Unwarranted Serendipity

By Jason Sizemore

I’m at a rest area off the Bluegrass Parkway doing my business when I started to smell cigarette smoke floating over from the stall next to mine. Smoking in the boy’s room in public areas wasn’t something uncommon in these parts, so I paid it no mind. But when the smoker took things to that next level that he caught my attention.

“Going to Hypericon,” he said more as a statement, less as a question. “You know, the horror literary fan convention?” The voice sounded familiar but, without the face, I knew I’d never place him.

Even so, I hated to be rude and not say anything. And I figured trying to ignore the man would only encourage my new stalker. I grunted out a non-committal “I guess.”

Smoke rose above the wall separating our stalls. I willed my body to hurry and finish its business. It was like I was trying to urinate while standing to the high school bully. It just wasn’t going to happen.

He spoke up again.

“Keep your eyes open, Kid.”

“Who the hell are you?” I asked. “What do you mean ‘Keep my eyes open’?”


But whoever he was, he had nothing more to say. His stall-door opened and I hear him walk out, his boots make clacking noises against the filthy concrete bathroom floor in his wake.

Hypericon 20005 was to be the “coming out” party for Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest and my small press business Apex Publications. I’d just received issue two of the digest from the printer and was heading south to Nashville to thrust it upon the unsuspecting horror-fans in attendance. The first issue had been a modest success, both financially and critically, so I fully expected to sell several hundred copies over the weekend to throngs of adoring fans.

This would also be my initiation into the world of fan conventions. I’d heard of such strange things before, where the freaks (like me) could get their freak on. I knew better than to expect the madness as described by the news networks: furry parties, orgies, yiffing, BDSM, creepy roleplay. I figured the convention would be a small gathering of like-minded fans of the genre.

But the real question as to “why” did I choose Hypericon 2005 as the jumping point for Apex Digest and my new business venture when there were so many larger, more popular fan conventions held in the region? I don’t know. Truth be told, you could hold a loaded gun to my head and I’d still draw a blank. Maybe it was luck? Pure genius? Thinking back, I liken it to something I call “unwarranted serendipity.”

Arriving in Nashville, it didn’t take me long to find the hotel and to get myself registered. I found my hotel room and unloaded my luggage.

It wasn’t until I went back downstairs and walked around the dealers’ room that I realized something: I didn’t know a single person there. Images flashed through my mind. There was me, without friends, watching lame porn all weekend in my hotel room. There was me playing Marco-Polo by myself in the empty hotel pool. There was me watching from a distance as other convention members had fun, sharing experiences over a beer. Hell, this was going to be high school and college all over again! I was trapped. My little dark secret of being a closet introvert was going to make this the worst weekend of my life. It just wasn’t in my wiring to enable me to randomly speak to strangers.

“Don’t mess this up, kiddo.”

I jumped, startled. It was that voice again. And that damn cigarette. I spotted him, standing in the shadows of a large ficus in a far corner of the hotel lobby. I couldn’t make out any features, but I got a distinct Rod Sterling vibe from the man. But hell, for all I knew, it could have been Harlan Ellison standing over there giving me the finger.

The stranger nodded and I followed it to the lobby elevators. Okay, I thought, I’ll play this out. After all, I had no better plan.

I sauntered over and pressed the ‘Up’ button. I’m checking my watch when I hear an Enchantress speak: “Red heads are the scourge of the earth. When I’m in charge, they will be the first up against the wall!”

I’m a redhead therefore I found this particular declaration to be quite disturbing.

“Excuse me,” I said. I was probably blushing.

“Not you, those other redheaded assholes.”

The Enchantress spoke with a sexy, educated accent—my favorite. My gaze fell to her face. It could have been Greek…certainly Mediterranean in design. She had long, shimmering curly brown hair, and she wore a radiant smile punctuated by dark red lipstick. Accompanying her was an attractive lady adorned in full Goth regalia. Both made quite striking impressions.

My hand shot out in greeting. “I’m Jason Sizemore.” My hand was probably sweaty.

She smiled and I thought I would crumple to the floor in a heap of helpless boy hormones. “That accent, how cute!”

She was talking about my thick hillbilly drawl. It was certainly much worse than usual. I was nervous.

“I publish Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest,” I said, finally managing to string together a full sentence.

“Whores Digest?” She sort of backed away, glanced nervously at her Goth friend. “You do what with whores?”

“No, no! Not whores, hor-ror.”

“Oh, I see.”

We shared a laugh. I glanced over to the man in shadows. He shadowed face nodded and I knew he was pleased.

*Ding*

The door opened, vomiting a load of angry-looking horror fans (turns out most horror fans are angry looking), and admitted me and the two ladies. I pressed the button for the sixth floor where, according to the registration desk, all the action was supposed to be happening.

“Let me give you a copy of my magazine.” I dug through my backpack like a crazed rabbit rooting through an abandoned warren. The two ladies looked at each other and giggle.

I found it. “See, Apex Digest. That’s me.” I proudly shoved the first issue, with its aliens and stark landscape, at them.

“Oh, nice magazine,” the Enchantress cooed. She took it from my outstretched hand and proceeded to show it off to her friend (who, as it turns out, was Sherrilyn Kenyon!).

*Ding*

The elevator doors opened and the two women turned to depart.

“Wait,” I blurted out.

They paused and stared at me.

“Will I see you again?”

The Enchantress smiled, and again I was overwhelmed.

A wink.

“Keep your eyes open, and you just might.”

The elevator doors closed on me, and I take an unplanned ride back to the lobby.

Have you ever been the unwitting victim of obsession? Well, I was after that too brief encounter. My mind decided that two things must happen during Hypericon weekend, and both replayed themselves ad nauseum between my ears. First, I must become friends with this intellectual beauty. And second, I must have her for Apex Digest.

In retrospect, I can readily admit that the “friends” part was nothing more than that base need shared by all chest-beating males since the beginning of time: the urge to get close to the pretty girl. But the second part was more practical. One thing I had gleaned from the business of publishing a genre magazine was that you needed something to set it apart from the rest. Although I couldn’t tell you what this mystery woman could bring to the publication, I only knew that Apex needed it.

As I discovered, the real “fun” of any fan convention starts after dark. Room parties, networking, alcohol consumption, and friendships are all part of the experience. As a new publisher, I needed to make some “name” writer and artist friends, and then proceed into tricking them into sending Apex their work while paying them pennies to the dollar.

Having no friends, I went alone to the designated party floor. An elderly man in chaps being led around with a leash and collar by a younger lady cornered me as soon as I got off the elevator. They sported sexy BDSM gear.

“You’re Apex Digest, aren’t you?” he asked.

I gulped. Although having attended a liberal arts college (Transylvania University) and being a rather open-minded person (or so I thought), I’d never encountered such a thing before. An elderly man on a leash just wasn’t my “thing.” I fought to keep eye contact with him, refused to allow myself to look at the pair of studded leather briefs he was wearing.

“Yes, in a sense,” I answered.

“Brian Keene was looking for you.”

My heart lurched. Brian Keene was looking for me. Landing a Brian Keene story would be big business for an upstart like Apex. Back then, Keene was (and still is) the King of Our World. And for good reason…he’s one of the best writers in the business—a man among boys.

“You mean like, Brian Keene?” I asked, dumbly.

“Yes, room 508. He’s having a private room party.”

My excitement waned. If it was a private party, I couldn’t just waltz on in. Keene and his entourage would kick my ass and send me whimpering back to the private confines of my hotel room. Lonely hotel porn became a real possibility once again.

“Here, I’ll take you there,” the collared man offered. His young mistress had yet spoken a word, or even bothered even acknowledge my existence. “I’ll introduce you, tell him you’re a friend of mine. They’ll let you in.”

“Do I have to wear a collar?” I asked.

The elderly man’s bushy left eyebrow arched and he looked at his keeper. She shot her nose up into the air and said in a disgusted manner, “No.”

Quietly, the pair walked me down the hallway, snaking through the crowds hanging outside the hotel rooms. We step through a crowd of people in large animal costumes. The most disturbing of these was a squirrel marked with large band-aids and blood. The furries were mostly interested in a room that emitted a light blue glow. Inside, groups of…animals were frolicking on the floor.

I look up to the elderly man for an explanation. His eyes tell me to not ask.
We push forward.

We encounter another large crowd. They’re standing outside a room blasting techno-music. An angry looking man is standing around holding a meatloaf. I take a quick peek inside and see a full-fledged orgy that would make Bob Guccione a proud man.

Finally, we reached room 508. Somebody knocked on the door. It cracked open and we’re admitted inside.

The room was veiled under a fog of cigarette smoke. I hear lots of swearing. My survival senses tell me that at any moment, a blade could be pulled and somebody would lose a finger, a toe, or even an ear.

A large man blocks my way further into the room.

“Mr. Keene is not signing at this time,” the big guy said. “Please leave.”

“It’s okay, Big Joe, let he who steps into my room face the master of the guard.”

Big Joe. I recognized the name. He was the famous bodyguard of Brian Keene.

Through the clearing haze, I see Brian Keene. He’s holding a tumbler full of Knob Creek in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He squints at me.

“Who the fuck are you?” he finally asked.

The elderly man with the collar spoke up. “This is Jaso…”

“Frank, I don’t remember asking you a goddamn thing!” The murmur of the crowd died. Everybody turned to look at me.

I can’t help but notice that room 508 is a Mecca of famous writers. I see Tom Piccirilli leaning back in an uncomfortable hotel chair in the back of the room. He’s watching the proceedings much like a bemused crime boss. Bryan Smith relaxes on an ottoman, nursing a beer and a cigarette. His face is a mask of indifference. I could be gutted and tossed out the window and he’d not give a shit. James Newman is sitting on the floor, hard to read behind his dark glasses. Deborah LeBlanc pops her knuckles, her expression grim. Other famous horror writers sit around the room, each looking equally annoyed.

“I asked you, who the fuck are you?” Keene demanded again.

I closed my eyes, summoning courage. When I opened them again, I see the stranger. He’s standing in the darkened far corner of the room. A plume of blue cigarette smoke drifts to the ceiling from his mouth. He, too, is awaiting my answer.

“I’m Jason Sizemore.”

“So?” Keene said.

My heart palpitated. Sweat has already formed on my brow. At that moment, I realized I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life. I should never have gotten into the publishing industry. I don’t have cajones. All the naysayers were right, you can’t produce a profitable magazine. I should just go home, tail between legs, and forget this all ever happened.

“I’m sorry, I’ll go,” I said.

I turn. But in mid-stride, I hear that voice of beauty and dynamite.

“He’s cool, Brian. That’s Apex Digest.”

“Wait a minute,” Keene said.

I stop, frozen. When Keene bellows out an order, everybody, including God and Satan, stops to obey. He’s got that kind of voice.

Keene held up the copy of Apex Digest issue one I’d given to the Enchantress. “You mean he’s this.”

Then she steps magically out of the crowd. “Yes, he publishes Apex.”

“Goddamn. Then come inside, buddy! Have some Knob Creek. Big Joe, take care of the man.”

In record time, I found myself holding some bourbon. I look over to my angelic benefactor. She smiles and my heart melts.

Most conventions go from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I had only planned to stay until Saturday evening. That meant I had little time to find her. Throughout the day, I see people, new friend, I’ve met. Brian Keene gives me a hearty slap on the back, wishes me luck with the magazine. Tom Piccirilli (probably the nicest guy in the world), shakes my hand, gives me a pep talk about Apex, and mentions he might have a story to send to me. Bryan Smith confides in me that he has this great novelette he’s like to see me publish. Deb LeBlanc’s grim expression had turned into that wonderful smile that so many cherish.

Life was grand.

But I couldn’t find her. I made my final trek through the hotel, worked my way back around to the lobby.

Am I never going to see her again?

*Ding*

The elevator opened and out she comes. I hopped up, full of courage and initiative. From of the corner of my eye, I see the smoking man smiling at me.

“Hey!” I called out, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

“Apex Digest!”

She gave me a light embrace. I have somehow befriended this beautiful person.

She crinkled her nose. “Do you smoke? You always stink like cigarettes.”

I smiled. “Well, not technically, no, I don’t smoke.”

“Have a good time last night?” she asked.

“Absolutely.” I paused. “I need to ask you something.”

“Yes?” The apprehension in her voice made me wince.

“Do you write?”

She shook her head. “Not much. I write movie reviews. I blog sometimes. Nothing impressive.”

“Would you work for me?”

“What do you mean ‘work for me?’”

I explained to her my plans for global domination. I tell her that we already printed stuff like reviews and standard non-fiction fare in Apex. I described to her that I need content that would help make Apex different from the rest of the crowd.

“I can’t pay much,” I warned her. Unfortunately, writers are used to hearing this.

“I’ll do it,” she said. We giggled and embraced, spinning around in each other’s arms.

“Not bad, Sizemore,” the now familiar Rod Sterling voice said from across the lobby. “Not bad at all.” From over her shoulder, I watched as he faded away like a dying television image. After a couple of seconds, only a spent cigarette remained in his spot.

As I’m about to leave, I realize that I have yet to ask the Enchantress her name. This draws embarrassed chuckles from us both.

Again, there’s that smile. “Alethea,” she said. “Alethea Kontis.”

7 comments:

Fran Friel said...

Dang, Jason, this is one of the best blogs I've ever read. I love your mad reality twisting style. Seriously.

Wow...just wow.

Your Fan,
Fran

James F. Reilly said...

LOL! Loved it. You're such a breezy, easy, beautiful cover girl. I do take acception to your suggestion that all horror fans are angry looking - I'm positively aglow with confidence and happiness at all times.

Rock on, sistah!
Jim :)

Jodi Lee said...

But...who was the mystery man? Damn it!

David Montoya said...

Coolest thing ever.

I think that damn cigarette man stands behind many a first time convention goer.

Again, coolest thing ever.

Blog on!

Magus Out.

Cordially,

-David

klingonguy said...

Jason, remind me to tell you the story of how I met Alethea. Happened at a convention, but no cigarette smoke was involved.

lcrisler said...

Way cool. I guess that's what they mean by 'creative nonfiction.' You're way better at it than I. I think I'll stick to making stuff up.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I guessed it was about Alethea, but that made me smile even more.

Great story--vivid and entrancing. Love it!