Ninth in the series of eclectic collections of gay male short stories by habu, the fifteen stories of Grab Bag 9 offer up a wide-ranging cornucopia of lush gay fiction from the romantic to the rough. The stories all were written in the second half of 2015 and are run in the order in which they were dropped by habu’s Muse, most often in the morning in that half-awake period as he was contemplating facing a new day.

The stories in this collection range from the historical to the contemporary and from the introspective (e.g., “What Friends Do” and “The Oldest Ball ‘Kid’”) to the tongue in cheek (“I’m So Sexy”). In setting they range from the greater world (e.g., “Widows of the Prince” and “Not in Kenya”) to specific locales in the United States, where the setting is almost a major character of the piece (e.g., “Halfway” and “Summer’s End at Spirit Lake”). They include pieces written for erotica contests (“Naked, Not Nude,” “Ever Rest at Evernew,” and “Summer’s End at Spirit Lake”) and short stories written on request for readers (“Thirty-year Anniversary” and “Hanging Off the Appalachian Trail”). And, as always, there is the stray police detective or spy story (“Inevitable Case”).

Grab Bag 9
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From the Short Story “Summer’s End at Spirit Lake”

I walked through the open French doors at the water side of the living room and down to the dock. I stumbled onto the pier and to the water end of it, plopping down in one of the scruffy-white wooden Adirondack chairs pointed at the lake. I looked over to the other one, half expecting to see David sitting there. But of course he wasn’t. He had been, though, last summer, on the next-to-last Saturday night of the summer season on the lake, coming out to where I was sitting in one of the chairs, smoking a cigarette, and seeking a muffling of LeRoy Brown back in the house, pounding away on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”

“You need to give up those smokes if you’re going to take the state swimming crown,” he said, as he reached me at the end of the dock and settled in the other chair. He was a magnificent specimen of a man just out of college. Dark complexioned, in a half-surly, bad boy look that was transformed the moment he gave you a smile. His hair was dark too, and he never seemed to be able to shave close, but on him it looked good. The women at college opened their legs instantly for a man who looked this good. He was shirtless, having stripped his off while walking to the dock. It was a hot night. I’d taken my shirt off too. I felt young and immature, not yet fully developed, in contrast to him. His was a mature man’s body; my body was still working at it. I was a swimmer, blond and smooth chested, the chest muscled well enough, but not deeply—just enough development to serve the needs of a sleek line knifing through the water. He was hirsute, deeply tanned, broad- and deep-chested, already a muscular man. A god to those of us in the Buckland Wild Ones—to the whole community of youths on the western shore of the lake.

Any woman cavorting back there in the house would go with him in a flash. I think that’s why he usually kept Maggie Campbell close—to ward off women throwing themselves at him. She had been safe, malleable, and uncomplaining since high school. Maggie wasn’t with him now. He hadn’t brought Maggie down to the dock with him. My body tensed up. It was always dangerous when he dropped Maggie before searching me out.

I was well aware that he wanted something from me—without Maggie being around—and that he almost desperately wanted to be the first one to take it from me. We both knew I would give it to some man someday. We both knew that he wanted that someday to be tonight—and from him.

I pointed to the large crystal tennis trophy he’d brought out—his prize for winning the state title early in the summer. He wasn’t carrying it around so much to brag as because of how much beer it would hold. It was at least half full now.

“You’re ragging on me about fags . . . and training for sports,” I said, “and yet you’re walking around with a gallon of beer sloshing in that trophy?”

I had stopped after speaking the word “fags” and looked away, as he had done. I regretted the use of the word. There had been moments throughout the previous year at college, where we had reached a point where I knew what he wanted—what he wanted to ask of me, demand of me, take from me—but when I couldn’t bring myself to give him the answer he wanted. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to give him that answer. It was because I was scared. It would change everything, completely reorder my life. Still, I knew that someday I would cross through that one-way beaded curtain. In the summer of 1955 that wasn’t something you decided to take on lightly—if at all—though. You were expected to hide it—to not have such thoughts and desires at all.

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