This Shoal of Space:
Zoë Calla & the Dark Starship
(World's First E-BookPublished On the Web in 1996 For Digital Download)
a Dark SF novel originally titled Heartbreaker
by John Argo
Part I-Chapter 2
Part II-Chapter 66
All day Tuesday, ZoŽ was bothered by a sense of anxiety. She tried to review her life and found that everything was such a mess, it was hard to sort anything out. She wanted to put things in placesMax (ok) here; Mother (status quo) there; job (a dreadful feeling in the stomach) here; love life (ah, maybe a glimmer of something positive?) there; Cold Thing (yooohooo, ooohh where aaaarre youuuu?) here.... but when she got to that set of hidden doors, one of which had been unlocked by the tooth, she found that her mind wanted to knock down all the order she had just struggled to createslam all the doors open, let the truth shine forth. But what truth?
Dr. Stanislaus, that evening, said: "How do you feel?"
He nodded. "You did extremely well last week. Have you remembered anything more?"
"I was hoping there isn't any more," she said.
"Maybe there isn't," he agreed. "What do you say we go in and find out for sure?"
"What do you mean?"
She shrank back, afraid.
"If there is something else you are hiding from yourself it's all in there already and all we have to do is face it. It's the only way to make it go away once and for all."
"Will it," she asked miserably, "go away if I face it?"
He had her lie back and led her through a few yoga relaxation exercises. When she was very still, just a mind floating in a room of neutral light, his voice sounded quietly like distant commands in a spaceship: "We are going to go in a little deeper now, and I will be with you the whole way..." He had her imagine walking down a long aisle in a great big school room, to a black board. She took chalk in one hand and an eraser in the other hand. Then, beginning with the capital letter A, she was to write first the capital letter and then the small letter. Then she was to write the next capital (B) but not before erasing the last capital (A). Then she was to write the next lower case (b) but first erase (a). Before writing C, she must erase B. And before writing c, she was to erase b. And before writing D, she was to erase C...
Somewhere between J and K, or was it K and L?, she stepped through some sort of door or sank through some ice or floated up through a ceiling...
Where are you? Dr. Stanislaus asked, far away.
"I'm in a cellar." She smelled mustiness all around, damp sand fouled with rodent turds; she tasted blood on her lip and felt the fear deep in her gut.
Tell me about the cellar, Dr. Stanislaus said.
But she was too numb to talk, too much afraid. Frank's hard, strong fist was on her torn blouse collar. In his other hand, shiny and merciless...
Tell me about the cellar. Are you alone?
"Oh God no." She sobbed, she wriggled, she cried out and raised her hands. "Frank has a gun. He already hit me with it. And he says he'll shoot me."
Your husband Frank? came the distant voice.
"Yes! Yes! Why did I forget this? He's insane! And I'm too young to know any better. I thought I loved him."
What did you do that made him so angry?
"I... I... I said I was going to the police."
"Because... Because... of the baby."
"I don't know," she wailed.
Was it Max?
"Yes... No... Another baby."
Try to remember. Reach for it.
"A baby!" she wailed. "A dead baby!" ZoŽ sat straight up and screamed. It was pitch dark. She held her hands over her mouth.
...Please hang on. Hang in there...
"No no no no!" she screamed. The dead baby was in her arms. Mabel Stork smiled, a dirty evil smile glad at her pain and shock. "N-n-n-n-n-n-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-o-o-o-o!" she screamed beating her fists against the wooden beams in the cabin, the white cabin, the white cabin, where the air was so suffocating...
Dr. Stanislaus' voice floated over like a light of comfort: You are quite safe. We are close to where we need to be but now you have to make the decision. Do you want to go on?
Okay, then I'll lead you out and we'll talk about it. Maybe you'll want to try again some other time. Push it all away, please. Just push. It will move away.
She pushed, and sure enough she was out in the snow and then in the sunshine, rising like a balloon... but she did not feel good; she remembered catechism and looked down at the state of her mind and it was like having a dirty soul; it was like realizing for the first time that you really need a bath... "STOP," she said, "STOP. I want to go in. I want to get this over with. I don't ever want to go through this again. I need to know."
Very well. Can you pull it all back?
She tried. "No, not quite."
Very well. Let yourself sink down. Go back down. Go back in.
Like a stone, she sank back into those painful waters.
Why was Frank threatening you?
"Because..."(she saw vividly: Frank's old car)"we were driving up to the mountain shack to see..."
"I can't tell or he'll kill me."
Frank is dead. He can't hurt you.
"Maybe the other one will"(that face... who?)"the one whose name I'm never supposed to mention. He might kill Max."
Try working around it. We need to find out.
"Yes. We were driving to a mountain shack to deliver something in a coffin"(Attila laboring along behind them in the rented Haul-a-Way)"and collect money."
Max was with you?
Was there a dead person in the coffin?
"Ummm..."(dead person?)"...no. Not a person. A thing, Black, that's all I remember."
A black thing. You saw it?
"Yes"(black; half melted; rock?)"it had no shape but it shone a little.
Okay move on.
"Frank and Attila"(breath coming in steamy rags, snow on jeans, leather jackets, cccold up here!)"go around the front and I follow holding Max. A wooden door opens and we go into some kind of kitchen. It smells weird like food with all the wrong spices. And there are weird things on the walls. Devil things. I'm thinking this dude is really weird, man, but we can live for a half a year on the money we'll get from him."
This dude is who, the one you can't name?
"Yes the guys sit down at this table. Frank and Attila wear guns under their"(thick leather, hard oily smelly)"jackets. I suppose the other man was too. Then Max shit his diaper. Frank turns around"(snarling, eyes lit with anger)"like Get that asshole out of here."
Why did you go along? And why take Max?
"We had no heat in the cabin and Max had bronchitis."
"Yes so this guy points to a door. I go through there"(cooking? what smells like that?)"and this big lady"( )" points to a table where there are diapers and things. Cool, I think they have some kind of nursery here. Funny, you don't hear any babies."
ZoŽ drew a deep shuddering breath. "So I start changing Max. Then as I'm looking for powder, this woman picks Max up like she's going to rock him. I turn my back for one minute and when I turn around she's GONE. Max cries. I heard him outside and I flew out the back door. The woman was walking away fast, and ME AFTER HER. She gets to this car. Some people get out and hand her a bundle. Suddenly there are two bundles. Two babies"(GIMME MY BABY OR I'LL KILL YOU BITCH)"she turns and hands me this baby and right away I knew something was wrong. It was dead"(where are my sobs today? who weeps for this poor soul, this little flower?)"I peeked to make sure, there was no life, no kick no movement, meanwhile Max was wailing and these people this man and woman got into the car with him"(SCREAMING: GIVE ME MY BABY OR MY HUSBAND WILL KILL YOU AND TORTURE YOU I WILL REMEMBER YOUR LICENSE PLATES)"All I had to do is threaten them with Frank and the woman rolled her window down"(a look I will never forget: absolute, cold, disdain: Is it really necessary to carry on like that? GIMME MY BABY OR YOU DIE, WITCH. At that a smile fogged the glass of her face, faintly.)"The husband was waving for her to hand over Max. I'm still standing there holding the dead baby. His name was, OH GOD"(Stevie; a little name stitched into his nightie; weeks old?)"
Take a few seconds. Pause, get your breath. Only go on if you can. I can always bring you out right away.
ZoŽ took a deep breath. "I can't stop now"(There was a faint glitter between the ice-white eyelids, tiny slivers dead eyes a message: don't let them take your baby too)"No, I have to go on. I MUST. For a second I thought it's all over and this WOMAN was just smiling at me, a real ice queen, holding Max"(like something she had decided she did not want to buy at a sale)"
Can you recall who any of these people were?
(No)"No, but I wouldn't tell you if I did. Frank said he'd kill me and Max too"(the gun the cellar the blood but I didn't care I was just so glad to still have my baby I'd do anythinganything)"Finally she handed Max back to me"(Really, dear, don't carry on)"she said not to carry on but the husband yelled something, We don't want any trouble, and he gunned his car and they flew out of there"
The license plate...
"No chance. I ran back past the house and got into Frank's car. I locked the doors and pulled out the other gun he kept under the seat. But nothing more happened."
What happened to the dead baby?
"I don't know. The woman took him from me. All I remember is Frank hit me. I said I was going to the cops. When we got back to our cabin he took me down into the under-shed and said he would kill me if I blew it for all of us. I promised never to tell."
I think we need to back out. We've done enough for tonight, don't you think?
"I think they ate the baby."
Push it away. Let it go. Come back up. We did enough.
Dr. Stanislaus moved to help her but she was quicker. Somehow, the sweet-salty cooking-smell remained in her nostrils. She ran for the john and vomited, vomited, until her head felt like splitting and her jaw ached. Coughing yellow stinging slime, wiping ropes of dinner that dangled from her nose into the whispering potty that oddly and comfortingly vibrated like a seashell with the hum of traffic in the street outside, she groaned between attacks. Dr. Stanislaus handed her fresh clean warm soaked towels and she got herself cleaned up.
She released her grip on the cold slippery bowl edge and washed her hands and face at the sink.
"Who was the other man?" he asked.
"I can't quite pull it in."
"Was it a man?"
"Old or young?"
"Young. Back then, anyway."
"White, Black, Hispanic?"
"See, you remember a lot. It's all there, waiting to be pulled out. I could call Lara right now and they'd have a police sketch artist here..." He looked at his watch. "No, by the time we got that all set up you'd be beyond this hypnosis. Let's let it go until next Tuesday."
She rose, ready to leave. "And find out who those people are, stop them from taking any more..." She ran outside, unable to say the word. Babies.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.