• In Lieu of the Upper Hand

    by  • February 19, 2018 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An essay by Max Jamison, as provided by J. A. Psoras
    Art by Luke Spooner


    “In art the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can inspire.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I didn’t see it that way, but I was charmed. Fame. Fortune. Lot and lots of women. An assortment–colorful and convenient. Like fruity popsicles. As icy and sticky, too. No matter. Popsicles don’t hang around very long once you get your mouth on one.

    Everything was at my fingertips.

    That’s actually funny. If you could see me now.

    You’d probably recognize my name. If not, you’d know my work. At least one of the film adaptations. Early on, the 3-D cartoons. Later, the “blockbuster interactive experience.”

    I assumed a pseudonym so that no one could accuse me of riding my illustrious uncle’s coattails. But I didn’t even admit that much to myself.

    My agent said that I had my uncle’s hands. I was such a prick that I found that insulting. Made me resent having to give Derek Meyers fifteen percent of my cut all the more. That Meyers … squealed like a freshman in heat each time he called me with the latest seven-figure deal he negotiated for “the nephew of the great–”

    Even now, I won’t admit it.

    Meyers was star-struck by me. My talent–that’s what I told myself. They all were. The cookie du jour by my side. My entourage. The eager devoted fans.

    Why shouldn’t they have been? I was way more famous and inventive than any forerunner. Regarded. Well, who cares about regard? I found the nobody critics’ trite comparisons nothing more than boring. My uncle never had his name associated with an entire “camp” or “team.”

    Don’t get me wrong. Deep-down, I admired my uncle. It was noble of him to try to prepare me for celebrity. The temptations–the distractions. He warned me how fickle it all could be. He warned me about a lot of things. Not excluding the seductive nature of technology. To him it was all about the work, the work, the work. And I knew what he meant–no computerized tools, no philandering. He wore his puritan views like a badge.

    When artists stopped creating graphic novels by hand, he was adamant that I learn the old-fashioned way. Penciling, inking, painting. He wasn’t crazy about my over-the-top, “depraved” characters. The nudity. The swearing. He did praise my creativity, my “bold use of color and texture.” Just a didactic ruse-of-an afterthought; he was rendering me a boy with a crayon.

    After I mastered the basics, I insisted that I learn it all. So he sent me to MIT–reluctantly–he was a stickler. Citing that “true skill is in the handwork.” Oh, and that “the human condition flows between the fingers and the heart.”

    Whatever.

    He was stuck in old ways. Limited within the constraints of two-dimensionality. I was an innovator. The first holographic novelist. Nobody else tapped into lenticular technology. The full range of motion, depth, and morphing. My stories fucking moved!

    I was addicted to technology. A junkie. Had to take it to the next level. I kept a few paces ahead with HDHI–High Definition Holographic Imaging. Although the term “holographic” is often associated with translucent greenish manifestations, I perfected it. Designing opaque figures and scenery.

    By the time I released my first projected 3-D holographic series, The Midnight Hunter, I scarcely made it out to my uncle’s. A modest house in Minnesota (yack!) that became Siberia to me. Anywhere not Hollywood, LA, or at least New York, did. He would invite me to his meetings of the minds, so-to-speak, a monthly gathering of his comic book friends. Most of them retired geezers with yellow beards and photochromic eyewear.

    My latest book, Chronicles of the King, was also intended to be a series. Previously, my work already included additional sensory details, sound and scent. But I was developing touch and taste and planning on integrating a scanning element by the third installment.

    By adding a reader into the storyline, not only was my work evolving into an alternative reality, but it was going to make me a near billionaire.

    Semi-autobiographical, I thought Chronicles was clever. It was a chance to finally tell the world exactly what was on my mind. You see, this king grows weary of his servants, brainless minions, and imprisons them. Once freed from their incompetency, he finds true dominion over his realm. A sort of surrealist take on Hollywood.

    In hindsight, I probably could have veiled it a tad more. Guess I didn’t have to use first names like “Dirk,” for example. A spineless bottom-feeder who doesn’t make it beyond page four. I didn’t think Meyers was sharp enough to detect the similarities. By then, his wet-behind-the-ears interns took care of most of my dealings.

    Another oversight on my part–Meyers’s father happened to be the head of the studio who procured the rights to my first published work.

    It doesn’t take long to be forsaken.

    The reviews were infuriating: “Contrived, arrogant, lackluster tripe,” “A far cry from The Midnight Hunter,” and “Derivative. Max Jamison has lost his edge.”

    Meyers fired me. That’s right, my agent fired me! Blackballed me around town. The backstabber even wrote a blog about how he had only taken me on in lieu of you know who. “A disappointing waste of resources.” Didn’t seem like such a waste when Midnight Hunter moved him to a corner office. Or when he begged me to let him tag along so persistently that I finally gave in.

    “Introduce me to a few babes,” Meyers said, whispering into the phone. Then his tone turned contrite, underscored by a contrary brash sincerity, “You know, the ones you don’t want anyway. She’ll have to be a newbie … I could go for a backdoor virgin.”

    I didn’t feel guilty that often. But what those poor girls did in the hopes of gaining my good graces …

    ~

    Six months after the bad reviews, the total absence of returned calls, it all came to a head. Almost literally speaking, that is. The newness of rejection was like waking up with a second head on my shoulders. A stinging voice constantly talking in my ear, telling me what a loser I was. The only way I could shut it up was to say, to hell with everyone! Money wasn’t an issue. I still had plenty of that. If nobody gets me anymore, then so be it. I wasn’t going to apologize. Repent on a reality show like some has-been star with his pants around his ankles.

    Now, I wasn’t a total drunk, per se. But I did dabble. Particularly on that very weekend when things took another unexpected turn.

    It wasn’t a car accident–but it was a wreck.

    I planted myself in a booth, alone, in a dive bar in West Hollywood. It wasn’t unusual for a fan to approach me when I was out. Sitting in the darkest corner would keep that nuisance in check. Or so I presumed.

    The waitress, a blonde chick no more than twenty, didn’t seem to know me. I usually had to tell the younger ones. Girls like her don’t possess the attention span for book-length.

    “Another Jack and Coke?” she chirped, snapping chewing gum.

    “Sure,” I answered. Cocked my head back. “Except eighty-six the Coke.”

    Huh scrolled across her one-thing-at-a-time face.

    “I just mean, no soda this time.”

    And then she replied in that typical silly girl way that I always found arousing while in a bar–“tee, hee.

    “Just make sure it’s you this time,” I added.

    My last round was delivered by another waitress, an exceptionally pretty redhead, but there was a spark behind her blue eyes. Eyes, albeit, clownishly shadowed in neon powder.

    Blondie tilted her head, her lips parted. Confused. I was almost in love.

    “Don’t send that other one with the drink this time–I’ll wait if I have to. Pretty girl like you.”

    She smiled, batted her false eyelashes. “Be right back.”

    My career was suddenly the last thing on my mind. By the time she delivered my next drink, I was all but assured I’d close by three. Neither middle age nor booze had impeded my performance yet. And I was a handsome devil.

    But then something that never occurred to me before happened. An out-of-bounds maneuver breaking the stringent etiquette of guy code. I was cock blocked.

    He sat down across from me. Began talking as if I knew him. Sipping my drink was about all I could do to stop myself from throwing a punch.

    “Max, I’ve got to tell you something,” he said.

    Right off the bat, I didn’t like the dirty looks of him. His greasy hair was slicked back, longish and black. His dark eyes, glossy marbles. Appeared as if framed with liner and mascara. Dressed in a black leather trench and wearing silver skull rings on his ghoulishly pale long fingers, he was hardly a chick magnet.

    “Look, man, I’m not giving autographs right now,” I said, surprised at my own patience. “I’m a little busy.”

    Glancing over his knobby shoulder, he huffed, “You mean that girl, the dippy waitress?”

    “Not that it’s any of your business … well, let’s leave it at that.”

    “Forget it, dude. She’s not important.” He sucked in his lips and taunted, “too young for you, anyway.”

    I noticed Blondie hovering. Having too much time to think.

    “Too young? Pfftt! You don’t know me–”

    “Oh, but I do,” he interjected, tapping the tabletop in nervous twitches. His eyes watching the room.

    “Like I said, I’m not giving out autographs right now.”

    Then he drew in. So close I suffered his stinging, pungent odor. Not a cheap cologne or musk. Rather, it reminisced of heated chemicals. Drugs? The smell seemed familiar, but I couldn’t identify it. I was a bit out of it.

    “Do I look like some jerk-off fan to you?”

    Cagily, I looked him over again. His gold tooth glistening in the amber light. Rugged stubble. The deep cleft in his chin. I gazed beyond his shoulder. Redhead was whispering to Blondie by the bar.

    I sighed.

    He blurted, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”

    “No, should I?”

    Leaning back, his spine straightened up as if it had melded into the red cushion. Then a curious grin spread upward. Connecting his lips to his abnormally prominent cheek bones.

    “I don’t know what you want, but as you see,” I said gesturing to the waitress, “You’ve just ruined my chance of getting to know her better.”

    His stare fixed on me.

    What are ya, in love, too?

    Just as I went to stand, he gripped my arm. I gasped. Tried to play it off with an improvised cough.

    Pulling my arm back, I didn’t know what to make of it. Certainly didn’t want to get tasered, or shot, or even hugged by a teary-eyed fan. For the later, once was enough. So I figured I better play it cool.

    Swallowing the watery remnants of my whiskey seemed the only way to present an air of unaffected nonchalance.

    “There’s something we have to discuss,” he said.

    Okay, he’s nuts. Just ride this out. Then you can go home and call Cassandra. She’s always up late.

    “What’s that?”

    “You have to get back to work.”

    “I do?”

    “You can’t leave things the way you did. And I ain’t talking about that Chronicles horse shit.”

    Just another crazy fan. Just play along.

    Midnight Hunter, right? You didn’t like how I left it open-ended, huh?”

    He nodded, “I ain’t going out like that.”

    “Right. You’re right. I should get back to work on that as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, I’m going to my drawing board right now. Got a few sketches to tweak. So, I’d best be on my way.”

    “Don’t patronize me, Max. I told you, I’m not one of your dickhead fans.”

    “I know that, ah–didn’t catch your name?”

    “You know my name.”

    “Right.”

    Then I slowly stood. This time uninterrupted. Put my jacket on. Glanced over again at Blondie–yep, she’s changed her mind. Thanks a lot, you stupid piece of–

    “Twenty-four hours,” he grumbled.

    “Twenty-four hours?”

    “You have twenty-four hours to get to work.”

    He didn’t blink.

    “That’s good. A deadline. Good thinking…”

    Motionless, unwavering eye lock.

    “Don’t disappoint me, Max. I’d hate to resort to my methods–you know how unpleasant my methods can be.”

    “Uh, huh. Well … okay, then.”

    On my way out, I didn’t bother to approach the waitress. Cassandra is a sure thing. Didn’t ever ask to sleep over. Blondie might have turned out to be one of those crying, I-love-you, please-take-me-seriously chicks. It was better this way.

    ~

    By the morning–which is to say high-noon–I could scarcely retrace the exact workings of Cassandra’s face, let alone Blondie’s or Crazy Dude’s. Come afternoon, the events of the previous night were steadily fading in the manner of an indescribable dream. I learned a long time ago not to spend any time dissecting every asshole fan’s overwrought or drunken commentary.

    The same went for threats. Whether in writing or spoken out loud. In any given month, I received at least a thousand letters. Most deifying me. Many soliciting an endorsement of their work. Others offering various proposals–marriage, partnership, and the saddest of all, friendship. But there was the occasional hate mail, too.

    Not that I’ve read any of them in years.

    In any case, they were nothing more than yet another sack to carry to the recycling bin out back.

    ~

    It was time to get back into the swing of things. Saturday night. A good enough excuse to have another one of my infamous all-nighters.

    The usual cronies showed up. My leeching friends. At least the ones that still hung on to their hopes of me rising to the top again. The rest of the wannabes had already moved on to greener pastures, wider swinging dicks. Nonetheless, I thought it would be a good time.

    As it turned out, like so many other things, the thrill was gone. My head hurt and the noise was getting to me.

    I kicked everybody out well before dawn.

    My maid, a saggy-breasted frumpy woman who remained nameless to me, wasn’t due to return until Monday morning. I slumped into my couch, regretting the mess I’d have to look at for the next day.

    Before I went to sleep, I swallowed some aspirin, washing it down with the last of my Heineken. Going to bed alone after a party–that was a first.

    ~

    I’m not one to remember my dreams. But that night felt like one of the longest, hardest sleeps of my life. Although I slept for about eight hours, it felt like a week. It was rather agonizing. I hazily remember struggling to open my impossibly heavy eyelids. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t stir myself out of the nightmarish visions I endured. There were bizarre motifs of surgery. Latex gloves, scalpels, and scissors. Then tiny smoke clouds that smelled like burnt hair or maybe flesh. Buzzing and metallic clanking rang in my ears, preceded by muffled, guttural moans. My body felt pained and contorted; spasms rocked up and down my extremities.

    At one point, thinking I was awake and clutching my sheets, I soon realized that I was still in-dream as my bed warped into a makeshift gurney of some sort. I could sense my pulse rampant through my veins. Wake up, I thought to myself, wake up, wake up … over and over again.

    Strangely enough, it was my uncle who woke me. His face popped up in my mind’s eye as abruptly as a jack-in-the-box.

    “I warned you!” he shouted, uncharacteristically livid.

    Startled, my eyes finally opened. My heart in my throat, it took me a moment to ascertain that he wasn’t there with me. Lifting my head, I looked around my room. All was as it should have been. It was daytime. An extended sigh of relief. The thumping in my neck and chest reached a peak and then began to settle.

    “What a hell-of-a dream,” I mumbled. “Geez.”

    Drops of perspiration trickled down my forehead. My damp tee-shirt clung to me.

    I raised my hand to brush aside my sticky bangs. But it didn’t seem to work–something felt a little weird. Without giving it much thought, I tried again.

    Something feels really, really weird.

    I saw it then. Blinked repeatedly. Saw it again.

    At once, there was a horrible shrilling groan. No, a shriek.

    It took a moment to put one and one together. It was me who was screaming.

    My eyes could see, but my brain couldn’t readily make sense of it. My right hand … the fingers … they were all gone.

    Am I still dreaming? No, this is real. I’m in my room. I’m awake!

    I sat up. Lifted my left hand … I had to know.

    Gone … all of my fingers are gone!

    Rushing to stand, I nearly fell to the carpet, dizzy with confusion and disbelief as I balanced myself on the side of the bed, awkwardly using my forearms.

    “Help!” I hollered. “Somebody, help me!”

    But of course, nobody was there.

    Frantically, I circled the room. My vision blurred. My entire being fired. Fear scorched the length of my back.

    I suppose it was my own sheer will to survive. My mind fought to contain the situation.

    Am I bleeding? Focus, focus … no.

    Is there blood in the bed … no.   

    And then the next question, as incomprehensible as it was, seemed relatively logical despite the chaotic circumstance I found myself in: Where are my fucking fingers?!

    Pulling the bedding back with my wrists, I scanned the mattress, tossed the pillows. Not there. Under the bed. Along the carpet. On the night table. By the television. In the bathroom.

    There wasn’t a trace of anything. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed or out of the ordinary. Except the obvious.

    Without the reserves to consider much else, the next logical question scrolled across my mind. Spelled out in explicit flashing letters like a JumboTron:

    Who did this to me?

    Was it somebody from the party?    

    Before I knew it, nausea took over, and I just barely made it to the toilet. After several painful heaves, I tried to catch my breath. Sitting on the hard, tiled floor, I realized that the telephone had been ringing. I gathered then that it had been for some time. Pulling myself up, bumbling twice before getting to my feet, I approached the telephone.

    Maybe it is somebody who can help me.

    Funny thing: I attempted to pick it up as if my fingers weren’t missing. It felt like they were still there. After some effort, I pressed the speaker button with my wrist.

    Art for "In Lieu Of The Upper Hand"

    “Like I said before, you’ve got to get to work. I tried to make it easy. But you forced me to use my methods.”

    “Hello?” I said. “Is anybody there? I need help. I don’t know what’s happened but I–”

    “Listen carefully,” a man’s voice said.

    “Who is this?” I urged, my voice audibly shaky. “I really need help!”

    “Max, shut up if ever want to see your fingers again!”

    My jaw dropped.

    “Like I said before, you’ve got to get to work. I tried to make it easy. But you forced me to use my methods.”

    Frozen, I had to think to put the pieces together.

    “You! From the bar–you did this to me? How did you do–”

    “Pay attention, Max,” he demanded. “I’m only going to say this once. You’ve got ’til the end of the week to make things right.”

    Midnight Hunter. That’s what you’re talking about, right? Ah, wa, wa, what do you want me to do?”

    Ugh, don’t start stammering, Max. It’s simple. BRING … ME … BACK!”

    “What do you mean, bring you back?”

    “Haven’t you figured it out yet? Do I have to make a formal introduction?”

    Still, I had no idea who he was and what he wanted from me.

    “Max, doesn’t my handy work ring any bells?”

    He snickered. A sinister laugh devoid of any joy.

    And then it came crashing, as bitterly cold as a wintertime ocean. Removing fingers. The signature assault of my most deviant of characters.

    Dr. Mortar?”

    “Bingo!”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “You ought to. You made me.”

    “But you’re not … real,” I said, my tone receding, my consciousness regressing into a state of childlike wonder.

    “I want out of purgatory.”

    “How?”

    “Write me back in.”

    “It, well … it’s not exactly possible, considering what you did to me!”

    “You’ll figure it out. If you’re smart.”

    “So, let me get this straight. If I continue Midnight Hunter, you’ll give me back my fingers?”

    “A tit for a tat. A finger for a page. I figure ten pages should be enough to get things started. I’ll be back tonight.”

    “With my fingers!?”

    “Oh, by the way, you might want to get a move on. Dry ice only keeps so long and I only have so much. I couldn’t get my hands, or should I say, your hands, on cryogenic supplies.”

    A vampire’s giddy chortle emanated from the small speaker, accompanied by a chilling, echoing distortion.

    “You give me your word? You’ll fix my hands?”

    He never actually said so, but I had to believe that he conceded as he loutishly exhaled into the phone and continued warning me of dreadful, unimaginable things as if it was all new to me. As if I wasn’t the one who imagined them in the first place. I might have forgotten that I did otherwise.

    “One more thing. Don’t even think about telling anyone. You know what I’ll remove if you do. And no cops. Remember what you almost had me do to that rat-bastard Roberts when he turned on me, but thought it might cause night sweats in your pussy fanboys? That is nothing compared to what I will do to you.”

    Nobody knew any of that. Those were the exact words I merely thought: night sweats, fanboys. I hadn’t even spoken it out loud to myself. Any doubt that I had about his identity vanished.

    “Tonight. Let’s say, midnight.”

    Click.

    Taking a closer look at my hands made me dizzy again. The spot where my fingers had been severed, just above the knuckles, was relatively clean, with only a faint, creased scar. I didn’t detect any noticeable pain other than a slight throbbing.

    It seemed doubly ironic that it was my hands, after all, that made Dr. Mortar. At least the initial sketches of him. That it was my idea he practiced laser surgery–a fairly bloodless method that kept his victims alive for as long as he found it amusing. Of course, he wasn’t really a medical doctor. That was his street moniker. Vomit almost rose again when I considered that Dr. Mortar had an interest in all sorts of professions. Masonry, carpentry. Extended his surgical talents in areas of dentistry and even gynecology.

    The impairment, my helplessness, was sobering. Was I losing my mind? For me, there was a thin line between reality and fantasy, sanity and lunacy. A line that I spent the better part of my adult life bending, pushing to its absolute limit.

    All at once, the only thing I had to keep me company was a flood of knowing. I had brought it all upon myself.

    ~

    While in my basement studio, it took some concentration for me to break the natural tendency to reach for things in the usual way. Several times, I had to remind myself they’re not there. It was moot to attempt a routine manual sketch. Instead, I got to work utilizing voice controls, a program I had never taken advantage of prior to that. Turning my computer on with my knuckle, I picked up where I left off (pardon the pun): Dr. Mortar escaping from prison–never to be heard from again–apparently sent him into “purgatory,” as he had put it.

    I started with the copy.

    Dr. Mortar reappears, though still in hiding, plotting revenge against the crooked cop who pinched him–Detective Janus, A.K.A. “Reds,” a man who only wanted Dr. Mortar out of the way to gain control over his territory, a treacherous zone of drug-pushers, addicts, pimps, and prostitutes.

    For hours, harder than ever, I worked diligently. I brought up a projected two-dimensional holographic storyboard template. Using point controls with my horrible nubs, I laid out an outline and began filling in the scenes as they slowly came to life before me. Coloring took about four times as long as it normally would have. The color chart misread my intentions. The crude nature of my hands and all. The variations in tone were grouped together too closely for me to select.

    Finally, I improvised. Stuck a pencil in between my lips, plucking at the air like some frantic bird. Though it wasn’t foolproof, it hurried things along some.

    After several edits, I was pleased with the first four pages. That meant a thumb, an index, middle, and ring finger. Almost an entire hand. The pinky could wait. At this rate, I could be completely restored within two more days. Still, the urgency churning within me was overwhelming, though it did provide some much-needed adrenaline. The thought of anybody seeing me this way. It wasn’t necessarily the disfigurement itself, but more so the notion of humility. Made me like everyone else–human. Too human for my own good.

    The three-dimensionality software I pioneered begins with pressing a button, making a few adjustments in brightness. A simple start. Still, the entire process wasn’t instantaneous. It required entering an enormous amount of data and could take several weeks. Of course, I didn’t have that long and would have to quadruple my efforts. But I couldn’t start the procedure until the book was complete. Once I initiated 3-D, I could no longer alter the storyline or colors. It’s impossible to pull from the finished project. I can add brightness, but that’s it. Think of it like this, can you take light out of light? No. The information is converted into a photonic application, permanently changing its most fundamental makeup to tiny units of light.

    Without stopping to eat or drink, I continued with the copy for page five. The entire book would inevitably turn out to be somewhere around 80 pages. But Dr. Mortar did say ten pages would suffice. I felt somewhat confident that if he was assured that the book would be completed in a reasonable time, there would be no further need for injury.

    If I had to, I’d prove it to him. Show him that I had full intentions of finishing. Well aware of his capacities, I was desperately frightened of him–a state of being that was so alien to me that I found myself bargaining out loud. “I’ll invite him to my studio. Then he can see for himself that I will finish. He won’t hurt me then. He can’t. He needs me.”

    Proceeding with a feverish velocity, I could hardly believe I managed to lay out all the way to page seven. Maybe I’d get all my fingers back by dawn. Hyper-focused, I was shocked to discover that it was already 11:33 p.m. He’ll be here in less than a half-hour. Surely, he’ll be pleased with my progress.

    My attention to and fro between glances at the clock and my storyboard, I continued on with intermingling thoughts of fingers and Dr. Mortar’s triumphant return. Not only would he destroy Reds once and for all, but he’d gain control of the neighboring region, taking over Don Ferrari’s gambling and human trafficking territory. But I didn’t get to any of that yet. Dr. Mortar was still laying the groundwork. Devising a plan to place the Don’s underboss against his consigliere in a scheme involving a well-placed goombah, Veda–an exotic, irresistibly comely woman loyal to only one man. Dr. Mortar, of course. Likewise, Veda was the only woman he trusted.

    My thinking was diluted, I admit, but I was looking forward to telling him about what was to come for him. The strange co-existence of exhilaration and terror was mixing together in me like a witch’s brew of poisoned judgment.

    At five to midnight, I started up the stairs toward the living room. It hadn’t occurred to me until then how exhausted I really was. My head bobbed up and down with each step as alternating hot and cold flashes struck. Dehydrated, my mouth desiccated, I stuck my face beneath the kitchen faucet. Lapping up lukewarm water. Like an animal.

    A minute later, I was standing in the foyer, anxiously peering out toward the front like a schoolgirl awaiting the arrival of a prom date or a deadly stalker. It depended on which of my mixed emotions boiled up to the surface.

    But not a trace of anyone.

    He said midnight. It’s 11:57. Give him a few minutes.

    That couple of minutes gave me time to think about what could happen. He could show up, as expected. Give me back my fingers. But would he put them back on for me? I didn’t know how that was going to be possible. He had never actually done that before. Did he even know how? Would I have to go to the hospital? How would I explain it?

    Once more, what if he double-crosses me? It certainly wouldn’t be out of character. In fact, it would have been out of character for him not to. What if he changes the rules? Demands that I first finish the book completely. And then what? How long will my fingers last unattached? Will he kill me?

    At the stroke of midnight, I took a few deep breaths and stood up straight. He’ll be here any second. Keep it together. Everything’s going to be okay. Like he said, I shouldn’t try to understand everything. It seemed as good a time as any to embrace how some things are beyond our comprehension.

    Chewing at my lip to the point of discomfort, I waited. And waited.

    An hour went by in this manner.

    With each passing second, the hope of him showing up steadily dwindled until it evolved into a mounting heap of despair. It was like a snowball drifting downhill, small and slow at first, picking up speed–an icy boulder, an avalanche.

    In every way humanly possible, I was too fatigued to reason with myself any longer. All I knew was that he wasn’t there.

    Unable to stand any longer, I wilted down to the floor right there by the doorway. I don’t remember closing my eyes, but I must have fallen asleep. I woke up around five a.m. with my face against a small puddle of cold drool. Though disoriented, I noticed that it was still dark outside. I sat up, momentarily forgetting exactly what had happened to me. Until lucidity kicked me in the gut. I couldn’t help it. I sobbed.

    My stomach was ferociously growling, so I headed to the kitchen. Faint, I gripped a banana and used my teeth to tear it open. Unable to avoid it, I had to spit out some peel into the sink while a final warm droplet quietly cascaded down my cheek.

    I opened the refrigerator thinking I could get some milk, but dropped the container on the floor and could do nothing but watch the whiteness drifting across the blue floor like a liquid cloud.

    “Well, maid lady, you’re gonna be mad at me,” I said with a sarcastic snort.

    The faucet seemed like a safe bet.

    Then I chewed open a package of bread, wolfing a few slices down.

    Semi-rejuvenated, a light bulb went over my head: “He’s testing me. He’s watching me somehow. That must be it! Just like he did to his old girlfriend, Roxy, when he thought she was sleeping around. Without him ordering her to do it, that is. Yeah, he’s monitoring me with hidden micro-cameras. Maybe got them in the basement. I better get back to work.”

    I would have believed anything at this point.

    Hurrying toward my studio, I went over the scenario one more time while entertaining a glimmer of renewed hope. No matter how false it may or may not have been, I was welcoming it with open arms.

    But what I found there was nothing short of shock and awe.

    I doubt I’ll ever be able to explain it.

    Maybe Don Ferrari had something to do with it. Or Reds. Or Veda. Perhaps all of them.

    My work was finished. Title changed from Revenge of the Midnight Hunter, to Dawn of the Don.

    Right there in my basement was the vivid completed project. Moving. Unfolding right before my eyes in living color, in full dimensionality.

    A dazzling array of colors and textures.

    Sound effects so genuine, it had to be real.

    It was spectacular. I couldn’t have done it better myself.

    Indeed, it was as if I was right there when Don Ferrari shot Dr. Mortar in chapter fifteen. The bang, bang, bang, ringing in my ears. Shuddering through my core. Shattering my very soul.

    Don Ferrari got his hands dirty for the first time in years. Turns out Veda had a hidden agenda of her own. I don’t know why I forgot about her backstory. How she sought revenge against the men who raped and tortured her best friend. I didn’t know it until then, but it was Dr. Mortar’s crew who performed the heinous crime on his bequest.

    As for Reds, well, it seemed I hadn’t sealed his fate.

    I had no true power. It was all an illusion, right? One way or another.

    By chapter seven, a tipster, Johnny Talks–as he was known to Reds and every other corrupt cop–gave him a heads up. When word got out about Dr. Mortar’s infiltrator, Veda, all Reds needed do was lay low and wait for the morning news.

    When I envisioned my scanning feature, inserting readers into the storyline, I had no inkling what it might really feel like. It wasn’t exactly the same thing, but when I saw what happened to me, how I had been written into the story, it was bewildering. I was simultaneously present within two planes of existence. A bystander. A participant. One in the same.

    My debut into the Midnight Hunter series as Mick Jamis appeared on the very last page. A tragic, lone figure walking through the streets of West Hollywood. A world away from imaginary Fallen City. But fantasy and reality, the boundaries were ever blurring. Mick Jamis was said to be the last victim of Dr. Mortar. Though it remained a mystery as to how or why.

    There I was. Walking alone in the dark, gray lines of rain befalling me–desperation incarnate. Although I couldn’t quite make out my face, I knew it was me, if not by the thinly disguised name change, then by what I carried under my arm. A see-through cooler. Its contents: decayed, grayish fingers. Ten of them, to be exact.

    ~

    I vowed to never work on another holographic novel again. After destroying my software and all my notes, I began research into limb regeneration. For me, lab-grown replacements weren’t an option. My nerves were dead. The injury, too far-gone. I conjured up a world. Shaped new dimensions. Induced it to life somehow. But I couldn’t lift things very well. Needed assistance to do many of the everyday things I had taken for granted.

    I tried silicone hands. They kept falling off. If they were tightened, it only cut off my circulation. My weight fluctuated from frail to heavy in the course of a year, and no matter how they were fitted, they just didn’t work. Like I said, I’m not a patient person. Besides, they were more or less limited to a function of aesthetics. The shade never matched, and the oddness of them only made me feel all the more conspicuous.

    These days, I spend a lot of time in Minnesota, hanging out with the rest of the old fart comic book types talking about the work … the heart of creativity … what it all means. Mostly, I just listen. For once in my life, I listen. I’m grateful for the company, at the very least.

    My uncle was the only person I ever told about Dawn of the Don, as I didn’t have it published. It would have put me back in the spotlight. And that was precisely the last thing I wanted.

    “Just count your blessings,” he said, soon after I returned home. “You’re alive.”

    “Sure, I’ll just count them on my … wait a minute. Don’t have any,” I snickered, able to joke about it once in a while.

    In his studio, a room which consists of a simple drawing board and desk, snow peacefully falling outside of his window, my uncle continues on with what he considers to be his masterpiece. A graphic novel that he has been working out for the past three years. True to form, he works by hand, accompanied by indestructible patience.

    As I peer over his shoulder, he doesn’t even know I am standing behind him. I can hardly believe the genius of him. Man, oh, man. How I yearn to do just that again. Sketch by hand. I try to remember what a pencil feels like in between my fingers as he shades in a figure.

    How I wish Meyers was right all those years ago when he said the thing that pissed me off so badly. I wish I really did have his hands. But I’m honest with myself, I never did. Never will.


    Max Jamison is a world-renowned holographic novelist. His most successful book to date, The Midnight Hunter, was the first holographic novel of its kind. Jamison is credited with innovating the projected 3-D imagery closely associated with holographic novels. He is also credited with introducing additional sensory interactive components to holographic novels. Much of his work has been adapted to cartoon and feature-length films. Semi-retired, Jamison remains single, spending most of his time in Minnesota.


    J. A. Psoras is earning a master’s in marriage and family therapy. Her fiction has been featured in Issue 160, Volume 16 of Aphelion. Another short story received an honorable mention in Allegory, Volume 16/43. Her urban fantasy novel, A Dark Corner, is available via Amazon.com. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, a photojournalist.


    Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.


    “In Lieu of the Upper Hand” is Copyright 2017 J. A. Psoras
    Art accompanying story is Copyright 2017 Luke Spooner

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