Free Short Stories

The Robotic Prostitute Demographic

I wrote this piece of flash when I was invited to come up with something erotic for Valentine’s Day. I failed at that, but now you get to read it!

Life was frustration. Life was struggle. George Bailey didn’t know how his personal database had been corrupted, but corrupted it had been, and the effects were catastrophic. He had begun fighting a doomed rear-guard action in every aspect of his life.

In the morning, his house shell played showtunes. Bright, cheery showtunes with a concentration on The Simple Joys Of Maidenhood, which seemed to play every third day.

He hated showtunes. He’d given up trying to change the settings.

At the coffeeshop—at every coffeeshop—he brought his own sugar packets, because his order, automatically derived from retina scan and database query, was always wrong. Instead of a large black coffee with three sugars, he received a small light coffee with no sugars. No amount of effort on his part had been able to change the database’s mind about his preferences.

Walking to the office was a nightmare. The billboards, scanning him as he passed, shouted out a name that wasn’t his and demands that he purchase things he had no desire to purchase. These advertisements only served to remind him that he’d recently considered simply gaining fifty pounds to grow into his clothes, since he could not convince a single haberdashery shell to pay him any mind when it came to his actual dimensions, no matter how often he stood for the scanner.

####

At night, he had a routine involving muting all recommendations and silencing all the screens and devices. They reset themselves every day, so this too was frustrating, but when he was finished he could look forward to a few precious hours without programs, music, and products he did not want being thrust under his nose.

He poured himself a glass of vodka, which he did not like. The liquor store on the corner—every liquor store in the city—automatically produced vodka based on algorithms he had never seen or been able to affect. He grimaced it down, making the best of his frustrations.

The doorbell chimed. Malihini! The apartment’s shell sang out in a language he did not recognize, had never recognized. Malihini ma ka puka!

Sighing, he swallowed the remaining liquor and went to the foyer. He gestured the door open and then froze.

“Hey baby,” the robot said. “I’m a free sample.”

It was clearly a robot, but it was a very close approximation of a tall, thick-limbed woman wearing a shiny, satiny bustier and torn stockings. Legally, robots could only be so realistic. The law forbade any robot that could be reasonably mistaken for a real person, although individual parts could be as realistic as technology allowed. It’s hair was a glorious explosion of dark curls. Its heels were so high it seemed on the verge of tilting forward and crashing into him, and he panicked at the thought.

“Excuse me?” he managed to say, somehow grateful that it hadn’t addressed him in Mandarin.

“My specialty,” the robot said with a programmed leer, “is a Stockholm Fizzy. You love Stockholm Fizzies—” Here it paused slightly as it accessed the universal database remotely. “—Jeremy Stilton.”

George closed his eyes. Everything else was robots and screens, he thought. Why not prostitutes? “My name’s not Jeremy,” he complained, out of habit.

“Oh, honey,” the robot prostitute said, “your name can be anything you want.”

George opened his eyes. He could feel the thick warmth of the vodka in his veins, but his heart started beating faster anyway. “So, if I tell you to call me George, you’ll call me George?”

The robot nodded and licked its lips, which had been painted a suggestive shade of purple that reminded him of the flesh of plums. For the first time, he allowed himself to take a good look at it: The rounded hips, the powerful thighs, the huge bust straining at the material it had been confined in. The robot smelled like citrus.

He squinted. “If I don’t want a Stockholm whatever you said, you’ll do something else?”

The robot nodded and licked its lips in precise repetitions. “Honey, it’s a freebie. I’ll do whatever you want.”

He nodded and stepped aside. The robot’s physical appearance and dimensions had been crafted from someone else’s fantasies, but he didn’t find them repellent. “Call me George,” he said as it entered, swaying, the sound of stockings rubbing together instantly erotic.

“Sure thing, George,” it purred. “I am obligated to tell, you George, that if you accept this no-cost, no-obligation offer of sexual satisfaction with a Dee-Lite-o-Matic Model 305—that is, me—your contact information will be placed on our mailing list so we can alert you to future offers, George.”

He found every mention of his actual name erotic. The sound of it, after hearing so many others for so long, excited him.

“Furthermore, George, I must inform you that upon your acceptance of this free offer, your contact information may be sold, shared, or used by third parties who may also contact you with offers. You must indicate verbally your acceptance. I will record your acceptance, but our privacy policy forbids the recording of anything else. You can hear—”

“I accept.”

The robot stopped for a moment, frozen, then grinned. It stepped forward and pushed itself against him. “Well, George, you are excited to see me,” it said, putting one hand on his groin and squeezing, sending a shiver of pleasure through his body. “What’s your pleasure, then? I have sixty-seven noted sex acts your pornography playlist and other encounters with similar models indicate—”

“Just fuck me,” he croaked, “old-fashioned, no-frills fucking.”

It smiled again. “Sure thing, baby,” it said, sinking down to its knees in an impossibly smooth movement. He stared down at it as it worked the clasp of his trousers. He was shaking, he realized, with the sheer excitement of getting something he actually wanted.

“And say my name,” he added as the robot engulfed him, its mouth warm, its suction perfect. “Say it a lot.”

THE END

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

Day Breaks, Mind Aches

Paul stumbled over the curb and caught himself just in time, his briefcase a counterbalance. Without looking up he kept going, hoping to leave behind whatever minor embarrassment there was. He craved coffee. He thought it was almost a palpable sensation, his cells crying out for caffeine and threatening to afflict him with headaches if he didn’t supply it, and soon. He looked up from the steady scroll of sidewalk beneath him and blinked around: it was a bright, sunny day, ice cold and crisp. He could see his usual coffee cart off in the distance, a shiny tin box that gleamed in the squinting sunlight. Glancing at his watch, he calculated the line of four people waiting their turn at the cart and figured he wouldn’t be too much later if he stopped to get a tall cup, instead of choking down the cheap crap they brewed at the office.

Paul had a theory on lateness, one which he had developed over the years through extensive first-hand research. He’d concluded that lateness fell into several defined categories, and that within each category was a lot of wiggle room, so that once you passed from one category into a worse category, it didn’t matter whether you ended up in that category by a hair or a mile. For example, he’d determined that the first stage was actually not even lateness, it was Later On Time, and was basically defined as anywhere up to fifteen minutes past your appointment. If you were supposed to be in by nine in the morning, anywhere from 9:01 to 9:15 was considered Later On Time–that was, not exactly late, but certainly not quite on time. It was a grace period, really. Once the clock on your bosses desk clicked past nine, however, you were in that first category of Later On Time until it clicked past 9:15. Which meant that once you passed nine, you might as well relax and take your time and get there by 9:14 or so–your category wouldn’t improve no matter what you did, then.

He’d refined this theory extensively. 9:16–9:45 he categorized as merely Late; 9:45–10:00 was Very Late, and 10:00–10:30 was Egregiously Late. After 10:30, he turned around and went home and called in sick instead of struggling onward like a beetle tied to a pin. He’d also mapped out all of his standard routes and movements and knew how long it took him to accomplish every task and every leg of his commute. He knew how long it took him to buy a newspaper, depending on which stand he went to. He knew which buses got him where and when, on average. He had memorized the subway schedules and had timed his stride, so he could estimate new times when his usual routes were blocked. This allowed him to determine, with a high level of accuracy, exactly how late he was and how much later any deviation from the norm would make him.

Eyeing the coffee cart a block away, he decided that assuming one more person got on its line before him, it would add four and a half minutes to his walk to work, which would get him there by 9:23. Since not stopping for coffee wouldn’t shave off enough time to lower him from Late to Later On Time, there was no reason not to.

Blinking, he glanced up and shaded his eyes from the sun. It seemed huge, yellow and cold. Certainly, it seemed much larger than usual. But his head was a little fogged with a hangover, and he figured a good cup of coffee would reduce the size of everything in his perception. He walked more purposefully, intent on getting the day going, and thus getting it over with. He had his evening planned out: a dinner of leftovers, a fresh bottle of bourbon for some cocktails, a good movie on television. He wanted to erase days, scrub them off him. His memories of the night before were vague, and the night before that were gone completely. He had a constant sensation of floating bodilessly through time and space, and he liked it that way. It was a form of immortality.

Calm and satisfied, his mind blank, he got on the end of the short line and resigned himself to wait. Some people made chit-chat with the proprietor of the cart, some people just thrust money at him and barked demands. Paul figured it all evened out, time-wise, and didn’t worry overmuch. He calculated that with the volume of pedestrians on the street that morning (heavier than usual) he was probably about ten minutes away from work. Eight if he trotted, but his head didn’t feel like trotting, and so vetoed the concept.

The line moved forward by one, and Paul noted how the shadows on the ground seemed to be moving, circling around them as if clouds were moving rapidly across the sky. Frowning, he glanced up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the light. He froze in place.

From behind him someone said “What the fuck?”

The sun was obscured, he thought at first, by a bunch of black dots. Things flying between him and it, or maybe some weird optical illusion. After a moment of squinting up from under his hand, however, he realized that it was the sun itself.

“Holy shit,” he muttered to himself, backing up to gain a better view. He blinked and looked down, and the world seemed darker, the shadows deeper, the air cooler against his skin. He looked back up, and the dots were spreading, slowly, encompassing the whole of the star.

A woman’s scream pierced his attention, and he whipped his head back to the street around him, and sound came rushing in: screams, shouts, car horns. Chaos, everywhere around him. For a moment he was frozen in place, staring alternately at the sight of the sun going out, one minute piece at a time, and at the darkening world around him, gloom growing around him, fooling his eye and making him imagine that it was thick and edible, impossible to breathe. He didn’t know what to do, where to go. It couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was, that was impossible. And yet, there it was: the sun dimming, right there, turning black like a piece of fruit on high-speed film.

People pushed past him and he let them spin him about. He didn’t understand where they were going, what the point was. If the sun was…if the sun was going out, there was nothing to do. He knew it took light from the sun eight and a half minutes to reach the Earth. Eight and a half minutes after whatever cataclysm was occurring out there in space finished, the last rays of sunlight would touch the Earth’s surface, and everything would be cold and darkness and the irrefutable forces of the universe tearing themselves apart.

Eight and a half minutes. He guessed people were struggling to make it to their loved ones, to seek some sort of safety, maybe just to find out what was going on. But he knew there wasn’t time for any of that, even if radiation wasn’t already ruining radio and television signals, even if the satellites orbiting the Earth had not already been dosed with lethal rays. Even assuming they were not all going to come down with some Andromeda-Strain sunburn from whatever was happening up there, there wouldn’t be time.
He dropped his money on the sidewalk, coffee forgotten, and started to run.

He went against the tide of people because he was running towards his job. The Seventeenth floor in a charmless building with not enough windows and too many walls, and he had never, ever run towards it, even when he was slipping into Egregiously Late.

Most people were running the other way, and he ticked off the seconds that running against the stream was costing him. He looked to his left and dodged diagonally, amazed that no one thought to run in the street despite the fact that traffic had slowed to a crawl, with several accidents already clogging the ways. In the bicycle lane he made better time and adjusted his calculations, but then in the clogged intersection of Flagg and Marble streets someone hit him like a linebacker and knocked him to the street. Before he knew what was happening, hands were on him, pulling at him, and a red face staring down at him.

“What’s going on?” the face demanded. “What’s happening?”

Paul just stared up at the man, speechless. He wanted to say he didn’t know, he wanted to tell the man that no one knew, that if anyone knew they’d have warned the world, but then he thought, maybe not. If he’d known, maybe he wouldn’t have said anything, because it was terrible to think of the world ending like this, in chaos and terror. Better, he thought, that it end in ignorance, with everyone peaceful, and quiet.

The man dropped Paul and ran off, and for another few seconds Paul lay, dazed, and reconsidered again, thinking that maybe a week’s or a day’s warning would have given people the chance to contemplate, to meditate, to consider how they would leave this life. Maybe that would have been best.

Like a stopwatch, the time intruded upon his thoughts, and Paul pushed himself up, recalculating based on his delay. Then he deftly threaded his way through the traffic of people and continued running, his sides burning, his clothes too much now, too hot and scratchy. His building bobbed and weaved ahead, deceptively far away, but Paul ate up the blocks, the press of people thinning blessedly, for some reason. The pounding of his feet became the only sound and rhythm he was aware of, the beat and timing of his life.

The office building was a chaos of people, most of them just standing in the lobby peering out the glass doors at the sun as it rotted right before their eyes. Paul pushed through them and decided to skip the elevators entirely, smashing through the fire doors and bounding up the stairs. His breath burned, his heart was pounding, but in his mind his countdown had reached three minutes, and he knew he didn’t have any time to lose, or to catch his breath. Energy surged through him, crazy, meaningless energy that made him giddy. On the fifth floor, with spots flashing before his eyes in time with his pounding heart, with the dusty air choking him, he found himself shaking with laughter. As he bounded up the landing between the fifth and sixth floors, he let out a choked whoop, a war-cry that echoed off the green walls.

The world was ending, and Paul rushed upwards to meet it’s doom.

Landings swept by, downwards, barely noticed. His vision narrowed to the steps before him, his whole body was slicked with sweat, and gritty from the dust he was kicking up. Ominous creakings and groans floated around him in the dimness, as if the building were about to fall down on him, but he pushed himself further up and further in, laughing painfully the whole way in-between chest-busting gasps for air.

He went past his own floor, kept going up. He’d been a smoker, earlier, and had always hated having to exit the building just to smoke a cigarette, so he’d found his way up to the roof and knew that the door was always easily opened, the lock was old and rusty and snapped open with some gentle coercion. Paul bounded from the stairs in the utter darkness of the service corridor and attacked the door, counting off time in his head. By his estimates, he had thirty seconds. He threw himself against the metal door and heard a satisfying creak, but the door held.

“Come on, you prick,” he panted, backing up and wiping his hands on his pants, ridiculously, before launching himself against the door again. He crashed into it, and it snapped open so violently he sailed through the doorway and crashed onto the roof, tearing up his clothes and hands on the rough surface. Laughing, bleeding, he struggled up onto his knees and looked around.

The weather had turned violently; the wind was roaring and lightning flashed in the nearly-black sky. The sun was being engulfed by the sky, eaten, sucked dry. Rotting, right before him. Below, muffled by the wind, the city was delirious. Paul threw his arms out, unable to explain or even pause to consider the jolly, happy energy that burned through him.

“Come on, then! Come on!” he roared into it, trembling.

The sky disappeared, everything disappeared, and for one incomprehensible moment there was just a sudden freezing cold and the roof beneath him, and his own laughter, and then the frozen blackness reached down and found him.

“The Sewer Rat” Free for Everyone

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn't It?

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn’t It?

Friends, a few months ago I announced a brand-new, 100% free Avery Cates short story, The Sewer Rat. The story was sent out to everyone who was signed up for my ass-kicking newsletter at the time. Did you sign up for my ass-kicking newsletter? No? Then for god’s sake do so immediately. There’s a form on the sidebar of this wee blog, as well as a link on my main web page.

So, those lucky folks got to read the story months ago, but now I’m releasing it for free everywhere through Smashwords. Because I am awesome. Go on and grab it, and look for it to slowly trickle into all the usual storefronts as well.

As a reminder, this isn’t the first time I’ve released a free story through Smashwords; to promote my novel Chum I released the ass-kicking short story Up the Crazy through Smashwords a few years ago, and that story remains a pretty great value at $0. It’s a “lost chapter” that links the novel Chum to my first-ever published novel Lifers, as the stories share a universe and some minor characters. You should totally download and read that one as well.

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…)

New Avery Cates Story

bey_lord_omniIf you’ve been paying attention, you know that over the last 1+ years I’ve put out six novellas continuing the story of everyone’s acerbic, desperate Gunner, Avery Cates. Those six stories were compiled into an omnibus edition (The Shattered Gears) which is currently just $2.99 as an eBook, and it was received pretty well by fans, and there was much rejoicing across the land. Eventually I have 2 more novels in this narrative to write, though I don’t know when that will happen.

Still, I can’t quit Avery. He’s just so much fun to write for, and it’s always intoxicating to have an excited reader base. So, I’m working on a new Avery Cates short: The Sewer Rat. Here’s a work-in-progress cover for it:

sewer_rat

Now, this is just a short story, and while it fits into the continuity of the new Cates stories, it’s meant to be more or less standalone, meaning it’s not essential reading for continuity’s sake.

To read it, though, you’ll need to be one of two things: 1. Signed up for my newsletter, or 2. Friends with someone signed up for my newsletter.

Wait, Jeff Has a Newsletter?

Do I ever! You can sign up for it with the form on the right:

lookiehere

The newsletter is an informal affair where I’ll announce news, giveaways, and that sort of thing. It’s also where I’ll be sending out The Sewer Rat, a free Avery Cates short story, in July. If you want to read it, sign up for the newsletter and prepare to be amazed. Or start buttering up someone who’s already signed up.

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.

The City Without Walls

This is a short story written long ago. Enjoy!

The City Without Walls

We're all gonna die in the end.

We’re all gonna die in the end.

I was curiously reluctant to go up to the three of them after the funeral. With the gray sky behind them and the wind playing with their hair, their ties, her skirt, they looked otherworldly, tall blond gods resplendent in their grief. I’d never known them all that well, in the first place. I didn’t really know anyone at the funeral any more—they were all people I used to know, now. Familiar faces, fatter and grosser than I recalled. Except for the Benderbys. Except for William Benderby, of course, lying dead and much changed in his coffin.

Looking at them made me feel ugly and stupid. Mickey Benderby, youngest, still glowing with athletic charm, blond hair almost white—he was, actually, almost an albino, so pale he might be transparent. But a healthy flush in his face made him boyish, and he dressed in dark clothes to give himself gravitas. He wore his expensive suit as if he’d been born in it, the gold cuff links not looking at all ridiculous on him, his windswept hair not too long, and agreeably messy, as if he’d swung out of bed in Amsterdam, boarded a plane, and arrived just moments before the ceremony, looking pressed.

Carol Benderby, the oldest, slim and blank-faced, stood next to Mick, smoking a cigarette, the wind stealing away the smoke as she exhaled it. She was beautiful, not as pale as Mickey, with a wonderful body and a steady, appraising stare that made men want to please her, to get some reaction from her. She turned to say something to her brother Daniel, and smiled in a low-wattage, smoky way that made her whole face seem to glow with untapped energy. I’d had a crush on Carol when we’d been younger, when I’d known William, but then I think everyone who met carol crushed on her. She was pretty and tiny and rich.

Daniel looked older than Carol, but wasn’t. He had cleaned up for the funeral but it hadn’t helped much; he still looked hungover. He was darker than his siblings, and his beard, though just shaved that morning, had already gathered like scummy storm clouds on his face. His tie was undone. As if by some will of their own his clothing was undoing itself—a button there, a knot here—until eventually he would be slovenly and sour, which was his natural state, so it was perhaps not surprising that he reverted to it instinctively. Still, he had an aura of command about him, the sense of a man used to being obeyed. He was the sort, I remembered, who instilled fear in people who didn’t know him.

Standing all together, the Benderby children—no longer children, but that was how I remembered them, a decade ago back in school—drew every eye, the natural subjects of all thought and conversation. Rich, talented, attractive people, related to each other, all still single and still mysterious. All the Benderbys were like that: Thick as thieves with each other. I remembered accompanying William home one semester break, when we were still enamored with the egalitarian world of college and thought maybe we could be friends, and being struck by how the Benderby family seemed to have endless secrets between each other. Secret ceremonies, passwords, anecdotes—over three days at the huge house in upstate New York, I’d been almost constantly confused. The Benderbys almost spoke in code. If you didn’t know the stories, the inside jokes, you were bewildered.

I never went back. William never invited me again anyway.

(more…)

drying eyes, wasted breath

It had only been fifteen minutes, and Bob hated them all. He knew every detail of the elevator, from the three buttons which refused to light up when you pressed them to the minute design of diamonds on the worn, red and black carpet. He didn’t know the specific people he was trapped with, but he thought he knew their type, and was convinced, based on the slanting looks and curling lips, that they knew his. Jocular in familiarity, contemptuous, he snapped his gum cheerily, to annoy, and shifted his weight from foot to foot.

Softly, in the background, an instrumental Killing Me Softly played over the tinny speakers.

Bob had not been very surprised when the little door marked EMERGENCY had been opened to reveal loose wires where the phone should have been. None of the other people in the elevator evinced any shock either, but whether that was actual cynicism or an urbane facade Bob couldn’t say. They had all looked at each other and shaken heads, clucked tongues, no longer amazed, it was implied, by the incompetence of Other People. He thought it must have been the rarest of coincidences, that the Brain Trust of the World, the four most brilliant people in the universe, happened to all work in his building. One of the Brain Trust was now busily reading People magazine, slouching against the rear wall of the elevator with the bored insubordination of youth, the implication that he would not even attempt to somehow make the situation better, and that the rest of the Brain Trust ought to leave him alone.

The kid annoyed Bob the most. Probably about twenty-one or -two, he had INTERN written all over him, from the wrap around sunglasses he wore (still) even indoors to the loud music leaking out of earphones, to the combination of decent dress pants and shirt with unlaced sneakers and a worn denim jacket. His cool demeanor made Bob decide that if anyone was going to have to climb into the shaft in a heroic search for help, it would be the kid.

They were suspended between the fifteenth and sixteenth floors, the elevator having squealed and sighed and jerked to a halt a few seconds after the doors had shut on floor fifteen. Bob had accepted this turn of events with cheer and aplomb, because he was now about ten feet away from his floor, twenty seconds away from being off the elevator and into the warm current of a Typical Day. Now instead of floating along on the swells of things that happened every day, he was standing in a box with four strangers who were, if nothing else, not quite as tantalizingly close to a Typical Day.

They’ve got to know what happened. They must be working on the problem.”

Bob looked up in surprise, at The Librarian. He didn’t know what the woman actually did with her time, but the sharply angled glasses perched on her nose made him think of a librarian. She wore an affected shawl over her shoulders, too, and stood in the center of the elevator in a stiff-backed posture. She wasn’t looking at anyone, and he figured she was speaking just to comfort yourself. He snapped his gum a little louder and replied to the air

Sure, sure. That phone looks like it was attended to without delay.”

The Librarian looked at him, sniffed, and looked away.

Bob shrugged, chewing his gum. He leaned against the wall of the elevator and stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t even see an escape hatch, a maintenance crawlspace -every movie he’d ever seen that had involved people trapped in an elevator had involved a crawlspace, but he couldn’t see one here. He wondered if there was any way out of the elevator. Or at least one that didn’t involve the elevator splitting open after hitting the basement.

(more…)

My Rottened Heart and All the Grubs Within

John had for some time tried to be a good man, until the death of Casey Farrow made the burden unmanageable. That night, after the phone had stopped ringing finally, he’d waited for Celia to fall asleep, waited for her breathing to deepen and smooth out, waited for the soft and feminine snore to begin, and slipped out of the bedroom and into the living room. Finding his hidden pack of cigarettes, stale and dusty, he went into the cold kitchen, sat down at the little-used table and smoked in the dark, staring at unfamiliar shapes: the fridge, the microwave, the door to the bathroom.

He thought about Casey Farrow’s wife, Margaret.

Sitting, he looked around the dark kitchen. It had been Celia’s apartment, now theirs. They had decided that Celia’s was larger and in a better neighborhood, that his apartment was cold and cramped. He regretted the decision, he wished for his own private space, someplace where he wouldn’t have to pretend to be normal.

He thought about Celia, the laughing girl he’d met five years ago, and never fallen in love with.

Celia was pretty but unspectacular. She laughed at too many things and took disproportionate joy in simple, everyday things. She was honest and affectionate and practical and willing in bed and hundred other attractive things, but for John there was always one thing she wasn’t, and would never be. She was not Casey’s wife Margaret.

For her part, Celia lay awake and imagined she knew what John was chewing on in the kitchen. The empty half of the bed seemed to glow radioactively next to her, his fading body heat an accusation.

She kicked at the covers. Sat up. Fell back to the mattress. Let out an explosive breath.

Celia had always been a popular girl, but one of those pretty tomboyish girls who garnered more emotional conversations than kisses. She’d made up for it with aggressiveness, making a cheerful habit of dominating conversations and attempting seductions carelessly. She had a reputation in high school, and several boyfriends in college, but John quieted her.

She was two years younger than him, and had known him since high school. In school she’d been able to walk up to any boy and say anything, she was famous for it. But around John, she’d always been tongue-tied. She found it almost impossible to speak two words to him, and so naturally they became friends in college, where she had chosen to attend the same school as he did. They met at a dorm party and he recognized her, which thrilled her, secretly. For some time, then, she settled into her familiar role as John’s faux-sister, providing emotional talks and quiet, non-physical support. It killed her, froze her brittle inside, but she settled for it, and made up for it by dating. Predatorily, she seduced well-meaning men around, men who hardly had time to decide whether they were attracted to her mix of pretty and broad shoulders before they found themselves in bed with her. John’s amused commentaries on her love life merely irritated her, but silently.

For his part, John had met and fallen in love with Margaret, asked her out, been refused, and settled with a companionable flirtation with her. Young, optimistic, and unimpressed with her choice of boyfriend, John had been quietly and self-satisfyingly sure that she would come around. She never did.

On the wedding day, John brought Celia as his date to watch Margaret marry another man. He drank and drank and drank but could not seem to get drunk. He sat with Celia and kept track of Margaret. He danced with Celia and watched Margaret dance. He talked to Celia and heard Margaret’s vows in his head. And after the reception, with a headache, with dust in his mouth, he took Celia to bed and thought of Margaret as he’d never seen her. Imagined her elsewhere, doing similar things.

Celia lay awake and remembered that night. Fully aware, she’d let him and could not bring herself to get out of bed, go to the kitchen, and tell him what a bastard he was.

(more…)