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by George Zebrowski
Description: In this masterful collection of horror stories, George Zebrowski divides these nineteen tales into Personal, Political, and Metaphysical terrors―stories to scare you individually, stories to frighten you as a social animal, and stories that should terrify the entire human race. In "I Walked with Fidel," a young man encounters a once politically powerful zombie; "Jumper" focuses on a young woman with a dark and troubled past; while in "The Coming of Christ the Joker," the light-hearted banter of a celebrity TV talk show becomes something far more serious. "A Piano Full of Dead Spiders" is an eerie story of genius, its demands, and its delusions; in "Passing Nights," the truth behind a recurring nightmare is revealed; "The Soft Terrible Music" depicts a man who must hide his past even from himself. And in the title story, the novella "Black Pockets," Zebrowski asks: What happens to a man when his desire for revenge becomes all-consuming? With an introduction by Howard Waldrop and an afterword by the author, George Zebrowski reveals himself in BLACK POCKETS AND OTHER DARK THOUGHTS as a writer who can play upon our more disturbing emotions even as he impels us to deeper thoughts.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: June 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [469 KB]
Reading time: 309-432 min.
"Turn up the lights, I don't want to go home in the dark."
--O. Henry's last words
* * * *
HE RAISED A FIST AS BIG AS THE WORLD AND SQUEEZED. Enemies squirmed and yowled in his grasp and their warm blood ran down his arm.
He squeezed slowly, delaying their deaths, because people cling to the belief that the harm they do is right and necessary, and only the finality of their approaching end forces them to cry, "Oh, my God, what have I done!" Their evil explodes their denial, and death drains them slowly, and they feel it taking them, and they think about it. He squeezed harder, and their screaming stopped, and their blood chilled and ran cold on his skin...
Bruno's knowledge of black pockets had grown since that day when he had finally despaired of all mercy and been shown the way to personal justice: one person irrevocably responsible to another, held to account by direct action between individuals closest to the truth, because they know it uniquely, individually, beyond all legal investigations, briefs, and cross-examinations.
All the harm done to him had crowded hope from his mind as his hatred spoke with a love of itself, filling him with joy whenever his thoughts reached out to hidden powers and embraced their strength. A kindred underworld had granted him vengeance. He was no longer one of those who only daydreamed of revenge. The overwhelming ease of it was irresistible, his to do with as he pleased, now that he had fulfilled his bargain with Felix.
It began when he awoke gasping for breath one day, and groped around in a darkness that stood about him as no mere absence of light; it pressed into his body and flowed into his eyes. Slowly, he crawled around what seemed to be a curving floor and touched the inside end of an egg-shaped space. He backed up, then rose and bumped into a low ceiling.
Bending down, he tried to remember how he had entered the chamber.
"Hello!" he shouted. The sound was dull, suggesting a thick enclosure. He was breathing with increasing difficulty. "Let me out of here!" he shouted, suffocating. The darkness exploded into light and he fell onto something soft.
He lay still, eyes closed, then opened his eyes and blinked at his own bedroom rug.
He lay on his side, filling with deep breaths, staring at the scratches on the massive, wooden legs of his antique dresser, reminding himself that he had neglected to conceal the old scars. Then he turned over on his back and saw something black and fluid descending toward him.
It faded into gray, and kept coming.
He raised his right hand. The shadow darkened, pressing closer. A part of it seemed to be infolding, like lips threatening to swallow him. He dropped his hand and the darkness dissolved, leaving him to stare at the familiar cracks of his own ceiling.
"I think you're getting it," a voice said from the easy chair in the corner of the room.
Bruno turned his head. Felix Lytton, his old enemy, was gazing at him intently, gray eyebrows as bushy as ever, bald pate shiny. He had lost weight and seemed small in the buxom lap of the old chair.
"I should have let you out earlier," said the man who had stolen his wife and cheated him out of at least two fortunes, who had nearly killed him when they had been children, then had bullied him in high school and mocked him in college.
"What?" Bruno managed to say, sitting up on the floor.
"Being inside one of those things longer gives you an appreciation of what happens. That's important."
"What are you talking about?" Bruno asked angrily. "You did this to me? What did you drug me with?"
"No drug. Get up and lie down on the bed. I've got a present for you."
"What?" Bruno asked again as he struggled to his feet and realized as he looked toward the bed that he would never have a better chance to kill Felix. They were alone, and his enemy's neck looked fragile.
He turned and moved toward him quickly.
"Come!" Felix cried out.
The door to the bedroom opened and a tall, heavy-set man with black hair rushed in. Bruno turned in surprise and was struck in the belly. He fell on his back, gasping for breath.
"That's enough!" Felix cried. "Put him on the bed."
The big man dragged him over by his feet, lifted him by his belt, and dropped him on the bed.
Bruno rolled over on his side, still breathing hard, and looked again at Felix, who seemed even more gaunt in the big chair. His bodyguard now stood next to him.
"Well?" Felix demanded. "Are you ready to hear me out now?"
Bruno struggled with his hatred of the man who had brought him so much hurt.
"You'll thank me," Felix said, "when I make you a present of my skill."
"What are you talking about?" Bruno asked coldly.
"That black cyst that just held you! You can use it. I'm going to teach you. Listen carefully."
Bruno propped himself up against the headboard, fearful of the big bodyguard, who was watching him carefully. There was no chance at all of getting past him to Felix.
"Just imagine," Felix said, "--when your venom becomes like molten steel pouring through you, a black pocket will form for you with each loathing. Of course, you'll have to be heartless." He spoke tenderly, as a lover to his beloved, and Bruno felt that the old husk might break down and weep, then realized that in some strange way the sick, old weakling was trying to make up to him.
"What are they?" Bruno asked softly.
"Who knows!" Felix cried with a youthful vehemence. "Use'm and ask no questions. Maybe they're something that's escaped from our insides, and we find their use according to individual needs, when we're strong enough to summon them. Or maybe they're like the insides of living things, beautiful on the outside and a bag of guts on the inside. Why in all hell are the insides of things so different? What is the inside of the universe like? Maybe they're the darkness at the core of the human soul?" He laughed and shivered with the effort, and his bony hands grabbed violently at the chair's armrests. He winced, pulled his hands back, and stared at the blood seeping through the abrased skin of his palms. After a moment, he put his hands back down on the soft armrests. "Yeah," he said, "I know--my outside is beginning to look like my insides."
"How did you... find them?" Bruno asked, shaken by the sight of his old enemy's infirmity.
"I got mad one day and raged. And then... I learned. It wasn't long ago, but too late for me to really enjoy it."
Bruno asked, "Why didn't you leave me there?"
"I'm going to die, and it amuses me to pass on the skill, to know that it won't die with me. I always knew that I might need you. All I ask in return is that you take care of the names left on my list, before you get to... your own... needs."
Bruno's eyelids drooped, then fluttered. Felix gazed at him and saw how tightly the man's skull wore his face. The head seemed too heavy for the wasted body, and might break off at any moment.
"Will you promise me that, Bruno?" Felix asked, looking up. "Your word is good with me." The sincerity in his old enemy's voice was overpowering.
Bruno was silent, feeling flattered, moved, and suspicious.
"There's no danger!" Felix cried at his hesitation. "You'll revenge yourself with impunity--simply because you can! Most people forget their hates because there's little or nothing they can do about them. Your skill will grow! And I hope you can do more with it than I've been able to do." He paused, breathing with difficulty. "I have only a week or two to live," he added.
"Really... ?" Bruno mumbled.
"Yes. Just think. Your hatreds will not die with their circumstances. You'll be able to act each and every time. You're like me, I know. Think of the creeps you've had to let go. You've had to live as their victim. I know because I helped to make you one. Now you can bully all those who deserve it. And if you overdo it--so what! Who'll know? When I'm dead, you'll be the only one who knows."
Bruno took a deep breath and shifted against the headboard, thinking that it was too good to be true, coming as it was from Felix Lytton. Images of Felix's limbs tangling with the willing, nude body of Bruno's first love, June, still writhed in his memory, along with the years of poverty and struggle that had only led to an accounting clerkship in a small firm in upstate New York. He remembered June's rationalizations, as her feelings for him struggled against her desire to insert herself into the flow of Felix's success. Even when he had explained how Felix had stolen his accounting program from their college days and destroyed his hard disk with a hammer, she had still chosen the thief, who went on to make a fortune from the program, only confirming her choice of the winner, whatever his method. Years later, when Felix had left her the big house and moved on through several new wives, Bruno had somehow imagined that June would call him to her, but she had not; Felix had drained her of any capacity to think justly or to correct past wrongs, or care about any of it. All the love they had shared had drained into him, and had slowly evaporated.
"Tell me again," Bruno said, "why you're passing all this on to me."
"You've heard of vendetta?" Felix asked. "In some parts of the world a vendetta is still a sacred thing, a piece of property to be passed down the generations." He smiled grotesquely, his jaw protruding. "It will calm me to know it doesn't just die with me. I'll die happy." He paused and struggled to lean forward in the faded luxury of the chair, still gripping the armrests with his injured palms. "Don't you see, Bruno!" he shouted, shaking a bony finger at him. "You deserve to have my skill." He sat back with a sigh. "I know you do," he added.
Bruno took a deep breath. "Why should I let you die happy?" he asked, and the big bodyguard glared at him.
"And lose everything?" Felix asked. "Yeah, I know it will irritate you that I died happy, but that will pass. I've done everything possible to hurt you. Let me have my parting shot at those who have escaped me, and help you at the same time."
Bruno lay back and considered. "There's no catch?"
"It's exactly as I told you."
"This isn't some way to get back at me, is it?"
"How can it be, Bruno? Think! I've already beaten you, haven't I? It would be the other way round, wouldn't it?" He smiled again. "If you like, think of this as my way of letting you get some back. De Sade said we are all abused, but we can also abuse, and so even up things. Right? Do you object to my dying happy? You do, of course. But look at what you'll get in return for such a small favor. Our interests coincide at last."
"How did you get in here?" Bruno asked.
Felix grimaced. "Think of what I'm going to teach you. You'll have to concentrate."
It would do no harm to listen.
"You won't believe me unless I show you." Felix grinned with difficulty. "And you will believe." The mask of his face pulled back tightly, and the skull beneath the skin leered as if denying the truth of everything he had said.
Bruno found himself staring at the armrests of the chair, where his enemy's blood was beginning to seep into the fabric. The man was ill and dying.
Felix noticed his concern for the chair and said, "Don't be small-minded. What's this chair to anything I've told you!"
"It's a valuable antique," Bruno said, "and you may be lying."
"I am not lying!" Felix cried, tearing his hands from the bloody, drying fabric of the armrests.