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Wendy Wagner talks “Child of Pilumnus” from WAY OF THE LASER

Management: Hey, thanks for being a part of The Way of the Laser, our first anthology. So far, it’s gotten great reviews. Can you tell our readers a little about your story and where you got the idea for it?

Wendy Wagner: I wrote a draft of this story about ten years ago. I was thinking about the ways our bodies are influenced by the places where we live–for example, the way our cells and organs are influenced by the presence of gravity, or how kids who grow up near freeways have more respiratory problems like asthma. And that got me thinking about what it would mean to be born on another planet. Who knows how a baby would develop on a world with its own unique biological conditions? To bring a pregnancy to term on an extraterrestrial planet would be a potentially inhumane science experiment. So that got me thinking about mutant babies and whether or not people should be allowed to have them.

When I was invited to submit to The Way of the Laser, I realized my story about the mutant babies was a crime story. I had never thought about it that way, and it got me really excited about the project. I mean, this is a story about finding a really, really cute baby. Mixing something adorable with crime sounded like a lot of fun. I completely rewrote the story with the new slant … possibly under the influence of a recent rewatch of Thelma and Louise.

Management: Do you have any upcoming or newly released titles that you would like to share with our readers?

Wendy Wagner: I’m really excited about a story I have coming out this fall from PseudoPod, the horror podcast magazine. It’s called “The Smell of Night in the Basement,” and it’s a story about two girls held prisoner in a really horrible basement. It’s probably the darkest story I’ve ever written. But other than that, I’ve mostly been focused on my work as an editor. I’m stepping up as the editor-in-chief at Nightmare Magazine, beginning with our Feb. 2021 issue, and there’s a lot to learn before my first solo issue comes out.

Management: What’s one new book that you have read recently and loved, or that you are looking forward to reading?

Wendy Wagner: Oh gosh, how to pick just one book? I’m really looking forward to reading Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Trouble the Saints, which is about an assassin in NYC in the early 1940s. It sounds really exciting!

Management: Thanks for sharing, Wendy! Check out an excerpt from her story, “A Child of Pilumnus” from The Way of the Laser, and be sure to pre-order your copy, today!

Eva could hear a noise over the jangling glenten trees, piercing and pained, nothing like the sheep in the neighboring field. Something about the sound made her throat tighten up. She jumped to her feet, grabbing her broken blow torch and slinging it over her shoulder. 

She ran toward the woods as fast as the thirty-kilo torch rig would allow. She’d been burning weeds in the grass fields, and now the nearly ripe purple and turquoise seed heads slashed at her bare arms. It was stupid to run in the grass, but the sound had gotten under her skin. She jumped the fence and stumbled into the woods. 

And stopped as she nearly stepped on the baby. 

Someone had wrapped it tightly in a striped blanket, with only its red face showing. Its back arched from the force of its crying. 

“Holy fucking shit.” The blowtorch slid off her shoulder. 

She stared at the baby, so tiny and red-faced and leaky-eyed, its body shielded from the wind by a scrim of golden ferns. For a moment, she couldn’t even breathe at the wondrous shock of its presence. But its cries tugged at something inside her chest, and Eva dropped to her knees beside it. There, in her woods. A baby. 

She drew the little person into her arms and pressed her cheek against its forehead. So cold. That wasn’t right for a baby. She didn’t know much about them—it wasn’t like she’d grown up babysitting or had any younger siblings—but she knew they needed to be kept warm. 

“Hush, hush,” she murmured, and untied the shawl from around her waist. She tucked the baby inside the wooly folds. It screamed louder. She had no idea what to do to help it. “Hush, hush,” she murmured again, jiggling the little thing. “Shhhhshh.” It seemed to like either the sound or the jiggling, and lowered the volume of its shriek to a soft sniveling. 

Behind her, the wind stirred the grass, adding its own hush-hush to hers. She closed her eyes, trying to remember what little she could remember about babies. It came to her slowly. They drank milk, usually from the breast, but she remembered once in an old picture book she had as a child, a bottle, full of cow’s milk. It had been such a novelty—the idea of the milk of another animal—that it had stuck in her memory. Over the shushing of the grass, she heard Debbie Cleatle’s sheep calling each other, and her face lit up. She broke into a run, leaving everything behind but the baby, joggling in her arms. 

It was a hard walk up to the gate between the two properties, but she didn’t dare climb the fence with a baby in her arms. It was a tall fence, and 

sturdy. It had to be, given the creatures that lived behind it. These were not Earth sheep, fluffy and stupid herbivores. These were Pilumnus-changed. 

She shivered as she watched their big amber eyes focus upon her and her little burden. She pulled the baby more tightly against her body. The sheep were beautiful animals, their thick fleeces shimmering in lavenders and peaches. But Eva had once watched one snatch up a grass gopher and devour it in a delighted frenzy. Even now, she could see blood stains on one’s fleece. 

She tried not to let her fingers tremble as she unlatched the gate and squeezed through. She kept the baby high up in her arms, out of the way of the creatures’ elongated teeth. The sheep stayed near the gate, motionless but still intent on her and the baby. The biggest sheep in the group stamped his hoof, and a crackle of static electricity discharged into the grass. Eva broke into a jog. 

Debbie’s house was close. Eva was glad of that. She could almost feel the animals’ eyes on her back, and she knew the baby was cold. It needed to be indoors if it was going to survive. Eva bolted up the two shallow front steps and drew a deep breath before pounding on the rusty metal door. 

“Yeah?” Debbie opened the door the way she always did, with a cigar in her teeth and a book in one hand. “Eva. Come in.” 

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Categories: interview, Our Books, Short Story Collections

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