Halloween Short Story Goodness

Good morning, oh ghoulish Internet browsers. It’s time for candy and costumes and spirits and a whole other brand of escapism today. Halloween. Do you have your mask all picked out?

Forgive me for not bringing any traditional treats to the party, but I do have a new spooky story for you…it might even touch your heart, though probably not in that whole, “Kalimaaaa” sort of way. Enjoy: “What Lies Beneath,” and, if you’d prefer to hear me read it aloud to you in a dark room (you creepers, you), I’m also recorded it on soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/galforc/what-lies-beneath


October had lost its color. Autumn was frost, the rigid huddling of dirt against dirt in dire opposition to his shovel, a squeezing of the lungs that would not dissipate. The air was white with his breath, white against the sliver of moon by which kids stole corn husks from the neighboring fields. By contrast the night was black, slick in his hands, an opaque, reflective thing, but black regardless. Raymond had come to think of these as obsidian days, pondered if the marble tombstone had been misbegotten.

“Please,” he whispered to that stone, “it’s time. It’s only time.” Still the ground fought him, every time it fought him, no matter how many times she dug herself back out.

The battery-powered lamp was all but flickers beside him. In every shadow he saw her face, every time a touch harsher than the last.

Months before, when they had first bid their farewells, he had drunk himself into a stupor. When she first returned to him, stumbling up the lawn in that god awful suit with which they had buried her cancer-eaten body, he had thought her a cruel trick of alcoholism. He had hid in his bathroom and rocked himself to sleep.

“They spoke of peace, Ray. They didn’t mention the silence,” Britney said when he emerged in the morning.

She was still there, pale, porcelain-preserved skin dragging mud and worms into their bed. It seemed as though she had sat there all night, waiting. She no longer needed to sleep. She made a sound like Britney used to make, when those Sarah McLachlan commercials used to come on for the shelters. Only thing was, she had no more tears to give.

He very nearly broke down right there.

The thing was, everyone knew it was a possibility. It was all over the news, since the last red meteor. Call it a fluke or call it magic, for most people it was just a nuisance. Necromancers. Satanists. Punk Rockers. You never knew who might call up the dead anymore. They tended toward the rich and famous, though. Not little people, like him.

“I love you, I’ll always love you.”

He kept repeating it like a mantra, even as he took her back to the hill and buried her in the earth. He got a different priest, just to be sure, and paid the groundskeeper extra to make sure her grave got the proper care. Raymond didn’t like the notion of vengeful spirits due to someone else’s lack of care.

“Why?” she asked, time and again, after that. “Don’t you love me anymore?”

“The words,” he choked, becoming harder with repetition, “say ‘til death do us part, love. I will always love the person you were, but you’re gone. You’re gone and I’m still here. You told me to keep living.”

“But I’m scared, Ray…”

He felt monstrous. It bid him dig still deeper. He covered her grave in flowers and stood, sometimes, watching the bend of the cypress tree there besides, its intangible whirls and knots, twisting into the night. One by one, its leaves fell.

Yet she kept coming back. Each time she did, there was a little less of the woman he had known, a little more of the grave. People said it was the soul that animated. Given that it was her mind he watched deteriorate, he thought that might have something more to do with it. Anger began to move her, instead of regret.

“I’ve never been able to sleep alone,” she said, the last time she pulled herself up.

It was the rot, he told himself. Bits of her were shutting down, but not fast enough for his liking.

All he wanted was the quiet, the calm. He longed to come to peace, to be allowed the silence of release. Her return deadened him, but in ways he had never wanted to be. Familiarity was supposed to humanize, not harden.

The cemetery was a long walk from his house, and it was not long before he wrapped the coat still tighter about his body. Winter was practically here. There had been no leaves left on the tree, this night.

Autumn passed at a shuffling gait, a whisper of death on the open air. He stood still, turning back across the long asphalt. What was imagination in a world where such things existed? He did not have to imagine it. She was there. She must have been digging before he even finished patting down the hole.

Barely any skin left. Her nails had continued to grow, but they were cracked, flaky. Most of what had made her Britney in his eyes had dissolved to bare creation. She no longer had any lips.

“Why?” he asked at last, nothing else left to offer her.

Closer she came, and closer. “I don’t want to be alone…”

His fingers, folding as if in prayer, groped around the empty pocket he had once promised held a ring. Another empty hole, promises forgotten by dark of night.


In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Expectations

(Welcome to the dramatic conclusion of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four  , and Five (my goodness I can be wordy, can’t I?) if you need to catch up. Now we ask the final question: what is the difference between animal and man? Because at times, there may only be a trigger between them.

Language warning.)

Death Valley

Death Valley (Photo credit: Frank Kehren)


Here it is.

It’s like—somebody’s had the destiny talk with you, yeah?

Two men sitting at a table. There’s a gun between them. One of them’s got his finger on the trigger and one of them’s fish food. They know it. You know it. It’s just a matter of time.

And here we are. Call it the lonely end. Oh I teach and I preach and I call it good—but it’s not good. It’s never good. It’s never been good.

Because nobody ever acts. I talk and I talk and what do I get? There’s nobody like me. I’m me. You’re you, and look where we are. Here, handing your life over to someone else.

But you.

But you.

People walk in false securities. Success doesn’t breed success; it breeds an inevitability of failure. We don’t learn anything from success except that something we did worked. Once. Will it work again? That’s what we think we learn, but that’s not it. It comes. It goes. And there we are, wondering, hoping that finger on the trigger will be ours, and that our bodies had the sense to move move move out of the way.

But you.

Here we are. You and I. Sitting. And there’s the pistola between us. Oh, I wonder; will they kill him when he gets away? It’s possible. But pirates, call us sensible at least. They are like me in one way: loyalty is when we can gain from the moment. If there’s no gain, there’s no sense in the loyalty. And when I’m dead, there’s no gain in you. Just a silly white boy wriggling his way upstream.

But you.

The blood on your hands. Can you take it? It’s the question I never asked. Never ask. I can take it. I took it. And death? It comes for all. I knew it was coming for me the first time I made a head bloom red, fishy. I grew up in it. I thrived on it. It don’t bother me none; death is an old friend. He’ll shake my hand and say shit, what took you?

But there are people. They don’t get it. When you pull the trigger they think it changes them. Well it does. But not the way they think. It’s all just meat and blood and shit, but it does change. I mean, look at dogs—you train them their whole lives on kibble and bits, and they’re the good puppy. The loyal puppy. Give them the hunt. The warm rush of the kill. And there’s no going back. They’ve had the blood-taste, and there it is—the wolf that was. The animal.

You people train yourselves to be puppies. To be something less, and yet more, than natural. Me? I just embraced the other. The real. I didn’t hide behind names and titles and so much air. I did what I did and all the rest was—someone else. Something else.

I don’t know how you got out. I don’t care. It’s good to see. I’d rather it be this than some drugged out pisspot thinking he’s better’n me, yeah? Because I’d be old then. And if I’m old it’s me doing it wrong, you know? Animals—they don’t get the years men do.

So what are you? Animal or man? It’s a thing, Americana. It’s a thing. How you say: hot mess? Ha. Yeah. That’s what I’ll be. That’s what you’ll be. It’s in your eyes, but what’s truth? Guns—they make it easy. Too easy.

Humanity’s just a hairline trigger. And—

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Sanity

(Welcome to Part 5 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four  if you need to catch up. We’re winding down now. Just one more bit of wordplay after this one to go, and since today our delightful antagonist is taking us on a trip through sanity (or insanity), that’s probably for the best. Enjoy the walk. The end of the sand doesn’t necessarily mean the beginning of hope. Language warning.)

Atacama, the world's driest desert "Natio...

Atacama, the world’s driest desert “Nationalgeographic.com”. Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a little further now, fish. We’re almost there. It’s getting hotter, and that’s a good sign. And the tracks? Oh, you don’t see the tracks, but they’re there. Camels and shit and bones, I tell you. It might as well be Agrabah to you, but it’s destiny, my friend, because somewhere in there is a nice little man with a nice little fortune and he’s going to hand me dough for you. Your family? Your friends? They don’t even know you’re here. For all they know, you’re dead like all the rest—but you, you get to spend a lifetime unknown, forgotten, living as some old bag of wrinkles shoves his prick up your bag.

How’s that for fucked? Like two lives intersected at the same person but…one just keeps going, and the other—he’s stuck in neutral. Forever.

And it’s because you don’t make the choice. It’s coming, you know. All you got to ask is: which is better? Death or slavery? Now, it’s not an offer, fishy. I won’t let you die. Death is like life, you know? You take it. On your own terms, or it stretches you out good.

Sanity, you know, I hear one guy say it’s—it’s the ability to tell real from unreal. Isn’t that simple? Real and unreal. But what if you wake up one morning and everything that was real has changed? Say one morning you’re little miss priss, with a big bank account, and friends, and a little miss priss sucking your prissy prick, and then the next, bam, it’s…you’re here, and it’s all gone, and your clothes are burned up, your money don’t mean shit, your friends are dead, and your prick—well, it’s all for your own hand, buddy. And there’s this pirate. And you’ve never seen a pirate before, I mean—where’s the rum and shit, right? Where’s the boat?

That’s pretty crazy. I mean like, you tell me that, I say, you got a fucking problem in your head. That’s unreal.

Except it isn’t. You can’t pinch yourself awake. You see this little dot on the horizon getting closer and closer and you think it might be the light but it’s only shadow, and the sun’s beating you down and your skin’s breaking and all you can think is: when? WHEN? Because there IS no waking up. And inch by inch you come to think: but all these things I knew are gone, and all these new things, things that make no sense, they’re everywhere, but me…I’m still feeling all the shit.

And that’s when that line blurs. You don’t see it anymore, because you just don’t know. If there’s no control, how do you test? Yeah. Insanity, my friend. It’s as simple as a thought. You just keep picking away at that thought until it’s all you’re left with—because you can talk yourself right out of sanity. The moment you begin to wonder if it’s real—that’s when you know you’re a goner.

Sanity…shit, talk about a dream.

But that dot? It’s no mirage. It’s YOUR dream, and it’s coming for you, night by night. Pucker up, sweety. It’s not much further now.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Poetry

(Welcome to Part 4 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Be sure to check out Parts One, Two, and Three if you need to catch up. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a go at our antagonist’s outlook on life, as told through that most ancient art: poetry. Language warning.)

You don’t eat, little fish, how you supposed to escape? How you supposed to stab the crazy little man with the knife, eh? Eh? You just going to sit there and stare me to death? Play on my human sympathy, ndugu? Oh, that’s a big mistake. But this rice? It’s the tops, man. Like, MSG and sugar and shit and everything. You like milk? I love it with milk, man. Love it.

It’s funny, you know. Sometimes I sit here and stare out at all this…shit, and I think, I can almost see it from your eyes. It’s hard, you know, but I can do it. Nobody else—they don’t even try. No brains in their heads, I swear. But it makes me think.

Temple of a million years of Rameses II - Ozym...

Temple of a million years of Rameses II – Ozymandias statue, Luxor, Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This old man, once, well, he thought he was being smart. He sat me down and he says ‘Boy,’ he says, ‘It’s not enough to live. When you stand in the desert, everywhere around you you must know is the shattered visage of frowning, wrinkled cold command, and you should stand there and know that its sculptor already read the passions of men, and lo, lo you little shit, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed—’ Oh you Americans always know it. At least, the one line. It’s like you don’t have the attention span for all the rest, but you know, it’s a poem; it’s never just one line!

Fuck it.


And you know what? Oh, I laughed. Laughed as much as you probably want to shit yourself right now. Because just like his little poem, his little lecture, there wasn’t nothing there. You can say they’re looking out at me, but there isn’t nothing.

I’m not stupid, man. Everything dies. You get that, don’t you? Everything dies. It goes away. The words, maybe they live on, but the people, they all decay. And the old man, he thought he could use that to shake me into righting myself. Well. He wanted sand and you know what? I gave it to him. Three holes to the chest and I spread him wide, stake stake stake and left him for the vultures.

Of course, he was right. All those little–what you say–hipster?…shits that babble out the nothings of its monuments tears all got the right of it. There’s nothing here. Everybody’s screwing themselves bloody trying to make themselves right, but they’re all screwed up in the HEAD. There’s nothing! They say the words but they don’t get what that means!

I kill you today, somebody cries, sure, mommy in her far away house, but tomorrow? When mommy’s dead? Ain’t nobody crying. At best you get a tombstone with a little word, and the wind, she picks it up and she wipes the name off or worms eat your corpse and you aren’t nothing. You don’t see it. You don’t hear it. What’s a name? You live until you die, and then none of it matters any more. You’re all just dust.

And you know? When I realized that, I think, is when I realized what you gotta do. It’s all about the take, fishy. About the here and the now. That’s all there is. You take and you take and everybody else is taking and taking and you screw each other bloody till somebody taps out, and life, life is just trying to make the most of life while you have it, because  there ain’t anything but. Morality? Fuck, what’sat if there ain’t nothing it beholds you to? I mean, if there’s no axe over your head, no afterlife, no spirits, nothing but the glitter and the shitter, well, fuck, what are we all doing dressing up playing Ms. Prissy?

Remember this, fishy: we are what we are. And if I’m going to teach you one lesson, it’s that. I took you, and I took this desert, because I wanted it. Not because someone told me they were mine. I took you. And you know? I took your rice too. And it was pretty fucking good.

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Blindsided

(Welcome to Part 3 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist, it’s time to have a little discussion of choice…Language warning.)

English: Western Sushi found at Wegmans Superm...

Sushi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New foot. Clean slate. Wakey, wakey, little boy.

Look at that. What you wake to. Natural thing, that. You hide it quick, like the other fish have taught you to, but for that instant I could see it—the anger, raw. Like sushi, yeah? You could cook it up, but then it just wouldn’t be sushi anymore.

Why is it you Americans are so obsessed with sushi anyways? Like it’s part of your culture or something. Hipster. Hip-hop. Hippedy-fucking-hop. Hell, if somebody said no more sushi for you, you’d probably go to war with them. Uptight little pricks you are. Somebody threatens to make things a little harder, a little less tasty for you—even if it’s something you have never owned, never have the right to own—and you go kill for it.

And that’s okay! It’s only human. It’s a damn shitty thing to do, don’t get me wrong, fish-boy. But it’s only human. We want and we want until we convince ourselves it’s need. We’re all part of the same family but that don’t mean shit when little brother steals our toys or sis takes our lunch money.

Oh, oh, oh, I know, family’s everything. You’re right! They’ll always be in our hearts, so we convince ourselves everything we do is as much for them as for us. That in making ourselves better, well, we’re only making them better too, right? Because who’s not happy to see their little brother happy? Well that’s the thing. You let them into your heart and you know what happens?

Bam. Blindsided and back-stabbed, carved open and gutted like a fish every time. They may not mean to do it, but every time, they come, prodding you with their sorries and their what do we do, what do we do? Because oh, look at that, everything’s judged on the nature of choice. CHOICE. As though any of us have a fucking choice. We’re urges bottled up inside just waiting to burst and they think some CHOICE is going to change anything?

Well, of course they do, because they hope our choice will somehow help them. Cheeky bastards.

Just like you. You thought it was quite a choice to come here, didn’t you?

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Drops in the Ocean

(Welcome to Part 2 of the Internet exclusive short story, “In Captivity.” Part 1 can be found here. Continuing the step outside my usual domain, into the mind of a rather crazed antagonist [alright, maybe it’s not THAT far outside my usual domain…a la Hollow March], we find ourselves free of our cage-homes for the moment, stretching our legs as we flesh out a bit of the topic of humanity. Please, avoid any sudden movements. Pirates read for free. Language warning.)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

Empty Lake Bed, (from iDesign iPhone Wallpapers)

…Let me tell you—you don’t understand what war is. Keep moving, fish–it’s okay, we’re still good. I didn’t used to understand what it was either. It was the right bumper on a controller shaped perfectly to the needs of carpal tunnel, fueling the medical machine that led to–

What? WHAT? Am I boring you, motherfucker? Well it’s history time. So you be a good little boy and you keep those little legs moving and those little ears listening and I won’t take this gun and shove it up your…

Good. Good. You have no idea how much that pisses me off. Little pricks coming around here, thinking they own this turf. Isn’t a soul alive should dare to stick a dagger in this dirt no more, friend. If each man is an island, then you’re best calling this an archipelago. You know what that is, right? A chain of islands—dot,  dot, dot—but they’re not all lined up all pretty like some kid’s flipping drawing, no sir, they’re different, every one unique, shaped and carved to a different sort of perfection and scattered like grains of sands across the ruthlessness of the ocean.

But still they come. More drops. More islands. The chain keeps growing and I swear, sometimes, you just drop from the sky. We can’t all be fished out of the ocean, love, not like the little fish you are. Know how many times I’ve considered tossing you back in? Oh, but that wouldn’t do. Little prick, you’d probably just swim back up stream and then where would we be? Another island choking off my flow. Won’t do. Won’t do at all.

Oh, it’s a war alright. You can practically see the natives paddling out from their islands at the boatload, spears and machetes and whatever else that not so benevolent bastard in the sky took on himself to gift our vain and varied verdicts of vengeance.

And you’re—hey. HEY. You’re looking at me. What is it shooting around up there that makes you think you can look at me? Huh? Huh? I’m the one standing here, you little stain. You think this is a snake between my legs? It could blow your head off. A BABY COULD DO IT. Just tap tap a tune out on the trigger and there you go, and if you were out here and I was in there it could be you, but walls come for a reason, little man, and you were born on the wrong end.

Or swam into it. Whatever. Don’t make me mix up my metaphors, eh? I may never get them back and then you think you know angry but you don’t. You don’t get it at all, preppy, with your pretty shirt and your iTunes world.

I’m keeping that, by the way.

But the war. Oh yeah. The war. We’re all in it. Little fish fighting for the way upstream to fuck our way into oblivion on the off chance some new upstart little shit will do things better, do things right. Or the islands, yeah—so many, but beneath that sand and dirt is volcanic churning, waiting to get out. We’re going to BURST, man, and everyone’s screaming is it you or me, you or me, and you know what I say?

I say fuck you, you little shit. Crawl back into your cage and cry, because story time’s over.

War is nature. It blindsides you and it sweeps everything else away. The war is absolute, the reasons are secondary—the reasons change, but the war is unchangeable, predetermined. Animals, all of us. Put you in my place, with this gun, and yeah, my brains’d be splattered all over these bars. Ha! Now there’s a thought. Too bad, you know?

If I was anybody else, I’d probably root for you.

[The story continues in Part 3, Blindsided]

In Captivity, Chats with a Mad Man: Hard Landing

(To get into the mindset of a crazy fellow [or at least, a different brand of crazy than I already am] can be a trying process. While characters flit to and fro in the brain, craziness is one that you may not want to spend a lot of time with–for obvious reasons. That said, over the weekend I was struck with an idea for a new segment, a series of short stories from the perspective of one of the aforementioned crazies addressing an unfortunate prisoner–though I suppose the real surprise will be that it’s something modern. Pirates may be involved…or I may have said too much.

So I give to you “In Captivity,” an internet exclusive. The following is free flow dialogue.  The images awaiting you will be what your own mind summons from its murky corners. Posting schedule for the additional chains in the story will probably be…whenever they deem it proper to pop into my head. Marvel, hiss, or shake a walker at me–but I hope you enjoy the step outside my usual domain.)


Damn, son. And they thought I was crazy. But there’s no crazy like American crazy, lemme tell you. Whoosh. Just like that. Sea howls and the sky roars and you know what it spits out of that diarrhea-streaked fishbowl? You, like you think you’re some merman or something.

Well the desert isn’t no place for a fishy, boy. Fish boy. Yeah. I like that. You ever think of yourself like a fish, eh? Where’s the rest of your school, fish? What’s that? I can’t hear you. Let’s try again: WHERE’S THE REST OF YOUR SCHOOL, FISH? Oh, you look scared, man. I know. You think I’m crazy. I tell you lots of people think that, you smile or nod your head? Oh, but they don’t say it to my face, so you just remember that.

You want to know where the rest of your school is? Swam, swam away for the summer. That’s what you all wanted to do. Turistas, eh? It’s a funny thing when you think about it. ‘Mama, papa, I just want to be anywhere but with you for a while, and don’t you worry, it’s just me and my cock and a lot of sun. I’m responsible!’ Now that’s love. You don’t get it’s about family. It’s always about family.

And so now where’d all that crazy love get you? Here. Washed up in the middle of the fucking desert. Never saw that coming when you decided to play explorer now did you? Never saw yourself in a cage, no.

But that’s what happens. Americans. You all think the ocean is just like everything else. Manifest Destiny. Some fat old man, he says it’s sea to shining sea but some point came around, and someone else came up and they said sea to shining sea damn well best include the seas themselves and look what happens. It’s one big fucking party!

That is, until you’re two hundred miles off shot, and the world’s all storms, and you’re huddled in the smell of your own piss on your knees praying oh God, oh God, for the sake of the stars and stripes and my fathers and my little semen children save me, I’m a good and faithful shit, and only when the water’s up over your head and the sun’s blotted out of your sky do you begin to finally realize real religion: if there’s a God, he’s one vindictive little shit, or he doesn’t wear a red, white and blue suit.

It’s not all about the shiny but—hey, you know, I like the shiny, so, it’s not all bad, yeah?

I think your friends probably learned that already too. When you hit the rocks, you know, you usually don’t die right away. It takes time. The blood runs out until you can’t move anymore, or the bones break and you can’t move anyway, and all you can do is take this time before the sun or the hunger kills you, wondering, just wondering: what about me? What about my life? Why did I have to be sliced open like a fish?

Wriggle, little man. It’s what fish do. And there’s only so long you can breathe out of water.

But it’s good you’re here, you know? That you let me find you. It’s good. Real good. Gives us time for lessons, see. And it gives me opportunities. There’s a lot of money in the pretty lilies, samaki. Real big. And it’s fun, you know? That’s what we’re gonna have. Real fun.

Now let’s get that gag in. It’s a long way and you stink, little fishy, and we wouldn’t want you to choke.

[The story continues in Part 2, Drops in the Ocean]

New Frontiers, Part Five

All things come to an end, though the light at the end of the tunnel may not always lead to sanctuary. Discovery–is it worth the price we pay to reach it? That is for each to decide their own selves. As for the Angeion and its crew, we come now to the end of their story, and the revelations it brings…

What have you thought of this glimpse into futures far from realized?

(For Part One, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is…
For Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion.
For Part Three, a destination looms far nearer than it should, and the truth emerges: sometimes waking can be a terror greater than any other…
For Part Four, is salvation anything more than a dream?)

New Frontiers

“Give me Jane,” I murmured, watching her through the monitor. I knew not which was her, in truth. All the pods were laid before me, and all watched behind their looking glasses, but I could not see in. “Wake them. Please God wake them.”

The command flashed three times across the screen. Processing. Each time, processing. I hit it. “Wake them.” System failure. I hit it again. “Wake them goddamnit.” I was finding my voice, but the computer was not. Angeion repeated the system failure, big bold red letters emblazoned in my mind.

Then: Non-essential crew decommissioned to preserve power. 4 years, 8 months, 22 days.

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bo...

Dante And Virgil In Hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words hit me like a punch in the stomach. I cursed God and Hell and every saint I could remember, right along with the computer and the company and anyone else I could think of. I screamed my voice hoarse. I beat the screen, tore at another, howled and screeched and stamped my feet as I tried feebly to tear the captain’s chair from its welded binding on the floor. The computer watched, and waited, and the silence listened to the sounds of a grown man breaking, like I was nothing.

This was the mother of the children I had never had. I could picture them at night, sometimes, when I would sleep. They always had her eyes. The woman I had called my own since that first final. Gone, just like that. She wasn’t human. She wasn’t even necessary. Yet somehow, some ungodly way, I supposedly was. These hands, that knew nothing. This mind, that saw nothing. These were necessary. These were “essential.” The system was broken.

That was it then. The screen scrolled a final detail, but it was meaningless. 4 years, 12 months, 19 days operation time. 2400 hours, earth standard. I woke, as we were all supposed to wake. This was the moment of our revival, the time when all the world was supposed to be before us. So it was, but before me, not them. The ship dipped forward into peril, and I could but watch, a broken man, leaned into the emptiness of a chair. I had never seen anything so blue before.

I thought of all the people back home that would never know. My parents, Jane’s parents, our brothers, sisters–they would never know what happened to us. The company would send a letter, one page, detailing how sorry they were, extending their condolences without ever saying anything more than “accident” to state how we had gone. That was their way. It was just as well. When you don’t know, you assume it’s quick. You hope it was quick, because you don’t want to reconcile suffering into your life. It’s bad enough to lose them–you don’t want to put that extra horror into it. It was best to leave them that small mercy. Let them think I had gone to my end with grace and dignity–or quietly in my slumber. The rest. . .well, I didn’t even want to know the rest. It was bad enough living it.

Thus rode the hours on a railway straight to Hell. The stars slipped away into the dark, and inch by inch, this planet rose before me, until it encompassed all that I could see. It had been nothing once, a thought, a dream beyond the edge of knowing–and now it was everything, and I was nothing before it. The computers blinked and screeched in protest. Alarms rattled as the final preparations began. Warning bells, demanding staunch resistance to our own decay. Yet there was only I, and I could do nothing to prevent it.

The cold came, gave way to heat. Lights flickered into dark across the board–only the engines burned, only the bridge remained. The ship lurched to one side as we struck the air–we would not merely drift. The ship was too precisely aimed. All the calculations were in check. It was merely the human factor we were lacking.

Fires flared around the edge of my vision, frost broiling off with bits of steel–wings, frame, mass. Some clattered against the glass and fell away, others became mere blips along the dying monitor, another sound, another memory. We were being devoured by our own ambition, the world itself rising up against us. I saw her in the flames. Dancing. The lovers waltz, two flickers, moving as one amidst the devastation. The glass fragmented as the nose dipped–the resurgence of pressure forced me back into the chair, a puppet caught, pulled taught against his strings. I felt as though my flesh would surely tear itself from my bones, that everything would be torn and burned by the memory of those lovers intertwined, burning into nothing as the air consumed us.

Jane never could dance, and nor could I. We never did learn. I suppose we’d always meant to.

Amidst the pop of blood vessels, the cracking skin and the flaming chill–such fire is this!–I beheld all salvation’s taunts. Through the clouds, the mountains loomed tall and proud, black as night, their caps tipped with the snow of antiquity. I saw all the veins that ran beneath, the rivers and the rock, strength of nations and of notions not before beheld. I saw the foundations she would have loved, the top and the core, all manner of life brimming through the depths of this hallowed unknown. Beneath us swam the rivers and the oceans, the grasses blowing in the wind, stretching beside the sea, growing long beside canyons, the trees. All was glowing emerald life, and sapphire breath, a world of possibility, unknown, unseen by all but me besides.

Before me laid paradise, and I, the first eyes to see it, though they tinged all possibility in scarlet. Behind me laid all the fire and force of Hell, and I brought it burning on that ride, to Heaven. It would die as it had lived, unknowing of the pains to come. They say an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. All in nothing. Nothing but me. I am become Alpha and Omega–the Beginning and the End of Eden. Yet I am Man, just Man.

There is no salvation here.

New Frontiers, Part Four

The Angeion, exploratory vessel, a hope to mankind and a vision of the future. But hope is a frail thing. When the darkness looms, what is it we will remember of the past? How did we get to this impasse?

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts, and enjoy the third part of New Frontiers, a sci-fi short set in the age of space exploration…and an exploration, in and of itself, as to whether a story beaten down by rejection can find new life on the blogosphere.

(For Part One, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is…
For Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion.
For Part Three, a destination looms far nearer than it should, and the truth emerges: sometimes waking can be a terror greater than any other…)

The spacecraft New Horizons launched in 2006 t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even worse: I still didn’t know what it meant for the rest.

Beaumont Tower, from Michigan State University.

I thought of college, of all things, in that moment. Technical school–I’m a mechanic, not a doctor. All those eyes on you, watching, scribbling, waiting for the moment you panicked, the moment you crossed the wrong wire or welded the wrong plate. You felt as though the whole world was on your shoulders, and for all the people all around you, it was only you that mattered. You. You. You. One mistake and the world itself would come crashing about your shoulders. Funny, when one is young, how they equate such mundane trials to such great disaster. Funnier still, how easily distracted they are from them.

We undertook large chunks of our real hands-on training up on one of the space stations. It was the best place to get a handle on some real ships. We still spent most of the time on the ground back then, though, where I could easily escape the mundane VR simulations and the classes three hundred thick and find refuge in real life–in the city, and in familiar faces. I thought of coffee shops along the river bank, and Jane, with her mocha and her laptop, my little hipster scientist. That was when she went through her writer phase. To think, then, I thought I would surely go mad without her.

And here I was.

The computer screen blinked back at me, waiting for my next command. The question led to the cause–the ship rumbled gently as it tilted ever so slightly. I thought of asteroids, tiny little asteroids, plowing through the hull in some insignificant spot I’d never see. Little green men pulled at the wires in my mind, damning us all to Hell with their cruel, anti-human intolerance, and all the while smiling like tigers to the kill. Bloody racists.

Perhaps, most elaborately, there came an intricate image of a spy on board, some saboteur that had been paid off. As I’ve said, I prided myself a logical man. That one went away quickly. After all, for such a man to willingly tamper with the ship in such a way was to damn himself as well. Then again, there were kamikazes. There were suicide bombers. Was this so different? Pay a man enough, or threaten the right people, promise the right things. . .he’d do anything. People didn’t wage war anymore. They stabbed one another in the dark, their battles of the shadows in the grimy halls of corporate espionage. I shifted in my seat, loathe to think of any of my colleagues in such a light.


Little green jerks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d have rather it be the aliens.

Yet it wasn’t any of those things. The ship brought up the schematics, showed me the time card that told exactly when and how it had happened.

Something had caused a power surge, simple as that. A circuit shorted, breakers tripped, the ship flickered into dark, and rebooted itself. The ship lurched, time held itself. Locked in our chambers, we never knew a thing. Still, the auto pilot rebooted. The surge passed. Yet in its wake, some of the rebooted systems didn’t actually reboot. Wires had fried, something had blown out in electrical. Chang would’ve known what to do. He was the computers expert. I was a novice at it. Hull work, the physical stuff–that was my end of things.

The numbers flashed at me again: 4 years, 2 months, 7 days operation time. 1600 hours. The moment of my waking.

Following procedure, the ship ran a system analysis and had attempted to wake essential crew. The command was issued first to the captain, then the first mate, then to me. But the surge had corrupted something in the system. It didn’t come back right–it didn’t come back all together. The system malfunctioned. Power faltered. Some of the pods hadn’t come back online. The captain’s was among them.

It got to Kate’s–but for whatever reason, that had led to her death, rather than her salvation. The ship couldn’t tell me why. The date repeated itself.

But that wasn’t right. If we had woken at the same time, there was no way. . .

I checked the time stamp. A chill prickled along my arms, ran down my spine. My shaved head bristled. 4 years, 12 months, 19 days operation time. 2400 hours, earth standard. Ten months had passed between waking procedures and the time I had actually woken. It hadn’t reached me, then. For some reason, I had remained trapped but alive, caught within the coldsleep, the computer unable to reach me. Yet it had reached Kate. Her door jammed. Or something gave out. But she was stuck, one way or another. She had woken, only to die–and God help me, I thought of her face, her once rosy face, and God I knew, that she had woken, only to starve to death in that steel coffin, trying to claw her way out of her own tomb. It had killed her in trying to wake her, to save us.

Why hadn’t it woken anyone else? Why not me? Why didn’t I wake? Why did some systems restore, others not?

The breaths came on, quicker and quicker. I was hyperventilating. My head spun. Ten months we had been on reserves. Ten months the ship had staggered toward its destination, hemorrhaging power, crippled, with no one to aid it. No wonder it was going dark–and as I watched, another section of the ship did just that. The cold stemmed from the heaters no longer having the energy or the need to continue on.

“Manual distance entered. Auto pilot disengaged. Captain and nav-i-gation officer requested on the bridge.”

Would I die as Kate had, locked around the orbit of a planet that I had no hope of reaching? I remained, like a gargoyle, locked to that chair. I had no idea what I was doing.

The computer scrolled on.

Non-essential systems deactivated to preserve power. 4 years, 5 months, 25 days.

Food storage. Primary lighting. Various programs the computer kept running. Heat, in some areas. Terminals powered off, functions diverted to main drives. Power was centered in the bridge.

I could not take the ship in on my own. I did not know how. I had never flown a spacecraft in my life, let alone navigated one, or landed one, or even learned the technicals of doing so. I could build them. I could give them life, give them the possibility of flight–but I could not make them do so. Without the others, there could be nothing. We would either die, caught among an endless drift, or plummet into the atmosphere of that which we had come to find, and burn in the midst of our discovery. I did not know how to work the heat shields.

I turned from the list, redirected the ship to the place of my rebirth. The commands scrolled out, the release was given. Wake them. I wanted to wake them all, to send me someone, anyone that could tell me what to do. It flickered, waited. Flickered, waited. No response.

Then: critical power loss. Vessel preservation mandated. Essential status revoked. Crew members Valdez, Torine, Chang, decommissioned for preservation of power. Reserve power redistributed. No response from remaining crew. 4 years, 11 months, 12 days.



Like one might talk to a machine. The words wrapped around my mind, bound up in a single, overwhelming presence, but I could not look at them. Just like that, the computer decided that rather than wake them, it would end them. People I had worked with years on end. People that knew Kate, people that knew Jane. I knew their kids. Their families. Chang had gotten us our first bloody apartment.

But the computer decided that in the face of certain doom, they were no longer “essential.” Yet others of us were. It ranked us. Some men were more important than others. It ranked us. The company ranked us. Were we numbers? Draw your straw, take your pick–don’t fret if you pull up short. You’re only human, after all.

Medical Officer. Ship Security. Technical Maintenance. One by one. Kate was dead. So was the Captain. Plug’s pulled early–you don’t ever wake. The heart, stopped, merely sags in the warmth, and the body decays. If you’re in the pod, it’ll still preserve you, perfect, like a mummy. But you’re dead. Were they all dead, than?

“Clarke, unresponsive. Dewallte, unresponsive. Dieters, unresponsive. Kalman. . . ”

A white gold wedding ring. Photograph taken by...

Wedding ring. Photograph taken by CLW and released into public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stared at death, and it stared back at me. It looked remarkably like my wife, even smiling as it took me by the hand, and behind it–the planet, this perfect sapphire on the necklace of her dominance.

“Jane. . . ”

The screen paused, mid-sentence. I typed and redirected it to the starboard cryochambers. I activated the camera, diverted power. I entered the command to wake them all. Deactivate the sleep. Give me life.

“Give me Jane,” I murmured, watching her through the monitor.

New Frontiers, Part Three


Prometheus-logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Angeion, exploratory vessel, a hope to mankind and a vision of the future. But hope is a frail thing. Especially when there are so many little parts, all delicately woven together, on which it rides. It’s never easy when it’s not your hands at the wheel, is it?

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts, and enjoy the third part of New Frontiers, a sci-fi short set in the age of space exploration…and an exploration, in an of itself, as to whether a story beaten down by rejection can find new life on the blogosphere.

(In case you missed Part One of the story, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is… Likewise, if you missed Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion. Though my guess would be from the words “critical system error,” you can already put a few of the pieces together.)

New Frontiers

“A-pol-o-gies. Critical system err-or. Analysis denied. Chief Engineer Jake Felv-min woken at 4 years, 2 months, 7 days mission operation time for analysis and repair operations. 1600 hours. All personnel are directed to the bridge.”

Attempts to access other information were met with similar results. Access from the medical terminal was denied–for some reason, it couldn’t reach the information on the main drives. I was as in the dark as I had been before, only as I struggled with the machine, another rude awakening asserted itself.

Absolute darkness

Afraid of the dark? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Power levels, critical. System shutting down to preserve power. All personnel are advised to evacuate medic. . . .”

I roared my frustration, striking the monitor to no avail. The lights flickered, went dark. The monitor was following quickly after. Forcibly shaken from my senseless rage, I sprang for the doors in a new-found panic. If the bay was shutting down, the doors would lose power as well. If that happened, I would be trapped. Indefinitely. Just as Kate had been.

The doors slid half-open for me, but puttered out there, and I had to squeeze through them, hoping all the while the hydraulic catches didn’t give, and send them slamming shut again with me between them. Several hundred pounds of solid steel force carving through my precious flesh did not sound particularly appetizing.

Slithering from the medbay, I found myself among the eerily silent crew quarters. I was completely blind, but I knew the room. Reminding myself to breathe slowly, I felt my way to the lockers. I groped at them until one opened, and I pillaged it for anything I could. A flashlight was among my finds, and I quickly put it to use. When light greeted my eyes again, I saw that it was Ronesey’s locker. He never could remember to lock up. I said a silent prayer for small favors.

It choked on my tongue as my light swept the room.

Bunks lay straight, empty, though pictures of loved ones hung from walls and bunks and scattered among other mementos that lined the sheets. It wasn’t regulation, but we never cared. The lights didn’t turn on for me here, and I felt the cold all the more deeply then I had before–but still I lingered, caught by my humanity. It pulled me on, like a puppet on its strings.

An old Maxim poster–Tony’s, no doubt.

A picture of the husband–35th anniversary for Chang. A bottle of wine was in either man’s hand. Bright smiles denied all knowledge of what was yet to come. Chang’s husband was dead. He was here. I did not know what that meant.

Then I saw Kate. Brown hair, blue eyes, smile so wide you knew she was faking it, but no one could doubt the look she was showering on her kids. One at either arm, perched between her. Nine and seven, respectively. In the background, her husband flipping burgers–what was his name? It seemed a terrible thing to forget. Ben, maybe. The kids were in college now. That was the only reason she took this flight. Dan? They didn’t need her, but she needed the money, and she always wanted to see new stars. Denny–that was it. They had a fuller life than I.

The picture clung to her bunk. X marks the spot. Here be treasure. There be dragons. I recoiled from it, shaking my head as I tried to reconcile myself to the darkness. A door lay at either side of the room. I moved to the right, stepping around and away from her bunk, evading my own, trying to slip out and away from the madness of memory.

No response. I tried the keypad–nothing. Not even a whir. The door was as dead as dead could be. I ran to the other, tried again. It didn’t heed my voice, but the pad at its side slowly stirred at my touch. It was sluggish, like it had just been woken. It was dying. I worked quickly. The doors slid casually open, and I fled through them, not into the light I hoped for.

“Auxiliary engines offline. Final approach–approach vectors confirmed.”

That stopped me in my tracks. The words jumbled in my mind. I had to reconcile them. Approach vectors? What in the hell were we approaching? My mind fled with the details–four years. Not five. We couldn’t be at the planet yet, could we? Not possible. Four years, though–what did that mean? What had happened? I hadn’t seen any hull breaches. Given, there were rooms to either side of me I did not check–did not feel I had the time to check–but there were no signs of rupture. It seemed to me there would be signs. Things rattled. Items lost. Doors sealed by the bulkheads. Yet, everything was in its place. Only I was out of place–the living man, wandering through a tomb. Idly, I rubbed at the ring on my left hand, weighted myself with the gold.

If it woke me specifically, it was something ship-related. Not pirates. Not invasion. That wasn’t my area. Not any of our areas, really but–the Captain. It would’ve woken him for that. I panicked. Why was I standing? It was nonsense debating with myself. I ran on, the doors flashing by me as I ran, each a seeming porthole to a new and terrible hell.

Then the doors reared up before me. I feared, for a moment, that they would not bear open to me, but they, like so many others had failed to do, slid open at the barest sound of my voice. The thick, welded blast doors drew open with a little pop, as the all-too casual voice of the computer slid over the P.A.

“Welcome, Chief En-gineer Jake. Felv-min.”

It was as though I had entered a different world. Whereas the other sections of the ship were faltering and falling into darkness, the bridge remained the picture of health. All systems were go. The monitors flickered at me, one after another, beckoning me with promises of salvation. The lights came to full at my entry, though they remained the lucid white of the back-up generator.

What’s more: the viewport was open, and beyond it I perceived the impossible. Layers of glass gave way to the perfect blackness of space, but the view, and the ship, were centered upon a single point within that imperceptible darkness, a green and blue mass rising up before all the stars in heaven, and baring itself before our great intrusion. It grew, larger and larger before my eyes, and I could see that we were nearly to the atmosphere. That which we had come to seek now lay before me–final approach vectors indeed.

Jane would love it. It looked, from afar, every bit the vision of earth still lodged within my mind. I could see her there, with me, sleeping on the beach or picking rocks along the mountain base. She loved her rocks. It was her job, her life–the geologist. She made more than I did doing it, and she loved her job more than I could ever love my own.

She would pick this planet over, top to bottom, and squeal at all the signs of something new–or something old, long ago lost to harvesters on earth, praised by collectors a galaxy away. I would take bits of rock from her at her request, turning them over in my hand as she explained every nook and cranny, every subtle shift and turn of pace. . .and I would never know the difference, but still I would smile, and take her by the hand, and, listening to her stories, enjoy the world as only her eyes could see it.

Planet vendor

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet there was no one else to share this moment with me. On a deck that usually bustled, I was alone, but for the machines that had failed to do their part. I flung myself at the captain’s chair, my steps pounding out along the steel, echoing dimly in these hollow halls. The machines whirred for me; the computer came to life. I plunged into the seat and already it knew–knew who I was.

“Angeion, status report.”

The screen blinked once and windows on it folded into one another, reasserting themselves a moment later in a haze of red numeric calculations, arrayed against a black screen. The typing came on too fast for me to read, but the ship’s voice billowed forth just after, uttering the fate my eyes could not behold. A technical readout of the ship appeared along with it, the familiar red highlights illuminating disaster. Much of the ship now glowed as such, coarse and dark, like blood smeared across my home. My fingers dribbled across the screen, and it glowed beneath me, brimming hot against my skin.

Fuel levels were normal. There were no signs of trauma to the exterior of the ship. Physically, the Angeion was as it had always been: the model vessel, devoid of error. Yet internally, the ship was hemorrhaging. Power was out across the ship. The main supply was cut, gone. Reserves had been running for God-knows how long, and now that, too, was running out. Non-essential systems all over the ship had been disabled to preserve power, but that didn’t make any sense. Even supposing we had run out of primary power, the reserves should have been more than enough to carry us through to point without trouble. If I had only now been woken to deal with the problem, no error should have been so great as to so deplete us in a matter of hours, or minutes.

This wasn’t right at all, and now I knew what wasn’t right–but I still didn’t know why.

Even worse: I still didn’t know what it meant for the rest.

(BONUS: Extra credit to the person that can tell the class what Angeion means, without looking it up online!)