Thomas James Brown is one of the authors in Sirens Call Publications newest anthology, Now I Lay Me Down To Reap. After reading his story Beasts of Burden, we wanted to know what inspired him to pen the tale; the following is what he shared with us…
My Inspiration for Beasts of Burden
When I first read the guidelines for Sirens Call Publication’s latest anthology, I knew that I had to offer a story. The theme of reaping and human greed was one that had percolated my writing from an early age, along with other Deadly Sins. Although my understanding of human ‘sin’ has developed since those days into a more Romantic and Dionysian philosophy, I still felt a fondness for those first stories, and the simple, black-and-white world they represented. So I set to work crafting a piece that focused on Greed, whilst still representing the current themes of my writing.
No matter how fantastic or supernatural my latest stories are, the primary focus is always on people. I have discovered a love of characterisation; of emotion and trait and personal history, which I find moving in very deep ways. For this reason I have begun using supernatural or surreal themes to bring out or otherwise exaggerate these simple human plights in ways they could never otherwise be explored. Simply put, my stories rely on very basic human emotions to give them impact; from the ideas of loss and detachment from the world to the hunger and primal urges that we all recognise. ‘Beasts of Burden’, my story in Now I Lay Me Down To Reap, explores guilt.
Yes, the story is themed around Greed and reaping and paying for one’s debts. Yes, it is a horror story and yes, it features fantastic creatures. I drew from traditionally greedy images and motifs to reinforce the concept, from my draconic antagonist to the name of the farm (Hanker, verb; feel a strong desire to do something), right down to the shape of the weather vane. But the payoff comes with the old man’s guilt at the end; guilt at the damage he has wrought to his own family. And it is through this guilt that I seek to make a connection with my readers, and supply the story strength. After all, is guilt not one of the most sickening and shameful emotions we can experience?
The world isn’t black-and-white, as I once believed. Sin, as I understood it, does not exist. But by representing the traditionally Deadly Sin of Greed through one man’s disenchantment with his offspring and his smouldering anger at the skies and the trees and the earth beneath his feet, I have told a story true to my current philosophies, without betraying my previous beliefs. From this compromise of Romantic and Sinful ideologies, ‘Beasts of Burden’ was born.
Interested in delving in a little deeper into Thomas’ story Beasts of Burden, keep reading:
‘Avarice has ruined more souls than extravagance.’
Charles Caleb Colton
“Four months ago we could barely afford to eat and now this… By the Seven Courts of the Seven Sins, the land itself would not satisfy you, Frederick!”
For three generations, Hanker Farm had endured in the Dorsetshire region. When just a boy, Coll had watched studiously from the fields as his father managed the land. The lessons in those days were many, and taught the merits of diligence, hard work and glistening sweat, in favour of parchment or prayers.
“As you reap, so shall you sow,” his father used to say, “sow bad seeds and happen you’ll have a bad harvest.” Even in those early days, he had realized his father was imparting more than agricultural wisdom; he was a moral man with just beliefs, which did not indulge slovenliness or ill manners. Coll had been fashioned from these morals, he liked to think; the very best of his father’s produce. Certainly, he did his best to honour his father and the farm he had dutifully inherited, on his passing. Perhaps this was why he’d felt Frederick’s liberties with the oxen so keenly. Disappointment cut him like the north wind against his face. Frederick displayed none of the same respect he had nurtured in his other six sons. He often caught himself wondering where he had gone so wrong with Frederick. He had sown good seeds; why had this one grown askew?
The focus of Coll’s anger that afternoon could not have been more apparent: two burly oxen rested their heads on the fence outside Hanker Farm. It was a wonder the rickety slats of wood withstood their weight; the creatures were monstrous, with vast, curling horns and shoulders as broad as the family’s cart. Slabs of muscle shifted beneath their flesh, each larger than any of the eight men standing around them, and their breath blew hot and wet on the air.
At the sound of his name, Frederick grinned. “Don’t you see, Father? With these beasts we can plough twice as fast and twice as far! Hanker will be spoken of as far off as the White Cliffs!”
“With these beasts…” The old man spluttered into his beard from the other side of the assembly. “Look around you, Frederick. The fields are already tilled. We don’t need more oxen, especially not these overpriced beasts!”
“Then we shall buy more land! Hanker Farm will make a name for itself, Father, and we’ll reap the just rewards!” Beside Frederick, some of Coll’s other sons began to nod. Barthold scuffed at the upturned soil with his boots, Thomas bit nervously at his lip and from next to Frederick, Richard caught his father’s gaze. He glanced quickly away, studying the massing clouds as though they might burst any minute and with a terrible clap of thunder drown Hanker Farm forever…
Wander down the darker paths of the minds of twelve brilliantly talented authors as they conjure stories of retribution, deceit and betrayal.
Would you chance your family’s fate to the gods in return for a favor? Are the finer things in life worth having once you know the cost someone else had to pay for you to indulge in them? Would you give up your most addictive passion so that others might reap the benefits, regardless of the reward? Or perhaps, the chance at a fresh start and a new life appeals to you? Are you prepared to reap what you have sown?
Within this collection, you’ll find tales all too believable and beyond your oddest imaginings. But there is one thing you will not find… In this anthology, there are no happy endings.
Featuring the literary talents of:
Ryan C. Anderson, Thomas James Brown, Aspen deLainey, John H. Dromey, Amber Keller, Christian A. Larsen, Jeffery X Martin, Lori Michelle, Sergio Palumbo, J. Marie Ravenshaw, Bill Read, and Adrian Tchaikovsky