Title: Strange Matter – The Journal, a.k.a. “The M-Files”
Author and Illustrator: Mike Robinson
Well, loathe as I am to do anything Thanksgiving related, I figured there is something to be thankful for.
It took me nearly a year, but I finally found one of the tales submitted to the Strange Matter short story contest from 1996.
For those who don’t remember, I did a recap of Andy Goble’s “The Abominable Snowman,” which was included with Strange Matter #22: Dangerous Waters. The book included a list of contest runner-ups and their story titles. Which you can see above.
Unfortunately, the archived Strange Matter web pages don’t have any links to the short stories. At all. For the past year I’ve regularly done investigative work tracking down the runner-ups. Alongside multiple dead ends, I regretfully admit the writers I did find no longer have their stories. I’ve especially been trying to find Alicia M. Heiser and “Attack of the Talking Werewolf” as a gift for Wing.
[Wing: I am dying to read this. I love all the work you do trying to find lost stories. You truly do the fandom, and Devil’s Elbow, proud.]
Thankfully, I’m happy to report that I was able to find Mike Robinson – who is now a professional author with several published works – and he still had a copy of his story “The Journal.”
You can find more of Mike’s works here at his personal website.
[Wing: I love that you’ve continued to write, Mike. The trajectory of your career is such a cool thing to see.]
It was a cold night, and our nameless protagonist had a feeling something bad was about to happen. Something like… MURDER. It was a feeling they hadn’t experienced since five years prior, when they survived a mugging.
[Wing: Damn, this is a strong opening.]
While taking a shortcut through an alley to get home, our hero witnessed a murder with their very own eyes. A man in a lab coat, called “Dr. Forman,” was being held at gunpoint by a scraggly looking dude in a ragged shirt and jeans. The gunman demanded the good doctor hand over a journal, when our hero stepped out of the shadows and tried to intervene.
While the gesture may’ve been noble, our lead had nothing to defend themselves with and received a bullet grazing their arm for their troubles. Dr. Forman then threw at our hero the coveted journal the gunman was after. Forman screamed at the protagonist to make sure the journal didn’t end up in the wrong hands.
With no other means to defend himself or fight back, the hero was forced to run with the journal as the gunman fired on him. From a distance, they heard another gunshot and feared the good doctor was probably a goner.
Reaching the supposed safety of their own home, the protagonist locked – not licked – every door and secured every window before hiding the journal inside his chimney. They then wrapped up their arm to deal with the bullet wound, but an attempt to call the police failed due to the increasing amount of pain coursing through their body. Not even aspirin would be enough to dull the sensation.
It was then the protagonist realized someone was watching them…
After finally taking some aspirin to help with the pain, the hero tried again to call the police only to find the phone in the kitchen was dead. And so was the upstairs phone. Dead, dead, DEAD.
That’s when the heard a sound of creaking floorboards coming from their bedroom. Which also happened to be the room where they kept a loaded revolver. The hero slowly opened the bedroom door and surveyed the area when OH SHIT SOMETHING JUMPED AT THEM!
Oh wait never mind it was just the cat.
[Wing: Look at that jump scare.]
Now armed with a gun of their own, the hero heard the sound of glass breaking and realized the killer from the alley was now in their house. The killer called out for the hero to show themself, while the hero watched from the top of the stairs. They saw an opening and shot at the killer, the bullet going through his left arm!
The killer howled in pain and dropped to his knees on the floor. Was he dead? [Wing: From an arm wound? Come on, hero, you’re smarter than this.] Our hero went to-nope he was playing possum and knocked the gun from the hero’s hands. Armed once again, the killer demanded to know where the desired journal was.
With no choice but to reveal the journal’s hiding place, the hero waited until the killer stuck his head in the fireplace and then moved to turn on the gas fire! The killer’s face burned as he hit the back of his head against the brick fireplace and fell unconscious.
[Wing: Goddamn! That’s quite a clever response.]
Some time later, after the police took the killer away, our hero was left alone with the fabled journal. They saw two photos slip out of the pages, and was shocked by what they revealed.
Delightful and darker than I imagined it would be. I’m always impressed by what these kids were able to contribute to these contests and franchises, and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve been so determined to preserve their contributions.
Here’s some words from Mike Robinson himself on how this story came to be:
Thank you again Mike for recovering this for me, Devil’s Elbow, and the YA horror fandom as a whole.
[Wing: I loved this! Guns and burning faces and clever heroes. It’s a fantastic little addition to the genre, and I’m sorry it wasn’t published elsewhere, but I’m very glad we can publish it here.
It’s interesting to see something a little darker than, say, Goosebumps and Strange Matter itself. There’s a lot of talk these days about what kids can and cannot handle, what they should and should not read. I think we need to give them a lot more credit.]