Category Archives: Speculative

Searching for More by Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Road to dead city

Carla ambled on the smooth black asphalt over to Richard, who sat on the gray concrete bench. Color had been absent in her life from birth. Not because of any hereditary defect, but due to the world she inhabited. She accepted this fact, as did the others. She had been taught not to question the leaders, and she knew Richard had the same upbringing. She gazed up at the gray towering buildings—the cityscape that made up her world.

He didn’t look up as she sat down. He kept his eyes straight ahead with a vacant stare. “In a couple of hours we’ll have to return to our quarters. I don’t want to be quarantined for missing curfew.”

“I know.” Carla sat down beside him. She studied the tattooed numbers on the inside of his arm. “I see you’re an odd. I’m an even.”

“Too bad.” Richard turned and looked at her. “We won’t be allowed to couple. They are strict about enforcing those things.”

“My roommate told me that when I first moved out of the children’s home.” She twirled a strand of her long brown hair. “Odds go with odds, and evens go with evens. I wonder if it was always this way—rules governing everything—even the way we’re supposed to think.”

He looked up at the blue sky. “There was a time, eons before us, before the Global Federation, when life was very different—full of plants, trees, flowers, people wearing colors for clothing instead of our gray protective suits. There was entertainment. People moved to music, known as dancing. Eating food that came from trees and the soil, and not the nutrient cakes with water we are served. They were allowed to choose their mates. There were places to which people could travel, too.”

“How do you know all these things?” I hope he’s not a subversive. If he is, I could be punished for talking with him. “Have you been snooping in the forbidden library vaults? You could be banished to the outland and never heard from again.”

“I have the elders’ trust.” A grimace thinned his lips. “I’m not about to start a revolution …. Have you ever wondered why we all look the same? Same color skin, eyes, hair, body type?”

“No. I just thought it was always the way it is now.” Her fingers lightly touched the top of Richard’s hand resting on his knee. “Don’t tell me more if it will get you into trouble.”

“From what I could tell from the archives, there were a series of massive wars between countries, all fighting for power and global control of resources as the population grew and food and water became more precious. Great scientific advances were made and would have benefited mankind if there wasn’t one last battle that ended most of life—plants, animals, and man. The few that survived were able to pull together and create what we have now.”

“Is what we have now really that terrible?” She lifted his chin to look into his almond eyes. “All you’re doing is creating a want inside yourself. That can’t be good. Certainly not good for the commune.”

“I’m thinking of how it might have turned out for us now if the actions of others, all those eons ago, were different.” He sighed, noticing the shadow elongate on the sidewalk from the setting sun. “I might have different features, skin color, or talent for something, instead of working at the same task every day.”

“What’s the use of thinking this way? I learned in school that the old leaders forced people of different races to mate until there was only one skin color—that was the goal—to stop prejudice.” What is he getting at? There’s no way to change things. “Remembering all those old history facts have nothing to do with us now. The elder leaders know what is best. We get a televised notice every morning in the common room.”

“But, we don’t know if that leader is real. All we see is an image on a screen. We never have the opportunity to ask questions—never allowed to ask questions.” He paused as his eyes roamed over her face. “Don’t you ever wonder what will happen to you when you can no longer breed? Wonder where you are shipped off to?”

“I believe what I’m told—a better place where I can relax and not worry about tasks.” Were the elders lying to us? “To have the freedom to talk with others as much as I want, instead of only a few hours each day.”

Richard sighed with a heaviness as if he held a deep dark secret and dare not reveal it for fear of an unknown retribution. “We’d better head to our quarters. We don’t want unnecessary punishment.” He offered his hand to Carla as he stood. “If you want to believe the others end up in a better place after they’re shipped out—go ahead. Nothing will change, unless …”

© 2016 Cynthia B Ainsworthe

Cynthia has longed to be a writer. Life’s circumstances put her dream on hold for most of her life. In 2006, she ventured to write her first novel, Front Row Center, which won the prestigious IPPY Award (Independent Publisher), as well as garnering numerous 5-star reviews, one from known Midwest Book Review. Front Row Center is the first book in the Forbidden Series.

This novel is now being adapted to screen. A script is in development by her and notable Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director, Scott C. Brown. Remember?, and Forbidden Footsteps are books two and three in the Forbidden Series. She also contributed to the award-winning anthology, The Speed of Dark, compiled by Clayton C. Bye, published by Chase Enterprises Publishing. Cynthia enjoys retirement in Florida caring for her husband and their five poodle-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-B.-Ainsworthe/e/B00KYRE1Q8

https://www.cynthiabainsworthe.com

Down From Oz by John B. Rosenman

John down2

[I’ve always loved used bookstores. How about you? I love their towering stacks, their musty shadows, the constant hope of discovering a treasure in some hidden nook. Here’s a tale about a writer facing discouragement and endless rejections (remind you of anyone?) and his visit to a used bookstore where he finds a treasure unlike any other.]

 

DOWN FROM OZ*

That did it: yesterday’s rejection was the last straw!  Halting on the sidewalk, Jason Creed raised the sheets of paper he’d clutched almost constantly since the day before and read them again.

“Dear Mr. Creed:

Thank you for allowing us to see your novel, Down From Oz. Now, allow me to share with you my thoughts. I have never seen such a hopeless, poorly conceived plot in all my life. Cliches, inconsistencies, and clumsy dialogue abound, and if there’s a guiding purpose, I am unable to see it.”

The letter went on for two full, single-spaced pages, taking up specific scenes and passages only to rip them apart. Like a masochistic lamb to the slaughter, he let himself be led down its sentences to the final, killing blow: a suggestion that he find something more suitable to his talents.

Clenching his teeth, Jason squeezed the sheets into a tight ball and thrust them in his pocket.

          That’s it! I finally, at long last, get the point! I have no talent as a writer and I’m never going to write again!

Breathing deeply, he struggled for calm, but the heartbreak he had endured since receiving the letter yesterday let him climb no higher than a dull despair. God, it hurt!  Of all the rejections, cruel and otherwise, which he had received down through the years, this was the absolute worst. It was the critical coup de grace, the death knell of all his hopes.

Jesus, he thought, I even think in third-rate purple prose. I must stop feeling sorry for myself and find something else to do with my life!

The trouble was, there was absolutely nothing else he wanted to do as much as write. His job at the post office was a paycheck, and except for reading he had no hobbies, unless he counted writing, which he had always considered his life.

What could he do that was meaningful to fill the endless void ahead of him? Go fishing? Watch sports?

He shook his head and continued along the street, then paused when he saw a yellow brick building with ornate letters stenciled on a window: Book World.

Oh yes. His wife, knowing he was addicted to old bookstores, had mentioned there was a new one on their street. He sighed, remembering how she had tried to comfort him when she learned about the rejection letter, only to have him shut her out.

Hunching his shoulders, he walked past, determined to make things up with his wife and to have nothing to do with books and writing ever again. But after only a few steps, his pace slowed. He turned back and studied the shop.

What the hell?

Above Book World‘s door, an elaborate wood sign displayed a globe whose continents were pages filled with fancy cursive writing. Quills, suspended above the globe, dripped ink into its oceans.

God, it’s pretentious. Just another crummy hole-in-the-wall. But he found himself going back anyway, eyes fastened on the sign.

A bell tinkled quaintly as he entered. He closed the door behind him, inhaling the beloved dusty smell of old books and old wood floors. A stack of ancient tomes with moldy leather covers sat on the floor nearby, waiting for shelving. On top of them stood an imposing hourglass like the one the witch had used in The Wizard of Oz.

Well, he thought, the name might be pompous, but this place is real. It isn’t Barnes & Noble, and there ain’t a Kindle or e-book in sight.

A bald, slender man in his mid-thirties puttered behind the counter to his right, looking as used and obsolete as the wares he handled. Jason gave him a nod and headed toward the back, passing an old-style sewing press used for binding books.

He found the familiar, nicked and dented wood shelves holding tattered books packed cheek by jowl, some piled high overhead in towers that threatened to topple. Moving around a small platform ladder customers could use to reach loftier treasures, he peered at handwritten labels on the shelves. Mystery. Science Fiction. Biology. Occult.

He himself was a fantasy writer, with three unsold novels. Fantasy—it was appropriate, wasn’t it? What else was his whole life but fantasy? As a writer he was a brainless scarecrow, and the earthly Oz he had created was no more than a cheap, uninspired ripoff. He deserved that editor’s contempt for presuming to think he was anything else but a hack!

Suddenly, as he reached the back, a weird, ghostly green light flashed on. Blinded, he shielded his eyes. What the hell—?

The light faded. Lowering his hand, he blinked spots and after-glare away. Where had that damned light come from? He peered about, but could see only a cabinet before him.

It was a nice cabinet too, the kind with old, rich, polished wood and handsome, glass-paneled doors you opened with a key, though there didn’t seem to be one. He stepped close and squinted at the books displayed. On the middle shelf he saw Twain and Walter de la Mare, a copy of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. The leather-bound volumes all looked costly and impressive. First editions, perhaps?

He checked the shelf above it, and saw other beautiful volumes. Edgar Allan Poe. Harlan Ellison. Albert Finney . . .

Looking still higher, he scrutinized the top shelf. Ah. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. And what was that almost folio-sized one in the center? He leaned close. Let’s see. Jason Creed’s Down From . . .

He blinked, rubbed his eyes. Looked again.

Jason Creed’s Down From Oz.

He stepped back. Was he dreaming? Having an hallucination?  Surely, it couldn’t . .

He leaned closer. Down From Oz by Jason Creed. Yes, that’s what it said all right. It WAS Down From Oz, which a haughty New York editor had just crapped on at close range. He choked off a laugh, then gasped as he saw the title beside it. The Master of Marisol by Jason Creed. Christ, that was his first book, the vacuous, relentlessly spurned piece of garbage he had once foolishly thought might one day rival Lord of the Rings. And beside it, Oh Jesus, Oh My God, was The Time Merchants, his one foray into soft science fiction which fifty-two publishers, including the smallest of small presses, had unanimously used for toilet paper.

They—all three—stood right there before him, occupying the same shelf as the works of masters.

I’d better sit down, he thought. All this depression—it must have unhinged me. But that weird, blinding light . . .

Footsteps, coming his way. Dazed and confused, he peered into the gloom between the tall bookcases, half-expecting to see a row of Munchkins appear.

A crown of pure white hair materialized, accompanied by an equally white mustache. Both seemed suspended in air, but as they moved directly toward him between the stacks of books, Jason saw that they belonged to a man in a black cloak.

The man stopped a few feet away. His narrow face smiled, and he nodded at the cabinet. “Are you surprised, Mr. Creed?”

“What . . .” Jason stopped. “How do you know my name?”

The old man chuckled. “They’re your books, Mr. Creed, some of the classics that the whole world will one day read. Just a few of the things that are to come.”

Jason felt as if he had been hit by a cyclone. That weird ghostly light . . . this strange old man who spoke such impossible words and seemed to know him. He rubbed his eyes, hoping it would make the stranger vanish, but he remained right where he was.

“What are you talking about?” Jason finally managed to bring out. “Do you have a crystal ball, or have I gone mad?”

“I assure you, you’re completely sane, and what I’ve said is perfectly true,” the man said. “That’s why you must not even think of giving up writing. It would be a tragic loss to posterity.”

Jason’s head spun. Could this creature read his mind? His confused thoughts fixed on one word. “Posterity? How could you know what’s going to happen?”

“Because I come from the future!” The old man glided forward, turning Jason gently toward the cabinet. “Consider me a fan who, uh, just hasn’t been born yet. A lover of your work who doesn’t want it lost.”

Jason gazed at two large, exquisitely-bound volumes he hadn’t noticed before. Dreamfarer and The Eagle and the Sun, both by Jason Creed. Oh Christ, he thought, I haven’t even written them yet!

“T-Time travel,” he whispered. “You expect me to believe . . .”

“Do you mind if I call you Jason, Mr. Creed?” the old man interrupted. “I assure you, it would be a great honor!”

He blinked. “M-Mind? No. But . . .”

“Fine! Now . . . Jason, is time travel so hard to believe? After all,

Dreamfarer explores that very possibility. You are a master of the realms of fantasy and magical realism, not to mention some truly cosmic, mind-stretching concepts.”

“But it’s fiction. I made it up.”

“Are you sure, Jason? Remember how you felt when you wrote The Master of Marisol? The words just poured out of you and you felt like all your readers will one day—alive and filled with magic! Don’t tell me it’s just make-believe, that it’s only fiction. You have actually lived it in your mind! You have actually breathed the fragrant and magical air of Marisol, walked its myriad, labyrinthine streets!”

How does this man know that? How does he know what I’m feeling when I write? Unless—Oh my God, could it be true?

But just as he felt hope stir, Jason remembered the vicious rejection letter he had received, the letter which had been the latest of so many.

He stepped back to get some space, and as he did, his head cleared a little. He heard the floor creak, smelled the faint bite of Lysol. And the dim, looming shelves of books, however haunting, did not belong in a fantasy. They were real, he could touch them. Just as he could touch that damned letter.

He reached in his pocket, brought it out. “Look,” he said hoarsely, “I don’t know what this is all about, whether I’m confused or you are.”  He unfolded the crumpled sheets. “Whoever you are, though, you’ve got the wrong guy. This witch of an editor says—”

“I know what she says, Jason,” the man said. He raised a slender finger and smoothed his white mustache. “Your readers, those who are to come, are intimately familiar with it.”

Jason gaped. “They are?”

“Yes, because you will take care to preserve that letter. You will publish it someday as an inspiration to other writers never to give up!

Suddenly, his black cloak swirling, the man moved forward and seized Jason’s forearm in a powerful grip. “Don’t you realize it was just a slush reader, a witch on a broomstick who read Down From Oz and wrote that piece of garbage? It wasn’t the editor, just an underpaid, semi-literate fool jealous of your genius and vision. Check her letter again, Jason.”

Jason obeyed, squinting at the signature as his mind babbled that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Yes, the man was right. He had forgotten about that. Still . . .

“What difference does it make?” he said. “I’ve had plenty of real editors trash my work. Hell, I could wallpaper my room with rejection slips. They can’t all be wrong, can they?”

The man leaned closer. “Yes, they can. They can be just as wrong as they’ve been about so many other geniuses. Don’t you know that Dune, one of science fiction’s supreme masterpieces, was rejected over twenty times before it was accepted? That John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was endlessly turned down before he took his life, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize? Hell, man, don’t let them beat you!  Don’t give up!”

“But . . . Herbert and Toole were great writers.”

“So are you!” The man was right in his face now, his breath hot, his expression fanatical. “In times to come, you will be recognized by many as the greatest fantasist and stylist of your age! The author of dozens of books, most of them masterpieces!” He gripped Jason’s arm harder. “Listen to me! I consider it a great, great honor for me to meet you! Your works have inspired and delighted me, and I assure you they will do the same for generations of readers. Why, the streets and towers of your Marisol chronicles alone will be as familiar to readers as those of their own neighborhoods. Marisol’s geography and terrain will be mapped and charted and labeled in separate best sellers just as the realms of Tolkien and McCaffrey are in your own time! You cannot— you must not— stop writing!”

Jason trembled in the blasts of the man’s passion. Was it possible . . . could it be?  He lurched away and found himself staring again at the books he hadn’t even written yet. Dreamfarer. The Eagle and the Sun.

“Could . . . could I look at them?” he whispered, pointing through the glass door.

The man sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. If you read even a little of these works, it could affect the whole course of your career. It’s even possible that you might become so confused that some of these treasures might never be published.”

“Well, what about those books I’ve already written, like Down From Oz?”

The old man shook his head. “No, Jason, you will extensively revise those too. I’m sorry, but we simply cannot take the chance.”

“But . . . ” Jason moaned, filled by intense yearning. “Could I at least hold one of them in my hands?  Feel it?”

“I’m sorry. Even that would entail a risk.”

Swallowing, Jason ran his fingers along the cool glass of the cabinet. He wanted to smash it, reach in and seize his books, experience the wonder of actually reading his own words in such luxurious volumes. The need to feel their pages, smell their scent rose till his whole body trembled with it. Then he felt the stranger press his arm and reluctantly turned away.

“Listen,” Jason said, “I have to know. This isn’t an illusion?  It’s all actually going to come true? I’m not like Dorothy who knocked her head and only dreamed she wore magic slippers? I—I’m actually a good writer?”

The man stroked his white mustache. “Trust me, Jason Creed, and have courage. You are the best, the King of the Forest. Now, why don’t you go and start revising your old books and writing new ones so that one day, we can all read them?”

Jason straightened, the man’s words filling him like fire. His heart began pounding with excitement. Suddenly he wanted to dance, sing, but most important, write all the books this man had praised. Never before had he felt so wonderful, so inspired, so truly and completely alive! Dreamfarer, he thought, already making plans. Yes, I know exactly what I’ll do with that!

“Thank you!” he said, seizing the man’s hand and shaking it in both of his. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Laughing, shouting for joy, Jason Creed left the bookstore and ran all the way home, bursting with the need to shape new worlds.

# # #

The next day Angela Creed entered the store, beaming at her old friend.

“Isaac, can I talk to you?”

The owner glanced at browsing customers, then led her to the storeroom in back. There, Angela clapped her hands. “Isaac, it worked!”

“It did? Jason still believes? Man, for a failed actor, I did all right. I thought I was waaay over the top!”

“Well, those blank books you bound must have convinced him. Isaac, he’s never been so happy! He came home and started a new novel. And this morning he went off to work whistling! He didn’t mention you, but you must have been a wizard.”

“In a way I was. Turn ’round and close your eyes.”

When she did, he busied himself behind a curtain. “Okay,” he said.

Turning, she stared. “Isaac, is that you?”

He swirled his cloak, patted his white hair, twisted his mustache. “The Wizard of Oz, at your service!”

*Originally published in Brutarian, 1998.

 

A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com/

 

Who I Am, and What I Do by John B. Rosenman

2nd photo for john

In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came where three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.

Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly Biographydevoured  “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These science-fiction books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.

Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better was a birthday gift–-a year’s subscription to the SF magazine “Amazing”!

Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier-–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one.

But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, The Twisted Years wasn’t about a space pirate or psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”

While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.

Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a speculative-fiction writer, right?

After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, Down From Oz in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.

In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.

Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F/Paranormal fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories, and Treachery and Treason.  Plus many more. My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, Beyond Those Distant Stars, contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.

     Ask me why some of the fiction I write is horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.)  I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.

            In recent years, I’ve published several novels, including my Inspector of the Cross science fiction-adventure series (now in its fourth and fifth books) and the YA novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is drawn from my childhood. I’ve tried to range afield in other ways, too. For example, when I went to Rome, I was so awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I’ve also published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty published by Crossroad Press); in the New Hebrides in 1946; and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country

 

Going Away by John B. Rosenman

photo for john

            “I don’t love you anymore,” Marvin said. “I’m leaving.”

Agnes had heard her husband say the same thing three or four times before in her thirty-year marriage. She had always shrugged and ignored it. After all, she knew she was a good wife and had done her duty to Marvin. She had borne him three children and kept a nice home. What more could he want?

So she did just what she had on those other occasions. She advised him to take a warm coat and enough money.

This time it was different, though. He did not blow up and tell her how cold and selfish she was and how sorry she’d be. Nor did he storm out, slamming the door behind him. He simply sighed, turned around, and left the room.

She picked up her knitting, sighed in return, and forgot the matter.

An hour later she smiled as she looked out the window, remembering the other times Marvin had acted like a child and threatened to leave her. Each time, she had just waited calmly, and he had soon returned.

Agnes’s smile faded when she noticed Marvin’s Toyota parked in the driveway. In the past, when he’d left, hadn’t he always taken his car?

Puzzled, she poked about the house, searching for Marvin. She finally located him in the spare bedroom. He was lying in bed, the cover raised to his chin.

“I thought you were leaving,” she said.

He looked at her. “I have left.”

“But you’re still here.”

He turned his head to the wall, ignoring her.

Mid-age tantrum, that’s what it was, she decided. Marvin was just being difficult, probably because she insisted on being sensible and wouldn’t give in to his pleas to buy a new car.

At lunchtime she made his favorite, chili and cheese sandwiches, and called upstairs. “MARVIN!”

No answer. She tried again with the same results.

Finally, she went back upstairs. He was lying in the exact same position, his head turned to the wall.

“Marvin, lunch is ready.”

No answer.

She started to speak again, when she noticed that Marvin seemed smaller, more distant somehow. It was as if he were ten feet away even though she was standing right by the bed. She blinked and tried again.

“Marvin, it’s your favorite. Chili and cheese sandwiches.”

Still no response. Marvin stared silently at the blank white wall.

She sighed audibly and left. Downstairs she did some washing, then decided to go shopping. Leave Marvin alone for a while and let him see how foolish he was being. Maybe then he’d appreciate her better and come back to her like always with that same hangdog look. She smiled in anticipation. As usual, she’d play with him a little just to teach him a lesson, and wouldn’t forgive him for days.

Why, though, had Marvin seemed so small and distant? She shook her head. It must be the lighting in that room, she thought. Or perhaps she needed to have her eyes examined.

She returned with a trunk full of groceries. After she put them away, she stood listening to the house. It felt empty. Before it had always been easy when Marvin left, because she knew he was elsewhere and would soon return. But this time Marvin hadn’t left. He was still here, and she knew just where to find him. And yet there was no sound of him moving around, perhaps writing one of those silly stories which he always insisted she read. For all it mattered, he had left her, just as he said he would.

Nervously, she went upstairs. Marvin was just as she’d left him. And yet he wasn’t. Though she could touch the bed, the walls at his end of the room seemed to be retreating and fading off into space, becoming less distinct. Marvin himself now appeared to be at least twenty feet away. She swallowed, troubled by a strange thought. If she moved closer and reached out to touch him, would she be able to?

Her fingers twitched. She started to move toward him, then turned and fled the room.

Downstairs, she had three cups of her favorite herb tea. What was happening?  Marvin was here and yet, he was leaving. Or had already left. He just kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more distant. Could she be losing her mind?

During the following week, Marvin drew farther and farther away. When his boss called, she made excuses. Marvin had the flu. He had tried to call in, but their phone had been on the blink. Yes, he should be returning to work soon.

Going upstairs, she stopped just outside the bedroom. Please let Marvin come back, she thought. When I go inside, let me find him the way he always is, full-sized and eager to go to work. She decided that this time, if he returned to her, she wouldn’t act coy but would forgive him at once.

Taking a deep breath, Agnes entered the bedroom.

It was even worse than before. His end of the bedroom appeared to have faded and retreated even more, acquiring an ethereal quality that belonged to another realm. That was ridiculous, of course. She knew Marvin was still in this bedroom. Still, he did seem immeasurably distant. His tiny form now floated surrounded by stars, as if he were in deep space.

“Marvin?” she cried.

Silence. He lay with his head turned to a wall that was perhaps a hundred light-years away.

“Marvin,” she pleaded, “you haven’t eaten a thing all week. Aren’t you getting hungry?”

A shooting star fell across his face. She made a strangled sound and ran from the room.

Downstairs she choked on her tea and broke into tears for the first time since she was a little girl. Oh Lord, what was happening? How could Marvin do this to her? She thought of going to the police, but imagined how it would sound. “Marvin’s left me. He just lies up there in that room and gets smaller and smaller, farther and farther away. This morning I saw a comet shoot across his face.”

She lowered her head to the kitchen table and let self-pity claim her. She’d been such a good wife. How could Marvin treat her like this?

After a while, a thought rose. Was it possible the fault was hers? That she was to blame for Marvin’s leaving?  She scoffed at the idea but started to recall things she’d said to him.

You’ll just have to cancel your hunting trip, Marvin. We’re going to my cousin’s wedding.

She raised her head. Had she said that?

Marvin, forget those golf clubs. We can’t afford them.

After a while, such occasions cascaded in her memory. Time after time after time she’d said such things! In fact, now that she thought of it, she had even overruled him by insisting that they go to Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. She frowned, trying to remember where Marvin had wanted to go.

Finally she rose and went to the phone. She cancelled their newspaper subscription, saying she was going away, then turned down the thermostat.

Next, she mailed out house, insurance, and other payments, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked.

Then, slowly, she marched upstairs.

In the bed, Marvin was a mere speck, located someplace beyond the Milky Way. Yet, though he had traveled perhaps ten billion light-years, she could still see him. In a way he hadn’t moved an inch.

“Marvin,” she said, “won’t you come back?”

His tiny, distant figure didn’t stir. He lay staring at the wall as always.

“Marvin.” She hesitated, then leaned toward him. “I’m sorry.”

Still no response. It was as if she hadn’t spoken. Even worse, he had gotten so small that for the first time, she couldn’t see him clearly.

Agnes sobbed, realizing that soon she would lose him completely. “Marvin,” she said. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. Won’t you come back and give me another chance?”

She waited, but as she’d expected when she’d come up here, he wouldn’t respond. This time, Marvin had been serious. He had left for good, entering a whole different realm that she knew was immeasurably remote from her own.

Wiping away her tears, she climbed onto the bed. She hesitated a moment, shivering in the distant cold. Then, ever so slowly, she began to crawl after him.

(Previously published in Space and Time, Spring 2007).

 

Author BIO:


A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/Writerman1

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl   

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INDEPENDENCE BLUE by Salvatore Buttaci

ZZ.Blue Planet

A hero had fallen. At least that’s how I regarded Spicio-Major Leonid Martinez. On Terra Rica 26, he had risked his own life saving my father’s from a spice slide. Did I hold Martinez in the highest esteem? You bet I did, but it all came crashing down with four little words.

“It ain’t our fight.”

Here we were, seven years already on Giallo Finch, and the tension between the Padronistis and the working miners honed sharply. The Padronistis, who ruled with the proverbial iron hand, had invaded the planet for its rich deposits of Independence Blue and staked a claim to what had been the natives’ for millennia. They took the land and enslaved the  wingless yellow bird-like natives who called themselves the “Xybo.” But revolution was in the air. I smelled it and thought of our own history five hundred years ago when brave men stood up and fought the good war for independence.

“It ain’t our fight, Spicio-Captain Stanton. We’re here to mine the Blue. That’s our job, remember? Don’t go soft on me, hear?”

My father, dead these past years, must have rolled in his grave to hear his old comrade bad-lip freedom. Spicio-General Tyger Stanton had died defending the home front against the Eastern Hordes. Had he known the war tolled the knell of democracy, ushering in its rhymed nemesis, plutocracy, he would’ve died a thousand deaths to prevent it. The old America of, by, and for the people was tossed into the past. Now the rich ruled. A council of seven trillionaires who controlled the galactic space trade the way a mother protects her newborn.

Time travel changed the irredeemable fate of Old America. The American astrophysicist  Gustav Brandt had discovered a formula to harness time portals, twist wormholes, create instantaneous shortcuts that shaved down millions of light years to a voyage lasting  minutes. The Earth we left was the same Earth to which we returned. Parallel worlds with its myriad strands of time channels was a myth.

Space travel was now irrelevant. Stars and planets not even telescopically visible could be reached by tapping one’s wrist to the proper spatial coordinates and the chrononauts could be landing with or without their ship on planets similar to our own Earth.

Then one of the chrononauts discovered unknown spices on these unknown worlds. Cargoed back to America, these spices attacked and killed deadly cells like cancer, the plagues, the Pyrenees Virus, and the Flux. These pernicious diseases remain gone.

Martinez and I were leaders of a spicer crew of twenty that mined Independence Blue on Giallo Finch. The same SpiceCorp mined Incardine Red on Turo Venida and Ghost White on Como Mars –– all three of which had become the new significance of Old Glory’s colors. Three color spices had replaced the valor of the old red, the purity of the white, and the justice of the blue. It had transformed America into the lucrative land of the greedy and the home of the depraved. I was glad to be light years away.

###

The fight that was not ours erupted one green-sky predawn when the Padronistis rolled out their tincan tanks into the highlands of the Xybo, firing away at anything that moved. They had already sent Padronisti assassins to SpiceCorp House, slashing the throat of Spicio-Major Martinez, then blasting away the entire spice crew in their beds.

I escaped.

###

With three Xybo eggs under my protection, I tapped my wrist in search of some faraway freedom-loving planet, far from spice mines, to start all over again.

#

 

Sal Buttaci is the author of two flash-fiction collections Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts, both published by All Things That Matter Press and available at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Salvatore%20Buttaci

His book A Family of Sicilians… which critics called “the best book written about Sicilians” is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/ButtaciPublishing2008
He lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

www.salbuttaci.blogsport.com

www.twitter.com/sambpoet

www.facebook.com/salvatore.buttaci

Fragments of Dimension by Monica Brinkman

 

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 “Frankie! Come here boy.” Jennifer inhaled three whistles before continuing. “It’s me sweetie. It’s mama.”

The short-haired Fox Terrier’s ears perked, nose pointed forward sniffing for familiar scents. Finding none, he cocked his head, circled the corner and lay down, now content on licking the dust from his paw.

If only I’d been more careful, thought Jennifer. She recalled the first time it had happened. She was sitting on the sofa watching the dust twirl, dance and sparkle within the beam of sunlight pouring through the open window. It occurred to her that the sparkles weren’t actually dust particles at all but tiny dots of glimmering rays, each separated by a minuscule space of darkness. When she looked deep into the empty spaces, she found herself drawing closer to the light.  Yet her body was motionless and seated on the sofa, content on staring into the rays, not moving a muscle.  The emptiness drew her further and further into its space. The nearer she came, the wider the darkness opened as it pushed the shimmer and glittering particles of sunshine to the side. She felt the darkness widen taking over the entire area of the sunbeam and in an instance, the empty space sucked her into another dimension.  She soared above the sofa at will and as soon as she had felt fear, bam, she was back in her living room on the sofa.

Often, she had focused on the empty space, the darkness between the light. She recalled that in school they had taught her nothing is solid; there is always space between the molecules holding items or she supposed, even people, together. Somehow, she had mastered the ability to enter into the between and experience a dimension where the body was lighter than air and could float across space and time. So addictive a game it was and such fun that all fear of the unknown ceased and the incidents became more a habit than an exception.

Now she had gone and done it.

Jennifer pressed her Miren shaped nose against the hard surface of the window-like substance. She had not yet decided what it most resembled. The color was not as clear as glass for it portrayed a pearl-like radiance that changed color according to the angle one peered, altering from a soft glaze of white to an intense shade of gray.  Little flecks of light burst from its interior, rather as those of fireworks, but much tinier in circumference.  Somehow, none of these oddities interfered with the clarity of vision. She could make out every single object or being through this odd looking glass.

The surface began to roll and ripple. Jennifer stepped back.  She watched with curiosity and alarm, as the ripple grew large, towered over her head and scooped her up. It formed a large bubble that encased her body. She cried out in terror. Her wails turned into cascading foam and fell liquidating under her feet.

The bubble lifted Jennifer into the air and through a tunnel of blackness.

Frankie jumped on the king sized bed and licked tears from Earl Hanson’s face. Animals have that innate ability to sense an owner’s despair. Earl knew it was foolish to think his daughter would appear after all, nine months had passed. He might be losing his mind, but at dusk, just when the final light of day shined through the windows, picking up bits of dust, which swirled through the air, he could swear he heard Jennifer’s voice crying out “Help me. Father help me.”

 

From Here to Infinity—SciFi, Fantasy, and Beyond, Part Two

10

The Making of America: Old Country Baggage

by James L. Secor

We all know vampires suck the blood of the living to continue living, even though they are dead. The living dead. A curse.

We don’t know where vampires come from. They just suddenly appear in folklore. The most famous being European. Central Europe, to be exact. Though the Chinese had vampires, too, they did not travel to the West with their fabled RR builders and laundry entrepreneurs.

European vampires had not migrated to Britain before the 19th century, else they would surely have made their appearance at Salem, if not Jamestown or Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony. As it was, America had to wait for a later mass migration of Europeans.

George Calvin Brown and family and friends are prime examples of vampire baggage carriers. As always, the opening of the carpet bag was innocent, however traumatic. Very like Pandora’s box.

Ephemera Gladys Brown, George Calvin’s loving wife, died of tuberculosis one day. George and the children were crestfallen, as one would expect. Losing a caring, loving, thoughtful mother was not expected or wanted. While the family mausoleum was being built and readied, the family mourned. Mother Brown was en-coffined and discretely kept in a corner of the Ice House, which the Brown family owned and operated. With all but the carving of the alabaster monument completed, public mourning ensued with the requisite religious broodings and blessings.

And then life went on, albeit with Leonard Gardener Brown, the older son, coughing a wee bit more than usual. The grocery store side of the business suffered as Leonard’s coughing increased in frequency and intensity. In fact, Leonard was excluded from both the grocery and the Ice House. Left alone, his coughing and whitish pallor led to a drinking habit that wormed its way into the family’s profits. Eventually, he, too, succumbed to the wasting away disease and was laid to rest alongside his mother. Another name was chiseled into the alabaster and life more or less went on.

Lena Mercy Brown, the sister, was so distraught and beside herself and so very fearful of the future, specifically her future, that she became a frequent visitor to the grave site. Early in the morning just before dawn and well past the waning moon, Lena Mercy could be found at the cemetery. So regular and spectral was she, she was spoken of as a ghost. Lena Mercy haunted the graveyard with an unhealthy obsession. So said the town doctor. But Lena Mercy would not desist, even as her pallor paled and her eyes reddened. And then she died. She told her father, one day, that she didn’t feel so good, coughed once into her white, white hands and died.

The doctor said that Lena Mercy Brown also died of tuberculosis, no history of coughing notwithstanding.

What kind of curse was this laid upon the Browns?

Surely, some townies said, this was the result of a prior life-sin. Others pooh-poohed such a superstition. Still others believed that the family was particularly susceptible to invasion by minute, even unseen animalcules. Animalcules being animalcules, this was difficult to deny. Invisible things forever manifest themselves into life. People breathe air, don’t they? And they dig in the dirt. And wash and bathe in the water. Everyone does. Some few were more susceptible than others to invasion by animalcules.

11

George sold the grocery business. People were wary of infection. As long as he ceased operating the Ice House, he was able to hold onto it. The income was enough to keep him and his youngest, Edwin Prentiss. They could find no one to help around the house, though.

But tragedy again struck.

This new wrinkle to the family horror came via the cemetery grounds-keeper. This elderly gentleman began seeing the ghost of Lena Mercy wandering through the cemetery to end up hovering around the family vault, raising her hands and looking upward as if mourning her mother’s and her brother’s and her own demise or calling upon God. All in utter silence, of course, as ghosts make no noise, though their mouth holes be open. The old guy also reported the silence of the cemetery. That is, no scurryings of night denizens and no owl hootings. Not that owls tended to be very communicative to begin with or while hunting. The oldster’s repetitive sightings brought out the ghost hunters, ghost busters and ghost curious. The crowding of the cemetery brought about less Lena Mercy walking. This phenomenon led to a generalized exodus but for the curious, who tend to be quite persevering. Their nightly vigils paid off. Sightings were reported and substantiated. Though not by an outside, objective, uninterested individual.

Much to the discomfiture of the remainder of the Brown family, this ghostly appearance of Lena Mercy became a hot topic in the district. Curiosity seekers began visiting the Brown house. The worst of the lot were the various newspapermen. Rude and invasive, if they got no story they made one up. Eventually, George and Edwin shut themselves up in their house. Groceries and sundries were delivered, ordered by messenger. Eventually, interest flagged somewhat. At which time the true tragedy struck.

It was here that the European old world baggage was opened and spilled out its contents all over the ground. The soil was fertile. The horror grew like kudzu, choking the hell out of reason.

How could this happen?

The mind’s job, as it were, is to make sense of things. Make sense of the world. Make sense of chaos. Make sense of the senseless. For this purpose, pre-laid pathways in the neural network of the brain are activated, for your brain forgets nothing. This is how we can remember how to walk without thinking about it. The baggage that sometimes ought not to be carried with us is opened like this; that is, habit of mind. We are creatures of habit. Habit helps us cope with the world. Habit helps us find meaning. Some of these habits are deep-seated and enduring, enduring like fairy tales, folktales, folklore.

How the mind does this is by putting various happenings together and coming up with an answer. It is this solution that is most often influenced by deep cultural memories. Memories of explication. Memories that are connected to an answer and a solution. Habits of mind. Short cuts for thinking.

First were the deaths of the Brown family. Three out of five.

Second was the ghostly sightings by all and sundry of Lena Mercy.

Third was the haunting of George by Lena Mercy. She became a nightly occurrence, dancing around George in bed, George at the kitchen table. Lena Mercy was insistent. According to George, she harassed him. Eventually night and day.

Fourth was Edwin Prentiss’s illness. The same as his mother’s and his brother’s and his sister’s, though Lena Mercy had not suffered the coughing. Edwin began his coughing and increasingly wan coloring within two weeks of Lena Mercy’s haunting the house.

Surely there was a connection here.

Ghosts are not known to be benevolent.

George sought solace, sought answers with consultations of the town elders, the doctor, the various ministers and the travelling Chautauqua professors. Though not all were in agreement, those obsessed with their old baggage, those in the majority, convinced George that Lena Mercy’s hauntings and Edwin Prentiss’s advancing illness were connected. That is, Lena Mercy was responsible.

Something needed to be done. Proof was needed.

So it was that the Brown family tomb was opened. Of the three coffined bodies, only Lena Mercy’s was not decomposed.

A great cry rose up and it was decided Lena Mercy was a vampire.

What other reason could there be? Only vampires feed on the living. Edwin was declining while Lena Mercy was not. Not dying. So?

There could be but one conclusion.

The townies cut out Lena Mercy’s heart. They burned it, cringing somewhat as it sizzled. They made Edwin drink a concoction of ash of heart and red wine.

All was well. No more hauntings. No more coughing.

Edwin Prentiss died in silence two weeks later.

How could this be? Lena Mercy the vampire had been appropriately done in. Maybe Edwin Prentiss was too far gone by then. Maybe more needed to be done.

So, Edwin Prentiss’s heart had a Palo Santo wood stake hammered through it. Both the heart and the stake were burned. The remains were buried. Holy water was cast upon the ground.

Everyone waited, fretting. For lifetimes they fretted and worried.

Would it ever, really end?

Vigilance could not be relaxed.

And so it was.

 

Author BIO:
Jim Secor began his adult writing career as a social activist playwright utilizing absurdism and, later, after his studies in Japanese theatre and training at the National Puppet Theatre in Osaka, alternative alternative styles. Along the way, he learned how to write bad poetry except for tanka and haiku. Short stories, longer stories and the frustrating and emotional draining novels. He has published variously. He taught English, writing and drama in China and Japan. He is over-educated and might be considered an overachiever as he was told at age 16 that he was too stupid to graduate with a BA.

 

 

12

Thin Places

by Delinda McCann

There are thin places where distance between realms collapses. –Celtic Folklore

This morning, I picked five hundred daffodils before coming inside to rest my back on the sofa.  My eyes closed as I mentally reviewed my latest manuscript.

A rap on my sliding glass doors brought me upright.  The man beyond the glass looked familiar.  He smiled and dimples appeared in each cheek.  My heart lurched as I stared.  His bright blue eyes contrasted with his mocha skin and curly hair.  Feeling dizzy and disoriented, I slid open the door and whispered, “Jake?”

He nodded. “Celia sent me.”

Excitement vibrated through me as I threw myself into his arms.  “My sister, how is my twin?”

Jake kissed me on top of my head.  His accent sounded just as I’d always imagined. “She is well and eager to see you.”

“Why are you here?  How?”  I refrained from reminding him he was only a character in my stories and my sister had been dead since birth.  Jake felt real enough to my arms.

Jake held up his hand to show me a collection of forks wrapped in a napkin.  “Celia thought these might be yours.  When we discovered how they came to us, we thought we must try to see you.”

I nodded, dumbly taking the forks.  They matched my set, and I’d been missing some.  I absently set the forks on a table and motioned for Jake to sit.  As I moved my laptop off of the sofa, I felt my heart race.  “Jake, where in your story are you?  Are you still president?”

He nodded. “Celia thought you might know our future.  I must flee the country if Papadakos is elected.”

“You must flee before the inauguration.  Carter-Bowles is a traitor.  He will try to arrest and kill you.”

Jake shook his head, “No.  He is Mariah’s cousin.  He will win then, you think?”

Knowing the events occurring in the rough draft of my next novel, I nodded. “What does Leroy say about him?”

Jake snorted, “Leroy says he became a prosecutor in order to send that cheating scum to prison someday.”

“Trust Leroy.  He knows his cousin.  Mariah is too trusting.  Can you escape to Celia’s home?”

Jake drew his head back as he looked at me.  “I think you do not quite understand. Celia’s home is still within the reach of my enemies.”

“Oh, of course, I forgot.  You won’t be safe where you are known.” I paused then added, “In time, Peter will become president then Ruben, but your country still needs you.”

Jake ran his hands through his hair.  The lines at the corners of his eyes seemed to droop. “I’m old and tired.”  He took a deep breath and looked toward the forest.  “I will flee and let the young men have their turn at glory.”  He snorted as his voice filled with sarcasm on his last word.

I felt disconnected as I watched the familiar face I’d seen only in my imagination.

Jake sighed and admitted, “Peter and Leroy agree with you that I must flee somewhere beyond the reach of the oligarchs.  Celia longs to see you.  It has been a lifetime since she was able to touch you.”

My eyes filled with tears at the thought of holding my sister.

“Can we come here?  We are real in your world.  When the troubles are over perhaps we can go home.  I hope so.  I long to watch the sun go down from my ridge.”  Jake’s eyes focused on the wall behind me.

I suspected Jake was watching a sunset in another land.  “Of course you can come.” I bit my lip.  “I don’t know much about these things.  Can Celia come through and be okay?”

“The two of you seem to have an extraordinary bond.  As far as we know, she will be fine because she is alive at home and in your books.”

We made plans until Jake looked at his watch and pushed himself to his feet.  “It’s time for me to go.  We will leave before the inauguration.” His shoulders sagged as he moved like an old man toward the door.

“How do you get home from here?”

Jake’s forehead puckered.  “Where you do your martial arts.  I saw you there when I was exercising.”

I knew the place he meant.  I’d exercised there because I liked the feel of the energy.  I thought the trees made the energy.  Maybe they do, or maybe the energy comes from something physics cannot yet explain.  I walked Jake to the circle of trees at the edge of the woods.

Jake put out his hand to stop me.  “I’ll go from here.  Remember, we will come when we can.”  Jake flashed his dimples at me again, turned, and in a flash of red light disappeared around a corner into a quantum collapse.

Alone in my house, I collapsed on the sofa feeling drained.  I rested my head on a pillow and closed my eyes.

I awoke, smiling.  I felt peaceful and thought, “What a haunting dream.”  I had dreamed about my twin before and even wrote a life for her in my books, but the dream about actually seeing her touched my soul.

Hubby came in before dinnertime, kissed me, and asked, “How was your day?”

“I got all my flowers picked then took a nap.  I had the sweetest dream.”

He paused and frowned at the table.  “What are all these forks doing here?  They look like the ones we’re missing.”

I stared at the forks in my husband’s hand as he unwrapped them from their napkin.

Clearly stitched in one corner of the napkin, I saw the state seal from Jake’s country.

 

Author BIO:
Delinda McCann lives on a small farm near Seattle, WA where she raised her daughters and now runs a small organic flower business.  She enjoys singing with her church choir and playing the piano—poorly. A brush with cancer made her realize that she needed to slow down, so she turned to writing fiction inspired by her behind-the-scenes experiences of advocating for and loving the people who are just a little bit different.

 

 

13

 ETERNITY

by Bryan Murphy

You, too, eh? Yeah, you do look a bit fragile. As you can see, I’m strong and healthy myself, but, in my line of business, that doesn’t necessarily keep you alive for very long. It’s an advantage, though, with what we’re signing up for. I mean, you’re going to snuff it in that clapped-out body – hey, no offence – but when I get the bullet they’ll bring me back in my fine physique for the duration, the very long duration, right? Don’t look like that, you don’t have much choice, do you? Better than that ancient Welshman’s long night. Just imagine if they brought that body back!

Yeah, man of letters, me. Not just a thug. Philosopher, too. Don’t laugh. Moral philosophy, ethics, religion. You ever thought about the ethics of what we’re getting involved in? I mean, at the moment, it’s only those who signed up for cryo, in the dark ages, when people laughed at them because nobody thought it would ever be possible. The first ones didn’t really have the last laugh, though, did they, what with the agony of re-birth, and the brevity of their second lifespan? Glad they got that bit sorted out. Anyway, I can take a bit of agony, how about you?

The point is, who gets to decide who else can have the treatment? Can you bring back someone who hasn’t asked for it? Now, I’m a man of religion, and if you can’t trust the Church on ethics, who can you trust? It’s just that sometimes they’re a bit technophobic, you know, and it doesn’t always do us that much good. I mean we’ve been haemorrhaging members like San Gennaro ever since that ridiculous Church of the Second Coming started up. Yeah, born in Brazil and now it’s everywhere. Even here in Turin, where we keep the Holy Shroud that they based their hologram on. Some idiot digitalised it and put it on the Goo, where anyone could copy it. How come you don’t know all this?

Out of towner, okay, but don’t you drink the news? Anyway, you know the real Church is going through a real crisis, especially since the despicable murder of Francis II. We’ll avenge that for them, don’t you worry! But every crisis is an opportunity, like they say in Sicily. And now’s the time for the Vatican to listen to us faithful and bring back Padre Pio, I mean Saint Pio, as Pope. Pius XIII, he’ll be. The greatest and last leader of the Church, couldn’t be otherwise! But they say it isn’t ethical. Like, he’s with God now, which is obviously better than being Pope in this world. Even so, I think he knows where his duty lies.

Just imagine all the things he could tell us! None of the others have said a word, have they? I guess they were in Limbo, where there wasn’t much to report on. Or the agony of rebirth wiped out their memories. Or they took a vow of silence. I can understand that! But a saint … what a story he’ll have to tell!

Anyway, trust the Church on ethics, not me. My lot, our thing is not strictly ethical by definition. I mean, we cleared the mafias out of this part of Italy, but only to fill the vacuum ourselves, which some people might find objectionable. Stop twitching, will you? I’ve never hurt a fly, myself. My task is to see how this resurrection business can guarantee my people an eternal cashflow. Hey, your number’s come up. Go sign on the dotted line. I’ll tell you how it pans out next time we meet. You’re lucky: it’ll be a long story.

14

Author BIO:
Bryan Murphy is a British author of speculative fiction. You can find his work here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts and at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other major retailers. His first full-length novel, Revolution Number One, is due out this year.

 

 

15

Black Hole

by Cody Wagner

 

They say someone on the outside of a black hole can’t see another person getting sucked in. Light can’t break free. And what isn’t lit isn’t visible. And so the victim seems to freeze there, at the point light no longer escapes. He will appear to stay there, existing in that single moment, until the end of time. While his soul is gone, his face will live on. And on. And on.

That moment for me is when he stood at the door, dust floating in the sun around his head like a halo.

“So I’m gonna go,” he said, a bag filled with essentials – sonic toothbrush, toothpaste, hair gel, and an ancient copy of The Road – at his feet.

A red hover car parked in the drive revved its engine.

I ignored it and reached to his face.

He flinched.

I didn’t care, and stroked his beard for the last time.

That. That was my moment. The image etched forever in my memory.

They say that, in a black hole, time speeds up as you reach the center. The part of your body closer to that center moves faster. So your head travels faster than your feet. You’re literally stretched beyond your limits. Like toothpaste from the tube.

That happened when the messages stopped. No communication. Before that, every key was hope. Hope that I’d say just the right thing. His responses took seconds. Mine took hours. I slaved over every word.

Until I received this:

Soooooo, this will be my last e-mail. I just think, you know, our time in the sun is over. No use dragging it out, right?

Each word stretched me beyond my limits. His response so casual. And no more hope. I typed the following:

Four years is the longest sunset I’ve ever witnessed.

Plucking out the nine words, I remembered sitting with him in an old-timey boat on Lake Powell. The waves gently rocked us as we watched the sun falling. We saw images in clouds. Only there were no clouds. We were just making up invisible shapes, laughing and drinking Merlot. It was the perfect evening. Part of me hoped he’d get the reference in my message.

But I never sent it.

They say that, in a black hole, everything tries to fit into what’s called the singularity. It’s a dot or point sitting in the middle. Everything is sucked toward that point. The pressure there is so monumental, matter is squeezed and smashed to fit inside. That’s why black holes are so dense. So much pressed into so little. And that dot is so tiny, it’s one-dimensional. Three dimensions flattened into one.

My heart lives in that singularity. Crushed into an unimaginably small, one-dimensional space.

It happened when I saw the wedding announcement.

Can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else, it read.

The envelope contained a picture of the two of them. They were sitting on Lake Powell. In an old-timey boat. Holding each other as the sun set.

 

Author BIO:
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there.  He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

 

 

16

Angels Unaware

 by Micki Peluso 

Hebrews 13: 2

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby many have entertained angels unawares.”

More than a year had passed since we’d visited the cemetery holding the remains of 14-year-old Noelle, the daughter whose comedic, endearing antics had woven the thread that held our family together. We couldn’t bear the grotesquely beautiful tombstones and mausoleums, the quietude — the finality of death. Since I had designed the headstone — a dove in flight, holding a rose that dripped a single tear –- the caretakers called me to announce that it was ready for my inspection.

I took my three daughters with me and drove up the steep, winding narrow road to the top of the mountain to confirm that the stone was acceptable. The sunny autumn afternoon was much like the day she’d lost her life. We searched everywhere but couldn’t find where the tombstone lay. Just as we were about to give up and go home, we noticed a middle-aged man walking his dog along the side of the road. I slowed the car and called out to him. As he walked over to us a smile lit up his face, an unearthly beatific smile that mesmerized us.

“You must be looking for Noelle,” he said, in a voice that was lilting, expressing great happiness. Before I could answer, he said, ‘‘She’s right over there under the large oak tree,” pointing to an area we had passed by several times. He smiled that incredible smile and continued on his way.

The grave site was no more than 50 feet from us. The headstone was lovely, a tribute to an amazing life but none of us took comfort from its setting, nestled among trees and hills that stretched for miles. We cried. We could not remain here, did not see the beauty surrounding us, only the loss — Noelle’s spirit was not in this place. We climbed back into the car, unable to speak.

Driving down the mountainside, I asked my oldest daughter, Kim, “Who was that man? He seemed to know us.”

“Mom, I never saw him before. I thought you knew him,” she said.

“Kelly, have you seen him before, while jogging in the cemetery?”

“No, Mom, I never run this far up.”

“Well,” 11-year-old Nicole stated firmly, “I know I never saw that man in my whole life.”

“Hmm, that’s odd. He seemed to know us and Noelle. Did you ever see a smile like that?”

We rode in silence down the one-way road through the huge cemetery. The sun was setting, casting shadows across this place which held only emptiness, bleakness, and sorrow. We should have passed the man going down. We didn’t. He disappeared as strangely as he’d appeared. We sensed we’d seen an “Angel unaware” — and it would be the first of many times.

The next angel sightings began when my grandsons were born. Several of them, only the boys, either saw angels or heard and saw Noelle, usually in times of distress. The three most open to these sightings and hearings usually stopped experiencing them when they went to grade school. So many natural things are ‘taught’ out of children and this gift was one of them.

Years before, as Noelle lay paralyzed and dying, I promised her that the world would remember who she was and her vehicular homicide by a drunk driver would be known. Life issues stepped in and it was 25 years before I was able to keep my promise by writing a memoir of her life and death. It was meant to be and throughout those last six months of actually writing it, there were many paranormal occurrences.

My first book signing was quite an adventure and I was scared to death. I had just recovered from the flu and wasn’t feeling too perky; the mall was crowded and hot, filled with hordes of people intent on finding Valentine sales. The bookstore ran a sale on every best seller, offering half price, buy one, get one free –- so even I would have preferred not to buy my more expensive first book. Still, as suggested by my publisher, I set up my table, looked pleasantly classy, and had great promo stuff set up –- along with a gorgeous poster of my book on an easel, standing outside the bookstore in the actual mall. Many passed by, admiring the poster, asking if it was for sale –- few stopped to buy the book. The bargain hunters, dressed in less than their finest, seemed harried and hungry –- proven by the way they sneaked valentine chocolate hearts from my crystal bowl as they dashed past my table. The candy was free, but it entailed listening to my book sales pitch for a book they didn’t seem inclined to buy.

After an hour I was getting dejected. This was not fun. Root canal was more fun. I forced family and friends to suffer through it with me but it still did not even border upon fun. I signed and sold about a half dozen books and was getting tired and bored, when someone ran up to me, all smiles and excited. I could not tell if it was a boy, adult or teen. He introduced himself as John, still smiling that amazing smile on his elfin face. “I loved your book,” he repeated over and over. “I cried and cried and cried.”

He didn’t have his book with him so I signed a book plate for him and gave him a bookmark and a chocolate heart. He leaned over to me, with both arms stretched out to me. I reached out and hugged him, something I would never do to a stranger in a Mall.

“Don’t you dare stop writing books!  You can’t not write books. You’re a good writer and you must keep on writing books!” I wondered how he knew that this was my first book and I didn’t plan on another.

“I’ll think about it,” I said, smiling at that wonderful face of his. I glanced away for just a second and when I looked back he was gone. He seemed to disappear as strangely as he’d appeared. I turned to my daughter and asked, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” She nodded. It was not the first time we had encountered an “angel unaware” concerning my book and the story it relates. There was no way to explain those beatific smiling faces both times. I had a feeling this would not be the last either. From the moment he left, my energy returned, all pain left and I was able to continue signing books for another hour and a half and sell all my books. I hope my angelic being shows up at all my future book signings. I want to tell John that I have started my next book — but somehow I think he knows.

 

Author BIO:
I began writing after a personal tragedy as a catharsis for my grief. This led to a first-time-out publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in journalism. I’ve freelanced and been a staff writer for one major newspaper and written for two more. I have published short fiction and non-fiction, as well as slice-of-life stories in college and other magazines and in e-zine editions. My first book was published in 2012; it’s a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC silver award for writing that makes a change in the world. Two of my short horror stories have been published in an anthology called The Speed of Dark. I am presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice-of-life stories and essays in a book called DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK.

From Here to Infinity—SciFi, Fantasy, and Beyond, Part One

1

Gentle Readers: Herein, for your enjoyment, are eleven writers of Speculative Fiction.  SpecFic is a broad term which embraces science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, magical realism, etc.  Everything from aliens to angels, vampires to voodoo.  It can be wildly farfetched, or just a tad out of plumb, a subtle departure from what we commonly agree to be reality. ~ John B. Rosenman

 2

SCRATCH

 by Micki Peluso

A scratch, a scratch, upon my door
Old dog snoring, fat cat sleeps
Something out there wants, implores
Incessant racket—no relief

Alone with these ungodly sounds
I tremble as my fears unbound
Not cat, nor dog, can sense or hear
The scratches, scratching that I fear

Some otherworldly beast seeks entry
To the essence of my very soul
I, in turn, must stand as sentry
Lest spasms of fear take their toll

Scratches dig deeper, louder still
Draw me to it against my will
Tentatively, I reach for the lock
No! My mind reaches out to block

The subliminal urge to heed the call
Of the scratching, scratching at my door
Quaking, leaning back against the wall
I smell fetid odors of evil’s spoor

Lured seductively, I lift the latch
Succumbing to the horrific task
To confront a terror that knows no match
It’s two feet tall and wears a mask!

Night sky lit by blood-red moon
Face to face with an irate raccoon!
Its beady eyes reflect a glare
Unafraid, it stands tall and stares

I draw a breath, deep with relief
T’was just a critter gave me grief
Yet nights may come; how soon, how near?
When it returns to refuel my fear

And the hideous scratch upon my door

No longer animal—so much more
The coon dashes off across the lawn
Innocent creature, perhaps. . .

Mayhap, the devil’s spawn

Author BIO:

I began writing after a personal tragedy as a catharsis for my grief. This led to a first-time-out publication in Victimology: An International Magazine and a 25-year career in journalism. I’ve freelanced and been a staff writer for one major newspaper and written for two more. I have published short fiction and non-fiction, as well as slice-of-life stories in college and other magazines and in e-zine editions. My first book was published in 2012; it’s a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC silver award for writing that makes a change in the world. Two of my short horror stories have been published in an anthology called The Speed of Dark. I am presently working on a collection of short fiction, slice-of-life stories and essays in a book called DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK.   Micki Peluso at Mallie1025@aol.com

 

The Hero

by Ken Weene

 3

They had a big celebration, a parade to honor him: Alpha Zed Bravo Nine, the big hero.

Sure lots of folks called him a hero, but I saw him as just an android doing his thing, and that means killing Pintarians. That particular android model, the Seeker1, that specific Seeker1 android, the one they call Alpha Zed Bravo Nine, killed more Pintarians without ending up in the Saint Jackal Service Bay than any other android in the history of the wars, which didn’t entitle the guy to a tickertape parade—at least not in my book.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m as happy as the next person to see a dead Pintarian. Slimy trans-planeters. “We come in peace.” What a crock that was.

Sure, trade and friendship sounded good, especially when we needed their gorchenbock to fuel our industries. “Of course you can have an enclave.” That was reasonable. Not like they lived the same way as us. If you’re going to have peace, you have to let the other guy live his way. Live and let live. “You got your god and we got ours. No harm in that. Which one created the universe? Way beyond my paygrade if you get my drift. Maybe we just have different ideas of the same one. Who knows. You pray your way and we’ll just go on with ours.”

Where did they get off telling us we should stop making out in public? That’s like telling us to stop breathing. Sure we knew they didn’t make out. Heck, we couldn’t see what Pintarians did to reproduce, but reproduce they did—more and more and more. But it wasn’t like we could see. Not like us, they were secretive, covered up all the time. How come they didn’t want any sun on their bodies? Now, that should have been a clue.

But you know politicians. Long as their buddies could make good money trading our bean curd for Pintarian gorchenbock and as long as those buddies kept the money flowing into their pockets, too, the pols were happy to turn the other way. That was until…

It was a bloody war. We lost a lot of our people, more than we could afford, and we never did drive the Pintarians out. We ended up with a planet divided—us and them. I guess that would have been okay. I mean if they had accepted the peace, we could have lived with it. After all, gorchenbock makes the wheels go round. And, if they want to eat tofu, that’s fine with me; I never touch the stuff.

But nope. Give a Pintarian a foot and he’ll take a leg. The thing is no matter how they do it, those foreigners keep reproducing—more and more and more. What was our choice? We had to find a weapon or die.

The first robotic defender systems were a simple affair. A few chips, good programming, and basic weapons. The thing is, once you create a weapons system, you want to keep improving it. In a way you have to because the enemy will find its weaknesses. And the Pintarians are no dummies. Fierce warriors and smart, too. Willing to die; each one willing to blow himself to kingdom come if it will take one of us or disable one of our robots.

So you see we had to improve the systems, move up to androids. We had to or the Pintarians would take over—make us slaves. First it would be no more making out. Then maybe no more praying to our god. Maybe even no more of us. Maybe just make Earth another Pintar, their new world.

The androids had to be improved and improved again. Had to be faster, braver, and smarter. Had to be able to fight on their own.

Engineering is a wonderful thing. The Seeker1 is the best yet. Dr. Sieger is downright amazing. What he’s created!

The only thing is that parade.

They marched through the city with Alpha Zed Bravo Nine in the lead. Everyone was yelling and whooping and waving, and the Seeker1s didn’t look left or right, up or down, they just marched through the city—not to the government house, not to the president’s palace, but to Sieger’s lab. That’s where they stood and waited until he came out.

They shouted, “Huzzah! Huzzah!”

That’s when I knew we were in real trouble.

 

Author BIO:
Ken Weene is one of the editors of The Write Room Blog, co-host of It Matters Radio, and of course a writer. Find more at http://www.kennethweene.com

 

TUESDAY NIGHT SPECIALS

 by Sal Buttaci

 4

 Yosef’s favorite day was Tuesday: Family Night. He could feast and feast, fill his belly without a care or concern for what he would eat in the next three or four days. After the gorging, somewhere in the barn he could stretch his body atop a hay bale and dream Technicolor scenes of his rite of passage, that feverish night on his deathbed and that subsequent first bite from Uncle Aleksei.

Long absent in time and space from the homestead in Kiev and from his hospitable but eccentric uncle, Josef dreamed of the before-and-after days which at first he treasured but now too often despised. Had he died centuries ago, he would have found peace, but Uncle Aleksei, pitying his dying nephew, had bitten his shoulder. Since then, as in Kiev, Yosef hid in the woods of everywhere, currently Central Park, from where he ventured forth at nightfall looking for some fast food. A hapless sheep, a snarling dog, a malodorous swine––whatever was expedient to satisfy ravishing nighttime hunger.

And sometimes life was bearable, especially on Tuesday, the night of Big Deals at McDonald’s, Popeyes, Burger King, Chuckie Cheese––Josef loved Tuesdays. It was Family Night out.

Under cover beyond the fast food lights, he let his eyes first stalk them, then distending razor-sharp claws and restraining his victory howl, he loped quick hooves towards them in the dark parking lot. Confronting his happy meal, he released the howl from his throat. A family: two adults and a rather chubby boy.  Or one adult, two teens. An obese mother and plump daughter. Recurring experiences of digestive uneasiness had led him to adamantly decline old seniors. It served as his only culinary departure, a habit worth keeping.

Family Night Tuesdays kept Yosef’s regrets at bay. He wore his wolfdom like an amulet to ward off the enemy’s silver as he feasted away. No leisure time for nostalgic meditation. With his mouth full, he stifled the voice of his thoughts. He would not for the millionth time dredge those memories of his younger self lying good as dead there in a blazing fever, his dodomu, his home in Ukraine, a picture postcard of happy family ties. Josef would dwell in the here-and-now of this long good life Uncle Aleksei had so richly gifted him.

Now, set back on his haunches, Josef licked the long human bones so clean he could clearly see his hairy snout in their mirrored whiteness. His dark eyes twinkled in the light of the Tuesday-night moon.

 

Author BIO:
Retired teacher and professor, Sal Buttaci, writes everyday. His poems, stories, letters, and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Cats Magazine, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, The National Enquirer, and many other publications. His books Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts are both published by All Things That Matter Press, and are available at Amazon.com. Buttaci lives happily ever after with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Sal+Buttaci&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Sal+Buttaci&sort=relevancerank

 

Hooks in Behind the Red Door by Clayton C. Bye

Behindthereddoorebook
The following three excerpts are from my recent release of short stories in Behind the Red Door. The purpose here is to show the importance of “hooks” in writing fiction, especially short stories.  A hook is defined as an interesting beginning to a story, something that hooks the reader and pulls him in. Note: should you find yourself hooked by any of these story excerpts, you can purchase Behind the Red Door at Amazon.com

 

The Speed of Dark

Richard Bartholomew’s little brother sat on the bottom stair and studied the line bisecting the rock walled basement.

“What’s the speed of dark?” he asked.

Trying to ignore the sudden knot of pain in his stomach, Richard answered. “Doesn’t have a speed, Tim,” he said. “Darkness is just the absence of light.”

Shadows, almost lifelike in their furtive movement, crawled a few more inches away from the walls. Richard pretended not to see them.

“Light moves fast?” Tim asked.

“Nothing’s faster,” Richard said.

Small windows atop the western wall glowed with that special golden light which always seems to be reserved for crisp, autumn evenings. These tiny glass squares of life cast beams of airy gold into the spreading gloom. Billowing ribbons of dust danced along the slender rays, entertaining the watching boys, distracting them until the darkness closed in, until the colour of the light changed and took on the hue of blood.

Suddenly, Richard heard his mother’s voice within his head. “Somebody’s got to go.” She’d stood as a rock in the middle of the hall, blocking the way out to the world. Had taken her purse up before speaking and dug out the keys to the old Motor Cart. Then, casually, as if instructing him to do something as mundane as washing the breakfast dishes, she’d made her wishes clear. “You decide,” she’d said. “But I want somebody gone by dark.”

Mother had locked them down—as she always did when going out. The rumble of the engine as she eased along their gravelled drive reminded Richard of distant thunder. A cold shiver walked up and down his spine. Bile rose in his throat.

Richard wiped the memory from his mind and joined his brother on the steps. He could feel the younger boy tremble. The cool, dry basement air was sour with the scent of Tim’s fear. A centipede scurried across the floor, its serpentine movements and glossy red skin the perfect harbingers of this night.

This multiple award-winning story opens with the question “What’s the speed of dark?” Questions make great hooks. Did you not want to know the answer to young Tim’s question? But it doesn’t stop there. The entire excerpt forms another hook that poses the question “What’s going on here?” You, as reader, are pulled forward, suspecting something terrible is about to happen, but you aren’t sure as to “Why does one of them have to go?” or “Where will he be going?” or “How will he get out of the locked basement?” These kinds of questions are purposefully created by the author as a way to engage readers.

 

Retrovirus

Retroviruses make up 8% of human DNA. This includes the Ebola type strain.

The wind screeched over the desolate land, and the men huddled close against it. One of them, a stranger, marked the time with a quick glance at the moon. And because it was what he did, what he lived for and how he lived, the man said, “There’s just time for a story.” Then he waited for someone to speak up. They always did.

“You know the one about the end times?” an older man eventually asked. His hands were curled with arthritis, and he didn’t turn his gaze from the flames of their small fire as he spoke to the stranger. “About he who was the first,” he said. Not a question this time …

In this introduction a question is also used. The bard intimates he has stories to tell, and as the reader wonders about what those might be, one of the group asks “You know the one about the end times?” What end times? Is this a post-apocalyptic story? Who is the “first” that the man asks about? And there you go—you’re into the story.

 

The Last Unicorn

I DON’T SUPPOSE I’ll ever know where she came from or what she really was, but the summer day I found the unicorn on my grandfather’s farm my life was changed forever. She was black, about 16 hands tall and had one conical horn sprouting from her forehead. That was when she wanted to be her version of a horse.

She was often a man about my age who was interested in learning English and all else she could study. I named her/him Bobbie because that was as close as I could come to pronouncing her name in Unicornese.

Since she was a shape shifter, Bobbie could become just about anything she wanted to be …

The Last Unicorn doesn’t seem to use questions in the early paragraphs, either overt or suggested. But it does use them.  First, the author uses the novelty of the story subject (a unicorn shapeshifter) to draw you in and, second, he counts on you to ask yourself questions suggested by the comment, “my life was changed forever.” Why did the Unicorn’s visit change his life? How did she change his life? Is it for the better or does she make his life worse? Why is she here? Why him?

 

Questions are one of the most powerful tools a writer has. Why? Because once a question is posed, our minds are programmed to find the answers—it’s an automatic response. Where best do you find questions posed by a story? In the story. And so you read on.

 

Author BIO:

Clayton Bye is a writer, copywriter, editor and publisher. He has authored 11 books, as many ghostwrites, hundreds of reviews and is the publisher of three award-winning anthologies of short stories by other talented authors. You can find his collected works at http://shop.claytonbye.com/

 

Kali

by Stuart Carruther 
6

Many years ago, I made a promise that I would never lie to my grandchildren. I wanted to be the straight talking grandmother. No bullshit for my youngsters! I’d let their parents do the fibbing as they saw fit. So one day, when the youngest asked me if I believed in faeries and pixies and other mythological small people, I had to explain that it wasn’t a matter of belief: I knew small people existed and lived amongst us.

Of course, they’re not called Borrowers, Lilliputians, Hobbits or any other fictional name you’ll have heard. To me they were the Eten. But more specifically they were Kali and Lilith and I miss them as much today as I did 60 years ago when they died. There are other Eten of course, but they hide in the shadows, in plain sight in towns and cities around the world under your feet enjoying the same lives we lead but at a different scale. But Kali and Lilith were the protoplasts.

There is amongst the Eten, a mythology which explains how they came to be, but, as with all mythologies, that tale has become warped and distorted to such an extent that it no longer even resembles the true facts.

On the first day a bright light shone, and out of the darkness came Kali and Lilith. Trapped in cages, giants pricked and probed them for 40 days and 40 nights. One night after their torturers left them unguarded, Kali and Lilith escaped to a place called Bricks Town where they found refuge amongst the waste and detritus of the giants. In this new and frightening world they fought and tamed giant rodents, riding on their backs to fight off the cats that sought to devour them. Having purged their new home of felines, Kali and Lilith settled down and gave birth to the Eten.”

The truth, as they say, is a little more prosaic. Let me explain.

BioPrint was the first desktop 3D cellular printer, and in my lab we used it to produce new organs for patients that needed parts of them replaced. You can imagine the sort of thing: heart valves, intestinal tracts, retinas, basically anything that could replace worn out pieces of a person’s anatomy. One night, after a particularly lively Christmas party, someone decided to print an entire human body.

I didn’t know about this until I walked into work on Monday morning and I saw blood on the inside of the BioPrint’s clear Perspex door. As I got closer and peered in beyond the plastic, I saw what looked like a naked plastic doll sitting there with his head in his hands gently sobbing.

I’m not sure what my first emotions were as I stood there stunned, staring through the blood-stained screen for what felt like an age. In time, I slowly opened the door of the printer, reaching in with my palms open so as not to scare whatever it was that was crying. Removing his head from his hands, this naked miniature human slowly stood and warily looked up at me whilst all the time trying to back farther into the corner. Ever so slowly, he began edging towards my open palms, and with my heart beating ever faster, I waited for this creature to come towards me.

“Ouch! The fucker bit me!” I exclaimed to the empty room as I withdrew my sore hand and slammed down the printer’s door.

In time, and with the aid of my lunchtime sandwich, I coaxed him into a small cat carrier which, with its plaid rug, was slightly more comfortable than the plastic floor of the printer. I took the day off work and carried him home. Later in the day, I went to the nearest toy shop and bought some doll’s furniture and clothes, and transferred him into a bigger cage where he would be more at home. Don’t look like that. I didn’t know what to do with him. I didn’t know what he was at the time. Making a stand from some bulldog clips, I sat him down in front of a cellphone playing nonstop YouTube channels. He was a quick learner and within just a few weeks, had a full vocabulary and was able to communicate his wishes and have a conversation.

Within weeks, he made it clear that he was lonely and needed a companion his own size and asked that I provide one, because as much as I looked after him and treated him with kindness, I never treated him as an equal but more like a pet. His brain was that of an adult human, though, and he matured far faster than a child.

With no more drunken parties coming up, creating Lilith took much more time and many surreptitious late nights. It worked well: a perfect miniature woman with her own personality was born. But she and Kali hated each other and despite my protestations they put me under pressure to create another person. I couldn’t keep using the work machine, so I borrowed a lot of money and bought my own and created Eve. It was a much better match, but still they wanted more people.

So there you have it. I had my own little Eten factory, churning out new models every couple of days, getting DNA samples from any unsuspecting person in the street as I stole hair samples, coffee cups, or recently disposed food. I was a god! Although they were wise enough to know I was just a bigger, less intelligent version of themselves.

But like all gods, I didn’t create angels, I created monsters, and they forced me to pack my things, take my cat, and leave our home in Brixton forever.

I never saw them again. Except the once. I was in Brixton visiting a friend near my old apartment and I stood on the street corner, wistfully looking up at my previous home, and I swear I caught a glimpse of one of them through a gap in the curtains.

 

Author BIO:

Stuart Carruthers is an anti-theist, pseudo geek and frog herder. Having escaped British winters he now lives in Taiwan where he shares his house with his wife and two kids.

 

A Sketch in Time

by Monica Brinkman

7

The clickety-click of wheels turned from irritation to peaceful serenity, rather a chant of sorts. It brought Franklin a tranquility no other sound could replicate.

He’d tried to achieve the same sense of freedom via aircraft and car but found their movements jerky and unpredictable. Nothing could substitute for train travel. It was the perfect background for creativity.

He scanned the compartment, his eyes focusing on the pot-bellied, middle-aged man to his left who was shifting his weight in an attempt to find a comfortable position in tight quarters. The man settled in, unfolded a newspaper and set it against the back of the seat in front of him. The rustle of paper sounded with each page turn.

Franklin heard the distant cry of an infant and the faint shush of a mother’s quieting voice. His eyes caught sight of a young woman sitting beside a guitar case. Her hair flowed free with the exception of a thin braid running down one side. Specks of sunlight glistened against her face and auburn hair. The girl sat staring, at what he had no idea, simply a blank stare, perhaps of boredom or loneliness.

His creative juices stirred to capture the look in her eyes and exquisite beauty. He drew the sketchpad out of his briefcase, took a pencil from his pocket and began the process of drawing. Surely, this woman knew he was catching her essence, yet she did not stir. Those blue eyes piercing and blank contained a stare of emptiness. Franklin was lost in each moment. The shading and variety of grays produced subtle darkness and light until the sketch became the person and not a mere caricature. Yes, he had brought her to life with his mastery.

Franklin rose and approached the girl. He bent over to speak with her and show her the drawing.

“Miss, if I may be so bold. I took the liberty of capturing your beauty.”

Her trance-like state now broken, the young woman looked at the sketch. She raised her head, gazed into Franklin’s eyes, and smiled.

“Why, it is beautifully done. Sir, you have quite a gift.”

Franklin grinned with pride.

“Thank you Miss. If you don’t mind, I must give it a name.”

She paused a moment. “I suppose it won’t do any harm. As they say, strangers on a train.  My name is Audrey.”

Franklin felt a grasp on his shoulder then hands grabbed his arms and pulled him toward the exit door. He caught sight of the conductor’s badge. It read, STRATTON. The man seized the sketch from his hand and tore it into shreds.

“Look, I didn’t think anyone would mind. It’s only a drawing.”

The trains’ wheels shrieked to a stop. He resisted but could not fight the force. A final push and he found himself in the dust and dirt. He heard his valise’s thud against the platform.

Then it hit him. How stupid. The paper’s headlines! Double Homicide. Police Seek Daughter, Audrey Stratton For Questioning.

 

Of Ladies and Lore

by Monica Brinkman

8

“Ahhh,” a sharp, hot jolt of pain radiated knee to ankle. Lincoln panted and shifted his weight from left to right. The shackles molded to the metal table held him secure, allowing a mere fraction of an inch movement on either side.

His limbs held in place, his eyes bound, his auditory perception on alert, he heard the nearing scurry of rodents and the rustle of cloth echoing throughout the space.

“You Bastard,” rang out yet the rat stood its place and continued nibbling at his forefinger. Lincoln felt the warm liquid ooze from the tip and heard the faint drip, drip of blood hit the concrete floor. He flipped his fingers to fend off the offending creature, feeling repulsed at the touch of grimy coarse hair against his hand.

“Nooo.” He clenched his teeth when fang met bone, this time careful to make no movement.

The throb turned into agony. Small nibbles at his ankle grew to large bites of flesh. With one last groan, Lincoln gave into the merciful darkness of unconsciousness.

Lady Lynn jumped from the window perch, certain Lincoln could no longer sense her perfume or hear her rapid heartbeat.

Shame, she thought while walking all around his long, lean body. He did have a brilliant smile, pleasing laugh, and heavenly violet-blue eyes. Nevertheless, she’d been watching his dalliances for months, hiding her presence in the blackness of alleys and darkness of shadow, seeking the perfect time to act.

This night she’d walked boldly past him. He’d leaped upon her and pulled her frail body next to his. How shocked his face when this helpless lady punched his groin and grabbed the knife from his hand.

The second kick to his manhood took his breath away. Lady Lynn giggled at how easy it was to manipulate his large body. She’d leaned it on her own as she walked two blocks and brought him through the cellar door.

One last glance before she’d leave him to his destiny. The stench of blood filled the air and rodents covered the table. Lady smiled.

Jack Lincoln, you’ve ripped your last woman.

 

Author BIO:

Monica M. Brinkman believes in ‘giving it forward’; reflected by her writing and radio show. A firm believer that open communication is the most powerful tool to make positive change in the world; she expresses this in her books, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel, The Wheel’s Final Turn and in her weekly broadcast of It Matters Radio.

An avid writer who has been proclaimed a true storyteller, she has been published in several anthologies and wrote a weekly column for over two years at Authorsinfo. Her works can be found at various sites throughout the internet. Visit her blog @ http://itmattersradio.wix.com/on-the-brink

Monica resides in the Midwest with her husband, two dogs and five cats. 

 

Dallas

by John B. Rosenman 

9

            When Lee Harvey Oswald looked through his telescopic sight and pulled the trigger, nothing happened.  Just a dull click.

“I thought I saw someone up here!”

He spun to see a policeman pointing a gun at him.

“Freeze right there, Mister!”

Oswald debated only an instant, then threw his weapon, striking the officer’s arm.  He rose and the two men grappled, struggling for the gun, which pointed out the window.

There was a shot, then two more before he was subdued.  In the street below someone started to scream.

Ninety yards away, President Nixon turned in a convertible, which was part of a motorcade honoring him.  Seeing a Secret Service man leap protectively onto the car, he opened his mouth in astonishment.

It was not for some seconds that he discovered his right earlobe was missing.

 

This Poem

by John B. Rosenman

This poem is hypnotic.
Watch these words.
Your eyes are getting heavy.
You are getting sleepy.
You are beginning to feel at peace
with yourself.
Now your thoughts are a child’s.
Now you are inanimate,
a leaf on an iron wind.
Now you are the first thought
you ever had
closing like a bud in snow.

Now I am this poem,
each word a reflection
in your eye.
You are my reader
getting sleepy
beginning to feel at peace
with yourself.
Ready to join me
in my poem.

Author BIO:
A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy /

 

* * * End of Part One * * *

What would you do if he knocked on your door? By Bonnie Hearn Hill

lucas“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.” 

His name wasn’t Lucas, the way it is in my novel, Goodbye Forever. His name, he said, was Joshua. I can tell you that because it turned out to be a lie.

He stopped by my house one spring morning as I picked up the newspaper from my front lawn and asked if I knew where the elementary school was. I told him I did.

“Could you give me a ride?” he asked. “I’m late.”

I’m a sucker for little kids, and I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in our Central California community. Without thinking about it, I said, “Sure. Get in,” and we drove the two blocks to his school.

He asked about the make of my car. I told him.

“That’s nice,” he replied in a soft voice.

I took a second look at him. An impeccably put-together little guy, right down to his dark, carefully gelled hair, he smiled back at me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Joshua. What’s yours?”

“Bonnie. How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m in the fifth grade.” I pulled in front of the school. “It’s Friday,” he said. “Snack bar. Could you loan me a dollar?”

He had already spotted the one in my change tray. I handed it to him.

As he headed toward the school, my phone rang, and my best friend asked why I wasn’t at home so that we could go to the gym as planned.

“I was driving a little boy to school,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted. “He could have an older brother. He could be setting you up for something. What were you thinking?”

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That Saturday, when I spoke to a local writing group, I told them my story. I was trying to make the point that plots aren’t as important as what the writer brings to them.

“So,” I said, “if this were your story, how would you finish it?”

They made my point by coming up with answers as different as they were.

“He disappears, and the last person he was seen with was a woman driving a car like yours.”

“He gets out, and you realize you have driven into a Twilight Zone 1950s small town with no way out.”

“He was a figment of your imagination. You were trying to heal from some kind of crisis and invented this kid to help you do that.”

“It’s a horror novel. He’s bait to bring home dinner, and you’re it.”

They proved my point. Everyone took the initial event and made it their own story. They also warned me to be careful with my own real-life story.

“Next time, he’ll ask for five dollars,” one of them said.

“Or fifty,” added another.

The following Monday was so fragrant with spring air that I opened my front door and let the breeze drift through my security screen. As I worked in my study, someone knocked on the screen door.

“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.

I walked to the door, and there stood Joshua.

“I’m late for school again,” he said.

“Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Sure.” His grin grew wider. “It’s fine with her if you drive me.”

“Then let’s just call her, shall we? Just to be sure.”

“Never mind.” He began to back up. “That’s OK.”

“Because you didn’t talk to your mom.” I opened the door and raised my voice. “Did you?”

“No.” He turned and began to run.

What if he had knocked on the wrong door? I asked myself. He could be in danger, and I couldn’t forget this until I saw it through. Because I had no choice, I called his school. When I described what happened, the school secretary said, “I know the kid you’re talking about.” She emailed me his photo, and a little boy with enormous eyes and carefully gelled hair smiled up at me.

“That’s Joshua,” I said.

“It’s not his real name,” she told me, “but he is in fifth grade. He’s been stealing food and money from other kids, although his family is well off. This is the first time we heard of him knocking on doors in the neighborhood.” She paused and added, “He just walked in. The counselor’s taking him to the principal’s office right now.”

That was the last I heard of Joshua. After two years, I haven’t seen him again, although one Halloween I did hear a knock on my door and a soft voice saying, “It’s me.”

Did I invent the sound out of the many voices of children in my neighborhood that night? Was it another kid trying to coax me out of one more treat? Was it Joshua?

What would you do if he knocked on your door?

I wrote a book.

The kids in that book—a novel—didn’t get the help they needed. I hope Joshua did.

* * *

Bonnie Hearn Hill writes suspense tied to social issues. GOODBYE FOREVER is the second in the Kit Doyle series. It’s about a Sacramento, CA crime blogger who goes underground as a runaway teen.

Wrong Number by Clayton Clifford Bye

 

Ever since reading Dialogues with the Devil by Taylor Caldwell I have been fascinated by the idea of reworking our traditional views of Satan. This theme regularly shows up in my novels and short stories. Today’s short is one example of this. Should you enjoy the story, you may pick up the anthology from which it comes (Behind the Red Door) at http://shop.claytonbye.com.

Behindthereddoorebook

Wrong Number

The bank teller looks a little on the pale side as she turns over the cheque. I glance downward and see the numbers… $666.66. Even though they hadn’t been there a few minutes ago I smile and say, “Halloween has come early this year.”

Things like this happen to me all the time. It’s like the Good Lord wants people to see me for who I am. It never works. People find it hard enough to believe in God; accepting that I exist and stand before them, in the flesh, is just too much to take in. I can guarantee that the woman in front of me will shrug off her fright the moment I leave the building. By the end of the day it will become a funny story to tell to her friends and family.

I walk out of the bank with the $666.66 in my pocket.

When I reach the end of the city block, I look both ways before beginning to cross the street to the car park. A Corvette materializes from nowhere, catches me in the knees and flips me in the air right over the top of the car. I hit the pavement hard, lift my head and pass out.

It’s much later in the day when I wake up in Her Sister’s Heavenly Devotion Hospital. The attending doctor comes by to tell me that both of my legs have been shattered  below the knees. He also tells me the knees will have to be replaced. Aside from that I have some bruising from the fall and a concussion. Apparently that’s why my ears are ringing.

This is how it goes. When I refuse to stay on my own worlds with the legions of the dead, The Lord goes out of his way to punish me. It’s not fair, really. He knows damn well that his lovely experiment has failed again and that this world will be mine sooner than later. Besides, what’s a little pain while my body mends itself? I’m immortal. This little game should be beneath him.

***

Night has fallen, and I slip out of the hospital. All my belongings were conveniently stashed in the drawers beside my bed. However, I’ve been forced to steal a pair of extra-large scrubs on the way out. My clothes were ruined in the “accident.” How do I manage this? Unless the Lord is messing with me, I can go unseen whenever I wish.

Outside, I walk in the crisp fall air and enjoy the wind rattling dead leaves in the trees and on the ground. The stars seem so close that I might touch them. Before long a beautiful young woman in the process of getting into her car spots me and asks if I would like a ride. My own beauty makes this human throw all caution to the autumn wind.

“That would be nice,” I say.

Inside the car my pheromones take over. She’s smitten in mere moments.

“My place is about an hour away,” she says.

“Wonderful! We shall have ample time to get to know one another.”

“Like a first date,” she says, head down for the moment, eyes averted, a shy but firm offer.

Tonight will be a welcome diversion from the ongoing pain of my knitting bones.

***

In the morning, over coffee and toast, Anna tells me more about herself. Being a Harvard student and an undergraduate in Law wasn’t her choice. The family is all about the law—mother, father, even her older brother work at the family firm.   Anna would have preferred the sciences but had been given no opportunity. I sense a lot of anger. Yet … she seems grounded.

How would she react if I told her she was going to hell, that the sixth mortal sin is still on God’s list of punishable acts? True, she won’t stay there long, because she was influenced by my scent. Just a taste of what happens to man when he fails to live by an untarnished moral code. Would she laugh the revelation off like the bank teller? Would she kick me out of her apartment as some kind of crazy person revealed? Or would my musk overcome her fright and anger and bind her to me as it has up until now? One never knows what will happen when strong emotion is involved. His Brightness only allows me to influence, so the winners of these little games I play are by no means pre-ordained.

I like to experiment. It passes the time and helps me gauge how far His Highness will allow me to go in any given situation. Today I just choose to enjoy Anna’s fine coffee and her lively voice.

***

It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

I soon find one.

A man has a woman trapped at the back of the bar beyond the pool tables. To the untrained eye they are a vibrant couple who have decided to throw caution to the wind and make love right there, against the wall. In reality it’s a rape in progress. Humans!

The rapist finishes as I rise up off my chair, and he heads outside. I follow close behind.

“Jake.”

“Wha … ” He turns his head, unsure of who’s there.

“Jake,” I say again.

He zips up his jeans and turns to face me.

“I don’t know you!”

“But I know you.”

“Get the fuck out of my way!”

“That’s not going to happen.”

The drunk takes a swing but finds himself on the ground.

I reach down, penetrating both clothing and flesh. As my hand curls around the heart a pale blue light flows up my arm and into my mouth. Jake is dead, and I have my soul.

Look, I’m not uncaring. If I had been able to help the woman, I would have. The deed was basically done by the time I noticed she was in trouble. I don’t hate people; I hate the idea of them. Free will is a gift that all other high level, sentient life-forms have embraced. But not man. The creator has given him complete freedom. His glorious experiment, and look at what mankind has done with it.

So … I work on my long-term plans for their ultimate demise, and I hunt for souls.

I think of myself as a vigilante. The Lord wants to deal out all the justice, but he can’t stop me from eating souls. Well, let’s say he won’t stop me, as I only take the deserving. People like Jake. But since there are far too many evil individuals for me to deal with on my own, in singular fashion, I’m always planning for the big ones … the organizations of evil, the armies of madness, the men and women who come forward as potential martyrs. And there are, of course, my legions of demons, those previously claimed souls who now help me in my work. Between the two, life is fulfilling—and this planet doomed.

***

Today I wake up alone, sporting a set of ancient sheep’s horns. Why didn’t he paint me red at the same time? I order a sabre saw to be delivered. It puts a dent in my pocket money, but it also gets rid of the horns. I hide the nubs with my long and beautiful hair.

It’s a lovely fall day. The sun warms me as it passes from one brilliant cloud to another. Snow birds whoosh about in the trees, moving as a single body. I’ve often wondered how they do that. Telepathy? There was a bipedal race on SSV17 that exhibited something similar. The entire world went into a common depression when they sensed themselves falling into my welcoming hands.

Time to look for some souls…

***

I can find what I want almost anywhere mankind gathers, but the best hunting places are the darkened streets and alleyways of rundown city centres around the world. Tonight I walk in one of my favourite cities. Toronto is a super-city with an army of human tragedies to select from. It’s similar in makeup to New York City in that any given moment I can find someone to make my own. It’s not that people everywhere aren’t faced with these choices. No, it’s more a matter of numbers. I can claim more souls a night in Toronto than I can in most other cities. It’s a fun place to be.

I stop for a few moments to recover from a drive-by shooting. Good thing I’m wearing black tonight. It hides the blood and the bullet holes. I give a nod to God in Heaven.

Anyway, for a sin to be Mortal [which makes you dead to Heaven], it must meet three standards:

1) It must be a serious matter.

2) A person must have reflected, however briefly, on the gravity of the situation before acting.

3) A person must have chosen, of his or her own free will, to commit the sin, even if coercion was involved.

So, this means that mortal sins can’t be done “accidently.” A person who commits a mortal sin is one who knows that their sin is wrong, but still deliberately commits the sin. This means that mortal sins are “premeditated” by the sinner and thus are truly a rejection of God’s law and love. And I can see right through these beings. The tainted soul is a golden thing, dusted or even streaked with black. And the truly evil ones? They have no inner light at all. Special projects of mine, they are.

Tracking down so-called BAD PEOPLE is a talent I nourish. In fact, these people are often brought into my inner circle so they can work on my behalf. You would call them devils.

Off I go …

***

I begin this day joyfully. The Lord has been in absentia since the shooting two days ago, and I am quite relaxed. Souls are coming in at a marvelous rate. Prospects are good. And I’m just about ready for some fun with my latest special project.

Bryan Cole has one more meeting with me today, then I’m going to pull the trigger. Caring for Bryan’s admittedly conflicted soul has been a challenge. But a year of work has brought him to the point where I believe he’s ready to take his chosen victims. 9/11 will be small compared to this.

“Hey Rick.” He still has no idea who I am.

“Hello Bryan. Are we ready for the live run?”

“I don’t think so,” he answers, his face like stone.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look, I said I’d do it, and I meant it. But there’s a lot of innocent people who’re going to get hurt.”

“I thought we went over this. If we want to make an impact on society, then some innocents must suffer. People aren’t going to care if we kill a bunch of low-lives.”

“What do you mean we? Sure, you showed me where to find the plans, but I’m the one who built this thing. And I’m the one who’s going to die setting it off.”

“I’ll be staying with you.”

That gets his attention.

“This is something new.”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. And you’re right. All along it’s been you … You planned. You found the materials. You did the building. I just watched. So, I figure I’ve got to take a stand here. I’ve got to stay.”

His jaw drops. Confusion flickers across his broad face and finds a home in his blue-gray eyes. “I find that hard to believe. You know why I’m doing it. People have no right. There should be a law that looks after those who can’t look after themselves. Instead, what do they do? Society puts them into great big boxes, locked up like they were in jail. And then they hire people right off the street to ‘look after them.’ Evil people. People who mock and hurt and steal. They don’t put any safety features in place, like cameras, because it isn’t cost effective. Well, Maggie isn’t going to spend what’s left of her life in a hell-hole like that. I might not be able to take care of her, but I can help her. What’s your reason?”

Bryan pushes his chin forward, challenging me. Daring me to prove myself.

“Don’t need a reason, my friend. People piss me off. The government needs a wake-up call. Today’s a good day to die. It’s all the same to me. What counts is that I’ll be standing right beside you when you hit the switch.”

I smile my warmest smile.

Bryan looks hard at me now. “You mean you’re really going to stay with me?”

“Yes, I’ll stay.”

We’re in an apartment of mine not far from the residential core of Toronto. The atomic device (Bryan has conveniently forgotten it wasn’t “all him,” that it was I who sourced out the uranium we needed for the bomb, but that’s okay) is far more sophisticated and powerful than the last ones used by the United States. The city of Toronto will never be the same. And there will be enough injured left over to last a lifetime. The Lord will be sorry he didn’t stop me.

Bryan stops talking and flicks the switch. Nothing happens.

He resets it and tries again. Still nothing.

Perhaps I spoke too soon about His Highness leaving me alone.

Bryan speaks … “Uhm, maybe someone is trying to tell us something.” He glances upward, rubs his face with his hands. He’s looking tired and edgy.

I don’t believe it. This guy has never, not once, mentioned God and, now, he thinks he’s been given a sign. It doesn’t matter that what he’s thinking is true and that God hasn’t left us alone. What matters is that he’s thinking it at all.

“What, you don’t have a spare switch?”

“Sure I’ve got one. But what’s the sudden rush all about, Rick?” He gives me a probing look. “Is there something going on here that I don’t understand?”

“Yeah, there is. I want all the people surrounding us to be dead. I want it now.”

“And, again, I ask why?”

“Okay, listen very carefully, Bryan. I’m going to say this once, and then I expect you to fix that switch.”

I begin to cough, and I can’t stop. I cough until I see blood, and then I cough some more. Finally, when my throat is so raw I can barely speak, The Master lets go of me.

Bryan is looking more and more like a frightened rabbit.

I get a drink of water from the kitchen sink.

“Bryan,” I croak, “I’m a terrorist. I want this country kneeling before me, petrified of what will come next. But if it will help get this job done, then I’ll leave the rest to someone else. I’ll end my journey here. Because I believe in my cause.”

They don’t call me the King of Lies for nothing.

“I think I knew that you were a terrorist, Rick. But I let you help me, because I believe in what I’m doing. It just seems like today isn’t the day.”

I point to my blood on the floor. “Does this look like the leavings of a person with lots of time on their hands?

“What, now you’re going to tell me you’re dying?”

Bryan is a big man. Almost as tall as me. Right now, he looks like a thunderstorm on the horizon.

I shrug my shoulders.

“I always knew you had an agenda, but it didn’t matter to me,” he says, running fingers through salt and pepper hair. “Maybe it should matter. After all, if you’re so filled with hate that you want everybody around you dead, how much of the hate has influenced my own anger?”

I look up into the air myself. He must be laughing by now.

“Bryan,” I say, “you can do whatever you want. I was just offering you some companionship, so that you didn’t go out on your own.”

He looks at me for a long moment then goes to get the spare switch.

Bryan comes back with a strange look on his face.

“What?” I ask.

“I saw it there not half an hour ago. Now it’s gone.”

“Are you telling me we can’t use the bomb right now?”

He shakes his head.

“You can hot wire this thing?”

Bryan nods but doesn’t move.

“I haven’t been much of a religious man, Rick, but it seems to me God is determined to give me a second chance.”

I can’t believe this. God is really fucking with me today.

“And by that you mean what?”

The big man stands up straight, looks me in the eye and says, “I don’t think I’m going to do it.”

“Today, or not at all?”

“Not at all.”

I can see it in him. He’s been converted.

“Give me the key to the apartment and get out.”

“No, I have to disassemble the bomb”

I laugh out loud. It isn’t a pleasant sound. Thanks to his conversion, I can’t even take his soul. What a clusterfuck.

To rub some salt in my wounds, God sends me a couple of break-in specialists. They go straight for the bomb, waving their guns in the air. I move to stop them (I’m a master of the ancient arts of battle). I take one man down and reach for the other. He beats me by a fraction of a second, the bullet taking me full in the chest. As I lie on the floor, he comes up and points his gun at my head. Wearing a completely bored expression, the thug pulls the trigger.

Some time later I wake up. My head and chest wounds have already healed. The bomb is gone. Bryan is gone.

I go into the master bedroom, grab some clothes and head for the shower. I emerge in a little while, no worse for the wear and tear.

It’s evening now, and I head for one of my favourite haunts. I acquire a stool at the bar and adjust my image so that I am a nondescript example of a human. My pheromones have already been dampened. Tonight is about watching for my next soul.

~ ~ ~

Clayton Bye is the author of 11 books and 30 ghostwrites. The traditional publisher of 5 other works, he also offers writing services and acts as a small business consultant.

Endorsement:

“Clayton Bye is one of the most prolific and talented writers I know. He is an eloquent poet, insightful critic, imaginative novelist, and a self-help expert. The sheer volume of his work makes me dizzy, and he seems comfortable in all genres. From his compelling collection of short stories and essays to fiction winners like “The Sorcerer’s Key” and inspirational works like “How To Get What You Want From Life” and “Getting Clear,” he seems to find more hours in a day than most writers find in a week. He makes you think, touches your heart, and fights the good fight with his pen as his sword. You can number me among his great admirers.” – Timothy Fleming

THE THANATOPSIS PROJECT

a
The second time he died was a Thursday. He had prepped for it since April’s last snows piled a perimeter of walls surrounding the institute like some fortified castle. Here it was now, deep into June, and from his window Trebor Patrokos could detect the late appearance of saffron crocuses on short stems, poking yellow crowns through garden beds. The mystery of nature: the cyclic journey from seed to bloom to death to seed again.

 

Scientist Carr had asked, “Why not human beings? Why not after death to blink one’s eyes like newborns and awake to the flash of new sunlight?”

 

“What do the mort-pics show?” he asked Carr. “Was I dead again?”

 

“Very much dead, Trebor. Deader, as they say, than a doornail. Dead as stone.”

 

Trebor Patrokos raked a quick hand through long graying hair. “How long this time?”

 

Scientist Carr checked his notes and read the Thanatos-meter he had attached to Trebor‘s temple. “You were dead for nearly thirty hours. No heartbeat, no brainwaves, no coursing of blood, organs somewhere down in Death Valley. Total inertia. I’d call this one even more successful than your first outage. You did just fine, Trebor. Once we set the Thanatos-meter at zero, it sucked the life out of you. For all intents and purposes you were a corpse, but the meter took on vital operations so that, yes, you were physically and mentally gone, but it transferred your life force into itself.”

 

Twice Carr had sloughed away the multi-tiered personas of his ersatz life. Trebor had been pronounced dead, a fact he had known all his life. The bald truth? Trebor Patrokos regarded himself a nothing, a kind of Invisible Man divested of clothing and facial bandages. Volunteering for the secret Thanatopsis Project, he had harbored a secret of his own, a longing that the Thanatos-meter would fail, and the death it had delivered him and then stored in its chip would prove his undoing.

 

Scientist Carr had, in an accidental but momentous experiment, managed to defang venomous death. In his laboratory he had failed to unravel the mystery of insidious cancers, find cures that would prolong lives, but all that was moot now. He had bypassed the long winding road through the mire of failed steps, leaping from Point A to Point Z in a single bound. He had conquered death! And those who would flock to his door would pay heavily to relinquish their fear of endings.

 

“To you and to the others in this study I am indebted beyond words,” said Carr. “In these experiments, time and again, the Thanatos-meter has replicated death and then restored the dead to life again. This tiny black box,” Carr said, raising the meter as if to announce it to the world, “attached to the temple…” The scientist allowed himself to drift off into fantasy. Then to Trebor Patrokos he said, “One more time?”

 

Trebor nodded, proceeded to lie down on the white surgical table where shortly before he had returned after thirty hours dead to the world.

 

Scientist Carr sang off-key while he attached the Thanatos-meter to the supine Patrokos. It was a song made popular decades before when Carr attended Columbia Med. School and wanted so much to show them all he had what it took to realize his dreams.

 

“And the world will be better for this

That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.”

 

Trebor felt the cold black metal of the meter against his forehead. Carr’s voice trailed away. Trebor’s eyes lost their grip; objects in the lab were fading fast. But so far his mind was clear. He did not want to live again. For what? Life had not been kind.

 

When Trebor heard the whining blue siren beating inside his head, he reached up his hand, touched the pulsating Thanatos-meter and yanked it from his temple just in time to take death like a man in despair.

 

Scientist Carr screamed Trebor’s name.

 

#
BIO
Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

 

Sal Buttaci’s recent flash-fiction collection, 200 Shorts, was published by All Things That Matter Press, and is  available at  http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts

 

 

 

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