Friday, June 30, 2023

An update to the update

A few more people have asked, “What call for submissions?”

It went out a few weeks ago, first to our followers on social media and then to the writers on the Pete Wood Challenge mailing list. Whittling it down to the nub:

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR: Sixty-two previously unpublished flash fiction to short-short SF/F stories, 1,000 words in length or less, specifically for publication on the Stupefying Stories website, to begin on July 1st, 2023, and run through the end of August.

WHAT I’M PAYING: A flat fee of $15 USD per story, if accepted.

WHAT ABOUT REPRINTS? This one time only I will consider running reprints of previously published stories. For these I will pay a flat fee of $5 USD, if accepted.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Send your stories to


BIG DAMN NOTE! As of right now our publishing calendar for July and August is just about full. If you send me a story now it’s going to have to be pretty awesomely incredibly amazing to be accepted. I already have all the horror and under-250-word flash fiction I need, thank you, and will NOT be accepting more stories beyond the 62 stated with the idea of holding onto them and running them “later.” Doing that has always come around to sink it’s needle-sharp fangs into my @$$, so I won’t do it anymore.

Instead, throughout July we’ll be watching our readership metrics with sharply focused attention, and if it looks like this experiment is producing the results we’re hoping for, we will have our next open submissions window in early August, for publication on the website beginning in September. Expect our submissions criteria to change, as we continue to refine what we’re doing, but this is your heads-up to expect that another open window will be coming.


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

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Update: re submissions

Because so many have asked: no, we are not open to unsolicited* submissions right now.

[About that asterisk: Right now we don’t have the time or resources to handle being fully open to submissions. I’m especially leery of our being listed as an open market on Duotrope, as every time that happens we get absolutely inundated in submissions from people who either don’t read or refuse to abide by submission guidelines. What we are seeking right now is very specific: a few more short stories of up to 1,000 words in length, for publication on our web site, science fiction preferred, fantasy considered, no more horror. We already have all the horror we can use. We are also unapologetically giving first preference to writers we have published before and people who have become our friends on social media. These people have been solicited to send us submissions. If you are a regular reader of this site, you may consider yourself solicited, too.]

A few weeks ago I put out a specific and carefully targeted call for submissions to known friends of Stupefying Stories and past winners of the Pete Wood Challenge. My goal was to build up our inventory of flash and short fiction, so we’d have enough stories in the pipeline to support our move to publishing a new story daily, beginning at 0700 CDT this coming Saturday, July 1st

I’m pleased to report that the Friends of Stupefying Stories… (F.O.S.S.? Sounds like a 12-step group. We’ll have to work on that.)

Our friends have come through admirably, including quite a few folks we haven’t heard from in years, and the pipeline is now almost full. We’ve received enough flash fiction to choke a horse, or at least a Shetland pony, and all the horror we can use. We could still use a few more hard science fiction and fantasy stories, in the under 1K-word range, and specifically a few more “first contact” SF stories and a few more “fractured fairy tales.”

Therefore, if you were thinking about sending us something for this submissions call, be advised that the window is just about closed, and will definitively close on Wednesday, July 5th. After that we’ll be focused on publishing, publishing, publishing, and also watching our readership metrics very closely. If things go as we hope they will, we’ll have another open reading window for short fiction (under 1K words) from August 6th through August 12th, but will likely focus and refine our requirements before then. Watch this space for more details.

Until then, I’ll invite you once again to either become a Follower of Stupefying Stories (using the Follow button in the gadget in the left column, follow us Twitter (@StupefyingSF), follow our “official” page on Facebook (, or if you have a very high tolerance for weird, befriend me personally ( No, we’re not on Snapchat or TikTok right now. I suppose we should be. (Grumble, grumble...)

[Grumble? Is that another social media platform we need to be on? If not, it should be.]

And of course…

If you like the stories we’re publishing, subscribe today. We do Stupefying Stories out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep Stupefying Stories going at this level we need to raise at least $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or crowd-funding campaigns, we’d rather have subscribers.


If just 100 people commit to just $5 monthly (No obligations! Cancel anytime!) —we can keep going at this level indefinitely. If we raise more, we will pay our authors more.

Sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? But I have a hunch, it just might work.

Thank you,
Bruce Bethke
Editor, Publisher, and Executive Cat Herder in Chief,
Stupefying Stories | Rampant Loon Press

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

“This Island Gilligan’s” • by Bruce Bethke

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…

As all properly educated science fiction fans know, Russell Johnson, a.k.a., “The Professor,” is the only actor who appears in both the 1955 Universal Pictures science fiction classic, This Island Earth—  


and on Gilligan’s Island

Not only that, but in both roles, he played essentially the same character. Which of course led me to begin to wonder: what if he wasn’t acting? 

What if it was all true? 

What if both stories are true and connected

I’ve long felt that the true story of Gilligan’s Island was that Mr. Howell was, yes, indeed a millionaire, but also a criminal mastermind, who only feigned idiocy to allay suspicions and who had deliberately engineered the shipwreck in order to fake his own death and hide out from the law until the statute of limitations expired. In that case Ginger was obviously his mistress, The Professor his willing henchman, The Skipper and Gilligan just hapless dupes, and Mary Ann yet another poor girl from the Midwest who’d gone to Hawaii to have fun and disappeared without a trace, as happens all too often. The one I never quite figured out was Mrs. Howell. Why did Mr. Howell keep her alive, when it would have been so easy for him to have arranged for her to drown in the shipwreck? What power did that daft old biddy have over him?

Never mind that now. The connection to This Island Earth suddenly opened up a whole new line of thought for me. The Professor appeared to have been killed while escaping from the Metalunans in This Island Earth. But…

What if he’d survived? 

What if he was still alive and in hiding 10 years later? 

What if the Metalunans weren’t all defeated and destroyed?

Is that really The Professor? We know the Metalunans had an advanced biological super-science that enabled them to create useful clones and mutants to order.

(Though apparently not to pronounce the word “mutant” in a way that makes sense to any native speaker of English.) 

What if they had used their super-science to resurrect The Professor or replace him with a sinister alien duplicate? 

What if Gilligan’s Island is actually the story of... ?


Me being me, the idea quickly began to seem both hilarious and fascinating. What is the story that fills in the blank? Why, what a great idea for a Friday Challenge! Better yet, what a great idea for the first-ever combined Friday Challenge and Pete Wood Challenge!

I immediately broached the idea to Pete Wood. To say his response was cool is an understatement. Personally, he was far more interested in the question of how Khan managed to escape from the detonation of the Genesis torpedo on board the Reliant and travel back through time to end up owning Fantasy Island. The more I discussed the idea with other people…

The clearer it became to me that yes, this might be an amusing concept, but the actual execution of it would be a hell of a lot of work. And it’s not as if I have a shortage of things demanding my time and attention these days.

In the end, then, I decided that we’ll just have to leave those poor seven stranded castaways trapped on their lonely island, without a single luxury, like Robinson Caruso, as primitive as can be, acting out their meaningless absurdist microcosmic dramas and all the while blithely unaware of the horrors the Metalunans are wreaking on humanity as they conquer the rest of the world.


P.S. Be sure to come back on Sunday, when SHOWCASE presents, “Castaways,” by Pete Wood!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Status Update • 27 June 2023

Here’s what’s going on in the Stupefying Stories/Rampant Loon Press office right now.

  • The new and improved SHOWCASE: The Next Generation launches this coming Saturday, July 1st, at 0700 CDT. Beginning Saturday, SHOWCASE will be bringing you new stories daily, at 0700 CDT sharp, with all stories carefully hand-selected and lovingly polished to a high gloss by award-winning, nay, legendary science fiction author Bruce Bethke. Bookmark this link! Better yet, join the cult of great short fiction and become a Follower!

    Hmm. There doesn’t seem to be a way to isolate the [Follow] link from the Followers gadget in the left column of the web site. We’ll have to work on that. In the meantime, you’ll just have to scroll up to find the [Follow] button in the left column and click it.

    Hmm also. is still having issues with the site certificate. works, but your browser may say it’s an unsafe site because of the missing “s” in the transport protocol specification. Another thing for the to-do list. For now, use

  • We have a great lineup of new short stories already in the queue for SHOWCASE, with more being added every day. I’m really pleased to tell you that you’ll be seeing a lot of brand-new stories from a lot of previous contributors and returning fan favorites, including Beth Cato, Anatoly Belilovsky, Karin Terebessy, Marcas McClellan, Carol Scheina, Karl Dandenell, Judith Field, Gustavo Bondoni, Julie Frost, and many, many more! Really, I am absolutely delighted that so many Stupefying Stories alumni have returned to support this, some even going so far as to write absolutely new and fresh stories just for this call. Why, it almost brings a spark of warmth and life to my cold and leathery publisher’s heart, it does, to know that so many writers who started out with us still support the old Rampant Loon.

  • Speaking of supporting Rampant Loon Press, we’re going to be a lot more up-front about badgering you to subscribe. We do Stupefying Stories and SHOWCASE out of pure love for genre fiction, but in publishing as in tennis, love means nothing. To keep SHOWCASE going at this level we need to raise about $500 USD monthly, and rather than doing so with pledge breaks or Kickstarter campaigns I’d rather have subscribers. If we can get just 100 people to commit to just $5 monthly— (No obligations! Cancel anytime!) —we can keep SHOWCASE going at this level indefinitely. If we raise more than that, we will use it to pay our authors more. (Say what?! That’s crazy!)

    We’re not out to fill the void left by the shut-down of Daily Science Fiction. Right now, we can’t begin to pay our authors what they paid theirs. But with your help, we can begin to move towards filling the hole in the online genre fiction ecosystem that DSF left behind.

    Nota bene: We have had a few well-meaning people offer to give us very large donations, and while I really do appreciate their kindness, I’d rather have a large number of small-amount subscribers than a few large-amount one-time donors. It’s a matter of my preferring to have a broad base of committed and ongoing support for Stupefying Stories. It’s a sort of a populism thing.

    I have had a few people offer to provide us with downright lavish funding—on the condition that we agree to run more stories promoting this or that religious, political, or socio-sexual viewpoint and no stories by any of “those” people. (However the prospective donor defines “those.”) These are offers I assure you I will never take. I’d rather strike the tent and close the circus than become a pimp for some religious, political, or socio-sexual viewpoint. On this, you have my promise.    

  • Stupefying Stories #24 rolls out next week. Seriously. It’s actually within reach to release it this week, but then I realized that even if I did release it this week, this being the Independence Day holiday weekend, no one would notice. So next week it is.

  • Finally, as you can see from the photo, we have pretty much finished moving into our new office. Same address; different floor, more room, better light, and more fresh air. In the process of moving, though, we found a lot of old manuscripts, correspondence, and half-finished projects that were all left in an uncertain state when everything was forwarded to Helena Handbasket in July of 2019. In the weeks to come I’m going to be sorting through all this stuff and figuring out what’s still viable, what’s potentially salvageable, and what is better employed as fireplace tinder. Looks like I’m going to be giving the (supposedly now working correctly) new email system a thorough workout.

Thanks for reading all this, and have a great day!

—Bruce Bethke | Stupefying Stories

Saturday, June 24, 2023

“The Big Bad Wolf: An Apologia” • by Julie Frost


Look, I only agreed to this phone chat from the… who are you again? The Black Forest Mirror-Gazette? Right. Because I’m tired of the undeserved smear campaign you people keep victimizing me with. What happened to getting both sides of the story? For the record, I still don’t trust you. “Journalistic integrity,” my left hind leg.

Oh, hey, a semi-hostile question right off the bat. I see how this is going. I’m recording this, you know. First of all, “big bad wolf” is a misnomer. I can’t help how big I am—don’t ask me how the physics work on tripling in mass over the full moon, or why it’s even a thing; I’m afraid of the answer myself. Second of all, I behave no more badly than any other person, ninety percent of the time. I pay my bills. I mow my lawn. I go to the office and put in my eight-to-five. I am dead norm—

You want to talk about the other ten percent? Seriously? Is this one of those hit pieces?

Little Red Ri—

No, I am not growling. Okay, for the cheap seats. She wasn’t so little. She was armed with a crossbow and silver-tipped bolts hidden in her basket of goodies. Total entrapment. She and the woodsman were in cahoots, you know, and, oh, sure, he “just happened” to be passing by. This is me, rolling my eyes, can you see that over the phone? Also, in case you were wondering, old people are crammed full of stringy gristle and fragile bones that splinter horribly and wind up wedged between your molars. Chickens got nothing on grandma. Ugh. I hope you noticed I stuck to dining on animals after that incident. Not a meal I wish to repeat.

The Three Little Pigs? For the love of—

Actually, yes, that was a huff. They were boars. Which are not, for the record, little in any sense of the word, and it’s super cute how the “heroes” are always so tiny and helpless in these stories, when they are anything but in reality. A house made of straw begs to be blown down, and the wooden construction wasn’t much better, trust me—apparently swine have no idea what nails are for. If God didn’t want us to eat pigs, He wouldn’t have made them out of delicious bacon. You can’t blame me for trying. Did you have sausage for breakfast? Yeah, I thought so.

The Seven Kids? Getting a headache. Right here. I will reluctantly admit I may have gone overboard on that occasion. Shifting makes me ravenous, what with the tripling-in-mass thing, and when I’m confronted with that many tender baby goats, it’s hard to stop once I start. But for crying out loud, if they couldn’t tell the difference between my paws and their mother’s hooves, they were really too stupid to live. And I paid for my gluttony with a very uncomfortable surgical procedure, though the rumors of my demise (as always) were exaggerated.

I’ve got a question for you. How do they justify cutting me open all the time? Noticed that? Of course I heal, but they never, ever bother with anesthesia. Torturing someone like me is perfectly acceptable, apparently, even though you’ve got laws about doing it to regular humans. I’m just a monster, though, right?

You know what, fine. I know when I’m not wanted. I’ve heard about a lovely forest in Russia, with a picturesque meadow and a duck pond. I’ll retire there, and you won’t have me to kick around in your fairy tales anymore.

...Peter? Who’s ‘Peter’?


Julie Frost is an award-winning author of every shade of speculative fiction. She lives in Utah with a herd of guinea pigs, her husband, and a “kitten” who thinks she’s a warrior princess. Her short fiction has appeared in Weird World War IV, Talons and Talismans, Straight Outta Dodge City, Monster Hunter Files, Writers of the Future, StoryHack, Stupefying Stories, and many other venues. Her werewolf PI novel series, Pack Dynamics, is published by WordFire Press, and a novel about faith, hope, love, and redemption, set in Hell, Dark Day, Bright Hour, will be available on Amazon soon. Visit her on Facebook at

Julie has been a regular contributor to Stupefying Stories since her story “Showing Faeries for Fun and Profit” appeared in our July 2013 issue. That issue is long since out of print, but if you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out her story “Woe to the Hand” in Stupefying Stories #23

MINING THE ASTEROIDS Part 11: Eco-Airs Building Asteroids into Rotating Space Settlements?

Initially, I started this series because of the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention, DisCON which I WOULD have been attending in person if I felt safe enough to do so in person AND it hadn’t been changed to the week before the Christmas Holidays…HOWEVER, as time passed, I knew that this was a subject I was going to explore because it interests me…

There has been some “new thinking” on how to mine the asteroids – certainly a method that will be less dangerous to Humans; certainly it will cost less in the long-run because you don’t have to feed robots nor house them, nor make accommodation for them in any way. Even if you have prisoners as miners (an ancient and hardly-vanished tradition in practice for thousands of years (even up to today-as-you-read-this), it presents problems of its own.

“Gerard K. O’Neill proposed building enormous rotating space settlements at the Earth-Moon Lagrange points back in the 1970s.”

The first and worst problem is that he based such an effort on the use of “cheap” space-shuttle flights, never imagining that the Shuttle would be abandoned after two explosions destroyed not only the Shuttles but the crews – and they proved horrendously expensive. The Space Shuttle would never carry the amount of “stuff” he envisioned at anything even approaching economical and profit-making amounts…

He also figured that “hundreds of people would be working under weightless conditions in space to fabricate the settlements.” Experiments on the ISS as well as its 20-year continued occupancy (and it's STILL only a yard shy of being as long as a football field, barely able to house a handful of astronauts – and CONSIDERABLY less-well-funded than even a pair of Stadia like the US Bank in Minneapolis (where I live) and the Lucas Oil in Indianapolis (the next nearest one to me) – have shown that working under weightless conditions for extended periods of time is detrimental to Human health. The record stay in the ISS is 328 days for a woman; and a tied record at 355 days for a man. This doesn't promote any kind of creation of a routine that would be sustainable for any kind of mining of an asteroid. We'd need at least half standard G in order to remain healthy.

So…what then? This new idea, creatively named “autonomous conversion of asteroids into rotating space settlements” or more simply, ACOAIRSS...or, I think I’ll just pronounce it “Eco-Airs”...uses an asteroid as a point of rotation, then, utilizing robotic mining of the asteroid and initial manufacture of component parts, the robots assemble the pieces into a station that would spin up the asteroid and attached station parts until the entire thing is spinning under “gravity” created by centrifugal force (if you’re not sure if I used the right word:,something%20flee%20from%20the%20center.&text=Rhett%20Allain%20is%20an%20associate%20professor%20of%20physics%20at%20Southeastern%20Louisiana%20University.) The Eco-Airs would then be habitable by Human crews who would be able to stay for extended periods and make the Eco-Airs a going concern, mining ore for export down to Earth.

My personal opinion: the investment required – not to mention the technology and even the robotic brain power (or a AI capable of running such an affair without the protection of an atmosphere to protect it during solar flares) is problematic at best.

Humans, especially INCARCERATED Humans have always proved cheaper and more efficient miners than any kind of robotic machine – if robots were cheaper and better, there would be substantially fewer than some 700,000 people employed by the mining industry in the US alone. (I was unable to find any site where the number of miners were employed anywhere but here. HOWEVER, one report notes that “…51% of the mapped mining area is concentrated in only five countries: China, Australia, the United States, Russia, and Chile. Another ten countries account for 30%, and the remaining countries add up to 19% of the total mapped mining area.” (

Rest assured, while we protest otherwise, CHEAP is the siren call of every effort on Earth to produce ANYTHING -- from hamburgers to jumbo jets. Cost will, as always, drive both technology and development of newer ways to use it more cheaply.

Speculating on this, my GUESTIMATE would be that there are some 10,000,000 miners on Earth. Let’s postulate then that we can, indeed capture a target asteroid. We can move it – which we know is POSSIBLE (, so we WILL do it if the profit margin is high enough. I’ll also grant that while we could probably move it into a stable Earth orbit, and given the possibility of using that ability to drop the rock on Earth as a weapon, the asteroid will most likely be moved into a stable Lunar orbit.

Using a variation of the technology even now devised for capturing small asteroids that could be scaled up after a few successful captures, we seed the space inside the carbon-fiber “bag” with micro-robots that actually begin the process of mining. Once enough material is unearthed, it can be used to build a programmed habitat large enough for a skeleton crew. From that point onward, Humans would work both themselves and with the robots to create a larger and larger habitat that could in turn, begin to feed off of more asteroids that have been brought into the Lunar orbit and "fed" to the growing station.

Finally, with the construction of either a new kind of freight shuttle or even independent, robotic re-entry vehicles, refined ore might be shipped back to the surface and used to bolster dwindling supplies on Earth.

A thought occurs to me that rather than building some sort of “super shell” or Dyson sphere or Ring World around the Sun, a sure sign of a technologically advanced civilization MIGHT be hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Kafka (or CArbon Fiber Collapsible Asteroid Halo (CAFCAH = “Kafka”) breaking down asteroids to provide the raw materials needed for manufacturing an endless number of products both back on the surface of the homeworld, in orbit, and eventually on the Moon, Mars, and eventually the entire Solar System.

New Source:,, carbon fiber collapsible asteroid halo (CFCAH – “Kafka”)

Friday, June 23, 2023

“Scott’s Exit” • by Bruce Bethke


What a change two months can make. The last time I saw Scott, he’d had a bad relapse and was a mess. Tonight…

I dunno. I think I liked the mess better.

“Hi kids,” he said, as cool, cocky, and obnoxious as on the day I first met him.

“That’s not the way you start,” Tom reminded him. “The traditional way is by saying, ‘Hi, my name is Scott, and I’m—’ ”

“Bugger tradition,” Scott said. “And maybe my name isn’t Scott. And maybe I’m not even a were-anything.”

Tom sighed heavily and started rubbing his forehead, as if he was suddenly developing a migraine. “Don’t start this crap again, Scott.”

“I told you, I’m not Scott. I’m Secret Agent Delta Tango Mango Foxtrot Alpha.”

Hank boggled. “What? Did I miss something here?”

Tom sighed again. “Scott is convinced we’re all under surveillance. That we’ve got an informant in the group.”

I laughed. “An informant? In a 12-step meeting? That is just nuts.”

“Strictly speaking,” Scott said, “it’s paranoid schizophrenia with delusions of persecution.” He shrugged.
“And sometimes it’s the only rational response to a situation.”

Hank shook his head. “Now I know I missed something. Geez, you go out of town for one weekend—”

“I don’t know how you missed it,” Scott said. “It was all over the frickin’ news. The Department of Homeland Security is investigating possible links between ALPS and domestic terrorism. They think WCA meetings are being used as fronts for recruiting dangerous radicals.”

“Ah,” Tom said. “You get this stuff off the Internet, don’t you? No, the DHS is looking for right-wing domestic terrorists.”

Scott smiled, in that smug way I’ve come to hate. “You forget, kids. I’ve got friends inside DHS. That ‘right-wing’ memo everyone was buzzing about two weeks ago was just the cover story. The real deal is us. And when the head of DHS dropped that Freudian slip last week about screening people in airports for medical problems and then sending them on to their destructions, that was about us.”

Hank shook his head. “No, you’re confused, Scott. That was about Swine Flu.”

“You can believe that if it makes you feel better, Hank, but there never was any Swine Flu. It was all just a dry run, to see how fast they could scare people into changing their lives just because of a virus. You wait until the stories about the ALPS Pandemic start breaking next week.”

Tim nodded. “Yeah! I knew it! That’s why they’re buying up silver!”

Tom sighed one more time, and then sat up straighter in his chair. “Okay Scott, I think we’ve heard enough. If you’re not here tonight to be serious—”

Scott flashed on angry, for just a moment. “Oh, but I am serious. I am so frickin’ serious you’ve never seen serious like this before.” He turned to the rest of the group. “And strange as it seems, I’ve come to like some of you people in the course of the past year. A few of you I even consider friends. That’s why I’m here tonight.

“Hank? You and your Michelle, you be careful. She’s got Stoker’s Disease. That’s what my friends say the people inside the CDC are calling it now, and they’re also working up a little thing called Project Molokai. Look it up. Some of what you’ll find on it is true.

“The rest of you? They’re coming for us, kids. And I for one don’t intend to make it any easier for them to find me. Which is why tonight is my last night here. And if you’re smart, it’ll be your last night, too.”

And with that he turned and walked out, his thousand-dollar hand-made English shoes ticking across the floor like a time-bomb.

“Well,” Tom said, at last. “That was... interesting. Okay, who’s next?”



BRUCE BETHKE is best known for either his genre-naming 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning 1995 novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few readers have known about him until recently is that he actually started out in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed MIDI and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but finished his career in the supercomputer industry, doing stuff that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-versed in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the fun of it.

ABOUT THIS STORY: “Scott’s Exit” was originally written for Curse of the Were-Weasel, on online multi-author multi-character multi-threaded role-playing narrative that was more conceptual art than coherent fiction. That it appears here today is because it came up in the context of a discussion with Pete Wood regarding the future development of Tales from The Brahma and The Odin Chronicles,  and Pete dared Bruce to put it online to see how people reacted to it.

Frankly, the thought that he wrote this little bit of gonzo paranoia 14 years ago scares the bejeebers out of Bruce. Funny, isn’t it, how something can go from being crazy, ridiculous, and utterly preposterous to being, “Oh yes, that’s probably exactly how they did it.”

Thursday, June 22, 2023

“Relapse” • by Bruce Bethke

He was looking bad, rough. You can tell when someone’s had a relapse, and it doesn’t take ALPS-heightened senses, either. They say recovering alcoholics can smell it when someone in their group has gone off the wagon.

Scott didn’t smell funny, but clearly, he’d lost it. Normally the guy was overdressed to a fault and cheerful like a daytime game-show host. Then he went missing back in mid-January, and now here he was in group again, looking like something the cat had dragged in.

“Hi,” he said. He looked up, started to make eye-contact, then went back to looking at his shoes. I saw they were scuffed and salt-stained; another bad sign. Crockett & Jones, Leeds, U.K., a thousand bucks a pair—we knew because he’d told us, repeatedly, and now here he was looking like he’d been playing street hockey in them.

“Hi,” he tried again. “My name is Scott, and I’m a were-weasel.”

Hi, Scott.

He managed to look up and hold the eye-contact for a few seconds this time, and almost managed a smile. Progress.

He went back to looking at his shoes. “First off, I’d like to thank my sponsor, Tom, for getting me back into group.”

Okay, no wonder he looked like something the cat had dragged in. He’d been dragged in by the cat.

“I—” he paused, gulped, swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. Yes, I’ve—” He looked up, around the circle, and nodded. “Yes, I’ve had a setback. I screwed up. I—” Another heavy sigh.

“I started doing politics again.”

What could we do? Nod sympathetically. Encourage him to keep talking.

“I thought I could handle it. I thought, just a little taste. Just once, for old times’ sake. I thought—” He shook his hands in the air, as if wrapping them around some invisible something right in front of his face, and then dropped them into his lap, and sighed.

“I couldn’t handle it.” He went back to looking at his shoes.

When it seemed like that was all he had to say, Tom cleared his throat. “Go on, Scott. Tell us the rest.”

Scott locked eyes with Tom, took some kind of strength from it, and nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. They need to know.” He took another deep breath, sat up a little straighter in his chair, and then a bit of the Old Scott came back into his voice.

“As you’ve probably guessed,” he said, “I’ve been down in D.C. for the last six weeks, angling for a job in the new administration, or at least a lobbying gig. I mean, were-weasel, politics: a natural fit, don’t you think?” Everyone around the circle nodded sympathetically.

“Well let me tell you, friends, I didn’t have a clue. You don’t have a clue. There are things crawling through the halls of Congress now that... that...

“Look. This administration is like an enormous frickin’ magnet for Dark Life.”

Joe the Lion blinked. “Dark Life?”

“Y’know, dark matter? Dark energy?” Scott thumped himself on the chest. “Dark Life. Us. Cryptids. Beasties. Things that go bump in the night. Creatures that don’t officially exist—or at least we didn’t, until the ALPS activists started coming out of the closet and getting into people’s faces.

“I tell you, there are things going on that none of us have a clue about. There are things walking the streets of D.C. now that haven’t seen the light of day since the Carter administration. You can’t even get an interview for a contract job on K Street unless you’re at least a sasquatch. I ran into a frickin’ wendigo in the Dirksen Building!”

Joe the Lion blinked again. “Wendigo?”

“It’s Algonquin. Look it up later. While you’re at it, look up cryptozoology, too.

“Look, people,” he said to the rest of us, “there is—”

He paused, and pointed across the circle. “Hank, I’ve been following your blog. Don’t worry about that Reverend Riley. Internment is the least of our worries. People, there is a frickin’ war building up out there.”

Joe the Lion nodded. “I knew it. Vampires versus were-beasts.”

Scott scowled. “Oh, don’t give me that comic-book crap. We’re talking about war between the New Breeds—us—and the Old Line dark life; the ones who liked being in the shadows, because it gave them more power.”

I finally had to interrupt. “War? Really, Scott, don’t you think that’s being just a little dramatic?”

Scott turned and looked at me, and gave me the full-bore heavy sigh and rolling eyes treatment. “No, I don’t think that’s ‘a little dramatic.’ Right now there are clashes going on out west between the were-cougars and the were-jaguars, who are trying to push north and muscle in on cougar territory. So far they’ve managed to cover it up and blame all the murders on the drug cartels, but it’s only a matter of time...”

He broke off, and sighed again. “Look. All I can say is, there is stuff going out there that scares the willies out of me. We are only scratching the surface; ALPS is only the tip of the iceberg. We think we understand this disease. We’re only buying into the cover story. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one am scared beyond my capacity for rational comprehension.”

He sighed one more time, then shrugged, sat back, and tried to smile.

“But hey, what do I know? I’m just a weasel.”




BRUCE BETHKE is best known for either his genre-naming 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning 1995 novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few readers have known about him until recently is that he actually started out in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed MIDI and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but finished his career in the supercomputer industry, doing stuff that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-versed in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the fun of it.

ABOUT THIS STORY: “Relapse” was originally written for Curse of the Were-Weasel, on online multi-author multi-character multi-threaded role-playing narrative that was more conceptual art than coherent fiction. That it appears here today is because it came up in the context of a discussion with Pete Wood regarding the future development of Tales from The Brahma and The Odin Chronicles,  and Pete dared Bruce to put it online to see how people reacted to it.

Tomorrow Scott makes his final appearance, in “Exit.” 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

“The Were-Weasel’s Tale” • by Bruce Bethke

“Sorry I’m late. There was some nasty weather in Chicago today and I was stuck in O’Hare for a few—okay, I know, I’m making excuses. Let me start over.

“Uh, hi. I’m Scott, and I’m a were-weasel.”

[Group: “Hi, Scott.”]

“I hope you’ll excuse me if I seem a little nervous. I’ve never actually—I mean, I’ve been coming to Were-Creatures Anonymous for about a month now, but to work up the nerve to stand up and talk—well, it’s taken me some time to come to grips with it, and accept what I am. I mean, I’ve been aware of my wereness for a long time, but I’ve been pretty deeply in denial. I thought I could handle it myself. I was like, support groups are for total losers, you know?

“Sorry. I didn’t mean you were losers. Not all of you. Not total losers, anyway.

“Uh, it’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve really come to realize that my—well, that my problem is out of control. It’s ruining my life. I mean, people who used to be my friends hate me now, and the people who claim they’re my new friends are like, just, damn. Who’d want them as friends?

“I suppose—well, maybe it was different for you, but I really can’t remember when I became a were-weasel. I mean, I really can’t for the life of me remember ever being bitten by any kind of weasel, much less a were one. But I know that the first time it became a problem for me was when I was in Junior High. It was in eighth grade, Mrs. Kazmarek’s American History class. We’d had a big assignment I didn’t feel like doing, to write an essay on Lincoln, and just my luck, the Kaz singles me out and tells me to come up in front of the class and read my essay. Well, this piece of paper I’m holding is blank, of course, and I’m just standing there at the front of the room, in front of everybody, all embarrassed and humiliated and everything, with my face turning bright red and the puberty hormones surging and all that, and the Kaz gives me that over-the-glasses look and says, “Well?” And then Sue Miller, in the front row—she was this pretty little blond I had the crush to end all crushes on—well Sue started giggling, and you could hear the whole class drawing their breaths, and in about a half-second they were going to totally explode in laughter—

“And just like that, it happened. I transformed, right there, in front of the whole damn class. And right off the top of my head, running on ninety-nine percent pure bullshit, I rattled off the most amazing essay you ever heard about Lincoln, with not one single word of truth in it, beyond the fact that some guy named Abraham Lincoln was once the President of the United States.

“Well, the Kaz was stunned, of course. She gave me an ‘A’ on the spot. Never even asked to see that blank sheet of paper I was holding.

“I can see some of you; you’re giving me that look. That was a problem?

“Yeah, that was a problem, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. And I’ll get back to it.

“But right now, I have a question: is that what it was like for you, the first time? Because to be honest, I really haven’t spent a lot of time around other were-creatures, and I honestly don’t know. I’ve been in denial, remember?

“I only know that I really got off on the raw power, and the way the Transformation, when it happened, was like—like—well, it was even better than sex with Sue Miller, a fact I later confirmed through extensive and repeated experimentation.

“But at the time, I was confused. I’d heard the stories; I knew the legends. Full moon, right? Not for me. I was really—ah, irregular. It was more related to hormones and stress than anything having to do with the Moon. When my life was going well and everything was on an even keel, it was really nice and predictable, every 28 days, like clockwork. But when I was stressed out, I could transform two or even three times in a month—or sometimes not at all. One time I went three months without transforming, and it scared the hell out of me. I thought—well, I didn’t have a clue what to think. That was right after the first time Sue and I went all the way on the couch in her parent’s basement, and I thought she’d, like, done something terrible to my body. I was scared out of my ever-lovin’ mind—until the next month, when the Transformation happened right on schedule, and I could go back to breathing again.

“While I’m asking questions: I don’t know about you, but for me, well, some months it’s really heavy, and I become like this giant rabid stoat that walks on its hind legs like a man, and other months it’s so light all I have to do is remember to shave twice daily and keep my mouth closed so the Normals don’t see my fangs.

“But as far as being a curse goes, well, it was really more of an inconvenience than a curse. And to tell the truth there were times it was damned useful. I never would have made it through law school or launched my political career if I couldn’t get in touch with my Inner Weasel on a regular basis.

“That’s when things started to fall apart. As I worked my way up the political ladder, I became totally dependent on my Weasel Sense. In time—well, eventually I wound up being the Press Secretary to somebody really important, if you can believe that to look at me now, but along the way I got so totally addicted to using my Weasel Powers that finally I just couldn’t turn them off any more. At the end, even I couldn’t tell when I was spewing bullshit. It got easier to try to figure out when I might be telling the truth, because it happened less often.

“I’m sure you’ve heard stories like mine before. In the end, I pushed it too far. I lost control. I actually transformed in the middle of a press conference, in front of the entire White House Press Corps, and not one of them noticed. I mean, maybe Maureen Dowd did; she later wrote a column in which she called me a “beady-eyed little ferret,” but at six-foot-two and two-hundred-and-ten pounds I’m by no stretch of the imagination “little,” so maybe she was just communing with her own Inner B— er, something, that day.

“But while the press didn’t notice, the people I worked for sure did, and that’s when they decided I’d become a liability. I got fired; replaced. But I still had my Were-Weasel Powers, right? So that’s when I decided I would really stick it to former employers, and show them the full fury of an enraged were-weasel! I would write a book.

“You can guess what happened after that, can’t you? Now all my former friends hate me, and all the people who claim they’re my new friends are total dirtbags who claim to love me but secretly—not that secretly, actually—despise me.

“And that’s my story. My name is Scott, and I’m a were-weasel. But with your help, my friends, I believe I can change.

Hey! Why are you all looking at me like that?




BRUCE BETHKE is best known for either his genre-naming 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning 1995 novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few readers have known about him until recently is that he actually started out in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed MIDI and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but finished his career in the supercomputer industry, doing stuff that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-versed in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the fun of it.

ABOUT THIS STORY: “The Were-Weasel’s Tale” was originally written for Curse of the Were-Weasel, on online multi-author multi-character multi-threaded role-playing narrative that was more conceptual art than coherent fiction. That it appears here today is because it came up in the context of a discussion with Pete Wood regarding the future development of Tales from The Brahma and The Odin Chronicles,  and Pete dared Bruce to put it online to see how people reacted to it.

Tomorrow, Scott returns, in “Relapse.” 


Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Curse of the Were-Weasel: Lessons Learned • by Bruce Bethke

Fifteen years later, the problems with Curse of the Were-Weasel seem obvious. Not to hog all the glory, but the biggest single problem with Curse was me, and my insistence of trying to do this thing entirely with writers.

Huh? What? Who else would I have used?

Understand, this was one of the times when my background in music and theater really let me down. I didn’t understand it then: for something like this to work fiction writers need firm guidance and assertive direction. They need hard guidelines. They need a series bible.

I’d worked from rigid series bibles before and didn’t much like them. In fact, I’d written series bibles for other publishers and other projects and didn’t like them much, either. But for a project like this, they are a necessary evil. The “herding cats” metaphor is overused but in this case entirely apt. Writers—print fiction writers especially—don’t know how to improvise. They tend to be introverts. They don’t know how to work together as a part of a group, playing off each other, supporting each other, and riffing off each other’s contributions. 

Fiction writers don’t know how to jam.

As a musician or someone doing improv theater, this is something you just sort of instinctively know and don’t give too much thought. You just know, when you ask a half-dozen musicians with whom you’re familiar to get together, what sort of instruments and skill levels they're likely to bring to the jam session and in which direction things are likely to go.

Ask six fiction writers to get together and "bring something to play," and they’ll show up with an electric guitar, a flugelhorn, a kalimba, a fish guiro, a set of bagpipes, and a basketball. Not even John Cage in his prime could have gotten something coherent out of that. 

Maybe Peter Schickele could.


So Curse of the Were-Weasel was launched in June of 2008, and as soon as the gate was opened, the cats all scattered and did their own things. It was confused, chaotic, inconsistent, and totally phase one of lumpy gravy. The lack of an overarching plot was crippling. The reader participation idea never worked at all. The concept of having weekly meetings in real time was the worst thing about it. Anyone who’s ever had to organize a Zoom or Skype meeting can imagine what that was like, especially given that Zoom and Skype hadn’t been invented yet.

In the end Henry Vogel and David Goodman staged a coup and tried to seize control of the thing, to impose some sense of direction, but it was probably too late. Vampires were introduced, in a controlled fashion and subject to restrictions similar to those that applied to our ALPS victims; they were now properly termed victim’s of “Stoker’s Disease” and Henry began to develop a nice romantic subplot involving a sexy female vampire named Michelle. Someday I’ll have to ask him why he keeps writing romantic heroines named “Michelle” into his stories, given that that isn’t his wife’s name. That’s probably a topic better saved for a private conversation.

An anti-ALPS element was introduced, in the form of one Reverend Riley and his fundamentalist followers. I wasn’t entirely happy with that as such characters tend to devolve into Cartoon Christians and become really ugly caricatures, so I tried to introduce a political angle, with the idea of “Dark Life” and a developing power struggle between the new breed of out-in-the-public-eye ALPS victims and the old-school cryptids who preferred to remain in the shadows. I figured the “Dark Life” characters would relish the power they accrued by staying hidden and therefore gravitate to Washington D.C. I had some interesting ideas for developing that.

But then the El Paso County coroner’s office called, to tell me my daughter’s body had been found, and I lost interest in pretty much everything for a long time after that.



Fifteen years later, why is Curse of the Were-Weasel back on my mind? Because behind the scenes, Pete Wood and I have been having a long-running conversation on the future of both Tales from The Brahma and The Odin Chronicles. I think there are important lessons to be learned here from the failure of Curse of the Were-Weasel that can be applied moving forward. Dawn of Time worked because fiction writers understand the round-robin approach to group writing. “I’m going to write a chapter and end it with a cliff-hanger, and then it’s over to you to figure out how to get Dawn out of the mess I wrote her into!” 

Fiction writers know that game. Most like to play it. And the writers working on Dawn of Time also benefited from knowing where the story ended. Dawn was always going to end up back where she began. Contradictory as it seems, on a project like this, writers benefit a lot from knowing which possible plot paths are already closed off and therefore not worth pursuing.

Those I think are the lessons to be learned from the failure of Curse of the Were-Weasel. If you’re going to try to create a multi-author multi-character multi-threaded tale—or for that matter, just to co-author a story with a good friend—remember entropy. Organization rarely develops spontaneously. The forces that produce chaos and nonsense are always much stronger. Put in the work ahead of time to map out an overarching plot structure. Define the outer limits of the world and the story and make sure your authors understand and agree to abide by them. (Nota bene to Pete Wood: Go back and re-read your own interview with David Gerrold, especially the parts about how hard it was to get Harlan Ellison to abide by the limits of the Star Trek world.) Plan an ending. Even if your story never gets to it, it really helps your writers to know the direction in which your story is trying to go.

Write the damned series bible. 

In yesterday’s post I used the word “aleatoric,” which sent some people running to their dictionaries. The important thing to remember about using aleatory is that it’s not completely random. It’s introducing random elements and performer-decided real-time choices into a predefined structure, and if anything it requires putting in even more work up front to define that structure, so that the end result isn’t just incoherent noise.     

Here endeth the lesson. Learn from my mistakes.

—Bruce Bethke

P.S. On a purely personal note: the lesson I learned from Curse of the Were-Weasel was that the titular were-weasel, Scott the Douchebag, was nowhere near as interesting to readers as I found him fun and interesting to write. The characters the readers liked and wanted to see more of were my throwaway romantic couple, Harald and Tina, who were only meant to appear in one story. 

I’ll have to give some serious thought to what else they can do. I mean, besides have sex.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Curse of the Were-Weasel: A Retrospective • by Bruce Bethke

In the first decade of the 21st Century—an unimaginably long time ago, it now seems—long before there ever was a Stupefying Stories, there was a sort of an online writing workshop called The Friday Challenge. The Friday Challenge pulled together a talented but eccentric group of promising young writers, and produced a number of equally promising but eccentric literary projects, one of which became Stupefying Stories, but the strangest of which had to be Curse of the Were-Weasel.

Curse of the Were-Weasel was, in technical terms, an attempt to explore the question of whether a blog engine could be used to construct a multi-author, multi-character, multi-threaded serial fictional narrative, and along the way to develop over time a correspondingly complex and collaboratively designed fictional universe in which there was lots of room for different writers to play without treading on each other’s toes.

In a sense, at the time, things like this were already being done. There were plenty of other blogs out there that contained nothing but the purest fiction, although most purported to be the non-fictional chronicles of the blogger’s sex life and/or political activities—or all too often, both. We already knew that a first-person blog describing, say, the wild and uninhibited sexual adventures of a beautiful young bisexual female advertising copywriter turned pole-dancer and political campaign web 2.0 consultant would draw a large and loyal, if perhaps demented, readership. Probably even land us a movie deal.

But we were not interested in trying to pass off fevered prurient fantasies as reality. And we certainly didn’t want to produce porn. 

Hence, Curse of the Were-Weasel: an intentional attempt to develop, over a planned course of two years, a shared universe populated by a large cast of fascinating characters, and to use this universe to present stories in weekly, serialized, interactively developed, and not necessarily linear installments. 

But why this story? We considered a number of other potential story lines, but this one seemed to provide the greatest openness for aleatoric development and require the least hands-on guidance. The market category of “paranormal romance” was just beginning to become unbelievably hot at the time, as evidenced by the collected works of Laurell Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Kim Harrison, and my own personal favorite, Ronda Thompson—

Ah. The giants.

—and it showed no signs of dying off any time soon. It’s tempting to blame Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) for this state of affairs, but I’d put the point of inception at least five years earlier, with Ron Koslow’s 1987 TV series, Beauty and the Beast.

But how could we be different? Vampires have been horribly and heavily overused in gothic serial romances ever since the dawn of the genre (Dark Shadows, anyone?), but while the conventions of the werewolf trope were equally widely known, they were not, at least at that time, so heavily overused. Besides, there are a lot of variations on the were-creature trope from cultures all over the world, and the genre is not without its opportunities for humor.

So were-critters it would be. 

Then the question became, how do you free the werewolf trope from its more inconvenient limitations? (Only in full moonlight, deathly allergic to silver, tendency to black-out and experience periods of bestial homicidal insanity followed by amnesia, etc., etc.) How do you turn were-creatures into intelligent, articulate, and sympathetic first-person narrative voices? In short, how do you bring them out into the light of day? 

The answer came to us in a flash. This is the 21st Century. What if were-creaturism was now known to be a disease, a terrible, communicable, debilitating disease with potentially deadly outcomes, true, but nonetheless, only a metaphorical curse? Why, that would make the people who contracted this disease victims, deserving not fear and scorn but sympathy and understanding—and all the manifold services of the entire Victim Support Industry! Why, we realized, if such a thing as were-wolfism were real, werewolves would be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and not only could you not fire a werewolf who went feral in the office, you’d be required by Federal law to accommodate their disability! 

And thus was born ALPS: Acquired Lycanthropic Polymorphism Syndrome. A retroviral disease passed on by exchange of bodily fluids (usually, but not always, via the blood/saliva interface involved in “biting” behavior), ALPS by some as-yet-not-fully understood mechanism activates dormant sequences in the victim’s DNA, resulting in a so-called “transformation” into a temporarily altered physiognomy and accompanying reversion to primitive, predatory, carnivorous behaviors. Given that this transformation usually involved changes to the mandible structure and hair-growth patterns, the conventional (if distasteful) expression would be to say that the victims “turned into wolves…”

But why stop there? World folklore abounds with tales of were-bears, were-cougars, were-jaguars, were-tigers, were-badgers, and many, many more—including, yes, were-seals. So on further reflection we decided our ALPS victims should be capable of changing into a very wide variety of forms, according to the nature of their character, and all of which resembled large, carnivorous mammals. (We decided to make a sticking point of the large, carnivorous mammal requirement, so no were-tunas or were-banana slugs or anything really silly like that.) Further, we decided it would make them more interesting if their transformations were not slaved strictly to the lunar cycle, but rather were erratic, hormonal, and in some cases, possibly even voluntary, thus making it more akin to getting really in touch with their inner animal avatar, rather than just reverting to mere mindless beasts.

With those basic rules in place, all that was left was to come up with some excuse for our ALPS victims to get together on a weekly basis, in order to interact and tell their stories. Once we couched it in those terms, the answer was obvious: Were-Creatures Anonymous. Because here in Therapy Nation, what else would werewolves do but form a 12-step group to help them deal with their issues, their feelings of alienation, and that ever-present urge to solve their interpersonal problems by ripping some jerk’s throat out, tearing open his rib cage, and feasting on his still-beating heart?  

Curse of the Were-Weasel launched on Sunday, June 8, 2008, with “The Were-Weasel’s Tale.” Almost immediately, it went careening wildly off the rails. What went wrong? 

What didn’t?


[To be continued…]



Sunday, June 18, 2023

20 Free Stories!

While working on the upcoming reboot of SHOWCASE I stumbled across this old web site, which I’d forgotten was still out there. We called this one the “crevasse” because it was cold, sterile, bluish-white, and stories fell into it, never to be seen again.

Nonetheless it is still out there, and is still readable, for now. It includes hot links to twenty stories you probably haven’t read before, a hot-linked index to all the stories that appeared in SHOWCASE issues #1 through #10, links to a bunch of movie reviews—I think our review of Pacific Rim is still my favorite—and a link to the 2014 Campbellian Anthology that thankfully returns an error 404, as it should, because that book is long since out-of-contract. I had forgotten what a horrible all-devouring time- and energy-sucking black hole those Campbellian anthologies were, or perhaps I’d suppressed the memory. There, that’s something to cheer me up today: we’re not doing those monstrosities anymore.

Speaking of cheering me up: I’m off with the grandkids for the rest of the day. Catch you tomorrow!


Saturday, June 17, 2023

“First Date” • by Bruce Bethke

I have it bad for la chica bonita.
Go figure. I live in Minnesota. I’m as Nordic as Nordic gets. I come from that ancient genetic factory somewhere north of Oslo that makes ‘em tall, broad, and strawberry-blonde, with a beard you could hide a battle-axe in. In school they called me ‘Harald the Red.’

Yeah, that’s right, with two a’s and no o. My dad is a history buff. He shook the name out of our family tree somewhere. It last belonged to my great, great, great— somebody.

So why is it that Nordic blond women do nothing for me? You could pull me through all of time and space and set me up on a hot date with Elke Sommer or Ursula Andress at her absolute peak…

And somewhere, something ancient deep inside my brain would say, “Eh. I knew your mother. I knew your grandmother. I knew all your foremothers back to the dawn of our race, and frankly, they were all a bunch of depressed neurotics.”

But introduce me to some dulce little chica—let her bat those big brown eyes at me, or wiggle her cute little butt in my general direction. Show me two minutes of Salma Hayek doing her snake-dance thing in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn


Anyway, that’s my theory. My Norsemen ancestors didn’t go viking for the plunder. They went viking to get away from Norse women. So when my favorite coffee shop hired a new waitress, and she turned out to be 5-foot-1 of dark-haired, dark-eyed, brown-skinned chicana beauty, I was instantly, hopelessly, smitten.

Yeah, Harald the Red, the mighty Viking. It took me three weeks to work up the nerve to ask her out. Another three weeks to get her to say ‘yes.’

And that’s when she popped her little surprise. “Harald,” she said, “you’re a sweet guy. But there’s something you really need to know about me, first.”

I shrugged. “You’re, uh, undocumented?”

“No, not that. I mean, yes, I am, but—well, if you really are serious about going out on a date with me, there’s somewhere else you need to go with me, first.”

And that’s how we wound up driving through Lowertown, just after dark on a Saturday evening. I thought it was some kind of joke or test, at first. The junkies, the winos; the gang tags spray-painted everywhere. “That’s where we’re going,” she said, pointing.

“You’re kidding,” I said. I craned my neck to look at the name carved in the marble over the entryway. “The Rampant Loon Media Building? What on earth possessed them to locate their business here?”

“They got a great tax break from the city.”

So I found a place to park the pickup truck, and we got out and took the sidewalk to the main entrance, stepping over the sleeping bums and the puddles of I don’t want to know what and walking past a dark alley entrance that brought all my willies and cold shivers out to dance in a conga line on the back of my neck. But we made it into the lobby okay, got waved past by the security guard, and took the elevator to the 13th floor.

Where we walked into a meeting. Huh. This was something I’d never heard of before: Were-Creatures Anonymous. It was some kind of demented variation on a twelve-step program for people who thought they were—

Well, as my adorable little chica put it, “Hi. My name is Tina, and I’m a were-jaguar.”

Actually, for a bunch of people who were clinically nuts, they weren’t half-bad. They were for the most part calm, sober, and pleasant—except for this Scott guy, who reminded me of a used-car salesman and left me with a deep desire to wash my hand after he shook it. Everyone there accepted that I wasn’t one of them but was only there to support Tina, and they congratulated me on my open-mindedness and all that; it was pretty embarrassing, actually. But we got through the coffee hour okay, and sweet little Tina really seemed to be warming up to me. She kissed me in the elevator, and held my hand and cuddled up to my side as we left the building and walked back to where I’d parked my truck. As we passed that dark alley entrance that had given me the willies so badly on our way in, three young thugs stepped out of the shadows. I saw the flash of a knife blade.

And then my world turned red.


The next thing I knew, I was waking up naked in a strange bed and my left arm was numb. I turned my head, saw that the naked woman laying on my left arm was Tina, and from that made the leap to guessing that this was her apartment. I sure hoped the bedroom was always this much of a mess.

I must have made some sound or somehow disturbed her. She slowly opened those beautiful big brown eyes, and then just as slowly eased into the most amazingly satiated smile and snuggled in closer.

“Darling,” she whispered, “why didn’t you tell me? Madre di Dios, you were magnificent! So strong! So fierce! So…insatiable!” She bit my earlobe, gently, kissed her way down my neck, and then worked her way back up to my ear again. “Why didn’t you trust me? Why didn’t you tell the group that you’re—you’re—” She tched. “Were-bear seems such an inadequate name.”

“Because it is, and I’m not,” I said. “The correct term is bearserkr.”

“Whatever.” She kissed my neck again, harder and more insistent this time. “Whatever it is, you were unforgettable last night!”

That’s when I finally reached across with my other arm, and pulled her on top of me, and kissed her on the forehead and held her tight.

And stared at the ceiling, and let my anger soar up to the sky. Yeah. Unforgettable.

Damn you, Odin, and damn your thousand-year curse! They all say that! But just once, would it be too much to let me remember?



BRUCE BETHKE is best known for either his genre-naming 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning 1995 novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few readers have known about him until recently is that he actually started out in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed MIDI and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but finished his career in the supercomputer industry, doing stuff that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-versed in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the fun of it.

ABOUT THIS STORY: “First Date” was originally written for Curse of the Were-Weasel, on online multi-author multi-character multi-threaded role-playing narrative that was more conceptual art than coherent fiction. That it appears here today is because it was on the old SHOWCASE site, and it came up in the context of the conversation that began when Bruce said “No more multipart stories” in yesterday’s post and Pete Wood panicked because both Tales from The Brahma (season 2) and The Odin Chronicles (season 2) are currently in development. Bruce will have lots more to say about Curse of the Were-Weasel—but not today.