Tuesday, October 31, 2017

RESULTS: The Friday Challenge, 10/13/17 edition

After much thoughtful and careful deliberation, we have discovered that if you give seven stories to a nine-judge panel, the awesome power of pure mathematics takes over and you end up with 63 different opinions. Therefore in order to select the winner of  the October 13 Friday Challenge, we now appeal to the Wisdom of the Crowd.TM

On the other side of the Read more » link you will find the three short stories that we have determined to be the three finalists. In the right column you will find a survey widget, which you can use to vote for your favorite. In the Comments section you can of course leave whatever comments you may feel moved to write.

The challenge, as you may remember, was to write a story that answers the question, What if the dead really do care about what happens to the flowers on their graves? Herewith, we present three authors’ answers to that question. Note that these stories have been “anonymized,” to make the judging as even-handed as possible.

Let the voting begin, and may the best story win. Winner—and a new Friday Challenge—to be announced on Friday, November 3rd.

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “My Dead Uncle Rob,” by Stephen A. Dickson

A week ago, my Uncle Rob died.

The priest at the funeral talked about how everyone who knew Rob was blessed. That made me sad. I’d only met him a few times and never had much of a chance to hang out with him. Uncle Rob and Dad never got along. Dad’s never told me why.
When it was Dad’s turn to stand up and talk he had tears in his eyes. He said that he and Uncle Rob had fought for years over stupid, idiotic things. And now he could never make up with his only brother. His voice made me sad too, even though I don’t know what having a brother is like. I’m an only child.
When Aunt Ellison stood up and talked about Uncle Rob I couldn’t help but cry. “He always liked to play,” she said, tears running down her face. At the end of the service we were supposed to step by the casket and look at him one last time. Mom wept. Dad Cried. Grandma got real quiet.
I said, “I wish we could play.”

[...read the rest of the story...

¤     ¤     ¤

Stephen A. Dickson lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. A reader from an early age, Stephen grew into an intense love of fiction, spending what some would suggest was far too much time inhabiting worlds other than his own. This lifelong fascination with speculative fiction, whether it be published fiction, computer programs, or tabletop gaming, guided him, in part, to an even stranger destination: Working for the State of North Carolina with a Masters Degree in Public Administration. Today, Stephen is still an avid consumer of speculative fiction, except now he puts this experience with the worlds of others—and importantly, the perspectives that shaped those worlds—to work. Stephen is new author who most enjoys telling those unconventional stories; stories told through the subversion of preconceived notions, values, and perspectives that might elsewhere remain unchallenged.

In the Mood for a Scary Movie?

Nine Netflix (Streaming Only) Movies to Marathon on Halloween
by Jocelyn DeVore

When it comes to compiling movies for a marathon, I follow the “High Fidelity” rules for making a compilation tape. According to Rob Gordon, the rules are as follows:

  1. You have to kick it off with something that will grab their attention,
  2. Then kick it up a notch,
  3. But you don’t want to go overboard, so you have to cool it down
For the perfect Halloween marathon, there are a few extra considerations to keep in mind:
  • Various movie tastes (slasher versus atmospheric movies, for example)
  • Manage your time. Plan out which intermission will include ordering the pizza, popping the popcorn, and setting the mood for trick-or-treaters. The peak trick-or-treating time should coordinate with the movie which best sets the mood you are aiming for.
  • Audience temperament. Are they chatty? Easily excitable? Are you looking for jump scares or a slow burn?
Check out the two categories of movies below. Depending on how much time you have, choose a couple from the first category and a couple from the second. That’ll average out to 8 hours of good, wholesome fun.

Monday, October 30, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Midnight, San Francisco,” by Samuel Marzioli

Stellan slouched against the bar, hands cradling a shot glass as if he were warming an unhatched egg. For hours, he’d kept himself to himself, tipping back an assembly line of shot glasses, not bothering to look up long enough to notice anything beyond the increasing blur of wood grain on the counter-top. So when a stranger sidled up beside him and whispered “Hi” into his ear, his arms jerked and the contents of his glass doused his hands in whiskey.
“Sorry,” the stranger said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

He looked up. Irritation painted a scowl on his face for both the interruption and the loss of four bucks worth of liquid apathy. But the moment he saw the stranger clearly, his expression shifted into wide-eyed awe. She wasn’t just hot; she was goddamn beautiful, with creamy skin, eyes the color of amethyst, and lips red as fresh-shed blood. And her body? The perfection of its curves would have made the greatest master sculptors of old weep and blush with envy.

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

Samuel Marzioli is an Italian-Filipino author of mostly dark fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Best of Apex Magazine (2016), Shock Totem, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Myriad Lands Vol. 2 (2016). You can find more information about his latest projects at : marzioli.blogspot.com

If you enjoyed this story, you might also want to check out "Smart Money," from very deep in the SHOWCASE archives. 

The Clock is Ticking!

Remember, the Kindle Countdown deal on The Recognition Run ends in 1 day 17h 6m 23s.

Which I guess means that that's when TWO: The Second Annual Horror Special goes out of print, too. 

Hey! Why not splurge and buy 'em both?!

Considering my story, "An Incident in Cain's Mark", is currently in my collection, Trouble My Bones, and is about to appear in Merchants of Misery (edited by yours truly), it probably seems like you can't throw a stick at the moment without hitting it. But as of early next month (see below for details), Rampant Loon's TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special, is going out of print. TWO was where "Cain's Mark" first appeared, and I have to tell you, it's one of the finest horror anthologies I've ever read. There isn't a bad story in it, and for .99, you can't beat the price. I would encourage everyone to download a copy before it goes away. If you've never read Stupefying Stories (TWO is basically just an all-horror edition), this would be a great entry point. It represents the best of what Bruce Bethke and company do, which is produce quirky, quality fiction the likes of which we haven't seen since Amazing and Aboriginal SF went the way of the dodo.
-- L. Joseph Shosty, author and freelance editor

1 day 17h 5m 30s: the clock is TICKING!!!!!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Maintenance in Progress

For some reason all the Follower-related widgets in the left column have quit working and instead are returning 502 errors. Is anyone else seeing (or rather, not seeing) this, or is it just another fluke of our peculiar Internet configuration?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kindle Countdown Deal: The Recognition Run


As we try to learn the mysterious ways of Amazon, we've signed up for a Kindle Countdown Deal. Therefore, for the next 3 days 16h 33m 32s -- I have no idea why, but Amazon tells us this incredibly precise "ticking clock" is important -- you can get THE RECOGNITION RUN on Kindle for the special promotional price of just $0.99 USD!

...3 days 16h 31m 20s...
"Struck from the template of classic space opera, this tale of intergalactic adventure hits all of the right notes. It has a likable hero and heroine, nasty villains, a plot full of intrigue and unforeseeable surprises, and a colorfully rendered outer-space backdrop against which its well-paced events unfold. Vogel's prose is perfectly suited to the story he has to tell--one in which he must give voice to a score of different characters and move quickly from moments of quiet intimacy to scenes of brisk and frenetic action. His simple, direct storytelling style gets the job done."
--BookLife Prize critique 
 ...3 days 16h 28m 48s...
"A great new series by Henry Vogel. In addition to his usual scifi thriller/adventure story, Vogel has added a generous splash of mystery, a computer slicer (hacker) character, and an atmosphere of political intrigue among royal families, reminiscent of C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series and George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, only with a more positive attitude."
 ...3 days 16h 27m 52s...
"Great start to what I hope is another series from Henry Vogel! Lots of action and intrigue, strong female characters, romance, and surprising twists and turns!"
 ...3 days 16h 27m 03s...
"Henry Vogel has produced an excellent story involving raw passion for power and survival. It captures your imagination as you follow each one in their path to their doom. And, in an incredible twist, delivers an intriguing justice. Well worth reading."
...3 days 16h 26m 14s...
"This is my first book written by Henry Vogel -- definitely won't be the last! This is more than Science Fiction - it has elements of the mystery/thriller, as well. His characters are well-drawn and you actually like them and care what happens to them. Danger and twists abound as Jeanine and Drake try to solve a mystery which could affect the galaxy (and has ramifications all the way to the royal family). Look this one over - get it - read it - and enjoy!"
...3 days 16h 25m 21s...
"Another fun and entertaining book by Vogel. The Recognition Run is firmly in the sci-fi genre but this time in a world with political conflict and power struggles that remind me slightly of Dune. The Recognition Run introduces readers to a new universe where there’s not only space ships, but also a royal family, a world ruled by a Duchy, a mysterious stone, and a rebellion in the works. [...] Overall I was intrigued and excited about the mix of plots. There is a lot going on in this book, and it’s a great start to a new series by Vogel that I’m excited to see where it heads. I really enjoyed this book and its been my favorite of all the books by Vogel so far."
...3 days 16h 23m 27s...
"Once again, Vogel has given his readers a pair of characters (Jeanine and Drake) who are at once interesting, intriguing, and endearing. There's a puzzle of galactic importance, to be solved, and danger is waiting for the couple around nearly every turn. The characters are well-crafted, the pacing is absolutely perfect, and any reader who's enjoyed Robert Heinlein or Andre Norton will absolutely love this book!"
...3 days 16h 21m 48s...
"I really enjoyed this first book in Vogel's latest series. I enjoyed the mix of royalty, rebellion and political intrigue in this exciting science fiction thriller. The characters are quite engaging and the plot is fast-paced and has several unexpected turns of events. The heroes are endearing, funny and everything else that a good hero should be. However, I was surprised by how much I also enjoyed the witty, intelligent, and cunning villains."
...3 days 16h 20m 51s...

Friday, October 27, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “In Fall, After the Harvest” by S. Travis Brown

The little cybernetic gadfly popped up as soon as I logged in. “Dave Miller,” it dutifully nagged, “you are now 15 minutes overdue for your appointment with the company fitness consultant.”

Right. I clicked the ‘ignore’ button to kill the message and then continued with my morning routine.
As soon as I brought up Outlook, though, the message returned: this time in red, and with a flag. It was on my calendar. At the top of my To-Do Bar. Waiting in my email inbox and claiming to be “Urgent.” I had just about enough time to sigh and swear, and then my phone chirped. It was Heather, from HR.


I cut her off. “Heather, how many times do we have to go through this? I am six-foot-four. I weigh 165 pounds. My doctor says I’m skinny as a rail but healthy as a horse. I do not want to work out, I do not want to weight-train, I do not want to join the company’s charity plod-a-thon team, and above all I do not want to take some idiotic fitness test first thing this morning and then spend the rest of the day smelling like a sweaty goat. I have a meeting with—”
This time it was her turn to cut me off. “Sorry,” she said, “but Frank set this appointment up for you personally.”

Oh, great...

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

S. TRAVIS BROWN has described himself as being both the former holder of the world’s record for cynicism and an old guy whos been there, done that, and with any luck, the statute of limitations has expired.” We do know he was once a very successful writer, until the winds of taste switched direction and the types of stories he liked to write fell out of favor. When his own agent advised him (just before dropping him) to adopt yet another new pen name, preferably female this time, and to start his career over again from scratch writing paranormal romances, he said [intercourse] this, I am not Doctor Who and decided to go do something else instead. We don’t hear from him often, but are always happy to use his stories when he’s willing to send one to us.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Waters of Oblivion,” by Michael Haynes


Jackson always calls hyperspace the “waters of oblivion.” It seems an odd affectation, out of character with the rest of his carefree personality. His parents are both dead and he has no close relatives; he’s told me he plans to work the hyperspace runs until he’s thirty and then retire young and wealthy.

I asked him about the phrase once, and he wouldn’t answer me. Two days later ship’s time, after we’d completed the three-jump journey to the Karibib outpost to drop off our cargo, he turned to me and said “I took it from an ancient text.” Then he walked away.

I didn’t realize what he’d been referring to until many minutes later.

¤     ¤     ¤ 

MICHAEL HAYNES lives in Central Ohio. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Daily Science Fiction. He is Co-Editor at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. His website is http://michaelhaynes.info/.

Friday Challenge Deadline Reminder

Just a gentle little nudge here, to remind you that the deadline for the current Friday Challenge is midnight CDT tomorrow, Friday, 10/27/17. If this post has you thinking, "Huh? What's a Friday Challenge?" you'll find a little more information here:

While we're on the subject, I'll add that I'm really pleased (and mildly surprised) by the number of entries we've received thus far, so I'll be issuing a new challenge tomorrow. We might not have the resources to make The Friday Challenge a weekly feature, but every two weeks just *might* be within reason.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

99-Cent Last-Chance Sale: TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special

TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special goes out of print as of November 1, so for the next seven days you can buy the Kindle edition only for the special last-chance price of $0.99 USD. (Or free, if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.)

I'd always considered TWO to be one of our biggest, best, and most cohesive books, as it contains fourteen short stories and two complete novelettes: a baker’s dozen and then some of ghosties and ghoulies, vampires and zombies, monsters and mayhem, and things that go bump in the night. But while it sold well enough, it fell victim to our usual brand-recognition and release-timing problems, and never became the breakout book I'd hoped it would be.

Nonetheless, it is a terrific collection, and if you like horror, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

TWO: The 2nd Annual Horror Special, features:
  • “Second to Last Stop” by Evan Dicken
  • “Cabrón” by Jóse Iriarte
  • “Blood and Water” by Rose Blackthorn
  • “Gris-Gris for a Mal Pris” by Rebecca Roland
  • “Zombie Angst, or How to Pair Human Brains With a Good Chianti” by Stone Showers
  • “Wall” by Yukimi Ogawa
  • “A is for Android” by Holly A. Cave
  • “The Things That Perish Along The Way” by Keith Rosson
  • “Choice” by Shona Snowden
  • “Offworld” by Anton Sim
  • “An Incident in Cain's Mark” by L. Joseph Shosty
  • “Professor Pandemonium's Train of Terror” by Simon Kewin
  • “It Came From Hell And Smashed The Angels” by Gregor Xane
  • “The Waiting Line (Many Elbows)” by Leah Thomas
  • “The Revenge of Oscar Wilde” by Sean Eads
  • “Eulogy to be Given by Whoever's Still Sober” by Nicole Cushing
Available for Kindle only, and for seven more days only, at this link:

(Non-US readers: this link should automatically redirect to the Amazon site for your region. If it doesn't, let me know.)

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Edvard Munch,” by Robert W. Hobson


Sebastian Kane flew across the second floor of the mansion like his ass was on fire and his head was catchin’. His blue shirt was torn and bloody, his jeans were rags and equally as red, his chest would need an entire spool of thread to put back together, and he would be eating soup for the next week.

He hit the stairs, ignored them, leaped over the bannister, and dropped fourteen feet to the marble floor below. He landed in a three-point stance, flipped onto his back, drew his .50 Desert Eagle pistol from his hip holster, and pointed it up at the hall he’d just run down.

When he spoke, his jaw ground in its socket. “C’mon, c’mon.”

Sebastian stood and pulled the pistol close to his chest. “No such thing as vampires, my ass.”

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

ROBERT W. HOBSON is a retired soldier. He has two published works, Camel in the Wire and Not Everything Goes BumpCamel in the Wire won the Literary Guild Complex award for best non-fiction November 2011 and was featured in Columbia College Chicago’s Hair Trigger 35.  Not Everything Goes Bump was published in Stupefying Stories, Mid-October issue, 2012. He is also a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a Masters in Fine Arts.  Robert lives in Berwyn, Illinois, with his lovely wife Cathy, a dog named Scully, and a cat named Mystique.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye,” by Carly Berg

Jackie oughtn’t watch. Yet she waited, heart in wild rhythm, for The Kennedy Conspiracy Theories to begin. Anniversaries of the incident were hard, the ten years intervening barely helped. She would finally watch. Jackie set aside the stack of papers from her latest volunteer committee. She made her way across the plush aquamarine carpet and pushed the intercom button.

“I’ll have lunch now. In my sitting room…The usual Thursday diet plate will be fine. What’s on Ari’s calender?... In Paris until Monday. Okay, then. Consuela? Bring a pitcher of dacquiris, too.”

Jackie opened the drapes. The cold steel and concrete of Fifth Avenue below looked nothing like Dallas in March. That unpleasantness belongs to a different time and place. It doesn’t matter anymore. She lit a cigarette with the big ceramic table lighter, inhaling deeply.

When the maid left, Jackie turned the television’s volume knob up. Words and images veered in and out of her focus. The Warren Commission. Lee Harvey Oswald. The KGB. Castro… Did someone else show up as well, with an agenda of his own? Everything afterwards was a blur. She only remembered her silly hat...

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

Carly Berg is a dark cloud hovering above sunny Houston. Her flash stories appear in dozens of publications. She welcomes visitors to her site: carlyberg.com.

Monday, October 23, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “The Beast,” by J. L. Phoenix

October, what a month. People in this world are so fascinated with their “holidays” that they set aside any remaining good sense and judgment they have to allow for fun and festivities. Fools. They make the tasks of the underworld disgustingly easy, even more so than in the days of the plague in the Dark Ages, when strange deaths were a part of everyday life. The beast is hungry. He knows it’s time to feed, and these fools are ripe and waiting to be plucked from the vine.
We invented this holiday all those years ago so these simpletons would let us walk among them without fear or worry, at least for a part of the year. Now they celebrate us, pretend to be us, even come to us looking for a bit of “Halloween fun” and ask us to read fortunes or cast spells, looking for magic potions to fix their miserable, broken lives. They might as well throw themselves in the beast’s bowl and lather on the gravy.

Preparations for the feeding were behind schedule this year, as some ingredients are becoming harder to acquire with the ever-dwindling population of the local covens, and an increasing number of amateur “witches” buying things they have no business touching. But my struggles are of little importance; the beast will hear no excuses. I must appease his hunger.

[...read the rest of the story...

¤     ¤     ¤ 

J.L. Phoenix is a lifelong lover of the fantasy realms who spends his days buried in technology (dreary day job stuff), his family (his reason for being), role playing games, or literature (reading and writing). He also enjoys leisurely drives to take in the beautiful Michigan scenery as inspiration.

Life Here in the 21st Century

Here in Minnesota, the seasons change fast. A week ago it was nearly 80 degrees outside. Last night, the temps dropped into the low 40s. The forecast calls for it to dip down near freezing by Wednesday morning, with the possibility of snow on Friday.

To deal with these kinds of changes we have a dual-control electric blanket, so that my wife and I can set the temps separately for our respective sides of the bed. She usually prefers it a little cooler than I do, except when she summons the powers of Hot Flash Woman, and then she kicks off all the covers.

Last night, though, the controller for my side of the bed malfunctioned. My side of the blanket never did switch on; the controller just sat there blinking out an error code all night long. I got online with tech support first thing this morning and solved the problem in a matter of minutes, by receiving and following the instructions for rebooting the blanket. But still...

Rebooting the blanket. I have trouble wrapping my mind around that idea. I needed to reboot the blanket. I needed to contact tech support to get the instructions for rebooting the blanket.

As we plod along into the future, and into the coming age of the Internet of Stuff, I can't help but wonder what other adventures lie in wait?
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bethke, but your toilet lost Internet connectivity last night and you won't be able to flush it until a technician replaces the NIC card."
What do you think will be the most useless and preposterous household device to be put under digital control and blessed with Internet connectivity?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Fulfilling,” by Jocelyn DeVore

I’d been born and raised in sunny Florida, so isn’t it ironic that the one thing I fear most in life is a night-stalking bloodsucker? I’ve spent many nights staring out my bedroom window at eyes glaring back at me from the trees.
My friends and family think I’m crazy, of course. Which is why they will be utterly horrified when they see my lifeless body completely drained of blood one morning. I can see it now: my mother would walk into my bedroom to ask me if I want pancakes or waffles (despite my open distaste for the first option), only to be greeted by the gruesome scene of her daughter with two puncture marks on her neck (or my wrist, or my breast—I really don’t know what vampires prefer). She would be numb with the bombardment of both sadness and anger. Until she finally floods my room with tears and wails (no, not the kinds with fins—though sometimes she sounds like one). Of course, reality isn’t nearly as romantic as TV would make it seem. Or so I found out when my worst fear came true.
[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤ 

JOCELYN DEVORE is a writer and storyteller from the Pacific Northwest. She has written for a number of non-fiction online magazines and is a cozy mystery ghostwriter. She is still learning how to properly use a semicolon and frequently breaks the rules for sentence fragments because she finds them punchy, dramatic, and short. Just like her. She also writes, directs, and produces her own Lovecraftian audio drama, Poplar Cove.

When she’s not writing, you can often find her curled up on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee, or watching a scary movie on Netflix. You can also find her online at www.jocelyndevore.com.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “This Cat Must Die!” by Jason Lairamore

The heavy ceramic angel sitting high on the shelf above the sliding glass door was perfect for what Sham, the ethereal, had in mind. That fat, orange cat had to die. Its death was the only way he could become a real ghost.

Late morning sun shining through the glass door warmed the tiled floor. That cursed cat, Cadmus, loved nothing more than to lay there to sleep.

Sham positioned the angel in just the right spot. At this distance from the floor, the force of the falling figurine should kill the cat easily. Then Cadmus could sleep forever.


[...read the rest of the story...]

JASON LAIRAMORE is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his beautiful wife and their three monstrously marvelous children. He is a published finalist of the 2012 SQ Mag annual contest and the winner of the 2013 Planetary Stories flash fiction contest. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 30 publications to include Perihelion Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Third Flatiron publications, and Postscripts to Darkness, to name a few.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “The Van Helsing Women’s Shelter,” by Aaron DaMommio

I answered the door myself, as I always did when the shelter had visitors after dark. The gaunt man on the doorstep swept aside his cloak with one hand.

“I am Nikolai,” he said. “I haff come to take Lucy home.”

More than his emaciated physique, the power of his stare gave him away. I sighed. This happened less and less as word spread, but there were still some stubborn types in the nosferatu community. They’d come out of the coffin, but hadn’t adopted the Internet.

“I’m Doctor Maria Van Helsing,” I said. “And you are not welcome here.”

[...read the rest of the story...]

Aaron DaMommio is a husband, father, writer, juggler, and expert washer of dishes who lives in Austin, Texas. He is currently obsessed with Dorothy Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series. You can find him on the web at aarondamommio.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 16, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “I, Boy,” by Stone Showers

Henry Newman and I had been friends ever since his parents first brought him home from the yard sale. I didn’t care that he was older, and it didn’t matter to me that he couldn’t swim or speak seven languages. In so many ways, Henry was just like me, and because of that we did everything together.

In the mornings he and I would walk to the bus, or run, depending upon our mood. After school, we’d ride our bikes up Isaac’s Ridge and spend the afternoon searching for slugs and other creepy-crawly things. Sometimes we’d play hide-and-seek among the trees, our laughter breathing life into the forest. Henry and I spent practically every waking moment together. Except when it was raining, of course. On those days Henry’s mother made him stay inside.

The boys in the neighborhood often made fun of Henry—the way he talked, and the color of his skin. Jimmy Martin even suggested there might be something wrong with Henry, and I think he may have been right about that. Unlike the other second-graders, Henry knew nothing of the periodic table and he couldn’t conjugate even a single Latin verb. Whenever he tried to recite Mandarin, the other children always laughed at his pronunciation. I felt sorry for Henry, and tried to stick up for him whenever I could. But for some reason, Henry never seemed troubled by the insults.

“I’m just different from everyone else, that’s all, and I think that frightens them.”

[...read the rest of the story...]

¤     ¤     ¤

Stone Showers lives in Central Oregon with his wife and two children. His fiction has recently appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Zetetic, and Ember, A Journal of Luminous Things. Two of his previously published stories will soon be available for download on Audible.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Stingray,” by Peter Wood

The stingray swam out of the pile of leaves and whipped its barbed tail around Dale’s ankle. Dale dropped the rake and fell into a puddle of salt water.

The trouble was, he was hundreds of miles from the ocean.

Dale jumped up and noticed a thin tear at the bottom of his jeans where the stingray’s tail had grabbed him. He kicked the leaves. No sign of the creature.

The kitchen door creaked open. Lisa, his wife, stepped out onto the back stoop. “What’s going on?”

“A stingray got me.”

Lisa put her hands on her hips. “Last time I checked, stingrays don’t live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dale.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Return of the Son of The Friday Challenge

Long-time friends of STUPEFYING STORIES know that it began life as an offshoot of The Friday Challenge, a sort of writing workshop -slash- writing contest that ran from 2009 to 2013 (and was itself in turn a spinoff from The Ranting Room, a blog that ran from 2005 to 2009). The very first, print-only edition of STUPEFYING STORIES was in fact a compendium of Friday Challenge contest winners, and all modesty aside, some of these stories are really quite remarkable, especially considering that they were all written quickly, as entries in contests.

The mechanics of the Friday Challenge were this: each week (on Friday, of course), I would spot you, the readers, an idea -- it might be the beginning of a story, or a scientific factoid, or just a few choice words -- and whoever wanted to participate in the challenge had one week to bash out and submit a short story inspired by that idea. Then, on the next Friday, we'd post all the entries received, post the next challenge, and open up the virtual phone lines for the debates, critiques, arguments, and voting that led to our selecting the best of the lot. Whereupon the winner would receive a token prize, and we'd all get going on the next week's challenge.

The original Friday Challenge was, quite honestly, a heck of a lot of fun, and it drew together an online community that became the nucleus of the original STUPEFYING STORIES crew. While I no longer have the time to run a contest every week, and the file-sharing site we used for sharing submissions without releasing them into the wild is long since defunct, lately I've begun to think, maybe, just one more time...

So here's the challenge.

True story: I once knew a guy who was such a cheap dirtbag, when he was going out on a date, he'd stop by the cemetery to steal fresh flowers.

I'd heard this about him before, but didn't believe it, until one day when I was riding in his car with him and he suddenly pulled over to the curb, jumped out, and ran into a graveyard, to return with a fresh bouquet. "I got a date tonight," he explained. "Nothing gets you into a girl's pants on the first date faster than showing up with fresh flowers."

"But, but," I sputtered, "you stole them! From a grave!"

He shrugged. "Yeah, well, they're dead. They don't care."

¤    ¤    ¤

Ah. But what if they do care?

That's your challenge. Write a short (1,500 words max.) story that answers the question: what if the dead do care very much about what happens to the flowers on their graves?

The (pardon the expression) deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Friday, October 27. (Snowdog rules apply.) Send your entry to submissions@rampantloonmedia.com, and include 10/13/17 Friday Challenge somewhere in your subject line or cover letter. Since we no longer have the ability to share files semi-privately for at-large discussion, we will convene a crackerjack panel of experts to review the entries and select a winner. The winning story will be published on Halloween; if we receive too many good entries to select a clear winner, we may publish the top [some number] and award a special prize to the winner, as determined by reader poll. (I've got a polling widget on this site now. I'm dying for an excuse to use it.)

Does this all seem clear enough? Then, you have two weeks. Ready, set -- Get writing!

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Till Death Us Do Part,” by E.N. Loizis

Jennifer stared at the man sitting across from her.

“Excuse me, what was that again?”

“I’m a vampire.”

“You’re a vampire?”


“As in—dead?”

“We prefer the term undead.”

“As in a drink-blood-sleep-upside-down-live-forever-kind-of-thing?”

“In a nutshell.”

“Any other tidbits I need to know about?”

“I sparkle in the sun. So I can only work nights.”

[...read the rest of the story...]

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E.N. LOIZIS grew up in Athens, Greece, in the Dark Years before the Internet. Being a bit of a loner and shy since she can remember herself, her only escape during what seemed like the longest summer vacations in the history of human recollection during the early and mid-90s was to read her way through her parents’ bookshelves. She read quite a few books many would now consider as not appropriate for an adolescent, and for the chance to judge for herself if they were right for her, she is very grateful. She now lives in a land far away from home with her husband, and a rapidly growing collection of books she promises she will read at some point.

She writes flash fiction, poems and short stories, while trying to conquer the ultimate beast: her first novel. You can find her blogging at enloizis.wordpress.com

Thursday, October 12, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Elves Are Douchebags,” by Robert Lowell Russell

Floriel’s eyes were gold, her hair silver, and her features so fine, Jack thought they should be chiseled in marble: paint and canvas would be too temporary. Her smile made him ache. Braless, she wore a bright pink t-shirt several sizes too small that proclaimed her the World’s Greatest Grandmother.

Loriel’s beauty mirrored his sister’s. He wore an Armani jacket with the sleeves ripped off and was bare-chested. Muscles rippled across his pale flesh.

I could totally go gay for him, thought Jack. “Our appointment was for ten,” he said aloud, tapping his watch. “It’s noon.”

Loriel smiled. “Your temporal distinctions are so quaint. A thousand apologies, my mortal friend, but my honor has been challenged.”

“All you can eat pancakes at IHOP,” explained Floriel.

Jack sighed. Why are elves such douchebags?

[read the rest of the story

¤    ¤   ¤ 

Robert Lowell Russell, a native Texan, lives with his family in southeastern Ohio. By night, Rob is a cardiac nurse. By day, he’s usually a sleeping lump. When prodded awake by his family or his cats, Rob likes to write about all sort of things but frequently includes action and humor in his work. Not satisfied with writing stories of questionable content for adults, he’s also working on a series of middle-grade books incorporating his love of not-so-super heroes and toilet humor. For links to more of Rob’s stories please visit robertlowellrussell.wordpress.com.
If you like this story, check out "I Live the Warrior's Life," which is the cover story in our March issue, and watch for his upcoming novella, Star Heart.

Of Jackalopes and Cancer

Science Fact: “Of Jackalopes and Cancer”
- Genomic Research Suggests Strange New Insights Into Disease -

Cancer. The word is both terrible and terrifying, as it should be. Even when the disease is not life-threatening or disfiguring, it’s life-changing. You hear your doctor say those words—“I’m sorry, it’s malignant, you have cancer”—and suddenly the monster under the bed is real. You can almost catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye of the vultures circling above and behind you. You become acutely aware of that invisible life-clock in the palm of your hand, slowly blinking red.

No doctor ever says, “You have six months to live.” That only happens in overwrought dramatic fiction. The real medical science of it is nowhere near that precise. Oncologists like to speak in actuarial terms: of statistics, percentages, and probabilities. When my wife was first diagnosed with breast cancer, in August of 2010, I dove into the numbers. The median survival time for someone with her particular diagnosis was two years. The odds of her making it to five years were about 15%. Beyond that, long-term survival was, “anecdotal.”

At first you cry, and rage, and try to deny. Then you throw yourself heart and soul into the fight to beat this monster. You change your diet. You promise to exercise, just as soon as you feel better. You grit your teeth and tough it out through the surgery, the chemotherapy, the radiation, and whatever else your doctors decide to try. You knit stocking caps, to replace your lost hair and cheer up your friends in the chemo ward. You plaster pink ribbons all over everything, for the sake of “raising awareness.” The disease seems to activate the latent writer gene in a lot of people: you begin to chronicle your “cancer journey” and try to share it with the world. You participate in every fund raiser, charity run, and walk-a-thon that comes your way.

And then, if you're very lucky, you live long enough to begin to wonder: what’s going on with all that research, anyway? It’s been years. Weren’t we supposed to be closing in on a cure by now? So you begin to dive even deeper...

And you learn that actually, a lot of really incredible things have been happening with the research, and it’s all been in just the last few years. Widespread use of DNA sequencing is producing astonishing new insights into cancer that would be fascinating, if they were not also deeply disturbing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “The Real Reason Mrs. Sprague Came by Her House So Cheaply,”
by Karin Terebessy

Mrs. Sprague paused in front of the china cabinet when she heard a thunk.

“What was that?” she called into the parlor. “Boys?”

“Nothing, Mrs. Sprague,” they sang back in unison.

Mrs. Sprague let out a tense breath and headed toward the noise when a knock on the kitchen door forced her to pivot on her heels.

She opened the door a crack. “Yes?”

On the doorstep, a white-haired man in a three-piece suit ballooned up his chest. “I come from the past,” he proclaimed.

“Who doesn’t?” Mrs. Sprague snipped, and started to close the door.

“But I’ve just traveled through time,” he said quickly.

Mrs. Sprague shrugged. “Me too. I’m doing it right now. And now. And now. Good day—”

“Wait,” he said, grabbing hold of the door frame. “Do you know who I am?”

Mrs. Sprague nodded. “You’re Thomas Edison.”

Edison thrust his thumb over his shoulder. “You know you’ve got a vortex through time in your back yard?”

“Yes.” She threw an impatient glance toward the parlor at the sound of another thud. “Now if there’s nothing more I can do for you Mr. Edison, I have company…”

[read the rest of the story]

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By the way, if you enjoy this story, you might also want to check out Karin Terebessy's much longer and darker story, “The Memory of Worms,” in our March 2017 issue.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

No column this morning. I tried to write one but it proved too difficult, as this morning we’re at the oncology clinic, getting the results from my wife’s latest diagnostic imaging workup. I wanted to write about how crucial she’s been to the development of STUPEFYING STORIES, right from the very start, but everything I wrote kept coming out wrong.

Ergo, here instead is today’s installment in our ongoing “Best of SHOWCASE” series. My wife wants it known that she is the one who originally pulled this one of the slush pile and said we had to buy it, she is the one who decided we should run it today, and she thinks it’s absolutely hilarious.

“Never give up. Never surrender.” How can you not love a woman who answers a question about continuing treatment by quoting Galaxy Quest?


Fiction: “Lucky,” by Russell C. Connor

Illustration by Keith Rosson

You don’t exactly feel like you’ve won the lottery when you get cancer.
But that’s how my doctor made it sound, when he called me into his office to discuss the test results for the lump on my right arm, just inside the bend of the elbow. I swear, the old fart—just some quack I found online by searching near my house—had a tinge of actual excitement in his voice as he read off the diagnosis. It was all gibberish to me, words like synovial sarcoma and monophasic epithelial, but then he got to a phrase simple enough for me to latch onto.

“What was that?” I interrupted the stream of medical chatter.

He looked up from the paper and pushed his glasses off the tip of his nose. “I said, ‘this form of growth is rare, occurring in an average of one person per million.’”

“One in a million,” I repeated slowly. A cliché. Something you whispered to your sweetie when you gave her that ring with the obscene diamond. But even though I’d heard and said those words countless times in my life, they suddenly seemed like an entirely new concept. “So you’re telling me there are only about seven thousand people in the entire world who have this kind of cancer?”

The doc smiled at me—smiled, if you can believe it, and Jesus did I want to slap that expression right back off his face—and said, “Actually, it’s probably less than that. There are two possible types of cell growth associated with synovial sarcoma, and it looks like you have them both.”

Wow. Lucky me...

[read the rest of the story]

Monday, October 9, 2017

Return to the Moa

And here I am, back at the Mall of America again. Twenty-some years ago, when the MOA was shiny and new and I was a promising young writer with both a new novel out and an American publisher who actually put some promotional effort behind such novels by such writers, I got booked to do a signing at the MOA, at what was then the flagship store of a now-defunct bookstore chain.

Let me tell you, I was excited to do this signing! A week or two before Colin Powell had done a book signing at the same store, in the same time-slot, and it was a major media event, covered by all the local papers and TV stations. The line for him was out the door and halfway down to the next food court. I figured, if I could get just half the turnout he got; a quarter, even...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: “Invasive Species,” by Steve Quinn

“Do you know how many species of post-arboreal bipeds we have on the conservation list?” the vaguely froglike creature asked. It was the size of a rhinoceros and using its tongue to manipulate a three-dimensional holographic listing of species and their home systems.

“Not offhand, no,” Megan said. Her supervisor, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, would probably have found that response far too flip for the situation. However, the nervous breakdown he’d had at First Contact the day before meant he wasn’t saying much at all right now. The rest of the diplomatic staff had done better, at least until they’d learned what the aliens wanted. Suffice it to say that Megan was now on her own....  [read the rest of the story]

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Review by Sean CW Korsgaard

Love it or loath it, Blade Runner has gone on to become one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made, shaping a generation of cyberpunk literature and influencing dozens of movies, from Ghost in the Shell to Dark City to Ex Machina. Entire books have been written about Blade Runner, so I won’t spend too much time talking about it here. Instead, my attention is focused on answering another question: can Blade Runner 2049, a sequel green-lit almost 35 years after the original, hope to be as good as Blade Runner?

As it turns out, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Thirty years after Rick Deckard retired his last replicant, a new generation of Blade Runners have taken up the task of putting an end to any rogue replicants running around Los Angeles. One of them is a replicant named K, who while working a case for the LAPD uncovers a dark secret that, should it get out, might start a war between humans and replicants. With each clue, he comes closer to finding the truth, and closer to coming into conflict with the various forces that want that truth for themselves.

One of the strong points of Blade Runner is that it had a number of simple elements—a straightforward cat-and-mouse sci-fi actioner about a cop hunting down rogue cyborgs, the budding romance between Deckard and Rachel—to balance out all the subtext asking what makes us human. You either can enjoy a mostly straightforward action movie, or dive into any of the dozens of masters theses that have been written about the movie’s themes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


All mercenary self-interest aside, this is seriously cool. Big congrats to Rampant Loon Press author Henry Vogel on advancing to the quarterfinals in the Publisher’s Weekly BookLife Prize competition. Not only is The Recognition Run in serious contention for the award, but we got some great quotes for future ad copy use from the BookLife Prize critic’s report. Without further ado, then:


Plot: Struck from the template of classic space opera, this tale of intergalactic adventure hits all of the right notes. It has a likeable hero and heroine, nasty villains, a plot full of intrigue and unforeseeable surprises, and a colorfully rendered outer-space backdrop against which its well-paced events unfold.

Prose: Vogel’s prose is perfectly suited to the story he has to tell—one in which he must give voice to a score of different characters and move quickly from moments of quiet intimacy to scenes of brisk and frenetic action. His simple, direct storytelling style gets the job done.

Originality: The novel is a digest of familiar space opera tropes—but this is not a bad thing. The best stories of this type always recycle tried-and-true themes and characters—and Vogel shows that in doing so he can keep his tale lively and entertaining.

Character Development: Vogel’s characters are mostly types, but they also have nuance and distinct personalities. Jeanine, Drake, and even the evil Olivia are lively and engaging characters that will appeal to readers.

Plot/Idea: 9
Originality: 9
Prose: 8
Character/Execution: 8
Overall: 8.50

You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize.

THE RECOGNITION RUN is now available in trade paperback, or in ebook format exclusively for Amazon Kindle and Kindle Reader Apps at these links, and FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers!
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