Nancy Brewka-Clark – Familiar

Familiar

by

Nancy Brewka-Clark

“Mistress Lorna Fey?” At the crone’s nod, Kate whispered, “I need a hex.”

“Ah. Come in, and take a seat.”

A swirl around her ankles almost tripped Kate up. “What a lovely kitty.”

“He’s a Scottish Fold. Tips of his ears bend right over like a lightning-riven birch. He likes you, don’t you, Greymalkin? Mustn’t let him be overly familiar.”

“Just like Roger Laniger,” Kate sighed.

“Ro-o-o-o-ger,” the cat yowled, quite clearly, and then spat.

“Greymalkin has no use for weasels,” Lorna said. “Nor do I.”

Kate frowned. “But I didn’t say anything about weasels.”

Lorna cackled. “Laniger is the Latin word for weasel. May I ask what yours has done?”

“Ever since he moved into my building he’s been stalking me.” Kate shivered. “Yesterday he told me he slept with my picture beneath his pillow.”

“Weasels make terrible lovers. All slither.” Lorna was scribbling on a yellow legal pad. “Six curses on his head I shall bestow, and put a sterile curse on all that hangs below.” She tore off the sheet and handed it to Kate. “Remember, spells are made of wishes transformed into words. There is no room for error.”

“Thank you, Mistress Fey.” Opening her purse, Kate thrust in the paper. “What do I owe you?”

“Just one little thing,” Lorna said as she ushered Kate to the door. “I suppose you think I took no notice of your dire shock upon seeing the crone I’ve become.”

“You do look a bit different from your ads,” Kate said. “I apologize.”

“All flesh perishes. But, the spirit? Never. My thousand years in this realm is rapidly drawing to an end. I’ll soon be on a distant plane, and you will take my place. ”

Kate stared at her.

“One seeks, the other finds. One gives, the other takes. One must go, the other must stay. Not that it’s a hardship to wield power. Just the opposite.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.” With a sly grin, Lorna shut the door.

***

Licking his lips, Roger Laniger undid the security chain. “Yo, hot mama, come on in.”

Rapidly Kate spat out each line of the curse until she got to the grand climax. “With currant eyes and pelt as rough as teasel, he’ll run—”

“S-s-s-s-s,” something hissed at her feet.

“—right up my leg! No!”

The weasel scrambled across her right breast to sling itself around her neck. Digging in its claws, it hissed, “Turn me back into a man, you witch, or I’ll bite your ear off.”

“You bite my ear off and I’ll throw you to the dogs.” Kate didn’t actually know any dogs, not savage ones, anyway. The dogs she did know were meek little things on dainty leashes with sparkling collars or bright bandannas. “And I’m not a witch.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” the weasel snarled.

Kate rushed for the staircase with Roger Laniger, now a ferret playing the role of albatross, slung about her neck. Out to the car she dashed, and peeled out of the parking lot to drive off in high gear. And all the while her unwelcome passenger was growling such dire imprecations Kate snapped, “Woof, woof, weasel,” which silenced him for the rest of the ride.

“Lorna?” Kate turned the old brass doorknob. Much to her horror, the purple door swung open onto a realm of cavernous darkness. “Are you in there?”

“About time,” a voice called from the back of the bungalow as a row of candles lit themselves on the mantel. Kate almost wept with relief as Lorna came into the room towing a huge black suitcase. “My plane leaves at eight.” Lorna peered at her. “Brought your own familiar, did you? Greymalkin will have something to say about that.”

“No, no. This is the pest I was telling you about.”

Lorna rubbed her chin, where some white hairs had just sprouted out of a black mole in apparent evidence of her rapidly accelerating decrepitude. “Got careless with the precise words, did you?”

Kate blushed. “I was in the middle of my final curse when he turned into a weasel and scurried up my leg.”

Lorna limped over to scowl at the trembling weasel. “Go home, Roger Laniger, under your own steam. What happened here was all a dream.” She snapped her fingers. “Now flee!”

Lorna and Kate burst into laughter at the sight of Roger, restored to human form, running down the street like a marathoner. When Kate finally turned away from the window, Lorna was cradling a thick volume bound in black leather in her arms.

“Time for a little witchspeak before I vanish into the ether. Verily,” Lorna cackled, “thou shalt never be short of customers. This I swear by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin.”

“So that’s what they’re doing there,” Kate said.

“To everything there is a purpose,” Lorna wheezed.

“Without you, how will I know what it is?”

“You’ll have plenty of time to read the manual,” Lorna said.

“Verily,” Kate giggled.

And from beneath the sofa, Greymalkin yowled in anticipatory glee.

 

 

A longtime author of flash drama, nonfiction, poetry and fiction, Nancy Brewka-Clark is delighted that “Familiar” is the third story of hers to appear in  Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction. Her debut poetry collection Beautiful Corpus will be published by Kelsay Books in June 2020.

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: Jill Hand

If you’ve had a chance to read Jill Hand’s fun and clever flash story “A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack” (find it on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction here), you’ll more than likely have a hankering to check out more of her work….

Jill Hand’s novel, White Oaks, won first place in the 2019 PenCraft fiction awards in the thriller category. Reviewers have called it a wild ride as well as funny, fast-paced gonzo noir. Here’s a link to where to buy a copy on Amazon.

Jill is currently writing a sequel entitled Black Willows. It will be released in the spring of 2020.

Jill Hand – A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack

A Visit from Spring-heeled Jack

by

Jill Hand

It was me what answered the door the night the devil came. I’m Violet Twombey, ‘tween maid, sixteen years old come Saint Swithin’s Day. The butler, Mister Burdle, was usually the one who answers the front door, but he was visiting his brother in hospital, him what got knocked down in the street by an omnibus.

With Mister Burdle away, the hall boy, Jerry, should have went and seen who was a-banging away on the big brass door knocker like a smith at a forge but Jerry was asleep in the coal cellar, wrapped up in a bit of old carpet he keeps down there. Jerry is fond of beer and Mister Burdle not being there to stop him, he made liberal use of the keg. At first he grew merry and sang a number of songs, including one about a woman from the Sandwich Islands who wore nothing but a grass skirt that Cook said was not fit for Christian ears. Then he got quiet and said he was going to go down to the cellar and fill the coal scuttles.

When the knock came at the door, the housemaids, Alice and Susan, was playing beggar-my-neighbour in the servants’ hall. Susan pinched my arm and told me to go see who it was.

As I was rubbing my arm Alice gave me a sweet smile and said, “Won’t you please go, Violet?” Alice is not only nicer than Susan, she is prettier. She will have a husband and a home of her own one day while Susan will not, the mean old thing.

So it was me what went, me what worked in the house eight months, giving no trouble to a mortal soul, fetching and carrying and scrubbing and sweeping, polishing everything that needed polishing, including the brass door knocker that somebody was a-banging away on like to raise the dead. I opened the door and there stood the Devil.

He had a red face and horns like a goat’s and a pointed beard like a Spaniard’s. He wore tall black boots and a black cape. He leered at me most alarmingly with eyes as red as fire and did a capering dance.

“O help! It is the Devil!” I screamed.

Cook came running with Susan and Alice at her heels. The Devil breathed a jet of blue flame and stepped inside, causing them to run back downstairs to the kitchen, screeching like scalded cats.

The mistress came out onto the landing to see what the commotion was about. That’s when the Devil started flinging coloured balls of fire, causing the mistress to shriek and faint dead away.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Devil being so fiendishly cunning, that there was no men in the house to protect us? The master was at his club, as he is most every night. It being a Friday, Mister Ellis, the footman, was in Seven Dials, reading to the people in gin palaces from uplifting books and telling them not to be idle but instead to find honest employment.

At least that’s the story he told Mister Burdle when he asked to be given Friday evenings off. I suspect Mister Ellis was frequenting gin palaces for another reason, that reason being gin.

The Devil gave one last ear-splitting shriek before disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Then when the mistress woke up from her swoon she discovered her jools was missing! Diamond bracelets, emerald ear-bobs, the ruby brooch what the master brought back from India, all vanished. Cook said either the Devil must of took them, or else he had one of his imps do it.

“It must have been an imp, wouldn’t you say, Bert?” That was Alf, my young man. Him and me was strolling in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens the next night, along with Alf’s brother Bert and Bert’s sweetheart Nancy.

“Either an imp or a monkey that escaped from a zoo,” Bert replied, reaching into his pocket for coins to buy ice-creams. Bert’s pockets were heavy with coins for a change, as were Alf’s.

Alf and Bert work in a shop what sells theatrical costumes and magic tricks. Bert is small like an imp, and nimble-fingered like a monkey. He’s bold like a monkey, too, He’s just the fellow to scamper up the back stairs, nip into a lady’s boudoir and nick her jewels when she’s a-lying on the landing in a faint. I pointed to a spot below Alf’s ear, where he’d missed a bit of red greasepaint. “Ta, love,” he said, and wiped it away.

 

Jill Hand is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including, Mrs. Rochester’s Attic, Caravans Awry, and Postcards from the Void, among others.
Her Southern Gothic Thriller, White Oaks, was released May 30, 2019 by Black Rose Writing.

From one of Paper Butterfly’s authors: Scott Hughes.

I’m delighted to give a huge shout out to author Scott Hughes and his most recent work!  His story “The Goblin’s Lament” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in April 2018 (check it out here!).

The Last Book You’ll Ever Read
A mysterious book on your doorstep, a man trying to outrun an otherworldly horror, an elderly woman who creates strange concrete creatures, a computer that isn’t what it seems, an enigmatic nothingness closing in on someone’s house… The Last Book You’ll Ever Read is a collection of five macabre tales that you won’t soon forget. Available now from Weasel Press: https://www.amazon.com/dp/194871227X
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The Universe You Swallowed Whole
The poems in The Universe You Swallowed Whole fly from the microcosm of ripples in a lake to the macrocosm of light bending in a black hole, from math to jazz, from informal to formal, from the here-and-now to the hereafter. This short book contains an infinite universe—one that you will long to return to again and again. Available for pre-order now from Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-universe-you-swallowed-whole-by-scott-hughes/
Hughes_Scott_COV_EM

ScottHughes1

Renee Carter Hall – Penultimate

Penultimate

By

Renee Carter Hall

The room had crashed again. Instead of the rose-patterned wallpaper and the burlap-textured accent wall, the living room glowed fluorescent blue slashed with jagged red lines. She sighed and started the reset, waiting through the parade of logos and offers for upgrades, until the news feed finally came up, tastefully bordered in a gilt frame.

The headlines swept past, each lingering only as long as the room’s interface gauged her level of interest. Updates on the wars, a celebrity’s wedding, the latest public pleas for medical assistance, the new hors d’oeuvre everyone was making, the week’s political scandals ranked in a top-five format. She frowned at one item, and at her concentration it expanded into immersion, trading the walls around her for video and audio.

The last tiger had died, it said, in captivity at one of the western sanctuaries. It was a female, twenty-two years old, named Grace. The video of her caretaker finding the body was both distressing and compelling in its grief, and it played through twice until she closed her eyes. When she opened them, a wave of comments washed by, video and text, crying avatar faces and platitudes, each blending into the next. RIP Grace. Beautiful creature. So sad!!! Then a smattering of cat pictures shared for no apparent reason.

She wondered how many of the people mourning had ever seen a tiger other than in an immersion. The last zoos had become sanctuaries, closed to the public, when she was still a teenager. She had a vague childhood memory of a striped back pressed up against the glass, the tiger asleep on a summer afternoon, mixed in with the scent of popcorn and hot dogs.

The feed moved on, but sluggishly. She still scanned the headlines, but the interface could tell her attention was elsewhere. Finally a soft chime noted that it was her preferred bedtime, so she turned the feed back to the wallpaper and went to bed.

All night, her mind cycled back through photos, videos, a gallery of tigers, an endless parade, as if her own mental feed had gotten stuck on a single subject. Had it known, she wondered, that it was the last? How did anyone know, for certain, that it was the last? Had people so filled in every space, that there was no camouflage left?

She thought of old maps. Here there be dragons, or monsters. Or tigers. That time when there were still gaps big enough to hold entire creatures. That time where a person could not know something and have to live with not knowing it, unable to answer every question in an instant.

She dreamt of forests, of jungles, unmapped spaces where leaf and stone had never felt the sound of a human voice. She followed trails through a dense tangle of lush growth, and when the trail ended, she pulled vines and pushed brush aside with bare hands that ended in curving claws. She dropped to all fours and felt her spine flex. Colour became scent, and sound sharpened.

The next morning, she woke surprised to see her own hands. Her body felt clumsy and foreign. The news feed had long since moved on, and there was nothing else to say about the last tiger. The human community had noted the loss appropriately and grieved it appropriately, but now there was something new that required its due performance of sadness or anger or amusement. To linger too long was to risk being left behind.

She could not think of words to match what she still felt. Something had changed in the shape of the world, but she couldn’t define it, not even to mark it as a loss or a gain. It was something about being the last, though, and something about being alone, of having no one else’s opinions inside your head. It was something about having a pattern all your own, right down to the skin.

She knew, then, that the feed was wrong. If this wild solitude could linger in her, then wildness could always find a place to hide. The last tiger was not lying dead in a security video, caged in pixels of a news feed. It was out there, somewhere in the patches of forest that remained, always at the edges of vision, always a glimpse of pelt, a flash of eye. There would be rumours, but no one would ever find it. It would move through the city streets when everyone was asleep. It would slip through the feed, lurking in the spaces between words. It would live in the eternity between instants, and it would never have a name.

 

Renee Carter Hall’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Podcastle, and Daily Science Fiction. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, their cat, and more books than she will ever have time to read, and readers can find her online at www.reneecarterhall.com and on Twitter as @RCarterHall.

Steve Tem – The Family Man

The Family Man

By

Steve Tem

The suspect’s broad, pallid face betrayed no emotion, but the detective noticed a distinct twitch in the left eye. He was a large man, and held himself very still, only his eyes moving, and occasionally his lips, which he alternately stretched and pursed, as if exercising them in preparation for some sort of strenuous oral activity. The detective found this profoundly unsettling to watch. He sensed that this family man, seemingly devoid of emotion, actually possessed emotion in abundance. But it was deeply buried within that pale grave of flesh.

“Where is your family?” the detective asked again.

The suspect looked puzzled. “I already told you. They’re at home. Safe at home. When can I go back there? I’ve never been away from my family this long.”

“I doubt you’ll be going home at all. In fact, I’d bet on it.” The suspect, still calm, stared at him as if he were a curiosity. The detective, painfully uncomfortable with the man’s gaze and troubled by his complete lack of progress, left the station and drove to the suspect’s home. Two vans from forensics were parked out front. Several uniformed officers canvased the neighborhood. A team of investigators wearing white CSI coveralls, blue PVC overshoes, and nitrile gloves were digging up the front lawn. A large number of wooden crates had already been excavated. He let himself inside the house.

The living room was pristine and sparsely furnished. No magazines on the tables, or ash trays or knickknacks. One interior wall was roughly textured, embedded with sea shells, small stones, and other conglomerated materials. It was different, but oddly pleasing, a piece of the outdoors brought inside. The other walls were plaster-pale. The deep-pile carpeting was white and definitely not kid-friendly. The entire house was like that, more like a model home than where a family actually lived. The scene investigator was jotting down notes just inside the kitchen doorway. He looked up. “Hello, Lieutenant. I should get this guy to clean my house. This place is immaculate.”

“What did you find in the crates he buried?”

“Everything I’d expected to find in the house. Kids’ clothing, toys, a woman’s clothing, purse, make-up, personal items. None of it new. Lots of wear and tear, the toys a little on the shabby side. I don’t think they spent much money on the kids.”

“All the crates were full?”

“Most of them stuffed. Except for four larger crates buried in the side yard. Each was empty except for a single item.”

The detective walked around the room, stared at the conglomerate wall. “What were those single items?”

The investigator read from his clipboard. “Three contained a flannel blanket with cartoon characters on them: birds on one, fish on another, and something I couldn’t identify on the third. Looked like a pig, maybe. The fourth crate held a woman’s cotton robe. Pastel green, plain, no frills.”

“Any organic material?”

“I sent them all to the lab. They were pretty filthy. I’m guessing yes, fluids of some kind. No visible blood.”

“I want a catalog of everything you found in every crate. By tomorrow if possible.”

The investigator scratched his head, made a note. “Of course. But about those four big crates. All the others were near-perfect, smooth. But those four had lots of dings and scrapes across the tops and corners. The newer marks are a good match for that shovel he had in the garage. The older ones were made by something else.”

The detective stopped pacing and stared at him. “Older ones?”

“Yeah. Judging by the marks on the wood, and the condition of the soil, I’m pretty sure those four crates were dug up, pried open, and reburied again. Multiple times, over a period of years.”

The investigator returned to the excavation work outside. The detective got down on his knees and examined the carpet. It had been thoroughly combed, and the contents filed in envelopes. There hadn’t been much: a few hairs, foreign fibers, minute slivers of plastic, glass. The suspect was beyond fussy. The detective wondered how much time the large man had actually spent in this living room—it looked more for display than for living. He noticed four deep indentations in the carpet about two feet in front of the conglomerate wall. He brought in one of the kitchen chairs. The legs matched the indentations, but only with the chair facing the wall. He sat down and gazed forward. It was like staring at a cliff, at geographic strata. He imagined himself the suspect, that big pale face pushed forward, expressionless.

He thought about how deep the indentations in the carpet were. He thought of that large man sitting here for hours on end, his weight pushing the chair legs deeper and deeper into the carpet. He thought of the man exercising his mouth. A family man, thinking about his family. The detective had a family of his own, a beautiful wife and three rambunctious boys. Oh, the noise they made. The mess. But he adored those kids, how they jumped on him as soon as he walked through the door, consuming him.

He leaned closer. His breathing grew labored. There by one of the stones, a very small detached fingernail floated in the cement. And the stone itself was so white and smooth, and the way it was dimpled, it might have been bone.

 

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards. He’s published over 400 short stories. His most recent collections are The Harvest Child And Other Fantasies (Crossroads) and Everything Is Fine Now (Omnium Gatherum). His last novel Ubo (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books in 2017. Last year Valancourt Books published Figures Unseen, a volume of his Selected Stories. The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack, a middle grade novel about Halloween, also appeared from Hex Publishers.

Ed Ahern – The Spring

The Spring

By

Ed Ahern

The craggy back acre was unusable. But I would often climb the rocky slope and step into its tree-lined grotto. From the central hollow a little spring swelled out and meandered down to my back lawn, seeping into the grass. In the shaded dim, the rough-barked trees seemed to echo my thoughts back toward me, rephrased into gentle suggestions.

And I needed some. A company wanted to lease my rocky parcel and stick up a cell tower. They cheerfully described chopping down trees, blasting apart rock, grading marl, pouring concrete and putting up girders.

I walked up into the grove and sat on a flat rock, next to where the water came up through bright green water cress. And took out my problem.

There were some small unwanted things, like staring out my back window at an ugly derrick. But the war inside me was between badly needed money and the loss of my beautiful little spring.

“Thanks for calling me beautiful.”

My mouth half opened and I almost ran. “Who’s there? Come out!”

The water cress quivered as the water under it rose into a little pillar about four inches high. The column skittered across the surface of the spring and perched atop a poolside stone, forming into a translucent, tiny girl shaded in blues and greens. “We’ve talked together for a long time.”

My mouth dropped all the way open.

“You’re thinking that you brushed against jimson weed and it’s made you a little crazy. You didn’t. I’m much more interesting.”

I blinked and stared. She looked like the fairy image used to sell ginger ale.

“No, silly, I’m a water sprite. You once called us naiads. Talk to me and I won’t bother to read your thoughts. Much.”

My mouth closed, then opened again to speak. “My name is….”

“I’ve known you for years, Theo. My water name you won’t be able to speak. Call me Neaera.”

I saw that she kept one little foot in the pool, and that blue-green flecked water ran into and out of her leg. Her face was sad.

“I am bound to this water, Theo. I am its flow, and if it dries up I die.”

“How long have you been…?”

“I watched your parents fight and part on the back lawn. I saw the first plowing when this was a farm. Buffalo drank my essence. I was born when the ice receded.”

“And you’d be trapped in a pool under concrete if I take their money.”

“No, I am all and only flowing water. If you seal the spring I die. Don’t be sad, death is also natural for us. But I wanted you to know that I’ve enjoyed your visits. Even though your problems sometimes seem absurd.”

“Neaera, I’ll just turn them down.”

“Don’t think like an ant. If you turn down their offer you’ll need to sell your house and the next owner would take their money. My consolation is that you can continue here. I must change back now, this state is quite painful. Please know that your company has been a comfort for me.”

The little sprite gushed apart, her water running back into the pool. Blue and green flecks still glistened on her stone. I sat there for another half hour, begging for her to return, but only song birds answered.

A year later I looked out my back window at the ugly cell tower top, warty dishes poking out in all directions. But beneath the warts, old trees swayed. The company had argued but once I offered to take half the money they agreed. The trees are mostly uncut, the crag unexploded. The ugly tower sits on four concrete footings in between which bubbles my spring. I often climb up, sit on my rock, lean back against an ugly girder, and wait for the echoes.

 

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred stories and poems published so far, and three books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.

Geoff Hart – Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing

By

Geoff Hart

The trout slides through the water, skin tingling with the electric fields of its environment, hunger driving it upstream. Flowing water alternately compresses and caresses its skin; sounds boom around it, tiny variations of water pressure on its inner ear and along its lateral line. Light flickers and dances on the silver surface above, and on the clean umber sand below. Silt tickles its gills, and there’s a faint sense of prey coming closer. It waits in an eddy for sustenance to arrive. There is movement everywhere, then one particular movement perturbs the surface; the trout’s mouth gapes, and it surges upwards and breaks the surface, capturing the fly, and its stomach fills. But it’s not enough. It slides back into its eddy. And now, there’s another fly drifting downstream, coming within reach, and the trout lunges for it….

The fisherman’s in his element, savoring every moment whether or not it will end in a fish. He’s seen them in the eddy pools, lulled by the current to a somnolence that would let him slip his hands beneath them and tickle them from the water’s embrace, or even just net them. But he’s a sportsman, and that’s not the point of being here. Wind tickles his hair where it protrudes from beneath a spectacularly ugly hat. It’s a sunny day with cloud-dappled skies, and when the sun peeks between the clouds, it gets warm. There’s a scent composed of clean water, of growing things, of sunwarmed rubber waders, of clean sweat mingled with DEET. An occasional breeze carries away the sweat and DEET. The stream murmurs, a soothing background noise, and lulls him like the water lulls the fish.

He projects the fly, flimsy line sweeping back, forth, back again, until at last it’s far enough out he can let it drop. The hand-tied fly alights upon the water’s surface with the slightest ripple, hesitating a moment before drifting downstream. His thoughts drift with it and with the water sweeping past his waders. He remembers, in his muscles, setting a hook, wrestling with a fish, fatiguing rather than overpowering it. He remembers the shock of bashing its brains out on a rock, and remembers cleaning and dressing it, building a fire, and eating the juicy pink flesh, still half raw in places. He senses as much as feels the trout rising to the bait, adjusts his footing, and prepares to snap the end of the rod and set the hook….

The alien ship hovers invisibly in geosynchronous orbit, cloak engaged. Electromagnetic radiation sleets about the ship, but the cloak is multifunctional; the same property that bends light around it also diverts radiation that would harm the occupants. The sun’s above the horizon, and the planet glows beneath them, brilliant blue of oceans with diamond glints, glaring white of clouds, brown and fresh green of soil and vegetation. It’s a lovely place, but the aliens aren’t here for sightseeing. At the Science station, one leans over the scanner, intent on fulfilling the search parameters. An AI assistant narrows the data, searching, progressively homing in on the ideal solution. There’s a large, sunlit continent, with a narrow waist near the equator and sparsely settled, that stretches nearly from pole to pole, but the locale of most interest right now is in the northern hemisphere.

They’ve come many light years for this moment. The technological achievement is impressive, particularly the part about cheating physics to arrive here within days rather than lifetimes. But the biological achievement will be even greater: the chance to prove not just that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos (they’ve done that already in their own solar system), but rather that tool-using intelligent life exists,  never mind the decades wasted fruitlessly scanning for it on every gravitational and dark energy frequency known to science. There are those who still believe intelligent life is unique to their one lonely planet orbiting an insignificant sun. Today, they’ll be proven wrong.

The sensor station pings quietly, and Science station transfers the location to the Ops console. A nervous operator takes a deep breath, streamers of methane exiting through frilly gills, then focuses the scanners on their target. There’s a clear gravitational signature that shows a carbon and calcium frame containing large quantities of liquid water, covered from apex to nadir by a synthetic inorganic sheath and surrounded by external water that flows past, bearing many lesser life forms. The target is making motions consistent with an effort to capture those lesser life forms. The Ops officer manipulates an algorithm, and a credible facsimile of one of those life forms instantiates in the flowing water. It moves slowly towards a synthetic extension of the target. There’s a capture device at the end of that extension, and Ops guides the simulacrum towards that device. The target moves to capture the life form, and Ops moves to capture the target….

In a higher dimensional pocket of space-time, the energy being watches, bemused, as its creation moves towards the alien ship’s bait. Wheels within wheels, and where does it end? The being glances back over what would have been a shoulder before the singularity, suddenly nervous that it too is being watched. Nonsense, it concludes. There are, and could be no watchers. It extends a tendril of spacetime towards the spaceship….

 

Startled by an aggressive dictionary during the 9th month of her pregnancy, Geoff’s mother was shortly delivered of a child who showed a precocious antipathy towards the users of words. Over time, he was able to transform this antipathy into a more functional, if equally passive-aggressive, career as an editor. After nearly 30 years, the verbal flame burns as intensely as ever, leading to an errant, semi-evangelical career ranting against the evils of words from pulpits at any editing or technical writing conference that will have him, tirelessly seeking new recruits for his cause. In his spare time, he roams the globe, entertaining and enlightening locals with his creative and uninhibited interpretations of their linguistic conventions. He also commits occasional fictions. Visit him online at http://www.geoff-hart.com/.

Call for submissions is now closed!

Thank you to everyone who submitted stories for April’s call!  I will be going through all of them this month and hope to reply to everyone by the 31st. (If things get too busy, I may need until mid-June, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me right away).

I will be opening up another reading period in October, so if you didn’t get your work in this time, stay tuned….

Watch for another amazing story to be published on June 1st!