As the title says, this is my entry to mckenzee’s Sinister Bedfellows: Anthology. The idea behind the book was simple enough. The prospective authors would go through the webcomic, find a strip that spoke to them, and write a short-short about it. mckenzee would then put them all together and self-publish through lulu.
It was fun, and I was happy to agree. I searched the strip, and found the exact one I would want to use.
Namely, this one:
Which would be great except Rob Callahan grabbed it before I could, which means I couldn’t write that story. I’m tempted to so anyway.
This is the actual story I contributed. It’s based on the strip from April 10, 2005. And it’s probably a better story than I would have written for the self-portrait strip. It is indeed a short-short, under a thousand words long, so it won’t take you long to get through it.
I’d encourage folks to have a look both at Sinister Bedfellows and the anthology. It’s a nice little book with some nice vignettes and short stories in it, and it’s a nice hook that’s a little more interesting than a simple print collection of the strips might be. And mckenzee’s eye and viewpoint (not always the same thing) are very cool.
So. Here’s my entry, preceded by the strip. Please enjoy!
The cobblestones of the Old Port alleyway were cool on Ray’s face. He closed his eyes, and felt them growing damp with blood.
“Jesus, Ray,” he heard from somewhere above him. “What this time?”
Ray didn’t answer right away. He felt hands on either side of his shoulders grip and haul him out of the gutter. The blood from his nose and face had poured down on his white shirt. It looked sticky and thick. “I had a good night,” he snuffled. “Had the crowd in the palm of my hand.”
Tom shook his head. “You’re insane,” he said. “I’m sick to Christ of finding you in the back alleys of comedy clubs. What was it this time?”
“Gays in the military,” Shelly said on the other side. “I was in the audience. He got a heckler shout something about him being a queer, so he went into the full on homophobia bit. On country and western night.”
“Best audience for it,” Ray said, shaking them off. “They needed to hear it.”
“How many of them came after you this time?” Shelly demanded. “How many of them kicked the shit out of you this time?”
Ray tested a tooth with his tongue. Loose, but staying in his head. “I don’t really know,” he said. “Four. Maybe more. You sort of lose count in the bottom of the pile.”
“Because you thought it’d be funny?”
“Hey, I killed tonight,” Ray snapped. “You heard them, Shelly. They were howling.”
“Yeah — except for the people who hated it.”
Ray shook his head. “I need a drink.”
“You need a change of career. They’re going to kill you, one of these nights. And you know this isn’t the way to get a Comedy Central special.”
“Fuck Comedy Central.” Ray started around the building. Go back in the front door, get a drink at the bar.
“Yeah, that’s good for your rent. I’m sure your agent will love it too.”
“Fuck my rent. Fuck my agent. Fuck specials. Fuck albums. Fuck sitcoms and guest spots.” Ray shook his head again. “My ears are ringing.”
“We should go to the hospital,” Tom said. He was a little nervous.
“I just need a drink,” Ray said.
“You need a clue,” Shelly demanded. “Look at you. Look at you. You got your ass kicked again. And for what?”
“I killed tonight,” Ray said, whirling on her. Bringing them both up short. “Do you hear me? They were howling in there!”
“Except the ones who weren’t laughing,” Shelly shouted back.
“That’s because the audience was laughing at them! That’s my job, Shelly!”
“To make fun of people? To offend people?”
“Explain to me how this is a good thing!”
“Because no one else does it!” Ray slammed his fist against the wall, leaning back. “Small minded people have taken over, Shelly. Safe people have taken over. They control the media. They control the government. They control the corporations. They control everything. And they’re smug about it.” He breathed in, sharply. “I mean, who can call them on their bullshit? They own the courts. They own the legislature. They own the police. They own it all?”
“So you’re saying you can call them on it? That somehow you have the right–”
“I have the duty!” Ray rubbed the side of his face, feeling the blood there. “Damn it, Shelly. It’s the jester. The fool. The comic. We’re the only ones who get to say the Emperor has no clothes. We’re the only ones who get to mock them. To get everyone laughing at them. It’s our job.”
“You know, I don’t think Jerry Seinfeld was that worried about mocking naked people,” Tom said. “And he did okay for–”
Ray spat. “Fuck Jerry Seinfeld!” he shouted.
“Oh Christ, now you’ve done it.” Shelly muttered.
“It’s his fucking fault! ‘Observational humor.’ A show about nothing. His whole god damned Act was about nothing and he got rich. He made it safe to be inoffensive again. And his disciples are flocking into clubs complaining about fucking airplane food again! We are the children of Pryor, of Carlin, of Lenny fucking Bruce. We’re not supposed to be inoffensive!”
Shelly took his arm. “Ray? Raaaay. Shhh… shh shh shh. Calm down. We’ll get you that drink. A drink and a fresh shirt, and we’ll get you home and it’ll be fine.”
“I’m not going home,” Ray said.
“Ray, you’ve had your ass kicked. If you’re not able to go to the hospital, you need to go home.”
“I have a midnight show. It’s in my contract.”
“I think they’ll understand. You were just dumped in–”
“They don’t get to keep me off that stage,” Ray snapped. “I have a midnight show. It’s in my contract.”
“Jesus, Ray,” Tom said. “You go back out there, you’re just going to talk about this. What, you want them to kill you, next time?”
“Doesn’t matter if they do,” Ray said. “I’ll kill them first.” He looked at his friends. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you see?” He shook his head. “I go out there. Bloody shirt. Face like hamburger. Make their dates squirm. Maybe those guys are still sitting out there. Maybe they brag.” He leaned forward. “And I get them laughing. I get them all laughing. I make it all a big joke. Make it a joke on the small minded homophobic assholes who kicked the shit out of me.” He leaned back, and half-smiled. “It’ll kill. It’ll totally kill. And I’ll beat them.”
“And as an encore they’ll kill you,” Shelly said. She didn’t look angry any more. She looked scared.
“Maybe.” Ray grinned. “And then the papers will be full of it. And they’ll remember what I said. Now that will be funny.”
Shelly bit her lip.
Tom took a deep breath. “Okay. What now?”
“Now? I get a drink. And I wash my face. I have a show tonight.” Ray smiled a little more. “I’m on a roll.”