Stories That Stick: The 11:59

You know the stories you read as a kid that stick in your brain forever? You might go years without thinking about them, then some little trigger pops up and suddenly you not only remember the story, but where you were sitting when you read it, or what shirt you were wearing. Since I began writing, these stories slip to the surface of my consciousness more and more easily. One of the strongest recurring story memories for me is The 11:59.

The 11:59 is from a short story collection called The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack (1992). It’s the story of a retired train porter, Lester, who’s telling the young porters the tale of the Death Train that will take them all one day.

“Any porter who hears the whistle of the 11:59 has got exactly twenty-four hours to clear up earthly matters.  He better be ready when the train comes the next night…”

I don’t remember how I got my hands on the book, whether it was from the bookshelf at home or the school library, but I distinctly remember sitting on my bed reading it. I’m not sure what shirt I was wearing, but there was probably a Blue Jays ball cap on my head or somewhere nearby. I also remember that for quite some time afterward (years maybe) I couldn’t help but check my watch if I heard a train whistle after dark, just to make sure it wasn’t 11:59—on at least one occasion, it was. I told myself my watch must be off by a few minutes to stave off a panic attack (and obviously lived to tell about it).

I’m not sure if it was this story that left me with the indelible impression that trains are magic, or if this belief was already there to enhance the chill it gave me (my reading of The Polar Express might have come first), but I still think of The 11:59 when I hear a train after dark. Though, I no longer check my watch. I swear.

Recently, I was compelled to track down The 11:59 (gotta love Google). It was tugging at my memory to the point that I just had to confirm the story was how I remembered it, and not some jumble of other stories mixed together by my all-too-human memory over two decades. Sure enough, the plot was almost exactly how I remembered it.

Reading it again as an adult, I was more aware of the simplicity of the storyline (intended for a young audience) and a typo jumped out at me that I’m sure I would neither have noticed nor cared about when I was ten or eleven. Even reading it in elementary school, I remember finding the story predictable. When Lester hears the 11:59’s whistle, he’s taken over by panic and a mission to accident-proof himself for the next twenty-four hours in hopes he will survive. All the while ignoring the pain in his chest and tingling in his left arm—duh.

But knowing where the roller coaster was going didn’t lessen the thrill of the drops and turns. And years later, the final scenes haven’t lost their magic.

Thoughts on: The Problem of Susan – Neil Gaiman

Where many may have become Neil Gaiman fans through Sandman or Coraline, I first took note of his story telling as a result of an episode he wrote for Doctor Who. Later, I saw his now-famous commencement speech, Make Good Art. This was around the time I was really getting interested in writing, and I thought I could learn a lot from the way this guy approaches work, writing—where they meet—and life.

Recently, I picked up an anthology of short stories, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction. Aside from my amusement at seeing religion and science fiction side by side, I noticed Neil Gaiman listed as one of the authors. I skipped ahead and read his story, The Problem of Susan, first. I loved it. To get to why I loved it, I have to back up a bit. Continue reading

Mad Scientist Journal Spring Anthology

Announcement time! The latest anthology of Mad Scientist Journal is now available for download at Smashwords and Amazon. This edition is particularly exciting for me as it includes my story Mabel’s Mission–along with number of other great stories including some exclusive fiction not previously published on the MSJ website.

If you like a fun read from the slightly-weird side of the sci fi world (or if you just want to support me as a writer 😉 ) check it out.

Mad Scientish Journal Anthology: Spring 2013

Find Mad Scientist Journal on Amazon!!

As I have previously posted, Mad Scientist Journal is an ezine that publishes new fiction weekly on its website–that you can read for free. They also amalgamate their stories into quarterly anthologies and add some exclusive content to give more bang for your 99-cent download.

Initially published through smashwords in a number of formats, these anthologies are now available in kindle editions on Amazon. Links to all four, currently available, anthologies are on the MSJ website. My own contribution in the form of a classified ad, Experienced Osteo-transplant Specialist Seeks Work, from Dr. Coccymandible, can be found in the Autumn 2012 Anthology.

Feel free to write a review of one (or all) of these anthologies on Amazon, your own blog, or elsewhere. Help MSJ expand its audience.

An upcoming anthology (Spring 2013, I expect) will also include my short story, Mabel’s Mission, which was published by MSJ on Apr 1st.

Mabel’s Mission Published by Mad Scientist Journal

…imagine a world where capricious scientists, such as yourselves, have free reign. I just so happen to come from such a world. Honestly…

…Hamish was the epitome of science gone wrong. About four and half feet tall, with wildly disproportionate, beefy limbs, he had tiny insectile eyes that were especially out of place in his large, somewhat bulbous head. His scattered patches of coarse hair were interspersed between a disturbing assortment of tubes coming out of his scalp…

Read about the Mabel’s adventures in a world where human experimentation is as common as getting a haircut…but–like haircuts– sometimes it goes horribly wrong. You can read Mabel’s Mission now  (free, no log-in or other effort required) at Mad Scientist Journal.  

And thanks to Shannon Legler for the awesome art.

Almost Time for Mabel’s Mission

…imagine a world where capricious scientists, such as yourselves, have free reign. I just so happen to come from such a world. Honestly…

…Hamish was the epitome of science gone wrong. About four and half feet tall, with wildly disproportionate, beefy limbs, he had tiny insectile eyes that were especially out of place in his large, somewhat bulbous head. His scattered patches of coarse hair were interspersed between a disturbing assortment of tubes coming out of his scalp…

The crazy adventure of Mabel, a mad scientist’s assistant (written by yours truly) is scheduled to appear on Mad Scientist Journal April 1st 2013. This unique online magazine publishes a new essay every week from the world of mad science. You can view these stories for free on the website–always a fun and unusual read–and/or download their quarterly anthologies for 99 cents on smashwords, with some exclusive fiction added, well worth the 99 cents. The anthologies include variety of short stories (from more than the mad scientists’ realm) and quirky classified ads including my own Osteo-transplant Specialist published in the latest anthology.

So head on over to Mad Scientist Journal or smashwords and mark your calendars for April 1st!