What was your “first time” like? (from Memorizing You By Dan Skinner)

my“You  guys  have  a  fun  night!”  his  mom  called  after  us  as  I  followed  him   across  the  field.

“What  kind  of  surprise?”   I  said,  straining  to  see  ahead  in  through  the   encroaching  twilight.  Just  barely  viewable  halfway  across,  I  made  out  a  shape   that  looked  like…a  tent.  A  campsite.  A  ring  of  rocks  with  a  small  fire  burning  in   it.  A  stack  of  wood  next  to  it.

“What  the  hey?”  I  was  amused  by  the  idea.  Reading  scary  stories  by  a   campfire.

“I  thought  you’d  like  that,”  he  said,  running  ahead  of  me  toward  the  tent.

I  ran  to  catch  up  and  was  surprised  that  it  was  a  good  sized  tent  with  a   lantern,  a  stash  of  graham  crackers,  marshmallows  and  chocolate  for  s’mores,  a   couple  of  thermos  of  grape  Kool-­‐‑Aid,  some  pretzels,  and  chips.

The  fire  had  been  started  earlier  and  had  dwindled  down.  Ryan  threw  two   more  small  logs  on  it  to  rekindle  it.

“There’s  gonna  be  a  full  moon  tonight.  That’ll  make  it  even  better.”  The  guy   was  something  else.  Who  would  have  thought  of  turning  a  study  time  of  Edgar   Allan  Poe  into  a  campfire  side  story?

Darkness  fell  fast,  and  from  where  we  were  situated  we  couldn’t  even  see   the  lights  of  his  house.  Only  our  campsite  and  the   canopy   of  stars  in  the   cloudless  night.  We  pulled  the  sleeping  bags  from  the  tent  around  the  fire,  and   propped  the  lantern  on  the  outside  of  the  tent.

I  started  with  The  Facts  in  the  Case  of  M.  Valdemar.  The  story  of  a  dying  man   being  hypnotized  and  still  able  to  communicate  after  he  was  dead.  Ryan  listened   intently,  only  breaking  the  discourse  when  he  didn’t  understand  the  meaning  of   a  word.

Next  I  read  The  Fall  of  The  House  of  Usher,  then,  The  Masque  of  Red   Death,  and  finally,  The  Tell-­‐‑Tale  Heart.

Ryan  looked  at  me  after  the  last  sentence  and  said,  “Wow,  that  Poe  was  one   sick  puppy.  He  shoulda  been  in  a  home.”

“Yes,  but  he  was  probably  a  greater  influence  to  the  modern  writers  of   horror  and  suspense  than  any  other  writer.  He  was  more  readable  than  the   others.  The  terror  was  more  realistic.  That’s  why  he’s  so  important.”

In  the  flames  of  the  fire  I  could  see  he  was  looking  at  me  with  what   appeared,  to  my  eyes,  to  be  admiration.

“How  do  you  know  all  of  this  stuff?”  he  asked.  “Are  you  like  some  whiz-­‐‑kid   genius?”

“I  just  like  to  read,”  I  answered.  “Never  made  a  lot  of  friends;  wasn’t  good  at   sports  much.  So,  I  read.”

“Well,  good  for  me,”  he  said.  “I  get  a  tutor  and  a  running  buddy  all  rolled   into  one.”

He  made  s’mores  and  we  ate  them  watching  the  full  moon  rise  high  in  the   starry  night.  There  was  no  doubt  he  was  a  true  nature  boy.  He  loved  everything   about  being  outdoors.  He  sat  bow-­‐‑legged  in  the  semi-­‐‑darkness  listening  to  the   sounds  of  the  night  like  they  were  a  song  being  sung  for  him.

I  cannot  lie.  I  was  captivated  by  his  raw  beauty.  His  blue  eyes  shone  in  the   lunar  light.  The  curve  of  his  head  with  its  close-­‐‑cropped  blond  hair  made  me   think  of  an  imposing  Roman  statue  of  a  conquering  hero.  The  masculine   inclination  of  his  nose  from  a  square  forehead,  the  slope  of  cheekbone  to  a  strong   block  of  chin,  both  alluring  and  majestic.

“Such  a  beautiful  night,”  he  commented,  his  eyes  still  fixed  on  the  moon.   “People  lose  sight  of  how  beautiful  the  world  is  that  we  live  in  by  sitting  in  front   of  the  boob  tube  every  night.”

I  stared  at  the  curve  of  his  back,  the  full  bicep  as  he  raised  his  s’more  and  ate.   The  blond  hair  on  his  legs  gleamed  in  the  duo  of  light.

He  turned  to  look  at  me,  orange  embers  catching  his  face  again.  “Where  do   you  plan  to  go  after  high  school?  Which  college?”

I  explained  to  him  how  it  was  unlikely  I’d  be  able  to  attend  any  college.  Our   family  didn’t  have  the  finances.  That  I’d  probably  decide  on  a  trade  and  go  to  a   school  for  that.

“You  already  have  a  trade  that’s  making  money.  Why  not  just  build  on   that?”

“You  mean,  mowing  lawns?”  I’d  never  thought  of  it  as  anything  but  a  school   boy’s  way  of  making  cash.  Not  a  lifetime  profession.

“Why  not?  Everybody  needs  their  lawns  mowed.  There’s  apartment   complexes  and  office  buildings;  all  kinds  of  places  that  would  probably  pay   regularly  to  have  their  lawns  mowed.  You  just  get  more  clients,  hire  more  high   school  guys  who  want  to  make  extra  cash,  and  build  the  business  up  as  big  as   you  can.”  He  looked  back  up  at  the  moon.  “You  make  your  own  mulch,  sell  that   service;  do  shrubbery  trimming.  There’s  all  kinds  of  ways  to  make  money  with   that  stuff.”

Looking  back  now  on  how  easily  someone’s  words  would  end  up  shaping   the  course  of  my  life,  you’d  wonder  about  things  like  providence.  Retiring  after   forty  years  of  a  very  successful  lawn  care  business,  made  these  moments  shine   like  fate  was  a  gold  lamp  lighting  the  way.

The  moon  was  waning  when  we  carried  our  sleeping  bags  back  into  the  tent,   turned  off  the  lantern  and  listened  to  the  sounds  of  the  night.  My  mind  raced   with  uncoordinated  thoughts,  lying  so  close  to  him.  It  was  exciting  and   frightening.  But  I’d  not  make  a  fool  of  myself.  I  saw  what  it  looked  like  to  be  on   the  other  end  of  someone  who  doesn’t  feel  the  same  way.  The  image  of  Rosemary’s  face  was  always  there  to  remind  me.

“So  what  was  your  first  time  like?”  His  voice  came  from  the  shadows,   backlit  by  an  expiring  campfire.   It  was  odd  that  he  should  ask  that  as  I  remembered  the  pained  expression  of   the  girl  I  rejected.  “It’s  not  worth  talking  about,”  I  said  after  a  long  pause.

“That’s  why  you  were  running  that  first  day  I  saw  you,  isn’t  it?  That’s  why   you  were  angry.”

I  debated  whether  I  wanted  to  answer  it,  and  then  gave  in.  Maybe  I  would   learn  courage  from  him.  “Yeah.  I  hurt  someone  I  didn’t  mean  to  hurt.”

I  heard  him  shift.  His  profile  disappeared  as  he  turned  to  look  at  me.  He  was   in  darkness.  I  couldn’t  even  see  his  eyes.

“How?”

I  tried  to  think  of  some  way  to  answer  that  question  that  didn’t  make  me   look  worse  than  I  felt  I  was.  “I  made  someone  believe  I  was  interested  in  them   when  I  wasn’t.  I…was  using  them.”

“Why?”   I  didn’t  want  to  explain  it.

I  didn’t  want  to  touch  the  subject  at  all.   “It’s  complicated.”

His  sigh  was  prolonged.  “Ah.  My  most  popular  answer  when  my  folks  ask     me  why  I’m  not  dating.”

So  many  moments  passed  I  thought  he’d  fallen  asleep.  I  could  hear  his   breathing.  The  night  sounds.  The  last  crackles  of  the  embers  in  the  campfire.

“It’s  hard  to  want  to  fit  in  and  not  be  able  to,”  his  voice  came  barely  above  a   whisper.  “They  make  us  feel  like  it’s  easier  to  lie  than  be  truthful.  Easier  to  hide   than  be  seen.  Make  us  feel  like  we  did  something  wrong  to  not  be  like  them.  Like   we  made  a  conscious  choice.”

It  seemed  I  was  breaking  down  inside.  It  wasn’t  out  of  self-­‐‑pity,  but  out  of  the  realization  of  the  helplessness  of  the  situation.  My  throat  was  stifling  me,  but   I  found  a  voice.  Small  as  it  was.  “I  didn’t  choose  it,”  I  said.  “It  was  just  there  one   day.”

I  couldn’t  believe  I’d  made  the  admission  to  him.  As  the  words  came  out  of   me,  I  felt  anchors  fall  away.  I  could  breathe  again.  I  could  sense  coolness  in  the   night  air  again.

I  heard  him  laugh.  “Sort  of  like  Mozart  when  he  could  play  the  piano  at   seven?”

I  could  feel  the  smile  curve  my  lips.  “More  like  Rudolf  having  a  red  nose.   How  the  hell  did  that  get  there?”

He  snickered  into  his  hands.  “So  true,”  he  snorted.  “They  think  it’s   like  we  chose  a  jacket  to  wear.”

It  was  astonishing  how  much  freer  I  felt  having  admitted  my  secret  to  him.   When  we  settled  down  from  laughing  at  ourselves,  the  silence  pressed  on  us   again.

“You  have  to  apologize  to  your  friend,”  he  told  me.  “You  can’t  let  her  go  on   thinking  it  was  something  she  did.  She’ll  carry  that  forever.”

I  knew  he  was  right.  I  hoped  I  got  the  opportunity  to  do  that.  It  wasn’t   something  I  wanted  to  carry  with  myself  either.  I  lay  there  listening  to  his  light   snoring  for  an  hour.  I  wanted  to  absorb  every  moment  of  this  night.  I  knew  it   was  special.  I  wanted  to  keep  it  locked  away  inside  me  forever  just  the  way  it   was.  When  I  closed  my  eyes  to  sleep,  I  thought  of  how  he’d  glowed  like  a  jewel   in  the  light  of  the  campfire.  The  way  the  flames  carved  him  against  the  darkness.   The  very  shape  of  his  head.  The  smudges  of  chocolate  and  marshmallows  on  his   fingers  and  lips.  How  the  hair  on  his  legs  looked  like  filaments  of  gold.  When  I   was  certain  my  heart  had  painted  the  canvas  in  my  memory…I  fell  asleep.

Memorizing You By Dan Skinner : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DUXS4Z2

 

 

Is there a SUPERHUMAN inside us?

dna2It was no surprise that by the age of nine Robert Lindell Seuthers had a large menagerie rivaling the best zoos. It functioned as a sanctuary on his mother’s sprawling almost 700-acre Maine estate—a veritable landlocked Noah’s Ark. There were videos online of the young boy overseeing the building of the facilities that would be home to over a hundred animals. There were dozens of clips of him giving tours to children from nearby hospitals. He’d established a love of nature at an early age. It wasn’t just a study to him; it was a part of his everyday life. By the time the mini-zoo was completed, Seuthers was thirteen.

In his restlessness, Geoff pulled up several web links on his phone to study his newfound hero. He lingered over the face of the fragile-looking nine-year-old boy with the highly inquisitive eyes. He wondered what it felt like to live inside the head of someone so brilliant. Was there ever a time when he had the real innocence of a child, or did his strange wisdom rob him of the simple joys in his formative years? Was he always a small body waiting to catch up with an adult mind?

Whatever the differences there may have been, it didn’t show on the young countenance surrounded by his animals. He not only delighted in their presence, he loved them all, and it showed. Thinking him someone who would have a zoo/sanctuary solely for entertainment was an underestimation of his intelligence. Seuthers studied everything.

Analyzing him was like following a trail of video breadcrumbs. His entire life: thoughts, accomplishments, amusements, and beliefs were a matter of public record. Video record. If Geoff had a question about him, it was simply a matter of finding the video that held the answer. There were hundreds of them. His fans had tried to organize and archive them by subject matter or age. But the undertaking wasn’t yet complete. His following was immense, comparable to that of a rock star. All one had to do to learn how people of all ages revered him was to scroll through the endless comments beneath each video. Geoff had never seen a genius fan club, but he could understand it with this particular man. He was fascinating.

He was intrigued by the sanctuary and began clicking through the videos archived under that label. He stumbled on one that didn’t just chronicle the animals or new building additions. It was the eighteen-year-old Seuthers conducting a tour of college-age biology students through the facility. They followed him with the starry-eyed look of true admirers. Here was one of their own —already a billionaire inventor. To broke, Ramen-eating college students, he was their rock star.

“It’s an absurd vanity for man to believe he is the capstone of evolution. We live in mere increments of some eighty years and assume that our vision encompasses the dead end of a process of adaptation that takes hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of years. Evolution is a slow and microscopic tinkerer. It’s not something we can witness in a short spectrum of observation. It’s pure, unadulterated arrogance to think that we’ve stopped evolving, that we cannot become something different or greater than what we are at present. We are constantly adapting.” He turned to look at the small gathering of students. “Does anyone know how we can prove that to be true on a small scale which we can see right this very instant?”

Heads turned, eyes all looking at each other, but no raise of hands.

He took a lip balm from his pocket, uncapped it, and smoothed it over his lips. “Chapped lips. We discovered that if we continually use a lip balm, our lips begin assuming they have enough moisture and thus, stop manufacturing it. We get addicted to lip balm because our lips have adapted to our use of it. The only way we can actually un-chap our lips is to quit using it.” He capped it and returned the lip balm to his pocket. “The same can be said of eye drops and nasal spray. The body is continuously in various stages of adaptation to our environment. We discovered that truth years ago with antibiotic use. If we take one particular antibiotic too often, our body acclimates itself to it and it is no longer effective. That’s how we learned to rotate antibiotics in serious illnesses. The truth is, in evolutionary terms, we’re an unfinished blueprint. We still have no idea where our DNA will take us over time, but this—” He made an exaggerated gesture encompassing his whole torso, “is not a finished product by any means.”

He walked them to the small wooded area where two gray wolves slept. “This is Romy and Abe. They are gray wolves. Most of you know wolves have a sense of smell one hundred times more sensitive than humans do. They can sniff out another animal from almost two miles away. It’s not only the way they locate prey, but their highly developed defense mechanism to detect predators.” He turned back to his audience. “Let’s just suppose some things for a moment, because I’m one of those weirdoes who likes to ponder the ‘what if’s in life. Let’s cast an eye on one of the rules of natural selection. The very heart of it, in fact: the survival of the species. Competition for survival is the same with all life in that the creatures with the most advantageous traits are more likely to survive. Each species, like our gray wolves with their highly evolved sense of smell, have their own unique defense mechanisms because of their position in the food chain. The species above and below them on this chain of dominance would all possess their own brand of defense, whether sight, claws, teeth, or size. These traits maintain what we know as a natural balance.” He held up a finger. “Now, we know our position in this food chain and why we’re there. Intelligence. We’ve been able to out-think and out-smart to secure our dominance by creating external defenses: guns, bows and arrows, traps, et cetera. But,” he smiled coyly. “What would happen if that balance were upset? What if there was a failure of technology and man was thrown back into the wild without his weapons and forced to rely on nothing but his wiles? Would evolution change the way we continued to develop? Give us the same mechanisms as other species to allow us to compete with nature and maintain our dominance? Could we possibly acquire the same sense of smell as these wolves? If so, how would that change us? A human with the capability to smell both predator and prey from two miles away?”

“It’d definitely be hard to sneak up on someone,” one of the students offered.
“Practically impossible,” Seuthers agreed. “Boggles the imagination to consider what mankind could be and do because of one sense evolving to a higher state. It changes almost everything. But let us take this game of evolutionary what if a few steps further. Each creature, as I said, has its own brand of defense mechanism: for example, the gazelle has its speed, the armadillo, its armor, the snake its venomous fangs, the chameleon can blend into its background, the seemingly innocuous opossum: the ability to see in the dark.” He walked them to a nearby gulley where two porcupines were munching on a discarded pumpkin. “The quills of the porcupine. Harmless little creature until you try to grab or bite the thing.”

The video panned the faces of the students. They were entranced by the young, now handsome genius and his mental challenges.

“What if man were in a position where he needed these protective devices? A skin like armor, immense speed, the ability to make ourselves unseen to the enemy, the ability to see in the dark? How different would our society be if man had any or all of these?”

“He’d be Batman!” one young man shouted out jokingly.

Seuthers smiled. “Batman is a human who uses weapons. That makes him ordinary. We’re talking Superman territory. Built-in or innate traits that elevate man to a higher degree of invincibility than the ordinary flesh and blood human.”

“A superhero!” “A superhuman. A hero is made so by his or her deeds. Humans are made by genes. The possibilities are infinite. The underlying question is this: if technology were to fail us, say an enormous sunspot were to erupt and EMP us into the dark ages, how would you fend for yourself? How would you shelter and protect yourself? How would you safeguard yourself when the civilized part of civilization was lost? That is a frightening question because mankind as a whole has become dependent on external means to maintain his superiority. We’re no longer creatures savvy to the wild. We’re weak and lazy, and for the most part very unintelligent in spite of ourselves. We have no survival skills. We depend on others to bring our food to us and put it in stores for us to buy and cook. We depend on automobiles and planes and trains to get us to our destinations. How many of us could walk on foot across the city we live in?”

“I don’t even like walking up the stairs to the museum,” a young female voice piped in. “Exactly,” Seuthers said. “The possibility that there could come a time when man would need to continue his evolutionary adaptation may be more real than any of us think. It’s time for us to quit believing that we are the crowning achievement of evolution and realize it would only take one cataclysmic disaster to throw us back onto the bottom rung in nature to start all over again. It wouldn’t take long for us to discover who could survive by adapting.”
At the end of the video, Geoff sat silently, contemplating what he’d just heard. He touched the hairs on his arm thoughtfully. Two words remained with him: “Unfinished blueprint.”

an excerpt from the novel XPERIMENT by Dan Skinner: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2

dna2

 

The Fantasy of a Young artist-boy

daveskinnydipperHe recognized the McHenrys’ truck by the particular chug-chug-clunk sound of its motor. His heart did a song and dance knowing what the sound of that vehicle meant. Either Rory or Dale or both of them had come to cool themselves off in the pond. Even the thought of the teenager brought the now welcome stiffness to his pajama pants.

He listened for a few minutes. The sound of only one truck door opening and slamming. He rose and knelt in front of his window to peer between the silo and the line of oaks that blocked the view of the road and field where the truck was parked. He could see the single darting beam of a flashlight making its way toward the pond. The figure was still too far away to tell who it was, and his heartbeat choked him in anticipation. Fireflies danced like miniature amber lanterns in the deep blue night. The singing insects of summer were alive with a new song, masking the crunch of footfalls on dry grass. Zac picked up the miniature binoculars and held them in front of his eyes, focusing until he found the dark figure moving toward the pond. At last he was beyond the trees moving toward the silo. He was tall. Long, light hair swayed at his shoulders beneath a cowboy hat. Rory. His breath caught.

Once he passed the silo Zac could see him clearly. He had the flashlight in one hand and a bottle of either beer or soda in the other. He paused at the edge of the pond and sat the two things he carried on the ground. He peeled himself out of his pullover T. He kicked off his shoes, removed his socks, rolled them in a ball and stuffed them inside one of the shoes. Zac’s pulse was thick in his throat as he watched him unsnap and unzip his jeans and slip out of them. His naked body glowed like blue marble in the warm moonlight. Even deep in shadow his stature was like a work of art. It was because of the sublime perfection of men like this that songs were written, legends born, dreams fulfilled or hearts broken. Beauty, not blood made princes of this sort.

Zac was breathing so heavily it fogged the lenses of the small binoculars. He looked down the edge of bushes that separated the pond from the Weston backyard. Sheets were still strung on a clothesline waving in the light breeze. Down there was where he needed to be. He pushed his feet into his soft slippers. In a hollow house he had to make as little noise as possible. He knew every floorboard that squeaked and once past his bedroom door, he tiptoed a hopscotch pattern over them to get to the stairs. He walked down these close to the wall where the boards were less worn, stronger and more quiet. At the bottom he listened. He was safe. His parents still slept soundly.

On the back porch the breeze caught his hair and billowed through his loose pajamas. The night was cool and pleasant. The moon was just bright enough to illuminate a path between the wind-tossed sheets to the cover of the bushes at the edge of the yard. He made his way to these, and then carefully, pulling back branches, found a spot of bare earth where he could sit and observe the pond unseen by anyone.

Rory was naked, seated on his discarded jeans, close enough to the pond to have his feet dangling in the water’s edge. Zac could see his toes wriggling upward, forming luminous ripples. He was leaning back sipping from the bottle. His silhouette was rimmed with pale light making his skin look like deep blue silk occasionally dotted with firefly glitter of perspiration. He was humming a tune that was familiar but unnamable. A hand skimmed down over his chest and abdomen and rested comfortably just below his navel in the nest of hair. Zac studied him like he was the sculpted work of a master on display in a museum. Every contour where light found a hollow was more beautiful than the previous.

He finished his drink, set the bottle down, rose and stretched wide and luxuriously, allowing the breeze to find its way over and around his naked flesh. His long hair whipped like a flag in one direction until he tucked it behind his ears and slowly waded into the pond. Then he dived in deep and the wave plumes showed that he aimed toward its center. A moment later he came up, wiping his wet hair backwards away from his face. It was in that precise moment, as he stood wet and gleaming in the light of the summer night, that Zac envisioned what he was to him. He was the embodiment of love. A real-life Cupid. A God of Desire. Not the fairy tale version of the chubby little boy with wings, but the slender, glorious young man. Clouds moved high behind him in the dark starlit sky giving him the appearance of having lustrous, ever-changing wings. The vision enthralled the younger boy.

He watched him for more than an hour doing nothing special, but making each second feel momentous to Zac. It was like his mind was preserving each movement as if it were a vital brushstroke on canvas. He had nothing to compare what he was feeling against. It was new and wild and filled him to the brim. He was possessed by it.

The Art of the Heart By Dan Skinner: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LBGT882

 

 

BULLY THIS…….

eyedinosaurabThey rode in silence for a few moments, Geoff watching the low clouds in an overcast sky scud ahead of them.

“You don’t believe bad people can change their ways; do you?” Trying to read the man was difficult, but here and there, Geoff thought he was catching glimpses.

The anvil jaw clinched a bit. “We’re not talking about boys playing hooky or stealing cigarettes. It doesn’t take much thinking to do things like that. These are minds that lie awake at night plotting ways to destroy lives, circumvent people’s rights, harm the helpless, and make victims of all of us. There’s a difference between a crook and a psychotic. These people have diseased minds. You know what you do with a disease, a tumor, a cancer? You cut it out. You don’t let it fester and grow, allowing it to infect the whole body. They aren’t going to go away; the problems aren’t going to resolve themselves because they have some magnificent soul-cleansing epiphany. They believe they’ve already had their epiphany and it wasn’t a good one. We all have to learn that we can’t run away from a problem. It must be resolved.”

They parked a couple blocks away from the warehouse and approached it on foot. It was a long, low structure on the river, directly in front of the docks. There was nothing eye-catching about it. There were two garage doors at either end with loading docks butting up to them. There were only a few windows on the lower level. It looked reasonably well maintained but virtually abandoned like most of the buildings on the street.

The river moved swiftly beyond the building, wide and muddy, ice chunks in its flow.

They entered through a side door; the lock was easily jimmied. The interior smelled of disuse and the river. “Are you sure they use this building?” Geoff wondered as he looked around. It was empty.
“Middle room is where it meets the wharf dock and the unloading is done,” he said. “They use the south end door for loading because it’s hidden by the other buildings. There were fresh tire tracks frozen in the mud just outside it, which means something was delivered shortly before the snowfall.”

They trod softly on the unvarnished plank floor. Little illumination shone through the grimy windows, but Geoff could see DiMarco’s scowl. Something weighed heavily on his mind.

The central room was larger than the first two. A square of barred light from a skylight brightened the middle but cast deeper shadows at its fringes. The first thing Geoff noticed was a man on a chair in the square of light. His legs were tied to the chair, wrapped with coarse brown rope. His hands had been bound behind him. A brown burlap bag covered his face. His head was bowed as if asleep. His presence startled Geoff.

“What’s going on? I thought you said we weren’t going to do anything to do them for a while?”

Unflinching gold eyes fell on him. The seriousness etched on the planes of his face made him look fearsome. “It’s not one of them,” he replied icily.

Geoff didn’t want to belabor the point, but he could smell the man’s evil. He wasn’t certain what the detective’s motives were in denying that fact, but his own senses didn’t lie. Before he could address it, the detective pushed him into the shadows at the back of the room and held a finger in front of his lips silencing him.

Stepping forward, he announced himself loudly. “I’m back!”

The man’s head snapped up. There was mumbling from inside the sack. DiMarco snatched the cloth bag, revealing the man underneath it. He was blindfolded and gagged. Geoff found something inordinately familiar about the figure. He was overweight, the bulbous stretch of gut in the flannel shirt hanging low over the groin of the blue work pants. The sparse dark hair was greasy and salted with gray. His chin and drooping jowls were peppered with gray whiskers.

The detective stepped back into the darkness of the corner and removed his coat, tossing it to the floor with his cap and sunglasses. He strolled the perimeter just outside the square of light.

“I’ll bet you’re getting a bit cramped after sitting there all night?”

The head bobbed slowly.

Geoff recognized the smell: the sickly blend of alcohol, sweat, and filth. He’d never forget that combination of smells. The recognition alarmed him.

DiMarco met his eyes at that moment. Geoff’s mother’s boyfriend, his rapist, was tied to that chair. “Some things need to be resolved, you understand? They don’t go away with time; the violence doesn’t fade with age, the scars don’t smooth over. They just have to be dealt with,” he said, yanking the blindfold and gag from the man.

The ugly countenance that had haunted every one of his nightmares was revealed, fat, squalid, and red-eyed, squinting against the sudden light. He swallowed hard, looking confused and terrified.

“I… I don’t know what this is about, young man.” His voice shaking, breath visible in the frosty air. “I think you’ve made a mistake. You’ve got to be looking for someone else. I don’t know you and I don’t know what you want. I haven’t got any money.”

DiMarco continued skirting the shadows. He unbuttoned his shirt, tossed it to the floor while Geoff watched.

“In 1984, at the age of thirty, you were arrested for accosting a twelve-year-old boy, the son of your neighbor in Austin, Texas. The charges were dropped because the family suddenly moved out of town. You were suspected of threatening them… although nothing could be proven….”

The bugging eyes tried to follow the voice. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You have the wrong person. That wasn’t me.”

DiMarco kicked his shoes off into the corner with his second pass behind the man. “In 1986 two teenaged boys were sexually assaulted in a rest stop just outside Lawrenceville, Mississippi. They identified you as their attacker. One claimed you raped him. The charges were dropped when your attorney discovered they had misdemeanor arrests for drug possession and petty theft.”

Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead in spite of the chilly temperature in the room. “All circumstantial bullshit. Nothing anyone could prove. The kids were fucking punks, you know what I mean?”

“You do realize an innocent man just emphatically says he’s innocent, while a guilty one claims the evidence against him is circumstantial; don’t you?”

His laughter was nervous. “You’re just trying to trick me into saying something. I have nothing to say. What you’re doing is illegal. It’s harassment. I can sue you for this. I demand you let me go and we can solve this like gentlemen.”

The detective’s pants fell into the square of light just in front of the man in the chair. He looked at them with surprise and befuddlement.

“In 1990 you were living in Augusta, Georgia. Your neighbor had a ten-year-old son who was savagely raped. You were the only suspect, but nothing could be proved because the boy was beaten so badly he went into a coma. When he awakened, he couldn’t remember anything.” The circling continued.
Geoff had been so intent on watching his rapist’s face that he’d hardly noticed the striptease the detective was performing until a naked leg briefly stepped into the light. It was no longer human. It was long and curved, wolf-like, covered in sleek black fur. The foot now a wide paw with long ebony claws.

“It wasn’t me.” The predictable response.

“From 1991 until 2001 there’s a whole series of rapes of underage boys all along your delivery routes throughout three states. In fact, each incident corresponds exactly with a time you were in that location. Investigators have suspected you’re a serial rapist for a long time, but you’re very shrewd about staying one step ahead of their grasp. Most of the boys refused to press charges because they were afraid of being exposed as gay to their families. It seems you found a method to assure your victims’ silence.”

This time there was only a smirk; an impatient shaking of his head.

“In 2011 you moved in with a woman and her son, the Markham family, where you repeatedly raped and threatened the boy, who was also underage. There were whispers all through the town that something bad was going on in that house, but again, you got lucky when no one said a thing. You were able to continue assaulting this boy—”

“All lies!” he spat indignantly. “Everyone in that town knew that boy was trouble; not right in the head. Even his mother knew he was disturbed; didn’t know what to do with him. He was a liar, made things up. I never did one thing to that boy; I treated him like my own son.”

“You’re a liar!” The words had flown from Geoff’s mouth, brimming with more rage than he’d ever felt in a single moment.

The sound of the accusing voice shook the man. Color drained, eyes strained to find him beyond the light. Gradually, after repeatedly clearing his throat, he mustered a trembling voice. “Geoffy, is that you?”

He hated that he’d always called him that. He could see the malevolent slivers of the eyes of his colleague as he walked behind the man.

“I forgot to mention I brought a friend along,” DiMarco said, sounding strangely distorted. He never stopped pacing.

The man tried laughing. It sounded more like a croak. “That’s nice. Real nice. I’ve been worried about you, Geoffy. Your mom and I have been worried about you.”

“You raped him.” DiMarco didn’t mince words. Hearing them made Geoff flinch, but the effect on the man in the chair was far worse. He looked stricken.
His lips twitched. “No. No, I didn’t. That’s untrue. Tell him, Geoffy. You know I always took care of you. I mean, I was the guy who put food on your plate when your mom couldn’t. I was the one who paid the bills so you had a house to live in. I’m the guy who still takes care of your mother. She depends on me.”

Geoff seethed. He would have no more of these lies. “You know what you did!”

“Everyone has to answer for their deeds,” the detective’s peculiar voice announced, dragging nails along the wall. The sound was like the squall of a banshee. It had the desired effect on the bound man: he cringed.

“No. It wasn’t like that,” he protested, rocking in the chair. “He knew he was different. He was gay and he used that against me. He came after me. It was the other way around.”

It required all Geoff’s restraint to not violently pounce on him. He held his position. “You’re a lying sack of shit!”

The man would no longer look in his direction. He was seeking the man walking around him. “It’s not like what he told you. Trust me. He’s not right in the head. He-he seduced me. He’s nothing but an ugly little boy who no one else would pay attention to. It was all his doing. I didn’t want anything to do with it. You have to believe me.”

“You’re a pig.”

“He-he would lay there in his underwear trying to bait me. I tried not to look, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He took baths in front of me; pissed in front of me. He did everything he could to get my attention. A man only has so much willpower.”

Geoff could feel a turning coming on, did what he had to do to curtail it: held his temper; stayed calm. “I wanted nothing to do with you. I couldn’t stand you. The sight of you made me sick. You forced yourself on me.”

“Listen to him. All that craft and artfulness. Trying to persuade you with his words. But look at him. He’s a pathetic, ugly ragged piece of bone even a dog wouldn’t want. All he could think of was getting a real man.”

Geoff stepped into the light, his shadow looming over the bound figure. Words stuck in the man’s throat. Mouth gaped; tongue fell paralyzed. He blinked like he believed his sight was betraying him.

“Geoffy, is that you?” He gulped hard. “You-you’re so different….”

“I used to lie awake at night thinking of ways I could kill you,” he spat the words. “But I didn’t want to trade one prison for another.” He could feel the hairs beginning to stand on his arms. He drew a breath to steady himself. “You stole the innocence of my childhood. That’s not something I can get back; nothing an ‘I’m sorry’ can remedy.”

He was looking around for the detective again, trying to find an ally. “See what I mean? This is what I was telling you. He’s unstable. Dangerous.”

“Shut the fuck up you worthless piece of garbage!” Geoff shouted over him. The sound shook the walls of the building; made the man in the chair fall back, silent.

Floorboards creaked under the weight of what was walking behind the man. Its silhouette towered taller than the dock doors.

“There was no one lower than you….”

The man found a sudden surge of indignant courage. “Fuck you. Fuck you, Geoff Markham. Eat me!”

Geoff could see the mouth open behind the man. Large white teeth shimmered beneath black lips.

He grinned. “I don’t have the stomach for you,” he said, looking at the repulsive memory tied to the chair one last time. “But he does….” He pointed to the thing stepping out of the darkness.

The thing which had been walking on hind legs dropped down onto all fours in the square of winter gray from the skylight. It was huge, primal-looking, covered in dark fur, spine arched high. Lungs puffed its ribcage, the noise coming from its snout in gusts. Saliva dripped from the rows of daggers in its mouth. Gold eyes fastened on the prey, stepping slowly closer.

The man jumped in the chair, pushing it back several inches as a parched scream greeted the thing moving toward him. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” Were his last words before half the meat of his throat was torn away and the air gasped from him in what would be his final scream.

XPERIMENT  The Novel By Dan Skinner:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2

 

GARDEN OF LIES…..

From the Science-Fiction/Thriller Novel, Xperiment By Dan Skinnergardenofies

Geoff found another video online about the young founder of RLS Pharmaceuticals. It was also from 2010, and was titled The Politics of a Boy Genius. It had been recorded at a conference on global warming in Cancun, Mexico. Geoff watched it on his phone while soaking in the tub.

Standing at a podium in front of a crowd, Robert Lindell Seuthers was dressed less formally. Still wearing the white button-down and tie, he’d discarded the jacket. He looked larger, like he’d filled out more. His hair was a bit longer and he had a five o’clock shadow that added an attractive touch of maturity to his face.

“Man’s existence on this planet is enabled by a fragile correlation between him and the elements. We co-exist with every living thing on Earth: animal, vegetable and mineral. Each holds a unique and vital purpose in the preservation of life. It’s called balance. The planet gives us nourishment, clean air to breath and fresh water to drink. We’re nothing more than caretakers of a garden. For man to remain healthy, to survive, the garden must flourish.

“In recent years we’ve lost sight of the infinitely tenuous nature of this balance upon which our very survival depends. For instance, without the honeybee to pollenate the flowering plants, whole species of vegetation will die out. The vegetation which acts as our air purifier, keeping the planet’s atmosphere breathable; the vegetation which feeds us. We now know that the honeybee population is dying out, a calamity for which man is ultimately responsible. A direct link between the bees’ dwindling numbers and the pesticides we’re using has been established. You’ve read my articles outlining my own efforts to correct this. That knowledge does nothing to curb the way many corporations and certain political organizations are continuing to behave in the name of profit and in defiance of balance. They are, for lack of a better term, raping our planet; poisoning our precious food and water supply to inflate their bottom lines. Fighting them is like taking on the proverbial bogeyman.

“The crime is that in the name of greed, these corporations and their protective political entities are marching steadfastly in a hellish procession, purposefully destroying the planet for the sake of their quarterly revenue reports. They strip our forests, churn choking gases into the air, and dump poisonous chemicals into the water. As they destroy the world… they destroy us as well. It’s no different than lining us up in front of a firing squad.”

The impassioned look on Seuthers’ face was as gripping as his words. “How are they able to get away with this? By spending fortunes brainwashing the masses into believing that to question their motives is unpatriotic and that the scientists and scholars trying to warn the world are liars. The idea of global warming leaves a bad taste in their mouths because acknowledging it would hinder their self-serving objectives. Their solution to intellectual debate is to ridicule science and the underlying facts, calling them instruments of evil in a battle against some holy
design known only to their God. It has become a dangerous theater of the absurd. Real science versus their mythological burning bush.”

Seuthers walked out from behind the podium, hands in his pockets. It was clear he wasn’t speaking from notes, but from his heart. “We’ve reached a tipping point. We watch the polar ice caps melt, causing all manner of species to lose their homes; being forced to hang precariously on the precipice of extinction; without realizing that each one of these creatures, just like the honeybee, helps maintain the balance that allows us to survive. As we continue to wipe them out, as the food chain slowly disappears beneath us,  the same extinction is most assuredly creeping up toward us. We cannot continue this devastation without eventually destroying ourselves. It is inevitable.”

There was something hypnotic about Seuthers’ eyes. Every time the camera moved in on him, Geoff experienced the feeling of being drawn into them.

“We’re not talking about one grandma forgetting to put a plastic bottle in the recycle bin. We’re pointing out the existence of a fully-armed, corporate-backed, pseudo-religious, political monster wilfully and without conscience destroying the planet and humanity itself.”

He pointed directly at the camera and it felt like he was aiming squarely at Geoff as he continued, “It’s time for you… and us, to prohibit this monster its free reign. If it comes at us with teeth to devour us, we must build a bigger monster with sharper teeth to take it down. It is an unnatural force that brings with it the power of death and destruction. It must not lie wounded; we must annihilate it to return stability to our planet.”

There were videos of similar speeches by Seuthers on a variety of his other causes: equality, nuclear regulation, and gun control. The one thing they all had in common was the summation. That a corporate-backed, pseudo-religious political entity was behind real evil in the world and it had to be slain.

What stuck in Geoff’s mind was Seuthers’ repeated reference to “the stench of evil.” It brought to mind the smell of the thugs chasing Danny, the offensive aroma of his former boss and the odor of the men who ran the gun shop across from Dollar Bills. Was it conceivable…  the experiment made it possible to smell… evil?

AMAZON BUY LINK: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2

gardenofies

THE COCK AND BALLS BOOK CLUB (A Free Episode from The Misadventures of Doc and Dirk)

privatenakedboysonlyThe Cock and Balls Book Club

How a middle-aged man ended up in a cold “hot” tub with six buck naked college boys has to do with, believe it or not, books. Specifically, my books. The ones I’ve written.

The water is thankfully cool because the tub had been recently filled. Thankfully, that is, because it’s summer and even under the canopy, the temperature has topped ninety degrees. The humidity is rising, threatening a steamy rain for the end of the day. It chased everyone away from the pool to the tub where the cooler containing beer and soft drinks is. The naked part happened because the young gentlemen I’m with have been drinking and according to them, hot tubs are for naked people. I didn’t know that rule in spite of being twice their age, but I’m not complaining. I’m a gay man, this is a good-looking bunch, and I’m treating it like a karmic gift.

To my immediate left is Marty. He’s a university rower. He looks Olympian. He’s lithe and tan, talks expressively, and seems bright. Next to him is Art. He’s quiet, of average build, paler except where he’s now burnt a bit around the edges from the pool outing, and genuinely reminds me of a young Matthew Broderick ala War Games. Next to him is Tom. I’ve met Tom a couple times before. He’s a stocky young man with close-cropped hair, a matter-of-fact personality and is fairly laid back. Alongside him is Colin. He’s the science major they refer to as Brainiac, which has a distinctive geek feel to it that doesn’t correspond with his blond, All-American looks and charming, polite charisma. Jim almost completes the circle of guys in the tub with me. He’s Hispanic, compact in his muscularity with an inquisitive face and a striking smile. Between Jim and me is my muse/apprentice, Dirk. His head bobs like he’s watching a tennis match as people talk. His eyes are glittery. That usually happens after a couple of beers. He has christened this, “The Cocks and Balls Book Club.” The others have toasted it, so I am assuming it’s become an official title. I am also assuming my work will never be written up in USA Today because of this.

Excluding my muse and myself, the rest of the seven are straight. I’m assuming most of you are wondering how a gay author and his likewise gay muse have ended up in a tub of naked straight men discussing his gay science fiction novel?

Nowadays, when a novel is released, even if you’re a well-known author, it’s a hit or miss gamble that it will find an audience and take off. The market is glutted with authors and novels and if you aren’t Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell there just aren’t any guarantees – no matter how great a novel you’ve written. That’s just the facts, Ma’am. It’s no longer dependent on how many good reviews you’ve garnered or how many blogs have discussed your literary pride and joy. Everyone has to do their part, no matter how famous they are, to sell their work. It’s why you see everyone from Ann Rice to one of my favorites, James Rollins on the various social media hawking their new releases. It’s not just a means to be informal and socialize any longer; it’s marketing strategy. And it’s tedious, time consuming, and fraught with competition and of course… trolls. It’s also why, for the longest time, I avoided it and my books found their audiences by what I call the slow burn – word of mouth. Over time, the more people discovered my works, the better they did and the faster other people found them. But it was still like trudging through waist-high muddy swamp water with the release of each book. I had no plans of changing my approach. My books were doing okay.

Enter my hyperactive, always creative and ever impatient muse, Dirk… and change was in the air.

Dirk had a personal attachment to my work with the last two books – the gargantuan-sized science fiction, Xperiment, and the subsequent aperitif, A Summer of Guiltless Sex. With the first one, he acted as my sounding board and often acted out scenes I’d just written, trying to give me better, more authentic dialogue for a character. I would gradually adapt his personality to the character. The second one was directly inspired by one of his fantasies and is, in fact, dedicated to him. In his mind, that meant each was a bit of a Harry Potter Horcrux for him. A bit of him was tied up in both books so their success was something he took very personally.

Not content to wait for the sparks to ignite the slow burn, he became my publicity pyromaniac, dedicated to lighting his own fires to draw attention to the books. And he had an unconventional plan for that. If he didn’t have control over where, what, and when reviewers were doing with the books, if there were no guarantees that posting them in the social media forums would cause them to stand out amidst the swollen glut of other books posted alongside them, he would take it to the streets like a cub reporter in a search for real humans to whom he could relate. And his first choice of arenas was the one he inhabited – college.

I didn’t discourage him, but I did remind him that the book had gay MCs and advise him that he might want to be upfront about that when soliciting readers from his own age group.

This was his response and it was adamant. I actually saw a vein stand out in his forehead as he said it. “Xperiment isn’t about being gay. It’s about being a hero! The heroes just happen to be gay. It’s no different than when in all the other movies that the heroes were guys, until Alien came along with Sigourney Weaver and they showed women could be heroes too!”

I wasn’t going to argue with him on that. It was out of my hands, anyway. When Dirk makes up his mind to do something, by the time you can even react, he’s already halfway across the field from you.

He tackled the venture with a verve of a political zealot. Within the first week, he’d had a dozen of his college friends, mostly sci-fi film buffs and nerds like himself reading the book and openly discussing it chapter by chapter in their own on-line chat forums. He would tell me each day what they were saying and it intrigued and excited me to know that his generation had totally keyed into what the book was about. I was soon invited to join the forums and found myself up until the wee hours of morning engaged in the liveliest of conversations about every facet of my creation. Once I became a participant in these forums, the number of readers began to grow every day. Dirk was creating a virtual book club. He was doing something at a grassroots level that was working on a larger scale. We were no longer an author and a book looking for an audience; Dirk was literally reaching out and bringing the audience to us. I suddenly had more sales in the week in which he’d begun this enterprise than all of the six months of sales prior.

“It’s because we’ve made it personal,” was his explanation. “You’re not just some author out there dropping a book with no one knowing who you are. People like to know the behind the scenes stuff. They want to be able to ask you questions about things. When you talk with them, you make the process real. They like being able to know what went on in your head when you write a whacked out monster book. These guys are Trekkies and Cosplayers. They go to Comicon because they want to interact with others who like the strange shit they like. When they can talk to the guy who wrote the strange shit, you become one of them. That’s the best publicity in the world.”

And he was right. The more I interacted with these new readers, the more they told others and the more the book that languished for months was selling to a whole different crowd. Straight teenaged college students. Who woulda thunk?

And he’d been right about the “gay thing” as well. These kids didn’t give one hoot that the characters were gay. They identified with them because they were outcasts, people that society had discarded and disregarded as inessential or unimportant. That made my characters one of them. Their sexuality had no bearing whatsoever on the importance or content of the story other than that fact. This not only surprised me, but delighted me. I’d grown up in another era where we, as gays, had to fight for every bit of recognition and significance and acceptance we got. That this generation so easily accepted it was heartwarming and inspiring.

However, I’d entered a new learning process of being an author. I not only had to communicate to them through my words, I had to communicate with them personally. The whole concept of book promotion and publicity had changed for me. I was now directly involved in it, and it would change even more for me because of Dirk’s notion of how it should be done.

Becoming directly involved with the readers meant making a number of changes in my life. Number one and most challenging was that I was always a very private person. As an author and photographer, I’d always been behind the scenes. Dirk was changing that. My readers wanted to know more about me. I began having to answer more personal questions, which helped them to understand my mindset while writing a novel that was so heaped with personal observations and opinions about many subjects that intrigued or troubled them… like gun control, climate change, theocracy in politics and the growing threat of the return of Fascism because of radical right-wing politics. These discussions would go on for hours. I had to adjust my sleeping habits to stay up with the Red Bull drinkers to the wee hours of morning. I had to conduct Twitter discussions to answer the sudden influx of mail I’d get there. Everything about selling the book had changed drastically for me, but every day more people were reading the book. Real people. They weren’t reviewers, upon whom we authors had heretofore depended on to help sell our work. These were people reading the book and then telling their friends to read the book who, in turn… well… you get the idea. In olden days, they were called fan clubs. But that was when there was still a certain amount of distance between the fans and the object of their admiration. This was becoming a friend club. But they wanted more… and Dirk knew that and was ready for it. They wanted to meet me and talk to me face-to-face. They wanted to hear me read their favorite parts of the book aloud, in my own voice, with my own emotions so they could feel the impact of the words I’d written. I didn’t know if I was ready for that. I’d never done public speaking – in my entire life.

There’s a lot of mental readjustment one has to go through when one has lived a quiet, unobtrusive life in the background and suddenly is thrust upon the stage so to speak. Some people are born performers and love that spotlight. Others, like myself, approach it with dread. So I decided to take it in baby steps. I would begin by simply meeting some of my young readers. Dirk arranged it to be as informal as possible. The first one would be a pool party, a small group. And it went easily.

There were five of the students I had been chatting with in the forums for a couple of weeks that turned up. They were Dirk’s age. Youthful, full of energy and enthusiastic to meet me.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I do not do pools. I have an aversion to water, at least pool depth to ocean depth. Bathtubs and hot tubs are excluded. But while they were in the pool enjoying themselves, I sat in a chair under the comfortable shade of an umbrella. Our discussion took place later over the pizza Dirk had ordered for them. Being a Vegan vegetarian, he doesn’t eat cheese, so he prepared black bean burritos and homemade pineapple salsa as well. This was when I was besieged with questions and observations about my book. Again, it was compelling for me to note that the homosexuality of the main characters in the book was never brought up. These young men, all straight by declaration, were more captivated by the world of transgenic monsters I’d created that could smell and track evil. The science of the book fascinated them. The notion I’d raised of accelerating the evolution of humanity into another species dominated the conversation, along with the fact the hero of the tale was a blind musician. This seemed to please them above all else.

To sit face-to-face with people who had not only read my work, but had been enthralled by it to the degree of verbose discussion is a true and rich dessert to an author. What I’d dreaded turned out to be something that encouraged me even more. Every author experiences self-doubt when casting their work onto the proverbial waters of the readers. To net such a positive reaction is indescribable. But still lurking in the back of my mind was the question… how did these heterosexual boys who grew up reading heterosexual novels and seeing heterosexual films, feel about the protagonists in my book being gay? Was it foreign or strange? I knew how my muse felt about the subject, but did his straight friends feel the same way? I didn’t think there had been any moment in the conversation where this could have been easily asked, so I told myself I’d save it for another day. My appearance that day at a pool party garnered a sale of fifteen more books. Each one of the guys I’d met had become a walking salesman of my work. I now had sold more copies of this book using Dirk’s strategy than by any other promotional means since its release. That something so simple could produce such immediate results was staggering. And even though it wasn’t on the level of sales that a King or Koontz would have with a release, I was not a King or Koontz, more people were reading my work, and that, as they say, is another brick in the wall.

At the end of the day we’d found his mother reading the book, which is brick-sized and took up most of her petite lap. By the middle of the week, she’d be added to my list of promoters with ideas of her own. What makes this interesting is that Rebecca, Dirk’s mother, comes from a lineage of lifelong Republicans. I am so left leaning that some of my friends nicknamed me racetrack – nothing but left turns. My book, Xperiment is saturated with liberal ideologies. They are, in fact, what propels the plot of a new evolution of creatures that can smell evil and track it like a lion on an antelope. The evil in my book is based on the right-wing conservative ideologies that I was raised by and ran away from as a child in a cult church. The evil in my book comes from the politicians and evangelists trying to choke these same kinds of beliefs down society’s throat against its will. The creatures systematically dispense with these real monsters. So a woman raised as a Republican (who in recent months had defected to the Democratic Party), was going to recognize those I’m depicting as the bad guys in this book. I got her call in the middle of the week.

Mind you, I do not expect everyone to like this book. I’d even predicted to my editor that I expected a lot of bad reviews once a right-winger stumbled on it. I had no clue what to expect from Dirk’s mother.

As it turned out, she and her mother, Dirk’s Grandmama’s, defection to the left side of politics came because they no longer could accept the misogyny that had been manifesting in the right side of politics. They are both strong women and the ugly rhetoric had steered them in the direction of the campaign of Bernie Sanders. And by chance, the very issues I’d addressed in the book as being the root of the world’s calamities were the ones that had help move them in their new direction. In other words, my book had hit a very sensitive nerve with her. She liked its ideological narrative and decided she wanted to share it with her friends, all former Republicans, now in the Sanders camp. She said I’d given them enough real information in my work of fiction that they believed they could use it in campaigning for their candidate. I was more than honored to hear that. I was less than thrilled to hear that she wanted to put together a meet and greet with the author at her office for her friends. The idea of public speaking was becoming more real.

Dirk was overjoyed. I was nervous. His idea to take the book to the people had expanded from his college buddies to the professional friends in his mother’s world. That was a huge jump. This was going to be something I had to seriously prepare for. Late at night, I began reading passages of the book to Dirk via Skype. It was nerve-wracking as I imagined having to look up at a room of eyes staring at me. But I was adjusting to the idea that this was something every author had to do in order to get his or her book to the public. Books don’t sell themselves. Authors do.

The turnout was bigger than I expected. The conference room at Rebecca’s office was jammed as I arrived. I’d anticipated ten people; there were five times that number. When I saw the crowd, my impulse, naturally, was to turn hightail and run. Before that could happen, I was spotted and pulled into the room. And then something unusual happened. As I was taken around and introduced to people one by one, as they shook my hand and smiled, I began to realize that these were folks just like me. They weren’t something frightening or imposing. Most had already read some of the book and were eager to discuss it with me. I was never presented in front of a crowd to deliver a speech as I’d dreaded. I never stood up and read anything publicly. Everything happened one-on-one and was as easy as having conversations at a party. People would read portions of my book to me and then ask me questions. It was more like conversational interviews. Nothing could have been more non-stressful. The blood, sweat, and tears incurred in anticipation had been for naught. The event lasted four hours. I had new readers and Dirk was bouncing like a cartoon jackrabbit. It was coming together.

Now every morning my email was filled with new readers enjoying my book for different reasons. The college crowd because they were digging the far-out concept of the new monster species and the science fiction aspects of the book. And the older professional crowd because I was giving them perfect political ammunition with the book’s ideology. Truly different strokes for different folks. Again, the subject of the main characters being gay had no bearing on why these two disparate groups were enjoying the novel. They were treating it, in fact, no different from mainstream fiction.

But Dirk was far from slowing down on ideas. He knew I still needed to practice for that day when I’d have to stand up in front of a crowd and read my work. It was an inevitability, and I was an amateur. That meant we needed to practice my reading skills. He found a way we could do that and a good deed at the same time.

My books hadn’t peaked to a point that they warranted audio-versions. That meant that the vision-impaired couldn’t enjoy them. Dirk suggested that practicing my skills as a reader might inspire me to take my books in that direction in the near future. And as it happened, he had a college friend who was intrigued by my work who was visually challenged. His name was Harris and he’d expressed interest in my period epic gay romance, Memorizing You. Dirk invited his friend to his house as an overnight guest and the two of us took turns reading chapters from the book to Harris. Mine would come via the video chat.

Harris was a delightful young man of mixed heritage. His skin was a pale cocoa color that the light made look radiant. His had an unruly head of Lenny Kravitz curls, making him look fashion-perfect. The photographer in me loved his aesthetics – the high cheekbones, the broad arch of his eyebrows, the voluptuous curve of his lips. He was tall and a bit thin, but his stylish clothes made him a visual treat. He wore a simple brand of sunglasses that seemed natural to the lines of his face. He was an animated talker in the same manner as Dirk. His hands went everywhere as he spoke. Dirk informed me his sexuality was ambiguous, but he had explained to him the novel was a gay YA romance which meant that there was no sex on the page. He was enthusiastic to be the listener in our mutual reading experience.

Dirk made him comfy on his bed, brought him coffee and some chips and homemade dip. Then Dirk began to make himself comfy.

As I’ve noted before, I believe the boy was born with nudists genes. He appears to dislike clothes – especially when he’s in the comfort of his own room. No sooner had I pulled up my book to read, Dirk began pulling off his clothes. This is not an abnormal routine for him when we are conducting our Skype chats. His attire for the majority of these video calls is a pair of boxers and his socks. If he wants to be more at ease, just the socks. Most of him remains hidden beneath desk level except for the occasional glimpses of his naked ass when he jumps up to make or get a cup of coffee from the machine at the back of his room and scurry back with the cup held in front of himself. This was going in the only socks direction… Dirk assuming that his guest couldn’t see him anyway. I, however, was alarmed when he grabbed the waist of his boxers, sat, and clearly, though unseen by me, disrobed entirely.

“Dirk!” I hissed at him through the screen.

Harris leaned forward in the background. He was smiling. “He’s getting naked; isn’t he?” he asked.

Dirk seemed surprised. “H-How did you know?”

Harris chuckled. “My dorm mate is like you, doesn’t like clothes either. When he starts to undress he gets real quiet like the silence won’t give away what he’s doing. But it’s the silence that gives it away. You got real quiet.”

Dirk stared at me through the screen with disbelief. “The logic of that is screwing with my head,” he said.

With that, Harris began slipping out of his shirt. “You don’t mind; do you?” he asked as he undressed to his tan-colored BVDs. We both stared at him – long, lithe legs and undies sporting a most significant bulge as he leaned back on the bed, almost naked.

“Oh my God, he’s hot!” Dirk whispered, moving close to the screen.

“I’m blind. Not deaf. And thank you!” Harris spoke from across the room, now smiling broadly.

Dirk reached back under the table. “Maybe I should put my underwear back on,” he said in an even softer tone.

“Blind. Not deaf. And thank you again. I’ve been working out.”

Dirk pressed his face to the screen and mouthed the words, “I am so hard!” before sinking in his chair, looking flustered.

We took turns reading chapters to our guest. This was good practice for me because there’s quite a difference in reading a book to yourself and hearing the words and dialogue aloud. You learn you have to act, to convey emotion and action through your intonations. Dirk performed this instinctively. It was a learning process for me, but I was getting the hang of it.

When it rains, it pours. My next call came from Dirk’s Grandmama. This is one helluva grand lady. She’s seventy-something, classy and dynamically energetic. She neither looks nor acts her age. Her hair is salt and pepper but her personality is piss and vinegar. Despite the designer clothes and expensive manicure, I believe there is a hippie lurking inside. She likes to drink but I suspect she could roll a tight one to compete with any of Dirk’s campus buddies. The short version of this is age is only a number. An attitude is ageless, and hers has a portrait hidden in an attic somewhere. She’d been reading my work. More specifically she’d just read one of my more erotic gay tales, A Summer of Guiltless Sex and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, that she wanted to present me to a club of her lady friends to do a reading from it.

Yes, my mouth dropped open. A group of seventy-year-old women wanted to listen to me read from my novella about two guys arranging for buddy sex for one summer. And if you’re wondering if it’s graphic… well, I actually blushed when she told me the book selection. Mind you, it has nothing to do with the age of the audience, considering the mindset of the woman arranging it. My discomfiture was the idea of reading sex scenes aloud… to a group of people… period. Now I genuinely had something about which to be nervous. Dirk was eating my anxiety up like fairground cotton candy.

Naturally, they selected one poignant scene… and one very raunchy scene for me to read. The one many readers comment about in the mail I receive. It takes place after the two male MCs go skydiving, are surging with adrenaline, and meet in the men’s restroom afterwards. Your imagination can direct you to the logical conclusion of what takes place. Graphically. Now picture reading that aloud to a roomful of women. The thought alone made me blush.

I expressed to my MuseNerd several times that I was having serious reservations about it. He wouldn’t accept that.

“I have an idea!” he announced when I’d made the complaint for the dozenth time. “Let’s play roles. I’ll be one character, and you the other. That way there’s two of us acting it out and you won’t feel like all the attention is on you.”

Normally I resist his ideas. They tend to be impulsive. But this one seemed to have a real solution to my dilemma. We began practicing reading the scenes with the role-playing and it actually made me more comfortable. Even with the explicit nature of the sex, the notion that the attention wouldn’t be entirely focused on me seemed to allay my case of jitters. He’d struck gold again.

This particular occasion was set up more formally than the others that had been arranged. So I treated it like a formal occasion. An author meeting his readers. I dressed with a bit more formality – slacks, dress shirt and shoes. I wanted to put forward my most professional appearance as any author would. Dirk missed that memo.

The meeting was taking place in the living room of his mother’s house. I arrived an hour early so I could mentally ready myself for it. My body was layered in roll-on antiperspirant in preparation for it. I still felt a few prickles of sweat on my lower back. Rebecca had served me some decaf as I awaited my reading partner. He strolled into the room in a pair of khaki short-shorts, barefoot, dressed in a t-shirt that read, “I’m Very Fondle You,” and a black beret I recognized as having gone missing from my box of props a few months earlier. He was the antithesis of me.

I stared at the tan lines that began and stopped at his knees, and then square in the face. There was no doubt my expression mirrored my disapproval. Rebecca threw up her hands and turned her back to us. She was taking herself out of the wrestling ring.

“What?” he asked, feigning innocence, though the look was more devilish than coy.

If you assumed he came to his senses and changed his attire before the reading, you’d be wrong. He stood next to me like a mocking demon-cherub as we read, wriggling his toes as we got to the tastier bits of the sensuous scene, casting an eye in my direction as he delivered each raunchy line with realistic relish. I wanted to wring his neck. The strange thing about this taunting behavior is that it worked perfectly with what was happening on the page, and we ended up delivering a performance that the ladies applauded. I’d been so distracted by his behavior that I’d completely forgot that I’d been uncomfortable.

On purpose or not, his tactic had worked, and I’d made it through my first real reading. He was ecstatic. I was relieved. I sold more books. The ladies told their friends and the word continued onward person to person about my work. My gay fiction was being sold to a straight public. As peculiar as the kid was sometimes, he seemed to come up with ideas that actually worked. It made me think that genius was sometimes as easy as simply understanding people. Over the years, I’d forgotten the meaning of the personal touch to communicating. Dirk lived by it. He thrived on seeing people’s reactions. And innately, I believe he understood that we all needed it in a world growing more impersonal because of all things social media. Detached communication. Trying to sell things to people without having to deal with the people directly. We’d lost sight of the true meaning of being salesmen by buying ads and dropping promotions instead.

That’s what muses do. They deliver epiphanies.

The key to understanding what resources social media offered had to come from someone who had grown up with the technology, not someone who had been attempting to adapt to it. Older generations, like myself, he said, tend to look at it as someplace to post your ad on a billboard and hope someone reads and buys what you’re selling. According to the teenager who Snapchatted and Instagrammed and Grindred, Skyped and Twittered, social media was a much different apparatus. It was a tool to put you in touch with a wider world than you got by simply walking down a corridor, sitting in a class, or meeting someone at your local coffee shop. The younger set knew it was a means to actually meet and talk with people, if not in person, on video. And that’s where its potential resided.

When it was impossible for me to meet people in person to discuss my work or unfeasible to round people up because of scheduling conflicts, we began having Skype conferences and Twitter discussions about my books. We used the medium to actually have real conversations, question and answers… and even debates. People really do want to know things about an author. They want to know your thought processes. They want more than just surface knowledge of how your work came to be. And they want to share with you how it affected them, made them think, or the emotions they felt. This is how social media best serves someone such as an author. One hour-long conversation with real people using one of these mediums can sell more books than carpet-bombing every book forum you can find with your sparkly, glittery tantalizing promo or meme that is promptly buried by the next in line. An old dog was definitely being taught new tricks.

Which brings me full circle to the hot tub filled with six naked college boys on a hot day as a summer storm finally moved in. Rain beat down on the canopy above us, but was mostly ignored because everyone had already had a few beers. Except me. I don’t drink.

The get-together had been arranged to thank these five particular guys for their participation in reading, and helping promote my science fiction book to their friends. Dirk had sprung for all the goodies. Only my presence was required for the event, because these were the most avid aficionados of the novel. Some had even sketched pictures of my imagined creatures. They were the diehards, like Trekkies, who lived and breathed their appreciation of science fiction and fantasy writing. They’d even christened Dirk Hyper-Spock. Logical, but intensely so. They were an interesting group of guys, more so when they drank because, as one of them seemed to notice, inebriation was expanding their stream of consciousness. They talked so furiously I could barely interject a thought, even when directly asked for it. That didn’t bother me. I’m a listener.

As I mentioned earlier, I was curious how these self-acknowledged straight young men reacted to reading a book written by a gay author with gay main characters… and of course, the sex? I was waiting for the right opportunity to present the question, when Dirk, obviously more brazen and inquisitive, asked it first.

“Did the gay parts fuck up the story for you any?” he asked.

Tom, his closest friend in this group, was first to answer. “Everyone behaves like straight guys don’t understand gay shit. We watch porn all the time. There are guys in straight porn. If you don’t think we’re not watching the guys in porn and getting off to them then you gotta think we’re all aliens or something. Women don’t fuck themselves. You gotta have dicks to see fucking. So yeah. We’re watching dicks and getting off to them.”

The others nodded.

A newer addition to the group named Art, agreed. “Most guys I know have their first sexual experiences with other guys. It might not have to do with preference as much as what’s available or how curious we are, but I bet most everyone who’s gotten off for the first time has done it with a buddy.”

Colin had something to add. “You ever hear Ron White the comedian with the redneck comedy tour? He’s got a whole skit about all guys being bisexual to one degree or another. It’s just a willingness or unwillingness to admit how much. I think he pretty much nailed it.”

More nods. More agreement. I’m enthralled with this conversation because to me, it represents a new era in sexual enlightenment that just did not exist when I was their age.

“How did you feel about reading the gay sex parts of the book?” My question this time, me asking.

It’s Marty, the university rower who laughs the loudest this time.

“Sex in a book is like a popcorn break at the movies. You get all this crazy intense stuff that makes you all nervous and uptight so you run to get some popcorn to bring it all back down to normal. Sex is the part where ya say… see… we’re all human.”

The whole circle laughs at this. “When is sex a TURN OFF, dude?” It’s Marty again. “Everybody gets off on reading about people getting off.”

I have to admit I feel a little relief at this. These guys really liked the book and I was worried if the gay sex had dragged them out of their enjoyment of it.

“What part did you think was the hottest?” Dirk again. (And he’s really enjoying this a bit more than me because his grin was as close to salacious as you could get without him actually engaged in something overtly obscene.)

Five out of five named the same scene from the book… the chameleon scene from early in the novel. I was surprised. I completely expected them to say something else. I asked what in particular in that scene affected them more than some others in the book did. (There is a scene in a sex club in this book. I totally thought would be the one they picked.)

“Because we’re all deviants, dude. We all wanna sneak in and see what other people do. That’s human nature.” Colin said this.

So it’s the human part of my monsters that these guys relate to… and I like that. I also like that I’m learning something new every day from people half my age. It just goes to show that no matter how long you live, you will never be the smartest one – even in a group of youngsters, because every generation produces a newer and different level of wisdom. I was learning a lot from this generation… thanks to the muse seated next to me in a cold-water hot tub with a sly smirk, trying to keep his eyes above the water.

Find more Dirk Tales here: https://www.amazon.com/Dirk-Tales-Book-Misadventures-Doc-ebook/dp/B01MRLFPMB/

Editing services by: http://www.allyeditorialservices.com/

privatenakedboysonly

 

A NEW MASK OVER AN OLD FACE

anewmask“It’s not just that man, supposedly the most intelligent creature in our known universe, in his greed, blind ambition and willful carelessness has chosen to destroy the perfect balance of nature on which his life depends, but he’s committed himself to obliterating intelligence altogether. We have lawmakers who prefer mythology to science, fiction to reality, faith over facts and lies versus the truth. They start wars in the names of all their gods, and wash their hands in the blood of innocents like it’s righteous water. They blatantly and proudly design laws to discriminate and denigrate those who are not like them and base it on fables. They preach hatred, intolerance, and segregation. Rather than bring man together, they want to separate and enslave him. They neither aspire nor inspire. They drag progress backward to the age of ignorance when women had no role but as servant to man, not owning their own bodies, or having choices in their life. And they smile proudly as if their stupidity were a badge of honor. Their minds are closed like steel traps and they are backed by enough money to put the worst of the worst of them in power. It’s fascism under a new banner, guaranteeing a world of suffering rather than progress. They are the cancer eating away not only at the globe we live on, but at civilization itself.”
EXCERPT from my Sci-fi Novel, XPERIMENT
BUY LINK: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2

anewmask

 

A GLIMPSE INTO THE MACABRE WORLD of XPERIMENT by DAN SKINNER

glimpseAs midnight divided one day into the next, an early snow began to fall. Goose feather-sized flakes drifted down, softening the cityscape. Geoff put another blanket on the bed and fell comfortably asleep in his lover’s arms. The last of his sullied mood had evaporated.

When he awoke it was still dark, but he noticed Chris’ absence immediately. As sleep-worn eyes focused, he found him seated at the end of the bed. He didn’t seem to be doing anything but sitting rigidly, hands folded in his lap, head turned toward the window. Geoff realized he was listening to something. He was still dressed in his t-shirt and boxers.

“Chris,” he whispered. There was no response. He said his name again. His head slowly turned toward him. His eyes sparkled in the dimness, but Geoff could tell he was still asleep. He was sleepwalking again; or very close to it. It seemed to be the one consistent side effect of the supplement. “Come back to bed, babe.” He patted the mattress.

The pale face resumed its blank gaze at the window.

Reluctantly slipping from the warmth of the bed, he trotted on tiptoe across the cold floor to the window. A quick check outside confirmed it was still snowing. He coaxed his partner beneath the covers and, at last, Chris closed his eyes.

There was enough winter chill in the room to affect his bladder. Standing quietly at the toilet, he tried to filter out the sensations around him. The smells, the pull. The feeling that something bad was going on out there.

As he finished and flushed, he noticed the room temperature had taken a drastic nosedive. Goosebumps pebbled his arms. He could see his breath.

Upon his return to the bedroom, the reason for the cold was evident. The bed was empty; the window open. The drapes billowed on the breeze, carrying in snow to form wet specks on the floor.

His mind wanted to reject the meaning of what had happened in his absence. He tugged the drape back and looked outside. The snowfall had been consistent; the ground was covered with a velveteen layer of white. Imprints of bare feet could clearly be seen on the fire escape, but no Chris. His eyes swept both directions of the street. He saw nothing. Looking below, he discovered the half-dressed sleepwalker standing on the sidewalk, hair dotted with white; face pointed down the street like a hunting dog signaling where the duck had landed. The chill, along with annoyance, made Geoff bristle.

Trying not to disturb the neighbors, he whispered; “Chris! Get back up here!”

If he’d heard him, there was no acknowledgement. He’d have to go down and fetch him. Geoff found his jeans and threw them on. As he zipped them, he poked his head out the window.

“Chris!” he whispered louder, trying to catch his attention.

Slowly, the pale blue neon eyes of the somnambulist turned upward to him. Then he turned and sprinted barefoot down the street.

“Shit!” Geoff cursed, hastily cramming his feet into his running shoes. He jumped over the ledge and outside. Without a thought of the danger, he leaped over the rail, landing four stories below. The impact jarred his teeth, but the adrenaline revving his system reduced pain to an afterthought. Eyes focused on the nearly blank canvas of ground cover, following the solitary set of footprints. Visibility, even for him, was minimal in the speckled curtain of white. At the pace he’d set, Chris was already blocks ahead of him.

His cauldron of thoughts had him fuming as he ran. He knew exactly what was happening. He could smell it in the air, too. Chris’ heightened instincts had pulled him out onto a trail.

The distance between the footprints widened. He was in a full sprint; his direction mapped.

I’ve created a fucking nightmare, Geoff mentally whipped himself as he ran, snow crunching underfoot. It was unbelievable that the man he loved was running half-naked and barefoot through the snow in freezing temperatures. They were heading north to the older section of the city.

He crossed an intersection without looking, the sharp blast of a car horn startling him. The driver stomped his brakes, sending the vehicle into a sideways skid, missing him by mere inches. Headlights momentarily blinded him as the car slid into the curb and struck a lamppost. He didn’t have time to look back at the sound of crunching metal.

Apartments gave way to warehouses, staring like featureless faces. The smell of decay and neglect were a smoky undernote beneath the other scent. The trail of footprints led to a dead end and a three-story brick building with double garage doors. It seemed to be the only one in the block that’d received maintenance. Frosted windows were dimly lit. The trail led to the alley alongside and to the rear of the long, dismal building. A quick survey of the street in front revealed the tire tracks of at least three cars leading inside the building. That engaged his radar, sensing trouble. This was a not a good place.

Neither the brisk run nor the chill was responsible for the thick lump in his throat. It was worry. If he was right, Chris had just found a very nasty nest.

The barefoot imprints vanished at the back of the building. Glancing up at a staggered set of windows, he knew Chris had used their ledges to scale the building. He was up there somewhere. Geoff would soon follow, but he was curious to know what they were walking into.

The graveled backyard, even with a blanket of snow, was noisy to walk across. He chose his steps cautiously, finding a door near the rear. The crud on its windowpane had likely accumulated for decades, but with a little spit he succeeded in rubbing enough away to look inside. He immediately didn’t like what he saw. Draped on a wall near the door was the ominously familiar red, white, and black flag, the symbol of perfect intolerance and evil. Chris had stumbled upon what Detective DiMarco had warned him about weeks ago—a band of neoNazis. From the number of voices muffled inside, they were having a meeting.

He wasted no time climbing to the roof. The architecture was surprising, pitched high with clay tiles and a double door walkout to a veranda in years of disrepair. The upper floor had been a residence at one time. One of the doors was open. Chris was already inside.

Beyond the door was a shadowy room which, with a perfunctory examination, appeared to be used for storage. There was a lot of old WWII Army paraphernalia. To be precise, German army paraphernalia: coats, boots: the works. In the left corner, another door stood half-open. Light slanted through. He could hear smatterings of conversation as he approached.

An L-shaped balcony ran the length of hallway directly outside the door and to the right, overlooking a garage below. The building was enormous. Here, mingled with grease and motor oil, the stench assailed his nostrils stronger. A wall at the end of the balcony had been knocked down, opening to another cavern-black room. A stack of disordered bricks were piled in front of the opening. It was here he caught sight of what he was looking for: the white t-shirt and boxers crouching beneath the bricks, hidden in the shadows. He could see the head of knotted brown curls. Chris was listening to the voices below.

An inner dialogue warily prodded him. The one and only priority was to get Chris out safely. He’d no intention of involving either of them in this business. There were others who could take care of it.

A garage door rattled the walls as it opened. A car pulled inside. From where Geoff stood, he could see a black limousine. It stopped just beneath the balcony. The men in the shop gathered around.

He had to move with the utmost delicacy. Crouching on all fours, he inched his way along the balcony toward Chris. Not only did he not want to alert the men below, he didn’t want to startle the sleepwalker.

There was little doubt these were the very people DiMarco had spoken about. They were in the middle of a meeting, swastika flags proudly displayed throughout the room. How a group like this could still exist in the 21st century boggled the imagination. It simply had to be people who loved to hate.

He’d counted six men, but felt there were more beyond his vision. The room was filled with too many voices. Someone had stepped from the limousine. There was no vantage from the balcony to get a clear view. A glimpse here and there revealed he wore a suit, was middle-aged, and looked to have a ponytail. No sooner had he slipped from the vehicle, than every hair on Geoff’s body stood on end. He knew they were in the presence of something diabolical. As the new arrival spoke, the room fell silent. He had a pronounced Southern drawl, the kind of accent that turned one syllable into two, like someone singing.

“I’m glad we all could get together on this fine evening. Looks like our Master has graced us with a canopy of virgin white, a symbol of the way the world was in the beginning and shall be when our mission is complete.”

This was followed by a chorus of “Amen” and “Right on.”

“I can’t tell you the pride I have looking ‘round at y’all tonight. It does my heart good knowing there’re still righteous men with resolved hearts willing to do the work of the Almighty. We live in a world of sin and sinners, and they think they have all the time in the world… They’re a pompous bunch livin’ to do the devil’s deeds in the name of education and science. They think they can push us to the corner. They think we’ll cower like mice in their cage.”

“No more!” a man yelled from the group.

“We all know we can no longer trust our government; the police, the FBI; the CIA. We hear the stories every day of our good leaders, the men of faith and conviction meeting strange ends, suicides and disappearances. We know what’s going on. They’re trying to shut us down, cut us off. They think if they kill us, they kill the message.”

Geoff edged closer to the balcony’s rail in an attempt to see the man’s face. He’d heard the voice before, but couldn’t place it. He remained just out of sight.

“They took two of our best men in Roy and Allen at The Patriots Way. They thought they could weaken us, but they have only strengthened our determination.” The emotion in his voice was stirring. He was a gifted orator for sure. “But little did they know Roy and Allen had already done their part to help us on our way. We’ll make a statement all the world will hear.” His voice had turned defiant. “We, too, can work in mysterious ways. We, too, can strike terror in their hearts. We’ve lost nothing because their strike against us has guided us to send our message where it will be heard.”

There was a scattering of applause and “Here, here.”

“We have most of the stuff ready,” another voice spoke up from the group.
“Will it be enough to make a statement?” the southerner asked.

“More than enough.” The man cackled. “It’ll make ‘em shit their drawers!”

“Good. We’ll have a new reason to rejoice this Thanksgiving.”

A bang, loud and disrupting, hit the garage roof. It sounded as if a car had been dropped on it. Dust spilled in streams from the rafters. Lights blinked. Everyone’s eyes shot upward.

“What the fuck was that?” someone said.

Chris’ head pushed upward, listening. His expression was curious, attentive. It had definitely rattled Geoff, setting off the unwanted stimulation just beneath the surface of his skin. He held his breath, calming himself. This was not his fight.

Something heavy dragged across the roof, the sound deafening, like a colossus walking just above their heads. It headed toward the rear of the building. Every thump sent more dirt raining down from the ceiling. A quick check below: all eyes had turned upward following the noise. Some had drawn guns.

“Al, Gil, go check that out,” a baritone voice instructed two of the men. “You know what to do.”

Two pairs of feet started to the stairs. Looking around, he knew he couldn’t back into the room he’d come from. They’d be headed in that direction. There was little choice: he went down on his belly, sliding over to where Chris was hidden. His movements caught the sleepwalker’s attention. A nose quickly sniffed, then turned back to the sounds on the roof. Geoff lay flat in a rectangle of darkness between the bricks and wall. He was close enough to his partner to see the hair on his legs had stiffened and scratched the floor.

Glass shattered with explosive force inside the storage room. Something had blown its way through the window. A series of tumultuous thumps followed. Everyone in the building came to an abrupt standstill: listening, including the men who were halfway up the steps. Whatever had been on the roof was now inside the building, in the room. Al and Gil on the stairs, their faces now substantially lighter in color, stared at each other. Their confidence, even with guns in hand, had met a serious challenge.

“What are you guys waiting for? Christmas? Get in there and get the job done!” the voice commanded them from the garage below.

They slowly approached the top of the stairs, faces taut, fingers white around their revolvers. Just before reaching the door, another crash came from inside the room, stopping them in their tracks.

He scooted closer to Chris. He didn’t appreciate the precarious position they were in.

“Well?” The impatient voice came from downstairs.

He didn’t have to read minds to know what held them back. The news had been overrun with tales about strange creatures killing people. Their sort of people. They could only imagine what horrible thing awaited them beyond that door. Every step closer probably sparked a fresh terror in their imagination. They stepped uneasily through the door, disappearing into the cold void.

Hard soles crunched broken glass; there was stumbling. A voice called out: “Looks like the window is broken. It could have been the wind.” The last statement rang uncertain.

Something rattled in the room; followed by the cacophonous din of crashing. The group below moved closer to the staircase.

A projectile, hard and roundish, with a ragged flap at its end soared in a high arc from the darkness of the door, bouncing down the stairs to land at the feet of those below. The head of either Al or Gil lay staring at them in obscene, choked silence, paralyzing them with incomprehension. It’d happened so quickly that their minds locked their tongues. Eyes slowly, fearfully, turned back toward the mystery of the door.

A roar so ferocious and unearthly it sounded prehistoric shook the building. Beginning in a low bass, it rose to a fearsome ear-piercing shriek in seconds, raising the hair on Geoff’s neck. He’d never heard anything like it. It was a sound that could shear nerves, rip courage from a beating heart.

Someone in the garage below was making a hasty retreat. A pair of feet in hard-soled shoes scampered away. A car door opened and closed. The engine of the limousine started.

That noise was apparently the impetus for whatever hid itself in the darkness to act. Wood splintered as the doorframe exploded outward. Bricks blasted over the balcony. A dense plume of charcoal-colored smoke swelled from where the door had been, blooming out above the stairs. Inside that smoke, using it as cover, was something enormous. As the camouflage dispersed, a silhouette gradually emerged, ten feet in height, black as iron, and breathing powerfully as a locomotive. As if it were not big enough, it began to unfold itself, revealing a twenty-foot wingspan, feathers the color of brushed iron. A collective gasp came from below before it released another ear-splitting shriek.

With a flap of its gigantic wings, the last obfuscation of dust cleared, leaving only it: the thing, gargantuan, feathered, and gleaming like metal. A perverse imitation of an eagle, feet twice as large as a man’s hand, talons like sabers. Eyes of burning yellow appraised the men below. The gray hook of its beak was darkly stained, from its maw dangled the second man. What was left of him. Below his waist hung a skirt of bloodied entrails; his legs had been ripped from his torso, but his arms continued to gesture helplessly. Saddened eyes gazed down at his friends. He tried to speak, but his lips only twisted around breathless, unspoken laments.

Geoff couldn’t tear his eyes from the creature. It was magnificent, monstrous, majestic.

Gunfire popped from the garage below. Their panicked aim askew, stray bullets hit everything but the target. This seemed to present a direct challenge to the monstrous fowl. It tossed the remainder of their friend to them. The half-living remnants plopped nearly on top of them as it took flight. Its wake had the thrust of a gale, an awesome spectacle as it circled the ceiling of the building sending the terrified group scattering. Bullets pinged off walls, taking out windowpanes, shattering lights. The sound of men screaming and running was chaos. Rafters shook, lights rocked as it dived and ascended, eyeing the men like defenseless field mice.

It swooped down with a grace nearing elegance, a talon finding the first of its running prey. One swipe of the claw sliced the head off clean to his shoulders. The suddenness of the attack left the body standing, squirting blood like a macabre fountain before it dropped rag-like to the floor. It threw the head at another man. It bounced lopsidedly until it came to rest near one of the cars parked in the garage.

Tires squealed as the limousine sped in reverse toward the garage doors. The building convulsed when it crashed through the door, speeding away from the scene of carnage into the freedom of the night.

Another victim found himself impaled through the waist before being flung to the stairs. He came apart as he tried to crawl away, unravelling in the middle, leaving his legs kicking helplessly on the floor below.

Geoff couldn’t help but marvel at the unique beauty of the winged predator. This was no ordinary creature. Nothing existed like it on the planet; he knew that. This regal monster had Seuthers’ stamp all over it—supreme and frightening, swift and deadly. It moved from man to man dispensing justice dismemberment-by-dismemberment, pitching limbs like garbage throughout the garage.

Chris’ head swayed in tempo with the mayhem. The one thing noticeably absent from his demeanor was fear. Geoff wrapped an arm around him pressing him deeper behind the blockade of bricks.

Another victim squirmed, screaming from where it hung in the humongous beak before being pitched to the balcony. He landed in front of Chris and Geoff on the stack of bricks, his face a hellish portrait as frantic fingers reached forward for help. They found Chris’ collar, clutching it before Geoff tore the hand free, pushing him back. In the next second, he was gone, snatched away by a huge claw, then torn in half mid-air and thrown to opposite ends of the garage.

They had to get out of there. He saw another of the men attempting to fend the creature off with a flag. He stabbed and jabbed at it, trying to keep it at bay as it first bit through and shredded the red, white, and black fabric, and then flipped the pole from the man’s hands before biting his head off at the collarbone.

Grasping an arm, he hauled Chris up from the floor tersely whispering; “Time to go.” And he guided him to the hole in the wall through which they’d come. The trunk of a body lay just past the threshold surrounded by a lake of fresh blood, which they stepped around. Geoff looked around for something to cover his partner’s near-nakedness. A rack of vintage German army overcoats provided what he needed. He gently manipulated Chris’ arms through the sleeves, buttoning it while shrieks racked the building. He found boots and pushed Chris’ bare feet into them. The screams continued, sounding like a medieval torture chamber, but nothing penetrated the sleepwalker’s trance.

Stepping onto the rooftop’s veranda again was like escaping a preternatural world of darkness for one of purity. Snow blanketed the city in a mantel of white, spilling from the sky like confetti. The air was brisk but not unbearable. He was glad he wore his sneakers. The rubber soles were going to be necessary for the precarious trek home… beginning over the rooftops.

The building shook under their feet. It was time to go.

Draping Chris’ arms around his neck, he hoisted him onto his back, instructing him to hold tight. He followed Geoff’s command with no problem. He’d done this roof running act before, just not carrying another person. Life was providing one new adventure after another for him. But this time he actually felt like the knight rescuing his beloved.

XPERIMENT By DAN SKINNER Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2

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