Silence & Solace

When I saw the house, on its own little island at the end of a long jetty that led out into the lake, I had to stop for a minute. I set my bags down, taking a deep breath.

“Well, it’s secluded,” I said out loud, although there wasn’t anyone around to hear me.

After all, I admitted to myself as I once again hoisted the heavy, stuffed duffel bag onto my shoulders, that had been my request. I’d told my agent that I needed someplace totally out of the way, where I wouldn’t be interrupted. Out there, I told him over the phone, there wouldn’t be any distractions to keep me from finally finishing a manuscript.

Had he sounded doubtful as he agreed to search for such a place for me? Or had that just been in my imagination, my inner critic taking a dig at my fragile self-esteem? Continue reading

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“Sorry, I’ll be dead that week. Can we do the week after?”

Carson frowned at me, his glass of scotch halfway to his mouth. “What?”

“I said, I’m sorry, but I’ll be dead that week,” I repeated. “So I can’t make the golf course. Can we do it the week after?”

He set the glass back down, shaking his head. “You’re going to be dead,” he stated.

“That’s right.”

“Like, dead? Really dead?”

I shrugged. “For all intents and purposes, yeah. So no golfing, no fancy dinners out, nothing like that.”

“But you’re coming back next week.”

“Right. I’m only dead for a week.” Continue reading

“It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

“Hey! Hey, you!”

I almost didn’t stop. I’m still not sure if I would have been better off if I just kept walking, ignoring the shout from behind me. Maybe, if I’d just turned up my collar against the chill in the air and kept on striding across the park, I wouldn’t have arrived late to my meeting. Maybe I wouldn’t have even seen that monster in the lobby, tentacles thrashing as they came rising up out of the central ornamental fountain, smashing the expensive furniture and tearing poor Tina in half…

But you can’t buy shit with wishes, as my dad used to tell me. I heard that shout from behind me, and I paused for a second, turning and glancing back over my shoulder.

Just a second. But that was enough time to get me into this mess. Continue reading

One Step on Mars, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

Out in deep space…

The prove beeped. Its scan reported new activity.

Of course, it paused for a few nanoseconds for a second verification scan. After all, it was designed to avoid false positives. A hundred false negatives were better than a false positive, as they could always be corrected for at a later date.

But the second scan revealed the same presence. Sentients with the same subcomputational patterns were now present on a second planet within their star system.

The probe’s criteria for activation had been met. Continue reading

One Step On Mars, Part I

The probe arrived fifteen days after the first humans set foot in the colonies.

Of course, the colonies were already there and waiting. They’d been there for a while, sitting idly on the surface of Mars, occasionally powering up at regular intervals to perform preventative maintenance and keep their surfaces clean. There were, after all, always more tasks that the robots could carry out. The solar panels needed to be swept clear of dust daily, the supports that anchored the habitats to the thin Martian soil beneath needed to be bolstered and checked to ensure nothing had torn loose, the atmospheric synthesizers that would, one day, lead to Mars possessing a breathable atmosphere had to be maintained, the generators needed the occasional check-up…

So the robotic “minds” of the colonies passed time, waiting for their first inhabitants to arrive.

And somewhere else, out in deep space, the probe waited as well, watching the developments in the Sol system with endless patience… Continue reading

The Couple on the Beach

The logs crackled, shifting slightly as they lost structural stability, slowly collapsing into coals. Sparks rose up in a long, slow spiral, up into the blackness of the sky.

I sat back, feeling the cold sand shift beneath the thin layer of the blanket. The blanket wasn’t enough to block that chill, but it kept the sand from clinging to my fingers, sticking to my skin.

The moment was soft, smooth, but filled with a curious sense of anticipation. I knew where that anticipation came from. It crackled between me and the girl beside me, like the wood crackled in the bonfire in front of us. Continue reading

“Excuse me, what’s wrong with you?”

“Excuse me, but what’s wrong with you?”

The words came bursting out of me, errant children running ahead of an overstressed mother. I tried to grab them back, but they’d already left my tongue, out to cause trouble in the world.

And although I prayed that maybe the woman in front of me hadn’t heard me speak, I saw her shoulders stiffen – and she slowly turned around to face me.

“What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes until they reminded me of a couple little marbles pressed into the marshmallow of her face. Continue reading

Auras, Part III

Continued from Part II, here.

I felt like I was drowning in a vat of tar, falling beneath the waves of a choking black sea. Grandma Higgins’ aura came washing over me, hitting me in repeated waves and pushing me down deeper into the blackness. I couldn’t do anything against it.

I was going to die.

The realization hit me like a bucket of cold water poured down my spine, like when Tommy snuck up behind me once during a test and dropped an ice cube down the back of my shirt. Somehow, that sudden fact, so cold and hard, galvanized me into action.

I pushed back wildly, desperately, against that black aura that wrapped around me. I opened my mouth in a silent scream, pushing, tuning my very thoughts into a focused blade to try and push through that suffocating blackness.

And then, just as I felt myself fading for what I knew would be the last time, the darkness recoiled from me. Continue reading

Auras, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

“What are you waiting for? Come on down, James!” Grandma Higgins called to me, beaming from inside the center of the pitch black aura that glistened around her.

Finally, dimly, I forced my legs to continue down the stairs, carrying me towards her waiting arms. I almost expected to feel that horrible aura as I got closer, the blackness closing in and sucking me down like sticky tar.

But I didn’t, of course, and instead just got the normal smell of old person, combined with the hint of flour and the touch of starch that she used on all her clothes. She wrapped her arms around my middle, giving me a squeeze. Continue reading

Auras, Part I

I heard the sound of my mom’s footsteps on the stairs. She always acted astounded when I knew that it was her, before she even knocked on my bedroom door. I didn’t know if she truly didn’t understand that her footsteps on the creaky old wooden stairs of our family house sounded different, or if she just chose to humor me.

“James?” she called out, rapping her knuckles lightly against the other side of my bedroom door. “Listen, are you awake?”

I groaned, grabbing my pillow and squeezing it tighter against my face. I let out an indistinct grunt, hoping she’d take this as assent.

“James? Do I need to come in there? I know you’re feeling under the weather, but do you need to go to the hospital?” Continue reading