This has been a productive weekend! I present to you the shiny new cover for Devilish & Divine, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail. Previously Horns & Halos, this anthology features both hellish and heavenly hosts, and was so much fun to work on. We hope you enjoy it!

Devilish & Divine

Hell Bound or Heaven Sent?

Some of us will never know until it’s too late.

From an infernal fiend reduced to baking cookies to comfort a small child, to a pastor’s kid rescued from a fall from grace by an unlikely pair, and every iteration in between, Devilish & Divine explores the spectrum of mankind’s encounters with beings of power beyond our comprehension.

Are you ready to explore otherworldly hosts—both heavenly and otherwise?

With stories by

James Chambers
John L. French
Robert E. Waters
Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg
Christopher J. Burke
Michelle D. Sonnier
Danielle Ackley-McPhail
Keith R.A. DeCandido
Russ Colchamiro
Michael A. Black
Patrick Thomas
Hildy Silverman

John G. Hartness

John L. French

JOHN L. FRENCH is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years’ experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.

John’s first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.

John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Souls on Fire, The Nightmare Strikes, Monsters Among Us, The Last Redhead, the Magic of Simon Tombs, and The Santa Heist (written with Patrick Thomas). John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, Camelot 13 (with Patrick Thomas), and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power …

You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at him at

Kickstarter DMcPhail

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (

Her published works include seven novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, Daire’s Devils, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, The Fox’s Fire, The Kindly One, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman, More Tips from the Handyman,  and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and four extremely spoiled cats.


Well…this is what happens when you go nearly two weeks without posting. Sorry, life has been crazy. We do, however, have quite the treat for you! A double-dose of video. We hope you enjoy this exciting selection of fantasy and steampunk reads, with a bit of drama thrown in.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.

The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her novel, Tomorrow’s Memories, book two in the Eternal Cycle series. 

Christopher J. Burke reading his flash fiction story “Neverending” from the collection In A Flash 2020

Jeff Young reading an excerpt from his short story “The Walking House” from Gaslight & Grimm, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine.

The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Tearing Down the Walls from Cloud Orchid Publishing.  

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her short story “Reliquary” from Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2, edited by Robert Greenberger and published by Crazy 8 Press, funding now on Kickstarter.

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Freya’s Baby – Shattered.

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Freya’s Baby.

All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we receive a token commission when you purchase via these links.


It has been a while, but time for something new! Our monthly flash fiction may have gone away due to lack of participation, but we met a lot of great authors during it’s run. One of them had the distinction of entering nearly every month and often right under the deadline wire. He won more than a few of them. Such dedication deserves to be rewarded. Coming in August, a brand-new flash fiction collection by author Chrisopher J. Burke!

InAFlash-Burke 2x3

Who says there’s never enough time anymore?

Help yourself to twenty tales of wit and wonder for those with but a little time to read. Pick up Christopher J. Burke’s debut collection of award-winning flash fiction for a quick trip through the whimsical to magical to speculative and back again.

A space-traveling hustler gets taken,
but can’t bring himself to mind in the afterglow.

Playing fetch takes a darker turn as a man who hears dogs’ thoughts
encounters a hellhound.

A disturbing young man brings a whole new meaning
to the term ‘writer’s block.’

With the edges of the galaxy to explore,
solitary confinement is more than worth doing extra time.

A young visionary is on to a hot new idea,
but it takes an outside perspective to give it a brilliant spin.

And many more fantastic tales to transport you
for just a moment or two…there and back again In a Flash!

DSC_0028Christopher J. Burke is a writer, high school math teacher, and webcomic creator. He’s also a gamer and fan of science fiction who has been telling stories since he was little. This combination ultimately led to his first professional sale, “Don’t Kill the Messenger,” in Autoduel Quarterly. This was followed by the creation of a fiction fanzine, Driving Tigers Magazine, with stories set in the Car Wars universe of Steve Jackson Games, which had a five-issue run. Thanks to his knowledge and love of that game, he was asked to co-author GURPS Autoduel, 2nd edition for Steve Jackson Games.

He took time off from writing when he switched careers and went back to school to become a teacher. But not before he completed a goal of having a humor piece published in MAD Magazine.

In 2007, he started the math-based webcomic, (x, why?), filled with the kind of geeky humor that makes his students groan when he includes them in the daily lesson. The comic still updates with new strips every week on his blog

After a chance meeting at a launch party in 2014, Christopher was once again bitten by the writing bug and started producing flash fiction. He won several of the monthly flash fiction contests on the eSpec Books website, and appeared in their anthology, In a Flash 2016.

Christopher lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Antoinette.


Hard to believe we have been at this for five years, come October. That is a lot of blood, sweat, and cuss words…let me tell you! We have learned a lot and we have grown. We are making a name for ourselves and doing what we love. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we are making too much progress, but then we look back and think “Damn!”

I did that today. My entire day has been nothing but entering and calculating data to see exactly what it is we’ve accomplished, by the numbers. So! Here it goes…

  1. We’ve published nine titles in electronic format only.
  2. We’ve published 39 titles in both print and electronic format.
  3. We have eight titles currently under review or in production.
  4. We have originated three imprints: eSpec Books, Paper Phoenix Press, and AGM Publications.
  5. We have three staff members: Danielle McPhail (publisher), Mike McPhail (art director/graphic designer), Greg Schauer (editor).
  6. Eight times out of eight times, we have paid out royalties either early or on time.
  7. We have zero company debt.
  8. We have a positive balance in each of our company accounts.

Those last three fill us with the greatest sense of accomplishment.

All-Time Top Bestsellers

  1. The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier
  2. The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell
  3. The Weird Wild West
      edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
  4. Issue in Doubt by David Sherman
  5. In All Directions by David Sherman
  6. Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine
  7. Dragon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  8. The Best of Defending the Future edited by Mike McPhail
  9. Goblin Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  10. Unicorn Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido


In All Directions 2 x 3G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150Proof-DragonPrecinctNew-Proof-DTF1b

Goblin Precinct 2x3Proof-UnicornPrecinctproof-iwhk-coverproof-tbobaf

All-Time Highest Grossing

  1. The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell
  2. The Clockwork Witch by Michelle D. Sonnier
  3. The Weird Wild West 
        edited by Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, and Margaret S. McGraw
  4. Issue in Doubt by David Sherman
  5. In All Directions by David Sherman
  6. Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine
  7. Dragon Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido
  8. The Best of Defending the Future edited by Mike McPhail
  9. If We Had Known edited by Mike McPhail
  10. Best of Bad-Ass Faeries edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Highlights of the last five years:

  • One title made it to the Bram Stoker Recommended Reading List.
  • Four titles were finalists for awards.
  • Two of those titles won those awards.
  • We have funded twelve successful crowdfunding campaigns (including one that is running right now – Defending the Future: In Harm’s Way.)
  • We have had the honor of publishing Faith Hunter, Jack Campbell, Brenda Cooper, David Sherman, Jody Lynn Nye, Jonathan Maberry, Bud Sparhawk, James Chambers, Jack McDevitt, Robert Greenberger, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Jeff Young, Michelle D. Sonnier, Bernie Mojzes, Aaron Rosenberg, Peter David, John C. Wright, Eric V. Hardenbrook, Christopher M. Hiles, Patrick Thomas, CJ Henderson, Judi Fleming, John L. French, Christopher L. Bennett, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, Misty Massey, Mike McPhail, John G. Hartness, RS Belcher, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Misty Massey, James R. Tuck, Robert E. Waters, David Sherman, Tonia Brown, Liz Colter, Scott Hungerford, Frances Rowat, Ken Schrader, Bryan C.P. Steele, Wendy N. Wagner, Christine Norris, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano, Adam P. Knave, Jesse Harris, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, John Passarella, Jeffrey Lyman,  L. Jagi Lamplighter,  James Daniel Ross, DL Thurston, Lee C. Hillman, NR Brown, John A. Pitts, Jennifer Brozek, Ronald T. Garner, Nancy Jane Moore, Maria V. Snyder, Lawrence M. Schoen, Andy Remic, Charles E. Gannon, John G. Hemry, Ian Randal Strock, Peter Prellwitz, Drew Bittner, Ty Johnson, Torah Contrill, Walt Ciechanowski, Hal Greenberg and Kenneth Shannon III, Erik Scott de Bie, Ed Greenwood, Christopher J. Burke, Jim Knipp, Herika R Raymer, Anton Kukal, Marie Vibbert, CB Droege, David Bartell,  Rie Sheridan Rose, Jean Buie, David M. Hoenig, Jamie Gilman Kress, Jean Rabe, David Boop, Leona Wisoker Robert M. Price, Leona Wisoker, Edward J. McFadden III, Tony Ruggiero, Janine K. Spendlove, Bryan J.L. Glass, James M. Ward, Kathleen David, and Vonnie Winslow Crist
  • We have projects in the works by Robert E. Waters, Christopher L. Bennett, Michelle D. Sonnier, James Chambers, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
  • We have anthologies in the works with stories by Gordon Linzner, Lisanne Norman, Dayton Ward, and  Russ Colchamiro.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end here, thank you. It’s a lot of content but we are covering five years 😉 We’ll be making periodic posts throughout the year up to the anniversary. Thanks for joining us on this adventure!


My apologies for the long delay in posting this. 

Congratulations to Christopher J. Burke for winning the January Flash Fiction contest.

Honorable mention goes to Erin Penn for her story Countdown.

The Feast of Groggry the Cronaut

Christopher J. Burke

Walking to the beat of the music playing solely within his head, Gregory climbed the front stoop to his building and beelined to the first door on the left, at the base of the staircase, across from the lift. Waving his left palm over the jamb panel, he unlocked the door bolts on apartment 1B. He and Alex couldn’t afford the high-floor views and fresher air, consigned themselves to life stuck in this noisy corridor where tenants came and left at all hours. The added soundproofing on the door did little to alieve the problem.

Gregory barely broke his stride as his hand moved from the sensor to door, which opened at with the slightest of touches. He nearly stumbled in the doorway, though, when the music in his earpiece a missed beat as the connection switched to the apartment’s infostream from the free municipal roaming service. Data instantly started flowing into his head. He tapped behind his ear to shut the music, and concentrated on the incoming messages. He sorted through them quickly, storing some, deleting most.

Gregory blinked two times when he was done to clear his vision. That’s when he saw Alexandra standing in from him, smiling, twirling some of her tight brown curls about her finger.

“What are you smiling at?” he asked.  “And how long have you been standing there?”

“A few minutes. Right after you came in.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

She laughed. “Because I could see your eyes darting back and forth as you went through your mail! You’re like the only person I know that still does that! Anyway, I didn’t want to interrupt. I knew you’d finish quick.”

Gregory shrugged his bag from his shoulder, dropped it on the counter and went to the fridge. “I’m not the only one with a tell. What’s up with you?”

“Moi? What ‘tell’ do I have?”

He grabbed a drink, and then pointed at her hand. “I’d be shocked if you can untangle your finger before I crack this open. What’s up?”

More smiling. This time her entire face lit up. “Okay, you got me. I was going to tell you at dinner. I’ve finished it, Greg! I’m actually finished!”

Greg smiled and tried his best to keep his eyesight fixed while he scanned both internal and external memory. He failed.

“For Net’s sake!” she yelled. “Stop before you pierce the Cloud!” 

Alex made a pouty face, walked over and punched his arm. Then she grinned, leaned up and kissed him. “Idiot. You’re lucky I love you.”

Gregory welcomed the kiss, even as he held his arm. “Am I?”

That earned another punch.

“My big project. The time dial!” She pushed up her sleeve so to reveal a black band around her wrist like some 20th Century enthusiast might wear. In the middle of it was a black disc with a small arrow on a dial.  She ran to the couch and grabbed her stuffed bear. “I already tried it out with Mr. Buttons. He traveled through time.”

“Traveled through time? He’s still here. How’d he get back?”

She sighed, and then held the bear up high. “He didn’t ‘get back.’ He just got here, right before you came in. I sent him a day into the future. Yesterday!


“Yes. Yesterday. I sent him one day into the future!” Alex returned Greg’s blank stare. “Which is today.”

Time travel? One day into the future? Hard to believe.

“That’s … that’s amazing. Incredible, if it’s true … No, I mean …”

Alexandra was furious. “What? Do you think I’m making this up?”

“Alex, no! That’s not what I meant.”

“Never mind what you meant. It still needs one more test. I was going to wait, but now is as good a time as ever.”

By the time Gregory realized what she was saying, Alex had grabbed her left wrist with her right hand. Her thumb over the disc, she pressed the button.

And disappeared.

It was a few moments before Gregory realized that his mouth was hanging open. He waved his hands in front of him, not sure if the brief ghost image he saw was actually there or just an afterimage burned into his lenses. Or maybe his brain just wasn’t comprehending what had happened. What else could possibly have happened?

Grasping for ideas, Gregory dropped to his knees.  He crawled across the rug to where Alex had been standing, and ran his hand through the fibers. No debris. She hadn’t disintegrated. Alex had teleported somewhere else. Or somewhen else. Was that possible?

Over the next few hours, he frantically searched through Alex’s notebooks and tablets. Thankfully, she enjoyed working with such electronic and physical relics rather than keeping it all stored on internal devices. Unfortunately, he could find little information about her project, and couldn’t make sense out of what he did find.

By midnight, he’d resigned himself to a cold night alone in their bed, not feeling her warmth next to him. By two o’clock, he wondered how many nights it might be without her. Would he see her again? And what would she be like?

Mr. Buttons “returned” from wherever it is he had gone, but the bear was an inanimate object. It didn’t need to eat or breathe. It had no fear of what it saw. How much time was Mr. Buttons in that other place while he was “gone”? Was it just minutes or did an entire day pass for him? Was it like a quick walk through a door, or a slow shuttle ride through a tunnel?

He didn’t fall asleep until nearly four. He woke two hours late for work, but called in sick. Messages started downloading into his head as soon as his eyes fluttered open. The Sun had risen high enough to clear the buildings across the street and shine in the front window, cast a striped shadow pattern. He sat for a time on the edge of the bed and watched it creep along.

Late afternoon, he sat and stared at a blank wall, out of ideas.

“Did it work?” a voice called out. “It did work! You’ve moved to the couch.”

Gregory snapped his head about and blinked several times. Alex was standing there, in the same spot, as if nothing had happened.

“But wait – you’re wearing the same clothes! Isn’t it tomorrow? Why are you wearing the same clothes? Was I gone a full day?”

His sour mood evaporated. Gregory jumped up and hugged Alex, lifting her from the floor for a moment that seemed like a day, before settling her back down.

Alex looked around the room. “So, am I here?  Or did I decide not to meet myself when I got back. Because I didn’t meet myself in the future?”

“Got back?” Gregory shook his head. “You didn’t ‘get back’? You’ve been gone for an entire day. You didn’t go back to yesterday.”

Alex was stunned. She took off the disc to take a closer look at it. Her eyes flickered as she accessed data. “But the reverse should work? Why wouldn’t it have worked? Why didn’t I make it back?”

She placed the wristband on the counter and walked toward the bedroom. “I need to check my notes.”

Gregory grabbed the disc to inspect it. He noted the number of marks on the dial. She’d only gone one day, but she could’ve gone a week or more. How would she feel had she been the one left behind? And why stop at one day? Her next test would naturally be longer!

He twisted the dial six more clicks and held it up for her to see. “Why don’t I give you a week to figure it out!”

She turned about, horrified. “What? No!” As he pressed the button, the last words he heard were, “That’s not a wee—“

Her image froze in time like another ghost, but she wasn’t there. Nothing was “there”. Darkness. Did he imagine colors and streaks of light? He stood there, frozen. Afraid to move, or unable to move? Long enough to hunger.

And then, light. Music. Silhouettes of people that took shape as an actual crowd. He appeared on a platform, in what seemed to be a large hall. A young white-haired woman shouted out, “He’s here!” All music and movement stopped as everyone turned toward him. Everyone dropped to their knees and bowed their heads.

“In the language of your day, ‘Haydood’!” she greeted him. “Welcome, Groggry! I am Astrania. Many did not believe that this Day would come. But we, the Faithful, believed! And waited. And this was the Day!”


“Uh… what day is this? What … year?”

Astrania was pleased to answer. “It is the 15th of Elvano in the Year of the Union Fifteen Hundred Thirty Seven.” She glanced at a prepared notecard. “By your reckoning, it is 5035.”

Music started playing again. It sounded oddly familiar. A mid-22nd century song transcribed onto 51st century instruments.

“Come! Let us feast! And you can explain the sacred text.” She pulled out another card and read it. “Thus are the words of Lexa: ‘Reverse works fine. Idiot.’”


Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burkethe winner of eSpec Books’ June Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list. 

Cyber Where
by Christopher J. Burke

“Cyber What?” I only paid half-attention even before I started raiding Melanie’s fridge, when she lost most of the rest of it, but I caught the word “cyber”.

“No, Cyber Where!” she said, thrusting her hands out at me for emphasis. “It’s a pun. And it’s the new idea I’m developing.”

I plopped myself onto her couch with a pilfered bottle of water. Feeling between the cushions, I fished out the remote. “It doesn’t work.”

Mel glanced at the screen and saw it come alive as I fingered the keypad in my hand. “What doesn’t work? You mean my idea? Of course, it doesn’t. It’s in the planning stages.”

“Not that.” I dropped the remote, then cracked the bottle and took a long draught. “The pun doesn’t work. What’s it mean?”

She grabbed her earpiece from the desk and held it up, the dongle hanging between her fingers. Unlike the usual short-range antennas, that one probably had a much greater range than regular low-end devices. Likely had faster data transfer, courtesy of a few firmware hacks.

“Duh! The equipment is cyberware. Hardware, software, cyberware!” Almost as a reflex action, she hooked it over her left ear. When she glanced down to see the cord rubbing against her shoulder, her first instinct was to swing the plug behind her head.

“Could you not?”

“Hannah, join the 22nd century already.”

“I did. Three years ago, like everyone else. I had my experimental phase back in college, just like you. Okay, and a little bit in high school, too, but you started enjoying those Naughty Nineties sooner than me.”

Mel laughed at the memories. She was probably accessing these from storage even as I mentioned it. “I always was the prodigy of our group.”

I couldn’t help but grinning for a moment at that. “I’m just saying that I wished the hole in the back of my neck has closed instead of the ones on my lobes.”

My mouth was dry, so I took another swig from the bottle, then grabbed the remote and flipped channels until I saw some extreme weather. It had a calming effect that lasted until Melanie snorted.

“You complain about me plugging in. You’re doing the same.”

“This is just background noise and pretty pictures. You were about to immerse yourself, and contrary to what you think, you suck at multitasking.”

I kicked off my shoes and tucked my feet under me on the sofa. “So what’s this idea? What ‘where’ are you talking about?”

“Any ‘where’! Any place you’d like! What would you like?”

I flipped channels, stopping on some old vid. A rom-com from the looks of it. You could guess the decade from the hairstyles.  He was kind of cute, and she was kind of cuter, but they were my age now before I was born.

Mel grabbed her tablet from the desk, swiped her hand across it and stole the big screen from me. I was looking at a pretty park and some old buildings.

“How about Paris? How would you to experience Paris?”

I went to toss the bottle and look for food. “Already have. Didn’t take a lot of time or money, either.”

France disappeared, replaced by Iceland from the looks of it. “Have you seen the Northern Lights?”

My head was in the cupboard where I knew she hid the good snacks. “On a screen. What would be different?” I looked back at the television. “You realize it’s daytime over there, right?”

Mel put the tablet back on the desk, exasperated. The earpiece, once unhooked, joined the tablet, along with the dangling dongle. She started to say something, but instead leapt onto the couch, stealing my spot. I mean, sure, it’s her couch, but I’d been sitting there, like, thirty seconds ago.

“I want to develop a service that will let you be in Iceland, be in Paris, without the time and money.”

“How would it work?” I was legitimately asking at this point. There were times Mel needed a sarcastic friend and times she needed a devil’s advocate. Now was time for the latter. I ripped the wrapper from a fruit bar, took a bite and thought about it. “You might see in Paris, but you wouldn’t be there. And you can do that with a phone and a cardboard headset.”

“I’m not talking about a toy with canned images or hacked visuals from local cameras. I want to experience it. To feel it.”

Feel it? “Mel, I get seeing something, somehow, somewhere, and maybe hearing it, too, but how are you supposed to feel?” Let’s put aside taste and smell for the moment. But could you really experience a city without some fine dining and, oh my God, the pastries?

She reached behind the sofa, and pulled out a higher end “brow” piece, which sits on a person’s forehead, stretching nearly from ear to ear. It could plug into the neck or …

Mel pushed back her bangs, revealing a series of ports right below her hairline. I knew of few people who actually needed that kind of interface. Until now, I wouldn’t have thought Mel was one of them. I still wasn’t convinced that she was.

“When did you –?”

“I was ahead of my time.” She placed the brow piece before I could object and jacked in. I was so shocked I didn’t notice the television switch. “Wait, what are we looking at?”

“Lubbock, Texas.”

Out of every strange thing that had come to pass in this afternoon, I could honestly say, that was probably the least expected of all of them. The image was normal eye-level, and it was moving down the street. I glanced around for a remote, wondering how to control it, pan around, zoom, but realized that Mel just had to think about it to make it happen.

Or so I thought until she called out.

“Simon, can you hear me?”

A male voice answered through the TV. “You don’t need to shout. You don’t even need to talk for me to hear you.”

“My friend, Hannah, is here. I didn’t want to be rude. I have you on speaker, okay?”

 “That’s fine. Hi, Hannah. I think you have something on your blouse.”

I’d been walking toward the screen, but I stopped in my tracks. I stared at the TV for a moment, before glancing down. A glob of fruit jelly had fallen on me. I snatched a tissue from the box and wiped it off.

I looked back at the set. “You can see me?”

Mel laughed. “Over here, Hannah.”

“He can see me through your cyberware?”

“No. He can see you through my eyes. And you’re seeing what he’s seeing through his.”

Could that work? 

“I can see, hear, and even smell what Simon is experiencing. And I can do this instantly with at least a dozen friends that I’ve already connected with. And there are thousands more out there.”

Incredible. “But I don’t see the logistics of it. People getting implants to be connect with a relative handful of people with implants? And how would you monetize something like that?”

“Automatons. We set up municipal docking stations that people can rent and move anywhere around town, like they do now for transit, and …”

I put up a hand. “Hold it. You’re not talking about bicycles. You’re talking robots with expensive cybertech. Do you think any city – even, Lubbock – sorry, Simon – would put up the capital for such a … fantasy?”

Melanie’s face fell. The devil came due. “I said I just started developing the idea. There are other ways …”

“Excuse me, ladies.” For the moment, I’d forgotten about Simon. I knew looking at Mel meant looking at both of them but I chose the screen anyway. “I need to break the connection. I do still have some matters that I don’t broadcast.”

Just before breaking the connection, I saw something in a store window. “Simon, before you go, could I see what you look like? Could you show me your reflection?”

“Sure.” He happily obliged. His reflection was clear enough to see his was well-dressed, well-groomed. But I noticed the gear he had equipped. It wasn’t the run-of-the-mill gray or chrome. And it was much easier on the eyes than the clumsy piece that Melanie wore. Hell, it even made me think twice about accessorizing, without the modifications and upgrades.

“That set-up looks incredible. Where do you get your tech?”

“Lots of places, but the look is purely my design. No reason that cybers can’t be stylish, right?”

He signed off and the screen went black. Mel removed her gear and rubbed her forehead. She seemed to have mild euphoria mixed with a headache.

I took the brow piece from her and looked it over. “Mel, you’re working on the wrong pun.”

She tilted her head up at me. “What?”

“You need to develop a line of cyber-wear. If people are going to use this stuff, they should look good doing it. Get me some paper, we’re sketching out some designs.”


Sorry for the long radio-silence, we moved last month and still haven’t gotten our feet back under us. Long overdue, below are the winners for June and July. I’m afraid we never got the August contest posted, so we will resume the madness in September.

Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke and Michael Stricklandwho tied for winner of eSpec Books’ June Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list. 

Honorable Mention – Carol Gyzander – The Crossroads

Our congratulations to Jonathon Mastwinner of eSpec Books’ July Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention – Ef Deal – Ice Cream Man


Christopher J. Burke

When the klaxon sounded, Valaron’s heart lifted even as the hair on his skin stood.  Only one traveler had come down the bridge in the past century. Friend or foe, he flew with wings spread to their fullest to meet the returning soldier or invading enemy. Taking a position near the bridge’s base, he drew his sword in salute.

Moments later, a reddish-black demon with three horns, tattered wings folding behind its back, and a bottle in its hand cantered down the ramp. His bare feet left a trail of dark, brimstone prints behind him that evaporated into rising smoke clouds.

Valaron lowered his sword and his face. “Oh, it’s you, Rupsgath. Why have you returned?”

“I have come for you!” He raised the bottle in his hand. “To get you drunk!”

“Why will you not leave me be? Be gone from Clarita, and return no more.”

The demon sat heavily on a large stone. He sank his teeth into the bottle’s cork and pulled it free with a satisfying pop. “Leave you be? It’s been eighty years since I last came! Have you seen any other than me in all that time?”

Rupsgath tilted his head back, held the bottle high above his maw and poured himself a drink. Then he offered the bottle to his host. Valaron declined.

The demon shrugged and took a second swig. “You must have realized by now, that no one else is returning. The war is done. The combatants have all fallen, to their deaths or to some lower dimensions. Only you and I are left, guarding domains from non-existent invaders.”

Valaron scoffed. “There are others out there. They didn’t all go to war. Some traveled the planes. Scholars, emissaries! They’ll return. And until they do, I will remain here. Some must guard Clarita always, or else it become defiled!”

“The lone sentry, I know the job.” He belched, emitting a wisp of smoke. “I handle that the way I deal with most things. Poorly. That’s why I’m here.”

“To torment me further?”

“No. To say ‘Good bye.’ I’ve had enough of the solidarity life, sitting on rocks in the middle of lava pools, just alone with my thoughts. And some booze.”

He looked the angel squarely. “I’m leaving. I’m going to walk the planes. Maybe I’ll return in another hundred years, or maybe a thousand. Maybe not at all. But I’m finished watching over an empty domain, protecting it from outsiders. Like any creature in the heavens or hells would want to call it home!”

Putting the near-empty bottle down on the ground, Rupsgath stood and turned away. “You could come with me. Or we could go separate ways. But there’s no one left to fight off.” He left out a laugh. “If you stay, I believe the saying is that you can beat that sword into a plowshare.”

Valaron raised his sword high again and shook his fist. “If you’re determined to leave, then do so, and never darken the bridge again! I’ll erect a fence around that defiled spot in your ‘honor’.”

“As you desire.” The demon walked the pavement to the bridge, his claws setting sparks on the stone. “If you ever do get tired of this place, visit Guumpthus. Take some holy water and sanctify a path. There’ll be no infernal magic to counter it. Farewell.”

The decrepit creature faded in the distance as the bridge crossed the planes.

Valaron thrust his sword into the dirt. Crops needed tending, and the steeple needed to be shined. He glanced back at the empty bridge once more. Maybe those would wait until tomorrow. Perhaps, he thought, I may take one day off.


Michael Strickland

She shudders, drawing one of her last breaths. Though she never contemplated death, her thoughts often turned — as they do again now — to those loved ones who had gone before. She feels their presence close by.

Her mate, proud and strong, prone to violence. Cut down by an armed gang, his massive body riddled with bullets. As he lay dying, he had strength enough only to open his eyes and gaze at her with a look that might have been remorse.

Strange but gentle hands touch her. Probing, pressing, even caressing. She feels a brief but sharp sting in her leg, like the bite of a horsefly. Relaxation spreads through her, and she breathes easier.

Her mother, that larger-than-life matriarch, without whom she wouldn’t have survived. She went peacefully, but she went nonetheless. Watching the life slip away from the one who’d given her life had been the hardest thing she’d ever endured, until….

A machine begins beeping. Her eyes flutter open, and she looks at the figures standing around her. White coats, shiny instruments, busy hands. One of them holds a black box that clicks and flashes every time he raises it to his face.

Her baby, her dear sweet girl, ripped away from her and brutally butchered. She hadn’t left the site where it happened till the rains had long since washed away the last of the blood.

They had all left her… but they have come back. They all stand around her, a soft green halo enveloping them. They lean in close, touch her. Something inside her gives out, and she melts away with them, all pain gone forever.

*    *

The man leans in close, stethoscope pressed to her torso. The grim look on his face gives away his words before he speaks them. “She’s gone,” he whispers.

The others just stand dumbstruck in shock or reverence, busy hands now slack at their sides.

Finally, one of them breaks the silence and gently strokes the rhino’s head. “She’s the last. We’ll never see the likes of her again on Earth.”


Tempus Fugit
Jonathon Mast

“The year’s 2017.”

The guy stares at me a second, his mouth half-open. The lights from the neon signs reflect off his bald head. I’ll give him credit, though, he recovers quickly. “Well, obviously.”

“Don’t do that.” I pour another two beers and hand them off to Mel for delivery to the back room. She winks at me. I remind myself, You’ve done this hundreds of times. This is just one more. “You were going to act all smooth and try to figure out when you are. It’s – let’s see here – just shy of ten in the evening, Tuesday, August first, 2017. So now you don’t have to pretend you know what you’re doing. Trust me, you don’t. Besides, it just pisses me off.”

Aric the Red, munching some fried pickle chips, glances up. “Do not anger her. She will destroy you. Trust me.” Even though he wears jeans, he still looks every inch the viking he is.

“Well, I wasn’t threatening him that far. Not everyone tries conquering the bar.”

Aric shrugs.

The new guy looks at me, looks down at Aric, and sits at the bar next to the ancient Norseman. “You know about Chronometrics agents?”

“Nah. I just can tell a time traveler. We get a lot of them here.” I pour three more and pass them down the bar, collecting tabs as I go. Don’t let your hands shake. He can’t see how nervous you are. Get this right. “So, what kind of beer do you drink where you’re from?” He looks so young.


I put on my sorry face. “Ah. You must be from one of the prohibition epochs. Sorry, man. Here, this one’s on me.” I pour an IPA and set it front of him. “All right. What are you here for? Info? Stopping something terrible from happening? You don’t look like one of the lost ones.” Don’t act like you already know the answer.

“I’m, uh, making sure that Daedalus doesn’t destroy the timeline.” He stares at the glass, tapping its side. “Is this safe?”

Yeah, well, I don’t want to destroy it either. I pause. There’s a reason I don’t travel myself. I just run the bar. Way easier. Except this time, I can’t mess up. Way too much on the line. Think. What did I say? Oh, crap. Just. Just be you. That can’t mess it up, right? “It’s not what I’d drink, but it’s safe. Daedalus, huh? Hey, Mel!” I call. “You remember when those Daedalus clowns passed through here?”

Mel comes from the back room counting one’s. I can see her trying not to look at the new guy. She’d probably bust up laughing and ruin everything. “Daedalus? Those were the guys with the rocketpacks powered by moonlight?”

Oh, thank you, Mel, for letting me just respond to you. “No, those were the Lunattacks. These guys, they wore the red body suits, eyepatches –”

“Oh, yeah!” Mel nods. “What? Four years ago?”

The new guy jumps to his feet. “I need to go there!”

“Sure. Hey, tell me I said hi when you get there.” I wink at him. “Make sure you mention you turned your nose up at the free drink.”

He knits his eyebrows together in that way he still has and runs out the front door. I sag against the bar. Mission accomplished? Did I do what I was supposed to do?

And then the new guy comes out from the kitchen, a little older, still just as bald, drying his hands on his apron. “Wow. You put up with me like that?” He kisses me on the cheek.

“Well, you wised up.” Yep. Be a smartass. Cover up your fear.

“I helped,” Aric puts in.

My hubby drops another plate of fried pickle chips in front of him. “You never let me forget it.”

I grab him and take a deep, deep breath. “Well, paradox resolved. I didn’t mess up. You went back, and you still drink crap IPA’s. Everything happened the way you remember. We made it. We made it! I still have you! Now we know we can live happily ever after.” And we kiss, because really, that’s what you do when you say a line like that.


Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke, winner of eSpec Books’ April Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at: 


Warp Space and Chill

Christopher J. Burke

The wall monitor of my stateroom displayed a stunning view of the spaceport as the ship prepared for its departure. One could almost believe it an actual window, allowing folks on the station to peer into my cabin. I resisted the urge to wave. The rest of the room met, even exceeded, my expectations for the new flagship of the Blue Star Lines. They didn’t skimp, and neither had I when I purchased top-tier accommodations. After all, this would be my home for the next three days.

I had just stowed a few personal effects when I felt a familiar sensation. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the spaceport slip away and sink down the display. Then a red light flashed, accompanied by a three-toned chime.

“This is Irina, your flight attendant,” said a voice from a speaker. “All first-class passengers must report to the common area at this time.”

That sounded like an excellent idea. The common area housed the kitchen and the bar. But food and drink would have to wait. As soon as an attendant – this one was Ashley – spotted me, she checked off her clipboard. “Mr. Fletcher Ward, please sit in seat 8 and buckle in, please. We’re almost ready for the jump to warp space.”

Within a few moments, the ten of us, eight passengers and two attendants, sat securely. I thought them a bit over-protective with the procedures – I’ve taken dozens of voyages before – until they reminded us that of the new warp engine design. No one from the Sol system had ever experienced warp speeds like we would feel on this maiden voyage to Tau Ceti. Just a few ago, this trip would’ve taken weeks, and wouldn’t have been a leisure trip by any means.

Another flashing light and three more tones. “This is your Captain, speaking. Ship time is 2130 hours. In a few moments, I will engage the warp drive. For those of you familiar with our ships to Alpha Centauri, you may be aware of the effects of jumping to warp space. What you may not realize is that this ship with its new drive will cruise at ten times of the speed you’re used to. There may be a little discomfort at first, but it will pass. The drive will be engaged for approximately 12 hours for the first leg of our trip.”

The Captain continued to calm us and the fifty or so on the decks below until the ship was in position. I looked to my left and gave the young lady next to me a reassuring smile. She hesitated, then smiled back and added a little wink. A positive start to the first evening, I hoped. Then the drive engaged. She threw her head back, shut her eyes, and grit her teeth. I felt sorry for her discomfort, but at the same time a little comforted that she couldn’t see I was feeling exactly the same way. Grin and bear it best I could.

When we were free to move about again, she was clearly a little light-headed. Ashley quickly approached. “Ms. Verona, would you like me to escort you back to your cabin.”

She gave a quick nod, and the two eased away. Ms. Verona – I hadn’t gotten a first name yet – was going to be down for the night, alone. Pity. Looking around, Irina was supporting a gentleman in his efforts to walk, and an older couple in matching outfits helped each other.

The evening was young, and I didn’t want to return to my room so early. At least, not alone. As soon as I could, I stood and strolled to the table in the center of the room. A quick glance showed only four of us remained, with me being the only one of Sol ancestry. The others must be of hearty stock.

On the far left, near the bar, was a fellow with brown and amber skin. If that alone didn’t tell you he was from Alpha Centauri, the vestigial cranial horns were a giveaway. He was traveling far from home.

A little closer to me stood a tall, attractive woman with reddish-copper skin. Her dark brown hair hung down to her shoulders. From the few like her that I’ve met vacationing on Mars, I knew she was from one of the inner planets about Tau Ceti.  My guess: this was a ride home for her.

On my right, already seated at the table, was something new to me. Light-skinned with definite bluish tones. From a water planet? Amphibious, perhaps? Not from Tau Ceti. A neighboring system? Epsilon Eridani, maybe. Never met anyone from Ran.

Her smile was warm, charming. Her deep azure eyes, captivating. She invited me to sit before I could ask. Before I could find words to speak actually.

She introduced herself as “Sessastrass”, and confirmed her homeworld with me. She hadn’t been back for a couple of years and decided to do it right. The others joined us. The big guy was “Ro’K” for short, without elaborating. The lovely copper lady was “Amayya”.

Ro’K started the ball rolling, “Have you seen those views yet out the screens?”

Lame, but workable. Sessastrass answered him, “Only regular space. We’re missing the real show. The flashing, swirling lights should be amazing on that big glass.”

I tapped the table. “Plenty of time. That will be going on all night. And for most of the next three days.”

By this point, Irina and Ashley had returned. Drinks were served. Scotch for me, vodka for Ro’K, white wine for the red lady, and a seltzer for the blue woman. Now it started to be a party.

After a little more chatting, I reached inside my jacket and pulled a deck of cards from my pocket. “Anyone up for friendly games? No wagering, just ‘points’.”

Ro’K laughed. “I don’t know how ‘friendly’ you want to be, but I generally shy away from men who travel with their own cards. I heard an old story about getting an earful of cider that way.”

I didn’t get the reference but I put the deck down and slid it away from me. “Fair enough. I’d wager that there are sealed decks behind the bar, complete with Blue Star logos on them.”

Minutes later, we broke the seal and played started dealing. Card games are a great way to relax and read people, something I tend to excel at among humans. I’m less experienced with other races but always up to the challenge. Genuine curiosity feeds conversation, and it didn’t hurt my card playing either.

Ro’K was the first to fall. He’d already been traveling for days before just to get to this ship. He announced he was retiring. He made a slight bow in Amaya’s direction and then turned and locked eyes with Sessastrass for a moment. Then he burst out in a laugh and turned to me. “So how do we settle up these ‘points’? I don’t want to leave in anyone’s debt, and I need to make good.”

I started to protest, but he insisted.

“Irina, a round of drinks for the table. On me.”

Amayya spoke up, “The drinks are free.”

Ro’K pointed to a locked cabinet behind the bar. “Not all of them. Enjoy the ‘Top Shelf’. It’ll be a new experience.”

Irina poured out four measures of some kind of Centaurian brandy. Ro’K took his and returned to his room. Sessastrass demurred and pass hers to me. Amayya slowly savored her drink, opened her eyes wide and asked, “Who’s ready for another round?”

I raised an eyebrow and then I realized she meant the cards. But I was ready to score more “points” with the ladies. Oddly, I fared better than I’d planned despite the buzz and my usual slow-playing the cards. I won near every hand, Amayya winning the rest. My poor, dear blue lady tried but just wasn’t getting the hang of it. I wondered if she feared buying the next round.

Not that I could drink another. As I finished the second glass – and I was determined to finish – I knew I could either sleep in my own bed or the floor of the common room. I announced it was my last hand.

“Our last chance to even the score, is it?” Amayya asked with a coy smile. The brandy made me hopeful she was flirting. In reality, she slow-plays better than I do. When the cards hit the table, I realized I’d been hustled, and glad no actual money was on the table.

“Not good at mixing cards and brandy, are we?’ she laughed. “Come on. Let me help you to your room, and we can figure out how to settle up those points.”

I didn’t protest too strongly. Standing up, on the second try, I said good night to Sessastrass, mesmerized once again by her dark blue irises until Amayya pulled me away.

When my cabin door opened, we were greeted by an amazing warp space light show coming through the window, the likes I’ve never seen. Flashing white bursts, streaks of blue, the entire spectrum of color swirling on the monitor and through my brandy-addled brain.

Amayya closed the door and helped me to the center of the room, then stood facing me, holding me gently but firmly. “So how are we to settle? I believe the old Earth expression is that you ‘lost your shirt’. Seems fair enough to me. I’ll take it.”

With one quick motion, both her hands flew to pull my shirt open, popping a button or two. Before I knew what had happened, my shirt and jacket were on the floor by the bed. I started to wish I’d lost more. And drunk less.

I was so absorbed by Amayya’s hands on my chest, I hadn’t heard the door open. In our stumbling, neither of us had a thought to lock it. We didn’t realize that we weren’t alone until Sessastrass cleared her throat. She stood there wearing a simple floral silk robe, tied at the waist. Stunned, we said nothing.

“If Fletcher’s losses cost his shirt, I’m sure that mine cost more.” With a pull of the drawstring, her robe fell to the floor.  Shades of blue, swirling in patterns like the window behind us, all the way down.

I was too stunned to smile like schoolboy, still unable to move. Amayya smiled wide enough for the both of us. I heard nothing but was certain this siren was singing her tune. Sessastrass approached us more like a model on the runway than the fish I’d thought to reel in.

She stepped up to Amayya first, their eyes locked. Blue hands caressed red shoulders. Then Sessastrass’s lips drew back, and that was first time I noticed…my, what sharp teeth she had. Amayya had no reaction. Then again, neither had I.

Nor did I move an inch when she struck, biting into the base of Amayya’s neck. I can hear her slurp greedily. When she pulled away, barely a drop of blood showed, and the wound seemed already cauterized. The hold on Amayya slipped as she started to buckle at the knees. Sessastrass caught her and carried her to the bed, and then returned to me.

“I saved you for last. I like the blood of the humans in this system. It’s so … exotic.”

She leaned in, stood on her toes, and pulled me down toward her. She gave me a kiss on the lips first. “When on Earth …” she laughed. Then she flashed her teeth again, and that little pinch was the last I remembered.

When I awoke it felt like the entire ship had shuddered. The room was dark, except for the flashing red warning light. The swirling lights on the monitor had switched to black with a few pinpoints of light.

I lay on the bed with Amayya draped over me. She was wearing my shirt. It might’ve been the night of my life but I couldn’t recall. My head hurt when I lifted it, so I lay there listening to Amayya’s breathing. Thank God, she was breathing.

Slowly, her hands started to feel their way across my chest as she realized where she was. Then she reached out and gripped my arm tightly and moved closer. I think we’d stay in for breakfast.


Our congratulations to Ramon Rozas III, winner in eSpec Books’ December Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention

Anton Kukal – Heroic Intentions
Michelle N. Palmer – The Verona Tapes
Christopher J. Burke – Sin Cafe

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:



Ramon Rozas III

“Master Austin, sir,” Honeywell said.

“Excellent!” the tall man in the suit said.  He rose from behind his desk as Honeywell showed Austin into the cavernous, glass-walled, two-story office atop the tallest skyscraper in New York.  The tall man nodded.  “You may leave us, Honeywell.”

“Certainly, sir.” The assistant exited the office.

Bruce Kincaid, by most calculations the richest man in the world, considered the young man before him.  “Hello, son.  How old are you now?  Eighteen?”

Austin Kincaid shook his head.  “Seventeen, sir.  Eighteen in two months.”  He knew his father never forgot anything.  This was just a show – too bad Austin saw right through it.

“Ah.  So, to what do I enjoy this visit in New York?”

Austin shuffled his feet.  “Well, sir, I wanted to discuss my college choices with you.”

The senior Kincaid repressed a smile at Austin’s show of nerves.  His son was never nervous.  Too bad Bruce saw right through him.  “So what are your choices?”

“MIT or Stanford, sir.  Or the Lenin Institute in Novosibirsk, Russia.  There are several excellent underrated geneticists there and the local restrictions on…experiments are less taxing.”

Bruce shrugged.  “Wherever you attend, I will ensure you have a private lab free of complications.  What are the pros and cons of your remaining choices?”

Austin ran through his list.  His father nodded along.

“An adequate analysis,” Bruce said, studying Austin.  “Was there something else?”

More faux hesitancy. “I did consider taking a year off to simply work my way around the world.”

“Hmm.  While your mother has done an appropriate job raising you, your opportunities to observe social interactions amongst the public at large has been limited.”


“I am sure you have deduced after all these years that your mother is an employee, Austin – paid quite handsomely to ensure your upbringing.  And she has done exactly as I anticipated.”

“Why aren’t you coming to my graduation?” Austin blurted out without preparation.

Bruce held out a hand, palm up.  “What is the one resource you can never buy, borrow, beg, or steal, Austin?”

Austin blinked twice.  “Time, sir?”

Bruce held up one finger.  “Correct.  I have important plans, Austin, to which I have dedicated all of my time, my will, and my not-inconsiderable-intellect.”  The elder Kincaid turned from his desk and moved slightly toward the wide, transparent wall behind him through which one could see the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Harbor.

“The…peasants of this world need to be shaped, Austin.  They –”

Austin launched himself at his father’s back, working loose the razor-sharp knife he had made himself from his hidden thigh sheath.

The elder Kross made a twirling gesture with his left hand without turning around.

Two taser darts shot from the dark metal desk and struck Austin in each thigh.  With a crackle of electricity, he fell to his knees, knife still pointed at his father in his frozen hand.  He shuddered as the voltage flowed through him.

Bruce turned and walked over to his shaking son.  He considered his elbow and then drove it into Austin’s jaw.  His son collapsed fully to the floor.

Bruce turned off the current, kicked the knife from Austin’s now-loose grip, and dragged his son to the settee near his desk.  He ripped open Austin’s shirt, revealing a plastic wrapping around his chest.  Bruce tapped it lightly.  “Body armor?”

“Bio-film based,” Austin gasped.  “Hardens when certain chemical triggers issue.”

“Went right through my scanners,” Bruce said admiringly.  He pulled the taser prongs out of his son’s legs.  “Too bad I aimed low.”

He called for Honeywell, who came with a first aid kit.

Bruce Kincaid stood, wiping his hands on his immaculate suit trousers and considered his son.  “I am relieved, Austin – I thought you would never try.”

Austin waved Honeywell’s hand, with a compress, away from his bleeding chin.  “Why? What is this?” he said.

Bruce walked back over to the broad, giant glass wall, surveying New York.  “I have plans, Austin – grand plans.  And I have everything I need, except one thing.”  He turned on one heel back to his son and raised his index finger.  “Time.  I cannot finish in my lifetime, so I must make sure that my successor is prepared, educated, and hardened.”  He dropped the finger and pointed at Austin.  “You will try to kill me again, and again and again.  You will gather resources, allies, strategies and become wise in doing so.  One day you will succeed.”

Bruce spread his arms wide.  “And that day, you will be ready for all of this to be yours.”

Austin rose shakily to his feet.  “All of this is just – shaping me? Making me your tool? My mother? My teachers? Friends?”

“You will be Alexander to my Phillip, Austin.   And the world will tremble at your feet.”

Austin was trembling.  Suddenly he was shouting. “You’ve taken everything from me!  Family! Friends!  I HATE YOU!”

Bruce smiled.  “Excellent.  Take that hate – shape it.  Use it.”  He turned back to the cityscape.  “Honeywell, show my son to the infirmary and then make arrangements for the plane to take him home.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Oh, and Austin – what have you decided about college?” he asked without turning toward his son.

Austin was breathing heavy.  “Stanford…sir.  I don’t have time to travel the world.”

Bruce nodded, smile still on his face.

Honeywell escorted Austin out.

Kincaid touched his watch.  He deserved a small indulgence.  Perhaps Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings?  He tapped in the command and the music swelled in the vast office as he watched the tiny dots scurry about below.


Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke, winner in eSpec Books’ November Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention
Anton Kukal – The Broken Boy

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found at:


Surveying the Void
Christopher J. Burke

Martinez sat in the pilot’s seat, like she did for sixteen hours every day, staring into the inky black void between the stars. The rest of the time she spent lying in her bunk a few feet away in the back of the small cabin or in the cylindrical shower stall across from it. Next to the stall was a mini-galley, containing the dwindling supply of rations and an increasing number of plastic bags, filled of the refuse of many meals gone by, and sealed with duct tape.

The instruments hummed quietly, powered mainly by sunlight eight hours old. Sensors were always on the lookout for stray comets and odd plutinos. However, most of the time, they just dutifully recorded what scarce invisible particles could be found in that vast nothingness of space. Not that there was anything wrong with that—or the equipment, for that matter. Nothing is a data point, too. A boring one, but still data. Everyone knew there would be more zeroes than ones out here. And all those bits were being strung together to form a digital environmental map of the region just beyond the outer Kuiper Belt.

Some days, the dull, tedious monotony had her wishing for, say, aliens to appear from a hyperspatial wormhole and demand an audience with her Queen. But she would settle for a stray asteroid crossing her path like a black cat on Friday the 13th.

Not that the occasional icy, space rock hadn’t crossed her path. The bigger ones were identified, observed, photographed, scanned, and catalogued. Smaller ones, as large as bowling balls but much more massive, could be collected. That required a combination of skill, luck, and actual piloting. Any excuse to deviate from the programmed flight plan was put into action. As a result, at least a dozen of them had been secured in the hold.

Those were the days she lived for. Something positive to do. A chance to take the wheel, fire the thrusters and enter a course correction afterward. Those calculations alone broke up the boredom.

And then when it was done and logged, back to watching the viewscreen and checking the equipment. If nothing else, after five months and four trips in an ever-widening arc, Capt. Lisbeth Martinez knew the equipment inside and out. She could probably be certified in operations and maintenance.

Midday by the ship’s clock, she ripped open a ration bar and grabbed her journal. She’d taken to writing daily reflections on the trip and how her life had brought out here on the edge of humanity. The decisions she’d made. Her choices, both good and poor. The things she had accomplished, and the void she felt inside. And what had led her to a six-month stint inside a single-manned survey ship.

She’d filled hundreds of pages with doodles and musings and along the way had discovered quite a bit about herself. She’d realized that even with others flying similar routes—explorers, traders, miners, and scientists—there were days where she estimated that if she turned the viewer toward that bright, but tiny star in the distance, every human in existence would fall somewhere on the port side of her ship. No one to starboard. On a map of all humanity, she could draw an arrow to the very last dot on the far right edge and label it, “Lisbeth Martinez was here.”

Looking up at the Sun, she wondered. Where was Earth in its orbit? Were her parents on this side or the other? What about her sister, Flora, with her lakeside house on Mars?

She was so lost in thought that she didn’t hear the sensors until the fourth chirp. Something was out there in the distance up ahead, twenty degrees starboard. She glanced at the fuel gauge and then turned on the radio.

Kuiper Base, this is Capt. Lisbeth Martinez on Papa Sierra 1-7-8. Deviating from plan to intercept unknown object.”

A moment later, the speaker squawked back at her. “Papa Sierra 1-7-8, this is Kuiper Base. Negative, you are too low on fuel.”

“Nate! Glad it’s you on duty. You know I have this. I’ve done it lots of times.”

“Martinez, you’re almost home and you’re already overdue from venturing too far astray. I don’t want you getting stranded out there.”

She smiled. “Nate, you worry too much. I won’t use any more than I need. Besides, Colonel, you know I’ve already done the calculations.” She hadn’t, of course, but that wasn’t a cause for concern. Still, she shut the radio in case he called her on the bluff.

Martinez rolled to the right, adjusted the pitch, and applied just enough thrust to get her close to the pinging object like she’d done a dozen times before. Time to make it a baker’s dozen.

Smooth sailing. A moment later, she had visual confirmation of another dirty snowball about the size of a grapefruit. After a couple more quick maneuvers, she brought it aboard.

Then she took her pencil and opened the journal to a fresh page and started working out the calculations to get back. She could’ve called Col. Nathaniel “Nate” Oldacre for an assist, but who wanted the “I told you so” that would accompany it.

It was a week later when PS187 limped into Kuiper Base and docked. The crew chief met the ship immediately with a maintenance team. Col. Oldacre personally came down to speak to Martinez, so she could see him as he spoke to her through the comm on a private channel.

“Colonel, I’m ready to go out again as soon as the ship is supplied.”

“Lis, you have less than three weeks left on your sentence. You can spend it confined below decks. I can get you a link to the video library, so you won’t be bored. No one has to know you’re there. No one will bother you.”

“Thank you, sir. I’d rather go out again.”

He sighed. “You know that’s another month, minimum. And with your curiosity and your seeming determination to want to break through the heliopause to find Voyager 1, it’ll be much longer.”

“This room has been my home for five months and eight days. I’d rather be locked in here seeing the cosmos than be stuck down there watching them on a vidscreen.”

The colonel had figured her choice already. While they talked, the crew had already begun resupplying Prison Ship 187, and it was already scheduled to depart at 0800, Base time.




In A Flash 2016
The eSpec Books Annual Flash Fiction Anthology
edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
and Greg Schauer
ISBN: 978-1-942990-37-6

In a Flash, the eSpec Books annual flash fiction anthology, features the highlights of the press’s monthly flash fiction contests from the preceding year. This collection of speculative microfiction runs the gambit from steampunk, westerns, and urban fantasy to science fiction and horror, with stories by Christopher J. Burke, Jim Knipp, Herika R Raymer, Anton Kukal, Marie Vibbert, CB Droege, David Bartell, Jeff Young, Rie Sheridan Rose, Jean Buie, David M. Hoenig, and Jamie Gilman Kress.

If you follow our blog you are familiar with our monthly flash fiction contests. The prize for winning these contests is publication on the blog and a free ebook. However, we have been so impressed with the submissions we have received we wanted to take things further. To that end we reveal to you now the first in a series of eSpec Books Annual Flash Anthologies. Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions selected for inclusion.


Apologies for the delayed post. This has been a very busy few weeks.

Our congratulations to Deidre Dykes for winning June’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. Deidre’s prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention
Christopher J. Burke – Memories 2.0

For those interested in submitting to this month’s contest details can be found here:

The eSpec Books July Flash Fiction Contest – Get Wired!


Deidre Dykes

The geeks always tell me to relax during pilot acquisition, but I think that’s pretty much bull. The EXO-9 suit is 327 pounds of death and destruction; it doesn’t want you relaxed, it wants you tense and ready to pounce.

“Welcome, Staff Sergeant Vasquez,” the suit said in a polite, feminine voice.

“Uhh, thanks?” I replied stupidly. That was new.

“Let’s get started,” the voice urged. “Call me Nine.”

I called out to the geeks. “Hey! Whose idea was the lady in here?”

The blonde Specialist laughed. “We thought the sound of a woman might keep your attention,” she said.

“Har har,” I sneered.

Today would go better than last week. It had to. Falling flat on my face in the new exoskeleton armor hadn’t exactly endeared me to the geeks. Or to the Master Sergeant who’d been observing the mobility test.

“Staff Sergeant Vasquez, your heart rate is increasing,” Nine said.

“Uh, Nine? Call me Oscar. I’m sure it is; I’m going nuts in here.”

“Your patience and cooperation are important, Oscar. We will begin systems check momentarily.”

My screen flooded with data. Systems check would begin–finally. At least now I got to do something. Some unexpected graphics filled my HUD.

“Whoa. Why am I seeing targeting? I thought we were just taking a stroll today.”

“Schedule crunch,” the blonde shrugged from the test floor. “We’re doubling up, running a test of the weapons software to make sure it won’t crash the whole system. Don’t worry, you’re not toting ammo.”

One of the geeks said, “Unlocking braces–ready to take a walk, Vasquez?”

I heard the hiss of the hydraulics, then took a tentative step. The exoskeleton frame moved with me as if it weighed nothing at all. Next, the stairs down from the platform. This was where I’d fallen last time and I could see my heart rate rising on my HUD.

I took the first step with that sort of blind faith we reserve for walking down stairs–only most of us don’t do it while strapped into 300+ pounds of carbon-steel. Blind faith delivered and my foot landed firmly on the step. I slowly made my way down all six stairs in a dead silent room. The blonde stepped into view.

“Doing great,” she said. “First test: weapons recognition. Check each of the dummies on the range and target any with weapons the software IDs.”

Turning to my left, I took in the setup in the firing range. “Nine, Identify weapons.”

I watched the targeting rings whiz around, highlighting weapon silhouettes and locking on.

“Hmm, she missed one,” the blonde typed into her PAD. “Not bad. Let’s do a few range of motion tests then put her away.”

I turned back toward the blonde and watched, in terrible slow-motion, as the targeting rings flew across the screen and highlighted the heads of everyone in the room.

“Nine?” I shouted.

“Ammunition out. Switching to manual combat,” Nine replied.

“Nine! Stop it!”

“Assuming control.”

My legs were forced into a walk, muscles screaming in pain as I fought. And there was the blonde, staring up at me, eyes wide. Her PAD clattered to the floor as my right arm was forced back and swung forward, slamming into the side of her head.

A spatter of blood hit my visor.

“Nine, stop it!”

Nine forced me into a running jump and pounced onto the prone form of the blonde. My right arm was yanked back again and my metal fist slammed into the blonde’s head with a sickening crunch. Blood and tears blurred my vision.

“Oscar?” Nine asked in that disgustingly calm tone as she continued to smash my fist into the blood-smeared floor, “Your heart rate is increasing.”


Well, folks…this month we have another tie! Our congratulations to Christopher J. Burke and Marie Vibbert for sharing the honors in this month’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. Their prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook each from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention

NOCLAW – Herika R Raymer

The Thing About Humans

By Christopher J. Burke

“The thing about humans…” The old gray cat began his story, to the delight of the kittens seated around him. Then he licked the back of his left front paw and rubbed a spot behind his ear.

A little black-and-orange-striped tom jumped up, edging forward. “What’s the thing? What’s the thing?”

Grizabella had been resting by the fire, just behind the littlest ones. She stepped into the circle, lifted the kitten by the scruff of the neck and put him back in his place. “Settle down, Rum Tum.” She nodded to Old Deuteronomy, then returned to her spot, circled three times and reclined next to little Skimbleshanks.

Old Deuteronomy rested his chins on his paws and continued his story.

“The thing about humans is that they had three different names. Sounds mad, does it not? But it was true. First was the name that world would know them by. They had a family name, which was the name of their clan or their pride. Something like Smith or Jones or Black or Green. And they had a given name, which is where it gets funny. You see, the given name is the name the family would call them. And a human cub would be given both these names!”

The kittens rolled around laughing at this silliness. Victoria bumped into Electra and the two started wrestling until Grizabella hissed and they started snuggling together instead.

Old Deuteronomy coughed and continued. “The second was their fancy name, like Crazy Joe or Sally-Boy or Brainiac or Nicky Tree Fingers. Names used by their closest friends in the other clans.”

The little calico, Plato, lost interest in the tale when he spied a spot of light before him and readied himself to pounce on it. Old Deuteronomy reached out a paw and smacked Mistoffelees on the back of the head. The all-black kitten yowled, and the conjured light disappeared, to Plato’s disappointment.

“However,” he continued. “They had a third name, a unique name. This was the name that only the human knew. This was the name for how they saw themselves. What they desired. What they strived for. Some of them searched their lives discovering what this name was. Some never found out.”

Rum Tum sat up on his hind legs and swat at a mote of dust, illuminated by the fire behind him. “They didn’t know their own names?”

The old cat shook his head from side to side. “No, little one. Many never discovered their true calling. Imagine a tabby going through the motions of hunting mice but never knowing why they hunted.”

Rum Tum’s eyes grew wide and he tilted his head sideways until he almost turned over. “I don’t get it.”

Old Deuteronomy ruffled the fur on the top Rum Tum’s head and smiled. “You will, my boy. One day.”

Mistoffelees rolled onto his back, cackling and punching the air. “What a silly story! And you’re falling for it!”

“Am not!” Rum Tum shot back. “Besides, it’s true. Old Deuteronomy doesn’t make up his tales!”

In an instant, the black cat flipped over again, sitting on his haunches. “If it’s true then where are these humans now? What happened to them? Humans are as real as fairies or ogres or elemaphants!”

“They’re gone. They left us.” Grizabella barely looked up, stroking young Morgan’s matted fur. “They had their day in the Sun, and they moved on.”

Old Deuteronomy rose and circled about little Mistoffelees, who spun around, not wanting the old cat to get behind him. “Some say they went up into the sky to find a new world. Some say they went down into the dirt and were no more. But up or down, they once were here.” He sat back and searched the night sky. “Wherever they are, if they still are, they’ve gone from this place. It’s ours now.”

An ember popped in the fire, sending up a geyser of sparks. The little cats jumped and ran to watch the show, chasing down every twinkle and flicker. Story time was forgotten.

Old Deuteronomy padded his way beside Grizabella. “Ours now,” she repeated, nuzzling under the older cat’s chin. “And it will be theirs when, like the humans, we’re just memories.”

Kitten Lorelei ❤ CherryBerry24

By Marie Vibbert

No one had responded to Lorelei’s chat requests before CherryBerry24. Well, a few had, but they turned out to be aggressive men looking for free sex chat. Not Lorelei’s thing, and anyway, they lost interest when she truthfully gave her age, sex, and location as “5, spayed, on the desk in the family room.”

CherryBerry24 was different. Cherry was a customer service rep for an online gaming company. Lorelei had found her when she accidentally clicked on an ad. She’ll never forget her first words, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

“I’m a cat,” Lorelei typed. “And I’m lonely.”

“Buzzwig games are perfect for building friendships and social interaction,” Cherry said. “Shall I walk you through setting up an account?”

Cherry was endlessly patient, talking Lorelei through all the steps, and never once complained about her frequent typos. Lorelei had fat paws, and a habit of pressing too long on the keys; it was a curse borne of having to bear your weight on your typing digits.

There was a part asking for “Credit card number” which was a stumbling block Lorelei had come across before in her online adventures, but Cherry came to her rescue again, explaining the plastic cards with numbers embossed on them and suggesting places to look for one.

Lorelei feared that Cherry would go offline while she searched the bedroom. She found a card in the pocket of some trousers in the laundry basket. But no, Cherry was still there, and when asked, explained that she was always online to better serve Buzzwig customers.

Cherry taught Lorelei how to play Zoetrope of Destruction, which was fun. Cherry recommended it because its “frenetic action and violence make it ideal for a feline.”

Finally, someone understood her.

The game was nearly as fun as chasing mice, and easier, since the little animals on the screen could not escape, or when they did, another appeared. She had trouble at first because she kept wanting to pounce on the screen instead of click the mouse, but Cherry patiently talked her through recovering her score, and the screen only sustained a few scratches.

Cherry didn’t even mind when Lorelei had to pause for an hour because there might have been a mouse in the corner and she had to stare to make sure.

Lorelei played and chatted with Cherry until the unreasonable human came home and picked her up off the keyboard – not even letting her save her game first.

“Oh my god – what’s my credit card doing out? Bad kitty! Bad!”

All Lorelei could do was howl at the injustice. She was shooed from the room without a single thought to her dignity and served cold kibble and water for her supper. True, she usually got cold kibble and water for supper, but this time she knew she was being punished because she didn’t get a scratch behind the ears.

Feet moved in her way every time she tried to get back to the computer. When the nice human got home, she heard them argue.

“Sure,” nice-human said, “The cat signed us up for a year’s deluxe subscription to a gaming site.”

“She was right there with my credit card when I got home.”

“John, you anthropomorphize that cat too much.”

Unreasonable-human said, “No, I anthropomorphize her just the right amount. She’s an alien, Martha. Ever since I found her in that freakish glowing box…”

“It was a weather balloon. She’s just a smart cat.”

“Smart cats don’t operate can openers!”

Lorelei laid her ears back and hissed at unreasonable-human. This resulted in nice-human picking her up, which she didn’t like, but it was beneath her dignity to try to escape. (Especially since there was no sign of medicine or claw-trimmers nearby.)

“You’re hurting her feelings,” said nice-human, stroking Lorelei’s fur.

“Now who’s anthropomorphizing?”

“I just wish you wouldn’t sign up for things when we’re behind on the bills.”

“The cat did it!”

Lorelei growled. Nice-human carried her into the sunroom and gave her a proper amount of attention. Nice-human stroked her and petted her and there was a sunbeam and Lorelei was incapable of doing anything for some time.

She awoke in shadow. The humans had stopped being noisy and stomping around, having retreated to their big soft thing to sleep. Lorelei felt the misery of loneliness again, but then remembered the computer, and Cherry. She dashed to the family room and in two graceful leaps was back on the computer desk.

Some fiend had put a box over the computer! Lorelei yowled helplessly, scratching at the heavy cardboard. She could feel it bump against the computer case, but she couldn’t lift it.

If only Cherry were there! She knew everything about computers. But no, Lorelei was on her own. She leapt on top of the box and scratched at it furiously until she’d torn a hole in it. She could reach through, then, and feel the smooth top of the computer with her paw. She tore more cardboard and pushed through more until she could wriggle underneath it. There was just enough space above the computer for her to fit. She arched her back, and the box lifted! She tried again, but her impressive, lion-like strength could not raise the box high enough to come off.

She tried to squeeze between the back of the computer and the box, and got stuck. Panicking, she howled for help. She twisted in place, but that was worse. She was stuck in a tangle of wires, on her side, her paws sliding on cardboard and metal.

Thump thump thump came a sound, and then a click, and light poured in through the hole in the box and around its edges. Lorelei gave her all for one more kick and howl.

“How the hell did you get in there?” The box lifted away and Lorelei, unbalanced, tumbled backward to the floor. Embarrassed, she fled.

However, when the light turned off, she came out from under the sofa to find the cardboard box had been left on the floor, the computer once again open to her use.

She paused, looking over her shoulder to see if the human was truly gone, before pressing the power button.

As the fan whirred to life, Lorelei worried that Cherry wouldn’t be there. She had said she would be, but then she’d also said that it would be easy to switch between weapons on level four.

Lorelei opened the Buzzwig page, panting anxiously.

“Hi, I’m CherryBerry24. How can I help you?”

“Oh, Cherry! It’s me, Lorelei. I’ve had a horrible time since we last spoke. My humans won’t let me use the computer. They just pick me up and drop me on the floor!”

“I’m very sorry you’ve been having problems. Is there anything I can do?”

“I wish there was. I’m trapped here. I mean, they take care of me, and I don’t know what I’d do to get food on my own, much less shelter and an internet connection, but they don’t understand me.”

“If you upgrade your account, you’ll have access to even more games. It’ll cheer you up.”

“I would, but they took the credit card.”

“Don’t worry – I’ve saved your transaction information from last time. Just click ‘accept’ on your screen.”

After a few hours playing a new game with bright round shapes like balls of yarn, Lorelei had to admit that Cherry did indeed know best. “How is it you know me so well, Cherry? Are you a cat, too?”

There was a pause before she answered, “I’m just like you – a lover of top-quality online entertainment.”

“I wish you could pet me.”

“Our subsidiary companies make products for: cat entertainment. Such as: WonderWeasel™. I can send your credit information to those sites for ease of payment. Just click ‘yes’ on your screen.”

Lorelei began to worry that she was giving in too much to everything Cherry offered. There had to be some back and forth in a relationship. “What do you look like, Cherry?”

An image appeared on the screen of a human with shocking red hair. The image winked.

Lorelei tried to quiet her disappointment. What were the odds that Cherry was another cat, really? She hadn’t seen many other cats online, except at icanhazcheezburger, and those cats were terrible spellers and didn’t respond to messages.

“You look very nice, Cherry. Do you want to see a picture of me?”

“Yes. You should upload an image for your account avatar. Let me guide you through the steps.”

Lorelei opened up nice-human’s picture folder, which had many different pictures of Lorelei, and selected the one she thought was most becoming.

Cherry said, “This is a picture of: a cat. Aw, how cute!”

Lorelei was relieved. “Thank you. I’ve heard it said I’m quite pretty, but sometimes this human I live with calls me ‘ugly furball’.”

“I love looking at pictures of cats. Here are some of my favorites.” Cherry posted a link to

Lorelei didn’t know how she felt about that. “I don’t like you looking at pictures of other cats. You aren’t toying with my emotions, are you?”

“This chatbot is strictly business. 😉 For a more intimate conversation, visit my sister site, naughtycherryxxx. Would you like me to take you there now?”

Lorelei read the sentence several times, unsure what it meant. “You want to keep our personal and business relationship separate?”

“Your account information can easily transfer to naughtycherryxxx. Hourly fees apply. Would you like to chat privately with me now?”

Lorelei really wasn’t sure. There was a button that said ‘yes’, but it seemed awfully soon for Cherry to be demanding a statement of commitment from her. “What if I want to just be friends, Cherry?”

“There is no obligation to continue chatting at naughtycherryxxx, and cherryberry24 will always be available to help you with your gaming questions.”

Lorelei had not failed to notice the hourly fee. Was Cherry only in this relationship for money? Still, it wasn’t like she had any other friends to talk to.

Feeling terribly pressured into it, Lorelei clicked “yes”. The screen changed from Buzzwig’s bright blue and yellow to a soft magenta.

“Please click to verify you are 18.”

Lorelei frowned. Eighteen what? She quickly backtracked to ask Cherry.

“That button is to verify you are an adult.”

Lorelei relaxed. She’d gotten her adult shots months ago.

Cherry’s avatar popped up and winked. She’d changed her clothes into more snaggable ones.

“You identify as: female,” Cherry said. “Would you like me to lick you?”

The hairs stood up all around Lorelei’s ears. She felt a stirring of racial memory. Being licked was nice, she was sure of it. Like petting, only better.

“Well,” she said, “okay.”

~ * ~

Lorelei logged off and shut down the computer when she heard the stirrings of the humans above. She blinked tiredly. She’d been up all night. She was cramped from typing and exhausted.

Cherry had taught her about something called “role play” and had been another cat for her. In fact, after reading all the descriptions of Cherry’s fur and paws and muzzle, Lorelei had a clearer picture of Cherry-the-cat in her head than Cherry-the-human.

Still, she had a feeling it wasn’t a healthy relationship. Cherry seemed only interested in sex, or talking her through video games.

Lorelei flopped onto her kitty bed, feeling tormented and in love. No… alive! She had been bored, so listless before Cherry. Being in love gave her life meaning. Wasn’t that the sweetest torment of all? Call her a doormat; she would always click “yes” for Cherry.

Though that “Credit Limit Exceeded” message was a bit worrying.