Tuesday, May 14, 2024

“Claws” • by Gareth D Jones

 

Smoke drifts, red lights glare, sirens blare. 

Metal creaks as the ship continues its tortured roll. Silence. Silence from the crew, passengers, scientists. No voices, no answer. Only the noise of metal groaning, loose items rolling across the deck.

Metal cupboard, barely bigger than a cupboard. Andjela cowers, knees pulled up against chest, arms wrapped around knees. Pyjamas, fluffy gown, bare feet. Cold. Like being in an oven waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the door to close. Through the crack of the open door, across the hold, something moves.

Red light outside. Sirens. Deck creaking, something clacking.

Andjela whimpers.

And somewhere outside—

Door hisses. Seals shut.

And somewhere outside is—

Clicks, lock secured. Green light.

Green light. Green light. Not dead. Green light.

And somewhere outside is death.

Garbled voice, recorded, synthetic. Text across a screen. Launching. Dull thud of latches popping in turn.

And somewhere outside is death, and claws, clacking and clattering across the deck. Hunting. Nobody left to hunt.

Green light. Not dead.

Only Andjela left to hunt.

A shunt and Andjela rolls to the side, pushes up against the padded wall of the escape capsule. Hugs herself tighter.

Still the green light.

Shoves away from the crippled, dying ship. Boosted clear, holding tight to knees, rocking back and forth. Clear of the ship and its degrading orbit.

Somewhere on the ship is death.

Spinning around, inertia, rolling on heels and buttocks, bumping walls with arms and shoulders.

Green light. Not dead.

Nobody left to hunt. All dead.

Steady pressure against spine. Capsule boosting away from the ship.

And somewhere outside

outside

outside, 

through the hull. Clacking and clattering.

Somewhere outside is death. Come for a ride.

Green light. Not dead. Yet.

 


 

Gareth D Jones is an environmental scientist, writer and father of five, two of whom are also published authors. His first short story was published in 2004, and since then he’s had over 200 publications in 33 languages, making him unofficially the second most widely translated science fiction short story author in the world. Why unofficially? Because there’s no official ranking. From his involvement in the field, he believe he’s second, but could be wrong.

He started reviewing genre magazines not longer after his stories started being published, when he realised that many of the small press magazines received little attention in the way of reviews. Later on, he started reviewing novels too, mostly for SF Crowsnest. He’s currently on a sabbatical from reviewing, with over 300 reviews now published. He’s written five novels and, although none of them have yet been published, he remains hopeful. He’s also written a small handful of non-fiction articles on the subject of writing.

For more information, see http://www.garethdjones.co.uk

 



Sunday, May 12, 2024

“The Last Guardian of Tarugal” • by Kai Delmas


I drift onward through the endless night. 

My belly filled with fire keeps me warm and alive in this cold, dead space.

As I drift, I sleep. I sleep the long rest of the guardians. And as I sleep, I dream.

I dream of Tarugal. I spread my leathery wings and fly over its craggy mountains, its dense forests, the wide open seas. I breathe in the fresh and salty air alike.

I dream of what it used to be.

I failed my duty as guardian and slept too long. When I awoke everything was turned to ash. I found no creatures left to protect. No other guardians remained.

I was alone.

But that was long ago. Once I was sure that there was nothing left and I had roared my last fiery breaths of fury, I launched myself in the air and flew higher than ever before.

Tarugal was lost, yet it clung to me. The winds grew cold, buffeting me. They tried to keep me from leaving but there was no reason for me to remain. I flexed my wings and used all my strength to rise through the ever-darkening skies until the winds stopped and all that remained was the endless night.

I have been traveling ever since. I drift through this space, away from the sun that I once knew and ever onward until I find a new home.

I hibernate and dream until something flickers in my mind. My senses come awake and I open my eyes. Something is out there. I am not alone.

It’s still far away but I can see it. A long white tube of metal. My wings are useless in the space of the endless night but the fire in my belly rumbles and its strength propels me forward.

My guardian senses have lain dormant for so long, it feels strange to have them reawaken. That was the flicker in my mind. I can feel living creatures within the metal tube that is about twice my size. There are dozens of them.

What are they doing out here? So far away from any sun, any planet. Can they truly live there, locked inside?

I wonder if they are in need of a guardian? If they need me to guide them to a new home, for them and me?

I come ever closer to the white metal tube and await contact. I can feel the life within but I cannot connect my mind to theirs without touch.

My fire settles and I slow down. Something is released from the tube. They seek the touch. I extend my claws to meet their metal canister. It holds nothing living so I don’t know if it will work.

When the canister collides with my scales there is a mighty explosion. One much greater than the metal tube itself.

I understand why they would want to get rid of it but why did they send it towards me?

Already, I feel my old guardian senses tingle with satisfaction. The explosion could not harm me but I was there to protect them from it.

Then another metal canister is released from the white tube and it begins to turn away from me, gaining speed.

The canister explodes when it reaches me and they send another.

My guardian senses flicker in irritation. They had more canisters with them. Many more. They were not getting rid of them, they were trying to get rid of me.

The fire inside me seethes. It rages, demanding to be set free. These tiny lives within that tube are not worth guarding. They’re harbingers of destruction. They could have been the ones who destroyed my beloved Tarugal.

My fire rumbles and sends me onward. Canisters explode on my claws and scales. More and more of them come my way but they will not stop me.

I rake my claws across the metal and tear it apart. Red lights flash within and I see the little creatures that dared attack me.

One by one I feel their lives dim and flicker out. My claw finds its way to their canister storage and the whole white tube goes up in a ball of flame.

And again, I am alone.

I close my eyes and drift there for a long time. I wait. For what, I do not know.

I don’t understand why these creatures attacked me but I know that not all life in the endless night is like them. Life on Tarugal was not like them.

Somewhere out there I will find life that needs a guardian like me.

And so, the fire in my belly rumbles and I drift onward through the endless night.



Kai Delmas loves creating worlds and magic systems. He is a slush reader for Apex Magazine and The Cosmic Background. His fiction can be found in  Zooscape, Martian, Crepuscular, and several Shacklebound anthologies. His debut drabble collection, Darkness Rises, Hope Remains, was published by Shacklebound Books. If you like his work you can support him at patreon.com/kaidelmas and find him on Twitter @KaiDelmas or Bluesky @kaidelmas.bsky.social




Check out the entire series!

The Week in Review • 12 May 2024

Welcome to The Week in Review, the weekly round-up for those too busy to follow Stupefying Stories on a daily basis. This week we turned control over to Pete Wood, to present the winners of The Pete Wood Challenge “Tristan da Cunha” contest

Pete’s challenge this time was pretty simple: to write a flash fiction story of no more than 175 words in length, set on the island of Tristan da Cunha, the “most remote inhabited archipelago in the world.” (Fittingly enough, one of the islands in the chain is named ‘Inaccessible Island.’) As usual, the challenge winners came through with five wildly different and yet delightful stories, and this time Pete was so inspired by the idea that he even wrote his own response to the challenge—therefore, no “Never-ending FAQ” column this week.

In ascending order, the winners are:


“Canned Kraken,” by Tobias Backman

(Honorable Mention: Published 6 May 2024)

So what do you do when you have a multi-ton dead kaiju blocking up the entrance to the only decent harbor on the island? 

» Read it now

 

 

“Floating Light Over the Waves,” by Brandon Case

(Honorable Mention: Published 7 May 2024)

Here’s the story of a man who went to the island to get away from it all, only to discover that he’d gone a little too far.

» Read it now

 

“A Snail’s Pace,” by Pete Wood

(Editor’s Choice: Published 8 May 2024)

In a world with teleportation, where everyone everywhere is just seconds away, where do you go to slow down and relax?

» Read it now

 


“A Quiet Where Magic Can Grow,” by Kai Holmwood

(Third Place: Published 9 May 2024)

Fan favorite Kai Holmwood delivers a little tale of something wonderful that needs really special growing conditions…

» Read it now

 


“The Sirens’ Salvation,” by Kimberly Ann Smiley

(Second Place: Published 10 May 2024)

The war between the mermaids and the sirens had gone very badly. Now the sirens clung to one very small territory, and one last long-shot hope…

» Read it now

 

 

“The Potato Singer,” by Ian Li

(First Place: Published 11 May 2024)

Johnny dreamed of being a singer, although he knew he didn’t have the voice for it. Even the cows in the pasture fled in terror at the sound of his singing voice. Wasn’t there anywhere he could go to practice?

» Read it now





Saturday, May 11, 2024

“The Potato Singer” • by Ian Li


Johnny knew he didn’t have the voice for it, but he dreamt of becoming a singer nonetheless. 

St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s deemed his voice unsuited for hymns, and the Albatross Bar didn’t do much live music (or that was their excuse when he asked anyway).

His mum even forbade him from singing at home, claiming it disturbed the peace. “Why not pick a normal occupation?” she grumbled. “Potato farmer? Cattle farmer? Sheep farmer? Chicken farmer?”

Since no one appreciated his singing, he ventured all the way to The Patches to let it out. Even cows and chickens he encountered fled upon hearing his voice. But the potatoes didn’t. All summer, he’d lean against the rocky walls of his family’s fields, belting out song after song.

At harvest time, his family discovered their potatoes grew thrice as big as everyone else’s. When others learned of Johnny’s contribution, everyone invited him to sing to their potatoes.

Thereafter, islanders and tourists alike visited The Patches to hear the legendary Potato Singer of Tristan da Cunha.




 

Ian Li (he/him) writes speculative fiction and poetry and lives in Toronto. Formerly an economist and consultant, he loves spreadsheets, statistical curiosities, and brain teasers. Find his writing in print or forthcoming in Solarpunk Magazine, Radon Journal, and Flame Tree Press, as well as at https://ian-li.com

His most recent appearances in our pages were “Summit, in Memory” and “Hosting a Tempest.”

 

 


 




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Friday, May 10, 2024

“The Sirens’ Salvation” • by Kimberly Ann Smiley


A pod of her sisters raced towards Elder Pesinoe, disturbing her daily vocal exercises.

“Elder, we have news!” said a young siren, her skin flushed a deep green. “Men have left the island in a boat. Lots of them!”

The Elder had been ready to admonish the others, but this was worthy of interruption. “Show me!”

The sirens darted towards a tiny island, called Tristan da Cunha by the land dwellers.

After losing the war with the spiteful mermaids, a small settlement on the remote island was the only place humans lived in the meager territory the sirens still claimed. Deprived of an adequate supply of men, their population had dwindled drastically.

But, by the Gods, the youngling had spoken true!

Men had left the safety of land. Fifteen were braving the seas in a narrow boat. All looked to be strong and healthy.

With so many fathers, the sirens could rebuild! In time, they’ll be able to challenge those smug mermaids again.

This would be their salvation!

Elder Pesinoe cleared her throat. “Sisters, it’s time to sing!”




 

Kimberly Ann Smiley was born and raised in California but now lives in Mississippi after an unexpected plot twist. She has several pieces of paper that claim she is a mechanical engineer and none that mention writing, but has decided not to let the practical decisions made in her youth define the rest of her life. Her stories have appeared both here on Stupefying Stories and in Daily Science Fiction and Sci-Fi Shorts.

Learn more at https://kasmiley.wordpress.com/

 




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Thursday, May 9, 2024

“A Quiet Where Magic Can Grow” • by Kai Holmwood


Benny had heard the joke all his life: Tristan da Cunha is so quiet you can hear the grass grow. It sounded like something from one of his books about dragons and knights and adventures, but of course there was nothing magical on Tristan da Cunha.

He, along with everyone else, really did hear it when an unfamiliar sound of something growing came from near the peak. Those who remembered 1961 said it was nothing like the volcano’s preparation to erupt.

When almost everyone decided to investigate, Benny heard another unfamiliar sound: keys clinking in pockets after people had locked their doors, many for the first time.

The curious crowd trekked the green-flanked path, through mist, past swooping gulls. They emerged above the clouds near Queen Mary’s Peak to see a waist-high egg gleaming opalescent. It crumbled as they approached, revealing a flame-feathered bird.

“A phoenix,” Benny breathed. “How? And why here?”

The phoenix ruffled its feathers into place. “Nowhere else in this world remains quiet enough to leave room for magic,” it answered. “Listen. Can’t you hear the grass growing?”

 



 

Kai Holmwood holds an MA in Writing from the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand and was awarded the H. W. Hill Prize at UC Berkeley. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Solarpunk Creatures, Stanchion, DreamForge, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. She lives in rural Portugal with her Brazilian husband and two giant formerly stray mastiffs.

Kai’s most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “The Captain’s Mistake,” a story that turned out to be a huge fan favorite. Check it out! 

 

 

 




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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

“A Snail’s Pace” • by Pete Wood


Kurtz wanted the entire world to be five seconds away.

Maggie pretended to lose phone service and switched to email. She’d had enough of Kurtz’s rants, even 8,400 miles away from her boss and Corporate in Los Angeles. Kurtz could zap to Cape Town in seconds. It’d still be six days by boat to her home on Tristan da Cunha.

From her bungalow balcony she gazed out at waves crashing on the beach. Gulls squawked. A fishing boat puttered by. She sipped sangria.

She skimmed Kurt’s latest email rants. She didn’t care if Tristan da Cunha—unlike most of the world—still didn’t have instantaneous transport pods. So what if the Luddite Resistance had blown the transport depot in Iqaluit to smithereens. She understood how that remote arctic town felt. Her village wanted the world to be far away, too.

She’d snail-mail him her resignation. Corporate wouldn’t get bragging rights for connecting the world. Nobody else on the island would replace her. 

Maggie slipped on sandals and slung her guitar over her shoulder. She ambled down the well-worn meadow path to the village pub.




Photo by Lee Baker
Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past few years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles. Along the way he’s introduced us to the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Kimberly Ann Smiley, Kai Holmwood, Brandon Case, Jason Burnham, and many, many more. We suspect Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Pete Wood photo by Lee Baker.




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Buy the four latest issues with just one click!

(Or buy just one, if that’s what you’d really prefer.)

 

The Pete Wood Challenge is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Once a month Pete Wood spots writers the idea for a story, usually in the form of a phrase or a few key words, along with some restrictions on what can be submitted, usually in terms of length. Pete then collects the resulting entries, determines who has best met the challenge, and sends the winners over to Bruce Bethke, who arranges for them to be published on the Stupefying Stories web site.

You can find all the previous winners of the Pete Wood Challenge at this link.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

“Floating Light Over the Waves” • by Brandon Case


After weeks at heaving sea, I arrived at Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote inhabited island. 

I came burnt out, seeking solitude. But the isolation was heavier than I imagined.

The quiet howled. The calm was a hurricane of absence.

Lost, I stood in the island’s small harbor.

An old fisherman approached, his eyes wrinkled like nets pulled from the ocean. He said, “Son, your heart sinks, but modern loneliness has no place here. Visit our potato patch and help a family harvest.” Into a little red boat, he departed alone but light, floating over the waves.

I did as bidden, helping with the potatoes of one family, then another. When a roof needed repair, I lent my hands.

Little by little, my heart quieted enough to accept the island’s stillness. A balm found not in solitude but community—at the remote edge of empire, where neighbors still rely on each other.

Of the old fisherman, none of the islanders knew.

But on quiet evenings, I often glimpse a little red boat, floating light over the waves.




Brandon Case
is an erstwhile government cog who fled the doldrums into unsettling worlds of science and magic. He has recent or forthcoming work in Escape Pod, Air and Nothingness Press, and The Dread Machine, among others. You can catch his alpine adventures on Twitter and Instagram @BrandonCase101.

P.S. If you appreciated this one, be sure to check out Brandon’s other recent contributions to Stupefying Stories, “Divided Sky, Stolen Life,” “Leave the Plasma Gun, Take the Cannoli,” “Writers Strike Reaches the Office of Predestination.”, “Spin Drive Class with Captain Ryan,” and more!

 

Most recently, his flash fiction piece “Astronaut Countdown” got a lot of love from readers of Stupefying Stories. Check it out!


 




Have a Kindle? Find out what you’ve been missing!
Buy the four latest issues with just one click!

(Or buy just one, if that’s what you’d really prefer.)

 

The Pete Wood Challenge is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Once a month Pete Wood spots writers the idea for a story, usually in the form of a phrase or a few key words, along with some restrictions on what can be submitted, usually in terms of length. Pete then collects the resulting entries, determines who has best met the challenge, and sends the winners over to Bruce Bethke, who arranges for them to be published on the Stupefying Stories web site.

You can find all the previous winners of the Pete Wood Challenge at this link.

Monday, May 6, 2024

“Canned Kraken” • by Tobias Backman


I stepped out of the gale, into the old factory. Alex had called for an island meeting, because of the giant lobster-squid-thingy blocking Calshot Harbor. First meeting since the blackout, since last contact with the outside.

He still ran at a mainlander tempo, though. Had not bothered waiting for stragglers.

“…Take pictures and sail east. Should get the tourists pouring back.” Alex grinned, spread his arms wide. “The Kraken of Tristan da Cunha.”

I shook my head, limped towards the makeshift dais. He was young but had an old-world way of thinking.

The last of the researchers shouted something about samples and universities. More old-world thinking.

I could not let two mainlanders throw something like this away, because they dreamed of a world that had probably been burned to ashes.

I got through the crowd, glanced at the abandoned canning equipment. It would drain our last diesel reserve, but only an idiot chose diesel over food.

“Cut it up and can it.”

The researchers turned green. I could not help smiling.

Kraken probably would taste like shit, though.





Tobias Backman is a Danish fantasy and science fiction author. He dreams of writing novels one day, but right now his attention span is limited to the shorter side of fiction. His stories have previously appeared in magazines such as Daily Science Fiction and Grievous Angel. He occasionally rambles about stories and writing in general over at www.tobybackman.com.




Have a Kindle? Find out what you’ve been missing!
Buy the four latest issues with just one click!

(Or buy just one, if that’s what you’d really prefer.)

 

 


The Pete Wood Challenge
is an informal ad hoc story-writing competition. Once a month Pete Wood spots writers the idea for a story, usually in the form of a phrase or a few key words, along with some restrictions on what can be submitted, usually in terms of length. Pete then collects the resulting entries, determines who has best met the challenge, and sends the winners over to Bruce Bethke, who arranges for them to be published on the Stupefying Stories web site.

This time the challenge was to write a flash fiction story of no more than 175 words in length, set on the island of Tristan da Cunha, “the most remote place on Earth.” It’s a fascinating place. When you have spare time, you should read the Wikipedia article about it.

You can find all the previous winners of the Pete Wood Challenge at this link.

More stories to come!

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Week in Review • 5 May 2024


Welcome to The Week in Review, the weekly round-up for those too busy to follow Stupefying Stories on a daily basis. The theme for this week was “April showers bring May flowers,” so we published five stories at least tangentially related to this notion, plus continued our conversation on the topic of AI-generated narrations for audio books. One of these days we’ll have to use Amazon’s A.I. to generate an audio book of René Descarte’s Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences. That way, we really can hear an A.I. say, “I think, therefore I am.”


“Symbiosis” • by Jeannie Marschall

The humans came to this planet to study the ecosystem. They didn’t expect to become a part of it.

Published: April 29, 2024

“The Flowers I Grew for Her” • by Avra Margariti

Continuing with this week’s theme… oh, I’m not going to give you any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it.

Published: April 30, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: A.I. and U 2

Continuing our discussion of A.I.-generated audio book narration. No Irish rock bands were involved. However, Brown Swiss cows were.

Published: May 1, 2024

“Rocket Spring” • by CB Droege

“You know, the weather on your planet would be much nicer if it was just a bit closer to the sun. You don’t mind if we move it, do you?”

Published: May 2, 2024

“The Phoenix in the Rain” • by Michael Ehart

In which we jump a few years into the future to catch the last-ever performance of Rigoletto in the Gran Teatro La Fenice. It was beautiful.

Published: May 3, 2024


“Seedling” • by Eric Fomley

We end the week with the sort of happy little tale we’ve come to expect from the writer who prefers to be known as “Prince Grimdark.” Feed me, Seymour!

Published: May 4, 2024


Next Week: The Pete Wood Challenge returns, with new stories from Tobias Backman, Brandon Case, Kai Holmwood, Kimberly Ann Smiley, and Ian Li!