FOUR IN THE MORNING is available now….
It’s an eclectic collection of four entirely different dark novellas, the brainchild of contributor Lincoln Crisler (editor of CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY?) and also featuring stories by myself, Malon Edwards, and Tim Marquitz.
When Lincoln approached me with the idea for this collection, he suggested we loosely use the theme of ‘age’ as a jumping off point, as in one of us do youth, another middle age, and another the golden years. When Malon came on, he and I decided to split youth into adolescence and young adulthood.
The novella I wrote for this project is called GULLY GODS.
GULLY GODS started way back in 1997 with an entirely different cast of characters but a similar setting, the Lower West Side of Chicago, around the historic Pilsen neighborhood, traditionally a kind of port of entry neighborhood for foreign immigrants to the city, beginning with Czechs in the early nineteenth century and gradually becoming predominately Mexican in the twentieth.I wanted to explore late 90’s street gang culture, sort of in the way Harlan Ellison did back in the 50’s (but without actually joining a gang, obviously), and it occured to me (as almost everything I study does) to infuse it with weird fiction. Actually, the first time I heard the term ‘Urban Horror’ or ‘Urban Fantasy,’ I ran it through my outdated 90’s PC filter, when every thing ‘urban’ meant ‘hip-hop’ related. So I set out to write this thinking I was writing Urban Horror because the whole time I had an old school hip hop soundtrack going in my mind (and I never ever write to music. But more on that in another post). Then while walking past a booth at San Diego Comic Con last year I came across an Urban Horror publisher and saw the covers were almost entirely populated by white women in black leather pants, emulating the chick from Underworld (who to me, was already a second generation Trinity from The Matrix). Open up another window and do a google search for Urban Fantasy and you’ll see what I mean. A slew of skinny chicks in black t-shirts.
But I digress.
As things sometimes do, the most vivid scene I had written wound up showing up almost to the T in a major motion picture release (the curb job in American History X), so I sort of became disenchanted with the material and the story never really took off in my mind. It sat dormant way back there for a lot of years, but Lincoln brought it back out itching.
I decided to revisit the concept (a group of hardcore gangbangers who pay homage to a dark and very real deity which grants them supernatural powers) from the point of view of Africans/African Americans instead of Puerto Ricans, as was my initial idea.
I think what made it click was my recent research into the child soldiers of Liberia, an absolutely deplorable phenomenon that’s been practiced there and in several other countries for as long as men have aimed guns at one another. My interest in Liberian child soldiers started after I’d streamed the Vice Guide To Travel’s harrowing episode on Liberia, and become acquainted with Joshua Blahyi, AKA General Butt Naked.
Blahyi is a reformed warlord turned Christian minister in Liberia. During the country’s bloody civil war, he devoted himself to a personal deity which required the blood of murdered children as sacrifice and in turn supposedly granted him immunity from bullets if he strode into combat stark naked (which he did). The majority of his Butt Naked Brigade consisted of armed children, sometimes as young a nine years old, kidnapped from their home villages, beaten, often sexually abused, and strung out on drugs, usually ‘brown brown,’ a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder, which left them in a perpetual state of heightened paranoia and agitation.
Their former identities as sons and brothers were completely wiped away. They traded their real names for ‘battle names’ like Walking-Fucking, Rambo, Khadaffi, and Captain War Boss. They were trained to show no mercy to their enemies, and encouraged to brutalize and rape civilians at their pleasure (we’re talking rape from the time they’re first able to even attempt sex). Following Blahyi’s vision, the boys strutted into combat either nude, or wearing evening gowns, outrageously colored wigs, and handbags, which they believed confused enemy bullets.
I read Uzodinma Iweala’s child soldier novel BEASTS OF NO NATION and several positively chilling first hand accounts from ex-(child) combatants and their victims, a few of which wound up as recollections of the characters in GULLY GODS.
GULLY GODS’ ‘hero’ if it has one, is an African American Houston teenager named J-Hoss, who, having been caught up in the South Houston gang culture, witnesses and promptly avenges the death of his best friend at the hands of Mexican rivals, and goes to Chicago to lay low with his aunt and young cousin.
Like Father Flanagan, I’m not of the opinion that there are natural born ‘bad boys.’ There are kids who have gone bad, sure, and J-Hoss is one of them. At an early age his father was incarcerated, and he was fortunate enough to have been partly raised by his grandfather, a hardworking ex-cowboy who instilled him a sense of personal history and a moral code.J’s family comes from the Mascogo.
The Mascogo are African-Mexicans, descended from the Black Seminoles of Florida. The Black Seminoles came about when Africans fled to Spanish territory and mingled with the Seminole Indian tribes there, becoming part of their community. After fighting the United States nearly to a standstill in the everglades during the Seminole Wars, the Black Seminoles were faced with the prospect of slavery and removal to Oklahoma (Indian Territory). A group of them chose instead to head for Mexico, where they established the town of Nacimento with the full blessing of the Mexican government, who prized them as scouts and trusted them to defend the northern borders against American bandits and hostile Apaches (how the world turns, right?).
The leader of this group was called John Horse, and it’s from John Horse that J-Hoss takes his name.
After his grandfather’s death in a nursing home, J-Hoss finds himself not always living up to the code he was taught, acting selfishly as teenaged boys do, but in the volatile and hostile world of the gangster, which soon makes him a dangerous individual.Expecting a peaceful sojourn in Chicago, J-Hoss strikes up a relationship with a Mexican girl from the new neighborhood, which soon draws the ire of the local Mexican gang. Pretty soon it’s more of the same, except here, J-Hoss doesn’t have his own gang to back him up, and in addition he’s made a promise to his aunt and her Muslim boyfriend not to endanger their home or the life of his young cousin with any of his criminal dabblings.But when a small but ambitious and up and coming Liberian immigrant gang called the Trip Sixes sides with him against the Mexicans and extends a friendly hand to him, it’s understandably difficult for J-Hoss to say no.
Soon events transpire to send him headlong back into the life he’s forsworn. But the Trip Sixes (led by an intense ex-child soldier who calls himself Hitler) are nothing like any gang J-Hoss has ever known.
They court a terrible, dangerous power, an old power that hungers for bloodshed.
Here’s the first two pages….
All the bad started when the Southside Cholo’s rolled up on me and Bruce Wayne in the Subway parking lot on Aldine Bender Road in Houston.
I’d been bangin’ with the five deuce Hoovers since fifth grade, mostly slangin’ weed and rock to the hypes at Haverstock Hills where I’d stayed in an apartment with my moms since my granddaddy died when I was ten.
It was all over a damn dog.
Bruce Wayne had this white pit bull named Cripto. He’d had a special collar made to order, with little pockets on the inside to keep the rock in. He said he got the idea from a Punisher comic. That was a mean ass dog and it wouldn’t let nobody touch it but him. I used to tell him I thought one of the pockets had ripped and Cripto had got a nose full of shit, because that damn dog acted like a crackhead.
Bruce Wayne loved that dog though, and he would tell me to shut the fuck up about it.
Now you know Bruce Wayne wasn’t that nigga’s real name. It was really Bruce Wayne Charles. Nigga was crazy about comic books. He went by Bruce Wayne, or B-Wayne, or Mista Wayne. Nigga changed his name more times than Diddy. I just called him B like I always had when we was kids.
After me and him got jumped into the Hoovers and he started makin’ his papes, B got hisself a big gold chain thick as a baby’s wrist with this fat ass bat signal hung on it. The bat was all in diamonds and the yellow part was gold. It was sick. Like I said, nigga was crazy about comic books.
He used to say me and him was gonna O.G. a clique one day, and all the gangstas was gonna have superhero names. Five Deuce SupaFiends, he wanted to call it. Nigga wanted me to call myself Black Bolt or some gay shit. My nickname J-Hoss though, after John Horse, this Black Seminole my granddaddy used to tell me stories about.
And anyways, I like the X-Men.
It was a real hot night. We was chillin’ in the Subway parking lot smokin’ beedies and eatin’ footlongs over the trunk of his ride (a tricked out two toned black and grey’92 Buick Roadmaster nigga called The Batmobile – had chrome bats on the dub spinners) and listenin’ to ‘Face when a pickup full of Southside Cholos pulled up and got out.
I hadn’t never been no killa then. Sure, I busted caps in a couple fools, beat some slobs down, but I ain’t never heard nothin’ ‘bout none of ‘em dyin.’
Anyways they was five of ‘em, all bald-headed in they khaki shorts with they socks pulled up and they little mustaches and wife beaters, lookin’ all the same like soldiers. They had this trick with ‘em, hair all wet lookin’ and lotsa lipstick like they like ‘em. She had a dog in her arms, if you could call it a dog. It was one of them yappy little Mexican mutts like in the Taco Bell ads. Ain’t no fuckin’ dog. This one was black. Never seen a black one before. Looked more like a big ant than a little dog.
Cripto got a whiff of that motherfucker and stood up, and I guess that little dog smelt him too, ‘cause next thing we knew it had jumped out that bitch’s arms and was bouncin’ around in a circle barkin’ its goddamn head off.
Now I thought B had Cripto hooked to something, but that fool had just put his foot on the chain while he ate, and that motherfucker got loose and run across the parking lot, the chain just dancin’ and janglin’ behind.
It run right up to that little yappin’ mutt, right in the middle of them SSC’s. It picked that little bitch up in its teeth and bit down, gave it a shake. Thing stopped yappin’ right there. I think I heard the neck snap clean across the parking lot.
Then Cripto, big dumbass that he was, come trottin’ back to me and B with the thing hangin’ out his mouth, like he was bringin’ us a rabbit or something.
“Oh shit, ” B says, ‘cause all them Cholos come marchin’ in behind the dog, and the dog come right at us, and the bitch was cryin’ and screamin’ about her perrito.
“’Ay! ‘Ay!” one of the Cholos yelled, and they all started yellin’ at once, callin’ us motherfuckers. This big one run up and put his foot down on Cripto’s chain, pullin’ him up short. He dropped the dead dog on the ground and the bitch started yellin’ in Spanish for them to kill ‘these two niggers and their fuckin’ dog.’
The big one picked up Cripto’s chain and pulled him up to his shoulder, so Cripto was on his back legs, chokin’ and snappin’ and fightin’ to get away.
“This your dog, homie?”
“Yeah ma’fucka and you better let him go,” said B.
I didn’t like that dumb fuckin’ dog, but I hated to see him gaggin’ that way, twistin’ on the chain.
“The fuck you say, puto?”
“You heard him ma’fucka,” I say.
“What set you with, puto? You a ma’fuckin’ crab?”
Me and B looked at each other, and B pulled up his shirt, showin’ his orange belt.
It drove ‘em crazy. They was like dogs theyselves, and they started into thowin’ up they set, twistin’ they fingers up and frontin’ hard, talkin’ ‘bout they Hoover Killa Criminals and they goin’ fuck us up.
B backed up a bit, and that drove ‘em crazier, ‘cause they figured they had us faded. They stepped to us, and the big motherfucker pulled Cripto off his feet, but B bumped against me like he meant to, and I took his Glock out the small of his back and pulled it, unlocked and cocked.
I only wanted to scare them slobs off…
Gully Gods is coming soon in Four In The Morning.
There are several international charitable organizations which work toward preventing and raising the awareness of the forced ‘enlistment’ of children in combat and rehabilitating former child soldiers. Among them are:
The United States has its own child soldier dilemma, and it doesn’t gain much sympathy from the public. There are a few organizations out there that work with lower income communities and troubled youth in danger of becoming victims of the pervading gang culture. An internet search will turn up any number in your own area. All of them are in dire need of support.
(LA-based organization that exclusively trains and employs ex-gang members and at-risk youth. ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job.’ Homeboy is currently on the rocks and could definitely use some help.)
(works to improve the historic Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago with affordable housing, childcare, and community outreach programs)
EDIT: Gully Gods now appears in my collection With Sword And Pistol from Ragnarok Publications!