Rescue Service by David Scholes

Jun 17 2016


From the slightly elevated highway above it we looked out across the vastness of the sand ocean.   Close to the horizon we saw another elevated highway angled slightly to ours.  An Over the Horizon (OTH) scan showed the two highways intersecting at a nexus point in the great sand ocean. A nexus point containing a peculiar building. Then each highway went on its separate direction across the vastness.

“Teeming with life,” said Janelle looking down at the sand ocean.  Like an Earth ocean but sand instead of water.”

“Let’s do a preliminary scan of this world, and get a reliable fix on our objective,” I said.

“Miniature low orbit probe as well Michael?” asked Janelle.

I nodded “everything we can reasonably do.”

Before moving off in our specially designed land wagon we wanted at least a partial picture of this world we had crossed to via the temporary gateway.

Imagery from the mini satellite indicated the sand oceans were extensive. Also that much of the non sand ocean surface consisted of rocky terrain.   Terrain that gradually rose, eventually to mountains, the further one got away from the sand oceans.

“Our land sonar equipment has categorised at least 100 distinctly different species in a small part of the sand ocean,” responded Janelle. “None of them even vaguely resembling anything we’ve ever seen before.”

I nodded thinking also of the strange anomalies we had detected.  By a combination of OTH scans and the mini-satellite imagery still coming in.  They looked like areas for us to avoid. If we could.

“We are only here for one purpose,” I said “we don’t need to unlock this world’s secrets. Just rescue our good lady and return home to Earth.”

“If the gateway is still open,” offered Janelle.

“Or we find another gateway,” I countered.

“I’ve been saving the best news till last,” smiled Janelle “take a look at this.”

“Wow!” I replied viewing the 3D representation ‘it looks like an old Drorne station. If it is that’s the next best thing to finding a gateway.  I’d take a guess that the Drorne built the highways traversing the sand oceans,” I added more as an afterthought.

“Have you got a fix on our objective?” I asked.

“She is 1500 clicks from here, in a semi-mountainous location. On the far side of this current sand ocean we are traversing,” replied Janelle.  “She does not appear to be moving at present.”  Janelle brought up a 3D real time map illustrating our objective’s general location. Though the images were very fuzzy. Of course that could mean she is dead I thought.

“Her life energies are detected,” said Janelle as if reading my thoughts.

“Where she is located,” I said “she is not so far from the Drorne station.”

“That could be convenient,” came the reply.

We set out at a sedate speed of 150 clicks per hour and soon revised that  downwards as a thick dark elastic entity emerged from the sand ocean and spread itself across the full modest width of the highway.  We came to a screeching halt but not before running into it slightly. It gave, in an elastic way, but did not yield and covered us with secretions that were slightly acidic according to our equipment.

We reversed right out of there and putting our automatic laser cannon on manual hit it repeatedly with heavy duty laser fire.  Which seemed not to do a whole lot until with Janelle on the laser I added in some ordinary heavy duty machine gun fire from another turret of the powerful land wagon.  Begrudgingly the unusual entity slowly withdrew back into the sand ocean.

It was to be the first of a number of encounters with the denizens of the sand ocean.  Encounters that, without exception, I prefer to forget. Each entity quite different from the last.  One that particularly shook me was a shape shifting mass that formed a huge semi-elastic vaguely human form. At least it had two apparent legs and two apparent arms.  It rose out of the sand ocean and towered above us.  We had the distinct impression it had taken the shape after observing us and drawing something from our minds.  None of our weaponry bothered it at all until we teleshunted a mixture of aggressive biological viruses into it. Never the preferred option but they seemed to give the thing pause. Having gotten past it during the virus attack and upping our speed to 200 clicks per hour we were able to easily outdistance it.

Some might have questioned the release of such viruses into the alien sand ocean eco-system but they were in fact very short lived viruses, lives measured in minutes.  In any case our survival was always paramount against that of an aggressive alien eco-system.

Thankfully almost 1,000 clicks later the sand ocean finally ended and oddly the highway ended just about a half a click beyond it.

I was about to pull over as the highway ended when Janelle using our land sonar suggested I drive on a little further.  “The ground near the sand ocean is still somewhat fluid. It looks like some of the sand ocean denizens can travel through it at least for a small distance. Until it hardens and becomes rockier up ahead.”

We drove on and up for a while quite slowly through increasingly rocky outcrops. Stopping only when the land sonar showed no trace of burrowing “nasties” and we were pretty confident that nothing was going to attack us from below.

We tried to get a better fix on the individual we sought to rescue.  She who had inadvertently crossed through the temporary gateway.

For several years now such gateways had appeared on Earth and from time to time unknowing people accidentally entered them and arrived on other worlds even other realities.  The major powers had combined to set up a rescue service for just this. Our little rescue station had been the closest to the temporary gateway when the lady inadvertently went through it.

“Unless we want to go the long way around,” said Janelle “we are going to have to skirt one of those major anomalies we noticed earlier.”

“How so?” I asked “I thought we had plenty of room for manoeuvre.”

“They move,” explained Janelle “not fast but since we last looked at them this one’s definitely moved a lot closer to our projected path.”

“Knowingly?” I asked.

Janelle didn’t reply.  Perhaps she thought I was sounding a bit paranoid.

”I’m getting a much better reading on the anomaly now,” she said eventually. “It seems even weirder, even more out of place than when we viewed it earlier. A slow moving small city sized area totally different to its surroundings. As if it was wrenched from another world or reality and just dumped here.”

“From what we can see from the satellite and OTH scans all of these anomalies appear to be just that. Alien to this sandy, rocky world and at the same time quite different from each other.”

“None of the others were anywhere near our projected path,” I heard myself say “even allowing for some movement.

“Yes.” nodded Janelle “no worries on that score unless we have to go vastly out of our way.”

Up close and personal the anomaly was eerily confronting.  It looked like what was once an advanced alien city now fallen into ruin and partially overrun by vegetation quite alien to the surrounding environment. There was a slight shimmer about it that suggested some form of barrier around it. Whether it was to keep things in or keep things out we had no idea. Nothing registered on our instruments. There was just the sense that it may even have been mystical in nature..

We kept as far away from it as we could without hitting the side of a nearby mountain. Also we were travelling quite fast for the terrain.  Several times we thought something came out of the anomaly towards us. Each time it appeared to be some form of mirage/hallucination. Almost too late we realised that the last hallucination wasn’t a hallucination.  Two apparently android soldiers were coming our way. At a speed fast enough to catch us.  We couldn’t begin to guess what their intent might be.

“They look positively fearsome,” shuddered Janelle.  Yet even so we held our fire at least until their intent was clear.  Eventually we outdistanced them. They seemed more tenuous the further they got away from the anomaly. Ultimately something drew them back to it.  As if they had a limited range away from the anomaly.

“Unnerving, something unnerving about that,” said Janelle “let’s get plenty of distance away from here.”

The shimmer surrounding the anomaly obscured our vision into it. Yet we had seen many other android soldiers moving among the ruins.  Possibly fighting each other.

“We are still not getting any communication back from our objective,” I said “it must be that she has no communication devices of any kind.”

“That and maybe some peculiarities about this world,” offered Janelle “something limiting communications.”

We were now close enough and had a good enough fix to launch a beacon.  A returnable just over the horizon holographic message advising her of our rescue attempt. Thankfully she had enough technology to respond to the hologram.  “I am well. SUV not working. Hostile terrain. Please extract digit and come get me.”  Both Janelle and I smiled at the last comment.

“What took you so long?” was her first greeting.  Though there were smiles of relief behind the cheekiness.

She was a tall, attractive woman possibly in her late 40’s.  An eminent surgeon that happened to be the wife of the United States Attorney General. Not that her eminence had anything to do with the speed of our response.

“My SUV broke down soon after I arrived in this place,” offered Susan.

“I realised I was in a gateway even as I drove into it but by then it was too late.

Thankfully Susan had known not to stray from where she arrived. It was inhospitable here but she had not been menaced. Or even seen much of anything.  As she had plenty of food and water her main problem had been boredom.

Janelle and I looked over the SUV. It was very expensive but really not up to the terrain hereabouts. No good at all to us now except for a few electronic parts that we stripped from it as spares.

Susan came aboard the land wagon and we gave her a suit of ultra lightweight exo-skeleton boosted armour. Of the same type as we were wearing. Standard issue for rescuers and the rescued in our circumstances.

We showed her the main features of the land wagon and I could sense her starting to relax a little. The well equipped wagon always had that affect on the rescued.  We also told her what we knew about this world. Which was not a lot.

Then we started to roll.

We headed off in another direction to that we had come.  The temporary gateway that had admitted Susan and ultimately Janelle and I was now gone. With not even so much as a trace of its residual energies.  Sometimes with a very quick rescue it was possible to go back out on the same gateway.  Not this time though.

We needed to locate either another temporary gateway or a permanent gateway. This was our only ticket home. Well the only one we knew about.

The truth was there were no signs of either – for the moment.

“So if that’s the case, where exactly are we headed?” asked Susan. A quite legitimate question in the circumstances.

We had told her about the slow moving anomalies we had discovered and our desire not to go anywhere near any unless we had to. Also we had no particular desire to end up near the sand ocean again.

“We detected an old Drorne station not so far from here,” I told Susan. “The Drorne are the people who created these gateways you know. For reasons we’ve never been able to divine.   There’s a good chance we can locate a gateway from there. Failing that the Drorne station, old though it is, may contain superior equipment to help us in this alien environment.

The Drorne station was about 100 clicks from us. Though slow going over the increasingly rocky terrain.

About half way through our trip the land wagon emergency alarm went off and its protective shields came up to maximum.

“The only thing I can detect,” said Janelle “is a large silver grey cloud almost on the horizon.”

The cloud wasn’t moving at all but then it broke up into vast numbers of metallic slivers that sped at frightening speed across the horizon before reforming.

We took it all in. Grateful that whatever it was, it hadn’t come our way. Susan being on board meant one more maned weapons system but we were still under strength.  The weapons systems that we could man or place on automatic were trained on the cloud as it disappeared over the horizon in an alarming burst of speed.

Even before we’d had time to discuss the nature of the cloud the land wagon alarm went off again.  Moving towards us from the horizon and at some considerable speed were the most formidable looking creatures. They looked a bit like an alien version of a velociraptor. Larger, faster, almost certainly stronger, and with a distasteful hint of something slightly insectoid about them.

Our laser canon started firing on automatic   Sometimes missing it took two or more laser hits to stop any of these strange creatures.

Then as I backed the land wagon away from their advance and others took up manned weapons systems the creatures started to slow.

“As if they were being held back by a huge elastic band” volunteered Janelle.

“They’re starting to look less substantial too,” I added as they were almost upon us.

“They must be from that second closest anomaly,” offered Janelle. “The one that looked like something out of Earth’s dinosaur period.”

“That anomaly was way to far away,” I said.

“It has moved a little closer to us,” responded Janelle “and these velociraptor imitations may have a whole lot more range than the android soldiers we encountered earlier.” 

The principal appeared to be the same though I thought anything leaving the anomalies could only move so far away from them before being drawn back. As if they represented a sample of a different reality or at least a different world.

“Could the Drorne have made these anomalies,” asked Janelle.

“I don’t think so,” I replied “just not their style plus the anomalies seem to be much newer than anything we’ve ever seen that was made by the Drorne. No some other major player appears to be at work here.”

“If that’s a velociraptor imitation then I’d hate to see a T Rex imitation,” shuddered Susan.

“Let’s get on to the Drorne station,” I urged. “We’re nearly there now.”

I didn’t want to admit it to anyone but my confidence had been shaken slightly by recent events. Something about the cloud entity had unnerved me and the velociraptor imitations hadn’t helped.  Quietly I was hoping their might be some techno0logy at the Drorne station to give us an edge.

The Drorne station was set into the side of a small mountain looking over a relatively flat area among the otherwise very rocky terrain.  With a vaguely concrete looking exterior it was at first glance far from impressive. Yet first impressions can be misleading. It didn’t look like any other Drorne station I’d seen. Still I was beginning to realise that they were all different. Each built in a form suitable to the world they were located on.

As with the several other Drorne stations I’d come across in my travels – you couldn’t just walk into it.   All five of us stood around at the entrance waiting for an incredibly ancient but still operating scanning process to judge us worthy to enter. Or perhaps unworthy.

Then an area at ground level about the size of a set of aircraft hanger doors opened up instantly and closed just as quickly after we moved into it. “I hope we can get out again,” said Susan not entirely joking.

We walked in to an area that was vaguely reminiscent of a small aircraft hanger. Too large it seemed for the modest few vehicles and assorted equipment lying about. There was the suggestion that this area might once have housed much more equipment than it now did.

A crude but working teleshunt lift was our only means of accessing other levels in the Drorne complex. I wondered what would happen if the teleshunt failed.

The second level was still large but no longer aircraft hanger size. It was a crude living area catering for aliens of various shapes and sizes.

“Let’s move on up again,” I said as we used the teleshunt lift for a second time.

“Offices?” suggested Susan apologetically as we entered an area smaller than the level below.

“A command centre more likely,” I decided before being interrupted.

“Welcome to this Drorne facility, it has been a long time since anything has been inside here,” the voice came from a hologram. “How may I assist you?”

We had a long, long conversation with the hologram.  All the while looking for its not at all obvious source.   On the downside it could not advise us on the current existence of any gateways. Temporary or permanent. On the upside it knew a great deal more about this world than we did.

For completeness sake we went up to the fourth and final level of the Drorne complex. The hologram described the small area as a recreation/observation area.

“Take me with you, please,” said the hologram. Was it just my imagination or had the voice taken on a slightly pleading tone.

“Where is your program?” Janelle asked, as it pointed to a metal object the size of a large tool box that hadn’t seemed to be there a few minutes ago.

“I’m lonely,” it continued “my job here is long past done and I don’t care to wait another thousand years for intelligent company.”

“Who are we to look a gift horse in the mouth,” Janelle looked at me. I nodded.

On the way out the hologram advised us on all of the vehicles and equipment. We opted for what the hologram described as a medium sized various energy source flyer.

Then we all departed the Drorne facility feeling quite optimistic.

I put the flyer in electro-magnetic mode and we started off flying level at a modest speed and low altitude.  According to the hologram there was equipment on board that should be able to detect a gateway. We assembled it and operated it as we were instructed.  The intent being to fly across much of the planetary surface.

“You know,” said Susan “you guys could use something like this flyer in your rescue service.”

A thought both Janelle and I had already entertained.

Beyond sight of the Drorne complex the sentient cloud entity appeared again. This time much closer to us.

“Best not to provoke it,” offered the hologram enigmatically.  We didn’t.

Again the entity broke into vast numbers of tiny metallic slivers that moved menacingly towards us before rejoining to form the cloud.  Then it let go of something that crashed to the ground. It was our mini satellite that had stopped transmitting some time back. A very menacing, very provocative act.  Also leaving us in no doubt as to its sentience. Indeed malevolent sentience.

I increased the flyer’s speed several times in an effort to lose the cloud and each time it matched our increased speed.  Then, as if bored, it left us.

During this confrontation we had over flown part of one of the sand oceans and were coming up on yet another anomaly.

I altered course sharply.

“Is that why the cloud left us,” asked Janelle astutely “on account of proximity to the anomaly?”

“Yes,” responded the hologram.

“The clouds, yes there’s more than one of them,” Susan shuddered as the hologram said this. “The clouds tend to avoid flying near the anomalies.”

Thankfully the anomaly did not respond to our proximity.   Like the other two anomalies we had seen close up it was about small city size, it moved slowly, and appeared to shimmer with the suggestion of a mystical barrier about it. Whether that was to keep things out or keep things in was still hard to say.  Probably both. This anomaly was a place on a constant war footing. A forever war between hybrid repto-insectoids and boosted high technology humanoids.  A roughly even fight so the hologram said.

“Let’s get about our business,” I said and we increased altitude and at formidable speed “mapped” the planetary surface looking for any sign of gateway energies.

It was both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.  The sometimes breathtaking views tempered by not even the slightest energy trace of a gateway.

As to the hologram.  We had decided it was male and started to call it Fred. We kept the metallic toolbox shape source of its program close at all times. Somehow it seemed very honoured by this humble recognition. “I’ve never seen a holographic program anywhere near as sophisticated as this one,” whispered Janelle.

“You will find a gateway,” offered the hologram “if one disappears another appears to compensate.  The Drorne built things that way. It is possible that the existence of the principal gateway is being suppressed.”

It was on our second “mapping” of the planetary surface that we got our much needed break.  “Something,” said Janelle “something so faint that even this flyer’s sophisticated Drorne instruments cannot detect it.  Here’s the coordinates.

The gateway appears to be inside one of the anomalies. That’s why it was so faint.”

“Which one?” I enquired.

“The first one we saw, the dilapidated city with the android soldiers,” replied Janelle.

We took the flyer down well outside the anomaly. It was no longer moving, as if somehow it was waiting for us to give it our best shot.

Fred told us what was contained in his program about this particular anomaly and we supplemented that with some analysis from the magnificent Drorne technology on the flyer. “Something you need to know about all of these anomalies,” said Fred ”if you can thrust through the mystical barrier that surrounds them you can be pretty sure that everything and everyone inside the anomaly will turn against you.  Even if they are presently fighting each other.”

“Thanks1” I said “Very re-assuring!”  Of course sarcasm was totally lost on an alien holographic computer program.

We waited for a while. Discussing tactics.

“We’ll have to go in the flyer.” I said “without it I think we would be toast very quickly. Even with our exo-skeleton assisted light armour. We can put the laser canon on auto, but I think these weapons we acquired from the Drorne facility will be better at blasting through any mystical barriers than anything else we have. We know exactly, more or less exactly where the gateway is inside the anomaly and we’ll make straight for it. Take the flyer right through into.” If I sounded confident to Susan and Janelle, well I wasn’t.

“Me too?” enquired Fred almost plaintively.

“You bet,” said Janelle “we’ve got nothing quite like you where we come from.”

“You know,” I sadi “not to change the subject but we are actually not that far from the edge of one of the sand oceans. Our land sonar (we had taken it from the land wagon) suggests the ground below is slightly fluid.”

Our land sonar showed a range of creatures headed not towards us but towards the anomaly. I recognised some of them or their ilk as past protagonists from our journey across the sand ocean.

Then the clouds appeared and I did say clouds. Six of the huge entities. Uncharacteristically they headed towards rather than away from the anomaly. Breaking up into their millions upon millions of sliver components. They raced to the anomaly and in what appeared to be super heated form.

“What’s going on here Fred,” I asked somewhat bewildered by the turn of events.

“There have basically been three influences on this world. The indigenous powers, the ancient Drorne intrusion and the anomalies.  Now with the Drorne long gone the two remaining influences have decided to have it out for dominance of this world.”

“OTH radars indicate another indigenous attack on the next nearest anomaly.  The dinosaur anomaly”, yelled Janelle.

We watched on transfixed as the super heated slivers smashed time and again against the mystical barriers of the anomaly gradually wearing them down. Following them were dozens of the towering vaguely humanoid shape sand creatures we had encountered while other creatures sought to burrow under the anomaly.  From inside it a multitude of android soldiers came forth to meet the threat. . Like angry bees reacting to an invasion of their hive.

It seemed like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Or perhaps the Norse Gods Ragnorak.

We held back for a while before realising that this was our opportunity.

“They are doing our work for us,” I said “too busy with each other we might be able to burst through to the gateway unopposed.”

We hurtled forward in the flyer trying to avoid the densest of the fighting.  Hoping our shields and speed would brush all aside.  The slivers and the sand ocean creatures largely ignored us though not so the android soldiers.  We took heavy fire that rocked even the Drorne flyer.  With the android soldiers were some sort of animals. Much like Earth police or soldiers might use dogs. Yet these vicious reptilians bore no resemblance to Earth dogs or anything else of Earth.

Somehow the android soldiers succeeded in bringing the flyer to the ground and to a halt. By sheer weight of firepower. They and their reptilian “pets” surrounded the flyer.  Looking for a way in.

“Can we make it out on foot,” asked Susan.

“I don’t see how we can,” I responded “those reptilian things would probably tear us apart if the soldiers don’t fry us first.”

“We have the Drorne energy weapons,” said Janelle ‘they have to be superior.”

“One on one certainly but we don’t have corresponding protection,” I replied.

“What choice to we have?” asked Susan.

“None,” I agreed.

We got ready to bust out of the flyer.

For the first time since we had entered the anomaly I looked backward. Perhaps searching for ideas.  I took in the view of the outside world looking out from the anomaly.  It seemed to be different. Not quite what we knew to actually be there. Colored, tinted, distorted somewhat.

Then suddenly it looked very different indeed.  As two rather large shapes were very visible outside the anomaly.  One appeared to be in low orbit while the other had landed at some distance from the anomaly.  It was difficult to assess their relative sizes but the two star ships appeared as different as chalk and cheeses. I had no idea whose ships they might be.

Fred came to our aid. In the heat of the moment I had completely forgotten about our favourite hologram.

“The star ship in orbit is of Drorne origin,” he said “and that on the ground is of the Fleme, the creators and transporters of the anomalies. Neither of these mighty races needs star ships any more so I’ve no idea why they would use such a crude form of transportation.”

“I thought the Drorne were long gone,” I said.

“I never said that,” replied Fred “you assumed it because of the age of their facility.”

The new arrivals had a clear impact on the fighting in the anomaly. It ceased abruptly.

“This is it now, our only opportunity,” I yelled “there’s the gateway lit up like a Christmas tree.  Run for it.”

We did with me carrying the metallic toolbox that housed Fred’s program.

I was the only one who looked back while the others ran straight through the gateway. I probably shouldn’t have.  In the anomaly the fighting had started up again and several android soldiers and there “pets” were advancing in my direction.  Outside of the anomaly conflict of some kind was developing between the Drorne and the Fleme   I had the impression of the Drorne attempting to annihilate the anomaly and the Fleme trying to prevent it.  I wanted to stay even for just a few more second to get a clearer picture of what was happening but I didn’t dare. Especially if the Drorne destroyed the anomaly and me with it.

As I transited through the gateway I started dreaming. You know those dreams that seem to last an eternity and actually only involve a couple of seconds. The horrible thought crossed my mind that the gateway might lead elsewhere then I remembered Fred told me the Drorne gateways only ever existed between two worlds. It had to be Earth I would arrive at.

Then I tumbled head first onto the ground and Janelle and Susan helped me up.

“We’re definitely home,” they both said simultaneously.

All three of us looked down at the metallic toolbox shaped object I had brought with me.  It seemed a little the worse for wear.

“It’s damaged,” said Janelle .

“Looks like it got a glancing shot from one of those android soldier’s energy weapons,” I replied.

We all looked down on it for just a moment until Fred materialised.

“I think I’m going to like this world,” he said.

“Ohh – the Einstein/Newton Institute is going to have some fun with you Fred,” I laughed.



I have published seven collections of short stories and two novellas in the 8 years I have been writing speculative fiction. All of these are on Amazon.

I have been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites.  Also I have been published on Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, the WiFiles, and the former Golden Visions magazine.

I have written three sci-fi series: the 12 part “Alien Hunter” series for then Golden Visions Magazine in 2011/12, the “Trathh” series for the Beam Me Up Pod Cast site in 2012/13, and the “Human Hunter” series also for the Beam Me Up site in 2014/15.

Currently I am working on a new collection of science fiction short stories as yet unnamed.







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Heat By D. A. D’Amico

Jun 10 2016


“Why are the dead doing that, Rachael?”

A dozen bodies crowded the front lot and nearby street, arms splayed and flailing. They lay in deep drifts, sliding last night’s accumulation into pink-tinged snow angels.

“They’re hot. Decaying things generate heat.” The reenactment of this innocent childhood pastime made me feel sick, so I turned away to stare into the cold dawn.

“It looks like they’re having fun.” Jake Marshall gazed at the floundering bodies, a confused smile on his ruggedly handsome face as he joined me on the porch.

Gary Wilson, my self-appointed protector, grumbled and shuffled aside. The two men had been vying for my attention since Gary and I had stumbled into Jake at the local gym early the previous day. Gary, being true to his nature, already felt like the loser.

Several blocks to the east, a plume of green smoke billowed over the town square. According to a voice on the radio, it meant salvation. The National Guard had finally arrived to extract survivors.


We’d spent a restless night hopping from building to building, working our way towards the safe zone one sad empty home at a time. The gruff military voice on the radio had warned us. We had twenty-four hours before they gave the town up as hopeless, abandoning us to the creeping mercy of the infected.

I closed the door behind me, locking up for residents who’d never return home.

“I can’t go any further, Rachael.” Beside me, Gary appeared bloated and waxy inside his red nylon parka, his troubled expression lost on the pale expanse of his face. Sweat trickled along the edges of his thinning brown hair, freezing to his face in long icy teardrops.

“Rest a little. We only have a few more blocks to go.” I tugged my fur collar higher, rubbing my frozen fingers together as I tried to cheer him up. “The army’s in the park. They’re here to rescue us, and I’m sure they’ve got an antidote by now.”

Gary and I had been friends before the catastrophe. He’d asked me out a couple of times, but I’d always declined. He was a pale dumpy guy, the kind you complained to about your no good boyfriend after a bad Saturday night. He was far from the hero type, but he meant well. He’d come looking for me after the world went crazy.

I’d tried my best to keep him alive in spite of his clumsiness. He’d been more of a liability than an asset, but I felt I owed him since he’d gotten infected because of me.

“It’s no use.” He wiped his forehead with a trembling hand, drawing back a moist snowball of sweat. “I’m getting too warm.”

One of the prone figures rose at the sound of his voice. It staggered to its feet like a drunk at an ice skating rink, and headed in our direction. I thought I recognized the face, but I’d trained myself to glance at an imaginary spot above and to the left when lurchers attacked. Knowing who they’d once been was just too painful.

“Leave him.” Jake leaned against the front porch like a Greek statue, his breath hissing like cigarette smoke in the frigid air.

Jake was exactly the kind of guy I’d have complained about to Gary. Misogynistic, selfish, and self-centered, Jake had the chiseled body and sculpted good looks that made you wonder if you could change all the other stuff. I didn’t want to admit it, but my heart beat a little faster when he stared at me with those big blue eyes.

“Jake, don’t…” I let my arms fall, the heavy rifle dropping onto the straps of the duffle at my feet. My body ached, unaccustomed to climbing, and running, and fighting for my life. I’d give anything to go back to my normal world. I’d gladly settle for juggling things like work and school again, instead of dodging the sluggish corpses of people I used to know.

“What?” Jake’s rough tone held tension. He nodded at the larger man. “It’s what he wants, right?”

Then he struck his best pose, one boot up on the railing, and his big hands clinging to the open hem of his leather bomber jacket. Jake had been preening like one of those shirtless catalog models since we’d run into him the morning before. He casually stroked his chest, making sure I noticed the ripple of his six-pack through his tight tee shirt. He must be freezing to look that cool.

We’d met before, of course. Everyone knew everybody in a small town like this. Jake was the jock type, all flash and no substance. I tended to be bookish, a little on the socially awkward side, so I never really fell within his radar. All that had changed with the rising dead. Suddenly, I’d become hot enough to be his girlfriend, whether I was interested or not. Who knows, I might even be the last woman on Earth. I could have my pick of Jakes.


“He’s right. Leave me, Rachael.” Gary hugged his ample middle, his parka squelching like a rotten orange. A trickle of blood slid along his left cuff as he pulled on his fur-lined hood. His bloodshot eyes held an accusing look, like a beaten puppy. He’d tried so hard to impress me, but it’d all been for nothing. “It’s so hot.”

“See, he knows he’s only holding us back. He knows what he’s turning into.” Jake moved a little closer, draping his arm protectively around my shoulders like I was a helpless girl. I wanted to point out I’d done as much to keep us alive as he had, but he’d just give me that smug look of his and wink like it was our little joke. If I could only put Gary’s brain in Jake’s body…

I couldn’t believe I was falling for him. He wasn’t anything like the type of man I ended up with, but I’d been lonely since before the world ended. The rules were different now. Why shouldn’t I be different as well?

“Don’t listen to him, Gary.” We were near. Just a few more blocks and we’d make it to the safe zone. Then Gary could get treatment. Jake could do whatever it was frat boys did after the end of the world, and I could get out of these frozen bloody clothes, have some food, and take a nap.

Jake slammed his boot down. The shotgun at his feet flipped up, and he leveled and fired with one smooth motion. I covered my ears against the roar. The nearest of the moving dead jerked back, collapsing like a marionette cut from its strings before the acrid scent of gunpowder had even reached my nostrils.

“He’s a liability, Rachael. When will you see it? He’s as good as dead already.”

“Not dead, dying. Always at the edge without ever going over… flesh rotting, but still not dead.” Gary’s voice dribbled from his lips in a mumble. His face started to sag, gummy features sliding to the left and bunching up around his ear.

“You’re going to be fine.” My reassuring laugh came out as a nervous chuckle. He looked as bad as Jake looked good. “We’ll get you the help you need.”

Gary unzipped his parka. He shed his thick woolen shirt, staggering bare-chested across the porch. Where Jake was trim and muscular, Gary’s physique appeared blocky and gelatinous. Thick reddish veins traced spiky patterns across his moist skin, throbbing with a hideous pulsation.

“It’s so hot.” His fingers slid over his belly, sinking into his thick flesh. “And it hurts all over. You can’t believe how it burns, the heat of decay. The dead are cold. I wish I were dead.”

Jake swung his gun around.

“No!” I pushed the barrel away and stepped between them.

Gary whimpered. His eyes rolled back, and he grasped his head with both hands. “I’d always wanted you, hoped that we’d…”

Gary’s hands were around my neck, pulling me into his sultry grip. I screamed. He tugged me closer. His hot breath washed over me like steam. I could smell the cloying stench of death as his fevered lips burned across my neck.

“She’s mine!” Jake tore me from Gary’s grip, slamming the shotgun into the fat man’s face. He fired.

The recoil knocked us off balance. I fell on top of Jake, landing against his solid chest, his strong arms around me. My whole body tingled. Mt heart hammered, beating as fast as my frenzied breathing.

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Jake’s breath, so near to me, smelled faintly of liquorish. Comforting warmth surrounded me as he hugged me closer.

“No… I don’t think so.” My skin itched. I couldn’t tell if I’d been infected.

“Good.” He smiled. His bright blue eyes seemed so deep I felt I could fall into them. His soft lips brushed mine as he spoke, and a hot blush oozed through my body. It grew, curling my toes.

A chill ran down my spine as I realized the warmth continued to spread. It did nothing to quell the blossoming fire, and I prayed it was just the heat of passion.


My writing credits include:

Daily Science Fiction
L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future, Volume 27
Crossed Genres
Shock Totem

Member: SFWA, HWA


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The Ghost of the Dragon by John Kaniecki

Jun 03 2016

Robert Unger laughed at the appearance of the ancient man. “Look at that old geezer,” he whispered barely audible into Anne’s ear. “How is he going to climb this mountainous trail?”
Anne of course politely smiled and nodded her head. Robert was a man of wit and practicality. He was also a flaming coward. How many times had her boyfriend shared cynicism privately with her while publicly showing the utmost respect. The young lady suspected that tonight would be no different.
“So you are the only two to sign up for the midnight tour are you?” The elderly man spoke as he leaned upon a heavy ornate staff. Anne couldn’t decide which was more intriguing their guide or his immense walking stick.
“Looks that way,” Unger said with a grand smile. “Just more ghost for the sterling,” he joked. Anne had to snicker. Her boyfriend always related things back to money. It was after all his god.
“Well just as well,” said the old man thoughtfully. Then he peered upon the heavens. “Lookie there we got ourselves a full moon too!”
“Does that matter?” Robert Unger asked puzzled.
“Oh come on Bobbie,” Anne shot out, “haven’t you read the brochure?”
Robert Unger responded with the silence of ignorance. His mouth began to form words but then he hesitated. As a manger of managers he hated to be at a loss for words. To him it showed that he was not in command. But tonight he reflected that he was simply taking some hokey tour about some ancient myth dealing with some unheard of phantom ghost.
“Aye it was on a night such as this that Sir Lance had done away with the grand beast, the wicked dragon named Carmile.” As the ancient tour guide spoke his words were flooded with the drama of a Shakespearean actor. Anne felt a chill down her spine and visibly shook. Was it fear or simply the chill of the night?
“Ghost stories are for children,” whispered Robert Unger rudely into Anne’s ear.
“Aye and children grow up to be men,” returned the tour guide showing extraordinary hearing. Especially for a withered man who had to be well into his seventies.
Robert Unger frowned fearing he offended the old man. The business executive was ruthless but all of his sabotage was conducted behind one’s back privately. To show courage was something beyond his capacity.
“Come along now,” encouraged the guide, “let’s begin. If our timing is just right we shall not only see the ghost of the Dragon Carmile but also of Sir Lance.”
Robert Unger couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of that statement. Anne nudge him hard in the ribs prompting the businessman to shut down his mocking mouth.
Quickly up the path into the wooded area the old man hustled. He navigated at a very quick pace. Robert Unger found it very difficult to keep up the pace. Far too many donuts with his morning coffee and long hours at work preventing exercise had stifled his physical condition. Anne on the other hand attended a gym and was active in various aerobic exercises. Still she felt a little pressed by the quickness of the walk. On and on the couple trudged not desiring to lose sight of their tour guide. As Robert lagged behind Anne grasped him by the hand in encouragement and support. Finally the tour guide came to a stop.
When the happy couple had caught up to the old man Robert was panting with a heavy breath. The old man’s white hair seemed to glisten in the moon light. The place they were standing was on the side of the hill. The tour guide pointed with his withered finger in a direction. “From here you can see Castle Dunorp,” the man announced. “It was here that Sir Lance was signaled by a red flame in the tower that the Dragon Carmile was indeed spotted.” Then the guide paused. “From that moment on the brave knight proceeded with utmost caution.”
Robert and Anne peered down upon the castle. They had toured the vacant ruins previously during the day. It was nothing extraordinary but still quite charming. It was a doorway unto another time and age. One that the couple had very little knowledge of. “Look Anne,” cried out Robert motioning with his hand towards the castle. “In the tower window there’s actually a red light.”
Anne looked down and smiled. Robert smiled grandly too. When he made Anne happy he felt happy. “Why you’re pulling out all the stops for this tour aren’t you?” cried Robert Unger in excitement.
“Come along,” urged the white haired ancient creature, “there is still three more stops before we see the ghosts.” After uttering those words he turned with urgent speed onto the ascending trail. Excited Anne followed. Her hand still in Robert’s as she tugged her boyfriend along.
The pair walked through the wooded trail. The hill wasn’t as steep here and they found it easier to keep up with their tour guide. It was as a walk in another world to the young lovers. Robert and Anne came from South London. Accustomed to city life nature in and of itself was a rare pleasure. Now they were immersed into the wilderness. Added to that the darkness of the night. Shadows and foreign sounds from the deep peeped out creating a mysterious environment. All this adding to the drama of the potential of seeing not only one but two ghosts.
After traveling a good distance the couple caught up with their guide. He was standing on a rock ledge. Robert gazed out and saw that they had climbed a substantial amount of height. The castle below now seemed small. The ancient man stood on the edge of the stone outcrop. He was perilously close to falling as far as Robert was concerned. “What a fool,” whispered Robert into Anne’s ear.
“Indeed,” cried the old man, “Sir Lance was a fool!! Anyone desiring to fight the dreaded Dragon Carmile single handedly would be classified as such.”
Robert cringed when he heard these words. He lamented forgetting about the guide’s super sensitive hearing. Robert Unger vowed he would never make that mistake again. For some reason he feared the old man. Then again he feared most men. It was part of what made him so successful. Because he always felt threatened he always concocted some way to dispose of his foes.
“It was here that Sir Lance prayed to God for victory in the upcoming battle,” spoke the ancient man. “A shooting star from the heavens was the Lord’s answers.”
Anne grabbed Robert’s arm as she pointed up towards the sky. In excitement she stammered out her words. “Robert it’s a falling star!” Her spirit was baptized in awe about the event.
Robert Unger looked up into the heavens in disbelief. How did the tour guide manage that one? His mind came up with the logical solution. The businessman had to dismiss any notion of ghosts or spirituality for that matter. His was a world of science and logical reason and it had no time for such other worldly nonsense. Why the ancient man had to ad lib. First he spotted the star and then included it as part of his monologue. Robert felt better understanding the logical reason. Still that tour guide was one smooth trickster.
“There be two more spots before we see the ghosts,” called out the tour guide as he walked back from the cliff edge. Once more he was off into the wood trail that climbed along the side of the hill.
Robert and Anne walked hand in hand. They were really quite the opposites. Robert Unger was a business man with a reputation of being utterly ruthless. Anne was a school teacher known for her tenderhearted care of her pupils. The pair met by chance as they both entered a taxi at the same moment. Robert about to yell at the young lady ‘stealing’ his ride was overcome by her enchanting beauty. Anne being polite offered to leave the cab. When in a moments discussion they discovered that they were headed only a block apart they decided to share the ride. From that humble start a flourishing romance erupted.
The couple hastily followed the tour guide. However he fled ahead so fast that they lost sight of the ancient creature. Anne grew a little worried while Robert was close to panic. ‘How would they navigate down the hill alone?’ is stress filled mind asked. ‘Especially at dark?’
However the worry was for naught for as the couple turned a bend in the trail they promptly collided into the tour guide. He was standing along side the hill. His head was looking upwards to the heavens. “At this spot is where Sir Lance had his moment of doubt,” declared the ancient man. “The brave knight looked up and the blackness of the night discouraged him greatly. Still he found the courage in his heart to proceed.”
Anne and Robert on cue looked upward to the sky. They could see scarcely anything for as the ancient man had spoken the moon was indeed shrouded baring no light whatsoever. ‘Lucky timing’ reasoned Robert. Anne however simply smiled in delight fascinated by the adventure. Her hand affectionately squeezed her boyfriend’s.
Once more the ancient man was off to the races. “We have but one more visit before I shall show you the ghost of Sir Lance, and the ghost of the dragon Carmile.” The old man sped away as if he was in the prime of his youth. His withered hand swung his staff left and right gingerly. “Come along now, the timing is of utmost importance and we have a good distance to go.”
Robert and Anne quickly followed the leader. As they hustled along thoughts entered into their minds. The trip to northern Scotland and the visit to Castle Dunorp was all Robert Unger’s planning. It was his desire to take his beloved Anne to some secluded place to perhaps propose marriage. He was unsure about the whole affair to be perfectly honest. As a business executive his financial standings quite outranked those of a lowly school teacher. Still Anne was everything one could desire in a mate. She was physically attractive if not a stunning beauty. Anne possessed a great sense of humor and was easy to talk to. However the young lady was so serious about her career. Anne was a woman on a mission. It was her desire to save the world, one student at a time. A marriage without children just wouldn’t do. Anne would have to without a doubt sacrifice her career as a school teacher.
Robert Unger had gone as far as to purchase an engagement ring just in case. His cold calculating mind had not yet worked out completely the calculus of the situation. In his mid thirties he was acutely aware that his time was running out. Sweet Anne was a good eight years younger. Robert enjoyed having this doll of a lady dangling on his arm as he navigated social functions. Who wouldn’t want to be with such a gracious woman? But was she good enough for Robert Unger?
Anne was completely infatuated with Robert. He was considerate and paid much attention to her. While his personality was quite dry she had placed a confidence in him. When practicality came into her mind she realized the businessman would make an excellent provider. The major drawback was his dedication to his profession. It cut so much into his time that the couple really wasn’t a couple. To Anne she needed a man to be around. Still when Robert Unger was with her she felt she had one foot in heaven.
The couple hand in hand continued to walk upwards on the trail. There they caught up to their tour guide at the crescent of the trail. Ahead the trail descended with a rather steep angle. Robert was seriously short winded at this point. The whole journey up hill was quite tiring to the man. Anne too was a little weary but her exercising was paying off.
“Here is where Sir Lance spots the dragon Carmile,” announced the ancient guide.
Robert Unger let out a roaring laugh. Anne grimaced in disgust.
“What do you find funny sir?” hissed the guide.
“You told us that we would see not one, but two ghosts did you not?” asked the businessman.
“That is correct,” answered the old man sternly.
“But I see not two, nor one ghost, but zero.” There was no hiding the mocking in Robert Unger’s statement.
“Come let us journey to the bottom of the hill,” cried out the ancient man, “there I promise you shall see the ghosts.”
Robert shrugged his shoulder as all three proceeded down the hill. They walked at a leisurely pace. For some reason they were no longer in a hurry. The ancient man spoke. “You see all this serene bliss of nature?” He paused. “It is beautiful is it not?”
Anne smiled gregariously. “Beautiful is such an understatement,” she declared.
“Do you know some corporation wants to come here and build condominiums?” offered up the guide.
“Really,” Robert spoke his interest peaked. Whenever something financial was involved he needed to find out more. “Which one?”
“Does it really matter?” declared the ancient one, “they’re all the same.”
Robert wanted to contest such a broad offensive statement but lacked the courage to do so.
“Back in the days of Sir Lance courage was appreciated and honor was the conduct of the day,” a deep sorrow was emanating in the voice. “Today greed is the ruling force and it’s disciples nothing but scoundrels.”
Once more Robert bit his tongue. He dared not contradict the guide. Not even with a whisper. But perhaps later he would find a way to get him fired. Maybe to create some lie as how offensive he was. But he would do so after viewing the two ghosts, he thought mockingly.
Finally the couple and companion had reached to the bottom of the hill. There before them past the trees and brush was a pond. “Behold two ghosts,” spoke the ancient man.
“Ghosts!?!” cried out Robert Unger, “I see nothing but trees, night and a pond. Where are these ghosts?” And then paying homage to his god he spoke, “I’m going to demand my money back for this tour. No, better yet, double my money back to make up for the time you wasted.”
“What do you know of ghosts?” spoke the old man. There was no disguising the anger in his voice. Anne was growing fearful.
“I know enough not to listen to the babble of an old fool,” shot back Robert Unger. He was confident of his circumstance.
“Then come with me to the edge of the pond and indeed you shall see the two ghosts.”
“Nonsense,” replied Robert.
“You are afraid?” mocked the old man.
Robert replied not with words but by taking broad steps forward. The ancient one accompanied him to the pond. Suddenly the moon burst out from behind some clouds. The old man ‘s head was transfigured. His white hair glowed in the lunar beams making him appear much younger.
“Amazing!” cried out Robert, “how did you manage this trick?”
“What do you see?” asked Anne from a distance intensely curious.
“Before me is the image of a dragon in the pond and before the tour guide the image of a knight of old.”
The tour guide then rose up his staff and with a vicious blow smashed the head of Robert Unger. As the staff struck there was a loud crunching noise as the victim’s skull was crushed. The businessman collapsed to the ground as his legs crumpled under him.
Anne screamed in terror and fled into the night. She ran as if all hell was behind her. However after running a mile she looked at the field she traveled and saw there was no attempt of pursuit. She felt tempted to return to her love but feared for her life. It would be better to find somebody to bring him aide if his life could be salvaged.
Anne kept traveling in the field full of haste and distress. Her mind was in a whirl of sorrow as her love Robert was most likely dead. Why did the tour guide do such a wicked deed? Why? Why? Why? So much was the damsel in distress lost in her thoughts that she failed to notice that she had run upon a road. A car came from behind her with it’s headlights shining brilliant in the night. The vehicle was speeding along the path and Anne was directly in it’s way. In a last ditch effort the driver stepped upon the brakes of his car. The tires screeched as the automobile slowed to a stop, just inches before Anne.
The driver opened his door and got out, “Are you crazy lady?” he screamed.
“Please sir,” Anne begged, “you have to help me.”
“What is the matter lassie?”
“My boyfriend has just been murdered,” she replied.
“Come I shall drive you to the police station is but three miles up the road.”
Anne with deliberate speed entered into the car. The driver began to engage Anne in conversation. “Now what’s this about your husband being murdered?”
“We were staying at the hotel and took a tour of the Dunorp,” Anne began her tale of misery.
The driver of the vehicle flicked a switch lighting the lamp inside the car. He took a long look at Anne and then finally spoke, “aye I remember you and your companion. I work at the castle.”
Anne took a long look and finally a burst of recognition came through. It was indeed the man who worked at the gift shop at the castle. Anne remembered him distinctly as he was very kind and he took a photograph of her and Edgar together.
“So what happened?” pressed the man.
“We took the midnight tour to show the ghost of the dragon.”
“The midnight tour!?!” cried the man with shock and surprise. “There is no such thing.”
“Yes,” insisted Anne feeding into the panic, “the midnight tour.”
“Was the guide some man who had white hair and shriveled skin that he looked old as one could be?”
“Yes, that’s him,” cried Anne. She began to feel a sense of relief. At least the authorities would know who the killer was. She couldn’t bring her poor Edgar back from the dead but at least she could get some justice.
“And he walked like a man in his vibrant youth, didn’t he?”
Anne began to consider the contradiction of the tour guide. It sank deep into her thoughts the absurdity of how a ancient man had such physical prowess. “That’s correct,” said the young lady softly.
“Twas none other then the ghost of Sir Lance,” declared the man driving the car.
“The ghost of Sir Lance,” cried out Anne, “why would he kill Edgar?”
“He always has his reasons,” said the man softly. “He looks into the hearts of men. When he sees the ghost of the dragon he slays them.”

My name is John Kaniecki and I enjoy writing stories and poetry. I have a story just out in Sciphy Journal. I have had my story the Sin of A.D.A.M. published by Witty Bard in an anthology. I have an anthology entitled “Words of the Future” published in December of 2014 by the same publisher. I have ten other stories published or soon to be published in magazines. I also have a poetry book entitled “Murmurings of a Mad Man” that was published in September of 2014 by eLectio Publishing. In addition my poetry been published by over five dozen magazines and ezines. I have my second poetry book “Poet to the Poor, Poems of Hope for the Bottom One Percent, just out this October.

I have been married to my wife Sylvia from Grenada for over ten years. I do ministerial work at the Church of Christ at Chancellor Avenue in Newark, NJ.

Thank you so much for the time in look at my writing, I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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The Monarch’s Madness by Patrick Doerksen

May 29 2016


            After being scooped off the beach—drooling and twitching next to the child who, in captivity, had inexplicably disappeared—the Monarch was weeks later still confined to his bed. He had taken to describing, spontaneously and with gestures that made him ache for days afterwards, grandiose schemes for the recovery of his kingdom. Interrupting their lunch, he called his advisors in and told them hurriedly about his plan for a series of  state-funded apothecaries in all the villages and cities. They took notes as they always did and left the chambers when the Monarch’s energy was spent. Outside they shook their heads in sadness. “So excitable,” they would mutter; “It’s a pity, what’s happened.” It was difficult to watch the disintegration of a mind, still more difficult carrying on the deception. However, what else could they do? Apothecaries? This could not be what the Monarch really wanted.

            When the Monarch died a few days later and his final will was read out to the advisors and the chancellors, there was no laughter at his utopian dream, only the sad down-turning of gazes onto the marble palace floor. There were certainly the resources in the treasury to fund such a dream, and indeed great need of it in the desolated kingdom. But how could they be expected to understand, or believe, such a change of heart? True, there was one among them inclined to think the Monarch’s madness was no madness—a final clarity in the end of life, perhaps, or something more—but his is another story. And for the moment even he, with all the rest leaving the ceremonial hall, was forced to wonder without satisfaction what it was that had happened, what it was the Monarch had seen.


It was noon. The Monarch lounged on the balcony, which looked out on the final destruction of the Capper sea-folk, and sighed. Five  feet back a servant girl began to sweat. Was he not satisfied with his tray of exotic juices? But she was lucky. His sigh was directed at life itself, which was far more insipid.

The scarred priest had called it ennui.

When after ten years of struggle the Monarch subdued the last of the Seven Princes and assimilated his army and assets, there was nothing he could not do—only, he had grown so used to conquest that he could not desire nor think of anything else. And so he went after this spice trade and that gold mine, sequestering so much wealth at the center of his kingdom that he caused the whole world to slope towards him, like a stone at the center of a map. Now he had control of the pearl trade, but the truth was the royal coffers could get no fuller. He was only playing a lackluster game with himself, waiting for something to happen and all the while creating the very conditions that ensured nothing would.

For years it had been this way—anything he desired plucked from reality and brought before him: oysters, silks, concubines, empires. He had learned too late how much savor in life comes from resistance. Even the pleasures of killing were quickly exhausted for him, and now to raze a village wasn’t enough—he had to have the sons kill the fathers, the daughters kill the mothers. He did worse things, too, unspeakable things, so that he might feel something, even pain. But of course it was never enough, and daily he wondered where those golden years of his youth had gone: when the kingdom was in ruins and strangers were stoned at village gates, when the fickle and slipshod ways of the vigilantes were the meager substitute for justice and it was anyone’s guess whose home would burn next—when, in other words, the ascending monarchy was useful and welcome. And so each day the frustration grew until every slave, every advisor, every ambassador, trembled to be near him. He would lash out with his knife-edged sceptre, as though he could release the passion hidden in the chests of men and have it flow into himself. He would stab at citizens in the street. Now his subjects knew him as the Mad Monarch. He hated it, and hated more that he could not stop it and could only command torture and death for whoever spoke the words.

Once, when the scarred priest was yet without his scars, he told  the Monarch that Elyon, the High God, was displeased by his impersonations of Her; indeed the priest went further, saying not only was the Monarch not Elyon but something worse, perhaps the worst condemnation theologically possible—Elyon’s Shadow. The Monarch looked at himself that night and found, without horror, without pain, that it was true. He had the priest tortured and locked in the dungeon anyway; the rest he killed, knowing now the opinion of the religious. There were rebellions, naturally, but he paid his army well. When it was over he hid the fact that there was one priest yet alive; he hid also that, on occasion, the Monarch found himself descending the dungeon ladders and facing the scarred priest, whose gaze fascinated and angered him.

“Turtle soup,” muttered the Monarch, and it was brought. Soon, bored, he made the gesture for one of his concubines to approach. The servant girls averted their eyes. I might end it all tonight, he thought as he undressed. Then again, I might not. But then he paused, with his robe at his feet, thinking he might weep, and sent the concubine away. But tears did not come, and he grew tired of waiting.


That evening, the Monarch again felt something coming. Not tears, something else. His military advisor was speaking hurriedly to him about a growing insurrection in the North; the Monarch ordered him away. He ordered his servants away with their trays of oyster and crab. Alone, he could feel it coming stronger and went to the high, arched window. The night pulsed with energy and against it he felt old. There were places on his face the starlight could not enter, behind the wrinkles.

That was when Elyon said to him, “There were two foxes crouching in meadow. One looks at the flower, the other eats it.”

The Monarch did not believe in Elyon. He did not believe in anything more powerful than himself—he had forgotten how. And so he neglected to respond.

“However inadequate your Scriptures are,” Elyon went on, “there is at least that passage. It’s something you might pay attention to.”

“I do not read the Scriptures,” the Monarch found himself saying.

There was silence. A waiting silence.

The Monarch said, “Who are you?”

“I am Elyon.”

Goosebumps rose. The darkness of his chamber shimmered, alive with intention. Still, the Monarch said, “How do I know you are not a voice in my head?”

“I am voice in your head,” said Elyon. “But I could just as well be a glowing orb hovering in front of you. Would you like me to  be a glowing orb?”

The Monarch said nothing.

“You are right. It does  not matter how I appear to you. I am Elyon, Maker of the World. I made the Seas of Fortune and the thousand spices of the Southern Reach; I made flame and I made the breeze and I made the space between the stars. I made the stretch of time, the distension of space, the inner dimensions you call Mind. I made you, tyrant.”

Silence again. The Monarch went across the room and listened at the door. On the other side one of the sentry shifted. The Monarch went back to the window. Already the encounter was irking him. He was not used to being addressed without permission.

He said, “They say you created the world from chaos. Some also say you created it from nothing. Which is it?” When Elyon did not answer immediately he waved his hand in annoyance. “No, I don’t care. What do you want with me, Elyon?”

“I was like you, long ago,” said Elyon. “And so I have sympathy on all tyrants, on all who eat what should not be eaten. I have heard your heart’s cry. I can feel your bitterness. So I have come.”

The Monarch said—for in his interrogations of the scarred priest he had become familiar enough with the Scriptures—“But you call yourself the God of the widow, the orphan, the stranger. That is why I do not worship you.”

“But that is not so,” said Elyon. “I am all things to all people. I am also the God of the tyrants, the rulers, the powerful.”

The Monarch looked around the dark room, his eyes like spearheads. “You said you were like me. How? I have burned the seven Nations to the ground in the fire of my hate, and made the world so hot that I melted my own heart in my chest—”

“—and you are nothing now but a pillar of ashes, angry at your own existence, angry at everything that reminds you of your existence—Yes, I know.”

The Monarch froze, then spat. “Well, so you know.” He was breathing heavily, casting about the room with his eyes, frustrated to find no purchase. At length he said, “Be gone then, Elyon, for I have no use for your taunting.”

But Elyon did not go.

“I know what you crave, tyrant, and I did not come to taunt you. You shall have what you desire. You shall know what it is to care for life again. But first, you must do something for me. You must, not a servant.  There are none of your shortcuts here, tyrant. No one can do your soul’s work but you.”

The Monarch said, “Do not patronize me, Elyon.”

“You will build me a place of worship, a humble temple without gilding as bright as the sun and without spires higher than the flight of the raptor. You will not fill the temple with a thousand chimes and a thousand candles, and you will not place cushions where you kneel. Without these things you will worship me, every morning and every evening. You will worship me for five years, and when you have done this, I will show you something that will make you young again and fill your heart with care.”

The Monarch’s face, ever stony and resigned, seemed to fall now, betraying a disappointment so unfamiliar to its muscles that it became a distorted and half-formed thing.

“Five years? This, Elyon, I cannot do.”

Silence. The Monarch sat on his bed, his eyes looking sadly out at the night. He knew that given so long a time he would surely despair and end up with his own sword through his chest.

At last Elyon said, “If it is too long for you, tyrant, then I will make it shorter. Worship morning and evening for one year, and I will give you what you desire.”

Still the sadness did not leave the Monarch’s eyes. He knew—he, a man who found himself restless even an hour into a game of chess, a man who threw a fit when the servants were seconds late with his wine—that it was too long.

And so Elyon said, “A month, tyrant. Only a month.”

If there was ever a moment in all this and what was to come for the Monarch to grow suspicious of Elyon, it was this moment. But the Monarch said, “One month,” and felt the presence leave the room.


The Monarch’s architects, used to designing impossible wonders that took decades to build, were confused by the project, but relieved. And so the Monarch was within days beginning his month-long trial.

It was strange for him, spending so much time outside the flash of gold and silver, breathing un-incensed air, kneeling on prayer mats made of peasant’s twine. Strangest of all was doing something he did not feel like doing. Still, he knelt there every morning and every evening.

He felt nothing at first but that annoyance, and then just nothing. He began to grow worried that he was not doing it right, that he was missing something, botching some formula, and had soon convinced himself that he did not know how to worship.

So he had the scarred priest instruct him.

At first the priest—nervous, distrustful—gave him a mantra, “Thy beauty forever,” which he was to say over and over, moving the words from his lips to his head to his heart. But, on trying this, the Monarch knew there had to be more; indeed he suspected the priest of hiding something. On torturing him, the Monarch learned the truth. The mantra of highest worship for Elyon was this: “Creator God, I beg clemency for being only a man.” This, however, the Monarch found not only distasteful but contradictory, for was it not the fault of the Creator that he was made a man? And, moreover, if this were some great evil, why should it be himself begging clemency and not the one who had the power to act otherwise?

He questioned the priest further, who trembled on the rack as he spoke: “Contradiction is the heart of faith; nothing makes a man so humble.” But the Monarch could not understand the worth of humility and said as much.

It was at this moment that the priest, so near death, decided to rebel in the last, small way available to him, and spat at the Monarch. “Elyon is the God of slaves, not of Monarchs!” he hissed. “It’s demons that say otherwise. You are damned, you tyrant—damned.”

Within minutes he had expired.

Despite his doubts the Monarch tried the mantra and felt something in him stir. It was unpleasant, but it was something—And perhaps, he thought, true religion is meant to be unpleasant. So it was that the Monarch worshiped a whole month, and when it was over Elyon came to him.


The girl was kneeling near the lapping waves and building a castle of sand; when the Monarch strode near, she did not flee as all children do but stayed and watched his approach. He saw that she had a crooked back and a distorted face. The monarch did not like sickness and usually killed the sick when he came across them, because he preferred not to flee and did not know what else to do. So the Monarch might have had her killed if she had not spoken.

“You have worshiped me a whole month, and you do not recognize me? Ah, but it is hard for a tyrant to worship something greater than himself, and I do not blame you for missing your aim.”

“I have done what you asked,” said the Monarch, annoyed at having been surprised this way. He gestured for his guard to disperse. “I’m entitled to the vision you promised me.”

Elyon blinked and stood. She wiped her hands on her thighs. “You are right, tyrant. You have suffered much. But before I show you my vision, first you must suffer still more while I lecture you.”

“Go on,” said the Monarch, impatient.

“There are two ways that a tyrant can fight the ennui which is the inevitable result of omnipotence,” said Elyon. “First, the tyrant can try the way of destruction.” Elyon kicked down the sandcastle with her tiny feet. “This is least effective and yet the most practiced. At the very height of opulence the tyrant languishes, ordering heads brought to him on platters and the desolation of whole empires.

“Second,” said Elyon, kneeling now and shaping the sand back into turrets with her tiny hands, “the tyrant can try the way of creation. At the height of his ennui, if the tyrant but dares lower taxes, dares plant orchards in villages and design aqueducts for the cities, dares build a palace for the worship of someone not himself, he will feel the very thing he craves.”

The girl stood then, awkwardly because of her back, and looked directly at the Monarch. A sea breeze swept past her, making fire of her blond hair. For the first time the Monarch saw the sadness in the eyes, and seeing this, he remembered what Elyon had said—“I was like you, long ago.” And he knew what was to come.


There is a way in which a poorly crafted goblet, or shoddily constructed chair, feels like a thing “made” by someone, as perfect goblets or chairs do not. The Monarch had never felt this way about existence itself, experiencing it as we all do as a perfect thing, always there, unmade and irreducible. Now he could hardly believe he had called the world real.

It was but a distant memory now, horded deep in the mind of Elyon the Creator, but it was enough. It began as an unbearable sadness, and it was mixed with such horrible regret and anger that the Monarch choked with his very being. And then he began to see it—though “see” was an infinity away from the right word. What mad wonders had been standing before Elyon had destroyed them stood again, and the Monarch’s eyes were stabbed through with their beauty. Light here was more than light; darkness more than darkness. The living quality we feel in the plants of our world was there even in its stones and rivers, and the intentionality we feel in other people was there in its plants. There were people, too, but he knew this only by their shadows, as it were, for if even the stones and metals were alive here then the people were something more; their very presence betrayed some super-intentionality which gave his heart pangs. Perhaps the Monarch lasted a second here, perhaps a year; but he felt a million things, and each pulsed with more hurt and joy and wonder than the whole of existence. He could see deeper patterns, too, vast edifices taken in at a glance, complexities and immensities all shimmering with an extra-physical glow, a radiance that came not from within but from without, as though significance itself caused them to shine. These were things only suggested by the grandest spires and mountains and oceans of the Monarch’s world, and just seeing them was too much—he was a ghost in this world-before-the-world, not made to see it, and as he collapsed on the beach and the royal guard came running, the Monarch had on his face an expression that none of them could fathom.


Bio: I am a social worker armed with a B.A. in Literature and a M.A. in Theology. My fiction and poetry have featured in Presence, (parenthetical), Frogpond, Lyrical Passion, Ancient Paths Online and Contemporary Haibun Online, among others.

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Heirloom By Freya Pickard

May 22 2016


Her mother’s worn hands took hold of hers in the quiet dimness of her parents’ bedroom. The air smelt of lavender and thyme.

“You must never say anything to anyone regarding this. Do you understand?”

Tari nodded dumbly.

“Sit down.” Tari dropped onto the goose feather quilt.

She watched her mother’s greying head as the woman knelt on the wooden floorboards and reached under the bed. Withdrawing a metal box, her mother rose to her feet and fixed Tari with stern, green eyes.

“This is a family heirloom,” her mother said, unlocking the metal box with a small key. “It has always been passed from mother to daughter. The promise on receiving it is to never speak of it to anyone except the person you pass it on to.”

Tari could not imagine what this secret was but said, “I promise.”

“Good. Here.” Her mother took out a thin leather sheath with a pointed end. “This, is the silver dagger. For countless generations it has stayed within our family, always going to the daughter.”

Tari briefly wondered where her mother’s family was, but knew talk of that kind was not encouraged by her father.

“This is our secret and our trust,” her mother continued, laying the sheathed knife in her daughter’s open palms. “There is a legend in our family that in the First Age this dagger was made by the elves and will always throw true to protect the bearer from harm. The legend also says that the dagger was lent to a woman of the south in one of the great wars but such was the devastation, she was unable to return the dagger to its rightful owner. That is our secret. One day a descendant of the elves will return and one of us will give it back to them.”

Tari stared at her mother with wide eyes. This was a story such as her father read out from his vast store of books. Things like this didn’t happen to ordinary folk.

“Do you accept the conditions Tari?”

“Yes,” she stammered, not really comprehending what she was doing.

“Then take this dagger and keep it safe. I will find you a cord so you can wear it around your neck and hide it in the front of your dress. Speak to no one about this, not even your brothers. I do not know what the rules are at the Temple regarding weapons but your father seems to think they are banned. Therefore, do not declare it but find a safe place to hide it once you are given a room.”

Tari nodded again, thinking that the dagger weighed heavy in her hands.

The dream dissipated and Tari woke briefly to hear Sidra muttering in her native language. The girl moved restlessly on her pallet and then fell silent. The chamber was still dark and Tari pulled the blankets over her head. Sleep dragged her down into warm depths again.

There was something wrong. She could feel it. The sense of unease that had crept upon her when the kaerlings entered the Temple had stayed with her. Now, in the midst of sleep the feeling grew out of proportion. Sidra was in danger. And Tari was helpless, completely powerless to do anything. She started to sweat, lunging out at blank shadows, not sure where to attack first. 

She came awake with a start, heart pounding. Foremost in her mind was that Sidra was somehow under threat and that only the silver dagger could save her. The sleeping room was lighter than it had been earlier and Tari could feel that it was not long before sunrise. Swiftly she slipped out of bed and knelt on the floor, finding her small chest of belongings by touch. Moving quietly, she drew the chest towards her and opened the lid. Faded flowers from summer expeditions collecting herbs from the lower mountain pastures filled the box. At the bottom, hidden beneath the brittle stalks and dead petals lay the dagger. As she touched the leather sheath, Sidra stirred.

At once all her mother’s warnings, reinforced by the recent dream, came back to her. No one should know about this dagger. The feeling that Sidra was in danger came more strongly and Tari shook her head indecisively. The Temple rules were clear; no weapons were allowed in the precincts, except for those the guards wore. If she gave the dagger to Sidra, the girl might get into trouble.

“What are you doing, Tari?” Sidra asked sleepily.

Tari hid the dagger beneath the dried flowers and closed the lid. “Just looking for something,” she replied brightly. “Come on. It’s time to get up. Yule Greetings to you!”


Tari sighed quietly as she sat with Undine and Sidra on one of the raised benches at the edge of the Main Shrine. The chamber was vast and could hold the entire population of the Temple as well as a large number of guests. The floor and walls were made of white marble shot with amber streaks and the supporting pillars were draped with ivy and mistletoe. Pine branches scented the air with resin and lay on the altar stones at each of the eight chapels around the edges of the room. In front of these sat the eldest priest or priestess for each deity, looking down at the multitudes below.

The priest of Taur stood in the centre of the room on the raised octagonal Dias. He was in mid-flow, praying to each of the gods in turn, beseeching them to drive back Winter and bring the rich Summer months to Aura Vere. Tari found prayers tedious. Sidra’s eyes were closing. Only Undine seemed unaffected, sitting bolt upright with a look of polite interest on her face. The priestess of Aqua was so remote; why she bothered to keep Tari and Sidra on as acolytes, Tari did not know. She was, however, grateful to be allowed to continue to serve the goddess.

A nagging thought dragged Tari’s attention away from the ceremony. She thought of the silver dagger, hidden in the chest beneath her bed. The sense of danger surrounding Sidra threw long, invisible shadows between them. Blinking rapidly, Tari focused her eyes on the priest of Taur and put the thoughts from her mind. The man irritated her, so Tari turned her attention to the guests seated on the benches before Taur’s priest.

There was the High Priestess. She wasn’t really a guest but she spent more time intriguing in the palace than she did in the Temple. She was dressed in a shimmering gold robe that accentuated her broad hips and flat chest. Tari’s gaze moved on to the king and queen of Falna, resplendent in their purple robes and silver crowns. The queen was pretty with golden hair and big blue eyes. The king was reasonable to look at but there was something about his jaw that lacked strength.

Undine nudged her and Tari realised that Taur’s priest had reached the end of his prayer and was starting the section that needed responses from the gathered masses. Dutifully she murmured the ritual words, hearing Sidra stumble over the archaic phrasing. Lowering their heads they waited for the moment when Taur’s priest proclaimed the lightening of the world. Tari had never felt any different and wasn’t sure how the priests could really know the exact moment when the sun started to dance nearer the earth. She knew she wouldn’t notice for a few weeks yet. Then the singing began and she joined in the traditional Yuletide song.


“I’m so hungry!” Sidra whispered as they made their way to the antechambers where the feasts were being held.

“Me too!” They had eaten nothing since they had risen in the traditional Yuletide fast. Now they could feast until they were ill. “Let’s find somewhere to sit down.”

Tari guided Sidra into the first of the antechambers.

“Tari!” shouted a girl. “Over here!”

Tari turned her head to see a table full of Suryanese girls some of whom she recognised. One of the girls waved at her.

“Lally!” She waved back and led Sidra over to the table. “How are you?”

“Very pleased we don’t have to eat in the same room as those dreadful kaerling men! Here, Karu, move up.”

The girls shifted along the bench allowing Tari and Sidra to sit opposite Lally.

“This is Sidra,” Tari introduced her friend. “She’s new. This is Lally and this is Karu.”

The other girls introduced themselves and handed them platters of meats and vegetables. They ate hungrily, conversing noisily.

“Those kaerling men are quite handsome,” Karu was saying.

“I can’t stand them!” Lally shuddered. “They ask you so many questions that just don’t make sense.”

“I liked the man who questioned me,” Karu smiled. “He kept touching my hand.”

“Didn’t you have a priestess with you?” Tari asked, shocked.

“Yes, but she had a headache as soon as the kaerling started talking to me, so she wasn’t paying much attention.”

“I can’t believe you let him touch you.” Lally pulled a face.

“It was nice. He sort of stroked my hand. And he stroked the back of my head as well and asked me to let down my hair. The priestess didn’t notice a thing!”

“Are you going to be a priestess of Lyra?” Tari asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you’re certainly acting like one!”

Karu looked hurt. “I think he was really good looking and he made me feel special.”

Sidra snorted rudely.

“You don’t like them either?” Lally shook back her luxuriant black locks. “Why?”

Sidra shivered. “We met one of them at Port Olin in the Autumn.” She wrinkled her nose. “He disappeared into the hills and forests a lot of the time looking for a woman he claimed was his sister.”

“Which one was this?” Lally stopped eating.

“Gar, I think. I only met him once but he beat up some of my kin.”


“He raped and murdered one of the clan leader’s wives. So her relatives sought revenge.”

Tari felt a cold shiver tiptoe down her spine. The urge to fetch the dagger now was so strong, she nearly left the table.

“How many did he beat up?” asked Lally.

“About ten.”

“Ten?” Tari was amazed. “One man beat ten? How is that possible?”

Sidra sighed. “I don’t know. They said he moved like lightning and used no weapon.”

“Magic?” whispered Karu.

Sidra shrugged. “All I know is that they’re evil and give me the shivers.”

“You never told me this before,” Tari stared at the girl.

“I don’t like to think about it.”

“So, you’ve travelled, have you?” Lally resumed eating, turning her attention to the fish pastries.

“That’s what Suryanese do!” Sidra laughed and helped herself to mashed tubers.

“We’re Suryan,” said Karu. “But we’ve never travelled.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were left here as babies or small children because our parents were poor.”

“Or because our mothers didn’t know who our father was!” Lally grinned.

“Well, I’m here because my family is too large,” Sidra admitted.

“Where have you travelled?” Lally asked.

“All over Falna.”

“Really? Where’s the most amazing place you’ve been?”

Sidra thought for a while as she ate the mash. “I think the most amazing place I’ve been is somewhere in the forest to the west of Aura Vere. I’ve only been there once but it was an anniversary so we made a special pilgrimage.”

“What, to a shrine?”

“Not exactly. It’s a waterfall, a huge roaring monster in the middle of the forest.”

“What’s special about it?” Karu wanted to know.

“Our stories say that Hakim heard the gods there. They met him between the earth and sky at night in fire and water.” Sidra sounded dreamy. “It’s true, the waterfall does reach to the sky. You cannot climb up to the top, though there are large steps carved in the rock, as if made for a giant. You have to leave the wagons just off the King’s Highway and go by foot along a ravine. It’s several days journey and we camped there by the cauldron pool; lit fires at night to see if the gods spoke to us. But no one has heard their voice since Hakim came.”

“That’s really poetic,” Lally breathed. “Why couldn’t your family keep you?”

“We have no money. We make ends meet by shoeing horses and breeding goats but there is never enough to go round. I really wanted to marry into Mahesa’s clan because he is rich and his people never go without food.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Tari.

“I have no dowry,” Sidra looked wistful. “I am not pretty, so father said I had to come to the Temple.”

“You are pretty!” said Lally, outraged. “Besides, it’s not prettiness that counts. It’s who you are as a person.”

When they had eaten their fill they made their way to another antechamber where there was singing and dancing. After watching the antics of the drunken priests for a while, the Suryan girls decided to show everyone how to really dance. Tari watched from the side, knowing only simple, ritual dances. Even though Karu and Lally had been brought up in the Temple they seemed to know instinctively how to move. It was a sensuous dance that went well with their rounded, lush bodies. Even Sidra, who had not yet come into the fullness of her curves, looked enticing and extremely feminine. Tari was standing near the door watching the dancing progress, debating whether or not to break the rules and fetch the silver dagger, when two men entered.

She shivered when she saw the black leather garb of the kaerlings. Get the dagger! Get the dagger! The thought pulsed through her mind insistently. The two men were smiling at the dancers, enjoying the performance. One had blond hair, so pale it was almost white. His brown eyes were warm with pleasure but his pale, chiselled face made Tari cringe. The other man was sandy-haired with sad, blue eyes. His whole demeanour was that of sorrow. When the dance ended, the two kaerlings joined in the applause. The musicians at the back of the room struck up a rustic tune and the Suryan girls found partners from among the priests and acolytes. As the dance began, Tari shivered and turned to see a third kaerling in the chamber. They were standing just behind her now and she could hear what they were saying over the sound of the music.

“She’s interesting.” The newcomer nodded towards Sidra as her partner swung her around.

“A bit flat-chested for me,” said the blond man. “Quite pretty when she smiles though.”

“Don’t suppose either of you have interviewed her yet?”

The sandy-haired man shook his head. “Never seen her before, Gar.”

Tari stared at the third kaerling. Had she heard correctly? Was this the same Gar that had raped and killed one of Sidra’s clan? She looked at him intently. He was stockier than the two younger men but still tall and muscular. His sculptured features were marred by jagged scars that ran from cheekbone to jaw. Brown hair fell across his forehead and his eyes were grey-blue. Tari did not like the way he was staring at Sidra. All three looked like predators, but there was something about Gar’s stance that made her skin crawl. She felt torn between returning to Aqua’s Shrine to retrieve the dagger and silence the voice in her head, and staying here to make sure Sidra was safe from the kaerlings.

Undine entered the room and Tari caught her eye.

“Where is Sidra?” the priestess mouthed.

Tari pointed to the dance floor as the music swirled to an end.

Undine glided between the dancers who were applauding the musicians and spoke to Sidra. The girl nodded, thanked her partner and followed Undine out of the room.

“Where’s Sidra gone?” asked Karu as the Suryan girls gathered round Tari.

“Undine, my priestess needs her. Shall we find drinks? You look thirsty.”

They trooped into the other chamber now set out with puddings and sweetmeats. The girls drank diluted wine and helped themselves to jellies and stewed fruits. Tari ate little, noticing that Gar walked through the room, leaving the other two kaerlings in the dancing chamber. Once again, she nearly ran out after the kaerling, risked being noticed by him, just so she could fetch the dagger that somehow, would protect Sidra. But the Suryan wanted to talk, so she stayed and gossiped.


Tari’s feet ached in the soft suede boots as she made her way up the rock steps to Aqua’s shrine. Pulling the fur cloak tightly about her shoulders, she shivered in the frigid air. Snow had fallen earlier, making the stone steps slippery. She stepped carefully, feeling cold after the warmth of the feasting chambers. Clouds hung low in the sky, threatening more snow before morning. The wind tugged at her robes and teased her hair. The sense of danger had subsided and she wondered now, if she had imagined it. At last she reached the shrine and opened the door. A light showed in Undine’s room but her own chamber, which she shared with Sidra, was dark. Hastily, Tari stepped across and peered in. It was silent and empty. Even without a candle, Tari could sense there was no one there.

“Tari? Sidra?” Undine called.

Panic shot through Tari’s stomach.

“It’s Tari.” She pushed Undine’s door open.

The priestess was sitting at her desk, writing.

“Is Sidra with you?” Undine asked, laying aside the quill and turning to face her acolyte.

“No, I thought she was with you!” Tari’s throat closed up.

Undine blinked her almond shaped eyes in surprise. “I took her with me as Mother Kalare was taken ill. The Infirmary were short of staff due to the celebrations, so Sidra was my runner. She helped me make Mother Kalare comfortable and then I sent her back to you.”

Tari thought of Gar and the look on his face.

“What’s wrong, Tari?”

“She never came back to us. One of the kaerling men was looking at her…” Tari felt tears fill her eyes. “She hates the kaerlings. Gar raped and killed one of her relatives and beat up the men sent to avenge the death…”

Undine’s pale face turned white. She rose to her feet and wrapped herself in a cloak. “Come with me,” she said tightly. “We must find out where she is.”

Snow flakes fell erratically as they descended the slippery steps. Tari felt as though she was in a nightmare from which she could not escape. She found herself sitting in Mother Kalare’s reception room with a fire burning that did not warm her. Undine assembled the sober priests and priestesses and had Tari tell them of  Sidra’s disappearance. Without a word they vanished to search the Temple. Outside the wind howled and Tari was left to sit behind Mother Kalare’s desk and receive negative reports one after another. It was still dark when Undine returned with Illan in tow. Tari realised that with Mother Kalare sick, Illan was responsible for the administration staff.

“I’m sorry, Tari,” Illan brushed the snow from his cloak. “We’ve searched the Temple and she’s nowhere to be found.”

“We must look outside then,” said Tari heading for the door. “He may have taken her out into the city.”

“Tari,” Undine’s voice halted her. “There is a blizzard out there. We will have to wait until morning.”

“That’ll be too late!” Tari found she was crying.

Undine and Illan looked at each other and Tari knew they feared the worst too. She spent the rest of the night on a pallet on the floor in Mother Kalare’s sleeping quarters. Tossing and turning she listened to the sound of Undine’s regular breathing. Towards morning she finally slept. When she woke, it was broad daylight and Undine had gone.

Tari hurriedly washed and smoothed her feasting robes as best she could. She made her way to Mother Kalare’s study which was full of hung-over priests and pale priestesses. Undine sat behind the desk with Illan standing beside her. Several of the priestesses were weeping.

“I’m sorry, Tari,” Undine had tears in her eyes. “Illan and his search party found Sidra first thing this morning.”

Illan advanced towards her as Tari stopped dead, feeling ice take up residence inside her.

“I want to see her,” the girl said firmly.

Illan shook his head, touching Tari’s shoulders. “You don’t need to see her,” he said gently.

“But I want to!” Tari shouted.

“Tari, she was raped and then had her throat slit. You need to remember her as she was when she was alive.”

Tari hated Illan then, hated the mute priests and weeping priestesses. She wrenched herself free of Illan’s grasp and ran. Gasping for breath in the cold morning air and fighting her way through snow drifts, she attained Aqua’s shrine. She fell to her knees by her bed and pulled out the metal box. Without hesitation she drew forth the sheathed dagger.

She paused, wanting to make her oath binding. She could not shed blood here in her sleeping chamber. Aqua did not always require blood sacrifices as did many of the gods; an oath or a gift of produce was usually enough to bring about an answer to a supplicant’s prayer. Tari stepped out into the main room and stood before the bare altar. It didn’t seem right to take the oath here either.

Heart hammering, hands shaking, she pushed through the curtains behind the altar and stepped into the shrine. The dampness chilled her skin and lungs, bringing tears to her eyes. The stillness of the inner shrine was broken by the ceaseless murmur of running water. Not even in the severest of winter storms did Aqua’s shrine freeze. Tari stared at the motionless statue of the goddess, feeling the blank, almond shaped eyes of Aqua pierce her soul. In the gloom, the pale stone of the image glowed, the smooth skin of her sculpted face shimmering in the moist air. Again, the girl was struck by the similarity of Aqua to the obsidian carved guardians of the gates with their high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. The common belief was that the guardians were carved images of the elves who built the Temple.

Tari sank to her knees, searching for the right prayer but nothing came to mind. The liquid song of water filled her thoughts and the desire for revenge eased.

“No!” Tari knelt upright and raised the dagger. “I will avenge you Sidra!” She vowed, unsheathing the slender blade and drawing it across her right palm. “I will avenge your murder!” She gasped as hot, burning pain seared her hand and blood dripped onto her dress and the slick stone beneath her knees. “I ignored the dream that gave me warning. Now Sidra is dead and it was my fault. I will find her murderer and I will kill him. I will not be without this knife again.”

Aqua stared down impassively. Tari almost hoped to hear the goddess’ voice but at the same time felt terrified at the binding oath she had just taken. The blood flow increased and she lowered her hand into the pool at Aqua’s feet. The ice cold water made her whimper and she bit her lip, forcing herself to endure the pain. Her hand lost its feeling and the blood flow eased.

She pulled her hand out of the pool and patted it dry on her skirt. Next she washed the dagger blade and dried it carefully on her cloak. As she sheathed the knife,  the silver-grey curtains whispered and Undine entered the inner shrine.

Tari jumped. Why hadn’t she heard Undine’s footsteps in the outer shrine?

“What are you doing in here?” The priestess pushed her hood back, letting her long, dark hair spill out.

Tari thought quickly. She could not lie to Undine, but she could not tell her the truth.

“Well?” Undine’s face was expressionless and Tari wondered if the woman was angry. “Are you going to tell me?”

“I wanted to pray…” Tari muttered, trying to hide the dagger.

“What is that?” Undine approached, her movements as fluid as water.

Reluctantly Tari held the dagger out to the priestess.

Undine stared intently at the plain, leather sheath. Without a word, the woman withdrew the blade. Her eyes opened wide and she turned her gaze to Tari.

“Do you know what this is?”

Tari could not lie, not to Undine who had allowed her to remain in Aqua’s shrine. Feeling guilty at breaking the promise to her mother, she started to explain. “My mother told me a story when she gave it to me. I can only tell the secret to the person I pass the blade on to.”

Undine sheathed the dagger,  and pulled Tari to her feet.

“Go to your sleeping chamber, you will catch a chill in here.”

Tari thankfully returned to the warm dryness of her room and slipped out of her wet clothes, putting on a clean sleeping robe. She bound her hand in a strip of fresh linen to absorb the slow blood flow from her palm. Undine lit a brazier and heated water in the pot, finding a blanket to place around Tari’s shoulders. When the water had boiled the priestess poured it into two mugs onto dried herbs. The tea steeped and the fragrance of the herbs filled the air. Undine sat on the only chair in the room and looked at Tari.

“I understand you are upset because of the dreadful way Sidra died. But why have you bound yourself with an oath to Aqua?”

“It was my fault Sidra died.” Tari struggled to get the words out, her throat felt constricted. “I had a dream – I should have given the dagger to Sidra, at least she would have had a chance to defend herself…”

Undine’s eyebrows shot up and then she smiled. Tari felt confused at the priestess’ reaction.

“At last,” Undine seemed pleased. “I knew Aqua would speak to you. She always speaks to water diviners.”

“You mean, my dream, that was Aqua speaking to me?” Tari felt a rush of relief. If Undine was convinced Tari could hear the goddess speaking, then no one could remove her from the shrine.

“The gods and goddesses have many different ways of speaking to us, Tari. Some speak through omens, some through the fall of stones, some through dreams but only a few allow their voices to be heard by the human ear.”

“But I failed her,” Tari’s momentary relief was washed away by guilt. “I didn’t obey the dream.”

“Aqua will understand why you did not heed her dream. The rules of the Temple are clear. That you chose to obey them, rather than her dream, does not anger her.”

“But isn’t she angry over the death of an acolyte?”

“She is grieved. But she does not hold you responsible.”

Tari did not question that the priestess understood Aqua’s thoughts.

“She will not hold you to your oath.”

Privately Tari was relieved, but was determined to try and keep her side of the promise.

“Now, this dagger.” Undine unsheathed the knife and held it in her hands. “How did you come by this?”

Tari swayed between confession and lying. She stared at Undine’s almond shaped eyes and high cheek bones. Why hadn’t she seen it before? The priestess was the image of the goddess. That meant Undine was an elf. Maybe the very elf she should return the dagger to. Relieved of having to break the promise made to her mother, Tari exhaled.

“Any secret of yours is safe with me. Trust me, Tari.”

Tari recounted everything her mother had said and at the end, Undine was silent. They sipped the herbal tea. Tari relaxed as the hot water filled her belly. She felt a great sense of a burden lifting. She had carried this secret too long.

“Are you the person the knife belongs to?” Tari asked at last.

Undine shook her head. “No. Although my people are related to the elves, I am not from the tribe that made this dagger.”

“But you look like the statue of Aqua and there is a resemblance in your face to the guardians at the gate. They were all carved by the elves, weren’t they?”

Undine smiled. “It is true I have a similar bone structure to those ancient statues, but I cannot claim ownership to this dagger. You need to look after it,. I will help you find the rightful owner of this blade.” Undine returned it to her. “Wear it around your neck, you never know when you might need it.”

“But that’s against the Temple rules!”

Undine raised her eyebrows. “I know. You know. No one else knows.”

“Aqua knows.” Tari’s fingers felt stiff as she tied the cord around her neck.

“I don’t think Aqua minds. She would rather have a live acolyte than a dead one.”

The End


Freya doesn’t write about imaginary worlds; she writes about imaginative ones. These are worlds that could be real in a parallel universe or another time dimension. She does not promote escapism; instead she takes her readers into a refreshing place so that they return to their normal lives feeling strengthened and refreshed.

Freya’s first novel, Dragonscale Leggings, is a parody of the genre she loves best; fantasy. In it, she gently pokes fun at the Arthurian legends, the common concepts of dragon slayers and dragons and how they should (or shouldn’t) behave.


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Under the Rug by Diego Reymondez

May 15 2016


Whenever Grandma begins her lectures on the old days she leaves out everything that interests me. The blemishes, squalor. The embarrassing realities. I’ve read enough about the depressions to guess at what really went down in her daily life.

What’s more, she wants the same from me. Like when she tells me not to talk to my friends about how I’m surviving on a basic income, I recognize she’s pushing some of that ol’ good shame that’s saved her from countless uncomfortable conversations. She’s soaked through with the dissonance of way back in the day when no one worked yet spoke like they did.

She might have worked ten years total between coming of age and now, yet most all her yarns are about work. Maybe I’m interpreting too deep but her only stories I can trust to conform (slightly) to reality come out of things of timeless importance.  In this case, family. I asked her the other day how she met my grand-uncle Charlie. She, of course, sidestepped, “He was a neighbor.” she said.  So I, of course, insisted pressured her past the threshold of humble resistance.

Like all her stories it began with an affirmation of how clean she kept her apartment. “Even back then I liked to keep a tidy space.” she said. This time it was the impossible triangular end of her attic apartment, “You could only clean it by stretching your broom into the junction of the roof and floor.”

What she neglected to mention was the stimulant for her sprouting obsession with tidiness.  The roof’s wood had rotten through and the landlord had laid down layer after layer of economy plaster each time he rented it out. Consequently, it chipped and snowed down at every opportunity.

Then came my great-uncle a-knocking at the door. “I swept up as much as I could on the way to the door, and I slipped it all under the rug because- well, it’s not very important why.”

She may not have wanted to tell me why, but I’m pretty certain that had she told me, it’d be something about how seldom the garbage truck came and how she’d woken up too many mornings to her bags ripped and gleaned of what little scraps they contained by the neighborhood bands of mice, coyotes and raccoons.

At the door, she saw a strange man on the monitor who swayed nervously and ran fingers through his unkempt beard.

I wasn’t too pleased with Grandma’s telling of this part of the story, so I asked my great-uncle Charlie to give his account too. It turns out his version was just as occluding. And since I think the truth is somewhere between their accounts, I put them together:

“Hello?” Grandma called through the door.

“   .” murmured my great-uncle Charlie.


“Hey. I said.”

“Oh. Hello.”

“Sorry I didn’t call first. I live across the hall. I would have called. But- my tablet’s dead.”


“                                         ”

“I didn’t catch that.”

“Can I use your charge?”

I imagine a long silence here where Grandma mulls her charge as well as her trust for the stranger’s story, and Charlie, eager to receive his “No.” and be on his way, is already shifting down the hallway. But Grandma’s generosity was always a point of pride, a quirk if ever she had one, since in those days it was kin to leprosy. A weakness from a bygone time. With grandeur she opens the door and with magnanimity says, “I suppose you can use my charge. But not too much of it. And do you mind leaving your shoes outside?”

But her heart sank to her butt when he answered, “My water’s been out. There’s not much difference between shoes, socks and feet.”

“I knew he was a dud, right there.” she said to me, “But, I’m too good a heart, I let him in anyhow.”

He stomped his feet in the hall, shook loose what he could, and with a tight smile passed into the room.

“You’re on wind?” she asked.

“Only until I can sort out a few things.”

“As it should be.”

Charlie hung his head to mask the nervous tic, a jutting out of his lower jaw, and said “If you’ll direct me.” and held out his tablet.

“Right over here.” Grandma answered. She took his tablet and plugged it into the extension cord that ran along the edge of the room towards a transformer imbedded in the wall and camouflaged by a frame.

“You’re on wind too, I take it.”

“I am.”

And here, I think I should preface their reactions by saying they lived in the St. Louis block of Sanders houses. In were infamous in the day for never having been retrofitted to handle the failure of the jet stream and therefore prone to collapse. So, when the building grunted to adjust to a sudden gust they exchanged panicked glances they were quick to bridle as the building slinked back into place. They were left with the residual whir of the turbine out the window.

“What a strong house.” affirmed Charlie, shaking plaster out of his hair with another tic.

“The strongest.” confirmed Grandma.

“I’ve read we can withstand simultaneous gusts and earthquake up to a seven on the Richter scale.”

“Well if that doesn’t make you confident, what will?”

“They’re quite sturdy.”

I can feel that awkward pause resonate through the years. Grandma told the story right through, but Charlie smiled to try and diminish the denial of his day.

“Am I right to think I’ve seen you with a daughter?” Grandma asked.

“You are.” said Charlie, “She’s doing great. Back in South Carolina. Where we’re from. Trying to get into growing sunchokes, but there’s no particular farm she’s felt passionate enough to work with.”

“Same story for my cousin Johnny. He went out to Idaho for peas and he was doing well for a while.”

“Then the price shot up. That’s my guess.”

Exactly. So he moved on because he thought it so stubborn of these agriculture types to charge what they do. It’s food, you know?”

“Well, I do. But, they need  to make a profit. Or else why do it?”

“That’s true… you’ve got to applaud how these kids go out and find their future.”

“I do. But at our age….”

Now this is my favorite part of the whole exchange. I mean, they came so damned close to admitting how neither one was doing just that. It was obvious they were the ‘strain’ on the economy they often condemned in conversation.  But it was just as clear that there existed no channel for remedying their situation. Another second of awkward eye holding might have fractured the dissonance into the radical banter that sometimes followed that variety of exchange. Instead, Charlie’s tic broke their eye contact.

He said, “Unemployment’s dropped to a half percent. “

“Is that so?” she said.

“I’m waiting to hear back from the dealership on Lafayette.”

“I can see you selling carts. You’d be great.”

“Wouldn’t I?” he ticced again.

“I’m in the process of getting involved with fusion. My engineering degree must be useful for something down there.”


“Yeah.” they both sighed.

“Oh.” said Charlie, “I really hope you get that! You could get the whole building reconnected. We wouldn’t have to rely on-” and to finish his sentence another gust of wind caused the building and neighbors to shiver, and brought on the dizzying whir of the turbine.

“Two in a day!” said Grandma.

“Three days, nothing. Not a breath. I knew this would happen. The moment I go asking for charge, winds, gusts and gales let loose wouldn’t you know it? With my luck, they’re probably showing twisters for the afternoon.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?”

He unplugged his tablet and said “I’ll get out of your hair then.”  then rushed out.

Charlie ended his relating their meeting by asking why I was interested, “It was such an innocuous thing.” he said. Grandma finished by saying “He might have been a wet sandwich, but it was nice to have the company.”

I told them both the same thing. They can act like it was nothing unusual, or pleasant, but I know their sweet breath of mutual relief the instant the door closed. I know they felt dirty at having been so close to begging. And each in their own privacy dashed for their broom to take out their discomfort on the fresh drizzle of plaster.




Diego Reymondez is a dizzy mess who passed out in New York and woke up in Spain. Since regaining consciousness he’s planted a food forest and now must spend his days making rocket stoves, keeping his brother from dying on intergalactic travels, taking care of animals and generally learning how to nature. Eventually he gets around to writing. He has one upcoming publication in Cleaver Magazine.


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The Song of Death by Charles G Chettiar

May 08 2016

When we speak about dreams, there is a pessimistic shadow always at the back of the head that they may not be achieved. That they will be evey difficult to find. Everyone has a dream, even the most commonplace among us. It was the same with Avaranya Mistry, who wanted to be a PhD in music.

She could create valuable music, had won accolades from her building and friends, but without any commercial success. For that she came to know that her knowledge should be more than plain knitty-gritty and like a child’s. With the confidence which her parents had instilled in her about educaton, she decided to do a PhD in music and as she progressed with it was less than surprised to see her music grow. Side by side she was preparing her own score maybe for a superhit movie, and if rejected there, had plans to bring out her own album.

She knew that academic success didn’t matter much, but was thus surprised to find that the more academically successful she became, she had such vivid and mesmerizing inspirations that she shat and composed. And towards the end of her labors was a terrifically written and beautifully thought score.

Then she saw great talent laid waste. Then she saw real genius entrapped I his own failings. Then she saw what had happened to one of the greatest conductors of an erstwhile opera.

He was locked in his own world unable to get out, to feel the fresh air, see the beautiful rose and scarlet sunset. He by shutting himself in oblivion had bereaved himself of the basic inspiration by which music is composed.

…I hear him on the violin,” said his landlady, a rigorous lady, even though in her early sixties. “Beautiful music. But he only plays when the pangs hit him, it seems.”

Her thoughtful eyes grew graver than usual and she stared at her bespectacled visitor.

“He is not violent, is he?”

“Of course not!” said the landlady. “Otherwise I would have admitted him to the mental hospital long back. You can go & see. He is a very good mannered man.”

The staircase lay in front of her. It creaked and shuddered with her every step. She knocked.

From within came a resounding “Yes”.

He was not a wasted wreck which she had imagined. He was not in any alcoholic stupor. The room was immaculately clean, and not littered with empty liquor bottles. A lone ceiling fan was noisily rotating above a wooden writing table in the centre of the room. A bespectacled man was sitting beside it with a book.

“How can I help you?”

“I am Avaranya Mistry. I am doing a thesis on Mozart’s unrevealed music. For that I want your help.”

“First will you please sit down?”

Avaranya took a seat beside the bed.

“It’s been a long time since I had company. I like it that way.”

Avaranya unconsciously was grooming her hair. She was a little on edge. Meeting a musician who was said to be reincarnation of Mozart, anyone would have be fidgety.

“Why have you locked yourself Mr. Kashinami?”

The old man on the bed knotted his brows.

“Are you a reporter? IF YOU ARE THEN THE DOOR IS THERE!”

Avaranya stared. She hadn’t expected such violence from the frail bed ridden man.

“No, no, no, Mr. Kashinami. As I told you I am a PhD student doing a thesis on Mozart’s unrevealed music.”

“Prove it!”

Avaranya showed him her college ID.

“It can be forged,” said the bespectacled wasted man.

“In that corner,” continued Mr. Kashinami, “you will find a piano and written music. Let’s see if you can play it.”

Avaranya was playing the piano from age seven. She started with delicate chords, and felt the tempo build up. The song was coaxing her finger to be fluidic and even fluidier. She started playing consciously but lost her consciousness and became one with the task. Nothing mattered to her, nothing was of an importance except to keep strumming the piano, and keep increasing the tempo of the music. She was in such a state that she wanted more and more. But music in front of her stopped. The music was not complete. Climax of the song was missing.

“You have some talent, girl,” said the man on the bed. “Take a Xerox, and take these sheets with you. As your correctly guessed it is one fo the pieces which Mozart wrote just before pieces which Mozart wrote just before his death. He only wrote the intro. The rest around 95% of it is my contribution. Take it girl, and complete it!

Avaranya hesitated, but anyhow asked. “Why sir you won’t complete it?”

Kashinami showed his rheumatic hands and said, “ I don’t write music anymore. Take that diary on the table. They have my notes. Goodbye, Miss Mistry.”


The diary was a wealth of information. Before she finally got to the Mozart’s unfinished Sonata, she browsed and copied Kashinami’s scribbles. They were all scribbles, but if a Bollywood music director came across it, then he would be surely able to churn out at least music for ten different movies.

She saw that Kashinami had changed some of the chors. She didn’t know why. Senility, she thought. She corrected the chords and went for luck.


Avaranya was ecstatic. In her hand was Mozart’s unfinished score. The score, which was touted as a masterpiece, only if it had been completed. After checking the authenticity of the piece, from the library. So Mr. Kashinami was not lying. He surely had the original Mozart’s score, with instructions to finish it. Mr. Kashinami was genuine.

He had not told her by when to finish it. But she wanted it to be ready at least two months before her thesis presentation, so that she could vet it from Kashinami & do the necessary changes if any.

She set down to work feverishly. Te best way to compose she had come to know was while playing. She started the piece in her hostel room. The reverberations of the music continued from the tip of her finger, to her eardrums, to her mind and then deep within her. The music was so soothing that her inner being got freer and freer as she proceeded. And then the tempo started and conveyed her to a stare which had no equivalent words in any language. The only language which could express it was music and she was speaking it.

Just then the cords ended and Avaranya came out of the trance. Strangely, her heart was aflutter and her body had gone cold. When she tried to get up she collapsed on the floor in a heap. Only by slowly wriggling her toes and gingers, little by little, she was able to bring warmth back to her limbs and body.

Then she knew that the music was really a masterpiece. A masterpiece which would convey the hearer to a location and make them forget the existing world.

She didn’t attempt another go at the piece. She had written scores which could be used fo twenty different albums, but this score evaded her.

And then a mere 65 days before the thesis deadline, she got the breakthrough. She started with the writing after attempting the score in half. She realized that with the original notes it became very difficult to get out of the trance and so she replaced those with what Mr. Kashinami had wrote. With that the music just flowed out of her and the score was complete.

The only thing remaining was the draft which would take a maximum of three days. Her first draft was already complete. The missing link was the score in her hands. After its addition, it would be over.

She was so enthusiastic that she couldn’t wait to show it to Mr. Kashinami. Long had he wallowed in obscurity, but it would soon be the end of it. A composer of his mettle couldn’t be allowed to be obscure; couldn’t be allowed to waste away. She would convince him. Maybe he could get a Nobel or a Bharat Ratna for his contributions.

“You completed it, girl?” asked Kashinami.

Avaranya nodded and said, “Yes sir. The music is just mind blowing.”

“Literally,” he said. He smiled.

Avaranya positioned the papers in front of the piano and started the piece. It started like dripping water, which then became a stream, which then became a rivulet and then became a river. It went higher and higher, but it still had no limit. The flow was building up slowly and slowly. The reverberations of the music originated from the tip of her fingers, to her eardrums, to her mind and then deep within. The music was so soothing that her inner being got freer and freer. The tempo continued building up and conveyed her to a state which had no equivalent words in any language. The only language which could express it was music & she was speaking it. she went on higher & higher and when the end note of the climax was reached in a shattering crescendo, all she saw was a blinding light.


The bodies of Avaranya Mistry & Jaibhoom Kashinami, were found by Mr. Kashinami’s landlady. The post mortem by the police only revealed that both had died of heart failure. The score was taken in by the police as evidence, and remained in the Mumbai police archives for quite some time before being released to the landlady, as Mr. Kashinami had bequeathed everything to his landlady as a mark of gratitude for allowing a failed but non-famous music star to stay under her roof. The shrewd landlady sold the remainder of Mr. Kashinami’s estate to a Bollywood music director for a sum, considered hefty by some standards.


Bio: I am an Engineer by circumstance and writer by choice. I work in Engineering in Mumbai. I started writing short stories when in college, and have just now completed my first novel. My fiction genres include, horror, fantasy, political thrillers & historical. I am looking out for a publisher at present and working on my second book.


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A Weaver’s Tale By Tara Campbell

May 01 2016


I miss Ava. I know you do too, although you won’t admit it.

Yes, you say she was a rabble-rouser, the cause of all of our troubles. Many Weavers agree with you, but not me. As far as I’m concerned, she’s what kept us going through all the years of war.

And life in the Follicles hasn’t been the same since she left.

Sometimes when I’m supposed to be weaving I find myself almost coming to, like I’ve been asleep, strands slack in my hands, just thinking about something she said or the little tunes she used to hum while teaching us a new technique. It was Ava who taught us about texture, how to weave subtly and gradually. She showed us how, over time, the tiniest curve would grow into a wave as long as we were patient—and once our Person grew patient enough to understand our work.

Of course, you needn’t remind me: we have endured many a grim year, with daily battles and loss. But in our current, fragile peace, Evictions are rare, despite our preference for silver and white.

Do you remember the first time you saw silver and white? I’ll never forget. I was in my follicle, choosing between various shades of brown for my next section of weaving, when Ava dropped down from Topside. I don’t know how she ever got any work done, always running from follicle to follicle. Anyway, from the little tune she was humming, I knew who it was even before I looked. But this time there was something more: my follicle was suddenly vibrating with color!

I turned to face her and was dumbstruck. Her cinnamon-brown skin was richer than ever before, her blue stripes more vibrant. The pink of her eyes sparkled with a new light! The walls of my follicle glinted a rich, warm red, and when I looked down at myself and saw my own skin—I’d never realized how buttery yellow I am.

And look at you! Sometimes I’m still shocked at how green you are. You have to admit, before Ava brought us silver and white, everything was pretty pallid.

That first day with the new colors felt electric, like illumination from another world. The only other light I’d known was the harsh, overpowering brightness of Outside.

Come now, don’t act innocent. We’ve all poked our heads out of our follicles for a daytime peek Topside. I was just going to take a quick look around the day I went up, but once I saw how different it was during the day than at night, I just had to keep going…

No, this was before I met Ava; you can’t blame everything on her.

I got out of my follicle that morning, thinking I was going to stick close. But I kept wandering, drawn by the different qualities of light filtering through the strands of weaving as I moved through them. I’d never seen so much light before! Little by little, I had to admit that I was dying to see what lay beyond Hairline—but of course by the time I got there, it was so was achingly bright I couldn’t see anything at all. Which, of course, is why you’re not supposed to wander around during the day. You never know when your Person is going to try a new hairstyle, and bam, there you are, smack in the middle of a Part, blind and sizzling.

But back to silver and white: that day, when Ava held the new strands out to me for the first time, I was so afraid! The colors were so dazzling I thought they would overwhelm me! But as a Weaver, my fingers itched to touch them.

Ava held them even closer, and I couldn’t resist.

The texture! Smooth but strong, substantive. It was a revelation, even you have to admit that. Think back to when every strand was silky and brown, perfectly malleable in our hands: boring. Look at all the things Ava has taught us since, all the unruly curves and twists with shining silver highlights. Magic!

Yes, as you rightly remind me, we paid a dear price for that magic in the early days. Searches and Evictions: the constant upheaval was a horror. A Weaver would be sitting at home, innocently twining, when suddenly the work of months—years—would be yanked right out of their hands. Or worse yet: all those poor Weavers who were so absorbed in their creations they got pulled out of their follicles along with their strands. I still shudder to think of those times, climbing up Topside at night, finding out how many of us had been lost. We didn’t think it could get any worse—until the Great Brown Floods.

All those times I accused you of being overly cautious… I admit now, we didn’t think things through. Too many of us were using the new colors and methods at once. We all thought our Person would have to come to terms with it. We were too numerous, we thought; there was no way to Evict all us all!

But the Floods…

First came the sifting and rifling: the Parting. Our strands gathered up and stretched tight, and then…

The first Flood started in one small section, remember? We didn’t know what it was then; we only knew that something terrible was about to happen. No one could go out with all those new Parts crisscrossing Topside, not to mention the noxious, acidic winds blowing through the forest. All we could do was cower in our follicles.

I heard yelling from above, and Ollu dropped into my follicle, coughing and shivering, covered with pungent brown sludge. He couldn’t see. He didn’t even know where he was. I heard the screams of the other Weavers running past my follicle, and I wanted to jump out and find you.

But Ollu pulled me down and covered me just as the slick, dark liquid started running down the walls of my follicle. I tried to pull away and climb out, terrified of drowning in that stinking deluge, but Ollu held me. He said it was better to wait. He told me he’d made the mistake of trying to run, and found out that conditions Topside were much worse. And as I saw later, he was right. The forest has never been the same since.

I can’t bear to think how many Weavers we lost that day. It took the displaced weeks to find their follicles again and set them in order. While they were away, we weaved for our absent neighbors, keeping their strands flowing until they returned.

Who could have known this would be the first of several Floods, and every time another one struck, more of our neighbors—like dearest Nim two follicles over—never returned.

What could we do but weave, for ourselves and for our missing friends? Our designs became bolder, more defiant, gleaming silver and white, curls corkscrewing from tip to base. But again and again, our artistry was doused and corroded by the next Great Brown Flood.

It was Ava who showed us a new way to fight back: she told us to stop weaving for our neighbors. It was a shocking plan. It seemed so selfish and unnatural, and as much as I admired Ava, it took several weeks before I could bring myself to follow her advice. Staying in my follicle, just letting Nim’s weaving fall apart nearby—it physically hurt to think of her beautiful strands unknitting themselves and slipping away while I continued to work on my own. It was agonizing, but in the end, it was the right thing to do. How else would our Person discover the true impact of the Floods?

Topside became desolate. Every time we surfaced, we saw that another Weavers’ work had fallen away. This was way worse than any Eviction. I will never forget when Nim’s work finally slid out of her follicle. You had to hold me back from ripping my own weaving to shreds.

Little by little, our Person came to understand. Over time, the Floods came less frequently, and then stopped completely. Although, one can never say “stopped” with certainty. A Weaver never knows what a Person will do next.

The forest is thinner now, but what we’ve lost in strands, we’ve gained in texture. I believe our Person now relies on us to fill in the lost volume with grander designs. It’s almost enough to make one feel optimistic, to try out some of the crazier techniques Ava taught us, the ones we would watch but never dare do for fear of being Evicted.

I’ve been wanting to ask Ava about one of those designs—I’ve forgotten the middle steps—but I can’t seem to find her. I’ve asked around, but nobody has seen her for months. No Floods, no Evictions, no Searching or Parting, and yet she’s disappeared.

And don’t try to pretend you’re glad to see her go. I’ve known you too long for that.

She could be anywhere right now. Sometimes I imagine her wandering around Topside during the day, humming one of her little tunes. Or striking out of the forest into a new Part. Or venturing past Hairline into the unknown.

Sometimes I picture her wandering down to the end of a strand and pondering which Split End to traverse. She never turns back. Sometimes she chooses the left fork, sometimes the right. And every time, because she’s Ava, she runs and jumps off the end into a whole new universe.


Bio: Tara Campbell [] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Tara has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. Her fiction has appeared in the Hogglepot Journal, Lorelei Signal, Punchnel’s, GlassFire Magazine, the WiFiles, Silverthought Online, Toasted Cake Podcast, Litro Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Up Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, Master’s Review, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Latchkey Tales, Elementals: Children of Water, and Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Fiction for Adults

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Corporeal Cohabitation by Cassandra Mehlenbacher

Apr 24 2016


“I’ll miss your signature, sweetheart.” In the legal department of the Symbiogenetic Marriage Center, Zeke scratched his name next to Langley’s on their marital and corporeal cohabitation papers. He was wearing slacks, a button up with a little white flower pinned to his breast, and her second-favorite cologne, which smelled of ginger, leather, and coffee.

“It’s the last time I’ll write my name and I wish my hand hadn’t shaken so much.” Absently, Langley reread the binding document: 

I, Langley Dodson, and I, Zeke Dumont, vow to be of One United Body from this day forward as Lake Dumont, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, to honor and to treasure; from this day forward for all the days of our life.

“Separate parts joined together make a better whole. That’s all that matters,” Zeke whispered to her through a kiss on her temple. “Tomorrow can’t come fast enough.” He kissed her on the lips. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.” Langley turned around and Zeke’s Fathermother clapped the groom and bride on their backs. Langley’s parents hugged her. The uneasy tension in the arms of her mother and father made her throat constrict again.

“We’re going to miss you so much,” a red-eyed Mr. Dodson whispered to his daughter.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Mr.-Mrs. Dumont remarked with a wry smile.

Mrs. Dodson pursed her lips and looked at her feet. “Right. Of course.”

Langley knew her mother had more to say. Out of respect she’d stopped there.


“You know how much this’ll help us financially, Langley? That tax break. Doubled pay.” In a snug honeymoon suite at the Symbiogenetic Marriage Center, Zeke hugged his wife and massaged her neck. “I mean, of course, Being One with you’ll be terrific. I’ve thought about Being One with someone since I was a boy.” His hand glided down her side. “Since I understood that my parents were One. Just think…” He held his hand against her hip, still covered by her wedding dress. “In about a year, our child, made under perfect conditions by some very clever people, will sleep at our house for the first time…” Zeke’s smile widened.

His words… the last thing she wanted was for his words to penetrate her ears. And the idea of a child growing anywhere but within her renewed the heaviness in Langley’s chest and shook up the anxious matter in her mind. Zeke tried to pull her closer to him, but she moved away and stepped over to the door. She stood with her lips kissing the back of her small hand. If she reached out, she could open the door. She could run.

“This is what you want,” Langley whispered.

“What?” Zeke attempted to hug her from behind, but Langley squirmed away. “Langley, this is what you want, too… right?”

She lunged at the door handle and turned it. The door seemed stuck. Why was it stuck? This facility was too new for the doors to be stuck. She pulled at the door again and then realized that Zeke was holding it closed.

“Are you nervous for tomorrow?” He disengaged her hands from the door handle. One of his hands held both of hers while he brushed a loose strand of rusty blond hair behind her ear. “I’ve dreamed of this for so long. I love you.”

“I love you as you, and me as me, Zeke.”

“There will be more to love once we’re One.”


“Think of the good we’re doing, sweetie. Over-population—”

“I don’t care about over-population.” A tear ran down her face. Then more came.

“But don’t you know how much I love you?”

“If loving me was enough, you wouldn’t make me Be One.” Langley pulled her hands from his grasp. Her engagement band slid on her finger to her knuckle. She repositioned it, her eyes drifting to the wedding ring on Zeke’s finger. Both their names were engraved on the interior of that ring. It held both their birthstones.

“Is this because we decided to be a Husbandwife and not a Wifehusband?”

“I want to be a husband and a wife. I don’t want to a voice inside your head. I don’t want to Be One.” Those words felt better leaving her body than a fresh breath of air felt coming in after holding it during a long swim. She bit the inside of her cheek.

A crease formed between Zeke’s dark eyes. “You signed the papers. You’ve been okay with this until now. Not a peep. Are you really doing this to me?”

Her lips trembled. “I feel terrible.” Her breath came in gasps.

Sighing through his nose and leading her to the bed, Zeke sat her down. She cried silently as he removed the glistening pins holding her waves and curls in place. He held the golden, heart-shaped barrette he’d given her for their first anniversary. His palm dwarfed it. “I love that you wore this.”

Unable to help it, she smiled through her tears. The little pin was too juvenile for a twenty-year-old, but the least she could do for Zeke was to wear it on their wedding day. She’d never wear it again, after all, unless she changed Zeke’s mind.

“I want to keep being me.”

“You’re scared.”

“When I look in the mirror, I want to see myself.”

“You will. Because we’ll Be One. One self.” Zeke placed her hair decorations on the side table before he drew his fingers through her hair, separating the moused and hairsprayed strands.

Langley groaned. Her muscles went rigid. “I feel terrible. This is what you’ve wanted, but I—”

“Can we sleep on it, honey?” Zeke drew her close into a hug that she endured like a cat resisting a child’s attention. “That’s all I ask. Time to think. Time to rest. Today was a bit stressful.”

She sucked on her upper lip. For his sake, she could feign consideration. She brought her arms up and lightly hugged him back. “I am tired.” Lots of spouses backed out at the last moment, whether Zeke wanted to admit that or not. Time would not make her embrace the transformation ahead of her.

Zeke grinned and kissed her face. Then he kissed her again and again until he found her lips. “Now, Mrs. Dumont, I’ll start us a shower. Can I give you one great rubdown? I need to run my hands over you. One last time.” He kissed her temple.

Her stomach hitched. There was his oblivious enthusiasm again, and his eager kisses scalded her skin. Pursing her lips, she nodded. “Sure, dear.”

Zeke’s eyes went wistful for a moment as he stood up. Heading to the bathroom, he mumbled. “Mrs. Langley Dumont…”

Langley sat on her hands for a moment, rocking herself. She then looked over. The suite had a balcony. Opening the sliding glass door, she stepped outside and took a breath. A little table and two weather-stained plastic chairs sat facing the view.

“How many have sat here?” she mused under her breath. “What were their dreams?” She leaned over the railing. Their suite was on the twenty-eighth floor, if she remembered right. The sun was setting and the wind was blocked by the building. Trees in the distance shuddered as the wind ruffled their leaves. She scratched an itch on her forehead and raised herself up on her tiptoes.

Zeke said something from the bathroom, and she looked over her shoulder and cocked her head to the side, but his low voice was muffled by the walls and the water falling in the shower. Turning back, she gazed over the railing and a little chill went through her.

Could she? Dare she? Was jumping to her death better than corporeal cohabitation with Zeke? He didn’t seem to acknowledge her unwillingness at all. He wanted to hear her protestations as much as she wanted to hear his wishes.

Footsteps behind her. “That’s a beautiful view.” Her husband put an arm across the back of her neck and his hand on her shoulder. He’d removed his shirt. “You look beautiful, but it’s about time you got out of that dress. Take that makeup off. Get those muscles warmed up.”

Langley closed her eyes. “I really think you’re making light of my—”

“You’ll be happier once you know what it’s like. It’s not scary at all. You’ve seen how happy my Fathermother is. They’ve told me over and over how it was the best thing they ever did.”

“Zeke. The scores on our compatibility test were borderline.” She swallowed the lump in her throat.

With a hand on the small of her back, he guided her back into their suite towards the bathroom. “I love you, Langley. That’s all that matters.”

She closed her eyes and felt bile rise up in her throat. “I think I want to shower by myself.” She broke away from him.

Hurt filled his voice. “Sweetie, I just want—”

She slammed the door and locked it. The condensed air was throttling and the mirror over the sink was covered by silvery gray fog. Fumbling, she slithered out of her wedding dress and left it puddled around her feet. Her body shook despite the steam. She gagged.

“Langley.” Zeke knocked. “Langley. I know you’re afraid. Talk to me.”

Langley crouched down on the floor, her fingertips pressing against the tile that had a fine film of mist on it. “I’m telling you that I don’t want to Be One. I’ll do anything else with you. Why aren’t our vows and rings enough?”

“This isn’t a surprise. You’ve known about my wishes to Be One from the start. Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I’d warm up to it…” Honestly, she had. She rubbed her teary eyes. “I should have said something, but you don’t always listen. I want to love you as me. I want to touch you. I want to be with you. I want you to go do things on your own, and then come back and tell me your stories. If you truly love us, you’ll let me be.”

The silence on the other side of the door was relieving. At first. He was listening to her, finally listening. Right? The sound of Zeke listening to her was very strange. Langley stood and turned off the shower, her muscles tense and her ears searching for Zeke’s voice. C’mon. Guilt and anger stabbed at her heart.

“Langley…” The grief in his voice set her nerves on fire. “Okay.”

She froze. “O-okay… what? What’s okay…?”

“I’m pushing you too far,” he said. “I see that now. We don’t have to be a Husbandwife.”

Jumping up, she unlocked the door, fell into his arms, and pressed herself against his chest, rubbing her face into his skin. “Thank you. I love you.”

They cuddled in their marital bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. Langley thought about asking to sleep elsewhere for the night, but didn’t want to be a bother when the bed was perfectly fine, despite its location at the Symbiogenetic Center. Zeke was quiet. Langley repeated herself several times when she spoke to him because he didn’t catch what she’d said. He was grieving his dream of Being One with her.

“I’ll be the best wife. We’ll have no regrets. Just you wait.” She snuggled against his neck, wrapping her arms around his chest to his back.

He rested a hand on her back.

After a while, they made love, and then they shared a light serviced dinner and some wine just before switching off the lights. Langley sighed and nuzzled her head into her pillow. Sleep came on quickly and she rested in fearless peace.


Langley smiled, expecting the fingers interlacing with hers to belong to Zeke as he tried to wake her up. The sooner they left the Symbiogenetic Center and went home to their apartment the better. It was bad enough the Center was in their hometown.

She opened her eyes.

A nurse, looking down on her, smiled. The suite had been swapped out for a sterile little chamber.

Langley shivered. What was this? Why wasn’t she in bed with her husband? Had something happened during the night and she’d been admitted to the hospital? 

This was a last minute decision, but it was the least we could do, I thought.

She looked around for her husband. She’d clearly heard his voice, but where was he?

The thoughts in her head turned over as easily as if someone had dialed in a different radio station. Don’t be afraid. You’ve always been more comfortable in your skin than I’ve been in mine. You’re so beautiful, sweetie.

The nurse stepped back as Langley murmured, “What? I don’t…”

Zeke’s words finally registered. 

Langley, don’t be afra—” 

No! Zeke!  I told you I-I… There was something on her head. She raised her arm to touch it, but her limb froze half way from her reaching it. 

Just relax. I will take care of us. We have nothing to worry about. Don’t panic the nurse. 

You lied to me, Zeke! 

We’ll adjust…

How? Why? He’d betrayed her. 

I didn’t expect you to feel so strongly, sweetie.

Tears of frustration ran down her cheeks as her body trembled. How could you have not known? Get out of my head. Now.

Langley knew Zeke was there, waiting to speak, in the background of their mind like a lingering bystander at a crime scene. Why couldn’t he just answer her? 

Sweetheart… they’ve already destroyed my body. I’m sorry. I love you.


Cassandra Mehlenbacher lives in the Pacific Northwest and received her BA in English from Central Washington University in 2014. She has publications with The Airship Daily, Wordhaus, The Story Shack, and others. When she isn’t writing and fending off the bills, she is drawing animals or spending time with loved ones.

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The Book by Patrick Doerksen

Apr 17 2016


“So. Mark. What happened. Mmm, this is good.”

“Mom started Reading the Book.”


“Four days ago.”

“Is it serious? Yup, good coffee. French press?”

“Well, she hasn’t stopped since.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What, there’s still hope.”


“It’s too goddamn easy for them. The Readers. There’s no way to cut ‘em off.”


“You know, some folks in L.A. even started printing it out. Font the size of ant turds. God. And still fills a gym.”

“Listen. You should talk to Damon. He knows a guy who knows a way, like.”

“Shit man. How? Have you Read any of it?”

“Just the first page, same as the next guy. Don’t judge, but I think it involves shock therapy? Wristbands, like.”

“I was in deep. Third chapter. Like, fuck, the book’s endless, right, but it’s just as endlessly inventive. Funny as hell; still it makes way more sense than anything. You start wondering, how can the guy, the author, keep this up? So you peer further in, looking for some flaw, something boring, and then you’re like, oh shit, this is better than the last page.”

“Talk like a damn Reader.”

“I’m serious. Like nothing else. Can’t paraphrase it.”

“I’ve read summaries. Chapters 1-20.”

“Man. Why don’t I just tell you about a sunset if that’s good enough for you.”

“So then let her keep Reading.”

“Fuck you man. She’s in deep. She’s going to the Reader’s Conference in L.A. next week.”



“Welcome, welcome! Please, yes, seats at the front here.”

[Shuffling feet.]

“Thank you for attending the Third Annual Reader’s Conference! Veterans in the audience know how it goes here: We stop Reading the Book for two days to complain about how we hate to stop Reading.”

[Mild laughter]

“In that sense, those of us here represent the less-committed Readers. I’m sure there are a few of you with connections who declined to come—sensing the irony no doubt—and are Reading at this minute! Ah, didn’t we all ponder it. But one of our purposes here is to dispel such narrow notions of “commitment;” being a Reader is not just reading—it is Interpretation. And gathered here today are some of strongest Advocates and Interpreters of the Book in the world!”


“This morning we will begin with Doctor Berchart, who will be giving a talk on the similarities and dissimilarities between Reading and substance addiction. He will be exploding more than a few myths, I’m sure, so make certain you record it for your concerned loved ones.”


“In the afternoon breakout we have a selection of speakers. Professor Hammil will be presenting on the impacts of cognitive enhancements and psychedelics on Reading. Sure to be scintillating! Professor Gerhard will be presenting some of his latest research on the origins of the Book; as I understand it, there have been a few small breakthroughs in this field. Which is it, Rick, an underground society of literary geniuses? A group-mind experiment, a host of connected consciousnesses suspended in zero-sensory chambers plugged with stimulants and psychedelics and what else? Some eternal being, perhaps?”

“But the question, Cindy, is rather, What is writing it? Because we suspect Artificial Intelligence.”

“That so? Fascinating.”


“The third talk will be given by myself, and that will be on the future of Readership politics in an increasingly polarized world. Oh, I see catering has just put out some refreshments in the back. Help yourselves. The coffee is bottomless, so drink up, sit up, and listen up, because we have two days packed with Readership goodness!”


“‘I will not Read the Book. I will not read the Book. I will not read the book.’ Every morning, first thing.”

“That’s it, huh.”

“When you say it with your soul.”

“That and the shock therapy will do it.”

“Always. A good diet helps, too—stabilizes. Who is it, your girlfriend? It’s a parent, isn’t it. A parent…”

“How much are these goddamned wristbands anyway?”

“$200 apiece.”

“Shit, you’ll be booed out of there.”

“Oh, a lot worse than that.”

“You probably think you’re some kind of hero, don’t you.”

“Just doing what I can.”

“You’ll need more than wristbands. To get through to them.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

“Hey, you ever consider that maybe no one needs a guy like you? That maybe the Readers are OK and it’s us who are missing something?”

“Every day.”

“Yeah, no kidding huh. Lose sleep over it and everything too huh. Some fucking hero. Tormented soul trying to do good in a world run amuck.”

“Something like that.”

“Whatever. Just give me the fucking wrist band.”


“Thanks Alan. I’m here in L.A. at the Third Annual Reader’s Conference with Finnegan Caulwood, chairman of the United Reader’s Society. There is a surprising amount of buzz for a crowd full of Readers, wouldn’t you say Finnigen?”

“Oh we get rowdy.”

“Tell us a bit about how all this started.”

“Well, Navim, as you know four years ago the Book appeared. Within three weeks it developed an international cult following. I was one of the first promoters, there was a team of us, and we created a real social media presence for the Book. Soon we had some donors and I got a few hundred to agree to fly down to L.A. and voila, we had the first conference.”

“Tell us something about the Book, Finnegan. You left a top marketing job to Read and promote the Book full time. What is it about the Book that excites you?”

“Right, thanks for asking Navim. My introduction to the Book was unreal. I mean that literally. I didn’t know something like that could be real. In university I remember taking this Arthurian Legends class and we read something called The Mabinogion. It’s a collection of stories filled with the most peculiar stuff, but all taking place by the same logic. This is a pale comparison, but it contains the key: the Book is not pure absurdity or lawless creative energy, it’s governed, channeled, by some alien, Godlike mind.”

“That is certainly high praise.”

“Yeah, and Navim I’d actually go further. The Book really is a gateway. What it contains is something entirely Other, capital O—so Other that we would have no access to it were it not that the Book also eased us into it. So it’s a gateway, an organization of space and meaning such that we can perceive where one realm ends and another begins—and then cross over if we like. I’m sorry to you and your viewers, Navim, but only Readers will know what I mean. And if you’re not hooked then you may never be. I was reading the first page, the first paragraph actually, and immediately I had this sense that here  was something different.”

“Is that something you try to explore, here at the Reader’s Conference?”

“Definitely. It’s really slippery, though. The Book comes at reality from an angle no one has ever tried before. It’s in everything, the way the adverbs are used, the way the action proceeds, the details it fastens upon. You go further in, and each chapter of the Book pushes that slant steeper and steeper. Eventually it gets so steep that you’re tipped into a world wholly unlike our own. And still it doesn’t stop, it just keeps tipping; you keep getting that sense of entering something new, something completely different. You know what it’s like, to get caught in the momentum of a really good book?”


“Now imagine that going on forever. It’s like free-falling. That’s something we talk a lot about here at the conference. It’s nice, too, for the early Readers who haven’t made it as deep in; a lot of them—and this happened to me, Navim—will grow anxious for the Author, worried that the Book cannot sustain itself endlessly, that somewhere there must be a roof, or a floor, some sense of a container. That is a really scary feeling. Just being around Readers who have made it deeper than them and who are still Reading is a comfort.”

“Tell me, Finnigen, is it true that anyone who begins reading never stops?

“I can’t answer that without appearing just a little smug, Navim. It’s the truth a small handful of people have made it to the third chapter, the famed point of No Return, and quit. Now, not all of us are convinced these people were actually Reading, if you know what I mean. But anyhow, aside from these rare few, the answer to your question is yes. Everyone who reads the Book Reads the Book, Navim. And what better evidence for the worth of Reading than that?”

“Are you trying to make a proselyte out of me, Finnegan?”

“Oh no, Navim, the Book does that.”


“I understand that you also offer some more intentionally therapeutic sessions here for Readers?”

“That’s right. We have a session with a counsellor who works with Readers who have lost a sense of priority and proportion in their lives—you know, the Readers who sit on their toilets all day and order take-out. Her name’s Penny, she’s great. It’s really important to keep healthy; it’s all about lifespan—if you’re able to stay alive longer, the more of the Book you will make it through. Binge-reading gets you nowhere.”

[Distant yelling]

“My apologies Navim. Every year we have a few self-appointed “Rehabilitators” who like to cause a disturbance. Really they are just biblioterrorist. I just can’t understand that sort of enmity.”

“I must ask, Finnegan. The Readers are obviously a very passionate bunch—with these naysayers about, have things every become violent here at the conference?”

“Never. We have security who will escort them away safely. Ah, there they are now.”

[Yelling subsides]

“Finnegan, can you tell me about these booths?”

“Of course. It’s important to keep in mind, Navim, that we as the National Reader’s Society have no professional affiliation with anyone or any business who decides to set up here in the lobby. This year we have a representative from an investor in China; you can see by his sign he is willing to pay a pretty penny for each page translated into Mandarin. Of course, the Book is untranslatable. We’ve had some investors from other countries in past years, none have been satisfied.”

“That booth there looks interesting.”

“Yes, we’ve had Expert Summaries every year. They are a good group, but let me tell you something, Navim. You can’t translate the Book and you can’t summarize it. Vicarious Readership, it’s called, and it doesn’t work. You have to understand, Navim, that by virtue of the fact that the Reader is asked to summarize a piece of the Book, he is in too deep to do so. By that point the narrative has grown into itself. Any bits he might bring back to the surface would be like odd shells and carcases brought up from the ocean depths—curious perhaps, but finally ugly and unknown. To access the Book’s wonders, one can’t cut corners. The only path is the path the Book gives us.”

“One last question, Finnegan. Where do you think all this will take you?”

“Only the Book knows, Navim.”

“Thanks so much, Finnegan, and enjoy your conference.”

“Thank you, Navim.”

“Back to you, Alan.”


“We should’n come, man; it’s weird, surrounded by all these—”

“Hey look, that’s Veronica Meyers.”


“They say she’s the furthest in—of anyone.”

“Stupid. As though it were some sort of competition, like. Huh, wow, she’s young.”

“She was a speed reading champion, before the Book appeared. 3,000 words per minute or something.”

“Huh. You know, there’s that guy, Jim something, some sort of savant, like; he’s finished it apparently.”

“Yeah yeah, I heard that too, that’s bullshit.”

“He says he can’t describe the end, that the Book redefines what it is to “end,” like. I saw an interview, he was shaking all over. This poor bloke, two weeks after finishing it and still shaking…”

“Yeah, well, no one’s finished it, it doesn’t end. That’s what’s so inane about the whole thing.”

“Think of it. What would a Reader have left in his small little life, if he actually finished it, like? I—”

“You know I said can’t actually finish the fucking Book, Alb. There’s no fucking way, not reading 3,000 words a minute, not reading 3,000 words a second.”

“Well, check out the interview.”


“So where’s your mom, I’m not seeing her.”

“You hear there’s people actually learning English now just to Read? It’s the fucking tipping point—if it wasn’t certain before the Book, language extinction and the monoculture of English is now the way of the world.”


“Hey, what’s happening over there?”


The Book


An audiobook presentation

by Neil Gaiman, Kate Winslet, Benedict Cumberbatch,

and host of other famous performers


Updated biweekly

Unlimited streaming for $20/month


“Get the fuck outa here man!”

“Go back to grad school tight ass!”

[Ongoing aggressive heckling]

“Hey watch out!”

“He’s got something!”

[Screams, gasps, etc.]


[The crowd quiets]

“Listen to me! Listen, for God’s sake, while you still have ears! There Book is dangerous!”

[Booing here and there, sparse]

“The first chapter of the Book is not what you think it is! You think it is about a retired UFO crash litigation lawyer and his disembodied wife. No! It is not that! I tell you, it is about the alienation of a people! It is about what is happening to you even now, as you jeer at me and judge me in your hearts! It is a warning that every Reader has ignored!”

[Boos here and there, less sparse]

“Listen, dear Readers: you are growing different! You and I once walked the same road, and could speak to one another, and be heard by one another. Now where are you? You have taken an exit, an offshoot from the road, and you are no longer on it. Furthermore, your path has no signs, no marks—you know not where you go!”

“Like hell!”

“You there!”

[Gasps, a shriek]

“Yes you, who just spoke with such malice. Come up here. What is your name?”


“Jarred. How long have you been a Reader?”

“Nine months?”

“Nine months. Long enough. Jarred, you understand what this is?”


“Tell me what it is.”

“A g-gun.”

“Jarred, what is a gun?”


“What is a gun, Jarred.”

“A weapon? To shoot someone with?”

“What does the Book say a gun is, Jarred?”

“Hey, that’s enough! Let him down!”

[A shot is fired]

“Quiet! … Jarred, answer the question. What does the Book say a gun is?”

“It… it says, that, uh, guns are portals.”

“To where, Jarred?”

“To the Numinous Atopos? The Estranged Land?”

“Would you like to go there, Jarred?”


“Well, Jarred, would you like to go to the Numinous Atopos? The Estranged Land?”


“Oh, but you like going there in the Book, don’t you Jarred?”

“Please! It’s, it’s just a book. Please!”


“What a psycho.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Oh, he’ll survive. Our sniper took out his collar bone, nothing deadly.”

“How the hell did he have the stage for so long?”

“Security’s radio’s weren’t synced up with the Nest. Anyway, no harm done. The conference can continue.”

“Oh, it’s continuing, that’s for goddamn sure. We’re not going to end this fucking epidemic with melodramatic stunts.”

“You think we could just unplug the internet?”

“I sure as hell wish, Rab.”


“Please! Mom, don’t do this. It’s insane. Please!”

“Mark, will you first pu-lease calm down.”

“You’re about to empty your bank account to buy a bunch of snake-oil nootropics so that you can sit for longer on your ass and stare at a screen!”


“Mom, I mean it. This is insane!”

“Mark, please. You’re all worked up. You’re sure you’re ok?”

“The gun wasn’t point at me, mom, it was pointed at you!”


“I mean figuratively. You’re a Reader, mom, not me. Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Mark, I need you to try just for a minute to understand. Here—listen. Don’t interrupt. If you found something that you loved, that made sense of everything in the world for you, that gave you peace, that held you afloat in time, would you give up everything for it?”

“But that’s not what you’ve found, mom! The Book makes sense of nothing!”

“Oh, so I’m talking to an expert Interpreter, am I?”

“You don’t need an expert interpreter or whatever to tell you that! Just an ounce of common sense! Please, mom, just try it, just for a three days. The shocks don’t hurt, only just enough to work on the part of the brain that forms habits.”

“You are offending me, Mark. If I told you to give up on Marisa, that she was ugly and stupid and not worth your time, and gave you a shock collar—”

“It’s not a collar—”

“—and gave you a shock collar to get rid of your ‘habit’ of making out on the basement sofa for hours—”


“—and talking till 3am with the TV blaring, what would you say to me son? What would you say?”

“This is insane.”

“Mark, how am I to communicate with you if you keep insisting that ‘this is insane’? You’re not trying to speak my language at all.”

“No, mom, you’re not trying to speak mine!”

“Oh, listen, the next keynote is beginning.”

[Distant] “And so I asked her, ‘Knowing what you know, would you Read the Book?’”

“Oh mom, I wish you wouldn’t go. I… I’m losing you.”

“Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark… I love you. If you would only Read the Book you wouldn’t feel the way you do. … Oh Mark, come here.”


“Patrick is a social worker living with his wife in Victoria, British Columbia. His poetry has featured in a number of journals, including Presence, Simply Haiku, Mayfly, Bones, Haibun Today, and Sonic Boom, among others.”

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