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Chasing Death Metal Dreams

by Kaje Harper

Carlos Medina has spent years of sweat, pain, effort, and money becoming the man he is. He writes original songs, plays lead guitar, and wears his death metal front-man persona like armor. With an excellent drummer and a talented bassist, his band, KnifeSwitch, has what it takes to succeed, if they can just catch a break. But it’s been a long road already, and there’s still a mountain left to climb. Carlos isn’t looking for anything more in his personal life than an occasional hook-up with a hot guy, preferably outside the less-than-gay-friendly metal scene.

Nate Goldstein has no intention of dating a musician. His twin brother fronts a band, and he knows band guys are all busy, broke, and obsessed with their music. But Carlos catches his artist’s eye. Nate is wary - he has a history of picking the wrong guys. Still, he might be willing to break some personal rules to find out what’s behind Carlos’s dark gaze and imaginative lyrics.

Getting together the first time is easy and fun. The second time is more complicated. And when music, ambition, and personalities clash, the guys will have to decide if they have a future worth fighting for.

91,000 words

This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group's "Love is an Open Road" event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Dear Author,
I was sent to the US at the age of 10 by my father who could not accept me. You see I was misgendered at birth and I started fighting against my body at a young age. My father sent me to live with my cousin’s family along with enough money to pay my way for a few years. Little does he know he helped to fund the many surgeries and hormones to fulfill my dream of having my outside gender match the gender my brain has always known myself to be.

What do you think Author? Not many know of his secret. He is a gay man. Is he in a gang? Is he in a band? How will he find love? How will he be accepted?

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Dios o. Everything was different.


Ten-year-old Carlos Medina stared though the doorway of the fifth grade classroom at his new school. Almost the same as the primaria he’d gone to back in Puebla, and yet a thousand little differences rose up to trap him there, standing in the hall, unable to take a breath or move his feet. His pulse pounded and he blinked hard. Ahead of him, the morning sun hit the star-spangled flag on its pole in the corner. The poster beside it on the wall said, “D.A.R.E. to resist drugs and violence” in bright, angry, English letters. The school even smelled different, and around him so many students were big and blond and loud and

Move it, stupid!” A push between his shoulder blades jolted him over the threshold and into the room.

He’d have turned and snapped an insult back, but he still had no breath, and he was humiliatingly grateful for the shove that had unstuck him from that doorway. He glanced around. Many of the desks were already taken, but he spotted one in the back row and dived for it. Tía Lisa had checked and found out there was no special seating and he should just pick one. The back was safest, where no one could get behind you. He slipped into the chair and set his bag with his notebooks and pencils down by his feet.

The room was filling up fast. He sneaked a look at the other boys in the back row, watching how they sat, what they did. Subtly, he slid his butt forward in the attached metal-and-wood chair and stretched out his legs, slouching, his knees casually apart. Two of the boys in the back row had their arms crossed across their chests, and he did that too.

The teacher at the front of the room rapped on the desk. “Two minutes, class. Please find a seat.”

A pretty dark-haired girl asked, “Will we be stuck with these seats all year, Miss Boston?”

That’s for me to know and you to find out. Soon.” The teacher’s smile seemed real, and Carlos relaxed just a bit. A teacher who had a sense of humor was a good thing, right? He breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth like Tío Ramón had taught him the time he got stressed out at the mall. He could do this. He would. Pa’ lante. Not like he had a choice.

The bright, busy conversations of the other students were a maddening chatter he couldn’t begin to understand. Despite a summer spent frantically improving his English with Tía Lisa and Tío Ramón, he couldn’t follow these fast slangy, mixed-up words. He swallowed panic. For the first time in his life, there was no big brother, no Fernando, or Juan, or anyone, just down the hall to have his back. His youngest cousin was a senior in hig- school, blocks away. He was on his own.

Carlos tossed his head, lifting his chin. So what? He’d always been alone, in a way, a stranger in his own house, his own family. A pang of homesickness washed over him, and he shoved it down, pressing his lips together, folding his arms tighter. Mamá and Papá didn’t want him, not the way he was. There was no going back.

He stared out the classroom window at the scrap of schoolyard he could see, a strip of flat green-brown playing fields with the pale-blue sky arching overhead, clear in the bright morning light. That same sun was shining back home, where Mamá might be braiding Silvia’s hair and Leticia would be complaining about having to get up so early for school

He only realized he’d missed the beginning of class and rol- call when he was startled by the teacher’s voice. “Beatriz Medina?”

He jerked his head up, heart thumping, snapping his gaze to where she stood with the class book, her pencil on the page, looking around the class. Her eyes landed on him. “Beatriz Medina?”

He could say, Here,” as he had practiced with Tía Lisa. He could even just nod or wave and she might let it pass. But he hadn’t given up his home and family and everything he knew to be a coward now. He gathered himself, cleared his throat, and said the thing he’d practiced in secret a thousand times that summer. “I prefer the name Carlos.”

The teacher’s eyes were kind, but a bit perplexed. “As a nickname? It’s not much like Beatriz. Isn’t that a little confusing? ”

He couldn’t even begin to explain, with the other kids looking at him and the bright American flag in the corner and his fingernails cutting into his palms. He managed to say, “No.”

The teacher hesitated. Carlos heard a mutter of something from one of the girls across the room, the words impossible to make out, but the disgusted tone clear. He couldn’t spare his attention from the teacher to look over there. Instead, he tried to use his eyes, to beg and plead with this pretty American woman to hear him, to understand him, as even Tía Lisa did not when she told him to take it slow, to give her and Tío Ramón time. This is not a game. This is not a whim or a wish. See me.

Her eyes skimmed over him. Did she notice the new haircut, shorter than Mamá had ever allowed, but still not the cropped boys’ cut he’d really wanted? Did she see that his jeans were baggy, his shirt plain and loose? He slumped a little lower, fists tight under his crossed arms, his muscles clenched so hard that the pressure hurt his chest.

I suppose you can choose any nickname you like,” the teacher said slowly. “As long as you stick to it. Welcome to Northside School, then, Carla.” She looked down at her book, made a quick note with a pencil, then said, “David Mendelssohn?”

As someone to his left said, “Here,” Carlos closed his eyes.

Almost. He wasn’t sure if she’d not heard him, or just decided that Beatrice couldn’t be Carlos. He tried to tell himself it was a start. Anything was better than being Beatriz. To his right someone whispered loud enough for him to hear, “Hey, new kid, you some kind of dyke?”

He didn’t know the word, but the tone made him guess it was something like machorra. Nothing he hadn’t heard before. Nothing he wouldn’t face down and get past, soon, later, once he gathered the energy to try again. Carlos Medina was a boy, no matter what they said, and someday everyone would know it. He listened to the teacher’s voice calling on Lisa, Matthew, José, Mark, Zach, María, Nancy, Jason… familiar names and alien ones, names he should learn but couldn’t bother right now.

He breathed, slowly, in and out, fingers of his hidden hands clenched in the boring, blue cotton of his shirt, feet in his new sneakers spread even further apart. Carlos Medina would write songs, one day. He would play guitar on a stage and everyone would cheer and say, “He’s so good. Look at him.” And they would see who he really was…


Chapter 1

Mierda! These people were crazy. Carlos threw his shoulder against a heavy speaker that threatened to fall on him, while managing not to break his rhythm on his guitar. There were probably a hundred people squeezed into the living room of the house venue they were playing, all at least half-drunk, all singing and shoving and laughing, surfing the mosh pit, crashing into each other. My kind of crazy. Carlos ripped off a sharp arpeggio line that caught him a startled glance from Foster on bass, but Carlos didn’t care. He’d written the damned song, he could play it the way he wanted to. Mia on drums went with him, her bare arms shiny with sweat, the sticks a blur as she matched his tempo.

Carlos leaned into the mic.

You think that you can break me

With your cheating and your lies?

You think I missed the rot beneath

Your saccharine disguise?

Let me tell you

Fuckin’ amateur

I saw you

Who you really were

You’re not the first I’ve kissed with only greed behind your eyes.

The speaker wobbled again as a big guy in dreadlocks hit it with his hip. This time one of the venue guys grabbed it, then stationed himself between it and the moshers. Carlos gave the guy a nod, as he nailed the bridge back to the chorus, the notes fast and crisp under his calloused fingertips. He wasn’t a star, wasn’t where he’d sworn he’d be by twenty-five, but this? This was what still made it worth getting up every day a crowd of people asking him to move them, shake them, blast their ears and their souls.


About the Author

I get asked about my name a lot. It's not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname.

I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, where the mosquito is the state bird, and where winter can be breathtakingly beautiful. Minnesota’s a kindly, quiet (if sometimes chilly) place and it’s home now.

I’ve been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment. I mainly publish M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.

My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I’ve been delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.

I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page.
I also have  an author page on Goodreads where I do a lot of book reviews. You can find me to chat there– I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the  Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far. Or find me on Facebook –