Andrew Forrest Baker
he | him
Southern gothic storyteller.
My new novel, The House That Wasn't There, is coming in October 2022 from April Gloaming Publishing.
The weight of air—it’s solidity—is never more evident than when it pounds against the whole of your self in its relentless struggle to remain unmoved. It claws at your face, using your own body against you as it whips your hair into your eyes, across your cheeks until they are a watery mess of burst capillaries: red and burning. It rips at your clothing and fights to leave your lungs unfilled in its refusal to be contained until you are gasping, and crying, and closer to death than you’ve ever felt before. It can be exhilarating under the right circumstances. When you’re, say, at the crest of the first big drop on a roller coaster and the momentum finally catches up to you to send you hurdling faster and faster toward the earth. Or when the land goes flat, and the road stretches out toward the horizon, and you and your best friend have chips and candy and energy drinks spilling from the central console, and you stick your head out of the passenger side window to howl at the sky. But when you’ve pulled yourself up through the ceiling hatch of a speeding train, like I have; when you’re staring out into a bleak, and desolate landscape you don’t recognize from even the depths of your wildest nightmares, like I am; when you, like me, can’t remember how you came to be here in the first place, any sense of hope or joy or exhilaration is replaced only with the dread of choice: leap or return.
The Kiss of Aesmodai
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I know; I know. You’ve heard this one before. The one where the untamed malevolence of night unleashes itself upon a sleepy, idyllic little piece of the world. The one were the suburban and rural horrors of all the things that go bump in the night, all the creatures that claw at your skin with their razor-sharp talons, every entity that inhabits the darker recesses of this land make you feel happy you get to leave here, say goodbye to this campground and this fire, roll up your sleeping bag, and go back to your homes far far away where it’s safe, and it’s civilized, and you have no worries of abandoned cabins or ghosts or demons.
He spoke in subtitles, garbled and a little too late or too soon, grabbing attention away from the action in desperate attempts to understand the language before the activity. He spoke in desperation, an innocent depression of vowels; a game of roulette, in wait and hopeful for the right letters to appear. Too many fictitious words, there, in the air with nothing underneath them but a faint history of too much time lost, too many lights extinguished, and nothing said of those who would live on in the dark. He spoke in the manner he lived.
Our shadows grew so long that day. They stretched across the eastern field and slapped against the horizon with wriggling fingers like the pods on the wisteria vines, reached beyond everything we thought we knew, and grabbed at something brilliant just on the other side. It was beautiful and majestic, and I knew you were leaving.
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The O’Conners reported it first. They had been camping down by Lake Hudson when the flame ignited through the trees. Little Siggy saw it as soon as it lit, transfixed and pointing through the dense forest to the tiny little beacon. His parents, Fran and Martin, thought it was just a firefly or maybe even some swamp gas ignited, but when it didn’t extinguish, when Little Siggy sat there staring straight into it for hours until they had to haul him into the tent and zip it tight, they grew worried. Fran called the cops as Martin started the engine and hauled the family back into town.
“You’re new here, huh?” he asked from his perch atop the red vinyl barstool at the end of the counter. An untouched chai latte was pushed off to the side in front of him--the milk foam slowly dissipating beneath the sprinkle of mahogany cinnamon spread over it--to make room for the small spiral bound notebook he used to sketch out rough abstract patterns. A wicked grin slinked across his lips as he eyed me from head to toe to take in my neon blue dyed hair, the bits of metal dotting my eyebrows and ears and lip, the ink on my arms: all the signals I’d acquired to separate myself from the mainstream, everything I’d donned to showcase my difference. “You’ll do.”
The sun had not even begun to crest the horizon when I heard the clang of pans in the kitchen, followed by the crack and sizzle of eggs frying. Grandma Nellie did not even try to be quiet. She wasn’t too used to having others in the house. Besides, it wouldn’t be long before MaNet, her daughter and my grandmother, would creep into the bedroom to gently rouse my brother and me. The smell of bread toasting to a near black wafted like lit charcoal across the bed linens and was quickly replaced by the sweet, salty scent of bologna hitting the cast iron.