Issue 9 of Underland Arcana is now available and I’m pleased that my short story “Lakeside” is included.

Cover of Underland Arcana Issue 9
Cover art by Berit Kessler

I wrote the first draft of this story for an annual flash fiction writing contest; one of the prompts involved camping. For personal reasons, I was very happy about this.

My family was in the process of purchasing property on a lake. This was the first year of the pandemic and I traveled alone to look at the various candidates, masking and minimizing hotel time while the spouse and kids remained locked down. The place we bought does have a boat ramp and a switchbacked driveway. (And, amusingly, it turned out that our real estate lawyer was a member of the writing group running the flash fiction contest. It’s a small world.)

At some point between picking a place and closing on it, my brain decided to play a trick. Wouldn’t it be creepy, my brain thought at me, if there was someone standing in the lake at night? Not doing anything, just standing. Staring. Right there, near the boat ramp, a completely real place where you’re planning to spend a fair bit of time, and there’s a silent, staring figure standing in the water.

Brains can be real assholes sometimes.

So I decided writing a story about that image could act as an exorcism. (Happily, that plan worked. Mostly. If I’m down by the boat ramp at night, my brain usually throws different creepy images at me.) But a creepy image alone does not a story make—not even a flash-length story. Who was standing in the water, and who was he staring at?

Many (many) years ago, I read the Joe Haldeman story “Graves” and it stuck with me. (If you do not happen to have your copy of the October/November 1992 issue of F&SF handy, the story has been reprinted many times, including online in Nightmare.) The inescapable nature of trauma resonated…but what if, instead of the terror which filled Haldeman’s protagonist, mine was more accepting of her presumed fate? What combination of damage and resilience would that imply?

A softcover magazine held open to my story, with a Tarot card lying across the page. The card is an Eight of Wands with a large white skull and eight smaller red skulls sitting atop plant-like staves.
Underland Arcana Issue 9 opened to “Lakeside,” with the Eight of Wands from the Santa Muerte Tarot Deck by Fabio Listrani.

Underland Arcana‘s format has been tweaked a bit—there’s now an editorial, and a change to the publishing schedule means the individual issues are chonkier—but as before you can read online for free, or buy an ebook or softcover (or wait for the annual anthology). The softcover is a pretty package, and as always it’s fun to receive a Tarot card from the editor. “Lakeside” was deemed an Eight of Wands: action and change or, reversed, delay and resistance.





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