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Red X:  A Novel

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Red X: A Novel

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Author: David Demchuk
Publisher: Strange Light, 2021

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
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A hunted community. A haunted author. A horror that spans centuries.

Men are disappearing from Toronto's gay village. They're the marginalized, the vulnerable. One by one, stalked and vanished, they leave behind small circles of baffled, frightened friends. Against the shifting backdrop of homophobia throughout the decades, from the HIV/AIDS crisis and riots against raids to gentrification and police brutality, the survivors face inaction from the law and disinterest from society at large. But as the missing grow in number, those left behind begin to realize that whoever or whatever is taking these men has been doing so for longer than is humanly possible.

Woven into their stories is David Demchuk's own personal history, a life lived in fear and in thrall to horror, a passion that boils over into obsession. As he tries to make sense of the relationship between queerness and horror, what it means for gay men to disappear, and how the isolation of the LGBTQ+ community has left them profoundly exposed to monsters that move easily among them, fact and fiction collide and reality begins to unravel.


Sometime that August, a young man named Ryan Wilkes vanished without so much as a whisper. The city was radiant and shimmering in the late summer heat. A thin film of humidity adhered to the skin, attracting smog and grit and inviting midges and mosquitoes to a sticky demise on one's forearms. Ghostbusters dominated the movie screens, a transit strike was looming, the Pope was coming to visit, and Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" was climbing the dance charts.

Ryan was in his mid-twenties, sandy blond, lightly freckled, not quite tall enough or old enough or beefy enough to escape the dreaded twink label. Newly in town from Windsor, Detroit's automotive sister city, with just a few months of metropolitan life under his belt, he mostly bused tables at a few of the bars, hoping to save some money to enter the design program at the Ontario College of Art. He worked as a barback at Boots, and also covered off a few times next door at Bud's, stepping in for someone sick or picking up a stray shift or two.

He didn't have a steady boyfriend, didn't really date, didn't go to the baths or parks, and rarely to other bars. He was a loner, mostly, estranged from his family, with a flight attendant for a roommate and not many friends. Sometimes, he'd have four or five days off between shifts, while his roommate held two- and three-day layovers; as a result, it took until Tuesday the 28th for anyone to realize he hadn't been seen since the Friday before.

Even then, people assumed he'd just gone back south or gotten another job--at a straight bar maybe, where he could make more money--or shacked up with somebody somewhere, or left for another city, Montreal or Vancouver, or even the States. His roommate wasn't necessarily surprised to see him go: the city may welcome you, but it might not invite you to stay. Still, it was confusing. His room, filled with all his belongings, offered no obvious clue. He wasn't a known drug user, and no illicit substances were found in his room, apart from a few mild sleeping pills he had "borrowed" from a friend. Suicide was a possibility, though he "didn't seem the type." It was only when a garbage collector found a neatly folded stack of clothes in an alley behind a stretch of weary old sex shops and strip clubs and porn theatres, the clothes that Ryan was last seen wearing, only then was his disappearance called in to the police. But with no sign of struggle, no significant leads, and no mother or wife or girlfriend or family to place pressure on them, the investigation was half-hearted at best. Missing gay men weren't what you'd call a priority. The flight attendant roommate and some friends and co-workers printed up flyers and posted them around the Village. Those lasted a few days before being torn down by street cleaners or papered over with photos of lost cats and dogs. The missing persons file languished, then dropped out of sight after just a few weeks. Late that autumn, on November 9, A Nightmare on Elm Street was released and made, as they say, a killing. The winter winds began to blow. The snow began to fall.

White T-shirt, white jockstrap, Levi button-fly cutoffs--wallet and cash and ID and keys tucked in the pockets. Dirty sport socks, beaten-down Chucks, and a navy-blue hanky neatly tucked into the left shoe. Ryan Wilkes, twenty-four, of 85 Isabella Street, was never found.

Copyright © 2021 by David Demchuk


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