Friday, September 28, 2012

"Skid Row 'Bots" by h lynn keith (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Eli Root lives on the streets in Memphis. Once a cybermechanic, he now scrounges for food in dumpsters. But late one night, he encounters someone who will change his life and the lives of others: a broken house-'bot called Isaac.


Half in and half out, Eli Root rummaged through the dumpster behind the Ugly Mug, searching for the bag of day-old bagels he expected to be there. The Mug always threw out the day-olds. Used to, when Kyle was working nights, Eli could knock on the back door and Kyle would give him whatever remained of the last quart of milk the shop provided for its customers to lighten their coffee with. But that ended when Kyle graduated college and moved away.

Eli was a little late tonight, making his rounds, and he hoped that someone else had not got here before him and robbed him of most of his day's calories. Probably not. Pickings were better toward the river, in and around downtown Memphis. Few came this far east, 'cause the cops made life harder for the homeless who wandered into the affluent neighborhoods. 'Course it could be one of those lean nights when the Mug had no leftovers to throw away.

A tug on his jeans startled him.

"Excuse me, sir, but if you should find a JUR1201 replacement unit there, would you be so kind as to hand it down to me?"

Eli lifted his head out of the dumpster. There in the circle of light, tugging on his pant leg, stood a 'bot, its right arm hanging limply from the shoulder socket. Elliso Model 27 house 'bot, Eli reckoned.

Eli blinked and said, "Sure. Anything else?"

"No, sir, thank you. That will be sufficient."

"Okay." Eli blinked again. "Uh, wanna let go my pants?"

"Oh, yes, sir. Excuse me, sir." The Elliso released Eli's pant leg. It did not blink. It couldn't.

Eli groped through the garbage without success. No JUR1201 replacement unit. No bagels, either. Bad night for man and 'bot.

Eli jumped down from the dumpster. "Sorry, little fella. No luck finding what you want."

Eli knew metal was incapable of displays of emotion, but it seemed that the 'bot's shoulders slumped as it said, "Thank you for your efforts, sir." The 'bot turned and started off. If metal could look dejected, it looked like this.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Also check out keith's website!

Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Silent Spaces" by R.G Rankine (Novelette)

Genre:  Psychological Drama

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Addison had wanted to get away from everything and everyone for a long time. He had planned his escape from the world and thought he would be happy. He was happy. For a while. But once he had made real his plan; once he had withdrawn from the world, he didn't understand why he could not settle. Why did his mind start thinking this way? Was he really alone? What was it he actually wanted? Addison found it was time to confront his dreams; did he really understand the choice he had made?


There was silence, for the first time he could ever recall, real silence. Addison was not sure how long he had been sitting in the silence or what time of day the silence had started; he had destroyed all of the clocks. After his first day in the new house the ticking and chiming felt like hands gripping tight around his neck, every pulse of time was the pulse of his blood screaming for release. So he simply destroyed them and thought no more about time. He felt better for it, a calming of his nerves, he could breath without worrying about his neck being squeezed and soon enough only darkness and sunlight remained of time. Addison stopped by the front room window to take in the silence; standing there he smiled at his success. This was his prize, the reward he had worked so hard for. Addison had always wanted silence but felt it was impossible, he believed there was no town, city or populated square mile in this world that could give him silence. But he had found one place. Standing there he congratulated himself, silently, so as not to disturb the peace. But then he felt like saying aloud, “Well done Addison. Congratulations Addison.” It was okay if he made a noise he thought, this was why he had come here, to be himself, if he made a noise that no one else could hear then he was not upsetting the peace just making his own type of peace. The words hung in the air for a period of time then disappeared, and he felt perhaps that was enough for now and spoke no more. The smile stayed however. Addison enjoyed this smile, maybe his first honest smile as an adult; of course he knew he must have smiled as a child, but he just couldn’t remember, this smile meant something, his body reacted to the smile and his hands and feet and back joined in the smile and his lungs and stomach and heart joined in the smile and he felt wonderful.

Addison slowly strolled around his new front room, hovering one bare foot over the floor for a few seconds before sweeping it down and feeling the pleasure of the soft brush of his new carpet against his skin; then momentarily hovering the other bare foot and sweeping it across. He wasn’t thinking of time, he wasn’t allowing any thoughts of how long he was taking enter his mind, he just carried on strolling around the room enjoying the feeling of aloneness, and when eventually he tired of raising and lowering his legs, which may have been minutes, may have been hours, he stopped still and surveyed the room one more time. He had yet to decorate or to arrange the scant furniture to his liking, but why hurry he thought; he had no deadlines, no alarm clock that would strike his body like the onset of a heart attack gripping every nerve and muscle like a merciless vice. He could move his things around when the moment came, that moment could be now or it could be then, he didn’t care and he didn’t allow the thought of caring to enter his mind.

As he stood still, drifting his gaze across the blank walls, he thought about how when the next morning came he would have to go outside for the first time since moving in. The thought didn’t worry him, it was just part of the process, he had set things up a long time before he moved here and was confident his arrangements would work. Addison was actually looking forward to it. As arranged with a company that he had already forgotten the details of, a large parcel of food and general supplies would be delivered to a secure spot on his new land; far enough away so that the van would not be heard, even in the most silent of silent nights, but near enough that he could walk there easily without risking encountering anyone. The parcel would contain enough bottles of water, tins of fruit and healthy foods for what he considered a long enough period of time and he would then walk out and get the next one when needed. Addison hadn’t marked out the dates the deliveries would arrive as he had destroyed his calendar and his diary many mornings ago. He would simply go when the current provisions had gone, by which time the next parcel would be there; his one concern would be that he would start to walk to the parcel while the van was still there, he would be forced to listen to the sounds of tyres screeching and the rattling exhaust coughing up like a sea of old sick men. He would be forced back into a world of noise and chaos and he dreaded having to endure the drone of the engine as it disappeared from view. Addison was quite convinced this wouldn’t happen, he had purposefully and expensively arranged for the deliveries to happen at a time in the darkness, a time that he would never have any reason to go out in; there would never be a reason to hear the sound of machinery again.

Addison thought about his first walk outside and brightened. He danced around at the thought of a silent walk in the outdoors. He dipped his head, closed his eyes and scoured his memory for any time in his life when he had been outdoors in silence and came up with nothing. He thought of his old park, the walk along the motorway where the birds would sing alongside the constant hidden roar of car engines, and the eventual seclusion of his favourite spot under the horse chestnut tree. It was beautiful; trees and grass as far as he could see and even though he knew there were buildings just out of view, he could get them out of his mind because he couldn’t see them. The noise never left though. Addison raised his head again as the sound of the gentle thunder of a thousand far away cars flooded back to him. He quickly opened his eyes and involuntarily breathed out, “No.” Addison was talking to himself giving himself the answer to his question, no; he had never been outside in silence. Shutting out the noise of the imaginary traffic he forced himself to resume the expectation of a silent stroll in his new land. He felt his excitement return and the grin that had hardly left him in his new home strengthened. Addison realised that there was no reason he couldn’t just walk outside now and experience what he so desired, but controlled, he silently answered himself that because there was no reason, that was reason for him not to go, and he had had enough of feeling compelled to do things because they were there to be done; so he stopped and told himself to behave in the free manner he wanted, and that meant waiting. With a jolt of his shoulder he turned one hundred and eighty degrees and resumed the long sweeping motions of his legs and carried on swishing around his room and told himself to do so until he felt like stopping.

“Cars fly past me constantly, their lights scorching the back of my eyes, there is no let up, the noise fills my ears, beeping, engines turning too fast, I have to stop my eyes releasing tears I don’t know the reason for, anger swelling in my veins, I feel impotent to stop the torrent, it never lets up.”

Addison broke away from his swishing around and felt like walking through the rooms of the house. He had yet to furnish them all but he enjoyed the feeling of freedom that gave him, he was in no rush to get the rooms ready and he was not expecting anyone. He liked imagining how he would make each room look, the colours, the textures and most importantly, the feel. Addison wanted every room to feel his, to feel home. Addison smiled and said aloud, “Home.” Stepping into the long wide hall Addison saw the identical doors of his many rooms spread down its length, his intended kitchen, his intended office, the first of his intended bathrooms, his intended dining room and the second of his intended bathrooms. Then the hall turns sharp right, around that corner one more identical door leading to his intended games room lay in wait for him before the hall finishes at the entrance to his home. Addison didn’t think about the basement and he didn’t think about the first floor either. He didn’t want to rush into seeing everything, running the risk of becoming over familiar before being familiar. It was big and it was grand but it wasn’t lived in and he was savouring the feeling of freshness. Addison lifted his arms and drew a deep breath grinning all the while as for the thousandth time he felt the openness and space of his home. Addison stopped and pondered at his relaxation, he felt no cramps in his shoulders, no gripping tension pulling his head into his chest; there was no claustrophobic apprehension in him.

“I passed the salt as was politely requested and the movement of my arm was followed all its way by a large smile, the smile stretching wider when our fingers touched as her hand took the salt from me, ‘Thank you darling.’ The room was filled with the clinks of twisting, cutting and slicing knives and forks, the whole family happily enjoying their meal. Every now and again my cheeks would flush red as my eyes met my wife’s and a wordless connection would linger between us. Everything on the table is in its place, we are in a perfect vacuum and nothing exists outside of our table. Slowly the food turns grey and I smell nothing, the table melts and my family separate into tiny bubbles and float away in all directions.”

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Rankine's website!

Friday, September 14, 2012

"The Reclaimed" by Phil Stern (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  What happens when a family man comes back from the dead to find his mistress married to someone else? 

Death is never final in Greenville, a frontier community on a faraway planet. Every year the townspeople vote on who will be Reclaimed, granting them a new life following an untimely, fatal accident. Often the elections are divisive, pitting neighbor against neighbor, or even family members against one another.

But when Ned Polanski comes back from the dead to a gloating wife and tense rejection from his young love, the brutal emotional aftershocks threaten the town's very survival.


There were many who still wondered how Ned Polanski had been elected a week before. Having already lost his bid to be Reclaimed twice, many saw Ned as a perennial loser. Two years ago he'd lost out to a strapping, popular farm youth kicked in the head by an ornery mule just a few weeks before the ballots were cast. And last year, Greenville had chosen to Reclaim the daughter of Lance Guspie, the prestigious town banker, who had perished giving birth to a healthy son. The young woman had a strong case to begin with, but many were also influenced by the idea of old Mr. Guspie taking out his revenge on the accounts of those who voted against him. Ostensibly the voting results were secret, but you never knew.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Phil's website!

Friday, September 7, 2012

"The Whispering Tombs (Quality Times #1)" by Gayle Ramage (Novella)

Genre:  Adventure, Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Meet Quality Times, just your average 21st century woman who happens to own a shrinkable time machine. Along on her intergalactic adventures is Tim, a self-confessed sci-fi geek who takes everything in his stride.

In 'The Whispering Tombs', Quality and Tim are residing at the luxurious Baala Haven Resort, on an unpronounceable planet, when they're invited on a quest to find ancient hidden treasure by a wealthy alien archaeologist. Reaching the caves of Azrokaran, however, loyalties are tested to the very limits as those within the group reveal their true colours.

A light-hearted mix of science fiction, adventure and humour.


I dropped the pen onto the desk and stared at the words on the page until they blurred before me. God, how pointless. How in the world did I manage to get coaxed into writing a bloody journal by a teenage boy?

Describe your experiences. Tell humanity of the worlds you’ve been to and the different species you’ve encountered, he’d said. Then we can hop back to the 16th century and leave the book somewhere. It’ll really freak out the archaeologists! The poor sap had even paid for a customised t-shirt bearing the legend: AN ARCHAEOLOGIST FREAK-OUT. Yes, he was that sad.

Tim, he of the customised t-shirt, had gone out for the evening, sampling the night life on this planet. It was our first night at the Baala Haven Resort, Baala being the region of this unpronounceable world. I should have really been out, too, living it up and shaking it down but, to be honest, I’d rather have popped into my incredibly comfy-looking bed and have inappropriate dreams about the blue Adonis who’d caught my eye when Tim and I had arrived.

Tim had asked me if I wanted to join him, but more out of courtesy than anything else. As I had been eyeing up Bluey, Tim had his eyes firmly on a pair of Barbie dolls standing in the queue behind us. I’m not being rude when I refer to them as Barbies. They did genuinely resemble the toys so beloved of young girls, even down to the plastic-looking skin. No, Tim didn’t want me cramping his style, though if I wasn’t so tired, I probably would have made damn sure I did.

I slipped underneath the soft blankets, ready for a good night’s sleep, then remembered the SD pills. SD stands for Sweet Dreams and does what it says on the tin. What you do is spend ten minutes or so focussing on whatever it is you want to dream about before chucking the little orange things down your throat. I’m not sure how they work exactly. Something to do with the stuff in the pills contacting your brain and catching your thoughts pre-sleep. I didn’t know if it would work, but I was more than willing to give it a try.

I had reached the point in the dream where Bluey peeled off his skin-tight underpants when I was rudely awakened by Tim hissing my name. Believe me, if you opened your eyes to find a spotty youth inches from your face, you’d scream, too.

‘Shut up, will you.’ He stepped back to avoid a thump. ‘It’s only me.’

‘Exactly,’ I muttered. ’Now fully awake, I sat up and glanced out the window looking onto the silver-sanded beach. It was still dark. ‘Is that... burning I can smell?’ I asked, sniffing the air.

Tim nodded, his cheeks turning a similar colour to his hair.

‘What happened?’

‘It wasn’t my fault,’ he began, after a moment’s pause. ’I mean, she looked plastic. I didn’t realise she actually was plastic.’

‘At the risk of sounding repetitive, what happened?’

‘Well, you know those two females we saw in the lobby earlier?’

‘You mean the ones I saw and you drooled over? Yes, I remember them.’

He gave me an unimpressed look before continuing. ‘Well, after partying for a bit, we went back to their apartment and-’

I raised a hand. ‘Spare me the graphic details, Timothy.’

‘Huh, we didn’t even get to that! We flirted for a bit, then the girls decided to get more drinks from the kitchen. I felt a bit cold, but there wasn’t a fireplace like we’ve got, so I found a bundle of candles hiding away in a drawer. Thought it might be a bit sexy, y’know. Romantic.’

Plastic girls. Burning candles. I could see the punch line coming, but let him continue.

He started to twist the hem of his red chequered shirt. ‘They came back through and, well, started going mental, screeching like mad harridans! Screamed at me to put out the flames. I did, and planned to get the hell out of their as soon as I could. Except one of the girls tripped over their feet and went flying.’

‘And she came into contact with a flame and started to melt,’ I finished.

‘Something like that. She’s all right, though. Still alive. It was strange, though. When the flame touched her, her whole arm was set alight.’

‘Hang on. Wait a minute. Does this little mishap mean we’ve been kicked out of the resort?’

He frowned. ‘No. I got a bit freaked out, that’s all.’

I stared at him. He’d woken me up, taken me away from untold pleasurable dreams about Bluey, because he was “a bit freaked out”?

‘They called the reception desk. Someone came to take her to the medical unit. Her sister went with her so I came here.’ He sighed, and sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘I need a drink.’

‘You need a shower,’ I shot back. ‘Sod off back to your own room and I’ll see you in the morning.’

He gave me a vacant look. ‘It is morning. Or what constitutes morning in this place.’

‘But... it’s dark outside,’ I said redundantly.

‘The people on this planet don’t sleep for long. Only a couple of hours in Earth time. The resort lets the residents sleep for as long as they want ’cos, well, they’re paying guests, but a lot of the natives are already up and about.’

‘Aren’t you the expert all of a sudden,’ I said. ’Well, as long as nobody comes in to change the bedding, I’m travelling back to the land of nod.’ I lay down and threw the covers back over me.


With a heavy sigh, my head emerged from the blankets. ‘What now?’

‘I bumped into someone on the way here, got talking and, well, we’re invited to breakfast with him.’

I was tired, but also hungry. In the end, I swore and got out of bed. Tim obviously gauged my mood correctly. He departed pretty quickly, informing me he’d go back to his own room for a quick wash before returning for me in half an hour. I waved a “whatever” hand, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Twenty-nine minutes later, refreshed, awake and smelling faintly of jasmine and cotton milk shower gel, I left my room. Tim stood outside, wearing black jeans and another of his slogan t-shirts. This beauty declared: “My other ship is a TARDIS”, which was rather lost on a universe that didn’t enjoy British science fiction shows. In fact, in the first few weeks of our intergalactic travels, Tim had gone around claiming he was a Timelord from Planet Gallifrey, called The Hacker. It didn’t last long. No one had a clue what a Timelord was, nor which system Gallifrey was part of. Soon afterwards, Tim had been forced to admit he was just a regular human being from 21st century Earth. The idiot.

He was regarding a row of paintings depicting some of the resort’s important, rich clients. They looked like rejects from Doctor Who and, when you think about the state of some of the monsters that were used in the show, well, you can only imagine the ones affronting our eyes at that moment.

My room sat on the ground floor, so we took a walk along to the dining area, already populated with various-coloured, limbed, and sized beings eating and chatting with one another. I scanned the surroundings for my blue crush, but instead my eyes rested on a hirsute creaturing putting a porridge-like substance into a place no porridge-like substance has any place being in. I looked away so fast I almost knocked over one of the marble-skinned waiters carrying a tray of brightly-coloured drinks. I gave him a sheepish smile and trailed after Tim.

He’d stopped at a table currently occupied by an incredibly thin, grey-skinned humanoid in what appeared to be an early 20th century safari outfit, khaki-coloured clothing covering his pallid tone. I observed with uneasy fascination as the food he ate slid visibly down his throat, he was so thin. I gulped self-consciously and vowed to order a big breakfast.

‘Tim!’ The breakfaster greeted as we sat down across from him. His bead-like black eyes landed on me. His nostrils emitted wisps of blue smoke, and the slit beneath stretched into a grin. He introduced himself as Bob, a rather rich being from Planet Gastron, somewhere neither Tim nor I had had the pleasure – or misfortune – of visiting yet.

‘Bob? That’s a bit of an Earthy sort of name,’ I said.

‘Oh it is. Many years ago, it became fashionable for visitors to Earth to give their offspring common human names. My parents, particular fans of the British Isles, thus named me Bob. I quite like it. Sounds exotic.’ He shifted in his seat and looked at me. ‘Now, Tim. Are you going to introduce me to your charming friend?’

Tim looked up from the menu booklet in his hands. ‘Oh yeah. This is Quality Times.’

‘I bet they are,’ said Bob, in a suggestive manner.

I groaned inwardly.

‘She’s my... mum.’

‘What?’ I exploded. ‘When exactly did I have you? When I was fifteen?’

Tim shrugged. ‘It happens.’

‘Not to me it bloody well doesn’t.’ I looked at Bob. ‘He’s my adopted brother,’ I lied. ‘His own family didn’t want him. I really can’t understand why.’ I added, giving Tim a smug look.

I received a one-fingered salute in return.

A waiter approached our table, wearing the typical service uniform of a white shirt, black waistcoat and trousers – yes, the uniform was universal. We both ordered a large English fry-up and cups of strong tea. The waiter made a note and scooted away again. The resort, we’d quickly found out, catered to every species in existence, even humans. You could even get pot noodles, here.

‘So, Bob,’ began Tim, leaning back in his chair. ‘What brings you to Baala? A bit of a break from the daily grind?’

‘Something like that. My assistant and I are here for work and pleasure.’

Oh god, I thought, he’s probably having a grubby little affair with some buxom bimbo.

‘And what brings you two here?’ Bob asked in return, finishing off his food.

‘Pleasure,’ Tim explained. ‘We heard about this place, so thought we’d come and check it out. It’s not half bad,’ he said, looking around.

A different waiter from the one before arrived at our table. ‘Are you Tim, the human?’ he asked with a heavy sigh.

‘Yeah. Who wants to know?’ Tim replied, his eyebrows dipped in a frown.

‘One of our guests asked me to give you this.’


The waiter raised a hand and slapped Tim hard across the face. Those sitting nearby paused to behold the aftermath. Tim sat there in stunned silence, cradling his blotchy cheek in his hand. I felt sorry for him. Almost.

‘What was that for?’ he asked, his bottom lip trembling.

‘The lady made the request,’ explained the waiter, pointing to the far side of the room where the two Barbies stood by the entrance doors. One of them supported a bandaged arm. Directing a smug look towards us, they turned heel and left.

Buy this story on Amazon US or Amazon UK.