City life is cluttered and high-density but anonymous. The characters in Only in the City are surrounded by strangers, anxious about making a connection with another person, physically crowded but emotionally isolated, even from themselves.
And so, when they find that connection–emotional, romantic, sexual–it’s explosive. Add a dose of the fantastic–sometimes even the supernatural–and you get the stories in this anthology: powerful and electric in the way of desperate connections, but also unique to their settings. Some of these cities are ancient and magical, others are gritty and futuristic, while still others are familiar to us in the here and now. Each city pulses with life, but it is that constant beat that wears down our protagonists. These characters have been hardened, cracked, and sometimes broken, and it’s often not until they’re presented with something they’ve never dreamed of that they realize what they’ve been missing.
In “As Far as I Can See,” a New Orleans man has discovered exactly how easy it is to slide into anonymity and loneliness in the city. He passes through his surroundings solitary and unseen, but what happens when he meets someone who is, literally, unseen? In “Camille/Leon,” a prostitute has a unique talent: she can shift genders at will. This has allowed her to make a terrific living, but it’s forced her to split herself in two. Can she ever realize the whole of herself in a society that tears people apart?
Drug cartels, sentient forests, dueling mages, and earthbound angels: each of these stories reaches for the fantastic, even as it stays grounded in the familiar feel of urban life.
All the protagonists of these stories have lost something of themselves in the erosion of city life, but each of them will find something unexpected or precious through the erotic connections they make, whether fleeting or forever, that could only happen in the city.
Excerpt from So Far As I Can See
By Eric Del Carlo
The blear of daylight drew me home. I had gin for blood this morning, and had started the transfusing late last night, very late, at three or four a.m. venturing, restless, unsleeping, unwilling to just lie and lie in bed. Why sleep, when the Quarter won’t, when the madcap drinking laws don’t close the bars, ever?
Thin light, not even sunup, but enough to spook away the muggers. Summer’s humidity was coming, starting earlier every year, readying to deep-fry bruised and brazen New Orleans yet again. For now, though, it was a pleasant warmth, an easy semi-heat, and staggering through it I reached the stone steps that climbed to my house’s front door. I’d hit more than one bar, engaged in murky talk with sidelong elbows and shoulders, saying nothing, hearing nothing, just boozy blather all around. Out there for what? Looking for meaning, for a coherent thought? Hoping to get my cock sucked in some dark corner?
I was forty-three. My hair was threaded with gray. My blood had a proof this morning. I was standing at the foot of my steps in the French Quarter’s predawn, and I felt aged and defeated.
My fingers curled over the wrought-iron railing. Equilibrium twirled. I lifted a foot, for that first stony step.
Felt obstruction. Heard a grunt. My foot hadn’t properly come down.
I felt furrows surfacing on my face. Drunken muddle, where the laws of physics start snapping off of reality one by one. But I was still upright, still possessed of motor skills; and so I could reason that something was truly amiss.
I backed off. The street was a watery silence all around, the furor of Bourbon blocks away. I strained my senses forward, listening, smelling, seeing only steps and risers, four stone stairs to my door. I drew my key from my pocket, wanting to get inside. But wanting also to understand why I thought I’d just stepped on someone.
Why I felt a person here, before me, a quivery animated presence, something vibrating unseen on the steps of my house. Too specific for a garbled fancy; and not enough gin in me–a lot, but not quite that sufficient quantity–to truly unbend my mind.
I’d heard a grunt, as of someone disturbed from sleep. Did I now hear…breathing?
Key dangling, ears straining. From empty windows across the street I looked like an idiot. Were I to go groping about these steps, a blind-man’s-bluff searching, I’d be just another early morning booze-zombie, overdrunk, fumbling for that familiar door that meant home. Pathetic.
Gingerly, but with a certain measured dignity and determination, I put my foot to the bottom step again. Felt stone. Felt reassuring ungrunting solidness. I shifted the foot right and left a bit. Nothing. No unexplained extra matter. Nobody.
I climbed to my door. The breathing I heard was the rustle of my clothing; the odor of livingness was just the general organic bouquet of the Quarter. I slotted my key, pushed open the door…
…and felt the brush of someone going ahead, into my home, the warmth of a being. A human? That question jolted me. I shook it away, a violent shuddering there on my threshold. Of course a human, I told myself, my brain already grappling, already insisting on adjustments, on reevaluations. The invisible intruder had to be a human being, I instructed myself. No further divergence from normalcy would be permitted. An invisible man? Very well. But it goddamned well was going to be a man.
No ghost for the flouncy-shirted tour guides to bark about one day, as they led gaggles of yokels through the narrow streets, weaving voodoo from the sultry air, selling the cheapest of thrills, the stimulation of the gullible imagination.
Still I stood in my open doorway. Retreat? Go elsewhere? A person, okay, an unseen person in my home; but I couldn’t make a guess as to disposition–hostile, benign? Not even my resetting mind could provide an answer to that one.
But this was my house, goddammit. I was tired, inebriated; I wanted to be indoors, my indoors. I stepped across the threshold and pushed the door shut. I reached behind, clicked the lock. Home.
My heart was beating hard, not just with alcohol stress–and not entirely from fear either, I found. The steady thump on my eardrums owed something to the excitement of this. This wasn’t usual. This wasn’t every other arrival home. Gazing around the entry hall, I saw walls and carpeting and light fixtures and furnishings with acute attention to detail. Everything appeared overbright, as if irradiated. Fear did tickle in my gut, but I felt more than that. I was interested. I was engaged.
I was searching the foyer for some sign of my intruder. Having one’s house broken into was a frightening experience, especially if you were on the premises at the time. That my burglar had no visual reality didn’t detract from that, did it? Then again, I knew intention no better than disposition. Here to plunder, or here to…what?
I watched for footprints appearing of their own on the carpet, for objects disturbed by no perceivable force. I tried to use a mental radar. That feeling someone was watching–that was practically a classifiable phenomenon, wasn’t it? If so, it failed me just now.
A floorboard creaked, pure haunted house thrill, and I jumped; then recognized that it had come from the adjacent living room. I stepped into the doorway, thinking I should keep it blocked. But one could go into the kitchen from the living room as well. How could I trap this interloper? And did I want to? When a wasp is buzzing around inside one’s home, you open a window and shoo it out.
I listened above the thumping of my heart. My senses focused. I felt the alcohol burning away.
“Who’s here?” I asked, pleased with the steadiness of my voice, the simplicity and relevance of my query.
And I heard…a sniff. A snigger maybe. But breath from a body, definitely, from somebody. Somebody in the room who wasn’t a part of optical corporeality.
A magazine flapped up off the couch. It tumbled toward me through the air, pages riffling. I ducked aside as though a bloodthirsty eagle had swooped at me. The magazine struck the floor behind me, just as I heard the grunt of a laugh, as of someone mildly amused by an overused joke. The laugh had a masculine timbre to it.
I spun back toward the couch, looking for the edges, seeking a discrepancy against the light bleeding through my shutters. I’d had a lover once who liked to point out CGI flaws and telltales in movies. It was a habit that helped wear out his welcome fairly quick. But I saw no giveaways, none, just blank air.
“What’s your name?” I liked this question too. It demonstrated that I wasn’t panicking, that I understood it was a person here in this room with me.
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Some of these cities are ancient and magical, others are gritty and futuristic, while still others are familiar to us in the here and now.These characters have been hardened, cracked, and sometimes broken, and it's often not until they're presented with something they've never dreamed of that they realize what they've been missing.
Stories by Eric Del Carlo, Elizabeth Coldwell, Shanna Germain, Renatto Garcia, Elizabeth Hyder, and Kaysee Renee Robichaud.