good kids who will benefit from every penny garnered. I am 100% and a bag of marmosets behind it!”
— Harlan Ellison.

“Growing up, I had access to all the books I wanted to read, and they made my life. This is a project to benefit kids who have nothing. I can think of no better cause.”
— Alan Dean Foster

This really swings my verge, y’all. : )