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.


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.


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.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 45

Frank felt himself freeze, then chided himself for his word choice. How much colder, after all, could a fucking ghost get? But what had stopped him in his tracks, though green mists didn’t leave fucking tracks, was the sight of a woman…one Frank thought he recognized…stabbing a man in the neck with the broken-off stiletto heel of a shoe. Jugular? Frank knew exactly what that felt like, as he watched the man’s green eyes go wide. Vaguely he remembered some other man put something over the woman’s nose that closed her eyes, but apparently not fast enough to stop what must have been a reflexive defense mechanism that got the wrong man. But Frank hadn’t been paying attention then, and he was still struggling to get used to this 360-degree vision that seemed to see both everything and nothing.

Fucking A!

Now that he concentrated he could see that the man who’d knocked the woman out…with chloroform most likely, knowing his ways…was none other than his crazy partner Alex!

But Frank didn’t care really, didn’t really give a flying fuck at all anymore, and…what?…flowed?…oozed?…certainly didn’t walk on. Alex, after all, wasn’t the one in danger.

All Frank knew or cared about was that for one, brief moment he’d been startled out of thinking about Karen. But now he paid for that heavily as it all came crashing back down on him like an avalanche of pain. Martin. She’d eaten, admittedly by mistake, Frank’s life’s blood and all she could think about was Martin.

Frank had sworn to himself that he would never again flow/ooze/whatever-the-fuck back to Karen in that storage unit. He had sworn to himself that he no longer cared if that Shakespearean nobody lured her into death. Fantasies of her ghost…scared, unable to adjust to 360-degree sight…seeking him out only to have him pretend he didn’t know she was there felt so very, very good. At least that’s what he kept fucking telling himself, while the stomach he no longer had clutched.

Where was he? Maybe he could distract himself by finding a mugging, or a drug deal, or something.

The Storage Space. He could still make it out in the distance. All this time. All this fucking time. He could go anywhere: Europe, Asia, the moon. But, no. He’d just been going around and around in circles, orbiting the fucking Storage Space.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 44

Karen was just saying, “Oh, no!” Yet again. To her imaginary playmate, the building, as it continued to recite all the terrible things her kind, people, had done to it. But all this was distracting her from the bright light she was headed toward and that exquisite voice reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets.

She felt so strange. Rather like a light herself, flickering on and off due to faulty wiring.

Off. So much more comfortable. All the pain was gone. The light wasn’t warm, but it was peaceful. There was something strange about the Shakespeare, as if she wasn’t really hearing it but was only thinking it. But it was beautiful. It felt like she would never, ever have to worry about anything again.

On. Shooting pains from everywhere. Horrible sounds that she was not only really hearing but could feel reverberating through her many wounds. A truck rattled over a pothole. Someone clattered up the stairs. She thought that last might be important but couldn’t remember why.

“That’s it, my dear, dear Karen! You’re no longer green! Stay with me…”

A building talking to her? She may as well go back to the Shakespeare. The light.

“No, Karen, no! Le Grand Rat. He’ll put you out back in bags for refuse. Like he did with Frank.”

Frank? The name sent a pain reverberating through her that was far more powerful than a truck bouncing over a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon. Frank? A slip. Of her own subconscious. Her imaginary playmate must have meant poor Martin.

“That’s it, dear Karen, stay with me. Yours is such a pure heart that I know you won’t desert me if I recount again the horror of having my tea room crushed.”

“Oh, no!” Karen could feel her own words crashing out of her body, re-splitting her already split lip.

“‘Oh, no,’ what?” That voice was also real, not her imaginary playmate. Karen’s eyes fluttered open. One was almost swollen shut now, but through the other she could see Irwin leaning over her, and smell some French fries. Just as she’d felt herself flickering between off and on, she could see Irwin’s face flickering between the monster who’d so brutally raped and beaten her and the innocent little kid who’d run off to get her French fries. “What are you doing here in the hall? Trying to get away?”

Suddenly Karen was completely on, all her flickering gone. Horribly, Martin was dead. Frank was gone. Her own wounds were screaming with pain. But she didn’t care. She wanted to live. She wanted…someday, some way, somehow…to find beauty again somewhere. Though it re-split her split lip even more, she smiled. “Get away? From you? No!” She tried her right arm, but it wasn’t working so well so she used her left to reach out and put a friendly hand on his shoulder. “I just…”

“Just what, girlie?” He was still flickering between psychopath and wounded boy scout.

“Just…my storage unit; it’s a mess in more ways than one. I was hoping I could find a bathroom.”

He didn’t look too sure.

“And then maybe a mop. To help you out some!” Karen added in her best girl-scout voice.

Irwin still didn’t look too sure.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 43

Martin stumbled through his own back yard, trying to get away as fast as he could from anywhere where the cops could find him.

A sleeping T-rex opened an eye when he stumbled over its tail.

Martin jumped back and saw he’d stepped into a smoldering pit of lava that, oddly, didn’t hurt.

How could he run, how could he do anything right, with all these bloody hallucinations? First the dreams, now this. He had no idea chronic worry and sleep deprivation could do all this. Could it do all this?

He checked for his passport as he climbed over the T-rex, ignoring its sinking its teeth into his thigh.

Bollocks! He only came up with those funny religious papers the cops gave him. Passport must be in the other pocket.

Siren. Real or imagined? Martin threw his backpack over one shoulder and struggled over a fence in the opposite direction, just to be sure.

Quid, no dollars. Checked his other pocket. Plenty. Plus an ATM card he should use as soon as possible and certainly long before arriving at JFK. But then…he’d couldn’t bloody well buy a ticket for international travel without using his real name could he? Would he have to stay in the States? Hell, he couldn’t even sneak into Canada or Mexico any more.

“Yo, what choo doin’ in my yard, chump!”

Real or imagined? Martin looked over his shoulder. Guy running after him looked like he weighed the better part of 200 kg. Even his footfalls resonated in the ground under Martin’s feet, as if the T-rex was after him. Martin’s vault over the fence in front of him was the stuff of the Olympics.

Safe on the sidewalk. So what if it was bright pink and wobbly. Martin just hoped the ATM he spotted at the corner deli was real.

It felt real, unlike the T-rex’s teeth. Martin stumbled through the necessary and tried to empty out his account. Sadly the message telling him he could only take out a max of $800 turned out to be equally real.

He managed to hail a cab, after he remembered that, yes, the ones in Brooklyn were now green.


Altering America

Had enough, at least for now, of “writerly” writing that self-consciously struggles to be glib/cute/witty?  Oh…and by the way…feeling the first little nips of winter tugging at your getting-a-bit-cold-now toes?

Click here:  Altered America; Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo

Then either prop those tootsies up in front of the fire or at least cuddle them up under a snugly warm throw.  Relax.  Let Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee Cat Rambo draw you gently into a melodically shifting kaleidoscope of steampunked faerie tales with teeny, miniature gears.

A delightfully imaginative retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”  Different worlds told of with convincingly different voices.  A dilapidated house, one side of which “drooped like the face of a stroke victim.”  Wisteria “in frothy purple drifts.”  A land of “folds and wrinkles.”

Contraptions abound, “each more cunning than the last.”  But perhaps, however hard to choose, the first story, “Clockwork Faeries,” has stayed with me the longest.  As a writer myself, I was quite impressed with a story in which the sole viewpoint character…utterly oblivious to his own chauvinism and yet (very real life, these apparently illogical inconsistencies) perfectly comfortable with racial diversity…so effectively communicates the errors of his ways (that he himself doesn’t see) to the reader.

Stories in which things that should always have been accepted as perfectly natural are presented as perfectly natural are wonderful and necessary.  For instance, new-SFWA-member Eneasz Brodski’s masterful “Of All Possible Worlds” stands up to Voltaire with a completely convincing character whose homosexuality is presented, as it should be, as being a perfectly natural thing that no one questions.  On the other hand, if all stories that deal with recently taboo situations treat it this way, is it possible that it becomes a bit like preaching to the choir?  Are some opportunities to alter America lost since those who might benefit most by having their horizons expanded won’t read beyond the first page?  Perhaps something can be accomplished by telling stories that explore characters with opposing points of view.

And no, I didn’t make a mistake when I entitled this post “altering” instead of “altered” America.  Because “altering” is just what I think a book like Cat Rambo’s can do.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 42

Jennifer knew she was finally becoming reasonable again when she saw her threats about calling the cops had worked on that disgusting “homeless” man. He had leaned forward to open his door wide enough to let her into his home.

Jennifer marched in, the “homeless” man darting glances sideways as he backed farther into his home. At last Jennifer would get her phone back from the homeless woman she’d just heard scream! And stop thinking about that stupid other man who’d given her the “homeless” man’s address. Even though he had the most gorgeous blonde hair, green eyes…

Oh no! She must be imagining things! She thought she caught a flash of that gorgeous blonde hair in her peripheral vision.

“How could I have?” It was the “homeless” man. What was he talking about? He was looking at the place, now behind Jennifer as she stomped farther into the house, where she thought she’d seen the other man with the green eyes. But of course there was no one there.

“Jennifer!” It was the homeless woman. Holding a dead cat that was covered with, and even dripping, blood. Apparently crying over it. “Jennifer,” she cried out rather shrilly, though her voice was still beautiful. “Leave this place! It’s not safe for anyone here! Run!” Of course she wanted Jennifer to leave…so she could keep Jennifer’s phone. People were so unreasonable.

Jennifer pushed even farther into the house and marched over to the homeless woman. But the homeless woman suddenly looked behind Jennifer.

Something Jennifer didn’t understand…but that somehow set the hairs on the back of her neck on end…happened behind Jennifer. She tried to make sense of it…a huge displacement of air, maybe?…as she turned around. Oddly, she found her hand wrapping around the broken stiletto heel in her pocket. But before she could turn all the way around, a hand caught her mouth, and she smelled something very strange.

Suddenly she found herself in a dream. Or was it a memory? No, this had never really happened, had it? She had a sister, and that was impossible because she’d always been an only child. And if the homeless woman had the most beautiful voice Jennifer had ever heard, this non-existent sister had the ugliest voice Jennifer had ever heard. She’d just come storming into Jennifer’s bedroom, yelling at the top of her lungs about how she would never, ever allow Jennifer to have anything…and no one else would either. Then she grabbed Jennifer’s very best baby doll right out of her hands and started ripping it to shreds. Jennifer heard herself pleading, “Please, Judy! Not her hair. Not her eyes!” Judy laughed as she gouged an eye out…and ate it.

Jennifer screamed and screamed and screamed until she was sure she couldn’t possibly scream any more. And then she screamed some more.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 41

The Storage Space would have held its breath, if only a building could breathe to begin with.  If only Karen could…or would…breathe.

Ah!  There it was!  A little snippet of a breath to be sure, but a breath nonetheless.

But then there was nothing.  For a long time.  And that appalling…color.

Shakespeare…  The Storage Space could hear it, too.  Exquisite.  Melodic.  Seductive.  And drawing Karen closer and closer to death.

The Storage Space tried to force itself to accept the inevitable.  Yes, this one had been nice to it.  Yes, this was the only one who had ever had the common civility, the even most rudimentary sense of social niceties, to speak to it, even if it was a building.  The Storage Space would have bucked itself up if only a building…  If only a building…

That was it!  That was the key!  All this time!  Centuries!  The Storage Space, even back when it referred to itself as Le Grand Theatre, had always been apologetic…deferential…because it was only a building!  But did buildings stain the woodwork with centuries of cigar smoke?  Pound the originally exquisite carpet with boots encrusted with horse manure?  Brush it threadbare with yard upon yard of skirts and petticoats?  Park the pocket knives used to clean perpetually filthy fingernails by stabbing their blades into elegant carvings everywhere?  Or stab them into each other?  Repeatedly?  Until…dead, or maybe not even dead, yet…they had to be hidden, left in little nooks and crannies everywhere to rot?  All supposedly justified by some offense or other?

The Storage Space had suffered many, many offenses over its countless years.  That…”building”…constructed next to it when the ancient tea room was torn down, to name just one.  It had smashed all seven of its deplorably tasteless floors right up against the most elegant side of Le Grand Theatre, crushing exquisite carvings and darkening its windows like death.

“Oh, no!”

“Oh, no” indeed!  But none of this was done by the other building!  It was all done by those horrible, miserable creatures not worth being apologetic about not being or even remotely deferential to!  And certainly not worth mourning!  And Le Grand Theatre, even in the face of this affront, had never risen a hand to its neighboring building.  So it wasn’t “if only a building could raise a hand; if only a building had a hand to raise.”  It was, thank all that is truly holy that no building ever raised a hand to another building.

“All true, except for one thing…”

The Storage Space would have sighed in exasperation if only a building…

“Who built you?  Who gave you life?”

The Storage Space brought itself fully out of its reverie and found, to its horror, that it was confronting a version of this Karen that was flickering slowly between the live version and a green mist.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 40

“Honey, you’ve got it baa-aad!”

Sam, tailing the twitchy little barefoot bitch, coulda’ puked when the woman in a wheelchair told her that.  He knew what he was looking at.  He’d known since he was a teen that anyone who didn’t react that way to him really wasn’t interested in his sex.  He wouldn’t mind banging her, if he could just cover those thin, twitchy lips with the proverbial paper bag, but she was fucking up government business with all this dawdling.

Oblivious to everything, including the fact that the love of her life wasn’t more than ten feet away, she had now stopped to…oh fuck, what a cliché!…smell the roses.  Sam rolled the beautiful green eyes with which he’d broken a million hearts.  Sure, he could take Alex on without resorting to using this idiot as a distraction.  Sam knew how good he was.  But Sam had also seen more than enough special ops to know the one thing even a consummate martial artist such as himself was no match for:  complete unmitigated insanity.  Sam had done his homework on Alex; he knew what he was dealing with.

Finally, finally, Ms. Twitch approached Alex’ front door…just as a rather hideous female scream could be heard.

So much for the homeless woman…

Ms. Twitch, obviously oblivious to another person’s agony…and her own bare feet…straightened her clothes.  She looked puzzled when she fished a broken stiletto heel out of one pocket, then shrugged and crammed it back in her pocket.

Not a bad weapon, thought Sam.  And you’re going to need it.

Ms. Twitch rang the doorbell.

I would have waited till the screaming stopped, thought Sam.  But then he prepared himself, positioning himself to dart inside when Alex let the seemingly harmless Ms. Twitch in.

The silence that followed the doorbell ringing was…ghastly.  Ms. Twitch, predictably, stamped her feet and rang it again.  Sam amused himself with visions of Bela Lugosi in some ancient Dracula flick answering.

Alex creaked the door open a sliver.  Not enough yet for Sam’s purposes.

Ms. Twitch started right in:  “That stupid homeless woman you kidnapped…and don’t tell me otherwise because I just heard her scream…stole my phone.  If you don’t give it back to me right now, I’m going to call the cops right this second!”

Sam could tell from Alex’ face that they were both wondering with what phone she planned to call the cops “right this second.”  But Ms. Twitch hadn’t exactly whispered her demand.  Sam couldn’t imagine Alex choosing to continue this conversation out in the open, so he braced himself for what he assumed would follow.

Alex opened the door wide.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 39

Karen came to with a start.  She could feel Irwin’s arms tighten around her.  Somewhere in her mind the thought came that the building would have screamed at the top of its lungs in only a building could scream.  Irwin, who was lying next to her smoking a cigarette, jerked her even closer…and rumbled her hair as if she were a kid.

His voice was…soft.  “You know, your hair’s the exact same color as that puppy I found out back when I was a kid.  I had so much fun with that puppy…”  He went on; Karen was not surprised to learn that that puppy didn’t live long.  Then she started, slowly, to remember all the experiences with Irwin that she and that puppy had in common.

“Do not think of such things!”  It was the Storage Space, her imaginary playmate, but who was she to question hearing voices at a time like this?  “I would torture Le Grand Rat to death slowly, very slowly, if only a building could…”  It went on.  Briefly, Karen distracted herself from the horror of her situation by wondering how her subconscious came by such extensive knowledge of the 19th century.  Then, while both her companions indulged in their respective sentimentality…the real one about all the animals he’d tortured, the imaginary one about tales of 19th-century theatre that it thought would distract her…Karen took inventory of her new wounds.

Irwin broke off to rumple her hair again.  “Hungry?  Thirsty?”  He sounded like a kid with a guest sleeping over.

Karen suppressed a shudder.  “Kind of hungry,” she managed in a little-kid voice.

“Gotcha covered!  Back in a jiff!”  Irwin scooted out of Karen’s storage unit like a boy scout out of a pup tent, clattered down the hall and was gone.

Karen bolted for the hall in the opposite direction, half falling out of her storage unit before she realized, for the second time since she’d taken up residence in her storage unit, that she didn’t have the strength to go far.  But this time even her imaginary playmate, the building, started replaying the horror of what Irwin had done to her, which succeeded in releasing enough adrenalin to get her halfway down the hall before she passed out again.

She immediately fell into a dark dream filled with a hatred for Irwin that was like no hatred she had ever felt before.  Then, once again, despite Frank’s appearance in her dream to protest, she saw the light and moved toward it this time.  That voice again, that had gone on so about a summer’s day…  As she drew closer she could hear it clearly:

“Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate,’
To me that languish’d for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
‘I hate’ she alter’d with an end,
That follow’d it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away;
‘I hate’ from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying ‘not you.'”