For the holiday season, here's a poem from Jeff Mann's wonderful collection Rebels.
He is sleeping in a field between
Berkeley Springs and Hancock,
he and his Rebs exhausted from
the march. After midnight a wet
finger brushes his brow, and he
murmurs awake, pulls the damp
blanket over his face and sleeps
again, corpse-still. When
he wakes in first light, he wakes
warm, too warm, tosses off
his blanket, scatters five inches of
mountain snow that sheltered him
in the night like a crystal shield of
righteousness, like a father’s arms,
and he looks about him at
the great logs of men...covered over
with snow and as quiet as graves,
rising one by one warm, amazed,
shaking off God’s wool—and oh,
how they wish they might weave
of snow durable and lasting
blankets, as snow shields tender
wheat and the earth-tamped hope
of seeds, till one breaks the mood,
The Resurrection!” and they
are up, starting small fires for
a spitted beef and hardtack breakfast.
Rebels is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
With the new year nearly upon us, here's a sneak peak at some of the titles Lethe has in store in 2016...
ALL GOOD CHILDREN | Dayna Ingram
Coming May 2016
Everyone tells 14-year-old Jordan Fontaine not to worry about the summer camp that isn't really a summer camp, not to worry about the survival statistics she's been calculating since elementary school, or about the quickly averted eyes and frowning mouths of her peers when she tells them her Liaison is coming to visit she and her brothers. She does not dare to tell anyone that her pulse quickens when she looks at the beautiful Liason. But the Liaison, whose role is to supply their inhuman masters with bodies, is being manipulated by another. And Jordan will be drawn into a dangerous coup that she in unaware of, This is a world where women are bred like cattle, ensuring the continuation of the human race—or, as they are known to the malevolent Over, sustenance. Perhaps some children need to be seen and heard.
CONNECTED UNDERNEATH | Linda Legters
Coming Spring 2016
Madena, New York. A small town like any small town: everybody keeps an eye on everybody else’s business, nobody recognizes the secrets that connect them. Teenage Persephone trades sex for the tattoo sessions that get her high enough to forget that her girlfriend doesn’t love her and she isn’t sure she loves her dad. Theo used to be the high-school bad boy who could never have the respectable girl he adored from afar—now he owns the last video store in town and worries wretchedly about the daughter he never understood. Natalie, trying so hard to grasp the last shreds of respectability, would do anything to forget the baby she gave up long ago, including betray the baby’s father. And wheelchair-bound Celeste who has never had a life, desperate to connect, watches and makes up stories and finally understands that things have gone terribly wrong and she stands at the heart of disaster.
WALKING THE TIGHTROPE
Coming in February 2016
A groundbreaking collection bringing together poetry and prose from LGBTQ writers from many nations across the continent of Africa. This book is both compelling and emotionally raw in its honest statement about being queer in modern day Africa.
BLIND JUSTICE | K.A. Kron & Brenda L. Leffler
Riley Connors has some serious woman problems. The love of her life, Ali Garcia, won't give her the time of day, but plenty of others want a piece of her. Riley's stream of one night stands doesn't get her any closer to Ali, but does get the attention of a dangerous old flame who brings the past crashing back. While trying to make time to focus on her second year of law school, she and Charlie race to stop whoever is checking names off of a hit list, as the victims get closer to home. The ticking of the clock grows louder by the minute, and when the timer goes off, it's not a drill.
We're taking pre-orders of Blind Justice right now for only $11, a better price than anywhere else on the 'net.
DEAD CELEBRITIES | Christopher Calix
Coming Spring 2016
Carter Calhoun was once a Hollywood legend, an agent both loved and loathed by stars and studio executives alike. But then the suicide of his lover and star client, matinee idol Sam Madison, sent Carter to the bottom of the bottle. Carter became a housebound recluse. Now, years later, new evidence reveals Sam may have been murdered and Carter emerges from seclusion to find his killer. The hunt will take him from the soundstages of Hollywood to a trailer park in Malibu to the mansions of Bel Air. Carter, struggling against addiction and bouts of agoraphobia, must navigate through a new and unfamiliar world where anyone can be famous and everyone has an agenda— and a secret. For Carter, solving Sam’s murder offers hope of redemption— as long as he can stay alive.
THREESOME: HIM, HIM & ME | Ed. Matthew Bright
Coming March 2016
Few sexual fantasies are as potent or lasting as “the threesome” – as an adolescent, the first time you saw a hot couple walking hand in hand and you wanted to follow them back home and into their bed, as an adult when you discover that your partner has been fantasizing also about the bartender at your favorite club.
1+1+1 = sensual delight!
Editor Matthew Bright, no stranger to threesomes himself, has invited twelve authors to write stories that range from the sweet and romantic to erotic and playful and even a bit depraved. Featuring stories from Evey Brett, Dale Chase, Shane Allison, Jeff Mann, 'Nathan Burgoine, Rob Rosen and more.
THE MYRIAD CARNIVAL | Ed. by Matthew Bright
Coming February 2016
Roll up, roll up... The circus has long been that dream palace, intoxicating with so many lights and sights, sounds and smells. Sawdust, popcorn, strange animals, make-up, and the sweat of the roustabouts. The circus intrudes into the life of the ordinary and mundane and brings magic. Editor Matthew Bright invites you to the enjoy the sixteen attractions of the fantastical and dark Myriad Carnival.
Featuring stories from Paul Magrs, Hal Duncan, Roy Gill, Nick Campbell, Evey Brett, Raymond Luczak, Sarah Caulfield, B.R. Sanders, Kate Harrad, Evan J. Peterson, and more.
Plus, plenty more with further details to come!
Welcome to Lethe's weekly Giveaway Mondays.
Firstly, getting into the wintry spirit, we've got three ebooks of Fog by Jeff Mann to give away. Winner of the Pauline Reage Novel Award of the National Leather Association, Fog is dark, kinky and absorbing. See more details here. To win, just like our facebook page and share the competition image, or follow and RT us on twitter @lethepress.
Secondly, because you can never have enough Jeff Mann, all week the first in his Civil War series, Purgatory, is discounted at $15 in paperback. Follow this link to buy on our website.
Every week, Lethe posts a list of ten books on a theme compiled from suggestions by our readers, editors and authors. The list is neither exhaustive, didactic, or ranked, and while there are undoubtedly countless books you've missed off, perhaps you'll find a few new ones here to discover for yourself.
It's getting to that time of the year when everyone's compiling their list of the year, and Lethe's no different. We asked a bunch of our authors and editors to recommend an LGBTQ title they've read this year (not necessarily published in 2015, although the majority of the list is...)
Queers Destroy Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy edited by Seanan McGuire/Wendy N. Wagner/Christopher Barzak
Continuing the outstanding work of last year's Women Destroy.. series, 2015 saw the queers take over the asylum with three special issues from Lightspeed, Nightmare and Fantasy magazine. Each issues featured reprint fiction, essays, art and original fiction from a range of authors both established and new, including Chuck Palahniuk, John Chu, Chaz Brenchley, Alyssa Wong, Kai Ashante Wilson, Catherynne M. Valente, and several authors who also have Lethe titles, including Richard Bowes, Lee Thomas, Matthew Bright and Chaz Brenchley.
Recommended by: Steve Berman
From the Lethe vault:
Daydreamers by Jonathan Harper
On the collection, N.S. Beranek says: "I felt gut-punched several times while reading his stories. The rest of the time I felt he must have a hidden camera trained on me. His characters thought and felt things I thought were exclusive to me."
Recommended by: N.S. Beranek. Read a fuller review here. (Daydreamers was *also* recommended by Ron Suresha.)
Speak My Language and Other Stories edited by Torsten Højer
A truly enormous collection of short stories from a diverse collection of LGBT writers. The stories are eclectic and brilliant, and it's pretty much the essential purchase of 2015 for even the most casual reader of queer fiction.
The collection features too many authors to mention, including Neil Bartlett, Patrick Gale, Paul Magrs, Felice Picano, Lawrence Schimel, Michael Carroll and many others...
Recommended by: Matthew Bright
Blood Storm by Steven Harper
A rousing adventure tale with Norse influences, the ensemble cast features a gay couple who assist a half-troll, an Orc and a former slave as they deal with injustice, sexism, slavery and deadly enemies as they search for the long lost art of the shape, which would allow the half-troll Danr to become fully human.
Recommended by: Traci Castleberry/Evey Brett
From the Lethe vault:
Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas
(Not technically a 2015 release, but ssssssh...) 1932: Fortune and celebrity are years behind Butch Cardinal. Once a world-class wrestler, Cardinal now serves as hired muscle for a second-rate Chicago mobster. While collecting a parcel from a gangland lowlife, Cardinal witnesses the man's murder. Though wounded, he escapes the killers and flees into the night carrying the package. In it is a necklace with a metal pendant. Bent and scratched, the thing looks like a piece of junk, but the trinket is the reason a man died. It's the reason a lot of people will die.
Editor and author Ron Suresha recommends Butcher's Road by Lee Thomas, "a writer who continues to simultaneously shock and charm me with his books. With its compelling plot and memorable characters, this is the one book this year I completed in less than two days."
Recommended by: Ron Suresha.
Just Three Words by Melissa Brayden
Accountant Samantha Ennis craves order and structure. As the bookkeeper at the boutique advertising agency she owns with her three best friends, it’s her job to apply logic to the chaos. When one of those best friends, laid back Hunter Blair, moves in to share her loft apartment, Sam’s carefully organized world is thrown wildly askew.
Nathan 'Burgoine calls it "a great continuation of her romantic trilogy: funny, a bi character, and she's hysterical with dialog. Other than that, the folks above have mentioned most of the authors or books I'd suggest."
Recommended by: 'Nathan Burgoine. Read his full review.
This year we were sad to see the end of Out in Print, a superb website dedicated to reviewing LGBTQ books. We asked the man behind Out in Print, Jerry L. Wheeler, to give us his recommendations for 2015, and he gave us four titles to choose from. (The archives of Out in Print remains online for you search reviews - and we recommend it, because the site is a treasure trove of books...)
Bone Bridge by Yarrott Benz
The harrowing account of teenage brothers, as different as night and day, trapped together in a dramatic medical dilemma-a modern miracle and a modern nightmare. The only case like it in history, the true story unfolds over thirteen years as the two brothers navigate through their enmeshed lives.
Jerry says: "Really absorbing, complex relationship between two brothers linked by health issues. Would you save the life of an abusive brother you hated?
Read the full Out In Print review.
Erebus by Jane Summer
Amalgam of narrative, book-length poem concerning loss, grief, the genre of poetry, and love.
Jerry says: "an emotional poetic collage of art, articles, fact, fiction, and personal connection to the Air New Zealand crash into Mt. Erebus of 1979."
Read the full Out In Print review.
The One That Got Away by Carol Rosenfield
After years of hand-holding demanding brides, b.d. knows what love can do to sane people. Fortified by doses of drag queen wisdom from her boss, Eduardo, b.d. tackles unrequited love and lust, dyke drama, and being in a relationship without having a date for New Year's Eve in this romp about queer life in New York City.
Jerry says: "a brilliant debut from a very funny writer."
Read the full Out In Print review.
(The One That Got Away was *also* recommended by Nathan Burgoine and Ron Suresha. Basically, everyone recommended it. You should probably go read it immediately.)
JD by Mark Merlis
Jonathan Ascher, an acclaimed 1960s radical writer and cultural hero, has been dead for thirty years. When a would-be biographer approaches Ascher’s widow Martha, she delves for the first time into her husband’s papers and all the secrets that come tumbling out of them.
Jerry says: "Merlis's title character is the best part of this book. Merlis manages to make this throwback queer full of self loathing and brooding about incest an interesting read."
Read the full Out In Print review.
Let's be honest, there's a lot of books out there. Perhaps you can blame/credit self-publishing for the boom (delete word choice as applicable depending on your perspective) and love it or loathe it, it's undeniable that paranormal romance is the biggest boom of them all. Blame/credit Twilight, perhaps (again, delete as applicable.) There's everything you can imagine now: shifters, werewolves, vampires, mermaids, fairies, Chuck Tingle. (If you've never discovered Chuck Tingle, go, google, now.) With the end of NaNoWriMo, there's probably several thousand more this very week. Which leads us to this week's question: is there any particular brand of gay paranormal romance that's not been written?
What do you think? Any paranormal romance stories yet to be told? Comment here, or on our facebook page, or tweet us @lethepress and let us know.
It's nearly the weekend, so it's high time for a little fun, don't you think? Every Friday we're posting an excerpt from one of Lethe's erotica anthologies, and this week we're featuring The Bears of Winter, one of the most recent releases from our Bear Bones Books imprints, edited by Jerry L. Wheeler. Collecting together a set of passionate and romantic stories of bears amidst the cold and snow, this collection is perfect for the winter months, and even better, it's just $10 for the paperback all week at the Lethe website.
Read an excerpt from 'Snow on Scrabble Creek' by Jeff Mann, or listen to the audio:
Timmy Kincaid’s cussing and praying as he turns onto the narrow road leading up Scrabble Creek. The February rain that began as he left the bar back in Charleston shifted to snow as he drove Route 60 home along the Kanawha River. Now it’s falling so fast, the road’s barely discernible. “Damn, damn, damn. Thank God for four-wheel drive,” Timmy mutters, patting the old Ford’s console.
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.
Every Thursday, Lethe takes a look through its vaults for its proudest releases. This week it's The Bears of Winter, one of the most recent releases from our Bear Bones Books imprints, edited by Jerry L. Wheeler. Collecting together a set of passionate and romantic stories of bears amidst the cold and snow, this collection is perfect for the winter months, and even better, it's just $10 for the paperback all week at the Lethe website.
Read the story 'The Psychometry of Snow' by 'Nathan Burgoine, or listen to the audio:
Almost everything has a voice.
It’s not what you think. I’ve done my research as much as anyone can. The theories are all right and mostly wrong. There are exceptions, but the joys of life settle far more often than the pain. I’ve touched real history in my travels, and I haven’t heard as many tales of blood and tears as I’d expected.
I have made a life from these voices. It’s an odd one that has forced me to adopt many names to disguise its levels, but it’s mine. I can and do help others understand what those voices say under one of my names, but mostly I use a second name to be a man who digs through random pasts. I have no real specializations, which rankles the academics. They cry I have no way to prove the stories I tell.
“He’s doing pop star history,” the grey-bearded men protest. “It’s entertainment, not archeology.”
Happily, so many lovers of stories enjoy being entertained and don’t care about proof.
My duffel is from World War II, and it’s mostly quiet these days, though the first time I lifted it to my shoulder, I felt the joy of putting it down and spreading my arms to hug a child I’d never even met but could now walk. I set it down just inside the door of my rented cabin and turn around to glance at the falling snow. Unable to help myself, I close the door and step back out into the flurries. I hold out a hand, and small white flecks land on my palm, melting just a second later.
Nothing. I love winter.
I smile and take a deep breath. I haven’t been here in nearly five years, but I love this mountain. It isn’t tall or sloped enough for skiing, but it has two dozen cabins for rental and a beautiful view. People rent the cabins and commute to the ski slopes a half hour away to cut their costs, which means for most of the day I can tell myself the mountain is mine. I rarely venture down to the main buildings, happy enough with the single room, kitchen, small bathroom, and large fireplace.
It’s calm. It’s quiet. No doubt there’ll be voices here, but they won’t be loud and won’t run deep.
I’m about to turn back to head inside when I hear someone come around the path, crunching through the snow.
“You’re not going skiing?”
I turn to the voice. “No, I —”
We break off and stare at each other. He is carrying a tied bundle of firewood in both hands. He wasn’t at the desk when I signed in. If I am honest with myself, I know I would never have missed his eyes, so dark brown his pupils are hard to spot, nor the neatly trimmed red beard he sports, or the way his neck widens into the collar of his coat. Barrel-chested, taller than me, and thick-shouldered, the bearded man is a lug, which is entirely my type. He’s handsome and masculine.
“I know you,” he says, and I’m a little off-balance. No one knows me. I’ve got three names and even if someone knows two of them, they never know the one I was born with. But this time his voice triggers a memory, and I fight off a wave of fear.
“You went to Oneida High, right?” I ask. It has been over a dozen years, and I can’t quite find his name in the gap, especially with the memories so blurred by chemistry.
“F…” He bites off the sound just in time and reddens. I know the name he almost says, and I flinch. How could I have forgotten my fourth name?
He tries again. “Luke, right?”
I feel a little sick. “Yes.”
“I’m Rick Barritt. You lived on the street behind me, I think.”
“You were on the wrestling team,” I say, remembering now. “And football with my brother, Alex?”
He nods, and a smile cuts through his short, neat beard. Despite the sickness in my stomach, I smile back. Another time, another place, and I would be happy to see him smile at me like that. But he knows me as someone I’d rather not have been.
Still, he’s definitely grown into his height.
“What brings you way out here?” he asks.
“Vacation. I came here once for work, and I kind of fell in love with the place.” It’s not entirely a lie, though I’m not sure I can really call it “work” since I didn’t ask for money. I never do when what I find is a body instead of a reunion. I pause. “You?”
“My aunt and uncle own the cabins. I’ve been working with them for two or three years now.” He puts down the load of firewood just beside the front door of my small rented cabin in a wedged-off area obviously designed to hold the logs. “I’m just bringing you wood.”
I try to fight off a snicker, and fail. He frowns. He has great eyebrows, thick and masculine, just like the rest of him, and I see the moment he realizes what he’s said. He smiles and shakes his head, rubbing his gloves along his jeans.
When he straightens, he doesn’t leave. “It’s been a long time. How is Alex?”
“He’s good,” I say. “Married, three kids, all girls. He’s a good dad.”
“And you? You’re doing well?”
I know what he’s really asking. I force a smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not crazy any more.”
He winces. “I didn’t mean …”
I shake my head. “It’s okay. Really. I remember, believe me.”
Rick Barritt regards me for a couple of seconds, like he wants to say more, then apparently decides against it. “Well. If you need anything else, you can call the front desk. If you’re not going to ski, there’s some great snowshoeing on the tree line.”
“I know,” I say. “Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow. It was a long flight.”
Rick nods again, then starts down the shoveled path back to the main buildings. I reopen my cabin door and am about to head inside when he speaks again.
I look up.
“You weren’t crazy.” It’s nice of him to say.
I nod once, then go inside.
It doesn’t take much to bring back thoughts of the time before I had a grip on what was happening. Words and memories chase themselves around in my head for hours before I go to sleep, and even in my dreams I am uncomfortable. Synaesthesia. Hallucinations. Schizophrenia. MRI. Algolia. Perphenazine. Clopamine. Institutionalization.
I’m walking through a street in a hometown I haven’t seen in years, and I’ve already lost my jacket and my shirt. I’m leading myself toward the stone of the statue in front of the courthouse. Words and voices and memories drill into my thoughts when I think about that statue, and it makes some of the other noises in my skull back off for a while. I close my eyes, and consider kissing the statue when I get there, but it’s taller than I am.
Instead, I decide to take off my pants.
I wake up with my hands closed tight and pressed to my chest, fingers aching from the effort of holding them closed. The sun isn’t up, but I know better than to try and get to sleep. I am three hours ahead of the day now and will be chasing the real hours for a day or two until my body catches up.
It’s chilly enough that I spend some time resuscitating the fire from the night before, and then fill the kettle with water and put it on the small stove to boil. I make a whole pot of tea and enjoy my first cup just watching the fire. There’s a striped hand-knitted blanket on the back of the small couch, and I smile when I tug it over my shoulders. Rick’s aunt made it, a way to use up old stashes of wool and add a homey touch to the cabin. Knitting it reminded her of her grandmother, I think, but I don’t press any further, and the blanket falls silent again.
The tea, the cabin, the fire. It’s exactly what I want. I take a deep breath and relax in a way I normally can’t. I’ll make breakfast in a bit, from the bits I brought with me and stuffed into the fridge yesterday without sorting. And I decide that when the sun does come up, I’ll head down to the main building and see about some snowshoes.
The older man at the counter comes out to meet me as I approach.
“You must be Luke,” he says, offering his hand.
I flinch. “Yes.” I’m not used to being recognized. Recognition has never been good.
“I’m Hal. Rick told us about you,” the man says, and I force myself to remain smiling as I shake his hand. I’m pretty sure Rick hasn’t told him much, given that the man isn’t treating me like I might explode or strip at any moment. Looking at him now, I can see a family resemblance in their stature, though I’m fairly sure that this man has never had ginger hair like his nephew, even before it turned white. He has the same dark eyes, however.
“Ah,” I say, out of my depth. I have to clear my throat. “All good, I hope?”
Hal laughs and nods. “He had a good childhood in Oneida. Before his parents.” The man nods at me like I know something I am pretty sure I don’t know. “Well. Years ago. What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping for some snowshoes,” I say. The snow is still falling lazily outside, and my short trek down had provided me with a gorgeous view of the mountain covered with the pristine whiteness. I am all the more excited about the thought of following the trail now that I’ve seen the snow in the daylight.
Hal agrees. “Perfect morning for it. Go ahead around back, right through there.” He gestures at a door at the far end of the large sitting room through an alcove from where we stand at the front desk. “Rick’s out there now. He’ll get you set up.”
“Thanks,” I say.
I find Rick outside, his wide back to me, looking out over the mountain. He holds a mug of coffee still steaming in the cold morning air. I clear my throat, and he turns. Again, he smiles, and again it feels uncomfortable. Why would he smile at me?
“Good morning,” he says. He isn’t wearing a hat now, and I can see the deep red hair that he’d always worn shaved short is even shorter now and greying a bit at his temples. “How’d you sleep?”
“It’s always hard with the time change,” I say, dodging the truth a bit. I am rusty at conversation. I spend most of my time alone.
“You’re still in Ontario?”
I nod. “I live there.”
“That’s right. You said you came here on work. What do you do?”
I hesitate, and he catches it.
“Sorry,” he says. “If you don’t want to…” He doesn’t finish the sentence.
If I didn’t want to what? Small talk? Discuss my job?
“It’s fine,” I say. “Mostly these days I write. I sort of freelance.” This is such a wild misrepresentation that I can feel my face burning.
But Rick smiles. “That sounds good.” He has the darkest eyes, and the years have drawn their first few lines beside their corners. Smile lines.
“I thought I’d give the snowshoe trail a try this morning,” I say, because this former friend of my brother is looking at me, and I’m enjoying looking at him far too much.
Rick puts down his cup. “That’s a great idea. Do you know the trail?”
I don’t. “Uh,” I say.
Rick smiles. “I’ll show you.”
I’m worried about more discussion, but instead Rick lets me set the pace and keeps the silence I obviously prefer. He walks with me, and we follow the tree line for a good twenty minutes. The slope is just pitched enough in places to make it a bit of a workout, but the view is worth it. Higher up the mountain, the valley suddenly appears around a short curve. I step out of the trees and see a beautiful white world below me, edged in rows of green trees and deep below the palest whites of ice and reflected sky in the river.
“Wow,” I say.
“It’s pretty amazing.”
I nod, not turning when I feel Rick move up beside me. He stretches his back, then points off to the left. “See those falls?”
I squint and raise my hand, trying to see where he is pointing, but I don’t find it. After a few seconds, he moves closer behind me and puts one hand on my shoulder, then points again, turning me slightly. The pressure of his hand, even with my coat and his gloves, is palpable. So is his strength.
“Cold?” he asks me.
“No, I’m okay,” I manage. I catch sight of what he was trying to show me. “Oh! There. You can see some steam or something.”
“It’s a natural spring,” Rick says. “Sometimes the falls freeze solid in the middle of winter, but right now they’re just iced over.” He pulls away, and I shiver again, though I don’t think he notices.
It really is like going back in time. At least out here, surrounded by snow, there are no voices.
“Ready to head back?”
I nod. “Sure.”
He pauses just a second, and the weight of it makes me look at him.
“Would you like to have dinner tonight?” he asks.
He laughs, a little scornfully. “Wow. I guess that’s a no.”
“No,” I say, then realize what that sounds like. “I don’t mean no, I mean…” I close my eyes. “Sorry.” I feel sick and a little dizzy. Thank God we’re alone out here, and thank God there is nothing out here with a voice I can’t ignore. I take a deep breath and look at the big man again. “I’m just not sure why.”
It is his turn to stare. “Why what?”
“Why you’d like to have dinner.”
“I thought we could catch up.”
Now I am even more confused. “Rick, you were friends with my brother.” We both know I mean more than what I am saying.
“Fluke…” he says, and then as fast as he can, he says, “Luke. I’m sorry. Luke.” He bites his lip, and his wide shoulders drop.
There it is: my fourth name. Fluke. An entire missed childhood and young adulthood all in one epithet. One insult. I am surprised to find it doesn’t sting nearly as much as it should.
“I’m ready to head back,” I say.
He leads the way.
If I press against the stone of the statue, I can feel the musculature of the horse being carved from solid rock. If I close my eyes, I can see a woman chipping away in a large empty room. When I rub my lips across the stone, I can even smell the smoke from a cigarette that dangles from the lips of this woman. These noises and feelings and smells are so fucking real, and there is a part of me that is desperately trying to tell me they are not. But pressed skin to stone, my eyes closed, reality is hard to understand.
Tiny pinpricks of cold are landing on my back and shoulders. It’s snowing.
I smile. Snow is always real. Then the smile fades, because real isn’t what I’d like. Real is pills and doctors and time in small closed rooms where I seem to get better just long enough to come back to the world and get worse again.
I hear a car, and I wonder if it’s a real car or not right up until I can see the headlights through my eyelids. I open my eyes, but I don’t turn my head.
Snow falls into my exhalations and melts in midair.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been out on the little porch, but the mug of tea I brought with me isn’t steaming anymore. I’ve been catching snowflakes on my fingertips all morning.
I didn’t hear him approach. I jump and turn.
“Sorry!” He raises his hand almost comically. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s fine,” I manage. He has something under his other arm, and when he pulls it forward, I blink in astonishment.
“I wondered if you’d sign this for me.”
I can’t breathe. I step back and bump against the railing.
“Luke,” he says again.
“How…?” I shake my head.
“I read it,” Rick said. He’s still holding out the book.
I catch my breath. “Come on in.”
Inside, I pour out my cold tea and refill the kettle while Rick hangs up his coat and tugs off his boots. When I come back into the room with the teapot and two mugs, he’s sitting on the small couch, and the book is lying on the little table.
“I really hate that cover,” I say.
“It’s a little pink,” Rick says, and I can tell he’s trying to be neutral.
Pink cover, a pile of random stuff that barely had anything to do with the content, red letters in a terrible font. A false name. One word.
“It’s ugly,” I said. “The second printing was much nicer.”
I cross my arms and look up. He’s sitting almost primly, his large hands clasped on his knees. His expression makes me laugh.
“You look so contrite.”
He blushes. It suits him. I try not to look at the dark red hairs that are visible where the top button of his shirt is undone, or the way the shirt is straining across his chest. I fail. I sit down beside him. God he looks good, thick and strong and so comfortable in his skin.
“So you read it,” I say, and to stop myself staring, I nod at the offensively pink book.
He nods. “A few times.”
“And you figured out it was me?”
“Class ring, missing student. You changed the name, the province, a bunch of stuff. But you kept the mascot.” He looks up at me, and I can tell he’s actually a little proud of figuring it out. He’s talking about one of the first chapters. It was the first time I realized what was actually going on with me, between two cycles of medication and one of the few times my mother had put her foot down and overruled my father’s desire to use every chemical option under the sun to make me “better.” I’d almost had my wits about me. Then Bailey Haliburton had packed a bag and gone missing, and her mother had come to our home to talk to my mother because they were friends. Bailey had left behind her class ring. They hadn’t even noticed me walk up while they were talking. I’d picked up the ring, and that ring had spoken to me.
“She swapped it for the ring he gave her.”
Both women had turned to stare at me. Mrs. Haliburton had looked uncomfortable, but my mother’s face was a practiced mask of gentle concern.
“Honey, do you need to lie down?”
“She’s in love with him. He’s tall. He’s native. They like the same plays.” I saw it all unfolding in my head, and even saw the very moment she put the ring on her bed to trade it for the plain band he offered her. It wasn’t as fancy as half the other jewellery in her room, but it made her heart so full. I heard her say “Yes.”
“Oh my God,” Mrs. Haliburton said. “Oh my God.”
They’d caught up with them both after that. Bailey Haliburton’s father had been furious about his daughter running off and marrying someone he felt was “inappropriate.” In the book, I’d avoided using the word “racist” on the advice of my lawyer and editor, and I’d changed all the names and places and every other detail they figured could possibly matter.
None of us had caught my inclusion of a teenager in a giant bird costume.
“Tommo the hawk,” I say. “Who’d’ve thought a stupid bird would out me?”
Rick smiles. “I’m sorry.”
“You talked about what it was like. In high school. When they were putting you on drugs, when everyone called you names…”
“Fluke,” I said. It hadn’t translated for the book under my pseudonym. I can’t actually remember what word they came up with that worked with Simon. Psycho? Sicko? Something like that.
“I’m so sorry.”
I looked at him. Really looked. His dark eyes were open, and I could see the sincerity. I wasn’t sure why in the world… Then I remembered.
“Rick… I was out of my mind. Literally. They had me on so many drugs, I had no idea what to think or do. You and Alex, you both got me home when I was pretty damn messed up…”
“And we made fun of you the entire ride home.”
I can’t help it. I laugh. It surprises him. “Rick, I was wandering around downtown in my underwear in the middle of winter.”
I lean forward. “Seriously, forget it. If you two hadn’t found me, I’d have had another visit with the cops.” I shake my head. “I had quite a few of those, before I got off the meds.”
Rick nods. “Okay.” I don’t think he actually believes there’s nothing to forgive, but it’s the best I’m likely to get. My mother was the same when she finally understood. My father was gone by then, and my brother still doesn’t quite get it.
He rises. “I should go.”
I’m not sure I want him to go, but I can’t quite think of anything to say. He puts on his jacket and boots, and I rise and stand in the door while he leaves. I hold my hand out into the air and catch a few snowflakes, enjoying their silence.
When I head back inside, the book is still on the table.
“Where are his clothes?”
The second voice is my brother’s, but the first is harder to place. I want to keep my eyes on the statue and the snow. I want to press against it and feel my skin touch the cold stone because then the carver woman is there, and she’s louder than everything else. One voice instead of dozens. It’s so much better, even if I’m shivering, and my toes are starting to hurt.
“C’mon, Fluke,” my brother says, and his hand is on my shoulder. He’s not gentle with me, and for a second I think about shaking him off; I’m already losing the voice of the woman who carved the statue, but his grip is too tight, and he pulls me back and down from the stone pedestal.
I lose the carver, and the rest of the world rises up in its usual chorus. I press my hands against my ears, but it doesn’t help. The voices aren’t from outside.
My brother gives me a shake. I try really hard, and make my hands move away from my ears. I listen as hard as I can to what he’s saying, and I try to ignore everything else.
“Where’s your pants? Your coat?”
I shake my head.
“Dude, he’s gotta be freezing.” I look at the other guy with Alex, and I can almost recognize him. He’s got red hair, and he’s taller and bigger than even my brother.
“I know,” Alex says. “He has to go in the back seat. He tries to grab the wheel sometimes.”
“I’ll sit with him.”
My brother’s hand is tight on my arm again. As he leads me to the back of his car, I try to say goodbye to the stone carver, but my brother tells me to be quiet, and that I’m coming with him.
They never understand who I’m talking to.
I’ve just caught a few snowflakes when he comes around the corner with more wood.
“You like to do that, don’t you?” he asks.
“Snowflakes are very quiet.” I smile at him, and I think of his copy of Psychometry and how often it looks to have been read. He knows what I mean.
He unloads the lumber onto my porch and wipes his hands across his jeans. His smile is almost lost in his beard. “And I guess they don’t last.”
I smile back. “They’re my favorite. Rain is good, but snow… I don’t know. It’s better.”
“Is it everything? Always?” he asks.
I look at him a long while, and I think we’re both wondering if I’m going to answer right up until I speak. “Yes and no. Everything has a voice, but sometimes there’s not much to say. It needs to matter to someone, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s not exactly purposeful, but there’s intent in a way.” This is the distilled version that I have used on my investigator friends and the rare police I have worked with.
Unlike them, Rick nods. “Like Bailey’s ring.”
“Yeah. I don’t have to listen if I don’t want to,” I add, because he knew me back when I didn’t know how not to hear everything at once.
He waits a moment, and holds out his own hand, catching some snow on his fingers. His hands look rougher than mine.
“About dinner?” I ask.
He turns. One eyebrow creeps up, and I see the smile lines beside his eyes. “Yes?” The deep rumble in his voice makes me shiver again.
“Did we skip the whole coming out to each other thing, or did I miss it?” I can feel my face burning.
“You missed mine,” Rick says. “But you told me you liked me quite a while back. I’m just running on the assumption that things haven’t changed, because that’s a good scenario for me.”
“I told you I liked you?” I try to remember, and I’m afraid I know when it was.
He confirms. “You were wearing little blue briefs at the time. It was memorable for me.”
I flinch. “The horse statue?”
He laughs. “Was it a horse? I was having a really hard time not staring at you in front of your brother and pretending everything was cool.”
“As I recall, it was freezing.”
He nods. We stand in a silence that is comfortable.
“Do you like steak?” he asks.
“Can you crank the heat? He’s really cold.” The red-haired guy beside me in the backseat unzips his jacket and holds it out to me. My teeth are chattering, but I don’t want to touch his jacket. I can already hear it humming and whispering. It wants to tell me something.
“It takes a second,” Alex says from the driver’s seat. Then he sighs. “I need to get him back in the house without my parents seeing him. They’ll flip out if they know he snuck out again.”
“Here,” the guy is saying, and now that the car is moving, it’s a bit easier to ignore everything else as the voices drop away behind us.
I look at his coat. “It’s too loud.”
“Fluke,” Alex’s warns. “Don’t be a jackass.”
“It’s okay,” the guy beside me says. His eyes are really dark. I touch his jacket and flinch.
“It’s hard to hide in a uniform all the time,” I tell him. He looks startled. I put the jacket on slowly, because it turns out that it’s the good kind of loud. It feels warm against my skin. “You’re not ugly,” I tell him.
From the front seat, my brother sighs. “Just ignore him.”
It takes me some time to get the jacket on, but when I do I tilt my head to listen as hard as I can. “It’s like a costume. For an actor.” I look at the brown and white bird on the front of the jacket, and I think of the same jacket on my brother. His jacket doesn’t talk like this. I look at the guy beside me, and he’s watching me intently. He’s a big guy, the kind of guy that most of the time I think I should be afraid of, but there’s a softness to him that makes me think he’d rather use his size to protect someone.
“We’re halfway home,” Alex says, turning a corner. I rub my temples a little with my cold fingers and lean back on the seat, closing my eyes. My hands drop. I’m so tired, and it’s nice to be warm.
“You’re not ugly,” I say it again, because the jacket is insisting the opposite, and it’s just wrong. “You’re strong and you’re nice and you don’t have to act forever.” I open my eyes just a bit and look at the man. “I really like your eyes. You’re handsome.”
“Okay, Fluke,” Alex’s voice is rising. “Enough.” He’s embarrassed. “He doesn’t really know everything he’s saying. He doesn’t mean to sound so faggy.”
“It’s okay.” The voice of the guy beside me is quieter than before.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I can keep secrets.”
I close my eyes again. I’m so tired. The voice in the jacket finally falls quiet. I sleep.
Rick brings the makings of dinner to my cabin — a bottle of wine, the steaks, and baked potatoes with all the trimmings.
“Are there more people coming?” I ask looking at the thick cuts of steak, but he just smiles at me.
“You could use a few good meals.”
He cooks on the small stove and grill of my rented cabin with an easy grace that I envy. I shouldn’t be surprised. What bear doesn’t know his way around a grill? The third time he catches me staring and smiling, he asks what I’m thinking and I say so.
“Woof,” he says, and when I laugh, a part of me completely relaxes for the first time in years.
We drink the wine, and eat the meal, and I eventually hand him back his copy of Psychometry with Simon’s name inscribed inside it.
“This is the only signed copy. You could probably get good money for that online,” I joke.
He shakes his head. “It’s a keeper.”
Outside, it has begun to snow again. Rick asks me about my jobs and for the first time in my life, I tell someone what I do for a living without euphemism or omission. I tell him what it was like when I touched Hadrian’s Wall and heard the voices of Roman soldiers, and that leads to more stories of the places I have been. He listens, and I realize how incredible it is to have that luxury. Even though it is cold, we go outside, and I catch a few snowflakes on my hand. Rick scoops up some of the snow and starts to pack it into a snowball, and I give him a wary look.
“Trust me,” he says.
He doesn’t throw it. He closes his eyes, and presses his hands against the snow, shaping it. He turns it over in his hands, and I watch his rough fingers work, and feel my skin shiver when I imagine those rough hands touching my skin. Arms like Rick’s would make you feel safe, if you were in them.
He doesn’t complain about the cold, and he works the snowball back and forth, alternating his hands, twisting and compacting. I watch, not sure of what he’s doing.
Finally, he looks at me. He holds it out, and I realize.
I open my hand, and he puts the snowball in my open palm.
“I’m going to go get him some pants and shoes and a shirt,” Alex says. “I’ll bring it back out, and then we can get him dressed and get him inside.” He scowls. “You okay to stay with him for a second?”
“Sure,” Rick says. “Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
Alex shakes his head. “It’s not. It’s all the fucking time.” But he gets out of the car and closes it as quietly as he can, and then heading off down the street toward his house.
Rick looks at Alex’s brother. Fluke is still fast asleep, burrowed up in Rick’s jacket. He’s cute. The thought comes faster than he can stop it, but this time the shame doesn’t show up on its heels.
“I won’t have to act forever, eh?” Rick says to the sleeping kid.
Every morning when he puts on his jacket, Rick thinks of it as a costume, thinks of himself as an actor playing a role. Hearing Fluke say that back to him was pretty intense. Rick swallows.
You’re not ugly. You’re strong and you’re nice and you don’t have to act forever.
Rick feels tears spring to his eyes, and he wipes them with his thumb. “Jesus,” he says.
I really like your eyes. You’re handsome.
Rick leans over and kisses Fluke’s forehead. Fluke doesn’t wake.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” he says, then waits for Alex to get back.
The snowball melts.
I touch my forehead.
This month at Lethe sees the release of For Want Of A Horse, edited by Evey Brett, collecting together twenty-three tales of "supernatural stallions, magical mares and paranormal ponies" handpicked by queen of the genre Evey Brett, this collection features stories both old and new.
On Tuesday we gave you an excerpt from 'Red Dust and Dancing Horses' by Beth Cato. Today, you can read an excerpt from 'Rafael' by Evey Brett herself:
I'd always been more sensitive to the presence of others than the average man, which meant large cities with their stifling crowds, often at all hours, left me anxious. Rome I discovered to be one of the most difficult: by the time my taxi pulled up in front of the hotel, I was nearly blind with a migraine. When I stepped out into the air, tainted with vehicle fumes, I had to lean against the taxi until the dizziness subsided.
“Si sente bene, Padre?”
It wasn’t the driver who’d spoken, but a policeman mounted on a handsome bay mare. Concern radiated from him, which didn’t help my poor head, but after so many years in the priesthood, I’d learned how to wear a serene expression no matter the circumstances. “Sto bene, grazie.” That was the extent of pure Italian I could speak, though since my native tongue was Catalan and I had studied Latin since I could read, I understood a good deal of the city’s babble.
The horse nudged my shoulder with her nose and let out a soft snort, as if she knew I was lying. I stroked her soft muzzle, calmed by her gentle presence. The throbbing in my head eased just enough to be bearable.
“Buon giorno,” the policeman said and directed his horse through the crowd. By then the driver had fetched my bag, which he handed off to a waiting porter. After a few deep breaths, I was able to steady myself and take stock of my new surroundings. The hotel’s façade seemed to glorify the city’s history, with stone lions flanking the columns and a gigantic fountain showing a mural of Bacchus in the midst of a wine-fueled orgy. I thought it a work of art, but Generalissimo Franco would have deemed the scene morally reprehensible and had it destroyed.
But this wasn’t Spain, and for a little while, at least, I didn’t have to worry about internment or being killed if I did or said the wrong thing. My greatest worry now was being able to cope with the crowds while not revealing my affliction.
I followed the porter into a lobby buzzing with guests, mustachioed men and women in lurid dresses and tall bouffant hairstyles. It took all of my effort to keep from being overwhelmed by the intensity of their thoughts and emotions, which transformed my headache into a sensation akin to ice picks driving through my skull.
Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes, wishing I’d been able to find an excuse to keep from attending a conference on alternative healing, but my superior had insisted. “You spend so much time alone, Rafael. Besides, with your dedication to your patients, there’s no one better to represent us.”
The irony was that I was interested in all aspects of healing, though much of it was because I was desperate to ease the pain of others and thus spare myself. So when the Salesian Pontifical University had offered to sponsor a Spanish candidate, I’d been sent. And while it was a relief to be free of Spain’s dictatorship, however briefly, I couldn’t risk letting my guard down.
The porter led me to the registration desk. A few minutes later I had a key and a room which, the attendant assured me, had an excellent view of Olympic stadium built three years before in 1960. She gestured down the hall. “The conference is to your left and through the double doors. You can’t miss it.”
The porter held up my bag. “I’ll put this in your room and see that everything’s perfect.”
“Thank you.” I handed him a tip and caught a flash of pleasure as he grinned and departed.
The foyer was crowded with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and practitioners of every sort of healing including energetic, herbal and spiritual. I checked in at the welcome desk, picked up my name tag which dangled from a lanyard, then wandered around to get my bearings, exchanging nods with a few Vatican priests. Cigarette smoke drifted through the air, increasing my malaise.
I was about to head toward the elevators when my skin tingled. Something uncomfortable, something akin to electricity. The sensation traveled through my body, lodging there and filling me with sickening unease. I lost what little control I had. Emotions tumbled into my mind, nauseating with their intensity. I struggled against my rising terror. There was evil in this place. Someone—something—was filled with an insatiable hunger all too similar to that which I’d gleaned from many of the soldiers and politicians in Spain.
Frightened, I looked around. No one else seemed to have noticed anything amiss. Priests, doctors, laymen—there were so many people present that I couldn’t tell from where the vileness emanated. My first impulsive thought was that someone had followed me from Barcelona, intent on exposing me. Then I caught hold of myself. There was no reason for them to tail me. I’d been careful to keep my secret.
For Want Of A Horse is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
This week we put our five questions to For Want Of A Horse editor Evey Brett.
For Want Of A Horse is out now from Lethe Press. Check it out.
This month at Lethe sees the release of For Want Of A Horse, edited by Evey Brett, collecting together twenty-three tales of "supernatural stallions, magical mares and paranormal ponies" handpicked by queen of the genre Evey Brett, this collection features stories both old and new.
Read an excerpt from 'Red Dust and Dancing Horses' by Beth Cato:
No horses existed on Mars. Nara could change that.
She stared out the thick-paned window. Tinted dirt sprawled to a horizon, mesas and rock-lipped craters cutting the mottled sky. It almost looked like a scene from somewhere out of the Old West on Earth, like in the two-dimensional movies she studied on her tablet. Mama thought that 20th-century films were the ultimate brain-rotting waste of time, so Nara made sure to see at least two a week. Silver, Trigger, Buttermilk, Rex, Champion—she knew them all. She had spent months picturing just how their hooves would sink into that soft dirt, how their manes would lash in the wind. How her feet needed to rest in the stirrups, heels down, and how the hot curve of a muzzle would fit between her cupped hands.
The terraforming process had come a long way in the two hundred years since mechs established the Martian colonies. Nara didn’t need a pressure suit to walk outside, but in her lifetime she’d never breathe on her own outside of her house or the Corcoran Dome. There would never be real horses here, not for hundreds of years, if ever. But a mechanical horse could find its way home in a dust storm, or handle the boggy sand without breaking a leg. She could ride it. Explore. It would be better than nothing. Her forehead bumped against the glass. But to have a real horse with hot skin and silky mane…
“Nara, you’re moping again.” Mama held a monitor to each window, following the seal along the glass. “No matter how long you stare out the window and sulk, we can’t afford to fly you back to Earth just to see horses. They’re hard to find as it is. Besides, you know what happened when that simulator came through last year.”
Yeah. Each Martian-borne eleven-year-old child had sat in a booth strung with wires and sensors so that they could feel the patter of rain and touch the flaking dryness of eucalyptus bark. Nara smelled the dankness of fertile earth for the very first time. She threw up. The administrators listed her as a category five Martian, needing the longest quarantine time to acclimate to Earth, if she ever made the trip.
“Blast it, another inner seal is weakening,” Mama muttered, moving to the next window.
The dull clang of metal echoed down the hall, followed by the soft whir of Papa’s mechs. Papa would understand. He would listen.
Her feet tapped down the long tunnel to his workshop. Nara rubbed the rounded edge of the tablet tucked at her waist. Sand pattered against the walls as the wind whistled a familiar melody.
The workshop stood twice as big as the rest of the household, echoing with constantly-clicking gears. The grey dome bowed overhead, the skylight windows showing only red. Papa’s legs stuck out from beneath the belly of a mining cart, his server mechs humming as they dismantled the plating on a small trolley alongside him. The workshop was half empty. The basalt mine had received a new load of equipment just two weeks before, and as Papa described it, he’d have a lull before everything decided to break again. Judging by the lack of dents on this cart, the lull was already over.
“Hey, girly. Hand me the tenner,” Papa said, a hand thrusting through a gap in the chassis. Nara passed him the tool. “What’re you up to?”
“Nothing.” Nara slipped open the tablet, expanding the screen with a tug of her fingers. After a few taps, she accessed the data she wanted: the anatomy of the horse. Her fingers flicked up, removing the layer of skin, then the muscles, leaving the bones. One of the nearby mechs bowed, his knees fluid and graceful as he picked up a tire and conveyed it to a stack on the far side. Nara squinted, looking between the mech and the screen.
“You’re never up to nothing,” Papa said. “Did Mama kick you out of the house?”
“Not yet. I was wondering something, actually. Think I could use the extra space you have in here to make a project?”
Wheels whined as Papa pushed himself out. “What sort of project?” Grey and red smudges framed the skin around his goggles.
Nara held up the tablet, projecting the images out six inches. Papa chuckled low. “Why am I not surprised?” he asked. “You want to build a horse?”
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