WINNER – SUPERSTITION


Our congratulations to Anton Kukal, winner of eSpec Books’ February 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: 

MARCH FLASH FICTION CONTEST – BETRAYAL


Monsters in the Attic

Anton Kukal

Gerry lay in his bed with the covers pulled over his head listening to the monsters open the attic door, the soft clicking of the knob being turned, the squeaking as it swung, the metallic bump as it closed again. His heart pounded in his chest. The monsters crept down the hallway, soft creaking footfalls echoing on the hardwood, until they stopped at the open door of his bedroom.

Not able to endure the silence, Gerry dared a one-eyed peek between the folds of his blanket. Three monsters waited, but he knew better than to cry out. Daddy had to go to work. He owned a company that did energy research for the government. Mommy had an early meeting. Neither would believe him, and both would be mad, really mad, so he held his breath, watching the monsters, hoping they would walk past his room.

With wrinkled orange skin, the monsters had heads like squished oranges with pointed ears, and big yellow eyeballs with bright red pupils that glistened in the dim glow of his Scooby Doo night-light. The eyes never blinked. They didn’t have eyelids, but they had plenty of teeth, yellow and long and sharp. They wore dirty, greasy rags as clothing, all stitched together into a rectangle of cloth pulled over their heads and tied at their waist with frayed ropes. They didn’t have shoes on their boney feet, but they had nails on the ends of their fingers that made their hands look like claws.

One of them carried a big cardboard box, the box Daddy used to store the Christmas decorations; the box Daddy blamed him for taking. The monsters were thieves. Last week, they stole the motor out of Mommy’s vacuum cleaner and the week before they’d taken the motherboard from Daddy’s computer. Lots of other things disappeared too, like the screen door spring, the cookie cooling racks, and all the silverware. They’d been eating with plastic ever since. Of course, he got in trouble for every missing thing.

The monsters moved past his room, creeping downstairs where he heard them rummaging in the closets and poking through the pantry. The basement door creaked. The monsters were going to Daddy’s workshop where they would move Daddy’s tools around. He always got in trouble when Daddy’s tools were moved, but not as much trouble as when the monsters played tricks. Sometimes they did silly things like putting grease on the door handle, but they also did dangerous things, like stringing a trip rope on the basement stairs. Of course, Daddy would blame Gerry for everything and Gerry would get punished.

At the breakfast table the next morning, Gerry had to warn Daddy, “The monsters went into your workshop last night. You should be careful if you go there.”

Daddy looked up from his iPad. He always checked his email at the breakfast table. Mommy didn’t like that, but Daddy did it anyway.

“Gerry, there are no such things as monsters,” Daddy said with a big sigh. “Monsters are only superstitions. Superstitions are things people use to explain the unexplained.”

Daddy was a scientist. He gave talks all over the world. Everyone said Daddy was very smart, but sometimes Gerry didn’t think so. “But everything can be explained. The monsters did it all.”

“I’ll tell you who is responsible,” Daddy’s voice gave him chills. “There’s a bad little boy in the house whose attention-seeking behavior is causing him to act out.”

Gerry knew better than to argue. Daddy was working himself up. He didn’t want a spanking or to go to bed without dinner. If only Daddy would believe him. He wanted to cry, but that would just get him in more trouble, so he tried to hold the tears back.

Mommy crossed the room and laid a hand on Daddy’s shoulder. “Let’s not start the day off poorly.”

 “We have to get a handle on this monster thing.” Daddy rose from the table and stomped away, leaving the rest of his breakfast uneaten.

Mommy sat down next to him, and put a hand on his arm. “Why do you go into Daddy’s workshop?”

“I don’t,” he insisted.

“Gerry, I know things are bad, but stealing things only makes our situation worse.”

“I didn’t.”

Mommy gave him that look. The one that always made him feel guilty even if he wasn’t. “And you have to stop setting your little surprises through the house. The iron balanced above the bathroom door could have really hurt someone.”

“I didn’t put the iron there,” Gerry insisted. “I can’t even reach the top of the bathroom door.”

Mommy sighed and pressed her forehead against his head. She started to cry. “You have to stay out of Daddy’s workroom. You have to stop your pranks. You know how much stress Daddy is under. The government is canceling his contract. His business is going bankrupt. We’re underwater on our mortgage. The bills are piling up.”

Gerry opened his mouth, but Mommy laid a finger over his lips.

“I don’t want to hear about monsters. There’re just superstitions, like your father said.”

As Mommy went back to finishing the dishes, he muttered under his breath, “The monsters are real.”

That night he lay in bed listening to the monsters creep past his room. He didn’t understand about ‘bankrupting’ and ‘mortgages,’ but they sounded real bad and they made Daddy angry all the time and Mommy so sad. He decided enough was enough. If Daddy and Mommy wouldn’t stop the monsters from messing up the workroom, from stealing things, and setting their nasty tricks, then he would have to do it. He got out of bed, put on his bunny rabbit slippers and picked up his little slugger T-ball bat.

The door to Daddy’s workroom in the basement was open so he walked right in. He caught the monsters using Daddy’s tools to work on a device about as tall as him. All the missing stuff was there. A gazillion wires connected Christmas lights to computer chips and circuit boards mounted on two cookie cooling racks, both attached to the shiny trashcan from the upstairs bathroom. Through holes cut in the trashcan, he could see springs connected to knives, the knives working as levers, pushing back and forth, controlling gears that drove spinning spoons and seemed to generate a strange glowing ball of cracking energy.

“You have to leave.” Gerry announced, talking like Daddy would talk.

The monsters looked up from their work, red pupils staring, mouths open in surprise. Their teeth looked so sharp, glistening in the florescent light. He wanted to run upstairs and hide under his covers.

Gerry lifted the bat and pointed the tip at them. “You have to leave!”

One of the monsters put down the wrench it was holding. “That’s what we are trying to do. My name is Hinky. My friends and I came from another world.”

“Just go back there.”

“The internal power supply of our portal generator broke so we’ve been building a perpetual motion engine as an external power supply.”

“Daddy gets mad when you don’t put his tools back. His ‘bankrupt’ is upside down, and his business is ‘mortgage,’ so you can’t stay here anymore.”

The monster took a step toward Gerry. “We want go. Your father’s workshop is very well equipped, but parts have been hard to find.”

“Is that why you stole the vacuum motor, the computer parts, and everything else?”

“We needed them for the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky explained.

“Why put the iron above the bathroom door?” Gerry could understand stealing stuff to go home, but not the mean tricks. “Daddy fell down the stairs on your trip rope. He could have been really hurt.”

The other two monsters giggled, inanely.

Hinky shrugged. “We’re gremlins. We like to play pranks.”

“You should stop that!”

Hinky smiled, looking almost sad. “I think that too. Sometimes I can control myself, but it’s hard for me and impossible for them.”

“I got in lots of trouble for your stealing.”

“I’m sorry,” Hinky said. The other two giggled, again.

“Our stuff is ruined.”

“I know your family is having financial trouble and our presence is adding to your worries. I intend to pay you back.”

Without supervision, the other gremlins had started playing with Daddy’s torch, the one with the big tanks of ‘oxy-something’ and ‘seta-lean.’

“Make them stop!” Gerry shouted. “Daddy says the torch could blow up the whole house.”

Hinky turned. “Back to work!” They looked sullen. “You want to go home, right?” Grudgingly, the gremlins picked up their tools. “They’re not as smart as me.”

Gerry could see that. “How long till you leave?”

“Minutes.”

“Really?”

“Just a few more adjustments and then we’ll connect the perpetual motion engine,” Hinky pointed to the device made of their stuff and then to the flat bar of shiny metal lying on the floor, “to our portal generator and be gone.”

“How will you go?”

“We warp space and time, folding reality over itself, to move from one location to another almost instantly.” Hinky reached in and hooked a spring to one of the knives.

Gerry didn’t understand the explanation.

One of the other gremlins drilled a hole in the shaft of a fork and bolted it onto the base of Mommy’s missing iron, energy cracked between the tines. The other used one of Daddy’s extension cords to connect the two machines.

“Will it work?” Gerry asked.

“Watch,” Hinky pressed the button on the stolen kitchen timer and the air above the portal generator began to shimmer. A dot of colored lights appeared, then the lights became a small ring, and then the ring was big enough for the gremlins to walk through. The two giggling gremlins leapt into the ring and disappeared.

“I’m leaving the perpetual motion engine behind. It uses forms of energy that your world has not yet discovered.” Hinky bent down and picked up the portal generator. “Give the engine to your father as payment for letting us stay here. He can reverse engineer its components and isolate the energies. All your money problems will be solved. Enjoy your life, little human.”

Hinky stepped through the portal and the prismatic spray of lights winked away.

Daddy stormed into the workroom. “I finally caught you!”

Gerry had never seen Daddy so mad, and he tried to explain. “I followed the monsters here! I talked to them. They are gremlins from another world.” That was the wrong thing to say, but he had proof this time. He pointed to the device. “They left you their perpetual motion engine. They said you can reverse ‘something’ it and make lots of money.”

Daddy was in a rage. “I’ve told you never to use my tools without my permission. I can’t believe you built our stuff into some child’s toy.”

“I didn’t,” Gerry insisted.

Daddy picked up the device, raised it high above his head, and then brought it crashing down against the tile floor. The device shattered, springs popping and gears rolling away, sparks danced from its innards, and then with a sad little whine, the levers stopped moving, all the lights winked out, and a small curl of smoke rose from the ruins.

“How many times do I have to tell you,” Daddy raged. “Monsters are just superstitions!”

MARCH FLASH FICTION CONTEST – BETRAYAL


ides_of_march

In 44BC, Julius Caesar trusted the wrong men to have his back, on the day on the Roman calendar corresponding with March 15. 

In memorial to that notorious event, this month’s theme is Betrayal. Stories can be any genre. You have a maximum of 1544 words. Deadline: March 31.

Click here to learn more about The Ides of March.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com for a list of titles.

WINNER – SCIENCE FICTION


Our congratulations to Kevin Z. Garvey, winner of eSpec Books’ January 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 – Stellar Sacrifice

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

FEBRUARY FLASH FICTION CONTEST – SUPERSTITION


Time Pilot

Kevin Z. Garvey

Time pilot Tommy Garfield looked at his black Casio G-shock watch. It was 10:15 pm on a Friday night. In just 45 minutes, he’d be taking his first official time-flight into the future. And when he landed, the world would be a much different place.

Tommy was standing out on his back porch, looking up at the night sky. It was a brilliant night, clear and bright with stars. Tommy gazed at the constellations, recognizing many of them from his cell phone’s Google Sky app.

The screen door behind him squeaked open. Mission Commander Bradley Garfield joined his son on the porch.

“Hi, Tommy. Ready for your first time flight?”

Tommy looked at his watch again. “T-minus 39 minutes,” he said. “And counting.”

Tommy and his dad surveyed the night sky.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Commander Garfield said. “So clear. So many stars. On a night like this you can see why our galaxy is called the Milky Way.”

“There’s the Big Dipper,” Tommy said, pointing toward Ursa Major.

“Well, enjoy it while you can. Because when you land in the future, not a single one of those stars is going to be visible. No constellations, no planets…nothing but one giant star blotting out everything else.”

Tommy nodded. “Shining so bright you can’t even stare at it without going blind.”

Commander Garfield smiled. “You’re not scared, are you?”

Tommy made a face. “I’m a time pilot, Dad.”

Garfield laughed. “That’s my boy.”

~*~

 The kitchen smelled of fresh baked goodies.

Tommy and his dad sat at the table, eagerly anticipating dessert.

“Brownies!” Tommy exclaimed when he mom placed a tray of chocolatey goodness down in front of him.

“They’re big, so you only get one each,” she said. “And that’s an order.”

 After Tommy and his dad devoured their treats, it was time to get serious. They looked at their watches.

“T-minus 7 minutes,” Tommy said. “And counting.”

“Let’s do this,” Commander Garfield said.

Tommy leaped off his chair and kissed his mom. Then he and Garfield raced upstairs, to where the time jet awaited.

~*~

Tommy went through his pre-flight time jump routine, which began with the brushing of his teeth. Afterwards, he went into his room, where the time jet was housed, changed into his time-flight suit and hopped aboard. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was now less than T-minus 1 minute and counting.

Mission Commander Garfield glanced at his own watch. “Ready for takeoff?” he asked.

“Ready, sir!” said Tommy, lying back, eyeing his watch. “T-minus fifteen seconds!”

“Give me the countdown.”

“T-minus ten seconds…nine…eight…”

“Ignition set,” Commander Garfield said. The lights went out. “All systems go.”

“…six…five…four…”

“Initiating time flight guidance systems.” A dim light illuminated the room. “Ready for takeoff.”

“…two…one…” A beeping sound from his watch told Tommy that zero hour had arrived. “Ignition!” he said.

“Blast off!” Commander Garfield said. “Prepare for sonic boom! See you in the future!”

Slam! Tommy jumped at the sound of the sonic boom. And then all was quiet. He was alone now, in his time-jet, hurtling through space and time. He closed his eyes, knowing that within minutes he would be entering a state of suspended animation, one that would last until his watch beeped again. And the future became the present.

Soon he felt himself drifting off…

~*~

Tommy’s watch beeped. His eyes popped open. Sunlight streamed through his bedroom window, proof that he was in the future.

He hopped off his time jet, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, washed his face, brushed his teeth, and went downstairs to the mission debriefing facility.

His mother and father were at the table, drinking coffee.

“Hey, Tommy,” his dad said. “How was the flight?”

Tommy grinned. “Mission accomplished.”

“Would you like some toast?” his mother asked.

“Can I have a brownie instead? Please?”

His mom made a face.

“Pretty please?”

Tommy mom smiled. She went to the counter and came back with a brownie on a plate.

“Thanks, Mom!”

“Are you ready for the mission debriefing?” asked Commander Garfield.

Tommy bit into the brownie and held up a forefinger as he chewed. After a big swallow: “Ready!”

“Okay. First question is: How far into the future did you travel?”

Tommy looked at his watch. He’d taken off at 11 pm, and it was now 9 am. He counted in his head. “Ten hours,” he said.

“And what changes have taken place in that time period?”

Tommy thought about that for a moment. “Well, the stars are gone.”

Commander Garfield tilted his head from side to side. “Not gone exactly, but certainly out of sight. For now at least.”

“Until the sun goes down,” Tommy said, and took another bite of his brownie.

“And not only did you travel through time on your flight,” he told Tommy, “you also traveled through space as well. How far do you think you went?”

Tommy shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Take a guess.”

“A million miles?”

Commander Garfield chuckled. “That’s not a bad guess actually. But believe it or not, you traveled much further than that.”

“I did?”

Tommy’s eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Absolutely. Let’s break it down. Now, as you know, the Earth spins around on its own axis. That’s how day turns to night and night to day. How long does it take to complete one full rotation?”

“That’s easy,” Tommy said. “Twenty four hours.” He took another bite of his brownie.

“Correct,” his dad replied. “And since the Earth is so big, it has to be moving pretty darn fast to complete one full rotation in just twenty four hours.”

“How fast?”

“Over 1000 miles per hour.”

“Wow!”

“Exactly. But that’s nothing. Because in addition to rotating, the Earth is also revolving around the sun, which is why we have seasons.”

“It takes one year to go around the sun,” Tommy said.

“Correct again. Do you know how fast we’re moving?”

Tommy chewed thoughtfully on a piece of brownie, then shrugged.

His dad smiled. “67,000 miles per hour.”

“Wow!” Tommy said.

“But that’s nothing either,” Commander Garfield said. “Because the entire solar system is revolving around the center of the Milky Way. Care to guess how fast we’re moving in that direction?”

Tommy thought about that for a moment, but couldn’t come up with an answer.

“514,000 miles per hour,” Commander Garfield said.

Tommy’s eyes went wide. “That’s too fast!”

“But that’s nothing either.”

“There’s more?” Tommy said, and started laughing.

“There sure is,” replied Commander Garfield. “Because the galaxy is moving too. About as fast as the solar system: a half a million miles per hour.”

Tommy’s jaw dropped.

“That’s amazing,” his mom said.

“So every hour,” Commander Garfield said, “we move about a million miles through space. How many miles do we move in ten hours?”

Tommy calculated in his head. “Ten million miles!”

“Crazy, isn’t it?”

“It sure is!”

“But that’s not all,” Commander Garfield said. “There are plenty of other changes taking place as we fly into the future. Did you know that there are four babies born every second?

Tommy shook his head. “There are?”

“Yep. And if you do the math, it turns out that, during your time flight, there were about 150,000 babies born.”

“That’s a lot of diapers,” Tommy’s mom said.

“That’s a lot of poopy diapers!” Tommy said.

Garfield laughed. “And that’s just people. Think of all the animals born, all the fish, insects…spiders.”

“I hate spiders!” Tommy said.

“Every second of every day,” Garfield went on, “enormous change takes place. And that’s just on Earth. Who knows what’s happening on other planets.”

“Other planets?”

“Sure. Scientists are finding Earth-like planets all over the universe now. And on some of those planets, there might even be intelligent creatures. Creatures like us, with hopes and dreams and laughter and tears…”

“And poopy diapers!” Tommy said.

His mom and dad laughed. “Exactly.”

The three of them fell silent for a few moments, contemplating what they’d just discussed.

“So,” Garfield said, breaking the spell. “Did you enjoy our little time pilot game?”

“I did,” Tommy said. “A lot.”

“What was your favorite part?”

Tommy didn’t hesitate. “The sonic boom!”

His dad laughed. “I slammed your bedroom door pretty hard, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” Tommy’s mom said with mock anger.

Garfield winked at his wife. “The good news is that real time travel doesn’t require a sonic boom.”

“I want to play it again,” Tommy said.

“Actually,” Garfield said, “you’re playing it right now. We’re all time pilots, Tommy. We’re all flying into the future, one second at a time. Pretty cool, huh?”

“That’s chill!” Tommy said, and popped the last of his brownie into his mouth.

His mom went to the refrigerator. “Here’s something else that’s chill,” she said, returning with an ice cold carton of milk.

“I’m glad there’s milk in the future!” Tommy said, draining his glass.

His parents laughed. Then the three of them, along with everyone else in the world, continued on with their journey into space-time.

JANUARY FLASH FICTION CONTEST – SCIENCE FICTION


asimov

Isaac Asimov, the father of science fiction, was born on January 2nd, 1920. In honor of this great man, this month’s theme is Science Fiction. You have a maximum of 1920 words. Deadline: January 31.

Click here to learn more about Isaac Asimov.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com for a list of titles.

WINNER – COSMOS


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:

DECEMBER FLASH FICTION CONTEST – A VILLAIN IS BORN


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.

 

DECEMBER FLASH FICTION CONTEST – A VILLAIN IS BORN


voldemort

In the Harry Potter universe, the child who would become Lord Voldemort was born on December 31, 1926 (don’t try and do the math…it doesn’t work). In honor of this fantastic fictional day, we want to see your stories about that pivotal moment when something sets your character on the path to the dark side. You have 1231 words. Entries may be in any of the speculative genres.

NOTE: Your entry should not in any way include the characters or settings from the Harry Potter universe, to do so would be a copyright violation and would invalidate the entry.

Click here to learn more about Tom Riddle/Voldemort.

Entries should be mailed to especbooks@aol.com as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf attachment no later than midnight on December 31st. Please include your name, story title, and contact information on your manuscript itself. If we cannot identify your entry from the file you will be disqualified. Multiple submissions are permissible, but reprints are not. Winning entry will be published on the eSpec Books blog and the winner will receive a free ebook copy of the eSpec Books title of their choice. Prize can be reserved for a future book if the winner already has the available titles.

Visit http://www.especbooks.com for a list of titles.

WINNER – DUMB LUCK


Our congratulations to Vincent L. Cleaver, winner in October’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. His prize is publication on the eSpec blog and one free ebook from among the eSpec publication list.

Honorable Mention
Charles Malosh – Cell Service

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

NOVEMBER FLASH FICTION CONTEST – COSMOS


Just Lucky

Vincent L. Cleaver

“Baker, are you still asleep?”

“Well, I was…”

I turned out of my bunk and hopped to attention. Boris scowled at me.

“I’m not your sergeant, or your valet. Next time, I’ll just eat your pancakes, h’okay?”

Boris can make some mean pancakes. Surprising what you can do with spirulina flour and sugar. I’m sure I don’t want to know how he faked the other ingredients; we’re light-years from cackle-fruit, just for one example, and months since we polished off the last of the egg-substitute. The man is a culinary ninja, a kamikaze, mad, eee-vile food scientist!

Even cold, they ate.

Our breakfast nook doubles as the cockpit, or the cockpit doubles as our breakfast nook. I get those two mixed up… I sat sideways in the right seat and the view outside, port and east, was stunning. It was local morning, we had adjusted mission-time to the twenty-three hour day and this latitude, what we were calling Landing Bay on the east coast of a land mass in the southern temperate zone. Two suns chased each other around and around in a tight, thirty-eight hour orbit, and set the ocean on fire.

Pancakes and a sunrise to die for. I fucking love the United Peoples’ of Earth, all nine billion and change, and the Interstellar Survey Service!

“You say something, slacker?” Boris asked, and held out a hand for my plate. “C’mon, my dishwater is getting cold!”

“Alright!” I laughed and I caught a hint of a smile on his face as I handed him my plate… and then our strange new world moved. Earthquake! Alarms sounded, demanding our attention but we were both just a little bit busy. I rode with the rolling and bucking and somehow got myself turned back half around and buckled in, pony tail coming lose and getting in my face. Damn regulations and their sweet reasonability! Mentally, I put myself on report.

Things calmed down and I said, “Boris?”

“Here. Mostly.” He smiled. “Hmm, h’okay? Also, you look beautiful, Katya…”

He was a mess. Blood, an astonishing amount of blood, ran down his face from a cut at his blond hair-line. He had a black eye and didn’t seem to be tracking but he hauled himself into the left seat and started to buckle himself in, then stopped, looking outside.

“Katya?”

“I know. I’m firing up the lockmarts right now…”

I had already seen the seismic readings. An 8.3 centered half a dozen klicks outside the rapidly emptying bay. There was a tsunami happening right on top of us. I stole a glance at what he was seeing as I gave up on the balky No. 3 fusor, which refused to break even, and prepped the reaction mass pumps to start sending water to the aerospikes. Something bigger than our lander, something vaguely cthulhu-like and not yet identified by our initial survey, lay beached and stranded. I could empathize with the terror and despair it must have been feeling as the water stopped receding and came back in.

The engines kicked in and smashed me into the right seat, four gees as the lander grabbed some sky, and then more alarms. Thrust cut out and we landed, hard and at a steep angle. I over-rid the emergency cut-offs and started to recite Joes’ Prayer.

“God, whose name I do not know, thank you for my life—”

Up we went again, staggering sideways. The wall of water swept over my ginormous new friend and hit our beach, thirty meters higher than the top of our hill. We climbed, just barely above it, and then the engines cut out again and down we went, into the backside of the wave.

***

I woke up to pain and to a keening sound which I took for pain. It wasn’t coming from inside the lander. Boris groaned and cursed in Russian, I guess it was cursing, so I knew that he was alive and not too bad off, at least for now.

I was still strapped into the right seat, facing the cockpit windows and now also facing down at the beach; ten or twelve meters below. The lander made some unhappy noises and we shifted, dropped a meter and came to a full, sharp stop. Boris groaned again, like he meant it this time.

“Katya, how bad is it?”

At least he wasn’t swallowing his articles, like an ancient 2-D cold war spy movie. He was worried, though, to keep calling me Katya. He tried to be more formal.

“Well, I wouldn’t make any dinner plans…”

“That’s what I like about you Ka- Baker. All sunshine and optimism.”

I twisted about and looked over my left shoulder and then my right. “We seem to be wedged in good-”

The lander shifted again, dropped another half meter.

“-maybe not to so good, in a cleft in the rock-face of the cliff a hundred meters north of our hill. Good news is the ground is getting closer; bad news is we still have ten meters to fall.”

“Ocean horrorshow,” he mumbled. Something like that, anyway. Russian for ‘very good’, ‘excellent’.

“I love it when you talk sarcastic at me.”

“I am giving you the raspberries, but my mouth is dry.”

That wasn’t promising.

“You hurt bad?”

“Is not so very bad. No good for much right now, sorry, arm is either broken or wretch, wretched? Pretty good, bad. Mouth dry, head… spinning. Nausea. Is not good, but I am Russian! I am laughing at suffering… and then I curl up into little ball and cry like little boy.”

He was quiet long enough after that that I got even more worried, then he said, “What is bolshoye racket going on, outside?!”

That was a great question; the keening had stopped while I wasn’t paying attention, but now it was replaced with a lot of crashing, maybe trees, or the local equivalent anyway, snapping. It implied something very big or, as it turned out, a lot of somethings merely big.

What looked like two, maybe three of the cthuloid things which I’d spotted beached by the tsunami draining the bay, lay on the beach. One of them might have been my buddy from before and it was not moving. Another of them was moving feebly, and fading fast.

More tentacled horrors, the size of baby elephants and quick, were doing things around that one and fanning out into the mess on the shore left behind by the waves. Digging a canal to the water, and getting local wood to help, somehow?

The lander slipped again, a two meter drop. We didn’t stop all at once this time, and then several somethings wrapped around the cockpit windows, black lines describing branching fractals. I realized belatedly that they were tentacles which forked and broke down into feathery tips. The keening returned and I knew now that it was coming from above and behind us.

“Hang in there, Boris. Gotta go thank an alien life form…”

“Funny, very funny.”

I got unbuckled and managed to drop to the outer wall, then make my way around to the airlock. The lock was working and cycled straight out, facing slightly up, for which I was extremely grateful. Tentacles found more purchase, slipping inside, and I made sure to close the inner door, a lot of good it would do Boris if we fell the rest of the way and rolled into the surf…

I used a safety line to a fitting inside the lock and hooked another one, just outside the lock, getting an eyeful of the monster beyond our door, and the damage to the lander. We were junk, and the monster wasn’t in much better shape.

It was seeping ichor, or blood, but this wasn’t bright red stuff, instead black and inky, I have no idea why. There was an oily iridescent sheen to it and all those colors, suggestions of green and purple and blue to the inky black stuff leaking out great rents in its’ skin.

The eye which tracked me was as big around as the extra large pizza I’d ordered for some of  the crew, on our last night in New York. A goat’s eye with a violet pupil almost like a figure eight. A single round, giant eyelid irised closed, opened again. There was someone, over there…

“You aren’t the one I saw get stranded; it’s dead, like we should be, and you… will be. Why? Why help us, when you’re about out of time?”

Of course it didn’t answer me. We didn’t share a language between us, but I guess we did communicate.

And then it did die.

A bunch of things happened all at once. One of the baby elephant-sized cthuloid things climbed up outside, reached into the airlock and none-too gently pushed me out of the way while it found a grasp which didn’t crush me as it suddenly became a pivot on which the lander swung out and away, way out of the way, to be caught while it was torn from its’ purchase and the lander swung down by still more of the smaller(!) aliens as the enormous corpse slumped and slid past us, rolling over and hitting the beach like a few tens of tonnes of squishy, now inanimate, organic matter. It burst and sprayed and all the while I hung on screaming my head off. A dozen more of the cthuloid things helped get the lander down and sort of upright, on its’ landing jacks, which were still deployed for some reason. I guess I forgot about them. Then the first one removed itself from the lock. I rudely and sensibly closed the outer door, then went back in to see to Boris.

***

“We were lucky, just lucky. Dumb, small kids and Brits kinda lucky,” I was reporting a little bit later. The Alexandria is headed back in-system and we’ll be rescued presently. Boris is in the little medbay and is feeling no pain. I’m trying to sort through how I feel about it all.

I just don’t know.

What did the monster see in us, in me? They’ve probably been watching since yesterday, since we came down out of the sky, came out of our box, scurrying around, collecting samples. They seem to have two forms; the big ones in the water and the little ones on land. I’m on fire to learn how to communicate with them, ask them ten thousand questions. And tell them ten thousand things. First two being—

Thank you for helping us. And I’m so sorry we couldn’t help you.