WE'LL KNOW THE REASON WHEN THE WORLD PARTS ITS LIPS





JESSICA MCHUGH



















THE MORNING THEY MEET, SHE FAINTS AT WORK AND CRACKS HER HEAD ON A DESK.


She begs him to go away, but he holds her hand and kisses her cheek, and as EMTs roll her past wide-eyed students, he whispers into all of her wounds. “No, my love. I’ll never leave you again.”


Screaming, she tries to leap off the gurney.


He looks human at first—handsome like Daddy—but just like Daddy, the beauty disappears in sinkholes that leave him a mangled, bulging version of himself.


Her body is the only one that matters, however. He knew and loved it ages before his perilous swim across the slick and clenching cosmos. It’s the only reason he came. He tells her so and climbs on top, and writhing under his spongy, bloodless weight, she howls at the heavens. But the heavens have no ears.


The plates of her skull are loose and clacking as she rolls her head across the pillow, away from the green and white streaks of first and second and fifteenth opinions. When the medicine kicks in, reality and dream shrink and squeeze her mind like an octopus twisting its way through a colony of coral.


The inhuman creature at her bedside opens his arms, tentacles patched with thirsty cartilage emerge from his spongy flesh. They pretzel her body and fill every cell with I love yous that unfold like the stiff petals of a paper fortune teller.


She vomits down the front of her scratchy gown. Drenched and studded with blue and purple capsules, she thrashes, wriggles an arm free, and her fingernail snags a sagging blue-gray wrinkle under his left eye.


“But I came all this way,” he whimpers, and his face rips like wet toilet paper. Watery brown meat spills from his exposed sinus cavity and gushes into her like the lukewarm freezer pops she dumped down her throat as a kid. Her pores open wide as the cosmic slit from whence he came, and his slushy guts fill her head with all the dreams he had of her in the womb.


He slept in lumpy, porous soil, waiting his turn to love something into metamorphosis. From the dawn of time, as microscopic slits blossomed around him in his quiet but teeming planet, his body grew slow. But love deepened quick, and with love came purpose, taking shape in him through the millennia, just as it ossifies in her now.



“It’s not right,” she cries. “I was good. I helped people children.”

"I’m a child,” he says. “I’ve been so desperately lonely waiting for you. Help me. You’re the only one who can. If you’re as good as you say, you’ll let me grow.”

A version of her swallows more capsules and tries to kill his voice, but it feels like he’s been there forever now. In her memories, he screams at her through achy knees and bad flus while, across the universe, planet built of him the perfect mechanism to devour the best parts of her.

If there were any. The longer he dwells in her, the more she doubts it.

He had doubts too, but they filled him with fire through the years. He forced every ugly thought to mutate from splendid mess to divine creation.

“I’ll do the same for you,” he says. “It’s what we were born for.”

An arrangement made ages ago, he explains, the greatest fortune she can hope to experience is being undone by an infinitesimal angel like him. There’s no greater devotion than the love that reforms a stranger at the cellular level.

She asks him what will happen when her body can no longer house them both, but he has no answer, nor comfort except the knowledge that, although he will melt her bones and yellow her eyes and make of her a sloppy, screaming gash until the end, she is already one of many chasms opening in a New Mother Earth.

Upon surrender, she knows both of their histories but only one future. Tangled up in his tentacles, she will blossom like the galactic gashes come before, and within the planet speckled in suffering, his voice will diminish and eventually vanish.

It will be her turn to wait then. Centuries, millennia maybe longer than him. But the day will come. Under the hood of a bloodless planet, she will leak her fever across the galaxy, and angels of death will fly from her lips.


INTERVIEW: JESSICA MCHUGH



BY CODY GOODFELLOW





J.G. Ballard once said the science fiction was the literature of the 20th century. It seems as if we’ve fucked the future, and horror is the literature of the 21st century. Do you agree, and what role do you see cosmic horror playing a role in our awakening as a culture, or is it just the screams of a burning short bus going off a cliff?


I think you’re right on the money about horror dominating the 21st century, and I believe some of that has a lot to do with how honest many of us have become about our inner demons. Because of social media, we’ve come a long way discussing illness, both mental and physical, as well as our checkered pasts. We’ve made ourselves vulnerable, which is both wonderful and horrifying, and this new openness grants horror fiction more shades and levels than ever before. From doxxing and swatting to shit-slicked forums where people are convinced a shadow government is using celebrity lizard people to harvest adrenochrome from aborted babies...or some crazy nonsense...we are surrounded by creepy subgenres begging to be explored. I sincerely hope this is an awakening, for all us, but especially for audiences who haven’t fell in love with the nooks and crannies of this genre yet. To me, horror is an emotional autopsy. It sets aside your organs and points out exactly what started the rot, but it also unifies us. We’re all a little rotten, after all. We might as well celebrate it.



Your work so far is a mic-dropper to arguments that women can’t write extreme horror without writing like a man. Does reaction to these outmoded tropes drive your writing to further shocking extremes, and how do you approach getting men to read about the towering, obvious horror that is maleness? First off, thank you for that, and for the interview.


When I set out to write a story I try not to think about breaking tropes or consciously slipping in fuck you’s to the patriarchy. If well-written, the characters and plot should communicate those ideas without needing to slap the reader across the face. And I definitely don’t try to out-horror the boys, or anyone...except maybe Past Jess. I write extreme horror because it's fun and because it serves the story, and I trust that true horror lovers and voracious readers are down for a good fright, whether it has feminist themes or not. So, yes, I'm writing to entertain and maybe start a discussion, but mostly, I simply write what's fun and gross and cool to me and hope someone else will dig it.





Were you a Lovecraftian, growing up? Most of your work (that I’ve read, at least) is very intimate and human, which flies in the face of most notions of cosmic horror, with its emphasis on the outside and the impersonal. Do you see the two as mutually exclusive, and if not, how do you enjoy making them intersect?


I didn't grow up reading Lovecraft, but when I first started writing seriously at nineteen, Lovecraft was my toast and jam. Most of my first short stories followed the cosmic horror vibe of: “I came, I saw crazy shit, and now I'm batshit crazy.” But as I’ve matured as a storyteller, as my career has progressed, I’ve become more focused on the intimate exploration of humanity. I’m a huge genre-masher, though, so I love slipping in cosmic horror elements here and there. It might be because I'm getting older and I'm child-free, but dissecting the notions of creation and immortality in both intimate and cosmic ways is extremely fun for me. My novella Home Birth from Apokrupha has a healthy dose of that mixture, and I hope to explore it further in A Motherfucking Heist Novel.





Optional "what are you working on now? question...


I hope to start A Motherfucking Heist Novel soon, but it depends on how hard the inspirado strikes. I'm currently finishing up "Hares in the Hedgerow," the sequel to my Post Mortem Press novel, "Rabbits in the Garden." It already has a super rad cover made by Don Noble of Rooster Republic that I'm not quite ready to share yet, but I hope that'll happen in the next few months. I've also started a small town horror/thriller that will prove to be the first novel I've first-drafted on a keyboard. Everything else has been handwritten, so this is a fun and challenging experiment.



- STAY INFORMED -