QSFer Loren Rhoads has a new queer spec fic short story collection out: “Unsafe Words.”
In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.
Excerpt from “Still Life from Shattered Glass” from Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads
The moment she walked into her apartment, Lily switched on a police scanner. Jacob could not live without background noise either, but at least he settled for punk shows on WCBN.
An invitingly long sofa shared Lily’s living room with a television and a jumble of DVDs. A laptop and a DVR nestled on the TV stand. Lily slipped the new DVD out of her coat pocket and onto the pile. As I glanced over the labels, I saw that most compiled news clips.
The police scanner crackled and a voice ordered paramedics to a bar on the edge of town, where a bouncer had been knifed.
I began to lace my boots back up when Lily asked, “Going somewhere?”
“Don’t you want a picture of that?”
Her smile told me it was a dumb question.
“Okay.” I leaned back, laces dangling. “Why not?”
“He won’t die. The ambulance will be there before we get to the car. I only photograph fatalities.” She stretched, as if to allow me to enjoy the way the black dress slithered over her curves. “After poking around in the dirt, I need a shower. Want to join me?”
I was still pissed at Jacob, so I said, “Sure.”
She sent me in to get started while she took off her makeup. I shucked my clothes and left them on the bathroom floor, where they’d be easy to find later.
My mind wasn’t on Lily at all as I stood in the shower and let the water beat on my skull. It was November. My name was on the lease until May. What the fuck was I going to do about Jacob?
The lights in the bathroom went out.
The shower door slid open. “You ever take a shower in the dark?” Lily asked.
“No.” I backed into the corner. The ceramic tile was chilly. The bathroom was as dark as a coffin. Nobody knew I’d come home with her. What if I just vanished?
Lily closed the shower door behind her. Her hand found my shoulder. She wore a latex glove that reached to her elbow. “The darkness makes perspective impossible,” she purred, drawing me into her latex-sheathed arms. “Is there anywhere I can’t touch you?”
“No,” I repeated, pulling her head to meet my kiss. Her tongue forced my lips open as her gloved hands explored me. I braced one foot against the top of the tub while she confirmed that I had no problem being touched.
It was weird not being able to see anything. Had I ever been in such perfect blackness? It could be anyone’s hands on my body. The sound of the shower drowned out our movements. I wasn’t sure if she was breathing hard. My knees shuddered beneath me.
“If I crack my head on the porcelain, will you take my picture?” I wondered.
“Only if you die,” Lily promised. “Are you gonna fall?”
“Maybe,” I hedged.
“Then go lie down. There’s a drawer in the night table that’s full of toys. Why don’t you pull out anything that interests you?”
“Can I fuck you?” My voice was lower than usual, but my nerves were reasonably well masked.
“You like to fuck?”
“I liked to fuck Jacob up the ass, the stupid motherfucker.”
Before I lost it, Lily leaned in to kiss me. Then she asked, “Did he like it rough?”
“So do I,” she admitted. “That purple dildo is my favorite. Why don’t you go strap it on? I’ll just be a minute.”
Her bedroom seemed standard femme, lavender blue comforter flung across the bed, perfume and jewelry scattered atop the dresser. I moved to the nightstand, expecting to find books on bondage or bullfighting. Instead she was reading On the Genealogy of Morals.
In the top drawer I found a rainbow of negligees. The silk cradled a handgun, cold under my fingertips, against the lace. Of course she had a gun, I told myself. It had probably been in her camera bag while we looked for the finger. She was a single woman who worked at night. Of course she had a gun.
Heart pounding, I eased that drawer closed and opened the next one. A jumble of sex toys filled it. The handcuffs had a key in one of their locks. They were the cheap kind that they sell in sex shops, but I figured she wouldn’t have them if she didn’t like them. I tested the key, made sure they opened, and crawled under the covers.
The phone rang, shocking me awake. I couldn’t remember where I was. A woman spoke quietly. The voice brought the evening back to me in a rush, starting with the finger hunt.
Lily flicked on the bedside light. When I peeled my eyes open, she was combing her fingers through her hair. “I’m going on a shoot,” she said. “If you want to come, get dressed. I have to be there now.”
Loren Rhoads is the author of a space opera trilogy, a duology about a sex-positive succubus who falls in love with an angel, and many short stories.