by Kevin Klehr

Stanley is almost fifty. He hates his job, has an overbearing mother, and is in a failed relationship.

Then he meets Asher, the man of his dreams, literally in his dreams.

Asher is young, captivating, and confident about his future – everything Stanley is not. So, Asher gives Stan a gift. The chance to be an extra five years younger each time they meet.

Some of their adventures are whimsical. A few are challenging. Others are totally surreal. All are designed to bring Stan closer to the moment his joyful childhood turned to tears.

But when they fall in love, Stan knows he can’t live in Asher’s dreamworld. Yet Stan is haunted by Asher’s invitation to “Slip into eternal sleep.”

  • WINNER of the FANTASY category in the 2021 Gay Scribe Awards
  • FIRST PLACE in the LGBT category of the Paranormal Romance Guild's Reviewer's Choice Awards
  • RUNNER UP in the FANTASY category of the Rainbow Awards
Excerpt:

The alarm clock ticked loudly at the side of their bed, and while Francesco snored like a buzz saw clearing a rain forest, Stanley lay awake. It wasn’t his partner who was the cause of his insomnia for Stanley could doze through the wildest storm. In fact, Stanley was sound asleep only ten minutes prior until he thought he heard someone whisper in his ear.

The arms of his alarm clock inched their way toward the number twelve. He sat up and, shortly after, stood and took his dressing gown from the bed post. He remembered hearing the word “eternal” in the sentence that was murmured to him, but the rest of the phrase was hazy.

Numerous cats meowed in unison. Stanley was unnerved. He strode to the living room and peeked through the curtain. Several feline gangs gathered on the front lawn. An eerie wind shook the trees as the cats strolled to the centre of the garden.

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Stanley studied the sky. Not a star in sight. Nor was there a cloud above, so the lack of any sign of the universe made no sense. He pondered the end of humanity before concerning himself with his morbid train of thought. The voice whispered again, and Stanley instantly felt drowsy. He sauntered back to the bedroom and fell on top of the sheets.

In his slumber, his dreams began, and in this personal movie he sat at a small round table in a circular room. A crimson curtain wrapped itself around the space.

A crisp white tablecloth fell just above his knees and embossed on a shiny gold card in the middle of his table were the words RESERVED. THE MIDNIGHT MAN.

There were other tables too. All with the same small card and all with either a mature-aged man or woman sitting at them. The only difference was, each of these people were dining and chatting with a younger male companion.

He noted the dress code. Every man, young or old, sported a dinner suit. Stanley also wore one. Each lady was adorned in a stylish black dress.

“Excuse me, sir.” Stanley looked up. A tall waiter with a quaint moustache addressed him. “I’m sorry to say your Midnight Man is running late.”

“Okay,” he replied, mumbling.

With time to spare, Stanley picked up the card. He gazed at it, giving the appearance it aroused his curiosity, but he was actually eavesdropping. He eased back in his chair to listen to the woman who was sitting behind him.

“Interesting conversation?” This questioning voice startled Stanley, but boy, was it sexy. Its honey-rich timbre could invite you to a murder and you’d stay under its spell until the moment the knife was placed in your hand. Stanley looked up to see whose voice it was.

A young man stood with hands in his trouser pockets. His smile sent Stan’s thoughts spinning. Stan knew a genuine grin and this lad had no hidden agendas lurking behind his cordial manner. Stanley was convinced of it.

He measured up to all the best-looking groomsmen Stanley had admired at the various weddings he’d attended. Most of the time it was the best man Stan fancied, especially if they were still playing the field. He’d stare at them wishing to be swept off his feet and carried down the aisle.

This Midnight Man had a crew cut. It’s a cliché to say it was the preferred style of boy next door types, but for Stan, it sealed the deal. Something classic. Something captivating. Something familiar enough to help him not feel old.

“I’m Asher.” He held out his hand. Stanley took it, holding onto it until Asher seated himself at the table.

“You’re beautiful,” Stanley heard himself saying. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be forward. It’s just that…” He covered his mouth momentarily. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“You’re the perfect age.”

“What for? For you?” Asher smirked with bedroom confidence.

“No. No. I didn’t mean it like that. You’re my perfect age. No. I’m not making myself clear, am I?”

Asher reached across the table and tenderly stroked Stanley’s wrists.

“Are you hungry?” Asher asked. “Should I ask the waiter for the menu? I’m looking forward to sitting here and listening to your tales.”

“Strangely, I don’t have an appetite.”

“Me neither.” They were the only people in the room now. “Maybe your dream needs a change of pace.” Asher stood. “Follow me to enchantment, or something close to it.”

Stanley did as he was told. Through the crimson curtain was an opening. As they ventured through the darkness on the other side, music broke through the silence. The floor shook with each beat. The murmur of a crowd brought back many memories for Stanley, and as the laser lights flashed random colour into the void, the crowd became visible. Everyone was Asher’s age. Everyone was male. Stanley reached for Asher’s hand to lead him through this curious scene. They were both dressed differently.

Stanley wore a waistcoat adorned with tiny roses, buttoned tight to expose his chest. Asher wore a blue T-shirt as he strode toward the DJ. Stan looked down at a smiling quarter moon, the oversized design on his belt buckle. He stomped his foot. His shoes were sturdy, leather and unmistakably British.

It’s perfect in every way, he thought. So perfect in fact, he was waiting for the ecstasy to kick in. He worked his way back to Asher.

“Why are you called the Midnight Man?” he yelled over the house tune.

“We’re all Midnight Men,” Asher called back. “Everyone dining with your generation in that restaurant was a Midnight Man.”

“But what does it mean?”

“It’s the time I entered your life—midnight.” His playful grin returned.

Then Stanley felt a change.

First, the music. It sounded hollow, as if someone had played around with an equaliser and got it all wrong. Then, like a jet engine, it soared.

Next, awareness of his own lanky shape was replaced by a oneness with everyone in that huge hall. There were no creaky joints or sagging skin. Decades disappeared. A sense of love so overwhelming consumed him. And in this micro moment, Asher was arguably the most bewitching guy Stanley had ever met in the decades he walked the earth.

Then it hit full charge. The need to dance! The want to take off his waistcoat and sense the sweat, the pleasure, and the energy that took control. He was lost in sensation. He was lost in thoughts that highlighted every positive thing about himself. He hadn’t felt this for a very long time.

And Asher was part of this charge, the best part. A boy at the start of the finest years of his life. Young enough to be sought after and brave enough to seek love from those who’ll fall under his spell.

The guys nearby were eyeing Stanley. A lover Stanley recalled for his kindness at a time when he was finding himself. This guy waved at Stanley. The gesture was returned with an air kiss.

Coming toward them was a guy who sported small mirror tiles on his shoulders, as if he was a walking disco ball. He had similarly mirrored shorts. And he also held a mirror.

To Stanley, this guy wore the face of a human hiding his hurt. Someone wishing others would understand his sadness, yet too polite to talk about his feelings, or cry until there were no more tears. A feeling too familiar.

Stanley raised his arms and shook his butt, encouraging Mirror Man to find his bliss. For a moment, the guy laughed. A door was open, ready for pain to be released. He swung his hips, making his way toward Stanley, so Stanley raised his arms higher to transmit love in all directions. Then the guy held his mirror to Stanley’s face.

There it was. There was no denying it. Stanley was not twenty-one again. He was nearly fifty. A man in need of maturity.

“What is it?” Asher asked.

Mirror Man was nowhere to be seen.

“I’m not meant to be here.”

Stanley sat startled as he found himself opposite Asher back at the restaurant. Both were wearing suits again.

“So, tell me, Stan, where are you meant to be?”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Ulysses Dietz on Paranormal Romance Guild wrote:

It’s been a while since I read one of Kevin Klehr’s novels. I started on “The Midnight Man” with the feeling that it was all too normal, too “straight” a narrative. Then it got weird, and I felt comfortable again.

The other books of Klehr’s that I’ve read and enjoyed have all been spiritual, but in a non-religious way. The story in this book counts as paranormal, but it felt a good bit less fantastical. Why? Because this is all about dreams. We’ve all experienced the paranormal quality of dreams.

It is hard to categorize this as a romance, this story of the disintegration of a gay couple’s seven-year relationship Oddly enough, although I’m an older man approaching his 46th anniversary, it really cut close to the bone. One doesn’t live forty-six years with another man without thinking about nearly every issue that Klehr’s two protagonists have to face.

Stanley and Francesco are an Australian couple in their forties; Stanley is right on the edge of fifty, which is something of a critical detail. He is not only facing a daunting mid-life crisis—the undeniable loss of youth—but he is also facing the loss of his longtime partner, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Yeah, it’s about sex, but it’s not really about sex.

In his dreams, Stanley meets Asher, a twenty-one year old, who becomes his confidante and paramour. Once more, it is not just dreams; Asher is part of a spiritual world in which he is one of The Midnight Men, whose role it is to enter people’s dreams and guide their souls—themselves—to a better place.

What ends up happening for the reader is a surprisingly detailed study of the relationship between Stanley and Francesco. It is easy to take sides at first, but it becomes less clear cut as the author probes more deeply into both characters. As we see them for who they really are, we begin to understand how their path has gone astray.

I want to give props to the author for giving us Adelaide, Stanley’s mother. At first presented as slightly surreal, almost an archetype, she becomes more interesting and more vivid as the story progresses. She is rooted in Stanley’s past, while Asher is rooted in his present (if only in dreams). Both of them play crucial roles in the way the narrative plays out.

Last week my grown son (my husband and I adopted two children twenty-five years ago) asked me, out of the blue, “Why did Daddy stay with you all these years?” I had no idea what to tell him. This book gave me some ideas.

J.P. Jackson on J.P. Jackson Writes wrote:

Klehr has once again created a theatrical-styled world with unique characters. The author’s use and choice of words are unlike anything else I’ve read. It’s descriptive, yet dramatic and elevated. It reminds me so much of my early adult theater days.

The blurb truly describes this story to perfection – without giving anyway any delicious details. Stanley’s current life status is in question, and he feels like he’s failed. That is, until he meets Asher in his dreams. We are never told exactly what type of beast Asher is, other than “A Midnight Man.” Throughout the book my demon-possessed brain kept trying to figure out…okay, is this thing demonic, like an Incubus? Or is it angelic, and playing the role of guardian angel? I think Klehr did us all a service by keeping us guessing.

Although one of the tale’s main concepts is cheating within a relationship, and I do know how many people do not like reading about this, the setup in the tale for this particular event was very realistic. Many couples in real life go through this. Some couples are open. It was an interesting avenue to see how the event was handled between Stanley and Francesco. Even more interesting when one of them is having an affair with a dream entity. Is that truly cheating?

The dream sequences were surreal – as they should have been – occasionally disjointed, again, kinda perfect, and allowed the reader to play around with picturing these story parts with a certain amount of fluidity…again, mimicking the dream state – after all, how many of us regularly have dreams where all the parts are cohesive and make sense? I don’t mean to say that Klehr’s writing is in any way confusing, so much as he’s written bright spots into the novel where you know you’re in a dream, and the atmosphere and environment are well reflective of the dreamscape.

I was also so pumped to have gay characters who were mature, and not playing “Daddy” roles. This was an exploration of an establish couple’s relationship decline. The men were easily identifiable as any members of the community I know around me. It was a brilliant change of pace from the usual young gays falling in love, or teen angst coming out arcs we so often see.

There’s a big role here for self-actualization and empowerment. Two qualities that I think most of us struggle with our entire lives. Just when it would seem that we have our identities figured out, and become comfortable within our own skin, your life experience and age always seem to trip that up. Knowing who you are, at any point in life’s journey will change. Because you change. I think in the end, Klehr’s story is about exactly this; discovering who we are, recognising our pasts, discovering where our potential lies, and learning what we need from ourselves and others to make us the most we can be – at different points in our lives.

This is an interesting story that led me down a contemplative path.

Kudos once again.

Christian Baines on Goodreads wrote:

Kevin Klehr again deftly weaves his own brand of surrealism into the all too relatable ups and downs of a gay relationship. Despite its premise, The Midnight Man favours nuance over sensation, though it all comes served with Klehr's trademark theatricality.

He keeps the stakes high for all his characters throughout the book, including the mythic titular love interest, engaging the reader on several unexpected wavelengths. Paying homage to the great dream narratives from Shakespeare to David Lynch, Klehr has created his own richly inviting trip into a subconscious where our true desires and frustrations can no longer hide.

Camille on Joyfully Jay wrote:

With fifty fast approaching, Stanley is starting to realize a few things about his seven-year relationship with Francesco. Instead of intoxicating evenings connecting emotionally and physically, they rarely have any time alone together. Opening up their relationship at Frank’s request has failed to rekindle that old yearning; rather, it’s made Stan hyper aware that the only time he and Frank are intimate is when another man is involved. Even Stanley’s mother asks, at their weekly Tuesday night mother/son dinners, when he is going to wise up and leave Frank. For Stanley, everything feels hopeless and mired by inaction. All he can think about is how his upcoming birthday represents nothing but a downward spiral into irrelevancy.

One night, however, Stan meets the most amazing man named Asher. Young and vivacious, Ash awakens a long-dormant vibrancy in Stanley—albeit through one of Stanley’s dreams. Maybe it’s just his subconscious, but it works. Each time Stanley meets the literal man of his dreams, he jettisons a few years off his age and recaptures the spirit of his younger self. Asher is there, encouraging him along the way. Attentive and sensitive to Stanley’s needs, aware of Francesco’s unscrupulous treatment of Stanley, Asher is convinced he’s falling for Stan and vice versa. But falling for a mortal and getting one to fall for him is a dangerous game for a Midnight Man. Asher must convince Stanley that he’s more than a figment of the imagination and worth leaving the waking world behind. More troubling, Asher has affected Stanley beyond the dream realm, making him more like the man Frank fell in love with. But will it be enough to make Stanley choose to resurrect a dead relationship?

The Midnight Man by Kevin Klehr is a marvelously imagined drama. It features an established, aging couple whose love has attenuated over the years; it explores, with the help of a quasi-paranormal dream lover, how that couple addresses the unsavory realization that they have truly fallen out of love. First, I want to mention how much I admire the mechanics of Klehr’s storytelling. Initially, I struggled to adapt to having multiple narrative voices, in part because the demarcations between Stan, Frank, and Ash’s voices did not feel very clear cut. More abstractly, however, each of the character’s voices fleshes out their own motives and frames how they perceive the actions of others. I thought this narrative style ultimately made the story delightfully messy—much like the muddled feelings all three characters have.

Although Stan feels like the main character, it would be too simple to say Stan is the “hero,” Frank is the “bad guy,” and Asher is the love interest. Stan waffles between two worlds and neither his current nor dream lover came across as a strong advocate for Stan’s affections. Frank feels bad because he’s too self-centered to break off a relationship he doesn’t invest in, but he arguably goes through the most growth. Asher seems like the savior out to offer Stan all the love that Frank can’t…but things in the dream land are not always what they appear. The shifting narratives really helped me view these characters as more than avatars for roles and more as the lost men looking and hoping for redemption that I think they represent.

In addition to the imaginative use of switching narrators, there’s also a very present element of what I suppose is the “paranormal.” That would be Asher as a so-called Midnight Man, someone who appears in a person’s dreams to help them resolve some issues. Midnight Men have a literal library of tricks and props and scenarios and cast members to help make dreams a reality for the mortal whose dreams they visit. At first, it was easy to believe that Asher and Stan can only meet when Stan is unconscious. Over time, however, we see more and more of the “dream land” in which Asher exists.

It was actually this not-strictly-dreamland world of Asher’s that forms my biggest criticism. For such a pivotal character in the book, it was hard to figure out how he fit in the role that was clearly not just a figment of Stan’s imagination. After all, Ash was given a narrative voice and his world was described well beyond the fantastic dreams he wove for Stan.

The ending of the story was, for me, a great surprise. A bit of fun, a bit of a puzzle, and an odd sense of closure despite all the loose ends. Given the back and forth and the multiple perspectives, I really thought it was up in the air which lover Stan would choose. The close of the book covers some significant issues, including a hate crime perpetrated by a law enforcement officer, death of a character, and unresolved relationships. Maybe that sounds depressing, but as I read the final chapters, I thought these pieces fit together well. These events represent good culminations of the threads out of which Klehr wove the story. I found them satisfying, while also leaving things open enough to wonder what would come next.

Overall, The Midnight Man is a uniquely layered approach to storytelling. The multiple narrative perspectives developed/manipulated my sympathies in atypical ways. I enjoyed how my concept of the “bad lover” shifted throughout the narration. Asher and his dream world were a bit of a mixed bag, but still a great vehicle for showing off a literally younger version of Stan for Asher and Frank to fight over. For readers who enjoy stories that feature established couples, troubled couples, lovers-reunited, and dream-related plot devices; or readers who enjoy multiple perspectives in a narrative, I think you’ll enjoy this book.


About the Author

Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.

His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.

His first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, spawned a secondary character named Guy. Many readers argue that Guy, the insecure gay angel, is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. His popularity surprised the author. The third in this series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, scored a Rainbow Award (judged by fans of queer fiction) for Best Gay Alternative Universe/Reality novel.

His novel, The Midnight Man, won the Fantasy category in the 2021 Gay Scribe Awards and won in the LGBT category of the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer's Choice Award. It also was Runner Up at the Rainbow Awards in the same year his novella, Winter Masquerade, scored an Honourable Mention.

So, with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.



Other Books By Kevin Klehr