In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came where three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.
Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly Biographydevoured “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These science-fiction books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.
Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better was a birthday gift–-a year’s subscription to the SF magazine “Amazing”!
Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier-–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one.
But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, The Twisted Years wasn’t about a space pirate or psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”
While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.
Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a speculative-fiction writer, right?
After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, Down From Oz in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.
In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.
Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F/Paranormal fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories, and Treachery and Treason. Plus many more. My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, Beyond Those Distant Stars, contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.
Ask me why some of the fiction I write is horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.) I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.
In recent years, I’ve published several novels, including my Inspector of the Cross science fiction-adventure series (now in its fourth and fifth books) and the YA novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is drawn from my childhood. I’ve tried to range afield in other ways, too. For example, when I went to Rome, I was so awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I’ve also published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty published by Crossroad Press); in the New Hebrides in 1946; and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country
Going Away by John B. Rosenman
“I don’t love you anymore,” Marvin said. “I’m leaving.”
Agnes had heard her husband say the same thing three or four times before in her thirty-year marriage. She had always shrugged and ignored it. After all, she knew she was a good wife and had done her duty to Marvin. She had borne him three children and kept a nice home. What more could he want?
So she did just what she had on those other occasions. She advised him to take a warm coat and enough money.
This time it was different, though. He did not blow up and tell her how cold and selfish she was and how sorry she’d be. Nor did he storm out, slamming the door behind him. He simply sighed, turned around, and left the room.
She picked up her knitting, sighed in return, and forgot the matter.
An hour later she smiled as she looked out the window, remembering the other times Marvin had acted like a child and threatened to leave her. Each time, she had just waited calmly, and he had soon returned.
Agnes’s smile faded when she noticed Marvin’s Toyota parked in the driveway. In the past, when he’d left, hadn’t he always taken his car?
Puzzled, she poked about the house, searching for Marvin. She finally located him in the spare bedroom. He was lying in bed, the cover raised to his chin.
“I thought you were leaving,” she said.
He looked at her. “I have left.”
“But you’re still here.”
He turned his head to the wall, ignoring her.
Mid-age tantrum, that’s what it was, she decided. Marvin was just being difficult, probably because she insisted on being sensible and wouldn’t give in to his pleas to buy a new car.
At lunchtime she made his favorite, chili and cheese sandwiches, and called upstairs. “MARVIN!”
No answer. She tried again with the same results.
Finally, she went back upstairs. He was lying in the exact same position, his head turned to the wall.
“Marvin, lunch is ready.”
She started to speak again, when she noticed that Marvin seemed smaller, more distant somehow. It was as if he were ten feet away even though she was standing right by the bed. She blinked and tried again.
“Marvin, it’s your favorite. Chili and cheese sandwiches.”
Still no response. Marvin stared silently at the blank white wall.
She sighed audibly and left. Downstairs she did some washing, then decided to go shopping. Leave Marvin alone for a while and let him see how foolish he was being. Maybe then he’d appreciate her better and come back to her like always with that same hangdog look. She smiled in anticipation. As usual, she’d play with him a little just to teach him a lesson, and wouldn’t forgive him for days.
Why, though, had Marvin seemed so small and distant? She shook her head. It must be the lighting in that room, she thought. Or perhaps she needed to have her eyes examined.
She returned with a trunk full of groceries. After she put them away, she stood listening to the house. It felt empty. Before it had always been easy when Marvin left, because she knew he was elsewhere and would soon return. But this time Marvin hadn’t left. He was still here, and she knew just where to find him. And yet there was no sound of him moving around, perhaps writing one of those silly stories which he always insisted she read. For all it mattered, he had left her, just as he said he would.
Nervously, she went upstairs. Marvin was just as she’d left him. And yet he wasn’t. Though she could touch the bed, the walls at his end of the room seemed to be retreating and fading off into space, becoming less distinct. Marvin himself now appeared to be at least twenty feet away. She swallowed, troubled by a strange thought. If she moved closer and reached out to touch him, would she be able to?
Her fingers twitched. She started to move toward him, then turned and fled the room.
Downstairs, she had three cups of her favorite herb tea. What was happening? Marvin was here and yet, he was leaving. Or had already left. He just kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more distant. Could she be losing her mind?
During the following week, Marvin drew farther and farther away. When his boss called, she made excuses. Marvin had the flu. He had tried to call in, but their phone had been on the blink. Yes, he should be returning to work soon.
Going upstairs, she stopped just outside the bedroom. Please let Marvin come back, she thought. When I go inside, let me find him the way he always is, full-sized and eager to go to work. She decided that this time, if he returned to her, she wouldn’t act coy but would forgive him at once.
Taking a deep breath, Agnes entered the bedroom.
It was even worse than before. His end of the bedroom appeared to have faded and retreated even more, acquiring an ethereal quality that belonged to another realm. That was ridiculous, of course. She knew Marvin was still in this bedroom. Still, he did seem immeasurably distant. His tiny form now floated surrounded by stars, as if he were in deep space.
“Marvin?” she cried.
Silence. He lay with his head turned to a wall that was perhaps a hundred light-years away.
“Marvin,” she pleaded, “you haven’t eaten a thing all week. Aren’t you getting hungry?”
A shooting star fell across his face. She made a strangled sound and ran from the room.
Downstairs she choked on her tea and broke into tears for the first time since she was a little girl. Oh Lord, what was happening? How could Marvin do this to her? She thought of going to the police, but imagined how it would sound. “Marvin’s left me. He just lies up there in that room and gets smaller and smaller, farther and farther away. This morning I saw a comet shoot across his face.”
She lowered her head to the kitchen table and let self-pity claim her. She’d been such a good wife. How could Marvin treat her like this?
After a while, a thought rose. Was it possible the fault was hers? That she was to blame for Marvin’s leaving? She scoffed at the idea but started to recall things she’d said to him.
You’ll just have to cancel your hunting trip, Marvin. We’re going to my cousin’s wedding.
She raised her head. Had she said that?
Marvin, forget those golf clubs. We can’t afford them.
After a while, such occasions cascaded in her memory. Time after time after time she’d said such things! In fact, now that she thought of it, she had even overruled him by insisting that they go to Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. She frowned, trying to remember where Marvin had wanted to go.
Finally she rose and went to the phone. She cancelled their newspaper subscription, saying she was going away, then turned down the thermostat.
Next, she mailed out house, insurance, and other payments, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked.
Then, slowly, she marched upstairs.
In the bed, Marvin was a mere speck, located someplace beyond the Milky Way. Yet, though he had traveled perhaps ten billion light-years, she could still see him. In a way he hadn’t moved an inch.
“Marvin,” she said, “won’t you come back?”
His tiny, distant figure didn’t stir. He lay staring at the wall as always.
“Marvin.” She hesitated, then leaned toward him. “I’m sorry.”
Still no response. It was as if she hadn’t spoken. Even worse, he had gotten so small that for the first time, she couldn’t see him clearly.
Agnes sobbed, realizing that soon she would lose him completely. “Marvin,” she said. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. Won’t you come back and give me another chance?”
She waited, but as she’d expected when she’d come up here, he wouldn’t respond. This time, Marvin had been serious. He had left for good, entering a whole different realm that she knew was immeasurably remote from her own.
Wiping away her tears, she climbed onto the bed. She hesitated a moment, shivering in the distant cold. Then, ever so slowly, she began to crawl after him.
(Previously published in Space and Time, Spring 2007).
A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/
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