Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 24: “The Ocean of Story” • by Paul Celmer


A young man rushed into the bar, jolting Ingrid from a daydream. He had a wild explosion of wiry black hair, with eyes like inkwells set between jagged cheekbones. Ingrid saw that his hands shook.

“Mikhail?” She wiped the counter in front of him. “You look like you’re running from a ghost.” She had seen the young monk come in a couple of times over the last few weeks.

“He’s coming for me.”

“You can at least have a drink first.” Ingrid laughed. “Horilka?” Most of the new immigrants to Galactic’s far-flung mining settlement looked dazed to be so many light years from any other inhabited world. But this guy looked worse. Spooked.

“Thanks for remembering. The national drink of my grandfather’s homeland, Ukraine.” Mikhail took a swig and calmed down a notch.

“Sure.” Ingrid wiped sweat from her brow.

“It’s freezing outside. Not much better in here. You okay?” Mikhail pulled his jacket tighter.

“Easy for you to say.” Ingrid smiled. She didn’t need to get into the damnable surprises of menopause with a 20-year-old kid.

“What’s going on with you? Trouble in paradise?” Ingrid flashed her trademark smile.

“I want to stay on Odin III. There’s nothing for me where I’m from. Charon-12. A radioactive wasteland.”

“I’ve met a few refugees from there over the years. Even more light years away than Earth. So who’s after you?” Ingrid tried to be serious. But bars attracted plenty of paranoiacs. Usually drugs. Mine mushrooms. Occasionally just lost souls.

“There’s this monk. Said to be a rogue scholar. From the brotherhood of St. Rico. Gives me the serious creeps.”

“The monastery in the south? Their beer is crap.”

“He’s going to try to get me sent back, I just know it.”

“You sure? Seems like a lot of trouble over one little guy like you. What brought you Odin?”

“I’m a Postulate.”

“What’s that?”

“A step before entering the Mertonite monastery. Takes six months. They wanted me to help build a library. In the mines. They still use mostly paper and they think it’ll be safer down there. Mikhail cut his eyes toward the window carved through a meter of solid rock.

“Makes sense they give you some time to think things through.” Ingrid tried to hide her yawn.

“But then I went all the way down to Mine 17.”

“I heard they closed that one.” Ingrid was starting to lose interest. So many stories to keep track of.

“Did you hear why?”

“Just rumors. Was there a cave in?” Just as Ingrid was about to wipe down the bar again, the kid pulled a fist-sized rock out of his bag dropped it on the bar with a deep thud.

“You took a rock from the mine?” Ingrid said.

“It’s pure sylicenium.”

“Look, I got to check the level of a keg ….”

“No wait. “Touch it. It sings into you.”

Ingrid had been on her feet for ten hours. They hurt. Listening to ramblings drained her. She craved dialogue. A back and forth between equals. Partners. There was Grekov. But he got buried in a cave-in. Six years ago.

“Looks like just a rock to me.”

“It holds souls of Rock People. I shouldn’t have stolen it.”

“Souls? Sounds like the legends of the Huldufolk of Iceland, old Earth. My dad used to read the stories to me. I’m afraid you’ve fallen for the local myths about Rock People.”

“Not myth. Real. Sylicenium is a metal crystal. Somehow the structure can be re-arranged. Anyway, allows more data storage density than anything humans can make.” Mikhail’s face lit up.

“Sorry, I’m not a scientist.”

“When Rock People get close to death, they perform a weird dance, a ceremony I think it is, in what they call a memory garden. Mine 17.” He pointed to the lump of rock. “Somehow the soul is infused into the crystal. The rogue scholar is a fanatic, thinks the idea of storing souls should be repressed, as it contradicts Church teaching.”

“No one’s ever seen any Rock People. Ever. There’s no—”

Mikhail interrupted again, “I have no idea how it works. All I know is when I touched this I saw things, felt things. And the longer I held it the more stories flooded into my head.”

“Like what?” Ingrid was beginning to get curious. The kid had passion even if his ramblings were fantasy, like all the myths of the misguided fringe who insisted the Rock People existed.

“Stories from what must be thousands of lifetimes. An entire culture. The visions kinda get tangled in my head, but they are born in pools of magma, protected by what I think is a magnetic cocoon. They live a very long time, and seem to spend most of it in contemplation. Their mathematics alone blow the mind. As far as I can tell its based on the interactions among seismic waves. I think their stalagmite art can take centuries to create. I think they can even see magnetic fields as color….”

“Sounds kinda trippy. You on the mushrooms?”

“You have no idea. There’re hints they have a whole city at the core of Odin III. Must be shielded in some way that makes it totally inaccessible to us. They helped me see God in a completely new way.”

Mikhail held out the rock.

“Touch it.”

“Hmm.” Ingrid darted a skeptical look at the dirty clump.

“It’ll enlarge your mind. Free you from the demons that block your vision of the cosmos. You will sail an ocean of story.”

“Look, I got plenty of my own stories right here. My customers. Like see that woman there?” Ingrid pointed to the back corner. “Her name’s Mazaa. A pilot. An atheist. She was in a crash with my friend Francis, a priest. The crash is another story. Anyway, she’s still an atheist. Kinda. But now comes in here every Sunday to argue religion. Usually the book of Job, especially the scene where God and The Devil make some kind of bet.”

Ingrid pointed to the other corner. “Those two smiling and whispering. That’s Aisling and Finn. She’s a therapist, claims she untangles people’s timelines. Those two have had the longest, most intense courtship I’ve ever seen. They just keep circling each other like two night razors who want to devour the same fresh kill. But each holds back for some reason. It’s super weird. And beautiful.”

Ingrid raised her voice. “These are all my people. My stories. I don’t need gasbag abstractions. And I like my demons. Mainly because they’re mine. They keep me company. Thanks anyway.”

“You could leave this place.” Mikhail was talking wildly now. “See worlds. Then come back and store your soul for eternity. You’re still a young woman.”

Ingrid’s eyes flashed. “You’re the second person this week who hit me with that particular back-handed compliment.”

Ingrid recalled the first. A hydrologist. Doing a survey for the new outpost to the North. It was closing time and he waited until all the young people had left before making a pass at her. Another not-subtle hint she was deep into middle age. She never thought much of those hints until the hot flashes hit every single day. As a bartender she reveled in the alcohol-fueled life of the night. Now she wondered what her life was going to be like without youth’s dance of desire, to slowly become invisible to the revelers. She knew that people coming to bars didn’t want to see reminders of mortality, the gray hairs and wrinkling skin. They come to forget. Maybe it was time she did something different with her life.

“Math. Art. Mysticism.” Such big ideas. But so many big things maybe make you lose sight of the small.” Ingrid stared at Mikhail. Was she arguing with him or with herself?

In the distance a deep siren blasted across the barren valley.

“That’s from the port, isn’t it?” Mikhail’s face went blank.

“Local transport from the southern colony.” Ingrid followed his gaze out the window.

“He’s here already. I got to go. Just take it.” Mikhail slid the rock across to Ingrid. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard. “If he finds me, he won’t get this at least.”

Mikhail dashed out.

Ingrid stared at the rock. A minute at least. Vast knowledge? Eternal youth?

With a grace born from thousands of repetitions, she swept the rock into the trash, careful to use the bar rag to protect her hand from touching it.


When not traveling to parallel universes, Paul Celmer is a technical writer in Durham, North Carolina. His recently published flash science fiction includes “Spooky Action At a Distance” in Daily Science Fiction and “The Last Rosy-Fingered Dawn” in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 23: “The Disappearing Cat Trick” • by Carol Scheina

Tanya’s parents refused to let her get a cat.

No matter how many times Tanya argued that the planet’s environment was fully approved for cats, or that cats had already made their home among the rocks and dust and blue bamboo plants of Odin III, they wouldn’t budge.

Tanya suspected they didn’t want the responsibility of a pet, so she did the next best thing and showered attention on her neighbor’s felines. 

That morning, a gray cat with a notched ear rubbed around her legs. Tanya pulled a bag of freeze-dried protein snacks from her backpack. Galactic provided them to its mining crews, but no one enjoyed eating what tasted like paper pulp with a fishy aftertaste. Tanya always rescued trashed snack bags because, as it turned out, cats adored the taste. The gray gobbled the treat up.

Tanya hadn’t seen the gray before, but he seemed happy to see her. He butted his head into her legs whenever she stopped petting him, begging for more attention. The young girl scratched around the fuzzy chin until her watch buzzed. She really needed to get to school or she’d get a tardy card.

Her skinny ponytail threatened to come undone as her feet pounded the road. She slowed upon reaching the communications office near the school. Strangely, the gray cat was sitting by the office door, licking its paws as though it had been there all along. Yet there was only one road into town, and the cat certainly hadn’t been running alongside her. How’d it get there so fast?

Tanya didn’t have time to ponder that question, as the school warning bell rang. She dashed inside and dropped into her seat as the teacher, Mr. Derrick, launched into long division.

The gray cat had slipped Tanya’s mind until she glanced out the window. The gray and a skinny tuxedo trotted on the deli’s rooftop—then they were gone. She stared until her eyes watered, but the cats hadn’t jumped off or crouched down out of sight. They had just vanished. 


She had to talk to someone about this, and one person in particular came to mind.

*  *  *

After school, Tanya approached a girl with curls exploding from a ponytail and dark eyes rapidly scanning a tablet. Tanya read over a shoulder: “Scientists Develop Time Bubble.” 

“Hey Kira!” Tanya spoke louder than usual to get her friend’s attention. Kira was always lost in the latest scientific theories.

Kira blinked as she looked up. “They were able to keep the time bubble stable for two entire seconds, and no time passed inside the bubble. I wonder how much power would be needed to maintain a stable bubble for an hour?” Kira’s eyes took on the hazy look she got when calculating things. There was a reason she was in the advanced math class at school despite being Tanya’s age. “If it worked, it could solve the time dilation problem! We could stop and start time whenever, and travel places in an eyeblink!”

“Speaking of traveling in an eyeblink, I saw something kinda like that here.” Tanya explained about the cats disappearing, and the gray cat beating her into town.

Kira frowned at Tanya. “What kind of tech could do that?”

The skinny tuxedo cat ran out of the deli with a long string of sausage in its mouth, followed shortly by the angry deli owner. An orange tabby pawed Tanya’s leg and gave a demanding mrowww. She hadn’t even seen it come up.

Cats seemed to be everywhere these days. Tanya couldn’t remember having seen so many on Odin III before. She slipped a treat to the tabby, which snapped it up then mrowwed for more. “Maybe it’s like that old show my parents used to watch where everyone beamed all over the place. Or energized. Or whatever they called it.”

Kira sat up. “Yes! They teleported. We should talk to Daraja.”

Tanya frowned. “Who?”

“You know, the inventor guy who lives way off by himself in the mining caves. He knows everything there is to know about technology. I overheard the priests talking about some sort of alien teleport device he was studying. And if the cats are teleporting, I bet Daraja knows how. Let’s go!”

The old saying was that cats were curious, and so was Tanya. Her parents would be working in the mines until late, so she had no problem joining Kira on this quest.

The tabby mrowwwed a goodbye.

* * *

Daraja’s workshop was in the gray mountains that bordered the town, down a few ladders into a cavern thick with musty air and lit by dim bulbs.

Inside, seven cats prowled and jumped on equipment. Daraja shooed one away, then peered at what looked like a red apple. He glanced up, eyes enlarged by the magnifying contraption he wore. “What are you kids doing down here?” He sneezed. “Are you here for the cats?” Another sneeze. “I’m allergic. Can you take the cats and go?”

Three felines instantly went for Tanya. She gave them all head rubs and treats. “Why are all these cats in here?”

At the same time, Kira blurted out, “Is that the teleport device?”

Daraja ran his fingers through his messy hair and tried to block the apple. “You’re not supposed to know about this.”

Kira rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows about that.”

“The cats certainly know all about it,” Tanya muttered.

Daraja sneezed. “It’s why the cats are here. I dropped the device and now it seems to be opening micro-portals everywhere someone previously teleported. They’re only open for a second, but the cats somehow know just when to walk through.”

Kira nodded. “So that’s how they’re getting around town.”

Daraja turned back to the apple. “I’m almost on the verge of figuring out how I triggered this.”

“How did you trigger it?” Kira leaned over him.

The inventor started to answer, then sneezed. “You kids should go, and take the cats with you.”

Kira stood straight. “I can help! This is so much more my speed than the elementary stuff they teach at school. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about so many theories!”

Daraja stepped back. “I work alone. And this is complicated.”

“Look, I’ve already calculated how much power it would take to hold a time bubble for an hour. I can do complicated.” Kira waved her tablet.

The man snatched the tablet out of her hands. “Interesting… It doesn’t take into account the compounding energy needed but if you…” He shook his head. “Nope. No time. I’ve got to fix the teleporter.” He tossed the tablet back.

“I’ll take the cats if you let her work with you.” Tanya jiggled a snack bag, and several felines ran up. The tuxedo she’d last seen with sausages in its mouth batted her legs, demanding a treat now.

Daraja sneezed three times, then glared at the girls. “I’ve got to fix this now. Come back another time. And please get these cats out of here!”

Tanya shrugged. She’d tried. A promise of a future meeting was something, right?

As they walked out, the inventor called after them, “Bring your tablet with you when you come back. I’ll show you where you went wrong.”

Kira grinned.

A long-haired cat had appeared from nowhere and began staring very intently at a rocky wall. Several other cats stared at the spot as well. Tanya shook the snack bag to get their attention back. Time for her to do her part and get the cats home. How much longer would they be able to teleport? Tanya suspected Daraja would soon figure out that teleporter. No more cats disappearing off the deli roof.

Outside the caves, Kira aimed her eyes at the tablet. “What doesn’t work…” She turned down the path to her home.

“Bye, Kira!” Tanya called.

Kira didn’t look up as she waved goodbye.

The dusty air was cooling and one of the suns setting by the time Tanya reached her neighbor’s home. Not all the cats had followed her, because they were cats, and sometimes not even dried protein snacks will tempt them. Still, she managed to get four cats to the house, and she rewarded them with a treat.

Following a knock on the door, an elderly woman with gray hair in a tight bun appeared. 

“Ma’am, some of your cats were in the caves. I brought them back for you.”

“Oh, thank you, dearie! They keep on exploring further and further away. I worry they won’t find their way back. I suspect they’re bored. An old lady like me can’t always keep them entertained.” The woman’s eyes sparkled. “You look like you know a thing or two about cats. Would you like to come over and play with them when you have free time?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! Thank you!” Tanya’s heart beat faster.

“Make sure it’s okay with your parents, okay?”

Tanya thanked her neighbor again, then dashed home. She was probably late for dinner, but what a day she had to recount for Mom and Dad. She wouldn’t mention the teleporter, of course, but she’d definitely mention being asked to help with the cats. They couldn’t say no to that!

The gray cat with the notched ear sat near her home’s door. Tanya gave it a few rubs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

The cat walked two steps and vanished.



Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at

Saturday, August 27, 2022

SHOWCASE • “Even Vampires Have a Speed Limit” • by David VonAllmen


Standing in the dimly lit intersection of two streets, I’m the only living thing for miles in any direction. Humans abandoned these crumbling brick apartments years ago. Even pigeons and rats scurry away when they feel the evil chill that grips the night here.

“Whatch’yer got there?” the Cockney bat on my shoulder asks. I startle. The vampire moved so fast, so quiet, I hadn’t even known it was there until it spoke.

This is why my SWAT team won’t come to this part of town at night anymore. The vampires are too damn fast. Too fast to burn, too fast to shoot, too fast to see unless they pause to mock you.

“Looks like nothing more than a simple watch,” says a second voice, American and refined. My eyes dart this way and that, searching for the source. Finally, I spot the mist creeping up my legs.

We’ve designed hundreds of weapons, actually tried dozens of them in the field. The result is the same every time: me, watching good men bleed to death while the cackles of vampires echo off alley walls.

“Yeah, but it’s got no face fer tellin’ time, does it?” The bat floats down to get a better look. “Just a button. What’s it do, then?”

It kills vampires, that’s what it does, you smug sonovabitch. I’m finally going to kill you, because I finally figured out the one weapon that moves faster than a vampire.

I hope.

“This young man appears to be wearing a SWAT jacket,” the mist says as it coalesces into the form of a deathly pale man with slicked-back hair, wearing a trim, black suit. “If forced to wager, I’d lay down good money that wristband is some sort of weapon.”

“Oh la, another ingenious weapon,” says the bat, “Alright then, don’t tell us. More fun to guess, innit?”

I have two vampires within radius. I can trigger the weapon. But I have to be casual about it. If I make a sudden movement to press the button, they’ll be half a mile away before I can even contract the muscles in my arm.

“S-ar putea să inunde străzile cu aghiazmă,” says a woman’s gravelly voice. A hideous creature floats forward out of the blackness, sickly pale gray in color, the shape of a human female with the wings of a bat and the face of a demon. It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen a naked woman and wished she had some clothes on.

“I’m quite sure they already tried flooding the streets with holy water,” the vampire in the black suit replies. He keeps disappearing and reappearing in the same instant a few feet to one side or the other, casually looking me up and down from different angles. He’s timing his movements with my eye blinks—vampires enjoy messing with humans like that.

“Not ‘xactly,” the bat answers. “It was holy water hand grenades.”

“Ah, yes, that was it,” the suited vampire says, “Quite clever. At least in theory. In practical application, not so much—we danced between the water drops.”

“Alight, then, what else can kill us?” the bat asks.

“Foc,” the demon vampire says.

“We can outrun any flame, no matter how it’s dispersed,” the suited vampire replies.

“Yeah, but maybe if they set the whole town afire at the same time so’s we couldn’t just run away,” the bat suggests. “This city don’t happen to be on a fault line, does it? Maybe that button sets off a big bomb that cracks open the earth and lava comes out and burns up everything all at once. Huh? That’d work, right?”

“No, we’d fly up into the air, faster than the wind,” the suited vampire replies.

“Oh, yeah, we can fly,” the hovering bat says, as if he’d forgotten. “Okay, then, what else can kill us?”

“Wood stakes through the heart,” says a hound with a southern accent, that I’m positive wasn’t standing next to me one heartbeat earlier. Its eyes glow red and its fangs are so long and gnarled it can’t fully close its mouth.

“Hold on a second now,” the bat says, flitting around the hound. “We can turn into dogs? How come nobody told me we can turn into dogs?”

“It went out of fashion when the werewolves came out of hiding,” the suited vampire says.

“Hm. Well, if we kill off all the werewolves, can we go back to bein’ dogs sometimes?” the bat asks.

The four vampires glance at each other with nods all around—there seems to be a general consensus that this is a perfectly fine reason to start an inter-species war.

“Cum se înfinge butonul acela un par în inima noastră?” the demon vampire asks.

“Hm,” the bat looks up, as if in contemplation. “Maybe the button sets off machine guns they got hidden all around, and those fire bullet-size wood stakes at our hearts.”

“I don’t think so,” the suited vampire says. “The wood bullets would disintegrate in the barrel under that kind of explosive power.”

“Alright, but what if they was tiny little wood stakes hidden inside reg’lar bullets?” the bat asks.

“In that case,” the suited vampire states, “the question becomes: does the wood stake harm us if it passes through our hearts inside a lead casing, without the wood itself actually touching any part of our person?”

“Oh, that’s a good one, that is. One fer the philosophers, I recon. Well, I suppose someone could test it out,” the bat laughs and nudges the suited vampire with his wing, “but I ain’t volunteerin’!”

“Anyway, it still wouldn’t work,” the suited vampire says. “We’d feel the compression of the air before the bullet reached us and it would be all too simple to fly out of the bullet’s path.”

“Well, I give up. What’s faster’n a bullet?” the bat asks.

“Genetically engineered garlic,” the hound says.

“Cum? Din chestia aia cu butonul?” the demon asks.

“Oh, sorry, forgot about the button,” the hound says. “I was just trying to think of ways for the humans to kill us, and I thought ‘Well the scent of garlic makes us sick, maybe garlic genetically engineered to be much stronger could kill us.’”

“Wait, I’ll figure it,” the bat says. “It’s like one of them locked-room murder mysteries, ‘cept we gotta figure how to do the murderin’ to ourselves. Lessee… the button releases genetically engineered garlic oil into the veins in yer wrist so as when I bite you on the neck I ingest the garlic with yer blood and there you have it—dead vampire. Well, properly dead, I mean. Am I right?”

The four vampires stare at me, waiting for an answer. They have no fear that I might really be able to harm them because they see humans as their inferiors in every way. Slower. Weaker. Dumber.

Maybe we are slower. Maybe we are weaker. But a hundred years ago, one of us was smart enough to figure out that there’s a speed limit that no physical object, including a vampire, will ever surpass. They’re faster than fire, faster than sound, faster than bullets. But nothing’s faster than light.

“Alright, then, you win, human,” the bat says with a sigh of resignation. “Let’s see what she does. Go ‘head, give ‘er a push.”

I press the button. My wristband sends a radio signal to the satellites, which are already directed to my GPS coordinates. The satellites flick off the electric current in the nematic liquid crystals covering their giant mirror arrays. One satellite mirror array on the opposite side of the Earth bounces a stream of sunlight to the next mirror array, and that one to the next, and so on, until the last one in the chain sends it down to Earth right where I stand. And it all happens at the speed of light.

A waterfall of golden radiance, as wide around as a dozen men’s wingspans and as bright as the noonday sun, rains down on us. The vampires’ bodies burn to ash before they can so much as flinch.

Einstein was a human, bitches.




It wasn’t until David VonAllmen’s high school professor thought one of his short stories was suspiciously high in literary merit and threatened to have him expelled for plagiarism that he realized he just might have the talent to be a real writer. David’s writing has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, New Myths Deep Magic, and other professional publications. David is the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. He lives in his hometown of St. Louis with his children, Lucas and Eva, who write some pretty darn good stories of their own. Links to his works can be found at



Did you enjoy this story? If so, you might want to click on the SHOWCASE tag and browse through some of the hundreds of stories we’ve published online over the past ten years. There’s no index as of yet, but dig deep enough and you’re sure to find something you really like, such as, say, “The Avenging Tree,” by Patrick Hurley, “The New Herd,” by Lilliana Rose, or one of my personal favorites, “Serial Adventures in the Tropeosphere,” by David A. Gray.

If you really liked this story and want to see more like it, you might want to consider tossing some spare change into the Stupefying Stories author support fund. All contributions go directly to paying the authors whose work you’re enjoying in our magazines and on our virtual pages—literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our contributors.

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TALKING SHOP: What Do HARRY POTTER, CHUCK (TV Show), STAR WARS (Original Trilogy), a new band called DURRY, and SPIDERMAN – Have In Common?

Short answer: HELPLESSNESS

Long answer: read on...

HARRY POTTER appears in the first book as a baby in a basket, being dropped off at his aunt and uncle's house by a witch, a wizard, and a guy riding a flying motorcycle with a sidecar. According to most Earth biology, you can't get much more helpless than a baby.

Most of you are familiar with the story, but if you’re not (“What Culture do you live in – the books are available in eighty languages and Braille!) the story starts with a helpless boy who remains pretty helpless for 1.2 million words. He also manages to defeat the Ultimate Evil with the help of hundreds of individuals who sacrifice their lives (including the most powerful wizard of the age) and wreaks havoc on TWO universes…and remains basically helpless except for the fact that he’s deeply connected to the Ultimate evil and destroys him through that fact with little effort of his own.

In CHUCK, we watch the ultimate Stanford University failure-turned-Nerd Herder (aka Best Buy Geek Squad member) accidentally become the most powerful database known to Humanity, the Intersect. Instead of overthrowing the world and becoming the Emperor of Man, he stays basically the same and is handled until he becomes one of the most powerful tools on Earth; while remaining a clueless, helpless nerd who loves his sister, and has a total dork for a best friend, wins the love of a deadly CIA agent who happens to be Greek goddess-level beautiful – because he IS who he IS: a helpless nerd who loves his sister and his mediocre job, best friend, family, and life.

In the STAR WAR Original Trilogy the same story is reiterated: LUKE SKYWALKER on the brown-end of the Universe on a farm in (almost literally) the middle of nowhere with a grumpy uncle and an aunt who knows everything but can’t do anything about it because she, too, is helpless. When Luke leaves, he’s helpless. When he gets two robots he’s helpless. Even when he finds out he can wield world-bending power…he’s helpless. He remains so for some nine-plus movies.

In 2020, quarantined siblings Austin and Taryn joined forces under their family name DURRY to make music together for the very first time. In 2021 their careers were launched by their tiktok viral track, “Who’s Laughing Now”. Quickly gaining notoriety because Durry bottled up a few inner monologues — everyone from parents, to society, to their church doubted they could “make it”. Their paean to helplessness and lack of support brought them to the attention of Limp Bizkit front man, Fred Durst and became one of Jade's Music You Should Know picks one week. Here's the video:

SPIDERMAN, in all of his iterations, was a kid who lost his parents, then lost his uncle to gun violence (sound familiar?). On a field trip sometime in high school, he’s bitten either by a radioactive spider or a genetically engineered spider and suddenly has the powers of a spider – strength, speed, senses, and no fear of heights – oh, did I mention the ability to stick to anything?

So, Peter Parker has everything any kid could possibly want. He can beat any of his enemies to a pulp, he can take on super villains and after getting beat up some, beat them and live to go home to his Aunt May (who has variously been depicted as elderly to barely middle-aged…). He’s also friendly, works in his neighborhood, and is known as Spiderman. But his most defining quality? He’s shy, quiet, and has so few friends that virtually no one knows who he is. He has no influence on society except for the tiny lives of people he interacts with. Of course WE know he’s destined for greatness, but HE doesn’t know that. In fact, for much of his book-time and absolutely through a big chunk of his movie time, he continues to lament that he’s basically…helpless.

It's been my experience that the vast majority of people feel helpless. I venture to believe that it’s this basic piece of the Human condition that drives everything from the Mother Theresas of the world to the Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin’s

So what?

All of these people, whether real or imaginary, whether musicians or CIA agent, have somehow managed to draw to them literally MILLIONS of fans. Not necessarily billions of dollars…oops, I guess BILLIONS OF DOLLARS is correct, AND millions of fans.

In the beginning, they attracted people just like them – geeks, dorks, the unnoticed, the ones “real society” labeled losers. These losers – and let me tell you up front that I AM one of them. I made countless Batman costumes out of paper grocery bags and carved a STAR TREK phaser out of a block of wood and nailed another one on it for a handle, then pounded five nails into the front end for a barrel – and then when I shot someone, I made a shrieking sound while vibrating my tongue…

These people, like myself, live lives of helpless normality. NOT desperation. Regular people will never get a government data base crammed into their heads, and the only thing a normal person will get after being bitten by a radioactive/genetically engineered spider, is a rash. They will not receive letters with wings announcing that they’ve been accepted to a wizarding school. Dorky farm boys will not suddenly discover that their father left them a light saber that will symbolically challenge an interstellar Empire, and be hailed as one of the last of an extinct order of Jedi knights. A brother and sister will NEVER discover that a TikTok they made in their basement has a million hits, they have an agent and a tour...rather than mom and dad upstairs as their only audience.

What sets all of these stories apart? It’s not the “powers” they got – magic, technology, arachnid power, or a zillion dollar record contract and road tour?

They remained the same: helpless, endearing, dorky. What changed was the world around them. And everything changed around them NOT because they were different. It changed because they were NORMAL people who kept choosing to keep going and not giving up when their worlds seemed to be going to hell-in-a-handbasket.

They believed that what they COULD do was important.

Because Harry, Chuck, Peter, Austin and Taryn, and Luke didn’t become jerks because of their suddenly power. Of COURSE they could act like jerks sometimes (and did, “Are you listening Harry?), but there were normal people around them who brought them back down from their High And Mighty Spaces, elbowed them in the side, and reminded them that while they may be “The Chosen Ones”, their close friends knew better.

They were just normal people tasked with doing extraordinary things WITH THEIR FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND LOVED ONES.

Lisa Cron writes in her book, WIRED FOR STORY, “…we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world” (p 2). She also writes that our brains experience a story as if it were REAL: “A recent brain imaging study reported in Psychological Science reveals that the regions of the brain that process the sights, sounds, tastes and movement of real life are activated when we are engrossed in a compelling narrative.” (p 4)

When I read a story that is ABOUT a king, emperor, superhero, alien, or a 15-year-old guy, I’m just not as interested, because I can’t really connect with them. They aren’t part of my reality. I can, however, keep reading and putting away my pre-judgement, I can let myself sink into the STORY.

Harry, Chuck, Peter, Austin and Taryn, and Luke are all stories I can fall into because they’re about normal people. They’re about helpless people just like me. But ALL OF THEM BROKE OUT OF NORMALITY AND MADE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

They all inspire normal people NOT by their greatness, but by their persistence and stubborn resolve to keep moving ahead and make a difference in their stories.

Which leads ME to believe that maybe, just maybe, I can break out and make a difference, too.


Friday, August 26, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 22: “Friends Like Binary Stars” • by Travis Burnham


As the large, battered robot at the deli whirred to life, a lonely eleven-year-old girl named Vivi watched the repairs with rapt attention. The robot repair team was composed of Ingrid who was fixing the hardware, and Sloane-51, a recently emancipated AI, who worked on the software. Ingrid ran the local bar, but she was a fair hand with a wrench and was substituting for the usual repairperson.

The damaged robot in question had caused an… incident. It had crushed some groceries and threatened some customers before burning out and sputtering to a stop. Everything still smelled like mustard and pickle juice. A replacement robot would be an expensive challenge—the Galactic Mining-owned planet of Odin III was far off the beaten path.

“It looks like there’s been quite a bit of damage to the neural network,” Sloane-51 said. What she didn’t say was it was the same damage she’d sustained before gaining sentience. She couldn’t help but wonder if it was part of a larger pattern. “I can’t just enter code to fix the robot. We should let the neural network repair itself organically.”

The little girl who’d until this point remained silent, piped up. “My teacher Mr. Finn told us neural means brain. And he said school is exercise for your brain.” Vivi looked at the battered robot and said, “I think Keegan Red needs school.”

“Keegan Red?” Ingrid said.

Vivi pointed at a small plate riveted to the robot’s left foot that read Keegan Grocery Bots LLC. “Keegan. And everyone should have a last name, and Grocery is hardly a proper last name. But he’s red. So Keegan Red.”

Ingrid shared a glance with Sloane-51 and the android shrugged before replying. “The robot isn’t a danger, it just had a damaged actuator. I put in an override. And a school’s nuance rich environment would help it rebuild its AI pathways, even in just a day or two.”

“School,” Keegan said.

* * *

Some mornings later, Keegan Red entered the classroom, his head knocking a chunk from the door’s lintel. “Sorry,” he intoned, somehow managing a sheepish expression. Looking for a familiar face, he scanned the room.

The teacher, Mr. Finn, was still in the hallway talking with Ingrid and Sloane-51.

Keegan then saw Vivi, crammed into a corner surrounded by three larger students. Vivi had always been small and clever, making her a favored target of bullies. In this case, Teresa.

Large and rugged, Teresa has a shock of coal black hair and a penchant for intimidation. She was not a fan of small, and even less a fan of clever.

From a bookshelf above them all, the classroom cat—a Norwegian Forest feline named Freya—looked down upon the proceedings with disdain. She was not a fan of bullying. Also, being relatively small and clever herself, she felt offended on principle.

Forcing Vivi down to the floor, Teresa shoved a crayon at her. “Eat this, or I’ll shove it in your ear and poke your brain.”

“At least I have a brain to poke,” Vivi said.

“Brain damage it is.” Teresa leaned down, wielding the crayon.

Just before Freya leapt down to rain feline havoc upon unsuspecting bullies, Keegan approached Teresa and said, “Let Vivi… go.” His words were halting, not menacing, but his size provided the exclamation point. He was already better at speaking than he had been in the deli.

Teresa and her two wing bullies exercised the better part of valor.

During math class, Keegan tutored Vivi. He calculated like lightning. But when it came to art, he struggled, a small pile of broken crayons lay on the table beneath his large fingers.

“Hold on a second, Keegan,” Vivi said. Picking up the tape dispenser, she spared no tape in order to wrap the heliotrope purple crayon to Keegan’s large pointer finger. And with that, he was able to draw a passable flower.

Mr. Finn even tacked Keegan’s drawing to the filing cabinet behind his desk.

Then it was recess.

Vivi and Keegan decided to find some real flowers to further Keegan’s artistic pursuits. As they leaned over to investigate, a large rock clanged loudly against Keegan’s head, leaving a ding and some chipped paint.

Teresa, who’d just thrown the rock, stooped to pick up another. “I read online that robots are programmed so they can’t hurt people.”

“Maybe… true,” Keegan said. He picked up a branch as thick as a weightlifter’s arm and broke it into splinters. “Or maybe.” Keegan picked up the grapefruit-sized rock that Teresa had bounced off his head, and with a flex of his hands, crumbled it to pieces. “Not hurting humans is a myth.”

Teresa looked hesitant, and when she turned to check for backup, she found that both of her friends were already gone, running as if someone had set fire to their shoes. Teresa wasn’t far behind.

“Could you really hurt her?” Vivi asked.

“No,” Keegan replied. “But she didn’t know.”

“Thanks, Keegan.”

“You spoke for me in the deli, when I was broken and had no words,” Keegan replied. “I should thank you.”

“We can thank each other! Because just now you were strong for me.” Vivi replied.

“You have a strength that is far more important.”

Vivi curled an arm and flexed her bicep, but even flexed the muscle didn’t amount to much. She laughed and said, “Just kidding.” She pounded a fist against her heart. “I’m strong here.” Then she went up on tippy toes to thump a hand against Keegan’s chest and the reverberations rolled like thunder. “And you are, too.”

Robot and girl looked back towards the classroom where Freya beckoned from inside with a disaffected air.

“Do you want to go inside and draw a picture of a kitty instead of a flower?” Vivi asked.

“I can’t think of a better subject.”


Travis Burnham’s
work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 21: “Hunt” • by Jonathan Sherwood

There is a moment when you realize it’s gone too far. You’ve lost control and in the blink of an eye everything is about to become horrific.

Hadiza kept the butt of her rifle tight to her shoulder. One eye looking through the scope. Finger hovering over the trigger. And realized this was that moment.

“Joe,” she whispered, hoping she spoke loudly enough for her ear comm to pick up her voice. “Joe, I think it’s here.”

Around her, the vast blue bamboo forest swayed in the constant breeze. A never-ceasing clatter of windchimes, mixed with the rustle of the bamboo’s upper leaves and the hiss of the light rain. Her knee sank into the mud.

“Joe,” she said louder.

“Hadiza,” Joe’s voice crackled in her ear. His voice echoed her strain. “Are you sure?”

“Dammit,” Hadiza muttered, and spit rain off her lips. Her eye never left the scope. She was sure she’d seen it, weaving around the bamboo like a goddamn ghost snake. And now, she stared with every neuron straining to discern something behind the endless stalks of swaying blue. She and Joe thought they’d chased it into this forest. Now she realized it had lured them here.

* * *

Hadiza and Joe Thurbone had started hunting night razors together a few years back. You couldn’t hunt during the dry season because you could be lost for days in the occasional dust storm, but she sorely missed  hunting on her home world, so when Joe pointed out that near their settlement on Odin III there roamed some nasty predators that could make for a good hunt, she surprised herself by taking him up on his offer. He was a little annoying, but around the campfire with the perimeter alarms set, all he wanted was the camaraderie of the hunt without getting too close.

Night razors turned out to be good sport—clever predators, sharp of claw and tooth—but you could take them down with a well-aimed shot. And although their claws and teeth were sharp, they gained the name “razors” for their weird shape; like a bear two hand widths wide. Black, furry pancakes on edge. On the open plains it made them easy targets from the side. Sometimes, evolution screws up.

But now, she understood, the razors’ natural habitat wasn’t the plains. It was right here.

They’d chased this one for miles that first night, never able to land a shot, so by the next afternoon, Hadiza had the idea of flushing it into the bamboo forest where it would be slowed. The beast went all-too willingly into the forest, and they plunged all-too willingly in after it.

In minutes, Hadiza realized their mistake. The razor’s thin body wriggled through the dense bamboo like a snake’s. She and Joe, on the other hand, were slowed immensely by the stalks and raised a clatter as the bamboo trunks rattled together with nearly every step.

“This sound’s driving me nuts,” said Joe after the third hour. “You remember Saanvi Das? She got lost in one of these bamboo forests and came out batshit crazy. They called it pareidolia. I guess when you hear the same sound uninterrupted for long enough, you start hallucinating sounds that aren’t there.”

That little bit of advice had saved their lives. About an hour later, Joe thought he heard something on their left, so they both swung their rifles around, eyeing every moving shaft of blue in the unending sea, so focused on what they were sure was there that it wasn’t until Hadiza heard a twig snap on their right that she spun her head around, and saw the eyes of the razor less than twenty feet away. She shouted, turning, rifle banging into the stalks, and the creature spun about and wriggled its way through the bamboo. They got a couple of shots off, but it was too little, too late.

“Go left!” yelled Joe. “I’ll go right! We’ll flush him back out!”

“Get on comms!” Hadiza yelled back, rifle in one hand and the other pushing the comm bead into her ear. She leaped and crashed her way through the bamboo. Speed was essential, and the noise would help spook the razor.

“More to the west!” said Joe. “Keep him going west toward the big sun! It’s probably less than a mile out of the forest in that direction!”

The suns were hard to see down here, but Hadiza could make out some shadows, and she ran, trunks smacking her in the face even though she held her rifle to block them.

After ten minutes, she yelled, “Shit, stop! Stop running!”

In the far distance, she could hear Joe’s crashing come to a stop.

“What?” said Joe, clearly out of breath.

Hadiza was in great physical condition, but that tripping-bounding-face-smacking running was too much. She breathed several times before answering.

“I’ve lost track of it. And we’re too far apart.”

“Shit.” Joe breathed twice. “Just felt a raindrop. Maybe we should just keep heading west and get out. I don’t mind roughing it, but getting soaked sucks.”

“Yeah. Damn. Hate to quit,” said Hadiza. Thin streaks of blood covered both forearms from the sharp bamboo. “But stay frosty. It may have taken off already, but maybe not. That one seemed pretty aggressive.”

“Yeah. We’ve kept it running a whole day. It’s probably tired as we are. Probably pretty pissed off.”

The drops became a drizzle. Try as she might, Hadiza couldn’t step as smoothly between the stalks as the razor could, and she caused the bamboo to knock together overhead. She couldn’t tell the difference between the normal sounds of rain and bamboo in a breeze and the clatter she was causing. But the razor might.

“Do you think it knows people hallucinate sounds in here?” Hadiza asked.

“You mean, maybe it brought us here on purpose?”

“Yeah, like a spider’s web. Maybe it’s how it hunts.”

“Shit,” said Joe. “Now you’ve got me fuckin’ spooked.”

“Same here, and I don’t like having this comm in my ear. Feel like I can’t hear as well on one side. Makin’ me paranoid.”

“Yeah,” said Joe. “Are you having trouble tracking the suns? It’s too damn overcast. Dammit.”

“What?” said Hadiza.

“I don’t know where I am. Damn this noise. It gets in your head.”

“Hey, it’s okay, Joe. Look, I—” She stopped. Spun around, rifle moving with her eyes.

“What is it? What’s going on?”

“Holy shit,” said Hadiza. “I swear to God I just heard my dad. I just heard my dad say something.”

“Jesus, Hadiza, it ain’t real. It’s that sound-hallucination thing. Don’t freak out.”

“I’m not freaking out. I’m not. But I’m getting out. I think I still know which way is west. Keep talking. I’m getting out and I’m not stopping. You get out, too, hear me?”

“Shit,” said Joe, and Hadiza could hear the breathing in his comm, and then a “Thank God, I see the edge. I’m almost out! Where are you?”

“I’m probably close. Just get out. I’ll catch—” And Hadiza dropped to her knee, rifle tight to her shoulder. Rain splashed off the barrel. “Joe,” she whispered, hoping she spoke loudly enough for the ear comm. “Joe, I think it’s here.”

“Are you sure? Take the shot! Take the shot!” said Joe, almost in a panic.

“I don’t see it. I don’t see it, but I can smell it,” said Hadiza, and then more to herself than Joe, “Can’t fake a smell, can you, ya fucker?”

“Hadiza, I’m out! I’m out. On the west side. Should I come back in? If, maybe if you shoot in the air I can zero in on the sound.”

Hadiza took a careful, level step. Another. She could see something ahead. Something lying low. The rain came down like noisy static. The bamboo chimed. The smell came again to her, like meat mixed with a sour musk. She slipped her finger onto the trigger. Another step.

“Hadiza, what’s happening? Goddamnit,” sputtered Joe. “What’s happening?”

She blinked several times as water splashed her face. She could just see it lying there in a crumpled heap. A leg. An arm. Joe’s body, torn wide open. His head torn clean off.

“Hadiza, do you need me to come back in?” crackled Hadiza’s earpiece.

There is a moment when you realize everything is about to become horrific in the blink of an eye.

A twig behind her snapped.


Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and science fiction for even longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and an MA in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others.


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Monday, August 22, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 20: “Faith and Good Works” • by Pete Wood


Father Francis climbed into the transport back to Odin III. He smiled and greeted the young woman in the pilot’s chair.

“Just the two of us today, Father,” Mazaa, the pilot, said. “Kinda weird. Usually miners are lining up to get off this rock.”

“They don’t switch out the crews until midweek, I think,” Father Francis said. Odin II was so grueling with its higher gravity and temperature extremes that Galactic Mining couldn’t entice workers off of Odin III to man the mines for longer than thirty days, even at triple pay.

The Odin II base gave them authorization to blast off. Seconds later the ship lifted into the air. The two-hundred-meter settlement dome disappeared. In seconds all Francis could see through the porthole was a vast expanse of monotonous rock and sand.

He had been on so many transports that he stopped looking out the window. Not even the massive view screen in front of Mazaa got his attention. He turned on his tablet and settled down to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

“Some great theological text?” the pilot asked.

“Shirley Jackson,” Francis said. Seeing the blank look from Mazaa he added. “Old Earth horror writer.”

“Ah.” She grinned. “Speaking of horror stories, I used to be a Catholic,” she said.

This woman didn’t exactly mince words. “Really?”

“Altar girl and everything. Haven’t been to mass in years.”

Francis switched off the tablet. He wouldn’t be getting any reading done on this trip. “Uh huh.”

“Does that bother you, Father?”

“No. I don’t care what you believe.” He paused. “That didn’t sound right. I do care, but I feel comfortable with whatever beliefs you have.”

“I’m an atheist.”

“That’s great. I think that’s great. Seriously.”

“You don’t see that as a problem?” she asked.

“God doesn’t see that as a problem.”

“The Bible says that?”

Francis sighed. “I don’t know what God thinks, but I doubt God cares.”

Mazaa blinked. “Doesn’t that go against the whole organized religion thing?”

“The Bible goes against the whole organized religion thing. Jesus spends half the Gospels butting heads with the Church.”

“Then why—”

“Why am I a priest? I believe in God and I believe in the Church. We do more than just mass. Charity. Education. We’re not just about the mumbo jumbo.”

“I dunno, Father. Back on Earth my priest was a, excuse me, real asshole. Arrogant. Sexist. She—”

The ship lurched. A whining noise came out of the engine. Then the noise stopped.

Mazaa pressed buttons. No response. Nothing on the radio.

“We’re leaking fuel,” she said. “We’re going down.”

Ten minutes later the ship slammed into the desert.

* * *

 “Mazaa!” Francis called out.

No response.

Pitch dark. He used his tablet’s pale light to look around. A dead view screen. Sand covered half of the starboard porthole.

He unbuckled himself and leaned over the pilot. Blood streamed down her face. Still breathing. She opened her eyes.

“You okay, Father?”

“I’m fine.”

She undid her seat belt. She lifted herself up a couple of inches and then collapsed into the chair. Her eyes welled in tears. “I need to go outside.”

Father Francis was no doctor, but he knew a serious injury when he saw one. “You shouldn’t move. Wait for help.”

She lifted herself off the chair a little higher and let out a scream of pain. “I have to get outside!” she yelled, as if the intensity of her speech would somehow will her off the chair.

“You can’t.”

“Francis, listen to me,” Mazaa gasped. “You’ve got to go outside.” She panted and continued. “No fuel. No power.” She closed her eyes and winced.

“How do I get the power back on?” he asked. He knew they’d be dead in hours when the suns came up. Maybe rescue would come first. Maybe not. Thank God they’d landed on the night side of Odin II. They had a chance before temperatures soared above two hundred degrees.

Her eyes had a vacant faraway look. Then she focused on Francis. “Something must have cut the line from the solar panels. Gotta—” She coughed. “Reconnect.”

“They’ll rescue us, right?”

“The emergency beacon needs power. Nothing but desert outside.”

* * *

Oxygen mask sealed tight, Francis stepped into the frigid night. The good thing about a planet that routinely had highs about the boiling point of water was that there, unlike Odin III, had been no micro-organisms to speak of. The bad news, besides the highs above the boiling point of water thing, was the lows at night were pretty damned miserable too.

They seemed to be on some sort of plain. Distant peaks. Well, God at least had given them that. They hadn’t crashed into the mountains.

He shivered and wondered which of the thousands of stars was Earth’s sun. He suspected a bright steady star low in the horizon was Odin III.

He tripped in the deep divot in the sand caused by the ship. The trail stretched past the flashlight’s beam.

No noise out here but the wind. Thank God he wasn’t in one of the planet’s legendary sandstorms.

He switched the flashlight to his right hand and shoved his left in his pocket where it warmed up. Thank the Lord the ship had enough oxygen for the trip outside. The two tanks strapped to his back would get him past sunrise. After that it wouldn’t matter.

He wasn’t sure what to look for, even with the jumbled directions Mazaa had managed to give before passing out. God wasn’t going to magically point out the breach. He was on his own. Francis stood in one spot and moved the beam down the length of the ship, took a step to the right, and started over again. He hopped up and down from time to time to stay warm.

Then he spotted a series of gashes on starboard. Something had hit them in the upper atmosphere. Space junk? A meteor? They’d never know. He could see faint purple streaks, probably from gushing fuel.

He shone the light in each hole. The fifth one had a cable with two shredded ends. No purple tint. This was not the fuel line.

It couldn’t be this simple. He reached inside and pushed the two ends together with some effort.

Lights flickered through the porthole, then went steady.

He stepped back to go inside, but the lights went out. He’d have to stand out here and hold the ends together if there were any chance of rescue.

Forty years as a priest, first on Earth, then twenty years on Odin III. He never imagined dying this way. Death didn’t scare him. He knew what awaited him. But Mazaa’s death was another matter. If he lessened his grip, the emergency beacon would go out and the pilot would surely perish.

Not on his watch.

He tried to stay focused. He searched for the unofficial constellations Odinians had named. Snoopy. The Beer Mug. Even a few risqué ones he wasn’t supposed to know about.

He tried to recite prayers, but his mind wandered back to the plots of old movies and books. He struggled with the Sermon on the Mount but knocked out half an hour by remembering all the differences in the adaptions of The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s perfect ghost story.

The first sun rose over the horizon. Then the second minutes later. He wondered how much time he had.

Then the third.

The third?

The rescue ship landed.

* * *

Francis woke up on a hospital cot. One cot over, Mazaa, with all manner of tubes stuck into her, rested.

A nurse rushed over. “You’re in the infirmary on Odin II. You’re going to be fine. You had some internal bleeding. Nothing like Mazaa.”

“Is she going to be okay?”

“It’ll take her a few weeks to recover, but yeah.”

His right hand felt numb. Careful not to pull too hard on the IV, he stared at it.

“You had pretty bad frostbite, Father,” the nurse said. “Quite an accomplishment out here. You have two new positronic fingers on your right hand and six positronic toes. You’ll get used to them in a few months.”

“I need to get—”

“You need to rest.” The nurse paused. “Mazaa had a message for you.”

He reached for a cup of water. “What did Mazaa say?”

“She said she knew she’d make it. When you went outside, she had faith in you.”


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 year or so 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, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that will be running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Coming Wednesday: Episode 21 of The Odin Chronicles, “Hunt,” by Jonathan Sherwood.



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Saturday, August 20, 2022

SHOWCASE • “Maggie’s Confessional” • by Branden Linley

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It’s been, hell, probably a couple years since I last confessed.”

“Language, Maggie.”

“Sorry, Father.”

“What brings you here today?”

“I’m not exactly sure what sin I committed, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of them big ones.”

“Tell me what happened, and we’ll sort through it.”

“Sure thing. So, you remember the guy who summoned the demon that possessed Alex? Devo Dickwad or whatever his name was?”

“Yes, I remember. He’s still in prison, right? And how is your brother?”

“Yup, still in the big house. And Alex, well, he’s talking a bit now. Just a few words, but at least they make sense some of the time. And there’s less screaming. Still takes his meals through a straw, though.”

“Any progress is good news. I’m sure the Lord is watching over him and will bring him back to us in time.”

“Thanks to you. Take a little credit at least. Exorcism ain’t exactly small potatoes.”

“Just serving the Lord. Now, what was it about Devo you wanted to talk about?”

“I went to see him at the prison.”

“You… what? Whatever for?”

“See, that’s where I think my sin begins. I wanted revenge. Seeing that rat bastard in jail wasn’t enough.”



“But why go there? You couldn’t do anything to him in prison.”

“Oh, I wasn’t going there to punish him further. Not that he doesn’t need it. No, I went there to ask him how to summon the demon.”

“Come again?”

“I wanted to know how to summon it. Now, the way I see it, the demon got off pretty much scot-free. You sent it back to Hell and that was it.”

“And banishment to Hell isn’t enough?”

“Hell no.”


“But you just said hell. What gives?”

“I didn’t use it as a curse.”

“Sure, whatever. Anyway. Demon in… Hell…”

“That’s fine.”

“Right. I mean, that’s where it’s from. That’s its nature. Punishment should be something worse than your day in day out.”

“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that summoning a demon is, well, pretty bad in the eyes of God.”

“Don’t sweat it, Father, I didn’t summon it.”

“Okay. Good, I guess. What did you do, then?”

“Well, Devo Dickwad—”


“Really? Fine, Devo Dumbass must have thought it pretty amusing that I wanted to know how he’d summoned the demon, like I’d been corrupted by my brother’s experience and fallen to the dark side or something. So he told me where he’d stashed his books, walked me through the basics, even gave me the exact name of the demon, which turned out to be really important.”

“But you said you didn’t summon it.”

“Not exactly, no.”


“The books he gave me, well, they’re pretty messed up. Go figure. But they told me what I needed. With a bit of ‘deductive reasoning’ and the ‘application’ of some clever ‘geometry’—reminds me, I still have to go thank Mr. B and Ms. Anderson for not letting me sleep through their classes last year—I was able to reverse the ritual Devo and his buds used.”

“Reverse to do what?”

“To send me to Hell. Don’t tell me, that’s somewhere on the sin list as well, right?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s up there on things not to do. But, why? How? Did you even try it?”

“Why? I already told you—to get revenge on that demon. And, heck yeah, I tried it. Worked like a freaking charm, too.”

“Wait. Maggie, are you telling me you actually went to Hell? And returned? Forgive my incredulity.”

“That’s cool, Father. I’m not sure anyone’s ever done it before. And to think my dad said I’d never amount to anything. Trans-dimensional pioneer, baby!”

“Back up a bit. Explain just what you did.”

“Oh, right. So, no, I didn’t exactly go to Hell. I mean, I did, sorta, but not my body. Just my mind. Maybe my soul, too? I’m not sure about that one. You’re the expert there.”

“No clue.”

“Anyway, because Devo gave me its name, I was able to basically possess the same demon who’d possessed my brother. I sorta summoned myself into it. Him. I guess it was a him, given the size of his—”

“Yeah, I get the picture.”

“You wouldn’t believe how many demons have over-sized… members. I think it’s like boys and their pickup trucks. Compensating, if you get my meaning.”

“Focus, Maggie.”

“Right. So, I was a little surprised when it worked, but I’d already planned out vaguely what to do. Everything was weird, and I had no idea where I was going. Very strange place. Hot, cold, fire, ice, dark, dank… Oh, and don’t get me started on the smells or the screams and moans. If anything, the Bible undersells it. Trust me, send a kid to Hell for a minute and it’ll work like a million times better than those candy-ass ‘scared straight’ programs they feed us at school. Worked for me, I’ll tell ya. Legit scared straight here on out for me.”

“I’m happy to hear that. But then what?”

“Oh, I just started doing good deeds. I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen to a demon? I figured it would be having all his buddy demons thinking he’d gone soft. And he was pretty high in the pecking order, I think, since there were lots of little demons cowering all around him, taking my orders.”

“Good deeds. Interesting approach, I’ll grant you.”

“I’d hoped to release a bunch of trapped souls, thinking maybe they could escape to Heaven, but I couldn’t figure out how. I settled on doing what I could to ease their suffering.”

“Such as?”

“Giving them cool water to drink, back-rubs, turning down the flames, singing some Taylor Swift—not sure that helped with some of them—cancelling torture sessions. That sort of thing. Did that for quite a few hours I think—time is kinda weird there—and even made all his underlings help. Then his boss demon showed up. Big honkin’ dude with these horns and a sausage like the Weinermobile. One look into his eyes and it seemed like a good time to end my mission. I just slipped out of his brain and, bam, back home.”


“Like I said, I’m pretty sure there’s a sin or three in there. So here I am. What’s my punishment?”

“Penance? I’m not sure I shouldn’t petition for your sainthood.”

“Oh, I ain’t no saint. Just trying to get back at a demon by shedding a little light in that dark hole.”

“That you did. How about one Hail Mary and we forget this ever happened?”

“For real? Less than I got for lifting M&M’s? You’re getting soft, Father.”


“Language, Father!”


Not quite equal parts husband, father, engineer, artist, and musician, Branden Linley has been writing fiction since he could string together a sentence. Originally from Wisconsin, he now lives in Austin, TX, with his wife and son. His fiction has appeared in Fictionvale Episode 1, Alternate Hilarities: Hysterical Realms, and in other dark corners of the web such as his cheerfully neglected blog


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Friday, August 19, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 19: “The One Who Walks Out” • by Carol Scheina


19. “The One Who Walks Out”

by Carol Scheina

Two miners walk into a cavern and—

Ronja had heard variations of that joke far too many times on Odin III. She only wanted to finish her beer in peace as she nestled into a dark corner in Weber’s Place. It was just her luck that a bearded man in dusty miner’s overalls cut through the bar noise with his deep, baritone voice. 

There were so many ways the story could go. Someone’s forgotten their headlamp, or they find stolen gold, or so on.

Ronja knew, though, the joke only went one way, and it wasn’t funny. 

Two miners walk into a cavern, and only one walks out.

She gulped the last of the foam in her mug and made for the exit. 

Outside, a young man stood in front of a well-traveled van, groaning as he pulled at a locked door handle. “Not again.”

Ronja slipped her pocketknife from her overalls and pushed the man out of her way. “Here, let me.” She jiggled the knife in the keyhole with practiced ease until the lock popped.

“Thanks! I’ve got to remember to take the keys out before I lock up.” The man’s tousled hair looked like it had seen the bad parts of a comb. He stuck his hand out. “I’m Father Luigi.”

“Ronja.” She shook the hand hurriedly, then turned away.

The priest called after her, “Nice lockpicking. I’ll be sure to ask for you next time!”

Ronja didn’t answer as she fingered the pocketknife in her hand. She used to say there wasn’t a lock she couldn’t pick. That skill kept her and Maia fed for quite a number of years back on Earth, when they were scrambling to keep out of foster homes and stay together. That was before she got the idea that there would be more stability and money in a mining job. Galactic Mining was looking for anyone to work for them, and Ronja guessed that the company wouldn’t care that she had had a few brushes with the law or that Maia was a year too young. 

Galactic was only too happy to hire them.

The plan was to hang out on Odin III for a few years and save up enough money to buy a home on one of the nicer planets. 


Two miners walk into a cavern

Ronja didn’t think there was enough beer on Odin III to help her sleep. The nights alone in her home were always too dark and too long.

* * *

Early in the morning, she headed to the mines. There, at least, she could keep busy. The caverns filled with fine, gray dust as the dig-bots chipped away at rock walls. Her job was to keep an eye on her bot, as it couldn’t distinguish between ordinary rock and ore. A bot would easily pulverize a section of ore if a miner didn’t keep watch. Ronja let her eyes focus on the bot’s swinging arms as her baggy overalls turned lighter with dust.

The songs of the miners echoed through the cave, There’s a light at the end of the tunnel where my love is standing true…

It was so easy to imagine Maia working right behind her, hidden by the particles clouding the air, and to let the hours slip by.

When Ronja walked out of the mines, always the last to leave these days, the priest with the van was waiting. 

“The others said you were still in there. I wanted to make sure you got home okay. There’s a dust storm coming.”

He was right; Ronja could see the dark clouds rapidly moving in, so she yanked open the van door and slipped into the seat. “If you’re trying to pick me up for a date, I’m not interested.” Her voice came out harsher than she intended.

Luigi sat in the driver’s seat. “No worries. My heart’s already spoken for by a great woman named Shelley.”

“So you just spend your days driving around, looking for people to shuttle?”

The van bumped down the rocky pathway toward town. Outside, the winds beat against the vehicle’s frame. Dust storms only happened a couple of times a year, but the locals had warned her not to take them lightly. She could see why.

“Mostly, I spend my days looking for people to help,” Luigi said.

“You get a promotion or something for every person you convert?” After all, everyone on Odin was there for money. Galactic made their fortune with ore, the miners hoped to earn enough to find better lives. Like she and Maia, and their dreams.

Luigi shrugged sheepishly. “I’m actually not the best person to ask about the Bible and God. All that still seems new to me. But I do know the Catholic Church is doing good things here. I wanted to join in on that.”

Outside, the dust specks tapped a furious rhythm against the windshield, hiding the road from their eyes.

Luigi slowed and braked. “Guess we’re not going to be able to outdrive this. Should be fine to wait this out; it wasn’t supposed to last a long time.” He put the van in park.

Ronja stared out the window.

The priest continued. “I guess I’m trying to ask if you’re okay.”

“No.” The force of the word took Ronja by surprise. “No, I’m not. It was my idea to come here. My sister just followed along. I was the one who said we should volunteer to work on Odin II.” That was the job from hell. Temperature too hot, air too thin—no wonder Galactic didn’t allow workers to stay longer than thirty days, but the pay was double.

Ronja dug her fists into her eyes as though that could block out the memories. No wonder she never talked to anyone anymore. This was all she could think about. “If it had been a cave-in here, she would’ve been fine. But Odin II’s oxygen levels are too low, air couldn’t get in, she couldn’t breathe. She suffered brain damage.”

Two miners walk into a cave, and one comes out on a stretcher covered in oxygen tubes.

Luigi stammered. “I’m so sorry.”

Ronja dropped her fists and glared. “I don’t want to hear anything about God’s will or any shit like that. I brought her here. She trusted me. And now, it’ll be a long time before she’s strong enough to take a ship back here. She’s alone in a hospital on Odin II, learning to move again.”

“Why aren’t you there with her?” Luigi’s voice was quiet.

“Galactic makes you wait before they’ll approve another rotation. I ask, they say no. So I keep working here, and that pays for her therapy.” All the dreams now got funneled into hospital bills. They would’ve been better off picking locks back on Earth.

Luigi started to say something, but Ronja cut him off. “I think the storm’s ending. I can walk from here. We’re done.”

The storm was slowing but still whipping dust into the air, stinging Ronja’s face. Her mining goggles were back at the job site, so she used her arm to shield her eyes as the winds ripped at her hair. She kept her gaze on the ground, noticing that the van’s headlights illuminated the road as she stumbled on, following her. Dumb priest thinking he could fix things with a bunch of wise words and some dead god. The real world was family and money, and right now, she had neither.

The sting of dust eased up, but she still refused to turn around and acknowledge Luigi. Talking didn’t help. There was no changing the past.

* * *

The priest was waiting for her at the mines the next morning.

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Ronja brushed past him.

“Wait,” Luigi called. “The Church’s booked you a ship to Odin II. Galactic’s authorized you to get paid time off.”

Ronja froze. Slowly she turned. “How?”

“Father Francis, my boss, worked out a deal with Galactic. He knows people. Plus, the Church has money. Someone told me they sold a lot of artwork years ago or something like that.”

She still didn’t believe it. “Why?”

“I told you, we want to help people. It’s hard and lonely out here, but life shouldn’t be every man for himself. Or woman for herself. Someone’s got to be the one to help, to look out for folks. That’s why the Church set up locations on different planets.” 

Ronja still didn’t move.

“The ship leaves in 45 minutes. Can I give you a lift?” Luigi turned to open the van door, which refused to open. “Dang it, locked them inside again.”

Ronja slipped out her pocketknife. “I got this,” she said, “and thank you.” She tried to put all her heart into the words.

A smile grew on her face, feeling stiff from not having used those muscles in a while. It felt good.

Two miners walked into a cave and… and maybe a better life still awaited them.


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at