DSPP author Mark David Campbell has a new MM fantasy book out:
During his twice-weekly sessions, Guy, a sixty-seven-year-old anthropologist, tells Richard, his thirty-two-year-old psychiatrist, a fantastic tale about a society where almost everyone is homosexual and sex is considered the most basic form of communication.
As a young man, on a cargo ship that sinks in the Bermuda triangle, Guy is saved by the first mate, Luca, and they wash up on the shore of an uncharted tropical island. There, Guy must undergo a brutal initiation ritual, endure a crazed shaman, and swim across shark-infested waters in order to win the love of a local man. Meanwhile, Luca, who cannot accept his sexuality, is obsessed with being rescued and soon degenerates into drug dependency. Serious trouble ensues when Luca discovers that the locals have a large stash of gold, and he devises a plan to steal it. When Luca’s scheme falls apart, Guy must choose between remaining on the island with the man he loves or saving Luca’s life.
Could there really be such a society, or does it only exist within the fantasy of lonely old gay man?
“THE USUAL, Brad,” Guy called out as he walked up to the front bar.
“I was wondering if you’d be in tonight.” Brad scooped up a glassful of ice, then swung around. His trapezoid muscles flexed beneath his camouflage print undershirt as he reached up and took a bottle of Canadian Club Whisky from the shelf. He turned back, and with an exaggerated motion, poured a double into the glass.
“Sleep well?” Guy said casually.
“Like a baby.” Brad winked, leaned forward, and placed the glass on a cardboard coaster in front of Guy.
Guy sniffed. “I see you found my cologne.” He picked up the glass and threw back a quick gulp.
“Yeah.” Brad smiled. “But it smells better on me than it does on you.” His brown eyes sparkled as he looked directly into Guy’s.
“Can’t argue with that.” Guy reached up and gently patted Brad on the cheek. “Just don’t go making yourself too comfortable in my cave.”
Brad pulled back. “Guy, has anyone ever told you what a miserable old bastard you are?”
Guy chuckled. “So often that I’m starting to answer to it.”
Brad shook his head. “You never let anyone in, do you?” He went to serve an elderly man who was perched on a stool at the corner. The elderly man watched intently as Brad grabbed a moist beer bottle by the neck, popped off the cap, and plunked it down in front of him.
“Keep the change.” He was almost salivating as he handed Brad a ten.
Sailors was like any number of pubs in downtown Toronto—turn-of-the-century sandblasted red-brick exterior, oak-and-brass-accented interior. It was Thursday, and those getting a jump on the weekend would be out—less choice, better chance of scoring. Right now it was too late for the after-work rush and too early for the drag show. The DJ hadn’t even set up yet. It was mostly the old boys, like Guy, looking to stake out a barstool before the younger crowd came clambering in. Guy took a swig of his whisky. It was the summer solstice, and it didn’t really matter if nobody else was celebrating. As soon as the booze and E kicked in, he would party on his own.
He went to the far end of the bar and climbed onto his favorite stool, swiveled it sideways, and leaned back against the exposed brick wall. From his vantage point, he had all the strategic zones in the main room within his scope: the back bar, the dance floor and stage next to it, even the washroom and the entrance to the dark room in the farthest corner to the right. No one could come or go; nothing of importance could happen without him observing. A Madonna remix droned on in the background, but the front bar was far enough away from the main room that you could still carry on a conversation. Not that Guy wanted to converse, but he liked to listen in on what other people had to say, especially when they didn’t realize he was eavesdropping.
Guy looked toward a thin young man perched on a barstool facing the door—his spidery legs crossed, left elbow braced on the bar with one knuckle delicately pressed against his cheekbone, a Manhattan grasped in his right hand. He reminded Guy of someone he had known long ago and hadn’t particularly liked. But that was a world away from here.
The young man turned suddenly and shot a sneer at Guy, as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, old-timer.”
Guy smiled and shrugged. Back on the island, that similar-looking man had almost killed someone just to get noticed.
A cool blast of air blew in as another young man pushed open the fake stained glass panel door. Guy watched him as he stood there and tried to smooth his T-shirt over a little bulge of fat that rode up along the waistband of his underwear.
The thin man at the bar rolled his head toward the door with a look of practiced tedium. “Don’t just stand there like a debutant.” His high-pitched voice rose well above the low drone of the techno beat. “Close the bloody door, darling.”
The chubby young man smiled nervously, let the door swing closed, and walked up to the thin man. “Hi,” he chirped. “I was a little worried you might stand me up again.”
“Well you know how busy my schedule is.” He placed his glass on the bar and made a zigzag motion with his forefinger in front of the chubby man’s chest. “New Armani tee?”
“Yes, I got it for 10 percent off.” He beamed.
“Love the clearance table.” The thin man reached out and lightly whisked the chubby man’s sleeve, as if to remove grime acquired from the touch of bargain shoppers.
The chubby man’s smile withered. “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be the first day of summer. I’m freezing my tits off.” He hugged himself and shivered. “How do they know when it’s summer anyways?”
“It’s astrology, you know, like star signs.”
Guy shook his head and took another drink of his whisky.
“By the way, I read your horoscope on the Internet today,” the thin man announced loudly. “It said, ‘crossing paths with a mysterious stranger could lead to a defining moment in your life.’” He turned toward Brad. “Another Manhattan, no cherry in mine. And one for my friend.”
“What did yours say?” the chubby man asked eagerly.
“Oh, the usual, love, happiness, and riches.”
The chubby man leaned against the bar while Brad placed two glasses near them and flashed a fluorescent smile.
“Honey, pay the man. You know I’m saving up for my trip down to P-town at the end of July, and I’m short of cash.”
The chubby man dug in his pocket, pulled out a twenty, and handed it to Brad.
“Keep the change, Bradley,” the thin man cooed.
The chubby man nodded hesitantly.
As Brad turned toward the cash register, Guy caught his eye and made a circle in the air with his finger. Brad nodded and poured another whisky.
The chubby man watched as Brad carried the glass over to Guy. Then he leaned in close and whispered something into the thin man’s ear, who immediately swung his head around and stared at Guy.
“Very subtle,” the chubby man puffed. “Why don’t you just call him over here?”
“Oh, don’t pay any attention to him. That’s just Jungle Jim. He’s probably deaf anyways.” The thin man recomposed himself, combing the side of his gelled hair behind his ear with his fingertips. “He’s a friend of Brad. Otherwise I’m sure they wouldn’t let him in. Completely nuts, you know, but I hear he’s rich. Drives a Compressor.”
“My mother drives a Compressor,” said the chubby man.
“Your mother drives a Golf,” the thin man scolded.
“Volkswagen, Mercedes, no big difference.”
“Not until someone sees you in one, my dear.”
The chubby man frowned and began chasing the cherry around the bottom of his glass, trying to stab it with his stir straw. Having no success, he reached in, grabbed it with his fingers, and popped it into his mouth. “You know, you should get some rich old boyfriend,” he said while still chewing on his cherry.
“Me? You know how wrinkle-phobic I am,” the thin man scoffed. “But what about you? Why don’t you find a sugar daddy?”
The chubby man giggled nervously. “I’m not really sure.”
The thin man surveyed the room. “Take your pick. It’s like Jurassic Park in here tonight.” He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “I wish they’d play some real dance music and chase the dinosaurs out of here.”
Just then the DJ in the main room cranked up the music, and the low, throbbing beat drowned out the rest of the conversation. More people came in and shuffled past the front bar toward the main room. Guy slouched comfortably with one hand on the bar, holding his glass. On the far wall, under a pair of crisscrossed rower’s paddles, hung a framed photo of the Titanic. He stared at the photo for a while and thought about the sinking of his own ship, the Crescent Moon. He shivered, took a large sip of whisky, and a warm glow began to flow through him. It wasn’t quite the same glow he used to get from the grog back on the island, but it was good enough for this place. A gas bubble rose up in his chest, bringing with it the taste of his dinner. Roasted chicken—when done right it was almost as good as baked iguana. That was so long ago, but those memories kept gurgling up, and sometimes it felt as if it had only been yesterday. The flickering flame from the tea candle on the bar caught his eye, and he thought of burning torches under a starlit tropical sky. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the wall, and floated away with the images.
He imagined himself swimming in a beautiful sea, the water crystalline and warm. In the distance, he could see a beach so white it shimmered in the sunlight. On the beach, there was a young man calling and waving to him. He was brown and beautiful and naked except for a white loincloth. Guy couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but he saw him smiling and understood he wanted him to come and play. Then another man appeared next to Guy in the water. He tried to convince the man to swim toward the beach with him, but the man told him to swim in the opposite direction. Guy didn’t know what to do, so he just bobbed up and down, treading water. Suddenly, underneath him he saw the shadow of a huge shark. Frantically, he swam toward the beach. As he looked back over his shoulder, he saw an enormous dorsal fin only a few feet behind him. He could almost feel rows of teeth ready to bite off his lower half. The man on the beach ran into the surf. He reached out, grasped his arm, and pulled him forward just as the shark lunged and—
Someone bumped his leg, and Guy opened his eyes with a start. He was panting, and his forehead was damp. Maybe he had dozed off for a moment or two. He looked around. The place was now packed full of men, young and old, but mostly young. He spotted the thin man and his chubby friend making their way through the crowd toward the dance floor. Guy drained his glass, stood up, and followed. He wedged himself past the loners clutching their beers for courage and pressed between the little clusters speaking into each other’s ears with cupped hands.
Guy pushed his way onto the center of the dance floor. The strobe lights spun, and the music throbbed. The beat reverberated through his chest, and he began to dance. His feet floated, and his muscles undulated with each wave as he gyrated and swayed like a snake. Naked torsos swam through flickering strips of golden torchlight all around him. His body became moist with sweat, and he too pulled off his tank top and tucked it into his waistband. This was what he’d come here for—to remember what it had felt like to be lost within the rhythm. He inhaled the scent of warm bodies mixed with jungle spices and the humid Caribbean breeze. At last he was back on the island.
Then the peripheral darkness began to close in on him, and the music echoed as if it were coming from a tunnel. His body went rubbery, and he sank in slow motion. In the distance he heard someone yell, “Call 911! Guy’s out again.”
And all went black.
For the past twenty years, Mark David Campbell has been living in Milan, Italy, with his husband, where he writes, paints, and helps Italian academics and businesspeople prepare presentations and compose papers in English.
Prior to moving to Italy, he spent twenty years studying and working in archaeology and anthropology in Canada, Central America, Jordan, Egypt, and Greece. He earned his PhD in social cultural anthropology from the University of Toronto where he taught as a part-time professor.
Since 2009 he has been writing a monthly column for The American | In Italiaentitled, “That’s Queer,” which looks at the irony, struggles, and frustrations of being openly gay and living in Italy. In February 2016, he published a re-edited collection of these, more than sixty articles, on Amazon, called That’s Queer: Excerpts from My Gay Life in Italy.
In addition to writing, he has shown his paintings at numerous individual and group shows in Toronto, Canada, and throughout Italy, and one of his sculptures, “San Sebastiano,” is part of the permanent collect of the Museo di Centro, Italy.
In his spare time, Mark David likes scouring second-hand stores, swimming and boating on Lago Maggiore, and eating pizza and drinking beer with friends.