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JUNIOR 


Michael Michaelson, ‘Junior’, is a twentieth-century cigarette salesman selected as a guinea pig for his billionaire boss’ experiments in immortality. Given the option of a fully funded eternity or an immediate, painful death, he has little choice.  

Now, two hundred years on, Junior is reassessing his future.  

Gigantic artworks, pop stars, mutant babies and apocalyptic plagues all lead Junior to the conclusion that eternity comes at a price, and if humanity is going to live forever, more than one man will have to pay.

In Store Price: $26.00 
Online Price:   $25.00

ISBN:978-1-921240-84-3
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 217
Genre: Fiction

 


Author: Howard Kimber
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2007
Language: English

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY  

Howard Kimber was born in Melbourne in 1964. Holidays and sojourns aside, he has lived there ever since. He has worked in pretty much every job under the sun – from percussionist to journalist, toilet cleaner to television presenter – but has now settled into the dual roles of writer and house husband.  

When not at the keyboard, he is caring for Lucy and Zara, a worthwhile job at any time.

I    

I’m alone on the porch for maybe two hours, just rocking quietly. Maybe two hours. Maybe two minutes. You know what they say about dreams – a lifetime in a second.

Let’s call it two hours. Two hours of looking over an unending pasture of green, green grass. Two hours of listening to the whispers and giggles of a million unseen insects. Talking about me, I imagine.

Two hours of waiting.

Two hours. Not a long time in the scheme of things no matter what distortions are in place, but it had been years. The last time this happened, he at least sent somebody to tell me he wasn’t coming, but now there was no-one. Just me and a hum and a warm breeze carrying those little bug murmurings through the green, green grass and up onto the veranda.

I stopped my chair from rocking and looked over my shoulder at the screen door. It was closed, as always, held silent by a tiny brass ‘hook ‘n’ hole’ small enough to look like it came from a third grader’s lunch box. Big enough to do the job.

I stood up. I hadn’t stood on this veranda for years. Many years. Or maybe just a second.

I walked to the door.

“Hey,” I offered to the screen and to the grass and to a million backstabbing bugs.

“Hey?”

The insects shut up. All the way to the horizon they stopped their secret murmurings, probably looking at me from their hidey holes, wondering what stupid thing I was going to do next. ‘Hey, everyone, knock it off! Check out what he’s doing now!’

The breeze had changed too. It was still there, but it wasn’t so warm and friendly anymore. It was all those damn cicadas and crickets and centipedes, holding their breath, turning it colder, leaving the softest of chills to wrap round my neck.

I’m just standing at the door, staring at it, losing and finding and losing focus again in the fine screen mesh. I don’t turn around because I know the grass is gone. I know the bugs are gone. The chair, the veranda, and now even the wind – all gone. Right out to the horizon that was never there to begin with.

“Hey!” I offered once more as I lifted the little latch from its burrow. No-one answered. Who would?

I pulled at the door. It stuck for a moment, jammed by its own poor workmanship, then it jerked open at me.

There was nothing.

Just black.

 

II

Page Four  

 

The blackest thing is always the blood. It’s jet black, that’s just the way it comes up. Black and seeping. Even in a frozen moment, a stationary two seconds, it seeps like the edge of this universe as it crawls where it doesn’t belong. A black hole sucking the life out of linoleum, or terracotta, or a fine oak desk, screwing itself further away, searching for God knows what, getting more and more useless with every millimetre it moves from the body. The blood is always the blackest thing, and there is almost always blood, but not on page four.

On page four the darkness is in the pupils of the wild staring eyes, two ebony pinpricks devoid of life, of light, of moisture enough to send a glimmer of reflection back out to the camera lens. Even the instant of brightness bursting from my father’s hand-held flash gun is swallowed by those thirsty balls of nothingness. If he needed a guide in the darkroom, something to fill the right-hand end of his grey scale, then this poor bastard’s eyes would do the job just fine. A perfect reading. One hundred percent.

The body lies on a cold and naked concrete floor, all bent and twisted like a figure from one of those pocket-book war comics, spastically caught mid-flight after stepping on a landmine. There was nothing quick about this ending though. At least two or three days of pain are written over the dead man’s face. That’s two or three days in real time. No dreaming here.

Those dry black and white marbles of eyes are the only thing that jumped forwards from a body where everything else has been sucked back, and sucked back hard. His skin is pulled onto the bones so tight he could be a papier-mâché skeleton at a child’s science fair. His elbows and knees are dried-up spit balls, his lips swallowed by his own howling mouth, his patchy stubble like a mass of tiny tumbleweeds unable to find water. Given up to the wind. Dead.

He is mummified.

Someone has kept him conscious while every organ failed, while every drop of moisture was wrung out, until this brittle, dried-up museum piece is all that remains. And then they had tidied up the room and left.

Stranger things have happened.

 

The shrivelled carcass, wearing a white hospital gown so crisp and clean that it would do my father well at the left-hand end, lies within arms’ reach of the shiny legs of a steel gurney. In the background are more sparkling benches and shelving units, empty except for various cables that were plugged into machines and monitors not long before, and, in the middle of one carefully coiled-up lead, a shiny apple with one bite taken out of it.

My father told me about that apple and the chaos it caused throughout the police force. It looked like such a prime piece of evidence, sitting there with some homicidal maniac’s teeth marks and saliva just crying out to be analysed. No-one noticed it at the time, but when the photograph was developed there it sat in beautiful black and white, crispier and shinier than possible in real life.

For the next three days, anyone in the force who wasn’t already working on an urgent case, was sent to the Melbourne Municipal Tip to scrabble through on their hands and knees until the apple was found. At first they thought it was going to be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but it soon turned into finding a needle in a needle stack. Some four hundred and seventy-three Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies and Royal Galas were found in that dump in three days of searching. And that was just the apples with one bite taken out.

Then forensics had to analyse them; running all sorts of tests, cross referring the bite marks and spit samples for matches with the dental records of any criminals not currently locked up. Then the investigating department gets that information back and starts to track the possible biters down, grills them for alibis, their whereabouts, all that stuff that police seem to do.

Weeks pass by. Man hours, resources, government dollars are all being chewed up. Anyone in the city who took a bite from an apple in the past few weeks – and that’s a lot of people – is starting to feel guilty and ready to confess to anything from first degree murder to wilfully wasting food, when the policewoman who put the apple there in the first place finally comes forward. Apparently she’d lost her appetite when she saw the dried-up core of a body and left the room in a hurry to launch her breakfast onto the footpath outside.

And why was Constable Wendy Jones eating an apple to begin with? Because her backside was the size of a family car and she’d finally decided to diet right, desperate to fit into the uniform she wore on the day she left the training college. And why had she put on so much weight in the past four and a half years? Because her husband had left her and taken the kids with him, saying that she had become too aggressive and ‘unladylike’ since joining the force, and besides, he didn’t think it was safe to have guns in the house with the children there.

Something ironic? Wendy Jones was so traumatised by seeing the horrific, mummified body that she couldn’t eat anything for nearly three weeks and lost ten kilos quick smart, so by the time she came forward as the owner of the apple she was looking trim, taut and terrific.

The double whammy? After confessing that it was her apple, she got fired from the force, got depressed, and holed up in her empty house, eating nothing but take-away and ice-cream for the next four months, putting the ten kilos straight back on and another thirteen to boot.

But wait, there’s more! As soon as she took her oversized arse back out on the street to look for a new job she was recognised and ridiculed by pretty much everyone she waddled past.

Then she gets so depressed again that she goes straight home and blows off the back of her skull with her estranged husband’s old hunting rifle. The one he used to keep in the wardrobe in the kids’ room!

And all of this is in beautiful black and white just three pages later.

But that’s in the future. We’re still in an abandoned makeshift laboratory with the drained body of one very poor lab rat. And it’s empty. And it’s clean. And it will be for another two seconds until my father’s work is done.

One cat and dog, two cat and dog.

Police will flood into the frame. There will be three or four officers in white coats, dusting for fingerprints, scouring the floor for hairs or threads from old cardigans. At least another half a dozen detectives will be shuffling around from one sterile bench top to another, then back to the bag of bones on the floor. And Wendy Jones will be out the front, throwing up on the footpath.

Among all this activity someone has pried open the matchstick man’s hand and removed something that looked like a small rock. Ignoring the various scientists and high-ranking officers present, he has taken the object straight to my father, who was considered somewhat of an ‘egghead’ by the regular police.

“What do you make of this then, Michael?” he would have said in my distant recreation of the scene. “Looks like a bug or something in there.”

My father would have put his camera back in its case, folded up his tripod and slipped it into a padded bag, and then looked closer at the object the detective was holding. Recognising it for what it was he would have told the man to stop handling it with his grubby little fingers and put it in a sealed evidence bag.

“Considering its scientific nature, and the similarly scientific nature of the equipment that I imagine was previously here, it may hold some bearing on the case at hand, don’t you think, Officer MacGilvray?” Or words to that effect.

The policeman followed my father’s advice, and the object was submitted as evidence. However, the case was never solved, and after a three-year waiting period my father applied to take possession of the object from the police warehouse. His request was granted and he found himself the proud owner of one prehistoric insect, seemingly a giant mosquito, caught forever in a solid piece of amber.

The insect had been swallowed alive by the thick, golden goo, its body caught amid death throes, spastically twisted like the skeletal figure that Officer MacGilvray had taken it from. One of the creature’s legs had been torn off by the slow flowing amber, and now sat suspended, just out of the insect’s reach. Its bulging eyes stared on past the unattainable limb, to the cloudy, sepia-toned world beyond.

My father used the amber as a paper weight and instructional tool. He placed it on the large oak desk in his study at home, right between a small statue of Jesus on the cross and a sitting, jade Buddha. That was the old man, playing the field. That was any old man.

He found me in there one day, looking at the mosquito. “Some people believe,” he said unannounced, giving me a fair fright, “that it would be possible to take a DNA sample from something like that bug, and use it to clone the dinosaurs that it fed from. They think they could just pull out a drop of what lies in its gut, mix it around in some magical green goo, and presto! A Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Pterodactyl or a Mayasaurus.”

“Really?”

“Sounds like magic doesn’t it?” My father paused before moving his hands in a slow semi-circle, and twiddling his fingers said, “Abracadabra!”

“Wow,” I said as any kid would. “Maybe you should give this to a scientist.”

“Why son? Do you think a little more magic would make the world a better place?”

He turned the block of amber over in his hand, studying it as light passed through in sharp, golden lines. “We people may be smart enough not to get caught in tree sap moving at two feet an hour, but that’s about the end of it. You pull this little fellow’s blood out and start mucking around with it and sure, you may get yourself some eighty-foot long reptile, but inside him might be the virus that wiped out the dinosaurs to begin with. That little speck of doomsday may be sitting inside this mosquito just waiting for someone or something dumb enough to let it out.”

He placed the lump of amber back on top of a pile of papers. “Best leave the genie in the bottle this time, what do you think?”

What did I think? I was fourteen years old. I thought that there was a bug that was going to destroy the world and it was living in my father’s study.

That insect scared me, stuck there in limbo. It was watching the world go by through orange-tinted glasses, taking it all in.

It had already seen the dinosaurs die, just lay there, frozen, as they fell down left, right and centre. It had watched some pitiful little creature crawl out from under a bush and stand on two legs. Watched hungrily as blood was spilt again and again. Watched as some poor bastard died a slow and agonising death on the floor of a makeshift laboratory. Watched a scared little boy grow into a man and then watched that man walk around a series of rooms for two hundred years straight.

Two hundred years, and that man is still scared of that little bug in its amber cage, a tiny warden in a watchtower, keeping note of my every step. I’m scared that one day that tiny bloodsucker’s going to get out, and it’s going to do what it does and go straight for a vein, and it’s going to drink and drink while I sleep, and then it’s going to fly away and destroy the world.

And that mosquito isn’t going to have a clue what it’s doing. Millions of years of watching, of taking it all in, of waiting for its chance to get out and make it right, and it’s all going to come crashing down because he can’t tell red from green. To him, it’s all black. Black as the edge of the universe. Black as the blood in my father’s photographs. Black as a refrigerator when the door is closed and the light goes out.   

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