Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Scream from the Crypt: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of My First Certifiable Hit, "Night of the Mutants"

In 1987 I was filling in for my roommate at a comic book store in Columbia, SC. A young lady of my acquaintance, upon learning of my position, asked me if I knew ________, a customer. I did.

“You wanna hear a sad story?”


It was sad, all right. The perfect plot to my next short story. Although I have to wonder if thinking I had a chance in the short-story market was even sadder. Those were the days, though; a lot of people still thought short-story publication was the way to writerly fortune and fame then. How were we to know the markets were dying, and no one outside your friendly neighborhood writer’s group gave much of a crap for short stories anymore?
 

Ah, the 1980s. I miss being young, but not much else.


But “Night of the Mutants,” the second of my “Gang of Four” short stories written during 1987, did launch my career, such as it is. Upon publishing this in the March 1988 issue of the amateur press association
Imaginapa #69, I started getting phone calls from Washington state and Florida. People with accents different than my own were telling me it was the best thing they’d read in a while. They sent me stuff in the mail, magazines, books.

I was 26 years old, my English degree useless in Reagan’s America. I was working part-time at a comic book store, for fuck’s sake! My mother had died a little over a year before and I was hoping I could get safely drunk-to-death before the insurance money ran out.


“Night of the Mutants” changed those plans somewhat. 


This is the story as I’ve exhumed it from an old 1988 Word file, with all the artifacts and such removed. Please note that this story is set in the mid to late 1980s, which means there are restrictions on visiting girls in girls dorms, no cell phones, etc. Most of all,
being into comic books was NOT something a young adult advertised back then. Not even a little bit. We’re years away from Tim Burton’s first Batman movie at this point. Even then, it was some years after that before comics went more or less mainstream.

There’s so much more I could say about this story, the times that shaped it, and what it did for me. Let’s just roll this digitally restored masterpiece, young writer’s linguistic tics and all, and see if there’s anything left for people to recognize.



Night of the Mutants

Tony burst into the room. “Oh-ho, there he is! It’s the lady killer! In the flesh!”

Wally Porter looked up from his computer science textbook. “You didn’t tell anybody else, did you?”

“The word’s out!” Rick said, coming in behind Tony. “So who is she?”

“Just a girl,” Porter said, pulling himself upright on the bed. “Her name’s Ellen.”

“So what does she look like?”

“Uh, she’s got brown hair, brown eyes—hey, so what’s it to ya, anyway?”

“The man comes back from the summer twenty pounds and a few zits lighter and he’s already squiring the wenches,” Tony beamed. “Hell, congratulations. It’s about time one of us discovered women.”

“I’m glad that lousy construction job I worked this summer was good for something. I—”

“Hey, what’s this?” Chuck barrelled into the room with his hand in a bag of chips. “Man’s got a hot date for tonight and he’s reading computer science.”

“Man, I am nervous! What am I supposed to do?”

“Show some respect. Get frantic or something.”

Porter tossed the book at the desk by the foot of his bed, accidentally knocking over the model of Godzilla that held his pencils. “I was all right until you guys brought it up.”

“Hell, you oughta know, Chuckie,” Tony sneered. “So when’re you gonna get yourself a woman?”

“As soon as I meet one, four-eyes,” Chuck replied. “When’re you gonna get laid?”

“Hey, maybe you guys oughta hang out some more at the library,” Porter offered. “That’s where I met Ellen.”

Chuck wadded up his bag of chips. “You met her at the library?”

“Right by the card catalogue. She—”

“I figured that was the problem, hanging out at the library too much and studying too hard,” Rick said.

“Problem is, we’re a bunch of nerds,” Tony retorted. “You can count this guy out of the Dungeons and Dragons game tonight. Way t’go, Porker!”

“Yeah, well—”

“Maybe we oughta start calling him ‘Killer,’” Rick laughed.

“Lucky geek,” Chuck mumbled.

“You gonna pork her, Porker?” Rick asked.

“I better get dressed,” Porter said, rising. “I gotta pick her up in half an hour.”

“Let’s take a hint, guys,” Tony said. “We’re outta here.”

“Hey, are we gonna get a chance to see her?”

“C’mon, let’s get outta here,” Chuck said. “Good luck, Porker.” He threw his bag of chips at the trashcan and missed, as usual.

“Thanks.” Porter picked up the bag and dropped it in its place. He almost wished he could hang out with the guys, as he had done every weekend since he’d started college. But he had promised himself he was going to change all that after summer was over. He tried to remember the confidence he’d gotten pouring concrete and walking narrow I-beams with forty pounds of lumber over his shoulder.

He looked himself over in the mirror. He was still big and blocky in build, but it was all solid. The time he’d spent in the sun had cleared up his skin. Porter didn’t feel like he had to hide when Ellen had walked up to him in the library asking him where she could find that book she was looking for.

Talking to her hadn’t been the usual exchange of clever put-downs and snappy comebacks that he’d been used to within the confines of his peer group. He’d asked her out like it was something he did all the time. That had seemed so easy. But what would he do now?

Whatever. It was about time he had done something like this, he resolved. It was already the first semester of his junior year. He had been a geek too long.

*******

“So what does he look like?” Sally asked.

Ellen was at the mirror, fussing with her hair. “He’s a real big guy. Not fat, but kinda big. He’s real nice.”

Cynthia sat up on the bed and hugged her knees. “Are we gonna get to see him?”

“Well, he’s coming here to pick me up—”

“Big, huh?” Mary said. “I wonder how big...” Mary and Cynthia started giggling.

“Oh, shut up!” Ellen snapped. She stood and turned, looking herself over. “Uh, you don’t think this dress makes me look too fat, do you?”

“These vertical stripes are just the thing,” Sally said, brushing the hair from Ellen’s shoulders. “You’ll be fine.”

“Whatever you do, don’t talk about your diet,” Cynthia suggested. “And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“God, we’re going to Friday’s,” Ellen groaned. “What am I going to order?”

“They’ll have something light on the menu,” Sally said. “Just don’t pick at it, okay?”

“Ellen’s got a beau-O,” Mary sang, “Ellen’s got a—”  

“Maybe if you stuffed your bra and soaked your head in Clearasil you’d get lucky too,” Sally sneered.

Ellen looked at the clock. “Fifteen minutes! I’m going to die!”

“Aw, he’s not showing up anyway.”

“Go play with yourself, Mary.”

*******

Porter’s VW growled in low gear as it cruised past the women’s quad. He hadn’t counted on it taking this long to find a parking place and he still had to find the actual buiding in which Ellen lived. Porter had to switch off the radio. His anxiety alone was making it difficult to concentrate.

After what seemed a long while, Porter was able to whip his bug into into a recently vacated parking space. He wished he’d written down the directions; all of the buildings on the quad looked alike.

He watched all the guys in their jogging shorts and sweatshirts strolling confidently down the crosswalks to pick up their Carols and Cindys and Barbaras. Porter felt silly and self-conscious in his Oxford shirt and tie, his polyester-wool blend jacket now much too big for him since he’d lost weight over the summer.

He wished he was invisible. It seemed as if everyone on campus knew this was the first time he’d ever been out on a date. But he eventually screwed up his courage to stop in one of the buildings on the quad to ask the whereabouts of Ellen’s dormitory. 

*******

“Don’t worry, Ellen, he’s only ten minutes late.”

“I toldja he wasn’t coming.”

“Stuff it, Mary.”

“He probably can’t find the place,” Cynthia said. “You sure you gave him the right directions?”

“I told him it was the Lucas dorm.”

“But you didn’t tell him where, did you?”

“Well, I assumed he knew—oh hell, I’ve blown it this time!”

“It’s all right,” Sally said. “He should’ve asked if he didn’t know.”

The phone rang. “I’ve got it!” Mary shrieked.

“Hey—!” Ellen was out of her chair.

“You think that’s him?”

“Shhh--!”

“No, I’ll come down and get you,” Mary said into the phone. “You just wait right there. What are you wearing?”

“May-ree!”

Mary hung up the phone. “I’m going to bring him up here. Be back in five minutes.”

“Damn it, Mary!”

“Don’t tell me you’re not ready,” Mary countered. “I wanna see what kind of guy would ask you out.” She slipped out the door for the elevators.

Ellen stared sullenly at the door. “How’d I ever get stuck with a mean bitch like that for a roommate?”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Cynthia said. “It’s not like Miss Congeniality’s gonna steal him away.”

“Act like you’re mad,” Sally recommended. “He’s late, anyway.”

*******
The lobby of the Victoria Lucas Memorial Dormitory was filled with guys waiting on their girls. Some stood in groups, laughing and talking loudly. They all seemed so happy and well-adjusted it made Porter squirm.

Porter tucked the rose he’d been carrying into the inside of his jacket. No one else seemed to have brought one for their dates, making Porter feel even more out of place. He debated throwing it away. Maybe Ellen would think he was being corny.

“Are you Wally?”

Porter turned at the touch of a hand on his arm. A small, mousy-haired girl was looking up at him. “You’re not Ellen.”

“Of course I’m not, dummy. Come with me.”

Porter hadn’t seen the lobby of a girl’s dormitory before—now he was going upstairs! “Uh, you sure it’s all right?”

“‘Course it is! You don’t want to make her come all the way down here looking for you, do you?”

“I thought that’s what she—”

“Hey, whatcha got there?” Mary asked, tugging on the arm Porter had tucked inside his jacket.

“Elevator’s here,” Porter said, trying to pull his arm away.


“Oooh, you got her a flower,” Mary teased. “How sweet.”


Porter turned red and tried to force the rose back inside his jacket. But two girls  coming off the elevator saw it. “Wish Randy had as much class,” Porter overheard one say to the other.


That had made all the difference. “Are you going out tonight too?” Porter asked with a deliberate viciousness.


“No, I’m busy,” Mary replied smugly. They rode the elevator in silence after that. Porter felt confident again.

But that was only for the few seconds it took for them to reach Ellen’s floor. “Time to make your big entrance,” Mary said. “I’ll let you knock on the door.”


“Thanks.” Porter took a deep breath.


But Elllen had the door open before he could pull his fist back. “Hi, Wally. You ready?” Porter saw the faces of two other girls in the background peering over Ellen’s shoulder.


“Have a good time!” the tall, skinny girl in glasses called out.


“You get her back here by ten!” the chubby one squealed.


“Take your time,” Mary smirked.


“You guys behave yourselves,” Ellen said, pulling a bemused Porter towards the elevator. “See ya later.”


“Seems like the eyes of the world are upon us tonight,” Porter remarked as they dropped to the lobby.


“No kidding,” Ellen said. “So how’ve you been?”


“All right. I got this for you.”


“I saw it. I wish I could’ve put in something before we left.”


“Well, you seemed to be in a hurry; I would’ve said something but—uh, well, you know...” Porter looked at what was left of the rose. He was surprised to find the bulb intact.


“Yeah, I know,” Ellen said quietly. “We can put it in something when we get back.” She took the flower from him and smiled. “That was real sweet of you.”


“Yeah, thanks.” Her gray pinstripe dress made Porter feel as if he’d underdressed for the occasion. She wasn’t wearing the glasses he’d seen on her in the library. Ellen was still on the heavy side, by no means a Homecoming Queen contestant. But Porter didn’t feel bad about bringing her the rose, after all.


At least she looks better than her roommates, he thought.


Later, at the restaurant, they suffered some indecision over what they were going to order. They both ended up on agreeing to split the prime rib platter, salad included. All went smoothly following that, as they sipped cocktails on top of iced tea. They talked of tests they’d aced and classes they’d skipped.


“I never thought I was going to make it through English 102,” Porter said. “I don’t see why they make you go through with that when you’re going for something else entirely.”


“Aw, don’t knock it,” Ellen said, “You gotta read something else besides computer science.”


“Well, I do,” Porter slurred, not used to the gin. Porter didn’t know anybody that drank; but wasn’t this what couples did when they went out? “Ummm...”


Ellen poked his arm. “You’re buzzing!” she giggled. “God.” She paused, catching herself, “I’m kind of loopy too. Okay,” she said, leaning forward with her arms folded on the table, “So what else do you read?”


Porter thought a moment, then decided to back off the subject entirely. “Uhh, lots of stuff.”


“Come on, I’ve got a professional interest in this. I’m the English major, remember?”


“Uh, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, um, science fiction stuff, mainly.”


“What else?”


“You’d laugh.”


“No I wouldn’t.”


Porter found himself giggling. “Betcha would.”


“Tell me!”


He leaned over close to her ear as if he were telling his darkest secret. “I read comics. I got a collection that’s worth more than my car. Of course,” he leaned back, shrugging, “You’ve seen my car.”


“You collect comic books!” Ellen gasped.


“Not so loud!” Porter nearly jumped. He looked around, relieved to see that no one seemed to have heard her over the music.


Ellen grasped Porter’s hand. “No, it’s okay. I was wondering if you could tell me what my Supergirl collection is worth now that they’ve killed her off.”


“Huh? You’re kidding!”


“You don’t have to be a nerd to like comic books!” Ellen burst. Her hand flew up to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said, with the frightened air of someone who had just broken something.


“I guess I should talk,” she said after the brief, surprised silence that followed. Porter wasn’t sure what to say. But he grabbed her hand back anyway.


“Uh, it’s all right. Just for that, you’ve got to dance with the nerd.”


“I didn’t mean that, I—damn!”


“It’s okay, I’m telling you. I didn’t mean we had to dance, either.” Porter wasn’t sure why he’d mentioned it in the first place. He resolved to get some coffee when the waitress came back. “It’s okay,” he said, pulling his hand away.


Ellen was morosely stirring her drink, staring down into the melting ice cubes. Then something else caught her attention. “I love this song. C’mon, let’s go.”


“Well, like I said, we don’t have to—”


“I’m holding you to it,” she said, rising. “C’mon!” Ellen had his hand back and was pulling him with her.


It had to be a slow song. Porter thought. He concentrated on not stepping on her feet, letting her lead as they bobbed slowly among the other couples on the dance floor. The song was one of those saccharine gems that got played so many times on the radio even Porter was familiar with it. He didn’t like it, but the song’s familiarity enabled him to follow along with a minimum of clumsiness.


“You could loosen up a bit,” Ellen breathed into his ear.


“I never—I don’t know how to dance.”


“You’re doing fine.”


Porter tried to distract himself. He smelled Ellen’s perfume: it was of the drugstore variety, the same kind his sister fumed up the bathroom with at home. There was a slight flavor of sweat mixed in, more stimulating than repulsive, Porter noted. He glanced down to see her head resting against his chest, her eyes closed. She was not so tall that her hair tickled his chin.


The cut of her dress showed the cleavage between her breasts as they pressed against him. As the tension in his shoulders eased, Porter reaffirmed his embrace of Ellen. She responded by nuzzling her head deeper into his chest. She was warm, comfortable to hold.


Porter thought about what Tony had said, About time one of us discovered women. How could he describe this to the guys? He couldn’t wait to tell them. This seemed so exotic.


But then, between his leg and Ellen’s lower body, a throbbing, nearly painful errection was making itself known. Porter almost stumbled with the embarrassment of it. He tried to shift his leg away from her, praying Ellen didn’t notice.


But if she did, she said nothing about it. When the song was over they looked into each other’s eyes for a moment before breaking the embrace. Porter swore he’d remember that last song for the rest of his life and love it. Even the rude, brassy disco number that had blared in couldn’t butcher the moment.


“Wanna go back?” Ellen shouted up at him.


“Yeah, I think I need some coffee.”


“I think I need a cold shower.”


That caught Porter off his guard. Not knowing what to say, Porter let it pass. Ellen mercifully broke the silence when they settled back into their table with something else he wasn’t expecting.


“Did you collect Supergirl?”


“Yeah, I got a few of ‘em.”


“What did you like most about her?”


“Um, I guess it was the idea of a blonde in a short blue skirt flying around wherever. The artists always drew her with great legs...”


“You pig!” Ellen teased.


Porter blushed. “Uh, she was real smart too...”


“Don’t try to save yourself now,” Ellen was laughing. “You goofed this time.”


“So what did you see in her? I never met any girls who read comics.”


“Escapism. She was mousy little Linda Danvers until—” Ellen made a sweeping motion with her arm, “Whoosh! She’d fall out of a window. She’d have her clothes changed before she hit the ground. Strong, smart, striking fear into the hearts of evil men everywhere. And,” she added with a knowing smile, “Giving all the young boys wet dreams.”


“Good ol’ adolescent wish-fulfillment,” Porter nodded, “Just about what all those super-types represent.”


“Revenge of the Nerd!” Ellen slapped the table.


“Well, it was more than that,” Porter said, “Mythological people like Hercules and Samson represented the desire of common people to have the ability to control things they couldn’t handle otherwise.”


Ellen shook her head. “Adolescent wish-fulfillment. Hey, I thought you only read computer science and comic books.”


“And science fiction, too. Some of the better writers talk about stuff like this.”


“I’d like to see some of this.”


“Well, most of the best stuff is at home...” Then Porter got an idea. “I got a lot of it at the dorm. You want to go back to my room and look at some of it?”


Ellen cocked an eyebrow. “Is this a come on?”


“Uhh, well...”


“Sure, why not?”

*******
       
The elevators were out again at Porter’s dormitory. (“Boys will be boys,” Ellen remarked as they mounted the stairs.) Porter hoped the guys wouldn’t get too much in the way. At the same time, he hoped to show Ellen off. Just to make them eat their hearts out.

Rick caught them in the hall as they came in the stairwell door. “Hey, Porker. So this is Ellen?”

“Uh, Ellen, this is Rick. So,” Porter said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “Where’s Tony and the rest of the gang?”

“Everybody’s down at Chuck’s playing D and D. I hadda go to the bathroom.”

“D and D?” Ellen asked.

“I guess you want me to tell Tony to stay away from his half of the room for a while?” Rick asked Porter.

“I, er, just want to show her something.” Porter caught the awkwardness of what he was saying too late. “We aren’t going to be long. Ellen’s gotta be back soon anyway.”

“Sure,” Rick said with a grin that insinuated more than Porter would have wanted Ellen to see. “See ya later. Good meetin’ ya, Ellen.”

“Good meeting you,” Ellen replied as Rick turned and went on back down the hall. “Are they playing Dungeons and Dragons?” Ellen asked Porter as he unlocked the door to his room.


“Yeah. It’s not the big deal people make of it. Just a role playing game.”


“I didn’t mean anything like that. He seemed normal enough.” The door swung open and Porter turned the light on. “Whee-oo!” Ellen gasped as the room came into view.


“Sorry about the mess,” Porter said sheepishly. He’d forgotten about the dirty laundry on the beds and the other wads of paper that had missed the wastebasket.


“It’s okay, I’ve got brothers at home.”


“Yeah, we’re all pigs. Why don’t you sit here?” he said, pulling the chair away from his desk.


“Where are you going to sit?”


Porter swept the clothes from his bed. Sitting down, he pushed a box of comics over toward Ellen. “This is some of the recent stuff. You follow any of the Marvel titles?”


“They’re killing off all the mutants, aren’t they?”


“Yeah,” Porter looked up, surprised. “How did you know?”


Ellen was turning over the model of Godzilla she’d found laying on its side on the desk. “Nobody stays dead for long in the Marvel Comics Universe. I can’t see the point.”


“Still, it’s hard to give up the X-men, no matter how silly the storyline gets. They’re like old friends.”


“Outcasts of society,” Ellen said in a mock dramatic voice. “Actually, they’re much too pretty to be outcasts.”


“Not like us, huh?” Porter replied without sarcasm.


Ellen replaced Godzilla upright on the desk and moved to sit on the bed next to Porter. Porter stiffened slightly. “Are we really that much of a couple of cross-eyed uglies?” she asked, looking Porter squarely in the eyes.


“Did you catch what Rick called me?”


“Uh huh. Porker. I thought it was kinda cute.”


“You’re the first one to say so.” He tried to look away, but she still held him with her eyes. “You got any cute nicknames?”


“Nothing more creative than ‘Fatty.’ ‘Course, that was only in grade school.” With that, she finally broke off the eye contact. She looked at her hands, figeting in her lap. “You don’t think I’m too fat, do you?”


Even if she lost ten more pounds she would still have the slightly hooked nose, the soft hair over her lip. Still, they had so much in common. “Does it really matter now? I mean, ah, I think you’re okay.”


That seemed to be enough. She looked back up into his face, squinting this time. “I wish I had my glasses on so I could see you better.”


It was only fair, he thought. “Go ahead and put them on. Then again,” he added with a harsh flippancy, “You just ate.”


She reached for her purse and pulled out her glasses. They were oversize tortoise shells with very thick lenses, just as he remembered them from the library. They made her eyes look funny, though Porter found himself more worried about what she was seeing through them.


What Ellen saw was a wide, nervous face savaged by the marks of past acne. His eyes were a little too close together and his hairline showed the beginnings of male-pattern baldness. If they stuck together, she decided, she’d definitely have to take him clothes shopping. If they stuck together.

“Well?” Porter asked. He could feel a cold rivulet of sweat tickling him as it struggled down his back underneath his shirt.


Neither was sure who had started it, but they kissed.


Wrapping their arms clumsily about each other, Porter was relieved to discover that Ellen’s back was damp as well. Her glasses pushed against the bridge of his nose. His teeth pinched her lips. But for that brief minute, it didn’t matter how either of them looked to one another. Their eyes were closed and the only sensation that mattered was the bodily contact, however awkward.


“Does this mean we’ll see each other again after tonight?” she said when they broke off.

“I hope so,” Porter said, catching his breath. He moved closer to kiss her again.

She gently put her hand against his chest. “No, no—I better be getting back. No telling what your friends are imagining us up to.”

“To hell with them,” Porter growled. Then smiling,  “Adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies.”

The thought of what her own roommates might be thinking flashed through Ellen’s mind as she once more put her arms around Porter. She hoped they were eating their hearts out.

*******

They were all up waiting for her when she returned. “Did you make out with that gorilla?” Cynthia began.

“She sure did,” Mary replied. “I don’t know why she spent all that time on her hair.”


“Got her makeup smeared, too. Ooooh-wee!”


“Didja give him any?”


“With that dork? Eeeww, gross!”


Ellen dropped her pocketbook by the door, sighing heavily. She felt too drained to put up with this. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” she asked Sally.


Sally averted her eyes to the giggling girls by the bed before forcing herself to look at Ellen. “Uh, you didn’t, did you? I mean—”


“Go to hell, all of you!” Ellen nearly hit herself with the door as she pulled it open, storming towards the bathroom. She could hardly see for all the hot water pushing against the back of her eyes.


“What’s gotten into her?” Cynthia asked innocently.


“I dunno,” Mary replied. “Something about six inches long and two hundred pounds?” Mary and Cynthia both doubled up on the bed laughing.


“You guys suck,” Sally muttered as she went out the door after Ellen.

*******

“There he is,” Rick grinned as Porter came into the room. “The Killer!”

“Mooo!” Chuck intoned through his cupped hands. “Y’know they got laws against doing that sort of thing with animals.”

Rick slapped his knee. “Miscegenator!”

“Uhh,” Tony began uneasily, “So, uh, how was it?”

“Knock it off, you assholes,” Porter snarled. “She’s a nice girl.”

“Oooh,” Chuck taunted, “How nice was she?”

“Spent enough time with her here, didn’t you?”

“All of fifteen minutes!” Porter snapped.

“Whatsa matter? You shoot off too quick?” Chuck and Rick went red with laughter.

“Get outta here!” Porter shouted. “Get the hell outta here, all of you!”

“Man, what’s the matter with you?”

“Yeah, what’s—?”

“OUT!”

“Jeez, all right, all right, we’re going!”

“Maybe Porker didn’t pork her,” Chuck snickered on his way out.

“Must be,” Rick said. “See ya in the morning Porker.”

“Well?” Porter snarled at Tony.

“Hey, I just live here,” Tony stammered. “I didn’t say anything, did I?”

“That’s just it,” Porter said, “I think I’m going out for a walk.”

“Hey, well, she was kind of big, y’know, uh--” But Porter had already slammed the door behind him.

“Aw, fuck ya if ya can’t take a joke,” Tony said to the door.

*******

Porter didn’t call Ellen the next day, as he’d promised. He spent the better part of the day at the computer center working the bugs out of his next project. Eventually, Porter returned to his room to find the gang talking about the next dungeon module they were planning to take on that night. He joined in the conversation, asking about what he’d missed the night before. They were more than happy to tell him about it. Tensions eased; things were back to normal. It felt great to be among friends again.

At one point, when they were away from Rick and Chuck, Tony got up the nerve to ask Porter whether he’d be calling Ellen again.

“I dunno. I’ll have to think about it.”

Tony let the subject drop.

*******

For her own part, Ellen felt somewhat relieved that Porter hadn’t called. She wasn’t sure why. When Sally asked about it later on in the day, Ellen replied with a staged nonchalance, “Guys. Whaddya expect?”

“Ah, he was a geek, anyway,” Cynthia said.

“They’re all assholes,” Mary chimed in.

Ellen felt a little uneasy, but figured it wasn’t worth arguing about. “Well, so what do you guys want to do tonight?”

They decided they’d check out the non-geek action down at Saint’s. Cynthia volunteered to drive.

*******

Later that evening, Porter went to his car to drive out for D and D munchies. Ellen had apparently forgotten to take the rose with her the night before; it lay dry and forlorn on the back seat.

He threw it out the window on the way to the store. Porter felt a little bad about it. But what did they have left to talk about?

She was just another lonesome fatty. It was almost too embarrassing to consider calling her. He had his friends, his hobbies, his classes, his life. There was no room for wondering what he would say or do with women right now.

Maybe some other time....


At the Fred Greenberg comics convention in New York City, 7 January 1989. This is the best picture I have of what I looked like back then. Thanks to my newfound “fame” I was already losing weight and easing back on the alcohol intake, so I looked a lot better than when I originally wrote the story in the late summer of 1987. 




“Night of the Mutants” Copyright © 1988, 2013 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.
All rights reserved.

###

Why I Am Unemployable, #1

This passage from my novel Bleeding Kansas explains one reason as eloquently as I’ll ever write it:

Walking out to my vehicle, I have to work the keychain remote several times just to be sure this magnificent black luxury SUV is really mine. The new car smell is intoxicating. Nothing is slammed; the rear hatch closes with the touch of a button. I walk around to climb into the cab. Can’t slam this door, either. It’s like burping a Tupperware lid.

I turn the key and the air conditioning blows on full. The radio plays symphonic music in full-immersive surround sound and none of this seems a strain on anything. I turn down the music and give myself a minute to familiarize myself with the GPS. Not that I need a whole minute. It works on voice command.

The traffic is light on the way into downtown, allowing me to work on my breathing and concentration. I screwed up in my first call to Giselle. The rental car clerk’s attitude towards me was also telling. Going all the way back to the cab driver, if he spoke with such annoying familiarity to me it’s because I didn’t give him the proper nonverbal cues telling him not to.

I can’t afford to be friendly. I can’t show surprise every time I come across some delightful, if appallingly expensive toy the Courtesan Class takes for granted like hot and cold running water. If it’s apparent to anyone at the company that I’m Not of Their Tribe—say, someone who’s been driving the same car for ten years, doesn’t own a smartphone, etc.—they’ll throw me right back into the stagnant, dying pond I come from. One does not get a seat at the Kool Kids table out of kindness, or even ability. It’s because you’re already a Kool Kid and that seat has belonged to you since before you were born.

With that in mind I step out of the elevator and stroll across the sumptuous lobby like I own it.

I can’t be cool like my novel’s hero and narrator, Derek Grace. The last time I was in a rental vehicle was in early 2008. This wasn’t even a “luxury tank” like the one Grace takes possession of in Chapter 1, but a mid-range model. Closing the door really was like burping a Tupperware lid. It had satellite radio, but no GPS. Still, in terms of comfort and amenities, it was far and above the 2004 Honda Odyssey at home. I can only imagine how I’d react if I were to slide into a late-model, fully-loaded Escalade. (The 2004 Honda is still the youngest vehicle we own.)

Whether I said “Whoa!” every two minutes or just looked around in bug-eyed wonder—I’m good for both—the point is I’d react, and all of a sudden I’m not getting the job because I’m not “a good fit.” 
So just keep on truckin’! Zombie truckin’ on down the line!

And let’s say I somehow learned to keep a poker face after half a century of wearing my feelings on my sleeve, the fact that I don’t have any kind of “smartphone” with a data plan enabling me to show off my Google-fu is just as damning.

Then there’s the matter of my over-familiarity with the help. And the fact that I cannot for the life of me think of people even conceptually as “the help.” This gets me both ways, as the so-called help doesn’t appreciate it either. Doesn’t matter that I’ve worked their jobs. But I should be somewhere else now, shouldn’t I?

Well, it ain’t happenin’. Too old and too set in my ways. 

Back to the zombie mines, then!



BLEEDING KANSAS Copyright © 2013, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken