Archive for the Novel Excerpts Category

Part one

Posted in Cutting Teeth on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

I woke at falling shattering coffee mug and hopes of getting the security deposit back.  Bolted, I witnessed faceless companion-though-rent leaning to twin kitchen sinks, looking at a real television beyond windowpane stage’s sick comedies.  Across mundane alley, I pieced jigsaw face puzzled crowd among three curious school buses wearing camouflage.  Old woman in red beaten faceless fancy coat indifferent from her aging face.  Cane kicked from beneath token wise man.  Handcuffed Children ran for parents in faces of boots and spitting.  The inescapable program took form, no commercials.  Outside seeps in, disguised as shocked silence.  Edward, my superimposing guest and stingy host, never removed his eyes from the experiment carnivorously gawked but could not plot.  Shouting to human cattle–why beyond our fears?  Panicked protection from unknown circumstances bolted barricading furniture to openings as trickled, lingering fear slowly consumed us.  Deadbolt brought life, the lazy boy awakened, shackled entrance to entrance.  At hallway’s epicenter, Edward and I listened for optimistic silence.

Terrible opportunity fragmented our door with steel hands, driving plywood like children’s hands through sand pierced our first protective layer, the second knock tearing refrigerator in two–shrapnel thrown to thud.  The entry wound bled green suits glinting infected steel, mad faces hardened by circumstance.  The couch tossed itself aside, helpless as us in mutilation’s arms to the ground fucker get down I said get down now you sonfabitch you don’t hear very well cocksucker get on the ground we’re here to save you now move it get out now goddamnit get down on a rag doll flops in industrial steel cages.  I give no resistance, disallowed to resist time as claws ripped me to my feet by hands behind my back.  Fade at the carpet fading boots running.  Fade my neighbors slapped against fading walls faded oh god no not my baby.  Fade down staircases looking to open front door fading.  Dragged foot, fumbled mutters by Ed. I lost fade no more fading knickknacks the pain in my fade.   Fading sunlight on my warming hair fade where is Ed fading smell blood in my clotting nose. Familiar voices curdling fade growled  orders fade my heart please fade nervous fade.  Can’t help fading fade.

*****

The bench thrown into catches more comforting than hands tossing civilians.  The elderly do not fear under dignity, but the rest of us understand our excuses for living are under scrutiny.  His clothes’ tattoo read PISSBROW.  Slumped against seat, my lolling head catches facial glimpses.  Concrete cheeks dripped from cold steel eyes.  Too many questions for fear to answer outright.  Ed gasped beside, whiter than underwear.  I jarred another unrecognized but surely bonding should this experience extend past entrapment. I look over heads and soft skulled babes hog-tied to mothers watching Pissbrow extending his welcome.  WE APOLOGISE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE.  MY ORDERS ARE TO TRANSPORT YOU TO THE FACILITY WITHOUT PROBLEMS THERE WILL BE NO TALKING SMOKING LOOKING AROUND CONVERSING FREETHINKING INTIMIDATING COMPENSATING AVOIDING SIGNALING OR ELSE YOU WILL BE SHOT.  DRASTIC MEASURES HAVE TAKEN PLACE. AND WE ARE HERE FOR YOUR SAFTELY.  LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD AND SAY NOTHING, DO NOTHING, BE NOTHING. WE WILL ARRIVE AT OUR DESTINATION IN APPROXIMATELY FOURTEEN HOURS.

Through silence encased words pitched rules only to engine wind chimes. Four hours into Pissbrow guarding aisle hiphanded, withdrawn as each interstate bump jolted us. Humble towns passed in swerves and accelerations.  Thin concentration to jittery voiced cracking in forced neglect.  “Hey!  Yeah, Um Mr. Soldier, Do you think we could stop for a leak?  If I don’t drain my lizard, I’m just going to explode.  I’m going to wet my pants soon, so could you please.”  Pissbrow fired against my face.  Acidic hot fluid and ringing ears a sick split second pop choke and glug.  My own slacked jaw and dry eyes spread as Magdalene legs.  No sickness No TV No aspirin No back support No strange currents to keep me going.  Blank air staring uncontrolled, as if kissing the screaming.  Two runts tossed poor Ed twitching like blank pulped meat.  A bloodshot sick bullet hole in the window, a white-hot pupil suspicious with shattered eyelashes unblinkingly witnessed death after its creation warned.

Jammed.  The whole thing jammed.  One highway filled with vehicles all to somewhere as bad, locked without offering directions through aluminum foiled autobody crowd.  At the hilltop, bastards herded minivans with window chalked REPENT great road beasts locked bumper to slaughterhouse bumper, streaming like queasy horizons salmon flopping in heat mirage waves.  Horns reap the irritant from the boredom.

The audio track passes time, a bad reception live, “I ask of all who have sinned the lord repent now while there still for judgment day when coming arrives the dead will from grave and all are holy will sent immediately to without the pain of while the damned are to hell for all eternal for the lord is love and I have…

Rubberneck to frazzled man.  Wild Moses hair framed face howling to open the doors of his leather coat chapel to pews of dynamite, time’s exposed symbol to his almighty duty to pull rip cord parachuting flames.  Fight or flight diseased quivering legs.  The fire drew breaking windshields, engulfing the hull–Pissbrow and driver dove into its Halloween orange teeth.

Gas tank gas tank gas tank

Throw down movement outscreaming roaring heat (never fast enough) exiting infernos at the mouth of hell.  Muscle tissue ate itself in choking gusts of plastic’s black burn.

Exit.  The gas tank the gas tank.  Exit.  Alarm will sound.

Exit.

Fresh gasp from the womb OUT. Out to lit asphalt, fat highway cholesteroled with stressed platelet vehicles pounding in my vein-broken temples.  Exploding dominoes come with heat’s fumy fingers to open cheese fields and cow pie plant pastures roaming open ditch in uncaring mud climaxing desperate frustration claws earth from brimstone echoes suffering.  Crawling estranged to lumpy ground, cindered beautifully down both starved paths of highway.  At least, my destination.

Feet hit concrete as a moon landing. Carjammed seatbelt fumblers while lions roared intimately beyond disturbing limits.  Skin peels back, melting cornea powerlessly still running.  Death’s warm hand touched my shoulder so there’s no use fighting.  Fight replaces flight.  Lungs tighten from rubber unclean fingers burning acidic gag steals saved air behind open dunes beyond glinting cars in heated directions rumbling in ears in head under foot integrated into a single adrenal fire slowly pulling roads toward itself, flat horizons a guardian and cars on conveyor belts smile toothily entering melting grounds.  If this be baptism by fire, I can not drowned. I would not wake up screaming.  A slow roar inside the lion’s mouth, I wasn’t ready to.  Not yet I just can’t not with fire’s lone scream in nowhere like dead skunks too close to last breaths taking danger over the leap from hell’s colon with blasted dives at painful surfaces. In frustration for not having the time for quality tears, I outwit fire, as fire cannot consume what it does not understand to be fuel.  I am too wet to be eaten by you, do you see my sweat?  My slobber?  I am unfit and fire agrees.

*****

At a cold shit drizzle alarm call, a jeep axle confronted me in half sleeping road tar grafting facial burns.  No brown burlap couch.  No soft and broken-in bed.  Cold air replaced morning senses with birds and stretches.  Hair clumped with my brother’s acrylic blood. Legs burned internal fire viewed by glossy eyes black from the pyre’s release.  Examining wounds with wounded eyes, I rose between two hissing tires elbowing mud puddles of rain’s stench chilling life to bone.

Chill infected my spine unceasingly more buoyant than this vessel sinking ash weakened asphalt seas.  Gates of surrounding carnage enclosed disillusionment. It could go no further than the bodies.  The flesh blanket peeled back revealing white skull sheets, glistening rain moisture washing all duties.  Damage tolerable, but expressions too much.  His arm, twisted inhuman to his back, shoulder a sculpture of tragedy. A seventeen-year-old blond burned and kneecap bent against will, with realization charred to sculpt.  Soldier chest heaved in throes of sputtering death in fear’s solitude of singular heavy wheezes.  Thigh of a small girl, but no body.  The hand.   In burned restraints of child seat save for white grimacing teeth empty sockets and clothes melted stains of fashion fused with rot.  Clicking sounds.  The cheek folded as skin pushed by bone vertebrae finger of elderly man, spilling unknown tissues not used for weeping.  I absorb their injuries ignoring mine.  Lumpy oatmeal shock in stomach, unaware of the clots in my own consciousness, taking motherless notes on the birth of this true and real hallucination.  I’ve had to get out of that crematorium.

Asphalt fields stank in my lungs.  I had no will to escape death far from my own, incapable of movement.  Immobile weaknesses stab strength with each step light headed trebling closer to inevitable collapse. My noodle bones boiled in delirium’s red seas metamorphosing weariness to tunnel vision and stares to dry places of warmth.  Chill prickled movements to bullet riddled white minivan called comfort to a fraying soul.  I do not know how to survive my instincts removed with machines and minimum wage.

Petrol thick air burned, dry carpet floors calling me to place my shaking paws on it’s door handles, pull down, slide back black handle, open safety.  What remained from torn fashion skin partially from my body sticks and suffocates epidermis without so much as a cold wet slap from my shirt and my jeans to chafe and push all gravity.

Door slides open on slick smooth wheels and crying shame.  Hot breath from chilly nose subsided for the thunder.  I thank surrounding unstable chaos to allow a saved strength, letting the ground kiss me, the horizon now vertical, slumber tugging like a violent puppy. The harsh outside womb spit me into help me but I will not go gently for anyone but slumber.  Help me.  The nose-dive into subconscious hit a labored sound,  cries for help penetrate determined sleep.  I raised my head with motivational fear.  Two cracks in my face opened, white pupils scanned a damned mother.

No strength to hold vision, eyes lolled in her slumped head with bloody hands and a cracked brown mask from caked wounds help me shot right into my eyes.  The pink rivers wearing the mask away help me cutting through light skin tones beneath help me straight to eyes into optic nerves help me into brain help me meltdown.  Her gut birthed pain for one, death for one and a shining bullet buried in womb.  Quivering lips chanting mercy reverberated upon itself summon personal demons leaking nausea and blurred vision to plague help me.  Initial vomit and caboose of dry heaves guilted inactivity as splash hit stubbled carpet floor.  Just as pregnant with insanity, she labored death–the mother no Madonna and a stray bullet no Jesus.  I could barely save my remorseful ocean in a leaking mourning boat.  I Lucklessly left, in accordance to a backward life cycle.

Step one where will I go.  Step two what will happen.  Step three still alive.  Step four there a car undamaged, there.  Step four just a little farther.  Step four over the leg.  Step six ignore the screaming.   Step six keep focused.  Step seven no pain is too great for eventual rest.  Step eight doubt.  Step nine alone in the living.  Step ten almost there.  Step twelve the car door is unlocked and the window rolled down.  Step thirteen I release control.  Step fourteen the fall begins.  I lose among the mess of memories.

Solar newness assaulted bloodshot spheres.  New cars odors rubbed my stench.  No rain, no clouds, no movement for the day.  When my eyes separate for light once more, a new day allows.

The Fall of Cleveland Street

Posted in Gentlemen of the Shade, Volume I on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

The Fall of Cleveland Street By Tod Crouch

It was a beautiful day in London in 1889.  The afternoon air was crisp in young Charles Thickbroom’s lungs, now void of soot.  The sun shined so clearly it seemed to cut shadows from buildings with a razor.  A year passed since his indoctrination into the unconventional boys’ club and the post office was a pleasant enough cover.  Though his hands smelled like man parts and telegraph ink, the sixteen pounds jangling in his shoes made him happy.  He turned the crooked corner to Cleveland Street, where a ruckus outside the brothel drew a small crowd.

Little Georgie Wright, the freckled boy about Charlie’s age, stood watch as Henry kicked a small boy violently.  “You lousy snitch!  You terrible bloody snitch!” Henry yelled.  It was one of the part time punks, little fifteen-year-old Tommy Winscow.  Little Tommy screamed for help as Henry drew long punches and bloodied the child’s nose.

“Henry!  Stop!  What are you doing?” Charlie said from across the street.  Georgie, whose shoulders had broadened over the past year, pulled him aside.

“Party’s over, mate,” Georgie said, “He snitched us out is what he did.  He forgot to separate his money from the telegraph till and came in with three weeks’ earnings.  When the boss asked him about it, Tommy spilled all over the place and told him about Hammond…and this place…And us.”

Charlie’s stomach dropped into his oversized shoes.  “No,” Charlie squealed, “that can’t be!”  Denial was not a luxury he could afford.  “What about Hammond?”  As annoying as Hammond Rye was, he was a decent stable hand who buffered the teenagers from the world of adults.

“I saw the whole thing go down at the telly office and ran to tell Henry, who told Hammond.  Hammond took what he could and ran.” Georgie said with a shrug, “He’s probably in Spain by now.  We still haven’t heard from Adolf Brand,” Adolf Brand ran several male brothels in England and Germany, and Charlie always liked his presence.

Winscow still lived with his parents and didn’t understand completely what was at stake.  Georgie worked the streets before as an ‘independent contractor’, though he knew no one would notice if he went missing.

Several rubberneckers advanced to the scuffle.

Henry’s rage temporarily abated as his short black hair swung across his pained gaze.

One of the adults, knowing nothing worth knowing, swiped Henry strongly by the arm and pulled Henry away.  Only then did Henry see Charlie and cursed himself for so rashly drawing attention.  Henry opened his mouth as if to say one last thing to Charlie and stopped before incriminating his love.  Henry went peacefully and never looked back.

Winscow stumbled into the arms of a proper woman.  Georgie ran, soon apprehended as an accomplice.  As a sudden crowd swarmed around the three teenagers, Charlie Thickbroom stared dumbly at his entire world, gone in seconds.  Seconds.

Two rough hands grabbed Charlie from behind, forcing him down the Alfred Mews.  “Come along, son.  There’s nothing to see here.”  With his stomach in his oversized shoes and his heart in his throat, Charlie faced the oddly familiar stranger.  It was Adolf Brand again, but without his notorious moustache.  Brand wore his disguise so naturally that when he took it off to be himself, he was a complete stranger.

“Adolf!” Charlie pleaded.

“Sh!  Let’s cut through Tottenham before we discuss anything further.” Adolf said, nudging the boy a few paces ahead.  Charlie shoved his hands in his pockets.

On Charlie’s right sat a park bench.  Adolf coughed from behind.  Charlie sat.  Adolf sat. The gentleman opened up a newspaper and faced Charlie behind it.  “Are you all right, son?”  Adolf said.

“I’m fine.” Charlie said, feeling conspicuous.  Brand tossed him a little magazine.

“Here.  Read this.”

“But it’s in German!”

“I’m not asking for a goddamned book report,” Brand rasped, “Did they catch on at the post office?”

“No.”

“Good.  Our little community has to take a different turn.  That shitface Labouchere passed some anti-buggery acts here in England and the Germans pretend as if they’re the ones getting fucked up the ass.  It’s a ghastly read, that Paragraph 175.” Brand said.

Charlie flipped through the German magazine and was immediately shocked at the sight of some of the illustrations, which showed half-nude men lounging in the sun.  He turned bright red in embarrassment.  “For God’s sake, son, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.  You’ve done worse,” Brand said, “Those pansies Ulrichs and Kertbeny are trying to make this ‘homosexuality’ appealing to bourgeois society.  It’s a shitstorm, I tell you.  Goddam near raining feces all over fucking Europe.  Just keep your head down for now at the post office and brush up on your German.  Then, when you are ready, I’ll find you work in Berlin.  Though I always prefer an open life for us, your broke ass might have to stay straight-laced until you get out from under the man.  You understand?”

Hesitantly, Charlie piped up, “But…But what about Henry?  What about Alfie and Shelley?”

Adolf let out a long sigh, “Sometimes kid, you walk away.  It’s the only way to stay intact.”  And with the slightest of nods, Adolf did just that.

Charlie wanted to follow, but knew he couldn’t.  Brand walked with his paper under his arm like a prop, turned onto Alfred Mews, and disappeared into anonymity.

Ten minutes passed since Charlie’s life abruptly ended.  He waited for something to think.  The sun crawled slowly up the sides of buildings.  His clothes, the love letters and drawings, and that big bed he shared with Henry were gone forever.

Fearing police, Charlie tried to recall some of the safer rooftops he used to sleep on.  He looked down to where Brand sat hours ago and noticed a carpetbag winking in the glint of evening’s gaslight.  He opened it and shut it immediately.  There were valuable photographs and Daguerreotypes of naked men, strange German magazines, dirty pamphlets—and money.  At least a hundred pounds!  He could live quite comfortably for quite awhile.  Brand was right.  He always took care of his boys.

In hindsight, Charlie realized the money was most likely to be split among everyone, which would have been tragically insufficient.  Charlie would have traded it all, just to see Henry’s cocksure smirk, hear him snap his suspenders.

Charlie checked into a flophouse, pulled the rough wool blanket over his body, placed his carpetbag under his head, and felt safe enough to cry himself to sleep.

One day at a time, weeks passed.  Charlie rented painfully modest lodgings.  He bought a pair of nice shoes, since he knew he would be spending more time on his feet than on his back.  He pretended to be an adult.  He made his own dinner and darned his socks.  He didn’t trust himself to drink, but on the lonely nights, a glass of wine was all it took to put him to sleep.  He bought the daily paper from a cute paperboy just outside the post office.  Though they looked to each other with desire in one eye, the other eye was cautious.  The paperboy’s name was Henry, which sent a pang coursing through Charlie’s body.  But Paperboy Henry looked nothing like One True Love Henry.  It didn’t matter.  Charlie could barely read.

Charlie knew his letters and how they were supposed to sounded togethers.  He reads fairly gooder so the mails got to the right places, but is worser for writing in the good way that the orders of words was hardest–so the gossipy landlady read him all the details of the Cleveland street scandal, unaware of whom she spoke with.

Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline was on the case of the Fall of the House of Homo.  Abberline asked the boys if any other teens frequented the establishment.  Henry, whose name was now in the paper quite often, said no.  Little Tommy Winscow agreed out of fear.  Georgie Wright agreed there were no other boys involved.  Charlie was cleared, though he felt like a coward, hiding behind a lie.  He wanted to be with Henry.  After a few bleeding heart journalists admonished the abuse of child prostitutes (and then frequented them at night) several prominent names popped into place.  “Fitzy” was actually Henry Fitzroy, the Earl of Euston, for one.  Charlie already knew Rodney Jervois, the army colonel.  Hammond Rye was mentioned, but never found.  Henry Labouchere used the incident to get himself re-elected to English Parliament.  Charlie took pride in being a pervert, if Labouchere was the alternative.

Eight months had passed since the fateful day it all fell apart, and Charlie thought about Henry every day.  The intensity of Henry’s absence was just as powerful as his presence, and the sensation gripped Charlie with obsessive resolve.  He led the life of a lower class prisoner, existing for existence’s sake and without joy or sorrow.  His long eyelashes were nothing but bars over the windows of his soul.  It had been a very strange year.

Charlie set aside the newspaper on his lunch break, feeling a little melancholy.  “Those faggots deserve what they get, that’s what.”  Alfred Dickering, Charlie’s supervisor, said.  “I’d do a lot more than fire those poofters, soiling the very name of the Postal Services.”  Dickering said, snapping a pencil in two.  “Those fairies are really taking over.  They’re worse than the Jews.”  Charlie merely nodded and began sorting through the afternoon mail.  “You don’t seem too angry about it, Thickbroom.  Any Englishman should be outraged by what these people do behind closed doors.  Why, lord knows what else goes on in the privacy of other people’s homes.”  Dickering sounded jealous that everyone was more exciting than him.

“You’re absolutely right, Mr. Dickering.” Charlie said, cursing his traitorous tongue, “The mere thought of them disgusts me, so I try not to think about them.”  His tone was nearly mocking.

“But you should think about them, Thickbroom!  Why I think all of those fairies should come right out in the open!  At least then, we would know their numbers and put them in camps, accordingly!”

Charlie smiled and said, “You’re absolutely right, Mister Dickering.  It’s bad enough that they could be right underneath our noses.”

As Charlie sifted through the envelopes in the sorting room, a plain, empty envelope appeared with no return address.  Charlie’s hand trembled, seeing his own name over a strange address.  It was Henry Newlove’s unmistakably terrible handwriting.  Very cautiously, Charlie slid the empty envelope into his pocket and could not stand the hours ticking away until he could examine the letter more closely.

The moment Charlie left work he followed to the address; a dilapidated flophouse.  Terrified, Charlie walked through the darkened hallway, hearing the screams of prostitutes and mad derelicts, until he came to the door.  He knocked.  As the door opened, there stood Henry Newlove.  His hair was cut too short for his delicate face.  His eyes were dull and defeated.  Charlie didn’t care.  He jumped into Henry’s arms and held him tight, smelling the acrid perfume of his first love.  With apprehension, Henry slowly placed his lanky arms around Charlie.  Neither had known such happiness since that fateful day.

“Henry!  I’ve missed you so much!” Charlie said, laughing through his tears.  Henry pulled Charlie into the room, which smelled sweetly of dead rats.  Charlie felt as though he, too, escaped prison.  They sat on the bed beside each other.

“I have some news,” Henry said.  The pain of Henry’s absence surged up once again.

“Why?  What’s wrong?  I ran into Adolf on that day.  He said we could go to Berlin and get better jobs.  I’ve been studying German at night.  We could run off tonight and find him!  We could leave this dirty old town and start a new life together!  It’ll be beautiful.”

Henry sighed and said, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as our lord and savior?”

“What?” Charlie said.

“I’ve been converted from my wicked ways in jail.  They brought in priests to talk to us boys.  They lectured us for eight hours a day, telling us how our sinful lives would cause us nothing but ruin.  I don’t want your soul to be ruined, Charlie, because I love you.”

Did they hurt you in that way?” Charlie said.

“Yes.  Every night for a year.  They told it was the only way we could learn to know how wicked we were.”

“Oh, Henry, No.  No.  No no.  No no no no no no…” Charlie whined, his eyes welling up with tears, “What did they do to you!  You don’t actually believe that hogwash, do you?”

“With all my heart.” Henry said, “Please.  Join the church with me.  I’m going into the holy life.”

“No!  You can’t!” Charlie screamed, “What about us? Why would you do this to me?  I love you!”

Henry’s eyes were cold.  “I love you, too.  That is why I want to save your soul.  We were exploited, Charles.  Only Jesus can save us from our past.”  Charlie, devastated, slumped on the bed.

“But all this time…” Charlie said, “You were the only ting keeping me going.”

“Come to the rectory with me tomorrow.  It’s not too late to save your soul.”

“My soul is just fine!” Charlie yelled, his eyes leaking uncontrollably, “And so is yours!  How could you let anyone tell you what’s best for you when you alone know what’s best?”

“If you don’t want to join me in the church, you should leave.  Jesus never associates with sinners.  Neither can I.”

“What are you talking about?  Jesus was always around sinners!” Charlie said, “This can’t be happening!”

“I know it’s hard to admit that you are a bastard of Satan.  It was hard for me.  But now, I understand.  I wish I could show you the error of your ways.” Henry said in a zombie monotone.

“But you know those priests will bugger you and you won’t even get paid!” Charlie screamed.

“Will you keep your voice down?” Henry said tersely.  Charlie stood and paced the tiny room, trying to find an exit that was not the front door.

“God would never want you to break my heart like this.” Charlie said.

“Then why are we here?”

“Because God is love and we made each other holy before.”

“You don’t know the Bible the way I do.  You’re just a dumb whore like I used to be.  I want to help you.  I’m sorry I ever introduced you to that lifestyle.”

Charlie wiped the rivers of rage from his eyes.  “I’m not.” he sniffled, “You’re not sorry you introduced me to that life, you’re just sorry.”  Charlie couldn’t take it anymore.  He moved to leave.

“Wait!” Henry said, taking Charlie’s arm.  In a final act of desperation, Charlie attacked Henry with a final kiss.  Henry’s lips didn’t move.  Henry shoved Charlie away.  Only a sliver of who Henry used to be spiked his concerned eyes.  “I can still save you,” Henry begged weakly.

“You can’t save with one hand and condemn with the other,” Charlie said, grabbing his coat and walking out.  Charlie watched the legs of his body stumble down the stairs.  Charlie heard his body’s ears hear Henry call to him.  He felt his hand shove the door open.  He felt his breath sharpen to the cool twilight air.  Charlie wiped his cheeks contemptuously—how dare he shed tears!

He calmed down by the time he reached his flat.  He packed his bags and left for Berlin that night.  He’d never been to Berlin.  The trip was longer than expected.  Usually, he liked train rides, passing time talking to travelers, passing Europe’s dynamic scenery, passing through odd stations.  Charlie stared out the window, spoke to no one, barely slept or ate.  He wasn’t a traveler; he was a refugee in exile.

In Berlin, Adolf Brand sat behind a desk stacked with submissions to his publication, Der Eigene.  All the money he collected as a pimp went into this financially disastrous venture.  With the crackdowns on brothels, Brand knew if he didn’t lose his earnings to something he believed in, he would lose it to something he didn’t—taxes.  He eyed a poem written by a young man named George Cecil Ives.  The verse was a touch mangled, but Brand wasn’t choosy.  He needed everyone.  And everyone needed him.

The door to Brand’s office opened and a young man stood holding an old familiar suitcase.  The look on the young man’s face was downright pathetic, as if composure itself buckled under and immense weight.  The suitcase fell from the traveler’s hands; shoulders slumped.  “Mister Brand?” Charlie’s bottom lip quivered.

Adolf recognized him immediately.  “Why, little Charlie Thickbroom!  How are you doing?” Brand said, standing to greet the young man.  The façade fell immediately.  Charlie rushed to Brand, sobbing.  It broke the old pimp’s heart.

“Henry’s gone to the monastary,” Thickbroom choked out.  The body in Brand’s arms was fragile, like crushed tissue.  “Why?  Why would he do that to me?  Please Mister Brand!  I…just…don’t know…I don’t know what to do…”

Brand held him close and patted his blonde curly head.  Poor kid had been brave long enough.  Brand sighed and said, “You just have to walk away sometimes.”

“But it’s so hard!” Charlie cried, becoming even more wretched.

“I know, son.  However, we must move forward.  We make our own choices as others do.  We can’t take those who don’t want to go with us.  Bless them and set them free so we can all be free.” Brand said, gently patting child’s back, “We chose this destiny it because it was who we are, not because it was easy.  Shh, now.”

When Charlie’s tears subsided, Brand offered him bourbon, which Charlie slammed quickly.  “I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” Charlie confessed, “I just had to get out of London.  I didn’t even tell my boss I was leaving.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Brand said, “We’ll set you up nice here.  We take care of our own because everyone else wants us dead.  You’ll be fine.  We’ll figure something out for you.”

Charlie sniffled.  Brand gave him a hanky.  Compassionate as Brand was, he silently hoped this reunion would wrap up quickly.  He had a meeting with a ‘sexologist’, as he called himself, Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld.  The good doctor was late.  Charlie blasphemously slammed another snifter of scotch.  Brand continued, “I still have some work to do and you’ve come a long way.  Why don’t you take a rest on the couch for now until I get this done?” Adolf said.  Charlie’s eyelids dipped in agreement.

Charlie’s eyes barely closed when a robust man entered with an even bigger moustache than Brand’s.  Small spectacles rested on his large nose.  In one hand, he carried a thick folio.

“Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld, I presume?” Adolf Brand said.

The doctor said with a heavy breath, “I’m terribly sorry I’m late.  I was held up by the police—and they need our help.”

In Honor of Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Poetry

Posted in Gentlemen of the Shade, Volume I on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

1898

Dearest Oscar,

I’ve enclosed some clippings I found concerning the success of the ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol.”  It seems to be a smashing success.

Though I have done my best to keep you hidden from your detractors, there is one detractor whose persistence has been a nuisance.  Alas, if he cannot stalk you, Lord Alfred Douglas must stalk me.  I sent him your poem, ‘De Profundis’ as you requested.  He wrote back saying he burned it without even reading it.  I anticipated this and had a copy made, apologetically against your wishes.  Its literary merit is noteworthy, though I do not anticipate its publication the near future.

How is Berneval treating you?  Reggie Turner tells me you are looking quite smart and fit.  Have you considered writing another play?

To come to the point more directly, Bosie sent me this little prose piece in response to a poem he claims to have never read.  I have not disclosed your location, though he persists in his cruel fashion.  Still, as your loyal friend, I have included his ‘prose’ in this care package as intended, for better or worse.

Take care,

Bobbie Ross

My incarcerated vanity,

Oh!  How your absence in my heart gouged my quaking shell rattled down to a nub!  How I looked to your love as the sunflower looks to Apollo!  The warmth of your green garden stains these feet with our travels.  I journey too long alone along these muddied roads, sullying bare soles with rainy contempt.

My new memory, born from that time I visited your incarceration is tainted with the distance between our two desks.  A constable passed between closeness once held, like silence providing a mute-tongued torture.  Those shared visiting hours arrested, if only for hours, both of us.  And these hours are wasted for response to my queries?  You leave prison as mine begins.  What has caused this apprehension?  Has it been that mealy-mouthed lout, Ross?  His jealousy taints you, reprimanding our every crossroad, a divergence further than fate dare to bend the bough.  Why are you avoiding me?

If lovers either damned or destined, I care not which.  So long as we possess each other in our darkly moonlit garden where the sly minds of our wry kind converge, I will suffer more without you.  Do my promises fail to arouse?  Am I no longer your tremulous Narcissus bloom at the edge of quivering water, as you reflect upon me?

You cannot deny our love fashioned from what lights the starry nights.  How could you turn so many against me?  After all we shared, after all our adventures and scalding retorts on the shunning society? And you blame me, me, the love of your life for your misdeeds–it is unforgivable.  And yet I forgive.

How you have chastised me for a heritage I revolted against protecting you!  It is not my fault my father is a monster, and yet you deem me a demon’s spawn.  Has prison made you so feeble of mind, now atrophied so far as to not recognize my love?  It must have, as you of all people know I was at your side every waking moment, save for those moments when you fell ill and ran out of money.  You were a terrible bore and ugly then.  How could you forget corrupting me into loving you?  I despise you, unable to live without you.  What testament do you have against such a bold ache I live with?

Let me take you back to all you have forgotten.  Do you remember our first encounter, where you took me by the hand and led me down an alley to undo my life and trousers?  With a wry smirk reeking of rye, you hummed a prayer into my seeded garden.  Have you forgotten what that intimate moment meant to me?  Nights later, I would reciprocate and you now repay me with scorn? We entered each other’s dark garden beneath a pale moon, knocking wind from the ferryman’s sails, crossing the river Styx together.  After years, you pass me off as a full-paid trick?  And with you imprisoned, the trick is upon you, but I do not jest.

Do you think so lowly of me as to pass me off as some messenger boy?  The love that dare not speak its’ name could not keep secret.  The boys we shared, mere pawns between two superior chessmen, and yet you still fail to win or lose.  You forget to love me, and you can love no other.  Will you see me soon?  I miss you terribly.  Every boy I bring home cannot console me as you did.

For awhile, I thought you insane for insinuating that we were not of this Earth.  Of course, these unnatural souls locked in human bodies have our proclivities.  To convince me that I, too, was much too beautiful for this world begs a cruel hypothesis you had no right to bestow.  I know discomfort was not your intent.  I forgive you for making me think I was above humanity.  I know better than to think this from someone as inhuman as you.  How I bent my life deviously to your deformed conformity!  You should be mindful of your influence on such a young and impressionable mind as mine.  Why would you hint that we were not of this world if we weren’t?

Why do you not return my letters?

I disowned my father for your side, and found it lonely.  How could you disown me?  Of course, if your wife hadn’t divorced you first, I would have forced you to leave her and live off my fortunes.  And don’t dare accuse me of using you for your money, for this was my repayment plan.    Imagine what our love would be if I were to be Marquess of Queensberry!  And yet you chose to challenge all I worked for.  It disgusts me, knowing how intelligent you are and not see this genius! Could you not see this conspiracy to the final note?  Apparently not, for you never saw your own obvious downfall everyone warned you against.  Why do you do this to me, Oscar?  You act like a sickening child, unable to give after receiving so much.

How selfish you are, not thinking about me in your imprisonment!  Did you ever imagine about how lonely I was in your absence?  Surely, someone as egotistical as you only thought of his own imprisonment!  Yet I suffered right along with you.  I brought home only the most beautiful, young, and desperate boys every night, hoping one would know my body as well as you.  Some knew my body better than you could ever know and seduced giggles from me.  Yet you sat in some cell, oblivious to my suffering.

Where do I begin my suffering?  You had the safety of prison, while I had to face daily scrutiny!  And how did you support me?  With silence!  I had to deny my cherished love for you to survive!  My wounds fill with salt as you turn every friend against me, even that cur, Bobbie Ross.  Why you chose him to look after your affairs instead of me is bewildering. What insult!

You taught me I was different, better.  I lived most of my life cowering in the shadow of my father and his goons.  Then you came along to show me such force and power–I was not human, but super human, a superman.  Past and future were arbitrary and mutable.  We could speak freely of human society without boundaries.  Society was our ant farm.  Painfully, I accepted that I was also an ant.  And you left, trying to get into legal fisticuffs with my father.  In stairwells, where we stole kisses and held each other tight enough to crack spines…I still visit those old worlds, hoping to feel what I felt with you there, and fail.  I never backed away from the challenges my stupid father presented us.  I’m glad you didn’t either, but the outcome was unforeseeably tragic.  I will never recuperate this loss and pay for it with a dull and endless ache of your absence.  What torments those unrequited lovers was to know that a love such as ours could never be undone.  And here I sit, tears welling in my eyes, knowing this love cannot be complete or final. And in its stead I must be undone, devastated.

Years from now, I will look back on you with fondness and agony that such a smitten season ended to such a bitter winter.  The chill will never leave these arms as the frost licks my eyelashes!  Never again will the perfume of your pipe organ taint these fingers, which I would inhale, leaving your place on Tite Street. The sweet ambergris of your caressing touch vanishes with this starless, moonless night.

My death would not do justice to my anger.  How easy it would be for me to follow in my brother’s footsteps and you be rid of me so easily!  Yet I can’t die without you.  Birds stop singing in my presence and the sunflowers hang their somber blooms as I pass, weeping seeds in honor of seeds I wept for you.

How can you accuse me of my insecurities with a father who beats oppressors with horsewhips?  My childhood is riddled with scars.  Breaking posterior barriers are no more painful than asking for a second helping of porridge.  In fact, those pleasant motions made of love are better without hatred’s rage and leave less obvious markings.  But markings nonetheless.

Without you, Oscar, I have been in shambles.  Think back.  Think back to when that wretch Ross came to YOU with what you came to me with.  Think about what life was like.  Think of what a lie you lived.  And you come along and showered me with truth.  You saw that what I already knew; I was not like other men.  You showed me more than I cared to know.  I left you and slept in your house and wept myself to sleep, afraid of what a damned soul I was to be.  It was you who showed me there was no damnation in the love we shared, as God was love.  And we were gods, blessed by the divine.

Love was not some social obligation fitting procreation.  It was more than that.  When you entered me that first time, I held back my tears because I knew I was more than just a man.  How much more terrible it is to know potential filled out, than to know potential unfulfilled.

In your absence, I have been taking boys as they come.  But they leave in the morning, and are quite stupid.  I go about them, teasing them with Plato and grow disappointed by their minds.  Oscar, I hope you know what you are doing, because most of the boys I have been taking to task are dumb and beautiful.  It is a terrible curse, as their faces wither without a mind worthy to seduce when the flesh betrays their pathetic minds.  I fear a future where all are sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Yet that is what I have been reduced to, and they think Shakespeare is wagging off the last bit of seed before tucking it back in the trousers!

Are these truly our people?  Are you really going to prison for boys so ungrateful?  Truly?

You were my first and only love, Oscar.  Perhaps if I met another who rivaled you, I would not be so adamant about my kneeling position.  But I haven’t, and that leaves me at your mercy.  I regret such a position, having none for anyone.  But I lay myself at your feet for you to pick up or step over.  I’ve never met someone like you and I won’t again in my lifetime.  If you feel I’ve mistreated you, then you must understand that we have mistreated each other.  I can’t live without you.  If I do, it will be through subterfuge, renouncing all I know.

If I must live with you, I will rewrite my history so you never had such an impact you, indeed, had upon me.  And I will refashion my life into a lie in honor of the love you deny.  No one will fill me as fully as you have.  I regret you teaching me so much about love and leaving me to create love my own.  The love I have created in its stead is patchwork, threadbare and tawdry.  Your friends blame me for these weaknesses.  I dare not blame you, yet without you I am helpless to understand myself.

Your friends think I lash out at them in my search for guidance.  They find me a psychopath, but they do not know me as you do.  Please.  Meet me soon.  I cannot hold my own against my former friends, society at large, and all that I need to survive without striking down all I love.  You know how fragile I am without you.  Please, find me.  I’m begging you.  I’m nothing without you.  I know this to the core of my being, because I know you feel the same.  Please let me not find solace to this desperation at the end of a rifle.  I have no future without the past we built upon.

Allow me a history with you, even if you prefer beauty to truth.

I was just a lad, studying abroad to stay at the house beautiful, where life was gay.  We ate dinners together where I innocently read, and joined you and your wife to break dinner’s bread.  Furtive schoolboy glances, devious and secretive, volleyed the table.  How my heart cleaved out a space for you, knowing not what my heart would do.  How your mind sparked against mine! What firestorms we began with flint, tin, and twine! And your heart were tied in kindling’s fire, with mine.

And what resplendent princes were we, conjoined twins as the Gemini’s three: Us, myself, and thee.  What pence we rubbed upon a saucy lad, shared and spent to make an evening grand.   No care for wife, life, or strife–The horizon being our land.  Your innocence was mine as our arms entwined, the spider’s web pulled taut, ebbing stress, a memory for naught.  Nothing could tear us apart, painting us, another, for art!  And though things seemed out of hand, I must concede to your heart’s demand.  Our entwined fingers unraveled, only to weave together in stories of travel.

With style and grace, you beguiled our opponents.  Though with whimsy and mirth (and a bit of your girth) fell undone by my rite of birth.  Oh Oscar, how I have missed thee, regardless of how thy turned ugly in spirit and seed!  I cannot go chaste if your will not be with me. Queensberry! Queensberry! Queensberry! How his rancor doth cause glee!  My only regret is these eyes to see your infirmary.

You are a lover, not a warrior, fighting the Queensberry cur!  I would have gone to prison with you, but daddy did not concur.

And yet you leave me!  Me! Me! Me! How could you let myself be?  What you call profound is merely indulgent vanity! How are you to NOT die and leave me here, hung out to dry?  To disappoint is sorrow, but apathy has no morrow.

How the heavens were in your grasp!  Were you Icarus rending heights, or Narcissus, in vain sightless night?  We could have been together as the Gemini stars, made of milken light.  But you fell behind bars, blinding us with sight.

And now our transparency becomes opaque.  The flirty glance cast, no longer fake.  To keep me from your light is the plant dying, lacking your brilliant sight.

And you chose to strike the tip of the pike, impaled to save our like.  Before thinking of such honorable falls, you thought not of me in Reading Gaol.  This world is cruel, vicious and untame–yet the hunter gets captured by the game.  If we could be together, it would be as before, no reason to keep score.  To tap our feet and drink wine sublime, and live out life as criminals without crime!  We could still have this dance, if you would with given chance.

What breast flutters at your presence!  What swoon awaits? All succumb to your penitence.  My hand grows heavy extended, awaiting your grip, where you doth slip, and I wait to be amended.  In waiting, I am only a beggar.

Sincerely,

Bosie

In Haarmann’s way (reading series edit)

Posted in Gentlemen of the Shade, Volume I on 30/03/2010 by todcrouch

When we last left our heroes in 1921, German gay rights pioneers Magnus Hirshfeld and Adolf Brand, along with the rentboy Charles Thickbroom, arrived in Hanover, to investigate the murders of several male prostitutes.  But little did they know the danger awaiting them there!

Inspector Kurt Hagen greeted them at the police station.  A bright pink scar ran down the side of Hagen’s face, interrupted by a patch over his left eye.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Dr. Hirshfeld.” Hagen said.

“Likewise,” Magnus replied, These are my associates, Adolf Brand and Charles Thickbroom.  They have done, ah, extensive field work in the matter.”

“Don’t mince words with me, Doctor.  I know of Brand.  I suppose little Charles here has come all the way from Cleveland Street?  No matter.  Young males are being murdered in my streets and I don’t give a damn who ends it.” Hagen said. “Come, I’d like to introduce you to one of our finest informants and reformed criminals, Fritz Haarmann.”

“How do you do,” The informant said, smiling politely at Charles, “You can call me Fritz.”

Hagen pulled a rucksack up and emptied the contents onto a dirty table.  An enormous pile of bones clattered onto the slab.  Hirshfeld picked up a femur and studyied the rotting meat.

“These were found in a dumpster only a few blocks away from the train station.”  Hagen said.

Fritz was tough, but not tough enough for the sight of children’s bones.

“How do you know these are, uhm, rent boys?”  Thickbroom said.

Hagen replied, “We have ten missing persons ages seventeen to eleven.  Since the hyperinflation, I know what they do out there.  I’m not stupid.”

Magnus squinted through his tiny glasses and reported, “Judging from the bone structure, these are in fact teenage boys.  Hm. It looks like there are bite marks on the back of some of these skulls.”

“Fritz, do you know anyone making a hobby of this?” Hagen asked.

“Nothing of the sort, Inspektor.”  Haarmann said.

“Well?” Charles asked, “What are you going to do about this?”

Hagen answered, “We don’t quite yet have a plan of action.”

Charles said, “You’re going to need bait, right?  And the local boys wouldn’t trust cops.  Sign me up.”

Hagen answered reluctantly, “I’d hate to put you in danger, but you make a good point. You’re a brave lad.  Dr. Hirshfeld?  Stay here with Herr Brand.”

“Why the hell should I stay here?” Adolf said.

“Those line boys have enough pimps out there,” Hagen sneered.  Brand rolled his eyes.

“I’ll stake out Charles at the railroad station.  We’ll see who we can pick up.  Mr. Haarmann, thank you for your services.  Let us know if you hear anything.”

“You’ll be the first to know,” Fritz said.  “And Charles, I know you are a brave young man.  Here.  I want to give you this little toy train.  I had it when I was last… visited by youth.”

“Thanks, Mr. Haarmann,” Charles said.  He rolled it along the slab, but the wheels didn’t move.  He left the broken toy on the evidence table.  Hagen and Charlie took to the streets… and Fritz followed close behind.

It started to rain.  Hard.  Within a few minutes, Charles Thickbroom was soaked to the bone.  It was no different than the years of chimney sweeping or delivering letters from the post office.  Still, it was hellish to be so cold.

Hours passed at the police station and Adolf Brand was BORED, pushing the broken tin toy train along the evidence table.  Hirshfeld chided, “Do you leave your toys everywhere for me to pick up?”  Rust flaked off the train, revealing untarnished paint.

“Hey Maggie—“

“Please don’t call me that, Adolf.”  Hirshfeld said.

“Look at this.  This isn’t rust–It’s—It’s dried blood!  I know who the Werewolf of Hanover is!”

Charles Thickbroom tried real hard not to shiver when he saw Fritz.  “Oh Hello, Mister Haarmann.  What are you doing here?”

“Hello Little Charles,” Fritz Haarmann said with a vacant stare, “I spoke with the Inspektor and he told me to come pick you up.  We’re all coming over to my place.  I’ve found… some leads.”

“Really?  That’s great!”  Charles said, “I’m freezing out here.”

“I think I might have some clothes that would fit you, perfectly.”  Fritz said.

Brand and Hirshfeld exploded out of the examination room.  Hirshfeld kicked open the livery stable door. “Get me your two fastest horses NOW!”

The stable boy looked at the two men and exclaimed, “But sir!  It’ll take minutes for me to strap on a saddle!”

Brand waved his cane menacingly at the stable hand, “Make it quick boy!  I never ride bareback!” The stable boy’s hands worked fast.  After servicing so many police officers, it was like tying a shoe.

The police Komissioner stormed in, bellowing, “What is the meaning of this?”

“There’s no time!” Brand said, mounting the horse.  “Get to the Hanover Railway as soon as you can! Hagen may already be dead!”   Brand’s horse reared up with a whinny as the two men broke into the streets.  Civilians screamed, scattering.

The Komissioner nodded, “Do it.”

Hirshfeld’s dumpy body barely stayed in the saddle, but Brand held the reins like an equestrian.  Hirshfeld yelled over, “I’ll hit Haarmann’s place.  You hit the station!”

Brand said, “No! That son of a bitch is mine! No one fucks with my boys!”

Hirshfeld nodded.  With a rap on the hind of his great galloping beast, Brand swooped down a side street with the grace of a hawk.

As the rain hammered, the carriage dropped Haarmann and Thickbroom off at the tiny apartment. Fritz seemed distant and bashful, which Thickbroom assumed was how he acted around rent boys.  Charles was familiar with such awkwardness and found it charming.  “Hagen’s waiting upstairs.” Fritz said.

Charles walked into the small apartment and heard the door close behind him and Hagen was nowhere to be seen.  Charles turned around and saw Haarmann’s smile turn demonic.  Harman reared up, growing twice his size.  A heavy arm swiped Charles clear across the tiny room through the kitchen door.  Thickbroom looked up in horror as bloody arms and tiny legs reached out from buckets of lye.  Knives lined the walls. Haarmann laughed mockingly, pulling the boy back by the ankle with a spider’s malice.

Brand hopped off the horse and ran up the stairs.  He drew his cane sword and kicked in the flimsy door.  Haarmann hunched over Charles’s body like a ghoul.  No sign of humanity showed in the eyes of Fritz Haarmann, whose blood-soaked smile terrified Brand.  Though the boy’s body was open, Charlie’s eyes still reached for Brand.

Brand swung his cane sword, only for it to hack a splinter of door Harmaan wielded.   Harman yanked the blade out of Brand’s hand when the beast tossed the wood aside.  By the time Brand muttered a curse, he flew through a flimsy wall onto the roof of the neighboring building.  He felt his wrist snap and go limp, thereby originating the stereotype.

He collapsed on the tar paper, gasping for a breath.  Brand saw Harman climb through from the blood lit room like a demon free of hell.  Cold, hard rain gave Brand focus as he struck a boxer’s stance.  Blood traced Haarmann’s footsteps on the rooftop.  Brand yelled above the rain’s applause, “Come on, then!  Everyone knows it’s you!  You can’t win!”  Haarmann just laughed.  Adolf threw his mightiest punch and it was like hitting a tank.  Haarmann countered, sending Brand flying through sparks of pain.  Brand croaked, “Is that all you’ve got?” and threw another sad punch.  Haarmann landed a direct hit to Brand’s face.  His nose broken, his eyes began to swell shut.  Still, he stood up, wavering.  Another blow sent Brand skimming across rooftop puddles like a stone.

His peripheral vision began to fade when he heard a clatter beside him.  He looked over, making out the vague shape of his unsheathed cane sword.  Brand looked up to see Charlie Thickbroom leaning in  the opening, holding in his stuffing in with a tiny red hand.

Haarmann pulled out a large chunk of chimney, ready to drop the mass on Brand.  Brand swiped his cane sword and spun to his knees, hacking into Haarmann’s thigh.  Haarmann roared and dropped the mass of brick at his feet.

Brand took a defiant fencer’s position.  Busted hand behind his back, Adolf jabbed Haarmann into a corner of the roof.  The wounded creature howled at the multiple punctures coming too fast for retaliation.  Driving the blade to the hilt through the monster, Adolf Brand growled, “No one fucks with my boys.”

Haarmann shrieked, stepping  backward off the ledge, where his howl abruptly ended in the street below.  He turned to where Charlie Thickbroom stood…and where a crumpled little thing remained.  And the world went black.

“Adolf!  Adolf!” Hirshfeld said, “It’s me!  My word, you look dreadful!”

“I’m all right,” Brand said, feeling his loose teeth in a mouthful of blood.  “What about Charles?”

“He didn’t make it, Brand.  I’m so sorry.” Magnus said, leading the temporarily-blinded man away from the ledge. “The police are here.  Everything is going to be fine.”

Brand said, “You gotta work on that bedside manner of yours, Maggie.  Things are closer to fucked.” He could hear half a dozen officers on the roof.

Magnus said, “Let’s get you back to Berlin.”

“Yeah,” Brand said, “Hanover sucks.”