Jan 022015
 

Letters from Innsmouth – It’s broken By Paco Garcia Jaen

Blip… Blip… Blip…

He heard the machine blipping, counting the beatings of his heart and wondering how much longer he would have to listen to the intermittent sensory assault that was keeping him awake. He had got used to the smell by now. He’d been there long enough to numb the smell of fluids and secretions hidden by the smell of disinfectant and perfume.

Blip… Blip… Blip…

“Tell me, how are you feeling?” said a voice too rushed to be as comforting as it was trying to be, a cold hand grabbed his arm to take the blood pressure.

“I don’t feel anything” he said, trying to at least force an expression of worry. He didn’t feel it was working. Part of him was hoping the numbness would take away the memories and another part was hoping the blip would just stop. Stop and go away and take everything with it.

“That’s normal” the voice returned “when you go through this process things feel a bit strange for a while. But it will all come back normal soon”

“But I don’t feel anything” he lied “I feel like I am empty and there is nothing beating inside me”.

“But there is” said the voice again “listen”.

Blip… Blip… Blip…

“Your blood pressure is low. We need to sort that one. I will be right back” said the voice.

“Take your time” he said, his head already turned towards the window where the cerulean sky felt like the dullest shade of grey he had ever seen.

The thought assaulted him viciously, without warning or invitation. Now they will all want to come and see me!

He felt anxiety holding his chest and squeezing a bit of tranquillity and peace off his chest. And it was holding tight. His lungs felt it and he had to force himself to take some air.

Blip… Blip… Blip…Blip… Blip…Blip… Blip…

There wasn’t enough space inside him for air and tears, though, and they took turns to come in and out in uncontrollable bursts of whatever it was he was meant to be feeling. He brought his hand to cover his eyes just to take them off as soon as his eyelids closed and the images came rushing back into a reality he didn’t want to acknowledge.

Faces, places, words, flavours, conversations… three weeks of holding back and concentrating on the present totally ruined. He had to relive it. He had to see it all again in a flash that went straight through his already damaged heart and twisted like a rusty knife, tearing through the few traces of hope he was still secretly holding.

Blip..Blip..Blip..Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip.. Blip..

And the images, in the cruellest fashion didn’t do anything else than to feed that hope and that hope made him want to check his phone and his phone didn’t say anything and the hope was again torn apart and his heart kept breaking and then fed again that if word came out and everyone understood everything would be OK and he knew that wouldn’t happen but he kept holding on because not holding on only torn his heart more and more and he was scared he wouldn’t have any heart left.

And he needed it to end. He wanted it all to stop. To stop clinging to him like a disease that was rotting him and making him feel worthless and dirty.

He wanted to end.

Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip…

The cerulean greyness came back as his lungs and his tears reconciled. Or until he run out of tears. He didn’t know.

Or care.

Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip…

The door opened gently. The hope once again decided to come back uninvited and set itself heavy on his chest as the door opened.

“I’ve got something for your blood pressure” said the not-terribly-reassuring voice. A glass of water and a little cup with some pills were offered.

“What is wrong with me?” he asked “Why is this happening?”

“We still need to do some tests. We have taken blood samples and done a cardiogram” said the voice with a finger pointing at his chest. Two patches of skin had appeared where the hair had been shaved to fit the electrodes “we haven’t found anything wrong yet”.

“It’s broken” he said holding his chest in an attempt to take out whatever it was piercing it from front to back. It didn’t work.

Blip… Blip… Blip… Blip…

“I can assure you there is nothing broken” replied the voice “there is no internal haemorrhage and the X-ray doesn’t show anything out of the ordinary. Your heart is all in one piece”. Not a helpful answer. Maybe it wasn’t the right person to understand the questions.

“Do you have friends? Family?” the voice said again “Anyone you’d like us to call?”

“I thought I did” he said.

“Anyone you’d like to see?”

And the images came back again. And with the images the anxiety and the tears and the longing and the hopelessness and his knees came to his chest and he hugged himself in the vainest attempt to offer some comfort and the hope went away and desperation came in and loneliness and worthlessness and he wanted to end.

Blip… Blip… Blip…

“It’s OK” said the voice, coming closer to him. Sympathy did nothing. “You have gone through a lot and this is very scary but you are going to be fine.”

But he wasn’t. He couldn’t and he didn’t even know if he wanted to, but he knew he had to be better. Somehow. He knew it had to end. That was the best solution.

“Just make it end” he said.

“Now, you don’t mean that” said the voice with a pang of fear “Things will get better; do you have anyone you would like to talk to? Get some things off your chest?”

He looked at the voice. Silent. Contemplating the possibility that he could know someone who cared. That out there someone cared. He sought in his mind and everyone was far away. The people who cared weren’t the ones he wanted to think of. The one he wanted to think of didn’t care.

And again his chest was squeezed. But this time not much came out. He was running low on desperation, disenchantment, hopelessness… everything was getting numb again. A different numbness.

This numbness felt numb. It was difficult to feel it. To explain it.

Blip… Blip…

He felt something changing. It was difficult to explain. The vacuum was taking some sort of shape. It was taking something away. His breathing became slower, more comfortable. He would feel the weight being lifted off his shoulders. The pressure being released from his chest.

“I think it’s ending” he said looking at the origin of the voice “I don’t think there is anything left here.” Some relief. He thought it was relief.

It was certainly something

Blip…

“Look” said the voice “You need to relax a bit. Nothing is ending. You’ll be fine”

He felt his hand move away from his chest. Something was being pulled out at the same time. He couldn’t feel his heart anymore. He just noticed. He had been feeling every beat like a hammer. So hard, so bad it was causing him the pain.

He embraced the pieces of his heart. He felt like they were getting together again, a different heart. Broken. Working but purposeless. Numb, maybe dead.

He stood up and went through the door without even thinking about it.

He left himself behind.

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Short story – Car Boot Sale

 Authors, Fiction, Paco Garcia Jaen  Comments Off on Short story – Car Boot Sale
Feb 132014
 

booksBy Paco Garcia Jaen

The morning assaulted me with genuine subtlety. My eyes were itchy when I opened them and told me I hadn’t slept enough. They wanted to go back to sleep and started a fight with my brain. It’s horrible when that happens, there are no winners, my eyes feel sleepy for the rest of the day and my brain feels stupid for coming up with useless ideas that felt real clever at the time.

And I will feel tired.

There’s no point in arguing with brain, though. It always wins, always finds a reason to keep me awake, tell me I am wasting time by trying to ignore it and then making me feel silly for wasting that time. Getting out of bed is the best option, so I switched on my body and told my muscles to wake up.

They did and I started to move with the slow, difficult stickiness of dreams until the disconnect between brain, eyes, muscles and me dissolved. I left my bed and, for once, brain gave me a good idea. The car boot sale. It was only 9 in the morning and there would probably be still some bargains to be had.

The warm shower agreed with that idea and breakfast made it sound really fun. Somehow the orange juice and the bowl of cereals brought some enthusiasm into the mix and, by the time I had finished my toast and cup of tea, I had forgotten my eyes were itchy and I hadn’t slept enough.

I took my wallet and made sure I had the usual twenty five pounds I always took to a car boot sale. I would buy something – or some things – with that money, then sell them on eBay and see if I could make a profit. Silly little game, but it was fun enough.

The morning greeted me with a cold blow to my face and I greeted it back with my hat and a jacket. The walk to the car boot sale acquainted me nicely with the cool air and by the time I got to the place I felt like the cold and I were best friends. We knew where we stood and kept our distance.

The car boot sale was heaving. A clear sky had told people everything they needed to know about the pleasantries of the day ahead. Bargain hunters, with anoraks and fleeces, jackets and well-stuffed cardigans rummaged around the tables hoping to find that long-lost and forgotten Constable they only would be able to identify, or the Royal Daulton piece of pottery missing in their collection that the Antiques Roadshow had priced so far from their economic reach, that their only chance of laying hands on it would be by the miraculous find of a car boot sale.

I didn’t count the number of stands and small tables. Maybe a hundred. Maybe more and maybe less. It didn’t matter. I was smiling inside and approaching the stands as poker-faced as I could to stop them thinking I could possibly be interested. I learned that in Egypt. If you avoid eye contact with the street sellers and don’t give any signs of being interested, they leave you alone. Mostly.

The people around me started to make things irritating. Why did they have to stand exactly between me and what I wanted to look at? Sometimes I wonder if the world knows and does it just to annoy me.

Still, the morning was young and the tea and toast were still keeping me happy. That is until the sausage and bacon aroma from the nearby trailer introduced themselves and made said tea and toast feel very, very inadequate. Still, I managed to remain loyal to my breakfast and brushed the tempting aroma asid

And just as I turned my head away from the somewhat intruding smell of processed meat, I saw him. Standing on the perch of a branch, wings unfolded and the fierce description of someone who is only prepared to give you his friendship if you are prepared to work for it. The wonderful scales, matted under a layer of dust told me of how proud they had been once.

Ten pounds later I had the dragon with me. We were friends now and I was going to bring the scales back to shine with some careful cleaning later on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to send the Dragon to eBay. I almost didn’t want to think about it just in case the magnificent beast got upset with me. I kept walking, this time more careful not to brush myself against anyone lest they broke one of the delicate wings of my new friend.

We walked in silence and I stopped by the most extraordinary table. It was quite big and, unusually for a car boot sale, also quite high. Behind it an old couple. I am terrible at guessing people’s age, but I think they were in their late sixties. The man was bald on the top and some grey hair, well looked after but a bit too long, grew from the sides and back of his head. The thin rimmed glasses, shirt and sleeveless cardigan left no doubt he was an academic of sorts, or maybe an accountant, but I like to think of him as an academic. He looked at me and I looked at him as his wife observed us, sitting on the edge of the van where they had transported their goods to sell. He looked tired. It felt like his stamina was coming from someplace else and wasn’t really reaching his face. I smiled and he returned the pleasantry as best he could. He was tired.

A blue cardigan and loose thin skirt protected what was a frail but well looked after body. A calm and endearing expression in her face made me feel comfortable. It was difficult for me not to call her “nana”. Her small blue eyes wanted to look happier than they were but, somehow, they couldn’t bring themselves to it. I thought it might be a bit too early, or maybe she simply didn’t like car boot sales.

I looked at the books and I let my eyes open more than they usually do. I think I gasped, but I’m not sure because I was too busy taking my hand to my mouth. I think someone heard “blimey!” coming from me, but I’m not sure. I didn’t ask anyone and I can’t remember who was near me. I just remember the books.

You see, I grew up fencing with Dark Elves in the Forgotten Realms, met dragons in Taladas, and faced goddesses in Krynn. I got lost in the dangerous streets of Sigil, the City of Portals, and sweated under the horrific heat of Athas. All those worlds and many others made me happy.They make me happy to this day.

Those worlds were inside the books. Worlds I thought I had lost were in front of me, inviting me to adventure in them once again.

A huge collection of old Dungeons & Dragons novels looked at me from the top of the table. Dark Sun’s Prism Pentad by Troy Denning; the first works R.A. Salvatore wrote for Forgotten Realms; Elaine Cunningham, Jeff Grubb, Gary Gygax… They were all there. And more!

The books I left behind when I moved from Spain where there, saying hello to me. Right there!

“How much are the books?” – I asked timidly, trying – rather inefficiently – to look disinterested.

“The hardbacks are two pounds each and the softcovers are one pound each” – said the man.

“Oh!” – I said, this time allowing my enthusiasm to show unhindered as my hands started to pile books and count them. “This is quite a collection you have here. I used to read these when I lived in Spain and lost most, if not all of them when I moved to this country a few years ago.”

“Oh right!” – the man replied. The lady behind him smiled sweetly at my comment as I kept piling books and counting them. “Could I buy these 15 books, please?” as I pointed at the neat pile of fifteen books I had collected, cursing myself for not having more money to spend.

“Sure!” – the man replied – “How many have you got there?”. “Fifteen. I’m afraid I’ve already bought something and I only have fifteen pounds left.” I said with clear frustration and regret in my voice.

The man took another bunch of books from the table and put them on top of the ones I had already chosen. “I think for that money you should have these too” came from behind his smile.

“My goodness! Thank you very much!” I had to contain my efforts to give the man a hug.

“I’ll put them in a bag for you. Hope your car is nearby!” he said as he took the bag the woman had rummaged from behind the van. She came close to the table and helped him put the books in the bag.

“I walked. I only live nearby.” – I said with my smile still on my face – “Forgive me for asking this but you don’t like like what I would expect someone who read books like this to look like.”

The man stopped in his tracks and for a moment I feared I had said something offensive. “You are right. These books belonged to a young man, not too far from your age. He had a severe disability and couldn’t leave the house. He avidly read these books and many others we’ve donated to schools and charity shops. They were his way out.” – he said – “He passed away three months ago and we are now selling the books in the hope someone else will enjoy them too.”

I swallowed. Hard. That didn’t take away the lump that had formed in my throat. Seeing how the lady grabbed the man’s arm to offer comfort that was so sorely needed for both of them genuinely made me feel impotent there was nothing I could do. I was seriously lost for words and furiously looking for something to say. “You know” – I managed to mutter – “I think that young man and I would have got along very well.I am sorry I missed the chance to know him.”

“You are right” – he said. A smile came into his lips but somehow his eyes didn’t manage to catch up with it. – “I think you would.” and handed me the bag.

“Thank you!” is all the lump that had settled now nicely allowed me to say as I offered my hand to both of them.

I took the bag, turned around and left. The place was suddenly silent. The people around me were still around me and I could still see them talk and barter and make noises that didn’t matter.

Without making a conscious decision, I left the place and headed back home where the books found a place on a shelf and now live there. Somehow that man had nearly doubled the number of books I bought and there were 29 of them in that bag. The lump in the throat returned and I left the books on the shelf, as far away from eBay as I can get them.

Based on true events.

 

 

 

 

Nov 032013
 

Story_Cubes_-_20137222321By Sarah Anderson

The destruction of Earth took us all by surprise. In our telescopes we saw the lines of multicolored light that tore through the Earth, slicing it to pieces—and by the time we did, we knew we were already twenty minutes too late.

There were only a few hundred of us at the Mars colony, probably not enough to sustain a viable population. Suddenly every other concern seemed so petty: the conflict over the colony between the American, Russian, and Chinese factions; the various romances and animosities between us; even the very purpose of our project here, the FTL drive that was supposed to carry humanity to the stars.

It was Zhukov’s idea. Though he was of course Russian and I American, he and I had always gotten along rather well, perhaps because we’re both astrophysicists. I had always found more to talk about with Zhukov than with most of the American team.

We were all in the cafeteria, forcing ourselves to eat. No one spoke, and all that could be heard was the futile clanking of flatware against plates.

Suddenly Zhukov stood up. “It is not too late!”

At the next table, Jacobs—director of quantum physics—gave him a disdainful stare. “What are you talking about, you crazy old Russkie?”

“Time… it is relative, is it not? There are reference frames, even now, for which it is before the… the… well, what happened. It could still be prevented.”

“But to reach them, you’d have to go…” I slapped my forehead. “Yes, of course. Faster Than Light.

“Precisely,” he said. “And that, my friends, is exactly what we are able to do, assuming we finish the prototype.”

Jacobs stood up to meet him eye-to-eye. “You’re insane. We can’t change the past, even if our FTL drive could be made to work. It already happened.

“Jacobs,” I asked, “aren’t you the one always saying how the universe is non-deterministic, that anything can happen?”

“Well—that’s not exactly—”

Zhukov laughed sardonically. “Is worth a try, is it not? In worst-case scenario we fail to prevent and must find another solution. But in best-case scenario, we are greatest heroes world has ever seen!”

* * *

We finished the drive ahead of schedule—something about being humanity’s last hope has a way of focusing the mind. We had originally planned to build a colony ship to hold a crew of hundreds, but none of us wanted to wait that long.

So instead we improvised, attaching the drive to a passenger transport, normally used to ferry to Earth and back. After being gutted to mount the drive, it only had enough space for a crew of 4. Somehow that ended up being me, Zhukov, Jacobs, and… Karen Marks. She certainly was our best pilot, I couldn’t dispute that; but she and I had history, a fight over one Sam Tyler. She was a major reason I didn’t like hanging out with the quantum team.

Yet oddly, I felt much less ill will toward her today than usual. It just seemed so stupid, so small to care that Sam had cheated on me with her. What did that matter now? We had a world to save. She really was our best pilot, and we needed her.

During the launch, Zhukov and I went over our the spacetime trajectory one last time. We were basically drawing a Z-shape; I proposed to call it the Zhukov curve. He pointed out that the Russian Z looks nothing like that; but we couldn’t well call it the Anderson curve after me, now could we?

We would spent the most ‘time’—proper time, strictly speaking—in the strangest part of our journey, the FTL jump itself. None of us had any idea what to expect; we all knew hyperspace existed, but nothing larger than an antiproton had actually been there. All we could do was push the button—and hope.

* * *

I had an experience of waking up. What I saw around me… well frankly, it made no sense at all.

I couldn’t see the rest of the crew, or the walls of the transport, or even my own hands in front of my face. This would have made some sense if I’d been surrounded in darkness, but I wasn’t. There were bright lights everywhere, in all different colors; there were even colors I don’t think I had ever seen before and can’t describe.

Nothing was where it should be. The parts of everything were jumbled and disorganized; I felt like I had floated into a Cubist painting. I wondered how I was even still alive, if I had been similarly broken into pieces. Suddenly it occurred to me: Hyperspace was non-Euclidean. Our ordinary notions of left and right, back and forth, up and down, no longer applied. Things could be adjacent, but not adjacent; aligned, but not aligned. This had happened to the ship and everything on it, including me.

I saw something in ‘front’ of me, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Unlike us, it actually looked like a coherent whole in this strange folded space; it was a sort of shiny, multicolored beast, with discernible tentacles, and mouths, and eyes—so many eyes. It was huge in size, though I could hardly measure precisely. It reached out its long, twisting tentacles to touch me; they felt like electricity. It studied me with its innumerable eyes, their pupils like checkerboards with squares that grew and shrank. Then suddenly all its mouths opened at once and bared jagged, angular teeth in what seemed to my naïve Euclidean mind to be rage. Then it slithered and swam and twisted away, far into whatever passes for distance in this dimension.

My calculations had said that the FTL jump would last about an hour in our proper time, but as I floated and twisted in hyperspace, I could tell no difference between a moment and eternity.

We returned to normal space; I have never felt so relieved. I let out a deep breath, and I heard the others do the same. After that, there was a long silence.

“Well, that was… interesting,” Zhukov finally said.

Marks glared at me. “Why didn’t you tell us it would be so horrifying?”

“Honestly… we didn’t know. No one has ever been to hyperspace before. The math said that we would survive, and we did, didn’t we?”

“Well, physically anyway,” she scoffed.

I looked around plaintively. “So uh, I know this sounds weird… but did any of you see a giant… tentacle-monster thing, or was that just me?”

Jacobs raised his eyebrow at me. “I didn’t see anything like that. Honestly, it was all just psychedelic kaleidoscope.”

There was much murmuring, and then Zhukov spoke again. “It seems that none of us saw what you saw. But this does not mean it was not real; I am sure our accounts of what we saw will not all be the same either.”

“I don’t know,” Marks said. “I feel like ‘psychedelic kaleidoscope’ is a pretty good description. ‘Tentacle-monster’? Not so much. Maybe it triggered a latent psychosis.”

“Psychosis!?” I tried to stamp my foot down, but it didn’t really work because we were still in microgravity, strapped into our seats. “I am not psychotic! I know what I saw.”
“Isn’t that what you’d say if you were?”

“I for one believe she saw what she saw,” Zhukov said.

Jacobs was still raising his eyebrow. “Whatever, it’s done. Now we need to figure out what happened to the Earth and what we can do to stop it.”

I sighed. “Yeah, did anybody figure out how we were going to actually save the Earth?”
“Have hope,” Zhukov said. “The jump took us back to several days before the event; in that time we can locate its cause and prevent it. I believe it was a rogue black hole.”

“If that’s the case… how do you stop a black hole?”

“You do not stop it, Dr. Marks; you deflect it, even just slightly. Black holes may seem exotic, but they still must obey conservation of momentum. Crash something into it very fast, and it must change direction.”

“Aren’t black holes huge?” Jacobs asked.

“Not necessarily. If it were stellar-sized, yes, there would be nothing we could do to deflect it. But if that were the case we would have seen distortions in the rest of the solar system. It must therefore be rather small, perhaps the mass of an asteroid. And that we might be able to deflect, at least by a few minutes of arc.”

“How big would it be, then?”
“Well, suppose it is about 10 to the 16 kilograms. The event horizon radius would be about 10 to the minus 11 meters.”

“How could something so small cause so much damage?”

“Well, it is a black hole, after all; and it has the mass of Deimos.”

Jacobs sighed, but finally put his eyebrow down. “So let me get this straight. We’re looking for something the size of a helium atom… with the mass of a moon.”

“Yes, that is approximately correct.”

“And you propose to do this… how?”

“Ah ha, that is where our time machine yields great advantage.” Zhukov produced a notebook from the chest pocket of his spacesuit. “I have calculated what its trajectory must have been. This narrows down its current position substantially.”
“How substantially?” Marks asked.

“Within a sphere 10,000 kilometers in diameter, to 90% confidence.”

She laid her head in her hands. “Now we only need to search an area the size of the Earth for something that is tiny and invisible and will destroy us if we get too close.”

“Is better than nothing?”

Jacobs scoffed. “And what do we do once we find it, if we find it?”

“There is only one answer, my friends. We must override the FTL engine to produce relativistic speed in normal space, and collide with the black hole. We will all die painful deaths by tidal forces; but humanity will be saved.”
“Well that sounds delightful.
I bared my teeth at him—reminding myself of the hyperspace beast. Maybe I really was going crazy? “You got a better idea, Jacobs?”

* * *

So we searched Zhukov’s projected coordinates—which of course were moving at his projected velocity of 20,000 kilometers per second. We searched for days and found nothing. We moved ever closer toward the Earth, following the projected location of something we could not see and were not certain even existed.

By day 7—the day before the Earth was scheduled to end—we were all desperate. “What if it’s not a black hole?” Marks asked.

“It must be,” Zhukov said. “Only a black hole could be so destructive and so difficult to find.”

But he was wrong. How terribly, terribly wrong. For when day 8 arrived and the time came, what I saw was even more terrible.

It was in jumbled pieces, a mirror of what we had been in hyperspace; but its vastness and its twisting tentacles and unending eyes were unmistakable. The beast had followed us into our own space. It struck out with its tentacles, folded in so many dimensions, and the result was rips and tears in space itself. We watched the Earth destroyed, again, this time with front-row seats. Why it chose to destroy us now and not millennia before, I cannot say for certain; but I think it was because we intruded into its space. It could not see us as an enemy—that would give us far too much credit. I believe that it saw us as vermin, as mosquitoes come to spread the disease of Euclidean space. And what do you do with vermin?

We all sat in silence, staring out the windows of the transport at the fracturing Earth below.

And then the monster turned its eyes toward me.

Oct 192013
 

2013-09-05 09.05.10By Porrick Rasdole

I’m in front of a door. It’s dripping with green ichor running from deep veins of engraved masonry. It’s growing each step I take towards it. It takes deep breaths and exhales a sickly mist from vents along its top. My legs trembled and I fall to my knees. My arm is weak as I reach to run my fingers along the door’s stone. My fingers make contact then my arm falls back limp to the mud.  Sprawled, I watch the engraved shapes of the door ripple from my touch. Gulleys of stone grind across its noxious surface. Tessellating patterns form. A hole appears and a leathery hand reaches out.  It pushes beclawed fingers into my forehead and my vision falters. Cutting through my skin, I can feel the fingers scraping along the inside of my skull, searching and grasping. The hand remerges from my open head holding a golden orb. The hand crushes the orb and a bronze gas spreads up across the door. The hand disappears as the gas forms into a rod which inserts itself into the door. The masonry tumbles away revealing an endless bridge spanning multi-colored nebula. I start to crawl onto the bridge when a hand shakes me.

I awake in the seat of a plane.

“Hey! Dinner is coming! Hey! Wake-up, you’ve been asleep since take-off”, my wife, Sarah continued to shake me as I opened my eyes.

The plane was dim. Dark, save for dull orange lights along the floor of the aisles. A legginged stewardess is bowing forward with trays of food several rows in front of me.

“Thanks. I’m starving,” I smiled at her, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom before I’m trapped by tray of food,” I squeezed Sarah’s shoulder as I got up and shuffled past her.

According to the screen above the chairs we were flying across the Atlantic Ocean. Outside the tiny windows there was no light save the blinking tip of the wing. As I groggily stumbled towards the cubicle I saw most of the passengers were asleep. Many were fitfully jerking. I wondered if they were having similar visions to mine. I ran my fingers along my forehead and was surprised to feel it burning with heat. I splashed water on my face as the violent sucking noise erupted from the plane toilet behind me. Did the plane just shoot out the waste into the ocean or save it all until landing? My thoughts were interrupted by a scream from the plane.

I peered out from the plastic door and saw a food splattered stewardess staring aghast at a man crouched in front of her. He was shoveling the contents of the upturned food tray into his mouth with a savagery that alarmed the passengers around him. He grunted and growled as he gnawed the food. I made eye contact with Sarah behind the shocked stewardess. Then my wife screamed as a hand reached at her neck and squeezed. A boggle-eyed man was behind her, staring at the back of her head as he throttled her. I ran towards Sarah, kicking past the man grunting at the food. To either side of me people were rising up from their seats. Maddened figures launched at their neighbors, veins popping out of their necks, hands tightly clawed. I punched the man with his hands around my wife’s neck. I punched him flat in the face. My fist stung as he slumped against the back of a chair, frothing at the mouth.

I put my arm around Sarah, looking around the plane. Pandemonium had broken out. Passengers madly clawed at one another or the furniture. Shreds of leather, clothing and food flew through the air. I looked for the stewardess but she was gone. The curtain sealing first class from economy was being pulled closed. I motioned Sarah towards it and we fled as the man I had punched woke up. He launched himself at a woman biting an armrest.

Behind the curtain, things were calm. Passengers slept fitfully and a group of stewardess huddled, their faces pale. Behind them I could see an elderly man intently poring over a scrappy leather bound book. My arm around Sarah I asked the group of stewardesses to explain what was happening. They were confused, upset and afraid at the eruption of wild behaviour, not having seen anything like it before. As I was asking them if the pilots knew what was happening, I felt my stomach turn and my legs brace. The plane had taken a steep dip in its altitude, dropping suddenly. One of the stewardess let out a sob and I could now hear a disturbing whining in the pitch of the plane’s engines. Looking over at the man reading his book I saw him completely unperturbed by the calamities around him. He was mouthing the words he was reading. Some of the first class passengers had started to wake after the plane’s jerking. I watched as they came to, wondering if  they would act in the same madness as the jibbering people behind me.

The plane dipped again, this time causing the hostess’s to let out a slight shriek of panic. The first class passengers that had woken up looked befuddled, looking over at me and the shrieking hostess’s and hearing the jumble of chaos coming from behind the first class curtain. I told Sarah to wait with the hostess and I pushed past them towards the old man reading his book. He had yet to react to the dipping altitude of the plane. As I moved closer I could hear him reading aloud the words, a low mumble underneath the clattering din of the plane. I felt a hand clutch at my shoulder and it spin me around to face the bespittled mouth of a crazed passenger. His mouth was coming towards my face as if to bite it and I wrenched back, snatching the hand away from my shoulder. I pushed the crazed man back and he fell. His legs slipped up above his head and he squeezed into the gap between the two seats. I could see that some of the other first class passengers were in a similar mind frame to my attacker. I looked back at my wife and saw her eyes wide open with horror, realizing that we were no longer safe behind the curtain.

A hostess let out another shriek as the separating curtain was wretched aside, revealing a blood smeared face. I ran back towards Sarah and the hostess’s. The hostess’s had picked up trays and magazines as rudimentary weapons against the blood covered figures crawling towards them. I grabbed Sarah, kicking past the half asleep and crazed passengers that were starting to paw at us. One of the hostess’s had kicked the man from economy class and he was sprawled on his back. Behind him I saw a scene of carnage as the economy class passengers tore one another apart. Moving towards the cockpit with Sarah I saw the old man still undisturbed as he read his book aloud. To the sides of us the first class passengers had started to scrabble with one another, clawing, biting and tumbling over the plush leather chairs. Spittle and flecks of blood were flying through the air. We were ignored by the fighting passengers and the hostess too were left alone as the maddened passengers turned on one another. Reaching the old man I looked down at his book and saw the pages filled with a swirling script I had never seen before. He was tracing his fingers below each line, and mumbling out each word. I shook his shoulder and his head wobbled as he looked at me. As he stared up I saw he had a pair of old hearing aids, with the manual volume control pushed all the way down. He mouthed words and a guttural voice I could barely understand escaped his lips. He motioned at his ears and I could hear Sarah behind me say, “He’s deaf, get him up and we will move to the cockpit, maybe we will be safe there.”

The old man’s head was swiveling on it’s shoulders as he turned around to take in the scene behind him. I offered him my hand. He closed his book and I read the front cover, it was an ancient guide on learning short-hand. He stood up, clearly aghast and confused. As he stood the plane dipped violently a third time and started to rumble with turbulence. The lights flickered off, plunging the plane into darkness. The three of us, shaky on our feet, got to the cockpit door. I pulled it open and saw one of the pilots collapsed over the control panel, blood dripping across the buttons. The other was concentrating on steering, his face bruised and battered.

“What the hell is going on out there?” the conscious pilot demanded, “I had to knock him out,” motioning towards his passed out co-pilot, “he went crazy trying to fly the plane into the ocean.” I looked across the ocean, which the plane had got much closer to. I could see it churning and a massive dark shape moving beneath the waves.

The shape that lurked beneath those waves was much larger than the plane. We were on course to plummet beneath the dark ocean. I hoped that the thing underneath us was a submarine, but it’s angles and the twisting, grasping, tentacles lead me to believe it wasn’t. The old man looked out across the ocean in horror and when a purple hued tentacle broke the surface of the water and reached up towards the plane he feinted. I ducked to help him, turned him on his side. As I did so Sara yelled at the pilot, “Fly upwards! Get away from that thing!” I could hear him jostling with the controls, “I’m trying! I’m trying! She just keeps dipping!” The the floor of the plane was buffeting us around violently. I tried to keep the old man’s head and body still as we bounced through the air. I looked back down the aisles of the plane and saw that the hostess were fighting with the crazed passengers. One of them had fallen to the ground, her arm bloodied I reached out and grabbed Sarah’s hand. I held it just as a massive tentacle smashed through cockpit window. It squashed the pilots torso against the back of the cockpit and his chest exploded, splattering my wife with blood. I stood, feeling the plane finally move upwards through the air as another tentacle hit the side of the plane and raised it. I wrapped my arms around Sarah as the tentacles whipped the plane through the air. The plane was sideways and we were falling back down the aisles, I looked up and saw the cockpit window completely smashed. I looked down and was wrenched back in the other direction and felt icy cold air on my face as I was flung outside of the plane.

As I fell through the water, I saw a door obscured by a golden mist. Sarah stood next to me, holding my hand.

Aug 132013
 

GMS diceBy Ishi Shen

To lovers of history, the hidden and the arcane,

I give you the story of Minerva, recorded for posterity.

I was born on the human constructed planet called Minerva. Nowadays astro-construction seems just ordinary, but Minerva was the first of its kind. My parents signed up to the all-American adverts, the promise of a new life, all made possible through our ever growing grasp of the fundamentals of physics. A planet that was literally held together by a clever combination of string theory and magnetism. No, you won’t have heard of it. It isn’t on any maps. Be patient, I’ll get to that part.

The history of the planet determined how its culture developed. Unlike Mars, first populated by the military, and growing into an autocracy designed to meet the needs of the population, or the hippy population of Saturn’s orbital, Titan, descended from scientists, or even from those middle of the road non-pioneering but non-felonious folks left on Earth, the inhabitants of Minerva were forward thinking, all-modern, high flying business people. Minerva quickly became a centre for commerce, seguing naturally into luxury tourism.

Aged about ten, I discovered that I did not belong on Minerva. I did not fit in and the usual path was locked to me. Your typical Minervan ten year old was industrious, ambitious and entrepreneurial. I was a loner, dreamy and artistic. Many of the over-achieving Minervan younglings played musical instruments as a hobby, but by age ten I knew that for me it was more than a hobby. I was a musician; I could feel it in my bones. My instrument was the flat, stringed Sundari and I was approaching the level of a master.

Coupled with my incongruous personal gifts was an uneasy sense that the whole of the Minervan economy was based on sand. The money changing hands was a pointless, circular motion that was no longer representing value. It was a facsimile of a functioning Earth country, lacking the creative core. This sense grew throughout my early life, and one day, when I was seventeen years old, my unusual habits saved me from the destruction of that society. Let me tell you about it. It started with a book.

I had few friends on Minerva. I did not join clubs, or schemes. I listened to the orchestral tours that came from Earth, Saturn and elsewhere and I visited bookshops. Bookshops seemed to be the one area of Minervan life that touched on the cultural. At the front of every shop, of course, were economics textbooks, and biographies of millionaires. Yet even these topics had more substance in book form than those espoused by the cardboard cut outs I met in daily life. And when you ventured to the back of the more enlightened shops, it was literally as if you were transported to another planet.

In the best shop, the beautifully named “Secrets of Learning”, a tangled and darkened interior contained books from Saturn, the outer colonies and elsewhere in the inhabited Galaxy. Yet my favourite books, by a long way, were the ancient, the truly ancient tomes from Old Earth. There were books about long forgotten wars, and strategies for how to win them. There were crumbling picture books of archaic artworks. I longed to buy every single book of music that had not been heard for centuries, to take the books home and live surrounded by them, to transpose the music to play on the Sundari and in my own musical way awaken the dead.

The books on Old Earth religions were separated off from the others. This was the section in which I most often hid to read the books without buying and take away the secrets of the ancients without parting with money that I did not possess. In these books I learned of the beauty of the verse in the Gita, the moving stories of the humans chosen as messengers for the gods and the calm serenity of the Buddha. I learned too of the dark side of religion, referred to as craft or magic although I could never uncover any practical tips in this area that I could combine with my music to wreak destruction on Minerva.

The book that changed my life was a large, dusty volume, hidden at the back of a shelf as if drawn to the shadows. The leather binding was faded, worn-through in places and hanging away from the spine. Even looking at just the exposed edge, in the darkness, the disintegrating gold leaf indicated that it was an important book, a highly regarded one. I consider all books to have a power that comes from the knowledge contained inside and I feel keen anticipation of this when regarding them. This book went further. It seemed to have an actual physical power. My hand was drawn to it as if by a magnet and I was, somehow, surprised as I closed my fingers on it that they did not sizzle and burn. The name remained partially visible in gold leaf but yet it made no sense to me: N_C_O_OMI_ON. The pages inside were made of soft vellum. Although the pages were worn and several were missing, the dark black ink, unfaded unlike the gold leaf on the binding, looked as if the words had been scorched into the skin.

I spent many days pouring over this book, which is peculiar considering that it was written in a language that I did not understand and was full of symbols that I could not comprehend. I leafed through it as if in a kind of mystical trance. I would study a single page for hours trying to find pronunciations for the words written there, trying to get a sense of what the chapter could refer to. The book contained pictures as well as words, but their meaning was not easier to glean. There were about a thousand pages in total and of these two hundred were illustrated.

I returned to the Secrets of Learning daily for a couple of weeks, leafing through the pages at random and stopping when something caught my attention. As I grew more used to the book the compulsion and strange sense of power diminished, as a pain does with aspirin. It was still there but I had become desensitised, part of it. Towards the end of the second week, my established pattern was disrupted by a page that held my gaze with an unexpected force. My interest can be readily explained by the fact that inside a book written in a foreign and probably dead tongue, in clear English alphabet, capitalised, MINERVA was written across the top of the page, and at the time I felt as if the book had guided me to the page, as if I had been meant to read it.

There were no words on this page and more illustration than average, in fact the page consisted of a tableau of several incomprehensible pictures. The first was a rough cityscape, constructed using a small number of hand drawn lines. At the time I instantly recognised the view from the small park behind the town hall across and down to the ocean, but now, looking back I think on balance that there were so few lines in the drawing it could have been taken for a representation of any modern city. A shooting star burned through the air above one of the tower blocks.

The second picture showed a classic invasion scene, a scene that could have been taken wholesale from the cover of a science fiction novel. Behind the (I assume) Minervan high rises, were a series of silvery saucer shaped discs that grew larger as they approached the foreground. At the very front of the picture, an opening could be seen in the largest disc from which reptilian creatures were emerging. They looked strong, mean and alert. There was no doubt that they were conquistadores.

The third panel in the triptych showed more of these snake like monsters, set amidst bodies of the natives strewn across the ground. This was an unsurprising sequence to follow the previous plate. What was surprising was a small gap amongst the aliens where a small girl could be seen playing a Sundari. It was not clear whether she was destined to join the bodies around her, yet the aspect of the creatures towards her seemed somehow less menacing.

Needless to say, I found this whole experience incredibly disturbing. I shut the book with a sharp snap, painfully audible in the quiet bookshop interior. I left the store and didn’t return.

****************************

Weeks passed, then months, then years. It wouldn’t be correct to say that I forgot the book, but the vividness of the memory faded. For a while, every month or so I would walk past the Secrets of Learning and visualise the book inside. Then the shop seemed to disappear from the physical street as gradually as it had faded from my interest. I hadn’t seen it close; there had been no Closing Down or Sale 50% Off signs in the windows at any point. The first time I missed it, I hadn’t been down this way for several weeks and I found I could no longer remember exactly where the shop had been. When I noticed its absence, I assumed it had been on a slightly different one of the densely packed streets. I assumed that I had mis-remembered. The next time I went that way I chose another path, but still no Secrets of Learning. In this meandering way, over the period of several months, I came to realise that the shop was no longer there. There remained not a trace of it.

As I am writing this now, what happened then, in the year of my 17th birthday, still seems unbelievable. The shooting star came and I saw it across from the park behind the town hall. As I caught the movement, the scene seemed to crystallise into the hand drawn picture I had witnessed many years before, like when you change the effect on a picture using a graphics package to render it as a drawing. I half cried out, and sank down to my knees.

I knew what to do. It was truly truly surreal to wait for the invasion. With one part of my brain I told myself that “waiting for the invasion” was not at all what I was doing, that I had a seen a star and it had reminded me of an old forgotten book. I pretended to shrug it off. Yet in another part of my mind I knew what was coming. I went down to the harbour with my Sundari and I played. I attracted a few coins from people who thought I was begging. I left them on the pavement.

The noise of the ships was terrible, but I kept playing. I don’t know how their weapons were made, but the combination of the visceral atmosphere of fear and the actual smell of burning flesh was unbelievable. But I kept playing and I was saved. I had been the girl in the last picture, as I had known all along.

And that is the story of Minerva. I know now, as will have been obvious to you from birth, the invading Gaozh were good people, talented musical people and I found my place amongst them even as a small, strangely-formed alien. You will know this because they are, of course, your people.

Natasha Laetana 4th August 2101 (old time), Sundari player and last Minervan.

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Jul 282013
 

multiple-faces-706985[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

She has told me I should write a letter to myself. But there is no “myself” anymore. It’s “us” now. It’s been us for a long time and we don’t want to hide it anymore. We understand each other better than anyone else. We know us. The real us, not the me that I’ve put up for the world to like me. So we’ll write to you instead because writing to myself is stupid. We already know about me. About us!

And we know things. We know secrets. And they are real.

And they have warned me about you. Yes. Any you. All of you.

The Plebeian says I’m saying too much already. The Queen agrees.

We shouldn’t be telling you much about what the rest say, but they are happy for this one to tell you about them. The four of them. Even The Shade doesn’t mind this one saying some things as long as I don’t tell what secrets It reveals.

We are five in total and that includes the physical shape that is writing these words. The people in this institution have tried to separate us, but there is no ice filled pool, or electro-shock or sound “therapy” that can do that to us. We are too strong. She thinks that giving this physical shell opium will null its senses enough to tell our secrets, but that won’t work. We are not alone and they are always there, they are always talking and listening. Carefully. So you listen carefully too.

The Plebeian is the youngest. Can’t tell you his age. But he arrived the last, only 3 months ago. We think it was three months ago. Not sure how long we’ve been here. And we mean “here” not the other *here* we won’t tell you about. We won’t tell anyone. We’ve said too much already. The Shade is stirring.

Yes, of Couse we are lucid. You thought that this body is one of those poor wrecks in this place? How wrong could you be? But then, they warned us about that too. The Priest was the first one to talk about it. About how everyone would think this shell has lost its mind, specially after we came back from that trip to Jordan. Oh yes..  the Priest was there then.

The one we didn’t know, the one that came to us and spoke softly and showed us secrets no man can or should know, the one who proved that we are not losing my mind, that is the rest of the world that hasn’t found its own mind yet.

Remember the time you told us about the day you met Clara? How the heat was sweltering and your dress was hot enough to bake cakes inside. How the constant dribble from Professor Digsby was making you dizzy and the wine was so terrible that letting it touch your lips was torture?

Remember how you told me when you met Clara’s gaze the heat stopped. The professors dribble faded and became nothing. The wine simply tasted of nothing. Everything was clear. Nothing mattered and you *knew* you and Clara were made for each other. That you’d be together forever no matter what.

That was meeting The Shade.

Remember how later you gathered the strength to tell me about her? How you gathered the bravery to be true to yourself and confess your feelings. You weren’t scared you’d find out and lose your place at the university. You didn’t cowl at the thought that I’d betray you in a bigoted and mean-spirited outburst of self-righteousness. You knew you had to tell me. You knew it wouldn’t matter even if I had behaved like the rest of them.

This is how knowing the Shade makes us feel.

No matter if you think we are crazy. No matter if you tell everyone. No matter if we love you, but we have It. And we have his secrets and when we get out of here we will find out more and show the world. But until then, until our moment has arrived, I will play along with her and make her believe I care about her sound therapy or about plunging me in ice.

We will not let her drill me. If she does we’ll lose It. We will lose ourselves and we will lose everything. We can’t lose the secrets! We must not!

But she *wants* the secrets. I know she does because she asks about them. And the Whore has said it too and he is always right. Wish him and the Priest stopped arguing. The bickering is too much but they are both there and they are me and I am them. They must coexist.

If only I could trust you again. But the Shade will not let us and we trust the Shadow. It has revealed things to us that she wants to know. Like were to find the next one. We won’t tell you either. We know she’ll read this letter anyway, and we don’t mind if she knows that we know.

Please tell Jonas we are sorry. We should have never got him involved in this. But we didn’t know when we started. And yet, we don’t want to get out either. The things we’ve seen. The smells, the colours, the sounds. That place is incredible and The Shade wants to share it with the rest of this Earth.

Can’t you see? This is what God had in mind from the very beginning. We have always wondered where Heaven was and we always looked up, to the Sky. That is only a small part of Heaven and we can’t possibly know what it looks like. But we do. We have been there and we want to share.

But we won’t share with her. She wants everything for herself and now she knows that we know.

I don’t know what happens now. Probably you won’t hear from us for a while. She’ll try to make us believe again that I am alone. That the rest of us are just illusions, that they are not real. But if they weren’t real I wouldn’t know what I know. And what I know is real, even if she wants me to believe it is not.

I won’t continue.