Penumbra, Volume I Issue 2 November 2011 copyright@Musa Publishing, November 2011 Penumbra Staff Editor In Chief Celina Summers Editorial Assistant Matt Teel Editorial Assistant Coreen Montagna Art Director Kelly Shorten Illustrator Lisa Dovichi Promotions & Marketing Director Elspeth Mc Clanahan Marketing Assistant Kendra Drylie Submissions Intern Heather Shorten
Penumbra eMag is a division of Musa Publishing penumbra.musapublishing.com ISSN
Table of Contents Letter from the Editor...............................................................................................3 “The Voices” by Mario Milosevic.............................................................................7 New Talent Author of November............................................................................17 “Inappropriate Gifts” by DeAnna Knippling..........................................................20 Penumbra Submissions............................................................................................27 “Cocklebur” by Nathaniel Lee ................................................................................28 Penumbra Art Call.....................................................................................................37 “Field Trip” by J.C. Koch..........................................................................................40 “Sand from a Broken Hourglass” by Scott Overton................................................43 Coming this month ar Urania and Euterpe............................................................48 Contributor Bios.....................................................................................................49 Musa Submissions Information.............................................................................51 What’s Up Next? Penumbra December Issue.........................................................52 Advertise at Penumbra.............................................................................................53 Letter from the Editor at Urania.............................................................................54
From The Editor’s Desk
o now—November. No trite theme will do for this month. For this month, with the leaves getting stripped from the trees by raw winds from the north and icy, bitter rains, we couldn’t possibly beguile you with images of home and family and Puritans, now could we? No, this month deserves more than some roasted bird. Quoth the raven: November merits no less worthy theme than…death. Yes, we are sick puppies here. You should listen in on our staff meetings. Death is a theme that follows writers closely. When I’m sitting alone in my office, writing in the blessed silence that settles here after midnight, the intangible concept of death is not present. Instead, death—that nebulous, far-off theme—becomes Death, the Thanatos I studied in Greco-Roman mythology. He stands right behind my shoulder, and I always think if I turn around fast enough I might just catch him there. And one day, I will. Never in sight, but always in pursuit—Death is the eventual winner of every race he runs. But isn’t death what drives us in a way? Isn’t death the goad that spurs the artist? Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in “Ode To The West Wind”: Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! After his death, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote: “…those who might have been my lovers became my friends and I grew rich—till death the reaper carried to his overstocked barns my lamented harvest…”
From The Editor’s Desk Writers are a lot like Dr. Frankenstein in many ways—a character Mary Shelley modeled after her well-known and scandalous husband—and therefore also like Shelley. How many of us would have given anything to have also been in the Villa Diodati during that cold, gray never-quite-summer of 1816? To be swilling absinthe with Byron and Shelley and the young girl back in the corner whose work surpassed both the masters in the end? That summer resides in the top five historical occasions on my time machine bucket list, despite the fact that absinthe tastes like a turpentine/Aim toothpaste blend. Mary Shelley was and is, in many ways, the true Modern Prometheus of that tale. In fact, a very strong argument could be made for her Frankenstein being the first true science fiction tale—not horror, but pure, hard-edged science fiction. Death chased closely on Mary Shelley’s heels throughout her life. So it makes sense to me, as an editor and a writer, to consider Death both as friend and foe. Death does come to us all, and part of any artist’s dream is to supersede one’s own demise. Which brings me to a different thought entirely. What of the artist who loses to death? What of the artist who, through no fault of his own, is lost before the years of his greatest productivity and success? There are many, many writers who have suffered that fate. What would they have done, had they lived? Musa has a chance to answer that question for at least one American pioneer of speculative fiction—another writer lost to death before his true potential could be gauged. Pulp fiction writer and novelist, Homer Eon Flint. (1888-1924) Musa Publishing has contracted the rights to publish Homer Eon Flint’s collection of stories: the major ones that many scholars have read, the lesser known ones from magazines that no longer exist, and the lost manuscripts. Beginning in January of 2012, Musa will begin 4
From The Editor’s Desk to publish the complete works of Homer Eon Flint in our Musa Gold line at Polyhymnia. Every two weeks, we’ll release another book to add to the collection throughout the year, including a biography, Grandfather Lost: Homer Eon Flint, by his granddaughter, novelist Vella Munn. This venture has us all excited. The electronic book format will ensure that his works are no longer lost, but archived. And that’s what is most important of all—his stories will be preserved for posterity. By bringing these wonderful stories to life, we are helping Homer Eon Flint to defeat Death at last, almost 90 years after his own. A truly American modern Prometheus. Celina Summers Editor In Chief November 1, 2011
Created by Eleanor Leonne Bennett Art Contest entry #1
The Voices By Mario Milosevic
used to cure people. Not all people, just the ones with uncontrollable mind reading. My specialty was mending those poor souls who involuntarily received waves of the wishes, obsessions, idle thoughts, trivial manias, and incessant desires of humanity, all crashing on the shore of their brains constantly. People with this most disturbing affliction, where they took in all the mental energy around them, usually called it “the voices.” A simple laying on of my hands was all it took to fix them. My mother called it faith healing. Some faith healers are good at fixing bones, others can cure arthritis. My gift was taking away the voices. I brought relief to hundreds. Maybe thousands. I did it for years, ever since I was a junior in high school and accidentally cured my friend of the voices by touching his head. My hand fell asleep and he felt free. My name is Peter Lowe. I live in a tiny town on the Oregon coast now. I’m eighty-seven years old, and I’m tired most of the time. Bald too. And thinner than is good for me. I don’t have friends anymore. Learned to keep them away a long time ago. Easier, you know, to be alone. Quieter. Ever since Laura died five years ago I haven’t much wanted to be around people. Me and Laura were together a long time. Would have been our fiftieth anniversary this year. I like the sea. Love how the waves keep coming back, even after they go out. Can’t get enough of seeing shells in the sand, or sea stars on the rocks. I’ll stand on the beach for hours in the rain watching the gray water slosh around.
The Voices Batty old man, right? Well, I won’t argue with you. The thing is, I couldn’t do my healing much longer even if I still had the inclination. Looks like I only have a few months to live.
“It’s not good news,” said Doctor David Hanson to me in his examination room. “The cancer is back.” David’s been my doctor for the past fifteen years. He got divorced two years ago. He and his ex share joint custody of Sarah, his sixyear-old daughter. David knows about my talent. That’s because once he had the voices and I helped get rid of them. It was years ago, before he became a doctor. He was just a young high school kid. That’s often when people first notice the cacophony. All those voices invading at adolescence. It can make you crazy if you have no way to turn it off. “Mister,” he said at my door one morning. “I heard your beacon. Can you really stop what I got?” I used to broadcast a telepathic signal every day telling people where I lived and what I did. I pictured the message in my mind, then directed the words out in a tight focus. I was the mental lighthouse. This kid picked up on the signal and found me. I recognized his look. Pained. Panicked. Deep fear in his eyes, always so disconcerting in a young person. And fatigue. He looked so tired. Drooped. I let him into the house. He didn’t sit. Ignored the view of the ocean through my front window. Kind of fidgeted and paced. He put his hands up to his head. “They won’t be quiet,” he said. “I know,” I said. I guided him to a chair. He flopped down into it.
The Voices Laura came in from the kitchen. “And who is this?” she asked. He hardly noticed her. My wife lit up the whole world wherever she went, and David did not notice her for even one second. “Someone with the voices,” I said. “Oh,” she said. “I’ll leave you to take care of it. I’ll bring you both something to eat after.” She went back to the kitchen where she could listen to the ocean. I pulled up a stool and sat opposite the boy. “My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world,” I said, “and you did not even realize she was in the room. You must be hurting.” He looked at me blankly. “What?” “Never mind,” I said. “I can’t sleep,” he said. His leg bounced uncontrollably. “The noise is awful. I can hardly think. Can you fix it?” “I can help you,” I murmured. “Don’t worry. It won’t take long. Try to relax.” I took his wrist, felt for his pulse. It was going like crazy. “What’s your name?” I asked. “David Hanson.” “David,” I said, “where do you think your ability lies?” “What?” “You can hear thoughts, millions of them?” “Yeah,” he groaned. “What allows you to do that? What part of your being?” He looked even more distressed. “I don’t know. My brain?” I shook my head. I put my hand over my heart and nodded at him to do the same. He hesitated for a moment, then covered his chest with his hand. His leg stopped bouncing.
The Voices “You have an open heart,” I said. “We’re going to close it. Not all the way, but enough so you can live normally.” David already looked less frightened. I smiled at him. “I’m going to need a little help from you. Can you think of a time before this noise? When you were a kid. A time you were alone and happy?” He looked doubtful. “Close your eyes,” I said. “Let your mind go back.” He lowered his eyelids and sank back into the chair. His hand still covered his chest. “You had that once, didn’t you? The quiet?” He nodded, as I expected he would. I never encountered anyone who was born hearing the voices. The ability always arrived later in life. “I’m going to take you back to that quiet,” I said. “Keep that image in your mind, and feel your own heart beat.” David took a breath and let it out slowly. I pressed my palms against the top of his head. He didn’t flinch. Just accepted. I left my hands on David’s head for a minute or two as I chanted: “Take the babble from this soul. Take the babble from this soul.” Neither of us moved. My hands tingled with millions of tiny pinpricks, then turned numb. Presently David’s breathing slowed and evened out. I knew if I checked his pulse it would be much slower than when I first saw him. After a while I spoke. “Are they gone?” He nodded. I took my hands away. They hurt, but I didn’t let on to David. His eyelids fluttered open. His face was calm and his eyes were bright. He blinked several times. Relief and joy buoyed his features. 10
The Voices “They won’t be back,” I said. Now, years later, David Hanson was telling me I was going to die. I wasn’t surprised. We had been fighting the cancer for a few years and even kept it at bay for a while, but it was stubborn. Moved from my prostate into my bones. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Don’t be,” I said. “It’s not your fault. Should I look into hospice?” He cleared his throat. “That might be best,” he said. I wasn’t ready to die, not exactly. No matter how crappy life can get it’s the only game in town. But I was surprised at how much relief I felt. “How about a second opinion?” I said. “Should I get one of those?” “Pete,” he said, “I won’t discourage you from that, but no one else is going to see anything different in the tests or the numbers.” I nodded. “I can set you up for another round of chemo and radiation.” “What’ll that buy me?” He thought about it. “A couple of months, give or take.” I shook my head. “Not worth the misery. Sorry, but I can only take so much of your voodoo and then I have to say no.” He looked doubtful. “I understand.” I put out my hand. “Thanks for all your care.” He gently wrapped his hand around mine. Not a firm shake at all. It was like he was afraid he might break me. Maybe he could have. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think I ever thanked you. Not properly. After you took away the voices it made me want to be a doctor. I wanted to tell you how grateful I am.” “I was glad to do it,” I said.
The Voices If he really wanted to impress me, I thought, he’d cure me of the cancer. That would be something, wouldn’t it? A laying on of hands to draw it right out. That would be a skill to live for. I felt small thinking that. David was a good doctor and a good man. He had nothing to do with me getting a terminal disease. “You know,” he said, “I found out Sarah has the voices.” “Sarah? Really?” I’d never heard of anyone that young getting the voices. David nodded “How do you know?” I said. “She told me. She said voices keep her awake at night. She hears them at school. Will you help her? I know it’s asking a lot. You probably want some time for yourself now.” I wondered if David was overly cautious about his daughter. Maybe he remembered his own youth and how he hated the voices so much. “Not at all,” I said. “If she needs me, you know I’d be happy to help.” “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
That night, alone at home, I watched the sea pushing water in a ceaseless cycle outside my window; as the white noise filled me up, I thought of Laura. It was no accident that she understood my healing. When we first met, she had the voices. She hated it, like everyone else hated it. Her case was a little less severe than many I have seen over the years. In her the volume was turned way down, but she definitely had it. Didn’t even know what it was for a long time. People told her she was empathic because she could understand other people and their problems very quickly. 12
The Voices That sounded like a good thing. Only it wasn’t. Not for her. She wanted to keep those voices out. She didn’t have the strength to endure them anymore. So I cured her. Took away the voices. Like I did for so many. Then I fell in love with her. Or maybe I was in love with her before. Not sure, exactly. It’s a little muddled now, how it all went. My memory’s a house that’s constantly being renovated and rooms I thought were one way turn out to be another. We got married. I was happy. Thought she was too. But along about the fourth or fifth year of us being together, she told me she missed the voices. I laughed. I thought she was joking. Only she wasn’t. “They were comforting,” she told me. “I always had someone around me then. People’s voices and thoughts I could carry with me. I always knew I was human because I heard all these human thoughts.” Well, that shook me. Suddenly I wondered if my healing was healing at all. Maybe I was only making people lonely. Laura didn’t blame me. She had asked for the cure, and I had wanted to help her. It was something we had decided together. Still. I didn’t do any cures for a long time after that. People found me—even without me broadcasting my mental lighthouse beacon— but I turned them away. I told them they’d get used to the voices, even though I had no idea what I was talking about. They went away in pain. I was torn up. Was I doing the right thing? I didn’t know. Never was sure.
The Voices Eventually I couldn’t turn them away anymore. I went back to taking away their voices. Maybe it helped them. Maybe it didn’t. All I knew was they wanted the cure and I could do it. Laura spent some time trying to get the voices back. We looked for someone who could do that. Never did find anyone. If such healers exist, they escaped our search. Laura spent a lot of her time after that listening to the ocean. She liked the sea. She said the sound of the waves washing over her was like the voices seeping into her heart. I adored Laura. I would and did do anything for her. But I always wondered if she would have been happier if she’d never met me. Or at least if I had never tried to impress her with my talent.
“You’re old,” said Sarah. David stood behind her, his hand on her shoulder. I laughed. “Are you going to die soon?” David turned red. “Sarah,” he said. “You shouldn’t ask such questions.” I put up my hand. “It’s okay, David,” I said. “Sarah can ask me anything she wants.” David and his daughter had come to my house mid-afternoon. The sun was just beginning to glint off the ocean, sending welcome heat and bright light into my living room. Sarah squinted her eyes at me. “Well,” I said to her, “I’m alive right now, so I don’t worry about the future too much.” “My grandmother is old too,” she said. “Is that so?” I asked. 14
The Voices Sarah nodded. “Sometimes I hear her.” “Oh,” I said. David nodded, as if to say to me, “See, I told you.” “What does she say?” I asked. “Oh, she tells me I’m a good girl. Stuff like that.” “Are you a good girl?” “All little girls are good. That’s what my dad says.” “Your dad is a smart guy,” I said. “I would listen to him.” She nodded. She did not look like she was in distress. I would never have guessed she was suffering from the voices. “Sarah, do you know why you’re here?” “My dad says you help people.” “And do you think you need help?” David stiffened and dropped his hand from Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah looked away. “Go ahead and tell him,” said David. “When I go by animals,” said Sarah, “like dogs or cats, and sometimes even deers if they come in the yard, I hear them talk to me. Right here.” She pointed to her chest. “Oh,” I said. “That’s very interesting. What do they say?” She shrugged. “They talk about the world and everything. They talk about how they like us sometimes.” “Us?” “People.” “Do they ever not like us?” “Sure. Sometimes. The bugs, too. I hear them. A lot of them think we’re mean.” “Are you mean to bugs, Sarah?”
The Voices She shook her head. Then she motioned for me to lean forward. I put my head next to her. She cupped my ear with her hands and whispered. “I love them,” she said. “They’re my friends.” “That’s good,” I whispered. “I love them too.” Then I leaned back and asked her to put her hand on her chest. She did so. “I can help you,” I murmured. “This won’t take long. David relaxed. His face softened. He loved his daughter. Wanted only the best for her. “I’m so glad you’re here,” I said to Sarah. I put my hands over her head, so close I felt her warmth, but I made no contact. There was no reason to take anything from this child, not even to reassure her father. “Think about a time,” I said to Sarah, “when all was quiet. Can you do that for me?” She closed her eyes. I glanced up at David. His eyes were closed. I thought of Laura, holding the sea in her heart. Wishing for what she lost, what I had taken away. I held my hands above Sarah’s head, hovering a hair’s breadth from her scalp. I began chanting. “Take the babble from this soul. Take the babble from this soul.” No pinpricks. No numbing. My final cure— —was for me.
very month, the editorial and acquisitions staff of Penumbra select a story from an author who doesn’t have an extensive history on the difficult paths of short speculative fiction. This month, we’ve chosen Alvin S. Park. His story “The Smile on Her Face” can be read at: http://penumbra.musapublishing.com You can also read his essay “With Bloodied Heart: Of Horror and Honesty.” Congratulations to Alvin S. Park — our November, 2011 Rising Talent at Penumbra!
About Alvin S. Park I was born, I went to school, I graduated, and here I am two years later. I began my writing career in college as a poet. I was published by some lovely, online small presses, including unFold, Juked, a handful of stones, and Gloom Cupboard. Suffice it to say, I was not a great at poetry and something about it remained unsatisfying. I only recently made the transition from poetry to short fiction, and I somehow found myself writing horror or at least some form of it. I’m still learning the ropes, but being chosen for Penumbra’s Rising Talent is a great honor and has me even more excited about writing stories. I enjoy all facets of writing, even when I am not sitting with pen and paper or word processor. Exploring the world and taking things in is just as important. My loves outside of writing revolve around the four M’s: movies, music, milkshakes, and Mom.
Created by Sarina Dorie Art Contest entry #2
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Inappropriate Gifts By DeAnna Knippling
knew what the package for my daughter was before I even opened the box: my grandmother’s apron. It was muslin, thick and heavy as an old-fashioned flour sack. For all I know, that’s what she made it from. She was always giving people inappropriate gifts, crafts she’d made out of things other people threw away. Potholders crocheted over plastic soda-can rings (they melted). Homemade soap bars made out of the stub-ends of Grandpa’s Irish Spring bars, with a crocheted yarn holder over it, a redneck soap-on-a-rope. Except Grandma wasn’t a redneck, she was a survivor of the Great Depression. One of the things that you never get over, that define you for the rest of your life. I didn’t have to open the box to see it. The apron had roses on it, big, wide-open faded red roses with their petals almost falling off. The paint was the same kind of fabric paint that Grandma used to paint on everything, from dish towels to pillow covers. As a little kid, I’d used the same kinds of paints to paint towels too, carefully brushing the paint onto fabric stretched across a wooden hoop. The lines on the roses weren’t as neat as the ones you usually saw on things Grandma made; the black outlining was a little crazed, a little shaky, like she’d been upset when she’d made it. The paint of the rose petals was a little blotchy, too. She tried to give me the apron the last time I saw her before she died, which was when I was about thirteen. I was young and terrified that boys would never like me. For some reason, I was convinced that my nose was too big and my arms were too thin (they weren’t), and thus, I would never find love. Mom had taken me to the nursing home to see Grandma; she wasn’t doing very well, and her mind would wander. One minute she’d be talking about her new house in Springfield; the next, she’d be weepy over being trapped in a nursing home. It was hard to say which was worse. 20
Inappropriate Gifts So there I was, walking on eggshells. I loved her the way you love anyone who’s willing to spend time with you when you’re little, who has the time to do crafts and bake cookies and listen to your made-up stories and babble. They’re nice to you, and that’s all you care about at the time. Whether that feeling is too naïve to be love, I really can’t say. Since I’ve become a parent, my ideas of love have changed. You have to do a lot of painful things when you’re a parent, but you don’t do them out of hate. Ignorance, maybe. Grandma scooted herself around in the seat of her recliner, which had a crocheted doily across the back so her head wouldn’t rub directly on the fabric, until she had turned toward her side table, where an old, yellowed box was sitting. She picked it up in her hands, which had giant knuckles and twisted fingers—my mother always warned me against cracking my knuckles, or my hands would turn out like Grandma’s—and held it hovering over her lap. “You leish to cookh,” she said. On bad days, her Bell’s palsy made her words mushy and hard to understand. It embarrassed her, which made her even harder to understand, and less likely to speak. You like to cook. “I want shoo to shake gish.” I want you to take this. The top of the box was cracked cellophane. It was an old cake box. I could see the painted cloth through the opening on the top. “What is it?” I leaned forward out of Grandpa’s recliner, where I was sitting, and took the box but didn’t open it. It wasn’t just the gift, with Grandma. It was the story. Often, the story had nothing to do with the gift, like the time she told me about the blizzard that buried the barn—they had to dig air holes for the cows—and gave me a giant candle in a canning jar with a picture of the Virgin Mary cut from a color newspaper ad and taped to the side. “Ish an aprah,” she said. “Opah itch.” It’s an apron. Open it. I looked at her. Where was the story? I’d come here to do this ritual one last time—with her, back then, everything was done in
Inappropriate Gifts anticipation of one last time—and she was shaking things up. Doing things that weren’t the way she was supposed to. I didn’t know what to think. It hurt, a little. I tried to make out what she was thinking. Her hairdo looked a little crushed from where she’d had her head against the back of the chair all day, and her lipstick went off her lips on the left side. Everything on the left side of her face drooped from the palsy; today was a pretty bad day. Maybe she was too embarrassed to tell a long story, afraid that I’d keep interrupting her to get her to say the same word over and over. But I always understood what she said. It was Mom that had to ask her to repeat herself. I started to feel self-conscious about staring at her and opened the box. The cellophane broke in pieces, leaving shards of half-sticky yellowed flakes all over my hands and lap. I pulled out the apron. I was pretty mature for my age, but I was, nonetheless, thirteen and insulted that my grandmother would give me such a thing. I didn’t want to be a housewife or a cook. I was the kind of girl who hissed when people tried to open doors for me or called me a young lady. That kind of thing. I liked my grandmother, but I couldn’t imagine growing up to be her. Then it started to creep up on me, the sense that someone was shoving a hand into my guts and squeezing. “Push ish ah,” she said. I shook my head. “I don’t feel good.” I stood up to hand the apron back to her and run to the toilet down the hall. I refused to use their bathroom. Too creepy. “Push ish ah!” Grandma yelled. Mom was out with Grandpa—he spent all his time in the wood shop at the home—and there was nobody to hear her yell, but I looked back at the door to their room anyhow, expecting a nurse’s aide to 22
Inappropriate Gifts come bursting in or something. My hands popped that apron over my head faster than I could think to stop them. I didn’t want to get in trouble. It ripped through me then. Pain so bad I went down on my knees, still trying to turn towards the door. I ended up in a pile at the bottom of Grandpa’s tan, threadbare recliner, looking at his footrest, which was so worn it was shiny. I felt like my insides were puking themselves out or like I’d eaten something bad and I was about to soil myself. I wondered whether I already had, at the time, but when I checked later in the public toilet, the only result was a brown spatter of blood in the front of my panties. “Zeh,” Grandma said. “Nah yah zhafe.” There. Now you’re safe. I put my hands on the linoleum tiles and the green bathrug in front of the TV. The room was so small that my grandparents, with their walkers, had to take turns standing up from their motorized recliners, to go to bed. If they bothered to get up at all. I breathed hard, grunting every time I breathed out, until the pain stopped. That is, it didn’t stop, but the pushing and squeezing stopped, and what was left of the pain was so much less that it wasn’t like pain at all, at the time. A reminder. I pushed the apron back over my head, folded it, and put it back in the box while still on my knees, then hefted myself up to the seat of Grandpa’s recliner. Tears were running down my face. Grandma said, “Keepsh you fwa meh. Zheh hash off you. Zhafe.” Keeps you from men. Their hands off you. Safe. She leaned between the two chairs and patted me on my shaking hand. I ran out of the room and locked myself in the public toilet. When it was time to go, Mom had to yell at me through the door to get me to come out. I refused to say goodbye to my grandparents, and my mother yelled at me for that, too.
Inappropriate Gifts Aside from that spot of blood, I wouldn’t get my first period until I was twenty-three. By then, my grandparents were dead. Grandma had died within the week, and Grandpa died a few days after her, causing no end of trouble with funeral arrangements. He didn’t waste away or anything—there wasn’t enough time—he sliced open an artery on a scroll saw while making a pair of angels holding a heart with Grandma’s name under it. The aides didn’t notice he was bleeding until it was too late. His last words, according to the aide I talked to, years later, were “Don’t feel bad, son, it was my own damned fault.” I had left the apron there with my grandmother, but I didn’t escape it. I never thought about kissing a boy or touching myself between my legs without a twist of nausea. The harder I thought about it, the worse it got, until I ended up in a twist on the floor and spots of blood in my panties. But that didn’t mean the apron worked. It didn’t keep men’s hands off me, no. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t leading them on—I couldn’t. It was after the first time that I’d been attacked, while going to a movie with some girlfriends, that the package showed up in front of my bedroom door. Grandma had been dead for six months by then, and I wasn’t talking to anybody. God knows what they thought was wrong with me. I was coming home after school, half an hour late and a nervous wreck, trying to avoid certain people, and Mom was yelling at me. She broke off when she saw the box. “What’s that?” “Grandma’s apron,” I said. I hadn’t talked to Mom about the apron, either. I couldn’t. Every time I tried, the same sick feeling—ugh. I unwrapped the box, opened it, and showed her the apron, trying not to touch it. I had to have been as white as a sheet, with two black holes cut out for eyes.
Inappropriate Gifts I knew there was no getting away from it, so I pulled it out of the box and shook it out so it fell straight. It was creased hard from years and years of being folded up like that, and some of the paint flaked off from the creases. “Be careful with that,” Mom said, reaching her hand out for it. I wanted to jerk it away from her. “What on Earth did she send it to you for? She knew I wanted it.” Her hand stopped just short of touching the thing. “Do you want it?” I asked. “I like to cook, but you know I never— wear—aprons.” The last words were so hard to say that they hurt my throat coming out, but I pushed them out anyway and closed my mouth before the thing could make me take them back. “Yes,” Mom said. She let her fingers brush the thing; flecks of paint stuck to her fingertips. “She sent me a potholder.” “May I have that instead? To remember her by?” Mom nodded, and I handed her the apron, holding it like it was as fragile as a baby or the Mona Lisa or something. “Thank you.” She sounded surprised that I could be so considerate. Not undeservedly so, considering the way I had acted over the last six months, constantly fighting pain and shame and everything else. But Mom didn’t look like she was in the least amount of pain. Whether that was because the thing didn’t hurt her or because she was always in that amount of pain and didn’t notice it, I don’t know. “I never got to touch it, when I was your age. I always thought—” She stopped talking. I think she’d stopped noticing that the words were only in her head. I felt like she didn’t need me anymore, so I put the brown paper in the box and stuffed it all in the recycling bin. When I came back, she’d wandered off. I’m sure Grandma had good intentions. When it came to me, at least.
Inappropriate Gifts My daughter’s thirteen. My guts clenching and my legs dripping with blood, I took a serving dish out in to the backyard, doused the apron with lighter fluid, and watched it burn away. She’ll never know it was here. And if it shows up at my daughter’s doorstep again, it won’t be me who gives it to her. At least, that’s what I hope.
Created by FJ Bergmann Art Contest entry #3
enumbra publishes speculative fiction that always culminates in something unexpected — a flash of humor in the darkest tale or a fantasy piece that goes against the tropes — always something that hovers right on the periphery of the eclipse. Penumbra is looking for speculative fiction that’s unexpected and adventurous. We don’t want the same old short stories — we want funny horror stories, or fantasy with a modern theme, or science fiction that takes the reader someplace they really didn’t expect to go...even if its their own kitchen at home. Word counts — 500 to 3000 words, paid at 5 cents a word. Poetry — we will review poetry for each issue. Please send a cover letter with brief publishing history and your entire submission as a .doc or .rtf attachment to email@example.com. Please put “Penumbra Submission” in the subject line of your email. No simultaneous or multiple submissions please. We will consider reprints to rights reverted stories. We do not accept multiple submissions. Initial response time is expected to be short, within 2-3 weeks. We absolutely do not accept fan fiction, not even thinly disguised fan fiction. We will review previously published, rights reverted material on a case by case basis.
One summer can change everything. When sixteen-year-old Bri Morrison’s parents send her to Denver to spend the summer with her sister, Bri’s life is turned upside down. Her days become nights, truth turns out to be lies, and the people she thought she could trust aren’t there for her. Only the friends she makes in the night seem real to her. Stasia, Jackson, and Denny help Bri adjust to a new kind of life, one in which she’s stronger than she ever imagined she’d be.
My Upside Down Life by Jamie Sterling 27
Available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBookstore
Cocklebur by Nathaniel Lee
had another dream last night,” Adie said as she settled herself at the kitchen table. It was important to her that she do things herself. “I don’t remember dreams being this vivid. I guess it’s just been a while.” Teri’s shoulders tensed under her silk robe. “Was it a good dream?” she asked, not turning from the stove. Her eggs were overcooking. “I don’t know. It was dark. Heavy. Like swimming through chocolate.” “Well, that could go either way,” Teri said. She dumped the eggs onto a serving platter and put the pan in the sink, running water over the blackened cooking surface. “I mean, there’s drowning and boiling and so on, or there’s a Dove commercial.” She turned around and froze. “What is that?” Adie looked up, her brown eyes dark against her mushroom-pale face. She looked down at the object she held in her hand. It resembled a sea urchin made of cigarette smoke and glass, glinting and shifting in the light that streamed through the patio doors. It seemed to hover just above Adie’s palm, swelling and shrinking with an unsettling organic rhythm. “I don’t know,” said Adie. “When I woke up, I had it in my hand. See?” She held out her other palm as though displaying the pinpricks of spines; the white skin was clammy but unbroken. The red marks from the plastic hospital bracelet had not yet faded from her wrist. “I think it’s from my dream. I remember a tree and an ocean, and one of them, I think, was kind of this color.” Teri sat down carefully. She set the platter of eggs in the middle of the table and watched the steam. The pale wisps framed Adie’s face. If she didn’t focus her eyes, she could imagine Adie still looked as she had when they had met five years ago. “From your dream.”
Cocklebur “Mm-hm.” Adie took a fork and piled some eggs onto her plate. “Wow, I’m hungry. Teri! Isn’t that great? I feel hungry for the first time in forever. Anyway, I think it’s a cocklebur.” Teri reached out a hand, then thought better of it. “What do you mean?” “Plants. They put spines on their seeds, and then the spines catch on fur when animals pass by, and the seeds get carried miles and miles and they can grow a new plant in a place where there aren’t any.” Adie squirted ketchup onto her eggs and began to eat. Teri winced and went to sip her coffee. It had gone cold. “So it’s a seed. A dream seed.” She stood abruptly, jostling the table, and poured her coffee out. It splashed up the sides of the sink. “What does that mean?” “I didn’t have dreams for so long. Now that I’m off the drugs, maybe they’re just trying to make up for lost time and come out here. I wouldn’t mind dreaming all day, too.” Adie picked the cocklebur up and turned her hand over. It clung to her palm, the spines disappearing into her flesh without dimple or mark. She shook her arm a few times to dislodge it, and it drifted down to the table, where it bounced gently against the wood. It moved as though it was underwater. Teri leaned over the sink. Coffee dripped onto the tile by her feet. “Are you okay? When did you get up?” “I haven’t gone to bed.” “Teri!” Adie stood up, wobbled, gripped the table. She reached across the tiny kitchenette and patted Teri on the shoulder. “I told you not to do that anymore. You have to rest. What would we do if you got sick?” The unspoken too vibrated in the air. Teri straightened up, turned around, and smiled as winningly as she could. She gathered Adie into a brief hug and tried not to feel the bones pushing against Adie’s nearly translucent skin. “I’ll be fine. I just had a little insomnia. I’ll have a glass of milk and a nap later 29
Cocklebur today. For this morning, though, I’ve got some errands to run. Will you be okay for a little while?” “I want to plant the cocklebur. I bet it will grow a dream.” Or a nightmare, thought Teri. “Not today, all right? Just…put it in a glass or something.” Adie pouted, but Teri could see the lines of strain around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth. Just getting up and eating breakfast with a semblance of normalcy had cost almost everything she had. “Come on, babe,” Teri said, wrapping her arm around Adie’s waist and supporting her. “Let’s get you upstairs again.” Adie scooped up the cocklebur as they passed the table. It pressed against Teri’s side, and she could feel the cold of it through her robe, little needles of ice piercing her side. She tried to ignore it, for Adie’s sake.
The morning was an exercise in futility. First, Teri had to call Donna in HR and argue for forty-five minutes about her medical leave and FMLA time. Donna kept insisting that that option was only for “close family members” and Teri kept being thankful that they weren’t meeting face-to-face, where more than likely she’d have throttled the hateful old hag. Then came shopping, but with the bills rolling in from the hospitals and specialists and Teri’s paid leave well and truly gone, there wasn’t much she could afford. A jar of peanut butter would be her lunch for a week or two; a spoonful a day to get some protein. She bought what fruit and veggies she could for Adie, to try and keep her strength up, but nothing was on sale at this time of year. After that came another battle with the pharmacy, where the beak-nosed man behind the counter snidely insinuated that Teri was a drug addict or selling Adie’s pain pills for cash. It might come to that, Teri thought darkly, sharing a last mutually resentful glare with the pharmacist. But not yet. 30
Cocklebur At home, Teri unpacked the scanty bags into the pantry, then brewed herself a new cup of coffee. Her fingers twitched for a cigarette, but she held herself firm to her decision. Time enough to work on killing herself later, when Adie…didn’t need her anymore. Teri’s eyes felt like cockleburs themselves, wedged in the puffy skin and prickling at the edge of her brain. She realized that twenty minutes had gone by and her coffee was cold again. She went upstairs to check on Adie. Her side itched where the dream-seed had pressed against her. The upstairs hall was oddly comforting, with its dingy paint job that they’d never gotten around to fixing. Teri heard an odd whine, like machinery, as she approached the bedroom door, and she wondered if the neighbors were remodeling again. The door handle was cold, and as she pushed it open, she felt the itch in her side rise to an icy sting. Teri gasped and stifled a scream when she opened the door to the bedroom. Something black and buzzing whirred past her head, and she swatted at it instinctively, batting it to the ground. Inside the bedroom, a wasp’s nest the color of rotten bananas was lodged in the upper corner near the closet. It was as big as a watermelon, but the papery bulge was unmistakable, and dozens more insects swirled around the room, thickest near the nest itself. They crawled over Adie’s slumbering form, and Teri was certain she saw one crawl between Adie’s slack lips. Teri retreated several steps, glancing around for a tennis racket or a magazine she could roll into some sort of weapon. But I was just in there last night, she thought, wasn’t I? The wasps hummed and gathered, then lunged forward in a unified group. Teri did scream, then, falling backwards onto the thin carpet of the upstairs hall. The solid mass of chitinous bodies barreled at her head, and then broke apart harmlessly, the wasps veering off and bumbling in wide circles. They gathered again, a rough oval shape hovering in mid-air in front of Teri’s heaving chest. Suddenly, she saw a familiarity in the contours of the swarm. A face… Adie’s face. The wasp-Adie opened her mouth and laughed with the 31
Cocklebur buzz of a hundred wings, and then she was gone, scattering in every direction. The wasps crawled behind pictures, into wall sockets, under the carpet, and disappeared, though Teri could still hear them, a drone like nearby power lines. “Teri? Was that you?” Scrambling to her feet, Teri gripped the doorframe and peered inside. The oversized nest was melting into the wall, fading away like water on a hot skillet. Adie struggled to sit up in the bed. Teri hurried inside to comfort her. She saw the glass on the bedside table that was supposed to hold water for drinking. Instead, it contained the dark seed from breakfast. Teri had harbored a faint hope that the thing had just been a hallucination, born out of exhaustion and grief. She’d imagined the conversation, or maybe she’d just made no sense when she spoke to Adie. Possibly Adie hadn’t even made it down to eat, though Teri had felt guilty trying to believe that. “It’s okay, baby. I just…I fell down. Startled myself. Probably not enough sleep.” She stroked Adie’s hair, as fragile as old lace after the treatments. The seed pulsed in its glass container. Teri could swear its spines were passing through the glass. “I was dreaming again…” Teri mopped at Adie’s sweat-dewed brow. “Let me get you some water.” “The wasps…” Teri stopped for a moment, then forced herself to keep walking. “I managed to fill your prescription, but I think it might be the last for a while. How’s your pain? Do you want a pill, or a half-pill, maybe?” “No.” Adie’s voice was louder, more emphatic. “The pills stop the dreams. I don’t mind the pain. It comes and goes, you know?” Teri said nothing as she fetched a new glass of water. The hallway still buzzed with hidden activity, and she tried not to imagine what the wasps were building in the shadowed spaces between the walls. 32
Arriving home from a meeting with the bank to renegotiate the mortgage—a second loan was out of the question—Teri found a collection of twee woodland animals in the living room. A deer, a skunk, several rabbits, and birds of various sizes all sat around the television, watching the Discovery Channel. Something from Shark Week, it looked like. They were all dusky and faded, like old film, and, in fact, they appeared to be cartoons, albeit three-dimensional and life-like in unexpected ways. Teri sidestepped the pile of deer dung and cleared her throat. A dozen pairs of beady black eyes swiveled to face her. “Is this a dream?” she asked. “I’d better not be asleep and missing that meeting with the bank.” It had gone suspiciously well, now that she thought of it. Rather than answering, the animals scattered, fleeing to the kitchen, under the sofa, and in one bird’s case, through the air vent, which had been missing several screws since March. A handful of wasps flitted out of the dark tunnel and circled briefly in irritation. Teri waited for a moment to ensure the stillness and quiet would last, and then she slipped off her pumps and padded upstairs. Her side itched, but she could ignore it. It wouldn’t do to worry too much, not when she could be doing something useful. In the upstairs hallway, she walked resolutely past the rustling growth of a new wasp’s nest from the vent there. She could hear industrious activity from inside the hive, and a trickle of inky liquid crept down the wall. It smelled sweet, like sugar and springtime. Like decay. Wouldn’t it be better, Adie whispered in Teri’s ear, back in the first apartment they’d gotten together, if wasps made honey, too? They’re so pretty, but they don’t do anything useful Maybe that’s why they’re so angry all the time. The bedroom was dark—and waspless—when Teri pushed at the door and peered inside. She felt oddly like a trespasser, despite all the 33
Cocklebur years they’d shared this space, this bed. She’d been sleeping on the futon in the spare bedroom. Adie was asleep, her breath rasping in her throat. The cocklebur, in its glass prison, rose and fell in time with Adie’s uneven breathing. That has to go, Teri thought. Either I’m crazy, we’re both crazy, or that thing is part of what’s killing her. She slipped inside in stocking feet and eased across the floor, careful of the squeaky boards. She hesitated as she reached for the seed; the spines had infiltrated the glass, sending a spider web tracery throughout, as though it were about to shatter. Were they…roots? Was it trying to grow? One hair-fine filament reached out across the gap, threading through space for the half-full cup of water nearby. Teri snatched up the water, sloshing it onto the floor like the slap of a steak on the butcher’s block. Adie snorted and shifted in her sleep. Teri held her position, unwilling to disturb Adie and let her see Teri acting like a madwoman. Or worse, to ask why she was trying to steal the seed. Adie made a strange choking sound, and Teri’s heart seized. She moved forward, but even as she did, Adie belched resonantly. A dark shape swelled from her mouth as she did, a rounded form like a bubble of spit, save that it was ash-dark and rising. Teri peered at the strange thing as it emerged from Adie’s mouth, trailing strings and a small box-shape below. A hot air balloon? Yes, in perfect miniature, perhaps a foot across. They’d gone up in one for Adie’s thirtieth, just after the diagnosis. Something from her bucket list. They’d smiled and held hands and felt the sun and the wind. This balloon, the dark mockery of that day, drifted on unfelt currents of wind inside the bedroom, floating up to the ceiling and bumping lightly across it. Teri did not look too closely, lest she see a shadowy duplicate of herself and Adie in dollhouse detail. She turned back to the night-table and reached for the glass with the seed. “Don’t.” Teri glanced at Adie, her eyes still closed, still snoring faintly. She looked so pale. Teri knew it hurt, could see it in her eyes, in her 34
Cocklebur mouth, in the way she held her body during her increasingly rare trips around the house. Tears welled up in Teri’s eyes and she turned to go. “Don’t.” Again, more faintly. Teri stopped and sank to her knees in the puddle of spilled water, feeling it soak into her stockings and chill her toes. She reached under the covers and found Adie’s hand, cool and stiff. She pressed it between her own as if she could warm away the ice inside it.
Teri was never sure if she slept or not, that last week. She shooed black-furred monkeys off of the kitchen table to pay the bills. She woke, or thought she woke, from a doze on the couch to see the coffee table stretch, snapping and splintering, into a tiny apartment building, which burned with dark flames. A river of indigo water flowed down the stairs, and a dusky-skinned Adie with coal-black eyes and white hair paddled a canoe down it. A black bear stole the couch cushions to hibernate in, and his snores rattled the loose vent until the wasps flew out to swirl in obscure patterns across the room. “I have to get it all out,” the other Adie told her, perching crosslegged on the wall, her snowy hair falling sideways to pile on the floor. “It was inside of me and now it’s coming out. I don’t have time to keep it in anymore.” Teri tried to tell her she understood, but she couldn’t speak through the scarf around her face. She lay back instead, on the couch that was no longer blue but brown, dark brown, like chocolate, so rich and thick that you could just float away on it. It melted and flowed, and Teri rode down the river to the ocean. The monkeys and the woodland creatures sailed past, all riding atop the bear, who looked grouchy at being awoken. The rising waters hissed as they snuffed the flames in the apartment building, and Teri felt the waters grow rough with an impending storm. 35
Cocklebur There was movement, then, in the waters below, but Teri couldn’t see through the surface. Something wrapped around her leg, something cold and wet, and it stung her. She screamed, but the water flowed in and muffled her. It tasted like chocolate, like true chocolate, pure, unadorned, bitter-black and nauseating. Something pulled her under, and she flailed for purchase, only to snatch handfuls of wasps out of the air. They had brought honey to sweeten the chocolate sea, but they could only carry so much. She felt them in her hands, buzzing and fluttering, trying to get away, to save themselves and leave her for lost, but she held them tightly, unreasonably, hating them for trying to help, hating them for failing. The buzzing grew louder when they came under the surface with her, dragged down and down. They were saying something, the buzz of their wings forming words, and Teri brought them to her ears to hear them better, but they came to her mouth instead, and she bit… …hard plastic. The doorbell was ringing. Her phone was in her hands, and she was awake. Outside, the paramedics had arrived at her call, but they were too late, already too late. Later, they would leave, and one of them would reach for her shoulder to pat and she would let him because he couldn’t know. Later still, the next day, perhaps, or a few weeks or months from now, when the weather turned warm again, she would take the cracked and crazed glass, coated with spines and tendrils, and she would plant the hard seed at the soul of it. Just outside, near the garden, where Adie had kept her tomatoes. She would plant it and water it and see what it grew. Perhaps it would grow into a dream.
Penumbra Art Call Send in your art
very month, the Art Director at Musa Publishing will evaluate speculative fiction art entries. Five entries will be chosen from each month’s batch. Those five pieces of art will be used in an issue of Penumbra, and the readers will vote on their favorite. The readers’ choice artist will win $50 and the opportunity to create a featured art piece to be published in a subsequent issue. For details and to enter, please submit your art to: firstname.lastname@example.org What to Send √ Name √ Email √ Website/blog √ File: jpg, gif, or png file no larger than 600px at 72 dpi. If you are sending in a camera photograph of your art, please make sure the image is clear and details stand out. Digital and physical mediums are accepted. Also, please let us know how you found the contest. Thank you for entering!
Whatever your communications needs are—web copy, press releases, articles, newsletters, speeches, blogs, annual reports, proofreading, voiceovers—you can depend on the Teel Writing team to deliver clean, vibrant, and effective materials on time and within budget.
Art created by Eleanor Leonne Bennett Art Contest entry #4
The dead have no respect for anyone trying to have a life. When a concussion awakens Portia Mahaffeyâ€™s latent ability to see ghosts, one of those ghosts is prepared to haunt her until she agrees to convince the police her death was no accident. And seeing the dead is just the beginning. Portiaâ€™s world becomes filled with hungry demons, mercenary shadow beings, vengeful poltergeistsâ€Śand one very alive murderer willing rank her among the dead. Who knew hanging with the deadcould be so hazardous to the living?
Now Available at LyricalPress.com
“Extraordinary character development, pedal-to-the-metal action throughout, and featuring some of the coolest monsters ever imagined…the Skinners saga is gritty, gruesome literary fun.” – Paul Goat Allen
the book that started the 1Night Stand series
Available now at decadentpublishing.com
Our world is inhabited by beasts that thrive on terror and feed on blood. Knowledge of their presence—so close and so hungry—would drive any ordinary human insane. Cole Warnecki gets a hard lesson in the truth when he is nearly torn apart by a werewolf and pursued by a power-hungry vampire. Luckily, he is also introduced to the ones who stand against the darkness. For centuries these hunters have kept the monsters at bay, preventing them from breaking through the fragile barriers protecting our mortal realm. They are called SKINNERS. But beware…for there are very few of them left. Marcus Pelegrimas’s SKINNER series books 1-5 available now at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and iBookstore. Book 6: Extinction Agenda coming soon!
When Leah loses her fiancé, Mark, in Afghanistan, it takes nearly a year to get to the point where she’s ready to live again. Although she doesn’t want an emotional commitment, a night of consensual sex, even with a stranger, might help bring her some closure after Mark’s death. Enlisting the services of Madame Evangeline’s high-end, online dating service, One Night Stand, promises exactly what Leah is looking for—sex with a man she doesn’t have to see again, but one who will satisfy her physical needs now that she’s ready to move on with her life. Jackson Castillo has no desire to go on a date with one of Evangeline’s clients. One Night Stand uses his hotel for its client’s rendezvous, but otherwise, he never gets involved. When Eve threatens to take her business elsewhere unless he helps her with a particular case, he’s no fool. He’ll go on the date. But he won’t sleep with the woman. When one thing leads to another, his good intentions to stay out of the bedroom with Leah are shattered. The sex is phenomenal, but there’s more to Leah he wants to explore. After she leaves the next morning without a goodbye, he’s both disappointed and royally pissed. Will he let her go or find a way to convince her she’s ready…to feel again?
Field Trip By J.C. Koch
ill it,” Susan said. “We need to kill it.” The other children agreed, voices shouting or murmuring the same, heads nodding, some bobbing with excitement. “Are you sure?” the teacher asked her. “It’s not necessarily dangerous.” Susan shook her head. She was always the spokesperson for her class. Either they all did what she said or she said the things they all wanted to do. But either way, if Susan said it, the rest agreed with her. “It needs to die,” Susan said with conviction. “It’s evil. Just look at it. The huge head, the weird body. It’s a monster. It needs to die.” The monster shook its enormous head and waved its huge hands attached to too-small arms. But it didn’t make any sound. The teacher knew that it couldn’t. Not even with a class of fifty second-graders sitting all over its body did it make a sound. Not a surprise—this kind were muted from birth. The children ignored the monster’s silent plea. Some kicked it as it thrashed. Susan approved, and suddenly all the children were kicking at it, until the monster subsided and just lay still underneath them. “All right,” the teacher said, earning beaming smiles. “After all, we did come on this field trip for you all to have a good time.” The children cheered, and the teacher, along with two helpers, went off to buy the beating sticks. There were plenty to choose from, but the teacher finally chose the special souvenir ones, that the children could take home with them afterward. They cost a little more, but they came with a sheath that would ensure none of the blood rubbed off onto anyone’s clothes. After all, what good was a souvenir beater if you couldn’t prove you’d killed anything with it? The children were well pleased with their beaters, and because they were really a well-behaved class, they all waited patiently until
Field Trip each one of them had a stick in hand. Then the teacher raised her stick up and Susan followed suit. “Ready?” the teacher asked. “Yes!” fifty voiced chorused together, the excitement and joy clear. The teacher nodded to Susan, and the two of them brought their sticks down onto the monster’s face. The rest of the children fell to, and soon the air was thick with their shrieks of joy. The teacher backed out after a couple of blows. After all, she’d done this many times over the years, first as a child and then with each of her classes. The amusement park worker assigned to the school field trips came over. “Everything going well?” he asked politely, while he beamed at the happy children. “Oh, yes,” the teacher replied. “Your park always delivers. Rides, food, and real old-fashioned fun. I’m just glad you’re still in business after all these years—I’d hate for my students to miss out on this experience.” “Well,” he grinned, “we’re not called the happiest place in the world for nothing.”
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Art created by David Wales Art Contest entry #5
Vote for the Art Contest Winner on the Penumbra eMag blog penumbraezine.blogspot.com
Sand from a Broken Hourglass by Scott Overton
mind is a terrible place to be lost. He’s hungry. Needs to nurse at a full breast. But the need for a scotch is just as strong. Or maybe Geritol. Lots of liquid that will flow out again like seconds, minutes, hours, days. Liquid drops. Once they’re in a puddle, try to pick out the individual drop. You can’t. Can’t isolate the particular drop of time that is little Jenny Olin running to his side when he falls off his first bike. Or the drop that is Muriel in the hospital bed as the doctor lies to her that they got all the cancer. Or the drop full of Curacao sunshine as they step off a plane, sure they’ll never want to return to the land of winter. All stirred together, out of order. A lifetime should be a flowing stream, not a puddle. Step in the puddle and the ripples of life moments disperse yet again, in ever-increasing confusion.
Doctor Junis claimed it was the long-awaited answer to repressed memory. Electromagnetism. The key to unlock the vaults of interdicted recall, potent and precise. “Early experiments found that electromagnetic fields could stimulate the brain and create some deeply transcendent experiences. The presence of God. Spiritual enlightenment. Out-of-body episodes. Wonderful parlour tricks.” “How’s seeing God gonna help me remember my childhood?” Lochlin asked. He only had a mild buzz on so early in the day, but he hoped the doc wouldn’t go into a big technical explanation. “No, no. Those procedures were like hitting your head with a hammer to make you see stars. Our technique is surgically precise. 43
Sand from a Broken Hourglass Directed mainly at the occipitotemporal and temporoparietal cortices of the brain. A few others.” “You’re not gonna hypnotize me?” Junis laughed. “I’m not going to bleed you to let out the evil spirits, either. It’s like taking a nap, except with a helmet on. A few electrodes stuck to your scalp. They alter your time sense, so there’s no distinction between older memories and new ones—that gets you past any psychological blocks. The helmet’s field also produces an artificial out-of-body effect. You’ll probably experience it like taking a walk through a museum—the museum of Kurt Lochlin’s life.” And it had been like that, in a creepy, gothic-horror-flick way. Gloomy, indistinct corridors. Mist that occasionally solidified into a fragment of familiarity, then stretched until it wrapped around him like living light. A bubble of oil, with the rainbow reflections on the inside. High school English class. Standing at the blackboard to read. Debbie Cole in the front row has neglected to cross her legs under that short skirt. A car windshield, the glass starred, the outside landscape of grass and mud at an impossible angle. Red flashes. Blue flashes. Brown carpet. Up close. Stubby little fingers nudging something small, round, white. Perfect size to fit in a nostril. Father MacKay in a dark alcove. Candles. A cot, with room for two. That was the memory he was looking for! But suddenly there was bright light stabbing into his eyes. Junis, goddamn him. Some excuse about government guidelines for experimental treatments. Have to wait another day. Lochlin needed a drink. There was a bar down the block. The cheap scotch talked to him in a warmer language than the cold steel electrodes. More comforting. Less frightening. But its sweet burn didn’t hold the answer. The answer to why he was an alcoholic
Sand from a Broken Hourglass at seventy years old. That was still the unsolved mystery of a long lifetime. Bill Reilly, his sponsor at AA, had blamed his own alcohol problem on being abused by a priest when he was a kid. Lochlin had thought of Father MacKay. He’d always hated the guy, but didn’t know why. Maybe the reason had been there all along, buried under safer memories. Waiting to be rooted out. He needed to find blame, and in it, absolution.
Scotch was usually liquid armour against marauding dreams, but that night it must have fuelled them, every one a scrap of memory. Chaotic. Disjointed. For the first time since his last real bender, he awoke not knowing where he was. Junis made a comment about the fatigue in Lochlin’s face, but not about his breath. And he went ahead with the second treatment. Lochlin ghosted through a shop of curios: touched them, sank into them. Like quicksand. His voice cracking in choir practice. University economics exam, palms slick with sweat. Splitting his lip on a hardwood floor, and glaring up at the offending rocking horse. Father MacKay beckoning him down the stairs at the back of the sanctuary. He tried to hang onto that one—force it to drag him along to its conclusion, but it slipped from his grasp. Junis said they should wait another week. Lochlin said not if the doctor wanted to see his money.
Sand from a Broken Hourglass It must have been the bus hitting a bump that shook his brain loose and sent it skittering. He had breakfast, left the clinic, got off the bus, woke up, checked in with the doctor’s receptionist, rode the bus a long time, got out of bed, got on the bus… Wait. Was that right? Was he riding the bus to the clinic, or back home? Should he be getting ready for breakfast, lunch, or supper? Screw it. Scotch was the important part of all three. Sipping the amber cure-all, he resolved that there was no need to tell Junis about a few episodes of confusion. The third treatment showed Father MacKay in a montage of separate moments, reaching for him…reaching, but not touching. That night, the first caress of sleep threw him into a vortex: crystals of recollection, shining drops of time or grains of sand, quicksand, swirling, swirling, sucking him down. The next day, he showed up at the clinic before it opened, hair uncombed, wearing slippers. Junis refused another treatment so soon. Lochlin had to threaten to tell the doctor’s wife about the affair with his nurse—a lucky guess based on the looks they gave each other. Treatment four: Muriel leaning toward him for a kiss, her face half-lit by tiki torch light. A frumpy daycare worker yelling at him for filling his diaper. The jump shot that squeaked his ball squad into the college playoffs—the sole heroic moment in his unremarkable life. Father MacKay’s office: words repeated and repeated again, while the priest wore his patronizing smile. Then the grade eight auditorium: bright lights, dull faces. Oh God. That was it. That was all. MacKay hadn’t abused him. Had never touched him. Had only coached him for weeks, preparing for his public speaking debut: a
Sand from a Broken Hourglass speech about his mother. Mother had fountained tears of joy, but his classmates…his classmates had jeered mercilessly. Taunted him for years. Damn Father MacKay. Damn him for not being the excuse so desperately desired.
He stumbles along a street. Looks down. One slipper, one bare foot. Is he putting slippers on, or taking them off? Why is he wearing a diaper? There are short, chubby legs below it. No. Scrawny legs with scraggly white hairs. For the first time, he feels fear. Fear and infinite regret. Someone has pulled the plug from the bottom of the world, and there is no way to put it back. The street has turned to sand. The sand begins to swirl around him, each grain a face, a still life, a vignette. Faster, and faster still. He is in the sand and the sand is in an hourglass, running, running. Running out. The hourglass smashes. The sand spills.
Coming This Month At Urania and Euterpe Day Dreamer by Devin Hodgins — 10/28 The Girl Who Remembered Horses (YA) by Linda Benson — 11/4 Deacon’s Ark (The New West 2) by A.E. Stanton — 11/18 Dragon Night (YA) by Stephanie Campbell — 11/18
Contributor Bios Mario Milosevic — “The Voices” Mario Milosevic lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, fellow writer Kim Antieau. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, F&SF, and many other publications, both print and online. Many of his stories are available as ebooks and he has several novels out from Green Snake Publishing, including Kyle’s War, The Last Giant, and Terrastina and Mazolli: A Novel in 99-Word Episodes. Find him on the web at: mariowrites.com
DeAnna Knippling — “Inappropriate Gifts” I am a freelance writer and editor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. My first book, Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse was released in November 2010 (www.doompress.com). I was recently published in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Silverthought Online, Crossed Genres, and Nil Desperandum. I received an honorable mention in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 3. blog.deannaknippling.com
Nathanial Lee — “Cocklebur” My name is Nathaniel Lee, and my fiction has appeared in Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Abyss & Apex, as well as several times at Daily Science Fiction. Mirrorshards: Very Short Stories 100 words. No more. No fewer. Every day. www.mirrorshards.org
Contributor Bios J.C. Koch — “Field Trip” J.C. Koch is scared by horror stories but writes them anyway. J.C.’s stories have appeared in Arkham Tales and Necrotic Tissue. In addition to writing about scary things, J.C. also likes to do scary things like pay attention to politics, keep up with the Kardashians, and play the stock market. With no time to actually do any of those things, though, J.C. tends to stay hidden under the bed, letting more of the terrors of the mind bleed onto the page, both metaphorically and literally. Reach J.C. at Going Bump in the Night www.ginikoch.com/jkbookstore.htm
Scott Overton — “Sand from a Broken Hourglass” I’ve had short fiction published in On Spec (and a second story awaiting publication by them), Neo-opsis, the anthology Doomology, and accepted for the forthcoming Canadian Tales of the Fantastic and In Poe’s Shadow anthologies, plus a couple of honorable mentions in the Writers Of The Future Contest. My first novel has just been accepted for publication. www.scottoverton.ca
With your submission to Musa, please send the following AND ONLY the following to email@example.com : *A query letter, including a one paragraph synopsis of your story and your publication history if applicable *a full synopsis of your story *the first twenty pages of your manuscript ALL THESE ITEMS SHOULD BE EMBEDDED IN THE EMAIL. We will consider reprints to rights reverted stories. We do not accept multiple submissions. We will not open attachments, and will send an email rejecting you for not following our submission guidelines. Most writers don’t realize that this instruction is your first test with any publication. We thought we’d make it easier for you and let you know up front. We will not open any attachments in your query email. Ever. If we like what we see, we will request your entire story in standard electronic manuscript format (1 inch margins-top, bottom, and sides; 12 pt Times New Roman, NO BOLDING, double spaced, non-justified right margin). Musa will consider submissions of any length from short story to epic novel for all imprints. MUSA IMPRINTS Aurora Regency — Regency Calliope — Romance/Etrotica Clio — Historical Fiction Erato — LGBT Euterpe — YA Melpomene — Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Polyhymnia — Musa Gold Classics Terpsichore — Contemporary Fiction Thalia — Paranormal Urania — Speculative Fiction
What’s Up Next? Penumbra December Issue
ur December issue of Penumbra features stories about travel, but of course, with a twist. These aren’t your average holiday travel stories, but rather feature concepts like time travel and time displacement. These fine tales from six amazing authors will be released on December 1, 2012 in Volume I Issue 3 of Penumbra. Congratulations, authors! “The Neocracy” by Ken Liu “Strange Protection” by JC Koch “The Christmas Present” by Luke Walker “Time Out” by Jay Werkheiser “Arrhythmia” by Terra Le May “Goodbye Hello” by Sandra M. Odell
Penumbra is looking for artists to feature in upcoming issues. Visit: penumbraezine.blogspot.com for information on how to submit artwork.
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Do you write short stories in the speculative fiction genre? Submit your story to Penumbra, a pro rate paying emagazine. Visit: penumbraezine.blogspot.com for information about future issue themes.
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Letter from the Urania Editor
ovember. Dead time. The leaves are gone from the trees and the October jack-o-lanterns are moldering on the front porch. Our thoughts turn naturally to the past. The phrase “the golden age of science fiction” conjures up many happy memories for me—rainy Saturdays spent reading Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein. My favorite novel from that period is, and always has been, Robert Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I used to sit on my bed and read it to the end, close the book, open the book, and start it over. But, of course, the masters of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, were building on the work done by the generation preceding them. The selfconscious development of science fiction began in the 1920s, with works serialized in magazines like Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, and Argosy. They set the tone, giving us giant humanoid robots, visions of utopian government run along scientific principles, and cosmic travel in vehicles called “space cars.” (And why not call them space cars? Aristotle tells us that metaphor is the true mark of genius. Space “ship” says a lot about the vastness of the universe, through which we float like men on a dinghy; but space “car” indicates that we set the direction, we decide where to go—a confident metaphor for a confident age). One of those shapers of American sci-fi was a man named Homer Eon Flint. Born in 1888, Flint wrote widely in several genres, but his most lasting contribution is in speculative fiction. His Dr. Kinney books—the Lord of Death, the Queen of Life, the Devolutionist, and the Emancipatrix—deserve to be read by every genre lover, and his novel The Blind Spot is still well known and esteemed. Musa Publishing recently gained exclusive publishing rights to Homer Eon Flint’s literary works, with the aim of introducing them to a new generation of readers—not simply his well-known novels and published-but-rarely-read short stories, but several of his “lost works” as well. In addition, we’ve invited Flint’s granddaughter and 54
Letter from the Urania Editor literary heir, Vella Munn, to write his definitive biography. Works will be released regularly through 2012, and will be available singly or as a set. Now there will be a whole new way to spend rainy November afternoons: by curling up with your e-reader or cell phone and reliving the excitement, the vision, the confidence of the beginning of the golden age of science fiction. Matt Teel Head Editor, Urania Musa Publishing
Published on Nov 1, 2011