Twisted short stories from a town called Seward, a place where young men take dating advice from their dead mothers, parents fight to evict their offspring, and senior citizens become terrorists. In these darkly comic stories, a drunk’s life is saved by his own alcoholism, a man takes fatherly advice from his daughter’s suitor, a seasoned lawyer valiantly fights to free his daughter using nothing but his own incompetence, and a ménage a trois goes from nauseating, to murderous, to, well, kind of rewarding after all.

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Excerpt from the first story from Seward's Fall:

‘Twa: a Ménage of Fools

Copyright Darren Gordon Smith

I.

“Aaron?” The woman had a cheerful but insistent tone. He waited for her to continue, to get on to whatever merchandise or God she was selling. Despite his “Solicitors and Jehovah’s Witnesses Do Not Ring” sign, salespeople were always at the door.

“Aaron Jenkins, right?”

“Yep. Do I know you?” He brought his Teachers Do It with Class mug to lips and gulped scalding hot coffee, wincing as it went down. He hoped the caffeine would kick in soon. It wasn’t that early in the morning, but it was Saturday, his day to sleep in and relax, and he wasn’t fully awake yet. He didn’t want to be rude, but Aaron was in no mood for a sales pitch.

“You probably don’t remember me – I’m Tanya. But back in New York I went by Alys? That’s Alys with a Y.”

Aaron vaguely remembered, somewhere in the recesses of his memory, that someone had once used that “Alys with a Y” line but he couldn’t remember who.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron said, “I don’t recall–“

“You remember Denise McIntyre, don’t you? From N.Y.U.?” Of course he did. In his last semester of college he had dated her. They had little in common but Denise was hot and sexually uninhibited. And could that gal drink! He recalled wistfully how she’d always be hammered when he, well, hammered her. In fact, they’d both be wasted. After he graduated and moved back to Hamlin, they’d lost contact. He hadn’t thought about her in years.

A hot breeze blew past them. Tanya aka Alys re-adjusted the bangs on her bob cut. Her hair was jet back and shiny. She donned a 1920’s do that was in style in the East Village when Aaron was going to school. He’d since seen that look come and go at least a half dozen times.

“You probably don’t recognize me,” she laughed. “I had wavy red hair back then.” Aaron took another boiling swig from his mug, coughed and sputtered, and then thought for a moment. Maybe she did look familiar. She was tall, about his age – in her mid-thirties, and she was pretty, albeit in a hardened way. Her flapper hairdo seemed incongruous with her miniskirt and tight tank top, though he couldn’t blame her for wearing something cool for an already sweltering summer morning. Nor could he blame her for showing off her sexy figure.

“Do you remember that night?” she asked. “You and Denise were at The Kettle of Fish and I came by and we were all doing shots and, you know, we went back to your place and had a three-way?“

Of course he remembered. Well, kind of. Though he’d been drunker than at probably any time in his life, he did remember certain bits and pieces of that night. Unlike most of his guy friends, having sex with two women hadn’t been high on his Bucket List. But, after more than a few shots of Stoli’s, followed by a dozen pints of Newcastle, he wasn’t about to turn a threesome down when it was offered. And it was. But once he got into bed with the two ladies, he started to get the spins. And during his sloppy intercourse with each of them, all he could focus on was how his bladder was about to burst from all the beer, and how he felt like throwing up from every last ounce of vodka. Then he had a hard time climaxing before finally passing out. So the whole experience wasn’t all that great. On the other hand, despite his complete stupidity in having sloppy unprotected sex, he considered himself lucky that he hadn’t picked up an S.T.D. or two from Denise and whoever the other woman was.

“Yeah, I sort of remember that night,” said Aaron.

“I sorta do too,” she laughed. “So what’s up?”

“What’s up? Well, life’s good,” Aaron said. He hoped his summation was enough to avoid recounting the details of all those years since college. Anyway, aside from the recent challenges with Lauren trying pregnant, for Aaron it was largely true: life was good.

Tanya’s face grew serious. “Listen, I need your help. It’s about Denise. Can I come in?”

He was just about to tell her that he hadn’t seen or heard from Denise since senior year, when, out of nowhere came two kids: a boy and girl. Aaron stepped out on his stoop and looked around – where did they come from? The kids must’ve been standing by the neighbor’s garage or something, but it was freaky how they just appeared. They looked like twins and had to be about the same age as his wife’s middle school students.

“Oh, hey guys!” Tanya put her arm around the two. “I’m sorry, Aaron, but my son really needs to use your bathroom and my daughter could use a drink of water.”

Aaron was one of those teachers, the ones we hear about in election years, who actually liked kids, so he felt sympathetic. But, he knew that if the boy really needed to pee he would’ve done it in the neighbor’s Bougainville’s, so he must need to do Number Two, and Aaron wasn’t crazy about some strange kid taking a dump in his bathroom.

“Um, sure, come on in,” said Aaron, “But we only have a few minutes. My wife Lauren will be home very soon, and she’ll, well, she’ll need to get to sleep.” In truth, Lauren rarely napped, even when she was exhausted from teaching her adult E.S.L. class on Saturday mornings, but it was the best excuse he could come up with to get them out of there. Aaron hurried the woman and the kids inside the house, while looking around to see if the neighbors had been watching. It’s not as if what Aaron had done with the two women years ago was a crime or anything (unless you consider getting too wasted to enjoy a three-way a crime), but he was a high school teacher, and these days you had to avoid even a hint of any kind of impropriety. The fact that Tanya aka Alys with a Y was already discussing their sex life on the front porch made him suspect that this woman had a big mouth.

He showed the boy to the bathroom. Then he escorted the girl to the kitchen, where he invited her to choose between any number of beverages, except for the beer and Lauren’s fertility booster drinks.

Aaron looked around for Tanya and found her in the den, reclining in his LaZee-Boy. He took a seat on a chair next to the sofa. Tanya seemed to be hypnotized by one of his Op Art Mobius Strip drink coasters.

The girl came in from the kitchen, bearing her choice of beverage – tap water - which she thoughtfully brought in with four glasses. Then came the sound of the toilet flushing and soon the boy joined the girl on the couch. The tween-aged twins quickly took out their respective smartphones and zoned out. Aaron hoped the woman would state her business about Denise and leave before his wife came home.

Lauren, Aaron’s high school sweetheart, had known that he had dated other women in college (they’d both dated, by mutual agreement), but he had never told her about that drunken ménage a trois. Not that he would ever hide anything from Lauren; it’s just that he’d never really been in the mood to go into the details of that sexual experience, especially when it was so, well, disappointing. Nor was this, in contemporary organizational jargon, a good time to “circle back and loop” his wife on it now.

Aaron leaned forward. “Well, Alys –“

“It’s Tanya now.”

“OK. Tanya, it’s good to see you , but –“

“I see you’ve done really well for yourself,” she said, her eyes scanning the four corners of the room. “You have a lovely house.”

Aaron smiled and thanked her, though he couldn’t tell whether she was being snarky or not. Maybe she just had a tone of voice that always sounded sarcastic.

“Yes, it really is lovely,” Tanya added. “Very , ah, suburban.”

Aaron again thanked her, whatever the hell she meant by it. Then he asked, in a louder voice that he hoped didn’t come across as rude, “So, Tanya, so why are you here?”

“Well, it’s nothing bad, don’t worry.” Tanya pointed to her children, “By the way, this is Tristan and this is Isolde.”

“We’re t-w-e-e-i-i-ns,” said Isolde, in a high and affected vaguely English accent.

“No shit, Izzy,” said Tristan, since not only did they look so much alike, they were even dressed identically. They wore the same green Izod shirt and chinos that looked like they’d just been bought off the rack. Their pants still had sales tags on them. “And I go by T.B.”

“’It stands for Tristan Banes,” Isolde said, with a nervous giggle.

“Nice to meet you,” said Aaron. The kids smiled politely and went back to their phones.

Tanya got up and sat herself on the arm of the sofa next to Aaron and touched his knee. “We’ve come here to ask you to help us find Denise.”

“Denise? Oh, look, I’m sorry,” he said, “But I haven’t seen or heard from her since college, and we only dated for a few months. So I really can’t help you.”

He had just taken the woman’s hand off his leg when suddenly Lauren came in, laden down with textbooks. Before Aaron had a chance to say anything, Tanya leaped to her feet, and with a wide smile, rushed to Lauren with an extended hand.

“Hi,” she said, “You must be Lauren. I’m Tanya. I had a thing with Aaron and another woman way back in college.”

“Oh..kay…?” Lauren stammered. She dropped her books and glanced toward her husband. Aaron opened his mouth to say something but no words came out.

“Jesus,” said Tristan, rolling his eyes, “Do you have to tell everyone?”

“Sex is nothing to be ashamed of dear,” answered Tanya, and, turning back to Lauren, added, “I don’t do group sex that much anymore, anyway. Unless the vibe is right -“

“Honey!” Aaron suddenly blurted, like a cork just popped out of his mouth. “Remember that…‘out there’ girl that I dated towards the end of my senior year? Well, this ISN’T her, but this is Tanya, who used to be Alys with a Y, and anyway she and Isolde and Tristan just got here and ….” He ran out of breath, which was fortuitous since he didn’t even know where he was going with all of this. After a brief pause, he calmly said, “So why don’t we all sit down and listen to what Tanya has to say?”

“Yes,” said Lauren. She eyed the room, looking for an available chair. “Why don’t we?”

Lauren left the room and came back with a tall kitchen stool. She sat, looming over the already crowded den. Lauren smiled at the guests and somehow seemed unfazed by the situation. But Aaron knew his wife well enough to sense her irritation by the tightness of her smile. Even when she wasn’t irritated she had a controlled, almost prim demeanor. Her WASPY, pretty girl-next-door looks only reinforced that image. Only those who knew her well would see her outgoing nature, and sometimes even her silly side. Aaron was especially concerned about not upsetting his wife right now. She’d already been through a lot these past few days: first, she was dressed down in front of her class by her new principal, and then Dr. Mengyao told them that the latest round of fertility treatments they’d gone through had borne no fruit. For five long years they had tried to conceive.

But even during the best of times, Aaron’s college days were a sore subject with Lauren. She had dated other guys when she’d gone off to college, but that didn’t keep her from not wanting to hear about Aaron’s collegiate exploits. He was a decent looking guy back then, and being one of the few heteros in Greenwich Village in those days helped his chances with women considerably. Now, years later he still kept himself in shape and, unlike his friends who spent their weekends playing golf, he still had a full head of hair.

Tanya broke the strained silence. “I was just about to tell your husband that the reason I’m here is I was hoping he would help me find Denise.”

“Denise?” asked Lauren, eyeing her husband.

“That’s the ‘experienced’ gal I dated. But I was just telling Tanya that I don’t have any idea where Denise could be, since, as you know, I haven’t seen or heard from her since college.”

“Actually,” said Tanya “We did finally locate her, but we need your help. Look, here’s what happened – to make a long story short, or a short story long, whatever the case may be - after Aaron, Denise and I had that ‘twa, she and I hooked up again and we started dating. We had already fallen in love by the time I found out that I was pregnant.”

“With tweeeeiiiiins,” said Isolde, with a giggle. Aaron smiled politely and took a sip of water.

“YOUR twins,” added T.B., making brief eye contact with Aaron, before going back to his smartphone.

“WHAT?!” said Aaron, spitting out his water. Aaron looked to his wife to see how she’d react, but she was staring at Tanya.

“Yes, it’s true, Aaron,” said Tanya, “They are your kids, BUT before you get all upset, I’m not asking for anything from you. Denise and I had a civil union, she adopted the kids, and we were going live happily ever after. And we did, for several years. Until…” Tanya started to tear up. “She broke our hearts into a million pieces and left us. She said she no longer wanted to have anything to do with me or her own children. She was the parent they loved and called Mommy Number Two. We couldn’t find her for years, and now that deadbeat Denise owes thousands of dollars in back child support and is hiding from the law.” Her voice started to quiver. “Let me tell you it hasn’t been easy being a single mom trying to get by…” she began to sob.

Lauren reached in her purse for a tissue and gave it to Tanya, who wiped her tears and loudly blew her nose with it.

“Look,” Aaron said in a shaky voice. “I’m sorry, but, well, I know it must’ve been very tough on you having to get by without Denise - T.B. and Isolde seem like good kids and all - but to come here after so many years and claim that I’m their father –“

“You ARE the father,” said Tanya. “I didn’t do guys back then. You were the first and only guy I’d ever been with at that point in my life.”

Oh God, thought Aaron. A virgin. Kind of.

“Anyway,” Tanya continued, “The DNA confirms it; that’s how come I found you - from a genetic database. I was told that they took a swab of your DNA when you were arrested.”

Aaron turned to his wife, who looked more confused than angry. “Honey, it was some stupid college prank, getting drunk, and trying to steal the big cube sculpture at Astor Place. Something I almost forgot about. I only spent a night in jail, no fine, no nothing. But I don’t remember them taking my DNA.”

“Well they did!” said Tanya. “Maybe you were too wasted to remember it, but they got your sample, put it into some international registry, and that’s how come I found you. And just yesterday I got a lead on where Denise is hiding. It turns out she’s near you, in Seward! So we’d like you to give us a ride.”

“That’s got to be, what, two hours away?” said Aaron, “150 miles from here? That’s a long way. I’m sorry, Tanya, but we can’t help you.”

“Actually, it’s only 97.8 miles from here. Look, here’s the printout of the directions.” Tanya took a folded piece of paper out of one of her boots. Aaron saw that Tanya didn’t have a purse and her tank top and miniskirt clearly had no pockets. Tanya turned first to Aaron and then to Lauren, giving them a pained and desperate look. “We don’t have a car! Denise left us with nothing!” She began to cry again.

Aaron was about to ask how they had gotten to his house without a vehicle (one certainly couldn’t rely on the piss-poor public transportation in Hamlin) when Lauren addressed him. “Sweetheart, I’m sure we can at least give them a lift. We’ll just drop them off in Seward and drive back.”

“That’s all we’re asking,” said Tanya, through muffled sobs. “And then you two can just drive back. Please! We have nowhere to turn, no one else to ask.” She doubled up her tissue and cried some more.

Aaron was about to give in when Tanya looked up from her snot rag to add another stipulation. “Oh, and Lauren, could you please let Aaron come with me to the door when we find Denise?”

Without waiting for his wife’s response, Aaron cried, “Absolutely not!” He didn’t want to get in the middle of Tanya’s tiff with Denise. He was also incensed that Tanya was asking his wife for permission, as if he wasn’t allowed to decide for himself.

Before Lauren could respond, Tanya added, “Please, Lauren, make your husband come with me and the kids to see Denise. These are his children, after all.”

“Pending a paternity test,” said Aaron.

“OK,” said Tanya, “Pending a test, have it your way.” She daubed her eyes and then gave him a serious look. “But - and I’m not trying to be mean or anything - you know that if we can’t get Denise to pay up, ultimately, you, their father, will be responsible. You’ll have to pay all back child support plus interest, and help support them for the next five years, at least until they’re 18. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’m just saying.”

Tanya’s not-so-veiled threat made Aaron furious, but he didn’t want to make a big scene in front of the kids, especially in the unlikely event that they really were his. Aaron knew that if the twins were really thirteen years old (they looked younger to him; maybe they were just small for their age?) it was at least possible that he could be their dad. Aaron calculated that the end of his last year at N.Y.U. was almost fourteen years ago, and, adding another nine months from the date of that unpleasant orgy for conception and birth, there was at least a remote chance that the kids were conceived by him and Tanya.

“Honey, why don’t we get ready and take them to Seward?” Lauren said, in the form of a question that really wasn’t. “It’ll only take an hour and half to get there.”

“And an hour and half back!” cried Aaron, to no avail. If it had been up to him he wouldn’t have gone at all, but Lauren, he could see, was already on edge and the last thing he wanted was to upset her further. Plus, his wife had good instincts, an intuition which he often relied on, so maybe she was on to something here. Maybe Lauren knew that dropping these three off in Seward would be the only way to get rid of them.

And so, Aaron reluctantly agreed to make the trip.

In record time, Lauren packed snacks for T.B. and Isolde, while Aaron grabbed an industrial strength bottle Diet Mountain Dew to properly caffeinate him for the drive. They all jumped in Lauren’s car and headed for Seward.

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