The novella’s first chapter is presented here courtesy of Anxiety Press. The full version of Braddock’s Falls is available in both paperback and e-book formats: https://a.co/d/dFTIXKd
Braddock’s Falls was supposed to be my refuge that summer. For three weeks I’d be free from calls from my ex-wife’s lawyer, free from calls from my publisher about the status of my current manuscript, free from all of it. Braddock’s Falls was a safe place where I could write when I felt like it, and not write when I didn’t. There were trails to hike, lakes to swim in, and honest genuine people to get to know—all while being nude.
I should backtrack a bit to set the stage and its players: It was 1989 in Western Pennsylvania. Reagan was out of office and George Bush the Elder was now running things. We were still a year away from the War in the Gulf. My name was (and still is) Tom Bosco. I was an average early-30s white guy: not too short, not too skinny. I wasn’t overly handsome, but I had a normally proportioned nose and two eyes that pointed the same direction. I’d studied English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where I’d met Tanya, a pretty red-haired business major. We’d gotten married not long after graduating and I taught junior high English Lit for a few years while working on my first novel: an overwritten period melodrama entitled Delia’s Aurora.
Writing that first book had proven to be a protracted ordeal, spread out over years and made no easier by the fact that I’d begun regularly playing Dungeons & Dragons twice a week with Barry, Jason and Paul—old high school friends I’d reacquainted with. Delia’s Aurora was finally published in Fall, 1986 and a publisher released it, but it didn’t exactly set fire to the publishing world. Then a year later Black Monday happened, and I lost the greater percentage of the advance I’d been given, as well as my savings from my teaching wages. So naturally Tanya picked that week to leave me for her ex, a professional rock climbing instructor in West Virginia.
Nudism is defined by most of its practitioners as the ability to enjoy things while unencumbered. The definition of ‘unencumbered’ extends beyond just clothing, it’s a philosophy of enjoying and interacting with the world, its natural wonders, and other members of our own species without the barriers we humans have designed to shield us from those very things. And in the fall of 1986 I found myself unencumbered from my marriage and most of my savings. It was around that time that one of my regular role-playing cronies suggested that since I was a writer who enjoyed the fantastic worlds of D&D, I should try writing something that would cater to the ravenous international fantasy audience. And thus the Tar of the Abysmal Reaches fantasy novel series was born.
After some initial fumbling, the first book (in what at the time of this writing is now an eleven-novel cycle) practically wrote itself. By the next spring it had been released and was a modest commercial and critical success in the sci-fi/fantasy press world. By winter I’d completed the second novel, Savage Vengeance of Tar, which came out the next year to significantly greater sales. That was followed by a third book: Tar and the Curse of Avadath. I was able to leave my day job and dedicate all my time to writing… and dungeoning of course. I got an advance for the fourth book in the Tar series sizeable enough to buy a house in a suburb of Pittsburgh called Bethel Park that had a furnished rec room/basement—perfect for our weekly gaming.
But enough about writing: on to the nudity.
I was dating again, off and on. It was a little strange to be back in the mix after almost a decade. I was never the best with girls, and the ‘girls’ were now women, complete with things like careers and standards and that made the entire dating process quite a bit more intimidating. But I was doing okay. Somewhere in the mix I was seeing a very sweet chiropractor and physical therapist named Melanie. We’d met when Melanie briefly joined our Tuesday gaming night, and things progressed rapidly from there. She was a practicing Wiccan, and among other hobbies enjoyed what she called going skyclad, a term used with regularity in nudist circles. Sometimes she’d enjoy this type of experience in the privacy of the woods or a secluded part of river, and other times at assorted pagan gatherings she’d attend. I’d never really been a fan of people from either sex seeing me without clothes on, but Melanie wasn’t the skinniest girl in the world and yet she was comfortable enough with her body to do it—so I figured I should get over my own insecurities.
Over that summer and fall we went to a few retreats where we ditched our garb. It was a new and utterly unique feeling to be unburdened from the trappings of normal daily life. Swimming was an entirely new sensation without trunks. It all made me realize just how much we identify by the type of clothes we wear, and how liberating it is to be rid of them in a group. And I was surprised by how polite a culture the naturist group was. There were no wild orgies (although Melanie and I did have a very memorable night in our tent with one of her female friends). There was fun and frivolity, but beyond a general air of social immodesty that matched the physical state we were all in, it was overall quite normal. Most of all I didn’t feel obligated to behave the way people would expect me to, and that might well have been the most alluring thing.
Melanie and I eventually drifted apart and she got a different job upstate. But she’d still travel to many of the same weekend retreats and I felt awkward about being there when she was, so I was forced to stop going. It didn’t exactly create a gaping hole in my life—there were a lot of other things going on: my book series was growing a healthy following and I was busy doing lots of signings at bookstores and fantasy conventions. I actually had fans that would line up to meet me, which despite the fact that I’d often fantasized about such a thing during my lean early years, came as a strangely alarming surprise
Also my friends and I were in the middle of an epic yearlong dungeoning campaign, and the stakes were high.
After Melanie, I briefly dated a ballet instructor named Vicki, and tried to encourage her to do the nude thing with me as well. I actually succeeded once in getting her to go to a farm near Mercer that boasted a clothing optional swimming pond, but only fifteen minutes or so after stripping off her swimsuit she claimed she saw someone she knew (she didn’t) and put it back on. She also seemed to feel the need to criticize and compare herself to the other sunbathers’ physiques, so the whole experience was to some degree marred, and we didn’t see each other much after that. By then it was fall of ’88 and that put the kibosh on the outdoor frivolity for a few months. Being a nudist in Pennsylvania is like being a motorcycle rider—they’re both extremely weather dependent, so you only really get to indulge in your hobby six months of the year if you’re lucky.
But enough about nudity: on to the murders.