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
That evening, over a slapped-together dinner of macaroni and cheese, Max asked her worriedly: "Mommy"(when did he ever call her that? when he was his little vulnerable self?)"are you okay?"
She waved him off, feeling a wave of darkness. "I'm fine, baby." Panic pressured her, that cork again, ready to blow, and she fought to keep control.
"You look pale, and your hands are shaking," he said in a hushed voice.
"It's probably the beginning of the flu," she said, starting the dishes.
Max disappeared into his room. He'd been doing that more and more, hunching over his computer with those Captain Somebody games. ZoŽ felt relieved to be alone with her panic.
The universe seemed shrunken, a tunnel vision of terrible starkness bordered by panic. She poured out tears into the dishwater bubbles. I don't understand what is happening to me, she thought, and I've been fighting so long to keep it all under control, but now I'm losing it. I'm losing it! They are going to take my Max away from me.
She felt restless when she was finished cleaning the kitchen. Thoughts wrung through her mind: How sad Adolph died; poor Roger Chatfield; something about the tooth; an old man staring eye to eye with her holding out his hand for something that could not be denied much longer, something very very urgent... The parrot's face kept flying up close to hers, opening and shutting its mouth...
In a near trance, she peered into Max's room. He sat at his terminal like a statue. The screen played a horrid bluish-white light on his face.
She left a note: "Sweetheart, gone for a ride. Back soon." With pen in trembling hand she formed the letters and left the note on the kitchen table. If things went as they had lately, she would return and find him asleep, head on his arms, monitor glowing while unguessable assault ships flew in from a hostile galaxy.
The night air, once she was in the Mustang with the top down, was cool and refreshing. What am I doing? a part of her thought. It was the sick part that worried about losing Max. Not the other sick part within that part, the part about the cancer, but the other sick part, the part about being an unfit mother. He (who? the cop!) was going to have Max taken from her. What is my mind doing? she wondered as she drove east on Canoga, into East Canoga, and finally into the foothills where State 495 began. It was like a drive into the past, into a black and white movie of a very bad time that she'd shut out of her mind.
She drove to a liquor store with wind singing in her ears. She put money on a worn counter among candies and cigarettes and lotto tickets and plastic beef jerky jars. "A half pint of Old Wanderer," she said. Why am I doing this? she thought as the clerk nuzzled off to look for the booze. Because that is what Frank and Attila did the night we went to... Oh God no, please don't let me relive that! The liquor was brought, innocently, change was made ("hey, lady, don't forget your money here!") and she was back out into the night holding the paper bag with the bottle in it. There was in her ears a seashell wind.
She drove to black arts store under whirly-wheel stars. The cold air cut. Silence and loneliness were a heavy blanket. She held the package uncertainly. She was in a film and now there were bits and flashes as the film came to an end, just before it was about to tear loose from its reel. She was in the backseat of Franks' car with Max and Ann. She had forgotten to buy Frank's booze and he was really mad. He was more mad because, because...something about money. And Charlie Best. The door had opened. Charlie and Harleigh had stepped out. There were frantic explanations. Frank took the tire iron from Attila and threatened Charlie. There was a man(who?who!) in the backseat with ZoŽ and he now got out, grinning meanly.
ZoŽ took a few hesitant steps forward, unscrewing the top. She caught a (ugh) disinfectant whiff of whiskey. She set the bottle down near where Frank, had she stepped back in time, could have reached down with one hand and picked the bottle up, drunk from it, maybe not done what he had done next. The tire iron rose, fell, rose, fell, in a spray of blood...ZoŽ, in the back seat, screamed and covered Max protectively with her body...
Numbly she drove home, crawled into bed, and winked out.
Copyright © 1990-1996-2014 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.