The Unimagined

By Margaret McGoverne

Meghan was five, and she was cross. Mummy and daddy wouldn’t play with her as much as they used to, and she was in her playroom alone for longer and longer. Mummy and daddy shouted a lot, and mummy often cried.  She had crept downstairs yesterday to see them, but daddy saw the door move and pounced on Meghan, smacking her legs and sending her upstairs. “Only naughty girls spy on their parents!” he said.

Meghan’s playroom was in the attic; it was light and bright, but apart from her dolls and books it wasn’t really a playroom. There was a big brass bed for their occasional visitors but it was Meghan’s retreat now, her haven from her parents’ disputes.

She sat on the rug in front of the cold fireplace; her dolls were asleep, their long-lashed plastic eyes closed. The afternoon sun streamed through the windows, bathing Meghan in warmth. Her parents’ voices were a dull muffle that made her sleepy; she lay down on the rug and slept, thumb in mouth, although mummy said she shouldn’t.

Her nap was short, for the sun still warmed her when she awoke. She rubbed her eyes and pulled her thumb from her mouth – sitting on the bed were two figures Meghan had never seen before.

“Who are you?” she asked, and they smiled at her, although not at each other.

Their names were Tulpa and Enty, and they were here to make friends with Meghan. They were all three about the same size. They looked funny, but Meghan didn’t feel alone anymore. They chatted about her dolls and books, and they played games.

“Did mummy bring you here?” Meghan asked.

Enty smiled slyly, but Tulpa looked sad.

“No, you wanted us to come.”

“I did?” Meghan was mystified, but she was having fun. She had forgotten to be lonely.

Tulpa and Enty came to the playroom every day, and at first, they all played nicely. But one day they couldn’t agree which game to play, and they wouldn’t stop arguing, even when Meghan asked them politely.

“I’ll tell mummy!” she warned. But Enty just slapped at Tulpa and they rolled together, a mass of grabbing hands and pulled hair.

Meghan ran downstairs. Mummy was in the kitchen, Daddy smoked a cigarette at the table.

“Mummy, my friends won’t stop fighting!”

“What friends?” her mother asked, with a guilty start. Maybe she’d forgotten about Meghan.

“Tulpa and Enty, the friends that appeared in my room.”

Her mother’s frown changed into a slow smile.

“I’m sure they’ll stop soon Meghan.”

“But mummy, won’t you come and tell them off?”

An impatient tutting from her father made her mother stiffen. The warm smile died in her eyes.

“Not now Meghan. I’ll bring you some toast soon.”

“Mummy…”

“Please, Meghan!”

She paced dejected back to the playroom. There was an ominous scuffling sound behind the closed door; Meghan was scared, but her mother had told her to go to her room. She peered gingerly round the door: Tulpa lay in the fireplace, her eyes closed just like Meghan’s dolls. Her legs were pointing up the chimney, and as Meghan watched she saw a tiny pair of hands reach down and grab Tulpa’s ankles. Slowly, slowly, Tulpa disappeared up the chimney. She never opened her eyes.

When Tulpa had completely disappeared, Enty’s voice came down the chimney, with a small fall of soot.

“I’ll be back soon Meghan. You had better play nicely…”

Meghan sucked on her thumb and waited on the rug.


Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full-length novel while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.

 

Encounter

By Elizabeth Bradley

Gravel skittered down the desolate road as Jenn kicked her feet, hypnotized by the crunch and scatter in the otherwise silent air. Fog had descended on the forest suddenly and caught her more than a mile out from camp. She hitched the leather strap on her shoulder, repositioning her rifle and tried to ignore the churning of her stomach. She wasn’t expected back for hours, but the fog had obliterated her chances of tracking anything in the woods. Her t-shirt clung to her slick skin underneath the thick canvas jacket. She shivered.

Trees towered over her, stark and menacing in the semi-darkness. They appeared from nothing and then receded behind her, back into the thickening fog.

Her breath rose in a mist. She gripped the leather rifle strap, her knuckles white. Quickening her pace she glanced around, trying to find something familiar. Had she passed the turnoff?

Two lights appeared, cutting through the fog. Jenn jumped to the side of the road and waved her arms, hoping that the passing motorist would see her. But the lights did not come any closer. She dropped her arms. Slipping its strap from her shoulder, she swung her gun to the ready.

“Hello?” Her words were swallowed by the dense mist. The ground was silent beneath her as she edged forward, years of stalking deer gave her a light foot. A tall figure emerged from the fog. Its back was to her and wrapped in a long coat.

“Hello?” she called again, lowering the rifle. The figure twitched. She pulled the gun up, trained on the stranger. “Can you hear me?”

She gripped the gun tighter trying to resist trembling, adrenaline coursing through her veins. The figure turned. Her stomach tightened and though she tried to speak, no words could escape. The creature standing in the middle of the road was shaped like a man, but there was something wrong. Its features were distorted and stretched. Dark black eyes bore holes into her.

It darted towards her and she pulled the trigger.

The bullet exploded from the end of her rifle in slow motion. A flash of fire. The acrid stench of gunpowder hit her nostrils. The figure raised its arms, pointing in her direction. The bullet swerved and headed straight for her. It slammed into her shoulder and pain blinded her as she fell.

Gasping for air, Jenn gaped at the figure who stood only a foot away. A loud whirring rang in her ears, and the lights ahead grew stronger, enveloping them both in light and sound. With a crack, the figure vanished, and as the light dissipated around her broken body, she disappeared in the darkness.


Author Bio: Elizabeth Bradley is a writer and mother living in the rural Alaskan bush. Her flash fiction has been published in StrippedLit500, and longlisted in AdHoc Fiction’s weekly competition. You can find her on Twitter at @LizjSmith7 She is working on her first novel, which will most certainly feature more aliens.

Submissions Open for Issue 3, Spring 2017

From February 1st to 28th we are open for submissions for our Spring 2017 edition, Issue 3.

Send us your short fiction, of any length up to 500 words;  we want your stories, your cautionary tales, your glimpses into new, and familiar worlds.

The theme for our third issue is “Unseen.” That quiet colleague whom no one thinks about, that lurking fear of the basement, that health scare, that mystical experience, that unexplained sighting in the sky. What will you make of the theme?

 

What will be unseen in your story? Emotions, actions, people, events, consequences? Or will your tale revolve an actual, unseen phenomenon; what lies at the bottom of the Scottish loch, atop the rumour-muttered hills?

Or will your unseen be an activity, a thing that happened and must un-happen; are there things that must be unseen?

You don’t have to use the word “unseen” in either your title or the body of your story, but it must deal with something unseen.

Please read our full submission guidelines here.

Get writing, submit your short fiction and bring the force of your pen or mouse to that which is, which must be, or was, UNSEEN!

The Breakers of Kraken Mare (Part 2)

By Margaret McGoverne

(Part 1)

The perpetual hazy orange sky during the daytime (as long as fifteen earth days) and the liquid methane rain combined to produce in Marlow a settled melancholy. He was only content when he trekked to the towering dunes along the Southern stretch of the lake and set his imaging goggles to display the methane waves as a whitish-blue colour, the closest approximation to earth waves they could manage. The east-to-west prevailing winds of Titan had produced dunes that rose more than 90 metres, and he would find a stable shelf to sit and watch the restless methane waves that disappeared when he removed his goggles.

He hadn’t found the purpose or the peace of mind he had sought on Titan; this was no grand project of human endeavour, but a shameless cash grab. Back on earth, the scientists were working on a form of liquid methane that could power bio-propellant rocket engines; first ignition tests had been successfully completed, and the inevitable methane rockets would allow mankind to roam the solar system, harvesting yet more methane to fuel further exploration and more wanton use of fuel back on earth.

Donning his goggles, he watched the heavy gas breakers fizz and dissolve into foam as they reached the shore. He and Jenny had loved to watch the boomers as they broke endlessly, endlessly against the sandy shore. Just like our love, Jenny would say, pulling him closer.

“Jenny.”

No one replied; not even a crash and boom from the methane waves. Marlow stood up, stretching. He wasn’t tired from his trek, and he wasn’t ready to return to the refinery. He had wanted a grand gesture, a triumphant, heartbreaking riposte to Jennifer’s desertion of him, but it hadn’t worked out like that. Even the gravity made him feel ironically light and easy.

He climbed higher up the dunes, aiming to reach the summit. On his journey to Titan he had read up on all the moons in the solar system; he had been surprised to learn there were nearly two hundred of them. One in particular had fascinated him: Miranda, a moon of  Uranus (the next planet along, he had thought, as if 900 million miles were a hop on the bus) featured a cliff situated in its Southern hemisphere called Verona Rupes; the cliff face had been measured by the Voyager 2 probe in the 1980s at more than five miles high; the tallest known cliff in the Solar System. Marlow wished he could visit that cliff, maybe hike its lower reaches, and view the grand vista its heights offered. But Miranda had little to offer humankind in terms of resources, and no bases were built there.

This dune he was lightly climbing, as nimble as a mountain goat in Titan’s low gravity, couldn’t offer quite the challenge that Verona Rupes would, but he would traverse it just the same. But when he reached the top, adjusting his goggles through their chromatic scale, the waves below appearing now green, now pink, now black, he felt unfulfilled by the lack of effort it had required of him.

A memory of he and Jenny at the beach rose, unbidden. They had scaled the dunes one balmy evening, then, full of energy and unwilling to walk home, Jenny had taken his hand. They pulled off their shoes, socks, and jeans, and jumped lightly from the dunes, arms outstretched, running towards and embracing the waves. They had staggered, breathless and laughing back to the dunes, covered in sand and then they had tasted each other’s salty mouths. Marlow realised with a jolt that was physical that this had been their last visit to the sea before Jenny left him.

He sent his yearning out over a billion kilometers, wishing she were her with him now to see him, as he dialed his goggles to earth-wave colour and dove, arms outstretched, from the dune to the craggy rocks and the silent, invisible methane waves three hundred feet below.


Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full-length novel, while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.

The Breakers of Kraken Mare (Part 1)

By Margaret McGoverne

(Part 2)

Marlow Haru was two years, a billion kilometers, and three planets from home, on the most distant planet visible to the naked eye from Earth. The night before he set off on his journey to Saturn, Marlow had sat up until midnight to see the gas giant as a small yellow light in the sky for the last time from this vantage point, a small town in the Northern Hemisphere to the right of the Atlantic Ocean.

But Titan, not Saturn, was his destination. He recalled his arrival on Saturn’s largest moon on the refinery transporter vessel; it shook and juddered slightly as it descended, piercing the opaque atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and ethane smog that shrouded the satellite.  The liquid hydrocarbon lakes, the real reason he had been flown half-way across the solar system lay in the polar regions, and he was surprised to see a smooth, crater-free surface as the craft traversed the unhealthy looking clouds of gas. Only the occasional cryovolcano, spewing smoky plumes of ammonia into the upper reaches of the atmosphere betrayed his destination as the icy moon that had been penetrated and mapped thirty years before, by NASA’s unmanned robot probe Cassini–Huygens.

Following the discovery that Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere  had created vast bodies of liquid methane and ethane , it was only a matter of time before mankind turned its thoughts to creating an outpost on Titan to exploit the free fuel reserves that dwarfed those remaining on Earth. Those oily hydrocarbon lakes that had pooled at the moon’s poles were an irresistible brew to oil-strapped humanity. The financial implications of the discovery of the first stable bodies of surface liquid found off Earth far outweighed the scientific. Methane, also known as natural gas, could be used to heat homes and power vehicles, turbines, and more. Within a decade an alliance of countries with the necessary technology and budgets had put their differences aside and accelerated the quest to build  spacecraft capable of transporting the precious methane. Several huge refinery bases had been rapidly established on Titan – one for each major player.

While these momentous activities were occurring half a solar system away, Marlow Haru was gaining an engineering degree, a job, a wife. He watched the news  updates on the Titan project with detached interest; wouldn’t it be great to travel all the way to Saturn? But his family ties restricted these thoughts to no more than a pleasant, wistful distraction. Life was good on earth; he and Jennifer bought a small place not far from the coast, and they spent most of their free time walking, swimming, and sea kayaking. They were happy, even when no patter of tiny feet arrived after a couple of years. Sitting on the grassy sand dunes with his girl next to him, watching the breakers crash endlessly on the smooth, wet sand, Marlow felt no stellar wanderlust.

Jenny left him soon after their fifth wedding anniversary when they discovered that Marlow was infertile. There had been tears, pleas for forgiveness and understanding, and, trancelike, he had acquiesced. What else could he do? He threw himself into his work but it wasn’t enough; his duties as a maintenance engineer for a large utility firm were undemanding, and the bonhomie at work ended with his shifts.

Their decree absolute came through as the national newspapers carried recruitment calls for people to travel to Saturn within the next three months. He was young, fit and there were openings for engineers at the refineries. He was the perfect candidate; he had no ties, and he was swiftly offered a ten-year enlistment at the British-owned refinery situated at the north pole of Titan, on the shores of Kraken Mare, one of Titan’s largest methane lakes.

The refinery was huge, a soaring mass of walkways and towers, its lights smouldering orange and indistinct in the fog-thick atmosphere. The methane was piped from the lake and converted to a refrigerated liquid petroleum gas for ease of transport back to earth. LPG took up less than 1/600th of the space of the gas in its natural state and was stable and non-toxic; the culture at the refinery was efficient and safety conscious, but relaxed.

Marlow’s duties were simple and undemanding. The only additional equipment he had to wear was an oxygen mask; atmospheric pressure was similar to lying on the bottom of a swimming pool and didn’t interfere with his duties, which were to inspect and maintain the electrical plant. He was frankly overqualified to be conducting vacuum pressure tests on the switchgear and opening and closing the massive circuit breakers but he was paid very well for his services – besides which, he had signed up for ten years; the prohibitive costs of travelling to Titan meant that the refinery companies wrote in large punitive exit clauses to employees’ contracts.

In his spare time, he donned extra warm clothes, his air tank and a pair of optimal infrared hyperspectral imaging goggles  and went hiking along the rugged coastline and small islets of the Southern tip of Kraken Mare, which marked the outer edge of the refinery

 

Them Boys

By Brian von Knoblauch

Them boys came buzzing out of the trailhead on their dirt bikes like a horde of angry bees. I heard ‘em comin’ through the woods, tearin’ up the trails. I was tendin’ to my hogs when they went rippin’ by on the main road, gettin’ ol’ Jerry all riled up. Jerry was my dog. He was a good boy and had just turned thirteen. He didn’t like the sound of them dirt bikes much and would snarl and bark at them when they went by, pullin’ ‘gainst his rope. Jerry wasn’ a fan of loud noises; thunderstorms and fireworks scared the shit outta him. I called the sheriff on them boys a few times, but he tol’ me that there’s nothin’ he can do, ‘less they drive on my private property. Didn’t surprise me much, seein’ how his nephew was one of ‘em.

One day them boys stopped coming around. The sheriff came by and he seemed upset, askin’ if I seen his sister’s boy ‘n’ his friends. I tol’ him the las’ time I saw that boy, he and his buddies we’re out on their bikes, headin’ towards the trails on the north end. The damn noise they made gave ol’ Jerry a heart attack and he died mid-snarl. Dropped dead, just like that.

The sheriff didn’t seem to care about ol’ Jer’ though. He thanked me an’ went on his way, headin’ towards the trails. I ‘spect he’ll be back though, soon as he finds the wire I put up ‘tween those trees an’ them boys’ heads underneath it.


Author Bio: I am an IT Manager currently enjoying life in Syracuse, NY.

101 Uses for Dark Energy

By Pascal Inard

Captain Hadoki checked the graviton generator, the most important piece of equipment on the Collingsworth, the first manned interstellar ship powered by dark energy. Contrary to what was previously believed dark energy was not evenly distributed throughout the universe. Currents of concentrated dark energy flowed between stars and between galaxies, and the ship’s sails were designed to catch these currents to power the ship, but if the graviton generator failed, dark energy would rip the ship apart in less than a microsecond.

When the ship reached the ZRG3086 stellar system where signals coming from Planet Félicie had been detected, suggesting the presence of intelligent life, Hadoki opened a bottle of champagne and started serving the

“Fred, aren’t you having any?”

The exobiologist replied, “I don’t want to drink any alcohol until Doctor Felding has run a full battery of tests to check that my body hasn’t been affected by dark energy.”

“Are you feeling OK?”

“I’m not sure. My heart is beating faster and I’ve got a funny taste in my mouth.”

“What about you, Pavel?”

“No, I don’t want to risk it,” replied the navigator. “It’s bad luck to have a drink with a person who is more than ten years older than you in a month with thirty-one days, except on a leap year.”

Hadoki went to his cabin, leaving his 2IC in charge. He was about to ask the computer to bring up the profiles of Pavel and Fred, when every word that he’d read on them came back to him in a flash. Pavel was brought up in a superstitious family but didn’t see himself as an irrational person, and Fred had admitted to being slightly hypochondriac. Hadoki had an above-average memory, but not the point of recalling files word for word. It was as though a tiny amount of dark energy had leaked in, not enough to cause physical damage but somehow it had expanded the crew’s strengths and flaws. It would certainly take getting used to, and he should probably review the entire crew’s files, but there was plenty of time for that.

Enrique burst in the room. He was one of the most brilliant linguists in the world, but he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and Hadoki’s objection to taking him on the journey had been overruled. It was vital to have someone of his calibre on board to communicate with the aliens that could be present on Planet Félicie, and as long as he had his daily injection of Olanzapine he was as gentle as a lamb.

Enrique had always looked at Hadoki with angry eyes, as if he knew Hadoki had tried to stop him joining the crew, but this time he looked absolutely furious.

Hadoki didn’t have time to get up and defend himself. Enrique had a fire extinguisher in his hand, and just before it crashed on his head, Hadoki thought about how he go down in history, the first victim of dark energy.


Author Bio: Pascal Inard is a bilingual writer and IT project manager from Melbourne, Australia. His work is forthcoming in Antipodean SF Magazine and the “Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers, and Robots” Anthology.
He is also the author of two novels, “The Memory Snatcher”, a science-fiction mystery about a police inspector and a quantum physicist who join forces to stop a memory thief from paralysing the world, and “Web of Destinies”, a time travel mystery about a doctor who inherits a mysterious typewriter that can change the past.
You can visit Pascal Inard on Facebook.com/Pascal.Inard.Writer/