I have a short story in the recently released anthology Horror Over the Handlebars: A Yankee Scares Connecticut Horror Anthology. It’s a collection of horror stories set in the 80s and 90s in my home state of Connecticut.

It’s available on Amazon in trade paperback and Kindle (and on amazon.ca for my Canadian friends). You can also read an interview with me on the publisher’s website and find the other authors’ interviews.

My story, “Below The Surface, We Can Only Imagine”, is set in a forgotten, flooded quarry turned swimming hole for local kids. As a hot summer where five people have drowned in the quarries draws to an end, three friends sneak in a swim before going their separate ways—two to college and one to finish high school. This is in the 80s, before cell phones and email, and they wonder if they will remain friends. Except one reveals a secret he’s been keeping all summer. A secret about their fourth friend who drowned. A secret tied to a local town legend about why the quarries were abandoned and lost.

The R.E.M. song “Nightswimming” off Automatic for the People inspired this song. (Video of the song is below.)

I find something uplifting but also melancholy about it. And something sinister. After lyrics about swimming, friendship and reminiscing we get:

You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me
This one laughing quietly underneath my breath

To me, this reveals something dark. Perhaps the idea that we don’t know our friends as well as we thought, but despite what they may have done we love them and can’t judge them despite another friend laughing quietly and menacingly. This changes the opening and closing line:

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

In the openings, it’s about being calm and peaceful with your friends in a dark, out of the way place. In the closing, is in quiet regret? Is it that something terrible is happening that isn’t quiet but you wish it were?

I decided I wanted to write about it. I borrowed a lot of elements from the song: swimming at night, the moon, a friend’s low laugh, regret, streetlights (though that didn’t make the final cut). In fact, the original opening line was:

September’s coming soon

Most of all, the power of friendship when you’re young, how we change as we grow up, and how well do we really know our friends and ourselves?

Free will is also front-and-center here. A critique of horror (and, as it were, of this story by someone who admitted they hate, but don’t understand, horror) is “The devil made me do it” is a cop-out that releases antagonists from accountability. A theme I wanted to explore—and then blatantly put into the narration to make sure it isn’t missed as I was smarting from the critique—is that the devil (or any corrupting force) can’t make you do something evil. You choose to do the evil thing; the devil just offers you the tools to do it. Christianity would have you believe the devil seeks pure souls to corrupt. I think the devil reveals who you really are.

The first draft of the story clocked in around 15,000 words, written mostly in a burst during a train ride to Toronto. The ending of the current story was the end of the first act. The main character has his night swimming in the quarry, goes on to live his life, and reencounters his friends in his 30s where he learns what is revealed in the final version of the story. I might revisit that one day, but for now I love this version that takes place over about 20 minutes as the sun sets.

I set it in the fictional town of Trenton, Connecticut which is a stand-in for my own hometown. Calling it “Trenton” is a bit of a joke my wife, a Canadian, made about the Connecticut accent where rush through our “t”s. I might return to this town in future stories and am considering setting a novel there.

My thanks to the East Block Irregulars who critiques this story when I first wrote it 10 years ago, and to Write Club who critiqued it before I submitted it to Horror Over the Handlebars.