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”.

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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.

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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.

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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, .

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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

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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:

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Doopli Cat and the Trials of Marriage by Andrew Nellis

May 17 2015

Mallory stared at the floor of the upstairs study where a carton of peach ice cream was melting, the fruity milk soaking into the carpet. Next to that sat a bottle of Beefeater gin and ten feet away stood Bob staring into a corner of the room, wearing his tired bathrobe and holding a fistful of kitchen knives.

“Bob?” Mallory said.

He waved his free hand to quiet her.

“Don’t move,” Bob said, “It wants something.”

Mallory looked around the room. There were three small dents in the corner wall but everything else seemed normal: the desk heaped with construction paper, the floor trashed with cuttings, a half-empty gin glass stashed behind the pencil sharpener. There was the smell of something sharp, bleach maybe? Or peppermint?

“Bob, what the hell are you doing?” Mallory said. “We’re supposed to meet with the financial advisor in 45 minutes.”

“Just go without me,” Bob said. “You shouldn’t be in here anyway; you know I need this space for my art.”

“It’s our meeting, Bob. We both have to be there.”

Mallory walked over to the gin bottle and picked it up. The label was nearly scrapped off so she could only make out the word ‘eater’. Bob’s eyes flickered to her then back to the corner.

“Don’t come in here!”

“Oh, calm down,” Mallory said. “I’m not gonna mess up your vibe or whatever.”

Bob had blocked off the study six months earlier, claiming it was his “new process”. Mallory knew it was just another way of hiding after the DUI. He hadn’t sold any art since getting off probation and every week since then he’d come up with some new fangled solution for his slump. Of course, none of them had to do with sobriety.

All his misguided attempts to bounce back reminded Mallory of the times before all this, back to the day they met: sixteen years ago in Upper Division Painting at the university. It was the first day of class and she watched him that entire hour, hardly getting any work done herself. He was so careful, each stroke planted in just the right spot, like he knew where they belonged as if someone was guiding him. After class she asked him out and two days later they had sex in the back of the paint supply closet and again every night for the following three months.

The baby came in the middle of that year. Bob volunteered to dropout but Mallory refused. You can’t waste your talent, she remembered saying.

Now she watched him glare at the empty corner and wondered if he still knew how to mix paint.

“Seriously, we need to go. I don’t care how much you’ve had to drink, you’re coming. I’m texting the advisor to let him know we’ll be late.” Mallory set the bottle down, wincing as she did; her stomach still ached from her shift at the hospital. The new alzheimer’s patient punched her in the gut as his a way of saying hello. Half a second later he threw another jab but Mallory caught his wrist, gritting her teeth into a smile.

Bob crept towards the corner. Mallory looked up.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“There,” he said. “It’s right there and if I look away I’ll lose it and if I lose it then… well, it won’t be good.” Bob flung a knife at the wall but it hit handle-first and fell to the floor.

“Ugh, Bob.” Mallory rolled her head back and sighed.

“It moved,” Bob whispered. “It’s quick.”

She marched over to Bob, standing straight, looming two inches above his eye level.

“Give me the knives,” she said, her palm out.

Bob’s gaze shifted to her then back to the wall.

“I-no. I can’t. Mal, it’s not safe.”

“Bob, I’m not playing around here. Give them to me or I’m leaving again.”

Bob’s shoulders tightened.

“Mallory, I know what this looks like but I’m telling you, it’s not safe.”

“Fine, then you can explain to your daughter why I’m not here in the morning because I am not dealing with this nonsense tonight.”

A familiar thumping came from the stairs behind them. Rebecca appeared, wearing a tattered black t-shirt that revealed half of her left bra cup. She wreaked of pot and cheap body spray. At least she quit wearing those pants with chains on them, Mallory thought.

Rebecca had been transitioning through the various dress codes of teen angst: hiding in long sweaters, then wearing pajamas 24 hours a day, then black everything, and now something between punk rock girl and stripper… renegade groupie?

“What the shit’s going on up in here? Dad, what are you doing?” Rebecca said.

“Watch your language, Becky,” Bob said, still facing the corner. “Honey, you’re mother and I need to talk. Why don’t you go out for the night, see a movie or something?”

“A movie? What is this the 50’s?” Rebecca said, looking around the study, frowning when she saw the gin bottle. “What’re you two talking about? Is dad drunk again?”

“Yeah,” Mallory said, walking back to the doorway and leaning against a bookshelf.

“No, I am not,” Bob said. “We just need to talk.”

“Becky.” Mallory sighed. “Your father’s right, this might be a while. Is there anyone who can pick you up?”

Rebecca rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I guess Chad could.”

“Chad?” Bob said. “That kids a jerk. I don’t like you seeing him.”

“Why,” Rebecca said, “cause he can still drive?”

“Young lady!” Bob yelled, still without turning.

“Oh, Jesus. Becky, here’s sixty dollars. Just give us some time please.”

Rebecca took the money, thumped down the stairs and out the front door, letting it slam behind her. The sound gave Mallory a measure of comfort. She wrinkled her forehead, wondering why she couldn’t have found a nice quiet boy to settle down with, like an accountant or, hell, even a garbage man; his wife wouldn’t have to deal with this sort of crap. She turned back to the study.

“Get away!” Bob yelled at the corner and hurled another knife which dented the drywall and fell.

“Stop, Bob! You’re gonna fuck up the house. What the hell are you on?”

“I’m not on anything. Stop insinuating… whatever. I was working,” Bob said, “on something new: a children’s book.” He edged towards the desk, snatched up a stack of papers and held them out for Mallory. She took the stack and looked down at what appeared to be a drawing of a cat…thing.

“His name is Doopli Cat,” Bob said, gin fumes coating his words. “He’s the messenger of imagination. I mean, I think that’s who he is. Or maybe he’s the messenger of inspiration?” Bob’s fist tightened around the remaining knives. “I just—I can’t figure him out. I mean, I know what he looks like, I’ve known that for years… since I was a kid, but… His story just isn’t coming. Nothing I’ve made feels right, it’s just too big or something. I had to clear my head so I got the gin, and then…”

Mallory looked at the drawing. Doopli Cat looked more like a furry person than anything: standing on two legs, wearing a red cape, and smiling with big square teeth.

“God damnit, Bob. I mean, I get that you’re working on something, which is great but…” Mallory shook her head and dropped her hands. “What the hell does this cat have to do with throwing knives at the wall?”

Bob crept back to the corner, accidently stepping in the growing puddle of melted ice cream but ignored it, letting his sock soak up the peachy milk.

“I just know how big this could be, you know?” Bob said. “Finally, a break. Can you imagine? A whole series of Doopli Cat books? But then this,” Bob sneered, pointing his chin at the corner.

Mallory stared with him, narrowing her eyes, searching for any explanation, a bug maybe? Or dirt? Anything other than more stalling and nonsense. And why couldn’t there be a reasonable explanation for all this? Don’t I deserve that? Just a little speck of hope?

“There’s nothing there, Bob. Your daughter already can’t stand us and now she sees you like this; all strung out on whatever, yelling at nothing. Look, I don’t know what you’ve taken this time but it’s not okay.”

“I-” Bob sighed through his nose. “I did drink, yes, but I didn’t take anything else. Listen-”

“No, Bob. Drinking? In the middle of the day? Haven’t you learned anything in the past two years? All those classes we had to pay for, I had to pay for, the hospital bills, the attorney fees, the court fees?”

“Just listen-”


“Rah!” Bob erupted, shouting at the corner. “Leave me alone!”

“Whatever.” Mallory turned and walked down the stairs and out the front door.

Outside the air was bitter, instantly freezing Mallory’s nostrils. She walked to the end of the driveway and got in her pickup truck, sealing herself inside while it warmed up.

She thought of all the other nights spent like this, leaving her home in the dark, fried from work but driving anywhere that allowed smoking indoors. She’d spend the night there, burning through one cigarette after another.

The third or fourth time she’d found a downtown hotel that was nicer than the other places, clean at least, and run by some Chinese businessmen who smoked everywhere. It was expensive but ever since the first night she’d been putting money away, a little each month into her own bank account. She’d even bought a small water-color set. She would smoke and paint in her room, making little landscapes in runny blues and reds. She smiled and thought of the warm bed, the hotel shower, the fresh towels.

The morning after she would come home in need of fresh clothes and her blood pressure medication. Bob would be there, curled up on the floor. Last time she found him asleep with one of her shirts clung to his chest. She couldn’t fight much more after that.

Mallory lit a cigarette and sat in the warming truck, looking into the window of the upstairs study. She could see Bob’s shadow cast against the corner. How long are we going to keep this up, she thought, pulling out her phone to call the hotel.

She dialed the number and was about to hit send when a noise came from the house that made her stop.

Breaking glass?

She looked up as something smashed into the windshield.

Mallory jumped, nearly dropping her phone. The truck’s glass spiderwebbed from the impact.

She flung open her door and looked at the damage: pieces of gin bottle were scattered across the windshield but the label was still intact, reading ‘eater’. The study window was broken, the curtains sucked through the opening and waving in the wind.

Mallory slammed the door and marched inside. Bob was still facing the corner, unmoved, his foot still soaking in the ice cream puddle. His body was shaking and the smell of bleachy peppermint was strong.

Mallory looked at the corner.

There, just above eye level, appeared to be the shapes of two white eyes, a triangle nose, and a furry feline smile. It was the same color and texture of the wall. A… Cat? She thought. So this is it huh? This is his move, some shitty statue.

“Bob,” Mallory said.

Bob turned, his jaw slack, his eyes full of white panic.

“Mal, leave. It’s not safe,” Bob said, his voice was a broken whisper. She’d never seen him so scared, not even when he crashed the car two years ago and turned in his seat to see Becky’s unconscious body in the back seat, both her arms broken.

His fear was real and it clawed at Mallory’s guts, trying to pry its way in but she ignored it and walked closer. I’m just overtired, she thought. This is stupid.

The face stared at them. Then it moved: its eyes scanning left, then right, then settling on Mallory. Slowly, its mouth curled into a smile; a smile with large square teeth. The eyes blinked.

Terror bit deep, sinking into Mallory’s stomach. She felt its eyes on her, wanting.

“H-He’s come,” Bob whispered. He tried to throw a knife but it slipped from his hand and fell a foot in front of him.

A cracking sound burst through the room, like glaciers breaking apart. Mallory looked up to see the ceiling rolling like ocean waves, as if the plaster and paint had turned into liquid. It moved down through the walls until the entire room was a pale roiling sea.

Mallory’s brain screamed for answers but there were none. Fear pulsated through her, threatening to take over. Bob hunched down, his body shaking so hard that his teeth chattered.

She was alone again, like always. Ever since she could remember life had dropped her into the dark places to fight barehanded: the girls locker room, behind the bar that late October night, the hospital emergency room on her first day. All those years spent pretending not to be scared, keeping what focus she could, learning to hold on no matter what. Mallory gritted her teeth. Hold on, she thought.

The cracking noise faded as the waves began to settle and shapes formed in their place: hundreds of matte white eyes, triangle noses, and thick smiling mouths. Every surface of the room was covered in grinning opaque faces.

Their mouths opened and together they howled.

The noise shook the room but Mallory held fast, her jaw clenched.

Papers shot through the air, books curled backwards over their spines, pens erupted into inky tendrils. Bob, broken, screamed into the floor but no noise could penetrate the howling. It grew until Mallory’s lung vibrated so badly she couldn’t breathe. She fell to her knees and tried to inhale, her eye shut. Hold on, HOLD ON, she thought.

Then it stopped.

A soft breeze moved past them, carrying the scent of peppermint and bleach. She looked up and before her stood Doopli Cat.

He towered; his head nearly touching the ceiling. His body was a singular white tint, the same as the walls, and in his hands he held out a flat, blue rectangle, offering it to Mallory. She stared at it and, reaching out with shaking hands, took the rectangle. Doopli Cat smiled and knelt down in front of her; the smell of bleach and peppermint pouring from his smiling mouth.

Bob whined but stopped when Doopli Cat turned and frowned. Bob vomited gin onto the floor. The Cat turned back to Mallory and smiled. He lowered his head and spoke but no words left his throat. He made no noises but his lips moved, mouthing unheard things. Mallory watched his thick tongue snap out silent letters as puffs of eye-stinging chemical breath hit her face. Doopli Cat lifted his massive hand and pressed one long furry finger against Mallory’s forehead. It was soft and a warmness flowed through Mallory; she felt calm. The warmth reminded her of playing on her grandparent’s tire swing in the July heat.

Her jaw relaxed and she smiled. Doopli Cat stood and backed away. He stretched his arms wide and his body began to hiss. His skin evaporated into puffs of putrid steam that filled the room. The sting of bleach and peppermint threatened to burn exposed skin, forcing Bob to curl away, clamping his eyes and mouth shut but Mallory sat peacefully, still smiling. A second later it was gone.

Mallory stood and looked around the room. The books were destroyed, the desk looked somehow age worn, and the ice cream still sat on the floor. Bob stood, staring down at the blue rectangle in Mallory’s hands.

She realized for the first time that it was a book and on the cover was a picture of Doopli Cat drawn in wispy ink. The title read: Doopli Cat and the New Friend. Written by Mallory Kline.

She opened it and on the first page was a picture of the study, this study, the one in her house. It was clean and someone was sitting at the desk, a woman.

She turned the page and the woman was smiling, staring down at the desk and behind her stood Doopli Cat, looking over her shoulder, admiring her work. Mallory could still feel the cat’s finger pressed against her forehead, his warmth still running through her.

The third page was blank but something inside Mallory yearned for it, longing to touch it, to fill it. She could hear the empty paper crying out—it needed her.

Mallory walked to the desk, grabbed a pencil and started to draw. Bob crept towards her, trying to look over her shoulder.

“You’re going to be late,” She said without turning.


“The financial advisor. You’ll have to go without me.”

Bob cleared his throat.

“Uh, sure. Yeah,” he said and slunk out of the room. A moment later the front door slammed as he left.

Mallory smiled and reached past the pencil sharpener where the gin glass was still hidden, half-full of melted ice and liquor. She lifted it and drank.

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The Aker Device By Stephen Reynolds

May 10 2015

Richard collapses to the floor, his knees slamming hard onto the wood panels. The unwieldy device in his arms hovers a mere inch from collision as Richard’s stubby fingers tremble from the weight of the thing, turning white in the process. He ignores the radiating blasts of pain firing off in his lower limbs and delicately places the machine down. The two-story trek proved more difficult than his rotund body was prepared for, and he’s perspiring wildly as he removes his father David’s journal from his back pocket and cracks it open.

“Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” Richard reads aloud. He rolls his eyes. “That’s a bit much.”

He begins combing through the tome, skipping past months of detailed entries about the conception of David’s invention and the implications of its’ potential, stopping only when he sees a schematic of the machine. The sketch fills the entire page, with illegible notes scribbled next to a series of arrows. Richard flips to the following page, finding an elaborate illustration of four puzzle pieces coalescing into a sound wave. An envelope slips from the pages and falls to Richard’s lap. He hurriedly tears it open and reads the line preceding an extended list of details instructions.

“To my son,” Richard wheezes. “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

He places the list next to the device and sets about completing the assembly of the machine, labelled only as “Aker” in the paperwork. He unfolds the large hose attached to the back housing, pointing the nozzle into the center of his father’s former home office. He turns Aker’s mechanical dial to the coordinates listed in David’s notes, unsure of what the compression and rarefaction rates refer to. He simply completes each step, as was instructed in David’s will. Finally, he takes a second, smaller hose from the side panel and attaches it to the two valves on top of the machine.

Once all of Aker’s pieces are connected, Richard compares the machine to the schematic and rereads all of the steps to ensure no detail was missed. Satisfied, he closes the journal and eyes the five switches lining the back panel of Aker. These five switches are the last step required before his task is complete. Before, if all goes according to plan, Richard sees his father again.

“Love you, Dad,” he whispers. He stares out into what now feels like the cavernous expanse of his father’s favorite room. The small cabinet of scotch bottles and packed bookcases lining the far wall seem a mile away. Richard sniffs softly and quickly flips the first switch.

Aker viciously belches out an awful sound from the hose, and Richard can feel the apparatus begin to vibrate through the floor panels. It’s a low rumble, but hearty. Steady and full, like a powerful engine. Richard’s confidence soars, and he flips the second switch.

Aker’s vibrations instantly increase in intensity, and the rumble’s pitch climbs to a higher frequency. Aker is now shaking more violently, and the bottom of the machine is slapping against the wood in a rhythmically off kilter pattern. In front of the machine, the hose slowly snakes back and forth like an agitated copperhead. Richard scrambles to his feet and searches the surrounding area for a restraint. Finding nothing, he scrambles to his father’s desk and rifles through the drawers. He grabs a roll of packing tape and hustles back to the hose, refocusing the nozzle into the center of the room and taping it down. Behind him, Aker’s vibrations settle into a less unnerving pattern.

“Just needed to warm up,” Richard tells himself as he places the roll’s final piece of tape across the hose. It wasn’t the most secure it could be, but Richard hoped it was strong enough to hold for now. He tosses the empty tape roll across the room and flips the third switch.

Aker screeches, and Richard crumbles to the ground in agony. A wave of piercing tones shoots from the hose in front of him. As he writhes, he sees the hose pushing upward with the cadence of the sound blasts, threatening to tear away from the floor and rise to the ceiling. He tries to remove his right hand and reach for the fourth switch, but the piercing sound and its residual echo are too painful to bear. He squirms around, maneuvering his foot to the fourth switch in between each piercing blast and each body wince, and closes his eyes as he flips it on with his heel.

The frequency changes again, this time dropping several octaves. The new frequency is constant, and Richard feels his core rumble. It’s unsettling, like an unending earthquake, but certainly not painful. Richard drops his hands from his ears in relief, and cautiously opens in eyes.

He stares in wonder at what appears to be millions of small specks, originating from the taped-down hose and expanding to the furthest points in the room. The hose is stationary again, and the guttural rumbling from the machine has decreased in intensity. He approaches the stream, and delicately stretches out an arm. It moves through the specks freely, as if they don’t exist.

Emboldened, he creeps into the stream entirely. It’s cold, and he shivers as pins and needles tickle his bare feet. He notices the specks intermittently bouncing all around him. It looks like unstructured dancing, in a way. He stares into the blackened entrance of the nozzle, slinking forward as he attempts to decipher exactly what he is standing in. And what he is looking at. But it’s simply darkness, until it spreads out into the room and isn’t anymore.

Richard steps out from the stream and returns to the back panel of Aker. He looks down at the final switch in anticipation, thinking about the implications of this device were it successful. And what those implications meant to what kind of man his father was. He exhales loudly.

“Here we go,” he whispers as he flips the final switch. The low rumblings of the machine immediately dissipate. In fact, all noise does. It terrifies Richard, this vacuum, and he attempts to fill it.

“Dad?” he asks quietly, but the moment the word escapes his lips it seems to evaporate. Richard calls out again, louder this time.


Again, the word disintegrates, and Richard feels his heart race. He calls out again, this time a constant string of words, one connecting with the next until he runs out of breath.

“David, where are you? I need to talk to you right now or I will be forced to turn this machine off. Can you hear me? I’m going to keep talking until someone decides to show their f-“

He inhales.

“-ace around here. I went through all this trouble and the least you could do is hold up your end of the bargain, Dad. This wasn’t easy, lugging this thing up two flights of st-“


“-airs and you’ve got this detailed list of instructions. You know I don’t know science, I’m an art major, I don’t understand half the words in your journal-“

Richard stops when he sees the man materialize before him. Balding. Bearded. Same height and size. Same blue eyes. His father. Standing in the speck stream.

“Hello, Ricky,” David says flatly, before offering a devilish grin. “Good to see you again. I knew you could do it.”

“It worked,” Richard laughs in exhausted disbelief.

“It worked.”

Richard rushes to embrace David, disregarding the discomforting chill from David’s touch. The two quietly hold each other.

“Listen,” David says as he pulls away. Between them, the specks pop and dance away with each breath. “I don’t know how long I have before the machine will need to recharge, so I need you to do exactly as I say.”

“Of course,” Richard says, clearing his throat. “Whatever you need, Dad.”

“Go to my office at Loyola. Contact Jenny Steadman, my old research assistant. She won’t understand the totality of what I’ve accomplished until she reads my notes. She will help you find a bigger power source for Aker. Because we need more. Much more.”

“Power source?” Richard asks, confused.

“Yes, Aker is powered by a very specific combination of energies. My calculations must have been off, because I can already feel it draining. To keep it open and do the work we are going to do, it needs to be a much larger timeframe. In fact, we may have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch, and take everything up three scales.”

“Dad, I don’t understand. Work? I thought you just-“

“It’s more than removing the fabric between your living world and this one, son,” David exclaims, his solid form becoming increasingly translucent. He smiles softly and offers a gentle wave as Richard begins to sobs in confusion. “Find Jenny Steadman, and bring her to Aker. And hurry.”

“Dad!” Richard calls out a last time, as David’s body is close to disappearing completely. “Dad!”

“Ricky, this is only a beginning.”

Stephen Reynolds is a former Journalism student currently pursuing his love of fiction. His writing has appeared at What Culture, Just 100 Words, and in January will appear at Saturday Night Reader.

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Homegrown by Cat Jenkins

Apr 28 2015

“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, right? Welcome! Welcome! So good to see you folks could make it over. You know, you’re the sixth couple to come through this morning. I tell you, these little masterpieces are gonna sell like hotcakes.

“Now, I know you’ve probably got a lot of questions, so let me start by giving you a little background on Skin-Surround. Some people come in here with preconceived notions, even outright prejudice about stem cell propagation, so let me assure you right from the start there’s nothing in our procedures that anyone could object to on any ethical or religious grounds whatsoever. No sirree, not anymore! But let me start at the beginning and give you the Skin-Surround story.

“As you probably know, stem cell research goes way back to the early 1900s. That’s when the actual term “stem cell” first popped up in scientific research, but it wasn’t until the last half of that century that they started to suspect all the uses they could make of those little gems. Of course, it was all medical stuff at the time, like treating leukemia, spinal cord injuries and a bunch of other diseases. Back then everyone was working with embryos, and that’s where the trouble began. You know, we’re still finding potential buyers who think that’s where the process begins and ends? Even today? That’s why it’s so great to have folks like you take advantage of this tour and see what it’s really all about!

“As I was saying, way back then they had to retrieve stem cells from human embryos, which caused all kinds of trouble. Pro-lifers were up in arms and even when they used mouse embryos for research, there was always someone who waved a flag for the sanctity of life in general, rodents included. But things changed, and thank whatever deity lights your soul they did, or we wouldn’t be able to show you around this little beauty today!

“So first and foremost, Skin-Surround absolutely does not take it’s stem cells from embryos of any kind. No, sir! We use only adult stem cells, and that doesn’t hurt anyone, right?. See, we don’t need cells that can differentiate into all the things the human body contains. All we need are ones that have limited differentiation capability and the ability to self-renew over a lifetime. We can get that from any healthy adult, and that’s where things get really exciting for our buyers! But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here. Let’s go inside and take a look around while I tell you how Skin-Surround was born, so to speak. I will ask you to take off your shoes, though, before we go any further. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t have to, but the amount of foot traffic we expect to see through here, well, we just want to avoid developing any calluses on our demo model. But don’t be shy; feel free to touch the walls or anything else. That won’t do any damage that can’t heal itself up in practically no time at all!

“Now where was I? Oh, yeah; the early beginnings that made Skin-Surround possible. It was back in the early 2000s that Junying Yu as well as the team of Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Yamanaka theorized a way to produce a stem cell from almost any other human cell instead of using embryos. From there it was just a matter of time before we could guide the basic stem cells along chosen paths of differentiation. It was the Japanese, by the way, who developed the whole system of production that led to Skin-Surround as it is today. They were the first not only to direct the cells’ differentiation, but to apply the acceleration techniques that make production of a structure this size feasible in terms of volume as well as timeliness. So if you decide to take advantage of our limited-time offer, rest assured your Skin-Surround dwelling will be ready in two to three months depending on the model and procedure you choose. Why, that’s faster than you could ever expect to get a new home built the old-fashioned way!

“Anyway, like I said, the Japanese were the first to take stem cell research into the housing industry. Some say it’s because natural resources were just getting too expensive and impractical, what with Japan’s population increase in the last few decades, but I think it’s just that they’re always on the cusp of any really innovative high-tech advancement. I mean let’s give credit where it’s due, right?

“Plus, a Skin-Surround home is practically indestructible! Take that window you’re tapping on. No, no! It’s O.K. Nothing to worry about like you would with the old glass windows! See here, this is a membrane grown around a titanium and surgical steel frame. Pretty much unbreakable. No, sir. No worries about little Timmy hitting a baseball through this baby. It’ll just absorb the shock and any slack the impact creates will tighten itself back up overnight.

“Now, the whole infrastructure we grow your home around is steel and titanium just like that window frame there. We also insert wiring, lifetime batteries and a system of tubing to bring nutrients and stimulants to the finished structure. It really all depends on how customized you folks want to go.

“If you’re thinking you’ll start small, we’ve got the Skin-Surround Starter. It’ll have your basic two bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and bathroom. We’ll erect the frame and nutrient tanks, and flesh the structure out using cells from a standard cloned colony based on a tried-and-true plan that was the first wave of development in Japan. You know, today the hillsides there are covered with the Starters? I’m told when you fly into Tokyo it looks like the whole country’s got goose bumps!

“On the other end of the scale from the Starter is the Skin-Surround Derma Palace. I just know you’re gonna love this! We start with stem cells taken right from the customer. We tailor the framework and nutrient tanks to whatever number of rooms and layout you want, and we keep a colony of cells in our main lab cryo-storage in case you need minor repairs or even want to grow additional rooms sometime in the future. There are a lot more features available when you decide on the Palace, too. For instance, see that kind of puckering up there? Now press that third button down on the panel to your left and see what happens.

“There ya go! See? Pretty amazing, right? We directed some of the cells into becoming sphincter muscles, laid a little wiring along the frame and when you push that button and deliver the stimulus, the sphincter dilates and…presto! Instant skylight!

“Now, one nifty feature all our models have, from Starter to Palace, is temperature interaction. In summer, your home will sweat a bit on the outside, so you do need to monitor the liquid/electrolyte levels in the tanks until you know how much is generally needed. But it keeps the inside nice and cool without the ongoing inconvenience and expense of air conditioning. In winter, why nothing’s cozier than being sheltered in a nice, draft-proof home that gently radiates warmth from its own constant 98.6 degree temperature.

“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, I can see you’re impressed and you probably want to look around some on your own, and talk over how you want to proceed. So, I’m going to let you have some privacy while you imagine yourselves settling into your very own Skin-Surround in a matter of months!

“If you have any questions, I’ll be out in the backyard. Come on out when you’re done and I’ll show you one of our Derma Dog Pet Cottages. Our demo model was grown from a German Shepherd, but depending on the level of customization you choose, we can base it on any of 29 breeds of dog, or even grow it from cells taken from your own little fur friend!.

“So take your time, but don’t let this opportunity slip by. Skin-Surround’s the housing industry’s fastest growing company today. Like we say, ‘If you’re gonna own…own homegrown!’”


Cat Jenkins lives in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is often conducive to long hours before a keyboard. Her stories in humor, fantasy, speculative fiction and horror have been published both online and in print, in Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Greenprints, and the anthology ‘Metastasis.’ She is working on her first novel, a psychological thriller with touches of magical realism.

Cat’s blog can be found at:

On Twitter: @CatJenkins11

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Little Lies by Michael King

Apr 21 2015

As takeout chimichangas battled against his sensitive bowels, Dan White drove homeward. Three years ago, after his mother died of pancreatic cancer, he began spending each Monday evening with his father. Dinner and beer and conversation about a sitcom or an old western were customary, but tonight his father had surprised him. The still-sober old man had tried to tell him something. It had been about marriage and momentum and love being an uphill struggle, but then the old man’s eyes had narrowed and he had shaken his head and had said goodnight and had closed the front door on his only child.

In truth, Dan was glad his father hadn’t continued. Marriage advice was rarely helpful. And if the old man had intended to tarnish the gleaming silver-work his son held high as his parents’ marriage, Dan had no interest in that either. Maybe that was why he never stayed past 9 pm. He usually left before his father got drunk and started reminiscing and truth-telling. At a painful twisting sensation just below the little beer-gut he kept at bay with regular trips to the gym, Dan grimaced. A moment later the pain intensified and the inside of the 76′ Firebird he had restored himself reminded him of the salt marsh out near 50th Street. He knew he had to find a toilet soon.

The problem was that Dan lived on the south side of Eldon, Nebraska and he was on the north. Other than his father’s house, a strip mall centered around a Super Target about five minutes ahead and the house on Pin Oak Rd (which was one of several properties he owned and rented out) he didn’t know what was where. Considering the sweat beginning to bead on his forehead, he figured he could pull a U-turn and hightail it back to his Dad’s. He might make it. He glanced at the iPhone on the passenger seat but, not being device-savvy, quickly decided against using it to locate the nearest restroom. With his luck, he’d get to monkeying around and narrowly miss a jaywalker and swerve into a tree. They’d revive him a couple hours later and fuss over his bruised noggin, meanwhile being polite enough not to mention the smell of the load in his pants.

The house on Pin Oak Rd. Holy crap. It was nearby, and the tenant, Rebecca Woods, had left town yesterday; and she’d asked him to look at her bedroom window during her absence. Supposedly it wasn’t latching correctly and was rising gradually as she slept allowing the winter admittance. Until now, he’d forgotten all about it. He didn’t have his toolbox but he did have the keys. If anyone asked about the intrusion, he’d tell them about the window. Turning down the car’s heater, he stomped on the gas and concentrated on the healthy purr of the engine. He smiled, thankful it hadn’t snowed in days and that he wasn’t in his other car, putting along. When his headlights illuminated the dark green Pin Oak Rd sign, he slowed the beast as much as he dared and hit the blinker. His stomach clenched. A white-knuckled moment later, he pulled into the badly cracked driveway of 3037 Pin Oak Rd. He groaned, tightening his backside. He was 50-years-old for Christ’s sake: too old and too young to shit himself.

As soon as the internal pressure relented a notch, he pushed out of the car and, tinkering with the key-ring, stiffly jogged to the front door of a house in need of fresh paint. He crashed inside and flicked on the hallway light. Then, orienting himself, he shot down the wide, short hallway that lead to the bedroom and the bathroom and, hardly noticing a strange, metallic odor, barged through the correct doorway and slammed shut the door. He sat down just in time.

Relieved, Dan surveyed the small, windowless room, flexing his toes within his shoes. Rebecca kept the space clean, but he had never liked it. Too small. His right knee rested against the vanity. Great. The toilet paper holder was empty. The fake chrome tube lay on the floor beside his right shoe. He shifted his bulk so he could check behind him near the toilet brush receptacle. Nothing. With his left hand, he grabbed the yellow shower curtain and dragged it toward him, wincing at the scraping of the metal rings. The tub was empty. He scooted forward and awkwardly opened the vanity. Shit. A spray-bottle of Windex in an old wicker basket. No paper towels. When he realized the cabinet door was about to slam shut, he shot out a hand to quiet it. Then, feeling foolish over his predicament and at the unwarranted sense that he had company, he opened the door and banged it closed.

A shuffling outside the bathroom door. Then a man cleared his throat with gusto.

Dan gulped, his face warming with embarrassment. The room spun once around him. When it stopped, he noticed more of it. The streaks of gray in the mostly piss-colored linoleum, which curled up at both ends where the bathtub met the craggy, eggshell wall. The difference in color between that wall and the grimy outlet and light switch covers it was supposed to match. The light switch. The light. He hadn’t been the one to turn it on.

“You know why there ain’t any paper in there?” Dan sat dumbly.

“Cause I took it. Something in this joint has got my sinuses all out of whack. Probably her crotch. Yeah, her moldy, rotten crotch.”

A knot unraveled in Dan’s stomach. Heat rose from the v-neck of his shirt. The toilet seat felt warm and slick. His legs tensed, and he started to stand. An image of his iPhone in his sleek, black car outside passed through his mind. Then his wife’s sweet face made an appearance. She had been angry with him lately but he wasn’t sure why, and he’d got idea she wasn’t either.

He shook his head, trying to clear it. The guy outside was clearly bugshit. This wasn’t a joke. He knew the guy’s choice of words wasn’t merely a faux pas. He needed to think. He needed to get the guy to leave. The idea of a broken rib or a bloody nose or even a swollen pinkie-finger caused Dan to cower inwardly. But what about getting gut-stabbed and bleeding out on the cheap, stiff carpet. As he reminded himself to keep still and remain calm, his mutinous index finger jabbed the button on the doorknob. The lock engaged with a tinny click. Gritting his teeth, he looked at the ceiling.

The guy outside blew his nose. Then chuckled.

“You chicken shit,” he said, “I wanted in, I’d be in, Mr. Healthclub-Firebird. You’re not supposed to be here, but seeing how you are, I’m thinking you might help me out. Yeah, I got a use for you. Man. What did you do to deserve this? All you had to do was look in the garage. You’d have seen her car.”

Dan shivered. Slowly he stood, holding his belt-buckle to silence it. Eyes locked on the faintly gleaming, brass-tinged doorknob, he quietly put himself together. The man cleared his throat again, drawing out the action.

“Ever since I was little, this thing would talk to me through my bedroom window. It seemed to know what I was, what I was capable of, even before I did. I swear I didn’t really know till just a bit ago. Once I tried to tell Momma but she just said I was dreaming about human nature and put her cigarette out on the tip of my big toe. Squashed it in up under the nail. But I tell you what: it’s coming. It’s coming tonight. I can hear it in my mind. And I can feel it in my arms. The way a good song gives you gooseflesh. I want you to see it. I want to see your face when you see it. You’ll see it when it comes to feed on Rebecca. Stupid, fucking, bippy tart.”

He chuckled.

“I tell you how I got in? I came over late for a cup of milk, preferably skim. We were fine for a while. She even told me about the latch on her bedroom window. Yeah, until I touched her. Got all crazy and told me to get the fuck out. When I turned to go, the bitch must have thought she sensed weakness. She started in. Criticizing just like momma. Right then, I looked down at my tenting ding-a-ling, and I knew I’d be back. I waited a bit, took one of my bar stools and flung it over that pitiful excuse for a privacy fence. Then I followed. Shouldn’t have told me about the window. I killed her. I fucked her up. I—“

The guy rattled on. Dan tried hard to listen carefully, but the motor of his mind seemed to be stuttering and he was missing words. His throat felt constricted, as if he were wearing a high-collared shirt and the room seemed a size smaller than a moment ago. He pondered the old, hollow-cored door before him, wondering if the material breathed or if the air between the thin flats of wood was stagnate, dead. Likes his mother. A lie is a closed door between us. She’d said that often when Dan was a boy. He supposed he’d always been full of shit.

When the guy’s rant segued into a song, Dan tore his eyes away from the doorknob and began to search for a weapon. The towel rack was out. Too flimsy. Breaking the mirror wouldn’t do either. At the noise, the guy might rush him. He didn’t want to cause a panic. He removed the lid on the toilet and silently prayed thanks that it was old and heavy. He gripped it with both hands and tried to prepare for a dark future. But what the hell was the guy singing?

“…scrambled eggs between her legs-“

“Okay, okay. Please stop,” Dan said.

“I just knew you were in there. Why don’t you come out and get a look at me; we’ll talk.”

“No, I think I’ll stay. Sooner or later somebody’ll get nosy.”

“Shit, not here in the big city. Folks just want privacy. You saying you don’t want to see it?”


“You think I’m going to kill you, don’t you? But that isn’t in the plan at all. I just want you to see it.”

“Sure. You’ll try,” Dan said.

“Guess I got to play hard ball,” the guy said, and then Dan heard the sloshing of liquid in some sort of container.

“I’ll give you till the count of three,” the guys s “Then I’ll pour on the gasoline and strike a match. Here, let me help.”

The lock on the doorknob popped out.

Reflexively Dan stepped backward and his fingernails dug into the imperfect side of the heavy slab of china. The door slowly swung open. He could hear the killer giving ground.

“Man, that ain’t even gray hair, it’s silver. Wish I had such cool hair.”

The leggy, boot-wearing, 30-something Dan had envisioned was not present. The only similarities between the imagined and the real were the age and the smile of movie-white teeth. The guy was stripped down to boxer shorts. He was short and soft and small-boned with swirls of black hair on his chest and belly and no hair on his head. His small eyes were set too closely. His beard was pubic-looking. His lips were purple. He tossed the role of toilet paper at Dan and laughed when it bounced off his chest and stopped rolling at the bedroom door. Dark eyes moved up and down Dan’s body.

“I bet you recycle. You recycle?”

Dan didn’t even blink. His body was warm and ready, and he was oddly calm, open, as if even the pours in his skin had the task of detecting the slightest movement. His eyes took in everything–the dusty red, plastic gas-container sitting by the spearmint green wall, the flaking, white baseboards, the old gray carpet and the small blob of beef-pink caught in the thick hair on the top of the shark-eyed man’s left foot. He did not see matches or a lighter or whatever he’d used to pop the lock.

“C’mon, it’s okay. It’ll be here any minute.”

He showed Dan his arm.

“Pimply. It’s all pimply.”

Dan’s nose and upper lip twitched. The killer’s smile widened as he pointed to the closed bedroom door.

“I open that, and it’ll reek even worse. Reminds me of my childhood. Reminds me of two things actually. One I’m not gonna talk about. The other is a sweaty handful of pennies. Any metal probably. I bet your wedding ring stinks.”

Stepping over the threshold, Dan adjusted his grip again. His ears honed in on a tiny sound that it took a second to recognize as his wedding ring sliding along the china.

Then it just happened. The dark eyes squinted and then rolled to the door. The bald head began to follow the eyes. The whole body turned, revealing the little man’s back and the knife-handle nestled in a black patch of kinky hair above the band of the man’s boxer shorts.

“You hear that?” the little man asked.

But Dan was already in motion. His mind was blank. His entire upper body vibrated like a struck bell when the toilet lid connected with the glossy skull. The man went down. On his belly, one ear to the thin carpet, he appeared to be sleeping. Dan stared at the bald head, at the bruising, puffy spot. He wasn’t sure what had happened to it but the knife was no longer visible. When the brown eyes opened and the brow furrowed and the arms slid back toward the ribcage, Dan hit the little man again. As hard as he could. The end of the toilet lid snapped off and flakes of white appeared on the carpet and in the little man’s eyebrows and across his freckled nose. Though the head was dented and bleeding, Dan stared at a white spec on the black and empty eyeball nearest the floor. He was vaguely aware of the odd notion that his mother were in the room, watching, knowing the necessity of what he’d done. Then the pain in his big toe registered and he noticed the hairy arm reaching, the open hand, an the knife sticking out the top of his shoe. He stumbled backward, yelping when his butt hit the wall. Dazed, he stood there for a long moment, staring at the knife. Then he looked at the object in his hands and threw it down. He became aware of a nasty headache as he bent over, as if his head were half-filled with water. The knife slid out easily. He tossed it somewhere. He couldn’t be sure but the wound felt superficial. It was painful but he had no trouble moving. He’d done it. He’d survived. In 50 years, he’d never thought he’d make it if push came to shove. He thought of his son. His daughter hadn’t been hard to rear, but his son had needed a father who had had more faith in himself. No, his daughter could have used that other man too.

From behind Rebecca’s bedroom door something shifted or slid or creaked. He tried to look through the gap beneath it, but the space was dark. His heart started thumping away again and it seemed to radiate a slightly painful warmth that was edging its way down to his stomach and into his shoulders.

Mostly Dan wanted to run. But maybe he could help. Maybe Rebecca was still alive. And maybe the guy he’d just clouted was a nutcase but not a murderer. He lurched forward and reached out a trembling hand.

The bed beneath the window was a red mess. After a time, details emerged. A strand of hair, a pug nose, a split lip, a tooth. One young breast. He thought he could taste the thick stench in the air. He thought he could feel it coating his face. He gagged, put a fist to his mouth, bit hard on the knuckle.

Suddenly his eyes flicked upward and focused on the window. Something was there, dark and wriggling and filling the space, almost muting an emergency siren off in the distance. Even this close, Dan couldn’t see it clearly. It reminded him of being a child and the things his mind would draw in the dark. It was the reason he’d needed a night light. Dan thought if he saw too much of it now, he may never sleep again. His big toe throbbed. When a part of the mass dropped onto the bed, making a slurping noise reminiscent of lover’s lost in an open-mouthed kiss, Dan swallowed bile, pulled the door shut and staggered out into the cold night.

Eying the slipshod wooden fence, he got in his car and keyed the ignition and wondered why his headlights seemed so bright. He backed out, wincing in pain as he pressed the gas pedal. He hoped nothing horrible would appear in the windows of the little house or climbing over the rickety fence. A good distance from Pin Oak Rd, he parked under a no-parking sign and stared at his iPhone until he felt he could drive again.

He’d have to lie. A little. He had stop by to work on the window and had decided to use the bathroom. He’d forgotten his tools but figured he’d find some in the garage. He’d lie, but he’d do better later. He would. He would take his place. Husband. Father. Son. Landlord. He had wasted far too much of his life merely acting out his parts, because he had always figured on failure. So for now he would shoot for near the truth. Unexpectedly a stark image sparked in his mind.  He gagged, looked out the window, gulped. He couldn’t decide which was worse—the poor dead woman in the bloody bed or the dark thing he’d seen in the window?

The End

Michael King spends most of his time at home. He is grateful to his beautiful family for keeping him tethered to the earth. He writes only when the cats are sleeping, unless they are sleeping across the keyboard or atop the printer.

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