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beyond the last star   a bird in hand

You can read the first 25% of this story for free; if you like it, you can read the rest for $.99 (payable by paypal or credit card.)

[ Read more about author Richard Jones ]

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In which we learn the dangers of letting a severed hand have the run of a mad scientist's laboratory.


by Richard Jones



by Richard Jones


 "Where should I put the head, Dr. Harper?"

I didn't even bother looking up from the viewscreen. I just waved my hand off to the side. When you're the girl genius running the Freakshow, you get questions like that.

"On the second shelf to your left," I said. "With the rest of the parts. There should already be a box labeled for it. Be careful of the bolts in the neck."

I stared at the viewscreen, thinking murder thoughts. After 37 hours of work, I had just cracked an odd lycanthropic shape-changing outbreak. Infected victims changed into wolves with the full moon and soon thereafter melted into puddles of a particularly viscous goo. Now I just needed to patch together an antidote and find the magical fingerprints of the scumbag who created the cursed Ebola virus.

I looked up, puzzled that I'd heard nothing else from the delivery guy. He was staring in abject horror at something on the floor of the first level, which runs around the center of my lab. The field agents, with their rapier-like wit, nicknamed the place the Arm Pit, then shortened it to the Pit. Small favors.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

My voice kicked the kid back into reality. His scream was ear piercing, high and falsetto. You wouldn't think it from a brawny specimen like him. He turned around, bolted back toward the exit and slammed face first into the door. He collapsed, arms outstretched, consciousness out to lunch.

I scrambled up the ladder to the first level, the tails of my green paisley lab coat flapping out behind me. I skidded to a stop and looked around. I slid my specially modified Quark 10 from its holster and raised it to firing position. The Quark 10 is a weapon of my own design. Basically, the 10 emits a beam that suppresses the negative charge on electrons. With no countervailing charge, the positive-positive reaction blows away any material coherency. It's nasty. I like it.

I looked from left to right and didn't see anything unusual: robot parts, voudon dolls, eyeballs floating in ichor and a severed hand slowly squeezing a squeaking red stress ball.

"Ah. It was you, wasn't it?"

The hand let go of the ball and shrugged, looking sheepish. I know a hand can't shrug. Or look sheepish. This hand did it anyway, all right? Or maybe it's just been hanging around the lab for too long.

I walked over to the delivery boy and knelt down, checking for any obvious wounds. I reached my hand toward his ruggedly handsome face, but I just couldn't make myself touch him. Too many bad memories; too many rejected caresses. He regained consciousness.

"Ugh," he said. "Ooooh, I..."

"Take it easy. I'm an actual medical doctor, too. I'm just checking to make sure you aren't seriously injured."

He sat up and glanced over my shoulder. His eyes widened and I could see him reverting to pure panic. I shifted to the right, cutting off his view.

 "It's okay. Really." I talked in my most soothing tones. "I know it's a little strange, but Vincent's all right."

"A... little strange?" If his voice kept creeping up higher, I was going to have to get Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy in here to translate. "That... it's... there's a severed hand crawling on the floor!"

"I am well aware of that fact. What you... Sorry, but what's your name?"

"Um... Joe." He tried to creep backwards and through the door, obviously forgetting what knocked him out in the first place.

"Okay, Joe. You're new here at CurseWerks, right?" He nodded. "First time in the Freakshow laboratory?" He nodded again. "Thought so. Look... No, not there. I was speaking metaphorically. Listen, CurseWerks exists to investigate the supernatural and alleviate the suffering of those who don't think it's so super. With me so far?"

"Yu... Yeah," he said. His gaze slowly crept away from mine, trying for another look over my shoulder.

"Focus, Joe. On me. Vincent isn't some horror-show creature. He's an employee. Okay, more a helping hand, but...."

"Tha... That, that fucking thing works here?"

"Joe, please. Cursing is a crutch for the undeveloped mind. Try to remember that. Anyway, he's got nowhere else to go. See, Vincent contracted a pretty serious immortality curse. Immortality doesn't sound like a curse, does it? Long story short, immortal doesn't mean invulnerable.

"Vincent's consciousness, or whatever, is centered in that hand. He can communicate and see, in a manner of speaking, but..."

"Dr. Harper?"


"I really need to leave now. I mean really, really. I..." He squeezed his eyes shut and stood. Without opening his eyes, his hands felt for the exit scanner on the door behind him. Joe gave one last look, shuddered, and slammed the door.

Grabbing hold of the greenish, flat-topped head Joe had dropped, I tossed it into the cardboard box with the other parts. I brushed dirt from my pant knees and turned around. I gave Vincent Look No. 2, on a scale of seven, designed to singe eyebrows, but leave no lasting damage. Vincent, having no eyebrows, was unfazed.

"You did that on purpose, didn't you?"


"Fine. Whatever." I sighed. My concentration was shot. So much for the puddle potion. "I'm going to look in on the Egg. Want to come?"


Vincent scuttled over to me, his fingers reaching forward and dragging the rest of him behind. I picked Vincent up, put him in the pocket of my lab coat and walked toward the Freakshow's auxiliary exam room. Freakshow. I didn't much like the name when I came to work here five years ago, but I've learned to live with it. Besides, the real name, Interdisciplinary Departmental Investigation Of Technomagic, doesn't look all that inspiring as an acronym.

Most of the time, I enjoy the solitude. It made a nice change from being whispered about back in what we laughingly call the real world. Back there, I'd been Natalie Harper: freak. College degree at 13, doctor of philosophy in physics and chemistry by 15, doctor of medicine by 19. People expected my brain to explode. After I survived the experience that convinced me the supernatural was real, I jumped at the chance to head up the CurseWerks research division. Here, I'm the respected Dr. Harper, director of the Freakshow. Now, when I'm looked at a little funny, I know it's because I've got a severed hand riding shotgun and not because people think there's something wrong with me.

Even as part of CurseWerks, I'm considered a little... off. Maybe that accounts for why I haven't had a real date in three years. An active imagination and batteries had to make up for a certain lack.



Copyright © by Richard Jones . All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.

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