Monday, June 30, 2008

The Second Indian War by Sarah Black

The Second Indian War by Sarah Black is available in the anthology Hostage by Josh Lanyon, Sarah Black, and Laura Baumbach.

MLR Press (April 26, 2008)
ISBN: 193453126X

Sam opened the topo map and spread it out across the counter at the Anasazi Inn in Tsegi Canyon. The waitress refilled his coffee cup. She was a young Navajo girl, maybe high school aged, and she had brought him an empty cup and filled it up without saying a word.

Most of the tables were filled with Navajo families, sometimes three or four generations squeezed in together, the old ladies in traditional velvet blouses and cotton tiered skirts, turquoise squashblossoms at neck and wrist. The counter seemed to be the place for the men to sit. There were two truck drivers and an old man reading the Navajo Times in the other seats, and Sam noticed that they all were eating stew and frybread. He looked at the white board. The special of the day was mutton stew with frybread on the side, and for desert you could chose your pie.

The truck drivers looked like they had eaten in every diner between Phoenix and Salt Lake, but the old man couldn’t have weighed eighty pounds. They were all three tucking into their stew with enthusiasm, though, so the next time the girl came around the counter and stood silently in front of him, her order pad open, he told her he wanted the special with apple pie for dessert.

“You want that heated up with vanilla on top, right?”

Sam agreed that warm apple pie with vanilla on top would hit the spot. She glanced down at the topo map, but didn’t say anything, and when the kid working as the short order cook slid his bowl of stew onto the serving counter, Sam folded the map back up and tucked the napkin into his collar.

He was hoping to find someone who lived around here and could tell him the best way back into Skeleton Mesa. He had a weekend off, a Jeep full of tent, sleeping bag, and camping gear, and a brand new, very old, large format camera, rescued from eBay and now in his eager paws. It was a Wista wood-body field camera, and he had spent the last few weeks reading up on the old landscape cameras and collecting film for a weekend on the Colorado Plateau.

Tsegi Canyon was the first place he had ever stayed on the Navajo Reservation. That was years ago, and he’d fallen in love with its red rocks and secret water, the hidden caves and quiet orchards and tiny hogans puffing smoke from their smoke stacks. From the Anasazi Inn you could walk straight back into the nineteenth century, and in thirty minutes there would be no telephone poles, no roads, no electricity. Those were the landscapes he was going to try and capture with the camera. He would enjoy the comforts (and bathrooms) of the campground at Navajo National Monument, and during the day he would use the topo map to get lost in Navajo country.

The kid who was the short order cook leaned across the serving counter and studied him for a moment, probably to see if the white guy was really eating mutton stew. Sam loved mutton stew, and this batch was world class. “Good stew.”

The kid glared at him, turned back into the kitchen. Sam grinned at his stiff back. He was maybe eighteen, with long black hair tied up in a traditional bun and the sullen air of the perpetually misunderstood and put-upon. The life of a teenager was hell.

The young waitress waited till he had mopped up every last bit of stew with his frybread, then she brought his pie and ice cream. He had eaten like a good boy, so he thought he might be in her good graces. He brought the topo map out again. “You live around here?”


“You know the best hiking routes from the national monument down into Skeleton Mesa?”

She stared down at the map for a long moment. “What are you going to be doing there?”

Fair question. Skeleton Mesa was known as a prime location for collecting illegal pot shards. “Taking pictures.”

“You’re a photographer?”

“Yes. Well, really I’m a reporter, but the camera is my hobby.”

She turned, and Sam saw that the kid was leaning over again, listening. “TJ, can you help him? He’s got a map.”

The kid came around the counter. His apron showed how hard he’d worked this day, cooking stew. He looked at the topo map. “You’re camping at Navajo National Monument?”

“Yeah. I wanted to walk out to the mesa, find a nice flat spot I could use to take pictures of Tsegi Canyon all day. You know, like in the morning and the late afternoon, the way the light…”

“Yeah, I know. Okay, you know where that pull out is? The scenic overlook?”

Sam nodded. “About half-mile from the visitor’s center, right?”

The kid nodded. “There’s a little path that goes down into the mesa from there. Be careful, though. It’s not marked, and it’s easy to get lost down in the mesa. You should take a compass, or just use the sun. Sometimes you can see the American flag at the visitor’s center, and that’ll show you the direction to walk back.”

“Thanks.” Sam stuck out his hand, and the kid shook it gingerly, like he hadn’t done it before. “I’m Sam Adams.”

“TJ Benally.” The kid took his hand back and escaped to the kitchen, and Sam ate his pie and ice cream, every delicious bite, and had to restrain himself from licking the plate clean.


He was up before dawn, ready to leave the dubious comforts of the sleeping bag for a day of hiking and picture taking. He stashed some granola bars and fruit roll ups into his backpack for later. The camera was heavy and fragile, so he spent some time packing it, then slid it onto his back and lashed the tripod to the side. He filled his canteen and secured the nylon flap of the tent and headed off.

There is a peculiar light in canyon country at sun up and sun down, a weird red-gold light that seems as if it sets the landscape on fire. He wanted to catch Tsegi Canyon at both times today, the morning light and the evening, and that meant he needed to find his spot, maybe a flat rock or outcropping of sandstone big enough to stand on, and have the camera set up and ready to go when the sun lifted its face and smiled at the rocks.

He found the scenic overlook and located the trail. In the gray light of early dawn the path was as insubstantial as a whisper. It wasn’t marked, so it must not be one of the trails allowed by the park rangers. It looked more like a goat path, and a couple of times he lost the trail altogether in the soft light, but he could tell the path was taking him where he needed to go. After about thirty minutes of walking, he came around the twisted trunk of a juniper tree and Tsegi Canyon was spread out in front of him like a wild, secret Eden. His heart contracted at the beauty, and something like yearning caught in his throat.

There was no one to see this with him. It was tragic and beautiful, this land, and he pressed a fist against his heart. Tsegi Canyon made him feel alone. But he was okay alone. It had been awhile for him, but he was happy, so what was this all about? There was no one he knew that he would want with him right now, seeing this land. Maybe he was just thinking of the possible one. The next one. The last one he would love.

Saturated with beauty. It was a strange phrase, and it caught in his mind. This land, it was saturated in beauty, and in blood, too. How had it stayed so untouched, so innocent? The Indian Wars had raged across the Navajo homelands, across Skeleton Mesa and Tsegi Canyon, only one memory ago to the elders, who still told stories of how the warriors had almost defeated the cavalry, how some of the warriors never surrendered, how they hid out in this wild land until the war was over.

No time to day dream. He needed to get the camera set up and ready to go, then he could feel the sun come creeping across the canyon, warming the sandstone he was sitting on.

Sam slid the backpack off his shoulders, set the tripod up and started unpacking the camera. The bellows was in perfect condition, and he ducked under the dropcloth and moved it, focusing the camera on the near distance. Through the lens he saw three horses, ridden by Navajo warriors, no doubt. He pulled his head out and looked again. They were a good ways away, but somebody was out for a morning ride. He wondered if he could take their picture, or if, ethically, you had to ask permission first. He supposed that anything within the landscape was part of the landscape, and thus a landscape photographer could make an argument that he was photographing the rocks behind them. But this was Navajo country, and Navajo people had the right to take their horses and go riding around on their land without being irritated by old white guys and their cameras.

Hmmm. What to do? Sam decided to just wait and see what would happen, let the horses and riders get a little closer, get ready for the golden morning sun.


“You are going to get committed! Or arrested! You belong in the nut house at Fort Defiance, TJ, and I for one am not going with you. I have plans for my life.”

TJ turned and looked behind him at his sister. She hadn’t shut up for fifteen minutes and he was starting to wish he’d come on this quest alone. He knew he needed some help, at least three of them to appear in any way credible, but he wasn’t going to be able to take much more of this. “Lovie, if you have a better idea, let’s hear it. Because I believe last night you said that you agreed that the government wasn’t doing anything again, was just leaving people to die, and that it was our generation’s responsibility to act. That sounds good, but you’ve got to be willing to take a chance. To risk something. Talk is for the white people who dug that uranium in the first place, left the tailings all over our land, and now are refusing to clean it up. We’re Navajo. We act. We don’t talk.”

‘You sound like you’re running for tribal council!”

The third boy spoke up. He was younger than the other two, maybe fourteen, and his black hair was just starting to grow out, the ends brushing his shoulders. “I’d vote for TJ for tribal council.”

“Thanks, Buddy. Look, you two. We have one goal here. You just got to push one rock over, you know what I’m saying? If the rock is on top of the hill, gravity will do the rest.”

They rode on in silence, and the guy on the flat slab of sandstone with the camera just sat there, not moving, like he was waiting for them. TJ rode a bit ahead of the others, let his horse climb the rocks until he was next to the man. He really, really wanted his voice not to shake, and he thought he better stay on the horse, because for sure his knees were shaking. The guy was sort of good-looking for an old white guy. He had gray eyes that looked really calm, like the sea or something, and he had a beard with a few silver hairs. TJ had always wondered what a beard felt like, how soft it was.

He cleared his throat, then realized that he didn’t know how to begin. The guy stood up now, and TJ could tell that he recognized Lovie and him from the diner.

“You’re TJ, right?”

“Yeah. I need to tell you something.”

“Okay.” The guy took hold of the bridle, patted the horse’s neck in a real friendly way, looked up at him with this open face.

“You are now being held hostage by the People’s Uranium Reparation Committee. We have just declared war on the United States government, and you are our first prisoner of war.”


Sam knew he shouldn’t laugh, because teenagers took themselves so seriously, but the kid’s words and somber face surprised a laugh out of him before he could choke it off. The young warrior slid off his horse, stalked across the sandstone, his face looking like a thundercloud. “You think this is a joke? Don’t you understand what’s at stake here?”

“Obviously I don’t, because you haven’t told me anything. Listen, can I take pictures while we talk? The light…”

Buddy had climbed down from his horse, was looking at the camera. “Man, that’s an old piece of crap camera. Why don’t you have one of those new digital cameras? You can plug them into your computer and digitally manipulate the photos.”

Sam shrugged. “These cameras see better. They’re old, but nothing has ever taken a better photograph of this landscape. You want to look through the lens?”


TJ turned to the girl, threw his hands up. She climbed down and took the horses’ reins, lead them a little ways off to the shelter of a juniper tree. Buddy was looking under the drop cloth. “Cool! TJ, you’ve got to see this!”

“Maybe later, Buddy. I need to concentrate so I can commit my first felony properly.”

Sam stuck his head out of the drop cloth. “Just be careful about using guns. How old are you, anyway?”

TJ put his hands on his hips and frowned. “I’m eighteen.”

“See, that’s that I’m saying. You’re not a minor anymore. You screw up, you’re going to prison, kid.”

“It would be worth it, if we could get something done. Anything. If anything would change. If even one family…” He stopped, and Sam studied his face. So serious, so full of sorrow for eighteen.

“So what’s going on? Can you tell me, or do you want to tie me up or something first?”

TJ gave him a look to show he didn’t appreciate this humor, and Sam was reminded again that teenagers did not take their crises lightly. He sat down and crossed his legs. “Okay, I’m ready to listen.”

TJ sat opposite him, crossed his legs in the way they used to call Indian style, before it became politically incorrect, and Sam had to restrain his urge to call for a Peace Pipe. “You know about the uranium mining?”

“It was back in the forties and fifties, right? I read something about the Navajo government was bringing a lawsuit to make the mines clean up the radioactive waste. That’s all I know.”

“Our land is poisoned.” Sam looked into his eyes, and suddenly he didn’t feel like laughing anymore. The kid was deadly serious. “They left radioactive waste, waste water, tailings, all over the reservation. The people didn’t know what the uranium was. The sheep drank the water in the poisoned lakes. People built their hogans out of rocks from the mines. The children play in the pits. And now, families are dying. Entire families with cancer. The government managed to stall paying reparations until most of the original miners were dead. The tribal council has voted, no more uranium mining. That’s good, but how will we pay to clean up this poison from our land? We don’t have the money, and we can’t make anyone care that our people are dying, and that our beautiful land is…killing us.”

The girl sat down with them. “Our grandmother has thyroid cancer. She believes Leetso, the yellow monster, has been let loose to walk the land, and he is the cause of the cancers. The old ones, they are traditional. They’re doing ceremonies. They don’t understand radioactive waste.”

Sam nodded. “So how is taking me hostage and declaring war on the US Government from the middle of Skeleton Mesa going to change anything? Most change takes place from the inside, kids. You understand?”

TJ looked at him and nodded.

Sam thought back. “In the diner, you asked what I was going to do in Skeleton Mesa. I told you I was a reporter. That’s when you hatched this plan?”

TJ nodded again. “I’ve got a laptop in the horse’s saddlebag. We’re going to try and link to the cell phone tower next to Black Mesa to pick up wireless internet and you are going to transmit a story to your newspaper saying you have been taken hostage and why. I believe having a reporter held hostage, and you will be able to journal about the experience, maybe get on a decent blog with hourly reports from captivity, and there will be a groundswell of support for you that will lead to the people putting pressure on the government to do what they should have done all along!”

Sam looked at him. He was a good-looking kid, with one of those high-cheekboned, dark-skinned faces that looked like it belonged in a sepia photograph from 1880.

“Why do you wear your hair long, kid? I don’t see many teenagers going traditional like that.”

“Mom is a park ranger over at Chaco Canyon. I get summer work doing that living history stuff. The tourists like to see Indians with long hair.”

“Chaco Canyon? They were Ancestral Puebloans, not Navajo.”

“You think anybody thinks about that, when I’m climbing around the kivas? Okay, are you ready to start?”

Sam shook his head. “Sorry, kid. No can do. I don’t think you’ve thought through this plan very carefully, and I am not going to do something that will guarantee you spend the rest of your young manhood in prison.”

TJ’s face looked as dark as an afternoon thunderstorm. He stood slowly, towered over Sam. “What did you say?”

Sam grinned up at him. “I said no. And you already told me you have a grandmother, so I know you’ve heard the word before. What does the TJ stand for?”

TJ stalked away, went to the edge of the sandstone slab and looked across at Tsegi Canyon. He looked like he should be in the movies, dusty jeans, boots, black hair down his back. Buddy slid across the rock and sat next to Sam. “It’s Thomas Jefferson.”

Sam smiled, and TJ turned around and glowered at him. “Thomas Jefferson Benally? I’d say we’re a couple of revolutionaries, all right.”

TJ’s face lit up for a moment, and he had to bite down on his bottom lip.

“Kid, when you figure out what’s wrong with your plan, I’ll be right over here, taking pictures.”

Things were going well, TJ thought, and he set about gathering rocks and downed wood for a campfire. Lovie had brought stew and the fixings for frybread. Frybread cooked over a juniper wood fire was a food that would soften the hardest news reporter.

Sam was taking pictures, sliding the big sheets of film carefully into the back of the camera, and Buddy was acting as his assistant. When he had the fire pit dug and ringed with rocks, and had started the campfire, he went to the saddlebags and pulled out a thermos. He poured a cup of coffee, handed it to Sam, and poured another for himself.

“You have any binoculars? I’ll show you something cool.”

“Yeah, I do.” Sam dug into his backpack, pulled out a pair of binoculars and handed them to TJ. Then he pulled out a fruit rollup and gave it to Buddy. “Lick your fingers clean before you touch the camera after you eat that thing, big guy.”

TJ focused the binoculars, then handed them to Sam. “Okay, look over to the right about a mile. You’ll see the river, then just beyond the river you’ll see a little canyon, shaped like a hand. See it?”


“Look where the thumb is. Now, focus high up on the wall. The sun’s on it now, so you should be able to see it.”

“Would you look at that. What is it?”


Sam stared through the binoculars. “TJ, I’ve seen lots of petroglyphs. This is something different. It’s like a novel in petroglyphs.”

“It’s from the time of the first Indian Wars—the wars between the Navajo and the cavalry. It’s part of the story from Canyon de Chelly, when Kit Carson had the soldiers cut down the peach orchards, when they were rounding people up to send them to Bosque Redondo. The rest of the story is that some of the women saved a few peaches, and they nursed the seeds into trees, and they kept the trees hidden. And over time those trees made peaches, and they grew more trees from the seeds. I ate those peaches when I was a kid, peaches saved from our orchards in Canyon de Chelly, from before the Long Walk. Anyway, that’s the story on the wall, how they saved the peaches.”

“Wow. That is awesome. Thanks for showing me, TJ.”

“We can’t eat those peaches now, Sam. They’ve been watered from a river that is contaminated with radioactive waste. From a uranium mine.” TJ took a sip of coffee. He pointed of to his left. “See that little hogan down there with the green roof? It’s about a mile. Can you see it?”

Sam looked again. “Yeah, there it is.”

“That’s where my grandparents live. My grandfather, he only has one leg. He was a Marine in Vietnam. It used to freak me out when I was a kid, because he would take the leg off and it would be sitting there, looking at me. I used to have nightmares the leg started chasing me. I never told him that, though.”

“My father was a Marine in Vietnam, too. He didn’t make it home.”

“Your mom raised you?”

“Yeah, she did.”

“I don’t have a father, either. My mom’s real strong, though. I don’t believe what they say, about sons of single mothers having so many problems.”

Sam smiled at him. “I don’t believe it either. So, how’s the plan coming along?”
TJ had to work to keep the surprise off his face. He wondered why he just assumed white guys were going to skirt around the hard patches in life. He was surprised Sam had been raised by his mom, just like him. And why was he surprised? Did he really buy that crap that the only hard lives were lived by people with brown skin? “The problem with the plan as I see it is that the FBI is in charge of serious crimes on the reservation, serious crimes such as taking people hostage and declaring war on the United States. And the FBI will be able to trace our link with the Black Mesa cell tower in less time than it takes to heat up a pot of stew.”

“That would be my guess, too, kid. Hey, do I smell stew? I’m getting hungry.”

TJ filled up Sam’s cup with more coffee. “You’re still my hostage, though. I just need to come up with another plan.”

“Well, you just let me know.”

Lovie poured water from a bottle over a piece of flat sandstone, then set it down in the coals to heat up. “Don’t worry,” she told Sam. “I’m using bottled water.” She mixed the flour and water in a Zip-Lock bag, and when the dough was ready, she pinched off pieces the size of a baseball, kneaded them out into a flat disc, and set them on the hot rock to cook.

TJ took a piece of juniper branch, used the sharp edge to lift the hot dough and flip it over. “Chill, baby sister. I got everything under control.”

Her bark of derisive laughter was a masterpiece.


He should be taken hostage every day, Sam thought, leaning back in the shade of a juniper, the sun warming his legs, his head propped up on his backpack. They had fed him, kept him company while he took pictures, told him stories. He had to admit he was enjoying seeing Tsegi Canyon through TJ’s eyes. He was a smart kid, with a subtle mind, and way too many feelings trying to crowd into a big heart. Sam tried to remember what it was like to be eighteen, but he wasn’t sure he was remembering the way it had really been. Had he altered that story over the years to make himself more comfortable? He’d fallen in love for the first time when he was eighteen, made a total ass of himself. That much he could remember for sure. He had been passionate, but about himself, not about the world. He sighed and closed his eyes. A nap was allowed the prisoner.

He woke up to the smell of meat grilling. Lovie was cooking something else, strips of mutton over the fire. “You’re a traditional girl! You’ve been cooking all day, slaving over the hot coals.”

She looked gloomy. “I was going to go to the mall in Flagstaff and see that new movie with Leo DiCaprio. But, no, I was dragged along on this…this…” She shook her head. Apparently there were no words to describe. “TJ’s not insane, in case you were wondering. Here.” She handed him a couple of pieces of meat in a paper towel. “Here’s some for the felon, too.”

He laughed. “I didn’t think he was insane. Actually, I know exactly what he’s doing. Where did he go?”

She lifted her chin, and Sam could see him a little ways down the rock face, sitting with the sun shining on his face. He walked down the trail, sat down next to him and handed him his meat. The boy turned to look at him, studied his face. “It’s funny, I’ve never touched a beard before. I always wondered if it would be soft or sort of bristly.”

Sam reached for his hand, settled his palm over his chin. TJ stroked his beard gently, like he was petting a skittish kitten. “It’s soft. Wow.”

They studied the landscape spread out in front of them for a few more minutes, ate the best grilled mutton Sam had ever tasted. The light was changing, the gold deepening in the afternoon light. The river looked greener, the rocks and canyons redder, rust streaked with gold.

“Sam, you better go get the camera ready. You saved some film, right? For when the light changed?”

He scrambled to his feet. “Yes, I did. You want to take some pictures?”

TJ looked up at him, surprised. “Me? No, Sam. This is my home, always and forever.” He spread his hand out, gesturing to the landscape. “This picture is me. I don’t need to photograph it. I can feel it in here.” He pressed his hand against his heart.

Sam leaned down for one more moment, spoke quietly to the boy. “You took a real chance. Why did you decide to risk it? I could have been anybody.”

TJ shook his head. “I watched you eat.”

Sam looked surprised. “What do you mean?”

“You should see the way most white people look at mutton stew, Sam. You almost licked your bowl.”

“Yeah, I almost did.”

“Made me think you must have a little Navajo blood.”

Sam was behind the drop cloth on the camera when it started. The light deepened, and the rocks seemed to glow from within, gold inside the red. It seemed like the beating heart of the land showed itself, just for one short moment. It was alive, full of beauty and desperate longing. Sam felt it settle in his own heart, the warm color, the peace, the history, the longing. He looked over at TJ. The boy was standing at the edge of the rock, looking out over the land. Sam started packing the camera in the backpack, took the tripod down and lashed it to the side. When he was done, he walked over and touched TJ on the arm. “I need to get going before it gets dark.”

TJ looked up at him. “I’ll walk with you.”

They were nearly back to the scenic overlook when TJ cleared his throat. “You don’t seem very old. I mean…how old are you?”

Sam turned around, then eased the backpack off his shoulders. “I’m thirty-six, TJ.”

“That’s not very old.”

“Yeah, it is, kid. It’s too old.”

TJ smiled at him. “It’s funny. Sometimes you start a ball rolling down the hill, and there’s no telling what…there’s just no telling.”

TJ reached a hand out, touched a button with one finger, and Sam took his hand, folded it into a fist, pressed it over his heart. “You captured me.” Then he leaned in, kissed the boy on the mouth, tasted him long enough he would remember. He was warm and golden as the sun, innocent, and when Sam lifted his head, he picked up his backpack and moved off down the trail alone.


Back home, and Sam turned the computer on. He closed his eyes before he started, felt again the peaceful beating heart of the land, tasted TJ’s mouth, remembered the peaches rescued from Canyon de Chelly, from before the Long Walk.

A month later, and he was ready to roll. The Phoenix Sun had picked up the story, a five part series on the Navajo’s poisoned, beloved homeland. He didn’t know if it would matter at all to the mines, to the government drones who had let it happen. Maybe a few Navajo people would read the story, get their water checked for radiation. TJ would read it.


It was almost a year to the day when Sam opened up an envelope and pulled out a picture of a young Marine, black hair buzz-cut, wearing dusty BDUs, carrying an M-16. Printed on the back in tiny block letters was Thomas Jefferson Benally, Fallujah. Nothing else, no letter, no message. Sam looked at the envelope. TJ had given him a return address.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Poems of Dorien Grey by Roger Margason

From Dorien Grey's chapbook of poems. He hopes with this chapbook of poetry to share with you, the reader, not only his own experiences and views, but to touch chords of memory and empathy within yourself. And just as Dorien is part of his originator, Dorien hopes that you might come away from these poems feeling as though you are a part of him. This particular poem is dedicated to his partner, Ray, who died of alcoholism-induced AIDS in 1994.

The Poems of Dorien Grey
GLB Publishers (2002)

(for Ray)

My heart is a toybox,
too eagerly shared.
It holds a random collection
of toy-soldier-brave hopes
and once fire-engine-bright dreams
with the paint chipped off,
and the fragile shells of unfulfilled wishes
which, when held to the ear,
echo the sea-sounds of my soul..

I've offered my toys to many.
"They're ugly!" I've been told--
though to me, because they are mine,
they are precious.
I could never understand
why others did not find them so.
And frightened and alone,
I'd go on to the next.

And then you stumbled into my life,
little-boy kind,
with your own little box of toys
even more battered than my own.
Shy, we spread our toys on the ground;
and each saw in the other's joys
wondrous bits and pieces and sparkly things
that we could use to build a wall
against the world.

But because we are sometimes frightened,
and because we do not always see
the same things in the same way,
we each may be tempted
to pick up our toys and move on--
even knowing that what we have together
will probably never happen
in all the rest of our lives.

So let us sit together,
and play.
Not just for a while,
but until it is time
for us to go.

Monday, June 23, 2008

His Name Is John excerpt by Dorien Grey

The following excerpt is from the opening pages of my new Elliott Smith mystery series. I hope you'll enjoy it. (Please check out the video on my web page

His Name Is John
Zumaya Boundless (May 30,2008)
ISBN: 1934841048


Waking up with a splitting headache and a throbbing shoulder, Elliott had no idea where he was. By clamping his eyes shut and reopening them, he realized that he was in a hospital room, though he had no clue as to how he'd gotten there.

The one thing he did know was that someone was in the chair beside his bed, watching him. Yet when he managed to turn his head to see who it was, the chair was empty. He was alone in the room. Except he knew he wasn't.

He drifted in and out of sleep, interrupted with annoying frequency by nurses waking him up to do whatever nurses find it necessary to wake people up to do. Mostly, they said nothing and achieved their objectives with expressionless faces. Whenever he awoke, he would glance over at the chair and feel whoever wasn't there watching him.

He gradually became aware—he had no idea how—that whoever was not in the chair's name was John, and got the distinct impression that John was, to say the least, confused and apparently unable to grasp the concept that he was dead. Elliott also sensed that John not only hadn't a clue as to how he died, but had no idea of whom he had been while he was alive.

Of course, on the subject of being confused, Elliott realized that he was hardly a poster boy for sharp thinking himself. He at first had no idea how he had ended up in the hospital, either. It wasn't until he saw Norm Shepard, an ER nurse who lived in his building, standing over him that he realized he was in St. Joseph's.

Norm smiled when he saw Elliott looking at him.

"Welcome back to the world of the living," he said.

Elliott glanced over at the chair. John, he sensed, was not amused.

"I had to come up to this floor for some charts," Norm went on, "and thought I'd check in to see how you're doing."

Elliott opened his mouth to talk, but somebody else's voice came out; and Norm quickly raised his hand to silence him. "No talk just yet," he said.

* * *

Over the next couple of days, every time he looked at the chair, Elliott knew John was there, watching him. When visitors stopped by--his sister Cessy was there a lot, as were several of his friends, and Rick Morrison, a guy he had begun dating a few weeks before the accident--most stood by the side or at the foot of the bed. When anyone sat down, Elliott knew John wasn't in the chair—apparently, even though he was now non-corporeal, he didn't like being sat on.

At such times, Elliott would sense him by the window, looking out at the traffic on Lakeshore Drive. He never got the impression John was particularly interested in whoever else was in the room.

How he himself had ended up in St. Joe's he learned in bits and pieces. He was told he had been crossing Sheridan Road at Wellington a few blocks from the hospital around eleven o'clock at night, on his way home from dinner with friends, and had been hit from behind by a car speeding around the corner. Thrown head-first into the curb, he'd suffered a severe concussion and badly bruised his left shoulder. He'd been unconscious or heavily sedated for a couple of days, and was cautioned that he'd look a bit like a monk for a while after his release, since they'd had to shave part of his head to stitch it up.

He did his best to convince himself that the head injury accounted for John's "presence," and that he'd just go away after a while.

But he didn't, and Elliott didn't dare mention him to anyone lest they decide to transfer him to the psychiatric ward for observation. He was nothing if not practical and logical, and John's intrusion into his life was neither. So, they kept their own counsel, John and he. And he still had the overwhelming sense that John was utterly confused over his current state and how it came about. And he also felt that since he was the only one who was aware of John, John looked to him for help, though Elliott had absolutely no idea of what he could do.

Then, one night just before he was scheduled to be released, Norm Shepard stopped by again after his shift. Since his first visit, some vague memories of and after the accident were beginning to return.

"I think I remember seeing you in the ER when I was brought in," Elliott said. "I guess I was in pretty bad shape."

"You're a lucky guy. It could have been a lot worse."

Elliott sighed. "Considering the alternative, I guess you're right," he said. Again, he was aware that John did not appreciate his humor. "But I vaguely recall they brought somebody in right after me, and you took off. I guess the other guy was worse off than I was."

"Yeah, you could say that. He didn't have a chance. Shot six times. It's a wonder he even made it to the hospital."

"Sorry about that," Elliott said, and he was. "Who was he? Did I see a couple cops come in with him?"

"Yeah, they brought him in. Found him in an alley less than two blocks from here. No ID on him, and he died without fully regaining consciousness."

"So, did they find out who he was?"

"I have no idea," Norm said. "We admitted him as a John Doe."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bobby's Trace excerpt by Edward C Patterson

Excerpt from Bobby’s Trace, a novel by Edward C Patterson. Perry Chaplin is in mourning for his life partner, Bobby - a time of stress, notwithstanding. The more he drifts, the more he unhinges until he's one room short of a rubber one. Get a grip, Perry. So, he takes his chances on a blind date, which further plunges him along the nightmare highway. He gets an unsought lesson in life-after-death that turns his bereavement into a horrific adventure. Come peek through Perry Chaplin's mysterious window. See what there is to see. Enter Our Lady of Perpetual Grace, where the holy water brews and the confessionals whisper. What lurks in the rectory's attic? What lies beneath the surface of life and death? What comes in Bobby's wake; in Bobby's trace? Perry Chaplin knows. Will you?

Bobby's Trace
Publisher: CreateSpace (March 11, 2008)
ISBN: 1434893960



Bobby’s eyes drew the world to his soul. No one could resist them. They winked and flirted with everyone he saw. He underscored this with a smile that blossomed to sunshine whenever he observed his fellow man, which he did often, cataloging them by size and weight and humor. Would they be interesting conversationalists? Would they feign glory and evict truth? Were they good in bed? No matter how those eyes scanned and measured, they enchanted wherever they glanced, an army falling game to Bobby’s peepers despite his too-short time.

Bobby’s eyes drew the world to his soul; so it was a double-fisted sadness when he died. Diminished first from symptoms — legions of purple lesions; marinating tongue fungus; dementia and incontinence. Blights that faded every vital part save Bobby’s eyes, but even they succumbed to the onslaught . . . in the end. Breath laden, Bobby joined the refuse of this earth as sure as destiny’s loam. His eyes became nothing more than memories, drawing a solitary recollection from the man who cared for him most — the only man who attended to his graveside — Perry Chaplin.

Bobby’s eyes may have drawn the world to his soul, but his death drew only Perry to his plot. Now we can speak the secrets.


“Did you see her?” came a whisper from the next cubicle.

Perry Chaplin looked up from his work, his eyes, red and puffy. He heard the voice, but, like the work he feigned, he scarcely noted it.

“I know that look,” continued Mary Hughes, who chartered the neighboring cubicle, the one with a better view of her — the boss. Mary popped her head over the stockade’s rim. “Did you hear me, Perry?”

Perry rolled his eyes, and then returned to his pile of notes. Deadlines. Lines of code to be scrawled and tested, and he hadn’t programmed a single measure in over an hour.

“Well?” Mary persisted.

Perry shook his head. He sighed. “You know I can’t see her from here. I don’t want to see her. When she sees me, she’s gonna fry my ass, but I’ll tell you what. I don’t give a flying fuck.”

His pushed a stack of manila folders to the floor. In any other circumstance, they would have become a scattered pile of debris, but these were programming specs, directly from the best minds at Gamma Rex Software Development Studio LLC, so they just flopped on the gray carpeting and laid there — intact. Defiant. Mocking their assaulter.


“Perry,” Mary said. Her eyes scolded, yet pitied also. “You’re at it again? Don’t start now. She’s on the warpath. If she knew . . .”

Perry glanced up toward the picket line, where nothing south of Mary’s nose could be seen, “I told you, I don’t give a flying fuck.” He stooped and gathered up the folders, a careless effort meant more to keep his cubicle tidy than to pursue any schedule. As he righted the stack, he muttered: “I miss him.”

“Shhh,” Mary steamed. “Not so loud. She’ll hear you. They’ll all hear you!”
Perry wondered just how Mildred Wickersham, the boss-lady, could hear his whispering. Mary meant well, he guessed. She ran interference for him since his return, but this didn’t give her maternal rights. Perry’s mother had been in the grave since his fourth birthday, and since his father disappeared in a miasma of scotch and rye shortly thereafter, the only maternal rule he had experienced came from a paternal Aunt, whose reign over him was slight. No. The distaff side did not steer Perry Chaplin. No one did, unless he counted Bobby. That thought pushed out a tear, which fostered a sigh; then, another round of shhh’s from Mary.

Perry sniffed. He didn’t bother to blot the tear. Let it rip. He was in a foul mood. Both employment and employer were low on his priorities today. He had been okay for the first few days back, but now every minute not absorbed with distractions, belonged to thoughts of his dear, dead Bobby. Vacations at Provincetown — kite flying and dune wrestling; and the prancing at the T-dance in the late afternoon, where even the gulls admired Bobby’s form and graceful moves. Such movements. Sunday walks in the park. Although Bobby was often distracted by the joggers, which amused Perry, because it meant to make him jealous. How jealous could he be of Bobby? A few more tears pushed over the lids. Perry still refused to blot. His sinuses filled. Head ached dully. If he had nerve, he would beat a trail into Mrs. Wickersham’s office and plead illness. Hell, I’d take off without pay. But how could he? Out for two weeks for Bobby’s last days and . . . the funeral, if one could call it that. Since Mrs. Wickersham wasn’t gay friendly, Perry’s mourning posed as a fantasized, once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Italy. That’s all Wickersham knew. That’s all anyone knew, except Mary Hughes, who was, after all, Perry’s closest friend; his only friend now that Bobby’s eyes shut.

Suddenly, Mrs. Wickersham appeared in his cubicle. He hastened to blot the tear and apply his fingers to the keyboard, although what spewed across the screen was in no computer language known to man.

“Perry,” she said. It was usual for Mildred Wickersham to greet each employee daily in this manner. Sometimes it was followed by the weather report or an inquiry into work progress. In this case, it was mono-syllabic. Mute after that. Perry stared into her eyes. She was a comely woman of forty, or perhaps forty-five — hard to tell as she tended toward the plump. Her auburn hair was pulled into a bun. Black, owl-winged spectacles made her appear more bossly, but not managerial. In fact, she was a wizard of sorts — a cracker-jack programmer who inherited Gamma Rex Software Development Studio LLC from her late husband. This was by no means a lucky acquisition. Mildred helped pioneer this business from pocket-change investments to a few millions. Her employees frequently saw her auburn bun bobbing back and forth, pencil stuck in her ear flap as she reviewed each account against the production schedules, the ritual that jump-started the globe on its daily orbit. That ritual complete, she launched into the rounds through the cubicles.

When Perry had decided that Mrs. Wickersham was either too stressed (Mary said she was on the war-path), or distracted by the morning statistical reports, he placed his hands to his sides, nodded, and then wished for her disappearance. Wish granted. He heard her quiet step proceed to the next cube.

“Mortimer,” she said. Perry heard Mortimer Johnson shuffle some papers and babble something sugar-coated and self-serving, his usual modus operandi, although Perry couldn’t clearly hear the words. Nor did he care.

Perry returned to his daydream. Sigh. He twirled a pencil between his palms, focusing on the point. If he had been more alert, he would have seen Mary poke her head over the top again, but he was finished working today. There was no reason for him to stay. He was just mustering the courage to face Mrs. Wickersham and ask for an afternoon off. Then he could escape into the fresh wintry air. Perhaps flee to the park. Sit on the lawn. Watch the joggers. His daydream recommenced. More tears, and then suddenly, the pencil snapped — clean in two. He hadn’t pressed it hard, but split it did, momentarily distracting him from his ever-present sadness.

“That’ll solve all your problems,” Mary said. He jumped. Where did she come from? She had slipped across his threshold and tucked herself into the corner. She held a wad of tissues in an outstretched hand. “Here,” she said with the fervor of a battlefield nurse. Perry robotically wiped. He didn’t want her here; although he knew that once she had invaded his space, she’d be worse than a bed-bug. He liked her; perhaps even loved her. She was the closest thing he had to a fag-hag, although she sucked as a beard, being married and quite content with her hippie, professor spouse.

Mary hunkered down beside Perry (and she could hunker, no shrinking violet this). “When are you coming back to us? I miss you, snooks.”

Mortimer popped his head across Perry’s threshold. His eyes widened upon seeing Mrs. Hughes squatting at Mr. Chaplin’s side. Mortimer waggled his fingers, and then smiled. “Can I borrow your set-up disk, Perry?”

Mary stood, returning to her corner, while Perry rifled through his diskette box. He flipped disk after disk. “Where is it?” Finally, he dumped the box across his desk, diskettes spreading like a canasta deck. “Damn it. I had it the other day.” He slammed his fist on the empty box. “Didn’t you borrow it already?”

“If I borrowed it I wouldn’t be asking you?”

“You’ve lost things before, you know.”

Mary raised her hand. “Morty, do you really need that shit now?”

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t ask, would I?”

Mortimer’s glee turned sour, no longer inquisitional. Mary grasped Mortimer about the shoulders ushering him toward her own cubicle. “I have a set-up disk too. Use mine.”

Perry stared after them, and then glanced at the array of diskettes that dominoed across his desk. His hand shook. He swept the desk clean, the diskettes making a perfect fifty-two pick up. The folders went again along with everything else caught beneath Perry’s palm.

Mary appeared, this time blocking the cubicle from Mortimer’s view. Once he passed, she assaulted the carpet, gathering clips and post-its, diskettes and folders. “This has got to stop, Perry.”

“He’s gone.” Perry wept.

“He’s back in his cube.”

“No. Bobby’s gone.”

“Shhh. Lower. Not so loud.” Mary plopped the diskettes beside the keyboard. “I know he’s gone. You shouldn’t have a tear left to shed. Where you’re finding all that liquid, beats me.”

Another head popped into the cubicle. It was the pimply technician who was installing a network printer. “Is everything okay here?” Mary got to her feet, brushing herself off. Perry looked away. The technician’s face flushed. “Soda anyone?”

“No, Ben,” Mary said. “We’re getting it together. Thanks for the offer. Unless, Perry, do you feel like something to drink?” Perry ignored her. “Thanks Ben. Maybe . . . a little privacy. We’ll keep it down.”

Ben shrugged, and then sauntered back to his installation.

“It’s hard,” Perry burbled. “I see and hear Bobby in everything.”

Mary appeared to be gathering her thoughts; platitudes that friends are expected to blurt when other friends are hurting to their heart-soul. “All right, snooks,” she finally said. “It’s time for your dear Mary to swoop in and set you straight.”
She giggled. “Forgive me. You’ll never be straight.”

“Not funny.”

Mary sighed. “If you’re seeing Bobby everywhere . . . clear all his stuff out; all the unhappy reminders. You can’t continue like this. You’ve missed work to the point of . . . well, she’s on the warpath. Your production’s down. Your work’s shit. You haven’t written a line of code that I haven’t had to debug. It’s crap. Do you hear me? It’s crap.”

“I know,” Perry said. He gazed into her soft brown eyes. “You’ve been wonderful, dear. I’m sorry if I’ve been such a shit. I’d be over Bobby if he just dumped me. I’ve been dumped before. But he’s gone. He’s never coming back. I’ll never . . .”

She gripped his wrist. “I know the feeling. I lost my Aunt Sylvia last year.”

“Not the same. Time was when love and I walked hand in hand.”

“Are you quoting opera again?” He bit his lip. “That’s a good sign.”

The Sorcerer.

“Well, there’s hope now if you’re speaking in Gilbert & Sullivan. I’ll take it as a step toward recovery.” She released him. “Maybe now I can get back to work. She’s on the warpath.”

“So you’ve said.” Perry pulled her back.

She gave him a hug. “Are you sure you don’t want a soda?” He shrugged. She reached down, retrieving a pencil. “Here, you’ll need this.”

Perry blinked. He glanced across the desk for the broken pencil, but unless it rolled beneath the desk, it was gone, or . . . it couldn’t be this one. This one was whole — complete; yet he recalled only one pencil on the desk today. The rest were all clustered in a chipped coffee mug far back behind the monitor. He caressed the pencil. Magically mended? One more delusion brought on by his mourning, no doubt.

“So,” Mary asked, “what brought on this new weepy wave?”

Perry rolled the pencil between his palms pondering the new wave — a tidal wave to be sure. “This morning I sensed him sleeping beside me.”

“That’s natural, Perry.”

“It was so real. I could actually hear him breathing. I felt him reaching for me . . . in the dark, but when I turned to caress him. Nothing. An empty bed.” He pouted, and the tears stood in his eyes again.

“There, there,” Mary said. She hugged him again. “I’m worried you’ll lose this job.”

And a good job too,” Perry quoted between sniffs.

“There you go.” She released him, and then eased back toward the threshold. She paused, turning like a runway model, raising her hands: “Why don’t you get out tonight? Go to a movie. Go bowling.”

“You’ll go with me?”

“Wish I could, snooks, but I’m booked. Maybe the weekend. Actually, why don’t you go to a bar and . . .”

“Pick someone up?” He puffed. “Not on your life.”

“Go to the Mall then . . .”

What, and pick someone up there? How’s that different? Next you have me cruising ShopRite.”

Mary’s face brightened. “You know, a friend of a friend of Charlie’s knows this dude.”

“A blind date?” Perry shook his head. “I know there’s lots of fish in the sea, but I’m not ready for them.”

“You’re ready for the nut house, snooks. If you keep this up and lose your job, the poor house. We have deadlines, you know.”

Perry shrugged. “I don’t think Bobby would approve.”

Mary frowned. Her face contorted. “He’s dead, Perry.”

Perry lost it. He wept untrammeled as if this was the point where denial died. It brought Mary back to his side.

“Be strong, dear. Stronger. It ain’t like a cold you can take a pill to cure, and the symptoms linger . . . linger. They linger, but it’s the truth.” She wiped his tears, this time with raw fingers. “I think you should consider the friend of the friend of Charlie’s. If you want, I’ll get you his number.”

Perry peered at the pencil. He started. It was broken again — split into two ragged halves. He sprang up, pushing his roll chair back to the wall, then escaped Mary Hughes’ good intentions. He headed for the lunchroom.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vienna Dolorosa excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk

Vienna Dolorosa by Mykola Dementiuk is a full-length historical novel set in Vienna, Austria, in an inner city hotel managed by a transvestite and doubling as a brothel for men who like boys dressed up as girls. The entire book takes place during a one-day time period — March 12, 1938, the day Hitler “invades” Austria. Told from the perspectives of twelve different characters including various hotel personnel, hotel guests, brothel employees and brothel clientele, we also have a talkative Viennese official, German police, Nazi SS, and a darling street boy.

Vienna Dolorosa
Synergy Press 2007
ISBN: 0-9758581-5-7


Frau Friska came down the main stairs and glanced out the curtained front window of the hotel. A few Brownshirt-clad men and boys staggered through the quiet street, either hung-over or exhausted from their night’s revelries, yet unwilling to go home and sleep it off lest they miss another celebration, another attack, another expression of their German-ness. She wished she had heeded Kurt’s advice that they install a rolling metal gate over the hotel entrance as the shopkeeper next to the Mozarthaus had done.

Where is Kurt anyway? She glanced at a wall clock and walked across the empty hotel lobby to the small office behind the reception desk. The role of hotel proprietress suited her; its professional and somewhat official standing gave her a sense of legitimacy and respect she would never have achieved as simply a madam of boys.

And it was a perfect cover, though a well-worn theme: a house of prostitution for the cognoscenti and a working hotel for the unwary; the trick was to keep the two identities separate and distinct. Houses for boys might be common knowledge in Berlin or London, but in Vienna, whatever depravity lurked beneath its cultured façade kept its passions and lusts hidden under a veneer of proper appearance, proper decorum, and proper respectability. As long as one acted, dressed and presented oneself in a manner correspondent to one’s social class, who would look or care what lay covered by the cravats and dining coats, the pressed pants and gowns and gleaming shoes, the neatly coiffed hair and polished fingernails?

It was all appearance and not much more. Frau Friska Bielinska passed easily in her proper feminine attire and respectful Viennese demeanor. Vienna and Austria had been her salvation, just as Berlin and Germany once were; but after Hitler’s coming to power and the orders to clean up the depraved Kürfurstendamm -- the night raids, the shredded clothing, the shorn-off hair, the forced sodomy and fellatio, the beatings and pummelings, the long train ride to the frontier with stops along the way for local Party members to express their own outrage on the vile pansies -- any city or country would have appeared a haven from the sickness Germany had infected on itself and was now spreading to Vienna, and to Frau Friska’s Hotel Redl.

She sighed and shook her head and bent over the ledger Helmut had worked on. With Kurt’s disappearance Helmut had taken it on himself to reconcile the accounts, and though it was a simple task of adding a few columns of figures, deducting the loss of unpaid-for rooms (the evicted guests were told there’d be no charge) from the expected earnings (one guest demanded he pay his bill in full and be done with the hotel for good), Helmut had made a total shambles of the simple arithmetic, coming up with a figure of profits earned in one night that was more than the hotel made in a month of full occupancy. He had not comprehended the impossibility of the gain or discrepancy of his count. He probably thinks we’re rich, Friska smiled to herself and quickly recalculated the sums in her head; Kurt could make the corrections later.

She pushed aside the balance book, retrieved a small key-ring from her skirt pocket, opened a locked bottom desk drawer, and pulled out a ledger book, much larger and thicker than the one for the hotel accounts, but already more than a quarter filled with columns of numbers, dates, names and cubicle assignments. She opened the book and glanced at last night’s appointments. Except for Kaufmann, not one of the other clients had shown and only a few of the scheduled boys appeared.

Like Kaufmann, the clients were probably nervous wrecks -- in hiding, scurrying out of Vienna, or else, like Kurt, marauding through the streets in a frenzy of beer-guzzling, store-looting and Jew-beating. Friska had dismissed the boys who did show up, though a couple of the clearly effeminate ones decided against venturing out again at night, and she took the new boy from the streets, Petya (who had appeared unannounced), to her quarters.

Most of Frau Friska’s boys were recruited from the canal walkways, the Prater paths, and the alleys of the Leopoldstadt, though she did take on boys who lived at home with working or middle-class families but who showed a natural proclivity and willingness to dress up. Unlike the other houses in Vienna which catered to men seeking boys, hers was distinct in that the majority of her clients did not want the boys as boys but boys as girls. This Friska gave them. Because Friska knew, after all her years of dressing up and living as a woman, that there was a clear distinction between homosexuality and transvestitism, between male longing for another male, and male desire for a male as female.

It was all a matter of control: males in female clothing destroyed the mask of male pretense, the societal image of masculinity as assuredness, as dominance, as control, and allowed the privilege of sensitivity, of gentleness, of playfulness, of femininity. The donning of makeup, of skirts, of bras, of stockings, stripped aside male delusions of male power and control. If clothes make the man, clothes certainly undo the woman in the man. But would the man dressed as a woman be allowed to accomplish half as much as he had dressed as a man?

For Friska, if there had been a surgical procedure to dispose of her penis and open a vagina, to implant breasts, to mold and soften the sculpture of her masculine self, she would not have hesitated to undergo the altering and correcting operations. It was a mistake of nature to have been born a male; all her proclivities were to be female, all her aversions were the daily intrusions of her masculinity. It was no help to her gender identification and acceptance that as a child she was introduced to the little-girl-fashion of long bowed hair, satin dresses, lace stockings and frills so common of upper-class Central European women in attiring and adorning their young sons.

Whether her mother had wanted a daughter instead, Friska never learned, since her father one day caught the mother in bed with a lover, a woman, and killed them both, then took his own life, leaving Friska to be placed in an orphanage for girls. There it was soon discovered the girl, Franziska, was a boy, Franz. He was immediately stripped of his pretty laces, shorn of his beautiful tresses, and transferred to a boy’s orphanage where he was forced into a mode of behavior he knew nothing about.

Of course it didn’t take long for the other orphaned boys to recognize his difference too, and by the time Friska left the orphanage four years later (fleeing with the staff from the approaching Red and White Russian armies battling their civil war) she was sixteen years old. Not only had she lost her physical, mental, and emotional virginity, but she had mastered the feminine stance and attitude of being a girl in a world of boys, as well as being a girl with certain indulgent staff members who found her pubescence as enticing, alluring, and erotic as that of any young school girl or flirtatious daughter of their own.

Though her first sexual experience was rape, forced sodomy, and fellatio, she quickly learned and mastered the female art of teasing, withholding, offering, and drawing back. But it seldom worked; a blow to the head dropped her to her knees where she forgot her feminine cock-teasing intent and complied with the brutal cock-pumping in and out of her mouth.

As a refugee she plodded her way across the hodgepodge borsht-and-kasha dullness of Central Europe until she reached Berlin. Within a month she was again dressed as a girl, with identity papers proving the same, installed in a house on the exclusive Kürfurstendamm. She had attained not only her maturity, but her sexual destiny. There was no going back, because there was nothing and nowhere to go back to.

Frau Friska flipped a page of her ledger to the evening’s appointments. Much like her other boys, Suze’s name appeared twice: once for a seven o’clock appointment with the banker Kessell and then at ten for the counselor Waldmann. Friska doubted either of those respectable gentlemen would show; still, telephone calls had to be made canceling tonight’s and all future dates. Business was business and Friska was one to hold to proprieties. She studied a few of the Jewish-sounding names (who knew there were so many Jews if the Nazis hadn’t pointed it out?). Would the Nazis have already occupied the telephone company?

She reached for a city directory and heard the heavy thud of boots pounding down the stairs and across the lobby. Helmut was stepping behind the reception desk, his face red, his brow pursed, his breathing staccatoed. Wanda and her tits, Friska frowned, and moved her chair from her desk, certain the oil-dry wheel squeaks would draw him in. Helmut entered the office. Friska glanced at the bulge at the side of his crotch and pulled back her shoulders, her fabricated bosom rising slightly and puffing out at the front her blouse.

Helmut approached and stared at her breasts. Friska remained still; Helmut reached out and gently cupped a breast, his fingers slowly pulsing around the soft pliant cloth. Friska sighed, and Helmut leaned and pressed his crotch against her other breast. She regretted they weren’t as big or real as Wanda’s. Friska shut her eyes; Helmut ejaculated.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The P-Town Murders excerpt by Jeffrey Round

In the P-Town Murders by Jeffrey Round, Agatha Christie meets Oscar Wilde with a dash of Mae West - a high-camp, madcap, She-Done-Him-Wrong murder mystery with a pair of unforgettable gay heroes at its core.

In a place that’s “to die for,” no one expects to die for real. So muses undercover detective Bradford Fairfax after an anonymous caller reveals to him that his ex-boyfriend, party boy Ross Pretty, has died from an ecstasy overdose in “the gayest place on earth” — Provincetown, Massachusetts. Brad takes time out from his current assignment—preventing the assassination of the Dalai Lama—to bury Ross. But as the body of another “overdose” victim washes up on the shores of P-Town, Brad becomes convinced that Ross’s death is no accident, and his intention to bury his former lover suddenly turns into a full-scale murder investigation.

The P-Town Murders
Cormorant Books reprint (June,2008)
ISBN: 9781897151280

Excerpt: Chapter 2

The towers of Boston receded as the water churned beneath the big boat. Sunlight winked on the waves. Despite the bright September afternoon, the air was cool. Brad waited till the city had all but disappeared before making his way inside the cabin.

He looked around at the gay men sporting their festive moods and colourful clothes, the stylish lesbians accompanied by wellgroomed dogs, and a handful of straight families with fiercely hip three-year-olds doing intergalactic battle on Game Boys. Somehow, these wildly different tribes all managed to get along together in Provincetown.

Over in a far corner, a handsome muscular man sat clad only in a pair of boxers. Brad’s eyes played over the sculpted chest, plucked to within an inch of its derma’s life. The man’s stomach was so flat it was concave. Brad felt a twinge of abdomen envy mixed with a tingling of lust.

Across the table from the boxer-clad beauty, a slightly plump young man leaned forward, frowning with effort as he applied makeup to the demigod.

I’d like to be his blush brush, thought Brad.

The near-naked man turned and caught Brad’s eye. His smile flashed fun across the cabin. And maybe something else.

“Don’t move!” squeaked the makeup artist. “You’ll ruin my work.”

Brad smiled. Only on the P-Town ferry! He moved on till he came to the snack bar, stopping to stare at an assortment of snacks beneath the glass. Hardly anything nonfat or low carb, he noted grimly. At his neighbourhood supermarket, Brad shopped exclusively in what he called the “No Fat-No Fun” section. Maybe it was time to live a little.

He decided on an apple turnover, giving himself a mental slap on the wrist. Just one won’t hurt, he thought, though he knew that was always how it started.

The server looked at him with concern. “You sure you want this?” he asked, as though he’d read Brad’s mind. Brad flushed and thought of his midriff. Was it showing already?

“It might get a bit rough out there,” the man said, with a nod toward the water.

Brad smiled. “I like it rough.” No reaction from the server. Brad’s smile faltered. Definitely straight, he decided. “I’ll be okay,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve done this trip before.”

“All right,” the man said. “Just thought I should warn you.”

“I stand warned.”

Brad continued through the cabin, settling in to read the New York Times, a publication he liked to refer to as “that amusing concoction of lies.” Two front-page stories vied for his attention: Hurricane Isabel was threatening offshore Maryland, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was threatening the rest of America in his campaign to become governor of California.

“I’m not afraid of Democrats,” Arnie declared in a fervent interview. “I married one.”

Isabel was a woman of fewer words, but her 150-mph winds kept the country’s attention regardless.

It wasn’t until he reached the back page of section one that Brad found a brief write-up on the Dalai Lama’s upcoming lecture series in New York. To conclude his visit, the guru-in-exile had scheduled an open-air talk in Central Park the following Sunday. If Grace was so worried about him, Brad wondered, why didn’t she just advise him to cancel his trip? Of course there could be any number of reasons, but it seemed the sensible solution.

He’d just finished the article when a loud squawking burst from the back of the cabin. He looked up to see Marilyn Monroe charging through the room. It was the man in boxers, now wearing a platinum wig and false eyelashes. He teetered through the cabin on high heels, a pink boa trailing behind.

“Help! Save me!” Marilyn cried to the room as everyone erupted in laughter.

“Norma Jean, I am not finished with you!” the makeup artist screamed as he raced after the charging figure.

The fugitive spied Brad sitting with his paper and suddenly turned coy. He sashayed over and ran the boa’s feathery tip across Brad’s cheeks.

“Hey, big boy!” he whispered in imitation of a very-Hollywood Marilyn. “How’s about a little fun later, just you and me?”

“Norma Jean!”

Brad suddenly found his face pressed into the man’s taut midriff.

“Please don’t let them take me,” Marilyn cooed in mock fright. His voice lowered and Brad thought he heard the man say, “I know who you are. I’ve got to talk to you about Ross Pretty.”

Before Brad could react, the irate makeup artist reached his prey. “I’m not finished with you!” he cried, grabbing the unfinished Marilyn by the biceps and pulling him out of the room.

Marilyn gave Brad a last reluctant glance. “And I’m not finished with you, honey,” he crowed over the crowd’s approving roar. “By the way, everybody,” he said, turning to the room. “I’d like to take this opportunity to invite y’all to my show at the Post Office Cabaret, starting tomorrow night!”

Brad watched, intrigued, as Marilyn disappeared in a flurry of high heels and feathers.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Longhorns excerpt by Victor J Banis

An excerpt from LONGHORNS, by Victor J. Banis. Buck, a half breed Nasoni, has set his sights on Les, the ranch boss, who insists that he could never fool around with another man. They quarrel and fight, and here, in the way of apology, Les invites Buck to ride out with him to check a watering hole.

Running Press (Carroll & Graf) (July 12, 2007)Carroll & Graf
ISBN: 0786719524


It was cool and sweet-aired in the shade of the cottonwoods. The Little Bantam Creek that twisted its way over the rangeland made an oxbow here and widened into a good sized pool, the water green-brown and still except for the ripples made by a pair of teals that quickly swam for the cover of the cattails on the bank, their feathers glinting blue in the variegated light. There were more trees, a thick grove of them, on the opposite bank, singing that faint song that cottonwoods did in the prairie breeze. The grasses whispered back to them, deep and lush, and greenish near the water, fading to brown further away.

"Looks clean enough now, I reckon," Les said, dismounting. "Have to keep an eye on these holes, ain't that many of them and the last thing you want is your cattle dying from thirst."

They were on a little knoll, looking down. The pond didn't appear to Buck like it could ever have been fouled, as deep as it was and as strong as the current was, although the recent storm had no doubt swelled it some. It looked cool and inviting after the hot sun.

"I've a good mind to take a dip," Buck said, and glanced at Les. "If you ain't got no objections."

"Go ahead," Les said.

"You ain't coming in?"

"Ain't much of a swimmer," Les said with a shake of his head.

"Me neither, but that don't stop me none," Buck said.

"You go ahead. I'll just lay up here in the grass and rest a spell."

Buck shrugged, and quickly undressed. Les was surprised to see that he wore no long johns under his pants the way most of the fellows did. No wonder them dungarees fit him they way they did. He held his breath as Buck's naked body came into view, and especially when he bared that rounded butt of his. It gave Les some kind of a funny feeling, seeing it naked like this for the first time, white as snow in contrast to the leathered tan of his back. He turned it in Les's direction as he bent down to pull his pants off, like he was modest about Les seeing him in front, and taking his time about getting out of those dungarees, so that instead Les had this unobstructed view of his bottom with its down fringed crack.

Course Les's dick had to right off go and take notice of it, like it didn't have no better sense. Les made himself look away before the boy caught him staring.
Damnation, it was just a butt, was all, he told himself, disgusted cause of the way his dick had gotten all excited over it. A man's butt, even. Wasn't nothing special about that. Everybody had one, and he had never noticed any of them before. He took his Stetson off and held it in front of himself, so that his half-hard wouldn't be noticeable.

Buck stood then and started down the hill toward the water. There were some bushes in his path, between him and the creek, and he pushed them noisily out of his way and smiled back over his shoulder at Les. Les tore his eyes away from that pale backside, embarrassed that Buck might have thought that he was staring at it, and all at once, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something moving in the grass.

"Boy, don't move a muscle," he said sharply.

Buck froze where he was, and when he did, he heard what the rustle of the brush had masked from his hearing: an ominous rattle, sounding like it was just at his bare feet. He stood, scarcely breathing, his smile fading, and watched Les draw his six-shooter, not his quick draw way, but moving slowly, so as not to startle the rattlesnake into striking. Les lifted his Colt and sighted carefully along the barrel. If someone had come along, it would have looked at a glance as if it was Buck he was drawing a bead on.

He fired, once, and there was a violent thrashing in the grass at Buck's feet. He jumped aside and looked down at the rattler, headless now, tossing about in the grass in its death throes.

"Jesus, that was some shooting, Les," Buck said, letting out the breath he had been holding, his grin bursting across his face once more.

"Didn't figure he would give me a second shot," Les said, and grinned back. They looked at one another for a minute. It made Les powerful happy, seeing the kid smiling like that again. It was stupid, but he surely had missed that dumb smile of his once it had disappeared.

"Anyway," Les said, embarrassed all at once, "I doubt that snake could have killed you. Way I see it, ornery as you are, you little fucker, the Lord wouldn't want you, and I doubt the devil would want the competition."

Buck whooped with laughter, like he had been paid a compliment, and even Les had to laugh with him. Damn, if that kid couldn't put a smile on a man's face when he looked like that.

"Maybe I will take a dip myself," he said. He felt strangely all keyed up, like that rattler had taken a shot at him instead of the other way around.

Buck grinned up at him and turned and jumped feet first into the dark water of the pool, vanishing under the surface and then bobbing up a minute later. He tossed his head, droplets spraying from his shiny black curls.

"Come on, then," he yelled, "It feels great."

Les undressed more slowly than Buck had, removing his shirt to reveal his bare chest with its tangle of red gold hair, and stripping off his trousers, and his boots, but he left his long johns on out of modesty. He climbed down to the water, aware that Buck was looking up at him and self conscious of the way his dick swung back and forth in the loose confinement of the union suit. He looked carefully where he put his feet down, in case that rattler had some company nearby.

He paused on the bank of the creek. Buck gave a shout and dived under the water, his butt in the air for a minute, glistening wetly, looking like it was carved out of that shiny rock, they called it quartz. Les stared at it and swallowed, and hesitated. Maybe after all this wasn't the best idea he'd ever had, he thought.

Buck surfaced, and seeing Les standing there indecisively, he suddenly splashed water all over Les's hairy chest and his long johns.

"You chicken?" Buck said.

"You goddamn fool," Les said, but he was more tickled than sore, him standing there dripping wet, and Buck in the water below him, head back, laughing. Les laughed too, then, like a schoolboy on a lark, and he did a sudden cannonball into the pool, catching Buck by surprise and splashing the water all over his head.

Something funny happened then. They stopped being two cowboys and for the next several minutes, they were just two fellows, horsing around together in a swimming hole, laughing and cussing and splashing, trying to duck one another, and wrestling in the water.

It ended as abruptly as it had begun. Suddenly, Les was a cowboy again, and this wasn't no little boy in the water with him, but a man, with everything a man had on him, and in him. He had Buck's shoulders in his hands, in a firm grip. He had been about to dunk him, both of them laughing like fools; and their eyes met, and something like summer lightning passed between them, and they were both of them aware of who they were, and where, and that Buck was stark naked and Les not far from it.

Just like that, it came over Les again, that strange spell that had hit him before. He desperately wanted to…but he didn't actually know what it was that he wanted. Something, that was for sure, he could feel it rise up inside him, but it seemed to get stuck in his craw, and wouldn't come out. It couldn't be sex, he was sure of that, being as he had no interest in that with another man, but it was something.

Oddly, it was not Buck's eyes that held Les in thrall, as if time had been suspended. It was his mouth. Buck was breathing hard, panting almost, like he had just run a race. His lips were wet, and parted. His tongue flicked nervously over them. Lips as red as if they had been colored. Les felt as if he were falling toward them, as if a magnet were pulling him down, so that he could….

"Time we was getting back to the ranch," he said abruptly, letting go of Buck's shoulders and splashing toward the creek bank.

His breath coming in little gasps, Buck stared after him, watched him climb out of the water. Les might as well have been naked, the way the wet long johns clung to his ass, and they were all but transparent now, too, so that you could see the pale pink flesh right through them. They concealed nothing, revealed everything as he scrambled up the bank: the flexing of the powerful muscles in those full rounded mounds, and the deep cleft between them, even the faint shadow far down the cleft that was his hole, and lower still, the pendulous sway of his balls.

Under the water, Buck grew instantly rigid. Jesus, he wanted that, bad as he'd ever wanted anything his whole life. And for the smallest minute there, he had thought Les was about to…but, no, he must surely have imagined that. There was lots of things he thought, hoped, that Les might be persuaded to try, but he could not even dream that Les was ever going to kiss him. That was something that had never happened before, with any of the cowboys he had fooled around with. Hadn't ever happened to him before, period. Nobody had ever kissed him, not since his Ma, and her not on the mouth.

"You coming?" Les said, climbing up the hill to where he had left his clothes. "We need to get moving, boy." He did not look back, or take time to dry himself off, but began to dress like a man in a hurry, putting everything on over his wet body and his wet long johns.

"In a minute," Buck said, willing his erection to go down, knowing instinctively that Les would just be sore if he got out of the water with that standing up the way it was. "I'm taking me a piss."

"Grateful you waited till I was out," Les said, "but there is no need to poison the cattle."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Erotic Études Opus VI excerpt by E. L. van Hine

Robert Schumann, the Romantic composer, was a vibrant and complex man. Schumann’s public biography was carefully cleansed by his wife, his survivors, and his friends, but his own letters and diaries give indication of a series of passionate affairs with both sexes that sparked the creative outpouring of music that defined his artistic life. It is from these sources that author E. L. van Hine has imagined an erotic and inspired story of a remarkable, talented man.

The Erotic Études Opus VI recreates many of Schumann's intimate relationships in a series of 18 interlocking stories that span 40 years of his life, beginning in 1834 when he was at the center of both controversy and publicity in Leipzig, Germany. Arranged thematically and told in the first person, The Erotic Études Opus VI parallels the 18 section piano work, 'The Symphonic Etudes,' which was published in 1837 and dedicated to one of Schumann's intimate friends. Compelling, intriguing, and immensely readable, The Erotic Études Opus VI is a story that will stay with the reader, long after the final page has been turned.

The Erotic Études Opus VI
Bristlecone Pine Press, an imprint of Maine Desk LLC (ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-9817464-2-5 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-4116527-4-3 (paperback)


The world changed, the night we met. I was a regular at Coffé Baum, though there was no telling when I would disappear from the table on one of my obscure missions, when inspiration struck me, and I was never questioned on these disappearances. That night, I was at the penultimate moment when my glass was empty, and I hesitated before calling the taverner once again, because I felt an increasing urge to bolt for the evening. Emil had captivated the group with another story I had heard too many times at school, and I was fading into that ennui which tempted me to return once again to my heap of uncompleted work.

And the door opened, letting in a breath of late winter air and shaking the rain off his hat, he came in. I turned on impulse to look, and my breath was arrested by his smoldering gaze, which he turned immediately in my direction, and I cast my eyes down, blushing.

As I feared, Emil had witnessed the brief exchange of glances, and called out his pet name for me. “Skulander, invite him over—don’t you know who that is?”

“What?” I stuttered, all eloquence swallowed by the embarrassment of staring too frankly at a stranger. “No—who?”

“That’s Schuncke—the best klavier virtuoso in Germany!” he whispered fiercely, probably hoping the youth would hear him.

Nicola, always most garrulous when drunk, shouted from our table: “You there—the pretty blond!” And since he was the only one to have just entered the room, Schuncke turned toward the voice. “Let us offer you a drink at our table. Pianist, aren’t you?” Nicola persisted.

He smiled, and came over. Oh, when he smiled. And looked at me. “You’re Schumann, right? The composer? You’re the one I came to see.” His voice was low-pitched, the diction, a hint of Schwäbisch, but distinctly High German. I nodded, blushing all over once again, and he had his hand out long before I came back to myself adequately to shake it. “They said I would find you here most nights. If I came late.”

“It is definitely late!” Nicola cut in, leapt up, and pulled over a seat for him between us. Schuncke sat and with deliberate care, pulled his gloves from his hands. His hands…

He smiled gratefully as Nicola, playing host, set a stein of pils before him, and he took it up in his impossibly long fingers. He quickly became occupied answering a round of questions from the overly-informed Nicola about his latest concert tour.

* * * *

“Do you remember?”

I spoke into the silence that followed the intensity of our passion, “Do you remember? The first night you walked into the Coffé Baum?”

Ludwig laughed briefly, low. “You couldn’t stop looking at my hands.” He held his hand out, and I stroked it lightly, sighing.

“So—beautiful…” I whispered, and his hand crept, seemingly of its own accord, up the side of my face as he leaned toward me. “And now, could you stand me again so soon?” he laughed again, and placed his mouth on my own. He was never sated, and despite my weariness, I would not refuse him: but he did not await an answer.

I was seized in his facile hands, enslaved to his hungry mouth…but after a brief attempt to arouse me once again, and failing, he leapt up, without a stitch on, and throwing on his robe, announced “There is one thing that revives you faster than a bottle of red wine,” and sat down at the piano. And I knew what he would play: what he always played when I was coy or tired…

“Shh! Not so loud, the Hartsteins will have fits,” I protested, and he objected, not losing the rhythm of the Toccata as he prattled.

“Oh, I would say they have had one round of fits already. You groaned like a dying sow when you came!” he said, and settled into the cadenza, drowning out my half-formed objection.

And as he played, I drifted into a waking dream of his marvelous white hands, his beautiful face, the magnificent energy with which he attacked everything he did…and sooner than I had expected, ended the piece with perfect execution (considering the full darkness in the room,) and with no less energy, pounced as I lay outstretched on the bed, seizing me in both hands as though I were a new composition, and said, “That should have fixed you, I daresay…” And I knew nothing more but the taste of his hot mouth once again upon my somewhat more enthusiastic organ.

“That was not the groan of a dying sow,” I rebuked him, as we shared the smoldering taste of my last cigar between us. His breath caught painfully when he inhaled, and he shuddered with a deep cough. I knew that cough—Julius lay abed all winter with that cough. It was consumption. I said nothing, but grew quiet as the spasm passed, tempted once again to remind him not to smoke. But how could I? If it were the consumption, there was little to be done, and one cigar more or less would mean nothing.

Ludwig. The very image of Friedrich Schiller in life…tall, slender and blond, the curls falling to his shoulders in graceful waves. What enamored me of him more than anything, was watching him play, with the studied aggressiveness of a man certain of his virtuosity. The first night he played for me, he performed the first piano sonata of Chopin. As he completed the final chord, glanced up to see the look upon my face, and in one fluid movement reached over with his left hand to caress my face, and kissed me.

“You are the ideal audience,” he murmured. “Do you want to hear some more, or do you have something else in mind?” Suddenly shy of the attention and of the unexpected kiss, I did not reply, and in the silence, he laughed quietly and took my hands, placing them on his shoulders, his next kiss lingering upon my lips.

“I see you’re the shy type,” he said conversationally, popping my jacket buttons open one by one. I arrested his hand, holding it for a moment, attracted by the sheer lean musculature that could produce such beauty from the piano. “Play something else, first.” He took a breath, and turned, repositioning himself at the keyboard.

“Very well, then. Shall I play something by you?” Without waiting for answer, Ludwig dashed flawlessly through the Opus 1 variations, and before I knew it, he finished, resting those beautiful white hands upon the keys, and gazed once again into my face.

“All right then. What now?”

“I wish to be the ideal audience,” I replied, and rose, taking him by the hand.

We undressed one another slowly, interrupting one another with more and more passionate kisses. My heart was beating fast, as I slipped his shirt from his shoulders, revealing his hairless chest, the hollow of his belly…and he whispered hoarsely as he reached the top button of my trousers, “Let me taste you, first,” freeing my already-aroused organ from my clothes. He knelt, grasping it tightly and guided it into his open mouth.

I gasped, and sunk my fingers into his blond curls, steadying myself against the onrush of sensation as my new lover swallowed me whole. For long moments, I could neither think nor speak, as I rapidly approached an unavoidable climax from the pressure of his insistent mouth, and pressed my hand against his shoulder to let him know. But he knew…

“My God,” I groaned as my climax escaped me, and I shuddered from head to foot. The shuddering subsided, and Ludwig stood, smiling a wet smile.

“Fast, but good,” he remarked. “Like a Mendelssohn concerto,” and placed a salty kiss on my mouth.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Orientation excerpt by Rick R Reed

Below is a short passage from Orientation, my novel about “reincarnation and love.” I chose this because it’s the event that sets the whole book in motion (Robert watching his lover, Keith, die from AIDS on Christmas night in 1983). Be warned: you might need a tissue.

Publisher: Amber Quill Press, LLC (May 7, 2008)
ISBN: 1602729379


Christmas night proved memorable for Robert, if only because it was the night the one great love of his young life was taken, stolen away by a disease he could never have imagined a few years before. The night was also memorable because there was a kind of Christmas miracle, even if it lasted only a few moments.

Keith came back to him. His Keith, the one who could make him laugh and make him feel “like a million bucks.” For the briefest of moments, the real Keith returned, smiling and making of his death mask face a hint of what had been there before: a handsome, distinguished man whose cheeks were no longer sunken and hollow, whose green irises were rimmed in yellow no more, and whose smile could light up a room.

Maybe seeing the old Keith—handsome, devilish, strong jawed from his Mediterranean heritage—was just a figment of Robert’s imagination, something he wished for hard enough that it came true. But the lucidity that came late that Christmas night was not his imagination. Something had clicked in Keith’s fevered brain and for an instant, he came back.

But it was only to say goodbye.

Robert had spent the long afternoon cooking. Pointless, he knew, since Keith, in his best moments, could only keep down things like Jell-o and protein drinks; Robert had no appetite, himself. But in spite of a decided lack of hunger around the Harris/Jafari household, Robert had created quite a testament to culinary expertise in the marble-and-glass kitchen. Cutting boards crammed the counters where Robert had used his Wusthof cutlery to prep a garden of fresh herbs—mincing parsley, sage, basil, and thyme into stacks of fine green confetti. He cut garlic into translucent slices. Halved lemons lined up in an orderly row beneath the windowsill, ready to release their juices.

And there, near the sink, a twelve-pound goose waited for Robert’s touch—to have its skin loosened, lifted, and infused with chopped herbs, to have its cavity stuffed with lemons and whole garlic cloves, and, finally, to be buttered and rubbed lovingly with extra-virgin olive oil and trussed. It would spend the rest of the day basking in the heat of an oven, religiously basted every forty minutes.

Robert had made oyster stuffing, rich with fresh-from-the-sea briny juices, sage, and fennel sausage. He had shorn the bottoms off artichokes, trimmed their leaves, and stuffed them with a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In the sink, a mound of Yukon gold potatoes awaited peeling. Brussels sprouts needed to be cleaned, steamed, and tossed in butter, lemon juice, and garlic.

And when the kitchen windows fogged with steam from bubbling pots and the whole first floor of the penthouse was redolent with roasting bird, Robert stumbled into the little powder room off the kitchen and threw up. Afterward, he sat by the toilet, gasping and swiping at his mouth and nose with Kleenex that left shreds on his stubbled face. He started to sob, the tears coming easily, hating himself for being such a coward, for spending all this time, all this money, to prepare this glorious yuletide feast no one would ever eat.

He slapped his own face, punishing himself for being stupid, stupid, stupid. Who was he trying to kid? Did making a Christmas goose with all the trimmings wipe out a year of love, passion, and happiness? Did all the cooking, decorating, and wrapping of presents put a different face on Death, who paced the penthouse, features furrowed, waiting to take his own Christmas present, which lay, inches away from “delivery” on sweat-soaked Egyptian cotton sheets?

Why couldn’t he accept what was happening? It was over. The flame had flared and had been snuffed out. He forced himself up, gripping the little pedestal sink, and splashed cold water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror above the sink, hating the vibrant, rosy glow in his cheeks, his fine, small-pored skin, twinkling blue eyes that betrayed not a hint of his exhaustion and despair, and his shining blond hair, in ringlets because of the kitchen humidity.

Why did Keith have to die?

Why did Robert have to live?

He closed his eyes for a moment, then walked into the kitchen, ready to feed the fabulous food to the garbage disposal. The work, like the preparation of the meal, would take his mind off things.

And then he heard Keith’s voice, watery, weak, a shadow of its former self, call out. If the garbage disposal had been on, he wouldn’t have heard it. But the sound of his own name coming from his lover’s lips filled him with a kind of insane joy and optimism. The irrational part of him wanted to take it as a sign, a U-turn in the road toward death.

His Keith was getting better! Getting better in spite of the fact that all these other men with AIDS were dying quick, painful deaths. Keith would be the exception to the rule. He always had been. A sob caught in Robert’s throat and he hurried toward the stairs.

“Robert?” Keith’s querulous voice sounded again.

Robert rushed up the spiral staircase, tripping once, a startled laugh escaping from his lips. Who knew? This AIDS thing was still new. Who was to say there weren’t people out there who could beat it? People with imagination and fortitude.

People like Keith.

Robert hesitated outside the bedroom door. Inside, it was quiet, and he dreaded going in there and finding Keith on the bed asleep, a sheen of sweat clinging to his sunken cheeks, his breath phlegmy and labored. What if Keith’s call was a momentary peek through the twin curtains of fever and consciousness? Or worse, the product of his own, overly-hopeful imagination?

What would be, would be. Hadn’t some virginal blonde even sung about it, once? Robert steeled himself, taking a deep, cleansing breath, letting it out slowly.

He entered the room.

Keith was awake. His face looked even more drawn and tired—the color of ash. Robert would have said it was impossible for him to look any sicker…even this morning…but now, he did. The smell of sickness and shit hung in the air, despite the cinnamon and vanilla-scented candles in the room.

But, oh, Lord! Keith was looking at him. Looking right at Robert. And, he was seeing him! For the first time in forever, their gazes met and connected. Robert approached the bed warily, as if sudden movement would send Keith plummeting back into unconsciousness.

“Honey? Can you hear me?” Robert stood, wringing his hands, heart fluttering, beating against his ribs.

“Yes, I can.” Keith’s voice was a croak. The bass notes that had made him sound sexy and assured had disappeared. Keith reached a bruised hand out over the covers and patted the bed. “Would you sit next to me?”

“Oh, of course!” Robert took two steps and weighed down the bed, leaning over to brush a strand of hair off Keith’s forehead, biting his own lip at the heat radiating off Keith’s flesh. “I’m happy you’re awake.”

Keith swallowed. The swallow lasted a long time, as if it took all of the sick man’s strength. He let out a weak sigh and turned his head. He looked up at Robert and managed a wan smile. Robert closed his eyes and gently laid his head atop Keith’s.

And then Keith began to talk, his old voice suddenly returning, strong and sure. “I have a few things to say, Robert. And I need you to shut up and listen. No interruptions. The first thing I want to say is, ‘Merry Christmas.’ I’m sorry I couldn’t be a bigger part of things for this, our first Christmas together, but that decision was taken from me and it doesn’t look like Mr. Claus is seeing fit to give me a chance to make it up to you.

“The second thing I want to say is that I love you with all my heart. I searched forty-some-odd years for you, for what I’ve always dreamed of, and what I thought I couldn’t have when you dropped, like a gift, like an angel, into my life last winter. You were what I hunted for all my life: a family. You are my family. Don’t ever forget how precious that is.

“The third thing I want to say is that you’re an idiot, running around, burying your head in the sand and trying to make a Christmas that neither of us has the capacity to enjoy. And last, I love you for that. I love you for trying…for hoping against all odds that this moment would come and I would let you know how much I appreciate you. For hoping that we might share one final kiss before I have to go. And my love, I do have to go. But I couldn’t leave without you hearing these four words. You. Are. My. Family.”

Robert wanted to cry, but there was cold stillness inside, almost as if the frigid air outside had invaded and possessed him. He lifted his head, stopping himself from recoiling at the feel of a crusty lesion on Keith’s cheek. He reached down and squeezed Keith’s hand, knowing with all his heart that Keith wanted to say all those things, but hadn’t really.

The reality was, Keith had only enough breath left to whisper, “I need”—he swallowed hard and tears welled up in his sallow eyes—“you.” Keith pushed out the word “you,” as if he used all the breath he had left.

And that was all, really, Robert needed to hear.

Now, the eyes Robert stared down on were not only yellowed and red-rimmed, but vacant.

Keith was gone.

Robert patted his cheek. “I know,” he whispered. “I’ll always know.”
Could it be that Robert already felt his lover growing cold? He bit his lip hard enough to taste his own blood and reached over to pull Keith’s lids down over his eyes. Robert didn’t know what Keith stared at now, but he hoped it was like the death lore he had read about, and that Keith hovered somewhere near the ceiling, taking one last look at the two of them on the bed before departing toward a warm and welcoming light and a place where there was no more pain, no more suffering.

Robert stretched out on the bed next to Keith’s body, fitting himself against the bony form, wrapping his arms tight around it. He buried his face in Keith’s neck, searching for a little of what Keith had once smelled like: not really a cologne, but bitter, like the incense Robert remembered from Catholic mass when he was a boy. But the smell of Keith, like his spirit, had moved on.

Robert closed his eyes. There would be phone calls to make. Arrangements. A new life ahead, one which would find him suddenly alone, freed from the burden of caretaker, and imprisoned in a grief he supposed would never leave him.

But now, there would be sleep. On this Christmas night, he needed to drown in the comfort of one last slumber with his lover, spoon style.