Entertainingly Evil
26
Nov

THE UNDERGROUND By Rebecca Birch

“All you gotta do is go in and scout around.  We’ll be right here.”

The manhole cover lay next to the open hole in the dead-end road, where Bobby and Max had set it.  Weird gurgling sounds echoed out of the hole’s depths.

Danny squatted on his haunches, shoved a stick of gum in his mouth, and chewed.  “You sure?  Momma said not to go sticking my head in the underground.”

Bobby punched Danny square in the shoulder.  “You a momma’s-boy?  The creepers’ve been spotted ’round here and we need a place to hide if they show up again.  Man up and get inside.”

Danny didn’t like the smell, and he didn’t like the sounds, but most of all he didn’t like being called a momma’s-boy.  Besides, the creepers weren’t funny.  They’d taken kids from around the city, most recently a quiet little red-headed third-grader from his own school, even newer to the neighborhood than he was.

Bobby and Max waited, Bobby’s thumb wedged in his jeans pocket, fingers tapping an impatient rhythm on his thigh.  They’d been welcoming when Danny first came to town, but lately he’d gotten the feeling they were tiring of him.

This was a chance to prove himself.

“All right.  You two’ll come if I holler?”

Max flashed his I’m an angel smile that got him extra cookies from the lunch lady.  “You know it.”

Jaws working the gum hard, Danny levered himself into the hole and made his way hand-over-hand down the cold, damp ladder rungs.  Sunlight streamed in through the manhole.  A few crisscrossed beams shone down through the storm drains.

“See anything?” called Bobby.

Danny reached the bottom and stepped off onto the slanted concrete floor.  A stream ran past at the bottom of it.  Red graffiti marked the walls, angular and unreadable.  Moisture dripped from the ceiling.

“Ain’t nothing down here.”

“Go on a ways,” Max said.  “Gotta be sure there’s nothing further along that’ll come back up.”

Danny munched on the hardening gum.  It had already lost its flavor.  “What, you think the creepers are hiding in the underground?”

“We ain’t saying anything,” said Bobby.  “Just can’t hurt to be careful.”

Danny wished he’d brought a flashlight.  Not for the light, so much, but a heavy metal tube in his hand would sure make him feel a lot more bold.

He inched forward along the edge of the stream, careful not to touch the water.  Lord knew where it’d been.  His pulse thudded in his ears.

The passageway narrowed into a tunnel.  Daylight lit the tunnel’s mouth, but faded into a dim void farther ahead.  He didn’t like the look of it, but if he got it all scouted before bringing Bobby and Max down, they’d be impressed he’d done it on his own.

Danny curved his back into the rounded wall and scooted forward.  After a few steps, he heard a noise in the distance.  Sniffles, like someone was crying.

“Hello?”

The sniffles stopped.  “Who’s there?”

Danny inched his way through the darkness until he came out the end of the tunnel into another pool of filtered daylight.  The little red-headed girl from school sat hunched against a wall, hugging her legs.  Her eyes were bloodshot, her face wet.

“Jesus.”  Danny knelt beside her.  “Hey, kid.  You’re okay now.  I’ll take you out of here.”

She shook her head, but let him pull her to her feet.

“Where’re the creepers now?” he asked, dragging her towards the tunnel.

“Ain’t no creepers.”

She slipped.  Danny hauled her upright.  “C’mon, watch your feet.  Whattya mean, ain’t no creepers?  You just like climbing around in sewers and scaring folks half to death?”

They came out into the wider space where Danny had first entered.  The light from the manhole was gone, leaving only the dim glow from the storm drains.  Danny swallowed his gum.  “Bobby!  Max!  What’re you playing at?  Open the cover!  I found that girl from school.”

“Too late,” the girl muttered, wringing her hands.  “Too late.”

“My left nut, it’s too late,” Danny said, forgetting he shouldn’t be crude.  “Wait here.”

He found the ladder and scrambled up.  Even if Bobby and Max had left him there for some kind of sick joke, opening a manhole cover shouldn’t be difficult.

He reached the top and shoved with one hand.

Nothing.

He tried again, lowering his head and pushing up with his shoulder, levering with his legs.  He grunted.  Winced.

Still nothing.

“Told you so,” said the girl.  “Don’t you think I tried?”

Danny pounded on the lid.  “Bobby!  Max!  This ain’t funny!”

A low rumble shuddered through the thick, damp air.

“Come down,” the girl squeaked.  “You gotta hide.”

Danny grasped the outside of the ladder, wrapped his feet around the edges, and slid down, landing hard on the concrete.

The girl grabbed his hand and pulled him into the tunnel.  Danny glanced back.  The silhouettes of two familiar heads stared in through the storm drains.

An inhuman roar echoed off the concrete.

The girl shoved Danny backward and he stumbled into a dark crevice.  She pressed herself in close, setting one finger over his lips.  He didn’t need the warning.

Thud-scrape.  Thud-scrape.  Something vast lumbered down the tunnel, shaking the ground.  Danny held his breath, trapping the scent of rot and sulfur in his nose.

Fighting the need to sneeze, he waited, cold sweat sliding down the back of his neck, a metallic taste on his tongue, until the rumbling was gone and the red-headed girl pulled her finger away.

“Ain’t no creepers up above,” she whispered, glancing towards the manhole cover.  “Just creeps who feed the underground.  I heard ’em say.  ‘She’ll keep it full for now.'”

Danny closed his eyes and clenched his fists so hard the nails dug into his palms.  He had to be brave for the girl’s sake.  “Don’t you worry.  We’re gonna be fine.”

He hoped he’d live long enough to get back above-ground.

There were worse things than being a momma’s-boy.

 

Rebecca Birch is a spec-fic writer based in Seattle, Washington.  She’s a classically trained soprano, holds a deputy black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and enjoys spending time in the company of trees. Her fiction has appeared in markets including Nature, Cricket, and Fireside Magazine.  Find her online at www.wordsofbirch.com. This story was previously published on Every Day Fiction.




24
Nov

Terpsichore by Dawn Vogel

One by one, the other dancers left the studio. Mia knew what they were thinking. Another lackluster practice. She shared their sentiment but, as the ballet troupe’s leader, had only herself to blame. For three months, something had been missing, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

Last week, her therapist had given her the key. “You just need to find your muse.”

Terpsichore. Muse of dance. Mia had combed through her music collection and the internet, looking for a hint of the Muse. And now, as she placed orange candles around the empty studio, their flames duplicated by the array of mirrors lining the walls, she began what was purported to be a centuries-old ritual for summoning Terpsichore.

She had selected unconventional music. Some Finnish operatic metal band her ex had loved. But the song was “Terpischore,” and the rhythm worked. She’d considered translating the lyrics but decided it didn’t matter. She wasn’t a singer, so the music would be her voice for the summoning.

Candles lit, she located the song on her iPod and hit Play. As the music began, she danced–nothing spectacular, but perfect in form. Her movements became more graceful, the song suffusing her limbs with inspiration. But none of the troupe would dance to a piece with Cookie Monster vocals accompanying the operatic female singer.

When the instrumental section began, Mia spoke as she danced. “Terpsichore, come. I beseech you to grant me a fraction of your inspiration. I offer myself to you. Fill me with your light.”

The words flowed from Mia’s tongue in a way they had not when she had practiced them. But nothing felt different as the song neared its end, and her movements became leaden. Mia shook her head as she struck her final pose, her back to the mirrors. She glanced over her shoulder and jumped when she saw another woman standing to her right, watching her.

Mia whipped her head back around. No one else stood in the studio. She looked at the mirror again. The other woman was pale, with tangled white-blonde hair hanging past her waist, wearing a simple, modest white dress that reminded Mia of old photos of Swan Lake performances from more than one hundred years ago. The lowest inches of the dress were mottled with black and green.

“What the …?” Mia asked, backing away from the woman in the mirror.

“You wished to summon Terpsichore, did you not?” The woman’s voice had an unusual burbling quality.

“You’re her?” Mia gasped.

“It is one of many names I have been called.”

Mia frowned. “That’s not entirely a yes.”

“It’s not a no, either,” Terpsichore said. “You want inspiration for your dancing. I can provide that.”

A gnawing in Mia’s gut damped down her excitement. “What’s the catch?”

“Catch?” Terpsichore asked.

“I’ve seen enough movies to know when mysterious women offer you things, it’s never what it seems. There’s always something they’re not telling you.”

“Ah. Well, you will have to come to me for a time. But time passes differently here. You will not be missed.”

Mia’s throat grew tight at Terpsichore’s words. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. The Muse was right. No family, no girlfriend, and few close friends. It still sounded too good to be true, but Mia wasn’t sure that mattered. If she were gone for a month, only the troupe would notice, but they wouldn’t care. And if she came back with the inspiration she sought, all the better.

“What must I do?” Mia’s voice was flat now.

“Douse the candles, but bring the last near to the mirror and place your hand on mine as you blow it out.”

Mia moved through the studio space, doing as she had been instructed. She considered leaving a note, but didn’t know what to say. Grabbing her iPod and tucking it into her waistband, she carried the last candle to the wall of mirrors and held her hand up to the mirror. Terpsichore matched her movements. The scent of brackish water overpowered the melting wax as she blew out the last candle.

#

Frigid water chilled Mia’s legs all the way to her knees, soaking the hem of her skirt. She hadn’t been wearing a long skirt. But the white dress with the mottled hem clung to her knees in the green water.

Mia looked around until she spotted white-blond hair, illuminated by the light of a dozen candles. The same candles Mia had blown out. Terpsichore’s hair shortened and turned the dull brown of Mia’s own hair, and her features shifted to mirror Mia’s. The Muse made flesh smoothed her short skirt and brushed across Mia’s iPod tucked into the waistband. She pulled it out and turned it over in her hands a few times before she dropped it and slammed her bare heel into the glass and metal. Each stomp distanced Mia from the warmth of the studio, even as shards of pain crept into her heart.

When Terpsichore spoke, it was with Mia’s voice. “You’ll be famous, Mia. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it?”

Mia wanted to scream, to beg Terpsichore to get her out of the cold water, but a faint, wordless keening was all that escaped her mouth. Bubbles formed in her throat, turning the keening into Terpsichore’s strange burbling voice.

Terpsichore shrugged. “I’ll let you watch it all, Mia darling. You’ll always be with me.” Terpsichore raised her hand and snapped. The candles all went out, leaving Mia in cold, wet darkness on the wrong side of the mirror.


Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and a fiction and non-fiction editor. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, helps edit Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time to write. She lives in Seattle with her husband and their herd of cats.




19
Nov

Why(Y) By Sarah L. Johnson

We don’t need to say it. Some things you just know, because you feel them, deep in your chest, in the quiet space behind your heart.

When you come in this time, you’re almost smiling. Maybe not for me. I smile back anyway. You’re different, as always, but I know what to look for. There’s a violence about you, a disarrangement of the underneath. The ‘Y’ tells the story. I know what they did. They opened you up, investigated your insides. Why? To determine how, of course. That which lived in darkness, dragged dead into the light. Weighed and measured. Dissected and curated. Stuffed back in and zipped back up. When I think of what you’ve been through…and still you smile, almost.

You wait while I file paperwork and tuck the others in for the night. I try not to rush, that’s how mistakes get made, but it’s been months and I ache with missing you, like my insides are all backwards and out of order. Still, I’m glad we have a few minutes to catch up before it’s time to go. I do the talking. That’s how well I know you. I don’t just finish your sentences; I start them too. There was a time – so long ago I hardly remember it – when you would speak and sing, and mouth the words of a book as you read them. Your mouth is closed now, but you’re here. And it’s enough.

I wheel you into to the garage. Are you self-conscious about your handicap? Surely you must know I don’t think of you any differently. In the car, you need your rest, so I leave you in peace as I drive us home. From one garage, into another.

Straight to bed we go. I adjust the pillow under your head until you look comfortable. No matter how cold you are, you’ll never ask for another blanket. Good thing I always know what you need. I open the chest at the foot of the bed and pull out a quilt. It’s blue, like a patch of sunny sky. You love the sun, though your skin won’t tolerate it for long. We learned that the hard way, didn’t we? Better to live in the dark than to die in the light.

The quilt helps, but there’s no substitute for body heat. I undress and slide under the covers next to you. The fit isn’t jigsaw puzzle perfect, but as I wedge myself under your arm and lay with my front pressed to your side, I find my head settles nicely in the hollow beneath your shoulder.

I do miss you. I hate that I’m so needy, that I can’t help what I want. Not much, just skin. That’s all. Is that so wrong? I want to be close to you. As close as I can get before you leave me again. I know you’ll come back – you’ll be different though. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Looks aren’t everything, but certain faces are harder. Sometimes my eyes hardly recognize you. Thankfully, the dark space behind my heart always knows.

This time your face is easy and your body is beautiful. Young, smooth muscles. Skin, pale and hairless. A rare treat. I suck in my stomach and hook my leg over yours.

With my eyes and fingers, I learn the new you. Exploration and cartography. Science, but also ritual. I catalogue all your shapes and colors and bumps and dips. Finally I come to those familiar bloodless wounds, the ones you always carry no matter how your face changes. Why(Y)? Why is it never enough? My hands travel slow and quiet. Not so cold anymore. Sometimes I wish you’d be more aggressive. Just once, I wish you would kiss me. It’s all right. I understand your limitations.

A weary weight sinks into my bones, but we have to make the most of this time. They’ll be expecting you tomorrow. People coming to say goodbye and see you later.

For now, it’s only us. You’re warmer now. It’s my warmth, finding you the way you always find me.

Don’t worry about a thing. Don’t I always take care of you? I’ll make sure you’re ready. On time, dressed in your best, and more or less whole. No need to introduce me to your family, or your friends. Better for them to look through me. I’ll watch you go, and I’ll wait for you to come back. I’ll look for the incision, the Why(Y) carved in flesh.

Rest now. Lie with me. You don’t need to say a word.


Sarah L. Johnson lives in Calgary where she spends a lot of time untangling her earphones. Her short fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Room, Plenitude, and the Bram Stoker nominated Dark Visions 1. Her novel ‘Infractus’ is set for release in 2015 by Driven Press. This story was previously published in the Cucurbital 3 anthology.




17
Nov

The Smoking Nun by Sarah Hans

When you arrive on my doorstep, your face will be haggard, dark circles pooling beneath your eyes. I’ll open the door and you’ll reel back as billows of acrid smoke pour into the alley. Then, squinting, you’ll waft the smoke with one hand and try to see me in the sliver of doorway.

“Are you Chanda?” you’ll ask, glancing furtively down the alley, examining every shadow.

I’ll reach out and tap the sign that hangs beside the door. The Smoking Nun, it says, in four different languages. Herbalist, occultist, psychic. There’s even a little painting of me, grinning and wreathed in smoke. I like that picture; it makes me look like a benevolent grandmother.

“I need your help,” you’ll say.

I’ll nod and beckon you inside. You’ll start coughing as soon as the door is closed, overwhelmed by the smoke. I’ll guide you to a seat you can barely see and pour you a cup of tea so hot it steams.

“Drink it,” I’ll command in a voice that sounds like I’m either a heavy smoker or a creature that crawled out of the darkest depths of the sea. “Helps with the smoke.”

You’ll pick up the cup and cradle it in your hands, letting its warmth seep into your skin. You might blow on the liquid for a few seconds before taking a tentative sip. It will be bitter, it’s always bitter, and you’ll make a face. I’ll laugh, with a sound like a drowning man’s last desperate gurgle.

“What kind of nun are you?” you’ll ask, glancing at the unfamiliar religious icons that crowd every surface of my basement apartment. You’ll eye my saffron robes, brow furrowed.

I’ll wave the question away. “You’ve never heard of it.”

“I need your help,” you’ll finally say as I fumble with the hookah. “I’ve been to see priests, rabbis, ministers, even the pagan lady who sells tarot cards. No one can help me. I’m desperate.”

You’ll pause, and when I gesture to continue the rest of the words will tumble out. “There’s a creature following me. I think it’s made of shadows. I know that sounds crazy, but I can see it moving in the darkness. My cat has disappeared. I sleep with the lights on now—but of course, I don’t really sleep, not anymore. It’s not a demon or a golem or an evil spirit….”

“It’s a harbinger,” I’ll rasp.

“Harbinger… of what?” you’ll ask.

“Do you know what a deva is?”

Your eyebrows will draw together in an almost comical expression that is so predictable, I won’t be able to stop myself from laughing again. “No.”

“It’s the Hindu word for deity. God.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

I’ll smile and offer you the hookah’s mouthpiece. You’ll hold up a hand to pass. “If you want my help, you’ll smoke,” I’ll say.

You’ll swallow, and frown, and maybe open your mouth to protest, but in the end your desperation will rule you. It’s just one drag, what harm can it do? You’ll close your lips around the mouthpiece and suck the smoke into your lungs. I’ll do my best to remember what that first taste feels like, the surprisingly sweet flavor of the smoke on my tongue, the lightness spreading through my limbs as the herbs take effect.

“Seeing a harbinger means you’re destined for greatness,” I’ll explain as I get up and make the remaining preparations. You’ll stare at your numb fingers and your pupils will swell. If you’re really lucky, your mouth will fall open and drool will drip down your chin. Meanwhile, I’ll draw circles and lines in chalk on the floor around the table. I have the patterns memorized after so many years, but the lines are probably still mostly intact from the last time, so I’ll need only to trace.

“I don’t understand,” you’ll mumble, shaking your head.

“Don’t worry,” I’ll say, drawing the last few symbols and rising with a groan. My bones are getting old. “This will all be over soon.”

You’ll stare at me, and you’ll notice the chalk in my hand, the dust on my skirt, and your eyes will go to the symbols on the floor. “What is this?” you’ll gasp.

But now it’s too late, of course. If you’ve retained enough motor control to attempt escape, you’ll rise and stumble to the edge of the circle only to find that you can’t leave. Most likely you’ll be too high to stand, though. The herbs are twice as powerful when they’ve been consumed as drink and smoke.

At the end, as I stand over you and begin chanting, you’ll mumble something pathetic, like “You were supposed to help me,” or, my favorite, “Please, god, no.” Ah, irony. Gets me every time.

Each deva is a unique experience. Your energy will taste like absinthe or honey or maybe rosewater. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt much; nobody screams or thrashes anymore thanks to the herbs. You’ll feel very heavy and tired, fall asleep, and never wake again.

Well, not as yourself, anyway. Nothing will remain but shadow, a creature that seeks out slumbering gods. You’ll try to warn them but—and this is my favorite part—you’ll drive them right into my waiting arms, so desperate they’ll drink my tea and smoke my hookah with barely any convincing required.

Once I’m sated, and you’re reduced to a shade, I’ll close all the curtains and return to my original form to bask in your divinity. If you’re truly powerful, it might be days or weeks or even months before I emerge from my cocoon.

I love America. It’s like a buffet for someone like me, a place where people with divine blood can flee those who hunt them, a place where DNA is endlessly combined and recombined to create new gods from no familiar pantheon. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free. For I am hungry. Very hungry.

 

Sarah Hans is an award-winning editor, author and teacher. Sarah’s short stories have appeared in about twenty publications, but she’s best known for her multicultural steampunk anthology Steampunk World. Sarah’s next project is an anthology featuring characters with exceptionalities called Steampunk Universe. You can find Sarah online at http://sarahhans.com/.




12
Nov

Glass Future By Deborah Walker

The waitress seems reluctant to come over, pretending not to see us, even though I’d tried to catch her eye several times. We’d ordered our omelettes forty minutes ago. How long does it take to crack a few eggs into a hot pan?
            “Do you think she’s post-human?” I whisper to my husband. She looks too good to be real.
            Caleb glances over. “Maybe. She’s very pretty, but mods are so subtle, it’s difficult to see who’s human and who’s not.”
            I wonder why such an attractive looking woman’s doing working in a low-rent place like this, a greasy-spoon cafe in a habitat on the edge of Rhea.
            We’d booked into the habitat’s motel, last night. It reeked of overenthusiastic, grandiose plans for the future that would never come true. At dinner, I’d watched motel’s guests. I knew them, their small time liaisons and their wild plans. They didn’t want much, just enough to be able to turn up on their home habitat and impress the ones who stayed behind, impress the ones who said they’d never amount to anything. They all ended up here, or someplace like it, scrabbling for success, trying to make a splash in an over-crowded system. This was a place for people who’d never escape the gravity well of their own failures.
            It was a sad place to end a marriage.
            “Is she ever going to come over?” I ask.
            Caleb’s says, “I see that we will get the omelettes. They’ll be . . . disappointing.”
            I smile. Caleb has a sense of humour about his gift. Even now, when he knows what I’m about to do, he still keeps cracking jokes.
            I take a deep breath and say,  “I want a divorce.” I wait a moment to see if he’s going to make things easier on me. He doesn’t say anything. I don’t blame him.  “I’m so sorry, Caleb.”
            “So am I.” He stares out of the window. “We’re on opposite sides of the reflection, Alice. You knew that when you married me.”
            I look at his reflection in the metal glass window. Caleb was a designer baby. A person designed for space. The multiple copies of his genome in each cell protect him against ionization radiation. But modding is always erratic. There’s no way to predict how changes to the genome will affect the body–or the mind. Multiple genome people, like Caleb, developed unusual connections in their brains. Pre-cognition. They remember their future. And all of them are unable to pass the mirror test. They can see their reflections, but they can’t recognise themselves. Caleb hasn’t got the self-awareness that most human babies develop at eighteen months. That used to fascinate me, that lack of self. It seemed so strange, so exotic, now I find it sad. When love turns to pity, it’s time to end the relationship. Caleb didn’t deserve my pity.
            I look beyond Caleb’s  reflection to the habitat’s garden. Gardens don’t thrive in space. The light collected from the solar foils and re-transmitted to the plants is wrong. Earth plants either wither and die or they go wild. The habitat’s garden was over-grown and mutated. Swathes of honeysuckle blooms, with enormous monstrous blooms smothered everything. “It’s a pretty lousy garden.”
            “All these mutants should be cut away,” says Caleb. “I’m designing Zen gardens for the Oort habitats, swirls of pebbles, low maintenance.” A heartbeat later, he says, “Why do you want a divorce, Alice?”
            He was going to make me say everything, “I’ve met somebody else, while you were working on the Oort Cloud project.” Caleb’s an architect, very much in demand in the ongoing push of colonisation.
            “Did you?” The note of surprise in his voice is convincing. Caleb’s good at pretending to be something other than what he was. Every moment he swims in the seas of his future. Even when he met me, he must have known that one day we’d be here. Poor Caleb. No wonder most pre-cogs end up in hospital, overburdened by the nature of their gifts, or more specifically, overwhelmed by the fact that they’re unable to change anything they see. “And you love him?”
            “I do. I’m going to move in with him. I’m sorry, Caleb.”
            “I know.”
            The waitress comes over. She places two plates of greasy omelettes on the table. She looks at Caleb, her violet eyes widening in recognition. Caleb’s famous. There aren’t too many functioning pre-cogs in the system. Every now and again, someone will put out a documentary about him, usually spurious, about how he’s refusing to use his precognition to help people. It doesn’t work like that. The future’s set. No amount of foreknowledge will change anything.
            “Thank you,” I say, trying to dismiss her. Just because I don’t want him, doesn’t mean that I want anybody else to have him.
            The waitress lingers at a nearby table, straightening the place settings, wondering how she can attract him, thinking that a knowledge of her future might bring her an advantage– just like I did when I Caleb. She’s looking for her future, wanting to use Caleb, not realising that they only thing we, on this side on the mirror, will ever have are reflections.
            “We’ll keep in touch, Caleb,” I say.
            “No, we won’t. Goodbye, Alice.” He leaves the table, walks over to the waitress. He says something that makes her laugh.
            I walk out of the cafe, into the unseen future, without him, stepping into my future, my unseen and unknowable future, without him.

Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two teenage children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration.



10
Nov

Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, Formerly Ryan Andrew Curran (Human English Translated to Sedrayin) by Holly Heisey

In this package:
1. Three letters. (With our instructions on opening order, per Human dating system.)
2. One musical instrument, harmonica.
3. One plastic package containing three toothbrushes.
4. One tube of toothpaste.

5. One cloth Earth mammal, bear (unsure of further classification), filled with synthetic material. (We are sorry for the lack of symmetry, the cloth mammal was obviously damaged and repaired at some point. We were told not to modify it.)

First letter:

July 18, 2041

Dear Ryan,

They told me you’d get this after, so you won’t really be reading my words, will you? And you told me yourself you’d forget your own language, though I hope to God you don’t forget your planet, and your wife. And your daughter.

Ryan, how could you? I know this was supposed to be a nice letter to settle you into your new life, to bridge the transition, and God knows you tried to talk me into doing it, too—

I’m sorry.

No, I’m not fucking sorry. You left me for another species. Not another woman, Ryan, or even another man. Another fucking species.

If this is supposed to be the last letter, I guess I should say I love you.

Are you dead now? Can I mourn you?

Fuck.

–Sophie

Second letter:

July 19, 2041

Hey, Bro.

The Sedrayin consulate people said you’ll be travelling in a bubble-ship that breaks some sort of theory, and time will move faster for us than it does for you. That’s okay, I get that.

I just wanted to tell you that I support you in this. I don’t understand it, and I’ve asked the pastor what she thinks, if it’s even in the Bible. She quoted me some nonsense that had nothing to do with anything, and then just said the best thing I could do was accept you where you’re at.

I like that.

Because I’ve always looked up to you, you know? You were so different. I used to make fun of you for sneaking out at night to go and look through your telescope, especially when there were a lot more…ah, entertaining things you could be doing while sneaking out. And you just smiled, and said it made you feel calmer. And maybe I didn’t press too hard, because I didn’t like when you were so restless. I knew you weren’t happy.

But man, coming out as another species? Bro, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. I look at the Sedrayin in their enviro suits, with their blue skin and weird–sorry Bro, I still have a hard time, I’ll get better–oddly shaped oval eyes, and the way they kind of walk with that forward slant, like they’re coming at you with all they’ve got.

Dude. You have always walked that way. Oh my God, I never noticed that until now.

Bro, I guess you look different now.

Anyhow, I hope you remember me. Meet a hot alien babe and fall in love. Have lots of alien babies. (Whoa, Jenna will have alien siblings???) I’m sorry they couldn’t come with you. Man, I know that’s hard.

I love you. I hope you’re happy, now. And, you know, have fun seeing the stars for real, and living on another planet! Dude, how cool is that!

–Gabe

 P.S. Oh, I found your harmonica the other day and thought I’d send it along. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea, because do you even have lips now? Well, something’s gotta blow air.

Third letter:

July 20, 2041

My dear Ryan,

Oh, I’m sorry. I should call you Etsath-tachri now, right? Yes, I checked the spelling.

Etsath. I’m sorry I waited until the last minute to write this letter, I almost didn’t make it in time, but they held the courier shuttle at the consulate so I could write this.

I just wanted to say, I love you, son. This is all so new to me, the aliens being here at all—what are there, twenty-something species we’ve now had contact with? And I saw on the news that there’s another ship inbound from outside Jupiter. But honey, it’s hard. This isn’t the world I grew up in. The world I grew up in was having a hard enough time accepting people like myself and Leanne, but I—we—love you so much that we’re changing, too. We’re changing the way we look at the world. Or any world, if I think about it.

We always knew you were special. You spent hours with your science books and games, and you loved your art, though the galleries said it was too symmetrical. I guess that makes sense, now. I won’t ever let anyone paint over your mural of the stars in your bedroom.

I packed some toothbrushes and toothpaste, I know you always forget those.

I know we’ve already said our goodbyes. I will miss you like nothing I’ve ever missed before.

Thank you, son, for being my son. For being born to me. You were the greatest gift the universe could ever give me.

Be the best damn Sedrayin you can be. Be yourself.

Love,
Mom

P.S. Please forgive Sophie. I’ve talked with Jenna. She misses you, but she said she knows you’ll be watching over her in the stars. She wanted to send something, too. She said to hug her teddy bear whenever you’re feeling sad or lonely, and you’ll remember how much she loves her daddy and be happy again. The kids, they are so quick to understand.

 


Holly Heisey’s short fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Escape Pod, and she is a multiple finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest. Holly lives in Pennsylvania with Larry and Moe, her two pet cacti, and you can find her online at: http://hollyheisey.com




5
Nov

What the Dollhouse Said by Karen Bovenmyer

Eleanor gets on the bus in uneven pigtails and a faded dress. Don’t sit by me, new girl, I think. Billy pokes me with a pencil, but sees her quick. Coyote boys always see what’s vulnerable and trembling, and she probably knows that, because she sits behind the driver.

Things we find out about Eleanor: a bunch of teenagers live in her house and she cries during Animal Kingdom because she has a pet rabbit named Ralphie. Coyotes can’t resist tears—they are merciless. I feel real sorry for Eleanor, even though she keeps them all, especially Billy, away from me.

She cries more than I think anyone can, at first, but she is the only kid who visits the dollhouse. I don’t know how it got there. It looks like it grew by accident in the root knuckles of a wide old apple tree on the edge of the playground. It smells strongly of cats, like my aunt’s house, and is white as antlers. It twists like grandma’s fingers, but the spines and knobs come together to make something that looks like a dollhouse just the same, with an open door, windows, and a steeple roof. There is always a small animal rotting there, tufts of fur missing.

At first, Eleanor seems scared of it like the rest of us. The coyote girls (they move in packs too) tell her she smells like Goodwill. The coyote boys throw gum or capless markers that leave black splotches on her clothes. She finds out quick that when the coyote boys are chasing her, they won’t come close to the dollhouse.

I feel sorry for her, watching her cower away from it, yet close enough to the dollhouse to keep back the coyotes. But, even in her apple-root circle, she is my shield. With her on the playground to taunt, I’m forgotten. They are held apart, Eleanor and the circling coyotes, but I know it won’t last. The apples grow red and heavy on the boughs, and coyotes are smart hunters.

She stops crying eventually. Even when Billy pulls the wings off a fly during times-tables, Eleanor doesn’t cry anymore. When he smashes it across her spelling test, she hands it in with guts smeared across d_e_f_i_n_a_t_e_l_y. Her face is stone.

She spends every recess at the dollhouse, closer and closer. I see her with her ear pressed against the open attic window, like it was telling her secrets. The coyote girls avoid her. Maybe coyote girls are smarter than coyote boys.

When the apples get big and start to fall, Billy sees how many bruises he can cause when the recess teacher isn’t looking. Since unafraid-Eleanor isn’t as much fun anymore, and, really, nobody is safe when the apples are ripe, I brace myself. When Billy nails somebody else in the face with an apple, the recess teacher takes a bloody nose to the nurse. No one’s surprised when Billy throws an apple at Eleanor. The other coyotes join the game and throw apples at her and the dollhouse, laughing.

Eleanor protects the dollhouse with her body. Apples pelt it and her with dull thuds. I think she’ll start crying again, but she doesn’t. The coyote boys run out of ammunition. Apples are scattered all around the dollhouse and Eleanor, and there are no more in reach of anybody else.

Eleanor stands up.

That look is only for the coyote boys. All the color flows down out of her face, like she is horn or bone. Her eyes and mouth look like the empty holes of the dollhouse.

Billy picks up a rock. The other coyotes pick up rocks too. I know Eleanor isn’t going to move or give in or duck. They are going to hit her with rocks while the teacher is gone.

I grab Billy’s wrist. “Stop,” I say.

He pushes me down. I cover my head, but Eleanor steps out from under the apple tree. She touches Billy’s shoulder, lifts up on her tiptoes, and whispers in his ear. Billy’s head tilts toward her, as if to hear her better. He makes a choking sound. Then he runs from her, tears on his cheeks, sobs floating in the air behind him.

The coyote boys look at each other. Eleanor looks at them, no expression at all on her blank-paper face. They drop the rocks and run. There is only me and Eleanor and a dead rabbit under the drooping apple boughs. She holds her doll-like hand out to me, white, empty, alone.

I take it.

The coyotes leave us alone now, Eleanor, and me. We never cry. We spend our time at the dollhouse, listening.


Karen Bovenmyer earned her MFA in Creative Writing: Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program in Summer of 2013. She is lucky to train future faculty at Iowa State University, where she works primarily with inspiring Ph.D. students who enthusiastically share speculative-story-idea-generating research. This story was previously published on Devilfish Review. http://karenbovenmyer.com/




4
Nov

My Birthday: Holiday for Everyone! by Shannon Page

 No, I am not so egotistical as to believe that the whole world drops everything to celebrate my birthday…though when I was a child, the evidence did seem to point that way. I could walk up to any random door and knock on it, and people would hand me candy!

You see, I was born on Halloween night. Holiday birthdays may not always be the best news—think of the poor late-December babies, forever folded in with Christmas and New Year’s if they’re remembered at all—but Halloween? It’s a day when everyone dresses up, parties, and eats lots of chocolate, but the only one getting presents is me. (Along with my birthday-mates, I realize, now that I have finally met a few!)

A Halloween birthday is one that everyone remembers. Even in the days before Facebook, I got so many birthday wishes—cards and gifts and emails. It’s always made me feel special.

But the best part about a Halloween birthday is the spookiness. Goblins and ghosts and things that go bump in the night…all these things give me a thrilling shiver, and always have. It’s no accident that I write about witches and faeries and magic to this day. I think anyone born on Halloween must have a little extra something in their blood…we are, none of us, entirely normal.

I loved my birthday when I was seven; I love it at least as much now that I’m seven times seven. And looking forward to many more!


Shannon Page is a contributor to Naughty or Nice: A Holiday Anthology with her story, “The Longest Night of the Year.”

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3
Nov

From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

EGM.Shorts will run through April 2016. I am choosing the last of the stories over the next month. Then, I will announce the next endeavor Evil Girlfriend Media will embark upon. Look for a new call for submissions in January 2016.

The month of November is a month of transitions. As it turns out, this month’s unintended theme is all about transitions. Most of them growing darker than before.

“What the Dollhouse Said” by Karen Bovenmyer
“Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, Formerly Ryan Andrew Curran (Human English Translated to Sedrayin)” by Holly Heisey
“Glass Future” by Deborah Walker
“The Smoking Nun” by Sarah Hans
“Why(Y)” by Sarah L. Johnson
“Terpsichore” by Dawn Vogel
“The Underground” by Rebecca Birch





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