Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

New review for The Boy Who Killed Demons

A new review from book blogger Keith B. Walters sums up THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS as "Clever, witty, and dark as hell." You can read the entire review here.

Friday, April 24, 2015


(MIND PRISON is also available as a kindle eBook. This is the 4th and final part.)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4

She fought feebly for a few moments and then her arms went limp. After it was done, a wave of nausea rolled over me. My knees buckled and I collapsed to the ground. It was a long while before I could push myself back to my feet and dig her grave. Afterwards, I went back to the house and had a few drinks to steady myself. Then I took a shower, put on some clean clothes, and got in the car to meet Svetlana.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the way Cheryl looked when I had choked the life out of her. I just kept seeing her the way she was during those last few moments; her eyes wide-open, bulging, her tongue thickening as it pushed its way through blood-red lips. And those wide-open eyes, Jesus, staring at me with nothing but sadness. There was no fear or hatred in those eyes, only sadness. Then the sadness just sort of dried up and there was nothing left in them. After a while it was like looking into empty glass.
I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. I had to get that image out of my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to concentrate, tried to stop that image from playing through my mind. But I couldn’t. It was like a movie that was wrapped around in a loop, playing over and over again. With a start I realized I had seen it before, maybe hundreds of times, maybe thousands.
The air became still. It was so damn quiet. I couldn’t hear anything, not even my own heartbeat. I realized why the scene of Cheryl being choked to death seemed so damn familiar. It all finally hit me. I wasn’t Graham Winston.
As I sat there I could remember every detail about my life with Cheryl. I could remember us meeting when I was twenty-two and she was twenty-nine. I remembered how beautiful she was then. I remembered how much she loved me almost from the start. I could see the years of us together and all the things she did to care for me and support me. I felt ashamed thinking about the last few years, and about all the little things I had said to her, all the snide comments, the innuendos. There was no wonder Cheryl was always running on her treadmill and doing aerobics. Anything to try to keep her body trim for me—to try to keep me from growing bored with her. I remembered other things. Really horrible things, things that I just wouldn’t want to admit to. The one thing I couldn’t remember, though, was her supporting me through medical school. Because I never went to medical school. And I sure as hell never went to engineering school. I had no memories growing up as Graham Winston.
I remembered that my real name was Bob Coggins. That I had bought a chain of supermarkets in the Denver area with Cheryl’s money. I remembered killing Cheryl at our summer home near Estes Park, not the White Mountains.
As I sat there other memories came rushing forward. They were memories of events that hadn’t happened yet but were going to happen. I remembered the phone call I received from France notifying me about Cheryl’s death. And I remembered how Svetlana and I waited a year after that before getting married. And then how she betrayed me only a few days later. She had called the police, claiming that I had bragged to her about murdering Cheryl. With Svetlana’s help they were able to dig up Cheryl’s body. There wasn’t much I could say or do after that. There was really no evidence to implicate Svetlana. She had been careful to make sure that there was no evidence.
They charged me with first degree murder. The trial was quick and the jury took less than an hour to convict me. Svetlana ended up with the millions that Cheryl had left me, and I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
I remember being taken to prison, or at least what had become prison. It was really nothing but a large warehouse filled with coffin-sized containers. They had me drugged at this point, so I couldn’t really do much of anything but look around. But I remember those containers, one stacked on top of the next. There must have been tens of thousands of them in that room. They placed me in one of them and attached electrodes all over my body. Then they stuck an intravenous feeding tube into me and attached a catheter. And then they drilled those holes in my skull.
I sat in the car with my eyes shut, trying to concentrate, fishing for more memories, but that was all there was. And I realized I was now living a simulation. I guess either because of ego, or because Graham Winston had a hell of a sense of humor, he had developed a simulated script of his own life. So all I was doing now was living his script. Except there was a flaw in the system. Instead of simply reenacting the script, my old memories were bubbling through and changing it. The script had been perverted and merged with my own past.
The image of Cheryl dying was so damn vivid. Probably every simulated life I lived got corrupted with memories of Cheryl and Svetlana. Probably every single one ended with me choking the life out of my wife. And I knew every future one was also going to end that way. I knew there was no escape from it.
I looked down at my hands and watched as I clenched and unclenched my fingers. I didn’t know how much time was left before I’d be switched into a new simulated life, but I hoped I had at least enough time to meet up with Svetlana. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, I knew what I was living now wasn’t real, but I wanted Svetlana to go through once what Cheryl had gone through all those countless number of times.
I started the car up and pulled it back onto the road. Svetlana was waiting down the road for me. With a little bit of luck I’d meet up with her. With just a little bit of luck.

The End

Thursday, April 23, 2015


(MIND PRISON is also available as a kindle eBook. The story is being presented on this blog in four parts)

Part 3
I didn’t get home that night until past eight. As I made myself a drink in the kitchen I could hear the droning and thumping noise from the basement of Cheryl running on her treadmill. She must have heard me because the noise stopped. A minute later I could hear her clumping up the stairs. Another minute and she joined me in the kitchen.
“Hi, Honey,” she said as she reached over to give me an overly wet kiss on my cheek. “I just finished three miles on the treadmill.”
Cheryl was wearing her workout leotards. It kind of firmed her up some, but even still her body over the last few years had lost most of it’s definition and was becoming shapeless. To be fair, she was forty-six, a good seven years older than me and twenty-one years older than Svetlana. Still, all the countless hours running on her treadmill and performing aerobics didn’t seem to stop her body from spreading and growing small unsightly bulges. As I looked at her, I noticed how puffy her face had become. Maybe the sheen of her sweat exaggerated the puffiness, I don’t know, but it almost seemed as if a layer of stucco had been applied. I took a sip of my martini, wished I had put in a little less Vermouth, and muttered something about how great she looked.
Cheryl put a sweaty hand on my drink hand—she was really sweating all over, dripping in it really—and twisted her body around to give me a slobbering kiss on my lips. All I could think of during it was how she smelled like sweat socks and how much that contrasted with Svetlana’s sweet jasmine scent. Even when Svetlana was sweaty after making love, she still smelled of jasmine.
“How’d the meeting with the Corrections Board go?” she asked.
She had a sweaty hand resting on my arm. I took a sip of my martini, using that as an excuse to disengage myself from her, and then took a few steps away.
“I think I sold four of the five members. But even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve got the Governor and the State Senate behind me. The clinical trials are a go. Sometime in the next few weeks the first human test subject will be connected.”
I could tell Cheryl was both happy and a bit disappointed by the news. She knew once the clinical trials started she’d see even less of me. For a moment I felt sorry for her. And for a moment I even felt a pang of regret about how I now felt about her. But the regret was fleeting.
Cheryl warmed up some dinner that she had prepared for me earlier. Later, when we were in bed she was all over me. I tried to pretend I was sleeping but she wouldn’t give up and after a while I couldn’t ignore her. I tried my hardest to think of Svetlana and somehow got through it.
The next morning I received a call from Svetlana and we arranged to meet. When I saw her, her eyes and skin were flushed with excitement and it drove me crazy. It just made me feel weak in my knees. She gave me a long hard kiss, letting me taste her, letting me feel her warmth. Then she told me how we were going to get rid of my wife.
Her plan was for me to arrange a trip to Paris for me and my wife. I would explain to Cheryl that I wanted to squeeze the trip in before things got too crazy at work. We would first spend a long weekend at our summer home in the White Mountains and then fly to Paris. I knew Cheryl would be thrilled with the idea and I knew she’d tell her friends about it. At the last minute, while in the White Mountains, I would have to postpone my flight for a few days due to an emergency at work. I would insist that Cheryl still leave on her original flight and that I would catch up with her later. Of course I’d have to make sure she told her friends about the change in plans. Then I’d kill her and bury her. Svetlana would find a Russian look-alike for Cheryl. She wouldn’t have to look exactly like my wife, just enough to match Cheryl’s passport and for people on the flight to remember her. Later, she would disappear back to Russia. Svetlana would also arrange with her Russian contacts for a corpse to be found in a car crash along with Cheryl’s passport and suitcase.
As Svetlana told me her plan, her voice came out in a breathless whisper. I touched her cheek and felt a hotness from her skin. She was burning. Before I knew it I had her in my arms and could feel her body tremble and push into mine. I told her we would do it. It seemed like an eternity before we separated. She told me she’d need a photo of Cheryl, and I told her there was one on my company’s web site.
That night I told Cheryl about our trip to Paris and she burst out crying. She gave me a flurry of wet kisses and then told me how happy she was. Later that night, I overheard her calling her friends, telling them about how we were going to spend the weekend at our home in the White Mountains and then fly to Paris.
The next day I got a call from Svetlana letting me know that the look-alike was en route from Moscow. We arranged the final details of where and when she would be waiting for me with Cheryl’s look-alike. Then I hung up.
The rest of the week felt rather normal. I was surprised at how indifferent I was about what was going to happen. I was able to focus on work and really felt no nerves or anxiety. Thursday before leaving I modified a software module so that our weekend test would fail. I knew that sometime around Sunday morning I would get a panicked call from my assistant, Hanson.
Friday morning Cheryl and I headed off to the White Mountains. It was a beautiful fall day and Cheryl could barely contain her happiness. I felt oddly at peace. The whole ride up Cheryl rested against me.
The weekend went according to plan. Sunday morning I got a frantic phone call from Hanson that the weekend test had failed. I told Cheryl that I would have to book myself a later flight. I could tell she was disappointed, and she started to argue that she would postpone her flight so she could be with me, but I insisted that she fly out Sunday night as planned. I’d rather have her enjoying herself in Paris than sitting around waiting for me to fix a critical software bug. In the end she relented.
I had a few mildly anxious hours waiting for her to relay the bad news to her friends, but by four o’clock I heard her on the phone. After she put the phone back down, I walked over to her and gave her a kiss. My hands were resting on her shoulders and slid slowly up to her neck. Before she realized what was happening, I was choking the life out of her. I just stared at her indifferently and kept squeezing, putting all my muscle into it. There was something about the look in her eyes that got to me, though. And there was something about how blood-red her lips became, and her tongue, the way it just sort of thickened as it pushed through those lips. Something oddly familiar about it all …

Part 4 tomorrow

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


(MIND PRISON is also available as a kindle eBook. The story will be presented on this blog over the next four days)

Part 2

I was fifteen minutes late and I could see Svetlana through the restaurant window, her dark beautiful face smoldering with anger. She had gotten up from her table and was buttoning her suede jacket. Of course, any restaurant manager would seat her by the window. She was so damn beautiful. Long black hair, dazzling green eyes, a thin athletic body that only a twenty-five year old could have, and legs that could stop a man’s heart. I felt lightheaded just looking at her. I knocked on the plate glass window and her eyes seethed as she glanced at me. Then she looked away and left the table.
I caught her as she rushed from the restaurant. “You told me twelve thirty,” she said coolly, her voice thick with a Russian accent. She pulled her arm free from my hand and started to walk quickly away. Along with her suede jacket, she was wearing a short black skirt and suede boots that went half way up to her knees. I watched her for a moment and felt dizzy. I don’t think I ever wanted anyone as badly as I wanted her right then.
I ran up to her about the time she was opening the door to her BMW convertible; a car I had bought her after our first month together. “Please, Svetlana,” I said, “I couldn’t help it. I had a meeting that ran late.”
“I don’t know why I agreed to see you,” she said. “There’s nothing left to say.”
“Please,” I pleaded.
She stood quietly for a moment. Her eyes seemed to soften. “Okay,” she said, “you can get in but I don’t know what good it will do.”
She got into the driver’s seat and I joined her on the passenger side. As she drove I looked at her profile and felt a lump form in my throat. “You’re all I can think about,” I said.
I reached over to kiss her, but she pushed me away. “Nothing has changed,” she said dispassionately. “I’m not going to be just your mistress.”
“You love me too, don’t you?” I asked.
She sat quietly for a long moment, her eyes focused on the road. “It doesn’t matter,” she said at last. “You’re married.”
“I can’t divorce Cheryl. I’ve told you that. She’s funding my research. But if you could just wait three years, four at the tops—”
“I’m not waiting three years. I want to enjoy life now while I’m young, with or without you.”
We sat silently after that. My heart ached as I looked at her. I wanted more than anything to taste her lips and to hold her body. Svetlana, though, just stared straight ahead, a harsh determination hardening her face. After a long time she broke the silence.
“If your wife would disappear everything would be fine,” she said at last.
I didn’t say anything.
“You don’t love her,” she said. “I remember all the times you told me she’d be miserable without you. That you didn’t even think she could live without you. You’d be doing her a kindness.”
I didn’t say anything. Of course I had been thinking the same thing for months. About how much better everything would be if Cheryl didn’t exist.
“If it wasn’t for your wife, I’d be all yours. Body and soul,” she said.
“It wouldn’t work,” I said quietly. “The police would know it was me.”
Svetlana kept staring straight ahead, her face hard and beautiful. I noticed the whites of her knuckles as she gripped the wheel with her small hands.
“Let me think about that,” she said after a long while.

Part 3 tomorrow

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


(MIND PRISON is also available as a kindle eBook. The story will be presented on this blog over the next four days)

Part 1
I could tell from their faces that they weren’t going to be receptive, but it didn’t matter. I already had the Governor sold and the Governor’s council sold, and more importantly, I had the State Senate President sold. The best these five could do was put up a speed bump.
I introduced myself as Graham Winston and gave them my credentials: PhD in electrical engineering from MIT and top of my class at Harvard Medical. Before I could start the presentation, a heavyset woman, her voice trembling with moral indignation, stopped me.
“Dr. Winston,” she asked, “don’t you consider what you’re doing inhuman?”
“And why would that be?”
“Because,” she said, her pitch rising, “what you are proposing is to warehouse human beings. Basically, you want to pen prisoners up as if they were nothing but fatted calves!”
I gave her and her companions a hard look. I already had approval to start the clinical trials and I didn’t really need their support. This was a waste of time. I felt a little anxious as I glanced at my watch. It was eleven o’clock and I was supposed to meet Svetlana at twelve thirty. It had taken me a week to convince her to see me and I couldn’t afford to let this meeting mess that up. I politely told the woman that I believed what I was proposing was far more humane than the system that was currently in place. I asked if she could withhold judgment and questions until I was done with my presentation. I could tell she didn’t appreciate my answer, but she forced her mouth shut.
I went through the slides showing the financial and social benefits, and they really were dramatic. It costs eighty thousand dollars a year in Massachusetts to house an inmate in a maximum security prison and my proposed system would reduce that to less than ten thousand dollars. The social benefits were equally dramatic. Every year violent criminals were either released early or given reduced sentences because of lack of prison space. With my system there would never be any space problems. My audience, though, sat stone-faced through my presentation.
As I wrapped up the slides, a bony man in his early fifties with pale fish eyes, started to question the moral integrity of what I was proposing. I stopped him and asked if I could answer him after the demo. He looked insulted, but agreed to wait.
I led them from the conference room to the lab. In the middle of the lab, a purebred boxer lay in a container with about a dozen electrodes attached to its body. A catheter was also attached, as was an intravenous feeding tube. Several optical wires, each the width of a single human hair, ran out of the dog’s skull. The animal appeared to be asleep. One of my audience members let out a gasp. I ignored her and inserted a tape into the VCR.
“This specimen was chosen,” I said, “because of his antisocial and aggressive behavior. This video was taken hours before attaching the dog to the MP100—or Mind Prison system.”
The video showed the dog being taken into a room with several other dogs. Almost immediately, the boxer forced itself on one of the smaller dogs and tried to mount it. And just as quickly it lunged at one of the other dogs. Fortunately, I had a firm grip of his leash and was able to keep him from doing any damage. The video ended with me throwing a Frisbee to the animal, which he watched with indifference.
I turned off the video and walked over to the dog.
“He’s been connected to the system for a week now,” I said, as I scratched him behind one of his ears. “Technology has existed for several years which converts digital images to rudimentary signals that the brain can process. This has proven helpful to the blind. My technology is a revolutionary improvement over that. What I’m doing is converting complex computer images to impulses that are fed directly into the prefrontal cortex, right angular gyrus, amygdala, and hippocampus areas of the brain. This in effect allows me to simulate consciousness.”
I turned on a flat-panel monitor that sat above the dog. The images on it showed a Black Labrador being thrown a Frisbee. The Labrador chased after it and caught it in mid-flight. He then brought it back to his owner and dropped it at his feet and barked. Simultaneously, the boxer made a slight noise.
“The test subject is right now experiencing what is being shown on the monitor. Although it’s nothing but a computer simulation, as far as he’s concerned, he’s chasing and catching Frisbees. We call these simulations scripts. The Labrador script has been running for two days. A two-day script, though, might actually simulate a month or more of activity. The script we ran before this was of a Basset Hound. In that one the dog spent his time socializing with other dogs and their owners.”
I looked at my watch and saw it was almost twelve. I had to hurry things up. I started removing the electrodes, catheter, and feeding tube from the boxer. I then used a special instrument to remove the optical wires from his skull. The dog opened his eyes and then pushed himself up and jumped off the table. He was wagging his tail, greeting the stunned members of my audience. He was quite a bit different from the vicious beast they had seen in the video. I took a Frisbee from a shelf, called the dog over, and then gave the Frisbee a short toss. The dog took off and caught it in mid-air. He then brought it back to me and dropped it at my feet and let loose with a bark, his tail wagging a mile a minute.
The bony guy with the fish eyes seemed impressed. “Can this rehabilitate prisoners?” he asked.
“They’re going to be spending their days living productive and enriching lives. Yes, it should be a positive influence on them.”
He thought about that, and asked, “If the prisoners are going to be lying for years at a time, how do you, uh, keep their muscles from atrophying?”
“We electrically stimulate the muscles,” I said. “Muscle stimulation, feeding, cleaning, and health monitoring are all automated.” I showed a thin smile. “The average prisoner will be healthier when they leave than when they entered.”
I had won most of them over, but not the heavyset woman. Her eyes were shining brightly with moral superiority.
“What type of existence could they possibly have,” she demanded, “if they’re simply plugged into a computer with all free will and thought taken away from them?”
“What type of life do they have now?” I asked. “Prisoners lives are filled with boredom, drugs, brutality, and worse. We’re developing scripts to let them live as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and countless other great thinkers and artists. We’ll allow them to spend their days discovering the theory of relativity, inventing the light bulb, or writing Tom Sawyer. And every few days a new script will be selected and a new adventure will begin. What we’re offering is paradise.”
The woman started to argue with me but I held up my hand. “I have someplace else I have to be,” I said. “My assistant, Dr. Allison Hanson, will answer any further questions you may have.”
I called Hanson on the phone and less than a minute later, as arranged, she entered the lab with several small dogs on leashes. The dogs backed up at the sight of the boxer, but the boxer ambled over to them civilly and wagged his tail.
I introduced Dr. Hanson to my audience and then left.

Part 2 tomorrow