This week on the Reluctant Townie, we're going to try something new.
In honor of the Halloween season, I have written a short story — hopefully one that you will find amusing — that features a few supernatural twists. The story is longer than my column space will allow, so I've published it on the Kindle Marketplace as an eBook.
The story is called "Russel and the Goodnight Moon." If you like the preview below, you can purchase the entire eBook from Kindle for 99 cents. Think of it kind of like Kickstarter, only instead of pledging $1 for me to write a short story, you pledge a dollar and the short story is automatically written and given to you.
Russel wasn't a young man anymore. Never had this been more apparent to him than while staring down his reflection sometime after midnight in the harshly lit bathroom of this godforsaken discotheque. Did they call them "discotheques" anymore? Russel was pretty sure they didn't — and hadn't even in his heyday. Oh, who was he kidding? He never had a heyday.
Russel was terrible at having what normal people called "fun" — the definition eluded him. If you asked his mother, she would say that Russel's childhood bouts with pneumonia were to blame. Two summers in a row he caught it and was unable to make friends with the neighborhood children. As alliances were forged in a crucible of afternoon pick-up games and bike rides into the fading dusk, Russel was bedridden. When he finally emerged, two summers later, the world had moved on without him. And in moments like this, the world liked to remind him that he would never catch up.
Always a Russel, never a Russ ...
The gray hairs spread like buckshot throughout his beard served as a potent visual reminder that time was running short, and the biological urge that made him stare too long at the skinny barista with the jet-black hipster bangs every afternoon when he got his coffee outside the subway stop downtown was the very same urge that drove him out tonight. He needed intimate contact with a member of the opposite sex; the urge had now crept into his brain and begun dismantling his sanity.
That's where Craig factored into Russel's plan.
Craig was a fellow systems analyst at Emotech — and several years younger than Russel. His youth was a valuable commodity, and Russel had been mining it as often as he could to pry his way into the local social scene.
He had made plans to fly "wingman" with Craig tonight (a colloquial term based on a movie Russel was 93 percent sure Craig was too young to have ever seen), but Craig called at the last minute and canceled. It seemed he had a date, the rascal. An intern from Web Development. As a result, Russel was here at the club by himself, abandoned but determined.
Of course, Craig could have lied about having a date. Maybe he was out wing-manning it with Doug from Accounts Receivable; Russel had noticed a bond form between the two at the office. Doug was even younger than Craig, which made him, by turn, infinitely younger than Russel, and that age difference awarded him a reckless, unwavering confidence that was attractive to women.
All things considered, Craig probably had a much easier time talking to women at a bar when Doug was in tow. Both of them such young, cool, good-looking guys ...
Not like old graybeard here.
Russel steadied his gaze in the mirror. It would be dark on the dance floor. The gray sprinkled in his beard would be undetectable.
"Russel," he said to his skeptical reflection. "You are a cool, confident guy, and women find you sexually attractive. Believe it. Own it. Let's break this two-year streak!"
If he could have attaboy'd his own buttocks, he would have. Not because he believed his speech, but because he needed to believe it.
Instead, he clapped a piercing, singular clap and let out a mixture equal parts grunt and whoop. A sad rallying cry, but under the circumstances the best he could muster.
To Russel's credit, he managed not to let any of the enthusiasm leak from his smile as a man cautiously exited the stall behind him a moment later.
Russel listened to the man wash his hands — carelessly, with no soap — and exit. When he did, loud music penetrated the bathroom like an artillery shell, then swallowed itself in the closing door.
Armed with all of the cocksure in his bank account, which was by every measure — known and unknown to him — completely overdrawn, Russel exited the bathroom door into a thick, pulsating wall of thumping electronic music.
Less than 10 minutes later, Russel expelled from the back door of the nightclub and into the dark of the evening. The muffled thumps coming from the nightclub floated behind him like a giant middle finger. Shoulders sagging and wallet empty, Russel turned the corner to cut through an alley. This was done not to save time on his walk home — the seconds he shaved off would in no way make up for the sensation of being repeatedly punched in the face by the smell of hot, summer garbage — but because it was the best way to go if you wished to avoid people. And Russel had had his share of people for the night. Forever, maybe.
His reflection jumped out at him from a puddle of stagnant alley water.
"Russel, you are a loser, and women find you sexually repellent. Believe it. Own it. Die alone."
The air was hot and humid, but a sudden chill ran down his spine. Although he could not explain where it came from, Russel had the sudden and powerful sensation that he was not alone in the alley. Someone was standing behind him. Someone he had not seen when he passed just moments before ...
Ryan Jackson says it's no trick: Treat yourself to the rest of "Russel and the Goodnight Moon" on the Kindle Marketplace, and he can be reached at email@example.com.