Tales of the Storage Space, Part 64

Karen stared in abject horror at the homeless woman who’d brought up the police investigation into Martin’s murder. When one of Karen’s hands hit the counter that separated them so hard she couldn’t help a yelp of pain, she realized how much both hands were shaking and hid them under the counter, hoping against hope that the homeless woman wouldn’t see how terrified she was.

The homeless woman reached across the counter to hold her up by the elbows. “I’m so very sorry to have upset you so by bringing it up!”

That voice, the most beautiful Karen had ever heard, now deep with emotion… It was such a powerful voice that Karen’s whole body reverberated with the sound of it and, even more remarkable, Karen was momentarily stunned out of her agonized conviction that, no matter what, she had to protect Frank from being discovered as Martin’s murderer. “You,” Karen stuttered, “you must be…must have been…an actress?”

“No, not I…” The homeless woman replied, then stopped suddenly, apparently puzzled.

Karen was struck by an odd hush akin to an abrupt change in air pressure.

Now the homeless woman was looking around at the interior of the storage space, as if seeing it for the first time.

Karen imagined a whisper, something about holding its breath, if only a building could hold its breath.

“But…” The homeless woman’s face contorted oddly, as if thinking of something for the very first time, “Perhaps…” Now she looked caught between wonder and embarrassment over her own foolishness. “My grandmother.” The wonder and a tentative tone of conviction won, as she continued to look around at the storage space, reminding Karen of an actress scouring her audience for affirmation.

Karen felt something else reverberate through her entire body in reaction to this, along with a torrent of memories that couldn’t possibly be her own since they all involved theatre in the 19th century. The building beneath her seemed to sway under the impact of this revelation. But now Karen shook herself free of all this to concentrate on the one thing that was really important: protecting Frank.

Frank! The next torrents of memories to wash over Karen weren’t those of her imaginary playmate, the building, but her very own. She physically fell back at the onslaught, seeming to remember all at once each and every time he’d made love to her, and would have fallen over backwards if the homeless woman hadn’t steadied her. Frank: his eyes, his smile, every word he ever spoke, and even that horrible scar on his face that she couldn’t help loving as much as all the rest. With all the subtlety of two galaxies colliding, she realized how very much it didn’t matter what he’d done…not to Martin, certainly not with her best friend Marie. A threat to his life was far worse than a threat to her own.

“What I came here about can wait. You need to sit down. Let me use some of the medical supplies I took from the crazy man’s house to treat your wounds.”

It was the homeless woman. A potential threat to Frank. Beautiful voice or not.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 63

Martin felt the sheet peeled back so someone could run their fingers over his naked hip.  “Mo chuisle!” exclaimed a voice that literally throbbed with emotion and was deep enough to be a man’s.

Martin bolted out of bed.  “Ma…cushla?”

But it was only the girl from the plane with her fingers now frozen midair…though her face was a deep red.  “You…must have been dreaming.”

He shuddered violently but looked around, relaxing as he took inventory and checked everything off on his mental list:  Same bed.  Same bay window.  Same blue sky, green grass, and sidewalk that wasn’t pink.  Another plane, not even remotely resembling a bloody dragon, roared overhead.  He checked around the room:  something strange there, like everything looked too new to be scattered about as if she’d lived there forever…but nothing was undulating.

No, he wasn’t doomed to chronic flashbacks of drug-induced hallucinations.  Mum and dad were both wrong.  As usual.  Brilliant!  He could feel his own smile.  And smell…the coffee?

“Vanilla latte…Randolph?”

Martin all but snatched it out of her hand, only pausing to caress the Starbuck’s logo before upending it.  “Absolutely scrummy!”

“Glad you like it.”  She stretched out naked beside him.  Was it his imagination, or did she intentionally display herself such that the light from the bay window accentuated every curve.  “You…seem to do a lot of dreaming…Randolph.”

Randolph?  Oh, right.  Randolph Barclay.  Now he could feel his face fall.  Getting laid was all well and good and had at least put a roof over his head temporarily.  But for how long?  And what was he supposed to do for money?  Not to mention phony ID.

Soft fingers traced delicate patterns along his thigh.  “Troubling dreams, Randolph?  You might feel better if you talked about it.  Then we can get back to having fun…”

His dick jumped, but then lay still.  Talk about it?  Tell someone else about the whole bloody mess, including killing Frank, and be able to explain how it was really self-defense?  For a moment he felt a very different kind of yearning.

She must have seen it.  She sat up and wrapped her arms around him.  Her voice was velvet.  “Can I tell you a story?”

“Oh, right.  Yeah, sure.”

She snuggled up closer.  “I once knew a guy who found himself in a position where he had to do something really, really bad.”

Martin had been fiddling with the bed sheets, but he stopped at that and sighed.  “Poor chap.”

She snuggled up even closer.  “Know what his mistake was?  He kept it to himself.”

“If it was really, really bad…”

“I know what you’re thinking.  And, yes, he could have faced Invol Manslaughter or even Murder 2.  But not everyone would have ratted him out.”

“Better safe than bloody sorry.”

She ran her fingers over his shoulder.  “Except that didn’t account for what doing something like that does to a person’s mind.  Ever read Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart’?”

“But that chap deserved discovery!  And he’d really lost the plot.”

“Justifiable or not, normally sane or not, doing certain things poses a well-documented threat to a person’s sanity.  And what better way to go insane than to keep it to yourself?”

Martin’s head spun.  He remembered his dreams, especially the one where he found himself frying up pieces of Karen to eat.  He remembered pink sidewalks and dinosaurs sleeping in his garden.  He knew with something akin to a thud in his heart that she was right.  This girl…he didn’t even remember her name or if he’d ever been told it…obviously thought he was ace, positively blinding, the bee’s knees.  How much more willing would she be to house him and keep him in vanilla lattes if she knew his story and what he was up against?  Still, he had to be daft, a damp squib of the first water, to trust his life to a bloody one-night stand.  But he couldn’t resist turning toward her, his face undoubtedly an open book to all the turmoil within, and staring deep into her eyes.

At first he thought he saw cold calculation in those eyes, but they seemed to melt as she stared back at him.  Or was that just wishful thinking?  Then there seemed to be a funny look on her face:  could have been affection; could have been contempt.  He thought he caught a hint of a wry smile as her voice deepened and she asked, “Ever see that film with Clint Eastwood about the brutality of boxing?  Million Dollar Baby?”

“No,” he answered slowly.  But he’d seen plenty of violent Clint Eastwood movies and what the hell she was up to.  Why would she bring up a brutal action-adventure movie when he was so obviously feeling vulnerable?

Instafreebie Group Giveaway: Science Fiction Select Few…

For my second foray with Instafreebie (while still giggling over the name), I found myself putting my old Acquisitions-Editor hat back on from when I worked for a literary agency.  Armed with that hyper-critical eye, I then waded through well over a hundred books other authors submitted to me…so you won’t have to!  Instead just click HERE and pick any and/or all (including my latest release, of course) from a hand-picked group of 20 absolute gems.

Some are complete books!  Some are previews.  All are FREE!

Below, I’m featuring the books of four authors in the group who have, so far, done the most to promote this Group Giveaway for the sake of all:

You get the whole first book for free in PATTY JANSEN’s Ambassador series!  Deftly and swiftly, her beginning shifts into high, machine-gunning intriguing clues vis a vis later reveals. One knows just enough about what’s going on to continue reading without scratching one’s head, but not enough to make the whole book a fait accompli. Quick immersion in tight, realistic action immediately promises a great read.

NEIL BUSHNELL’s Arkship Obsidian grabs you by the throat with the first word and won’t let you go.  It is, plain and simple, THE mother of all start-out-in-the-burning-building tales.  It’s the kind of read that’s so immediately engrossing that the reader risks failing to notice if a stampede of T-rexes is approaching in real life. The reader is TOLD nothing, but EXPERIENCES everything. Truly magnificent writing!

You get the whole first book free for JOE VASICEK’s Star Wanderers series.  It starts right out with a tense, interesting situation, and wonderfully diverse characters.

With PAUL STEPHENSON’s Blood on the Motorway, you also get the whole book for free!  Plus the fun of an unconventional post-apocalyptic horror story with deftly planted surprises.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 62

Imogene only looked up from her phone when her father at last drew blood.

“Like mother like daughter, always on the fucking phone!”

She like blinked at his like tight, faded face while licking the blood off her lip, then past him at her mother like curled up on the coach, ignoring Imogene’s latest beating as usual. It was bible; she only had eyes for her own phone. Real Life really sucked.

Her father like shoved his face inches from Imogene’s, blotting out her view of anything else. “So…you going to remember…tomorrow!…to bring me back that stuff I gave you to keep safe?”

Imogene like thought anything was better than his booze breath till he like pulled back to backhand her so hard she reached up to check her teeth. One felt loose. “Like, yeah, Dad, tomorrow! I promise!”

His face was like back in hers. “Don’t…fucking…forget!” But then he went back to the coach to sit next to her def-not-woke mother, who was all covered with bruises and shit and still busy with her phone.

Imogene looked down at her own phone to find like a million messages, like all sorry about the beating, but only really read the last.

^URSunPC&proud: UOK?

WTFwasImogeneCoca: Tooth loose!!!

^URSunPC&proud: Zayum! Don’t wiggle it. Might unloose.

WTFwasImogeneCoca: < cray cray ugly.

^URSunPC&proud: U? No! Never saw u RL but know u better than RL here. Def as lit/popping as party you cudn’t go to.

WTFwasImogeneCoca: Wud hv met u there?

^URSunPC&proud: RL? I mean real Real Life? RL=bad. RL spoils all. Here=better/safe. If u’d gone 2 party I’d hv stayed home.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 61

The Storage Space was enthralled, simply enthralled. Every remaining bit of the Grand Old Theatre it used to be was thrilled to see this old woman in a bathrobe, yet it was sure…very sure…that this particular woman had never before set foot in it.

What still remained of the grand old stage was most unhappily relegated to a mean space under the hideous metal staircase that connected what was now the second floor to the third. But it settled and creaked like a drowsy cat about to purr happily at the sight of its mistress entering the room.

A once-exquisite carving of Romeo’s Juliet, now ignobly hidden under Unit 38, came to life as if freshly polished and warmed by the sun. “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” seemed to whisper through the metal floor above it, lending the tacky 20th century carvings stored in Unit 38 a hint of much-needed elegance.

Even the heavy curtain lever Karen had used to kill Le Grand Rat managed to clatter across the floor of her storage unit in glee…or had the corpse pushed it with some kind of cadaveric spasm?

“Here, let me help you. I brought some of the bandaging that was used on me.”

That voice! That exquisitely beautiful, so easily recognized voice! The entire Storage Space swayed in happiness, so pronounced that even Karen and the old woman who’d spoken looked up, a bit startled, and steadied themselves.

All was happiness. All was joy. Even the one the Storage Space usually didn’t care to think about was a welcome addition as he started with “summer’s day” and went on to wax eloquent with every tender word Shakespeare ever wrote.

But then there was something, someone else, skittering along the walls and oozing out of mean little holes everywhere. Something that sent a shudder of terror through the whole Storage Space that even the humans again felt. Something that was the absolute incarnation of evil.

Check out my newly released sci fi novella, Ships!

SHIPS:  Yet another sci fi novella I had a lot of fun writing, though this one’s a bit of a “soft” sci fi…slipstream, as they call it…with large parts set in present time and ordinary circumstances that are equally accessible to non-sci-fi readers.  (Still, along with my usual snarky/politically incorrect humor, it’s got some very alien aliens.)

Again, it will be featured on a big banner at this May’s SFWA Nebula Awards Conference.  The blurb’s below, and the Kindle version’s a mere 99 cents here.

Gorgeous, and born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, Veronica Hamilton has never had to interrupt her dreamy sentimentality to question her cultural snobbery or even whether or not that diagnosis of Asperger’s was accurate.  But that was before her fabulously wealthy CEO husband framed her for the murders he committed.  Now she’s fleeing across “fly-over” America with the pedal to the metal of her burgundy-upholstered Rolls.

Meanwhile, barreling toward Earth, Histus is suffering from extreme sensory deprivation because he no longer has a body.  But his gas-giant home planet has been annihilated, and the only way to survive was to upload his consciousness into his crippled ship.

What could these two have in common?  Oh, and incidentally, will they save the planet Earth?

“Hugo-nominated Sue Hollister Barr has written a gripping story peopled with believable and sympathetically drawn characters who are lost and adrift, whether in the panoramic landscape of Kansas or deep space.  She explores how we are all so caught up in our pasts and prejudices that we lose the capacity for true communication.”

Harrison Park, Author

“Sue Hollister Barr’s Ships references Longfellow’s ships that pass in the night, but in this case one ship is a huge alien vessel, and the other is the planet Earth.  And they don’t pass unseen.  Raucous, witty humor and intriguing characters (including disembodied aliens, a trophy wife wanted for murder and the denizens of a tiny Kansas town) make for a wonderfully fun, and in places quite beautiful, read.”

Sondra Fink, Psycho-Girl.Com

“A rollercoaster through such delights as slimy bosses, bad sex, and the question of compassion for minds that are, literally, worlds apart.”

Alexandra Price, Science Writer

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 60

Amelia regretted asking the woman who worked at the storage space for any kind of help the minute that woman picked her head up off the counter and looked up, showing a face full of injuries and tears, but it couldn’t be helped.  What was it about this neighborhood?  Amelia had just seen a beaten-up and pregnant teenager get into a cab.  The poor thing was still vomiting from morning sickness despite a pregnancy advanced enough to show.  Amelia herself had just barely escaped being strangled to death by a mad man who, probably only because he’d let his Rottweiler “Q” outside to pee, had been killed by an extraordinarily handsome young man.  Then this last man, with dazzling green eyes, had died of his own injuries.  But they weren’t why Amelia had walked back to this particular storage space building in the mad man’s bathrobe.

She considered the storage space’s employee behind the counter, then leaned over to brush some blonde hair out of the woman’s tears before asking, “Has anyone been asking after a petulant young woman with dark hair and a nervous tic that twitches her lips?  I’m truly sorry to trouble you at such a time, and I’m sorry I don’t know her last name, but I think she has a storage unit here, and her first name was Jennifer.”

The blonde woman wrinkled her brow in confusion and pulled back from her side of the counter, looking for all the world like she’d been so distracted by her own problems that she’d forgotten she worked there.  Finally she glanced around, eyes widening at the counter between them as if she’d never seen it before, and appeared to get her bearings.  “Why?”

Amelia’s heart was heavy.  She couldn’t help feeling disloyal to poor, dead Jennifer.  Originally Amelia had protected Jennifer by lying to the police that she hadn’t been in that storage space building on a night when she really had, after seeing Jennifer mouth something to herself about being innocent.  Amelia had believed her, the poor thing.  But now that Jennifer was dead and could no longer be hurt by anything…  “The murder that was reported here…”  Amelia looked down at the dingy floor, still unable to shake the irrational feeling that she was being disloyal.  “You must know about it, working here and all.  I need to speak to someone about Jennifer.  I…I may have told the police something about her that wasn’t correct, that might get in the way of their tracking down the real killer.”

Finally Amelia forced herself to look back up at the woman.  Okay, it certainly wasn’t a pleasant subject, but she wasn’t at all prepared for the look of abject fear on the blonde’s face.

Instafreebie Group Giveaway: Science Fiction Space Opera to…

Okay, I couldn’t resist the name Instafreebie…what fun!  Didn’t know this site existed till about a week ago; now I’m part of a group of science fiction authors giving out over 100 whole or partial books for free from March 1 through March 31st.  So please click on this link and this second link starting tomorrow and grab ’em while you can!

My two free offerings will be:

It’s the year 2100. Nan has had to leave her peaceful home above what used to be the Arctic Circle for something extraordinarily old-fashioned: a physical meeting with someone in, of all places, a city. If she doesn’t contract a fatal disease first, she might choke to death on Manhattan’s Rococo holography. And why hasn’t she heard anything from her best friend, Trix? But things are about to get a whole lot worse than having dinner with the man who hired her to devise a craft, which should get all those annoying aliens off welfare and back to their home planet.

…and…

Thanks to stellar advances in longevity, Earth is overrun by Baby Boomers well into their hundreds. Social Security being the stuff of history books, subsequent generations must find some way to put all those Boomers to good use…challenging since few have minds that have survived along with their bodies. But the silver lining is that few can complain about what some of those uses are.

Mary, born in rural Virginia in 1948, never was the good girl just hoping to catch a husband that her family expected. Instead of just minding her evening chores, she memorized the constellations as she marveled at the majesty of the night sky. All she ever wanted was to somehow, someday make it to the stars. Now, in a charity nursing home amidst the rubble of what’s now a post-industrial Africa, she might finally have lived long enough to see her wish come true. But only if she can escape her nursing home, free the other Boomers there..including the one who thinks she’s Marilyn Monroe and the one who thinks he’s Napoleon…and just remember what her own name is.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 59

Despite all her own injuries, Karen caught the teenage girl who fell across the threshold of the storage space and into her arms. Every body part screamed, and Karen’s head spun violently, but she didn’t drop the teenager.

The teenage girl responded by puking all over Karen, including the clothes from Irwin she was wearing.

“Morning sickness,” Karen whispered gently in her ear. “It’ll pass.”

The girl jerked back from her as if Karen had backhanded her with a pipe wrench. “Like, I’m def not pregnant, like, no matter what you…he…did!”

Karen caught the girl’s arms before she fell over backwards, watched this teenager’s Bowler hat fall off behind her, and then heard something clatter forward across the storage space’s floor.

“My phone!” The girl dived for it, but it skated all the way across the dingy floor and disappeared under the counter Irwin had oozed over to get to Karen when they first met.

Karen made it to the other side first. Something on the underside of the counter must have activated the smartphone. Its menu blinked up at her, and her heart leapt. She snatched it up, smiling at the possibilities she’d been so long without. She should at least borrow it long enough to call in sick to work!

“Like, that’s mine!” The teenager reached over the counter and grabbed it. “And it’s fucking broken! Like, you broke it!”

Karen, still behind the counter, leaned on it for support as she looked up at the girl and the still-open door behind her.

The girl wasn’t even looking at Karen anymore, a cacophony of different facial expressions flying over her face as her fingers flew over a phone that apparently still worked. Moto jacket slopped over black overalls and a white tee that was sticking out on one side. Karen smiled, remembering a very long time ago when her guide to grunge was whatever they were wearing on My So-Called Life.

But then she frowned and looked at the outside world she hadn’t seen in so long behind the girl. The clothes she needed were her work clothes back at poor-dead Martin’s in a suitcase. But how would she gain access to his apartment? By explaining to the police that he was dead but…and this only occurred to her for the first time…she had no idea where his body was?

Who had removed Martin’s body? The police? Who had reported Martin’s death? Irwin? Something told her this wasn’t quite right, but it was so hard to piece together reliably anything that happened after she passed out just before Frank finished killing Martin. What had Irwin told the police about who did it? And how would Karen now explain her “self defense” murder of Irwin, who must have been the one to discover Martin’s body in Karen’s storage unit? With Karen, though unconscious, still there?

What exactly would she be risking to return to that job crunching numbers for an investment banking firm that she hated anyway because it involved no contact or concern for other people?

“But this is crazy!”

It was only when the girl darted her a quick look that Karen realized she’d spoken aloud and froze in the act of coming out from behind the counter and heading for the door. Still a gust of fresh air from outside swirled around her nose, teasing her. Trees. Sunlight. All calling to her even if her imaginary friend, the building, had switched into overdrive with all its…mostly 19th century…tales of people wrongly accused of murder.

But the girl was still looking up at her, now clutching her stomach again. Karen examined that young face and what she could see of her body…fresh bruises, old scars. Scars in places Karen recognized somehow, shuddering when she remembered what Irwin had done to her. But it was the eyes: defiant, shut like doors, until a wave of nausea opened them all the way up to the tender, innocent child so carefully hidden inside. Karen remembered holding her in her arms and felt something swelling up inside her.

Just then the girl heaved, snatched her Bowler hat off the street, gave Karen the finger, and darted off.

“Oh no, don’t leave!” Karen called, heart sinking. How could she have failed to help such a poor creature? Again, she was about to come out from behind that counter, despite her need to hold on to it for support, and go after the girl, but then she saw the girl leap into a cab.

Devastated by her own failure, Karen buried her face in her hands and wept more tears than she’d ever shed on her own accord, soaking the dingy countertop. But…did she hear footsteps approaching?

“I need your help!”

It was the most exquisitely beautiful voice Karen had ever heard. She looked up.

It wasn’t the girl, but an elderly homeless woman.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 58

Martin peeled back the sheet so he could run his fingers over the girl’s naked hip.  She stirred in her sleep, mumbling, “I love you, Martin.”

It was then that Martin figured he was dreaming and struggled to wake up.  But he couldn’t.  He tried everything.  Finally he looked around; maybe he was conscious but hallucinating again.

The bed was in a room with a huge bay window.  The sky outside was blue.  The grass he could see on a steep hill was green.  The sidewalk wasn’t pink.  He heard something roar overhead and spotted not a dragon, but a plane.  Nothing was undulating.

Bloody hell!  Martin indulged in a long, luxurious stretch.  He felt great.  All those hallucinations before?  It really was just his initial reaction to killing Frank…strictly in self defense!…and the subsequent, understandable-but-chronic lack of sleep.  He hadn’t dared to let himself think about it before, but just about the only elephant, pink or otherwise, that he hadn’t acknowledged in the room then was the fear that his hallucinations had been something more.  Now, fully rested and hallucination-free, he could remember, and laugh at, the warning his father had once given him about not using too many hallucinogenic drugs for fear of future flashbacks.  He’d just been knackered out of his mind, totally and understandably gutted by the experience.  Nothing more.  Brilliant!  Life was sweet once again.

The girl stirred in her sleep again.  She wasn’t the Karen of his dreams and hallucinations.  It was the girl that had smiled at him from across the aisle on the plane, while struggling with her rolling carry-on case.  The girl he hadn’t even noticed being there until after that stop on the way across country he just barely remembered.  Funny, he’d thought it was a nonstop and must have been gutted to a point approaching death not to have noticed such a pretty girl immediately.

She stirred again.  This time her eyes fluttered open.  At first the way she looked at him was sweeter than his sweetest dream of Karen.  But then something changed.  She looked surprised, then cold.  “Really gotta pee…Randolph.”  She sprang out of bed, a sight to see naked as she stumbled about a bit, apparently still groggy enough not to remember exactly where her own bathroom was.

Martin laughed and felt himself harden, hoping she’d find that bathroom and return soon.  In the meantime he looked around a bit more.  No, it wasn’t a hotel room and looked reasonably convincing as a place she’d lived in for a while but…  Something made his spider sense tingle; something about the place looked just a bit staged, its very casualness a bit too perfect, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.  Too used to seeing pink elephants, he chastised himself.

Anyway he forgot all about it when she finally re-emerged from the bathroom, thankfully still naked.