Category Archives: Issue 20

Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns by Laura Pearlman

The good news is, zombie unicorns almost never bite. The bad news is, even a tiny scratch from a zombie unicorn horn will turn you into a zombie. Mom discovered that by accident.

Mom was really smart. She was the first scientist to figure out that when the unicorns first showed up, some of them were already zombies, and some of those got bitten by lions or wolves or whatever, and that’s how it all started.

She used to let me watch her work in the lab. I just had to stay out of everyone’s way and not touch anything. She got me a lab coat, and we dyed it pink. I had my own notebook, too, and I’d write down everything I saw her do, and then she’d quiz me about it over dinner.

Anyway, Mom was preparing some samples. She had two unicorn horns. One was pure white and shiny and smooth. The other was gray and drab and had jagged edges. She let me write labels for two test tubes: “normal unicorn horn” and “zombie unicorn horn.” Then she put on a pair of bright purple latex gloves and winked at me. Her gloves and my lab coat were the only colorful things in the lab—everything else was white, brown, or gray. She put a clean drill bit into her drill, then set the white horn on top of a sheet of paper and started drilling into it. Powdery stuff fell out. It looked like fairy dust. When a little pile had collected on the paper, she poured the unicorn dust into the “normal unicorn horn” test tube, put on the stopper, and threw away the paper.


Then she started on the other one. But just then, one of the monkeys shrieked. Mom got startled and cut her finger on one of the edges of the zombie horn. It was just a tiny cut. The kind you cover with one of those Band-Aids that’s a circle instead of a rectangle, and then it just falls off the next day and you forget there was even a cut there at all. But this time, when she took off her gloves, her hand was already turning gray.

I wear my pink lab coat everywhere now. Everyone calls me Science Barbie, but I don’t care. It reminds me of Mom.

After Mom’s accident, I started spending most of my time with the older kids. Jason is fifteen, and Jill and Kyle are sixteen. I thought they wouldn’t want me tagging along, but Kyle said it was okay because I was the only twelve-year-old with enough guts to sneak outside. The others went along with it because everyone always goes along with what Kyle says.

It doesn’t really take a lot of guts to go outside. The fence keeps out the human zombies and the big zombie animals, so all we get are little ones, like rabbits and mice. And the traps get most of those.

I mean, it’s not completely safe. They had to shoot Mrs. Taylor last summer. She was already a zombie when they found her, so they couldn’t tell exactly what happened, but they think she was sitting under a tree reading a book and got bitten by a zombie mouse. She was always doing stupid stuff like that. Everyone knows you don’t sit on the ground.

And then Mrs. Johnson shot Mr. Johnson in their room by mistake one night because she thought he was a zombie, but it turned out he was just shuffling around because he was drunk.

And it’s not like staying inside kept Mom safe.

Sometimes I think Kyle is more afraid than I am. He says we’re all going to starve to death because zombie bees can’t fly, and that means they can’t pollinate, so all the food crops will die. I got really scared the first time I heard him say it. But that night I had a dream, and Mom was in it, and she was alive and normal and human, and she hugged me and laughed and said “have you ever seen a zombie bee?” And then I laughed and we held hands and started singing:

Have you ever seen a zombie bee?
Or a zombie fly?
Or a zombie flea?
Have you ever seen a zombie bee?
No you never have
‘Cause there’s none to see.

There were more verses, but that’s all I could remember when I woke up. Anyway, I told Kyle there was nothing to worry about—bugs don’t turn into zombies. But he wouldn’t listen, and he kept saying we’re going to starve, so I said hey, one thing we’ll never run out of is zombie meat. And he said you can’t eat zombie meat, because that’s just like biting a zombie. And I felt really stupid, so I said yeah, if you eat raw zombie meat, but maybe not if you cook it.

I didn’t mean we should actually do it. I wished I hadn’t said it. But it was too late to take it back. Kyle said we should cook some zombie meat and feed it to one of the dogs. I didn’t want to do something that mean, but none of the others said anything, and sometimes it’s just easier to go along with what Kyle says.

Jason and I went to the kennels to get a dog. We chose Mrs. Taylor’s old dog. I thought her name was Lady, but Jason thought it was Sadie, so I’m not sure. Anyway, Lady or Sadie or whatever her name was hadn’t had any human attention since Mrs. Taylor died. She was really happy to come with us. I wanted to forget all about the experiment and spend the afternoon playing with the dog, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen.


When we got back, Kyle and Jill were roasting a zombie rabbit over a fire. We didn’t know how long to cook it. Zombies are all gray inside, so you can’t judge by the color. Maybe you can judge by the smell. Jill said that when they caught the rabbit, it had that fresh-zombie smell they get right after they turn, sort of like mushrooms and rotting meat. By the time I got there, it smelled like an older zombie-–less like mushrooms and more like rotten meat, with some sour milk and dust mixed in (it also smelled like burning hair, but I think that’s just because its hair was burning). Half an hour later, the burnt hair smell was gone, and the zombie smell was stronger; it smelled like the oldest zombies, the ones that turned three years ago. And the smell kept getting worse. After an hour, we all wanted to puke. That’s when we decided it was done.

The dog wouldn’t eat it. And I said well, I guess this experiment didn’t work, and Kyle said no, we just need to keep her chained up until she’s hungry enough.

It took three days. She didn’t turn into a zombie, but she did throw up a lot. And I said okay, eating cooked zombie meat won’t turn you into a zombie, but it won’t keep you from starving, either.

And Kyle said, not so fast. The meat was three days old, so maybe it went bad. So we kept the dog chained up another day and cooked another zombie rabbit and made her eat that, and it was the same as before: she didn’t turn into a zombie, but she did throw up. A lot. But at least then we let her go.

I felt bad about what we did to the dog. I started spending more time alone, reading books. Not even reading, most of the time—I found some art books and just flipped through them, looking at the pictures.

One of the books was called Masterpieces of Tapestry, 1400-1600. This was the most boring of all the books, because the tapestries were all super old and faded. I was about to put it down when I saw a picture of one with a unicorn in it. And then another picture with the unicorn being killed, and then one with the unicorn alive again. A zombie unicorn. But that didn’t make sense. I remember when the unicorns first showed up. I was nine.

I ran outside and showed Kyle the book and said look, zombie unicorns were here a long time ago and then they left so maybe they’ll leave again. He said it was just a story and I said how could there be a story about unicorns 500 years before anyone ever saw one? And even he had to agree it might be true. And then everyone just got really excited, and Jason came up with the idea that maybe if we killed all the zombie unicorns, that would cure the zombie disease. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but it seemed like a good idea anyway.

We decided to kill as many zombie unicorns as we could. But first we had to catch them. The tapestry book said they’d come up to a virgin, so I said Jill and I could try to lure them in, but Jill just laughed and said I was on my own. So I sat in a chair near the edge of the fence while the others watched and waited, ready to shoot any zombie unicorns that came close enough. But all I got were regular unicorns, not the zombie kind. After a few days of this, we were all getting kind of cranky, and everyone started yelling at me, and I said it wasn’t my fault—if they wanted a zombie unicorn, maybe they needed a zombie virgin. And everyone stopped yelling and just looked at me.

I wish I hadn’t said it. But it’s too late to take it back.



Laura Pearlman lives in California with two cats and no unicorns. She has a blog called Unlikely Explanations and a tumblr devoted to things her cats have dropped in their water bowl. She should probably get out more.

Laura Pearlman
Laura Pearlman
Interview with Laura Pearlman | Buy Issue #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Allosaurus Burgers by Sam J. Miller

Our teacher Mrs. Strunt said the allosaurus coming to Hudson Falls was the best thing that ever happened to Hudson Falls, but the worst thing that ever happened to the allosaurus. She herded us onto the bus looking mad about it, trying to keep us from seeing she was just as excited as we were. The bus was freezing and we had all the windows fogged up in five minutes. Other boys drew curse words. I wrote F-U-C and then flinched, imagining my mother finding out, so I wiped it away and drew an allosaurus.

“The poor thing,” Mrs. Strunt said. “Wherever it came from, it’s got to feel terribly lonely and lost and scared.”

The roads were all madness on the way to the farm. Barely a day since Mr. Blecher made his big announcement, and everyone in the world was coming to Hudson Falls. Scientists and men with giant cameras, and lots of soldiers with lots of guns, but not the mean soldiers and scientists from movies. Everyone I saw had a smile so big it could have been their birthday. Everyone is coming to Hudson Falls, I thought.

And then: a treacherous, wicked, horrible thought.

Maybe my dad will come.

Where had it come from—dad—that foul forbidden word? I sucked in my cheeks like making a fish face and closed my teeth on as much flesh as I could, and bit down hard. And then harder. Punishing myself. Until I felt the same hot smothering rage that rises up in my mother every time I say that word.

I thought my mother was God, then. Six-foot-something, all flesh and freckles, she towered over our neighbors in church and at the supermarket. She came home from the slaughterhouse smelling like blood. I was nine then, and she could still pick me up, hoist me into the air. Not even the fathers of the other boys my age could do that. She wasn’t afraid of anything.

At breakfast that morning my mother had said “Day after tomorrow, the army’s going to take it away, and I personally think it can’t happen soon enough.”

I finished my milk and Mom poured me more, which I did not want, which I drank. Mom is certain that the government wants to take our stuff. Mostly our guns. She has a lot of guns and a lot of stickers on her car about them and her cold dead hands. So now I wondered why she wanted them to take the allosaurus.

“Woulda taken it right away, only it’ll take ’em 48 hours to scrounge up the right equipment.”

I nodded. Mom drank from the jug and put it back in the fridge.

“Blecher’s going to make out okay, though. Heard he’s got a million in TV deals lined up.” She likes Mr. Blecher because he’s an old old man, but he can still get over on her once in a while in arm wrestling. “And he’s hidden away some of its droppings to sell to the companies.”

“What kind of companies?”

Mom frowned. “How the hell would I know something like that?”

I wondered what they would do with dinosaur poop. Could you clone something from its poop? Could something so gone forever come back so easily? And if poop worked, what else would? I thought of my father’s baseball cap, the one Mom didn’t know I had, the one that still smelled of his sweat when I crawled to the back of my closet late at night and in total darkness buried my nose in it.

Mom never sits at meal times. She made anxious circles through the tiny kitchen, moving refrigerator magnets and removing expired coupons and straightening the cat and dog figurines I could never stop forcing to fight each other. It was a Tuesday morning, which is when my sister Sue calls from college. Waiting for the call always made Mom a little tense.

“What?” she said, kicking me lightly. “Why the face, like I just killed a puppy?”

I shrugged.

“You want me to be excited about it. But that thing ain’t right. They got scientists out combing that corner of Blecher’s farm, but mark my words they won’t find nothing. This is something bigger than science.”

“At church yesterday, Pastor said it’s a creature of God,” I spoke carefully, not contradicting, just seeking clarity. I could no longer swing my legs when I sat at the kitchen table. This was a recent development, one I’d been looking forward to that had turned out to be pretty crummy. My feet rested resentfully on the cold tiles. A draft came from under the door.

“Pastor’ll say what needs to be said to help Mr. Blecher out and to get people to come and spend their money in town. Creature of God, my foot.”

Church was the most important thing in my mother’s life, but I don’t think she believed in God. The Hudson Falls Evangelical Lutheran Church gave her lots of things, like friends and a full social calendar and a reason not to go to the liquor store. God didn’t offer her anything extra. Mostly she just liked what Pastor said: the sermons full of blood, fire and the devil and impending doom, about a world gone haywire and full of sinners and about to be punished.

She heaped bacon on my plate, five then six then seven slices. “‘Fore you know it, there’ll be bunches of them things, running riot over all the world. Eating us all up.”

“It’s locked up, Mom.”

“I know you saw King Kong, because I saw you crying at the end of it—” and she thumped me on the arm, not hard, because I saw her cry too when the big ape fell—”so I know you know they had Kong tied up good and proper, and he still got loose.”

My sister Sue called then. Mom talked to her for a little while, not sounding super-excited. Mom handed me the phone while Sue was in a sentence.

“Hi,” I said, interrupting her.

“Matt? Hi! Exciting stuff, right? A dinosaur in stupid little Hudson Falls! It’s on all the news channels.”


“Have you seen it?”

“No,” I said. “We go today.”

“I wish I could come see it, but it’ll be gone soon, right? Did you read the dinosaur books I sent you?”


“Why not?”

I shrugged.

“Did you just shrug? You can’t shrug over the phone.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Do you not like dinosaurs anymore?”

I shrugged again. Then I remembered about shrugging. “I don’t know.”

But I did know. Starting around the time I turned seven, Mom frowned when I talked about dinosaurs. “You get too excited about those things,” she’d say. “Loving something too much is dangerous.” So whenever I got the urge to pick up a dinosaur book or toy, I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek.

The allosaurus was different, of course. It was something you couldn’t ignore or pray away.

“I talked to Dad,” Sue said. Mom was making a lot of noise putting the dishes in the sink. “He’s coming to town to see the allosaurus. He begged his editor to give him the assignment.”


“Do you remember your dad?”

“No,” There was nothing to remember. Some phone calls, sometimes, some letters, and once a box with a birthday present. Mom set it on fire without opening it. Sadness-anger tightened my stomach. I bit my lip to banish it.

“Mom’s…” Sue spent a while figuring out where to go with that one. “Mom’s not always thinking straight, when it comes to him.” She knew she had to be careful. After she screamed bad things at Mom, I refused to speak to her for the whole week before she went to college. “I know it seems like Mom’s the toughest chick on two legs, but she’s afraid of lots of things.”

The being-mad-at-Sue didn’t really go away until we clambered down from the bus at Blecher’s Farm. I had been a million times, for church picnics and farm field trips, but had never seen it so full of strangers, people on cell phones, slinging weird devices. The inside of the barn was full of new gates and doors and walls, built quick by the army while they waited for the elephant cage to come from San Diego.

The allosaurus was as tall as two of my mother when it reared up to its full height, but it rarely did. Its usual leaning-forward walk placed it at just the right level to look Mom in the eye. It looked the way it did in books and movies, a tyrannosaurus but smaller, only it had something the movies don’t: a personality. Curious and mistrustful, not particularly smart, a little like a seagull that wants to steal your food.

“The poor thing,” Mrs. Strunt said, looking up at it. It bobbed its head as it walked.

I was glad Mom wasn’t there. I could stand there staring at the thing with what Mom calls my “gape-mouthed imbecile look.”

The allosaurus was anti-camouflaged, wine-colored with long wide yellow streaks down the flank. It didn’t need to hide from anyone. The claws were a weird marbled grey I hadn’t imagined. Blood and hay covered the floor. It had been eating; its arms and face were messy from it. It didn’t look lonely or lost or scared. It looked proud of itself, like it had lucked into a lot of food and was waiting to see how things played out.

Mr. Blecher took us on a personal tour, his hands heavy on the heads of the kids he knew from church.

We stood at the edge of the barn, beside the steep railing that penned it in. The allosaurus came closer and someone screamed. Its nostrils snorted smoke into the chilly air. The barn had been there since forever, but the sawdust-and-cement smell of the air gave the place a freshly-built feel that was not reassuring. Only raw wood and new nails kept it away from us. It nudged a bar with its head, its claws a yard from my face, and a whole bunch of someones screamed. Maybe including me. The arms are what make an allosaurus so much better than a tyrannosaurus. Tyrannosaurus is way bigger, but they have stupid stumpy little arms with two claws. Allosauruses have long, muscular, useful arms with three scary claws.

Mrs. Strunt asked “What are they going to do with it?”

“Rent it out to movie studios,” Blecher said. “Take its DNA and make little ones. Bottle its spit and sell it for engine grease. Honestly ma’am, I have no idea.”

He took us around to the adjoining cages, where the goats had been crammed. He gripped the lever that would release a goat into the allosaurus pen, and grinned and said “You kids want to see what happens when I pull this?”

We all screamed yes, but Mrs. Strunt said no. She said it loud and weird so Mr. Blecher didn’t.

“Sure wish I could keep it, but they won’t let me. It was all I could do to get them to camp down the hill with their whole security rigmarole, not keep me up all night with their noise.”

I watched the allosaurus. Mr. Blecher was telling the story about how he found it on bear patrol in his John Deere Gator Utility Vehicle, and how everyone always told him he was crazy to bring the harness and the tranquilizer cannon like he could shoot down a grizzly and bring it home. Didn’t he do them one better? … except that he had to call up five of his friends to bring their Gators to help drag it back.

In my head I broke the allosaurus down into the cuts Mom taught me, from the picture of the cow. Thick rib, thin rib. Silverside. Brisket. Chuck. Blade. Drumstick? Cows don’t have drumsticks. Probably the allosaurus was closer to a chicken, but Mom doesn’t work with chickens. That’s a separate slaughterhouse. That’s a whole set of words she doesn’t know.

“So?” Mom said. “How was it?”

“Neat,” I said, sitting down at the kitchen table. She blinked and smiled like she’d been praying, or napping. Her hands were raw, bright pink. Winter’s tough at the slaughterhouse. The meat gets cold fast. Mom doesn’t do the killing. The room where they hang the cows to empty out, after they’ve been killed but before Mom comes through to turn them into smaller pieces, isn’t heated. By the time she gets there they’re barely above freezing.

“Is it true they don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

I nodded.

“Well shoot, you’d think that’d be easy to figure out.”

“You should come,” I said.

“What’d Rebecca have to say about the thing?”

I shrugged. Mom hates Mrs. Strunt. They went to school together, but Mrs. Strunt went to college after and Mom went to the slaughterhouse, and now Mrs. Strunt makes more money than Mom does. Not much more, Mom says, but the fact that Mrs. Strunt doesn’t have to spend the whole day standing up and lifting heavy things really rankles.

“Why don’t you want to come see it?”

“Lord, Matt, I don’t know.”

“Stanley’s parents let him stay home from school today. They said it was because they’re Catholics and the Pope hasn’t spoken on the allosaurus yet, so they don’t know whether it’s demonic or not. But really it was because Stanley was scared.”

I held my fists to my chest right after I said it, steeling myself for what might come, but Mom just smiled. “You think maybe I’m scared of that big brute? He don’t scare me. All it is is meat.”

She stood up and I heard something pop. Mom said one bad word, then, and spent a long time saying it. She put both her hands on her back.

I stood up, but didn’t go closer. Lately I’d been hearing that popping more and more. Once the pain passes she usually moves on to being mad. But this time she shut her eyes and her lips moved, and when she opened them the fierceness had gone out of her face.

“Is she a good teacher? Rebecca?”

“I guess,” I said.

“Do you like her?”

I nodded.

“Good. You need to do well in school.” She looked at me, smiled at whatever she saw. “Somebody ought to make that dinosaur into steaks, is all I’m saying. Or burgers. Eat it before it eats us.” Then she elbowed me. “Would you eat allosaurus burgers, kid?”

I said I would. She said she would too. We laughed about it more than maybe we meant to, but laughing felt good.

Much later that night the phone woke me up. I sat at the top of the stairs so I could hear Mom’s side of the conversation.


“No. Uh uh.”


So it was Dad.

“Really, Max? That’s all it is? And if they shipped the dinosaur out to Texas or it died tomorrow, you wouldn’t come?”

“You’re a damn liar.”


“No. Why would you ask me that?”

“Why all of a sudden do you care about him now?

“You’re the one who chose to live way the hell down there. And we’re doing fine, him and me.”



“Please, Max. Please don’t.”

I cried a lot when Mom got drunk and burned the box with my birthday present from Dad, but only because I was five. I wouldn’t cry now.

Things started to get bad between Mom and Sue around the same time Sue called Dad.

“She’s taken him back once before,” she had told me, not long after she snuck out of the house and took a train to see him without telling Mom, and not long before she decided to go to college in Plattsburgh because that would put her just a six-hour bus ride from where Dad was. “I was nine when he came back. He stuck around for a month or two.”

Sue is nine years older than me.

“You should see him. He’s a big strong tough guy. Like you’ll probably be.”

I wouldn’t rise to the bait.

“He’s smart too. Also like you’ll probably be.”

I thought about him a lot. But I’d learned not to ask about him ever. Mom had lots to say.

“Why…” I said, back then, to Sue—but I needed to be careful if I was going to say out loud the things I barely dared think. The things that would break my mother’s heart to hear. “Why does she hate him so much?”

“She can’t say to no to him,” Sue said. “That’s why Mom goes to church so much. Because she’s not nearly as strong as she wants people to think.”

I said something, probably not nice.

“The only reason they’re not together is that he hated Hudson Falls. Said he could never live there. And you know what? She was going to leave everything, to move to the city with him. Quit her job, sell the house, leave her friends and church and family. And then at the last minute—like, the night before—she got blind drunk, stole his car, drove it one block and then deliberately crashed it into a pole, walked home, told him she hated his guts and to get the hell out of her town and her life.”

“You’re lying,” I said. “That’s stupid. Mom’s not stupid.”

“I’m not lying. She can either have him or be in control of her life, and she chose to be in control. And she doesn’t care who gets hurt because of it.”

I didn’t understand Sue then, didn’t know what she was saying, but when Mom hung up on Dad, I heard the cabinet above the refrigerator open and the bottle and glass clink against the counter.

Mom left her bedroom and then made a lot of noise in the garage and I knew right away what she was up to, where she was going. I dressed fast in the dark and was outside by the time she was halfway down the block. She wouldn’t risk taking the car. People would see it and know she had been there. I followed her from a distance. She was dressed in black for stealth and carried a bulging backpack—mine.

The walk to Mr. Blecher’s farm was way too long. She walked like people walk on TV when they drink too many drinks. She paused a quarter of the way there, and it was like I could hear every thought as it went through her head. This is stupid. I should turn back. I can’t do this. I can do this. I have to do this. Finally she took the bottle out and took a long time drinking from it before she started up walking again.

The quiet out at the farm was weird, after how noisy it had been in the daytime. The Army had put up cameras and Mom put her hood up when she got close. There was a new metal door to the barn, with a complicated lock. Mom spent a while looking at the keypad. I was amazed when she guessed at the passcode and got it right the first time.

Here I thought my luck might not hold, but I would not be turned back. Church was the most important thing in both Mom and Mr. Blecher’s lives, so I figured that was where the password came from. I tried the zip code of the church, but that didn’t work. My second guess was the last four digits of the church phone number, which Mom made me memorize because it’s where I could always find her if she wasn’t home or at work. That’s what it was.

I crept in quiet as a cartoon ninja. Mom stood in the middle of the barn, looking in to where the allosaurus was. She fumbled for a light and found one, but it was at the far end of the barn and barely lit one corner. We watched the darkness together, apart. We couldn’t see the allosaurus; it was asleep or maybe watching from a corner. Mom hollered, but the allosaurus didn’t holler back. She set the backpack down and opened it up and took out two of her biggest guns and put them together and put the backpack back on. Then she climbed up onto the high new door of the pen, and said “Hey!”

The allosaurus rose out of nothingness and took one-two-three tiny steps forward.

I walked around to the adjoining cages. I didn’t hurry. My mouth was full of blood from biting my cheeks. I never prayed in church, but I was praying then. She still had time to decide not to do it. From that far away I could watch her and pretend what I was watching wasn’t happening. I put both hands on the lever that would open the goat pen gate, ready to save the allosaurus from my mother. Goats grumbled in the dark beside me.

Sue is wrong, I thought. Mom is not afraid of the allosaurus. She doesn’t do dumb things out of fear. She does them out of fearlessness.

She raised the gun, and wobbled. The allosaurus tilted its head to see her better. They were ten feet apart. It stood up straight, so it was looking down on her, which Mom clearly did not like. She pulled herself up higher, to stand on the top tier of wood. She held her hands out to steady herself, but did not do a good job of it. The edges of the bars were dented and splintered where it connected to the frame. I imagined the allosaurus whacking its tail or head against them all night long, trying to get out, or trying to get the goats it smelled just out of sight.

The wood cracked. Mom fell. In.

It looked down at my mother. Its claws flexed. It lowered its head, and took a step toward her. Mom didn’t move. Her back was to me and I was glad I could not see her face. The thing took another tentative step, then walked purposefully towards her. Only when I saw it stand over her, mouth open and eyes wide, did I realize just how big and beautiful and scary it was.

I pulled the lever as hard as I could. The cage gate swung open and a goat darted into the pen, bleating its excitement, conditioned to believe there would be food when it got there. And there would be, except it would be the food.

At the goat’s bleat, the allosaurus turned its head. The goat was a little further from it than my mother, and a little smaller, so the allosaurus took another step toward Mom. I jumped down into the goat cage and shoved a second goat into the pen. It balked, either out of contrariness or fear. The goat was warm, smelly, and I could feel its muscles unclench as it gave in and trotted forward. I felt bad for it. And then I hunched and prayed in the dark where my mother could not see me.

The goats stood still, looking stupid until they caught the smell of the allosaurus. They scattered. This swiftly-moving meat made the allosaurus let loose a machine screech and stomp after them.

Mom climbed up and out, slowly. Safe on the other side, she sank to the ground. She held her back with both hands. The goats were making an ungodly noise, but I owed it to them to watch, to see what I had done. Blood went absolutely everywhere.

Mom had her head between her knees and her arms around her head. I watched her for a minute and that hurt worse than watching the goats.

I didn’t leave the dark stinking cage till Mom staggered out into the night. I wanted to help her up off the floor, but I knew not to. I listened to the allosaurus eat. It saw me when I stood up. It lowered its head to get a better look. And then it turned and stalked back to the barn-corner shadows. The allosaurus wasn’t a demon or a bad-ass movie monster. It was only an animal. It obeyed laws it did not understand and had no hand in making, just like me.

I followed Mom home much later and snuck into my bed. In the morning I came down to bacon for breakfast. She poured orange juice and I asked for coffee, like I always did, and she smiled when she said I was too young for it. I was glad to see her smile. She didn’t need to know she would never be the same size again.



Sam J. Miller
Sam J. Miller

Shirley Jackson Award winner SAM J. MILLER is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction and essays have appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Icarus, The Minnesota Review, Fiction International, Washington Square, and The Rumpus, among others. He is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop, a member of the Altered Fluid writers group, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, an anthology published by the University of Texas Press. Visit him at


 Interview with Sam | Get Issue #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer #20 Interview: Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller
Sam J. Miller, with Wood

Tell us a little about how “Allosaurus Burgers” came to be.
I wanted to write a story about the moment where a child realizes their parent is human, and fallible. It’s such a heartbreaking and universal step, when you stop believing that your parents can answer every question and always keep you safe.

Also, I love dinosaurs. A lot. And dinosaurs make every dramatic fact about the human condition more dramatic.

Your family ran a butchershop for a while. Do you have any interesting stories from growing up in that environment?
Well, the town butcher knows ALL the gossip, and cutting meat alongside my father was where I first learned that everyone has a fascinating story to tell. Which happens to be one of the most important rules of writing fiction. The man who lived in the swamp and only ever bought hot sauce, which he put on the worms that were his main food. The dowager movie star hiding from the world. The immigrant couple who made their living picking up bottles and cans. The butch dyke who worked for my dad and taught me how to sell food stamps when I was twelve years old. My dad treated them all with the same respect, AND he told me all the juicy gossip. I mean, back story.

My good friend Tim Fite also worked as a butcher when he was a teenager, and he said something that really rang true for me – there’s something very important about masculinity that a young man can learn by being covered in blood all day every day. There’s something very primal and horrific about working with meat. We’re all made out of it, after all. Like me, he became a vegetarian shortly after, and like me he still is.

How did you first get involved with social justice and resources for the homeless?

I was a teenaged communist, and coming of age as a gay man made me pretty attuned to the horrors of patriarchy. I’ve always been an activist or at least a shit-talker about issues like war, corporate power, workers’ rights, animal liberation. But it’s funny – I was never particularly drawn to housing as an issue. And then I was working as a community organizer around immigrant rights work, and I kept hearing great stuff about this organization Picture the Homeless. And I was lucky enough to take a night course in community organizing with folks from the organization, and learned more on my cigarette breaks talking with PTH members than I did in the class itself. So when they were hiring, I jumped at the chance.

You work at an organization that was started by two homeless men. Can you talk about your work there, and maybe where you’d like to see yourself making the most impact?

My work at Picture the Homeless focuses on bringing people without homes together to fight back against the problems that impact them. We don’t think homeless people need advocates – they’re the experts on homelessness, and they have the anger to fight back and win. We provide the space and resources and support to create change around the many bad policies they have to deal with. A big part of our work focuses on challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. People want to frame the issue as one of substance abuse and mental illness, but plenty of wealthy people have substance abuse and mental illness issues! Homelessness is about poverty, and gender, and the lack of decent-paying jobs, and institutional racism, and a whole host of other systemic issues. Homeless people are already living in a dystopia. It’s like the William Gibson quote about the future already being here, but not evenly distributed. I’m very fortunate to have this perspective of working so close to the issue for so long. It can be really emotionally draining at times, as is true of any situation where you’re exposed to massive, cruel, wanton, unnecessary injustice, but we have also won a lot of really huge concrete victories that are helping to turn the tide.

Do you have a favorite interview question? Have you ever been asked it? How would you answer it?
OOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooh OK I’m not saying that I used to fantasize about being interviewed by Rolling Stone when I was a teenager ALL THE TIME. But I totally did. And one of the questions I wanted to be asked was what fictional character I would most want to be. So go ahead. Ask me that question.

What fictional character would you most want to be?  
All the villains. Lady Macbeth. Maleficent. Neuromancer. Mrs. Coulter, from His Dark Materials. Grendel. Prince Zuko, from Avatar: the Last Airbender. President Laura Roslin and Mrs. Dalloway. They’re not villains, but that’s okay. Some of my best friends are not villains.

How does it feel to win a motherfucking Shirley Jackson Award?

Pretty fricking awesome. And not just because Shirley Jackson is pretty fricking awesome. And not just because so many of my hero(in)es have won it – Karen Joy Fowler, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Peter Watts, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, Ellen Datlow…

It’s also awesome because my story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” (Nightmare Magazine, December 2013) was super gay, and I know I’m not the only queer writer who sometimes feels nervous about writing shit that’s super gay, because what if straight people don’t connect with it emotionally because of the gayness? (homophobes aside; I’m not worried about what they think, they can suck a rock for all I care). So to do something that engages queerness so directly, in a way that felt kinda scary for me when it was finished and on the page, and have it get such a positive response from so many people, and then win a motherfucking Shirley Jackson Award, made me feel really good about my ability to find an audience for the particular fascinations and fucked-up places I want to explore in my fiction. ALSO I GOT A ROCK! All the nominees got a little rock that says “Shirley Jackson Awards 2013,” suitable for stoning someone.

ALSO – BECAUSE I AM AN ASSHOLE BROTHER – I FORGOT TO THANK MY LITTLE SISTER SARAH WHEN I ACCEPTED MY AWARD. Sarah, I love you a billion, and your love for me and my work has made a huge difference at a bunch of crucial moments when I was feeling pretty bad about things. SO THANK YOU!

end_of_storyRead Allosaurus Burgers | Get Shimmer #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer


Issue #20

Shimmer #20, art by Sandro Castelli
Shimmer #20, art by Sandro Castelli

One of the coolest things about Shimmer is the variety of stories we see in our submissions. While we see a steady stream of the usual tropes (vampires, fairies, and mermaids, oh my), our attention is best caught by something that turns a standard trope on its ear, or something that’s completely out of left field.

Issue #20 is a great reflection of the beautifully unexpected things we discover in our submissions, and the surprising things we end up loving as editors and readers both. Shimmer leans toward stories that cover new ground, and these four do that. They also feature authors making their Shimmer debuts–I love when that happens.

Jenn Grunigen on “The Seaweed and the Wormhole”: When I think of “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” I think of two things: progressive metal, and consumption.

Eden Robins on “Ellie and Jim vs. Tony the Nose”: I have it on good authority that the afterlife is, indeed, an automat.

Sam J. Miller on “Allosaurus Burgers”: dinosaurs make every dramatic fact about the human condition more dramatic.

Laura J. Pearlman on “Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns”: A zombie Tooth Fairy would be the most devastating, and the creepiest. Actually, the Tooth Fairy is pretty creepy even without being a zombie. She buys children’s body parts!

…twenty issues of Shimmer. Good gracious, that’s something, isn’t it? I hope you’ll be with us for twenty more!


Issue #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer!

Ellie and Jim vs. Tony “The Nose” by Eden Robins

The afterlife resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned automat. Just this long, narrow, possibly endless room. One wall is lined with shining chrome drawers and those tiny, cloudy windows where you can catch glimpses of sandwiches with wilted lettuce and sometimes more grotesque things, like gall bladders. A big oaf dressed like a 1920s mobster looms over the cash register and is forever giving you the stink-eye, like you might try to jimmy your way into the drawers and steal his gall bladders. The automat only takes quarters and wouldn’t you know it, I forgot my purse.

The place reeks of stale cigarette smoke and that nose-tingling odor of cleaning products. The waitresses are always wiping down the chrome drawers and the square Formica tables that dot the length of the long hallway, so that explains the cleaning products, but the cigarette smell is some kind of mystery from the beyond. I don’t know what to think about the waitresses. Even if you walk right up to them, even if you stand nose-to-nose and tit-to-tit with them, they won’t answer a simple question, such as, say, “Is this heaven or hell?”

Jim and I are the oldest people here, which is honestly not as surprising as the fact that we are also the only people here. Stuck, apparently, in our own personal afterlife.

I keep glancing up at the cat-shaped clock on the wall, even though I know it always says 4:15. The clock’s broken, or maybe time’s just broken, what the hell do I know? We’re sitting at “our table,” making pyramids out of the creamers, and I catch Jim peeking at the bulletin board that hangs next to the mobster’s cash register.

“Jim,” I say, “nobody’s ever going to post anything.”

“They did that one time,” he says. I give him a look. The “one time” he’s talking about, all the paper said was Made ya look! where the O’s were a pair of googly eyes. Meanwhile the mobster made a noise through his nose that might have been a chuckle. Very funny.

So Jim says for the thousandth time that he’s going to go ask the mobster guy for a couple quarters, just to see what’ll happen, and as much as I’m starved for something to do, someone else to talk to, I tell him I think it’s a bad idea.

“What if I just ask him for a deck of cards?” Jim asks. He’s terrible at leisure time. When we were alive he always had something scheduled: work, intramural softball, poker nights, jam sessions, teaching English to Somali immigrants.

“We can’t be the only ones dying of boredom here,” he says. “Someone’s bound to start a club or something. Hell I’d even learn how to play Mah Jongg, fucking Scribbage. I don’t care.”

“I think it’s pronounced ‘Cribbage,'” I say.

“Whatever,” he says.

A whole life of camaraderie, of working together through financial troubles, and children, and just the general shit that life lobs at you, and it’s not until we’re dead that the specter of a divorce looms.

“Why don’t you post something?” I say.

“Sure, Ellie,” he says. “Got a pen?”

When you love someone, you spend a whole lot of time wondering what the hell you’re going to do if they die before you do. You imagine the end of life to be a race to see who can die first. Who wants to be left alone? Who wants to be that feeble, hunched raisin, eyes watery, always stuck in the back of their own head somewhere, high on the hallucinogen of their own memories? Who wants their flimsy crepe-paper hand patted by long-suffering adult children? The young have the controlling shares in pretending they’ll never be old. It’s incredibly annoying.

Jim had his first heart attack when we were on what was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation. But of course, sitting on a beach is Jim’s idea of hell, so instead he took surfing lessons until his heart gave out. I watched them drag him out of the ocean, and I told him I’d fucking kill him myself if he died before we could retire. I told him to knock it off with the Type A stuff. I also ordered arsenic off the Internet because hell if I was suddenly going to be one of those old people that everyone pities but no one talks to.

Meanwhile, my hand was patted. Suddenly we’re a family of prudish Victorians: handkerchiefs wringing, eyelashes fluttering, as many euphemisms for death as Eskimos have words for snow. These are the times when you want to dropkick your children, not when they thrash and scream as toddlers, but when adulthood teaches them to mask their judgment as benevolence. I thought about poisoning them too, I really did. Mea fucking culpa.

Jim had a second heart attack, a month before retirement, that moron, with the dramatic backdrop of a buzzing fluorescent light and the dull hum of an EEG gone flatline. The kids wept and I gulped down three pills.

“Valium,” I lied, when they glared bolts of uh oh at each other. “Give me a break.”

Ten minutes later, the arsenic did that thing it does. I slumped over in my rolly chair, which, without the stability of my living muscles holding it in place, rolled out from under me, tossing me skull-first onto the linoleum.

My wallet, practically bursting with quarters, sat uselessly in my purse.

Jim squints down the long hallway of the automat, and I know what he’s going to say. I can see him trying to figure out how to frame it in a way I might agree to, and then giving up.

“We should see what’s down there,” he says. “Probably all the people are in another room or something.”

“Don’t you dare,” I’ve got more respect for the enormity of the divine than Jim does. “You go down there and I’ll never see you again.”

He looks hurt. “You won’t come with me?”

I look at the table we’re sitting at. I’m used to it. There’s a bleach spot under the condiment hopper. The faded design on the top looks a little like boomerangs, in that way 1950s stuff does. I’m used to the glares of the mobster cashier. And I am so annoyed that, even now that we’re fucking dead, even now Jim can’t relax.

“I just, I know what we’ve got here,” I say. “This is a pretty good table.”

“Pretty good for what, exactly?” he asks.

“Who knows what’s down there,” I say. “Probably more of the same anyway.”

But Jim keeps looking over his shoulder with the longing of the man I know so well, the man who’s never satisfied, ever.

A waitress whips a rag around and around our table. Despite the ample cleavage that dips and jiggles with each swipe, she’s surprisingly sexless. It’s like her tits are tired of being tits. Like they’d rather be something a little less enticing, elbows or noses maybe. I can relate.

Jim waves a hand in front of her face and I sigh. We’ve tried this. We’ve tried touching them, screaming at them, waving at them. They can’t see us, or hear us, or feel us. Or they don’t want to. He just won’t give up.

“Let it go, Jim,” I say.

But then, in a move so shocking I actually gasp, Jim grabs the waitress’s tit and squeezes. She doesn’t slap him, or yelp, or scream; for the first time since we’ve been here, the first fucking time, she stops wiping.

“Jim!” I say. Reflex. I’m not actually upset, just surprised.

“What the heck?” says the waitress, though her lips don’t move. “Is there somebody here?” Jim and I look at each other, elated.

“You did it!” I said. “What did you do?”

The waitress rips open the bodice of her dress, just like they do in the novels, and she’s not wearing a bra. This doesn’t scandalize me as much as the fact that her breasts are eyeballs, with lashes and eye shadow and everything. They look surprised, I think.

“Whoa,” the waitress says via the tiny mouth of her navel. “Who are you?”

Not that I have much time to consider all this. The mobster, with surprising litheness for such a big guy, hops over the counter and whacks Jim over the head with a sock full of what I can only assume are quarters.

“Shame on youse,” the mobster says, “This is a family establishment.”


I think we should call the mobster “Tony,” but Jim thinks he needs something more abstract, like “The Nose.” Jim’s basic idea is that The Nose is God, which is a bit too obvious and Old Testament for my taste. My theory is more like, what we see in death is just a projection of our own minds. I like my theory better because it means we have the power to change things. We spend some time trying to change the automat into something else, our old living room, for example. Nothing doing. Not even a ripple in the old space-time continuum.

“This should work,” I say.

“But automats were before our time,” says Jim. “How could we have created something we’ve never actually seen?”

“We’ve seen them in movies,” I say.

“No, but on Earth?”

This is another point of contention. “On Earth,” he’s always saying. As though in death we’re floating around in space somewhere.

“It just doesn’t feel like Earth,” he says, knocking on the Formica table as though it might sound different, out here in space or whatever.

I’m thinking about this in particular-–the On Earth vs. In Space debate-–when Jim disappears after the sock-of-quarters beating, and so does the automat.

The space around me, everywhere, becomes thick and purplish and howls with wind. I seem to be dangling rather than falling, but it’s really hard to say. My sense of distance and perspective have collapsed. There is an absence of smell, which is not the same thing as odorless, though I can’t really explain why. I am neither cold nor warm but just kind of uncomfortable, and I can’t tell if I’m looking at an expansive space or a very small room. My arms feel shackled, but when I look, there’s nothing shackling them. I am alone.

“Jim?” I say, and my voice sounds tiny and pathetic in my ears.

“I gave you mooks everything,” says a voice with what sounds like a very heavy Chicago accent.

“Tony?” I ask. “Is that you?”

“What can I say, I’m a romantic. Your story moved me,” Tony says. “The two of youse—together to the very end. So what do I do? I give you the best table in the house. I let you stay together, which I never do for nobody. And this is the thanks I get. You sumsabitches had to go ahead and pull a stunt like that.”

“You can’t really be serious with this gangster god routine, right?” I say. It’s a bold stance to take, given my precarious position, but ridiculous is ridiculous. I didn’t get to be a junior high teacher for 35 years and mother of three by taking shit from bullies. “What did we ever do to you?”

“What did you do?” Tony says. “What did you do? Oh that’s rich.”

“Where is Jim?” My voice shakes. It sounds tiny and weak and I hate it. “What did you do with him?”

He laughed, a low, growling, mirthless chuckle. “You can’t see him. You can’t see any of them, but they’re all around you. Everyone who has departed the mortal coil, god rest their fucked up souls. He’s right here widdus, girlie. Only, you know, ‘On Earth.'” He snorts. Everything’s a joke to this guy.

“Let me guess,” I say. “I’m In Space?”

“Well look around you, sweet tits. It ain’t fuckin’ Miami Beach.”

“You weren’t exactly clear about the rules of the afterlife automat, you know? We didn’t mean any harm. It’s human nature to be curious. That can’t be a surprise, to you of all people,” I say.

“People? Don’t you fucking call me ‘people,'” Tony says. “And you ain’t got a curious bone in your cold dead body.”

“So what do you want from me? If I didn’t do anything, why am I here?” I ask.

“I figured you wanted a change of scenery,” he says with a chuckle.

“Well you figured wrong,” I say. I take a deep breath and think about courage. “What do I need to do to get Jim back?”

That gravelly chuckle again. “You so sure you want him back? Looked to me like you two wasn’t getting along so good. Your fella had the wandering eye, undressing waitresses like that. Always on the lookout for somethin’ better. Looked like splitsville to me. Maybe I did you clowns a favor.”

He’s messing with me, but it still hurts. “It wasn’t like that and you know it. He figured something out,” I say, warming to the idea. “Some little piece of the mystery. And you shut him down. And anyway, Jim and I have been through a lot. A lifetime of a lot. We won’t abandon each other now.” I know I shouldn’t explain myself. You never explain yourself to bullies. But maybe I needed to explain myself to myself.

“Oh a lifetime, you say?” Tony laughs. “A whole lifetime? Why, howsoever did you manage? You fucking people.”

I try not to think about how we’ve drifted apart since death. We’ve drifted apart before. When the kids were babies, you know, you spend so much time making sure they don’t choke or drown, it’s almost like a curtain drops around you and them and you can’t see anything outside it. Then there was my affair-–I don’t feel bad about it anymore, everything’s part of a life, good and bad. Then work or grief or just the idiocy of the every day. You wax and wane with those you love. It’s inevitable.

The sound of slow clapping. “Touching. Really. I’m touched.”

“Leave me a little bit of privacy, please. My thoughts are still mine,” I say. I wiggle my fingers a bit in their shackles. Can I really be shackled? I mean, I have a body, but not in the traditional sense. And-–am I really In Space? I think of the cat clock, how maybe the clock itself is fine but time is broken—like, capital-T Time—and I wonder if the same is true about capital-S Space. If it really is broken, if death means you can squeeze through the cracks in reality…well maybe I really can change things. The thought is exciting, and I struggle to keep my mind blank so he can’t hear me.

“I can hear you,” he says.

“Can you just…knock it off for a second?” I ask. “I’m new to this. I’m trying to understand.”

“Lemme spell it out for you,” The Nose says. He really is more of a The Nose than a Tony, now that we’ve had a chance to talk. “You fucked up. We don’t go around trying to dig up each other’s secrets. I leave you alone, you leave me and my waitresses and my clock and my goddamned automat alone.

“But you just couldn’t do that, could you? You had to fuck everything up. You just had to meddle with my shit.”


This is too much. “Would it have killed you to give us a quarter? What the hell are we supposed to do, drink mustard for eternity?”

“I want you to listen very carefully, sweet tits,” he says. “I. Don’t. Owe. You. Shit.”

Death may be infinite, but hope is a fragile, mortal thing.

I am rich with time; I’m a time billionaire. But what if it’s impossible to find Jim? Impossibility exists outside of time. Maybe The Nose really is so pissed about what Jim did that he’s made us invisible to each other forever. But why punish me? I may not have known the rules, but I played it safe.

The worst thought of all: maybe I played it so safe that Jim has moved on. Maybe he’s relieved to be alone. Left alone to pursue death with the tireless curiosity that I never let him fully express in life. And, you know? Maybe I’m relieved that he’s not bugging me about it anymore. Maybe it’s time to let him go too. This thought is lonelier than the entire expanse of swirling purple space.

But I can’t let myself sink into this eternal loneliness. I think about the good times—I pretend Jim and I are on vacation. I pretend we’re on a beach vacation–-an actual beach vacation and not a “doing things” vacation. I pretend I’m reading a book, holding my shackled hands out in front of my face, and telling myself a story.

So I tell myself a story that we’re in Miami Beach, lying on the sand. Ever since The Nose mentioned Miami Beach, I guess I just can’t get it out of my head-–it was where Jim and I took our last vacation together, the one with the heart attack. Only, I can’t picture Jim lying on the sand. It’s my goddamned imagination and I can’t make him lie on the goddamned beach. So fine. He’s learning how to surf.

So Jim’s there, taking surfing lessons, and he’s the oldest one there, by far. He doesn’t have the muscle tone of the young guys, but he’s got the strength and the endurance, and they’re all red-faced and pissed when he’s the first to stand on his board, the first to ride a wave. He keeps falling-–and every time he falls, I’m afraid he’s having another heart attack, but no, he’s just a beginner, and beginners fall. He keeps getting back up, trying again. I can’t take my eyes off him. He’s on his board long after the young guys head back to the hotel to drink and get girls. He’s out there longer than the pros. He’s out there until the wind picks up and the sky goes purple and you can’t tell where the sea ends and the sky begins.

And then I realize: We’ve found each other. In the great expanse of eternity, somehow, he’s imagining exactly what I’m imagining. I see a grin spread across his face, and suddenly he’s lying down on his surfboard like it’s no big deal, like it’s a lounge chair on the beach. Suddenly it is a lounge chair, and there’s a paperback book in his hands.

My heart is racing. I’m gripping a surfboard and I’m terrified that I’ll drown and that I’ll look like an idiot, in that order. I throw myself into the ocean, I feel it lapping at my toes, splashing my face. I strain my ears-–the waves, hear the waves, goddammit, I’ve got to hear them.

At first the rumble is so low it’s almost the negative of sound. But it builds and builds, it thunders toward me, the huge wave, bigger than a beginner should be riding, much too big for me to be lying in the path of.

I’m sputtering and flailing, trying to paddle out of the wave, but it’s too late, it’s too big, it’s coming for me. And in the moment when I’m sure it’s over, that I’ve failed, that I was foolish to even try…I see him, about to be smothered by the same wave, floating calmly in his lounge chair—the man I love. He is reading one of my steamy summer romances. I whoop for joy and in so doing, the board slips out of my hands. It shoots out from the under me and smacks into Jim, knocking him off the lounge chair just as the wave smothers him. I go under too, my mouth still open and whooping and full of the sea.

“Five seconds,” I say. “You’ve got to squirt mustard in your mouth for five seconds and then swallow or it doesn’t count.”

He makes a face. “Couldn’t we start with the ketchup? I can’t just go from zero to mustard.”

“Sorry Charlie. You lose the bet, you do the time.”

We’re soaking wet. Drenched. Our fingers wrinkled like prunes. That seems to be the punishment for what we’ve done, for rending space and time and bending it to our will. It feels wicked, the way I imagine Einstein must have felt. It’s also a fairly minor punishment for the crime, which makes me think maybe we’ve gained The Nose’s respect, just a little. It keeps the waitresses busy too, always wiping up the droplets of water we leak onto the table.

We get our table back, and we make a big show of saying how lucky we are to get the best table in the house. It pays to be polite around here. And on the bulletin board, now, is a single piece of paper, with the heading Rules of the Afterlife Automat.

You give a little, you get a little. That’s Rule #3.

Jim chugs the mustard. I count to five. He chokes and sputters. His face purples, then goes back to normal. He wipes yellow from his mouth. I give him a small round of applause.

“New bet,” he says, grinning. “My turn.”

“Oh yeah? What are the stakes?” I ask.

He puts on his thinking face, but I interrupt. “Wait,” I say. “If you win, I’ll go exploring with you.” I point down the long disappearing corridor.

He frowns. “But…the table,” he says. “We might lose it.” He’s not talking about the table; we both know that. We have a fragile truce with the mysteries of the beyond. He looks down the long hallway, then back at me. “And what about Rule #1?” he asks. “‘Don’t stick your nose into other people’s business?'”

I grab his wrinkled, wet hand. “Fuck it,” I say.

Heavy footsteps behind us. Mouth breathing. We look up to see the broad, lumpy face of The Nose, cinched at the neck with a shiny white tie.

His nostrils are fathomless, swirling black holes.

“If you get lost, just give us a ring,” The Nose says. “Plenty of payphones.” He tosses a quarter onto the table. It spins, spins, spins.


Interview with Eden Robins | Buy Issue #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer #20 Interview: Eden Robins

Tell us a little about how “Ellie and Jim vs. Tony the Nose” came to be.

Eden Robins
Eden Robins

I have it on good authority that the afterlife is, indeed, an automat. From there, it was just research research research. Non-fiction is easy.

Your website is full of delectable-looking recipes. Care to share one with us? (Offal recipes are encouraged.)
Well, I’m allergic to almost everything delicious, and at first I adopted the philosophy of “complaining all the time.” Then I tried “optimism,” which I usually try to avoid, but in this case, it led me to all kinds of creative foods. Oh and scotch. I never would have become a scotch drinker if it wasn’t for my gluten problem.

You’re probably referring to my recipe for chicken hearts (which is oddly popular in google searches), but I’m not totally satisfied with that one (Rubbery, blech). I’m gonna go with my gluten-and-dairy-and-egg-free bourbon apple pie with bacon lattice. Here’s a linky-loo:

How did you get started/discover the world of Tuesday Funk…
My dear friend Bill Shunn brought me into the fold of Tuesday Funk as a reader. My first reading was during the Great Blizzard of ’11 to a packed crowd of three people. Then, when Bill abandoned Chicago like the cruel, heartless fiend that he is, I applied to take over his co-hosting duties. Live lit shows can be pretty dull, so we like to keep things short and lively and liberally lubricated with booze.

…and how can we make our Tuesdays funkier?
Have you tried booze?

Once upon a time you edited Brain Harvest (RIP). Did being an editor change how you think about your writing, or fiction in general?
Being an editor of Brain Harvest was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing… uh… “career.” We never had any idea what we were doing. It was a lesson in diving into something new without fretting too much ahead of time.  Bonus: it gave me a patina of coolness that I absolutely did not deserve. I have a lot of respect for magazines that can stay solvent… my parents kept asking me when the money was going to start rolling in. Sadly, the money only ever rolled out. Nevertheless, I hope one day to resurrect BH and do something new and cool with it.

Much in the same way that everyone should work in the food industry at least once, every writer should read slush. It is grueling and enlightening and it gives you perspective… something that writers are generally lacking.

Do you have a favorite interview question? Let’s pretend you can pose it to someone – who would you ask and why?
I like when authors talk honestly about their biggest failures and regrets. Not like in a job interview, where they ask for your biggest flaw and you act sheepish but say something like “I’m too… honest.” (Guilty!) I’m talking REAL failures. We don’t talk about failure enough, and plus… other people’s failures make me feel better about myself.


Issue 20

Shimmer #20, art by Sandro Castelli
Shimmer #20, art by Sandro Castelli

Issue #20 of Shimmer is a great reflection of the beautifully unexpected things we discover in our submissions, and the surprising things we end up loving as editors and readers both. Shimmer leans toward stories that cover new ground, and these four do that. They also feature authors making their Shimmer debuts — we love when that happens.


The Seaweed and the Wormhole, by Jenn Grunigen
Some days he hated sushi, other days it was all he’d eat. He was stubborn, he was subservient; he was abusive and he hated sex except for when he didn’t. His words were always unpredictable; the only thing you could expect from him was anything.

Ellie and Jim vs. Tony the Nose by Eden Robins
The afterlife resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned automat. Just this long, narrow, possibly endless room. One wall is lined with shining chrome drawers and those tiny, cloudy windows where you can catch glimpses of sandwiches with wilted lettuce and sometimes more grotesque things, like gall bladders.

Allosaurus Burgers, by Sam J. Miller 
Our teacher Mrs. Strunt said the allosaurus coming to Hudson Falls was the best thing that ever happened to Hudson Falls, but the worst thing that ever happened to the allosaurus. She herded us onto the bus looking mad about it, trying to keep us from seeing she was just as excited as we were.

Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns, by Laura Pearlman
The good news is, zombie unicorns almost never bite. The bad news is, even a tiny scratch from a zombie unicorn horn will turn you into a zombie. Mom discovered that by accident.


Buy the whole issue!

All the stories; no waiting. Only $2.99.

Shimmer Issue 20 Electronic
Shimmer Issue 20 Electronic
Price: $2.99
Format :



One year of Shimmer — six issues — for only $15. Never miss an issue!

Digital Subscription
Digital Subscription
Price: $15.00


The Seaweed and the Wormhole by Jenn Grunigen

“Your mother lives in a swamp?”


“Then why are we here?”

“My mother is the swamp,” Peregrine said. He leaned towards the mire’s trees, heaped as dark and snarled as bull kelp on a beach. His movement was drunken—he swayed forward, and back, then stumbled in.

Ebb hesitated. Peregrine had given him the kind of answer he expected: nonsensical. The man wore a leather jacket lined with wolf’s fur and branded with a skunk-cabbage motif. Some days he hated sushi, other days it was all he’d eat. He was stubborn, he was subservient; he was abusive and he hated sex except for when he didn’t. His words were always unpredictable; the only thing you could expect from him was anything.

Ebb reached out to touch the swamp’s air, thick enough to feel, thick enough to clog your lungs and drown you.

“Your mother’s a swamp, yes, of course she is,” he murmured. “Is that what the dreams told you?” he called, still motionless, hand outstretched. It closed on air.

Three months ago, Peregrine had started sleepwalking. He said his night’s mind was always full of abandoned taxidermy shops, and tea brewed from obsidian dust and anise and silkworms. But his waking mind was full of these things, too, so they hadn’t worried Ebb. It was something else—other—that was making him anxious. After a month of the sleepwalking, he’d started to wonder what Peregrine wasn’t saying. He could tell when his lover was holding back; it was their nature to know each other. When he realized Peregrine was keeping something he couldn’t have, Ebb knew it had to be wrong. Invasive.

“Peregrine?” he called.

No answer. All he could hear was the swamp sucking at his lover’s feet.

Ebb followed Peregrine’s footprints. The swamp had receded recently; lilies were strewn across the mud and tangled around cypress knees. He didn’t like it here. He didn’t like the smell—it wasn’t salty enough—and the sticky air made him feel the mire was trying to pull him deeper and shove him out all at once. Why did Peregrine feel so drawn to this place? How was that possible? How could he like something and Ebb not understand it?

Peregrine was waiting for him just beyond a spiderweb. A large orb-weaver sat at its center, near his face. Ebb hesitated, looking for a way around, but Peregrine hooted laughter and jumped through the web, pulled him close, murmuring something Ebb didn’t hear because he’d ripped away, rending his skin and face and clothing. He tore off his shirt and kicked it into the mud, scraped frantically at his neck and flanks, stumbling through the branch-tangle until he fell limp, shoulders stooped, arms hanging. There were scrapes against the softness of his belly, down his arms. A cut stung on his nose.

Peregrine was still laughing.

“The dreams don’t tell me anything. They just call me,” he said, tossing his head and continuing on. Ebb was still standing there, shirtless and jumpy as his lover walked away.

Coolness trickled in between Ebb’s boot laces. He looked down. Water.

Together, they waded through the creeping ooze. Peregrine walked backwards, facing Ebb the whole time.

Peregrine’s hair was so heavy it was motionless, a strange, leaden specimen of old man’s beard: dark, thick, and oiled. His eyes were grey-pink. Sometimes they shifted like grubs exposed to fresh air and sunlight.

Ebb had met him at a lecture on the physics of black holes, had been with him ever since. Peregrine was tall, wide-shouldered and had big, graceful hands. He had natural poise and muscle, though his favorite things were reading and pinning moths and butterflies into shadow boxes. He used to collect moss and make miniature terrariums. Ebb had no idea how he maintained his perfect physique. Mostly Peregrine just sat inside, especially those few weeks before the dreams had started.

Ebb was the one who worked (gathering seaweeds off the northeast coast), bought their food and cooked it. He’d almost been relieved when Peregrine started sleepwalking; at least something was getting him outside. Fearful and sensitive in the day, at night he sleep-staggered to the boundaries where forest wormed into city slum. He’d come home and make slow, slow love to Ebb, hold him fast against his chest before falling asleep. In the morning, Peregrine would beg him to forget work for the day, for every day. But Ebb always pulled on his rain jacket and rain boots over his wet suit, kissed him and left for the sea.

Then, a week ago, Peregrine said it was time. Time for what? Ebb had asked. Time for you to meet my mother.

Peregrine’s movements through the swamp had become heavy, silken; his intoxicated sway was gone. Ebb felt like the drunk now, slipping in mud, brushing away feathery cycads with erratic swats, expecting spider webs. He shook off the clacking shudder that threatened to wrack his spine. Sand fleas, crabs, and bloodworms he could handle, but spiders.

“Was that really necessary?” he said. “Back there? Dragging me—”

“I wanted to hold you,” Peregrine interrupted. “I couldn’t be bothered wasting time with spiders.”

Ebb shuddered, but accepted his answer. It was exactly what he’d wanted to hear.

“Is this place an old haunt of yours?” he asked. Five years with the man and he knew so little of his past. Peregrine always said he hadn’t lived before they’d met and Ebb always rolled his eyes and said, yeah, I certainly haven’t heard that one before.

Peregrine stopped beside a sinkhole, a pit full of mud like wet ash, and gave his answer.

“In a way,” he said, “it’s the eldest of my haunts. I was born here.” He pointed to the hole. “She pushed me out and I surfaced with the decomposed bodies of her former children clinging to my face. I wish you had been there. I was beautiful, Ebb. More than I am now. My skin was blue and my eyes were rainbow like a beetle’s exoskeleton.”

“You’re beautiful now. Impossibly so,” Ebb muttered, with complete, gut-deep honesty. He’d never met anyone who engrossed him like Peregrine. Yet the man always spoke of how beautiful he’d once been. “Anyway, what sort of woman gives birth in a swamp, in the remains of her dead children?” he asked. He reached forward and grabbed a handful of his partner’s mane. What sort of man jokes about being born in the leftovers of his rotted siblings? Peregrine, of course. What sort of man stays with a lover who likes to gag him with a raw eel when they fuck? I do, of course.

“What sort of mother?” Peregrine asked, then answered himself: “Mine.” He jerked his head and the fistful of hair Ebb held came away in his hand. Ebb stared at it, breath shallow.

The Seaweed and the Wormhole by Jenn Grunigen

Peregrine pulled up his hood. “I told you,” he said, bitterly. “I’m not like I once was.” He took Ebb’s wrist and drew him close. With no spider between them, Ebb came willingly.

“Are you okay?” Ebb whispered, cheek pressed against his lover’s jaw. “You’re sick, aren’t you? How did I miss it, I—” He could feel the fever hot along Peregrine’s skin, the frantic pulse of his blood.

“Shush,” Peregrine said, pulling out the tie holding back Ebb’s hair and running his hands through the loose yellow. “Damn it,” he said, after a moment.

“What?” Ebb asked, drawing back, sickness rising to his throat.

“Nothing,” Peregrine said, but held up his hands. His fingernails were gone. His thumbnail clung by a thread of cuticle. No blood, just flaking skin. “They just…fell off,” he said, half-smiling.

“No,” Ebb said faintly.

“Don’t worry,” Peregrine crooned, putting an arm around Ebb’s waist. He bit the skin behind Ebb’s ear. “I need you,” he said.

Ebb’s scalp and the back of his neck tightened, but not in fear. It was that feeling of slow, hot sand poured down his spine; lovely, warm. “Not now,” he told Peregrine, told himself.

“I told you, I need you.” His lover’s voice was raw and thick, like his throat was full of mud. Ebb struggled as Peregrine released his waist and jerked at his belt, but the air went out of him as they backed into a tree. He worried about bugs and spiders falling on his head, but he didn’t want to fight. Not with Peregrine’s musk-smell of sweet, fresh butter and mead, and his mouth there and his tongue there and his hands there, there, there. Why so weak? Ebb asked himself. But it wasn’t weakness. It was lust. Incineration. This was how he liked to be touched, aroused—with power, desperation. Before Peregrine, he spent years selling his body to get through school and life, giving himself up to desires seemingly strange and discrete, but all hunger and loneliness and home-searching at their core. That yearning became his world. It ate him up and spat him out, ready and willing, at Peregrine’s feet.

Peregrine, who had come to him that first evening at the lecture, in his wolfskin jacket and with a knife at Ebb’s throat. He’d done this during the intermission, in line for coffee. Had taken out this strange knife—its blade like the iridescent eyes of crocodiles, hilt an uncomfortable-looking, darkly polished piece of knots and warped wood—and laid its edge along Ebb’s jugular, asking can I buy you dinner? At the restaurant, Peregrine asked, can I fuck you if I pay for it? Then, after the sex, Peregrine had bought him again: I’ll pay for all your schooling if you’ll keep me. The choice had been easy for Ebb. Their love-making left him with an emptiness he’d always wanted, and he liked the man’s quiet, his quirks and inevitable pull. As Ebb worked on his MS in Aquatic Botany, they sunk deep into each other, smoking mugwort, sharing cream-rich tea, pillows, socks, feasts of live octopus.

It was after graduation that Peregrine started hurting him. When Ebb was still in school, the man just wanted to have sex in uncomfortable, dangerous places—in ocean-shallows as the tide crept close, in grimy public restrooms where broken bottles and wadded toilet paper littered the floor. But after Ebb graduated, Peregrine refused to go outside. He painted their room black, lined the shelves with jars of formaldehyde and animal fetuses, hung logs of mushrooms over their bed. He cut runes into Ebb’s belly and chest before they fucked, so they’d be red-slicked by the time they came. Afterwards, Peregrine would salt and lick the wounds. He’d have Ebb bring home dark rye bread and suet so they could make black pudding together with blood Peregrine tapped from his own wrists. Ebb didn’t mind the pain and strangeness, but sometimes he wondered if Peregrine was even human—or maybe it was that the man was truly human and everyone else just pretended. To Ebb, that visceral authenticity was irresistible; he knew humanity intimately, had played out too many of his client’s hidden desires to not know it. But they all wore their masks, except when they came to him crawling on their knees (or paid him to crawl on his knees to them). Peregrine, though…he wore humanity’s intestines on his sleeve. They were his sleeves. Or maybe it was that he had no skin. He had no fear. And that was what Ebb wanted. Dark emptiness. A drug to burn everything down. Yes, he worked on the days Peregrine wanted him home, but otherwise, he’d never been able to say no to him. And Peregrine knew it now as he ever had, because he released Ebb’s wrists and went to his knees.

He watched Ebb the whole time. Ebb could feel Peregrine’s gaze, though his own eyes were closed and stayed closed until he’d come. When Ebb opened them and buckled up his pants, Peregrine was standing, wiping honey from his mouth, licking it from his fingers.

“Is that…me?” Ebb said.

Peregrine laughed softly. “Of course. Want a taste?”

“Hell no.”

“Fine.” He wiped his hands on his pants.

“Let me see them. Your hands, Peregrine,” he clarified when the man tilted his head. Peregrine shrugged and put both of his hands into Ebb’s. “But…”

“They grew back,” Peregrine told him.

“No. That’s not possible.” Fear was returning, now that his lust was dissolving. Anyway, Peregrine was wrong—partially. He had fingernails, yes, but not. They looked wrong, like the tawny striped shell of a snail. “This isn’t possible.”

Peregrine ignored him and asked, “How do my eyes look?”

Ebb stared at them closely. “Purple,” he said slowly, “but that’s just the light in this place.”

“It’s not. They’re purple. I mean it. Come on, we’re almost there.”

Ebb swallowed, and shook his head. It took him a moment to force the word out, but finally, it came. “No.”

Peregrine just stared.

“Let’s just please go back,” Ebb said. That thing he’d felt when Peregrine’s dreams had started, that one piece he couldn’t consume, was growing the farther they went into the mire. It was like Peregrine was peeling them apart.

“Just a little farther. Don’t you want to meet my mother?”

“But I already have, haven’t I? That spider? The pit full of her children’s muck? She’s the swamp, you said it yourself. So I’ve met her. I’m in her.” It was ridiculous to say, but it was the sort of thing Peregrine believed.

“No, you aren’t. Not yet,” he said quietly.


The ground punched up and shifted beneath his feet. He stumbled against Peregrine. Muttered, “What the hell?” with closed eyes as he pressed his face into his lover’s chest, wishing the rest of him wasn’t so far away.

“It’s her. She’s eager to see you.”

Or there’d been an earthquake. He felt Peregrine’s hand on his head, stroking his hair. He straightened and looked up for his lover’s eyes. Peregrine watched back, and put a hand on his stomach like he did when he was hungry. “Come on. We’re so close now,” Peregrine said, and pinned Ebb’s arms to his sides and pushed him on.

“I don’t want to,” Ebb mumbled. But he didn’t fight.

His lover’s smell of fermented molasses and buttermilk was too strong. His lover was too strong. He felt dry, as if when Peregrine had sucked him off, he’d taken something from him, something more than that strange honey-cum. Peregrine was draining him. He was a pig hung upside down with its throat cut—which would have been fine, if it had been mutual, if he could have cut Peregrine’s throat, too.

Whatever it was, Ebb couldn’t move. This was what he wanted, after all. To be betrayed, but only by Peregrine. To hurt. But only at his lover’s hands. Because he could trust they wouldn’t leave him.

Peregrine nudged him off the muddy expanse they’d been wandering along, into water. It was surprisingly pleasant and clear, Ebb noted absently as he floated belly-up. He let his fingers trail through the water, thinking of how it might feel even nicer if he had no nails.

“Bet you’re glad I never lost any weight. I float better this way,” he said, as Peregrine stepped off an underwater ledge. The surface came up high on his lover’s chest as he pulled Ebb along.

For awhile, he drifted, half-asleep, and only woke fully when they stopped moving.

“We’re here,” Peregrine said, mouth close to his ear.

Ebb opened his eyes and looked up to see a huge cypress stretched far above their heads. White catkins hung from it. He laughed and struggled in the water a moment, till his feet sank into the silt at the bottom. The water lapped at his bottom lip. “Is this what you wanted to show me? This tree’s your mother?”

“Oh, yes. She’s very close now.” But Peregrine wasn’t looking at the cypress. Ebb followed his gaze, far off, beyond the other water-bound trees. It was dark in the mire, but Ebb could see an approaching murk, seeping beneath the surface.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“She’s coming,” Peregrine said, kissing Ebb’s forehead. Then he took out his knife.

The Seaweed and the Wormhole by Jenn Grunigen

Ebb went still. He hadn’t seen this coming, but he knew what the knife was for. He almost laughed. He should have known, he should’ve expected this, but of course he hadn’t. He never would have guessed. How could he have? The closer you are to something, the harder it is to see it.

Peregrine lifted and dropped the blade; Ebb dropped with it, plunging underwater. He clenched his fists and teeth like the blade had bit him, but it hadn’t and anyway, it didn’t matter; everything still hurt and devouring was so different than dying. He’d done so much for Peregrine, given so much. But this was Ebb’s line. He wanted emptiness, not an end to it.

The knife stabbed into his right shoulder as he clawed through the silt. His arm felt wet and cold. Darkness swilled into his open eyes and flowed around the cypress trunks till his head was lifted up out of the water.

“Don’t struggle, Ebb,” Peregrine said, holding him up by a handful of hair. “I love you so. See, she’s coming for you. She wants to meet you.” Peregrine grit his jaw like he always did in hate and frustration, tongue mashed against his front teeth. Ebb watched the slight gaps between them fill with blood and mud. He jerked at Peregrine’s grip, felt hair rip; he couldn’t lift his stabbed arm, but he clawed with the other at his lover’s chest and hair. Feeble attempts, every one. He felt sleepy, as if the knife was a sedative.

Peregrine spoke over his silent struggles. “My mother always wants for herself anything I have, anything I’ve ever had. Venison, puppies, lovers. And you know what? I give them to her. I always have. So I can be free, so I can be human.”

Ebb leaned against his vice-arm. “Peregrine, please, let me go.” The words were like crabs, claw-hung from his bottom lip, trying to crawl back down his throat. “We can escape and I’ll keep you safe from her, I promise. You’re mine as much as I’m yours and I know well what that belonging means, requires. We have time, but we have to go.” Lies, though. He knew they were. The water fused into darkness and the cypress’ white catkins fluttered without wind. They reached towards Ebb and his lover.

“See how she watches, Ebb? She wants you, more than I ever could,” Peregrine said. Ebb wished he could pretend he heard sadness in those last few words.

Air brushed his face, startling him; it was so thick in here. The breeze was the first he’d felt since entering the mire. On the tree, the catkins stirred and detached, drifting in a trailing mass, pearly canines sliding from their small flowers.

“No…” he whispered, because he knew what happened next, no matter how impossible—the catkins would latch onto him and it would all be over.

Peregrine released him before he could struggle. Ebb sloshed through the water, but the catkins flurried around his face. They pricked his flesh and froze him.

Peregrine stood back and watched. Ebb pleaded with wide eyes through the catkin’s pale haze—which was mad, he knew; his lover had just stabbed him, after all. Peregrine wasn’t going to save him; his face was unrecognizable with greed. Or was it love? Why can’t I tell them apart? Ebb wondered, desperate. Why the fuck do I care right now?

“Not yet, mother,” Peregrine hissed and ripped the catkins from Ebb’s head. Darkness shifted to the mire’s flower-scattered surface. It felt rough against Ebb’s skin. “Soon, mother, soon,” Peregrine murmured, running his fingers across Ebb’s throat. “Just let me have my last few moments.”

Ebb wanted to cringe away. He wanted to lean into his lover’s palms. He couldn’t do both, so he didn’t move.

“She’s just keeping me alive. You understand that, right?” Peregrine said. Ebb said nothing. “I’m just an infant,” Peregrine went on. “What she makes of you becomes milk for me. Eating is her way of loving. Don’t you think consumption is the truest form of love? I mean, fucking’s no different, right? I enter you, you consume me.”

Don’t you dare compare us. I love you. She doesn’t. Ebb forced air into his lungs, forced his mouth to move. “Don’t you know she’s using you? You’re just her lure.”

“Perhaps. But I have to live somehow. This is just how it is. After I kill you, the waters will pull me back to that pit where I’ll rot and then be reborn—because of you, Ebb. You keep me human, don’t you know that? God, I want you so much.”

Ebb forced air into his lungs. “So have me, Peregrine. Just once more, and then you can kill me.”

“Fuck, I want that so much,” Peregrine said, voice shivering, the hand on Ebb’s face shaking. “Want you so much…”

Ebb coughed, limbs twitching. Peregrine’s touch torched a thousand memories of a thousand touches, so much emptier, and far warmer. It burned up his daze.

Ebb spun around, choking out, “So take me.” He gripped Peregrine’s knife-hand and shoved the blade into his lover’s throat, ripped it out.

Ebb dove below, screaming at himself—dead, dead, dead—spewing bubbles. But he knew it was a lie. A knife wasn’t going to kill Peregrine. Not even a knife in the throat.

Swamp-water was nothing like the ocean. The sea was giant and hollow; the swamp was primal stew. He’d been free-diving kelp beds for years; he could escape this place, easy. Land wasn’t far; nothing gave chase as he swam, or as he scrambled from the slough. His arm felt like it was ripping off. He wished it would. Mud sucked at his soles, but didn’t slow him. Something trailed beneath the water’s surface, but it didn’t rise, just lapped at the bank as he ran.

Something was wrong, of course, and not just the fact that Peregrine wasn’t chasing him. It was Ebb that was wrong. He’d been wrong, for years. Energy spit heavy and bright through his veins and he thought, I’m leaving myself behind.

He’d been wrong about Peregrine; he’d been wrong about himself. We both cling to emptiness, yes. That’s true. But I crave it and Peregrine leaves it in his wake. I have too much of everything in me, he has too little. We aren’t the same, and that’s good. Because we can give each other what we need.

Ebb wanted the space between fingers and teeth, the constant restarting, the void before burgeoning. And so he stopped. And turned. Peregrine stood at his back, grinning at him from the shallows, purple-eyed with a mane of lank, wet marsh grasses. His smile was full of broken, pointed teeth and punctured bladderwrack, but it was still Peregrine. He gripped Ebb’s forearm and hauled him close. Pinned him on his back, coughing, splattering seawater across his face. Ebb couldn’t see his lover’s ruined throat for all the mud.

“See what I am without you, Ebb?” Peregrine groaned. His voice was guttural and fractured. Then he smiled and it was endearing as always, even with his chaotic mess of teeth and seaweed. “I won’t let her have you, Ebb. I won’t.” Ebb smiled back as Peregrine leaned down, nuzzled his face against his partner’s throat, kissed it, bit it out.

Ebb arched his neck into Peregrine’s mouth, into his teeth. He felt for his lover’s own throat—it was gone. He smiled wider as Peregrine’s tongue found his esophagus. This was how it was supposed to be. A feast.

He knew his lover’s hunger and thoughts and dwindling life. Peregrine’s mind reminded Ebb of swimming beneath a warm, waterless ocean at night, and he could feel moss against his bare feet. Water filled their bodies, and catkins, rotting wood and leaves. The swamp was engulfing them; they were eating the swamp.

They became enormous, a vortex of feeding. Not man, not human. Pregnant wilderness.



Interview with Jenn Grunigen | Buy Issue #20 | Subscribe to Shimmer

Shimmer #20 Interview: Jenn Grunigen

Author Jenn Grunigen
Author Jenn Grunigen

Tell us a little about how “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” came to be.
Sometimes, I find story origins difficult to pinpoint, because they’re often a convergence of too many ideas (or emotional spurs) to reliably recall in whole (it’s also possible that my memory likes to play and seek/I’m forgetful).   But when I think of “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” I think of two things: progressive metal, and consumption.

Consumption, because I worry about losing myself.  Relinquishing myself to other people.  It’s the paranoid fear of someone who’s inexorably, obsessively herself, yet sometimes also someone who breaks and drifts.  I am very much me, but those obsessive tendencies that make up my me-concentrate, my undiluted self, occasionally turn outward — and in turn, stretch me with their inverted gravity.  Their dark energy.

In other words, “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” is me.  And it is not.

I think of progressive metal, because I listened to Opeth’s album “Ghost Reveries” nonstop while writing the story.   “Ghost Reveries” draws up a  grim, yet elegant, yet tragic and feral, world from its marshy heart—all things that tend to shove me into a state of furious quilldriving, so I think “Ghost Reveries” inherently contained my own personal story-bones.   If I could call upon a single musical catalyst for  “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,” I might mention the song “Beneath the Mire.”  But in the end, it’s only a piece of the spine.

You write poetry as well, and “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” has a lyrical, almost epic quality. Do you think writing poetry has affected how you write fiction?
Yes.  Yes, a million times.  When I write, no matter what I’m writing,  the rhythm has to feel right in my gut.  The words have to be right definitively, and intuitively.  Words should slosh around the reader’s throat, functioning as surface-level scum, bright and compelling as duck weed, but deep enough that the reader can plunge their head under and get more from the story.  This is often how it is in poetry, each word carrying a thousand times more weight than the simple poundage of its letters.   Obviously, my stories have more room to breathe, but I try to shape them with a similar poetic density.

However,  the choices I make are because I’m a drummer as much as because I’m a poet.   My poetself, my drumself, my storyself—all these parts of me are too tangled to pull apart .  Obviously, I’m to blame for this.  But you could also point a finger at my education, though that would ultimately still be dumping the blame on me (which I’m totally fine with), because I (with the help of a number of wise professors) designed my own degree: Percussive Wordcraft and Narrative Drumming, which was basically an interdisciplinary study of words and rhythm, and their power over storytelling.

Have you ever been to a swamp? If not, and you could go to one, which swamp would you visit?
I have, though none quite like the one in “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,”  which is a swamp of the North American south — which is exactly the kind I would visit, if given the chance.

Why drums?
I suppose my answer to that question turns on the context of the question.  My current self would say I find them more evocative, more wild and cut-loose, than any other instrument.   They just feel right.  The percussive cosmos contains infinite pieces and endless exploration,  because just about anything can become a drum.  I also find that drumming appeals to both my primal core self, and my single-minded, obsessive and frighteningly driven and organizational side. I like to drum with chaos, and a fuckton of thunder, but I also find a lot of pleasure in repetition, hemiolas, odd time signatures, polyrhythms,  and metronomic practice (aka, pleasurable torture).

But if the question was directed to my nine-ish year-old self?  No idea.   Possibly all the reasons I already mentioned drove me to percussion instinctively.  But maybe I just wanted to terrorize my parents (and at first, they were a little terrified of the, uh, noise; with time, however — and much patience on their part — I think I’ve, hopefully, shown them the finer subtleties of hitting things, even (especially!) as a metal drummer).

Can you explain a little about the kind of music you play – its inspiration and sound?
I play in a number of bands/projects, but the main one is Moss of Moonlight.  We call ourselves neofolk metal, a sound that attempts to evoke the earth both viscerally and narratively (especially our bioregional home of Cascadia). There’s a lot of shadow and unshaped force to be heard, which I suppose is to be expected of a band that also has one foot dug firmly into the muck of black metal (its new earth-based evolution, and never it’s always outdated face of bigotry, hatred, racism, etc).  But it’s not all growls, blastbeats and speedpicking; our music contains just as much subtly, quiet tension, peace, and — believe it or not — raw joy.  Sometimes (oftentimes, actually), we even forsake the growls for singing.

Have you ever played any other instruments? If you could, which would you most like to learn to play?
I play a lot of percussive instruments besides the drum set (though not always well), but outside that giant sphere, no, not really.  I can pretend to play piano—horribly.  I also pretend at singing, with slightly better results.

But if I were to choose another instrument to play, however….hm.  I’d like to say I’d pick an instrument less recognized, a little off the beaten path — like a  bone flute, or a prillar horn — but I already know I’d go with the bass.  A good bass player can jerk my emotional heartstrings occasionally even better than a good drummer (good drummers sometimes just make me jealous, ha!).  I like feeling music in my gut — the bass is pretty damn good at achieving that, and I’d like to take that power into my own hands.  Next up after the bass would probably be the hammered dulcimer.