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  • Writer's picturePete Mesling

A Spoiler-Free Rundown of the Stories in Jagged Edges & Moving Parts

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen some of these teasers for my new fiction collection as I posted them individually there. Now that they’ve made their debut, I thought it might be fun to bring the complete set together in one place. I’ve done my best to keep them spoiler free, but if you’d rather go in cold, consider this your escape clause (ooh, bad pun) and feel free to return after you’ve read the collection. You can order it here, by the way.

1 of 27. “What We Teach Our Young”: It might seem like an unusual choice to open a horror collection with a realistic story about terrorism, but I figure it will grab your attention, if nothing else. The story came to me in a flash, as kind of a stand-in for what seemed like a cluster of extremist attacks throughout the U.S. and Europe at the time. The method used by my fictitious terrorist is one that I find particularly terrifying. The protagonist is an asshole with a glimmer of hope for redemption. His son is a walking question mark.

2 of 27. “Holy Is as Holy Does”: I think it’s pretty obvious that this story depicts a made-up variation of the early days of the Mormon faith, but the theme that drew me in originally was religious mania in all of its darkest manifestations. I had read a book about a massacre purportedly carried out by the Mormons, so that laid the foundation for “Holy Is as Holy Does,” but the story is only about that massacre the way M*A*S*H is about the Korean War. In other words, I used that event to make a broader comment on religious hypocrisy, hopefully without sacrificing the ghost story at the core of "Holy Is as Holy Does," which is of foremost importance.

3 of 27. “Barbicide”: It’s difficult to write a teaser about a piece of flash fiction without giving away the game, and there are more than one of them in Jagged Edges & Moving Parts. “Always have a plan if your aim is to extort,” this little tale seems to warn the reader. Absent such a plan, who knows what extremes will present themselves as perfectly reasonable solutions?

4 of 27. “The Tree Mumblers”: See, what’d I tell you? Here’s another flash story. If “Barbicide” is on the crime side of the coin, “The Tree Mumblers” is on the supernatural-horror side. Remember, be careful what you mumble, and where you mumble it. "The Tree Mumblers" seems to be something of a fan favorite, and I'm okay with that.

5 of 27. “A Pound of Flesh”: One of the nice things about short fiction is that there’s no pressure to draw likable characters, which leaves a writer open to the question, Just who is the villain here, anyway? In the case of “A Pound of Flesh,” is it the Iraq War vet with a zest for tidiness, or the stranger who comes calling with the promise of wealth? I have my ideas. I’ll let you come up with your own.

6 of 27. “Day of Rage”: The free-will debate is an on-again, off-again obsession of mine. This time it struck at just the right moment to inspire a story. The question of whether our lives are guided by choice or causation tends to unravel into hair-splitting arguments that only one or two people are remotely interested in by the end of a party—and it might not even be the initial combatants who are interested by then. So what better way to play with the question, I wondered, than in a very brief work of fiction? It allowed me to cut to the heart of the debate and duck out before the ideas could bog down the fun. I think the result is a pretty chilling little story. I hope it is, anyway.

7 of 27. “The Worst is Yet to Come”: I didn’t know this was going to become kind of a study in claustrophobia when I started writing it, but I did feel that I was on to something quite scary from the get-go. The story originally appeared in Best New Zombie Tales, Vol. 2, which was reviewed in issue #108 of Rue Morgue Magazine. In fact, “The Worst is Yet to Come” was called out as being the most terrifying story in the anthology. The reviewer said of it, in part, “Claustrophobic and terrifying, you’ll be holding your breath.” It remains a proud accolade.

8 of 27. “The Interview”: What would you say to the man who killed your spouse? Am I the only one who runs these kinds of fantasies through their brain? Can’t be. Winslow knows where I’m coming from on this, even if the rest of you don’t. Winslow’s the hero of this tale, but kind of a sad, defeated hero, as it turns out. He’s got one last puff of gumption in him and he’s determined to make it count. Looks like clear skies, too, as long as he doesn’t blow the interview.

9 of 27. “The Oculist’s Dilemma”: Dr. Hochens wants to enjoy one last solo yachting adventure before an eye condition renders him blind. Becoming shipwrecked on a desert island puts a damper on those plans. Unfortunately, loneliness, starvation, thirst, and his inevitable blindness are the least of his worries, for he is not alone. And the island’s inhabitants aren’t exactly friendly.

10 of 27. “In the Chillest Land”: The lover of poetry might recognize that this story and the one that follows, “On the Strangest Sea,” take their titles from lines in an Emily Dickinson poem. “Hope is the thing with feathers,” her poem begins, and hope is very much at the heart of these tales. In this first of the two, hope is perhaps still within reach for our hapless protagonist, even after we turn the final page on the account of his scaling of Denali—and what he and his friend find there. “On the Strangest Sea” is another matter. Read on!

11 of 27. “On the Strangest Sea”: Here Abel Sykes, sailing alone on a whaling vessel for reasons that are not immediately clear, makes a discovery that dwarfs what Jackson and Ejaz find lurking near the summit of Denali in the previous tale. If the events that unfold here upon the open sea are even more dire than those that transpire on the Alaskan Range of “In the Chillest Land,” Sykes’s justification for hope has narrowed to minuscule proportions. Come, find out how it all turns out.

12 of 27. “Slipknot”: Unfortunately, this is more a story of our times than its Old West setting would suggest. It is a story about racism, hypocrisy, abuse of power … and vengeance so strong that not even the grave will keep it at bay. Welcome to Arrowhead, Colorado. Sheriff: one Henri Leroux. He has been living by his own code for as long as anyone can remember, but when he hauls his trusty noose to the nearby town of Eatonville, expecting another run-of-the-mill hanging, he gets the surprise of his life, as does his loyal deputy.

13 of 27. “Homing”: It’s been said, of course, that home is where the heart is. Well, that may be literally true in this case, but home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. The less said about this one the better. It’s only a couple hundred words long, after all.

14 of 27. “Not for All to See”: I’ve known for a long time that there was a story trapped within the clock tower at Seattle’s King Street Station. I also knew it was a creature story. Something lived there. I was sure of it. Still, other projects kept knocking this idea out of the bullpen—until, that is, “Not for All to See” came slouching along. And so here you have the tale of the creature who lives in the clock tower, but really it’s about the young woman whose fate is inexorably linked to that creature. It’s also about the power, and limits, of prophecy.

15 of 27. “Fulfillment”: Here’s a poison dart of a story if ever there was one. It begins with a sense of unease, shoulders along with an air of madness, and ends with the ring of complete mental derangement—all in the span of half a thousand words, and with a touch of the fairy tale in its bloodstream. Oh, and there are rats. Ideas like this don’t come along every day. Thank God.

16 of 27. “Ridley Bickett’s Traveling Panoply”: Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Dickens fan. Here I decided to let my fandom off the leash. It wanted in from the very first draft and refused to be edited out in any of the revisions. As a result, you have a story about a carnival freak show of sorts, complete with a timeless message pulled from the pages of A Christmas Carol. A friendship forms along the way, but I’m afraid it’s a double-edged sword, in the end.

17 of 27. “Breech Baby”: I’d like to write a prequel to this one someday. The thing is, I can’t let you know why without spoiling the plot. Know this, however: if you’ve ever been to a dinner party that you couldn’t wait to escape from, you’ll relate to “Breech Baby” on some level. Poor Lu Ellen gets her wish on that score, but it comes awfully dear.

18 of 27. “The Patience of Adam”: Another slight one, but I hope not without its charms. Sometimes it’s fun to go deep with a piece of flash fiction, see how much you can mine in a short span. But there are times when depth doesn’t really enter the picture, because a sucker punch doesn’t always leave you with a chance to react. And so here we see another possible interpretation of the term “flash fiction.” Maybe examples of the form can leave an after-image, as in the olden days when you stared directly into the flashbulb of a camera. Sometimes that’s enough.

19 of 27. “Sacrificial Lamb”: Who hasn’t dreamed, if fleetingly, of leaving it all behind in pursuit of some new, exotic existence? But when faced with the opportunity to put such a dream into practice, how many of us would really follow through? I suspect that many of our friends and neighbors would go against expectation, one way or the other, and that’s the territory explored in “Sacrificial Lamb.”

20 of 27. “Crossing Lake Serene on a Dare”: I suppose this lies on the quieter end of the genre spectrum. There’s a lot of attention paid to atmosphere and the dark wonders of childhood, and how our fears don’t always match up with reality. But off scene some pretty terrible business is transacted, perhaps leaving you to wonder … Would you cross Lake Serene on a dare? It sure would have been nice to include Tom Moran’s illustrations that accompanied this story when it first appeared in his Black Ink Horror digest series, but I guess you’ll have to settle for my words this time around.

21 of 27. “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them”: A religious title seemed apt for a story that takes on religious proportions. We begin with a sweet little girl who turns out to be anything but. The plot is intricate, and it serves to depict a growing nightmare that threatens to engulf not just the players in the drama but a good portion of humanity as a whole. If there’s a moral, it’s this: keep a leash on your curiosity where strangers are involved.

22 of 27. “Desperate Measures”: Here we have one of the shortest tales of the bunch, and it’s told with a bit of a wink. Like a joke, it’s all about the punchline, so I’ll only say that I was a little discouraged when Joe Hill used the same punchline on Twitter not too long ago. You’ll have to take my word for it that “Desperate Measures” was already in the can when he had his fun, even though it wasn’t yet published.

23 of 27. “Voices in the Crawl Space”: The last of three zombie stories in the collection, “Voices” should keep you guessing right up to the brutal climax. Far be it for me to ruin the fun of discovery for you, but know that fate will find you in the end, and it will not always be fair, or kind.

24 of 27. “Father Dog”: If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a big fan of flash fiction. The inherent limitations are so enticing to me. This is an example of me trying to mine the form for some psychological depth. How well I’ve succeeded is up to you, of course, but that was the challenge I set for myself with this brief tale of a youthful mind gone horribly wrong. It also ties us back to the theme of the opening story of the collection, to a certain extent.

25 of 27. “Wish Me Luck”: And boy is our hero going to need it! He’s already had a tough go of it before the story begins, and he doesn’t exactly do himself any favors along the way. Cause and effect enter into the picture, though not to the extent they do in “Day of Rage.” Don’t we often wonder, when something goes awry in someone’s life, how much of their response can be justified by what they’ve endured—and how much of it cannot? It’s Dean Koontz territory, on the one hand, but really it strikes me as kind of a timeless theme.

26 of 27. “Microphasia”: This is not the title of a story but of a short section containing untitled micro-tales that were originally written for Twitter when their character limit was 140. This little grouping does, therefore, represent the shortest stories included in Jagged Edges & Moving Parts. Enjoy them as you would a small dish of assorted nuts.

27 of 27. “Damned if You Do”: It took me long enough, but I finally found the right vehicle in which to pour some of my enthusiasm for Dante’s INFERNO. This is also a tale of possession. I hope you’ll agree that it’s an appropriate closer for a collection of terrors.

Thanks for taking the time to thumb through these. I had a lot of fun writing them—not as much fun as I had writing the actual stories, of course, but quite a bit of fun nonetheless. I realize it’s a rather lengthy table of contents, but as you already know if you’ve made it this far, a good number of the tales are extremely brief. May the same be said of this closing paragraph.

Until next time ...

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