Date Published: March 15, 2021
Publisher: Del Sol Press
In the course of a morning, Dungsten Crease resurrects his neighbor’s dog, is arrested by TSA for carrying a weapon which never existed, and drowns a woman at an airline ticket counter—or could he be hallucinating? In his panic he locks himself in the men’s room of a coffee shop only to find a strange man in cycling togs sharing the space. The lanky intruder claims to be Dungsten’s neurally implanted concierge unit who has two disturbing messages. Dungsten is a Shaper—an obsolete, genetically programmed tool created by a bankrupt galactic corporation to terraform planetary experiences for vacationing clients; and the woman he inadvertently killed at the airport with his Shaper abilities will be the love of his life. Attracting government agents who want to weaponize him and Galactic Business Council assassins who want to terminate him, fear drives the Shaper within to inadvertently bifurcate, a second Dungsten also now running from his pursuers. But bifurcation comes at a price: loss of appetite, swelling of the hands and feet, an erection lasting longer than four hours, loss of bladder control, rectal bleeding, psychosis, convulsions, and sudden death. To pull himself back together and if he’s lucky, survive, he must master his Shaper abilities before he becomes a victim, or worse, accidentally destroys Earth and everyone he loves along with it.
Dungsten Crease lay in the dark, curled up on a cold tile floor of a Java Jolt Cafe men’s room reeking of piss, roasted Columbian, and disinfectant, a customer-focused espresso jockey banging with urgency on the locked door, and no discernible options. He figured a SWAT team would pull him out of there later in the day, a thirty-something white male kicking and screaming like a crazy crack head. His neighbors would tell local news crews the Dungsten Crease who lived next door had concealed the monster they now knew him to be. Yes, the kind of monster who just that morning, one god-awful morning, had killed a woman.
His day had eked over to the strange right out of the chute. Dungsten awoke to soft, spring morning light shining into his bedroom window, his cell phone chiming with measured civility. 6 AM. Dragging himself out of bed, he rummaged through dirty clothes pulling on some slightly rank running shorts, shoes, and a shirt, then stumbled out his front door for a jog through the neighborhood. 1970’s ranch style homes in various states of remodeling lined rolling hills of his neighborhood streets. A few cars passed now and then, but most of his neighbors were still waking, feeling around for cups of coffee, looking for toothpaste, or easing into their morning with a warm shower.
Running toward home he came across Rancid, a nasty little terrier two doors down. The name said it all. He once asked Larry, the alpha leader of Rancid, about his dog’s name. Larry had said that even as a puppy, she loved garbage; the riper the better. Rancid refers not only to her affinity for rotting refuse, but for the very nature of her dark doggy soul. Every time he ran past the little Hades hound she went crazy, frantically nipping at his Nikes. This morning, she yapped as usual and, as usual, Dungsten attempted to befriend the seed of Satan.
“Yap, yap, yap!”
“Good girl, Rancid.”
“Yap, yap, yap, yap!”
The bitch from hell looked at him with her brown, crazed eyes. For the briefest moment he pondered the possibility of this beast getting whacked by a passing car. He wasn’t proud of the thought, but the dog had worn him down.
Dungsten didn’t see the car. It happened so fast. One second he was foolishly attempting to make peace with evil and next thing, Rancid, eyes crazy with car hate dashed headfirst into death. He stood there gasping for air, wincing at the sight of the carnage which had unfolded, wondering how on earth he’d ever get all the pieces in a bag to hand to her owner, Larry. His heart pounded. He felt—responsible. He had, after all, wanted her dead. But like this—a bloody mess of guts and fur? He closed his eyes on the horrid scene, desperately wishing he could take his murderous thoughts back, when a warm, wet sensation filled his running shoe. He glanced down to Rancid, not the broken, dead dog, but a living Rancid, standing on all fours right in front of him, yapping away. What the hell? Dungsten walked home, each squishy step leaving him to ponder if maybe taking herbal melatonin had some lingering hallucinogenic effect. One certainty filled his mind. His brand-new running shoes were a dog piss soaked total write-off.
After a shower, he packed his bags making sure his cat, Psycho, had fresh food and water, double-checked that he turned the coffee pot off and since the break-in last year, made sure he locked his back door and turned on his alarm. He got in his little MGB convertible, a car he bought hoping to attract a soulmate who liked the wind in her hair and Dungsten at her side. Pushing the image to one side, he focused on the business at hand. He had work to do in Houston
As a management consultant, a performance coach to be more specific, Dungsten’s firm had assigned him to a COO named Tim Simmons at a foam and plastics company. The last time he met with the client, Tim had failed to recognize Dungsten’s “value-add” as his employer liked to say. While holding Dungsten’s lapels, he screamed how Dungsten didn’t have a clue about the highly competitive plastics game, how tired he was of graduate school monkeys coming into his shop thinking they could pee on his turf and how, in his oil field days, a guy like Dungsten would have found himself up shit creek. He went on to clarify that he meant an actual creek filled with actual shit. Turning into the airport, Dungsten knew he didn’t want more face time with this walking nightmare.
The long, winding line of travelers at the airport security check meant he’d be standing with a boarding pass, driver’s license, and bag for some time. He did his usual check to identify the seasoned travelers who knew how to swiftly move through security, versus the purgatory of standing behind a family with four kids who last flew an airliner when they went to Disney World three years ago. Finally making his way to the front of the line, he went through his familiar routine of emptying pockets, taking off shoes, dumping all of his stuff in one big plastic bin and his laptop in another to convey them through the X-ray machine. For a moment he considered why anyone would try to get a gun past security these days. Boarding pass in hand, he walked through the metal detector. Clean as usual. Then he noticed a security guard on the X-ray machine monitor looking a little concerned, flashing a glance Dungsten’s way. She motioned to a guy who appeared to be in charge, and in hushed words, spoke with him anxiously about whatever she saw on her screen.
Did I leave a bottle of water in my bag?
The “in-charge” guy, a slightly overweight, balding man with glasses, stepped up to Dungsten, pointing to his briefcase.
“Is this your bag, sir?”
“Please step to the side, sir.”
“OK. I guess I left a bottle of water in my bag. Sorry. Do we really need to do this? You can just have the bottle…”
“Sir, please step to the side.”
Other security personnel moved in around him. Be cool Dungsten. You don’t want to miss your plane.
“Sir, I’m going to search your bag. Please stand behind the white line.”
Dungsten watched the guard dig through his bag, all the while trying to do his best interpretation of an innocent guy, which should have been easy, since he was an innocent guy.
“I just forgot to take the bottle out of the bag. My bad.”
“This is not about a bottle of water, sir. Did you really think you could get a gun past security?”
“Gun? What gun? I don’t have a gun.”
“Yes, you do. Clear as day on the monitor. Looks like a semi-automatic.”
This guy’s smoking something. I don’t have a gun. Never had a gun. I don’t like guns. “There’s got to be a mistake.”
Two cops step up, weapons drawn. He had to make these people understand this was all a mistake. There can’t be a gun.
“I don’t have a gun!” He slapped an open hand on the table for emphasis. “I’m telling you, it’s impossible!” His head felt full, to the point of exploding.
Two officers stepped in close to restrain him, pulling his arms back behind his back, cuffs clicking around his wrists.
“Come on, guys. I really don’t have a gun.” A wave of nausea swept over Dungsten. How would he explain getting arrested to his boss?
The “in-charge” guy, looking a little pale, doubled back to check parts of his bag he’d already searched. Mumbling to himself, he shook his head. “This doesn’t make sense.”
He went back to the guard on the monitor and they had a pretty tense whispering exchange. He shrugged his shoulders, they both laughed nervously, and he walked back to Dungsten.
“I’m telling you I don’t have…”
The man glanced over to Dungsten, then looked past him to the two police officers. “Sorry officers. He’s clean. Here’s your bag sir. Thanks for your cooperation.”
And with that, the officers released him, and the in-charge guy handed him his bag, as if nothing had happened. Not wanting to press his luck, he smiled, took his bag and got the hell away from there, all the while wondering if maybe there was some kind of karmic curse on him this particular morning.
After picking up a cup of coffee, he sat down in one of a long line of chairs at a Southwest Airline gate. Tired and needing a few minutes alone with a newspaper and no one to bother him, Dungsten placed a briefcase on the seat to his left and carefully balanced his hot cup of coffee on the seat to his right, blocking all potential intruders to his space. Having established a refuge, he looked up to a crime exposé about a young woman found drowned to death on a beach near Galveston. They showed footage from a couple of weeks ago when her visibly distraught husband had reported her lost overboard on their forty-foot sailboat. He told a reporter how they were so in love and how much life his Allison had in her. The story today was that lover boy had now been arrested by local police on suspicion of murder–as in; he tossed her overboard and sailed away. How could you ever get yourself to a place where you would do that to someone?
Looking away from the screen Dungsten noticed a young woman in jeans and cowboy boots, long dark hair with wisps of orange, purple and green and stunning hazel eyes. When she glanced his direction he looked away, cursing his shyness, but then turned back, locking eyes with her. The crime exposé continued playing in the background, the words filtering into Dungsten’s mind.
Allison’s on our sailboat, hair blowing in the wind. I remember when she was a real looker. But not anymore. Time takes its toll, I suppose. And I tire of the arguments. Every time I come home, she’s going on about lipstick on my collar or perfume on my clothes. She wants us to go to marriage counseling, like it’s my fault I don’t love her anymore. I want a divorce, but I don’t have a pre-nup. She’ll clean me out. I just know it.
The outing on the boat had already been planned, but I can’t help but smile at the convenient resolution to my situation that now presents itself to me. I like the integrity of keeping my vow to her. Afterall, I did promise to be faithful ‘till death do us part’.
We were twenty miles out, not another boat in site, when I shoved her off the side. Man, the look in those eyes. Priceless! I tossed Allison a rope. Killer’s remorse?
She screamed at me. “Please, please help! Please…”
I let go of the rope. “Till death, baby.”
“Uh-what?” Startled back to the present, firm, yet friendly brown eyes met his own.
“Sir, I need you to move out of the way, so the EMS team has room to work.”
“What?” Out of a haze Dungsten began to make out the gate attendant he had seen earlier. “But what…”
“Sir, please move. She really needs their help.”
Looking past him, the dark-haired woman with hazel eyes lay on the floor, her skin pasty white, water dribbling from the corner of her mouth and pooling around her head.
“Oh my god! Allison!”
“Do you know her sir?”
“Well yes, uh well no, not really.”
What was going on? How did he know her? How did he know her name? He did know her. They went sailing, she stood on the forecastle sprayed by the mist rising from the bow. He loved her, but in a rage he threw her overboard. Wait a minute! The sailboat, the woman, the murder, that was a crime story on the TV. He must have dozed off. But what’s going on? What the hell? He looked up to the flat screen now filled with an ad for heartburn relief.
“I need you to move now, or I’ll have to get a police officer over here and I don’t think that’s really necessary, do you?” The gate attendant’s posture stiffened, his eyes meeting Dungsten’s with quiet resolve.
An EMS team knelt down around Allison, working quickly but with an uncertainty of what they were encountering. He heard one of the technicians say in disbelief, “If we weren’t in the middle of an airport, I’d swear this woman drowned in the sea.”
“OK sir, I’m calling for a police officer.” The gate attendant reached for his radio.
“No, I’m moving. That, that won’t be necessary. I’m moving.”
He stood up, looking one last time at the dying woman he had never met named Allison who he had loved and…murdered? And now this most intimate stranger lay dead on the airport linoleum.
About the Author
Richard Hacker, lives and writes in Seattle, Washington after living many years in Austin, Texas. In addition to the science fiction/fantasy novels, which include The Alchimeía Series, his crime novels ride the thin line between fact and fiction in Texas. Along the way, his writing has been recognized by the Writer’s League of Texas and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. As a judge in literary contests shuch as PNWA and ChicLit, and as a freelance development editor, he enjoys the opportunity to work with other writers. In addition, he is the Sci-Fi/Fantasy editor for the Del Sol Review. When not writing he’s singing jazz and creating visual art.
Del Sol Press books by Richard Hacker are available at Amazon
The Alchimeía Series
DIEBACK: Book One
VENGEANCE OF GRIMBALD: Book Two
Other books by Richard Hacker:
Nick Sibelius Crime Series
KILL’T DEAD OR WORSE
ALL HAT AND NO CATTLE