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  Transubstantiate

  Richard Thomas

  Otherworld Publications, LLC

  Louisville, Kentucky

  TRANSUBSTANTIATE. Copyright © 2010 Richard Thomas. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form without written permission except for the use of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Otherworld Publications, LLC

  4949 Old Brownsboro Rd. Suite 113

  Louisville, Kentucky 40222

  www.otherworldpublications.com

  Interior design and typesetting by Lynn Calvert

  Cover design by JEDesign

  Cover and interior design Copyright © 2010 Otherworld Publications, LLC

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  Printed in the United States of America

  PAPERBACK ISBN10: 0-9826072-4-5

  PAPERBACK ISBN13: 978-0-9826072-4-4

  Library of Congress Control Number: 201092282

  ~Dedication~

  This book is dedicated to my wife Lisa, and our twins, Ricky and Tyler. On this auspicious

  occasion whom else could I hold in my heart but the three of you?

  ~Acknowledgements~

  Well, since this is my first book, prepare yourself for a long list of names. If you’re just here to read the book, you can probably skip this part.

  First, I have to thank my mom and dad and my younger brother Bill. My mom always surprises me. She never liked the books I read as a young boy, the Stephen King, she thought it was too dark, too violent. But when I won a little contest at ChiZine, and I told her about it in passing, I had to pause and think to myself “Can she read this one? Is there sex or violence in it?” There wasn’t. Later, she told me that her book club read it. I was shocked. And impressed. She said that she could picture everything, that it was very vivid. And that made me happy, to see her go out of her comfort zone, and to share it with her friends. My dad has always challenged me - to stick with things and to think for myself. I know he probably didn’t enjoy all of the theater and music I did in high school, but he always went. I remember being surprised to see him at my senior year presentation of Grease. It was nice to see him there, and I guess if he had to see a musical, Grease was about as manly as it got. My brother has always been supportive of my writing. When I found out about the sale of this book, and I got his e-mail, the subject line was simply - Watch out King and Koontz. He reads a lot, as does my mom, and while I worry about her and this book (there IS sex and violence in it) and part of me hopes she never does read it, I know there are moments in there for her too. I think Bill will dig it.

  I’ve been lucky to be a part of several different groups, all of them connected in many ways, and it’s important that I thank them all. They’ve been my writerly family, my support group and best critics, places I feel comfortable going and hanging out. We all need places like this, so if you don’t have one, go get one.

  Write Club is my novel workshop. This is my fourth year in it. Each year we get together, about 15-20 people and make a commitment to write or edit a novel. We each evaluate a minimum of four other manuscripts, post up short stories, and in general, are a tight group of writers. This is my most private place to write and speak, to bare my soul, to show my work, my fears and flaws and to ask for advice. We push each other, keep each other humble, and cheer each other on. So thank you and my eternal gratitude to Alex Martin, Anthony Jacques, Bob Pastorella, David Bodensteiner, Chris Deal, Colin McKay Miller, Craig Wallwork, Crysta Albertelli, Devin Strauch, Drew McCoy, Eddy Rathke, Gayle Towell, Gordon Highland, Jason Heim, Mark Grover, Mark Jaskowski, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Mlaz Corbier, Nicholas Merlin Karpuk, Paul Eckert, Stuart Gibbel and Simon West-Bulford. Some of you I’ve known for a long time, and really helped to shape this novel, some I’ve just gotten to know this year, but you’ve all been a big part of my success. I wanted to give special thanks to a few other members of WC that I have known even longer, and have met in person at various functions, mostly AWP related. Axel Taiari, Caleb J. Ross, Christopher Dwyer, and Nik Korpon have been fans of my work for many years, have taken intensives with me at The Cult, have similar styles and tastes, and are always pushing me to do better, to succeed, and to retain my voice. Thanks guys, my brothers from other mothers, I couldn’t have done this without you.

  The Velvet is another home of mine, where I first discovered the trio of Craig Clevenger, Will Christopher Baer and Stephen Graham Jones. All three of these writers have had a great influence on my work. I haven’t had the chance to meet WCB, but his neo-noir voice is probably the closest of the three to mine (even more so with my next book, Disintegration) and if I ever get lost, I pick up Kiss Me, Judas and just start reading. Whenever Godspeed comes out, I’ll be there ready to snatch it up. Craig taught me in two classes at The Cult, and because of him, I am writing today. He found things in my writing to like, compared my work to his idol, Steve Erickson (I didn’t see it), he pushed me, he enlightened me and I was reborn. Thanks to him my story “Stillness” made it into the Cemetery Dance anthology Shivers VI, with a number of Stoker winners. This was a big breakthrough for me and I owe it all to Craig. His two books are fantastic (somebody put The Contortionist’s Handbook back in print). I look forward to Saint Heretic. He is one of the smartest and most talented writers I know. He was also kind enough to write a reference that got me into my MFA program, always giving of his time and experience. I had the chance to meet Stephen at the AWP 2009 in Chicago. His novels, especially All the Beautiful Sinners, are profound, layered, and challenging, and they get better with every read. He sets the bar extremely high, is one of the most prolific and talented writers I know, and extremely generous as well. He has been a great advisor to me, always encouraging me to keep at it. There are a ton of giving people at The Velvet, you know how you are, the people that read our stories, go vote in contests, encourage us to keep at it. Your help and support is always appreciated, and needed. You’re the ones that make hanging out here so much fun. Special thanks to Gordon, Jason, Josh Harlan, Logan Rapp, Sean P. Ferguson, Roger Sarao, Misty Bennett, Dan Donche and Jesse Lawrence for all the things you do behind the scenes and out in front of the cameras.

  The Cult is my other home away from home. If I had never taken the intensives there, I probably wouldn’t be writing. Craig gave me a new faith in my work, and I in fact took his class twice. Monica Drake has also been a great influence and friend, always there with a kind word. Most of the work I did for her ended up getting published (see list below) as did my work with Craig. We had the chance to hang out at AWP in Chicago, and her influence is constantly felt in my work. She was also gracious enough to write a letter of reference for me. Max Barry is the third instructor I had at The Cult, and the most responsible for this book. Because of his reverse psychology, his methods of writing and revising, and the initial challenge which yielded four book openings that later became Jacob, Marcy, X and Gordon, I managed to start and finish this novel. Max is an innovator and a real talent, and I will always owe him this book. The people that run The Cult and the workshop, and my fellow moderators, are always so giving and supportive. Thanks to Mark Vanderpool, Mirka Hodurova, Dennis Widmeyer, Kirk Clawes, Kareem Badr, Johnathan Kabol, Kasey Carpenter, and Brandon Tietz. Everyone in the workshop, such a talented group, and all of the people that make me laugh and think outside the workshop, thank you for getting behind my work. You know who you are. If you’ve ever read a story, voted, suggested a book, clicked a link, or generally said “Go get them, Richard” then tha
nk you for that.

  I want to take a moment to thank all of the editors that have published my work over the last three years - everyone at Colored Chalk, Todd Zuniga @ Opium, David Gardiner at Gold Dust, Tia Orian at Vain, Alan Kelly

  @ Dogmatika, Susan Tomaselli at 3:AM Magazine, Jackie Corley @ Word Riot, Brett Alexander Savory and Brent Hayward at ChiZine (Chiaroscuro), Patricia Hurst and Robert Callacci at The Oddville Press, Josh Harlan @ Nefarious Muse, Paquita Roth at Troubadour 21, Tony DuShane at Cherry Bleeds and Brian Freeman and Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance. Without your support and belief in my shorter work, I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to write Transubstantiate. Thank you for all you’ve done, and continue to do, for me.

  Thank you to all of the talented authors that have taken the time to get to know me over the past couple of years. So many of you have offered me great advice, taken the time to read my work, to offer up a blurb, to talk about books and contracts, other voices we need to get out there, and many other things. I’m constantly amazed and how giving the writing industry is. You are all an inspiration. Special thanks to Donald Ray Pollock, Chelsea Cain, Karen Brown, Jeremy C. Shipp, Benjamin Percy, Aimee Bender, Craig Davidson, Joey Goebel, F. Paul Wilson, Roy Kesey, Peter Straub, Joe Meno, Holly Goddard Jones, Sara Gran, Steve Almond, Matt Bell, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Zach Dodson, Mary Miller, Aaron Burch, Shya Scanlon, Vincent Louis Carrella, Emma Straub, Dan Wickett, Steven Gillis, Lyndsay Hunter, Mary Hamilton, Bradley Sands, Rayo Casablanca and Richard Bausch.

  Part of this process has included my desire to get my MFA. I want to take a moment to thank everyone at Murray State University for your support, your encouragement, and your belief in my work. Thank you Squire Babcock and Ann Neelon for letting me in and running such a diverse and rich program. Pam Miller, the backbone and heart of the program, you always keep me on track and full of optimism. Thanks Jacque Day for keeping up with my work and helping me to get it online. Thank you to Lorraine Lopez, Nickole Brown, Karen McElmurray, Tommy Hays and Gaylord Brewer for your time and advice. Thank you to all of my fellow fiction writers, non-fiction writers and poets that have embraced my work, your kind words and constructive criticism have helped me to learn a great deal. Thanks Christopher Hildebrand for showing me the ropes and keeping me in line, and for indulging me the many trips to Martha’s for reubens and fried okra. Man, I’m craving it right now. The two teachers I have studied with the most, and owe the most to, are Lynn Pruett and Dale Ray Phillips. Lynn, when I entered this program I know that your guidance and support, your willingness to read new authors and to have discussions about a wide range of topics, is what got me off on the right foot, and keeps me going. You are instrumental to my success at MSU and beyond. Dale Ray, you push me to be better, to learn and to read, to fight the masters for my place in history, and for that I will always be grateful. You make me a better writer.

  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the people at Otherworld Publications that made this all possible. Thank you Lynn Calvert for believing in this book, for wanting to launch your company on the back of it, and for taking this chance on me. Your willingness to work with me, to hold my hand and alleviate my fears, to allow me to contribute and be a part of the entire process is something really special, I think, and this relationship has been a great one. I’m glad your brought Nik on board too, I’m excited that Stay God is in the family. Thanks to Eric Calvert and the rest of the team. And thank you Jamie Ellis for your beautiful cover, and all of the hard work that went in to making this book look great.

  Special thanks to Martin Wolke. I know you’d be proud of me, you always took the time to read my work, and we had many conversations late into the night. Rest in peace, my friend.

  Of course I have to thank my wife Lisa, and my six year old twins, my son Ricky and my daughter Tyler. They put up with a lot, many nights away from them, traveling down to Kentucky, and too much time on the “computer wife” as the kids put it. Without you guys, I am certain that none of this could have happened. Your love and support, your willingness to let me take these chances these risks with my words, my time, my emotions, I am eternally grateful for that kindness and generosity.

  And last, I have to thank you, the reader. Yes, you, right there, holding this book. Maybe you went all out and got the signed, limited edition. Well, God bless you for that. Maybe you got the paperback and are lying in bed or riding on a bus, subway or airplane, or maybe you’re at lunch. If I didn’t have an audience, people willing to read my work, or dare I say it, look forward to my work, then I don’t know if I would do this. It gives me great joy to entertain you, to enlighten you, to give you a moment in your day to experience great emotions of joy, fear, suspense, arousal, laughter, anticipation, wonder, sadness - the gamut of human emotions. Thank you for taking the time and the money and the energy to enter my world. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

  Peace,

  Richard Thomas

  Chicago, IL

  March 23, 2010

  Transubstantiate

  The virus falls across the land with a lazy finality and the bodies stack up like fractures of wood. Cities grind to a halt under an umbrella of screams and the stench rises to form a dull cloud that hangs low and thick over the ruins. The skeletal frames that reach towards the sky are hollowed out and empty, cold in their ambivalence. And yet, across the water, voices whisper and laughter echoes as naked flesh clings to each other in the darkness. The warm water laps at the shore, and all is well. The experiment has begun.

  CHAPTER ONE

  May 12, 2024

  1. JACOB

  They say Jimmy made it out. But the postcards we get don’t seem real. Wish you were here and all that. Wherever here is. New York City, really? So I play along and wait for my break.

  Sometimes I’m the shopkeeper, sometimes I’m a priest. But I’ve never been it. Not sure if I want to be it, but on the days it rains and oil is in short supply, the corn running out, I wonder what is really out there. I wonder what is true and what is speculation.

  Walking down the streets of Libertyville, the palm trees swaying in the breeze, you can scan the horizon and it seems endless. I’ve only been down the highway that one time. They just turn you back. I jangle the keys and insert one into the storefront. Time to open shop. New guy coming today. He doesn’t know the ropes and it’s our job to teach him. Not everything, mind you, but enough so he doesn’t get himself killed. Sorry, I mean relocated. I miss Jimmy, but he wanted out. And he worked hard to get there. Nobody can say he didn’t work hard.

  To the left and to the right I see the other shopkeepers opening up. Coffeehouse. Dry cleaner. Jewelry store. Movie house. We all nod and grimace as we open these doors. I wouldn’t call them jail cells, but they are.

  I ease into the musty bookstore and shut the door behind me. With a dull thud the ringing of brass bells fills my ears and I rest my head on the pane of glass.

  New kid coming today. Gotta put my game face on. 2. MARCY

  “Can somebody do Jimmy for me? I can never get the handwriting down. Alphonso? You’ve got a knack for him. I need another postcard. Doesn’t have to be Hawaii, can be someplace else. Just keep it vague.”

  Pushing that damn lock of hair out of my eyes, I survey the cramped quarters, flush from the stress of it all, but happy as a squirrel with a nut.

  “Sure Marcy, do you have one there you want me to use?”

  Alphonso runs a black pick with a muscled fist at one end through his quickly expanding afro.

  “No, go ahead and grab something out of the bin. You can handle the stamp and all that too, right? I showed you how?”

  “Certainly did. No problem. I’ll get right on that. Can I finish that letter to Mrs. Corbier first? You know she’ll be all distraught if something doesn’t show up from Chester today. It’s been a week, and personally, her crying is getting on my nerves.”

  “Sure, just hop to it.”

  The shutters
let in a hint of dusty light. Watching the six members of PS1 as they hunch over the stacks of mail, an assortment of pens and pencils scattered across the folding table, I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt at setting Jimmy up. He wanted out. And he got out.

  A smile crosses my face as I unbutton one more ivory disc on my crisp, white blouse. The tan cleavage goes from subtle femininity to holy-cow, what-do-we-have-here? I smooth out the nonexistent wrinkles in the seat of my tan Capris for the hundredth time. Fascinated with my ass today. A subtle tingle vibrates through my body, anticipation fueled by secrets. Meeting

  later.

  3. JIMMY

  Racing down the alley the stench of the garbage is overwhelming. I usually avoid any sort of enclosed area, especially where the decomposition is bad but there is no time. A hint of orange light floats down the dark side street as the sun sets fast across the buildings. In my jeans and leather jacket I blend into my surroundings. Smoke covered shells of former apartment buildings squat next to rusted husks of what used to be cars. When the gas started to run out most people realized they wanted heat over transportation. And with the acceleration of the drug dealing most people stayed inside.

  Pausing at the edge of the chipped brick complex I peek around the corner. Maybe they moved on. The Blisterheads must’ve found something more interesting to occupy their simple minds. It’s one thing to shave your head and spout racist white-power sentiments about anarchy and revolution. It’s another to pour gasoline over your head and set yourself on fire. Shaking my head and catching my breath I adjust the straps on my backpack as they dig into my shoulders. I’m sick of corned beef hash, but canned goods are canned goods. She’s waiting for me and I have to get back. The Magnum revolver is more than she needs but I always get uneasy when the sun goes down. I can’t confirm all of the rumors but I’ve seen enough weirdness that I can’t just dismiss the stories outright. The Blisterheads are real. Cranked up on meth and PCP their strength comes from the drugs, but the radioactivity and other strangeness paired with the hybrid pills and powders that are floating around have created some unimaginable freaks.

 
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