Free Fiction Friday

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies

Author: Brooke Bolander

I was playing at being mortal this century because I love cigarettes and shawarma, and it’s easier to order shawarma if your piercing shriek doesn’t drive the delivery boy mad. Mortality is fun in small doses. It’s very authentic, very down–in–the–dirt nitty–gritty. There are lullabies and lily pads and summer rainstorms and hardly anyone ever tries to cut your head off out of some moronic heroic obligation to the gods. If you want to sit on your ass and read a book, nobody judges you. Also, shawarma.

Running the Snake

Author: Kage Baker

“Mocking the bards, faking divine possession, and poaching! Can it be you haven’t a great deal of respect for the gods?” said Scorilo.

“That might be the case,” said Will sourly. “Yet see, gentlemen, the wages of impiety. I’m as talented a man as you’ll find in a long summer’s day; I can pull your tooth, cure your fever, paint your likeness, sit in judgment on your small claims, sing you all the lays of old Rome, foretell the hour of your death, and recite a solemn prayer over your ashy bones. And, thanks to that unwise moment of levity at High Bard Amaethon’s expense, I now scramble to earn my bread in the gutter.”

“What if impiety could be made to pay?” inquired Scorilo, with a coy leer.

“What if, indeed? I’m listening.”

Thundergod in Therapy (Audio)

Author: Effie Seiberg

It took three days, but he disconnected his entire condo from the grid. He smashed holes in the plasterboard walls and yanked out wire after wire—brute force was as good a method as any. Then, in a tangle of metal and plastic, he reconnected everything to the battery, which now sat in the middle of his beige living room instead of the shitty coffee table. The apartment was transformed. Once a beige box of sadness, it was now a rat’s nest of blue and red wire casings which covered the walls (and part of the beige carpet) like ivy with a faint snow of plaster dust.

He sat on his fake leather sofa, put a finger on each of the hulking thing’s contact points and shoved lightning in. The battery’s gauge on the side lit up red, then yellow, then green.

Free Fiction Friday

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees

Author: E. Lily Yu

The terms of the relationship were copied out, at the wasps’ direction, on small paper plaques embedded in propolis and wax around the hive. As paper and ink were new substances to the bees, they jostled and touched and tasted the bills until the paper fell to pieces. The wasps sent to oversee the installation did not take this kindly. Several civilians died before it was established that the bees could not read the Yiwei dialect.

Thereafter the hive’s chemists were charged with compounding pheromones complex enough to encode the terms of the treaty. These were applied to the papers, so that both species could inspect them and comprehend the relationship between the two states.

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0

Author: Caroline M. Yoachim

Inside the clinic, a message plays over the loudspeakers: “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station, please sign your name on the clipboard. Patients will be seen in the order that they arrive. If this is an emergency, we’re sorry—you’re probably screwed. The current wait time is six hours.” The message is on endless repeat, cycling through dozens of different languages.

It Happened To Me: I Melded My Consciousness With the Giant Alien Mushroom Floating Above Chicago

Author: Nino Cipri

I came back to the city, ready for a new start. Chicago has survived worse than alien mushrooms. What’s a floating otherworldly fungus compared to the Chicago Fire, or Prohibition, or Rahm Emmanuel? Once it became clear that Amanita was inactive, she became just another place you took out-of-towners to when they dropped in to visit, if you didn’t want to spring for tickets to the Field Museum. Nobody looks up in cities, except for tourists.

Free Fiction Friday

Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby

Author: Donald Barthelme

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn’t pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he’d think about it but it would take him a while to decide.

Butterflies

Author: KJ Charles

It seemed that some five days ago, a young lady and her governess, taking a walk in the woods, had stumbled upon a strange discovery. From a distance it seemed to them to be a great pile of brightly coloured paper, a vast heap of trimmings and cuttings piled into a mound some six feet long and perhaps two feet high. As they approached the peculiar sight, they realised with astonishment that it was constituted, not of paper, but of butterflies. Butterflies in their thousands, of the most extraordinary variety of hues, of species not native to England or ever seen here. The insects were all dead or dying, with barely a flutter to their wings, and the two ladies approached to look closer, and then a drift of the lovely dead things slipped to the ground, and what had seemed merely extraordinary became terrible.

It was not simply a heap of butterflies, as if there was anything simple about such a thing in a chilly English October. The bright wings hid a corpse.

He was Thomas Janney, Old Tom, a vagrant of the Winchester woods. Known to the police as an itinerant and a drinker, prone to foul language in his cups, but with little real harm said of him at any time these past two decades. And he was dead, face suffused with blood, skin shrivelled and dry, and inside his mouth, down his throat, in his lungs, were butterflies.

Death and What Comes Next

Author: Terry Pratchett

When Death met the philosopher, the philosopher said, rather excitedly: “At this point, you realise, I’m both dead and not dead.”

There was a sigh from Death. Oh dear, one of those, he thought. This is going to be about quantum again. He hated dealing with philosophers. They always tried to wriggle out of it.

“You see,” said the philosopher, while Death, motionless, watched the sands of his life drain through the hourglass, “everything is made of tiny particles, which have the strange property of being in many places at one time. But things made of tiny particles tend to stay in one place at one time, which does not seem right according to quantum theory. May I continue?”

YES, BUT NOT INDEFINITELY, said Death, EVERYTHING IS TRANSIENT. He did not take his gaze away from the tumbling sand.

Free Fiction Friday

It Happened To Me: My Doppelganger Stole My Credit Card Info, and then My Life

Author: Nino Cipri

My mother: “The Nono thing started when you were a toddler. Nono was your favorite word, and your father and I liked to say that it wasn’t you who’d pulled all of the dishtowels out of the drawer. It was Nono.”

My father: “I guess you caught on, because then you started saying Nono had done this or that. Don’t blame me, I didn’t flood the bathroom, Nono did. It stopped being cute really fast.”

Nono went away around the time that I started kindergarten. My mother told me that she had been sent to the Other Country, and there was no way she’d painted the kitchen wall with dog food and ketchup.

The Skull

Author: Phillip K. Dick

It was in the twentieth century that the Movement began—during one of the periodic wars. The Movement developed rapidly, feeding on the general sense of futility, the realization that each war was breeding greater war, with no end in sight. The Movement posed a simple answer to the problem: Without military preparations—weapons—there could be no war. And without machinery and complex scientific technocracy there could be no weapons.

The Movement preached that you couldn’t stop war by planning for it. They preached that man was losing to his machinery and science, that it was getting away from him, pushing him into greater and greater wars. Down with society, they shouted. Down with factories and science! A few more wars and there wouldn’t be much left of the world.

The Red Piano

Author: Delia Sherman

My discipline was archaeology, my area of concentration the burial customs of long-dead societies, my obsession the notion of a corporeal afterlife, rich with exotic foods and elaborate furniture, jewels and art and books and servants to wait upon the deceased as they had in life. Wherever they began, all conversations circled back to the same ever-fascinating questions: whether such preparations reflected some post-mortem reality, or whether all the elaborated pomp of preservation and entombment were nothing but a glorified whistling in the dark of eternity.

Free Fiction Friday

Children’s Stories Made Horrific: The Frog Prince

Author: Mallory Ortberg

In an old time in an old country there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful and all unlucky. To be beautiful in this country was to be noticed by men; for this reason the girls were unlucky. It is lucky for a woman not to be noticed. In this country, women prayed to secret gods to let them be forgotten. They prayed with their faces to the floor.

Axolotl

Author: Julio Cortázar

I began to go every morning, morning and afternoon some days. The aquarium guard smiled perplexedly taking my ticket. I would lean up against the iron bar in front of the tanks and set to watching them. There’s nothing strange in this, because after the first minute I knew that we were linked, that something infinitely lost and distant kept pulling us together. It had been enough to detain me that first morning in front of the sheet of glass where some bubbles rose through the water. The axolotls huddled on the wretched narrow (only I can know how narrow and wretched) floor of moss and stone in the tank. There were nine specimens, and the majority pressed their heads against the glass, looking with their eyes of gold at whoever came near them. Disconcerted, almost ashamed, I felt it a lewdness to be peering at these silent and immobile figures heaped at the bottom of the tank.

The Eyes Have It

Author: Phillip K. Dick

I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away.

The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out, customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise, however, became transparent in the face of the following observations by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew everything — and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble remembering it even now) read:

… his eyes slowly roved about the room.

Vague chills assailed me. I tried to picture the eyes. Did they roll like dimes? The passage indicated not; they seemed to move through the air, not over the surface. Rather rapidly, apparently. No one in the story was surprised. That’s what tipped me off. No sign of amazement at such an outrageous thing.

Free Fiction Friday

Gunnerkrigg Court

Author: Tom Siddell

Two interesting things happened on this day. The first was the end of the school year. And the second was when a god emerged from Gillitie Wood. We’ll come to the latter in a moment.

Theatre of Cruelty

Author: Terry Pratchett

“Well, now,” said Sergeant Colon (Ankh-Morpork City Guard, Night Watch), consulting his notebook, “so far we have cause of death as a) being beaten with at least one blunt instrument b) being strangled with a string of sausages and c) being savaged by at least two animals with big sharp teeth. What do we do now, Nobby?”

“Arrest the suspect, Sarge,” said Corporal Nobbs, saluting smartly.

“Suspect, Nobby?”

“Him,” said Nobby, prodding the corpse with his boot. “I call it highly suspicious, being dead like that. He’s been drinking, too. We could do him for being dead and disorderly.”

In the Stacks (Audio)

Author: Scott Lynch

On the clock outside the gate to the Manticore Wing of the library, the little blue flame was just floating past the symbol for high noon when Laszlo and Casimir skidded to a halt before a single tall figure.

“I see you two aspirants have chosen to favor us with a dramatic last-minute arrival,” said the man. “I was not aware this was to be a drama exam.”

“Yes, Master Molnar. Apologies, Master Molnar,” said Laszlo and Casimir in unison.

Hargus Molnar, Master Librarian, had a face that would have been at home in a gallery of military statues, among dead conquerors casting their permanent scowls down across the centuries. Lean and sinewy, with close-cropped gray hair and a dozen visible scars, he wore a use-seasoned suit of black leather and silvery mail. Etched on his cuirass was a stylized scroll, symbol of the Living Library, surmounted by the phrase Auvidestes, Gerani, Molokare. The words were Alaurin, the formal language of scholars, and they formed the motto of the Librarians:
RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE.

Free Fiction Friday

Wolf 359 (Audio)

Cast and Crew: Gabriel Urbina, Zach Valenti, Emma Sherr-Ziarko, Michaela Swee, Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs, Zach Libresco, Noah Masur, Michelle Agresti, Scotty Shoemaker, Ariela Rotenberg, Alan Rodi, Sarah Shachat

Minkowski: I don’t have a temper. I have an airlock.

Piper in the Woods

Author: Phillip K. Dick

“Well, Corporal Westerburg,” Doctor Henry Harris said gently, “just why do you think you’re a plant?”

As he spoke, Harris glanced down again at the card on his desk. It was from the Base Commander himself, made out in Cox’s heavy scrawl: Doc, this is the lad I told you about. Talk to him and try to find out how he got this delusion. He’s from the new Garrison, the new check-station on Asteroid Y-3, and we don’t want anything to go wrong there. Especially a silly damn thing like this!

By His Bootstraps (Audio)

Author: Robert Heinlein

“A case in point is the concept ‘time travel.’ Time travel may be imagined and its necessities may be formulated under any and all theories of time, formulae which resolve the paradoxes of each theory. Nevertheless, we know certain things about the empirical nature of time which preclude the possibility of the conceivable proposition. Duration is an attribute of consciousness and not of the plenum. It has no Ding an Sich. Therefore-“

A key of the typewriter stuck, three more jammed up on top of it. Wilson swore dully and reached forward to straighten out the cantankerous machinery. “Don’t bother with it,” he heard a voice say.

“It’s a lot of utter hogwash anyhow.”

Wilson sat up with a jerk, then turned his head slowly around. He fervently hoped that there was someone behind him. Otherwise- He perceived the stranger with relief. “Thank God,” he said to himself.

“For a moment I thought I had come unstuck.”

Free Fiction Friday

All Your Hostages Are In Love With You Day!

Author: Bob Powers

Your partner hangs up the phone with the FBI.

“They need three hostages.”

You pretend to not be listening.

“You go tell them or I will! Ask some of them to leave. You’ve got like nineteen guys back there.”

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Author: Neil Gaiman

“It’ll be brilliant,” said Vic, for the hundredth time. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” He grinned with white teeth.

We both attended an all-boys’ school in south London. While it would be a lie to say that we had no experience with girls — Vic seemed to have had many girlfriends, while I had kissed three of my sister’s friends — it would, I think, be perfectly true to say that we both chiefly spoke to, interacted with, and only truly understood, other boys. Well, I did, anyway. It’s hard to speak for someone else, and I’ve not seen Vic for thirty years. I’m not sure that I would know what to say to him now if I did.

The Six Swans

Author: Mallory Ortberg

“The king’s wife looks drawn and pale,” the king announced over supper, looking at her carefully “and not at all well.”

“I feel fine,” the king’s wife said. She tore off the crust from her bread and put it in her mouth. It had been so long since she had chewed and swallowed that it lay dead and heavy in her mouth. She smiled with her lips closed. “I feel very well.”

“But your health is not only your own now,” the king reminded her. “It is our child’s, and mine.” His wife, his child, his health, his dinner, his jacket, his house, his floor, his dogs, his servants, his plans. “A queen,” he reminded everyone at table, “is what a king uses to build the future.”

Free Fiction Friday

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

They both looked at the fallen body with a mute stupor. He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud.

The Dunwich Horror

Author: H.P. Lovecraft

He was, however, exceedingly ugly despite his appearance of brilliancy; there being something almost goatish or animalistic about his thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears. He was soon disliked even more decidedly than his mother and grandsire, and all conjectures about him were spiced with references to the bygone magic of Old Whateley, and how the hills once shook when he shrieked the dreadful name of Yog-Sothoth in the midst of a circle of stones with a great book open in his arms before him. Dogs abhorred the boy, and he was always obliged to take various defensive measures against their barking menace.

Out of the Sea

Author: Tori Centanni

Lana started to say she’d missed her, too, but found the words wouldn’t come because they weren’t true. And after all these years, the witch’s magic still held her to that: she could not tell an outright lie. It made navigating the mortal world difficult, but not impossible. It had been impossible with a fin.