Hinnom maissue 002, p.2

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 2

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  Regarding my preference for shorter or longer pieces, I like both, as some stories should be told briefly, giving just a glimpse of an ongoing world, while others demand a longer, more thorough investigation. The story itself will tell you how large or small it wants to be, provided that you listen closely and stay true to the guiding spirit of the tale. Stories never lie, unless they're forced to do so.

  CP: The technique of authors using world building for short fiction, connecting several of their stories to the same central universe, seems to be at an all-time high in popularity—whether it be a single author or several operating within the same realm of fiction—with the massive resurgence in Lovecraftian popularity. How did the setting of Salt Creek come to be a place that you used for multiple stories? Why is world building just as important for short fiction as it is for longer works?

  TE: Going back to my first days of writing prose and horror fiction, I wanted to create my own reality, build my own version of our world, inspired by contemporary writers like Ramsey Campbell (Severn Valley), Jeffrey Thomas (Punktown), Laird Barron (the Old Leech mythos) and W. H. Pugmire (Sesqua Valley), among others, all of whom crafted new universes in which to house many of their stories. This was appealing to me, especially as a kid who grew up reading high fantasy fiction, where so many novels were set in specific realities created for those books and characters. Places like Krynn, Prydain, Middle Earth, Forgotten Realms, and the lands of the Belgariad and the Hyborian Age were as real to me as anything on an actual map. That left a powerful impression.

  In creating Salt Creek, I decided early on to build out this familiar but slightly askew world in the Sandhills of Nebraska, which is a strange, bleak, and sometimes beautiful place, although future tales will expand the "network" into connected locations in California, Pennsylvania, and other areas across the globe. I'm very much looking forward to pulling more real estate from the void as my writing continues.

  World building obviously isn't essential, and can become a crutch, but it's also incredibly fun, ceding more architectural power to a writer, and providing an efficient way to frame a series of stories, characters, and locations in one unique universe where the rules bow to the discretion of the creator. To answer your last question, I think world building is just as important for short fiction as longer works because short fiction is just as important, in general, as longer works. More so, sometimes, as some of the best and most effective works of fiction, for my money, are short stories, not novels.

  CP: On a closing note, we always try to have a final question that relates to helping young and aspiring authors tread their paths. Hearing advice from writers one admires is often a very powerful tool that can benefit new authors enormously with their own trajectories and career paths. If you had to give one single strand of advice to a young author, what would it be? And why?

  TE: Whenever I'm asked this question my answer is always the same—read more than you write.

  Consider yourself an athlete, where training and practice time far exceeds the time spent performing in an actual contest. Hundreds, even thousands, of accumulated training hours go into one three hour game or match. Think of boxers, martial artists, football and basketball players. Think of long distance runners, who log hundreds and hundreds—even thousands—of miles to train for a race that is never longer than 26.2.

  The same can be said for writers, with reading as their training. The act of writing is also training, obviously, but more resembles an end result contest than practice. However, that foundational repetition of the fundamentals that leads to the best athletic performance (ball handling in basketball and soccer, route running in football, batting practice in baseball, etc.) can only be achieved through reading, and reading far afield from normal habits and comfort zones, taking in the best literature this world has produced, and breaking it down inside your head, absorbing traces of its DNA, and then hopefully synthesizing this fuel when you write your own work. It's absolutely essential to becoming a good, and a better, writer. Uncultivated natural ability will only take you so far. Training, discipline, and hard work will take you the rest of the way.

  GODMOUTH

  by P.L. McMillan

  The first time I heard it was from a dying woman’s lips. She’d been hit by a car that had been going at least double the speed limit. The driver hadn’t stopped. Instead, the car had squealed around a corner and disappeared as the woman slammed into the ground with a sickening crunch. I saw it happen, as did four other strangers.

  I ran to the woman’s side as she lay dying. I knew she had to be. I was a nurse and the amount of blood surrounding the woman on the pavement was gruesome. I heard a man on his cellphone, talking to the 911 dispatch.

  The other strangers stood a little ways away, watching as I checked her vitals and tried to make her comfortable. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of the palest green, reflecting the stormy sky above. She wasn’t upset or crying. I thought that she must be in shock.

  “Miss, an ambulance is coming,” the man on the cellphone said, raising his voice to avoid coming closer.

  I nodded.

  “Did you hear that? Just hold on, you’ll be okay,” I lied, pressing my scarf against the deep gash on her scalp.

  Half of her forehead had been scraped up and into her hairline from her collision with the pavement. Her skull glistened. Her lips moved but I couldn’t hear any sound coming from them. Her eyes never left the sky. In the distance, I heard the insistent wail of an ambulance. I leaned in, turning my head so my ear was closest to her mouth. I heard the faint whisper of the breath, she was trying to say something. The ambulance screamed through the streets.

  “Is there anything I can do? Is she going to be alright?” a woman asked, clutching her coat around her and staring at me with wide, frightened eyes.

  I shook my head and turned back to the dying woman. I started. She was staring right at me. Her manicured hand clutched at my sleeve and she smiled. I leaned in, meaning to comfort her.

  “God mouth,” she said.

  She died then. Her fingers slipped from my sleeve to land in her blood, which was reflecting the sky as her eyes did once more. There was a contented smile on her lips.

  “May she rest in peace,” said another woman, shaking her head.

  “Such a shame,” said the woman clutching her coat.

  “Did anyone get that asshole’s license plate?” said the man.

  The ambulance roared around the corner and rolled to a stop nearby. I stood and stepped away from the dead woman as the EMTs jumped out of the back. The others and I stood and watched them try to resuscitate her. It wasn’t long before they gave up and put the body on a stretcher and covered those blank eyes with a blanket.

  The women crept closer, their eyes latched onto the still figure underneath the cover. The EMTs called in the death. A police car finally rolled up.

  “What did she say to you?” asked one of the women.

  “Did she know that asshole in the car?” asked the other.

  I shook my head.

  “God mouth,” I said.

  “God?” repeated the first woman.

  “She was praying,” said the other.

  Satisfied, the women drifted off together to talk to the police. I thought about what they had said. It hadn’t sounded like a prayer.

  By the time I had finished giving my statement and information to the police, it was growing late. I watched the police car and ambulance slowly pull away, all the strangers and watchers turned and wandered away as well.

  Only the blood pool on the pavement remained. I stared at the reflection of the clouds on the blood, at my stained scarf lying next to it, before turning my back against it all and walking back home.

  The next time, I didn’t hear it. Rather I saw it written on the side of a building in egg yellow spray paint next to a crude representation of a wide, open mouth with square teeth inside. It was written all as one word:

  GODMOUTH

  I caught sight of it
as I was walking to the hospital. I stopped at the mouth of the alley and stared into the shadows. It’d been written at chest height, above some dented trashcans. It was the first time I thought about that woman in two days.

  I took out my phone and stepped into the alley, trying to avoid the puddles of vomit and piss, garbage and what looked suspiciously like human shit. I didn’t know why but I wanted a picture of the graffiti. After I snapped two photos of it, I stood and stared at it. A chill come over me as I remembered the dead woman’s smile and the way her beautiful green eyes had reflected the clouds, how she had whispered that final word in such a calm and loving way.

  I was brought back to the present by the stench of a homeless man who had come up behind me.

  “Spare a dollar for a homeless vet?” he coughed into his dirty hands before holding one out to me.

  I dug a couple dollars out of my coat pocket and handed them to him, escaping as his attention was turned to counting them out. I drew my new scarf tighter around my neck and hurried down the sidewalk, dodging the business men and women in fashionable clothes as they left work.

  I reached the hospital a few minutes late and my supervisor chewed me out as I got into my scrubs. I followed my boss out as she continued her rant.

  “I can’t have my nurses coming in late. You know how hectic and swamped we can be. I expect more from you, you’re one of the best nurses I have,” Ellen said as she charged down the crowded hallway, “things have been crazy these last few weeks, you should know better.”

  “I’m sorry, Ellen. I won’t let it happen again.”

  “No, you won’t,” she replied, shoving a clipboard at me.

  I looked over the counter of the nurse’s station at the crowded waiting room. All the seats were taken and even more people were leaning against the walls or slouching in groups near the entrance.

  “No time to just stand around,” Ellen said as she sat down in the chair behind the counter and began to sort through the forms there.

  I turned and went back down the hall to where the elevators were. The elevator dinged just as I pressed the ‘up’ button. I stood aside as Jimmy, a night orderly, wheeled out an old man. The gentleman was withered, slouched over his lap with thick ropes of drool dangling from his mouth. He smelled distinctly of urine and, from the dark patch on his crotch, it was obvious where the smell was coming from. Jimmy saw my expression and nodded.

  “Yeah, I’ll clean him up. It happened on the way down and I need to get him to the MRI. He was fine an hour ago, talking about politics. So bizarre.”

  The old man began to rock back and forth. I saw a smile on his face and then he said it:

  GODMOUTH

  I started and stared. “What did he say?”

  Jimmy looked down at the smiling, drooling old man and shrugged.

  “I don’t know what it means, he just keeps saying it. Probably just a side effect of the stroke he had or whatever it is that caused this.” Jimmy lifted a hand in a wave as he pushed the wheelchair down the hall and away from me.

  Staring after them, I stepped onto the elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. Ellen was obviously pissed at me since she had given me the worst night duty to cover; the psych ward. Normally this was covered by the resident psych doctors but, with budgets cuts, it had been relegated to the nurses. On the bright side, they usually always assigned two nurses to take care of the patients since some of them could be violent.

  Alison was already behind the counter on the fifth floor, waiting for me to arrive so we could start the rounds. Alison was my favourite person to be teamed up with. She was forty but acted like she was still in college, cracking dirty jokes and partying on her days off. Ellen hated her, which is why Alison often worked the night shift on the fifth floor. She smirked at me when she caught sight of me.

  “Guess who got lucky last night?” she asked by way of a hello.

  I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help smiling.

  “Let’s see to our guests and you can tell me all about it,” I replied.

  She filled me in on all the sticky details as we walked the bright halls to the backdrop of whimpering, screaming, and hissed one-sided conversations. I hated this floor so much.

  We rounded the final corner and she took the left side, I took the right. We peeked in the windows, checking to make sure everyone was in bed, or at least, accounted for. Most of these people weren’t too unstable, just some mild schizophrenia and paranoia.

  Occasionally, they could get violent but neither of us would be actually going into the rooms. I was checking the third room when I froze. The patient, Walter Carlson, was asleep with his back to me. Above his bed, scrawled in big, blocky letters was the word that had been haunting me:

  GODMOUTH

  Worse, the words were wet looking and red. I must have gasped because Alison was immediately at my side.

  “Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Is that blood?”

  “I think so,” I said.

  “Fuck me, is he dead? That’s a lot of blood. Is he breathing? Can you tell if he is breathing?”

  I squinted through the window but shook my head.

  “We have to go in there,” I said.

  “I’m calling security.”

  Alison darted down the hall to the nurse’s station.

  I found my hand on the doorknob before I realized what I was doing. I listened to Alison arguing on the phone. I stepped inside the room, leaving the door open behind me so the hall light could shine further into the room. The words glared out through the shadows, gleaming in the faint light. Inside the room, I saw that the opposite wall had been marked as well.

  The crude mouth drawing, exactly the same as the one in the alley, had been dabbed onto the wall with more blood. This drawing was larger though and I could make out that the teeth were long and stretched down past the lower lip. They ended in a blunt line, not in points like I would have assumed.

  I’d completely forgotten the patient until I found a roughly made shiv at my throat. I froze.

  “You see? You see?” the patient muttered, his other hand rising to point at the painting.

  I could see his hand was coated with tacky blood. His wrist had been gashed open. He pulled me to the open door.

  “I need to leave. I am needed. I must spread the word.”

  We stepped into the light and I saw Alison standing next to a security guard.

  Her mouth was agape as she stared at us. I wanted to say something, scream even, but I was frozen, my lips felt numb. I felt my knees begin to shake and suddenly I knew I was going to faint and that, when I did, the knife would slice my throat as I fell against it.

  My chest seized up, caught in the tight bands of panic that threatened to take control. I clenched my fists and allowed my nails to bite into the skin, hoping the pain would clear my head. Alison was speaking, trying to calm the patient. I felt him shake his head behind me.

  “I must leave. I must. Open the doors. Open them. I need to leave. I am needed. Look and see!” he pointed into his room.

  The security guard took a step forward. The patient screamed, grabbing my hair and pulling my head back and exposing my throat.

  “No, no, no, no, no!” he screamed.

  I saw the hand with the blade rise and I tried to bring my hands up to stop him but they moved so slow, as though in a dream. The patient jerked against me and his hand fell away from my hair as he slumped to the ground. I looked over my shoulder and saw another security guard with a gun raised. I hadn’t even heard the shot.

  I stumbled away from him and leaned against the wall, trying to catch my breath. My ears rang. I watched Alison kneel next to the man and check for a pulse. She shook her head and a security guard radioed the information back downstairs.

  Soon, I was heading down myself. Ellen waited for me in her office. I sat down before her and took the tea she offered. It was Ellen’s method. She wanted to be liked by everyone on the staff but she couldn’t help being the controlling bitch
that she was. So, she made me this tea to seem like she cared that I had almost had my throat cut by some psycho but I could tell by the deep lines around her eyes that she was more angry than concerned.

  “I’m glad you’re alright,” she lied.

  I nodded and waited for the axe to drop.

  “I can understand that you were concerned for the patient, which made you enter that room without waiting for security. However, now a patient is dead. We have rules for a reason.”

  I nodded again, staring into the steaming mug.

  “Normally, I would put you on an unpaid suspension but we’re short-staffed as is. I’ll just have to give you a written warning and put this incident in your file. I hope you will learn from this. You’ve gotten sloppy and I can’t have patients dying because of your lack of due diligence,” Ellen cleared her throat and stood. “Of course, I am glad you are okay. You may go.”

  By the time I’d returned to the fifth floor, a janitor had cleaned the blood off the walls and floor. Alison was waiting in tense silence at the nurse’s station. I was glad when day broke and the shift ended. Listening to those people scream and cry and whisper all night made me feel like I’d be locked up next.

  Walking home, I saw more graffiti. It was everywhere, as if an army of madmen had swamped the city armed with spray paint. I saw shop owners scraping the words off their windows with fast, angry movements, a business man throwing a fit over his vandalized Mercedes that now had a new mouth painted on the hood. I saw the words in chalk on the sidewalk, in paint on walls, and written with marker on the sides of buses. I was glad to finally get home.

 
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