Three haters. Two lovers. And a collision course with tragedy.
Bashed at MLR Press
When Donald and Mark left the Brig that October night, they had no idea their lives and love were about to be shattered by fag bashers, intent on pain, and armed with ridicule, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat.
The cowardly hate crime leaves one half of a couple alone and haunted—literally and figuratively—by the memories and denied promise of new love.
Bashed charts the course of a journey from grief to hope, from death to life, and from hate to redemption. Come along on a trip that encompasses suspense, horror, and—ultimately—romance.
The night had turned cold while they were in the Brig, one of Chicago's oldest and most infamous leather establishments. A strong wind out of the north had blown away the cloud cover that allowed the city of Chicago to retain a little Indian summer heat this late October night. With the wind, the temperature had plunged nearly twenty degrees, from a relatively balmy 62, down to the low forties. But the wind had also revealed a sprinkling of stars, visible even with the ambient light from downtown. And the moon had emerged, almost full, lending a silvery cast to North Clark Street.
Donald wrapped his arms around Mark as they headed south on Clark, toward the side street where they had left their car. Even with his chaps, biker jacket, and boots, Donald felt the chill bite into him, vicious. He couldn't imagine how Mark was faring, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans. He'd get his boy into leather one of these days! It was just past three a.m. and the far north side neighborhood called Andersonville, once the province of Swedes and working class folk, and now the home of yuppies and gays, was quiet. A lone taxi headed north up Clark, looking for fares. Someone even unsteadier on his feet came out of the adult bookstore ahead of them, blinking rapidly, and looking around, perhaps for more excitement than he had found in the bookstore. Donald thought that once upon a time, he could have been the sad, singular man emerging from an adult bookstore while the rest of the world slept, but things had changed since he had met Mark six months ago.
"I feel almost--almost--like we're the only two people on earth," Donald said to Mark, pulling him in close for a sloppy, beery kiss. When he pulled his mouth away, he flashed the crooked grin he knew entranced his boyfriend, and completed the thought with: "And that's fine by me."
Mark grinned back, then rubbed his upper arms. "It's not fine by me. Not when it's this frickin' cold! Let's get home!"
They wrapped their arms around each other to ward off the cold, much as they had done the night they had met, back in March, in the same leather bar. And once again, they were just a bit boozy and flushed with need for each other. Tonight, the weather outside may not have been as frigidly cold as it had been last winter, when they had first laid eyes upon each another, but the heat and electricity passing between them was still burning as brightly as that very first night.
Donald stopped again in the middle of the sidewalk, pulling Mark close and planting a kiss on his cheek. There was no one around and in this neighborhood, such displays really were nothing to worry about, Donald thought. Hell, most anyone they encountered would either be sympathetic or jealous. He nipped at Mark's earlobe and whispered, "I love you, you know that?" He paused to breathe in Mark's scent and to nuzzle his nose in Mark's blond curls.
And Mark stopped, right there in the middle of Clark Street, on an early Sunday morning, and placed his hands on Donald's shoulders, so he would stop walking and so he could look right back into Mark's penetrating stare. "And I love you, Donald." He gave a small grin and looked down at the ground for just a second, almost as if he was embarrassed and then said, "And I always will. This is a forever thing."
Donald felt a rush of warmth go through him at the exact same moment a harsh wind, full of chill and with the smell of dark water, glided east from over Lake Michigan. He pulled Mark close and kissed him full on the mouth, his tongue lifting Mark's and doing a little duel with it. Neither of them closed their eyes, preferring instead to stare into each other's rapt gazes. Just as they were breaking apart, they stiffened as the roar of a souped-up engine shattered the still of the night. The backfire issuing forth from the car's muffler made both men jump. They gave each other a quick glance, then laughed.
The car, an old maroon Duster that had been tricked out beyond good sense, taste, or fiscal responsibility, slowed across from the pair. Three shadowy figures moved inside. One of them rolled down a window and a young male face, pale and marred by acne, in the moon's light, emerged making a kissing sound, exaggerated and prolonged. Donald heard the other guys in the car laughing. He stiffened and felt a trickle of sweat roll into the small of his back, in spite of the chill in the air.
Just as suddenly as they had arrived, they roared off, leaving them in a wake of sour-smelling exhaust. But they did not leave without casting a parting shot out the window: "Fucking faggots!"
Donald shook his head, glancing over at Mark, whose young face was creased with worry. "Don't let shit like that get to you. They're idiots. And chicken shits ... it's pretty easy to call names at people from a speeding car." The pair continued south. Up ahead, they needed to turn and head east to make their way to the little side street where they had parked Donald's Prius. The street could usually be counted on for a spot, even on a busy Saturday night. Donald thought that it was more the fact that the street was hard to get to than the fact that it ran along the northern border of St. Boniface Cemetery that made it such a good parking bet.
"I know. They're just a bunch of assholes," Mark said as they continued east. Donald could feel the defeat and fear in his voice. He hoped the hotrod homophobes hadn't broken the spell of their night. Because Mark was much younger, he hadn't been exposed to some of the same ridicule and taunting Donald had, growing up in the late sixties and seventies.
Donald bit his lower lip, suddenly feeling all the shame and embarrassment he had once associated with being gay rise up again. It never really disappears, does it? His face felt flushed and a curious mixture of emotions warred within him. First, there was the shame, which he chastised himself for, but still couldn't stop the little inner voice that scolded him for the public displays of affection, even on an early Sunday morning and in a part of town that was very gay. Second, there was a more recent, more reasonable voice that was enraged, and asked, "How dare they?" This voice was ready to chase after the speeding car, shouting epithets right back at the cowards who hid behind the car's macho posturing and tinted glass. And the final voice, the other half of the fight or flee duo, just wanted to grab Mark's hand and run back to the car, jump inside, and make sure all the doors were locked before roaring off into the night themselves. Thank God they had a secure garage to park in at home.
"Yeah ... assholes," Donald whispered, then spoke up, "I need to be getting you home, young man, it's way past your bedtime." Donald quickened his pace so that Mark would match his step and tried not to let the name-calling weigh too heavily on the evening. He was pissed about how a mood could be so easily shattered, especially by some more-than-likely suburban rubes that were not entitled to it. Fuck them! He wished he could make the mood come back, but not now, not with the "fucking faggots" still ringing fresh in his ears.
Maybe when they got home, Donald could put things to right. No maybe about it! He would light candles, open a bottle of wine, put on some trance music and urge Mark over to the couch. He would undress him slowly, gliding his strong hands over every inch of Mark's silky skin as he exposed it. He could already taste Mark's lips and the clean heat of his mouth.
They were almost to their car when they both tensed, slowing, as they heard the growling muffler of a car behind them. Donald closed his eyes, thinking, Oh God, please not again. Not them. They both stopped for just an instant. Donald didn't have to look back to know who was in the loudly idling car behind them. His heart began to thud in his chest and he resisted an impulse to simply grab Mark's hand and run the three or four feet it would take them to get to the car. But such a sissy maneuver was probably just the kind of thing those assholes would take particular delight in seeing. And the hot pursuit of a couple of scared queers would be the perfect capper to a boring night.
Donald spoke quietly, out of the corner of his mouth. "Let's just walk to the car. Don't look back. Don't even give them the satisfaction we're aware of them. We both know who it is. But to look back will just open the door to more shit."
Mark kept apace. "Right." His voice was clipped and Donald could pick up on the fear and tension in it.
Behind them, they heard the kissing sound again, over the beat of some heavy metal music, the bass throbbing hard enough to shake the car's frame. "Hey boys!" a falsetto voice, mocking, rang out through the autumn night. Donald wanted to freeze in his spot and could tell Mark did, too, by the way he tensed, unmoving. But Donald had enough presence of mind to keep moving forward, slowly, cautiously, the way one would back away from a lion about to pounce. No sudden moves. No eye contact. Donald had to remind himself to breathe.
A wolf whistle cut through the night air. "Hey if you guys are gonna suck some dick tonight, can we get in on the action?" The car's passengers erupted with laughter.
Donald dug in his tight-fitting Levis for his keys. His hand was trembling. His stomach was churning. He wished they had left much earlier. He wished they had parked on busier, more brightly-lit Clark Street. He wished they had taken a cab. He wished he had left his leather gear at home, just for tonight. He managed to grasp the keys just as they arrived at the car. Mark hurried around to the passenger side. When Donald met Mark's gaze, he saw that the younger man's eyes were bright with fear. He mouthed the word, "Hurry" to Donald.
The sound of car doors slamming behind them made Donald's hands shake so badly, he dropped the keys into the gravel by the side of the road. "Fuck," he whispered. They were off busy Clark now, and the side street was dark. Empty. He couldn't see where the keys had fallen. He could see where they should logically be, but of course, that's not where they were.
Mark said, in a tense voice, "Hurry up, Donald."
Donald didn't have to look behind him to know that the car's occupants were no longer in the Duster and were getting closer. Each slam of a car door caused his heart to beat a little faster, his breath to quicken. One of their voices sounded almost right behind him, "So what do you say, guys, how about a little head?"
Snickers. High-fives. Laughter all around.
Donald swallowed painfully, his throat dry. He tried feeling around in the cinders beside the road with the toe of his boot and came up empty. He did what he had to do: bent down to grope in the gravel for his keys. "Nice," one of the boys hissed behind him. "Hey Justin, look at that. He's getting ready for you." Donald straightened quickly, the keys in his hand now, hoping the two of them could get in the car before the guys drew any closer.
He had had his finger on the remote button that would unlock the door to the Prius when he felt the blow to his lower back. He tried to suck in some breath, but it seemed there was no air. The pain, rushing up, white hot, from his kidneys was fierce, intense, and agonizing. He saw stars. There was no air. He dropped the keys again and groaned, slowly reaching back to rub at the spot where something hard had landed powerfully against the tender area of his back. Through pain-blurred eyes, he looked down and saw the keys lying on the gravel once more, glinting back at him mockingly in the moonlight. He didn't know if he could reach down and get them, couldn't imagine how the movement might ratchet the pain in his back up to unbearable levels. And then he groaned again, but not because of his own pain, but because he saw one of the other guys, his face hidden by a shadow from the Chicago White Sox baseball cap he wore, grab hold of Mark from behind and pull him close to his chest. The guy whispered something in Mark's ear and made that infernal kissing sound again. Only this time, no one was laughing. He lifted Mark, whose bright, terrified eyes seemed to reach out to Donald across the hood of the car, pulling him aloft for a second and away from the car. Another of his buddies, this one wearing a doo rag and a leather jacket that would have looked very much at home in the Brig stepped up, pulled back his arm, and punched Mark savagely in the stomach. Mark let out a great whoosh of air and then a groan. The guy in the Sox cap let him go to watch Mark stumble, clutching his stomach. Donald heard Mark whisper, with what was left of his breath, "Please ... no." Donald attempted again to reach for the keys, but the pain, searing, prevented him from reaching down.
And then another of the trio stepped up behind Mark and Donald saw the hard, blunt object that had just so painfully connected with his own kidneys, an aluminum baseball bat. This guy wore no cap and had the face of a boy: ruddy, matching the dark red hair that topped his head. He handed the bat to the guy in the leather jacket, smiling. The guy in the leather jacket took the bat from him, gripping it firmly around the base. "Batter up!" the guy in the Sox cap called, and then guffawed. The guy in leather's face was a mask of grim determination as he raised the bat and prepared to swing it, with great downward force, on top of Mark's head.
Donald cried out, heedless of his pain. "No! Get away from him, you son of a bitch." Blindly furious, Donald stumbled forward, around the back of the car, to try and do whatever he could to stop that bat from connecting with Mark's skull. But as in dreams, his movements were agonizingly slow, as if he were moving through something thick and viscous, even as the beating on the other side of the car seemed to speed up, as if in fast forward motion.
Donald stood frozen near the back bumper, breathless and wheezing, as the bat came down and landed with a sickening thud on Mark's head, sounding like a watermelon being squashed. Mark dropped to the ground and Donald rushed to help him.
Like a pack of animals, they were on Donald and it was only seconds before he too was on the ground, watching as booted and running-shoed feet kicked at him everywhere they could find that was soft: his stomach, his balls, his face.
He rolled into a little ball and had enough presence of mind to chastise himself for not being able to save Mark. He also thought, in that split second moment, how quiet it all was. And how fast--how very fast--everything was moving...
He turned to look up. The guy with the leather jacket stood above him, on his face an expression that was a curious mixture of glee and rage, swinging the bat. He smiled, and Donald noticed details: the gap in his teeth, the stubble on his face, how his nose skewed to one side, as if it had been broken once. But the last thing--the most horrible thing--Donald remembered seeing was the bat whistling down through the air toward him. He rolled away, hearing someone whisper, "Get him. Get the cocksucker." He reached out for Mark's foot, which was only inches away.
And then everything went black.
My first thought after finishing this book was, 'Well that was really good, but how the heck am I going to review it?!'. Bashed is one of those books so full of churning emotion, that it almost defies description. It deals with a range of topics such as hate, anger, violence, frustration, confusion, contrition, guilt, despair, grief, intolerance, bigotry, revenge and several different types of love. The plot seems on one hand very simple, yet packs such an emotional punch that at times I could hardly bear to read it.
The book begins, horrifically, with a graphic description of a gay bashing that made me almost sick to my stomach to read and yet it was also terribly compelling. One of the victims, Donald, wakes up two days later to find that his world has fallen apart with the death of his lover, Mark. Whilst recovering from his injuries he is visited by the ghost of Mark, which is both a comfort and a torment for Donald. These visitations continue on and off as Donald struggles to come to terms with what has happened, tries to remember the identity of his attackers and attempts to rebuild his life. One of the group of men who attacked Donald is Justin, a sixteen year old boy. He is horrified that something which was supposed to be a bit of intimidation and name calling turned into murder and feels guilty even though he was not the one wielding the baseball bat. In an amazing piece of irony, the only person who cares about Justin is Walter, his gay uncle, who has recently moved into Donald's building. When Justin realises that his uncle and Donald are getting close he panics and starts a chain of events which leads to a nail biting finale.
Bashed is taken mostly from the viewpoint of either Donald or Justin. Donald is a fifty year old gay man who worked the gay leather scene for 30 years before meeting Mark and falling in love, 18 months prior to the story. I found myself feeling a mixture of pity and sorrow for Donald, who had finally found love and lost it in such a violent, unnecessary fashion. Before the attack he was a strong and independent man, who had taken the dominant role in the relationship with him and Mark. After the attack he becomes bewildered and frightened easily. He also doubts his own sanity when he is visited by Mark and yet looks forward to those times when he appears. Then, occasionally, we see flashes of the man he used to be, in his dealings with his sister and when he tries to forget his pain in casual sex.
The character of Justin brought out even more mixed feelings in me. For a start he is young, but still old enough to know right from wrong. He has a neglectful mother, but is loved unconditionally by his uncle. He knows that he hangs around with a bad crowd, drinking and smoking weed, but he does nothing to get himself out of that situation even after the attack. Justin is an example of how a weak attitude plus enough bravado and anger can lead to tragedy. Time and time again he thinks about doing the right thing and yet takes the wrong path at each opportunity.
We do occasionally get the point of view of other characters, especially Grace, Donald's sister; Walter; and for one enlightening chapter, Ronny, the young man who killed Mark. Each of these characters then provides us with insights into other characters - such as Grace's view of her brother, or the gay lifestyle - such as with Walter, or some explanation as to why people may behave as they do - as with Ronnie. There was never a point that I felt a scene or a character was wasted or not needed, even the scene at Mark's wake was included to show that even the most outwardly reasonable person can carry a homophobic attitude.
So out of the simplest of plots - an attack, a death, a grieving, a justice, a new beginning - comes a whole breadth of complex characters and motivations, showing that what might on the surface seem a pointless act has its roots firmly in cause and effect. It was enlightening and chilling.
This was not an easy book to read. I felt emotionally drained by the end as though I had been wrung out. This is a realistic portrayal of a gay bashing and its aftermath. There are no easy answers or excuses at the end of this book, which is as it should be. There may be a little explanation, a few hints as to why these attacks happen but this is real life and there's no fairytale ending because this still happens today, even in our so-called enlightened times. The book does end hopefully with the promise of new beginnings despite the sorrow but Bashed will not be to everyone's taste. The violence at the beginning was graphic so may be offputting to those who don't like violent stories; the themes, as you would expect, are rather depressing; and many of characters are unsympathetic, even on occasion Donald. However, this is a compulsive read and I think it's also a book that needs to be read by all those who sympathise with gay rights. For that reason alone I can wholeheartedly recommend Bashed with a grade of 'Very Good'.
When you pick up a copy of Rick R. Reedís Bashed, donít expect it to be an easy throwaway read. This is a novel about love, violence, fear, and hope that will capture your attention with the very first page and hold it hostage until you close the book at the end. It tosses its reader into the middle of a nightmare as all the fears that one man holds come true and he and his lover are attacked for daring to be a different from what society might call a norm. It takes a peek into the ugly mind of someone who would take their pleasure in causing harm and pain, and it pulls the reader along for a painful ride in the aftermath of violence.
If you are familiar with Mr. Reedís work, you know that horror is his forte, and in Bashed he has almost outdone himself. This is not a tale ŗ la Freddy Kreuger or Dawn of the Dead. The horror here is in just how real it all is, knowing that these acts of violence really do happen to innocent people and that they are not as rare as we might want to believe.
This story will fully engage both your heart and your mind. It will make you think about the nature of love and how it shows itself in our lives as well as what hate actually means. In general, we hate what we fear, and we fear what we donít understand or agree with, and this is illustrated clearly here.
Mr. Reed has written this story from multiple points of view, which gives his readers not only a well-rounded view of the storyline but also insight into the actions and motivations of various characters. We experience Donaldís terror and pain during the attack and his hopelessness as he deals with the gigantic rift that losing Mark has placed on his soul. We watch Justin deal with the angst of being sixteen and the peer pressure that causes him to go along with his friendsí decision to bash a few gay guys even though in his heart he knows that what he is doing is immoral. And most frightening of all, we share in the poisonous thoughts of Ronny, the main perpetrator, as he prepares to take his crime one step further.
Yet with all the horror and suspense, there is an underlying thread of hope that runs through Bashed. There is hope that Donald will be able to rebuild some semblance of his life after losing his lover, hope that he may find love once again, and hope that Justin might find the strength to do the right thing.
As I read this novel, I found myself at times tense with suspense, at times wiping a few tears, and always feeling a sense of shame that such hate and intolerance exists in the world. For its depth of emotion, realistic horror, and atmosphere that lingers long after the story is complete, Iím storing Bashed on my keeper shelf. This isnít a story that you finish and forget. Itís one that youíll remember for a good long time.
Walking home from a leather bar through a relatively safe part of Chicago, two men are brutally attacked and beaten by three punks. One of the victims, Donald, is hospitalized. His lover, Mark, is dead at the scene.
So begins this gripping and chilling story of one man's struggle to survive the death of his partner after they were gay-bashed.
The author, Rick Reed, lets us see the aftermath through the eyes of not only Donald himself, but his sister Grace, trying to bring him comfort and solace, Walter, a neighbor wanting to be more than neighborly, and Justin, Walter's sixteen year old nephew who was one of the three responsible for Mark's death.
With great skill Reed gets inside the heads of these people bringing their darkest thoughts and fears to the surface, and forcing us to share Justin's weakness and paranoia. Reed might have been trying to portray Justin in a sympathetic light, but I ended up hating him more than Ronny, the one who wielded the baseball bat that ended Mark's life. Justin's sniveling guilt racked persona mixed with his obsession for the older Ronny's moronic behavior makes for a very unlovable teenager.
Reed doesn't hold back on the kind of anonymous sex Donald prefers when he is finally able to start putting his life together, but his hook up with Walter gives him more than he thought possible. The paranormal theme Reed introduces with Mark, Donald's dead lover, is interesting and pivotal to the story, but to dwell on it here would give too much away. Suffice to say that the climax of the story had me on the edge of my seat ~ a real white-knuckle ride!
I read somewhere that Rick Reed has been dubbed the Stephen King of gay horror ~ not a bad comparison ~ but unlike King who can sometimes go into endless and often pointless detail, Reed's writing is stylishly simple, yet at the same time gritty and realistic.
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