The Buried Bodies of Old Pompeii

**Finalist in the 2017 Saints+Sinners Fiction Contest** .
This story is adapted from the first chapter of my new novel, The Dubious Gift of Dragon Blood.

While the book starts in our world before moving into a land where dragons rule, I have removed the fantasy elements in this short-story version and focussed on the life of our hero, 16 year-old Crispin Haugen. With his quick sense of humour, he builds a safe shell around himself as he tries to figure out who he is. He could accept the boxes people try to put him—“gay best friend,” “Asian/Caucasian mixed-race kid”—or he could figure out who he really is as a person.

The chapter finds him in a one-sided sexual relationship with a popular athlete, a relationship Crispin rounds up to love in his head. But the weight of secrets grows heavier every day.

“The Buried Bodies of Old Pompeii” can be found in the collection, Saints+Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival, 2018, ed. Paul Willis and Amie Evans. Paperback and ebook can be purchased from Bold Strokes Books.


Excerpt

Altman was already hiking away down the hall, and I had to scramble to catch up. By the time we were crossing the parking lot, I had matched his confident pace, bouncing along beside him, my grin splitting my face in two. I bumped against him, “accidentally.”

“Don’t touch me, man,” he muttered. “Not while they can see us.”

Jocks out smoking behind their cars nodded at us. Well, at Altman. He and one of his teammates traded coded monkey gestures and suggested vulgar things they would do to each other’s mothers. This was, apparently, male bonding, but I was not included in the fun. Yes, I was protected by Altman’s high-status force field and not to be messed with, but I was also socially invisible to his loud friends.

Spiky, black vibes of hatred shot at me from a knot of goths occupying a picnic bench on the other side of the parking lot. Did they consider me a traitor for walking through the valley of alpha-male privilege in complete safety? Was I a sell-out to legions of outsiders because I was friends with Sylvia and Altman?

“Screw you,” I murmured under my breath. It wasn’t like they reached out the hand of friendship after Drazen’s digital temper tantrum. I turned my back on their eye-liner and studs.

“Those punks giving you trouble?” Altman asked, turning a steely gaze their way.

“They’re goths, not punks. And no, no trouble,” I added quickly, because the last thing I wanted was to be the centre of more drama. Still, I was touched by his concern. I could all-too-easily imagine him pulling his hockey stick from its scabbard and decapitating the pale haters with a barbarian war cry.

“My hero,” I said as we left the parking lot and crossed the road.

“What?”

“Nothing, sorry.”

We walked the single block to Altman’s house, buzzing with our growing excitement, and bounded up the front steps in perfect unison. Inside, he called his mother’s name, then the names of his four siblings. As usual, no one was home at lunch time. We headed straight for his bedroom on the second floor of the chaotic house, hopping over piles of clothes, school books, and sports equipment that littered the floor like landmines.

Under the dull, watchful eyes of his hockey-hero posters, Altman pushed off his shoes, threw his jacket over a chair, and began unbuckling his belt and tugging at his fly...

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All contents ©2018 by J. Marshall Freeman