13DWF Day One: “Nocturnal Shift” by Melanie Crew

Our first story of The 13 Days of Weird Flash is Melanie Crew's "Nocturnal Shift" from our "Fall & Halloween '23" release.

13DWF Day One: “Nocturnal Shift” by Melanie Crew
Melanie Crew, author of "Nocturnal Shift"

Welcome to the first day of The 13 Days of Weird Flash (or 13DWF as we’re calling it internally, as we’ll be posting it quite a bit these next two weeks)!

Our lead-off author is Melanie Crew, who first joined us in the latest Weird Fiction Quarterly: Fall / Halloween ’23 outing with two tales for that special double-sized issue. She is a writer of creepy, weird tales living in Atlanta, Georgia with her two weirdo rescue canine companions, The Misfit Brothers (Sprocket and Spartan). She is a Weird wrangler with The Outer Dark Symposia and Managing Editor of ALTRetro.com. She loves monsters and has a love/hate relationship with birds who clearly want her dead. When she’s not consuming bizarre films and peculiar tales, she's spawning strange and tasty treats via her jam company, The Cryptid Cannery.

Please stay tuned after the story for more about Melanie.

Nocturnal Shift

By Melanie Crew

At dusk, the bats dart out from the splintering boxes that’d been secured to the house’s eaves long before the shift. The equally decrepit Victorian stirs from its slumber, bellowing a warning growl from above. I suck in my gut, tight and concave as its fleshy floorboards bulge downward, almost crushing my frail ten-year-old frame. I wince until it exhales in one prolonged snarling breath.

When the house sleeps, I sleep. When it wakes, I wake.

It prefers me alive. But why? The adults weren’t so lucky. I’m more of a pet than a prisoner, it seems. I remain tucked away in its crawlspace belly during the day—gushy membranes hug my body, locking me in place until the sun disappears. Making it to eleven is my main concern. I’d made it to eight…nine…ten. What’s one more?

Under the porch, the foundation had partially crumbled, leaving a gaping fissure unrepaired by the previous owners—back when we owned them. Every night, I squeeze my bony figure through the opening and continue my hunt for the other children. I dare not go inside the house, for what goes in never comes out.

That’s how I lost Carl.

I don’t know why it lets me out to roam at all, but I don’t bite the hand that feeds, even if that hand is a mucous-filled teat that protrudes into the crawlspace belly—a human-sized feeder.

It’s now autumn, and dusk has crept in early. I climb through the opening, eager to locate the source of the laughter I’d heard the night before that’d drifted into my ears from some far-off street. Rays of light, like lighthouse beacons, project from the cracked stained-glass windows that run the length of the second floor of the crumbling Victorian. These multi-colored daggers of light keep in step with my every move as I trek through the deserted neighborhood. Must be on a hunt of its own. Maybe it’s hunting what I’m hunting, hoping for undoubtedly different and more sinister outcomes.

I must locate them before it does.

And I must do it before dawn, when the sun cuts shadows into the streets. I’ve never seen the children, but I know they’re out there. It can’t just be me!

I hear them again, and for a split second I forget about my ill-fated circumstances, joining in with their laughter the whole way down the street to the corner of Cottage and Floyd. I follow the trail of giggles to another rotting house in a cul-de-sac—a familiar scene.

Trembling, I step to the threshold.

…Nothing happens.

Laughter floods the decaying house. Hesitant, but curious, I take another step, and I’m inside.

…Again, nothing happens.

“C-Carl!?” I yowl.

What answers is something familiar, but it’s…not Carl.

My feet squish into gooey, fleshy floorboards, and a growl bellows from above.

“NOOO!” I howl.

As daylight creeps through the windows, I’m sucked back to the crawlspace belly, where gushy membranes hug my body tight and lock me back in place.

Originally published in Weird Fiction Quarterly: Fall / Halloween ’23. On sale now!

Q&A with Melanie Crew

WFQ: Why do you write weird fiction and when did you start?

MC: I don't know exactly why, but writing has always been a release for me—a way to express feelings I don't quite understand. Having had what most would call an abnormal childhood, I think I've always been able to see beyond what others see, or have had the ability to realize that things are generally not what they seem. Weird fiction/spec lit has an ambiguity that feels like a familiar old friend, and back when I didn't have a clue as to what "Weird Fiction" was, my writing always skewed to the unknown, the bizarre - even if only in tiny bites.

WFQ: Who are the literary inspirations for your WFQ contributions?

MC: I'm not sure I had any specific literary inspirations for my WFQ contributions, but the idea of what lies beneath has always intrigued me, and when I think of that concept, I'm always drawn back to David Lynch, or even Sam Shephard - both of whom have a way of getting down to the nitty gritty underworld side of things, in their own ways. I wanted to explore the idea that appearances can be deceiving and that what lies beneath the surface can raise more questions than answers. 

WFQ: What do you like most about the 500-word format we use? What do you find most challenging with it?

MC: For me, the strict 500-word format forces me to kill all my darlings, and focus solely on the meat of the picture I'm trying to paint. To be honest, I find this format less daunting than longer forms because I don't have to fill any unnecessary space. There's no room for fluff, so getting the opportunity to say exactly what I want to say, nothing more, is freeing.

WFQ: If you were made editor for an issue, which theme would you choose to guide an installment?

MC: Oh, there are so many themes WFQ could tackle. I might begin with what lies beneath/appearances being deceptive - the less literal the better.

WFQ: Where else can we read more of your work? Where can we find out more about you?

MC: More weirdness is coming soon! 

You can find more information about my work at www.MelanieCrew.com.

Thanks again to Melanie Crew for kicking off The 13 Days of Weird Flash!

Stay tuned for our next installment! If you would like to receive these stories in your inbox, please subscribe below.

We'll see you tomorrow. That is, if our Victorian house lets us...

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