All posts by Jim Stitzel

Jim cultivates interests in a variety of areas. He is an avid storyteller, specializing in (dark) speculative fiction and webcomics. He is also a professional code wrangler and dabbles in amateur photography.

Deck Tremor

Captain Adriana Milosovic felt the deck tremble beneath her feet. It was subtle, barely even there at all, and yet it was enough that her senses came to high alert. She glanced around the bridge at her crew, but they were all engaged in their own tasks. No one else seemed to have noticed the oddity.

“Status report!” she barked. Immediately, her crew jumped to high alert as each one checked individual readouts at their stations. Several voices replied simultaneously, but she was used to sorting out the confusion. The gist of the impromptu systems check was that all operations were nominal, operating well within expected parameters.

Adriana returned to her captain’s chair and thumbed the comm for engineering. “Mr. Stock, report please.” The response was immediate.

“We blew a fuse, captain,” he replied. “We’re replacing it right now.”

“Very good. Any idea as to the cause of the failure?”

“None, captain. Diagnostics is underway.”

“Excellent, Mr. Stock. Report to me once you have something.”

“Yes, sir.”

Smoke and Metal

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

The Priest lifts the lid away from the box and sets it to the side. The smoke inside the box swirls before him like an angry storm but remains in place for the moment. He dips a finger into the smoke, drawing out a long tendril of grey vapor. Then, with his other hand, he twirls the tendril around his index fingers, allowing some of the smoke to climb up his hands and disappear up under the sleeves of his robe. The smoke reappears again above his collar, wrapping around his head and face. His pupils dilate until his eyes are totally black, then return to their normal color. He grins, a toothy, malignant smile, then releases the smoke back to the box.

The medallion, still glowing with an ominous, green, sickly pallor, suddenly draws all the smoke from the box. The smoke surrounds the medallion, hiding it from view. It once again resembles a small, angry storm cloud, lit within by an eerie green light. Static charges shoot off the medallion like tiny lightning bolts, further enhancing the illusion of a storm.

Postcard Micro-fiction

I’ve been a fan of Apex Magazine almost since the day of its inception. So when Jason Sizemore posted on his Facebook page recently that he had free Apex postcards, I immediately thought, Sweet! Free Apex stuff! and messaged him to make sure he had my current address. Then I promptly put it out of my mind.

Until the package showed up a few days later containing 30 beautiful postcards. I had two subsequent thoughts upon opening the package: 1) Wow, these are a really nice! and 2) Oh. Um, what the heck am I going to do with postcards?? I don’t even write letters anymore? The solution I came up with is both simple and apropos — write very short stories on each postcard and then mail them out to random people. Only I’d rather mail them out to people who request them and would enjoy a unique story experience.

You can read through the story archive here on my site and get a sense for the kind of fiction I write. If you’re interested in receiving a very short, handwritten story from me, the only thing you need to do is let me know. You can use my contact form to email me your address or, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, send me your address via Messenger. (Please don’t post your address in the comments in either place, as I’d like to protect personal information.)

I have 30 postcards in stock, 15 in two different layouts, so it’s first come, first serve. This gives me an opportunity to spread my writing around a little in a fun way while giving one of my favorite speculative fiction publishers a little more visibility. And please feel free to give this a signal boost to your friends and family who might enjoy this. I’d love to meet new readers.

Mental Wellness: It’s an Ongoing Process

The last four days have been some of the hardest I’ve experienced in quite some time. I’ve been mired in a state of depression that probably hasn’t been this severe since the early part of my recovery last summer. I’ve fought and struggled and despaired and clung onto anything that would help me keep my head above water. I’ve immersed myself in video games as a distraction and temporary escape. I’ve reached out to friends I’ve known would be understanding and sympathetic and supportive (and I thank all of you who’ve taken the time to give me some of your attention). I’ve raged inside my own mind, angry at the relapse, knowing the way I feel is stupid and ridiculous and irrational, but unable to shake free of it nonetheless. I’ve been afraid — terrified, if I’m truly honest — of an irreversible spiral back into darkness.

I say all this, not as an admission of defeat or failure, but as a reminder that the journey through and toward mental wellness continues to be a day-by-day process. There are going to be setbacks, relapses, dark valleys. And that’s ok. It’s fine to have those moments because they pass. They always pass. This is why I’ve spent so much time this past year building up a support network around myself. I have two or three very close friends I can go to anytime about anything and know they won’t judge me. There are at least a dozen others I can touch base with for casual chats, brief and uplifting moments of light, who I also know “get” it and, even if they don’t realize it, give me their support and encouragement just by granting me some small measure of their attention.

And I know, in clear and painful detail, what caused this latest bout of depression. Yes, part of it is the chemical instability that is a permanent part of my brain chemistry. But it is also the daily stress I have been under for the better part of the last month. It has been the constant disappointments and frustrations of living life, of encountering roadblock after roadblock after roadblock preventing me from getting to the place in my life where I really want to be. It’s the deep, deep loneliness I feel every day, missing my children (even when they drive me crazy), the inability to have much of a social life because I can’t afford one financially. (And isn’t that just a kicker right there, that, on some level, money is almost always required for socialization, even if it’s just for the fuel you need for your vehicle.)

I’m doing better today. The mental pall has lifted, and I feel more like me again. The stresses that afflict me continue to be there, but I’m in a better frame of mind to cope with them. And I’m continuing to try to lean on God and my faith to get through this seemingly never-ending waiting game. It’s an ongoing process, and I’ll keep going on.

One day at a time.
One step at a time.
One breath at a time.

One Side of the Looking Glass

He can see her there, standing just on the other side of the glass. She’s next to him, of course, there but not here. He can reach out with a hand and touch her shoulder. She smiles at him. Warm. Affectionate. But also sad. Because he is not truly there. Only here. He can touch her, but he cannot feel her.

“Hello,” he says to her, as he always does. They learned long ago that she cannot hear him, nor he her. But they have learned to read lips. He sees her mouth move in response, her lips forming the word, Hi. But it is silent on this side of the glass, just as it always has been.

He knows little about her world. It’s not like his own, despite the reflection. He can see only her but nothing else. It is an enigma he would dearly love to solve. He would give anything to pass through that barrier to be with her.

Her mouth forms words again, as he knows they must, as they have so many times before. I have to go, she says. She turns and slowly fades away, leaving only his own reflection and aching heart.

The Peak

The wind gusted across the dusty peak, nearly knocking Zachariah off his feet. He pulled his weathered duster closer around him and pulled his hat down further over his eyes in a vain attempt to keep blowing debris out of his eyes.

The townsmen had said the climb would be difficult, at best. Zachariah remembered their tilted smiles, only just barely on their faces, but he could read both the amusement and resignation in their eyes. They’ve seen too many others attempt the climb and die, he had thought. But he would not be one of those so ill-fated.

And he wasn’t. He had reached the peak, despite the treacherous terrain, and now he stood here, bracing against the gale trying to pry him off.

“Not today,” he muttered. He pushed forward, eyes set on the one bit of rock ahead that stood just higher than the rest of the peak. The wind rose as he struggled with each step, striving to drive him back. But he would not be driven.

Finally, he reached the stone and stopped, gathering his breath. From a pocket of his duster he produced a pendant, glowing faintly of green light. That glow grew brighter, almost blinding, the moment he pressed it against the stone, and a seam of light appeared, tracing the outline of a doorway.

Small Blessings

It’s Saturday morning, and my children are taking advantage of the cooler morning air to be outside, playing in the yard, blowing bubbles, creating chalk creations on the sidewalk. I was able to get a full night’s sleep last night, the first all week. My mood today is stable, even though the challenges I’m facing haven’t gone away. I’m finding my voice in written words again, something for which I’m always grateful.

I’ve been taking no small amount of inspiration from Mandy Harvey this week, the deaf singer who recently won a golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent. Here’s a young woman who has overcome severe adversity to follow her dream. It reminds me that there’s no reason I can’t do the same. I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer, to make my living crafting words. And really the only thing stopping me from doing that is me, if I’m perfectly honest with myself. Despite my circumstances, I’m still blessed with a place to live, and I have copious quantities of free time while I continue the frustrating process of seeking employment. I’ve simply squandered the time I have.

I’ve much to be grateful for today, and I need to start looking at my unemployment as a blessing rather than a curse, as an opportunity to pursue my dream. There’s really no reason I can’t make a living off my writing, and this does seem like a perfect opportunity to start doing that. Small blessings sometimes come disguised as great challenges.

Metal and Smoke

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

He unfolds the cloth first, revealing the medallion hidden within. The face that peers back is profane and vulgar, but it is not unknown to him. It is the sigil of a creature whose existence has long thought to be past but whose influence garners followers even now.

The Priest uses the cloth to pick up the medallion, careful not to allow any part of his flesh touch the unholy metal. He seats it into a slot in the pedestal designed for just such a purpose, then he casts the cloth to side.

The box itself he places on the pedestal so that it sits before the medallion. The eyes of sigil seem to leer at the box, the lolling tongue almost to lap at the box as if to sample its contents.

The Priest runs his fingers along the edges of the box, traces of smoke trailing behind, outlining it in a grey haze. Finally, he places his index fingers on either side of the box and whispers three words — foul and vile — and the medallion begins to glow. The box opens with a snick! and smoke flows out from the narrow seam.

Into the Hands of the Smoke Priest

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

One of the merchants produces the sigil, wrapped in cloth, from an inner pocket of his robe, and sets it in the Priest’s waiting hand. The box follows immediately. Wisps of smoky vapor puff upward from the Priest’s fingertips as they do so, but the merchants pretend not to notice.

“It would be… prudent, Holiness, to destroy the sigil,” says one merchant with a shudder, “if such a thing can be managed safely.”

The Priest’s voice is cold and sharp, icy with contempt. “Your recommendation has been noted, Xalto, but I will keep my own counsel on this matter.” He turns away from the merchants, facing the stone pedestal behind him.

“As you wish,” Xalto responds, chastened, his voice barely audible.

“You both may leave now,” the Priest commands, not looking at them. “I will call upon you again when I have need of you.” The merchants say nothing but quickly scuttle out of the tent.

The Priest sets first the box then the wrapped sigil on the pedestal before him. “Now then,” he says, “what have you brought me?”

Smoke Priest

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

The smoke merchants pace along the streets of the Market. The cowls of their grey cloaks are pulled up over their heads, obscuring their features. Everyone who comes to the Market maintains a level of anonymity, but the smoke merchants even more so. The product in which they deal is not well known and almost certainly not welcome. Few even know of their existence.

They approach a nondescript tent along a side avenue. It could be any tent housing any vendor, but this one is different. It is the permanent dwelling of their employer, and they enter without so much as announcing their presence.

Inside, the space is lit by candles. Books and scrolls sit on shelves that line the perimeter of the room. A tall man, robed in white, stands at the center, hands clasped behind his back.

“You have it?” he asks the merchants.

“Yes, Holiness,” says one. He reaches into his cloak and produces the box.

“The sigil?” asks the priest.

“We have that, too.”

“I will take them now,” says the priest and extends a gnarled hand.