Been trying to find this short horror story for a while; pretty certain I read it in an anthology, but can't remember which to save my life. The title comes from a statement carved in the wooden tabletop of the bar the story takes place in.

The premise is that the main character (a man) and his good (female) friend in a bar where she's pouring out her heart and tears to him about the last several guys she's been with who treated her like crap, and he's there frustrated because he's in love with her. He's kind of weak and not buff, just not the tough guy personality, more like your standard office worker. In the background is a really rough looking guy (I think he was a biker) who's got an almost abused woman next to him with his buddies, and he's the biggest badass out of them all.

Anyway, just as the MC is about to confess how he feels for his friend, his bladder gets to the point where he cant' hold it anymore, and he walks off to the bathroom. The biker starts calling him a wimp, and the main character just flips him the bird and tell him to kiss his ass, then stalks to the restroom.

He goes to the restroom, and there's a big puddle of water on one side because of bad plumbing, and he relieves himself. The biker shows up, pushes his face in the water, all the time saying "a real man" or something like that, and the next moment the main character remembers is that the biker's gone - but he can't control his body. The biker effectively possessed him, and stalks out, and takes the main character's friend out of the bar.

The story ends with how the protagonist has been possessed for years by this entity, and how his friend somehow escaped the abusive relationship with the possessed man, but how there's another woman who is stuck with him now, but how the entity had become careless, as the original main character had slowly been able to regain control of an arm when the entity was sleepy, and how the protagonist was playing with a knife, and how with his last action, he'd finally be a 'real man.'

Would really appreciate the help - if it makes any difference, it gave me a Cthulhu feel somehow.

  • 1
    Cross-posted here. I note that you also suggested "A Real Man" as a potential title
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 6:47
  • I did; just wasn't sure if it's 'To Be a Man' or 'A Real Man' and didn't want to muddy the waters too much. :p Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 22:58

1 Answer 1


I searched for "To Be A Man" OR "Real Man" subject:fiction carved bar in Google Books and The Year's Best Fantasy by Ellen Datlow, ‎Terri Windling was the third result.

The story could be "Gentlemen" by John Skipp and Craig Spector:

TO BE A MAN. The words are carved on the sweat-smeared oak of the bar's suface.

  • You, my friend, are a complete and UTTER CHAMPION! SOLVED! :D Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 5:27
  • You're welcome! Can you please mark the answer as "accepted" then?
    – Ayshe
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 9:44
  • 1
    @JohnnyOutcast you can show other users that this is the correct answer and reward Ayshe who provided the answer, by clicking the check mark next to this answer. By the way, (belated) welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy. Have you taken the tour?
    – SQB
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 13:35

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