Title: We, Freaks
Entry Nickname: The Barringer Museum
Word count: 78K
Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction
Sideshow barkers claim the true freak is born, not made. That a pregnant mother’s fascination with an eerie neighborhood dog led to the birth of a fur-faced baby boy, and that a woman’s all-consuming fear of sea serpents etched scales on the fetus growing inside of her.
To Theodore, a museum owner in 1850’s New York City, these boasts and backstories are improbably beginning to resemble truth. And after his museum burns to the ground, he decides he’s willing to pursue any lead if it means restarting his career with a theater of the most astonishing humans the world has ever seen.
In a parallel storyline set in present-day Michigan, zoo ticket seller and PhD candidate Max is grudgingly hosting a scientific study testing if expectant mothers can impress bestial traits on their fetuses through extensive exposure to lions. When Max attempts to quash what he considers to be mockery of science, he’s kidnapped by a collective of unusual humans depending on the study to validate their origin stories.
Theodore Barringer had planned to spend his morning crafting an exhibit about a romance between Thomas Jefferson and America’s first swivel chair, but instead, he faced the extraordinary: two women whose natures he could not discern. At Spooner’s and the Eastern Dime Museum, Theodore could always recognize the hoax—the 90 year-old woman boasting 160 years of age, the siblings from Virginia advertising Mayan heritage, the thin men who never weighed as little as they claimed they did… The frauds of humanity were growing commonplace in New York City, but the sisters currently sitting in front of his desk… Yes, they were asking to perform in his museum, and yes, they were identical twins, but they were also beings he’d never once heard rumors of. He knew of giants, Circassian beauties, and wild men, but no humans quite like these—none so completely authentic in their peculiarity.
Because the fascination was more than their twin sisterhood, but rather that the sister on the right explained that with costuming assistance the two could create the illusion of four bodies, yet failed to describe how it was that each sister reflected the other as a live mirror of flesh and movement. How upon the right side of one and the left of the other, their tan skin shrunk into the thin lines of a crooked spider web and broke a reflective, silver coating up into shards. Their reticence made him want to scream out: how had a mirror shattered and fused itself to you, and how could he replicate the effect?
Title: The Switcher Chronicles
Entry Nickname: Switcher
Word Count: 96,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy
Cade Hightower is a professional body switcher, paid to step into a client’s body and take his place in the dentist’s chair or at the in-laws’ dinner table. There are some jobs he won’t do—no pranks, no lie detector tests, and no switching bodies without permission—but he’ll take some risks to keep a good client happy, especially if the price is right.
Cade’s sister Daphne practices the art of injectable magic. She can give a politician a shot of Charisma or soothe a perpetual worrier with a syringe-full of Nonchalance. She has a five-year plan for her career, and she hasn’t noticed that’s it’s left her without much of a life outside of work.
The Hightower siblings have drifted apart in the last ten years, but after their uncle dies, Daphne sets out to repair the estrangement. Unfortunately, Cade’s never forgiven Daphne for putting ambition ahead of family. When their mother got sick and their father ran off, she left him with his no-good uncle. Now she claims she wants to keep him safe in his dangerous job, but where was she when he was a lonely, scared teenager who needed his big sister?
When Cade is hired to find the person swindling rich old people out of their fortunes and their lives, brother and sister run smack into their worst fears. Daphne’s afraid her brother will get killed, leaving her with no family. Cade’s nightmare is losing his own body, stuck for the rest of his life in a stranger’s skin. And their fragile relationship may not survive when the investigation brings their ugly family history into the light.
I had been back in my body for twenty-four hours, and the mosquito bite between my shoulder blades itched like a rhino’s hide in a drought. The next time a client took my body camping while I did trust falls at a corporate retreat in his, I was going to add a bug-spray requirement to the contract.
But ignoring annoyances was part of my professional skill set, so I focused on getting the bus washed and ready for my next job, whatever it turned out to be. When the phone rang, I was balanced on an over-sized tire, squeegeeing the giant windshield. I jumped to the asphalt to take the call. The screen said, "Private Name Private Number." I got that a lot.
“Cade Hightower,” I said.
Harlan Ambrose’s voice on the line was deep and quick. “Cade, bro, what’re you doing?”
“Washing the bus, sir.”
“Hey, do me a favor and go inside. Got a job for you.”
I nudged the garden hose that snaked from the bus to a faucet sticking out of the grass. A high school parking lot on a Sunday was as private as the surface of the moon, but arguing with clients was bad for business. With a shrug, I climbed the three steps into the school bus I’d converted into my home. After I settled in the swivel recliner anchored to the floor, I put the phone back to my ear.
“I’m inside, sir. What’s this job?”