**Note: The Keywords/Tags might spoil some readers!**
Title: In the Pines
Author: Lydia Nyx
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Length: 10,100 words, 27 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story Ratio
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Mini-Mystery, Gun Kink, Dark Theme, Cops, Ghosts/Spirits, Alaska
Rating: Me Like
Tyler Maxwell is a former New York cop now working a desk job in Alaska. But he hasn’t lost all of his cop instincts. After purchasing a gun as a gift despite the gun shop owner’s insistence that the weapon was cursed, Tyler starts doing some investigating into the gun’s sordid past. He turns up evidence of a string of unexplained suicides, all apparently committed with the very same gun.
At the same time, Tyler begins to have erotic dreams about the beautiful and mysterious Flynn. Thoughts of Flynn soon begin to intrude upon Tyler’s waking hours, though, and it becomes clear that Flynn wants more from Tyler than just his body. He has a favor to ask. Now, Tyler has to finally unravel the mystery of the gun before he becomes its next victim.
This story was previously published as part of the Weight of a Gun anthology by Storm Moon Press.
This dark and finely crafted mini mystery had me falling for everything I was set up to, and then marveling at the turn the story took and the way it artfully came together.
The story opens as Tyler studies the different variety of guns available at a shop in Anchorage, Alaska. He’s looking for a gift for his brother, soon to come home from Iraq. He himself is new to the area; six months previously he was shot in the line of work as a NYC police officer. Now he’s a weak and atrophied version of himself, grieving his past life and working behind the desk for the local force. Tyler is intrigued by a new looking Browning pistol that is shelved among the cheaper guns and rifles. It stands out as a nice gun and a pistol and when he expresses interest in buying it, the man behind the counter tries to talk him out of it by telling him that every owner of the gun has committed suicide. Tyler doesn’t believe it and buys the gun anyway, but when he starts to lose his mind and become strangely attached to it, he finally realizes there might be something true to the unbelievable story.
There are two parts of this story that really stand out because they work so well. The first is that this story is in effect a mystery. This is one of the very few short stories that I think has pulled a mystery off in such short time. It is true that there’s little time to parse out the details, but it isn’t an overly complicated plot, and the author is very crafty in putting narration to good use.
The second and most obvious from the beginning of the story is the craft in characterization of Tyler. To him, the gun is a symbol of the life he left behind. He’s emasculated by his frail body, at times using a cane. He’s lost the power that comes with being a police officer. The gun gives him power. It is quickly also shown in relation to his personal life. He’s afraid of his body because he’s so embarrassed by his scars and atrophied muscles. He would rather his life remain figuratively impotent then succumb to the safe relationship, something he despises and is represented by the character of Eric.
Tyler didn’t do nice guys. The kind of guys he did were far from nice — nice to look at, yes, but not nice in the sense they would send you cupcakes and listen to your problems. The guys Tyler usually liked were sleek and sexy, emotionally dangerous, sharp as knife blades. They were often young, sculpted, and had exquisite tastes.
He met them in clubs and pulled them over for speeding in fast, expensive cars. They liked to dance and drink and fucked like animals. They tore up his designer sheets or messed up hotel rooms, and some of them liked to feel his handcuffs. More than a few were turned on by his uniform and peeled it off him as part of the sex act. Authority was the oldest aphrodisiac; he knew this and liked what it attracted.
The loss of that power and control is devastating to Tyler, who by implication defined his life and his job together. This is immediately shown to be true when the mysterious Flynn starts to show up in his dreams, a place where he can once again be the confident lover he used to be.
Flynn is the amalgamation of that type of man, dangerously seductive. In essence, he is the gun, the symbol of everything Tyler had and wants to have again. “Every gun had a story, dangerous and thrilling like those young men who came through his bedroom door.” Flynn’s actions show this well:
This time, he crawled up from the bottom o the bed and slinked over Tyler’s bare legs, gloriously naked again…
His lips quirked. “You’re a police officer, aren’t you?”
“I was.” No, in the dream he could be whatever he wanted to be. “I am.”
“At last,” Flynn replied. “Good.”
Slinking out from under the bed is something we all associate with a nightmare, which immediately raises red flags. These deliberate choices really stand out because I was aware that my emotions and the collective cultural memory was being played on. I appreciated that because it was so deliberately done. Yet, I was again surprised later when everything I had thought had a new, yet equally understandable connotation. The ability for the author to do that impressed me, and left me with a real appreciation for her writing.
The ending of this story is fabulous. Again, not what I would have expected, but appreciated once I had time to consider it. This is a story that won’t be for every reader. Anyone sensitive to guns or the violence associated with them might not be able to look at the story objectively, which I understand. Also, this is very unconventionally romantic. I don’t think you could really consider it a romance, but I still found it romantic, though some might not. It probably will not satisfy those looking for romance as a priority in their stories and the focus here really is the individual journey of Tyler. I think it was beautifully written just like the gun, dangerously seductive.