By Ryan Jenkins
“Do you want some water or coffee?” the travel agent asked.
“Uh—” Bruce and Melissa muttered simultaneously.
“There’s grape juice, too . . . I think. We had some at one point, at least. Dharma. Do we still have grape juice?”
Dharma looked up from her iPhone and stared at him for a second before speaking. “No, Uncle Bob. We’ve never had grape juice. Do I need to get some?”
Bob fixed his tie and let out a sigh. “Yes, if you could. Go down to the 7-Eleven—”
“I’m fine. We’re fine,” Melissa said.
“Are you sure? You too, Bruce?”
Bruce chuckled. “We’re not much of grape juice drinkers ourselves.”
Another deep sigh from Bob. “Fair enough, but Dharma, how about you run down and get some anyway? Three cartons, please.”
“Yes, before I forget.”
“Can’t I just add it to your Google calendar or something?”
“Fine, add it to the calendar.” Bob, red-faced, turned back to Melissa and Bruce. “You see what happens when you hire your niece out of college? Anywho.” Bob smoothed his checkered tie, which Melissa had noticed the moment they walked in was tied improperly, hanging way past Bob’s plump gut, even beyond his crotch; there was also a smattering of some kind of dark substance in the center of the tie—just a dot, but enough to occupy Melissa’s thoughts every time he went to straighten it.
“I’m glad Rico sent you my way. How long have you known Rico?” Bob asked, looking at Bruce.
“Uh, well—I’ve been at Sterner for what? Eight years now?” Bruce looked at Melissa, who shrugged.
“That’s great. Rico is a heck of a guy. Really good sense of humour. I like people with senses of humour.” Bob briefly made eye contact with Melissa when he said this.
Melissa already despised this place. It was their therapist’s idea to take a trip together, “take some time and rekindle that spark you had when you first met,” were her exact words. It would be their first trip alone since their daughter, Leone, had arrived five years ago.
It was on Rico’s, Bruce’s boss, recommendation that they come to World Affairs Travel Agency.
Melissa hated the idea of going to a travel agency, let alone a place that called itself World Affairs for Christ’s sake; plus, travelling was a distraction, she thought. The whole idea that they were going to rekindle anything in a foreign place struck her as ridiculous. Changing the setting of their semi-passionate sex wasn’t going to do jack-shit.
But she knew if she said any of this to Bruce, he might start to crack and then eventually crumble into a million pieces, like a slowly shattering porcelain doll. He was a sensitive man, sure—which had its perks in some ways (no blowjobs for one), but in many other ways had grown into a major setback when it came to words like “rekindling” and “spark.” There was heat, yes, but no fire, she had discovered over the years, which is not to say she didn’t love Bruce—more just that taking a trip to Tahiti or the Cayman Islands on a very limited budget wasn’t going to fix a damn thing.
But their therapist had put it clearly. “Relationships are works in progress. People change. People evolve. And people, therefore, must adapt.”
Bob had been talking, and Bruce had been nodding, but she wasn’t listening. She kept staring at the ketchup dot on Bob’s tie and thinking about how if it were up to her, she would take a trip alone. Bruce could take his own trip to Denmark or wherever, and, while apart, they could rediscover what “rekindling” really meant.
“What are your thoughts, Melissa?” Bruce asked.
“Bob asked us beach or wilderness. Personally, I was thinking Denmark. World peace. Happiest place on earth. Literally. But Melissa, you seem more of a beach—”
“Wilderness,” Melissa responded on a whim, only to piss off Bruce because she knew he had expected her to say beaches.
Bruce furrowed his brow. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Trees. Mountains. All that shit.”
“Well, the lady has spoken,” Bob said. “So, I’ve got my wilderness packets here. They start at five thousand dollars and go up from there. You never mentioned your budget, by the way. What price range were you thinking for your trip?”
Bruce squirmed in his chair and cleared his throat. “Well, we have a limited budget, unfortunately. Don’t have a lot to spare.”
Bob’s eyes slouched downward in disappointment. “I see. What were you thinking then?”
“Well, no more than a thousand is what we had in mind.”
Bob snorted. “A thousand? Excuse me, I don’t mean to laugh, but a thousand will barely buy you transportation.”
“Even to Denmark?” Bruce asked.
“You’re going to be staying in some shabby motel or maybe even a youth hostel for that money, probably roach-infested and dirty. Athlete’s foot. The whole shebang. Come on. You two seem like you can do a little better than that.”
“We just don’t have—”
“That’s why credit cards were invented, Mr. and Mrs. Dixon.”
A flare of irritation surged through Melissa. “My name’s Melissa O’Neill. Not Dixon.”
“Oh, sorry about that.” His squinty eyes narrowed, and he glanced down at Melissa’s forearm with a tattoo of a Pegasus. “Rico mentioned you had a little one, too. A daughter. Am I correct? Is this a family-friendly getaway?”
Bruce cleared his throat again. “No, no. This is . . . for us. We just don’t have a lot to work with, I’m afraid. We were hoping there would be some type of deal with Spirit Airlines, perhaps. Stop by a beach along the way. Or I guess, I mean . . . the wilderness now. Are you sure about the wilderness thing, Melissa?”
“How about this?” Bob said. “I show you what I got, and we can go from there. So, I do have an African safari package, but I’m guessing that’s way out of your budget. It’s on discount for nine thousand but—as I said, let me get to the more affordable ones.”
He riffled through brochures in a filing cabinet. He pulled a glossy one out with mountainous hills pictured on the front and a smiling beaver gnawing on a tree branch. “This might be a good one. The Vermont Getaway is what I call this. Very romantic, I can tell you that.” Bob winked at Bruce, and Melissa felt her irritation transmuting into a quiet but volatile rage. “You start in Burlington. Take in some good art and music. Take in some even better food. Drink some craft beer. From there, you travel through the state and take a hike around Mount Mansfield. You would stay in a little bed and breakfast called The Beaver Inn for a night and then go on a trout fishing trip with a fishing guide—you may need to stretch your budget a little. It will cost about eighteen hundred, but it’s worth every penny.”
Bruce picked up the brochure and examined it.
You can’t be serious? Melissa thought. Vermont? Where Bernie fucking Sanders is from?
“It doesn’t seem so bad,” Bruce said nonchalantly, and it was with this obliviousness that Melissa found herself standing up out of the uncomfortable chair she was sitting in. Her fists were clenched. Her heart was pounding. There was something about Bruce, Bob, and this travel agency, with all of its stock art photos poorly framed on the walls—an exotic beach with a gorgeous-bodied couple kissing or the family of four riding camels through the Sahara Desert—and the linoleum floors that made the place reek of a used car dealership, and how Bruce was pretending so goddamn much about everything.
“What about dark tourism?” Melissa blurted out. “Do you have anything there?”
Bob swallowed. “Dark tourism, you say?”
“Yeah. I heard that it’s a whole industry. One of my friends mentioned that this was a thing people were doing now. Visiting places of, you know, death.”
“You want to go to a place of death?” Bob asked with a smirk.
Bob looked down at his tie and noticed the ketchup dot for the first time. He licked his finger and tried to rub it off, but it remained. Bruce was staring down at his hands and playing with a flap of skin that was peeling off his ring finger, not making any eye contact with her nor Bob.
“Well, sure, you can visit Auschwitz, for example, or go to the beaches of Normandy.”
“Not like that. Dark, dark tourism. You know what I mean.”
Bob turned to Bruce, who was still staring at his hand. “Well, there are tours like that . . . if you’re interested. But they are confidential. I don’t advertise them. And I’m not liable for anything that happens on them, you understand that?”
“And it comes with a special travel agency fee, cash only, of three hundred and fifty.”
Bruce rubbed his face. “Me-Me-lissa, maybe we should—”
“If you want to rekindle, this is how it’s going to be done.”
Bruce’s eye twitched as he glowered at her. An awkward silence hung in the air. Dharma had actually put her iPhone facedown on her desk, captivated by the scene.
Bob looked over at her. “Dharma. Can you go in the back to the white cabinet and grab those brochures—”
But Dharma was already out of her chair, headed to a door marked Employees Only.
“That’s the point,” Melissa said. “It might not mean anything.”
Bob dropped a stack of brochures in front of Melissa and Bruce. All of them were mostly connected with ghost tours and places of “most unfortunate accidents.” Still, there were also astrology tours, chakra tours, tours entering new planes of consciousness, demon tours, tours of the torturous, tours of animal slaughter and cruelty, tours of places where “suicide” was known to live, and an assortment of other brochures with strange symbols adorned on them. But it was neither ghosts nor most of these unsettling things that Melissa was thinking about when she had spoken up.
Years ago, her friend Kelsey, who wasn’t a friend really, just another mom she knew in her endless circles of moms, had mentioned that her cousin, a heart surgeon, had recently paid fifteen thousand dollars to visit a site “where death apparently lives.”
“He calls it dark, dark tourism,” Kelsey had said.
She had instantly buried Kelsey’s words away, but now, in front of Bob, Dharma, and Bruce, at a shitty travel agency in the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, it—whatever it was—had resurfaced, in an unexpected yet most certainly serendipitous way.
“This one,” she said, tapping the brochure before her on the desk.
The front of the brochure displayed a quintessential suburban street, very similar looking to the one Bruce and Melissa lived on, but instead of the usual default scenery of dads mowing lawns, moms serving lemonade, and kids playing hide-and-seek, the street seemed deserted: trash cans were overturned; fog filled the air; the houses were dark, and the streetlights were out, and the maple trees lining the road were hunched over.
In yellow, boldface letters, it read, “Tour of the Unknown.” She didn’t know what the hell it meant, and the inside of the brochure didn’t lend too many details, either, consisting of a couple paragraphs of barely intelligible copy. In the bottom right corner was a drawing of something indecipherable, perhaps a small mound of dirt or coal.
Bruce gave the brochure a look-over and frowned. “What does any of this mean?”
“That’s the point,” Melissa said. “It might not mean anything.”
“Okay. So, how much will this cost us, Bob?”
“I couldn’t tell you offhand. I will need to call them up and make arrangements. I will get back to you but expect it to be considerably out of your budget.”
“Well, Bob, that’s why credit cards were invented,” Melissa said, giving him a mental middle finger.
“…his forehead layered with a film of sweat, and most oddly, a smile was plastered on his face…”
The first time Melissa and Bruce met, they were drunk.
In sober life, Bruce exuded as much excitement and individuality as a box of rocks. Still, in his drunken state, he was one of those rare species of human who got surprisingly suave when he was under the influence—relaxed, wise, confident, engaging everyone around him with poignant questions about how they regarded certain political and social issues. It was the only time he looked Melissa square in the eye and really listened to what she was saying. And oh yeah, he had a sense of humour, too, which basically made him the full package.
I want to hit that had been exactly what Melissa thought when she met him on that first drunken night.
And which was why they had sex the first night they met. It was one of Melissa’s fonder memories of the relationship. Bruce had been unrestrained, passionate, not himself and his usual aura of dryness. As she would discover later, anything remotely resembling an emotional coup d’état against him made him paralyzed, or in some cases, shattered him. Bruce was fragile, easily breakable—handling him was like handling a thin sheet of glass.
But the excitement of that first time lingered with such force that Melissa could never get that impression of Bruce out of her mind, going so far as to make up an embarrassing nickname for this alter ego named Big Bruce, but one she had never shared with anyone—not even her sister, not even her girlfriends, and certainly not Bruce himself.
As they waited on a bench in Fermont Square, in a small ghost-like town in Western Pennsylvania, the starting point allegedly of “The Tour of the Unknown,” she found herself excited again at the prospect that maybe something would happen on this tour that would do this very thing. Maybe Bruce would crack again, even just for a little bit.
But, from the start, Bruce had made it clear that he despised every second of her decision to spend close to two thousand dollars on a scam tour, as he was now calling it. He had been quiet the whole eight-hourish car ride up from North Carolina, play-acting his bored-yet-hurt-yet-disgruntled role, amounting to basically Melissa having a trip alone, something she was not totally against. She controlled the radio while Bruce navigated the roads. No Pearl Jam, thank the Lord.
Bob had emailed them instructions from Maxwell Tours that said Melissa and Bruce were to sit on this specific park bench in this specific park in this specific town and at around seven in the evening, on August 11, a van would be there to pick them up.
They stayed in a Hampton Inn the previous night, Bruce conking out at ten when the local news came on while Melissa laid in the dark and thought about the Unknown. The more she thought about it, the more she felt like a crazy person. What had compelled her to stand up at the travel agency? What had compelled her to suddenly recall that phrase spoken by a mom-friend several years ago, “dark, dark tourism”?
She tried to picture what Leone was doing while her mother laid in a hotel bed thinking these thoughts, suddenly imagining Leone as an eighteen-year-old asking, “Why don’t I have any money for college?” She shivered to think that her only response would be, “I spent it on a tour of the Unknown.”
These looping thoughts of anxiety re-played yet again, the next day when Bruce and Melissa waited patiently for seven o’clock to roll around. She started to take in her surroundings. The “park” they were sitting in no longer resembled a park. The benches were barely left standing. Some of them completely collapsed; the flower beds were overrun by weeds and ivy, and an armless Civil War soldier was perched above a pool of green scum water.
“Aren’t you a little bit excited at least?” Melissa asked.
Bruce sucked up Dunkin Donuts iced coffee through a straw and chewed on an old-fashioned donut. “What?”
“I mean, I’m finding this exciting.”
“How could this possibly excite you? That’s why I needed the Dunkin’ Donuts to perk me up,” he said in a condescending tone.
“Oh, I don’t know, Bruce. Because we’re entering the fucking Unknown. How about that, for starters? No need to be a prick about it.”
“By telling you how I feel about this trip?”
“No, by acting like a wounded asshole about it. You know, if you didn’t want to come, you shouldn’t have come.”
Donut crumbs shot from his mouth as he raised his voice. “I’m here, aren’t I? What else do you want? Like seriously? I agreed to this whole wacko trip.” He took a few swallows of the iced coffee. “And that embarrassing conversation we had to have with Jack’s parents, too. About our romantic getaway to Pennsylvania! ‘Hey, can you watch our kid while we go on a Tour of the Unknown?’”
“Well, you didn’t have to say what we were doing. Only a moron would do that.”
“You’re calling me a moron?”
Silence. Bruce took the last bite of his doughnut and sighed dramatically.
Then they heard the low rumble of a vehicle. Through the brush on Main Street, a faded-white van idled. The driver’s window opened slowly, and a woman stuck her head out.
“Melissa and Bruce?”
Melissa waved, and Bruce pretended not to hear.
A husky woman in her thirties hopped out, wearing a fanny pack and a collared shirt with Maxwell Tours emblazoned on it. She opened the van’s sliding door.
“Welcome!” she said enthusiastically.
“Here we go,” Bruce said underneath his breath. They stood up and got in the van, both in the back seat.
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“How yuns doin’? Name’s Cassie!” the driver said as she slurped an ultra-sized blue icee from Sheetz.
“Great, thank you,” Melissa said with some cheer. Bruce didn’t say anything; he just sucked on his coffee angrily and looked out at the passing trees through the side window.
“You two are gorgeous, I gotta say. Wonderful to have you along for the tour!”
Melissa snickered, and Bruce jerked his head toward her. “Thank you,” he said.
“I thought an older gentleman was picking us up,” Melissa said.
“That’s my Uncle Russ; he came down with the flu last night, so I’m covering for him. You don’t know how thrilled I was to get the call last night. This is my first tour as the guide.”
Bruce was slurping the last drops of his coffee, then stopped. “First tour?”
“That’s right, Bruce,” Cassie said. “First tour alone. I’ve been on the tours before to watch, but not as the guide. I was up all last night rehearsing! See?”
Using her left elbow to guide the steering wheel, she pulled index cards from her fanny pack as the car meandered over the double yellow line.
“I am ready to go! Got all my lines here. You may need to bear with me, but I promise to do the best I can. So, first question, where are you two from?”
“Charlotte, North Carolina,” Melissa responded.
“You don’t say? I have a cousin there . . . I think. Maybe he’s in Charleston. I don’t remember. Next question, let’s see”—she looked down at her index card—“where is that card? Oh yeah, here we go. How did you two first meet?”
Melissa and Bruce exchanged glances. “It’s a long story,” Melissa said.
“At a bar,” Bruce said sternly.
“Wow, you don’t say? How exciting! All right, I’m done with the personal questions. I was hoping for, you know, more of an interesting response, but that’s fine. I will get right into my spiel here. I ask that you listen carefully to what I say throughout the tour. Capisce?”
Bruce rolled his eyes.
“Capisce,” Melissa said.
“Well, welcome! You’re in for an EX-PER-I-ENCE. Buckle up.”
Cassie dug in the center console and produced a cassette tape, which she shoved into the van’s tape deck. Dreamy, new-age music started playing. She cleared her throat, and a smooth, sensual, accent-less voice poured from her. “First things first, and this is important, tour members, you must open your mind to what you are about to experience. If you don’t have an open mind, you will find the site rejecting you. You are here for a reason, lady and gentleman. You were led to the Unknown, not the other way around.”
Cassie turned onto a steep gravel road that veered into a dense forest. Gravel smacked the van’s bottom in rapid-fire pops as she gunned it up an unpaved hill.
Melissa poked Bruce in the arm, smirking at him. Bruce rolled his eyes yet again.
“Second, you must follow the instructions of your guide. If you do not, you will be forcibly removed from the tour immediately. The instructions from your guide—that’s me, by the way—ensure that you respect the site and allow others to experience it in a meaningful way.”
Melissa found herself imagining what it would be like to be forcibly removed by Cassie. She could definitely picture it.
“Third, no pictures or videos can be taken of any kind.”
Cassie peered in the rearview mirror. “So, yuns agree?”
“Yep,” Melissa said.
“Yes,” he said softly.
“Those are the rules. And now onward to the Unknown. Enjoy the tour, and most importantly, open your mind. What you are about to experience is tailored to you.”
The music picked up volume, and then the tape cut off.
“Perfect timing,” Melissa said. Cassie smiled at her and resumed her tour voice.
“The tour begins on Mount Maxwell, the very mountain we are ascending.
“It was in 1858, James Pippen Maxwell came to this area to start a new life for his family. He had emigrated over from Scotland just months before purchasing this mountain from an unknown seller. It didn’t take him long to make an unusual discovery about this place.
“When he was walking along the Maxwell path, the very dirt road we’re driving up now, James noticed that the closer he got to the top of the mountain, the more he felt his mind unravelling. Everything that clogged his mind somehow churned up. He grew ill and tired as if the very mountain was resisting him.”
Cassie hit a hole in the ground and mashed the accelerator, the van groaning. Melissa looked backward to see a cloud of rock dust and exhaust.
“Of course, the first thing he did was bring his wife up the mountain, but something different happened with her. Something peculiar. The mountain entranced her. She felt unburdened by it and found herself coaxing her husband to go up there almost every day until— Well, you know how the story ends, I would imagine. I forgot to mention I got hot dogs, Gatorade, and potato chips if yuns want any.”
Cassie opened a small cooler on the passenger seat and pulled out a hot dog wrapped in foil, holding it up for display. “I also got flashlights and a first aid kit, if we need it.”
Before they could respond, she continued.
“Coming up on your right, you will see the remnants of a cabin owned by James and Louise Maxwell. Louise would often sneak up to this cabin so she could be away from her husband, which is why it is now deemed Louise’s Cabin.”
On their right, Melissa saw a run-down wood structure leaning against a tree, the glass for the windows shattered, ready to crumble at the tiniest of breezes. An old wooden etching read Louise’s Cabin, 1866.
As they passed Louise’s Cabin, it was at this moment that Bruce emitted a slight chuckle. Melissa turned toward Bruce and froze.
Bruce’s eyes were darting back and forth, his forehead layered with a film of sweat, and most oddly, a smile was plastered on his face, a smile far too wide and far too out of character.
“A little warning would have been nice about this, you know?”
The ground squished beneath their feet from the rain earlier in the day. With the cooler in one hand and the index cards in the other, Cassie led them up a hilly path that carved through the forest.
When they reached the top of the hill, Cassie stopped, out of breath, and raised her finger up. She set the cooler down on the ground, sitting atop of it. “We are only about two hundred feet from the top of the mountain now, tour members, a place known as the Unknown. At this point of the tour, I ask that we take a moment, remain quiet, and just listen. Can we do this—Bruce, do you need some Gatorade?” Cassie asked in her regular voice.
“Yeah,” Bruce said.
“Sure thing.” Cassie pulled a bottle from the cooler and handed it over. “I’ll add it to the tab. How you feeling, Bruce?”
“Fine,” he grunted back.
Ever since Louise’s Cabin, Melissa had honestly been afraid to look at Bruce. She did her best to follow Cassie’s instructions, which she had repeated several times in the van: “Keep your mind open as we make this last leg of the tour. Open your minds.”
But when Melissa finally did glance at him, she gasped out loud. It was way worse than she was expecting. “Bruce?” she said.
“You’re not fine. Your face.”
His eyes bulged from his skull, his face whiter than a blanket of snow. Veins in his neck pushed their way through his skin while his eyes scrunched together like they did when he was chopping up an onion and trying not to cry.
“I see this sometimes,” Cassie said. “It’s okay. Don’t panic. Take some deep breaths.”
“What is going on?” Melissa asked in a panic.
“It’s the Unknown. It does this. You know the whole spiel about keeping an open mind. Well, Bruce is lying to us.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not . . . lying.” He gasped for breaths.
Cassie sipped some red Gatorade. “I’m afraid you are, Bruce. The Unknown rejects those who don’t want it to exist.”
Bruce was crouching down on the ground at this point, his head in his hands. Melissa moved over to him and touched his shoulder. “What’s going to happen to him? Will he—?”
“No, no. He won’t die . . . I don’t think. He’ll just be unable to get closer. It’s like trying to choke yourself to death. You can try, but you’ll ultimately fail.”
“I guess he should stay behind then?”
“No.” He jumped up in a huff. “I’m going.”
“Bruce, you look like you’re about to explode.”
“I’m fine. Just let me—” He tried to inhale, but a fit of coughing overtook him. “Just . . . just . . . give me a second and . . . I’ll push through.”
Melissa turned to Cassie, who shrugged and said, “You heard the man. If he wants to go, then nobody should stop him.”
“He looks . . . monstrous,” Melissa said, shaking her head.
“Yeah, well, he does look terrible, but nobody, to my knowledge, has ever died from the Unknown.”
“A little warning would have been nice about this, you know?” Melissa said, now standing back, observing Bruce from a slight distance.
“I can’t tell you everything that is about to happen. It just doesn’t work that way. The Unknown wouldn’t allow it.”
“Why do you keep talking like the Unknown is some crotchety old man with ridiculous demands?”
Melissa was expecting some kind of jokey response from Cassie. Instead, Cassie took a hit from her red Gatorade and said calmly, “Well, maybe it is.”
“Melissa. He will be fine,” Cassie said. “Leave him behind.”
They moved closer to the tree lining leading to the Unknown when Bruce dropped with a thud to the ground.
“Oh god, Bruce,” Melissa said. “Bruce? Bruce.”
His limbs trembled as he raised himself onto his haunches and peered up at Melissa. His skin was even paler than before. Even his eyes were losing their colour, fading to a grayish gruel. He seriously looked like Voldemort’s twin brother, except for the unexplainable smirk on his face that wouldn’t go away.
“I’m fine,” he croaked. “I’m . . .”
Cassie clicked her tongue. “He’s still lying.”
“I’m not ly—” He dissolved into a coughing fit as a glob of saliva congealed on his chin.
Melissa leaned over and placed the back of her hand on his forehead. He was cold to the touch.
“Melissa. He will be fine,” Cassie said. “Leave him behind.”
“What? I can’t leave him. He looks awful.” She squatted by Bruce. “Bruce, listen to me. I know I’ve been a bitch to you lately, and let’s be fair, I have my reasons most of the time. And I know I dragged you on this ridiculous trip, and now we are in even more debt, but is there any way you can try this for me? Please. Just clear your head—”
“Melissa,” Cassie interrupted. “Always listen to your tour guide, remember? He will be fine. I promise. I will look after him. In the meantime, go through those trees and into that field. The Unknown awaits.”
Cassie’s blue eyes met Melissa’s, and some impulse within Melissa, perhaps the impulse to go on this trip in the first place, dragged her to the tree line.
“When you get there, feel free to touch it,” Cassie said. “Let it run through your fingers.”
Melissa waded through the bushes toward the tree line and didn’t look back. Not to ask Cassie what she would find beyond the tree line. Not to ask why she was going alone, without the bloody tour guide! Not to check on whether Bruce was alive or dead. Not even to tell Bruce to give Leone a kiss if she never returned.
She didn’t look back.
Not for a split second.
Ryan Jenkins is a writer of weird fiction based in Richmond, Virginia, where he lives with his partner and daughter. Previously a managing editor at Tor Books, Ryan Jenkins currently copyedits novels on a freelance basis. His serial short story, “Busybody,” will appear in Strange Wor/ds, a forthcoming zine.