An Empire of Shattered Glass by Gunnar de Winter

“…Library HUMMED contains similar affliction in human brains: dementia. Progressive loss of neuronal capacity results in decline, and eventual collapse, of cognition and self-awareness. Quantitative comparison suggests strong analogy… Is this what they call fear?”

Now that All the Heroes are Dead by David Tallerman

“…Ghest thought of the labyrinths under Starsang–of how he had wandered in near-total darkness, at first hunted and then hunter. Hadn’t he found his way out eventually, though his sword was dripping with ichor by then? He had. Only now that he considered it, he couldn’t say precisely how…”

A Confusion of Weasels by Paul Weidknecht

“…Lately, she found the construction site the only place she could gather her thoughts. She thought of the past and how everything over these last months had come down to simple persuasion, the art of gaining someone’s confidence and support for a purpose…”

The Moon and the Ravine by Patricia O’Donnell

“…Nate’s color was high, but he seemed to hold in a small smile. Was he pleased by her anger? Amused? He leaned across the table in a sudden movement and grabbed her hand…”

The Stories of Read Short Fiction:

An Empire of Shattered Glass by Gunnar de Winter

September 25, 2017 Science Fiction, Speculative 5 Comments
An Empire of Shattered Glass by Gunnar de Winter

An Empire of Shattered Glass
by Gunnar De Winter

George begins his walk through the crystal mind.

A direct brain-to-AI interface allows him to saunter through the vast mind of a powerful artificial intelligence. In this case, the AI has chosen a visualization that looks like an enormous glass palace. Turns out that human beings are much better at handling and interpreting data if it’s provided in a 3D spatial rendering.

“Like a memory palace,” George mutters, “just bigger and more complex. Those ancient Greeks were on to something, I guess.”

He squints, trying to find his way in the maze of semi-transparent glass. Above, below, to the sides – everywhere he looks – he sees layer upon layer of not-quite-see-through glass. Like being stuck in an angular soap bubble, embedded in the middle of a bubble bath. As with all AI minds, it takes some getting used to.

Rapid footsteps echo behind him. George turns just in time to see a large golden-haired baboon come to a grinding halt.

“Greetings, human.”

“A good day to you too. And call me George. I suppose you know why I’m here?”

“Naturally,” the AI’s avatar replies. “And you are, of course, most welcome. However, I can assure you that it’s nothing to worry about. Just a glitch. It is being taken care of as we speak.”

“Great. I’d still like to have a look, though.”

“Of course. Follow me, please.” The big baboon turns on his heels, drops to all fours and, long tail forming a smooth downward curve, walks past George. Accompanied by the muffled sound of their footsteps, they pass a couple of turns until they reach the beginning of a long hallway, the walls of which are less transparent than most others George has seen so far. The primate avatar stops in front of a nondescript cloudy door. George puts the edge of his hand against it and tries to peer through. No luck.

“Shall we?,” the baboon asks, extending a lengthy, muscular arm. “After you, good sir.”

Silently, the door slides open. As George enters the room, the jumble of glass structures is replaced by a quickly coalescing manifestation of an old, Victorian library. *** Read on! ***

Now that All the Heroes are Dead by David Tallerman

May 4, 2017 Fantasy No Comments
Now that All the Heroes are Dead by David Tallerman

Now that All the Heroes are Dead
by David Tallerman

Ghest Untar shielded his eyes with one gauntleted hand and stared further up the flank of Shaelorn Mountain.

Though lower down there had remained some foliage, in the form of gaunt trees and browned grass, from here onward was only bare and blackened rock, as though a fire had raged. Yet there was no sign of any fire. There were only the ebon slopes and then, rising abrupt as a wall, a pillar of cloud that penetrated high into the heavens, farther than he could see.

Within that ethereal column, Ghest could make out slashes of lightning, vertical and horizontal, and if he really concentrated, something more: traces of a sky, but not the sky that lay beyond the cloud pillar. Here was early evening, the sun sinking red towards the horizon; there was darkest night. He glimpsed constellations he could make no sense of, spied slivers of one moon and another.

He would have found it easy, all too easy, to convince himself that there was the true sky of a true world and that this, here about him, was mere illusion. For when he looked behind him–his gaze roving across the lifeless mountainside and the long-abandoned villages at its base, all the way to the distant needle of the Spire Aspirant upon its rugged promontory–the scene seemed flimsy and insubstantial, like a tapestry coming loose at its seams.

Ghest looked away. He felt fear that he could not quite explain. Hadn’t he faced worse threats than this? He had, for he remembered them each distinctly. The Shifters of Starsang, that corroded city where men walked who were not and never had been men. The priests of the House Descending, who had dreamed their mad and blood-red dreams. And the thing in the Forests of Fossil, which his mind still trembled to consider. But he had won against it, though winning had seemed impossible; he had skewered its amorphous flesh, set light to the flaccid corpse, and for two whole days and nights had watched as it burned and squirmed, before finally it lay still.

He’d won. He had always won. Why then, this time, was he afraid? *** Read on! ***

A Confusion of Weasels by Paul Weidknecht

November 27, 2016 Mainstream No Comments
A Confusion of Weasels by Paul Weidknecht

A Confusion of Weasels
by Paul Weidknecht

She hadn’t gotten there just yet, but Michelle knew it wouldn’t be long before she had her Wandering Deer Estates home, that Buck Ridge Terrace address. The timeline was anyone’s guess, but until then she would stay with the plan, let it play out, maybe visit the construction site a few more times. And now, it was in this soothing confidence that she stood in the doorway of her tiny kitchen watching the mess unfold without being all that angry.

Still, she wondered why they all had to prepare their lunches at the same time. It was as if a buzzer had sounded the start of a contest and the first to create something that resembled food was the winner. Skyler and Tyler, the teen and ‘tween, had begun work on an impossibly large mixed salad, much bigger than both of them could ever finish; while Don, off from the warehouse this Saturday, had thrown a handful of chips along side a tuna sandwich he’d put together. She peeked past Don’s sandwich to the countertop, then shot him a look, the meaning of which was lost in the bustle. A puddle of oil from the tuna and a tablespoon of diced onions glistened back, spread in a foot and a half swath across the counter. She sighed. Without a doubt, her next kitchen would be immense, spectacular; it would be a Wandering Deer kitchen.

Don looked down at the sock-footed three-year-old, Kyler, padding across the kitchen floor with a juice box in his hand.

“How come you got the kid dressed like a rat?” Don asked through a mouthful of sandwich.

Michelle would let that one go for now. Don had seen her in the back room night after night for weeks, cutting patterns and sewing together panels of material. He’d seen Kyler cajoled from his morning cartoons and bowl of dry Cheerios, marched in for alteration after alteration so the garment would fit like a second skin. Anyone with half a brain could see this child was not dressed like a rat.

“A weasel. We’re going to Shady Birch to visit Suzanna,” she said.

“It’s weasels now? Three months ago it was dogs, before that, cockatiels.”

“Yeah, I know. A while back a group of eighth graders from the middle school visited the home with several animals. Animal therapy. This time Suzanna really seems locked in on weasels. She’s got several pictures around her room, on the dresser, by her bed. She’s also asked me for a subscription to Weasel Quarterly, so I got her one. I figure it’s an investment.” *** Read on! ***

The Moon and the Ravine by Patricia O’Donnell

July 19, 2016 Mainstream 7 Comments
The Moon and the Ravine by Patricia O’Donnell

The Moon and the Ravine
by Patricia O’Donnell

Emily Stephens couldn’t decide if she hated traveling, or loved it. Traveling is stressful, she thought, as she leaned an elbow out the open window of the Fiat driven too fast by her new husband, Nate. She liked the feel of the wind whipping through her hair. It must be stressful for everyone, right? Why, then, did society—in this case, in the form of Emily’s mother and father—insist that a newly married couple subject their tender baby marriage to this turmoil, to this potential trauma? Tickets to Italy, and money for this vacation, were part of their wedding present, and could not be refused, or put off for a year. “It’s not a honeymoon if you put it off,” her mother had said astringently. “Then it’s just a trip.”

Travel did have moments of startling beauty. This morning from the hotel terrace Emily and Nate had watched thunder clouds rolling in the distance, over the mountains, while the sky above them was blue. They were staying in Basilicata, a mountainous region in southern Italy. At one spot in the distance rain poured down in a blue/gray misty sheet, while sun shone on the mountains around it. “That must be Fiorellino,” Emily had said, jokingly, referring to the town they planned to visit. Now as they approached the town, however, Emily wondered if it was true; the sky was growing overcast, and the air became suddenly colder. Emily rolled up her window just as the first big raindrops splatted against their window. *** Read on! ***

Never and Always by Daniel Kason

November 23, 2015 Literary 11 Comments
Never and Always by Daniel Kason

Never and Always
by Daniel Kason

One morning, everyone wakes to find that the days are getting shorter. It is a peaceful day. No one notices the difference, really.

A father goes to work and comes home early to teach his son basketball. “It’s all about timing,” he says. “Timing and rotation.”

Two friends are caught up in an argument. One says that she was taken for granted. The other doesn’t see it that way.

A bookworm purchases twenty-four used paperbacks and excitedly brings them home. He vows to read one a day for the next twenty-four days.

And two lovers spend the day in bed, oblivious to the time lost, the hour that was taken from them.

The next day, the lost hour is all over the news. Astronomers think the Earth’s rotation is speeding up. Environmentalists think we are the cause of this fluke in nature. Politicians think it’s all a hoax. Everyone else does not know what to think at all. They wait.

The father, Jon, continues to teach his son, Eric. They do not discuss the news. Jon shows him how to perform a jump shot, and then they work on his layup. The sun sets early, and they head in for dinner.

The two friends, Beth and Lorraine, are not speaking to each other. Beth hears the phone ring, but it is only her landlord. She is going to be kicked out of her apartment. Why is money the source of all problems? she wonders. Beth eats a bowl of noodles and waits for her favorite TV show to come on. It doesn’t.

The bookworm, Harold, spends the evening finishing up another paperback. Curled up in his blanket, basking in the lamplight, he turns the last page of a book as the morning light filters into the room. Harold yawns, shuts the book, and picks up another.

The two lovers, Shawn and Lindsay, wonder if time really is slipping away. “What if it’s true?” Shawn asks over breakfast.

Lindsay shrugs and takes a bite of cereal. “If the days are gone,” she says, “if we really are losing time,” and she gives him a seductive look, “then we’ll just have to make the most of the nights, won’t we?” *** Read on! ***

And the Oscar Goes to Jail by Yaron Kaver

July 31, 2015 Humor, Literary 5 Comments
And the Oscar Goes to Jail by Yaron Kaver

And the Oscar Goes to Jail
by Yaron Kaver

The lineup at the 109th was my first real gig. I could tell right away it was going to be different from anything I’d done before. For starters, the auditions were held at a police station and not at some university or playhouse or community center. The setting had excellent art design, really got you in the mood. The script only had one line (“Gimme your phone, bitch!”), superbly written and easy to remember. And the audience was concealed behind a two-way mirror, which was great for me, since I’d always felt that having an audience compromised the quality of my craft.

I was discovered three hours earlier on a sidewalk outside the Flushing Jewish Community Council soup kitchen in Queens. Mr. Ed Weston, talent scout for the 109th, spotted me by the bulletin boards, where I stood scanning the postings for audition calls. Like most boards, this one was a bust, nothing but notices for food donations. Not that I wasn’t hungry—I was a starving young artist, after all—but my real hankering wasn’t for canned beans. I craved a meaty role I could sink my acting chops into. Luckily, I lingered long enough to catch Weston’s eye. He looked me over and said those five magic words: “Yeah, you look the part.”

They called five of us in at once, far more efficient than any other audition I’d ever been to. We sat on stools, wore Yankees caps and delivered the line. They had the guy next to me repeat it several times. If he’d asked me for pointers, I would’ve gladly helped him out, but it was probably for the best that I didn’t, because when I got out of the room, Ed grinned and told me that I was picked out of the five.

I think back to that moment whenever I’m feeling down. There’s nothing quite like being the audience favorite—it’s better than sex, better than bacon, better than that dream where you’re flying over green hills and telephone poles. And that was before I learned what the other guys already knew: this wasn’t an audition at all.

It was a real show. I was getting paid to act. *** Read on! ***

Far From Regis Station by Ilan Lerman

Far From Regis Station by Ilan Lerman

Far From Regis Station
by Ilan Lerman

It’s so peaceful at Regis Station. The only sounds are the wind whipping across the tundra and my own breathing.

I didn’t think I’d like it out here. The solitude. The lack of stimulus. Some people have to have another person around to keep them straight. For me, it’s another extreme experience, like bungy-jumping in Queenstown, or skydiving over Monterey Bay. Instead of the adrenaline rush of freefall, it’s an opportunity to confront the unknown.

Larry dropped me off here in the ATV three hours ago. He should be over halfway back to McKinlay Station by now. He was the only one of the Grise Fjord Inuit who would drive me out here. Not one of the McKinlay scientists would do it. Bloody cowards.

Larry’s a jovial sort. Always smiling with those splintered, yellow teeth of his. He likes to crack jokes and tell stories about his family, but he didn’t say a word for the entire three-hour drive out to Regis Station.

“Bye, Chris,” was all he managed after he helped lug the crate of supplies in and refuelled. Then he was gone, the rumble of his ATV quickly swallowed by the vast, mountainous landscape of Ellesmere Island. See you in a week, Larry.

As research stations go, Regis is pretty basic. They designed it for two, but I’m glad I’m on my own as the bunks are crammed together and the wash facilities are rudimentary. There is enough workbench space to carry out some simple research, but it was only ever meant to be a short-stay camp to visit the Regis-Bell locality. A low, meandering river cuts down from the plateau behind me through extensive patches of purple saxifrage.

The generator didn’t take long to fire up, considering the length of time since it was last used. There’s plenty of spare fuel, a rifle and my radio in case of emergencies. Pascal gave me the drill on polar bears for the third time before I left. Never startle a bear. No shit, Pascal.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. Bears are incredibly rare this far inland and, according to Pascal and the others, are the least of my worries. Despite having the licences sorted and the time booked far in advance, I practically had to beg to be allowed out here on my own. Pascal wouldn’t have it on his conscience, not after the history of this place. Nothing scares me, though. No amount of campfire ghost-story tactics are going to come between me and completing my damn PHD thesis. *** Read on! ***

A Rich Man’s Knees by Douglas W. Milliken

December 31, 2014 Western 2 Comments
A Rich Man’s Knees by Douglas W. Milliken

A Rich Man’s Knees
by Douglas W. Milliken

The whole town had gathered around the church because Hollace Whitaker was holed up inside and we knew and he knew that he pretty much had to die. It wasn’t anything personal. It was, in fact, the definition of impersonal. A man can’t shoot his wife and expect to continue drinking coffee and plowing fields and shooting deer like all the rest of us who just want sometimes to kill our wives but never do. Everyone knew that, maybe Hollace best of all. But clearly that didn’t mean he had to like it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have bivouacked in the church. He knew no one would open fire and blast apart the new altar or the cross over the pulpit that that miserable old carcass Halston Smith had carved with his own two crippled hands. He shot his wife and trotted directly to the only safe place in town. So we gathered around and kicked at the dust and shouted for him to come out, and when he shouted back that we could all go fuck our own selves, some folks looked genuinely hurt. We all liked Hollace. Couldn’t he see that?

Eventually, Hollace’s brother John showed up. John ran a ranch quite a piece outside of town. His horse was lathered and crazy-eyed from the long, fast ride. John rode up to where we were gathered and got off his horse and held out the reins for anyone to take hold. Then he walked to the church’s backdoor. He didn’t announce himself, but he wasn’t acting sneaky either. He did not take off his boots or spurs. Hollace was still near the front of the church, shouting whatever craziness came into his head. John walked through the backdoor and for a while things got quiet *** Read on! ***

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were
by Gregory Leunig

When the last ship vanished into the sky, afterburners flickering briefly in the dense black cloud ceiling that shrouded our world, there were fires. There were more of us then, and we poured angry through the streets, a human pyroclastic flow, burning indiscriminately. There were Molotov-on-car fires, one or two apartment buildings set fire, dumpster fires. One guy, someone’s kid brother, set fire to himself in the streets like that Buddhist monk so many years ago. The monk, if you believe the writers from back then, never made a sound while he burned. The kid brother screamed, long and loud.

It was a time of fires, when they left us, but there was never a fire like this.

We don’t know who began building the pyre. One day, one of us noticed an olive green sofa, the kind you buy because you know the color will conceal the mold when it eventually grows moldy. This one had journeyed well past that phase of its existence; it stank of ancient urine and beer. We found it in a field facing the city. Some of us sat in it and watched as the generators gradually died and the lights in the buildings that comprised our meager skyline went out by sections. The reality show of us, live broadcast.

Not too long after, there was an expensive-looking leather recliner, piled on top of the sofa, and a jug of gasoline sitting nearby. We found John, who always wore suit jackets and ties even after the last ship left, standing there and looking through the sofa and chair. His black blazer too clean for the end of the world, his arms folded, five years of beard growth obscuring his face and spilling over onto his tie. We never asked, but we knew the recliner was his, and the gasoline. *** Read on! ***

Too Smart by Michael Haynes

September 29, 2014 Humor, Romance 5 Comments
Too Smart by Michael Haynes

Too Smart
by Michael Haynes

I hit the send button, but instead of a little animation showing my text message being sent, my phone chirped. The digital assistant’s voice asked, “Are you sure you want to send this message?”

“Yes,” I replied, frowning.

“Very well, but I don’t think she’ll like it much.” The animation started up.

“What do you mean?”

The progress meter paused halfway.

“It’s just that…” The assistant stopped, as if hesitating. Then it continued. “Cheryl has said before that she doesn’t like Thai food. Suggesting Bangkok Palace for dinner might not be the best choice. Perhaps El Acapulco instead?”

This was definitely not typical behavior for my phone. I remembered being asked to accept a software upgrade last night, but even so…

“Just send the text!”

The meter filled up and my message was on its way. Three minutes later, I heard back from Cheryl. I knew u didn’t pay attention to what I liked. Enjoy your pad prik king, Jason. I’ll see u around. Maybe. *** Read on! ***

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