Tommy Flies, 3

Tommy is still crying and still cannot see when he slides against the side of his house. He tugs on his shirt until he can see where he is and wipes his eyes and nose with his sleeve. Patches barks again, and Tommy’s body flushes red and hot. He feels a shameful nakedness. He does not want his mother to wake up and see this. She might scold him and be disappointed, or scream and run away in fear, or hate him forever. Tommy whimpers at all of the possible horrors.

He grabs his windowsill and pulls himself inside. A lush design of dew-stained flowers greets him as he enters; the wallpaper is washed out and nearly invisible in the darkness of the room, but its familiarity cools Tommy’s nerves. As he floats into his bedroom, he presses his palms against the paper daffodils and uses them as a lesson: he can control his movements as long as he has resistance, something to push or pull against. The revelation excites him, but at this moment he is too exhausted and overwhelmed to explore it.

So, for now, Tommy keeps things simple: he closes his eyes and pretends that he is an astronaut, returning to his spaceship and the comfort of friends within. He pushes away from his ceiling and falls to his blanket like a feather against dead air.

Spark, 2

When he brought you to me, he wouldn’t allow me to hold you. They had sheathed your blue torso in cloth cut short at the knees, keeping most of your body dry as your feet and ankles bathed in ice. It was when I saw your eyes that I realized your screams had long ended; in their place had formed a calmness, thick like your father’s, but without his distance. I put my finger on your forehead and named you, and you cooed with something like delight, as though your feet could ever be so easily forgotten.

Your survival instincts were always strong, my girl; you never winced or flinched when your father pierced your arm with a third (or a fourth) needle of strange liquid, some antibiotic or analgesic or topical cream. I never knew what they were except by their odd, cryptic names, which slipped out of my mind a moment after your father spoke them. He wanted to keep me in the dark. It made his work, his attempts to “fix” you, easier.

Spark, 1

I know the anger inside you, my daughter; I felt its heat inside me, too, at the moment you escaped my womb and left charcoal scars across my thighs. Yes: Even as a newborn, your feet were ablaze, and my heavy breaths of labor wrenched into cries of shocked pain.

Your father, his hands gloved in latex, nearly dropped you in surprise. When he held you up to the light, I could see his bare stomach through the black hole your soles had burnt into his white scrubs. Your father was a tall, thin man, with slick hair and a steady coldness in his eyes, which only faltered for a moment as he offered you to the sky and the world — naked and screaming with life — and inspected your feet.

The flames were small, he said to his assistants, but fierce and constant. He ignored his nurse’s bloodless pallor and sent her to draw an ice bath. “Tell no one,” he said, to her and to me in equal measure. Oh, I should have known then, my dearest, what he would do to us. But I was young, twenty years old; I relied on your father to pay my tuition. I relied on your father for far too many things back then.

Tommy Flies, 2

Suburban backyards cloaked by tall wooden fences stretch out before him and behind. He begins to float to Miss Sally’s backyard and her pool, where his mother let him swim for the first time just five months ago. But a plastic tarp covers the pool now, and Tommy does not want to be banished forever from Miss Sally’s house by somehow damaging that shield.

He tries to swim against the air current, pushing his hands out in front of his eyes and focusing his vision toward his room. Instead the wind upends him, rotating his body like a windmill blade. His pajama shirt slips over his eyes, and the world grows fuzzy and coarse, and he begins to cry. Tommy’s three-year-old cocker spaniel, Patches, leaps from a mossy doghouse to bark at the sky.

New logo.

As this new site crawls out, gradually, into the light, I have made the first of what I presume will be many tweaks and changes: I’ve updated the logo image. This particular adjustment is notable, because instead of a hastily crafted fusion of stock photos, the Strangers in the Brain logo is now an original illustration by my brother, Tim Sebian-Lander. (You can see a larger version of the illustration on the About page.)

Not too far down the road, Tim will be providing illustrations for each of the stories you’ll be able to find here; I’ll make a note as they are added to the stories in progress.

Tim is insanely talented, and you can see a vast array of evidence to support that notion at his website.


As far as all that crawling goes: “Tommy Flies” will continue tomorrow, and our second story, “Spark,” will begin on Friday. For at least the next few months, Strangers will follow that Monday-Wednesday-Friday updating schedule. Keep an eye out.

Tommy Flies, 1

The first time that Tommy flies, he is not prepared. He wakes up floating through a crisp November night beneath a half moon, looking toward his bedroom window and paddling his bare feet as if submerged in water. He is wearing only his baggy pajamas (his favorite pair, a trail of blue rabbits hopping down the leg seams). Tommy, unguarded by thick gloves or one of his mother’s scarves, shivers harder than he can ever remember. The wind screeches into his ears until they grow numb.

Tommy cannot control his body. He throws his arms against the sky and aims home, but drifts afield, like a paper plane in a reckless wind.


Welcome to Strangers in the Brain. This is an ongoing, ever-growing collection of short stories, written by Chuck Sebian-Lander, posted in bite-size chunks for your convenience. Updates will be posted multiple times each week. As the collection grows, you’ll be able to use the Stories option on the menu bar to choose stories to read in pieces or as a whole.


If you’re already a reader, scroll down to see the latest writing.

If you’re new, you can start an ongoing story or read older, completed stories at the Library.

Illustrations by Tim Sebian-Lander.