When I was in my twenties I decided, heavily under the influence of Stephen King, that my destiny was to be a horror writer. I was reading a lot of King (whom I still consider an influence, which, were he to either know that or be aware of my work, would undoubtedly horrify him to no end), Peter Straub, Dean Koontz, John Saul, and other horror writers—later I would move on to R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike’s books for young adults. During this time, circa 1986-1993, I would write any number of completely unpublishable short stories as well as the first drafts of what would eventually see print as Sleeping Angel, Sara, and Sorceress. The short stories may eventually be salvageable; I’ve salvaged some of them and gotten them published (“Crazy in the Night” is one of these; Sorceress actually started out as a rather long short story), and some of them have moments that I really liked. One of them, “Sands of Fortune”, which was nothing more than a ripoff of Stephen King’s “The Ledge” and I think a Richard Matheson short story, opened with this:
The sun, oh God, the sun.
I’ve always liked that opening, for some reason.
Several years ago, there was a call for submissions in the Horror Writers Association newsletter for flash fiction; stories to not be more than a thousand words in length. I have enough trouble with normal-length short stories, honestly, so why I thought I could write something worthwhile in less than a thousand words is beyond my imagining at this point. I don’t remember what the theme of the anthology was, but for some reason I decided I would write something I swore I would never write: a Katrina story.
I resolved that during the evacuation, as I sat safely in a home hundreds of miles away from New Orleans, watching the news, seeing people being plucked off roofs by helicopters and boats. I didn’t know, in those days, if I would ever write again, but I swore then and there that if I ever was able to write again, I would never write a Katrina story. Everything I’ve written post-flood has been evacuation stories; Chanse’s evacuation story was based on my own, and he returned to New Orleans the same day that I did in real life. I heard lots of Katrina stories, of course, over the years—evacuation stories, Superdome stories, Convention Center stories, rooftop rescue stories. I wrote many of these stories down but resolved to never ever write about them; they were not my stories to tell. But for some reason I cannot recall, for this flash fiction anthology I wrote a nine hundred and ninety seven word Katrina story that I called “Blues in the Night.” The story wasn’t used—I think it was one of those times when I discovered this when the Table of Contents was made public—and I stored it away.
When I agreed to edit the Bouchercon New Orleans anthology Blood on the Bayou for no pay, since it was for charity, I chose to use editor’s discretion and publish a story of my own in it; some may think this is wrong, I don’t care. I had already given my story “Housecleaning” to Sunshine Noir; I decided to rewrite “Blues in the Night” for Blood on the Bayou, and I called it “Survivor’s Guilt.”
I’m going to die on this stupid roof.
It wasn’t the first time the thought had run through his mind in the –how long had it been, anyway? Days? Weeks?—however long it had been since he’d climbed up there. It didn’t matter how long it really had been, all that mattered was it felt like it had been an eternity. He’d run out of bottled water—when? Yesterday? Two days ago? It didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was thirsty and hot and he now knew how a lobster felt when dropped in boiling water, how it felt to be boiled or scalded or burned to death.
He was out of water.
Not that the last bottles of water had been much help anyway.
In the hot oven that used to be the attic of the single shotgun house he’d called home for almost twenty years, the water inside the bottles had gotten so damned hot he could have made coffee with it and it tasted like melted plastic, was probably toxic, poisonous in some way. Wasn’t plastic bad for you? He seemed to remember reading that somewhere or hearing it on the television a million years ago when his house wasn’t underwater and there was still air conditioning and cold beer in the fridge instead of this…this purgatory of hot sun and stagnant water and sweat-soaked clothes.
But drinking hot water that tasted like plastic and was probably, maybe, poisonous—that was better than dying of thirst on the hot tiles of this stupid stinking roof. He’d tried to conserve it, space it out, save it, trying to make it last as long as possible because he had no idea when rescue was coming.
If it ever came at all.
He’d been on the roof so long already—how long had it been?
Days? Weeks? Months?
Should have left, should have listened to her, should have put everything we could in the truck and headed west.
But they’d never gone before, never fled before an oncoming storm, laughed at those who panicked and packed up and ran away, paying hotels and motels way too much money for days on end.
And at one point in the story I got to use the line The sun, oh God, the sun.
Blood on the Bayou is a really good anthology, people. I hope you decide you want to read it and will order a copy, whether a print copy or an ebook.
Not sure if my story is any good or not. I think so, but there are others than are a lot better than mine.