Sex. Secrets. Fury. Fear. Gluttony. 
Vulnerability. Salvation.

These are the things that hide in the 
darkness of our souls.

Eight stories peel back the shadows to reveal the broken, fragile lattice that holds us together.

Are you afraid of the dark?

Read sample pages of this book  
THE 27 CLUB (excerpt)

She sat in Earl's because no one gave a shit. Not what she did, not how much she drank, and certainly not who she was. It’s why she’d come back to Milwaukee, and why she’d left it in the first place. Celebrity wasn’t a real job.

To the rest of the world, she was Lucy Alibi. And there was no one better known. For a period in time plagued by a fleeting attention span, Lucy Alibi had staying power. Some of it was constructed—some happened by accident. All of it, the sex tape, the crotch shot at the Grammys, even that famous photograph of her vomiting into the blonde hair of the TV contest singer, it built her reputation as the bad girl you didn’t want to fuck with—but the one you definitely wanted to fuck. Lucy Alibi would have been relegated to reality show oblivion if she wasn’t also an insanely brilliant songwriter. No matter what you thought of her life, you loved her music. And that was the secret.

Four albums that each became quadruple-platinum. An eight week period where the top ten singles were all by Lucy Alibi, as well as the Adult Contemporary, Billboard Top 40 and R&B Album charts. She had more Rolling Stone covers than anyone in history, male or female. You, your grandma and your ten-year-old nephew all had a favorite Lucy Alibi song. Her music defined a period of history. There was no one bigger.

Lucy Alibi flicked the edge of the empty glass with her fingernail. She nodded at Earl, who replaced the glass with a new, full Jack & ice. Lucy tipped the glass back, drinking half of it. She hadn’t yet demanded the bottle—she would, but it was still early.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” she said.

“Yeah, I know,” Earl replied. “Twenty-eight.”

Lucy snorted and took another drink. She finished the glass, tapped for another.

The door opened and the man entered. He was forgettable—Lucy thought that was probably the point. Average height, average build, a face that allowed him to blend in. He shook snow from his coat, took it off, hung it up on the hook by the door. He walked across the bar and sat in the empty stool beside her. She didn’t look up. She didn’t have to.

“I’d almost given up on you,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s true,” the man replied. He motioned to Earl.

“Same,” he said. Earl nodded, and poured the drink. The next morning Earl would remember someone talking to her, but he wouldn’t be able to describe him clearly.

Lucy Alibi and the man sat in silence for a long time. On the juke, the first single from her second album came on. Contact High. The familiar thump-thump, thump-thump of the drums carried into the piano, then her voice, and then the words that nearly every human on the planet knew by heart—“I lost my soul along the way, I never heard what you had to say”. Lucy closed her eyes and she was at Wembley, that rainy summer night, the encore with a hundred thousand voices singing the words with her.

“Any regrets?” the man asked.

Lucy Alibi laughed harshly. “That’s a stupid question.”

“They all had them,” he said. “Morrison wanted to write an opera. Hendrix wanted his Ph.D. Cobain wished he’d had a son.”

“I guess life’s full of them,” Lucy said.

“You made your choice.”

“I was nineteen years old,” she hissed. “I didn’t know.”

“Of course you did.”

“Is this what you do?” she asked. “Feed on the wish-I-coulda’?”

“No,” the man replied. “I’m just curious. It doesn’t change anything.”

Lucy flicked her glass again.

“Bottle,” she said. Earl set a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels in front of her. She poured a glass, downed it, poured another.

“If it’s any consolation, I waited until the last night,” the man said.

Lucy tipped her glass in toast to him. The man took a sip from his.

“Who’s the next one?” Lucy asked. “Have you picked them out yet?”

“That’s not how it works,” the man replied.

“Well, when you do, maybe you can tell them this,” she said. “Think hard. Think long. Because it’s a lonely decision. You want my regret? That’s it. I didn’t know how lonely it would be.”

Lucy Alibi finished her drink and poured another. She hadn’t always been able to do this. Hard drinking took practice. It was all about building up your tolerance. There was a point, the tipping point, where it went from work to habit, then the final point when it became necessity. A glass wasn’t enough, and a bottle wasn’t enough, either. That’s when you started chasing it. Heroin was the best chaser. There was a symbiosis between getting drunk and getting high. Lucy called it a Smack ‘n Jack.

“Has anyone ever refused to go?” Lucy asked. The thought hadn’t occurred to her before. She felt an unfamiliar glimmer of hope.

“Hemingway,” the man said. “And Presley. Others, too.”

“No one here gets out alive, then.”

The man shook his head. Lucy Alibi turned to stare at him. He was the same as he had been, down to the same clothes. He hadn’t aged. Of course he hadn’t. People like him didn’t age. They didn’t die. They didn’t have to make that decision.

“Are you the devil?” she asked. Lucy Alibi had asked the same question eight years earlier. From the same bar stool, actually. She’d been Lucy Jackson then, the waitress at Bud’s Grill who sat in her shitty basement apartment writing songs on her pawnshop Fender acoustic. Lucy Jackson, whose single mother had a one-night-stand with the black bassist from some forgettable road band and been left to raise her half-and-half baby. Raise was a kind word. Sustain was more appropriate. Milwaukee’s underbelly took Lucy in. She lost her virginity at twelve, got pregnant and had an abortion at fifteen. What money she could find went for cigarettes and tattoos. She had a plan, at one point, to tattoo her father’s blackness out of her skin. She thought it might help her mother not see him every time she looked at Lucy. That didn’t take. Her mother was hit by a bus when Lucy was sixteen. Someone who wasn’t there when she was alive set that in stone by dying.

“Are you the devil?” she asked again. She was nineteen, underage in the bar but Earl didn’t care. Money was money, and she was smokin’ hot. A little eye candy was worth the unlikely chance he’d get raided.

“I’m not the devil,” the man said. “And I’m not God.”

“What are you, then?” Lucy Jackson asked. She sipped her drink. Hard drinking would come later.

She was Lucy Jackson again, nineteen years old but always so much older. He ignored her question, as he always would.

“You don’t have to say yes,” the man said. “If you say no, your life will go on just like it has. You won’t be successful. You won’t be remembered. You’ll live in obscurity. And you’ll do it for a very long time.”

Lucy stared into the melting ice of her drink. In the plastic bag at her feet, her Bud’s Grill uniform was bunched up where she’d hastily stuffed it after her shift. She took inventory. The vacant, empty stares of the other waitresses—Gladys, the fat old bitch whose fat, lazy son spent his days on her couch; La’Twan, with her two or maybe three baby daddies and the fourth on the horizon; Adalee, who put her husband through medical school only to have him run off with an EMT. No matter how hard she looked, there was no dream left in any of their eyes. The emptiness was absolute. Not even the customers had a future. Her only salvation was her music. Christ only knew where it came from, but she had it. The vacant eyes around her only magnified her own passion. Made her desperate to hold onto it, and terrified that the vacuum of mediocrity would pull her down, too. In the end, it was fear that made her agree.

“So what happens now?” she asked. “Do you snap your fingers and suddenly I’m on the radio?”

The man smiled, but there was little warmth in it. “Don’t quit your day job yet,” he said.

She didn’t. A part of her forgot about the man. The surreal tends to fade. When it happened, it happened by chance. She was working the overnight shift, picking it up for Gladys. A tour bus pulled up, a couple of monstrous security guys came in, held everyone back, and the band Jumpseat walked in. They weren’t playing in Milwaukee, just passing through on their way to the next gig. Lucy slipped Lyric, the lead singer, her demo CD after giving him a blowjob in the bathroom. A week later they flew her out to New Jersey and she opened for them for the balance of their tour. It was the most valuable BJ she’s ever given. When the tour ended, she spent two weeks in the Electric Ladyland studio in New York and two months after that her debut album was released.

At first nothing happened, and then a Los Angeles DJ named Pirate starting putting the single into heavy rotation. New York followed, and then Virgin in the UK, and within the year, Lucy Alibi was a household name. The name came from Lyric, who told her a stage name was just an alibi to cover your behavior as a rock star. On her twentieth birthday, her manager called to tell her the first single was number one on both coasts, and in the UK and Canada.
excerpt from the short story collection "Midwestern B Sides" ©2015 Jeff Rosenplot
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