We are pleased to announce that BARRY NAPIER has won the "You Can Write a DEAD MAN Novel" Contest, snagging a publishing contract for his DEAD MAN tale DREAMLAND, a $500 advance, and a $500 gift card.
Barry has published more than 40 short stories and poems in print and online. He is the author of the Everything Theory series, The Hollows, The Masks of Our Fathers, and Broken Nightlights, a short story collection. He has also had work published thought various small presses, including his novel The Bleeding Room, and two poetry collections. He has served as guest poetry editor of Inkspill Magazine and has recently completed compiling and editing the poetry anthology I Know What I Saw: poems of the unexplained.
You'll be seeing his book in the DEAD MAN series in early 2013. But you can get a sneak peek right now. His winning chapter is below.
Thanks again to everyone who entered the contest.
She’d been in bed for so long that
it seemed unnatural to be standing again.
Her old aching knees seemed fifty years younger and the lungs that had
hindered her lifestyle for the last five years seemed reinvigorated, breathing
in the crisp air of the afternoon. When
she breathed the clean air in it made her body feel plump, a far cry from the
frail state she had last seen herself in.
She was standing in the middle of an
ancient dirt road, the ditches to each side so worn and faded that she could
imagine the finger of God etching them shortly after Eden. The dirt track wound away to both sides,
bending to the right ahead of her where it eventually merged into the distant
forest. In the other direction, the path
sketched itself through an impossibly green field where it then narrowed to a
pencil point on the horizon of greens and blues.
A butterfly passed by her, circled
back around her head and perched on her shoulder. It seemed to be directing her eyes slightly
to the left where a long forgotten white house stood untouched by human hands
for countless years. A once-white porch
sat crumbling and gray. A porch swing hung
from a single chain with its fallen twin curled up in a rusted loop on the
She knew this all; she had been here
before and she knew that something was missing.
She looked beyond the house and saw a fence, the majority of it cracked
and fallen. She waited for a human
shadow to fall across its weak posts but there was nothing. The sun blazed down fat and bright but there
was nothing behind the fence to cast a shadow, not a man, not an animal, not so
much as a tree.
She frowned and waited. She knew that she wouldn’t be here long; she
could already feel the weight of reality tugging at her, pulling her towards a
world where her knees still flared with pain, where her now delicate fingers
were callused and weathered.
She looked back to the wooden fence,
its rails splintered and cracked, waiting for that figure to appear. But the blue country sky on the other side of
the fence and the golden fields that rolled out beyond them were all there was
as beautiful as this all seemed, she was still slightly disappointed; the man
that should be standing there by the fence post was not coming.
In this to-good-to-be-true place,
she felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye. It was the sweetest relief imaginable, the
most normal thing her body had done in weeks.
And with that sign of human frailty, that other place stopped tugging at
her and simply claimed her.
She let out a gasp and tried
desperately to feel the warmth of the tear on her cheek before she was taken.
She opened her weary eyes to a white
ceiling, dreary walls and poor light.
She felt something on her shoulder, wondering if she had somehow brought
the butterfly back from that country road.
But when she lolled her head to the side, she saw what perched there and
it was not a butterfly.
plastic tube brushed against her shoulder where a small patch of her dry skin
was exposed by the yellow hospital gown that she wore. The tube traveled upwards, into her nose and
then, in the opposite direction, over the side of the bed and into some machine
that hummed patiently.
“Momma, you’re awake…”
She looked over and saw
Chester. His graying hair was frazzled
and the poor boy looked as if he hadn’t slept in ages. Calling him a boy seemed foolish; the amount of life lived and the knowledge
acquired from it was evident in his eyes.
But she had held him inside of her for nine months, had breastfed him,
had clothed him and sent him to college, had nurtured him through his first
broken heart, his first experience with death…fifty-five years old or not,
Chester would always be her little boy.
“Yeah,” she said in a shaky hoarse
voice. “Haven’t gone anywhere yet.”
She looked into his eyes, made tiny
behind the lenses of his glasses, and was reminded of the man she had not seen
by the fence.
“You were smiling in your sleep,”
Chester said. He grinned at her when he
said it, not voicing the fact that it pleased him to know that whatever dream
she had been having could very well be her last, and that he was glad it had
made her happy.
The machine that she was plugged
into made a persistent beep-beep sound, like a metronome for the life she had
left to live. But she did not hear
it. These days, it was hard to hear
anything past the rattle in her chest when she breathed.
There was a fleeting moment when she
knew that she needed to tell Chester something, but she couldn’t remember
what. She knew that he would like to
know about the house she had seen, the failing fence and the winding country
road. But that wasn’t it…there was
Her eyes were growing heavy and she
felt the ghost traces of pain begin to tickle her at the knees. She felt her eyelids fluttering and was
vaguely aware that her boy was reaching out, grasping her hand lovingly.
“Chester,” she said, so softly that
she didn’t know if he had heard her.
“The man at the fence…so handsome…please stay away from the man at the
But before her son could respond,
she was gone again.
She wore a sundress and smelled of
jasmine. The smell was pushed out ahead
of her by the country breeze at her back, making it so that she walked into her
own scent as she made her way over the gentle rise of an impossibly green
hill. There was a man walking with her,
his eyes glued to her. He usually wore a
hat but, in those times when chivalry wasn’t quite dead just yet, he held it in
his hands. His dark brown hair stood up
in several directions as a result.
“Do you not love me?” he asked. “Is that it?”
“Of course it’s not,” she said. “Nothing is ever so simple that it can be
blamed on love. Do all men think women
are that stupid?”
He grinned and looked down to his
feet. “No, I suppose not,” he said.
She looked to him quickly, out of
the corner of her eye, and repressed a smile.
There was the slightest trace of grass stains along the elbows of his
shirt sleeve from where they had been rolling in the grass, kissing. Yet when
his hands had found the waistband of her skirt, she had pushed him playfully
away, stood up and began walking. It was
not the first time she had done this.
“Are you waiting on marriage, then?”
he asked. “If that’s the case, I think
you know I would marry you.”
She smiled at him and stopped for a
moment. “Not all women are that stupid, either,” she said and then
started walking again.
She glanced down the hill and saw
the dirt track that would lead her home.
The sunset cast out shades of subtle gold that seemed to be sewn into
the ditches along the track. God, it was
such a beautiful day. Had she had a few
more glasses of wine with her lunch earlier, perhaps she would have given him
what he had been seeking from her for nearly a year. The thought made her tremble inside and she
felt an anxiousness in that place that her mother told her was supposed to only
be for the man she married.
As they neared the dirt road, her
male companion tensed up a bit because he knew this is where they parted
ways. “Do you want me to walk you home?”
“I’m a big girl,” she said. “I think I’ll be okay.”
He nodded, leaned in and kissed her
on the mouth. He tasted like salt and
she knew that the taste of wine was still lingering on her own lips. When their tongues touched, she felt that
creeping need once again. She broke the
kiss and smiled at him.
“Can I see you tomorrow?” he asked.
She nodded and gave him another
kiss, this one on the cheek, and turned away from him.
A few steps down the road, she
paused. Up ahead she could see the
framing of a fence, like a giant crooked spine springing from the ground. She felt the slightest bit of uncertainty and
the fear caused her to turn back towards her boyfriend.
He was headed down the road, his
shoulder hunched like a defeated man and his hat once again on his head. She smiled briefly at him, considered going
to him and then thought better of it.
She watched him go until he was nothing more than a silhouette and then
she started walking again.
a blur of motion that only exists in dreams, she found herself standing by the
fence. The man she has been expecting is standing there as if he had been there
all along. He wore torn blue overalls
and a straw hat on his head, but she somehow knows that this is not what he
wears most of the time.
do?” she said.
The man grinned and adjusted the
straw hat. He looked as if he might be a
bit uncomfortable, but he never took his eyes off of her. He didn’t speak to her, only looked her up
She stared right back, cocking her
head to the side and studying him as best as she could. She felt her heart pulling in two directions,
one wanting to retreat back down the dirt trail, the other wanting to stay here
with this man, to venture into that old abandoned white farmhouse with him and
learn his secrets.
Without a word, the man removed his
hat in a sign of chivalry. The gesture
made no sense to her, but she instantly felt an irrational fear spreading
And then the smell of it hit her.
Something dead…the smell of a gutted
animal left the rot in the woods in the summer.
The smell was overpowering and she thought that it might be coming from
the man at the fence—a man that was very familiar to her.
“Why are you here?” she asked
him. “I know this is just a dream. I know
I am old and dying in the real world. Why are you, of all people, here?”
When he opened his mouth to speak,
she saw his teeth. They were misshapen,
slightly yellowed. Sharp.
“The same as before,” he said, his
voice like a spring breeze. “To let you know
it is almost time.”
coming,” he said to her with a smile.
Then a scream rose up in her throat
(her dreaming throat and her real one) and she opened her eyes to the hospital
She saw Chester again, confused and
crying. She saw the bright lights
overhead and a muted television on the wall.
And for just a fleeting moment, she saw his shape there in the room with
her. Seeing this, she screamed
again. She kept screaming until two
nurses came into the room and gave her an injection which calmed her almost
As she rest her head back onto the
pillow, she looked to Chester and shook her head in defeat.
let him in,” she told her son. “Keep him