Monday, March 31, 2008

Mahu Fire excerpt by Neil S Plakcy

Mahu Fire by Neil S Plakcy is the third mystery for openly gay homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka. About six months have passed since his undercover assignment in the Lambda finalist Mahu Surfer, and he’s back on the job in Honolulu. In these opening chapters, Kimo begins to wonder if there’s a connection between a rash of arsons at gay-owned businesses, and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the islands.

Mahu Fire
Alyson Books (April 1, 2008)
ISBN: 1593500793


Mahu Fire – Chapter One

It had been a tourist office day on Oçahu, with sunny skies, temperatures in the eighties, and a light trade wind sweeping in over the beaches and chasing the few wispy clouds up into the mountains. We’d had a parched winter, and as April began, and with it our dry season, there were already reports of wildfires in dry spots on the Ko’olau Mountains.

I stepped out the door of my apartment building on Waikīkī as dusk was falling, and the smell of distant smoke rolled over me. There had also been a couple of arsons at gay-owned businesses in the past couple of weeks, and I wondered what was burning—a few acres of mountain scrub, or the property and dreams of a gay man or lesbian.

Hawai’i had been one of the first states to consider legalizing gay marriage, and though Massachusetts, New Jersey and a few other states had moved ahead of us, the movement in the islands was still strong, and in fact, the media had tied a rise in violence against gays and lesbians to the renewed visibility of the campaign, led by the Hawai’i Marriage Project.

I walked the few blocks to the Gay Teen Center, housed in the annex of a church on Kalākaua Avenue. At that hour of the day, Waikīkī was crowded with tourists heading back to their hotels from the beach, older people out for early dinners, and skateboarding teens getting in everybody’s way. I passed up a half dozen chances to pick up discount meal coupons, skirted an elderly Japanese bag lady haranguing the Wizard Stones at Kuhio Beach Park, and stopped for a minute to watch a sailboat setting out for a sunset cruise.

I’d been volunteering at the Gay Teen Center for a couple of months, counseling kids and leading a self-defense workshop in a big open room. My favorite student was a kid named Jimmy Ah Wong, a thin Chinese boy with a bright yellow coxcomb that stood straight up and then, at the very top, drooped over. He looked like a bit actor in a British art film of the 1980s, but he was smart and infinitely kind to the younger kids.

Sixteen of them were waiting for me, Jimmy among them, when I walked into the room. We talked for a few minutes, and then I led them in a couple of warm-up exercises.

We did some yoga, to get them in touch with their bodies, and then a couple of simple judo moves I’d picked up somewhere. When we’d finished the judo, we sat in a circle on the hard wooden floor and talked. I always had to kick things off; they were all shy, and sometimes in order to get into difficult subjects I had to reveal more about myself than made me comfortable. “I had a date on Saturday night,” I said.

A couple of the kids broke into spontaneous applause. I smiled and bowed. “Yes, I know it’s been a while. I wish I could say it was a more positive experience.”

I waited, but no one said anything, so I continued. “I met the guy online. And of course, he wasn’t anything like he’d said.”

“I know that drill,” a chunky boy said. His name was Frankie, and he had some island heritage in him, and sleek black hair pulled into a ponytail. “Nobody on the internet is who they say they are.”

We got into a little discussion about that, and about how they could be safe with people they met. “We agreed to meet at the Rod and Reel Club,” I said. “Remember, always meet people you don’t know in public places, so you can get away easily if things don’t work out.”

“Yes, officer,” Jimmy said, with attitude.

“That’s yes, detective,” I said, and the group laughed. “We had a couple of beers together,” I continued. “We seemed to be hitting it off, and we started making out on the outdoor patio.”

“Is there video?” Frankie asked, and everyone laughed again.

“You wish,” Jimmy said, and Frankie sent daggers his way. I gave them both a sharp look.

“So one thing led to another, and he invited me back to his place,” I said.

“Always use a condom,” Jimmy said.

“Have I told this story before?” I asked, pretending to be annoyed. But I was glad that the lessons I’d been trying to teach were sinking in.

“Does it end with you getting your ass fucked and your heart broken?” a boy I only knew as Lolo asked. He was the toughest of the kids, and I had yet to break through the barricades he had set up around him. “Because if it does, yeah, we’ve heard it before.”

“I save ass fucking for the second date,” I said dryly. “You all should, too.”

“Let him finish the story,” a skinny girl named Pua said. She looked Filipina, but her name in Hawai’ian meant “flower,” which was totally inappropriate in her case.

“The sex was lousy,” I said. “Alcohol does that. The guy’d been all hard in the bar, but when we got naked, he couldn’t perform. Of course, I worried it was me. That somehow I’d disappointed him.” I smiled. “He took care of me, and then as we were cleaning up, I realized he’d come in his shorts at the bar.” I batted my eyelashes. “So I guess I wasn’t that disappointing after all.”

“He couldn’t get it up again?” Frankie asked.

I shrugged. “He wanted to do some coke, and I said I didn’t, and he said that I might as well go, then. So I did. Not exactly a heart-breaker, but not much fun, either.”

“You need a boyfriend,” Pua said.

We talked for a while about some experiences they’d had, and a few of them opened up. I tried not to judge, though in some cases I was horrified by the sexual abuse, drug use, and petty violence they talked about. I was pretty sure that Frankie hung out near the men’s room at Ala Moana Beach Park after dusk, giving blow jobs to johns, and there was at least one other kid I thought was a prostitute as well.

I knew that some of the others snuck back into suburban homes where no one knew their secrets, and I wanted to take every one of them and say, Someone loves you. Someone will love you in the future. You are all good people. But there’s only so much you can do.

On my way out, I dropped in on the woman in charge of the center, a tiny, half-Japanese lesbian named Cathy Selkirk. Cathy was a poet whose love for kids ran deep in her soul. I often found her working long hours, filling out endless grant applications, talking to the kids, or interceding on their behalf with parents, teachers or the police. Though she was only in her early thirties, like I was, the dark circles beneath her eyes and the lines around her mouth made her look older.

She smiled when I walked into her office. “Kimo, I’m glad you’re here. I was going to come look for you. Didn’t you once tell me you knew one of the Clarks, from the department store?”

“Sure, Terri Clark is one of my best friends. Terri Gonsalves, she is now. She’s a widow, that is, but she still uses her husband’s name.”

“I’m working on this application for a grant from The Sandwich Islands Trust, the Clark family foundation. Do you think she has any influence on their decisions? I want to expand our outreach to gay teens on other parts of Oçahu, maybe open a satellite center on the north shore.”

I shook my head. “From what I know, Terri’s great-aunt runs that foundation, and she’s very conservative. I don’t think gay teens are going to be on the top of her list, but I’ll talk to Terri and let you know what she says.”

I sat in the overstuffed armchair across from Cathy’s desk. I could see kids getting comfortable enough in it to talk to her about their problems. “Sandra’s been trying to find out about one of these horrible organizations that demonstrates against gay marriage,” Cathy said. “Do you know anything about the Church of Adam and Eve?”

Sandra was Cathy’s life partner, a prominent attorney with a downtown firm and the most politically connected lesbian in the islands. “This mainland minister and his wife relocated to Honolulu about three months ago, to save us from the plague of homosexuals.” She smiled wryly. “They’re very well-financed, and they advertise their prayer meetings all over the place. Sandra hasn’t been able to find any dirt on them—yet.”

“But she thinks there’s something wrong.”

“There has to be, don’t you think, Kimo?” Cathy looked at me. “How else can they pretend to be loving Christian people when they have this terrible anti-gay agenda?” She sighed. “They’re having one of their revival meetings tonight. Maybe it’s just the smoke everywhere, and these arsons at gay-owned businesses, but I have a bad feeling.”

Mahu Fire Chapter Two

Walking back home, the smoke still hung over Waikīkī, and I had the same bad feeling as Cathy. So I decided to check out the Church of Adam and Eve for myself. After a quick dinner of grilled pineapple chicken with sticky rice, I put on the only suit I own, a conservative navy blue, and slicked my short dark hair back with gel. Since my time in the spotlight, people occasionally recognized me on the street, so I put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses with clear lenses and hoped no one would connect this conservative young businessman with that gay detective in his aloha shirts and Topsiders.

I drove up into the hills of central O’ahu, to a place called the Pupukea Plantation. The atmosphere in the parking lot was festive, like I remembered when I was young and my parents used to drive us out into the country to watch fireworks displays on July fourth. Everybody was so friendly, smiling and shaking hands. Boys and girls played in the grassy aisles and “Onward, Christian Soldiers” poured out of big speakers.

Hundreds of folding chairs had been lined up under the tent, but even so by the time I got there it was standing room only. It was warm, with a buzz of conversation going on around me and the high giddy laughter of little kids. Everybody got a paper flyer with a list of the hymns and the topic of the preacher’s sermon, and an address where you could send donations. An elderly Filipina moved through the aisles, handing out paper fans imprinted with the logo of one of the big car dealers.

The crowd was a cross section of Hawai’i. Young people courteously gave up seats to their elders, and haoles, islanders and Asians smiled at each other and talked about politics and business. Maybe Cathy and Sandra were wrong; the people around me seemed so nice. How could they advocate violence?

The minister and his wife appeared from the sidelines, to rapturous applause. They were both in their early thirties, neatly groomed and overly cheerful, as such religious people often are. He was a little on the pudgy side, but his fleshy face just seemed to hold a smile that much better. She was slim, without much of a figure, obviously the more serious of the two.

The minister led us in the opening prayer, through a couple of hymns and then into his sermon. He began slowly, talking a lot about morality and family values, about the need for a return to spirituality. It all made sense, even to a confirmed non-churchgoer like me. My family was a real polyglot of religions, and we’d gone to a couple of different churches as kids, never settling on any one. Our parents seemed to feel that as long as we grew up as moral, ethical people it didn’t matter where we worshipped.

Then the minister’s wife stepped up to the podium. She began by speaking about their family, extending an invitation to all of us present to join in the love that they shared. “But there are some people who aren’t deserving of our love,” she said, and there was general nodding and agreement among the people around me.

“You know who I’m talking about. Homosexuals. They call themselves gay, to cover up their depravity, but we won’t let them get away with that. There are other names for them, nasty names, but we won’t use them either. We’ll just call them like we see them—homosexuals. Keep the sex right up front there, because that’s what they’re all about, after all. Sex. That’s all they care about. Everything else is just window dressing.”

I started to feel the heat under the tent, regretting having worn my suit. As I pulled at my collar, I glanced around, to see if anyone was looking at me as if they knew who I was. She had that knack, of making you think she was speaking directly to you, and I felt more like an impostor with every word.

I wondered what would happen if someone recognized me. I’d seen crowd mentality at work first hand, when I was a patrolman. All it took was a trigger, and ordinary people would turn into a mob, capable of looting, riot, and other violence that seemed to lurk unsuspected beneath all of our solid exteriors. I had no doubt this crowd would turn on me, hurt me if they could.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Darkness of Castle Tiralur excerpt by Liam Moran

Liam Moran offers an early scene from his erotic swords-and-sorcery adventure, The Darkness of Castle Tiralur. At this point in the tale Arden, a magician, and his apprentice Toral have met up with Lun, a warrior. They have decided to search together for Dannas, Lun’s comrade-in-arms, who has failed to keep a rendezvous with Lun. Here they enter the principality governed by Virax, Lord of Castle Tiralur.

The Darkness of Castle Tiralur
Torquere Press (January 2007)
ISBN: 1-934166-61-8


The three travelers stood beside the dusty road, gazing at a black stone obelisk, thick as a man, and twice as tall. From its side glowered a deeply carved griffon, passant, with unusually long talons clutching a lamb.

“Well!” grunted Lun. “After three days’ march, our first sign of real progress. This must be a boundary marker, though I don’t recognize the heraldic device.”

“Nor do I,” added Arden. His face clouded as he placed a hand on the black stone carving. “This is a realm poisoned with dark magic. Magic of a very high order. In a way, I hope Dannas did not come to this place. From what you have told me about him, Lun, it is where he would be most vulnerable. We will have to be unusually careful. Toral, put your hand here and tell me what you sense.”

Toral placed his hand where his master’s had been and closed his eyes. After a moment’s silence, he said, “I feel nothing.” He paused again, puzzled. “No – not nothing. Something. Something hidden. Yes, hidden. Can you tell what it is that’s hidden, Master?”

“Well done,” Arden commended. “No, I can’t. But there are obscuring veils very deliberately placed around whatever or whoever it is. Something or someone very powerful in this realm is supposed to remain completely unseen and unknown.”

“So what do you suggest we do?” Lun asked.

“Practice invisibility ourselves, at least until we find out more of what this place is like. Be discreet. Be as unremarkable as possible, and pose no challenge unless it can’t be avoided. Toral, you and I will have to be very careful with our magic. Use the simplest spells possible. Any high level magic might attract unwanted attention.”

Toral laughed. “Do you have a simple spell that will make Lun unremarkable? Perhaps make him appear small and ugly, Master? Better yet, make his cock the size of my little finger!”

Lun seized Toral with mock anger and pulled Toral backward against his crotch. “So that’s what you really like, is it, Toral, a little finger to sit on? Do you think that would keep you adequately entertained? I’m sure Arden could arrange it!”

“No,” grinned Arden, “that would take more than a simple spell to accomplish. It would take a miracle from the gods – a miracle I would be very reluctant to pray for.” Then his smile vanished. “Seriously, do nothing that would draw extra attention to our presence. It may be that it isn’t really necessary to be this cautious, but it’s better for us to be overly careful, at least at first.”

“I understand very well, and I agree.” Lun nodded as he released Toral, swatting him playfully on the rump. “For me the best tactic is to act a little stupid. A big man is more easily ignored if he’s assumed to be slow-witted. I’ve done it before. It works quite well.”

“Good!” Arden looked at the sun. “We’ve got light enough to cover a significant distance before it’s time to set our camp. By the way the vegetation has been growing more plentiful, I expect water will be easier to find tonight.”

More serious and quiet than before, the three set out at a brisk pace. As the sun began to hover in the haze above the rolling horizon, the road led them past a few scattered farms and then into dense forest.

“This could be the ideal place to spend the night,” Toral said, gazing at the thick woods. “It smells so rich and sweet after the sharpness of the dry land we’ve been passing through.”

“Well, if we’re comparing ideals,” muttered Lun, “I think I would choose a long hot bath, a meal prepared by a good cook, and a few cups of excellent red wine. And then a big soft bed to make love in all night long.”

“Decadent sybarite!” Arden laughed. “I think Toral meant ideal within the range of our real choices. I’m appalled at your shameless desire for comfort. And you call yourself a warrior!”

With a devilish grin Lun turned to Arden and clamped a massive hand around one of his buttocks. “Well, magician, if comfort is so unimportant to you, maybe tonight is the night we complete our little exchange agreement. Are you ready to let me into that fine rump of yours, regardless of a little discomfort?”

“Certainly!” Arden shifted position and guided Lun’s hand into the cleft of his ass and squeezed the cheeks together. “Contracts as solemn as ours must be honored regardless of pain – or pleasure.” He reached a hand under Lun’s leather apron and stroked the thick mass inside the codpiece, chuckling as he watched lust gather in Lun’s eyes like summer thunderheads. “Tonight will be a good time, Lun. A very good time.”

“In the meantime,” Toral interjected with a leer, “we should find a suitable place to hold these festivities. Master Arden, will you search for water again?”

Arden turned to Toral. “Yes, but let’s do it together. That’s something you could start learning now.” He walked to where Toral stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “In principle, it’s pretty straightforward, but more complex in execution. Close your eyes. Focus your mind on the essence of what you seek: water, the essence of water, the living energy of water. Now link consciousness with me, and we will go searching.”

Almost as soon as they had begun, Toral stiffened and gasped, his mouth falling open. “There is so much! How do you discern...?”

With his eyes still closed, Arden replied, “By making the focus of what you seek more specific. There is still water, large, probably a lake, and there is moving water. Focus on where the moving water meets the still.”

“Yes, there. To the west, slightly south. Not far at all, it feels like.”

“Unlink.” Arden opened his eyes. “Good, Toral. You did well. It’s probably further away than you think, though. I estimate at least a league as the crow flies. It seems closer because there is so much water around. Accurate distance-sense requires a lot of practice. However, your direction is true. You lead the way.”

Leaving the road, the three entered the woods. Without a trail their progress across the spongy forest floor was only moderate, but after a while Lun stopped them.

“I hear the river, or a waterfall, perhaps.”

“Me, too,” Arden said. “Well done, Toral! You led us right to the spot.”

“It would have been embarrassing if I hadn’t,” replied Toral with a grin. “You two would have had to complete your contract standing against one of these trees if I had missed.”

In a moment they entered a small meadow lush with ferns and thick sweetgrass. Across the clearing, a bowshot away, a large stream tumbled over a low waterfall into the lake. Toral went to snare a game bird and gather fresh food while Lun and Arden set the camp. Then Arden peeled off his clothes and waded into the lake toward the base of the waterfall, washing away the dust and sweat of the day’s travel.

“How’s the water?” Lun called out, shucking his kilt and codpiece.

“Good. Not as cold as some of those desert springs we’ve used. As long as you aren’t expecting to be cosseted in that hot bath you were dreaming about earlier, you’ll enjoy it.”

“Ha. You’ll be the one getting a hot bath from me tonight – on the inside.” Lun waded to where Arden stood waist deep in the water and wrapped his huge arms around the magician, kissing him deeply.

Arden opened to Lun’s kiss and clung to Lun’s massive body, luxuriating in a swirl of sensations: the cool water, Lun’s warm flesh, the roughness of Lun’s chin rasping against his throat, the urgent dance of the man’s muscles as Lun ground against him, the enfolding crush of Lun’s immense arms. Nipping and licking at Lun’s ear, he lifted himself and wrapped his legs around Lun’s waist, letting Lun’s swollen shaft glide back and forth in the cleft of his ass as he pumped his own cock against the hard ridges of Lun’s belly. Lun, his mouth still locked on Arden’s throat, grunted and pulled back to gaze hungrily into Arden’s eyes. “You want this as much as I do, don’t you?”

“Yes, Lun, I do.”

“Do you think you can manage it?”

“Yes. In my youth, I learned well from good teachers. It’s been a while since I’ve had a lover inside me, but I know what to do. In addition, I have some magical resources that should greatly enhance our pleasure.”

Striding out of the water into the warm evening air, Lun carried Arden to where their cloaks lay stretched upon rushes and ferns and lowered him to the bed. Lun knelt beside Arden, covering Arden’s torso in a descending torrent of wet, sucking kisses before gently taking Arden’s shaft into his mouth.

Arden moaned and surrendered to Lun’s passionate attention, writhing with every twist of Lun’s tongue as it snaked up and down his cock. He moaned again as Lun rolled his haunches into the air and began to lick along his perineum and then into the delicate ridges of his hole.

With a brawny arm clamped around each of Arden’s thighs, Lun pulled Arden’s crack up to his face, ravaging the sensitive flesh with a furious tongue, relishing his feast of preparation.

“Oh, Lun!” gasped Arden as he drew his knees toward his chest to better expose the target. He reached down past his haunches to seize Lun’s dripping cock and pumped slowly, running his thumb around the flanged base of its now-slippery crown.

Lun let out a muffled whimper and stabbed his tongue deeper yet into Arden’s ass before pulling away and staring down into Arden’s eyes. “I’ve wanted this since I first saw you,” he rumbled huskily.

Arden squeezed the massive shaft in his hand and gazed up hungrily at Lun, at the parted lips shining with saliva, the raven hair, long and wild, about to burst from its ponytail, the eyes radiant with lust. “Me, too, Lun. Now. Come in now.”

A boyish grin flashed across Lun’s handsome face as he leaned down, spat into Arden’s hole, and spat twice again onto his cock. He straightened, and lowered Arden’s ass to meet the swollen head of his shaft. He placed the magician’s feet against his chest and began to push forward against Arden’s soft gate.

At first penetration Arden gasped, closed his eyes to recover, and then smiled up in welcome at Lun. With their eyes locked, shining, Lun drove slowly deeper into the mysterious, enfolding heat of Arden’s body. When his loins met the firm round of Arden’s ass and he could push forward no further, he paused. “Oh, this is going to be good. You feel wonderful.” He grasped Arden’s feet and lifted one over his shoulder, the other to his mouth, sucking in Arden’s first and second toes, driving his tongue between them, biting softly on the larger.

“Mmm. It’s good already, Lun,” groaned Arden, writhing in pleasure as Lun’s tongue snaked again between his toes. “Here. Let me set an energy spell.” Arden pulled his foot from Lun’s mouth, locked his ankles behind the warrior’s lean waist and sat up, settling his body upon Lun’s massive column. He placed the middle finger of his right hand against the forested knot of Lun’s navel, and that of his left on his own. “When I tell you, take three long, slow breaths, synchronized with mine, breathing out first. This spell will amplify the polarity of our bodies so that wherever and whenever our flesh touches, the charge of our body-lightning will be greatly intensified. Is that acceptable to you?”

“You’re joking, of course. Do it!”

“No, I’d never use a spell during sex without my partner’s consent. But,” Arden leered up at the muscular giant embracing him, “I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.” He pressed slightly with his fingers. “Ready? Breathe out now.”

Lun pressed his breath out slowly, watching Arden to keep in time. At the end of the second breath he could feel a strange heat begin to build at his navel, spreading out like ripples in a pond. By the end of the third breath, Arden’s finger had become a searing brand on his navel that sent its fire plunging down to his groin, igniting his balls and shaft, flashing like a prairie fire across his skin everywhere the two of them touched.

He leaned down to kiss Arden, and upon contact his lips sang with the new sensation. Yes, body-lightning. What a good name for it. “I hope you can handle what you’ve unleashed, magician,” he mumbled into Arden’s throat, his voice thick with lust. “The gods help you if you can’t.” He straightened and surrendered to the pounding drum of his desire, driving his rigid flesh up into Arden’s body again and again, helpless in the tumult of sensation and need that engulfed him.

Falling backward and pulling Lun on top of him, Arden twisted, clamped and rocked to meet every thrust that filled him, igniting his inmost parts, yielding to Lun’s conquest, Lun’s possession of his body.

Lun pulled out, and Arden yelped at the sudden void, but the warrior flipped him onto his hands and knees in a single, rough motion and drove back in. Lun leaned forward and wrapped his huge arms around Arden’s chest, sending the magic fire through them both wherever he clung, licked, bit and kissed. The rhythm of his thrusts took on a relentless life of its own, binding all awareness back into itself, into the fiery hunger that now owned their bodies, breath and touch.

Feeling the first convulsions of his climax building, Lun pulled Arden upright, crushing Arden backward into his chest, lifting Arden from his knees and ramming his cock deep into Arden’s body in ecstatic madness. As the explosion built he held Arden against him with one massive arm and with the other hand began to pump Arden’s dripping cock furiously.

Arden gasped at the fire of Lun’s fist around his shaft, then melted against the warrior’s chest, letting Lun control every move. Lun stiffened and stopped breathing for an instant, then bellowed and sobbed as he erupted deep in Arden’s bowels, burying his face in Arden’s neck, stroking urgently on Arden’s cock. Arden, feeling the burning, liquid explosions inside him, thrashed in Lun’s embrace as he shot his streams into Lun’s hand and onto the ground in long white ropes. Still they came in unison, spasms of ecstasy making their bodies arch and roll in a delirious dance of pleasure.

Finally, they collapsed together onto their bed of rushes and cloth, sweating and panting as the body-lightning faded with their orgasms. Lun, still inside Arden, pulled himself close and wrapped himself around the magician, licking the sweat from Arden’s neck, caressing his chest, belly and thighs. “Oh, Arden,” he murmured, voice soft with wonder. “So good!”

Slowly their breathing eased into rhythms of rest and their limbs slackened. Arden turned his head to kiss Lun on the lips, and softening, Lun’s shaft slithered out of Arden’s ass with the movement. Both men grunted at the loss, smiled knowingly at each other and kissed languorously, deeply.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Stranger's Table selections by Anne Brooke

Two selections from her second collection of poetry, A Stranger's Table, by Anne Brooke.

A Stranger's Table
Poetry Monthly Press (February 12, 2007)
ISBN: 1905126883



Your rainbow eye beckons me,
ease of sunlight through grass,
symphony of green
as the colours arc, a future not yet taken
in the shiver of fingers, your lips’ enticement,
peach and primrose, citrus,
blueberry, gold –
so well I know the shades your flesh makes
in my star-wild dreaming –
and I wish I could touch you
while the courage is on me
and I think one day I will,
one day soon I will step out of my skin,
the weight of unimagined expectation,
and slip snake-like, huntress and prey,
into your body’s gentle, drifting pasture
to take with me the taste of your breasts
on my tongue, the strange homecoming of sex
with the salt-sea swell of your rising
rocking me to shore.


Your silken skin
laps my eye to milkiness
here as I reach out
and draw my longing fingers
down your hair’s dark welcome
and the curve of your cheek,
feeling the warmth of your mouth
on the intricate stars of my hand.
The scent of you
is lemon and spices on my tongue.
See how I lean
and trace the rise of your shoulders
with my eager lips
so your shape is carved in breathing;
kissing a journey over arms, breasts,legs
and all the honeyed country between us,
I will wrap you, my love,
in the coat of my desire
while around us still
the wild night dreams till morning.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spine Intact, Some Creases excerpt by Victor J Banis

The following is a brief excerpt from Spine Intact, Some Creases, the memoir of Victor J. Banis. Part personal history, part gay history, some writing tips,
some comments on philosophy and religion and a few recipes for good measure by a legendary name and pioneer of gay fiction.

Spine Intact, Some Creases
Wildside Press (March 18, 2008)
ISBN: 1434402061


Just this very day I was riding on one of San Francisco’s trolleys next to an elderly black man and in the course of conversation he mentioned that he had in the same day managed to break both pairs of his glasses.

“Gosh, this has been your unlucky day,” I said.

“Unlucky?” He gave me an astonished look. “I’d say it was pretty lucky. I woke up, didn’t I?”

Good point. Every day is a gift, isn’t it? Sometimes we demand too much of ourselves and of life. Daphne du Maurier, when she had finished her 1938 classic novel of suspense, Rebecca (now there is a great opening paragraph), gave the manuscript to her good friend, the literary lion, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (who wrote as “Q”). He read it and when he gave it back to her, told her that if she went ahead with it, the book would make her rich and famous—and the literary world would never forgive her for it. As it turned out he was right on all counts.

I am aware that there are those who look down upon what I have written. That is their problem. If mine was not the sort of career that led to great fame and fortune it was nonetheless successful in my own terms, on nearly every count. I have no regrets.

Indeed, I view regret as just another, more subtle way of flagellating oneself. Every moment of your life, every person and event, every mistake and triumph, has contributed to bringing you to where you are, to making you who and what you are. If you like yourself what is there to regret?

Don’t like yourself? Work on it. People take their cues from you. I can tell you for certain, in your entire life no one will ever like you any more than you like yourself. Looking for love? If you are not looking first at your self you really are looking in all the wrong places.

The legendary soprano, Luisa Tetrazzini, was interviewed late in her life. By this time she was living in a retirement home (they called them “poor houses” in those days) her operatic triumphs and scandalous romances far behind her. When the interviewer asked her about her voice, she went to the piano and sang a few measures from Lucia’s notoriously difficult mad scene, in what the interviewer described as an astonishingly young, fresh voice. She gave a cackle of glee and cried, “By God, I may be old, I may be poor, I may be toothless, but I’m still Tetrazzini!”

You’re still you, aren’t you? Whatever else may have gone from you with time or the sometimes puzzling machinations of fate there is one thing that you can never lose—no one ever has occupied, or ever will occupy, your unique place in the universe. Cherish it.

Take a look around yourself—better yet, take a look inside yourself. This is your life. Right now. Right here. Take responsibility for it. Are you happy? If not, why not? Unhappiness is mostly wanting things to be something other than what they really are. Wanting your next door neighbor to fall in love with you doesn’t make it so, it only makes you unhappy.

The conditions you put on being happy are the exact measure of the distance between yourself and happiness. Happiness cannot be deferred. We tend to choose to be unhappy until we can have our way with things. Like the child holding his breath until his parent gives in, we tell God, or life, that we are willing to be happy—when we get that new job, when so-and-so falls in love with us, when we have lost twenty pounds. This is not happiness, this is contract negotiation. Unfortunately, the other side across the negotiating table from you is just you again. We have met the enemy, as Pogo used to say, and he is us.

Pretend that you’re happy. The people who look into these things now say that when you smile the brain responds with a dose of the chemicals that it normally provides when you really are happy. It is sort of as if the brain says to itself, “Gosh, he’s smiling, we must be happy and I missed it,” and adapts to the program. If you pretend for a while that you are happy, you may trick yourself into feeling happy.

Find some time to be still. A woman once complained to me that she prayed and prayed incessantly but God never seemed to call her back. “Perhaps,” I suggested, “when he tries he gets a busy signal.”

Get rid of the busy signal: Meditate. Now, meditation is not the same as prayer, though ideally both will get you to the same place. We tend to associate meditation with Buddhism and indeed meditation is an essential element of Buddhism, but Buddhism is not essential to meditation, which is not the exclusive province of any religion. I have known Protestants and Catholics, Jews and atheists who meditate in one way or another and with no conflict with their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
If you look into a pool of clear water and splash it all about with your hand you will find it difficult to see the bottom with any clarity, but if you let the water go still you will find that you see right through it. Meditation is nothing more than getting the pool of your mind still.

Try chanting Ohm. The metaphysical people say that this puts you in tune with the universe but there are very practical and down to earth benefits as well. You will discover at once when you try that it stimulates your sinus cavities; if you have sinus problems, ten minutes a day of chanting will prove wonderfully therapeutic. At the same time you are stimulating the various glands, like the thyroid, that control your metabolism, which is to say, whether or not you believe that you are tuning into the universe, it’s certain to make you feel better.

There’s nothing mysterious about how to do it either—just take a deep breath and say Ohm on the exhalation. If you want to do it the really best way, make almost, but not quite, three separate syllables of it, which sounds far more difficult than it is. Begin the O sound in your throat as you would, say, singing. Then push the sound or the vibration up into you nasal cavity—you will find it easy to move the vibration around. Finally move to the front of your mouth for the Mmmm finale.

The experts say it’s not worth the effort if you aren’t going to do this a minimum of ten minutes a day but I say, pish, even a minute or two of peaceful focusing will do you good. Of course ten minutes a day is better. If you can manage that for a while and then try going to twenty, you will see that twenty is not just twice as good but many times better. Let’s be honest, though, one can’t always squeeze in that extra time. Do ten and if you are truly in a rush, do whatever you can and let yourself feel good about it.

Incidentally, if you are into affirming or visualization, the ideal time to do it is before chanting—stilling your mind allows time for your desires to sink into your subconscious before your negative energies go to work on them.

If chanting seems too esoteric for you, just sit and quietly observe your breathing, the flow of air in and out of your nostrils, the rise and fall of your diaphragm. Let your thoughts arise as they will, observe them and let them go without attaching yourself to them.

There are plenty of ways to meditate, however, and lots of good books to tell you how. It doesn’t matter, really, whether you chant or gaze into the flame of a candle or contemplate your navel, the whole point is to focus your mind, to help it shut up in other words.

Stand naked in front of your mirror. Yes, I know. But if you can’t love the warts you can’t love the dimples, you don’t get to pick and choose. Love doesn’t work that way, not with someone else and not with yourself.

If you are going to make perfection the price that must be paid for your love you are going to find yourself with very few shoppers. Practice forgiveness. Start with forgiving yourself. Stephen Levine writes of how very painful it can be to shut yourself out of your own heart. Forgiveness is the key to open the door.

We have all stepped on someone’s toes at one time or another. Silently ask those whom you have offended to forgive you. Go on to forgive those who have offended you. It can be difficult to grasp when you are angry but really, whatever it was that they did had nothing to do with you and everything to do with themselves. Don’t take it personally. The only personal part is the damage you are doing to yourself harboring those unhappy memories. Thoughts are things. Forgiving thoughts are healing things. Forgiveness is love and love is the answer. It doesn’t matter, Alex, what the question is. Love is always the answer.

Incidentally, don’t be surprised if that person you have been at odds with for ten years suddenly calls you on the phone and asks you to lunch. If he doesn’t, don’t worry about that either. This isn’t about him it’s about you.

Give. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Whatever you give comes back to you in like kind. But consider that a warning as well. Things return in the spirit in which they were given. Whatever you give lovingly, freely—and best of all unannounced—will find it’s way back to you in just such terms. If you find your life all tied up in knots, however, it may be the strings you attached to your gifts.

And don’t think you can use lack of money as an excuse, either. Considering how little it costs the giver it is astonishing what value a smile may have for the one who receives it. An honest compliment may be enough to get your waiter, the sales clerk, the bus driver, through a really hard day. Don’t sneer. We all have them, after all.

Practice a little tenderness. We live in such a crowded world it is inevitable that from time to time we are going to bump into one another. If we keep our edges a little soft, it won’t hurt so much. Courtesy, manners, respect for others—these are not “extras” in life, they are a major part of what separates us from the kids with the tails. Miss Manners jokes about saving civilization but her claim is not as exaggerated as it sounds. Throughout our long history, in every civilization that has come and gone, the first signal of decay, of the unraveling of the fabric, has always been the decline in everyday manners, the failure of the common courtesies people visit upon one another.

Of course, you cannot single-handedly save our society nor can I. But I truly believe that no one has ever set a strong example—for good or for ill—that someone else hasn’t followed it. Make your example a good one. Trust me, someone will emulate it.

It was Yogi Berra who pointed out that you should make a point of going to the funerals of others because if you did not they might not come to yours either.
His point was a valid one. We all need a little consideration from others from time to time. Sooner or later someone is going to need your kindness, seriously need it. You will miss out on that hot date because a friend needs to cry on your shoulder. Someone will say something stupid or spiteful and while disdaining to apologize will nonetheless hope for your forgiveness. Aunt Dilda will talk your ear off because she is lonely and you will have to take a pass on that lovely frock your heart was set on because a friend is in desperate need of a cash infusion.

These are the dues that we each of us have to pay from time to time for the privilege of being part of the family and though you may see yourself as the black sheep of the family, pay them anyway and be glad that you can. As sure as God made little green apples the sling pump will be on the other foot one day. Think of it as insurance and keep your policy paid up.

We are all, after all, a part of Mankind. Just now as I breathed out someone else breathed in from the same atmosphere and out again. The island word, aloha, translates literally as “joyful sharing of breath.” Joyful or not, however, we partake daily of one another’s breath in some infinitesimal degree. And not just those of us now alive, either. The scientists say that the supply of oxygen on our planet remains fixed, it merely recycles and remixes, which is another way to say that you are even now inhaling the breath of our predecessors.

Consider the plants, too, breathing in and out with us, exchanging nutrients. We sweat, we lose minute bits of hair and skin and they fall to the earth and become a part of its makeup. We die and in time our bodies return to dust. We eat food grown in the soil and in it are traces of everyone and everything that has ever lived on our planet.

So it turns out that it is really not my life and your life but Life, and we are all a part of this same vast organism, infinite and endless.

Damn, I just put my foot through my soapbox.

I guess what I am suggesting is, try living your life in such a way that if the curtain goes up sooner than you expected you’ll be ready anyway for the tableau.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Snow Moon Rising excerpt by Lori L Lake

The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 15 of Snow Moon Rising by Lori L Lake, an epic novel about Mischka Gallo, a proud Roma woman living in Poland before WWII. When she meets Pippi Stanek, the "Gypsy" and the German girl become fast friends, but then WWII begins, all of Europe is in turmoil, and Mischka and her family are in danger. The Nazi forces will not stop until they've rounded up every Gypsy, Jew, dissident, and homosexual. On the run and separated from her family, Mischka can hardly comprehend the obstacles that face her, and when she is captured, she must use all her wits just to stay alive. Can Mischka survive through the hell of the war and find her family and Pippi, too?

Snow Moon Rising, winner of the 2007 Golden Crown Literary Award and the Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award, takes place in a world beset by war where two women on either side of the conflagration breach the divide - and save one another. A stunning novel of two women's enduring love and friendship across family, clan, and cultural barriers, it's a story of desperation and honor, hope and fear at a time when the world was split into a million pieces.

Snow Moon Rising
Regal Crest Enterprises (October 17, 2006)
ISBN: 1932300503


Poland – North of the Tatras Mountains, November, 1942 (Snow Moon)

WHEN THE MOON was high in the sky, they reached the foothills of the Tatras Mountains, at one of the lower passes of the Carpathian Range. Depending upon where they made their ascent and descent, they would likely pass through Slovakia, but it was less than a hundred miles south to Hungary. They pushed on as another hour passed, then two. The moon disappeared behind clouds and they were forced to slow and let the animals find the path. Mischka realized dawn was a little over an hour away.

The horses clearly suffered from fatigue, but after a brief water break, again Bersh urged them ahead. “We must get past the foothills and into terrain where it’s more difficult for the German carts to travel. Come. We move on. Stay close. The path twists and turns many ways now.”

Thrum…thrum…thrum… Each time her horse’s hooves hit the ground, the jolt jarred Mischka and kept her awake. She was beyond tired, and her little mare must be exhausted. Mischka leaned forward, her thick hair falling down around her face and onto the horse’s sweaty neck. She patted the mare, willing energy to flow to her. “Thank you, Maisie,” she whispered. “Stay with me. It’s not long now.”

The path narrowed and went east, then later meandered and switched back to the west as they went up an incline that became more pronounced. She turned her head to look down the hill and across the valley they had fled from. Squinting, she noticed a tiny pinprick of golden light bobbing along several miles away, maybe a lantern on a cart or wagon. Perhaps a man carried it, but even from this distance, it seemed to be moving too fast—unless the man were running, and she thought that unlikely. She watched for another minute, paying no attention to Maisie, so Mischka was surprised when her mare shifted course and she was no longer able to see the light. Soon enough, they traveled southeast on the incline. The path forked, and they went to the left, then came around due east. Over her right shoulder, she watched and waited. After a few moments, from a grove of trees, the light emerged again, closer than ever.

This was not good, not good at all. To complicate matters, the blackness of the night was diminishing. She could see that the kumpania still had quite some distance before exiting the foothills and getting to the scrub trees around the base of the mountain. Once the sun came up, they would be in full sight unless they could make it into the trees.

They came to another fork, and this time the troupe went right, avoiding a very steep grade. Mischka scanned for the pass in the dark mountain looming ahead. As far as she could tell, her people could travel through the foothills by staying on increasingly narrow paths that led up to the pass, or they could travel along wider trails that ran parallel to the mountain’s apex and periodically forked off to the south. Bersh was alternating between gradual slope and narrow path, which gave the laboring horses an easier time.

Was it her imagination, or was the bobbing light slightly bigger now? Soon its progress would be concealed by the scrub brush in the foothills, and then she would have no way to gauge how far ahead the kumpania was or how close their pursuers had drawn. At some point, the Germans—for she was now certain they were soldiers—were going to have to stop to unhitch their horses from the carts, but that wouldn’t take much time.

She glanced behind. Three horses labored behind her bearing Aladar’s son, Shandor, then Gyorgy, and finally Tobar riding with Emil’s son Palko. She pulled up, and the end of the procession came to a stop as she shifted to the side and looked over her shoulder.

Shandor, obviously half-asleep, mumbled, “What’s the matter?”

“Shhh…” she said. “They’re closer than we think, and they mustn’t hear us. Sound travels too easily up here.”

Tobar said, “You’ve seen the light, too.” It was a statement, not a question.

“What light?” Shandor whispered.

“The soldiers are only a matter of minutes away,” Mischka said. “As soon as they unhitch their horses, they will race up the mountain and fall upon our families. We must draw them away—give the caravan time to get over the pass and elude them on the other side.”

“How do you propose to do that?” Gyorgy cupped a hand over his mouth to muffle his words.

Tobar grinned, and his beard shook. “We take them on a wild chicken chase, right Mischka?”

“Yes. But someone has to catch up and pass the word to Bersh. He needs to go all out, straight up the mountain. No more gentle slopes. Once the sun comes up, we’ll be easy prey.”

Gyorgy said, “We three men will draw them away. Mischka, you pass the word ahead.”

“No, my brother. You have a family. I have none. You go deliver the word. Besides, we need someone strong at the end of the procession, just in case they do catch up.”

“She’s right, Gyorgy,” Tobar said. “Shandor and I are single men. Your children depend upon you.”

“Papa will kill me,” Gyorgy whispered in a heated voice. “I can’t leave you, Mischka. What if you’re caught?”

Shandor raised his chin high. “We shall not be caught. How ridiculous.”

Mischka didn’t comment on Shandor’s ego. “We don’t have time to debate. Go. Leave it to us, Gyorgy. We’ll meet you at the bottom of the mountain.”

“Yes,” Tobar whispered. “Here, take Palko.” They quickly transferred the youth from in front of Tobar to Gyorgy’s horse, and once he was settled, Tobar shook Gyorgy’s hand. “Go, my friend. We’ll soon be back together on the other side of the mountain.”

Gyorgy sighed, then in a firm whisper he said, “Meet us at the campground in the low reaches of the south side of the mountain. We will wait—or leave a lookout for you. If you’re delayed more than a few hours, then travel southward through the Slovak lands—to the farm village of Miskolc in Hungary. We’ll post someone in the woods in case the town is in enemy hands. Godspeed, my sister and brothers!”

They jockeyed their horses around, and bade farewell, and almost immediately Tobar said, “They come. I hear them in the distance. We must work together now. Make a lot of noise and run west for at least two miles. Shandor, take the upper path that runs there.” He pointed ahead of them to the left. “Mischka, you shall take the middle path, and I’ll take the low path.“

“No, Tobar,” Mischka said, “you stand the greatest risk of capture.”

“Don’t worry about me. Ox is the strongest, hardiest horse and I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve. Shandor, do nothing foolish. Stay out ahead of them. Make a lot of noise to attract them to the west. Our families must make it over the pass. Once we draw them away, circle up and over to the southwest. Whatever you do, keep moving southwest and angling upwards. Understand?”

“I wish we had Emil’s gun,” Mischka said.

Tobar smiled a wicked, toothy grin. “We’ll kill them with our bare hands if it comes to that.” He took a deep breath. “All right, time to run like foxes through the forest.” Palms up, he held his hands out, and his companions grabbed his big mitts. Through her leather gloves, Mischka squeezed his hand tight.

“Go like the spirits,” he said. “I’ll bring up the rear.”

Mischka spurred her horse forward, her heart beating fast in her chest. Behind her, Shandor let out a whoop. The Snow Moon had gradually disappeared, and the bloody edge of the sun arose over the horizon, spreading a pale stain of light over the foothills that Mischka and her companions rode so furiously across.

MISCHKA WASN’T SURE how far she and Maisie traveled. The sun was up, casting rays, and she felt faint warmth on the back of her neck. Although she saw mist gushing out of her mouth with each breath, she wasn’t aware of the cold. She felt only worry, extreme fatigue, the heat of exertion. Both she and the horse could see the ground better now that more light was filtering through the scrub. She heard sounds of pursuit, but far off in the distance. Should she slow her flight? What if they stopped giving chase and went back after the caravan? Torn, she decided to continue on so long as she could hear the hoofbeats and shouts.

She wondered if Bersh would be able to make the mad scramble up the mountain into Slovak territory and if soldiers would be there, too. Even if the kumpania managed to make it into the Slovak lands, how long would it take them to cross into Hungary? She hoped Tobar and Shandor were faring well and that the three of them had a chance of reuniting at the pass and traveling on together.

She came to a fork and angled uphill to the left, deciding she had traveled due west long enough. The little mare stumbled on the incline. Clacking her tongue against the roof of her mouth and nudging with her knees, Mischka urged her forward. So intent was she on spurring the horse that she didn’t see the washout until she was almost upon it. A huge section of rock had slid down the hill forming a twenty-foot-high barricade that couldn’t be crossed.

She reined in her horse, and the little mare skidded to a halt, sides heaving and sweat pouring off her flanks. Sick with panic, Mischka looked behind her. She could hear the pursuers and guessed she had only minutes to find another path to take. She had to get down to that fork and come at this from a different angle. She coaxed Maisie around and loped back down the trail to take a different route at the fork she’d passed earlier. Much to her dismay, she saw how much in the open she was and how easily her brown horse and dark brown clothing must stand out in the midst of so much gray and tan. But Maisie’s hooves found purchase, and when she’d gone far enough to bypass the washout, a surge of adrenaline coursed through her. It was now or never. Tightening her grip on the reins, she tucked in behind the velvety brown head, and prodded the little horse back up the hill.

At the next turn of the trail, she broke through a thicket of low-hanging branches and yanked Maisie up short—face-to-face with a band of soldiers.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

High Risk excerpt by Rick R Reed

Here’s a taste of my nasty little thriller, High Risk, just released in February of 2008 from Amber Quill Press. In the short segment below, we get a glimpse of my main character, Beth Walsh, who is seemingly a demure housewife. But Beth has a secret life and hooks up with men for near-anonymous trysts while her attorney husband works. The sham can work for only so long…and Beth has just met the irresistibly gorgeous stranger who will change Beth’s life for the worst. Inside Abbott Lowery’s handsome exterior lurks a twisted monster…

I hope you’ll be able to feel the tension and dread as Beth’s doubts about what she is doing begin to mount and she realizes she may have gone down a path from which there is no turning back…

High Risk
Amber Quill Press (February 2008)
ISBN: 1602729530


Heading up the outer drive, Beth was at odds. Her hands on the steering wheel were damp, her heart pounding with discomfort, making her breath quicken. Abbott sat next to her, watching her profile as she drove. Beth couldn’t deny that his focus on her was causing a wave of sensation: guilt, desire, nausea, euphoria. It wasn’t only her hands that were damp.

As she pictured pulling up to her graystone, she felt both dread and an overwhelming excitement. She imagined going through the front door with him, pushing him up against it, running her hands over that hard, defined body. And the thought made her stomach twist in a knot.

Why was she doing this?

It would be easy enough to take the next exit, give him some money for cab fare and just forget the whole thing. You really haven’t crossed the line yet, even though Mark wouldn’t be happy that you’ve come this far.

Beth pressed down harder on the accelerator. With a trembling hand, she reached into the compartment in the center console and took out an old CD: Dirty Vegas.


“What did you say your name was?” Beth adjusted the volume, turning the throbbing beats down just a bit.

“I didn’t.”

Why am I doing this?

“Names aren’t really all that important, are they?”

Beth glanced at him; he looked even bigger squeezed into the Kharmann Ghia’s bucket seat. He was what her mother would have called “strapping.” She took in his thighs, the denim straining to cover them, barely concealing the muscles tensed beneath.

As she signaled for the exit at Fullerton, she pictured the home she shared with Mark and completely unbidden came the memory of the first time she had seen it. It was shortly before they were married, on an autumn day much like this one. They had pulled up in front of the building, and Mark hadn’t said a word. The “For Sale” sign, with its “contract pending” addendum had said more than enough. The building’s rough stone, its leaded glass windows, and the sky’s impossible blue promise as a backdrop had said everything else.

They had hurried up the stone steps and once inside, the empty condo, with its gleaming floors of polished oak, its clean white walls, and the patterns the shadows made on the floor transported her.

“Home?” Mark had asked. “It’s not too late to turn back.”

“Home,” she had whispered and took his hand, leading him into what would be their bedroom, cool and dark from the ivy-shrouded windows, and pulled him down to her on the floor.

It’s not too late to turn back.

“So, what it is it? I want to know what to scream when I come.”


“Nice. I’m Beth.”

“Beth. That’s about right.”

She laughed, but felt a twinge: what did he mean? Was he mocking her?

Stop it. Beth glanced at him as they stopped for light at Clark Street. She’d had her share of handsome men, but this Abbott was a standout (even though a weird, high-pitched chorus sang a litany of warning in her mind). Looks like his were too much to resist. No one, Beth mused, in her little black “appointment” book could rival him.

Or was this the way she thought every other time? Were they all too beautiful to resist?

No. Abbott was different, a benchmark.

It would be worth violating her principles just this once. Wouldn’t it?

“Why so quiet?” Beth gunned the car across the intersection of Clark and Fullerton, and began the hunt for a parking space.

“Nothin’ to say.”

“A man of action.” She wished he would touch her thigh, her hair, whisper dirty nothings in her ear, do something. Usually, the guys couldn’t wait…and their desire impelled her, kept thoughts about her wrongdoing firmly in the back of her mind, where she could deal with them later. But Abbott simply stared out the window. At what? The neighborhood? Memorizing where she lived so he could come back, unannounced?

There was a brooding quality to his silence, and Beth tried to put it in a romantic light. She tried to fast forward: feeling the stubble against her check, their first kiss, his arms encircling her…

Monday, March 10, 2008

An Evening in Esteli excerpt by Cathy Lundoff

The following excerpt from “An Evening in Estelí” by Cathy Lundoff is available in the Lambda and Golden Crown Literary Award nominated lesbian erotica collection Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing. Crave is a collection of fifteen stories about rebels and werewolves, spaceship captains and voyeurs.

Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing
Lethe Press (2007)
ISBN: 1590210336


Lorraine watched the other woman as if nothing else mattered. For a moment, it wasn’t 1988 and they weren’t at a Sandinista rally in Estelí, surrounded by swaying Nicaraguans singing “No Pasaran!” For once teaching people to read was the furthest thing from her mind.

It was as if they were the only two people in the world. The feeling made her heart race, tumbling over inside her until she thought she’d pass out. She imagined kissing the other woman, feeling her lips open beneath her own. She pictured the softness of the woman’s breasts in her currently empty hands and the image sent a wave of pure desire through her.

But then the crowd cheered and the noise broke into her reverie. With a huge effort, she turned to speak to another member of her brigade, mumbling something inane about how hot it was. Derek gave her a blank stare, then nodded in agreement, his mind somewhere else.

For a minute, she thought about asking him if he knew who the mysterious beauty was but then decided against it. Derek had excellent subliminal gaydar, judging from his last two girlfriends. He’d introduce himself to the gorgeous stranger, they’d date and she’d come out eventually. Then she’d come and cry on Lorraine’s shoulder before going off to date someone else. It had happened twice now and there was no way she was going through it again. Lorraine resigned herself to surreptitious glances.

The woman could have been Nicaraguan but Lorraine didn’t think so. Too tall, for one thing. She had golden brown skin, big brown eyes and glorious long black hair that flowed down her back in a ponytail. Her hands were big for her size and her body was compact but well-rounded. Right now, she was talking to some of the market women, making them laugh.

She had the most kissable mouth Lorraine had ever seen: full lips that parted in a big smile to show slightly crooked white teeth, gapped in the middle. Lorraine wanted to run her tongue up that gap and behind those teeth. The notion send a redhot flash through her, leaving an empty pang in its wake. She made herself look away. Maybe there was something to be said for unfulfilled crushes after all.

It wasn’t like she was liable to see much in the way of fulfillment anyway, even if the other woman did turn out to be a lesbian. For one thing, it wasn’t safe. For another, there was nowhere to go; she slept in the guesthouse in hammocks with the rest of her brigade. None of them ever went anywhere by themselves if they could help it. You never knew when the contras might strike; Nicaragua was a country at war and forgetting that was a bad, potentially fatal, idea.

The commander on the makeshift stage yielded his place to Daisy Zamora, poet and soldier. Lorraine reminded herself that this was the reason she’d come down here: to help build a revolution of poets, not to find herself a new girlfriend. Of course, it was turning out to be more complicated than that but she still kept her ideals close to her heart. Listening to the poet, she almost forgot the gorgeous woman in the flow of equally gorgeous words.

When Zamora finished, Lorraine broke into cheers along with the rest of the crowd. Everything after this would be one big party until everybody had to crawl off to bed before another day in the coffee fields, the clinics and the schools. Or the battlefields in the mountains. Lorraine grimaced sympathetically at the young Sandinista solders walking back to their barracks for nightly guard duty.

“I like her work even more than Ernesto’s. So much raw energy. Have you read Giaconda’s poems? They’re a bit like that too.” The voice at her side was a deep contralto, English edged with a slight accent that Lorraine didn’t recognize. She turned, heart thumping, to find the beauty standing a mere yard away. She was, of course, talking to Derek. Lorraine forced herself not to roll her eyes or groan out loud. Damn the man, how did he manage to do this time and again?

Disgusted, she turned on her heel to walk back to the guesthouse. “Wait, Lorrie, there’s someone you should meet,” Derek’s voice pulled her back, reminded her to appear gracious however little she felt it. “This is Marla. She’s here working on a series of articles on women in the Revolution. Lorraine’s been on the brigade with me for four months now.” He grinned as if he could somehow take the credit for Lorraine’s being there in the first place.

But Marla didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she reached over and caught Lorraine’s hand in one of her larger ones. Her touch sent a shock through Lorraine that only intensified when she met the other woman’s eyes. Gradually she realized that Marla had asked her a question and she hadn’t heard a word of it. A blush burned through her cheeks and she made herself look away for an instant. “I’m sorry, I spaced out. What did you say?”

Marla’s full lips quirked in an amused smile. “Daisy’s poetry has that effect on me sometimes too. I asked where in the States you were from and how long you’ll be in Nicaragua.”

Of course she had. What did you expect her to ask? Lorraine managed a small smile and answered, “I’m from New York City. Brooklyn. I’ll be here for another six weeks, then I have to go back to my job. You?”

A wave of singing Nicaraguans swept by just then, swirling down the street like a river as they headed for a nearby square. One of the men caught Derek’s arm and towed him along, leaving Marla and Lorraine to trail after them. They sang along for a few minutes until they came to one of Lorraine’s favorite murals and she stopped to admire it.

It was a simple harvest scene, just a group of women picking coffee beans, painted on a house wall on a narrow street. If you turned right, you could see the mountains, left and you could see the rest of the town. Lorraine loved the view almost as much as the faces of the painted women, which seemed alight with hope and enthusiasm.

Marla stopped with her and was quiet while they studied the painting. Finally she cleared her throat and said softly, “This is a lovely one. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to look at it before. Thank you.”

Lorraine looked at her and grinned. “I love this mural. It’s like the painted version of why I came here to try and help.” She stopped, feeling embarrassed and changed the subject. “So you never did say where you were from.”

Marla’s eyes were still fixed on the painting. “I think I know what you mean. I love their faces. Marvelous.” She was quiet for a moment before she continued, “From? Oh everywhere, I suppose. The States and Spain for the majority of my life but I have lived in many other countries. As for how long I stay, well that depends on how long the article takes me. That and one or two other things.” Marla flashed her a blinding grin.

The breath caught in Lorraine’s throat for a moment or a lifetime. She wasn’t quite sure which but she hoped she wasn’t being as obvious as she was afraid she was. She made herself smile back, ask if Marla wanted to go to one of the little cafes on the next plaza. Anything to prevent her from disappearing too soon. Marla must have accepted but Lorraine didn’t hear a word until they started walking.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Spare Parts: A Romentics Novel excerpt by Scott & Scott

To celebrate the release of Romentics E-Books published by Loose ID, we are including a brief snippet from Spare Parts by Scott&Scott, one of the first and most popular of the Romentics line of gay romance novels. We hope you'll like the taste. Here, after a night of too much drinking, Trent wakes to make the pleasant discovery that Dan, the man he thought was a male prostitute, is in fact much more--indeed, the man of his dreams.

Spare Parts
BookSurge Publishing (April 15, 2004)
ISBN (E-Book version): 978-1-59632-572-2
ISBN (hardcopy version): 159457376X


Trent rolled over and caught the scent of their sex. The memory thrilled and repulsed him at once. So what if it had been good, amazing? It didn’t make it right. It didn’t make Trent feel any better about himself. He remembered the touch of Dan’s hands around him and his insistent tenderness. He remembered Dan’s sounds, close to his ear, sighing honestly.

Trent still felt relaxed and exhausted from the effort of pleasure. His body’s tension had been absorbed some by the morning’s experience. Now he was just left with guilt and the sensation of their heat seeping from the sheets. It made him cold.

Scattered bills covered the nightstand. The sight of them made Trent clench his teeth, tight with anger and hopelessness. It brought his senses back to reality for a moment. There were bills of every denomination as far as he could tell. Twenties and hundreds, tens and ones. He didn’t think about how much was there. He didn’t think about how much he needed that cash. All he would allow himself to think about was how he had earned it.

It had all happened too fast and too drunk. He had only walked along the river to clear his head, to walk on the wild side, tempt fate. It was like a dare he made for himself. He never expected to follow through. And he hadn’t, last night. Somehow he had ended up right here, in Dan’s bed, but without Dan.

But this morning had been another story. How was he supposed to react when a handsome man in a towel walked up to him? Trent was just a man, after all. Historically, temptation had never been his gender’s strong suit. However, Trent would have chosen Dan in a towel over Eve with an apple any day.

If he had met Dan inside the club or at the store or on a bus instead, he very well might have ended up right here in his bed. There was no denying that Trent found Dan attractive. In fact, the electric pulse that jumped through him when he looked at Dan was a little scary.

Dan was just the right guy in the wrong place at the right time. In retrospect, Trent was lucky to have him there. Who knows where Trent could have ended up otherwise? But meeting him under those circumstances with these results and several hundred dollars on the nightstand made the very thought of attraction irrelevant. There were too many variables and questions and doubts. Considering it was not even an option.

Trent took a deep breath and stood up to dress. He was grateful for that last breath as he reached for his pants, because he was immediately reminded of the stale odor that had permeated last night’s wardrobe. So he struggled into the filthy clothes as he breathed out of his mouth.

Trent felt a little silly stretching the tight club shirt over his chest in the daylight. But even the thought was ridiculous. What he was wearing was the last thing that mattered after what had just happened. He couldn’t stand in this stranger’s bedroom forever. He had to leave sooner or later, and his outfit for the dramatic exit hardly made a difference.

Whatever had happened here didn’t really matter either, Trent told himself. He didn’t have to feel great about it, but he couldn’t change it. And the truth was, it couldn’t change him. Nothing and no one except Trent himself could make him feel cheap.

Before he shut the door behind him, Trent turned and looked at the untouched money on the nightstand. For a moment, he almost had the self-respect to smile. But then he caught a whiff of himself as he stepped out into the hall and tried not to inhale while walking down the stairs.

Dan heard the steps on the stairs, but he didn’t move. He stood shirtless in the kitchen, resting a glass of water against his chest and staring out the window. He wondered how many drawers the boy had gone through and what he’d discover missing later. It didn’t matter, Dan told himself. He didn’t keep anything valuable around the house anyway. Not that he really expected theft from Trent. But the real problem was, he had absolutely no idea what exactly to expect from him.

Dan rolled the cool glass across the hairs that sprouted along his breastbone and watched the tiny cars on the distant highway. They sped silently along, miles away. It was almost relaxing to know he was that far from the commotion. His house sat on a hill away from that side of town, the side of town where both he and Trent were raised.

He could look down and see the factory and the rows of identical houses. He remembered what it was like down there, and he wondered if Trent’s memories were the same. Dan wanted to kick himself for what he’d done up there. He was pushing the kid down lower than where he’d started from. It was ridiculous for Dan to think he could save him. The best thing he could do was give him a good tip and wish him well. And that’s exactly what he’d done.

But Dan couldn’t help it. He knew that sometimes, against all odds, things worked out for the best. He really did believe that everyone deserved a second chance. He didn’t want to know where he would have ended up without his. That’s why he had such a soft spot for hard cases. Other spots, however, weren’t quite so soft. And Trent certainly was a hard case, as the returning bulge in Dan’s jeans could attest.

He couldn’t explain to himself how this young man had caused him to lose control. Dan wasn’t one to let his libido make decisions for him. There were plenty of pretty boys out there, and Dan never had the small amount of patience it took to bring them home. He reassured himself that he was not really a dirty old man. He tried to approximate the math from memory, and he was surprised when their ages came within ten years of one another. Not that it mattered. There was no reason for him to try to justify it. This relationship didn’t have to be ok. There really was nothing ok about it. And after all, it wasn’t a relationship at all, Dan reminded himself.

Dan had to admit that this young guy stirred something in him that he had been trying to repress for a long time. It wasn’t just his dark looks and pale skin. It wasn’t just the pain his beauty caused, or the pain the memory of Dan’s cruelty brought on. It wasn’t pity. And it wasn’t just the way his body felt against Dan’s, a feeling Dan hadn’t experienced in a long time, one he could never remember being that intense.

Dan took a long gulp of water and tried to clear the taste of Trent from his mouth. He had to stop thinking like this. Sex was just sex. Dan was sure it was actually much less to Trent. It was a commodity, a bag of tricks, a trick of the trade. That’s what Dan was to Trent, just another trick, just another handful of cash.

Dan tried to imagine all that pleasure as an oil change or a transmission overhaul. But how could that just be part of Trent’s job? Dan couldn’t erase the reality of Trent’s shiver, the shy sound of his whimper. It wasn’t the aggression and technique he expected from a professional. There was no show. Trent was so soft and genuine, the memory made Dan ache. A greedy part of him wanted to keep Trent for his own sake. Charity and good intentions only went so far.

But his intentions didn’t matter. Dan had given it his best shot. Dan didn’t have anything else to offer but a job and some good business sense. The garages were his life. Granted, they practically ran themselves at this point, but Dan knew he could never let that happen. He looked around his big house and marveled, not for the first time, how hard it was to fill.

Trent’s steps echoed across the kitchen floor. Dan didn’t need the sound; he could feel the approach from behind like a warm breeze. He felt Trent stop, pause, and look out the window with him. They looked down on the town together, at the silent cars and the familiar shapes of that place.

“Hey, this is Glen Mills. We’re, like, a mile from where I grew up!” Trent exclaimed.

The familiar sight added comfort to the moment. Somehow the tension had Trent expected just wasn’t there. Despite the situation, Dan had been nothing but kind to him. Despite Trent’s confusion, maybe there was a lesson to learn from that kindness. Maybe something more than self-hatred could come from all this.

“Yeah,” Dan agreed knowingly. He looked straight ahead and tried to pick out the house where Trent had spent his childhood. He tried to locate the nearly duplicate house where he had wasted his twenties, but he couldn’t tell them apart. “You could live here again, you know. For a while, until you get settled. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

Dan regretted the words as he spoke them. Not because he didn’t want it, but because he knew he shouldn’t. What kind of disaster are you trying to cause? Dan asked himself silently.

But he left the offer hanging in the air, and they both looked out onto the scenery of their past without a sound. Dan wondered if Trent was trying to find the old houses, too. Silently, they considered their options as they watched the highway pass along the edge of the hometown they both shared.

Even if Trent didn’t know it, he and Dan had the same roots. They’d come from the same place and fought the same battles. Their victories and losses might have been different, but Dan was determined to give them both the opportunity to repair their mistakes.

“So, what kind of chance are we talking about?” Trent was too proud to accept explicitly, but this time the broken silence was a beautiful sound.

“You ever worked on cars before?” Dan asked.

“A mechanic?”

“That’s right.”

Dan felt Trent’s hand lightly on his waist. He felt the boy’s face rest gently against his back. Dan could see the reflection of blue eyes in the window, gazing out over the top of his shoulder.

Of course, Trent had never worked on cars. He hardly ever got the chance to drive one. He had no idea what went on under a hood or inside an engine. But for all he knew, he could end up being the best mechanic around. Maybe it was the day job that would subsidize his photography. Maybe it was the solution he had gone looking for in the completely wrong direction last night. It had to be better than that night job, stumbling along the river, waiting to find someone new to hate just so he could hate himself more.

In one day, Trent had gone from being a photo clerk to a hooker to a mechanic. He was exhausted and confused. He yawned against Dan’s shoulder blade, and the sound surprised himself. They both laughed softly in the big, empty kitchen.

For the second time in twelve hours, Dan helped the younger man to his bed. He tucked the covers up around that beautiful face. But before he could pull his hand away and head for the couch, Trent reached out and grabbed his wrist. Dan looked down at the long white fingers around his arm. Beyond their hands, he spotted the pile of money untouched.

When Trent tugged at Dan, he found no resistance in the man’s strong arm.

Their limbs found each other easily and wound into a complex embrace that felt simple and real. Despite their intentions, they ended up in bed together again, falling asleep in broad daylight in each other’s arms, the way they should have earlier.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Drag Thing, or the Strange Case of Jackle and Hyde excerpt by Victor J Banis

An excerpt from DRAG THING, OR THE STRANGE CASE OF JACKLE AND HYDE, by Victor J. Banis, my spoof of the mutant superhero genre. Mild mannered dress designer Peter Warren is accidentally injected with (yes) the secret formula and turns into an enormous drag queen – think The Hulk in a dress. There are lesbian scientists, a Monster-Pussy, a pair of queer Homeland agents, a trio of hapless gangbangers, chickens fornicating, a villain who dresses as a giant owl and a Great Dane with lavender toenails – in short, your usual romance fare.

In this bit, Dr. Janet Jackle has spirited her lover, Melissa (who is in a coma) from the hospital by stealing the ambulance of EMT Luis Cordero, and San Francisco Police are on the lookout for ambulances…

Drag Thing, or the Strange Case of Jackle and Hyde
Wildside Press (January, 2008)
ISBN: 1434401928


It had been a first for EMT Luis Cordero, losing his ambulance.

“Thirty years, and we’ve never lost one,” his dispatcher said with an angry shake of his head.

“Listen, it wasn’t just us,” Luis had pointed out. “Don’t forget, Saint Maria Alfonso lost a patient.”

“Well, that’s too bad for them, but they lose patients by the carload, every day of the week at that joint. The difference is, they don’t get their paychecks docked, like we probably will. Do you have any idea how much an ambulance costs? You’ll be paying forever. We both will. Till we’re old, old ladies.”

Nevertheless, the emergency workload in San Francisco was too heavy to have a driver just sitting on the bench. An hour later, Luis was on the streets again, in another vehicle—and none too soon, either. He was barely behind the wheel when he got a call on an emergency appendectomy.

He made it to the scene in no time flat. He had his record to think of. If he got no more demerits, the company might give him a break and write off the missing ambulance. More than that, there was his reputation to consider. Plus, though this was something of an afterthought, occupied as he was with the damage to his work record, but there were the wounded and the sick to consider as well. You couldn’t altogether ignore them.

They had barely shoved the patient into the rear of the ambulance before Luis was behind the wheel and they were moving, headed once again for Saint Maria Alfonso.

“Hey, wait a sec,” his paramedic shouted. “I haven’t even got this guy strapped down yet.”

“No time,” Luis called back. “You said yourself this one was critical. Just hold on to him, why don’t you? It’s only a couple of miles. We’ll be there before I could stop and help you get him fastened down. Okay?”

“Well, okay, I guess so,” was the somewhat reluctant answer. “But step on it, okay?”

“Trust me,” Luis said. “You won’t know what hit you.”

“Please,” the patient moaned in a feeble voice. “I’m really….”

“Don’t you worry now, sir,” Luis called to him, “You’re going to get a ride you will never forget.”

They had gone no more than a couple of blocks, however, when Luis saw flashing red lights in his mirror and heard the wail of a siren. A police car—his immediate thought was that they must have caught the call on the emergency, and were here to give him an escort.

“All right,” he said aloud, grinning broadly, and speeded up. With a squad car clearing the way for him, he’d be at the hospital quicker than ever. A couple of record-time trips and he might even make Employee of the Month. Let them try to fire him then. More than likely, he’d get a raise. For sure a commendation. Everyone would forget all about that missing ambulance. It was just a woman in a coma, after all. Who was she going to complain to? Maybe she hadn’t even been kidnapped, maybe she had just run away. That happened sometimes with patients at Saint Maria Alfonso—not that he could blame them, really. He’d heard rumors recently of pee-stains on the floors and bedpans left lying around.

The police car caught up with him and pulled alongside on the left and the officer on the passenger side waved out the window. Luis waved back, encouraged, and shot ahead. The ambulance rocketed around a gaggle of cars. The black and white fell behind, then came alongside again, the officer waving all the more frantically.

“Go to the side,” he shouted.

To Luis, with the wind noise and both sirens screaming, it sounded like, “Go for the ride.” He laughed with delight and gave the man a thumbs up. “I’m with you, man,” he shouted in reply. It was times like this that made it all worthwhile. Plus, there was something to be said for saving lives. Especially if you could have fun doing it.

“What’s happening, bro?” the paramedic asked from the rear. The vehicle was bouncing and tilting frenziedly as it whipped around traffic. “You’re going awfully fast, aren’t you? I’m having a helluva time trying to hang on to this guy.”

“Hang on to your jockstrap. We’re going to set a new land speed record,” Luis called back.

“Uh oh. We’d better. I think we just lost him.”

They jounced violently over a railroad crossing, the ambulance airborne for a few seconds before it crashed to the pavement again with a mighty groan.

“Urgh,” the patient cried, regaining semi-consciousness.

“That brought him back,” the paramedic shouted, “but it’s touch and go. Maybe a minute, two, even, but I think that’s the max.”

“We’re almost there,” Luis cried. “Hold on to him.”

Shots rang out. Holes suddenly appeared in the vehicle’s rear doors.

“What’s that?” The paramedic, a black man, grew visibly paler. “What’s happening, man?” he yelled in a panicked voice.

“I…I think…,” Luis said, disbelieving. The black and white pulled alongside once more. This time, the officer on the passenger side had his gun in his hand. He fired again.

“Jeez, they’re shooting at us,” Luis said.

“Shooting at us?! We’ve got a dying man back here. This is no time for cowboys and Indians. Wait, I’ll bet they’re white asses, aren’t they, both of them? Man, I hate when those honkie cops start playing that macho shit on us. Can’t you explain things to them?”

“How can I explain anything to them at eighty miles an hour?” Luis asked, careening around an old lady in a Ford Taurus. The driver of the car, startled out of her wits, lost control and crashed into a pair of parked vehicles, metal shrieking in agony and sparks flying.

“Stay where you are, ma’am. We’ll be back for you in a couple of minutes,” Luis shouted out the window at her. That would be another quick trip. That commendation was beginning to look more and more like a sure thing. Except for the pesky guys in the black and white….

The cop started shooting again. It crossed Luis’ mind in a flash that maybe these weren’t even real cops. In San Francisco people dressed up all the time. And tomorrow night was Halloween. The fact that they were in uniform proved nothing. He knew half a dozen queens who, when they got in uniform, looked more like cops than the real thing. If there was anything gay men understood, it was dressing up.

The fact that they were in a black and white proved nothing either. If they could steal ambulances, who was to say they couldn’t steal cop cars, too. Besides, he’d already had one ambulance stolen out from under him this evening. Maybe this was another attempt at a theft, an elaborate scheme to hijack him. Maybe ambulances had become the hot new commodity on the stolen vehicle market. Sure, that was it. Had to be.

“I’ll bet those punks think they’re taking this baby to their chop shop in the Mission,” he muttered to himself. Or it was on its way to Tijuana. And he’d have two of these busses to pay for. He’d be eating canned frijoles for the rest of his life.

“Well, they can just think again, they won’t get another one off me,” he declared sternly. He wasn’t falling for their ruse, however cleverly they had planned it. Faux uniforms and stolen black and whites? What did they think he was, some kind of a Rican dummy?

“No way, José.” He gripped the wheel ferociously and leaned over it with a determined set to his chin, his eyes fixed on the street ahead. He’d been driving ambulances for fifteen years. The cop had not been born yet who could out-drive him.

The black and white tried to get in front of him, to cut him off. "Hah!” Luis scoffed. “You’ll have to do better than that, Jack Off.”

He jerked the wheel violently to the left, and his front bumper caught the squad car, sending it skidding with a squeal of tires on pavement. Watching in the mirror, Luis chortled. Probably they thought he was some kind of sissy. That would show them.

In the lead again, he goosed it, pedal to the metal. Checking the mirror, he saw another set of flashing lights in the distance. They must have called in back up. Man, this was some elaborate set up. Two stolen squads. These guys must want ambulances really bad. Maybe there was some kind of crisis in Mexico. Drugs, he’d bet. Or hookers. Think about it, hookers operating out of ambulances, a portable bordello—it was diabolical. His thoughts drifted. He wondered briefly how that might work in the Castro. Say you had a line up of hotties…it would definitely cut down on commute time…

He made a corner on two wheels, the rear of the ambulance catching a utility pole with a loud crunch of metal and bringing his attention back to the moment. More shots rang out. A crack like a giant spider web appeared in the windshield. They bounced over some more tracks.

“Awk,” the patient cried from the rear. “Aieee!”

“Fuck! I’m hit,” the paramedic yelled. “They got me, man.”

“Hang on,” Luis said. “We’re almost there.”

Another black and white appeared in front of them, sliding into position to block the street. Luis veered to the right, onto the sidewalk by the Safeway market. An Indian woman in a bright green sari stepped in front of him, pushing a grocery cart. She saw the ambulance roaring toward her and leaped out of its path with a terrified cry, but he caught the cart. Eggs and milk and something else he couldn’t identify splattered across the windshield, practically blinding him. He hit a fence and roared across someone’s yard, the ambulance’s rear end yawing on wet grass, hit a culvert and went aloft, sailing across a drainage ditch. A snippet of green fabric trailed behind it, flapping like a pennant in their wake.

The patient screamed from the rear. “Help! Help! Someone, help!”

“Be quiet back there,” Luis snapped. “Like, I’ve got my hands full up here. Try thinking about somebody beside yourself for a second, why don’t you, fella? Can’t you see I need to concentrate?”

He turned on the windshield wipers. The eggs and milk became an omelet. He was flying totally blind now. Something crunched beneath the front wheels—a bicycle, he thought. He hoped there was no one on it.

Gran Díos, save me, save me,” the patient cried.

“Shit, save your own ass, dammit,” the medic answered. “I’m gone, bro.” He threw open the rear door and as the vehicle slowed for a moment to make a tight right turn, he dived through it. The stretcher had only been half fastened, however, and the violent bouncing and swaying had broken it loose altogether. With one last agonized shriek, the patient flew out the flailing door after the paramedic.

Rose Taylor and Estelle Marmachuck were strolling home from grocery shopping, arms linked, chatting about grandchildren and vacation plans, when an ambulance roared past them at breakneck speed.

“What on earth?” Rose cried, but before Estelle could reply, a black man flew out the rear door of the vehicle, arms waving, and landed atop them, knocking all three to the ground—luckily for them, as Rose pointed out subsequently: only seconds later, an airborne stretcher sailed over their heads and landed beyond them in some bushes with a crunch and a horrible wail of anguish.

“We might have been decapitated by that man in the bed,” Rose said. “Very thoughtless of him, if you ask me.”

“It was like that movie, The Night of the Living Dead,” Estelle told the police later. “Bodies flying through the air. It was so exciting.”

“Only, I lost my milk,” Rose said.

In the ambulance, Luis heard a final shriek quickly dying away. “That’s better,” he said, as the ambulance got suddenly quieter. “Thank you both.”

He tried the windshield washers. He must be close to Saint María Alfonso’s by now—if only he could see….