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.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 57

Imogene looked up at the bitch like blocking her way into the storage space and like keeping her from getting her stuff before her parents killed her like really in Real Life.  “Due?”  So much for fucking Real Life.  Imogene gave a snort of laughter before going back to Snapchatting on her phone.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  Like OMG that bitch I just sent pics of thinks I’m pregnant!!!

^URSunPC&proud:  Zayum!  Not woke.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  Def not woke.

^URSunPC&proud:  < looking @ clothes.  He?  She?  They?

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  He clothes.  She body.  “They” till he/she/they corrects us?

^URSunPC&proud:  < unPC, calling he/she/they “it” cuz it called u pregnant.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  Hahaha.

^URSunPC&proud:  < never saw u RL but know u better than RL here.  U say u virgin = bible.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  < name not Mary, not from Bthlhm, not pregnant.

^URSunPC&proud:  Hahaha but u gotta go RL & get ur stuff.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  Sec.

^URSunPC&proud:  K.

WFTwasImogeneCoca:  Like OMG!!!

^URSunPC&proud:  ?

WFTwasImogeneCoca:  Like its clothes!!!  Like OMG, like its clothes are making me like cray cray cray cray for no reason!!!

^URSunPC&proud:  Don’t go Draking on me.  Must be a reason.

WFTwasImogeneCoca:  Like no reason!!!  Like I don’t care if it stole his clothes!!!

^URSunPC&proud:  He?  Who he?

WFTwasImogeneCoca:  Like no1.  Like not important.  Sec.  Sick 2 my stomach.  Maybe puke.

^URSunPC&proud:  But u haven’t had anything 2 eat this morning.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 56

The Storage Space was aghast.  This was hardly the person it wanted to see again after all that…unpleasantness.  Yet here she was, that young girl, and now she was…  Well, really, her condition was quite obvious and…

“Finally!  I, like, really need my things!”

And she hadn’t even looked up at poor Karen who’d opened the door to the street and found her there.  Instead she kept her eyes on that idiotic “smartphone,” just like she had no matter what Le Grand Rat had done to her the first time she tried getting her things back with no money.  Her fingers flew over the smartphone’s screen as a flurry of different and sometimes ludicrously contradictory facial expressions flew over her face in response to what she saw there.

Then, eyes still on her phone, she touched a nasty scar on her cheek.  The Storage Space would have shuddered if only a building…  No, the Storage Space reminded itself that to be human was no honor at all, especially easy to do since it remembered all too well how that nasty scar came into being.  That time, unlike with Karen, the poor, long-suffering Storage Space had managed to avoid seeing most of the rest, repeatedly escaping into its beloved memories of a precious, elegant world now so painfully, so agonizingly, long gone.

Briefly, as she touched that nasty scar, raw agony twisted her otherwise silly young face, making her seem real as her fingers froze and her eyes, though still on the phone, were obviously no longer seeing it.  “I know what you’re going to do to me, but it’s better than what both my parents are doing to me over the things they think I lost but was only hiding from them.”  Then her eyes snapped into focus, and her fingers resumed their flurry of activity as her face became young and silly again.  “Just, like, actually give me my stuff back this time!”

Karen.  How could the Storage Space have all but forgotten her when she had been about to break the poor, long-suffering Storage Space’s heart…and, yes, a building could have a heart…by leaving?  Karen was the one person in all this long, weary, helpless, heartbreaking time who could actually hear the poor, long-suffering Storage Space.  But now she grabbed the carvings surrounding its door, the carvings she’d so lovingly caressed so long ago, as she started to faint again.

Even the young girl…at long last…looked up from her phone.  “Like, where’s Irwin and who are you?  Suh?  You look horrible!  This is totally cray cray!”  With an odd glint of a smile, she started taking pictures of Karen, then looked back at her phone as her fingers again flew over its screen.

Karen, catching her breath, studied the young girl for a long time, her eyes lingering on each scar and bruise, amateurishly concealed by makeup, then lingering on her body long enough to observe her condition.  “When are you due?”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 55

Sam needed all his government training to remain conscious with a fucking stiletto heel embedded in his neck. It hurt almost as bad as that mother of a TOPS knife that foreign operative he’d failed to frisk properly stuck in his back a few years before. Every instinct yelled at him to yank the damn thing out. But, just like the TOPS knife, he knew that…as long as the blood wasn’t spurting outright and he could still breath…his life could depend on leaving it in till he made it to a hospital.

That scream. Had he, only half conscious at the time, imagined it? Sam peered through the crack between the wall and the door he was hiding behind. No. Must have been Ms. Twitch, who’d stabbed him with the fucking stiletto heel. (Not that he blamed her. Half passed-out from Alex’s chloroform at the time and undoubtedly aiming for Alex.) And Ms. Twitch’s scream was just in time, judging from the all-but-strangled homeless woman Alex dropped to look up at Jennifer. Still, the homeless woman jerked almost imperceptibly when she hit the floor. A good sign.

But now Ms. Twitch was in trouble. And Alex was distracted by Ms. Twitch and had just walked past the door Sam was hiding behind. Shame he never had a TOPS knife CAT 1095 when needed, but Sam swung around the door and toppled Alex before Alex even heard him. Too easy. Sam was about to contain Alex with a full-nelson slam…

But his head spun hard.

Though he dreamed of her incessantly screaming, when he woke up Ms. Twitch was only whimpering and then silent. Her blood was everywhere. Alex, back turned to Sam, was still at work on her.

Only one solution that was fast enough. Biting his lip to avoid screeching in pain, Sam yanked the stiletto heel out of his neck and sank it into Alex’ neck. Whereas Ms. Twitch had missed Sam’s jugular, Sam did not miss Alex’.

While a now-helpless Alex spasmed across the floor, Sam could feel the huge clot of blood that spurted out of his own neck. His knees buckled. He fell on top of Ms. Twitch.

Unexpectedly, considering her lips weren’t even twitching any more, her eyes fluttered open. Sam was heartened by a reaction to the sight of him that he’d seen often enough to interpret as a healthy female reaction. “You,” she said with a sudden smile, “are real!” She looked even less appealing to him than usual, but he did his best to smile back. I mean, what the fuck. But then she, too, spasmed. “You’re real,” she said when it passed, “and…I can see my whole life now…everything that was real. You’re real…and so was my evil twin Judy.” She went limp.

Sam was sweating the protocol of calling 911 for them all, without blowing his cover, while fumbling for his phone.

It slipped out of his hand and slid across the floor, out of reach.

He checked Ms. Twitch’s neck and found no pulse anyway. But there was still himself and the homeless woman.

Then it started, like the kind of corny old movie you only watch when you’re up in the middle of the night and desperate. His life. Starting with when he used to play secret agent man with the brother that had died in a terrorist attack long before him.

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.


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.