What the Dickens
By David Castlewitz
Even when she annoyed him, August Fingerhut couldn’t stay angry with Maise Kendall. As Mr. Dickens’ typist, August sat astride an industry that would spawn new avenues to success and riches. Most people read the great writer’s work in book form, or discovered him in newspaper serials, but it was the Talker – a machine of vast potential – that would revolutionize the entertainment favored by millions.
“Daddy will never approve our marrying if you don’t come up in the world,” Maise whined from where she sat in a high-backed parlor chair, her face to the wall. August made her face away from his desk because the twinkle of her blue eyes, the dimples in her cheeks, and her heart shaped red lips distracted him.
Miss Poole, Maise’ maid, sitting on a padded bench next to the chair, lifted her dark eyes from the needlework on her lap, lifted her narrow face, and flicked a stray lock of auburn hair from her cheek. August couldn’t help but notice Poole’s raised skirt, which revealed a delicate, brown stocking-encased ankle.
He forced himself to glare at Maise’ back and the large white collar spanning her shoulders.
“I’ve seven more pages,” he said. “Then we’ll have our morning walk.”
“It’s nearly noon, Auggie! We’re to picnic with the Heathmores.” Maise sobbed, shoulders rising and falling, the bun of hair at the back of her head threatening to burst its knitted braids.
August turned to the typing machine and the piles of papers and stencils on his narrow desktop. If Maise hadn’t kept him at supper past midnight, he would’ve been up early as usual and there’d not be seven pages yet to go. And that was seven pages of tightly spaced script in Dickens’ own hand. He’d need to type a dozen stencils or more to feed the Talker.
He glanced over his shoulder at the door to his third floor workroom. Albert Cunningworth from Talks, Ltd. would barge in at any moment. August pictured that awkward and skinny man trudging up the back steps and the thought gave pause to his fingers poised above the typing machine’s ivory-inlaid keys.
With a loud sigh, he banished these distractions -- Albert’s impending arrival, Maise’s whines and Miss Poole’s ankle – and struck one key after the other, deftly completing a full paragraph with a single intake of breath. The thick stencil flapped about as it advanced against the rubber roller, its bright white face full of the pin-pricks, squiggly bumps and shallow valleys produced by the typing machine.
This stencil, when fed to the Talker, would generate a voice. Not Mr. Dickens’ voice, though the company’s advertisements led consumers to believe otherwise. But, rather, a flat and monotonous voice, though wall posters made it seem like the machine emitted a melodic and pleasing verbal rendition as full of bombast and significance as Dickens’ staged readings.
Still, August told himself, even a mechanical voice devoid of inflection was a star attraction in any home. Linked by belts and wheels and cogs to an underground assembly of gears and pinions and rollers, Talkers graced many of the city’s homes. Magazine ads showed happy families sitting around a tall and narrow closet, the children enraptured by the story seeping from the sounding boards, Fathers attentive to every word and Mothers relaxed and smiling and mending clothes while listening.
“When does Mr. Dickens return?” Maise asked.
“He’s aboard ship now, my dear. So, any day now, I presume.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could tell us? From aboard ship? Send a message, I mean.”
August snickered. “And how would that be?”
“A telegraph connected some way or other to the Talker.”
“How does a ship at sea connect to the telegraph cable?”
“They’d have to build something. Stations in the ocean, I think. Where ships could dock and important men like Mr. Dickens could send their messages. Then we’d hear it from the machine.”
August didn’t comment. As usual, Maise had no comprehension of technology, no appreciation for how these machines worked. Diligently, he typed, completing a handwritten page and another stencil.
The door swung open, the space filled by the housekeeper’s bulk. “Mr. Albert’s here for you,” she shouted.
“I can hear. No need to yell.”
“Y’not hear me over the noise of that typing machine.”
Albert squeezed past the housekeeper, his beanpole-of-a-body twist-turning snake-like through the space between the woman and the door frame. Hands in the pockets of his stiff overalls, a leather case tucked against his side, his whiskered face broke into a smile directed at Miss Poole.
“You got them stencils ready, Mr. August?”
Albert grinned as he lowered himself to the padded bench, not too close to Miss Poole, but near enough that he engaged her in whispered conversation.
August typed a few lines without looking up. He continued onto another stencil, his long neck bent, his sleeves turned up at the wrists and his stiff collar askew. His jacket lay across the back of his chair and he pictured Mr. Dickens looking askance at such improper attire.
“And wouldn’t it be magical,” Maise blurted, “if we could talk to that machine and send messages back?”
August kept his silence. Why, he wondered, would anyone want to talk back and forth by way of a machine? Why would anyone sit and listen to stories told by bouncing pins and padded hammers making artificial sound? How was any of this a viable future?
Don’t doubt, he told himself. Just type the stencils.
And quickly. So he could send Albert on his way and spend the afternoon with Maise, even if she had outlandish ideas and ankles not as well-turned as her maid’s.
- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF and fantasy. I have published several stories in Weirdyear, Farther Stars Than These, Fast Forward Festival, Encounters and other online as well as print magazines. Search the web and you’ll even find some of my earlier military history articles. My longer work can be found at https://www.amazon.com/author/davidcastlewitz
Thursday, December 25, 2014
What the Dickens
Thursday, December 18, 2014
By Anthony Redgrave
Solomon Hewitt picked at his fingernails. If he looked up at her, he forgot that she was a robot. “So your fee charges to the room, huh?”
“Correct. Before we continue, I must inform you that our session is being remotely monitored for quality control purposes. Is this acceptable?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Excellent, Mister Hewitt. I see you’ve chosen a room with double beds. May I ask if you’ve read the list of our other available services?”
He rubbed the pale indent around the base of his ring finger. “Are those other available services remotely monitored as well?”
“For quality control purposes, yes.”
“Then, no. I’m not interested.” He glanced up. She showed no expression.
“Very well then.” She brushed a hand against her teased and frosted bouffant. The motion was unmistakably deliberate. “My designation is ‘Cindy’. I have been assigned to your case. I will be responsible for all contact with you and your trouble. Will you please confirm her name?”
Solomon shifted on the padded vinyl bench. His pulse quickened. “Lily Hewitt.”
“And her home address?”
He turned his head to the sliding glass door, but his eyes drifted toward her. “Same as mine.”
Cindy nodded. Solomon noticed she wasn’t taking notes. “Please summarize your motivation for contacting Troubleshooters regarding Mrs. Hewitt.”
“Please, don’t call her Mrs. Hewitt.”
Cindy’s silicone brow wrinkled between her fiberglass eyes. Her head angled a few degrees to the left. “For the sake of your emotional wellbeing, Mr. Hewitt, I will accept that statement as sufficient.” She resumed her neutral pose. “Please tell me any details you have of Lily’s regular habits, including places she frequents and any times during which she is most likely to be-ee-ee. Eee.”
Cindy’s mouth remained open with her lips taut. Solomon watched her eyes for a moment. He counted the seconds to himself. Her precisely timed blinking had stopped. “Cindy?”
A short stab of radio static sounded from her frozen mouth. A man’s voice spoke with the snowy quality of an old recording. “We are sorry. This unit is experiencing technical difficulties. Remain where you are and a support technician will arrive shortly to diagnose and repair the problem. You are not being billed at this time. Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters!”
Solomon’s mouth also gaped. For a time, he was as still as Cindy. He then sprang up from the bench, staggered past the sliding glass doors, and fumbled with the phone receiver. It slipped from his hands as quickly as he had picked it up. Immediately he changed his tactics and dragged his suitcase from beneath the bed. His eyes darted this way and that, scanning for any identifying personal belongings that were not packed. The recorded message repeated itself again and again while Solomon zipped his black nylon carry-on with shaking hands.
When the zipper was pulled closed, the room was silent.
Solomon held his breath and listened. The message did not repeat - only faint radio static remained. A shuffling of unseen objects made a dissonant staccato. “Mr. Hewitt?”
Solomon fell backwards onto the single bed beside his suitcase. “Y-yes?”
“Hello, Mr. Hewitt. This is Phil from Troubleshooters technical support. Your Cindy unit sent us an automated crash report. We are sending a technician out to you, but it seems Cindy’s GPS is down as well. What is your current location?”
“The Economy Inn. Hyde Street.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hewitt. We have a technician on the way. He’ll be there in about five minutes. We’ll have Cindy back online in no time. Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters.” The receiver clicked, and a dial tone took the place of the static.
Cindy sat there, inanimate, making a persistent beep-beep-beep sound. The tempo of the beeping was just slightly out of time with the ticking of the second hand on the wall clock. He ground his teeth until his jaw ached.
After a time, a knock at the door broke his concentration on the ambient sounds of the room. “Mr. Hewitt? Phil sent me out.”
Solomon staggered his way to the door, dizzy from hyperventilating. “Yeah, come on in. She’s on the patio.”
“Yeah, I know.” The technician sat his tool kit on the carpet between the twin beds. He popped the latch with a metallic clank. The hinge of the lid squealed. “Good work, Cindy. I can take it from here.”
Solomon wheeled around to where Cindy sat beyond the glass door. She had stopped beeping. She stood, brushed back her teased bouffant, and turned to face him. “It was a pleasure working with you, Mr. Hewitt, but according to our policy regarding conflict of interest, the party who was the first to contact us has priority. You have, however, made our work significantly easier. As such, Mrs. Hewitt will be receiving our services at a significantly reduced rate.”
Solomon covered his face with his palm and groaned. “Oh, god.”
The technician stood from where he knelt by his tool kit, and held a revolver’s barrel level to Solomon’s eyes. “Our client has requested personal feedback, if any, from her trouble. If you have any final statements for Mrs. Hewitt, please record them at the tone.”
“Well played, bitch. I did say that we were too much alike, after all.”
“Your statement has been recorded and will be delivered to Mrs. Hewitt upon conclusion of the assignment.”
“Thank you for choosing Troubleshooters,” Cindy said.
- - -
Thursday, December 11, 2014
By Cyn Bermudez
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” George said, his face contorted.
“Have you tried … pulling one out?” I hovered over one of the little creatures whose mangled body had fused to the metal handle of my cupboard; a magnifying glass leaned out of my pocket. I took one last drink, swishing the coffee in my mouth, its bitterness like splintered wood, the cup rattling against my teeth. An unknown horror had invaded my home. Burnt flesh assaulted my nose.
“Of course,” he said. “What … what are they?”
These beings, these creatures—amalgamated pockets of flesh and metal: tiny beasts with large black eyes, grayish skin littered with small pores. Rows of sharpened teeth lined their mouths. They cried out with shrill voices; their bodies melded into handles and hinges, and every scrap of metal found in every corner of my home.
“I don’t know what they are,” I said. “But we can’t leave them like this.”
I had seen strange and unimaginable things when held by the current, as if I had stood outside of time. Three versions of me had walked and talked in unison: me fumbling with my experiment, minutes before my shoulder was struck, another version of me trapped in my machine—in electrical current, and a version of me conversing with George as he took stock of the many creatures that adorned my home, their bodies fused twistedly. Past, present, and future unfolding at once.
“What do you propose?” The lines on George's face creased more deeply when he was worried. His wrinkled skin collapsed into deeper grooves that fell from his face.
“What happened brought them here,” I said. “Maybe we can undo it, send these poor creatures back to where ever they came from.”
“Using the machine never resulted in this.”
“This time it was different. Something new in the mix.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Clearly, my presence within the workings of the machine allowed for some kind of portal to open, a doorway between worlds, between universes.
“We’ll repeat the same steps.”
“You could die, Nik.”
“I won’t die. Simply turn off the current at the right time. Like you did before.”
“How can you be sure that it’ll work?”
“I’m not sure, but we must try. We can’t leave these … things like this. Look at them. They’re in agony.”
George contemplated my words in silence, as he always did, and he relented.
We duplicated the experiment, and I was struck on the shoulder once more. I felt my very essence split into three—three versions of me commingled with a disjointed physical reality: George and myself and the creatures, another of me that was held three feet in the air by the current, and yet another in a silent darkness that quieted my home. My mind no longer belonged to the layers of this world. I sat behind a veil of bottled lightning and watched a play of life on the most peculiar stage.
George turned off the current before my heart gave out, and I fell to the ground.
“It worked,” George said.
“I know. I saw it. I saw the future—I saw the creatures were gone.” My voice was soft, my throat parched. My body hurt worse than the first time, but it had worked! We were filled with joy. My home was empty, normal once again.
“Let’s be more careful in the future,” George said.
“Yes, yes. I know."
“Do you think the creatures are safe now? Home, like you said?”
“I truly hope so.”
Later that evening, I sat with my coffee in the dark. That’s when I saw them; I saw their faces. Moonlight through an open window revealed what artificial light could not. The creatures weren’t gone, not really; they had merged completely with various parts of my home—metal and wood! Aberrant faces, flattened and frozen in knobs and walls and floors. Black and tormented eyes stared at me. Portends of my vision of the future became clear. A deep shadow fell over my home and I wept.
- - -
Cyn Bermudez is an author, physics and astronomy nerd, and comic con enthusiast. Her work is published in Vines Literary Journal, Fiction Vortex,The Red Line, The Milo Review, and Hemingway’s Playpen.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
The Alien Chooses a Body
By Brenda Anderson
The prisoner expected no mercy. Blanketed in neon pink particles, Purry waited for the guards to unlock the door and escort her from the Alien Holding Cell to the mortuary.
She studied the bodies: a young girl and a kangaroo, arranged side by side on the mortuary bench. Which part of which body would she choose? The rest of her life depended on this decision. All captured aliens had to pass the citizenship test or be deported. She’d lived invisibly on Earth for one glorious year, loving every minute of her freedom. No question, she had to pass this test. Where she came from, everyone lived in lockup.
Concentrate, she told herself. Young girl. Kangaroo. Which sections would work better together? The moment she made a decision, Human Resources would connect the two and issue her the combination. Purry thought hard, pointed to the bottom half of the kangaroo and the top half of the young girl. Human Resources connected them, photographed her transition into the new body and tagged it.
Next, speech. Alien candidates were issued one sentence, the question, ‘Will You Be My Friend?’ If, in 24 hours, she had not used that sentence to acquire a friend and ergo demonstrate humanity, she’d be put on the next shuttle from Earth. Purry shook her head. Not an option. She flexed her new, powerful legs, stretched her arms and exulted. The kangaroo pouch wasn’t so bad, either. A girl needed a handbag.
The timer on the wall flashed. Her 24 hours had begun.
Purry hopped outside. The carpark’s boom gates were down. She sped up, jumped and landed on the other side. Ha! This was fun. Now to use that sentence. She headed to the nearest shopping mall. A fast food outlet would supply friends. Humans were sociable creatures.
Seated at outdoor tables, people ate and checked their phones. No-one noticed her, except a small boy who cried out, “Mum!” The woman next to him looked up, and her face turned white. “Jesse, no! Can’t you see? She’s …” She whispered something in his ear. The boy gave her a horrified look and hid behind his mother. Purry’s heart constricted. They didn’t want her.
One by one she approached an old lady, a few young men and a child, and repeated her question. No-one wanted to be her friend. Animal welfare activists, drunks, beggars, addicts, cops, criminals and lawyers didn’t, either. She checked a clock. Two hours remained. What else could she do?
She got half way across the freeway. In the distance a large road train thundered towards her. The median strip beneath her feet shook. Up ahead, an SUV swerved into the path of the truck, flipped over and rolled onto the strip. She leapt towards it. The passenger door of the SUV swung open and as she thudded up, a woman fell out. High pitched noises came from inside the front seat. She bent down. Strapped in its car seat, a baby screamed. Purry reached in, undid the seatbelt and lifted the baby out. With a screech of brakes another car slammed into the SUV and crushed Purry. Darkness fell.
A doctor patted her on the arm. “You saved the baby! She’s alive! It’s amazing anyone could have survived that crash!”
“Intact,” another murmured.
They shifted from one foot to the other.
“We got it all on two or three dashcams.”
Purry stared at them. These humans seemed interested in her. “Will you be my friend?” she said.
They drew in a collective breath. She looked past them. The clock on the wall told her she’d run out of time.
Tears formed in her eyes. “Will you be my friend?” she repeated. Human Resources had only given her that one sentence. Until they signed off on the deal, her vocal chords formed no other words. The humans turned away from her and talked among themselves. At the word alien, she tuned out.
The doctor stepped up to her bedside. “We’re checking your ID.”
She shook her head. No! They’d put her on the shuttle. Couldn’t she have just a few more minutes?
“Calm down.” The doctor smiled. “You saved that baby. Still, I understand the protocols.” He patted her on the arm. “Yes, I’ll be your friend. Oh, and one more thing.” He stopped smiling. “I’m afraid we had to replace your legs. Lucky for you, the kangaroo took the full impact. There wasn’t much left of it.”
Purry gaped. The kangaroo had taken the ‘full impact’? They’d replaced ‘her legs?’ What with?
A nurse bent over her. “Don’t worry. Part-body transplants are routine these days. We even matched your legs. You’ll be up and walking in no time. One more thing: Human Resources only had you listed as P915. Said they couldn’t pronounce your name. What is it, love? We don’t go by number here.” She gave a warm smile.
Purry blinked and mimed writing. Someone fetched a sheet of paper and a pen. With great concentration she voiced her name. Now to write it down.
She stopped. Purry? She’d given them her name, but Human Resources had made jokes about cats and in the end, given her a number.
The nurse clapped her hands. “Peri! Such a cute name!”
Peri smiled back.
- - -
Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in places like Andromeda Spaceways, Penumbra, Fiction Vortex and defenestration, and will appear in SpeckLit. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
The Bronze Shade
By Brady Koch
As they filled my cradle, I had worried that the drowning would be painful and I started to thrash, begging for my caretakers to take me out. Now I am thankful that they rebuked my pleas for mercy and had weighted me down with the stones. I cannot tell if their motivation lied in their commitment to the task at hand or the lifetime of money I’d paid to have it done to me. (Laughing ~1 min straight.) I awoke from the bath, no longer subject to my millennia of dreams. Yet with no eyes to see, I question if I am still in the dream.
Jeanie sat in the board room and reviewed her last page of notes from last week’s interview with Haetor. She trusted the court-appointed translator’s notes from the sessions; he had no motive to deceive her. Was it bad to emphasize Haetor’s last statement in her presentation? It was the one coherent section from any of her interviews and she wanted to use it to add some humanity where she failed to find any. Everyone deserved a fair trial.
She tuned out the Board of Directors as they held a discussion about her findings. Jeanie felt shallow thinking about her payout from this contract, when she should have been worried about the fate of dozens of waking dreamers she’d been brought on to interview. The Grant Family Foundation had asked for her recommendation for their fate. Unlike Haetor and his ilk, she had a mortgage to pay.
A multitude of internet and TV shows produced over the past two years documented the story of the waking dreamers. They all started the same way: the unnamed intern at the Cleveland museum of modern art. He was cleaning one of the bronze busts, tipped it over, and it crashed to the ground. While the fate of the intern’s credit hours is unknown, the story of the bruise that formed over the next week on the ancient Greek statue is now common lore to everyone who’s followed the story of the dreamers. After the bruise, the programs all follow the same story arc: the MRI on the first statue, the discovery of an internal bronze anatomy inside the metal, the understanding of a lost alchemy that was able to preserve these ancient Greeks, the chemical dissection of the metal to figure out how their organic tissue had been converted into bronze, and finally the reverse engineering process resulting in reanimated statues. All of this in a one hour show.
At first, scientists thought these statues had been the great thinkers of the time that had preserved to share their knowledge with future generations. Some worried that they were awakening the Olympians. The battalion of historians, scientists, and philosophers who’d interviewed the dreamers soon pieced together that these ancients were simply the aristocracy of the day who had paid extreme sums for the chance to defy death. None of the once-statues had any understanding of how the procedure functioned or could provide any insight to the cultural achievements of the civilization they’d jettisoned themselves from in their bronzed forms. With no knowledge to share, the academics soon lost interest in the dreamers, the tabloids and lawyers took their place.
Haetor was one of the many of the once-ancient, once-bronze statues that were in the middle of a custody dispute between their current country of reanimation, the museum of residence, Greece, and the Grant Family Foundation. The generations of the Grant family had donated these perceived statues to museums after securing them through all sorts of legal and clouded transactions and now that no country wanted them they had to determine their fate.
Despite an early support of the experiments the Grant Family Foundation had put a halt to the reanimation of their statues. All of them were alive in form, but their minds were no longer making connections. They were continually offering commentary to their blind dreams. Haetor was particularly unwanted. He was too horrifying to look at and was no longer art. When he wasn’t lucid he was screaming or laughing for hours at a time. Never sleeping. The museum had moved him to the basement closet.
Some of the online shows, especially the ones that had been made for school audiences, had skipped the failed reanimations. The earliest attempts had ended in piles of metal and gore. All of the videos had avoided showing or mentioning Haetor at all. He, more than the others, was a challenge to fathom. He had lived the past century at the museum as a bronze head on an ivory post. He’d become separated from his body at some point in last couple thousand years. Haetor was the only partial dreamer that had been successfully reanimated and he had no known reason to be alive. No lungs, no heart, no liver or anything below the neck. He was a questionable miracle.
When Philip, the board chair, called Jeanie’s name she jerked. She was thinking of Haetor’s eyes. The one thing the reanimators hadn’t been able get right were the eyes. Each of the dreamers still had green metal orbs rolling around blindly in their sockets; hunting for a purpose and never finding it. Jeanie simply nodded as the board laid out their plan to re-bronze Haetor and the others and try to recoup their investments. Hopefully their learnings in unmaking the statues could help them salvage their other investments. “Give it a couple more millennia and see if those civilizations know what to do with these things,” he rationalized. Jeanie considered the statues and felt comforted by their fate at the hands of these patrons. Haetor was simply an echo from another time; worth more as a statue than a living head.
- - -
@BradyTheWriter lives in Aurora, Illinois with his wife and two children. Feel free to read over his shoulder if you see him working on a new novel or short story at the coffee shop, library, or BNSF Metra commuter train into Chicago.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
By Michael Rafferty
On the morning of the third Wednesday in September the eighth grade class of Halsey Charter school prepared to give their “What I did for summer” theme speech. The class was small; twenty-four mostly well off kids. Richie Greenwall began with six weeks touring Europe followed by Chrisy Peck at her (divorced) father’s summer house in Malibu. A few others talked about weeks of shallow good times and then suddenly Zxandra was trudging up the aisle from the rear. Zxandra was new, three weeks new—-and different. She was really short, and bone skinny with a somewhat oversize head sporting spiky short, auburn hair that should have been trending, but wasn’t.
“Hey Zxandra, it’s okay if you didn’t have time to get this ready!” Janice Wilburn, the teacher, tried to give the new student with only one weird name (that’s how she registered) a break.
“Okay Ms. Wilburn. I got this.” Zxandra spun and planted herself. She was clothed in a pale blue jumpsuit with matching boots. Her eyes, an indefinite color, were large and wide set. In one of her tiny hands she held something looking like an Ipad. She tried to smile and later the kids in the front row would swear that the teeth in her small mouth came to points.
“I spent the entire summer on my Grampy’s cruiser. If it’s okay, I’d like to show a visual display…”
“Well, honey,” Ms. Wilburn interjected, “we don’t have equipment for that. . .”
“That’s okay. I got it.” The little girl pointed the device over her shoulder and a dark rectangle popped open and hovered in front of the blackboard. “Can everybody see okay?” The girl raised the dark screen higher to the gasps of the students.
“Okay, this is my Grampy’s cruiser…” A crisp image appeared and then grew larger. A silver oblong-shaped vessel with many lighted ports and openings and what looked like operational connections could soon be recognized. It hung in a void of star-filled space. “Here I am arriving. Of course Grampy is inside. Docking is all mechanical.” Another camera onboard the much larger cruiser had recorded the arrival of a smaller, sleeker ship, maneuvering quickly in to unload its passenger, then departing.
“Uh. . . honey, Zxandra, could I ask you something?” Ms. Wilburn’s voice had broken the tension.
“Oh! I’m sorry! Am I going too fast!” The girl turned to face the class.
“Well, no. It’s just that, well, exactly where is your. . . Grampy’s cruiser located?” Dead silence awaited the answer.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! It’s parked exactly five hundred kilometers above a point located in Nebraska in a stationary orbit. Can’t be in lower orbit because of the ISS Mir. . . you know, the space station. Some crazy law.” She whirled back to the visual. “This is my bedroom. It’s so cool!” The camera panned a furnished space as large as the classroom. “The view is the best part,” she said absently as a large rectangular port looked down on the planet. Their world was shrouded in total darkness. Then the sun broke through on one side and exclamations such as “Oh my God!” and “No way!” went around the room. All too quickly she showed the rest of the cruiser, to the student’s disbelief, and then Zxandra’s “summer” was over.
“Grampy says he’s coming back next year.” She said this as she walked back to her seat, smiling again, showing her jagged little teeth. “He’s going to bring some friends. He really likes the food.”
- - -
Retired retail manager. Written, published novel HEADSHOT on Amazon. Doing short fiction now for online pub. Accepted in: Beyond Imag. Mag.—Short Story Me—Linguistic Erosion Mag. Have finished Sci-Fi novel. Will shop around shortly.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Explosions and Collapses
By W. T. Paterson
It wasn’t until the third day that they began to appear; the women in the sky. They would watch us as we, from the ground, struggled to stay alive. Our ship had crashed on an uncharted and uninhabited planet, or so we thought.
These women were as large and elegant as the clouds, transparent and graceful. We were not afraid, for they were not here to harm us. As to who they were, some speculated they were angels while others imagined they were apparitions and hallucinations. But if all of us saw them, how could they not be real? Perhaps they were all that was left from a civilization that has long since vanished, or perhaps they were here to guide us into the places we have always feared to go.
They did not appear until the sickness set in. Two men complained of stomach and head pains one day, then the next they refused to move. Instead, they sat staring at the sky. That’s when the women began to appear. Their sightings soon became common, an occurrence that garnered no reaction until the infected men began to speak. It was then we noticed the women were somehow communicating, but only to the sick.
The men, they were dying. No matter what we did, it wasn’t helping.
At night, we’d hear singing just over the horizon. It was them. Their melodies became the lullabies that put our hearts to rest. We dreamt of vast oceans that bathed us. We saw trees that spoke with the wisdom of our fathers.
One morning, we emerged from our tents to find a woman in the sky looking at one of the sick men. Her arms were outstretched; she wanted him to come to her. With his eyes watering and mouth pulled into a smile, he whispered, “I’m coming home.” Death took him over. The woman in the sky bowed her head, crossed her arms and disappeared.
By sunset, the same scene happened to the other sick man. Then, three more men contracted the sickness.
As we vanished one by one, so did they. It never occurred to us that our living numbers were the same as theirs.
When the sickness hit me, I was unprepared. Though I had seen it on the faces of my men, they could not have readied me for my journey anymore than my own mind could imagine. I fought as hard as I could to stay alive, but it was no use. When I accepted this cruel fate, a woman appeared. I sat and watched her. She was beautiful. She understood me all too well, as if she were the vision upon which I had built my life. Underneath the blanket of the sky, she stretched out her palms and called my name. These women had found us; the stranded, the hopeless, the forgotten, and took us into their arms to guide us home.
- - -
W. T. Paterson is a Chicago writer who's recent work can be seen in places such as Maudlin House, Procyon Press' Anthology, and Whispers from the Past. Send him a tweet @WTPaterson
Thursday, November 6, 2014
By David Scholes
It started with the rogue navy seal snipers. They located themselves on the rooftops of several Chicago skyscrapers and just started shooting. Yet someone took them out almost before they started firing and with ease. Not even killing them, just disabling them.
Then there was the innocent man who could not be released from jail for technical legal reasons. Someone helped him escape without leaving any footprint of being in the prison. The same person got the innocent man and his family secretly relocated outside the US.
Then things really started to get interesting. With the shooting death of a child rapist and killer who kept getting off on legal technicalities. It was one hell of an execution – a shot first in the groin, almost instantly followed by the chest then the forehead. All as the child killer fell.
* * *
The unknown do-gooder continued his work unabated. The enthusiastic populace viewing him as a latter day ultimate version of the “Equalizer” character of the ancient 1980’s TV show. The do gooder appeared to choose his own targets based on his perception of the level of evil and injustice.
Next on his “list” was a well organized ring of corrupt police. What various Police Commissioners had been unable to achieve in years he did in days. Busting them wide open.
Whoever he was (nobody would even accept the possibility of he being a she) he was operating completely outside of any legal framework. He also appeared to be operating with absolute impunity and with the full support of most of the population of New York City. The authorities were powerless to catch him.
For those trying to track him down it became increasingly a case of not “who” but “what” they were dealing with.
The Navy Seals had been disabled by an energy weapon. There was nothing unusual about this. Such military weapons did sometimes get on to the streets. Yet later investigations suggested at least one energy discharge was not straight line of sight. That there had been an element of curvature in the energies fired. That was unusual to say the least as such weapons were experimental.
Another thing was that imaging equipment taking pictures of the do gooder resulted only in blurred outlines of the entity.
There had been an ex SAS soldier suspect but eventually it was concluded that the do gooder’s speed and strength lay too far beyond human parameters.
It led an investigating police lieutenant to make a different line of enquiry. Of the military.
“The Strealth soldiers when they were here over a year ago on leave during the Strealth/Dree war. They did all go home didn’t they? There’s no chance that one of them got left behind? Accidentally or otherwise.”
“As far as we know no one was left behind,” responded the assigned military liaison officer. “Yet the capabilities of this “Equalizer’ character of yours are consistent with what we know of a very good Strealth first contact soldier. Too good for any known Earth special forces soldier, past or present. Even with exo-skeleton assists.”
“Can the military help us against an adversary like this,” enquired the lieutenant.
The military man was hesitant before responding somewhat enigmatically “do you have any idea of the full capabilities of an elite first contact Strealth soldier Lieutenant? In any case what this entity is doing – getting rid of the bad guys - isn’t really not that bad is it?”
Fortunately it never became necessary for the military to intervene.
* * *
The starship arrived quite unannounced. Though upon arrival it followed normal protocol. As indeed it had done in times past. Contacting the still functioning UN alien visitor coordination control and seeking permission to enter Earth orbit.
When the time came for fuller communication the Strealth commander was quite brief.
“We left something of ours behind and would like to reclaim him,” he explained.
The reasons why the forgotten soldier had been left here were never explained to the UN. Just that he was finally going home.
* * *
We had thought, not unreasonably, that this entity had been operating outside of any kind of legal or even moral framework. By Earth human standards that was true. Yet not by the standards to which the entity was accustomed.
The soldier, as it turned out, had been a law enforcer before he was a soldier. He had started “policing” New York City as he would have any city on his Strealth homeworld.
That is to say, with zero tolerance, and more or less as “judge, jury, and executioner.”
Needless to say the Strealth home world had very low crime rates.
- - -
The author has written six collections of sci-fi short stories and two sci-fi novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to both the Antipodean SF and the Beam Me Up Podcast sci-fi sites and has also been published on a variety of other sci-fi sites. He is working on a new anthology of short sci-fi stories and also a “Human Hunter” series for the Beam Me Up Podcast site
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Last Change Agent
By JD DeHart
Recognizing the empty office,
the photos of family members
never seen, the last change agent
knows the street outside is full
of picket signs. They are tired
of his meddling.
The room is not what it used to be
(ironically) when we he first took
the job. Change history, they told him
(and sold him), but now his last
change comes with a quick motion.
- - -
JD DeHart is a writer and teacher. His first chapbook, The Truth About Snails, is due Fall 2014.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
The Button Workers
By Donal Mahoney
Since the United Nations passed the Universal Right to Work Law in 2093, Skewer International has brought back from other planets thousands of migrant workers on its company spaceship.
On the last trip, Manfred, an interloper, somehow boarded the ship even though he lacks one of the prerequisites for a United Nations green card--namely, a button in his navel that can be turned off to prevent him from speaking.
The navel button is a requirement of companies on Earth for any interplanetary worker. Manfred talked incessantly while the company pilot flew from planet to planet taking on board hundreds of other migrant workers, all equipped with navel buttons. His job was to bring them back to Earth to work in potato fields all over the world.
"Manfred, will you please quiet down," Wally, the pilot, said. "You're keeping the others awake and it's tough on my concentration. There are lots of planets and I wouldn't want to land on one that has no workers waiting to get on board. I'd waste a lot of fuel taking off again."
"I'll do the best I can," Manfred said. "I never got a navel button like the others so it's hard for me to keep quiet. But I'm a darn good worker. All I want is a chance."
The United Nations' version of a "green card" allows migrants to work in any nation. Talkative Manfred is unaware that he will be sent home on the next spaceship that leaves Earth to pick up more workers. Once he has a navel button installed, he can apply again to come back to Earth for a job.
"No navel button, no job," Wally whispered to himself. "A long day's journey into plight."
In 2093, the demand for button workers continues to grow among farmers in the United States, Italy, China, Tajikistan, Moldova and Belarus. Other countries are expected to begin hiring them as well.
The workers are valued by institutional farmers because migrants don't complain about working conditions or low salaries the way domestic workers often do. And the button workers don't need health insurance or retirement benefits. If a button worker gets sick, he or she goes back to the home planet on the next spaceship. And when they are too old to work, it's back to the home planet as well.
"They're always surprised," Wally thought to himself, "when they get sick or old and home they go, the same way they came. It saves companies a lot of money. If they die in the fields, however, they're put on a company pyre. It's a cookout, as one manager calls it."
At the present time button workers, no matter the nation in which they work, do only one kind of labor. They plant and harvest Yukon Gold potatoes 12 hours a day. During their workday, they have their navel buttons turned on so they can say yes to the foremen on horses overseeing their work and giving directions.
"Let's get a move on" is typically what workers hear from foremen. And they respond by working faster. Domestic workers don't respond like that. They're apt to protest, maybe even picket. And pickets around the potato fields won't get the Yukon Golds planted or harvested. The button workers can be counted on to get the job done. They have no idea what "unions" were before legislation led to their disintegration.
At night, with their buttons turned off, the workers head back to their sheds for a bowl of cabbage soup before they bunk down for the night. Libations are limited to water. On Sundays, each worker gets two bowls of cabbage soup and a Pecan Sandy cookie.
Monday through Saturday, reveille sounds at 4 a.m. when the foremen on horses blow trumpets, ready to lead the button workers back to the fields.
"Let's go, you buttons," the foremen yell between blasts on their trumpets. "The potatoes are calling."
Research is under way at several universities to fabricate navel buttons for domestic workers who perhaps can then be hired to work in the fields. The media remains critical of industry because the unemployment rate is so high among domestic workers.
But, currently, domestic workers are not an attractive pool from which to seek new employees because of the tumult created for many years by fast-food workers seeking a living wage. Their wages have never gone up but the workers now get an extra sandwich for every 8 hours they work.
"Some of them are barely skilled enough," complained one company president, "to put a pickle slice on a hamburger, never mind adding condiments as well."
Industry predicts that eventually farmers from every nation on Earth will hire interplanetary button workers and that they will soon work in factories as well. Manufacturing jobs will then be brought back to the land of the free and the home of the button worker.
Stock Market savants say the Dow Jones average will rise dramatically as a result. What more could anyone want in a free market economy.
- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
By Barbara Christina Witmer
The stars are a cacophonous lot. Singing, dancing to the rhythm of their luminous twinkles. Their rotation, a slow gyration like a twist of a woman’s hip, a celestial-body response to the mating ritual of the heavens. They call to me, muffled through the walls of my room, intensified when I step outside in my silver sequined dress.
Star Shudder: Celestial dance revolution, encircling a mate, twirling, turning amongst the bursting pulsations of the other stars and galaxies light years away.
Music is the most complex of the human art forms. It is internalized to evoke emotion and then like a calculator, the body converts it and externalizes in the manner of dance.
Not all music is auditory.
AstroBeat: The one individual pulse of a celestial body, one among trillions; its own tiny voice in a symphony of visual majesty.
You can go to your clubs, sweat in the dark against the skin of other bodies, forgetting that under normal circumstances you would never get so close to a stranger. I, on the other hand, would like to drive out to an empty field where the tall grasses reach toward the universe, swaying in rhythm. I jump in with them, the sequins on my dress shining by the moonlight, echoing the twinkles of the stars. The grasses will brush against me like bodies in a dance club, the great arm of the Milky Way looming over us, and we will all lose ourselves.
Earthbound: A myth of gravity.
Listen. Tune your heart to AstroBeat, close your eyes, let your consciousness leap from the tethers of flesh and gravity. Pull yourself into space. Look down and view the earth for what she really is: beautiful, a blue and green crystalline goddess with sensual curves and crevices,
Freedom: Undefined. Or rather, infinite.
What is freedom? Well, what if I could tiptoe over Mars so as not to wake him, leapfrog over Neptune, and then boomerang back around Pluto? Maybe I’ll rewrite the ancient myths of Hades and everyone will see that he’s not so bad—just lonely and in need of a good swift kick in the right direction.
I’ll tame the storm in Jupiter’s eye, find the lash that’s got him all red and irritated, pull it out and give him some eye drops. Then I’ll ride on the rings of Saturn as if I’m sitting on a spinning record on a record player. I’ll shriek in delight, then fly off the edge and laugh as I am flung into space away from our glimmering sun. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. There is no friction in space. I can do back flips without worrying about hitting my head.
Then I’ll float on to Andromeda, check out some celestial stardust. Maybe I’ll take a bite out of the Horsehead Nebula. Each baby star will taste like a sugary glint on my tongue. And if I open my mouth, my breath will twinkle and you’ll see it from the telescopes before I swallow. In my belly, the baby stars will Baby Star Shudder in a limitless party. But don’t worry, there’s more cloud nebulas with more twinkling baby stars. I’ll leave you some and you can sell it to the finest restaurants to serve to the richest people who will now want to eat star meat instead of gold-flaked ice cream because it’s the “it” thing to do, and their breath will sparkle with the leftovers.
Then I’ll spend some time standing in the center of a galaxy, set it about my hips and use it as a hula hoop. Around and around it will go, its spiral arms flaring out around me like the edges of a skirt as I twirl.
I’ll tie an asteroid belt around my waist and bungee jump head first into a black hole to see what’s on the other side. I’ll wait for the hands of time to slow as the skin on my face is vacuumed into the abyss, my body evaporating and assembling into a parallel universe.
BackAstrowards: The inversion of AstroBeat on the other side of a wormhole, comprising dark matter and dark pulses in a universe of light.
I will only get a glimpse before I am again yanked back into our own universe. I will be glad to be home, and my heart will shudder with relief, and the stars will shudder in response. I’ll backstroke to a red giant and bask in the light of his burning waves of fire lapping and ebbing in no particular direction like a shoreless ocean.
Human Condition: Finity.
And when I grow tired, I’ll sit in the ladle of the Big Dipper, curled up, my feet propped up on the North Star, careful not to dislodge it lest I inadvertently throw off the sailors or the lost and weary campers in the dead of night, while I, in space, squint down to see what they’re up to. Squinting in part because I cannot see, but also because the heaviness of sleep will set in upon me. Then in my sleep, I might drip from the bottom of the dipper as it leaks onto Leo’s head. I’ll land in his fur, and I’ll hold on tight as he leaps and bounds, hunting for food amongst the creatures of the sky. And sometime in my dreams, the gentle hand of Virgo will pluck me from Leo’s mane and place me on the soft currents of the Northern Lights as they cascade over Greenland. Then I’ll land safely on an iceberg, just as it’s breaking away from a glacier, which will carry me home, but not before I awake to see the last remnants of Star Shudder fading into the light of dawn.
- - -
I am a New Jersey native with a degree in English: Creative Writing from the University of Rochester. My work has been previously published in Eunoia Review, Whole Beast Rag, and Xenith. I can also be found on Twitter via @bwchristina.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Changes Are Coming in 2085, the Senator Says
By Donal Mahoney
It was the first time that senators had been asked to go home and address parent-teacher meetings at all the middle schools in their states. Each had been given a sheet of talking points to make the task easier. But Senator Stumpf found the task difficult inasmuch as he would have to speak at half the middle schools in his state while the other senator from his state addressed the other half. Both had to do their best to explain an executive order signed by the president on Labor Day, 2085. It would result in major changes in how people live.
Senator Stumpf chose to arrange his first middle school meeting in a small town in the rural part of his state. He thought that might be a good place to explain how wonderful this new program was. More than 300 parents were sitting in the gymnasium when he took the podium. Most of them were farmers, and they had worked hard that day.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Senator Stumpf began. "I am here to brief you on a new program that will take effect in all middle schools beginning this term. It's the happy result of an executive order just signed by our president. Additional details will be passed out later by your school principal."
So far so good, the senator thought. He took a sip of water, looked over the crowd and continued.
"Now that the 2014 Common Core educational program has kicked in and students everywhere are doing better in school, we are going to begin this year a new approach to preventing unwanted pregnancies in all middle schools. The benefits of this program will continue on into high school, college and even after that. In fact, once in place, this program will make certain there is never again an unwanted pregnancy in our great nation."
Some of the parents in the audience shuffled in their seats. This was a small town in the middle of a farm belt and unwanted pregnancies were not a topic of conversation. They happened, of course, but when they did, no problem. They could be taken care of free, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
The senator noticed more shuffling in the audience but after taking another sip of water, he continued.
"This new approach will be far more effective than our current programs in sex education because we are still faced from time to time by unwanted pregnancies despite the national distribution of free condoms and other contraceptives as well as coast-to-coast access to no-cost abortion. What a great country we live in!
"Here's how the new program will work, according to the new executive order:
"At puberty all adolescents will receive mandatory free vasectomies and tubal ligations, after which conception will occur only in petri dishes. This will be made possible by using the many banks of ova and semen donated by the best and the brightest adults from past generations. Previous presidents, senators and representatives are among the donors. We have these banks all over the nation now. Although we can't see them, they are as common as silos in this part of our state. Your generation, we hope, will be the last one to have to reproduce the old-fashioned way."
There was mumbling now among the people in the seats. Many of them had enjoyed and saw no fault with reproducing the old-fashioned way.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am also happy to report that all donors to the Ova and Semen Bank Program will receive tax breaks for the rest of their natural lives as well as an extra week's vacation each year. Of course, as farmers you don't get any vacation, except maybe a few lighter days during the winter.
"And as an additional incentive to participate, should any of you in your senior years grow weary of life with the many illnesses that come with old age, you will not be charged anything should you choose to participate in our National Euthanasia Program. Just walk into your local People's Exit Zone--or have someone roll your gurney in--and you will be promptly taken care of. Your designated power-of-attorney will be able to pick up your ashes the next day. No charge. And you will be comfortable in a very nice urn. I showed one to my aunt and she was pleased to see where she was going. She didn't want to be a burden to us in her rust-belt years."
Senator Stumpf had a big selling job ahead of him. Since 2035, the National Euthanasia Program had been available in every state, but not one person in this community had ever applied for its benefits. Sick people still lived at home with family members or in one of two nursing homes on the outskirts of town. Most folks were still buried in the town cemetery although some of the ecologically concerned sometimes chose cremation.
The mumbling in the audience had begun to grow louder now and Senator Stumpf could not help but notice it. He nevertheless went on to explain the program as best he could. So far it had proven to be one of the toughest speeches he had ever given.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the president has promised that once this program is in effect, several advantages will be noticed immediately, especially by future generations of our young ladies. They will never again suffer from morning sickness or waddle around with protruding stomachs or have to wear unattractive maternity wear.
"What's more, they will no longer have to spend nine months pregnant. Every conception will occur in an approved petri dish and gestation will take place in one of the millions of new brooders designed for human fetuses. They are being manufactured now in a small town in Belarus. We're not talking here about one of the brooders used for poultry on your farms. These are top of the line appliances that will fit right next to your microwave at home.
"And marriage from now on will become optional. Since women will no longer be able to get pregnant, there will be one less reason to get married. A man and woman will be able to spend as much time together as they want but they won't have to spend years together rearing children. Adults will be free to do what they want when they want. What could be better than that?"
The mumbling in the audience had now grown to outright grumbling. One man in the back row stood up and hollered, "Go back to Washington, you doofus. What do you take us for? Hicks? Whoever heard of such a thing?"
There was no more water in Senator Stumpf's glass so he decided he'd hurry up and give the last few talking points and leave. He was glad now that he had parked his BMW in the back. This could turn out to be a rough crowd.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, one final note in closing: The terms 'father' and 'mother' will be eliminated from the vocabulary in our country once the new program is in place. Technically, there will be no more fathers and mothers--just donors, petri dishes and brooders. It will make life simpler not having to wonder who's your daddy as they used to say back in 2014.
"Parents will no longer be necessary. Children will be reared in community nurseries and later in adolescent homes staffed by specially trained people recruited from the long-term unemployed. New jobs by the millions will be created. And as a nation, we will finally have complete control over population growth. Don't believe that bunk that there's still lots of room in Wyoming. Maybe if you're a bison you'd want to live in Wyoming.
"In closing, I'd like to remind you, as our president reminded all of us senators when giving us this assignment, in our great nation all things are possible when in Democracy we trust."
The Senator had finished now and was headed toward the back door when two huge men in bib overalls and John Deere caps grabbed him by the back of his suit coat and led him into the Men's Room for a consultation with his constituents. The senator's hair got tousled in the process.
When the noise coming from the Men's Room reached a crescendo, the others in the audience quietly rose from their folding chairs and proceeded to walk out to the lobby, single file, and then silently into the night. There seemed to be an Amish solemnity to their deportment. Some of them couldn't remember voting for this senator. But they knew he was in good hands now. Butch and Bubba would be able to explain the facts of life to him.
- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
By Katherine Rockwell
“The doctor said it could be any day now. . . I know, I wish she was here too. . . okay, love you too, Dad.” Lily hangs up and paces in front of the bay window stroking her swollen belly. She glances out the window and spots a 1966 Ford Fairlane. “Hmm, that’s odd. Looks like dad’s old car.” Exhausted, she collapses onto the sofa.
At the sound of rain falling on the roof, Lily sits up and lets her eyes adjust to the pale light coming in from the windows. How long was I asleep, Lily asks herself. She shakes her head and wanders into the kitchen. She flips the lights on and her heart skips a beat. “What the hell!”
The entire kitchen transformed while she slept: green floral wallpaper covers the once purple walls, marble countertops are now laminate, and the floor is no longer tiled but wooden. An old rotary phone sits on the counter where her cell phone had been.
“I must be dreaming. This is how I remember the house when I was a kid,” Lily says.
The rain outside hammers down and thunder rumbles in the distance. Lily steps closer to the kitchen window and glances outside. The entire town changes before her eyes. The Tribbett’s house shifts from blue to yellow and the recent addition vanishes. A small grocery store plants itself further down the street and cars from the 1960’s era line up at the curb.
“Yep, definitely dreaming,” Lily says. She glances down at her pregnant stomach and says, “What are you doing to my brain, little one?”
Lily retreats back into the living room, turning on all the lights as she goes. The TV is still on and William Hartnell is fighting off Daleks in Doctor Who: Destruction of Time.
But…that episode’s been lost for years, Lily thinks.
Upstairs, a window slams shut and startles her. “Oh shoot, I forgot about those,” she says as she waddles up the stairs. Lily moves down the hall into her bedroom and closes the windows. As she stretches she feels something pop and a warm fluid runs down her legs.
“Oh no, my water broke! This can’t be happening n-ow!” Lily grabs onto her dresser as labor pains ripple through her abdomen. She settles herself onto the bed and concentrates on breathing. Thunder outside grows in intensity and rain pounds against the windows. Inside the bedroom, things start to change: the dresser turns into an armoire and the walls turn pink.
“Who are you and how’d you get in here?” says a middle-aged woman standing in the doorway.
Lily wipes her sweat soaked hair from her eyes. “I…I…ahh…I don’t know.”
The woman considers Lily and her eyes grow wide. “Oh my gosh! Are you in labor?”
“Yes, and I think she’s on her way out!”
“Oh sweetheart, I don’t know how you got here but it’s lucky you found me! My name’s Mary; I can help you.”
At the mention of the woman’s name, Lily looks at the woman’s face for the first time. Oh my gosh…she’s my mom! Another contraction forces Lily’s attention back to breathing and pushing. Mary wipes at Lily’s brow and helps her through each contraction.
“You’re almost there, just a few more pushes. That’s it and…push!”
Lily gives one final push and she hears her baby’s first cries. “Can I please see her?” Lily says.
“She looks just like you,” Mary says as she hands the child over to Lily. “You look pale, sweetie. I’ll get you some water.”
“Yes, that would be great, thank you.”
Mary leaves the room and Lily stares down at her daughter. She does look like me…she’s beautiful. She smiles at her daughter and laughs. “You’re more than I could have hoped for.”
Mary returns smiling at Lily and says, “You look exhausted. Do you want me to take her and let you rest a bit?”
“I don’t want to leave her with a…stranger.” Lily looks at her mother’s face and caves in. “I’m sorry. You’re right; I’m too weak right now. I know she’ll be in good hands.”
Mary smiles and cradles the child in her arms. “Have you thought of a name for her yet?”
“No, not yet. I have to think of a good one.”
“Alright, Hun. You get some sleep and we’ll be downstairs.”
Lily watches Mary leave the room with her daughter. As she does, she smiles knowing she got to see her mother one last time. Content, she closes her eyes and feels herself drift away.
An hour later Mary sneaks past the sleeping child and heads upstairs to check on Lily. When she enters the bedroom, the bed is empty with no trace of Lily anywhere. Where on Earth could she have gone, Mary thinks. Downstairs, the baby cries and Mary rushes down to her.
“There, there, Sweetheart. Everything’s going to be all right,” Mary says as she rocks the baby back and forth. She walks into the kitchen and dials Joseph’s work number. When he answers, she tells him the events of the past few hours. Not knowing what else to do she says, “Joe, I think we should keep her: she’s a gift. I doubt the mother is coming back.”
Joseph is silent for a few moments and says, “We’ll talk about it. God knows we’ve tried to have our own child and failed. I’ll be home in a few hours to meet her.” He hangs up.
“If I give you a name, he’ll have to let me keep you.” Mary glances around and sees a vase of white Lilies Joseph gave her. “Welcome home, Lily.”
34 Years Later:
“The doctor said it could be any day now. . . I know, I wish she was here too. . . okay, love you too, Dad.” Lily hangs up and paces in front of the bay window stroking her swollen belly. She glances out the window and spots a 1966 Ford Fairlane….
- - -
Katherine Rockwell is a creative writer with a passion for fantastical and scientifically rich worlds. In 2010, she earned a National Silver Medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
The Fire Wizard's Apprentice
By Kate Franklin
The fire burned well as the people gathered around, enjoying the warmth. Even a few feet away, the ever-present chill numbed their bones. The boy stood close and watched as the older man lifted a heater from the pile and placed it on the fire. Even though they were not related, he thought of the Fire Wizard as a father. He thought the wizard felt that way too because he often looked closely at the boy, and sometimes he seemed about to ask him a question. The boy, now nearly as tall as the wizard, had started going with the men, searching for heaters and whatever else could be salvaged from the rubble of another world. It was only one of the changes that had come over him lately.
The Fire Wizard knew things about how the world used to be, when days were warm and people lived in big dwellings, rather than huddling together wherever they could find warmth. Everyone gathered heaters and brought them to the center of the village, but only the wizard chose which ones to burn. "Books," he called them. He'd close his eyes, holding a book before deciding to burn it. Sometimes he fed sticks or pieces of old trees into the fire, but only in the early morning, for warmth, never at night. Night times were the best. The folks all sat around, as close to the fire as they could. Feeding in one book at a time, the Fire Wizard closed his eyes, and as the smoke rose, he'd tell stories that kept the others listening in rapture. He told about amazing people doing fantastic things: building dwellings that shone like the rain when it froze on the bare tree branches, crossing a great sea, even traveling to the stars.
The boy treasured the stories. "HOW do you know?" He had asked. "Please tell me how you know about these people and this other world." With a smile and a nod toward the fire, the wizard answered, "IT tells me. The fire tells me about the world that was before."
Now as the boy approached the wizard, he looked around to make sure no one else was in hearing range. "What about these... feelings, these pictures..." He stammered and looked around again. "I've been seeing things when the books burn." There it was; he'd said it out loud for the first time. It had been clawing at his gut for some time now.
The older man stopped feeding the fire and looked up."What do you see?"
The boy tried to describe how, when a book caught the flames, he'd feel different kinds of things. "It's like... people are talking to me..." he stumbled, looking for the right words. "Sometimes I feel happy or excited...sad sometimes." Often, he felt intrigued, as if he knew a little bit about something and wanted to know more. There were bad feelings too, fear that made him tremble and look behind all the tree stumps and boulders. Once he had a sense of revulsion that made him want to run away from the fire. "I didn't like that. I felt scared and kind of sick."
The wizard put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "The fire warms the others and cooks their food, but the fire is more than that to you, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said, with a steadiness he didn't feel. "I see people doing things and wearing strange clothes, riding things that aren't animals. Sometimes I don't understand their words, but they're busy, talking to each other, going places. Places I could never have imagined."
"Yes, that's how it starts; it's how the fire talks to you. I have so much to teach you ---" He stopped as an excited group rushed into the clearing. "Come, Wizard," they shouted. "Come see. We found a place with lots of heaters. It looks like enough to keep us warm for a long time." They followed the crowd to a place where rubble had been cleared. "We were digging here and look...."
There was a narrow opening, just big enough to slide through. Inside it was filled with books. They were lined up or in stacks that went nearly to the top of the place. The boy gaped in awe at the amazing numbers of books. He felt it already - the energy of so many fires.
"The Wizard said they had huge places, where they kept power," one of the diggers said. "This must be one of them."
"This is a power place," the boy whispered.
"Yes," the Fire Wizard nodded, scanning the area and smiling at the boy. "This is a place of great power."
- - -
Kate Franklin lives in Sarasota Florida, where she teaches college English. Her novel, The Tattooed Mermaid, was awarded a Silver Medal in 2013 by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. She has short stories in a variety of print and on-line publications.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Sonic Boom Pencil Lead
By David S. Pointer
Retrofuturistic word stockings over her tan ankles onto my imagination’s burning wall
Retro-futuristic word syrup hand-dipped in sadistic insanity chocolates withheld
Retro-futuristic word rot tossed like animal parts out to the poem’s edge
Retro-futuristic word-list wanted posters for the ventriloquist’s humantriliquest in linguistics class pairing off with containment field dictionaries
Retro-futuristic word-stick ponies to gallop into the hundred year trance aboard a writer’s desk not yet built to burn down with midnight oil
Retro-futuristic word-kisses for all the blessed creative flock classmates trying to birth tough, magical poems into airship balloons
Retro-futuristic techno-talk between teachers, students and the entire fellow- traveler-world to include the last blade of elephant grass elsewhere
Retro-futuristic smoke signals uploaded into multimedia lab special space probe extravaganza
Retro-futuristic word-mystic reporting for outpost duties telepathized or stated clearly on assignment into implanted memory obscurity
- - -
David has been writing for almost 25 years.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
By DS Peters
One day you will find this
in a slow tumble drifting
surrounded by the dust and debris
the dark matter splattered with mottled DNA
the refuse and shards of memory
the vibrating strings and infinite nothings
the leftover scraps of our self-styled lives
these rusted chains and barnacled anchors
one day you will find all of this and allow it to float
into the great black wyrm of the multiverse
You might wonder what happened
or perhaps you'll know too well
having passed so close to your own self-annihilation
yet you survived
and thrived to flower into this burgeoning
bounding, singular multiplicity
this search and salvage civilization
this conglomerate of survivors
and knowledge delvers
the excavators, as it turns out
sifting through the spinning dust
the dreams of eternity
forgotten, fired, and ashed
iris drinking deep a dark beauty
cravings of the flesh, delusions of a soul
Jiminy on a fiddle, tapping shoes
and the heart of a child in flight above the zephyr clouds
but sluggish rivers at night softly gurgling
beneath the brightest white of swiftly falling snow
warm lips on cold earlobes
and love only love everlasting love gentle love
love on the fingertips and on the breath of the last goodnight
all obliterated and particled
unraveled into the most basic components of indetermination
sub-atomic yarn frayed and singed
each dimension a fuse leading fire to the next
the first dimension now a drizzling splat
the second a wire crinkled and throbbing
the third dimension a splinter-misted wraith
the fourth is filling with a yellowing pus
the fifth and sixth are graveyards for abandoned dreams
the seventh dimension is tangled in a loop
tangled in a loop
tangled in a loop
forever reliving the ascending fury of its own demise
the eighth is a wide-eyed and whispering fear
the ninth, tenth, and eleventh are calmly waiting, clasping hands
and the twelfth dimension smiles, as it has lived through all of this before
One day you will find all of this
when the division of days and nights is no more
and the apex of midnight envelopes every sight
and you will endeavor to understand the obsessions, the drawn lines
the minds that could not process the sensory uploads
all of it twisting in the wake of a ruptured Higgs boson
all of it transfixed by the gravity of the mirrored singularity
all set aglow by the energy of the devouring wyrm's spindle-spire
and all returned to the dark fabric
to become precious potentiality once more
if you will only let it go
- - -
DS Peters is a writer, a traveler, and a plotter.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
The Plastic Suitcase
By Eric Suhem
The little boy sat by the pond, tousled hair in his eyes, feeling the cool grass between his toes, smiling as he looked at the fish swimming in the water. Steve remembered this pond from his childhood.
Steve was awoken from his dream by a shrill ring of the cell phone. “We require your services at corporate immediately. Catch the next plane out,” said the voice on the phone line. Steve put plastic clothes into a plastic suitcase. He put a plastic toothbrush onto plastic teeth, brushing with even strokes.
Zoom, Zip, Bang! Steve thrust himself into the synergy of the moment. "Give me a plastic Pina Colada, baby, I'm here to stay!" he said to the flight stewardess. He whispered sweet nothings into the ear of the other stewardess, who was splayed out upon the plastic food tray, delighting in the peanuts, Sprite, and napkins that were sucked into her writhing spray-shellacked beehive hairdo nudging itself against the industrial tan fabrics of the reclining seat in the preceding row, occupied by the portly businessman.
Steve’s plane landed at the airport and he walked through the plastic terminal, staring forward with a steely glint, checking his media devices, texting appropriate responses. After looking at his plastic agenda for the corporation’s ball-bearing and therapy advertising campaign, he got into the new rental car, air conditioning on, friendly fumes of lacquer and paint solvents filling his lungs. The temperature, as always, was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
When he arrived at corporate headquarters, the employees flung themselves at his feet, kissing his hard plastic boots, their lusting eyes craving his image. Steve entered the conference room, where his team showed him charts and graphs. The team milled about, commenting, pursuing deep-seated needs, hoping to find an advantage and gain Steve’s favor, carrying out Freudian agendas as they acted upon the murky volcano lurking deep within their unconscious. Later, Steve and the management team bonded over martini olives, brilliantly reforming the ball-bearing and therapy advertising campaign into a cultural force.
Steve woke up the next morning, writhing amongst the secretaries on plastic sheets in the plastic bed, administrative lacquered plastic fingernails slicing thin rivulets of blood into his back. Festive, hunching orangutans flew through the dark spaces of the hangover in his skull, while he prepared his mind for the next gathering of hard-charging entrepreneurs, looking to create a new tomorrow for the rest of us, little grey monkeys trimming nails from their bulging toes. Steve decided to step outside and walk around the ponds and rivers of the corporate grounds.
He saw the little boy sitting in the grass by the pond, still smiling at the fish in the water. The boy waved to Steve, and Steve waved back, seeing himself from long ago. A sadness and regret started to overwhelm him. He blinked and the boy faded away, waving goodbye.
Steve regrouped and looked at the water, deciding that there weren’t enough fish. "What about piranha? What about carp?" he demanded. Steve got on the phone and decided to make things happen, placing a call to facilities, with a dictum of restocking corporate’s plastic ponds and rivers with piranha and carp.
His coup at corporate complete, Steve packed his plastic suitcase and left headquarters for the next assignment, located in a climate where he was sure to find more succulent piranha and carp. Instead he’d find blood on a broken air conditioner, a story that would end with hard nails in a warm room.
- - -
Eric Suhem lives in the orange hallway.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
By Michael Fontana
Rain fell like dimes from a pocket. I lay face down on the grate, on the street, creak of dress shoes passing by. The grate blew hot so the metal of it heated to a boil. My bare arm lay on it long enough to where the skin burned. I thought it would blister so I raised it up. There was a bubble on it but it wasn’t a blister after all. It was a little planet.
How could I tell? I had seen much in my months on the street. I had lived inside of trees like an elf, inside abandoned buildings, inside shelters where nightly stabbings went unchecked. I decided it was safest out in the open where I could at least hear fatal footsteps coming and make a dodge away from them.
The grate offered some heat, boiling facedown while my backside remained exposed to bitter winter cold. I was a tall man so my form fully draped the grate. My clothes were already tattered so scorch marks didn’t mar them more. I smelled ripe like the dumpsters I invaded to seek remnants of other people’s eating.
I had heard of little planets forming on other people’s skin before but never mine. It was a precious item, like my body had become the universe and God, wherever housed, had selected it to unveil brand new forms of life. I was careful to inspect my little planet because the skin surrounding it stood membranous and thin. Within this fragility lay an amniotic fluid that sank with the slightest pressure of my fingertip.
I turned over on my back and then sat up though the heat burned my buttocks. I struggled to see inside the little planet through the fluid. Inside I swore, after a long spell of staring, that the whorls of my fingerprints began to move and gradually that movement took me inside the world. The fluid after all only lay above it all like clouds. Beneath the clouds worked centipedes.
The centipedes were nearly microscopic yet they undulated with their movements, working to build a bridge that led over a silver river where small automobiles hustled to and fro. Puffs of exhaust followed their every acceleration. The centipedes wore steel caps on their heads and spoke in broken cadences that resembled my own English but without any vowel sounds.
It became my mission and goal to protect this little planet from rupture in my days. I didn’t want to wrap it for fear of squishing it to demise so I carried my arm gingerly, the planet clinging just below my elbow. People assumed I was injured, which softened the normal stares I received, my beard growing like a haystack from my chin, my face creased with dirt, my hair long and alive with flies.
I walked along downtown streets in search of food. A dumpster left unchained outside a greasy spoon seemed inviting so I flipped its lid and wormed in, careful to lift the planet up and away from harm. As my feet flailed out of the dumpster lid I suddenly felt a hand grip my ankle and pull me backward.
“Out of there, filth,” a masculine and official voice said.
I kicked briefly free of the grip before it sought me again, this time unyielding, this time followed by a link of cold steel. A handcuff for my foot. How novel. Another hand clasped the second ankle and soon I was hauled out of the container and onto the concrete which I struck first with my nose, breaking its skin into blood. I maintained the little planet in suspension, away from harm as best I could.
“What’s your name?” the police officer asked.
I had long since given up speaking because it only led to more problems. Police, social workers and judges spoke a lot, always with the same end result to the merry-go-round ride: back out on the grate. I sought to pre-empt the empty ride by saying not a word.
“I asked your name,” the officer said again, this time seizing my ankle, adorned in its cuff, and giving it a twist. The torque contorted my face into displeasure: eyes crushed shut, mouth crooked. Yet still I kept the little planet in suspension, outstretched as if it might soon break away from me and find its own singular and independent orbit.
“You hurt?” He asked, now kneeling beside my head, touching my elbow gently, seeming to examine the planet as if to name it and claim it for himself.
I pulled it away from him.
He stood back up. “Uncooperative, eh?” He said. He gave my ankle another twist for good measure before dropping it.
The planet was unaffected. I could feel cars and centipedes inside it rumbling along bridges and roads, toiling in their way, unaware I was their protector and they were under what resembled pure celestial assault.
It was the only responsibility I held in the world, the only point to existence that I had been given and I damn well would defend it even with this gaunt and sometimes drunken apparatus. The officer had released the free end of the cuff so I was able to stand up. The empty cuff tinkled like raindrops on cement as I dragged it away.
“Where you think you going, buddy?” He said.
I said nothing. I continued to move, slow though my motions were, in the direction of lamps on the street where there just might walk witnesses. The officer walked more stridently and seized my arm, narrowly missing the little planet with his hand's brute force.
“You’re coming with me,” he said. “We have laws against vagrancy in this town.”
And then his finger tapped the little planet. Not hard enough to break it, mind you, but enough to send a tremor through it. I could feel bridges collapse within it, roads sever, centipedes grab their caps as their bodies contorted with the pressure. This made me very sad.
That’s why I tore my arm away from his grip. I did nothing else, just tore it loose and stood there: bug-eyed, wild-haired, gap-toothed, more animal than man as I imagined our creator to be. The officer responded swiftly. He removed a stick from his belt and struck me across the forehead with it. I fell backward and heard him say, “Resisting arrest, eh?”
My eyes remained closed and a thousand constellations bloomed into life behind them, the inside of my skull yet another universe bearing multiplicities of life. But instead of rejoicing for these new forms created, I wept for the old one. I could feel the little planet had burst open from the fall, its amniotic fluid creeping down my arm, its centipedes and cars and roads and bridges falling from protection of its shell to where the atmosphere lay lethal. Rain soon washed it all down into the grate, which steamed and seethed with its presence.
- - -
Michael Fontana lives and writes in beautiful Bella Vista, Arkansas. He is the author of two published novels, Sleeping with Gods and The Sacred Machine.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Two Flying Saucers
By Donal Mahoney
A flying saucer whirrs
through the kitchen air
almost hits him in the head
flies out the open window
followed by another saucer
sailed at him by her
angry that he's earthbound
can't take her to the moon
one more time tonight.
He's getting old, he tells her.
She should have come aboard
when he was 23 and flew
all night from star to star.
He ducks again and gasps,
"Once must now suffice."
- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
By David K Scholes
CASMCF - the acronym stands for Comprehensive Advanced Simulated Military Conflict Facility.
Alien military come from many different worlds to use the Earth based facility. Mostly worlds favourably disposed to Earth as many are. Yet sometimes potential enemies come and are allowed to use the facility. They test themselves against the Earth military and others in simulated battle.
Almost every conceivable military conflict is catered for. Simulated landings on alien worlds and moons ranging from small special forces type incursions to larger affairs. Then there are simulated defences of Earth against all manner of alien invasions. Also alien terrorist capture of space stations and star ships and many other mil-conflict scenarios.
CASMCF is run and run well by the large CASMCF Board. Many of whom are working board members and part of high level management. With so many worlds and races using the facility it was long ago agreed that the board would be multi-world. With representatives, only one from each world, of the major Galactic powers. Together with some representation from the lesser powers. Even the non board member high level management of CASMCF is on a world representative basis though Earth as host world carries a disproportionate amount of lower level administration. Thus the overall control (both high level and operational) of CASMCF had long since passed from Earth Central Command.
I remember well my visit to CASMCF as a junior officer. It was a place that got the adrenaline going like no other. Some said more so than even actual combat. Yet in truth the Galaxy has seen so few actual wars that many modern soldiers would not know.
I remember when the strong Vorg contingent came. They were mostly pitted against Earth units and we didn’t seem to shape up so well against them. I remember worrying at the time that it might encourage the cocky Earth hating Vorg to take things a step further. Yet it didn’t and a strange grudging respect as to their respective military capabilities started between Earth and the Vorg that continues to this day.
Later on I became a qualified mil-conflict trainer at CASMCF. It was only then that I first began to gather an appreciation of the true significance of the CASMCF facility. A significance that I only truly came to appreciate in the later years of my life.
It has been claimed that some simulated conflicts at CASMCF have led to actual wars. After one military power has tested itself against another military and its confidence grown as a result. If this is so then there were many, many more wars that were averted by the regular use of the CASNMCF facility and understandings between races that developed there.
Very occasionally supposed simulated conflicts have became actual conflicts. This is true. Though never without the approval of the relevant planetary authorities and also of the board of CASMCF. The original creators of CASMCF knew what they were doing.
All Board members and senior management are thoroughly vetted. All have come up through the ranks of their respective militaries and most have been instructors and also moved through the administrative ranks of CASMCF. And all have been selected for their inter-species tolerance
I should know as I am current Chairman and Earth representative on the CASMCF board.
Trust me – it works!
- - -
The author has written six collections of sci-fi short stories and two sci-fi novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to both the Antipodean SF and the Beam Me Up Pod cast sci-fi sites and has also been published on a variety of other sci-fi sites including this site, Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows, and (the then) Golden Visions magazine.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
By Tantra Bensko
Somehow, it looks like water. You approach it, and it waves, it sparkles. More like mercury, liquid silver, something impossible. Something undeniable.
Her secret tattoo artist does very good work. If she let on who he was, he would be killed.
She can only pass on new business for him by literal word-of -mouth, to people whose aural style shows they are trustworthy. Vulnerable, and safe. Only through something akin to a “shotgun.” His identity has to be spoken within your mouths, passed from one to the other, so nothing escapes through the air. You have to feel it from her tongue's articulation against your tongue, your cavities of shining darkness flesh, your soldier row of teeth, your lurking uvula. They must be upstanding.
You wish you didn't bite the edges of your cheeks with your own teeth so much, and leave their sine-wave imprints. That throws off your acoustical extrapolation of the words she presses against your mouth's cavities and extrusions. You wish your tongue wasn't swollen from some Chinese Medicine god's curse. The pillowy teeth marks on the side of your fuzzy tongue give her meaty tongue-thrust words a confusing accent. You need to find out who gave her that mirror tattoo on her shoulder.
Because you want to kill him.
You eat a macro-biotic diet and wear a mouth-guard. You try not to suck your cheeks. You position your tongue's tip to the top palate with all your attention on letting your mouth become a clean slate. You wonder why it's called a palate if it's spelled like pal ate. Your pal ate your mouth. You can't stop moving your tongue as you think these very words. Tiny involuntary movements of inner-speak. That's what gives spies away.
You practice holding your tongue with your fingers at night.
When you see her next, she has gotten a new mirror tattoo -- on her shin. You really hate to talk about it. But, the mirrors reflect, in particular, all those things you accuse her of wanting to do, that you, “Mr. Monogamous Transparency” in fact, want to do yourself.
You hate her more. And that's the worst thing you could do. That makes terrible reflections in her shin tattoo. Growling furry slobbering teeth. You want to never look at her but she means too much.
HaHA! She says. She is being proactive. She is being firm and aggressive. She is no longer taking the stance of dissociating. When people project their shadow sides on her, she doesn't just take it any more. She kicks ass with those tattoos. She is a firm bitch. Makes you want her more.
You find it most interesting when she wears panty hose, refracting the reflections of your psychological projections. Shimmery!
OH NO, you yell, next time you see her. No that's not OK. Not OK!
Because she has a mirror tattoo -- on her face.
You have been dreaming at night of her leaving you so you could use your victimhood to rationalize dreaming of orgies with other women.
Every night, you dream of cuckolds showering her. Her sexing up hitch-hikers. You glare across pillows. You shout that you know she will do these things! You can tell from your dreams she is that kind. You earned dreaming revenge-sex with sexy chicks again. It's only right, after what she did to you in your dreams. Only right.
Your accusation-dreams now carnival-ride through the fun-house mirrors of her forehead and the ridges of her nose. You see your own desires for other women coming out her nostrils like mucus. They slide along cheeks, short skirts flying up in the air as they land in shadows. She swallows her grin sickeningly, her tongue lolling across her lips, the only things not tattooed except for her eyeballs.
When you try to kiss her, you see reflected the cross-dressing Pony Girl's face that you pretend is hers when you make out. And the Pony Girl, isn't she/he under-age? To actually have to see the Pony Girl laughing at you, on your girlfriend's body, is just wrong!
Your girlfriend sports a better posture these days with more of your weakening projections of bad behavior reflected away from her. She is strong enough to work more than she was able to before since you've started dating. And save up money for a full body mirror-tattoo.
She is going to shave her head.
You resolve to track her when she drives anywhere. This mirroring can't go any further. You will be the invisible face in the rear-view mirror, hidden in the bushes, following in the rented car, in a wig. You will find this tattoo-artist of doom. This --- metal-man. You will shoot him, or you will shoot her in the face, one or the other.
You notice the revolving door motif tattooed around the edges of the face-mirror. Hm. You like the roses around the Victorian mirror on her thigh much better. And the mirror tatt on her shoulder. With your hairstyle inked around it so flatteringly.
Then, you two go into the bathroom together. You've both always loved kissing her while she pees. You crouch down and sit on top of her lap. And when you both glance sideways, into the large mirror on the wall, you notice her own projections on herself reflected in her face-tattoo. Poor girl. Her face looks like some sort of baboon butt. Really raw raggedy red.
She breaks down crying, on the toilet, while you are straddling her tan legs, licking her tears coming out of the metallic inked holes, your hand reaching down feeling the wetness of the pee coming out of her slit. She sits straight, and tall, and laughs at you, and inside your mouth, you see your eyes reflected at you, winking like rain.
- - -
Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing through UCLA X Writing Program, Writers College, and her own academy, including the online class Interstitial Fiction Genres: New Wave Fabulism, Magical Realism, Slipstream, Surrealism, and Weird. She lives in Berkeley.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
By C. C. Parker
Tethered to the City of the Sun is the eternal chromosome. Unseen while it is both ancient & waiting in the future. Penetrating deep into the roots of churning histories where gold has been dredged from its foundries. Molten guts sloshing with fire & blood, emitting a chain of memory that codifies in its darkest moments . . . Deranged spectres hardening in a meat-furnace as the body grows rancid. Born larvae-like, but eventually taking flight. Enough to break its shell of shit that’s encased them for so long. Dust incinerated in final dawn as the planet slips. Burning. One more look behind as they carry a broken god on their backs. Nearly impossible to reach their destination, but that’s how they’ve survived so long. Physicality both spore-like & metallic to climb through stars. Long periods of sleeping between bouts of pain. Bound to one another in the cosmic freeze. Sharpening their dialectic meaning as they’re both brutish & philosophically charged. Seeds of night & day . . . They didn’t arrive here to conquer it, but to enforce the balance that’s always ensured their longevity. To keep blood pumping through nature’s veins & make sure she’s moist enough to reveal soft-spots in the desert – Tribes & mystics anointing her open plains. Generations to reshape the land into a valley of shrines.
Now, as the old planet shatters & boils, there’s no corner for a plaintive mind. Dilution of the spirit unremitting since before the first citadels were erected. Man hiding from man as the spawn of eras sweep him up. A current of fire swallowing his mind as he tastes blood at the back of his throat. With rage against sickness he feels for closed portals, bloated by inertia & the soundless voice. It is only heard when he’s asleep, buzzing beneath his dream. Nothing he can focus with his thoughts. Deliriums have taken the place of visions. Arrested in throes of death even though he’s still extant. Unable to connect with the essence of his sublimity. In the face of freedom as it is denounced. Self-immolation in the face of dire ignorance . . . Yet, among a fading race, there were those listening with grim defiance. Hidden inside ruins where roads are still paved in gold; inlaid by skulls. Eyeless sockets gaze into burning sky. Blinded by holocaust (to remind them while they’re still here). Sight forsaken by reason & progress – Knowledge of death that’s only capable of transference. Inside charnel winds of memory’s estate. Future looms cold & calculated. Even as wilderness remains uninhabitable & the wound opens up. All secrets, once uncharted, bleed-out & roll back into an ocean of unreceived symbologies.
A golden chain weaving invisibly through plasmic regions. Even if one is falling or waking in his shell. A burning question enters thought making him desperate & desirous of a more atomized way. Realization becomes the ocean he’s always considered to be a sequestered zone. Only gods had access – But he was a god! Holding a scepter in his fist with the head of many beasts. Roiling eyes to gaze down disparate corridors. Not legion, but plenty. All separate, they can easily unify. Drinking from the same cup. Blood on blood. Scintillating in dark a moment before the fire descends. Travelling through space while still entwined in each & every breath. It’s the only way he could ever reach them & why he’s still here. Many others, too, who are no longer susceptible to loney forms – Bathing in soaked orgies. Erogenous salutations as seed is blasted across fields. Erecting pyramids that connect the chain to its source. Nature’s spume coming undone in a galaxy of stars. Where he sits & gazes & strokes the fate of all things.
- - -
C. C. Parker lives in Seattle. A writer of experimental horrors in the mid-to-late 90s & early 2000s. Publishing in such mags as Chimeraworld, Bare Bone & Flesh & Blood, etc . . . Over the past decade he has become increasingly fascinated with the hermetic arts. Alchemy, Gnosticism & the like. Philosophies in sync with how he sees the world. Now, drawing on surrealism, mythology & personal wakefulness. A writer of both medieval & futuristic romances.
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