They say you’re not supposed to have favorites when it comes to your writing.
As with so many other things, I beg to differ with “they.”
Today’s First Chapter Friday offering was originally published with Changeling Press in 2013, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite story in toto to date just because it’s so damned funny! (And no, I’m not just tooting my own horn here…but you’ll just have to take my word for that for a minute, wontcha?) The first 1,500 words of this were written in 150-word chunks as part of a Changeling Press challenge prompt: “The Real Sock Thief.” Smartass that I am, I couldn’t resist working the word “sock” into the title, and decided to get as zany as I possibly could with it.
The results surprised me very pleasantly, and I knew when Changeling and I came to our parting of the ways, “Sock It to Me” would be a priority to get back out on the shelves. When I decided to anthologize my early work and some unpublished stories I had lying about in Eat My Shorts!: The Absolute Best of J.S. Wayne (…So Far…), “Sock It to Me” made the cut without a second thought. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and be sure to check out Second Chapter Sunday for, surprise, the second chapter!
In thirty years on Earth, I’ve never yet had a good surprise at 4:30 in the morning. I was almost certain this morning wouldn’t be any exception.
I slouched into my bedroom, bleary-eyed and exhausted from a double shift. The duty “day” in Homicide had been brisk, so I hadn’t seen the inside of my bedroom or eyelids in… I frowned and did some offhand mental calculations. Over forty hours. Gross.
A movement where movement shouldn’t have been caught my eye. My duty piece was in my hand before I realized I’d reached for it. “I’m so not in the mood for this shit,” I grumbled, slumping down from my full height to a prone position on the floor with the barrel of my Glock thrust forward.
A pair of reddish-yellow eyes glinted at me from under the bed. I struggled to make sense of the shape, which appeared to be an unholy cross between a dingo and a crocodile.
Only hard-won discipline kept me from squeezing off three shots into the malicious-looking thing’s head. It opened its mouth with a croaking growl, revealing a gratuitous wealth of wickedly pointed and curved teeth. In the diffuse illumination that filtered beneath the bed I saw a sock flopping around inside that bear-trap maw like a second tongue. A familiar sock.
My sock. My missing-for-two-months left half of my favorite pair of socks, the ones with monkeys on them.
Hey, I’m a Homicide dick. In my line of work you take your yuks where you can get them.
“You would be most unwise to attempt to harm Graelich,” a low, sweet female voice from behind me said.
I jumped eight feet straight up, no easy task when starting from a prone position. I thudded to the floor with a grunted whoosh as the impact drove the wind from my lungs. I turned my head, snapping “Who the f —”
The woman standing in my closet barely topped five feet and was seriously cute. Like, light-years out of my league cute. She was clad in a few wisps of nothing much, drawing my eyes to her curves. Her hair was an improbable shade of green. And she had…
Cute little dragonfly wings, translucent and appearing far too delicate to support even her slender frame. On the other hand, I’d watched more than a few shows about angels, and their wings were disproportionate too. According to most of the talking heads, a humanoid with wings would have to have a wingspan roughly equivalent to that of a small airplane to support their weight in flight.
The snarl froze in my parched throat.
Too much human suffering, too many corpses and hours awake, too little food or time for relaxation had obviously frayed my sanity to the breaking point. Spending the last two days running down a pimp who’d finally beaten one of his girls a little too savagely, the identity of a guy with no head or hands who turned out to have Mob ties and a nice little rap sheet, and the whereabouts of the driver of a silver Nissan who had managed to run down a Mexican Mafia lieutenant’s girlfriend and daughter, killing the former and badly injuring the latter over a turf beef came with the territory, but wasn’t what any normal person I associated with would consider conducive to good ongoing mental health.
I knew better than most how easily that last dangling shred of sanity could be lost. My last partner, Scott Humphries, an Okie transplant with a broad smile and an ass to match, had flipped his shit one day and given his service piece a blowjob after an especially bloody case. At the time I’d wondered what could drive a man who looked at life through a wide grin to shuffle himself loose the mortal coil.
We’d found the suspect holed up in an abandoned tenement, one of those lucky breaks cops always hope for but never entirely trust. The guy was dusted to the eyeballs on PCP and convinced he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. He huddled in a corner, sniffing, rocking back and forth in a frenetic metronome motion, babbling at breakneck speed to a hatful of people who only existed in his own drug-scoured skull.
He would have been a pitiful figure, dark-skinned, skinny, clad in filthy, tattered jeans and a wife beater shirt that might have been clean and white sometime around the fifth century. I might have been more gentle with him if not for what he had done to those two little girls. I still can’t think too closely about that. If I do let myself drift back and see those frail, broken little bodies, really remember every hideous detail, I don’t sleep for days on end. And I tend to get a little rougher on suspects as a result. The department headshrinker says it’s normal, that I should “incorporate it into my functional routine as a coping mechanism.”
The takedown should have been textbook, but I got sloppy, underestimated the berserk strength the combination of adrenaline, psychopathy, and the angel dust lent his wiry frame. In the struggle, the fucker got a hand on my steel.
I still remember the bore of my own Glock staring into my eye, looking as long as all eternity and blacker than Satan’s heart. Deliberately I’d forced myself to keep my eyes open, not showing fear. If he was going to cap me, I was fucking well going to look the sonofabitch in the eye while he did. Then a volley of shots from somewhere behind me, and scarlet flowers blossomed on the guy’s head and chest, peppering me with a fine spray of blood.
The guy had made a puzzled, breathy whimpering sound and froze for a moment. Then he’d just collapsed to one side, his jaundiced eyes rolling up in his head as he’d let out one last rattling wheeze.
Scott had helped me to my feet, and by silent agreement, we’d made sure the shoot looked as righteous and according to procedure as possible on the paperwork. Five days later, I’d stood at Scott’s open grave and watched them lower his casket into it.
Okay, sure, he’d had to light the asshole up, but he did it to save my ass from eating a bullet. I guess the guilt of taking a life was just too much for him.
I still miss the guy.
My curiosity concerning why someone might decide they’d had one step beyond too much had now officially been resolved. I was seeing make-believe creatures in my bedroom, for fuck’s sake.