THE ROCK SKANK                   

Take me home, delicious heart.

(Visual caption below)

The Rock Skank

        Darren plummeted from the balcony of Jack's apartment. He had been a slow learner in the ways of vampiring, but had at least shed the blind panic of heights from mortal days. As such, he was able to truly enjoy the joke he was playing on that Karl dude, flipping birds with gusto.

        Good times, but about eighty feet later, he needed to do something to avoid splattering. He went light, but his guitar didn't, and he sank through the cold night air flapping like a piece of paper tied to a rock.

        In his panic, he tossed the guitar onto an awning and landed on all fours like a moth. The guitar bounced free and he snatched it out of the air as he stood up, feeling pretty good about himself.

        That sort of feeling was always short lived at best. He slumped against a plexiglass window and felt self loathing ooze through his body like cold soup into wadded napkins. He took an unnecessary sigh and noticed a cop glaring at him through the gauze of its heat light, tight thin lips vanished into a moustache.

        He considered himself - no shoes, thermal undershirt, no jacket on a cold night. Must look like the kind of homeless guy that doesn't take very good care of himself. He didn't care if cops hated on him, but standing out less would be prudent...

The Rock Skank

        ...Then again, there was the more pressing matter of finding something to do. Without that, he'd be plinking on the guitar in a rat shit alley until someone yelled at him to move. Move, move, avoid your mind.

        Rock skanks. Jack said he should get some rock skanks. What, are all rock dudes man-whores? But he did remember the lady attention from back in the day, and how sometimes it did provide a sense of solace, or at least diversion.

        Those days were past. It wasn't like there was a Belfries concert bringing them together. If he had fans, they were spread through the city at random, and less passionate than they would have been ten years ago.

        Still, he did know someone who would have stayed in touch with anybody and everybody. A man with boundless
love and energy. He called Paolo.
 The Rock Skank
      "Darren, bro! Wassup? I was just about sleepin', man."

      "Paolo, man. I need love. Where the ladies at?"

  "Darren, dude," he adopted a sensitive tone, as was his way, "It's really beautiful to see you reaching out to someone, I know you're always in a shell, but... It's important to know that, like, a girl can't solve your problems for you. Relationships aren't medicine, they're, like--"

"Yeah, I dig it, you know me. I'm all progressive 'n' shit, dogg."

"Oh yeah! It's been a while since we talked about big stuff, and I guess I forgot. Well, maybe this weekend--"

"No can do. I need something good to distract me tonight."

"Er, OK... What were you thinking?"

"A Belfries groupie, yo. Someone who's gonna like me for no good reason."

"Dude, a 'groupie'? That term is so dehumanizi-"

"Right, right, sorry. A Belfries fan... lady person."

"... Well, maybe Carly. She's a big fan and just adorable."

        They settled some details and ended the call.

                                                      Darren decided on a quick fix for the pants situation...

The Rock Skank


The Rock Skank   The Rock Skank


     The Rock Skank

     Darren tugged at the belt line of his illusory pants uncomfortably. It was the first time he'd stolen only part of a reflection, and a bit awkward. What was real here? For some reason, the fake long legs actually made him taller. OK, whatev.

     He stood at the corner of Long and Smeckleford with the guitar balanced on a shoulder, leaning against his head. Carly, by name alone, sounded like someone's horrible niece. Open mind, Darren. As a dead guy, his body had no involuntary reactions to the feels, but he did become preternaturally still.

     At last, a taxi pulled up and the back door opened.

"Darren? Oh my god! I'm Carly, get innn."

The Rock Skank

     Carly pulled Darren into the taxi by his free hand, carefully took his guitar and placed it on her side, crowding her legs. To the vampire, she smelled like an ocean of hot perfume around fresh salty sweat and aluminum-heavy anti-perspirant, with hints of soap, cotton, and vinyl. He wiped moisture from his palm. Most humans smelled more of shampoo and skin oil, but hers was lost in the wash.

     Could be worse. "Eh, thanks. Yeah, I'm the famous Darren. How is it you know Paolo?"

     She opened her mouth and let out the hot vapor, mint, aspartame, and blood traces of recent flossing. "Heehee, oh, I'm sorry, it's just, this is so weird, sorry. Um, Paolo, yeah, he's the greatest! I made the website for Crystal Parapet. It's no big deal, just a thing I do on the side for my less tech-savvy friends, y'know?"

     "Crystal... Parapet. His new band, right. That's cool." He focused his eyes through the haze of heat light to see her. She was young enough that he wouldn't normally go for her, but it wasn't too annoying. Yet.

     "Sooo," she cooed the first word before a sharp upturn, "What do you want to do? Wanna go to a show? Just do drinks? Go to a friend's and jam out?"

     For a moment he was confused, then he remembered the guitar. He hadn't brought it for any purpose, it was just in his hands when he jumped. "Damn, I don't know. Not the jamming. I haven't played for anyone in a long time, ain't the right time tonight."

     "Of course, yes, whatever you want. Um..." Her body was taut but her energy surged. He had the feeling she could explode or just pop a cork and empty like shotgunned brew. "...So I decide? Right. I decide. Let's go to Zap Attack," then to the driver, "The video game arcade on 367, past Whorley I think?"

     The driver grunted "Before Whorley."


     Darren and Carly stepped easily through Zap Attack, as the crowd was less intense on a weekday night. Darren's long stride meant he had to half step for her to keep up. She commented. Really, she hadn't stopped talking since she first laid eyes on him.

     "Oh my god, you're so much taller than I remember, it's really weird."


     "For real, I saw you at Candlehead when the Can of Ham single dropped, and Paolo was taller than you, but it might have been, like, posture, but even with that-"

     "You're trippin'."

     "Oh god, I must be, I'm sorry, Oh, we're at the counter, hiii."

     The place still used a clunky electronic fob system to pay for games, which meant dealing with a clerk. The counter also doubled for concessions and prizes.

     "We should get chocoboogies do you like chocoboogies? How about candy floss? It's fun."


     "Oh of course, I'm sorry, it would be, I'm not hungry anyway."

     "'Kay. Let's just get the doohickeys. Hey," he said to the clerk, "Can I stash the guitar back here?"

     They sorted themselves out and then walked through the labyrinth of game machines. Darren couldn't work out a good pace for walking as slow as Carly, occasionally getting glimpses of the top of her head while she chirped away. At last he said something besides "uh-huh" and "yeah."

     "So whaddya wanna play? What're you into?"

     "Heehee, oh mee? Just anything, you should choose."

     "Yeah, I will, but I still wanna know. What're you into?"

     "You do? That's sweet, but... really, anything. I guess I just play whatever's around. Like if I'm at somebody's house or on the phone and I see
something cute for free.

     "Then why an arcade?"

     "Paolo told me you like video games, no biggy."

     "Ugh. You asked him what I like? What else did you ask him?"

     "Heehee, um..."

     "Fuck it, let's play Bullet Fire."

     "Sure, pop pop!" Double finger guns.

     They took the colorful gun controllers off holsters and Carly fiddled with the payment fob until they had access to play. Darren pulled the trigger on the two player option.

     He risked a smile at her. "You down to blast some fools?"

     Her face was gripped by powerful emotions, resolving into a creepy wide-eyed, tight-lipped grin. "EeeeYeah! Hehehe, pow pow!"

     "Eesh." He turned his attention back to the game. The set-up animation played, with a lady voice saying junk like "we're sending you because you're the best" and "try not to shoot any hostages!"

     "Ah, so, hey, how abou--" She must have sensed her misstep and flailed to fill the quiet, when the loading screen gave way to action. She choked on the words and started blasting madly.

     "Dyamn, girl."

     He held the gun like a real weapon and played as the designers intended, she aimed instead with short flicks of the wrist, killing everything in sight.


     "So, eeeh," Darren asked, "Whaddya wanna do?"

     "Teehee, um, mee? Just whatever you want is fine. You want to talk? We could talk."

     "Sure." They were sitting at some cheap plastic tables on the poorly attended upper mezzanine. Humans contributed less to the heat haze than the machines did. All of the machines were fairly noisy even when unattended, advertising excitement with cutscenes, sample game play, and animations.

     Carly had bought a slice of pizza and offered to share it with Darren, but when he declined, she conspicuously stopped eating. In odd moments her hands would tremble and her eyes would unfocus, but she wouldn't eat.

     "So, just, I'm still super-excited, I mean, if that's OK, to be hanging out with you! The Belfries were the best, you're the best, Paolo is great. What was that like, working with Paolo when you were both really feeling it, you know? Back when you did 'Fluent' and 'Cryptward'?"

     "Paolo? I get that you're friends, but people don't usually get hype about a bassist."

     "Really? But he brought that jazz metal groove on 'Fluent' and just really made those tracks um... Of course you're more important, being the songwriter and singer, of course."


 "Nah, that's cool, but, like, what do you mean by 'what was it like'?"

     "I don't know."

     Darren tried to think of any way to get at a personality hidden beneath the compulsive abasement. "Um... So you got some tatts, that's cool. They have some kinda personal meaning? Like, why'd you pick the ones you got?"

     "Gosh, I don't know, um..."

     "How about the flowers? You just like the way they looked?"

     "Oh, funny you should mention that, I got that for my favorite Belfries song when I turned twenty."

     He crumpled, losing a few inches of height. "*siigh* Lay Down Lilies was a Charnel Haus cover."

     "What-oh! Of course, I know that now!" She was in a panic again, energy burning wildly. "And it's sooo good, it's really better than the original, I swear, like -- Are you OK?"

     Darren had finished the crumple, and was resting face down on the table. "...I'm just tired. Think I'm gonna call it a night..."


     "Paolo, maaaan."

     "Darren bro? What's the matter?"

     "... That date suuuucked."

     "What? Why? Carly is, like, super-hot, and easy to talk to, and smells nice all the time. Did you, uh, say something, like-"

     "Naw, dogg, it's just that she's too much of a fan. Like, maybe she's cool with you but she's too weird about me to have a mind of her own. It's creepy."

     "Dude, really? I guess it's understandable, like, y'know, if you met Kelli Warkitten or something."

     "No way man. For one thing, Kelli'd be like fifty-something by now. For the other, I'm always mad suav-ay."

     "Sure bro. Well, good nigh-"

     "Hold up, dogg. I'm not done yet. You gotta know someone more independent. Hook me up."

     "Really? It's getting kinda late."

     "Really. I need love, man. Hook me up."

     "With someone independent?"

     "A real tough cookie, like, y'know. Someone with attitude."

     "Well... I guess Elif is used to staying up late for her shifts at Gerhard's. If she has the night off... But I don't know."

     "What? Does she hate the Belfries?"

     "Naw, she was at a lot of our shows back in the day, you wouldn't remember."

     "What then?"

     "See, I know you mean well, but a lot of people just don't have the education to be sensitive to people with differences."

     "OK, by the name she's a Southernist, right? I'm not really on the anti-god tip lately, I won't be droppin' jokes 'n' shit."

     "That's good. Also, she's trans, so just, be nice."

     "Trans..? Oh. Oh, like... Oh. Pre-op or post-op?"

     "DUDE! No way dude. That is so sooo wrong. Just, NO."

     "What? Educate me."

     "There's too many ways for an ignorant guy to mess this up, no."

     "Ignorant? You know me, Paolo. I'm cool. I'm all progressive 'n' shit, no way I fuck this up, just help me out a little, alright?"

     "... OK, first of all, don't ask a lady what she looks like naked. Next..."


     Elif was small - around Carly's height but reedy instead of soft. Her hair was immense, filling all the space it could like a river. An errant strand floated through her heat light like detritus under a microscope.

     She was driving. Darren kept the guitar on his side, and the neck rose between his legs like an embarrassing metaphor. They were headed to Wherewithal, a hot new Harlan nightspot that answered the question, "Where, with Al?," owned by reformed pirate and knife-juggler Ace Echsuel and featuring everything from bouncers dressed like moustachioed toddlers and designer drugs shaped like children's vitamins to GrEBBs (Grauish extreme bondage boys who never had a bruise without an associated epic poem).

     "So," she said, "What makes you want to come out tonight?" Her accent was Kastanian, not too heavy.

     "I need love, and I know that won't just happen right off, but I gotta meet some people and try. Why are you cool with coming out on a weeknight?"

     "The restaurant does not mind if I come in a few hours late because they have many waitstaff and most want to work all the time. I'll just sleep in after thees."

     "So you're not, like, native Kastanian or Koroman or whatever, right?"

     "Half Eopti, half Fezinti. Spent my first seex years in Eops, the rest in CastaƱa until I moved here."

     "It's like you're running from the sun. Sounds like a Belfries fan." Solo finger gun.

     "Hehe, yes."

     Darren stretched back in the seat, pushing his elbows to the roof in his sleepy gesture. She shot him an un-
noticed peevish look as he was obscuring her view of traffic.

     "Sooo, like, this is your night off, huh?"

  The Rock Skank

     "Yes, I try to go to a club or a show at least once a month. It's important to not forget about adult fun, when you spend a lot of time weeth your child."

     Darren was fidgeting with the window button, feeling the subtle hum of the mechanism's turning through his hands. "Uh-huh."

     "Would you mind not doing that?

     "Huh? Oh, the... yeah, no prob. So, like, what do you do for fun?"

     "... Go to clubs, shows."

     "Oh yeah. I've been avoidin' the scene for a while."

     "Trying to stay clean, right? It took me a while too. Though I did see an article that said you were seen around town with a sexy guy?" She smiled.

     "What? That's Jack. Yeah, he's a gay dude. It don't confront me."

     "That's nice. So he's your friend? What is he like?"

     "I dunno. He's messed up with some weird violent types. We had to wheel him home the other day in a garbage can."

     "I'm going to assume that was a figure of speech. It's too disturbing."

     "Oh yeah, for hella. Anyways, he's real full of himself too, thinks he's the boss 'n' shit. Always like, 'Darren, do your laundry, Darren, stop scaring my dudes'. Whatever."

     "That seems kind of reasonable? So. You're roommates? Maybe you should have a roommate that is less of a criminal, to help with your recovery. Why not Paolo?"

     "Really? Paolo? Haha. No."

     "Why not? He is very pleasant and accommodating."

     "Haha, Paolo is like a kid's show puppet. I'd be trying to sleep and wake up to something like him giving free massages to earth mamas, or teaching neighborhood urchins how to count to twelve. Plus he has no fashion sense. I don't even have to put effort into it and I'm cooler than that, because, y'know, I'm hard."


     At last they pulled into the parking lot nearest the club. She glanced at him between parking maneuvers and said, "Is there something you can do with your hair?" He shrugged.

     She watched him get out into the amber light of the street lamps, staggering away from the car on awkward gangly legs before sorting himself out. His hair was a mess, he was wearing an undershirt, he smelled stale, his fingernails were dirty. As his head lolled on his shoulders and he tapped a big floppy foot, the impression of an overgrown child was harder than ever to escape.

     She took her eyes off of Darren for a moment to wedge his guitar deeper under the dashboard and reduce the likelihood of it being noticed and stolen. When she looked up, he was ambling toward the pay box with a car coming straight at him.

     "Aidan, stop!"

     He froze in his tracks and looked back slowly.

She put her head in her hands. "Aidan...? Ay mi... Darren, I can't do this."

     "What? We just got here?"

     "I already have one ten year old to deal weeth. Here."

     She took the guitar out and handed it to him.


     "Dude, Paolo."

     "Darren, I was almost asleep, bro."

     "Dude, it didn't work out, man. Hook me up."

     "It's almost midnight, it's a weeknight, and... Wait, you didn't ask her about her junk, did you?"


     "Then what did you do man? Oh, I hope she doesn't hate me."

     "Don't be selfish Paolo. Besides, she just turned out to be, like, out of my league. She was too independent."

     Paolo sounded powerfully relieved, then went back to his sensitive tone. "Oh, good. Good. I mean, I'm sorry, bro. What do you think then? Like, why call me back tonight?"

     "I need love, man... Or maybe something else. Hell. How about a sure thing?"


     "You know. A lady who's like, hot to trot. A rock skank."

     "Dude, no! That is soo wrong! That language shames ladies for having control of and using their sexual agency, bro. Just, no, man!"

     "Dammit Paolo, you know I don't mean nothin' bad by it. You know I love and respect ladies who do that sexual agenty thing. Maybe I just don't know the words. Did I fuck up with Elif? Trust me, dogg. I got this."

     "...I don't know... Wait. You remember Fiona MacGabhann?"

     "I'm not sure."

     "She told Jimmy that story about getting with all the guys from Night Horse?"

     "Night Horse? Huh huh. Oh, yeah. Yeah! I guess, I haven't been with her in like nine years. Or sober."

     "She's a sweetheart, and when you're sober, you're less likely to disappoint a lady. I think. Most people are."

     "Oh yeah, I'm on this..."

The Rock Skank  


     Fiona's body heat flowed off of her rapidly, with not much holding it to her bones. She was cold - for a human - flared to life with movements, and quickly dimmed again. Her smell was dominated by poison-soaked tobacco, with undertones of old oil, leather, and booze.

     She let him off the motorcycle and walked it up the stairs to the front door of her antique brick apartment building. Darren leaned back with hands in fake pockets while she opened the door, then picked up the guitar again.

     "Can I come in?"

     "Yeh, et's why we're here, esn't it?"

     She took the bike inside and held the door open with her foot until he followed. He looked around, feeling a little creeped out by the half-assed invitation, but still in command of his powers.

     "So, we didn't talk much on the way over--"

     "Not at all. Et's fine. Jest a moment." She used another key and parked her bike in a tiny storage area. "What do yeh want to talk about?"

     "I dunno. How is it Paolo is still in touch with you? You don't seem like you have much in common."

     "Ezzat jealousy I'm hearin'? Haha, of carse no. We really do have a lot in common - we both keep on toppa the music scene, in our weys."

     "What? Ohhh. Huh huh."

     "Do try ta keep up, lad."

     The stairs were solid as stone, not creaking at all beneath their feet, and the lightly cobwebbed ceilings were nicely framed with crown molding. Everything but the floor was painted an eggshell that turned warm silver in the dim and far-spaced lights.

     At the fourth floor landing, she led him down the hall to her apartment. The building used to be a hotel and the unit showed it, lacking a kitchen entirely. She had a microwave and a mini-fridge in the small walk-in closet.

     A poorly maintained, thin carpet had been tacked rudely over the original wood floor. There was a non-functioning radiator in the corner and she'd left the incandescent overhead lights on in her absence because of the heat they provided. Thin weak plaster over brick-hard asbestos made hanging anything substantial on the walls impossible, but frameless posters and magazine pages were tacked up everywhere.

     She strutted ahead of him and tossed her helmet and jacket like a stripper act. She twirled to look at him and leaned on the back of her couch. "Darren the Famous Langley, rock and roll apostate. Once and future star, or los' cause?"

     He avoided her eyes. "Eh. Why is everyone so hot to know?"

     "Erryone? What haaave yeh been about tonigh'?" She cocked an eyebrow like a cat arching its back.

     "Er, nothin'. Just people keep ragging me about The Belfries, like, I got an obligation to rock forever because I did it before."

     She pointed a bony finger at his guitar. "Yeh do. The price of admission: I don't get with mortals. Et's all about the rockers, baby. So rock."

     He looked at the thing in surprise. "Oh, almost forgot I had it. You got an amp?"

     "Yeh have to ask?"

     She pulled a small amp out from under the cheap bed in the corner, plugged it in, and sat it on an end table. Darren took the cable from it and worked it into his guitar. "For real? What's your favorite jam?"

     "Hmmm... Yeh know Strip Club by Night Harse?"

     "Night Horse? Huh huh..."


     Darren and Fiona sat next to each other on the couch, smoking. She was still naked, legs folded up under her chin. He stood to pull on his shorts.

     "Ha," she said. "I knew yeh weren't that tall."

     "Platform shoes," he grunted.

     "Oh shyar, shyar. Where did yeh get those trousers from?"

     "Whut. I was wearing them under my slacks." He looked around. The illusory pants and shoes were gone.

     "Tha's... improbable."

     He got frustrated and looked at her sharply. "Hey. Look at me."

     Her eyes were trapped in the vampire gaze.

     "Ehh... Don't put me ta sleep. If yer gon ta suck my blood, I want ta be awake far it." She couldn't escape his eyes, but she used the control left to her for throwing a sassy expression. She rolled the cigarette from one side of her mouth to the other.

     "What the fuck?"

     "How're yeh surprised? I got the befarr and after. Las' time we boned, yeh were a lot more sweaty and warm."

     He gave up the ruse of smoking, spitting it onto her already cigarette-burned carpet and stubbing it with his heel. "Great, that's fuckin' great. How do you know about vampires?" He pulled on the rest of his clothes angrily.

     "Lots of rock stars are vampires. Perigord Wallfleur es two hundred years ald, drummed for The Bruisers as Wallace Perry back en the day. Distroubador from Bifurcated Cock Gang, Alima Beni from Star Mwuaji..."

     "Oh yeah, that's fuckin' fantastic. How many is 'lots'? The hell is this, the god damn vampocalypse?"

     "What's yer problem? Thought ya'd like tha'. Brothers and sisters."

     "I don't like being a fuckin' abomination. Why would I like the idea there's a damn plague of us in the recording industry?"

     "OK, I was jes' tryin' ta show off. Et's jes' the ones I mentioned, plus the rest of the garls en Star Mwuaji, and Perigord's agent. Ennyway, are yeh gon ta suck my blood or what?"


     "Dude, man, Paolo. Paolo. It didn't work out, dude."

     "Darren, bro, I was asleep! What ... what do you want, bro?"

     "I need love, dogg. Hook me up."

   Darren heard rustle and bump of Paolo doing whatever it was he did to wake up, and eventually start talking again. "OK, what did you do now?"

     "Have some faith, man! Did I do anything wrong with the other girls?"

     "I prefer 'ladies', dude."

     "Did I do anything wrong with them? It just ain't my fault."

     "*sigh* Well then what was the problem?"

     "I guess I really didn't want something just, high speed, y'know? Maybe I really do need love. You know anyone nice?"

     "Lots of ladies are nice. Carly is super-nice and that didn't work."

     "OK, nice, but not too needy, not too fanatic."

     "What else, bro?"

     "Right, obviously she can't be too independent to condescend to a date with me, and can't be all... uh, love 'em and leave 'em styled."

     "Anything else? I wanna know before I even start, man. It's too late, god, do you know what time it is?"

     "Yeah, I know. But please, dude, hook me up. I can't think of anything else... Uh, OK, not too young."

     "What's too young to you?"


     "That's specific. What else?"

     "I dunno. No. So what can you do?"

     "Alright, this is the last time, dude, because I don't wanna ruin any friendships, for real."

     "Faith, man. I'm all progressive 'n' shit, how many times do I gotta say it? Have any of these gir-ladies called you back tonight to bitch about me?"

     "That word is-"

     "I'm sorry, but answer me, have they?"

     "No, but maybe they're just waiting 'til tomorrow."

     "Really dogg? Is that how you're gonna play me?"

     "Bro, no! It's OK, dude, bro, chill. I did say I'll do it. But then I need to sleep."

     "...OK. Who's nice?"

     "Kyoung Ok-Soon, she's a night owl, planned grad school work around it, so she's probably still awake. She is the sweetest, coolest lady, bro. Do not-"

     "What? I'm cool, man. You know me!"

     "... Just be nice."


     Ok-Soon was an even temperature, perhaps a few degrees cooler than the rest. Her aura was a perfect balance of shampoo, soap, and smoothed-out humanity. Her palm had a thin moisturizer slick and radiant warmth that didn't noticeably dim as it filled his hand. He let go.

     "Ok-Soon, sorry to, uh, run up in your crib like this." His feet were shod in an extra pair of boots from Fiona.

     "Darren, come in, the couch is over there. Thank you for the apology, this is real weird for me. But Paolo is one of the best people ever, so..."

     "Yeah, I owe him a lot."

     "Should I turn up the heat? You're so cold."

     "No thanks, I'm cool." He flopped into the couch and leaned the guitar on its arm rest. "You like A Stillness, huh? Want me to play some?"

     She smiled. "Without an amp? No thanks. Herbal tea? I don't have caffeine, but warm water is good for your stomach."

     "Yeeah, no thanks. I've had ... too many? But make some for yourself."

     She already was, leaving him alone to experience the apartment. It was very spare. A few art pieces of wildly uneven quality had enough white space around them it was like a real gallery. No doubt gifts and trades from friends. Straight ahead of him was an old-fashioned cathode ray television plugged into a fifteen year old game system.

     "A Vidavision? Not even the Vida X?"

     From the other room, "Oh yeah. It plays my movie collection and a couple of games I like."

     "I see - the Cold Grey series and Bucket-maru's Challenge. What's with girls and the Cold Grey games? I mean, they're coo, but they're hella old."

  The Rock Skank

     She came back into the room. "Do you like A Stillness? I figured you did since Girl Fume sounds so much like Lost Decade."

     He didn't look at her, feeling peevish. "Yeah, yeah, it's just because the key and tempo, whatever."

     "And the rhythm, plus the structure of the progression, but yeah." She sat down. "Cold Grey is the video game equivalent of a Stillness album."

     "Guess that's something else all the girls like."

     "That's not what SocialLink thinks. It's always trying to sell me cupcakes and wedding stuff."

     He looked at her and she quickly looked away. "Uh, sorry, am I being a crappy guy? I think... Maybe I've been up too late."

     "To be honest, I don't feel safe."

     "Whaat? Like I'm some kinda piece of shit rapist?"

     "No, no," she waved a hand dismissively but still didn't look at him. "I know from your songs what kind of person you think you are, and I like that guy."

     "What does that even mean?"

     She risked a short glance then looked away again. "I just feel like you might say something awful. You - the you in this room, not the writer - you seem like kind of a jerk, I'm sorry."

     "Oh man." They sat in silence.

     He stuck his hands under his legs and bounced his feet a few times, then turned to look at her. This time she looked back, eyebrows knit in tension. He said, "Do you mind, maybe, could you tell me what's cool about the guy in the songs?"

     "He feels really bad. A lot of people can relate to that. I can relate to that. Part of it is, uh, bad self esteem? Then there's disgust with the physical, like the experience of life. But mostly, it's the feeling of disappointment that every ideal people set for themselves comes to nothing, that people are cruel and selfish and no one can get away from it."

     "Hm." He rubbed his forehead. "Some of that's about right. Maybe you're reading a lot into it."

    She laughed and he smiled. Progress. "OK, there's a lot of metaphor. It's what they say to me."

     "I kinda wanna be someone you can like. Or anyone can."


     "OK, not everyone. That would be fuckin' gross."

     She laughed again. "So what do you want me to do?"

     "Tell me what that song guy should be like."

     "I never thought about it. Now that I do... Maybe he'd be a homeless guy who is real nice to pigeons."

     "Hehe, shit, I don't think I can handle that. Do you have two controllers? Bucket-maru had co-op, didn't it?"


      The night drew on. Darren and Ok-Soon collected silly objects in their virtual bucket heads, and barfed them onto various characters and targets for various effects. Occasionally they would direct their avatars through portals into themed bonus areas, and push the limits of the old television's color.

    Ok-Soon sat upright and prim, making Darren wonder how she could possibly be comfortable. He sprawled wide on his end of the couch. They kept playing, though the game as a subject of conversation seemed tired and done. After a long peace of soft electronic music and noises, he spoke first.

     "Paolo said you're in grad school. What's your major?"

     "Eastern lit. My first major was music theory."

     "Aw hell. No wonder you were busting my shit."

     She smiled imp-like. "There's more to music than following some old rules. You know how to make something sound good, I know the reason why it worked."

     He hit pause and put down the controller. "You're too generous, yo. Anyway, uh... Wanna talk for a while?"

     "Sure." She got up and turned off the game before curling up at her end of the couch, looking his way. They kept a chaste distance. "So why did you ask Paolo to set you up on a date?"

     "...Dunno. I've been clean for a while now, so it won't be, like, a recovery relationship? I heard that's a thing."

     "Mm. I've heard that too. So you're not ready to play shows yet, but you think you're ready for, um, romance? I guess I can see that."

     "Cool, girl. Say, you look real nice. That's a cute hair style."

     "It's supposed to be grandma styled. But grandmas are cute."

     "For rill. You're all classy 'n' shit. The last lady I met was in clown colors. That can be coo, but it ain't classy."

     "Heh. That's high praise coming from the guy in cut-offs."

     "Aw shit, sorry, didn't even think about that. This whole thing is real spur of the moment for me. Like I went for a walk in just whatever, and then I got the idea, and didn't wanna go back up to my place... Friend's place, whatever, dang."

     "That spontaneous, huh? I still don't get it. You gave me a reason for why you didn't before, but it wasn't a reason for why you're doing it now."

     "These boots are too tight." He fidgeted with the top. His ankles felt like they'd been immobilized for medical reasons.

     She rolled her eyes. "OK." She rearranged herself uncomfortably, resettled, then said, "So I have this rock star in my apartment. What should I do with that?"

     "Anything you like, baby." Finger guns.

     She laughed and looked away again, then back. "I have no idea. Um... I'm going to get some wine."

     She drank, he pretended to, and they talked about music. It was an unavoidable minefield and neither of them passed it unscathed.


     The conversation veered uneasily between restrained argument and sometimes bitter humor. But her self-medication worked its magic, and the mirth came more easily. The trick was to not take his jerk moments seriously - a real challenge for someone used to living with heightened politesse.

     She appraised him carefully through that slightly stoned smile. He was the real deal - the cute, scruffy, sad sack from his songs. Of course, more than that, he was a real person - and that was never as simple or safe as an artistically curated persona.

     He smiled back. "Hey, uh... mind if we get closer together, cutie-pie? Feels lonely down here."

     She took a chance and met him halfway down the couch. He put an arm around her and she looked ahead bashfully. Her voice diminished. "OK."

     It was time to try something or go home. He said, "I know you don't know me well and we haven't gotten along perfectly, but you're real pretty and interesting and cool, so... I dunno..." He kissed her temple, and her soft, feathery hair was pressed between her skin and his lips.

     She turned to face him more and accept another kiss. He smooched her on the lips once, again, and again, one arm around her back and the other caressing her cheek. Her hands were loosely around him, not sure where to go.

     Suddenly she pushed free of him and sat back, glaring. He shook his head. "What?"

     "You smell like cigarettes but you don't smoke."

     "How do you know I don't smoke?"

     "You've been here long enough you'd be nicking out. Anyway, you... You have lipstick on your neck. I... I didn't see it before." She was shaking her head now.

     He put out one hand palm down, wishing he could calm her down without creepy vampire styles. "What, uh, what does it matter? I had a crappy date earlier tonight."

     Her mouth tightened and she stood up. "Tonight? Really? Oh god, clown colors. This is gross. Did Paolo set you up with her first? I can't believe it."

     "Baby, no, I mean yeah, but it ain't a big deal. Sometimes people do stuff fast, it doesn't make it, like, baaad."

     She paced away then back, arms folded across her chest. "It's creepy. Like, what did you even do? Make a bet you could score a bunch of times in one night? Some kind of crappy rock star thing, wanna prove you still got it?"

     He leaned forward, put his head in his hands. "No, baby, you got me all wrong. I just wanted to find one girl I could be with, wanted to do that tonight. Those other ones jus-"

     "Other ones?"

     "Aww man."

     "Get out of my apartment, Darren."

     He hesitated with his forehead deeply crumpled, then dragged himself up, took the guitar, and headed toward the door. She glared at him and didn't approach until he was over the threshold. He turned back to her with a pleading expression.

     "Maaaan, this sucks. Don't I at least deserve a hug or something? For the effort of putting myself out there and getting my ass shut down?"

     She stared in amazement.

     "What?" He didn't get it.

     "Think about that. And go away."

     A door closed in anger.



       Darren sat on the sidewalk outside Ok-Soon's apartment building, tugging off Fiona's tight old boots. He tossed them in a bush, picked up the guitar and stood there. He was on the steepest part of University Hill, looking out into the pre-dawn city. The street practically fell away here into shadows and bushes, a chasm of tangled highways emerged past that, and the skyscrapers of downtown rose beyond. The sky above was lightening and he could feel a weakness growing inside. The heat light around him grew fuzzy, the sounds of a million insects became less distinct beneath the endless dull static of traffic.

       Think about that. Think like a good guy, don't wanna be a creep. What would Paolo say? Don't
I deserve something? It wasn't easy for me. Feels like shit, really. What then? ... A hug is a kind of physical intimacy, and she wouldn't owe me that even if she wasn't already creeped out. Hell, I am a fucking creep. God damn it.

       I still need a hug, creep or no. Even scumbags need love. Who's willing?

The Rock SkankThe Rock Skank

The Rock Skank

He put away the phone unused.

The Rock Skank



     July 11th, 2015
     By:  Christopher

As some of you predicted, Darren was the real rock skank the whole time. The skank was rocking from inside the building. Lesson learned?


 VISUAL CAPTION: This is the description of the comic, for purposes such as accessibility and internet searches.


   (This is an elaborate image of Darren. There are elements that will be repeated elsewhere throughout the story's illustrations -
  a baroque, empty, rough-backed wood frame stands behind him, and there is a banner across the bottom part of the image. He
has his guitar and is shooting double finger-guns at an unseen lady, to make more explicit the meaning of his leering expression.



(Blank-faced Darren considers making a phone call.)


(Shirtless Paolo talks with Darren on the phone, looking reasonably genial.)


(Darren stands on the sidewalk, wearing around-the-house styled clothing. He has a thermal
    undershirt, baggy camouflage cut-offs, and stocking feet, and he is carrying his guitar.


(On the same sidewalk, a tall man is standing and a woman is walking past.)


(The same scene as 5, but the lady is stepping forward and the man's reflection is missing from the waist down.)


(The same sidewalk. The woman has moved along and we see that Darren stole the reflection of the man's legs and is walking around
    with them. The taller man's legs make him look rather odd. He's wearing grey slacks, green socks, and light grey business shoes.


 (The callbacks to the title illustration begin. This is Carly, Darren's date. She has a pixie bob haircut light brown hair and eyes, freckles,
and lively expression. She is kneeling wears a Belfries baby-doll t-shirt, tights with stars and moons, leg warmers, and fancy high heels.



     (Another large fancy illustration. Date two is Elif, in a long-sleeved off-white lace shirt over a dark bra,
 leather pants and high heeled boots.
Her hair is large and dark, she is eyelashy, and sits in a kicky pin-up pose.)



 (Date three is Fiona, a rocker lady. She has cut-off jeans, leopard-spotted tights, combat boots, and a biker jacket.
Her black tank top
advertises a band, "Throne of the Master." She has piercings, tatts, and multi-colored hair dye.)



(The last date is Ok-Soon, a short soft woman of Eastern ancestry clad in humble
     styles and tones. Beneath the cardigan she wears a t-shirt for "A Stillness.")



(Darren looks own at his phone in frustration or vexation.)


(From Darren's point of view we see his phone, with Jeannie's image and phone number displayed.)


(Darren looks up from the phone with a thoughtful and sensitive expression uncomfortable upon his face.)


(Reduced to his most cartoonish form, with oversized 1930s-styled hands and feet, Darren walks away.)

Comic Rank