Thursday, February 10, 2011

the penultimate hit, chapters 1 and 2

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: dan leo

illustrations by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

1) black whirlpool

Brock was almost out of ammo for his Tommy gun; but what he wasn't almost out of was guts; what he wasn't almost out of was heart; what he wasn't almost out of was blood-lust; and, most importantly of all, what he wasn't almost out of was hand grenades.

so when hermann goering stepped out of his sleek black armor plated limousine, brock thought he still had a little surprise for him.
"careful, reichsmarshal, this man brock could still be alive."
that voice - where had brock heard it before? could it be...?
"i hardly think so," drawled goering. "with all due respect, my esteemed kamerad, i doubt this fellow actually has supernatural powers."
against his better judgment and his infinitely honed warrior instinct, brock lifted his head ever so slightly to get a look at the reichsmarshal's esteemed kamerad.

and that's when it hit him. suddenly his head was a black orchestra pit playing the thunder from a million colliding galaxies.

he reached out and there was nothing there... except the thunder and the laughter ... the hellish laughter ... the laughter turned into a red river ... and the red river carried him down to a boiling yellow sea... and the legions of the damned were laughing ... laughing at him... and the ones laughing loudest were the very ones he'd sent to hell himself... laughing.... go ahead and laugh, you yellow bellied sons of bitches... laugh while you can... i'm still brock.... i'm still brock...

suddenly a rowboat appeared on the shore of the boiling yellow sea... and in the rowboat was a dame... and what a dame! flaming emerald eyes, red hair cascading like waterfalls over a body as round and smooth as the sparkplugs in a rolls royce, down to legs so long he wasn't sure he could fit in the boat... even with his head exploding brock felt his mouth fall open even more.
"don't stand there like a monkey looking at an elephant, soldier. get in the damn boat and let's get moving!"
"sure, baby, sure..."
"that's yes, ma'am to you..."

he woke up. he was lying on his back on a cot in a little room about the size of the linen closet in a bowery hotel. he could hear bored, drawling voices on the other side of a half ajar door.
"hey!" he tried to call out, but only managed a soft rasping croak. the voices carried on as before. he croaked a little louder and the voices stopped.
"could it be?" a woman's voice - a no-nonsense voice, probably a nurse.
the door opened and a little grey-haired man wearing a short sleeved white shirt and a green knit tie looked in.
"hello there."
"hello." brock rubbed his head and his face. "what time is it?"

"what time is it?" the little man laughed. "you mean the time of day? what do you care what time of day it is?" he laughed again. "do you have someplace you want to go?"
"i might. i might have someplace to go. and i might have things to do too. yeah. i might have all sorts of things to do, doctor. you are a doctor, aren't you?"
"yes, of course i'm a doctor. what else would i be?" the little man looked brock straight in the eyes from behind his thick wire-rimmed glasses.
brock stared back. the doctor cleared his throat. "don't you want to know where you are? don't you want to know - what year it is?"
"sure, doc. those sound like good things to know. meanwhile, how about a drink?"
"of course, how rude of me." the doctor turned and spoke to someone behind the door. "nurse, please bring mister brock a glass of water. a tall, cold glass of water."
"water! and it's sergeant brock. master sergeant brock."

the doctor ignored this. the door opened after a minute and a woman - not wearing a nurse's uniform - squeezed her wide body into the little room with a large moisture-dripping glass of water in her hand. the doctor took the glass from her.
"thank you, nurse sherman." the doctor twirled the glass in his hand and held it up to the light as if studying a glass of wine. then he handed it to brock.
brock took the glass and pointed with his other hand at the nurse. "sherman. i bet your friends call you tank, right?"
she smiled evilly at him with large white teeth. "not in today's world, sergeant."
"today's world? what's that supposed to mean?"
"oh, you'll find out, sergeant."

2) new age

"today's world? what's that supposed to mean?"
"oh, you'll find out, sergeant."
"maybe you should stop calling him sergeant?"
"oh, what's the harm? my great-great grandfather was in the spanish-american war and he called himself colonel to the end of his long days. we can humor the sergeant here." nurse sherman smiled a little less maliciously at brock. "i think he'll find little enough to humor him - in the new world."
"oh, i don't know." the doctor stared meditatively at brock. "i am sure he will prove very adaptable. i don't think his patron would have paid for his upkeep all this time if he didn't think so."

"maybe you should notify mister g that he is awake."
"yes, yes, of course. i should have thought of that first thing." the doctor looked up at brock for a few more seconds and turned and left the room.
brock looked at nurse sherman again. "about that drink?"
"you've got your drink in your hand, sergeant . it's the only one you are going to get - at least for now."
"all right." he looked at the glass of water, put it to his lips and took a sip. "at least it's cold." he drained it in one gulp and handed it back.
"that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"not for water." brock nodded toward the half open door. "i thought he was making a phone call."
"of course he's making a phone call. what else would he be doing?"
"i got pretty good ears. i can usually hear a phone being dialed - even in the middle of an air raid."
nurse sherman smiled. "really? how impressive."
"not to mention that i don't hear him talking to anybody."
"he's on the phone. things are a little different from the last time you were in an air raid."
"all right, how long have i been out? six months? a year even?"
"over thirty years."
"what? what year is it?"
"no! let me look." he started for the door and she stepped aside to let him pass.
he entered into a "front parlor" with heavy stuffed chairs and sofas and a large picture window. outside the window was a narrow paved street - and beyond that a flat empty plain under a cloudless blue sky.

"1977 huh? where's the dome?" brock walked right up to the window and put his hands and face against it. he looked up and down the street in both directions. it seemed deserted, with no cars or pedestrians. white two story frame buildings stood about a hundred yards on each side of the building the doctor's office was in. there were no buildings on the other side of the street, just the flat plain.
nurse sherman followed him into the room and lowered herself onto one of the sofas.

"don't worry about the domes," she told him. "most of the world is very well domed. we happen to be in one of the remaining open spaces."
"yeah?" brock walked over to a side door and opened it on to a small porch dominated by a long swing. "and where is that exactly?"
"we are just outside abilene, kansas."
"huh. a long way from berlin."
"not so long. distance is measured differently these days."
"if you say so." brock sat down on a stuffed chair and tested his weight on it. "you wouldn't happen to have a cigarette, would you?"
"i would not happen to have a cigarette. would you like another glass of water?i can make it extra cold."
"if that's the best you can do." he watched her as she got up and left the room.

"1977 huh?" he called after her. "so there must be men on mars and jupiter and all that, right?"
"oh, a lot further than that." she came back with another icy glass of water, gave it to him and went back to her sofa. "humans reached the stars years ago."
"damn." brock took a sip of the water and looked down at his feet. "there must have been a lot of great wars out there." he shook his head. "and you're telling me i missed them?"
"i don't know where to begin." she looked at him pityingly. "you have a lot of catching up to do."
"yeah. hey, i'm hungry. we're in kansas, right? i should be able to get a pretty good steak."
"i'm afraid that might be a problem too. not an absolutely insoluble one, but a problem."

"what! what is this - i can't get a drink, can't get a cigarette, can't get a steak! what did we do, lose the war or something? i thought i had it just about won."
"don't excite yourself. everything will be explained."
"drink your water."
brock looked around. "where's the doctor?"
she shrugged. "probably doing some explaining himself." she looked right at him. "is there anything else you'd like?'
"well... yeah, there is, now that you mention it." he laughed. "but i don't know that you can help me out there."
"you might be surprised."

"oh?" brock looked around the room, at the window and doors.
"looking for something?"
he shrugged, and laughed again. "you're telling me you got a babe for me behind a door somewhere? upstairs maybe?"
"i think you're being the babe, sergeant. you know exactly what i'm talking about." she stood up, and walked over and stood over him.

"but what? it's not 1945? this is the new age, women who don't meet traditional standards of body imagery are no longer afraid to explore and assert their sexuality."
"what! speak english, why don't you? we are in america, aren't we?"
"come on, you've been asleep for thirty-two years. you should have a little energy stored up." she put one hand on his shoulder and began unbuttoning her blouse with the other.
"but...but..." he looked at the picture window. "it's broad daylight. anybody can just look in and see us. and the doctor..."
"welcome to the new world, sergeant. welcome to 1977."

chapter 3

"First published in paperback -- 'an original complete novel, never printed anywhere before!' by Monarch Books in 1954, Sternwall's The Penultimate Hit apparently received zero reviews. Two years later the book appeared in soft covers again, with a new cover painting (by Ed Emswhiller) and a new title (Brock's Last Battle), a different publisher (Del Rey), and with a new by-line ('Harry P. Wells'). This edition also was greeted with the sounds of utter critical silence, and the book has remained out-of-print ever since. It remains, however, perhaps Sternwall's most mind-fucking novel." -- Harold Bloom, in The Ladies' Home Journal


Dan Leo said...

Brilliant, rhoda. My mind has been f****d.

Jason Gusmann said...

this made me so happy