• My story "Deer Kingdom" is out in Sanitarium 39

    A little over a year ago, on a gloomy November afternoon, I wrote a very dark story called "Deer Kingdom." It was about murdered children, Christmas gifts and forest gods, and it freaked out the first person I showed it to. His assessment: "Are you crazy? No one will ever publish this."

    But someone did! And it's out right now, in Sanitarium issue #39, which you can procure in a number of ways.

    "Deer Kingdom" is very much a holiday story - of people who celebrate Christmas in safe warm homes with decorated trees and wrapped presents, and the dead who resent them; of children who have parents who love them and children whose parents kill them and bury them in the woods. In this case, those being a middle school boy who strikes up a friendship with a dead girl in the forest behind his house.


    The Christmas lights were going up in town, plastic reindeer heads and snowmen glowing in the gunmetal-blue November dusk. But it wasn’t Christmastime yet or even winter. It was still autumn, and Adam knew that by the sodden leaves under his boots and the smoky bonfire smell that lingered over the barren fields after school. And by the dark yellow afternoon light that fell in the woods, so that the oak and ash and beech trees seemed shrouded in mist.

    “Hi,” Lily said.

    She always greeted him when he was still twenty or so feet from her, stepping out from behind a tree and smiling so she didn’t scare him. She moved silently in the woods, her bare feet making only the occasional stick crack, and there was the eeriness of her pale face framed in the forest gloom, which she seemed to sense even though there was no mirror out here for her to see how she’d changed. So it was nice of her, Adam thought, to not scare him.

    “Hey,” he said.

    “Are you early or late today?”

    “Early,” he said. “But it’s getting dark out.”


    She turned and he followed her back to the cluster of trees where she'd put together a lean-to these last few weeks. Two wooden doors comprised the base, with some random planks and a plastic tarp that provided a wall, all of it scavenged from the Barringers’ junkyard at the other end of the woods. At the edge Lily had lined up her collected treasures – some magazines he'd brought her, a pile of beechnuts, a crow with a broken neck that wasn’t rotting.

    Lily was dead, but that didn’t bother Adam. What did bother him was that she was famous-dead, and a cold dread clenched his stomach at the thought of being found with her. Of accidentally saying her name at school or around his mother. The county was postered with MISSING signs that featured a photo of her smiling over her hamster’s cage along with her eighth grade school picture, LILITH ABIGAIL BROSSARD, 13 years old. 5’1, 97 lbs, brown hair, brown eyes. Reward for information.

    Search teams and dogs had swept the fields, the woods, the highway rest stops and the water reservoir. Her mother and stepfather had appeared on morning news shows, her mother tearfully choking out answers, her stepfather gruff. The school had changed their pick-up and bus stop policies so no student had to walk home alone, though Adam still walked by himself anyhow. He knew there wasn’t a killer on the loose. Not one that was looking for other kids to kill, at least.

    The paperback will be on sale soon on Amazon US and UK.


Twitter: @Vaxder


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