Thursday, September 28, 2017


Earth Breathing
By A. J. Howells

Rex woke with a start, gasping for air. It only took him a few seconds to realize he didn’t need to breathe anymore, so he stopped and waited for death to whisk him away but soon realized it already had. He hoped there was more to death than what he could currently see, which was nothing. Looking down, he couldn’t even see his own body through the black blanket that had enveloped him. He could, however, hear a shuffling sound, so he turned in its direction. Rather, he thought he turned it its direction; he couldn’t tell if he had actually moved.
A lamp clicked on. This lamp rested on a stand several feet away, and the person who had just turned it on sat next to it in a recliner, which sat in the upright position. The lamp’s light illuminated only the lamp itself, the stand, the chair and the person. This person was Rex, but not the Rex of now, which was a jaundiced and skeletal shell. This was the Rex of last year, plump and lively. This was as Rex appeared prior to his death sentence diagnosis.
Rex looked down at his own body, still clothed in hospital linen. His stomach was larger. He examined his hands, and they were a younger man’s again, not the brittle claws of a chemotherapy patient.
Welcome, the armchair Rex intoned. He spoke without opening his mouth.
“Who are you?” Rex asked, taken aback by his old voice’s reappearance. “Are you me?”
No, the doppelganger replied. He offered no further explanation, choosing instead to stare at Rex.
“Then who are you?” Rex was afraid of the answer, so he added, “Where am I?”
You are everywhere. Look around. Rex’s mirror image lifted a hand from the recliner and made a sweeping motion in a circle over his head. The darkness lit up with stars. Rex looked down and found he was floating in space, above more stars. The mirror Rex floated as well, though he remained in the armchair. The table and lamp had disappeared, no longer needed because of the flood of light the cosmos provided.
Turn around, the mirror Rex said. Rex did. In the distance was the sun, a shimmering pinprick, but growing. Stars were now shooting past him, leaping over his shoulders. Some of them grew much larger, transforming into hulking gray planets that flew by without a sound. The effect was disorienting, yet Rex felt securely fastened to the ground. Familiar planets flew past, but Rex didn’t care to inspect them. His home was getting closer.
Soon the earth loomed over him, clouds crawling slowly over her surface, revealing the oceans and continents hidden underneath. Somewhere down there was his family, huddled around a hospital bed, crying over something but not somebody. The somebody was standing right here, staring at his home, his gut dropping as he realized he was barred from returning.
Would you like me to turn it off? the other him asked. Rex turned around to face himself and slowly nodded. The other him reached over and flipped an invisible switch. With a clicking sound, the lamp and stand returned. The surrounding stars and planets flickered out.
“What now?” he asked. The mirror Rex rose to his feet and stepped to the side of the recliner.
Now you sit.
“That’s it?”
That’s it. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat. It’s quite comfortable.
“This doesn’t sound like heaven,” Rex said.
Who said it was?
“So I’m in hell?”
No. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat again. Please. Sit. You’ll understand.
Rex walked to the recliner and turned to face the blackness. He lowered himself onto the cushion, then looked over to the lamp. He didn’t look at the mirror Rex as he spoke to him, and he found that he no longer needed to open his mouth in order to speak. Can I turn the stars on? Can I watch my home?
You can. Anytime you choose.
Rex reached out to the lamp and placed his hand on it, the switch resting beneath his thumb.
You can watch your home, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Rex turned to the other Rex, but he had disappeared. He flipped off the switch, and the black blanket returned. He sat in the recliner and began to force breaths he no longer needed to move in and out of absent lungs. He counted them until he focused his concentration enough that he became his breaths, and his body dropped away.
He was no longer sick. He no longer missed his family. This made him neither sad nor happy. Rex just was and wasn’t there, and he now realized that this was all he’d ever wanted.

- - -
A. J. Howells is a high school English teacher living in the woods with his wife, son, and soon-to-be-born daughter. His work has previously been featured in ABSENCE.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


The Truth of It All
By David Castlewitz

Hunkered down behind a pile of rotting vegetables, Boris extended his claws and prepared to fight his way free. He thought he could evade the three black-striped gray felines patrolling the dark alley, scamper up a nearby wooden fence and make a break for freedom. After that? He didn't know. The surrounding cat colonies wouldn't welcome him. Just as his own, King Raymond's Troupe, never allowed interlopers into their midst.
Maybe the cats he watched from his hiding place weren't hunting him. Well-fed and well-groomed, the three were prime examples of the Enforcers King Raymond liked to keep around. Their whiskers twitched. They sniffed the air. They arched their backs. And they were silent.
Boris hoped they sought intruders, felines native to the planet who'd stumbled into the area, abandoned pets that humans dropped off at the mouth of the alley in the hope that the other feline denizens of the city would take them in.
King Raymond's Troupe, a mix of home world clans according to Old-T, controlled a small amount of territory. They had half the length of a back alley and the entire basement room of an abandoned factory building. Enforcers kept trespassers out. They also kept the peace. Which meant, no one could tell a counter-story about their origins. What Boris said earlier that night caused chaos, with every cat in the troupe screaming for his blood. Their spitting and hissing had sent him fleeing, sent him into hiding in the darkest, deepest parts of the king's domain.
"Old-T doesn't know everything," Boris often said to anyone who'd listen.
Mably, a sleek gray-haired cat with blue eyes promised Boris her love in spite of what he said about the troupe. Peers, they'd met as kittens and mated three times in the past two years.
"I don't like sending them for schooling," Boris complained after their first litter of three black-and-gray striped kittens. "Old-T fills their heads with lies."
Maybly countered with, "We don't really have a choice."
All kittens attended the school headed by Old-T, who claimed to be a survivor of the crash that brought their kind to this world.
"What were you?" Boris once asked the old cat. "First mate of the ship?"
Nearby kittens, all of them close to graduation, mewed with laughter, which earned them a slap on the head by Old-T's proctors.
"Just a mate, Boris. A young mate in the galley. I never claimed to be important aboard ship."
For a long time Boris never voiced what he really believed. But then he told Maybly; and she shuddered with fear afterwards, warning him that he preached a blasphemy too terrible to be said out loud.
Boris bided his time, and waited for the right moment to tell the counter-story that had churned and gurgled at the back of his mind for many years. He dreamt about it. He told it to himself with his mental voice, as though he needed to practice before making the big announcement.
Which he'd do. And soon. Perhaps at the monthly gathering when King Raymond held court and awarded graduation ribbons to the most recent batch of adolescents, near-adult cats ready to take their place in Raymond's growing troupe.
"Don't," Maybly warned. "They'll run you off."
Months passed; but he knew he couldn't keep quiet forever. Even without proof, his version of their genesis was compelling. It held as much truth as Old-T's tale.
"Keep it to yourself," Maybly cautioned, sidling up to Boris and rubbing her sleek body against his.
"I can't," he said. "I have to tell the troupe. Do you want every litter we have to grow up believing a lie?"
"Maybe your version is the lie."
Boris shook his head. Something had been planted in his brain, perhaps at birth, and that "something" had matured.
At the monthly gathering, with the graduating kittens lined up to receive their ribbons, bright blue woven threads like the tattered one Old-T wore around his neck, with the proctors standing by, preening, and King Raymond poised on an overturned bucket so he was higher than anyone else, his harem of females gathered behind him, Boris approached.
"I have to speak," he said. "King. Teacher." He glanced warily at Raymond, a large orange feline, a big-boned male with hard yellow eyes. The king often let his subjects speak at these gatherings. If they obeyed the rules of decorum, tails up, claws held in. If they first brushed his paws with their tongue, Raymond let them have their say.
Some speakers complained about the inequity of the food distribution. Or they claimed, the Enforcers didn't do enough to keep outsiders at bay. Once or twice a female leveled charges against Old-T, accusing him of disregarding the special needs of some of his pupils.
Boris licked Raymond's paws in customary salute, and then paced back and forth, summoning courage, stifling a tremor in his voice.
"It isn't true," Boris announced. "What Old-T has taught us."
His audience hissed.
Boris continued. "We are not the remnants of space-faring felines that enslaved bipeds similar to the humans we find here. We didn't command other species to build the ships in which we explored the cosmos. We never ruled our home world. Nothing of what we've been taught is true."
Out of the corner of his eye, Boris saw King Raymond glaring. Old-T shut his eyes. To shut out the truth, perhaps?
Boris' thoughts flashed on the grown cats he'd seen pushed from cars near the alley's mouth, some wearing ribbons like the one encircling Old-T's neck. He pictured kittens mewing in fright and mother cats in cardboard boxes with newborns about to die.
"We were not the ones who ruled the ship that brought us to this planet," Boris said. "We are the descendants of pets. Pets! Pets that our masters abandoned and left behind."

- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Adventure Tourism
By Hillary Lyon

amid the swirl of wind
the blonde stem stands alone
as its brothers bow down

the arcane design
the expanding fractal blooms
embroider the farmer's field

from a distance
the message is deemed
a hoax an art installation

from an even greater distance
the message is deemed
an asterisk on a signpost signaling

this is the way
this is the place so cool
your jets and stay a while

- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of 21 chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Disturbed Digest, as well as numerous anthologies.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


The ABC's
By Kelly Kusumoto

The patient was old and tired and lied on an examining table while a bright green light scanned his head from chin to scalp. His breathing slowed with each passing minute. In his mind, thoughts of a finish line began to appear. Emotions of every kind fought for space inside his brain.

“Did you see it?” asked one of the scientists.

“Yes,” said another. “Is that it?”

“I believe so,” the doctor said. “Quick. Before it’s too late.”

Both scientists shuffled from the computer screen and grabbed their instruments before joining the patient at the table. One stood near his arm, the other perpendicular to the top of his head.

“Did you find it?” said the old man. “Please tell me I didn’t waste all my money.”

“I think we did, sir,” the scientist above him said.

“But there’s only one way to find out,” the one near his arm said.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

They looked at each other and nodded. The one near his arm injected a serum into his IV and waited a few seconds. The old man’s breathing almost came to a halt. “Go.”

The one at the old man’s head took a long syringe and stuck it deep into the back of the old man’s neck and looked up at the doctor who was staring at the screen. He motioned with his hands to move to the right a little. The scientist mirrored the doctor’s hand signals until he gave a thumbs up. Then, the scientist drew back the plunger and extracted a translucent, light blue substance that looked liquid but acted like a gas. The scientist at the old man’s arm had moved next to the scientist at the head and was holding a vial. Quickly, the scientist with the syringe injected the substance into the vial and the two of them retreated back to the control room where the doctor stood wide-eyed.

Next to the computer, there was a device with all kinds of wires protruding to and from it. It was hooked up to a few other machines as well as the computer. There was a lonely slot empty and waiting for this moment. The scientist inserted the vial into the slot until it clicked home. The three of them looked at the screen. The doctor had opened up a word processing document and the cursor was blinking. After a few moments, the doctor made his way to the keyboard.

“Dr. Albenar, sir?” he typed.


“Sir, if you are there, please answer,” he asked the computer.

The cursor kept blinking.

There was a feeling of disappointment in the room. The two scientists dropped their shoulders and sighed. The one with the syringe bit her lip and frowned at the one who had the vial. They both looked at the doctor who was still eyeing the screen, almost in disbelief. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What else could that be? It’s matter, but it’s weightless and almost invisible. It only showed itself when the doctor was at death’s door. It has to be his Life Energy.”

“Maybe it was,” said the male scientist.

“And now maybe it isn’t anymore,” said the female scientist.

The cursor continued to blink away aimlessly.

“Just because we believe in the afterlife, doesn’t make it true,” she said.

“It was a nice thought, a hope, albeit, a very calculated hope,” the male scientist said. “No one can say we didn’t try.”

The doctor shook his head. “No!” He pounded the desk. “Fifteen years, I’ve spent. A hundred patients. Each one, closer and closer. The data is all there. And for what? Nothing? I can’t accept this! Everyone will think I am a fool!”

Just then a beep came from the computer. They all looked and gasped. There was a line of text on the otherwise blank document. It read:

“You are a fool, Dr. Celsine. And everyone already knows it.”

They stared at the screen, dumbfounded and uncertain what to do.

“Are you going to say something, or just stand there like the idiot you are?”

Dr. Celsine shook his head scrambled to the keyboard. “You can see us?”

“I can,” the text appeared. “It’s like I am floating around, but I can only communicate through the device. I guess it’ll be known as the Celsine device from now on, eh?”

The three of them were giddy with joy and could hardly contain themselves. The male scientist started to tear up, which made the female scientist tear up as well.

“Stop crying​,​ you babies!”

They all laughed. “Can you hear us if we talk aloud?” asked the male scientist.

“Of course I can, Serbeins. I just can’t talk back.”

“Good thing for that!”

“And you, Biemel, you quit that sassy tongue.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, with a suppressed smile.

“I’m so happy, I think I want to call it the CBS Device,” said Dr. Celsine, “or maybe the ABCs Device.”

“Albenar, Biemel, Celsine, Serbeins Device,” said Biemel.

“Oh, I’d be so honored,” Serbeins said.

“I bet you would be,” typed Albenar.

A few awkward moments passed where they all looked to each other for what to do next. They had planned this outcome for fifteen years and now that it had come to fruition, no one had planned for what was next. Feeling the anxiety of the moment, Biemel asked, “So, Dr. Albenar. How is the afterlife?”

“It’s strange,” appeared on the screen. “Other than not having a physical body, I don’t feel at all different. It leads me to wonder, had you not extracted my life energy, where would it have gone? Is there some other place it goes to and if so, did I miss my chance to go there?”

“I never thought of it that way,” said Dr. Celsine.

“Well, there’s not much I can do now,” said Dr. Albenar. “How are the Sauxeit coming along?”

“Let’s get you into one and you can tell us,” said Serbeins.


- - -
Kelly is a writer of all genres. He is the Lead Game Writer for Saltie Games, the Sports & Travel writer for, and a fictional writer with short stories published in literary magazines and websites around the world.

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