A Query

Here is the query letter that caught my editor’s attention. I’ve seen people ask before how these work, and thought I’d share one that happened to work for me. Good luck!

Dear Editor,

Alice wakes one day to find herself on the other side of death, in the corrupted fairy tale land of Nod. Unable to remember much of the events leading to her demise, she sets out on a journey to discover her memory and the reason for her presence in Nod. Unknown to her, the man responsible for her death, Jack, is on a mission to find her spirit and end her second life.

Along the way, she meets a cast of characters that include a madman with a dark secret, her faithful companion, Dog, and woman made of memory.  Together, they help her on her journey as she uncovers the truth of Nod and the woman behind it all, the Red Queen.

Fairy Tale, complete at 63,180 words, is a contemporary fantasy.

I was raised in Michigan and now live in North Dakota, working as a web developer for an advertising agency.  I’ve been published in several small online magazines, and my short story, Resurrection, took runner-up in the Fictuary short story contest.

Thank you for your consideration.

Clayton Snyder

Came Back Wrong

The thing he’d raised from the dead stood, the ligaments in its legs creaking with disuse.  Its skin hung sallow and loose, and the hair on its head was spare, brittle, and white.   It looked at Cory with eyes that were withered orbs set in dark sockets and let loose a moan that rattled its chest.

Cory held up two fingers and pointed at his mouth.  “Hello.”  He said.

The corpse looked at him, and its mouth worked for a moment.  Its chest heaved, and it gave a wracking cough, black bile dribbling from between its lips and pattering to the dirt below.  Cory waited, as patiently as he could after having already failed three times before.  The corpse tried again, a thin wheedling breath playing through its nose.

“Aaaaa.”  It shut its mouth, and its brow furrowed.  It tried again.  “Aaaaaa.  Aaaap.  Aaaaple.  Apple!”

Its mouth screwed up into a hideous grin, yellowed teeth shining dully in the moonlight.  Cory slapped himself in the forehead.  Failure number four.  He took the corpse by the arm and patted it on the shoulder.

“Yes, yes.  Very nice, er…Hank.  Come along.”

He guided it to the shed and opened the door.  Moonlight spilled onto the wood floor, and up the back wall, where it half-illuminated three other corpses.  Two men and a woman, he had given each of them names – Mona and Harvey and Bill.  They looked up at the sound of the door opening and the sudden influx of light and smiled.  The air was filled with the voices of the dead as they each tried to speak.

“Doggie!”

“Perfume!”

“Throndset!”  Cory wasn’t sure how Bill could even get that word out.  Half his tongue was gone, eaten away by insects.

Hank grinned and replied to them.  “Apple!”

Cory rolled his eyes, and gave the newcomer a little push, and Hank shuffled inside.  He shut the shed door and locked it.  He turned on the hose attached to the back of his house, and washed his hands, then went inside.  Behind him, dimly, he could hear the corpses yammering in their one-word sentences to each other.  He sighed.  Maybe he’d get it right tomorrow night.

*

            Cory knew where he’d gone wrong.  He’d had a good think about it while trying to chew through the rubber mat that passed for Salisbury steak in his frozen dinner.  It was a matter of freshness.  Like the steak, the corpses he’d been getting from the cemetery where old and freezer-burnt, so to speak.  He needed fresh meat.

It was that line of thought that had led him to drive through downtown rather than digging up some country grave in the middle of the night.  He trolled the streets in methodical fashion, driving first north and south, then east and west.  He considered a hooker but discounted it.  There were a number of problems with that approach, not the least of which being the fact that he’d been raised to respect women, and not kill them and raise them from the dead.

Two hours of driving, and Cory was about to point the car toward another country road when he saw something promising.  He slowed the car and pulled over, then shut the engine off.  He sat in the quiet for a moment, listening to the tick of the cooling engine.  He was screwing up his courage and found he had to both swallow past a large lump in his throat and force himself to breathe evenly.  He could hear the rush of blood in his ears.

He watched the man standing under the overpass, his hands held before a barrel fire, his tattered coat clinging to a body that probably hadn’t been washed in some time.  His hair hung in long tatters and in some places mingled with his beard.  Finally, when Cory thought he’d grabbed hold of himself enough, he took a deep breath, exhaled, and left the car.

He walked to the barrel fire, his head on a swivel, watching for other men or women, other possible witnesses.  When he saw no one, his confidence picked up, and his step became surer.  A few yards out, his shoes crunching on gravel, the old man heard the sound and looked up.  A frown crossed his forehead, bringing his bushy eyebrows together.

“You lost, John Q?”

Cory shook his head and tried to put on his friendliest smile.

“John Q?”

The man gestured back at his car and at Cory himself.

“Car, job, house, wife, picket fence, three point five kids.  John Q Public.”  He snorted deep, and spat a wad of phlegm to the side.  “So, you lost?”

Cory was close enough to feel the heat from the barrel fire.  He smiled again and hoped he sounded compassionate.

“Close.  No wife, no kids.  Not really lost, either.  Just out for a drive, and I thought I saw a guy who could use a little kindness.”

The old man was looking at the fire, his hands tucked into his armpits.  He snorted.  “Huh.”  Then he looked up at Cory.

“You ain’t a weirdo, are ya?  You know, give me a meal, maybe a shower, and then you want me to spank ya?”

Cory chuckled.  “Hell no.  Just a nice guy.  Isn’t that weird enough these days?”

“So whaddya want?”

Cory shrugged, tried to look like he was altruistic.  “Like you said.  Well, without the spanking.  Shower and a meal?  Maybe your name?”

“Name’s Phil.”  He eyeballed Cory one more time, one eye squinting.  “You sure you ain’t a weirdo?”

“Pretty sure.  C’mon, we’ll get you a steak and some warm water.”

Phil seemed to struggle with himself for a minute.  He muttered something under his breath and then shook his head.  Another minute and he seemed to come to a decision.

“Alright.”

“Great.”  Cory was smiling.  It felt weird to him.  Like wearing someone else’s face.

And you’re not a weirdo.  Right.

Cory turned to go, and Phil followed him to the car.  Before he got in, the old man stuck out his hand.

“Thanks, mister.”

Cory smiled again.  He thought of the Joker and shook Phil’s hand.  “Not a big deal.”

They left the overpass behind.

*

            While Phil washed up, Cory got dinner ready.  Chicken with rice, buttermilk biscuits, a salad, and a Kool-Aid and antifreeze cocktail.  Cory made Phil’s plate and set the table, then ate a sandwich over the sink.  In the background, he heard the shower shut off, and a few minutes later, the bathroom door open.  He left the kitchen to find Phil sitting down at the table.  He already had a mouthful of chicken.

“This is great, man.  I can’t thank ya enough.”  The words came out a bit rounded from the mouthful of food.  He took a sip of his drink and smacked his lips, then raised the glass and grinned.  “Good.”

He fell back to the food.  He looked presentable enough with his hair trimmed and combed.  An idle part of Cory’s brain wondered how messy this was going to turn out to be.  Another part, the part he was struggling to keep tamped down, wanted to knock the glass of poison from the man’s hands.

Cory took the chair across from Phil and watched him eat for a while longer, each bite of chicken and rice punctuated by a sip of Kool-Aid.  Before long, the plate and glass were empty, and the old man was leaning back, his hand on his stomach.  He belched loudly and then gave Cory a sheepish grin.

“‘Orry.  Good.  Food like that, go to a man’s head.”  The words were slurred, and he giggled.  “Got an’more drink?”

Cory shook his head.  “Sorry, no.”

“S’alright.  Shay, you sheem like a nishe fella affer all.  Shure you don’ wanna fonnle me?”

He stopped talking, and he got a distinctly green look on his face.  With a lurch, he bent to one side and emptied his stomach on the wood floor.

“Shit.  Shorry.  Shicken.  Buc Buc.”

He vomited again and fell off the chair to the opposite side.

“Ow.”  He said, the word floating up to Cory from the floor.  “OOOOWW-”

The room was suddenly silent.  Cory stood up and walked over to the man.  He was lying face up on the floor, bits of vomit clinging to his freshly groomed beard.  Cory fought to keep his gorge down.  Phil’s eyes were fixed on the ceiling, one pupil dilated.  Cory looked at the puddle of vomit on the floor, and grimaced, then fetched a roll of paper towels, plastic bags, and a pair of rubber gloves.

Fifteen minutes later, the floor was clean, albeit one dead man.  Cory stood and tossed the plastic bags into the garbage, then grabbed a small area rug from the foyer and laid it next to Phil.  With some effort, he managed to get the dead man on top, and then used it to slide him to the back door and down the steps to the yard.

Outside, the moon was a quarter crescent sickle hanging among tatters of wispy cloud.  Stars peeked out of the black above, like the eyes of some predator.  Cory drug Phil to the circle of dirt he’d dug into the ground.  He laid him out, hands pointing to the sides, legs splayed.  Satisfied the old man was laid out just right, he stepped out of the circle.

He’d done this before, and was getting to be old hat at it.  First, a bit of blood at each of the five points – feet, hands, and head.  He picked open the scab on his arm where he had cut himself open the first time, and caught the drops in his hand, then scattered them at the cardinal points.

Next, a bit of smoke.  He pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit it, inhaling deeply.  Then he walked to the man’s head, bent low without entering the circle, and blew the smoke into Phil’s open mouth.  There was a sound, like the wind picking up through the branches of a tree, and a voice came on the wind, whispering indistinctly.

Finally, the words.  They were the hardest part.  Each had to be spoken distinctly, clearly, and with intent.  The book had been very clear.  He stood at Phil’s feet and uttered them.

“Morte.  Vitae.  Veritas.”

Phil’s body twitched, and his feet kicked in the dirt.   Cory repeated the words.

Another twitch and Phil’s chest deflated, a groan escaping from his throat.  He twisted in place and struggled to stand.  His eyes were glazed and foggy, as though cataracts covered the iris.  He stood, and Cory waited for the fog to clear from the old man’s eyes.  When it did, he raised two fingers to get Phil’s attention and pointed at his mouth.

“Hello.”  He said.

Phil opened his mouth, and a thin blue stream of antifreeze and Kool-Aid drooled from between his lips, staining his beard.  He opened his mouth, and- screamed.  It was high-pitched and shrill, and loud enough to wake the birds in Cory’s maple tree and send them flying into the black sky.  Cory stepped back involuntarily.

The sound stopped, and Phil’s chest expanded.  Cory flinched as a second later as Phil let another scream loose, his voice echoing in the quiet neighborhood.  Panic grabbed Cory by the chest and tried to crush his heart, and he did the only thing he could think of.  He grabbed the shovel he had left out and clubbed Phil in the face with it.

The corpse stopped screaming for a second, shock creeping across its face like ice on a slow river.  Cory tried to think.  He needed to shut Phil up or muffle him before he belted out another scream and woke up the neighborhood.  A thought occurred to him, and he tore off his shirt.  Phil seemed to be recovering, and his chest expanded.  He opened his mouth, and Cory lunged forward, stuffing the shirt between his teeth.  The scream came, but it had lost its teeth.

Cory held the ends of the shirt and wrapped them around Phil’s head, then tied them in place.   Phil’s nostrils flared, and his chest expanded, and another scream came.  He blinked.  Cory smirked at him.

“C’mon Phil.”

He took the corpse by the arm and led him to the shed.  He opened the door.

“Doggie!”

“Perfume!”

“Throndset!”

“Apple!”

Phil screamed in greeting.  Cory gave him a little push, and when the old corpse was inside, he shut the shed door and locked it. Through the door, he could hear the mutterings of the dead, punctuated by a muffled scream.

*

            He was too fresh.  The others were too old.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’re in the Goldilocks Zone.

Cory finished his dinner and scraped the plate clean, then put it in the sink.  He walked to the back yard and picked up the gas can he’d set by the steps.  He fished in his pocket for a lighter.  He felt the hard lump, and satisfied it was there, he began to douse the shed.  It was a shame, really.  It had taken him half a summer to build, but there was no helping it.  The book had never said how to put the dead back.

When he was done, he walked over to the two circles he’d dug into the lawn and checked his handiwork.  Cheryl and Carli were laid out in each, each in their pretty Sunday dresses.  He walked around them and smoothed stray strands of hair back from their foreheads.  His fingertips gently caressed the bruises the car dash had left on their faces.

Cheryl’s head flopped to the side, and he straightened it and then stood.  He walked to the shed and with little ceremony, lit it.  The gasoline went up with a whoosh, and he felt his hair singe.  Inside, just below the roaring of the flame, he thought he could hear “Apple!”  He walked back over to his wife and child and started the ritual.

A part of him thought of what it had cost him to get their bodies.  All of his savings to bribe the city morgue.  All of his humanity and soul to bring them back.  It had better be worth it.  He bled for them, and blew the smoke into them, and then spoke the words.  They twitched and spasmed.  They groaned.

As one, they stood, the fogginess clearing from their eyes.  He raised two fingers and pointed at his mouth.  He couldn’t help smiling, even as he felt the heat from the shed grow more intense.  He heard sirens in the distance, and somewhere distant to him, Phil screaming.

“Hello.”  He said.

They opened their mouths.

Puppet

“Someone threw away a perfectly good white boy.”

They were standing in a circle around the body, Max, Johnny, and Stan.  They stood with their arms crossed under the power lines that crisscrossed the alley between tall brownstones that blocked the sun and cast shadow into the narrow space.  At the mouth of the alley, pedestrians walked by, heads down or forward, but not looking in, and past that, cars rode by in twos and threes, their colors blurring under the bright light.  Stan looked around, and then made a sound of exasperation.

“Really?  Better off Dead?”  Blank looks.  “John Cusack?”  Still no reaction.  He threw his arms up and turned in a circle.

“I was born in 1805, Stan,”  Max said.

“So? You’ve never snuck into a movie theater?  Shit, you don’t even have to sneak – just walk in and sit down.”

Max shook his head, and Stan made a disgusted sound.

“Not once in the last 100 years?  Gah.”  He turned to Johnny, who he knew had been alive in the 50s.  “What about you, slick?”

Johnny shrugged.  “I was a James Dean fan.”  He looked down again and frowned.  “What do you think happened to him?”

Stan pointed to the puddle spilled around the body and the edges of the shirt that were soaking it up and turning a deep crimson.  “Probably stabbed.  Not likely he was shot, unless someone used a small caliber.”

“How do you know?”  Max asked.

“No exit wound.  Lots of blood.”

“Why don’t they look?”  Johnny asked, interrupting the conversation.

“What?  Who?”

Johnny gestured to the people passing by outside the alley.

“They don’t want to see,”  Max said.

“Why not?”

“You ever really want to see something ugly?  Do you seek it out, make yourself uncomfortable?  When you were still a person, when you cut yourself, did you take your time and look at the wound, or did you cover it up fast and pinch it off?”

Johnny fell quiet for a moment.  “You think he’s got family?”  He said after a minute.

“Probably,”  Max said.

“Doesn’t matter.  Lucky bastard got the A-train right away.”  Stan said.  He knelt and dug his hand into the man’s back, the translucent blue of his skin passing into the body.

“What the hell are you doing, boy?”  Max asked.

Stan looked up.  “Just making sure the lights are out.”  He pulled his arm out and stood.

“So?”  Johnny asked.

“Yeah, he’s a goner.  So, you guys gonna stick around for the cop show?”

They shook their heads.

“I’m going to the library.  There’s a guy comes in and reads The Windup Bird Chronicle, and if I don’t get there in time, I’ll miss a page or two.”  Max said.

“Yeah, the Strand is showing Rebel Without a Cause,”  Johnny chimed in.

They said their goodbyes.  Max walked through the alley wall, probably giving some poor housewife a chill, and Johnny wandered out to the street and through traffic, where several cars passed through him before he got to the other side.  Left alone, Stan looked around the alley and wondered what to do.

Eternity could be boring sometimes.  Sure, you got the chance to watch people all you wanted, and the cop show was always entertaining, but you could only watch hot women get into their shower so many times before it got to be old hat.  He did get free passes to all the movies – being dead would do that – and all the TV he could watch, but that tended to suck when you couldn’t turn the channel.  There were always books, but much like TV, you had to wait for someone else to start reading before you could.  There was other entertainment to watch – war, rape, murder, but you had to be a sick fuck in life to enjoy those.

He eyed the corpse in the alley and wondered what it would be like to be alive again.  To feel, to breathe, to eat a cheeseburger.  An idea popped into his head and fluttered around, like a moth getting too close to a candle flame.

That won’t work.  Will it?

He thought maybe he should wander off, find something else to do before he had any other ideas.  When you were dead, too many ideas were dangerous.  They gave you hope.  He thought of Max, dead for all those years, and wondered if the old man still had ideas, or if he brushed them off like houseflies.   He started to walk away and found himself at the corpse’s feet.  The idea fluttered again.

Stan knelt, placing his knees on the dead man’s.  He felt a tingle, like what he felt when he would walk through solid objects.  He knelt there for a moment, feeling the buzz, and then closed his eyes.  He fell forward, into the dead man, and his whole body took on the tingle like licking a 9-volt.  It was comforting, like one of those electric chairs at the mall.  He didn’t want to open his eyes, just wanted to feel that comforting tingle until the world faded into black.  He pushed himself up and found it took some effort.  He opened his eyes.

He looked down and was surprised to see hands, flesh and blood, pressed into the concrete.  He could feel stones pressing into them, and the weight of the body he was wearing pressing down.  His arms trembled a bit, and he pressed himself back until he sat on his borrowed heels.  Pain flashed through the body he had stolen, and he looked down at the soiled shirt.  He could just make out the tear in the fabric where the blade had gone in.  He pressed a hand to his side, and pain spiked from the wound, sending a flare into the brain he was using.

It faded, and like a light being switched on, euphoria flooded into his brain.  He was in a body.  He could breathe – he did just then, and took a deep breath, and ignored the pain in his side – air flooded into his lungs, and he felt light-headed for a moment, like the first time he’d had a cigarette.  Which reminded him of cigarettes – he missed the harsh burn of smoke and the frisson from that first drag.  He missed the taste of red meat, hot and juicy and savory, and the feel of a woman on his jock.

The sound of traffic outside the alley pulled him back into the real world, and he looked down.  The shirt was torn and bloody and ruined, and he didn’t think he wanted to stagger out of the alley in that shape.  He couldn’t afford attention from doctors or police.  He’d need a shirt to start.  He looked around and saw luck had continued to smile on him.  Hanging from one of the lines toward the back of the alley was someone’s laundry, and right in the middle of the line, a big flannel.

Stan lurched to his feet, the feel of muscle working under him unfamiliar, and promptly fell forward.  He managed to get his hands out in time before he smashed his face into a pulp, but his palms ended up skinned, and his knees a wracked mess.  He took a breath, though he suspected he still didn’t need to and pushed himself up.  He crab-walked to the wall of the brownstone next to him and pressed his back into it.  Then, with careful deliberation, levered his new body up until he was standing.  He cheered to himself, an internal victory dance, and then took a hesitant step.  When he didn’t fall down, he had another celebration – go Stan, it’s your birthday – and took another.  Before long, he was at the clothesline.

The clothing presented a new challenge.  He found his hands weren’t ready to operate a clothespin or buttons, and he ended up ripping the shirt from the line, which came easily, and off his torso, which did not, and left lines of welts where the seams wouldn’t part.  After some cursing and no small amount of frustration, he managed to get the flannel on and buttoned just enough to not show his nipples when he walked down the street.  He looked down at himself, clean as he would be for some time, and felt satisfied enough to leave the alley.  He took a few more practice steps and screwed up his courage, and then joined the pedestrian traffic outside as though he belonged.

*

“What. Will. You. Have?”

The cashier couldn’t have been more than 16, and Stan was trying not to wring his neck.  He stared up at the menu, the high-def photos making his stomach rumble.  He thought he wanted the Uber-Stack, six patties alternated with cheese and bacon and sandwiched between  two glistening buns, but the Reichsburger sounded delicious as well.

“Sir?”

Stan forced his face to frown, and the kid behind the counter stepped back.  Shit. He was doing it wrong.  He tried to remember what a normal face looked like and smiled.  He was sure all of his teeth were showing, but damn if he wasn’t trying.

“Gimme the Uber-Stack.”

“Mezzerschmidt fries or Panzer Rings?”

“Rings, please.”

The kid pressed some buttons on his register, which beeped and booped at him.

“Eight o five.”

Panic stitched its way across Stan’s chest.  He thrust a hand into his pocket, and – holy shit ­– came out with a 50.  He passed it over to the kid and waited for his change, then stepped to the side.  When his order came up, he almost ran to a booth and sat down.

The first bite of meat was heaven.  Juicy and savory and cheesy and bacon-y and oh my God, this is what Heaven must taste like.  He popped an onion ring into his mouth and savored the fried goodness.  His soda was sweet and fizzy and the bubble tickled his borrowed nose.  He took another bite of burger and sighed.

A noise from the front of the store interrupted his third bite.  Someone was up front, shouting.  He turned in his seat and looked.  A young man in a big coat was waving his arms, and acting agitated.  Stan ducked his head, but not before the kid turned, and he saw the gun in his hand.

“Hey.  Hey you.  Motherfucker in the flannel.  Get up here.”

Stan sighed again and trudged up front.  The kid grabbed him and put one arm around his neck, the other hand, the one with the gun, pressing the weapon to his temple.

“Now.”  The kid said.  “Open the register, or I shoot this motherfucker.”

The cashier rolled his eyes and reached under the counter.

Don’t be a hero, you dipshit, Stan thought.  The would-be robber saw it too, though, and swept the gun toward the cashier.

“You going for an alarm?  Stupid motherfucker, what’d I tell you?”

He pressed the gun against Stan’s head.

Oh shi- was all Stan had time to think before the sound of the gun going off echoed in his head, blotting out all thought.  He felt his borrowed skull crack and explode outward, and his borrowed brains fly out like a bowl of thrown Jell-o.

The room echoed, and he saw the cashier piss himself and open the register.  He saw the cashier.  Somehow he still had control of the body.  An idea came to him, and being the master of impulse control he was, he acted on it immediately.

He groaned, long and loud, and rolled his eyes back.  He reached out and grabbed the robber’s arm and bit it, still groaning.  The kid pushed back from him, yowling in pain.  He clutched his arm and scuttled backward.  From the corner of his eye, the cashier had fainted.

“ZOMBIE!”

The robber emptied his gun into Stan’s body, screaming the whole time.  Stan just kept advancing.  He tried frowning and grinning at the same time, and it must have worked because the robber let out a squeal and threw the pistol at him.  It hit him in the chest and rebounded, dropping to the floor with a clatter.  The kid in the big coat, who would have robbed Fuhrer Burger, ran like a scared cat.

Stan stood there a moment longer, then raised a hand to his head.  It was ruined.  The bullet had left a gaping hole in his skull.  Maybe I can wear a hat.  He poked a finger into the hole and could feel brain.  A big one.  A liquid weight hit him in the middle of the thought, followed by the smells of fried fish and potatoes.  He looked down at the pool around his feet, then turned.

The cashier had come to his senses, and he stood to one side, an empty bucket in one hand, a match in the other.  He tossed it at the puddle of oil.

“You want fries with that?”  He asked.

Stan’s borrowed body went up like a candle wick.  He tried to hold out, for one minute, then two.  When the muscle around his bones melted, and the body collapsed, he vacated with an annoyed sigh and stepped away from the flames.  He stood to one side, watching the heap of flesh burn, and could only feel annoyance he hadn’t finished his burger.

A voice to his left spoke up.

“Glad I aint got a nose no more,”  Max said.

Johnny appeared through the wall to their right.  “And they call me a greaser.”

The stood around for a bit, watching as the body burned and the cops filed in.  After a while, they exited through the wall and met in the alley beyond.

“So whaddya guys wanna do?”  Stan asked.

Max shook his head, Johnny shrugged.

“We should see a movie.”

“Better off Dead’s pretty good?”  Max said.

Stan put his arm around Max’s shoulders.  “Truth’s in the title, pal.”

Hoorah, and all that Jazz

So, here it is, an official announcement. I always kind of envisioned this as one of those old parties where they stand you up front in your 1920s tuxedo while glitter and champagne reflected the light in the room, and embarrass the hell out of you, but this works, too.

My first novel, Child of Nod, was picked up by Curiosity Quills Press. It’s a dark take on Alice in Wonderland, with a bit of Lovecraft, Pratchett, King, and the Old Testament thrown in for good measure.

Tadaa!

It’s scheduled for a tentative release date of November 11, 2017, so hold on.

In the meantime, enjoy the champagne and the band, and try to say hi to Gatsby at some point.