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.

“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.