Dylan Gibson


recent fiction and poetry


These are some recent pieces of writing I've made from 2021-2022.

Dead Things

First/top piece on this page

This is the first chapter of a mystery novel I'm writing entitled "Dead Things," which is about an autistic queer teenager in the 90s named Salem trying to solve the murder of his friend and crush in a seaside town. A lot of the aspects of his job at a nursery are inspired by my own job, also at a plant nursery.

Headland Ghosts

Second piece on this page

This is a poem I wrote for an assignment in which the prompt was to write about "a place you love the most." This is one of the most heartfelt pieces of poetry I've written, and it was a finalist in the poetry category of the San Francisco Writer's Conference writing contest.

Gorges, Nevada

Third/last piece on this page

I wrote this piece for the San Francisco Writer's Conference writing contest, and it placed second in the YA and children's literature section. It was primarily inspired by a town I drove though in Nevada, aglow with casino lights cast upon dusty houses. I wondered about the people that lived there, and I wrote a story from it.

Novel excerpt (2022)

Dead Things (Chapter 1)

Mr. Ripley came in two days after his son’s death to order roses for the funeral, and I, being the only one not on break, had to explain, shaking and fidgeting (both of us), that we didn’t sell cut flowers, only whole plants.

“We’re a nursery,” I said, and gestured at packed shelves of tall sage and blooming orange poppies. He nodded and adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, wiped them on his crisp white button-down, and then tucked them into his jacket pocket, defeating the whole point.

“Sorry to bother you,” he said and walked back down the steep pebbled driveway toward his 1987 Rolls Royce. I felt bad, guilty, for feeling annoyed. It wasn’t his fault that people came in looking for cut flowers several times a week. Maybe it’s not common knowledge that nurseries aren’t for dead things? Wedding and funeral flowers come from hothouses or hot places. Only plants like yellow sticky monkey-flowers and grayish sages and scratchy grasses that no one ever really buys grow at Salthill Nursery—things that can withstand the near-constant winds and fog so chilling that even in those summer months, I’d duck into the closet-sized breakroom to warm my fingertips. I’d feel bad for the flowers at the nursery sometimes because they never got bought for parties, and even Emerson’s teasing about my “plant sympathy” never stopped me from bringing home and trying to nurse back to health the half-wilted succulents my boss said we couldn’t sell. I thought about offering Mr. Ripley one I’d been told to compost, but I knew not everyone found half-dead echeveria elegans as lovely as I did.

There was a store five miles away, though, that sold bouquets of roses and lilies, kept alive by sharp-smelling fertilizers in the water, preserved like what morticians do to bodies, an illusion of life.

“Mr. Ripley!” I yelled.

He stopped, dust swirling around him in the wind.

“Fernwell Florals! They open at eleven!”

He nodded after a few long seconds, walked back up the driveway, and handed me a dark gray envelope with a metallic red wax seal that felt too beautiful to remove. We didn’t have another customer for the next hour, giving me way too much time to alternate between thinking about how the only person I’d ever kissed was dead and rereading the funeral invitation that beckoned me in the kind of looping, nearly illegible cursive I’d assumed was reserved for baby showers and birthdays. Sales had been slow all of June, even before they’d found Emerson Ripley in the parking lot of Westgrove Liquor and people had become too paranoid to care much about their gardens. His body had been by the dumpster where kids like me would smoke pot while Henry Turner, the stoned night shift cashier, would ignore us because at least we weren’t stealing vodka like the people Emerson hung out with, who didn’t even have to because they had huge allowances and fake IDs good enough to work in places like Westgrove.

They’d found Emerson at 7:38 in the morning, just as the morning fog was beginning to let up, drifting back towards the sea but still heavy enough that the eucalyptus and cypress were submerged in mist, like a flooded forest. I don’t work Tuesdays, but if Emerson had died a day later, I might have been the one to find him. I would have seen the shape of his limp body out of the corner of my eye as I biked to the nursery, stopping so quickly I’d have flown off, skinning my arm on the pavement. My skin would have stung as I stepped over cigarette butts and eucalyptus leaves that brought an uncanny fragrance to the moment, almost but not quite masking the coppery smell as I stood over Emerson’s corpse, his neck bent back gracefully, his chest soaked red, half his face torn away to reveal imperfect white bone. I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Ripley can bear to smell eucalyptus now. I used to wonder if the tourist who found the body could, but rumor is he got a book deal from his photos.


The Ripley’s house was two stories and made of cedar painted an strange reddish color, an odd choice that required constant refreshing, as sea air peeled and curled paint. I admired well-kept bushes of lavender as I stepped to the doorway, trying to distract myself from my own heartbeat. I didn’t know if I was more nervous about the prospect of a social gathering or potentially being in the same place as Emerson’s killer—a fear that felt true and real despite the police swearing it had to be a passer-through, not anyone we’d know, not any of us.

I’d assumed that Emerson’s “celebration of life,” like any Ripley family party, was exclusive, one of many reasons I’d been surprised by his father handing me the invitation. Emerson wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know we were so close—if close is even the word I could properly use for how we were around one another. (It was not.) But now I couldn’t help but to wonder how he’d really felt.

It wasn’t until I walked into the great room in a black suit borrowed from my brother, the jacket snug around my stomach, that I realized my entire grade had been invited. And yet, he’d been carrying the invitation with my name on it, Mr. Ripley, and with no stamp and address, which felt like it should mean...something. I stood paralyzed for a moment as I tried to take in the house, clutching the little echeveria elegans, browned at the top from sun exposure. It felt, the more I’d thought about it, like the right offering.

“Salem!” called a far-too joyful voice behind me, sloppy and raspy and tinted with the cadence of an almost-southern accent, though to my knowledge, Silas Maybenn had lived in Westgrove forever. I turned to see him grinning, teeth slightly yellowed where gum and tooth met and curly auburn hair sweat-stuck to his face. He tried to wrap his arm around me, forgetting the half-empty wine glass in his hand and spilling it down my back as I shielded my little succulent. The smell of wine hit me hard. I hadn’t drank in a long time, not since the second-to-last time I saw Emerson alive and almost well.

Late that night, we’d climbed the hill of San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio after a party in the city that he’d begged me to attend. We’d crawled under a warped spot of the metal fence, grinding dust and dead leaves into our knees. By the time we’d reached the top of the rows of bone-white gravestones, Emerson had thrown up twice and I, a lifelong atheist, had started to wonder if God was real. I threw myself onto my knees on the cold May asphalt that split the cemetery in half, clutching by the neck the wine responsible for Emerson’s nausea and my poor motor skills, and stared into the sky, orange-tinted by San Franciscan light pollution that dulled starlight and muted the intensity of the inky night.

Emerson sprawled dramatically on the soft grass, his black hair blending into the shadows.

“Emerson?” I said, recoiling at the sound of my own slurred voice. He didn’t reply, and I felt regretfully more sober as I remembered that this was always how it was. He only ever spoke to me on his own terms.

“I wish I could see home from here,” he mused ten minutes later, looking out at the bay and away from me.

“It smells sorta like it,” I said, moving closer to him. “Like salt.”

“No,” he snapped, “salt doesn’t smell. Dead kelp and dead fish and dead whales and dead plankton, that’s what makes that scent. I thought you woulda known that...you and, you and nature, and all...” He trailed off, his voice sleepy. “I learned it in biology the last day of school. I thought of you, you know.”

My head was too cloudy to respond to what was, for him, an unusual act of kindness. He reached back over me to grab the wine, and for a moment, the smell of it was stronger than the dead kelp and the dead fish and the dead whales and the dead plankton. It was stronger than anything I’d ever know again.

“Great party?” Silas said now, his tone implying he was making a joke, but one which, like most jokes, I didn’t understand.

“It’s a funeral.”

“I know. God, loosen up. Emerson woulda loved it.”

He lifted his glass to his lips. His brows furrowed as he realized it was miraculously and

suddenly empty, and he walked away mid-conversation to remedy it, disappearing into the crowd of people in the Ripleys’ impossibly vast living room, the dark hardwood floor beneath them so spotless that it was almost a mirror, black dresses and suits moving in the reflection like ghosts.

Poem (2021) | Finalist in san Francisco writer's conference (poetry section)

Headland Ghosts

My mother drives her decades-old red Toyota pickup truck through a tunnel that shines a dull


And takes a minute to get through (I try to hold my breath the whole time, for luck. I cannot).

A bright mist swirls around the vehicle

As we pass through clumps of white houses

Adorned with moss,

Clotheslines hanging with the garments of strangers.

An old chapel with a roof as red as clay

Pierces through the fog,

Out of place and time,

A guardian too old to protect anyone anymore.

A dark lagoon stands still,

Glassy and severe,

As the road curves and

A blurry grey beach comes into view.

My mother kisses my head

When we finally reach summer camp.

A lady with dark hair and hiking boots

Leads me to the other campers

And I am welcomed somewhere strange and new

For the first time.

I am six years old, I have never been happier.

The dark-haired lady leads


Rambunctious, tumbling

Disorganized children

To the beach,

Herding us away from the water’s edge

Like lambs

As we shrilly ask why we can’t touch

The ink blue ocean.

She stumbles with her words, and tells us

That this is the edge of the world

And I believe her.

Bird bones scatter the lagoon like a morbid art piece

Bleached by the sun that seldom shows itself

Through the expanses of fog that wrap themselves

Around the hills like a frigid quilt.

My eyes water from the piercing cold

As I watch a great blue heron soar,

A blurry petrichor (I could still see the colors of smells back then, petrichor being grey and blue)

Through my gaze

Flying into the mist.

My ear presses to the trunk of a eucalyptus

As I hear the faint trickle of water

Like a rainstick

Course through the bark and into the ground

Feeding climbing trails of poison oak

And blackberry

Growing burgundy, summer is already fading towards fall

My new friend, a blonde girl

Who, like me, perpetually has

Sticks and leaves matted in her hair,

Tells me we are both witches,

And that she sees ghosts floating

Through thickets of coyote brush

And cypress.

I cry, I do not want to see ghosts.

I am ten years old.

A deer rests in the fog, unspeaking

These trails mean nothing to her as she

Chews sage and coyote brush with her

Human-like teeth,

I find a sense of odd understanding within both of our sets of large eyes

I have doe eyes, my mother has told me.

Eroding cliffs the color of coyote fur

Form a narrow path to an outlook

Where paw-prints are permanently preserved

In concrete

Outside an off-white lighthouse,


Rusted and tired as the dim light

Inside of it eternally glows.

Power lines are overtaken by ivy, no longer

Climbing, but now resting

Amongst the wires

A nest for an osprey.

I creep through a tunnel amidst

The blackberry bushes,

Smelling sawdust and


A smell I could never quite place for too many years.

The clearing in the brush is

My own nest.

Abandoned Batteries, concrete structures

An unnatural molted pelt of oranges and neon green and chipping spray paint

Being overtaken by red and green ice plant, a plant never meant to be here at all,

Tendrils clinging to the walls

For dear life

Haunted, almost, as if

They’d ever even been properly lived in to begin with.

The March water flows unwaveringly from the lagoon

To the sea,

Numbing my legs and fingers as I chase

My cold friends

Who reek of seaweed and salt

Just as I now do.

I am fourteen.

Otters dart below

The pond’s surface,

Racing through feathery reeds

And brown cattails,

Only emerging to glance in my direction

With beady eyes,

Dark as the water itself.

A clay-colored coyote leisurely

Saunters into the road,

A silvery fish hanging out his

Fanged mouth.

He stares into my doe-eyes,

Knowing something that I

Used to remember,

But can no longer place.

He trots off into the forest.

I feel my own ghost pacing under the crumbling roofs,

Small and soft and unknowing.

I hope that if I reach out, I’ll

Somehow remember--no, regain--

The unknowing and youth I left here,

That these walls would stand forever, unchanging.

I am now sixteen years old.

I am not crying. The wind is just stinging my eyes again.

short story (2021) | runner up in san francisco writer's conference contest (young adult/children's fiction category)

Gorges, Nevada

The day that my sister Marina and her boyfriend (a real nice guy, she’d said Jameson was, a family man) were killed by a eighteen-wheeler on the highway to Salt Lake City, I was kissing my best friend in the forever-expanding stretch of desert behind Red Saddle Casino. The sky was turning a near-blinding shade of coral as he and I sat in the bed of his dad’s beat-up gray Toyota pickup, the metal heated by the now-sinking afternoon sun everywhere our bodies weren’t touching, trapping us in our places.

Strands of his black hair were pressed to his face, held there by sweat as he pulled away from me. He stared blankly at the space between my neck and shoulders toward the skyline of russet cliffs and pale salt flats. This had always been a habit of his, averting his gaze at even the briefest notion of shame. It was the same blank stare he’d given his mother when he’d nicked himself on the cheek with his dad’s straight razor when we were six, trying to be grown ups by shaving our milk-mustaches. The scar from that day still showed faintly on his skin as I silently sat in front of him, shifting slightly, waiting for him to speak. His hands clasped one another, fingers weaving and unweaving—pickpocket fingers, as my mother would call them, despite Cal being the most honest man I’d ever met.

“Was that okay?” I finally mumbled, the quiet too overwhelming for me to handle.

“I guess,” he said back, still looking over my shoulder.

“You guess?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“It was my idea, Jude.”

“We can pretend it didn’t happen, if you want.”

“I don’t wanna pretend.” He sighed and looked off at the cliffs again. “I promise I won’t pretend.”

I don’t remember what he said after that, though if I had to guess, it was probably nothing at all. There wasn’t a whole lot to say, no real way to address the fact that two boys were kissing in the middle of Gorges, Nevada.

By the time I’d walked myself home, Cal’s promise ringing through my head like how sounds echoed through the dusty gorges our town was named for, the sun was long set, hidden behind the rusty-orange mountains, leaving the sky a dark indigo as I opened the door of my family’s one-story, crate-shaped house. Sun-bleached teal paint chips curled off the door, revealing the original dirt-grey hue that my father had worked tirelessly to cover up when I was in elementary school, only about a year before his heart gave out. The leaves on the plants near the doorway were tinged brown at their edges, suffering from the hot sun and my mother’s lack of watering; even our succulents and cacti were dry or dead.

The last thing I remember about that day was opening the door to the sound of choking sobs.

For several months, all through grief and condolence casseroles and memorial services, the promise Cal made to me existed as a constant impression, a white afterimage, like you see after staring into the sun. I promise I won’t pretend, I promise I promise I promise I promise.

The words still rang through my head in August as I sat at the counter of Tumbleweed Thrift, the secondhand store I’d all but taken over. It had been Marina’s dream to keep the store going after Mom had stopped bothering to leave the house, and thirdhand, I guess, now it was mine. The grief that confined Mom clung to me in traces, like the stubborn Nevada dust that stuck to stained storefronts and my shoes, but still I wiped down the chipped teacups and discolored stuffed animals and yellowed family photo albums in every window display and on every shelf. Not a speck on them. For Marina.

I’d just finished ringing up a tired mom buying her kid back-to-school clothes while he desperately begged her for a plush frog that had sat on a high shelf for months (I gave it to him for free), when I looked up to see Cal. He stood next in line holding a transparent plastic container full of clothes and the bedsheets I recognized from the countless times I’d been in his room, and the navy blue comforter we’d lie on, staring up at the popcorn-textured ceiling. When we were little, we’d found monsters and dinosaurs in the odd shadows that dimpled the surface.

I’d had to hear from two guys in front of me in line at 7-11 that he was going. Away from here. To college. We hadn’t said more than a few words to each other in months. And even before that, before everything, he hadn’t told me he was applying. Somehow, I hadn’t considered it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart enough. He was, and his parents were always pushing him to enter our county’s science fair and study hard for tests that even our teachers didn’t care about. I’d just never thought he could pay for it.

“When are you leaving?” I asked.

He stared at me (not quite at my eyes, more behind my shoulder). “Um. Today?”


“I got a scholarship.”

I’d meant how as in transportation. To California.

“They really liked my essay, I’m sort of in shock.” He laughed nervously.

He didn’t look in shock. And I guess my face said what I thought, because he fidgeted. That same averted gaze. Those same pickpocket fingers intertwined and untangled from one another. “I just. I knew you were still in shock…” I swore I’d never heard him say in shock ever before, and yet it was the only thing now he seemed to be able to say. “...About Marina and all, plus—” He closed his mouth silently and placed the bin on the counter. “I’ve gotta do a few things. Come by around seven to say goodbye? I’m leaving whenever Josiah gets there.”

Josiah, apparently, was the other how, a dude Cal had met on a forum for people going to NorCal University. Someone picking him up on the way.

When I showed up at six thirty, there was already a car out front (“He drives a Chrysler Imperial!” Cal had told me while lifting from the bin things that were almost all ripped or patched. Mom wouldn’t have accepted donations like those. But I did.) It was pale robin’s-egg blue with silver hubcaps that appeared to be meeting Nevada dust for the first time in their lives. Josiah, leaning against it, noticed me first, waving a polite hello as Cal tossed a single duffle bag into the trunk. Taking his weight off the car, Josiah stood up straight and brushed specks of grime off his khaki pants (a horrible choice for Nevada heat).

“You must be the famous Jude I’ve heard so much about!” He grinned as he said it, and something about his expression made the compliment feel rehearsed.

Cal finally looked up, startled, slamming the car trunk loudly. “Oh! Jude! I didn’t think I’d see you again!”

I didn’t need to see his hands to know he was lying. I smiled half-heartedly, the same way I’d been smiling at neighbors for months as they’d asked gingerly how I’d been doing “since...well...you know.”

“Wanted to see you one last time before you abandon me.” I laughed, though it wasn’t a joke.

“We’re just about to leave. You got here in time,” he said as he cleared his throat, walking over to me with a certain caution, hesitant, as if I were a feral animal. He opened his mouth again, like he had something to say, but he didn’t utter a word. I grabbed his hand suddenly, squeezed it in my palm. He pulled away the moment I loosened my grip, staring like I’d hit him.

“C’mon, we don’t have many hours of sunlight left!” Josiah yelled from the car, though I hadn’t noticed him get in.

“Well. Um.” Cal stared at the space between my neck and shoulders, only this time the cliffs and salt flats weren’t behind me.

Until then, even with the months of silence between us, I’d been convinced that if I only wanted that boy enough, the world would eventually give him to me. Maybe it was all that time in the shop, watching old things get new lives. Maybe I’d been thinking memories worked the same way. But as the car door slammed shut and the sound of Josiah Carter’s Chrysler Imperial faded away down the road, I knew all at once that my absence would not make him any fonder of me. I knew the contents of that duffle bag would one day end up in some collegetown Goodwill, and that in his rush of college parties and old money and new clothes, I’d be altogether forgotten, tucked within a blurry nest of glimmering casinos and cigarette butts and strip malls and rows of trailers, dust-stained.