In Other News

The newsreader put on a serious expression and turned to look at the camera.

“We at channel 6 would like to apologize for the previous story,” he said. “Whether it was an innocent mix-up or a prank, obviously there is no such place as ‘The Bleak, Black Pits of Desolation’ and no ambassadors have been recalled from it.”

“Maybe someone’s a little too excited about the new Hobbit movie, huh, Steve?” his co-anchor said. “It sounds like something straight out of Middle-Earth.”

“I guess you’re right, Susan,” he said. “We turn our attention to the weather, where Scott has the latest on that cold front that’s sweeping in from the frozen maw of… is that… that’s not right, is it? They’re doing it again. Well, here’s Scott with… no?”

Behind the camera, the producer was waving frantically to cut talk of the weather. Steve glanced over to the weather desk, where the reference monitor showed an elaborately painted map of an unfamiliar landscape with names of towns and kingdoms written on in calligraphy superimposed over the blue screen behind a hapless Scott.

The producer held up a hastily-scrawled cue card that had the words “tech. diff.” and “c/2 remote” on it. Susan gave a barely perceptible nod and glanced down at the top sheet on her desk.

“Ladies and gentleman, we appear to be having some technical difficulties here in the studio, but while we sort that out, let’s go to our own Katie Sedgewick and the channel 6 newsvan. It seems there’s a new arrival at the zoo, and it shows that sometimes… nine heads… are better than… one?”

They only showed a few seconds of the live feed before it was cut off, but it was more than enough.

“Oh my God!” Steve said. “What the hell was that?”

“It just… it tore right…” Susan said as the producer lost her lunch off-camera.

That was the last thing that any viewers at home saw on the television before it cut to the 21st century equivalent of a test pattern, the brief station identification clip where the reassuring voice of none other than Channel 6’s own Steve Windsor announced that Channel 6 was there for you, and all the viewers like you.

“What the hell kind of crazy ratings stunt was that?” one such viewer said aloud. He changed the channel with an angry stab at the remote, but Channel 8 was broadcasting nothing but blackness. He grunted and switched to a cable channel that was airing sitcom re-runs. “How the hell are we supposed to trust the news if they’re going to pull crap like that? I mean, did you see that?”

“Edgar?” his wife said from over by the big bay windows.

“I said, did you see that?”

“The sky?”

“The thing on the TV,” he said. He froze as he said it. What did she mean, had he seen the sky?

“I think you should come take a look at it,” she said.

Slowly, he got to his feet.

February 15, 2012 | Horror | 1 Comment »

Hands Across The Void

The sleek dark ship prowls through the void. Its skin absorbs the rays of distant and feeble stars, converting every bit of heat and radiation it can grab into energy it can use. It isn’t much, but it doesn’t have to be. There are no life support systems on the ship. Nothing that cannot be turned off and on at need. Nothing that would damage the ship if it went inert.

The original fuel core had decayed long ago, but the power it had imparted had been sufficient to carry the vessel far beyond its system of origin and left it traveling at a velocity few artificial objects could ever achieve.

The power gleaned from each absorbed transmission is sufficient to record information about that transmission, which will be reviewed when the accumulated stellar radiation is sufficient for the ship’s main computer system to reactivate itself. These systems are rudimentary in the way a machine meant to last forever must be — the simplest and most basic technologies available made out of the most durable materials possible. There are few moving parts and multiple redundancies. Its builders knew what they were doing. Nothing on board has failed except the fuel core, and that was inevitable and planned for.

Lacking any store of propellant, the ship steers itself by way of propulsion via a stream of ejected molecules of cosmic debris. It is a slow, slow process, but space is big and mostly empty. The chance of it needing to make a sudden turn is remote compared to the chance of a system failure. The craft passed through two asteroid belts on its journey from its planet of origin to the edge of its system and did not need to steer around an obstacle once.

The ship carries no cargo. It has no preserved remnants of a culture and no great secret wisdom for the universe. It was designed to find another world, any world, with intelligent life. It looks for patterns in the radiation it absorbs. When it finds what it’s looking for, it will point itself in the proper direction and begin the long, slow process of deceleration. It can survive re-entry, at the right angle. It can store enough power to transmit a mathematical pattern of beeps to attract attention as it approaches. Nothing more reliable than the prayers of its creators exists to make sure it lands in a place where it may be observed and recovered, but it can let the natives know it’s coming.

The chances of success are tiny. Space is big and mostly empty, and as well as the craft was built all things must eventually end.

Its builders know that success is possible, though, however unlikely it may be. They copied the basic design of the craft from one that fell to their world.

It sparked first panic and then a deep debate as to its purpose. There were no weapons. It had no means of sending a signal back to its point of origin, and it was clearly old enough to make any such signal pointless. It bore no inscription or attempt at conveying any message, save for those which could be gleaned from the existence of the ship itself.

The motivations of the original ship-builders — or even if they were the originators of the idea — couldn’t possibly be known, but to the people of that world the ship came to be known as The Sign. It told them that they were not alone in the universe, that they could build a thing that would outlast everything else, and that it was possible to reach out and touch the infinite.

For a period of about one and a half lifetimes, there was a mania on that planet for building ships. It was likened to putting a message in the bottle. Some people included personal messages, copies of important historical documents or works of art. Some went so far as to include genetic material, preserved or encoded somehow.

Most of the ships, though, were as the first one: blank, black ciphers that proclaimed nothing more than themselves. Those who invested the most resources in the great work of slinging ships out in the void understood the wisdom of the ancient people who’d sent the sign to them. Nothing they could send out into eternity would necessarily hold any meaning to the people who found it. Nothing they could say would make sense. Their symbols of peace and gestures of understanding might very well convey the opposite meaning to the recipients.

Before the changing tides of public fashion and fancy shifted to characterize the act of ship-building as one of pointless vanity, tens of thousands of them were sent out. Most of them are still going. None have yet discovered a destination, much less reached it. Some of them will. And some of the planets they reach will be inspired to do the same.

All across the galaxy, dozens or even hundreds of races will end up shouting into the darkness, knowing they will never hear a reply but that sometimes it’s enough to be heard.

February 12, 2012 | Science Fiction | 5 Comments »

One More Spin

The carousel goes around again. The horses move up and down. The music plays. There are no children on it. The operator watches, his hand on the lever and ready to stop it in case anybody in the sparse crowd is drawn to the sound and motion and comes to ride. He had thought that maybe when the deflating bounce castle was finally taken away some of the kids might look his way, but so far he’s largely been disappointed.

A fairground without a fair on it is little more than an empty lot. This one was more so than most. It’s hard to tell if it’s a gravel lot with weeds growing in or a grassy one that’s overgrown and full of rocks. There’s only so much magic that the aging rides and fading canvas-sided booths can do to transform it into a land of wonderment and whimsy.

The sky is gray and oppressively low, and the day is hot and sticky. It hasn’t been a good day. It hasn’t been a good year for carnivals and this has never been a particularly good carnival.

A little girl, or pre-school age or just after, bounces towards him with the sticky remnants of a snowcone dribbling out of a crushed paper cone in her hands. The girl’s mother follows after, fanning herself with a program.

“Ponies!” she cries. The man brings the ride to a stop. She’s too small to sit on one of the horses, but there are sleighs and swan boats in between them.

The mother grabs the girl’s hand.

“Come on, April,” she says, pulling her away. “None of these rides look very safe. Let’s go see if the house of mirrors has air conditioning.”

Down the midway, a barker calls the few passersby to step right up and try their luck on the wheel of fortune.

The operator pulls the lever.

The carousel goes around again.

February 9, 2012 | Fiction | 2 Comments »


Both women reached the door at about the same time. Having been so fixated on their mutual objective, neither one had noticed the other until their hands almost collided reaching for the handle.

“Excuse me, but what do you think you’re doing?” a woman dressed in something resembling a Victorian dress and a leather aviator’s cap.

“Excuse me, but I’m Nicole Tesla and this is my lab,” the other woman, who was wearing a top hat and tuxedo with tails, tailored for her feminine frame.

“It’s Nicola Tesla, actually… or I’m Nicola Tesla, I should say, and this is my lab,” the first one said.

“Well, I think I know my own name, thank you very much, and I also know my lab when I see it,” the second Tesla said.

“Excuse me, ladies,” a third woman, wearing something like cowboy gear, said. “But I am Tessa Coil and you are both trespassing on private property.”

“Is you who is trespassing on secret underground hideout of glorious Nikolai Tesla,” a man with a bushy beard said.

“What? It isn’t even underground!”

“And it’s hardly a secret with all you impostors standing around gawking.”

“I say, who are all you people and what are you doing outside the lab of myself, the late, great Sir Nicholas Tessler?” asked a man dressed like a clockwork Don Quixote. “Er, not late. Anymore. I mean, yet.”

There was a great loud click sound that was exactly like that of a massive switch being thrown, and with barely more than a spark passing between them all the men and women who would be Tesla went rigid and fell to the ground.

Watching from the window, Nikola Tesla could do little more than shake his head sadly. He broke the circuit, then turned to regard the recently completed device in the corner. He had tested the temporal conveyor with short jaunts, but otherwise deemed it too dangerous to use. It seemed as though future generations were much more casual about such things.

“Do I dare destroy it?” he thought aloud. “The energies it contains…”

But then he considered. The fools who had collided outside his door were those who’d traveled back to the very earliest opportunity, moments after the conveyor began operation. They had clearly done so on little more than a lark and without the forethought to research the subject of their destination or realize that the real Tesla would necessarily be present at the moment of the device’s genesis.

Those who arrived later might be better prepared and more difficult to subdue.

Yes. He would make the necessary calculations to minimize destruction and then destroy the device at the earliest opportunity, that very night. History would not record June 29th, 1908 as the date that time travel became possible.

February 6, 2012 | Science Fiction | 7 Comments »

Speeding Bullets

The thing about moving at superspeed is that from your point of view everything else has slowed down and you’re moving at normal speed. So, yes, I can run back and forth across the country in way less time than it would take a commercial jet, but when it’s not an emergency I still fly.

Do you know why? Because relative to my point of view, I’m running at about twenty miles per hour. That’s fast for a human, but slow for a cross-country vehicle. It means that when I go from coast to coast, I’m spending two months doing nothing but running. I don’t get tired. I don’t get hungry. I’m not aging any faster than normally, relative to objective time… though the first few years of using my powers, that was always something I worried about.

But I do get bored.

Two months of seeing the country unfold a bit at a time, with nothing but your own thoughts. No sounds. Not even the wind in your hair. The interphase field that moves molecules around to keep me from destroying myself or everything else in my wake prevents that.

I’ve always been a solitary person. I don’t mind having some time to myself. I’ll take a hundred mile run sometimes just to get some hours to spend clearing my head or thinking through a project. Trying to make a living and be a superhero, it’s nice to be able to steal some moments out of thin air here and there to do the brain work. After all, I can push up the speed a little when I’m sitting in front of a computer, but only so much.

So short trips are fine. Longer ones are for emergencies only. If I were going to run across the country for fun, I’d have to stop every few hundred miles and spend some time moving around in real time just so I didn’t go crazy.

Still, you asked me what the worst thing about my powers are, and honestly, as bad as that can get, that’s not it. The absolute worst thing is when I get there too late. I can all but stop time, but I can’t make it go backwards.

Bullets travel thousands of feet in a second. That’s nothing compared to me, but it’s fast enough. They’re faster than the speed of sound. If I hear a gunshot, the bullet has already hit its target before the sound hits my ear.

Imagine arriving at the scene of a shooting that’s already in progress. Someone’s just been shot. Now imagine you’re seeing it slow motion. No sound. Just visuals, slower and sharper and realer than anything you’ve ever seen in the movies.

A moment not quite frozen in time, not quite suspended in front of you… and you could step out of that moment, you could speed it up, but there are still bullets flying and people in their paths and you can’t let go and step back into the normal flow of time until you’ve saved everybody else.

Do you have any idea how small a thing a bullet can be? How hard it is to spot in mid-air even when it’s barely moving? How big an area a burst of gunfire can cover by the time I know about it? Most of those bullets will probably bury themselves in walls or trees or the ground, but not all. Any one that I miss could end or change a life.

You see it like this: there’s a blur and suddenly I’m standing there with everyone’s weapons at my feet and a hand full of lead. What you don’t see is how many times I go back and forth, how meticulously I search the area, how wide a zone around the action I comb, how far I stretch time from my point of view in order to be sure… and when I come back down, it’s never because I am sure. It’s because I’ve given up. Because I’ve realized that I’m making myself crazy.

I can’t stop all the bullets. I can’t be everywhere at once. No one can, of course, but I have a power that lets me feel like I should be able to.

I wouldn’t give it up, of course. Not for anything.

But you asked me what the worst thing about my power is, so I told you. It’s not something I’ve ever told anyone before, but then, that’s not the sort of question most people ask.

It makes me wonder what the downside to yours is.

February 3, 2012 | Fantasy | 6 Comments »

Petal To The Metal

There is a sound like the crinkling of aluminum foil as the scytheflower slowly unfurls its petals. The stem flexes and they turn to face the rising sun, the petals angling to best catch the light. The plant’s leaves make use of sunlight for photosynthesis, but the mix of metallic elements in the petals allow it to produce energy more directly as they heat up throughout the day.

The energy produced by the living thermocouple is difficult to store, but it still contributes to the scytheflower’s sustenance. The silvery sheen on the surface of the petals as they twitch in the sun has been designed by evolution to catch the eyes of birds in flight, a trait which helps give the scytheflower some of its other names: magpiercer and crow-murderer.

Down swoops a blackbird, attracted by the shiny flash of the flower. There’s the whining whir of a buzzsaw and a brief, aborted squawk. The bird’s carcass will feed the soil, which feeds the plant.

Though its metallic petals are valued by collectors, the scytheflower is best approached with care, or not at all.

January 30, 2012 | Science Fiction | No Comments »


“So you’re a vegetarian vampire,” I said.

“Vegan,” he corrected me gently.

“How does that work?”

He smiled showing the points of his upper canine teeth.

“Better than you would think,” he said. “My dietary needs are obviously different than they were when I was a baseline human, which just leaves me with the moral and ecological components of veganism… although in my mind it’s all a matter of morality, as it is immoral to render the earth uninhabitable for everyone in order to feed one’s appetite.”

He spoke smoothly and evenly, and slowly enough that I could get much of his answer down on my tablet before he’d stopped speaking. Normally I used a digital recorder when I did interviews, but vampires didn’t show up on recordings any more than they did in mirrors. It was one of the peskier details for those who still clung to the idea that the undead condition was nothing more than some kind of virus we didn’t understand yet.

“But plants don’t have blood,” I said. “I’m not trying be smart-alecky, but you can’t survive on tomato juice, or by biting a maple tree…. can you?”

“No,” he said with a laugh. “Although it’s funny that you should raise such possibilities. It was a book about a vegetable-draining rabbit that first got me interested in a vegetarian diet as a child… and that same silly story stirred my interest in darker subjects, as well. I couldn’t live on vegetables, but the whole course of my existence is the confluence of two paths that book started me down.”

“So how do you feed?”

“Well, again, we come to the moral component of veganism,” he said. “It is wrong to kill an animal for food and it is wrong to take the product of another being’s labor without consent. To feed my blood thirst, I need do neither. I take my sustenance from willing and sentient volunteers. To spend precious resources feeding a cow and then eat that cow is wasteful and destructive compared to using the same resources to simply feed ourselves—-excuse me, I mean living humans—-but those who I feed through need only increase their iron and glucose intake slightly. Collectively, our footprint is actually slightly smaller than it would be if I were consuming the same sort of food they do.”

“And it doesn’t bother you to drink blood, after so many years without meat?”

“The thought of meat still makes me ill, but… my biology, if it can be called that, is different,” he said. “I felt a bit of what you might call apprehension before my earliest feedings, but it was more the fear that I would be repulsed than actual revulsion. I credit these vestigial misgivings with helping me maintain control at an age where I might have easily lost it.”

“So there are control issues?”

“Oh, of course there are,” he said. “This wouldn’t be something I’d want to put out there as part of the face of modern vampirism, but: blood is delicious and we are predators by nature. The heat and flush of life excites us, as does the hunt and the struggle at the end of it. But as beings with a human mind at our core, we are gifted with the ability to moderate our instincts and operate according to the callings of our higher nature rather than our baser urges.”

“So then… forgive me, but I have to ask this… you’ve never killed anyone?”

“No one I did not intend to,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well… being fed by vegan friends slakes the bloodthirst, but not what we might term the ‘bloodlust’,” he said. “My morals do offer me an out there, though. Feeding a cow and then killing it food is wasteful, but killing someone who feeds on cows helps end the cycle of waste. Taking sustenance from a creature that has not consented is immoral, but a person who subscribes to the notion that occupying a higher place on the food chain is a license to kill has clearly consented to being hunted by their biological superiors.”

He laughed. It was a deep, rich, and somehow chilling sound.

“Not that I subscribe to such a hierarchical view of things myself,” he said. “But why argue with people who are so certain of their place in the world that they’re willing to kill because of it?”

“Listen,” I said, putting my tablet aside. “When you agreed to this interview…”

“I like to get to know my meals,” he said. “One should always know where one’s food comes from.”

“You said you enjoy the hunt…” I said, hoping for at least a head start.

His red eyes bored into me. He showed his teeth again, though this time it looked less like a smile.

“Sometimes,” he said. “But while I try to keep an active afterlifestyle, sometimes I don’t feel like running.”

January 27, 2012 | Horror | 5 Comments »

Bogey Nights

Every night when his mother turned out the lights, there was a brief period when the darkness seemed total, with everything except for the squares of light behind the window shade draped in total blackness. And every night the child’s eyes adjusted, as eyes do, and the familiar features of his room returned in their shadow-drenched form.

But one night it began to seem to him that even as most of the darkness faded somewhat, some of the shadows not only remained resolutely dark but became darker still… more solid, more real… as the night wore on. More, they seemed to move and grow. Never when he was looking, of course, and never in too obvious a way, at least at first.

After night after night of this, he eventually managed to convince himself that he was seeing nothing out of the ordinary… that it was just his imagination, or that this was just how darkness worked, and he’d never noticed it before.

Then the night came when it didn’t happen, and that tender illusion was stripped away, though all he felt was relief that whatever had been transpiring in his bedroom every night was over.

That relief lasted until the next night, when it all began again. The darkness crept out from under his dresser, from beneath his closet door, and from behind the chair in the corner. It pooled together and slunk slowly across the floor towards his bed… never quite reaching it, though coming quite close. There was no kidding himself about it now. He’d seen what his room was supposed to look like in the dark, and it had seemed too right and natural for him to pretend that what he was seeing now was anything like normal.

That first interruption wasn’t the only time he was given a respite. Sometimes they happened quite frequently, and other times weeks would go by without the unnatural darkness taking over his room. At first he prayed each night that the darkness would pass him over, but eventually he came to dread those nights just as much, if not more.

The beshadowed nights had become normal to him, and on those nights he could at least see the darkness reaching for him. He knew better than to let his foot hit the floor on those nights, or relinquish the protection of the covers. He could see his doom coming. He knew where the shadows were.

The other nights… who knew where the shadows got to on those nights? Who knew where they lurked? Who knew where they waited for him? He certainly didn’t, and that terrified him in a way that all the tendrils of darkness creeping across his floor never could.

He dutifully bade his mother goodnight as she turned off the lights. He closed his eyes involuntarily and ducked under the covers, not willing to see at once what sort of a night he was in for.

Beyond the covers, the shadows in his room were just shadows… but outside his window, a pool of darkness deepened, and then seemed to straighten and stand up. A figure strode out towards the sidewalk, carefully skirting far around the circle of amber light cast by a lamp pole. Another dark figure flitted across the street towards it. The two came together in what could only be seen as an embrace, had any human eyes been watching.

“So, where do you want to go tonight?”

“I don’t care, I’m just happy to get out of the house for a while.”

“I know what you mean… it’s a good job, and an important one, but it’s like, we can’t spend every night scaring kids.”

“Yeah. Honestly, I think their little minds can use a break. We’re supposed to be teaching them how to cope with fear, not driving them up the wall with it.”

“True that.”

January 3, 2012 | Horror | 1 Comment »


For Kim, in loving memory of Charles Barnes. With kindest affection to Charles Dickens, who rendered some slight assistance with the opening.

It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

“To-night!” cried Scrooge.

“To-night at midnight.”

“But,” said Scrooge, “if I am to understand you, Spirit, you mean to say that you are born on Christmas Eve and pass from this world in the space of the holidays? Why, but this is fantastic.”

“More fantastic than all that you have witnessed this night?”

“But how is it that you have learned so much about the spirit of humanity in so short a span?”

The Ghost paused for a moment as if it were considering how best to answer.

“Perhaps,” it said at length, “this is not my first life. Perhaps I have had the chance to walk among humanity myself and learn firsthand of the best it has to offer.”

“But, Spirit,” Scrooge said. “Surely you don’t mean to say that a good man died so that you could impart to me your lessons?”

“Oh, no. Men die in every season, man, the good and great as along with the dismal and poor. Was the man I was a good man? Let us say that he did good things sometimes, and that he learned to make the season brighter for those who loved him, and when he was called away—rather suddenly—he was given one more opportunity to do some good before leaving this world for the last time.”

“And this happens every year?”

“I imagine it must,” the Spirit said. “All that is mortal must pass, Ebenezer, on this day as on any other. But do not look upon it as a dark thing. I do not! It is my chance to bear a candle into the darkness.”

“And you do not regret it?”

“If I regret anything, it must be the kindnesses I did not perform, the loving words I did not speak, the opportunities I missed to be of some benefit to those around me. Do I regret the time and manner of my passing? It was not mine to choose, and I hope that those I’ve left behind do not hold it against me.”

“But could your remaining hours not be spent bringing comfort to those you have left behind?”

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” the Spirit said. “It is my honor to bring comfort and cheer to all who draw together in search of it. I will be with them in the hereafter, but for this time I belong to the world. But hark! The time is drawing near…”

December 24, 2011 | Fantasy | 2 Comments »


Eventually she did make it back to Kansas, despite the last witch’s trick. When she got there, her family’s farm was gone. It was not just that the buildings had been destroyed or carried off by the twister, but the land they had stood on was no longer there. The space it had occupied was gone, like someone had taken a map of the county and pinched part of it.

When she got over her shock she moved on, because there was nothing else for her to do. She kept moving on. She learned not to put roots down anywhere, never to get too attached to anyone. She traveled all over this world and visited others, but for her, there could be no place like home.

December 21, 2011 | Fantasy | No Comments »