Habu’s Grab Bag 7, representing standalone short stories habu wrote in the winter of 2014–15, is the latest in a series of short story anthologies with eclectic gay male settings and plotlines presented in the order in which they were delivered to habu by his muse, within the period since the previous Grab Bag collection was assembled. In addition to random stories streaming down from habu’s muse, this collection includes stories written for themed and seasonal contests. Variety and setting are always important in habu’s stories, and, as usual, the settings of these stories span the globe, from such settings as the Carolina coasts; Mystic, Connecticut; the Mid-Atlantic states; Ohio; the Colorado Rockies; and Albuquerque in the United States to the United Kingdom, Australia, and China. The time periods also vary. Although most of these stories are set in the present, one moves to cowboy country in the early 1900s and others take the reader to Broadway in the 1960s and Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the 1970s. And, as always, there are unusual stories that take fresh approaches to men taking their pleasure with other men.
The overarching motivation for a habu story is that it try to be different in some way from ones he has written before, a tall order for a writer who has some 800 short stories published, but a goal we think has been achieved here. As with the previous Grab Bag series, we hope that readers will find stories to entertain, arouse, and evoke thought in this collection.
The collection kicks off with “The Invisible Missing” set at Halloween time, with young migrant workers going missing from a North Carolina gay-employee-friendly produce farm. “Snowbound” moves the action out to the Colorado Rockies in the early 1900s, where one bottom and two randy tops are trapped up in the mountains together in the snow. “Make Me a Star,” set in New York City in the 1960s and an excerpt from habu’s novella Danny’s Choice, provides a cynical look at the price paid for a place on the Broadway stage. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” moves on to the mid 1970s, where a young man on the make in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is served up at a snowbound Christmas Eve party for three. The theme of “party from hell and heaven” continues with “The Blind Date.”
“Rain Check,” set in any U.S. southern beach town in the present shows that hookups are even possible in the paint section of a hardware store. “Blue Dragon” moves the action to the Midwest, to a small, dying town in Ohio, where a café waiter dreams of adventure—and finds it. Turning from gay BDSM to romance, “Simpatico” tells of a perfect lover’s loving Valentine’s Day present. In “Noah Flip Flop,” an excerpt from habu’s novella Tramp Steaming, an American college student on winter break wraps up a South Sea adventure by hooking up with an Australian street musician in Sydney. A young Smithsonian Museum curator in Washington, D.C., uses an online threesome dating service in “Three on a Date” to find something more than vanilla sex—and certainly finds it.
A young guy down on his luck is picked up off the streets of Albuquerque by a man with a secret in “Sarge.” The American protagonist of “Unexpected Inheritance” discovers that what he had thought were fantasy UK pen pals in a threesome turn out to be a real couple who believe he actually had done what he’d only written as a fantasy. The experience of being initiated in China, bound by red silk, leads to Chad’s building of a South Carolina porn empire in “Shanghai Silk.” In “Confessions,” a young Englishman acquires a farm, a new wife, and a baby that’s not his in an unsuccessful bid to escape his past. The collection ends with a romance in which a young man returning to Mystic, Connecticut, for the funeral of his mother learns that you can, in fact, go home and again take up what you once enjoyed.
From “Blue Dragon”
This was what kept the Coffee Palace open—this last hour and a half of business—when nervous young male college students came in to hook up with a middle-aged local who would as likely shoot you dead for even hinting they were interested in young men. But I knew who they were. Men like the senior Realtor and owner of Slocum Reality down the block, Jim Slocum, that leading citizen and head of household for a bouncy blonde wife, three tow-headed teenagers, two dogs, and a cat.
College students from nearby Springfield weren’t the only ones who sometimes left the Coffee Palace at 5:30 with these upstanding town fathers. Sometimes, when I was desperate for attention, it was me.
No one I’d ever hooked up with from Clarksburg was anything like that week I’d gloried through in Key West the previous summer, though. A quickie blow job on the sly or a lap fuck in the backseat of a car or one bent over the hood of a car in a deserted, shadowed park lot. That was it here. Everything on the sly and quick and furtive. Vanilla at its blandest.
What that left me with was wanting some of what I’d experienced in Key West—not knowing anything about any of that before; not experiencing any of it since. Wanting to get out of this nowhere town. To somewhere more exciting. Could I live full time in Key West? It scared me to think of doing that, though, a small-town hick like me. I had the looks, I thought. But the style? No way.
And I was frightened to even think of getting the sex that had turned me on the most.
At the both mysterious and predictable café clearing at 2:30, I walked to the front window and looked out. Nada. People didn’t just clear out of the Coffee Palace. They’d cleared out of the center of the dying village. I went out onto the sidewalk and looked up and down the road. A few cars were parked at the curb. There had to be people around somewhere. Just not anywhere I could see.
I lifted my head and arms and gave a howl. Nada. No one came to the windows of the few stores open to see what was happening over at the Coffee Palace. No one came out onto the street.
I went back inside and behind the counter. Jewel wasn’t here, of course. This was his “quality” time with Phil. I don’t know what they did at home at night, but they certainly did it here, in the kitchen during the mystical hour and a half downtime in the afternoon. I guess it gave them a little thrill to do it here, where there was a chance a customer might walk in and want more than coffee and somehow would get as far as the door into the kitchen and see what was happening back there. . . .
Jewel just didn’t know. He hadn’t experienced anything better. Better that he not, I thought. Key West had ruined me for real life in the Midwest.
With a sigh, followed by another “just to be sure” look beyond the front window to the deserted street, I pulled my stash of Drummer magazines—the gay male BDSM mag from the seventies through the nineties—out of my personal drawer under the counter and started scanning through a well-thumbed Drummer issue.
Some of this, yes, in Key West. But only the mildest elements of it. Still, even the thought of what little of it there was was stirring me. I felt myself harden as I thumbed through the magazines and looked at the photos and illustrations and read the captions.
My long sigh segued into a rumbling sound from beyond the café window, a sound that grew louder until, there, appearing on the street just outside the window, as if he were one of the models from Drummer, was a black-clad figure on a muscled-up Harley-Davidson. I looked down at the magazine and blinked my eyes and looked back up, through the window. It was like the man was walking off the page of Drummer as he swung his black-booted leg over the saddle of the cycle, lifted the monster machine on a kick stand, and turned and looked at me through the window of the café.