Thursday Short Stories

Glad and Big

The cover glows in the dark!

The cover glows in the dark!

“Glad & Big” was the first story I ever sold for real, actual money. Written in 1993, it was published by Aberrations Magazine in issue #34 in 1995. I was paid 1/4 cent a word, or $7.50. I never cashed the check and still have it. In 2014 dollars that’s $12.19. By the time I die I hope it hits at least $20 so I can start saying “I got paid $20 in today’s dollars!”

This is very clearly, to me, an early story, right down to the narrating protagonist who happens to be a bitter writer, because all lazy writers make their characters writers as well, because we don’t know anything about anything else.


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.


It was an old, run-down place owned by a hundred different people so far, with a truckload of future owners down the line waiting to be suckered. You walked in, the old hardwood floor creaking beneath your feet, and the bar stretched off to your left, far too long, too far into the shadows, built in more optimistic times when booze was cheaper. Tables and the rickety wooden seats they required filled the rest of the floor, never crowded but always occupied.

The walls were three generations of photographs, mostly black and white. They stretched back into the past too far to be remembered; now they were meaningless portraits of people we’d never met, moments in time we couldn’t interpret. They wrapped around the back wall and behind the bar, big and small, some dated and some not. We each had our favorites.

Nelson, the crotchety old bastard, had a soft spot for Helen. She was a brooding, sad-eyed young girl in a bullet bra and a tight, tight turtleneck, sipping coffee, framed by the bay window. She had a Sixties hair-do and in the corner she had written “to Tony – always – Helen.” The steam rising from her coffee, the way she glanced away from the camera. It entranced the old fuck.

Terry liked the one with the big crowd. It was one of the oldest ones, and it showed old Lee’s filled with smiling, jostling, shoving people. There was pandemonium in that picture, static chaos. We all theorized that it had been taken just before a riot, just before the taps ran dry and drove the proles crazy. Terry didn’t have too much chaos in his life, but he desired it. The picture made him feel like it was all at his fingertips.

Me, I like the picture that had to have been the first one there, right behind the bar, framed. It was a dour, lean man wearing a bowler cap and a white apron, leaning behind the bar and staring at the camera fiercely. A small plaque on the frame declared him “Mr. Lee.” The first owner, I guessed. His name survived but not his memory – if asked I liked to say I thought he’d died in the great tapped keg riots of Terry’s picture. We were the only ones who got it, but then we were the only ones who mattered.


My Funeral

My Funeral

By Jeff Somers

I died young. Like a sucker. I bought the ticket and never got to finish the ride. I was twenty-eight and I stepped into the street looking at my watch and got hit by a Mister Softee Ice cream Truck. It took me a few minutes to realize I was dead, that I wasn’t just paralyzed or stunned or hallucinating, that I wasn’t going to stand up and make a joke and buy everyone ice cream. The driver sat on the bumper and cried over me, which touched me in an odd place I wasn’t familiar with, until I remembered that she was the bitch who’d smacked into me going forty-five in a twenty-five zone, doing her makeup or tuning the radio or searching the horizon for children in desperate need of a chocolate shake. Whatever. She killed me, I killed myself, please keep your head and arms inside the safety cage at all times or we’re not responsible for the mess you’re mangled body will make.

There I was, lying on the hot New York City pavement with the ticket stub still in one hand.


The Unappeasable Host

This was originally publish in Bare Bone #5.

The Unappeasable Host

by Jeff Somers

IT WAS hot, was all he knew. Hotter than he’d ever imagined it possible, dozing on a couch in his apartment, sullenly sweaty when the city temperature hit eighty. Eighty! He prayed for eighty degrees, now. He thought it must be at least 125 degrees. He thought he must be melting, slowly, some horrible former man, running away like candle wax. He supposed he was knee-deep in culture and ought to be absorbing something meaningful, but all he knew was that he was hotter than he’d ever been in his life. He didn’t think there were numbers to describe the amount of kinetic energy in the air.
He swabbed his forehead with a rag and stared around at the rest of the group. He was on an elephant. The whole tour group was riding the huge beasts. They smelled, he thought, like rotten beef jerky.

“Where are we going again?”

Pong, their guide, turned his small, tan head slightly, and said something in his language of marble-mouthed vowels. Then he turned away again. “We go to visit the Hill Tribes.” he said. “These people still live by ancient tradition.”

These people still live by begging from tourists, he thought icily.

In the tour literature, this part of the trip had seemed admirably fascinating. Over beers and burgers with his friends, that part had seemed the best part. On elephants! In the jungle! Visiting tribes that clung to thousand-year-old ways and rules!
He looked around sourly. He was melting onto an elephant and would have the pungent scent of sweated-on rotten beef jerky following him into the afterworld. He swatted at flies and took a drink from his water bottle, wishing he’d stayed in the hotel today, played sick, and just laid on his bed with the ceiling fan on high, misering his strength.

The other members of the tour seemed to be enjoying themselves, as far as he could tell. He didn’t see how it was possible, but they were chatting and laughing, awkwardly perched on their own elephant couriers. An elderly woman noticed him looking at them all and waved.

“Having fun, Harry?” she called out.

He managed a small smile and waved back. “Can’t wait to meet the Hill People!” he sang back, thinking She’s fucking eighty years old and she’s bouncing along on an elephant in 1000-degree heat. She’s senile. When he was eighty, he planned to spend most of his energy devising new ways to get things from the fridge without getting up from his bed. Still, he had to admit, privately, that she was amazing. She looked fifty, and had more energy than most of the others, who were all easily forty years younger. Her enthusiasm, though, annoyed him. He just wanted to go home, and it felt like she was single-handedly pushing them all forward, into the Hills, carrying ridiculous gifts for the beggar children who would swarm them.

“Christ,” he whispered to himself. “I’ll bet a game’s on channel five back home, right now.”

Pong turned to grin at him. “You want to go home, Mr. Harris?”

Mistah Harrie, he pronounced it. Harry still couldn’t tell if their guide was making fun of him or was just having trouble with consonants. He gave him a neutral look and shook his head. Pong was smart, so Harry suspected he was being made fun of. He knew he had a reputation as the dead weight of the group, the sourpuss. It embarrassed him, because the trip had cost so much, and so much effort had gone into its planning – to come and be so thoroughly unhappy made him feel like a whiner, especially since he was alone in his unhappiness. That had made him grit his teeth and stick with it  -though he could have simply kept his hotel and plane reservations and left the tour. That would have meant more money after what he’d spent on the tour, though.

“I’m just as happy here.” he asserted to Pong, who nodded amiably and turned around.

Harry sagged in the saddle behind their guide. Elephants! He hadn’t expected elephants, though everyone said it was right there in the brochure. He supposed it had been. It didn’t mean he’d expected it.