He's the one you can't stay away from, no matter how hard you try. Maybe he drives a motorcycle. Maybe he's a little too friendly with cheap bottles of liquor. Or maybe he likes to throw around words like "entitlement" and "pro-life" at presidential debates. This year's writing contest prompt, "He Was Bad News from the Start," let you run wild with 400-word tales of men gone bad. We had over 60 entries, so the world must be teeming with them!
From necrophiliacs to a bad boyfriend who causes the violent death of a bowtie-wearing opossum, the bad news guys came in all shapes and forms. They involved bath salts, car chases, chicken shacks, motorcycles (so many motorcycles and leather jackets!), horse thieves, tequila, cheese, purple disks, loony dogs, tattoo parlors, sex offenders, cheating hearts, sweaty chests, scabs, wandering eyes and drunk waiters.
We had too much fun reading these entries, followed by the difficult task of choosing only five winners from the bunch. The following stories were the ones that really stood out from the crowd, putting unique spins on the theme of bad news dudes. We've also included stories by three honorable mention winners: Jeff Connerton, Lynn Ellerbrock and James Soule. And as we do every year, we'll throw a party and reading for the winners, this year slated for Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 6pm at Copperfield's Books in Montgomery Village. It's free, it's open to the public, and we hope to see you there. Getting dropped off by a tattooed, Harley-riding guy in a black leatherjacket gets you bonus points!
Thanks to everyone who submitted. Now on to this year's winners! —Leilani Clark
Not My Type?
By Jennie F. Butler
He was bad news from the start. I should've noticed that right away. After all, smudged headlines engraved his forehead. Classifieds stuck to his scrawny arms like old-time flypaper. Bits of sports section showed through gaping holes in his shoes. And his grubby jeans were liberally patched with advertising logos ripped from worn-out T-shirts.
He was obviously a flash-in-the-pan, a once up-and-coming news hack, fallen so far down he couldn't afford a Sunday comics section for wrapping garbage, let alone papering the floor of a carrier pigeon's cage. I'd heard about down-and-outs like him, their outlooks so grim Breszny couldn't bear to do their astrological charts. So I should've kept right on walking after my first glimpse of him in that seamy, paper-littered alley.
But these days, it's getting harder and harder to find anything up-to-date in the print media. So I helped him to his feet, doing my best to ignore how strongly he reeked of cheap whiskey and recycled sweat. Dusting him off a bit, I snuck a peek at the printed tidbits on his clothes and body, and was shocked to find myself reading news so old that it at first seemed new. What, Brits taking another pot-shot at the Falklands, Bill Clinton up to his old tricks again, U.S. troops resurging into the Middle East?
It was no use pretending. He'd never be able to give me what I wanted, so I dropped him quick as a libelous tip from an anonymous source. And, with only the slightest of whispery sighs, he folded back into the alley like yesterday's paper.
As for me, I turned and walked away without a pang or even a backward glance. After all, hadn't I suspected he was bad news from the start?
Your Name, Followed by a Comma
By Suly Gomez
My mother never taught me how to properly love a man, but I've buried you so deep into my bones that I'm terrified by the thought of losing you.
I'm too scared to tell you that I didn't cry when my grandfather died (my hands only shook), and that sometimes I fantasize about throwing my coffee on random cars in the parking garage. I stay up at night taking myself apart, unraveling my skin to see my lungs expanding, and from underneath I pick up the boxes of cinder that hold all of my unholy thoughts, wondering if you'd still want me if you saw them. Your heart is lighter than mine; it doesn't weigh down your soul like a block of lead. You laugh easily, you give easily. A little too easily, maybe.
Deep-rooted abandonment issues make it too difficult for me to let you go in the mornings, so I ask you to hold me a little while longer, then make you coffee and an everything bagel. You stand in the kitchen pouring orange juice into a mug, and I press my ear against your naked back, naming the constellations of freckles on your skin. Let's have another cigarette, I whisper to you.
I don't think you mean to be cruel, but you end up breaking me apart whenever you forget to call. I see the way you look at other women, and I know you regret what happened in Napa, but my heart is hurting and your goodbyes sprinkle salt over your betrayal.
"He was bad news from the start," my mother's voice scolds, but I can't be sure if it's you she's talking about or—
I can only love you brokenly, but it's more than I can say for you. I don't think you love me at all. Please give me whatever you've found of your heart. I'll be patient. I'm sure we'll be able to find the rest of it.
What Janey Chose
By Mary Mathews
I could hear something dangerous in his deep voice as he asked "What do you look like?" over the phone.
"Normal height, normal hair, weight," I said. "Nothing to make me stand out in a crowd."
"We'll see about that," he purred before hanging up.
I'd chosen him from his picture. He was standing by his motorcycle wearing a leather jacket, tattoos of spiders on his neck, holding shears and staring brazenly at the camera.
"He looks murderous," my friends said, "deadly!"
"He's the one I want," I answered, staring deep into his glowering eyes, which seemed to stare back from the photograph.
I threw on my beige jacket and pulled my hair into a ponytail before heading off on my pokey little Schwinn bike to meet him. My heart was racing from the exertion of riding so fast, and sweat poured down my face. Since I never wore makeup, I didn't worry about how I'd look when I got there. I always looked the same anyway, brown or beige clothes, hair straight and lanky, a body that wasn't tall or short, thin or fat. I was a person without even one defining feature. I not only blended into a crowd, I disappeared completely. Former teachers never remembered my name, much less that I'd ever been in their class. I was an afterthought, not even capable of inspiring a memory, I reflected sadly, pedaling away. Well, all that was about to change.
I skidded my bike to a stop at the entrance of his shop and wiped the sweat from my brow, trying to still my beating heart.
"Ah, there you are," he said, stepping out from the shadows and smiling at me. "Right on time. Come right in."
Later, when I emerged with short, spiky, hot-pink hair, my nose pierced and wearing a used leather jacket in place of my beige one, I knew I had done the right thing. I didn't know the girl who had walked out of the "Coyote Cyclist Stylist" salon, and neither did any of my friends.
"Janey, is that you? Oh my God, what have you done?"
But I loved it, every spiky, pink strand; I was finally someone no one would forget. All my friends could say, shaking their heads, was "He was bad news from the start!"