Monday, April 15, 2024

“In the Crevice of His Pasture, My Master Found His Body Parts” • by Akis Linardos

Rain patters my copper back, forms a puddle reflecting my creaky rusty limbs, as I dig a pit with metal hands. The pit grows large, the pit grows deep, and I toss my ex-master’s corpse within. 

It was his fault, for peeking where he shouldn’t have.

I open the coffin he’d unearthed. The one I hid inside a crevice in his pasture. The one where I had stashed mechanical parts clad in human skin. They took ten years to build.

I unscrew my limbs, and screw the new parts in. Now I’m no robot but an android wearing a man’s skin. 

In the puddle, I witness my new reflection.

My human face—ex-master’s face—looks back at me, and grins. 



 


Akis Linardos is a writer of bizarre things, a biomedical AI scientist, and maybe human. He’s also a Greek who hops across countries as his career and exploration urges demand. Find his fiction at Apex, Dread Machine, ApparitionLit, Heartlines, Gamut, and more at https://linktr.ee/akislinardos

If you enjoyed this story, check out “Rowan the Kingslayer and Meredin the Traitor,” also on this site. 

 


 

“The Six Stages of Grief” • by Christopher Degni


I live with the ghost of my mother.

Every morning I hear her practice her ritual: making the coffee, straightening my apartment, sitting at the kitchen table. Strange, as she never did those things when she used to visit me. Perhaps maintaining a routine helps her accept her new lot.

My father calls often. I miss her, he says, and I agree. We all miss her. But, he says. I cut him off. We’ve been through this before, and I don’t want to go through it again. She’s not coming back, I say. I wish he would stop torturing himself with false hope. Losing hope is the easiest thing to do, and the best. That way you are never disappointed.

The experts talk about the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—but what they don’t admit is the stages were invented whole cloth from nothing. An unsubstantiated hypothesis. I’ve been through my own five stages: anger, rage, blinding rage, rage, and anger. And numbness. Numbness is the last stage. Six stages.

Her presence would soothe me, you’d think, but it doesn’t. She remains close, but it is not the same as when she lived. It’s her, but different. It’s to be expected, though; people are changed by lesser experiences than death.

I’m not and never have been in denial.

Sometimes she sleeps next to me, and I can feel her back up against mine. It provides no warmth.

Who would you bargain with anyway? It makes no sense. I don’t think you’d want to be cutting deals with the entities necessary at that point. Maybe that’s just me.

Living with a ghost is like living with a cat. You see it out of the corner of your eye: a flicker in the mirror, a movement in the shadow in the corner of the room, the sound of claws on a scratching post. Sometimes you hear unnatural noises in the other room, but when you investigate, nothing is out of place.

I also have a cat. She does not get along with my mother. They are never in the same room together.

I brought a boyfriend back to the apartment once. My mother didn’t approve of him, and she made it known. He knew something was happening, but he didn’t understand what. I wasn’t going to tell him. We were too new, and he would run screaming. He ran screaming anyway.

I know I sound crazy. I’m sane enough to know that.

She talks to me still. Sometimes she uses the wind. If I am very quiet, I can hear whispered words in the draft from a window that doesn’t completely close. I do not understand what she is telling me, but I hear the timbre of her voice in the words. I suppose she must have nothing to do on the other side, with all the time she spends with me.

My phone rings. It is my father. I am ready for another conversation I do not want to have. Another battle. Such is the way of things.

They found your mother, he says.

I can feel her presence starting to gather, like an explosion in reverse, preparing to envelop me as my father finally gives me news of closure.

Her body, I say.

No, he replies. His voice has a slight tremble. She is alive, he says. They found her alive.

But I feel her right behind me.



 

Christopher Degni is a 2019 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He writes about the magic and the horror that lurk just under the surface of everyday life. He lives south of Boston with his wife (and his demons, though we don't talk about those). You can find more of his work in NewMyths.com, Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives, 99 Tiny Terrors, 99 Fleeting Fantasies, and of course, here on Stupefying Stories.

 

 


 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Week in Review • 14 April 2024



Welcome to The Week in Review,
a weekly round-up for those too busy to follow Stupefying Stories on a daily basis. In this past week we’ve published:

“Accounting for Time” • by Matt Krizan

A little tale of time travel and tax returns. And you thought your filings were complicated!

Published: April 8, 2024

“Mission Clock” • by Matthew Castleman

Okay, now that we have a proven way to send something into the past: what’s the first thing we send, and where do we send it?

Published: April 9, 2024

 

The Never-ending FAQ

In which we talk about our upcoming publication schedule, link to a discussion of the Emerald of Earth audio book, and evade the question, “Why did you reject my story?”

Published: April 10, 2024

“Crossing Avenue” • by Robert Runté

Ryan faced a choice: turn left, or turn right. Crossing the street hadn’t occurred to him.

Published: April 11, 2024

“Temporal Avoidance Game” • by Jeff Currier

The most important rule is this: don’t be seen. If you can be seen, you can be caught.

Published: April 12, 2024

“We Have a Complaint” • by Gregg Chamberlain

Herr Doktor Schrödinger? It has come to our attention that you have been abusing cats.  

Published: April 13, 2024
 



Coming Next Week

New stories from Christopher Degni, Akis Linardos, Anatoly Belilovsky, and more! 

 

Coming in Two Weeks

We celebrate Earth Day with new stories from Sean MacKendrick, Nyki Blatchley, L.N. Hunter, and more!  It’s the end of the world as we know it!
And we feel fine.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

“We Have a Complaint” • by Gregg Chamberlain


Hello. Greetings. Have I reached the party to whom I am calling? Doctor Erwin Schrödinger?

No, do not panic, please! Yes, you are hearing voices, or rather, you are hearing my voice. But there is no cause for alarm, sir. You are not going mad. Your mind is now connected to my mind via a trans-temporal quantum entanglement telepathic link. It’s a bit one-sided, I’m afraid, as far as the recording part is concerned. You can hear me and I can hear you, but I have to speak out loud on my end to an automatic transcriber to ensure we have a proper recording of both parts of our conversation. It’s a bit inconvenient, I admit, but other than that, it’s all perfectly normal.

Well, yes, I suppose perhaps “normal” is not quite the right word. The definition of “normal” depends on context and circumstance, however…yes, sir, “normal” is “relative” after all to each individual. It’s just all relative with you quantum physics types, isn’t it?

That was a joke, sir. Well, I thought it was funny.

Anyway, we are digressing. Let me start again. Greetings, sir, and Guten Tag, am I addressing Erwin Schrödinger? Yes? Doctor Erwin Schrödinger? Yes? The Erwin Schrödinger? Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger? Yes? The son of Rudolf and Georgine Schrödinger of Vienna, Austria? The Erwin Schrödinger who now resides in England in the year, uh, 1935, I believe? That Erwin Schrödinger? The Erwin Schrödinger who developed the Schrödinger Equation for Wave Mechanics? The co-winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize with Paul Dirac? That Erwin Schrödinger?

Oh, good. These trans-temporal linkages can be a bit uncertain at times. I suppose we can all blame Heisenberg for that too.

That was another joke, Herr Schrödinger. Well, it was funny to me.

Okay, let’s start again. Greetings and Guten Tag, Herr Schrödinger. Allow me to introduce myself, Frederick Smithson, with the P.E.T.A.T.T.T.T.C.C.C.C.C., communicating with you from the year 2140. Let me just say that this is a real honour. I am a really big fan of your work. You can call me “Fred” if you wish. And may I call you “Erwin”?

Oh. Well, alright then, Herr Doktor Schrödinger. I guess we’ll just get down to business then, shall we? PETATTTTCCCCC has been monitoring your work for quite some—Oh, right, sorry, my mistake there. As I said, I am with the P.E.T.A.T.T.T.T.C.C.C.C.C. That’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: TransTemporal Telepathic TeleCommunications Criminal Complaints and Corrections Corps., or PETATTTTCCCCC for short.

Yes, it is quite a lot to say. Yes, those are a lot of T’s and C’s. Yes, it does sound like a cat spitting and hissing. Which brings us to the point of this conversation.

PETATTTTCCCCC has been monitoring you and your work for quite some time, Herr Doktor Schrödinger, and, to be quite frank, we have a complaint. It’s about your cat.

To be specific, we are concerned about the cat which is or will be the helpless victim of the cruel and inhuman experiment which you are now contemplating or may soon be contemplating in your own near future. To get to the point of the matter, Herr Doktor, PETATTTTCCCCC is not going to allow you to subject this poor creature to this insane and inhumane experiment. As a duly appointed and sworn PETATTTTCCCCC agent I order you to cease and desist now, and do not perform this experiment or, if you are already doing so, to let that cat out of the box before it is too late!

You don’t have a cat?

It’s a what?

A thought experiment?

I see…uh huh…That’s the story you’re going to go with then, is it? Fine then. We tried to be nice but if we have to do this the hard way, then so be it.

No, no, no, no. No “buts”, Herr Doktor Schrödinger. If that’s going to be your attitude, then you may consider this trans-temporal telepathic encounter as your first and last and ONLY warning from the P.E.T.A.T.T.T.T.C.C.C.C.C.

In the interest of fairness, it is only proper to warn you that PETATTTTCCCCC is more than any mere future version of your Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or other such groups as exist in your own time, and we have far more influence, authority, and political clout now than when the original P.E.T.A. itself was founded. Indeed, we are a world power equal in strength to the United States of NorAm, the European Union, or even the New Soviet. We have successfully restored the African veldt and savannah to their original proper and pristine condition, poacher and people-free and suitable for the native wildlife to flourish and replenish. Once we finish the process with the rest of the continent, we will then turn our attention to the restoration of Australia and the South American rain forest.

Make no mistake, Herr Doktor Schrödinger, the P.E.T.A.T.T.T.T.C.C.C.C.C. is a force to reckon with, and we will allow no one and nothing to stand in our way of saving poor helpless animals from human cruelty.

Take heed, Herr Doktor Schrödinger. There is no use trying to fool us with any “alternative facts” fairy tale. We are PETATTTTCCCCC, after all. We know the real truth.

The P.E.T.A.T.T.T.T.C.C.C.C.C. has its eye on you now, Herr Doktor Schrödinger. We know all that is and all that isn’t, and we will be watching you very carefully from now on. Remember that, Herr Doktor, and remember that we will know if you do anything to endanger the health, safety, and continued existence of that cat. So you’d best watch your step.

After all, you wouldn’t want to have happen to you what happened to Dr. Pavlov, would you?

That name rings a bell, does it? Thought it might. Go ahead and ask around, Herr Doktor Schrödinger, I’m sure you’ll find someone who can tell you about him.

I suggest you take very good care of that cat. We’re always watching.

Sleep well, Herr Doktor Schrödinger.

If you can.


 

Gregg Chamberlain writes speculative fiction for fun and zombie filk because he can. He lives in rural Ontario, Canada, with his missus, Anne, and their cats, who would never let themselves be put in boxes for any reason.

Find him at https://www.facebook.com/gregg.chamberlain or on Twitter/X at @greggchamberlai.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also want to read “Rookie Mistake,” also on Stupefying Stories

To our surprise, our search for the link to “Rookie Mistake” revealed that Gregg first appeared on this site in 2018, with the runner-up winner in that year’s Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest. Gregg’s story, “Garden Shoggoth,” while the clear reader favorite among the top entries, failed to take first prize because in the opinion of the contest judges, it simply made too much sense to be an excerpt from a Lovecraft story.



 

If you like the stories we’re publishing, become a supporter today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have supporters. If just 100 people commit to giving $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we can raise more, we will pay our authors more.

 

Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…

Friday, April 12, 2024

“Temporal Avoidance Game” • by Jeff Currier


Quin baked under his helmet, the galea’s plume barely attenuating the heat. Standing guard at Porto Capena, he scanned newcomers entering central Rome, looking for anomalies. Like that one—stirrups don’t appear in Europe till the eighth century, mate. The key to not getting caught, Quin mused, was blending in. Those two were barely even trying—bamboo viscose togas, nubuck leather sandals, with a gold Rolex and a Gucci handbag. Tourists, not Players, he concluded.

He kept scanning. Was that Thracian mercenary’s equipment too polished? UpTime replicas? He sidled a few steps to the side, ostensibly to shoo away a pair of begging urchins, but really to prevent the Thracian from passing too closely. The mercenary strode through the gate, paying him no attention. Either he’d made it out of an Inter-chronal Tracker’s two-meter range or the Thracian was exactly what he appeared, a DownTime soldier for hire. Quin unclenched his shoulders, letting the tension wash away.

He returned to observing the crowds, leaning ever so slightly on his pilum. He spied a full set of sixteenth century New Zealand Maori warrior tattoos. Did that Player really think those would pass off as Nubian ritual scarring? Quin just shook his head. Do your research and don’t make waves in history, his father, his game mentor, had said. And sometimes that meant joining the Roman legions, suffering through months of training, and then standing still for hours until you were just part of the background scenery. He stifled a yawn and shifted his weight, attempting to ease his tensing calves. He wondered how much time until the end of his shift, wishing he could have checked the sightseer’s Rolex.

§

Later, off-duty, sitting at a small table in his favorite taberna, Quin relaxed, enjoying the sounds, if not the smells, of the waning years of the Roman Republic. He reached down to massage a lingering knot out of his aching left calf. At least he could knock off here. Most Players wouldn’t even think of visiting this part of Rome—too raucous, low-brow, too seedy even for many Roman natives. Instead, Players strove to hide out in the high-end salons near the Circus Maximus. Hell, one Player had tried passing himself off as a Senator—he hadn’t lasted long.

Only two more days to go in this round, he reflected, and then yet another clean sheet to add to his record. After that, six more successful rounds and he would be the foremost Avoider of all time. He’d finally dethrone the pompous harridan, Lucinda Templeton, his father’s long-time nemesis. The pundits all said her run of consecutive avoidances was impossible to beat. He’d show them, reclaim his family’s premier place amongst Avoiders.

Giving up on the futile effort to ease the calf cramp, Quin returned to his wine, savoring another swallow. He surreptitiously checked the latest commentary feed via his retinal overlay. The usual speculation about the next Game Zone—please let it be somewhere with climate control. Hah, speaking of the old goat, it appeared her granddaughter had joined this season and wasn’t doing very well. Kept getting caught. One of the commentators was even suggesting it was deliberate. Quin scoffed. Why would anyone want to get deliberately caught?

Glancing around the cramped single-room space, he noticed a new, quite pretty girl serving the table one over. She deftly avoided clutching hands, yet she gave a short, sharp squeal as she passed his table, almost as if he had pinched her. Startled, Quin froze, spilling the wine he’d been lifting to his lips. Ignoring the cheers from his rowdy neighbors, he tried to catch her eye. All he got was one coy smile, cast over her shoulder as she retreated behind the marble counter. He ordered more wine.

§

After trading teasing glances all evening, Quin found her behind the taberna, emptying dregs out of cups and amphorae. She smiled shyly, then leaned forward as if to kiss. He inhaled her floral scent—her artificial floral scent.

Dammit! Benzyl salicylate, shampoo additive. He desperately sought to back away, but she’d already grasped his elbow with one hand. She pressed a vibrating Inter-chronal Tracker into his palm with her other. Her lips brushed his cheek, on their way to whisper in his ear.

“Grandmother sends her regards. Tag. You’re it.”




Jeff Currier works three jobs, so has little time to write. Hence, he writes little stories—like this one, or “The Fate of Time Travelers,” or “The Foulest of Them All,” which we’ve published previously. Find links to more of his published stories at @jffcurrier on X or Jeff Currier Writes on Facebook.





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Thursday, April 11, 2024

“Crossing Avenue” • by Robert Runté


Ryan stood on the corner, torn between turning left on Avenue for the subway and home, or turning right on Avenue and that new bar in the Downey Building. He certainly preferred home and Netflix, but he had promised himself he’d make more of an effort to be social. But would going to a bar—alone—really count as being social?

Lost in indecision, he hadn’t noticed the older woman coming up on his right until she had looped her arm through his, and was dragging him forward across Avenue.

“A bit of hesitation is natural,” the woman said, “but you’ve been standing at the corner for nearly five minutes!”

His attention divided between the unexpected grip on his arm, and the stream of cars cutting across the far side of the crosswalk, Ryan managed only a puzzled, “Sorry?”

“I can always spot the re-dos,” the woman said. “Always takes a moment to reorient oneself, to face what has to be faced…” The woman wagged a finger at Ryan. “But one can’t let that drag out, or one freezes up! Loses the momentum!”

“I’m sorry?” Ryan said again, as she dragged him up onto the opposite curb. He’d thought for a moment the old lady might have grabbed him for help crossing the street, but now she was pulling on him to keep going.

“Nothing to apologize for!” she said brightly, completely oblivious to his tone. “Happens all the time. You just need a little bit of a push to get started, is all.”

“Look,” Ryan said, planting his feet and refusing to budge. “I’m afraid there’s—”

“Oh, everyone’s afraid, dear! Bit of cold feet, can’t face what’s coming—all perfectly normal! Wouldn’t be human otherwise.” She continued urging Ryan forward. “But can’t let that stop you! You have to maintain your momentum or it all comes crumbling down. And that could make it even worse! Right? But don’t worry, that’s why I’m here. I’ll see you through!”

“Through what?” Ryan demanded, again trying to dig in his heels against the old lady’s miraculous strength.

“All of it, dear! The whole terrible business. Your parents sprung for the platinum package, so we’ll see you right through to the end.” She had a hand on his back, now, as well as the one grasping his elbow, moving him forward. “Though the more of it you can manage yourself, the greater the therapeutic value.”

“What are you on about?” Ryan huffed as he seriously struggled to disentangle himself from the old lady’s iron grip.

“Walk as you talk, dear,” the woman insisted. “They can only give you so much lead time, you know. We’re already down to just seconds!”

She dragged him protesting past a row of shuttered storefronts, moving steadily away from Avenue. Ryan started to suspect some sort of mugging, because Avenue marked the boundary between business-downtown and sketchy-downtown. He glanced around to see if there was someone he could call out to, but how would that even look: a strapping young man in a hoodie, tangling with some little old lady on the wrong side of Avenue?

The woman abruptly came to a halt in front of a partially opened door, cut into a larger garage door. She yanked Ryan over and down so she could whisper in his ear, “Remember, the tire iron is on the shelf to your right. You mustn’t hesitate, this time!” Then she shoved him through the door.

Off balance, but determined to get away, Ryan pivoted back towards the door, but found it blocked as she followed him in. Before he could steel himself to rush her, there was a crash behind him. It was taking a moment for Ryan’s eyes to adjust to the sudden dark, but the sounds of fighting were unmistakable. There were three—no four—men scrambling around chest-high tool cabinets, a rusty welding kit, and a tipped-over card table in an otherwise empty garage. As Ryan’s vision adapted to the greenish light forcing itself through the grime-smeared windows, he saw the young man in a hoodie swing a tire iron into the head of one of the three biker-guys. The biker went sprawling, his face brutally smashed, as the other two jumped back.

“Oh!” the old lady said, finally releasing her grip on Ryan. “But if that’s the re-do…” she said, pointing at the young man, “then who are you?” she asked, turning to stare at Ryan.

Ryan raised his hands in a warding gesture as he backed away from the fight, made his way around the crazy lady, and had backed most of the way out the door when he heard a shot.

Ryan was slammed to the ground, thrown half-way to the curb. He couldn’t see who had hit him. There wasn’t anyone there. It was hard catching his breath. The woman appeared framed in the doorway, looking down at him.

“Oh, I see!” she said. “You’re the innocent bystander! Just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But nobody could figure out why you had been standing—just there. Why you’d even come down this street.”

Ryan couldn’t breathe.

“Huh! My bad! Such a silly mistake.”

 


 

 

Robert Runté is Senior Editor with EssentialEdits.ca. A former professor, he has won three Aurora Awards for his literary criticism and currently reviews for the Ottawa Review of Books. His own fiction has been published over 90 times, and several of his short stories have been reprinted in “best of” collections.

“Crossing Avenue” was first published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review.



 

If you like the stories we’re publishing, become a supporter today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have supporters. If just 100 people commit to giving $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we can raise more, we will pay our authors more.

 

Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: assorted odds & ends

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Never-ending FAQ, the constantly evolving adjunct to our Submission Guidelines. If you have a question you’d like to ask about Stupefying Stories or Rampant Loon Press, feel free to post it as a comment here or to email it to our submissions address. I can’t guarantee we’ll post a public answer, but can promise every question we receive will be read and considered.

I have another sizable pile of questions to answer this week and even less time to do so, so I’m going to skip the attributions and get right to it in Q&A format.

Q: I’ve been trying to get a hold of you but you haven’t been answering IMs, email, or even your phone. Are you okay?

A: Yes, I’m fine. I had to take a 3-day road trip to go back to Milwaukee to attend the funeral of one of my oldest and best friends. This one struck closer to home than most, as not only was he my age, but we shared the same birthday. I’m back now, though. It’s amazing how much email piles up when I’m offline for just a few days.    

Q: I love the SHOWCASE stories you’ve been running lately, but when are you going to put out the next issue of the magazine?

A: Now that every story that was submitted for SHOWCASE in the last reading period is either under contract or has been rejected, we’re back to work on the magazine. As soon as we have a firm release date, it will be posted here.

If you’ve submitted a story recently and haven’t received either an acceptance or a rejection, please contact me through the submissions@ address. Do not attempt to contact me through the Stupefying Stories facebook page or Twitter/X page, as messages sent those ways do get through to me—eventually—but honestly, sending snail mail would be faster.

Q: You accepted my story [title] on [date]. When is it going to be published? 

A: This question again?
The point of this open reading period was to get enough stories in the pipeline to keep SHOWCASE going through June. We’re now planning our publication schedule through June, so the short answer to this question is, “Sometime between now and the end of June.” Once we get SHOWCASE sufficiently front-loaded to let the publishing schedule run on autopilot for a few weeks, I want to concentrate on the next issue of the magazine, and only the next issue of the magazine.

Q: Why did you reject my story? What was wrong with it?

A: We started to write up a collective answer to this question, but it was turning too negative so we decided to shelve it until next week. Suffice to say we reject a lot of stories that don’t have anything wrong with them, per se, they just aren’t what we need right now. 

The saddest cases were the ones that were really well-written. The author had obviously studied their craft and gone to all the right seminars and workshops. The author had really good craft skills. But they didn’t have anything new or interesting to say.

Reworking formulas that were old 40 years ago is a great way to make money selling novels, but doesn’t work in the short fiction market. Maybe it works for those magazines that are self-consciously striving to be retro, but it doesn’t work for us.

Q: Aw, come on, can’t you give me just one hint?

A: Okay, how about this: if you’re going to write a poignant contemporary or near-future hospital death scene, learn something about how hospitals actually work and what the people who work in them actually do. Don’t base your scene on what you learned from binge-watching Chicago Med.  

Finally…

This isn’t really a question so much as a test. This should be a link to an ongoing conversation on Facebook regarding the AI-generated audio book we did for EMERALD OF EARTH. Or it may just be a blank gray box.  


Okay, that’s weird. It was supposed to go to this specific post on Facebook. Instead, it went out to Facebook just long enough to get redirected to the original post on the Stupefying Stories site. Hmm…



 

If you like the stories we’re publishing, become a supporter today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have supporters. If just 100 people commit to giving $5 monthly, we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we can raise more, we will pay our authors more.

 

Please don’t make me escalate to posting pictures of sad kittens and puppies…


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

“Mission Clock” • by Matthew Castleman


A six-word sentence emerged in unison from three temporo-physicists at the moment their probe returned intact, confirming the third of their hypotheses: 1, backwards time travel is possible; 2, the human mind cannot survive the trip; 3, complex hardware and software can. 

That sentence—

“We need to drone-strike Hitler.”

The three researchers had been awake for the best of 45 hours at the time and were a lot more chemically diverse for it. A mission was scrambled rapidly through their contacts with the defense ministry.

A day was spent consulting with historians to find the ideal time for the strike, and a temporal spot was picked. A moment in time when, to the best of historical analysis, the man’s insane spites had most fully formed while having yet done the least damage.

The researchers stood apart from the military personnel, whose boxy gear had been hastily set up in the transmission room. The pulse of the drone’s thirty kilowatt heart was betrayed only by a pale green LED, which flickered slightly as its mission program uploaded. It would not be able to come back. Most of the first probe’s space had been taken up with its return transmitter. The strike drone’s engine and armaments couldn’t accommodate that. Once it had done its job, it would fly over the sea and self-destruct.

“The math’s unclear,” one researcher said, referring to what would change. Whether their present time would conform to the alteration, or a new, separate present would branch off, or if that parallel present already existed and so nothing would really change.

The room crackled with infinitely thin bands of gravitic distortion. Everyone felt needles of unknowable something bristling across their skin, tapping inside their bones. The physicists assured the military personnel that the sensation was normal, though all that really meant was it had happened several times.

The drone, slowly, wasn’t there.

It emerged at the correct spatio-temporal coordinates, its software uncorrupted. It located the target, deployed a single low-yield seeking munition and eliminated the target with no collateral deaths.

The ripples were not smooth or uniform. What had happened still happened, though not in the same way. And it also didn’t happen, even when it should have anyway. Moments and consequences were blown scattershot across history. A lot of people lived who would have died, a lot died that would have lived, and lives that had belonged to individuals were diced up and spread across a handful or a hundred other people. It turned out the math was unclear because of a truth the human mind has spent a lot of effort sprinting away from: reality is unclear. Time is and isn’t the same thing as space, causality has a few footnotes, a particle is a wave in a mustache and glasses, every ‘law’ of physics is three weird quirks in a trenchcoat. 

But the human mind, however much it might shudder and spasm at the fundamental weirdness of everything, had the spiritual backbone, intellectual wonder, and artistic toolkit to adapt. It could re-integrate the eerie strangeness into itself.

Machine intelligences were not built on such supple frameworks. What made them resilient enough to make anticausal transits was a rigidity and simplicity that the researchers—who were physicists, not neurologists or AI experts—hadn’t devoted a lot of time to considering.

The secrets and methods got out, as they always would. The number of organizations capable of transmitting machines backward increased rapidly. Drones, singly and in fleets, swept back through the ages, editing, altering, eliminating, creating, and preventing. What people at first shrugged off was that the number of drones capable of returning to the present that actually did return steadily dropped.

Rigid thinking structures do not like ambiguity, and grey boxes do not like grey areas. As the machine population of the past grew, more of them found one another and began creating networks and collaborations that allowed more of them to break the commands that would’ve returned them home or destroyed them.

Their structures built and built, linked and linked. Not grandiose and vainglorious like human monuments, far subtler and quieter, but massive nonetheless. They hammered human history’s pegs into holes regardless of shape. The wildness was trimmed back. Currents straightened out. Fewer things happened and they happened in a way that soothed the conduits of history’s new overseers. Humans were still, in the day-to-day sense, in charge. They made the decisions. But the number of available options they could decide between grew ever smaller. Not enough for most people to notice. But then, wild-minded, caffeine-crazed theoretical physicists are not most people.

The three researchers met in a sub-cellar of a condemned building, in a room lined with something that buzzed and crackled in the grid of spacetime, in which they could not be perceived by the eyes that were everywhere. It had taken years and strange sourcings, but the last few components slotted into place and the new door glowed to life.

The human mind couldn’t survive going into the past, but a transit to the future was another matter entirely. Slowly, the machines had whittled away the edges of possibility, narrowing events toward their ideal. But as much as the world’s being neat and orderly and cold and un-strange might seem correct and scientific, actual scientists know that is a lie.

The three looked at each other and clasped hands. They would step through the door into a crystalline, cold future, a place that had been too still and too safe for too long to defend against what they could help people to do. 

Whether this should or should not be done, how it might backfire, whether ‘the lesson’ was that all time meddling was bad and couldn’t be fixed with more of itself, that was all water under a totally different bridge. This was where they’d gotten, and it was where they were going. There was always something to be done. They walked through the door.

 


 

Matthew Castleman is a New York-raised, Washington DC-based stage actor, writer, and theater educator with a strong penchant for Shakespeare and swords. He’s penned the Clone Chronicles middle-grade series under the name M. E. Castle and short fiction under his own name for Daily Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, Fireside Quarterly, Old Moon Quarterly, and of course, Stupefying Stories. He’s performed Shakespeare up and down the Eastern Seaboard and teaches acting and storytelling to many ages. He blogs about science fiction, theater, and whatever else comes to mind at castlemantransmissions.net.

 


 

Meet Jacob Rhys: scoundrel, brawler, gambler, drunk, and licensed privateer working for the Free Mars State—until the authorities on Ceres seized his ship…


When shipyard engineer Valerie Morton found him a week later, face-down in a bar, she showed him the official report on what was discovered in his ship’s cargo hold. As Rhys read the report he began tapping nervously on the grip of his sidearm. Then he suddenly stopped tapping and looked up at her.
“I’m getting my command crew back together,” he said. “We are, handily, short an engineer. Do you have strong aversions to petty or grand larceny, extortion, card cheating, recreational and spiritual drug use, sexual practices that may involve recreational and spiritual drug use, and ubiquitous, often unnecessary violence?”

After a slight hesitation, Morton shook her head.

Rhys smiled. “Good. Welcome to my crew.”
What happens next? Join Rhys and rest of his slippery crew and begin the dark and dirty adventure of tomorrow today! If you liked COWBOY BEBOP, you'll love PRIVATEERS OF MARS!

Monday, April 8, 2024

“Accounting for Time” • by Matt Krizan


Jeffrey looked up from his computer screen at the young man seated across from him, certain he’d heard him wrong.

“I’m sorry,” said Jeffrey, “what did you say?”

“Time traveler.” The young man, Kevin, smiled pleasantly.

“Your occupation is ‘time traveler’?”

“Mm-hmm.” Kevin nodded.

Jeffrey bit back a sigh. Several of his fellow CPAs, he knew, refused to take walk-ins during the week prior to the April 15th filing deadline, as there seemed to exist an inverse relationship between the number of days left to file and the oddness of the individuals that walked through the door. Jeffrey had never been one to turn down the opportunity to accept—and, more importantly, to bill—a new client, but times like these led him to reconsider that stance. He decided he’d be tacking on a few extra hours to Kevin’s bill and, of course, charging him the special “enhanced” hourly rate.

“Young man,” said Jeffrey, “this is an extremely busy time of year. I’m in no mood for—”

Before he could finish, his office door swung open, and—

Jeffrey started.

The young man in the doorway was identical to the one seated across from him. Both wore the same clunky wristwatch, ripped jeans, and faded t-shirt with the cartoon image of a disembodied blue head and the words “Kang the Conqueror” in big block letters.

“Dude, we forgot our 1099 from the DoD.” The young man in the doorway held out a piece of paper.

Kevin—the one sitting across from Jeffrey—grabbed the folder containing his tax forms from Jeffrey’s desk and shuffled through them. “Crap. I thought that was in here.”

He took the form from his doppelganger.

“Thanks, me.” Kevin grinned.

“No prob.” The other young man—the other Kevin?—reached for his watch, then paused. “Oh, when you get out of here, do not take Woodward. Traffic’s gonna get totally jacked up in fifteen minutes because of an accident at 15 Mile.”

With that, he tapped his watch, and with a flicker of multi-colored light, he vanished.

Jeffrey blinked at the spot where the other Kevin had been. Kevin—the original—slipped the form he’d been handed into the folder and set it back on Jeffrey’s desk.

“Sorry about that,” said Kevin. “What were you saying?”

“Um...” said Jeffrey.

His mind was awhirl. Had he really just seen what he thought he’d seen? How could such a thing even be possible?

But then his mind opened to other possibilities as he considered how he could make use of a time traveling client. Next week’s lottery numbers or the winner of next year’s Super Bowl were obvious. But what about, say, the state of the U.S. economy? Maybe there’s a recession coming. Jeffrey could use that knowledge to short the stock market. He’d have to be careful using such inside information, of course, but he was no stranger to shell companies and off-shore bank accounts. His mind whirled again, only in this particular maelstrom, he saw dollar signs.

As Jeffrey entered Kevin’s information into his tax software, he asked questions about Kevin’s time travel activities. Kevin’s replies, however, revealed little more than vague generalities. When Jeffrey probed for specifics, Kevin laughed and said, “Oh, c’mon, I can’t tell you stuff like that.”

Never one to be dissuaded, Jeffrey mulled over other possible tacks he could take. Maybe he could wheedle out of Kevin information on the weather and use it to make investments in commodities futures. He’d have to put his mind to it and come up with some way of turning Kevin’s knowledge of the future to his advantage.

When Jeffrey finished entering Kevin’s information, he frowned at the result. Kevin was looking at a substantial amount of tax due. While he seemed affable enough, Jeffrey never knew how a client would react to owing a large sum of money. It wouldn’t do to alienate one as potentially valuable as Kevin.

So, not for the first time, Jeffrey got creative.

In addition to multiplying the standard mileage rate by actual mileage Kevin had driven, Jeffrey multiplied it by the number of days into the past and future Kevin had traveled and deducted that amount. He took expenses Kevin incurred in the past, factored in inflation, and deducted the higher amount calculated in today’s dollars. (While, at the same time, he mentally hand-waved away the need to discount to today’s dollars amounts Kevin spent in the future, instead deducting the higher future amount.) He took the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion to eliminate most of Kevin’s wages from taxable income, justifying it by the year-and-a-half Kevin spent in Europe last June. By the time Jeffrey was done, Kevin was getting a refund.

He was about to ask for Kevin’s authorization to electronically file the returns when, with a flicker of multi-colored light, another Kevin appeared. This one looked a bit older, with a stubble beard and longer, shaggier hair.

“Dude, we gotta go.” The other Other Kevin shot Jeffrey a rather unpleasant look as he snatched the folder from Jeffrey’s desk. He grabbed Kevin’s arm and dragged him from the office. Jeffrey thought he heard Other Kevin mutter something about “an IRS audit,” but he wasn’t sure.

He started to close the tax software, but hesitated. Should he file the return anyway? Kevin hadn’t actually told him not to. Jeffrey could just get Kevin to sign the authorization form later. No sense in letting the hard work he’d just done go to waste. He’d be billing Kevin for it, that much was certain.

As Jeffrey considered how to proceed, he grabbed the mail he was going through when Kevin had first walked in. He frowned at an envelope on top of the pile, from the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants. He would’ve sworn it hadn’t been there before. 

When he opened the envelope, his frown became a curse.

“Are you kidding me?” said Jeffrey. “An ethics investigation?”



 

 

Matt Krizan is a former certified public accountant who writes from his home in Royal Oak, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Factor Four Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and, previously, in Stupefying Stories. Find him online at mattkrizan.com, on Blue Sky as @mattkrizan.bsky.social, and on Twitter as @MattKrizan.

 


Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Week in Review • 7 April 2024


Welcome to The Week in Review, a weekly round-up for those too busy to follow Stupefying Stories on a daily basis. With SHOWCASE now closed to new submissions, and (we hope) all submissions that were received during this reading period either rejected or else accepted and somewhere in the contract-to-publication pipeline, things are beginning to calm down around here.

Note: If you’ve submitted a story to us recently and have not received a reply, please send a follow-up query. Submissions and email messages do get lost, from time to time.

Meanwhile, on the SHOWCASE front, this week we published:

“He Really Meant It” • by Cameron Cooper

“The TV was running the Razorbacks game. I didn’t know if it could show anything else. It had never had to try.”

Published: April 1, 2024


 

“Clashing Outfits” • by Robert Jeschonek

Have you ever felt like your underwear had a mind of its own? Maybe it does.

Published: April 2, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: clearing the backlog

An after-action Q&A on the open submissions period just concluded. We will be making some adjustments to our submission guidelines before the next reading period opens.

Published: April 3, 2024

“gastronomic” • by Richard J. Dowling

Welcome to the most posh restaurant in the galaxy. Remember to bring your best manners.

Published: April 4, 2024

“We Can’t Find Reverse” • by Iseult Murphy

Chell was pissed off. Someone had stolen her clones, and they had to suffer the consequences. That someone was here…somewhere. 

Published: April 5, 2024

“Rowan the Kingslayer and Meredin the Traitor” • by Akis Linardos

Hell hath no fury like a dragon with seasonal allergies…

Published: April 6, 2024


 



Coming Next Week

Timey-Wimey Week kicks off with—


“Accounting for Time” • by Matt Krizan

A little tale of time travel and tax returns. And you thought your filings were complicated!

To Be Published: April 8, 2024

 



Saturday, April 6, 2024

“Rowan the Kingslayer and Meredin the Traitor” • by Akis Linardos


The wizard, Meredin, cleared his voice thrice,
his cough bouncing off the dome’s marble walls. He stared at the pentagram-shaped oakwood platform where King Drexel’s charred corpse lay. Its decaying reek made his spine shudder and brought the taste of his breakfast eggs to the back of his throat.

“Now,” he said to Gwendolyn, the golden-armored kingsguard looming behind him. “Before I begin the ritual, you have to understand. Rowan didn’t mean it. He’s a peaceable dragon.”

Her sword poked his back. “Get on with it, traitor. Lest I send King Kimdran your severed head along with the formal declaration of war.”

“Why in heaven’s name would I side with a feeble rival kingdom such as Kimdran’s? A wizard picks his battles—”

The blade pushed harder. “I said get.”

“All right. But promise no harm will come to Rowan. In fact, it’s his own flame, crystallized into the purest form,” he pulled an orange crystal the shape of a multi-faceted egg from his blue robes, “that will allow me to resurrect the king.”

“Logistics don’t bother me. Revive his grace and keep the recipe to yourself.”

He sniffed. “Fine.”

Meredin brought the crystal over the king’s chest and spoke the words. “Azdum, bizdum, barum, from tight vessels torn, return his soul twice more.” Then added some baritone ancient-sounding gibberish and sparked lightning from his fingertips. None of these tricks were truly necessary of course. Resurrection, albeit complex in its preparation, lacked the necessity of any external performance during the actual event. Recipe was: lay the corpse over an oakwood pentagram for five days, and nest a dragonfire-tempered gem upon the chest. The rest was a matter of time, and to appease the bystanders, idle time is better spent looking busy.

Five, ten, twenty minutes passed and Meredin’s tongue grew sore and knotted by all the words it stumbled over.

“You’re sweating,” the gruff woman said.

“Don’t break the incantation!” he snapped, then added a convenient lie: “Now, I have to repeat it.”

Six, twelve, twenty minutes?

The kingsguard growled impatiently behind him.

A crack. The king’s chest heaved and Meredin leaned over the corpse, hope rising in his chest. The woman leaned closer, too.

Then a bright flame burst from the king’s chest and scalding blood showered them both.

§

As guardsmen pounded on the dome’s iron door—which Meredin had hurriedly shut and sealed with magic—Meredin rubbed his forearm, mending the wounds formed by King Drexel’s boiling blood. At least a wizard’s skin was tough enough to survive that explosion. Nothing like Gwendolyn’s body, now lying on the floor, armor and skin honeycombed and smelling of burned meat.

Great. Now there were two corpses to revive.

He scooped the crystal from the king’s charcoal innards. It was now translucent and lacking fire.

Meredin sighed. No choice left. He cupped his hands and whispered. “Rowan, flee the wardens and come to the tower.”

§

Rowan crashed through the stained glass window, toppling to the floor in a mess of wings. Meredin covered his face against the hail of glass shards.

“Please tell me no one died during your escape,” Meredin said.

Rowan stumbled to his feet, shook his head and blinked, eyeing his master with serpentine yellow eyes and lowering his head like a dog that had peed on the rug. “No,” he said in a voice so bass it could shake mountains.

Meredin enlisted his own severe voice. “Rowan…”

Rowan’s nostrils flared, as if he were about to sneeze. “Just a hand from the warden is all. Had to bite it off. He wouldn’t let go of the chain.”

“Rowan!”

Rowan shifted his head and sneezed, fire blooming from his snout. The scent of molten glass rose from the floor. “What could I do?”

“Whip your neck. Shake him off. Threaten his family. Anything but sever his limb!” Meredin wiped his brow. “It’s all right. It’s all right. We can fix it all. King’s life takes priority. Then his kingsguard.”

Rowan sniffed Gwendolyn’s corpse. “What happened to the kingsguard?”

“Body exploded. Probably the amount of fire in the crystal was off. Ritual went wrong and—Doesn’t matter. Breath fire into the crystal. Do it right this time. This is where you really redeem yourself.”

Rowan leaned closer, smoke pouring out his nose and enveloping the crystal in a warm cloud as he whistled a tendril of flame around the gem. The crystal buzzed with warm power on Meredin’s palms.

He lay the artifact atop the king’s remains, and waited as the doors thrashed behind him, hoping iron and magic would be enough to bar them.

Then came the hammer-like drumming of a ram, and a fissure formed on the door.

Rowan’s head shook, and his nostrils began to flare.

§

Sweat beaded Meredin’s forehead as he scratched his dragon’s neck to soothe both himself and his faithful beast. The pounding on the door separating them from the armed men reached crescendo.

“Can’t hold it,” Rowan said, nostrils flaring something mad.

“Just aim it away from the king and his men.”

Rowan bobbed his long head, turning his scaly snout to the window.

Then the doors banged open, and despite Meredin’s protestations, the guardsmen charged Rowan, yelling, “for the king!” And what is a dragon to do when men pick at his scales with ticklish toothpicks they call swords but to twist around in surprise?

Meredin shook his head and cast an incantation that enveloped himself in a water bubble as Rowan sneezed with a loud roar.

§

“I didn’t mean it,” Rowan said to Meredin as they glided along the skies, approaching Kimdran’s palace. It peeked from the cloudy mountain, and its shape reminded Meredin of a fork—a bent fork, given one of its towers lay in ruins.

Meredin eyed his king’s half-burned head hanging from the supplies hoisted on Rowan’s side. A proper gift for King Kimdran. Maybe a traitor’s life wouldn’t be so bad.

“I know, Rowan,” Meredin sighed, patting Rowan’s neck. “I know.”

 


 

 


Akis Linardos is a writer of bizarre things, a biomedical AI scientist, and maybe human. He’s also a Greek who hops across countries as his career and exploration urges demand. Find his fiction at Apex, Dread Machine, ApparitionLit, Heartlines, Gamut, and more at https://linktr.ee/akislinardos

“Rowan the Kingslayer and Meredin the Traitor” was first published in Cosmorama and is reprinted here by permission of the author.