Excerpt Book 3:The summer dusk gave way to interstitial twilight. There was no sense in riding an hour back home in the dark just to turn around and come back the next morning. Instead, my friends and I bummed our way back to Camp Jellystone, where we got to camp in tents on the gravel and weeds off of the RV lot for five dollars a night. We sat around a fire and drank pop while the older actors – our mentors – went through six-packs of beer and homilized on their atheist Bibles. They quoted SNL routines, Monty Python, GURPS, Cthulhu, and the Digital Underground until we were all too tired to see straight. We all said goodnight and made our way back to our tents. But my tent had flooded during the week, and inside I found dead earwigs floating in slow circles.I didn’t mind.I was glad that this had happened.I gathered up my sleeping bag, which Eddie had dropped off in the morning before heading back to Akawe, and stumbled back through the purple dark to Omara’s tent.“Knock knock,” I said.I heard her sigh. “You got your own tent, John.”“Not tonight,” I said. “It’s flooded. Will you let me stay here?”“Fine,” she said. “If this ever gets back to my dad, he’ll murder you.”“I don’t think he will. I don’t think he’d murder a fly.”She didn’t argue. She knew that I was right. She unzipped the tent and beckoned me inside.In more than a year of going out, Omara and I hadn’t had sex. We hadn’t even been naked together. The driving thirst and curiosity that I had felt in seventh grade had been quenched by my confusing tumbles with Crystal. By my guilty nescience with Lucy. Still, here I was, sleeping bag in hand, stooped under the slope of the tent roof, wearing soccer shorts and a too-small t-shirt, and Omara stood before me, more stooped because she was taller than I was, her white panties and tank top bright against her dark skin. We unzipped our sleeping bags, made a bed between them, and lay down. Omara turned away from me, and I pressed into her back. I put my arm around her waist with my palm against her bare stomach. I could feel her shapes against mine, though there was still cloth between us.“It was a long day today,” she said.“Uh-huh,” I said.“We’d better get some sleep. It’s gonna be a long weekend. We got two more days to go. Then school. You know I got that job at the Olan Farm? It’s gonna be almost like this. I mean, I guess I’ll dress up like a milkmaid, like The Little House on the Prairie or something. But it’ll be acting, you know?”I sighed.“I’m not tired,” I said.“Me neither,” she said. And then, in a burst: “I can’t stop thinking about that woman on your block. Who murdered her baby.”I pushed myself against her. I held my breath. I said, “I can’t think about that. I mean. There’s nothing I can do about that. It makes me sick, but what does that even accomplish?”“But doesn’t it just stick with you? The idea of it? How awful it –”“I don’t want it to, okay? Anyway, it’s far away. We’re here now. Let’s stay here.”“We can’t stay here.” I felt the tenseness in Omara’s back.“Yeah. But someday, we’ll leave Akawe for good. And anyway. We aren’t there now.”“Aren’t you afraid your dad’s gonna lose his job?”“My father? Yeah. He’s already driving two hours each day ever since they transferred him to Canton. Ever since that strike ended last year, it seems like X is closing everything fast as they can. You know? I mean, they closed the Benedict Main. Most of the Old Benedict. Probably RAN, too. ‘Course, my aunt says they were going to close them all anyway.”Omara laughed. A slight untensing. “Sounds like you have thought about it.”“I think about lots of things a lot. Some things I don’t want to think about and some things I do. I mean, I think about you a lot.”I was trying to move toward her. In, you know, ways. But she wasn’t taking the bait.“Aren’t you afraid they won’t be able to pay for college?”She’d finally succeeded. Omara’s fears had become my fears.“No,” I said. “I mean, my mother is working at that new job at XAI. And even if my father gets laid off, he’s got options. Right? Transfer to other plants. Stuff like that. What about you? Why are you worried? Didn’t your grandparents get you a savings bond or something?”“Yeah. But I keep thinking someone’s gonna open a trapdoor beneath me or something. I guess … I guess I keep thinking I’ll believe in college when I get there. And not before. It just seems a bad idea to get my hopes up, you know?”“You don’t have to worry about it for a while. It’s still years off. I mean, we just have to keep working, don’t we? It’ll happen. We just need to be patient or some shit, you know?”The wind buffeted the tent over our heads. I could hear low talking outside. Low chuckles. Through the tent wall, I could see the embers of the fire flickering faintly. Some of the older actors would be slouching in their folding chairs until the sky started to gray with dawn. That was still several hours away. I listened to it for a long, slow minute.“I do worry,” I confided. “I worry that something will happen that I don’t expect, and I’ll get stuck. That I’ll fail a class, fail a test I need to pass … and I won’t get into college in Chicago, or I won’t get into college anywhere. I worry that my parents are lying about everything, and they can’t pay for shit. I worry that I’m just being set up to fail. I even worry …” I caught my breath. Saying this all out loud was hard. Trusting a human being was hard. But at least I wasn’t looking into her eyes. At least the darkness of a September tent wrapped us and kept our secrets from everyone else.“I worry,” I whispered, “that you’ll go away to college in Chicago, and I’ll be stuck in Akawe, and I’ll never get out.”I heard a deep breath from Omara. I felt her belly raise beneath my cupped palm. She had fallen asleep, and I was grateful.
Urbantasm: The Empty Room is the second book in the magical teen noir serial novel inspired by the author’s experiences growing up in and around Flint, Michigan.
John Bridge is only two months into junior high and his previously boring life has already been turned upside-down. His best friend has gone missing, his father has been laid-off from the factory, and John keeps looking over his shoulder for a mysterious adversary: a man with a knife and some perfect blue sunglasses.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, John must now confront his complicated feelings for a classmate who has helped him out of one scrape after another, although he knows little about who she is and what she wants. What does it mean to want somebody? How can you want them if you don’t understand them? Does anybody understand anyone, ever? These are hard questions made harder in the struggling city of Akawe, where the factories are closing, the schools are closing, the schools are crumbling, and even the streetlights can’t be kept on all night.
John and his friends are only thirteen, but they are fighting for their lives and futures. Will they save Akawe, will they escape, or are they doomed? They might find their answers in an empty room… in a city with ten thousand abandoned houses, there will be plenty to choose from.
Cover Artist: Sam Perkins-Harbin,
John doesn’t understand why the sunglasses are such a big deal, but everything, it seems, is on the table. Perhaps he accidentally offended the Chalks, a white supremacist gang trying to expand across the city. Maybe the feud involves his friend Selby, whose father died under mysterious circumstances. It could even have something to do with O-Sugar, a homegrown drug with the seeming ability to distort space. On the night before school began, a group of teenagers took O-Sugar and leapt to their deaths from an abandoned hospital.
John struggles to untangle these mysteries while adjusting to his new school, even as his parents confront looming unemployment and as his city fractures and burns.
About the Author:
Connor Coyne is a writer living and working in Flint, Michigan.
His serial novel Urbantasm is winner of numerous awards. Hugo- and Nebula-nominee William Shunn has praised Urbantasm as “a novel of wonder and horror.”
Connor has also authored two other celebrated novels, Hungry Rats and Shattering Glass, as well as Atlas, a collection of short stories.
Connor’s essay “Bathtime” was included in the Picador anthology Voices from the Rust Belt. His work has been published by Vox.com, Belt Magazine, Santa Clara Review, and elsewhere.
Connor is Director of Gothic Funk Press. He has served on the planning committee for the Flint Festival of Writers and represented Flint’s 7th Ward as its artist-in-residence for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town grant. In 2007, he earned his Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the New School.
Connor lives in Flint, Michigan less than a mile from the house where he grew up.
Author Website: http://connorcoyne.com