My Secret Santa
written by: Lorenzo Berardi
"Enjoy your writing. May you have lots of inspiration!"
Your Secret Santa
Well, I don't know who you are, Secret Santa, but I'll soon find out. That's what I swore to myself the moment I read that Christmas card. It was handed to me a few days before Christmas Eve by my Team Leader, a cute and deadpan curly brunette in her late twenties named Gemma. Together with the card, came a little gift: a tiny blue notebook with a leathery cover. Something purchased staying within the 5 quid spending threshold set by The Corporation. My clever Secret Santa must have bought it in a charity shop or at some car boot sale.
I have to admit that the notebook is a nice present. I'm definitely going to jot down some thoughts full of hatred on its recycled paper pages. Why that? Because whoever fished my name out of the bowl during our latest team meeting and became my Santa, wasn't supposed to know that I write stuff. What everyone knows is that I've been working as a Client Liaison Executive at The Corporation, an evil conglomerate dealing with a wide range of outsourced operations.
It's now six years I'm a cog in this wheel and I got used to it. So much so, that I'm no less than a Senior Client Liaison Executive. Hence, I earn a little bit more than a standard CLE does and newcomers are sent to shadow me on their first week at work. Not that I need to show them much. To be honest, any idiot could do what I do. Most of the people in my team aren't even able to spell 'liaison' properly onto their email signatures. Gemma can't do that either.
The hardest part of the job is actually finding excuses to avoid social gatherings and mandatory 'team building' nights out with my colleagues. These social gatherings are an ordeal conjured up by HR and involving pub quizzes, escape rooms, role games, and bowling tournaments at the local mall.
The only reason why I couldn't skip the Secret Santa business is that it came unannounced. As I was always off on vacation during the utterly annoying Christmas period, I was totally unaware of this festive team activity. That's why this year I had to fish a name out of that bowl, later wrapping up a mid-price aromatic candle and signing its lump with:
Ho! Ho! Ho!
Which is an awful pun, I reckon.
But back to my writing. I write erotic novels under a nom de plume. There, I said that. Not that I feel ashamed of delivering that stuff. Alright, not that much. I guess you'd like to know how came I specialized in so peculiar a niche. Well, the answer is simple enough: it pays well. Or at least it did when I started writing, about fifteen years ago.
I was in my early twenties back then. Just like many young fellows who have never published anything anywhere, I thought highly about my own written material. Fool that I was. I had convinced myself it was just a matter of time before I made a national breakthrough as a storyteller. My literary models and sources of inspiration were Carver, Bukowski, the French Oulipo, the British 'angry young men.' However, when it came to my own writing style I had no idea on where I was heading to.
At that time, most of the literary journals and magazines of the English speaking world open to unpublished authors accepted submissions only via paper post. That's why each and every month I dispatched bundles of printed papers to publications all around the globe. The fiction editors with hyphenated surnames I wrote to seldom replied. And when they did that, months later, their rejections were never articulate, but matter-of-factly dry.
It took me a couple of years of unsatisfactory responses to grow tired of the whole submission process. I was quite sure not a single one of those bloody editors had actually read what I had sent them. They were probably put off by my cacophonous surname, my young age, my not yet published status. It was an awful shame and there was nothing I could do about it. I grew vindictive. Those lazy motherfucking editors were going to regret it, I told myself, but only half believing it.
Eventually, I stopped daydreaming of an early literary career and chose to focus on something else. Something I could hope to achieve. Where else could I put my passion for writing into good use? Well, there were plenty of possibilities. Pity that all of them seem to lure me into a penniless future of diminutive rooms and tins of baked beans piled up on a windowsill.
The least likely scenario to do that was actually embarking on a mission: teaching my mother tongue abroad. And that's what I did, albeit reluctantly. I enrolled to an intensive course and took an acronymed qualification for teaching English to speakers of other languages. Soon after that, I flew off to Georgia: the former Soviet Republic, mind you.
Life in the city of Batumi in the early 2000s was cheap enough. The private language school that employed me looked kind of dodgy and those hairy Georgians were quite intimidating at first. All the same, I got by for some time. On weekend nights I joined the small contingent of foreigners in town binge drinking chacha, a local concoction, at some cheap hole in the wall.
It was in Batumi, on the shores of the Black Sea, that I started penning my first clumsy erotic short story. I did that out of sheer boredom. I had run out of booze and good paperbacks while all the gorgeous Georgian women I met, no matter their age, turned out to be already married.
The good thing of writing that drivel was that I had never read erotica before. True, there were some bits and pieces of novels I liked that could have easily fit into the genre (Styron and Kundera came to mind), but that was it. Back in the days, pornography was not ubiquitous online and anyway with the 56K modem connection I had in Georgia, I couldn't research on the subject.
Another man could have taken inspiration from his own sexual experiences, but in my case there were hardly any to recount. In effect, I am the romantic sort of chap and, by all accounts, neither a Don Juan nor a Lothario. My early erotica stuff was then largely drawn by wild imagination and driven to its inevitable climaxes by the most cliched dialogues you can picture. When describing what happened underneath the sheets or in wet dreams, I couldn't be as visual as I wished. Hence, I delivered a flow of metaphors, allusions, and passionate monologues spicing them up with the occasional burst of monosyllabic exhortations. Now, don't draw me into details. You got the idea, right?
Let's face it: all of my short stories were tripe and I submitted them around for fun. And yet – would you believe it? – soon enough they got published by a score of magazines. As it turned out, Canadian and Australian publications loved that stuff. It might have helped that I chose to sign my material with a pretty tacky female pseudonym. But I will come to that. Some meagre fees poured in and were promptly spent in Batumi's welcoming taverns and gaudy clubs.
Back in the UK from Georgia, I soon realized I couldn't afford to lead the life of the artist. Not in good old Shitshire, where renting a single musty room would have cost me half of a basic monthly salary. I therefore updated my resume stressing out my recent teaching achievements. As for the bunch of short stories and the novel I had already published, I omitted them completely. And even when it came to list down my 'other interests,' I left any reference to literature or creative writing out. I wanted recruiters to think I was their average applicant: dull, assertive, in it for the money.
It worked. Eleven years later, The Corporation is the third multinational company stationed in the Bridgeford area I work for. The first one bankrupted spectacularly and the second one relocated their European Operations to Slovakia, fearing the same fate would have caught up with them had they lingered a tad longer on the British Isles.
Whereas my career in outsourcing has reached deadlock, the quality of my erotic material has been improving over the years. Upon exhausting the cliches of the genre, I managed to sharpen up my own style and to keep it consistent. Make no mistake; I write stuff of no literary value whatsoever. It has to be like that. It wouldn't get published if it were well written.
But, listen, I know the people I'm writing for. And that's the holy grail of each and every author. What erotica readers want is something exciting in the first place. Something they are not likely to experience first hand. Nobody is interested in witticisms, brilliant dialogues, poignant observations on human nature. They want sex and plenty of it. As simple as that. But a man-woman scene, no matter how exotic its setting could be, no matter its crescendo, is often pretty dull.
You see, erotica readers look for sudden variations, multiple combinations, the realization of private fantasies they would never confess. That's why I have to be as creative as possible, leaving some obvious possibilities out, but implying them all nonetheless. I'm aware that most of the people flipping through my short stories will skip what I call 'preliminaries,' jumping straight into those cheeky moments they crave and drool for. And knowing this doesn't bother me a bit. I suck at preliminaries and, so far, not a single reader complained about it. Let's call it luck.
When 'Damsels in Distress,' the first novel of my 'Huntsmen and Huntresses' (H&H) series came out, I had no idea on how successful it was going to become. Of course it sold well in the UK, but also in markets I had never considered, such as the New Zealand and South Africa. It was even shortlisted for 'The Clitorides Award' that year. Yes, they do exist: go and google it! I told you that this niche that I chose is a quite profitable one.
Tamsin, the heroine of 'Damsels in Distress,' is a stunning androgynous woman of mixed ancestry “half Cherokee and a quarter Pashtun” with short crimson hair and elongated turquoise eyes. She works as a photojournalist somewhere in rural Alberta and has got a penchant for sleeping with bespectacled losers she seduces at calligraphy classes and theatre matinées. But what Tamsin actually seeks is a dominant Alpha male who could fulfill all her unmentionable needs. The man of her dreams, a six packed repossessor, does eventually show up and does his duty all right on a tempestuous night. Unfortunately, he's lured into an antique shop and abducted by a mysterious quasi masonic order of Scandinavian nymphomaniacs the very day after. This dramatic event leads Tamsin to discover her inner strength through a rough physical and spiritual journey initiated by a Togolese Tantric master she met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Ecuador. Not that original a plot, isn't it?
Well, I don't know how I made it, but 'Damsels in Distress' turned me into a sort of sensation in the erotic literature world. As nobody knew much about the author, D.L. Aragones, when the book was published I guess this mystery played its part too. When I had given some thought about my nom de plume those two initials actually stood for 'Dora Lupe,' but I kept that secret. As far as I could see, initials worked better and brought good luck. Auden, Chesterton, Coetzee, Eliot, Lawrence, Lovecraft, and Tolkien came to mind. To say nothing of J.K. Rowling.
"D.L. Aragones began exploring erotica as a girl and since then has never stopped researching it. An Ivy League business school graduate, she works in finance by day and gives voice to her fantasies by night. She lives between Bangkok and San Diego with her two Bengal pussycats, Anaïs and Ayn."
This is the short biography of Miss Aragones printed on the back cover of 'Damsels in Distress.' Just below it, there's a sepia toned picture of a curvaceous lady draped in black lace, her face conveniently turned away from the camera. The 'Huntsmen and Huntresses' series includes four instalments I wrote on autopilot in the span of six years. Even though 'Birds of Prey' (H&H#2), 'Wolves at the Gate' (H&H#3), and 'The Sorcerer's Appetite' (H&H#4) didn't sell as much as the first novel, they helped me a lot in making ends meet.
There should be a fifth and a sixth book following up at some point soon, but I don't feel like writing them. To tell you the truth, I'm sick and tired of the whole erotic romance business. My inspiration has long dried up and I can't help it. Actually, what kept D.L. Aragones going over the last year is just habit. I wouldn't know how to kill my spare time after work without my night hours of dirty writing. That and a vague sense of duty towards my loyal readers who are many more than you may think and much more respectable than you can imagine.
Now that you know what sort of rubbish I write, you may understand why I'm not eager to spread the news around. True, I've got fans all over the world, but they don't really count in my daily life. Most of my workmates don't read anything at all and the few among them who do it go for bestsellers, crime stories, comics. At least that's the stuff I can see on their desks or when I peek into their Kindles. Now suppose that during one of our coffee breaks I tell them I write and publish erotic romance under a female pseudonym. They would never believe me. They would never understand. Would you, if you were them?
I tell you what. In the best case scenario, you'd start looking at me in a different way assuming that I'm a peeping Tom chap who enjoys writing about nasty, unspeakable things. You would think I'm dirty minded and that it's my own sexual perversions popping up in my books. To prove this, you'd order one of my 'Huntsmen and Huntresses' paperbacks online. And once you put your hands on the actual novel with its glossy spine, you're going to be pretty shocked, I bet.
“Hard to believe the guy who wrote this vile pornographic stuff is the same Senior CLE sitting next to me at work,” you would tell our colleagues.
“I've always thought he looked a bit queer, but how can someone be so... perverted!” someone would say.
“I mean, this is stuff that I would feel ashamed to think about, let alone write and then publish! I believe there must be something quite wrong and deranged in him,” you would add, shaking your head in disbelief.
Do you think I'm paranoid? Fair enough. Well, then put yourselves in my shoes. I chose to be discreet and this low profile strategy had worked for years. Before the Secret Santa accident occurred, nobody out there knew I'm D.L. Aragones. I don't have an agent and deal with magazines and publishing houses myself via a separate encrypted email address.
Miss Aragones doesn't give interviews. Miss Aragones doesn't go to literary events. Miss Aragones gets paid on an undisclosed bank account. As you can see, I took precautions. So much so, that not even my own parents and the few friends I hold dear know what I've been writing for the last fifteen years.
Right. This means that there's absolutely no way that my Secret Santa could have snatched my literary identity from anyone else. Then how the hell does he or she know that I write? That and the nerve of wishing me “lots of inspiration!” Is that ironic? Is that sarcastic? Is that a menace? No, it's crystal clear to me that this person is very dangerous and poses a threat I cannot underestimate. My Secret Santa may well blackmail me by asking something in return not to reveal my hidden – don't laugh – literary career.
Why do I care? What do I have to lose?
Yes, why and what?
Let's stick to facts. I'm your average forty something guy with a protruding paunch who rides his crappy bike to office each and every morning. I'm the grumpy Senior CLE who will never be a great team member, but who is respected (or feared) by his younger colleagues. I'm the bachelor living on his own in a musty ground floor flat. At work, I spend most of my lunch breaks al desko and never seek company. I'm a one man band and I have been consistent in playing solo.
To tell you the truth, I gave up looking for companionship. It's not that I don't see beauty in women around me – on the contrary! – but I'm aware that I lost my momentum. I've been living alone for so long that the same idea of meeting someone who could become special worries me. Sure, it gives me the creeps. Not that there's any risk that I may one day fall in love with someone, but suppose that I happen to fancy a woman...well, I wouldn't know how to handle that. The more I think about my feelings and the more I perceive them as sort of expired. I don't know if the drivel I've been writing over the last fifteen years played a part in this process. It may or it may not be. What I know is that any future romantic involvement of mine is out of the question. I'll spend the rest of my days alone, perhaps with a cat, a dog or a goldfish coming into the picture at some point. Whether I'll keep on penning my stuff or not is another matter.
I tell you what. My bloody Secret Santa is well aware of this isolation of mine. His or her chief purpose was to humiliate me. What that “May you have lots of inspiration!” was supposed to mean apart from poking fun at Miss Aragones' writing block and at my loneliness at the same time? Killing two birds with one stone, indeed. My Secret Santa knows that I don't have a sex life, that I cannot have one, and rubs salt into it. “Enjoy your writing,” they say. As if implying that it's the only thing I can enjoy, middle aged unattractive bachelor that I am. It's this that you meant Secret Santa? Is it? Well, I've got something in store for you. Just you wait, you dirty rascal. You'll be surprised.
Friday, 22nd December 2017
Mrs Gemma Witney
Wordsworth Walk 6d,
BR14 5AL, Bridgeford
This letter is to notify you that I’ve decided to resign from my role as Senior Client Liaison Executive. I feel like it's time to move on to pastures new.
Please accept this letter as my official notice. Because my contract requires me to give you one month of notification, my official last day here will be Monday 22nd January 2018.
However, please be advised that I'll take the chance to use my 18 left-over vacation days so that my final day is, in effect, today.
Thank you for the opportunities you have given me during my time at The Corporation. Please let me know whether there’s anything I can do to make the transition easier.
That's it. Now I know who he is; or rather I know whom he pretends not to be. I wonder whether he suspects anything at all. I guess he does. He may be many things, but certainly not a dimwit. This dirty trick he played on me proves it. Now he's probably wondering how did I found out that juicy bit of truth about him. Well, I won't spoil you the fun of guessing it by yourselves.
Do you want to know another funny thing? We are neighbours. Indeed we are! Tennyson Terrace 32 and 34. From the window of my living room I can see the alternating glow of the lights on his Christmas tree across the communal garden.
To be honest, this proximity of ours is nothing so strange in a backwater town the size of Bridgeford. In a way we are all neighbours here.
And yet, you may be surprised to know that even in such a small community it's possible to live your own life secluded from the others, just like we've both been doing so far. That's because people don't care much about what goes on out of their semi-detached houses or two bedroom flats. They think nothing interesting may ever happen here, that no one may have a hidden story that is worth discovering. Wrong, my good people, wrong!
But you see, I'm afraid Bridgeford folk isn't sophisticated at all. They believe in appearances; they love sticking to them. People here believe that what you look like is who you actually are. This means that if you're a brilliant chap who's lucky enough or clever enough to look like a plain fellow, you can be double sure that nobody will ever bother you. Hence, those who play their cards well can keep all of their secrets. That's why I moved here in the first place, for I wanted to be left in peace. And that is – or better was – precisely the point with him. Make no mistake; I wouldn't call him 'brilliant' at all. What I would call him is 'skillful' in his own depraved way.
Now we're not colleagues anymore, but as we worked in the same team for a number of years, I should stress how I couldn't stand him. Actually, nobody at The Corporation could, even though they wouldn't dare to say that openly. Team spirit is about pretending. Team spirit is about wearing a smile no matter what. Effective team players know how to feign camaraderie and how to backstab one another with gossip: it's a part of the game they excel at.
He wasn't a good team player for he couldn't fake it. He had this way of patronizing each and every colleague that was truly unbearable. I'm not a woman, but I couldn't help noticing how he mansplained a lot too. What's worse, behaving like that came natural to him.
This whole Secret Santa business has been a pain in the arse. Perhaps I should have not taken it so personally and chase him down like I did. But I couldn't help it. Anyway, I'm glad the ordeal is over. I'm bloody happy that another Christmas is behind me. All that I need to endure is these few odd days leading to New Year's Eve. But before that dreadful night comes I need to finish what I have begun. I need to tell him that I know who he is. I need to settle our score. He may or may not like this, but that is none of my concern. Let's stop pretending. It's high time to face the consequences of our actions. Will I? Will he?
Man found dead in Bridgeford canal had drowned
29th December 2017
A man whose body was found in a Bridgeford canal died from drowning, a post-mortem test has found.
The body was discovered at Coleridge Close, by the County Canal on Saint Stephen's Day, with tests concluding he had suffered no injuries. Formal identification of the man, who appears to be in his mid-forties, is yet to take place.
Chief superintendent Zoe Glendinning, from Wiltshire Police, said detectives are investigating two incidents on the canal towpath nearby, in which one man was attacked and pushed into the canal, with another robbed of his wallet and mobile phone.
She said: "I stress that the post-mortem examination revealed the man showed no injuries and he died from drowning." Ch Supt Glendinning stated that a suicidal act of the man is a possibility investigators are also considering.
"However,” she added, “given where the body was found and the events as described by the two victims, we simply cannot rule out the possibility of an attack or a robbery and our inquiries continue to clarify this."
D.L. Aragones, author of the 'H&H' series, goes missing
April 2, 2018
Popular and mysterious erotica writer has gone missing for the past three months
D.L. Aragones who penned numerous erotic novels and short stories over a span of fifteen years has not been heard from for three months, her publishers report.
She wrote the 'Huntsmen and Huntresses' (H&H) book series that gave her fame and includes four already published novels as well as two scheduled ones.
Miss Aragones – who writes under a pen name and whose real identity is unknown – was last heard from on December 26th last year. On that day, she dropped a short email to her UK publisher, Aphrodite's Wild, confirming that she would have sent the final draft of her fifth H&H novel “by mid-January.”
However, the elusive creator of the iconic femme fatale Tamsin Blysshe has not written to any of her publishers ever since. “Regrettably, we don't have any way to know Miss Aragones' current whereabouts and we cannot provide any description of her,” said Clyde Henley, CEO of Aphrodite's Wild, contacted by LitEros.
It is believed that D.L. Aragones lives or lived between South East Asia and the US West Coast, but Henley claims that even this cannot be confirmed: “All that we know is that she travelled a lot and rarely spent more than one month in the same place. However, when it came to keeping contacts with us via email, she has always been very punctual and this is the first time she doesn't write anything for more than two weeks in a row.”
Given the circumstances, it is possible that the mysterious author voluntarily chose to put an end to her literary life even though Henley firmly rejects this: “She would never do anything like that. After the success of 'Damsels in Distress,' she signed a contract for five more books of H&H with us and I know she had quite a lot of saucy plotlines ready. No, something bad must have happened to her.”
A belief that is shared by thousands of readers who have been posting condolences on social networks with the hashtags #ripdlaragones and #tamsinlives trending on Twitter. As news of the author's disappearance spread, dozens of her fans gathered in Bon Accord, Canada, for an impromptu vigil on yesterday's evening. This one horse town in the province of Alberta is the fictional birthplace of Tamsin Blysshe, the protagonist of the H&H book series.
What the Editorial Board of LitEros hopes is that Miss Aragones is safe and sound somewhere, perhaps enjoying field research. We wish her to make a grand comeback soon and to grace her readers with scores of new steamy adventures.
Source: Wiltshire Police
FAO: Chief superintendent Glendinning
Message written on a Christmas card found approximately 50 yards from the place where the body of the unnamed man was fished out of the County Canal.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”