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!”
Good Little Boy
By Tomas Moniz
It’s simpler than you might think convincing me to meet you in a dark corner, your saliva hot and salty in my mouth, public and rushed affections, and though I fawn and feign indifference, I am giddy to give it all to you, because I know now flirtation and desire do not equal possession; I am trying to let go, to not hold on despite my male history, in which good little boys like me were taught that conquest without spoils is hollow, veracity is always in evidence, so I learned to hone lines that picked up where you left off, if you smiled, I laughed, if you touched my arm, I nuzzled your neck, always pushing boundaries like some interpersonal manifest destiny that makes boys see others as competitors or conquests; and I believed clichés were signs of male prowess, gossiped whispers of “he was bad news from the start” like dirty words shared between lovers: badnewsbadnewsbadnews until the bravado felt hollow in my mouth, seemed cold like a trophy case, and what had I won, I wondered, so I surrendered, realizing clichés depend on simplicity and I am multiple, contradictions rough and jagged like desire, which brings me back to tonight, tonight I switch, bottoming my top, smiling at you, essaying body positions to tantalize, I watch you saunter over, you say, “Meet me in the hallway after you finish your beer” and I say “I’m a slow sipper” and you say “I’m not” and pick up my glass, chug chug chug it down, suds trailing out of your mouth and down your neck like an inverted V, and I am yours right then, that moment, to do with as you please, and I’ll listen like the good little boy I was taught to be.
By Karina von Karolyi
We were at the butterfly park when you got arrested. I was suffering from a particularly bad case of the East Coast winter blues and couldn’t think of a better place to be than a tropical secret garden, so I packed the car and a diaper bag and took C. to the park. I thought we had gotten away, but the snow kept falling outside, and while I was watching those rare, practically weightless creatures fly freely around their created environment without a care in the world, police were watching you, tearing apart your possessions, destroying the environment you had created for us.
I wanted them to take me instead. I wanted to sneak into that holding cell and bend the bars, steal you back the way they had stolen you from me.
“We have a life to live,” I wanted to tell them.
“We need to raise this little girl together and get married and move to South America and . . .”
They didn’t care.
When you got out of jail five years later, C. was almost a real person, forming her own thoughts and holding opinions on matters I didn’t even understand. She looks just like you. Her eyes could tell your entire story in one glance, just like yours.
If you hadn’t been taken from us, she would be ours and she would talk just like you. But you made your choices, before we ever met, and even though I love you enough to stay, to wait for you to get out of jail, and believe you when you tell me that you’re out of the business now, I love her more. More than you, and more than myself.
Sometimes you fall in love and live happily ever after. Sometimes it turns out the man you fell in love with is a drug dealer or abusive or just plain apeshit nuts. Sometimes you know that a man is an abusive drug dealer, and you fall in love with him anyway. I knew he was bad news from the start. But he had his moments. Sometimes he did and said just the right thing. Sometimes he was the right person. But you can’t live with sometimes. Sometimes doesn’t keep you safe.
Hoping for the Best
By Jeff Connerton
I knew he was bad news from the start. Perched in the corner booth at the back of the diner, he waited, tracking my every move with hungry eyes as I replenished a water glass and fetched a spoon for other patrons, all minor delays in my inevitable arrival at his table.
He was my last customer of the day. It had been a long shift, my feet were killing me, and my mind was set on a pint of Häagen-Dazs and a black-and-white classic from the late ’30s. I closed my eyes and prayed: “Please, please make this short and sweet.” When I opened my peepers, I was five feet away, and that’s when I saw it, a sign from heaven that things might go my way. He was wearing the perfect tie.
It was everything a tie lover could want. Silk but not shiny; burnt orange with streaks of violet, flecks of forest green and a hint of mustard yellow here and there; a beautifully shaped knot, somewhere between the tight, little units that could choke a horse and the broad, flat numbers resembling an extra tongue below the chin; and a length-and-width ratio of ideal proportions.
My heart skipped a beat. Surely a person with that tie would know what to do: place his order without fanfare or substitutions, punctuate the exchange with a brief smile and gracefully retreat to his newspaper to await his meal. My hopes were dashed the second he opened his mouth.
“I’d like a rubber band sandwich, and make it snappy,” he said.
His eyes glowed like an eight-year-old with the highest of expectations on Christmas morning, hoping for a wide grin from the perky waitress. I did my best, but he saw through my disguise and immediately regrouped.
“I’ll have the cheeseburger with yellow cheddar, not white. If there’s no yellow, I’ll have Swiss. Can I have a small salad instead of fries? My doctor is after me about cholesterol. And water with lemon, no ice. Oh wait, what’s on tap? I’ll take anything dark, as long as it’s not too hoppy. No yellow cheddar or Swiss? OK, I’ll have fish and chips and salad, but skip the beer—it’s either chips or beer, and what’s fish without chips? So we’re back to water. Better yet, I’ll have iced tea with lemon.”
“Ah, where’s the bathroom?”
By Lynn Ellerbrock
“You sold it for wha!?” she exclaimed, a cold feeling settling in her stomach like a sinking stone.
“But you see . . .”
Her glare cut him off. “Jaa-ack.” It came out in two long drawn-out syllables.
“Really. I am sick of the buts! There’s always a but, and yet it always comes down to the same thing. How are we going to feed our family? You could do this kind of stuff when you were young, single, didn’t have a wife and kids, but now . . . Really, Jack!”
Then she shut her eyes, took a breath and stopped. She was thinking, “My mother was right. He was bad news from the start,” but there was no need going down that path again. What would that solve? It would just create yet another argument, always over the same thing. She had known of his past when she married him, when she had her first child with him, when she had her second.
As if on cue, the baby started crying. This time it was a relief, to both Jack and herself. The conversation was over before she could beat that dead horse yet again.
“Hush, little baby,” she cooed as she reached down and lifted her nine-month-old out of the crib. Jiggling her slightly on her hip, she walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Empty shelves stared back at her.
“What are we going to do, honey?” She asked her baby. Her husband. The fridge. The world.
With a big sigh, she cradled her baby close. Then she sat down and laid her weary head against the hard wooden table.
By James Soule
He was bad news from the start. He moved with a lazy, easy insouciance that came from too much confidence early in life validated by those he bullied, and later by those that loved and idolized him for his reckless ways, and everywhere he went, he left his mark. He purported to love animals of all kinds, but more often than not, he was left scarred and sometimes bloodied by their extreme reactions to his wild-eyed, in-your-face inquisitive pawing. Women, especially, were drawn to him in spite of this.
His hair, more like a rug on a good day, often smelled of beer and cigarettes, and on a bad day, reeked of trouble and urine. His thirst was legendary in bars; even total strangers picked up on this and would watch him drink out of the corner of their eyes, as he was not a presence you wished to turn your back on. He moved about the bar, getting involved with those who tried their best to avoid him, but he was unavoidable, a walking train wreck, always out of breath, drool about his lips and a wandering eye that kept you wondering.
He was my best friend, our bar mascot and one of the finest dogs I have ever known. His breed, bulldog, kept his legs in a permanent bowed position, but he walked as if he owned the place, and he did. He died in the middle of our bar one night, and it surprised no one that the main target of his torment, an equally ancient tabby cat, laid down between his front legs, daring anyone to get close enough so she could spit and take a swipe.
Many years before, he carried her through the delivery door one night while out on one of his excursions. She had been hit by a car, and he must have thought we could help her, though at first we thought she was dead. He cradled her like a prize that first night and ate half the food we brought her and licked the top of her head from time to time. She awoke around noon the next day, raked his jaw as a thank you and walked off half-blind. They were best friends for more than decade.