I’m very happy to announce that my story “Unhaunted House” is up and available for listening at PseudoPod. The fine folks there do a wonderful job of picking horror fiction for your listening pleasure, and I’m honored they’ve selected a story of mine for the third, yes, third time. So give if a listen – it’s a short one – and then look very carefully at your lawn before you mow it again.
So this is it, my redesigned web page. Welcome one and all, and I hope you find the content contained herewithin to be reasonably amusing.
As for myself, I’m Richard Dansky, scribbler of various things. For my day job, I write and videogames for Ubisoft. Some of them, you might have heard of – Tom Clancy’s The Division and The Division 2, for example. Anyway, I’ve been writing and designing video games – mostly writing these days – for 20+ years at the Red Storm Entertainment studio. I am humbled by some of the great folks and studios I’ve gotten to work with, and I’ve had a chance to write for franchises including Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, Far Cry, HAWx, Might & Magic, and Driver.
I’m also a big proponent of supporting the video game writing community however I can. Among other things, that means serving on the Advisory Board for the Game Narrative Summit at GDC, and serving as the judge for the Student Narrative Competition at that show. I also curate the narrative programming track at East Coast Game Conference in Raleigh, NC every year, and I’ve contributed to several books on video game writing.
But that’s the day job. By night I write fiction, mainly horror. I’ve published seven novels and one short fiction collection, which has a cover by brilliant Sandman and Doom Patrol artist Richard Case. My most recent novel is Ghost Recon: Wildlands: Dark Waters, a tie-in to the video game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. But if like ghost stories about video games or haunted farmhouses, I’ve got something for you as well.
Before getting into video games, I worked in the tabletop RPG industry with White Wolf Game Studios. At this point I have over a hundred credits for projects I’ve written, designed, or otherwise contributed to in the Classic World of Darkness and Aeon universes. I mostly worked on Wraith: The Oblivion, but you can also find my work in Vampire: The Dark Ages, Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse and several other games. Most recently I wrote for and developed Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition, of which I am inordinately proud.
And that’s me professionally. Personally, if you keep reading in this space, you’ll probably hear a lot about the following topics: single malt scotch whisky, sasquatches, baseball, and crazed attempts to make sorbet in the middle of the night. If that sounds like your kind of thing, stick around.
Mary had come to the bar with me that Thursday night, so it seemed constitutionally unfair that she was spending the evening talking to some guy she’d met there. Now, before the werewolves of my conscience start howling, I should freely admit that she and I were not what they call “an item,” nor had we ever been. Rather, we had one of those friendships that, due to equal parts poor timing and lack of metaphorical balls, never developed into anything more. That was fine with both of us, really, and if either of us doubted it the other was happy to repeat it ad infinitum.
With the sort of dull maturity that comes from exhaustion, we both steadfastly agreed that we didn’t want to risk our friendship for the possibility of a romantic relationship that, in all probability, would not work out. (Sheer bullshit, of course. We would have jumped each other in a minute if we thought the other would have let us get away with it, but we’d both hesitated and lost long ago.) Still, with that in mind, it’s at least a little bit understandable that watching her spend the evening flirting with some freak of a total stranger pissed me off like you wouldn’t believe.
I couldn’t even say how he’d ended up in our booth. I’d gone off to get another round of beers and when I came back, there he was. Couldn’t tell if he’d shown up after the first or fifth round, though, and it’s not as if it mattered. After grabbing my beer, he’d introduced himself as Damon and then ignored me entirely to focus on my friend.
He was good-looking, more or less, in a pretty sort of way. His face was soft, like a baby’s – no chiseled cheekbones or arrogant chin on this guy. Instead, he looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy would look like if he bought all the clothes they advertised in Maxim. His hair was in blonde curls at that intermediate length that certain women seem to find irresistible; long enough to play with, too short to earn one the label of “freak.” The lighting wasn’t good enough for me to make out the color of his eyes, but somehow I suspected they’d be blue. His sort always has blue eyes. Great, I said to myself, I’ve been cut out by a post-pubescent cherub. They must kick ’em out of medieval paintings when their voices change. Sort of like spiritual Backstreet Boys, not that anyone remembers who the hell they are any more anyway.
I didn’t even laugh at my own joke, and it would have been stupid to repeat it aloud, so instead I stared at the broken fragments of humor. Sitting there watching them giggle at each other just made me see red, therefore, to prevent immediate violence I went off in search of another beer that Damon wouldn’t be able to grab and a crowbar to pry the two of them apart. I found the beer at the bar, remembered I’d left the crowbar in the trunk with the snow shovel, and returned to the table in a thoroughly pissy mood. Mary, to her credit, had tried to include me in the conversation a few times, but things just hadn’t clicked. So Mary and Damon chatted, and I sat there and sulked.
It only took me four beers from this point to allow me to deduct that, unbelievably, I was not in fact having a good time. Furthermore, I had to admit that my presence hadn’t even cramped the asshole’s style. My ego was down and kicked, so I excused myself and wandered off into the milling crowd. Mary noticed, but Damon didn’t. Or maybe he did, and I was just too deeply wedged into my dark little cavern of self-pity to notice. I did notice, though, that the booth where Damon was sitting was colder than everyone else in the bar. Then again, at the time I just thought that was a direct result of Mary’s attitude toward me.
The bar itself was called “Deirdre’s Rose,” and it was one of those faux-Irish places that spring up in Boston like fungus in an undergrad’s fridge. What this meant to in practical terms is that the place had Celtic knotwork on the signs over the door and Guinness on tap, and on Tuesday nights when no one was likely to come in they had ethnomusicology grad students playing the sort of ear-splitting traditional music you usually only hear on public radio. Fortunately, the rest of the week they conceded that rock was where the money was, and if you avoided the occasional “Open Mike” fiasco, you’d generally get your money’s worth of music. There was a small stage off to the right of the bar, and an uneven dance floor maybe eight feet on a side in front of it. On Saturday nights they would have as many as four bands for one cover, and enough of them didn’t suck that it was generally a good time. I’d caught Morphine here back in October of ’92, before they made it big, and kept on coming back in hopes of being able to say “I saw them when…” for another bunch of up-and-comers.
The band currently up, as I wove between tables and towards the speaker stack, was called Crisis of Faith, and they played a solid four-bar sort of thing, a little Talking Heads in the rhythm but not enough that you’d notice if you weren’t listening for it. I’d been vaguely aware of them for a while, largely because a friend of mine had dated their drummer, and she’d dragged me out to see them a half-dozen times before things went tits-up for the two of them. I kept on seeing their gigs afterwards; she didn’t.
There was a lot of beer-fueled bouncing happening on the dance floor, but it hadn’t devolved into a mosh pit yet, and it didn’t look likely to. White boy shuffle was about as enthusiastic as it generally got for those guys. That, incidentally, explained why A)my friend had called it off with the drummer and B)I could still catch them at Deirdre’s Rose on a Saturday night. Occasionally people would stumble out of the crowd and rush to either the bar or the bathroom, but I just parked myself on the edge of the dance floor and waited for an opening I could actually wedge myself into. It wasn’t a great strategy, but it was mine, God damnit, and tonight, that counted for something.
I was still waiting another Pete’s Wicked later when something wonderful walked past me and sat down at the closest table. She was about five-four, with pale, pale skin and that long, straight Wednesday Addams black hair. Her face was round and delicate, without a trace of makeup, and her body…well, look. I’m not the sort who normally drools over anything with breasts. I’m not the sort that howls over anyone remotely woman-shaped. I didn’t even buy that many dirty magazines when I was in high school. But seeing this woman…
I wanted to howl, and knew that I was drooling, though I put the latter down to too much alcohol. She wasn’t a pinup, and she wasn’t dressing to advertise that she spent more time on the treadmill than God intended anyone who wasn’t born a gerbil to spend. No, she was round and full in all the right places, and dressed for what I could politely call emphasis. Black dress, low-cut and tight across the breasts but high on the thigh. Lots of silver jewelry dangling right in her cleavage, so that you had an excuse to stare. No eyebrow ring that I noticed during the brief moment when I tried to maintain eye contact, but she did have a silver stud through her nose. There was a biker jacket on the chair eased herself onto, and when she reached for her drink I saw that she had a tattoo of a crescent moon on the inside of her left wrist. I was spellbound.
Look, I admit it. In everything except my politics, I’m a conservative. I root for the Dallas Cowboys, I agonize about which color of Dockers to buy, and I can show you my ticket stubs from multiple McCartney solo tours. My taste in women is no different; my usual type could be identified by the Laura Ashley dresses in her closet, the Toni Morrison on her bookshelf, and the inescapable suburban blandness of her parents. There were no skeletons in my closet when it came to sex; hell, there was barely a closet. My tastes and experience were both bland, and I liked them that way.
At least, I did until this woman came along. She didn’t hit any of my buttons, except for the big one labeled “I Want Her Now.” That one was getting pummeled like it was connected to a slow elevator. I wanted to walk up to her, dazzle her with my stunning wit, and sweep out of the place elegantly with her clinging to my arm. I wanted her to simply catch a whiff of my Drakkar and melt in front of my Reeboks. I wanted her to get up, grab my by the lapels, and haul me off into the Ladies’ Room to perform unspeakable acts upon my person.
It’s nice to want.
She caught me staring at her over the shoulder of some guy radiating that caveman “Woman MINE!” vibe, and I imploded. He was about my height, but looked a bit thinner around the waist and a lot more muscular around the bicep. Dressed in black, to no one’s surprise, and I counted three studs in the left ear. She quirked a mini-size smile at me, very briefly and with a minimum of pity, and then went on talking with her guy.
I waited until my dick finished shriveling, and then found an empty seat at the bar. “Another Pete’s,” I told the bartender, and put my head down so I could study the spillage patterns on the counter more intently. To my left, I heard a chair scraping, and then a woman’s voice. “You’re lucky. He didn’t bring anything particularly lethal with him tonight.”
My head jerked up like it belonged on a Muppet. She was sitting there, smiling lopsidedly. “Lethal?”
She nodded. “Potentially, yes. Trev is ver-ry protective of my reputation.” She fished in her purse for a cigarette, lit it, and puffed smoke past me. “If he thought you were here to hit on me, he’d drag your sorry ass outside and kick it. Hard.” She blew more smoke at me and smiled, brilliantly. “You’re not here to hit on me, are you.”
“Absolutely not,” was all I could say. “I’m here to flirt with you.”
She was amazing; her face was absolutely deadpan. Not even a blink, she just said, “And that, I’m sure, will make all the difference to him.” Then she laughed, and I just sat there and gaped. I felt like tossing a bone up to the ceiling and seeing if it turned into a spaceship. She kept smiling, and all I could say was, “My God, you’re beautiful,” which made her smile even more, and then we actually started to talk.
Her name was Danitra, or something like that and she was a part-time student at Mass College of Art. The rest of the time she worked as an artist’s model and a dancer, and I knew better to push that particular line of inquiry. She was amazingly easy to talk to, though, and had a soft, low voice that had trouble cutting through the crowd noise and the music. This meant I had to lean in close an awful lot to hear what she was saying, but Danitra didn’t seem to mind much.
For my part I didn’t mind at all.
After about an hour the ill-reputed Trev came back, shaking and sweating like he’d been doing something in the john. He didn’t sit down. Instead, he just stood behind Danitra’s chair and stared, hard. He didn’t blink, either, and his expression clearly showed that he would prefer it if I left, so that he didn’t have to waste the effort of ripping my lips off. I shot a glance at Danitra, but she was turned around and looking up at Trev.
“Who are you talking to, Danny?” he said, breathing hard. I met his eyes for a second and his pupils were dilated all the way out. Pure black, pure scary.
“I am talking to my friend,” and she paused here for a minute as I panicked, because in all that time, I hadn’t actually told her my name, “and we were talking about how much the band sucks. Got any other questions?”
“Your friend got a name?” His voice was flat and dead, and so was his stare. A tiny part of my brain noted that his left hand was clenching and unclenching in time with the music, and that Crisis of Faith was playing a really fast song.
“Michael,” I said quickly. “Like she said, we were just talking.” I could tell instantly that it was the exact wrong thing to say. I could feel Danitra staring at me with an unspoken “You asshole, you just fucked it up,” and I could see Trev’s eyes narrowing.
“Talking,” he said. I took a deep breath, and nodded.
“Talking. About stuff,” I added lamely, and watched Trev’s smile get thinner.
“Really. That’s nice. You must be out of stuff to talk about now, though. Right?” He stepped closer, put his arm around Danitra possessively. The way his hand splayed itself over her breast reminded me of a starfish going after a scallop. I shuddered.
“Actually, it is getting kind of late for me,” I muttered, and slid out of my chair. Danitra tried to meet my eyes, but I looked away. “Nice talking with you, Danitra. See you around.”
“Yeah,” I heard her say, distantly, and then the bar sound swallowed her up. I walked away slowly then, praying that when it came his turn to get up, Trev the asshole would slip in the slimy trail of testosterone I was leaving behind and break his neck. Trev didn’t notice any of it. He just smiled a shark’s smile (lots of teeth, lots of raw meat stuck between the teeth) and sat down next to Danitra. When I looked back, I swear she didn’t even look upset. She just started whispering something in his ear, something that made him giggle.
Probably laughing at me. Not, I knew, that I didn’t deserve it.
To avoid watching any more, I headed over to the other end of the bar, and put my ass down on an empty stool. The backup bartender, a skinny Irish import with a funky frog tattoo on his shoulder and hair that had been dyed red, wanted to take my keys before he’d give me another beer, but I eventually convinced him that I was sober.
“Your funeral,” he said, and slid the beer across the counter.
“No,” I told him. “I’m not worth the effort.”
That beer down and half its brother later, she flowed onto the stool next to mine. I felt it rather than saw it; her presence was that electric. My eyes were on my beer, though, for fear that if I turned to her, she’d vanish. Trusting my feelings, after, hadn’t been working so well for me of late.
“Hey,” she said.
I looked up and tried to raise a single eyebrow. It failed. “What happened to Trev? Gone home to fetch the belt sander to use on my balls?” It came out whinier than I intended, and I winced at the sound.
She shook her head. “No, off trying to impress that skinny bitch you walked in here with.” She grabbed my beer and drank a sizable percentage of it. “And your beer tastes like water.”
I opened my mouth to defend Mary and/or Pete’s, thought about what either of them had done to deserve my support, and closed it. “Really?” I finally choked out.
She put the beer down. “Really. Look for yourself.” I looked. Damon was giving Trev a royal blow-off. Mary didn’t even look like she’d noticed the newcomer was there; apparently the first intruder had squatter’s rights on her attentions. I turned back and Danitra was smiling at me, one side higher than the other, her head cocked off to the left. “See? I told you.”
It didn’t make sense. This was all too fucking weird, too thoroughly against the natural social order of things. Goths didn’t blow each other off to sit with geeks, no mater what. It was Hatfields and McCoys, Montagues and Capulets, Greasers and Socs. “I don’t understand,” I could hear my beer-soaked hindbrain say. “What did you tell him to make him leave you alone and bother Mary?”
“Mary?” She sniffed, looked me a question, then took my beer out from in front of me. “Boring name. Probably a boring person, too.” I found myself nodding. “Thought so,” she said, and drank the rest of my Pete’s, making a face of revulsion that managed to look pretty damn cute. Then, noticing I was still looking at her, she put the empty pint glass down and steepled her hands to rest her chin upon. “If you must know, what I told him was that I was just playing with you, and that he should take it as a compliment that another man, even an obvious loser, was willing to risk death and dismemberment in order to hit on his quote-unquote chick. He understood most of the big words, pretended he knew the rest,and went off thinking that he could really make you feel like your dick shrunk in the dryer by taking your girlfriend home and screwing her brains out.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I protested soggily.
“No shit,” she said witheringly. “After all, you’re sitting here.”
I shut up, gazing longingly at the row of taps on the other side of the bar. There was a long minute’s silence and then she sighed. I got up to go. She whirled around on the stool with a surprised look on her face. “Where the hell are you going?”
“Home. Going to collect my not-girlfriend ’cause I’m in no shape to drive, and then home. With any luck Dermott, or whoever she’s sitting with, won’t come with.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Beer there is cheaper. Also, I’m less likely to be used to stroke a passing psychotic’s ego. Have fun with Trev. ‘night.” I flowed off the barstool and started to stagger off. I took two steps and stopped. Not because I couldn’t walk any further, mind you. It was because she’d snagged my collar with her hand, then pulled me back to where she sat.
“You know, for a geek, you’re a fucking moron. Do you think I actually meant what I said to Trev about you?” I spun, slowly so I wouldn’t lose control of my stomach, to face her. Her eye’s were wide, wide open. Too wide, I thought, though I didn’t know why or what that meant.
“I don’t know,” I finally said, enunciating each word with the exaggerated clarity of the drunk. “It makes a certain sort of sense, hmmm?”
“Would I have told you if I’d meant it?” Danitra let go of my collar, probably because her wrist was twisted at too an odd angle to hold it. I shook my head and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’d like to think you wouldn’t have, if that’s the right thing to say. I don’t know what the hell’s going on, to be honest. Do you?” I almost pleaded the last.
She shook her head. “No. So come back over here, and have some fucking coffee, and maybe we can figure it out between the two of us.” Her hands were up, in that schoolyard gesture that means “I didn’t do anything.” “If you want to go, fine. Blow. I won’t grab you again. Promise.” I wobbled there. Twice. Then I got back on the barstool and ordered coffee, black as the devil, hot as hell and cliched as both put together.
We talked, hesitantly at first, and she smiled a lot. I suspected that her parents had paid a lot of money to a dentist somewhere for that smile, but that’s the sort of asshole I am, always wondering about that sort of thing. It’s not like it really mattered. Crisis of Faith finished their set and another band came on, and another (this one really shitty, so they could clear the joint out – it was standard practice), and before I knew it the place was closing down and the lights were coming up. Most of the patrons had emptied out sometime earlier, and I could see clear across the room to where Mary and Damon were sitting. There was no sign of Trev, and I found myself hoping he’d died of a lacerated ego.
I turned back to Danitra, and the only words I could find were, “Thank you for a lovely evening. I hope we meet again at some point.” Pure nerd, but at that moment I knew that’s what I was. A pure nerd. A straight. A normal. My ship had just passed in the night, and I had stood there saying, “Gee, what a pretty iceberg.”
She didn’t laugh. Didn’t leave, either. Just reached over to me and put one of her hands on mine. It was somewhat chill, but I didn’t pay much attention. “The evening doesn’t have to be over, you know.” She brushed away a strand of hair that had fallen across her eye. “My place is five minutes from here, and Trev doesn’t have a key. We could go back there and,” pause, “keep talking, if you’d like.” She smiled again, in invitation.
I nearly lost it, then and there. I’d gone into the crowd looking for someone to spend the night with, and here was my wish, with all the bells, whistles, and nose-rings. I’d wanted to find someone who’d want me in precisely the way that Mary hadn’t this evening, and I flattered myself that Danitra did. Danitra, who was every forbidden bad-girl fantasy I’d had since age 12, rolled up into one. Danitra, who was all the wild things I’d never had but really wanted to have once, just to know what I would be missing the rest of my life. Danitra, who was witty and intelligent and could concisely tell me I was full of shit when I started talking about modern poetry. Danitra, who had a great smile.
Danitra apparently could read my mind, because she sat back, then, but kept smiling and looking at me. “Up to you,” she said, softly.
I swallowed hard and was about to say yes when the bouncer tapped me on the shoulder and faux-brogued, “Closing time, pal.” Danitra just shot the guy a look, then, strong enough to make him raise his hands in apology as he backed off, but the damage was done. While Danitra was looking at him, though, I caught a glimpse of Damon and Mary sitting there and immediately felt, well, ashamed of myself. Mary was a guest, an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in months, and I’d been about to abandon her in hopes of getting laid by someone else. Flipping her my keys and saying, “You know how to get back, see you in the morning, and don’t drink the milk with the blue lid ’cause it’s four months old,” would have been inexcusable.
Idiotic, I know, but that’s the way I think. I can’t help it. After all, I’m an idiot.
Danitra followed my glance, and I think she understood then. I stood up, looking around for where I’d stashed my personal cross, and she let go of my hand. “I really am sorry,” I murmured, and I hoped Danitra could see that I was. “She’s staying at my place, and I can’t, well, you know…” I just trailed off and stood there, feeling like a moron. “You could come back to my place, if you’d like. It’s a ways, but I’ve got plenty of crash space. Extra beds, if…”
She cut me off. “You really are sweet, you know that? But I’d rather not go back to your place if your friend is going to be staying there. It would probably embarrass her. Or you.”
“Not you?” I said, and felt like a fool.
“I don’t embarrass easily.” She bit her lip and reached for her jacket. “I’m really sorry things didn’t work out,” was all I could hear of what she’d said. “Could I get your number, maybe? I could call you after Mary, that’s my friend, leaves town?”
The question just sort of hung there and died.
We both knew that the evening’s magic had been just that; the magic of one evening. There was an awkward minute of silence, eyes pointed at the floor, and then she took that first step back and away.
So much for fantasy.
She gave me a kiss on the cheek, then, and walked off. I saw through the window that Trev was waiting for her outside. He took her hand possessively, abruptly, and they vanished into the post-midnight gloom. It was just as well, I told myself. as I’d No doubt he’d been marking time in the alley with a machete.
I waited a minute for the sake of dignity, then walked over to Mary and Damon. It was time to take her home. Alone.
They were already standing when I got there, Damon helping Mary into her coat. “Time to go,” I said to Mary, ignoring her companion. Damon smiled, then, and I felt a wave of pure rage boil up from my gut. “Mary and I are going to continue our discussion at my place. I hope this does not offend.”
I hated him then. I hated his too-soft looks and his too-pretty face and his too-fucking-pretentious phrasing.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She’s my guest, and she’s coming home with me.” He smiled back at me, the sort of smile you get from someone who thinks he’s talking to a small child or an idiot.
“I’m willing to challenge that statement,” he said lightly, but there was something in his eyes that bothered me. They were cold and hard, and that didn’t surprise me. But they also, somehow, seemed to be exactly the wrong shade of blue. “I’ll call you in the morning, Michael,” Mary chimed in, shaking me from an analysis of the sleazeweasel’s eye pigmentation. “Really, he’s got an extra bed at his place. We’re just going to talk.”
I bit my tongue to keep the first thing that came to mind from popping out. I’d given up my once-in-a-lifetime night because I didn’t want to leave her alone at my place and because a woman who’d wanted me wouldn’t come to my place because she was there, and now she was going off to “talk.” Yeah. Right.
I couldn’t see for a minute. The world was one big red blur, too bright and too loud. I wanted to scream. I wanted to howl. I wanted to take a beer bottle and pulp Damon’s pretty, pretty face. That’s the shade of red the world was for that instant; Damon’s face afterwards.
Several years later, when I could speak again, I smiled a Teflon smile and looked up at the happy couple. “No offense, Damon, but are you sure that’s a good idea, Mary? I mean, weren’t you the one e-mailing me all of those charming statistics about violence against women? I mean, if he wants to come back to my place so you can talk there, that would be fine. I can make tea for all of us.” I took her hand and started leading her out of the bar. Damon followed closely, smirking.
Once we got outside, Mary pulled her hand away, and then slapped me on the bicep for good measure. “This is different, Michael. You’re not my boyfriend and you’re not my big brother. For God’s sake, we’ve been discussing Richard Diebenkorn for the past three hours while you were trying to get into that bimbo’s skirt.”
I stopped, abruptly, and Damon bumped into my back. He didn’t apologize. He felt a lot sharper than such a soft, pretty boy had any right to, and my back actually stung where he’d hit it. “She is not,” I said slowly, “A bimbo. She has a name; it is Danitra. Don’t talk about her like that unless…Unless you know what you’re talking about.” A lame ending, and I knew it. Outside sounds swallowed my words, car horns and distant shouts and somewhere, a bottle breaking. In the distance, I thought I could hear Danitra’s voice, raised in argument, but I couldn’t be sure. Didn’t want to be sure, to be honest. “And if your playmate could find three hours’ worth of things to say about Diebenkorn, then he’s gotta be full of shit.”
Rather than let that sit there where it might actually be heard, I turned imperiously and stomped off toward the car. Mary, thankfully, went with me. Damon just followed us at an uncomfortable distance, not saying anything. I swear, I could feel him grinning. I could feel Mary winding up to say something, too, getting closer to blowing with every step.
I got thirty full seconds of the silent treatment, and then she cut loose. “If you don’t want me jumping to conclusions about Danielle, or whatever the hell her name was, would you stop accusing Damon of being a potential rapist.” I think I must have looked like I was about to have a coronary, because Mary immediately got conciliatory. She stopped, turned me around, and made me look down into her eyes. A mistake, that; my neck already hurt. “Look, Mike, I’m sorry, and I shouldn’t have said that,”
“No shit you shouldn’t have,” I mumbled.
Mary ignored me. “But you’re acting like a jealous boyfriend. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
I gripped her shoulders. She didn’t move to make me take my hands away. Over her shoulder I could see Damon, sniggering silently. I did my best to ignored him, and tried to concentrate on her. “Look, I know you can handle yourself, and I know I’m not your boyfriend. It’s just…well, I’ve got a feeling you shouldn’t do this, OK? Get his number. You can call him tomorrow.” And as I said it, I knew it was true. Something about Damon just gnawed at me.
Quietly and without any trace of artifice, she said, “Thank you,” and started walking again. I spat on the sidewalk and followed, doing my best to avoid looking at Damon. We turned off Church Street, onto Brattle. A few stragglers from the evening’s Rocky Horror Picture Show extravaganza shambled off down the block, butchering the lyrics to “Sweet Transvestite” as they went.
“I just think it’s a piss-poor idea to disappear to where I can’t find you with a guy you don’t know in a strange city at three in the morning just to talk about crappy Modern Impressionism.”
“It’s only two.”
“Two forty-five, and you know I’m right. Besides, we’re supposed to drive down to the Cape tomorrow.”
“We can do that when I get back, which will be well before noon. Isn’t that your car?” We’d nearly walked past it, as a matter of fact, and I felt, well, like my dick had shrunk in the dryer. So I said nothing, just growled, and opened my door. I’d had too many beers that night for my budget’s well-being, but nothing for a couple of hours, and I certainly felt sober enough to drive, so I slid myself behind the wheel. Danitra had been doing all of the drinking during our second discussion anyway, these hideous red concoctions she claimed were called “Vladimirs.” They tasted like cough syrup, I remembered, and I found myself wondering how much alcohol it took to make someone find me attractive. Then I wondered how much it had taken Danitra to find me attractive, and how long it might last, and…thinking about her got me angry again, so I hit the power locks to open Mary’s door and slammed mine shut.
“It’s idiotic and you know it. Get Damien’s phone number.”
“Whatever. Have another beer and I’ll bet his head spins around, too. Get his phone number, give him a buzz when we get back from the Cape, and if he still wants to, ahem, talk pointillism with you then, he can join us for dinner and Seurat.” Snide, yes. Talking about him as if he weren’t there when he was smirking over my rear bumper, yes, I admit it was snide. Deeply satisfying, too, if you must know, but then I think you’d probably figured that out on your own.
Somehow, though, it also got the point across. Mary deflated, visibly, and sighed, “One minute.” She walked back around the car to where Damon stood wordlessly, hopefully to say goodnight and, if I were unlucky, to get his phone number. Words were exchanged, none of which I caught or wished to. It was quiet and low and it sounded like an apology, and Damon said something back that was sharp and angry. “I didn’t think you were going to be such an asshole about it,” Mary said, and I felt that little glow of schadenfreude.
You go, girl, I thought, somewhat gleefully. I’m glad I talked you out of that. To hide my glee, I stared at the steering wheel. No sense having her see me be so happy about things, after all. I could hear Mary’s hand on the door handle, and I started the engine in case we needed to get away from Damon quickly. I expected hear the door open, hear Mary get in, hear her talk about what a prick Damon had turned out to be. I expected to hear it all the way home, and probably until the sun came up if she felt like talking about it. In my mind, I was already preparing retorts, sympathetic noises, and agreements. Maybe even a sly hint that there were better men around after all, though that made me think of Danitra, and, well, anyway. But that’s what I was expecting.
Instead, I heard a ripping sound, a horrible, wet ripping sound. I thought there was something wrong with the relic mix tape in my relic tape deck and popped it out, but the sound continued and the passenger-side mirror was suddenly all red red red. Damon was ripping, splitting bloodily as huge soft wings exploded from his back. They weren’t feathered, no, they were slick and moist with blood that gleamed under the street lamps, and they were at least twelve feet across. A bat might have owned them, but Nature would refuse to admit to owning that bat. They slapped wetly against the trunk of my car, even as he reached forward for Mary.
I screamed Mary’s name but moved too slow. Open the door, undo the seat belt, fling myself out of the car in Damon’s direction – all of it took too long. Before my first foot hit the ground he’d pulled her to him, wrapped her up in those pretty-boy arms and wet, stinking wings. I could see her mouth working, silently. No screams. Not from Mary.
“Put her down,” I said, and raised my fists. They seemed impossibly inadequate for the task at hand.
He flapped his wings once. “I don’t think so,” he said thoughtfully through a mouth that no longer looked like it had been shaped to say human words. “She did say she was going back to my place, after all. I just never said where my place was. Right, Michael?”
I howled and charged. Mary stomped on his foot for all she was worth, the classic self-defense maneuver getting prime time play, but he ignored her. Laughed, even. Those hideous wings flapped again, a bloody butterfly spattering gore every which way.
The Rocky Horrorites were sensible. They ran. I was less sensible. I threw myself at Damon, or at least tried to.
I never got the chance. One of his wings came up and caught me on the side of the head. It slammed me face-first into the car door. The window shattered, and I could feel the glass raining down into my hair. I staggered upright just in time to catch another blow to the back of the head, and this one laid me out flat. I fell onto the sidewalk, onto the freshly broken glass, and felt the blood running down my face. The shadow of his wings covered me.
Get up, I told myself. Mary needs you! Get up!
My legs wouldn’t work.
Get up! He’s going to kill you!
One arm flailed aimlessly, fingers twitching. I could see the his shadow on the sidewalk as he moved closer, Mary now held effortlessly off the ground in one freshly clawed hand. She was screaming now, or trying to. It wasn’t working so well for her, I noticed groggily. Not well at all.
The shadow fell over me, fell past me. I looked up, and he was still smiling, if you could call the thing his mouth was twisted into a smile. He stood there and kept smiling, even as the bits of flesh from his pretty, pretty disguise sloughed off him. “Thank you for a lovely evening,” he said. “I do hope we meet again at some point.” Mary gave one last despairing cry of my name, and then he took off into the night sky, towards a too-fat, too-red moon that had no business being as swollen or as high as it was.
Then all was silence, and when I found the strength to look up again, the moon was the same phase and color it had been when the night started. But the window was still broken, and my face was still a bloody mess, and Mary was still gone. I didn’t even bother to call her name. No point to it, really.
Eventually, I staggered to my feet and fell into my car. Trusting my jeans to protect me from the broken glass on the seat, I turned the key in the ignition and sat there. The mix tape was still improbably hanging out of the tape deck. I shoved it back in and even more improbably heard Howard Jones. Things were going to get better, the song insisted.
“They can’t get any goddamned worse,” I told the night, and put the car into drive.
I probably should have gone to the hospital then, to get my face tended to, or to the police station to report Mary missing. Instead, I just wanted to go home. I started the car and drove off, humming along with the impossibly cheery crap pouring from the speakers to keep from moaning when the cold breeze teased the gashes on my face. Between the blood and the pain and the alcohol and the tears that I’d started to cry for Mary, the road was a blur, but I drove anyway. I was fine to drive. I’d told the bartender so.
A red light stopped me, barely spotted through the haze. I pulled up at the corner like a good little citizen and threw my turn signal on, a rarity in Cambridge at any hour of the night. A couple of cars whizzed by, and I waited a couple of eternities to make the right onto Harvard so I could head across the river and go back to my crappy little apartment in Brighton. I very much wanted to be in Brighton then, a place where the bars had fewer demons and someone with the right number of limbs would likely steal my car by morning.
As I sat there, I noticed Danitra walking along the sidewalk, worrying at a stuck zipper on her jacket. There was no sign of Trev. She looked up, then, and saw me, sitting in the car by myself. We made eye contact. She waved tentatively, perhaps because she couldn’t see the blood. Perhaps she could, and she waved anyway. I didn’t know.
The light changed. I drove off. Alone.
© Copyright 1999 Richard Dansky
Originally published in Stillwaters Journal.