Now that Speculative Horizons, the anthology edited by Yours Truly and published by the great people at Subterranean Press, is only a couple of weeks away, I felt that the time was right for another extract to be posted on the Hotlist.

Hal Duncan's "The Death of a Love" was the very first piece of short fiction submitted, and both Bill and I immediately fell in love (no pun intended!) with it. So it's only natural that this new excerpt should be from that short story.

If you want to help raise funds for cancer research, or if you are just curious and wish to give the anthology a shot, it's now available for pre-order via the Subterranean Press website. Otherwise, if you want to get it at a discount, it's also available on various Amazon sites: Canada, USA, Europe.


"The Death of a Love"

The death of a love is a hard thing to take. Most loves die of natural causes, of course, just fade away slowly over days or weeks, months or years, until there’s just a scrap of a ghost, echoes of the good times and the salad days, haunting a home like the tobacco-stink of last night’s party, or trailing after two ex-lovebirds as they go their separate ways, clinging to their clothes like each other’s perfume or cologne, whispering in their ear when they listen to a certain song. Most loves just have their natural lifespan and after that they weaken and they die. That’s the way of things. But it’s hard to take, so it’s weird but maybe not surprising how a lot of times you see those ‘birds stay together after their love is dead, after all that’s left is a shadow.

You look for that fat little pink-skinned cupid with its white wings, but it just ain’t there. The little fucker is dead and gone.

I mean, sometimes it’s not what it seems. Some of those ghost loves, you find they’re not really dead at all, so much as… dissolved into every little thing that makes up a life together. You’re interviewing the parents of a suspect, say. Sitting in some floral-patterned armchair, right? Watching them sit there on the sofa across from you. They don’t hold each other’s hands. They don’t even sit that close to each other. Hell, maybe the wife will be sat down on the sofa while the husband’s over at the drinks cabinet, pouring himself a malt whisky. You look around the room, and you see the photographs and the knick-knacks, everything perfectly in place, and it just seems so fucking hollow. You think: this couple, their love died years ago; there’s no passion here, no deep desire, just fucking habit. Once upon a time they might have had a cupid fluttering back and forth between them, lighting on her lap now and then, or his shoulder. But that love‘s flown the coop long ago. That’s what you think.

But then… then you notice the wife’s gaze drifting across to the photo of the kids. Or maybe the husband will walk across the room and rest his hand on her shoulder. Or something, you know, something like that? And you feel this… presence in the house. You can smell it ― roses and chocolate and popcorn, maybe, or some other set of smells, sweet and soft or rich, ripe even. You catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, a flutter of feathers or a flash of flame, a reflection in a mirror or the glass of a picture frame. Or you hear it ― echoes of laughter maybe, a faint hint of a fairground tune. That’s when you realize that their love isn’t really dead at all; the little bastard’s just gone quiet, hid itself in every corner of their life. It’s kind of sweet, when you think about it. Like it’s become a secret between these two, their silent invisible love. They’re still ‘birds, you know? They just sing quietly, just for each other.

That’s what my folks were like, you know? Before the old man died. I didn’t realize it till after, always thought their love was long-dead of neglect, what with the old man hardly ever home, always working nights on this case or that, and closed in on himself whenever he was in the house, drinking to forget those cases. It was only after his death that their love sorta… came out of the woodwork, I guess you could say, when my mother needed it most. Fuck me, if I don’t go round to visit one day and hear her in the kitchen, chatting away to some chirping canary or some such, I think; only when I walk in, turns out it’s their fucking love, this cute little bastard of a cupid, flying round her as she washes dishes, chattering away in this language of whistles and chirps that only she and it understand. Where the fuck was that hiding all these years? I thought. Where the fuck was that when I was laying in bed at night, listening to them argue about how the force was killing him.

But, you know, after a while, watching the cupid perch on the refrigerator that he’d grab a beer from, or the kitchen chair that used to be his, or the counter-top where he’d lay his badge down, I understood it was always there; I was just too dumb to notice it as a kid. And if there’s only two of them speak that weird birdsong language now, it used to be three.

It’s a different story for a lot of ‘birds, like when the love turns to stone ― that I’ve seen as well. I mean, you can be in the exact same house, with the exact same floral-patterned armchair, exact same sofa, exact same fucking scatter cushions, and I tell you, if you don’t catch at least a hint of something still going on between the husband and wife ― you take a close look at what’s around you. Ten to one what you’ll see, up on the mantelpiece or on some fucking dresser in the bedroom, is that little butt-naked cupid frozen forever like some plaster cherub. You might even think it looks cute at first, but look closer, at the face. Sometimes they’re blank, but a lot of time they’re sad. Sometimes they’re fucking screaming. Like Han fucking Solo in carbonite.

Swear to God, that type always have their dead love on display somewhere, like a fucking statue. I don’t understand those fucks, really I don’t. You let your love go cold and still, let it turn to stone, and you put it up on a shelf like a fucking trophy. What’s that about? You want to have your grandmother’s ashes up on a shelf, that’s one thing. You want to send Old Yeller to the taxidermist because you can’t stand him being gone ― fine. But your dead love…

Shit, one time ― the Armitage case ― I was interviewing this yuppie couple ― mid-thirties at the oldest, in-laws of the suspects ― and they had their love sat up in a glass-fronted cabinet, in this Chesterfield kinda thing, right between a model of the Eiffel Tower and a fucking snowglobe of Lady Liberty. The husband, he catches me looking at it, and you know what he says? It’s beautiful, right? What kind of fucked-up shit is that, I ask you? Fuck, I know you can’t always blame the ‘birds for their love going south ― shit happens ― but these fucks, they don’t even question that maybe it’s their own fucking neglect killed what they had; they don’t even get what they’ve lost, I realize. To them everything is A-OK and they’re proud of it. Never mind the Sixties, I remember thinking, these fuckers have barely caught up with emancipation; to them that love is still something that belongs to them, a fucking piece of property, not a living, breathing, laughing, crying being. Or the stone-cold mortal remains of one. That kind of attitude to their children and we’d be calling Social Services on the bastards.

That was damn near my first case, actually. I was such a fucking rookie. I remember mouthing off to my partner afterward, Jackman, in The Lizard Lounge, elbow on the bar, waving my beer as I fucking testified: How can they be like that? What the fuck kind of robotic assholes are these people? Fuck, I was a real hothead about it; I was so sure that kind of creepy shit put the finger on them, that these heartless freaks had to be the perps, had to be. I don’t know. Maybe a little of it was I still thought my folks were that way, an empty shell of a relationship with a dead love inside; I didn’t see what they really had going between them, so I hated the old man for a while because I thought he’d let their love die. And maybe that’s what made me follow him onto the force as much as anything, made me push for this department. I wanted to sort that kind of shit out. I was a self-righteous little bastard.

Cause all that’s just the fucking cherry on the icing ― the shadow loves and the stone loves, the cupids dead from lack of due care. What you bite down on in my line of work, every single fucking day of the week, is the big-ass hunk of cake made of chocolate-colored bullshit, bitter lemons and sour grapes. Cause most loves die of natural causes, sure, and even neglect is natural at the end of the day. You gotta let that love live for itself, find its own way, even if that freedom is the freedom to fade away or go cold; a cupid’s progenitors don’t own it, you know? So you gotta let it be what it’s gonna be, live and die by its own will.

But those that don’t die natural… ah, shit… it makes me sick to my fucking stomach sometimes.

You talk to Homicide, Narcotics, Vice, they’ll all tell you that they deal with the worst of it ― the psychopaths, the drug-dealers, the kiddie porn peddlers; but they ain’t got nothing on Erocide. You stand on the wharf, I tell them, you stand on the fucking wharf as they pull a three-day old floater out of the water, some poor fucking cupid with its wings all ragged and torn, half the feathers missing and what’s left filthy with oil and shit, used condoms and fuck knows what all caught up in them. You look at that baby-soft pink skin all purple and blotchy now, I say, half-eaten by the fishes. You take a good fucking look at that bloated belly and the tongue so fat it spills out of the mouth, like a sick fucking caricature of the podgy little imp it used to be. You look at the fucking strangle marks round its neck, and you tell me that’s not a million times worse than any of the shit you have to deal with. That’s some couple’s love, their fucking heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, murdered and dumped like a stray dog. That’s a dead child, a crack baby and an abuse victim all rolled into one. That’s the worst there is.

1 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this story is brilliant.