Mariel awoke in the embrace of a dead man, his body cold and rigid. It took her some effort to disentangle their limbs, and when she finally did she threw herself from the bed shuddering in horror. She lay on the floor for a time hyperventilating and weeping, even as she cursed herself for this loss of control. She had nearly regained command of her emotions when she caught a glimpse of her hands and saw they were covered in blood. As were her arms and much of her body.
She stumbled into the bathroom, retching in the toilet, refusing to look at what came up. Resting her head against the cool porcelain she closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, on being mindful of anything but the corpse on the bed. When she felt ready she got to her feet and washed her face in the sink. She tried to get some of the blood off her hands and arms but soon gave up. Only a shower would solve that problem.
Before she went back into the bedroom to face what was there, she looked up in the mirror. There was no reflection staring back. That steadied her, and with new resolve she walked into the bedroom to assess the aftermath of whatever had taken place the night before. The man lay in a contorted pose, the result of her efforts to free herself, his face darkened with bruises. There was blood everywhere, staining his flesh and the sheets. She felt her stomach tremble again and had to look away.
Her eyes fell upon the tangle of their clothes at the foot of the bed. It told another story, a prologue to whatever else had happened in the depths of the night. Mariel remembered none of it. Her head ached and her thoughts were foggy, as though from a hangover. There was a bitter taste in her mouth from bile and blood. She closed her eyes, sick at the thought. What had gone so terribly wrong? Continue reading
A ship, alight upon the sea, surging upon the waves as it’s crew stands watch, eyes straining forward, alert to the horizon. This was the image that came to her mind as Ance whiled away the interminable hours in this desolate place. A ship coming to take her home.
She had long ago stopped counting the days, it had grown too depressing by far. No matter how many she marked off her calendar or in her diaries, the remainder still loomed ahead, the weight of them the same, as backbreaking as the work of the porters who carry her belongings up and down the mountains of this cruel and barbaric place. Her greatest fear was that her husband would arrive at one of their homes, on one of his occasional acknowledgments that they were in fact married, to announce that the Viceroy had extended his term and they would be remaining for another five years.
It was a thought beyond bearing. Every day she was surrounded by hundreds of people, most of whom could not speak more than a civilized word or two to her. Their disdain was evident in every gesture they made, in every expression when they thought she was not paying attention. They were doing things to her food as well, she was certain. She always felt weak and ill, though perhaps that was just the abominable climate, so frigid and damp.
One day, as she spent another afternoon lost in pointless reverie, it came to her that it did no good to idly dream of such things, she needed to make chance bend to her will and act. Her husband spent most of his days pretending she did not exist, it could be easily done. She called her porters and had them gather her belongings and set off from her home in the misty highlands. Continue reading
Jules Amostel had been tinkerer all his days, from his youth when his parents gave him a chemistry set to play with, through his time at university in the engineering department, where he was constantly toying with circuits in the lab or in his dorm room, and later as he found himself a job working for the city’s transit department. The first thing he did upon the purchase of a house, after marrying his longtime girlfriend, was to turn the unfinished basement into a lab space for the various projects he embarked on.
Jules had never been particularly social, and while he enjoyed going out and meeting with friends, and got on well with all his co-workers, he needed time to himself to do as he pleased and found it in the basement. His wife Amy was a patient woman and recognized it as a release of sorts from the stresses of day to day living. Every now and again she would notice him spending too much time alone down there and would remind him that he needed to spend time with her and his friends. She did not ask much about what he did there and he volunteered little, showing her the odd device he built, but they mostly confused her.
Soon they had children and their lives became busier still. Jules found time when he could for his work in the basement, though admittedly less now. It did not bother him, his daughters were far more intriguing than anything he might work on down below. As they grew into their teens and became more independent, he found he had more time that he could devote to his work and he returned to it with a renewed vigor. Sunday became his day dedicated to his devices and he would descend below after breakfast while Amy and his daughters entertained themselves.
Finally, after twenty five years of intermittent work, Jules finished what he had begun so long ago in his university dorm room. The individual devises that had so confused Amy were but a part of a much grander whole—a vast contraption—that, when he finally assembled it, took up much of the basement. It was capable of traversing time and space, perhaps even the fabric of the universe itself.
It was his life’s work, his grand design, but for many weeks he did not engage the contraption, would not enter it. Fear stopped him short. What if he turned it on and he was sent somewhere or sometime and could not return? Worse, what if nothing happened at all? It was difficult to say which of those possibilities scared him most. Continue reading
Dorvel watched from the station’s observation deck as the beast leapt from the inner ring surrounding the gas giant. It appeared to float momentarily, suspended in the vacuum of space, before it plunged back into the ring, disappearing from sight. She turned her attention back to the monitors tracking its progress, knowing it would be several minutes before it appeared again. The rings were constituted almost entirely of frozen water, formed into intricate crystalline structures, and the beast was drinking.
Dorvel was observing it, and had been for almost the entirety of the last two days, because it was pregnant, extremely so, and her superiors expected the calf to be born any day now. Birthing was a delicate process for any animal, all the moreso for one that spent its days in the space, as the scow did. This being the distinctly unimaginative name given the creatures by the Councilmen who first encountered them. The name—that some found amusing, but which Dorvel had long grown tired of—being a play on the ancient meaning of the word, a type of old earth sea-going vessel and an abbreviation of the words ‘space cow’.
The scow surfaced again, this time very near the station, and Dorvel’s breath was taken away. Their vastness still had the power to startle, even for someone who had spent so much of her life working with the creatures. This time the beast did not return within the ring, having drunk its fill, letting the gravity of the planet pull her into orbit. Dorvel checked the time and made a quick calculation of how much water she had drank, assuring herself that the scow and its progeny were well fed.
Everything now was of critical importance. Nothing could be left to chance, she well knew. This was the third scow she had shepherded to birth in her ten years as Head Veterinarian for the Council. None of the other calves had survived more than a day or two. It had been a lifetime since anyone had even seen a calf or a youngling scow, even as the number of adult scows dwindled year by year, their stock ravaged by the hardships of space and the Councils seemingly endless wars. Continue reading
Every Thursday, starting January 7, published here at Circumambient Scenery. From horror to westerns to far-flung space opera and all points in between.
In A Flash is a new series where a new short story will be published every week for a year, starting January 2016. The stories will be short, 1500 words or less, and unique. None of them will be part of an existing universe or an overarching story. At the end of the year the collected stories will be published in a volume.
The stories published in the last two months are a teaser of what is to come beginning in January. Stay tuned every Thursday for more!