Tina Connolly is a face painter in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with a husband and a cat. Her credits include Son and Foe and Ideomancer, and she has work forthcoming in Escape Pod and Strange Horizons. She is also a graduate of Clarion West 2006. Visit her website.
Also by Tina Connolly:
The Town Drunk
The virile mutant werewolf was ravenous again.
On the prowl, he searched for a hapless victim. Nubile girls in tiger-striped lingerie were his first choice. But anyone would do. Anyone at all. As long as he feasted on fresh human flesh before the full moon rose, he could remain human. Not have to suffer The Change. Not have to rampage through Miami, hellbent on a bloody whirlwind of destruction.
He was doing mankind a favor.
Just one human...
Chuck Greene sighed. His shoulders slumped, and his fingers sunk to the keyboard with a “dlkk // .”
It had actually been a good year.
Hellwhore Rides the El had slaughtered through 32 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List and been published in 36 countries around the globe. Their Teeth Again Glistened with Evil, sequel to the runaway bestseller, made an amount of money more obscene than the Things with the evilly-glistening teeth.
So why did he feel jaded, disgruntled, and envious?
He called up his ex-wife’s website with one click. (It was his home page.)
There it was, The Reason, in offensively modest black Arial font. Thea Pradner, author of Their Willows Laughed at Dusk, winner of the National Book Award.
Oh, she hadn’t made any money off that book. If it weren’t for his alimony checks—half the money from Hellwhore Rides the El had gone to her—she’d be back working retail at B&N.
But at least she had respect.
At least she had the admiration of her peers, and her friends (their friends, once), and of both their mothers. “Gleaming, glorious fiction” (Adjunct Professors' Monthly Magazine), powered by teeth-glistening evil. It was a contradiction she was apparently able to live with.
Chuck clicked back to his Word document and skimmed it. His lip curled in self-loathing. Another bestseller. Another reworking of his magic formula. The “things” this time? Werewolves—a mutant strain that must consume human flesh, while in human form, to stop themselves from The Change. The girl? A curvy young kindergarten teacher. The unsuspecting place? The humid streets of his new hometown, Miami. All the scary words were there, italicized and capitalized to portray their True Horror.
He was rich. He had everything his inner geek had ever desired. Except R-E-S-P-E-C-T. He remembered Thea, calm and curvy, sneering at Hellwhore during their divorce proceedings. “A man who writes about demon prostitutes—fantasies too juvenile for Penthouse!” Even his own lawyer had laughed. The memory consumed Chuck. Feasted on him.
So Chuck called on a friend.
The entity who had gotten him his start in the horror biz.
“What do you think?” Chuck asked when he had finished outlining his problem.
The demon rolled all three of his eyes. “You’ve already promised me two and a half centuries for your current status. What’s wrong with being the richest horror writer in the field?”
“That’s exactly it,” said Chuck. “When I made the bargain, I told you I wanted to be a rich writer. Not a rich horror writer.”
Mezuel snorted a tiny, sulphurous puff of smoke. “Don’t tell me you mean literary.”
“Ding ding ding!” Chuck intoned, tapping his nose like a doorbell. “I want to be respected.”
“I thought you wanted to be rich.”
“Of course I do. I want both. I used to write straight fiction. I didn’t think you’d change that—just make me rich off of it.”
“Mmm-hmm,” said the demon. He bent down to brush some ashes off his polished hooves. “Look, there are about two slots in the world for rich non-genre authors, and both of them had to do B-movie tie-ins to actually get the dough.”
“Uh-uh. No tie-ins. Not unless it’s Miramax.”
“And they certainly weren’t cheapo Scrooge McDucks.” Another smoky snort. “250 years, my cleft hooves! You want the near-impossible, you pay the full price.”
“Then you settle.”
“Not likely. I know you want more time from me. If you were rolling in clients, you wouldn’t have settled so low last time. I’ll give you another 250 years if you can make it happen.”
Mezuel’s eyes narrowed at the slur on his business, but he remained calm. “I’m not omnipotent, you know. I’m just a broker. It’s all black market and barter. The strings I’d have to pull... getting you a publisher would cost me a thousand years alone.”
“Are your ears working? Look. You want to be a literary writer. A rich literary writer.”
“Right. No more genre. Fiction only. The day-to-day stuff. The stuff people respect.”
“You’d enjoy writing that boring New Yorker tripe? Right now you get to write thinly disguised revenge fantasies about your hot ex-wife. Be content.”
The demon had a point. But those revenge fantasies weren’t winning him any points with his hot ex-wife, either. “‘Boring tripe’ is what I did before you made me a horror writer. I wrote about reality.”
“Making you genre was the easiest way to get what you wanted. You get what you pay for.”
“You could have at least made my genre ‘True Crime.’ 325.”
There was a pause. Mezuel stroked one of his shiny red horns thoughtfully. A small fiery gleam lit his central purple eye.
“You’ve thought of something.”
“I knew it.”
“Let’s get this straight,” said the demon. “You want to be a rich writer. Non-genre. One of those spineless twerps who writes stuff that could actually happen.”
Chuck ran Mezuel’s words through his mind. He saw almost no holes. “Yes. That’s what I want. Minus the spineless twerpy part.”
A double puff of smoke. “There might be a way.”
“I knew it.”
“It’ll cost you four millenia. Four thousand years.”
“What? No. Four hundred.”
“I’m leaving.” Mezuel gathered himself into a preparatory ball of flame.
“No! All right, I give in.” Now that he was committed, his stomach knotted. For a brief moment he wondered whether it was worth it. But the image of a clipping his ex-wife had sent him, a pixellated photo of Thea air-kissing the ambassador of Finland, fired into his brain like a pistol shot. He burned with jealousy. “All right. Like you said, 3500.”
Mezuel’s head reformed from the blaze. “3600 and you have a deal.”
The demon’s head became blurry.
“Deal! Fine, deal. But no tricks this time.”
“I try to give good service, and look at the thanks I get.”
“So when will it happen?”
“I’ll have to pull the strings, run some programs... instantaneous, in your time.”
“Yes, boss,” the flame said icily, and then it was gone.
Instantaneous, Mezuel had said.
Chuck smiled. He rolled his chair back to the computer desk, flexed his biceps, and cracked his knuckles. He poised his fingers over the dull khaki keyboard, ready for the fountain of deathless, literary, yet accessible prose that was about to come streaming from his fingers.
His fingers touched the keyboard. It was sensuous, somehow. Erotic. Hypnotic. Anticipation in the warmth of the touch.
Chuck hit the return key, and typed.
Just one succulent human...
“Dammit, Mezuel!” He calmed himself. Perhaps “instantaneous” to an immortal was not quite what it was to a mortal. A matter of perspective, after all. He would wait. Five more seconds. He reached across his desk and turned on a small fan, pointing it at the superheated air Mezuel had vacated. He should remember to summon demons only in the winter; Miami summers were wretched enough without bringing Hellfire into his heavily air-conditioned apartment. Of course, if Mezuel didn’t cheat him again, there would be no need to re-summon the demon. Unless it was to thank him. Invite him over for some devilled eggs and devil’s food cake.
Chuckling, Chuck returned his fingers to the keyboard and cautiously typed a ‘T.’ His fingers took off at their normal velocity, clattering over the keys.