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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


Chapter 17.

Zoë and Max ate pizza that evening. "Sister Sincere called me at work today. She was a little concerned."

"About what?"

"I'm not sure. You're daydreaming in class? You got low grades on quizzes?"

He chewed slowly and stared at her. "I got C's on some minor tests." His tone was clipped and tense.

She asked: "Are you spending too much time on that computer and not enough in your books?"

"No, Mom"(same low voice she took with her own mother)"I didn't study because I had a headache. And she said the quizzes don't count if you get a better grade on the tests. You can substitute..."

"Okay, okay," she said. She knew she'd better chop this off before he felt confronted. "I'm just asking." She bit into her own slice. She pictured her mother's face. The boy needs a man in his life. Mentally, she threw a baseball at her mother's image to dunk it in a carnival pool.

Before her bedroom mirror, getting ready for her visit to the shrink, she noticed Max through a crack in the door. Who was this grinning, masculine, almost coarse young guy sitting on her couch watching football? What about the homework? She pulled on her nylons.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to visit the doctor."

"That sure is a lot of fancy make-up and stuff for a doctor."

"Okay, Sherlock Holmes, so I'm meeting a friend afterward and we may go dancing and I'll call you, okay?"

He looked at the TV, not answering.

She sighed deeply. Sometimes having a child was like having a parent. In some insane microcosmic crumb of thought she entertained and then resisted the idea of going out looking plain (which might give the shrink food for stark modern drama) and then dressing in the car behind a gas station as she'd done during her adolescence. Come on, Zoë, she thought.

She checked herself in the mirror. She wore a gray wool suit with mid-calf skirt; dark blue hose; navy heels and strapless purse with attached gray leather gloves; tapioca silk blouse with pearl necklace and silk Calla lily kerchief. I must go out more, she thought. Light make-up: her face was a good one, an agency had told her once, but sorry no models under 5'8. They had put her on a waiting list for faces, though (and called her for three auditions but nothing had come of them).

Dr. Stanislaus welcomed her into his leather-padded study.

She remembered where to sit: An indirectly lit alcove containing an office chair and writing table (stark) facing a couch (comfortable). Green plants, a microphone hanging from the ceiling, and a coffee table. Dr. Stanislaus brought to the writing table his file about her. He was a short stocky man wearing moccasins, brown corduroy trousers, and a lime colored bulky-knit sweater. His gray hair rose in a crew cut. He had a pudgy face with hints of coldness, though his brown eyes caressed disarmingly. "I haven't seen you in five years."

"I think I am losing my mind."

He did not seem fazed. "Why?"

"My son tells me I scream at night. Also, I think there is something inside my brain."

"What kind of a thing?" His questions were gentle, almost dreamily quiet and distant, but powerful; he coaxed her to retrieve from within her the pieces of a puzzle that would lead them to put a face on the things that frightened her.

"I'm not sure. A kind of presence. A Dark Feeling that comes over me sometimes. And I have really scary dreams, like about the end of the world."

"How often does this happen?"

"Once, maybe twice a day. Are you going to laugh at me?"

"No. I don't want to scare you, but it could be something serious like a tumor. Otherwise — ."

"Otherwise, I'm nuts?"

"You are undoubtedly under a lot of stress."

"You can say that again."

"Let's talk a little. How is your son?"

"There is a blip on his x-ray, but otherwise he's fine."

"A blip?"

"It may not be anything."

"You were married to an abusive man. He was tough, he gave the world the finger which you wanted to do. You told me that you would try to find a better man..." He paused. "Have you?"

She shook her head.

"You also felt tremendous guilt because of your son's condition, which medically was not your fault. You were going to put guilt behind you." She smiled, fleetingly. "You were going to look for the one thing you really, deep down in your deepest heart, wanted, and that was a decent man who would be nice to you and your son. You were not going to get all turned on again by some violent biker, but you were also not going to go for the newspaper and slippers type." He grinned as he read from his notes, and she remembered offering him the analogy: "You were not going to go for either a Doberman Pinscher type, nor a Pierre Poodle type of man, but for a sort of a gruff, working dog guy like maybe a Labrador." He looked up. "What kind of men have you met?"

"I've been avoiding a man named Howard Berger."

"He was a Labrador?"

"He was more of a whiny, self-centered…you know, one of those white, long-haired, yappy little fuckers that will never be house trained." She made a face. "Eëw."

"Not your type, obviously." Scribble, scribble.

"Stifling, possessive, jealous, insecure." She added: "Max didn't like him either."

"I see. Well, you're probably right. He sounds like a lapdog of some type. So your search continues?" She nodded. "You are dressed up. Are you going out?"


"With a Lab?"

She thought hard, trying fit different dogs' heads and personalities on Vic Lara. "He's a cop. A wolf maybe. A real alpha wolf, come to think of it."

"You used to dislike authority figures, especially cops."

"That was then. I've become an authority figure myself. Over one boy, anyway."

He looked at his watch. "Tell me about the wolf next time. You must get a thorough physical tomorrow morning to determine if your problem has a medical reason." He wrote out an appointment slip. "This is important. Could be a brain tumor, the Cold Thing. They'll see you right away."

She felt her emotions slowly welling up. "I have been getting these Dark Feelings. And seeing dead people. I saw my hus-... my ex-husband at the zoo. And I saw my father in a restaurant." She told him the stories. "But I think it's like some outside voice or not a voice, a feeling, trying to play with my mind and not being entirely successful."

"Are you in trouble at work?"


"We have a lot to talk about then."

"Yes. Doctor—"


"I feel like a cork about to pop out of a bottle. Maybe I'm trying to remember something horrible and I can't, because it scares me terribly, but I have to..."

He regarded her with a carefully composed stony-face. A troubled light haunted his eyes. "Can you remember anything at all?" His pencil was poised to write.

She asked: "Is there something you know that I should remember?"

He stared at his pad, but did not write. He was avoiding her gaze, she knew.

"You know Vic Lara?"

His face continued to look stony, but his eyes betrayed recognition, maybe shock. "Yes. We've had some…professional discussions."

"About me?"

"Patient confidentiality. I can't say."

"You're pulling patient confidentially on me? About myself?"

"Have patience, Zoë." The pencil remained poised. It was quiet in the room. A clock ticked. Finally he put the pencil down.

Zoë's chest tightened. A Dark Feeling welled up. It made her feel numb. She fumbled in her purse. "There is something I want to give you." She rose, and, as if walking through water, placed the tooth on the table before him. "Please take it for me."

He stared at the tooth. "Where did you find it?"

"In front of the zoo."

"Do you remember where exactly?"

"Near the entrance." The words came from deep inside Zoë. "Please. I want to give it to someone in authority."

He took a small envelope from his desk and slipped the tooth inside. "I will save it for you. We will talk about it in due time."

"Is it important?"



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