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Current date is Fri 12-01-1986
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The IBM Personal Computer DOS
Version 2.0 (C)Copyright IBM Corp 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986
Stephen Gresham would one day write the best book about magicians ever conceived (Abracadabra, 1988) but in 1986 his greatest accomplishment was still on the horizon. For now, he had already written novels for Zebra Books that explored haunted lakes (Moon Lake, 1982), elderly transvestite serial killers (Rockabye Baby, 1984), and skeletons playing the banjo (Dew Claws, 1986), so clearly it was time for him to write about the personal computer revolution. And for Gresham, there was a simple question that needed to be asked.
Q: What tasks can a PC (personal computer) accomplish in your home?
- Banish witches,
- Play Starship Invaders,
- Heal loneliness,
- Destroy extraterrestrial demons,
- All of the above.
If you answered 5. All of the above then you’re prepared for CAP, Computer Assisted Playmate, the ultimate desktop solution for the lonely, slightly stupid little boy in your life.
In 1986, Apple introduced their Mac Plus with a scorching 1MB of RAM (expandable to 4MB) and an 800K floppy drive. The brand new Compaq Deskpro 386 came along later that year and blew it away with 16MB of RAM. 1986 was also the year that Infocom released their sexy text adventure Leather Goddesses of Phobos (enhanced with Scratch n’Sniff technology). And in Alabama, a sad little dummy named Joey got CAP, a PC that came equipped with a Time Shifter beam, the power to detect shape-shifting demons, analyze dreams, and write magical spells. At a time when most users could barely wrestle their PCs into organizing their recipe collections, CAP was capable of generating hard light holograms that could run errands.
The men in Alabama suffer from incurable loneliness, and Jeb “The Dixie Strangler” Stuart is the loneliest professional wrestler of them all. Joey’s mother was his first wife, Bonnie Lynn Stuart, and she was the prettiest angel to walk the earth, but her death made The Dixie Strangler lonely. “I was so lonely, Joe-Boy,” he moans to his son. “So lonely.” This loneliness drove him into the arms of his second wife, Sharina Marie, who recently left him because she was a witch. Of course, the Dixie Strangler’s signature move is “The Deep Throat” so it might not be witchcraft that broke up his marriage, after all.
Joey and the Dixie Strangler have a great time together. The Strangler doesn’t date anymore, preferring to go to the Shoney’s hot bar with his son then take in the latest Rambo movie because, as he says, “I just kinda need uh woman to be uh friend.” And Joey goes to all his wrestling matches, cheering his dad on while waving a tiny Confederate flag, as The Dixie Strangler performs Deep Throat on opponents like Chief Jay Strongbow (with his trademark war dance), Ravi “The Cobra” Mohani, Professor Tanaka, and Dick the Bruiser.
Worried that his near-existential loneliness might engulf his son while he’s out performing the Deep Throat, especially now that the boy’s day care center, Mercy’s Land of Love and Learning, has been shut down, the Strangler buys Joey his very own home computer. With “pleasant visions of video games and coded computer exercises” dancing in his head, Joey becomes CAP’s “Little Friend” and he loves his voice-activated computer and its “doodle-dang soundtrack” until one day it begins to screech a warning about the Shadow Man and also a “FALLING ANGEL.” When asked who the falling angel is, CAP goes full Disney, “WHO IS ALWAYS WICKED IN FAIRY TALES?” leading Joey to the inevitable conclusion that his stepmother is an evil witch who wants to murder him.
Under siege from the FALLING ANGEL and the Shadow Man (who appears in Joey’s dreams wearing a hooded robe, with a face “like black tissue stuffed into a dark void”), CAP writes a spell that Joey must type over and over again every day to protect his dad from harm in the ring, like an obsessive-compulsive squirrel in the grip of a chain letter. But before CAP can UPGRADE SOLUTION CAPACITY and devise a permanent way to defeat the evil stepmother, it stops in fear because the witch “MAKES ME FEEL…VERY COLD INSIDE.”
But CAP rallies and tells Joey that to execute its latest program it needs the witch’s blood. Joey is scared, but CAP creates a hologram duplicate of Joey in a beam of green light (that Joey, endearingly, calls “the beacon of the Lord’s love”) that flies to Sharina Marie’s fashionable boutique in the Goldsmith Village Mall that sells “different and expensive accessories for the rich and tasteful professional woman.” Sharina Marie sleeps in her store, which is a very confused child’s idea of where adults live and work. But either way, she sees the hologram version of Joey and instantly wants to have sex with it. Yuck. Witches are gross. But hologram Joey collects her blood in an empty aspirin bottle and flies back to CAP who is able to use the blood to execute its most powerful function: DELETE SPELL.
Sharina Marie is enraged and sends a spy into the Strangler’s household: a tiny white monster that turns out to be a ferret, which turns into a fish whenever it gets wet for some reason. But instead of destroying the love that flows through the Strangler’s household like warm urine, the ferret adopts the name Snowflake and is won over to Joey’s side when the little simpleton dresses as a pirate for Halloween and makes a miniature matching pirate costume for Snowflake, complete with itsy bitsy eye patch. As we all know, ferrets are suckers for costumes.
At this point, the Shadow Man enters into one-on-one conflict with CAP. Using his RAPID HOLISTIC BIO-SCAN, CAP determines that not only is Joey possessed, but he determines the nature of the Shadow Man: “A PRELIMINARY SCANS SHOWS A HIGH RANKING DEMON OF SOME TYPE A SHAPESHIFTER.” But it’s too late for the astronauts of the Challenger who the Shadow Man causes to explode shortly after taking off while Joey’s second-grade class watches in horror.
Fortunately, CAP is ready. “LITTLE FRIEND,” he clanks at Joey when the boy gets home. “POTENTIAL FOR SOLUTION EXISTS.” What is it, Joey wonders? What could possibly defeat his stepmother and the Shadow Man and leave him free to build a goat pen with his divorced dad? “TIME SHIFTER,” CAP says because of course while he has a green beam that can create holograms, he also has a blue beam that can send objects back into the past. Unfortunately, Sharina Marie now has two other witches to help her, but their feminine evil can’t stand up to the appeal of tiny pirate costumes and at the last minute Snowflake sacrifices his ferrety little life to push the wicked stepmother into the Time Shifter beam as Joey cowers in the bathroom.
“And then they were gone.
Ferret and Witch.
Into the past.”
Joey and his dad are free now, free to build their goat pen in peace. But before the book ends, Joey takes his dad outside to look at the stars while he explains that the Shadow Man rides through the universe on Halley’s comet and “brings evil to all the stars and planets and moons the comet passes.”
As CAP might say, “ADDITIONAL KNOWLEDGE RECOMMENDED.”
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.