Friday, September 30, 2011

Not What He Expected

"Well, it's magic," said Archmage Trefortius. He scooped up a bucket of ice cubes and watched them turn instantly to water. He poured it out; the renewed cubes clattered as they rejoined their brethren. "Only the lake is affected, and only at certain unpredictable times. There's no rational scientific explanation for this; it's supernatural and unrepeatable."

Apprentice Fitz took a few experimental steps onto the surface, then wobbled hastily back. "Cold. The locals use it to chill beer. The fish thaw out fine afterward, too."

"Magic," Trefortius said again. He sighed and shook his head. "We found it at last."


An Apatosaurus had gotten clothes-lined by an unexpected traffic light. Police on fast-moving Ornithomimus arrived to restore order after a poorly trained Allosaurus took a bite out of the unfortunate herbivore. Jake scooted around the carnage in his tiny economy vehicle, whose gill structures were pulsing with agitation at the bloodscent. "Only a little longer on lungs, buddy," Jake said, patting his vehicle reassuringly.

"Hey," a hairy guy leaning out the cab of an Ultrasaurus called to Jake. "Is that one of them new hybrids?"

"Well, technically it's an old hybrid..." said Jake. "More efficient than those brand-new mammals, though."

True Believer

"Jesus is the son of God, and no one is saved except through Him."

"Yes, I believe that."

"Allah is the only god, and Mohammad is His prophet."

"I believe that, too."

"...act now, or miss out on the best deals of the summer!"

"I believe it!"

"You can't believe all of this. It's contradictory."

"And yet I do. I believe it all. Humans are so limited, so single-minded. We believe with full knowledge of the contradictions, for to us, believing only one thing would be likewise contradictory."

"This is ridiculous. I'd never do something so stupid."

"I believe you."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pet Stains

The cat crawled in on his belly, making sounds like, "hoork, hooork," and wheezing worse than our fifteen-year-old vacuum.

"Gotta do that here, you bastard?" I asked.

The cat's ears flattened, and he rolled one baleful eye at me. "Hraaaack!" he said. "Glortch." He barfed up a wet trickle of brown-orange gunk. Something silvery glinted in the puddle. I leaned over.

It was a little disc with a clear bubble in the middle. Inside, a tiny, green-skinned man pounded on the glass, staring at me with terrified eyes.

Then the dog swooped in and ate it.

Just as well, really.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


The white room was full of long, low tables, stretching as far as he could see. People hunched miserably over their work. A seat in front of him was empty.

"I don't understand," he quavered.

His neighbor glanced up. "Pair up the quarks - they snap together, see? - and fit them into the pattern. You're new, so you're working Hydrogen for now. Make sure you don't fuck up the protons."


The man smiled tightly. "What, you thought you got all that matter and time and space for free? You used it when you lived; now you gotta pay it forward."

Friday, September 23, 2011


They already came and took him away. They blinked at the omnipresent placards. They gave wide berth to the taxidermically preserved mice in their tiny chainmail suits. They obeyed the sign on the attic door that read: "Lizards DO NOT TOUCH."

Inside, the teapot rests in the dust. It is blue, with a flower motif. The lid rattles.


A small green lizard lies stunned on the floor.


Two more. It is beginning to boil over.

Later, when they ask him, all he will do is shrug and say, "There are sillier ways for the world to have ended."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Red Spots on White Snow

Your fire is bright, child of apes, and so here I sit, in the dark, in the trees. I let my eyes flash, so! But I do not appear. You may waste your bullets on my shadow if you wish.

Yes, I know of bullets, and all your monkey tricks.

Perhaps I am not always as I am now. Perhaps I have other shapes, when it suits me. Perhaps you dined with me yesterday, shared a pint, all unaware.

I know secrets common dogs do not. I know fire. I know lies.

I know patience.

Your fire burns low, ape.

A Lesson in the Importance of Specificity

The demon gave us a tour while we waited for the Ambassador, fashionably late. "This," said the demon, gesturing to a rough sphere of pink flesh, "is a particular favorite. He wished that he would never die. Not to live eternally, mind, nor for stasis, but never, henceforth, to die. Thus it was simplicity itself to grant his desire."

The demon laid a clawed hand on the ball, dimpling its surface. "Every one of his cells is still here, and new ones come every day. I think eventually he will smother the universe. Yet even then, he will never die..."

Dawnlight Gleams on a Droplet of Poison

The scorpions danced at the gates of Tuad'hi, as they danced every morning when the Tail rose with the sun. Black and shining, it hovered overhead, poised to strike at the city's heart.

"It is a matter of great curiosity among your people, Professor," said Lufhal, tugging at his sand-mask, "whether the tail is a creature or a part of the land, a foe or a friend. But we who live in its shadow know better than to ask."

Professor Clarke swallowed and told himself his dry throat was due to heat. The scorpions clacked their pincers and danced on.

Labor-Saving Devices

Polly gazed skeptically at the conveyor belt and the arms that darted in and out with mechanical precision. "What if something goes wrong?"

"Then you push the red button and wait for help," said Foreman Oakes.

"But if it's just a little accident, I know how to change them..."

Oakes was already shaking his head. "You're just here to watch the robots. That's it. They handle everything."

"Okay." Polly sucked at her lower lip.

"It's better this way," said Oakes. "They're better at it."

Polly didn't answer, and for a few minutes, they watched the gurgling, happy babies gliding past.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


The translator stood beside the breakfast table, all spindly gray limbs. Chuck sat heavily in his chair.

"Morning," said Betsy. "I made pancakes."

"She greets you fondly," said the translator. "Though she knows it is irrational, she feels abandoned as you spend increasing amounts of time at work."

Chuck grunted.

"He remains groggy," said the translator, "and feels incapable of abstract emotional exchanges. He nonetheless greets you fondly. He would like three pancakes."

"This is so much easier," said Betsy, settling at the table. "Soon we won't need to speak at all!"

The translator smiled silently down at them both.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Meaning It

"I'm not going to work anymore," she said. "I'm going to werk."


"Werk. With an 'e'."

"What does it mean?"

"Um... eating ice cream! Today, anyway. I might make it mean something else tomorrow."

That was how it started. Soon everyone was 'eeting brekfust' or 'whashing dishiz.' Words meant anything they wanted. When no one could understand anything anyone said anymore, we went back to her.

"Halp," we told her.

She showed us a ball of dirt. It meant, "I can't help you. You have to solve it for yourselves. I love you all."

But we couldn't understand her.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Old Kicks

"What are we even doing here?" I asked as we passed some scraggly wino. "You don't even smoke dope."

"We gotta come here. I can feel it," Eric said. He pointed. "There."

A tall, dark-haired man I'd never seen before nodded as if he recognized us. He held up a small glass tube, and suddenly I wanted that vial more than anything in the world. The man smiled as we stumbled toward him.

"It never fails," he said.

"What?" I panted. "What is it?"

"Quantum foam. Freebased. It burns backwards." He rattled the drug in his hands. "You're already addicted."


The orange-skinned invaders pushed in through the breach in the walls. Arcs of violet energy sparked overhead as the last of our defenders fell, senseless. Webs of alien force disabled our weapons. The alarm shrilled. Livy went for the trigger, the last-ditch suicide bomb, but she was too late. We were surrounded.

"So that's it," Ymir said. Crimson, three-fingered hands took his rifle away. "We're finished."

"No," the alien said. "Now the work can begin."

"Work?" Visions of chain gangs and salt mines flashed in my head.

"Yes," another alien burbled. "Medicine. Food. Rebuilding. This is our world, too, now."

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Machine That Made Clothes

He put the dog into the machine that made clothes and turned her into a jacket. When he wore it to work, everyone found themselves smiling at him and patting him on the back.

The next day, he put his daughter in the machine. The shirt she became was as pale as innocence and just a little sad, and he spent the day collecting ancient confessions and secret regrets.

Eventually, he ran out of things to put in the machine. He stood in front of it, wearing all of his new clothes, and he thought for a long, long time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One True Love

"I'd like a chance to be happy," I told the Lord of Love. 

"What?"  He rummaged in his box, pulling out slips of paper and muttering.  His voice was muffled.  He sounded distracted.  "You already had it.  Fluttering stomach, sweaty palms, music playing.  Your fault if you missed it."


He poked his head up.  "Don't tell me you bought that 'relationships are a process' mumbo jumbo.  It's one magic ticket and then poof.  That was my plan."

"There can't be much happiness around, in that case."

He grinned.  I felt my stomach lurch.  "No," he said.  "No, there isn't."

Friday, September 9, 2011


It had been happening for months.  The phone would ring just about two in the morning and, when Nismet picked it up, a raspy voice would say, "Tomorrow..." and hang up.  Nismet had started turning the ringer off when he went to bed.  If he hadn't been so tired when he got home from work, he wouldn't have forgotten to silence it.  But the Vickers account was coming due and everyone was pulling extra shifts. 

The phone startled him awake, right at two.  "I know," Nismet snapped into the headset.  "Tomorrow, tomorrow, always tomorrow."

"Yesterday," the voice croaked.

And disconnected.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Today's story also appears on the blog of impressively successful author and generally nice guy James Maxey, who held a 100-word story contest of sorts.  (The stories were just the entries in the raffle for a copy of his new book of short stories, "There Is No Wheel."  I won a copy, which I am looking forward to reading.)  James maintains at least two blogs and a truly hellacious pace of writing, most recently writing an entire novel in a week.  Dude is nuts.  Check his stuff out.


It's the small things that make a life. A chipped diamond ring found on a table tells a story. A sprinkle of glass and tire marks at an intersection tell a different one. Or the receipts in a library copy of "The Prince": lifts for shoes, a power tie, strawberry yogurt, and Taco Bell. Stained.

It's these tiny details that count, that make someone real. I think as many as half the people in the city are my creations, now.

Oh, don't look at me like that. I know you don't believe me. I know everything about you.

My child.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Any Port in a Storm

"Pa, you sure about this?"  Patience clutched her shawl around her, eyeing the tunnel nervously.  The Virginia woods were quiet around them, for now.

"This is where we was sent," Pa said.  "Any man stands against bondage is a friend of mine, no matter his roots."

"How egalitarian."  The voice slithered unexpectedly out of the darkness beside them.  "You will follow."  A hunched figure turned and made for the tunnel entrance.

"Wait," Patience called, surprising herself.  "Why?  Why help runaways?"

The moon caught a brief glint of red eyes, a bestial snout.  "We know what it is to be despised."

Something in a Prince Charming

"Look, Magic Fish, I don't think you understand," said Sven.  His ear flaps were undone, and the three smiling women were already sliding their hands into his down jacket.  They seemed unbothered by the frigid cold, despite their state of undress.

"You wished for love," said the fish, floating in the circle of dark water.  "Are they not beautiful?"

"Well," Sven coughed unhappily.  "I mean, there's other sorts of love, if you follow me."

The fish splashed vaguely.  "I don't even have external genitalia.  I don't have a clue what you mammals get so excited about in the first place."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review of Daily Science Fiction's May Line-up at Diabolical Plots

Dustin Adams, under the banner of Frank Dutkiewicz' reviews, has given my story "As Fast As You Can" a Recommended rating over at David Steffen's Diabolical Plots.  Mine is about halfway down the page; the reviews are perforce somewhat short in general, as there are a great many stories, most of them barely a thousand words themselves.

A Few Errands

Visn paused upon entering the store.  He wasn't used to the full-body tactile sensations yet, although he was more-or-less a master of bipedal locomotion and a tolerably confident user of opposable thumbs. 

Visn consulted his list.  Pick up groceries.  He glanced around; the array of shelves was dizzying in sheer number.  He began to feel nervous.  Then he read farther.  "Eggs, milk, bread."  Visn relaxed and smiled.

He navigated to the dairy section, pondered his choices, and hefted one carton briefly before replacing it.  "This human thing is going to be a cinch," Visn said, beginning his search for eggs.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hope for the Future

Wade brought an alien to the party, and everyone wanted to meet it.  We'd heard their race could see the future.

"I can't imagine," Kary said.  "It must be so depressing, knowing exactly when you're going to die."

At first, the alien seemed confused by the questions, blinking its beady, spider-like eyes and clutching its translator box in all three hands.  Then it straightened, as if with sudden realization.

"Your people... cannot... frell?"  The word they use for their perceptions has no equivalent in any Earth language.  Its blue skin darkened: a horror/fear/disgust response.  "How can you survive the uncertainty?"

Saturday, September 3, 2011


It could have been an accident, the first time.  Wood is treacherous; axes are sharp.  The blade slips... it could have been accidental.  But not the second time.  Or the one after that.  Each time, I crawled home and healed my wounds.  Each time, I replaced another piece of myself with cold metal.

Metal is hard.  Metal does not bend.

Metal does not bleed.

The original me is almost gone, every part replaced.  I have only one small piece of flesh remaining, somewhere deep inside, pulsing arrythmically.  I heft my axe with my metal hand.

It could be an accident.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rain nor Snow nor Gloom of Night

"Avoid obligations," the postman advises.  He stares glumly into a half-full pint of dark amber brew.  "Never make promises."

"Come again?" I ask.

"I swore on my immortal soul that I'd deliver every letter that day.  But there's always pranks, errors, misdeliveries.  I've walked through deserts, over mountains, across oceans... I'm down to three.  Here."  He hands me a letter.  To my great-great-grandson, reads the address.

"What are the others?"

He finishes his drink.  "A blank envelope.  And this."

He tosses it onto the bar.  To: God.

"I'll have some words for Him when I get there," the postman says.


The world ended in fire, as it turned out.  Spurting up through the ground, falling from the sky like rain, lancing through the planet in white-hot streams of plasma.  It was quick, for whatever that's worth.  Personally, I've never been a big proponent of the all-in-one-go school of Band-Aid removal.

"It's not so bad," Karen said as she burned, curling and flaking away like a leaf in a campfire.  "It's not really all that hot.  In absolute terms."

I watched her shatter as afist of superheated air slammed through her.  Ice, I thought.  Next time it will be ice.