Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“Traffic’s wild tonight,” the driver offered, making brief eye contact in the rearview mirror.
She gave him a thin smile but didn’t respond. She caught her reflection in the Plexi partition and wondered if he noticed her eyes. Wondered if this disguise would survive the evening.
She reapplied lipstick and steadied her nerve. She could hold it together a little while longer.
On arrival, the driver was paid without a word, a cash transaction and an unremarkable tip. She wondered if he’d even remember her in the sea of faces and fares on just another California evening.
The security seemed laid back and lax, but there were familiar bulges under loose-fitting jackets that spoke of imminent violence should the need arise.
The gentleman receiver scanned her invitation and checked against the guest list.
“Weather’s mild tonight,” he spoke without looking up, “you’re all set. Welcome, I hope you have a pleasant evening.”
She smiled a practiced cocktail smile and drifted past him without a word.
Did he suspect? Surely not, or he would have stopped her there at the gate, where she could have been dealt with out of view of the other guests.
She breathed the salt from the breeze off the ocean, composed herself, and walked the ground-lit pathway towards the polite cacophony emanating from the expansive grounds where the party was in full swing.
A waiter appeared with a tray of drinks, and she helped herself, sipping the cold martini while in flight, sucking the fat olive from the skewer, feeling the flesh tear between her teeth. She’d never cease to enjoy that sensation.
She drained the glass and exchanged it for a fresh one before slipping into the sea of suits and low-cut cocktail dresses, her senses aroused, she was hunting now.
For hours she drifted from pocket to pocket of vapid socialites, nodding and smiling at the talk of fashion, of celebrity, the latest jaunt to the South of France, or Monaco. She observed the object of her interest make his way among the crowd as well, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. She orbited the space opposite him, catching his occasional glance, but never allowing him to close the distance between him.
When everyone was starting to sway a little, when the voices got a bit loud, the laughter overly pronounced, she slipped away and into the house. She made her way toward the bedrooms, avoiding confrontation with anyone, but staying in plain sight of the cameras.
He’d be on notice and would follow. The low cut of her dress and his masculine drive to seek out in earnest that which had eluded him all evening guaranteed it.
She waited in his bedroom, sat in the highback armchair under the window, and clocked the passing time.
He wasted none of it.
“You’re not supposed to be here, you know that, don’t you?” The question in a mock-serious tone.
She crossed the room to meet him, held out both arms, wrists up, submissive.
“Are you going to arrest me?” Her tone was coy, inviting.
He put his hands atop hers, slid them towards her, and wrapped his fingers around her wrists, so delicate that his fingers touched easily.
She did the same, her fingers closed around his wrists, and then continued wrapping, snakelike, coiling around and around his arms.
She locked her eyes with his, and he found he couldn’t move.
She entered him, then, through the flesh of his wrists, puncturing the bone to the very marrow, feeling the flesh part for her as she exited her spent shell for this new one.
She’d never cease to enjoy this sensation.
They broke eye contact from this new point of view, the flesh of their previous host sublimating before them, the dress settling to the floor atop a pair of heels and a clutch that would be easily disposed of in the morning.
He adjusted his cuffs as he rejoined the perimeter of the party and motioned to security.
“Get them all the fuck out of my house.”
Climbing the social ladder was exhausting, and he very much needed to sleep.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
It’s cold here. Inhospitable. We’ve been stranded for an age, near starving, not even enough energy to move from this place, much less try to find our way home.
From time to time, some small animal, a rabbit, or a field mouse will venture too far from safety, and a fox, or in rare cases a hawk will hunt, and in those moments fear and panic ripple in waves across the barren ground. We’re not proud, we take what we can get, we’re survivors after all.
The sun is down, busy blistering the other side of this rock while we wait out the night in absolute darkness. In the great distance above us, pinpricks of light blink in and out, mocking.
There’s a sudden roar of approaching motors, and bright fingers of light split the night, bobbing and weaving together to form an opalescent lattice above the winding road on the hillside across the field.
This is a treat.
There’s the slightest hint of exhilaration, of excitement perceptible even at this distance.
The throaty rumble doubles and doubles again as more and more vehicles crest the hill and plummet down the narrow road into the valley, jockeying for position.
We can almost taste their adrenaline on the cold night air.
The screaming of rubber straining against asphalt in an instant becomes that of metal biting into metal as one of the vehicles loses control, colliding with a guardrail, its twin shafts of light reaching suddenly skyward before spiraling several times, then blinking out completely.
We receive a sharp spike of fear, one quick burst, then it’s gone.
What follows immediately is a cacophony of steel on steel, shattering glass, the protest of tires pushed beyond limits, vehicles collapsing into one another or leaving the roadway completely, lights flashing in all directions.
In a few more moments, it’s over. Pandemonium is gradually replaced by near silence again. Motors chatter and stall, those wheels slowly spinning in the air eventually become still.
Through it all, we drink in an exquisite cocktail of fear, and pain. Of panic, and resignation.
We’re drawn to it now, invigorated by more sustenance than we’ve felt in far too long.
Our strength returns.
Where has this been? Why have we not been privy to this source of nutrition before?
There are new sounds on the wind as we feed, and blue and red lights strobe the landscape around us, bringing with them new feelings, these a balanced cocktail of anxious hope.
This pleases us.
Perhaps this place isn’t so inhospitable after all.
When these fonts of emotion move on, we’ll move with them, our newfound traveling feast.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
He woke from a deep sleep, the room still dark.
Had there been a noise? It was quiet now.
He reached in the darkness and lifted his phone, the display coming to life just as the alarm sounded, the unexpected noise startling him fully awake. He thumbed the display blindly to silence the alarm.
He hated waking right before the alarm like this, it wasn’t natural. His body clock had never been so attuned, definitely not to a minute prior to his alarm.
He sat up, found his glasses, and shuffled to the bathroom before heading down to the kitchen to make coffee.
With the coffee ground, the machine filled, he started the brew and…
Something wasn’t right. He had a cartridge coffee maker, not this…
He woke, sat bolt upright in bed, sweat beading on his brow. He looked down toward the nightstand at his phone as the alarm sounded, startling him. He reached for it, desperate to silence the racket but only managed to knock it off onto the floor.
Swearing, he turned on the light and fished in the corner to find and silence the phone.
Through bleary eyes, he could make out the time. Seven am.
Sighing, he shuffled off to the bathroom, put his contacts in, and headed down to the kitchen to make coffee.
He loaded a cartridge into the machine, placed a mug underneath the dispenser, and started the brew.
He stared at his phone for some time, before opening the alarm app and resetting the wakeup to six thirty-seven.
He held the phone in his hand, the gurgling and wheezing of the coffee machine slowly overtaking his…
The alarm sounded.
He sat on the edge of the bed in the darkness, the phone in his hand, the digits crystal clear.
He silenced the phone, placing it gently back on the nightstand, a tear slowly sliding down his cheek.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
He’d spent forty years running rescue and salvage operations in deep space, had hundreds of engagements, many responding to distress beacons, but he had never experienced anything like this.
His entire ship resonated at some experiential but otherwise unmeasurable frequency. His instrumentation registered nothing, it wasn’t designed to analyze whatever this was.
Rapierre himself felt more than heard the signal, and as he navigated the ship, zig-zagging in the direction where it became stronger, he found there was a sweet spot where, if he pointed the nose of the craft directly into it, the sensation became something more, a kind of beautiful, barely perceptible subliminal song, pulling at the edges of his consciousness.
There was nothing to lock his navigation system onto, only the sensation in his mind, so he flew manually for days, maybe weeks, time gradually losing meaning. He slept at intervals strapped into the pilot’s seat, trusting the ship’s collision avoidance systems, and that he’d wake up if the feeling changed in any way.
It was the proximity alarms that jolted him awake, and he strained through the forward observation to make out what had set them off.
The space ahead of the ship was shrouded in a particulate fog, and dimly visible in its midst, slowly rotating, hung a massive celestial remnant, edges lost in the cloud, its surface a vast rugged plain.
He synchronized their rotations in order that he might land.
As he approached, the features of the landscape below clarified, and he realized that the surface wasn’t space rock or condensed stardust at all, but hundreds, perhaps thousands of craft condensed into a single block of pancaked and intermingled wreckage.
He pulled back hard on the control stick and pushed the throttle to the pins to climb away, but his efforts had no effect. The ship shuddered against whatever force pulled it forward, the space frame vibrating in pained harmony with the siren’s song.
The collision with the surface was violent, the ship plowing through the debris field like a hot knife until its shielding failed, and then further still, the sounds of terrestrial wreckage tearing through the fuselage and venting atmosphere overwhelmed only by a myriad of warning klaxons. The cockpit safety doors slammed into place, sealing him off from the vacuum of space as everything ground to a halt.
He sat in sudden silence, the shock of the crash slowly giving way to the reality of the situation he was now in.
He would die here.
Nobody was coming to rescue him, and if they did, if they picked up any beacon he might send, or the signal that brought him here, they’d suffer the same fate.
“Why have you come?”
He flinched, looking around to find the source of the words that had formed in his head.
“Why have you come?”
The question again.
“You called me here,” he spoke the words aloud to the empty cockpit, “your beacon, I followed your beacon.”
There was a long pause before new words formed.
“We called, but not for you.”
There was another long pause.
“Who are you, so arrogant that you would assume our call was meant for you to answer? You are not welcome.”
Rapierre had no reply, for the first, and what would be the last time in his life, he was at a loss for words.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Alex stood next to James and tried to make sense of what he was looking at. He had been annoyed at being called from his bed at this ungodly hour, but that feeling was slowly being replaced by curiosity.
“It’s a time machine, kind of,” James was explaining, “it lets me lock onto memories and revisit the time and space they occurred.”
Alex needed coffee. Or sleep. He was on the fence as to which was the better idea at this point.
“I need you to watch me, monitor the journey, if anything goes wrong I need you to pull me out.”
Alex surveyed the room, the seat in the middle of overlapping egg-shaped coils of copper, what looked like a series of high-voltage transformers chained together and the cables tethering them to each other and the rig, massive conductors straining apart as if trying to escape each other’s proximity.
“What are you going to do? No, never mind, monitor how? What’s going to go wrong, and how would I know unless…” he paused and waved at the equipment “unless this all explodes?”
James pointed to the desk, to a bank of green phosphor displays.
“There, watch the log output, if the controller panics, you’ll know, then power it down there.” He pointed to a large red shutoff on a breaker panel by the door. “Then get out.”
Alex shook his head, grunted, then nodded. Too late for coffee, and it was clear he wasn’t getting any sleep now.
“Nadia and I got together the very last time at a bar, right before she ran off with…”, he winced, the name was burned so vividly he couldn’t bring himself to say it, “with Fuckwit von Shit-for-brains.” He paused, remembering. “We had drinks, we ate, we talked until closing time. She came home with me, and we had the most amazing…” He paused again, blushed. “It was amazing. She was amazing. I need to get back there, find out what I did wrong, fix it.”
Alex didn’t say a word. What would be the point?
James keyed the start-up sequence, then as the machine started to hum, he sat in the chair in the middle of the coils, buckled himself in, and closed his eyes.
The hum rose to a whine, then a deafening roar, then silence.
James opened his eyes, he was in a bar. No, the bar. He’d never forget this place. There was a low-frequency buzz, conversation maybe, just out of earshot? Glasses appeared and disappeared on tables, at the bar. The big ornate clock that almost filled one wall spun, the hands a blur.
In the corner, the table they’d sat at. He worked his way across the room, focused only on that space. The closer he got, the harder it became to move, as though the air were getting thicker.
He forged on, leaning now into an invisible gale force, willing himself to that corner until he could reach out and touch the back of the chair he’d sat in, so long ago.
It refused to move, fixed in place as if welded to the floor, and he had to force himself between the arms and the table, to finally slump into the seat itself, the force now pushing him into the seatback making it hard to breathe.
Glasses and plates came and went in a blur, and across the table, where Nadia had sat that entire night, smiling, talking.
The seat was and remained empty.
There was a violent tug, the pushing force now a fist wrapped around his spine, yanking him back, through the chair, the bar, from the past into the present to deposit him, aching and gasping for breath in the seat in his lab.
He looked up into the curious and concerned eyes of his friend.
“Well,” Alex asked, “what happened?”
James struggled with what had just happened.
“I must have missed something, miscalculated something, everything was there, just the way I remember it, but I was alone. She wasn’t there.”
Alex stepped back and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“James,” he said gently, “you know she was already gone long before that night. Why would you expect her to have waited in that memory the way you did?”