Saturday, February 20, 2010

Enter Sandman by Leigh Ellwood

Multi-colored strobes cut the air and flashed in rapid, nonsensical patterns. The shrill beat of a Gwen Stefani tune, jacked up twenty more miles an hour than the law should allow, vibrated the floor and every panel of wood keeping the club intact. Men danced and flirted and reveled in the night’s celebration—as though anybody needed an official reason to indulge in good feelings and great friends. At Third Dimension, a gay man could shed his inhibitions and the conventions of the outside world and be himself.

Any other night, Len Crocker would be out on the lighted floor, grinding and gyrating amid crowded bodies, energized by the collective musk of hard men, horny men, queens and twinks and bears—oh my! Now, perched on a stool at the bar, hunched over a steaming mug of coffee, he just wanted everything to mute and morph into a Quaalude dream, slow enough to let him slip away without Spike and Gerry noticing. He wanted the bartender, hovering close with the coffee pot as though waiting to refill, to go away. He wanted Gwen to shut the fuck up. He wanted to go home and sleep, but knew that wasn’t an option. Hadn’t been for six weeks now.

As Gwen’s techno-driven, helium-voiced scat segued into more of the same from the month’s latest pop tart, Len felt a nudge at his wrist. The bartender had set a bottle of Jack in front of him.

“Maybe a little liquid inspiration in your coffee to get the heart pumping?” He punctuated another silent offer with a wink.

Len snorted. He didn’t even need the coffee, and God only knew why he’d asked for it. Alcohol proved useless in helping him wind down, otherwise he’d have chugged at least a fifth of Scotch on arriving.

He refrained from a response and the bartender shrugged. “Whatever, guy,” he said. “It’s a gay bar. Just lighten up, eh?” And he granted Len’s wish by shuffling to the far end to chat up a more amicable pair in matching Polo shirts.

Figuring his exposure at the bar might attract more unwanted attention, Len grasped the mug and loped off toward privacy. He found an empty, shadowed circular booth situated on the opposite end of the dance floor—couples used it normally for a clandestine blow job or fisting—and slid against the cool vinyl to the middle. This granted him a nice panoramic view of Third Dimension, and easy spying access on Spike and Gerry, who twisted and tangled with another couple under the rainbow track lighting. They appeared totally in their element, and as Spike drove them all here—and had literally carried Len and shoved him into the backseat—Len knew he wasn’t going anywhere soon.

The coffee burned him, and Len pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth, wincing at the odd sensation of heat mixed with dark roast. The bitter stench curled in beckoning fingers of steam above the rim of the mug, as though taunting this extended bout with insomnia. He pushed the mug aside and rested his head in folded arms—a futile effort, but the scenery proved too repetitive and uninteresting for him to watch anymore.

He didn’t know how much time had passed—the segueing in the music stream offered little help, everything sounded the same—before he sensed another presence close to him. A shadow fell across his narrowed line of vision, which previously granted him a sideways view of the path toward the bathroom and back area by the pool tables. He inhaled a tangy cologne that burned his lungs and warmed his blood.

“I won’t keep you long,” the voice began, deep and smooth. “I just couldn’t help but notice you slumped over like you’d lost your best friends.”

“I didn’t, I know exactly where they are.” Len jerked his head back slightly to indicate the dance floor. “And in all honesty, I’m not looking for a sympathetic ear...or penis,” he added as he turned his gaze, then immediately wished he could take back those words.

Shit. Of all nights for the object of his wet dreams to finally acknowledge his existence, here he’d nearly blown him off—not in the good way, either. Len straightened and offered Andrew Gibbons a weak smile that the other man might hopefully interpret as an apology and invitation to remain.

“Sorry, Gibb,” he said, raking a hand through his hair. Everybody called the gorgeous, tanned brunet by this shortened version of his surname. Len hoped this manner of address wouldn’t provoke an annoyed response, seeing as how he and Gibb had never before spoken privately. Len thought until now he had to stay content with admiring the lean gym god from afar, or listening in on a group conversation dominated by others.

“Been a rough week,” Len added.

“Looks like you’ve had a full calendar of rough weeks,” Gibb observed, tilting his head for an intense gaze at what Len certainly perceived were eyes darkened by bags underneath the lower lids. “Wanna talk about it?”

Len’s tongue thickened in his mouth. Words, he suspected, might come tumbling out in a garbled mess. After a swig of still molten coffee for courage, he smiled. “End of quarter reporting is always a son of a bitch,” he said. “I have to meet with the board of directors at my company next week and convince them to keep our budget the same, or at least not cut it to the point where they have to start laying off people.”

“Ouch.” Gibb winced. “I don’t envy you that. Do you really think you have to tell them to fire anybody?”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Len shook his head. “It’s just the anxiety getting to me. I haven’t slept well in so long. I got bills due, loud neighbors, ugh!” He’d hole up in a hotel room if he could afford it, but Gibb didn’t need to hear about his money woes. Spike and Gerry spotted his cover charge tonight, and that had embarrassed him plenty for the month.

Gibb clicked his tongue against his teeth, and reached into a back pocket. “That doesn’t sound good. If you could at least sleep, you’ve won half the battle. You’d think straight.”

Len really wanted to laugh. “I haven’t had a straight thought since I was sixteen.”

“Good one. Here.” Gibb pulled a card from his wallet and slid it on the table toward Len. “I had a problem with insomnia last year, contacted this guy, and he took care of it. You won’t find anyone better to help you.”

Len looked at the card but didn’t pick it up. He saw no designs or fancy fonts, just a white rectangle with bold, raised lettering:


He frowned, then slid his thumbnail down to lift one corner of the card. “There’s no phone number, or e-mail address,” he said. “Not even a Twitter handle for a direct ping. How am I supposed to get in touch with this Sandman?” Len reached into his pocket for his smart phone, but after a few quick searches through his Web browser window he could find nothing remotely related to Gibb’s testimonial.

Gibb pressed his finger against the card and slid it back. “Now, now, I didn’t exactly say you had to make the call. Trust me, I know where to find him.” Gibb chuckled. “In fact, I could try him tonight, if you’re interested in getting some sleep this weekend.”

Len sighed. How deliciously forbidden that sounded. With two days of downtime ahead of him, he desperately needed to catch up on forty winks, times infinity. Suddenly, a sobering thought shuddered through him.

“You know,” he put away the phone, “the way that card looks, he’s probably very exclusive. I doubt somebody like that would be available on a whim—”

He looked up just as Gibb put his own phone to his ear, and pressed a hand against his other ear to listen without too much distraction. Ignoring Len, Gibb conversed with the party on the other end. “Hey, I have a last-minute appointment if you can do it,” he half-shouted. Len watched as Gibb’s face lifted in a smile, and Gibb winked.

“Great! I’ll text you the address in a few minutes.” Gibb rang off and beckoned to Len. “He’s in between clients, but said since he’s on this side of town he’s happy to squeeze you in if we get you home now.”

“This late?”

“People sleep at night, don’t they? What do you say? Are we going home?”

Home? The idea of having a strange man poking around his apartment so close to midnight unnerved him. Gibb, on the other hand…

He pinched the bridge of his nose. Ugh! Under any other circumstances, he’d welcome the opportunity to entertain Gibb at his home…on the couch, in bed, wherever the man felt most comfortable or willing. As Gibb tried to lead him out of the booth another thought struck him.

“Wait, how much is this, uh, service?” he asked. A cryptic business card hinted at a possible bill equal to his rent payment. “If he’s expensive, I can’t do this. And what does he do, anyway?”

Gibb waved him closer, stepping toward the exit. “Relax. It’s on me. Crane’s kind of a pay it forward guy, and so am I.”

“Crane?” The name evoked an image of a burly, homophobic construction worker, come to cure Len’s insomnia by bashing him upside the head with a crowbar. Maybe he and Gibb worked together, and would rob him blind after rendering him unconscious. “First or last name?”

Gibb kept pushing him to the door. “The fewer questions you ask, the sooner we can get you to sleep. Don’t worry about your friends, I’m driving you. You got everything you came with?”

All this and insomnia, too. Once out into the lot, Len looked sheepishly around. He didn’t know Gibb’s car. “Uh, you have to take the toll bridge to get there,” he said. “You got change?”

“How much?”

“Fifty cents.”

Gibb scratched his chin, as though considering the expense, then winked and led Len to a black Lexus. “You’re worth it.”

“Gee, thanks.” He’d roll his eyes if he didn’t think Gibb looked so damned adorable when he said that.

The Life Not Lived by Michelle Houston

With sure, purposeful strides, Natasha crossed the bedroom to the closet and pulled open the door. Digging around behind her shoe shelf, she found the old diary that she’d discovered a few months before and pulled it out. Several quick steps took her from the closet to the bed, where she flopped onto the soft suede comforter. Pulling the key out of her pocket, she opened the leather-bound cover and looked at the first entry.

The woman had painstakingly detailed everything, from her heartache of finding a way to reunite with her lost love, to their eventual happiness thanks to the mysterious gift of the diary. The only passage that was underlined was the warning that the universe demands balance. For all that the diary made possible to have, it also asked something in return.

That, at least, Natasha could understand. The universe requires balance. Basic principles, thermodynamics and all of that—balance even as it spins to chaos.

The one who made the request had to make a leap of blind faith, trusting they wouldn’t be giving up more than they were getting. Although some part of her still questioned if it would work, she had to give it a try. If there was some way, some truth to the magic, it was worth looking the fool. After all, only she would know. If it didn’t work, her entry could easily be ripped out.

Taking a deep breath, she flipped to the middle where the diary sat empty—waiting. Clasping her pen so tightly her knuckles were white, she wrote:

I never knew what to think about the entries in this book. I didn’t know if the previous owners were all nuts, or if someone with too much time on their hands wrote this whole thing, trying to make it seem legit.

I hadn’t intended to add my own entry. In fact, I never intended to do anything other than enjoy the whimsy of this book, then try to find someone who wanted it. After all, I never believed in anything that science could not reasonably speculate existed, especially not a diary that could grant the heart’s deepest desire—until three weeks ago. I also never believed in second chances.

Until several months ago, if you had asked me, I would have said my life was perfect. I was content with my husband, both of us professors of science at the University. College sweethearts and colleagues, as well as friends. Then he dropped a bombshell on me—he wanted a divorce. He had found someone else, someone who loved him, and whom he felt destined to be with. I guess I should have seen it coming; after all, how late can you really stay with a grad student grading papers? But I told myself I was okay with his indiscretions, that I welcomed them, in fact. Sadly, it’s true. In my heart I have lusted, regretted past chances that I never took, and betrayed my husband with my longings for what could have been. The passion between us had long since slipped into what had been.

I never knew how deep the regret went, however, until three weeks ago, when the package arrived. Now I find myself about to make a wish upon the diary, and I hope that I don’t come to regret the consequences—and what I will be giving up.

Although I believe in my heart that if I can turn back time and do things all over again, that it will be worth whatever payment is required to keep balance, I admit—I am afraid. After more of the unlived life at this point, but still afraid.

I also hope that I am not fooling myself into believing that the past entry writers lived happily ever after once their wish was granted.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flesh for Fantasy by Chloe Waits

Getting into character Cynthia answered breathily, “Hello, this is Cheyenne.”
“Cheyenne,” the voice drew out the word as though savoring the sound. “That is such a pretty name.” The deep masculine tones were authoritative. “But, I would rather know your real name. I am sure it’s even better.”
This man wasn’t a fool. Unlike most men, he knew she gave him a stage name. Rather than denying the truth, she said smoothly, “How about you call me Cheyenne?”
“My name is Mark, Cheyenne. I am six-foot-two, well-built. Dark eyes and dark hair. Living and working in the downtown core.”
This call was really shaping up to be different. Usually they only wanted to hear about her looks. He actually wanted to participate, to be let in on the fun.
“Sounds yummy. I am a strawberry blonde with very long hair. Blue eyes, five-foot-five, curvy and tanned.” And I wear a bunny tail, too. She smirked to herself.
He chuckled. “That sounds like a playboy spread. I have a little more sophisticated taste. What would I have to do to get a real description?”
Her heart started to race. She got a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Yup, there wasn’t much of a bounce to this plain bunny.
“Okay, maybe you’ll give me a different description when you get to know me better. I would like us to know each other very well.”
In spite of herself Cynthia felt intrigued. She purred, “I would like to learn all about you Mark, like what turns you on.”
Cheyenne, I would really love you to tell me what turns you on. I don’t want to hear just what you think I want to hear from you. This isn’t about what I want.”
Knocked out of her canned responses, Cynthia was speechless. Maybe someone should pay this guy to talk on the phone.
“Do you like to be made love to slowly, or fast, and urgent? Do you dream of someone who knows your desires? The true ones. Tell me.” She heard the soft seductive command in his voice. “Cheyenne, have you ever had a man that knew your wants intimately? That knew your true fantasies?”
Cynthia couldn’t block out the flood of erotic images that went through her head.
The acknowledgement came out almost as a whisper before she could stop herself.