Southern Discomfort




The man in the hat is still there, standing by the porch steps as Megan huddles into the swing, her sleeping daughter on her lap. The sun is low in the sky, but twilight is a couple hours off yet. She hums a lullaby that Holly is too old for, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s home. What doesn’t matter right now is that the man who returned her child might well be an actual demon. Except that he’s still there, on her porch, waiting….

She looks up at him, sees the pale, puffy face, and strands of gray-white hair between the black fedora and the white collar of his shirt. His eyes, she notices, aren’t black, the way you’d expect a demon’s eyes to be, but ice blue.

She takes a long breath, lets it out in something like a purposeful sigh. She picks through several things she could say, none of them polite, but figures pissing off a demon is maybe not the best idea. Instead, she says, “Thank you again for bringing her home, Sidney.” She makes a face, as if his name tastes like ash in her mouth.

The man – demon – whatever he is – touches two fingers to the brim of his hat. “You’re welcome,. ma’am.”

His voice has the merest hint of a southern accent, as if, like her, she grew up in West Virginia, and knows its rhythms, but there’s a raspiness underneath the drawl, as if he’s not quite accustomed to the voice, or the vocal chords, he’s using.

“It’s funny….” Megan says, not sure why she’s continuing the conversation.


“You don’t look like – ”

” – a child molester?” he asks, cutting her off.

She chuckles ruefully. “I was gonna say ‘the devil,’ but I guess a child molester’s pretty much the same. Are you?

The man echoes her chuckle, tone for tone, then asks. “A child molester? Or the devil?”

Megan shakes her head. “Either. Both. No – no – you know what? I don’t…” She lifts her head, looking past him at the driveway where her truck is parked, but her husband’s SUV and her brother’s jalopy remain absent. “You should go. Kyle’ll be coming here with Amber any time and…” She lets that thought trail away, realizing, “Oh, but, you already know that, don’t you? That’s why you’re here.”

When the man in the hat responds, he sounds tired, and Megan thinks maybe he looks paler than he did just a few minutes before. “Kyle and his daughter are in no danger from me tonight.”

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Megan says with blunt honesty.

He makes that chortling sound again. “Probably better that you don’t, but it’s still true.” He’s silent for a second or two, and Megan can hear cicadas chirping in the space of his silence. “Offer me a glass of tea.”

Confused, she asks, “Excuse me?”

The man’s drawl grows broader as he says, “We’re in the South. It’s hot. We’re both thirsty. Offer me a glass of sweet tea. Go inside, put the child in her bed, then come back and I’ll try to explain what I am – what I was – what – what I used to be.”

“What if she wakes up?” Megan asks.

“She won’t,” the man assures. “But if she does, you’ll be right here on the porch.”

“Then what is this? A deathbed confession.?

He shakes his head. “I hope not. Maybe… maybe everyone needs someone to talk to on a sultry summer evening. Even you. Even me. Maybe if you understand there’ll be less fear.”

“You want to turn me. Woo me to the dark side,” she accuses.

Another headshake. “Forcing you isn’t working. Forcing anyone isn’t working. But no. You’re… once you come back from the Change, you’re lost to us. Almost invisible.

Megan stares at the man for a long moment, concern for her daughter warring with her curiosity in her mind and on her face. Getting up, her child cradled in her arms (and wow! is Holly getting too heavy to be carried this way!), she addresses the gray-haired man in black. “I think this one would be better in her own bed, after all. Listen, Sidney, I’m ever so grateful you found her. Can you… wait a few minutes? Stay for a glass of tea.”

A smile spreads across his face. It’s not a kind smile, but it’s not exactly malicious, either. “I’d like that. Thank you, ma’am.” He takes a seat on the top step of the porch, leaning against the pillar that supports the porch roof.

Megan turns away, using the toe of her sneaker to open the screen door, then carrying her daughter inside.


It takes more than a few minutes for the woman to return to the porch. By the time the screen door swings open and shuts again, the sun has sunk past the horizon and the moon has just appeared. It’s not dark, yet, but the eerie twilight time when day and night are still battling for supremacy.

When she does emerge, she’s carrying two frosty glasses. She exits the house, pauses, stares at Sidney, then shakes her head as if she can’t quite believe she’s fraternizing with the enemy.

Sidney can hear the clinking of the ice cubes in the glasses, and the sound prompts him to rise to his feet.

“You’re still here, hat and all,” the woman observes.

Sidney adds the faintest hint of flirtation – really it’s more like southern charm – to his tone when he says, “Well, I don’t often get to share a glass of homemade iced tea with an attractive woman in the moonlight.”

The woman snorts at him, and her response is full of derision. “Don’t go there. You’re not even – ”

Sidney cuts her off again. ” – human?” he suggests. “I am now. As much as you are. Maybe more.”

She steps toward him, but stops about an arm’s length away, so that she has to stretch her hand to hand off one glass of tea. “Here,” she says grudgingly. “And it’s not homemade; it’s NesTea.”

“Thank you anyway,” Sidney says, gripping the glass with a hand that has a slight tremor. After sliding back down to his previous, seated position, he takes a long drink, grimaces, then smooths his features. “So…”

“So,” she says.

“So…?” he makes it a question.

The woman sighs. So, are you? The devil?”

Sidney’s answer is given with what passes for honesty among his kind. “No. We’re a race of beings that you might call ‘imps’ or ‘demons’ if you saw our true forms, but you might just as easily refer to us as ‘angels’ or ‘sprites.’ If you watch science fiction, you’d recognize us as ‘symbiotic lifeforms.'”

She nods, accepting this, but then she asks. “And the child molester part. Is that true?”

He makes a half-shrug. “Yes and no.”

“I don’t get it.”

“The person inside this body, the brain and soul and mind operating this meat-puppet, is no such thing. I think harming children is abhorrent. Life is sacred. Even human life. And ending a life is never the first option.”

She nods, but says, “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Sidney dips his head in agreement, then lifts it to meet her eyes. “But… the person who occupied this body before me – the person who died using it – the host, if you will – liked to take home little boys. He’d tie them up and play with them until he got bored.

He doesn’t miss the look of revulsion on her face. He remembers feeling the same when he realized the truth of his host.

“And then what?” she asks.

“Not sure you really want to know that, Megan.”

Her voice returns to him, ice cold, “Not sure I like you using my first name, Sidney.”

“Ms. Holter,” he corrects, backing off.

“Better.” She says. She continues, her speech coming in tentative blips, “I… I need to know…. Did you – did he – was he just an abuser? Beating them up? Or did… was there… sex?” The last word comes out as a whisper but the next several do not. “Or did the boys get killed?”

Sidney pokes the brim of his fedora with a single finger, adjusting it on his head so he can get a better look at Megan’s face. “If you don’t mind my saying so, Megan – Ms. Holter – questions like that are usually more about the person asking than they are about the person being asked.

“So, you wont tell me?”

Sidney is silent for a moment, and when he finally answers his words are thoughtful and measured. “Your kind – true humans. You look at us like demon-spawn. You can’t accept that we might be better than the hosts we claim. But just like you, we come in all flavors, Ms. Holter. Good. Bad. In-between. Now, Original Sidney – don’t much care for sharing his name, so let’s call him Sid. Ol’ Sid was low in every sense of the word. He worked as a carny – a carnival busker – selling crappy novelties to gullible kinds for too much coin.” He mimics the voice a barker might have used, back in the day. “Knock over five bottles fer a dolla’ – win a price. Git yer fun heah!”

Something bubbles inside his chest, and before he can continue, he pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and coughs into it. He looks at it, pulls a face that mixes fleeting fear with distaste, folds it differently, and replaces it in his pocket. Then he says:

“He’d find his marks that way. The kids who didn’t have a posse of friends. The poorest, scrawniest, loneliest little boys. The ones least likely to be missed. “Sorry ya didn’t win, Son. Hey, he’p me close up and I’ll se if I have an extra toy fer ya…” And then he’d take them home.

The woman gasps softly, and asks, “No one noticed?”

“No one cared,” Sidney corrected. How many times did your brother Kyle stay out late as a kid? It was easier when he wasn’t home, wasn’t staring at everyone with his big, lost, eyes. Wasn’t it? Ol’ Sid picked the boys whose absence made life easier.

“Oh. My. God.”

“Afraid God had nothing to do with it, ma’am.”

“N-no,” Megan says, crossing the expanse of porch and sitting down on the top step by the other pillar. It’s a wide porch, and even though she’s mirroring his position, they’re not too close. And yet, Sidney reflects, there’s a certain intimacy even so, because of the growing dark and thickening shadows. “No, I guess not.”

Sidney lowers his voice, as if he’s telling a campfire story to a bunch of scared kids, “Sid liked to punch his way into the tender flesh of untried boys. The younger, the better. He’d keep them tied and scared like lambs waiting to be slaughtered. He had one in his special room when he had the heart attack that let me in.

The woman is horrified when she says, “Oh, God – tell me you didn’t – ”

“I didn’t.” Sidney interrupts, his declaration fierce. Quietly, intensely, he shares, “My first human act was to set the kid free. My first human word was to tell the kid, “RUN!” The last word rips out of him like a blade slicing the night in two. Then he collapses.


It’s still summer, but Megan is cold – so cold – and a violent storm has come, seemingly from nowhere. Lightning flashes illuminate her living room as she moves about, lighting candles, starting a fire in the fireplace. Once the flame is crackling, she retreats to the rocker that faces the couch, moving the man’s hat from the seat to the coffee table. He’s sprawled on her couch, looking a lot less dangerous than before, and she is sipping tea – hot tea – and waiting.

Thunder crashes loud enough to rattle the windows and wakes up the sleeping man, who sits up with a start. “What happened? Where am I?” He starts coughing, like before, and black slime sprays from his mouth. “Ugh.”

Maternal instinct – or maybe just human decency kicks in, and Megan leaves her chair, grabbing a towel from a basket of folded laundry as she does so. “Hang on. Let me help you.” She uses the towel to wipe the sludge from his face as if he were her child. “You had an attack after you – never mind.” She looks at the stained towel, and asks, disgust dripping from her tongue, “What is this shit.”

“Disease,” he answers weakly,. “Infection. Our kind can’t always adapt.”

“Is that what the Merge is for?” she asks. “Are you… terraforming?”

He chuckles softly. “You been watching the Syfy channel?”

Megan shrugs. “My husband liked Star Trek. I guess it kinda sunk in..”

He nods in apparent appreciation. You’re not far off though. The Merge – it’s a – a reforming of place and people in our image, and for our needs.”

Megan asks, resentfully, “At the expense of the rest of us? Doesn’t seem fair.”

“What is?”

His question was rhetorical, but Megan answers anyway.  “You gotta point there, but you also gotta know: Kyle’s not gonna stop. Not gonna give up.”

He nods. “We know. We’re counting on it.”

“What’s so special about him, anyway,” Megan asks. “Is he some kind of extradimensional bounty hunter for your kind?”

Sidney laughs at that. “Hardly. But if I ever decide to give up my day job and write a novel, I think you just gave me the plot.” He takes a moment, possibly to regroup, then says. “Kyle… Kyle’s like a beacon. A guiding light. It’s as if… You said your husband liked Star Trek? Think of us as anti-matter and Kyle as pure matter. We’re opposites who attract. We counterbalance each other, but we can’t coexist.”

“Like Harry and Voldemort?” Megan asks.

“Sure. Like that,” he says. “My entire people reduced to a children’s book plotline. Yes… it’s like that, only… more.”

Megan nods her understanding then presses on. “You said it was Sid’s heart attack that let you in.” She waits for his confirming nod. “But when I was… when it came for me… I wasn’t at the point of death.”


“So, it’s random?”

“No,” the man repeats.

“I don’t understa – ” Megan begins and then the light dawns. “- oh.”

The man’s voice is gentle when he speaks again. Soothing. “We come at the break of life and death. At the moment when your kind makes the choice to leave, whether consciously or not, we slip inside. If you’re… still there… we retain most of what makes you you. But if you’re not, we’re on our own.”

“Okay, but why are some of you… feral?”

“We try to get to our new arrivals as soon as possible, but sometimes… we miss. We missed with you. Without a guide – the shock of new sensation, the harshness of yellow sunlight, the piercing freshness of the air. We go from zero to madness and bloodlust in sixty seconds.”

Megan drops back into the rocker, digesting this. Finally, she asks, “So, you… did you have a… a demon midwife?”

The man emits a loud guffaw. “Demon midwife?!? Hilarious!” He shakes his head and calms himself. “I didn’t. I’m a little different than most. I came with a sort of… mission objective, I guess you’d call it. Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t reveal all my secrets.” He coughs, then asks, “Could I trouble you for a cup of the tea you’re drinking. It’s…” he sniffs the air. “…Chamomile, isn’t it?”

Megan is momentarily taken aback by such a mundane request, but she gets up, says, “Sure,” and heads toward the kitchen. “You know,” she says, pausing in the doorway, “you’re al lot less intimidating without your hat on.”

He glances skyward, then smiles. “Yes, I know.” After a beat he speaks again, but it’s not clear if his words are meant for Megan, or himself, or some other entity that might be listening in. “Sometimes, it’s nice to just… talk.”

Another round of violent lightning and thunder sends the room into darkness, the only light coming from the flickering fire and the candles.


Hours later, the storm has quieted, and a steady rain falls outside the woman’s windows. The fire is dying, and the candles are guttering. Sidney pushes a plate with the crust and crumbs from a sandwich to the middle of the coffee table and stands up.

“Storm’s let up,” he says, retrieving his hat and clapping back onto his head. “I should take my leave of you. I do appreciate your courtesy, Ms. Holder.”

The woman rises, as well, as if she’s walking him out like any other guest in her home. Trying to be cool and failing she says, “It’s been an informative evening, Sidney.”

“I suppose it has,” he agrees.”

“Tell me about your hat.”

Sidney doesn’t startle easily, but this question – this very human question – shakes him. “I – I’m sorry?”

“Your fedora. I’m guessing ‘Ol’ Sid’ wasn’t such a natty dresser?”

“Ah… no,” he says.

The woman elaborates, “And I couldn’t help but notice the quality. Police and firefighters order their hats special; I’m guessing you did, too. It definitely didn’t come from a department store. And that watch you’re wearing – Holly calls pieces like that ‘dad’ watches.”

Sidney glances down at his wrist, then back at the woman. “‘Dad’ watches. Hmph. We don’t… we don’t have parents. If we’re lucky, we retain the memories of our hosts’ parents. And if our hosts were lucky, those parents weren’t utter assholes. Ol’ Sid’s father was the person who broke him, but his grandfather…. His grandfather would have been a guiding force for good if he’d lived longer.”

“Was he… one of you?”

“Sadly no. Sid might’ve turned out differently if he were.”

“The hat was his?” the woman asks, as if she’s known all along.

Sidney shakes his head. “Not this one. The first one, and the first watch. They were his. They seemed to fit. I felt at ease with them on, like they were part of me.”

Megan nods. “A costume.”

Sidney suggests a different perspective: “A uniform.”


Sidney lifts his eyebrows and lets them fall. “I suppose.” He opens the inner door and pushes open the screen, hesitating before he steps onto the porch. “Ms. Holter, I thank you again for your courtesy. Take care of Holly. Tell Kyle… we don’t mean him harm, but we can’t promise him safety, either. He needs to watch himself. The reverend is not the ally Kyle perceives him to be.”

“He’s a man of God,” the woman protests, but it’s half-hearted.

“Is he? Which god? Whose god? How do you know we’re not ‘of god?'”

“How do I know you are?” she counters.

Sidney favors her with a toothy smile, one that is full of ambiguity and discomfort. “I guess you don’t,” he says, and steps through the door.

The power surges back on as soon as the door closes behind him, and as he walks down the rain-slick steps, he can hear the little girl’s voice coming through the door. “Mommy, is the storm over.”

Faintly, Sidney hears Megan’s answer, “This one is, sweety. This one is.”

NOTE: Sidney, Megan, and Holly are characters from the television show and comic book series Outcast that was created by Robert Kirkman. This story was originally a script I wrote for “28 Plays Later” (2019 edition). The original assignment was to pick a favorite fictional character and write their origin story. So, yes, this is technically fanfic, but these two characters never had scenes together in the show.




Preferably Smooth (Gotham fanfic (microfic))

We had no internet all day yesterday, so I wrote offline and in between whiny phone calls to AT&T. Note: if you want actual help from AT&T, skip their phone tree entirely and use Twitter. Their Twitter team kicks ass.

Here, have a tiny bit of fan fiction.


Disclaimer: I don’t own Gotham. I’m not sure I’d want to. But it’s an interesting place to visit from time to time.


Fear comes in the oddest forms.

Sometimes it comes in your subordinate looking at you with her dark brown eyes, the ones that pierce your soul, and can no doubt read every single wrong you’ve done.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a gun, pointed at your head, or words hurled at your feet, each a declaration of its own kind: I’ll do anything to take you down.

Sometimes it comes in the near miss of a car zooming past as you step off the curb, or in a phone call you answer in the middle of the night, the voice on the other end of the line filtered beyond recognition.

And sometimes, one time, fear is waiting for you in your own darkened kitchen.

Surprisingly, it’s not the mook holding your bodyguard’s head, blood from the severed neck dripping on the cold tile.

No, the true form of fear, the form you never expect to make you shiver, to make your hands sweat and your breath catch in your throat…that form is wrapped in a dapper suit, and speaks to you in a voice as dusty as the top of the cabinet he’s leaning against.

“Do you have any peanut butter?”


Notes: I met Robin Lord Taylor at Dallas Fan-Expo last summer; he’s the sweetest person ever, as well as being kind and accessible. His line in Commissioner Loeb’s kitchen in the season two opener was delivered with JUST the right blend of menace and innocence…something only he can do. I had to do something with it.