Shad: ABC Is For
Artificial Beings Crimes
Contents and Introduction to
A Troubling Short Fiction
Barry B. Longyear
8 Then Came The Misty Man
18 L.A. in L.A.
30 Old Soldiers Never Die
35 The Death Addict
59 The Calling of Andy Rain
118 The Dreyfuss Affair
143 Still Waters
151 The Green
194 Blades of the Diram Ring
213 And Then . . .
I was young, perhaps six or seven, in a room the size of a small bedroom. Something—some horror that I knew—would be coming soon to get me, to destroy me. I wasn't strong enough to defeat it and I wasn't swift enough to outrun it. I knew this. Besides, I knew that if I tried either, the horror would hurt me all the more.
Listening, I couldn't hear anything moving in the hall outside. My heart was beating so painfully hard, I could hear nothing else. I wiped my palms on my upper sleeves, my breaths coming shallow and rapid, my entire body trembling.
It was coming.
The horror was coming, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
In a panic I moved to the door and made certain it was latched and locked. That taken care of, I examined the door. It was paneled, painted white, and very old. One panel was visibly loose, and I could see how loose the hinge on the top was. The door didn't look sturdy enough to withstand any kind of onslaught, and the thing that was after me would come like an avalanche.
I moved a heavy dresser in front of the door. I pushed a foot locker in front of the dresser, and then began piling chairs, bookshelves, and anything I could carry and put it on top of the dresser and footlocker. At last, with everything in the room in front of the door, I allowed myself a breath.
I stood there, still shaking, and braced myself against the furniture, thinking that I might have a chance. It couldn't get through everything I had piled against the door. Even if it could, I would be going down fighting, not curled up in a corner whimpering.
My breathing slowed and my heart ceased its wretched pounding. Whatever it was out there, I was safe behind the fort I had constructed.
ever so slowly
to my left
one entire wall of the room was missing!
The room was open to the hallway!
I heard it coming for me, and I screamed.
backed away from
the enormous opening, clawed at the wall behind me, and screamed, and
and screamed until my wife shook me awake.
Messages from what Carl Jung called the great guide, friend, and adviser: the unconscious. Grist for the story mill, as I had told the attendees of countless writer's workshops. Still, as I lay there in the dark, waiting for my heart to calm, the dream seemed more message than grist. It was two in the morning and I didn't really want to go back to sleep. I got up, put on a sweatshirt, made some neutered coffee, and stumbled upstairs to my office to write it out.
What was my friend the unconscious trying to tell me? I began writing down the dream, the fleeting thoughts that were racing back to their hiding places in my mind were rounded up and dragged to the paper, and the story that became "Chimaera" was begun. It was through writing that story that I managed to crack the code and figure out what my dream was trying to tell me. It was this:
There was something lurking in a dark corner of my mind, a memory, a number of memories, that I had spent a lifetime not seeing because they did not fit into the reality in which I wanted to live. But the memories were coming, and no matter how hard I tried to deny them, forget them, or disguise them, they would be heard at last.
And heard they were. Years later their echoes remain. After much work they are becoming a part of me, but through that work I discovered that the dark corner of my mind which I finally illuminated was only one of thousands. Each dark corner calls for its own light, and this function is what is served by many of my stories.
The corners I have explored have shown me laughter, grief, shame, pain, courage, cowardice, fear, and thousands of different views of myself, others, and this universe in which we live and do our hopeless best to keep up with the changes. It seems as though we spend our childhoods constructing mental hiding places for ourselves and for the things we refuse to acknowledge, and then spend the rest of our lives either being controlled by these dark corners or fighting like the devil to take back our power from them. From where do these dark corners come? It comes from a process that is as natural as time.
There was once a first grader who was having a birthday party, and all of his classmates were invited to the party at his home—all but one. Perhaps an invitation got misplaced, perhaps his name was left out because of a momentary lapse of memory, perhaps he was just not wanted. Whatever the reason, the boy who was not invited chose not to see that he was not invited.
At the end of the school day, as his excited classmates began climbing on the chartered bus to where the party would be held, the uninvited boy could not say to the others that he couldn't go because he wasn't invited. He couldn't allow them to believe that. He couldn't allow himself to believe that. He followed the others onto the bus and went to the party. There he told his classmates, the birthday boy, and himself that he was invited so convincingly that everyone believed him, including himself. There were, presents, party favors, cake, ice cream, music, a movie, and pretty lights. Everyone was laughing and playing games, and he laughed and played with the others. He had never before had such a wonderful time.
There was much amusement, though, when the uninvited boy's mother finally tracked him down and the truth came out. He wasn't invited to the party, no arrangements had been made, and the silly boy just followed everyone else onto the bus. She had been frantic when he wasn't where he was supposed to be at the appointed time. The birthday boy's mother laughed, the classmates laughed, the uninvited boy's mother laughed, and the uninvited boy laughed with them.
That is how dark corners come into being. Mind shadows aren't possible in the absence of some kind of injury and the denial of that injury. And for every mind shadow that comes into being, one or more persons pay. The uninvited boy could not bear the pain of being left out. Hence, he adjusted his view of reality until he was invited. This adjustment cast a shadow, however, a shadow that kept him from seeing and therefore feeling, the rejection, the pain, and the humiliation. When he was caught in his reality lie and everyone, including his mother, was making fun of him, he adjusted reality again, made fun of himself, kept everyone laughing, and cast yet another shadow. In one evening he added two dark corners both of which will dog him until the day he dies, causing no end of trouble, unless he does what it takes to bring those corners into the light.
That was just crashing a first-grader's birthday party. Can we imagine the distortions of reality and the depths of the consequent shadows that can make a pedophile or a serial killer? What about one who undergoes such extreme trauma his or her entire mind is cast in shadows, becoming a protected lump responding to nothing?
There are secrets we keep from ourselves. They are enigmas created in moments of panic, despair, pain, confusion, or ignorance designed either to make something understandable or render it so thoroughly incomprehensible we won't have to deal with it at all. Each such mystery is a mental virus lurking in a dark corner from which it fogs the distinctions between reality and illusion. As the years pass, these bugs shade each moment with strange meanings and dangerous designs. Often, with the passage of enough time or the arrest of a feeling-numbing compulsion, the virus explodes. Memory returns or the illusion mutates and takes total control. The outwardly normal being suddenly becomes the logical conclusion of his or her fantasies and evasions.
Does he grab a rifle and begin executing the patrons of the local fast food franchise? Perhaps she picks up a knife and mutilates her husband. A young adult might take her own life. A young boy might execute his entire family. Some just withdraw, becoming nothing. Others get in touch with just enough of the real world to make living like a human being (for the humans) a matter of possibility.
There are, of course, many kinds of therapy, many of them recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, most of them not so recognized. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, spiritualists, support groups, aliens, strangers, fortune tellers, magicians, witch doctors, friends, family, and self are all warriors in this struggle to kill the virus.
A good bit of my therapy comes from writing stories, and this collection contains a few dedicated to my own particular shadows. Dark Corners is a collection of adventures in minds human and other than human. Some of the voyages are beautiful, inspiring, some are funny, some are sad, and some are terribly dangerous and frightening. These are stories of patients, therapists, counselors, gods, and those simply playing the best hand they can with the cards they were dealt.
Stories to me are little realities in which I have an opportunity to carve out and thereby realize a piece of myself. My pieces, moreover, are scattered in a thousand distant places. When I discover one in a story it's an important kind of validation to have the reader witness the same fragment. It's healing, perhaps, but it is also one hell of a roller coaster ride.
If anything, this current collection might be viewed as a chance to sit in on a rather bizarre group therapy session on this and other planets, in this and other realities. As with all such sessions, the goals are insight, truth, relief, and thrills.
Have you ever had a sick thought? A corrupt feeling? Have you honestly inventoried your hates, your loves, your lusts? What was it that created your favorite serial killer? What do you do with your own rage? What will you do with it tomorrow? What are the chances in taking a voyage through an alien mind? What are the dangers of trying to understand minds of our own design? What are the perils of trying to understand ones own mind?
What if you could absorb and become the entirety of another being, adding to yourself, for the first time, feelings?
What if you could enter and walk your own mind, identifying and confronting the monsters that lie in wait there?
What if the only help you can give to another is to help him lose his fear of death?
There are other dimensions and they too must have their dangerous mental cases. What if the insane of our dimension, muttering gibberish to themselves, are actually in communication with the insane of other dimensions? What if they could exchange more than thoughts?
What if you really could go back? Could you handle it? You couldn't handle it before. That's why the virus is occupying your brain pan instead of reality. What about a chance to start over, but knowing what you know now?
All intelligent beings we can imagine have mind shadows. The ability to imagine and create is the ability to choose one's warp of reality. Gods are intelligent beings. What of their dark corners? What kind of help can they seek? What does a god use for a god?
Dark corners only exist because we don't want to know what's in them. Yet, when we become aware of a problem through pain or embarrassment, the curiosity to establish the origins occasionally gets the better of us and we take a chance. It reminds me of all those ancient horror movie clichés. Just at midnight the couple enters the huge, ramshackle dwelling, the thunder from the lightning storm shaking the remaining window panes. As the lightning flashes illuminate the murky interior of the house, he turns on a flashlight and plays the beam over the cobweb hung heart of the dwelling. The dust is thick on the floor and furniture. There is, however, a strange set of footprints in the dust on the floor. He shines the light on one and examines it. The foot that made the print was bare, very large, and had unusually long toenails that disturbed the dust between each print as whatever it was dragged its nails across the floor. Nails—or claws.
Suddenly there is a noise, the whunk of something heavy and soft falling against something unyielding, like two hundred pounds of meat against a stone floor. She grabs his arm and shakes his sleeve, causing him to jump.
"Don't do that!" he says, pulling his arm free from her grasp.
"Can't we go now?" she whispers.
"What was that sound?"
"I don't know. I don't want to know. Please, let's get out of here."
He plays the beam of light along the floor, following the footprints, until they disappear beneath the door to the cellar. The noise comes again.
"It's coming from down there," he whispers. A strange pale mist begins coming from beneath the door as the flashlight goes dark. He smacks the flashlight against his hand and the beam returns. As he goes to the door, she pulls on his sleeve. "We shouldn't. Oh, please, let's leave this place!"
He shushes her as he places his hand on the door latch and pulls up, the latch grating as though it hadn't been opened in decades. As he pulls the door open, the ancient hinges scream and the flashlight goes out again.
He shakes it until the beam returns showing a set of crumbling stone steps leading down into the depths, trails of tattered cobwebs moving slightly with the dank air. "I wonder what made that noise?" he asks, as the light dims and then returns. She stands on the tips of her toes and looks over his shoulder.
"What is down there?"
Let's find out. . . .
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