Edmond

The Butterfly King: Chapter 1

September 18th, 2014

Hello! This Saturday, the third book in The Lost and Founds series, The Butterfly King, is published. I hope you enjoy this preview, the first half of Chapter 1.

***

Lying on the top bunk of this cell, facing the wall covered in years of angry scribbles, I hear them. When I lift my head, the cheap mattress crinkles. The white-painted wall feels greasy to my touch. Down the hallway I hear the metallic screech from a jail door opening and then, a few seconds later, slamming shut, a loud clanging chord, echoing finality and the irreversible truth that you are guilty. Why? Because you are here, the New York City Police Midtown North Holding Facility. You must be guilty.

Cliff’s footsteps clip along at a brisker pace than normal, but not anything close to hurrying. Clip-clack, clip-clack. Those are his black cop shoes. He’s just a regulation New York City police officer, doing his job—clip-clack, clip-clack—getting dangerous people off the street. I cannot hear the second set of footsteps, yet I know a man in handcuffs walks at Cliff’s side. And if there’s one thing I know about my new cellmate, the Butterfly King, he’s dangerous. Men of power always are, perhaps more dangerous for ignoring that power.

The shuffle from the Butterfly King’s shoes finally reaches my ears and the sound is both satisfying and unnerving. He is here. Terrance is here. His King Weekend begins now.

My heart pounds while I lie with my back to the cell door, listening to the twisting metal in the lock. The door rattles, then opens, the metal swinging quieter than the one down the hall. I oiled this one. My plans aren’t affected if the door creaks but the sound might spook Terrance during critical seconds where a single background noise might impact his decision.

I’m probably overthinking this.

This Midtown station is one of the few remaining precincts to still use actual metal keys, which is why it works for tonight’s purpose. I’ll never know how Cliff got the clearance to make this happen, this incredible ruse. This isn’t his precinct. He must have called in a serious favor or promised one, anything to get rid of his obligation to me.

“Get up.” Officer Cliff Showalter’s words are crisp, like the clip-clack of his regulation black shoes. Clip-clack. I hate that sound, the official sound of being locked up. Long nights listening for the clip-clack of adult shoes in a juvie hallway, timing my escapes. They could never hold me for long.

I can’t make this too easy. Must not appear too agreeable.

Without moving, I imagine Cliff’s tightly drawn face, narrow, suspicious eyes and the short military buzz cut he maintains. I can’t believe how much he’s aged since the last time I saw him. Of course, that was a few years ago in Chicago. In Chicago, I informed him he owed me a favor of serious magnitude. Magnitude. What a great word, heavy and solid, like a brick you could throw through a window. I think New York aged him. That or the magnitude of what happened in Chicago.

Cliff kicks the bed frame with the side of his foot. “I said get up. Get the fuck up and stand over there where I can see you. No funny shit, Ghost.”

Without a word I roll over. I stare at them both, beholding the furious mess who will become the Butterfly King. He affords me the same unrelenting stare I give him, unsettled new cellmates trying to impress each other. I find defiance in his chocolate eyes, the slightest menacing sneer, his game face, which does not fool me. He’s terrified. Behind his furrowed brow, I see a man defeated by circumstances, hard edges worn smooth by pointless resistance. Already I visualize my fingertips brushing the side of his skull, hair cut so close to the head it’s almost a skin cap. I want to touch his luscious skin, so beautifully dark.

Jesus, Vin, lust after him later. It will be hours before he lets you near.

Terrance’s nose is thick, a big fat nose in the middle of his thick face, and I like it, the satisfying strength of width. His lips are full, so beautiful that I find myself wanting to kiss him over and over, the delicate maroon-ish color inside his lips, the color of raspberry kisses.

He sees me studying him and shoots me a lockup glare suggesting, none of your damn business, a jail salutation which also doubles as the standard New Yorker greeting. Terrance doesn’t realize I know he supervises data entry employees in corporate America and has never been to jail. He has no idea what to do, how to act. He’s working with instinct, pretending to hate me to ensure I keep my distance.

I roll off the bed. “Why do I have to move? I didn’t do anything.”

“Stand there,” Cliff says and he walks Terrance to the opposite side of the cell.

While Cliff’s back is turned I move just out of his sight.

Cliff raises Terrance’s bunched arms. “I’m taking off the handcuffs.”

I fiddle with the door, waiting for Cliff to catch me and yell. We rehearsed this with strangers a few times yesterday, random perps, until Cliff nailed the timing. If this opening gambit doesn’t go perfectly, the entire weekend is lost.

Cliff glances over his shoulder. “Damn it, Ghost, get where I can see you.”

I comply and slouch along the bars until I’m squarely within his line of vision again. Terrance angles his body enough to catch what’s happening. If his new cellie is going to try something stupid, Terrance wants to be ready. I cannot see the front of him, but I can tell he’s rubbing his wrists where the metal cuffs shackled him because I see his thick arms moving rhythmically, the lime green dress shirt ill-concealing his massive biceps. I’m going to suck on that beautiful muscle.

Fuck yeah.

Terrance says, “My phone call?”

“You’ll get it.” Cliff backs up. He jerks our cell door closed, creating the strong but dull sound of metal striking metal. An involuntary panic races through me. I remind myself I am not truly arrested, that this is part of the show. But I’m locked in a cage right now, and rats hate cages.

Don’t panic.

“My brother’s a lawyer.” Terrance rubs his wrists absently. “So you’re going to tread carefully with my civil rights. I have no complaints about my treatment, officer, no problems. Just show me proper respect.”

That’s a lie. His older brother died two years ago. Interesting he would choose brother instead of father, mother, uncle, or even lover. He chose his brother.

“You’ll get your call,” Cliff says without expression. “Once you’re processed. We’re backed up right now, so cool your jets. I’ll come back for your information and statement when we get caught up.”

“How long will this take?” Terrance asks with an impatient edge. “I have plans.”

Officer Cliff retreats down the corridor that led him here. Over his shoulder, he says, “I’d cancel your plans if I were you.”

Clip-clack, clip-clack, his sharp black shoes tackle the cement. I hate that sound.

“Hey, cop, I want a phone call, too.”

Without turning he says, “Shut up, Ghost. Nobody wants to hear from you.”

Ow.

I told him to say something like that, something telling me to fuck off, but wow, those words hurt, a truth like a bee sting. He’s right, nobody wants a call from me. Nobody. No foster family, no real family, no nobody. Cliff was not pleased when I appeared on his front stoop four weeks ago, explaining it was time to settle his debt.

A metal door clangs open. The same metal door clangs shut. He’s gone.

Malcolm.

A feeling rushes through me, delight but gushing faster, more like thrilled. Malcolm would welcome a call from me. Unlike Terrance, I still have a big brother. I have to keep remembering that, reminding myself. I’m twenty-six which means we’ve been brothers for five years. I guess it’s hard to—

Jesus, focus up! Talk for god’s sakes.

“Hey,” I say. “Got any smokes?”

“You’re kidding me.” Terrance turns to face me, and his sharp, beautiful eyes reveal disdain. “Are you fucking with me?”

“What? No. I mean, yes, I was fucking with you. I don’t smoke. But it’s a nice way to say hello when you’re in prison.”

“Holding facility,” he says, appraising me. “This is not prison.”

“Holding facility,” I say. “You’re right. I’ve been here before. These eight cells are in an old branch on the first floor. The modern cells are on the second and third floors. They mostly use this for night court overflow. They haven’t updated this floor with electronic doors or fancy technology. There’s not even video. Nobody cares if you’re in here.”

He says nothing. He looks down the corridor recently vacated by Officer Showalter.

I say, “I was going for funny, asking you for smokes. I guess you didn’t think so.”

“No,” he says with clarity in his tone. That single world is an invitation for my silence.

I say, “I’m Ghost. Well, that’s the name I use. My real name is boring and this is more fun, like a fun nickname. I gave it to me myself. What’s your name? Ghost is bad-ass for a nickname, isn’t it? Kinda gangster, right?”

He turns and stares at me. I stand with my arms behind me, yanking on the jail bars. I hope I convey how bored I am. I can’t be sure how I come across. I know I look younger than I am. Standing here in my faded, red T-shirt and jeans, I bet I look like I’m twenty-one or twenty-two.

“I’m busy,” he says. “Don’t talk to me.”

“Oh yeah, okay. You’re busy. Sure, I get it. You have somewhere important to be.”

He tilts his head as if studying me, but then closes his eyes, showing me he’s so unconcerned by my presence he feels safe. He puts on a good show for a man who has never been in jail his whole life, not even once. You don’t fool me, Terrance Altham.

“Was it a date? Are you late for a sexy date?”

He says, “Be quiet.”

Already, his voice commands in a kingly way. The power in him, it’s swirling and jagged. Unfocused. But wow, up close, it’s already there and so strong.

“I’ll be quiet,” I say. “That’s not hard. Not for me.”

He turns from me and holds his own counsel.

“I can be quiet,” I announce to no one in particular. “But it’s so boring. You know? So boring to be quiet. What are you in for, running drugs?”

He flinches and his skull tightens at the neck. The thick roll at the base of his skull is his tell. That’s going to be helpful all weekend. Read the muscles on his head.

I say, “I bet you’re in here for drugs.”

He turns to face me. “Don’t talk.”

“No, okay,” I say. “I will. I mean, I won’t. Talk. I just wanted to know. Drugs?”

“Not drugs. Now shut up.”

“Because you look like a drug guy.”

“Officer,” he cries out. “Officer, I must request you process me now.”

His voice rings down the corridor. Strong, like a metal bar. His voice, wow, so solid and clean, rich baritone and with such a polish. He’s practiced, like a theater major, careful enunciation when communicating all the meanings of an intended phrase. His calling for the guard is as much of a warning to me as it reflects his great desire for his own freedom.

“Boy, you must be in a hurry.” I walk to stand next to him.

He steps back.

I must disarm him with the unending flood of my idiocy. “I’m not in a hurry. I don’t care. Which is good, because I’ve been here for three and a half hours.”

He forgets to be irritated with me. “Three hours?”

“And a half.” I walk away, back to the bottom bunk and sit on it. “Three and a half. This is your bunk. The bottom one.”

His face displays no reaction as he watches me. “You’ve been here for three and a half hours? They haven’t processed you?”

“Yeah.” I lean back and lay my head on my hands as I contemplate the springs above me. “I like the top bunk. Not only for sleeping. I like to be the top. Do you like to get fucked?”

“What?” he asks.

“I like to fuck,” I say, shrugging. “You’d have to be into it, too. I would never push myself on someone who didn’t want me, but I do like to fuck black guys. I love the beautiful color of a black man’s skin. I could go on and on about all the beautiful shades of brown. Just saying, so, you know.”

“Don’t talk to me,” Terrance says, his face tensing. “I don’t want you to talk to me. Or out loud.”

“Okay, that’s not a problem. I like quiet but you never answered my question if you’re busted for being a drug lord.”

“Yes,” he says. “I answered. Quit asking me.”

“Oh, sorry. I thought maybe you were because you give the appearance of one.”

He raises himself to full height, six foot two. Or maybe three.

With each consonant prickly, he asks, “Did you just say I looked like a drug lord?”

“Well, not your face. Your face is really handsome. I like your big, thick nose.”

He takes a breath and turns away.

“Your wallet. You still have your wallet. You’re wearing a watch. That’s what I mean. If cops think you’re a drug guy, possibly of some importance, they won’t process you until they’re absolutely sure of the charge and that they can make it stick. Every cop knows you don’t make slip-ups with a New York drug lord. Every t is dotted, every i is crossed.”

He does not speak for a moment. Finally he speaks. “T’s are crossed, i’s are dotted.”

“No, t’s are dotted. It’s a line from a television show I watch a lot. I watch British TV from the BBC. That’s the British Broadcasting Company. I said that because not everybody watches British television. Not that I assumed you’re not classy enough to watch British TV. I’m sure you are. Even drug lords like British shows. You know what they call British sitcoms? Britcoms. Cute, right?”

Studying the back of his neck, I see the subtle shift of tension. I’m pretty far under his skin already, and I’m the least of his worries.

He asks, “What are you in for?”

“Wow, now who sounds like a prison cliché?” I turn to face the wall. “You have a lot of nerve criticizing my ‘got any smokes’ joke.”

He says nothing in response, perhaps bored of conversation already.

“Nothing,” I say, turning to face him. “I didn’t even do anything. The cops are jagweeds. What did you do?”

He does not face me, but walks to the front of the cell. “Nothing. The cops are jagweeds.”

He sounds tired.

I watch him take a deep breath, raising his arms on the inhale and bringing his fingertips together on the exhale right before his chest. Some form of meditation, I’m guessing. Well, I can’t let that continue. I need him on edge.

“What time is your thing? The one you’re worried you’re late for? You’re wearing a nice dress shirt but faded jeans so it can’t be that fancy. Maybe they won’t care if you’re late.”

He does not turn or respond in any way. He repeats the breath thing and brings his fingers together again.

Damn. He’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. Men like Terrance who stand so close to their kingship represent a particular challenge. They live life within close proximity to the finish line and often feel no need to cross over. They’re happy where they are. Well, if not happy exactly, they have accustomed themselves to living as Lost Kings and see no reason to expect better. What have I gotten myself into? How do I move this mountain ten feet? This time, I guess the mountain really must come to Mohammad.

“Let’s start off better.” I leap from the bunk and cross to stand in front of him, preventing his meditation exercise with his arms. “I’m Ghost.”

He bristles and steps away. He eyes me warily. “We’re not exchanging names. I won’t be here long.”

“Okay. I don’t mind. I don’t get my feelings hurt, because, you know, that’s life in the big city. People are protective, right? Gotta be. I am. I’m real careful about who I talk to. I won’t talk to just anybody.”

The neck roll tenses up again.

Good.

I study his frame. He’s a thick man, stocky, sturdy legs like tree trunks, and a chest that is naturally robust. I don’t think he lifts weights to expand his pecs, at least not the way he works those arms. Although hidden tonight, I’ve seen his biceps and triceps—beautiful, fat muscle. Still, he’s not that chunky. He’ll fit through the sewer grate easily.

He resumes staring down the hallway. Can’t blame him. There’s nothing else to do. He takes another deep breath.

Uh oh. I don’t want him calm. I need him agitated. I need this mountain to collapse under an avalanche of bad decisions.

I better get started. I begin by whistling, a combination of a folk song and a 1970s pop hit, something I reworked so the lyrics fit. I wanted it to sound vaguely familiar to him. I memorized three stanzas, which should be more than enough. I switch to humming and then singing under my breath, words still impossible to hear.

“If we’re not going to talk, that’s fine,” I say and hesitate. “But there’s a few things you should know about me. First, I honestly didn’t do anything. Second, they haven’t processed me because they don’t know my real name. I never tell police my real name. Which means whichever cop processes me gets extra paperwork, so they sometimes keep me locked up until a new guy’s shift starts and that person has to process me. They save me for the rookie cops. But if I committed a real crime, they’d process me. I didn’t do anything.”

He says nothing, just does his meditation thing, facing away from me.

“Sometimes, it’s not a guy who’s the new guy. Sometimes it’s a woman.”

He ignores me.

“I’m not sexist, that’s what they call it. The new guy. I think that it’s a—”

He says, “Stop talking. I have to center myself. Create harmony.”

“Okay, I’ll stop talking. I’ll be like a ghost. Silent like a ghost. Which is my nickname. Although, traditionally, ghosts moan and rattle chains.”

He bristles.

I start humming the song again and glance up and down the hallway, more for assurance that everything is as it should be. Empty cells. No video cameras. Yup. We’re golden. I guess you’d call the walls ‘white,’ though that color seems like a distant memory, layer after layer of sweat, grease, blood and anything that can get smeared. The walls are green from the waist down, a tired, used-up green. Dozens of jagged shoe marks scuff the walls, suggesting spontaneous violence. These marks visually remind me one of the best—and worst—things about New York City is anything can happen. Anything.

I stand next to him, once again invading his personal space. “Hey. Wanna get out of here?”

He ignores me.

“I’ll let you in on a secret, which is I’m getting out of here. I’m tired of waiting to be processed. I’m going to escape.”

He steps away, moves the farthest he can, which is not far.

“I’m not kidding. I have a plan.”

Nothing. Not a single reaction. Huh.

“Where is your big party?” I ask in a casual, bored tone. “Were you going to a fancy drug lord party?”

He spins toward me, face wrinkled and snarling. “You racist piece of garbage.”

I’m surprised and I’m sure he sees it on my face. Wow, that was sudden and intense.

I say, “I was kidding. Boy, Mister Sensitive.”

His mouth snaps shut. He stands up tall to his full height. “I apologize. I apologize.”

He turns away.

Dammit, cover the moment. Don’t let him get into shame. “I don’t mind. I understand why you’d say that. A lot of people think I’m garbage.”

“I lost control,” he says, and his voice is softer. He keeps his back to me. “I am under…undue stress. This is not the way of the flexible water and I apologize.”

“Apology accepted.” I make my voice lighthearted. “No problem. What kind of water? Is that your sign? Are you an Aquarius?”

He puts his hands to his face.

I know he’s under a great deal of stress. I put him there.

After several months of correspondence through the mail with an enigmatic millionaire known as Vin Vanbly, Terrance Altham grew intrigued enough to commit to a King Weekend. He agreed to submit for one full weekend, and in return, Mr. Vanbly would restore his kingship, help Terrance remember who he was always meant to be. Mr. Vanbly instructed him to show up at the Waldorf Astoria hotel and provided a black stretch limo.

But as the limo approached its destination, the driver pulled over, gave Terrance a vague warning and drove off. Less than two minutes later, Terrance found himself arrested for reasons as yet unexplained. He hasn’t been granted his one phone call. In another two minutes, he’ll miss his Friday night, 6:00 p.m. rendezvous. The unimaginable wealth available to those who successfully complete a King Weekend will no longer be an option. If there’s one thing that’s important to Terrance Altham of Harlem, New York, it’s money.

Well, that’s not exactly true. But he thinks money is power, and in New York, well, yeah, it kinda is. But money is not his true destination. Nor is power. When I read his published article in the Atlantic Monthly last year, I saw a man in search of his kingship. A king in search of his crown, his kingdom. Through the article, his strong voice rang out, where are my people? Your loyal subjects are all around you, King Terrance. Look around.

I say, “If you want to get out of here, I could take you with me.”

He refuses the bait.

I return to the bottom bunk and lie on the crinkly mattress. I start singing again, a tad louder, loud enough for a word or two to become heard. Same song as before. After a line half-hummed, half-sung, I see his head raise straight up and he slowly turns. Wow, he is graceful. Graceful in all his movements.

“What did you say?”

“Me? Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I was singing.”

He studies me, narrowing his eyes, focusing them. He says nothing, and I swear I see the cogs in his oversized brain debating how far to push this with me.

“I was singing. It’s from a television show.”

He debates this and cautiously asks, “What show?”

The Lost and Founds. It’s my favorite show. It’s on the BBC.”

“The Lost and Founds.” He repeats my words slowly. “Is that what you said?”

“Yeah. It’s a popular show. Probably because it’s British. Have you seen it? They broadcasted four seasons now. British television seasons are shorter, so that’s only, what, twenty-four episodes. Twenty-five. They did a Christmas episode during the third season. It was cheesy.”

I see a tremor near his temple, his jaw flexing. Every one of his gestures communicates strength whether he intends to or not. He turns from me, wrapping both of his meaty paws around the bars. His nightmare is becoming worse.

I ask, “Have you seen it? It’s my favorite show.”

He does not reply.

“I was humming the theme song. Wanna hear?”

I do not wait for a reply before singing my invented lyrics.

“When naught works out and you’re losing ground,
Who finds a man who is lost not found?
When life isn’t right and won’t turn around,
Maybe it’s time for the Lost and Founds.”

He turns back to me, and I see wariness in his eyes and behind that, fear. He’s so tired of being disappointed by life, the unfair tricks and sharp, unexpected turns. He already senses another something bad coming. And he’s right.

Slowly, he says, “Keep going.”

“Vin is the one who can find the lost,
Once you agree to make him the boss.
Secrets revealed when you’re getting tossed.
Through the Eastern Gates, despite the cost.”
Before he can comment, I add, “You have to sing ‘through the Eastern Gates’ a little faster or else the cadence is off.”

He says, “Enough. Do not sing anymore.”

“There’s a third verse.”

“No.” His voice is quiet. “No more. This is television?”

“Yeah. Vin Vanbly is the hero and he goes out and finds these guys and says, ‘Spend one weekend with me and I will help you remember your kingship. I will help you remember who you were always meant to be.’ Over an episode or two they go have adventures in London. Sometimes the country. They went to Wales, once. He also kinged a Scottish guy. That was a good episode.”

“No,” Terrance says. “No. That can’t be right.”

He puts his hands on top of his head, the most expressive expression I believe I’ve seen from him today. He stares into the dingy hallway, the empty cell across from us. I’m guessing worlds crumble inside him, plans, possibilities, dreams. He found himself cuffed and in the back of a police car while on his way to his King Weekend, which turns out is a hoax based on a British television show. This pressure cooker—the arrest, the misleading correspondence, the non-stop chattering of his own personal Ghost—it’s creating unbearable conditions in him, dragging the fear out of its shadowy corners. I hope.

Fear can blast adrenaline, pumping anyone into a state of chaotic frenzy but usually only for a few moments at a time. Fear can paralyze too, but again, it’s a moment to moment thing. But if a man spends his life fighting fear, keeping it at bay with logic and rationalizations, he doesn’t notice fear exacting its toll, draining him, preventing his ability to access true power. That’s the dark wizard’s greatest curse, not draining you enough to notice and fight back, but embedding fear so deeply, you forget to consider achieving your greatness. Tonight, we examine that fear under harsh light.

“That can’t be right,” Terrance says, and I don’t think he’s talking to me. “I never…I never heard of this television show.”

“Do you watch the BBC?”

He says, “I don’t own a television.”

I knew that. I knew inventing a fake television show would work with him. I planned on his subconscious pride in his inability to be fooled, for anyone to fuck with him, a hardened New Yorker. My deception should chisel open that hard shell, expose his vulnerability.

I think. I hope.

Allow Me To Introduce the Butterfly King

August 29th, 2014

The folks at gaylistbookreviews were very kind to offer me a blot spot so I could introduce readers to the main character of my next book, The Butterfly King.

I’ll but a little preview in this blog post…and the link to the full article at the bottom. Hope you enjoy!

My Characters Talk To Me

In the past, whenever I heard some flibbertigibbet author drone on about how ‘my characters talk to me…’ I would immediately roll my eyes. Yes, yes, your character talks to you. They create scenes in your head. Your big-breasted protagonist tells you what kind of gin she likes. Your hung cop narrator describes his mean older brother growing up. I’d hear an author say, “I just put two characters together in my head and just watch. Some days it seems like I’m just recording their antics and they’re doing the writing.”

Oh gawd. Kill me now.

I don’t know why it bugged me so much to hear authors talk about their characters that way. Maybe I thought it seemed disingenuous, pretending like writing was magic. Writing didn’t feel like magic to me. I worked hard on sentence construction, reducing adverbs, trying to find plausible motivation. The idea that you drop off your characters like you might a kid for day care and then “just watch,” seemed to dishonor the work that goes into writing.

Maybe it just sounded pretentious.

Maybe it was jealousy. I had been writing for many years and while I loved pondering characters and how they would get along and interact with each other, I can’t say I honestly felt these characters moving through me in a way that felt like they asserted their own will and presence.

Whatever the reason, it was pretty humiliating when I started feeling characters “talk to me.” Not like voices in my head telling me the neighbors are trying to kill me (though I do have my suspicions). No, one day I found myself arguing with a character, the Butterfly King, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m the author. I get to do what I want.’ In my head, the Butterfly King said, “I see.”

I knew the conversation wasn’t over.

With great humility, it’s now my turn to admit a pretentious truth: sometimes characters talk to me.

They argue with me. I argue back.

What changed? Maybe these days I let myself have more fun with characters. Maybe I finally started listening the way an author is supposed to listen. I dunno. I accept this new reality and I’m blushing a little bit, so I’m aware that I’m a hypocrite at least. That’s something.

I’d like to share some ongoing conversation I’ve had with the main character of my latest release, The Butterfly King. Terrance Altham is a 41-year-old middle manager in a white collar job he doesn’t like. He lives in New York. He doesn’t like how his life has played out so far, feeling he was meant for a greater destiny but family obligations kept him from a life where he might have been someone more important.

Who knows? Perhaps he could have even become a king.

Link to the full conversation

Talkin’ ‘Bout Bears

August 25th, 2014

J. Scott Coatsworth and Edmond Manning both contributed to Dreamspinner’s anthology, Taste of Honey, due for release in August. They chatted each other up about their own roles in the bear community and why their bear-related story somehow reflected a bit of their own unique personalities.

Edmond:  First question…why bears? With all the possible story topics in the world, what made you decide to write a short story about bears?

J. Scott:  Honestly, initially it was because I wanted to write something for each of Dreamspinner’s open anthologies. But then as I thought about it, I realized I tended to write beautiful people – and by that, I mean by society’s standards – the tall-dark-and-handsomes with piercing blue or green eyes. And I thought it would be fun to try my hand at someone a little more real. In fact, the story takes that tact, literally turning a gym bunny into a bear.

Edmond:  Oooo – I like the idea of a gym bunny who turns into a bear!

J.Scott:  LOL… me too. It was fun to write – what happens inside when the outsides change. How about you?

Edmond: As a gay man constantly labeled ‘bear,’ I don’t spend time analyzing bear culture: who we are as a people. I’m more interested in a broader slice of humanity. But I got this idea for a story of a twink (or post-twink) who is into bears and thought it would be fun to see the Bear World through his eyes…as I started writing, I began conceiving this as a fairy tale and thought it would be fun to play with the language. That’s what inspired me.

Edmond: Do you have much contact with bears? Are you a bear?

J. Scott: No, Mark (my partner) and I live in a fairly conservative community on the eastern edge of Sacramento – there’s not much of an LGBT community up here in the hills, let alone a bear community. And as for me, I’m more of an otter, though I was pushing bearhood belly-wise a couple years ago. LOL… As a gay man, I have an appreciation for all body types. For me, the story was the opportunity to look at the world through a bear’s eyes.

J.Scott:  Are you active in any bear communities?

Edmond:  No, I’m not. I used to do stuff with the local bear community when I moved to Minneapolis a few decades ago. But I found the bears a little…demanding. If you weren’t a bear, were you an otter? If you weren’t a hairy otter, were you a…wolf? A fox? A variegated chipmunk?  I didn’t like all the labeling and the need to define men as a specific type. Like you said earlier, I’m attracted to all different types of men for different reasons. I didn’t like boxing them into one narrow category. I just wanted to stand around and drink beer. Not all bears find it necessary to box men up like that. But I tend to shy away from some of the more organized activities for that reason.

Edmond:  So how does this story of yours for the anthology reflect your relationship with bears? What’s your unique twist that makes this a “J. Scott Coatsworth” original.

J. Scott:  Good question. I wish (and always have) that I was more connected with “the gay community,” whatever that really is. I read stories when I was younger about guys who lived in a gay ghetto, where all of their friends were gay, where everyone had kind of a shared sexual history. I never did that. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, a place without much of an LGBT community in the early 80′s, and when I came out, I settled down with my husband, Mark, after about 6 months. So for me, in a way, The Bear at the Bar (and other stories like it) are my way of having that connection to the community that I never got to experience in RL. I don’t even drink beer!

J. Scott:  As to my twist, let’s just say it involves being someone you’re not, and then learning that who you are wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

J. Scott:  What about you? Tell me what you can about your story, without giving away the plot.

Edmond:  My bear story is truly a fairy tale. In fact, the story begins, “Once upon a time…” despite the somewhat lyrical narration, the story is set in the very real city of Chicago, Illinois, following the adventures of Tyler the Twink who happens to be attracted to bears. He’s in search of one bear specifically, the Great White Bear. Think…Moby Dick. Heh.

J. Scott:  Oooh… funny! OK, one more question for you – is one of your characters you? I like to think mine is a little me, at least once he gets past being a bear-phobic asshole. LOL…

Edmond:  I don’t think so. One of the characters, Derrick, reminds me of a guy I dated a few years ago. He was a great guy – total slob. He defied the stereotypical gay: neat, orderly, newest, latest gadgets or foods or whatever. If he offered me a beverage, he’d have to do dishes to find a clean glass. Of course, my character Derrick isn’t quite so…messy and I added other character traits. My voice figures so prominently into the narration style that I didn’t add much of myself as a supporting character.

J. Scott:  I like that. I think we do often pick things up for people we know for our characters, or things we’ve seen on TV, read in books, etc.

Edmond:  My last question to you. What’s one thing you wish you could change about the bear community?

J. Scott:  Hmmm… Mostly I just wish all the various LGBT communities and types were more integrated. I understand the desire to group ourselves with like-minded folks, but I learn so much more when I spend time with someone who is unlike me than I do from a carbon copy. That’s one of the themes I cover in the story – understanding folks in the LGBT community who are different from you.

Edmond:  We both covered that exact theme in our stories! How cool. I guess you and I have more in common than enjoyment of hairy men.

J. Scott: Sounds like it – see you at the next convention? :-)

 

Taste of Honey on amazon.com

Taste of Honey on Dreamspinner’s website

Hunting Bear (an excerpt)

August 19th, 2014

Hey friends,

Enjoy the beginning of my latest published story in the Dreamspinner anthology, A Taste of Honey. I’m very excited about this story. It’s only a 17K short story, but it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.

***

Hunting Bear

Chapter 1: Pitter Patter

Gather round to hear the tale of a twink who dared enter the urban forest, a young buck named Tyler who trusted his best pal Derrick to be his bear guide, leading Tyler to his one and only hairy love. Tyler and Derrick themselves had tussled once, their own night in the forest, sweating and fucking and grinding together, whimpering and grunting, and together they rained upon the forest and each other a splattering of goopy mess, and then reveled in happy exhaustion.

But it was only one night in the forest.

Who knows why?

Who ever knows?

Their chance for love turned into friendship, and it is a hard magic that can transform a friendship back into love. With Derrick’s assistance, Tyler the Twink (though he disliked that name) crossed the forest, light of step, hunting for bears, looking for love. But he did not seek out all bears.

One bear specifically.

The Great White Bear, though the man was not technically white, but that’s what they called him throughout this Midwestern kingdom, a flavor named Chicago.

And in this kingdom the gays were plentiful, supple and succulent, beefy-strong men who had grown winter hair on their chests, then burned dark in the summer sun. In this kingdom, oft called the city of broad shoulders, its residents also enjoyed the “comes-with-the-broad-shoulders” features. In other words, it was also a city of fat muscles, engorged biceps, and thick waists. Some of them enjoyed a black treasure trail leading from navel to below, wispy black smoke promising fire destined for ignition. The tree-trunk thighs, chunky butts wrapped in ass-grabbing jeans or maybe wrapped in lazy sweats on a Saturday morning in Boystown. These were the blond farm boys come from Illinois’ hamlets. The dark-haired jocks, sweating on their way home from the gym. Balding muscle daddies with a beer belly. Bronze-skinned men standing tall, pumping gas, guzzling beer, holding hands. Men of many colors, thicknesses, and laughs, this kingdom was ripe with these men, strong and big-jawed, a city of bears, otters, and many more forest creatures besides.

Tyler the Twink (who honestly quite resented that name) discussed his quest while dropping off his dogs.

“It’s Bear Coffee,” Tyler said. “Every Thursday night the bears take over a coffee shop on Broadway. I’m hoping he comes tonight. He has to. I don’t have any other leads. I don’t even know his name.”

Looking down at the dogs, Derrick said, “I don’t remember if they’re supposed to get a half cup or cup. Why didn’t you feed them at home?”

“I was out of puppy chow. I picked some up on the way over. Don’t worry, I wrote it down. Everything. The emergency vet and stuff like that.”

“Wouldn’t I just call you?”

“Sure, but after you call the emergency vet. If it’s an emergency. Just don’t let them eat plastic off your floor and there won’t be an emergency. No chocolate.”

Derrick said, “Duh.”

Derrick and Tyler had recently crossed a threshold in their friendship, the “will-you-watch-my-dogs” level, which, as you well know, is something. It is not “airport-pickup-at-2:00-a.m.” friendship, but Tyler trusted his beloved pups to no other human being, even for a few hours. Derrick and Tyler’s fling had been eight months earlier, from which had sprung a tentative friendship, then a more solid friendship, evolving to the point where either could call to announce “I’m not having a great day.”

On those days where the kingdom had worn them down, they listened to each other and counseled as best they could. Tyler’s advice was often “You’re smart. You can handle this and anything they throw at you.” Derrick’s advice ran along the lines of “You’re strong, Tyler. Drink some water. Eat an orange. Maybe a good night’s sleep.” In fairness to this tale, sleep was Derrick’s answer to everything, to stress, to credit card bills, to unrequited desire and occasionally even being tired.

The dog-threshold crossing had literally occurred three minutes earlier when Pitter and Patter, Tyler’s miniature pugs who had tentatively crossed over Derrick’s kitchen doorway, sniffed their way cautiously into Derrick’s second floor apartment. And when Derrick saw their confused hesitation, how long it took for them to actually get inside, and then their accidental skittering across the kitchen linoleum, Derrick’s last bit of dog-sitting-resistance melted. In fact, he found himself surprisingly anxious for Tyler to leave because he wanted to watch pug antics as they explored his home.

Truly this was a surprise, because Derrick rarely wanted Tyler to leave.

“Luck and cranberries,” Tyler said.

The phrase is not worth explaining, gentle reader, just an affectionate good-bye based on a four-month-old joke. You have those intimacies with friends. You know how it goes.

“Good luck,” Derrick said vaguely, his eyes following Pitter and Patter’s pitter and patter pawing around the kitchen, unsure in their step, occasionally bumping into cupboards. It was adorable.

“Wait,” Derrick said, looking up. “Where are you going? Meet who?”

“The guy. The guy I told you about on the phone.”

Derrick searched his memory and remembered he had heard a description earlier in the week, a raven-haired man of solid jaw with a tight buzz cut. A shock of black hair pointing straight up. Some slight gray on the sides, suggesting a man in his late 30’s or early 40s.

Derrick said, “I remember. You saw him near the new Starbucks downtown somewhere.”

“Yeah, the construction site in the Loop,” Tyler said, already lost in numerous fantasies. “I don’t know his name. But he was saying good-bye to his work buddies on the site as I approached, and then I walked behind him for a block and a half until he stopped into that piano bar, the Zebra Lounge.”

“Your puppies are gnawing a kitchen-table chair,” Derrick said, falling in love. “Do they really think they can eat a chair?”

Tyler was used to men falling in love with his puppies, so he ignored his pal. He said, “I had intended to shop for new work shoes, but instead I ducked into the bar because I desperately wanted to see the construction guy kiss another man. Or maybe he didn’t know it was a gay piano bar? He drank two beers and left. He tipped the piano player. The whole place even got campy once or twice and he sat there grinning. So, he knew. He’s definitely gay.”

“Could be a straight guy who likes piano music.”

“But he talked to someone,” Tyler said. “Made two minutes of chitchat with this older guy, a bear with a bushy red beard. After the construction guy left I waited five minutes and then approached Red Beard and asked if I had seen him and his buddy together somewhere, leaving it vague and open, and he said that he barely knew the construction guy who just left. Someone—”

Derrick picked up the thread. “—someone he occasionally saw at Bear Coffee. Right. I remember this now.”

“Yes, which is tonight,” Tyler checked his watch. “Bear Coffee starts in thirty minutes. I’ve decided he’s going to show up. He has to. I think I’m in love.”

Derrick said, “Good. It’ll only take you twenty minutes to get there from here. Come in here and talk to me about your dogs so I don’t fuck this up. Tell me how to get them to stop fighting or chewing and stuff like that.”

Tyler stepped beyond the entryway and smelled his way through the kitchen. Derrick liked to bake things. Tyler liked to sample things. But there was no baking smell tonight, just the reassuring stack of pans and open cookbooks with scribbles in them, doodles, and phone numbers. The whole house felt like you could scribble a phone number anywhere, on a wall, in a magazine cover, which is not to say that Derrick’s home was grubby, but it had this comfortable and worn feeling to it, items in wrong rooms but not messy, just really, really comfy. Open paperback books facedown on the dining room table and Derrick’s reading glasses on top of a stereo speaker for no apparent reason. Tyler had once visited and found fresh tulips in the bath tub. When asked, Derrick insisted he was using the bathtub as a “big vase” and invented a ridiculous statistic instead of admitting he forgot why he put them there.

Derrick’s living room furniture was plush, two overstuffed navy couches specifically engineered for maximum nap-taking comfort, fat pillows and a wolf-fur throw rug so realistic you could imagine a naked wolf at the door demanding its return. But the wolf would be shit out of luck; the pelt was synthetic. Mechanical line drawings of bridges hung in sturdy brown frames on the patterned-wallpapered walls, boring illustrations only an engineer could love.

The pups eyed the navy couch and each other, growing their resolve to scale the front, to reach that naptastic summit they intuitively knew peaked far above them. This couch was their Mount Everest.

Tyler said, “Don’t let them on your furniture. You’ll never get them off.”

He snapped his fingers at Pitter, then Patter, and they ceased their scheming though anyone could tell they resented the master’s interference. In defeat, they padded the Berber carpet, a masculine tweed that looked like a browned cookie warm from the oven but—as the pups discovered—did not taste like one.

Derrick collapsed on the couch, lying on his stomach, and asked questions about the dogs, dragging his hand along the floor so the pups could race up, smell him, lick his salty skin, and run away. Tyler never tired of chatting about them so he stayed longer than intended, trapped by the comfort, the ease of Derrick’s home until he checked his phone and realized he would be late.

He hopped up and said, “Oh.”

Derrick did not move from the couch. “You’re fine. You don’t want to be the first to show up anyway.”

Tyler said, “How do I look?”

Derrick said, “You look good.”

“Duh. I always look good. But do I look great?”

Derrick raised himself on one arm and studied Tyler head to toe. He liked Tyler’s short copper-colored hair, more brown than red, the natural curl that followed the shape of his ear. He liked Tyler’s eager blue eyes, their surprise at so many things and how often they expressed natural curiosity. He liked the big Adam’s apple, a flaw in Tyler’s beauty but Derrick liked it anyway, along with his lithe body and his faded salmon T-shirt tucked into jeans, jeans that were probably named by someone famous.

Derrick spoke with an inflection that did not register with Tyler. “You look great.”

Tyler nodded, satisfied. Derrick would tell him if a hair was out of place. They were buddies.

Derrick said, “Thirty-seven percent of all kitchen accidents happen in coffee houses. Be careful.”

Tyler said, “That one didn’t even make sense.”

Derrick said, “They can’t all be winners.”

Tyler said, “Thanks for watching the boys. C’mere, you hooligans, and give Dad a kiss good-bye.”

They trotted to Tyler.

Derrick said, “Bring me back a cookie or a blond brownie or something.”

Tyler said, “Not doing that. Why don’t you bake something?”

Tyler stood and touched his pockets to make sure he had his phone, keys, and money clip. A wallet could make your ass look chunky, and tonight was too important for Tyler to look less than his best. He dropped and kissed his pugs good-bye. Again. He thanked Derrick and started to promise he would return at a decent hour, but if his fantasy man wanted to grab a beer after Bear Coffee, wouldn’t he go?

As Tyler crossed the apartment toward the front door, Derrick spoke from the couch. “Seriously, bring me a cookie. The desserts cookbook I like has small print and I can’t find my reading glasses.”

Over his shoulder, Tyler said, “Your glasses are on the stereo speaker. The one behind the big plant.”

“Thank you,” Derrick yelled lazily, but Tyler had already exited the back door. Derrick didn’t bother to retrieve his glasses. He could feel the dogs licking the palm of his hand as they plotted how to use his dangling arm as a ladder to the pleasures of napping above.

Derrick said, “Okay boys, eighty-one percent of all cute pugs are trained to walk toward the door when they have to take a dump. Yes? Please tell me the stats are that high or higher.”

Pitter and Patter licked their lips.

 

 

 

.

Should you feel inspired to read more, check out A Taste of Honey (amazon.com link) or A Taste of Honey (Dreamspinner link). On Dreamspinner’s website, you can also purchase a paperback copy.

Filthy Acquisitions – Chapter 1

July 26th, 2014

As his rental car gently cruised through the three-block downtown, Keldon tried to notice things that would make the town unique to him, local flavor. He mildly hoped for quaint, but found nothing of the small-town charm he expected. Instead he saw a chain gas station, a sad-looking pizza parlor with dirty windows, two chubby kids sitting on a curb drinking from 7-Eleven Styrofoam cups, though he could not spot the 7-Eleven itself. The downtown businesses seemed normal enough, a sewing shop (misspelled with the pretentious and empty shoppe), a tax business, a doctor’s office with beige blinds and—

It was normal. Very normal.

This was his third visit to Monroe, Wisconsin, and he could not reconcile how absolutely ordinary the downtown appeared compared to the strange, repulsive purpose of his visit. He wanted the town to appear vaguely menacing, maybe a sinister machine shop or frowning old people in rocking chairs in front of local businesses, so he could use the material for a later anecdote, something about how the character of the town matched the perverse transaction he headed toward. But the ordinary brick façades with cement ornamentation refused to cooperate. Downtown Monroe was quiet. Sleepy, even. He passed an empty garden space with cow-painted columns and a sign welcoming visitors to come and sit. The garden was barren, too early in spring to contain actual plants or seedlings.

The thought flitted across his brain that even if he could turn this into an anecdote, with whom would he share it? Which friends would he call? None. He didn’t have friends anymore. He had dropped them, or they had dropped him. He scolded himself for getting distracted from his true purpose in Monroe. Keldon Thurman intended to stay only long enough to make the acquisition and leave.

Breezing beyond downtown and into the residential streets, he had no problem finding his destination, having already visited the Turners twice previously. He pulled onto their average street lined with unremarkable two-story homes. the Turners’ trees almost perfectly spaced as the evenly spaced trees across the street and down the block.

The green was gradually returning, he noted. Like birds that had flown south, green flocked to the late-April treetops, resting on small branches, ready to burst into song. The grass was not minty-fresh, exactly, not cheerful spring, but rather a deadish- brown with hints of life and occasional mint-green smatterings. Soon these lawns would reveal themselves to be not dead, only sleeping. But not yet. He was just glad he did not have to deal with boots or a snow-covered sidewalk, which would have impacted how he presented himself.

He wanted to look crisp.

The Turners were expecting him, so when he pulled into their driveway at their white aluminum and brick façade home, he wasn’t surprised to see the front door swing open. The lawn was scattered with a few outdoor toys in various states of abandoned. He had not seen the children on the previous two visits and suspected they had been whisked away, far from the delicate negotiations required in selling and purchasing art created by a serial killer.

Keldon noted this fact—the missing children—and figured he might be able to use that if necessary. Of course, he was only supposed to drop off the check and pick up the art. But he did not trust the Turners. Everything was negotiable. He decided to take his time and make them wait at the front door.

He turned off the engine and straightened his power-red tie while walking himself through various contingency plans—how the Turners might try to back out and how he might turn the situation to his advantage. Or everything might go smoothly. But the first three acquisitions with other art owners had not gone as expected, and he had no reason to expect the one with the Turners would either. These paintings brought out the worst in everyone, he’d discovered. Before the first acquisition he’d wondered, Who wants to own a convicted serial killer’s art? Who wants that? Well, now he had an answer. Donna and Gerald Turner of Monroe, Wisconsin.

He finally extracted himself from the front seat and retrieved his briefcase from the back, pretending not to notice Mrs. Turner waiting inside the front door.

The Turners disgusted him, his wealthy patron disgusted him, everything about this work disgusted him, a low-simmering burn in the back of his mind. But the moment that disgust threatened to evolve into a strong opinion, he reminded himself he did not care, he could not afford to care. He did this for the money. Keldon understood being disgusted with oneself. The Turners had flattered a serial killer for two years of that murderer’s prison sentence so he would give them his original art. So what? For the money he would make brokering all fifteen pieces of serial-killer art, Keldon’s nebulous morality could ignore the disgust, or at least mutter to itself in the corner.

Keldon slammed the car door and walked toward Mrs. Turner, flashing her a grin. He hoped it came across as more sincere than he felt.

She did not return it.

He wasn’t surprised. She had never smiled at him, never extended him that basic courtesy. She stood with her arms folded, her dirty gray hair pulled up behind her head and clipped with a plastic comb. The baggy wrinkles tracing the contour of her face suggested a history of pouting and negativity. He disapproved of her overly orange fake tan. He suppressed the desire to comment on it, even obliquely. He had enough self-awareness to know his distaste for her was influenced by her treatment of him. Everyone wanted to be liked. But she acted as though Keldon were the enemy instead of an envoy sent by a wealthy patron.

“We have a problem,” she said.

Keldon was not surprised in the slightest. “Oh dear,” he said, affecting surprise and disappointment. “That’s terrible. Let’s discuss it.”

She turned and walked through the front door, and he followed. Keldon didn’t care what the problem was. It didn’t matter. He felt confident he would leave with the acquisition. The outcome was not in question.

There it was, propped against a leather recliner, the king’s throne in the living room.

The painting itself was nothing remarkable: a sloppy unicorn with a wavering silver and pink horn, pawing and prancing before a two-dimensional blue lake. Blob fairies hovered in the background like squashed bugs. Merrick preferred small canvases; it would definitely fit in Keldon’s briefcase. The technique was not impressive, sloppy brush strokes and clumsy attempts at adding distinction. Actually, he reflected, the word technique did not apply at all. The finished product contained all the charm of a paint-by-numbers completed by an inattentive ten-year-old. In fact, it could easily hide in a thrift shop unnoticed, forever scorned by anyone who happened to see it dangling from a crooked hook behind a box of jigsaw puzzles in the back corner. Except for its distinction: painted by a mass murderer. Suddenly, the ugly unicorn painting had value.

“Here’s the thing,” Mrs. Turner announced as soon as she had been reunited with her greasy-haired husband and his pointed Brylcreem moustache. She looked at him for confirmation, and he glanced at Keldon with uneasy eyes. “We think it’s worth a lot more than you’re offering.”

Keldon nodded, wanting to give the appearance of seriously considering her. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, some friends of ours said we might get more money if we had an auction for it online. Said other people besides your rich friend might want it. A lot of rich people might want it.”

Keldon studied them, their living room, re-evaluating the assumptions he had made about them and their lifestyle. A PlayStation and its corresponding cartridges and equipment dominated one-quarter of the living room floor, a giant flat- screen television plastered a nearby wall. Plastic knickknacks and faded landscape prints attempted to transform the bleak room into something cheerful and homey. They failed. Keldon noticed the plastic basket of unwashed clothes sitting on the patterned couch and found it depressing. Dirty plates and a pizza box sat unacknowledged on the coffee table near him. Knowing he was coming, they hadn’t even bothered to straighten up.

All these details he recounted, reminding himself to make assumptions and observations but to resist becoming too attached to them. Through assumptions, he might learn how to conduct himself. But through assumptions, he could also misstep, so he constantly re-examined what he thought he knew and how he thought he knew it.

They hadn’t offered him a seat.

“May I?” He indicated the couch.

Donna Turner inclined her head in irritated agreement, though the idea clearly did not please her. From her reluctance, Keldon understood they had planned to explain their decision to renege and then ask him to leave. His taking a seat was a fly in their ointment, a prelude to greater conversation they did not wish to have.

He realized he would have to pry the painting from their fingers. If not literally, then metaphorically.

“Auction where?” Keldon tried to sound pleasant. “No real auction house will have you because the item for auction is so reprehensible.”

“Someone will take it,” Gerald Turner said, finally contributing. “If they think it will get good bids, they’ll take it.”

“No,” Keldon said, “they won’t. Not Christie’s. Not Sotheby’s. Not Bonhams or Fellows. Sure, this painting may create some cash for them, but more important than a cut on an ugly painting is their reputation. Nobody wants to be the auction house that cared so little for common decency that they were willing to profit extensively from a serial killer’s unicorn fantasy painted from death row. They aren’t ghouls.”

The arrow found its mark, and Donna Turner recoiled slightly, enough for Keldon to decide this approach worked. She understood that he had implied ghouls to mean them as well. He assumed the Turners wanted more money but not the publicity, and that would help him prevail. Keldon wasn’t proud of what he was willing to do, the things he would say to win this negotiation. But he wasn’t hired to be polite. He was hired to acquire the painting. His bonus—his future—depended on winning all fifteen paintings on the list. This was only the fourth.

Keldon adjusted the knot of his tie. “Would you take your grandmother’s antique clock to the same auction house that represented serial-killer art? No. You would not.”

“There’s always eBay,” Donna said defiantly, jutting out her chin.

“Yes,” Keldon said, doing his best to look agreeable. “That would work. Of course, it would take months. Maybe a year. You couldn’t sell the painting for full value without a rigorous validation process. You’d have to ship the painting to a laboratory where they could confirm the paint style, the brush strokes, and so forth. Standard wait time is six months depending on their backlog. I’m only estimating.”

“It’s real,” Donna said crossly. “He sent it from prison.”

“Absolutely,” Keldon said. “I don’t doubt you one bit. However, if you’re going to sell ugly, undistinguished art where its only value is proven authenticity, you must have it evaluated and validated by credible outside sources. With the artist dead, if they don’t have any valid means of confirming Merrick painted this, it could take longer. The process is expensive, too, several thousands of dollars paid before you even know if they can confirm authenticity. So, hopefully your big eBay auction would recoup those costs. You might. But usually, the people with a horrible fascination for serial-killer art aren’t flush with money.”

“Except your client,” Gerald said.

“Yes,” Keldon said pleasantly. “Except my client.”

He physically witnessed the Turners’ resolve crumbling, but instead of feeling triumphant, he felt nothing but irritation at the inevitable decision they would make. Keldon knew how to close this deal but resented that he had to re-convince them to sell as he had on both of the previous visits. He sensed they were driven by immediate financial gain, and the thought popped into his head that like recognizes like. He felt revulsion, though he could not tell with whom—them, the artist, his employer, or himself for accepting this job.

He smiled politely and did his best to look affable. “Of course, the negative publicity from selling serial-killer art for the most profit will make you media targets. People will come out of the woodwork to hate on you. I mean, what kind of monsters seek profit from other parents’ inconsolable, lifelong grief? Once the media understands you entertained a decent offer but it simply wasn’t enough money to satisfy…”

Keldon felt his stomach flip. It was an awful thing to say to them. He knew it. He definitely hated himself.

Gerald Turner stood up. “That’s enough. You should leave.”

Keldon remained seated. “I should. But have you thought about your own kids? Hand over the painting to me today, and you’ll have money immediately and perhaps be able to pay off that shiny TV in the corner. I suspect you need this money real quick, given the way you have showered me with questions about payment and how soon you could cash the check. I’m guessing you need that money right now. You sell this on eBay and not only will it take time and cost you money, but your kids will grow up under the shadow of parents who sought to cash in on seventeen murdered hitchhikers and other victims, too. It will haunt them. It will haunt you.”

Donna said, “We’ll sell it anonymously. Nobody will know.”

“Donna,” Keldon said in a patronizing tone, and he saw her displeasure at his familiarity. “We found you with very little effort. How long do you think it will take for the media to find you? The whole world will find out. And since the killer is dead, the outrage and disgust will naturally turn to those profiting from his artistic endeavors.”

Keldon had no clue how difficult it had been to find the Turners. He had only been given a manila folder with the Turners’ information and told, “Acquire it.” But he hoped he had overtly threatened them enough. Instinctively, Keldon felt his client would have no problem releasing the Turners’ information to the press.

Donna jabbed a finger in his direction. “Hey, I corresponded with that asshole for sixteen months in prison, pretending to be a fan, an admirer of his lunacy just to get one of those paintings, because I knew it would be worth something one day.”

Keldon nodded. “Yes. And you were right. My client found you and offered you money.”

“I want more.” She snapped her mouth shut. “This ought to be worth something. I spent sixteen months—”

Keldon held up a hand to interrupt. “If you’re trying to impress upon me that you sank to the lowest possible depths of depravity in whoring yourself to a serial killer, don’t worry, I believe you. I have no doubt you were vile in your letters. Trust me, I believe you. Why don’t you sell those on eBay instead?”

She glared at Keldon, but said nothing.

“I wonder”—Keldon paused and gazed at the ceiling— “what you wrote to gain his favor. To make your letters really stand out. You probably pretended to be a teenage girl, maybe in the age range he liked to kill, and convinced him he was just misunderstood. If you two had only met some rainy night when you were walking home and become friends…yes, I’m sure the letters are something you’d be proud to show your kids. Your family.”

“She earned it,” Gerald said, his irritation growing to match hers.

“I’m sure she did,” Keldon said. “So show the whole world. Publish the letters. Show them what small-town America can do when motivated by greed with no regard to decency.”

They said nothing to Keldon but did not look at each other, either.

He feared he pushed too hard. He didn’t know what she wrote, but her slight facial twitch suggested he wasn’t far off the mark. Whatever she wrote, she didn’t want it seen. Keldon didn’t like the hard edge he now displayed, crisp and adversarial. He had said horrible things to the Turners. But they had agreed to the offer and since then had changed their minds, tried to renege. It was his job to see they followed through.

Keldon studied them both. “My client offered you a reasonable amount for the painting. I’d suggest you take the deal.”

Donna Turner sputtered. “Your shitty client is no better than us. You can’t show up here and act better than us.”

“Yeah,” her husband said, “he wants it too. Probably to sell online.”

“Perhaps,” Keldon said. “I have no idea why my client wants it. Today, I came with your check. I will hand it over after you sign the paperwork guaranteeing a full year’s silence on this purchase. The gag order prohibits you from speaking to anyone about this transaction, relatives, friends, media—”

“We know,” Donna said. “It’s not fair. We should be able to talk about it.”

“You may. In one year. As we discussed on my last visit, if you speak to anyone before the year expires, legally you owe my client one hundred thousand dollars. And since the only possession of yours with that value is your home, you’d be making yourselves homeless for the privilege of breaking the gag order. And I should probably impress upon you that my client has no problem pursuing the financial restitution of your home. He may not need money, but he will gladly see you punished. He’s not the forgiving type. And if you think you can anonymously leak your news to a media outlet, remember that my client has the money to pay for investigators to track down a leak.”

Donna said, “Tell Mr. Mercer to give us an extra $10,000. It’s worth that much.”

Keldon said, “No.”

“You’re not the boss,” Gerald Turner said. “You shouldn’t answer without your boss.”

“Mr. Mercer will say no.”

Donna crossed her arms. “We’re not signing your piece of paper or turning over that unicorn shit until you take that offer to your boss and get it approved. You’ll have to come back another day.”

Keldon studied them. He thought about pushing the “what about your kids” angle again, but while they flinched with the perception of bad parenting, they didn’t bite enough to convince him that was their greatest concern. They seemed a little too self- centered for that. It had worked with Acquisition Number Two, a bland painting depicting a sunrise over Saturn, but he did not believe that strategy would work again with the Turners. Still, he felt they were close to caving.

“Okay,” Keldon said. “I’ll ask.”

Keldon had established with his employer that today he would pick up Number Four. She had promised to remain on standby, so he texted his client. Mrs. Maggiarra had insisted Keldon present a fictitious art patron named Byron Mercer as the collector behind the acquisitions, so nobody would suspect her true identity. She pretended to be Mr. Mercer’s secretary. Keldon typed while they watched.

Mr. Mercer, the Turners want an additional 10K. Also, Donna Turner probably defrauded Merrick in prison by misrepresenting herself. If that’s so, the Turners may not legally have rights to the painting. Withdraw offer?

Keldon smiled pleasantly while they scowled. He knew he wouldn’t wait long, and in fact, the reply came almost right away.

Disgusting. Drop the offer by 1K and give them four minutes to decide. If they decline, leave and call the police.

Keldon read the text and smiled. “Mr. Mercer counter offered.”

He rose from the couch to stand before them, showing them the text exchange on his phone.

Within five minutes, he left the Turner home with the unicorn painting in his briefcase. He was glad to leave. He drove through town, past the garden with cow-painted columns, but when he passed the downtown Sewing Shoppe, he could not contain it any longer. He eased into a diagonal parking slot away from other cars, and after turning off the car, Keldon cried into his hands, sobbing for a full five minutes, but he did not know why.

***

Purchase on Wilde City:  http://www.edmondmanning.com/2014/07/26/filthy-acquisitions-chapter-1/

Paperback and e-book to follow soon on amazon.com

 

Dear Kathleen,

June 13th, 2014

When you become a writer and start thinking of yourself as a writer, nobody tells you that the things you care about will change. Yes, you will care about the words–always about the words, careening, laughing, sliding together into fantastical complex, fumbling sentences until they are straightened and punctuation-polished, made presentable to the world.

The words are always great fun.

But other things…like your popularity, and who reviews you, and how many reviews you got on goodreads. These things are less fun to care about. It’s easy to become obsessed with every wave’s dips and peaks in the eternal ocean of Amazon rankings.

As a writer, I learned to care about these things.

And then I witnessed the damage done to my enthusiasm for writing by caring about these things.

I received good advice from published writers to avoid these pitfalls, to not check reviews, to develop a thick skin, to remember that not everyone can love your work. All good advice and yet hard to remember when staring at your first two-star review in which a reviewer says, “This author is terrible.”

Ow.

But the most damage doesn’t come from tough reviews.

It comes from within.

I look at successful authors friends and think, ‘How do they do it?’ I start comparing gifts I don’t possess to the gifts they obviously do. I push myself to type faster, work harder, write more, all the things that take a delightful passion and transform it into drudgery.

I don’t want to pain too grim a picture here. I like writing stories. I do.

And I have experienced a whole lot of online love! So many online friends shower me with love, laughter, and absolute joy that I can only define the quantity as ‘oodles and scads.’ (And I think we all know how much a scad is.)

But “growing up” into authorship for me has meant trading in some newbie enthusiasm for some world-weary acceptance of ‘how things work’ with publishers, popularity, and sales.

This year, an open letter from a stranger named Kathleen changed my perceptions.

Every year, the M/M Romance Group from the goodreads website sponsors a writing contest, one I found completely baffling. Beginning in January, any member of this group my create a “Dear Author” letter. The letter shares a photo (or two) and supposes a few inferences about the scene depicted:

“This guy is lonely.”

“These two just made up after a fight.”

“He’s moving to a small town in Georgia and saying goodbye to his sister.”

The letters are written to authors, to anyone really, inviting them to adopt the photos and story setup. Beginning in February, authors who are members of this group have the opportunity to pursue these letters and if any of them strike that author’s fancy, he/she chooses it and writes the story suggested.

When I first heard of this strange game between authors and readers, I was astounded and baffled. I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas watching the Whos in their merriment, puzzling outside in the snow. How is this fun? Why do writers accept such limiting challenges? Don’t these authors have their more SERIOUS works to write? Who has the time?

I stood puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler grew sore.

This year, I thought I’d go discover the big fuss. So on the very first day letters were released, I visited the site and wandered around the petting zoo, looking at photos and letters to authors. I stumbled across a letter from a woman named Kathleen.

Dear Author,

I’m a phoenix (pic 1). Unfortunately, I’m a pretty terrible phoenix. I can’t seem to control my fire. I loose my feathers (I could give you my father’s lecture on that word for word, I’ve heard it so many times). And worst of all, my tears don’t heal. I’ve pretty much been a hermit since my clan kicked me out ten years ago.

The other day this man came to my cave claiming he needed a phoenix to help him with his quest. I was so startled I lit half my clothes on fire and scared him away. I can see him climbing the trail towards my cave again. What in the world does he want?

Pic 2 is the third undersecretary to the royal historian (or some similar underling position within the royal court) and discovered something he shouldn’t have. He can’t tell anyone or he will be killed so he has to fix it all on his own…except maybe for the help of one hermit phoenix.

The description continued for another paragraph, how Kathleen preferred plot to sex, the tropes she hoped the adopting author would avoid, her preferences.

I was hooked. I instantly wanted to write Kathleen’s story.

I panicked someone else would adopt this story prompt first because I already knew how to love this broken and hurt phoenix.

I jumped on it, asking (with controlled restraint) for the story prompt to be made mine.

They let me have it.

I  wrote a story called Broken Phoenix. It’s available as a free download to everyone in the world. The link to the story is at the end of the post. But first, I want to end this letter to Kathleen.

Kathleen, thank you for the opportunity to get excited about new characters. Thank you for reminding me that writing is play and play is goddamn fun. Sometimes I need to be reminded to play, how to play with others, and how to celebrate their gifts (and mine) without feeling rancor or jealousy.

Thank you, Kathleen, for the invitation to play. Your story prompt rekindled some of that lost enthusiasm.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

Love,

Author

http://www.mmromancegroup.com/broken-phoenix-by-edmond-manning/

(At the bottom of this page linked to, you will find a .mobi, .epub, and .pdf version)

Gio image

Ow

April 15th, 2014

Recently, a number of online friends have gotten snagged by a curious question, a swirling tornado of debate that has left bystanders and participants standing in the wreckage of hurt feelings and frustrated opinions, staring at the carnage around them saying, ‘What happened?’

The topic is interesting, sparked by one man’s Facebook post that he is sick and tired of being objectified as a gay man. He resents (if I’m paraphrasing correctly), the daily onslaught of photos depicting ripped men, cute gay couples, guys kissing, etc. and perceives it as a fetishization of his sexuality. He wants to be seen as a full person, not just a one-dimensional penisoid. (Okay, fine, he didn’t say that. I made up that word.)

I read his original post and while it did not strike me  personally in a ‘YEAH, PREACH IT, BRO’ kind of way, I totally got where he was coming from and thought he articulated his position well, being careful to differentiate those who fetishized versus allies to the gay community. I stuck around and read comments and reactions. Agreement from some, questions from others. A few of his online friends wondered, ‘Uh oh…am I doing this? I didn’t intend to…but am I crossing a line?’

It was a good conversation.

Something shiny on the internet must have caught my attention because I stopped reading the thread. The conversation only struck me because I’m impressed when people articulate strong opinions in a careful way and others respond in a careful way, everyone recognizing the importance in handling explosive topics.

Apparently, about 30 comments later, things exploded.

I didn’t see some of the ugly, accusatory debate but I saw fallout, folks defending their position as GLBT allies, angry about being called out, and a number of bystanders pleading, “Can’t we just all get along?”

No, we can’t.

No community, GLBT or otherwise, can simply “get along.”

We are destined to argue. We are destined to disagree. Hell, we’re *supposed* to disagree with each other. One  aspect of a thriving, growing community is diversity of opinion. We shouldn’t strive to “get along.” What kind of community would that be if people didn’t express their true opinions? If instead of demanding to be seen, we all just faded into the tapestry because our individual voice didn’t deserve recognition?

It’s not healthy.

I say, go out there and fight. Argue!

And be as gentle as possible with each others’ hearts.

How we handle each others’ contrary opinions is the measure of our personal maturity, the measure of our own emotional resilience.

Years ago, I learned a powerful tool for engaging in argument, especially when there is potential for hurt.

It’s the word, ow.

Ow can be a trigger word to the parties in conversation, a word to let your friend (online or otherwise) know your feelings are bruised. The subtext is, please be careful because I just got zinged, intentional or accidental.

The ow does not mean, “What you said is wrong.”

It does not mean, “You’re responsible for hurting me.”

It does not mean, “My turn to speak and I’m going to debate the shit out of you.”

It’s a plea to the speaker to tread gently. Or even better, stop and help me understand this ow I just experienced.

If the person doesn’t hear your ow, refuses to hear your plea for softer words, stop the conversation. Walk away. If you stay in that conversation after not being heard, you’re likely to turn that ow into a fuck you, motherfucker.

A few years ago, I was in conversation with a good friend when he said, “Ow.”

I stopped and expressed surprise. Surely I hadn’t said anything offensive. If I did, he simply took it the wrong way. Before he explained himself, I felt a number of instant reactions from shame and sadness to mild outrage he would interrupt my opinion. Didn’t I have a right to be heard? If he had followed up with something like, “Ow, and here’s what you said that offended me,” those angry kernels in me could have blossomed into a snark-fest of epic proportions.

He did not. He simply said, “Ow.”

There is something so heartbreakingly tender in the gentleness of that two-letter word, so fragile, so honest and raw, that you’d almost have to be a total dick to say, “Yeah? Well get over it because I’m not finished.”

Despite my growling desire to get his feelings out of the way so I could keep ranting, I asked, “What happened? Where did you get snagged.”

As he explained his hurt, I remembered he was important to me, a friend I could not live without. And when my friend hurts, I feel the hurt too. To participate in conversation with him, I had to get over my shame, my need to defend my position. I had to get over the ‘he took it the wrong way’ and the notion his feelings were an interruption. Sometimes, I am confident if I just *explained again* using different words, my listener would realize they were wrong to feel slighted.

Some days I am like that.

Some days I am better than that.

We all must learn to be better than that.

Our GLBT community is so fuckin’ big right now that we’re adding more letters, like T, and Q, and sometimes Y. Whooo hooooo! What a fantastic problem to have!

Straight, married friends campaign fervently on our behalf for marriage rights. Women authors celebrate M4M romance, blazing a trail to show the world “love is love.”  They help us tell stories, stories that 30 years ago were deemed sick and twisted. Instead of condemning our immorality, clergy are now welcoming us, saying, “We were wrong. Come back.” Gay men continue to grow into greater understanding of ‘who we are’ and now experience some of the same growing pains as other minorities who find themselves tolerated and even welcomed.

All good problems to have, even if they cause some growth pains.

We will argue again. Our community will be tested by strong disagreement. Opinions expressed won’t always be done so with grace and thoughtful intention.

Good.

This will be a perfect opportunity for each of us to demonstrate our inherent power, to show strength through vulnerability.

The power of ow.

 

 

 

An Honest Mistake

March 6th, 2014

People make mistakes. Let’s all nod. Yup.

Embarrassing, innocent mistakes.

I seem to have a knack for taking a mistake and turning it into a thing or the thing becomes an event and then the event turns into “I am the creepy neighbor everyone talks about in the Spring after the snow melts.”

Case in point.

The Post Office took it sweet-ass time in delivering my mail after I returned home from vacation. Twice I wondered, “Where’s my mail?” but the thought was fleeting and Emily Thorne was yelling at someone on ABC’s crappy show, Revenge, so I forgot about the mail until it finally arrived, five days later.

Mostly junk mail, as expected. A wedding invitation. Some mail seeming insurance junk letter to the wrong address and my Comcast bill. And, my credit card bill. I knew it was my credit card from the logo and return address in the upper left corner. Ripped it open.

I noticed the balance which seemed excessive and purchases to places I don’t shop. I saw some part of the bill I’ve never seen before, like wire transfers of cash to maybe it was some phone service line and I thought, “Shit, someone ran up my credit card.”

Which was weird because I had paid my credit card bill earlier that same day and only now did it dawn on me how odd it was to pay your credit card bill and receive the next bill on the same day.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I was reading someone else’s credit card statement, but it did. I’m not the brightest bulb. Instead of reaching that logical conclusion, I held the bill pondering what I might have done to incur three mysterious phone service charges instead. Eventually it dawned on me to look for the recipient’s name and yes, the bill was intended for a woman who lives on my block.

Ms. Deanna Brigg.

(Name pulled randomly from a Google search a few minutes ago using these words: “Taco John Minnesota open late.” I don’t know, maybe she owns a Taco John’s somewhere. Hers was the first woman’s name I saw. I will protect my neighbor’s true identity since I’ve already violated her mail.)

I hastily shoved the bill back into the envelope and scotch-taped the envelope together like a six year old might do, hoping mom and dad wouldn’t notice. I acted like the bill’s mere exposure to air made my behavior more criminal. I did a shitty tape job and a big tear was visible from my not taking the time to properly line up the seams. It’s obvious:  someone ripped into her credit card statement.

Given my shitty tape job, I couldn’t give it back to the Post Office to deliver. I mean, yes, I could. I should have. But how would you feel when your credit card bill shows up three weeks late and the envelope is ripped open? You’d cancel the card. Right? I mean, someone chose to look at your credit card number and “cleverly” taped it up.

I decided to do the honorable thing and go explain myself.

I got home tonight a little before 9:00 p.m. Based on some internal metric that I can’t explain, I knew I would not knock on a stranger’s house after 9:00 p.m. because that’s just creepy. But I had a good fifteen minutes to get over there and explain how I accidentally ripped her credit card open. She would understand.

The thing that was bugging me was this: it would suck to have to cancel your credit card. Mine is associated with my Amazon account and Pay Pal and a few ongoing bills, sites where I was initially reluctant to share my credit card number years ago but I’ve given up and accepted that this is how the world works now. And while canceling a credit card isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s a pain in the ass.

I did not know Ms. Deanna Briggs who lives on my block, five or six houses down on the opposite side of the street but I thought if a reasonable explanation were presented for her torn bill, she would be spared that stupid life hassle. She could still cancel it – her call. But at least she’d have the option and would know what had happened.

I rang her bell and it was now 8:55 p.m. Cutting it a little close to my self-imposed 9:00 p.m. rule.

Nobody came to the door. Lights were on. Porch light was on. A dog inside barked. Peeking through the front window, the furniture seemed cozy. Nice. I bet she and I could be friends and in the Spring, complaining about front yard gardening chores together, but our side of the street doesn’t much socialize with their side of the street. So, maybe not.

She wasn’t home.

I dropped the ripped credit card bill in her mail box.

I trudged further up my street to deliver the other piece of mail. (Please recall that two pieces of wrongfully addressed mail were delivered to me.) I wasn’t going to knock and explain myself for that second piece of mail because I didn’t take the time to open and read his mail. (Looked like junk mail anyway.)

While walking to his house, I realized how freakin’ cold it really was. It had been warmer earlier in the day. We achieved 20 whole-fucking degrees. Party! Minnesotans everywhere celebrated by going to a gas station and standing outside the car while the gas pumped.

But the evening had gotten cold, very cold actually, and I had forgotten to check the temperature before I left. Point is, I wanted to get inside quickly. I wasn’t dressed for a half-hour walk. But I had also thought about how I shouldn’t have just left that ripped credit card bill at Ms. Deanna Brigg’s mailbox.

She’d notice the ripped envelope and middle-schooler tape job. Then, she’d open it up, see it had arrived almost three weeks late and she would be forced to cancel her credit card. While I was eager to get home, I decided I needed to take back that bill and attach a note to it. I’d write up a note, scurry back in the cold, and all would be well.

As to why I thought it was a good idea to go to a neighbor’s house after 9:15 p.m. and steal their mail, I can only say I am a fan of the ‘sunk cost fallacy,’ the notion that once you invest yourself in a solution, you stick to it, though it be stupid. In the dark on her front steps, I reached into Ms. Deanna Briggs mailbox and tried to find the credit card statement. She had a surprising amount of mail in there and the task took longer than I would have liked. But I found it, evidenced by the credit card logo and address in the upper left corner and yes, it was addressed to her.

So I took her credit card bill and waddled down the icy front walk.

At the end of her walk, I held the bill in front of me for a split second as I made ready to stuff it in my back pocket and was rather impressed by my tape job. I had done a better job than I suspected because I couldn’t even see the tape in this light. In fact, when turning the bill over (twice) I couldn’t see the tape at all. Or the obvious rip. Suddenly I realized I had just taken her latest, updated credit card bill from her mailbox.

Yes, for the second time, I possessed her credit card bill.

I stood on her frozen sidewalk, really freakin’ cold, and thought, “Well, shit.”

The first time you invade your neighbor’s financial privacy, fine, maybe you can explain that away. “We have the same credit card company! How funny, right?”

The second time you walk away with your neighbor’s credit card statement, taken directly from her mailbox at night, well, that just doesn’t look so good. And it’s a federal crime.

I realized I had to return her statement and get the hell off the street.

As I turned around, another light came on in the living room and I saw someone cross in front of the bay window.

Ms. Deanna Briggs was now home.

And in her front yard, a neighbor. Holding her credit card bill. Late at night.

An honest mistake.

I considered knocking but no explanation seemed sufficient. “Look, you don’t know me, but I’ve taken your credit card bill twice. One by accident.” Or maybe, “Hi. I’m the neighbor with the yard monster in his front yard down the block. I opened your mail.”

Nope.

I waddled like a penguin up her icy sidewalk and did my best to sneak her latest credit card statement back into her box without being seen.

Was I seen?

Dunno. Didn’t care at that point.

If it were warmer, I would have walked around the block or at least not walked directly to my front door, but it was cold, really cold, and my toes hurt. So like a dumb-ass criminal, I walked straight from her house to mine. Had she been watching out her window, she would have seen me messing with her mailbox and then walking home.

I guess I’ll just go ahead and skip the neighborhood block party this summer.

 

The Mousicles

February 5th, 2014

Every new year, I make resolutions to grow my compassion.

And in case this sounds a little Mother Theresa-ish, I also make resolutions to clean the bathroom more often and work out four times a week, which seems reasonable considering how much time I spent looking at cat videos and Facebook. I could shave off enough time to train for a half-marathon and still keep on top of the latest, “Write 14 things about yourself,” thing going around. But seriously, I should get to a gym more often.

And I do try to grow my compassion. I like to think of us all as fellow travelers on our own life journeys but then my fellow travelers cut me off in rush hour traffic and I get pissed. I verbally assault the oxygen around me, curdling it into carbon dioxide with a nasty hangover. Not just traffic. I get impatient with coworkers, my friends, myself. Sometimes I am a sea of calm. Other times, well, don’t poke the bear with a stick. It’s not a good day.

However, my compassion toward fellow travelers does not extend to rodents.

Not in my house.

The first time I found a mousicle in my housicle (naming convention thanks to Jason) was fifteen years ago, a blustery November night, two months after I moved in to my current home. A night where Minnesotans look up at the non-existent daylight at 4:45 p.m. and say quietly, “And so it begins.” The night was cold. Windy. Home from work, eager to feel the warm embrace of a preprogrammed thermostat, I clomped into my kitchen, laptop slung over my shoulder.

It’s tiny furry body zipped in front of me along the baseboard and yeah, okay. I screamed like a twelve-year old girl.

Then, I swore vengeance.

I tried to envision the poor mouse shivering outside and think of it all cuddly and shit, but while trying to think compassionate thoughts, I found myself suddenly in my car. Then suddenly at the hardware store. And I kept thinking about compassion as I purchased mouse poison. Huh. How about that. Now I’m driving home.

Oh, I should explain that on the night in question I wore heavy boots, excellent thick tread, which matters to this story because the minute I walked in the front door with that bag of mouse poison cradled in my arm, I stepped on it. I knew I stepped on it because I heard the wet crunch under my boot.

Sorry about that description. I try to stay away from upsetting imagery.

But you have to understand, I was just as horrified  to hear it then as you are to imagine it now. I mean, yes, I wanted the mouse gone, but I didn’t think I would, you know, crush it myself. I looked down and confirmed my first successful mouse killing and felt confused that I felt sad while also holding a bag of poison to accomplish this same thing.

Compassion is confusing.

Compassion is confusing with people, too. I feel compassion for someone’s unique situation and then they say something snotty I didn’t expect to hear and I’m irritated. That person should be more understanding, given their circumstances! Then, I’m irritated with myself for not letting people be who they are, even if it’s not who I think they should be.

People of earth refuse to believe everything I believe. Some days, this is hard for me to accept. I mean, clearly, I think the right way about everything. And when you think you’re right about how the world works, compassion can be hard.

That night, I felt sad for the mouse and yet felt glad he was gone.

Over the years more mice tried to make mine their winter chalet.

No. No way.

Not gonna happen.

I clogged up basement mouse entrances wherever I could find them. I caulked. I laid traps and more of the infamous poison along the basement rafters route. Trouble is, I live in an old house. I guess any house could have mouse problems but old bungalows are the equivalent of EconoLodges for winter mice on vacation. My house may not boast the best amenities but you can always find a room.

Well, a mouse was in the house two weeks ago.

True to our roles as panicked rodent and terrified home owner, he zipped across the floor and I screamed. Yes, twelve-year-old girl scream. Again. The mouse seemed to sense my reaction was not welcoming and turned and fled to the furnace grate where it emerged.

Then, I swore vengeance.

I was working from home that day, so I couldn’t leave and go to the hardware store for more mice poison. Gosh, you’d think my house is rat-infested from reading this post but it’s not. This is the first mouse I’ve seen in my home in three winters. Most of my patch jobs do pretty well at keeping them out. But once every few years…

The mouse taunted me all afternoon by zipping around the periphery of my vision, darting around corners in time for me to see its ass dash away. I stopped screaming, but cold determination raced through me.

The hardware lady promised the biggest thing these days was glue pads. The mouse runs across it and sticks. This seems horrible. It is not the compassionate way to go. But I can’t deal with rodents using my 1920′s furnace grates as their private subway line. She promised it would do the trick, especially if I made a little tunnel by taping a piece of cardboard to the base of my wall and sliding the glue trap under it. Very cozy for mouses hoping to quickly pass through.

I called Jason to complain about my mouse in the house and he suggested we make it more fun to discuss by calling it “The Mousicles.” For reasons not clear to either of us, we keep adding “icles” to words. Let’s have dinnersicles. I bought us treatsicles. I lost my cell phonsicles. Perhaps because everything around us is frozen and icy. Our entire world is a giant icicle, so we rename everything else to match the theme.

We live in a polar vortexicles.

Although I did not laugh in the moment, I do appreciate those who can help me find my humor when I have lost mine. I do. Sometimes laughter helps me find my compassion. By calling it ‘the mousicles’ I found myself less ashamed. Until speaking about this with Jason, I hadn’t realized how ashamed of myself I felt, a bad home owner, that I couldn’t keep out a mouse.

The mousicles did not respond to my glue traps cleverly placed in the observed running path under cardboard tunnels. I placed a glue board in the furnace duct under the grate. Every morning I’d peer down there like a warden staring through prison bars to see if Prisoner #77215 made it through the night. The glue boards were empty. Day after day. My mousicles was too clever.

So I added some food. I was tempted to add a small handful of Cheetos but I know how I get late at night when I’m hungry and am convinced there’s nothing good to eat in the house. Plus, I already suffered hand-to-hand combat with one of those glue boards trying to liberate it from its container and that shit sticks. I lost that battle and spent five minutes trying to pry it off my skin.

In the end, I gave into a mouse stereotype and added cheese to the glue board.

The mousicles was never tempted.

I hadn’t seen it in a few days, which unnerved me. Apparently it didn’t like my messing with his subway entrances and hopefully split. But I had a hard time imagining the mousicles seeking refuge outside. Surely he’d been keeping up with the news about the polar vortex. Even he wouldn’t risk that shit.

So we played cat and mouse, me and mousicles, me overly-alert, eyes constantly darting into corners and occasionally falling asleep in a sun beam. The mouse stayed hidden. I would hunt casually for it, pretending I wasn’t really hunting at all. Couldn’t care less. And then I’d jump around a corner and see nothing. The cardboard tunnels began to creep me out. I couldn’t take much more peeking into the tunnel to discover whether they had worked as intended.

I pondered the mousicles situation a little from my sacred throne, the overstuffed Comfy Chair upstairs in my bedroom. But I did not allow myself to ponder too much because this is my Comfy Chair and it is sacred. It was left to me by my scientist father, Jor-El who whisked me away from our exploding planet, Krypton, and I ended up here on earth. That’s how much this chair means so much to me. It is my fortress of solitude.

In the mornings I drag my ass from bed to this fat cushion where I reflect on my dreams and wait for the day to find me. I watch TV and read books in that chair. Before bed, I read comics and drink milk in the Comfy Chair.

And from that sacred spot, my legs curled under me, I witnessed mousicles race across my bedroom carpet and shoot into a duct.

The dude had upped his game, literally, to my upstairs where I have never seen a mouse ever. Never.

My upstairs? My naked room? This was ultimate not cool.

I swore vengeance would be mine.

(There’s a lot of vengeance swearing in my home.)

The Home Depot guy and I spoke so long about ways to kill mice when we concluded our tales I thought we might hug. I did not confess that one of my more successful executions included walking on mice by accident. I purchased three different killing experiences because dammit, that was my bedroom.

A full thirty minutes later, I turned my bedroom into a death trap.

I set the old fashioned kind, wooden traps that will snap the fucker’s neck. Others that were not quite so alarming in their bare-bones appearance yet accomplished the same thing. I poured the poison, creating an all-you-can-eat buffet in likely locations.

After my work was accomplished and I was terrified of my own sleeping quarters, it was time for bed.

I lay there in the dark, staring straight up into blackness with the covers held up to my neck under my clenched hands and waited. Would I hear it? Would it happen as I drifted of, this exploding SNAP meaning the end of a creature’s life? Would it happen in the middle of the night and wake me from a sound sleep, my heart pounding? Would the sound haunt me? Was it running around the baseboard right now sniffing the poison thinking, “This smells like cheesy potatoes to my mouse nose.”

I wondered.

Then I got to wondering about how I will die. Something horrible like a car accident that snaps my neck? A heart-attack? Maybe I should take a closer look at the poisons I eat on a daily basis, Earl’s cheese puffs, second helpings of cake, or the occasional White Castle. Maybe my death is a trap already sprung, waiting for me to sniff it out and walk into it. The mousicles and I had more in common than I thought.

I slept uneasily that night.

And the next.

But the third night, I slept better. Hadn’t heard any sharp snaps in the middle of the night and all traps remained barren the next morning. I made my rounds daily, the subway entrance glue traps, the old-fashioned death snappers, the plastic traps I swear look like shark teeth.

I created sixteen death stations in my home.

Nothing.

No mousicles.

Where did it go?

I tried to think more compassionately about mousicles but I now wore shoes in every room in the house, no longer quite relaxing in my awesome relaxing house. It’s hard to feel compassion when you’re checking your sixteen death traps regularly for corpses.

The other night, I dozed and watched TV on my computer in the Fortress of Solitude, when I felt a scratch on my stomach, right on the side where the cushion meets the chair base. It scratched that vulnerable belly flesh where your shirt hikes up. I ignored it once or twice, thinking it was a tag inside my tee shirt or a dropped chip (I like to eat in the Comfy Chair). Thinking it might be a chip roused me into taking action because I am diligent in keeping counters clean, food contained. I slip up and leave out  cookie crumbs on the floor once in a while, but generally I keep a pretty clean house.

So. The potato chip.

Except it wasn’t a potato chip.

I moved over a little bit and peered down to discover it was a little scratchy yes, but there was fur, grey fur–it was mousicles.

I leapt from the Comfy Chair, the Fortress of Solitude that had betrayed me and yanked up the accursed cushion to find, yes, a dead mouse. I had no idea whether the poison did its job and this is where it crawled to die, but that fucker’s little foot was scratching my naked belly. Even now, I shudder when I type that.

I cleaned up mousicles, vacuumed every crevice, rubbed every inch of fabric with one of this disinfectant wipes. Hell, I turned the Comfy Chair upside down and whacked it with a broom to force out any hidden family members. Nothing.

Fucking mouseicles was under the cushion!

That little fucker destroyed my Fortress of Solitude. I still check under the cushion every night before I lower myself into it, uneasily. I have to ask myself, “Who got the last laugh?”

On the phone, I advanced my dead-by-poison theory to Jason who considered the possibility but then said, “Yeah. Or you smothered it with your ass.”

Oh god.

First my boot, now my ass. Sixteen death traps around my house and still, the biggest threat is me.

I killed mousicles with my chunky butt.

I really need to start going to the gym.

 

 

 

 

 

King Daniel, Chapters 1-7

January 31st, 2014

Didn’t you sometimes resent J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series?

She created this fantastic world that sucked us in and made us care about potions class, an old geezer named Dumbledore, and bewitched furniture. But then we had to wait two years for the next installment. Two years. C’mon, woman, give us a fix! I had always wished she provided a tasty tidbit between novels, like a Harry Potter short story.

I’m a slow writer, so between king novels I’m hoping to provide you with a tasty tidbit.

Roughly six months after the last book release (which hopefully is roughly six month before the next full novel), I will make chapters available from the sixth book in the series, King Daniel.

I know, I know.

It’s messed up. But Vin Vanbly’s tale is odd and the telling of his stories must also reflect this oddness. Just go with it. Part of the grand adventure.

The release schedule:

King Perry (first book) – February, 2012

King Daniel, chapters 1-3 – October 2013

King Mai (second book) – July, 2013

King Daniel, chapters 4-7 – January, 2014

??? (third book) – 2014

Who is the king in Book 3? After reading King Daniel, Chapter 7, you will know. I hope you enjoy meeting Daniel and exploring the world of the Found Kings in 2013, the year this story takes place.

Attached to this web post will find King Daniel, Chapters 1-7.pdf. If you need the .mobi or .epub, please contact me directly. remembertheking@comcast.net.

All my love,

Edmond Manning

King Daniel chapters 1-7 (.pdf)