Fiction

Curious Fictions

Hey all—I was invited to join Curious Fictions, which is a site where authors post their (previously published) short stories. The stories are free to read, but you are also free to subscribe to an author (say, me!) for a few bucks a month. Sort of like Patreon, but without the constant updating, and limited to published stories.

I like this because I have a bunch of stories published over the years that are now essentially out of print or unavailable, so having a place to post them where anyone interested can read them is great. And if a few folks (for example, you!) decide to throw me a few bucks in exchange, that’d be fine.

I’ve got a couple of stories up right now (Glad & Big, The Script, and Charlie O’Brien Lights a Dramatic Cigarette). If there’s a little interest from folks, I’ll be adding more stories in the coming months. In the mean time, let me know what you think!

“Black House” is Live

Chapter One of Black House, a novel featuring my character Philip K. Marks, has gone live over at theblackhousesite.wordpress.com, and you should go read it! I’ll be posting new chapters every day this month until the whole novel is up. Then it will stay up until June 15th, and then I’m deleting the site. Why? I’m not entirely sure. Let’s see what happens.

The novel is an experiment for me; I was inspired by an old puzzle book that was a house in the form of a maze, so I wrote a novel that is really a maze. It’s kind of trippy and strange, but I really like it, and hope you do too.

The book release schedule is basically 1-2 chapters every day, so you can check the website every day and find at least one new chapter, often two. I’d encourage you to let me know what you think as the story progresses—it’s be interesting to hear what y’all think in the midst of reading it.

And don’t forget—June 15th, I’m, deleting it. If you want to save the chapters for future reading, do it before then.

Enjoy!

Another Novel Experiment

Anyone who pays attention to my wee blog here knows that now and again I try a little literary experiment. I’ve Tweeted short stories, I self-published six novellas that tied together as a new Avery Cates novel, I post free short stories here all the time.

Another experiment: A novel published as a transient blog. Here’s the details:

The Novel: Black House, featuring my character Philip K. Marks, who has appeared in short stories published at Buzzy Magazine (A Meek and Thankful Heart), Black Denim Lit (Howling on for More), and the anthologies Hanzai Japan (Three Cups of Tea) and Crimes by Moonlight (sift, almost invisible, through).

Here’s the synopsis:

All his life, Philip K. Marks has been a magnet for the strange, the surreal, the slightly impossible. His investigations into each macabre mystery that he’s stumbled into have always taken something from him, something essential. Old before his time, Marks is a shadow of what he used to be—but the strange and unusual still finds him. And he still can’t resist seeking answers.

At a rare upward swing in his fortunes, he finds himself able to imagine a more normal, stable existence for the first time in years. If he can just keep his head down. If he can just stay sober. If he can just resist the urge to help the little girl whose father went to look at an apartment and never came back. If he can stay out of the Black House.

The Blog: theblackhousesite.wordpress.com

The Deal: I’ll begin posting chapters of the novel on 5/1/17. I’ll post at least one chapter a day throughout May until the final chapter hits on 5/31/17. The novel will remain up until 6/15/17, and then I’m taking the whole site down.

Why? I dunno. To see what happens. To how it feels. To let anyone interested read what I think is a pretty cool story.

Things To Come 2017

I’m not one to play along with all those memes about how 2016 was a terrible year and how ALL the celebrities we love are dying and all that. Time is a fundamental thread of the universe, but our perception of it is artificial and, to use a scientific term, bullshit. 2016 was a collection of moments, just like any other, arbitrarily assigned to a grouping so we can all type out jokes about who should die next.

Well, it’s going to be over soon, and if you’re the sort to assign some kind of significance to this purely superficial changeover, it’s as good a time as any to assess and reflect, and to look forward to the year to come.

NEXT YEAR IN SOMERS

Since you’re here and you read those first two paragraphs yet you’re still reading, I can safely assume you’re interested in the things I write. That’s troubling for you, frankly, but since we’re here, now, in this moment together let’s soldier on. What can you expect from me in 2017?

January 9, 2017: THE BOOM BANDS (Ustari Cycle #5)

The final novella in the most recent Ustari Cycle books drops from Gallery Books on 1/9/17. You can order it at the usual purveyors of eBooks: Amazon, B&N, Google, iTunes, Kobo. Here’s the description:

For blood mages, the twenty-first century means hiding in the shadows, keeping society unaware of their incredible powers. The power-hungry sort plot quietly to manufacture tragedies bloody enough to give them the gas they need to cast monumental spells. Lem is a little lower down the ladder than that, bleeding nobody but himself, skating by on small Cantrips, cons, and charms.

Lately though, his days have taken a strange turn, always the same and yet minutely different. Since hooking up with this group that wants to utilize his uncanny ability to write and alter spells for their Big Heist, Lem’s constantly feeling like he’s forgetting something, like something is calling to him from the beyond. Perhaps most bizarre of all, his best friend Mags is nowhere to be found—and the police seem to want to help Lem locate him. The po-po being helpful to a Trickster like him? Now he knows something is up.

No one asked me if using the word “po-po” was okay. It’s not. Such is the ways of marketing. Anyways, here’s a trailer for you:

January 10, 2017: MECH: AGE OF STEEL

The very next day, this fantastic anthology featuring one of my stories is set to go, though I’m not 100% sure of this release date. Here’s the description from the publisher:

MECH: Age of Steel is a collection of 24 mecha-inspired short stories in the spirit of Pacific Rim, Macross, Transformers, Robotech, Gundam, Evangelion, and more. MECH features a vast array of tales featuring giant, human-piloted, robot war machines wreaking havoc in blasted cities, or on dystopian landscapes, or around space stations and asteroids against a cosmic backdrop, or wherever, you-name-it! MECH is anchored by authors such as Kevin J. Anderson, Ramez Naam, Jason Hough, Jeremy Robinson, and Jody Lynn Nye. This anthology features illustrations for every story and is the perfect companion to its sister title, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. So strap in. Activate your interface array. Let’s rock!

That’s some august company. Here’s an essay I wrote about the inspiration for my story, “The Bonus Situation.”

AMAZON | B&N

March 1, 2017: THE KENDISH HIT: AN AVERY CATES SHORT STORY

What can I say? I love me some Avery Cates. Hopefully some of y’all still do, too, or else I’ll have a lot of digital copies of this one lying around. “The Kendish Hit” is a short story set about ten years before the events of The Electric Church. I haven’t set up the pre-orders yet because I’m incompetent (the cover shown here isn’t final-final, either), and I haven’t created a synopsis either. Most of that will be coming first week of January.

The story involves Avery’s first attempt to promote himself from street rat to Gunner—a promotion that puts him in touch with someone who will become a vital ally in times to come, and tests Avery’s commitment to his chosen profession. It rocks.

I’ll update this post when the pre-orders go live.

AMAZON | B&N | GOOGLE | KOBO

August 1, 2017: URBAN ENEMIES

In August, another anthology bearing one of my stories will become reality. This year I worked with the awesome Stephen Blackmoore on a story in Urban Allies, which saw urban fantasy writers pair up their characters and universes; our story “Crossed Wires” was a lot of fun and stayed true to both our universes. Urban Enemies isn’t a collaborative anthology; my story “Nigsu Ga Tesgu” is all mine, and is part of the Ustari Cycle. Let’s just say if you’ve ever been curious about the inner life of Mika Renar, this story is for you.

Here’s the description of the anthology, coming from Gallery books:

Villains have all the fun—everyone knows that—and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side! The top villains from sixteen urban fantasy series get their own stories—including the baddies of New York Times bestselling authors Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, and Jonathan Maberry.

For every hero trying to save the world, there’s a villain trying to tear it all down.

In this can’t-miss anthology edited by Joseph Nassise (The Templar Chronicles), you get to plot world domination with the best of the evildoers we love to hate! This outstanding collection brings you stories told from the villains’ point of view, imparting a fresh and unique take on the evil masterminds, wicked witches, and infernal personalities that skulk in the pages of today’s most popular series.

The full anthology features stories by Jim Butcher (the Dresden Files), Kelley Armstrong (the Cainsville and Otherworld series), Seanan McGuire (October Daye), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger), Lilith Saintcrow (Jill Kismet), Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville), Joseph Nassise (Templar Chronicles), C.E. Murphy (Walker Papers), Steven Savile (Glasstown), Caitlin Kittredge (the Hellhound Chronicles and the Black London series), Jeffrey Somers (The Ustari Cycle), Sam Witt (Pitchfork County), Craig Schaefer (Daniel Faust), Jon F. Merz (Lawson Vampire), and Diana Pharaoh Francis (Horngate Witches).

AMAZON | KOBO | B&N | iTUNES | GOOGLE

MYSTERIOUS MYSTERY PROJECTS

I’m working on a few projects that might not actually show up in 2017, but I’m working on them, so I’ll vaguebook them a little here. One I can’t mention because the contract’s not signed—it’s a book, though not in a genre I’ve published in before. There should be an announcement of sort about that in January or February.

The other projects aren’t books, and also aren’t guaranteed to come off. If they do, you’ll definitely hear more. If they don’t, I will never mention them again, edit this post to remove this information, and pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about.

So that’s what I have cooking in 2017 (so far). Watch this space for further details.

Newsletters Are the New Black

newsletterThe mysterious and ever-changing formula for riches in the writing world apparently skews heavily towards newsletter signups. How this works, exactly, is mysterious to me. So far I’ve figured this much out:

  1. Launch Newsletter
  2. Lure people into signing up
  3. ????
  4. Profit!

Still, I have a newsletter now, and to avoid the ignominy of having said newsletter descend into chaos and dormancy, to avoid having my writer peers point and laugh at me and whisper behind my back have you SEEN his newsletter? Poor fellow hasn’t sent one out in ages and has a tiny mailing list! I’m going to have to keep thumping it.

So, if you haven’t yet signed up for the Jeff Somers Rocks You Like an (Email) Hurricane newsletter, why should you?

  • It will make us best friends. Benefits of being my best friend include:
    • always being able to stop by for a whiskey;
    • free pass to pet any of my cats (you can even take one home if you like, we got plenty);
    • right to refer to me as “my friend Jeff Somers” and to create and wear T-shirts, buttons, or other paraphernalia referring to me as such
  • You’ll get free short stories, essays about writing, and other content that no one else gets. This includes previously unpublished writing, early or alternate drafts of books, and other arcana.
  • I promise no spam, political rants, religious theorizing, or personal opinions that are not hilarious, about whiskey and baseball, or other harmlessly entertaining things. No one cares what I think about politics, and I am eternally grateful that this is so.
  • Ask Jeff Anything. I’ll answer any question you have, sometimes on this wee blog, sometimes via video on my YouTube channel, occasionally by showing up your door to drunkenly yell at you.
  • Free stuff! I’m planning to offer a giveaway with every newsletter. These will be determined randomly, usually in a panic moments before I have to send out the newsletter. The possible giveaways include:
    • Signed books (likely you’ll be able to request which book)
    • Rare print versions of eBook-only publications
    • Random stuff from my pockets or desk drawers
    • Cash, if I’m desperate enough for attention
  • Stringer.jpgFor example, the next newsletter will be out in November, and I’ll be giving away five super-rare print copies of the Ustari Cycle novella The Stringer, which you can only buy as an eBook right now. Giveaways will be open to every subscriber, but you do have to subscribe to be in the running.

So! Why not join the Super Happy Best Friends with Jeff and Other Benefits Mailing List? I mean, if you can’t be bothered to click the DELETE button just four times a year, to hell with you.

So, pass it on. And send me questions. Or demands. I’m open to anything, really, as long as we get more signups. You can find the simple, easy signup link in the right-hand column of this blog, or here.

Cheers,

Jeff

Excerpt from “Last Best Day” (Ustari Cycle #4)

Last Best Day (Ustari Cycle #4)

Last Best Day (Ustari Cycle #4)

“Last Best Day” is out on Monday, October 3. To mark the occasion, here’s chapter 1 of the novella. You can buy the whole story at Amazon, B&N, Google Play, and Kobo for just 99 cents.

1.

THAT HOT DOG SMELL. Lem said we could eat hot dogs for lunch, but Lem said that before and we didn’t. Lem is cranky. I don’t know why. He’s not Hiram cranky, but no one is Hiram cranky but Hiram. Lem is Lem Cranky, which isn’t screamy cranky, but glum cranky. I actually prefer Hiram Cranky, because with Hiram you at least know why he’s mad.

Exhaust and sweat, even though it’s cold. Everybody is always rushing, but people get out of my way. Lem says its because I’m big. I am big. Or things are small. Like toilet stalls. Too small. I get in, I can’t turn around. Took me a long time to remember to back in sometimes.

Lem buys the hot dogs.

He doesn’t get any. He just stands there smoking a cigarette and scowling. I don’t ask what’s wrong. Lem never tells me.

(more…)

My First Sale

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

The first short story I ever sold for actual money was Glad and Big, which appeared in Aberrations #34. The sale paid me the princely sum of 1/4 of a penny per word, which worked out to $7.50. That would be nearly twelve dollars in 2016 money, just in case you’re horrified that a writer of my caliber would sell a short story for single-digit monies.

At the time, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I’d had stories appear in zines and other non-paying markets, but this was the first time anyone had actually paid me for one, and naturally I thought of it (and still think of it) as a watershed moment in my career.

I never cashed the check. Part of this was the usual urge to hang onto a momentous thing like my first paycheck for fiction, and yes, part of it was the fact that even in 1995 $7.50 didn’t go far, so it almost wasn’t worth walking to the bank to cash it. Besides, if I’d deposited it, I wouldn’t have it to scan in and post here, now, would I?

Anyways, here’s the story itself. Written more than 20 years ago, I still like it quite a bit.

GLAD AND BIG

Life at Lee’s on second street had a pattern, one I liked well enough. It sucked at my heels with insistent attraction, pulling me back despite the heat and the same old people and the wooden seat worn smooth from years of my weight.

We usually played cards at the small square table in the big bay window, eating Lee’s filling specialties and drinking, smoking cigarettes, and ignoring everyone else. Sometimes I tried to stay away. It never worked. I always needed a drink and the only place to get one was Lee’s and my seat was always open.

That night it was raining and I felt pretty good. The conversation wasn’t too bad and it was warm inside, I was half-tanked all night and I had three packs of cigarettes to get through. Even in a crummy bar and grill like Lee’s, being inside with friends on a rainy night is a special kind of thing. Even being inside with people who drove you crazy like I was was still not bad.

(more…)

DICK FOR ETERNITY

The Urban Bizarre

The Urban Bizarre

I wrote this story in 1993, and in 2004 it appeared in the anthology The Urban Bizarre, published by Prime Books and edited by Nick Mamatas. It was actually one of two of my stories that appeared in that anthology, which I can only assume meant Nick had space to fill :-).

It’s disorienting to read something you wrote so long ago. Very clearly inspired by some of the awful parties I attended in my college years, it also sports the gross nihilism I pretended to as a younger man.

The title comes from a Too Much Joy song, “What It Is,” which contains the line “Congratulations, James, now you’re a dick for eternity!”

 

I used to know this girl named Brenda, but that was before Rodney killed her, almost completely by accident. A big-boned redhead with horrible pale skin that seemed to break out into sympathetic rashes with alarming regularity, Brenda was a loud, outgoing girl that didn’t let the fact that no one liked her slow her down any. I guess someone liked her. Someone kept inviting her to the parties. Looking back, I suppose it was Rodney, since he’d been sleeping with her.

At the time, though, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that this tall pale girl with bad teeth and the loudest voice in the world kept showing up at the house and chasing everyone away. She talked to all of us with big hugs and excited squeals, as if we were old, old chums reunited by chance, no love lost. We’d squirm in her grasp until she took her eyes off us, and slip away one by one to grouch in private until she was all alone and had to find new victims.

Eventually she’d disappear, but not until drinking enough to awe even Fat Billy, who could sink most mortals, his liver glowing softly.
The night I’m thinking of, however, she didn’t disappear, didn’t leave us to the relative peace and quiet of our little lives, although I did get a few minutes of quiet relief when I thought she had. That night, though, Rodney came hooting down the stairs, tucking his shirt in and grabbing me in tight-sweat desperation.

####

Let me tell you a little about Rodney. He was half Black and half Puerto-Rican and all asshole, one of those sweaty heart-attacks for whom life was a never-ending series of surprises, usually unpleasant. He had a bug-eyed stare that had a remarkable steadiness, it latched onto you and didn’t let go until someone waved something bright at him. I don’t know what he had at the center of his life, what kept him waking up in the morning, I didn’t know him that well and didn’t feel the loss at all. It had something to do with drinking and his dog Percy, though, I knew that because they were the only things he gave a shit about.

He worked as a bartender at a strip joint, which was good money but bad health, because he stumbled home in a horrible mess of intoxication and lust, his little bug eyes nervous, gasping in big gulps of air. he’d rush into the living room and sit on the edge of the couch next to me, his hands clasped between his knees and the stale living-room air squeezing in between his teeth. Sometimes I waited a few minutes for him to speak up, sometimes I couldn’t take it and asked him outright.

“Those girls……” he would say with a dull, hollow haunt in his face.

We would all nod and ignore him, then, having heard it all before. That was Rodney. Rodney didn’t make love, he banged. It was sweaty, uncomfortably desperate act of drool for him. We know this because we lived with him between tissue-thin walls and he had no concept of how much noise he made, screaming, begging, cursing.

He was banging this girl Brenda and God knows why it wasn’t obvious to me. Part of it was the fact that you stop being interested in your room-mate’s sex life pretty fucking quick. And no one could ever hear the girls over Rodney’s hopeless bellows. We all had our own problems, coming up with one-fourth rent every month being chief among them. Rodney just didn’t rank.

####

Just like every night, it seemed, a tape-loop, eternity, that night we’d thrown a party. Rodney’d gotten Brenda up into his room, although no one noticed. Things were sweaty and except for me, who was eagerly driving people away with snarling insults and steely glares, no one was paying anyone else any attention unless sex was involved, somehow. I was standing by the front door, sweating buckets in the heat made worse by hundreds of leech-like people struggling to bore their maws into us. I was demanding that newcomers know names before I let them in, picking fights and talking with this brunette girl who wasn’t drinking. She insulted me back with pretty sobriety. We kept blowing smoke into each other’s faces, and I was falling in love with her.

I felt the sweaty paw on my shoulder and turned to find Rodney at my elbow, half dressed and ugly.

“C’mon upstairs, Lenny. I got something you gotta see.”

I squinted at him suspiciously. Beer did nothing for him, just made him grey and pasty-faced. I tried to put on a friendly ‘not-now’ face. “Fuck off.” I grinned, patting him on the shoulder. It was my job to torture these people. It was why I was here. They thought they were having fun. It was up to me to prove them wrong.

“No, Len,” he hissed, “you gotta.”

I looked back at him, this puffy leech which had inserted itself into me. There was doom about him, the clinging scent of emergency. There was no way he was going to let me get back to wooing the wonderfully abrasive girl before I had a peek into his private life, so I waved him on and followed. I just hoped he wasn’t having a mid-life crisis or something.

Everybody was having a mid-life crisis. Every other night some poor joker was up in his room weeping for his lost youth or something. It spread like a disease, from room to room, identity crisis again and again, grown men trying to find themselves. You could hear the wailing even downstairs sometimes, but this particular night I was lucky, in one small sense. Rodney wasn’t having a midlife crisis, which was good, because I was no good at talking people down from ledges. I got bored too easily. I wasn’t much of a friend, but I was fun at parties so everyone kept me around. I even think they were a little afraid of me, which was why I hated them all, the spineless shits. They probably wanted me to move out, but were too scared, and I hated cowards.

####

Rodney’s room was upstairs buried next to the bathroom, which was safest for all involved. We paused in the doorway, staring at her like she was just an ugly rumor, a joke in bad taste staring blindly up at the ceiling with bland, dusty eyes, one bra strap pushed off her pale shoulder.

I eyed Rodney with a discomfort born of any number of truths but held together by the uneasy realization that I was in a murderer’s midst. Neither of us would say it, but the possibility hung there anyway, the unutterable image in our minds, that Rodney had fucked her to death.

He stood there like a behemoth, unsure what to do with his hands. I turned and shut the door. I leaned against it and put my hands in my pockets, just to show I knew what to do with my hands.

“You crazy Fuck,” I said conversationally, “you’re going to jail.”

That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. His sallow face crumpled up into a gibbering hole of terror, and he started to pace around his room in a sweat, muttering curses under his breath, until finally exploding.

“I can’t do that, Lenny!” he hissed, grabbing my shirt and pulling re close. “You gotta help me!”

I eyed him with hopeless sarcasm. I put an arm around him and led him on a spiral around his room,

“Let me spell out a few quick ones, okay, Rod? You’re going to jail. You’re going to have a new friend named Bubba or Pinky or something who’s going to try to do to you what you just did to Brenda.” I paused to glance reflectively at her. I was enjoying myself.

Rodney quivered there in my arms, ready to just burst into tears. I was terrified that he might start bawling. Completely terrified.

“Now,” I went on, “if someone came up to you and asked you to go to jail too and get fucked to death by some guy named Tiny, you’d tell him to go to hell, wouldn’t you?”

He paused. “Well —”

“Go to hell, Rodney.” I snapped, leaving him alone by the bed.

####

I was fighting my way through the crowd around the bathroom, trying to get away from Rodney’s inevitable pursuit, when I saw Fat Billy fighting his way toward the toilet. Fat Billy was three hundred pounds of heaving, sweating flesh and I’d seen him throw up once and once was all I needed to be very afraid of seeing it again.

I was caught between two hells, and in the end I let Fat Billy go by and so got caught by Rodney, who had a trickle of spittle lolling from the corner of his mouth. From the bathroom, Fat Billy drowned out the crowd, because Fat Billy howled in sheer terror or something whenever he threw up. We couldn’t hear a goddamn thing over the pitiful wailing driving everyone away, so we retreated back into Rodney’s room and shut the door again. I stood defeated before him, a victim of fate.

“All right,” I sighed, “Let’s think.”

Rodney collapsed in relief, and I Just patted him on the head and told him to shut up. In the background Fat Billy screamed so you’d think blood was shooting out of his nose as he knelt on the damp and scabby bathroom floor, and I had no doubt he’d driven everyone else away. I lit a cigarette and ashed on Rodney’s rug, staring at this fat and flaccid body still staring up at the dull ceiling. I was curious as to what had happened, but was afraid Rodney might actually start talking if I asked him about it.

“Well,” I said finally, “we’ve got to get her out of your room.”

This was not so easily done. Fat Billy had cleared the floor, so me and Rodney carried her milky white and soggy to the stairs without a problem. The stairs, however, had recently seen a frightened mob fleeing Fat Billy, and glazed strangers stared back at me with barely concealed apathy and dislike.

“Move aside, you bastards, I live here.” I growled.

No one paid me any attention. I glanced back at Rodney and pulled our luggage upright, her head rolling brokenly against my shoulder.

“Watch out everybody,” I said with an eat-shit grin, “I think she’s gonna puke.”

They studied her, judged relative distance and looked me in the eye to see if I was the sort to stand by and let friends puke on total strangers. After a moment a shallow path was opened grudgingly and we carried her down, only dropping her once.

The sons of bitches were everywhere, so we couldn’t just carry her outside and be seen disposing of a body. I snarled back at Rodney every chance I got, the fucker, pushing him into gibbering despair. We deposited her on the couch and put some distance between us.

I walked around and lied a lot, spinning stories and assuming names. Mostly, these parties were just big suckfests, the guys sucking up to the girls in hopes that, on a good warm night with cold beer and the right vibe, the girls would end up sucking off the guys. It never really happened that way, but that’s the way I described them to people when I wasn’t out to make friends, which I usually wasn’t when my housemates opened up our domicile to every bride-and-tunnel ass who could follow directions from Manhattan.

Brenda became the center of attention, wearing a pair of my sunglasses and sprawled in an open invitation on the couch. Rodney stared at her from the corner of the room as if he wished he’d at least gotten to come before she kicked off, and all the other beer-dicks followed his stare like lemmings eyeing a ledge. She was the focus of unbridled lust, a heady vision of fading perfume and one bra-strap slipped over a pale and paling shoulder.

####

Kent Booker, the skinny little shit, must have seen me carry her in, because he horned in on me to scam on her, pinning me against the wall with one finger and breath that would have been a health hazard if we hadn’t had the windows open. I didn’t see his sister Kelly with him, and figured she’d ditched him to make out with older men, as usual. She was a skinny eighteen-year old with a single monotonous eyebrow, pretty in a high-school way, and Kent spent much of his free time beating up his friends because of her. It was entertaining and okay by me; everyone here was being punished for something.

A few years earlier, Kent had been known as “Pud” Booker, because we’d caught him masturbating one lucky evening and even had negatives to prove it. We’d matured since then, of course, so we didn’t call him “Pud” any more. But we still had the negatives. Neal Tucklin kept them in the little cubbyhole behind his bed’s head-board.

They deeply worried Kent, they hung over him with dangerous weight and kept shadows under his eyes. Whenever he saw one of us he incessantly tried to barter them away in desperate attempts to regain his manhood. We usually jeered him heartlessly, wondering when he’d realize we only kept the photos because they worried him. If he quit worrying about them, we’d get bored and throw them away.

This particular night, however, he didn’t even mention the pics, he put a slimy, conspiratorial arm around my unwilling shoulders and asked me for Brenda’s name. That’s how I knew he really wanted her, with her gummy tongue and dry, bloodless lips. She was a vision of cooling indifference squeezed between various face-sucking couples, lolling elastically with each subtle shift of the cushions.

I sneered at him. “You goddamn bastard.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Sister?”

####

Only relatives were safe. Unescorted women were mauled with a frenzy approaching the animal once they were drunk enough. Escorted women merely narrowed the mauling down to one. But sisters and cousins and aunts walked safe and miserably bored inside little pockets of protection. Only the foolhardy and the brave would attack someone’s sister, which is why your sisters always married the crazy fucks.

I denied the sister rumor, seeing the need to distance myself from the corpse on the couch in the living room. I moved into the Kitchen just ahead of the triumphant return of Fat Billy, amid shouts and cries of relief that the king had survived yet another bout with his liver. The drinking games had quietly degenerated into loosely moderated discussions about life. As if the bastards had ever stumbled far enough out of that very same fucking kitchen to have done any living—living bed to subway to office to subway to bed. I was surrounded by vinyl-skinned corpses who all wanted to fuck my poor dead sister sitting half-naked on the couch in the living room. They kept asking me about the meaning of life and I spat curses back at them, grinning around my beer heartlessly. They loved it. Everyone you met wanted to know what you did, meaning what your job was. We all had the same jobs: show up daily, donate a sizable portion of your breath, skin flakes, eyelashes, hair, and stomach gas to the contained atmosphere of the building, and go home exhausted enough to not cause any trouble. I told them dirty stories made up about that wonderful, acerbic brunette at the front door and basked in the warm glow of male bonding or some such crap.

Rodney sauntered in and crouched in the corner, watching me with his unhealthy pop-eyed adhesive stare. He didn’t laugh. I had all the pricks hooting and Rodney just stared. It was hard to tell if he just didn’t get the jokes or if he just had his mind on other things. I could have flipped a coin. I scowled at him every chance I got, but that didn’t help either.

####

At four thirty in the morning, Stan Manler used to say wisely, good parties are over and great parties were just beginning.
I was the clean-up team, walking through and pitilessly hauling loved ones and invited guests out into the street, the bunch of drunk parasites. Fat Billy was passed out on top of the kitchen table, which normally wouldn’t have stopped me from rolling Fat Billy out the back door into the driveway. Fat Billy was stuck fast to the table, though, glued on board by some magic combination of beer, drool, and cigarette ash. I left him as he alternately snored and whimpered in his sleep, crying out against something.

Stan Manler himself was locked in the basement with Kelly Booker, the crazy bastard. Kent was walking around our backyard screaming to me to let him back in, because he couldn’t find his kid sister. Down in the basement Stan couldn’t hear anything, and he was lucky. I peeled them apart and spent equal time berating her for loose values and pounding him on the back with macho enthusiasm. As we chatted I guided them gently to the door and thrust them rudely out, at the mercy of Kent and all the overprotective brotherly fanaticism he could muster.

I found Rodney in the living room, sitting next to Brenda with a woefully lustful expression on his face, saddened by the loss of such a beautifully compliant girl with such pale and doughy skin. I felt sorry for Rodney, he had so little. Just his dog which none of us had ever seen but which he talked about lovingly whenever the subject was least appropriate, and long sodden nights like this one which had been ruined so early. But we still had a body to get rid of So I didn’t give in to sentiment.

The house settled around us and I knocked glass around as I sat down next to Brenda as well, quietly lighting a cigarette and enjoying a moment of peace that was immediately destroyed by Rodney and his chubby, bleating voice. I stopped feeling sorry for him. My night had been ruined, I wasn’t nearly as drunk as I deserved to be, I’d lost the insulting little brunette into the night forever, and Fat Billy was stuck to my kitchen table. I didn’t feel sorry for anyone. Not even Brenda. They all got what they deserved. Even me.

“What are we gonna do, Len?”

I curled my lip up. “We could eat her. Got any relish?”

He looked ready to agree, so I stood up. “Fuck, Rodney, I’m just gonna call the cops and have a clear conscience.”

He leaped up, pop-eyes bulging. “Len—”

I smiled. “Just kidding.” I said quietly. “Sit down before I kill you.”

He could see it in my eyes, the bloodshot near murder that had occurred. He sat down.

“We’re gonna bury her.” I finally admitted. “Pray your killer has the same mercy on you, asshole.”

####

The next morning I sat on our front porch in mud-caked pants and dirt-stiff hair, squinting into the sun and smoking my last cigarette. Rodney was asleep in his room, in his bed as if no one had or would ever die in it. The world was still and I just let the sun bake the mud on like sin.

“Been groveling?”

I turned and smiled at her, her short brown hair and beautiful “fuck you” grin. She held her shoes in one hand, and stood flat footed on my front porch eyeing me with insulting archness. Something lodged itself in my chest, and I smoked to dislodge it. Just like that, and I was in love.

She sat down next to me and we sat there like an old married couple, watching all the lunatics driving to work. Upstairs Rodney began screaming in his sleep and there was no one next to him to offer any comfort. He just went on and on and on.