Axis Mundi

“Axis Mundi” is deeper into the sci-fi spectrum than most of my stories and much longer, but what started as a fairly straightforward space-cannibal story turned into something very different… This story was originally published in the esteemed FLAPPERHOUSE.

 

CAPTAIN ELISHA DRIFTS BACK TO HER BODY. Sedative fog curls around her edges for a long, liquid minute before she remembers she has eyes to open. Lids slide across her sclera, a syrupy-sweet motion that tingles her spine like some small secret pleasure. Her forearms feel hot and then cold, as catheters spit the next layer of the wakeup cocktail into her blood. Already, the induced euphoria’s fading, shepherding the last of the delirium and confusion away to be replaced by a conscious, knowing glee. They’ve arrived.

Her new stateroom smells of wood and leather, warm aromas painted in crimson and deep oak hues. The armchair creaks as she moves, and smartbands retreat into its folds like startled snakes. The catheters slip from her flesh, spraying a thin mist of skinbond to cover their tracks, and constrict away into the arms of the chair.

Her vision drifts to a far wall, her eyes looping on a pleasing swirl in the burlwood, where Mithradates projects her feeds in layers of soft amber light. The most important detail rises to the surface in pulsing cobalt: No one has followed. Right up until their unscheduled departure, no alarms were even raised.

Now the slip is over, only a few hours passed, and the slick ebon needle of her new ship, the Mithra, drifts above the ecliptic of Gliese 667C. Mithradates maps the bewildering orbits of the neighboring stars and the six rocky planets around 667C, adjusting for any local eccentricities since the stellar event. The third star, a dull red coal, squats at the center of a tangle of scorched planets. Elisha waits for Mithradates to find any sign of their quarry, but so far she only sees the purples and oranges of worlds and moons.

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Between the Walls

The Eastern Empire
Late July, Year of our Lord, 626

When Lecho saw the three walls of Constantinople, rising up like a storm on the horizon, each taller than the last, he knew he’d made his worst mistake. Around him marched the great host of the Avar Khaganate, dragging the skeletal fragments of siege towers. Ahead, he could pick out individual Roman watchmen lining the middle wall, leaning with relaxed arrogance on the crenelations.

Lecho summoned the vilest curses he could and spat them in a circle at his feet. Not for the first time, he damned the blind, hateful luck that had brought him to the foot of the greatest city in the East, ready to grind his flesh into the unbreachable walls until there was little but dust and blood.

As the sun sank in the west, and camps were staked, his motley detachment of Bulgar raiders, Carolingian fugitives, Slavic peasants, and mercenaries from across the continent gathered to hear the words of a minor Avar Khan. Lots were drawn, and they received the honor of being the first over the walls. Lecho watched the Khan palm the tile with the low number etched on it, and pretend to draw it from the ceremonial leather sack, made from some great enemy’s scrotum. He’d known they’d be first, one way or another, but he could do little more than spit in a circle and try not to catch the Khan’s eye.

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Summer Night

This isn’t a new story, per se, but instead something I wrote up recently for a subreddit while I was waiting for some code to compile. This is, for most intents and purposes, a “true story”. Or rather, that’s what I said when I posted it there. There is one slight fabrication here, a keystone to hold this together as a narrative, as opposed to just a simple scene. But other than that, the rest is as I remember it, with all the unreliability that that implies. Enjoy.

I love horror, and I write scary stories, but I’m a skeptic, a strict rationalist through and through. I am not a believer. There have been, however, a couple of events in my life that I can’t properly explain.

When I was in college, a group of six friends and myself were on college campus, fresh from the disappointment of a failed attempt to score some hash. The college has a large arboretum, that edges a wide slow moving creek. It was a perfect California summer night, hot and muggy punctuated by gentle breaths of cool breeze.

We were walking along a long stretch of path, a wide paved trail with a steep drop into the water on the left, and a steep incline up a hill to the right. We’re talking too steep to go up without using your hands. On the incline to the right, a row of oak trees stood side by side with tall thin streetlights, casting the only light around, as it was a new moon. Ahead, we could see two hundred meters of trail, wide pools of orange light broken up by the deep black shadows under the limbs of the oak trees. But the path was flat and straight, so although the areas beneath the trees were inky dark, you could see there was no one else ahead of us on the path. The only sound was the gentle breeze and the frogs and insects in the creek.

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East

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Storm.

It’s always been there, behind us, whispering through the shuddering ground. A background roar behind the wind. We’d been ahead for so long, moving slightly faster than its clockwork crawl. Until the mountains. Then, as we ground ourselves upward against these slopes, we heard it rumbling closer, a rising quake in the earth. But it’s been a while since I turned around and actually saw it. Sitting here on the side of the mountain, in the frigid morning, it fills my vision and stings my eyes with the monstrous unreality of it.

It rises like an unbroken wall into the sky, obscured only by the limits of my sight, fading into the clear blue, and stretching away north and south, curving away with the earth. The sunlight doesn’t seem to touch it. Nothing does. At the ground, where the churning wall of sickly blue lightning and black clouds grinds across the earth, I can see the Unmaking. The lower peaks, already shaking apart, burst and ablate away at the event horizon of the Storm. The land dips before the onslaught, as if shying away from the kiss of the boiling wall. I can feel the violence beneath my feet as millions of tons of ancient mountain falls away into its infinite maw.

It’s going to be on me in a few hours. I wonder if I’ll die when the peak caves away, crushed in a free-fall of slate and stone, or whether I’ll be alive when the Storm touches me, shredded and atomized, erased and Unmade. I wonder, again, what it might feel like.

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The Blues

The Blues appeared in episode 351 of the Pseudopod Podcast. I am beyond thrilled to have made a sale to the very market that got me interested in writing short horror.
 
 
The first wave hits me as I stand on the old bridge, looking down into the green and still waters. It’s like an army of fingertips, starting in my scalp and tracing down my skin and I shudder involuntarily. Familiar fog takes shape in my mind, a cotton candy spiderweb, snaring thoughts and vibrating in time with the wind through the trees. In the distance I can hear King hollering, followed by the tinkling sounds of shattered glass, and then Leif’s laughter.

I shut them out, make my world the rusting footbridge, the warm air, and the dark water below. An untouched bubble of space that I alone inhabit. On the worn concrete abutment beneath me, someone has scrawled in white paint the words LOOK UP, and I do so, without thinking, the command bypassing conscious thought. The sky is perfectly blue, cerulean above me and cornflower in the distance. I tumble the words through my hands, adding to them: azure, cobalt, bondi, indigo, ultramarine. The blues merge and swirl, dripping through my hands leaving long streaming trails of letters.

I shake my head and laugh loud, listening to the sound travel on the warm breeze. Happy. For the first time in many months, I am free, in control. My life is my own again.

“Rog! Roger!”

I try to ignore the voice, but I know Alex is already walking down the bridge toward me. The brief surge of freedom is already starting to fade. I try to hold tight to the moment, leaning out and surveying the debris choked creek beneath. What I had taken for a filthy styrofoam beer cooler catches my eye, and I look closer and see a green and mossy haunch. A rotting human thigh, the remaining skin greenish white, the rest of the body vanishing into the algae choked water.

I feel sick, the last scraps of joy congealing, turning rancid. The fear is creeping back in. I turn to Alex, my island of calm in the half-year storm, and watch him walk towards me like a barefoot saint, his sandy hair tangled and wild. His wide and white grin lights up his face beneath dark eyes, and the fear does not vanish, but halts its approach.

“How you feeling, Roger?” He asks, his eyes twinkling.

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