Free Short Story: “Head in the Clouds”



“Yes, hon?”

“Why do planes crash?”

“I don’t know, babe. I…I don’t know.”

“Why don’t they just land before it ‘splodes?”

“I…because they can’t, I guess. They don’t have time to make it to the ground.”

“I know that. But why can’t they land on the clouds?”

“Oh. Be…Because…”

“Or just let all the passengers off onto the clouds so they can wait to be picked up by another plane?”


“Maybe that’s what happened to Mommy’s plane.”


“I saw the plane on the news.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“It was on fire and broken up in itty-bitty pieces.”

“Yes. Yes…it was.”

“Don’t be sad, Dad.”

“I’m not, hon. I’m okay.”

“You’re crying.”

“I guess I am. I’m tired is all.”

“I saw the plane, Daddy, but you know what? I didn’t see Mommy on the TV. I saw the plane but she wasn’t there. Nobody was there!”

“I know, but baby, you—”

“I bet the plane stopped to let them off on the clouds, and she’s waiting up there right now for a ride home. Isn’t that what you think Daddy?”

“Yeah. Yeah it is. You need to lie down and get some sleep now baby. Been a rough few—”

“Can we go pick her up?”

“I don’t think we can.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t…let’s just talk about this in the morning, okay?”

“You can fly, Daddy, can’t you? Rachel told me at school that Daddies can fly if they want to. She said when her little brother ran out in front of a car her Daddy screamed and turned and flew and saved her little brother. I guess Moms can’t though or she’d just be able to fly down from the cloud all by herself, wouldn’t she?”

“I can’t fly, honey. I wish I could.”

“Do, then!”


“Make a wish and I’ll bet you can! You can go collect Mommy.”


“I bet it’s cold up there.”

“In the clouds?”

“Uh-huh. But at least it’s nice and fluffy and soft.”

“I bet it is. Come on now, lie down and let me tuck you in.”

“I won’t be able to sleep.”

“Sure you will. You’re tired.”

“I won’t. I’m too excited now.”


“Because you’re going to make a wish and fly and get Mommy back.”

“I suppose I’ll have to give it a shot, but what if I can’t?”

“You’re crying again. If it’s because you’re worried about leaving me here alone while you go get Mommy, you don’t have to. I’ll stay here in bed and look out the window. I promise I won’t get up until I see you coming back. I do that sometimes anyway.”

“Do what?”

“Lie here looking out the window at the clouds. Those are the days when you have to call me for breakfast a few times, because I don’t want to stop watching them. Then you come in and tickle me and I have to get up.”

“I didn’t know that’s what you were doing.”

“You’re smiling.”

“Because I love you, Sarah. I don’t know what I would do without you. And your mother loves you.”

“I know. She told me about the clouds. That’s why I watch them.”

“What did she tell you?”

“That things are different up there. That you can walk on the clouds. That there are bunches of people up there who have fallen from space, or out of planes, or who jumped too high and got stuck. That’s why I don’t use Rachel’s trampoline. She calls me a chicken, but I’m really not. I just don’t want to get my head stuck in the clouds. Mommy said that’s what it means when someone says someone else has their head in the clouds. Means they jumped too high once—maybe on a trampoline—and because their heads poked through, they’re never the same after that. They’re a bit silly.”

“Is that what she said?”

“Yeah. So, I guess because it’s not the same up there, Mommy shouldn’t be up there too long. Will you go get her while I’m sleeping?”

“What if I can’t fly? What if it doesn’t work?”

“It will. Wish hard, Daddy.”

“Okay, babe. I’ll wish as hard as I can, but if it doesn’t work, you think maybe Mommy’ll might be happy up there?”

“Why would she want to stay up there when we’re down here?”

“Maybe so she can always watch over us wherever we go. Maybe…so she can help the other people who have fallen out of space and airplanes and…”

“I guess. But you should go make sure she’s okay anyway.”

“Okay baby, I will, and I’ll tell her you miss her.”


“With all my heart. Now you lie down and get some sleep. It’s getting late and you want me to be able to see my way up there don’t you?”


“I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay. Daddy?”

“Yes, hon?”

“Don’t get stuck up there okay?”

“I won’t.”


“I swear.”

“Okay. Goodnight.”









(c) copyright 2007 by Kealan Patrick Burke. “Head in the Clouds” originally appeared on the Subterranean Press website. Reprinted in the collection Theater Macabre (2011).

All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction permitted.



Paperback Re-Covery

One of the great things about DIY publishing is, if you don’t like the cover of your book, you can always change it. I try to resist doing this too often because it can create a bit of confusion among readers. Still, when I’m dissatisfied with a book cover, it nags at me until I can’t take it anymore and have to replace it with a better, more thematically appropriate and visually striking one. Hence, I recently redesigned the covers for my novels Master of the Moors and Currency of Souls.

While I was in the spirit of things, I also went ahead and made my collection Milestone and the new novella Blanky available in paperback editions with spiffy covers of their own.


You can find all of these titles in digital and paperback on Amazon.

NOTE: The digital edition of MASTER OF THE MOORS is currently on sale for the next few days.

Writing is Hard Work

With the advent of digital publication, getting published is easier than it’s ever been. All you need to do is write your book, format your manuscript, slap a cover on it, and hey presto, you’re published. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the good side, it allows the publication and discovery of some superb writers for whom mass market publication proved elusive. On the bad, it removes the filtration system, the much-maligned “gatekeepers” so that there is little quality control. Amazon are distributors, not editors, and they care little for quality if they’re making money, and they can’t be faulted for that. They’ve never pretended to be anything else. But here’s a personal example of why gatekeeping is important.

About eighteen months ago, a woman contacted me via Facebook asking if I’d be interested in reading a few pages of her first novel-in-progress. My advice was the same as it always is: finish the novel first and come back to me. It’s rarely a good thing to get feedback on a few pages. If the response is negative, then it can kill your drive to continue. Present it as a whole and then get a critique, I advised. She insisted, however, so, feeling magnanimous, I agreed to read the first chapter. At best, it was derivative to the point of being plagiaristic; at worst, it was atrociously written. I wrote fourteen pages of notes (on a six-page chapter) outlining what I thought were the worst issues, and giving her some advice on how to proceed.

She never responded. Later that day, she unfriended me.

This is not uncommon, and it’s pretty much why (time constraints aside) I rarely agree to read an unfamiliar writer’s work when asked for a critique anymore. It’s because not everyone who asks for one wants one. Not really. What they want is validation, to be told they’re the next Stephen King. And I’m not interested in stroking egos or the dispensation of false praise. As a result of my (solicited) critiques over the years, I’ve been trolled and harassed, have garnered negative reviews of my books from writers who felt slighted, and have heard at conventions that those same writers have been spreading rumors about me. So it goes.

At the start of this year, I got a newsletter I hadn’t signed up for from the same woman. Her book had just been released on Amazon and had twenty-one five-star reviews. Quotes from magazines and reviewers I didn’t recognize were comparing her work to that of Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins.

I visited the book page, clicked on the preview and saw that it was exactly the same first chapter she had sent me, misspellings, grammatical errors, nonsensical sentences and all. She hadn’t changed a word. And based on the rankings, the book was selling very well.

I was happy for her success, but also saddened that this had become the way of things.

It seems like nobody wants to do the work anymore. Nobody wants to earn their way up the ladder. Instead, they want instant gratification, immediate validation. They want the fame, the kudos, the recognition. The want to call themselves a WRITER, because it’s a romantic term that gives you a place in the world, lifts you above your own perception of mediocrity. Unwilling to commit to an endeavor if the process is too long or complicated, these people surround themselves with like-minded folk who do nothing to dispel their shared illusion. If someone wanders in and offers valuable, time-tested advice, they’re descended upon en masse by an army of the author’s familiars who take each and every attempt to help as a personal attack.

What’s truly suffering here is not me, not the author, not other writers, not even the industry, because all of these things will, in one way or another, survive.

What’s suffering is the craft. And that’s truly something to be mourned.

New writers today often ask me how I did it, and I’m always happy to tell them. But sometimes the question is couched in frustration and bitterness. It sounds like the question is actually: “Who gave you your success?”, “Who owed you a favor?”, or “How did you fall into it?”

As time goes by, I see this more and more, the implication that what success I have wasn’t earned, rather I came by it by accident, or it was bestowed upon me after beating an editor in a poker game. And the answer now is what it always has been, what it always will be: hard work.

I love writing. I never want to do anything else. It’s also the hardest job I’ve ever had. For all the validation you get when you finish a book and people like it, there’s also the isolation and loneliness required to write it in the first place. And if that’s not enough, the process of bringing a book to life is typically fraught with self-doubt, self-criticism, and feelings of inadequacy. And to write the dark stuff, you need to be familiar with the darkness in your own life, and rather than run away from it like most sane people do, you grab it with both hands, eat it, and then vomit it back out in prose form. That process is many things, but fun isn’t one of them.

Writing is tough, exhausting, at times dispiriting.

When you’ve labored over the writing of a novel for the better part of a year, when the idea has been with you for four, when you’ve lived in the world you’ve created, become the characters and bestowed all manner of horror upon them, and essentially lived no life outside of writing, and the first review you see is a one-star, one-word review: “Meh”, yeah, it can make you wonder why you do it at all. But you do it anyway, because failure is not an option. You do it because you have no choice, because you were born a writer and will die one, because you need to create these worlds and these people and these nightmares. Because it’s who you are.

When I was starting out as a writer, and by “starting out”, I mean attempting to break into publishing after years of writing for nobody but myself, I thought the process was a simple one. Not that it would be easy or that I’d be accepted into the literary world without paying my dues. I just thought I knew how the equation worked: (a) Write a story, (b) Find the market, and (c) Submit. It would either work out, or it wouldn’t. There was no grey area.

Driven by dreams and lifelong ambition, I was nevertheless aware that my chances were slim. After all, my work had never been judged by professional eyes, so I had no idea if I could even write worth a fig. However, I wasn’t about to be stopped by uncertainty, so I submitted my stories to the magazines and anthologies I felt were the best fit for what I was trying to do.

Months would pass, and every day (long before email submissions were commonplace) I would check the mailbox for a large brown manila envelope (I always enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope, so that I could pop that sucker back in the mail to another editor.) And for the longest time, every one of those envelopes contained a rejection. Some were form letters (“Due to the large volumes of submissions we receive, we are unable to respond to you personally…”), some were personal, and encouraging.

Others were brutal.

Despite the disappointment and the increase in uncertainty that I had any idea what I was doing, I persisted and sent more stories out into the world. And eventually, as I read and wrote and learned and clenched my teeth in feverish determination, they started getting accepted. It was slow at first, a ratio of maybe one acceptance for every ten rejections. But over time, that ratio changed and I was suddenly getting published in many of my favorite magazines, like Cemetery Dance and Subterranean. It got so that rejections were not the norm, though they never surprised me when I did receive them. (I get them still.) And the harsher critiques I got were invaluable. I tacked them up above my desk and referred to them whenever I needed to be reminded that my work was and probably always would be flawed in some way. Because it always is.

My dream has always been to be a published writer. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a teen daydreaming about winning a Bram Stoker Award (which I saw mentioned on the covers of many of the books I was reading) and giving readings to a packed house as part of a book tour. I imagined traveling the world, seeing displays of my hardcovers in bookstore windows. I imagined an office that looked out over a serene lake, my shelves lined with my books, the gaps between those shelves bearing the poster art for the movies they had made from some of them.

Cut to today, and now I do write for a living. I did win a Bram Stoker Award (God bless you, Turtle Boy, you ungainly, overwrought mess of a novella). To achieve the goal of professional writing, I had to leave my friends and family back in Ireland and relocate at age twenty-three to live in a country I had never been to before, with people I didn’t know, but that was the extent of the world travel. I’ve been doing this, professionally for over sixteen years now, but my books are not displayed in bookstore windows. There are hardly any bookstores left. I’m not rich, or well-traveled. I don’t own that house by the lake. My shelves are filled with copies of my books, most of them issued by independent and small press publishers. There are no movie posters on my walls (though a number of the books have been optioned), and yet, I have never been happier than I am right now.

Because this is the calling, and wherever I am on that lofty career ladder, I earned my place there.

When I tell these things to newcomers, to some of them, writing suddenly seems like too much work and not the idealized image that had driven them to try. Because the truth is, many people who get into this business do so under the illusion that it’s easy, that all it takes to be a successful writer is to sit down and write. And that’s partly true. But you also must be willing to learn. You must be willing to be told you are not special, that your work is not the best it can be, that you need to improve. The committed writer is always learning, always pushing to be better, and will die never reaching perfection. The goal is to try, and to entertain some folk along the way.

Because, yes, while it’s now easier than ever to be a published writer, it’s just as hard today as it’s always been to learn how to be a good one, and you have to want to, because without putting your heart and soul into it, without putting the work into it and earning your stripes, you’re just waiting at the train station for a ride that isn’t coming.






My new novella Blanky is now available for preorder on Amazon, with an official release date of September 12th.

Here’s the official synopis:

Blanky2“In the wake of his infant daughter’s tragic death, Steve Brannigan is struggling to keep himself together. Estranged from his wife, who refuses to be inside the house where the unthinkable happened, and unable to work, he seeks solace in an endless parade of old sitcoms and a bottle of bourbon.

Until one night he hears a sound from his daughter’s old room, a room now stripped bare of anything that identified it as hers…except for her security blanket, affectionately known as Blanky.

Blanky, old and frayed, with its antiquated patchwork of badly sewn rabbits with black button eyes, who appear to be staring at the viewer…

Blanky, purchased from a strange old man at an antique stall selling “BABY CLOSE” at a discount.

The presence of Blanky in his dead daughter’s room heralds nothing short of an unspeakable nightmare that threatens to take away what little light remains in Steve’s shattered world.

Because his daughter loved Blanky so much, he buried her with it.”

Preorder the book via any of the following links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA


Dark CitiesThe Titan Books anthology DARK CITIES, edited by Christopher Golden and featuring stories set, as the title suggests, in cities just this side of normal, has officially been released upon the world.

And, as books like this generally don’t get much in the way of a marketing push, it would be great if you could help spread the word. Of course, buying and reviewing the book is an even better strategy, but any assistance raising awareness of the title would be much appreciated, if only so we get to do more of them.


Here’s the table of contents:

THE DOGS by Scott Smith
IN STONE by Tim Lebbon
DEAR DIARY by Scott Sigler
GRIT by Jonathan Maberry
DARK HILL RUN by Kasey Lansdale & Joe R. Lansdale
HAPPY FOREVER by Simon R. Green
THE MAW by Nathan Ballingrud
FIELD TRIP by Tananarive Due
THE REVELERS by Christopher Golden
THE STILLNESS by Ramsey Campbell
SANCTUARY by Kealan Patrick Burke
MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Sherrilyn Kenyon
THE CRACK by Nick Cutter

You can grab a copy of the book here.

Cheap Candy

For the next day or so, you can pick up SOUR CANDYSour Candy - Resized at a discount at Amazon. 99 cents today and tomorrow, $1.99 for a few days after that until it returns to its regular price. So, if you haven’t read it and want to, now’s the time to grab it for less than the price of a cup of coffee. And hey, it’s #WorldBookDay, so you have two reasons to grab it.
“an excellent terror-filled novella….a stomach-twisting ride through the depths of horror, breathing new life into an often-stagnant part of the genre.”
Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Sour Candy is spectacularly good. A brilliant premise, marvelously executed, it’s as close to a perfect story as I can remember reading. I only wish I’d written it myself.”
— Bentley Little, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Resort, and The Store.

Short Stories: 2017 Edition

It’s been quite a productive year for me already, and while (as per usual) I can’t spill the beans on everything that’s cooking right now (as much as I’d love to), I can at least share some news about stories that are on the way in various publications.15319120_1192194820869660_8567178783653999739_n

My story of dwarves tasked with finding their errant brethren in territory governed by the dead, “Down Here with Us” will appear in Tales of the Lost Citadel, a shared fantasy world anthology edited by C.A. Suleiman. There’s no release date yet, but as I’ve already received a sample copy, I imagine it can’t be too far away. More news on this as I have it.

“Andromeda”, about a technological and possibly cosmic plague, will appear in an upcoming chapbook from Sinister Grin Press.


The wartime story “Go Warily After Dark” about a family who pick the wrong place to seek shelter during an airstrike, will appear in Crystal Lake Publishing‘s forthcoming anthology Tales from the Lake Volume IV, edited by Joe Mynhardt and Ben Eads, due August 30th.

One of my rare erotica pieces “She Comes” is slated for publication this month in Great Jones Street‘s My Bloody Valentine series.

“Traveler”, a nasty little piece about a body-hopping entity who uses his unwitting victims to commit unspeakable crimes, will be featured in Dark Fuse Magazine in March.

hbyaoh-tpb-cvr-solMy novelette “A Wicked Thirst”, about an alcoholic whose date goes gruesomely wrong, will appear in Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror, edited by Mark Matthews. As a rather cool incentive, the first 25 people to order the book can choose a free book by any of the authors listed on the table of contents.

“Sanctuary”, about a child sent to retrieve his father in a city forgotten by the rest of the world, will appear in Dark Cities, edited by Christopher Golden, and published by Titan Books. Look for it in May.

“Verstedkt”, in which our titular hero is sent to an Alpine village to investigate claims of a witch, will appear in the prose anthology Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, due in August from Dark Horse Books.

Lastly, I have just turned in a short story “The Mannequin Challenge”, about an antisocial man who reluctantly agrees to attend the office Halloween party, and quickly wishes he hadn’t, to the Halloween Carnival anthology, edited by Brian Freeman, to be published by Cemetery Dance Publications and Random House.

I’ll update this list as more news develops…