Authors: Marc Laidlaw
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Anthologies & Short Stories, #Cyberpunk, #Anthologies, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Literature & Fiction, #Horror
400 Boys and 50 More
Short Stories by Marc Laidlaw
“Write like yourself, only more so
This ebook edition published in 2016 by Marc Laidlaw
Copyright © 2016 by Marc Laidlaw
All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the author at marclaidlaw.com.
This ebook is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws, which provide severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material. Please do not make illegal copies of this book. If you obtained this book without purchasing it from an authorized retailer, please go and purchase it from a legitimate source now and delete this copy. Understand that if you obtained this book from a fileshare, it was copied illegally, and if you purchased it from an online auction site, you bought it from a crook who cheated you and the author.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover design © 2016 by Nicolas Huck (
Cover photocollage created by Marc Laidlaw based on a photograph by Marc Laidlaw.
For My Parents
INTRODUCTION: 400 + 50 = 51
This collection contains 51 stories, well over a quarter of a million words, written over approximately 40 years, and assembled by the author, which is to say me, a fan of commas, and also afterthoughts. Most have been previously published, but apart from the occasional appearance in an anthology, they have never been collected in whole or even in part. Recently I made them all freely available at my website,
, rescuing numerous texts from paper and various obsolete electronic media; therefore it should be considered that this ebook exists mainly for the convenience of those who don’t particularly enjoy reading from a website and prefer the traditional, old-fashioned electronic book experience just the way Nikola Gutenberg intended it.
The decision to choose 50 additional tales to accompany the titular “400 Boys” is largely but not entirely based on my desire to have another zero in the title. Who doesn’t love more zeroes? I could have (and probably should have) included fewer stories; and with a bit more wincing I could have added several more. At the moment I’m on the verge of talking myself into
400 Boys and 40 More
, a far more felicitous arrangement of numerals; or maybe I’ll settle in for another viewing of
The 400 Blows
(a title a much younger me once suspected a much older Truffaut had stolen from him). But no! My resolve is firm. 50—I mean 51—it is!
For now anyway.
Since this is an ebook, and essentially software, I intend, laziness permitting, to continue patching the collection, adding more recent stories without altering the title (though I will append a changelist). I suppose it’s possible that someday the title may have to be changed to “
” and then “
”; and in some distant future, provided I remain productive into a rich immortality, “
But for now I’m sticking with 50. Which is to say, 51. I already have some ideas about 52 and 53.
Since my goal was to collect
of my stories in one place, and to exert thereafter very little editorial judgment, I decided to group them more or less in the order they were written and/or published. I have no particular thesis or argument to advance that would be strengthened by presenting them in any other sequence. The weakness of this approach is that the early stories are naturally weaker than the later ones. I have made no attempt to hide this structural defect. I trust that by arranging them by decade, I’ve provided a hint to the reader of what they are likely to find when they wade in at any particular point of their own choosing.
I include here no collaborations, since those have mostly been available in the collected works of my partners. I include no tales of Gorlen Vizenfirthe, the gargoyle-handed bard, since I intend to collect those separately as
The Gargoyle’s Handbook
(“Hello, publishers! All serious offers entertained!). Nor will you find any stories I can’t bear to reread. While I had initially planned to present a “Compleat Laidlaw,” ultimately I could not bring myself to exhume a handful of lackluster stories which well deserve their current obscurity. A few I am not especially fond of were spared excision on account of kind words spoken in their defense by others over the past few decades, but no one has ever stepped forward in favor of “Buzzy Gone Blue” or others nearly as embarrassing. There is one very recent story, “Roguelike,” which I had intended to include; but it depends on typographic gimmickry, and given my limited self-publishing skills, I could not ensure it would hold up on various devices.
While providing a bit of context for each decade, I have mainly refrained from commenting on the individual stories. On my website, where these stories also appear, I have been adding occasional notes as anecdotes occur to me. You might look there for further illumination.
May you find here whatever it is you expect of me. If your minimum expectation is a quarter of a million words, most of them legible, prepare to have your expectations exceeded!
THE SEVENTIES: FAIL EARLY
What is there to say about the early years of any career, especially when they coincide with grade school, junior high, and high school?
For some reason, I thought of myself as a writer almost as soon as I was aware of myself at all. Some of my earliest memories are of writing and illustrating (mostly horrendous) stories. My Dad sent my brother and me off to sleep with “The Telltale Heart,” my mother with encounters at the Moria Gate. The stories gave me nightmares. The nightmares gave me stories. I wrote quite a few about guests checking into Room 13 and being scared to death by nightly visitations from a bloody, glowing dagger which I had completely plagiarized from Rockwell Kent’s drawing of
in my parents’ copy of
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
. That illustration is still my favorite of Shakespeare’s works.
When, in 1970, I turned 10, my grandfather gave me a refurbished Underwood typewriter, heavy as a bank vault, and I set out in earnest to pursue my professional career, armed with all the advice
could offer, and also a briefcase full of paperclips. Through the remaining years of elementary school, on into junior high and high school, I churned out story after story, and visited them on various hapless editors listed in
, including a bemused editor for
The Elks Magazine
. Yes, if your name was anywhere near the masthead of an obscure club journal, you were in danger of receiving one of my beautifully typed onionskin manuscripts containing shallow yet belabored tales of catastrophic futures, rocketship countdowns, and blob monsters. I read somewhere that the average writer collects about 70 rejections before making a sale. My records, which I kept assiduously at that time, reflect I was perfectly average.
Toward the end of high school, I began placing stories in fanzines which paid in contributor copies (no one had yet learned to call this “exposure”). I encountered many other young writers in similar straits, and at similar points in their careers; among them I now number some of my oldest friends. As I headed off to college, this career thing finally began to click, and I made my first actual sales involving cash money—and might I add, it went a lot farther then! Two paragraphs in
Amazing Astronautical Adventures
paid six month’s rent on a luxurious bachelor pad, with plenty left over for champagne, or so I was told. I bitterly regretted that school posed such an interruption to my imminent success, as I felt myself perfectly poised to be a wealthy and famous bachelor. Bestsellerdom was just around the corner, as certain as anything had ever been.
And then, just like that, the Seventies ended!
Out of a hundred execrable efforts, including several novels long since reduced to ash, I include here three pieces from the very end of this innocent age.
SPAWN OF THE RUINS
I was disturbed from my leisurely pursuit of Leandro’s
The Abstractions and Essence of Kaufer’s “Basaltic Culture” As Related to Quantum Mathematics
, by the irritating jangle of my telephone. Setting that exquisitely rare and absorbing tome aside, I reached for the phone with one hand, while relighting my pipe with the other—not an easy thing to do, I assure you, as I have very often severely singed my moustache and caused the skin of my face great pain in so doing.
I was not at all displeased to discover that the caller was one Miss Avander, a charming young lady who dwelled alone—and vulnerably, I might add—in a small house a short distance down the avenue from my own. I was somewhat more than acquainted with Miss Avander, as in the past we had spent the long evenings in fascinating and intellectually stimulating conversations, and as these visits had been conducted in both of our homes, I was well familiar with her location.
“Ah, Miss Avander,” I enthused, letting the warmth I felt blend with the fine natural resonance of my voice, “it is indeed enchanting to hear your lovely voice—for indeed it remains lovely even through this awful electrical convenience: the telephone!”
“You are too kind, Mr. Leandro, to a poor, lonely maid such as myself,” Miss Avander argued. “Why, how lucky I am to have one such as yourself for a neighbor.”
“Indeed. And how lucky am I!”
“But, Mr. Leandro, I call to beg from you a favor.”
“Ah, and what might this favor be, madame?”
“Oh, in truth it is no more than an overloaded fuse. The poor thing was simply not strong enough to bear the energy being used by my many electrical appliances; so it burnt out, and I have been plunged into the utter eternal darkness of this place.”
“Miss Avander, you have a delightful way with words.”
“Yes, as you yourself have on occasion noted. But what of the tragically burnt-out fuse? Have you a spare?”
“Indeed yes, I believe I have, Miss Avander—and I shall be entirely delighted to deliver it—in person—to your very door.”
“You are a kind soul, Mr. Leandro.”
“Thank you, Miss Avander. I think I shall now pursue that half-fabled box of fuses which I know lurks somewhere within my house—most probably within a kitchen drawer! Now I shall bid you adieu—”
“But to appear soon at my door, of course!”
“Adieu, then, Monsieur Leandro.”
“Madame,” I firmly but gently reprimanded, “I am not a Frenchman.”
* * *
When I had finally uncovered the rumored fuses—buried beneath a clutter of unused tacks and rubber bands—I packed them safely into my pocket, where they thumped reassuringly in that reassuring way in which fuses thump. As I was merely out for a short jaunt through the darkness of the Ruins, I did not tidy myself up in any great manner. But as I expected to be later entertained by Miss Avander—at the completion of my task, of course—I did give my hair a swift combing-through, and apply a bit of my best cologne to certain strategically-located areas of my enviable physique.
Though I had heard rumors that it was the Time of Spawning in the Ruins again, I did not bother to arm myself with anything other than a letter-opener—the same which had been given to me by Miss Avander only a few months before. Though there were possible dangers of being confronted in the Ruins by maniacal, rogue Zhodes or Lymmpospophae in their mating frenzies, it is generally considered against gentlemanly principles (and one must always concern one’s self with principles!) to venture even into dangerous areas armed with anything other than a sharp object which had been the gift of a lady. Pistols at night cannot even be discussed under such circumstances!
Flashlights, too, I find ungentlemanly—so instead I placed a lit candle into an ornate metal holder, and used this as my guiding light. The Ruins, which lie at the utmost bottom of the Subterranean Chasms, have probably never experienced a draught of any natural kind in all their uncounted aeons of existence, and so I feared not that the candle might be extinguished by a gust of wind while I ventured to Miss Avander’s house.
And, so equipped, I stepped out into the fathomless dark, and traced my way down the avenue.
My house was built precisely at the edge of the Ruins, but Miss Avander’s place of residence had been erected in the midst of the Ruins themselves. Thus I set along that antique avenue—through the unimaginable blacknesses of this subterranean world—with but a single candle to light my way. I wondered if I would go mad should my candle blow out, as so many others had done in these depths—and to my dismay I then discovered that I had neglected to bring a single match with me. However, I resolved not to let this hinder me, and I continued without a thought to my personal safety—knowing that Miss Avander sat patiently awaiting me within the Ruins, her home plunged momentarily into darkness. How brave she had sounded on the phone. Certainly I could strive to be half as brave as to walk a short distance without a spare match!