THE NAME BADGE by Taral Wayne

TheNameBadge1570They discovered it while cleaning out Arn Metzger’s attic, a week after the funeral.

Metzger had been a terrible packrat, and in 60 years of collecting he had accumulated books and fanzines in the tens of thousands, as well as cardboard boxes of other items best described as “related.”

It was in the last place anyone would look – if they were looking for anything – and it was unlikely anyone would be searching at all for what Jack Cooter and Ron Tuttle found. It was at the bottom of a water-stained cardboard box – its corners battered and flaps interleaved so that they held each other shut – hidden under a stack of canvas souvenir tote bags for some forgotten Worldcon bid that looked as though they had never been opened. When they found a namebadge, of all things, in such an unlikely place, Cooter and Tuttle were puzzled. All of Metzger’s other namebadges were in numbered shoeboxes.

The two gradually became aware that there was something different about this namebadge. For one thing, they had never heard of the convention, Desideratacon. Nothing indicated when or where the unknown convention had been held. Other than the con’s name, the only other thing printed on the oddly worn card was a hand, palm held forward, the four fingers curled shut and the thumb thrust out like a twisted horn. The hand didn’t quite seem quite right, either. It was a good deal hairier than it had any right to be, the fingers bony, almost skeletal, and the claws broken. It was a mummy’s hand … if it was anything human at all. Oddest of all was the space left for the convention attendee to write his name.

There was no name … but the paper had been clearly written upon in the past, and erased several times.

******

Britt Merrill was used to working by herself to get ready for a party – following her precise routine of setting out all the paper plates and disposable cups, the bowls of M&Ms, salted peanuts and jelly beans; the plates of cookies, sliced salami and cheese; the bags of potato chips and little tubs of garlic or ranch spread; and last of all stocking the ice-filled bathtub with cans of carbonated beverages and beer, to cool until the guests arrived. In her mind, Britt thought of the tub as her “treasure chest,” because it reminded her of an open chest full to the brim with pirate treasure!

In fact, she preferred her friends Jayce and Daws to stay in the other room rather than trying to help, but only getting in the way whenever they stopped working and reverted to idle conversation. Why they persisted in arriving early for every party, Britt couldn’t guess. But they always did. And she always shooed them into the other room.

The turnout was likely to be large this month, she thought. It was Halloween. As a rule, a get-together of the “Astrogators” rarely topped a dozen. In years long gone by, when there had been an official organization, their bi-monthly meetings had attracted up to 50 of the brightest names in Midwest fandom. But that had been years ago. Since then, many of the members had dispersed to other locales, dropped out of fandom, or just plain gotten older and less keen to drive across town to see the faces of people who were no longer any very important part of their lives. The ’Gators were merely friends and acquaintances these days, and their meetings were informal parties.

For the last couple of years, Britt had been the hostess almost any time the ‘Gators got together. It was not just that she was a “take-charge” sort of person – though she was – she was also the only one of the ‘Gators with adequate room for a proper party. After her husband of thirty years, Eric, died, she had kicked around the two-story home by herself, wondering if she should sell, or just put all the empty space and the memories out of her mind as best she could. Then Solly (Solomon) Aziz had split with his boyfriend, and moved into a bachelor apartment. The old, spacious flat he had shared was suddenly off-limits to the ‘Gators. So Britt had volunteered herself and her house as the more-or-less permanent location for Astrogator meetings without a second thought. It gave her purpose, and she was happy.

As Britt opened fresh napkins to place around the room, there was a knock on the door. “When I’m busy, of course,” she said aloud. “Daws? Why don’t you make yourself useful and answer the door?”

Daws Pfiffer (a youngster of 34), said from the other room, “Sure, I’ll get it.”

Jayce Lopez, called from out of sight, “Anything you’d like me to do?”

“No,” Britt retorted, laying out the napkins. “You just go on sneaking from the cold cuts in the dining room.” She didn’t have to see him to imagine his hand guiltily arrested while hovering over the salami.

******

Daws unlatched the heavy paneled door, really putting his back into opening it. In the old days, they built places like this solid, he thought.

Two ‘Gators stood in the doorway. “Trick or treat,” they chorused. Despite the badly distorted gorilla mask, one was obviously Jack Cooter. If nothing else, the taller man’s stoop and the heavy Harley-Davidson belt buckle gave him away. The other was Ron Tuttle, wearing his dark blue shirt and red tie backward, and stood facing the other way.

“Ha ha. A couple of smart-aleck kids,” Daws grinned. “I was expecting grown ups. If I give you some candy, will you go away and soap the next-door neighbor’s windows?”

Jack pulled off the gorilla mask. It was rubber and hot underneath, so there were beads of perspiration like pearl onions on his balding pate. Although Jack’s hairline had receded right to his crown, he wore his remaining hair long in back, rather like the mane of a lion. He walked in. Ron followed clumsily, walking backward.

It was more lip service to “coming-in-costume” than anything else. Jack threw the mask on a side table and never thought of it again. Ron, after stumbling over the door jamb, turned himself around and walked the way nature intended for the rest of the night. “I think I saw Bob Middleton parking his Rabbit out in the street as we were waiting,” he said.

“Is he still driving that thing?” snorted Daws. “Every time he gives me a lift he pops the clutch, and I think we’ve been rear-ended.”

“He says he’s going to get a ‘new’ used car next year,” Jack mused. “But he’s said that every year for the last eight or ten.”

Jack and Ron followed Daws through the parlor and into the dining room, leaving Britt to her preparations. Daws joined Jayce in nibbling at the cold cuts and cheese, while Jack and Ron searched out the bathroom for a cold beer. A moment later, all four sat around the table. Strangely for such talkative individuals, no one seemed willing to to speak first. They sat until the awkward silence forced Jayce to venture the first words.

“It’s the first party after Arn’s … funeral … you know?” he said, brushing crumbs from his protruding belly. The “tuxedo” t-shirt Jayce usually wore wasn’t a costume – he wore it to nearly every fan event. The small rubber spider in his long, curly beard was his “costume” for tonight.

“Yeah,” said Jack, glad someone else had mentioned it. “It seems funny, doesn’t it, to be without Arn at this time of year.”

“He loved Halloween,” Ron agreed. “And was the only one who ever put any work into a costume. Remember the time he came all wound up in what must have been hundreds of feet of rotting cloth bandage, with his face all twisted up when the shellac – or whatever it was he had painted himself with – dried! He was the most disgusting mummy I’d ever seen.” Ron laughed … but then remembered that Arn Metzger was dead for real, now.

“That’s a funny thing too, now that you mention it,” Jack said archly. A irritated expression crossed Ron Tuttle’s face momentarily, as Jack continued, “He did love Halloween up until … what, three or four years ago. Then he stopped wearing any sort of costume. I think he started getting a little religion about then, didn’t he?”

“Did he?” asked the youngest of the four. For his costume, Daws had bought a novelty t-shirt with a full ribcage and upper arm bones printed on it.

“Not that he went to church or anything, but you could somehow feel that he’d come to believe in supernatural things,” Jack clairifed. “I think it was originally his idea that we come costumed to the Halloween get-togethers. He nagged us, too, if we didn’t show enthusiasm, so for the first few years the Halloween parties were really something to see. But, gradually, he realized most of us didn’t take it as seriously as he did. He let us off the hook after that, and only those of us who really wanted to come in costumes did.”

Robert Middleton walked in, immaculately dressed in a pressed, dark suit, white shirt, black tie and SWFA stick pin and neat little mustache. He took a chair. For some reason, no one ever called him Robert; he was just “Middleton.” Not a stuffy or formal man, he was just not the sort of person whose first name you used, that was all. He exchanged his greetings all round and reached for a water biscuit. “Hand me the cheese knife will you, like a good fellow,” he said to Daws. “I overheard. Yeah, Arn really loved Halloween, but then something happened about three years ago, and he was a changed man.”

“I never heard a thing. What do mean ‘something’ happened?” asked Jayce.

Ron, Jack and Middleton looked meaningfully at each other. The other two nodded to Robert, who spoke, “Well, you know that Arn was one of the foremost experts in dark fantasy literature? His collection was larger and better than mine by quite a bit … though I never admitted it to him. He somehow managed to beat me to a very rare copy of Hannes Bok’s self-published last novel, “The Pit Beneath,” and paid less than half what I had to, a year later. He had two copies of Robert W. Chambers’ little known collection of weird verse, “Day Book of the Imp,” so that he was able to give one to the University of Chicago. Arn was the only collector I knew who owned a letter handwritten by James Branch Cabell. That was the caliber of connoisseur he was.”

“I never knew his collection was that impressive,” added Jack, “until Ron and I were asked by the widow to put Arn’s things in order, and pack the books up for sale. You never saw so many old books! Most were properly shelved in alphabetical order, but, some time ago, Arn must have run out of space in the attic. His wife, Elizabeth, wouldn’t let him keep more than a few of the newer and less musty books downstairs. Upstairs, he had begun piling books in corners, or in front of shelves, until you had to tiptoe around pretty carefully. There were stacks of bankers’ boxes as well, each of them tied up, but bulging with contents. The stuff we found in them! Shoot! I indexed every single piece, and still don’t believe the things we saw.”

“Amen,” said Ron.

“Well, I doubt Arn added much to it after … what happened. As I said, he was a changed man then. I even heard him talk of selling the collection … that shocked me profoundly. But he never spoke of whatever troubled him, never alluded to the real reason he would ever consider selling the collection he spent a lifetime building. It must have been some dilly of a reason!” Middleton bit into a cracker and cheese with the precision of an English Latin Master.

“So, no one knows?” asked Jayce, who was so absorbed by these revelations that he had stopped nibbling.

“No one,” said Middleton, with a mock cough. “I … have an inkling, actually … nothing more. It has to do with something Ron and I found, but we didn’t understand it at the time. I’m not sure I do, now.”

Britt abruptly poked her head into the room and said, “If you boys are going to sit in there all evening, why did I waste my time setting up in the living room? C’mon in here!”

******

Bill Hodge had already arrived, wearing a poorly assembled rig that he insisted was an accurate Klingon uniform. Ayn Kaninin appeared to be costumed as Sarah Palin — for her a natural choice, as she was thin, angular and normally wore glasses of very plain design. Bettinger, Hislop, Setton, Wlasla and several others had arrived without having made any attempt to dress for the occasion at all. Over by the book case, her head turned sideways and absorbed in reading the titles, was an unfamiliar member in a leather Cat Woman costume that fit her nearly well enough to stop a single man’s heart. Who, among the regular members, had a figure like that, Britt wondered? “Don’t tell me that Dale Anger lost even more weight, after all?” she thought. Britt made a snide note to herself to keep the attractive young woman well supplied with Hershey drops and potato chips.

Whenever Britt looked away, there seemed to be more people. Solly had arrived, as well as Linda Ann Loebs and Constance Riddell, who everyone knew were a “item” these days, as well as Ray Hauser, who was still writing stories he couldn’t sell. Couches and chairs were full; floor space shrank; empty bottles and cans appeared as though conjured by magic. It was unquestionably going to be a very well-attended party. Perhaps it was because of the passing of Arn Metzger so recently, but it could not help but that it was Halloween, as well.

Indeed, the weather outside was perfect for spooks and jack-o-lanterns. While the past two Halloweens had poured for all it was worth, this year the night was cool and dry. Clouds like shredded cloth were snatched across the sky, black against the moon-glow, and the moon itself was a glorious pumpkin, gold as a pirate’s doubloon and hanging malevolently in the sky. All that was missing were skeletal tree limbs, rattling in the breeze. In fact, the trees along Sendak Avenue still bore a trace of Autumn colours, and many of the front lawns had been landscaped with evergreens. Good Shepherd Cemetery was not so very distant, however, and – in the imagination – dark things easily happened in such a place. The Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna of Russia was interred there, as were a noted journalist, a famous hockey player, a recipient of the Victoria Cross and even the mother of one of those who were gathered there that night to celebrate the Eve before All Hallows’.

Britt thought that such a motley assembly – as was buried only a few blocks away – could be up to almost anything on Their Night, and suppressed a shudder.

Alan DeMaine was an amateur parlor magician, and had the attention of several people in one corner of the room. He sat in a leather recliner: his “gimpy” leg rested on a foot stool. Allen often used that leg as a table top on which to spread out his card tricks in deceptively casual patterns. Around him, the others watched the white pasteboards gliding over the black baize of DeMaine’s carefully pressed trousers, their brows furrowed in concentration while they attempted to follow the movements … but of course failing.

“Damn!” cried Bill Hodge, when the skull-faced Ace appeared again at the beginning of the deal. “You had that up your sleeve!”

“Nonsense,” the magician said. “A good card manipulator doesn’t depend on crude cheats. Here, I’ll show you again.” Al laid a card down over the Ace on his knee and picked it up again. The Ace was gone. He replaced the card on his knee and removed it a second time. The Ace with the grinning, black skull was back. “It’s just a matter of having fine control of your finger grip. I can pick up a single card, two cards or three, at will – as you just saw.”

“I say it’s really magic,” said Ayn Kaninin, giggling a little nervously. She said things almost as though she wanted to be called foolish, but few of her friends bothered to play such games with her.

“You’d think the man who was doing the tricks would know,” said John Hislop, a long-faced, elderly, Britisher who pulled his nose to think. Then he added, “though it is Halloween.”

The magician was indignant. “Halloween or not, there’s no such thing as magic. It’s an insult to my skill to suggest that some sort of abracadabra controls the cards, and not my superb dexterity!”

No!” said the tall, leonine man who had just joined the group. “There is such a thing as magic. Especially on nights like this … if I know anything about it!” Jack Cooter had been steadily drinking strong British ales for half-an-hour by then, like a man with a serious interest in getting inebriated. “And I do … ” he added. He was followed closely by a thoughtful Ron Tuttle, who was uncomfortable whenever Jack was like this, much less this of all nights, and the oddities of Arn’s death on their minds.

“Jack, let’s not get started. They don’t want to hear this,” Ron told his friend, and gently pulled him away.

“What was all that about?” asked the magician, of no one in particular.

******

“Jack!” Ron whispered, “You promised. This business was between you, me and Middleton – and Arn, I guess, if he has any kind of existence any more. But you’ve been dropping hints all evening, hoping someone would take you up on it.”

“No one has, have they? There’s no harm done.” Jack suddenly had a sly expression on his face. He fumbled in an inner pocket of his vest, finally bringing out a brown, gummed, 3 by 5 envelope. He held it face forward, willing his friend to see through it.

Ron paled. “Oh, Jack. You didn’t. Please, tell me you didn’t.” He looked away from the envelope as though it was obscene. In a resigned voice, he said, “You did.”

******

Britt noticed the two old friends slipping out into the sun porch, but couldn’t overhear them over the noise of the party. It wasn’t polite to barge in on something personal, either, but she could tell from their faces that this wasn’t just two friends exchanging normal confidences – something was wrong. Britt hovered near the door, not so much to snoop as to be warned the moment they re-entered the party: perhaps she would be able to engage them in talk that she could steer around to the trouble … if there was trouble. Britt firmly believed that talking things through was the best medicine for whatever ailed you. Curiosity was what ailed Britt most.

When Jack and Ron finally left the sun porch, Jack was in the lead and crossed the room like a man who had his destination firmly in mind … but was just a little uncertain about his footing. The shorter man, who still wore his shirt and tie backwards, looked incongruous as he followed in Jack’s footsteps. Ron was pleading with the taller man not to do anything rash, not to have anything more to drink. But drink was exactly where Jack was headed.

While Ron waited outside the bathroom door, Jack stirred the ice in the tub around, looking for one of the brands of beer he preferred. The best English beers seemingly slid out of his uncoordinated grasp, somehow. He left the bathroom a minute later with a cold Anchor Steam, which suited him almost as well. Then, with Ron in tow, he weaved over to where Alan DeMaine still performed with his cards.

“Hey. Make a little room,” Jack demanded. Gus Bettinger and Joe Wlasla looked around and saw a drunken man they had little liking for at the best of times. Gus shrugged and said he meant to have a word with Yolanda anyway, and they left. Jack wiggled his way to the front of the small crowd, and interrupted Al in the middle of a crucial pass.

“As sure as hell, there is magic,” Jack blared “But that ain’t it.”

“I have never said it was,” replied the magician, politely. “I’m simply good enough to make it look like magic.”

“Oh, suuuuure you are. But, I’ll show you magic … Gimme that deck for a moment, and you’ll see you don’t know what yer talkin’ ‘bout.”

Curious what damn fool thing Jack would do with them, Al gave him the cards.

******

For once, Ron wasn’t at Jack’s side. As soon as he saw which direction trouble was headed, he raced to the dining room, where he had last seen Robert Middleton. Middleton was probably the one ‘Gator who could best handle Jack when he was like this – belligerent but not yet beyond reason … hopefully.

Luckily, Middleton was still seated with Jayce and young Daws, picking delicately from the better class of party food.

“Middleton? You got to help me. Jack is getting out of control.”

“Oh?” Middleton’s raised eyebrows were an invitation for more explanation.

“He brought it. He brought the fucking thing … here! … he’s got it with him, out there, and he’s going to show it, I know.”

“Oh.” Middleton knew all he needed to know. “We’d better get out there too, then. Quickly, before he does anything stupid with it.”

******

They were too late. When Ron left, Jack took the offered deck of cards and turned his back to the parlor magician. Al made a silent guess that Jack had removed something from his vest and had shuffled the deck before turning around and handing the deck back.

“Spread ‘em,” commanded the drunken man.

Curious, Al did a classic one-handed spread on his outstretched leg. The 52 cards formed a shallow arc, evenly spaced, the little red and black skulls lined up perfectly along the edges … except … what was that? But, before Al could pick the out-of-order, 53rd card from the deck, Jack snapped, “Don’t! Close ‘em up again!”

Al complied, sweeping up the cards into a neat deck with a single move.

“Now, shuffle. Cut ‘em. Turn up the first card … or the tenth … doesn’t matter.”

Al turned up the 13th card. It was a rectangle of card stock, much the worse for wear, a dark ivory colour, possibly from age. A skeletal hand of very odd appearance was printed on one side, with four outstretched fingers.

“It’s someone’s convention namebadge?” asked Al. Jack nodded. “There’s no name on it,” added the magician – inviting more information.

Jack only said, “Shuffle it back into the deck. Cut it. Pick a card … from anywhere.”

When Al did, it was the namebadge again. Al shuffled the deck twice more and each time he picked the namebadge out without trying. “I’m not doing this!” he exclaimed. For a moment, Jack saw mere puzzlement on the parlor magician’s face, then consternation.

“I know yer not,” Jack slurred. “The badge is. That’s not all, either. If you drop it, the badge falls name-side up every time. Try it, an’ see!”

******

When Ron returned from the other room, the magician had dropped, flipped and spun the badge to the ground more than a dozen times, and discovered that Cooter was right. It landed with the name-side up every time. Ron had brought along Middleton and Jacye, but they didn’t notice Britt Tallbouy surreptitiously join them.

“Good God, Jack, what are you doing?” demanded Middleton. “That badge isn’t anything for parlor tricks – you know that perfectly well. Be a good fellow and put it away.”

“I think it’s been doin’ parlor tricks just fine!” said Jack. “Don’t you,” he added, grinning at Al DeMaine.

“It certainly has,” said the shaken magician. “What is that thing?”

“What’s it look like? It’s a goddamn namebadge, that’s all! But it does fuckin’ magic! How d’you like that?”

“I don’t. I really don’t,” said Al. “There’s something very wrong about this. There is no such thing as real magic, just the kind I do … which is only only trickery and misdirection. Show me how you do this!” The magician’s voice had risen steadily, growing in anger. The parlor magician enjoyed his mastery of the audience, but the shoe was on the other foot now, and that was not to his liking.

“I don’t approve of this,” said Middleton. “Jack, the three of us talked about that … thing … and all agreed that whatever it could do, it was too dangerous to fool with. Put it away and forget about it.”

Forget about it?” Jack seemed surprised by the idea. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since that night we… ”

“Don’t say it!” Ron interrupted.

“What the devil is that thing?” asked Jayce, reaching for the namebadge among the cards in Al’s hand.

“Yes,” added Britt Tallbouy, “This has gone on long enough without some explanations. The card tricks are one thing. Your getting a little tight is no big deal either. But you’re acting uncommonly like an ass, Jack. I want to know what this is about.”

“It wouldn’t be wise to get mixed up in this, Britt,” said Middleton. “Really, it wouldn’t.”

“It’s in your own interest, Britt,” Ron added.

“Good God! You guys … it is just a card trick!” Al insisted.

“No, it’s not,” said Middleton, sadly. “Maybe this has gone too far. Everyone must have heard us arguing by now. At least, those who’ve been listening up to this point won’t take no for an answer.”

“Then we have to tell them?” asked Ron, shocked. Britt beamed over his shoulder.

“No doubt of it, now.” Jack was smiling too … but it wasn’t a reassuring smile at all.

Jayce and Britt brought up a couple of chairs, while Jack took Al’s footstool. Middleton took an empty spot on the couch next to the magician. Ron half sat, half leaned against an arm rest and stared sullenly at the wood flooring. Despite their raised voices, it seemed no one else had overheard the conversation … yet.

Having forced the issue, Jack seemed satisfied to let someone else explain. Middleton started.

“At first, Ron and Jack thought nothing of it. It was just a namebadge – an ugly one to be sure, but what of it? One of them pocketed the thing without thinking about it. It was first shown to me when the three of us got together at Bitondo’s Pizza about a week ago for a bite to eat. Who had it? You Ron? Or Jack?”

“Jack’s had it all along.”

“That’s right. Jack took it out of a pocketbook he was carrying and laid it on the table in front of me without even thinking.”

“I’d stuck it in there as a bookmark. How was I supposed to know what it was?”

“Well, we still don’t,” continued Middleton. “Except that I think it’s the very worst kind of bad luck. What struck me about the thing was that I had seen it before. I couldn’t recall where at first, but I knew I’d seen it three or four years ago, while Arn was alive. After a while I placed it. It was a convention name badge Arn had kept in a baseball card protector, one of the really expensive ones that are airtight and block sunlight. I only saw it once, as he shoved it into a drawer. He didn’t seem to want me to see it, and called it only a good luck charm. Looking at it again on the red-and-white-check tablecloth at Bitondo’s, I wondered why it had been removed from the plastic case. Jack looked down at it too, as though for the first time, and asked me what I thought it was. Maybe Arn’s first con, I said. Who knows?”

Hislop and Bettinger had wandered back, towing a couple of girls – one was Dale Anger in her black cat-suit, the other a pimply, ashen-blonde friend brought by Daws Pfiffer. There was no sitting room, but plainly they were intent on staying. Middleton’s story was slowly gaining the attention of the rest of the party.

“Jack and Ron said their first impression had been that the badge had been hidden. But, then, as they had looked at it longer, there was no reason why a simple name badge should be hidden. They said they decided it had gotten into the wrong box by accident. That was when I recalled that Arn called it a good luck charm.”

Jack Cooter began to speak then. “Middleton said that right about then Arn did begin having a lot of good luck. Impossible book finds, a manuscript that belonged in a museum, accidentally meeting an author he had always wanted to know but had thought dead, and getting a first edition personally inscribed by him.”

“I couldn’t believe the luck Arn had! Even I had thought that the writer was dead,” added Middleton. “But the strange thing about the matter was that when I first saw the namebadge in Arn’s possession, I could swear that only one of the fingers were turned down, but there the thing was on the table in front of me, with all four of the fingers curled, like this – ” Middleton held his hand with fingers clenched and the thumb out, as though hitchhiking.

“We told Middleton he was mistaken. Any fool could see all the fingers were bent,” said Jack, laughing grimly.

“And why shouldn’t I believe them with the evidence right in front of me? But I remembered that, of late, Arn’s luck had begun running out. Take that autograph, for instance. When Arn tried to sell it on eBay, some expert declared it a fake. It didn’t look fake to me … and there’s that matter of Arn meeting the author. Arn said there was no possibility of mistaking the man. But the expert said the author had died the month before, so the autograph couldn’t be authentic. Arn conceded that there might be some mistake in his memory about the date on which he got the signature, perhaps, but clearly he wasn’t imagining a dead writer signing a book right in front of his own two eyes. But Arn had to refund the money, and take the return of a book that was now officially worthless because, first edition or not, it had a “bogus” signature in it. On top of that, the incident had hurt Arn’s reputation. There were one or two other things like that, one after the other, all of them involving his earlier good luck going sour.”

“Coincidence,” said Britt. “Okay, three or four coincidences, but it happens.”

“Of course,” agreed Middleton. “That’s what I thought, too. But then something happened to Arn he never talked about … not really. This was about three years before the get-together with Jack and Ron, and perhaps a year after I saw that ‘good luck’ charm of Arn’s. He complained bitterly to me about how good luck could turn so awfully, horribly wrong. He didn’t mind so much the ruined book, the lost money, the things stolen from his briefcase one time while at University library of all places… but he had recently made a very, very foolish wish. He said he was frightened he might get his wish, and I believed him. He’d put his ‘charm’ away and he was never going to touch it again! After that, the man wasn’t quite the same man I had known for 25 years. His last wish, if that’s what it was, worried at him; changed him.” Middleton paused to drink from his glass.

“Well, of course, Arn died last month,” began Ron. Middleton nodded at him to continue. “So we guessed his luck truly ran out on him.”

“I’d say so. Stroke,” said Jack. “Just like that. Then two weeks on a ventilator, unable to move, aware the whole time. Horrible.”

“But what was the wish?” asked Jayce, who was bent over in his chair, resting his chin in his hands, elbows on his knees.

“Middleton? You tell ‘em.”

“He never said, in so many words. But I once heard him say he wanted to live long enough to complete his collection of Lewis Carroll’s satiric pamphlets from Christ Church.”

“Did he?” asked Jayce.

“Oh, yes,” answered Middleton. “That wish was granted too, like it or not. I was there when Arn found the final missing pamphlet between the pages of an issue of Weird Tales he had just bought at Chicon. He was not as happy as you might expect.”

“So Arn got his last wish, then?” said Jayce.

“Naturally, he did,” added Jack Cooter. “But he swore up and down that he had gone through that issue at the dealer’s table, page by page, and nothing had been in it. Also, his search had convinced him that every surviving copy was accounted for in university libraries and private collections. He stated flat outright that the one in his Weird Tales shouldn’t exist. Yet it did. I saw it myself – a mint copy that looked as though it had come off the printing press yesterday, but was clearly authentic. Unbelievably, someone, possibly Charles Dodgson, had written on it in a faded, copperplate hand, ‘Just for you.’ It visibly shook Arn’s confidence. Arn was dead before the end of the month.”

“Still coincidence,” said Britt.

Middleton steepled his index fingers, looking over the tips. “Then listen while I tell you about another coincidence.”

******

Sitting around one of the tiny tables at Bitondo’s Pizza, Middleton, Cooter and Tuttle looked down at the worn namebadge. They were all thinking the same thing … that, in some way, the innocent-seeming scrap of card was somehow responsible for Arn Metzger’s death. None of them believed in supernatural causation, but they all had a keen appreciation of psychologically-driven malaises.

“So can we rule out coincidence?” said Ron, chewing contentedly on panzerotto.

“No, of course not. Quite outrageous coincidences do happen,” said Jack. “I think we can write this off as selective data points and our own overactive imaginations.”

“Well … yes, I suppose we can,” added Middleton, who was picking at his paper plate of Penne Rigate. “What about the curled fingers, though? Remember, I saw one of the fingers bent over.”

Jack lit a cigarette, conveniently looking away from the wall with the No Smoking sign. Behind the counter, Old Bitondo, as usual, also pretended not to see. “Middleton, memory is a tricky thing. You thought you saw one finger closed, but now they are all closed. Perhaps you mistook the thumb for a straight finger in your mind, but here you see the hand on the namebadge as it really was again.”

“Most likely that’s how it was,” Middleton conceded. “Still… What sort of collector of dark fantasy would I be if I never considered the question, ‘what if?’ ”

“A sane one, at least,” said Jack, folding the remains of his pizza slice together and popping it in his mouth.

“In that case, though, if we consider the possibility that the name badge really can grant wishes, maybe the fingers really do curl shut?” said Ron. “Maybe if all the fingers were open again, we could make four new wishes?”

Jack laughed at the shorter man’s suggestion. “You’re too much, Ron. If I didn’t know you weren’t spinning your wheels, I’d have to propose we test your theory by making a wish!”

“I wonder … ” said Middleton. “I’m as sensible as the next man. I was only saying that, if the badge granted wishes, it was an intriguing notion. And that the wishes should turn out bad was also inevitable, was it not? In fiction, at least.”

“In fiction, at least,” echoed Ron.

“On the whole, I don’t think we should meddle with it. I do have a bad feeling about this business, although I can’t say why I should,” Middleton declared.

Middleton pushed his unfinished pasta into the middle of the crowded table, as though distancing himself from anything paper. Ron chewed slowly, reflecting on the scrap of card looking up at them, but not finding words to match his thoughts. Of the three, Jack seemed least affected. He drew heavily on his cigarette, shortening the lit end visibly, then stubbed the half-finished smoke out in Middleton’s plate.

“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I still feel a little peckish,” said Jack. “What do you think – would a medium pizza hit the spot?”

“Bitondo went back in the kitchen,” said Ron, “should I go get him to order?”

“Actually, I’m not at all hungry, Jack. Perhaps we should think about this longer,” suggested Middleton.

“Nonsense,” said Jack. To Ron, he said, “Don’t get up. We have a magic wishing-badge, remember? I wish … ” For the sake of drama, Jack paused for a moment, then continued, “for a medium mozzarella cheese pizza with pepperoni, anchovies, green peppers, tomato and chilies.”

“Hey!” cried Ron. “Knock off the chilies. I get heartburn!”

“Without chilies, then.”

Nothing happened. Jack seemed pleased. Ron laughed, a little nervously, and said it was too bad – he could have used another nosh. Middleton looked into the distance, his face not registering what he might be feeling, then he breathed out.

“Maybe there’s more to it than just wishing,” said Ron. “I mean, who’s charm is it? Yours, mine, Middleton’s?”

“Not mine, if I have anything to say about it,” said Middleton.

“You’re actually taking this seriously,” accused Jack.

“Nooo… but I don’t like messing with things I don’t understand, either.”

“I have another idea,” said Jack. “Maybe the trouble is that it’s nobody’s namebadge right now. Look, if that was Arn’s name there, it’s been erased. I’ll just write his name back in.” Jack pulled an office ball point from his shirt pocket and wrote in “J – A – C – K“ then on a second line “C – O – O – T – E – R.”

Just then Old Bitondo came out of the kitchen with a box. “You there!” he said. “I gotta cancellation on a pie. No good to me with the anchovy. You want?”

Middleton turned his gaze back to his friends and smiled so nearly imperceptibly that his mustache didn’t move a hair. “Dig in,” he said, “you asked for it. Here it is.”

Later that night, they all made extended visits to the toilet with stomach trouble. It would be blamed on bad anchovies. Nobody had thought to check on the badge’s fingers, either.

******

When Middleton finished there was a moment’s silence. Ron Tuttle seemed unable to raise his eyes from the floor, but Jack only sniggered quietly.

“So, was the pizza the wish-come-true?” asked Jayce Lopez. “Then gone-bad, like Arn’s last wish?”

Ron looked up and said, “The proof would be in the namebadge. Is one of the fingers closed now?”

“No,” said the magician. “They’re all open. And there’s no name on the badge now.”

“That’s because I erased it,” said Middleton.

“He insisted on erasing the name – as though that activated the badge or whatever. Didn’t help Arn, though, if – as it seems – he tried erasing his. Once wished, you get ‘em whether you want ‘em or not.”

“But what about the fingers?” Jayce still held the badge, and stared at the open fingered hand printed on it. “First all four fingers were open, then a wish was made, but all four are open still.”

Middleton answered for Jack. “I think it must have a name on it to work at all, but once the wish is made, it’s too late to take it back. Arn erased his name in the end, but he must have made his fourth wish first, and, like it or not, he got it. When the wish was granted, the hand must have opened the way you see it now. Jack foolishly wrote his name where Arn’s had been and got his wish. Fortunately, he made no more wishes before I erased his name. I didn’t see the first finger closed, but perhaps I just didn’t look. ”

“Anyone care to write their name in?” suggested Jack. “Four wishes, up for grabs.”

Looks were exchanged for the next minute or so, but no one leapt forward.

“Oh, come on! Nobody believes this scrap of paper actually grants wishes, do they?” cried the magician.

“Listen, Houdini, you think I haven’t seen some of the things that scrap of paper can do in the time I’ve been holdin’ on to it? You can’t lose it, for one. No matter where I thought I left it, that badge was sure to turn up again in a few hours, somewhere else. I finally put in on the living room coffee table, under a stack of heavy, hardcover books.”

“And was it gone, when you looked again?” snickered Al.

“No … but that would have been physically impossible, wouldn’t it?” Jack answered. “But I shoved it in my wallet, an’ next day it was gone … I found the damn thing on the floor of the living room.”

“How many beers did you have that night? Enough that it fell out of your clumsy fingers before you ever got your wallet open?” said the magician. Jayce Lopez, the cat-woman and a couple of the others laughed.

Suddenly angry, Jack said, “If that was all, I might laugh, too! Sure, I had a coupla beers. Takes more than that before I get a buzz on, an’ you know it! Som’thin’ else that namebadge does, it makes you think … think about things you want … or would like t’do, but never did. An’ you can’t keep your mind off it long.”

Britt put her hand on Jack’s arm. “That doesn’t take any magic. Or much beer. You’ve just let this … thing … dwell on you too much, that’s all. Why don’t you just tear it in half and be done with it, once and for all?”

“You crazy, woman?” Jack exclaimed. “If this namebadge actually grants wishes, think of what it could do for you if you wrote your name on it? That’s the devil of it. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, to add my name and take a chance!”

“If Arn is any indication,” added Middleton, “the wishes granted have a way of turning out ugly.”

“Are you all game, then?” said Jack, far too loudly. “I’ll write my name on it, and you suggest all the wishes, ‘cept the last! That one’s mine, of course.”

By that time, the entire party had assembled around Middleton, Jack, Ron and the others, and had heard enough to understand the experiment. They looked around, nodding and coming to the unspoken agreement to go ahead. “We’re all agreed, then,” said Jack.

“It seems so,” said Ron, rolling his eyes.

“Agreed,” said Al, followed by Jayce, Daws, Solly and a one or two other voices.

“Vox populi – the people have spoken,” conceded Middleton.

“Use my pen,” said Al, “It’s from Grand & Toy, so the ink isn’t disappearing. Only the magician disappears, when his tricks don’t work.” He laughed in such a way as to show it wasn’t meant to be funny – it was a dig at Jack.

Jack shook his hair back, took the pen from the magician and the namebadge from Jayce, then wrote the letters of his name, one by one, in the empty space … hesitating for an instant on the very last one. It was done.

******

“We should begin with something modest, don’t you think?” said Middleton. “Let’s not tempt fate by asking for an impossible display of power, such as the Statue of Liberty’s left hand crashing through the roof to scoop up the M&Ms. Why don’t you make the first wish, Ron?”

“Low-key, then,” echoed the small man. “Let’s say, I wish someone would remake one of those old science fiction classic films.”

“Someone is always shooting a remake of some old film,” said Jayce. “A lot of them are fantasy and SF films. You have to be more specific.”

“Right. I wish someone would remake … Forbidden Planet!”

The audience sat quietly for a moment, then Jayce Lopez said, “I don’t feel any different.”

Joe Wlasla said, “That was a stupid wish, man. Why should you feel any different? We wouldn’t know any different whether if was granted, or if some studio had started work on a remake months ago.” There was a murmur of assent around the audience, and someone in the back said, “that’s one wish I fervently hope doesn’t come true! Remakes – bleaugh.

“Let me make the next one. Middleton? Jack? You don’t mind?” Daws asked. They nodded to the younger man. “Ah… hum…. I wish it’s announced on the 10 o’clock news tonight that life has been found on Mars. That way,” he continued, “we can check up on it right away.”

“News will be on in about half an hour,” said Britt. “I’ll turn on the television in fifteen minutes, so we’ll be sure to catch the first story, okay?”

“That sounds good,” said Yolanda Seton, a woman in her early 30s, just a bit past the age when she ought to have her face painted like Pris from Blade Runner.

Al DeMaine spoke over the murmur of the crowd, “Two wishes left. Any takers?”

Jayce put his hand up, “Me, me! I know someone I’d really like to win the Hugo.”

“You’re wasting a wish. If it’s who I think you mean, he’ll never win … not even with magic working for him.”

Britt spoke. “There’s a better reason not to make that your wish, Jayce. We won’t know if it came true until next Labour Day. That’s ten months from now. We’ve already made one wish we may not learn came true for ages. Do you want to wait that long?”

“Uh… no,” he concluded. “Okay. I pass. Let someone else wish.”

“I have one!” said Gus Bettinger. “For a long time now, I’ve wanted to know where my autographed copy of All Our Yesterdays went.”

“You wish to know where it is? That’s all?” said Jack.

“Uh, no. Come to think of it, I wish to have it back!

“Fine. We have a wish. That’s three.”

Britt slid through the crowd and made her way to the other side of the room. “I think it’s about time I warmed up the set,” she said. “The news will be on, shortly.”

She bent over the television and fiddled with the dials on one side of the ornamental wooden cabinet, then gave her attention to a small black box on top of the set. “I gave up cable, so what do they do? Change the signal to digital, so I have to go and buy a different black box to fool with! But I still don’t get good reception, because I only installed a cheap digital antenna. If television gets any better, I won’t have it at all,” she complained. “Alright … I have the channel. The news will be on in only a couple of minutes.”

Like Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, the party crowd came to the screen, filling the available seats and the rest forming a semi-circle. It wasn’t long before the final commercial break of the hour began. Daws, lacking patience, browsed through some copies of Locus on an end table next to his easy chair. Everyone’s else’s attention was riveted on the television as they waited for the news.

“I guess it’s my turn. I better make my wish before the news comes on,” said Jack. “I’ve been thinkin’ about Arn. Not just Arn, though. And thinkin’ about makin’ the last wish a big one, one that rules out anythin’ but this fuckin’ badge makin’ it so. You know what I want? I want to see Arn again.”

The partiers gathered around the television turned to stare at Jack Cooter taking another swig of his Anchor Steam.

“You mean, you want him to come back from the dead?” asked Jayce. He didn’t know whether this was the worst idea he had ever heard, or simply the craziest.

“Not just Arn back, either!” cried Jack. ‘I’m tired of all my old friends — friends I made over a lifetime – just dyin’ and not bein’ here any more! I miss them!” There were suddenly tears in his eyes, though whether from grief of frustration, even he didn’t know.

“But, Jack,” said Middleton, suddenly apprehensive, “that’s a big wish, an impossible wish, and we agreed not to make any of those. Besides … ”

“How do we know it’s impossible?” challenged Jack. “Maybe they’re not even dead, but just been hidin’ on us all this time. Maybe it’s all a big joke planned by Arn, to wait until this night to scare hell out of the rest of us by turning up ‘live? Do you know that it isn’t?”

“Jack, that’s enough! You don’t believe that and you’re scaring everybody.”

“Nuts too you, Middleton. You’re the one tryin’ t’scare people. I want Arn back. I want Mike Glicksohn back. Susan Wood, too. And Bob Tucker – what a great kidder! Bill Bowers … he was a gentleman if there was ever one … Dave Locke … Jackie Causgrove … Terry Hughes … an’ … an’ Harry Warner Jr.! I want to see them all again! I just wish they could come to this party!”

“Oh, Jack… do you really think there’s a chance? Do you? I want to see my husband, Eric again,” Britt interrupted. “Please, add Eric to the wish, would you?”

“You didn’t even know Harry Warner Jr. I don’t think you knew Susan, either,” scoffed Ron.

Middleton was well past apprehension now, and embarking on genuine fear. “We may be getting way over our heads with this nonsense. Take back that wish, now, while there’s still a chance!”

“No!” cried Britt. “Not if there’s a chance of getting Eric back. Not even if it’s the smallest chance! Not even no chance. What can it hurt to make a wish?”

“And Eric Tallbouy too,” said Jack, with an ambiguous smile. “I hereby wish to make it so!”

******

At the top of the hour, the news began. There was a ticker-tape noise, and a beat somewhat how a creative sound-engineer might imagine the march of time to sound, then a trumpet blare, while on the screen the world spun and floated across the field of view in different directions, in different colours of the rainbow. At last, a distinguished-looking anchorman intoned, “Good evening. Welcome to CTC-Late Edition, we have a history-making story to begin tonight’s news.”

Everyone closed up around the set, listening carefully, except Daws Pfiffer, who was reading Locus with a look of surprise spreading across his face.

“Only two hours ago, NASA announced that the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, had discovered unequivocal evidence for the past and possibly present existence of life on Mars.”

The audience around the TV erupted in pandemonium.

“Quiet, quiet!” cried two of the watchers, together. “Shut the fuck up!” yelled Jack. Al DeMaine, looking stunned, seemed to be the only one not trying to talk over everyone else.

“In other stories, new proof of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s bid to buy RIM technologies meets with Ottawa’s guidelines, and new concerns about the quality of Canadian beef, all coming up … but first … “

A commercial for some Hyundai hatchback came on.

Daws, still seated at the back of the crowd, said, “Guys, listen to this. It was published in Locus a couple of weeks ago.” While computer animated compact cars folded and unfolded into jet planes to the accompaniment of generic rock in the background, the young Astrogator read: “In their effort to recapture a science fiction audience, Walt Disney studios has announced plans to re-film their SF classic, Forbidden Planet. The official press release from the studio states that production will begin in March, next year. Fans of the 1956 classic will be happy to hear that, despite the poor box office showing of John Carter, earlier this year, the new version of Forbidden Planet has a tentative budget of over $100,000,000 – more than ample to ensure that the all-new computer generated imagery will be state of the art. Disney promises that the Id creature will set new standards in special effects … ”

“Does that count?” asked Jayce. “That news is three weeks old, and Disney made up its mind to remake the film long before that.”

“Maybe it doesn’t count, but it’s a hell of a coincidence anyway. That’s not all, either… ”

“Hush!” said Britt. On the screen, an ad for a family barbeque-rib chain was fading.

“The first news that our neighboring planet, Mars, might be a haven for life, broke at 10:45 this morning, when the chemical analysis team for the Curiosity Rover brought their first results to the mission controller and announced they had found unequivocal signatures for living organisms among the data. For the next hour, the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, was a madhouse, as scientists rushed from floor to floor to spread the news and congratulate each other on fulfilling one of Mankind’s fondest dreams – to prove that we are not alone in the universe.”

A beautiful full face of Mars floating in inky blackness filled the screen, then faded to show a photo taken from Curiosity, showing an expanse of rust-blanketed lava fields at the base of Mt. Sharp. The only sound that could be heard in the room was “Bugger,” whispered in an English accent.

The picture on the screen changed abruptly to a close-up of gritty soil and blue-grey, brittle looking, tubule shapes, half buried in the rust. “Earlier, the Hand Lens Imager had discovered unusual objects that were at first believed to be a variety of concretion similar to the Martian ‘blueberries,’ found in other locations by NASA rovers. However, when Curiosity’s laser spectrometer was employed, scientists were surprised to find the chemical signatures of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and other basic building blocks that are characteristic of living organisms on Earth.” A picture appeared of spectral lines from the Martian soil, perfectly meaningless to anyone watching.

“The excitement at JPL only lasted a brief while, unfortunately. The signature from Mars was too similar to that of terrestrial organisms, raising suspicions that the data was somehow misleading. It was not long before a more careful examination of the data showed that the organic substances found in the Martian soil were isotopes identical to those found on Earth, and could not have a Martian origin!”

Could not have a Martian origin!” The newsman’s last words hit like a bombshell.

In fact they had a terrestrial origin. As the story developed, the scientists at JPL began to suspect that, despite precautions, the rover had been compromised from launch. A minute inspection of Curiosity had been ordered, using the Mars Hand Lens Imager to check every inch of the exposed rover for visual evidence of contamination. To the scientists’ surprise, evidence was found almost immediately. By 9:00 that evening there were photographs of a viscous fluid oozing from a seam where the left side wheel rocker articulated with the body of the rover. It was discoloured and clearly not merely a lubricant. Underneath the leak, a patch of Martian soil appeared darker than the undisturbed soil surrounding it. Orders had been sent to Curiosity to train its laser spectrometer on the contaminated patch, and then on a random target nearby. The two sets of data would be compared later, but at that point the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab had no doubt that the signal from the contaminated soil would exactly match that from the original data that had been wrongly interpreted as proof of life.

The main story finished, the newsman turned to other news.

“So, there is life on Mars,” said Gus Bettinger, “but we brought it there!”

“This might even invalidate any other indications of life on Mars that may be discovered by Curiosity in future. That entire mission goal may be a write-off!” said Hislop.

“That’s the second wish granted by the namebadge, then!” said Ron. “But this one has gone wrong, very wrong.”

“So did the first wish,” added Daws from the rear of the group. “You didn’t let me finish.

The remake of Forbidden Planet won’t have c.g.i effects … it’ll be a fully motion capture c.g.i. feature … in 3D … This has ‘turkey’ written all over it, in big 3D letters!”

“With songs by Randy Newman, I wouldn’t be surprised,” said a sarcastic Jack.

Britt turned off the TV. Everyone had lost interest in the news as soon as the Buffalo Sabres were mentioned, and rightfully so.

“Alright,” said Jayce, “who’s convinced – along with me – that the wishes are coming true, and going wrong?”

“Don’t be absurd,” said the magician, while someone else made a rude noise. “It was just a coincidence. The story in Locus is old, so isn’t even that!

If the wishes we’ve made are coming true, though,” said Middletown, “we are quite possibly going to be in for a good deal of trouble. Have we forgotten our last wish? Although I warned everyone it wasn’t wise to fool with things we don’t understand, Jack made a wish to bring the dead back from the grave. What if they come?”

The magician protested. “The dead are not coming back from the grave! I make a study of how to work on people’s gullibility, and I know for a fact that what they believe has nothing to do with the reality! This is an elaborate trick, I tell you!”

“So who’s doing it?” asked Jack. “You accusing me of rigging a news story on TV, and planting a fake item in a back issue of Locus?” The tall, leonine fan had put his beer down some time ago, and sounded noticeably more sober than he had a quarter of an hour before.

A hush fell over the party. While the seconds crept by, everyone waited for something to happen – for bony fingers to tap on the windows or for ghosts to rise up through the floor – but nothing happened. A portly, bearded fan, whimsically named Mike Silvertoe, laughed suddenly.

“Getting on to eleven,” said Gus Bettinger. “Tomorrow I have an early doctor’s appointment to take my mother to. I should be getting on my way. Britt? There’s a box of books in the trunk of my car to be auctioned. I’ll bring it in before I go, but where do you want me to put them?”

“I’ll show you,” said Britt, motioning the Gus to follow. She led him to a closet in the hall close to the front door. Opening it, Britt indicated several shopping bags and a stack of loose books on the floor. “Just pile them there. Push them farther back if you need space.”

Gus, curious, bent over to examine the pile. “Um. That’s a copy of All Our Yesterdays, isn’t it? You don’t mind if I look at it?” He pulled it from the middle of the pile before receiving an answer, and looked inside the cover. “Goddamn!” Gus exclaimed, suddenly angry. “Who donated these?” he asked, loud enough to be heard in the parlor.

Britt was alarmed, and said, “I don’t know. People have been dropping books off on me for weeks. Why? What’s the matter?”

“This is my copy of All Our Yesterdays, the one that Harry Warner Jr. autographed for me! Here … see?” He showed Britt the title page, where the Hermit of Hagerstown had written “to Gus Bettinger, a fellow circus fan,” under his own signature. “Can you believe it? Some sunnuva bitch in the club stole my copy! You must have some idea who brought it here?”

“No, honestly!” cried Britt. Ears in the parlor hardly needed to strained to listen, and not a word of Gus’s angry outburst was missed.

The infuriated fan stomped into the other room, and spoke in an icy voice, “alright, my apologies to the rest of you, but which of you bastards stole my copy, my personally inscribed copy of this book?” he shouted, waving the object of his fury so there could be no doubt what it was.

“Oh shit!” said Middleton.

“That’s three wishes granted. And three wishes backfired, isn’t it?” said Ron. By the look on Al DeMaine’s face – he was unnaturally pale – he had finally been convinced.

“But that would mean … ” choked the magician. “No … it can’t … Give me the card, Jack! Give me the card!” Jack handed it over, speechless. Al took a mechanical pencil from his jacket pocket, and used the eraser end to remove Jack’s name from the badge.

******

It was too late. No one had thought to check the name badge, but they did then, and as they watched, the fourth, printed finger on the mummified hand curled shut!

There was a knock on the door that sounded like gunshots in the silence that descended on the room. And then all that could be heard was Britt, sobbing softly. “Eric,” she repeated over and over. “Eric.” But nobody went to open the door to let him in.

[]

Afterword
It all begins with the classic story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” but W.W. Jacobs, written in 1902. It seems almost that long ago that I read it for the first and only time. I was probably only 11 or 12 at the time, and I am 61 this Halloween. Yet the story stayed with me all that time. The basic elements of my adaptation date back many years. I’m sure I had the nub of it in my mind by the mid-1980s. Despite this, “The Nametag” is wholly new. No detail of the story, as it was finally written, was imagined any earlier than the moment it appeared before me in Microsoft Word. One of the deterrents to writing this earlier was the sensitivity of the subject. I might have made up names of the dead brought to life – in fact, I did. The dead were given names such as Sue Boyer, Tuck Wilbury, Matt Gleason, and Will Bauer – it should give no one any trouble to penetrate such thin disguises. But how little such substitutes evoke of the genuine sense of loss that the real names of the dead do. I believed it was the right decision in 1985 to name the dead, and I believe it the only decision I can make in 2012. 25 or so years ago, I was less sure of my judgment, though. I asked Mike Glicksohn whether he thought it was in poor taste to write a story in which Susan Wood was resurrected from the dead, and he said he didn’t think it was … On that authority, I proceeded with a clear conscience. But not without acknowledging the bitter irony that now we can also name Mike Glicksohn among the unexpected guests of the last Astrogators’ Halloween Party.

 

The Cast (in order of appearance)

Solomon “Solly” Aziz
Robert Middleton
Bill Hodge
Ayn Kaninin
Dale Anger
Gus Bettinger
Yolanda Seton
John Hislop
Joe Wlasla,
Linda Ann Loebs
Constance Riddell
Ray Hauser
Alan DeMaine
Mike Silvertoe
The Deceased

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