With this wickedly imaginative collection of stories that highlights his dark humor and signature wit, Mark Bowles has compiled a series of stories that will surely entertain, and possibly disturb, his readers:
A family of vampires who take a wrong turn end up in with the most unlikely crowd . . .
A shady businessman who deals in custom-made death runs into an unexpected problem . . .
Writer’s block starts to affect more than just the writer and begins to seep into his work . . .
A demon on the run looks for sanctuary in the last place Hell has to offer . . .
These stories and more - including a guide to getting the girl of your dreams (if you’re a sad and lonely shoe-gazer, anyway) - showcase Bowles’ ability to create stories that keep the reader turning the page until the final, often unexpected, ending.
EXCERPT: A Night on the Town
“Good lord, Joe, look at how they’re dressed,” said the old guy. “They’re damn near naked.”
“What did I tell ya, Max. It ain’t like it was back in your day,” Joe shouted over the music.
“You ain’t kidding.” Max’s head was swiveling this way and that, taking in an eyeful of mini-skirts and tight halter-tops. “And they’re so young.”
“Nah, Max,” said Joe. “You’re just too old.”
Max ignored the jab and just looked around the club. Neon lit smoke swirled around dozens of young men and women as they danced and moved about the room, which was decorated in the strangest style Max had ever seen. It looked like something out of the old space movies he’d seen back in his day, with multi-colored lights reflecting off of chrome that seemed to be ubiquitous. At last he spoke. “All right, Joe, I believe you now.”
“Just like I told ya, huh?”
“And then some.” Max seemed a bit shocked by the whole scene. He looked over at Joe “We’d better get back.”
“Relax, we just got here.”
“Someone’s gonna notice that we’re gone, Joe.”
“Max, baby, I’ve done this a bunch of times. No one’s gonna notice anything. They never do.”
“I dunno, Joe . . .”
“What are they gonna do to us, Max?” Joe asked with a laugh. “Kill us?”
“That ain’t funny, Joe.”
“Relax.” Joe took Max by the elbow and moved him around so that he could get an even better view of the dance floor. “Now, have you ever seen such a sight in your life?”
Max looked around at all of the beautiful girls parading half naked all around him. “No,” he said sheepishly. “We never had anything like this back when I was...” Max couldn’t finish the sentence. It wasn’t that enough time hadn’t passed, rather the opposite. Too much time had passed and it made him feel all the worse because of it.
“Well then, you should’ve lived longer.” Joe teased.
“You’re one to talk.” Max shot back.
Joe shot an angry glance over at his friend. “Damn right I should’ve,” he said. Then his face melted into a smile. “And I’m about to make up for that.”
“Whadda mean?” Max looked puzzled.
“Over there,” Joe pointed towards the bar.
“Over there, at the bar.” Joe stabbed his finger impatiently across the room, trying to get his companion to see. “At the bar.”
Max squinted and scanned the bar. “I don’t get it.”
“Him, the one in the black shirt. The guy at the bar.”
Max looked confused. “I still don’t get it?”
Joe lit up with a huge grin. “It’s time to live a little.”
Max was silent for a long bit as the realization slowly dawned on him. “You can’t be serious.”
“Serious as penis cancer.”
“You can’t do that.” Max was frantic. “You know we’re not allowed. We’re not even supposed to be down here, let alone…”
“Max,” Joe interrupted. “Calm down.”
Max just stared at his younger companion. “I can’t believe you’d even think…”
“Max, listen. I’ve got it all figured out, okay? I’ve seen it done. It’s not that hard.”
“When did you ever see it done?”
“I’ve seen it, okay. It didn’t look like any big shakes, just move in and badda-bing, you’re in.”
“I don’t believe this. First we go AWOL and now you wanna -”
“All right, Max, you want to spend the rest of eternity as window dressing for the big guy, fine, but I’m gonna have some fun.” For the first time that night, Joe dropped his light-hearted façade. “That guy over there at the bar, I’ve been watching him. He gets tail left and right, a real player, and if I’m gonna do this, I might as well go for the big payout.”
“Joe, you can’t do this.”
“Stand back and watch, my friend.”
Joe glided down through the crowd, taking the occasional glance at one little hottie or another, until he appeared directly behind his chosen target. The man in question was tall, well dressed and somewhat good-looking, though he had that strange stale air of a used car salesman hovering about him. Joe looked back at Max and flashed him a smile that, had he been alive and visible to the room, would have surpassed the neon in brightness.
And, badda-bing, just like that, Joe slid right into the guy. No Hollywood sound effects. No epileptic spasms, just a slight shudder from the guy, and then…nothing. Well, nothing weird anyway. It just seemed like Joe had simply walked into this guy, like walking into a closet or perhaps more appropriate, entering a car.
At first it was more than a little disorienting for Joe. It took him a bit to focus and he had forgotten the smell of cigarette smoke, which hung like a blanket in the club’s air. He seemed to be teetering a bit on unstable legs when he realized that his host was nearly drunk.
Joe spun around a little too quickly and nearly lost his balance. Gotta focus, he kept telling himself, but it was harder to control the body than he’d thought. He looked around, hoping to see if Max was still there. But of course he couldn’t see him with mortal eyes. No matter. He was going to have fun with or without the old man.
The first order of business was, however, to find the restroom as soon as possible. It’d been quite awhile since he’d felt that urgent pressure that one gets after more than a few drinks and he quickly realized that his beer seal was about to burst.
Luckily, Joe had been to the club before and had some idea of the layout of the place, so he hurried his new body across the room towards the men’s room. Though he was a bit wobbly, Joe made the trip without running into anyone or taking a nosedive onto the beer stained floor. Not bad, for a first-timer, he thought.
Once inside the men’s room, Joe sided up to the urinal, unzipped, and then . . .
“Oh, no.” Joe didn’t realize how loud he was being. “You gotta be kidding me!”
Joe realized, after the shock had worn off, that he was making a scene and looked around to see a couple of other guys in the room staring at him. “You okay?” asked the guy at the urinal to his right.
“Oh … yeah,” Joe stammered. “I just remembered something. Sorry.” The man regarded him strangely for a minute then flushed and left. Joe looked back down. This had to be some cruel trick. He had planned this night for weeks - no, months - and this is the guy he picks? It wasn’t that Joe had anything to write home about when he’d been alive, but c’mon, this guy was hung like a hamster.
Joe finished up his business and went to the sink. After he had washed his hands, Joe looked up at the mirror and found himself staring at a stranger. For a brief moment he could feel a wave of sadness fill him. Try as he might, Joe couldn’t remember what he had looked like, exactly. He could remember a few things like hair color and the fact that he’d had a slight chip on one tooth, but the whole package was a fading memory. Thankfully, his host was drunk enough that it passed with a splash of water on the face. Joe looked down at his crotch and then back up to the stranger in the mirror. “You poor bastard.”
As he left the restroom and staggered back across the dance floor and over towards the bar, Joe tried to make the best of the situation. I’ll just pick up some girl, he reasoned, and by the time she finds out … well, it’ll be too late for her to back out and anyway, who the hell cares? It’ll probably feel just as good for me anyway.
The bartender was busy talking up a couple of young ladies when Joe made it over. “Hey,” Joe called out, tapping on the bar with his finger. The bartender looked over his shoulder at Joe, excused himself from the ladies, and slowly made his way over.
“Green iguana?” The bartender’s dismissive tone was lost on Joe.
“A refill?” The bartender just assumed that Joe – or, rather Joe’s host – was a bit into his cups.
“Yeah, a refill.” Joe didn’t know what the hell a green iguana was but it sounded a little fey for his taste. Real men didn’t order drinks named after plants, animals or women. Hopefully it wouldn’t come with some little umbrella stuck in it.
The bartender returned with a margarita glass filled with a green liquid and, mercifully, no umbrella.
“Ten bucks.” The bartender said louder. Ten bucks? For a drink? You gotta be kidding me. Joe patted his new self down in search of a wallet. Inside jacket pocket, shoulda known. Joe opened the wallet hoping that he wouldn’t come up short in this arena as well.
“Here.” Joe peeled off a twenty from the wad that he’d found in the wallet. “Keep it.” This guy was loaded. A fistful of twenties - four hundred, easy. No wonder hamster dick got laid.
Joe took a tentative sip of the drink slid over to him. Taste! Flavor! Something he hadn’t experienced in decades, maybe longer. The liquid flowed over his tongue, down into his body. Warmth, heat. He was alive – well, at least for the moment. Not too bad, but certainly not a straight shot. He wanted more.
As the bartender turned to get Joe another refill, Joe looked about the bar, smiling at all the cute young women around him but was a little taken back by the cold reception the ladies were giving him. After all, he’d scoped out his host before and the guy didn’t seem to have had any problem finding company for an evening. The barkeep returned with another round and Joe tipped large again.
He was sipping his drink and pondering his next move when he felt someone move close in next to him. Joe turned to see a tall brunette beauty standing next to him.
“Well, hello,” Joe said in his smoothest slur. The beauty regarded him without much emotion. Nonplussed Joe kept going. “Buy you a drink?”
The woman stared at Joe for a minute longer and then turned to the bartender.
“Bushmill’s, straight.” The bartender brought the lady her drink and Joe threw down a twenty without bothering to look at the man. “You don’t know remember me do you?” the lady asked.
Joe looked the beauty up and down. She had an athletic build that made her tight dress seem almost painted on and a black bob that framed a model’s face. “Oh baby, I’m sure I’d have remembered you.”
The woman knocked back the drink in one shot and planted the empty glass back on the bar in one fluid movement. “You wanna come with me?”
“Sure, baby.” Joe set his drink down and stood up on wobbly legs. “Where’re we goin’?”
“Somewhere…a little more . . . private.”
“Lead the way, my dear.” Joe stumbled across the floor, trying to keep up with his girl. For a split second, he began to worry that maybe his new body was too drunk, that all of his work, such as it was, would go to waste; but he pushed the thought out of his mind. After all, if he could will this body about as he had been doing all night, he should be able to control that little thing.
As soon as he pushed his way out of the front door of the bar, he was hit by a blast of cold air. For a minute, Joe stood inhaling the fresh night air trying to remember if he’d ever noticed how good it tasted when he was alive. His reverie was short lived when he noticed that his ‘date’ was now halfway across the parking lot. Hurriedly, he caught up behind her as she came to a small black sports car, leaving behind all thoughts of fresh air and a previous life.
“It’s not too big in there.” Joe shouted at his new friend as she sped down the street with an abandon that would have frightened his old, corporeal, self. As soon as she’d started up the car, she turned her stereo on at an earsplitting volume. Joe didn’t mind, as it would cut out the need for any small talk and, besides, it wasn’t his ears anyway.
“Don’t worry, baby, I know just the place.” Her smile alone cured Joe’s earlier performance anxiety.
As they drove out into the night, Joe marveled to himself how wonderful the new scene was. Hell, you didn’t even have to talk to the broad, let alone tell her that you loved her. Joe felt like a man dead long before his time.
It was a short, scenic drive and neither one of them had said as much as a single word since they left the parking lot of the bar. It wasn’t long before they pulled into a secluded park about ten minutes from the bar. Joe’s beautiful woman got out and moved around the front of the car. The moonlight backlit her figure and got Joe excited all over again. Damn, he was indeed a lucky man.
Joe exited the car and stood in front of the girl, trying his best James Dean. The woman slowly started running her hand along his chest. “Are you sure you don’t know my name?” She purred into his ear.
Joe looked blankly into her dark eyes. “Uh, sorry?”
The girl slid her hands further down until reaching his crotch. “Sure?”
“Oh baby, you can call yourself anything you….AHHHH.”
The girl gripped Joe’s crotch with an iron fist that made him double over in agony. She leaned in close and hissed into his ear. “Megan! You pencil dicked bastard. It’s Megan!”
Joe had stopped screaming long enough to catch his breath when she let go. He couldn’t remember ever feeling pain like this, not even when he was alive. Hunched over, grabbing his burning groin, he tried to think of something to say, but all of he could come up was the truth – and this crazy woman wasn’t interested in the truth.
He was still in shock from the groin attack when he caught a hard right across the jaw. He landed on the grass like the proverbial sack of potatoes.
“You bastard!” Megan was screaming. “After what you put me through, you couldn’t even remember my name?” It took her a second until she realized what a nice target Joe’s prone body presented and then she started in with a foot to the ribs.
Joe couldn’t make out exactly what she was saying, just a lot of swearing interspersed with hard kicks to his side. The pain was rolling over him in waves, bringing bright colored spots to his new eyes. Try as he might, Joe couldn’t separate from the pain long enough to gain the focus he needed to get out of this body.
Focus, dammit, focus! Kick! Damn, that hurt! The beating seemed to last an eternity until finally Megan couldn’t kick anymore. With a final insult to his manhood she spit on his battered body and went back to her car. Joe kept trying to differentiate himself from the body that he’d possessed, but just couldn’t get away from the pain. He felt his body convulse as he vomited all over his chest. Slowly his sight dimmed and the pain started to recede, something was happening, something that was taking the pain away.
Joe felt a strange tugging sensation lifting him away from the pain. And in one sharp jerking movement, felt like being ripped awake from a dream, or rather, a nightmare, Joe was standing outside of his former host.
“You look like shit,” a voice said behind him.
“Max! Thank God!”
“He had nothing to do with it, and if He found out, you’d look a lot worse than that poor bastard there.”
Joe looked down at his former body as it lay moaning in its own filth. “I kinda feel bad for the guy.”
“Yeah? Well we ain’t got the time to worry about that sorry S.O.B. Besides, it sounded like he brought it on himself.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Max.”
“C’mon, let’s get outta here.”
“Sure thing, Max.”
As the pair headed back over to where they had originally appeared, Joe took one final look back at his former host. “Y’know, Max, I think I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I’ve learned a lesson too, Joe.” Max offered.
“What’s that?” Joe asked.
“That women haven’t changed that much after all.”