Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Maniac & Other Stories" by Debbie Bennett (Short Stories)

Genres:  Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Stories

Summary:  A collection of short stories celebrating all that is weird in our world, including escaped murderers, haunted fairgrounds, genetic engineering and population control. From a twist-in-the-tale shortie to an adaptation of a episode of a UK horror television series, by means of fantasy, mythology and urban sf/horror, there's something here for everyone.

This is an adult collection – no explicit sex (that I can remember), but some stories contain swearing.


Daughter of Lir

There’s a keen wind off the cliffs tonight. Banshees wail in harmony with the mournful cries of the seagulls that circle above the waves. The tide is in too, a rhythmic pounding on the rocks – the sea’s heartbeat growing stronger as the hour approaches. There is a feeling of anticipation in the darkness; lives have changed, battles been won and kingdoms lost on nights such as this.

Standing on the headland, by the edge of the crumbling chalk with hair stinging his face like a thousand tiny insects, he waits and watches as he’s waited and watched for what may be a hundred lifetimes. If he closes his eyes, faces the wind and looks with an inner vision, he can see forever out there in the ocean.

But it’s not forever he’s looking for. Not tonight with the memories strong and the image of her so clear in his mind it’s as if time itself has looped back for him, giving him another chance to reach out for her, hold on to her and keep her as he’s kept her love in his heart for so long.

Aisling is her name. Daughter of the Gods and forbidden to one of his kind. Aisling, who came to him on a night like this and left him with such a longing that life became meaningless without her. A sea vision, the sailors said – a child of the ocean sent to snare mortal souls with such beauty and song that could charm the angels from heaven itself and make them seem pale shades, ghostly silhouettes against the spell of the children of Lir. Superstition and yet he believes, for he can hear her now, hear the haunting melodies in the wind and the sea.

There is a power in the song, and power still in the singing.

But his Aisling has no need of such weapons. He is already under her spell and willingly. They have pledged their love for one another and though he knew her time was short, he has her promise to hold onto. And when her father called her home, she swore to return one day, to love him as only a child of the Gods can love.

So each year he waits on the headland and listens to the voices of the sea, secure in an unearthly love for a woman who is not mortal. Each year he listens for the song and hears only the banshees’ cries, premonitions of a death for which he can only dream until he finds her again. For the love of a God carries the price of eternity and he knows he will never find peace without Aisling.

The wind stills to silence. The tide ebbs. There is magic in the air tonight.

Buy this short story collection on the Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"The Camlan Gift" by Robert Collins (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Young Queen Mary has been ousted from her throne by an usurper. While fleeing to safety she meets up with a strange man named Trent Wade. Wade is armed with guns the like no one has ever seen. He offers to teach her allies how to make more such guns. But will there be a price for such advances?

What weighed so heavily on Wade’s mind were the ethics of the situation. As he learned the history of the weapons he’d introduced he stumbled onto the social and political effects of them. There was a lot that could result from the battle, and not all of it was good.

But faster than a ship could enter stardrive he dismissed his doubts. “King” Morgan was a religious fanatic, a butcher, and a primitive chauvinist. Mary would not only be a good Queen, but she was right for her time. And he still didn’t think he’d have been very safe in Morgan’s hands.

Feeling better, Wade decided to go out on a nature walk, and try to listen in on the generals. He strode out of the room reassured and confident.

Buy this short story for the Kindle or on Smashwords.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Stories" by Robert Collins (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Daniel and Tamara were supposed to be part of humanity’s effort to settle distant planets. Instead they spend their lives going forward in time, passing along news and entertaining colonists. They wonder if they’re making a difference. Then they come to a colony that’s taking a dark turn. Will their skills help or hurt their effort at change?

“More receptive this time,” Daniel said as he typed at the terminal. “More interested in me. Eager to hear what’s going on beyond their own little colony.” He glanced back. “Tam? You hear me?” He turned. She was sitting on the bed, still in her blouse and underwear. She seemed to be staring at the floor. “What’s bothering you?”

He got up and went to her side. “Hey, kid, what’s wrong?”

“I dunno.” She looked him in the eyes. “Anything strike you as strange about this colony?”


“Yeah. The men behaved... weird around me.” She stood, and took a few steps away. “I mean, it’s not like they were rude to me, or didn’t want to talk to me. But I got the feeling they were a little put out when I asked them things. Like, they weren’t expecting me to ask.” She sighed. “I dunno. You think I’m imagining all that?”

“I think,” he said, standing to take her hands in his, “that you should relax, Tamara dear.” He kissed her quickly. “We’ll get back to Earth soon enough. We’ll make a report, and see if they think something should be done. That’s the most we can do right now. About Terra Three, I mean,” he added gleefully.

She pushed her feet up until she was standing on her toes, the returned his kiss. “I’d like to get some rest, Dan. Who knows how early it’ll be at our next stop.” She let go of his hands and drifted away. He sighed loudly. “I’m not listening,” she sang in a soft, higher than normal voice, “and I need my beauty sleep.”

“No, you don’t.”

Read this short story on the Kindle or on Smashwords.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"What To Change" by Robert Collins (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Doug Patterson is nearing 30 and feels his life has been one mistake after the other. A mysterious professor sends him a letter, offering him the chance to go back in time to change his life. Will Doug take that chance? If he does, what will he change?

The first time Doug considered going back in time to change his life was when he was twelve, on the last day of sixth grade. He hadn’t yet begun to read the great stories of time travel. He hadn’t tried to write a science-fiction story. He hadn’t even seen an episode of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek by that age.

He’d had a crush on Mary Swallow all year. He could never screw up the courage to tell her he liked her. He wasn’t bold enough to ask her out. He was too nervous to sit next to her in class. On the last day of school the final issue of the elementary newspaper came out, and everyone was getting their copies signed by their friends. He wrote an roundabout note on her copy that more-or-less said that he liked her.

That evening, as he sat at home while his classmates partied at Rebecca Schmidt’s house, he considered going back to change what he’d written.

As Doug suffered through his teen years, those feelings mounted. He regretted not asking a few girls out. Not working harder in Typing so he could get a position on the high school paper. Saying wrong things in various classes. Going to the movies instead of his junior and senior proms.

Then came college, and more regrets. A pointless effort to change the mind of the pompous teacher in his creative writing class that got him booted out. His first fumbling effort at sex. Not working at a job while he studied. Dropping out after two years. Worst of all, that idiotic decision to get that just-out-of-style Duran Duran haircut.

So when the letter came, Doug believed his life was turning out to be a mess. He was working part-time in the mail room of a big law office, struggling to get enough cash to pay off some foolish credit card debts. The handful of stories he’d sold to tiny magazines had earned him little cash and not even a measure of notoriety. His social life consisted of a couple phone-calls to friends every few months.

“Doug Patterson, are you bothered by your life?” the letter asked. “Have you made mistakes that you wish you could correct? Did you miss initiatives or opportunities? Are there things you could have done that you failed to do at the time?

“If you had the chance to fix just one thing in your past, would you take that chance?

“Answer these questions by calling me at the toll-free number under my signature. This is no get-rich-quick scheme. This is not a joke. If you are happy with your life, or at the very least satisfied, then by all means throw this letter away. If you aren’t happy, what will it hurt to call?”

Buy this short story for the Kindle or on Smashwords.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"A Stop At Stanford" by Robert Collins (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Doug Nyren makes videos. He wants to move to a place where the other artists aren’t snobs and his neighbors won’t try to push him to be a sell-out. He visits the tiny town of Stanford on the planet Gypsum. He meets some interesting people there, but will Stanford be the new home he’s looking for?

Doug let his mind wander. He thought back over the towns he’d already been to. Would Stanford be like the artists’ colony he was trying to escape? Would it be filled with people wanting him to be famous, or wanting to be famous themselves? Would it be so obscure he’d have to struggle to maintain what he’d built? Or would Stanford be the place for him to preserve the video career he’d chosen?

I’ll find out soon enough, I guess.

The thought wasn’t much reassurance, but he was running out of such sentiments. The world that he’d been working on had become overrun with an odd mix of fame-seekers and nose-in-the-air artistes. They were driving him away with their desires and opinions. He wanted a place to create his net-movies without having to sell out or sink to snob-appeal.

So far his search had turned up nothing ideal. Each place on each world had too much commercialism, or too many highbrow types, or not enough other creative people to understand him and what he did. The world was flooded with tourists, or so isolated as to be nowhere. He now wondered if he’d have to give up the career path he’d chosen, and compromise his art to fit where ever he ended up.

It was not a comforting thought.

A couple of hours into his trip to the village of Stanford the scenery changed dramatically. Where there had been rolling prairie, now there were tree-covered hills rising sharply around the highway. Winding creeks passed under the road, some with clear currents and white foam. Partial fall foliage created wild patches of brown, orange, and gold among large swatches of green.

The highway ran just north of the town. He took control and turned his vehicle onto the rough street into Stanford. The street crossed only three others before it entered downtown, passing by several modest homes. The “downtown” consisted of two stone and three other business buildings; all appeared occupied. The three other buildings housed a gallery, a gift shop, and the city office. One of the stone buildings was a one-story affair; an elaborate sign across the top read “Stanford General Store.”

The other stone building was the largest in town, two stories tall. A metal canopy covered the entrance. It was newer than the wrought-iron posts that held it up, but the posts were in better shape. Above the second-story windows “Stanford” and “2183” had been carved onto the face. A more recent sign hung from two of the posts proclaiming it as “The Stanford Hotel & Restaurant.” The driver pulled up to it and turned the vehicle off.

He took a moment look around. The town was quiet. The buildings were in good shape, neither decaying nor appearing too alive. The signs over the businesses had personality, but didn’t reek of it. The town made a pleasant low-key impression.

So did the last two, the man thought. They weren’t as pleasant under the surface.

Read this short story on the Kindle or on Smashwords.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Signs and Wonders" by Alex Adena (Novella)

Genre:  General Fiction

Short Story Type:  Novella

Summary:  A faith-healer since childhood, Annie Grace has conned the masses to achieve fame and fortune. But her life starts to unravel after a district attorney targets her and a pesky television reporter threatens to ruin her ministry. As a crisis of faith develops, Annie discovers she really can perform miracles. What is the meaning of these Signs and Wonders?

She counted the dimples on the ceiling.
No, really.
Dimples. On the ceiling.
Twelve, thirteen, fourteen …
Annie Grace did not want to answer the hotel wake-up call, so this is what it had come to. Counting dimples on the crackle finish on the ceiling. It was a beautiful hotel room, wherever she was. Temple, Texas? No, Temple was yesterday. This was … she couldn’t remember. Her days blurred together. Also, her head was pounding from all the whiskey she had downed the night before.
Next to the phone was the bottle, which had a half-glass left, and two lead-crystal glasses. Two. Annie grimaced as she pondered what other Bad Choices she had made last night. Whatever they were — and wherever she had made them — she had made them in comfort. The sheets felt like silk. The pillows were perfect down-filled clouds of bliss.
The phone was going to keep ringing until she answered. Ernesto surely left that instruction with the clerk at the front desk. Ernesto left nothing to chance. He took good care of Annie, making sure that even if her schedule was a grind, she spent the night in the nicest room in town. That room always had her favorite scotch whiskey.
“Hello?” Annie answered. She could have said anything and gotten the same response, but her throbbing forehead had sapped her of her sass and spunk. “Um, oh. Thank you.”
The clock radio next to the phone showed it was ten in the morning.
Putting the phone back down, she pulled the sheets to her chin and went back to studying the ceiling. She couldn’t focus, however, as those two glasses kept reminding her that she wasn’t drinking alone last night. The second clue was when Annie determined the shower had been running … and had just stopped.
“Hey! Um … ummm … Randy?” she blurted, instantly realizing she had picked the wrong name. Like it mattered.
The young man who walked out of the bathroom was tall and trim, wearing jeans and a white shirt that gripped his muscular chest. This guy was clearly at the top of the list of the Bad Choices that Annie had made in her life.
“It’s Kevin,” he said.
“Whatever. I need you to go. Now,” Annie said. She didn’t really mean it but the phone was going to ring again if she wasn’t out of there soon.
“Don’t you want to have more fun?” Kevin teased.
He started to lift his shirt. Annie wanted to start counting abs. She really did.
But she resisted. “You’re not listening to me. I have to be somewhere. And I’m late.” She made a shooing motion with her right hand, like Marie Antoinette dismissing one of her subjects.
He finally got the point and left.
Annie had met him the night before at Mickey’s Roadhouse and, after a few drinks, started giggling at his lame jokes. It took her a few more drinks before she started talking about her late daddy. Annie knew he didn’t care, but she knew he would listen as long as he thought there would be fun later in the night.
Did they have fun? Eh. She guessed so. Was it a distraction? Yup.
In a blur, Annie took the world’s fastest shower and got dressed. Some women needed two hours to prep themselves for what Annie was about to do, but she had it down to a science. Everything had been put in its place before she had gone out drinking, and even with a hangover — even if she was blindfolded — she could be ready to go in five minutes. It was her uniform and it worked. Every time. A black pencil skirt highlighted her long legs and trim waist. Annie’s blonde hair flowed down her back, and her white blouse was cut just low enough to reveal the faintest trace of cleavage. Black, high-heeled boots cemented the confident-but-sexy, beautiful-and-bold image she had carefully cultivated all these years.
Annie glanced down at the nightstand and the bottle. She poured the remains of the whiskey into a glass and gulped down the dregs. One fog descended over her while a different one lifted.
Waco, she realized. She was in Waco.
Randy? He was two nights ago … and not as cute as Kevin.

Buy this short story for the Kindle or read it on Smashwords.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Spacer Tales: The Lonely Engineer" by S J MacDonald (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Welcome to Kluskey's spacer hangout. Here, spacers swap yarns of ghost ships, space monsters, the weird and wonderful and the downright daft. In this first story, veteran spacer Jok tells the story of the last survivor of a doomed starship.

Most of them knew that story already and had probably heard many versions of it in many bars on many worlds, but it was a good old favourite and got a pleased reaction. The few who didn’t know it – the kid and some of the cadets – looked intrigued as the old man paused, building a dramatic silence before starting to speak.

‘It was in the year twelve, out in Sector Nine. The freighter Surehaul Logistics 7 was hauling cargo out from Karadon to Canelon. A steadfast class whalebelly, it was.’ He looked at the kid, and seeing no recognition added for his benefit, ‘Six thousand tonnes, twenty eight engines. Slow old ships, but there are still quite a lot of them out there, packing cargo. The Surehaul 7 was an unlucky ship. It had an engine dephase the first year it was launched and four years after crashed into a spacedocks pylon, nearly writing it off. It was an independent for more than ten years under the name Emilia May, till the skipper went bankrupt. Then it sat in a spaceyard for more than a year till this Surehaul Logistics outfit bought it at a knockdown price. They changed its name, which as everyone knows is the unluckiest thing you can do to a ship…’ That got nods and murmurs of agreement from the spacers, which Jok took no notice of as he continued, ‘but worst of all, these Surehaul clowns had no idea what they were doing. They were groundhogs, money men, trying to get rich by buying starships cheap and hustling cargo. They gave the skippers next to no allowance for maintenance and ran with the cheapest crew they could get.’

There were murmurs of disapproval from the spacers, who knew how vital it was to invest in the safety of a ship both in technology and quality of crew. Tiny and fragile, starships hurtled superlight through wave space, perhaps not even seeing another ship for weeks at a time. They were entirely dependent on their own resources in the most hostile wilderness known to man.

‘There were seven souls on board,’ said Jok, with a tone which made it clear that nothing good was going to happen to them. ‘There ought by rights to have been ten or eleven, but the Surehaul owners wouldn’t pay for more than seven.

‘The skipper was Al Harthorn. He’d been unemployed for three years after being fired from White Star Freight for being drunk in command. A sour, bitter man who didn’t care about anything but his next paycheck. Then there was the engineer, Jernak Tamarez. He was forty two, and had been a deckhand for nearly twenty years before getting his mate’s ticket.’ The spacers nodded. In order to serve as skipper, mate or engineer aboard a commercial starship you needed qualifications and a licence from the Merchant Shipping Authority. Unless you were lucky enough to be taken on by one of the big shipping corporations who’d put you through college and their own officer training colleges, that could be a long, hard, expensive business.

‘He’d been stuck on Karadon for four months, trying to get a mate’s berth,’ Jok said, ‘and got the berth on the Surehaul 7 when their previous engineer walked off it, saying it was a coffin ship and he wouldn’t be responsible for it any longer. The other five – well, there was the cargo boss, who was no spacer at all but a groundhog hired by the company to hustle the cargo. Then there were three deckhands, one of them a gambler, one handy with his fists, and a packer working passage.’

That was commonplace, tech-qualified backpackers working passage to travel between worlds. They generally weren’t fussy about the kind of ship they worked on, so long as it was heading in the right direction. The other two sounded like the kind of crew who’d struggle to get berths on quality ships, since few skippers were keen to have gamblers or fist-happy crew. ‘And,’ Jok went on, looking directly at the groundhog kid, ‘there was the galley hand. Sixteen years old, mad to go into space, he couldn’t get a berth at his homeworld so he’d bought a ticket to Karadon hoping to get something there.’

The groundhog kid turned pink. Like thousands of other wannabe-spacers, he too had decided that if he couldn’t get a job on a starship here at Neuwald he would head out to the League’s biggest deep space station. Everyone knew that Karadon was Spacer Central. Strategically located where eight major space lanes crossed, it was a duty-free trading station providing every facility for spacers. Cargos were bought and sold there, and spacers wanting to head off in different directions often hopped ship there, too, with a busy turnover. Rumour amongst the wannabe-spacer community was that it was easier to get a berth on Karadon, and that making your own way out there was considered to be showing an enterprising spirit.

‘Fonse, his name was,’ Jok said. ‘Just a rookie kid, hired to cook, clean and help out with whatever work he could. He didn’t know no better than to take the berth on the Surehaul 7.’ The veteran spacer paused, taking a sup of his cornbeer and settling himself to continue with the story.

Read this short story on the Nook or on Smashwords.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"A Phone Conversation" by Emily Martha Sorensen (Flash Fiction)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Flash Fiction

"White House."
The little boy breathed heavily on the phone as he talked. "Hello, is this McDonald's?"
The president paused from emptying out old files from his desk. "This is the president of the United States speaking." He cleared his throat meaningfully. "On an unlisted number."
"Oh." The little boy exhaled loudly for a moment. "I guess I called the wrong place. I thought I was calling McDonald's."
The president clicked a button to record their conversation. He had his doubts about that. "Where did you get my unlisted phone number from?"
The voice sounded puzzled now. "I don't know anything about numbers. I just pressed the name on Mommy and Daddy's list."
"List?" The president sat up, suddenly alert. "List of what?"
"List of people I should call in case someone came in when they weren't home and I was, and my sister just came in, and they haven't come back with my Happy Meal yet."
There was a long pause. "I -- see. A Happy Meal, you say."
"The kind with toys in it."
The president took a deep breath, trying to work out whether the child was sincere, or if this was a crank call. The latter was much more likely. "Happy Meals usually do. Do your parents leave you
alone often?"
"Not when my sister's here."
"Other than that."
"Well, she wasn't here before."
The president leaned back in his chair, trying to calm down. He had more important things to do; the sooner he cleared this mystery up, the better. "No supervisor?"
"I don't need one."
"Little children shouldn't be left in the house alone."
The boy sounded puzzled. "If they didn't leave me, they couldn't go anywhere."
The president was feeling distinctly irked. "They could take you with them, couldn't they?"
The boy panted into the phone for a minute, probably considering a response. "I'm not allowed out of the house until I metamorphose."
The president struggled to keep his temper in check. "Why don't you hang up and try not to dial my number next time?"
Ring, ring!
The president snatched at the phone on his desk. "Hello?"
The voice was familiar. "Oh, I guess it's you again."
Ring, ring!
The child's voice sounded amazed. "Is it still you?"
The president clenched his teeth. "It's still me." And three calls couldn't indicate a wrong number. The president pressed the recording button again. Why on Earth weren't his calls being screened?
The little boy spoke in a confidential whisper. "I think Mommy and Daddy programmed the caller wrong, 'cause I keep pressing the McDonald's name, but I'm not getting McDonald's."
The president fought to control his temper. The crank call was no longer funny. "Where did your parents get my number from?"
There was silence for a moment, punctuated by heavy breathing. "Dunno. I guess from those files."
"What files?"
"The ones they find all the numbers from."
The president's mind raced. A child whose parents worked in the White House? Or who were hackers? Either was a possibility. Of course, it was always more likely that the caller was a hacker who
thought crank calls were exceedingly funny.
They weren't.
The president tried to keep his voice level. "May I speak with your parents?"
"They're not home right now."
The president struggled to avoid sounding annoyed. "Yes, you mentioned that. Where are they now? Do they have a cellphone?"
"I don't know what a cellphone is."
"Tell me their names, then, and I'll have them paged."
The little boy breathed into the phone for a minute. "What's paged?"
"It means I call their names on a loudspeaker."
"What's loudspeaker?"
The president fought his temper under control again. "Just tell me their names and where they are."
"They're Mommy and Daddy, and I dunno where they are."
The president ground his teeth. "An estimate."
"I dunno. Probably halfway between Alpha Centuri and Sol, if the lines weren't long." The little boy added, in his confidential whisper, "I don't like it when the lines are long. I get hungry, and
then I go into hibernation and it takes forever to wake up, and when I do, my food's all cold."
This joke had gone far enough. He put a tracer on the call. "Where are you?"
"In my house."
The president sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He'd forgotten how maddening little boys could be. He could deal with congressmen, but little boys were something else. "What's the address?"
"I don't remember. It's too long."
The president tried to sound patient. "It's not good to forget your address. What would you do if you got lost?"
"I'm not allowed out of the house until I metamorphose."
The president's temper broke free. "This is no longer funny! I want to know where your parents are and how you found my private, unlisted number!"
The little boy breathed heavily into the phone as he thought. "Mommy and Daddy left it on the list, right next to the universal translator."
The president ground his teeth. "How did they get it?"
"I dunn--"
There was a high-pitched scream, and a series of thumps. The
president heard a pair of angry voices at the exact moment the tracer
came up negative.
"Hey, sis, get your tentacles off the caller! That's mine!"
Then the line went dead.

Visit Emily's website.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Backlash" by Nancy Fulda (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Short Story Type:  Novelette

Summary:  Eugene Gutierez lost his wife, his pride, and part of his sanity during an undercover anti-terrorist operation in South America. Now, he's about to be recruited by operatives from the future; and they're not going to let him say no.

When Eugene finds a cryptic message in a restaurant fortune cookie, he thinks his daughter's boyfriend is pulling a prank. The truth is far more complex, and will lead Eugene on a journey to heal old wounds and restore his broken family.

Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, this novelette was listed in Tangent Online's 2010 recommended reading list and received an Honorable Mention in Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction.

A quiet Chinese girl collected our plates after the meal. She placed a hand-wrapped fortune cookie at each setting, gave me a searching look, and vanished into the crowded restaurant.

Clarise nibbled the end off her cookie and withdrew the fortune with the same flamboyant grace she had shown as a child. “‘Time is a fickle ally’,” she read. “Confucius must know I turn twenty-three tomorrow.” She feigned indignation, but it couldn’t mask her natural poise. She was resplendent in a tailored business suit, her hair twining free of the twist she wore at the office.

I take Clarise out every year for Valentines’ Day. It started as a consolation prize, a sort of Daddy-daughter date to soothe the pain of her breakup with Billy Sanders. Clarise was thirteen at the time; bookish, awkward, painfully insecure. She had grown into her potential since then. The annual Valentines’ dinner had become the highlight of my year; a chance to snatch back fragments of a happier past, to banter with an exquisite woman as I once bantered with her mother.

Which made the interloper to her left all the less welcome. Sean, his name was. Hair too long, shirt too baggy. Decent posture, dreadful table manners. He reminded me of high school punks with big mouths and no sense of humor. But he was the first in a long string of short relationships who actually seemed to make my daughter happy. For that, I supposed, he deserved some respect.

Clarise leaned into her guest’s shoulder as he opened his fortune cookie. “Beware of beautiful women bearing gifts,” he read, and the two of them smiled as if at some private joke. Clarise glanced up and saw me watching them.

“What does yours say, Daddy?” she asked. I snapped my cookie in half and glanced at the paper.

It was covered with spidery lines that somehow seemed random and precisely geometric at the same time. A clear space in the middle hosted crisp black text: Eugene Gutierrez. Activation code: pupae.

My hand was shaking.

“Very funny,” I said, crumpling the message in my fist. “Clarise, if this low-brow prankster is the best you can do for a boyfriend, I suggest you stay single.” I threw the paper onto my plate and stalked away from the table, slapping two fifties on the cashier’s desk as I left. Through the glass fronting of the restaurant, I saw Clarise stretch across the table cloth to retrieve my fortune.

I was halfway down the block when Sean caught up with me.

“Mr. Gutierrez? Mr. Gutierrez, I didn’t, I wouldn’t — I mean, Clarise told me you worked in special ops, but she also told me about the nightmares, and I would never—”

“Go home, boy,” I said. Clarise had been telling him quite a bit, it seemed.

Buy this short story for the Kindle or read it on Smashwords.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"The Man Who Murdered Himself" by Nancy Fulda (Short Story)

Genre: Science Fiction

Short Story Type: Short Story

Summary: Kyle Ameus Waterbey is afflicted with a hideous illness. He would do anything to be rid of it. Anything.

Kyle suffers from neurofibromatosis, a crippling disease most famously associated with the Elephant Man. When a shady medical practitioner offers Kyle a chance to cast off his deformed appearance forever, he accepts without a second thought. But does Kyle truly understand what this new treatment will cost him?

This story has won a Phobos Award and the Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award.

Kyle would not usually have examined the small office as he entered it. Twelve doctors, thirty-seven surgeries, and sixty-three consultations had long ago convinced him that one professional’s abode was more or less like another’s.

When Kyle was four years old, doctors had terrified him. He remembered the bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes of Dr. Rells, his first surgeon. When Dr. Rells delivered the anesthetic before the first operation, Kyle had felt like the victim of a mad scientist about to perform an experimental surgery. He was afraid he would wake up and find that his brain had been removed by accident.

By age nine Kyle had changed surgeons five times. Names and introductions slipped past him unnoticed, and his emotional response to surgery changed from trepidation to disinterest to annoyance. His scars multiplied more quickly than the candles on his birthday cakes.

Kyle’s friends soon lost interest in the story behind each new bandage and suture. His enemies never lost interest in mocking them. The school bully liked to knock him down and poke at the fleshy lumps growing on his back. Kyle’s private vision of hell looked like a middle school locker room.

Once he had been proud of his deformities. Now he despised them. The malformed right hand that the most expensive surgeries could not repair; the ever-so-slight limp when he walked because bone surgery left one leg slightly shorter than the other; the fleshy, purplish bag of flesh on his left side that the doctors had not yet removed — these were the devils that tormented him night after night. Sometimes the tumors on his nerves pinched so tightly that he could not walk, but it was not the pain that kept him from sleeping on hot summer evenings. It was the specter he saw in the mirror.

The night before his twelfth birthday he got out of bed at two a.m. He stood in front of the full-length mirror on his bedroom door for three hours, staring at the discolored landscape that should have been a human chest. Hundreds of spongy, cauliflower-shaped tumors poked from beneath his flesh. Most of the lumps were the size of a marble, but some were as large as golf balls. Scattered on the skin between the tumors were dark brown patches on his flesh. They were called “cafĂ© au lait” spots: the trademark symptom of neurofibromatosis. That night Kyle did not consider suicide. But he smashed the mirror and went to bed with his fists still bloody.

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