Tag Archives: Stories

Portion of the 16th century Carta Marina showing two sea monsters.

Leviathan

The beast settled down in the cool dark sea between two far-flung continents. It sunk until its splayed limbs rested on the ocean floor, leaving only the highest elevations of its rocky shell to protrude above the waves. The ridges and whorls of the carapace formed strange, concentric rings and clusters of mountainous islands. Slowly, the beast unfurled its proboscis and pushed it into the seabed. It drilled deep until the rock grew soft and hot, then began to patiently suck the molten nectar within the earth.

Seabirds, venturing far over the waves, spied the new islands and winged thither. They made homes on the steep bony slopes overlooking inlet and channel, and fed on the fish that came to eat the plankton teeming in the shallows. Lichen appeared on the shell. An errant seed was deposited by the wind, and a clump of grass took root in a narrow crevice. Insects were borne to the strange land by wind and wave, and buzzed and scuttled across the islands contentedly. Mosses, grasses, shrubs and trees appeared as years passed. A lizard peeked out from beneath a rock. A frog croaked beside a pond on a summer night. Continue reading Leviathan

Mail from Mars

Atop a pillar of smoke and flame, the rocket rose into the blue October sky. The vibration of its engines shook the ground three miles away, where Arthur McLaren stood watching his wife leaving the Earth.

“It’s only five years,” she had said as they embraced one final time beneath the launch platform. A crowd of others saying their own goodbyes surrounded them, and the scent of kerosene and metal was heavy on the air.

“I know,” he said, and smiled to disguise his pain. “Five years of hopping over Martian sand dunes looking for fossil bacteria, while I sit at home running conference calls and weeding the garden.”

“Don’t pull all the weeds. They’ll be a rare sight when I get back,” she joked.

You better come back, he thought. “I will miss you,” he said, and kissed her fiercely, pulling her orange jumpsuit–clad body tight against his for a long moment. Then it was time. She had waved to him as the elevator took her and her nine fellow voyagers up to the shuttle, and he boarded the bus to return to the observation center to watch the launch.

And now the shuttle was gone, and the trail of smoke drifted away in the wind. A bell sounded, and a voice (was it human? Or computerized? It was hard to tell nowadays.) announced that the shuttle had achieved orbit. The time was 10:43 am, October 5, 2041. Arthur left the observation center, took a cab to the airport, and caught a flight back home to Virginia.

He ate a lonely dinner that evening, knowing it would be the norm for eighteen hundred nights to come. He was making tea afterwards when a call came in. Samantha McLaren, read the message on his watch. He went to the viewscreen overlooking the kitchen counter and turned it on. His wife’s image appeared. Continue reading Mail from Mars

The Gods’ House

The gods’ house was unguarded. Toima knew this was unthinkable; it was the blood-duty of a single warrior to guard it from sun’s rise to twilight. Yet before her the house stood, a strange and unnatural structure rising out of the forest like a gigantic metallic mushroom, its tarnished, ovoid body perched atop a perfect cube of white stone. No one present. Beside the featureless metal door in one side of the cube-base, the place where the warrior always sat was shockingly empty.

I shouldn’t be here. The truth of the statement echoed in Toima’s every bone, and she clutched the clay water-pot closer to her thin chest. She had been going to the springs, like she did every day to fetch water for her mother. One could glimpse the top of the gods’ house from the path, but not since she was very small had she sneaked away, through thickets and cane-brakes, to peek at the house. It was improper. Everyone knew the gods did not want humans interfering in their affairs. Therefore, the house was guarded. Why had she risked discovery to spy on the place now?

But there hadn’t been a guard today. And Toima did not like the fluttering of temptation in her stomach.

“Why is no one allowed into the gods’ house?” she had asked her mother when she was younger and more ignorant.

“It is forbidden,” came the reply. “Long ago, the gods deemed it improper for the unclean to come into their homes. And so we have obeyed them ever since.”

“But the gods vanished many generations ago,” Toima had said.

“It changes nothing. An immortal god’s rule may not be changed by humans. We do not speculate why they chose to leave us, but their laws will stand forever. Why all these questions?”

Toima had given no answer. She could not explain to herself her fascination with the gods. But her ears had been open to tales of them and their house in the forest. One of those stories she now recalled: an anecdote used by elders to impress upon children the sanctity of the gods’ house. Many years past, the tale went, two boys chanced to find the gods’ house unguarded, and commenced—as boys would—throwing stones at it. The rocks ricocheted off the walls with a noise like the striking of a gong. At last one boy hurled an ill-aimed rock, and it crashed through one of the oval windows ringing the top of the house. The building began to howl, whooping and shrieking so loudly that the din was heard in the village. In terror the boys fled. They confessed their sins in the village circle, and were beaten to death there for the offense. On festival nights, when all sat around a bonfire on the hard-beaten dirt of the dancing-ground, an ancient woman had recited the story to Toima and her friends. “The house’s scream! It sounded like a giant beast. A noise like death! It yanked your heart into your throat and made your skin feel like it was crawling off your body and running far away. Do not go near the gods’ house!” the crone had warned. Continue reading The Gods’ House

Out of Time

“You’re fired, Matt,” I said, and sighed sadly. “I’m sorry.”

The man across the desk did not appear surprised. He pursed his lips and, for a few seconds, stared blankly into my eyes, then dropped his gaze. He lifted his right hand slightly and ran the pad of his thumb over his fingernails.

“Of course. I understand. I know you couldn’t keep me on like this. I’m undependable,” he stated, in the same tone he used to talk about the weather.

I nodded. I might as well be honest about it. “You’re brilliant. The stuff you’ve written for me is the best I’ve ever had, no exaggeration. But I’m running a magazine here. I need articles on time and regularly. I have to do things by the clock. And you haven’t been able to meet that requirement.”

A bitter line appeared between his lips. “Time. That’s always the problem.”

“Why does it have to be you?” I said, more vehemently than I intended. “Damn it, Matt, I want your articles! I want you on staff, but not if you’re like this!” He said nothing, just kept staring at his fingernails.

“Never mind,” I continued. “I guess it’s my fault to some extent. I’ve known you long enough, I shouldn’t have made the gamble in the first place. I’ll get you the forms and information for the severance package. You can take it home with you.”

I pulled open a drawer behind me, fished out the papers I needed, and handed them to him. Matt took them gently from my hand and glanced at them, then caught my eyes with his own.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” he remarked, “but there are some, well, some circumstances that you should know about. I am inclined to tell you, and they might help explain. Not that they would convince you to keep me on, but they may make you feel a little less confused.”

“OK, shoot.” I leaned back in my chair and put my hands behind my head.

“How much time do I have?” he asked.

I checked my watch. “Exactly twenty-five minutes. Then I’ve got a meeting to look over the layout draft.”

“I’ll tell you what I can,” Matt said, and began:

“Time doesn’t work for me. Or I don’t work with time—I don’t know which. I’m … out of sync. With normal time, that is, what you and everyone else experience.

“You know how, when you’re doing something you greatly enjoy, time seems to fly, and it’s gone before you know it? Or how the seconds just crawl by when you’re in the middle of something unpleasant? Good. Now imagine that, sped up or slowed down a thousand-fold, and disassociated from whether you like or dislike what is going on. That’s a rough idea of what happens for me.” Continue reading Out of Time

In the Beginning: Aba’s Tale

Not long ago, in a wide valley between tumbled hills, there lived a tribe of a couple dozen creatures. They walked upright on two legs, swinging their arms back and forth at their sides with each pace. They appeared mostly defenseless and harmless, without large teeth or strong jaws or sharp claws, and their forward-facing eyes flicked nervously from side to side in an unceasing vigil for food and predators. In the valley’s thickets they searched for berries, nuts, and roots, and occasionally scavenged a few strips of meat from a lion’s kill, furtively stripping the cold flesh from the bones and gulping it down with delight. At night, they huddled together for warmth in a cave near the head of the valley. They slept lightly and muttered noises to one another that held some ill-defined scrap of meaning.

One day, a healthy male of the tribe, who responded when his fellows cried out “Aba”, wandered off down a well-worn trail. The day was fair and warm, and Aba was aware, with an emotion akin to happiness, of the blood pulsing in his veins and the movement of his muscles. He walked, his head upturned to gaze at an eagle circling above the valley, and he did not notice that a sinkhole had collapsed across the path on the previous night. Aba stumbled in, landing with a grunt on his elbows and knees. Continue reading In the Beginning: Aba’s Tale