DEVIL'S WEEK

Here we have an extra-special treat, Freezine aficionados. Because just this last Halloween, the Freezine of Fantasy and Science Fiction proudly presented a brand new, never-before-published short story from veteran author John Shirley. So if you're ready to be taken to an extremely dark place right now, then be sure to read on for our final tale for this autumnal season, THE SOFTEST PILLOW, by John Shirley.


Cemetery Art above by Shaun Lawton


Monday, April 30, 2012

APRIL ISSUE

~ PROUDLY PRESENTS ~




ELDER CRUISER
by John Shirley

© 2012 by john shirley
+ Click Images Below To Begin Reading +






SATAN'S DOG
by Gil James Bavel

© 2012 by gil james bavel





MIZUKI
by Keith Graham

© 2012 by keith graham





NIGHT SONG
OF THE FUNGI

by Vincent Daemon

© 2012 by vincent daemon





Welcome to another edition of the FREEZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a Fanzine for the 21st Century. Back in the 20th century, fanzines proliferated across the underground scene like weird mushrooms in Vince Daemon's back yard.

It's the same idea now, only I like to call it a Webzine. This APRIL, 2012 edition is our lucky 13th Issue—welcome to it. Be sure to invite your friends, share the stories, and Follow the FREEZINE today. [To do so, either use the RSS-feed, follow by email (upper right corner), or to Follow on Blogger or Facebook—simply scroll down, down, down past all the bios and authors, until you see the Blogger Followers just below Icy Sedgwick, and the NetworkedBlogs for Facebook, below that. We are about to reach 100 Blogger and 100 Facebook Followers—and that doesn't include all the "hidden" Followers, "private" Followers, and various RSS-feed Followers, and so on. The Nano only knows how many Followers we actually have...]

For this APRIL, 2012 issue we have a real treat for starters—veteran author John Shirley returns for his fourth (count 'em) original story in our Webzine, ELDER CRUISER. As the FREEZINE loves nothing more than to serialize novellas or even the short novel here and there, we were all too pleased to have John submit his new science fiction novelette (approximately 12,000 words) for the FREEZINE to serialize in daily installments. Breaking up such narratives into daily installments can be quite a challenge, in particular while trying to simultaneously end each section on a "cliffhanger"—or, should there not be enough "hard" cliffhangers—on what I like to call a "narrative tension point". ELDER CRUISER was originally slated to be divided into seven daily installments, but I worked at trying to get the most out of each installment, so they wouldn't be too short...and found the right balance in five installments, giving the readers more to sink their teeth into, with each daily part. I think the narrative flows rather well across five parts, please let me know what you think of the story. Comments are provided for at the bottom of each story featured in the FREEZINE. I personally loved every minute of ELDER CRUISER, and was struck emotionally by this futuristic father/son story to the point of really having it affect me, it got a reaction out of me, I could feel the sense of closure. It delivers quite a wallop, and we at the FREEZINE remain grateful for Mr. Shirley's gracious contribution to our pages.

Speaking of John Shirley's contributions—how many of you have read his fabled cyberpunk trilogy A SONG CALLED YOUTH? It's available now from PRIME BOOKS in one hefty, affordable volume. I recommend you all read it now and find out what all the well-deserved hype is about. He also recently released the bestselling novelization of BIOSHOCK: RAPTURE, along with seven other Tie-Ins & Novelizations.

Next up, we welcome another Veteran Freezine author, Gil James Bavel and his charming short story, SATAN'S DOG, released on Friday the 13th, 2012. This one has a light-hearted and humorous tenor to it, which I felt really fit the flow of this APRIL issue, while yet retaining a modicum of mysteriousness, considering the infernal origins of our canine hero. Working with the author on editing this story was a sheer joy, and I thank Gil James Bavel profusely for having the heart to provide us with yet another entertaining story of his. If you haven't read anything else by Mr. Bavel—scroll down the right margin of bios/authors to see his contribution of stories in the FREEZINE.

Our third story featured in this month's issue, comes from another regular contributor, the science fiction author Keith Graham. His new story here MIZUKI, which debuted on April 20, ravages a mish-mash of counter cultural references into an entertaining and amusing parable. This is Keith's third story in the FREEZINE, and we're sure glad to have him onboard. Check out his bio and the rest of his stories down over in the right margin, there.

Speaking of down over, well down over in Philadelphia we have another FREEZINE veteran, Vincent Daemon. Our APRIL issue concludes with his urgent and haunting urban fable, NIGHT SONG OF THE FUNGI. It makes its first appearance worldwide on the FREEZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and shall remain archived along with the author's four other stories, all of which can be found easily by scrolling down, down, down and clicking on the corresponding image with the story's title, in the dropdown menu to the right. Thanks again Vince Daemon for another killer story.

Thanks to my wife Shasta and her really cool, original artwork contributions to this issue. Stay tuned THIS SUMMER for the FREEZINE's immanent return. It will continue to release a diverse array of creative fiction in any of its dizzying formats so long as enough writers and readers continue to participate in its ongoing creation. This is a waking, sleeping, breathing, living blog that needs your support to continue.

If you're a writer who wants to showcase a story of the realm fantastic and further promote yourself and your work, submit it to

freezinefantasysciencefiction@gmail.com for consideration in a future issue.

If you're a reader, Follow this blog and get your friends to follow it too. This endeavor started out and continues to be a labor of love. You will find no other place on the world wide web that is so willing to help promote fellow creative writers free of charge. Thanks for your support and participation, thank you for putting up with the occasional unpredictable monthly lapses, and rest assured that the FREEZINE will continue so long as I am able to log on here and figure out the upgraded hyper text mark up interface. The Nanohorde must expect nothing less from me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

NIGHT SONG OF THE FUNGI

by Vincent Daemon



The weather had been terribly off considering the time of year. Early December was too late in the autumn for a run of eighty-five degree days with such high humidity. The bestial and violent storms that had pummeled the eastern seaboard as of late were astonishing to say the least. This latest one had been particularly bad. Blinding purple white and blue lightning had exploded with demonic and thundering roars well into the early hours of the morning—bringing with it large balls of destructive hail, seemingly endless cross patterned rain, and Hell-fury winds. Then, with the rising of the sun, these storms rolled out and disappeared into the grey winter ocean to reveal only cloudless bright and sunny skies.



Day 1


Upon waking, David figured he should check the destruction. Still exhausted, he stumbled out onto the back porch, lit himself a smoke, and began to survey the damage, of which it seemed there was surprisingly little. Ancient and empty old farm fields drifted back and out as far as the eye could see, with the occasional smattering of apple trees from which the local deer denizens ordinarily had their family meals. It usually brought David a great deal of inner warmth and pleasure to see the deer every day, frolicking innocently and munching on their apple cores. But there were no deer today, just an endless expanse of wet grass and broken tree limbs.

And an odd ball of...something white...that lingered as a still life about seventy-five yards back. To his eyes it looked like a crumpled plastic grocery bag, but even with the post-storm breeze still blowing, it moved not an inch. Both curiosity and a complete lack of anything to do compelled David to wander back through the muddy yard and investigate this “bag.”

Trudging his way back, he could see that this was no plastic bag, but something more akin to an orb. Upon finally reaching it, he saw exactly what it was: a large, white ball of mushroom-like fungus. Half a human head sized, easily. David tapped it lightly with his shoe, and it did nothing; didn't move, break, or anything else.

For a moment he pondered football kicking it further back into the yard, but thought better of it. “It's not bothering anyone,” he mumbled aloud to himself. “It's fine where it's at.”

Turning, he moseyed back to the house, where he heard a sharp voice bark out his name. It was his neighbor Victor, a burned-out old Vietnam Vet. “David! That was a hell of a storm last night. How's it look back there?”

“S'alright, I guess. There's a huge mushroom-fungi thingy growing back there, though, probably from all the weird warm and damp humidity.”

Victor replied, his answer virtually indecipherable since he refused to put his teeth in. But David knew how to decipher Victor's garbled speech through tone fluctuation and the man's jittery, cocaine- and meth-damaged verbal and physical cues.

“Fungus? Did you get rid of it?”

“Nah, it ain't bothering no one.”

“Oh,” came forth the old man's naturally harsh and monosyllabic reply. “Well, when you get a chance, could you bring my hammer back over?” Every word that came from Victor's mouth sounded like a bad character rendition of Sylvester the Cat.

“Yeah, no problem.” David then tossed his cigarette butt and went into the house to check his phone. He saw that his roommate James, who was away the next three days on a business trip, had called. He'd left a message questioning if there was any damage from the storm. David rang him back, reassured him that all was well.

The rest of the day came and went. David returned Victor's hammer, indulged in a few nips of whiskey while over at the Vet's house. Otherwise, he really just tried to focus and continue writing music, but his mind felt blocked. The more he tried to think, to create, the more his own mind seemed to resist the thoughts and impulses toward action. He essentially sat inside, on the couch, secretly and deeply mulling over the half-head sized ball of fungus in the backyard. He had never really seen a specimen like it. Fungus had always kind of freaked him out, but he simultaneously had a fascination with the stuff. The orb itself had been mostly an off-white cream color, with some darker mottled hues of brown spattered here and there, a lightly crackling skin raised on the top. It was just so...big.

Evening fell, the odd temperature still high and the humidity hanging around in thick unseasonal wafts, the scent of which seemed otherworldly and threw the general feeling of everything off somehow.

David felt as though he had lost time somewhere, really not remembering the day at all. It just sort of rushed past as he sat on the couch with his guitar, trying to write music that wasn't “there,” or more appropriately, that he could not access. It wasn't “writer's block,” he knew what that felt like. This was different, an empty-minded feeling overrun with a certain sadness, a melancholy of sorts. Not depression. And it felt like these thoughts and emotions were not his.

Sitting in the dark, alone, he decided to stroll out to the back porch for another smoke. Humid as it was, there was now a faint chill in the air, not altogether unpleasant. He lit up and let his eyes adjust to the bright moonlight that flooded the fields.

Staring up at the cloudless and starry-bright, late evening sky, he searched for the constellations in their fully visible glory. It was so much nicer to view the sky up here out of the city, away from the lights. In fact, it had become a regular habit of his, almost a nightly ritual, to “watch the skies,” as it were, as well as the borders of the deep woods far behind the house.

His latent interests in Cryptozoology and UFOlogy kept his imagination brewing and fed his curiosities about things unknown to (or denied by) man, even in this day and age. Unusual sounds emanated from the woods during the wee hours, and strange streaks of meteors and other mind trick light games had a tendency to fill these late evening skies. And he had, on occasion, witnessed some genuine anomalies. Of course, most of this he kept to himself, or translated into abstract lyrical tales to accompany his musical pieces.

That was when David heard the music. It was a faint and chilling tune with a high pitch, a keening tone, wavering and strange. It was oddly cooing, and in equal measures disquieting and comfortable. At first he thought it was coming from the neighbor's house on the other side, some surly old bastard he never talked to, didn't even know the fellow's name.

But that made no sense, really. So, eyes adjusted, he peered out over the blue fields to ascertain the source of this “music.” He couldn't quite manage that, but did see that there were now many, many more white shapes protruding from the ground—not unlike the “mushroom” from earlier in the day.

It kind of creeped him out, so he power-smoked his Camel and retreated quickly back into the house. Figuring he would just go to sleep, the intense silence of the empty old house did nothing but amplify the cooing, haunting music with an ever-wavering and vibrating pitch that echoed with callous beauty into the strange country night. He could feel it under his skin.

With the pillow firmly over his head, sleep finally came, but it was neither restful nor right. It seemed filled with visions and memories, none of them his own—nor translatable to the written word—just a deep unspoken loneliness and longing. Yet David remained completely dreamless.


Day 2


David awoke in a suffocating state of gnawing anxiety. Not just psychological, but a physical and emotional discomfort, which had left him feeling restless and angry, though he was not really sure at what. His sleep had indeed been dreamless, and far from restful. It felt like the frustrations of endless aeons had infected his mind. Ideas and concepts he had no real words for nor understanding of had taunted him all throughout the night. It felt like he was receiving transmissions, not having dreams.

In an exhausted stupor he headed outside for his wake-up smoke. He lit it, looked up from the porch, and the cigarette fell right from his mouth.

“What the fuck?”

The yard was now filled with these strange, white bulbous fungi, all of varying sizes and similar hues. The one he had noticed first, way in the back, was still there, only at least twice the size it had been the previous day. “You gotta be kidding me,” was the only response he could muster.

Then, that familiar bark, Victor: “You see this shit? This is disgusting...where'd all this come from?”

David could only shrug his shoulders, the anxiety in his gut knotting tighter. The air smelled off, really off, and the endless field was now filled with these orbs as far back as the eye could see.

“Get your boots on, I wanna go check it out.” David sighed at Victor's command, not really wanting anything to do with this weirdness. But his relationship with Victor was a strange one. He often helped the old coot with odd jobs and whiskey runs, and more often than not lent his ears to virtually all of Victor's griping and war stories. The guy was surly, but had for whatever reason let David into his life and they had indeed built a very unique friendship. As much as David would occasionally bitch about Victor's eccentricities, it seemed they both appreciated the bond that they had.

They slopped through the still muddy and wet yard, stepping over the various sized growths as they did so. Victor was babbling about something, but David could not keep focus. His mind kept wandering into areas of completely blank thought, the thousand yard stare taking over his vision. The only thing was, when he did that, it seemed—from his peripheral vision—as if the ground about him was shifting, moving around. But once he looked directly down, all the bulbous little things seemed to remain right where they had been.

“Pay attention!” Victor snapped, noticing the lack of focus and conversational retort. David merely looked at him, watching Victor remove his ever-present glasses and lick them clean with his toothless mouth. It was horrifying to behold. The tacky bastard put them right back on, breathlessly forging ahead into war stories and something about centipedes.

David felt the need to interrupt. “Hey, Vic—look forward and release focus of your eyes.”

“Huh?”

“Look forward. Release focus of your eyes. Notice anything?”

“You stoned or something? I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“Vic, these things on the ground...I think they might be moving.”

“Yep. You're high.”

“No! I'm serious...just—”

Victor cut him off with a swift kick to one of the bulbs, sending its oddly formed shape exploding outward into a million pieces with a poof of dried spore-dust clouding up into the air. He kicked another, and another. “Don't do that, man, you don't know what's in those things,” David was compelled to say. As usual, David's words slipped in one of his neighbor's ears and out the other.

While kicking, the toothless fungus-punter questioned David. “You hear that fucking music last night? Kept me up all goddamned night. Was that you?”

“Nah, I heard it too, wasn't me. I'm not really sure where it was coming from. I didn't like it though. It was kinda creepy.”

Victor chuckled. “Creepy? I just thought it was annoying as fuck.” Sylvester the Cat couldn't have put it more eloquently himself.

As they ogled and discussed this fungi situation, David kept deliberately letting his visual focus wane to see them shifting and moving about, of their own volition, in the ground all around him. He would then force his vision back, and there they would be, motionless. He felt like he was going mad, like some horrible game was being played with him.

Eventually, they turned around, not making it as far out into the field as the largest and first bulb. Which brought David a bit of relief, as he felt like that large one was not something they should be messing with, destroying it or whatever negative juvenile act would have inevitably happened. There were just too many of these things for the two of them to keep stepping over or around and investigating.



The rest of the day played out like the one before it. There had been many attempts at song and lyric writing, but no actual substance came out. It had fallen into lost time. Hours spent in total silent solitude on the couch, the living room growing dark as the sunlight faded into another viciously bright moonlit night. David had been in a constant funk and zone of timeless existence, his mind feeling the wakefulness of the dreamless sleep once again in a passably (and regrettably) lucid state.

The night song from the previous evening, the creepy-cooing and high-toned wavering, began to ring its odd tintinnabulations both from and into the abyss of moonlit darkness. It brought David out of his semi-catatonic state, drawing him outside and into the evening.

He stepped out onto the porch, the sinister night song echoing like horny summer bugs. He stared out directly at the voluminous bulbs, and this time knew he could see them shift and move themselves around. This was no trick of the eye, but was indeed some sort of graceful dance, fluid and eerie, soft and entrancing, much like the night song itself.

Looking to his side, David noticed Victor was on his own porch, clad only in a pair of red boxer shorts with little snowflake designs on them. He called out to his neighbor, but the man just stood there, seemingly entranced, shoeless, a little hunched, his gut hanging over his skivvies. He stared into the white moon-glow field with that thousand yard look in his eyes. In his right hand he clutched a near empty gallon bottle of Seagram's 7.

David called out a second time, but Victor did not respond. He merely began to wander into the cool, misty field, slow and like an automaton, until his slightly limping figure could no longer be seen. He seemed to disappear, swallowed whole by the bright and wispy mists. David figured the old coot was tanked on whiskey again, and thought no further into it than that. Better to just let him go off hammered in a shell-shocked haze and wander the fields a bit, might cool him out.

David did find it odd, however, that Victor had spat back no sarcastic retort, dirty joke, nor genuine complaint about the return of the music, as he usually did, regardless of sobriety or state of mind.

It was then he saw it, through the mist, back where the largest of these orbs resided, that first bulb. There were plumes of some phosphorescent vapor poofing into the air, colors unique and beautiful. Glowing greens, purples, pinks. It was unlike anything David had ever witnessed before. The spewing of these interstellar neon colors began way in the back of the field, by that first bulb, and was being mimicked and repeated by each successive fungus bulb in the field, growing ever closer and simultaneously ever outward. The scent of the air was changing again, and the song was growing louder, more intense with each new expulsion of beautiful color from each bulb.

David thought it might be best to return indoors, away from any possible inhalation of this gloriously toxic-looking vapor. He went upstairs, a sort of panic seeping throughout his entire being. He locked himself in his bedroom, kept the lights off and peered out the window. He was searching for signs of Victor, but the man's form never returned. Instead, David found himself now entranced by the blaring song of the fungi, and spent the night coiled back in his dreamless state of waking sleep, watching the bulbs shift and dance around in the misty fields, spewing their neon ejaculate into the thick and low-clinging fog of the unseasonal weather.


Day 3


“Jim, dammit, listen to me! The entirety of the yard is filled with these things!” David bellowed into the phone.

“Are you stoned?” That seemed to be the all-around standard reply to David's concerns over the fungus situation.

“I'm telling you, these things are sentient, Jim. They sing...they move...of their own volition. They were dancing, man. And no, I'm not stoned.

“I think the isolation is just getting to you, man. You're lonely, need a woman or something. So there are a couple of mushrooms out back...”

“They're not mushrooms, man. I don't know what they are. But you should've seen the colors, I can't even describe them. Then Victor disappeared. I knocked a little bit ago—but he didn't answer.”

“C'mon, Dave, you know he gets drunk and flashbacky. What the hell did you smoke last night? And when was the last time you slept? Hell, you're not eating these mushrooms, are you?”

Dave had grown quite irritated and was almost growling into the phone. “I smoked nothing—cigarettes. Please, listen to what I'm saying. These things are everywhere. They are aware, Jim.”

James was obviously growing weary of David's near-hysterical ranting. “Look man, I gotta go. Meeting. You know how it is. Just relax and try and smoke some weed that's not laced with mushroom spores, heh.” The tone in his voice was almost flippant, and there was a heckling giggle.

“I am not smoking any weed!” David bellowed in frustration into the phone. But James had hung up already, gone to his supposed meeting.

David wanted to smash the phone, to throw it with full-rage force to the floor and smash it to a billion pieces. Hell, its how his mind felt anyway. Like it was being shattered into a billion pieces, one for each star he felt he'd passed in the cosmos.

The rest of the day passed like a corpse being dragged slowly by a tractor. David could feel such an insufferable pain in his bones, muscles, joints...in his mind. Even under his skin. By the time night fell, he was not sure if he had slept during the day, or not. It was a sluggish, pained existence he was enduring, worse than that of his usual reality.

Darkness filled the house once again, and beneath the light of the glowing full moon, so the song of the fungi began again. That wavering pitch, the melodic cooing of sounds that no human ears had ever heard before—and that no human larynx could emit. Around midnight, in the cool and humid mist, the sounds echoed out from seemingly nowhere and nothing at all.

Sitting with his guitar, he realized he had been strumming the same collection of sound and notes all day long, throughout this disintegration of time in and around him. His hands were sore and his fingertips bled. It then occurred to him that this repetition which he had been circling in on with his strumming was indeed, their night song, the nocturnal song of the fungi. He was playing it now in perfect time to the cooing melody. The realization of this filled him with a disconnected horror, and his instrument fell clumsily to the hardwood floor.

David tried to put the music out of his head, its beautiful clawing and scraping sounds rattling the inside of his skull. But he could not focus enough to be able to do so. He tried, with all his will, but there was no way to curb the sad strains of travelling aeons and endless cosmic cold. His deep horror evolved then into a sudden yearning to become one with the inhabitants of the farthest galaxial regions now. In fact, despite a part of David trying to resist this, he no longer had control over his own body, soul, or mind.

David disrobed down to his black boxer-briefs, and began to wander outdoors. The once atrocious scent that had been hanging in the air since the appearance of that first immense fungus bulb became now an inviting pheromone musk, causing David both an odd arousal and a euphoria the likes of which he had never experienced. He could almost see himself from outside of himself. No control over his physical being or his thoughts remained. It was at once stultifyingly unpleasant, horrifically confusing, and orgasmically enthralling.

This all seemed to be against his own volition, and David's being pulled out into the moonlit misty field. It felt like he was being pulled by invisible and warm marionette strings. He never stepped on a single fungus, yet never once looked down at his steps. On the soles of his feet he could feel the microscopic webbing of ancient mycelium that lay just beneath the grass, in the soil, tickling him softly as he wandered the neon mists. The natural neural network of the planet raised the ground in gentle ocean-like waves of beauty and brought them back down just the same. It was out of his hands now. It was time to go home.

In his boxers and nothing else, David stood still before the largest of the fungi bulbs, and watched as the most astonishing thing happened. Several different-sized bulbs raised themselves from out of the moist ground, and began to roll toward each other, placing themselves atop one another, rolling up themselves like off-colored snowballs. They were creating a figure, a design of some sort, almost like a human body. He watched as one after another joined in this weird puzzle-game, like some kind of Jenga of the human form.

Finally, amidst the spewing of neon vapors and the shrouding of cool midnight mist, the first and largest of the fungi upheaved itself, rolled to the top of the heap of the rest. It sprouted hair from its head, and sunk into the shape of the most beautiful human female's face, something from the dreams of David's soul. This fungal-being-thing of perfect female form approached David slowly, cautiously. In that strange wavering song she told him to “relax, accept” and brought her arms around him. As he laid his head down to her breast, he saw the form of something also vaguely human on the ground beside him.

It was Victor, his body growing out of the ground...or sinking down into it. He was the color of the fungi. Victor's face seemingly molded into the Styrofoam-like texture of these things. His features quivered and twitched, pulsating with some kind of life, and still wore the tongue-cleansed glasses of his former self. The lipless mouth parted and only a strained glossolalia came forth. In his right hand he still clutched his empty bottle of Seagram's 7 tight in a fungi-knuckled grip.

David merely looked at the Victor-shroom, and looked back to the fungi-woman in whose arms he now rested, an alien feeling of tranquility washing over him as he did so. Laying his head upon this strange, calming being's breast, he reeled in ecstasy when her nipples began to emit the sweet neon toxin spores, their up-close scent and dizzying attributes wafting directly into his brain like a wonderful noxious mist, his entirety of being becoming still and falling into a state of true peace.



James returned from his business trip, a bit exhausted and a tad cranky. He reeled in total shock as he pulled into the driveway to find not just the yard, but now portions of the house, covered with large white orbs of...fungus? He'd been calling David since he got off of the airplane to no avail. The yard was a mess, the house not much better. James could find no trace of David anywhere. He figured his friend and roommate was just exhausted and had gone downtown to cop some weed.

But the fungus littering the yard, that disturbed him greatly. He could see why David's skittery mind was having an issue with it. Grabbing a rake, he marched back to the far part of the field where he could see two large forms protruding from the ground. Upon reaching the two forms, he thought he had wandered into a bad joke of some kind.

He recognized Victor's glasses instantly, and noticed that the other form seemed to have a carving upon its “face” resembling David. They looked like they had been shaped out of thick, instant mashed potatoes and covered in a sheen of crackly, congealed gravy skin.

“Cute. Not funny, guys,” mumbled James, raising the rake above his head. He brought it down hard to tear apart the peaceful fungal forms now growing silently from the damp dirt.



~ End APRIL Issue ~





+ See You This Weekend
For The Monthly Wrap Up -

Friday, April 20, 2012

MIZUKI

by Keith Graham



There used to be a head shop in every strip mall. Now, when Yance needed to buy rolling papers, he had to find some no-name gas station and deal with a clerk who tried to shortchange him. The world had not changed for the better in Yance’s fifty-four years of life. At least Zig-Zag was still Zig-Zag and he could get thirty-two joints out of the cheap pack.

While buying his rolling papers, Yance noticed that the security cameras all pointed forward, covering the pumps and the cars waiting near the repair bays. The security cameras did not cover the back yard of the station, but there were a dozen cars there.

That night Yance was back with his tool kit. He walked in the dark between the parked cars. Some were not worth fooling with. Some had sophisticated alarm systems. Yance looked through the windows for the LED tell-tale lights. If the light was out, the battery was dead—he could safely break into the car. Yance had learned the hard way not to mess with intelligent alarm systems.

Yance opened his canvas tool bag and selected a wrecking tool in order to pry open the hood of the car he selected. It was a 2031 Lexus; one of the more expensive models with all the bells and whistles. The tech under the hood was a few years old, but still worth a few hundred at any salvage yard. The network hotspot alone would be good for a week's worth of smack. Yance liked equating this simple hour of effort to a week of bliss.

The car was a wreck. The front of the car was bent in a U shape. The driver’s seat was covered with dried blood. There was a pair of miniature ballet slippers hanging from the rearview mirror. The car had belonged to some chick.

The hood opened with a screech. Yance had to force it with all of his strength. The car must have hit a tree at well over 100 miles per hour, bending every piece of metal in the frame. He guessed that the driver had fallen asleep on the way home from a bar. She probably awoke just in time to see some hundred-year-old oak rushing at her. The onboard emergency avoidance system would not have saved her life.

The navigational computer case was intact and water tight. It was not even dented. Yance twisted off the bolts holding down the cover, hardly more than finger tight. He whistled while he worked, his cigarette puffing in time to Muddy Water's Got My Mojo Working. He pulled the cables from the motherboard and the peripherals. The solid-state disk pack came out easily and he put it in his bag. He pulled the hotspot. The motherboard had four screws holding it down, and it took Yance a few minutes to find the last screw. It was under a bank of RAM at the back and he had to pull the RAM to get at it.

When he was done, he carefully closed the hood. He left the tires and the battery. The back of his pickup was full of crap he’d found on the side of the road, and he didn’t have room for anything that large.

Yance threw the bag of new-found treasures in the back of the pickup and started the old boy up. He gunned the pickup with much pumping of the gas and a few false starts. It burned oil like crazy, and a blue cloud of exhaust followed Yance out to Route 32, and then onto the Huckleberry Turnpike towards Marlboro. Yance lit another cigarette and sang another Muddy song, Champagne and Reefer, accompanied by the tick of a flattened wheel bearing and puffs of cigarette smoke on the chorus.

Yance got out of the old red pickup and walked over to his trailer, but did not go in. Instead, he went around back, passed the rotting carcasses of old cars and stopped at a 1982 Ford Probe. He unlocked the trunk, checked that his kit was there along with a heavily wrapped plastic bag of reserve narcotics. It was three months worth of heroin—enough to get him through a dry spell. There were also about $3,800 in cash and twenty-six sealed cups of methadone. He removed a cup, snapped it open and drained it. It tasted like Tang, the astronaut's drink.

As the methadone's warm reassuring glow spread through his limbs, he went to the barn. He had to pull out a shitload of crap that he was saving for a rainy day, but he found what he was looking for. It looked like the body of a 16-year-old girl, dressed in some kind of frilly outfit. She was a Japanese sex doll, pulled years ago from a wreck, but so badly damaged that it had only worked for a few weeks before the CPU had burned out.

The sex doll's name was Mizuki. She had not only shared Yance's bed, but she had done the dishes, washed his clothes and fed the dogs. Yance wanted her back. The sex was nice and the doll had wicked skills. Mizuki could roll a joint perfectly every time. It was also nice to have someone to feed the dogs when he didn't feel like moving his ass off the couch.

He dragged Mizuki over to a vinyl lawn chair and propped her up. She was dusty and dirty where rain had dripped on her through the leaky barn roof. The frilly cosplay outfit was brown and stained with rusty rain water. Her hair, which must have been real human hair, had been ravaged by mice in places, leaving parts of her head bald. There were a few rips in her plastic skin revealing gray foam.

Yance lifted the top of her head off, and looked down into the skull cavity. The CPU was carbonized, but it lifted out easily and the socket looked clean. He pulled the relatively new CPU from the salvaged motherboard and placed it into the empty socket. He was careful to replace the heat sink on top of that and clip it down. The last CPU had fried because the heat sink had rattled loose. He pulled the rows of 32 gig memory cards from their sockets and replaced them with the fast 512 gig cards from the wreck. Mizuki would have some considerable smarts if Yance could get her to wake up.

He snapped her skull shut and made an abortive attempt at rearranging her hair so it hid the seam. Yance grabbed the extension cord, unplugging the broken refrigerator he kept next to the back door. He found the Mizuki's power socket in a panel near her left ankle and plugged her in. Mizuki's eyes opened and the left one flashed red. Good, thought Yance, she's charging.

Yance's father was fond of saying that when you had need, the street would provide. That was in Brooklyn. Yance didn't live near streets, now. They called them roads up here in the boonies, but the road provided for almost all his needs. He didn’t have to break into wrecked cars very often. In one or two days of road combing he could get enough cans to buy cigarettes for the week, and with luck, he could find something valuable. He had once found a wallet with $500, and another time he had found a cell phone that worked for three months before the minutes ran out. He had bought his secret stash of smack from selling a crate of guns he had found half buried in a snow bank alongside the Thruway. When there was a need, all you had to do was be still, and patiently wait. Yes, the road provides.

The methadone was really kicking in and Yance felt good. He went into his trailer and stretched out on the couch. He turned on the history channel, but turned off the sound. He rolled a joint, lit it, and watched the images of Nazis death camps on the screen. It had been a productive day. He'd had a nice walk, he’d discovered a source for rolling papers, he'd cleaned out a valuable wreck, and soon Mizuki would be feeding the dogs and giving him blow jobs again. Life was good.

When he woke up the next morning, Mizuki was shaking him and talking in Japanese.

"What?" he asked, "What do you want? What time is it?" Yance looked out the window. The sky was pink and it was not yet full light. He tried to roll over and get back to sleep.

"Wake up, Master," Mizuki said, switching to English, "You got to get to work."

"Get out of here. I don't work."

"You gotta get up, Master." Mizuki had a sweet, exaggerated Japanese accent.

Yance rolled over and tried to ignore her. He thought of something and turned over looking at her with a grin.

"You charged up. That's great. Did you feed the dogs?"

"Dogs fed. Dishes washed. I need new batteries. This one no good," she pointed to her breasts, "You gotta get me new battery."

She said battery with a cute inflection. It sounded like bat-re with a lilting rolled R.

"Take off your dress. I need to know if you still work."

"No time for sexing. I need battery. Please where is your credit card?"

Yance had had a credit card once, and he had had nothing but trouble with it. The rightful owner made a terrible stink and tracked him down. Luckily, by the time the police came to get him, the credit card had been cancelled and Yance had already tossed it into a trashcan.

"I only pay cash."

"No good. I need a new battery. This one almost dead. Only last short time." She tugged on him, "You gotta go to Walmart and buy me a new one."

"All right, give me a bit. Make some coffee. I'll call Suarez and arrange for some credit."

"Who Suarez?"

"Frankie Suarez, down in Newburgh. Number's by the phone. He’s my contact—sells me my dope. Now get lost while I finish this dream."

Yance woke up an hour or two later feeling the first twinges of a jones building in his sinuses.

There was a pot of hot coffee in the machine. Mizuki was plugged in on the porch. Her eye pulsed amber. The dogs were asleep on the floor at her feet. Traitors, thought Yance, one good feeding and they fall in love.

There was a rip in Mizuki’s dress and Yance could just make out the start of her areola on the left breast. He bent over her, cupped her breast and rubbed the nipple with his thumb. There must have been enough charge in her batteries to power the response and the nipple crinkled up. He felt a stirring in his pants.

“Don’t touch me,” Mizuki said. She did this without moving, not even her mouth. “Batteries dead. Get me new batteries, or I can’t do anything.”

“You don’t have to do anything.” Yance said, “Just hold still for a minute. I won’t take long.”

Her legs snapped shut with a click sound. “Get me battery or no sexing for you.”

He cursed at her and started out the door. As he left, Mizuki said, “You a bum. You not a good man. A good man buys me batteries.”

Yance turned to answer her, but changed his mind. There was a switch under her scalp. Yance turned her off. She could charge up in silence. He didn’t need this shit.

Yance did what needed to be done to relieve his jones. He woke up a few hours later and went to the phone.

“Hey Frankie.”

“Hey Yance, what’s up.”

“I need a ride to Walmart.”

“What’s wrong with your truck?”

“Newburgh is a hike. I could get there in the old truck but it might not make it back.”

“Sure, I need to make a stop up near you. I’ll see you around four.”

Yance didn’t own a watch, so he decided the best thing would be to doze off until Frankie showed up. He woke up, it seemed, ten minutes later to the sound of the horn on Frankie’s 64 Chevy Bel Air.

The dogs were still sitting hopefully at Mizuki’s feet. There were fine letters scrolling across her open eyes. He bent over her and was just able to make out part of what they said:

Upgrading Operating System. Do not turn off unit until upgrade is complete.

Yance assured the dogs that Mizuki would feed them when he got back.

“Grab a beer from the back,” Frankie said as they pulled out onto the Huckleberry Turnpike towards Newburgh, “Why you going to Walmart?”

“Remember Mizuki?”

“The blow job puppet? She was hot.”

“I fixed her up with a new CPU and ram. She says she needs a new battery.”

“Why don’t you just keep her plugged in? That way she don’t need a battery at all.”

“I don’t know. She says she needs the batteries. I put a hot CPU in and now she’s all up with the attitude.”

“Next she’ll want to get married.”

“Tell me about it. I should never have upgraded her. With the old CPU she just did what she was told. Fed the dogs, did the laundry, and kept her mouth shut.”

“Well, not all the time, man,” Frankie laughed and poked Yance in the ribs with his elbow.

Frankie agreed to spring for half the cost of the batteries in exchange for having Mizuki come over to his place whenever his old lady went to visit her mother. In the end, they got them for free because the clerk who pulled the batteries from the stock area wasn’t paying attention, and nobody stopped them on the way out.

Yance pushed a button on Mizuki’s back and folded back a panel. He pulled the old batteries and replaced them with the new ones. These were the new kind that lasted a month on one charge. He closed her up and turned her on. A man’s voice came out of her: “Updating—please wait.”

The dogs started wagging their tails even before she sat up and looked around her.

“Good, new batteries.”

The dogs followed her to the kitchen. She filled their bowls with kibble.

“You need dog food. I will go buy tomorrow. You will give me money.”

She looked down at the dress she was wearing. It was rags. She went over to the box of clothes next to the bed and pulled out a gray hoodie and some sweatpants. She pulled off her dress and put them on. The pants were too long and too big at the waist, but she did some folding, tucking and tying and they suddenly fit her.

Yance had gotten aroused when she took her clothes off, but in the shapeless clothes, she might have been a boy, and decided that the time wasn’t right to demand anything.

She turned to him, “I need fixing. I need new hair and skin. CPU is wrong speed. We will take the train to New York tomorrow and get a new one. You will bring $1,500. I will need many repairs. I know where I can get it done.”

“Where am I going to get $1,500?” Yance asked, thinking about his reserve cash in the Probe. That was his retirement fund.

“You don’t need a new CPU or repairs right away. I can save up and we can do it in a while after I get the money together.”

Mizuki began to list all of Yance’s faults and told him that if he ever wanted sex from her again, that she would need to be repaired. She was a sophisticated piece of technology and could not go around with half a head of hair and rips in her plastic skin. She needed to be fully upgraded with compatible components and she needed to be cosmetically perfect or no one could expect her to do her job correctly. She needed expensive clothes and shoes.

The shoes were the last straw. “What do you need shoes for? You work here and your job is to fuck me and feed the dogs. You don’t need shoes.”

“I need to look good when I go out. You can’t expect me to do nothing but stay here and serve you and your stupid dogs for the next twenty years?”

Yance told her that that was exactly what he expected from her.

The conversation degraded fast and Yance slammed the door on the way out. As he started up his truck, he wondered why he was the one that was leaving. It was his trailer. Mizuki was his sex doll. He should have stayed.

Yance pulled over to the side of the road a little while later to inspect some trash left there. He half hoped he’d find an old laptop with a slow CPU. Mizuki’s new batteries would last a month. He had time. The road would provide. He would find some nice piece of tech with a good solid slow CPU. He could pull her hot CPU and the fast memory chips while she was charging and get the old Mizuki back. He liked the old Mizuki.

Yance saw a can on the other side of the road. He went and picked it up. Next to it was a burlap bag. He shook it out and put the can in. He smiled. The road provides. He walked along the road and soon had enough cans to buy a pack of cigarettes.
As he walked back to the truck, he imagined what it would be like with the old Mizuki, the way she was before the upgrade. He liked her small breasts and her cute way of talking. He liked her eagerness to try anything and the way she jumped up to feed the dogs when he asked her to. She had wonderful skills. Whoever had designed her tongue had been a genius.

He drove to the no-name gas station and bought cigarettes. They still hadn’t pointed a camera out towards the back. They probably didn’t even know that he had boosted the tech from the wreck. He decided to come back and see what else he could find. Maybe the slow CPU of his dreams was sitting in an older model sedan back there, just waiting for Mizuki’s cute little head.

Yance arrived back at his trailer to find it empty. Mizuki and the dogs were gone. There was a note on the kitchen table written in neat large letters.

Dear Yance,
I can’t live like this.
Frankie is taking me to the city.
I have Harry and Marjorie with me.
Have a nice life,
M


Harry and Marjorie? Who the hell were they? Yance realized that she had named the dogs. Yance had always just called them Dog and had never given them names.

Yance thought of something. He ran out the back into the yard, passing the wrecks of his old cars and found the Ford Probe.

The trunk lid was popped, and his stash was gone. All that was left were six cups of methadone and a single hundred dollar bill.
Yance was heartbroken. He had spent years putting together his retirement package. He’d have to start all over again.

His body ached and his nose was running. The jones was coming on stronger than ever. Yance had kicked his habit so many times that he could do it with relatively little pain, but a man needed his creature comforts. A hit of heroin, a smoke, and an occasional blow job is all that he asked for in life. Mizuki had taken all he had and left him with nothing.

He downed a cup of methadone and sat on the couch feeling sorry for himself. He watched black and white movies from the 1940s with the sound turned off. The methadone made him drowsy. He dozed and dreamed.

In the dream he found another sex doll in the trunk of a wrecked car. This one was tall and Swedish looking. She had big tits and rubbed them in his face. Yance woke up with a hard on.

It wasn’t fair that Mizuki had left him. He was alone. It was hard being alone. Yance thought about meeting someone. Maybe in the parking lot of the rest stop on the Thruway he’d meet some hot chick who liked older guys with thinning hair and gray fu-manchu mustaches, and she’d invite him into her back seat. Maybe he’d find that Swedish sex doll and this time he wouldn’t make the mistake of upgrading her.

He dozed off again and dreamed of Mizuki. She was hugging him and telling him how much she loved him. She said she’d do anything for him. In the dream the dogs were on the bed and were smiling to see him.

When he awoke again, he decided that tomorrow he’d have to go out and walk the side of the roads. The road would provide. He thought of all the things he’d find and how he would get his stash back and rebuild his retirement fund. He had a deep and abiding need. The road would provide. If he was lucky, Mizuki would be waiting for him when he got back.

END





Return Next Friday
April 27
for

NIGHT SONG OF THE FUNGI
by Vincent Daemon



only on

the FREEZINE of
Fantasy and Science
Fiction

Friday, April 13, 2012

SATAN'S DOG

by Gil James Bavel



It was a fine day for sport, and it was on this day that I met up with Satan’s Dog. I’d been seeing him around for years, actually—and this was the fourth time in a fortnight that we’d had a meeting of the ways—but, as happy as I was to see him, I was a bit bewildered as to why he would show up at a football match. Sheffield United were leading Manchester City by two goals.

Satan’s Dog trotted up, panting slightly and wagging his tail. He was a normal Scot terrier, except for his ability to speak, the fiery red glow that surrounded him, which sometimes grew quite fierce when he became angry, and the odd supernatural power. He sat down next to me and shook his coat.

“Hey there, Joe,” Satan’s Dog said merrily. “How’s it going?”

“Fine, fine. Odd seeing you here, old boy,” I replied, pulling out my bag of crisps. “I had no idea you were a sportsman!”

Unfolding the half-empty bag, I pulled out a few crisps and threw him one which he deftly caught in his mouth with a short jump.

“Oh, yes, quite,” Satan’s Dog said, chewing, “I like a good game now and again. I even go out for the odd cricket match every so often,” he said, finishing his crisp and gulping it down. “When Master lets me, of course.” He sat up and wagged his tail, begging for another crisp.

I ate a few myself, and threw him another one, keeping my eyes on the match. Manchester City were now in possession of the ball and Sheffield United were having a hard time taking it.

“How is the Old Boy these days?” I asked, popping the last of the crisps into my mouth.

“Oh, he’s all burned up about the Ethical Humanism thing again. Says belief in him has been waning since the Sixties.”

I shoved the crumpled crisps packet in my jacket pocket, and picked up my glass of Watney’s.

“You’d think he’d be quite pleased, what with the New Age movement and all the rekindled interest in the supernatural lately,” I said, taking another drink. I wiped off the foam on my sleeve, and engaged in a group roar as City scored another goal. They now trailed by two to one.

“That’s just it,” the little Scot terrier said with a doggie frown. “They’re all into this Pagan nonsense nowadays; druidism, getting back to nature and all that. There just isn’t much devil-worship going on. Witchcraft is down. And even among the New Agers, there’s little action. They barely even acknowledge the Horned God.”

I could see Satan’s Dog was getting pretty fired up about the topic, for his coat faintly glowed with hellfire. I wasn’t worried; few people could see him anyway. He paused to scratch, and then turned back to watch the game.

I bent down with my cup to offer him a drink. “Care for a pint?” I asked, setting it down next to the dog.

He sniffed it and took a gulp, ducking his snout in it. “Ack!” he exclaimed, knocking the cup over with his nose. “Red Barrel?” Satan’s Dog pawed at his mouth with both front paws and spit about, making quite a dramatic display over nothing, I thought. “I don’t know how you can drink that stuff,” he said, sticking his ample tongue out. “Tastes horrible.” He laid down on the pitch and began to eat some grass.

I looked at him with my arms crossed. “Look, mate, you didn’t have to go spilling the whole lot of it, though.”

The terrier simply looked up at me in between chews and said, “Well, Joe, you didn’t want to go drinking that after a dog had been in it, did you?”

There was a brief moment’s pause, and then we both burst into spasms of uncontrollable laughter. After we calmed down, Satan’s Dog sat up and said, “Well, that’s what you get for drinking Red Barrel. Did you a favor, if you ask me.” He was actually quite fond of beer, as most dogs are, but I suppose he considered himself a bit of an aficionado. The dog generally preferred a good stout, but then again, who doesn’t?

I turned to my canine friend with a questioning eye. “What are your plans for after the match?” I pulled out a fiver. Care to swing ‘round the pub?”

The terrier shook his head. “’Fraid not. Much as I’d like to, I’m invited to the palace for tea.”

I threw up my hands. “You’re having tea with Her Majesty again? That’s gotta be the third time in a month, mate. I think the Queen is sweet on you.”

Satan’s Dog rolled his eyes and scratched again. “She just thinks I’m cute, that’s all.”

“Right,” I said, giving him the old wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

He stood up on all fours, and prepared to leave, first walking over to a nearby wall and lifting a leg. “Tell you what, tho’,” he said, doing his business, “You finish your game here, and I’ll meet you at the pub for a couple of pints later.”

I agreed. “All right. Oh, by the way, bring me one or two of those scones she always serves, will you? They’re delicious.” Satan’s Dog gave me a nod, and trotted off to have his tea with the Queen. As it happened, she was the only living member of the Royal Family that could see the dog. She did enjoy his company, and he always had a standing invitation at Buckingham whenever he was up. Of course, he had no trouble getting past the beefeaters—hell, that dog would walk right off with as much of the crown jewels as he could carry in his mouth, and no one would be any the wiser.

I pulled out a Dunhill, lit up, and watched the rest of the match. It was indeed a fine afternoon’s football, City ended up trouncing Sheffield United 5-2, which was rather expected, but a pleasant match nonetheless. I saw an old friend of mine on the way out, Stan Willingham, and he agreed to meet me at the pub later. I knew he would like Satan’s Dog. I just hoped he’d be able to see him. He ought to be the type, I thought. An imaginative guy, Stan, not so totally absorbed in the fabric of reality that he couldn’t see Satan’s Dog hiding in amongst the folds. As they cleared the pitch, we had a couple of smokes and cracked bad jokes about the Prime Minister. Parting ways about six, we agreed to meet at the pub around eight.

As I opened the door to the house, I could smell that the wife had dinner on for six-thirty, and it was chops tonight.

“Hello, luv,” I yelled into the kitchen, hanging up my cap and jacket.

“’Evening, dear,” she replied, banging around pots and pans. “Your dinner will be on in a few.”

“All right,” I said, walking in. She had biscuits on the table, too, I could see, and gravy in a pan for the mashed potatoes. I gave her a big hug, and with my arms around her, planted her a wet kiss on the mouth. “Judith,” I said, looking her straight in the eye, “You’re an angel on Earth if ever there was one.”

“Don’t I know it,” she replied, kissing me back and then pushing me off. “Now get out or I’ll scald you,” she said, grabbing a pan and waving it menacingly.

“All right, all right, I’m goin’,” I said, scooting out of the kitchen at her command. As I grabbed the paper off the hall table, she called for me to have a look at the loo, that damn plumber hadn’t been in to fix it yet.

“What, just before supper, luv?” I implored.

She just stuck her head around the corner into the hall and said, “Oh, go on, read your paper then.”

And so I did.

After a fine meal and a look at the loo, which was still beyond my ken, I donned my hat and coat, and with a nod to the wife, was out the door to the pub. As it was just down the way, I dispensed with the car and hoofed it. I was there in a few minutes, and the sun was just setting over the horizon when I opened the door to Max’s Green Taxi.

All the boys were there, and I was surprised to see Satan’s Dog had already arrived. He had somehow finagled someone that could see him into buying him one, and was working on the harder-to-reach bottom of a pint as I approached him.

“Now there’s something you don’t see every day,” I started, “A dog sitting on a barstool, drinking a beer.”

The terrier simply looked up at me, licked his whiskers, and said, “Something you should see a lot more of, if you ask me.” He paused for a second, and then added, “’Course, I wouldn’t be talking if I were you, mate. You were the one what was quaffing a Watney’s this afternoon.”

I smiled and pulled out a fiver. “Quite right you are, mate. Max?” I said, turning to the portly owner at the bar, “I’ll have a pint, please.” Max nodded, and I looked on as he drew me a glass of beer, and passed him the fiver when he brought it over.

Max shot me an amused look and said, “Joe, this is your first one of the evening and you’re already talking to y’self. Am I gonna hafta worry about you tonight?”

Max knew that Satan’s Dog was more than a running joke we all brought up when someone discovered that his once-full beer had been drained. Funny how no one ever seemed to notice that glasses of Watney’s Red Barrel always managed to remain unmolested to the end of their natural lifespans. And he wonders why I drink the stuff. That Dog’s not as smart as he seems, considering he can talk. He is up on most blokes, though.

I just smiled at Max sheepishly and said, “No, Max, I think tonight I’ll take it easy on you. Just a few.” Max nodded again, and handed me the change from my fiver.

“Well, see that you do,” he chided, smiling, “I’ll not be pickin’ you up off the floor again.” At that, the lads gave a group laugh, and even Satan’s Dog choked on his drink.

They were referring, of course, to my performance in last week’s darts match, played as usual by Max’s house rules. All players except the thrower must take a drink for every shot he hits.

When the thrower misses his shot, he has to drink twice. Makes for a pretty lousy darts game, but it sells a fair lot of drinks, and we all have a good time. I had almost forgotten it was darts night at Max’s.

“Count me out for the first few, lads,” I said, taking a quaff from my glass.

Satan’s Dog sat up on his stool and looked at me. “Not playing tonight?”

“Nahh,” I said, setting the glass down on the bar. “Can’t afford it.”

He cocked his head in curiosity in the way that only dogs can. “Surely the boys would spot you.”

I shook my head. “That’s not what I mean. Last week, I came home late. The wife waited up for me, and she was none too pleased, I can tell you that. Bored me a new blowhole, she did. My ears are still ringin’.”

Satan’s Dog finished his glass and hopped off the stool. “Ah, yes, wives. Master is always saying that they were among his finer creations.”

“Hmm.” I mused. “Were they his?”

“Well of course. Wives, not women.”

“Yes, I suppose they must have been. Oh, I don’t know, really, they’re all right, once you—” I stopped and thought hard for a minute.

The little terrier looked at me quizzically from the floor and said, “Face it, Joe. You’ve got one foot in the grave.”

I picked up my ale from the bar, and replied, “Right you are, sonny, right about that. One foot in the grave, and the other in Heaven’s door.” And with that, I tossed back what remained of my beer, set the glass down, toed the line, and as per Max’s house rules, proceeded to throw three successive bullseyes. The boys all groaned and started drinking.

Satan’s Dog said, “That’s all the luck you’ll get from me tonight. I gotta take a leak.” And trotted out the door.



Stan waltzed in well after nine, spotting me right away. He walked over and raised a hand, pulling out his wallet for a beer.

“’Lo there, Joe. Sorry, I’m late, got held up on the home front. Mind if I sit down?” he asked, preparing to sit down on the very stool occupied by Satan’s Dog, who, to my dismay, he obviously couldn’t see.

“Sure, Stannie,” I said, rising, “but let’s grab a table.” I led us over to an empty spot near the bar, away from the activity of the darts match. Stan pulled a chair out, and we had a seat as Satan’s Dog jumped up onto the third chair.

Max raised his head and called out from the bar, “What’ll it be, Stannie?”

“A Guinness for me, please, Max.” Stan fished a fiver out from his wallet and put it out on the table. I knew as soon as Max brought the glass that Stan’s evening was off to a good start, for my terrier friend eyed his stout greedily and licked his chops in anticipation.

“Oh, stop it,” I said, chiding Satan’s Dog while Max brought Stan’s change.

Stan looked at me indignantly. “Bugger off, mate, I haven’t even had one yet!” he said.

“No, not you,” I replied with a sigh.

Max smiled and said in Stan’s ear, “At least he’s not playing any more darts tonight.”

Stan laughed, smiled at Max, and took an initial sip, the foam still heading. “Ahh, nothing like the first taste of a beer in the evening, ayy, Joe?”

“You got that right, brother,” said the Scot terrier to Stan’s left. I simply raised my glass in a silent toast that was more to conceal my smile than anything.

Stan got up from his chair and gave a tug on his shirt. “Cor’, not been here five minutes, and I’ve already got to visit the loo.”

Satan’s Dog eyed Stan’s glass again, and remarked, “Pity.”

Stan scooted his chair under the table and said, “Be back.” With that, the Scot jumped right up on the table and was soon drinking right out of the poor man’s glass. I knew there was nothing for it, but I shot my friend a disapproving look all the same.

“What?” queried the dog with a hurt look, pulling his snout up out of the tall glass. “That’s what a man gets for leaving a fine Guinness stout unattended like this,” he explained, returning to the beer. I laughed, taking a drink of my own newly replenished beverage.

Soon, Stan returned from the loo, and Satan’s Dog jumped back down to the empty chair. It didn’t take Stan long, of course, to see that most of his glass was gone since he’d left.

“I say, mate, that’s a dirty stunt you pulled,” he said, holding his pillaged glass. “And while I was evacuating me bladder, too.” Stan shook his head, and the terrier licked his whiskers.

I smiled. “It weren’t me, mate. I’ve got a perfectly good Red Barrel goin’ here.”

Stan frowned. “If you can call a Watney’s perfectly good. Perfectly good waste of money, if you ask me.” Stan punctuated his remark by taking a swig of what was left of his stout.

Satan’s Dog nodded. “Man’s got taste.” He stated quite matter-of-factly. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Stan looked at me, and held up his glass. “Well, then, Joe, if it weren’t you, who was it what filched my beer right out of the glass, here in front of God and everybody?”

Without missing a beat, I said, “Why, it was Satan’s Dog, of course, Stannie.” As soon as my words left my lips, everyone burst out laughing, even Max—or rather, especially Max, who had been keeping a keen eye on us for just such an occurrence. Stan flushed, smiled, and then stood up finally to accept the rousing chorus of applause that bombarded him from the room. As far as he was concerned, he’d been set up and royally had. Those few of us that could see Satan’s Dog knew better, of course, but weren’t about to say anything. I just clapped and eyed my friend with a smile.

The dog jumped down off of the chair and looked at me. “Just as a dog is man’s best friend, a dog’s best friend is a good stout beer. And that, mate, is all she wrote.” With that, Satan’s Dog headed for the door, no doubt to make use of some convenient fire hydrant. In the meantime, Max brought over a fresh refill for Stan.

Max took a bow and resumed his duties at the bar.

After a time, things returned to normal—or, at least, as normal as they ever get at Max’s Green Taxi—and by now both Stan and the Scot terrier were getting a pretty serious drunk on. Not at all unusual for either of them, but I could sense an odd combination coming on. Stan was slowly becoming able to see Satan’s Dog.

I first knew when Stan began doing double-takes in the dog’s general direction. At one point in the evening, Stan looked at me, then at his glass, then at Satan’s Dog, then back at me, and finally back at his glass. A look of bewilderment crossed his face.

“I keep lookin’ at this chair over here, Joe,” he said, honestly unaware of whether it was the beer or his eyes that were playing tricks on him, “and I keep seein’ this weird, uh—” He shook his head for a second. “Well, uh, glow. I keep seein’ this glow and it’s just on the chair, not anywhere elsh—but I’ve had a few, if you know what I mean.”

Stan just sat there, looking right at my friend the Scot terrier, and him looking right back. I, for one, was pretty confused. I mean, people could usually either see Satan’s Dog, or they couldn’t.

Now, it appeared, that in light of his drunken state, Stan’s rusty imagination was getting a little much-needed exercise, which allowed him to perceive the glowing hound sitting next to him.

Finally, after about half an hour of Stan looking around with paranoia, he leaned over.

“Look, ‘ol buddy. We been mates a long time. So level with me.” Stan looked around once more and whispered, “Is there a flaming dog sitting right there?”

I looked around suspiciously, first left, then right, and when I was sure that no one else was looking, I looked Stan straight in the eye and said, “Stannie, meet Satan’s Dog.”

Stan groggily turned his gaze from my face to the chair at which the dog was seated. He then nearly jumped out of his chair. Stan was definitely seeing him, now. Fully.

Satan’s Dog stood up, leaning one front paw on the table, and offered the other to Stan.

“Shake?” he said.

Stan took the paw before he caught the dog’s joke, then chuckled half in disbelief that he was chuckling at a joke told by a dog. The Scot shook his hand zealously, saying, “Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. And might I add that I do admire your taste in beer.”

Stan was so astonished and drunk that he somehow strangely believed what he was seeing and hearing. “Uh, yes, quite.” Stan replied. He put one hand to his head, and with the other pushed his sixth or seventh pint of Guinness away.

“Wait just one bloody minute,” he said, with a sudden clarity of thought. “You can’t be serious.”

He ended up pointing a finger at Satan’s Dog drunkenly.

“I’m totally Sirius.” The dog shot back, wagging his tail and licking Stan’s face in a most undignified manner. Somehow, Stan must have seen the humor in it, for he looked at me and then abruptly fell off his chair, howling with laughter. Satan’s Dog sat back down in his chair, thought better of it, and bounded up onto the table to spontaneously finish off the rest of Stan’s glass by tipping it over and lapping up the spillage. When Stan had composed himself enough to rise back up to table level, he took one look at the spectacle, and fell back down on the floor in a new fit of laughter. He laughed so hard it brought tears to his eyes.

And that’s how my friend Stan met Satan’s Dog.

The terrier looked down at Stan rolling on the floor, and returned to his seat. “I think I like this bloke,” he said, licking his whiskers.

After Stan had regained a semblance of normality, he sat up and said to the dog, “You have got to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, for a dog.”

The Scot terrier nodded and said, “Likewise, I’m sure. Look, Joe, why don’t you pay your bill and let’s get out of here. I have some friends I want you to meet.”

And so, with that, we paid our bill, waved goodbye to Max, and left the Green Taxi for destinations unknown.

We’d follow that dog to the gates of Hell if there was a laugh in it for us.

~The End~











Return Next Friday
April 20
for

MIZUKI
by Keith Graham



only on

the FREEZINE of
Fantasy and Science
Fiction

Thursday, April 5, 2012

ELDER CRUISER: V

© 2012 by John Shirley




Voices echoing through a pitch black cavern, phasing in and out of audibility...

“I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s dying...” A man’s voice in the darkness. Someone Len hadn’t heard before. “...don’t think we’ll get him into suspension in time, and the ambulance—another twenty minutes minimum. He’s fairly old anyway and—”

The white security guard interrupted, “Mr. Burstein says—”

A woman interrupted him. “I don’t care what he says—he can fire me if he wants!” Len recognized the woman’s voice. Anne. His Anne. “I’m taking care of this man right here and now. Just get the hell out of research!”

“Ms Feldman, hey—listen, we also got to think about deniability, he’s been in this lab, whatever he saw here, he can’t be talking about it out there.”

“I’ll be responsible for that too,” she said.

The unknown man’s voice once more. “You can’t do it without the program’s approval and you can’t get that without using an account—and you don’t have an account to use.”

“We do have one.” Anne’s voice.

A pause. Then his father’s voice, almost whining. “It would give it all to him. And I’ve come so far with this, Anne...”

“Just...” Anne’s voice was fading. “Let’s lift him up on the...” Len was too weak to hear the rest. Strange to think of being too weak simply to hear something. Wasn’t that almost the definition of being dead? Wasn’t that...




“I’ve got him stabilized,” Anne said. “I don’t know for how long.”

If I’m hearing Anne, I’m probably not dead.

Len opened his eyes, and through a blurring filminesss he saw he was in a kind of coffin, with the lid partly tilted back. Sarcophagus.

“Anne...Listen...” His father’s voice. How was that possible. Wasn’t his father dead? “I don’t know how I feel about it...I mean, I’m sorry about the deception but...”

Anne stepped into Len’s line of sight, smiling down at him. The sight of her face struck through him. He was seeing her now—and decades ago. Seeing her hurt expression as he pulled his hand from hers in the vertical farm. Farther back, after their third date: Anne waking up beside him, a sweet, almost maternal look on her face, something like the expression she had now...

She squeezed his hand, her touch strong and warm. “You awake? Your heart gave out, but we’ve got it going again. I don’t think you have a lot of time, though, Leonard, unless we do something radical. You want to see if we can get you to the ER? I’m not sure you’d survive the transition, hon.”

He shook his head. Managed to speak through a throat that felt coated in dust. Rasping, “Stay here with you.” Christ. I’m talking like a four year old.

“Barry, listen...” She was looking at Len’s father, her voice charged with a soft urgency. “Your own son is lying here, dying of old age. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Of course it does,” Barry said earnestly.

Yeah, right, Len thought. Give him a Daytime Emmy. Were there still Daytime Emmys?

“We have one treatment we can give,” Anne said, gently. “Barry—if I don’t give him your last one, he dies.”

“But—I started my treatment already. You said there’d be a telomerase cascade...” Now he sounded sincere.

“Yes. If you don’t have the last treatment, you’ll start to age, right away. And it’ll happen at an accelerated pace.”

“And then...what? I’ll die? Is my death really the right thing, here? That’s...not fair.”

Len felt a bone-deep weakness creeping up on him, threatening to make his limbs crumble like old timbers with dry rot. Pain was welling up like a slow thick fountain of cold, toxic fluid in his chest. But all that was secondary to an instinctive, visceral sense of pure rejection. There was something primeval in the feeling. His father had rejected his own blood, trading it for vanity.

Len could barely speak. And if he could speak—what would he say to all this? He could never say, “No dad, you should die—not me...

“Maybe we should ask Len,” Anne suggested, almost too softly to hear.

Don’t do that. Trying to answer that question might kill him. He wanted time to talk to Anne a little more...

He took a deep breath, and made himself speak. “Anne...”

Even that was too much. He fell back into darkness...




Len blinked, cleared his eyes, and stared at the slanting bars of translucent gold, scintillating through the window. He focused, saw that the slanting goldness was simply sunlight and the scintillation was dust particles churning in the light. But the sun seemed unusually vibrant, almost solid. He could feel it humming, inside him...

“You awake, Len?” Anne asked.

He turned his head. Was surprised when the motion didn’t hurt.

She was smiling at him, sitting next to his bed in the clinic recovery room. Soothing pale blue walls. Digital seascapes, the sea moving gently within the frame.

“He...my dad—he gave me the...” He was surprised at the sound of his own voice. It didn’t have that old man’s huskiness anymore.

“Yes.” She looked away, compressed her lips.

“My dad did this for me? He gave up his last treatment to save me?”

She cleared her throat. Sounded almost convincing as she said, “Yes he did.”

Len looked at her. Then he shook his head. “You never had a gift for lying. Lots of talents, you. Not that one. What’d you really do?”

She sighed, and shrugged. “You’re right—he didn’t choose you over himself. I chose. After I did it, he asked me to tell you he’d let you have it—so he could go out with you forgiving him.” She smiled ruefully. “I got fired for it. I’m out of a job. But I gave you his last treatment...”

She shrugged again, reached out and took his hands between hers. Her touch was alive, almost electrical. And he saw that his hands, in hers, were not those of a very old man, nor a very young one. “All the wrong people seem to get rejuvenation. I wanted something for us, Len. We paid our dues.”

Len turned his hands so that her fingers slipped within his.

“Listen...have I said I’m sorry, Anne? I’ve spent the whole second half of my life being sorry I was so stupid...” The touch of her hand in his was as intimate as anything he’d ever felt.




Len waved at the nurse supervisor, and strode past the vital care admission desk, into the hospice hallway. Mahela didn’t recognize him, with the partial rejuvenation.

His father wasn’t in the same room Len had been in—he was on the other side of the building. This window looked to the west and they could see the mercuric expanse of the sea, a quarter mile away, gnawing at the eroding buildings of sunken Santa Monica. Barry could watch the past sinking.

Anne was already there, seated by dad’s bed, holding his hand—holding Barry Winniver’s withered, age spotted hand.

You can’t interfere with stage three, unless you start the stage over. And Barry hadn’t any way to pay for the third stage, once Anne had given it to Len.

The reaction had set in; the telomerase cascade had come; the geriatric regression...

“You look good, son,” said the withered old man, lying in the bed. His voice a croak. But the ironic smile was bright enough. That Winniver smile.

“Thanks.” He had nothing to say that wasn’t awkward. He knew there was no reason he should feel guilty—but he felt vaguely guilty anyway. “I feel good.”

“You can’t get Len all the way to full retread, Anne?” Barry Winniver asked, looking out the window. Barry, “Zach”—Leonard Winniver’s father.

She shook her head. “I couldn’t get away with that—didn’t have access. It was hard enough to get him off the hook for breaking in to Jensen...”

Len put his hand on his father’s bony shoulder. He could feel the aging, the deterioration under his hand. He was stunned at how quickly the reaction had set in—the regression. He took a breath, and tried out his own acting. “You sorry you gave it to me, dad?”

Barry Winniver shook his head. “I was having trouble being a retread. Couldn’t quite live with it.” A weak smile. “So to speak. Maybe ‘Zack’ did drop a hint or two to you on purpose...” He shrugged. “I wanted you to have it, son. Even before you showed up at Jensen...”

Len nodded. Not bad, for a sick old man.

Dad cleared his throat. “I just wish...you could have had it all. Full treatment.”

Len patted his father’s shoulder. “I’m just fine with being forty-five years old, again—biologically forty-five. Thanks, dad. I know it wasn’t easy. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is to face...” Least he could do was let the old man off the hook.

Barry glanced at Anne. “He won’t lose it all of a sudden, like me?”

She shook her head, her lips pressed together. “Nope. Len will age at a normal rate, here on out.” She stood up, patting the old man’s hand, and turned to Len, and said, “We should go, Len. We’ve got a three hour drive down the coast. Your dad needs rest.”

“Sure.”

Len’s father squinted blearily up at his son, frowning, foggily puzzled. It was as if Barry Winniver wasn’t entirely sure how he’d ended up like this—their positions reversed. Not long ago he’d been the strong young man at the bedside. “I don’t know,” his dad said aloud. “I don’t know. But...” Turning his head to gaze again out the window at the old buildings lapped by the sea. “...I’m sorry it took me so long to do the right thing.”

Barry's rheumy old eyes filled with tears. His best performance. Or maybe there was something real in it.

“That’s all right dad.” Len smiled. And continued the pretense. “You saved me in the end.”

“Well, you two...should go,” the old man murmured. “I need to rest.”

Len reached out, and squeezed his father’s hand. Just once.

“Goodbye, dad,” he said.



~ end ~




ELDER CRUISER

by John Shirley







Be Sure To Return
~Next Friday, the 13th~
when we present

the short tale
SATAN'S DOG
by Gil James Bavel



Only on
the FREEZINE of
Fantasy and Science
Fiction




Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ELDER CRUISER: IV

© 2012 by John Shirley




Once more he was tempted to confrontation. He could tap Anne on the shoulder, demand to know what was going on. But if he did, all she had to do was brush a finger over a corner of the screen on her workstation, and the data would vanish. Considering the high security trappings here, the secrecy—she might well lie to him. Or shrug him off.

Len toggled the elder cruiser back, then triggered it into opening up. Trying not to groan aloud—barely managing it—he climbed out, keeping a hand on the cruiser to steady himself. Then he adjusted its manual controls, hit the GO button, sending the unoccupied elder cruiser zipping around at random as he stepped to one side of the door to the adjoining lab, leaning against the wall. Dizzy, but determined. The elder cruiser was banging into things in the lab with an apparent air of anarchistic glee. Crash, a table; thump, a wall. Crash, another table. It was making more noise than he’d intended. Going to bring the guards...

It brought Anne first, as he’d hoped. She came striding through the door, muttering—jumping back to avoid the cruiser. “What the hell is this doing in here!” She didn’t see him pressed to the wall in the corner, behind her. He slipped through the door to the adjoining lab, glancing back—seeing her trying to turn off the cruiser. It darted perversely out of her reach. She cursed, and told it to stop instantly and it ignored her. Wrong voice.

He chuckled, and limped unsteadily over to the transparent sarcophagus, a queasy suspicion forming as he looked at “Zach,” tubes feeding into his nude body. Len turned to the display in the workstation. Blocks of color floated in the air, each one holding a file. He touched the nearest. A name came up on it. He squinted, read the name over three times, and his heart seemed to crash around in his chest like the elder cruiser in the lab.

He touched another block labeled restoration unit maintenance. He flicked a finger into End Program. A window popped up.

Warning. Your Subject Will Awaken. Continue? Yes/No

Kind of reckless of him to press yes. So...Yes.

The high-tech sarcophagus clicked, and whirred, and a series of lights along its base went yellow. Its upper half tilted slowly back, opening, releasing a cryptic smell—a concentration of that background smell mixing the humanly organic with chemical harshness. The man in the translucent sarcophagus stirred, slowly waking.

Len watched, keeping a hand on the workstation for balance. Vaguely aware the banging had stopped in the other room.

The vertigo was returning...black dots swarmed and receded...his knees wobbled...He’d pushed it too hard. He felt close to collapse. Another energizer would probably kill him.

“I’ve called security...” Anne’s voice, behind him.

Len turned—saw her standing there clumsily holding a high-end taser in her hand.

Pointing it at him. He shook his head. “You ever fire one of those, Anne? The one time I wanted to take you shooting, when we lived together, you wouldn’t go. ‘Course, that was actual guns. You remember I had a rifle? You always hated it...”

She stared—and lowered the taser. “Leonard?

“What’s left of me.”

She let her mouth drop open. Then she raised the taser again. “No—you’re not.” She nodded toward Zach. “That’s Leonard...So who the hell are you?”

His turn to gape. He stared at Zach. The kid did look like him.

Zach was pretending to be him.

He shook his head at her. Felt his heart trying to knock its way from his ribcage. “Anne...that’s—he said he was my nephew. He’s—if you think he’s me, then he’s pretending to be me...He’s...I don’t know, a clone of me, uploaded or something.”

“Oh yes?” She snorted. “A clone? When he came to me first he was an old man. He’s a retread now. That is Leonard Winniver—rejuvenated. It’s...”

Oh, no. “He was old, when he came to you?” Rejuvenated...

Len hobbled closer to the sarcophagus. He looked closely at “Zach”—and thought about his childhood. Picturing his father’s face. “Oh Lord. He’s made some facial changes so it’s not too obvious, but...”

His father’s funeral had been closed coffin. They’d thought it was vanity...

She lowered the taser again, turned to look at Len. She gasped, put a hand over her mouth. “You are Len. You are! Oh my god, you have to be. Look at you.” She pointed at ‘Zach.’ “So...who’s that?”

He had to steady himself on the edge of the workstation. “That’s...I think it’s my father. A pretty damned good actor, after all. Pretending to be me, for you, because he knew...about us. And...” Len had to take a long, steadying breath.

She reached out and touched his face, making him shiver. A pleasant shiver. “You have blood on your face!”

“Do I? Oh yes. A little...mishap. Nothing serious.”

“How’d you ever get in?”

Len shrugged. “The roof and.... Anne—this man...”

“You don’t really think it’s your father...Your father is dead.”

“I never saw him die. He wanted to be alone, when he went. He said. Which—seemed strange to me. And then—this guy turned up in my hospice. He said he was my nephew—and I saw him as my nephew. Because—he was acting. Anne—” He touched the sarcophagus. “What is this thing he’s in?”

She seemed to vacillate. Then her shoulders sagged. “That ‘thing’ he’s in...Um—is a nano immersion unit. MicroRNA ‘walkers’—the unit guides cell repair nanos. Telomerase rebuilds, cell regeneration, RNA reset. Cell by cell repair.”

The supine man groaned, and muttered. The man’s voice a croak. “Lenny...”

She stared at Len, trying to process it. “You’re Lenny...and he’s...”

Len nodded. “My father...”

She stepped closer, absently touched her tongue, used the tip of her finger to wipe blood off Len’s face. “Lenny...”

Len turned to look at the open “sarcophagus.” The man in the immersion unit opened his eyes. He looked at Len, his gaze clearing, sharpening. They knew one another. He cleared his throat. “Thought I heard your voice.”

“Dad?” Len shook his head. “Oh Jesus. What did you do?”

Blinking rapidly, the man who’d played the part of Zach Winniver sat up in the sarcophagus. Plastic tubes disconnected themselves from his limbs, and slithered away. Where they’d connected to him his skin looked slightly bruised but unbroken. He swallowed. “Oh God. I feel sick...” His voice was froggish.

“You may as well get out of the unit, Barry,” Anne said leadenly. “The process is interrupted. It’s a mess now. Going to take time to reset. If it can be done at all. You’re going to feel shitty for awhile.” Her lips trembled. “You seemed so much like Lenny. You really are a lying son of a bitch.”

Barry Winniver grimaced. “I guess I am.”

“He’s an actor,” Len said, ruefully. “You study video of me from late in my life, dad?”

His father smiled faintly and shrugged. “Yeah.”

Len felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. “You had to be hiding a hell of a lot of money. You faked your death—you let me shrivel up so you could...” Len blinked away tears. “You know, dad—that’s not the arrangement people usually have with nature.”

Anne sighed, opened the lower panel on the sarcophagus, helped Barry Winniver out. He seemed as unsteady as a very old man, though he appeared physically young, perfectly formed.

“I...nearly did die,” dad said. “I was sick, genuinely sick, close to dying.”

“He was in semi-suspension for years,” Anne said. She found a white bathrobe in a metal drawer under the sarcophagus, and helped Barry into it. She moved about methodically. As if she had to do something, keep busy.

Len tried to imagine his father engineering the whole thing. “Semi-suspension...” The technology slowed the body down to less than a crawl. Iced but not frozen, chemically treated, a suspended animation so people could wait for medical breakthroughs. And it seemed the ultimate breakthrough had come—for those with the money. “He had some kind of deposit with this company?”

She nodded. “Jensen brought him out of it,” she went on, methodically massaging Barry’s arms. “When it was ready for him.”

“But—what name was it under? Barry? Leonard? Zach? What?”

“Um—Suspension Patient three thousand...something. Their original names are commonly fudged. Just, you know, special bank numbers, that sort of thing. People slated for rejuvenation often don’t want it out. You find out though—I mean, I recognized Donald Trump because my aunt used to work for him, and when I was a kid—”

“Who? You mean the guy with ‘that thing on his head’? Had some casinos, a TV show?”

“Yeah. Pretended to die. Like...” She gave Barry a look of mild disgust. “...and, you know, they come back young as someone else or someone related. Like your ‘nephew’ here or like Bloomberg did. Or Donald Rudock—”

“No way. Rudock? The creepy old multimedia billionaire? Come on, he died years ago!”

She shook her head. “Rejuvenated. He’s a retread under another name...”

“But—” Len shook his head in sick disbelief. “I mean, Bloomberg wasn’t…isn’t…a bad guy...but Costin and Rudock…it sounds as if some of the worst people get rejuvenated.”

Barry and Anne nodded, simultaneously—Barry with a look of mild regret. “You got that right,” Anne said sadly. “Who can afford rejuvenation? Some of the worst people around. Michael Costin “junior”—what a jerk he was to work with. The most commercial, narcissistic entertainers. The greediest tycoons. They don’t want average people to know about it, demanding rejuvenation so they come back...as someone slightly different. But the same.”

“So...” Len rubbed his throbbing head. He badly wanted a tall glass of beer, right then. With a whiskey chaser. Though it might kill him. “So we’ll have some of the worst people from big media and politics and business—around for hundreds of years, maybe thousands? Just getting worse and worse...”

She whined. “When you put it like that...”

Barry chuckled. “It was Don Rudock who told me about it when I did some work for Tox News. All this...” He waved at the lab. “This has been quietly in the works for a long time...Retreads, Lenny,” added Len’s dad sadly, voice still hoarse. His dad, Barry Winniver.

Who was a hundred-and-seven—who looked like a young man in his twenties. “That’s the slang.”

Dad put a hand to his mouth, looking like he was trying to keep from throwing up. “Starting over, like me. I’m starting over as Zach Winniver.” He smiled ruefully. “The ‘young actor.’ My own grand-nephew.”

Len looked at Anne—and saw she was silently crying. But she was looking at him as she wept—not at his father.

“I’m sorry, Len,” his father said, finally. “I thought about arranging it for you. But it was you or me.”

“Yep, that would have decided it right there,” Len said, his head whirling.

“The money wasn’t there for us both and—I just couldn’t face what was coming. It was a chance to do my life right. Do my career right... And—I wanted to see you off. Say goodbye. As Zach. Least I could do.”

“So guilt brought you to me. Visiting me in the hospice. Pretending to be Zach.” Len squeezed his eyes shut, and opened them again, trying to clear his vision. Those leaping black dots leapt away, and back again. “Was it maybe a little penitence, dad? Punishing yourself? You were going to just let me die. I might have said okay, anyhow, if you’d talked to me about it, asked if I minded you getting the treatment and not me...”

“I couldn’t talk about it. We’re all sworn to secrecy. The whole thing is...not quite legal. It’s unlicensed, and it’s just a big, fat secret. If people knew, in a crowded world....and—Len—the process is unbelievably expensive. Astronomical. A billion for most people. I had to use every last dollar...”

“And when you woke up—there still wasn’t quite enough money. You found out Anne was here...and you played her...” Len gazed in dull amazement at his father.

Barry Winniver nodded. “I didn’t have the whole fee, but...I thought she might help me...She got me the suspension and...”

Len looked at her with a sudden shock. “You’ve had the treatment too...”

She shrugged, wiping away tears. “Only one stage. I’m not fully rejuvenated. The company won’t let us do stage two without paying. I can age normally from here but—if I wanted to be any younger...physically younger...there’s stage three—it’s got to be done right. Or you don’t stay that young for long. Your dad needed to finish that one, Len—and you interrupted it! You can go one stage without a second but if you do two stages...” She fluttered her hands. “There are risks if you go that far. Big risks.” Her lips buckled. “Len— I really, really thought he was you. I wanted... I just felt...you were the love of my life and you got so distant from me, and you just—let me go. And he seemed so much like you. He acted so much like you, but...nicer.”

“He acted.” The room was spinning, faster and faster. “Oh God. Dad—you seduced her! You—”

The door to the hall clicked, and swung inward, and two big, heavily armed men in private security uniforms came in, one of them looking like he was from Tonga, the other one palely blond and tanned. “That’s him, Charlie,” the Tongan said. “From the roof.”

The cloud of black spots was swarming angrily through the room. A buzzing noise became a roar in Len’s ears. He felt profoundly weak. Empty. The black speckles formed into one enormous cloud that consumed the world.

As he fell face down, Len thought, Is this what dying’s like?



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urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.

When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found HERE.


Johnny Strike's
AS YOU WISH


Johnny Strike's
NIGHT FLAMERS


Johnny Strike's
THE HOMELESS MUTANTS


Johnny Strike will beat you with his guitar
and leave you lying in the gutter wishing you
had never dared enter his under ground world
of fake passports, lucky amulets, rain soaked
hotels, and occult mystique. If you don't leave
nice comments under his story, he's sure to sic
his band CRIME on you. He also wrote the novel
Ports Of Hell (Headpress), recommended by
William S. Burroughs. You don't receive kudos
from William Lee himself unless you are the
epitome of cool. Besides, have you listened to
CRIME's album Exalted Masters? It was
released in 2007 on the Crime Music label,
on vinyl only, featuring a slew of their old
rare hits. Its real punk music from seasoned
veterans. Now go track yourself down a copy
before its out of print. The Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction is proud to host the story
that contains the line which titles his first
From Above (Rudos and Rubes).


Paul Stuart's
SEA?TV!


Paul Stuart is the author of numerous
biographical blurbs written in the third
person. His previously published fiction
appears in The Vault of Punk Horror and
His non-fiction financial pieces can be found
in a shiny, west-coast magazine that features
pictures of expensive homes, as well as images
of women in casual poses and their accessories.
Consider writing him at paul@twilightlane.com,
if you'd like some thing from his garage. In fall
2010, look for Grade 12 Trigonometry and
Pre-Calculus -With Zombies.


Rain Grave's
MAU BAST


Rain Graves is an award winning
author of horror, science fiction and
poetry. She is best known for the 2002
Poetry Collection, The Gossamer Eye
(along with Mark McLaughlin and
David Niall Wilson). Her most
recent book, Barfodder: Poetry
Written in Dark Bars and Questionable
Cafes, has been hailed by Publisher's
Weekly as "Bukowski meets Lovecraft..."
in January of 2009. She lives and
writes in San Francisco, performing
spoken word at events around the
country. 877-DRK-POEM -



Icy Sedgwick's
THE PORCELAIN WOMAN


Icy Sedgwick is part writer and part
trainee supervillain. She lives in the UK
but dreams of the Old West. Her current
works include a ghost story about a Cavalier
and a Western tale of retribution. Find her
ebooks, free weekly fiction and other
shenanigans at Icy’s Cabinet of Curiosities.


Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth
with LIPSTICK



BLAG DAHLIA is a Rock Legend.
Singer, Songwriter, producer &
founder of the notorious DWARVES.
He has written two novels, ‘NINA’ and
‘ARMED to the TEETH with LIPSTICK’.


G. Alden Davis's
THE FOLD


G. Alden Davis wrote his first short story
in high school, and received a creative
writing scholarship for the effort. Soon
afterward he discovered that words were
not enough, and left for art school. He was
awarded the Emeritus Fellowship along
with his BFA from Memphis College of Art
in '94, and entered the videogame industry
as a team leader and 3D artist. He has over
25 published games to his credit. Mr. Davis
is a Burningman participant of 14 years,
and he swings a mean sword in the SCA.


Shae Sveniker's
A NEW METAPHYSICAL STUDY
REGARDING THE BEHAVIOR
OF PLANT LIFE


Shae is a poet/artist/student and former
resident of the Salt Pit, UT, currently living
in Simi Valley, CA. His short stories are on
Blogger and his poetry is hosted on Livejournal.



Nigel Strange's
PLASTIC CHILDREN


Nigel Strange lives with his wife and
daughter, cats, and tiny dog-like thing
in their home in California where he
occasionally experiments recreationally
with lucidity. PLASTIC CHILDREN
is his first publication.


J.R. Torina's
THE HOUSE IN THE PORT


J.R. Torina was DJ for Sonic Slaughter-
house ('90-'97), runs Sutekh Productions
(an industrial-ambient music label) and
Slaughterhouse Records (metal record
label), and was proprietor of The Abyss
(a metal-gothic-industrial c.d. shop in
SLC, now closed). He is the dark force
behind Scapegoat (an ambient-tribal-
noise-experimental unit). THE HOUSE
IN THE PORT is his first publication.


K.B. Updike, Jr's
THE GOLDEN THIRD EYE


K.B. Updike, Jr. is a young virgin
Virginia writer. KB's life work,
published 100% for free: