Archive for: January, 2017

Wedding Plans by C. E. Stokes

Jan 29 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

The kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off.  Bridal magazines lay scattered on every available space, pages marked with colorful sticky notes and scrawled with his fiancee’s neat script.  John hesitated in the doorway and wondered if he could escape before his bride-to-be noticed him.

Too late.  Julie lifted her head to glare at him.

“This would be a lot easier if your mother weren’t the devil!”  She huffed and flopped back against the wooden chair. She hadn’t bothered to change out of her scrubs.

He shouldn’t smile.  It would set her off.  With some effort, he suppressed his grin.

“Remember, she’ll be your mother-in-law after the wedding.”  This comment earned him a scowl in addition to the glare.

He pulled her out of the chair and into a hug.  The tension bled out of her as his hands moved up and down her back.  He wondered how much longer he’d have to hold her until she calmed down.

“She’s making me reconsider going through with the wedding.  Couldn’t we live in sin instead?” She groaned and buried her face in his shirt.

“You’re under a lot of stress.  You might just be overreacting.” He muttered into her ear.  Wisps of her blonde hair tickled his nose.

Julie tensed against him.  Probably not the best response.  John stroked her some more to make up for it.

He tried again.  “What’d she do this time?”

She pulled away to pace the kitchen.  “Every day– no, every hour!– she sends me long, detailed messages about how the wedding should be.” Her hands fluttered around her face as she marched back and forth, “and I mean everything; what music the DJ should play, pictures of what cakes she likes and a different menu selection everyday!  And get this, today she sent me a picture of what dress I should wear.  Some frumpy, frilly thing that makes me look like a walking cupcake!”

John flinched as her voice hit octaves reserved for shattering glass.

Oblivious to his wince, Julie dragged the laptop toward her and pecked at the keys.  Brushing her hair out of her face, she gestured to the screen

He leaned over and took in the photo.  “It’s definitely cupcake-like.  You’d look delicious.” He resisted the urge to lick his lips.

“Seriously?  That’s not helpful.” Her lips pressed into a thin line.  She crossed her arms and scowled at him.

He stepped behind her to rub her shoulders.  Usually the caressing calmed her down.  Today, it didn’t have the desired effect.

“Mother wants to be part of our special day.” His voice was low and, he hoped, soothing.

“Yeah, right. She can’t be bothered to meet me or talk to me, yet is trying to dictate my wedding.  Oh, I mean, our wedding.”

“Let’s go to dinner.  I made reservations at The Happy Tuna.  You’re not too upset to enjoy sushi, are you?”  He grinned as a small smile appeared on her lips. “After I drop you off, I’ll go home and call Mother, okay?”

“I’d prefer to talk to her myself.  Why won’t she even talk to me on the phone?” The smile faded and John worried he’d have to keep rubbing her.  She brushed his hands away and headed toward the hallway. “Dinner sounds great.  Give me a minute to change.”

After a meal that included no mention of his mother, John drove Julie home.  He opened her door with a gallant air that made her giggle and walked her to the door.  Julie rose up on tiptoes to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him.

He’d forgotten that ‘goodnight’ meant more petting.

“I know I insisted on waiting, but I was thinking…with the wedding so close…” She glanced up through her lashes.

His arms tightened around her.  It took a deep breath before he trusted himself to speak.  “You’ve saved yourself this long, Julie, and I respect that.  We’ll wait until the wedding night.  It’ll make the whole thing sweeter.” He touched her cheek with one finger, tracing a path toward her lips.  Her breath caught and he bent his head to kiss her one more time before turning to leave.

“I love you!  Don’t forget to call your mother!” Julie’s voice followed him down the sidewalk.  Gritting his teeth, he waved over his shoulder.  Once in the privacy of his car, he expelled a sigh of relief before heading to his house.

 

 

#

 

 

In a secluded neighborhood, not more than a five-minute drive from Julie’s home sat the little ranch house where John stayed.  He strolled through the front door and dropped his keys on the table next to the door.  He didn’t bother to turn on the lights as he made his way toward the kitchen.  The meager furnishings offered no obstacle to his destination.  He didn’t care about acquiring more, however, they were necessary to the charade.

Once he reached the kitchen, he clicked on the lights.  Brightness reflected off the pristine granite counter tops.  He filled a glass at the sink and took a long drink to get the taste of raw fish out of his mouth.  The water tasted crisp and pure.  Much like he imagined Julie would taste.

The thought of his fiancee reminded him of what he needed to do.  He couldn’t put it off anymore.  It was time to talk to Mother.

The glass clinked on the counter when he set it down.  John headed toward the basement door.

The steps leading to the unfinished basement were simple pine.  His footsteps echoed off the cinder block wall.  At the bottom of the steps, he kicked off his shoes.  Barefoot, he padded toward the little room in the back of the basement.

Between one step and the next, a black smoke rose up from under his feet.  It grew thicker, swirling around him until it completely enveloped him.  It danced across his skin and erased the illusion he’d adopted years ago.  In the blink of an eye, it vanished.

Free of the confining disguise, he paused to scratch under his arm.  That itch had been driving him crazy for hours.  It was a relief to finally get it.

His clawed fingers tapped across the cement blocks until he found the loose one.  Dust rained down with each slight shift of the block.  The key nestled in the back.  He unlocked the dark wood door and stepped inside.

With a careless wave of his hand, he lit the candles in the room with a ripple of his power.  The flickering light reflected off the pentagram etched in the floor.

The cement was cool against his knees.  He chanted, the harsh sounding words bouncing off the walls of the cramped room.  Thick smoke, identical to his own, rose up and rolled around the confines of the circle.  It swelled only to collapse back on itself to form a figure.

Inside the circle, yellow eyes met and held his.  He’d always been told he had his mother’s eyes.  Guttural words hissed out of the trapped creature’s mouth.

He held up his hand to cut off the tirade, “Mother, you need to leave Julie alone.  It’s not fair to torment her before the wedding.  It’s hard enough to find a virgin in today’s world, I won’t have you scaring her off.”

The demon in the circle snarled.  Her lips twisted away from sharp fangs.

The creature known as John sneered back, “I mean it.  Weren’t you the one who taught me not to play with my food?”

#

C. E. Stokes is a freelance writer living near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She has Bachelor of Fine Arts from Bloomsburg University. Being too much of a foodie to accept the role of starving artist, she turned to writing. Her short stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Quantum Fairy Tales, multiple issues of Dark Gothic Resurrected and the “Tales from the Grave” and “The Key” anthology.

 

No responses yet

TAXIDERMY by ANDREW DARLINGTON

Jan 22 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

He walks in shoving the wheelie-bin. The door-chime pings. Dead eyes watch him. Amber bead eyes set into stilled faces. A fox in a glass case. A cluster of parrots on a perch. A ferret poised on the curl of tree-bark. He feels itchy. There must be bugs here, ticks tunneling away through all that dead fur. A silt of dry mustiness that hangs in the air, catching at the back of his throat.

‘What you got in there?’ says the taxidermist, crooking forward over the counter.

‘Bitch’ he says. Shoves it to a halt against the counter. ‘But just ‘cos she was a bitch doesn’t mean I don’t miss having her around.’

The elderly taxidermist laughs nervously. ‘So what service do you require, sir?’

He flips the lid. Her hair spills out. ‘She was messing around, you know what I mean? But this way I get to keep her. She can sit there in front of the TV, just like always, I can talk to her, in the absolute certainty she’ll never cheat on me ever again.’

‘Yeah, yes, of course, whatever you say.’ He reaches for the alert fixed beneath the desktop.

‘We do this based on trust.’ The client’s holding the shotgun that was cradled inside the wheelie-bin alongside the blasted corpse. ‘I trust you, you trust me.’

The old man licks his thin purple lips, squints through his optician’s arrangement of thick lenses. An amber sweat-bead crawls like a glistening bug down his stooped spine.

‘There’s a problem?’

‘No problem at all. Follow me.’ He’s an old man, his joints are stiff, there’s a bone-cracking sound when he move. He leads the way, behind the storefront there’s what resembles a mash-up of surgery and craft workshop. Racks of operating instruments. Shelves with plastic box-containers of feathers, kapok, differently hued eyeballs, fangs, molars, wire coils, staples and pins. Vitrines and bell-jars with indistinct fluid contents. A refrigerated cabinet.

‘You understand, I usually do nothing bigger than dearly-beloved dogs, and cute pet cats, the deceased animal companions of bereaved owners. Nothing quite like this.’

‘But you can do it, right? What’s been your biggest commission so far?’

‘I suppose, yes. There was a grizzly bear I did for the museum exhibition, that received much commendation. Tell you what, leave the… er, subject with me, come back in three days, I’ll fix an appointment…’

‘No. It doesn’t work that way. I’m here to watch you work. We don’t want you tempted to alert anyone or inform the authorities about the unusual nature of this project, do we?’

He hitches his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Glances at the shotgun cradled casually in the curve of his arm. ‘No, I suppose not. Help me get the subject on the slab. I’ll do what I can.’

Prepping her is a long detailed procedure. The table has runnels and drains, for fluids. She’s sprawled on her back, already naked, the fatal wound exploding her stomach. She’s older than she seems, her blonde hair doesn’t match her pubes. He frames her carefully, takes photos, measurements. Skull radius, ocular orbits. Anoints her body with preserving fluids, cleaning the wound. Mixes plaster for the manikin. Takes a death-mask cast of her face and hands. Glances over his shoulder nervously, coughing.

He makes tea in an electric kettle, using two teabags. Presses Preset One on the radio, a phone-in about benefit cheats fades in. ‘How do you want her posing?’ says the taxidermist.

‘Seated. It was good, in general, what we had. She just had a weakness, a wandering eye. This way I get to keep her, you understand?’

‘Of course. Eyes are difficult. Human eyes that is. I have other species…’ He spills a selection across the table. They run them between their fingers… this one? or this one? Not quite right. Not a good match. He holds them against her dead white face questioningly. Yes, they’ll have to do.

‘Now… you sure you want to watch? We call this the ‘caping’?’ Pulling on latex gloves, flipping through the lenses in his optician’s array, into the correct focus. The incisions begin along her spine. Peeling the skin back. His breathing is quiet, his mind concentrated, half on the radio voice, half on the scalpel…

The taxidermist works methodically, long into the night. The client watches every movement, the shotgun never wavering. She reassembles before his eyes. Taking shape almost supernaturally. The familiar curves accentuated, the shape filling out. Only the eyes are different.

Finally the taxidermist straightens up, unsheathing the messy latex gloves. There’s a moment of confused silence, before the client pulls the trigger and his shotgun roars…

Several hours later he walks out shoving the wheelie-bin. The door-chime pings. The elderly taxidermist is crooked forward over the counter. He’s totally immobile, awaiting the next customer. His eyes are mismatch amber beads.

#

Check out my website ‘EIGHT MILES HIGHER’ – ‘The Blogspot for People Who Don’t Like Blogspots’ – latest postings include ‘Robyn Hitchcock: The Man Who Invented Himself’ interview, ‘Alfred Bester: The SF Probable Man’, ‘Brenda Lee: The Real Miss Dynamite’, ABC & Vice Versa music interviews, Kurt Vonnegut 1983 interview, Philip E High UK SF-pioneer interview & full history with rare archive art, ‘The Lost Worlds Of Arthur Conan Doyle: His SF, Fantasy & Horror’, Captain Beefheart Live 1980, Elvis: My Visit To Graceland & Sun Studios with photos, ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful Story’, and more… monthly updates at andrewdarlington.blogspot.com

No responses yet

Passing It On by Annie Percik

Jan 15 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

“It’s not fair!” Jason yelled. “When do I get to be a superhero?”

Frankie winced in anticipation of the slammed door that followed his thumping footsteps up the stairs. The answer to his question would likely be never, if that kind of attitude carried on much longer. She glanced down to see that lightning was crackling between her fingers and she clenched her fists down on it viciously until it went out. Unconscious power flaunting like that wasn’t going to help the situation in any way. She had always known having a teenager in the house wasn’t going to be easy, but adding powers to the mix made it infinitely more complicated. Where were the parenting books for that?

She briefly contemplated following Jason up the stairs and trying to talk to him about the situation, rationally and calmly, but she quickly dismissed that idea as a bad one. Neither of them were in the right frame of mind for sensible discussion at the moment, so it would be much better just to let him – and herself – cool down, and address the issue later. Maybe if she went out and got pizza for dinner, he might be prepared to listen to what she had to say.

Frankie slipped her gloves over the livid scars on her hands, grabbed her bag and left the house. She walked briskly to the store at the end of the road and was soon perusing the pizza options in front of the freezer near the back. A commotion over at the counter caught her attention, and she spun to glimpse an agitated youth brandishing a handgun. The guy behind the counter had his hands up and was visibly trembling in the face of the weapon.

Frankie glanced up at the security camera that was currently recording all the events in the store. Anyone viewing it afterwards would clearly be able to see her face, as well as that of the robber, but it was understood that such footage would never be used to compromise superhero identities, and that rule was rarely broken. Shrugging off her apprehension, Frankie reached into her bag and pulled out a light blue face mask with yellow lightning bolts embroidered along the sides. She pulled off her gloves, fastened the mask over her dark hair, and strode out from behind the shelves of chips and guacamole.

At the sound of her approach, the youth with the gun spun around and aimed his weapon right at her.

“Stop!” he cried, his voice cracking with barely restrained panic. “I’ll shoot you!”

“Not if I shoot you first,” Frankie quipped, and let rip with some lightning from her left hand.

The bolt of yellow light shot out from her fingers and enveloped the robber almost instantaneously. He convulsed, the gun falling harmlessly from his grip, then collapsed in a heap on the floor. Frankie closed the distance between them in two quick strides and knelt beside him, checking for a pulse. The beat was strong, letting her know she hadn’t been over-zealous with the use of her powers. She rolled the unconscious youth over onto his stomach, retrieved a zip tie from her jacket pocket, and secured his hands behind his back.

Then, finally, she looked up at the shop assistant, who had emerged from behind the counter and was staring down at her in awe.

“Thanks, uh…?” he stammered.

“Bolt,” Frankie replied with a grin. She had never been one for the over-the-top fancy names that some heroes operated under. “And it’s no problem. Can I leave you to call the police and get this cleaned up?”

“Uh, sure,” he said, his eyes never leaving her as she stood and strode out of the shop.

It was only when she reached the front door of the house, mask surreptitiously removed and stuffed back in her bag along the way, that Frankie realised she had forgotten the pizza.

#

Over a dinner of fish fingers and chips from the freezer, which seemed to mollify Jason to a certain extent, Frankie raised the subject tentatively.

“Can we talk about this superhero business, please?” she asked, raising an eyebrow in a plea to avoid further teenage tantrums.

Jason sighed. “I guess,” he shrugged.

Frankie decided this was as good an opportunity as she was going to get, and forged ahead.

“Do you really think it would be a good idea for me to pass my powers on to you now?” she asked, fixing him with a stern gaze.

Jason stared back at her defiantly for a few moments, then deflated and dropped his eyes to his plate. He moved a few of his chips around a bit, before eventually answering her.

“There’s a girl at school, whose sister got their dad’s powers as a graduation present,” he said, sullenly.

“High school or college?” Frankie probed.

Jason crossed his arms over his chest and slumped down further in his chair.

“College,” he muttered.

“Well, there you go, then,” Frankie said.

Jason looked up eagerly. “Does that mean you’ll give me yours when I graduate college?”

Frankie briefly considered saying yes, since this might be a major incentive to her less than academic son, to do well in school and actually get into college in the first place. She decided, though, that making that promise now would be a dangerous thing to do, since she knew she would have no intention of keeping it.

“Um, no,” she said, then backpedalled slightly as she saw a glower start to form on Jason’s face. “Well, maybe. I don’t know, okay? It’s not a decision to be made lightly, and I don’t want you to base all your life decisions on when you’re going to get my powers. You need to build a life outside being a superhero first, and then maybe I’ll let you add the extra layer.”

Jason rolled his eyes. “That’s not what you did.”

Frankie sighed. She had known this was coming.

“And that’s one of the main reasons I don’t want to burden you with powers too early,” she said. “You know that. They came to me way too young, and I had an awful time coming to terms with what I could do, and what I should do.”

She held her scarred hands up in front of her, forcing Jason to look at them. “This is what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing with powers.” It wasn’t a new argument, but it was the strongest one she had at her disposal.

“But that was because you didn’t have anyone to help you!” Jason protested. “The sooner you pass your powers on to me, the longer you’ll have to train me up and help me with them. What if something happens to you, like it did to Grandma? I’d be in exactly the same position as you – or, worse, you won’t get the chance to pass them on at all, and they’ll be lost forever.”

Frankie thought back to her early teenage years. It had been hard enough dealing with the regular trials and tribulations of puberty and high school. She had been a quiet, bookish girl, with few friends and practically no social life. Losing her mother and suddenly gaining the ability to shoot lightning from her fingers, on the same day, had made everything infinitely more complicated. Trying to gain control of her powers, which responded badly to unexpected bursts of emotion, had caused some rather awkward, not to mention dangerous, situations, and there had been no-one to help her, as Jason said.

The last thing she wanted was for Jason to have to go through anything like that. If she was honest, Frankie thought it wouldn’t be too bad a thing if her powers were to be lost without being passed on, but she wasn’t going to say that.

“What’s your rush?” she asked, a little plaintively. “Why would you want to jump into the extra responsibility, when you’ve already got homework and chores and a part-time job to worry about? You should count yourself lucky you don’t have to deal with being a superhero on top of all that!”

She winced inwardly at how stereotypically parental she sounded. Telling a teenager they should be grateful for their lot was never going to be a successful route to persuasion. Sure enough, Jason snorted.

“If it’s such a lousy gig, how come you’re so keen to hold onto it?” he asked.

“Because it came to me, and I will do my duty by it until the time comes for me to pass it on,” Frankie said, painfully aware of how self-righteous she sounded.

Jason sighed and the topic subsided again, the argument ultimately unresolved, as usual.

#

Frankie might have spouted the line about duty to her son, but it wasn’t as if she was out pounding the streets every night, looking for crime to fight. Some superheroes managed to make an actual career out of using their powers, through sponsors and clever marketing, and spent all their time doing good in the community and making a big splash thwarting criminals.

Frankie had her mask, and a full costume for the rare occasions when she wanted to blow off steam with a crime-fighting session. But, usually, she only stepped in when it was really necessary, like the incident in the corner shop. And, even then, she preferred to slip out unnoticed before the police arrived. Sometimes, they would identify her from security camera footage or witness statements and call to follow-up, but mostly the police were happy to let her involvement go unrecorded.

She sometimes wondered if she ought to do more with the gifts she had inherited.. But then she thought of how she had grown up without a mother, and she knew she couldn’t deliberately put herself in danger and risk that happening to Jason. If anything ever happened to her, he would have no-one to turn to, since his father had left when he was just a baby.

When she thought about passing her powers on to Jason, Frankie most often felt it would be better if she didn’t, but she knew she would probably have to, sooner or later, or he would never forgive her. She pictured handing over the mantle to him in ten years’ time, and wondered how it would feel to train him. It hadn’t been something she had really thought about when she’d decided to have a baby. As there were so few people with powers in the world, it was generally considered a superhero’s duty to procreate in order to pass their powers on, but Frankie had wanted a family for more traditional reasons. Raising a son alone, on top of holding down a full-time job and dealing with having powers, hadn’t been part of her plan.

The thought of getting rid of her powers was quite tempting, but she knew she couldn’t pass them on to Jason until he had established himself in the world without them. She also thought his school wouldn’t appreciate a teenage boy with the ability to shoot lightning from his fingers. Jason wasn’t violent as a rule, but he did lose his temper sometimes, and Frankie knew from experience that controlling powers on top of teenage emotions was not an easy task.

#

Frankie might not go out in search of situations where she could use her powers, but there was one scenario where she never failed to do her duty. Every powered person was given an identification code, which the local emergency services could use to call upon them in certain situations. If an alert came through using her code, Frankie was expected to go to help, and she didn’t regard this as an unacceptable burden. She had plenty of community spirit, and was more than willing to help people if she was able. She just didn’t see it as her particular duty to put herself in the path of danger unnecessarily, when it was likely she would end up in a position where her specific powers were of little use. But each police precinct had a register of the powers of those who lived in their area – unless the person in question was actively hiding their abilities – and could use that to call upon people with appropriate powers for any given situation. The ability to shoot lightning from her fingers wasn’t specific to many emergencies, so Frankie was only very rarely called, and that was how she liked it.

It was 2am when the call came in. Frankie fought her way out of sleep, the insistent buzzing of her phone dragging her upwards and into awareness. She reached blindly for the phone and peered blearily at the message on its screen. It contained only her emergency identification code and a location about ten blocks from the house. Snapping into alertness, she jumped out of bed and stepped over to the wardrobe. Generally, she just carried her mask, in case she really needed it, but she did have an entire superhero suit in her closet, for occasions just such as this.

It was sleek and striking – a one-piece of blue and white with her lightning bolt motif at wrists, ankles and collar. It accentuated her slender frame but covered her entire body; practical, yet stylish. She didn’t hold with those superheroes who wore ridiculous outfits that revealed unnecessary amounts of flesh, or indulged in fancy capes. It just seemed to be asking for trouble on so many different levels. Besides, she wasn’t looking for media attention; she preferred a life of virtual anonymity, with only occasional and quickly forgotten bursts of excitement.

Frankie scrawled a hasty note to Jason and left it on the kitchen table. He was old enough to get himself to school, if the emergency situation ran long. Then, she slipped her house keys and her driving licence into a concealed pocket and headed out into the night. She was in pretty good shape, all told, but she was still pretty out of breath by the time she had jogged all the way to the site of the emergency. A disturbing orange glow in the sky as she drew close told her it was a fire long before she actually got there. Then, she turned a corner to see an entire apartment block ablaze.

There were several fire engines already on the scene, along with ambulances and police vehicles. It was clear that the firemen were struggling to control the blaze, while the police were busy setting up a barrier to prevent the inevitable eager onlookers from getting too close. Frankie was confused as to why she had been called, but jogged up to the nearest policeman and identified herself as Bolt.

“Great, you’re here!” he exclaimed. He was young, and looked harried. “Go speak to the Fire Chief, and he’ll tell you what we need. He’s over there.” He gestured towards one of the fire engines.

Frankie ducked under the tape and made her way in that direction. A big, burly man in a bulky jacket was shouting instructions, so she approached him and waved to catch his attention.

He turned and looked her up and down.

“You’re the superhero?” he asked, rather unnecessarily, then threw his hand out to encompass the burning building. “Well, you can see what we’re up against. Get to it.”

Frankie was still confused. “Get to what? What exactly is it that you want me to do?”

He scowled at her. “You can control fire, right? Well, go control it!”

“What? No, I can use lightning,” Frankie said, bringing up one of her hands and letting the yellow light play between her fingers as a demonstration.

The Fire Chief looked at her, aghast. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “There must have been a screw-up at Dispatch. You’re the only one that’s turned up. I’ll get onto them and see if they can get in touch with the right hero and send them over here pronto.” He looked about in desperation. “Is there anything you can help with, since you’re here?”

Frankie regarded him helplessly for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

She made her way towards the building, weaving between the vehicles and the various men and women running frantically about. As she got close, one of the firemen spotted her and waved her over.

“Hey!” he called out. “We can’t get access to the west side of the block. What can you do to help us?”

Frankie took in the situation. She could see the problem immediately, and her spirits rose when she realised it was actually something her powers were suited for..

Somehow, a power line had come down across an alleyway that ran down the side of the building. It was snaking around on the ground, sparking magnificently, and effectively blocking access to the side door of the apartment block. The fireman looked at Frankie expectantly.

“Stay there,” she said, “but be ready to go through as soon as it’s safe.”

He nodded, wide-eyed.

Wishing she had thought to ask the Fire Chief for a protective jacket and hard hat before coming over here, Frankie approached the jumping power line slowly. She could generate lightning bolts from the electricity contained in her own body, and direct them as energy from her fingers. As a result, it was also possible for her to absorb electricity from outside sources and channel it through her body without it harming her. Or, at least, she had done so before, but not with this much raw power.

She automatically flinched away when the sparks sprang in her direction, then steeled herself against those protective instincts and strode forwards until she was only a foot away from the cable. She reached down and grabbed hold of it, feeling the physical tug of its movement before the rush of electrical power into her body took over all her senses. It flowed through every part of her, until she felt entirely filled by its delicious energy. There was more of it than she could hold, however, and it just kept coming. Frankie glanced around frantically for somewhere safe she could direct it, but there were people, vehicles or flames in every direction. So, she chose straight up.

Keeping the cable under control and turned towards her body with one arm, Frankie extended the other one to the sky, tilted her head back, and released the pent-up energy. It streamed out of her fingers and up into the darkness, illuminating the sky above her. The clouds rumbled loudly in a reverse reaction, and she could see the energy crackling through their stored water vapour. A few moments later, it started to rain, gradually getting heavier as the stream of energy kept firing upwards.

Frankie felt the raindrops on her face, a welcome relief from the heat of the electricity, but it was a tiny amount of wetness in comparison to the intensity of the wild energy coursing through her. That wasn’t slowing down, either. The flow was relentless, and she quickly became aware that she had taken on more than she could handle. She was committed now, though, and would have to see it through, or risk compounding the disaster by losing control and letting the electricity free again to rampage unchecked.

So, she stood her ground, even when the exhilaration of the electricity turned to searing pain. Even when she felt the skin on the outside of her hands blister and the flesh on the inside start to melt. She took every bit of the power the cable threw out, and redirected it safely into the sky. At last, after what felt like an eternity, the flow suddenly cut off, and Frankie dropped like a stone into blackness.

#

Frankie’s entire world was pain. It snaked in and out of her breathing, it enveloped her mind and encompassed her very being. There was nothing but pain – until she felt pressure on her fingers and heard hitching sobs at her sides. She fought through the haze towards the surface of the world and somehow managed to open her eyes.

Jason sat beside her, gingerly holding her hand and crying unashamedly.

Frankie summoned what little energy she could muster and opened cracked lips.

“I’m dying, aren’t I?” she croaked, the words barely comprehensible, even to her own ears.

Jason’s gaze met hers and she didn’t need his anguished nod to tell her it was so.

A different kind of pain flowed through her, then; the pain of history inevitably repeating itself, in spite of everything she tried to do to prevent it.

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, a void opening in her heart at the thought of leaving her son alone in the world.

He shook his head slowly. “I won’t say it’s okay, because it’s not,” he said, his words soft as a pillow against her cheek. “But they got another fifteen people out of that building because of you, and that’s worth something.”

None of those people mattered to Frankie at all, not with Jason sitting beside her, his bravery and his grief battling on his face.

“You have to pass it on,” he said next. “Now, before it’s too late.”

Frankie was stunned. After everything that had happened, to her and now to him, how could he still want to take on the powers that had caused so much suffering to their family? He must have seen the confusion in her eyes, because he squeezed her fingers slightly and his expression turned determined.

“I still believe in the importance of what heroes do,” he said, “and I want to carry on your legacy. Please.”

Even in the midst of her pain, pain that was caused by the very powers her son was now asking for, Frankie could not deny him. The sense of responsibility was too strong, and she knew that, ultimately, he would use those powers wisely, and do good with them. She felt herself slipping away, but focused just long enough to let the essence of the lightning flow out of her body and into his, before finally letting go.

And thus a new superhero was born, in the wake of an older superhero’s death, as it had happened for hundreds of years. Created out of loss and grief, Jason’s resolve to do justice to his mother’s memory was forged like steel, and the mantle of Bolt was passed on to the next generation.

THE END

Bio:

Annie Percik lives in London with her husband, Dave, where she is revising her first novel, whilst working as a University Complaints Officer. She writes a blog about writing and posts short fiction on her website (www.alobear.co.uk). She also publishes a photo-story blog, recording the adventures of her teddy bear (aloysius-bear.livejournal.com). He is much more popular online than she is. She likes to run away from zombies in her spare time.

Annie has won the weekly Hour of Writes competition four times, and been runner-up on several more occasions. Her entries are due to be published in two anthologies next year. She won second place in the writing competition in author Michael Brookes’ Cult of Me competition in February 2016, and was shortlisted by Writing Magazine for both their New Subscriber Short Story and New Subscriber Poetry competitions. Her writing will appear in two short story anthologies by Centum Press also coming out next year. Her story ‘Safeguarding the Future’ appeared in the October 2016 issue of the Lorelei Signal, and ‘Falling Sand’ is due to be published on eternalremedy.com before the end of the year.

One response so far

The Centaur’s Revenge By Nancy Cole Silverman

Jan 08 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

After the accident, the doctor said there might be some effects from the medication: headache, sleepiness, dry mouth and some nausea. The doctor rolled off a litany of maladies, none of which I focused on as he checked them off on a clipboard.  My only thought was to get out of the hospital, away from the sterile, white environment where I’d been hooked up to alien-looking machines that did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.  I didn’t recall the doctor saying anything about disorientation or unusual dreams, so when it first happened I just chalked it up to one of the side effects I hadn’t listened to, but when it happened again, I knew I had to do something, so I’ll tell you.

The first dream came to me when I was still in the hospital.  I was reliving the accident and my body reacted viscerally, my muscles twitched involuntarily as I watched my car skid into the semi, avoiding the rider-less horse, the side mirror attaching itself to its reins.  I woke in sweat, remembered the horse’s terrorized eyes and the steel hooves as he reared in an attempt to free himself.  I called out and I vaguely remember the nurse giving me something. I fell back to sleep, this time into a much deeper sleep; a sleep that took me far beyond this world and into the next.

I was riding a blue horse–flying really–through the star fields. Below us was a lake, a waterfront surrounded by green hills. We landed in pasture land and I watched as a herd of horses grazed peacefully until a white mare lifted her head and whinnied, announcing the arrival of their leader. I looked up at the hill and saw nothing, but around me, fierce winds began to howl and then a funnel cloud appeared.  It lifted the lake up into the heavens taking with it horses of every shape, color, and size. Swirling madly like a carousel in a cloud, their bodies evaporating before my eyes until there was nothing left.

I looked back at the top of the hill, hoping to find some explanation, but found none.  Instead, what emerged through the vapor was a huge, dark warhorse with his rider and they were galloping towards me.  Only I was wrong, and the closer he came to me the more I could see the rider I had mistaken to be on his back, was merged with the horse’s body. This wasn’t a horse and rider at all, but a centaur. The man’s head with the chiseled features of a warrior and his torso, bare-chested, lean and muscular, were merged with the body of the horse. I panicked and wanted to run, but could not.  My feet sunk in the mud. And the closer he came to me, I could see his glassy eyes pinned to mine. In his hand, he held a spear high above his head, the arrow aimed directly at my heart.

Then coming to a stop, he said, “My name is Chiron, I am the leader of the centaurs and I have called you here for a reason.”

I was numb. My heart beating so fast I feared I couldn’t breathe. The creature I thought to be only mythical, certainly not anything possibly related to the modern world, was speaking to me and as he did, he lowered his spear.

“Yours was not an accident,” the Centaur said. “I needed to get your attention. To test you. And I am pleased. I sent the horse onto the freeway and you did precisely as I would have wanted you to do. Saving the horse at great peril to yourself.”

Again I tried to move, but my feet refused me, frozen in mud while my heart raced. I was paralyzed with fear, the type of fear that blurs fact and fiction, and transcends the subconscious. So powerful, that when I awoke the only words I could remember were, “Cynthia, we need your help.”

In college,  I studied Greek Mythology. I found it a basis for all story telling and played with it casually, writing short stories here and there while pursuing a career in journalism.  I didn’t give it much credence, good cocktail conversation, that type of thing, nothing more.  I’d entertain friends with stories about Greek Gods and their desires. Most like Zeus, whose lust for mortals and his ability to transcend himself both for seduction and revenge, were always popular. Topics for late night parties and what not, but I never took them seriously. I certainly thought my casual interest in their history might be because I was possessed, or even targeted. It wasn’t until after the dreams began that I realized just how powerful that connection was and how wrong I’d been.

Ironic, isn’t it?  That’s how people in the modern world like to refer to it. We use terms like serendipitous and coincidence, but I’m here to tell you, it’s more than that.  Allow me to explain.

A month after the accident, I was assigned by a magazine to do some freelance work for a story concerning horse slaughter and the reopening of some slaughterhouses for the first time in this country in nearly four years.  On the site of a proposed plant, standing atop the kill shoot, stood a Texas state Congresswomen, a Ms. Barbara Bloodworthy,  also known by those of us in the press as BB, or ‘Bad Babs,’ for her ability to twist a phrase and manipulate facts in her favor.  Ms. Bloodworthy was leading the charge to reopen a slaughterhouse, riding a bill she believed would provide jobs and rally voters to her cause, ensuring her fledgling career.  I stood there, with a group of journalist as she waxed on, an obviously canned speech, about the beauty of America’s horses and the unfortunate times which had befallen them and the need for us as concerned citizens to step forward, and ‘do the right thing.’

Only thing was, in Ms. Bloodworthy’s estimation, the ‘right thing,’ amounted to murder. That’s when the first flashback happened.  I started to feel lightheaded and the blurred vision of Chiron, came to me, his voice was clear as a bell.

“You need to stop this, for every horse that is killed a part of man dies with it.  You have to make them understand.  I’ll do my part, you do yours.”

I watched as Ms. Bloodworthy continued to speak, reporters gathered around her, cameras running, microphones extended into her face as she pointed to a pen of desolate looking horses, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, their heads hung low, their coats matted, their manes and tails mangy-looking.  With her hair neatly piled upon her small, pointed head, and dressed in an ill-fitting pantsuit that did little to hide her pare-shaped behind – despite her three-inch red high heels – she continued to define their sorry state.

“They’re ill and left to die on the range for lack of food and water, and many,” she said smiling into the cameras, “because of the tough economic times, continue to be turned out by their owners who can no longer afford to stable and feed them. On the open range, they breed, doubling their herd size every four years.”  I wondered from where she pulled those numbers. If that were so, our lands would have been overrun years ago. Then she added, wiping a tear from her eye for effect’s sake, “They’re starving, thirsty and it’s up to us, to humanely find a solution…”

She turned on her stiletto heels and gestured to the plant behind her.  As she did, a crow flew from out of nowhere above our heads. Dive-bombed us all. Ms. Bloodworthy began to bob and weave as the bird appeared to target in on her. As she did, she lost her balance, falling perilously to the bloodstained cement floor below.

Thud!  There was an eerie silence. We all looked at one another, shocked, then peered over the edge of the shoot at her motionless body, lying twisted and broken on the floor beneath us. The following day, news of Ms. Bloodworthy’s  accident trumped the slaughter story, the papers giving more attention to ‘the unfortunate incident,’ and little attention to the proposed reopening of the slaughter house.

Paralyzed, that’s what the doctors said, but not one could account for the even stranger phenomena that Ms. Bloodworthy had lost her ability to speak.  Instead, all that remained of Ms. Bloodworthy’s voice was a meek bray, like that of a donkey, braying for its herd.

As I’ve said before, the Greek Gods imposed their will upon mortals and so did their centaurs, of which there were two groups.  Both were followers of the wine god Dionysus, and subject to the dangers of drink. The larger and more wild herd were flesh-eating creatures, known for carrying off young maidens.  I often think that is why so many young girls love horses; unbeknownst to them, their hearts are being stolen by the centaur.  But the smaller group, those led by Chiron, they were scholars, physicians, and prophets, who understood the future and warned their brethren of its dangers.

The dark horse came to me in another dream after Ms. Bloodworthy was paralyzed.  He flew me through the star fields and back to the lake where he left me to wait for Chiron, alone, next to the lake in the silence of the lapping waters. Then he appeared, out of the mist, his skin hot and sweaty, his breathing hard, as though he had been running.

“Now that you’ve seen what did to Ms. Bloodworthy, you understand what it is I can do.” His eyes were like deep pools penetrating mine, searching for my understanding. I could smell alcohol on his breath.

“You’ve been drinking,” I said.

“And it is only the beginning.  There is so much more.”

I knew he was right and I watched as he morphed before me from horse to man. His powerful horse body shrinking from that an equine creature into that of a barefoot man with but a loin cloth. I couldn’t help but feel stirred by the change. I was captivated.

isH Now if you think this strange, you must remember, Greek mythology is full of stories of vengeance and transformation. Zeus had not only transformed himself into a bull to attract Europa, a Phoenician princess but again into a swan to attract Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta. Poseidon transformed himself into a stallion and impregnated the Gorgon Medusa with Pegasus, the flying horse, and again with Euryale, the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, to father Orion.  Why wouldn’t the centaur do the same to save his earthly herd?

“We need more stories in the press,” he whispered in my ear. I was aroused, uncontrollably, completely under his power. Then putting his hand behind my neck, and pulled my head close to his and stared into my eyes. “More people need to understand what is about take place.”

With my forehead pressed close to his, I could see the vision. The horses, thousands of them, wild horses, race horses, workhorses, those that had grown too old, or simply no longer useful to their owners prodded with cattle prods. Up through the shoot. Mercilessly. The sound of their screams – yes, horses do scream. Their cries still wake me at night.  But it’s smell, the smell of blood and death in the air that excites them. Aware something is not right, they kick at the sides of the shoot until a steel door drops before them and they are shot. A deadbolt through the brain or knifed, their throats slit. If they are lucky, they die then.  But some, still semi-conscious feel a cold chain slipped beneath their hooves before a gaffer’s hook suspends them above the kill floor. It is there they are left to bleed out.

“I don’t control the press,” I said, “I can only cover the stories…”

“Then I will give you better stories,” he said.

Again, I smelled the alcohol on his breath.  “Better?”  My voice shook, as I pulled away, freeing my head from his grasp.

“Do you really think Ms. Bloodworthy is human?” A slow smile crossed his face, his thin lips pulling wide across his large white teeth. I thought I caught a look of satisfaction in his eye.  “Because if you do, you underestimate me, and what I’m prepared to do to stop the slaughter.”

That’s when I understood, just like all the stories I had read in college when the Greek Gods wanted revenge there was no accounting for how they might go about it.

“You’ve transferred her body into that of a horse,” I said.

“Not just any horse, but the small burro, the first in line for slaughter.  Sad isn’t it? How she won’t be able to appreciate her win when the plant opens. But then again,” he said, pausing with a sinister smile, “perhaps she will, first hand.”

I gasped, then realized the centaur was surprised by my reaction.

“You think we don’t feel?  You think because we are animals, beasts of burden, as people like to say, we don’t feel?  Just like you? Don’t mourn the loss of a member of our herd, don’t bond with those whom we let climb upon our backs, those whom we’ve carried into battle, over fences, into races, competitions, stood soulfully with and watched as the sun set, or cherished the wind against our bodies?  We feel all this, and more.  Yet still we are treated like we are a disposable commodity.  You need to stop that.”

“Stop that?  Just how do you propose I do that?  I’ve tried to write the stories, I’ve tried to tell those who would listen.”

“It’s not enough. But I promise you, for every horse, for every member of my herd that is slaughtered, another member of your herd will take their place.  Write that!  That’s what you need to write. Tell them when the plant opens that for every horse’s death there will be the death of another human spirit. Then tell me your people cannot close the plants.”

With that he stepped away, morphed back into the body of a centaur, then turned and galloped into the darkness.  The white horse came to me, and we flew back through the star fields and when I woke, I knew I had a new story to tell.

A week later, there was a press conference.  Ms. Bloodworthy’s people gathered outside the proposed site for the re-opening of the slaughter plant, while a group of protestors, with signs displaying the bloody execution of horses, stood a hundred yards away, chanting their discontent.  A spokesman for Ms. Bloodworthy’s team stood up and greeted us as a white van pulled slowly to the front of the building. We all watched as the driver jumped out, then lowered a ramp and out came Ms. Bloodworthy, seated in a wheelchair, her head strapped to a headboard, her hands and legs immobile.  The look in her eye was dull as they wheeled her to the top of the stage.  Beneath her was a corral of horses, a sampling for the press of the proposed first offering; specially selected for their weakened condition. My eyes went to the small burro pressed against the fence, as far away from the ramp as possible, his dark eyes pleading.  I wondered if anyone noticed as Ms. Bloodworthy was presented with a scroll honoring her work, or that her eyes, all that she could move, rolled to the corral and focused on the small burro. As the audience applauded, Ms. Bloodworthy brayed.

So this is my story.  I’ve told it to you, like the ancients told their stories, handed down generation by generation.  And I’ll repeat what the centaur told me, ‘for every horse we kill, we kill a part of ourselves.’  I like to think the storytelling will make a difference, after all, the Greeks taught us we are mere mortals, and they are always watching.

#

About the Author

Nancy Cole Silverman credits her twenty-five years in news and talk radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. But it wasn’t until after she retired that she was able to write fiction full-time. Much of what Silverman writes about is pulled from events that were reported on from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Bruce, and two standard poodles.

No responses yet

Rescue Service by David Scholes

Jan 01 2017 Published by under The WiFiles

 

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.

End

Bio

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One response so far