Saturday, January 16, 2021

Exclusive Preview: Chapter 1

 



Defining expectations…and rudeness

 

   Standing with his feet in a pile of slush, gazing up at the ivy-covered brick, Koda felt overwhelmingly underdressed. Glancing down at his attire, then up at a picturesque bay window, was a stark reminder that he was entering another world. One in which he doubted he could ever belong. His only hope was that whoever he’d been paired to live with for the next year would be as uncomfortable and out of their element as he was. Maybe then they could bond over the mishaps that were sure to come.

Even his father’s voice in the back of his mind reminding him that he was more than the place he came from couldn’t motivate him to move away from his truck. He glanced up at the beautiful house again and shook his head, wondering what the neighbors would think when they saw the faded grey and blue pick-up in the driveway. The 1978 Prospector had been his old man’s well before he was born and with a lot of TLC, they’d kept her steady and reliable. Still, the shine had dulled from her weathered paint job over the course of the last two winters, both unexpectedly harsh. He’d need to prepare for sanding her down, priming her and applying a new coat come next year.

   With a sigh, he stared at the front door, wondering what in the world he’d gotten himself into. Responding to the flyer circulated by the psychology department had been more out of bored curiosity than anything else, so when they’d called him and asked him to come in for an interview he figured it would give him a chance to find out more about the so-called social experiment. Never in a billion years had he expected to be chosen as one of the participants.

   Tugging the key from his pocket, he stood debating whether to grab something from the truck or check the place out first to see where he’d be going. In the end, he decided to grab his backpack and duffle bag so as to not waste the trip.

   There was an actual welcome mat in front of the door, soft, he realized, once he’d pulled his shoes off before heading in. Plush blue-grey carpet welcomed him, the color stretching on as far as the eye could see. It practically shimmered beneath the bright, floor to ceiling windows, and the living spaces, holy shit, talk about spacious. Good thing he’d taken off his shoes, the last thing he wanted to do was dirty the place up on his first day.

   There was a huge bay window beside a kitchen filled with more stainless-steel appliances than Koda had ever seen in one place besides a store. Benches and a built-in table sat in a sort of nook with a picturesque view of the backyard with its awning covered patio furniture, fire ring, and hammocks. Grinning, he imagined laying in one with a sketchbook and animation pens; at least, when it was warmer anyway.

   Heading right, he found a large bedroom with an in-suite bathroom. The space was about half the size of the trailer he’d grown up in. He checked the other hall, and found a smaller bathroom and beyond, another bedroom with built in bookcases and a window with a view of the forest. It was smaller than the other one and tucked toward the back of the house in a spot that seemed quiet and isolated from the communal living space.

   He knew a good chunk of the project involved interacting with his new housemate, getting to know one another and planning activities to do during their free time. There was a whole checklist of things they were supposed to accomplish together over the course of the year, on top of the daily journal they were required to keep. All that interaction was going to leave him frazzled. Being able to retreat here would be great for his mental health. Besides, it wasn’t like he was choosing the larger space. He doubted his new house mate would care if he claimed the room way down here.

   Depositing his stuff beside the bed, he headed out to the truck to fetch the rest of his belongings, grateful that the place was furnished. In the interest of time and cleanliness, he decided to just deposit everything inside the door, then move the truck into the garage and out of the way. It wasn’t as if he had much. His music collection, art desk and supplies, easel, clothes, movies, and books took up the bulk of it, along with his bedding, office chair, single serve coffee pot and portfolios. There was a box of artwork too, all from original pieces he’d designed and printed. Laptop, second monitor, camera, green screen, drawing tablet, they all went inside, along with his desk, which was still in the box from when he purchased it a week ago.

   Once everything was inside, he opened the garage door and parked the truck to the left, shocked to see a door on the right side of the garage. Curious, he shut the garage door and tried his key in that lock, only to discover that it led to the washroom. He hadn’t even noticed it on his tour of the house. Grinning at the prospect of not having to bother with the laundromat for the next year, he headed through the house to start moving his things away from the door. In sock covered feet and being careful not to scuff the walls, he made short work of getting everything moved to the center of his bedroom before sitting down with a sigh.

   Setting up a room was a bit out of his wheelhouse. With no clue where to begin, he faced the mess, feeling a little overwhelmed.

   Taking a deep breath, he let it out slow as he let his eyes skim around the room. Besides the bed and dresser, there were two end tables beside the bed, a large closet and an open spot in front of the window. He carried the empty art desk there and set it down, then rolled the chair in front of it, figuring he could roll between desks if he parked the one for his computer in front of the other window. His wooden chest of sheets, linens, towels, and washcloths he placed at the foot of his bed before unloading his books, movies and CD’s into the bookcases, breaking down the boxes one at a time as he emptied them. He sat a lava lamp on each end table along with his echo dot and coffee pot. Nothing like being able to get the first pot of coffee started before he’d even gotten out of bed. Satisfied that he was off to a good start, he made his bed, placed a footlocker of records in the closet, then set up his record player and speakers on the dresser. From that point it was easy to set the easel between the art desk and the closet, then go ahead and get his clothes and art supplies unpacked along with his camera gear. That left just his computer stuff, but first he’d need to get the desk built. Looking around, he decided to carry the flattened boxes out to the garage first to give himself some room to work.

   He’d was just settling down on the floor with the instructions in one hand and some old Buddy Guy on the stereo turntable when there was a knock on the door.

////

   Not having seen a vehicle in the driveway, Kenji didn’t think his roommate had arrived yet. He’d never considered checking the garage, but when soft guitar notes drifted up the hall, he’d quickly realized that he and his parents were not alone in the house. Determined to start off on the right foot he followed the music to the back of the house, excited to have already discovered one thing he and his roommate had in common, the blues. Knocking on the closed door that greeted him, he bounced with anticipation.

“Yeah?” a voice called over the music.

Taking that as an invitation, Kenji stepped inside, only to be greeted by wary crystalline eyes framed by a long cascade of shimmering blue and white hair, shocking Kenji with the contrast of so many bright hues against ghostly pale skin.

“Hey, I’m Kenji but you can call me Ken. Guess we’re going to be living together for the year.” Sticking his right hand out, Kenji waited expectantly as his housemate gave a little wave and completely ignored the hand that had been offered him. On top of it, those blue eyes darted away from him and back to the project he’d been working on.

“And your name is?” Kenji prompted, anxiety growing with every silent moment that stretched between them.

“Koda.”

Kenji watched the smaller fidget with the wood in front of him, fingertips pressed into it like it was taking all his willpower not to slam whip it at Kenji’s face. The thought alone had him taking a cautious step backwards, just in case Koda decided to give in to the temptation. “Guess I’ll leave you be. Just remember, this experiment is about getting to know one another. Between you and me, you’re off to a bad start.”

With that Kenji retreated out the door, tense and flustered by the time he reached his parents in the living room. Of course, his mother noticed. She noticed everything. With a sigh he realized his father and sister had started bringing stuff in, so he hurried to help them.

“Is your new housemate going to come out and meet us?” Kenji’s mother asked.

“Doubtful,” Kenji tossed over his shoulder as he rushed out the door.

His sister nudged him as he reached to gather a basket of clothes out of her truck, the streetlight gleaming off the carbon fiber of his prosthetic arm. “You okay? Are you having second thoughts?”

“A little, he isn’t the friendliest guy around,” Kenji grumbled as they headed back in.

“At least now you know it’s a he,” she quipped. “Still can’t believe you’re doing this.”

“You and me both.”

Upon seeking out the other bedroom, he was shocked Koda left him the larger room with the attached bathroom.

“Dang, this is nice” his sister remarked, nudging him out of her path so she could carry his books in and deposit them in the corner. “At least that’s one good point about doing this. Besides, the kitchen is totally lit. Mom and I checked it out while we were waiting for you. She’s probably in there now putting everything away.”

“I still can’t believe how much kitchen stuff she insisted I bring with me. I doubt I’ll use half of it if the only one I’m cooking for is myself.”

“Who knows, maybe you won’t be.”

Smiling ruefully, he turned and headed back out to the cars to finish bringing things in. Movement out of the corner of his eye made him pause at the entryway to the kitchen to see his mother standing on a chair, arranging the cupboards. With a fond smile he turned his focus on unloading and wondered if it would have been easier to start this new adventure without his family around. Of course, getting all his stuff here would have been a struggle unless he’d finally bitten the bullet and decided to start driving again.

Shuddering at the thought, Kenji made another trip out. The last as it turned out.

“If you were going to move out you certainly could have done much worse,” Kenji’s father chuckled. “So, do we get to meet who you’ll be living with? I’m curious to see how this matching process turned out. I, for one, will be eager to read the journals if Professor Pierce gets his results published. I don’t see why he wouldn’t, this is a marvelous idea.”

“Yeah, it's, something anyway,” Kenji said with a sigh. “Not sure about you guys meeting Koda though. He doesn’t seem extremely interested in interacting.”

“Not everyone is as instantly outgoing as you Kenji,” His father laughed. “I believe if you put your mind to it you could befriend a porcupine.”

“We might finally have the opportunity to find out,” Kenji muttered.

“Don’t be that way, son. It’s a good thing you’re doing. It feels like you’re finally willing to move forward from the accident. Why don’t you go and ask him again to come out? Could be he’s just shy and needs a bit of extra encouragement.”

“All right. I’ll try but I don’t promise anything,” Kenji remarked, heading once more for the door at the end of the hall. Along the way he found the laundry room, pleased that he wouldn’t have to cart his things home to get them cleaned. Rapping on Koda’s door, he expected a verbal answer, not the sight of a scowling Koda in a t-shirt that read My dragon can beat up your unicorn. He had purple fuzzy slippers on and a screwdriver in his hand.

“Hey, um, my parents would like to meet you, see who I’ll be living with for the next year,” Kenji hurried to explain as Koda’s scowl only grew deeper.

“No thanks,” Koda moved to shut the door, but Kenji shoved his prosthetic hand against it to hold it open. He could see the shock in Koda’s eyes as he stared from the hand to his face and back again.

“You’re being extremely rude,” Kenji remarked. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask …”

“You know what’s rude?” Koda cut him off. “Expecting others to react the way you think they should. I said no. I even said thanks. I meant both. Now, can you leave me alone for the rest of the night, please?”

“With pleasure,” Kenji huffed before turning and stalking back up the hall. He found his family in the kitchen with the freezer door open, his mother staring into the depths with a frown on her face.

“You can forget about meeting him today,” Kenji informed them.

“Half of the freezer is filled with boxed dinners,” his mother replied forlornly.

“Don’t worry Mom, I plan to cook my meals,” he assured her. “I promise, I’ll ride my bike to the supermarket tomorrow and stock up.”

“You’ll do not such thing. I’ll come get you and take you to the market, we’ll get fresh things. Once you can see how much you can fit in here you can decide how often you’ll need to shop.”

“Okay, mom. What time?”

“Let’s say eight.”

“I’ll be ready,” he relented, knowing she’d fret if she didn’t ensure he had enough food stocked up for an apocalypse if the zombies ever happened to rise. Smiling he hugged her and thanked all three of them for helping him move in.

His mother glanced towards the hallway and back to Kenji. “I do not like the idea of leaving you alone with a stranger. What if something were to happen to you? We have no description of him to give to the police. No way of identifying him if he turns out to be a serial killer or a lunatic or ….”

“Mom,” he remarked calmly, pulling her into a gentle hug “I am a third-degree black belt. I’m not really worried about protecting myself. I promise he’s not even close to my size and he doesn’t look like a serial killer. More like one of those sad emo kids that hang around the movie theater. It will be fine. I promise. Why don’t you let dad take you out to dinner before you head home? It’s been awhile since you two had a date night without dragging one of us kids along.”

“Your father and I enjoy your company.” She remarked.

“And we enjoy yours,” his sister jumped in, helping him out, “but Kenji’s right. You two deserve a night out alone. Don’t worry, I’ll make a pizza run before I leave him alone for the night. Who knows, the elusive roommate might just make an appearance if there aren’t so many of us around.”

Huffing, she narrowed her eyes at both siblings, “Ganging up on me now I see, harrumph.” They both laughed at that, getting her to laugh too before taking their father’s arm and allowing him to lead her out.

“Thanks,” Kenji remarked.

“No problem, besides, pizza sounds really good. You want your usual?”

“Please.”

“Cool.”

Kenji reached for his wallet only to have her wave him off. “My treat this time. Besides, something tells me you’ll need all the fuel you can get to deal with the elusive Mr. Grumpy.”

Kenji let out a rough chuckle, hoping he didn’t sound too bitter. “No shit.”

////

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Koda’s fingers shook as he fumbled for his cell phone, willing himself not to puke on it or the floor. Nothing was going the way he’d imagined. Not the house, not Kenji, who’s presence in his doorway had flustered him so bad the first time he hadn’t been able to formulate words, which was bad enough. When he’d come back the second time, Koda knew he’d come off as a complete asshole but the thought of coming out and meeting even more people had frazzled him even more. Even now, he was gulping in air, willing his finger to be steady enough to unlock his phone and hit his father’s number.

Kenji had been all bright smiles and enthusiasm, absolutely gorgeous with shimmering black hair, long on top and even longer on the right side, with an undercut that left pieces to slide forward over one eye. Despite having gone through the same unpacking process that Koda had earlier, Kenji had appeared unruffled and completely put together. Koda had felt grungy in comparison, and ridiculous considering what he was wearing, but he’d wanted something familiar and comfortable to ground him, not that it had worked.

One ring, three, his breath hitched, his eyes stung, and he knew he was going to start bawling if his dad didn’t answer.

Hey kid, wasn’t sure I was going to hear from you tonight. Did you get everything moved in okay?

“Yeah.” His voice caught halfway through the word, then the tears came, and his grip tightened on the phone like it was a lifeline. He could hear his father talking but he couldn’t make out the words through the storm of hiccups, gasps and sobs. Through it all, his dad kept talking, until Koda was calm enough to hear him clearly.

You good now?

“No, I wanna come home. This was stupid. I stayed home for college for a reason, so I wouldn’t have to live in a dorm with strangers. I must have been smoking some seriously potent shit to ever think this would be a good idea.”

Or maybe it let you finally see what I’ve known for years. That you stayed out of fear.

“Not true. I like living with you, its…”

Easy, comfortable, familiar, his father finished for him.

“So, what’s wrong with comfortable and familiar! Comfortable is good. I like being comfortable. What’s there not to like about it?”

There’s nothing wrong with it, but it can only take you so far son. You’ll never learn how to function on your own if you run back to the nest at the first flounder. You made a commitment to take part in this experiment, and I raised you to honor your commitments.

“But dad, this place is nothing like home. For one, it’s huge and it’s like no one’s ever lived here, the place is perfectly pristine. I’m scared to touch any damn thing for fear of leaving a smudge of paint or charcoal on something.”

And if that happens, you’ll clean it up. It’s no big deal. Houses were meant to be lived in. Have you met your roommate yet?

“Kenji, yeah and he’s just like the house. Shinny and fuckin’ perfect and I’ve already managed to both piss him off and be annoyed at him, which has to be some sort of a record for me.”

Or maybe it’s just what you need to get your head outta your ass and realize that people require as much patience as your artwork does.

“Yeah, but the difference between dealing with humans and a painting that won’t take shape is that I can just cover the canvas in a fresh coat of white paint if I want to start over again. What am I supposed to do to restart with a person?"

Talk to them, for one, and be patience with yourself and him. Figure out how you can get a do over with Kenji and build from there. A year is a long time to be annoyed with the person you’re living with.

“Which is exactly why I need to come home. It’s just going to get worse. He already accused me of being rude when I wouldn’t come out to meet his folks. It was hard enough meeting him, which I wasn’t ready to do when he knocked on my door. Why the hell couldn’t he have waited until morning, preferably after I’d had a chance to smoke a bowl and have some cereal?”

Maybe because not everything can be on your timetable, Koda. Did you ever stop to consider that he might have been nervous and wanted to meet you sooner rather than later so he wouldn’t have to keep worrying about what it would be like when it happened? Maybe his parents wanted to meet you because they were worried about their son living with a stranger and wanted to be certain you were a nice person.

“So why aren’t you worried?”

Because you’re my kid. If I’m worried about anyone its Kenji at this point, since I know it’s going to take a torpedo to blast you out of that room, at least until you get done brooding.

“Which is exactly why…”

For the last time, no. You’re not dropping out of the experiment, and if you do, you’re not moving back here, and before you call Avery and ask them if you can move in with them, the answer is no. They told me to tell you that.

“Fuck. Dad, what the hell?”

Ahh, resorting to swearing, that means you’re out of reasonable arguments, not like you had any to begin with. I’m hanging up now Koda. You’ve had a good cry and vented. I trust you will be okay now.

“Dad!”

Goodnight, Koda.

Mouth half hanging open, Koda stared at the now silent phone for half a minute before dropping it on the end table with a clatter. Frustrated, he threw himself across the bed, unable to believe the mess he’d gotten himself into, and that his father wasn’t allowing him to come home to get himself out of it. 


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Coffee Cream Pie with a snippet of fluff

 


“I love you, but you’re wrong. The clover honey is good, but it won’t balance the other spices in the sauce. I think we need to go with a darker variety, the buckwheat, or even the fireweed,” Corban remarked, as he offered a small tasting spoon to Takashi who sampled first one, then the other, murmuring appreciatively.

“Okay, so, maybe you’re right. The buckwheat has an intense, earthy flavor, it should complement the molasses and brown sugar well. Alright then,” Takashi remarked, adding a third of a cup of the honey to the barbeque sauce they were concocting.

Meanwhile, Corban double checked the picnic basket to ensure they had everything they’d need. Picnic blanket, glasses, cloth napkins, cutlery, small and large plates, bottle cap opener, and tongs. They were all set there. There were organic ciders in the cooler in a variety of flavors, along with the ranch pasta salad he and Takashi had made earlier in the day. Savory, and dressed up with cherry tomatoes, peas, and grated carrots, it was bursting with flavor.

The roasted cauliflower, and coffee cream pie were in containers beside it, and Corban couldn’t wait to taste the flavorful dessert, still wanting to pout a bit that Takashi hadn’t allowed him to lick the custard from the bowl, insisting, instead, on scraping it into the crust as completely as he could. Even a request to leave a dollop or three behind had been met with a raised eyebrow and a directive to go back to working on the rib rub he’d been blending together. Speaking of which, the hibachi was already in the car, and the ribs, still coated in their rub, were in the cooler too, in a container half buried in ice. All would be ready as soon as the sauce was done. Two mason jars sat clean and open on the counter, ready for the warm sauce to be poured in as soon as Takashi deemed it completed.

The kitchen carried the lingering scents of their morning efforts, and it had been well worth waking up early, especially with Takashi beside him, in anticipation of the day they had planned. The warmer weather meant they could linger on the beach after dark, eating, talking, and listening to the waves. Each conversation was an opportunity to learn more about each other, and it was endearing to learn that, in addition to his musicals Takashi had a secret love of animated movies ranging from classics, like Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows, to innovative stories like Fire and Ice and The Secret of Nimh. They’d watched Heavy Metal the night before and ended up debating the reasons the 70s animation period was often referred to as the dark days of animation when many companies began using recycled animation segments and character designs to make the process go faster. The conversation had stretched until almost two in the morning, where cuddled together in the dark, the pair had begun to slur their words and confuse the movies they were speaking of, resulting in tired laughter and a promise to resume their discussion after breakfast.

Instead, they hadn’t even waited for the coffee to be poured before they began to debate the merits of animation versus animatronics, and wow, had that opened a whole other realm of movies to discuss. Finding out that Takashi loved The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Legend, Troll, and the Sand Fairy had been a fabulous discovery, one that had also led to a discussion of the Muppets, which Takashi had all the seasons of. Corban was already dying for a weekend binge fest where they could watch them.

“Taste this?” Takashi asked, his sudden words pulling Corban out of his reflection. He was holding out a spoon with a steaming red-orange sauce. Corban blew on it gently, before opening his mouth, eyes going wide as the flavors washed over his tongue.

“Holy shit that’s amazing!”

“Really? I wasn’t quite sure, maybe I need a second taste,” Takashi remarked, before pulling Corban in for a kiss and completely plundering his mouth. “Mmm, that is good.”




Coffee Cream Pie Recipe

9’ prepared Chocolate crumb crust

Filling:

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup corn syrup (light)

¾ cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tablespoons coffee liquor

1 ½ tablespoons espresso powder

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

3 egg yolks

3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (chopped)

 

Cream Topping:

2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1 tablespoon coffee liquor

1 teaspoon cocoa powder

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

 

Garnish:

Chopped Chocolate Covered espresso beans

Chopped chocolate covered toffee bits

 

Whisk together cream, corn syrup, salt and sugar in heavy saucepot on medium heat until warm. Whisk in espresso powder, whisking constantly until thick and bubbling. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks, gradually whisk ½ cup of warm cream mixture (results of step 1) into the egg yolks until fully incorporated. Pour yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture, and return to boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat.

Whisk butter, vanilla extract, and coffee liquor into warm custard (results of step 2), whisking until smooth. Let stand and cool 15-20 minutes.

Pour mixture into chocolate crumb crust and cover, refrigerate for 2-3 hours until firmly set.

Once filling is set, warm 3 tablespoon of cream and dissolve instant coffee granules and cocoa powder in it. Whip remaining heavy cream, dissolved coffee/cocoa, coffee liquor and powdered sugar in chilled mixing bowl, on high, until still peaks form.

Spread whipped cream mixture over filling and garnish. Serve immediately or return to refrigerator until ready to serve.



Saturday, November 21, 2020

Tattered Angel Halloween Outtakes


 Available on Amazon: Tattered Angel (The Road to Rocktoberfest Book 2) - Kindle edition by Dorine, Layla. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

(Note, this is a collection of outtakes that appeared in blogs at the time of Tattered Angel's release, they are not included in the actual novel and are intended to be a fun introduction to the characters as they prepare to celebrate Halloween on the Road to Rocktoberfest.)

“Okay, I know it’s almost Halloween and all, and I’ve got to admit, the Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum was hella fun, but this…is sick…and whichever of you thought it would be a good idea to come here…”

“Holy shit, Rals come check this out!”

Zakk’s bellow left Riley pinching the bridge of his nose and wishing for the hundredth time he would drop the stupid nickname before Dez started calling him that too and it would never go away.

“How can you stand to look at this stuff knowing it was literally designed to rip people apart?” Riley muttered, even as his morbid curiosity got the best of him and he headed that way.

“Technically, this isn’t designed to do any ripping, more like roasting, I mean damn. You wanna talk sick, that would be the mind that came up with this thing. Could you image being led out of prison to see this big ass iron bull standing over a firepit full of wood. I’d confess to any damn thing they wanted me to at that point.”

“And still end up roasted to death,” Riley grumbled. “That’s a hell of a way to go.”

“You would be correct. Confession by no means ended the torture, in some cases, it even slowed it down some while they endeavored to extract additional confessions,” Damien intoned, their brilliant drummer having crept up beside them, causing Riley to jump at the sound of his voice.  “In fact, it was proven that on more than one occasion, people confessed to things that they had not done in the hopes of a swift and decisive death. Of course, there were those rare instances where torture extracts nothing, like with Giles Corey of Salem, who reportedly requested more weight while they were pressing him with stones in an effort to elicit a confession of witchcraft out of him. He died silent despite two days beneath the rocks.”

Riley fixed Damien with a pointed glared. “It was your idea to come here, wasn’t it? You and your morbid fascination with the macabre!”

“Actually, it was my idea,” Zakk replied, the smirk on his face making Riley wish to draw and quarter him with his own guitar strings. Okay, so if the creators of these devices had friends like his, then it stood to reason such things had been dreamt into existence.

Tapping his foot, Riley glanced between his oldest friends. “And why did you think this would be a good idea?”

“After listening to Dez talk all about the things he and Koda had seen when they were out here, no way could I resist.” Zakk replied.

“I knew it…I knew it! Dez!”

“You bellowed?”

“I thought you said you had nothing to do with this little detour?” Riley grumbled, hands on his hips as he glared up at the band’s new singer.

“I didn’t. I simply shared a story with Zakk about this place after he told me about wanting to visit Villisca House. I told him that I’d been out there, and it was kind of creepy, but that this place with all it’s displays was creepier. Of course, that could have been ‘cause I didn’t have the time or cash to stay the night at Villisca, seeing as how I was on a bit of a time crunch.”

“Which isn’t the case this time, and since we’re rolling right past there…”

“Oh no…no no…don’t even think about it, Zakk!”

“Too late, we’re already booked.”

“I hate you so hard right now.”

“If you are truly afraid of what the experience might bring, then you are free to stay on the bus,” Damien commented, smoothing a hand over the buckled front of his gothic shirt. “Of course, you will be out there alone as James has elected to join us inside the house and is currently working on procuring an EVP meter.”

Smacking a hand to his forehead, Riley turned, and damn near fell into a roped off chair with a bunch of spikes sticking from every conceivable surface. Sighing heavily and hoping to put as much distance as possible between himself and his band, he shuffled left, being careful not to skewer himself on something called the pear of anguish. He didn’t even want to know what the hell that was so he sidestepped carefully, working his way towards the door, which brought him face to face with a rusty metal collar with a fork attached to it. From the photos on the wall above it, it was latched around an individual’s neck, the fork prongs pressed to the underside of their chin while the prongs on the other end dug into the base of their throat. A heretic’s fork. Joy.

“Cool huh. Don’t fall asleep. Talk about a precursor to Freddy Kruger. Too bad we can’t shoot a video in there. Would be kinda wicked don’t you think?” Zakk replied, practically bouncing like a kid in a candy store the sick fuck.

“What I think is that your version of wicked and mind is extremely far apart. I’ll be out on the bus when you guys get through.”

“Suit yourself, but if you ask me, you’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity to learn about Medieval History.”

“Yeah, I’m good, thanks, plague, poverty and witch trials pretty much covers all anyone needs to know about that particular period in time.”

“Don’t forget war, the crusades and the Spanish inquisition. Oh and the Magna Carta, Divine Comedy and Consolation of Philosophy were all written back then.”

“What the hell is the Consolation of Philosophy?”

“Seriously? It’s the shit about why band things happen to good people. Kinda like you and that wasps nest incident.”

“Did I mention how hard I hate you right now.”

“Yeah, you did, and honestly, Rals, it’s gettin’ kinda repetitive. I think you need another phrase.”

“Actually, I think I need a drink, a big one.  I’ll be at the bar across the street, drowning a hurricane.”

“Okay, but, uh, you know what the theme is over there, right?”

“No…what?”

“Serial Killers. All the drinks are named after them and their crimes, so A Jack the Ripper Ripple, and…”

“Never mind, just, no, nope, I quit, I’m done. Fuck it, I’m goin’ to the bus to drink some Sprite and plot your demise.”

As he plunged through the doors into the rainy Wisconsin afternoon, all Riley could hear from behind him was the laughter of his bandmates and the creepy ass curator who’d gleefully accepted their nine-ninety-nine at the door.

______

“Come on man! Freddy is a joke! Ohh Nightmares, don’t go to sleep if he kills you in your sleep you’re dead for real, well how the hell would you know? You’d be dead and probably reincarnated by the time you figure out what happened so what difference does it make?”

“I believe the point to be that everyone dreams so no one is safe,” Damien remarked, bringing Riley’s tirade to a blustering end.

“I’ve gotta agree with Riley on this one,” Zakk added, in-between crunches of the chips he was munching on. “The only scary thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street was listening to the sound scoring in the dark with the surround sound on, otherwise, it was kinda amusing if you really think about it.”

“Says the man who refuses to retire for the evening without first activating some device to provide sound throughout the night,” Damien remarked.

Huffing, Zakk froze, chip halfway to his mouth. “I like sound, okay?”

“And the nightlight?” Riley hastened to add before Damien’s attention could turn back towards him.

“Et, tu Brutal?”

Snickering, Riley shook his head. “That would be Brute, ya dork.”

“Hey, don’t go calling me a dork when you’re the one who actually knows the proper phrase,” Zakk shot back, orange chip dust clinging to the front of his black shirt.

“You’re a hot mess,” Riley muttered.

“No shit I’m hot,” Zakk replied, preening and wiping at the dust, leaving a smear behind.

“I take that back, you’re just a mess.”

“Who’s a mess,” Dez remarked, poking his head through the curtain separating the front seats from the band’s living space and shyly glancing around at all of them. As far as Riley was concerned, the sooner he stopped hiding up front with James and joined them fully, the easier it would be to convince him that they truly did want him to be a permanent part of their band.

“At the moment, that would be Zakk, though I am certain that all of us will qualify for that particular moniker at some point in this trip,” Damien replied.

A scream from the television drew all their attention, as a girl predictably turned to see if the movie monster was behind her and promptly tripped on a branch and landed right at the killer’s feet.

“What is this, Friday the 13th part twelve thousand and two, Jason goes to the laundromat and slays everyone who dares wash the colors with the whites?” Dez snarked, a pothole bouncing the RV and sending him crashing onto the seat beside Riley.

“Hope you’re more graceful than that on stage,” Riley remarked, chuckling for about half a second then instantly wishing he could take it back when Dez blushed and stared down at the table.

“I think it’s part five,” Zakk muttered, shooting Riley a glare.

“I never got why people didn’t just stop going to Camp Crystal Lake,” Dez remarked hesitantly, like he wasn’t sure his input would be welcome in the conversation. “Stay away, problem solved, but no, they gotta go out and reopen the camp or fuck with the corpse. Personally, I consider their deaths to be Darwinism at it’s finest. Besides, it’s Leatherface and his crew you truly have ta worry about. Now that shit’s real. There are places down in Texas and Louisiana you don’t wanna get lost in unless you fancy your bones being used as some psycho’s easy chair.”

“Couldn’t the same be said for the remote corners of anywhere?” Damien inquired.

“Maybe, but down there are swamps and spooky ass places where the mist and the living oaks come alive to swallow secrets and the gators finish the rest.”

“How morbidly poetic, I love it, come alive to swallow secrets, we must work that line into lyrics sooner rather than later,” Damien remarked.

“I’m game if you are.”

“Then, let us adjourn to the back and leave Riley and Zakk to squabble over which horror villain is the scariest. Besides, Chainsaws are hefty and difficult to run with. I’d rather take my chances at avoiding dismemberment than wind up at the mercy of Pinhead’s hooks and chains.”

Snickering, Dez stood, following Damien towards the back, the tail end of their conversation still audible as they walked away. “Hard to be scared of a dude who looks like he lost a fight with a porcupine,” Dez commented as he snagged a bottle of juice along the way. “I’ve seen hook and chain suspension and some of it is seriously bad ass.”

As the curtain closed behind them, Riley’s mouth fell open as he tried to picture Dez doing suspension and wondered if the curved scar he’d noticed on their new signer’s back come from a session gone horribly wrong.

_______

“Shhhh” Zakk hissed.

Raising an eyebrow at his bandmate, Riley shot him a look. “What the hell are you shushing me for when there is literally no one out here to hear us.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

Riley looked around, spotting nothing but a tumbleweed rolling across the dusty, moonlit yard. “Unless you’re seeing something I can’t, we’re the only ones stupid enough to be out here.”

“You four chuckleheads have exactly five minutes to decide how you want to do this before I head back to the RV and leave you for the ghosts to find,” James huffed, lugging the drum bag that contained Damien’s kit.

“There will be no more talk of ghosts until we’re all away from this creepy ass place, if you don’t mind,” Riley complained, trying to imagine a setup that would convey the ominous eeriness they were hoping for with this video.

Zakk, meanwhile, headed straight for the steps. “Okay, I think we should set up on the porch or in the entryway since the moonlight is streaming right though the broken windows.”

“And I’m going to suggest you keep your asses off of and out of a potentially unstable structure before a floor gives way and sends you idiots crashing through to the basement,” James barked, setting the drumkit down.

“And porch it is.” Zakk remarked.

“How about ground, why not stick with that, huh?” James countered.

Looking between them both, Riley shrugged. “Maybe check the porch first and then we’ll set up, if it’s safe.”

“Hello, have you all suddenly gone dead? Have I gone invisible?” James growled, looking down at himself.

“Relax James, it’ll be fine. Dez will just go up and see if it holds weight, he’s the biggest, so….” Riley began.

“Oh hell no. You wanna know if that porch will hold us all then you take your skinny ass up there and jump on it.”

“I’ll do it,” Zakk declared, bounding up the steps. Several jumps and the creaking of a few boards and there was still some lingering doubt that it was truly stable.

“What if we set Damien and the drums on the porch and the rest of us on the steps and ground in front of it. That way, you can still capture him in the video and all of us have plenty of room to move around?” Zakk suggested.

“Fine, but if an ER trip needs to be made tonight, then I’ll be singing I fuckin’ told you so, all the way to the doors,” James declared as he carried the kit up the stairs and started setting up while Zakk began positioning the video cameras.

HOOOOO HOOOOO HOOOOO

Urgent, frantic hooting proceeded a large shape swooping skyward, dust and the tinkle of broken glass shards drifting down from the ledge above the doorway.

“And on that note….I’m sufficiently freaked.” Riley muttered, staring around as everyone else calmly continued to get ready for the video shoot. Dez even shrugged at him like nothing had just happened.

“Was just a great horned owl, judging from the size and the hoot anyway.”

“How the hell would you know what kind of owl it was?” Riley demanded to know.

“Koda and I did an owl walk last year. He wanted to take pictures so he could draw shifter variants of them and I just wanted to spend time with him, so it was win, win.”

Okay, now Riley was confused. “Shifter….variants, I don’t get it.”

Dez opened his mouth to answer, but Damien beat him to the bunch “It is the art of taking human and animal characteristics and blending them to create a form of were-creature.”

“Sounds pretty cool to me,” Zakk added, settling the last camera and tri-pod in place.

Dez was working steadily on positioning the electric violin stand right beside his guitar one so he could switch instruments easily, even as he continued telling them about his friend’s designs. “He’s even done some crossover steampunk themed stuff too. If I ever have the opportunity to introduce him to Nash I can’t even envision the unique array of creations they’d spawn. They’ve both got this knack of blending the organic and inorganic to create something spectacular. I’d love to have them collab on my next tattoo.”

“I would be more interested in this were-owl drawing, as that is something I could see having tattooed on my back among the other feathered folk who adorn me.” Damien remarked.

“I’ll talk to Koda, see if I can get him to send me the jpgs so you can take a look.”

“For now, how about you two stop discussing owls and get plugged in, see what else we can scare outta the rafters,” Zakk muttered.

Dez’s response was to play a series of cords that sounded an awful lot like a revamped intro to Bedlam and Disaster, a song they’d been working on for the past two days. Loud, chaotic and destined to get the moshers headbanging like it was 1991, it still needed allot of tweaking yet.

“Oh shit….”

Riley turned at the sound of frantic flapping and hit the dirt as several bats winged it over his head, making a beeline for the surrounding forest. Spitting out dust and grateful he hadn’t been carrying any equipment, he turned to glare at Zakk, who’d dove a few feet away and now sat dirt streaked and chuckling at him.

“You just had to say something about the rafters, didn’t you?”

“Look on the bright side, chances are we’ve got the place to ourselves now,” Zakk shot back.

“Then let’s quit dicking around, get this video shot and get out of here before something goes wrong…” James declared.

“What could possibly go….” Dez began.

“Don’t say it, don’t even think it…just get set up and sing!” Riley snapped, to which Dez, that shit, smirked, gave him a mock salute, set up his mic, and shredded out a scathing riff accompanied with impromptu lyrics.

Shambling shadows on a hazy night

Bats and birds, afraid, take flight

Full moon clashing with a rumbling storm

What could go wrong! What could go wrong!

Lightning crackles, electricity hums

Fusing Damien to those silver drums

Macabre stature of hair, metal and char

Have I gone too far, have I gone too far?

“Yes!” all of them bellowed back, laughing as Dez feigned a mock bow. One thing had come from discovering their new singer. The band was having fun and laughing again, which was better than six months ago, or even a year before Wade had quit.

Fuckin’ Wade.

But at least now Riley could look around at the smiling faces of his bandmates and for the first time feel like Wade had actually done them all a favor.

_______

“How in the hell do you intend to perform in those?”

Riley’s question jarred Dez out of the intense concentration it was taking to apply the dark gray stripes over the purple-pink face paint he’d applied to match the dark purple, pink and black shimmering streaks he’d dyed through his hair. Glancing down at himself, Dez raised an eyebrow, uncertain of exactly what Riley was going on about now.

“You’ll need to be more specific. By those do you mean the chain and fur covered biker boots, the purple contacts, or this top, which I was certain was going to be way too tight, but damn, Damien was right, it’s perfect and leads just the right effect.”

Riley huffed out another of his long-suffering sighs, the ones Dez understood to mean he thought someone was an idiot, but didn’t want so say the words. “Take your pick.”

“In that case, the answer to your question is, with ease, considering I’ve worn similar costumes for performances in the past and never had an issue. I know my limitations and I know what works for me, so relax Riley and worry about getting into your own costume. We’ve got less than thirty minutes before we go on.”

“Considering my costume is literally a top hat and some face paint, I think I’m good.”

“We’re seriously going to have to dock you some originality points tonight,” Dez told him, turning back to his makeup pallet.

“Wait…is that a tail?”

“What’s it look like.”

“A tail.”

“Well, there ya go.”

Another sigh, this one deeper and heavier than before. “Oh great, something else for you and Zakk to risk tripping over. What did you do, compare notes before you went costume shopping?”

“We might have.”

“Please do us all a favor and don’t get too enthusiastic out there, we do not need to end this performance with half the band in traction.”

“Duly noted.”

“Just tell me this, why the Cheshire Cat?”

“Cause you threatened to drop dead of a heart attack if any of us came out dressed as clowns, remember?”

“How the hell does that lead to you in stripes and Zakk a steampunk Cowardly Lion?”

“Well…ummm.”

“Just spit it out so I can go threaten whoever’s dumbass idea it was.”

“It was sort of a misinterpretation of an idea.”

“Do tell.”

Dez pursed his lips, applied purple lipstick and winked in the mirror.

“No, seriously, please enlighten me how it came to be that you and Zakk are going to be prancing around with potential tripping hazards attached to your backsides.”

“So, what had happened was…after the whole no clown thing, since Zakk and I were planning to do the Creepy Pasta twisted killer clown motif, we got some ideas from Damien. He suggested we go as gothic characters with chains and tails and everything and well…”

Dez knew he was blushing and was just happy Riley wouldn’t be able to tell beneath the paint.

“You two interpreted it as those kinds of tails instead of a style of coat jacket.” Riley remarked dryly.

“In all fairness, he didn’t specify.”

“Uh, huh. For the record, I would just like to point out that a demented clown shouldn’t even be a Halloween costume ya fuckin’ sadist. That’s fuckin’ sick is what it is. Normal people do not find scaring the ever lovin’ shit outta others by leaping outta the woodwork with a pointy nose and bloody smile.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m neither normal nor sane. Besides, what’s the fun of Halloween if you can’t scare someone.”

“I’m going to remember that you said that.”

“Okay.”

“And before this night is over, I’m going to scare the hell outta you.”

“Okay.”

“I’m serious.”

“I heard you.”

“Good, cause…”

“Riley…two things,” Dez remarked, cutting him off.

“What?”

“I don’t scare easily and I wouldn’t turn around if I was you.”

“Oh for fucks sake, you wanna talk about a lack of originality!” Riley grumbled, turning to come face to face with their roadie, James, dressed head to toe in the very same demented ass clown costume Dez had intended to wear. Leaping backwards, Riley proceeded to trip over the very tail he’d been warning Dez about, crab walking backwards until he was clutching Dez’s leg as he and James laughed uproariously.

“Oh my god, that was too perfect,” Zakk replied from the doorway, video camera in hand from where he’d no doubt recorded the whole thing. “We are so uploading that to social media.”

Dez felt Riley take a deep breath, and then another, one hand pressed to his chest as he glared up at him.

“I hate you all so hard right now,” Riley announced.

“We know.” Dez replied. “In all fairness, I did try and warn you.”

“And for that reason, I hate you just a fragment less than those other two, now you wanna help me up?”

“I guess, but, you might wanna get that spider off you first.”

“Oh shit, where, where?” Riley’s hands were frantic as he brushed and batted at his clothing until Dez’s laughed, coupled with James’ and Zakk’s clued him in that he’d been had.

“Forget what I said. You I hate more than any of them!” Riley replied, finally giving in and joining in the laughter.

________

“Look, I’m not saying hiding among the chainsaws would be a good idea, but a running vehicle, I don’t know man, there’s something kinda sketch about it sitting there running with no one inside or anywhere around it,” Riley remarked. The ad on the television one that made him shake his head every time he saw it.

“Other driver already died of a terminal overdose of stupid,” came Dez’s flippant reply.

Riley glanced over to see him blinking sleepily, only half watching the TV, the notebook he’d previously been jotting lyrics on, drooping in his hand.

“And if it’s a setup?” Riley asked, grinning when Dez turned his sleepy gaze towards him.

“Then you should be asking yourself why your paranoia didn’t kick in before you got yourself in that situation in the first place,” Dez grumbled, giving his head a shake that left his tousled hair in his eyes. In Riley’s opinion, he looked downright adorable fighting sleep and fumbling around for his pen.

Snickering, Riley glanced between Dez and their drummer, who, from his heavy-lidded gaze, looked half asleep too. “See that right there is why Damien wouldn’t survive a horror movie. He’d overanalyze everything to death and end up merc’ed while debating which way to go.”

Damien didn’t crack an eye open, just flipped him off and chucked a crumpled bit of paper in his general direction, not that it hit anything.

“No, Damien wouldn’t have been involved in that dumpster fire in the first place,” their drummer intoned, referring to himself in third person. “Damien would have taken one look at the creepy ass road, said ‘oh hell no,’ and started hitchhiking home, leaving you idiots to whatever fate had in store for you.”

“There is that,” Riley conceded.

“Unless the person you hitch a ride from ends up being some psycho or serial killer,” Dez remarked, rolling onto his side. “Hell, these days you gotta be half-wackadoodle to pick up a stranger like that.”

“Sounds like you speak from experience.”

“Could be.”

“From the note of amusement in your voice, it sounds as if there is one rather interesting story there. Dish.” Damien demanded, sitting up a little, his entire focus on Dez, who shrugged, shy and hesitant like most every time they asked him something personal.

“What I wanna know is if you were the wackadoodle out there hitchhiking, or the psycho picking people up?” Riley asked.

“Oh hell no. No way I’d let a complete stranger on the back of the bike with me. Too many things could go wrong. Between them freaking out over a close call to those that wanna get freaky and start shoving their hands places I don’t need ‘em to be when I’m driving, the whole concept would just be a very, very bad idea.”

“And once again, sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”

“Let’s just say that my first trek out on my own taught me a whole lotta things in some of the hardest ways possible,” Dez remarked, spreading the notebook open in front of him to put a barrier between him and them.

“That mean you hitched too?” Riley pressed, though he was certain he already knew the answer to that.

“Let’s just say that a situation necessitated it, once, and I found myself bailing out into a ditch from a truck going almost fifty. Any faster and I think I’d have been too scared to do it.”

“Mind if I ask what the situation was?”

“Yeah, actually, I do,” Dez remarked, rolling from the couch and stretching his back a little. “I’m tired and it’s not really a moment of stupidity I wanna relive. Let’s just say that there is absolutely nothing, including chainsaw wielding hillbillies, that could ever get me to do that again.”

And with that, he disappeared through the curtain into the sleeping area, leaving Riley and Damien to raise an eyebrow at one another.

“Damn…now I truly wish to know what took place,” Damien remarked.

“Think he’ll ever tell us?” Riley pondered.

“No chance in hell!” Dez bellowed, the fierceness of his tone startling them both.

“Guess he told you,” Zakk called from the front where he’d been keeping James company. The pair of them laughing like hyenas as the RV bounced, hard.

“How about you two pay attention to the road before one of us has to hike up the road looking for a farmhouse or cell phone reception, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be Dez.”

“Believe that!” came the reply from the back, prompting another round of laughter. It’s all fun and games until real life imitates the movies, and a horror movie at that. With that in mind, Riley turned his attention back to the TV in the hopes that the pair in the front would put their focus back where it belonged…on the road.



Monday, September 28, 2020

Make out Monday: A steamy excerpt from Racing the Sky

 



“How long were you two friends before you started dating?” 

“A long time,” Nicky said, trying to remember the years, but they all just blended together. “Seven, I think. It just sorta happened, us dating each other. I guess I kinda figured, in the beginning, it wasn’t gonna last. He was awesome, Mr. Popularity, and I was, well, me.” 

“Funny,” Gray said as he hugged Nicky. “I’ve known a lot of popular people, but only one you. I gotta say, I prefer you.” 

Nicky looked up at him with wide, startled eyes, blinking several times as he studied Gray. 

“What’s wrong, Nicholas?” Gray asked as he reached out to stroke Nicky’s hair. 

“No one ever prefers me,” Nicky said softly. 

Gray hauled him flush against his body and kissed him thoroughly. At first, Nicky didn’t respond, but as Gray deepened the kiss and stroked a hand down his back, Nicky yielded to him and eagerly gave in. 

“You are remarkably unique and sinfully sexy,” Gray told Nicky when they broke apart. “There isn’t a moment that I’m with you that I don’t want to strip you naked and taste every inch of you. I’m starting to feel like a teenager, always sporting a hard on whenever you’re around.” 

“Like this one?” A sly grin crossed Nicky’s face as he reached out and cupped Gray through his pants. 

“Oh yeah,” Gray groaned, head tilting back. His eyes drifted shut and his hips lifted, seeking more friction, and Nicky was happy to give it to him, rubbing over him several more times before sliding to the floor at Gray’s feet. On his knees, Nicky’s slid his hands up Gray’s thighs, running his tongue lightly along his upper lip as he gazed into Gray’s eyes.

 “I want to taste you,” he purred as he yanked at Gray’s sweatpants.


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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Rainbow Snippet 9/27/20202


 Rainbow Snippets gives writers a chance to share six sentences (and sometimes a little more) of LGBTQ+ fiction every weekend. Check out the Rainbow Snippets group on Facebook for more snippets: https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets/


From my current WIP Tattered Angel Coming October 16
A little more than six sentences this week:

“Well, if you guys are gonna waste time, I’ll get the first shower then,” Riley grumbled, moving to squeeze past them when a soft meow caught his attention. A fluffy gray and white cat, looking barely half-grown, preened beneath the hands that were rubbing its ears and running fingertips down its back. The little thing let out a tiny sneeze, then went about licking its paw and grooming its whiskers while the guys lavished attention on it.

“Where’d the cat come from?” he asked, as he reached over Damien’s shoulder to pet the little ball of floof.

“Stepped outta the club and it was standin’ there meowin’ a greeting at us,” Zakk explained. “Damien scooped it up to check for a collar, and it decided to cling to his jacket until he brought it inside.”

“It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the fluffy little beast is a stray,” Damien said.

“So, what, are we planning on giving it a ride to the pound or…”

“We’re plannin’ on makin’ it our mascot,” Zakk replied, scratching its ears until the little kitty began to purr.

“Who ever heard of a cat on a tour bus,” Riley muttered, and yet, its fur was so soft he couldn’t resist petting it more.

“Cats, dogs, birds, fish, I know guys who have taken bearded dragons and boa constrictors on tour with them,” Dez muttered. “She’s adorable.”

“How do you know it’s a she?” Riley asked.

Dez raised its tail a little and pointed, “’Cause she don’t have nuts.”


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