‘Nathan Burgoine’s First Short-Story Collection, reviewed by Jeff Baker.

o-of-echoes-bornOf Echoes Born

Reviewed by Jeff Baker

 

“Of Echoes Born” is the first short story collection by ‘Nathan Burgoine. (Bold Strokes Books, 2018.) Maybe better known for his novels, Burgoine has been one of the best writers in the shorter form working in the field of LGBT science fiction and fantasy in recent years. Now he has put together twelve stories linked together by theme and character, including the very clever idea of the story introductions being told by his character Ian through his unwanted gift of visions which include colors indicating emotional states or even sickness.

The deeper reds, the richer reds, the ones reaching within and spreading out like wings? Those reds change the world. People march with those reds, they defend with those reds, and they fight tooth and nail with those reds.

The bulk of the stories feature characters that may be semi-autobiographical; young men on their own after their families tossed them out for being gay. LGBT people living with the support of “chosen families.” And with a bit of magic, usually in the form of a character who has some form of prescient visions which sometimes help, sometimes can only offer comfort. Not every character gets a happy ending.

The stories, six new, six reprints, are linked though Burgoine’s use of his fictional town of Fuca, as well as locations which appear in other Burgoine stories (The Coffee shop “Bittersweets” appears in several stories in the collection as well as in Burgoine’s Christmas novella from last year “Handmade Holidays.”) Characters reappear as well; Bao, a high school friend of the protagonist in the opening story “There and Then” shows up in a few other stories, once referred to as “Officer Hotbody!” This feeling that it is all taking place in the same, real world works in the collection’s favor.

The plots run the gamut from a young man discovering that his unique powers can actually help; romance, both blooming and shattered; love and betrayal and even hope in the face of death. Characters run the gamut through the LGBT spectrum, ranging from clerks, writers, artists, Marion the mother hen to “The Village,” and, oh yes, Lightning Todd.

None of this would be any good if the stories and writing were not good, and ‘Nathan Burgoine is a magnificent writer. His storytelling ability fuels the collection, and he is able to pull off a very cool recursive bit which links the ending of the book to the beginning.

All in all, “Of Echoes Born” is an excellent first collection by a fine writer. Let us hope there will be many more.

 

—end—

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Friday Flash Fics, for June 29, 2018, by Jeff Baker. Fourth of July Weekend, sort of.

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Long Weekend In Hudson City

By Jeff Baker

 

Author’s Note: This is a companion piece to a series I’ve written (largely unpublished) which started off with a story called “Friday Night In Hudson City.” This story didn’t quite go where I’d planned. Still, Happy early 4th of July!—–Jeff

 

“Blazing fire in the sky,

Call the flame that does not die.”

The lanky young man in the welder’s goggles and rock & roll t-shirt grinned as his clenched fist burst into flame. He cocked his arm back and was about to strike when he was interrupted.

“Kip Starkwell! What do you think you’re doing?” It was Mrs. Pickney, coming off like she was in charge. Which she was.

“Uh, lighting up the grill?” he said grinning.

“Not by plowing that fist into the charcoal,” she said. “You’ll break something! Or blow up something.”

“Okay, okay,” Kip said as he wiggled his fingers and the flames dissipated. He blew on his fingers.

“Hey, help yourself. Got canned lemonade over here in the cooler,” said a young man covered in brownish fur.

“Thanks, M.K. Too bad there’s no beer,” Kip said as he reached into the cooler. There was a momentary hiss and steam rose as he pulled out a can.

“Long as nobody asks if I want a saucer of milk, I’m cool.”

“Speaking of cool, how ‘bout you change that super-name of yours,” Kip said. “I mean, ‘Mister Kitty?’ Come on!”

“Wasn’t my idea,” Kitty said. “All the good names were taken. Remember when that comic book company tried to sue the Crisis Squad over copyright a couple years ago? Anyway, all the good cat-related names were taken.”

“Hey, they saddled me with ‘Kid Aquarius,’” Scott Velez said from the towel he’d stretched out on the lawn, pitcher of water and a glass beside him. Young, tanned, buff wearing a purple tank top with dark glasses, Velez looked like the superhunk he swaggered around pretending to be. “Of course, Aquarius and me would have been, you know, simpatico.” He picked up his empty glass and glared at the pitcher. The water in the pitcher bubbled and swirled and filled again. He poured himself a glass and laid back. “This is living!” he sighed.

Kip grumbled and flicked a finger in Velez’s direction.

“Two-four-six-eight, c’mon towel, incinerate!”

There was a spit of flame from Kip’s finger and in another instant the towel flashed into ashes in a burst of fire. The glass, pitcher and Kid Aquarius were untouched. But Kid Aquarius was livid.

“Hey, what the hell! You think that’s funny?” Aquarius said jumping up clenching his fists.

“Yeah, you wanna make something out of it?” Kip said glaring. To himself, he wished he’d broken his habit of saying the supposed magic words to activate his powers. It was a crutch, he knew, since finding out his powers weren’t really supernatural. Still, he could paste Kid Aquarius, of that he was certain.

Yeah, I’m gonna make something of it!” Kid Aquarius said.

“Hold it right there, both of you!” Mrs. Pickney. An instant later, the concrete floor of the back porch re-formed into a wall between the two.

“Yowlp!” M.K. yelled.

“Both of you calm down,” she said. “This is our Fourth of July weekend and we don’t need the Crisis Squad Auxiliary Training Facility turned into a battleground. Or when Electron gets back, I could have him put you in separate corners. In separate countries. You understand?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Kip and Kid Aquarius said.

“Good.” Mrs. Pickney left.

Kid Aquarius and Kip glared at one another.

“Electron,” Kip muttered. “He’s eighteen. Big deal.”

“We’re fire and water,” Kid Aquarius said. “Always.”

“Yeah.” Kip Starkwell said, clenching a fist. “Always.”

 

—end—

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Something dark for Friday Flash Fics, for June 22, 2018 by Jeff Baker.

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                             At the Bottom of One of These Abysses          

                                                  By Jeff Baker

            I am writing these lines in the hope that my mind would be freed. My conscience is clear, despite what the reader, my confessor, may consider a devilish act.

            I had met Ambrose through the auspices of what I will call “The Quiet Club,” one of a number of “gentlemen’s clubs” in Baltimore where gentlemen could meet gentlemen. And while formal attire was required for entry into the club’s outer environs, once in the deep recesses of the club members and guests would shed their attire and fraternize with drinks and sandwiches. Discreet deals would be made. And men in pairs would retire either to other rooms in the club or to alternative quarters. Among the crowd of near-naked men, Ambrose stood out. His only adornment was a pet crow which he described as his “avatar” and remained perched on his bare shoulder throughout our conversation, feathers glistening in the gaslight, eying me warily.

The crow remained perched on Ambrose’s shoulder when we, now clothed, walked through the dark streets to the basement rooms I rented for such encounters.

It was easy to slaughter somebody who was expecting an embrace. As always the thick stone walls blocked the sound and the stone floors held the prospect of washing the blood down the floor drains. The crow was another matter; it hurled itself at me like an avenging fury. But it was not a fury and soon it fell. Disposing of the bodies, after use of my surgical implements was made easy by the nearby harbor. Disposal of my clothes and the latest deed was complete.

It was not long after that I decided to take my leave of Baltimore and try my luck in mighty Philadelphia. I was there unexpected for several weeks when I noticed a single crow perched on a ledge outside my rooming-house. I thought nothing of it at first, but then I realized the crow was in the same spot whenever I entered or left my rooms staring at me with a watchful eye—the same eye from the stone basement room!

I left Philadelphia by the stage and headed for New York City, where I found my mysterious watcher had followed me! And it was the same bird; Ambrose’s bird that I had left for dead in Baltimore! Of this I was sure! I heard its steely cry day and night!

I had some acquaintances in New York and I made public my plans to head for Boston. Instead, I made my way to Richmond. There I believed I had lost my accuser, the monstrous black-feathered avatar of Ambrose. But to no avail! I soon noticed it on the streets, in the trees, in the sky above me. Always with the accusing stare and the noisesome cry of its loathsome breed!

I could take no more! I went to the local police, who did not believe my tale of blood and murders and avatars. Even when I took them outside and showed them the dark avenger in a tree outside their very police station. Something in my manner, in my insistence must have struck a chord, for doctors were soon summoned and, following a barrage of questions, I found lodging in the city’s official version of Bedlam.

I still do not know whether they believe my confession. I do not know whether they have even checked my route of blood from Baltimore, Providence, Boston, New Orleans and other cities where I plied my trade. I merely remain here. Undisturbed. No visitors from outside. No windows in this room.

But in my dreams, even in my waking hours I still see the accusing eye and hear the tuneless cry of the avenger of Ambrose; that hideous bird!

 

                                                             —end—

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A Crisis in June, for Friday Flash Fics, June 15, 2018 by Jeff Baker

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Crisis at Pride

                                                       By Jeff Baker

            The strength of Poseidon! The warrior skill of Sappho! The power of Phoebus! The agility of Thelixinoe! The mystical wisdom of Tiresias! And the innocence of Ganymede!

            Stu Dulare seems like an ordinary young man, but when he invokes this untold power, he transforms! Now, he and his partner Jason have been charged by these ancients to expose untruths, to battle for diversity and to protect the innocent! Join them now on their journey!

            Two young men stood in the shadow of a brick building.

            “You got the stuff?” Brad said.

            “Yeah, right here,” Steve said, holding up the large bag. “Hey, you still think this is a good idea?”

            “It’s not like we’re going to hurt anybody, we’re just going to stir things up a little. Make ‘em listen to our side of things!” Brad said. “You got the key?”

            “Yup!” Steve said. “My Dad never missed it!”

            The day of the pride festival was warm and sunny. Stu and Jason walked around the area the locals called Olden Town, taking the Festival all in.

            “Seriously, Jason, you look goofy. Take off the flag and put on a shirt.”

            “C’mon, Stu,” Jason said with a grin, “What’s wrong with literally wrapping yourself in the Pride flag?”

            “Nothing, but every time I see that, I keep thinking of all those guys wrapped in the American flag with a swastika tattooed on their beerguts!” Stu said. Jason loved Stu when he got that determined look on his face.

            “Well, maybe I should get a shirt,” Jason said. “Let’s walk around and see if I can find a good one.”

            “Let’s walk around and get one from the SUV.” Stu said, grinning again.

            “You mean the Gay Dadmobile Without The Kids we ride around in?”

            Stu was laughing when he heard the popping noise.

            “My gosh, gunshots!” Stu exclaimed.

            “No! They sound different!” Jason said. “I was in the Army, remember? Those sound more like firecrackers. Part of the celebration?”

            Jason and Stu glanced across the crowd to see people on the other side of the closed-off streets running and pointing.

            “Somebody’s throwing fireworks into the crowd,” Stu said. “I think from one of those buildings.”

            “Jumping Castro Street! Somebody could get hurt!” Jason said.

            “Not if I can help it!” Stu said, dashing behind a building. He looked around, checking more for security cameras than people and then he mentally invoked the Six Ancient Names. He felt a rush of power, there was a thunderous roar in his ears, and a blaze of multicolored light burst from his body like a prism as time stood momentarily still. He glanced down for an instant; he was taller, buffer, in a tight-fitting costume that glistened the way black hair sometimes shows glimpses of every color. And a cape that he imagined was like one ancient temple priests or priestesses would have worn.

            Instantly his mind was filled with images; the gift of Tiresias. Two men, in their twenties, in an unlit office by an open window, a bag of fireworks spilled on the floor beside them. The men were arguing. The one grabbed the bag of fireworks; the other hit him in the face.

            Stu rose into the air, calling on Phoebus’ power, which was exceptionally strong in bright sunlight. In an instant, he was hovering over the buildings, enough to see the fight through the window of the five story brick building across the street without mystical aid. One of the men punched the other who fell backward, slipping on the spilled fireworks and falling out the window. Clutched at the last minute, his hand holding the windowsill was a lifeline. The fight forgotten, the other man tried to pull the falling man inside, but he wasn’t strong enough.

            “Jumping Castro Street!” Stu’s other form said. He invoked the power of Poseidon and Ganymede, both with control over liquids. In another instant, the water cooler in the office burst open and a watery hand grabbed the man, holding him there in mid-fall. At the same time, the ice from several ice chests at the festival rose and formed a swirling platform, lowering the man safely to the ground.

            “What were you trying to do?” Stu’s other self asked Brad. “Someone could have been killed!”

            “We didn’t mean that!” Brad said as the security guard brought Steve over. “We just wanted to draw attention to some things. Like, they call this the Gay Pride Festival. Well I’m Bi and my buddy here is Transgender. There’s a lot of others who don’t get a mention!”

            “But nearly causing a stampede and a riot is no way to go about this,” Jason said.

            “Yeah, we should have thought it out,” Steve said. “We shouldn’t have done this.”

            Stu’s other self paused thoughtfully for a moment, and when he spoke he realized it wasn’t with the mystical wisdom of Tiresias, but the hard-earned wisdom of Stu Dulare.

“You two need to realize that the Pride rainbow covers all of us, don’t get hung up on semantics. We are stronger together than split apart.”

It was later in the afternoon and Stu (in his ordinary form) and Jason were walking back to their SUV, Jason with a couple of Pride shirts in a bag he’d also bought.

“That’s the problem, Stu,” Jason said. “We still haven’t come up with a name for that super-powered paragon you turn into.”

“Would have been nice if they had given a name to go with those powers.”

“How about Captain Wonderful?” Jason said.

“Nah. Too showy.” Stu said. “What about Anti-Bigot Man?”

“Ick!” Jason said. “What about Captain Nicebutt?”

“Can’t use that!” Stu said! That’s what I ought to call you!”

Jason grinned back.

“You know,” Stu said, “Today Steve and Brad learned that violence is no way to spread a message. It may even damage your cause, no matter how worthy it is. Talking and reason are always better.”

“Who you talking to?” Jason asked.

“Hmmm? Oh, nobody,” Stu said with a wink and a grin.

 

                        —end—

           

            Dedication: In Memory of the Elders; Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer.

 

           

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Chocolate in a Junkyard, for the monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge, by Jeff Baker, June 11, 2018.

The random selections for this month’s Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (as drawn by ‘Nathan Burgoine) were; a fantasy, involving hot chocolate, set in a junkyard or scrapyard. Here’s what I came up with: 

 

                                    Caliburnus and Chocolate

                                                By Jeff Baker

                           

            “Okay, there it is!” I pointed at the rusted sign on the side of the muddy road, next to the gate.

            “Watch where you’re aiming that thing!” Terry said, almost dropping his thermos.

            “Sorry!” I said, pulling to one side of the fence. I didn’t want the old pickup to be mistaken for scrap which was a distinct possibility. I’d borrowed my Dad’s old pickup because I couldn’t use my car and Terry didn’t have one.

            “Gate’s locked,” Terry said, pulling on it with one hand clutching the thermos with the other. I stared at the gate; wire mesh, with what looked like metal siding wired to the sides, surrounding the yard. I could see piles of scrap towering over the fence. There was a sign that said 7 to 5.

            “No doorbell,” I said. “Guess we’ll have to knock.”

            “Or yell,” Terry said banging on the front gate. I hadn’t seen a number anywhere or I would have used my phone.

            “Who are you?” came a voice. I jumped. The siding had moved and an old man was peering out of the closed gate.

            “Uh, hi,” I said. “I’m Geoff Monmouth…”

            “They call him Mouthy,” Terry said with a grin. I glared.

            “We’re looking for a couple of replacement parts for my, uh, for a 1974 Chevy Nova,” I said. “A rear bumper and a left rear taillight.” 

            The man stared at us another moment, then unlocked the gate.

            “Enter, then,” he said. “I am Foremann Aurelian, keeper of this place.” The man was old, he was so weather beaten I couldn’t tell whether he was Native American, Latino or any ethnicity. His hair was scraggly and pure white with a fringe of beard around his chin. And he was big. At least six-foot-two. I was six feet even, but this guy looked like he might be solid muscle under his jacket. Of course, it could have been the layered flannel shirts.

            I wished I’d worn my jacket. At least Terry had his damn thermos of hot chocolate.

            “I will let you in, but first I must know of your lineage,” Aurelian said. He stared at us squinting with one eye. “Ah, you!” He pointed at Terry. “You did not know your father!”

            Terry bristled. That was a sore spot with him.

            “Yeah, so what? He ran off before I was born,” Terry said. “My stepdad’s the one who…”

            “I know, I know,” Aurelian said. “You might be the Destined One, the Fulfiller of Prophecy. Enter and behold.” Aurelian stepped back and the gate swung open. We walked in and I checked behind the gate expecting to see a couple of goons. Nobody.

            We stared. Junk. Cars. Old engines, torn up stoves, refrigerators (minus their doors) and a glittering, shining pile of what I thought were steel rods of some kind.

            “Man, those are swords!” Terry breathed.

            “Only one is important, mighty Caliburnus,” Aurelian said. “Destined to be wielded again in battle by the mightiest of warriors or his descendent. Caladbolg was found, but it is not part of the prophecy. You may select and if this is the Time of Need you may select Caliburnus.”

            “Um, how about that bumper for my Nova?” I said.

            Aurelian stared at us.

            “Yes, yes, I have been blind! If it is his destiny, it is yours as well! For you are linked for life in love as well as honor.”

            We stared at each other. We didn’t wear it on our t-shirts; we were careful.

            “Gruffudd yn Aur was such as you,” Aurelian said. “A paladin of honor and duty, loyal to the crown and to the man he had chosen. Later generations had his name stricken from the Chronicles, but I recall him battling, and also raising high the tankard, and, wait, put that down.”

            I had picked up an old bulb horn from a stack of hubcaps.

            “That is a destiny for others,” Aurelian said, “Though it may not be the Horn of Bran Galed, The search for mighty Caliburnus is your destiny.”

            I set the bulb horn down.

            “Sounds like thirsty work,” Terry said, unscrewing the thermos and slurping his hot chocolate.

            “That scent!” Aurelian said. “Where did you find it? The sacred draught of the Aztecs! its power rivaling Caladbolg!”

            “This?” Terry said. “It’s hot chocolate. You can buy it all over the place.”

            “I have truly been away,” Aurelian said. “Now, what destiny do you feel calls to you?”

            I pulled the pickup back onto the highway, having a funny feeling that even if we went back down that old dirt road we wouldn’t find the junkyard again. The bumper and parts for the Nova clattered in the truck bed. The silvery sword lay wrapped in a cloth in the storage box.

            “Crazy old man just gave us the bumper, and that old sword he said was, what did he call it?” Terry said.

            “Caladbolg,” I said.

            “Yeah, something-blog. I knew that was it,” Terry said. “What did he call hot chocolate? A holy grate?”

            “Something like that,” I said. “When you’ve been living in a junkyard like that, you’re bound to go little nuts.”

 

                                                —end—

 

             

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, LGBT, Monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Inked, for Friday Flash Fics, June 1, 2018 by Jeff Baker.

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                                    The Spirits of the Air

                                         By Jeff Baker

            I was seventeen years old, and in my third year of my apprenticeship to the Sorcerer Thabbas. Known in some places as “Thabbas, The Ravager,” a name given by his adversaries, which he lived up to some of the time.

            I was cleaning the room with its western view which Thabbas used on occasion; an ancient desk in the center, scrolls and books on the shelves, bottles tightly corked in various places, and spread over the desk a large paper full of hand-drawn images of the stars, the three moons and random planets. Thabbas’ star charts, which he had been laboring on for decades. There was a bottle of ink, tightly sealed and a set of quill pens next to the ink bottle. I picked up one of the quills, trying to see what kind of bird it had come from when my jacket caught an edge of the star chart and as I stepped away, several of the items were pulled over, including a small, clear, stoppered bottle, smaller than my thumb. I lunged for it and knocked it off the opposite side of the desk. Using what little art I knew I caused the bottle to rise upward, keeping it from falling to the floor, but causing it to hurtle towards the ceiling, where it shattered.

            With the shower of glass came a shower of silvery mist which formed into a silvery, transparent man who stared at me a moment, then took flight.

            “You have provided me a service, and I thank you,” he said as he swirled around the roof. “I am one of the Spirits of the Air, whose powers are at the beck and call of your Master, as you are. But now, I am free to return to my brethren and I bid you adieu!”

            The Spirit headed for the window but burst against the thick glass like a breath does when puffed against a wall on a frosty morning. In another instant, it re-formed and looked around the room.

            “Another way, another way,” it said, almost to itself. It was looking to escape.

            He was right, Thabbas was my Master and losing this tool would make him most displeased. I remembered and invoked a spell I had learned for spilled wine and used it upon the Spirit. In another instant, the Spirit was drawn to the ink bottle and sucked in as the cap popped off. Yet another instant and the Spirit spewed out of the bottle, mixed with a quantity of the ink. It floated there and stared down at itself; it was still misty and transparent, but splotches of black ink were swirling about inside it, like ink dripped into a large clear glass of water.

            The Spirit looked up at me and smiled. “Do not be amazed, the air I am made of is the air of early morning, with mist and dew. Liquid blends well with me. But this is not me, so!”

            The Spirit hurtled itself at the wall, poofed again into a burst of misty air, leaving the wall splotched with ink. In another instant, the Spirit was standing in front of me, staring at the closed, wooden door. Could it breeze under the door or go through the keyhole? No, there were wards of protection on every door in the house. The Spirit’s face became grim and determined and it suddenly began to swirl and spin hurling itself at the door. As papers blew off the shelves I saw the large, flat door handle twist as the swirling wind moved it and brushed the door open just enough. Then the wind was gone and I heard laughter from the hallway outside, the hallway with the open window.

            My Master was not pleased. I was made to scrub the walls and floor and re-arrange everything that had fallen from the shelves. In his main office chamber, Thabbas gave me a lecture on caution and carelessness and said I would have time to think. He placed a finger under my chin and I rose in the air.

            “The smallest of the Moons will be new to-morrow. In six weeks it will be full. On that night, you will be restored to the form you have now. Until then…”

            A shiver ran through my body. I saw shafts of light surround me, firming into the bars of a cage. I was flat on my belly as the room and Thabbas swelled to immense size. Thabbas lifted my small cage and hooked it to a chain hanging from the ceiling lamp.

            I was a cricket.

            “Worry not, you will be fed.” Thabbas grinned broadly. “For the next few weeks, you will amuse me. Come cricket, chirp for your master.”

            I chirped.

 

                                                —end—

 

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My Second Anniversary Weekly Flash Fiction Post, for Friday Flash Fics May 25, 2018, by Jeff Baker.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE  from Jeff Baker: May 25, 2016, I did my first flash fiction post for Monday Flash Fics. (As I recall, a couple of days early!) I had been wanting to use this blog to regularly post fiction and promote myself, maybe by posting a serial version of a novel-in-progress as J. Scott Coatsworth has done (my novel stalled, glad I didn’t do that!) Instead I began posting flash fiction stories, one a week, (sometimes more!) with varying results. The best result being that I have exercised my writing muscles and maybe become a better writer as well as developing better and more regular work habits when it comes to writing. (Skills that would have served me well had I developed them and started regularly writing in College about 36 years ago!) I’ve written the weekly story when I was eager and motivated and when the words flowed as well as when I didn’t feel like writing. I’ve written standard stories as well as taken the advantage of the form to experiment with themes, styles (drabbles?) and new or series characters. Plus, I have written about a hundred stories, most for Monday and Friday Flash Fics, a handful for ‘Nathan Burgoine’s monthly flash fiction challenges and a few for submissions calls. A few of them are out in submissions right now, some originals, some reprints of stories posted on this blog. I owe a lot of thanks to Helena Stone, ‘Nathan Smith, Brigham Vaughn, Kelly Jensen, Elizabeth Lister and others too numerous to mention for their encouragement in maintaining these prompt sites. Again, many thanks!

            Ray Bradbury and Anthony Boucher were both believers in writing at least one story a week, although I usually don’t have time to pull off a full-length one each week, I hope they’d approve of my efforts and persistence.

            Without further ado, I turn this entry over to my occasional pseudonym and examine an entry from:

The Biffle Papers

By Mike Mayak

 

“All right, Mr. Biffle, where were we?” the interviewer said.

“Chicago, 1962,” Biffle said.

The interviewer riffled through his notebook. “You weren’t in Chicago in 1962,” he said.

“Oh. New York City then,” Biffle said, looking out the window of his penthouse.

1962, late spring, (Biffle said.) I had a cheap little walk-up in the Village, working a couple of jobs and getting by. Had a roommate who was in the theatre and in a drag show but he was never there, so I largely had the place to myself. And I kept to myself, mostly. I was working in a back kitchen straight out of a gangster movie when I met Rico. We spent our spare time wandering the streets, eating or ducking in somewhere for a drink and a new adventure despite both of us having to work second jobs at night. But we were young and tough; we’d both been in the Army in the late ‘50s,

“Uh, Mr. Biffle,” the interviewer said, “I think Rico Mangini was in the Navy. You were in the Army.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Biffle said. “Well we both wound up in New York, back when Greenwich Village was a village of dreams.”

That year we took it easy (Biffle said.) We spent our afternoons walking around the Village. We saw them tear down a section of the Highline over at Perry Street. We ate lunch in the shadow of the old Gothic building that had been City Hall and was now a Public Library.

One afternoon I got off work at my day dishwashing job and was gonna kill time with Rico until we both had to go to work that night so I walked over to where Rico worked to wait for him. One of the guys comes out of the back of the place, into the alley where I was smoking a cigarette and tells me ‘Your boyfriend never showed up for work.’ Well, Rico wasn’t my boyfriend, neither one of us was out. Not in 1962; but it wasn’t as much of a secret as you would think it was. They had no idea where Rico was, just that he hadn’t shown up for his shift and so he didn’t work there anymore.

I had a couple of ideas where he was; I found Rico in a bar rambling about how his life had gone down the toilet. I paid his tab, becoming officially broke and helped him out of the bar. Thank God I was bigger than he was because I wound up carrying him down the street to my apartment. It was closer and I had a key. And I was glad I’d done a lot of heavy lifting in the Army.

I managed to get him to walk up the stairs and he just staggered into the apartment, muttered “Thanks, Biff,” and collapsed on the couch (the only other furniture besides a table and two beds we had.)

That evening, I showed up at his night job and explained that Rico had been called out of town and couldn’t make it in and I was filling in for him.

“And they let you do that?” the interviewer asked.

“The guy who ran the kitchen knew me. He liked me. His boss was an idiot who was probably passed out on somebody else’s couch at that moment. Besides, the kitchen was short-handed even with Rico. Of course, in saving Rico’s night job I couldn’t show up for my own, so we were both down to one job apiece, so Rico moved in with me for a while. Saved money. Like I said, my official roommate was never there, so I don’t think he even noticed.”

“And this was all Greenwich Village, right?” the interviewer asked.

“Yes,” Biffle sighed. “I thought I’d made that clear. Greenwich Village, 1962. Maybe part of ’61, I’m not sure. Oh, well. It was almost sixty years ago. Turn off the recorder, we can do more later.”

 

—end—

 

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