The next stop on the Beyond the Wail blog tour is a visit with Jay Barnson, author of the story Cold Spot.
Mike Bradshaw’s laptop computer vanishes from an empty, locked office. Determined to discover the thief and learn how it was stolen while his back was turned, Mike acquires help from his business partner and old friend Nate, a former hacker with a criminal past. They discover that the computer is somehow still in the office, intermittently connecting to the wireless network. Using Nate’s thermal camera in their search for the thief and the computer, they discover they are not alone inside the office. An entity, registering as a cold spot on the camera, lurks invisibly within the building. As the two men react, it pulls them into its bizarre, distorted world.
Inside this dangerous parallel world, they discover the thief–a scavenger of nightmarish appearance–and the body of a former business owner that occupied the neighboring office. Learning of the dead man’s fate, Nate and Mike must devise a plan to escape to the outside world within hours, or be trapped forever. Compelled by guilt and a promise he made to himself many years ago, Mike helps Nate escape, but finds himself trapped without a means to find his own way out. But with his friends on the “outside,” he eventually - if unknowingly - must simply allow himself to be rescued.
Software engineer, video game developer, and father, Jay Barnson is a transplant to the state of Utah from the east coast. He grew up on a diet of science fiction and fantasy ranging from Howard, Heinlein, and Tolkien to Lucas and Spielberg. His wife and daughters had to drag him to his first steampunk convention. And now they can’t drag him away from the genre.
How did you come up with the concept of your story?
Ever swear that you put something down in a particular place just a few minutes ago, but now you can’t find it? I wanted to do a story about that with a creepy explanation. Originally, I thought of the story a little like a Twilight Zone episode (still a favorite show!), but as an episode it would have ended about halfway through the story… when something very bad happens to Mike and Nate, leaving the reader in suspense and leaving their fate undetermined (“lost… in the Twilight Zone.”)
I wanted to push myself as a writer, and deal with what happens after that. Explain the unexplainable, at least a little bit, and deal with these two characters when their reality comes crashing down around them, and they discover what REALLY happens when things inexplicably disappear.
How did you come up with the title?
Cold spots are indications of a haunting. Nowadays, there are consumer-level thermal imaging cameras and attachments for phone cameras which could allow you to see what the cold spot really looks like. And of course, one of those devices figures prominently in the story.
Please provide some insight into or a secret or two about your story.
My wife and I knew a guy who had been busted for hacking as a juvenile back in the 1990s. He didn’t talk much about it, but had kind of the nonchalant attitude about it like Nate does. He seemed to have been mostly “scared straight” by the experience, though.
What is your preferred writing genre?
I’ve been published in two previous Xchyler anthologies, Terra Mechanica and Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology. Both are steampunk. I’ve enjoyed living in steampunk worlds, but I love all kinds of speculative fiction. I love experimenting with all kinds of imaginative “what if” questions. We can worry about labeling it as a certain genre later.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I learned to write. In second grade I had a story and a poem published in the school paper. Both were speculative fiction - the poem was about a “Gargoyle Ghost” (my first foray into paranormal!), and the story was about a kite taking a kid airborne on an airborne adventure.
But the clincher was in fourth grade, when we were assigned a creative writing assignment in the fourth grade with a fanciful beginning about a magical dolphin. I wrote eight pages of portal fantasy. I think that was twice as long as the second longest story in the class, and most of the other students couldn’t fill an entire page. Half of them ended with the words, “... and then I woke up.” At the time I thought, “You made it all a dream? How lame!”
How does writing impact other parts of your life?
I’ve been a professional video game developer for about half of my career, and I now develop games as my “other” part-time job. I started getting serious about improving my craft as a writer in order to improve my storytelling in games. But then it took on a life of its own! Writing is both more challenging and more addictive than I expected. So I keep doing double-duty.
Jay's social media links include:
About Beyond the Wail: 12 Grave Stories of Love and Loss
What is it about fear and the unknown that pulls so passionately at the human heart? Perhaps we are drawn not to the darkness itself, but to the resolution, the overcoming of what we most deeply dread. After all, the more terrible the struggle, the greater the victory when it comes at last. Presented in this anthology are twelve remarkable stories of the darkness that overshadows us, and the resolution that may be found beyond them. They are stories of fear and oppression, but ultimately stories of hope, stories that will take you BEYOND THE WAIL.