Read an excerpt from 'Snow on Scrabble Creek' by Jeff Mann, or listen to the audio:
It’s 3:45 am in rural West Virginia; Timmy’s the only driver on the road. Ascending the holler, he passes shabby trailers, modest homes with unlit windows, chimneys trailing wood smoke. Road-cut icefalls glisten in the headlights; snow swarms like a host of crystalline insects.
The road winds along the wintergreen creek, climbing deeper into wintry hills. Timmy’s truck hits an icy patch and slides for a second before regaining traction. “Goddamn it,” Timmy snarls. Switching off Lynyrd Skynyrd so as to concentrate better, he gears down into third and drops into a determined crawl. Brow furrowed, he squints into the storm. Something hypnotic about its fall, he thinks. Something easeful. I could just lie back and study it and drive right into the mountainside, and that’d be the end of this loneliness. Bob’d be real sorry for leaving me then.
A few slow snow-blind miles later, Timmy pulls over in front of a ramshackle church. He scratches nervous sweat from his sideburns, fetches a pint of bourbon from the glove compartment, and takes a long swig. Sitting back, Timmy rubs his temples, breathes deeply, stares at the darkened windows of the building, and thinks of his only surviving relative. Aunt Beulah was in there earlier this evening, just like she is every Friday, handling serpents with the rest of the Scrabble Creek faithful. Copperheads and rattlers. Fuck. Timmy rolls his eyes and takes another drink. Wonder how Beulah and those other fine religious folk would feel if they knew I just spent the evening striking out at a gay bar? Another four swigs, and the bottle’s empty. He’s tempted to lob it at the church, but instead he tosses it into the passenger seat before continuing up the creek.
Soon, the Ford’s veered off the snowy pavement and bumps along a steep dirt road. Timmy’s trailer sits in the woods by a brook, a good mile from other habitations, isolated — just the way he likes it — near the head of the holler. He pulls into the driveway, turns off the engine, and sighs, relieved to be home after so many perilous miles.
Inside, he clicks on a lamp, then slips off denim jacket, baseball cap, and work boots. In the kitchen, he gobbles a few boxed doughnuts, then pops open a beer and chugs it. In the bathroom, he peels off his sweatshirt, jeans, and boxer briefs and takes a long shower, luxuriating in the hot water on such a frigid night.
Toweling off before the mirror, Timmy studies his reflection. He looks like what he is, a West Virginia working man. He’s twenty-eight, one hundred and ninety pounds, five foot ten, with shaggy brown hair, bushy sideburns, pale blue eyes, cheeks covered with a week’s worth of stubble, and an unkempt brown goatee. Soft brown hair coats the front of his body from his neck to his ankles. His belly’s a little plump with junk food and beer, but his arms, shoulders, chest, and thighs are thickly muscled, thanks to his former job in the mines.
Hell, now, not bad for an ole redneck boy. He flexes his biceps, then his pectorals. He flicks his nipples erect. He cocks his plump ass, runs a finger along his butt-crack fuzz, jacks his stiffening beer-can of a dick, and grins at himself in the mirror.
Abruptly, he shakes his head, grin fading fast as he recalls the day Bob, his lover of several years, moved out. That miserable memory leads to thoughts of the brawny leather-daddy he tried to hook up with earlier this evening who blew him off for a twink. Damn, I need laid. I cain’t find a man for love nor money. Hell, what’s wrong with me? An hour’s drive to Charleston, then that long, scary drive back in shitty weather … what a waste of time.
Morose, Timmy slips into A-shirt, sweatpants, and boot socks, heads into the living room, and turns on the gas fireplace. Grimacing, he sorts through a pile of unpaid bills — a source of mounting anxiety since his unemployment — only to toss them on the coffee table and turn off the light. Standing by the big window facing down the holler, he gulps a second beer, then opens another, content to be so far from people and the disappointments they bring, happy to be surrounded by dark and silent woodland. The snow sifts down around the tree trunks; something big and black wings past the window.
Pileated woodpecker, I’m guessing, Timmy thinks, finishing the third bottle before stretching out on the couch. Covering himself with a comforter, he closes his eyes. As horny as he is after such a frustrating evening at the Broadway, he considers a nice jerk-off session to a Raging Stallion dvd, but he’s too depressed. Instead he drowses in the firelight, listening to hard wind in the trees and the purl of the brook. He’s fast asleep when a pounding on the door startles him awake.
“What the hell?” Timmy’s on his feet in an instant, fetching a loaded pistol from the coffee table drawer. He toes on moccasins, flips on the porch light, and peers out the window.
A man is standing there in the storm. He’s tall, good-looking, burly-built, in his mid-thirties. His dark hair’s bound back in a ponytail; his goatee’s black and bushy, the moustache so full it obscures his mouth. He’s wearing black jeans, black boots, and a black leather biker jacket, broad shoulders dusting with snow. Woof, Daddy! Damn, he’s hot. But he looks wild too. Dangerous. What the fuck is a Hell’s Angel doing up Scrabble Creek this late? And in the middle of a blizzard?
Timmy clicks off the gun’s safety, unlocks the door, and opens it a crack. “What d’ya want?” he growls, glaring at the stranger. Growing up in Fayette County, Timmy learned an important fact a long time ago: even if people have heard you’re gay, if you look and act rough and tough, plus learn a little boxing and karate for good measure, they’re much less likely to fuck with you. He’s had to kick a few pious breeder asses over the years, morons who thought they could bash the queer. Local folks have learned to leave him alone.
The man gives Timmy a brilliant smile, flash of white in that black bush of a beard. “Hey, man. My Harley broke down. I saw your light on up here. Mind if I use your phone?”
Wary, Timmy hesitates. The stranger’s accent is mountain-bred like Timmy’s, but with a touch of something foreign to it. Scotland? He looks and sounds sorta like Gerard Butler. He’s bigger than I am. But I got the gun.
“A bike in this weather?” Timmy says, dubious.
“Yeah. Well. I ain’t always bright.” The man’s smile widens.
Downright charming, Timmy thinks, and somehow familiar.
The stranger takes a step closer, leaning one arm against the doorframe. “Say, haven’t I seen you in Charleston?” he says, as if echoing Timmy’s thoughts. “At the Broadway?”
“Uh. Yep!” Timmy nods, pleasantly surprised to find out that the handsome man at his door is a patron of Charleston’s gay dance bar. What are the odds? I spend all goddamn evening looking for a musclebear, and now one’s come to me? Talk about luck! “You go there?”
“Sure do. When my travels permit. My name’s Derek. Say, man, would you please let me in?” he says, brushing snowflakes from his beard. “It’s freezing out here.”
Timmy, reassured, opens the door and steps aside. “Many thanks,” Derek says, striding in. He tugs off his jacket, the leather gleaming in a flare of red firelight. To Timmy’s surprise, Derek’s wearing not a winter sweater or a sweatshirt but a tight black T-shirt that accentuates his sculpted chest, shoulders, and tattooed arms. Oh, fuck, he’s buff, Timmy thinks, licking his lips.
“Quite a little nest you have way up here. A true cub-cave.” Chuckling, Derek gazes around the messy room — gun rack, weight set, fast-food wrappers, emptied Bud Light bottles, Rebel flag doo-rag, collection of hunting knives — and out the big window into the storm. He turns to Timmy and cocks a black eyebrow, regarding the gun.
“Gonna shoot me?” Derek says solemnly, crossing his arms.
“Uh, sorry,” Timmy says, clicking the safety on and slipping the gun into its drawer. “You cain’t be too careful when you live out this far. Ever’body roundabouts knows I’m gay. I used to get beat up bad before I bulked up, and I still have trouble with some Bible thumpers down in Gauley. Even lost my job over it. Those fuckers at Alpha Coal fired me when they heard I was queer. I been unemployed for six months.”
“Sounds like you need some protection,” Derek says, pulling his glossy hair free and shaking moisture from it. “Or a hit man.”
Or a Daddy. Goddamn. He looks like Christ. If Christ were inked-up and built like a brick shithouse. “Naw. I can take care of myself.” Timmy beckons to the gun rack, then offers his hand. “I’m Timmy Kincaid.”
The men shake. Derek’s grip is very strong; the cub can’t help but wince.
“I know who you are,” Derek says, releasing Timmy’s hand. “I’ve seen you at the bar quite a few times. Look, would you mind if I spent the night? As bad as that storm is, I don’t think anyone’s getting in or out of this holler for a few days.”
“Uh, you may be right,” says Timmy, studying the stranger’s handsome face and powerful physique. Man, he’d feel mighty good on top of me. “Uh, yeah, I guess we’re both stuck up here. Hey, where are my manners? You want a beer? Or some moonshine?”
“Maybe later.” The stranger in black flashes another seductive grin. “You’re a really fine-looking cub.” His eyes are dark, gleaming. The pupils seem to glint red, as if reflecting the firelight.
Damn, he’s moving fast. “Uh, thanks, man. You’re pretty hot yourself.”
“I thought you’d think so. What time is it?”
“Uh, it’s …” A wash of sleepy ease surges through Timmy; at the same time, his cock hardens in his sweatpants. “5:30?”
“I hope you like the drama of this blizzard I brought. I figured it’d insure us a few nights together without interruption. Are there caves on this mountain?”
Timmy steps back. Suddenly, the sexy bear from the Broadway is talking like a psycho.
“Uhhh … caves? Brought the blizzard? What are you talking about?”
Derek smoothes back his bushy moustache, revealing sensual lips and a tight smile. This time the expression is less charming than wry. “I’m talking about owning you for a few days, boy. Longer, if you prefer. And I’m thinking you really shouldn’t have put away your gun.”
Oh, fuck. Timmy bolts toward the coffee table. He makes it only a couple of feet before the stranger seizes him from behind, one arm crooked around his neck, another around his torso. Timmy’s lifted, gasping and kicking. He barely has time to marvel at his attacker’s strength and speed before he’s thrown across the room. He hits the bookcase, then, in a shower of paperbacks, falls to the floor. He lies there on his belly, stunned. He rolls over, groans, and clutches his side. Teeth gritted, he pulls himself up onto hands and knees, head swimming, amoeboid spots clustering his eyes.
Derek’s voice, a calm baritone, throbs in Timmy’s head. “You’d better be careful. As you see, I’m a lot stronger than you.”
Timmy staggers to his feet, glaring at Derek.
“You’re ferocious, aren’t you?” Derek says, grinning. “I surely relish such resistance. It gives me an excuse to rough you up a bit. Come on over here, cub. Give it another try.”
“Crazy fucker. I’ll whip your ass,” Timmy spits, balling up a fist. Halfway through the arc of his punch, the dark man before him vanishes. Timmy stumbles forward. When he tries to turn, a blow to the belly doubles him over. When he tries to straighten up, he’s backhanded so hard he spins in a half-circle and drops to his knees.
“Enough,” growls Derek, wrenching Timmy’s left arm behind him so violently that he yelps with pain. He’s hauled up and slammed up against the wall.
Derek’s soft beard nuzzles Timmy’s ear. “Time to behave now. If you’d gotten home earlier, we could have done this tasty little dance for hours, but as it is, we don’t have much time. Do you believe me when I say that I’ll break your arm if you don’t calm down?”
“Goddamn you,” Timmy hisses, writhing in Derek’s grasp. “Goddamn you. How can you be so strong? Lemme go!”
Derek twists Timmy’s arm. Timmy screams.
“Do you believe me?”
“Ah, God! Yes! Yes! Don’t break my arm!”
“Please don’t break my arm!”
“Good boy. I’ll bet you have some rope, chain, and duct tape around here, don’t you?”
Timmy’s stomach tightens. He can’t recall ever feeling so helpless and so terrified. “W-why?”
“I … yeah. In the utility room. But why?”
“Why do you think?” Derek nibbles Timmy’s earlobe. “I need to leave at sunrise. That’s in only a few hours, and I want a lot more time with you than that. I’m going to truss you up, buddy. Like a belated Yuletide gift to myself. Tomorrow night, when I come back, we’ll spend some sweet hours together, I promise. And the night after that, if you so choose.”
“Oh, God, man. If I let you tie me up, what, what are you —”
“Let me?” Derek sniggers. “Your days of choice are past, my friend. What am I going to do with you? I guess you’ll have to wait and see.”
Head hanging, Timmy slumps trembling on the edge of the bed, trying not to break down, trying not to beg for mercy. His captor has used a combination of coarse hemp rope and duct tape to bind Timmy’s wrists behind him, then to secure together his elbows. Now, with one of Timmy’s own hunting knives, Derek slices off the boy’s A-shirt. He swathes the young miner’s bared torso and biceps in a taut web of cords and knots, followed by several yards of duct tape that circle his chest and trap his arms against his sides.
“That should hold you till tomorrow night,” Derek says, tightening a knot. “Think you can get out of that?”
Timmy stares at the floor. The sense of inescapable doom that swamped him as the stranger slipped the first length of rope around his wrists has rapidly moved into a quivering, nauseated panic he’s doing his level best to conceal. Daddy always told me I was good in a crisis, he thinks, feeling a trickle of fear-sweat roll down his temple. Get a grip, Timmy boy. Be a man. Don’t give this freak any satisfaction.
Slowly he shakes his head. “Get loose? With all this fuckin’ tape? I kinda doubt it. Guess a nutcase like you knows what he’s doing. I cain’t hardly move.”
“You aren’t complaining, are you? You used to love it when Bob got out the cuffs.”
“How the hell d’ya know about Bob? This is different, and you know it. Are you really gonna keep me like this till tomorrow night? All trussed up without no food or water?”
“Yep. I only wish I could be here to listen to you scream and watch you struggle. That’s going to be quite a delicious show.”
“What if I piss or shit myself?”
“Then we’ll share a hot shower.”
“How many …” Timmy pauses to lick dry lips. “Have there been others? Guys you taken prisoner like this?”
“Quite a few over the years. I do what I please.”
“And … how many of ’em have you … how many have d-died?”
Timmy twists his wrists and strains. His bonds have no give at all. “And … h-how many of ’em have you let loose?”
“A few. Please me, and who knows? I may decide that you’re too delicious to kill. Look at me now, boy.”
Timmy lifts his head, gazing up at Derek. He hopes like hell that he appears defiant and brave.
“You really want to cry, don’t you?” Sighing, Derek strokes his stubbled cheek. “And you’re so starved for tenderness. When did a man last touch you? When did a man last kiss that pretty mouth of yours or take you up that plump ass?”
“Why the hell do you care?” Timmy says, shaking off Derek’s hand. “Ain’t none of your business.”
“If we were at the Broadway, you’d be cruising me, wouldn’t you? You always seem to go for solid, scruffy-looking Tops with wild beards. But you’ve haven’t had much luck in the romance department, have you? First, you leave your wife for your best friend, Bob, causing a big scandal down in Gauley. You have a few tasty years together, complete with handcuffs and buttplugs and other toys you keep in that gym bag beneath your bed. The two of you together were great fun to watch. Then Bob gets restless, tired of living in the sticks and being called ‘faggot,’ and moves to DC. You’ve been alone ever since, haven’t you? You’re far too shy in bars, you know. You just don’t know how to flirt.”
“God, man, how long you been stalking me?” Timmy sputters. “How d’ya know all that?”
“I’ve been admiring you for about a decade, if you want to know.” Gripping Timmy’s right arm, Derek pulls him to his feet. Timmy stands there, head bowed, shaking violently. He can feel the roving of Derek’s gaze, like a wolf spider crawling over his naked torso.
“You’ve grown into quite a magnificent man. Well worth the wait.” Derek rubs Timmy’s fur-matted belly, probes his navel, and squeezes his beefy biceps. “And tomorrow night, I’m finally going to possess you.”
“Jesus.” Timmy’s voice cracks. “Possess? God, I am fucked, fucked, fucked.”
“Exactly,” Derek whispers, wrapping an arm around Timmy’s shoulders and drawing him near. When Timmy, straining against his bonds, tries to pull away, Derek only chuckles, jerking him closer. “I love the way your arms bulge when you struggle. You’re not getting loose, and you’re in no position to resist,” Derek says, voice soft and deep. “Haven’t you been yearning for a powerful man to hold you tight?”
“Yes, but …”
“Think of it as a gift. And accept it while you still have time. You really don’t want to make me angry. Do you want to make me angry?”
“Then lean against me, boy. Rest your handsome head on my shoulder. Let me hold you.”
Shuddering, Tim obeys, slumping against the Christ-like man who might be his killer.
Derek hugs him hard, then runs a finger down his spine. “Ah, you feel so good. You make me so hard. Do you know why?”
Timmy coughs, choking back tears. “No. No, I don’t.”
“I love you. All of you. Your youth, your bound body. Your mortality. Your muscles and your manliness. Your fear and your helplessness.” Derek brushes Timmy’s chest hair with the back of his hand, circles his right areola with a forefinger, and kneads his crotch through his sweatpants. Timmy shudders; his cock stiffens. What courses through him is an amalgam he never thought could exist: terror and desire, in equally abject proportions.
For a few silent moments, Derek nuzzles Timmy’s beard, kisses his bare shoulders, strokes his belly, and massages his pectorals. Outside, the wind has stiffened; the trailer rocks and creaks. Who ever woulda thought the Angel of Death would have such strong hands and such a tender touch? Timmy thinks, eyes edged with tears. God, if I gotta die, make it quick.
“Dawn’s getting close. I need to set you up in the utility room and then find myself a snug place to sleep. But first …” Derek holds up a balled-up blue-and-red cloth. It’s Timmy’s Stars-and-Bars doo-rag.
“What’s that for?”
“Time to shut you up,” Derek says, patting Timmy’s jaw.
“Aw, hell. We’re the only folks in this holler, and you said yourself ain’t nobody coming up here in this storm. Ain’t no need to put that rag in my mouth. Please don’t.” Timmy shakes his head, grits his teeth, and turns away.
With a forefinger, Derek strokes Timmy’s tight-set lips, then grasps his stubbly cheeks and squeezes hard. “Consider it an aesthetic touch. Open up or I’ll break your head.”
“Oh, God,” Timmy pants, opening his mouth.
Roughly, Derek stuffs the doo-rag in. He ties it in place with doubled-over rope pulled so tightly between Timmy’s teeth that he moans. Derek applies duct tape next, plastering it over Timmy’s lips and wrapping several yards of it around his head till four layers seal his mouth. It too is painfully tight, indenting Timmy’s unshaven cheeks, causing his jaw to throb.
“You’ll be nice and quiet while I’m gone,” Derek says, rubbing an approving palm over the tape and kissing Timmy’s nose. “Right?”
“Huhh uh.” Timmy clenches his brow and shakes his head.
“Yelping for help all damned day, that’s my guess. A hillbilly defiant to the end, huh? I guess we are like that. You ready?” Cupping the young miner’s chin in his hand, Derek wipes wet from his eyes. “I’ll let you use the bathroom first.”
Timmy nods, breathing hard through his nose. Gripping him by the arm, Derek leads the boy down the dark hall.