Interview with Eric R. Johnston
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am the author of five novels—Harvester: Ascension, An Inner Darkness, A Light in the Dark, 9111 Sharp Road, and most recently, Children of Time. I’ve been writing my whole life, but started seriously writing novels in 2009 when my friend, Andrew Utley, and I began writing Harvester: Ascension. I have a BA in History and English from The University of Michigan. When I’m not writing, I work as an editor and substitute teacher.
Tell us about your new release, Children of Time.
Children of Time is about a woman named Shawna who has recently survived an abusive relationship with a husband she was forced to kill in self-defense, only to find her life in utter chaos as everything she knows starts changing around her. When she goes to bed one night she has one child, a six-year-old daughter named Alexis. When she wakes up, she has two daughters, Tonya and Paris, 11 and 7, respectively, and she’s pregnant to the point of bursting with a child named Alexis, who can communicate with her telepathically and is as aware as the six-year-old she was the night before and is as confused as her mother. Oh, and her dead husband is still alive and will stop at nothing until she’s dead.
Children of Time is a novel that came about almost by complete accident. I was working on a science-fiction novel I was calling Temporal Winter that was about future humans developing technology that could alter the past with the purpose of improving the future by destroying the “mistakes” of the past. This technology, although interesting, led to some disastrous consequences. But there was something about the novel that didn’t work for me. I just wasn’t in love with it like I needed to be to finish it, so I put it aside and started work on a dark fantasy novel I called City of Evil. This novel dealt with some loose ends from my novel A Light in the Dark. But this story ended up being far too short to be a full-length novel, so that too was put aside.
Then it occurred to me to combine the two novels. The idea must have been in my subconscious the whole time because the novels fit together perfectly. Instead of misguided patriots from the future wreaking havoc on the timeline, it was the villain of City of Evil.
Do you already know what to write next? Can you tell us?
My next novel is called All I Want in Life (Is to Be Happy). I anticipate releasing this one early next year. It deals with suicide, but like my other novels, it delves into the bizarre and strange. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, but I want to say my decision in attacking such a powerful subject comes from someone very close to me recently confided in me about suicidal thoughts he’d been having. After talking the situation over, I think I made him realize there are other ways dealing with the problems in his life. But just the act of having this conversation affected me drastically, and one way I deal with things that bother me is to write about them.
Can you provide a link where someone can purchase Children of Time?
What is a link to your blog?
Prologue of Children of Time
Shawna let out a deep sigh as she walked into the lawyer’s office in North Branch, Michigan. THE LAW OFFICES OF DOOLITTLE, ANDERSON, WILLIAMS, AND LYNCH read the white writing on the glass door. A bell chimed overhead when the door opened, but it wasn’t needed. A young woman was sitting at a dark brown oak desk. Shawna was fifteen minutes early for a divorce consultation, but the paralegal was ready with a wide, obviously fake smile.
“Uh, hi,” Shawna said with an awkward smile. “I’m here to see, um….” She looked back at the door. “I guess I’m here to see Doolittle?”
“Yes,” the paralegal said, jumping up. She looked too excited, too happy, to be working in a divorce legal practice. “Mr. Doolittle will be here shortly, but there are a few things I can go over with you. I’m Sally, by the way.” She held out her hand to shake Shawna’s. “Now follow me to the back.” She motioned for Shawna to follow her down a long corridor.
Shawna noticed the carpeting, the walls, and the ceiling all looked very expensive. Intricate geometric patterns covered the soft carpet. The walls had matching patterns covering them, matted with a dark brown finish.
Her home, in contrast, was modest, with bland white carpet and matching white walls. Who knew how long she would even have that? She couldn’t stand being with Darren any longer, and if he refused to leave, she would have to live with her mother, a prospect she dreaded almost as much as the idea of staying married to that bastard.
Sally opened a door to another room that looked like an office one would only expect to see in a $500 million mansion. A chandelier covered with long pieces of crystal glowing with its own light hung from the ceiling above the intricately carved desk, and light poured in through a large window, covering the entire wall opposite the desk.
“Take a seat,” Sally said, gesturing toward a chair Shawna couldn’t imagine anyone but royalty would be allowed to sit in.
As nice as this place was, she would rather be sitting in an old, dilapidated building with a ceiling that was falling in from a combination of water and mold. Free consultation or not, there would be no way she could afford even the most basic of services here; no way…not in a law office this nice.
Her heart started pounding as Sally sat at the desk across from her. “Mr. Doolittle will be here shortly, but I can go over a few things with you. If you do choose to use his services, he will require a twenty-five hundred dollar retainer. That should cover all costs. In some cases, he has used the retainer before the case was resolved, but this is a rare circumstance.”
“Twenty-five hundred dollars?” Shawna couldn’t believe the staggering figure. She’d thought maybe it would be $100…maybe even as much as $500, which was the amount she had managed to get from the ATM after stealing Darren’s bank card. There was no way she’d be able to come up with $2,500, not with Darren having control of all the finances. Hell, she hadn’t even had a job since high school. She had no money of her own.
Just then, a man standing about six feet, two inches tall entered the room. He had a beard that resembled Abraham Lincoln’s—thick, but without a mustache. He wore a gray suit that appeared to be made of an expensive material that she couldn’t even begin to identify.
She stood as he entered and took his extended hand.
“I’m Vince Doolittle. Nice to meet you.”
“You can sit down.”
She sat back down. Sally walked toward the doorway, then turned to Doolittle. “I explained to her a little about the retainer. She understands it’s twenty-five hundred dollars and should cover most expenses, if not all.”
As Sally left, Doolittle shut the door. “So, you’re seeking to divorce your husband?”
“Yes. His name is Darren. He, uh…he doesn’t know I’m here. He has no idea I’m trying to divorce him. I really have no money except for what I was able to swipe off his bank card on the way here. Honestly I don’t, but I can’t be with him anymore. But I don’t think—actually, I know I can’t afford the retainer. I mean, all I could get out of the ATM was five hundred dollars.”
“Assuming he’s willing to cooperate, I can serve as the lawyer for you both, working on what the best options are for both of you. I can work up the paperwork for the separation, for division of assets, etc. If you don’t anticipate a fight, there is no reason we can’t do this. Do you think he would be able to come up with the full amount of the retainer?”
“No…he could, but he won’t. I…I need out of this marriage. I really have nowhere to go, no one to turn to. And I’m terrified to even go back there. If he finds out I came here today, if he finds out I took his bank card…oh God, I just wish he would die.” She drew in a sharp breath and slapped a hand over her mouth. “I didn’t mean that,” she cried, even though she wanted nothing more than to be rid of him, no matter what it took. She hugged herself in a tight grip, either hand clutching a shoulder. She was immediately reminded of the latest beating as her fingers touched the tender skin. “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.” Tears welled in her eyes and began coursing down her cheeks.
A look of faux compassion that reminded her of Sam Bernstein in those attorney commercials crawled over his features. “I work with a lot of divorcing couples. Some can split amicably while others can’t, but we are here to help if you choose.”
“If I choose?”
“You have three options. You and your husband can both hire me, and he can pay the retainer; you can borrow the money from a friend or family member; or, I can refer you to a service for low-income residents to help you draw up the paperwork. I wouldn’t recommend that choice, however, because you would be serving as your own attorney; and if he fights you on anything, or if he gets a lawyer, there is a strong possibility you could be in a whole world of hurt.”
As if I’m not already there.
There really was no choice. She’d heard once that freedom of choice was a myth, an illusion; that access to money was equivalent to freedom of choice, and if you didn’t have money there were no choices to make. She would just have to put up with the beatings…maybe convince herself that she was still in love. Maybe that was all she needed.
“I can’t do any of those things,” she said. “I have no access to my own money.”
“You can’t borrow from your mother?”
“No, no…not for this. She would…just the thought of her daughter getting a divorce would kill her. Sometimes I think she’d rather see me beat to death by my husband than to divorce him. You know, the whole ‘death do us part’ line?”
He stood, impatience replacing his faux compassion, extending his hand. “It’s been nice talking with you, but until you have money, there is nothing I can do.”
“But I thought you did a free consultation?”
“And you’ve been consulted. But I don’t represent for free.”
He motioned her toward the door.
Even Darren’s constant beatings never made her feel as humiliated as she did at that moment. Maybe divorcing this bastard was not a choice she had. Maybe she could forgive the beatings, and convince herself they were done for love. Maybe…maybe….
Her trip home was a two-mile walk that afforded her time to think about everything in her life, in particular her loveless and childless marriage to Darren. They hadn’t had sexual relations in four of the five years they’d been married. Growing up, she’d wanted a loving husband, lots of kids, plenty of money to raise them, and a big house with a swimming pool. She had none of those things, but what hurt the most was the children. She was thirty-six years old, and had done nothing with her life. Where had it gone? She’d gotten with Darren in high school and they had dated for ten years, with him refusing to marry her until they turned thirty.
After their lackluster wedding (another childhood dream unfulfilled), the beatings began, and the drinking. She couldn’t remember if he’d drank more than socially before their wedding, but it intensified afterwards to the point where he could never be seen without a bottle in his hand.
She remembered how he had recently stumbled into the bathroom. She could hear him mumbling through the bathroom door. “No children, no children ever. Keep the children away. No, no. I don’t want to be a surrogate. Please, I can’t stand this anymore. All these iterations, they’re killing me.” He said this in the most terrified voice she’d ever heard, then cried out to someone named Falcon. Then she heard him speak a name: “Alexis.”
She had no idea who these people were…they certainly weren’t anybody she’d ever been introduced to. Part of her hoped Alexis was some other woman Darren had met, and that the affair would lead to the divorce she so desperately craved. But that had been nothing but speculation, and after leaving the bathroom, Darren had clearly been in no mood to discuss anything. As usual, he let his fists do the talking. That’s when she decided she couldn’t wait for him to leave her for some other woman. She needed a divorce now. But thanks to that money-hungry shyster Doolittle, that prospect seemed farther away than ever.
Her desperate thoughts bounced around in her head until she got home, half an hour later. She slipped in through the garage’s side door and grabbed a pair of gardening gloves and a spade. Then she went back outside to get her hands and knees dirty. If Darren had gotten wise to her absence, she could say she was just weeding the flower bed to plant the bulbs her mother had given her a few months before. By mid-July, this was long overdue, and the weeds were taking over her garden.
She peered through the large picture window into the living room. She could clearly see the back of Darren’s recliner, but he wasn’t in it. The TV was blaring at full volume, however, and several cans and bottles of beer were strewn about the room.
Without warning, her face was shoved into the glass, hard. Dazed, she fell backwards, landing on her butt. Darren was standing there wearing nothing but a white tank top and a pair of cloth shorts. A thought, perhaps inappropriate for the circumstance, came to her; why did he cut the hair on his head so short if he let his body hair grow so wild?
Blood ran from her nose.
“Where have you been?” he demanded, reaching for her hair.
“I’ve been out here weeding.” She said this softly, almost as if she was embarrassed that she was still going to use that lie considering no weeds were pulled, and he had probably seen her arrive home.
“Bullshit.” He grabbed a handful of her long brown hair and shoved her face into the dirt. “You’ve been weeding all this time and haven’t managed to pull a single weed? And what were you doing with this?” He let go of her head and reached into her back pocket, snatching the bank card. A part of it must have been sticking out of her pocket. “And this?” He reached around to her front pocket and pulled out the wad of cash. “What the fuck were you planning on doing? Hire someone to kill me?”
“No,” she said, looking down.
“No, you were going to steal all my money and leave. You’re not smart enough to hire a hit man.” He threw the cash in the air as if it were nothing to him. “And this isn’t enough to hire a lawyer. You plan on bleeding me dry, after all I’ve done for you?”
He pulled her head back and shoved it into the dirt again. “Eat the dirt, bitch. That’s all you’re good for. Eat it.”
He had both his hands on her head, pushing it down into the dirt. She remained calm while praying it would all be over soon. Just kill me, she thought. Please, just let it end. Then she remembered the spade just below her. Could she reach it? She stretched her hand underneath her, grabbing for it, but it wasn’t there.
“Looking for this?” Darren let go of her head briefly, just long enough to pick up the spade. “I could slit your throat if I wanted to. But you know I won’t. What would be the fun in that?”
He pushed her face into the dirt again, and then got off her and went into the house. She could see him through the window as he sat back down in the recliner, set the spade next to him, and cracked open a beer as if nothing had happened.
She cried in the bedroom for the rest of the day, just waiting for eight o’clock to come along. Darren fell asleep in the recliner at that time, like clockwork.
Eight o’clock came, and like always, he fell asleep. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on one’s perspective, he didn’t stay asleep. As she lay in bed, he came into the room in a drunken stupor. He hadn’t showered or shaved in weeks, so his stench was intolerable as he bounded on her like she was his prey, ready for the taking.
“Get off me!” she screamed and pushed at him, but he was too heavy and tore at her clothes. She ripped at his white tank top, scratching his shoulders and face, but he kept on. He grabbed her breasts so hard she cried out in pain—it felt like he was trying to pull them off—and then he moved to her pants. It was clear where it was heading. Her foot connected with his groin, but that only seemed to encourage him, for he became more aggressive, tearing her pants off the rest of the way.
“You’re mine, bitch.”
And then he forced himself inside her.
She still bore the emotional and physical bruises and scars from previous beatings, but he had never raped her, and she’d never thought he would…until now.
“Help!” she tried to scream, but he silenced her with a punch to the mouth, breaking a tooth. Her cry for help turned into an uncontrollable sob.
The pain was enormous; she couldn’t breathe. Blood poured from her mouth and down her throat. She could also feel blood pouring from her vagina, soaking the bed. The tooth that had broken off lodged itself in her throat, causing her to choke. She tried to plead with him, tell him she couldn’t breathe, to slap at him, but he just held her arms down and fucked her. “You think you’re leaving me? I have a right to fuck my wife,” he said with a grin.
She managed to swallow the tooth, and as she lay there taking the abuse, she tried thinking of another place, somewhere else but there, but only nightmarish images filled her mind. She imagined herself dead on a blood-soaked mattress. That was how this was going to end, right? He was going to kill her—if not tonight, then sometime soon. If she survived this, it would only be the beginning of this horrible new act.
Darren wasn’t holding her left arm as securely as her right, which allowed some mobility. He seemed to be concentrating so much on his act that she didn’t think he would notice if she were to wiggle her arm completely free. She knew there was a gun in the nightstand next to the bed. If she could only reach it, she could end this.
He punched her in the nose, releasing that arm to do so. She’d been punched in the face many times before, but it always came as a surprise, even now. Blood gushed from her nose, but she somehow maintained the presence of mind to move her left arm. When he put his hand back down to support his weight, he didn’t seem to notice that he no longer held both her arms; he just continued thrusting away, seeming to take immense pleasure from his heinous deed.
“I have a right to fuck you, bitch,” he said, leaning in close, his face almost touching hers. His breath was hot and smelled like sewage. He licked the blood pouring from her nose and sucked it from her lips.
She managed to scoot toward the nightstand, twisting her arm backward to get to the drawer. The gun, she knew, was fully loaded. Darren had gotten it “for protection,” and always kept it loaded.
She concentrated on opening the drawer; it came open with surprising ease, and the gun was right on top. She twisted her wrist around and felt the weapon’s cold metallic grip. Darren continued to lick her face, enticed by all of the blood. Soon there would be more, and not hers.
Gun in hand, she tried to move so she could shoot him without shooting herself in the process. Because he was lying right on top of her, she just couldn’t turn the gun the way she needed to. Should she just shoot into the ceiling? That would certainly get him off of her, right? Maybe not…he might just punch her again, take away the gun, and then shoot her. She couldn’t take the risk. Any shot had to count.
“Darren,” she croaked. Her voice was thick and low. He didn’t hear her. “Darren,” she repeated, this time a little louder.
“Shut up, bitch,” he said and pushed his hips against hers. At that moment she realized she was going to have to fuck him back, to drive her hips against his. That way he might lift off her a bit, giving her a better angle to shoot him. The thought disgusted her, but was the only option she could think of.
“Oh, the bitch is getting a little feisty,” he said, and lifted himself off her just enough to give her a clear shot.
The explosion was the loudest thing she had ever heard. The bullet passed through his nose, destroying it completely. He collapsed on her, blood gushing from his face and into her mouth as he lay on top of her, dying. She didn’t notice it at the time, but she would conclude later, when the pregnancy test came up positive, that he was ejaculating as well.
The memory of that night lingered on. The nightmares grew worse as the pregnancy progressed. Darren’s death was ruled self-defense and no charges were filed, but a part of her hated the fact she’d killed him. He was a bastard and probably deserved what he’d gotten, but that did not change in any way the fact that she had taken another human life. Nothing could change that. And every night, the image of a noseless monster ravaging her haunted her sleep.
Shawna stayed in the house. Even after the horror, she couldn’t leave North Branch, Michigan, a small village north of Lapeer that had been her home all her life. But there was one unexpected benefit. As the surviving spouse, she gained full control of Darren’s bank account, an account that had sizable funds. She had no idea where he’d gotten all of his money, but she didn’t question it. She wasn’t going to have to worry about that ever again.
A part of her missed Darren. She had been miserable with him, but life as his wife was a life in which she didn’t have to make decisions or think for herself. It was a life of just existing, something that lent some comfort. But she knew when these thoughts came she was being silly; it was the mentality he had forced on her for all those years. Five years they’d been married, and not once had he treated her as an equal, as someone he loved.
As the months went by, things got a little easier. She even got her broken tooth fixed, thanks in no small part to her newly acquired “fortune.” She gave birth the following spring to a beautiful, seven pounds, thirteen ounces girl she named Alexis. She never looked at Alexis as anything other than her daughter. She never spoke of Darren, but he was always there in the back of her mind, haunting her dreams, coming to her again and again.
Was this normal?
After the incident, she started going to a local non-denominational church. Even though her parents had always been religious, she had never thought much about it. But as the years went on, as the ostensible message of love and acceptance became more clearly one of hate and division, Shawna stopped attending, causing a rift between her and her mother.
“Mom, I’ll find meaning and forgiveness in my own way…without the baggage,” she explained. “I just don’t like the message…the attitude behind the sermons. Seems like Pastor Scott hates everyone and everything…I don’t like it.”
Her mother took this as a personal affront. “No matter the circumstances, you killed another human being, Shawna. You’re a murderer.”