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Keeper of the Flame
About the Author: Greg Herren is the award winning author of over thirty novels and nearly fifty short stories. He has also edited twenty anthologies, including Blood on the Bayou, the 2016 Bouchercon anthology, recently shortlisted for an Anthony Award. He has also been shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen times (winning twice) and a Shirley Jackson Award, and has received a gold and silver medal from the Independent Press Awards for outstanding young adult mystery/horror.

So what if it was only ten in the morning?

It was also Las Vegas.  

Why not have a glass of Chardonnay?

It’s not like she’d be the only one drinking.

Her stomach was still churning from last night’s vodka—although it was technically morning when she’d finally stumbled into the elevators marked HABITAT. The sun was mere hours from rising in the east, over the mountains she could vaguely see through the window of her room on the twenty-fourth floor of the Flamingo Hotel while collapsing onto the bed still wearing her black sandals, the tight black skirt, and the odd top she’d bought at some chic boutique that looked like an odd assortment and collection of black elastic bandages artfully stretched and strategically arranged over her breasts and shoulders. She’d set her phone to start ringing at nine, so she’d have time to shower—but it was closer to ten when she’d rolled out of bed and glared at her reflection in the mirror, said the hell with it, splashed some water on her face, brushed her teeth and went out the door.

Actually, glass of wine was sounding more and more perfect by the minute.

The blogger who wanted to interview her was meeting her at the patio bar at eleven—so why not get a head start? There were even slot machines built into the bar, under glass—it was Las Vegas, for Christ’s sake, where weren’t there slot machines—so she could throw some money away, drink some white wine, get that hangover firmly chased away before the interviewer showed up so she could be reasonably coherent … maybe he wasn’t a blogger, she really couldn’t remember what he’d said, it was for either a blog or website or some other kind of nonsense like that.

It wasn’t like it was for a real newspaper or a magazine, like in the old days.

She hated all of this new stuff, anyway.

It didn’t seem real.

Blogs and e-magazines and e-news.  Who cares? She longed for the old days, back when you could make the cover of an industry magazine and take it in to be framed and mounted and then hang it in your living room, when all of your colleagues and contemporaries would see it on the newsstands or get it in the mail, and have to give you compliments to cover their own seething jealousy, wondering what you’d done to get the cover.  Back when a reviewer actually knew what they were talking about, could parse sentences and paragraphs and themes and character development; when a print review meant something.

Now, any idiot could log into a website and type out some meaningless, senseless drivel and click ‘post’ and it was there forever, badly typed, mixing up there and their and they’re, sentences not making sense to anyone with more than a third-grade education, and worst of all, completely missing the point.

They always missed the point.

Thank God, she thought, not for the first time, Daddy didn’t live to see this insanity.

She glanced down at her reflection in the glass over the slot machine set into the bar. She ordered a glass of Chardonnay without looking up, reaching into her purse for the appropriate credit card (one of the two or three that weren’t over the limit already) to fit into the appropriate place to swipe and authorize. Her blonde hair, unwashed, hung past her chin almost to her shoulders, but it looked fine. Americans were too obsessed with cleanliness anyway, she thought as she pushed her dark glasses back up her red nose. Her skin was fair, to go with the blonde hair, and she’d convinced herself over the years that the perpetual red flush of her nose, cheeks and chin came from exposure to the sun. She offered that explanation to anyone and everyone, babbling on about lotions not being strong enough to protect her delicate, sensitive skin, and if her teeth were gray and crooked, again, Americans were too obsessed with perfection, and why should she spend money to try to fit into the impossible American beauty standard?

Americans didn’t appreciate anything except superficiality, anyway.

This story appears in our SEP 2017 Issue
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