A Strange Thing About Portals

Author : P. Djeli Clark

An extra-dimensional portal has opened up in my grocer’s freezer.

Not a giant portal, that might send out shaggy mammoth blue beetles with a thousand legs–like what happened to poor Doyle McDonald out at the granary (no one’s still quite certain where that beetle’s gone, though pets and livestock are still disappearing from time to time).

Neither was it one of those floating portals that sometimes flitter about as giant translucent globules, sucking in everything they touch. Last month one of them floated down and swallowed up the PS 19 elementary school bus on a field trip to the strawberry patch. The bus showed up way out on route 75 near Occom’s Crossing at precisely 11:16 PM the following Tuesday (which is where and when all such things swallowed up by the giant globules always make their reappearance). But of course all the elementary kids are now middle-aged and speak only some language the government linguists (who seem overly excited at the whole affair) say is a dead Aluet dialect.

No, the extra-dimensional portal that opened in my grocer’s freezer was none of these things. It was small, tiny enough to be lodged between a box of Klondikes and the last pint of rum-raisin gelato, a perfect shade of cerulean blue that swirled and churned like an ocean.

As I stared at it, momentarily forgetting my need for late-night snacks of cold creamy sweets and ignoring a bored teller’s last calls for items that broke through the muzak adaptation of Barry Manilow’s Mandy, I knew two things. One, this seemingly small extra-dimensional portal was not really small at all. Oh it may have looked so from this end, but I knew without knowing how I knew, that it was unbelievably vast–vast enough to swallow the grocer, our town, perhaps the world. And two, what ever lay on the other side, there was a nagging familiarity, a yearning and comfort that made me long for it in a way that only one word would describe – home.

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The Archivist

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

“It’s amazing,” Hennrich Gould said. He shook his head in disbelief. “A pristine live recording of Robert Johnson….and with songs that have never been released! Where’d you find it?”

James Robinson smiled. He reached forward and clicked off the iPod on the table between them. “It’s an archive,” he said. “I found a vault of recordings by Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and a myriad other old blues and pop singers from the turn of last century…all brilliantly recorded.”

He took the iPod and put it in his breast pocket.

Hennrich shook his head yet again. “You have no idea the historical importance of these recordings,” he said. “Hearing someone like Johnson or Patton singing the popular songs of the day….it’s….it’s simply amazing.”

“It is,” replied Robinson. “And I would think there would be a lot of people interested in these recordings.”

He tapped the iPod in his shirt pocket to bring the point home.

There was a long silence between them. Then, Gould said: “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”

Robinson let out a chuckle. “You’re a poor poker player,” he told Gould.

Gould drew a deep sigh, then let it out. He leaned forward. “Let’s cut to brass tacks, shall we?”

“Let’s,” replied Robinson.

“How much?” asked Gould.

Robinson let the air hang heavy for a moment. He wasn’t much of salesman; he knew that. But, what he did have was something worth a lot of money, and something that millions of people would rejoice in. He could release the music himself, but he had neither the time nor inclination to bother with it. His interests lay elsewhere, but he needed money to make those dreams a reality.

“A quarter of a million dollars,” he replied finally.

“A quarter million!” Gould almost shouted it in the confines of his small office. “Are you insane!”

Robinson smiled again. “Not in the least,” he said. “But, what I am is a man with a sellable product that will be much in demand when the music buying public learns about it.”

Another heavy silence fell.

“Listen,” Gould said. “The world has changed. Vinyl’s made a comeback, but the Internet and mp3 sales are still the way to go. We just can’t give out that sort of advance on sales….”

“….It’s not an advance,” replied Robinson. “At least, not this time.” He took the iPod out of his pocket and held it in front of him. “If you buy these recordings….which I will provide you the master tapes of….I’ll sell them to you outright. After you recoup the quarter million dollars, you’ll have nothing but profit.”

He grinned, then added: “On any future sells, I’ll require a percentage as well as an advance.”

“Future sales?”

Robinson nodded. “I can get recordings of practically anyone you wish…pristine recordings. Just tell me who you want a recording of.”

“How?”

“That’s for me to know,” replied Robinson. “Now, do we have a deal?”

Gould regarded him a moment. “I’ll have to check with the higher-ups,” he said.

“Of course…but don’t wait too long…there are other people interested in these tapes.”

“Don’t sell them until you hear from me,” Gould said. “We’ll meet any offer, plus ten percent.”

“I wouldn’t dream of selling them out from under you,” Robinson said as he stood. “I’ll expect to hear from you soon.”

“Very soon,” replied Gould.

Robinson smiled and turned.

As he walked out the door, he wondered where he would take his time machine to next. Perhaps Jimi Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard, he thought. Or Elvis before Sun Records. Or Johnny Cash. Or Roy Orbison. Or John Lee Hooker. Or Lightning Hopkins.

Regardless of whom he chose, he knew the possibilities were endless.

Just like time.

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True Love

Author : Lesley Carhart

I want a divorce. I might say it, but as usual, the only sound is the crisp autumn leaves scattering across the gravestones. I glance over to Stephen across the frost-singed grass, and I know he’s thinking the same thing. On these cold days, we’ve both considered it, for over ninety years.

The point is academic. There’s no justice of the peace or pastor here to grant one. There’s really not anybody, save the odd relative setting prerequisite flowers, or groundskeeper raking the leaves. They don’t see us, of course. We’re dead and incorporeal. Arguing is no longer appealing, and Stephen is staring at the sky, caught up in a radio program about a distant war.

I believe the young necromancer meant well. She had other, foreign, names for her profession, but in our era, there was simply no other term for one who toyed with the dead. When she found us in the sanatorium, I was wracked with pain, and Stephen poetic and distraught. Her offer was too good to be true. She had been reading Shakespeare, she said – she hated the endings of tragedies, but tragedies were meaningless when death was no obstacle. She would resolve the cause of her distress, by making true love eternal, and we were the objects of her plan. Her idealism struck us both with such hope…

Of course we agreed. We had no concept of whom or what the creature in the guise of a pretty girl was, and she was promising us a certain eternity together. The consumption caused me such pain that rational thought stood no chance against our tragic love. Stephen, a failed actor, had a theatrical flair that made poisoning himself entirely natural.

She did not disappoint. I was laid to rest in black nothingness, but the next night I awoke in the graveyard, with Stephen beside me. The necromancer left with a prideful smile and airily tossed flowers. She had saved human love. We never saw her, or her kind, again.

Alas, despite her power over death and spirit, the mysterious woman did not understand what human love really meant. In truth, neither did we. The first few years were blissful. We haunted mourners and counted stars in the sky. Yet over time, we discovered things had changed since we left our bodies. We could not leave the graveyard. The necromancer told us we were anchored to that place to prevent us from soaring off with the spinning of the planets. That alone would not have dampened our spirits, except without bodies, love had left us as well.

They say the young do not know the difference between love and lust. We more than most know the bitter truth – love may transcend, but lust is tied to the humors of the body. As the years went by, we discovered that in truth we had little to discuss or want from one another. It became an arrangement of convenience. We watched the world change over decades. At some point, the ether became alive with music, in the form of radio broadcasts, which we could inexplicably interpret. For a time, we danced to Vivaldi and Sinatra.

The music has begun to stop, drowned out by senseless noise. They call it ‘digital’. Stephen still listens to the news broadcasts despite this, but I fear we’ll soon be left peeking at the groundskeeper’s puerile daytime television.

Dearest reader, if you are ever in love, cherish every moment. But if a strange woman someday offers you eternity with your lover, remember that she does not offer you eternal love.

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The Planet

Author : Richard D. Deverell

We all knew the story. Every child my age had grown up with it. Though the governmental space agencies had long since faded into obscurity and private companies began the exploration and plunder of the solar system, the governments continued long-range research. NASA, ESA, and JAXA stunned the world when they jointly announced the discovery of a mesoplanet orbiting a star a mere eight light-years away that, through their combined research, they had confirmed to contain liquid water and an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Suddenly, the corporations found themselves racing each other to build a craft and send a team to explore, and claim, the new planet’s resources. Even with the technology the corporations used for their work in the outer solar system, it took fifteen years to develop the star drive capable of accelerating to ninety-eight percent of the speed of light. Development of the integral rams scoop system bankrupted two companies and three more formed an uneasy conglomerate just for the opportunity to stake a claim on the new world.

Volunteers were drawn from every scientific field possible and the United States and China both arranged to have military personnel on board. In the end, fifty people, civilians and military, were selected to take the trip. Though it would only take them eight years to reach their destination, the time dilation effects of near-to-light-speed travel meant that, for every year they traveled, nearly six and-a-half would pass on Earth. By journey’s end, fifty-one and three-quarters years had come and gone on Earth. It would be sixty years before anyone on Earth would even know if the team had successfully arrived since they couldn’t send a message while traveling.

Those countries with citizens among the team sent them off in grand fashion, turning them into national heroes and bestowing medals and honors upon them before they did anything. For years afterward, the cable news would bring family members on to discuss how important the mission was. Soon though, the family members only appeared every five years, and then every ten. People didn’t forget; they just moved on.

Until last year. The first transmission came back and humanity suddenly found itself tuned in to the same programming around the world. The first readings from orbit confirmed the presence of vast inland seas of water and the atmosphere was thirty-five percent oxygen and sixty-two percent helium with other trace gasses filling in the rest. Those gasses indicated the presence of simple life, but there was no evidence of intelligent life or civilizations, either in electromagnetic emissions or even physical structures and roads. After monitoring the planet for weeks and sending out carefully constructed, pre-approved messages of greeting across the EM-band, including light and even an aerial probe to scan the ground closer and emit precisely-timed auditory messages, the team determined that the planet was uninhabited by intelligent life. Many on Earth were disappointed, but the heads of the corporations breathed a secret sigh of relief since they needn’t fear the bad publicity of trying to steal a planet from indigenous sentient life.

The first landing party quickly dispensed with the scenes that fill history texts, all carefully choreographed as well, and then began testing the soil for anything of value back on Earth. After a month, humanity again lost interest. Until we lost contact. The final transmission said only, “We were wrong.” Now, I’m one of the private soldiers assigned to investigate. My eight-year trip will mean fifty for my family. Everyone I know will be gone and I don’t know what I’m facing, but I know I’m not alone.

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A Cello For Amadeus

Author : Damian Knoll

The doorbell rang.

“Welcome to the Emporium,” I shouted over my shoulder.

Before the door closed, a gust of bone-splitting December wind sneaked inside and coiled around my ankles. I quickly shoved the stack of old vinyls aside and laid the refurbished Stradivari on the shelf. When I turned, the chimpanzee was sauntering around the fat 1973 contrabass that greeted my customers at the entrance.

The chimp was a Tru Pet, a deluxe model, 2031 or older. You can always tell by the way they shuffle their legs; starting in 2032, they nixed that awkward primate sway. He wore a top hat, bow tie, a vest, stripped pants, and ankle boots. The laces were neatly tied. A silver chain connected a pocket of his vest to the gloved hand of his owner, a tall, willow-thin lady wrapped in a giant faux fur coat.

I cranked up my smile. “Ready for Christmas, Ma’am?”

She stopped at the counter, grey eyes the color of the overcast sky outside.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, and slid the hood of her coat back.

Her face was symmetry unleashed. A Michelangelo study. Too good to be human.

“Not to be rude,” I said, “but Tru Pets must be accompanied by a certified human.” I pointed at the DNA-scanner by the register. “Would you mind?”

“Oh,” she said, “I get this all the time. Do I really look fake?”

Well, you’re blending in quite nicely, Miss Cruella Deville.

The chain rattled softly; at the other end of the leash, the chimp plodded around, a labored breath rasping in his throat.

“Ma’am, I’m just a simple shop owner. I don’t make the rules.”

She removed her glove and laid her hand under the lasers that flickered on the console. The machine beeped once. Non-altered DNA, the display read.

Wow, she was one for the ages. That’s what humans should never be: perfect.

“How may I help you?” I said.

She leaned closer and whispered, “He’s dying.”

“Who’s… dying?”

She glanced at the chimp, who was lightly tapping a tambourine.

“Amadeus,” she said.

“I’m deeply sorry, Ma’am,” I said, “but… this is a vintage musical instrument shop, not a hospice for deluxe pets. I’m afraid—”

“Amadeus wants to learn to play an instrument. It’s his last wish.”

An ape with a bucket list? Merry Christmas.

“I see. Well, he certainly likes the tambourine.”

“Not enough of a challenge,” she said. “He had an I.Q. upgrade two years ago. I paid a fortune.”

I looked around. “How about… the trombone? It requires a one-hand manipulation, then blowing into—”

“The tumor is on his lung. Blowing is not an option.”

She pointed her pristine index finger at the nearby cello. “The cello.”

“The cello?”

“Why not?”

“Not to be rude, Ma’am, but… the coordination required for—”

Suddenly, the dissonant strums of a guitar rang in my ears: the chimp was clenching the riff of the instrument with one hand, while randomly plucking its strings with the other.

“I’m just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told,” Amadeus began to sing in his hoarse voice. “I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles…”

Simon and Garfunkel. 1968. Hell of an upgrade.

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest…”

He gently set the guitar back on its rack.

“There we go,” I said.

“I’ll stick with the cello,” Cruella said matter-of-factly.

By the time they left with the cello in its velvet case, it had started to snow again. The angry wind kept the snowflakes from touching the ground.

 

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