Saturday, June 4, 2022

SHOWCASE • “Interior Monologue,” by Bruce Bethke

With all my available time this week being consumed by last-minute and post last-minute work on Stupefying Stories #24, I decided to pull one more old story out of the archives and publish it here as a Saturday SHOWCASE story, along with commentary on what it took to turn this one into a professional publication.


Interior Monologue

by Bruce Bethke

First publication: Amazing Stories, Winter 1994


The gentle scent of a woman’s perfume still hangs in the warm, quiet air.

Satin pillow cool under my head.

I think: my problem is I have too many lives. There’s Ron Evans, Marcie’s husband, father of Robbie, Becky, and Ron Junior, and king of the Woodbury barbecue. He’s pretty close to Ronald Evans, VP-Sales for The Hogan Group’s DynaTech division, and the top-notch deal-maker you want in your corner when the chips are down. From him it’s not too much further to R.P. Evans, Boss From Hell, the mean sonofabitch the salesmen joke about when they think I’m not listening. (Morons. Don't they realize the intercom system works both ways?)

The one I don’t understand is Ron. Just Ron.

He starts out normal enough—Ronald Evans on a sales trip, really—but put two toy Bacardi bottles under his belt and some Frequent Flyer miles on his soul and he’s The Lonely Guy, a good provider whose fat frigid wife doesn’t understand that a man has needs. Two more drinks in the hotel bar and he’s Mister Party, who’s got a gold card and a rental car and wants to know where a fella can find some fun in this town.

Two last drinks and he’s The Desperate Soul, whose balls are a pair of ticking time bombs that’ll kill him if he doesn’t get laid.

I wonder: that perfume seems vaguely familiar. Should I open my eyes, see who she is? No, I decide, not yet.

I already know what she looks like.

I like them young, skinny, and blonde. Straight hair, hint of a curl, teased a little on top, like a dandelion. Pale white skin, perky little tits, tight little ass that fits my hand; and long, long, skinny legs that go all the way up. I like them in my place, her place, hotel rooms, parked cars, dark alleys out back of the bar. I like the way you can stand there deep kissing a skinny one, and grab her ass with both hands, and she’ll sort of jump up and wrap her thighs around you and you can take her right then, right there, nail her against the wall. I like short, slinky dresses, nylons with garters, and no underwear. I hate pantyhose, condoms, and anything else that gets in my way.

I hate complicated relationships. I tell them my name is Ron. Just Ron. They tell me their names, but I call them all “Honey” and lie that I love them.

I hate night sweats.

And thinning hair. And arthritic joints. And chronic diarrhea. And open sores. And the tight, bloated feeling of swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin.

I hate the doctor at the anonymous free clinic in St. Louis. “I’m afraid it’s bad news, Mister—”

“Ron,” I say.

“Your T-cell count is in the cellar; your antibody count is through the roof. There is no mistake. You have AIDS.”

I take a month to get my financials squared away, check out my health insurance, put all my ducks in a row. Then I get tested by my family doctor and break the news to Marcie, my wife. “I swear to God, honey, I don’t know how I caught it. It must have been that transfusion after my surgery in ‘83.”

She stands by me. Supports me, sympathizes with me, tests negative herself, even holds my hand as we break the news to the neighbors. Two weeks later Tawni, my perky little blonde secretary, tests positive and files a lawsuit the size of the national debt. DynaTech fires me before she’s finished talking.

Marcie has the restraining order in hand before I pull into the driveway.

I take an apartment down in Loring Park, where people talk about AIDS the way suburban parents talk about chicken pox. The AZT makes me puke, so I start experimenting with street cures. Garlic enemas, Diachlorazine, CBT, RCS, MIC for the HIV; my bloodstream becomes an alphabet soup.

I feel: soft, cool satin, under my fingertips. There’s no fragrant warmth beside me; she must have left me alone. Still, the trace of her perfume lingers.

They come to know me in Loring Park. The shambling, dying guy who used to be someone important. The gullible chump with a fat wallet who’ll buy anything that offers a ghost of a hint of a chance.

He’s black. He’s tall. He steps out of the deep shadows one sultry July night, his eyes hidden, his smiling teeth shining like old yellow ivory in the pale starlight. “Come with me, Ron. I got what you want.” I follow him out of the park, to a second-floor loft in the old warehouse district.

The girl who answers the door is pale, blonde, delicate and perfect. She tells me her name, but I forget it. The black man leaves; she takes me inside and introduces me to Butch, who’s all languid sleek muscles and spiky red hair like Woody Woodpecker. The room is straight out of a tacky hot-sheets motel, with white satin and red vinyl everywhere. “We have HIV,” she says.

“Great,” I say. “Did I ask for a support group?”

“Not AIDS, asshole. Human Immortality Virus.”

“Right. Thanks.” I start for the door.

She touches me. It’s been ages since a woman touched me like that. I stay, to listen.

“Call it kitchen-sink genetic engineering,” she explains gently. “Someone at Mayo cobbled it up as a possible AIDS cure. The Feds killed the project—one undesirable side-effect—but someone from ACT-UP smuggled a culture out. This virus triggers a massive infection that rewires your entire body on the DNA level. Afterwards, you’ve got regenerative powers you wouldn’t believe and an immune system that can handle anything.”

I look at her. I look deep, deep into those clear green eyes. She parts her lips slightly, licks her lips; her breath is sweet. Her small, hard nipples show through the fabric of her clingy white dress.

I find my voice. “And just how do I acquire this immortality virus?”

She steps closer, and runs her slim, perfect hands across my chest. She answers in a husky whisper. “You exchange bodily fluids with me.”

My hands ache for her. I start to reach—

I turn to Butch. “And what do you get out of all this?”

He smiles, stretches, and yawns. Impossibly wide. Showing all his teeth.

“I get to feed.”

Dracula never had to face Ronald Evans, Dealmaker. Being mythical, he wouldn’t have to, anyway. I don’t buy the Prince of Darkness shit. No Middle Ages mysticism or undead bat people for this boy: I make Butch and the girl juggle crucifixes, sit under a sun lamp, and eat a plate of linguini al pesto before I make my decision. Butch spent a fortune on those fangs; cosmetic surgery and dental implants are not cheap and I make him show me all the receipts. The normal human jaw is not really designed for big canines: Carly Simon might make a passable vampire, but Bernadette Peters would starve to death. And the blood thing isn’t some weird kink. The enhanced immune system burns a lot more hemoglobin and blood proteins than the standard model, but the virus doesn’t tart up your marrow.

When I say yes, it’s because I’m absolutely convinced that Butch and Honey are who they say they are: a couple of ordinary humans who had the good luck to get infected with a stolen engineered virus that reprograms the immune system.

That, and I’ve been staring at Honey’s perfect little body for hours, and I’m horny as a three-balled tomcat.

Butch discreetly excuses himself, leaving me and Honey in the hot-sheets room. She steps back a pace, favors me with a shy smile, then peels her virginal white dress off over her head and casts it aside. Her breasts are small, firm, and high, with tight dark nipples; her belly gently rounded; her pube hair a soft, glossy thatch that tapers into a faint dark line stretching up to her navel.

I burst buttons in my eagerness to get my shirt off. I lurch Frankensteinian across the room, fighting my pants down around my knees, dying to bury my darting tongue in her golden perfection. She giggles like a schoolgirl as I take her, or she takes me, or whatever it is that happens. We gasp. We moan. We kiss, bite, suck, claw like mating tigers; I explode inside her.

She gives me a minute to catch my breath, then brings me to hardness again with her tongue.


Dawn. I wake to sticky vinyl, satin sheets in disarray, and beautiful golden hair draped like fine silk across my pillow. A plane of fresh sunlight slants through the open window, painting her skin in the glowing colors of Heaven. Never before have I awakened next to a woman who looked so... satisfied.

Dawn. With a small start, I remember that that’s her name. The disturbance wakes her. She stretches, yawns, the white satin falls away to reveal her perfect little breasts. Her breath is sweet and pure; while I’m thinking she’s still mostly asleep she surprises me, snakes an arm up around my neck, pulls me down into a deep kiss.

“I love you, honey,” she whispers.

Butch enters the room, carrying a complication of tubing and glass. “Just need two pints,” he says, as he gently slips the needle into my left arm at the elbow. I watch my blood pulse into the collection jar. While that’s happening, Butch draws a few crimson cc’s from Dawn’s thigh and injects it into my butt, in case I didn’t have enough contact with her mucous membranes.

And then Dawn and I get dressed, and the three of us drink a Type O toast to my immortality. Over ice, mixed with V-8 and a twist of lime, it’s not too bad.

While Dawn is in the bathroom, Butch hits me with the rest of the pitch. Even vampires need rent money, he explains. But he doesn’t want Dawn thinking he’s some kind of pimp.

I understand. I expected this. I pay up. Dawn emerges from the bathroom, walks me to the door. “Remember,” she says, “the incubation period is about a week. When the infection hits, you must be in a safe place where no one will find you for at least seventy-two hours. The dormant phase is when you are most vulnerable. If you get through that, you’re home free.”

I don’t get through it. I’m sick. I’m exhausted. I stagger back to my apartment, light-headed from loss of blood, and what’s left of my immune system craps out in less than a day. By the time the landlady gets worried by my silence and calls the paramedics, I’m already cold, paralyzed, and deep into dormant phase.


Memory Fragments: “Yes, that’s him.” I never knew Marcie could put such venom into three little words. “Don’t bother with an autopsy. We know what he died from.”

Rough gloved hands force my eyes open. Cold steel forceps stuff cotton balls under my eyelids. They take stitches, to keep the eyes from popping open at an inopportune time. Pack cotton into my dick; sew my asshole shut to keep it from leaking. I try to let them know I’m still alive. Something moves.

“Oops, looks like we’ve got a twitcher here! Tighten that leg strap, would you?” They lock me down, and sever the major tendons in my arms and legs to keep it from happening again.

Needles go into my pelvic blood vessels like dull railroad spikes hammered into my groin.

My God, my veins are on fire! They’re pumping poison into my body, draining out my precious blood! I would scream, if only I could move my diaphragm muscle.

Astonishing. My re-engineered body is taking it. I sense shifts in priorities, slow cellular migrations, as all energy is diverted to keeping the brain alive. Slowly, slowly, my system begins to break down the aldehydes, oxidize the methanol. I burn subcutaneous fat at a furious rate. Dawn wasn’t kidding about my new regenerative powers. If I can just…


Organ music. Heavy, overpowering smell of carnations.

“Dearly Beloved,” Pastor Bob drones on. “We are gathered…”


“Think the old bastard’s really dead?” someone whispers. I know that voice. It’s that little weasel Kemper, from the East Coast division! What’s he…?

“Maybe we should have brought a wooden stake, boss.” That’s Herb Olson, my second-in-command. Herb, you backstabbing traitor sonofabitch, when I get out of here I’m going to…


“Bye, Dad.” That’s Robbie, my little tough guy.

“Goodbye, Daddy.” That’s Becky, my sweetheart princess.

“Night-night, Daddy.” And Ronnie Junior. I hear footsteps toddling away.

Marcie. I can tell just by listening to her breathe it’s Marcie. Her voice is almost a hiss. “Goodbye, you rotten son of a bitch.” Then louder, sweeter. “This was his favorite perfume.” A slosh of something cold, wet, and sickeningly floral spatters across my face and neck. Oh, God, not Tabu. Marcie, damn you, you know I always hated this shit!

They shut the heavy steel casket lid. The latches lock.



I wake to the sound of earth being backhoed onto my grave. And darkness. And cool satin coffin-lining under my fingertips. And the rancid smell of Marcie’s crummy perfume clogging my nose. And eyes that are stitched shut and packed with cotton, and a crippled, paralyzed, hamstrung body that’s slowly digesting itself to keep my nearly immortal brain alive.

And the very cold, clear, complete realization that I could last like this for years.




Interior Monologue: A Tale from the Trunk

Okay, you’ve read the story. Now, what’s wrong with it?

BWAHAHA! Trick question! There is nothing wrong with it! Well, aside from the fact that the title is quite possibly the most hideous pun I ever managed to put in print, and yet no one ever got it.

As for the story, I know exactly when, and perhaps more importantly, why I wrote “Interior Monologue.” I wrote it in April of 1993, in response to a review. I don’t remember exactly which piece of my fiction was reviewed where or by whom, but I do remember that once again a reviewer had slagged me off for being a lightweight, “funny” writer with impeccable comic timing but the literary style of only a somewhat brighter than average college sophomore.

Ouch! Hey, what part of “sophomoric humor” don't you get?

While that review at first raised a welt, the second thing it raised was my ire. Okay, buddy, you wanna serious story? You wanna read a three-thousand word gloom cookie with literary style out the wazoo? Let me think…

Serious. Okay, that means sex and death. And not just sex, but gratuitous, explicit sex. And the death has to be not merely inescapable and futile, but if I can find some way to amp up the Ick! factor that will be even better. It needs a completely unrepentant dirtbag of a main character, no sympathetic or appealing secondary characters, and a seriously bleak bummer of an ending that leaves not one possible glimmer of hope—but possibly ironic justice; yeah, maybe I can get away with that, if it’s subtle. I need to really lard on the hopeless misery and bleak despair, and above all, it needs to be written in a style that’s just as elliptical and non-linear as all get-out…which means first-person, present-tense, stream-of-consciousness, but full of little baroque curlicues and flashbacks.

And AIDS. In 1993 AIDS was very trendy, very of the moment. If I could just find some way to work in an AIDS angle, that would really make it complete.

The plot, such as it is, is Poe’s “The Premature Burial” as filtered through E.C. Comics. By my choice, the story begins with the most clichéd of all possible openings—a guy waking up in a strange dark place and struggling to remember where he is and how he got there—and ends with him realizing that he’s laying in a coffin, in a mental state somewhere between denial and insanity. Between those bookends he spends his time flashing back through the chain of events that brought him to his present condition, ending with the shocker last frame. The structure is pure three-act: exposition, development, climax and denouement. The “science fiction” in this story is crafted from the purest bullshit: I simply made things up and deliberately chose to do no research and resist all impulses to make this story anything other than a gush of ugly emotions.

I wrote it in two days: on April 8 and 9, 1993. On April 11 I sent it off to F&SF. I didn’t really have much hope I’d sell it to Kris Rusch, because I didn’t think it was morbid enough for her tastes—there were no sexually abused or murdered children in it—but by then I’d learned that sending a story off to a hopeless market right away was a good way for me to declare it done and stop tinkering with it. It came back from F&SF with a form rejection on June 7, at which time I took it to my writing group, who collectively were unable to come up with anything more than a few minor word dinks and tweaks. I gave it one more editing pass to tighten and tune the prose, and then on July 14 sent it off to Amazing Stories.

Seven days later I received an acceptance letter and contract in the mail. Amazing had not only accepted it instantly, they’d unilaterally upped my rate to 15-cents/word, which was roughly three times their standard rate at the time and a 25-percent increase over my previous best word rate with them. The story was published in the Winter 1994 issue of Amazing Stories and immediately garnered a sizable pile of glowing reviews and Nebula Award nominations—although sadly, it did not make it to the final ballot.

And thus, having proved I could write a “serious and literary” story if I wanted to—one pretentious enough to get even the attention of the Nebula voters—I felt no need to do so ever again. Instead, two years later I came back and won the Philip K. Dick Award with a comedy, and with that same book also made a very serious run on the Nebula, although again, I didn’t win. 

As the old theater saying goes, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Any more questions?