Recently, Sirens Call Publications released its sixteenth anthology titled Voices from the Gloom – Volume 2. With ten stories contained within, none of them specific to any theme other than exceptional horror, we wanted to know what inspiration these authors were met with in writing their tales. Today we’ll be hearing from Erik Gustafson and his story Pack Your Skin Bags. For those of you who don’t know too much about Erik, here’s a few tidbits…
Erik Gustafson is a husband, father, college professor, advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, and a veteran of the United States Air Force. He has published three novels and has had short stories appear in many anthologies. You can find Erik on Twitter at @eriktiger or on his blog.
So without further ado, we turn you over to Erik…
Inspiration for Pack your Skin Bags
Getting the minimum word count for this article may be a bit of a stretch (that’s a pun you will understand in a minute). First a bit about me. My background is important to understanding my inspiration for this short story so bear with me. I hold a doctorate in family psychology and currently work with people that have had or are continuing to have very interesting experiences and unique behaviors. I drew inspiration for my story Pack your Skin Bags originally from little pieces of stories told by actual clients. Of course confidentially is very important so some alternations had to be made before I could use the experiences.
The concept of a “stretchy” person fascinated me and was my starting point. “Stretchy” in three major ways: the mind, the skin, and the joints. What does a “stretchy” mind mean? A schizophrenic. Someone who hears things and see things that aren’t there. His or her reality is stretched a bit. “Stretchy” skin is a classic symptom of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Ehlers-Danlos if you don’t know is a disorder that oftentimes effects, among other things, the stuff that helps your skin stay strong and firm (in carnivals someone like the Elastic Skin man). And the last part, “stretchy” joints would be a contortionist.
So a guy with schizophrenia, a guy with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and a contortionist walk into a bar. Wait. No it’s not like that. It’s not even three different people. It’s all one person.
The story opens with Alyson not being happy with what she sees in the mirror, so she smashes it and instead draws a crude picture of herself holding hands with a small child. So right off the bat we know she is unhappy and longing for a better life. Her only solace comes from feeding the ducks at the pond in a nearby park.
She also hears voices, a man motivating her and propelling her through the story. Most of these voices are quotes or paraphrased from actual clients I have gotten to know over the years. I mixed them together to enrich my tale.
As a woman who at one point earned her living as a contortionist, she uses these skills throughout the story in, I hope anyway, shocking and surprising ways.
I also explore the concepts of shame, guilt, and sadness. It’s complex. There is a lot going on under all the action and violence. I hope you enjoy your journey with Alyson and I would love to hear your reaction to this piece.
Thank you Erik. Now let’s take a look at Voices from the Gloom – Volume 2:
In this second volume, you’ll encounter ten stories that will send icy shivers down your spine. It includes tales of two brothers who find an opening into another world behind their grandparent’s home; a reporter sent to investigate a haunted house only to find out it holds a more nefarious secret; and the story of a woman searching for her lover but when she doesn’t find him, the tale takes a demented twist.
Get lost in the different voices, let their horrific nature speak to you from the spaces between the shadows. Allow them to get into your head and wring the marrow from your soul…
Maynard Blackoak, Carson Buckingham, Alex Clarke, Kevin Holton, DW Gillespie, Erik Gustafson, Jacob Lambert, Patrick O’Neill, Hannah Sears, and J.T. Seate
Available for purchase at:
And here’s a short excerpt from Pack Your Skin Bags…
The woman smashed the mirror with her clenched fist, trembling yet relieved to watch the reflection shatter and fall away. The remaining piece of plywood became her canvas. She held a short charcoal pencil in her bloody hand and sketched a crude image of a woman with long flowing hair holding the hand of a small child. She stepped back, shards crunching underfoot, to admire her creation.
“If only,” she muttered.
Sighing, she gazed through the open bedroom window at the nearby park.
The sun was bright, making the tops of the trees look like green flames dancing in the wind. A path meandered through the trees, where happy people walked and jogged with friends and family. The trail eventually found its way to a lake, far over the hill—out of sight even from up here—but she knew it was there. Ducks played in those waters and she often brought shredded bits of bread to feed them.
In contrast, the bedroom was dim and thick shadows crawled across the cluttered heaps of dirty clothes and pairs of shoes. The bed jutted from the wall at an odd angle, sheets tossed in clumps like piles of leaves.
With a desperate sigh, she pulled the blind closed. The shadows swelled, blanketing everything in a hazy gray.
“Please come home today, Michael,” she whispered, her labored breath slithering through the room like a gargoyle’s melody as she sat on the bed, staring into the gloom.
You need to reprogram that one, or delete him. It was a stern male voice, one she knew all too well.
“Shut up.” She pounded her fists on the bed.
The phone rang from down the hall.
Don’t answer it!
She stood and shuffled past the broken glass, heading toward the phone.
Alyson watched the phone as it rang three more times before picking it up. She held the receiver next to her ear. “Hello?”
All she heard was static.
The crackling interference yelled back into her ears. Slamming the phone down, tears welled in her eyes. Standing in the kitchen, everything looked as if she were viewing it from behind a waterfall, the appliances mere streaks of white. She rubbed her hand across her eyes, sniffed, and opened the cabinet door.
Inside, she retrieved one of the many loaves of bread. She marched to the front door. She paused, considering the contents hanging from a wooden coat rack: a long brown coat, wool stocking cap, umbrella, and a bag…