St. Paul Mavrides
Excerpts from the Novel-in Progress

Chapter Six

A putter has a straight face
The comic relief is supplied by the golfer.

Semour Dunn

Smith's ears were still ringing from the crash. Not more than ten feet away from his desk, centered in the smoking ruins of his bookcase, was the object that had dropped from the sky. He couldn't move. He couldn't speak. He could see, though, and what he saw he didn't want to believe. His prize sci-fi paperbacks, all the Blowfly party records, the Famous Monsters of Filmland collection, his autographed photos of Betty Page and Kitten Natividad, racks of software and floppy disks: burning and melting in the small fires that lit the darkened study. Worst of all, there, in the ashes of fifty years of priceless pop culture, lay the glowing, white-hot, miniature Head (and nothing more!) of The World Cup Golfer.

The Head made Doug want to throw up. Its unclean radioactive aura was already poisoning the atmosphere around it, mixing with the toxic, flaky, black smoke from the sizzling plastics. He was scared and knew he should be; any reasonable Dogma Sprout would be pissing his pipe in terror by now at the Bleeding Head's tormented countenance.

Smith heard the Overchildren start to cry from their nursery in the basement. They could feel the Head's presence. "Why doesn't Tev change their diapers?", Doug thought fuzzily. Then he remembered, Tevis was still chasing around GreenHelle trying to find an artificial H'Frop substitute in the jungle wasteland Gordon called his backyard.

A sound like rotten meat being torn in two snapped him back into the present. He forced himself to look at the Golfer thing glaring at him from its circle of fire. Opening its mouth, it was trying to speak with an effort that made little pieces of the lips drop away. Its eyelids were gone, leaving a ceaseless stare of blind pain that was focused on the Prince of Pamphlets. Doug cleaned his glasses and moved closer. The Head's voice was almost inaudible, a wheezy, sick cough, a hollow sound. Small wonder. It didn't have a body, much less lungs. How could it talk? But it was trying. That's why the Head was World-Class, Smith supposed.

He found his 'corder under his desk and checked it out. An old cassette from Puzzling Evidence in Oakland. "Too bad." Smith worked quick, tearing off the safety tabs, muttering, "Gotta tape the Head. Means erasing Wellman's contract. Tough shtr, P.E., but this is real show material. Those maniacs actually launched the damn thing and now it's landed right here in my lap."

A cold wind blew down from the hole in the ruined ceiling. Snow began to drift in, landing in the Golfer's flames, evaporating with loud pops and cracks. Snow? In Dobbstown? In May? It started to hail, blood-red chunks of ice the size of baseballs. Now there were shouts from outside as Dobbstown woke up to the Whore of the Greens' calling card. Large explosions sounded from the direction of the Blank Tanks, as their flat-lined occupants overloaded on the Heads' evil Pstench. The Malaysian night sky shined through the shattered windows, flaring with purple, green and yellow flashes, even though it was three in the morning.

"Unibrow," the King of the Golfers hissed, and spat out chips of corroded metal teeth. "Unibrow wants his share of the Church sold."

Poor Hughes lay in his big, pink restraining straps, twitching and shaking. It had been a close thing. There hadn't been much left of him when Palmer and Mobius Rex had fished him out of the sludge that lay off the Las Vegas shore line. The Church Auto-Surgeons had had a hell of a time keeping him alive: skin grafts, spinal transplants, gallons of anti-viral injections, and weeks of chemotherapy resulted in holding the High Priest of Sub-Surf to just this side of existence.

Palmer had warned Hughes about the "water". "The oceans are dead, Gary. Killed 'em myself, last year. Had to. Only way to stop stop Dobbs and his 'Lost Atlantis' Beach Boys. I'm sorry about the surfing and all, but in about two or three hundred years it ought to safe enough to go back in. Bad Science, Dude. That soup's toxic enough now to fry fish right in their beds. Stick with me and have a cigarette, they're healthier than going swimming, for sure."

Gary didn't want to believe it. He'd scorned the warnings of his friend, shook off the the nightmare thought that his beloved coastal waters were irrevocably dead. And deadly. He took his best board, the forty pound, twelve-foot teak-aluminum number, pulled on his pink wetsuit and headed for the beach. The extra layer of rubber was probably the only thing that saved Hughes from total dissolution in the brackish acid through which he had paddled out. That and the hard wood and metal stick. It had been reduced to a toothpick by the time the rescue craft had reached him. As for Hughes himself, about the only thing undamaged was his dreadlocks. It seemed that not even Palmer's lethal sea brew could touch those dense, matted coils of hair. Too bad he hadn't been covered with it, because the rest of him was something else again.

The poisonous wastes of the Pacific had melted and merged the plastic insulation with Gary's epidermis, sculpting skin and resin into webs of repulsive crust. In a few spots, the wetsuit had offered some protection, the single thing holding his internal organs in place, keeping them from oozing out. His face, if you could still call it that, was a horror show. Where the fetid sea-liquid had touched mucous membranes, black foam had bubbled out from dissolved nostrils, ears, eyesockets, mouth. Bloated green and purple skin cancers, large as puffballs, inflated in every direction, their growth accelerated by the wash of ultraviolet light from the once safe sun.

Good thing Hughes had held a Major-Medical. The oxygen and draining apparatus running in and out of his chest was as close as he was going to get to a "perfect tube" for a long, long time.

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