During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.
Our main character is the guy you love to hate, the guy who's so confident and self-assured that you either want to be him or punch him. Dodds' skill in crafting a strong narrative voice is proven in the very first sentence, letting us know exactly who we're dealing with from the get-go. The story continues and is so compelling that, even when you want to roll your eyes at Dan, you can't look away until he finally gets what he deserves. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor
by Debby Dodds
Washing mud out of my pubic hair had to be the worst part of this Renaissance Faire gig. But as mud-beggars, our fringe benefits rocked. We got a regular paycheck, but our contract with the Faire producers also allowed us to beseech money directly from the patrons. It was all part of setting the authentic “interactive improvisation” atmosphere, so that over-fed, under-educated, middle-American losers could feel like they’d “stepped back in time for a day to a day in 1589 in a small shire in Merry ‘ole England.”
Usually after our four daily mud-shows, with titles like A Mud-summer’s Night Dream, The Duchess of Mudpies, and The Muddy Wives of Windsor, the three of us mud-beggars pulled in close to an extra $200 a day each from audience tips. Most of the other actors in the cast of the Ren Faire were jealous of us. Sometimes I wasn’t sure the extra money was really worth it. I think I’d have been happier playing a Pirate or Jester or a Lord of something. It was harder to flirt with the hot chicks when covered with mud. The royal fruity bastards who were part of the Queen’s Court had all the gorgeous babes falling all over themselves to snuggle close for pictures. Not me. I had to take lots of pictures with snotty little kids and smelly old people. By the end of the summer, I tried to avoid getting my face muddy as long as I could, so I could still woo the lady patrons who were worth wooing. Putting our faces in the mud always generated more tips, so my fellow mud-beggars made more green than I did those days. But there are more important things than money. Like sex. Besides, I’d saved up plenty of money.
I didn’t live extravagantly over the summer like some actors did with their daytrips to Hershey Park to ride the roller coasters or midweek vacations to the shore to scarf the saltwater taffy. I always preferred riding women to riding machines and eating bearded clams to eating fried clams, anyway. Because of my smart choices, I’d saved enough to pay for my first few months’s rent in an apartment in New York City while I looked for a job. Not that I cared, but my cold bitch of a mom would have approved of my thriftiness that summer. Unlike my dad, who used to pay for every round at the local bar, I made sure to be scarce when any check came. My dad had too a big heart and where did that get him? Dead from a heart attack. I was pretty sure I inherited my lack of capacity for generosity and kindness from my mom. But I figured maybe I’d live a little longer because I was stingy like her.
As the summer drew to a close, my biggest problem was that the apartment I was planning on moving to next week had disappeared. Well, it was not exactly gone, but the asshole that I was going to move in with took back his offer. Turns out this guy’s sister knew one of the actresses at the Faire that I got down and dirty with – this dancer chick with the ability to put her ankles behind her ears. We had a fun two weeks but then she couldn’t get over our break-up when her turn with me was up. Sorry, but it’s not in my nature to nurture. So she whined to her friend, who put the screws to her brother to dump me. So now I was shit out of luck with my housing situation. Great.
I looked over at the cheap fake monkey paw talisman lying on my dresser. The fortune teller at the Faire had given me as a thank you gift after I’d had an impromptu threesome with her and the lady who sold the turkey legs. She’d told me it would grant wishes. I wasn’t superstitious; I made my own luck. But what the hell, Why not? I grabbed it and wished that I’d find a roommate in New York City with a to-die-for apartment. Then I threw my little good luck charm into the duffle I’d been packing.
I knew I wasn’t staying any longer than I had to in this crappy town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, even if it did boast having the first pretzel factory in America. I certainly wasn’t going back to boring Liverpool, in upstate New York where my mom lived and I’d attempted a few semesters at Syracuse University before deciding college was a dead end for losers. I’d been desperately scanning Craig’s List and other free rental sites for the Big Apple with no luck. I needed to find a place there. All professional actors should live in New York City if they’re serious about pursuing a career in show business. And I was. I was destined for bigger things, I could just feel it.
I was going to be legendary.
Just then, the most unexpected thing happened. My arch nemesis of all my castmates, Rebecca, sauntered into my room. All of us Ren Faire actors bunked together in a converted church that had been made into a dorm. I think my tiny room had once been a closet. Lots of people had bigger rooms, with two or three roommates. But I preferred being alone. Most people just irritated me with their stupid chatter. So I’d jumped on this small but private space when rooms were chosen the first day.
Rebecca was the one girl in the company who took every opportunity, at every turn this summer, to bust my game. The quintessential cock-blocker. She’d gossiped to other girls about my private nighttime maneuvers, dissuaded girls from hanging out with me, and made snide remarks about my lame abilities in the sack. That last thing had really burned me. Say what you wanted to about my fickleness, I was well-equipped and possessed a talented tongue. I’m not bragging, either. Lots of wenches had told me I was their best. I prided myself on never being a selfish lover. Girls always got their “cookies” first with me, and I often gave them multiples to enjoy during one of our sessions before I even had my first. So was it my fault if there were chicks who just assumed they were so awesome they’d make me want to hang around? Nope. Sorry, not sorry. It was hubris on their parts, I guess. Fidelity wasn’t in my makeup. I never made any promises so I never had any obligations. That’s the way I rolled, no commitments.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t have goals, things I desired to possess, objectives I wanted to achieve. Like many seemingly unobtainable things, Rebecca intrigued me. Truth be told, her being a harpy, pain-in-the-ass bitch just made me lust for her all the more. I’d always liked gingers, too. Especially when the carpet matched the drapes. And now here she was, standing so close to my bed she could reach out and touch it.
“What’s up Dan?” She leaned against my dresser and watched me as I zipped up my Pittsburgh Pirates duffle bag. I decided to play it cool, so I turned then kept my back to her and rolled up my jeans to pack, waiting for a few beats before answering.
“Not much, what’s your deal?” I sat on my bed and looked her up and down. Maybe she’d been fighting an attraction to me all summer and that’s why she’d been such a raging shrew. Maybe the whole thing about her warning other girls off of me was because she wanted me all to herself. I wondered if I should tell her, “Fear not, there’s enough of the Dan-Man to go around.” Probably she’d finally realized it was her last chance, so she was making her play for me. Her eyes looked hungry.
“I heard from Quentin that your plans for a place in New York fell through.” She ran her finger up and down her neck.
Quentin was probably gloating to everyone who’d listen to his sorry ass. I wanted to tell him, Well, have at it, you cuckolded bastard. I know you found out I got a great hummer from your girlfriend Sara a couple of weeks ago in the church vestibule and that’s why you’re so pissed off. Idiot. But my attention could never stay on men like Quentin when I had a hot firecracker like Rebecca standing right in front of me. Her ice blue eyes twinkled. I’d never noticed how piercing they were.
“Yeah, well. Something will come up for me. It always does.” I subtly drew my eyes down to my own crotch, hoping she’d get my powerful subliminal body language.
“Well, my roommate Carine is out of town for the next six weeks and I was looking for someone to sublet her room…” She bit her juicy lower lip. Score another for the master.
“Now, that sounds like an offer I can’t refuse,” I smiled.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Rebecca grinned. She rarely did that. It made her even more beautiful. Softened her somehow. Maybe it drew attention away from her angular chin and her nose that was just a bit too large. “My place is on the Upper West Side. Our roost is way up on the top floor, the twenty-ninth, so you can see the park from the balcony.”
I could see where that might appeal to some people but I wasn’t so crazy about heights. Not that I was going to share that phobia with Rebecca. I didn’t want her to think anything about me was chickenshit in any way. So I just nodded.
“Does the building have a weight room?” I asked. “Not that it’s a deal-breaker but I do like to keep myself in shape…”
“Yes, I can see that,” she pursed her lips slightly. “It does. And the building also has a game room. If you like games…I love them.”
“Oh, I like games,” I smiled back, enjoying her innuendo. Often, having a bad relationship with someone at first, made the sex that much hotter later. I was starting to really look forward to this.
“Great. I’m taking the train back tomorrow to get the place ready, to tie things up and stuff. Why don’t you hang out here for an extra day? I’ll see you there on Tuesday.”
“Sure,” I said. I had nothing to keep me here but the Faire producers had announced we could stay here for a few days if we needed to. And I figured Rebecca needed to get herself ready. Maybe get a waxing, or something.
I doubted I’d be hanging around as long as she’d want me to, rooming with her for the whole six weeks. Banging the same chick for that long would get old no matter how good she was in the sack. I mean, there were only so many positions, right? But I knew having a place in the city while I searched for an apartment for the winter would make everything much easier.
The next day I wasted time drinking in a local hole in the wall, and whacked off twice thinking about Rebecca. Tuesday, I took a morning train out of downtown Lancaster to NY Penn Station. It was easy to find Rebecca’s building and since she’d given me a key and there was no doorman, I just made my way up to the twenty-ninth floor.
Even I, with my particularly kinky imagination, couldn’t have begun to picture what awaited me inside. The living room was ordinary looking enough. In fact, it was so bland and impersonal, it looked like it had been ripped from the pages of an Ikea magazine. But I saw right away that the door to the bedroom in the back was slightly cracked. I also noticed that the apartment seemed only to be a one-bedroom versus the two-bedroom she’d claimed it was. Oh, Rebecca, you must have wanted me so bad you resorted to a lie. I chuckled a bit to myself. Well, I wasn’t about to disappoint her. It was nice to see there’d be no wasting time with some silly flirting and courting ritual. We’d just get right down to doing the nasty. Making the beast with two backs. That was just how I liked it.
“Anybody there?” I called out. From somewhere, music softly played. “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was more of a Flo-rida and Pitbull fan myself, but I’d mash uglies to Celine Dion singing in the background if that’s what a bad kitty wanted.
“Why don’t you come in here?” I heard from the bedroom. I was happy to oblige.
When I opened the door, I felt like I’d stepped back in time. This room felt pre-Renaissance, more like the Middle Ages. There were whips, handcuffs, feathers, candelabras, and various potion bottles full of God-knows-what jewel-hued liquids. The walls of the room seemed to be covered in ancient tapestries. In the center was a large bed with full canopy and ornate gold metal head and footboards. Through the translucent curtains, I could see what I assumed was Rebecca’s bare form.
“Wow, you are one sexy creature,” I said parting the curtains. Rebecca was wearing a black Merry-Widow, her red hair cascading down her shoulders. She didn’t even look like the same uptight bitch from the Ren Faire who, when not in costume, always wore loose clothes and a tightly drawn pony-tail or bun. Her body was sinewy, and though she was a bit flat-chested, and she had a tight ass complimented by long legs and a short trim torso.
“Close the door, take off your clothes and lie down,” she ordered and stood up. Her eyes glinted as she nodded to the handcuffs and ankle cuffs attached to the top and bottom of the bed.
While I’ve always enjoyed a bit of light S&M, I’ve always been the Dom. I wasn’t sure how I’d like being the Sub. But because I was Rebecca’s guest, I figured it was only polite to try this out. Besides, at that moment, I was as hard and pointy as the fake spear she had propped in the corner so I wasn’t about to risk her getting ticked off at me.
“Sure, whatever you want.” I shucked off my clothes as quickly as I could and tried not to gloat when I noticed her taking in the magnificent view that was me. I positioned myself with my hands and feet spread and heard her click the handcuffs above my head and then watched her secure my ankle cuffs.
Then she did something odd. She laughed.
For a split second, I wondered if she knew what a boner-shrinker her laugh was. But then I didn’t have time to wonder anything anymore. I was too busy screaming at the horror I was witnessing: Rebecca was sprouting wings and claws.
Her face stayed the same but her body was turning into that of a monstrous bird. A giant vulture. Her laugh became a shrill cackle. She perched over me clearly enjoying my reaction. Then I stopped screaming and almost swallowed my own tongue when my mind finally processed what was happening.
She was a Siren. This was no sexy Disney-fied pretty fish lady. Not a mermaid. An authentic Siren. This was the real deal. Half-bird, half-woman. And very dangerous.
The bedroom contained an entity not from the European Renaissance or from the Middle Ages but from the Greek Dark Age. I’d read tons of Greek mythology when I was younger ‘cause I loved all the stories of the gods getting it on with each other and tricking unsuspecting mortals into sex. Zeus was a role model, my idol. But with all my fantasizing, I’d just never expected to actually be in one of the stories.
“Go ahead, tell me to ‘eat you,’” she taunted. “Or to ‘swallow you whole,’ or to ‘suck it down like a good girl.’”
“No, please, no, just let me go…” I whimpered and then I felt the warmth spread. How could I have…? I was so NOT turned on anymore. She still had her face but she had a freakin’ bird body! Then I realized, I’d just peed myself.
“We Sirens are still around because men like you give us reason to be. So, I guess I should be thanking you.” Her lips stretched into a too-wide grimace covering most of her lower face. “So many monsters, hybrids, and even full gods have faded because they’re irrelevant; nobody feeds energy into their purpose for being. But not us. Sirens are still going as strong as ever.” For a split second she seemed to be sad, I thought I had a chance, that maybe she was going to let me go with a harsh warning. “I do especially miss the Kraken. But with no gods to require vengeance for perceived disrespect, no need exists for a Kraken.’ She scratched at the bed with her claws, shredding the sheets. “But it seems there are still many women who long for reprisal against a certain type of man.” Then her face started to elongate, her nose and capacious mouth forming a beak. A beak that hovered over my liver, teasingly, before plunging into me.
Every morning I wake, alive again and whole, but still chained to this bed. And every evening, she comes again to rip me apart. I’ve been here so long that I’ve lost track of time.
It’s the first long-term relationship I’ve ever had.
And just as I suspected, it sucks.
Debby Dodds is the author of the novel Amish Guys Don't Call (Blue Moon, June 2017) which was awarded “One of the Best YA of 2017” by Powell’s Books. She has stories in ten anthologies, including the NY Times best-selling My Little Red Book (Hachette) and The Things That You Would Have Said (Penguin) as well as: The Sun, Salon.com, xoJane, The Living Dead Magazine, Portland Family Magazine, Manifest-Station.com, and Hip Mama, and she won Portland’s Wizard World 2017 Fiction Contest. She used to be known for her screams in horror movies and her "melting routine" onstage at Disney World.