Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Indie Horror Pocketknife Kitty

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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Indie Horror Pocketknife Kitty

For more than a decade, Texas-based indie horror press Ghoulish Books has been churning out exciting, edgy, and terrifying fiction from some of the most relentlessly original voices that the genre has to offer right now. Through an eclectic, often genre-defying mix of scary tales ranging from full-length novels to novellas and short fiction, the publisher has given horror fans memorable work by writers like Jessica Leonard (Conjuring the Witch), Laurel Hightower (Below), Todd Keisling (Scanlines), Sofia Ajram (Bury Your Gays), and of course, co-founder, editor and publisher Max Booth III (We Need to Do Something). 

This summer, it’s Shannon Riley’s turn with her debut novella, Pocketknife Kitty, a book Booth described as It Follows meets Promising Young Woman. A potent blend of revenge story, body horror, and meditation on loneliness, it’s the latest Ghoulish offering that will have readers squirming in their seats.

Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

Jamie is a thirty-year-old banker wedged between grief and newfound freedom. Through a domino cascade beyond her control, she winds up stuck in her suffocating hometown. The monotony is broken swiftly when, following a night of spite-fueled impulse, Jamie soon begins to undergo a rapid and gruesome transformation. She finds herself teetering on the edge of her own sanity as she pieces together if rescue will ever come for her. And if not, what is she going to do about it?

Pocketknife Kitty’s truth lies in its very name: the very thing by which a woman is so often commodified is also her greatest fucking weapon,” Riley said in a statement to Paste about the book’s themes and larger narrative concerns. “Initially, I just wanted to write a story about revenge. I was going to put my naive, reserved protagonist in an impossible situation, and watch her ruthlessly claw her way through the blood and muck until she came out clean on the other side. I wanted it to be gnarly and as gross as possible, and if I managed to sicken a handful of my more conservative relatives along the way, well then I’m a winner in more ways than one.”

“As I developed the story beyond the basic tenets of Sad Girl Gets Revenge, however, other themes gradually surfaced,” she said. “I began exploring themes of jarring, yet expected loss. I explored the vulnerability of being lonely in increasingly isolating times. I explored the bleakness of modern relationships and the expectations of sexually available women. Of the connection between femininity and mysticism. Of female alliance.

“Once I had a better handle on themes, the rest of Pocketknife Kitty’s story just bled out of me. By the end, the book had a lot more guts. It became a lot more about loss and loneliness than I had originally intended. And instead of making a story about just a victim, the victim became the agent of change, making the move from powerless to powerful. I found importance in highlighting how easily desperate people can be taken advantage of, but then how they can turn their softened belly over and expose their spiny violence on the other side.

“Laying out bare matters of sexual vulnerability, feminine rage, isolation, and crippling grief, I wrote and wrote and watched my protagonist tear her way through the circumstances thrust upon her by the hands that have always held the strings. And then I made it as gnarly and gross as possible.”

Pocketknife Kitty won’t hit shelves until June 24, but we’ve got an exclusive first look at the cover for the novella, designed for Ghoulish by Matthew Revert. Below that, keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from Pocketknife Kitty.

Pocketknife Kitty cover

Jamie’s mind couldn’t immediately process the new sensation. She stood, mid-stride, toes flexing against the bloody tiles beneath her, and touched her hand to her stomach. It wasn’t an urge to use the toilet she felt.

It was movement.

She felt a shifting of weight, deep where her bowels were. Where they should be? Even medically illiterate, Jamie sensed inherently that everything inside of her was moving. Her stuff—her guts…everything she was made of, hung low in her abdomen like overripe fruit…she sensed it settling lower in her gut than where it should be. Waiting. But for what? An answer came to Jamie, and she thought it before she could censor herself.

To fall out.

As soon as she thought it, she felt the shifting travel from her bellybutton to her groin. She had been consistently bleeding for days, but this felt different. She looked down at herself. She expected to see her belly distended, swollen, but it looked the same as it always had. Her legs were smeared red still, caked with drying blood and pockmarked with the sores she’d grown in the past couple of days. As horrific as she appeared, she looked no different from the outside. Curious, Jamie stuck two fingers into the waistband of her underwear, long since cold and saturated with blood and unmentionable fluids, and wondered why she bothered to keep them on at all. If not for the sake of social norms and the taboo of nakedness, Jamie contemplated, she would have thrown them out the day before. Continuing to wear them gave Jamie at least the illusion of security. Cautiously, she pulled the fabric out and away from her body and peered within.

At first, she didn’t know what she was seeing.

It looked like she was peeling apart the guts of a used tissue. She pulled the fabric away from her body, and saw her underwear was full of thick, stringy pus, like colorless snot. Through the mucus she could see her flesh and the multiple excoriated lesions pockmarking its surface. She wondered how many of the sores were inside her.

Electricity shot up Jamie’s spine. She felt dizzy. Disoriented. The odor was overwhelming. It was sweet, pungent. Rotten. The smell turned her stomach.

She didn’t want to touch. She knew it was bad.

In that moment, irrationally, Jamie’s mother’s face swam in her vision. Her eyes were lucid, wise, completely unlike the waxy glaze Jamie had seen far too many times. Her eyes were alive. Without hearing a word, Jamie knew the eyes were saying: Get that bastard.

Jamie folded down onto the wet tile and supported herself on her hands and knees. Her vision swirled. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate. Her stomach clenched with the reflex to vomit. The hideous odor lingered in her nostrils and she gagged against the thick air, but nothing came up. Her stomach was completely empty. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she wiped it away. With effort, Jamie regarded her phone and pulled up her contacts. She clenched her jaw, gnawing her lips. Tasting blood. As she chewed her own mouth, she felt her teeth move ever so slightly against the pressure. She knew better, but she pressed her tongue against them, a compulsion, and resisted the urge to keep fiddling.

Those will be the next to go, she thought with disinterest.

Hands trembling, she tapped her phone awake and searched. Her fingers, lazy and error prone, kept pressing the wrong buttons. Her blinks grew longer and heavier. Fatigue was creeping up quickly, and the threat of unconsciousness was a warm blanket. It was a race to the finish line before she succumbed to sleep. Finally, she found what she was looking for, and she typed.

Her message to Frankie was brief: I need you to find Dylan Stoker.

Pocketknife Kitty is on sale June 24, and is now available for pre-order (with signed book stickers) from Ghoulish Books.

Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.

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