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This Shoal of Space:

Zoë Calla & the Dark Starship

(World's First E-Book—Published On the Web in 1996 For Digital Download)

a Dark SF novel originally titled Heartbreaker

by John Argo


Preface   Chapter 1   Intralog  Part I-Chapter 2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65   Part II-Chapter 66   67   68   69   70   71   72   73   74   75   Outlog


Heartbreaker

Chapter 24.

On Monday, jack hammers and car engines ripped through the morning's sunny peacefulness as ZoŽ crossed the street to the Herald Building. She was running late as usual, and luckily Mart Willow was not in his office as she rushed to her desk. But then, Spike had things under control. He smiled and handed her a phone message note.

'Call me—Vic.'

Spike hummed This land is my land, this land is your land... as he leaned back over his death notices. His keyboard started rattling, again, like twin outboards on a cigar boat.

ZoŽ spent a hectic day riding with Perry. They covered a fire in East San Tomas, a double murder in Canoga Heights, a riot at a union picketing line by a meat processing plant in Fairview, and a speech about crime by the mayor.

That evening, with Mother's("See, where would you be without me?")borrowed car, she and Max drove home. There, looking dusty but apparently rebuilt, was her Mustang. It was totally restored, except there was still no radio, and in place of the defaced passenger door was a new, yellow door that did not match the car's green paint. There was an envelope on the driver's seat, containing her keys, and another note from Vic:

'Here is your car. Hope it works okay. I wheeled and dealed with someone who owed me something. You don't owe me anything. I would like to see you again, and I'm sorry I made you mad the other day—Vic.'

The new license plate read: WARNED1.

Ann and Jeremy came over for dinner that evening.

Ann had the afternoon off and she'd made meatloaf, mashed potatoes with chicken broth gravy, and as dessert, banana custard in graham cracker cups. Ann and ZoŽ talked at the kitchen table. The boys played video games in the living room. Jeremy had brought "Galaxy 7000: Captains of Thunder" and the boys took turns chasing and killing each other as spacemen or hideous monsters dwelling in star caves. Whatever those were.

Later, ZoŽ walked Jeremy and Ann out to their car. She waited while they loaded plates and bowls into the back seat and got in. With a kid, going anywhere was like planning a safari, ZoŽ sympathized. Under the familiar loquat tree, which shed so messily on the crew cut lawn, familiar light ambered the mild night air. Without warning, as usual, the Dark Feeling hit ZoŽ. It welted her between the eyes so hard she reeled back. Had she not managed to grasp a loquat tree's hard trunk, she would have keeled over into the hedges. Ann and Jeremy waved as the car pulled out. Ann did a Y turn in the middle of the street. Each leg of the Y was punctuated with a rattle and a screech of the old car parts. At the last leg of the Y, Ann shifted into first gear. The car was dead stopped and Ann leaned out to wave. Only it wasn't Ann. It was Wiz. Her face looked pale and her eyes were filled with vacant sky. Stars drifted where her eyeballs should have been.

The car slid away. ZoŽ staggered toward the brush cherry and threw up.

She washed her face and hands at the garden hose.

Then, gripped by a terrifying urge from the Cold Thing, she stood stiffly and dropped belly-whompus into the pool. As she sank to the bottom, she contemplated opening her mouth. What was the use? She opened her eyes and glimpsed flaking blue latex paint rippling on the surfaces in the pool; and the tiles, inset at regular intervals near the surface, with yellow and red flower motifs on dark-blue enamel.

Then her chin banged against the bottom. Ouch. She bounced slightly, rolling like a log. It would all be so quick, so welcomingly dark. She floated. The water was warm from having steeped in sunlight all day. So cozy. Final. And easy. No more of this thick sludge of life she was painfully squeezing through. A chill breath (of the living, rustling, whispering, everynight world) did feathers up and down her back.

NO!

She balled her fists and yelled. The yell came out as a bubbling choking noise and she stood in the pool trembling. No, I won't kill myself for you, whoever or whatever you are.

Something, someone, had just tried to kill her. Her feelings were a washing machine of rage, pain, invasion, humiliation, penetration. She had just been raped and she seethed for revenge. The Uncaring Thing slipped away like a snake backing into the hole in the back of her mind. She pulled towels from the wrought iron railing—she and Max had left them to dry yesterday—and tripped into the apartment.

"Are you in the tub?" she hollered.

"Yes."

"Are you okay?"

"Yes."

She felt like kicking the bathroom door in, and tearing him from the bathtub, lest he drown himself or be drowned. But that would only traumatize him, and something told her the attack was over—for the moment.

She went into the kitchen without turning the light on. The kitchen still smelled steamy and soapy from dishes being done. She rummaged in her purse. Not finding her mirror, she dumped the purse. Some of it went on the table, some on the floor. She pawed through the contents and found her cosmetics mirror. Damn, a scrape on her chin. She'd worn a few of those in the day, thanks to Frank MacLemore.

Washing her face at the sink with cake soap and a dish rag, she sputtered and looked at her indistinct reflection in the dark window. No more Miss Nice Guy, she thought. You wanna fuck with me, I'll find you and I'll make you wish you never heard of me. She lowered her head and put her hands to her face. What am I doing? she thought. What, am I nuts? This isn't Frank MacLemore I'm talking to. This is some Dark Thing that's risen up from hell. It's his spirit. Frank's come back to haunt me. No, I'm really off my bean now. My coconut's gone mushy. I'm slipping on the great banana peel of mental jock rock. The lights are on but nobody's home.

Hearing the door open, she quickly straightened. She looked at her reflection again. Determined. I don't believe in any of that supernatural crap. I'm under a lot of stress and, and, and...

Max stepped out on his crutches, and she whirled to face him, half expecting Frank. In the odd lights seeping from outside, he did look a little like his dad. But the softer lines, the beautiful saucy eyes, those were hers.

He looked her up and down. "You're dripping. And what happened to your chin?"

"I slipped and fell into the pool," she said. She went to the bathroom and put toothpaste on her brush.

Max slipped into an easy chair. He toweled his hair. "My legs. They ache like. It think it's the weather lately always changing."

Freezing with fear and anguish, ZoŽ dropped her toothbrush in the sink. The brush bounced around, clattering, before she finally caught it in both desperate hands.

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Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.