Monday Short Stories

Steve & Steve’s Startling Shadow Show

The Duchess and I were bored this past weekend and saw The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I would not recommend this movie. But it reminded me of an imperfect short story I wrote a thousand years ago, give or take, when I was in college. This was actually inspired by Penn & Teller after I saw one of their shows in NYC.

Startling Shadow Show
by Jeff Somers

The theater was small but the act was big, so the place was packed, a humming crowd of expectancy. The posters outside showed a tall, handsome man smiling in a tuxedo, one hand comradely on the shined shoes of an obviously hung man. The poster declared it to be “Steve and Steve … Performers with a Twist.“

The lights were still up, stage hands occasionally jogging to and fro on the stage while casually dressed people waited politely, chatting and pointing out stage details where they could see them. Men talked to their wives and girlfriends carefully, arms loosely around shoulders in civilized signs of possession. Groups of singles scattered like islands in a sea of matrimony chatted amongst themselves and occasionally flirted. Everyone’s eyes kept flicking to the stage, waiting for the fun to begin.

They talked, low and calm: they traded favorite tracks and skits – the hanging of the second Steve was quite popular, but it was an old favorite; most people thought of the much newer suicide bit, first done in New York a few weeks before, where the whole front row got splattered in warm stage blood. It was new and almost no one in the theater had seen it. The people in the front row particularly hoped it was included, thinking that a bloody shirt would be a perfect trophy from the show.

Slowly, the lights dimmed.


No Great Trick

NOTE: This story originally appeared in The Drexel Online Journal, which no longer appears to exist, in 2003.

No Great Trick

By Jeff Somers

1. Black Magic

It was about the time that Norm Cashman began practicing black magic in his little closet of an office that I met Debbie, the most uninhibited receptionist to ever refuse to sleep with me in a long and proud tradition of women refusing to sleep with me. I can remember the time exactly because Norm caused quite a ruckus before he got fired, what with the dead chickens and the black smoke leaking from under his door. It was during a fire drill caused by one of his spells gone awry (involving, from the smell, burning animal fat) that I met her, a tall brunette in her thirties who turned to me in the chill of an early morning and began saying some of the filthiest things I’d ever heard uttered. I was delighted, of course. I stood next to her for fifteen minutes with a grin on my face the size of my erection and wondered if this was the universe’s way of paying me back for all that acne back in high school.

It wasn’t. Although of course I asked her out (34 times to date) she has never so much as shared a cup of coffee with me. She will freely and gladly describe sexual acts and concepts I had until-then thought arcane and possibly mystical, she will gab on and on about all manner of kinks and fetishes and apparatus until I am red-faced and incoherent, but she only smiles slightly and shakes her head when I beg to buy her dinner, gifts, mansions, whatever. I have grown to hate her, in a way, so I call her twice a day.

I was on the phone with her (being put on hold every few minutes so she could answer the other lines and do her job), amazed at how smoothly she could go from “Good morning, Denton Incorporated” to a lengthy discussion of the true meaning of the phrase “ribbed for her pleasure” without any signs of transition, when Norm finally got canned. He’d been chanting in his office all morning, casting some mighty incantation we were all ignoring more or less by habit, when they came. They being Mark Fillmore, Human Resources Director, and Phyllis Gumber, Director of Outside Sales, Norm’s boss. Apart, they were just about the ugliest two human beings I had ever seen. Together, however, their ugliness sort of canceled itself out, leaving them moderately blurred and possibly bland. We all knew Norm was getting canned, and we just kept talking on the phones and tapping our computers as if we’d seen dozens of forced departures, which, of course, we had.

Norm, however, wasn’t ready yet. As they entered his office he let out a cry and there was some sort of purple flash (I only saw it out of the corner of my eye and my mind was occupied with Debbie’s descriptions of the sensual properties of latex) and the door slammed. Then, nothing for about a minute, as Debbie moaned on into my ear about rubber.

When the door opened, Norm was preceded by a thick cloud of smoke, and then he ran into the maze of cubicles yelling “I’m invisible! I’m invisible!” while most of us just stared and held down anything we didn’t want him grabbing up in his frenzy. He dashed around the cubes for a while despite the fact that no one was chasing him, and then disappeared into the halls.

I glanced over at Phil Dublen, and our eyes met. Silently, we said to each other “Who gets his office?”

They eventually found Norm’s clothes down on the 17th floor, but as far as I know they never found Norm that day. Of course, once they were sure he had left the building, they stopped looking.


Dreamers of Dreams

A story from 11/2001, unpublished. Philip K. Marks is a recurring character of mine; he also appears in the story “sift, almost invisible, through” which appeared in the MWA anthology Crimes by Moonlight, edited by Charlaine Harris.

Dreamers of Dreams

by Jeff Somers

He didn’t know what to make of it, which was usually how he knew he was onto something. Being completely mystified meant he hadn’t yet understood, that was all. Phil Marks scratched at his growing beard and watched the two men across the subway car from him. Years of watching people more or less professionally made Marks a bold observer; he evinced no shame in watching others, and made no effort to hide the fact that he was watching them.

The first one was young, a kid. No more than twenty-five, Marks figured, feeling all of his own forty-two years suddenly, and with force. He was dressed like a student: torn jeans, white T-shirt, backpack. A pair of sporty sunglasses hung from the V-neck of his shirt. His sneakers were expensive but very old and decrepit, leftovers, Marks thought, of a pre-college loan era. The second man was taller and older, dressed in a black suit, everything black, down to his painfully-shined shoes that glared in the fluorescents of the subway. Marks ran his grey eyes over the second man and imagined, with confidence, that the man’s undergarments were also black.

They didn’t know each other. Marks knew that they had entered the subway car at different stops. Having noticed the Man in Black immediately, Marks had watched him. The man had examined the population of the subway car carefully, and chosen a seat next to the kid, where they sat in silence, ignoring each other, for a few moments. Then, without warning, the older man had turned and leaned in to the kid, speaking too softly to be heard by anyone else on the train. The kid had frowned, and then leaned in to hear better.

They were still in that position. The Man in Black had a hand on the kid’s arm, lightly holding on, and his jaw moved steadily. The kid, still frowning, made no move to pull away, and seemed pretty interested in what the man had to say. Marks watched, and didn’t know what to make of it. What did a total stranger have that a kid like that would find so interesting?

At the next stop, the Man in Black stood up, nodded to the kid, and exited the train. The kid sat on the seat loosely, slumped, as if his muscles had stopped having any effect on his frame. He stared at the advertising poster across the aisle so intently Marks twisted around in his seat to look at it: an ad for English lessons. Learn English in two weeks. Immigrants welcomed.

Marks looked back at the kid and frowned. The kid appeared to be in deep, deep thought, seeing nothing in front of him, and Marks’ instincts told him there was a story about to happen. He reached into one of the pockets in his great coat and pulled out a battered notebook and a pen. Flipping the notebook open to a blank page, he quickly jotted down his impressions of the scene and a few details: Man in Black speaks earnestly to stranger. Young kid down on his luck listens intently for no good reason. Is left with lots to think about apparently. MIB: tall, thin, grey hair and all black clothing, doesn’t look crazy. Kid: also tall/thin, looks like college-age but hasn’t eaten or bought new clothes in a while. Bet everything he owns is in the torn knapsack he carries everywhere.

Marks flipped the notebook closed and stuffed it back into his coat. He figured he’d follow the kid for a bit, see what might happen.

Two stops later the kid stood up and left the train, his knapsack still on the seat. Marks stood and plucked it up, thinking it was a great excuse to talk to the kid should he choose to. Carrying the knapsack, he dived through the closing doors and looked around the platform, finding the kid almost directly across, apparently waiting for the uptown train. Marks paused, looking down at the knapsack in his hand and then up at the kid again. He studied the kid’s posture, the way he was peering intently up the tracks at the oncoming train, and had half-raised his hand in a useless gesture when the kid took a step into nothing and allowed himself to fall directly under the train’s wheels.

Someone screamed, and Marks remained frozen, one hand half-raised, his mouth half-open. He had no idea what he’d intended to do.

A crowd quickly gathered, and several people had their cell phones out to dial the police. Marks shook himself out of his stupor and quickly knelt to the floor and opened the knapsack. He didn’t expect to find a note, but he thought there might be some hint as to why the kid had committed suicide – and he knew he’d never get close to the knapsack once he turned it over to the cops.

Marks was quickly disappointed. Inside the bag there were three paperback novels, a notebook of blank paper, and a bagged lunch. Nothing else. Marks slowly zipped the bag closed and looked up. A large crowd of people obscured the spot where the kid had gone over. The train stood there, emptied and lit, as if it didn’t know what to do either.


The Amazing Martin Landawer

This is a short story I wrote back in the early 1990s. It appeared in The Whirligig #3 in 2001.

The Amazing Martin Landawer

by Jeff Somers

I first failed to meet Martin Landawer my freshman year of college.

When he died, I sat immobilized by stunned disbelief for a full day. It seemed impossible that I should outlive Martin. Forty-five is too young for anybody to die, but I’d been certain that Martin would last at least as long as I did, and the news left me feeling directionless, and lost. Tammy phoned me late at night, tearfully informing friends and family of his demise.

“David,” she said, her voice shaking. But resolute, pushing onward. That was Tammy. I had loved her too, at one time. “We’d like you to give the eulogy.”

I thought I’d run out of my supply of terrified shock, after a lifetime of association with Martin. “What?” I managed to croak.

“You knew Martin best. You were his best friend, David. He’d want you to do it.”

I stared at the phone in disbelief. Did she know who she was talking to? Did she know who I was?

“Tammy, I – ”

“Please, David. Martin wanted it.”

I laughed hollowly. “Then he gets it, eh? Nothing’s changed, even now.”

“What do you mean?”

I thought of that first day at school.


Turn to God or Turn Away

This is a short story I wrote some time ago and never sold. I’m going to post some of these stories here from time to time, in case anyone’s interested.

Turn to God or Turn Away

by Jeff Somers

<DR>I think and I’m standing in a field of gently swaying grass, a bright round sun shining above me. Too big, not the real sun. I take it down a notch. I’m standing in the center of the field, me at twenty, thinner and sharper-looking than I ever was. I cloak myself in my favorite skin, what I like to call Burnt Hacker: black leather, unshaven cheeks, wrap-around sunglasses.
I think and I’m in a club in New York City I remember from my existence.

Infinite space inside a chip the size of a postage stamp, but in here I am God, I am lord, I create and destroy universes every moment of my life, ticking away to the infinite pulse of my clock speed. Every fancy I have I can indulge, as often as I wish, over and over again. Except my core. My core remains and I can’t reach in and touch it. My core remains. I have infinite power, I can do anything, except change myself, except edit my own core.

My name is Dexter Raley. This is a prison. I was sentenced to three hundred and sixty years in digital suspension. The only reason it remains a prison is my core. My unassailable, uncontrollable core.</DR>

<ADMIN>The Titus-Merlot Mainframe is located in Washington, D.C., USA houses two hundred sixty inmates, all digitally downloaded from Wetware to Boolean Construct via Nonlinear Diffuse Programming. The Wetware is frozen off-site. When term of sentence is up, personality will be restored to biological interface. Prisoners housed in Titus-Merlot are the top one-percent of violent criminals, all sentenced to terms of at least one hundred and fifty years, impossible to serve in wetware.

There is no direct interface attached to the Mainframe. Order is maintained internally by the SysAdmin, an artificial Boolean construct, and outside direction is accepted only through duly assigned channels which must be brought physically to the Titus-Merlot site.

Prisoners are free to spend their time as they desire, excepting scheduled Binary Maintenance Sessions and scheduled interface with Invasive Psychiatric Analysis (IPA). The most senior prisoner has logged almost fifty-three years within the Mainframe. This particular construct has lost its internal integrity and has fragmented its core data structure. In lay terms, one would describe this construct as ‘insane'</ADMIN>