Kepler 186f by Jane VanCantfort

Feb 28 2016

When the alarm goes off I feel like I ‘m already at work, since my team member, Bonnie, is sleeping in the bunk above mine. Our quarters are tiny, dating from when we first built the outpost, it was all bare bones in the early days; all we wanted was to build the dome so we could get out of the suits.

I still put on the coffee the minute I wake up, an old Earth habit, gulp it, put on the shoes, and run around the perimeter for 45 minutes; I’m staying off the mood drugs, and the running helps me think.

I dreamed of Earth again last night, my old standard, the field of violets in Pennsylvania, right above the elementary school, the same school where my whole family lined up for the vaccines. I can still see the field, and the flowers moving gently in the breeze, and I remember the path through the pines. Everything and everyone is gone to me now.

When I get back, Bonnie is up and not talking at first, and she’s scraped her hair back into a tight topknot. Not good signs, but I have a deal with myself; however Bonnie is acting she’ll get a “Good Morning” from me. Sometimes she’ll grunt, sometimes she’ll be talkative; sometimes she just wants to talk about work, and sometimes she gives me a glimmer of her violent childhood. She’s always been mercurial, all these years. I’ve spent more time with her than anyone.

“Good Morning!” I say, and head for the sink to brush my teeth.

“Here we are again.” Bonnie answers. Great, it’s going to be a talking day.

“At least its Friday!” I say, like I do every Friday. The old sayings are a comfort to me.

I finish my teeth and she straps on her shoes, and we walk to the canteen. We’ve started having better food, but I still go for the protein bars. The eggs from the cloned chickens taste off to me, and they’ve never gotten the flour on the muffins to be tasty. I have more coffee, and we walk to the “Farmyard”, our work detail.

Bonnie checks the daily work orders, and I go off by myself to the back quadrant, and notice one of the hens is frantically fluttering at the edge of the cage. Then I see that one of her chicks is outside of the cage, also desperate, sticking its head repeatedly through the chicken wire, while the mother is flapping her wings in frenzy.

I force myself to scoop up the tiny body, I’m still afraid of birds. It is one of the blond chicks, one of the largest of this group, and it doesn’t have the same striped markings. It seems special so I want to save it even more, and it was probably my fault that the cage was left open. I notice that my heart is beating very rapidly, and that beat is matched by the heartbeat of the tiny chicken in my hand. It is so soft, so fragile, and its head pokes up through my loose fist. Somehow I open the cage with my other hand. I just throw the chick in there, desperate to let it go, and the mother rushes over and tucks the chick under its wings. I feel a moment of triumph; I’ve saved a life! That’s what this project was all about! I had held the flutter of life itself in my hand!

That’s when I hear Mike clapping slowly. Good old Mike. So tall, so slow, so sarcastic.

“How’s it going, Mike?” He usually just plunges into whatever he wants to vent about, I half listen with one eye on the work orders, and today is no different.

“I don’t know why they think I can get all the carrots done today. It’s the same old thing, no one looks at the schedule but when I’m supposed to get off at two then they think of it.”

“Oh man, sorry Mike.” That is the conversation we’ve been having our entire work lives. Sometimes Mike is interesting, he loves to go on and on about old earth history and politics, which I don’t mind listening to; but sometimes he is just a downer.
I didn’t think my life would turn out this way. When we left, the corporation made it seem like we were adventurers, sailing off into the New World, unafraid of strange new life forms, those coiling serpents lying in the roiling sea on the old maps.

Sometime I wonder why Mike got chosen, I know it wasn’t for his work ethic. The suits wanted to protect their investment, so they had a battery of tests for the trip. Like everyone else, I saw a posting that the testing was open to everyone, and signed up for it. I was as amazed as anyone when they kept passing me on to the next level. I had never gotten the second interview in life.

The crew ended up being a mash up of breeders and science types and builders and off we went, just 30 men and 30 women. We went off with uploaded images of lovely Earth sites, like animals and cities and the wonders we left behind, and we brought a simulation of our old food with us, mostly reconstituted powder, which Bonnie says was like camping food. We had seeds and feeds and human needs; I think that was how the phrase went. We had to dig for water under the surface and process it; half of Kepler is ocean water after all.

We breeders all had a genetic component that made us eligible; our team was called “Potential Progeny”, or PP. My “mate”, Bryan, and I weren’t compatible but our gene makeup was supposed to create hardy, smart offspring, pioneer stock, ha. I guess both of us had native intelligence, though neither of us had even finished high school. He was even from the old neighborhood on earth. Bryan was at the first birth, and I remember looking into his eyes when I pushed. He was so good-looking then. What’s that old earth saying? Handsome is as handsome does. Another old phrase.

By the second birth he was flirting with the midwife, and after that he didn’t bother showing up. Now he’s gone off to the other side of the planet, the underwater side; the corporation calls it Oceanside™. I haven’t seen him in over ten Earth years; there are status reports sent to us but I never check them.

At the beginning there was a lot of visionary talk about a new Eden and the frontier and the beauty of the kibbutz model. Of course, most of us only knew of Israel, really the whole Middle East, as a pile of nuclear ash. We just wanted jobs and everything was covered.

They didn’t even want to have a bar on outpost; they thought everyone would be committed to saving humanity, ha. We’d all be loyal comrades and such, like the posters. But, someone figured out how to brew Keplershine from the compost, and so they had to rethink some things. Without the bar, I don’t know how Mike would have made it. He still liked beer thirty, regardless of the planet, and I think he still smoked; someone in hydroponics must have grown some dope. They actually had a darts tourney.

The bar helped people with the heebie jeebies have an outlet, and the serious types could always get the antidepressants. Funny, a lot of the crew of procreators were rebellious types on Earth, but they now seemed anesthetized. You just never know how it would affect people to leave their home planet. Now they do.

As one of the mothers, though, I stayed clean. Remember that old line, “I don’t care it it’s a boy or a girl, as long as its human”…well, some of us were a little worried about that. So we were given the best food and I spent a lot of time pregnant or nursing in those early years; it is kind of a blur now.

I was terrified when we arrived; all I wanted to do was watch images of Earth for the first three weeks, with a few history documentaries thrown in. I loved the film about the Pilgrims, but now they’ve deleted it from the roster; after all, no Indians were going to show up to help us; we weren’t going to discover the Kepler equivalent of turkey, cranberries, corn, or pumpkin, and feast with the aliens.

Too bad the drones never found any evidence of life. No one has left the outpost, and no one seems to want to especially the second generation. Bonnie thinks the kids are all tweaked. They put all the kids in a nursery, and “parents” could go visit but it was always supervised. I don’t know if it’s the best way to raise kids; I still see my progeny around, of course, and they always give me a big smile and act interested in me, but it isn’t the way it was on Earth.

The worst thing is the second generation can’t seem to procreate. Kepler isn’t the first priority of the powers that be anymore; we are on the back burner. And its weird, the kids don’t even want to have sex. When they post the algorithm pairings to control the gene pool, they weren’t even interested. Mike thinks is the filtered water.

In the beginning, it was an issue that it didn’t seem like home at all. I remember all the talk about the foliage; all the bright red, yellow, or orange. They said that everything that was green on Earth would be perceived on Kepler as red tones, something to do with the cones in our eyes and the radiation. Some said the foliage was actually black and white. It was all about interpretation. But we weren’t out there hiking or anything; we just saw it all in the viewfinder. It was all about the outpost, too, we had so much to do. Mostly I just see the walls of the compound.

Bonnie came sidling into the back room. One of our main occupations was bitching about the supervisor.
“Can you believe Miss I Can’t Do Anything Myself is having me clean out the pig area AGAIN?’
“I don’t mind that so much, but she never fills out the work orders they way we do. And she just can’t lay off calling the office every hour or so; I heard they asked her to quit calling so much.” And we’d be off; we could play that game for hours. We were like an old married couple at this point. And we headed back to our quarters, Bonnie talking on and on and me drifting off into a reverie.

I keep thinking about getting out a little, just a little. I’d love to even go half a mile outside of the compound. They say it isn’t safe and the fear mongering is intense. See, I starting to wonder if it would matter if I died. I gave them six healthy citizens and I’ve never been in love and I don’t value my work…. I might as well risk it all for a few minutes of life, real life, while I still have it. I want to breach the compound; I can’t stop thinking about it.

I imagine going out there, there is talk that you don’t need the helmet and all that freaking gear, and take a little stroll into those intense red trees that I can make out through the dome, even the plastic is scratched and foggy at this point. Take a little satchel of those Kepler crackers that keep me going, and wander around a little.

I have a fantasy for sure; in fact, I’ve dreamed it. I’m walking in the “woods”, but all the plants are different. I see “birds” flitting through the trees, but all the colors are different, so amazing that my dream self gasps. I saw the therapist once and told her about it, and she said I was projecting half memories of earth into my current situation, which is delusional. Whatever. In the fantasy I hear a faint crying, and I search for the source, and I finally find a creature in the undergrowth, a helpless mewling creature. I see it as clearly as I see my field of violets.

I don’t always get to this part of the dream, but sometimes I part the plants, and I see a tiny doughy humanoid, like a fetus, with arms and legs but an unformed face, the eyes are still obscured by a fleshy kind of lid, but you can see them moving. My creature is not pink or brown, like a human baby, but a kind of orange, so it could be hidden in the plants. It is waving its arms and legs and mewling and it seems so natural to pick it up and hold it to my chest, like a baby, and I lift it… And that is as far as the fantasy goes.

Sometimes I have another dream, where ethereal floating life forms are outside the compound, peering in. It is a beautiful sight, like a jellyfish suspended in the air with continually changing glowing orbs of color, the most stunning color.
“Hey, do you want to head out to the bar tonight?” Bonnie asked. “Its Friday night after all!” Somehow we had made it back to our place while I was up in my head. Bonnie rooted there her locker for a fresh shirt, and was actually putting on lip-gloss.
“Oh man, I don’t think so. I kind of have a headache.” I’d been at the bar every Friday night for years. Bonnie took off, in a huff of course, and I lay on my bunk. I covered my face with the pillow; the ambient light was always present in the compound. I could see just a sliver of light, and my eyelashes fluttering as they tried to stay open under the towel. They piped in background music at all times, and I felt like I was drifting into a dream space.

While I was under there I got a vision, of a beautiful colorful glowing oval, and in the center was a brilliant light. It looked a bit like a gorgeous earth flower, with intricate petals and the focal point a brilliant scarlet. The oval kept changing color, but was always intensely beautiful, shifting and changing. I felt a certain peace; perhaps everything would end well. I also heard a faint bell ringing, kind of like when yoga class is over, and the sound grew to a crescendo. Even though I was aware of my body on the bunk, and my eyelids fluttering under the towel, I felt myself lifting and drifting away. Somehow my lovely orb motivated me, that and the music. I felt like I was being summoned, directed somehow. I kept getting the thought that there had to be a corner of the compound that wasn’t completely rigged up; some part of the structure that I could slip through. I guess I fell asleep.

Saturday morning I decided to talk to Bonnie. A tough woman like her was just the person you needed for a mission. We had a feature in the bunkroom, where you could turn down the lighting, and turn on an effect against the wall, kind of like the planetarium I once went to on one of the of the few field trips I had in my school days on earth. A city silhouette was projected with the soft glow of twilight, a purple pink light. Imaginary buildings appeared against the while, with tiny pinpoints of lights in the windows, it was like New York City in the early evening hours. I brewed some tea, lowered the music, and woke Bonnie up.

“Want some of your favorite tea?” She groaned and pulled off her sleep mask, and groggily accepted a cup.

“How was the bar last night?”

“Pretty much the usual. Mike was pretty drunk…his team won the darts.”

“Oh nice.” A silence fell, and I decided I had to take the plunge.

“ Have you ever wanted to breach the dome, just for a little bit? See that foliage they always talked about in the beginning?”

“I don’t know. I hated moving around in that suit.”

“I’ve heard talk that you don’t really need the suit.”

“What fool said that?”

“You know Mike’s friend Donald? He says it was just a corporation thing, so we wouldn’t wander off.”

Bonnie snorted. “He’s the dude who believed in chemtrails on earth, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, but doesn’t it make sense? Remember when Valerie had a rip in her suit when we were building, and freaked out but nothing happened? Wouldn’t you love to see all those red leaves? You loved fall back on earth!”

“Not really, its pretty dry and dusty out there. Hey, do you want to check out the new movies on the roster? It’s our day off after all. We can have popcorn for breakfast!”

Our popcorn always tasted dry and stale, and we watched movies every Saturday. I kept glancing over at Bonnie, but she was already totally absorbed in the action. Another day on the outpost, weekend or not.

That night I dreamed of the orb again. It was in the center of my consciousness. The colors kept changing, sometimes a purple with a scarlet center, always shifting and moving. I had often dreamed of the orb, but suddenly it seemed to speak. I heard a voice, or perhaps it was just a thought, pressing into my mind. It seemed to be telling me where to go, and I went. I kept thinking I was sleepwalking. I crept out of our room, and walked through the corridors to the area behind hydroponics. It was dark and quiet in the corridor, and the air smelled faintly medicinal. Maybe the corporation was piping in drugs. No one was around; I could hear faint snoring but that was all. I had brought my breath mask just in case.

The corner of the compound in the back of the warehouse was open, just like the dream had shown me. I put on my breath mask, and crawled under a table. Again I heard the soft sound of the bell, and under the table I saw a tear in the plastic shield of the dome, more like a crack. I pushed against the crack, and it pushed back enough for me to squeeze through. The next layer was also cracked, a little further down. I pushed the breath mask close to my face, and pushed against the dome with all my strength. It gave, and I squeezed through and into the atmosphere. My heart was beating so rapidly I could feel it in my ears. I had never been so afraid, and yet somehow here I was, standing on this alien foundation. The air was dense and moist; I could feel it resting on my skin.

Kepler had a few moons, so there was a kind of twilight, and I could see the red foliage the drone had shown us, glowing in the distance. Suddenly I felt a calmness come over me, and my heart rate slow to a normal steady beat. I stepped on a kind of pine needle on the “ground”, and heard the faint crackling sound my shoes made. I took off the breath mask and just dropped it, and the first few breaths terrified me, but I was still standing.

I felt that the orb was with me, calming me. I thought I heard a rustling in the shrubs, and looked back at the dome once, now barely visible behind me. I used yoga breathing, and kept walking to the copse. This is what I wanted.

In the leaves, which shifted and shone in the moonlight, I heard a whimper. I crept closer, and knelt where I had heard the sound. Pushing away the leaves, I could almost make out a form, emitting a tiny sound. Something made me reach for it, it sounded so vulnerable, and I scooped it up and into my arms. I could feel something pulsing in it; it was a strangely formless thing, soft and pliable. I strained to see it, to bring it closer to my chest. I cradled it like a baby, and I felt it connect to my own heart.

I slowly stood, clutching the “baby” to my chest, and faced the dome once more. I saw the stars, just like you could on Earth, but so clear, unfiltered by the scratched plastic of the dome, and none of them familiar. The sky was alive. I stood on a planet not my own, and bent my head to a living creature, in my arms. And then the orb was all around us, lifting and pulling us in an undulating light, and I felt myself at one with the orb, and with the vast and beautiful cosmos. Home.

Bio: I got an MFA from USF, moved to the Sierra Foothills, and am a lifelong reader. I also love speculative fiction.

No responses yet

Divine Trading By Russell Hemmell

Jul 26 2015

“Not a good idea. These shares are going to crash today, when Wall Street warms up. As the whole stock market, just to be clear. I’d rather look at something different for real profit. Futures, I’d say. Go short on metals.”

She stared at him, bewildered. “It doesn’t make any sense. The market has been bullish for two weeks.”

“You don’t trust me yet – do you, Amanda?”

But his voice sounded amused, instead of annoyed.

“Of course I trust you. You have proved how good you are with forecasting, but…”

“But you can’t believe I’m really who I told you I am. It doesn’t matter. Now, if I may…”

He pushed her aside and started typing on the keyboard. Selling and buying orders began flashing on the screen. It had been two weeks since she had accepted the boy for an internship and she had been amazed by his prodigious intuition. While easily bored with mathematic models, he was accurate and fast whenever it came to make decisions. He had pushed her to hazardous and sometimes counter-intuitive investments without ever being wrong.

“You’re right. I can’t. I have no idea why you’re so successful, but I can’t possibly believe you are who…what you pretend to be.” She said, laughing.

He smiled, a calm smile on his young, almost childish face. “Too bad. You would become richer if you did.” He took her hands and lifted her up from the chair. “Enough of trading for today. I’m hungry, let’s go dining at The Narrow. You buy.” Jumping in excitement, he hauled her outside.

During the short walk across the Docklands riverside, she couldn’t avoid observing his younger colleague. He looked like a teenager, with his jumper, his washed-out jeans, and his invariably cheerful baby-face. She could hardly believe he had already finished college. And yet, a Wall Street seasoned executive would have not performed better than him.

They stopped in front of the restaurant, where a waitress announced they had been incredibly lucky: the place was fully booked for the night, but a reservation had just been cancelled.

“So, what do you make out of this?”

“That you’re lucky, young man. Just like she said.”

“Not lucky. Told you, I’m a god. Get used to it.”

She laughed. Boy is completely nuts. “Come on, Heavenly Lord, let’s go and dine.”


“Holidays? Now? You can’t be serious.”

“I’m always serious, Amanda. Ok, not always. Nonetheless it’s the right time for you to go.”

“There’s money to be made out there.”

“It will still be there when you’re back. Just a few days won’t make any difference.”

“You tell me this out of your preternatural forecasting skills?” She looked at him with a dubious stare.

“No need of them. Common sense would be good enough.” He laughed. “And you have to celebrate.

Impossible to disagree. The market had crashed exactly as the boy had predicted. And following his indications, she had made more money she could ever spend in three lifetimes. Going overseas on a warm seaside destination and pampering herself in a luxury resort seemed just fine.

“Come on. How long has it been since your last holiday? And I won’t even mention dating.”

“I don’t date.”



The alleys of Funchal were dark and steep, like in the ancient times when the Portuguese island was a pirate cove in the Atlantic Ocean. But the seaside was calm, windy and the eucalyptus’ smell inebriating.

Contrary to her wildest expectations, it had been her best vacation ever. She had got the time of her life, and couldn’t help but feel elated.

As his younger friend had promised, Amanda had been dating

indeed, and while she was not sure it was something that could outlast holiday romance, she didn’t care either. It had been a dream week, only spoiled by the theft of her handbag, containing her documents and a few other important items. But who minded trivial stuff? Happiness is not in details, she thought.

Amanda told her date she needed to remain alone for a moment, and went out for a stroll across the beach. She walked alone in the night, her feet in the sand, finally at peace, and that was a new sensation for her. It was maybe due to the serenity of that place, to the amazing colour of the sea, or to the quiet awareness of her success; but she felt well. Accomplished, in harmony with the universe, and for once, not alone. Just free.

She didn’t even pay attention to her difficult breathing or to the growing pain in her chest. She just experienced dizziness and vertigo overcoming her senses. She fell on the black sand, a seagull’s white wings the last image in her eyes.


When she woke up, Amanda found herself in a dimly lit place, plunged in a greenish fog. She lifted her head and looked around. It was not her room. She got up from what looked like a white lined bed and she saw the boy, standing right in front of her. He looked different, dressed with a worn-out cloak and winged boots.

“What are you doing here?”

“You should ask me instead what I’m doing in your life, Amanda. Why I asked to work with you. Did I have anything to learn?”

“I should have known better. Miracles don’t happen, and fairy tales even less. What do you want from me? It can’t be money, you don’t need me for that.”

He shook his blond head with a smile. “You’re wrong. Miracles do happen, it’s just that they work in a different way you people think.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t. You didn’t believe me when I told you who I was, why should you do it now?” He approached, and kept talking to her as he would have done with a child. “When I came to you, you had one month left to live. I made sure you got everything you’ve ever wanted, money, success, fulfilment. Peace. You had it all. Now?” He smiled. “Now it’s time to bring the curtain down. But fear not, Amanda…” He said, extending his hand to her. “I’ll accompany you.”


“To your resting place.”

“Are you here to kill me?” She asked. She was no longer scared, only genuinely puzzled.

“No need to. You’re already dead. I’m only here to take you to Hades.” He bent to kiss her eyes, light as the caress of the wind. “You won’t deny I have done things well though. You had great time, right?”

“Well, since you were at it, you could have avoided the stolen bag.”

He shrugged, a guilty smile on his face. “Conflict of interests. I managed as much I could.”

“Why conflict?”

“I’m the God of traders and thieves. Therefore…”

“I see. Another of your protégées. Do you also make people fall in love?

“I won’t be any good at it. And that’s somebody else’s job. Me, I am what I’ve shown you. Trading and travelling are my domains, with some penchant for nifty tricks and well-executed thefts. But I do help mortals, bringing dreams to inspire their lives. And when they’re done, I accompany their souls to the land of shadow and silence, making sure they won’t suffer.”

“That’s interesting. Actually, that’s great. Something after death is more than what I expected anyway.” She replied, taking his hand and walking with him towards a faint light in the distance. “Tell me, would I be able to trade again once there?”

“I haven’t promised you Heaven, have I?”



Biographical statement: “Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from the U.K. He’s passionate about astrophysics, SF and the science in SF. His work has appeared in Serious Wonder, PerihelionSF, Amazing Stories and elsewhere.”

No responses yet

The Time House by David K Scholes

Jul 19 2015

2458 AD

“We’ve been invited over to an evening meal at Dave’s place,” I said
“Who?” enquired my wife Joy.
“You know, Dave Rugendorf, Earth’s most experienced time traveller. The guy who won the Time Traveller of All Time award.”
“Oh him!” responded Joy “I’ll pass on that. I’ve heard some pretty weird stories about that house of his.”

* * *

So I went on my own. The whole country estate was a teleportation free zone so I actually had to utilise a crude disposable electro-magnetic flyer to get there. How quaint! Just as well Joy didn’t come. Anything less than instantaneous travel tended to bore her and even worse make her physically sick. Dave had apologised earlier saying that high density teleportation tended to interfere with certain operational aspects of his time house.

* * *

It was a great sprawling mansion. Out past Romsey in the English countryside. On an absolutely monstrous estate.

I heard that Dave had dedicated different rooms to different broad time periods on Earth. Past and future. And that, in many ways, the whole mansion was a monument to his extraordinary time travels. I had also heard that the rooms were very authentic for the period they represented. With 3D images captured by one or other of his prohibitively expensive time cameras. It was even rumoured that some rooms contained objects sequestered from the relevant time period if it was thought this didn’t interfere with the time flow.

With just a little bit of time travel under my own belt I was always absolutely fascinated to be in the company of a pro. Especially the ultimate pro.

It turned out to be a very cosy group. Even cosier since Joy was not the only spouse who chose not to come.

As I’m only a reporter for Time Travel magazine I had assumed the evening would be fairly low key. Yet the little group of guests also included Stewart Chapman the Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Time, Rick Alvarez Chief Investigator at the Time Authority, an alien who was vaguely introduced as a time travel expert and last but not least Garry Cartwright the Minister assisting the UK Minister for Time. A part of me wondered what I was doing in such exalted company. Another part had the feeling that the night might hold a greater significance than I had originally thought.

Before the evening meal Dave gave us a short tour, in no particular order of time, of some of the rooms dedicated to Earth’s past. I suppose this was intended as an appetiser for what lay ahead later in the evening. It was all very nice but to be honest mostly fairly tame. At least until the last two rooms Dave showed us. One room dedicated to the hey day of the Roman Empire and one to the hey day of the British Empire. They were so good that I wondered if they might be viewing portals or even actual transport portals into the past. It was really hard to tell.

“If these last two rooms are just viewing portals into those periods of time,” Investigator Alvarez whispered to me “then we would overlook it. A technical breach but that’s all. Though if it’s actually an open portal that any one walking these corridors could be swept up into the past. Well now that’s different.” I rather wondered why he had addressed me rather than the politician or even the professor.

* * *

Then we sat down to an exquisite evening meal. A Degustation with dishes ranging over huge time periods in Earth’s history. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that Dave was accessing kitchens in all of these numerous time periods. And. Lord knows, perhaps he was. Though he did have a formidable retinue of staff.

* * *

After the Degustation we took a tour of some of the “future” rooms.

The rooms representing past Earth time periods had all been fairly centrally located in Dave’s mansion but the future time period rooms were more spread out going to far reaches of the incredibly sprawling establishment.

Each successive room we were taken to moving progressively up through the well of time.

The most advanced room for Earth was for 5585 AD. We all knew why there was nothing beyond this time frame. Though of course no one actually said anything. We were all too polite. Then we were led through a succession of rooms relating to alien worlds. Each room, as far as we could tell, moving up through time. We didn’t actually go into anywhere near all the rooms. At times Dave seemed to glance at our alien companion for guidance as to whether or not to enter a particular room.

Then, finally, Dave by passed quite a number of rooms and headed towards a room that seemed to be at the very furthest extremity of his vast mansion. He was becoming progressively more animated as we approached the room.

Surprisingly the politician, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Time, Garry Cartwright was the first of us to cotton on. “I can’t go there. You must know that Rugendorf. I’m surprised that you even invited me. With that the politician took off down the labyrinthine corridor. He was out of sight even before Dave could offer to escort him back. I thought it inadvisable for him to go unescorted in a place like this. Yet his behaviour was not a surprise. From what I knew of the man he was very confident, very brash.

Investigator Alvarez also started to get agitated but Professor Chapman was positively salivating. As the most junior person present I was also the last person to catch on.

“My pride and joy,” said Dave proudly as he took us into the exceptionally large room. Confronting us, and I do mean confronting us, was the End Time Horizon. This was not just something taken by a time camera, I could just tell. We were looking straight at the real thing.

“It’s only a viewing portal,” offered Dave almost apologetically as if to dispel Alvarez’s rising concerns.
“I can see it’s only a viewing portal,” said Alvarez “otherwise we would all have crossed the End Time Horizon. It’s still not allowed. You know this. It’s not a Time Authority thing. An uptime barrier was placed on time travel by anyone of Earth and somehow you’ve gotten around it.

Dave looked at his alien companion but addressed Rick Alvarez. “We have worked out a way around that up time constraint. Something that’s technically legal. Let me explain.”

Somehow the argument spoiled the whole magnificent moment of witnessing Time’s End.

* * *

When we finally got back to the main entrance/lobby of the Time House, Garry Cartwright was nowhere to be seen and none of the staff had spotted him. More than that his big Government electro-magnetic flyer was still outside.

“Jeezus,” I heard myself say “he could have easily gotten lost, wandered into a room he shouldn’t have. Even one of the rooms that was a portal to the past or future. Even an alien future.” My mind was racing.

I was at something of a loss as to what Dave had been hoping to achieve during the evening. I suppose he wanted to impress us and get all of our seals of approval. Not so much myself but the approval of the others. . . .

Rick Alvarez started to sum it up. “I think this place probably started out okay. The concept was fine. A sprawling mansion containing rooms that very accurately replicated aspects of certain past and future time periods. Then Dave started to increase the authenticity of these rooms with 3D images from his time cameras. That’s okay as long as the time pictures were from times and places he was authorised to go. It’s probably even okay if Dave sequestered souvenirs from other time periods. Provided the souvenirs are innocuous and from sometime on Earth.”

“Yet somewhere along the line,” Professor Chapman broke in “it just got out of hand. Viewing portals and even actual portals were set up and it very much looks as if Dave has been to time periods he shouldn’t have. Lord knows what lies beyond the door in some of the alien rooms. I’m betting that some of them are beyond the up time barrier as well. All in all – I’d say that this place is no longer just a physical place as such but has become inexorably interwoven into the time stream.”

“That’s it,” said Rick Alvarez “I’m closing this place down in the morning once I’ve consulted with the Time Commissioner.”
“Can you do that?” enquired Chapman “I don’t mean do you have the authority but am just questioning whether it is physically possible to close down a place such as this has become?”

“The morning is a long time away,” was my only, rather lame, contribution to the conversation.

We looked around to confront Dave but he and the alien were gone and the staff didn’t know where.

* * *

True to his word Rick arrived with a full squad from the Time Authority early the next morning. It seemed like everyone from the Commissioner down. With Professor Chapman and I there as witnesses.

Except the house wasn’t there any more. Not so much as a trace of it. No foundations, no sewage or storm water drains, show there had ever been a house on the site.

“You know what I think?” offered Professor Chapman. “I think this house exists in some appropriate local form in all those time periods for which their were rooms in the house/mansion here. All those other houses in those other times have just had one of their rooms permanently closed. “Of course its only a theory of mine,” he added “and as you all know I have some pretty outlandish theories.”

I didn’t hear anyone racing to disagree with him. As the foremost Earth academic authority on time travel Stewie Chapman’s “theories” tended to be better than most of his competitors facts.

We all knew we had not much chance now of ever getting Garry Cartwright back. We knew that the Minister for Time would be looking for a new Minister Assisting him. Lord only knows where that brash and arrogant but unfortunate politician ended up. Still wherever that was perhaps he learned something from his experience.



In the 7 years I have been writing speculative fiction I have written over 140 speculative fiction short stories.

My publications include six collections of short stories and two novellas. All of which are on Amazon. My most recent publication is “Daughter of the High Lords and other Speculative Fiction Stories.” Published in July 2014.

I have been a regular contributor for many years to both the Antipodean SF and the Beam Me Up Pod cast sites and am fast becoming a regular contributor to the Farther Stars Than These site. I have also been published on a variety of other sci-fi sites including Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, 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.

I am currently over half way through writing a new (as yet unnamed) collection of speculative fiction short stories.

No responses yet

King of the Hill By Kevin Bannigan Jr.

Jul 12 2015

Looking up the giant green hill, Isaac wondered why they referred to the winner as King. Today’s victor would receive no crown. Real kings were worshiped, remembered fondly by legions of people long after their reign was over.

The official standing at the hill’s base blew his whistle. “Okay gentleman, crowd around.”

Including Isaac, six men were competing today. Two of them were twins who appeared to be in their thirties. They looked identical: shaved heads, brown eyes, matching black sleeveless shirts. Great, Isaac thought. Obviously, they’d work together, then battle it out between them. At least they were skinny though. Also, there was a tall lanky man with short blonde hair who’d been chain-smoking since Isaac had arrived. Next to him was a fat kid, no older than twenty, making him the youngest participant besides Isaac. He almost felt bad for these two, who were so obviously terrified that they’d lost already. While the lanky man chain-smoked, the fat kid bit his nails nervously.

The last man was the biggest of them—physically and figuratively. A bald-headed beast, aged forty-five. Most everyone knew who Deadly Daddy was. The nickname had been given to him after the inaugural event when—without shame or a moment’s hesitation—the man threw his eighteen-year-old son down the hill en route to becoming the first ever King of the Hill. A few weeks ago Deadly Daddy announced that he’d be competing again. Since then, Allentown had been buzzing with more anticipation for this year’s event than in the past.

Despite the rigorous training Isaac had done for the past year, despite the determination he had spent just as long building up, he’d almost withdrawn from this event to come back next year. Though his father claimed he could do just that, Isaac knew his family’s poverty would likely result in their starvation long before then. More importantly, his mother was sick. The vaccine was not covered by insurance (not that they had insurance anyway). The price: ten thousand dollars. The vaccine might as well not exist.

The title of King of the Hill didn’t matter; Isaac only wanted the three-million-dollar prize.

With the six participants gathered around the official, the crowd quieted down. At the bottom of the hill, where the six hopefuls stood, was a huge rectangle of grass roughly the size of a football field. About fifty feet behind this base were the bleachers, constructed ten years ago when The King of the Hill Championship first took place and Deadly Daddy forever integrated himself into the mind of every son with a frightening father. The event’s seventy-five hundred tickets sold out in hours each year, and the pay-per view buys this year had exceeded four million households, or exactly one-twentieth of the country formerly regarded as the greatest on earth.

“Okay guys, you know why you’re here. You’re aware what you’ve signed up for.” The official turned and looked at the crowd dramatically, his voice carrying through the mic on the collar of his zebra-striped shirt.

This . . . is . . . Kiiiiiiiingggggg of the Hillllllllllllll.

The crowd stood on their feet, cheering loudly. Isaac quickly scanned the crowd but couldn’t find his father or his girlfriend Bethany, the only two people he knew who’d been brave enough to attend. Whether not finding them was or wasn’t a blessing he couldn’t decide.

The official continued: “Remember folks, there’s only two rules. First, last man standing who gets to the top wins. Second,” he paused so the crowd could chanted along, “THERE . . . ARE . . . NO. . . RULES!”

Isaac tried to feed off the crowd’s frenzy, as if their electricity was contagious.

A huge, black board standing at the top of the hill switched on. Large yellow digital numbers appeared, starting at sixty and counting down.

“Line up gentlemen!”

The six combatants stood ten feet apart, with five feet of extra space on either side of the outermost men. Despite the cool March air, Issac felt sweat trickle down his face. He was lined up in the fourth position, with Deadly Daddy on his right and Lanky on his left. He hoped to quickly eliminate Lanky, then avoid Deadly as long as possible on the seventy-foot-wide hill.

Unsurprisingly, the twins lined up next to each other in the first and second slot. Lanky’s eyes were at their left corners, watching the twins suspiciously. Random chubby kid was to the right of Deadly Daddy, looking as if he wished for a time machine to travel back and correct his prideful decision.

“Bud,” a deep voice said. Due to the crowd’s volume, Isaac couldn’t place the voice’s origin. He looked behind him, thinking the official was talking to him, but the man was turn towards the crowd, gesturing for them to stand and cheer, to which they happily obliged.

He looked to his right. The muscular man was looking straight ahead. Though his mouth didn’t move, it was him talking.

“Wanna team up?” the infamous King asked.

“Together?” Isaac asked, not realizing until after how stupid he sounded.

“That’s right. You take care of the guy on your left, I’ll dispose of this chunky kid to my right. Then we’ll eliminate the twins. After that, we’ll fight it out.”

Isaac agreed, mostly because if he didn’t Deadly would probably eliminate him first, but also because he hoped to take Deadly by surprise at some point. Of course, Deadly might—even probably would—do the same to him.

Isaac agreed, hoping he’d just secured a fifty-fifty shot at winning. Probably more like a ten-ninety chance, he thought.

When the digital clock counted down to five, the crowd started chanting in unison.






A loud buzzer went off, and the six men scurried up the hill.

No more than ten seconds later, the game was on for real. Five feet north of the hill’s base, a white line had been chalked straight across. Once all six competitors passed it, the crowd’s volume grew with excitement.

Two large cranes, hooked on prearranged clips at the bottom of the hill, lifted the seventy-by-twenty foot square of land. Amidst an “ooh” from the crowd, the square cutout was pulled back, revealing a furiously burning fire pit. The cool air gained more than a bit of warmth from the powerful flames.

Each year, one ill-prepared competitor made the same mistake. This year, the lanky guy was guilty. With certain, terrible death so close behind, he couldn’t fight the urge to look back in horror.

Isaac was about ten feet higher than him. He took advantage. He started running downwards, picking up steam and drop kicking Lanky in the ribs. The man managed a “Hmph!” sound and immediately lost his weak grip and rolled to the death he had feared just seconds earlier. The crowd cheered louder.

At the end of the day, what this event—like everything else—came down to was money. The more entertaining the show, the more people attended and watched from home. The greater the viewership, the more profit to be made from advertisements. Isaac himself, in addition to the shirt, was sporting a pair of free shoes dedicated to a basketball star named Lebron, who himself had been something of a “king” a century earlier. They’d come in the mail last week, with a thousand-dollar check and a card wishing him luck.

As Lanky’s body disappeared into the fire pit, motion sensors detected his body and blue-colored flames spouted fifty feet high.

The crowd erupted, satisfied that they hadn’t had to wait long to see the day’s first elimination. Certainly the sponsoring shoe company just solidified an upswing in sales.

“And a man goes down!” The official’s voice pointed out. “We’re down to five!”

After the dropkick Isaac hit the ground hard, landing on his left hip. He momentarily rolled down but caught himself on a root that had burrowed under ground from a tree that no longer lived here. The crowd applauded his athleticism, and, despite their sadistic nature, his confidence rose.

After straightening himself out, he looked to his right. The chubby kid was face down, curled up in a ball. Over the roaring crowd, Isaac could just barely hear him begging Deadly to stop.

“Go home! Wanna go home! Please!”

A queasy feeling rushed into his stomach when he saw Deadly smiling with enjoyment. The former King’s fists were pounding mercilessly into Chubby’s exposed back and spine.

Deadly stood, looked out to the bleachers, and flexed his biceps, much to the crowd’s delight. Turning his back to the audience, he lifted the overweight boy, curled him once or twice, then fell backwards while hurling Chubby down the hill with minimal effort.

Like a bowling ball dropping down behind the pins, Chubby’s body dissapeared into the pit.

Isaac still lay there grasping the root. As mesmerized as the crowd by the action, he lost focus. Suddenly he realized he’d forgotten about the twins.

As if reading his thoughts, matching boots stomped down on each of his outstretched hands. Somehow they’d been agile enough to scale high out of sight, move to the right, and climb back down to where Isaac lay.

To help maintain his position, Isaac dug his fingers into the dirt beneath him. While it helped him remain steady, his hands were now in claw-like formations. The twin on his left stomped down on his raised, bent fingers. The impact was much worse than before. Isaac yelped with pain.

To make matters worse, the official had given instructions for the hill to be tilted up slightly, making it tougher to climb. The crowd voiced its pleasure.

He might have given up then had he not heard Deadly’s voice. “Hang on, I’m coming for ya! Don’t let go!”

The twin on Isaac’s right turned his attention to the former champ. The left-side twin stomped again. Isaac knew he wouldn’t last much longer.

He glanced to his right. Fifteen feet away, Deadly and the first twin weren’t quite going at it. Instead, they were circling each other like boxers in the opening round, trying to feel each other out.

Isaac turned his attention back to the twin in front of him. Just in the nick of time, he saw a booted foot about to crash down. Thinking quickly, he used his undamaged right hand to snatch his opponents ankle before impact. The move saved his fingers from being completely smashed, but the force of his pull caused the twin to fall backwards with both legs extended. Instead of his hand, the twin’s boot smashed into Isaac’s face, sending his outstretched body sliding down the hill. With the likelihood of death high, Isaac didn’t see nor feel the blood pouring from his broken nose. He fought the dazed feeling trying to overcome him.

His best move—his only move—was a desperate one. If I’m going, your going too, he thought. His grip tightened on the ankle as they slid toward the fire pit. On his back, the twin had no choice but to slide down with him, despite the frantic kicks of his left leg directed at Isaac’s bloody face.

Ten feet from the fire pit.

Still sliding.

Five feet.

“I love you ma!” Isaac yelled, hoping his cancer-ridden mother (who couldn’t bear to watch) would see the dramatic moments on a later news broadcast.

Just as Isaac’s ankles lost solid ground beneath him, his body stopped sliding. The flames were far below his dangling feet, but hot enough for his legs to feel the blast of heat. He heard the crowd gasping, realized he was still alive, and looked up.

The twin’s body was twisted into a painful-looking position, but he’d managed to grasp the edge of a rock that protruded from the hill. His shaky fingers barely held the weight of himself plus Isaac. The twin’s fingers slipped inch by inch as if in slow motion.

With a deep breath, Isaac tugged the twin’s ankle as hard as he could while simultaneously rolling to his right.

The twin lost his grip. Isaac saw a look of terror in his eyes and heard a scream as the man slid passed him, trying and missing a desperate grab at Isaac’s leg. Into the pit he fell, his screams vanishing seconds later.

Knowing the theatrical blue flames were about to burst, Isaac stood halfway up and lunged forward as far as he could, which turned out to be maybe three feet. He just barely cleared—or at least delayed—a terrible death via fire. The heat of the flames reached his whole body and for a moment Isaac felt as if he had fallen into the pit. A few seconds the flames settled.

No sooner had the blue flames disappeared then he heard Deadly yell: “Watch it!”

Looking up, Isaac saw the second twin’s body, limp and most likely dead, rolling straight for him. He was reverse tumbling down the hill, like an actor falling backwards down a flight of stairs in a comedy movie.

Isaac’s quick-thinking brain and cat-like reflexes spared his life. Rather than lunge forward, he jumped straight up. The body rolled beneath him and he landed crouched down like a catcher in baseball. The delighted crowd cheered his agility.

Exhausted, he wanted nothing more than to rest, take a nap. But he had no wish to feel the heat of flames a second time. While the burns wouldn’t do any lasting damage, the rise in temperature was extremely uncomfortable. He sped forward as if imitating a cheetah, and made it far enough up the hill to only feel a mildly-warm sensation.

After the last few minutes of action, Isaac looked up and saw Deadly Daddy about fifty feet above him, unmoving, smoking a cigarette (which the crowd found highly amusing), staring down at him. Grateful for the opportunity to rest, Isaac closed his eyes and tried to catch his breath.

Then it hit him. Why the hell had Deadly warned him of the oncoming body? Sure, they’d agreed to work cohesively until the final two, but given the same chance he’d have kept his mouth shut watched the dead twin’s lifeless body barrel into Deadly, sending them both over the edge while he ran straight to the top and collected his check. Maybe the guy just wanted a good old-fashioned fight? The suspicion fit him, but Isaac wasn’t buying it.

Deadly waited patiently while Isaac cautiously made his way up the hill. It didn’t help that the official ordered the hill tilted again. It caused Isaac to lose both his footing and twenty feet worth of ground he’d gained. With a grunt of frustration, he’d willed himself to climb back up.

Finally, Isaac approached Deadly. The former champ flicked the butt of his second cigarette down the hill, then jumped towards Isaac so fast that all he could do was ball up in a fetal position like Chubby had earlier. Recalling how terribly that had turned out for him, Isaac tried to stand up before the beating began.

A large hand grabbed the back of his neck and shoved his face into the dirt. Unlike before, this impact made him fully aware of his broken nose, and he let out as much of a strangled cry as was possible.

“Stay down!” Deadly commanded. The way he said—under his breath yet with command—sounded conspiratorial to Isaac. Unless he was hallucinating—which was definitely a possibility—Deadly had told him to stay down for his own good, like a father teaching his son a necessary lesson.

As soon as the man climbed onto Isaac’s back, fists of thunder began to rain down. Isaac must have been imagining things, because he physically felt his skull being smashed to a pulp before he realized Deadly’s fists were barely making contact. When they did connect it was with a loose, open fist.

Isaac felt Deadly clamp his arms around his neck. That’s when he whispered into his ear.

“Listen kid, you’re mother is a fantastic woman. We knew each other a long time ago. Grew up together.”

Isaac felt for a second that he was dreaming, that none of this was happening. He’d wake up soon and have to go to the hill to compete.

Deadly must have sensed his mind slipping, because he gave Isaac’s face a hard slap to help snap him back into focus. Though it stung like hell, it worked. And the crowd certainly appreciated it.

“Let’s just say that she did me a favor once, a favor I promised I would never forget. To myself, I swore if there was ever a way I could pay it back, I would.”

Isaac, both baffled and exhausted, barely managed to say, “Wha . . . wha . . . ?”

Deadly, still softly choking him, chuckled. “I don’t exactly have the time to explain it kid. Listen, you get that check and you take care of her. Got it?”

Later that week, Isaac read the letter his mother received in the mail. It was from Jerry Sears, a.k.a. Deadly Daddy, confessing that he’d blown through his winnings in less than two years and had lived with nothing but a mountain of guilt since then. Everything was gone for him, and the only way to even slightly redeem himself before accepting the death he deserved, the deah he wished for, was to keep the one promise in life that he had truly meant.

“We gotta make this look good now. Throw an elbow at my face.”

Isaac wasted no time obliging. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to actually hit him, but his elbow smacked Deadly’s face so hard it hurt his funny bone.

Deadly threw another hard punch, putting a dent in the ground inches from Isaac’s eyes. “Again!”

Isaac threw another elbow, Deadly’s grip weakened.

Suddenly the crowd went crazy. Isaac looked up and saw why. A large bulldozer sat at the top of the hill, its large blade overflowing with thousands of tiny marbles. The only man in history to attempt running straight through them and had failed miserably. The rocks were dumped. They sped toward the two remaining combatants.

“Hit me! HARD!”

Isaac threw the hardest elbow yet. He felt Deadly break free. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the man spinning around while trying to steady himself. It looked so natural Isaac wasn’t sure how much, if any of it, was an act.

Deadly’s back was to the hill when the rush of rocks swept him off his feet. Isaac dug his hands into the dirt and held on for dear life as the same load pelted him all over.

He protected his face by laying it down sideways on the ground, watching as Deadly rock-surfed on his back all the way to the fire pit, finally sliding into feet first. He didn’t screamed as his body flew over the edge.

After a moment of silence and a surge of blue flames the crowd began chanting loudly: “Isaac. Isaac. Isaac.”

With every ounce of energy drained from his body, Isaac squared his shoulders to the incline of the hill. He took a death breath. Blood poured from his nose. His eyes stung with dirt. His fingers felt arthritic, but he could see his mother’s beautiful face at the top of the hill. Slowly but surely, he started making his way there.



Bio: Kevin Bannigan Jr. is an avid reader of all things weird, wonderful, and everything in between. He enjoys the writing of Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Stephen King, among many others.

He has two published stories: Dealing With the Devil appears in Voices From the Gloom, Volume 1, published by Sirens Cal Publications.

With the Wind appears in the Rejected anothology, published by ACA books.

Both books can be found on Amazon.



No responses yet

Lullaby for the Dead by Kitty Sarkozy

Jul 05 2015

“Un chocolate chaud, si vous plait,” says the woman carefully in a very overdone Pepé le Pew accent. Then in Deep Southern US she says, “I wish I could remember more French; I haven’t taken it since high school. But I am tryin’; it adds to the experience.”
She is maybe 1.5 meters tall with a pale, round face and Shirley Temple curls, dyed a strange copper color, wearing bright clothing and carrying a Hello Kitty messenger bag. I don’t know if it is the childlike way she accessorizes or her size, but it is hard to tell her age. She is at least in her late 20s, maybe a bit older. It is only 6:45 and she is almost vibrating with excitement.
She chatters about the Biodome, fashion, and food in short excited sentences while I get her drink. Normally someone this perky might annoy me, but today I am happy to have her here. Everything is so quiet. I hate opening Second Cup on the weekend. Right under Le Reine Elizabeth and so close to the commuter train station, this place is a madhouse on weekdays at this time. But this early on a Saturday, and it’s dead.
Most of the businesses aren’t even open yet and won’t be for hours. The tunnels, normally so bright, are dark and shadowy. I wish we didn’t go for a cozy book shop atmosphere and instead had bright lights. My customer is a human strobe light, which helps.
She sits down at a table with her drink and starts writing in a notebook. I go back to the busy work of a barista: putting cookies in the oven and making a pitcher of iced coffee. I fill up the ice bin under the soda fountain and walk around the seating area, dusting and restocking.
The woman writes and chews on her pen in turn. I wonder what she is writing: a journal, a story, a list of things to do in the exotic city of Montréal? I think about asking, but she has such an intense look on her little Cabbage Patch Kid face that I don’t want to disturb her.
She leaves off to some grand adventure while I was getting a few bottles of flavored syrup from the back. Even though I hadn’t been talking to her, having another person here broke the tension. With her gone I feel alone and jumpy with an electric tingle to my skin. I also feel silly, because I am not alone. If I stick my head out the door, I can see the light from Tim Horton’s spilling onto the walkway. Amélie is working this morning; we came together.
When I was little, the underground scared me. We didn’t come here often, but when we did I would sometimes cry. My father said it was all perfectly safe and tried to distract me with all the people, shops, and the fun of being on a train. But that just made it worse somehow. I remember telling him that the only people who belong in the ground are the dead, and even they don’t like it. He laughed at that.
The other morning shift barista should have arrived thirty minutes ago. It ‘s not uncommon for people to be a little late after being out partying, but thirty minutes was excessive. I check the schedule. Kevin was supposed to be in. Grrr… freaky emo Kevin is not likely to make being underground more cheery. He is like a barely animated corpse himself.
A little after 7:00, Kevin sidles in. His clothes are rumpled and he is still wearing last night’s eyeliner. He stinks of smoke, cloves, and sweat. I guess he didn’t have time to shower. He leans against the wall drinking espresso for a few minutes, before acknowledging me or putting on an apron. With him finally ready to do what passes for work I get a latté and walk down to see Amélie.
Horton’s isn’t busy either, but they are doing better than us. An elderly couple sits reading the paper together and eating bagels. A young guy with headphones sips coffee, rocking to the music. Amélie is behind the counter, facing away from the door. My heart flutters.
I know, I know. It’s cheesy as hell. I just saw her two hours ago. She spent the night at my place. I spent the whole day with her yesterday. Yet I go all weak in the knees.
Her black hair, pulled back with a scrunchie, hangs almost to her waist. It is mostly straight, with the slightest hint of curl near the end. It would be wavy if she cut it, but I would be heartbroken. Her hair is so soft and smells faintly of apples. The smell lingers on my pillow for a day or two after she sleeps over at my dorm. I wish I could wake up with my face pressed against her hair every day, but she refuses to get an apartment with me. She doesn’t want to rock the boat with her parents. I understand; children learn to creep ‘ere they can learn to go. But I don’t like it. Amélie is just about perfect; to think that her own parents might judge her because of us makes me sad and angry. But her relationship with them is her business. I stay out of it.
“Amé,” I call. She turns towards me and smiles. She has the cutest smile; her canines are tiny and stick out a bit. I think it makes her look a little like a kitten. Her eyes are big and nearly black; her skin is naturally tan, even though she spends very little time outside.
“Matty, hi! You getting any business over there?” she asks in her rich Québec City accent. Hers is the sort of voice that sounds good speaking French; the little lady from earlier should learn how to ask for hot chocolate from Amélie.
“Not really, just a few people so far. Kevin can handle it for a few minutes,” I say.
“Good, I could use the company,” she says.
I order a bagel with cream cheese and sit down at the counter. We make small talk. I want to reach out and hold her hand, but she does not like public displays of affection, especially at work. She just doesn’t want to deal with the stigma. I try not to take it personally. But sometimes when I am feeling insecure, I wonder which part of me she is ashamed of: the lesbian, the Haitian, or the musician? My mother says you can’t mold other people like clay, you just have to take them the shape they are. Best to be happy with Amélie the way she is now, because I can’t push her to be anything she is not ready to be. Someday she will come out about who she is and start living her life a little louder, but today is not that day.
We talk for a while until Horton’s gets a few more customers. A few more customers makes Second Cup less gloomy. Around 11:00, Amélie comes in and works on homework until I get off at 12:15, 45 minutes later than I was scheduled.
We walk over to the food court in Place Ville Marie for lunch. I get a turkey sandwich and she gets some sort of Asian noodle bowl that smells of onions and ginger. I’m a picky eater, but she eats everything and loves trying new foods. She likes me to try new foods too, but thankfully she does not ask me to try this dish. It’s hard enough to eat my own lunch. I feel a bit nauseated and on edge. My skin feels tingly, alternating hot to cold, like the flu but not. It hope it is just nerves over the concert tonight; I don’t have time to get sick.
We head up to the surface, parting ways at the McGill campus. She goes to the library and I go to Schulich to practice. McGill has concerts all the time, but this is a big one for me. Until this year I have always played in orchestra or done little solo recitals, so being the only cello in a small group is hard. If I make a mistake, it sort of hangs in the air and everyone notices.
I practice my part alone for a little while until the other five musicians start to show up. When the director arrives, we run through the pieces a few times. The first time he yells and throws an eraser at us. The second time he walks out of the room for fifteen minutes. And the third time he says it is as good as we will get. I have worked with this director and others like him before; they get themselves way too worked up before the performance and are walking on a cloud once it is over. He is showering us with chalk dust now, but in a few hours he will be showering us with praise.
At 18:00 we go on stage and run though everything once before the doors open. Soon I hear people on the other side of the curtain. When it goes up I feel like I’m going to vomit. Amélie is sitting in the front row; she gives me thumbs up and a smile. I try to smile back, but probably grimace. The director’s hands go up, and I take a deep breath.
Once we are playing, the hard part is over. I can’t worry and play at the same time. The worry takes wing and flies into the rafters with the first notes. There is nothing to do but fall into the music. Maybe it is the acoustics, or that everyone tries so hard when people are watching, but we sound good; really good. This is better than any run though; the concert always is. Time goes by faster than it has all day. It feels like only a few minutes before we are standing up and taking our bows.
A small reception follows; a few snacks and punch. My mother is near the door when I walk in. She pulls me into a hug and tells me I did a great job. Amélie runs up, kissing me on the cheek, taking my hand in hers right there in front of everyone. Mama smiles and gives me a little wink. I’m on top the world. The concert was great. Amélie is behaving like a girlfriend in public. I guess it is true, the ladies do love musicians.
People don’t mingle long. The three of us gather up our stuff and head down to McGill station. Mama and Amélie are chatting with each other. I don’t have much to say; the post-concert high has worn off and all I want is to go to sleep.
The station isn’t busy. I lean against my cello case and watch my two favorite women talk. My eyes glaze over and I sort of zone out. My eyes are still open, but the fog of dreams falls over me, like it does sometimes right before I fall asleep. I can’t move, but I’m aware. I hear Mama and Amélie. I hear voices in my head; screaming, crying voices. They call out for anyone who can hear them. I reach for them, wanting to ease their pain.
I’m cold. The wall behind me feels like ice. Everything seems to be closing in, weighing me down. My hands slip off the cello case and it falls to the ground; my knees buckle right after, and I join it.
“Matty…,” says Amélie, turning to me and kneeling at my head, her warm hand on my forehead. “What happened, are you ok?” she asks.
I try to answer, but no sounds come out of my open mouth.
My mother joins Amélie, taking my hand in hers. “Matty, baby, Mathania…can you hear me?”
I can. I hear everything. I hear more than everything. I hear the voices of many people, close and getting closer. I feel them, freezing cold, scared, and confused. I am with Amélie and my mother on the platform, but I am someplace else too. Walking in darkness, searching for light and heat. I am hungry, very hungry. Amélie’s hands are burning hot, so are Mama’s. Deliciously hot while I’m freezing. I want to take their heat inside me. More than I have ever wanted anything before.
I begin to shake. I can’t help it; it is like every part of my body is cramping up… It hurts; cold shocks of pain rack me.
Mama’s eyes are wide, the whites showing all around. She is crying, gripping my hand hard. “No, Matty, no, no, no. Not you, no Matty. This can’t happen, no Matty, NO!”
I hear screams in my mind and with my ears too. The people on the platform are screaming and then running. At first I’m confused. Are they screaming because of me and my fit? I feel the cold coming closer. Amélie turns her head, and then her whole body towards the screams, and as she turns I see around her. I see what everyone is running from.
Out of the dark of the tunnel they come. They were once people, but now they are rotting, moldy creatures. They lurch towards us, towards all the warm bodies. I feel their need, their hunger. They want to touch life, to be alive. They want to take the warmth inside them and feed on the living. I feel hungry and cold too, I want what they want.
I find my voice and scream. I pull my hand from Mama and flinch away from Amélie. I was thinking of my loved ones as food, hot meat. I feel sick. I can’t allow myself to touch them. I sit up, scooting away from them and the monsters. But my mother grabs my arm with one hand, and turns my face towards hers with strong fingers. She forces me to look into her to wide eyes.
“Matty, listen to me. Listen. I am so sorry, but you have to stop this,” Mama says.
“What?” I say.
“I’m sorry baby, but you are the only one who can make them go back to sleep. I don’t know why they’re awake. I don’t know how to stop them. But you do; you have to know,” she said, her voice shaking.
“I don’t understand. Mama. What are they? I don’t know what to do,” I say, sounding like a frightened child. I just want Mama to hold me and make the bad dream go away. I want Papa. All of a sudden I miss him so much. If he was here, he could fix this. But he has been gone many years.
“You do know; it is inside you. I should have told you, I should have told you. I’m so sorry.”
I can’t deal with this. I don’t know what she is talking about. She must be in shock or something. She’s just freaking out. I have to get her out of here. I stand up, grasping Mama’s wrist, ready to run and pull her away. Then I see Amélie hasn’t left.
She has pushed herself against the wall, frozen in fear. A soft, wheezing scream comes from her; her eyes are fixed on the shambling, rotting people. The ones who still have eyes are staring at her. They are coming. They want her as much as I do. Thoughts of Amélie rush to the front of my mind, unbidden. Her soft lips on mine. Her smooth skin under my callused fingers, her hot breath on my neck, the taste of her flesh. And then I want more from her; I want to taste her blood. I want to sink my teeth into her. I imagine how alive she must taste.
And then I understand.
These creatures are hungry not for flesh, it is life they crave. They’re not evil; they don’t want to hurt anyone. They are beyond such emotions as greed, anger, or sadism. They are confused; feeling the warmth of the living and remembering their own lives. They want to feel the warmth again and feel hot blood inside them; they want their cold, rotten hearts to beat. Like a ghastly sunflower they move towards the light. In this case, the light is Amélie. It is my fault. They feel my need for her; they remember the heat of desire.
They are getting closer. I can’t run; I can’t leave Amélie.
I let go of Mama’s hand and I stand in front of Amélie, careful not to touch her.
I look at these poor people. Even as they want to eat my girlfriend, I know they aren’t monsters. They are scared people who should be resting. Who should be free of need and hunger forever. I think of the stories my father and grandmother used to tell me. A bokor has done this. A person has used magic, a power that until today I had thought was a folktale, to rip these poor souls from their sleep. He has sent them back into the world of the living, where they have no business being. Why would anyone do this? What is the purpose of this dark magic?
I’m angry. My anger warms me. I’m not as cold, not so hungry. I feel protective over them. I want their pain to stop. They shouldn’t be cold or hungry anymore. I don’t want them to be scared. I know they think feeding on life will end their pain, but it won’t . They can touch life, they can remember life, but no matter how much blood or flesh they eat, they can never be alive. As long as they are walking around they will never stop yearning or hurting. They can never be satiated.
I want to hurt the sick son of a bitch who did this to them. Right now I need to help them sleep and protect the woman I love.
Instead of thinking about the feel and taste of Amélie, I think about my emotions when I am around her. The calm of waking up to the apple scent of her hair. The butterflies in my stomach when she smiles at me. The joy I feel at the musical sound of her laughter.
The zombies stop walking, looking at me. They feel my calm, my joy. My emotions feed them more than flesh ever could, but I know I can’t do this for long. They need to sleep, but I don’t know how to make that happen.
I feel a hand on my shoulder and my mother whispers in my ear, “Sing to them, Matty. They are tired. Sing them to sleep.”
I do. I start to hum “Dodo titit” softly because it is the first thing that comes to mind. I realize given the circumstance, a song about being eaten is in poor taste, but it’s too late to change songs now. Anyway the morbid little lullaby always calmed me as a child.
I sing the words, mama sings with me.
Dodo, ti titit manman’l
Dodo, ti titit papa’l
Si li pa dodo, krab la va manjé’l
Si li pa dodo, krab la va manjé’l
Just like at the concert, I melt into the music until singing this song is the only thing that matters. All of their focus is now on me. It’s strange, sensing myself through them. As I sing, the zombies fall to the ground one by one, gruesome abandoned dolls instead of people. I no longer feel them in my mind.
I turn away from them to Amélie. She’s no longer frozen in terror, but eyes shine with tears and her face is strained with fear. She hugs me and whispers, “I love you, Matty.” All the missing warmth from my blood returns with those words, which she has never said to me before.
The emergency responders arrive. In the panic some people were hurt but nothing life-threatening. The police herd everyone out, crisscrossing yellow tape over the entrance. Mama leads me and Amélie away before anyone can ask us what happened. We get a cab back to Saint-Michel with Mama.
Mama makes us tea with calming herbs. When I ask her to explain what happened, all she says is “Tomorrow, tomorrow; it is too much for tonight, you need to rest”. Honestly I am not sure I even want to know what happened, so I don’t argue.

Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer and homesteader living in Atlanta, GA. She has a rather unspecific set of not very useful skills, a plethora of hobbies, and too many pets. When not writing, she achieves a small income as a background actor and petty thief. You can follow her adventures at If you have time to kill and don’t mind watching movies frame by frame, you might be able to see her in the upcoming movies “Ant Man”, “Vacation” and “5th Wave”.

No responses yet

Writers’ Bloc by John F Keane

Jun 28 2015

Rudric Bing’s Glyph vibrated as he floated between Jupiter’s moons in his Gorasphere. The message flashed through his synapses:

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Meeting!
Please engage your Glyph, Storagon or body to attend.
Location: The Apollo Lounge, Broadway, New York.
Date: November 25, 2371.
Time: Now!

With a thought, Rudric engaged his Glyph. The starry vacuum faded, and he found himself in a convention hall full of ‘people’. Most were Glyph projections, like himself – living members far from the Big Apple or even the Earth. A few were Storagons, projections of people long since dead.
One of these approached the newcomer with silent footsteps.
“Isaac – so good to see you.”
Isaac Asimov grinned his crooked grin and adjusted his spectral spectacles.
“And I you. This is quite a turnout. Nothing like an emergency to bring the troops running.”
Rudric Bing smiled.
“So I see,” he said. Every living member was present, in Glyph or physical form. Gerg Tarm waved in their direction. Rudric waved back. Gerg had won the Nebula five years running, an unprecedented feat.
Glad to see so many old friends, Rudric mingled. Hard to believe his body drifted between Ganymede and Callisto in deep space.
A summons pulsed and, eager to begin, the Sci Fi Writers of America took their seats.
Isaac’s digital spectre occupied the lectern. Rudric marvelled at how someone so long dead could be reconstructed with such ease. But there he was. Such wonders were typical of the Twenty-Fourth Century.
“We are suffering,” said Isaac, “from writer’s block. A massive dose of it. But the fault isn’t ours. It’s the age we live in.”
Rudric Bing sighed with agreement. However hard he wracked his brain to come up with original sci fi ideas, all had been realized.
“How many of us,” continued Isaac, “have written a science fiction story we thought was centuries ahead of modern science, only to find it wasn’t? Hands up?”
Most hands in the hall – dead, Glyph and living – went up. Isaac studied the hands and nodded.
“As I thought. Back in my day, we seldom had that problem. While the core concepts of modern science were in place, their application was still woefully primitive. For us sci fi writers, life was easy. Most things we could imagine were ‘fiction’, and would remain so for a very long time. Robots, for instance.”
Nostalgic chuckles filled the hall.
Yes, robots. And teleportation. Not to mention interstellar flight and virtual worlds. Time travel, too. Back in those days the raw materials of science fiction were still fiction. Now, anything that could be conceived had been realized, or could be.
“Yes,” said Isaac, “we have run out of future. Or rather, the future has dispensed with our services. Imagination offers nothing that science cannot create. Science has rendered science fiction redundant.”
A Storagon’s hand went up.
“Yes, Mr Niven?”
“With respect sir, imagination will always transcend science. Science is only where imagination leads. For example, I’ve just finished a novel about a novel about a fellow who models adjacent time streams on a computer, from the Cambrian period to – ”
“Already done,” said Isaac. “A man at the Martian Institute of Extra-terrestrial Biology ran similar models years ago. Someone else bio-formed the resultant organisms last month. She’s studying them as we speak.”
All the colour drained from Larry Niven’s long dead features. Another hand went up – a living one, this time.
“Mr Asimov,” said Gerg Tarm, “your analysis is flawless, as always. Yes, the state of science determines the state of science fiction. Because scientific knowledge was so limited in, say, the Nineteenth Century, any new idea that a writer cooked up was breaking new ground.”
“I take your point,” said Isaac, adjusting his spectacles. “That century was a particularly fecund era for science fiction.”
“Sure” said Tarm, warming to the topic. “Mark Twain described the Internet in 1898, almost a century before science created it. He wrote a novel called From the London Times of 1904 describing a world wide web called ‘the Telectroscope’. Or consider the credit card – invented by Edward Bellamy in his 1888 novel Looting Backwards. And then of course we have Jules Verne describing the aqualung in 20, 000 Leagues under the Sea: an ‘Iron reservoir of air’ attached to a diver’s back.”
Most of the audience, living and dead, whistled between their teeth. The conversation was going somewhere, at last. Gerg smiled, pleased by his positive reception.
“In the Twentieth Century,” he said, “when science transformed all areas of life, the predictive power of science fiction began to wane. Sure, Ray Bradbury got earphones in Fahrenheit 451. And then we had mobile phones in the first Star Trek series. And tanning beds in The Jetsons. Still, no one can doubt that Sci Fi began losing ground in that century. That’s why it began to study the human mind and delve into religion and politics. In short, to become like real literature.”
The dreaded ‘L’ word! Most of the audience blanched.
“Sure,” said Roger Zelazny, standing with a crooked smile. “It seemed so right, writing about politics and religion back then. Books like Lord of Light weren’t trying to pre-empt scientific discoveries – for one thing, most sci fi writers no longer understood science. Not at any serious level, I mean. Scientists were beginning to speak a foreign language, even to educated laypeople.”
“Yes,” said Isaac. “That’s when these problems started. When scientific discourse began to surpass mainstream understanding, around the mid-Twentieth Century. That’s also when fantasy became the dominant form of speculative literature. No coincidence, I feel.”
Frank Herbert’s Storagon bristled.
“What’s wrong with fantasy?” he asked, his tone pugnacious. “More to the point – what’s wrong with science fiction that addresses social and political issues? Why should it be restricted to technological and scientific speculation? Isn’t that the wonder of our genre – the boundless freedom it confers?”
Murmurs of approval filled the hall. The loudest voices belonged to the New Wave writers of the early 1960s: Thomas Disch, Ursula LeGuin and Philip K. Dick. Writers thin on science but popular with literary critics.
Rudric Bing flickered. Yes, flickered.
“You’re flickering,” said E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Storagon, with a frown of concern.
“I guess I am.”
With a thought, Rudric found himself back in his body, back in his Gorasphere, out in deep space. He sniffed the processed air and caught the choking, acrid smell of burning circuitry. His heart skipped a beat. Something was terribly wrong.
“Report, Lucinda. Report to me now.”
The screen before him crackled and flickered, as if seeking a memory. Then it went dark as the void between worlds.
“Godohgodohgod,” said Rudric Bing, sweat misting his brow. A tight spot, indeed. No onboard computer meant no coordinates, no communication, not even purposeful movement. He was up the proverbial creek.
Rudric unstrapped himself and peered out through curved plexiglass. He gulped. A litter of white plastic slivers and lifeless circuits floated in the void. Something must have hit the Gorasphere, perhaps a small meteorite or chunk of space debris.
“Godohgodohgod,” he said again.
Could things get any worse?
He sat back in his control chair, trying to think. Jupiter’s vast, mottled orb loomed beyond the plexiglass shell. Lord of planets and king of gods, its pale visage had acquired a terrible aspect. That was when Rudric noticed the crack. His heart began to trot, then sprint. A crack in the plexiglass! A hairline fissure but still potentially lethal, if it got any worse.
He took a deep, long breath. Even if his body perished, his personality would live on as a Storagon, like everyone else who died in 2371. But so what? While a Glyph projection contained the owner’s real identity, a Storagon merely replicated it. So death was still death, even in the Twenty-Fourth Century. Besides, Rudric loved his body. He had spent considerable sums on cybernetic implants and epigenetic upgrades for it. Above all, he did not want a horrible, drawn-out passing in this desolate void. For if a blowout did not get him, starvation or asphyxiation surely would.
Rudric shuddered, icy fingers stirring through his guts. If only he had a super-smart person to advise him, to think him out of this fix…
Of course, the writers! Rudric Bing was not alone. He had some of history’s most brilliant minds at his disposal. He need not sit here waiting for his body to die, like a rat in a trap. With but a thought, he could project himself back to the meeting in New York, on distant Earth. The greatest science fiction authors of all time could save him, if anyone could!
Couldn’t they?
Rudric swallowed and clenched his fists tight. He closed his eyes and fired forth his digitized ego. The Apollo Lounge dawned around him.
“You’re back,” said Doc Smith, with a quick smile. “All fixed?”
“If only.”
“What d’you mean?”
Rudric stammered out the sorry tale. Doc listened with kind patience, nodding every now and then. Meanwhile the meeting continued. Carl Sagan’s Storagon, urbane and scholarly, held the floor.
“We are gathered here,” he said, “because science has pre-empted all our ideas and visions. Anything we can conceive either exists or can be realized. Indeed, it could be questioned whether science fiction even exists any more.
“Look at these guys from the 1930s,” he said, waving a virtual anthology of Golden Age novellas. “Reality never challenged anything they wrote. Why not? Because no one knew anything back then. As our learned friends have explained, it was easy to make an impact.”
Sagan’s words met reluctant applause.
“There is now nothing science cannot create, cannot achieve,” he said. “Our visionary role is ended. We need a new role – ”
“And what would that role be?” asked Isaac.
“Excuse me,” said Doc, raising his venerable hand. “There’s a boy dying here.”
“Dying? Please explain.”
“It’s best he does that himself. I don’t pretend to understand the working of Goraspears.”
“Goraspheres,” said Rudric, against his better judgement.
“Is this the young man of which you speak?”
Doc nodded and sat down. Rudric rose to his Glyph–feet, uncomfortable with all this attention. Isaac sketched a square in the air with his finger. A diagram of the trans-planetary Gorasphere with all its technical specifications appeared within.
“Yes?” he asked. “What is the problem?”
“Well my Gorasphere’s taken a bad hit out in deep space with my body aboard. The onboard computer’s down, the plexiglass shell’s got a crack and if you guys can’t cook something up, I’m doomed.”
A ripple ran through the auditorium.
“Can’t you just teleport out?”
“Not without a functioning onboard computer, no.”
“Can’t the nearest safety station teleport you out?”
“Not without an onboard computer to project my precise coordinates.”
Silence fell. Wearing his wryest smile, Roger Zelazny stood up.
“I’m no scientist,” he said, “but surely we need a more imaginative approach? If there were a simplistic technical solution, this young man would not be in his present predicament.”
“Agreed,” said Frank Herbert, with an expansive gesture. “And a room full of sci fi’s best men and women should be able to provide it. We need a solution beautiful in its simplicity but dynamic in its outcome… a solution that demonstrates the boundless power of human imagination. I recall, Isaac, an idea you developed in Destination Brain. Since sub-atomic particles flit about all over the universe, would shrinking this Gorasphere to sub-atomic size solve the problem?”
“It could be done, if we had the Gorapshere’s spatial coordinates. Unfortunately, we don’t. Besides, it might reappear anywhere. I’m not sure Mr Bing wants to end up in a Black Hole, Red Giant or worse.”
. “I still think Roger’s on the right track,” said Herbert. “We need a novel approach. A solution that negates the problems of distance and location.”
Let’s go quantum,” said Isaac, with an air of finality. “That should neutralize both issues.”
A murmur of approval rippled through the Apollo Lounge. Directed by shimmering Glyphs and Storagons, the meeting’s few physical attendees set to work.
The booking office contained a Conceptual Printer, like all Twenty-Fourth Century offices. In no time, their equipment was ready. Willing hands began assembling the various components on the podium. Despite this committed effort, Robert Heinlein approached Isaac with a frown.
“What did you conceptualize?” he asked.
“A version of Schrodinger’s experiment. These Storagons and Glyphs are the locus of our volitional cognition, right?”
Heinlein’s frown deepened.
“They are for us who have… passed on.”
“The same is true for living persons. When they project their Glyph, their cognitive locus departs their physical bodies. Back in his Gorasphere, Mr Bing is a docile slab of meat.”
Heinlein shrugged.
“What’s this got to do with saving him?”
Isaac shot his colleague a triumphant glance.
“Everything. We’re going to ‘kill’ his Glyph many times over, each ‘death’ triggered by a quantum event. Since Glyphs are invulnerable yet contain an individual’s cognitive locus, one of two things should happen. If Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation of the paradox is true, Mr Bing’s Glyph will be pushed into a branch of reality where he is invulnerable. If it isn’t, his Glyph will still accrue a vast store of ‘improbable good fortune’. Either outcome should make him temporarily invulnerable on return to his physical body. And either way, he ought to survive.”
“I thought you were a scientist,” drawled Heinlein, shaking his head.
“Any better ideas?” asked Frank Herbert, assembling a laser.
“Not right now.”
“Then help us out. We need an engineer.”
In less than two minutes, Asimov’s apparatus stood gleaming on the podium. A spatter of polite applause echoed through the auditorium. Isaac raised his hand for silence.
“Mr Bing,” he called, “would you mind stepping up here?”
Rudric swallowed. What choice did he have?
“Just stand there,” said Isaac. “That’s right, in front of the laser.”
Rudric took up his position.
“Now,” said Asimov, abeam with optimism, “when we start firing our obliteration ray, you should become temporarily impervious to misfortune.”
“What a load of horse-puckey,” muttered Heinlein.
Asimov shook his head.
“His Glyph permits the paradox. Because it contains his consciousness, yet cannot be destroyed, successive attempts at its destruction will shift his ego’s probability of death to zero. When his Glyph returns to his physical body, a split-second of this ‘residual immortality’ should intervene to spare him from disaster.”
“That’s a lot of ifs,” said Heinlein, stroking his moustache. This was not the venerable Heinlein who wore a bath-robe and shaved his head. His Storagon showed the author’s younger self, slim and libertarian.
“Science is full of ifs, buts and maybes.”
“Maybe it is.”
Sheer panic compelled Rudric to interject.
“Gentlemen,” he quavered. “Please – I’m dying here!”
“Sorry, said Isaac, fiddling the controls of his Quantum Luck Machine. The ray’s nozzle turned poker-red and started to emit an ominous drone.
Click. The first quantum event had no effect.
Vroom – a sheet of energy bathed Rudric’s Glyph in blinding light. Death number one.
Click. Click.
The Event Counter began to accelerate. The ‘deaths’ started clocking up. Ten. Fifty. A hundred. When Rudric’s ego had died a thousand times, Asimov fiddled with the console and said: “He must be completely safe, now, at least for a short time. Goodbye, Mr Bing – goodbye and good luck!”
“He’ll have plenty of that,” said Zelazny, who knew something about everything.
Bing found himself back in his ailing Gorasphere. Beyond the curved plexiglass winked a billion stars. Between them lurked freezing vacuum. Still, his ego had just died a thousand times and surely, surely he must have a little luck to play with.
But how could luck intervene in this desolate void, light years from anywhere? That crack could break at any moment, sucking him out into space. And without an onboard computer to supply his needs, he would soon starve or asphyxiate anyway.
“I’ve had it,” he said aloud.
Then something improbable occurred. At a stroke, it restored Rudric’s faith in the human imagination. A passing sliver of meteorite collided with one of the circuits drifting around the Gorasphere. A beam of blue light shot from the thing, fusing the crack like a welder’s beam. Bing gasped with shock as well as wonder. His precarious bio-space remained intact, at least for the moment.
A second plug of meteorite hit the same piece of debris in stark, awesome silence. Rudric chewed his bottom lip. Would his luck hold? To his amazement, another beam split the void. This raked the Gorasphere’s exposed circuits, re-seating components and re-forming snapped connections. With a drone, his onboard computer console flashed back into life.

Hello, Mr Bing, she purred. Shall I Activate Emergency Safety Procedures?

“Yes, Lucinda. Do it now!”
The curved plexiglass frosted.
“Of course, Mr Bing. Suspended Animation initiated.”
Just as he drifted off into Safe Sleep, Bing felt the Gorasphere’s retro-thrusters blast him towards the nearest Safety Station. Even at near light-speed, the seal on the crack held. Rudric sighed. With luck he would awaken between warm sheets to a steaming cup of synthi-caff served by an attentive robo-nurse. With luck… he smiled. Then like a warm, comforting blanket, sleep enfolded him.


Five years later, Rudric attended the SFWA reception in New York. As before, Isaac Asimov greeted him at the door.
“Mr Bing! How have you been?”
“I’m alive, as you can see. Took me four years to reach the Safety Station, six months nano-reconstruction in their Med Facility but less than a nanosecond to teleport here.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. There have been some changes to the event, though.”
“Changes? What kind of changes?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
With hammering heart, Rudric entered the conference hall. His eyes widened at the sight of dozens of oval tables occupying the space normally reserved for an audience. The people around these tables were even more astonishing. Not just the familiar authors, but individuals with earnest faces and smart clothes. Definitely not sci fi writers, if Rudric was any judge.
Isaac joined him.
“What is all this?” asked Rudric. “Who are these people?”
“Scientists,” said the Storagon, adjusting his spectacles. “Scientists, engineers and government officials. They have come to learn how new technologies might be applied in novel and creative ways.”
Rudric gazed up at the banner behind the stage. Instead of ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’, it read, in big red letters:

2386: First Praxiphorical Congress of the US Creative Consortium

Rudric gaped.
“Praxiphorical congress?” he asked. “What does that mean?”
“The systemized application of metaphor to practical ends,” said Isaac proudly. “Our 2385 meeting was our last as the SFWA. We finally realized that Sci fi – fiction based on scientific and technological projection – was finished. Killed, ironically enough, by scientific progress. We needed new purpose, a new direction.
“You gave us that when your Gorasphere broke. That timely episode shifted our creative focus away from literary fiction. And here we are.”
The Apollo Lounge buzzed with activity. Roger Zelazny’s shimmering Storagon approached, wearing his trademark grin.
“Don’t look so worried,” he said. “Man created logic and because of that, was superior to it. Creativeness is the Fire of the Gods, a priceless commodity. Though science might map all things, its application can only advance through the Promethean gift of Imagination.”
Rudric pinched himself, so glad of his own flesh.



I have published some essays in Vector magazine, the British Science Fiction Association journal. I have also had some work published in Analog, the ‘bible’ of American speculative fiction. In addition, I have also published several academic papers exploring the corporate modeling potentials of science fiction. These appeared in such prestigious management journals as Emergence and the International Journal of Advertising.

No responses yet

Depletion Depression by Luke Schamer

Jun 21 2015

Felix was awoken by simulated sunrays beaming through his artificial skylight. His implantation device, inserted into his neck at birth, recognized activity and began the live stream through his cornea.

He grasped for a pillow, covering his face. The continuous flow of visuals and coinciding audio left him paralyzed:

Good waking, chosen America! It is day 223 of year 2051. Earth’s surface temperature remains at a high of 170 degrees. The ultraviolet radiation index remains at a 15 out of 15. Today’s ozone depletion rate is eighty-nine percent, a one percent increase from day 217. Expect minor delays on the high-speed rails, as construction for our new underground transportation system continues. And remember: if you’re not living underground, well, you’re not living! Now, a quick message from our sponsors.

Felix rubbed his palms over his eyelids, the morning bulletin piercing his vision and hearing.

Drone acquired images of earth’s surface were projected into Felix’s implantation device. A desolate wasteland, a far cry from the surface he once knew.

The reporter’s voice was too calm, too perfect.

Even if Felix closed his eyes, he couldn’t escape the ensuing thirty-five minutes of advertisements: emerging solar power companies, injections to increase work production and new light simulators.

Felix finally swung his legs over the cot, reaching for a glass on his nightstand. He gargled water and grabbed his vitamin-D supplement. Inspecting the yellow capsule, Felix dropped it back into the government-issued bottle. He then scribbled on his bedside notepad:

83 days – no vit. D.

Before rising, he emptied the remaining water into his potted plant. Dried leaves clung to wiry stems. A memento.

Stepping into his wardrobe, Felix followed prompts on the holographic screen and selected his light-reflecting work uniform. Jumpsuit, boots and a hardhat equipped with a headlight. The attire was ghost white.

Looking at his reflection, Felix’s eyes began to swell with tears. The incessant babbling of advertisers muffled his deep, sporadic breaths.

As Felix wiped his forearm across his eyes, he placed his plant on his cot. He sighed, removing a marble vase from his nightstand. Felix ran his fingers across the names etched into the marble: Miri & Jason Reslin. He laid the vase next to his plant.

“This is all I have left, Miri. I’m sorry.” Felix stepped away. “See you soon, sunshine.”

Felix opened his reinforced steel door. High-speed rails he had helped build snaked through the underground caverns. Trains sped across these rails, shuttling the chosen across the dark expanse.

Felix stepped from his doorstep onto the boarding platform. To his left was a group of construction workers waiting for a work shuttle. To his right was an emergency ladder, stretching to the bottom of the caverns.

Felix turned on his headlight and climbed down the emergency ladder. He maneuvered the tunnels with ease, remembering the construction layouts. It had been four years since he took the job and descended into earth. Although he was a lower class wage worker, Felix knew construction. He was useful. He was lucky.

The hardhat headlight was a pinprick in the tunnel’s darkness. Every couple minutes, a train would blaze past Felix, shaking the foundation. He wondered if the passengers saw him. It was either a train full of suits or hardhats.

Felix glanced upward to see a boarding platform overlooking shopping hubs. The same shopping hubs he had helped build. He imagined the elite placing orders on holographic screens, waiting for a drone to arrive with their merchandise. Felix realized he had never actually seen manufacturing centers for all the useless things those people consumed. He shook his head and continued onward.

Miri always enjoyed shopping, buying gifts for the family with no special occasion. Felix remembered taking her to a real life mall, one of the few left in 2043. That was before everything began to burn. Before the American government began building underground. Before they asked Felix to descend, and promised his wife and child would follow.

Felix hadn’t even been with his family when the radiation escalated and the temperatures skyrocketed. Then they sealed the entrances. All he knew of the surface were the images projected into his implantation device each morning.

A news bulletin flashed into vision, along with the reporter’s unsettling voice:

Chosen America, this is a reminder to ingest your vitamin-D supplement daily. With surface conditions absolutely uninhabitable, and sun exposure impossible, studies have shown increased depression, hallucinations, decreased productivity…

Felix tried his best to ignore the annoyance.

As he strode beneath the rail lines, Felix noticed a light ahead. It was the light he was looking for. According to the timestamp in his implantation device, he had been walking for almost an hour. He was late to his assigned work site, and he imagined police were searching his living space at that very moment.

The sunrays shone down from the high ceiling of the caverns and illuminated the rocky terrain below. Dozens of construction workers and their assistive bots were on the scene. Felix jogged toward the shouting and drilling, smiling at the sight.

“Sir, excuse me.” Felix tapped the shoulder of an older man in a construction uniform, his belly hanging over his belt.

“Talk to my bot, kid.” The rotund man stared forward, analyzing data in his implantation device.

Felix glanced at the man’s assistive bot. “I don’t need a bot.”

“Shouldn’t you get back to work? Productivity has been down for several days, and now we got this damned sun leak.” The man pointed to the light penetrating the cavern ceiling, continuing to stare into the abyss.

“I’m a site inspector!” Felix shouted over the mechanical buzz.

The man jumped, facing Felix. “You don’t look like no site inspector to me. Where’s your bot?”

“I’m a site inspector from the other side. Heard about the sun leak yesterday. They assigned me to give a report. Where’s the site manager?”

“On break, in the decompression zone.” The man shook his head. “You’ll have to wait for him to get back.”

Just as Felix planned. “You complain about productivity, and then make me wait for the site manager to get back from a zero gravity bar?”

The man looked away, waiting for his assistive bot to respond.

“I’ll be thirty minutes,” Felix said. “Just have to take the lift to the source of the leak and check the dimensions.”

“You got proper protection? Last month I heard about a guy whose skin burnt right off. Goin’ to the source is like a suicide mission nowadays.”

“I’m protected,” Felix responded. “I’ll need a lift with tools, might need to chip off some rock for my report. See why we’re leaking.”

The man waddled toward a lift on the cavern walls. “Over here.”

Felix couldn’t believe it was happening. Just yesterday he was lying on his cot, the cavern soot covering his face, struggling to breathe. It was in that moment he realized a sun leak was his chance.

“You can take this one.” The man showed Felix to a propulsion lift system floating just above the ground. “Those blasters on the bottom are serious, so hang on. You’ll be up there in no time.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Felix said, checking the lift’s tool kit for the appropriate drill. “You ever get tired of this work?”

“What’re you talkin’ about?” The man was staring again, eyes fixed to the left of Felix’s lift. His gaze was lifeless.

“Forget it.”

“Be careful, buddy. You’ve gotten this far. Don’t wanna ruin an opportunity like site inspector.”

Felix stepped onto the hovering lift. He aligned his feet with the weight sensors, beginning his ascent.

The construction workers below became ant-sized creatures, their assistive bots silver dots in the darkness. Towering above the workers, trains sped by on the high-speed rails. Felix could almost see the passengers. He imagined them sipping lattes, marketed as all-organic coffee bean but engineered in an underground laboratory.

But Felix was above the rails now. He was above the construction workers. He was above the elite.

Tears again.

Felix had reached the sun leak. The sunlight emerged from a small imperfection in the surface. Well, an imperfection in the eyes of those workers, of the elite. He readied the drill from the lift’s tool kit, making sure to avoid sun beams in the process. He wanted to climb to the surface first, and see the sun as he remembered it. One last time.

Felix sat down on the lift. He activated his implantation device and browsed the “memory” function. Pictures of the surface, his old home, his child. Video footage of his wedding, just nine years earlier.

Suddenly, another news bulletin scrambled the memories:

Dear Americans, we have an ozone depletion rate update…

            Felix stood and shouldered the drill. The tip of the power tool began spinning, its vibrations moving through Felix’s torso. Felix thrust the spinning drill toward the sun leak, breaking off large chunks of rock and dirt.

Shouts from below echoed up to Felix’s position. He could hear bots taking flight, closing in with speed.

Once the sun leak was large enough, Felix engaged the “voice log” function of his implantation device. He spoke fast.


BEGIN – Voice Log of Felix Reslin – Recovered from Implantation Device #3247311 – Extracted Day 224 of year 2051:

I am Felix Reslin. This is day 223 of year 2051. I can’t stop thinking about the surface. I haven’t seen sunlight in four years. I wasn’t sent underground; it was my choice. But what choice did you give me? A construction worker. I chose to descend because I wanted to live. But this isn’t living. This isn’t living.

I can’t stop thinking about Miri and Jason. You promised me my family. And I have nothing left. I have nothing left to give.

Bots are coming. I’m climbing out.


I see plants. There are plants…


I’m not burning, and I’m breathing. I could be dead.


Are you military?

They said there was no one. How are we here?

Yes, I climbed. I work in construction.

How are we not burning? The depletion rate is almost ninety percent. How ar–




Luke Schamer is a writer and student at the University of Dayton in Ohio. For work, he owns and operates a music studio. Luke has a serious passion for fiction, and recently began writing in the winter of 2014. Luke seeks to tell innovative stories that address the depths of the human condition in unexplored ways.

No responses yet

Funeral by T. Mike McCurley

Jun 14 2015

We buried Thunderbolt in secret, just like we had Strongarm and all the others before him. It was a quiet ceremony, with only a few of us in attendance. As expected – as requested – it was raining. Cold droplets, like tiny bullets, whipped in on a brisk wind to scour exposed flesh and leave us chilled through to the bone. Geist sang Amazing Grace in that clear, vibrant voice of hers, and beneath our masks, we wept.

We are all buried in the same way: Secretly. The public sees a coffin; sees an accessible grave. That place soon becomes a kind of memorial, with mourners and curious alike coming from all corners to view the final resting place of Captain Such-And-Such or Mister Whatever. Their tears are welcomed there, as are their conversations and idle questions, their donated trinkets and handwritten cards. We as a community see the necessity for this. We do not begrudge or belittle the need to mourn. We simply do not bury our fallen where the press reports. Those caskets are empty of reality. Made-up dolls of latex and plastic, filled with sand, occupy the spaces beneath the stones at which citizens gather. To be sure, we attend, but the emotions are not the same.

The true funerals are reserved for those of us who actually knew the fallen. Gathered clandestinely in some place special to the dead, we inter them in our own way. Druidess wanted a clearing within a grove of oak, and we found one. Icepick had requested the Arctic Circle. We made that happen, too, despite some pretty impressive logistical issues. Thunderbolt? Top of a high hill during a storm. His element raged around us as we all said our silent farewells. It was fitting.

Following the burial, we adjourned to a cabin that Dyre owns, no more than a few dozen miles from the grave site. Some flew, some ran, others took cars. As it has always been, it was of no consequence how you got there, just that you arrived. Inside, it took all of three seconds for Blazer to have a fire roaring in the stone fireplace. It would have taken less time than that had he not been trying to control his output to prevent melting of the stones. The warmth penetrated each of us as soon as we entered, burning away the cold and damp that had worked their way into seemingly every joint.

We milled around the cabin for a few minutes, making – as standard at any such gathering – inane small talk, until the last of us had arrived. Once everyone was assembled, we gathered around the dining room table. Dyre had already poured the glasses for each of us. The first round was a light shot of Bushmill’s, Thunderbolt’s favorite, and we raised the glasses slowly toward the sky.


The word was spoken by all present, in a semblance of unity. Everyone drained their glass and lowered it slowly to the table. None of the cliched slamming onto the tabletop shown in movies. The glasses were lowered in much the same glacial slowness that one sees a flag lowered at a funeral. Respectfully. Regretfully. Silence fell.

“I remember,” Dyre said. The crossed swords emblem on his azure-suited chest rose and fell as he took in a deep breath. As host, it was his right to speak first. “I remember Thunderbolt standing on the bow of that yacht when we took on Tempest. The water under us just churning while Tempest tried to flip us. He’s just up there, like a statue or something. Feet braced, arms raised, lightning just pouring out of his hands and into the ocean. Tempest manifested. Came at us like a tornado across the water. Thunderbolt never flinched. Met him head-on, like he always did. I watched the two of them go at it for an hour.”

Though present, Dyre had been unable to assist in the waterborne battle. His close combat skills had no place in the environment in which the skirmish occurred, and he had regretted not being able to aid his partner. Even given that regret, that was his most precious memory of the hero. It said a lot about him as well as Thunderbolt. He followed his statement by pouring another Bushmill’s and raising it.

“To Thunderbolt.”

Next at the table was Geist. She lowered her head for a moment before speaking. It was strange sometimes, the dichotomy she presented. Outside, in the world where she dealt with so many, she was strong and fearless, standing tall and proud. Away from the crowds, she was another person entirely: shy and soft-spoken, her voice barely able to carry across the room. She rarely meets your gaze, and when she does, there is a hinted smile that tells you she would rather not be doing so at all.

“I remember him standing up in court. That broad stance he had, you know? Where he would put his feet out wide and turn his body to face you? Standing just like that, in a courtroom, with his arm out straight…pointing like the hand of God right at Louie Malletti.”

The picture had been front-page news the next morning, as his testimony had put away one of the mob’s most notorious hitmen. It had also put him on their radar for years, and he had spent a great deal of resources and energy fighting back against the various costumes they sent his way. Some of us had also been on the receiving end of a few of those attacks.

Geist poured another drink – water, this time – and toasted Thunderbolt as well.

“He dragged me out of a burning house,” Cortex murmured. The psion rarely spoke aloud, disdaining speech as being beneath him and choosing to communicate telepathically. It was a measure of respect that he voiced his words now. “Two years ago, during the Heldan Riots. I was cornered inside the building, my legs having been pierced by arrows shot from Nightstalker’s bow.”

Many of us had faced that bow at one time or another. Titanium, steel, and raw power. Arrows of carbon steel tipped with tungsten. It was capable of punching through armor plate if Nightstalker wished, and he had absolutely zero qualms about using it on living flesh. Overdrive was still in the hospital because of that damned thing, with a ventilator making up for his triply-punctured left lung.

“While I was unable to pursue him, Nightstalker set the house ablaze around me. Had Thunderbolt not arrived when he did, I am certain that you would have gathered around a table to salute me, instead.”

“Nobody said we’d salute you, Cortex,” Lady Mist said with a chuckle. A ripple of laughter spread around the table for a moment. She winked and stuck out her tongue to lighten any sting the remark may have made.

“Touche,” he said, grinning a bit. He lifted his newly-refilled glass. To Thunderbolt, he transmitted.

Delta was next to Cortex, and he took his cue from the silence to speak. His voice was raspy and mechanical, a result of a replaced larynx following a disastrous fight against The Eradicators some years back. The voice box was not the only replacement part. Delta could set off metal detectors from the next room. “He brought my mother flowers in the hospital when the cancer got her. Sat by her bed for a full day. He was there when she finally went.”

Carefully gripping his glass in a cybernetically-enhanced grasp, he hoisted it overhead. “To a man who I call Brother.”

Lady Mist raised a hand, waving it slightly in the air before her. A thick fog coalesced into being, taking the shape of Thunderbolt when he stood against the Ka’ar. The aliens had nearly killed him then, and almost everyone present had been a part of that war. Most of us had seen Thunderbolt as he stood, the majority of his costume shredded and blood coursing down his skin. We had seen the damage they had inflicted as he fought to repel them. We had been present when he had gone into the hospital and when he had emerged, triumphantly holding aloft his scarlet-gloved fist.

“I remember a man who stood tall no matter the odds. A man who fought and bled for the rights of others. I remember a true hero,” she ended, raising her glass. She didn’t bother with his name. It was not required. Everyone toasted in their own way, just as every drink after the first was the choice of the drinker. It was only the first call and first toast that belonged to the dead. Beyond that, as with all funerals, we were here for the feelings and needs of the still-living.

“He made me who I am today,” Blazer said, his voice soft and gentle, a direct counterpoint to his usual boisterous nature. “I was nobody back then, just a kid that burned shi…stuff,” he said, catching himself before uttering the imprecation. He had indeed been a child of the streets last year, and his language was only one part of it. He was making an attempt to clean up his act, though, and none of us held the occasional slip against him. Several of the group had been prepared to write Blazer off as hopeless; as an enthusiastic but unskilled rookie to the game. Thunderbolt, though, had taken the youth under his wing – as he had so many of us at one time.

“Taught me how to channel it, how to make the fire work for me instead of the other way around. Showed me there was more to living than just surviving.”

A smoking tear trailed down his cheek as he raised his glass. “To my friend.”

I looked at the table for a minute as everyone turned their gazes to me. Inhaling slowly, I let the breath out in a deep sigh. “I’ve seen him fight, you know? I’ve seen him fight and I’ve seen him relax. Seen him at his best and worst. Through it all, believe it or not, I still see him in the kitchen,” I said, fighting to keep my voice from cracking. “Down on Third and Elm? Saint Joan’s. I can remember him doling out food. No complaints, no feeling that he was better than anyone and just doing some charity work to keep his name good, just another normal guy helping out where he could.”

I left out the part about the scruffy alley rat that had come in for a handout when the Dumpsters came up dry. The one who had yet to discover his own metahuman abilities. The one who would one day stand at the head of this particular table, looking at the grain in the wood because he was embarrassed by his own past. The one who even now felt hot tears welling up in his eyes as he lifted a glass into the air.

“To the best of us all,” I said. “To Thunderbolt.”

“To Thunderbolt!” the others echoed, their voices filled with joy and sorrow at the same time.

Following the toast, we moved to the great room of the cabin and let our memories guide us through the next few hours. Each of us told their favorite Thunderbolt stories, whether good, bad, or indifferent. We spent the afternoon and evening thinking of the man and the sacrifice he had made, and honoring his memory. No one brought up the topic of Arsenal and how he had been responsible for bringing us to this place; none among us would spoil these moments with thoughts of revenge. This was Thunderbolt’s time.

Blazer was the first to leave – late as usual for one appearance or another on the ever-full agenda of the teen hero. Cortex followed soon after, and then it was generally acknowledged by those remaining that we had completed the ritual of mourning for our fallen partner. We helped Dyre clean up and then, one after another, filtered out the door and fled from thinking of the fate which we knew awaited us all. One day, every one of us would end up in a grave, with others left behind to toast our memory.

I had to land three times on the way home to wipe the tears from my eyes. I lied to myself at first; told myself it was the rain. I knew better, and soon I gave up trying to convince myself that it was anything other than the grief that it was. In my heart, I really had seen Thunderbolt as the best of us – as though somehow immortal, untouchable, above it all. It should have been one of us in that grave instead of him. Cortex, or Dyre. Any of a host of others, not only from our group but from costumes all over the planet. Anyone but Thunderbolt. Christ, even me! The world could do without me, but taking him?

I bit back on a fresh crying jag and touched down just outside the doors of Saint Joan’s. I thought about going inside and volunteering for the kitchen staff out of respect for his memory, but knew that would be little more than a sham on my part. Acting a part to assuage my guilt was no real homage to him. Had I half of his devotion I would have been there anyway.

Where do you go after you bury the man who taught you what it means to be strong? Not just ‘I can lift a truck’ strong, but that indomitable kind of spirit that lets you stand tall in the face of the worst that comes at you. I just stood beside a grave and watched as rain and mud covered the casket of the only person I truly believed was above me. The thought made me gag.

I stepped into the alley off Third, pausing beneath a fire escape that blocked the worst of the rain, and leaned my head against the side of a building. Even through my mask, the brick was cool. I let the tears come, rolling hot and thick down my face to blend with the rain. I squatted there, in the alley, as the emotions overtook me, and I held my head in my gloved hands.

Is this what it’s gonna be like, I wondered. I’m gonna die and they’ll have my funeral, and they’ll drink a toast to me and then just go home? Is this all there is? What’s the point?

A cat in the alley hissed and I looked up, realizing that I had been squatting there crying for several minutes with absolutely no knowledge of my surroundings. Hell, Arsenal could have been standing there and I would have missed him until the machine guns started up. I scanned the area. No eight-foot mechanical monstrosities. Always a plus, in the grand scheme of things.

There never seems to be anything to do on the day when you bury your best friend, either. Nothing to take your mind off what just happened. No petty crime you can stop, no autograph sessions – well, I suppose Blazer is an exception – and no places worth going to. Everything serves to make you think more and more about what you’ve just done. You just stood in the rain and shoveled dirt onto your friend. Someone you’ll never see again. You’ll never laugh with them or see them throw darts, or drink a beer with them, or loan them your screwdriver when they need to fix that stupid refrigerator yet again, or sit and talk with them when your wife leaves you because you never seem to be able to make the relationship work since you’re constantly unavailable. You won’t ever get to show them the new sculpture you finally finished, even though they were going to get to see it first before the gallery put it on display. You won’t get to congratulate them on that three-year smoke-free anniversary next month.

I wanted another drink. Something hard and painful, to burn away the thoughts. I knew it was irrational thinking, but there was that part of me screaming for anything to take my mind off the sound of wet dirt slapping down onto the lid of that coffin. That thick, gelatinous sound, like oatmeal dropped onto a floor. It was ringing in my ears and whiskey might well take it away.

Where was I going to go? It wasn’t as if I’d be inconspicuous strolling into a bar in a wet white costume. Folks in liquor stores aren’t prone to simply having a costume step in and snag a bottle of Jameson’s. Not likely that they’d just nod and say, “Evening, Whitechapel. You see the Sanford and Son marathon on Channel 54? That Fred, man. He cracks me up.”

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do but think. That’s what happens when you bury a friend.

I took off again, unwilling to just hang around the alley until I came up with a better idea than simply, ‘get a drink’. The air was cold on my face, but I flew on, going faster and higher. I didn’t consciously think about where I was going, but I knew where I would end up before I ever left the ground. It was the only place I could land. The only place that mattered.

The rain had turned the area surrounding the grave into a sodden mess, and the musty, sweet-smelling dirt that had been piled atop the hole was running off in reddish-gray rivulets that threatened to stain the pure white that was my costume. I didn’t care. Tomorrow I would start to track down Arsenal and bring him to justice. Today, I sat on the ground beside the grave of my friend and just let the rain fall on me. It felt good, cleansing, like somehow it was taking all my anger, all my doubts, all my fears with it, sending them all cascading down to merge with all the days that Thunderbolt didn’t have left.


Author Bio:
T. Mike McCurley lives in a small city in Oklahoma, where indeed, “the wind comes sweeping” and all that. He began writing superhero prose on a whim one day, and found it enjoyable enough to continue. His short stories soon formed the backbone of what became known as the world of The Emergence, describing events and players in a world of metahumanity that began in 1963 and has continued to grow since. From there came the stories of the metahuman cop known as Firedrake, which has now filled three books, with a fourth in the works. He is a founding member of the Pen and Cape Society, an online cabal of authors of superhero prose, and his Emergence setting will soon be featured in Lester Smith’s D6xD6 roleplaying game.

In another (non-writing) life he has been a radiological monitor, an emergency medical technician, a private investigator, a videographer, a certified GLOCK armorer, and a dozen other things too varied and goofy to list in one space together.

His works can be found linked at and at the Pen and Cape Society, .

No responses yet

The Binding Agent by Douglas J. Ogurek

Jun 07 2015

“But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” – Luke 22:51


A gowgrack stunner, unoccupied at the base of a Dovenan mountain, disrupted Preater Clogavris’s journey to the woorg factory. Gowgrack dragons never descended from the mountaintops, and never hurt people. Unless provoked. Clogavris slipped a card into the machine. “Please stop exploiting gowgracks. They need their horns to survive.”

He picked up his architectural drawings, and then resumed his journey. A sculpture swelled and glimmered ahead. It was cast in woorg, and likely designed by Glave, the long-missing creator of the vaporism school of design.

What new woorg colors would Meegard Alphang have at the factory to which Glogavris was headed? An explosion behind Clogavris. He screamed and fell.

The gowgrack stunner was in rubbles, and from the smoke emerged a man whose hands moved like butterflies. “There’s my good deed for the day.”

“You nearly killed me. You nearly killed a legend.”

“Trick is, if I didn’t stop those horn hunters, the billop may have killed ‘em.” The man was a lunatic: the billop was a mythical creature.

Clogavris rose, then lit his clawft.

The lunatic’s fingers wiggled before Clogavris’s flumeblade medallion. “Swords to bowls! You’ve studied under Glyde Rivulus?”

“The student shall surpass the master.”

“Flumeblade plants. They have their healing extracts, and what’s in ya. But those leaves are sharp, and I’ve been cut.” The lunatic, swaying, unrolled a sketch of a castle. A solid design, but rather dull. Clearly stone. Nothing like woorg.

Clogavris blew a blade of light blue smoke, and then adorned it with red slashes. He resumed his journey.

The lunatic followed. “I’m Francis Sheatherton. What name do you go by?”


“May I see your drawing?”

“Its vaporistic beauty may kill you.”

Sheatherton made a sound that resembled a stream. “The billop has a portal in its lair. That’s the live truth. A portal to other lands where it protects others of its kind.”

Symphonically the sculpture ahead blended the streams and the clouds. A rock smashed into the sculpture. Its woorg clanged.

Sheatherton’s hands fluttered. “Glave. The fool with the flute.”

That stoneclinger had the audacity to insult the musician-architect Glave, who could mimic the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures?

The smoke from Clogavris’s clawft tasted brilliant, and eccentric. “Woorg trounces stone.”

“I tell you the live truth: woorg says it like it isn’t.”


Clogavris exhaled sails of teal and violet, and then wrapped them in black barbs. “I cast tranquility in woorg.”


Branches, lolling beneath a tolerant sky, crinkle within their casings of ice and snow.

An air horn blasts, and there is the smell of burnt hair. Snow-laden vegetation screens three snowmobiles.

A young man stares over his glasses and shakes a bottle. He monotones on a cell phone. “No. No. Mom…no. Whatever.”

Another man—he has a red Mohawk—growls up phlegm. He taps an air horn against a shield-shaped belt buckle. “Hey Dodo. Quit jerking off over there.”

Dodo pockets the phone, twitches. He shakes the bottle, then pulls one of his arms into his jacket. “I’m Mr. Rivers, right? One-arm Rivers?” He twists and the jacket arm flaps.

A third young man plows into Dodo. Dodo drops the bottle and his glasses fall off. The two of them thump into the snow. The tackler imitates a crowd. “Haaaa. Look at that.” He stands. “Haaaa. Let me hear yaaaa.”

Dodo groans, twitches.

The tackler looks at his watch. “Ten seconds, haaaa. Stay down. Ralph, Ralph, how’s that? Stay down. Twenty-five seconds. Stay down bitch.”

Ralph pockets the horn, then snaps off a branch. Dodo rolls onto his back.

“Forty seconds. Haaaaow’s that Ralph? You stay down bitch.”

Ralph whips Dodo with the branch. “Get up ya fucking retard.”

“Fifty-four, fifty-five aaaand…”

Dodo throws snow. “You’re a glarch dick, Ward, you glarch dick.”

“Sixty.” Ward makes the cheering sound and clasps his hands over his head. “Sixty seconds, glarch. In high school man? Pops would’ve given me ten bucks for that hit. Ten bucks for each minute down. Let me hear ya, Ralph.”

Dodo stands, then retrieves his bottle and his glasses.

Ward points at the sky. “Look it that shit. That’s like an Easter egg or something.”

Ralph holds a can of mace before Ward’s face. “Glarch, I invented that word glarch.”

“Ralph…Ralph, sor-jeez. It’s just the sky. It looks cool.”

Ralph blows the air horn by Ward’s ear.

Dodo makes electric guitar sounds and twists the cap off his bottle, decorated with pink, orange, and blue swirls, and clouds.

Ralph growls, spits. “Give that here.” He taps the bottle against his buckle. “Passion Fruit Seren…whatever the fuck.” He hurls the bottle at a tree. The glass falls on a dog tied to the tree. One of its ears is torn off. It paws at its eyes, and bone pokes out of a contorted rear leg.

Ralph uses the branch to whip the dog’s face. Then it whines as Ralph ties a rope around its front legs and Ward ties a rope around its back legs. Dodo watches them over his glasses and pretends to play guitar.

Ralph and Ward tie the other ends of the ropes to their snowmobiles. Red jaws snarl on Ralph’s helmet. A similar symbol, drawn amateurishly, is on Ward’s helmet.

The snowmobiles start. Dodo gets on his hands and knees by the dog. “Stay down, stay down bitch.”

The snowmobiles advance in opposite directions.


The woorg makers looking up at Preater Clogavris and Meegard Alphang ignored the loud sound at the back of the factory. It sounded, Clogavris thought, triumphant.

Absurdly a gowgrack dragon horn jutted from Alphang’s head. He pretended to point a crossbow down at the workers as he addressed them. “Cower beneath his brilliance. Grovel for his inspiration. Curse your creative endeavors at the sight of his work.” Alphang bowed—the horn nearly stabbed Clogavris—and the workers bowed. Alphang continued. “Here prevails the designer of Shorelance Castle. Here prevails the future designer of the Splendor in the Sculpture Vale. Here prevails Preater Clogavris.” Blow your flute at that, Glave.

When the cheers abated, Clogavris pulled out his clawft, then tapped his lips. “Get me smoking leaves. Pink, light blue, silver.”

Woorg sculptures and other vaporistic artwork, likely Glavian, swelled among the machinery on the factory floor. Alphang feigned swordplay. “I’m expecting another designer, the Azure Inferno. Do you know him?”

“Obscure Inferno.”

“Azure…oh…Obscure.” Alphang laughed, dexterously.

“He hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting me yet.”

Alphang guided the observation gallery to the peak of a tall aggregate pile, and then grabbed a handful. “Woorg starts with this, and ends there.” He pointed his horn across the factory, toward a gate that proclaimed its vaporistic superiority with shimmering swells of woorg.

Alphang zigzagged his imaginary sword before Clogavris. “Fool am I to question you, but what do you suppose lies beyond that gate?”

As Clogavris contemplated the response to best sustain his reputation, his clawft streaked ash across Alphang’s uniform.

Alphang stared at it, and his horn glimmered. That laugh lunged again. “A true honor. A signature from Preater Clogavris, whose clawft exhalations make mine look paltry.”

“I am vapor.” The peal from across the factory again. It sounded much like the trumpets that resounded on the day that Shorelance Castle was completed.

“Past that gate, we gather the binding agent. It allows us to bind one one surge of woorg to another, while permitting the flexibility that you so deftly achieve with your buildings.”

A shout: “To arms, to arms.” The machinery stopped. The warning came from a worker stationed at an upper-level window.

Alphang grasped a crossbow, shouted at the workers. “Arms arms prepare.” He guided the gallery toward the window. “Gouges. A sceptern. He may have seen a sceptern flying by.”

First a billop, now a sceptern? Had reason completely fled Dovena? The workers hurried. They had crossbows and swords. When they reached the entry, they stopped. They peered up at the gallery, which continued toward the window.

Clogavris clutched his flumeblade medallion. How to show his indifference? His higher-level aesthetic concerns? He turned his back to them, and admired the vaporistic flourishes on the ceiling.

Alphang’s horn scraped against something. The gallery stopped. They had reached the window. Alphang analyzed the treetops. “We’ve used bowseeds and hailberries to lure them. I shall wear the neck of a sceptern.” First, the scepterns had died out years ago. Second, when they lived, their necks were longer than a man’s arm.

Clogavris raised his medallion. “When the Splendor in the Sculpture Vale is complete, the sun shall worship it.”

“I shall wrap its neck around my neck, and, by gashes, its sumptuous feathers shall adorn me.”

Below them, the workers waited at the entry.

But what finally appeared in the tree was a common canerock. “Gouges.” Alphang growled, and fired the crossbow. The bird tumbled to the ground. Alphang screamed at the workers. “Get back, or get gored. Get back to your posts.”

When Glyde Rivulus bequeathed to Clogavris the flumeblade medallion, he said, “Heed life.”

The peal from beyond the gate returned. The trumpet sounded that day, and the whole of Dovena gathered beneath Shorelance Castle’s swells of woorg to praise Clogavris’s design.

A worker ascended to the gallery, then presented the smoking leaves that Clogavris had requested. Alphang threw aggregate in the worker’s face. “He said silver. Those leaves smoke light green.”

The worker rocked pitiably and stared at the floor. “Sorry I’m very sorry. I’ll pick these up and, sorry, I’ll get another. I’ll get the silver.” A drop of his sweat fell on the floor. “Oh, oh, here…I—for this, I am sorry.” He rubbed it with his finger, and it left a tiny smudge.

Alphang glared at the smudge. His head quivered, and his gowgrack horn glistened. He

pulled out his knife. “Silver. This is silver. See?” He thrust it into the worker’s eye, then pushed him off the gallery. The worker fell a hundred feet before he hit the floor.

The trumpet-like peal intensified as Alphang guided the gallery closer to the gate. He talked about woorg, and about some of the art pieces. Most of the sculptures down there were designed by Glave. Alphang stopped the gallery above a huge vat filled with slush. The slush was black, and brutal. It looked nothing like the final product.

On another gallery, a worker escorted someone toward them. The figure’s hands were in the front pocket of a brown cowl, and he wore a brown mask. His belt clanked when he stepped onto their gallery. Sword handles dangled from his belt. The worker introduced him as the Azure Inferno.

Alphang whirled his invisible sword. “By gashes, there’s nothing azure about you, Azure Inferno.”

The sword handle belt clinked, and the black slush below hissed.

Alphang ridiculed. “Where are you from, Azure Inferno? The level hills?”

The Azure Inferno started to remove his hands from the cowl, but then stopped. “Donow.”

“Pierces. You don’t know?”

“DohNOW.” Donow Village. Glyde Rivulus had designed many of its small stone structures. Nothing remotely vaporistic.

The slush grumbled, and Alphang tapped his gowgrack horn. Its point came within two feet of Clogavris’s head. “Cower, Obscure Inferno. You stand before a great designer.” The Azure Inferno bowed, only slightly, toward Clogavris.

Clogavris exhaled pink and light blue ribbons, then sliced through them with silver from the leaves he’d finally received. “Woorg up?”

“Gouges.” Alphang pointed at the belt. “What good is a handle without a blade?”

From beneath the Azure Inferno’s mask came a strange sound, much like the stream sound that stoneclinger Sheatherton had made.

As the tour continued, Clogavris smoked his clawft, Alphang intermittently interrupted his woorg discourses to discuss the sceptern, and the Azure Inferno clinked. They drew closer to the gate, and the peal grew louder.

The last stop before the gate was a massive block from which the workers retrieved dazzling swells of woorg. But the gate and the sound behind it were what most impressed Clogavris.

Alphang brought the gallery to the floor. His pretend sword prodded the gate. He shouted over the peal. “Brace yourselves. The binding agent bids us.”

Clogavris touched the gate’s woorg. Its surface, slightly sticky, felt confident, everlasting.

The peal grew louder, and the Azure Inferno’s hands hatched from his cowl. The brown mask drew close to Clogavris. “He says it like it isn’t.” And those hands flapped and wiggled and twirled. They moved…azurely. Surely it was Sheatherton. Sheatherton, who hated woorg.

The gate began to open.


Consolingly the vestiges of a jet’s bellow settle on the forest.

Ralph urinates into a beer can in the snow. “The fuck is that retard?”

Ward takes off his helmet, looks into the trees. “Look it that.”

“Maybe the glarch went to go jerk off and listen to those long-hair fags.”

“Yeah, Ralph. Yes-ha.” Ward twitches, inverts one foot, mumbles. “Fucking Bazooka Compromise. Death metal, man. They’re the shit, man.”

Ralph grumbles up phlegm, picks up the can.

“How’s this, Ralph? See that black squirrel there? The black one? My dad said the other ones got to watch out for them black ones. Them black ones’ll steal all the others’ nuts. How’s that? The black ones.”

Ralph taps his shield buckle. “I’ll bash your brains in with this, ya twiggy bastard.”

Ward points at his ear. “Hear those branches man? Creaking and shit? How’s that? My mom, she’d probably paint this here. All this shit, with the branches? And this fucked up sky?”

Ralph blows the air horn six inches from Ward’s face.

Ward puts his hands on his knees and groans. “Shit, ah shit Ralph. What did you, what’s the troublem?”

“I’ll snap that twig of a bitch in half.” Ralph yanks off a branch. “Shit, I need me some whiskey, boy.”

“How’s this, boy? We’re gonna get fucked up at Dodo’s tonight. Where is that glarch-tard? His parents got this anniversary shit and they’re gone till Friday.” Ward clasps his hands over his head. “We’ll get fucked up, boy.”

Snowflakes dissolve in Ralph’s red Mohawk. Three times he flicks the beer can. The urine splashes in Ward’s face.

Ward spits. “Awph glarch we’ll get…where is that glarch? Where’s that fucking glarch-tard Dodo?”

“Hey…bam. What’s that? Bam. What is it?”

“I don’t know. What’s that?”

“The sound when your dad shot himself. Bam.”


Like giant jeweled claws, woorg sculptures stretched over the three of them. They were in a courtyard.

A butterfly flitted before Clogavris. How weak its reddish-browns and tans looked compared to the woorg’s celestial colors.

The sword handle belt clinked, and the Azure Inferno made that strange stream sound. It had to be Sheatherton. The butterfly landed on his brown cowl. The creature’s colors resembled the stone of Donowan structures.

Alphang bowed, pretended to rest his head on a sword’s handle. “Behold: my sculpture garden. Glave designed most of these…”

The sound that swept over Alphang’s words contained not just the celebratory blast of the trumpet, but the cheers of thousands of Dovenans, and across one gap deep in the garden stretched thick bars.

The peal continued, and the butterfly took flight. Alphang rose, glowered at the butterfly. The worker’s blood still stained his knife.

The sound stopped. Alphang growled, closed in on the defenseless creature. Clogavris remembered the worker screaming, clutching his bleeding face. Alphang swatted at the butterfly, missed it.

Magisterially the sculptures flickered and swelled and rippled and grappled. The woorg prevailed.

Clogavris veiled himself in clouds of pink and light blue, hooked with silver. Alphang’s grunts penetrated the smoke.

A clang resounded.

Clogavris stepped out of the clawft cloud. Alphang, his gowgrack horn askew, huddled in the fold of a sculpture. His horn had rammed into it.

The butterfly fluttered out of sight. There was something in the stone that Glyde Rivulus had used. Something in its course surfaces and earthen tones that Clogavris’s teacher admired. But Rivulus hadn’t been progressive enough to use woorg.

Alphang adjusted his horn, and then used his knife to tap a trough. One end of it entered the factory wall. The other rose into the sculpture garden. “Behold, my binding agent. By gouges, it is beautiful. No binding agent, no woorg. No woorg, no vaporistic structures.” Through the trough and into the factory flowed a thick liquid that gleamed viciously.

Again the sound overtook the garden, and something swept through that same gap with the bars. Something colorful and bright and sail-like, and in that sound, there was a desperation not in the trumpet’s peal. That worker convulsed in a pool of his blood after Alphang pushed him off the gallery.

The sail swept by again. Red yellow green blue.

Alphang drove down his imaginary sword. “Go into my garden. Strike out at the wonder at its core.”

A worker swept by the gap. He held a long pole, and looked up.

The peal again—there was a gurgling in it—and the Azure Inferno was gone.

Clogavris clutched his clawft. “That sound is…” He exhaled blades of silver.

Alphang bowed. “You will see its source when you step over there.” His horn pointed at a sculpture that rose higher and stood more gallantly than any of the others.

That sculpture gloated as Clogavris approached it. Its shape thumped and its colors chanted. Clogavris rounded the sculpture, and its illustrious texture merged with the peal.

A large gap at the garden’s core revealed not a sail, but the wing of a caged creature. Long tubes connected to the underside of its wings, and its neck, glistening with brilliant colors, rose column-straight between sculptures. A huge woorg swell obstructed Clogavris’s view of where a thick pipe met the creature’s head.

Alphang’s voice chopped behind Clogavris. “Behold, the billop, the great guardian of beasts.”

“Where… a myth.”

“Tremble at the truth.” The billop was reputed to discharge a scent—it smelled like cinnamon—that immobilized its victims. Then it clamped them in its spiked wings. The spikes injected a toxin that caused unimaginable pain and eventually, death.

A worker used the sharp pole to prod the creature. The billop released its gurgling howl. Clogavris stuffed more leaves into his clawft.

Alphang tipped back his head, held the knife’s tip just above his lips. “That pipe pumps precious metals and gems into its stomach so it can’t release the scent. Then we agitate it. What do you suppose happens then?”

The multicolored wing banged against the cage. Clogavris nearly dropped his clawft.

“By gashes, it makes the binding agent. It drips from its spikes, and we collect it.” Alphang shouted at the creature, then pretended to shoot it with a crossbow.

From beyond the garden’s walls glided a birdsong that merged the strength of kings with the beauty of…what?

Alphang ran. His horn crashed into one of the sculptures, then he fell. “Pierces. Did you hear that?”

The clinking of the sword handle belt. The Azure Inferno, his hands aflutter, ran to them. “I just saw a sceptern. Outside the garden. It flew toward the woods.”

Alphang rose, shouted, “Arms arms, take arms, by gouges. Take arms.”

Clattering from the center of the garden. Alphang adjusted his horn. “A sceptern, a sceptern. I shall have a sceptern.” Shouting and grasping the horn, he ran tipsily out of the garden. The workers followed.

Clogavris and the Azure Inferno were alone. The latter removed his mask. It was Sheatherton. “You need to release the billop. The trick is you must work quickly.” The creature howled. Sheatherton’s hands thrashed and he yelled. “It’s suffering, suffering greatly, and that’s the live truth.” He’d known the billop was there. “Release the latches and you will free it.”

Clogavris had struggled to solidify his reputation as a meticulous designer, and a meticulous designer could not be rushed. “Get me smoking leaves. Something in a mauve.”

“There’s no time for that. You have to release it, while I keep them occupied.” Sheatherton fumbled under his cowl, removed a flute. His fingers twiddled over the instrument. “Sounds a lot like a sceptern, no?”

“You made that birdcall?”

“I did.” Sheatherton’s hands flailed towards the sculptures. “And I made these.”

The bizarre figure standing before Clogavris was the Azure Inferno, and Francis Sheatherton. And he was Glave, the long ago-vanished inventor of vaporism. Glave, who mimicked the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures.

“These sculptures, Shorelance Castle, any woorg structure. They say it like it isn’t. Your master Rivulus was right; I was wrong. Release the latches. Set the billop free.”

Clogavris tapped his clawft against a sculpture and it chimed. “It will kill me.” And it would kill all the structures he was destined to design.

“Nafh. It’s only after those who knowingly harm others of its kind.”

Clogavris kept tapping, and the chime paid homage to his distinctiveness.

Francis Sheatherton/the Azure Inferno/Glave put the flute beneath his cowl. “Every structure that we’ve cast in woorg is born of these creatures’ suffering. Release it. It’s in ya to release it.” With hands fluttering and sword handle belt clinking, he retreated.

The creature’s wing, vibrant as one of Clogavris’s clawft clouds, slapped against the cage. The latches clattered.

Clogavris tapped, and the woorg chimed.

Then the billop wailed.

Clogavris stayed his clawft, clutched his flumeblade medallion. “The flumeblade plant can scar,” his teacher had said. “And it can heal. Listen to its leaves.”

Clogavris hurled his clawft over the garden’s wall.


A chirp swabs at the winter-battered woodland and summons spring.

A blare overtakes the chirp.

Ralph, wearing his helmet and red-lensed goggles, taps the air horn against his shield belt buckle. He stretches his neck, yells into the forest. “Ward, ya dumb fuck. Ward.”

The sky is pink and orange. Ralph mumbles, “The fuck is that twiggy bastard?”

The branches crinkle, and Ralph removes his belt. He repeatedly whips a tree with the buckle.

The chirp resumes. Ralph sounds the air horn until its blare fades. The chirp continues. He presses the button, but the horn makes no sound.

“Shut up, bitch. I’ll snap you in two, you bitch. I’ll snap…” He hurls the horn into the trees.

He stretches his neck, and his arms. He removes a flask from a compartment on his snowmobile. A light blue feather trembles by his boot. He depresses one nostril, expels mucous. It misses the feather.

Water drops cover the red jaws on his helmet. He opens the flask, shouts, “You glarch bastards. I got the fucking whiskey. It’s right here.”

Before the flask gets to his mouth, his arm pauses. His body remains motionless for seconds, minutes, and there is an aroma. Cinnamon.



Douglas J. Ogurek’s fiction appears in the British Fantasy Society Journal, The Literary Review, Gone Lawn, Morpheus Tales, Wilderness House Literary Review, and several anthologies. Ogurek founded the literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g., extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a Christian message. He is the communications manager of a Chicago-based architecture firm, where he has written over one hundred articles about facility planning and design. Ogurek also reviews films at Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. More at

No responses yet

The Means Whereby I Live By Liam O’Neill

May 24 2015

Of the recent recession I will not propose anything new, nor already written down. Only this: all the good jobs have been taken.

However, this has never stopped my wife, Buddleia, from forcing me to go on her lousy trips. Once a month she insists we pack and take a shuttle somewhere ‘new’. Presently, we were home from one such a trip. It took Buddleia no longer than a day to commence her infernal nagging. She came to me in my solar just as I sat down to sculpt. I was going to recreate a piece from the Ross Tobain Fall Collection, you know the one, the one with the pipe.

This is our monthly routine, like re-runs of over watched cartoons. Hand on hips, she whines about money, demands I go acquire her more credits. “For the family,” she insisted. “Our children will think their father is a bum.”

To be sure, it is alright that she is a stay-at-home. Gods forbid if I am.

Part of me believes she just likes to drag me to random planets at the ass-end of the galaxy. To gloat at all those poor sods trapped on their barren rocks. Show them how well-to-do we are.

“I’m a sculptor, damn it,” I told her. “I need time to create.” She was having none of it. ‘The arts don’t pay,’ after all.

“You’re wasting your life,” she said. “I would like to plan a trip to New Saturn next month.”

“We just came home from a trip.”

“We need another,” she said. “The Ebonwoods have been on two since we left. Do you want to fall behind?”

I sighed. “No.” I shoved my severed lion’s paw back into its drawer. The statue can wait, I guess. As I walked passed her she gave a triumphant smile. I tried not to let it bother me as I left for the clinic.

It’s not the idea of working I don’t like, it’s that damned clinic. Our People’s Clinic, it’s called. For those of you unfamiliar with the OPC it’s an educational examination facility. That’s their prissy way of saying they do legal trial runs of new age drugs and science equipment. My problem, however, is not that I am an amateur guinea pig. My problem is that I can never find the damn building before it closes.


About a year ago the OPC allowed the testing of a new teleportation module created by Oba Corp. Ideally the contraption would encompass a single being within a two meter sphere and send them to any desired location within a one kilometer radius. Consequently what happened was the machine created a one kilometer sphere, which was enough to cover the whole facility and a local pizza parlour, lastly, the sphere teleports randomly every five and a half minutes. Luckily, it does so in a two kilometer radius around its original location. At least it’s narrowed down.

As you can imagine, this caused chaos for morning traffic. Hundreds of employees constantly flying in circles through the city trying to find the bloody thing. It’s a nightmare. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but the OPC has a zero tolerance policy for being late. What was worse still was six months ago when the OPC began testing a new combat stimulant for the military, which the media dubbed ‘Berzerkoid’, fifty testies, as we like to call ourselves, broke loose while on Berzerkoid just as the sphere materialized in front of Dave’s Pet Emporium. Needless to say Dave went out of business that day. Bloody shame too, Dave was such a nice guy.

After three hours of flying and thanks to the social media page #whereistheOPC I found the clinic.

I sat down in my usual corner in the waiting room, on one of those hovering chairs. You know, the kind with no back and sort of teeters to the side when you lean. They are the same kind that did that mass recall about year ago because too many citizens were becoming seasick while sitting on them. Give me one of those antique legged chairs any day. Those are reliable.

The room itself was excessively cool, and everything in it was that awful white only colour scheme. It made me regret not bringing sunglasses. I think institutions such as these use that scheme to either make the room appear sterile and well maintained or to periodically blind patients to ensure repeat business.

Of the dozen or so occupants in the room only three were worth mentioning. The first: a yeti, by the looks of him, who blended too well against the white wall. On first glace I had mistaken him for one of those purple floating head creatures form the Gzestri galaxy. The second of note was a slug-being from the swamps of New Toronto. Its blubbery torso sagged off the sides of its chair. The natural sludge it produces formed a ringed puddle on the floor around it. The third being was Ukjit.

Ukjit and I share little in common save for the OPC. He’s an Ionian. Ionian as in ion, not Attica. Trust me, it matters. Like any third grade teaching slave will tell you, the Ionian’s rose to power in the early 80`s during the Jupiter wars. It was then that they began the art of augmentation. At birth the Ionians graft metals to their gelatinous worm babies in place of their organic parts. Originally this was to produce the galaxy’s most elite warriors. However, that was aeons ago and before their inevitable fall. Today they continue to augment themselves, but only to make their lives more viable.

For example, Ukjit had an iron rebreather in place of his mouth, to better breathe exotic atmospheres, a copper arm above the organic one on his left side to do the majority of tasks. Lastly, like all Ionians, he has no feet. In their place is a hover unit that uses three points of articulation to suspend him little more than a foot off the ground. Needless to say this made all Ionians quite plump. Picture, if you will, a marshmallow the size of a donkey, wrinkled and twice as chalky.

I have never actually spoken to Ukjit, nor any Ionian for that matter, but I have heard they sound like a wheezing dog in heat. I’m not sure what a dog is or why it’s so hot, but one can wonder.

I nodded to Ukjit, he nodded back.

To kill time, I picked up one of the many magazine chips that were massed on the coffee table before me, loaded it into the media slot in my arm. It turned out to be one of those ‘beauty’ magazines. I emphasize beauty because everything in it is far from glamorous. Take this spread on page nine. It’s by our good friends at Oba Corp. It reads: “No longer feeling intimate with your loved one? Sick of being the same old species and/or subspecies? Release your inner beauty. Try milk!” Then there is a picture of a like-potato with a sombrero and a pair of those ancient x-ray glasses. You know, the kind that are nothing like our x-ray glasses, ours work. At the bottom of the page is something about harvesting eternal souls. I dare not read on, I only have a limited time in this universe, after all. Besides, you get the picture.

At this juncture in time an Earthling female entered the room, introduced herself as the nurse. She wore the height of modern fashion; a pink dress with a thick purple brim, around her neck was an eggshell collar so large that the lip rested at her eye level. You know, the kind of collar that makes one’s neck look long and their shoulders thin. Her hair was held back by a small latex cap, a large red plus sign at its center.

I turned to Ukjit, rolled my eyes. He gave me what was either a smile or a scowl. I decided it was a smile.

The nurse cleared her throat, fed us the usual instructions off the data slate she held. She said: “Good day. You will each be prescribed an unknown dose of experimental medicinal by-product. Upon completing the testing phase you will learn what you were prescribed. This is to rule out the placebo effect. The testing phase will be completed after three pings are sounded. A single ping means food, two pings means food food.” She paused for a moment and wiped something out. “Sorry, about that. Two pings means something has gone awry and emergency personal have been dispatched. Emergency procedures can be found on page one-thirty-seven of your pamphlets. We thank you for your time and for choosing the OPC as your number one testing facility. Enjoy.”

The nurse bowed, walked to the back room, then wheeled around the Dotchfalo orb. This is what they used to decide which new age drug to prescribe us as well as which doctor.


The orb itself was about the size of a mango, the pentahedrons that covered its surface were colour coded. The nurse touched a button on her data slate. A magnifying plate descended from the ceiling, hung in front of the orb. The lights went out and the sphere lit up. The nurse spun it on her palm and it flashed its brilliant colours over our faces.

All the testies cheered.

When the lights stopped flashing at random whoever cheered the loudest for that colour won that colour. You see, the colours corresponded with matching doors in the main hall. Behind said doors waited the doctors. However, this way takes an awful long time. You see, you are able to rebid on colours if you find one that better suits your aura. It also doesn’t help when two beings really want a certain colour. They always scream until one passes out. Thus allowing the one with the larger lung capacity to prevail.

I will keep this part short: No one cheered for blue. I got mauve.

Next we were herded en masse down a narrow hall, separated into offices to see which doctor we won. For the third time in a row I got Von-Spritzer. A curious fellow to be sure. You see, Von-Spritzer was a little Grey. Forgive my derogatory language, I know the A-word is taboo, but his people were aliens. You know, the kind that abducted Earthlings in those adorable flying disks of theirs. Only they did not abduct Earthlings for sport or experiments. As we all know today, they did it for the Earthling’s hair. The Greys cannot grow hair, so they must shave the heads, or bodies, of other species. Some species want enlarged reproductive organs, others want neon spandex, the Greys want a luscious head of hair. Von-Spritzer was very proud of his all natural Earthling hair. He told me once: “It’s passed down from father to son for many generations.”

As always, Von-Spritzer was strictly business. His hair bounced as he handed me a single yellow pill and a glass of chilled milk to wash it down. While I drank the smooth liquid, his immense opal eyes watched my hairy head, a thin pool of saliva flooded at the edges of his slit-like mouth. I decided it was time for a trim.

I swallowed the pill and was forced to hall once more with the other testies. The nurse herded us down it, via cattle prods and the like, until we reached the ‘Observation Lounge’. The room was roughly the size of a standard Earthling garage. Its contents were at the height of modern fashion. The walls were azure laminate, the floor was checkered noire and ivory. At the back, on a straw carpet, was an oval lemon teletube and two couches. Even the guard on the other side of the candy cane barrier rope was fitted with a pink latex suit and an opaque rounded helmet to match his dapper surroundings. He resembled, dare I say, an Earthling member.

Ukjit and I took our usual places on the tartan couch, the one situated directly in front of the teletube. The other testies, the new ones at least, began to mingle amongst themselves. On the second couch sat the slug-being, the one from New Toronto. It watched me very intently. Too intently. My eyes met its eyestalks. I smiled nervously. It farted back a hello.

“Hello,” I stammered. It began to speak in long sentences. You know, the way slugs-beings do, in that half fart half dying feline sound. The Earthling throat cannot pronounce slug-speak properly, but one can learn to understand it. The reverse is same for slugs-beings and Earthish. Try it for yourself. See, you sound foolish.

“I’m well, thank you, yourself?” I replied.

It farted and wheezed in response.

“Well it’s nice to meet you, Eggers. Is this your first time?… Yes, I’ve been there.. Oh you don’t say… You were the one with Ephrum… I see… Oh that, that was the old ball and chain… Haha, yes you did have quite the stellar moves… A what?… Mating ritual?… No, no I’m sorry, I didn’t know that’s what you were… I’m a what?… I am married, good sir… No, I don’t need ‘time’ to think about it… No, I’m not coming onto you… We’re not compatible… Says who? Says science… Your species asexually reproduces, you don’t even have the proper parts… That just makes me more worried… NO! I am not putting that there… A what? I don’t know that word… Oh, that’s just not right Eggers, not right at all… No, no, no don’t start…”

My newfound ‘friend’ began singing its rendition of Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor. It didn’t sound half bad, if truth be told, once you got past the gaseous noises and moldy foot smell. Having two vocal cavities truly works wonders.

Before it finished, however, the yeti stomped towards us. It towered over little Eggers, barked threats to stop singing. The next words exchanged, of which I dare not repeat, were like a sudden stamp of silence that ushered in a new era of malevolence. The whole room watched on, even the penis guard was curious now.

There was brief moment of silence. Eggers wriggled closer to the yeti. Comfortingly it placed an eyestalk on the yeti’s leg. Farted: “Are you coming onto me?”

The yeti howled an inconceivable racial slur, which only made Eggers all the more randy. Immediately two pings sounded over the PA, but they were lost in the chaotic uproar. Everyone in the room, save Ukjit and myself who resumed watching the teletube, tried to pry apart the yeti and little Eggers. The latter had made its way onto the former’s face and began thrusting, continuing its rendition of Bach’s masterpiece.

In the ensuing brouhaha a Floundorian lost its composure, reached for my arm. I immediately grabbed a discarded food tray, and with a thwack, I sent him reeling away, grasping his scaly head. Later, I would learn the poor fellow was concussed. Not that I’m proud or anything.

With a lack of carbon dioxide the yeti fell over, unconscious, and began to snow at the mouth. The scene had reached its climax, as did Eggers. Who then shuffled to the cigarette dispenser and acquired a pack of slims. From there, ittied up the wall and wormed into a corner. Triumphantly it had a smoke, then began to cocoon. Eggers would nest there until the self-impregnated egglings would hatch two months from now.

The fighting raged on for several minute until a squad phallic guards marched in, tasered several testies, then herded them out. Ukjit and I were amongst the few that remained.

We spent the rest of our time watching re-runs of Hanny of Barbaria cartoons and ads selected from Oba Corp. Product placement, after all, is predominant when the majority of your shares are owned by a corporation. Nothing else eventful happened after that ordeal, oh my dears. Well, maybe one. We had a fairly decent mutton for supper that night. There was even enough for seconds.

The OPC stayed on lockdown, as it normally does over the weekend, until the testing phase was finished. After we heard the three pings that signified it was safe to leave the Observation Lounge, we were herded out for our post-test phase. Poor little Eggers remained cocooned in his corner. The penis guard said it was best to leave its nest alone, that they would keep an eye on the cocoon until the egglings hatched and devoured little Eggers’s empty husk.

Von-Spritzer watched my unwashed hair as he filled me in on what happened. He told me Eggers was given a hormone stimulant, and the yeti a derivative of Berzerkoid. He asked me if I suffered any side effects from the trial. I told my chest felt tight. He deduced I may need a higher dosage, asked me to come back next week. I agreed.

What did they give me? Why milk of course. The pill was sugar and the milk, as stated before, was to release one’s inner beauty.

The following Thursday I awoke next to my Buddleia with three five inch long antlers growing out of my chest. I have no idea what that means. When I showed Von-Spritzer he became so excited that he hyperventilated into his hairpiece. He asked me to remain within the OPC for the next four weeks.

It’s been alright, so far. My wife wasn’t as distressed as I thought she’d be about postponing her trip. I think she’s just happy I’m getting steady work.

I am an apprentice electrician by day and a literary student by night. I live in Canada. My facebook page is:

No responses yet

« Newer posts Older posts »