Entertainingly Evil

High as a Power Line By Chris Galford

It was never easy coming down. Saya lay back in her bath tub, dragging soft-bubbled water droplets up her skin. Where her nails met hair, she tingled and cooed, or she had—the sensation was deadening. She blinked. The water was cool, cooling—still a pleasant sensation, but not right. She so rarely got to feel warmth. She could sense it, but this, this was something else entire.

In the surface of the water she caught a glimpse of something broken, something lost. Emotional mutilation, she was told, would do that to a creature. The mind was a series of processes, but once it had tasted something new, it was hard to go back. Harder every time, in fact. Knowledge was the greatest drug; it certainly wasn’t pot the stories had growing in a garden years before knowing, with a deific “don’t touch this” sign dangling from it.

When she pulled her clammy bulk from the inky surface of the waves, Saya looked toward the sink with a sort of hopeless despair. Some things left ghosts images in the data, a sort of imprint of a notion, even if the feeling itself faded. She was addicted. She knew this, had long since come to terms with it. Other addicts might have shuddered, there alone in a 12’x12’ room with no heat. Those addicts had no trouble remembering, though—no trouble feeling. The feeling was the whole point.

The drive that sat on that sink was empty now. It had transferred its contents, served its purpose. Programmers had designed their files to auto-delete on transference, in order to do their part in the grand battle against piracy—or the grand battle to make more money. Same thing, really.

This was the end. Until the week’s scheduled duties were performed, Saya had no more credits to blow on such extravagance. All that was left was the dark drudgery of consistency. Saya closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to force the rage to the surface while there was still time.

If she focused all of her internals toward the imagery, she could still feel the time she had wandered the wilds of Australia—the biting heat of sand on skin, windy breaths in hair, a dizzying collective of hunger pangs as the air went dry and yet wavy before her eyes. In the same vein, she could still feel the shells of the Great War pounding all around her. The reverberation set hairs on end, stuck pins of regret and terror into her very heart, as though she were some simple voodoo doll. She could remember what it was to weep—the texture of the salted droplets running down from clenched eyes.

Bits faded. What was clear muddled, muddied, became grey and unobtainable. Saya was not those people. They were experiences beyond her, sensations lost to touch. Piece by piece the activities of the world were reduced to the dull, impersonal inactivity of her daily subsistence. The emptiness was leaking in; the droplets, still clinging to her, lost their chilly edge, were reduced to nothing more than the weight of exterior condensation on synthetic membranes. Were she a little more aware, the regret of this loss might have made her panic. In turn this, too, dulled. Already her mind was regressing to the sense of presentence which possessed all members of her stock and trade. To think ahead was impractical, beyond the confines of her core use parameters. She was neither paid nor programmed to think—and the former was only ever crafted at all because some enterprising senator saw an opportunity for more ties to bind.

By that same course, to dwell on the past was not economical.

There was a pang inside. She might have called it hunger. A few moments ago, it might have been, though eating was not necessary. Rather, it was the last terrible taste of these programs, a sort of virus which wormed its way inside, to create a hunger for more humanity. Clever marketing at its finest.

All sensations ended with a twinge of regret and loss.

Saya had not fought in a war. She would never see Australia—she was in Canada, in the dead of winter, and she had never even seen beyond the bounds of her own city. Unless there was a specific need for corporate interest to transfer one of her entities, Saya would exist and decommission all within the same expanse.

She could sense the water that had settled in her “stomach’s” USB port. She could break the molecules down, piece by piece, to say exactly what had penetrated her outer layers. Yet as the last of the memory micro-transaction trickled down to naught on its pre-paid timer, she could no longer feel it.

The week rebooted.

Chris Galford spends his days as a freelance journalist and editor, but speculative fiction is the spark that gives his nights purpose. Beyond his short fiction, this Michigan native is the author of “The Haunted Shadows” trilogy of fantasy novels, as well as an award-winning poet.


“Are You Receiving?” by Rebecca Birch

Galactic Standard Date 11657.3.
Planetfall succesful.  Atmosphere breathable, as anticipated from earlier analysis.  Base establishment under way, following standard protocol.  Work is slow, given we’re a five-man crew, but no unanticipated challenges yet reported.Landscape is surreal.  Frozen drifts and billows, like snow back home, but when you look just off of straight there are rainbow spectra dancing in the crystals.  Winds are constant.  Science Tech O’Malley reported hearing voices when she went outside to set up the solar panels, but the doctor assures me it’s just the change in aural input after so long aboard ship.  I’m confident initial planetary analysis showing no sign of intelligent life was accurate.Captain Marjorie Halstone, awaiting confirmation of transmission.

Galactic Standard 11663.8.

Base operational, but not optimal.  Solar energy collectors hampered by constant snow accumulation.  Panels have been re-oriented to discourage build-up, and shifts have been instituted to clear off what does pile up.  We’ve begun local reconnaissance on foot.  Until proper energy levels are established, use of mechanized transport is unfeasible.  The snow’s spectral light phenomenon appears to intensify during nighttime hours.  Still awaiting confirmation of original transmission.  Are you receiving?

Galactic Standard 11672.5.
Despite re-orientation of panels, snow accumulation has not decreased, and panel surfaces are sustaining damage.  This snow has abrasive properties not previously anticipated.  Energy reserves are now below sixty-percent of recommended.  O’Malley continues to report hearing things and is no longer permitted alone surface-side, after attempting to follow the sounds out of range of communications.  The doctor has prescribed sensitivity dampeners.

I have not told anyone about the sounds I hear on my own panel-clearing shifts.   I prefer to remain un-medicated.

Reconnaissance has been curtailed for the moment to focus on snow abatement.  Techs Akira and Butler are working to find a reliable countermeasure, but as yet have had no success.  Study of atmospheric data shows no sign of any foreseeable change in weather patterns.  If no solution is found, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to order the termination of this mission.

Stand ready to initiate evacuation procedures and please send immediate confirmation of all transmissions.

Standard 11677.2.
Butler is gone.

We didn’t know he was missing until he failed to return from his nighttime clearing shift.  I attempted to track him, but the colors in the snow hid any footprints, and the farther I got from base . . . Well, up to this point, I believed the sounds I was hearing were environmental, but now I swear there are words . . .

Belay that last bit.  No, Doctor, I don’t require any dampeners.  See to O’Malley.  She and Butler were close.  Please shut the door behind you.

Energy reserves have dipped below forty-percent.  O’Malley is begging to go after Butler, even with an increased dosage of dampeners.  The doctor has been drafted into panel maintenance, over his objections.  We can’t risk letting O’Malley outside again.

Captain Halstone requesting immediate evacuation.  Before we lose another.

Dampeners weren’t enough.  This morning, O’Malley vanished.  Left during my shift and I never saw her.  Never heard her.  Just those damn lights.  I see them on the backs of my eyelids whenever I close them.  Akira says he hasn’t gotten more than three hours of sleep in the past two days.  I’m not much better off.  As for the doctor, he won’t talk about the lights.  Won’t talk about anything.  I saw him dosing himself with dampeners, though he claims he doesn’t hear the voices.

Power reserves at fifteen percent, well below emergency levels.  Both Akira and I have triple-checked communication mechanics.  Everything is in working order.  Why aren’t you responding?  Send help now.  Please.

Found the doctor dead in his bunk this morning of apparent dampener overdose.  Energy reserves at three percent and falling.  The cryo-chamber won’t last once they power’s gone, so we’ve buried him in the snow just outside the exterior hatch.  His family would wish to have his remains, if anyone should hear this message.

Akira thinks the voices may be originating from a point southwest of base.  Remaining here is no longer an option.  If there’s something else alive out there and we can find it, then maybe we have a chance.

This will be the last communication.


We stagger together through a changed landscape.  The snow-light is no longer a mosaic of scattered crystal prisms.  Instead, a bright rainbow band spreads across the drifts, leading us southwest.  I wouldn’t believe it if Akira didn’t see it, too.  Our feet sink in with each step down the golden path in the center, and we cling to each other for support.

The voices are clear now, rising up out of the snow.  Captain Halstone, abort landing.  Unexplained phenomenon detected planetside.  Repeat, abort landing.  Please confirm.

My own voice, like a dream, Awaiting confirmation of transmission . . . Are you receiving?

I hear O’Malley, too, and Butler.  You’re almost here, Captain.  Just a little further.  Akira, we’re so glad you’re coming.

Just ahead, the rainbow narrows until it vanishes in a pool of silver light.  Two familiar forms stand with arms outstretched, their bodies rimmed with kaleidoscopic auras.

Akira squeezes my arm.  We head for the light.

I don’t know what’s on the other side, and I don’t know if we’ll ever return, but I’m telling the wind our tale, hoping it will sing until someone comes after us.  Someone who can bring the story home.

Ready, Akira?  Let’s go.

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 first published in Nature, Volume 511.


INCIDENTAL By David Versace

Everything changed for Benji when he hit puberty and lost his incidental music.

Growing up, he was no different to any other kid. He played the same games, ate the same food and he was followed everywhere by the same simplistic, cheerful party pop. Sure, there were times when he ran through some minor keys, like when his parakeet got out of its cage and eaten by the neighbour’s cat, or when his mum caught his dad harmonising with the neighbour’s suggestive bossa-nova ambiance. But even after Mum started her new life as a soloist, Benji mostly bopped along with an untroubled heart and a C-D-F refrain in the air.

One week after his thirteenth birthday, his music went away. His friends Cally and Winston noticed it before Benji did.

“How come your music’s stopped?” asked Cally. She was taking a break from their soccer practise to peel open an orange. A warbling trombone wafted up from the mix of her usual upbeat swing number. “Are you feeling okay?”

Winston thundered the ball past Benji into the goal net. “He’s so dumb he think it’s the intermission!” A cymbal clash broke Winston’s soaring, horn-heavy fanfare. They all chuckled along.

Benji hadn’t even noticed the silence. Now it followed him everywhere.

His mother was even more worried. With a frantic oboe chorus buzzing in her wake, she raced Benji to the paediatric musicologist.

The doctor, his furrowed brow echoing with elegiac mountain pipe music, took blood samples and ran some basic scales tests. Benji’s music didn’t respond. The doctor referred him to a psychoacoustics specialist.

The specialist steered Benji into an acoustics chamber that could detect a pin drop or a dying man’s last chord. Nothing. In a baffled studio that damped every noise but Benji’s breathing, he took x-rays and brain scans and a few more blood samples.

Benji waited for hours, the only sounds his scared breathing and his mother’s muted, mournful chorus that sometimes swelled to a rousing reassurance of lively drums and brass.

Finally the specialist returned with images of Benji’s head. In time to a stern, staccato waltz, he tapped a ruler at a blue patch in the cross-section of Benji’s brain and recommended exploratory surgery.

Benji couldn’t tell whether the specialist’s jarring pitch changes meant that he was excited or confused.

Cally’s outrage expressed as atonal ascending scales, strident and brassy.  “They’re going to cut your head open?”

Benji shrugged. “Nobody knows what’s wrong. I think they’re scared.” He tried to sound brave but not so much as an adventurous viola sounded forth. “They try not to be but my Mum says she can hear it in their trebles.”

Winston said, “They should just leave you alone. You don’t have to have music if you don’t want it.” But then he ran away, trailing a clatter of cowbells and plucked ukulele notes.

Benji thought it over. Winston was wrong. He wanted his music back.

Nurses wordlessly flitted around his hospital bed making efficient, business-like movements. They swept in and out of sight like ants disassembling a picnic to brisk, professional woodwinds.

As Benji breathed through the anaesthetist’s mask, their music wandered away from melody into tuneless contralto waves.

But Benji was aware of their timpani rumbles of submerged fear and the first dissonant strains of a bassoon as the surgeon arrived. Keys diverged and time signatures fell out of harmony as his eyes closed.


Benji knew before his eyelids began to unglue that the operation had failed. Nothing surrounded him but the soft hiss of a ventilator, the hum of indifferent machinery and the hushed buzz of human speech beyond too-thin walls.

He tried to squeeze his eyes shut but the darkness made the silence worse, a void that drained hope and fed despair. With a lump rising in his throat, he let the light in and looked around at the blue wall of vinyl curtains hanging around his bed. The curtain’s perimeter diverted around the back of an unoccupied chair. He felt its emptiness deep inside his stomach; he felt no hunger for the bowl of pale, spotted fruit in the bowl alongside his pillow.

Benji knew one thing. All the doctors and nurses hadn’t been able to figure out what happened to him. His music was gone. They didn’t know where it was and they didn’t know how to bring it back.

He thought about the last time he had cried. One afternoon a year ago, his father had said goodbye in a haze of endless regret, unstoppable tears and slow-strummed minor chords.

Without low, slurring strings rising with the lump in his throat, Benji didn’t remember how to cry.

The talkers came closer and now he could hear strains of concern, confusion and even some anger. He could hear violins darting in and out of their upper registers. His mother was nervous and upset. Benji steeled himself for the crashing peals of percussion and trills of flutes as she tried to hide her fear and disappointment.

Voices and shadows fell across the curtains and they parted for his mother and the surgeon. Benji met her eye. He tried to think of a way to tell her he was sorry.

Then all at once Benji’s mother’s music softened and transformed. A counter-melody cut through her distraught fugue, a chorus of violas laying down a bridge for a crisply-strummed guitar to appear.

Benji’s mother looked around in surprise, even a little alarm – she’d never made a sound like it. Next to her, the doctor’s face made the same expression. His music was falling into rhythm with hers. Guitars and a snappy drum fill, the kind that made Benji want to stamp his feet and wave his arms. Fun, happy music spilled out of them and filled his ears.

Benji smiled at his mother. He laughed at the doctor, and the nurses who ran in and the orderly who reached for him with big, trembling hands.

They were playing his song.

David Versace is a writer from Australia’s winter-blighted capital, Canberra. He is a slush-wrangler, proof reader and dealer in encouraging critiques. His work appears in the anthology “Next” (CSFG Publishing 2013) and in the forthcoming “The Lane of Unusual Traders” (Tiny Owl Press 2015). Twitter: @_Lexifab



She wanders the castle late at night, a haunt that startles the servants when she finds them flesh to flesh in the darker corners of the place. She doesn’t mean to interrupt their trysts; she just can’t sleep.

She slept for a hundred years. Most thought that was the curse of the evil fairy, but it wasn’t. Not for her, at any rate. The years passed in a heartbeat, dreams keeping her company as she lay unchanging behind the forest of thorns while the world grew colder and uglier.

She knows her sleep was a curse for those who loved her, who no doubt hoped that someone would break the spell, wake her up, and restore her to the loving bosom of her family.

But no one could, not till her prince woke her, the man she does not sleep next to because her restlessness disturbs him.

She thinks the wildness in her eyes also disturbs him. Her inability to laugh at his jokes because she does not find him funny, not when sleep eludes her, when dreams waft away as a possibility for others, not for her.

She has heard the doctor tell him that a person can go mad if they are deprived of dreams for too long. She wonders how the doctor knows this. Did he do that—keep some poor soul awake until his mind split apart, until he screamed from the lack of the solace of dreams?

“My lady.” It is the prince; he is very good at finding her.


“Come to bed?”

He does not mean to sleep. She has her own rooms where she can toss and turn and light the candle and blow it back out again without disturbing him. He wants to be with her, to take her.

He earned that right when he forged his way through the thorns, when he woke her with his kiss.

He has never asked her if she loved someone before she was cursed, or if she loves him. She thinks he does not care.

She thinks he would like to get an heir from her before she has gone completely mad. She imagines he will not let her keep the baby with her, that he will fear for the baby.

She thinks he might fear her on his own behalf. He does not look like a husband come a wooing, but one who wishes to do his duty and be told that finally his burdensome, non-sleeping wife has accepted his seed and will deliver a child.

She wonders if he will want to have more than one.

“I am not tired.” This is, of course, a lie. She is exhausted—she simply cannot sleep. The final piece of the curse. Wake from eternal sleep and the other side of the coin is eternal wakefulness.

“My love”—he stumbles over the endearment—”I mean that I need you.”

That is true. He needs her to give him a child. Since he so unwisely married her before he knew of her nighttime wanderings, so flush with triumph over beating the curse when so many other princes failed.

She never knew they even tried to rescue her. Her sleep was peaceful. Her dreams lovely. She misses them. She believes she dreamed an entire world for herself when she slept in that thorn-wrapped tower.

She knew peace: she does not think she ever will again.

“You wish me to do my wifely duty?” She wants to state it that way, as a duty, something to be borne not enjoyed—not needed the way he says he needs her. It is not that he is unkind to her, it is just that after living in a world of dreams, he is a pale shadow of what she created for herself.

Lying with him is messy and immediate, and she detests how it grounds her in the life she lives, in the restless days anticipating not slumber as her ladies do but endless vigilance.

She has gone to the priest. She has called for the fairies. Any of them, even evil ones.

The priest has no remedies and the fairies do not answer.

James moves restlessly and finally says, “Yes, I wish you to do your wifely duty.”

“We should understand each other. Speak plainly.” She knows her eyes are hard by how his expression changes.

“Of course.” He looks down. “I have tried to make you happy, Beauty.”

She does not think that is true. He tried to make himself happy with some attentiveness to her needs—at first. But her happiness has never been an issue for any of the princes who stormed the thorns—had it been, they would not have sought to wake her.

But she says none of this. She says, “I know,” because it is the easier thing to say.

She follows him to his room and lets him remove her robes, and she keeps her eyes open but then sees him close his.

He will not look at her?

As he finds completion in her flesh, she murmurs, “I was happy. Before you woke me. I had my dreams and they were beautiful.”

He lies collapsed on top of her, breathing hard, and tightens his hold on her arms, but she thinks it is possession that drives the firmness of his grip, not hurt, not love rejected.

“You may return to your room.” He rolls off her and faces the wall.

“Perhaps this time I will conceive.”

“Perhaps.” He does not sound hopeful.

This too may be part of the curse. She is over a hundred years old—can she conceive? Even if her beauty did not dim, perhaps the part of her that can create life did?

“Good night, Beauty.”

“Good night, James.” She can see there is some level of misery in the way he lies so still on the luxurious bed that she should share, so she gives him the best gift she can: “Sleep well.”

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has stories and poems published by: Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark, Athena’s Daughters 2, and others. She is editing an anthology, A Quiet Shelter There, which will benefit homeless animals and is due out in this year from Hadley Rille Books. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com. This story was first published in the 713 Flash Contest by Kazka Press.


Human Through and Through by K. A. Rochnik

The sun sets behind the row of giant pines, as I watch my manta ray son circle slowly near the bottom of the pool. I hunch at the edge, arms wrapped around my belly, like I’m bleeding from a hidden wound. I track my son’s smooth glide, intent on soaking up every inch of his dark bat-shaped body.

Last year when he was still wholly human, he darted about, dodging sharp corners by a hair, artfully prat-falling. I would put my nose in the crown of his tousled head, and savor his smell. Now I can’t tell his scent from a bucket of chum. I can only sit half-in, half-out of the pool for so long my skin never unpuckers, stinging from saltwater sores. I wait for him to circle past, reaching out to rub his velvet black head. I try to catch the silky tip of a wing as he glides by.

My husband came out earlier, to talk. He’s worried about our daughter, who’s gotten so skittish and wary, wanting to hole up in her room, burrow under her bed. I told him it’s the fox in her. A month ago she woke up with paws and a fluffy red tail. He thinks I’m neglecting her. Maybe I am, but she’s still mostly human and our son is not.

My husband’s hired a special truck with a lift and a water tank to take our son to the ocean. This time tomorrow he’ll be gone.

The light just went off in our bedroom.

I have one more night to beg the Earth, in all its infinite wisdom, to change my son back.


So far the animal mutations affect children on the cusp of puberty. Overnight their extremities change to that of a threatened species. In California, it’s mostly bear, mountain lion, wolf, elk, and large marine animals, like sea elephants. A family from our elementary school was on an African safari. Their four children woke with the respective tails of a hyena, lion, elephant; the last with the antlers of an impala. They never came home.

Some of us tried plastic surgery, but the animal parts grew back.

We got used to the changes. There was even talk of restarting school. Some of the parents began to feel a kind of pride, like the mother of a boy with a bristly curly tail and tusks jutting from his jaw, going on about how smart wild pigs were.

Then the children transformed completely.

Governments passed sweeping wildlife reforms all over the world. The children needed clean habitats, unthreatened by humans. No more slaughter for trophies to hang on walls or poaching for superstitious cures. No more hunting at all. We are not animals who eat our young.

I suppose you think it all worked out for the best. The Earth setting itself right, putting balance back into the ecosystem.

To you and your beloved Earth I say this. May you stew in pollution. May you wheeze on carbon emissions and choke on the mountain of plastic in the oceans.

I don’t mean it. Please bring my son back.


The next morning I wake up next to my husband, staring at his back without blinking, gasping for breath through slits on my neck. The pillow’s silky with fallen-out hair.

I’m mute so I take care to bite him gently, then lick at the bead of blood. There’s a sudden rustling as he turns over, then a great upheaval, with sheets flying as he jumps out of bed, eyes bulging, mouth O-shaped.

I’m sorry that he’s upset.

There’s a fin sticking out of my back. I’ve seen those awful videos of sharks hauled up on the decks of boats. Their dorsals cut off; their mutilated bodies tossed back to die. I feel a rush of excitement. My change is only fair. It’s part of things being set right.

My husband huddles in a corner, hands on his face, his shoulders heaving.

Maybe I’ll become a megalodon, the biggest shark that ever lived. That would be cool, but I don’t think it works that way, since the megalodons were extinct before humans existed. Another big predator then–a tiger or a mako. Something sleek and fast, but without the cinematic baggage of a great white.

Maybe I can have sex one last time but no, only a shark’s clasper is fitting in there. I could make pancakes for him and our daughter one last time, but I don’t have all the ingredients and I’m not up for a trip to the grocery store.

He’s calm now. He’s come back to the bed, stroking my head softly. Soon he’ll carry me to the pool. When the time comes, he’ll ride in the truck that will take me to the ocean. His lips will tickle the tough gray skin where my ears used to be, saying good-bye.

He’s a good father, and he’ll take care of our vulpine daughter, until the day she scampers away into the brush.

He’s losing his family, but I don’t think he is lost. The Earth loves all its animals right down to the microbes. Even the humans. She’ll keep some of them around, in the right amount.

Still, a part of me is sorry that he’s human through and through.

This is how the Earth answers me. Maybe it’s what I wanted all along—to drift into the ocean with my manta ray son. With a wave of his wings, he’ll glide away, disappearing in the darkness.

Then I’ll go, too, racing after the scent of some wounded creature, following the spilled blood.

K. A. Rochnik writes speculative fiction from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area, both novels and a wide range of short stories. She is most interested in exploring how technology illuminates human relationships, needs, and passions. She graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2014.


Alienated by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

Three days, we’ve been on this planet. Over a year, earth-time. But we don’t talk about earth-time anymore. It weakens morale, says Sir Overgeneral Halfish.

My morale went out the window when I found out I was sentenced to be transported off planet.

I was never one of those little girls with rocket ships and toy telescopes. I had a hermit Barbie with a pink plastic cave in which she kept her 14 pairs of shoes and 13 ball gowns. I was never an explorer. I just wanted a quiet life with pretty things. A pink plastic cave would suit me just fine.

I killed my husband. I got off light: five months transport and twenty years on the colony. More than twice as long as my marriage lasted. For eight years, I wore thousand-dollar designer dresses and three-inch heels and silk scarves to hide the bruises on my arms.

Now look at me. Wearing a gray jumpsuit with neon-orange reflectors, digging up stunted purple fingerlings as a part of some insane terraforming project in the middle of system 5088b.

At least we’re not locked up; there’s no chance of escape. We have caches of dried goods and imported water tanks. We also have Sir Overgeneral Halfish, who doesn’t want anyone forgetting that this is punishment.

Orbital solar mirrors were the miracle solution to the Goldilocks problem. They say this place was uninhabitable, no native plants, just desert wasteland and solar winds. Sounds like Albuquerque to me. No one cares what might have come before.

No one but me. I see them. Bright green swirls in the darkness, hovering over the orange-brown dunes. Sir Overgeneral tells me not to worry my pretty little head, it’s just swamp gas. He doesn’t believe anything’s out there because he’s never seen anything. They don’t show up until late-shift, when we’re meant to be indoors with blinds down. They gather on the outskirts of our hovel and they watch.

So I watch back.

My married life taught me to avoid attracting attention. So I sat perfectly still, just the quiet sound of home-made purple fingerling schnapps splashing into my plastic cup. My secret still is why I’ve been out during late-shift in the first place. There’s yeast here too, not that I’ve told anyone. That’s not the point.

The point is, reconnaissance looks the same all over the universe. They formed an acid-green perimeter around our settlement and shimmered along the vegetable gardens and inched right up to the security blinds. Then they pulled back and melted into the wind-blasted dunes where the Overgeneral keeps telling me no life could survive.

I never saw any need to follow them. I figured I’ve done my bit, telling Overgeneral, Sir, I think you’ll find there was something here first. And now they come up most every “night”.

I didn’t know they even knew I was there until Warden Lecter caught me.

I was creeping back into the compound after checking my still when she sprang out from the water tanks. She’s the worst of the wardens; there’s something not quite right about her.  I mean something weird beyond voluntarily relocating to a poisonous planet to bully three dozen women.

I stood tall, hoping she couldn’t hear my heart thudding.

“You should be in your hut,” she growled.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said and turned to go. She put a heavy hand on my shoulder to stop me.

I flinched and held my hands up. When she laughed, I knew I was in trouble. Just then, the green mist shimmered around the edges of the compound.

“Shoulda thought about that before you went sneaking.” She grinned.

The green mist swirled up behind her. I twisted and bolted straight to my hut, slamming the door behind me. The only sound was my pounding heart.

Once I caught my breath, I cracked the door open. There was no sign of Lecter.

The green mist flared and then faded into the hills. I went to bed and stared at the ceiling until first bell.

The compound was in an uproar. Warden Lecter disappeared without a trace, they said. I didn’t say a word. A week later, they found her bones behind the water tanks. Not an ounce of flesh to be found, just her bones, clean as a school experiment.

I stayed inside during late-shift after that. Forget the still, my tastes of freedom. I buckled down to do my time. But the next time Sir Overgeneral Halfish sneered at me as worthless, I started thinking about that night again.

I mean, Lecter must have run when I started running, right? Even if just to catch me. So how come I got away and she didn’t? Other than they were already used to me, sitting outside, sharing the stars.

Or maybe they just don’t like the smell of my schnapps, hell if I know. But it seems like they would be good friends to keep. Shimmery scary friends that eat people, sure. But hell, I’m not exactly spoilt for choice.

So now I set my lawn chair out each late-shift, when I know everyone else is safely asleep, and I watch. The mists know I’m here. They whirlpool around my lawn chair. I figure we have a truce, of sorts. And if that truce doesn’t extend to the others, well, that’s not my problem.

The purple fingerlings are growing fine and the water tanks are hooked up with enough water to keep fifty of us going for a decade. There’s no one else here due for a while, just us and the mists. I’m happy to lure the Overgeneral out of his hut if that’ll keep them happy, maybe the rest, too.

Maybe it could be paradise here after all.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between South Wales and Andalucia. Her fiction was nominated for a Nebula in 2014 and her short stories have been translated into over a dozen languages.  Her first novella, Domnall and the Borrowed Child, was published in 2015 by Tor.com and is available now at all good book stores. You can find out more about her at http://www.intrigue.co.uk/.  You can find out more about her at http://www.intrigue.co.uk/. This story was originally published in Nature Physics Magazine.


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THE HAT by Barry King

(Editor’s Note: It is my sad duty to say that Barry King passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on November 18, 2015 from a massive pulmonary embolism while he was recovering from pneumonia.)




Thunder cracked as Theo scanned the traffic at the crosswalk, waiting for a gap. He was just about to risk it, when something—a top hat—blew into his face. He grabbed at it. It was the real thing: silk inside and outside, with a worn headband. He looked around at the waterlogged pedestrians around him. No hatless men in evening dress. Odd. But he was late and behind on his sales quota, so he took it with him.

It dried on his desk as he made his calls, one after another, each more depressing than the  He fidgeted with it while negotiating a tricky contractual change with Robinson-Weston, and a business card fell out. On the back, it said “thank you!”. Thinking it was the owner, he called the number at Marzden, Inc., and discovered, no, he didn’t own a top hat, but as long as Theo was on the line, there was actually a need for his company’s services. Could he come by this afternoon?

On returning, the division chief came out and shook his hand personally for landing the account.

Stunned, he took the hat home.

It sat on the coffee He examined it during a commercial. There were initials inside: G.A. Gilbert Andrews? Gilroy Ames? Thinking about his stroke of luck, he made a decision. “You’re mine now. I’m going to keep you,” he said aloud, and went to bed without placing the ad.

The next morning, he picked it up, thinking maybe to take it with him. He took the bag instead.

He didn’t usually pack lunch, so he decided to sit in the park today. The only vacant seat was on a bench beside an attractive young woman who made room for him. They talked, and he soon learned her name was Anna Arminoff. She worked in counseling. She lived alone with her aging father, a retired performance artist, and she mostly went to films for entertainment. Theo found himself humming on his way back to work.

The next morning, there was a pair of movie tickets under the hat.

After the movie, he and Anna strolled along the canal, talking about anything that came to mind. She had been planning to go to that particular film; the director was her favorite. It was almost as if he knew her already.

The next morning, Theo eagerly lifted the hat. There was a pamphlet underneath for a craft fair. He went to the park, thinking to ask Anna to come with him, but she wasn’t there. He waited halfway through lunch, but she still didn’t show. He went to the fair himself, and was looking over some interesting ironwork, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Anna.

“I didn’t know you liked this sort of thing.”

“I didn’t know either,” he answered. They laughed, and toured the fair together. She bought ice creams. He bought her a tiny rose pin made of garnets and helped her pin it on. When he dropped her off at work, she thanked him and briefly kissed his cheek. They exchanged phone numbers. He got back to work an hour late, but nobody said anything. Nobody was going to challenge the man who had landed the Marzden contract. He smiled, looking out the window. Things were looking up for him at last.

The next day was the weekend, and the hat didn’t fail to provide. The concert tickets were for that evening, and, of course, they were for Anna’s favorite band. The best seats in the house. They held hands through the concert, and walked home arm-in-arm. When they reached the point between their apartments where they had to choose which way to go, she pulled him closer and suggested his place.

Heart thumping, he unlocked the door, grateful that he’d cleaned up the night before…

He suggested martinis, which she agreed to enthusiastically. He went to prepare them. But when he came back with the drinks, there was a look of fury on her face. “You… you CREEP!”

Theo stood there with his mouth open.

“You… I don’t know what game you’re playing at, but stealing my Dad’s hat? Have you been stalking me? Did you break in and read my diary or something?”

“Your dad’s hat?”

“Yes. He’s been heartsick about it. It’s all he has left of his act—the Great Arminoff. But you’d know that, wouldn’t you?”

“Anna, no! I didn’t steal anything. I found the hat! I was going to return it,” he lied.

She stared at him a long time, then picked up her purse and went to the door.

“I don’t know, Theo. Maybe you’re telling the truth, but I’ve had enough weirdoes in my life. You’re nice and all, but knowing all this stuff about me beforehand… It just creeps me out, OK? So I’m not going to call the police, but I never, ever, want to see you again.” With that, she left.

Theo sat down, nearly on the point of tears. After a while, he turned on the TV. He drank both the martinis.

The next morning, bleary-eyed, he found, on the table where the hat had been, a small note:

So sorry, young man, to toy with your affections. But you weren’t going to get me home. I had to make my own way. No hard feelings. With regret, Great Arminoff’s Hat.

Barry King’s short stories and poetry can be found in such diverse venues as Unlikely Story, The Future Fire, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Crossed Genres, Lackington’s, and Ideomancer. The rest of him can usually be found in the kitchen when it’s not eking out a remote existence on the Internet making things go.


From the Editor’s Lair by Jennifer Brozek

Speculate! is now officially open for submissions. Make sure you read the guidelines carefully.

For February, we have another unintended theme of what makes us happy and how far we are willing to find it. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do.

“The Hat” By Barry King
“Alienated” By Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
“Human Through and Through” By K. A. Rochnik
“One Hundred Years” By Gerri Leen
“Incidental” By David Versace
“Are You Receiving” By Rebecca Birch
“High as a Power Line” By Chris Galford

You can read all of our previous flash fiction at the EGM.Shorts Archive page.

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