Click to Enlarge

Space Stations and Graveyards
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-55404-029-9
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 207 Pages
Published: March 2003

From inside the flap

Space Stations and Graveyards is a collaborative effort involving three of the most talented young horror writers today. Space Stations and Graveyards is a collection of 24 stories that reflect their love of science fiction and horror. And many of the stories within are actually an amalgam of the two genres.

This book is a treat for the mind and soul... a Must Read for those familiar with these talented writers... and a Gotta Try for those that are not!


Reviews and Awards

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection and was pleased to find excellent work by all three authors here both in their solo efforts and in stories co-authored between them. Two thumbs up for SPACE STATIONS AND GRAVEYARDS.

--Reviewed by Shannon Riley

All three of our writers have let us see part of the worlds they reside in. There is something here for everyone and everyone will pick out a favorite of his or her own. Be sure to ask for this one by name, there's even a story that tells what happens because of some "Misspoken Words".

--Barry Hunter.



Space Stations and Graveyards (Excerpt)


Kamikaze
by

Jason Brannon


The shadows were her thread, and Juliette's hands the loom. Until that moment when I peeked through the haberdasher's window, I never realized that words could shift and crumble so dramatically, and yet, the small fragile place I had built turned to dust before my eyes, razed to the ground by darkness and a loving touch. And the man in the storefront window was what turned my eyes to the light.

***

As it was, the evening was late when I stepped out of the smoky bar, listening to the noise of fistfights and splintering chairs and shattered bottles behind me; and for the briefest of moments, I was lost, like a child staring blindly at the sun. I vowed that I would never again consume so much liquor that I took leave of my senses, but even as the promise left my mind and entered my heart, I wasn't sure that whiskey had anything to do with my disorientation. I couldn't remember ordering a drink or why I had been in the bar to begin with. Still, who went to a bar if not to sip at a beer or down a shot or two of tequila?

The line between life and death is thin, and it's made of silver and steel, I thought to myself stupidly as I contemplated my problem and aching head. I wasn't at all sure what that meant, and it scared me a little to be thinking in a gibberish that only Lewis Carroll would have understood.

Something definitely wasn't right, and I knew it. But I tried to push the thought out of my mind along with that bit about the line between this life and the next. The moon was bright and hot against my skin, and I didn't feel comfortable in front of the well-lit club. But at least it made me focus on something other than my own confusion. Hoping to clear my mind a little, I stepped into the alley that ran beside the bar. Once I was completely immersed in the darkness like a man in the midst of sleep, I remembered where I was supposed to go-Juliette's shop. Never mind that it was the only place I could think of. It was the right place, and I went there with only vague remembrances of what I had done in that neon-lit bar.

As I walked, the possibility entered my mind that someone might have slipped something into my drink. The way the moon had made me squint and duck into the dark alley seemed to support that notion. The fact that my head was aching and I was having a hard time remembering certain things did too. So far as I knew my mind wasn't generally prone to forgetfulness, but a mickey in my glass would more than compensate for good mental health. Somehow I knew that listening to Juliette whisper her affections in my ear would make things better. It always did.

When I got close enough to the shop, I noticed a light on in one of the back rooms. Because I had been so unsure of myself and my mind earlier, I wanted to make certain that this was the right place. Hoping for a reassuring glimpse of Juliette, I pressed my nose to the glass, and saw her saunter across my field of vision, her hands coated in thick, glossy black down to the wrists. I wasn't sure what she was doing, but I couldn't imagine any sort of maintenance inside a clothing store that would require the kind of mess she'd made. Still I was sure that Juliette knew her business. There was a very good reason she drove a Jaguar to work every day.

The line between life and death is thin, and it's made of silver and steel, I thought again without warning. At this point, however, it was just as much of a mystery as the dark gooey mass that stuck to Juliette's fingers like asphalt gloves.

From what little I could see, suits of clothing were laid out on a folding table in the stockroom. I suspected that these were either in the queue to be altered for ill-fitted customers or they were new outfits for the storefront mannequins. Juliette was fanatical about keeping her men in top fashion, and the best I could tell, none of the trousers had the pinned-up look of pants that were in need of a hem change.

The storefront was dark when Juliette left the stockroom, and I eased around the building, eager to watch her at work. The only lights in the front of the shop were the ones in the display window, yet they were more than enough to show the mannequin step down from his pedestal and walk over to Juliette's beckoning hands. I punched the brick wall to keep myself from screaming at the shock of it all. When I looked again, the mannequin seemed to be made of black ice that was quickly melting from the mysterious heat in Juliette's hands.

"You've been in the window too long," I heard her say. "The light's done its work on your face. I think it needs a little work before you go out tonight."

His face slick and runny like a wax dummy, the storefront man nodded bleakly and allowed Juliette to do as she pleased with him. At first nothing happened as Juliette put her hands to the mannequin's face. But then she whispered something in his ear. Immediately, he began to shrink and to turn black like the head of burnt match, an eerie parody of the water-soaked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Soon, he was little more than a dark, oozing puddle and a rumpled suit of clothes. The black inky pool slowly melded into the shadows as Juliette moved her hands back and forth like a fortune teller summoning visions from her crystal ball. Briefly, a face moved in the darkness, and I recognized the mannequin for just a moment, like a fleeting reflection in the surface of a placid pool. Then, his face melted back into darkness, a hot candle losing its form.

Juliette swept her arms around her as if she was summoning a storm from the heavens, and for a moment, I half expected the sky to split with thunder and lightning. Instead, all I saw was a movement in the shadows, a swirling in the darkness, and then with an adroit flick of the wrists and waggling of the fingers, a new unrecognizable face was called forth. Before he could fall back into oblivion, Juliette reached into the blackness and drew the face toward her. In a way, it was almost like watching a lifeguard pull a drowning victim out of the pool.

"That's much better," she said. "But not good enough. Not yet at least."

Juliette ran her hand against the dark form's cheek and skin began to form over the shadows, a fitting camouflage to hide the true darkness within. It was only a few minutes later that the man in front of her was indistinguishable from any other red-blooded male. I have to admit I was a little jealous of him, sitting there nude in front of the woman I thought I had been in love with. Of course, I still felt strongly about her, but what I had seen changed everything. Still, Juliette didn't seem attracted to the man she had created out of darkness and shadow, and I felt a little bit better about things because of it. Or at least I did, until she pulled her sticky hands away from him and went over to the cash register. At first I didn't realize what she was doing, and then I saw that there was something laying on the counter. She picked the snapshot up and held it in front of the model's eyes. I was vaguely reminded of the way sheriffs will hold an article of a victim's clothing in front of a bloodhound's nose in the hope that he'll pick up the scent.

"The Double-Wide," she said. "It's a club on the east end of town."

The shadow-mannequin nodded once as if he understood.

"The line between life and death is thin, and it's made of silver and steel," I whispered without thinking as I watched what was taking place in Juliette's shop.

The clothes that Juliette had laid out now seemed to have a definite purpose, and the storefront man dressed himself quickly. Then he left through the back door. Juliette followed him only to the door, and I picked up where she left off. We wound through scarcely traveled alleys, avoiding the street lights whenever possible, and I couldn't help but wonder what might happen to me if Juliette's creation ever figured out that he was being followed. As it was, I thought I had a pretty good notion, and I wasn't at all sure why. A moment of precognition perhaps. In any case, I was fairly certain that there was a Glock tucked safely away in the inside pocket of the sports jacket that Juliette had laid out for her man to take with him on his dark, nefarious errand. There was a key in the other pocket that was just as important, and I followed cautiously, vaguely aware of where we might be going first.

At this hour, the post office was quiet like a mortuary, and I half imagined that the mail boxes might actually be refrigerated and full of slowly decaying limbs. The storefront man pulled the key out of his jacket pocket just as I'd miraculously known he would and inserted it into one of the locks. There was a bulging manila envelope inside, and I suspected that it was full of money. Confirming my suspicions, the storefront man opened the package and thumbed through the bills, counting them. Finally, satisfied that everything was there, he put the envelope back in the post office box and rushed toward the glass doors. I backed away just in time to avoid being noticed. Then we were off again.

Fluorescent street lamps eventually gave way to gaudy neon, and I knew that we were in the worst part of town, the section where back-alley abortions and bloody drug deals went down while streetwalkers flashed their goods to anybody who would take a peek. Yet, I wasn't afraid for my life or anything like that. Maybe I knew that I was following the real danger, and as long as I knew where he was, I was safe.

That idea quickly went south as the storefront man walked nonchalantly into The Double-Wide, a seedy strip bar that employed mostly flat-chested, trailer-park dancers who had more than a few stretch marks on their abdomens from their last pregnancy. Not surprisingly, beer was all that was served here, and that was the way the truckers in the front row liked it. But the storefront man didn't stop to gawk at the dancers, some of whom were missing a tooth or two. Nor did he go to the bar and order a beer. Instead, he marched toward one of the private rooms in the back, drawing his gun with purpose. A mean-looking pitbull of a redneck with a farmer's tan and a lipful of Skoal held his hand out for the storefront man to stop. Juliette's creation shot him three times in the chest, punching dark red holes in his Liberty overalls. Then, the storefront man kicked his way through the door and opened fire.

In the time it had taken to waste the redneck at the door, whoever was on the other side had found time to arm themselves. They opened up fire as soon as the storefront man had crossed the threshold. Juliette's kamikaze had been prepared for that and emptied his clip before going down under the rain of bullets. In the ensuing chaos of chairs being shoved away from the tables and beer steins shattering on the hard concrete floor, I heard someone moan once from the other side of the door before going quiet. The storefront man, it seemed, had found his target and done his work. And like before in the darkness of the Juliette's store, he faded into the shadows, melding into the blackness like a drop of ink running into an infinitesimal inkwell. It vaguely reminded me of the way splashes of mercury will rush toward each other in attraction. All that was left behind were the clothes and the gun which Juliette had obviously taken great pains to render untraceable.

I knew that the police would be on their way and wasted no time leaving the club. The thing I wanted most was to run to Juliette's store and demand an explanation, but as the dark gave way to the small hours of the morning, I found it increasingly harder to remember the way back. To make things worse, there was a blackness building overhead that looked every bit like the onset of a thunderstorm. As I wandered aimlessly through downtown, a few of those bruised clouds drifted across the moon, leaving the streets just a little darker than normal, and in that instant, I remembered my way back to the haberdashery.

"The line between life and death is thin, and it's made of silver and steel," I muttered to myself. But there was no one to hear me.

As the clouds lifted and the moon crept out like a sneaking child, the disorientation returned, but by then, I was already too close to the shop to lose my way again. I could hear the silent whine of sirens many, many blocks away, and wondered what kind of explanation would be given for the kamikaze assassin that walked confidently in, shot his target, and blended in with the shadows. Most of the bar patrons were either too drunk or too panicked to accurately describe what had happened, and there was almost certainly no way to trace the murder back to Juliette. Which brought the realization home to me that Juliette was, in fact, responsible. She had been the one to mold the shadows and shape the darkness into some semblance of a man. She had been the one to show the kamikaze his target and send him on his way. She was to blame for the Glock that was tucked away inside his jacket. And she was the one who was profiting from someone else's death as a result of the perfect crime.

For most of the evening, I had wandered around in the shadows, spying on Juliette and trailing the man she had created out of the black night. My hands were shaking badly, and a cold, hard drink seemed like the best idea. There were any number of suitable bars in Crowley's Point that had nothing to do with murder or redneck truckers or trailer-park strippers, and I picked the one a block down from Juliette's shop, thinking I might call her first to see what sort of lie she might tell me and then drink myself silly. As it was, I had just taken the phone off of the hook and cradled it between my jaw and shoulder when I found much more than loose change as I started fishing around.

The photo had gotten crumpled in my pocket, and I stared at it dumbly, unsure of who the man with the handlebar mustache and the pinstripe suit might have been. A chill crept through my veins as I searched the rest of my jacket and found a garrote wire crusted with red.

The line between life and death is thin, and it's made of silver and steel.

Suddenly, I thought I knew that meant, and I immediately ran outside where the light was better and held my hands up in front of my face. In the dying moonlight, I could just make out the dried blood beneath my nails. Hesitantly, I reached in the last unsearched pocket of my jacket and found the ill-fated key that I had feared would be there.

The lights in Juliette's shop were still on as I'd known they would be, and I thought I understood how she had lived beyond her means for so long. Small business proprietors don't drive Jaguars no matter how prosperous their sales are. Hit men or the managers of hit men, on the other hand, drive whatever they want to. Blood, unlike men's clothing, usually demands a high price.

She seemed more than a little surprised to see me when I walked through the door, and I held up the worn photograph and the garrote wire that I had unknowingly used to kill one of Juliette's marks.

"You weren't supposed to come back here," she said. "The police could have followed you."

"The line between life and death is thin, and it's nothing more than a cheap garrote wire in murderous hands," I said, vaguely remembering the blow to the back of the head that I had taken before stumbling out of the bar. "I came back because I had no place else to go."

"You're men of shadows. You have a world of hiding places. And yes, the line is thin. It has to be to get things done right. Now what happened?"

"He's dead," I said with some assurance.

"But you're not."

I thought about that for a minute and remembered the way chaos had broken out in the strip club where the storefront man had returned to the source. Something like that had probably happened in the bar that I stumbled out of. It would certainly explain the drugged feeling of disorientation I came out with. A broken bottle across the back of the head, I reasoned, would likely have the same effect as a power bomb in a glass of whiskey. My headache could attest to that.

"I guess I just got lucky," I said at last, shrugging my shoulders.

Of course, it was obvious that I had done my job much better than the storefront man had, and Juliette hadn't counted on that little fact. None of us ever got out alive, and the fact that I had managed to escape said much about the safeguards Juliette had taken to keep her identity a secret. I think she was scared for the first time.

"It's sort of ironic," I said, trying to buy myself some time while I decided what to do. "You're running a psychic hit operation from a men's clothing store, and you're using the models to do your dirty work. But we're not models, people for others to pattern themselves after. We're the antithesis of models."

"I suppose there is a twist of paradox in that," Juliette admitted. "But it has to be this way. This is the most upscale shop Crowley's Point has for the male demographic. Where else could I go to scope out the targets so easily? They come in try on a few pairs of slacks. I get a good headshot of them while they're in the dressing room. When it comes time to send you on your way, you know exactly who you're looking for. And I don't even have to hide in the bushes with a telescopic lens. These men never realize just how close to death they're standing, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

"And yet we stand in a shadowy storefront window all day long, proclaiming innocence and good fashion to the world."

"You stand in a storefront window all day long in the hopes that people will see your face and notice you. Once you've done your job, there may be some who can give a description, but the police would never think to look in a shop display for their murder suspect. And, even if they did, their man wouldn't be there. Aside from you, everyone else has rejoined the shadows when their job was finished. Having my men in the window just adds another measure of confusion to the mix, and it's nothing more than an added measure of protection for me. No self-respecting cop in his right mind would inquire about a storefront mannequin who was suspected for murder. Besides, hitmen are usually found in dark back alleys, not clothing stores. That's the whole point."

"And the men we kill mean nothing?"

"Sure they do," Juliette said with a wry smile. "These men mean lots of things to lots of people. A man's death, for instance, will destroy a wife's soul. It will break a young son's heart. It will make old friends grow introspective and think that life is too short. It will touch a million lives in a million different ways. Including mine. After all, I'm not in this for free."

"But these are family men you're taking hits on."

"Most men have families, even the scum. What's to distinguish the good from the bad? Besides, isn't it always the quiet introspective types who turn out to be serial killers? I can't distinguish between the saints and the sinners, and I don't think it would be wise for me to look that deeply into the lives of these men. I do what I'm paid to do, and that's it. And, sure, sometimes a few little secrets emerge that hurt the ones who love them. But the skeletons always come out of the closet eventually, don't they? We just open the door for them and help them to walk out into the light."

"Nobody means anything to you."

"That's not true."

"It is. We're nothing but kamikazes to you. We mean nothing, and neither do the men we kill," I whispered as the first rays of the sun glinted over the horizon. "You send us out to die without a second thought and we do it willingly because we have no other choice."

"You've got it all wrong," Juliette said. "You're very special to me. You just don't realize it. You've been living in the light for far too long. You've forgotten how much like a womb the darkness is, how much like an embrace the shadows can be."

She opened her arms to me as a mother would to a crying child, and I rushed toward her, questioning my existence, my sanity, and the atrocities I might have committed. I remembered the way she had put her lips to the storefront man's ear and spoke the words that unmade him, and she did the same to me. Only, I wasn't prepared to hear what she said.

"I love you," she whispered, knowing that those were the words I needed to hear most. And then I felt the world turn dark and collapse beneath my feet. Or maybe the world remained stable and I was the one who collapsed. Yes, I think that is the way it works with Juliette. A confession of love from her is enough to reduce any of us to a quivering puddle of inky shadows. We're real men in that regard, and somehow, I think she knows it.

The shadows hide a sea of faces, and all my memories are clear now. I'm a kamikaze made for killing, returning to the source once my job is done, and Juliette is the one who commands us like a tactical general. I've caught glimpses of the storefront man in the dark once or twice, and he's given me a nod. All the while, I've nodded back and pushed myself as much toward the light as I can, hoping that Juliette will pull me out of this nightmare again and give me purpose. Meanwhile there are others like me standing in those windows beneath the shadowy awnings, smiling fake smiles at the passersby, waiting for the chance to draw the wire tight, to dig their nails in deep, and let the blood dry. Someday, I hope to be one of them again.