Boomers for the Stars, latest news

Every year lately, my publishing credits have consisted of one sci fi novella.  For 2017 it was Boomers for the Stars.  Since it’s on the reading list for a Nebula award, I’ve made a free audiobook version available for the convenience of those who will vote.  But all are welcome to enjoy it till the end of March, here:

(All rights to all versions of Boomers for the Stars, including this audiobook, are exclusively reserved by Sue Hollister Barr.)

I had great fun writing this fast-paced romp into a darkly imagined future!  Baby Boomers have been kept alive long enough to be elder-abused in brand-new ways, including…but not limited to…the rigors of interstellar travel.  Here are some reviews:

From “verified purchases” on Amazon:

“This is both a fun and thoughtful piece of writing. Being a Baby Boomer myself, I was curious about how the topic would be handled in Science Fiction and whether it would just be another superfluous old people story. Instead, I found it witty, insightful, suspenseful, and thought-provoking. She writes very well, too. I like her style. Oh, yes, and I laughed a lot!”

“This intriguing novella tells an adventure-filled story with twists and turns that will captivate every reader – young and old.”

“All the fast-paced fun of pulp fiction without any of the creaky, inept, embarrassing bits that might lead you to question reading sci-fi. What a great read!”

From Claudia Deutsch, journalist:

“Sue Hollister Barr deftly walks that fine line between science fiction and horrifying reality. Let’s face it, the aging of the Baby Boomers would be causing massive societal problems, even if climate change didn’t threaten famine and mass dislocations. Barr’s vision of how unscrupulous folk can take advantage of the situation is unfortunately quite realistic. But her vision of how a few courageous folk can successfully fight back leaves her reader with hope. Brava!”

 

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 54

Karen struggled to regain consciousness. Yet again. How long had it been since she ran out of poor, now-dead Martin’s back door? Her job! In all this time, however long it was, this was the first time she’d given it a thought, perhaps at least in part because she rarely gave it a thought anyway. The investment banking firm where she did due-diligence number crunching that involved no contact or concern for other people was hardly…spiritually fulfilling. But she hadn’t even called in sick, and she did need to pay the rent…

Wait a minute… Pay the rent where?

Karen realized she still wasn’t fully conscious, didn’t even have her eyes open yet, and was struggling to piece together things that would have been immediately obvious otherwise. Frank… It was all over with Frank, who she’d left after finding him in bed with her best friend, which was why she had been at Martin’s in the first place.

She didn’t even have a place to stay…

Her eyes snapped open.

She didn’t even have clothes…

But there was someone with her. Someone who could help her! She shook his shoulder.

He rolled over…completely unnaturally. The mess that was all that was left of his face forced her, with great reluctance, to check the carotid artery in his neck. Nothing.

Irwin. She remembered hitting him with that heavy metal thing, remembered the little girl and her mother, remembered thinking she should ask for help…it was self defense after all…but then remembered a strong warning against doing so from the building she was still imagining was sentient. But that was ridiculous. She had to get out of this fucking storage space and get help! It was self defense!

She yanked Irwin’s clothes off him, despite constant screams of pain from all of her own injuries. She put his clothes on and scrambled around her storage unit for whatever little she’d brought from Martin’s or anything in her boxes that could be of the least use. She at last made it out to the hall…on her feet…and started down the hall toward the front door. When the inevitable dizziness struck again, she resolutely clung to a wall and stayed on her feet.

The stairs were a nightmare. She cried from the effort, but she made it down. She could see the front door. She staggered over to it and swung it wide open.

“Finally!”

Blinded by the sunlight, she was confused since…however appropriate that word was…she didn’t think she’d opened her mouth to say it aloud. Slowly, her vision returned and she saw a teenage girl, who looked even more pathetic than she did, standing in front of her.

“Like, I thought this fucking storage space would never open! I don’t, like, have the money to pay you but…please!…I really need my things.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 53

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

It was then that Martin knew he was dreaming. His eyes fluttered open: odd lighting, something funny and hard about his bed. But the dream had been so, so sweet, and sleep felt so, so good. He smiled and turned over, settling into a deep and dreamless slumber.

“Time to wake up, Mr. Barclay.”

Huh? Bloody hell! Who was this sod Barclay? And who was this strange woman, who was shaking Martin when the chap she wanted awake was named Barclay?

Some canned announcement about commencing a descent into San Francisco.

Bollocks! What was he hallucinating now? Martin opened his eyes wide, prepared for anything up to and including pink elephants.

“That’s better, Mr. Barclay. You were sleeping so soundly I was afraid you’d miss your breakfast.”

“My name’s not…” Martin trailed off, suddenly remembering with crystal clarity. The woman at the counter at JFK, flirting with the man dressed in blue. He’d bribed her to put him on this flight; he’d told her his name was… “I mean, of course my name’s Barclay, but you can call me by my first name, Randolph.”

He looked around. He had in fact been in a bed of sorts. “Carol” at JFK must have put him in First Class. A pretty girl across the aisle, struggling with her rolling carry-on case, smiled at him. Martin smiled back and, oddly, felt it. Vaguely he remembered something about a stop on the way across the country and a delay of some sort, but he’d slept through it all…a great, wonderful sleep. He felt great, and looked around again.

Nothing was undulating. Except for being in First Class, it all looked normal.

“You didn’t have any luggage, not even carry-on, did you…Randolph?”

“That’s right,” he told the flight attendant, smiling at her, too. Then he dove into his pockets. He also didn’t have any money.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 52

Jennifer’s kitten. Judy. Jennifer came to screaming, telling herself over and over again that she’d never had a twin sister named Judy. But something was wrong; she couldn’t scream. A big hand was clamped over her mouth. Then she heard the homeless woman scream.

Suddenly a man’s voice whispered in Jennifer’s ear, “Count to ten. Then go ahead and scream.” The hand left her mouth. She heard some kind of motion behind her. Of course she had no intention of following his directions. Why should she bother counting to ten just because some idiot told her to? But her headache pounded her and it took her a few moments to catch her breath anyway. Then she opened her eyes.

In front of her the “homeless” man had his fingers wrapped tightly around the homeless woman’s throat. She wasn’t screaming any more.

Jennifer screamed.

The “homeless” man dropped the homeless woman and wheeled around to look at Jennifer, eyes widening.

Jennifer was very sorry that she’d screamed.

“How could I? How could I have forgotten about you?” The not-homeless man was closing the distance between them, babbling something about how Jennifer was just like some bird, but she wasn’t listening anymore. She was thinking about blonde hair, chiseled cheekbones, and piercing green eyes. Who had told her to count to ten?

She turned away from the homeless man to look behind her. Nobody was there. All that was there was the ratty old oriental rug she was lying on, with some kind of big stain on it…maybe red wine. Nobody had told her to count to ten.

Blonde hair, chiseled cheekbones, piercing green eyes… Bird… Birds singing beautifully. What was that…song of some kind?…going through her mind? Whose laughter was that?

But there was no man with blonde hair, chiseled cheekbones, and piercing green eyes. Just like there was no…and had never been…evil twin Judy. And besides, Jennifer’s eyes were closing again.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 51

The Storage Space would have moaned… No. It stopped itself, reminding itself that it was done with any desire to be human. So the Storage Space creaked with pleasure when Suzy Witherspoon leaped out of Karen’s storage unit and ran screaming over its ancient floorboards into the comforting arms of her mother.

“Mommy, Mommy, a lady in a little room said really, really mean things to me!”

“She did? Really, Suzy Q?”

“Yes, Mommy. Really! Over there.” The little brat pointed.

The Storage Space heard Karen think “uh oh” and agreed.

“She said really mean things to you for no reason?”

“No reason, Mommy. No reason at all. I didn’t do anything. I just jumped into her little room…”

“To hide from me yet again, Suzy Q?”

“No, Mommy, no! I was just…um…tired.”

Mother Witherspoon put her hands on her hips. “Tired, eh? So why, pray tell, would you ‘jump’ into a storage unit if you were tired?”

“Really, Mommy, really! I just jumped in because the mean lady…only I didn’t know she was mean then…and a man were sleeping there so I…um…thought it was the place to go if you needed a nap. Mommy, that lady was really mean to me! Right over there. You should go scold her!”

The Storage Space ceased any and all creaking. It could feel that Karen was holding her breath.

Mother Witherspoon took a step towards Karen’s storage unit, but then she stopped and turned back toward her daughter. “I suppose I should really report any disreputable people sleeping, and heaven knows what all else, in a storage unit…and frightening a child. But you did jump into the ‘mean’ lady’s unit, didn’t you?”

The Storage Space relaxed so suddenly that its southwestern corner, sinking gradually because of a deep underground stream no surveyor had ever spotted, dove a full ½” further into the ground. But it could hear Karen’s thoughts: What am I thinking? I killed Irwin in self-defense! I need help!

Mother Witherspoon was dragging Suzy Witherspoon to the front door.

Karen opened her mouth to scream after her.

The Storage Space had the benefit of several centuries of memory. It flooded Karen with infinite examples of justice miscarrying, particularly those that involved truthful pleas of self-defense resulting in death penalties.

But the matter was resolved when, just as Mother Witherspoon closed the door behind herself and the screeching Suzy, Karen passed out again.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 50

Suzy didn’t want to do what Mommy said. Daddy didn’t do what Mommy said. So Suzy didn’t have to do what Mommy said either.

Mommy was no fun. Mommy didn’t like it when Daddy brought home pretty ladies, who gave Suzy candy and laughed a lot. So Suzy didn’t like Mommy.

Daddy was fun, even when he stumbled around, and his mouth smelled like the red stuff in funny glasses that Mommy wouldn’t let her drink.

“Suzy Q! Where are you, Suzy Q?”

Suzy giggled. That was Mommy. Mommy couldn’t find her in this funny, big ole building. Mommy had told her to stay close, but Daddy never stayed close to Mommy, so why should Suzy have to stay close to Mommy? Besides, she had found a great hiding place. Even if there were two grown-ups in it already. One was a man, and the other was a lady, who had fewer clothes on than the pretty ladies Daddy brought home. But they were both asleep.

“Suzy Q! Where are you?”

Uh oh! Mommy was getting closer! Suzy snuggled in closer to the sleeping man and lady. One of them moved, so she put her finger to her lips, just like Daddy did when he was hiding from Mommy.

“Suzy Q, don’t you dare hide from me!”

Suzy giggled again, just like Daddy giggled when Mommy said that to Daddy.

“Susan Witherspoon, I’m going to leave you in this fucking storage space if you don’t come out this minute!”

Suzy giggled and giggled, snuggling up closer to the sleeping lady. Except…the lady wasn’t sleeping anymore. Instead she was staring at the man. Suzy could see the lady’s eyes getting bigger and bigger. Then she looked at Suzy. At first Suzy thought she looked like a real nice lady, like one of the ladies Daddy brought home. But then she started to look real scary mean and started whispering about how Suzy better get out of there or she’d do all kinds of really mean things to Suzy.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 49

“Ready for my anything?”

Karen struggled to regain consciousness, only vaguely remembering that she’d passed out while Irwin, who’d just spoken, finished cleaning up her cubicle.  But where was she now?  And what did he mean by his “anything”?  She felt she should know but didn’t remember, then felt herself drifting again…something about a summer’s day.

“Hmmmm?”

Irwin’s voice, followed by his laughter, jerked her awake again.  Startled, her hands jerked about, trying to get her bearings.  A scent wafted up whenever she hit the floor:  disinfectant.  Her hand hit the wall, then something sharp wedged between the wall and the floor.  Her eyes fluttered open but she couldn’t see anything wedged between the wall and floor, just a slight shine and fresh blood on her hand.

“Oh there’ll be a lot more where that came from.”

Karen, whose eyes had closed again, felt his hand wipe the blood off the hand of hers that she’d jerked away from the wall.  Then she heard a slurping sound, a swallow, and a long, satisfied sigh.  But she didn’t care.  Oddly, she was sure it was Frank, not Irwin, that was now on top of her.  And Frank’s whisper in her ear:  “Tell him to wait.  Tell him you have a surprise for him that’ll make it even better.  In one of your boxes.”

“What’d you say, bitch?  A surprise?”

She must have said something aloud.  Her boxes, what was in her boxes?  She felt some weight shift off her.

“Sexy lingerie for me to tear off?  Go ahead.  Get it.”

Shoved, her head hit something hard, but not as hard as the wall.  A box.  She opened her eyes and gathered her strength.  Her hands fluttered over the box, trying to open it.  Frank whispered, “Not this box.  Friends Forever.  Box underneath.  This box doesn’t have anything.”

Anything?

Suddenly Karen was fully conscious, remembering what Irwin had done to her before.  Wide open, her eyes took in every detail of her storage unit.

If only a building…

Where did that come from?  No longer was she taking in every detail of her storage unit, but she was taking in every detail of what must have been the riggings above an ancient stage.  Where she’d just cut her hand on something apparently sizable but transparent, that had wedged a fist-sized gap between her storage unit’s floor and wall, she was instead seeing some kind of heavy lever hooked onto something else that must have controlled either a curtain or backdrop.

“Your best friend Marie, my…biggest mistake,” Frank whispered urgently.  “The box underneath!”

Karen’s storage unit reappeared.  She felt herself shoved from behind.

“Hurry up!”  Irwin snapped.

It took everything she had; she thought it would kill her outright, but Karen pushed the top box aside with a great sweep of her arm.  It clattered on the metal floor, spilling its contents:  The small metal horse on wheels with almost all its paint chipped off that had been her grandfather’s.  Her parents’ high-school yearbook that Karen had dog-eared since her parents’ fatal car accident on the way to their high school reunion.

“Box underneath?” Irwin snarled.  “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

Her grandfather.  Her parents.  Would they be there, waiting for her, wherever there was?

“No!” Frank seemed to yell in her ear.

“Where’s the fucking sexy lingerie?” Irwin asked, rifling through the box underneath.  “Fuck!”  He snatched a hand out, bleeding like Karen’s had been.  Then he pulled out a huge piece of the broken “friends forever” plaque with which she had hoped to preserve the memory of what had been the greatest friendship of her life, with Marie.  It was now a most efficient weapon, smooth on one side so he could hold it easily and wickedly jagged on the other.

Karen, seated in the cramped space, whimpered and scrambled backwards till she cut her hand again on the glass that had gotten wedged between the floor and the wall.

Irwin, on hands and knees, seemed to slither over the tiny space separating them, like a rat closing on its prey.  Beady eyes glittering in the gloom, he oozed over her grandfather’s metal horse, over her parents’ yearbook.  Then he reared back and smiled down at her.  “You didn’t play your cards quite right.”  He raised the broken glass as high as he could over her, touching the ceiling.

Karen squirmed, banging her back against the wall, cutting her hand yet again on the glass wedged there till her whole arm slid through the fist-sized gap it had made and she howled in pain.

Irwin laughed, taunting her by jerking the jagged glass he held over her this way and that such that she kept wiggling about in different directions to avoid the attack he delayed, apparently savoring the suspense.

Karen heard Frank’s unremitting scream.  Even Irwin seemed to jump at it.  But Karen was starting to pass out again, no matter how hard she fought it.  Grandpa, she called silently.  DaddyMommy.

She knew she was losing consciousness and, with it, the last chance to save her life, when she hallucinated a green hurricane swirling around Irwin’s head, seeming to obscure his vision as he tried to bat it away.  Her hand that had slipped between the wall and the floor flopped about a bit, like a dying fish, and came to rest on a broken fragment of what her caressing fingers could tell was a once-grand wooden carving, loose in the ancient abandoned spaces between the current floors.  If only she could escape there.  She willed her soul, soon to be released from her body she was sure, to escape there and asked her imaginary playmate, the once-grand old building, if it would remember her.

Its answer seemed to be another vision of the riggings above an ancient stage.

“Wake up, bitch!”

Irwin’s voice seemed so far away now, but she felt the slap.  Her eyes fluttered open, but she knew she was still hallucinating things when she saw that he’d only temporarily swatted the green hurricane aside which now returned with a vengeance.

Her hand flopped away from the wooden carving and she found her fingers closing around something heavy.

Another slap.

No, Karen thought.  Just that one word.

A third slap.

Karen’s eyes opened wide as she yanked her arm out of the gap, pulling what she now saw was some kind of heavy lever with her.  She heard a horrible concussion.  Then she felt her own head slip back against the wall, and there was blackness.  She saw and heard no more.

 

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 48

Martin staggered out of the cab that was no longer green but swirling shades of magenta. Overhead huge dragons, flying through the sky, roared.

“Is this JFK?” he asked the cab driver.

The cab driver clapped a hand to his forehead and sped away without a word.

Martin staggered backwards. There was a swooshing hiss, twice, and glass suddenly separated him from the outside world. Inside, everyone was dragging rectangularly shaped animals back and forth.

Red, white, and blue. He squinted hard and could make out the letters: American Airlines. He approached the counter, alternately squinting and widening his eyes in an attempt to see past the hallucinations.

The woman at the counter was…he was proud of himself for picking up such details…flirting with a man dressed in blue. Martin couldn’t quite figure out what the man in blue was wearing, some kind of uniform with something gold-colored pinned to it, but he saved his efforts for the woman at the counter, who was the important one. A hard squint even gave him the letters on her name badge: Carol. The man gave him a long look, probably feeling threatened by such a good-looking chap, and seemed to sulk away.

Didn’t matter; bloke was gone. Martin dug deep and came up with a prize-winning smile. He also tried hard to purge himself of any American drawl that might have infiltrated a British accent he knew women loved. “Hi, Carol, wondering if you could help me out. Need the best possible price you can give me on a one-way ticket back home to London. For today. Family emergency and all that. Don’t mind standing by.”

“Passport?”

“Of course,” Martin crooned, digging into his pocket. Bollocks! He only came up with those funny religious papers the cops gave him. Passport must be in the other pocket. But all he could find in the other pocket was his ATM card and a whole lot of cash. Hadn’t he checked for his passport? Or had he decided against it since he didn’t want to travel using his real name?

“A moment, please,” he crooned, trying to keep up appearances. “Left in a bit of a hurry.” Better to escape as far as London under his real name, where he knew many more ways to disappear and would be harder to get to? Or travel within the States with a phony name, if that was even possible? He couldn’t even make up his mind. Flustered, he started emptying the contents of his pockets onto the counter between them as he continued to search for the passport he just must have brought with him. He started with those funny religious papers the cops gave him.

“Here, let me see if I can assist you, sir,” Carol said, looking through the papers, then frowning. “You’re not with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, are you? I mean I love their new blue uniforms…always been a sucker for a blue uniform…but really!”

“What? No.” Martin was hardly paying attention as he dragged every last bill out of his other pocket, and topped the pile with his ATM card, still lost in furious debate over domestic vs. foreign travel. But his pockets were now empty. No passport. It would have to be domestic, if he could even get away with that without ID. He looked up and squinted hard.

Carol’s eyes were widening as she looked at the money.

“Change of plans,” said Martin, looking around quickly. No one seemed to be near. He shoved all the money over the counter where it would presumably land at her feet. “One-way ticket to…Los Angeles.”

Carol darted a quick look at her feet, took a very long pause during which she contemplated the ATM card left on the counter, then tightened her jaw. She seemed to be kicking the bills under the counter while pounding away at her keyboard. “It’ll have to be San Francisco. Flight’s leaving now. I’ve given you special pre-clearance. Got the passenger name…”

“Randolph Barclay,” he interrupted her, pocketing his ATM card.

Carol gave him a sharp look as she leaned on the backspace key, typed, printed, and handed him his boarding pass. “Enjoy your travel, Mr. Barclay.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 47

Jennifer was seeing red, a long skinny triangle of it warbling in front of her, slightly obstructed by…were those her own fingers? Yes! It was so hard for her to see, especially with a headache that pounded through her like a gong, but she knew those were her own fingers when some of the red splattered in her eye and the obstruction flew to her face to wipe it away.

An arm tightened around her, its hand covering the mouth she’d opened to scream. Another hand, not her own this time, now obstructed the skinny red triangle, fluttering about it like a bird.

For a moment her vision returned; she was staring into the most beautiful green eyes she’d ever seen. They widened; he put a finger to his lips. Then that hand, shaking, returned to the skinny red triangle Jennifer now realized was the heel of her shoe. It was embedded in his neck.

Just before she again lost consciousness, her senses picked up the sound of the homeless woman pleading and that strange thing she’d smelled before, though a bit fainter this time, as if more distant. Her eyes fluttered open one last time, leaving her with the impression that she and the man with the green eyes and gorgeous blonde hair were lying on some junky old oriental rug.

Then she was safely back in her bedroom as a child. Mommy and Daddy had bought her a new toy! No. It was alive. Warm and fuzzy and sweet smelling. A kitten! Jennifer remembered what Mommy had said and was very, very gentle. She pet the kitten. The kitten arched its back and purred, looking up at Jennifer with big green eyes. Jennifer heard the door to her bedroom open and called out happily, “See, Mommy? I remembered what you said! My kitty likes me!”

But there was no answer, just footsteps, approaching softly. Jennifer looked up, expecting Mommy, since she knew Daddy was at work. But what she saw was impossible, since she knew she was an only child. Still, she was staring at herself, an almost exact duplicate, a twin. She even found herself mouthing a name: Judy.

Judy was looking at Jennifer’s kitten, literally licking her lips.

“Mommy!” cried Jennifer.

“Out shopping,” said Judy.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 46

The Storage Space would have been quite violently ill if only a building could… No! Those dreadful little filthy vermin people could be quite violently ill! It was the very least they deserved, an appallingly inadequate punishment, really! But why would a dignified old building who’d never ruined an exquisite carpet with boots encrusted with horse manure, let alone killed anyone or anything…like a charmingly dainty, old tea room…aspire to doing anything at all that people could do? The Storage Space determined it would never think like that again. Really it felt quite strongly… Was absolutely adamant…

“I wouldn’t blame you!”

Oh… Well… It was that Karen, who’d actually spoken aloud to the poor, long-suffering Storage Unit. A bit…different…all right, maybe…that one, after all.

“Wouldn’t blame me for what?”

Le Grand Rat! Thought she was talking to him, the fool. But to be fair he was at present helping Karen clean up the nauseatingly disgusting mess that her storage unit had become.

“For anything…”

Karen had startled when he first spoke, but her response was almost loving, flirty. The Storage Space doubted Irwin would notice the slight shudder still in her voice.

“Anything?”

He put his hand on her derriere, the coarse beast, not seeing the look of terror that prompted and apparently mistaking the little jerk she couldn’t suppress for pleasure.

“When we’re done with all this and have…a more suitable place for your…anything.”

Even Le Grand Rat looked a tad disbelieving in response to that one. Still, he shoved the remaining filth into a garbage bag with his bare hand before using that same hand to grab a handful of the French fries he’d brought for Karen and stuff them in his mouth. Then he poured a bucketful of disinfectant all over the floor, all without noticing that Karen had all but passed out behind him and wasn’t helping at all.

“Hey!”

But he did notice when she managed to stir herself enough to grab the empty bucket and stash it with what had been salvaged of her possessions.

“In case I can’t make it to the ladies room.”

She passed out.

“Or my ‘anything’ means I’ll have to get that saw out and clean up another mess.”

She forced her eyes open and smiled at him, all innocent little kid. “Say, did you get some food and drink for little ole me?”

He grabbed the takeout and moved closer.